Using My Monsters

Wednesday, 30 March 2011

Ormid et Al - Session Report 28/3/2011


13/5/13268 K.C. (Laertraine, Fey Isles): Four days have passed since the group helped Edwin recover from the mental trauma of his torments, as well as the residual effects on his physical form. Four days since they accompanied the mage and watched him dismiss the powerful elementals dwelling in the walls surrounding the Vault's entrance, and then watched him disable a deadly arsenal of traps and guardians way beyond the capabilities of the party – and indeed, had they gained entrance, the Inner Circle's troops.

Within that vault Edwin recovered the Primal Binding Glyphs – bound within the shielding confines of minute pocket dimensions; protection against the madness that viewing the glyphs unprotected would instil. He also recovered several large resonant crystals from the surrounding area, perfect for holding the potent energies of a conjured chronoportal, and suddenly the group had everything they needed to return to their own time...

...Everything they needed except for the very thing they came for – the Ael'Shar Power Source.

21:30 – 21:45 - It is late when the party receive word from Calsiphus that he wishes to see them. They find him in his tower, and immediately notice that he appears exhausted; his skin pale, his eyes puffy and ringed in black. Despite this he smiles and waves them in brightly, offering each individual a drink. He then explains to them that despite putting all of his efforts into searching for a power source they could use, he has been unable to locate one. He surmises that there are examples in this world, but that they are either beyond his abilities to scry, or are deliberately hidden. However, he knows a place where the group may be able to find an item that will suit their needs – an otherworldly market dimension known in legend and current arcana as the Crystal Villa – an allusion to the fact that the only physical material native to the plane, and so the main building material used, is a pale lilac or pink crystal with slightly psychemorphic properties; that is, it can be shaped by the focused application of will.

Several members of the party are a little taken aback by this suggestion, for they have heard tales of the legendary pandimensional trade plane. Ormid for example knows that it is a dangerous place with stable portals to literally thousands of far flung dimensions, and that is a “quiet place” - neutral ground. He also knows that the legendary assassin and dark priest Cyric Oth'Darkold met his end there, along with the hallowed Wu Jen Corilath Zenilath – travelling companions with the likes of Brundor Trull Slayer, Emerald Woodstaff and Traveller. The Veteran knows that during the guild wars, many were sent there to procure the alien materials needed to build many of the machines used in that war, or to work the epic weapon rituals used to blast entire armies to pieces, and Shadevia knows that her people journey there from time to time when they need to make contact with allies or to seek peace with enemies in neutral ground.

Calsiphus explains that the villa is a finite plane that automatically adjusts its immediate environment to suit the needs of a sentient creature there, creating a hospitable micro-climate around each. It is mostly empty, save for lilac light and silvery clouds, though at its heart is a planet sized mass of the indigenous crystal; a solid base from which stretch an impossible tangle of winding streets, each of which has a local gravity plane that pulls to their subjective down. In other words, each street can be walked on (and is built on) on both of their sides, allowing for a bewildering array of markets and buildings to populate each. There are also substantial free floating masses of crystal – some bound to the streets or heart by various arcane tethers or potent powers. Many of these are simply left to be, and are colonised by the few native plants to the plane, or more often, stragglers brought through from other dimensions that find root there. However, a few are carved into fortresses or trade houses, and are amongst some of the most secure locales in the whole villa.

He then tells the party that the city was founded by the “High Concern” - the merchant house that in essence “rules” the entire plane, and that there are roughly 800 or so other “concerns” (merchant houses or syndicates) recognised by the High Concern. These recognised concerns hold a position akin to nobility within the villa's social system, and have a measure of say over prices for certain goods, export and import rights, and other important mercantile affairs. Below these are the numerous independent merchants and concerns who pay a stipend to the 800 and 1 (the colloquial name for the High Concern and the 800 recognised concerns) to be allowed to trade in the villa, and it is these that stand to suffer the most under the weight of recent developments there.

“What developments are these?” Asks Ormid warily.

“It seems,” replies Calsiphus wearily, stopping to rub his eyes, “That the usual jostling for status and trade rights amongst the 800 has become more heated of late, giving rise to trade and most recently, actual war. At least half the concerns are covertly trying to kill the leaders and nobles of each others concerns, and are voting prices in their respective trade items down to lower and lower levels in an effort to bankrupt them. Of course, these huge mercantile houses are able, for now, to absorb the losses without consequences, and it is the smaller independents that bear the brunt.”

“Isn't there any kind of action that the High Concern can take to stop this?” Asks Veteran, “Surely, this is damaging their own profits?”

Calsiphus shrugs, “No doubt if it gets to the point where they suffer they will step in and stop it. For now at least, they have simply upped the number of their Xilloth that patrol the streets, and ensure that the merchants keep their warring behind closed doors.”

“Xilloth?” asks Ardwaine.

Ormid shudders as does Shadevia, for both know what Xilloth are. “They are thought to be distantly related to the foul Illithids, though they follow a divergent evolution. Whereas the illithids are potent psionically, the Xilloth are physically strong, though they do possess some psychic ability. The High Concern use them to police the city, and everyone there knows to fear them and their power.”

The group spend a quiet moment digesting all they have discussed.

So, do you want to go?” Asks Calsiphus, “Because I can open a portal to the main transport hub in the heart, from which you can try to locate an inn called The Fractal Muse, where a contact of mine – a Duodrone called TocToc – can be found. Although he is unlikely, even with the Introduction ritual I shall weave around you, to trust you at once, he could, if won over, prove to be your best bet of locating a power source, for he is a 'fixer'; an individual with a finely tuned understanding of the city, its inhabitants and what items are flowing in and out of it.”

“A Duodrone?” muses Ormid, “As in a cell construct from the machine plane?”

“The same.”

“Uh, confused!” pipes up Llewellyn.

Ormid grins. “Duodrones are like cells in the body of a vast, sentient machine dimension. The plane is composed of vigintillions of component entities, each a discrete entity in its own right. Like the component cells in your body, each has a job to do to keep the overall entity of the dimension 'well'. However, just like happens in our bodies sometimes, at least, in human bodies and those of our nearest cousins, cells can get corrupted or simply do not function as intended. Normally these are located by specialised cells that destroy them, though from time to time they can infect other cells and cause the various tumours and growths we often see.
“Similarly when one of the plane's component entities becomes damaged, specialised hunter units seek them out and destroy them, so their component parts can be broken down and reused. However, from time to time one of these component entities – called Base Modrons by our scholars – escapes their mother universe, and sets up life beyond its home. These “rogue” modrons tend to be the lower level, basic version; the monodrones or like this TocToc, duodrones.”

“Yep, just as I thought,” jokes the vyrleen, “You explained it, I still don't get it. I'm sure it will all become clear when we get there.”

“So you are going then?”

“Yeah, if it's our only hope of finding a power source, then we should.”

“So be it. I shall open a portal to the villa once I have cast an Introduction ritual over you all. I shall also create a succor gem for you. Once you have concluded your business simply crush it whilst joining hands and you will be returned here.”

“Simple!” growls Shadevia, “I'm sure.”

To help with your quest, I shall also work a spell on you all that shall give you the ability to communicate telepathically. It will only last for a short amount of time though, a couple of days at least, but it should help you to find and speak with TocToc.”

With the Introduction cast and the succor gem handed over, Calsiphus begins to forge the portal to the Crystal Villa. The entire party stand ready, watching as it yawns open, flinching as a harsh, telepathic voice suddenly fills their minds along with the crackling pop of interdimensional contact.

“WELCOME TO THE CRYSTAL VILLA. PLEASE BE AWARE, THIS IS DESIGNATED NEUTRAL TERRITORY. TRANSGRESSORS WILL BE SEVERELY PUNISHED.”

