Saturday, July 11, 2020

World of Prime: Campaign Journal #24

Against the Gnolls, part 1

Eventually the allure of constant partying begins to pall, or perhaps the grigs just run out of wine. The party returns to their ship and their journey west, looking for the fabled Gold Coast.

The next night, as the sun is setting and the captain is searching for a suitable beach to camp on, a half-dozen canoes are spotted making directly for them. The captain asks, fight or flight? While some of the party lean toward the better part of valor, the wizard points out that they came here looking for war. Running away from the first clash of blades seems inauspicious.

The wizard proves correct. The canoes are full of gnoll buccaneers, large powerful hyena-men well armed with bows and axes. A dozen of these creatures should be a stiff fight for a half-crewed longship. Instead, the gnolls proceed to lose badly at the ranged portion of the combat, being decimated by spells and arrows. Only two manage to reach the vessel, where they are quickly dispatched by the barbarian. Most of the tael is even recovered from the bodies still in their canoes, so the affair is pure profit.

The next day, however, sees a remarkable change of course. In the distance a naked woman can be seen sun-bathing on a rock a mile from shore. The party unanimously votes to steer clear of this terrifying threat, going deeper out to sea to avoid even cursory contact with the mysterious figure. This is, of course, a perfectly reasonable reaction.

Their next berthing is on an island. Not content to simply camp, the wizard again drives them out to explore. This random encounter is with an four-armed white gorilla, timely spotted by the druid as it lays in wait in a tree. The druid spends some time trying to chat the beast up, only to find it is a dull conversationalist. An inordinate amount of party discussion is had over whether or not to attack the beast, which is short-circuited by the impatient wizard continuing on with the hike once it becomes clear the party is unwilling to commit random violence against dangerous natural predators.

The wizard is rewarded by being immediately snatched up by a second gorilla hiding a few yards further on. This spurs the first gorilla to leap onto the party, fangs and claws flashing.

The first round of combat results in nothing more than posturing, feinting, and flashy displays of swordsmanship and clawmanship that nonetheless result in zero bloodshed. Then the druid charms both gorillas (druids are good with animals like that). Finally there is a successful combat check - the gorillas spring on the druid and lick him happily.

They tour the rest of the island under the protection of the beasts, which occasionally bring them dead animals as presents. The druid is happy enough to share raw meat, but the rest of the party is relieved when the spell begins to expire and they can retreat to their boat without worrying about a pair of curious 800 lb gorillas rummaging through their stuff. They leave the beasts in peace; a rare ending for an encounter in the wild.

And in the morning, less than a day's sail brings them to a new port. The kingdom of Flefliequelp, one of the seven major nations that make up the Gold Coast (and not one of my random name generator's best efforts). A dark and brooding forest shelters a realm of rustic humans, where the men are hunters and magic is reserved to women. The party is soon approached by a pair of longbow-armed guards who challenge the ranger to prove he is entitled to wear the bow on his shoulder. They set up a target, not terribly difficult but sufficient to prove some minimal level of skill. The ranger wisely decides to make the easy shot rather than risk an impressive trick that might fail.

After this the ranger is treated as the leader of the group. The barbarian is somewhat miffed that his shiny armor apparently counts for nothing in the local's eyes. The rest of the party, being spell-casters, wisely keep their comments to themselves.

They catch a ride on a barge that takes them down the river from the small port village to the capital. As usual a young lad hanging out at the docks offers to guide them around, for a bit of coin. They explore this new city, amazed by the number of master blacksmiths. In true adventurous fashion they spend a solid two days window-shopping, culminating in the purchase of a single longbow for 15 gp. Even that is fraught; the bowyer refuses to sell the weapon to the barbarian until he passes the same test.

Finally equipped for adventuring, they seek out the local bardic hall, run by a woman named Alys, who quickly recognizes their accent as Edersarrian. She and the bard engage in a riddle game, establishing that they are both of an equal rank. After that Alys is happy to talk, filling them on the three sisters that run her nation in exchange for the recent news from Edersarr. And of course, she offers them a job (what else are bardic halls for, if not to hand out quests?).

It turns out there is a bounty on gnoll ears: 100 gp per pair. This is a surprising amount of coin for a worthless trophy, but the state is financing a free-lance war against a tribe of gnolls to the south. Alys hints darkly at mysterious reasons why the kingdom can't just march an army down there and solve the problem themselves, but the party is not particularly interested in politics at the moment. Instead, they are eager to fulfill their mission and fill their purses.

They spend a pleasant week traveling by barge across the river system that serves as the kingdom's highway, made only slightly less comfortable by spending the last two days traveling through mosquito-filled swamps. However, as these bloodsuckers do not also drain constitution like the stirges, they bear up under the assault.

