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

Aug 30, 2019

Rise of the Runelords Interlude: Oh Deer

The ogres were defeated. Fort Rannick was saved. But now Nevis had an even bigger problem.

She was getting bored.

It was probably only temporary, because these bgi people were usually very interesting, but at the moment they were all doing extremely boring, non-heroic things like cleaning and setting dead bodies on fire and there was nothing at all for a gnome to do.

So, she went for a walk.

The forest around Fort Rannick was amazing, a deep untouched wilderness of huge, hoary trees. Supposedly, the First World was like this, which would make sense if there was a portal around here somewhere. Nevis found a clearing full of wildflowers and a sparkling spring that fed a small crystal brook. It would be an ideal place for a picnic if she'd only remembered to bring one.

Then she saw the deer. Three graceful does the size of draft horses and an enormous stag that must have been eleven feet tall. His spreading crown of antlers could have held up quite a large tent if he were so inclined.

“Yo, Staggy!” Nevis yelled. “You know where a gnome can get something to eat around here?”

Their ears shot up, but the giant deer didn't seem alarmed. The stag stepped slowly across the clearing and lowered his head to examine Nevis closely. “There's plenty of grass and flowers,” hes aid, exhaling a cloud of deer-breath.

“But I don't eat grass and flowers. Got anything tastier?”

“There are some bushes.”

“They got berries?”

“It's too late in the year for berries.”

“Well, that's no good.”

“There is this house.”

“And they have food? Sounds good. Where is it?”

“It's a long walk for a little creature. Climb on and I'll take you,” said the stag.

Nevis liked this adventure already. “Ride a giant stag? COOOOOOOOLLLLL.”

The stag lowered its head all the way to the ground and Nevis grabbed an antler. He then raised his head and turned his neck so that the dangling gnome was over his back. Nevis let go and landed in the stag's fur ruff, which was almost thick enough to swallow her whole.

The does abruptly looked up and then sprang into a run, scattering toward the trees. The stag tensed and Nevis saw an enormous wolf, black of fur, yellow of tooth, red of eye. It snarled and the stag bolted, the wolf only seconds behind.

“COOOOOOOOOLLLLLLL!!!” Nevis shrieked, clinging to the stag's fur. Still, things weren't looking so hot for the stag. The trees slowed it, and the wolf was rapidly catching up. “Help!” Nevis yelled. “Wolf!” She heard an enraged squeal and the wolf suddenly yelped and reversed direction. A satisfied grunting followed and an enormous boar stepped out of the bushes and trotted over to where the stag stood panting with Nevis on its back.

“Cool!” Nevis said as the boar's snout whuffled at her. “Who are you?”

“I'm the first little pig,” the boar grunted. “And that's my wife, the second little pig, and my other wife the third little pig.” Two equally enormous sows joined the boar, followed by a squalling mob of piglets.

“Er, little?” Nevis asked.

“You got a problem with that?” the boar snuffled.

“Nope, no problem at all.”

“Good. So what are you doing in our forest?”

“YOUR forest?” the stag demanded.

“The forest,” the boar replied without hesitation. He was very diplomatic for a pig.

“We're going to find something to eat,” Nevis explained.

The boar grunted. “There are plenty of acorns, but not much people food.”

“The stag said there was a house.”

“Oh, yes, that might work. Come this way.” The boar casually leered a fallen trunk out of the path and the stag followed him, piglets running around under his hooves and making a terrific racket.

Still, they hadn't gone far when Nevis began to hear barking, and sure enough, here was a large floppy-eared dog bellowing away at three small black bears in a tree, all peering down with worried expressions.

“What's all that noise?” Nevis asked.

“Those bears hurt my friend!” barked the hound.

“What friend?”

The hound pointed, and Nevis spotted a large red fox lying on the ground, licking its paw. It held the wounded limb up hopefully, and Nevis cast a healing spell. “There, all better. Now let those bears alone.”

The hound whined but stepped aside, and the three little bears slowly and cautiously descended the tree. The boar eyed them suspiciously and snorted. “They better not eat any of my piglets.”

“Nobody is eating anybody,” Nevis said. “We're going to find the house and have lunch.”

“Hey, we're hungry, can we come, too?” the fox asked.

“Sure!” Nevis said, and the stag, three pigs, fox, hound, and three little bears all set off. It wasn't long before they found a path through the forest, and Nevis caught a whiff of something delicious.

“Wow, quite a parade you've got there,” a high-pitched voice cried, and Nevis looked own to see a small golden-haired child in a red cloak.

“We're looking for a house that has some lunch,” Nevis explained while the bears eyed the child's hair askance.

The child pointed. “It's just over there, by the mossy old tower. Say, have you seen any wolves around here?”

“Just one, but the pigs scared it off.”

“Oh, good, then I'd better head off to grandmother with these goodies. Bye!” The child skipped off down the path.

Only a few moments later, Nevis discovered where the goodies came from. It was, indeed, a house, but it didn't contain food. It WAS food. Or, more specifically, it was constructed of turkey logs with mashed potatoes for mortar, cranberry jelly for window glass, flower beds full of green beans, a bacon door and shutters, and a small fountain that appeared to be full of gravy. The roof was an enormous slab of gingerbread with cream cheese icing. It was all fresh and even seemed to be piping hot and steaming slightly.

“Oh, wow!” Nevis said. This adventure kept getting better and better. The animals sprang forward and began eating. Nevis took out her sword and sliced herself an excellent lunch.

A human woman with short brown hair came around the side of the house and surveyed the scene, looking quite astonished. Nevis swallowed some gravy and said, “Hey, sorry, is this your house?”

“No,” the woman said. “It belongs to the witch, but she doesn't come here any more now that she's all busy at the castle. I live over there, in the tower.”

“I'm Nevis.”

“Nice to meet you. I'm called Rapunzel. I'm afraid you might be in trouble, Nevis.”

Adventure! “What trouble?” Nevis asked.

“The evil witch rules this forest, and she doesn't let anyone leave. People come here from outside and she enchants them or curses them or turns them into animals.”

“Why would she do that?”

“You did hear me say she's evil, right? She turned my boyfriend into a monster. I haven't seen him in weeks. I'm worried he might get hurt.”

“Oh, I'm sorry to hear that.”

“Yeah,” the stag said. “She shot my mother.”

“Her wolf wrecked our house,” the pigs said. “Three times!”

“The little child with the red cloak works for her,” said the bears. “She's always coming around and taking our things.”

“Well, that all sounds dreadful. We should do something about it.”

“You can't,” said Rapunzel. “She's a powerful witch.”

“Well, I'm not scared of witches. I know a trick or two myself. I fought this evil snake-lady just the other day.”

Rapunzel sighed. “Well, if you're determined, you can always follow the road to the castle. I won't try to stop you. In fact, take this.” She reached into the pocket of her apron and held out what looked like three shiny round pebbles. Nevis took them.

“Stones?” she asked.

“They're magic beans. They might be useful.”

“Oh. Um, okay, thanks.”

“Just be careful and don't get killed.”