A little startled by the unexpected intrusion into their minds, the party are a little reluctant for an instant to step through the portal. However, when Calsiphus gives a grunt of effort, and the pinkish light spilling through the gate begins to fade a bit, they quickly step through it...

21:46 – 22:10 - ...Into a place unlike anything they have seen before; an impossibly vast hangar, filled with countless beings of almost infinite variety and composition. Huge dracani mix with eerie beings of strange and bizarre energies, death shrouded liches and gibbering vole things. Humanoids of a bewildering variety speak in voices unlike any heard by the group before in languages of impossible beauty or base corruption, fighting to be heard over the whirring and clanking of manifold intelligent constructs of materials arcane and mundane. Beings that are, somehow, languages themselves shimmer and flit besides hulking, fuming daemons and painfully pure angelic entities, and all the time is the feeling that there is another crowd present; a ghostly crowd that they are unable to perceive – almost certainly entities existing at levels of reality their minds cannot process.

And beyond the thrumming, shrieking and rumbling crowds the port itself; so huge as to fade into misted, pink distance, its space filled with an array of skyships and other vehicles every bit as varied and bizarre as the entities that use them.

It takes the party a few moments to absorb the incredible scene before them, before a psychic voice barks at them, “PLEASE MOVE FROM THE ARRIVAL PORTAL!”

Moving down the long flights of crystalline stairs that lead from the arrival portal (just one of thousands spaced along the tier of the port they stood on), the group spy a single figure amongst the crowd that stands apart, the individuals avoiding them, moving around them like water round a stone. As the get closer, they taste a vaguely unpleasant taste – a psychic phenomena each realises – and realise that the figure everyone is avoiding is a Xilloth. It is robed in heavy cloth, reinforced with ribbed plates of chitin. From beneath its hood hang long tentacles; muscular and studded with thorns, writhing and coiling with apparent agitation.

Despite their revulsion at both the physical and psychical presence of the Xilloth, Ormid strides right up to it, and extends a hand, a strained smile on his face. “Hello! I'm Ormid Threfler, Dragonslayer, Timetraveller and artificer. We're seeking the Fractal Muse, and I was...wondering...if...”

He stops, the colour draining from his face as a pair of glowing, coppery eyes within the darkness of the hood settle on him. At once a thorny aura of hostile psychic energy flickers around the monster, and Ormid staggers back, apologising numbly.

22:11 – 23:40 - After a lot of asking and searching, Llewellyn locates the Fractal Muse,and the party take a paid portal to the area in which it stands. It is a huge building carved into a great cliff of the local rose crystal, its front decorated by massive statues depicting various idealised entities. Illusory words, shifting constantly through a wide array of languages, scroll across flat areas of stone carved into the front, declaring its name, and vast sconces carved into the lintel of its huge front windows belch fractal flames of various strange, otherworldly hues.

Moving towards it, the group spot several gigantic obsidian constructs guarding its wide, decorated entrance. Each is shaped roughly like a centaur, and has massive faceted eyes of ruby red, four arms and thick elephantine legs. A quiet aura of power echoes between them, and everyone in the group feel more than a little apprehensive as they pass by them, though they move not an inch in response.

Inside the Muse, and the group have to take another few moments to take in the impossible variety of beings there, and the crazy architecture that the building has installed to suit them. They quickly learn that the bar for humanoids is close to the top of the building, and take a free standing spiral staircase of pinkish crystal to it, the dundorin moving up it on hands and knees, terrified of the height and the lack of handrails. No sooner have they entered this bar, than they spot a most bizarre entity stood upon a table nearby, talking to two robed and hooded beings with two too many (by the group's reckoning) sets of shoulders. TocToc is exactly as Calsiphus described him...

A cube of brassy metal plates, exactly 3' x 3' x 3' . He has a curious face on one of his sides, with a wide mouth and mechanical bulging eyes, each eye bearing a crown of lenses on articulated stalks. He has two arms, each a spindly construct ending in simple metal claws, and equally spindly legs ending in hoof like feet. He also has delicate metal wings, though they may or may not be pressed into their recesses along his sides.”

The group are unable to hear anything being said, and spy a circle of brightly glowing runes around the table and its occupants. Checking out the other tables, they see that many have these runes around them, or are hidden behind opaque walls of screening force, and they realise that there is some kind of privacy functionality built into them. The bar occupies a raised platform along one side of the chamber, and curious illusory fractals cast a dim, shifting light across the place, adding to the pale pinkish glow of daylight coming through several large oval windows in the ceiling. A number of masked humanoids stand around the edges of the room – clearly guards of some kind – and the group notice that the staff behind the bar are constructs of some kind, not entirely different from warforged.

Finding an empty table, the group spy a thin circular plate of glassy energy floating towards them with obvious purpose. The Veteran growls, but calms when it injects a cheerful telepathic message into their minds. “Greetings! Welcome to the Fractal Muse! We use universal currency conversion enchantments and would be overjoyed to take your orders!”

“Errm, what do you have floaty disc thing?” Asks Ormid.

“Thank you for your question! We have over a thousand different refreshments listed for entities of your composition and type, and although we cannot guarantee a specific beverage will be in stock, we can guarantee that a close facsimile is. Please concentrate on a refreshment, and I shall check before placing your order.”

The party look at each other, a little taken aback by the potent magic being used for such mundane reasons here. They then spend a few moments concentrating on a drink they each would like, and are delighted when the disc thanks them for their order, relays back to them what they wanted, and drifts off to get their drinks.

Whilst they wait for TocToc to finish and for their drinks to arrive, the artificer begins to examine the table. He can see that there is a graven circle of glyphs set around it, and that it has a small, faintly luminous orb of blue-grey crystal set in its middle. Looking more closely at this orb, he finds that numerous runes swim within its depths, and after a moment is able to decipher that it is a control device that can activate a number of shields around the table – many beyond his ability to understand. He also sees that the orb requires payment to be activated, and although he cannot fathom exactly the magic that accepts this, the artificer can see that it is geared to accept a bewildering array of currencies, many of which he knows from Calsiphus' warnings are “Not currency as we think it, but the strange and ephemeral things held in value by species and races utterly removed from everything we think of as 'life”.

The table itself is made from some kind of sturdy grey crystal, and seems to grow directly from the pink crystal floor, but any further inspection is interrupted as the disc returns, a flat, distorted image of the drinks they ordered floating, like a reflection in a pool of water, within its plane.

“That will be three silvers please. Place currency on my surface.”

Three Arbel'Verdanissian silvers, minted in 3rd Age Fey are placed on the disc, and at once fall into its depths like stones into a pond.

“Thank you for your business.” croons the disc as the drinks rise from its depths, becoming real and tangible.

It is shortly after this that TocToc concludes his business with the two creatures. The runes around the table fade, and both of thehooded creatures – eerie things with six spindly arms, long fingers and small, inhuman heads – gracefully rise to their feet and glide away. Watching them go, the duodrone waddles to the edge of the table and prepares to hop down. However, he stops short with a whirr of internal servos and cogs as Ormid leaps across the chamber and calls to him.

The modron's first instinct is to reach into a compartment within his own body, which exudes flickering blue light and the unmistakable snarl of discharging electricity. However as soon as he senses the magic of the Introduction Calsiphus cast, he withdraws his claw, and begins to speak; his voice the dull clatter of a typewriter.

“Humanoid. Physical dimensional. Species type: Human. Body Language Analysis: None Hostile.”

“I, err...I'm Ormid Thefler, Dragonslayer and Timetravell...”

“Language analysis: Telepathy. Source. Ritual spell. Address Human: Greeting human, I am TocToc. I see you are an ally of the human Clasiphus and that you have a proposal to make.”

