Book reviews, art, gaming, Objectivism and thoughts on other topics as they occur.

Mar 20, 2014

Skull and Shackles Session 45: Talking Heads

The meeting of the Anti-Cheliax Preparatory Force was brief and businesslike.  Captain Aiger took possession of his mother's former sword, swearing his allegiance to the small fleet at the same time.  Maps were consulted and plans made, the various captains returning to their vessels to make preparations.

Fargo Vitterande approached the Crisis officers after the meeting with further news of the elusive Scags Rotgram.  It was widely rumored that Harrigan's former first mate and his ship, the Devilish Duchess, fell victim to the curse of Dagon's Jaws, a pair of islands near Motaku Isle with a terrible reputation that turned out on further examination to be bunkum.  Or, at least, was called so by one of Fargo's contacts in Slipcove.  The waters around and particularly between the islands were dangerous, to be sure, but not cursed or otherwise supernatural.  So, of course, what else was there to do but set course for the islands and try to discover Rotgram's whereabouts.  If Harrigan wanted the man put down so badly, he must know something worthwhile.

Several days later, Chopper surveyed the islands while munching on a chicken leg.  "Looks harmless enough," he said.

"I would like to say that, but I know better by now," Feruzi said.  The larger island, named, creatively, "Big Jaw", was covered in dense jungle.  Little Jaw was rockier and drier and covered less with steaming plant life and more by cliffs that made the island difficult, if not quite impossible, to approach.

"How shall I approach, Captain?" Reiko queried after they finished their survey. 

"Circle them once," Chopper ordered.  "Let's see what we can see."

"Aye, aye, Captain." 

As the Crisis passed to the west of Big Jaw, the lookout yelled, "Fire!  A signal fire!"  A plume of black smoke drifted lazily upwards from the western shore of the island--a high cliff face.  They would have to land at a beach almost across the island if they wanted to investigate.  Which, of course, they did.

The beach was not of a hospitable character, rough and chewed by waves, sloping upward toward rocky projections.  Fragments of what seemed to be a ship's longboat lay scattered along the shore and a half-dozen sodden corpses bobbed face-down in the waves.  One plank had the barely-recognizable word "Duchess" painted on it.

"Looks like Scags maybe wasn't so lucky after all," Feruzi said.

"Well, the fire suggests survivors to me," Chopper said.  "Also these tracks."

"They could also suggest 'the undead'."

Ezikial shrugged and nodded to the floating corpses, which were now climbing to their feet and staggering ashore, much to the surprise of absolutely no one.  Sandara jumped and waved her holy symbol furiously, turning half the soggy lacedons to dust.  The rest fell to pieces from a few well-placed arrows.  Then a pair of tall, lanky creatures with rotting gray flesh and long black hair burst out of the sea, sweeping their claws at Sandara.  Ezikial blasted away at one, but it proved quite resilient.  Sandara scrambled away, directing healing energy at her clawed-up skin.  Feruzi shot the second monstrosity in an effort to distract it from the retreating cleric, but it, too, stubbornly refused to drop.  It knocked Sandara to the ground and turned on Reiko.  A melee of axe and sword blows finally managed to stop the attacks and hastily-applied healing magic brought Sandara back to consciousness just as the monstrosities exploded into clouds of greenish gore and doused everyone with some sort of toxic mess.

Just another day on the Crisis.

The next stop on the Big Jaw tour was more salubrious in nature.  A sizeable clearing surrounded by large boulders proved to contain a lovely, bubbling spring that filled several small pools decorated with mountain lilies and colorful dragonflies.  The rocks were carved here and there with groups of three entwined spirals.

"Thas an ol' symbol fer Pharasma, Lady o' Graves," Sandara said.

"Unsurprisingly, people have been here," Chopper said.  "Thirsty work bein' stranded on a deserted island, I reckon."

"As we damn near found out ourselves," Sandara added.

"The water has healing properties," Feruzi told them after testing it briefly.  "It can also make weapons proof against the undead.  For a short time, anyway."  They took advantage of this blessing and moved on, climbing toward the signal fire atop the cliff.  A single thirty-foot-tall boulder was perched at the edge, sheltering a half-dozen crude huts and lean-tos.

