Ruins of Adventure

Return to Phlan
Bring out your dead!

Traithe Nightfall

Having successfully escaped from the city of Hillsfar, after having received Rudolfo’s abdication paperwork, we made our way back across the sea, headed for Phlan. With the ship packed bow to stern with people, it is very difficult to find a moment alone. When the need arises I practice my few spells, particularly the spell I learned that alters my appearance. Nothing dramatic, just subtle differences to enhance my visiulization and control.

As we head towards Phlan, it becomes apparent that some of the folks are indeed diseased with whatever was going around in the city. It is also apparent that I have contracted this infection as well. Seeing as how we don’t want to bring this infection into Phlan, there is a suggestion that we head to the deserted isle in the bay. Nat has been there before and died there and came back. Heading for the island, we make landfall and offload the folks that we gathered. Scouting around the island, there are remains of orcs and other creatures, but the island and the fort here have been picked clean over the years.

With what scrub can be gathered, since folks need to be fed, one of our crew begins boiling the orc to at least provide sustenance. I mean it’s not really cannibalism, they’re not human, right. Later we discover some boats and head out to the windward side of the island away from the pollution flowing into the bay and start catching fish. [Whose name I don’t remember], begins casting some explosive magical forces into the water and bringing up dead fish, which I help gather up. Fish is definitely going to be better than boiled orc.

We spend the next several days on the island, and I continue my daily practice with the disguise spell, augmenting with additional subtle changes from my kit. I subject myself to the healer to rid myself of the disease that has tried to take hold of me. He does an admiral job, even if he has some strange ideas about how to rid ourselves of it including this strange idea about bathing in the sea and this harsh material he calls soap. It’s a little odd and so is he, but what can you do. I time my practice to coincide with these activities. Finally after 5 days, the healer decides we are ready and we gather up all the folks back to the boat and head across the bay to make port and collect our earnings for bringing back new recruits. Pulling up to the dock, the harbor master appears in awe of the volume of folks that have been brought back and healthy to boot. I forgot, I’m not collecting any reward. The price of ensuring that I am not carrying that nasty disease…Sigh.

Arriving back at the Bitter Blade, we discover a wake/funeral/reception in progress as Rudolfo and Marcos’ father has passed away. There is lots of wailing and wringing of hands. Women. Of course I have no room to talk. Mel is a bit young and her sense of comforting is still developing. A bit like a bull in a bedroom. Marcos notes that we have returned and smoothly makes his way over to us. He definitely moves with a cat like grace through the room. Reaching the door to his father’s quarters, he quickly slips out for a quick conversation with us. We agree to meet in an hour down in the common room. Making our way back downstairs we find a nice corner table and order a round of food and drink.

Later, Marcos joins us. “Sorry to hear about your father.” I find myself saying. “I hope it was a quick end for him?”. “It was.” he replies. Interesting to note what he left unsaid that there is a suspicion that perhaps he helped the process along. Things to consider. “We found your brother in Hillsfar. He has no interest in the council seat here in Phlan.” “And you have proof of that?” he inquires. “We do.” and I produce the duly completed and witnessed document. He looks pleased. He hands over the deed paperwork and after a meaningful look from the party, the agreed upon cash payment amount. I review the documentation he has provided. Interestingly on the map he has noted that there is a secret back entrance to the estate, one Cryptkeep by name. There are several acres involved and as such we have effectively moved into the roles of minor nobility here in Phlan. A definite move up from my farmer’s origins, but looking at the documentation, there is still farming and cultivating involved. Perhaps if things go our way, we can get someone else to do it. I’d really rather not go back to doing that kind of work.

Gathering supplies for our trek to Cryptkeep, we head out the Slum Gate and as it is approaching evening make our way through the streets and head for the Whispering Forest headed towards Cryptkeep. As we are careful, we don’t encounter any oppostiion to our movements. Several hours later we reach our destination. We pause to take in the sight of the keep, and it becomes clear that there are currently inhabitants in the keep. Probably some sort of monster group. We make the decision to avoid the keep and head around it to the graveyard and the marker for the secret entrance. Arriving at the graveyard and in the rough vicinity of the secret entrance we discover two like locations for the entrance. One is a large mausoleum, the other a marker to Mystra, god of magic. Mel begins attacking the door as it is banded with silver and apparently she has some acquisiitve instincts. The door is unlocked and with a good shove, it opens. In one corner of the crypt, there is a dead body. Our resident physician moves over to take a look at it and while kneeling down, out from the sarcaphogus contained within the maustoleum, jumps another creature that attempts to run him through. Quickly mobilizing, the folks with bows handy fire into the creature, while I step up and wade into one on one combat with the creature. We handily take it out and ensure that the physician is taken care of and back on his feet. In the interim our anonymous masked friend has discovered that the shrine to Mystra houses the secret entrace to the keep.

After a few moments of fooling with the mechanism, it is determined that it is possible to open the covering from both the inside and outside, and now it is time to see what lies ahead. We descend the ladder some 50ft down with light spells and torches lit. Proceeding some distance down the corridor, with supports set every 10 feet or so, we come to a stone wall. Extinquishing the lights on our side, we see a faint outline of a door in the wall. The physician sends his familiar through the door, under the door? I don’t know exactly since whatever it is seems to be to small for the eye to see. It reports a hairy humanoid creature and an ape with pits in between the door and their location. It is decided that a ranged attack option is preferrable. Setting out our weapons, we prep for door opening and firing at the creatures as soon as they are visible.

The attack goes pretty much as planned other than the gorilla creature is much more difficult to take down and it lets out a couple of loud bellows before succumbing to it’s injuries. Moving across the pit on the planks that are available we reset and look for the door up. Heading up a set of stairs we hear more creatures moving around. We begin a stealth campaign to take out the creatures, that we have identiifed has hobgoblins that have taken over the keep. We acquire a hanger-on in the form of a very undersized hobgoblin that has no desire to die, but rather would see the rest of his troop taken out, as apparently they treat him worse than pond scum. We begin taking the interior of the castle, starting in the dining room. Opening the troop leaders room door, we again employee speed tactics, taking out the leader with a round of arrows and a quick follow up sword stroke. Making a note of his face and body, for future reference, we search the room and discover he has a few better weapons and some notes about a reinforcement troop arrrving in a month’s time. Our new hanger-on, leads us through the interior of the keep and the forbidden doors, which after a nearly fatal bought with a couple of more hobgoblins, we find some lost treasures of the keep. A dandy new sword, a wand and a scroll of spells for me.

This place is going to need some cleanup before it’s truly habitable again. The sword provides some interesting abilties and looking deeply into the blade there is a dwarf’s reflection that appears in the metal of the blade. Our hobgoblin guide, leads us up and we come out near one of the walls where we spot the wall guards that we saw earlier from the outside. The sword, giving me some interesting abilities, allows me to speak hobgoblin. Disguising myself as the troop leader I call out to the guards on the wall that they are to come down and be replaced by two other guards. Apparently this isn’t an uncommon occurence. The ambush that we set, didn’t let them last long. So far so good. The only remaining group was the barracks crew. Alas, the best laid plans of mice and men oft go awry. Using our hobgoblin lackey, and maintaining my disguise, we call three of them out to take up wall guard duty. Then it all falls apart. The remaining eight that are sleeping are abruptly awoken when our ambush doesn’t take the three we called out immediately. Rushing in, I take the new sword I acquired and it’s capabilites and begin to go through the still waking hobgoblin crew like a hot knife through cream. In a whirlwind of attacks, I take out one and instead of a dead hobgoblin there is a dead dwarf on the floor. No time for comptemplaiting the result, have to keep moving. By the time I am done, most of the creatures are either dead or wounded and we mop up. We have retaken the keep!

After cleaning and residual wounds and dragging the bodies outside, we ensure the walls are secure and try to catch some sleep until the morrow, when we will begin our next steps.

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The Third Party: Session 5 (GMs notes)

30 Eleint
Professor Aiderns, managing the affairs of Kryptgarten and its new settlers while the rest of the party are out playing politics, notices signs of fever progressing again among the population of Ex-Hillsfarans. Everyone who came over on the ship from Hillsfar, excluding the cultists of the Chaos Messiah, appear to be infected. Grinkle and those settlers scoured from the slums appear fine. Aiderns immediately asks Professor Drummons to come out to Kryptgarten and the two of them take over most of the lower level of the keep as a laboratory.

