Friday, September 27, 2013

The Stone of Baolnor, part 3

...and now for the final part of the "Stone of Baolnor".

The 9Qs: Questions 7-9

Warning: this gets a bit cheesy, but I like it...



The two heroes ran among the many fleeing townsfolk as the skies darkened to almost nighttime blackness. “Where are we going?” asked Thedric.

“To Elminster’s tower!” answered Tengrym.

Although he had never before been to Shadowdale, the fame of its many retired adventuring residents and its storied history was common lore to most. This was the Heartlands, and many heroes who had rocked the world and swayed nations lived here. As they ran, they saw the twisted tower along the riverbank, the Old Skull rising up beyond, and a rather disused path leading into a tangled grove.

“That’s it!” the half-elf confirmed to himself. Into it he ran. A few warning sigils and flagstones leading the way further testified that this is where the old arch-mage lived.

Suddenly, caution flared, and Tengrym came to a stop, holding Thedric with him. “Careful now…this is probably one of the most dangerous thresholds on Faerûn!”

“More danger?!” cried Thedric.

crescent moon

Tengrym came up short and started, nearly bowling into a bearded man in a red robe. The arch-wizard Elminster was an imposing sight, especially when he materialized suddenly where before there was nothing but air. Elminster was purturbed…or, one might say, angry. Bushy brows formed a harsh “V” wedge, and dark eyes glared at the two intruders.

“Who are ye to intrude upon an old soul?” sang the wizard. “And what have you brought upon the poor people of Shadowdale? Answer quick, lest I hastily indemnify ye both with fire and ice!”

Use the heroes' abilities to respond to the threats' resistance as per their heroic motivation and the RPG’s rules.

“Uh, master Elminster, your wiseness, er…powerfulness,” began Tengrym, getting his tongue tied amid the fear of the coming doom and almost equal fear of the bristling sorcerer before him. “Allow me to explain…although, why do you assume that we bring this doom?”

“It is no matter of genius or foresight to observe that a mighty demon heralds the approach of two strangers who have never before set foot upon my threshold!” answered the mage sarcastically. “Speak now!”

As fast, but as completely as he could, Tengrym explained the situation of the demon, Egelrenardruth, and the stone he most likely bore, and the tomb opened by the merchant and his escort in the Thunder Peaks.

“Well, my boy,” began the wizard, “you do seem earnest, and I don’t sense that you’re to blame for what may happen next.”

A peal of thunder reverberated, almost carrying with it a disembodied unnatural voice filled with horror and the promise of destruction.

“But,” he continued, ignoring the clamor that reduced the two heroes to shaking lumps, “I don’t sense that you are telling all there is to tell. What did you say your name was?”

Tengrym hadn’t given it yet. Most times, he would give a stranger his alias, that of Veldis of Thentia. Word of the deeds of the offspring of the Drowsbanes tended to quickly reach unfriendly ears. This time, although he was conflicted, he let it be said.

“I am Tengrym…Tengrym Drowsbane,” he said slowly. “And this is my half-brother, Thedric.”

“Drowsbane, Drowsbane…” mused the wizard, oblivious of the screams of terror and the clap of more thunder. “Yes, you do look familiar. You have your father’s eyes, don’t you? Dergan Drowsbane I remember. A horrible fate to be laid upon the family…dark elves, curses, and all… My condolences.”

“Thank you,” Tengrym answered in awe. “…your powerfulness.”

“Yet, I still am unsure of what you are still hiding…”

Tengrym met the wizard’s gaze and swallowed hard. “The stone he carries is his weakness, m'Lord. The goddess, Selûne laid upon him a curse to protect the stone. If it is destroyed, he is destroyed with it.”

“And that’s why he comes here, I see,” affirmed Elminster. “And why must this be a secret?”

Reluctantly, Tengrym said, “We would first wish to look upon it to see what fate is written upon it.”

“Well, the right thing to do and one’s desire do not always intertwine, if you get my meaning,” said Elminster with disappointment. “Well, we still have a chance to make things right. I think I know what it is he’s looking for. This is a battle that will be won with words over deeds, at least initially. Here’s what we shall do…”


the enemy nears completion of its goals, the enemy takes aggressive action against unsuspecting victims, open book

Descending from the sky in a shroud of void-blackness that trailed behind it like burning soot came the demon. Much of its body burned and was enveloped by licking flames in red to be smothered by smoke of jet. Flames of the uttermost dark red limned the edges of the cloud, but the horror’s face was laid bare for all to see. Black wings and long chitinous arms were crooked and misshapen, studded by thorny protrusions, all black as night. Around always was an invisible but palpable aura of power that seemed to repel light itself. It’s face was a hideous mixture of man and goat and ever black soot marked its path through the sky.

Now, the thing spied Elminster’s humble tower in the grove and it descended. People shrieked and ran for cover, and a shadow was cast over the small township. The thing landed near the weathered flagstones of Elminster’s threshold with a tremor, and though the wards flickered alive with magical potency, and alarms brayed, and numerous magical defenses sparked into activation, the demon stepped forward, unperturbed and unchecked.

Inside the grove stood Elminster in his robes and leaning on his crooked staff. He now looked insignificant and feeble next to the black, burning horror that strode defiantly forward. “Stop there for now, Lord of puss and punchlines,” said Elminster casually.

Tengrym and Thedric stood not far aside him, and other members of the former Knights of Myth Drannor not far to the other side. All shook with barely controlled fear and uncertainty.

The demon showed its contempt by stepping forward.

“Halt!” the wizard repeated, with more firmness this time. “I know what it is you seek, Egelrenardruth!”

The monster roared an inhuman scream of agony and fury.

“Yes, I know your name as well, lord of worms and vermin. You want this?” he asked, producing an old dusty time of considerable thickness.

The demon took another step forward. With a word, the tip of Elminster’s staff went alight with blue-green flame and held it over the pages. “Yes, black one! The tome of Uavona, containing the only rite known to be affective against the curses of the Great Ones.”

The demon backed away a step and regarded the heroes gathered around with hatred and malice. “Fool human!” it spoke in a deep bass and unholy voice. “I will destroy this tiny village and all who dwell here!”

“Yes, but you do want this,” Elminster countered calmly. “So we seem to have a stalemate.”

“What do you want, wizard?”

“What do I want?” he echoed. “What do I want…” Now it seemed he had forgotten what it was. “Oh yes! In exchange for the rite, you will be bound by a task of my choosing…”

“Never trust a wizard,” the demon scoffed.

“Spot on! Spot on!” laughed Elminster. “Normally, I’d agree with you there. But this is one you wouldn’t want to refuse. It is, after all, a single task — quite within your capability — a fair trade for releasing an eternity of bondage, wouldn’t you say?”

“What does the wizard ask?”

“Before I tell you, lord of malice, you must agree to exact the deed immediately and leave the people and land of Shadowdale at peace, and leave the stone behind intact and unblemished. Do we have a deal?”

“First, tell us the task…”

“Upon removing your curse, you must immediately depart this plane of existence — return to whence you came — and remain there for no less than the standard 1,000 year term.”

The monster thundered and screamed, writhing within its veil of black soot. “I think, wizard,” screamed Egelrenardruth, “that instead I shall take it, drink your blood, and raze the town!”

“So I thought!”

The others were tense like springs ready for release. While Elminster worked his magic to distract the demon, the others would figure out a way — somehow — to find and get the tablet.

For these questions, I will balance Elminster’s set of Descriptors plus one (for having all sorts of famous help) against the the demon’s. See how simple that is? Elminster also has a Condition that he placed through magic during their prep before the arrival of Egelrenardruth. Here are the stats I’ve gone with:

Descriptors: Legendary Wizard, Vast Arcane Knowledge, Whimsical, A Tough Nut To Crack, Magical Staff, Tome of Power
Conditions: Warded Against Demons

Descriptors: Legendary Demon, Strong Beyond Imagining, Fearsome, Weather Control, Creature of the Night, Flight, Fiery Aura, True Name Is Power
Conditions: None

The mod I’m using to emulate high fantasy adventure (which I call High FUntasy) has Qualifiers that describe a thing’s scale: Novice, Veteran, Expert, and Legendary. Those can add bonus or penalty dice, but I’m capping it all off at 3 for ease. Whenever the demon is occupied, the heroes can factor in all these things, generally leaving a balance of +/– 0. If the heroes vie directly with the demon, they won’t get those benefits.