The animals and Nevis ate until they almost couldn't move, but there didn't seem to be any less food house left than when they started. Nevis filled her backpack with seconds for later, took a big drink from the stream, and the parade of animals set off down the road toward the castle, moving slowly and burping occasionally. They hadn't gone far when Nevis spotted a dark shape in the trees, creeping along parallel to the road. “Hey, is that the wolf?” she shouted.

“I'll get it!” the first little pig grunted, and he charged. The creature screamed in a surprisingly high-pitched, girly voice and ran out of the trees. It looked like some sort of wolf-man, b ut it had short horns like a goat and a thick mane like a lion. And, most improbably, it was wearing pants.

“No, don't hurt me!” it squeaked. “I didn't mean any harm!”

“Are you an animal or a person?” Nevis demanded.

“Well, neither, since the witch turned me into a monster. Everyone just calls me Beast.”

“You must be Rapunzel's boyfriend. She's worried about you.”

“I can't go back, I mean, look at me. I used to be a prince!”

“Well, you can come with us if you want. We're going to sort out this whole witch business.”

“Really? I'll come along then. Got anything to eat?”


The castle turned out to be a bit of an anticlimax. Nevis was expecting something tall and soaring with pointy towers and flags flying bravely in the wind, but it was just a crumbling heap of gray stone buried in a tangle of rosebushes with thorns like daggers. A single crooked stone tower rose inside the walls, with a faint glow shining from its lone window.

“Okay,” Nevis said. “Where's the witch?”

“She must be inside,” said Beast.

“So how do WE get inside? Those rosebushes don't look very friendly to me. I wish Melissah was here.”

“What's a Melissah?”

“Never mind. Have you got any ideas?”

“Well, you have a sword, you could cut your way through.”

“That would take forever. Let me see what I have in my pockets.” Nevis began rooting around, but nothing looked very helpful.

“What's this?” Beast asked, pointing.

“Oh, those are some magic beans Rapunzel gave me.”

“Why don't you try those?”

“Oh, well, fine,” Nevis said, and climbed off the stag's back. She dug a small hole in the dirt, dropped in the beans, and patted the dirt back over them. A beanstalk immediately shot out of the ground and almost took out her eye. “Wow, look at it go!” she crowed. The beanstalk grew and grew and grew and then fell over on the castle because nobody had staked it to anything to hold it up. “Er, that wasn't quite what I was expecting, to be honest,” Nevis said.

“No, look,” said Beast, “We can climb it to get in. It's almost like a bridge.”

“Oh, right on.”

The castle courtyard was empty except for a big chunk of rock with a glowy sword handle sticking out of it. Nevis gave it an experimental tug, but it was wedged in good and tight. Then there was a loud bang and a fireball and a hideous green-skinned hag wearing a black cloak and black pointy hat appeared. She coughed and waved away a cloud of sulfur.

“What are you doing in my castle?!” she rasped.

“I'm here to defeat you!” Nevis yelled.

The witch screamed and threw a fireball. Nevis ducked behind the beanstalk, but she was still badly singed. Things didn't look good. Then Nevis spotted a large bean hanging just over her head. This wouldn't normally be noteworthy, but it had the words “eat me” written on the side. So, Nevis grabbed it and took a bite. Immediately, she swelled up into a giant almost as tall as the castle tower. Nevis whooped and punted the astonished witch right over the wall.

And then the witch turned into a dragon. Nevis ducked again as it breathed fire, burning away the thorny rosebushes. “Help!” Nevis yelled. Beast ran forward, snatched the sword from the stone, and stabbed the dragon.

“Woo!” Nevis cheered. “Right in the biscuits!” And that was the end of the evil witch. Nevis surveyed the battlefield in satisfaction. “Hey, look at that! You're a prince again!”

The restored prince waved his new sword happily. “I can marry Rapunzel now!”

Nevis ate another bean and shrank back to normal size. She went up to the tower and climbed the stairs. In the room at the top were seven dwarves sitting around a very beautiful lady dwarf who was lying in a crystal casket asleep.

“Um, hello?” said Nevis.

“Who are you?” asked the oldest dwarf, who had an extremely white beard and bushy eyebrows.

“I defeated the witch and now you're all saved! Well, I suppose it was really more of a team effort.”

“We're not saved. My wife still hasn't woken up.”

“Oh yeah? Why not?”

“The witch cursed her. She won't wake up until a prince kisses her, and where are you going to find one of those in this enchanted realm?”

“Wait here just a second,” Nevis said, and went back downstairs. The prince was in the courtyard with Rapunzel, who was now wearing a pretty white dress and a gold crown.

“How can we ever thank you?” Rapunzel asked.

“You can let me borrow your boyfriend for a minute.”

So, all in all, it was an extremely heroic day. The dwarf-lady woke up and slapped the former Beast right in the mush. The dwarves were happy, the Prince was happy (if a bit sore), Rapunzel was happy, the animals were happy, and Nevis was happy. The stag offered to carry Nevis back to Fort Rannick, and she was so worn out that she slept almost the entire way.

Vale sounded the alarm when the giant stag vaulted the wall and landed in the courtyard of the fort. Nevis waved as everyone came running. “No, no, relax guys, everything's fine!” she yelled.

“Nevis,” said Iozua. “What the buck?!”

World of Prime and Pathfinder 2nd Edition

So, I've made no secret of the fact that I'm really not a fan of the new 2nd edition of Pathfinder.  I think they made some really questionable design choices with the apparent goal of "balancing" and "streamlining" the game.  What they've actually done, in my opinion, is turn a robust (if complex) roleplaying game into a stupid video game.

There are a lot of things Paizo has done to strip options out of their new system.  (It's really a completely new system, not an upgrade or continuation of the old system.)  For one thing, it's now basically impossible to play a race that isn't in the released materials without having a knock-down drag-out fight with your GM, because your race isn't just a couple of stat bonuses/penalties and a couple of abilities and attributes. Now you have to have a whole list of balanced and tuned ANCESTRY FEATS that you get access to at specific levels.  Talk about headache.

And it's the same with classes.  You can't throw down a few class-specific abilities and call it a day, no, now you need a massive list of class feats and what level you get access to them all.  So, pretty much the only way to play this system is to play STRAIGHT OUTTA THE BOOK.  Considering only the most basic of basic material is released thus far, this is kinda rude.  Creativity?  What creativity?  Doing anything outside the cookie-cutter basics means committing to an enormous amount of tedious busy-work that all has to be approved by the GM.  You can't mix and match any more.

Also out the window is multi-classing, replaced by the lame system of squandering your feats to get crappier feats from a different class.  Woo.

Druid absolutely got reamed.  Instead of getting an animal companion AND wild shape that level up on their own and remain relevant throughout the game, now you can pick ONE and spend tons of feats to make it relevant. Oh, and the ability you pick locks you in to a pre-set ethos.  Creativity?  What creativity?

You don't make YOUR character in this system.  You pick which one of PAIZO's characters you feel like playing.