Squire Grimnir, learning of the outbreak when he returns in the evening, immediately orders the settlers to begin construction of a large Roman-style bathhouse, and has Grinkle and his cultists begin enforcing strict daily hygiene requirements on the entire population.

4 Marpenoth
Grimnir, Traithe, Melastasya, and Tvoja complete their training regimes, advancing to level 2.

Melastasya, on her daily trip back to Phlan, stops by the Council Hall to read the official [[Rumors and Proclamations: Week 3 | Proclamations]] and posted want-ads in search of work. She becomes greatly interested in one promising “free fish for life”. While reading though, she is accosted by Councilman Porphyrys, who explains that his agents have discovered that the Lostafinga hobgoblins, the same tribe the party fought at Kryptgarten, were based in the ruins of his family’s old textile mill, and that clearing the place of the hobgoblins might be mutually beneficial to them.

As Melastasya was about to start haggling over the price, Grimnir and Tvoja spotted them and stepped in, asking the impoverished councilman for his unquestioning vote on a Bill of Attainder granting Elissa the ability to sit on the council in exchange for their help in clearing the textile mill. Porphyrys quickly agreed and offered to put the bill before the council himself.

Meanwhile, back in Kryptgarten, Aidern and Drummons observed new swelling in the lymph nodes of their patience, and a disturbing smell of…pine. Melastasya suggested that they should just scalp and boil a hobgoblin to cure the people, but no one listened.

5 Marpenoth
Suspecting that this new disease was somehow the result of angering the fey by lumbering the Quivering Forest for building materials, Grimnir wrote to the temple of Gond in Phlan, ordering large, black, cold-iron church bells to drive off the fey influence. Tvoja set their peasants to work constructing a large church to their Triad (Mask-Chauntea-Grimnir).

The party discussed plans for assaulting the hobgoblins in the textile mill with Grinkle, specifically asking for ways that they might be turned or possible political or religious schisms. Grinkle was able to inform them about the basics of the Lostafinga tribe, the layout of the factory, and the fact that there were some 500 hobgoblins, with at least 200 soldiers there. Grimnir decided that a surgical strike to kill or kidnap the hobgoblin high priestess was their best bet for destabilizing the hobgoblin forces.

Tvoja informed them that the wells and catacombs that led under the old textile mill included a safe-house of the Church of Mask and the Thieves’ Guild. She led them down into the wells where they met with Professor Swipe, who agreed to provide some kind of distraction to get the majority of the hobgoblin forces out of the compound in exchange for the party agreeing to locate and deliver an ancient treasure which the Cadornas had supposedly hidden somewhere in the mill.

After dark, the party snuck up the well in the center of the mill. They waited until they heard the sound of trumpets and rushing boots, as three-quarters of the hobgoblin garrison streamed out of the compound to confront some unseen threat.

Aidern’s familiar scouted ahead, locating the make-shift temple, though it was repelled by a magic circle. Traith summoned a cloud of fog to obscure their movements and they rushed the temple. Melastasya threw open the door to see the old crone Grishnak sacrificing an orcish child, before an assembly of two score lesser priestesses. Grimnir borrowed Traith’s scroll of Misty Step and teleported to appear on the altar just as Grishnak finished her sacrifice. He appeared with flaming eyes and mouth, and, in draconic, which the hobgoblins apparently understood, pronounced jihad, claiming that the priestesses should be at the top of the hobgoblin order. Grishnak, not wanting to lose face in front of her underlings, backed Grimnir’s play, crying victory and sending the fourty axe-wielding lady-hobos streaming out into the courtyard, where they began to slaughter any male soldier that refused to bow the knee to Grishnak.

tumblr_nctkfqFXCk1rlitzfo1_500.jpgGrimnir quickly evacuated the temple using a gaseous form scroll and the party started searching for the treasure. In a nearby building, an old stone structure converted to a barracks, Grimnir, still gaseous, found a hidden room with a large chest. The problem being, that, of course, it was behind a wall of the room which had been claimed as the sub-chief’s bedchambers. The massive hobgoblin lay asleep on a large bed, three hobgoblin women draped over him—apparently to exhausted from mating to care about the muster and ensuing religious coup-d’-etat going on outside.

Traith disguised him/her self as a hobgoblin harem girl. Traith slinked into the bed-chamber, hoping to sneak into the secret room, only to find that the door was directly behind the bed. Shrugging, Traith climbed up onto the bed and began to tease the sub-chief, running his/her hands over the hobo’s naked skin. The other hobgoblin women seemed very confused by Traith’s actions and the chief seemed unresponsive (apparently not used to the concept of fore-play). Triath finally resorted to slapping him awake, only to narrowly avoid getting hit in the face by the axe the chief had already in his hand.

Traithe hopped up and sashayed out of the room, again narrowly avoiding a thrown axe. She taunted the chief again, this time provoking him to leap out of bed, snatch an over-sized sword from the wall, and charge at Traith. The rest of the party, laying in wait, leaped on the sub-chief, kicking the door closed once he was in the hallway. Traith paralyzed him using the wand, cyllibrym, and the rest turned the huge hobgoblin into a pin-cushion.

They piled into the room, Grimnir chasing the harem-girls out with his demonic visage, overturned the bed and set at the hidden door with crowbars. The small room beyond was filled with a gigantic chest, nearly six feet in width and a little more than half that in height and depth, as well as a very sudden and unhealthy looking beam of silver-white light. Melastasya and Aidern pulled the rails of the bed and used them to hook the chest, which took all four of them (Grimnir being still gaseous) to scooch out of the small room.

Tvoja sprung the lock on the giant chest, narrowly avoiding a cloud of spinning, whirling, jagged-edged blades of glass. They shrugged and began shoving the whole chest, all nine-hundred pounds of it, cloud of blades and all, out into the hallway. Five minutes later, just as they were about to lever the chest out into the courtyard, the blades dissipated to reveal close to sixty cubic feet of gold—cups, plates, jewelry, pieces of armor, bars of bullion, and more, but no coins or other liquid cash.

Traith called up another cloud of fog and Melastasya rushed to the well. She dived in and swam down, hoping to gauge the depth of the well, only to find that the associated aquifer went deeper than she could safely swim. Swimming back to the water’s surface, she ran a rope from the top of the well to the catacombs’ opening where a dozen members of the thieves’ guild waited. The party began sending a steady stream of bags filled with gold down the rope. There are a few near misses from the hobgoblins still fighting a civil war in the square, but the party manages to get out in once piece.

Professor Swipe, meeting them in the catacombs, is so pleased by their success that he gives the party one-sixth of the liberated treasure ( one hundred pounds of gold).

Melastasya, still awake and in pretty good shape, encourages the party to head into the civilized part of town and find “Delbar” to inquire about killing bugbears in exchange for free fish. This late at night, they are forced to sneak into town using the thieves’ tunnels, only to find the fish market closed and that Delbar lives outside of the walled portion of town. Mel does succeed in waking a fishmonger who lives closer to the market, arranging for a large supply of Halibut (most of it without extra heads, eyes, or other weirdness) to be shipped out to Kryptgarten.

They sneak back out of town and return home with their gold.

6 Marpenoth

Grimnir rises early and heads into town to attend the closed council session. Councilman Porphyrys puts forward the Bill of Attainder, which passes four to one, with only Chief Councilman Eberhard voting against. Markos immediately puts forward the homosexual agenda, and Grimnir rushes off to make sure Elissa is present to exercise her rights to vote. The latter bill comes to a tie vote—with Eberhard, Cadorna, and Bivant voting against—pushing Bishop Braccio to make the tie-braking vote…in favor.

Grimnir returns to Kryptgarten triumphantly to begin planning a wedding.

Back in Cryptgarten, the settlers continue to get worse. The swollen lymph nodes begin to harden, turn white, and mound in the center. Their skin becomes pale, almost translucent, and pulls away from the bones. And the ligaments in their jaws weaken, causing them all to walk about with their mouths open and slack. The smell of pine in the keep becomes overwhelming, like a forest that has just been cut down—even the middens reek of pine.