Battle erupted. Swordsmen of great repute and prowess leapt forward with magic and steel in hand. Flame exploded and lightning crackled, and war cries sang out. The monster roared a terrible shriek and darkness itself seemed to billow out and expand. Noxious fumes filled the air and red-white lightning flickered; but most terribly, the grip of fear — terrible, pulsating fear — wafted out like a living entity, gripping everyone, elf, dwarf, and human alike.

Tengrym’s blade was in his hand. Where Thedric was, he didn’t know and couldn’t bring himself to let that worry occupy his mind. He sought about the horrific demon with his eyes for something that might foretell of a stone tablet. He did not carry it, but Tengrym did notice that there seemed to be a sack about the monster’s hip — it was difficult to tell — that seemed to be made of the very stuff of night. Whether it had tangible form or not, the half-elf could only guess.

Chaos was all around, with men and women screaming cries of both anguish and triumph. Magical might sprang forth in a display of thousands of colors. Somehow, through it all, Tengrym fought off his fear and grew bold. His magical elf blade quivered with eager energy, for it was made for just such a purpose — to vie with an infernal power.

Although in the heat of battle, the mass of swinging forms, and those flying away from mighty blows of the enemy’s foul weapons and arms, Tengrym managed to move in. His sword and lithe motions kept him free of harm. He deflected errant blows and rolled under a decapitating slash of a massive axe — to find himself within striking distance of the demon.

Seeing the protuberance of something black at the thing’s side, Tengrym mustered his strength and speed and slashed. Around the thing, so close, he felt the sting of it’s fiery emanation, the overpowering noxious smell of brimstone and decay. His blade went just shy of the mark, landing hard against the monster’s weapon. Then the evil thing sensed the half-elf’s intent and turned on him, ignoring all others. Tengrym felt the full undivided malice of the demon — it almost peered into his very being with those unholy red eyes, laying bare his thought and desires.

The blow came in hard, impossible to avoid fully given the surprising speed and the incredible strength that drove it. Tengrym countered with his blade and was flung away with considerable force. He crumpled against a tree, the wind knocked from him. His blade spun out of reach, smoking from the incredible heat and strain. The ancient elvish sword withheld against the blow, but it was ineffectual to do actual harm against such an opponent. The others leapt in to take the half-elf’s place. Perhaps the others’ weapons were of stronger magic.

When Tengrym regained some of his wits, he gasped for breath. Thedric was approaching at a distance, drawing forth knives for throwing.

“Stay clear,” Tengrym managed to warn.

He staggered to his feet again. Only magic could accomplish what he needed.

In his smarting head, he recalled the symbols and words for a telekinetic spell that might rip the stone free of the grip of the demon. He tried to steady his breathing as the battle raged around him. Then the words came like rote and the magic coalesced into tingling power. When the spell was released, Tengrym reached out with his fingers and demanded, “Give me the tablet, Egelrenardruth!”

At the mention of the demon’s name, it shrieked hideously. From its side, a blue-white slate ripped free of the black material hanging about the creature’s waist and sailed into Tengrym’s waiting hands. The creature stumbled to its knees, trying to reach out at the stone as it sailed away. It’s grasp missed the edges of the tablet. Tengrym had the still-hot stone in his hands. He looked upon the surface and saw thin, delicately chiseled lettering upon its pale surface.

Elminster cried out to the half-elf. “Destroy the tablet now! While there’s still a chance!”

The enraged demon got to its feet and roared with the power of thunder. The trees and ground shook in its wrath and it bounded forward toward Tengrym with astonishing speed and power. Tengrym’s indecisiveness made everything hinge on a very narrow moment. He heard his half-brother call out to do the same. Suddenly, everything slowed, the warriors and mages, as well as Elminster and Thedric, all seeming to barely move.

The demon was faster.

With his remaining strength, Tengrym brought the stone down hard as he raised his knee, cracking the polished stone. Bright light flashed, and though with the breaking, the demon’s form was being undone, the power, heat, and momentum of the thing followed through and Tengrym knew no more…


29 Mirtul, Year of the Shadows

When Tengrym awoke, he found himself in a quaint room decorated with exotic furs and rugs from the Shining South. He heard the sound of water being wrung from a towel. Glancing to his right, he saw an older but pleasant-looking woman. She put the towel to his burning skin.

“Where am I?” he asked.

“In the Old Skull Inn,” the woman said with a cracking voice. “I am Jhaele Silvermane, and you just lie there quiet while I tend to you. You’re lucky to be alive…”

The half-elf glanced down, seeing his clothes and corselet stripped away and his naked flesh laid bare. Various unguents and bandages dotted his bruised and battered body. The worst of his injuries, it turned out, were healed by the priests of Lathander. Just then, Thedric came through the door. He was absently tossing a dagger into the air, catching it in his fingers delicately by the tip almost without looking.

“I heard some voices…hey, look who’s up!” he said jovially.

As he lay there, the better part of two days, it turned out that news of the destruction of the rogue demon had reached far and wide. The whole of the town, which was largely saved by the efforts of the Knights, Elminster, and of course Tengrym and his brother, was abuzz with the gossip. A whole throng of people were waiting in the taproom of the Old Skull day and night for news of the condition of the wounded hero.

Tengrym listened quietly to the stories of how Elminster had pushed the half-elf swordsman clear of the worst of disasters with his magical staff, saving him from a permanent death. Throughout the day, he received gifts from the townsfolk and their praise, but it seemed that he would not be leaving any time soon due to his wounds.

Later that night, Elminster came into his room and sat near the bed, smoking from his great clay pipe. “You almost did not live to see this day, my boy,” he said between puffs. “You also came dangerously close to letting a dangerous demonic power get away with something.”

“Almost only counts in horseshoes and flaming flasks of oil,” Tengrym replied flatly.

“Indeed — and delayed fireball blasts…”

Elminster told Tengrym that word of the deed was already far and wide, and within short time, the news would also be in the ears of less desirable folk, if not already. Tengrym understood his meaning, thinking of the drow, who would fight against any attempt to reunite the remnants of the Drowsbanes and to see the prophecy through.

“Don’t worry too much,” said Elminster in answer to Tengrym’s unspoken question. “I know you wanted desperately to see what was on that tablet. You will come into the knowledge you seek when the time is right, I reckon.”

Tengrym was growing annoyed by the know-it-all. “You’re probably right.”

“Of course I’m right! What next for you?” the wizard asked.

After a pause, he answered, “The riddle of the disfigured man we encountered near the lair of the demon. I may not have told you, but he looked like kin. I don’t know what his motivations are or who he works for, but I think I need to track him and find out.”

Elminster nodded. “And your brother?”

“Well, I figure there’s few places as safe as Shadowdale where I can trust he will be well taken care of.”

The old mage nodded. “The Knights will see to that — I have no doubt.” The man got up from his seat. “Well, you need your rest — you have a journey before you, and you needn’t indulge an old man and his long-winded stories while in the condition you’re in.”

He put a hand on Tengrym’s shoulder and left. “Thank you,” the wounded hero said.

“You owe me some new flagstones for my path,” Elminster said as he left.

Tengrym grinned and fell asleep.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Ultra-minimalist solo experience thoughts

As mentioned here, I have given some thought about a high-speed solo system that provides little fuss, and lots of speed. And so, I've given my Chapter System a try. As mentioned in that introductory post to this fast-paced experiment, the object was to increase speed of play into a format I can accomplish something in one sitting.