Ormid stammers somewhat taken aback, watched from the table by his slightly bemused, slightly amused allies. “Well yes. We need a  Ael'Shar power source, and were told that...”

“Why, when you are clearly being followed by an enforcement cell from my home dimension should I trust you?” Interrupts TocToc, the small circular lenses flashing before his steel-irised eyes as he tries to focus on something less than real. “Before we can work together trust must be forged. Fifteen Chronolily petals. Five Orange, five yellow and five purple. Seeds would also do. Bring them to me in 10 cycles [translation: 100 hours] and we shall make a deal.”

A tangible note of panic enters TocToc's voice. “Quarut entering local time stream. TocToc must flee. Goodbye. See you in 10 cycles. Or not!”

The duodrone then charges past Ormid with an almost comical waddling gate, his internal workings loudly whirring as he goes, leaving the artificer with a moments confusion.

“Chronolily? Those time scrying plants?” Then, “QUARUT? GREAT FATHER!”

Ormid turns to warn the rest of the party, but as he does a bizarre change sweeps through everything. Incredibly powerful magic washes over him and the area, its weight pressing the air from him and sending a burst of pins and needles through his body. As the powerful burst washes through the bar, colour and sound grow muted, and the busy bar's activity slows to a crawl before stopping completely; flames held frozen in place, the customers unmoving, drops from drinks hanging suspended in mid air. As the bar freezes in time, so a terrible figure, taller than the Veteran and just as wide, begins to manifest before them; initially outlined in dancing lines of light, but growing more substantial as reality edges closer to a total standstill. Then, as the bar becomes completely frozen in time, the Quarut manifests fully, its voice deafening within the minds of the entire party.

ANACHRONISMS LOCATED. INITIATING PURGE.”

It is a truly beautiful construct, and Ormid aches to study it as much as he fights to destroy it. It workings are visible, lit by a greenish glow, between its ornamented, rune covered, golden plates of armour. It has no face, just a mass of cogs and lenses, and its “hands” are pointed prods of metal and glass. It moves with a lithe, floating grace, and with a speed that has little if anything to do with physical locomotion. By the time it has manifested (or more exactly Ormid realises, stopped time and pulled the group into this frozen moment) the party are on their feet, though they are all immediately hit by a burst of chronomantic energy that ripples from the Quarut like a shock wave, its touch encapsulating each individual in a corrosive shell of slow time.

Initially, the Quarut seems unbeatable. It almost kills Ormid before he even gets chance to work a single spell, shattering his ribs with pounding blows and then pouring some kind of fast time flow over him, which causes his flesh to age and wither at an accelerated rate. Ardwaine is cast beyond time and vanishes for a moment, reappearing shortly after with clear evidence of rapid ageing, whilst the Quarut manipulates time to be able to move far faster than believable before delivering near fatal burst of power and shattering blows to Llewellyn, Shadevia and the Veteran.

Reeling from this unearthly constructs attacks, the party spend as much time holding off death's coils as they do trying to harm their enemy. Shadevia learns it is impervious to enchantments that cause sleep, and reverts to her deadly arrows which strike with firm and potent effect. The Veteran, his axe once more clothed in corrosive energy, and glassy radiant flames (both thanks to Ormid's enchantments), charges the construct, landing several substantial blows against its tough armour before being sent to the same bubble of no-time that Ardwaine was banished to. The Dundorin gives a good accounting of herself, landing a number of shattering blows on the construct and cursing it so that even when her allies miss it, some part of the potential damage they could have dealt still strikes it. Her spells also drag Shadevia and Llewellyn back from the brink of oblivion after the Quarut turns its attentions on them, her battle cries a constant soundtrack to the brutal conflict.

Llewellyn puts his mace to good use, chewing through the Quarut's armour and splintering the vitreous material that covers the intricate cogs within the things body. With a grunt he smashes the internal shielding, and at once green, luminous mist begins to pour out,  the Quarut giving a telepathic blurt of shocked dismay.

IMPOSSIBLE. ANACHRONISMS HAVE BREACHED INTERNAL CORE. INITIATE DISTRESS CALL”

No” Screams Ormid, “We mean no harm here. We are simply seeking an object, and once we have it will return to our own time. There is no need for you to keep on attacking us!”

The Veteran returns, great lines of bubbling rust marring his armoured exterior, and takes a step towards the Quarut. Ormid stops him with an outstretched hand.

NO COMPROMISE. YOU MUST RETURN TO YOUR OWN TIME STREAM OR BE DELETED. ANACHRONISMS ARE A SOURCE OF IMBALANCE. IMBALANCE IS IMPERFECTION. IMPERFECTION CANNOT BE TOLERATED.”

You cannot win here machine!” continues Ormid, “You are outmatched and outnumbered. When was the last time you were so woefully wounded? Never, I'll wager, and yet we have managed to breach your internal core within mere moments. Leave us be, let us finish our business here and we shall happily return to our own time. Balance will be restored.”

The Quarut takes a step away from the group, and everyone tenses ready to resume the battle.

ENGAGEMENT HEURISTICS SUGGEST CURRENT SITUATION HAS ONLY 5.263878365439376901312% CHANCE OF SUCCESS. QUARUT UNIT TO WITHDRAW. ANACHRONISMS, THIS IS NOT THE END OF OUR DELETION ATTEMPTS. I SHALL RETURN WITH ADDITIONAL SUPPORT. ENJOY THE STOLEN TIME YOU NOW HAVE.”

A blinding green light begins to wax from within the Quaruts guts, which rapidly becomes unbearably bright. As it becomes blinding, so the party feel the flow of time sluggishly moving once again, gaining momentum moment by moment until suddenly the Quarut is gone and they are stood once more within the noise and relative normality of the bar, no one there remotely aware of the epic battle that had taken place around them.

Friday, 25 March 2011

The Durth'Nyrok


DURTH'NYROK [Dur – 'TH / Neye - ROCK] (Unknown – first encountered early 2nd Age) 

“Doom Shadow” Gorgoth; hulking dusky skinned Gorgoth that serve many as mercenaries throughout a number of dimensions. Their base is now located in the Crystal Villa, from where they sell their services to whichever beings need their strength, and they are rare amongst Gorgoth for being both trustworthy to their employer (assuming they are paying the most) and exhibiting sound tactics in battle beyond simply roaring and charging. Their standard is a jagged gorgoth skull, composed of stylized bolts of black lightning and fire.

Post War Natives - 21/3/2011


Arrival +1 day, 1 hour, 31 minutes - +1 day, 17 hours – Ulframm leads the group away from the village and into the peaks that seem to go on forever above. This first day passes without event, the group making excellent progress with their guide, climbing for many hundreds of feet into high, lightly forested ridges studded with weathered boulders and alpine flowers. They stop after about 8 hours, and make camp in the brightness of the day – for the sun (a vast, silvery star that almost eclipses two smaller, brilliant blue stars) – will not begin to set for at least another 12 hours.

During this first day Ulframm explains that he, Ulvar, and the Shaman have spoken, and that they all believe the best chance they have of locating the Path of Shadows is to ask the ancient spirits of the Nordvyrr's ancestors. Once this would have simply been a matter of seeking one of their holy places, speaking the appropriate phrases, and leaving the prescribed offerings of blood and gold. However, long ago the Vanogg and their foul leader – Gor'Kuul – found some way to bind the ancient shades to their wicked wills, and since then, their once beloved ancestors have become their deadliest foes; striking at their children when they come close to their burial grounds – though always whilst lamenting their inability to leave them in peace.