The Professors rush about trying various remedies and interviewing the patients to try to find some probable cause of this new malady. They find that the blood of the patients has become thick, like tree sap. Melastasya once again suggests that they try scalping and boiling someone, but is ignored.

7 Marpenoth
Grimnir unloads several hundred gold on preparations for the wedding, pushing the sick peasantry to build the church as fast as possible. The peasants begin to look even worse—their skin hanging off their frames and sharp, boney spurs protruding from their lymph nodes.

Desperate to avoid spreading the plague to the honored wedding guests, Grimnir dispatched Melastasya to capture a hobgoblin alive. When she returned, hobo in tow, Grimnir and Melastasya descend into the depths of the keep, late at night, accompanied by candle-bearing ex-Chaos-Cultists. The hobgoblin was summarily scalped and boiled, slowly, accompanied by much screaming.

When the hobgoblin died, its head ripped open and a…thing—a massive, six-clawed crocodile, twice the size of the hobgoblin, with ghostly-pale flesh hanging in loose folds about its body and long, boney spears protruding from its back and the undersides of its limbs—clawed its way into the world. The thing lumbered its way over to Grimnir and Melastasya and prostrated itself before them—speaking into their minds that it was their loyal vassal and desired only that it be given the opportunity to pursue “true happiness”…and have another person boiled for its pleasure once a week.

8 Marpenoth
Everyone awoke to find that the entire population of Kryptgarten had been cured of their malady—the thing which had been trying to birth itself into the world since Grimnir had first started practicing boiling dead orcs having finally found an outlet.

Grimnir commissioned some new mosaics depicting his pet for the bathhouses and sent to Phlan for “plush crocodile monsters” and toy windup versions to be given out to his peasantry to “get them used to the idea” that the horrible beast from beyond was their new mascot. The “thing” was dispatched to patrol the nearby forests, killing any hobgoblins it found—leaving their hands to be sent (sans pinkies) back as a warning, and mounting their skulls on its spines.

16 Marpenoth
Construction of the church at Kryptgarten is completed, the black-iron bells hung, and the wedding of Markos Mondaviak and Elissa Bivant is held in the new building, presided over by Tvoja of the church of Mask. It is a simple ceremony, a marriage of convenience and negotiation, but joyous nonetheless, with a feast of fresh Halibut.

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Noriss's Boys: Session 1
A brief foray away from the safety of the wells.

My name is Tamn. Until recently I was a slave. Very briefly I was a wealthy adventurer. Now I am a bandit.

It all started when I fell down a well, the bandit part at least. I landed in the middle of a small army of kobolds, orcs, lizard-men, and…other things, all with weapons pointed at me. I thought I was going to die, albeit, a better death than my friends got. I was just waiting for one of the kobolds to skewer me while I was down, then the biggest half-orc I’d ever seen pushed his way through the throng and offered me a hand.

I let the big bastard, genetically speaking of course, help me to my feet, and he introduced himself as “Noriss the Grey, Bandit Lord of Old Phlan.” He gave me a rather square deal—join his group or die. Obviously the former seemed preferable, so I found myself facing off, unarmed, against an oddly cute-looking lady-kobold. Don’t ask me why I thought she was cute, or how I knew she was a she.

I usually prefer to have at least a stick for a fight. She was a lot stronger than she looked and, damn was she quick, but after a few tosses I got her measure, got her in a choke-hold, and had her under in a couple of minutes.

Noriss was pretty sweet on the whole thing, let me keep my weapons and armor and gear, took all my cash—nearly a thousand crowns worth—naturally. He named me a ‘lieutenant’—apparently most of the gang were scraped up from the rank-and-file of local humanoid tribes or skum from the slums, so “adventurers” that join get special treatment.

After the little ‘test’, Noriss dispatched a couple of lizards to cling up in the top of the well and report on what was going on with the shadows. A couple of the kobos helped their sister back up and she introduced herself as Isti. Lord Noriss told her to show me to a place to bunk out while they waited for things topside to calm down. She then introduced me to the other two lieutenants: Gorilla-Arm Yuri, who did, in fact, have a HUGE arm, and Coffex, a lizard fellow.

I dumped my cash in the treasure room—and boy was it a treasure room—then was lead to a surprisingly dry hole, given that we were at the bottom of a well, where I could sleep.

I was woken up I don’t know how long later, by a grumpy-looking orc. I have NO IDEA what it was saying, probably something about fucking my mother, but I got the idea that I was wanted back at the well. When I arrived, Noriss informed me that the shadows things had yet to bother the well, but that the big black ball they came from was still covering the exit. He also, of course, asked about what kind of loot my companions had been carrying…

After getting the run-down on the sick loot my friends had, Noriss decided we should retrieve the bodies. He was even nice enough to suggest that his gang would give them a proper burial—though Isti pointed out that this was more a matter of self-preservation, given that ghouls were fairly common in this section of the ruins and corpses tended to attract them.

The lieutenants, myself included, were to go up first to secure the area—apparently being a ‘lieutenant’ was less about leadership than it was about getting special assignments that were too dangerous or difficult for the normal gang members. A squad of orcs and lizards would be coming behind us to grab the bodies and haul them down the well.

Coffex gave us each a weird, foul-smelling potion to quaff. I shrugged and drank it, and felt much stronger for it. He then pointed to a brown-and-white striped, woolly caterpillar climbing down the side of the well, saying it was an omen of ‘Great Luck’, foretelling a harsh winter to come. I couldn’t really follow how a harsh winter was ‘Great Luck’ but figured if it made my cold-blooded new companion happy it had to be good for now…

We came up topside cautiously, Yuri and Isti sporting bright bullseye lanterns and me and Coffex armed and ready. It was quiet, and dark, even with the lanterns, and—I could see—even with the sun bright overhead. Again I could see strange shapes moving in the darkness. I scanned the area, looking for where my friends had fallen and spotted the metal cube that that punk Damien had given us, sitting on the ground right by the well-head.

Cursing, I reached down, picked it up, and poked at the silver side. There was a click, and the darkness vanished. We blinked, dazedly, in the light, but were not nearly as surprised as the many shadows that suddenly found themselves standing fully visible in the bright sun, naked as the day they were birthed onto this plane. I rushed at them furiously, but they scattered into the surrounding ruins.

I pocketed the cube and Yuri yelled the all-clear down the well. Within two minutes my friends’ bodies were taken down the well and stripped of their weapons, magic items, and valuables. Noriss had them ‘buried’ (more like dumped) in a deep pit. They were covered with lye and i was allowed to say a few words, then a heavy stone slab was placed over the pit (apparently the bandits’ standard method of disposing of bodies).

We then adjourned to Noriss’s private chambers to divvy up the magical treasures (apparently such rare finds were reserved for the Lieutenants and Noriss himself) and discuss our next mission—the kidnapping of a wealthy heiress in New Phlan.

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Donovan's Diary: Entry 8
13 Eleint, Year of the Maidens

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The most magical thing happened!

download__1_.jpgIt must be fate!

download__4_.jpgElven paladins! I didn’t believe they existed. Let alone that they would be so beautiful. Let alone that they would come to me bearing magics beyond imagining…

Kissing_Sketch_by_Bluesdan.jpg
Let alone that their power to cure by laying on of hands is done, instead, by laying on of lips!

It seems that the kiss of miss Frantiska, laden with the power of her elven blood and the goddess Selune, can cure a being of the psionic plague which has afflicted us with even greater efficacy than the rod of health.

pencil_drawing_of_two_girls_2_by_jean_luc1964-d36inol.jpgOr that the magical maiden who came to me would lay lips on another of my magical maidens!

download__3_.jpg What magic might be released were all the magical maidens who have come to engage in such acts?!

images__1_.jpgA force more powerful than blood? Could the strength of their love breach the barriers of the planes?

My mind will be haunted by the image of that kiss for all time.

two_girls_in_love_by_aerzteohnegrenzenfan.jpg

I must make sure that Frantiska knows that I am afflicted as well…

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Don’t I need to be healed?

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Donovan's Diary: Entry 7
12 Eleint, Year of the Maidens

Preparations for the battle with the kobolds continue apace.