I have run two chapters so far, each with a strict limit of 6 paragraphs (some of those paragraphs get some bloat). Was it successful? Sort of...

Getting through a Mythic game is time-consuming, and I have a low record of completing projects. They can easily get derailed, since there is little to regulate the amount of randomness that can sway narrative and action. With Nine Questions, I have a great deal more success. However, I don't have a chance to sit down and journal out an entire game.

The Chapter system is a bit of a merging of the two ideas: 9Q's sense of structure (though in more nebulous terms), and Mythic's epic, ongoing feeling. What I ended up with is not much different than a typical scene with a 9Q's session. However, the goal is no longer an over-arching narrative that produces cohesion and finality like a 9Q game; rather, it is more focused on the short term with a backdrop that it belongs to something larger.

The cool innovation, in my opinion, is that I've adopted a chapter title that essentially becomes the anchor for all of the action in that chapter. I used this little Random Fantasy Novel Title Generator to come up with chapter titles. The object of each chapter is to reference the random elements and ideas against the context of that title. The result seems like a normal 9Q scene (at least the way I run them), but finding that meaning seems to be a nice manageable session goal. I am also keeping a running tally of threads, things, factions, people, and so forth similar to Mythic's lists.

The paragraph count certainly helps. Seeing emerging arcs over the long term is also something that can keep the exercise interesting and somewhat natural, without letting new twists, such as the way they are generated by Mythic, to leave too many open threads to deal with.

Below, I have pasted my first chapter attempt. This is a saga featuring an anti-heroine, Doria Nightraven, the "Dark Raven". The setting is intended to be full of Sword & Sorcery flavor, with a Thundarr-esque sorcery and super-science post-apocolyptic element. I've used FU rpg for this to keep things running lean and quick. Here she is:

Doria Nightraven

Dark-haired and pale-skinned, Doria is an attractive yet imposing figure. She hails from the forgotten north, a place few have seen, finding her way by virtue of the sword. She has served as bodyguard, mercenary, and adventurer. She wanders, seeking to bring down the sorcerers who have enslaved and destroyed her people.

Descriptors: Quick as a Cat, Willful as the Devil, Swordplay, Vengeful
Gear: Iron Longsword, Stiletto Dirks

Special: as a special charm ability, spending 1 FU point and making a Beat the Odds roll allows Doria to summon a flock of ravens upon need to confuse or bewilder.

Chapter 1: The Betrayal of Two Demons

I — scales, pot of gold, sack 

Aldegold — The city of scrap, where merchants, coin, refuse, slaves, and illicit goods are traded and sold to half a dozen races, mutant and pureblooded alike. A red cloud of dust and contaminated haze mingled with the glow of the dying orange sun as it sank, forming a ring around the city of refuse and reek at the depths of a great crater of black stone. Here, a dark-clad temptress — tall and fell — rode slowly through the narrow streets, eyeing the villainy from the corners of her almond-shaped eyes. She noted a particularly shrewd merchant weighing a pile of twisted scrap and measuring out milled grain to a waiting mutant with red pocked skin. Rabid animals fought over the fresh carcass of a bloated and clearly diseased nazrat. All the while, local eyes peered back at the imposing and deadly pureblooded — or so she seemed — passing figure. They looked at the slender longsword strapped across her back, the dirks strapped lengthwise to the tight leggings of her thighs, and to her cold and lethal gray eyes.

II — footprint, crown, chaos 

Suddenly, before the black-clad warrioress came a procession. Several hulking slaves bore a massive palanquin adorned with beaten copper and gold twisted in crude and menacing shapes about its surface. A loud man in a flowing headdress of metallic mesh cracked a whip, sending those who had gotten in his way flying in terror. It just so happened that the multitudes on the Street of Fetid Riches was dense due to the congestion and narrow lanes lined with heaps of refuse, that Doria Nightraven did not notice the procession until the intervening patch of pavement was suddenly cleared, suddenly revealing a vexed procession figurehead, who snapped his whip again. “I said move, vermin!” With that, the man cracked the coil again, but it was abruptly caught in the gloved hand of the rider, who held tight to its end. The procession leader widened his eyes in rage. “How dare you!” The woman only regarded him coldly, unwaveringly, and stood perfectly still. The man pulled, and the two strove until finally the woman was pulled off her horse by the man’s greater leverage. However, she landed catlike on her feet, released the coil, and had sword in hand, all in one quick flourish.

III — pointing man, storm cloud, waves

“How dare you impede the procession of Padh Jerokin, high priest of the cult of the storm giver! Lay thee down and await the wrath of his judgement!” From out of the refuse, Doria heard a whisper. Her attention was momentarily caught as a wide-eyed shadowed figure tried to mime a warning — that somehow the man she now crossed was fearsome and important. “Stop,” came a more audible whisper, “before he calls the demons of storm and flood to destroy us!”


The northwoman had never before heard of the cult, nor the priest named by the fool standing before her. No one stirred, and only a tense watchfulness lay upon the city square. Finally, she answered, still with bare steel in her hand. “The Padh is welcome to find another route,” she said in an uncommonly deep and cold voice, which was punctuated by a snort of derision by her horse. “I go forward.” “Why, you little…!” answered the man, who stepped forward with raised whip. However, that whip was never brought to bare. A thin dagger quivered in the man’s breast before he fell. In a flash, the palanquin was nearly dropped and all the slaves rushed forward barehanded to strike her. Lightning fast spins and fierce strokes dismembered one after another, until the ground was painted in blood and gore.

NPC description: arrow, rainbow, pushing over wall

When at last those survivors fled, the woman in black approached the litter and opened the veil with her bloodied blade to view its occupant. She saw a thin shirtless and bald man sitting cross-legged and straight. About his eyes was painted colored rings and his gaze was intense and equally as deadly as hers. “You know not what wrath you have incurred,” the man said in slow and even tones. The man’s eyes flashed with some sort of intense but brief light, and with it, an unseen wall of force bowled into the unsuspecting warrioress. She was knocked back and to the ground, the air beaten momentarily from her lungs. Her horse fled in terror the opposite direction. The man stood and picked up a shillelagh, and slowly and menacingly approached. “That was most unwise!” He raised his staff up over his head. Somehow, with the promise of death before her eyes, she somehow summoned enough will and speed to thrust her sword through the man’s gut before he could bring the weapon down to crush her skull. His eyes rolled into his head and he slumped to the ground, a hand twitching until he finally expired.

Overhead, thunder rumbled almost in answer to the deed as ominous green-red clouds rolled in, and droplets of red acid rain began to pelt the ground with here and there a hiss like tears of blood. Those hiding souls who had watched the conflict mesmerized still gazed in awe and fear at the stranger who had slain a feared tyrant, unable to react or comprehend what they had just witnessed, or what it might portend.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Stone of Baolnor, part 2

The 9Qs: Questions 4-6


Split the Heroes:
Tengrym first — pursuit

Tengrym picked himself up, shook his head to regain his senses and followed after the figure. His mysterious prey disappeared around a bend. Tengrym put on a burst of speed.

His quarry was quick-footed. He was no slower than Tengrym.

Tengrym turned the corner to see the black horse ahead, but no rider. By the time the warning bell blared in his head, a dark figure leapt out from behind a boulder, sword poised, and already disfigured face contorted to rage. A green-blue field of energy coalesced around the dark cloaked half-elf.

The surprise was nearly complete. The blow should have taken off Tengrym’s head, but somehow, he deflected the blow. He knew that at any moment, his brother would appear around the corner, and they would have odds over the attacker.

Steel rang, and Temgrym was unable to get through the man’s formidable defenses. He fought with a underlying grace to his movements similarly to Tengrym’s own. Steel sang as he defended himself against the dark assailant.

“Who are you?” Tengrym gasped between blows.

“It matters not,” said the man through clenched teeth. “It only matters that the Drowsbanes are doomed!”

The two danced, trading blow for blow, matching one another at every step, lunge and riposte.