So what the heck does this have to do with World of Prime, you may ask.  Assuming you read the post title, that is.  In fact, what the heck IS World of Prime?

World of Prime is a book series by M.C. Planck.


It's that rare and wonderful beast, a COMPLETED series.  It's a pretty interesting and reasonably well-written series, so I'd say check it out.  The important part, though, is that the premise of this series is a world where Dungeons and Dragons rules form the "physics" of the world.  Experience points, levels, classes, races, memorizing spells, gods, domains, raising the dead, alignments, it all has an analog.  For being based on a game system that has only a sketchy connection with any concepts that apply in reality, it does a good job of examining what all of these rules would actually mean in a world where they really did all apply.

The main character HATES it.  He's an "all men are created equal" American and despises the built-in aristocracy that comes with experience points and levels (here called tael and ranks).  So he sets out to change it with (surprise) guns that can make an ordinary man able to stand up to a fifth-level fighter or wizard or cleric.

It all works surprisingly well until book 4, Verdict on Crimson Fields.  Then Christopher (the protagonist) gets his first taste of what the levels system really means when he takes his New Model Army to face off against a dragon . . . and dragon fear, which none of them can resist simply because they're not high enough level.  All the technology in the world won't help you if you can't keep your men around to operate it, and they're simply helpless in the face of high-level magic.  And Christopher is forced to confront this fact.

This is a problem that D&D and all of its bastard child systems have had since forever--once you pass a certain threshold, because of the way the system is designed, nothing can fight magic except magic.  So the non-casting or semi-casting classes are left without a damn thing to do with themselves while the casters run the entire show.

What boggles me is that the solution is incredibly simple and yet we keep getting utter monstrosities like this Pathfinder 2nd Edition fiasco where they completely castrate the casting classes and make them boring and stupid in order to "balance" them with the non-casting or semi-casting classes.  NO.  This is a fantasy game.  The fantastic elements are the fun part.  If you take out all the stuff that MAKES it D&D, guess what, it's NOT D&D ANY MORE.

(I'm not going to get into the fact that spellcasting itself has a weird cycle to it where, due to monster stat inflation and the weird availability of certain types of effects, sometimes your wizard is throwing fireballs, sometimes they're buffing themselves and going toe-to-toe with monsters like a fighter only more effectively, and sometimes they're just opening holes in the planes and yanking stuff out or throwing stuff in like the most insane stage magician ever.)

Put away the damn butcher knife and listen up.  The way you fix this problem is not to cut stuff, weaken stuff, or turn every class into a list of a billion special abilities where swinging the weapon in your off hand is some kind of specialized damn effect.

The way you do it, is you take the spell list and the monster manual (ESPECIALLY the monster manual) and you say "for every magic that exists, there must be a NON-MAGICAL COUNTER".  You learn from the lesson of Christopher vs. the Dragon and get rid of all the stupid rules that say "this can only be fixed or opposed with magic".  Here's a short, NON-COMPREHENSIVE list of things that can ONLY be fixed or opposed with magic in D&D:

Stat drain
Negative Levels
Identifying Magic Items
Detecting the presence of magic
Mind control
Magical diseases
Magical Poisons
Damage Reduction

Just all kinds of crap that comes up ALL. THE. TIME. in any adventure, and if you don't have access to magic, oh well, you can't do crap about it!  Many times it's a "game over, make a new character" kind of event.

Pathfinder 2nd edition (and every other crappy bastard version of D&D that's come out, like, say, 4th edition) wants to solve this problem by getting rid of all of that stuff or making it effectively pointless.  All you really have to do is to go back through the effect descriptions and everywhere it says "you need a Wish or a Miracle to remove this" or "a remove curse spell is the only cure" you CUT THAT OUT and replace it with something that DOESN'T USE MAGIC and is AVAILABLE TO NON-CASTING CLASSES and DOESN'T COST THE ENTIRE EARNINGS OF TWENTY THOUSAND PEASANTS FOR ONE YEAR.

Freakishly, there's a great video game version of this that does exactly that and it works amazingly well and non-casters are just as badass as casters.  No, not kidding, it's called Dungeons and Dragons Online.  Here's how it works:

Stat Drain--rest and get rid of it.  Or drink a potion to get rid of it immediately.  And not a magical potion that can only be created by a caster with the spell and is super-expensive and super-rare. We're talking a potion that's as ubiquitous and affordable as Red Bull.

Negative Levels--rest and get rid of them.  No, they don't stick around forever and ever and ever and require a relatively high-level spell with extreme restrictions to remove.

Curses--wait and they expire, except for one or two that require you to drink a Red Bull.

Teleportation--this one is a special case in Dungeons and Dragons Online because while it exists it has no tactical usefulness.  However, I've seen all sorts of books and so forth deal with it by, say, locating buildings underground or criss-crossing a room with wires or even just the way furniture is designed and positioned.  Add a caveat that unless there's X number of squares of open space in an area you can't teleport there and voila, it's trivial to defend against it.  And as for the recurring villain always teleporting away . . . spell affects an area around you, and you take everyone in it with you whether you like it or not.  They all get saving throws, and if even one of them makes the save, guess what, the ENTIRE SPELL fails.

Scrying--the scrying sensor is visible WITHOUT a spell to detect it, and it can't see through fog/darkness/etc., or hear over loud ambient noise.

Identifying Items--why is this even a thing.  I haven't played with a DM in ages who was willing to sit through that nonsense, they just tell us what the damn items are.  Because people putting on cursed items is fun?  Whatever.  Heck, even video games realized this was B.S. and dropped the concept ages ago.

Detecting the presence of magic--basically all magic should be bloody obvious to anyone with half a brain.  Even high-quality, well-crafted illusions should only work briefly and only on the unsuspecting or on those (like a scrying sensor) who have no ability to verify what they're observing.  Yeah, okay, that momentary advantage may be all you need.  It should also be all you GET.

Petrification--should be either temporary, or have the good old smooch loophole or something like that.

Mind control--should be friggin obvious and wear off quite quickly.

Magical Diseases/poisons--Maybe if you made actual diseases and poisons as nasty as they really are you wouldn't have to invent this B.S.

Damage Reduction--if you want the monster to be tougher but have a weird vulnerability, just give it more hit points and lower saving throws, sheesh.

Get creative.  Then go back and review the non-casting classes and give them whatever they need to have access to all the non-magical solutions to stuff.  Here's some GREAT stuff:

Non-casters get higher saving throws than casters and don't fail on a roll of 1 if they'd otherwise make the save.

The least-skilled non-caster class gets more skill points than the MOST-skilled caster class. Like, TWICE as many.  And they ALL get a huge number of class skills and bonuses to skills.

Special materials and crafting methods are WAY better than magical enchantments on weapons and armor.  Armor doesn't cease being relevant after level 5 because IT HAS ZERO SCALING.  In DDO, they have this thing called +[w].  Periodically you get weapon upgrades that simply do more damage because they get more dice of damage.  So that bow that was doing 1d8 damage now does 2[1d8] or 3[1d8] or more.  Spells often add dice of damage with levels, why don't weapon attacks?!  And not your special attacks, your BASIC attack, the one you use every time you roll!