I mentioned previously that I came into possession of a Tract of Teratology, given to me by the maiden Teldicia. Like much of Finnot’s work, the tract focuses on the summoning (and possibly controlling) of horrible extraplanar entities. While Finnot’s Book refers to fairly simple acts as part of the summoning—sacrificing doves and pigeons or obtaining bits of a devil given freely, the kind of things a magician of my caliber would expect to be dealing in. The Tract of Teratology goes to much more extreme lengths—requiring rare components and the sacrifice of sentients to generate the massive magical energies to call forth the creature.

Winona made some mention of the possible legalities of such sacrifices, depending on jurisdiction, but I would like to enumerate, for the sake of my own distraction the types of sacrifices described in the text.

At a Sharran temple in Cormyr, at certain seasons of the year, the court is set round with pictures, which pourtray in a fearful manner the sufferings of the dead. Some are sawn asunder; some are gored with pitchforks; some are thrown into a cauldron of boiling water; others are burnt. The artists, under the gifted instruction of the priests, succeeded in representing every sight that is terrible to the eye or revolting to the senses. In the recess at Mongha before-mentioned a few of these choice subjects were displayed with an edifying effect. The presumed existence of a place of torment brings a revenue into the coffers of the priest, who is assumed to have the power of appeasing the wrath of the judges.

Dehydration: The victim must be restrained and denied water, which may necessitate a wait of 3 or more days. During this time, the victim may try to escape, or to call for help; steps must be taken. This is by far the least gruesome option, but may be the most heart-wrenching, as one would have to keep tabs on the subject to make sure that the death happened in the proscribed way and would involve prolonged contact—and thus the risk of losing that emotional detachment which is necessary of a great mage.

The Wheel: A victim is lashed to a wheel and beaten with a cudgel or hammer, so that the gaps in the wheel allow the limbs to break. This process takes 1-2 hours, and is very noisy. A large wheel is required. Winona described this method of torture and sacrifice at some length in her discussion of the Melvauntish legal system, which I have recorded here:

“Melvaunt, in whose jurisdiction we are now or soon will be, allows for a wide range of punishments, including torture by means of a Catherine Wheel as both a means of execution and post mortem punishment—both only in cases of aggravated murder, that is, murder committed while in the midst of another crime, or perpetrated against a family member of the accused. Firstly, the delinquent is to be placed belly down, on a cartwheel with their hands and feet bound, outstretched out along the spokes, and thus dragged by a horse to the place of execution. The wheel is then hammered onto a pole, which is then fastened upright in its other end in the ground and made to revolve slowly. A large hammer or an iron bar is then applied to the limb over the gap between the beams, breaking the bones. Twice times on each arm, one blow above the elbow, the other below. Then, each leg gets the same treatment, above and below the knees. The final ninth blow is given at the middle of the spine, so that it breaks. Then, the broken body of the accused is unbound and woven onto the wheel between the spokes. The criminal is then to be left dying ‘afloat’ on the wheel, and be left to rot. The broken man can last hours and even days, during which birds are invited peck at the helpless victim. Eventually, shock and dehydration cause death.”

220px-Martyrdom_of_Joseph_Marchand.jpgCautious Slicing: the body is tied to a wooden frame, and flesh is cut from the body in multiple slices. This execution takes 1-2 hours, and is very noisy. A wooden frame is required.

Slow slicing, also translated as the slow process, the lingering death, and death by a thousand cuts, was a form of torture and execution used in Thay and Impiltur from roughly 900 DR In this form of execution, a knife was used to methodically remove portions of the body over an extended period of time, eventually leading to death. The term “língchí” is derived from a classical description of ascending a mountain slowly. Lingchi was reserved for crimes viewed as especially severe, such as treason, or killing one’s parents. The process involved tying the person to be executed to a wooden frame, usually in a public place. The flesh was then cut from the body in multiple slices in a process that was not specified in detail in Thayan law, and therefore most likely varied. In later times, opium was sometimes administered either as an act of mercy or as a way of preventing fainting. The punishment worked on three levels: as a form of public humiliation, as a slow and lingering death, and as a punishment after death.

While it is difficult to obtain accurate details of how the executions took place, they generally consisted of cuts to the arms, legs, and chest leading to amputation of limbs, followed by decapitation or a stab to the heart. If the crime was less serious or the executioner merciful, the first cut would be to the throat causing death; subsequent cuts served solely to dismember the corpse.

The esteemed historian James Elkins argues that extant pictures of the execution make obvious that the “death by division” involved some degree of dismemberment while the subject was living. Elkins also argues that, contrary to the apocryphal version of “death by a thousand cuts”, the actual process could not have lasted long. The condemned individual is not likely to have remained conscious and aware (if even alive) after one or two severe wounds, so the entire process could not have included more than a “few dozen” wounds. In the Tam dynasty of Thay, one hundred cuts were inflicted, and the Zulkir Szass Tam holds the records at three thousand incisions. As an official punishment, death by slicing may also have involved cutting up the bones, cremation, and scattering of the deceased’s ashes.

images.jpgBoiled Alive: A large cauldron is filled with oil or water and brought to a boil. The victim is slowly lowered into the liquid. This requires at least 1 hour, and is noisy. A cauldron is required, as is some way to lower the victim into it.

Executions of this type were often carried out using a large vessel such as a cauldron or a sealed kettle that was filled with a liquid such as water, oil, tar, or tallow. Depending on the intended cruelty, the victim was either immersed before the liquid was heated or plunged, usually head first, into a boiling liquid. In some cases, the executioner could control the speed of demise by raising or lowering the victim by means of a hook and pulley system.

An alternative method was to use a large shallow receptacle that contained oil, tallow or pitch. The victim, who was then partially immersed in the liquid, was fried to death. Death in these cases was by severe scalding caused by the hot liquids (water or oil). Immersion burns would form on the arms, torso and legs. Prolonged scalding would result in anything up to fourth-degree burns of the skin. The epidermis and the dermis are destroyed, leading to the complete breakdown of subcutaneous fat. Eventually the heat would expose muscle, leading to breaches in major arteries and veins.

574431c10852ddb294f159969674236f.jpgBlood Eagle: The victim’s ribs are cut and broken near the spine, then pulled out so that they resemble wings. The lungs are tugged out through the wounds in the victim’s back. This process takes 30-60 minutes, and is quite noisy. The blood eagle method of execution is sometimes mentioned in northern saga legends. It was performed by cutting the skin of the victim by the spine, breaking the ribs so they resembled blood-stained wings, and pulling the lungs out through the wounds in the victim’s back. Salt was sprinkled in the wounds. Victims of the method of execution, as mentioned in skaldic poetry, are believed to have included King Ælla of Northumbria. The victims had to suffer in silence if they wanted to reach Valhalla. One scream and they were condemned to never feast with the gods.

With a butcher’s aplomb
they spread out your lungs
and made you warm wings
for your shoulders.

220px-Die_Saege.JPGHung and Cut: The victim is hung upside down and sawed in half vertically; this method takes a good 30 minutes, and is noisy. The term “death by sawing” indicates the act of sawing a living person in half, either longitudinally, or transversely, through the central body mass, either sawing the individual in half across or along the body length. Thus, decapitation by means of sawing, or dismemberment by means of sawing are merely tangential sub-themes, though some ambiguous cases might be included.

Different methods of death by sawing have been recorded. In cases related to the Chondathan Emperor Caligula, the sawing is said to be through the middle. In the cases of Calimshan, it is stated that that the sawing was lengthwise, both from the groin and upwards, and from the skull and downwards. In only one case, the person is explicitly described as being hung upside-down and sawn apart vertically through the middle, starting at the groin, with no mention of fastening or support boards around the person, in the manner depicted in illustrations. In other cases where details about the method, beyond the mere sawing act, are explicitly supplied, the condemned person was apparently fastened to either one or two boards prior to sawing.

I recall one particular incident described in a lecture on religion during my time at the academy:

Stabbed: The victim is pierced with several blades, and must be stabbed at least once by each caster prior to succumbing to injury (meaning that if the first stab is fatal, then the other participants are unable to contribute to the death, and the ritual must be started over). This execution only takes a few moments, but can produce a degree of commotion.

Poison: After the victim ingests poison and dies, the ritual is complete, which means that this part of the ritual could conceivably be completed in public, in short order, without attracting much attention at all.

It’s all quite fascinating really. I imagine one might learn quite a bit about the anatomy of the body and the limits of endurance from such procedures, even if there was not the tangible benefit from the act of summoning.

