Sunday, December 16, 2018

World of Prime: Campaign Journal #10

The Brotherhood of the Golden Arrow (conclusion)

In an act of either divine grace or random chance, our heroes were washed clean by a summer storm as the approached the cave mouth that led to the demonic cult's lair. Soaking wet, they un-bundled the Cleric from the donkey he had been strapped to. In the night he had succumbed to the secondary effects of the demon's poisoned sting and was now completely paralyzed.

Reviewing their resources they considered using their three strength potions to restore him to temporary vitality; or just using one to get him mobile enough to walk and cast (though too weak to wear armor or fight) and use the other two potions on the swordsmen. After a lengthy discussion, much of which was disparaging to the Cleric's martial capabilities, someone had the clever idea of casting Delay Poison, thus temporarily negating the effects (this is not strictly according to the rules but DMs always flex a bit when players are being creative). Then the Cleric and Druid realized they could cast the Strength spell themselves, thus gaining the effects of the potions without using them up. However, in typical fashion, they delayed casting these spells until they were sure they wanted to use them. (The end result was the most typical D&D experience ever; none of the potions got used. It is a universal maxim that adventurers are penny-pinching skinflints that would put Scrooge to shame.)

Thus prepared with plans and strategies they crept into the cave mouth and were immediately confronted with... a campfire. Someone had left a small fire burning in the middle of the room. This fearsome and ingenious barrier kept our brave demon-killing adventurers hiding in the shadows for a good twenty minutes while they discussed what to do about an unexpected campfire. Eventually the Wizard summoned Dancing Lights in the fire while the Ranger used Create Water to douse it. The illusionary fire then moved slowly forward while the party followed, still hidden in darkness. This clever plan was abetted by the cultists' miserable Spot checks, and the party managed to move the illumination to cover the squad of men before they were aware anything had changed.

The Ranger, granted a clear shot for once, put an arrow straight through a cultist's head. The others scrambled to their feet as the illusionary campfire changed into a glowing humanoid figure. This would have been a clever ruse, drawing the panicked crossbowmen's fire, except that the Barbarian charged right through it and gave them something else to think about. With a mighty swing he bashed three heads together like Moe slapping the Three Stooges around, but with more blood.

Two enemy officers appeared and cast at the Barbarian, who shrugged off their paltry attempts to frighten him. The Druid, emboldened by the example, charged into melee accompanied by his faithful wolf du jour. Falling upon the surprised crossbowmen the pair made a hash of the squad, killing them all as they attempted to reload. The officers, realizing the Barbarian was fearless, transferred their attention to the Druid and his bloody-muzzled wolf, and sent both of them fleeing in terror.

The Cleric stopped the fleeing Druid with a comforting hand (and a Remove Fear spell) while the rest of the party supported the Barbarian. The enemy troops fell quickly, entirely unable to deal with the out-of-control Barbarian. But before the party could enjoy their easy victory, more troops rushed from the darkness while hordes of skeletons poured in behind them (they really should stop walking past closed doors without investigating).

Not to worry; with a word the Cleric sent a dozen undead monsters to their eternal rest. Confidently he strode forward into the hordes that remained, chanting his holy words. The Wizard, trusting to the Cleric to hold the rear, knocked out a squad of archers with Sleep; the Druid summoned his dreaded swarm and the shrieks of men being murdered by a thousand tiny razor cuts echoed through the cavern.

The enemy officers switched tactics. They stepped up to the Barbarian, reaching out with grasping hands. Every time they touched him black energy flowed from their fingertips, flaying his life-force away. He fought back, battling through their heavy bronze armor, but these were not common soldiers. As fast as he battered them they were healed by their fellow officers.

Then two dramatic developments: the Cleric stumbled over a phrase and the horde of undead pressed forward, clawing eagerly for living flesh. The Bard's music filled in the silence, preventing a total disaster (the Cleric's roll would have failed utterly if it hadn't been for the Barid Music bonus); the front wave of undead, confused, fell back for the time being. The next wave, however, reached the party's rear lines and began flaying the Wizard like ginsu knives. And in the front line the demon made its dramatic appearance from the shadows and pouncing on the Barbarian.

The Cleric recovered, though his divine authority remained shaken - he could only send the skeletal hordes fleeing now instead of reducing them to dust. The cultists, made of merely mortal flesh, soon disintegrated in the blender of intense melee, leaving only the officers and the demon as foes. Which proved to be a potent combo: supported by healing spells the demon could stand toe-to-toe with the Barbarian, slowly wearing him down. Eventually the monster figured out the Barbarian's tactics; the fight went from the Barbarian administering a beat-down to the demon landing a massive combo on the Barbarian, though the poision was only moderately effective. If not for his own healing support team that would have been the end of the Barbarian's brief but rage-filled career. The Druid stepped up, using his magic (Barkskin and Shillegleah) to fill in as a front-line fighter when the Barbarian was chased off by Fear and Doom effects - once again to be saved by the Cleric. The Ranger proved he could hit when he got a clear shot, but as the Barbarian returned to the battle the Ranger drew his sword and joined him, tired of trying to shoot past a milling crowd.