Asked about the Vanogg, Ulframm grows angry. He explains that they are debased tribesmen who long ago turned their back on their ancestors and began to worship ruinous powers unfit for anyone but the insane. Given to ritually removing the flesh from their faces to give themselves a more fearsome appearance, they are long time enemies of the Nordvyrr and the other mountain tribes, for although they tend to stay in their lands further up the mountain, on some dark nights they launch terrible raids on their neighbours, stealing away their children for foul purposes and leaving disease and carnage in their wake.

As if all this was not reason enough to hate them, Ulframm then tells the group that they live amongst the ancient burial grounds of the Nordvyrr's ancestors; defiling their remains, hoarding their grave goods and disgracing their memory. This, more than anything else is a crime that must be answered for one day, and all the mountain clans pray for the day when they are able to end life of the terrible Gor'Kuul and scatter his foul children to the winds.

According to Ulframm, Gor'Kuul is ancient beyond belief, and is rumoured to no longer be truly human. He is said to command and to be given strength by dark powers, and it is his magic that supposedly holds the will of the ancient Nordvyrr's shades, and he who must be defeated if the group are to talk with the elder dead – no mean feat considering that over the last 80 summers there have been repeated attempts to kill him and his vile tribe, and all have resulted in defeat.

“If we killed Gor'Kuul, it wouldn't just benefit my clan. All the other mountain folk would be freed from the Vanogg's predations, and would likely unite with our ancient dead to drive the Gorgom from the mountain once and for all.
“If we slay Gor'Kuul, you will not only earn your way home, but will become legendary heroes of all the mountain clans.”

Arrival +1 day, 17 hours, 1 minute - +2 days, 11 hours – After a less than refreshing night trying to sleep in their stuffy, sun-warmed hide tents, the group continue up the mountain. The terrain quickly becomes rockier and steeper, and they soon begin to feel their muscles burning with the effort, and their heads spinning from the thinner air. Ulframm explains that they will soon hit a high cliff, named the “Bone Wall” by his people, which forms a formidable barrier to the upper peaks. He tells them that it will be far quicker to try and climb it than to go around it, but that he will understand if they wish to go for the safer, if slower second option, for it is an imposing and treacherous climb.

The group quickly discuss their options, the Ulnyrr openly displaying a slightly peevish dislike of their capable, giant guide, and decide to see how difficult this Bone Wall will be to climb. Telling Ulframm this, they continue on their way, the climbing continuing to get tougher, the air rumbling with an approaching thunderstorm.

By the time the party reach the Bone Wall – a huge cliff of shiny limestone, polished by years of erosion, which bears vast skeletal fossils in its surface - the storm has engulfed them, having suddenly broken from a huge wall of black cloud that seemed to manifest within seconds from over the peaks ahead. Cold rain drives at them hard, and thick blasts of icy, drenching fog rip across the mountainside, leaving each adventurer soaked and shivering in their wake. Storm waters spurt off the cliffs top, falling in spectacular white tumbles, which smack into a shallow pool at the cliff's base, and everyone suddenly begins to wonder just how safe climbing the 240' high wall will be.

“So, this is it!” Yells Ulframm, apparently unbothered by the howling winds and slashing rains, “You still want to climb it?”

“Of course we do!” Snaps Schnecke, “Just because we are smaller than you, and don't live such wild lives as you doesn't mean we are soft!”

Ulframm looks a little surprised at the outburst, and the Ulnyrr realises that the rest of the party are looking at him, wearing expressions that range from mild amusement to shocked confusion.

“Just...saying...is all.”

“We'll give it a go.” says Jaeger quietly, “If we rope together and take our time, we should be okay. My only question is what about Mord Bit?”

The huge wolf, as if understanding what is being said gives a loud bark, and Ulframm smiles. The Nordvyrr moves to the massive canine, and takes its head in his hands. Ruffling its sopping fur and pressing his forehead to the wolf's he begins to speak to it in his native tongue. After a few moments Mord Bit gives a playful bark (that is loud enough to send a shudder through each adventurer) and then tears off to the east, following the curve of the cliff.

“He'll meet us later.” is all Ulframm says, a smile on his face.

The climb is a slow and at times hair-raising process. However, the group manage to make it to the top; steaming in the howling winds and driving rain with the heat of their exertions. Each of them is forced to spend a good half an hour catching their breaths after the climb; time enough to stop their tired limbs from shaking and their straining lungs from aching, and although they begin to tramp onwards up the mountains increasingly treacherous and bare sides, they are soon forced to make camp – the storm now shoving them about with its mighty gusts, its rains and fogs preventing any clear view of whatever dangers may lie before them.

With the winds and the surging waters, it takes the group a fair while to make camp. Jaeger and Ulframm hunt for some food, and set up channels for the rains to flow along, and then work to get a fire going in the storm. Eventually however, the group are fed and the tents are up; billowing and booming in the unrelenting press of the winds and rains.

By this time it is clear that the suns have started to sink somewhere beyond the clouds, and the ambient light is slowly but surely fading. Ulframm warns that the group should set a watch whilst they sleep, for they are close now to the Vanogg's lands, and although it is unlikely, they may have scouting parties in the area. Lots are drawn, and watches organised...

Arrival +2 days, 11 hours, 1 minute - +2 days, 21 hours – The group are awoken by screaming outside their tent and savage growls! The storm has apparently abated, leaving a damp chill in the air, and the suns have now begun setting, plunging the world into deepening twilight, and it takes the disoriented and aching party more than a few seconds to work out where they are, what they are doing and how they need to react.

Throwing back the heavy flaps of the tent's entrance, the group stumble out, expecting to find Jaeger (who's watch this is) engaged in mortal combat with a pack of faceless daemon tribesmen or vast unearthly monsters. What they find however is the assassin lying pinned to the floor by the sodden bulk of Mord Bit, being mercilessly licked about the face and neck. On hearing the party emerging from the tent, the huge wolf gives a happy yip, and leaps off the assassin, almost crushing him in the process. He bounds over to Ulframm and almost knocks the huge barbarian over with his affectionate jumping.

Picking himself up, and smiling with a wince, the assassin tells the group that they are not due to be up for a little while yet and that they should get what rest they can before they set off. The group agree, and with the happy, soaking wolf joining them – his wet dog stink quickly filling the humid interior of the tent – the group get back to sleep.

Arrival +2 days, 21 hours, 1 minute - +3 days, 1 hour, 30 minutes – After a quick breakfast the group move through the deepening dark, their footsteps slow and uncertain, for a thick fog, heavy enough to swallow the light of Grigori's enchanted lantern and Seren's light spells, has wreathed the area. After an hour or so, the fog begins to break up, but is replaced with a steady, drenching downpour – every bit as concealing as the vapours they have banished, and the party begin to fret a little, for the terrain is becoming increasingly deadly. Sudden drops, loose ledges that crumble beneath their feet and false paths that lead to concealed scree all seem to be placed to thwart their efforts, and more than a few times they come close to catastrophe. However, they do make progress, and as the twilight gives way to true, rain blurred night, something terrible looms from the darkness.

They are totems, similar to the ones the group encountered at the boundaries of the Nordvyrr's territories. However, instead of wolf skulls and hide, these use ancient bones, rusted weapons and mummified armour, and are smeared in what seems to be blood and faeces. Ulframm almost looses control of himself at sight of them, for he quickly realises that the components used to make the grisly things are plundered from the tombs of his ancestors. They are a defilement of epic proportions, and are a clear indicator that beyond them lies Vanogg territory.

Weapons are brought wearily into ready positions, and the air begins to quietly thrum with power as the spell casters begin to let their power flow through them. The group slow their progress as much as they dare, and cast wary eyes everywhere, the rainy dark suddenly alive with suggestions of movement and waiting enemies.