The possibilities of additional components are also quite fascinating, ranging from the mundane, to the extremely expensive, and many require some prior preparation of the body before enacting the execution. Some examples:

  • A sapphire, a ruby, and the victim’s most prized possession.
  • A bar of silver and the victim’s kidneys (removed from the still-living victim before beginning the sacrifice).
  • Three longspoons of white crystalline arsenic and the victim’s esophagus, which may be removed and burned after the execution, though there are some references to removing it prior to the act—I cannot imagine how this would be accomplished.
  • Two scruples of ambergris and the victim’s feet.
  • An ounce of aloe succotrina and the victim’s fingernails.
  • Six grams of gentian and tormentil plus the victim’s scalp.
  • Three drams of root of dittany and the victim’s eyes.
  • Ten grains of musk dissolved in rosewater plus the victim’s spinal column.
  • A handful of sand and a lock of the victim’s hair.
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The Third Party: Session 4 (GMs notes)

20 Eleint
The party awoke after their first night in their new keep to find that Grinkle had erected a small shrine to Grimnir and was kneeling before it, scouring his flesh raw with a pumice stone and reciting prayers of thanksgiving. Yeah, Grimnir got his first worshiper.

Melastasya and Tvoja took a stroll around their new lands and decided that they should immediately start working on making it profitable. The party loaded up the small wagon, hitched up the old worn-out pony, loaded it with a hastily cut-down tree (in which they hid their vast wealth), and headed back to Phlan.

After navigating through the slums, unopposed thanks to Grimnir’s inherent creepiness, they stopped at the gates and pontificated at length about their plans to turn Kryptgarten into a proper freehold, specifically recruiting all of the people that sailed over from Hillsfar to come settle and work there. Professor Aiderns sought out Professor Drummons and the two of them began rounding up the settlers, as well as anyone else in the slums who showed bubo scars or other signs of having survived the plague—so as to encourage considerable herd immunity in the Kryptgarten population.

The others went to the town square where Markos was being officially inducted into the Council. As his first official act, Markos named Grimnir “Squire of Kryptgarten”, the first minor noble of New Phlan, making much ado about the party reclaiming the keep and “securing Phlan’s northern border”. They made plans to meet Markos at the Bitter Blade for dinner to discuss any other work that he might have for them, then went and enrolled at the Public Training Hall.

Tvoja and Melastasya cashed in their letter of introduction from Markos with Professor Lype. Grminir payed Professor Shanal for some private tutoring, giving him 500 gold under the table, as it were.

They then went and found Markos who, over a nice dinner, informed them that he wanted to ‘consolidate his position’ quickly by means of arranging an advantageous marriage—specifically to Elissa Bivant, the ward of Head-Councilman Ulrich Eberhard and heir to a considerable fortune (and heir to a seat on the Council which she cannot occupy by virtue of her gender). He explained that his brother had courted her years ago, when she was just 10, and that Porphyrys Cadorna represented the current competition.

21 Eleint
The party set to work laying plans for some match-making, as well as the future of their keep. Grimnir rented out the entire Bitter Blade for the evening to throw a party, inviting all of the Councilmen and other “people of quality” in the city, under the auspices of celebrating his ennoblement and the Autumn Equinox, which was today.

During the day, Melastasya worked the city, dropping 1000 gold crowns to buy up all of the honey in town, and shipping that, along with a number of livestock (pigs, hens, goats, and sheep) and brewing gear (a still, descensory furnace, tubing, barrels) back to the keep.

Tvoja worked her contacts to learn the financial status of the various councilmembers, learning that Councilmen Eberhard and Folbre were both extremely wealthy, as was the Bishop, but that Councilman Cadorna was basically destitute—his family fortune largely tied up in lands in the older and not yet reclaimed sections of town.

When evening came, the party settled in for a party—Traithe, very convincingly dressed as a girl, dealing cards, Melastasya waiting tables, Grimnir playing the host, and Tvoja watching the proceedings from the shadows and providing insight. In attendance were Councilman Eberhard and Elissa, Councilman Werner von Urslingen and his wife Edeltraud, Bishop Braccio of Tyr, accompanied by the card-shark priestess, Sister Erol, Markos, accompanied by his sister Karistina, Councilman Aldron Folbre, accompanied by his sister Trea, and Councilman Porphyrys Cadorna, who arrived alone.

Melastasya engaged Elissa in conversation, being of an age with her, and was invited to become one of her maids, meanwhile working to understand what the girl wanted and how she might be won.

The evening began with a friendly (though high stakes) game of cards—Markos, Porphyrys Cadorna, Werner von Urslingen, Aldron Folbre, Ulrich Eberhard, and Sister Erol (playing on behalf of the Bishop) playing, and Traithe dealing.

Porphyrys was caught cheating early on, but was sufficiently embarrassed by Melastasya spilling a tray of drinks on him that he was not ejected from the game. Traithe managed the table masterfully, arranging for Folbre and Eberhard to win the first several hands and considerably raising the stakes, such that Porphyrys was forced to wager the deed for part of his family’s lands to stay in the game, causing everyone else to offer up deeds as part of the wager as well. Traithe attempted to rig the last hand in Markos’s favor, but that plan failed when Markos, strangely, asked for a completely new draw. By shear luck, the stone-faced boy won anyways, gaining possession of the following lands:

  • The priory of St. Conrath of the Woods, a Tyrran parochial holding near Melvaunt (from the Bishop). The priory lands include some fairly profitable sheep farms, but the priory itself has had issues attracting new novices and had fallen into disrepair and is mostly unused.
  • An old textile factory on the north-western side of Old Phlan, which was the largest of the remaining Cadorna lands.
  • An large manor-house on the north side of Old Phlan, near the old temple of Tyr, which belonged to the Eberhard family.
  • Three, very profitable, blocks of residential tenements in the city of Mulmaster from Aldron Folbre.

Grimnir and Markos used Porphyrys’s deed as leverage, signing the lands back to him with the condition that he would never pursue Elissa Bivant, and having the Bishop, the city’s chief judge and legal expert, witness the contract—his cooperation gained by Markos bequeathing the priory back to the diocese as a “gift”. Markos kept his winnings from Eberhard and Folbre, of course.

The party continued to shmooze for some time after the game wound down. They learned that Folbre was rather openly gay (and that apparently he and Markos had a thing going on occasion, and that he had had a thing going with Urslingen’s son back in Hillsfar a couple years ago). Grimnir put the moves on him, resulting in the councilman hanging on his arm most of the evening.

From Elissa they learned that her terms for marriage basically boiled down to getting out from under Eberhard’s thumb and gaining full possession of her family’s rightful seat on the Council—a thing that would require a change of the current laws which forbid women from sitting on the council. Markos tentatively agreed, assuming they could find a way to rewrite the inheritance laws so that he would not lose his seat to his older sister.

The party began angling for how to create a voting coalition to get such a thing passed. The Council seemed pretty split, with three young ones and three old, with the Bishop holding a non-voting seat to avoid creating a tie condition (also since Tyr’s priests are supposed to enforce the laws that exist, not change them). Folbre seemed an obvious ally, since they could agree to help legalize same-sex relationships in exchange for his vote to allow women on the council. They had already used their leverage over Porphyrys, and Eberhard had a clear reason to oppose granting any agency to Elissa. Which left Werner von Ursligen as the deciding vote on the matter.

They saw their possible leverage as:

  1. Get him into a fairly obvious extra-martial affair (a thing illegal and punishment by being thrown over the wall, naked and unarmed, in the middle of the night), and blackmail him into a yea vote.
  2. Get his son caught publicly engaging in a same-sex relationship (similarly illegal).
  3. Play to his racism and agree to vote for Phlan to become human only in exchange for his vote on the gender issues.

Traithe, in female form, attempted to seduce Urslingen over cards later with a mixture of flirtatiousness and a display of not-quite-perfect knife work. She got a very innuendo-laden invite to come to his house in the morning for “private training”. She arrived the next morning to find that the innuendo wasn’t, Urslingen really did teach him/her how to properly handle a pole-arm and sheath a sword, providing Traith with a week’s worth of free, intensive training for his next level of Fighter. Urslingen also agreed to come out to Kryptgarten to provide basic training to the settlers so that they could defend themselves from future hobgoblin attacks.