“How do you know my mission?” asked Tengrym.

“Next time do not speak so loudly in the inn when you discuss ancient relics!”

The man bit hard with his blade, and Tengrym was nearly overpowered. He lost ground and the man turned to his horse. Tengrym tried to get his second wind, but he was fatigued. Where was that no good half-brother of mine, he thought. The black rider was getting away!

Thedric second — infiltration

Thedric, however, presumed his brother had matters well in hand. Instead, he dropped back down to the stream bed. He first rifled through the dead mens’ packs and pockets. In dismay, he found little except some note on parchment on the body of the one that might have been the merchant the barbarian described. Little interested, Thedric shrugged and stuffed the note in his boot.

He then drew a dagger and wandered through the door to the cave. To any but fools, the cave exuded loathing and evil. Thedric’s naïveté and lust for gold overcame any such warnings. He continued into the darkness.

A strange unearthly blue light illuminated a room at the end of a long, tall corridor. Thedric continued to its termination, where it opened to a great chamber. Inside, four great pillars upheld a vast roof. Cracked and broken relief figures adorned every nook and cranny of the place. At the far end of the room between strange blue-lighted braziers stood a great throne of black bone. Demonic figures curved over the seat like abominable man-serpents.

Before the throne lay a beautiful woman scantily clad in a long gown. Her wrists were shackled to heavy iron chains bound to the floor. The maiden looked up through dark locks. Her face was pale — both beautiful and fearful.

“Help me!” she cried out, seeing Thedric linger by the entrance. “Help me, quick! Before he returns!”
Thedric stepped forward, his heart quickening both from the excitement of danger as well as the swelling of his loins.

“Let me help you! How did you get here?” he asked.

“There’s no time! Get me out of these irons!”

Thedric put away his daggers and produced small lockpicks from his pocket. He began working the lock with finesse and legerdemain. Despite his formidable lock-picking craft, Thedric could not get the shackles undone. However, he saw that one of the rings in the chain was loose at its base where it was connected to the stone in the floor. He picked one of his daggers out and began to pry at the pieces, working the chain free from the stone.

Suddenly, the trap was realized, but too late. As Thedric bent over his task, a sense of warning overcame came him. He looked up to see the she-thing rise up. Where her legs should have been, there was the torso of a long, slithering serpent. The beautiful face contorted into a hideous visage of rage and death. She snarled, baring her fangs like a snake. The tail slashed and groped to grapple the young man, but the snake-woman was still chained by her wrists.

Thedric scuttled out of reach, but sat gripped by immobilizing shock. The she-thing pulled at its chains and writhed with astonishing strength and will. Thedric shook himself out of the momentary grip of fear, and drew a dagger, throwing it backhanded in one motion. The dagger stuck in the monster’s scaly flesh. The thing screamed and spat, but was still pinioned by its restraints. Thedric threw knife after knife, and finally, the thing dropped to stones slick with dark blood.

In fear and loathing, Thedric turned and ran in terror from the cave.

He ran headlong into his half-brother, who was still short of breath. “Where were you?” Tengrym scolded.

“I was…it…she…” Thedric was at a loss for words. When finally he had control of himself, he related the story. Tengrym gazed into the darkness of the chamber with loathing and trepidation.

“And the merchant?” he asked.

Thedric pointed with a trembling finger. Tengrym searched for any clues among the rotting corpses. What pestilence that had ravaged the bodies, he could not guess. “I found this,” offered Thedric, remembering the scrap he had discovered.

Tengrym snatched it from his brother’s fingers. He opened the folded parchment and saw a charcoal rubbing of some tablet or relief inscription. On it was marked the house of Drowsbane, with the stamp of its coat of arms. Chiseled in fine dethek runes was an account of sorts.

Although Tengrym could read the lettering, it was neither common, nor any form of dwarvish that he knew. It was clearly a code. However, he recognized the sigil of Baolnor, the dwarf chronicler and scribe of the Drowsbane clan.

“See here,” he pointed. “This is an important clue…if only we could translate this. It no doubt has an important bearing on this mystery. No doubt the merchant knew its meaning and it brought him here. We must search the chamber.”

“No!” said Thedric. “It may only have brought him here. It might not say what he would find. Let’s not look deeper, I beg you…”
“You may stay here if you like,” said Tengrym, who disappeared inside.

Thedric looked around him at the horribly disfigured and decaying bodies. “Wait for me!” he cried and ran in after his half-brother.


revelation, combat, keyhole

Inside, Tengrym lit a magical globe of light, which did not unveil the shadows near the top of the columns among the lengthy heights. The half-elf slowly probed deeper with sword in hand. Behind him tightly gripping a pair of daggers was Thedric. The two saw the same sights as Thedric had seen before with the same unholy blue light. Laying still was the she-devil Thedric had killed. Tengrym noted the position of everything and the great seat of bone. There seemed not to be any further passages, doors, or recesses leading away from the main area. The emanation of evil was very potent — almost crawling upon the skin.

The half-elf noted the glyphs and script scrawled over every surface. “Don’t touch anything,” he whispered in warning to his brother.

Nearer the dais and seat, the chamber was blackened as if a great heat was centered there and scorched the surface of stone and bone alike. It was clear that some great and horrible power had dwelt there in that room for countless centuries…a demon from the underworld.

A quick spell of divination revealed little, though the signature of great power was everywhere. In particular, one dark corner was completely devoid of signs when Tengrym concentrated his spell of detection there. He noted the void and kept clear.

Finally, after a sweep, Tengrym studied the scripts and glyphs that covered the walls and columns.
The half-elf’s eyes widened as the glyphs began to take hold in his mind. Although it was in elvish script, it was a form of infernal, which his uncle Messrym had suffered him to learn when he was a pupil in Mulmaster. He began to sweat as the truth of the place began to take form.

Here, I am using Rory’s Story Cubes (the whole bunch of ’em) freely to come up with a story, all under the context of what has happened thus far…

Throughout the room were numerous reiterations, in mundane script as well as enspelled wards, the true name, Egelrenardruth. That alone, was a shock to the sorcerer-swordsman. It was one of the evil entities of the nine hells, a master of night and storm. Now, Tengrym could see that the worn-away portion of wards was the demon’s attempt over the term of its incarceration to break free.

Quickly, the half-elf focused on another portion of the chamber, which used picture-glyphs and elvish to tell of the battle between the heavens and the deeps, and the guardian of the moon that watched over her followers with keen and patient interest. He read about the young clan of men and half-elves that established a hold in the north Moonsea, and the light they cast there to the dismay of the old and malevolent powers brewing and conniving below the surface.

Here in this very room, Tengrym learned that the tablet of Baolnor was guarded, according to the script. Although Egelrenardruth was summoned by the dark elves to permanently hunt the Drowsbanes to extinction, Selûne intervened. She charged the demon to guard the prophecy and the moonstone tablet it was scribed upon. Should the tablet ever be destroyed, it said, so too would the demon perish by the goddess’s curse.

Tengrym read the inscriptions with enthralled attention until Thedric broke him free from his trance.
“Let’s get out of here,” the lad said. Tengrym, too, felt a growing sense of dread.

“Come,” affirmed the half-elf. “Let us go.”

“But where?”

“Where we find a great demon of darkness, we find the stone.”

Thedric blanched. Tengrym thought again about the scarred half-elf on the black horse they had encountered. What was his role in all this? To prevent the tablet from being found, or to prevent the demon from being released? The Drowsbane was less certain now.


pursuit, tree

27 Mirtul, Year of the Shadows

Tengrym had explained his discovery in the chamber of the demon, and his belief that the entity would be in possession of the stone, while seeking a way to remove Selûne’s curse. With little rest, the two set what pace they could, following a track north and east through forest and dale.