However, despite all this, when the ambush comes, it catches all but Schnecke and Grigori entirely by surprise.

There are eight of them in all; four on foot and four on the backs of hideous dog things that have skull-like visages and crests of spines similar to those of porcupines growing from their thick, meaty shoulders. All are hideously mutilated, having removed most of the flesh from their faces, and all wield rusted and worm-eaten weapons, plundered from the cairns of the Nordvyrr ancients. Indeed, at first, the group are not entirely sure whether they face living Vanogg, or some kind of hideous undead – at least until they land their first blow and hot, smoking blood erupts from the wound.

The Vanogg charge, weapons raised, their carved faces nightmarish skull visages; their war cries keening insanity. It is a truly short and brutal battle; a whirling maelstrom of flashing blades, screaming mounts and roaring warriors. The initial impact of the Vanogg is checked by the party, and soon only the mounted warriors remain, the others having been chopped down or taken apart by blasts of magic. They foolishly choose to try and hem the party in together, and unwittingly give up the advantage of mobility, each finding death at the hands of the group until only one remains.

This foul warrior, realising that he is alone, tries to flee, spurring his monstrous mount away and into the darkness beyond the lanterns magical glow. However, Varracuda chases after him, throwing himself into an almost uncontrolled, headlong flight through the rain and darkness, heedless of the huge drop that yawns somewhere close to his right flank. He manages to close the distance, and with a roar, throws himself at the fleeing Vanogg, his blade shining with pale emerald flame. Seeing this, the warrior stops to strike him down – a mistake he won't live to regret. Seeing that Ulframm is on foot, and wanting to catch up with the fleeing Vanogg himself, Emmiven moves towards Mord Bit, and manages to calm the huge canine enough that he is able to clamber onto his back, and ride him towards the genasai. With Seren and Schnecke flying through the air (the sorceresses arcane light a pool of gleaming blue-green in the wavering darkness of the rain) behind him, Emmiven soon reaches the two; Varracuda bleeding from a spear thrust to his shoulder, the Vanogg smoking and hurt from the swordmage's blazing blade.

Jaeger unfurls from the darkness like a deadly flower, his nighted blades stretching impossibly through the plentiful gloom to slide through the Vanogg's side and into his entrails. However, it is Varracuda that ends the battle; calling upon the elemental energies of the storm and unleashing a blazing bolt of electrical flame that blasts the life from the skull-faced warrior, his twitching, flaming cadaver stiffening and crashing, corposant dancing through his smoking hair, to the wet ground.

The Vanogg mounts are finished with ease without their riders to guide them.

The group stumble back together, and after a quick check all seem to be okay; superficial cuts and bruises, and some nasty scratches, but nothing lethal – except that is for Mord Bit. On checking him over, Ulframm finds a wound on his mount's right shoulder that he initially thinks nothing of. However, as he moves the wet fur from it, Mord Bit gives a pained growl, and the Nordvyrr catches a whiff of corruption from it.

The wound, he realises with horror, is diseased.

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

A Letter to Wizards of the Coast

The new Monster Builder went live yesterday, and you can probably smell the shit storm from where you are. It's....not good....not good at all, and all the excuses from Wizards are doing nothing to quell the growing fury at the release of another sub-par (waaaaaaaay sub par in this case) virtual "product".

So, I have emailed Wizards of the Coast, and thought I would share my mail. I apologise in advance for sounding as if I am speaking for everyone in the world (I know I don't and can't), but it makes the letter flow better.

Anway (and with apologies for some of the odd formatting - no idea where it has come from);

"I wish this were the first time I felt moved to contact you with my concerns, but it is not.

Dungeons and Dragons Insider (DDI) seems to be on an ever deepening slide to ruin, and I am truly wondering if those responsible for marketing and for the good name of your product are really aware of just how bad things are getting. As you are aware, a new "Monster Builder" went live on the 22nd March 2011, the latest in the universally unpopular move to shift these tools from a local offline application to a Silverlight online tool. Expectations, given the extremely poor reception the Character Builder received (and continues to receive given its continued lack of custom elements, slow reaction and appallingly bad character sheets) for many were that your company would ensure that
this product was released as a stable, final release - or at least, something that was at least as functional as the original offline builder.

What we got instead was pre-alpha garbage; a clunky viewer that does not allow for anything beyond re-skinning of monsters and level adjustment - with incorrect maths applied I hasten to add. We are told (after the release) that this is actually a test release tied to the upcoming Virtual Table Top, and that the old builder (broken, you may recall by a baffling "update" that screwed it up to the point of uselessness and removed many of the monsters from its database) is still available.


Now I have been a subscriber since day one. I have played D&D for 23 years, and have a vast collection of rulebooks, miniatures and all the paraphernalia that goes with it. I love D&D, and will continue to play I suspect until I am too old or dead to carry on. I still find that almost all your print products are of high quality, and eagerly look forwards to each one.


However.


DDI is destroying my faith in your company. I have a yearly sub, and have seen the value of it decline by leaps and bounds over the last year. Dragon and Dungeon are little more than adverts for your board games and upcoming rule books, with the odd article thrown in*. My group currently use the character builder, but I have already informed them that for my new campaign we shall be using interactive PDF character sheets, and doing the maths ourselves  (it's just easier for us given the high amount of custom items we use and the terrible - and I want to stress again TERRIBLE - interface of your "improved" Character Builder. I stopped using the classic Monster Builder when the update destroyed its functionality, and with this new product...well, let's just say I find it far quicker and more enjoyable to do the maths (which I know by heart now) myself, and to type things up into a format where they won't be randomly deleted.

As for the Virtual Table Top - you need to understand one thing; a lot of people don't care. I have no idea how popular it is, or how many people have shown interest, and I am probably very wrong, but I really think it base foolishness to assume that all the ridiculous mistakes your company is making will be washed away when it is released. Many folks run a game at a table with friends face to face. They don't need the VTT and they don't want the VTT.


I intend to keep my subscription active until it has expired (October), and if DDI has become worth my increasingly stretched coin, I shall resub. As your product stands at present however, I shall not be resubbing. I shall continue to play 4e, and shall continue to buy your print releases, but I shall be done with DDI, and, as a knock on effect, so will my players - a mere 12 people, but 12 who themselves talk to other players who themselves talk to player etc etc.


Look over the forums - and not just the in house ones, the ones at ENWorld and other gaming forums. Your product is becoming a joke - and one with a very, very bad punchline. Please, for the sake of the hobby that I absolutely adore, and the credibility of DDI (a product that could, if run by people with basic skills with regards to marketing and programming, become indispensable - and indeed, once felt that way), listen to not only my own concerns but those of your customers.


SUGGESTIONS


* Dragon and Dungeon - Please, fewer articles that are basically adverts for your products. Articles that add to your products are different, as they add to the game as well as serving as an advert. Oh, and fewer editorials / employees thoughts; one per mag would be nice.
                              

    - Compilations - you might be surprised just how many people it infuriated when it was announced that we would no longer get compilations. They are convenient and sustain the illusion that we are getting a magazine and not a glorified blog. 
   
 - Don't promise and then not deliver. I would personally rather have a monthly all in one release than be drip fed articles if it means we get a final, polished product instead of the current poor crop of nonsense

* Character Builder - Okay, it's online now, and I accept that. However, please for the love of the immortals, lets have at least the basic functionality we had with the old one...and then

                    

              - CUSTOMISATION - D&D, you may recall, is a game where the DM tends to make up a lot of unique stuff. If there is no way to fully integrate their ideas into your software, your software ceases to have any function - or, more importantly to your company, dollar (or in my case pound) value. The CB NEEDS full customisation; powers, items, feats, skills - everything. It also needs to be built in such a way that their maths are integrated into the character sheet. A character builder that did this alone would be worth my yearly sub!