Some moron at WotC once said about third edition D&D that getting a feat was considered equivalent to getting a new level of spells.  Okay, no, getting the ability to SOMETIMES swing your weapon an extra time (like, say, cleave) is NOT THE SAME as getting access to a dozen new spells that can drop an entire ROOM full of enemies IN ONE GO.  Hand these suckers out to the non-casters.  Hand them out to the semi-casters!  Instead, who gets more bonus feats than they know what to do with?  FRIGGIN WIZARDS.  Meanwhile the poor paladin is looking at their 3 smite evils per day and crying into their beer.

Quit over-rewarding specializing in one weapon style.  You use the right damn tool for the job.

Get rid of the silly notion of weapons being "bludgeoning", "slashing", or "piercing" weapons.  Ain't you ever seen a movie where someone got clubbed with the butt of a gun?  Ever see someone get cut in a boxing match?  The WHOLE THING is a weapon, not just two inches at the very tip, dammit.  Do you not think that in a world where people EXPECT to go from fighting zombies to fighting skeletons at a moment's notice they'd put a damn heavy pommel on that sword?! Or just use the flat?!

Let the wizards be wizards.  And let the rogue sneak in, disarm all the alarms, blind the magical eyeball, and throttle that sucker in his sleep.

Aug 29, 2019

Rise of the Runelords Interlude: Raising Spirits

“Tell it to me straight, no messing around,” Vale said. “Do you really think the Commander is alive?”

“I . . . I don't know,” Jakandros answered, well aware of how feeble that sounded. “I have hope, which is more than I've had in a while. It's a small thing. It's . . .” he sighed and rubbed the back of his neck. At his feet, Kibb purr-growled and thrust his head under Jakandros' free hand, demanding scratchies.

“What?” Vale asked, after watching in silence for several moments.

“It's in my head to think that Old Deadeye wouldn't take such a small hope from me, after he's let them take everything else.”

“You know better than to say things like that, Jak. The gods really are that cruel.”

“I know, Vale. No one knows that better than I do by now. But-”

“Some of us might.” Vale's tone was bitterly hard, the anger that was never far away these days breaking through. Jakandros tried not to wince. The worst part was that a piece of him relished that anger and wanted to meet it with anger of his own, to shout, you stupid kid, you think you know what loss is, you think you have any idea . . .

It would feel very good indeed to let himself get angry, but he feared very much what would happen if he did. Kaven likely wouldn't live out the night. Hell, burn the whole fort down, let that be a last funeral pyre for his Black Arrows, and walk into the woods to kill and kill until he was killed in his turn. It would be so easy, much easier than looking at Vale's fury and hurt and saying yet again that he had no answers.

“It's late, Vale. We have a lot of work tomorrow,” he said, finally.

“Like running off to the swamp after some love-poems? Are you gonna leave me here with the mess because you're desperate for someone who ain't you to take over? Is that the work you're talking about?”

“Should I just abandon Lamatar without knowing? Vale, he could be alive and in who knows what kind of trouble, like we were before those kids showed up.”

Vale frowned as Jakandros' face took on the thousand-yard stare that was becoming increasingly common and worrisome. Having the girls around seemed to help, as Vale thought of Jori, Shalelu, Melissah, and Nevis. It was small comfort, anyway, as it left open the question of what would happen to Jakandros when they inevitably left. “So why not let the kids take care of it?” he said, trying to break in on that stare. “They're more than capable. Maybe they got another miracle up their sleeves.”

“Maybe. At this point, I wouldn't put it past them.”

Brilliant white light flashed through the arrow slits and both men jumped as thunder boomed, followed by an intense rattling that turned into a sustained roar.

“From the sound of that, nobody's going anywhere much tomorrow,” Vale said. “Oh, well, plenty to do around here.”

If Jakandros had any experience with the weather, Vale was absolutely right. And, sadly, he did. Quite a lot.


In the morning, Jakandros' worst estimates proved conservative. The courtyard was reduced to a sea of muck. An enormous tree had broken loose somewhere upstream and hurtled the waterfall, smashing a section of the palisade and then helpfully blocking the stream so that he water had nowhere to go but into the courtyard. Everything was a mess. One of the outbuildings had even collapsed. The ogres hadn't trashed the place so effectively. Jakandros waded out to survey the damage, shaking his head and swearing under his breath.

Kibb stood in the doorway, his massive cougar paws crammed as tightly together as possible while he glared at the mud, trying in vain to locate somewhere non-sticky to put a paw down. A black-and-white nose emerged next to him and the cougar yowled angrily.

“Down, Kibb,” Jakandros called. The badger sauntered past the angry cat and plopped full-length into the mud, crossing the courtyard in a series of disgusting splashes until it reached Jakandros and thrust its nose into his groin. “I take it your mistress sent you out here?”

The badger simply looked innocent, then turned and flopped its way back to the fort doors, where it stopped and very deliberately shook itself off right next to the furious cougar.

“Pavander!” Melissah shouted from inside. “Don't you DARE track that mud in here!” The badger started to scamper off and a sphere of water formed, turning instantly brown as it swept up the black-and-white animal and whirled across the floor, depositing Pavander in an unhappy but no longer muddy heap in the hallway. Completely unabashed, Pavander sat up, shook his fur into place, and trotted off.

Jakandros, having reached the doors himself, met Jori's eyes over Melissah's shoulder, surprised to find himself fighting a smile. “Rather a harsh way to treat your companion, madam,” he said, and was rewarded as Jori burst into giggles.

“Have you ever lived with a honey badger, sir?” Melissah asked, tartly.

“Can't say as I have.”

“Then I suggest you try it and get back to me.”

“Thanks, but I have enough to worry me.” Melissah's face fell and Jakandros abruptly felt like an ass. “I . . . have to report that we're not going much of anywhere until the water goes down, sorry.”

“That may not be a bad thing,” Melissah started.

“Yeah!” Jori burst in. “It turns out the Kreegs kept a few of your people alive for a few weeks to torture them!”

Jakandros felt his stomach wrench. Melissah clapped both hands over her face as he swayed on his feet. Kibb's weight pressed against the back of his legs, steadying him. “Why . . . are you telling me this . . .” he rasped.

“Oh, that's, I meant . . .” Jori floundered. Melissah reached out slowly and without thinking he grasped her hand.

“We were laying out the dead for burial,” she said gently,” and I noticed that a very few looked only recently dead. I think we might be able to revive them. We were just discussing it.”

“Revive?” His head seemed likely to float away. “You can do that? Isn't it fearsomely expensive?”

“We wouldn't be able to do it at all if they'd died in the initial attack,” Jori explained. “And, yeah, it's expensive.”

“Whatever it costs, I'll pay it.” The sinking sensation in his stomach came again. “Somehow. There's almost nothing left . . .”

Melissah squeezed his hand. “Don't even think about it. I can manage the cost.”

“Yeah, I said we but with the condition of the bodies it's really going to be all Melissah's doing,” Jori added.