There were no actual tracks, but the trail was not hard to follow. Great black clouds lingered along a path when the forest parted enough to see the skies. These were black unnatural clouds that did not blow away with the trade winds, and when rain fell, it scorched plants and leaves leaving the landscape scarred. Every time they came to a village or hamlet, the two were astonished and horrified to find nothing but destruction and death. Smoldering ruins, slag, rotting bodies, and reek were all that remained.

The two pressed on as best they could, but were wearied and hampered by the forest and meager trail system.

“It’s hopeless!” cried Thedric. “What are we even looking for? How can we hope to catch this thing?”
The two paused for a rare and brief rest. It gave Tengrym a chance to think.

“You are right, brother,” the half-elf answered. “We have no hope to catch this obviously winged lord of pestilence. But we can guess where he may be going…

“Anyone seeking a means to remove a powerful curse would seek one of two places of strong magic — Myth Drannor, or Shadowdale. Perhaps he knows or senses an artifact that may aid him. To the latter is a shortcut running north. If the demon knows not yet what he seeks, we may have time to beat him there, assuming that’s where he goes.”

The two broke their camp and fled north toward the sleepy village of retired heroes.

Two days after they had set out from the Thunder Peaks, the two staggered into the outlying farms of Shadowdale. They saw that no destruction had yet befallen the town. They were at first relieved, but then doubt gnawed on them that they had chosen the wrong locale.

However, they hadn’t gone far when a simple farmer looked up from his work as the two passed. A happy rustic face then spotted something in the skies. The man’s smile turned upside down. The heroes turned to look at what caught the farmer’s attention.

Their hearts skipped a beat.

In the heavens, a black sinuous cloud snaked slowly and menacingly in a meandering path, drawing closer to the town and obscuring the sun. Red lightning flickered around the void-black edges of the tempest. Although they could see no entity nor figure, a palpable evil was as firm a presence to them all as though Bane himself stood not but ten paces before them.

The farmer dropped his tools and ran to his cottage, holding the straw hat on his head so it wouldn’t fly off.

Tengrym broke his brother’s stupor. “Come! There’s little time!”

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Stone of Baolnor, part 1

Onward! As mentioned here, the next chapter in my Drowsbane chronicle is as follows. In this one, I wanted a hook, so I used Rory's Story Cubes and JF's 9Q's NPC Maker to come up with a personality the two meet in a bar on their travels from Sembia to Archendale.

The hero and his sidekick meet an unlikely person of sorts: a barbarian from the north. During their casual conversation, they learn of Baolnor's tablet (random title from a fantasy novel title generator) and a mysterious merchant searching for it. Tengrym knows that his family's history and the prophecy of his clan's city are written upon it, but the full account was only on the master tablet, which was lost.

Chapter 3: "Stone of Baolnor"

Heroic Motivation: The two try to track down the merchant and recover the tablets.

The 9Qs: Questions 1-3


This altered first question allows the PCs to take the initiative, by declaring an act of defiance, infiltration, pursuit, and/or combat.

For this one, I experimented with some new innovations JF made on his 9Q's back in December, 2012, namely the "Thematic Anchor" and "Splitting the Party". I make use of both of these. The anchor for this one is, "it is foolish to unleash ancient evil."


It was luck that brought Tengrym and Thedric in contact with an unlikely person. A strange barbarian from the northern forest, the Border Woods, had met the two in a quaint inn along the river Archen. The man was on a quest of his own, which he refused to recount, but he did share news of his travels. The barbarian had encountered a merchant on the road who was turning north of Highmoon along the Thunder Peaks in search for the Stone of Baolnor.

Tengrym immediately picked up on the name. Anyone who was familiar with Drowsbane history would know it; it was the only complete retelling of the clan’s legacy and prophecy which was recorded on a tablet — a dwarf chronicler had followed the family, recording their stories in its greatest period. It was said that the dwarf met the goddess, Selûne, on his travels alone. He either recorded the goddess’s account or was given a tablet of moonstone into which the legend was inscribed. The dwarf and the tablet disappeared somewhere in the dales after which, all trail and sign was lost.

Tengrym and Thedric discussed their plan. They were, as of yet, aimless. Now, however, came a portent — perhaps from the gods themselves — to seek their destinies. Rather than running from unknown peril, they could face a more certain one. They thanked Harzhod the barbarian, got their bearings and headed out the next morning after the merchant in hopes of discovering the old tablet upon which their fate may be written. Why the merchant also may have been interested in a strange item such as that, Tengrym couldn’t guess. However, he couldn’t discount the idea that his recent adventures and exploits may have reached too many ears.

scary shadow

24 Mirtul, Year of the Shadows

The two heroes traveled throughout the whole day, forging their way through forest, meadow, and hill. After a long march, the two were not yet to the East Way. There along their trail out of Arkendale they set a camp and whispered the evening away to a merry fire.

The two were almost ready to succumb to sleep, when Tengrym was alerted by a noise. He snatched his sword up, but it was too late. Around them were a dozen or more armed figures. Bows were trained on the two heroes. Thedric was already asleep and awoke with a start.

Tengrym stared at the red bloodthirsty eyes of their assailants. He readied his gleaming ancient blade with a testing whirl and took a warrior’s stance with blade held aloft.

“In Selûne’s name,” he cried out, “why do you waylay us? Fall back now, lest you be decimated! We are only two, but we wield powerful might and magic!”

The figures refrained from letting loose their volley and began to pull back. Thedric looked around in confusion, a dagger held in fingertips, ready to let loose.

“Why are they retreating? You weren’t that scary!” he jibed at Tengrym.

“I honestly don’t know,” Tengrym answered. “Whatever it was, it likely won’t hold them off for long. Let’s break camp and press on. Perhaps we can get some news about the merchant along the way. These ruffians will be back before long!”

The two kicked out the remaining embers, took their belongings and padded away.


intrigue, combat, alien face

25 Mirtul, Year of the Shadows

The two continued throughout the night without further mishap. By morning, they found the East Way, its length empty and forlorn in both directions as it threaded through old, gnarled hardwoods. Spring grew late, and thick fresh growth shadowed the way.

The two decided to head west along the road then turn north as the trees gave way to the more desolate vale along the foothills of the towering Thunder Peaks. Along the way, they passed some merchants, inquiring about a man who may have come by, giving the description they heard from the barbarian, Harzhod. Each traveler shook his head.

As evening drew close, and the two very weary from pressing on without sleep, they heard a clip clop on the road behind them. They stepped aside to let the horse rider pass, but he too stopped as the heroes did. Tengrym gazed at the rider, who was a mysterious hooded figure garbed in a voluminous dark cloak. The half-elf could only make out vague features and deep, black inset eyes.

The pair of half-brothers and the rider stared at one another wordlessly for long moments. Tengrym almost broke the silence but the figure in black spoke in a hissing whisper first that made the brother’s hair stand on end.

“You will not disturb the resting place of the stone,” he said.

Its content was chilling as much as the manner in which it was said.

“But how?” began Tengrym, asking about how the man knew their purpose. He was cut short when dozens of armed men stepped out from the woods on either side of the road, penning in the two.

The robed figure turned on his horse and entered the wood. “Kill them and hide the bodies,” the man hissed. “See that they go no further.” Then, he was gone.

Grim and well armed men readied their weapons and began to close in. Tengrym eyed the eager bloodlust on their simple faces.

“Now what?” asked Thedric as he drew several dirks from his bandolier.

Tengrym eyed the rider as he disappeared north into the woods. He nodded in the rider’s direction when he caught Thdric’s eye. “Fight your way north,” he whispered, drawing his sword with a metallic oath.

Tengrym spoke several arcane words, weaving his fingers in a pattern. Suddenly, flame shot out, exploding at the group of men bordering the southern half of the road. Screams of agony cried out and many men dropped, burning or blackened.

Mercenary Conditions: Confused, Wounded

“Run!” shouted Tengrym.

The two rushed northward, climbing a ferny embankment and disappearing into the woods. Several mercenaries leapt out from cover to thwart their charge. Thedric flicked a dagger into the shoulder of one, while Tengrym took a warrior’s blade on his own and then disemboweled him with a swift riposte. They managed to fight through any remaining resistance, leaving the screaming confused men behind to regroup.