* Monster Builder - Personally, I use a third party app now that I manually enter my monsters into and that creates a virtual DM screen. I love this software, and if I am honest, now love making monsters entirely "by hand". Having said that, you need - and quickly  - to sort your online builder 
out. It's horrible.


* Virtual Table Top - You know what, it would have been nice to have been at least invited to have a look at the alpha, what with being a subscriber since the first day and being opted in for messages. I would have declined, but it would have at least given me the illusion of really being an "insider". Having said that, I cannot say that one day I wouldn't use this app. Just please, LEARN FROM YOUR MISTAKES WITH THE OTHER ONLINE APPS, AND RELEASE A STABLE, WELL TESTED PIECE OF SOFTWARE THAT ISN'T BEGGING TO BE
 FLAMED THE SECOND IT COMES OUT!

Alternatively, if your company can't do these things, then please, stick to print products and put DDI out of its misery.

I am under no illusions that this letter will even be read by anyone beyond customer services. I understand that I just spent half an hour typing to no end. But I hope that you get enough of these things to make someone, somewhere think "Hell, we might actually have a real issue here", and that someone with some grasp of how to run an online service will be brought in to manage the spreading blight that is afflicting your good name and reputation in the D&D world.

I hope that by October I am able to resub with joy. But you will have to excuse me if at present I find it hard to believe I will.


Thanks for your time,

Sefton Redshaw
                              
   


* The last month has been better however, so I am willing to extend you some good will here."

Friday, 18 March 2011

Wednesday, 16 March 2011

Ormid Et Al - Session Report 4/3/2011

REPORT: FAILURE TO ACQUIRE PRIMAL BINDING GLYPHS
WRITTEN BY: CIRCLE CAPTAIN ARDENT KUR'THRANETH
DATE: 9/5/13268 K.C.

Esteemed Brothers, 
 
As you are aware, I had been charged by the Ninth Circle with locating and recovering the “Primal Binding Glyphs”, rumoured to be hidden by the Arcane Star in an extradimensional vault beneath the Palace Lake on Calsor. To assist me with the mining you gave me access to four “Hammer Claw” type mining automata (each equipped with offensive and defensive programming in addition to advanced combat heuristics), as well as the aid of a priestess of Sarrastain (one Sarthaex Argoth).

I assigned my own second in command, Nurgid “Clayflesh* to oversee the mission, and assigned a number of well trained and highly regarded soldiers of the 5th to aid him. A gorgoth warrior, bound to the Circle by magic, was sent to add extra security, and the mage I sent with the group (one Issilar Tormonuth) was a skilled conjurer, able to summon unnatural creatures from beyond this world. The priestess also brought along three undead bound to her service (ghoul type undead with modified fingers that were shaped into implements of torture), and is reported to have summoned a daemon of some kind which assisted her in her holy duties (Nurgid reports this was a “hulking thing; part snake, part skinned thigh, part spider, scorpion and centipede”. “A shadowy nightmare thing that exuded dread and which helped torment the subject”).

Divinations and the interrogation of the Nurgid's spirit after the fact indicate that they arrived at nightfall on the 8/5/13268 and quickly located the vault's custodian, one Edwin Goodly. Edwin proved to be a potent spell caster, and before he was subdued managed to kill two soldiers. However, he was brought to heel, and exposed to the tender mercies of Sarthaex.

According to Nurgid's spirit, the priestess flayed Edwin whilst alive, and pinned torture prayers to his nerves. Even in death Nurgid – a sadist if ever I met one – shuddered when recalling the torments the arcanist was exposed to, and he recalled that he was more than a little shocked when Edwin somehow found the fortitude to deny him and his group what they wanted – the pass phrase to the vault.

Whilst this torture was going on, the Hammer Claws were attempting to breach a wall of unnatural crystals that protected the entrance to the pocket dimension – with no success.

Reports indicate that the interrogation of Edwin was some 9 hours old when information reached Nurgid that the guards set to watch the entrance to the mining area they were occupying had been engaged in combat by persons unknown. Nurgid stated that he had not gone to investigate, confident that they could handle any issues, though he did send the gorgoth to support them in their battles.

Unfortunately, this it seems was Nurgid's main mistake. The group (who at the time of this report we have been utterly unable to identify, though Nurgid's spectre indicated that they included one tech-mage, some kind of modified golem, a vyrleen assassin-acrobat, an archer apparently imbued with noctramantic powers, a dundorin priestess and a Canis Guardian construct similar to those used to protect many of our sites and officials.)were far more powerful than he had thought, and quickly won past his upper guards.

According to both Nurgid, and the Sarrastainite, this band of mercenaries entered the lower area where the mining efforts were taking place at approximately 05:15 (Calsorian Local Time), and immediately began a sustained and almost impossibly potent attack. All accounts indicate that our troops were hugely inconvenienced by a shadow summoning called forth by the archer, which filled a large area with “ghost bats”, and that the tech-mage's artifice – both his own castings and his constructs – proved to be almost unbelievably powerful; the golem apparently demonstrating full battle heuristics and the Canis Guardian exhibiting a number of ingenious and deadly modifications.

This group also carried potent healing abilities, and so were able to remove much of the harm our troops dealt to them. From Nurgid's reports, it seems that the vyrleen may have had special artificer training, as he is reported to have repeatedly landed blows on our tank-like constructs (which I remind you bear almost 2 tons of Durium and Adamantine plating as well as bear all their internal magics within shielded compartments of Adamantine), which “Bolluxed the guts of the things as if they were armoured with smoke not metal”. The dundorin from both sets of reports was the least effective member of the troupe, and even she is reported to have wielded an enchanted hammer capable of throwing lightning, and a vast reservoir of restorative enchantments.

According to Nurgid and Sarthaex, this band of mercenaries crushed an initial rush by several of our soldiers, one of the mining automatons, and a ghoul. They also dispatched the daemon with little trouble, though it apparently sowed a little confusion amongst their ranks before being banished from the physical. Nurgid was quite seriously wounded early on in the battle, as the golem used some kind of area effect acid weapon, which caught him and not only retarded his healing abilities, but caused significant harm to him (see footnote below again if you have forgotten why).

We know that Nurgid followed the remaining constructs as they mined a path through the solid rock of the region to form a flanking position against the group. However, it seems that the Canis Guardian was able to render this approach unsafe by coating it with acidic oils; rendering it a hazardous zone of slippery and corrosive stone, which caused several of our machines to slip and tumble, hampering their ability to fight. We also know that by the time Nurgid was able to reach his enemies, the tech-mage had enchanted the golem's weapon with spells of fire, lightning and acid; hugely enhancing its effectiveness against my mongrel captain.

Nurgid's death was not seen by any one other than the machines and the Sarrastainite ghouls. However, he states – and did so with a palpable aura of dismay, anger and disbelief – that he was simply”overwhelmed”, and that the ensorcelled attacks of the battle golem were “just too fast, too heavy and too thickly swathed in fire and acid”. Nurgid was unable or unwilling to describe his final moments of life, but it seems he managed to inflict a grievous wound on the vyrleen before he was taken down.

Sarthaexis reported to have entered the battle close to its end, and she claims to have taken down “the bitch with the bow”, before witnessing the same individual being brought back to consciousness, and going on to disable a number of constructs with some kind of “primal slumber spell”.

Sarthaex, and indeed, the church of the Mother of Torments, has remained worryingly tight lipped about two things; how the battle ended, and how she, alone, managed to survive a contact that saw eight soldiers, four powerful constructs, a daemon and whatever beings our mage summoned, killed. We intend to send a squad to search the area later today, to assess the likelyhood of still acquiring the glyphs.