“I'm not sure he wants to hear the details right now,” Melissah said.

“No,” Jakandros said, forcing himself to take a deep breath and stand up straight. “Tell me.”

Melissah nodded. “They were . . . dismembered, so Jori can't raise them. But I can offer reincarnation.”

“You mean, they come back in different bodies?”

“Yes, exactly. I can't force them to return if they don't wish to, but I can give them the opportunity. I wish I could do more.”

“No, that's . . . that's amazing. Please. And I'll find the money to pay you.”

Melissah and Jori shared a look.

“Heck, if money is a problem, I'll pay for it,” Jori said.

“No,” Melissah insisted. “I can make most of what I need in my wagon. I'll cover the rest.”

Jakandros shook his head. “I can't let you . . .”

“Oh, stop it!” Melissah snapped, the tartness returning. “I'm a druid, what do I need a lot of money for? Besides, it's my magic and if I want to pay for it myself, I will.”

“So there!” Jori announced, grinning. “You see? It really was good news.”

“I suppose so, although your delivery could use a little work.”

“Yeah, sorry 'bout that. I got so excited I wasn't thinking.”

Jakandros grabbed Jori's shoulders and kissed her on the cheek. He then leaned over and did the same to Melissah, which felt much more daring somehow. “I'm going to tell Vale the good news. If you'll excuse me, ladies.”

Melissah blushed and scrubbed vainly at her face while Jori grinned even more. “I have a wagon to fetch,” the druid said.

“Why so flustered?” Jori demanded.

“I'm not flustered, it's just that I have children almost as old as he is,” Melissah muttered.

“Wait, WHAT?!” Jori yelled as Melissah scurried away.


Two very muddy and exhausted mules stopped outside the fort that night, and an equally muddy druid/cleric team climbed down from the wagon, followed by a pristine and weirdly-smug badger. Vale and Jakandros went out and relieved them of the mules.

“Get inside,” Jakandros told them when they started to protest. “We'll take it from here. There's hot water.”

“Desna bless you,” Jori said fervently, stumping her way across the still-soggy courtyard toward the doors.

“Turtleback Ferry is half underwater,” Melissah said. “If I couldn't turn into an elephant, we'd never have gotten out.”

Jakandros nodded solemnly. “One problem at a time. We'll get to them all.”

“Yes.” She smiled. “First, the hot water.”

“That isn't a problem.”

“Have you ever live with a honey badger, sir?”

“Oh. Oh, dear.”



Melissah started work in the morning with Jakandros watching from what he hoped was a courteous distance. The process was surprisingly interesting to watch, and even a little alarming when she stripped down to a knee-length tunic and opened all four of her beehives without bothering to smoke them first. Bees landed all over her, but they didn't seem to be stinging. Pavander took the opportunity to snatch a particularly juicy bit of honeycomb, which he brought over to Jakandros and ate very slowly with extreme relish.

“You're a bit of a jackass, aren't you?” Jakandros told the badger. It sniffed, fluffed itself, and marched off.

Eventually, after much melting, scraping, burning, and brewing (and once almost setting her hair on fire, which Jakandros politely pretended not to notice) Melissah had three wax effigies floating in barrels of honey-scented oil. She closed them up and began her spell, raising the primeval spirits to draw the souls of the departed into new bodies. The barrels began to shake and steam hissed around the lids. An hour later, the druid unceremoniously decanted an elven female, a halfling male, and a human male onto the ground.

“Jakandros?!” the woman squawked, then went cross-eyed in horror at the sound of her own voice.

“I'm sorry, have we met?”

“I should think we've met! What in hells happened?!”

“I swear I've never seen you before in my life.”

“They receive new forms, remember,” Melissah explained.

“I'll say!” the halfling exclaimed. “I've grown a penis! And when did you turn into a giant!?”

“That . . . will take some getting used to,” Jakandros said weakly.

Aug 27, 2019

Rise of the Runelords Session 24: Big Boss

The ground floor of Fort Rannick was empty of foes, but the ogres on this floor, fierce as they were, did not match the descriptions Jakandros had given for the ogre leadership.

“They must be upstairs,” he said when the party consulted him. Vale had put Kaven in one of the jail cells and was sitting on a table, sharpening one of his axes and scowling. Jakandros shot the big man a worried look. “It might be best if I stay here. For safety.”

Nevis tugged on Melissah's tunic. “I'm getting a fox, goat, and cabbage vibe here,” the gnome stage-whispered.

“What?” Jakandros asked, baffled.

“Huh?” was Nevis' eloquent response.

“Fortunately, we have a boat large enough for all three of them,” Melissah said, patting her satchel.

“What are you talking about? What boat?” They might be on solid ground, but Jakandros was definitely lost at sea.

Iozua gave the druid and bard comedy team a sour look. “Never mind them. We'll take care of things from here.”

“Oh. Good. Um, thank you.” the ranger captain said, glancing at Vale, who shrugged.

The top floor of the keep had a single hallway shaped like a backwards L, with three sets of doors opening off it. Foss trotted forward and kicked in the first door, revealing what had been, and in a sense still was, the fort's chapel to Erastil. The furniture had been thrown aside in a splintered mass and the walls were now mounted with dozens of trophy antlers, some taken from stags that must have stood as tall as a dire bear. Most of the antlers were draped with bits of rotten flesh, strips of skin, or coils of viscera. The marble altar was now heaped with the mangled remains of at least a half-dozen dead men and women. A crude image of what might be a three-eyed jackal was painted on the wall above the altar.

The massive ogre standing before the altar looked up. He was at least fourteen feet tall, almost the size of a true giant. “Guess m'brood din't take care o' you,” he grunted. “Reckon I gotta, now.”

“Lamashtu,” Jori whispered, shuddering. Iozua stepped into the doorway and threw a fireball while Shalelu fired over his shoulder. Explosion and arrows struck at almost the same moment. The beast grunted, but raised his hook to meet Foss' charge while Nevis sang mightily. Even the half-elf's axe blows made little impression on the massive ogre. It eyed Jori, who stepped up to assist Foss, and changed its direction mid-strike, slamming the cleric to the floor with one blow.

A flaming pillar struck the ogre as Melissah finished her spell, but it was still standing. Iozua flinched as the door further down the hall opened and two normal-sized ogres burst out, swinging at him. He stumbled back into Nevis with a shout of pain as a club struck his hip and another barely missed his head. The wizard made frantic arcane gestures and summoned a protective shield, while Shalelu fired more arrows at the flankers, trying to drive them back.

Jori struggled to regain her feet, and Foss stepped in front of her, ducking another feriocious swing and burying both axes in the ogre's gut. It wheezed and staggered, and Foss hacked away until it finally lay still. Jori scooted along the floor and channeled healing power, catching the party in a burst of warmth that eliminated most of their wounds.

Nevis briefly stopped singing and threw up her hands, shattering the air with a violent burst of sound that left the flanking ogres stunned. Shalelu's arrows and Iozua's burning ray finished them off, and it was quiet for a moment as Foss jumped into the hall, determined to get between his compatriots and any more attackers.