When the mercenary squad regrouped, they followed after the two fleeing marks. “After them!” cried their commander.

Tengrym and Thedric had a good head start. The half-elf kept his ears open for pursuit. They made their along a ridge up an embankment, losing their pursuit, while coming to a high point in the forest terrain. There, they spied a clearing northward, as well as a rider in black flying in haste.

Tengrym had the idea that if they followed the rider, they would be led to the tablet. After catching their breath, they pressed on northward.


revelation, combat, footprint

The heroes pressed through the wood, coming to a great vale devoid of large trees. The landscape was rocky dotted with slender copses of aspen and hardy scrub. To their left, thick clouds clung to the mountains’ heads.

Quickly, Tengrym found the horseman’s trail and the two followed. It continued for some miles until it descended to a rocky defile and stream bed. The trail was lost, but they picked their way upstream toward the mountains.

They came to a halt and looked on a scene of horror. Before them against a wall of rock was a great iron door. The single door, some nine feet tall, was ajar, leading to the interior’s blackness. Before the door were several bodies. Even now, vultures feasted on the corpses. Five men were contorted and ripped to pieces, but what manner, the two could not tell. One man might have been the merchant described by the barbarian, but he was so hideously disfigured that Tengrym could not tell.

Suddenly, above them on a precipice, the dark horseman suddenly appeared. The rider peered down at the two with shadowed eyes.

“These fools disturbed this unholy site and paid the ultimate price,” came the hiss.

Tengrym faced the man from below. “What manner of doom befell these men?” he called.

“It is death to know,” answered the mysterious horseman.

Tengrym was at a loss. Finally, he said, “We have need to look upon the stone. Our fates are written on it — we must know Baolnor’s tale!”

The horseman replied. “The stone is no longer within. It was laid to rest and guarded here to ensure that the prophecy written on it would never come to light… It must not come to pass!”

That was all Tengrym needed to know to confirm that this figure was no friend; and the rider was the only connection the two heroes had to answering the riddle.

With a word of magic, Tengrym bounded upward toward the rider at an impossible height. Up he arced, landing on the precipice, and knocked the unsuspecting rider from his horse. The two rolled on the ground, grappling with one another.

Tengrym failed to get a hold of the man, but managed to pull back the rider’s cowl, revealing a burned and scarred countenance. The hero gasped in shock, not just from the pocked skin and dark circles around the man’s eyes as though poison or acid had permanently scarred them, but also Tengrym could have been staring at a slight disfigured self through a mirror. The man beneath him was also half-elf, with a chiseled jaw line and angled brow that could have been close kin. Although glistening burn scars prevented all of it from growing, the man before him had similar snow-white locks.

In the moment of confusion, the man threw off Tengrym and rolled cat-like to his feet, a dark tinted longsword in hand. Tengrym drew his own blade.

The man spoke a brief word of magic and his blade flickered with energy. Although seeming gaunt and lanky, Tengrym’s opponent had corded lean muscles and was quicker than one might suspect. With a hiss, the man advanced, blade at the fore.

Thedric screamed a warning and began scaling the rocks to get at their height. The two half-elves danced and traded blows. Seeing the dark blade crackling with blue-white energy, Tengrym tried not to connect with that steel, resorting to footwork to distance himself and strike. In came a deadly swing from the scarred rider. Tengrym parried the blow and simultaneously latched onto his opponent’s sword arm. A powerful shock snapped through both attacker and defender. Both were flung from one another on the ground.

Thedric neared the precipice. The scarred man glanced at the prone Tengrym and then to the man pulling himself up. He leapt up and took off in the direction of his horse, leaving the two stunned as to the man’s identity and purpose.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Ultra-minimalist, high-speed solo rpg

Wow! Twice in one day!

With some unplanned open time gracing me, I've given some more thought about my plight: that of having no time, but still wanting get some gaming in. The Nine Questions system has been a wonderful tool, but still tends to take me a long time to get through. I think I've been able to complete only one entire adventure once in a single three-hour session. Mostly, it's been piecemeal.

I've tinkered with some of the essentials of John's 9Q's several times. The structure it produces is very satisfying. I also like some of the unpredictability of Mythic GME as well. Where the 9Q's often feels like a complete film or play, Mythic can wander it's way and feel more like a novel.

Today I picked up a very free-form GM-less system I've tossed around and tweaked it, and gave it a playtest. I call it the "Chapter System", a very loose and simple set of guidelines to create a novel-like play experience generating something like a chapter...which needn't be fully conclusive, and over time, can lead to some arcs.

Chapter System

This is a simple scene framing plot constructor that creates and connects simple chapter-like arcs.
  1. Introduce an element. Use some cubes, draw a card, look at a picture. This is either benign, hostile, or completely neutral (but may pop up again later). Create a scene setup and run it.
  2. Introduce a hostile element or obstacle unrelated to point #1. Create a scene setup and run it, or, if it makes more sense, attach it to the previous scene.
  3. Introduce a twist of the elements above (substitute elements generated from previous chapters if fitting better). As always, this is a new scene, or attached to the previous one.
  4. Conclude the chapter when the protagonist either resolves the threat or reaches a critical impasse (unable to proceed until aid or escalation intervenes). As always, this can be a new scene, or attached to the events of those established before. If it ends in an impasse, it forms a cliffhanger.
Note that the order of points 1 and 2 above may be freely interchanged. A list of elements that arise out of play may be useful for future "chapters". Repeat chapters until a clear threat to a character’s personal or heroic motivation(s) arises. This could be story arc #1. The following chapters should gravitate toward a shocking twist, revelation, or betrayal and an escalation of threats, forming story arc #2. The final arc should begin when the road to resolution is visible and within grasp when it pertains to the overarching plot, and should conclude when all major threads are resolved. Freely use any random generator to create motivations of NPCs, which may be actual, or false. One may impose a 4-6 paragraph limit to the exercise of noting chapters.

Anyway, that's it. I tried a quick run through and it took about an hour to write out. While it can eventually lead to a good-length "novel", it is broken into fairly manageable bits. I'll post results later.

Next in line

With the third adventure in my solo Drowsbane campaign posted, and currently finishing work on the fifth of the series, I am musing the direction the saga is taking. More thoughts about my overall campaign plan over here. I am liking where it's going, but uncertain about whether it will ever get there.

It has been a fun experience thus far, and my interest hasn't waned much, which is a very good sign in my case. However, there's currently a big drain on my current free time and a big outside project coming up, with doesn't jive much with my posting/journaling style.

As I have touched on before, one of the issues and challenges I have is how much to write? If I am verbose, the speed of finishing a typical 9Q adventure is slow. The current chapter is a good example: I have been floundering on the current adventure for a few weeks now, and not due to lack of interest. I like seeing JF's own examples of 9Q sessions on his blog. He runs lean, with perhaps only a brief paragraph per player or GM "turn" (roughly three short paragraphs per each of nine questions). That may just be for the reader's benefit. I have done a few examples in that format. The downside is that they are much less interesting personally. I feel less connected to them, and so I am more susceptible to losing interest in such endeavors. They are much faster, however.

In any case, the next adventure I'll post, "The Stone of Baolnor" (a random title I drew from a hat), picks up after the heroes arrive in Sembia. I tried out the NPC 9Q's, coming up with an unlikely barbarian they meet in a tavern who gives them a hook, since I was without one at that point. Although I'll refer to the encounter with the barbarian, that encounter will be "in between time" background info. The fifth in the solo campaign will pick up on a story hook emerging from "The Stone", making up the fifth, "Mystery of the Burned Man."

In the meantime, with a lack in available time, I may try a concise style solo game with a familiar character and see how my interest will result after concluding.