As a side note, I would humbly ask that permission be given to have Nurgid returned to life. I am aware that in this endeavour he failed, but can vouch for his loyalty to the Circle, and to his otherwise excellent record of action with our organisation. I would also ask that the identities of the mercenaries that slew him be divined so that the appropriate steps can be taken to make an example of them, and those that hired them.

I hope this report answers all your questions.

Brotherhood and Strength.

Ardent Kur'Thraneth (Captain of the 5th Circle)

” A powerful warrior who bore significant mutation after Trull's blood was given to him as he lay dying, that gave him both the savage strength and unnatural healing ability of the Nargor, along with, unfortunately, their weakness against flame and all mordant fluids.

* * *

WRITTEN BY: CIRCLE CAPTAIN ARDENT KUR'THRANETH
DATE: 13/5/13268 K.C.

Esteemed Brothers,

Firstly, may I say I am both infuriated and upset by your decision to leave Nurgid dead. I understand that you need to demonstrate that even the most well regarded members of our order cannot be allowed to fail, but would remind you that morale can kill any campaign as surely as a legion of light spawned angels. That said, I am afraid I must relay more information to you that will not please you.

A patrol was dispatched to the Palace Lake to see if there was any trace of the vault in which the Primal Glyphs were kept. Both mundane and magical examination of the area suggest that the vault's entrance, along with its custodian (Edwin Goodly) have vanished. Unfortunately, this means the search for another set of the Glyphs must begin, which given the time, cost and effort of the last search, is not welcome news.

Once again, I can only apologise for this failure, and ask for your understanding at the unpredictable and unanticipated nature of our foes in this endeavour.

Brotherhood and Strength,

Ardent Kur'Thraneth.

* * *

9TH CIRCLE DIRECTIVE – ORDERS OF TOP LEVEL PRIORITY
ISSUED TO [RORGA TULANDE]; 13/5/13268 K.C.

ORDER AS FOLLOWS: IMMEDIATE APPREHENSION, DEMOTION AND EXECUTION OF ONE CIRCLE CAPTAIN ARDENT KUR'THRANETH IN THE WAKE OF TACTICAL AND COMMAND FAILURES THAT HAVE COST THE CIRCLE DEARLY.

REPLACEMENT TO BE MADE AWARE AND PROMOTED.

EXECUTION ORDER TO BE KEPT TOP SECRET UNTIL CARRIED OUT

DO YOUR DUTY WITHOUT MERCY, AND WITHOUT JOY.

BROTHERHOOD AND STRENGTH.

THE 9TH CIRCLE.

Thursday, 10 March 2011

Post War Natives - 7/3/2011 (Part 3)


Roughly ten warriors, clad in mail, cloaks of wolf fur, and bearing huge axes or broadswords stand beyond the gate, lined up besides a hulking giant of a man (though in truth, all are giants, the smallest standing at least 9' tall). This man stands close to 10' high, and wears beautifully crafted mail, a fine buckler of rune stamped steel, and bears a huge broad sword who's steel blade is stamped with faintly shining runes of magic.

“Foe Dread”, whispers Schnecke, translating them

This man has the same long blonde hair and beard as his brothers, all of them woven with intricate plaits, and bound by beautifully decorated beads of amber and silver. Unlike the others he wears no helm, and he fixes the party with steely blue eyes, his strong, handsome face set in a challenging scowl that would set most men to panic. He grabs a spear from an ally next to him, and with purposeful strides almost runs up to the party, his spear raised.

Schnecke, recognising this for what it is, steps forwards, whispering to the others to hold their nerves. Chest out, head back, he meets the warriors' gaze without flinching, his own eyes locking with those of the warrior – undoubtedly the chieftain of this tribe. The two warriors charge, and the party begin to despair as the giant gives a deafening howling roar. Schnecke adds his own roar and suddenly they are face to face.

Neither man strikes. Instead they stop, mere inches from each other, and continue to glare .

“What manner of aelf be ye?” Asks the chieftain, the Ulnyrr understanding all of what he says, though it takes him a moment to work it out.

“Not aelf's but warriors. Warrior's who seek a truce with you and to seek thy council.”

The chieftain flings down the spear, his face now a mask of mounting fury.

“And who in the frozen dark do ye think ye are to be daring to come here, to the site of my halls demanding my truce?”

He punctuates each word with a rigid strike of his fingers to Schnecke's clavicle, his incredible strength almost knocking the Ulnyrr back, each one more painful than the last. However, Schnecke does not move an inch, for he knows that to be pushed back, or to show pain would invite a swift death. Instead he gives a savage, insane grin and replies, “I am Schnecke of the Ulnyrr, and these are my companions. We are far from home, and seek a way back. I am their leader.”

Nodding imperceptibly, the chieftain looks with apparent disgust at the barbarian and his group.

“Ye're no good aelf's, sent to sour our milk, rot our wood and steal away our kinder. Why should I trust ye? Why should I trust any of your gang?”

Schnecke growls, and with slightly more anger than he meant replies, “Because I am a son of the Ulnyrr, and my blood is that of the ancient line of my warrior ancestors! Will you dishonour your clan and your own ancestors by denying my strength and courage?”

The chieftain roars and his massive fist flails in a swift haymaker towards Schnecke's face.

The Ulnyrr makes no move to stop it, knowing this for the bluff it is, and sure enough, the punch is stopped a whisper from his face, the wind of its travel almost making him blink.

The chieftain grins, his eyes sparkling with life.

Then he turns swiftly about, and begins to stalk back towards his warriors, waving a dismissive hand at the Ulnyrr. For a moment it seems that the meeting has failed somehow, that there will be no further test or parley. However, as he goes, the chieftain sweeps up the spear he discarded, and with fluid speed and deadly precision hurls it straight at Schnecke's throat. However, Schnecke is more than ready, for to his amazement this entire ritual is almost identical in every aspect to the parley ritual of the Ulnyrr. His axe flashes out and cuts the spear in two, the halves clattering either side of the group behind him. Hearing this, the chieftain looks back over his shoulder, and with a low growl states, “Come then brother. The night is long and cold, and I would offer you the hospitality of my hall, my hearth and my mead. Come and drink with me and mine, and know the protection of Ulvar of the Nordvyrr.”

A roar of approval goes up from the warriors beyond the gates and in the towers, and the group release the breath they were holding. Schnecke, flushed with pride at the honour he has just been paid grins at them, and with a happy bark orders the party to follow him into the village of the Ulvar Nordvyrr, and the great mead hall of their warriors; heart of the community, place of celebration, place of planning and place of honourable combat amongst brothers.

Arrival +1 day, 1 hour, 30 minutes - A cold dawn begins to light the skies, the long (24 hour) night finally giving in to an equally long day. Thick fogs shroud the village of the Ulvar Nordvyrr, turning its great hall into a looming shadow, and hiding the round houses that form loose lines through its heart. The group are armed and armoured, ready to head further into the mountains heights, a dangerous and supposedly impossibly journey that will take them into the territories of the “children of the Gods”, the Gorgom (gigorim) – as well as through haunted burial sites and the lands claimed by the Vanogg; debased Nordvyrr who worship the old traitor Gods and practice foul arts that all good Nordvyrr find repellant.

Their guide – a Nordvyrr named Ulframm – is currently getting his mount ready; a huge wolf the size of a cart horse that he calls Mord Bit. He is a red haired giant with a bow made from the Uldrassil wood (the wood of the gargantuan pines) and a sword who's runes declare it “Neck Cutter”.