Grimnir spent a week attending Francis Urslingen’s very hands-on fencing lessons at the Training Hall, which involved a fair amount of going out into the slums and butchering mostly harmless goblins, orcs, and mongrelmen (and at least one dwarf). With some carefully planned flirting and spurning of an attractive female student, he let his interest in men be known to Francis and the two grew quite close…at which point he learned that, for all that Francis was interested in him, the monk was very strictly lawful and would not act on that interest. Which prompted Grimnir to talk Francis into petitioning his father to vote in favor of gender-rights when if it came up in the Council (which of course it will).

The party spent the next week completing their training requirements, hauling more settlers out to Kryptgarten, getting them set up farming (bees, sheep, pigs, poultry, grapes) and brewing (mead…lots of mead), and working with Councilman Urslingen to train the most promising so that they could help defend the keep against the hobgoblin reinforcements they expected to be arriving in a couple of weeks.

A total of 120 settlers made it out to Kryptgarten and, aside from some distrust of ‘The Squire’ settled in quite well. The former cultists of the Chaos Messiah joined Grinkle (with some prodding from Tvoja) in setting up a strange pantheist shrine worshiping Chauntea (goddess of agriculture), Mask (god of thievery and political intrigue), and Grimnir (whom Grinkle and the cultists insist is the demon-prince of personal hygiene).

Grimnir, meanwhile, continued his study of the Tract of Teratology, learning that the resultant creature, and it would indeed be a creature, would have vast flaps of translucent skin and spines growing from back, where it displays the severed heads and dried entrails of its victims.

3 Marpenoth

We’ll be picking up from here…

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The Third Party: Session 3 (GMs notes)
In which some murderhobos murder some hobo(goblins)...

14 Eleint

Late in the afternoon, Valkur’s Wake neared the port of Phlan. Professors Aidern and Drummons pulled the party aside with the captain and Nat to inform them that the plague had spread to most of the passengers on the ship, which was packed to triple capacity. After some hemming and hawing, the captain agreed to weigh anchor on the shore of Thorn Island, rather than risk spreading the disease to the city.

They unloaded all the passengers on the island and set up a quarantine zone. Captain Stormhammer cast cure disease on the party, so they would be well enough to care for the others (at the expense of them passing up their cut of the passenger fees). The Maid in the Iron Mask (who finally introduced herself as Tvoja Rabota, which means “none of your business” in orcish) passed on the healing, instead taking a small rowboat they found on the island and disappearing for a few hours (returning hale on whole). Traithe, Grimnir, and Melastasya explored the island, finding a source of water and “orc-meat” (they corpses were only 4-5 days old), and making sure there were no active threats. The professors set to work treating everyone.

They stayed on the island for almost four days, tending the sick and cleaning everyone thoroughly of fleas, until they were sure the passengers were not contagious. Grimnir, meanwhile, worked on decoding a book he had found in Hillsfar, which turned out to be a Tract of Teratology. He was not able to interpret the entire thing before leaving the island, but figured that the proper ritual involved scalping the victim, then slowly boiling them alive in a cauldron filled with pure water, six grams of gentian, and six grams of tormentil dye, could be done with up to five other celebrants, and that the end result should be large and crocodilian…

18 Eleint

After a short trip across the bay, the party disembarked in New Phlan. The halfling harbormaster was stunned by the number of “settlers” that the Wake had brought in, and more stunned by the 7500 gold that he had to pay Captain Stormhammer. Tvoja, as the only one who had not passed up a cut in exchange for healing, was handed three bags of 50 gold each.

The party quickly made their way to the Bitter Blade, where they learned that Councilman Mondaviak had passed away the night before. They went up to his rooms to “pay their respects” and managed to pull Markos briefly away from the many yellow-cloud mourners and deliver Rudolfio’s affidavit. An hour later, Markos met them downstairs, and quietly handed over the deed to “Kryptgarten Keep”, including all lands to a distance of 1 mile from the keep, and the attached vinyards. He also passed them a sack with 5 gems and a map leading to the keep (including a handwritten note indicating the location of a “secret entrance”).

They took their leave and made a few stops before preparing to leave town immediately: by Cockburn’s Grocery to check on Martha (who had not been seen for four days), by the Tyr’s Waiting to inquire about Lyrathwen (who also had not been seen for days), and by the Clerk’s office to make sure their deed was on the record and properly notarized. They headed out through Traitor’s Gate, made a quick stop by Jerome’s for supplies, and then booked it out of town.

It was late evening, almost dark, when they reached the keep, eight miles north of Phlan. They spotted two sentries on the walls, outlined by the fading sunlight, and decided to strike out into the woods to the east, towards the indicated “Secret Entrance”.

Some five hundred feet into the woods, they found a small clearing, the trees kept at bay by a wrought iron fence, surrounding an old stone mausoleum, a small shrine to Mystra, and two graves. Melastasya, on seeing the silver bands and hinges binding the door of the mausoleum, immediately broke out her crowbar and began disassembling the door, making quite a lot of racket.

Once the door was opened, they found an open stone sarcophagus, also silver-bound, with a pile of bones and torn armor in one corner. Professor Aiderns immediately made his way over to the bones to investigate, only to get jumped by a clawed, fanged, undead monstrosity that was crouching behind the sarcophagus. A few swift bites put him down, then the thing was hacked apart by Traithe. Grimnir and Melastasya provided some quick medical attention to get the professor back on his feat.

Meanwhile Tvoja discovered a secret passage beneath the shrine without. The party climbed down the shaft she had discovered and traversed the long tunnel until it ended at a brick wall, which was clearly also a door. They heard grunting from the other side, and Aiderns sent his familiar in to investigate—informing everyone that there was a hobgoblin and a gorilla on the other side of the door.

They kicked open the door and neutralized the hobo and the ape in moments with a sudden hail of missile fire. They used some boards to cross the pit that inexplicably divided the room, then moved quietly and with tactical precision from room to room—Melastasya checked the doors, Aiderns’ familiar scouting what was on the other side, and then whatever was inside being subjected to a hail of arrows as the door opened.

They cleared a corridor, feast hall, and kitchens. Killing one more hobgoblin and complaining about the hobos breaking their crockery. A hobgoblin with a broom came up behind them, to the door where the professor was waiting, and quickly indicated that he was “surrendering”. Grimnir had a bit of a chat with the hobo, who introduced himself as “Grinkle” and informed the party that he had no desire to continue working for the hobgoblin lieutenant who was running the keep (since he has a poor fighter and got all the shit cleaning jobs). The party agreed to take Grinkle on as their cook in exchange for information about the other hobos in the keep.

Their first stop, after talking to Grinkle, was to murder the Lieutenant, who they found flexing and admiring himself in a mirror in the master bedroom. A few arrows in the back did for him, then Melastasya decided that she was really beautiful…until Grimnir blew up the mirror. They looted the Lieutenant, recovering a note that Grinkle read for them which indicated that a unit of Hobgoblin reinforcements would be arriving in about a month.

They then moved on to a door that the Lieutenant had said was “off limits” to the rank and file hobos. Beyond they found a room with a strange pit, spanned by illusory bridges. They made their way across safely (aside from Tvoja who discovered the illusion the hard way), and heard two more hobos arguing on the other side of the door. Grimnir busted in with his eyes flashing dramatically and commanded the hobos to bow before him, but they apparently did not speak the Common tongue and charged.

The battle was long, but not particularly bloody, as neither the party nor these hobgoblins could hit the broad side of a castle wall. Eventually Melastasya downed the two hobos with a couple of well placed punches and the party tossed the room, finding a secret door in one wall, behind which was a small empty room with a pair of gauntlets laying on the floor.

Melastasya poked about the tiny room with a spear, discovering something about three feet tall and roughly box shaped, that rang like metal when struck, in the back of the room, somehow not visible to the naked eye. She probed about some more and opened the invisible, but unlocked, chest, revealing a king’s ransom in gold and gems, as well as a ring of shocking grasp, a handful of magical arrows and darts, and the Sword of Halfrek.

After some looting, Grinkle lead them upstairs. Traithe used an illusion to make himself look like the hobo Lieutenant, calling the sentries down from the walls (where they were promptly ganked by the two lady-rogues). Traithe and Grinkle then went into the barracks and called the remaining three waking hobos to come out and downstairs, only to have the rogues botch the quiet execution and wake the rest of the barracks.