On another off topic, I can't rave enough about Nathan Russell's FU Rpg. What an amazing tool for the gamer with no time. I love the option to be able to resolve a whole scene in one roll. If you don't know about this elegant little free system with lots of meat on unassuming bones, check it out!

Friday, September 13, 2013

The Freeing of Cauhlath, part 3

The 9Qs: Questions 7-9



Tengrym could have verily died in that brave and reckless maneuver. The terrain beneath the roiling waters was impossible to ascertain and he was no experienced diver. The shock from hitting the water was stunning, but the spell he had uttered was one of water breathing. In order to throw off pursuit, he had to remain underwater to make the pirates believe he was truly dead.

Under the waves, among the lazy sharks and colorful fish, Tengrym slowly made his way underwater, seeking a channel into the rocks or other submerged tunnel. There were many, and at last he found one that lead to an underground pool somewhere within the bowels of the pirates’ fortress.

He pulled himself out of the water and allowed himself a moment to re-acclimate. His elvish vision quickly adjusted to the lightless area, and he found his way out of the grotto into other, more familiar parts.

My plan can still work, he thought. He first had to find his brother before freeing the crew of the Sea Spray and capturing the carrack — and he knew exactly where to find him.

Hastening through now familiar tunnels, Tengrym found a passage running to a balcony level of the auditorium where he and Thedric had first encountered the masked ones. He quietly approached the viewing point and peered down.

There were the five illithids, wearing their masks standing in row and facing the pirate leader and his gang. The sickly one still lay unmoving on the altar. The middle most of the masked horrors stood a little in front of the others. Standing before it was Thedric, who was restrained between two burly pirates. He shook his head and kept screaming, “No, no! NO, I tell you!”

None were speaking, and simply stood quietly watching the spectacle. “My name is Feldor, I said — not Drowsbane! I…I’ve never heard that name before. I swear!”

Tengrym felt sick to his stomach as he realized his half-brother was undergoing a telepathic interrogation by the silent illithid. Now was his last chance before Thedric was destroyed our used as leverage by the mind flayers against their drow enemies.

Three words of power and a flourish of the wrist, and suddenly, a billowing mist quickly enveloped the room in a thick screen. Tengrym drew his sword and leapt over the rail of the balcony to the chaotic scene of obscured screaming pirates below. His blade gleamed angrily with a pale witch-fire, and he stepped forward with desperate ragged breaths toward Thedric’s captors. With two deft strokes, the half-elf cut down both men before they knew what was upon them. Thedric bent down as Tengrym took his hand and snatched up one of the pirate’s cutlasses and they were off running down a connecting corridor.

padlock, cracked egg, dancing ritual

As the two made their escape, the pirate king held up hus cutlass and shouted out, “After them!”

The pirates poured after the two. As they did, the five illithid formed a circle again around their sickened companion. They began a ritual, chanting in low tones through inhuman lips.
In the meantime, the two heroes continued to run.

“We have to get to the crew and make it to the ship at the inlet,” panted Tengrym.
The two made their flight back to the dungeons, keeping the pirates seeking them in chaotic groups. They burst into the guardroom, where Captain Cauhlath still sat outside the cells with his blank expression through strange milky-white eyes.

“Captain,” began Tengrym. “I don’t know what they’ve done to you, but we are leaving!”
Thedric had already got the cell door open and the crew poured out. They picked up any weapons they could get their hands on among the dead pirates that still littered the floor.
Tengrym took Cauhlath by the arm, but suddenly the man convulsed, doubled over, and clutched his head with his hands. The half-elf stepped away in concern and trepidation. The man screamed and some sort of metamorphosis was overtaking him. Gruesome sounds of fluids spewing and ripping tissues accompanied his anguished screams. His own crew backed away in fear and horror. When the man withdrew his hands, four small tentacles writhed around his lips, having ripped through the flesh of his face. The man now took on the aspect of one of the illithid, if not fully developed and still largely human.

Cauhlath stood tall again and stared blankly at Tengrym. The tentacles wriggled and assaulting waves of psychic blasting shot out from his head.

Somehow, Tengrym sensed what was to happen and rushed forward, ducking under the invisible attack. The half-elf came up and smashed the pommel of his sword down on Cauhlath’s head. The man immediately slumped to the floor. Tengrym picked up the limp form and commanded everyone out. Thedric found a few knives lying around as they evacuated, stuffing some in his boots and belt. Then, the crew and heroes made their departure.


the enemy takes aggressive action against the heroes, ID card, tunnel and stairs, laughing
Tengrym, Thedric, and the crew raced along the periphery of the pirate citadel toward the auxiliary harbor. They met no resistance along the way, and the half-elf’s sense of hope surged — escape seemed possible!

They exited the tunnels, entering the quays of the separate narrow harbor. The sun gleamed down, signaling Highsun, the height of the afternoon. Wandering around, Tengrym saw only a few dock hands. Still with Cauhlath over his shoulder, the half-elf sounded the charge, eying the tallest mast of the carrack he had seen moored from above.

All of the sudden, dozens of pirates appeared, brandishing cutlasses and other weapons. They were lined along the stairs from other points of exit from the tunnels, and overlooking from battlements floors above, crossbows at the ready. From another blind, the pirates’ leader appeared, grinning in satisfaction.

“It appears there will be no escape today!” the man laughed evilly. “I am Baldogorf, King of the Pirate Isles, and none have ever escaped my hideout. I have an entire navy at my command, and five thousand swords at my disposal. Escape is impossible — you are defeated!”

The pirate king laughed, watching the meager crew squirm under the realization of their plight.

“However,” Baldogorf added after regaining his composure, “I am a tolerant and reasonable king, as pirates go, and I’m willing to make a deal.”

Tengrym eyed the man intently, enraged by the pirate’s gall. “What is your offer, Baldogorf?”

The bearded man’s grin disappeared and he became a cold and calculating negotiator. “Your crew and ship I release to you, and even a half of your cargo.”

“In return?”

“The masked ones keep the Sea Spray’s captain — Cauhlath is now one of them…and, you hand over the young one known as Drowsbane.”

The crew turned to Tengrym with measuring eyes. Thedric was nervous, and fingered one of the knives at his belt.

Tengrym didn’t answer at once. Slowly, he lowered Cauhlath from his shoulders and turned to face Baldogorf. Thedric’s shoulders hung in defeat.

“Your answer?” prompted the pirate king.

“Our answer,” the half-elf began, taking a long dramatic pause. He used the silence to bring to mind one of his more powerful spells.


A flourish and a complex chant later and a hemispherical shield of solid ice materialized between the crew and their surrounding ambushers. The early afternoon sun shone brilliantly through the smooth glasslike surface, distorting the figures on the other side as blurred shapes. All at once, arrows struck the other side futilely and shouts erupted. Pirates struck against the icy barrier or tried to find ways around it.

Thedric and Tengrym turned to run across the quays toward their awaiting ship. Two crewmen picked up the incapacitated captain as the two heroes led the way against the few deckhands on the docks with the fierce crew of the Sea Spray joining the charge just behind them.

The crew swept the docks free of any remaining opponents and boarded the carrack, a vessel named Umberlee’s Fury. However, it was then that the combined might of the pirates broke through the barrier and the great canopy if ice tumbled with a crash. It seemed there were hundreds of irate pirates crawling like ants over the debris to get to the escaping crew.
Tengrym ordered the crew to toss the lines free and to mount sheet on the jib. The ship did not pull away from the quay before the assault fell upon them, but the enemy had access only via a single gangplank. Thedric and Tengrym met them and did battle long enough for the ship to pull away and the plank to be cast into the sloshing waters. One of Thedric’s knives buried itself in the eye of one pirate, dropping him in the water with a scream after which sharks immediately swarmed the bloody water. Tengrym met two more, taking their blades on his own and keeping them occupied until the ship distanced itself and dropped eight more men to the shark infested waters. The other pirates lobbed spears or fired crossbows across the intervening distance with no success, and taunted uselessly until Baldogorf ordered them to hasten to the remaining two ships.