Then, the third door burst open and two more ogres appeared, one wearing a strange, serrated metal jaw on its face, the other making mystical signs with her hands. Foss engaged them without hesitating, but staggered when a hook gouged through his armor, nearly sending him to his knees. Melissah threw magical ice over his head and the metal jaw gaped open as the ogre shrieked.

Nevis scooted forward, touching Foss with magical healing that might enable him to survive another blow, but the female ogre finished her spell and strange visions clouded their sight. The gnome watched in horror as Foss hacked at his own leg with his axe, moving slowly and with dream-like intent.

Shalelu continued to fire, dropping the metal-jawed ogre with two arrows in his skull. Then she staggered as Melissah clubbed her from behind. The elven language performed admirably as a canvas for the archer's swearing.

“It's a confusion spell!” Iozua yelled, summoning a wall of elemental acid and forcing the ogre spellcaster back. “Got a dispel handy?!” he shouted at Nevis.

“I don't do that one!” the gnome squeaked, trying to stop Foss from further injuring himself.

“Hoo, boy . . .” Iozua muttered, rooting through his own spell components. Nevis ducked under Foss's arms and made a shushing gesture at the room, and all sound in that room ceased.

“Got it,” Iozua said, activating a ring on his hand. Foss and Melissah shook themselves as the confusion dissipated. Foss glanced at the acid wall, and Iozua gestured to dismiss it.

The ogre sorcerer screamed as Foss bore down on her, then fell, Shalelu's arrows feathering her face and throat. Silence fell again.


Iozua offered a tepid thumbs-up to the hyperactive gnome. “Are they all dead now?”

Melissah looked around. “All the ones in the keep, anyway. There were some more in the courtyard.”

Foss hacked off the heads of the ogre leaders and carried them up the tower, hurling them into the courtyard. Shalelu followed him, fingering her bow. The ogre below looked up, blinked, and started yelling. The outbuildings disgorged a few more ordinary grunt ogres, who looked cautiously at the heads, looked at Foss and Shalelu glaring down at them, and began edging toward the gate. They heaved it open and fled into the forest.

“FOSS!!” Nevis bellowed. “I'm totally going to tell stories of Foss the Axe-ecutioner!”

“Look at this,” Jori said. She was examining a smashed wine cabinet, which had revealed a hidden compartment. Pulling it open, she found a flat wooden coffer, a pair of soft green boots, and a tiny jewelry box. The coffer was crammed full of parchment. “They're . . . poems,” Jori said, opening one and reading a few lines. “To someone called Myriana.” She opened a locket, which held a curl of luxuriant hair.

“That must belong to Lamatar,” Jakandros said. He smiled sadly. “We decided to come check on you after all that noise. Everyone all right?” Vale nodded over his shoulder.

“More or less,” Shalelu said. “Who is Lamatar?”

“The commander. I didn't realize he was a poet.”

“He used to leave the fort for a couple of days every month, remember?” Vale said, turning a poem over in his hands. “He called them his 'communion' walks.”

Jakandros' face suddenly went white. “He was out on just such a walk when the attack came,” he whispered. “He might be alive.”

“Then we should see if we can locate him,” Melissah said.

“He mentions Whitewillow in this poetry. That's a part of the Shimmerglens said to be near one of the portals to the First World.”

Nevis perked up. “Ooh, I know what that is!”

“If he is alive, Lamatar should decide what to do with Kaven.”

“Sounds like a plan,” Melissah said.

Aug 19, 2019

Rise of the Runelords Session 23: Lovers' Reunion

Jakardros gestured north, up the tunnel. “Past here, there are stairs up through the jailer's quarters.”

Iozua looked at the walls. “I don't suppose we'll have to worry much about ogres in these tight quarters.”

The ranger nodded. “Likely not, but there will be more shocker lizards down here. This is their home territory, so they won't be as ornery as the ones up above, but maybe Melissah should go first.”

Melissah looked alarmed, and bit her lip. “If you think that's best, I will.” She had been in more battles in the past few days than over the past few decades.

“I'll be right behind ya,” Foss said, encouraging.

“All right,” the druid allowed. “Not that I thought you would abandon me or anything.” She eased her way down the tunnel, followed closely by the fighter.

“I hear them up ahead,” Foss said, squinting into the darkness. Melissah did not seem impaired, but Iozua cast a light spell and edged up so that the fighter could also see. A loud hiss greeted the light, and some crackling noises as startled lizards crouched down, preparing to fight.

Melissah approached slowly, making a soft humming sound in her throat and looking away from the lizards. They backed away, cautiously, but seemed less alarmed, tasting the air with their flicking tongues. Still moving slowly, the druid reached into her bag and produced some ration bars, tossing them lightly to the ground. The lizards flinched back from the movement, but then slowly returned to investigate the food, which they grabbed, scooting away to a branch of the tunnel.

“We can move around to the south, I think, but don't make sudden or threatening moves, and try to avoid making eye contact. That's usually seen as hostile,” Melissah said in a low, almost sing-song voice. She glanced at the three rangers. “Goodness, some pets they have here,” she muttered.

Vale half-smiled. “They eat the roaches and centipedes down here, so we don't get vermin up in the keep. So we leave 'em be.”

“Don't forget the grubs,” Kaven whispered.

Iozua nodded. “Practical.”

“So would spiders, I'm just saying,” Melissah insisted.

“Spiders? Ick, no thank you,” Nevis stage-whispered.

“Hey, that was a damn fine arthropod,” Iozua said.

“BIG spiders are fine. I won't accidentally swallow them in my sleep!” the gnome announced, becoming agitated.

“Not with that attitude,” Iozua told her.

“Hush,” Foss told them, glancing at the lizards, which had finished their rations and were looking curiously up the tunnel at them again. “It's a fine way to keep out unwanted guests.”

“Including, at the moment, us,” Melissah said. She edged past the lizards, tossing out a few more rations. Several more lizard heads poked out of side tunnels, but they were definitely more interested in the food than in the adventurers. Within a few moments, everyone had passed the cavern and found the door that led into the keep.

“You know,” Melissah added, glancing back into the cave. “You could probably train them to recognize friendlies if you fed them regularly.”

Jakardros shrugged and pulled the cord that opened the door. Bright light streamed out of a room that he had earlier described as a jailer's guardroom, possibly once a torture chamber, but someone had recently gone to great pains to re-purpose it. The air was filled with the scent of sweet incense, and veils of multicolored silk draped the walls from floor to ceiling. The floor was strewn with thick red rugs and cushions, giving the entire room the aspect of a whorehouse boudoir.

“Oh, good, you're finally here,” a soft, feminine voice called. “Do come in.”

Foss blinked, stepping in to the room, his boots leaving impressions in the thick rugs. “Not exactly what I expected. Hello, milady.”

Kaven flinched, his face a study of mixed emotions, guilt and shock foremost. “Lucrecia?” he forced out.