The demon had one last surprise - he waved his hand and animated the corpses of his slain soldiers, who rose up all around the party forming a confused mob of men and monsters. The Cleric chanted one last time but his power was growing weak; only half the undead fell. Yet this last gambit could not tilt the balance; with everyone swinging wildly the remaining undead were quickly destroyed, and worse, the officers had finally run out of spells. They drew maces and bravely waded into combat, but the demon finally went down to the Barbarian's mighty hammer and the officers followed scant seconds later.

Save for one, whom upon seeing the golden crossbow quarrel around the Wizard's neck, threw himself to the ground prostrate. "Spare me, oh glorious leader," he cried. In a slightly uncharacteristic act the party tamed its blood-lust while the Wizard interrogated the man. It turned out that "Z", as he was quickly nick-named (his official title being both too long and pretentious) assumed the demon's destruction had followed from the Wizard's use of the magic crossbow quarrel rather than the Barbarian's hammer. They decided that Z would be a handy source of information and spared his life - for the time being. Their first demand: a guided tour of their newly acquired property. In the leader's quarters they found two pieces of treasure: a chest full of gold and the scraps of hastily burnt correspondence.

The letter spoke to conspiracy against the Queen:
should not have told him the Queen has a demon paramour. He is beside himself with wrath – no pun intended – and moves daily closer to rebellion. He is still too weak, though; the Queen will defeat and replace him; and I will lose my grip on the spice harvest. If you do not want the money to run out you must...
While they did not understand this information they knew it had to be useful to someone.

The Cinnamon War

The party mission was to find a land-route to the spice fields, either for trade or invasion. In either case a large and comfortable cave complex well-hidden and stocked with dried supplies would be a wonderful bonus. After only a week of hard labor, transporting bodies out to the plains to bury in shallow graves, the effects of the poison wore off enough that all of their party were ready to finish the journey and finally see fabled Varsoulou. Dressing in the local costume they loaded up their donkeys with gold and set off, following their guide Z. The man had proven to be a obsequious and disgusting servant but had not otherwise given them cause to end his life.

Reaching town they tried to lay low, succeeding mostly with the help of Z, who as a local naturally fit in. Taking up residence in a cheap inn they were surprised to discover exotic cinnamon served in even common meals. They tried to arrange a meeting with the principals of the Amalgamated Spice Company though without much success, finding the corporate bureaucracy difficult to engage. Searching for more sources of information, several members decide to brave the fearsome skeletal guards and visit the local Church of the Shepard. Though, obviously, the Cleric was not among them - nor was Z, who steered well clear of the clergy on account of him being a criminal and them being able to detect lies.

Here the Druid found himself the target of the hard sell, as a junior priest offered him a divine reading and personality test for the low price of a single silver. The result of the test was a lecture on self-discipline and an offer of a long-term but affordable program designed to put the Druid on the correct path to a higher-floor apartment in the Tiered City, where all souls go after death. In the meantime the Bard had extracted some useful information from the conversation, such as the oddity that the local Curate was not part of the feudal government, that Curate Wulseth blessed the spice harvests and hence received 10% of the income, and that the local ruler and owner of the spice fields was Count Wrathfus. Or "Wrathful Wrathfus," as he was sometimes named by people who weren't afraid of having their necks stretched for insubordination.

So now the party has put together the outlines of a plot. They have a piece of paper that shows that the Count is plotting treachery against his Queen. They know that the Curate is wrapped up in it somehow. And they are sitting in the Curate's chapel, a short stroll from the Count's stone keep. Suddenly the Wizard's desire to visit the capital and see the fabled Golden Library of Arcane Arts seems like a brilliant idea.

Only a few days easy travel through civilized countryside finds them staring at the sea for the first time, the salt spray in their faces as sailors from many nations buy and sold fortunes in cinnamon and cloves on the docks. The Golden Library, a tall stone tower framed at night by neon lights of many colors, is the most exotic thing they have ever seen. They have momentous decisions to make: will they back war or peace between their home of Edersarr and the technically evil but not actually all that bad Varsoulou? Should they help the Queen against her plotters or help the coup against the possibility that the Queen is herself demon-compromised?

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.