Soon, Umberlee’s Fury pulled into open waters where more sheet was piled on every available line. The ship gained speed cutting through the blue waters. Slowly, the two other moored ships gave chase, every square inch of deck filled with blade bearing pirates.
Tengrym and Thedric leapt to the aft castle to watch the pursuers. One of the two ships began to gain on the escaping crew. The half-elf fixed them with his eye and calculated the intervening distance. He waited until the distance was halved, but not quite within bowshot range. He produced some bits of fleece from a pouch and a crystal. He intoned an arcane formula, taking the time to intone the spell accurately. White lightning flickered and cracked, shooting across the distance from his fingertips, striking the ship, but doing little damage other than to blacken its forecastle.

Tengrym screamed at Davan Kreeg, Cauhlath’s first mate. “Can’t you get this ship to go any faster?!”

However, there were not enough hands to properly mount sail and see to everything. And quickly, their pursuit closed. They could almost see the whites of the pirates’ eyes. He could also make out Baldogorf standing at the fore, ready to vault across with his men.

“Get yourself ready,” warned Tengrym. “We will have to battle them hand to hand.”

Already, crossbow fire swept the deck, and all were forced to take cover. Flaming pitch and hooks were catapulted across the narrow emptiness between the two vessels. Tengrym called out a warning to the crew. The ship lurched violently as their pursuit rammed into them. Pirates swung across on lines, and battle was upon them!

Thedric leapt forward to meet a fork-bearded lad with an ear full of brass rings. A deft off-handed knife throw lodged a blade in the man’s neck, dropping him dead. Two more swung on lines as the ship rocked again. This time, the young rogue had a cutlass in one hand and a knife in the other. The pirates hacked savagely, but Thedric was the quicker and more agile. He dodged their clumsy blows and knifed their bellies or pinioned their feet to the deck with a throw of the knife, cutting them down with a heavy saber hack later.

It was much the same throughout the deck, with only one crewman at the till, for whatever good that did. The rest grappled with they enemy, trading blow for savage blow.

More arrows continued to rain from the deck of the other ship, hitting friend and foe alike. Tengrym had another deadly spell readied to help clear the enemy ship’s deck. With a pinch of sulphur and a crescendoing chant, he completed the incantation as chaos reigned around him. He readied to release great gouts of flame from his fingertips, when a heavy blow knocked him hard to the ground from the back of the neck. Magical energy diffused in a harmless display of purple dancing sparks. He saw stars as he shook his head to regain his senses. Tengrym had the presence of mind to roll, avoiding a powerful slice that scored the deck. He landed on his back to see the contorted face of Baldogorf himself.

Tengrym tried to flip onto his feet. The pirate king hooked his boot under Tengrym’s knee and sent him hard to the deck again and knocked his sword free and opened a bloody and grievous wound along the half-elf’s sword arm. The hero cried out in agony, clutching the wound with his free hand. He was defeated, his blade out of reach, and inconsequential anyway now that his primary hand was useless.

Baldogorf stood above him, silhouetted against the bright afternoon sun. The pirate extended his blade, poising it over Tengrym’s heart.

“I grant my enemies no quarter,” the man said with an air of satisfaction in his voice.
“I asked for none,” Tengrym answered evenly, waiting for death to take him.

Suddenly, the pirate’s eyes went wide. He lurched unsteadily and tried to reach for something behind him. The man turned. Tengrym saw a knife handle protruding from the center of the man’s back. Behind Baldogorf, Tengrym saw Thedric standing there with a look of shock. the blow should have dropped any normal man. The young rogue was without any knives remaining, and only the rusty cutlass clutched clumsily in two hands to ward off the pirate king. Baldogorf took another lurching step towards Thedric. Tengrym had to do something.

Another spell came to mind, this one uttered in two words and an “S” sign drawn in the air with one  finger. It was a lesser spell, for the half-elf was in no position to intone a mightier one. Three orange balls of light flew like sparrows from Tengrym’s fingertips, striking Baldogorf as he readied a cruel blow against Thedric. The pirate stumbled and fell to his knees, tumbling forward onto his face without moving. Thedric had fallen backward in spite of himself and sat stupidly on his rump while staring at the dead man before him, and then at his wounded half-brother.

Someone yelled out, “Baldogorf is dead!”

Quickly, the tide turned for the crew, and many of the pirates lost their fight. Those that continued were repelled, the lines cast off, and somehow, the pursuing ship was set ablaze. Umberlee’s Fury caught the wind again as her sails were trimmed. The second pursuing vessel fell behind, and Cauhlath’s men were free from the pirates at last…


21 Mirtul, Year of the Shadows

The crew sailed capably for two days, keeping a course due west. On the second evening when five ship’s lights appeared on the eastern horizon, marking the pursuit of the dead pirate king’s men, Umberlee’s Fury happened into a Sembian naval patrol. The pursuing pirates abruptly called off their hunt and Cauhlath’s men were escorted to the port city of Selgaunt at the mouth of the Arkhen in the safety of the Merchant Kingdom.

There, they were greeted and questioned. Cauhlath, who had been mostly incapacitated during the voyage, except during the nights when he paced the deck agonizing over his ailment, was attended to. The master port-warden expressed deep concern over the captain’s condition and handed over his fate to the master watch-warden’s responsibility. This, in turn, sparked a debate between Selgaunt’s authorities about how to deal with Cauhlath, who they all agreed was implanted with an illithid larva, being slowly transmuted to a feared and dangerous mind flayer himself. Each crewman was questioned by each authority regarding the pirates’ activities and the illithid presence on the islands there. Thedric and Tengrym were forced to give their true identities, since the entire crew had heard their true surname spoken while on Braghor’s Isle, but the heroes requested that any official reports be discreet. However, they had little means to direct the matter, being at Sembia’s mercy and indebted for their navy’s actions at sea.

Tengrym, who recovered with the assistance of magical healing, was rewarded by the city a sum of five hundred gold pieces for the slaying of Baldogorf. The half-elf argued with the officials to keep Cauhlath under his care until he could find wizardly assistance to rid the captain of his parasitic infection. The city agreed, but accompanied their every movement while about the city. Eventually, Tengrym enlisted the services of one Valthauvis Redwand, a notable wizard who excised Tengrym’s entire reward sum, which the half-elf happily paid (much to Thedric’s dismay). The half-elf reminded his brother that they still had some wealth in the form of the fallen pirates’ personal effects, including Baldogorf’s many rings, which they had divvied between the ten surviving crewmen. It was still enough to last them a good while on the road, and Tengrym was anxious to be gone.

Valthauvis was successful in removing the growing embryo from the captain’s body. The captain would recover slowly, but completely, the young ambitious mage assured. When he regained consciousness, Cauhlath thanked the two heroes for living up to their word and promised to keep the secret of their names secret, as well as honor their true friendship.
He had also explained that he knew something more about the Illithid plight because of his telepathic connection to them. The six (originally eleven) beings were outcasts of a hive somewhere in the north portions of the Underdark because of some non-dismissible crime, and had been cursed by their former brethren with an incurable ailment that rotted their brains. The outcasts had made their way via magical teleportation to the Pirate Isles, where they had struck a deal with the pirates, and sought various rare medications among the pirates’ prizes. They had devised the strange magical masks that they wore to slow the disease’s progress until a permanent cure was discovered. Through prying in Thedric’s mind during his brief encounter, the masked ones discovered his true name, and knew something of the great Moonsea family’s legacy. No doubt, they contacted the dark elves of the Moonsea in order to barter for a cure.

The heroes listened to everything Cauhlath reported with a growing sense of dread. It was truly time to slip away. The two left Selgaunt that night by foot. The north’s darkest eyes were now firmly fixed on southern Sembia, and trouble inevitably lurked ahead.

Where their road actually led them is another story…

That concludes this Chapter of my Drowsbane solo saga. Stay tuned for the next chapter: “The Stone of Boalnor”.