“Hello, Kaven,” the woman said. She was tall and elegant, with a rich gown, pale skin, and artfully arranged crimson hair. She gestured with a crystal glass held idly between two fingers. “Congratulations on a job well done.” Her eyes looked out from under heavily-made-up lids at Jakardros while she apparently spoke to Kaven. “These oafish Kreegs would have had quite a lot of trouble taking Rannick without the lovely details you provided us. Excellent work, my love!”

Jakardros looked as though he'd been stabbed. Vale drew his axes, roaring, “You son of a bitch!” while Kaven shrank back. Lucrecia smiled. Melissah stared at her, gripping her staff tightly. She noticed that the red-haired woman was wearing an amulet around her neck, similar to one that Iozua and Foss both had—a Sihedron amulet. An artifact of ancient Thassilon.

“Oh. Oh no,” Iozua whispered.

“I . . . think she's telling the truth . . .” Melissah said in horror.

Lucrecia kept speaking, still staring at Jakardros, who was visibly shaking. “He used to visit me at the Paradise, you know.” Everyone recognized the name of the pleasure barge that sank some weeks before. “He gave me everything we needed about the patrols and defenses to ensure our victory. Then he volunteered for the patrol that kept him out of the fort when the assault came.” She smiled. “You even arranged some delays so you wouldn't make it back in time to help, didn't you, darling?”

Vale growled. “You didn't count on running into the Grauls, though, DID you?”

Kaven was standing utterly still, the quietest he'd been in the entire time they'd known him. Possibly the quietest he'd been in his entire life.
Vale flexed his hands, swinging the axes with a terrible noise. “Give the order, Jak, and let me dispatch this traitor.” Jakardros, looking lost, met Foss's eyes helplessly, then looked to each of the others, hoping for some kind of answer or reprieve. Lucrecia steepled her fingers in front of her chin, looking like she was contemplating some fantastic dessert.

“Kaven, drop your weapons and back away,” Melissah spoke urgently. “We can sort this out later.”

“Surrender may be your only way out,” Iozua agreed. Foss stepped closer to Lucrezia, gripping the hafts of his axes.

Jori pointed to Lucrecia's amulet. “We already failed once to save someone who was under their control,” she said. “We can't fail again.”

Kaven's face bloomed with relief. He jabbed an accusing finger at Lucrecia. “That's right! She bewitched me!”

“Vile temptress!” Iozua snapped.

Jori's eyebrows climbed. “I don't think that's the WHOLE story, though, is it?”

“It would really be best if you put your weapons down,” Melissah repeated. Kaven nodded slowly and unbuckled his sword belt.

Melissah jerked her chin toward the fighter, who was standing closest, still watching Lucrecia's every move. “Foss . . .”

“Melissah . . .” he replied. Then he saw Kaven. “Oh, oh yeah, sure.” He took the weapons belt from the young ranger and tossed it into the corner, well out of reach.”

Lucrecia smiled again. “I know you've come to do me harm, as you killed my poor, foolish sister, Xanesha. But I wanted to give you the option to join my masters before I send you to your graves. Mokmurian would just LOVE to meet you.”

Foss glanced across the room at Iozua, shrugged, and then swung both axes directly at Lucretia's head. She hissed and jumped backward, transforming in mid-air into a strange shape, a woman from the waist up and a long, sinuous snake below. She drew two daggers and stabbed Foss, making him stagger backwards.

Iozua cast a spell and a flaming ball appeared, but the snake-woman avoided it adroitly. Nevis began to sing and play her lute, while Jori hurtled forward to bestow a blessing on Foss. Jakardros fired his bow, but his hands were shaking and the arrows went wide. Vale charged forward, swinging his axes, and Lucretia snarled and batted the weapons away. She was too slow to dodge Foss's renewed attacks, and his axes bit into her serpent's body.

Melissah chanted and a massive orange-and-black body burst out of the air, landing with paws extended on Lucretia and raking her with vicious claws. One of Shalelu's arrows also found its mark, and Lucretia screamed, casting a spell so quickly it was almost invisible. Vale, Foss, and the tiger recoiled from a hideous oppression and the snake-woman opened the door behind her and sprinted up the stairs to the keep.

“Damn!” Nevis yelled, and cast a spell to add haste to everyone's movements. “Get her!”

Jori didn't need to be told twice, she sprinted up the stairs, but the same oppression struck her and she found herself curiously unable to attack. Foss followed, still not able to attack, but attempting to block the hallway.

Melissah dodged up the stairs and chanted another spell, and two pillars of ice burst from the floor to block the passage, one smashing Lucretia aside as it passed. The snake-woman dodged around the ice pillars and Foss and continued down the hall, opening another set of doors and disappearing into a room. Iozua squeezed between the pillars and chased after her, skidding to a halt in front of the doors. He blinked, seeing four massive ogres in the room, and instantly hurled a fireball.

Lucretia and three of the ogres burned like torches and fell, while the fourth ogre bellowed in agony and staggered back, almost into Jori's arms. She stabbed the ogre in its tubby guts and it tumbled to the ground, shaking the floor as it landed.

Shalelu moved forward to where the hall split just as another set of doors opened and an even larger and more terrible Kreeg ogre burst out, swinging its ogre hook wildly at her head. Two more of the beasts came running down the side hallway toward her. Iozua waved his hands in a horizontal line and a roiling wall of flame ran along the hall, catching all three ogres.

“Foss! Foss! More ogres!” the wizard yelled. Foss looked, saw that the hall was blocked, and ran through the room Lucretia had opened. It came out on another hall, and Foss ran around the corner and found himself behind the ogres. He immediately began hacking, dropping one.

Melissah squeezed past the ice pillars and cast another spell, her hands filling with fire. She threw a handful of fire at the largest ogre, singing it further, and then almost went to her knees as another ogre appeared behind her, roaring, and cut her with its ogre hook, almost taking her arm off.

Iozua cast another spell, filling the hall behind Melissah with thick strands of sticky webbing, which clung to the ogre and arrested its attack. Between the flaming wall, Jori, Shalelu, and Foss, their battle ended quickly, and Foss charged up the hallway, intercepting the last ogre as it ripped free from the web. The blow meant for Melissah clanged brutally off Foss's armor as Melissah hurled handful after handful of flame, turning the web into a mass of fire while Foss hacked at it savagely. With a last groan, it fell, and the field was theirs.

Aug 12, 2019

Rise of the Runelords Session 22: Gnome Heaven

When night fell, Melissah transformed herself into a massive owl, and with a great deal of scuffling and rope the adventurers secured themselves to her legs and back. No one was really comfortable, but the flight to Fort Rannick was brief. The lowering clouds filled the air with unpleasant drizzle, and the night was about as black as it was possible to get, but Nevis still took the precaution of casting invisibility over the group as they passed almost soundlessly over the stockade and landed with a painful but muffled thump on the lip of the aerie.

The knots had managed to work their way around and become soaked with water, so after some straining and cursing the adventurers and Black Arrows cut themselves free and scrambled away from the ledge, allowing Melissah to transform again. She shook herself violently and patted her damp hair away from her face.