Traithe sprung into action, calling upon the spirit of a dwarven ranger which was trapped in the sword they’d found, and slicing through the barracks with a whirlwind attack. Three of the hobos died while trying to pull on their pants, one disappearing into the sword, causing a dead, naked old dwarf to spill out onto the ground. A barrage of spells and missile-fire wiped out the rest before they could mount a counter-offensive.

The party searched around a bit more, making sure that Grinkle was the only hobgoblin alive in the place, and then settled in to discuss what it would take for them to hold their new home.

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Donovan's Diary: Entry 6
11 Eleint, Year of the Maidens

Morning, clear, a little damp.

I am sitting on a hillside outside the tiny shepherd village of Gildenglade, still a couple days ride west of Melvaunt. Our band has decided to aid the village in fending off a near-inevitable assault from the Kobold Kingdom. Should we live through the next couple of days, I am sure that tales of our heroics will live on through the ages.

Gildenglade_Map.jpgWarfare, is of course, not my forte, but I have endeavored to take a role of command so as to not frighten the maidens. I am collecting drawings of the village and the surrounding terrain, and taking stock of our magical capabilities.

As might be expected from my recent research, there was some discussion yesterday about the possibility of summoning of extraplanar entities to aid in the battle. Teldicia even provided me with a Tract of Teratology, a thing I was somewhat disturbed to find out she owned. Apparently it was given to her by Rietta, the shapeshifting ogress we met previously. As with must such major summonings, the tract called for the sacrifice of a sentient as part of the spell. While Sister Winona was somewhat helpful in pointing out methods of sacrifice that might be legal under Melvauntian law, the group as a whole objected to the practice, so we were forced to ignore that particular line of strategic thought.

Having thus abandoned immediate thoughts for the use of conjuration, I shall digress into other areas of interest while I sit here. Namely some fascinating stories that I heard from one of the old village crones this morning. Whether true Lore or folklore, I cannot say, but these snippets may be useful in the derivation of material components for future spells.

First, there is the Root of Lightning, as the old woman called it, which I take to be the root of the infamous Ginseng herb. She described her “root of lightning” as having a distinctive forked shape, like the legs and arms of a man, and as causing headaches, breast pain, and insomnia, by which I can surmise that it must, indeed, by the ginseng root. Most excellently, it grows near the hills around the village!

Named panax, from panacea, or cure-all, in the scholars tongue, no medicinal plant is quite so controversial. There are eminent herbalists and physicians who swear that it is no more effective than strong tea, and there are those who swear that it is effective in treating anemia, cachexia, scrofula, catarrah, and malfunctions of the lungs, kidneys, liver, heart, and genitals. Long ago, when the plant was plentiful, peasants would mix the ginseng root with owl brains and turtle fat and smear the mixture over the heads of patients to cure insanity, or blend it with the powdered horns of wapiti dear and sprinkle it over patient’s chests to cure tuberculosis. While such remedies may or may not work, they do lead one to some interesting thoughts regarding the root and the horns taken from our friend Gendry. A more readily available curative for the psychic plague afflicting us perhaps?

Chinese_changbai_mountain_White_ginseng_Root_slice__2_.jpegThe legends regarding those who collect the root are most marvelous. The old lady claimed that it is called the “root of lightning” because: it only grows on a spot where a small stream has been dried up by a lightning bolt. After a life of three hundred years, she claims, the green juice turns white and the plant acquires a soul. It is then able to take human form, but never becomes fully human because the plant does not know the meaning of selfishness. It is totally good, and will happily sacrifice itself to aid the pure of heart.

Clearly we are getting into the realm of folklore here, but there is much to be learned about the art from such old wives’ tales, as is reflected by the many kinds of plant spirits and fey that have been observed and verified by science. I know of no confirmed sightings of a ginseng spirit, but that does not mean that such may not exist, especially given the rarity attributed to them in the story. I shall continue her stories and save further speculation for the end, so as to not confuse my future readings.

The root, in human form, is said to take the shape of a child, plump and brown, with red cheeks and laughing eyes. Long ago, evil men discovered that a ginseng child could be captured by tying it with a red ribbon, and that is why the plant is now so hard to find1 — It has been forced to run away from evil men. The ginseng hunter must display the purity of his intentions, and so carries no weapons. He wears a conical hat made from birch bark2, shoes of tarred pigskin, an oiled apron to protect him from dew, and a badger skin attached to his belt on which to sit3. He carried a small spade made from bone and two small pliable knives with which to dig up and prepare the plant.

The hunt for the roots is something of a religion here. Ginseng hunters who have thoroughly searched an area and found nothing will mark the bark of trees with tiny secret signs to tell others not to waste their time there. Where ginseng has been found, the hunter will erect a small shrine, and other hunters will leave offerings of stones or scraps of cloth. If a hunter finds an immature plant, he will put stakes around it to mark his claim.

A weatherworn, crazed, half-starved ginseng hunter will sometimes have the good fortune to come upon a small plant with four branches that have violet flowers and a fifth branch rising from the center crowned with red berries. The stalk is deep red, and the leaves are deep green above and pale green below. He will drop to his knees, arms spread to show he is unarmed, and kowtow to the plant’s spirit, then cover his eyes and lie still for several minutes so as to not see if the plant decides to run away.4 Opening his eyes, he takes the seeds and carefully replants them so that the root of lightning can grow again. The leaves and flowers are stripped and ceremoniously burned, with many prayers5. He then digs up the root with the bone spade and uses the knives to clean the tiny tendrils, called beards, which are supposed to be crucial to the curative powers. The root is wrapped with birch bark and sprinkled with pepper to keep pests away, then joyfully carried back to civilization.6

1 Other than it only appearing where a stream was dried by lightning…

2 Not unlike those worn by modern wizards as a sign of their station.

3 You’ll note the inherent practicality in the latter three items, in addition to their ceremonial standardization. All are designed to protect against moisture. Actually, given the dew on the ground as I sit writing this, I wouldn’t mind a badger-skin myself.

4 This bit gets to the ridiculous root of the local folk religion, but also gives useful information about how to identify the mature plant.

5 Something like “Oh Great Spirit, do not leave me! I have come with a pure heart and soul, after freeing myself from sins and evil thoughts. Do not leave me!”

6 Again, instructions for the proper collection and packaging of the plant are couched heavily in folk-religious mumbo-jumbo and the idea that the plant is some kind of enforcer of moral thought and behavior.

The old woman, also regaled me with other bits of the local folk religion. It seems the people of the village practice the pantheism typical of the northern Moonsea, worshiping such diverse beings not as Aþ, god of wells, Aglaos, god of torches, Bashiuus, god of wine, Diplodias, god of poor harvests, and other such petty deities unknown in the civilized South, even a god of good shoes (which seem to be sorely lacking in the village). There was also some concern with elemental spirits, for she spoke of also making offerings to such beings as Sylphs, Salamanders, and Undines.

These elemental spirits seem to form the other three corners of the pillar of this simple folk-religion, with the fourth being the “root of lightning” desrcibed above. I will not go into the full extent of the old woman’s stories and irrational fears, but, since they were mentioned, and thus may be found nearby, have decided to include that which I remember about such creatures, as described in The Secret Teachings of All Ages which we studied at the academy.

tumblr_nbjxjlTfyi1scpq9co1_500__1_.jpg “As the gnomes were limited in their function to the elements of the earth, so the undines (a name given to the family of water elementals) function in the invisible, spiritual essence called humid (or liquid) ether. In its vibratory rate this is close to the element water, and so the undines are able to control, to a great degree, the course and function of this fluid in Nature. Beauty seems to be the keynote of the water spirits. Wherever we find them pictured in art or sculpture, they abound in symmetry and grace. Controlling the water element—which has always been a feminine symbol—it is natural that the water spirits should most often be symbolized as female.”

tumblr_nbjxtnNGnV1scpq9co1_500.jpg“Ancient investigators of the Nature spirits were of the opinion that the most common form of salamander was lizard-like in shape, a foot or more in length, and visible as a glowing Urodela, twisting and crawling in the midst of the fire. Another group was described as huge flaming giants in flowing robes, protected with sheets of fiery armor. Certain authorities, among them the Abbé de Villars, held that Zarathustra was the son of Vesta (believed to have been the wife of Noah) and the great salamander Oromasis. Hence, from that time onward, undying fires have been maintained upon the altars in honor of Zarathustra’s flaming father.”

tumblr_nbjycaC5bm1scpq9co1_500.jpg“To the sylphs the ancients gave the labor of modeling the snowflakes and gathering clouds. This latter they accomplished with the cooperation of the undines who supplied the moisture. The winds were their particular vehicle and the ancients referred to them as the spirits of the air. They are the highest of all the elementals, their native element being the highest in vibratory rate. They live hundreds of years, often attaining to a thousand years and never seeming to grow old. The leader of the sylphs is called Paralda, who is said to dwell on the highest mountain of the earth. The female sylphs were called sylphids.”