"HALLOOOOO!!"  Feruzi shouted with great subtlety.

"We got ye surrounded!" a rough female voice called back.  "Drop yer weapons and gear!"  Several castaways emerged from the brush, brandishing crude weapons.  Feruzi blinked.  "I don't think they know who we are." 

"May I shoot a couple until they figure it out?" Ezikial asked.

"Nah, where's the challenge there?" said Chopper.  He raised his voice slightly.  "We be seekin' Scags.  Ye know him?"

"You're too late; the Captain went down with the ship.  Your boss will never get his revenge now and he won't take us, either!"

Chopper snorted, laughing.  "Yeah, it ain't even remotely like that.  Tis a damned shame, I wanted to recruit the man.  Guess he was as much a lubber as the stories claimed."

"You mind your tongue!  Scag's Rotgram was ten times the pirate Harrigan will ever be!"

Five slightly-different versions of "That isn't saying very much!" followed.  The Crisis officers laughed and shook their heads.

"Harrigan didn't send you?" the woman asked.

"No," Chopper said dryly.  "Well, since Scags be dead and ye ain't fans o' Harrigan, do you want a ride?"

"You'd take us off this cursed rock?"

"Course.  Anyone who ain't a fan of Harrigan is an ally in my book."

"Oh thank the gods!"  The woman dropped her scimitar and threw her arms around Chopper.  Feruzi snorted as Chopper shrugged and hugged her back.

"Aww, you made a friend."

"I'm Alise.  Alise Grogblud.  I was Captain Rotgram's first mate.  Lay down your arms, everyone!"

"I'm Captain Chopper, King o' Crisis.  Besmara smile on ye lot."

"King, eh?"  Sandara said.  "I didn't vote for you."

"So, how did you people end up here, exactly?" Feruzi asked.

"Captain Rotgram decided to shoot the Gullet to get away from the Wormwood.  WE would have made it, too, if those brykolakas hadn't boarded us.  The Captain and the other officers held them off while we escaped to the island."

"So why would Harrigan still be trying to get the Pirate Council to go after Rotgram?"

"Man can hold a grudge?" Chopper suggested.

"True enough," Alise said.

"Or, you know, to bait us into coming here.  Because that's the kind of pirates we are," Chopper continued.

"Rotgram had all kinds of dirt on Harrigan," Alise said.  "And, as his enemies, I expect that ownership of said dirt should fall to you."

"You still have it?"

"No.  But I know where it is, stored in a watertight chest in the ship.  The brykolakas took it into their cave.  We've never been able to get close, of course.  There's also some kind o' big wooden heads up the island a ways.  We never managed to get close because the guardian shouts at us."

"This I gotta see," Chopper said. 

Sure enough, when they approached the heads, a booming voice rang out.  "OUTLANDERS, STEP AWAY FROM THE DUSK WATCHERS OR BE JUDGED!"  A creature of gleaming black metal and chiseled stone stepped into the open.  It was, oddly enough, wearing a heavy hooded cloak.

"Oy, there, tinman!"  Chopper greeted it.


"Yeah, I heard ye.  What's with the heads?"


Sandara leaned sideways to get a look at the heads.  "They give off divination magic.  Them ancients mighta used 'em for navigation or somethin."

"Are these like, Azlanti ancients?" Feruzi asked.


"Sounds dull," Chopper remarked.

"IT IS . . . IT IS MY DUTY."

"Well, we didn't want to mess with the heads, per se.  Just see 'em."


Chopper strolled down the path to examine the wooden monuments.  They were extremely monumental.  "Hey, Kriss, how many threats t' these statues have you faced in them thousands o' years?"


"That sounds . . . really boring," Feruzi said.


"They don't have descendents somewhere?"


"Well, does it HAFTA be them what does it?"  Sandara piped in.

"ER . . . NO."

"Oh," Feruzi said. "So what needs to be done to release you?"