“Well, that was an . . . experience,” Iozua said from somewhere in the invisibility spell. “Thank you, Melissah.”

“You could have cleaned your boots,” the druid remarked somewhat crossly.

“HOLY CRAP HOLY CRAP HOLY CRAP THAT WAS AMAZING!” Nevis announced in a stage whisper that could probably be heard back in Turtleback Ferry. “First we went swoosh then swoosh!” The gnome was invisible, but the flapping noises of rapid hand movements and dancing footsteps across the ledge were clearly audible. Iozua grunted as one of Nevis' flailing fists nailed him in a sensitive spot.

“I cannot keep up with your technical terminology,” the wizard snapped, trying to detach the still-flailing gnome from his groin.

Melissah bit her lip to avoid laughing out loud. “Er, I'm glad you approve, but if you keep making so much noise the ogres will hear us.”

The path descended the cliffside and then ran into a tunnel which ended, unexpectedly, in a large pile of rubble that even Nevis probably could not squeeze through.

“Was this here before?” Shalelu hissed.

There was a moment of silence as Jakandros shook his head, then remembered no one could see. “No, the ogres must have collapsed it somehow.”

“Clearing this rubble will be noisy,” Foss said. Everyone listened hard, but no one could make out any sounds of activity on the far side of the rubble. There didn't seem to be any help for it, so they started to dig.

After almost a quarter of an hour, they'd cleared enough of the rocks and dirt to look out at the courtyard of Fort Rannick. Melissah peeped out cautiously. There were two outbuildings to the east of the tunnel, on her left, and far across the courtyard an ogre stood by the gate, industriously polishing what appeared to be a skull to a mirror finish.

“This way,” Jakandros whispered, quietly kicking up some dust to indicate the wall just to the right of the tunnel. A concealed door in the wall slid open, and the group jostled through into the narrow tunnel. Jakandros closed the door behind them, and with no enemies in sight, Nevis let the invisibility spell lapse.

A side tunnel opened ahead, while the main tunnel turned south. Vale gestured at the side room while Foss glanced inside, seeing numerous niches in the walls and ancient, dessicated bodies scattered carelessly on the ground.

“We used to bury our brothers and sisters in here,” Vale said quietly. “Until we ran out of room.”

Jakandros nodded. “Rather than expand the crypt, we started sending off our fallen kin in pyres and scattering the ashes.”

“Well, that answered my first question,” Nevis said.

“It sounds like nothing we need to disturb, then,” Melissah added.

Foss shook his head and moved forward, looking at the scattered and wrecked bodies. “These should be put in their proper resting places.” Nevis gave him a vigorous thumbs-up, and the rangers moved to help him, spreading out over the room.

A chill filled the air and a dark figure erupted from the ground, lashing out at Foss, its spectral hands passing through his armor and flesh. He shivered and gasped and retaliated with both axes, viciously, before anyone else could even move. The weapons found something in the ghostly form that they could harm, and with a hideous wail the specter vanished.

“What was that?” Melissah asked. “Foss, are you all right?”

“I don't know,” Foss hissed, “but I think it cursed me. I don't feel so good.”

“It must have been a specter,” Jori said, hurrying forward. “Usually it's a human who was murdered.”

“We may need a new policy of staying out of crypts,” Iozua said.

“It's okay, buddy, you still look decidedly super-awesome!” Nevis announced. Jori cast a spell that eased some of whatever was afflicting Foss. The color came back to his skin and he breathed a little easier. He then stomped back into the cave and began hauling the bodies back into their slots. Looking a bit embarrassed, the rangers hurried to help him. When they were finished, they followed the tunnel south, to where a small chasm split the ground. The walls were studded with flashy but worthless rock crystal. A narrow, creaking rope-and-plank bridge crossed the gap.

“This won't hold more than one person at a time,” Jakandros warned.

“It'll hold me!” Nevis announced and trotted forward across the planks. Halfway across, she stopped abruptly and peered over the edge, completely oblivious to the drop. “GUYS! GUYS! THERE'S A BODY WITH STUFF DOWN THERE!” The gnome began to hop up and down, causing the bridge to shake and the entire cavern to shower down dust.

“Great!” Iozua said. “LATER. It's not, you know, going anywhere.”

Nevis was not to be deterred. She scampered across the bridge and leaned over the edge. “I have rope! Foss, c'mere and lower me down!”

“Please, let's not do that,” Iozua said as the half-elf fighter edged across the bridge.

“But . . . treasure?” Nevis pouted, bottom lip quivering.

Melissah sighed and leaned over to the wizard. “If you really want me to, I can fly down there and get whatever it is to keep Nevis happy.”

Nevis was now dancing rapidly from foot to foot. “I mean, we say wait for later, but what if we have to have a HUGE battle with some ogre mage who has bound his unholy evil soul to the keep! Then upon his death the place begins to collapse! Then when is our 'later'? We'll be lucky to escape with our lives intact! I mean, I know hat is the real treasure but still, gold is the only gold that's gold!”

Kaven looked at Jakandros. “She has got a point. This IS currently a villain lair. And those DO blow up.”

Jakandros shook his head. “You've been reading too many of those torrid copper tales.”

“Don't encourage her,” Vale grunted.

Iozua threw up his hands at Nevis's continued antics and gestured to Melissah, who shook her head and slowly rolled her eyes. She then transformed herself into a whirling cloud and flew into the chasm, where she retrieved a small pack.

“OOOO lookit that!” Nevis squeaked.

Returning to the cavern above, Melissah made a small bow and handed Nevis a brilliant silvery short sword and a bag containing, yes, some gold and a few garnets.


“Your approval brings great joy to my declining years,” Melissah said. “Now can we move on?” Without waiting for an answer, she headed south while the rest of the group finished crossing the bridge one at a time.

The next opening in the cavern contained, to no great surprise, a couple of large, striped lizards that looked up and hissed angrily. Pavander the badger snapped at one and Melissah rushed forward to hit it with her staff. Two solid whacks finished it, and Foss casually sliced the other lizard into three pieces.

Jakandros shook his head. “I see why you didn't have much trouble with the Grauls. These two must have gotten separated from the colony under the keep.”

“It's a shame, but ferocity is their nature,” Melissah said.

Nevis was prancing around waving the mithril sword. “Guys, you think it's like detection magic? Like it might glow when goblins or orcs are nearby?”

“I'm sure you'll find out if you take it to Sandpoint,” Jori said dryly.

“Oh, I'm gonna, Jori! You better believe it!”

Aug 2, 2019

Day 11

 I am floored by how quickly and ACCURATELY I was able to block in the shapes on this sketch simply starting from the top of the man's head, going down his body, then starting the woman from the feet and working my way back up to her head.

If I'd tried something like this years ago, there would be HUGE distortions and it would be basically impossible for me to get the two sides of the image to meet up without repeatedly erasing everything and starting over, but on this one I did virtually no erasing and everything lined up almost perfectly at the end.

Somehow my brain and hand have gotten lined up to the point where I can actually reproduce what I'm looking at fairly quickly.

Day 10

Sick in bed.