These three, at least, have been verified by the observations of the learned. If such beings are, in fact, real and present in the area, it may give greater credence to the existence of this “ginseng child”, the verified existence of which would cause quite the sensation in the scientific community. Perhaps once our current predicament is past, I may follow the path of these ginseng hunters and see what mysteries lie within these hills.

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The Bitter Blades: Session 7
In which Tamn finds a new gang to hang with, and the Bitter Blades disband (er...die)

To anyone listening to this, let me cut to the chase. My name is Tamn. My friends are dead. I am at the bottom of a well, and I am surrounded by bandits. Hell, scratch that.

My name is Tamn. My friends are dead. I am now a bandit…Yeah, that sounds better. All hail Lord Noriss the Grey and all that…

Now, that that is out of the way, let me back up.

After a few days spent enjoying the fruits of their previous victory, Tamn, Hazel, Martha, and Ada the Simple decided to take a foray into the Slums as a first step to see if Martha could actually hold her own, pull her weight, and all that…

Hazel had posted a notice at the Training Hall, trying to pawn some of the magic items we collected from Sokol Keep. Given how pricey the Training Hall is, we were actually pretty surprised when someone showed up at the Bitter Blade asking about the notice. Turns out the berk wasn’t looking to buy. No, he told us he was impressed by the tally of arcane relics we were willing to part with. Said any cutter who could find so much and then give it up was exactly the kind he was looking for.

The berk’s name was Damien Nuren. Neat fellow—human, maybe 40 years, long black hair, claimed he was a gentleman, alchemist, and doctor of philosophy—the kindof berk who would have owned a good many of my fellows back in Hillsfar. Said he was looking for a very particular book called the Path of Peace and that the last known copy was supposed to have been owned by a sage who lived in Phlan in the old days. So, he wasn’t buying, he was hiring.

The berk gave us a magic cube which he said was good for helping find things and told us we should start looking roundabout the plaza near Kuto’s Well, which is the far side of the slums before the real ruins start these days. Seemed strait-forward enough, and he offered us a thousand gill each. Seemed like I was right about him being the kindof berk who could buy a whole clan worth of my kin.

Martha, bright lass, asked why, if he knew where to look and had his magic box, he didn’t just go fetch the book himself. Bright, but maybe insufficiently mercenary, since there was a THOUSAND GOLD in the deal for her. Anyways, Nuren said flat-out that he was a coward and that monsters and beggars and thieves and old ruins wasn’t his thing, so he was willing to pay well to get what he wanted without sticking his own neck out. Very sensible like.

Martha, again the bright lass, pointed out that all the slums-folk avoided Kuto’s Well out of course. Said that the bandit Noriss the Grey and his gang of toughs tended to lurk about the area, and that people who went to the well looking for a drink more often as not never came back.

We took the job anyways, because, seriously, a thousand gold a head is nothing to sneeze at.

Let me say, again, that Martha was a bright lass, and that she was right, Lord Noriss and his gang were definitely down the well way. Now, I don’t know if that berk Damien was a lying sack of shit or just misinformed, but we didn’t find any book, and that box of his did not work as advertised.

Now, I’ve lived in squalor, been beaten, been kicked, been thrown in the Arena, spent a few nights on the Isle of Lepers, and generally lived under the most wretched and unjust regime in the world, but Hillsfar’s worst was nothing compared to Phlan’s slums. I’d been there a few times over the past couple days, even dropped a pile of coins at the soup kitchen near the market, but the northeast side was basically three solid blocks of wading through shit—literal shit and figurative shit. Most of the beggars were the kind with missing limbs, the streets were wall-to-wall trash heaps cobbled with a carpet of barely concealed bones, the the buildings, if they could even be called that any more, were crumbling wrecks overgrown with plants just as dead as those on Thorn Island.

We tangled with a couple of orcs and a gnoll early on—the cutters said they wanted ‘tribute’ for walking through their turf—but Hazel and Ada’s blades made short work of them. Man, that Ada chick was kindof creepy, with the not talking and the beating things to a bloody pulp with her spikey elbows. I think I’ll miss her.

And rats, my god the rats. Big as ponies. We killed them too, without much trouble, mostly thanks to Martha’s sharp eyes. She saw them coming a mile away.

After that filth, the plaza around the well was actually pretty nice. I guess the threat of real danger was enough to keep most berks, and their trash, away from the place. Now, don’t get me wrong, the square, like the rest of the city, is littered with scattered stonework, blown leaves, and detritus, but none of the rotting food scraps, dead bodies, and excrement you see in the deep slums.

We got to the well plaza and Hazel tapped the shiny side of the cube, like the berk told us. She immediately dropped the thing and let out an uncharacteristic yelp, like she’d been shocked or something. The cube flew from her hand and rolled to a stop right beside the well. All of a sudden a big, black globe grew up around us—cold and dark as a winter night. We could still see, but not much.

Can I get a what the fuck? Like I said, either that Damien berk set us up, or he was an idiot, or whoever sold him the cube set him up.

Dim shapes moved within the cloud, which swirled and roiled with murk. We tried to move away from the well and the shadowy shapes followed us, circled us, flanked us. They weren’t quite substantial, just all darkness and fluff. Like shadows. I wailed at one with my swords and hit nothing but air, but when it swung at me I felt only a brush, but it was like all the strength was just sucked out of me. My arms felt weak and shaky, and cold, so cold.

Hazel rushed over and tore it a new one with her sword Blackflame, which, come to think of it, looks an awful lot like those creatures when it wakes up.

But then there were more of them. Hazel’s swords worked, and Ada’s elbow spikes, but my weapons were no good at all. And the things were fast. Freaky fast.

Hazel whirled and hacked and whirled some more, hitting the things a buch, but they kept landing hits too, and every one made her look weaker and weaker. Even when she flipped the fuck out, like she does, they kept swinging too.

I kept dodging and moving away, looking for an opening to run, but found my back to the well wall.

The shadowy things kept wacking at Hazel and Ada, and they kept fighting back. It was hard to tell how many there were, or who was winning, or whether we had really killed any at all. It was all too dark and they were too flimsy to really see.

Martha, also in the thick of it, had a few spells up her sleeve, and the magic mace, but was the first to fall. There just really wasn’t anything I could do, or so I keep telling myself.

Worse though, than seeing her slump to the ground with those wispy black claws digging at her, was seeing her get back up. Or something like her. It was like one of those black things tore itself out of her chest, but without any actual tearing. Or maybe the one that killed her split in two. Whatever the case, there was one more of the cutters.

That was it for me. We were surrounded, I couldn’t hurt the buggers, and my back was to a wall. I took the wall.

I dove into the well, which, it turns out, didn’t have much water in it. It was a long way down and it hurt.

I heard another scream from above and Hazel’s mad howls and angry curses stopped. Dead. Just like that. I can only assume that they got Ada not long after that, for things got mighty quiet and I didn’t hear any footsteps getting away.

I, on the other hand, had my own problems to deal with.

You see, I was lying at the bottom of a well with some twenty swords pointed my way, one of which was in the hand of Lord Noriss. But at least the shadow things seemed disinclined to come down the well.

Like I said. My friends are dead. I am now a bandit…All hail Lord Noriss the Grey and all that…

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Unsigned Note for Brother Shadow

Blessed is he who knows the true value of the meek, infirm, and unclean. May His glory deliver them from the temptation of earthly treasures and work miracles among the devout.

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