At last they are left to their own devices on the edge of civilized lands. They have declined to hire a local guard, trusting to the woodland skills of their ranger and druid. The directions are simple enough; go due south. The gnoll tribe lives on the edge of a lake at the foot of the mountains.

Even our intrepid adventurers can't mess this one up. Their days of travel through the woods are uninterrupted; these lands are denuded of serious threats by the constant passage of other hunting parties, and low-challenge encounters instinctively know to keep their distance.

The party soon finds their prey. They ambush a huge patrol of gnolls, having been singularly unimpressed by their previous encounter with the dog-men. Two score of unranked but still dangerous fighters are obliterated by entangles, swarms, and the terrifying meat-blender that the barbarian has become thanks to his new whirlwind combat style. When the creatures try to charge, the druid and ranger entangle them; when they resort to archery, swarms decimate them; and the few that break free are destroyed by the barbarian whole squads at a time.

The only thorn in the bush is that the druid at one point cast thorns, meaning they need to wait several hours for the spell to expire before they can harvest most of the tael of the battle. They do send the druid's hawk in to collect ears, though. A very patient bird chews through ears one at a time, bringing them out to fill the druid's rather disgusting back-pack full of various creature parts.

Before the spell expires, however, they are attacked again. A smaller group, only a score, but this group is led by a gnoll with class ranks. What a difference it makes. This gnoll can shoot, and shoot he does, defeating the ranger in an archery duel and leaving the man on the ground at zero hit points.

Concerned that they may need to beat a hasty retreat, the cleric uses his newest spell to forcibly dispel the thorns. The rest of the party then dashes in to harvest what they can before they have to run, trusting to their fighters to hold off the current threat.

The barbarian tries an intimidating charge, which works, insomuch as it intimidates the gnoll leader. He responds with his own entangle spell, catching the whole of the party in its effect. And then, with the barbarian temporarily neutralized, turns his fire on the spell-casters.

The cleric puts up an obscuring mist, which saves them from the arrows. However, it leaves the fragile spell-casters in the middle of a circle of entangling plants with two squads of angry, murderous gnolls. Blundering around in the thick white mist, the bard and wizard both find themselves engaged in hand-to-hand combat. This does not go well for the wizard who barely escapes with his life.

The barbarian, however, has broken free of the spell. He charges the gnoll leader, only to be intercepted by a squad of gnolls. Leaping into their midst, spinning like a top with his greatsword lashing out, the barbarian destroys the squad in a single round.

This is enough for the gnoll leader; he knows he is outclassed. He turns and runs. The barbarian, to his credit, considers chasing him; but the rest of the party calls him back. Running after a gnoll in gnoll woods is unlikely to end well for anybody but the gnoll.

The party gathers up the tael from the new combat and retreats, binding their wounds and counting their remaining spells. They know the war is far from over; the gnolls will return to avenge this defeat, and in greater strength than before. Their goal is not so much escape as delay; a chance to renew spells and restore their strength before facing a foe that now knows their tactics. Deep in gnoll territory, in the creature's own backyard as it were, and pursued by ranked foes, the party is in grave danger.

Friday, July 3, 2020

The Death of a Republic

Here's the plot of a political thriller I'm not writing:

On election day social media is flooded with concerns that Antifa is stuffing ballot boxes in urban polling stations. Armed militias (i.e. white men with guns) drive in from the countryside to "protect" the sanctity of the election. At some point, inevitably, someone gets shot. Again, social media is inundated with images and video. All across the nation polling places become deserted as people who were willing to risk COVID flee in fear of guns and white male rage.

Police either refuse to respond, or show up in SWAT gear and contribute to the atmosphere of fear. Perhaps the governors close the polling stations "to protect the people." By the end of the day the victors are declared. Mail-in votes are ignored, lost, or destroyed. The minority wins by suppressing the voice of the majority.

And if it doesn't work? If people vote in such numbers that even the suppression tactics fail? Then the Republican states declare that they cannot certify their vote tallies because of the violence.

The election goes to the House, where each state gets one vote. The Republican states vote for Trump. And there you go: a completely legal and Constitutional coup. The only legal response is through the courts, and we all already know how that one ends. The Republic dies by suicide - as everyone from Cicero to Lincoln told us it would.

The story works because the author has cleverly foreshadowed the conclusion with a series of events like Malhuer National Wildlife Refuge, Charleston, Charlottsville, Albuquerque, and of course the on-going national police riot. There is no unbelievable conspiracy of secret actors, merely the collusion of like-minded people acting in public and doing what they've been practicing all along.

But like I said, I'm not writing it, because I work in SF&F, not horror.