"I got some o' that in this here waterskin," Sandara said.

"Anoint away."  When the cleric finished the sixth statue, a faint tremor ran through the island.  Moments later, the towering carved heads crumbled to ash and blew away.


Mar 6, 2014

Skull and Shackles Session 44: Tragedy Tomorrow, Comedy Tonight

The Theater of Corruption in Hell Harbor was run by a trio of Chelish expatriates who performed abstract reworkings of ancient Chelish plays.  The disturbing operatic comedies featured dark fiends as protagonists and mortal antagonists who embroiled themselves in sins and deviltry, suffering ironic losses, deformities, and often damnation.  It was difficult to know whether the patrons enjoyed these themes or whether they simply loved the scandalous reputation of the establishment.

The Crisis officers spread out around the broad, single-story building, constructed on piles over the waters of Hell Harbor in search of side entrances.  Feruzi had approached the doors when she was interrupted by a loud "Oi!" from around the corner.

"Don't you 'oi' me!" she snapped.  A heavily armored guard approached her.

"You need to move on, there.  This buildin's under the personal protection of Lord Endymion hisself!"

"And what, exactly, did you think I was about to do to said building?"

"Don't matter, girlie.  Get thee gone."

"How do I even know you work for Endymion?"

"Do we even care?" Ezikial grunted from his position further up the street.  He took a swig from his flask.

"Well, no," Feruzi said, " but I don't appreciate people trying to tell me what to do."

"It don't matter if I work for Asmodeus hisself.  This is yer last warnin.  Leave."

"Ooh, my last warning. Now I'm scared," Feruzi said.  "Whatever shall I . . ." she punched the guard in his ugly mug and was surprised to discover no real resistance.  Chopper charged out of the shadows and whacked the so-called guard upside the head, or tried to, he passed right through the illusion, which vanished, accompanied by the sound of mocking, ethereal laughter.

"Bloody witchcraft!" Chopper growled.  Feruzi clambered onto the roof of the building, not immediately finding any other enemies.  There was a loud thumping noise as Reiko assaulted the door, battering it open in a matter of moments.  Ezikial and Chopper, still on the pier, were hit by a wave of unholy energy.  A devil, sporting a rather dangerous-looking beard, shimmered into view and attacked.

"Lord Endymion sends his regards, fools," it cackled.  "Now die!"

"Eh, probably not," Chopper said, fending off the devil's assaults.  Feruzi shot it, dealing some damage while Reiko drew her sword to deal with a wild-eyed, bloodstained man who punched at her with his bare hands.  Somewhere inside the building a powerful soprano began to belt out a Chelish opera.  The bare-knuckle fighter proved to be a powerful adversary, pummeling Reiko without mercy.  Someone from inside the building cast a spell on him which only served to make him more ferocious.

Ezikial raised his pistols and blew the devil away, removing one distraction as the sound of spellcasting came again from inside the building.  Reiko dealt the berserker brawler a hideous blow, but he laughed and bellowed a challenge at her as the wound was largely healed by a powerful spell.

Blocked from assisting Reiko, the other three officers and Sandara hurried toward the main doors.  Ezikial blasted the lock and they rushed into a dimly-lit hall with excellent acoustics that seemed to be amplifying whatever bardic magic was taking place.  Sandara threw a spell into the far corner, removing the illusion that concealed one of the attackers.  She looked like a skeleton wrapped in a woman's translucent flesh.  A tiefling and a Chelish diva were also gathered in the corner, overseeing the fight.

Reiko drew her short sword and engaged the berserker in a flurry of attacks, ending by slicing through his arms and impaling him in the neck with her wakizashi.  Slowly, seeming not to believe he was dead, he fell to the floor.  The Chelish diva cursed and quickly cast a spell, vanishing from sight. 

"Dimension door," Sandara said.  "She's outta here."  The remaining spellcasters similarly vanished.  A search of the theater fortunately uncovered some evidence that they were, indeed, Chelish spies.

Overall, not the best result.  Even so, Endymion was happy to contribute his ships to the gathering fleet preparing to face the Chelish offensive.