All the group are sporting hangovers, for when they first entered the mead hall of Ulvar, they drank and boasted and caroused with the massive barbarians; swapping outrageous tales, making insane boasts and dancing like idiots. Then, after many hours, once they had drunk enough, Ulvar had turned serious and told them that they needed to “purge their sins”, for only then could they speak with the tribes spiritual leader – their shaman – the only one who would know how they could return home.

This purging involved them going out to a “blessed brook” at the western edge of the town and swallowing a soft mould coloured stone there; bitter stuff that made them vomit explosively, their bloated stomachs unleashing the mead with horrifying power.

“The mead hath soaked up all yer sins” explained Ulvar as they puked, “And now you have cast them out into the brook, they will be carried away and destroyed by the Narryr. Only now can ye see the shaman.”

And see the shaman they did.

And it is based on the words of that terrifying Nordvyrr, who's hut lay within a pocket dimension haunted by the ghosts of warriors that had died cowards – that they are now heading into deadly lands much further up the mountain; for clad only in blood, runic tattoos, the skull of a great wolf, and a shroud of madness, the shaman had cast the runes, and having read them, had stared at the group with mad eyes and in a ghostly voice intoned;

Walk the Path of Shadows,
Drink the blood of the Old Gods,
And the stones shall sing.
Within their song, lies the path home.”

Puzzling.

And know this. One of you must walk a path darker than the rest, and their soul shall be the price of your salvation.

Disturbing.

And so, leaving the nightmare of the shaman's presence and his haunted shrine, the group returned to the village where they slept fitfully for a few hours before rising and coming out into the fogs, shivering, to meet with Ulframm, ready to head into a place that even these giant warriors fear to tread.

All in all, not the best way to start a day, thinks Grigori.

Somewhere within him, Jantherak's essence hears this, and gives a filthy, mocking chuckle.

...This could be something, could be nothing...


ELODAI 
(Early 2nd Age onwards) 

Legendary (possibly mythical) Vampire Patriarch who taught that not only was it not wrong to drink the blood of other vampires, but that it could give the drinker new and potent abilities, and so was to be encouraged. 

Supposedly founder of House Elodai, and later the Cult of Elodai, he is said to have been hunted and slain by the eight Patriarchs of the current Cold One houses, his remains being burned and the ashes mixed with silver. This silver was then forged into complex knots, one of which is supposedly kept by the current Patriarch of each house.

Post War Natives - 7/3/2011 (Part 2)

Arrival +30 minutes – When they first awoke all they could do was shiver in the cold, damp atmosphere of this place, and try somehow to process all that had just happened. For a great while no one spoke, and it seemed almost as if they could not remember how to speak through the suddenly clumsy seeming medium of the flesh. Then, slowly, they began to gather their wits, and finally...

“So is that it then? Are we stuck here? Where are we?”

Schnecke. His puzzled voice, booming through the chill shadowed air, is a point of familiarity for the group, and it grounds them, finally, in this new reality. Blinking as if he has just awoken, Grigori stands slowly and painfully up, his eyes scanning his surrounds. Jaeger also rolls to his feet, blades drawn, whilst Seren groggily shakes her head, and wills herself to stand. Varracuda and Emmiven also seem to come alive at this point, the genasai grinning as he realises that a familiar weight – the weight of the Order's spells upon him – are now absent.

“So?” growls Schnecke, leaping to his feet, “Are we here forever? Is this it?”

“Shhh!” warns Jaeger, his face showing irritation.

Thunder rumbles somewhere above, and the Ulnyrr turns his face upwards, seeking the sky. However, what he sees above is a canopy of conifer branches, which seems to spread some 500' of more above, thin clouds floating beneath them. At the same time Seren has moved over towards what she initially though to be an impressive wall of wood, now recognising it as the incredibly huge trunk of a conifer of otherworldly proportions.

The group are in a forest of gargantuan trees, the ground covered in a thick carpet of massive pine needles. The ruins of the structure they saw as they entered this plane lie mostly hidden beneath thousands of years of growth, and a gentle rain can be heard whispering on the canopy far above. Although the canopy all but blocks the sky, the group can tell that the day is growing very late, and can make out a distant shifting illumination somewhere above the tree tops. The air is heavy with mist and the smell of pine sap, and everyone struggles not to shiver in the chill.

Schnecke stamps his foot, and before Jaeger can strangle him, the cleric shoots him a hard look, and in a low voice whispers “We don't know yet. With luck we can find a way to our own world, but there is just no way to know right now.”

Arrival +31 minutes - +10 hours, 30 minutes – The group spend a little time checking out their immediate surroundings, and find that they are on the side of an epic mountain, and that their lodestones work; the mountains apparently rising to this world's north. It is quickly discovered that the giant trees are not the predominant species here, and are probably remnants of an earlier epoch of time, for forests of an ancient but normal nature cover the areas beyond that close to the ruins.

With the surroundings deigned safe, the assassin slips into the forests and soon returns with edible mushrooms, a brace of cony and several eggs – all very similar to the kinds found on Arbel'Verdaniss. The group eat, and plan, each still trying to shake the last remnants of awed dread that their recent visit to the psychic plane has instilled, and with full bellies, they organise watches and get some sleep, their physical forms exhausted by the psychical stresses they have been through.

The group sleep soundly, even those on watch succumbing to their weariness and falling into a heavy slumber. Fortunately nothing tries to harm them during this time, and on waking the party are more than a little surprised to learn that it is still night, though a huge silvery moon, clearly ancient beyond counting and scarred by massive impact craters, has begun to rise into sky, the thunderstorm from earlier having cleared away.

Powerful beams of moonlight carve through the high canopy, painting the mist wreathed forest in irregular pools of glowing silver, and through the clearings the group can see that the skies are filled with the shifting lights of the aurorae – a sight that delights Schnecke, for they are a familiar phenomenon in his homeland, where it is believed they are the path taken by the souls of slain warriors into the next world. To him, this shows that this world, no matter how remote or alien, is linked to the same afterlife as his own, which means his ancestors and gods also see here.

Arrival +10 hours, 31 minutes – +14 hours – After a quick breakfast, the group discuss what to do next. Getting home is their highest priority, and they all agree that in order to find the kind of individual who might be able to send them back, they need to locate civilization. Deciding that intelligent creatures would want to make use of the mountains' sides as a defensive measure, the party agree that they shall scale the mountain as high as they are able, and see if they can find any kind of settlement. Even if this fails, the height should give them an excellent view of the lands surrounding the peak, and hopefully, show any major towns or cities.

And so they set off, using their lodestones to help them move through the forests in the right direction, climbing up the increasingly steep sides of the vast mountain. The going is tough, and within a few minutes everyone is sweating in the chill, misty air. However slowly and surely, they make progress, clambering several hundred feet above their arrival zone before they stop to catch their breaths, shivering in the night.

Looking back, they are afforded a sweeping view of the lands below. The first thing that strikes them is how far the horizon lies, and with a jolt, they realise that this world is not spherical, for there is no curvature apparent. This can only mean that it is either a more unusual shape, or is a single, unified plane that in no way conforms to the celestial configurations they are used to. The immediate lands sink down into distant shadowy plains, wreathed in silvery webs of fog, which shine in the powerful moonlight of the swollen satellite. A large river can be seen meandering in the distance, and Jaeger and Grigori can just make out tiny winking lights – possibly watch fires or window lights, gleaming along its shores many days march to the southwest.

As the moon rises, a pale green halo surrounding it, the light increases. The group resume their climb, and note with interest that the moon is not alone, for it drags huge, glowing fragments of white stone behind it – almost certainly chunks of its own body, caught in its gravitational pull. They also note, beyond the pale curtains of the aurorae, that unfamiliar constellations gleam in the skies, and once again, they are reminded that they are further from home than they have ever been before.

Arrival +14 hours, 1 minute – +14 hours, 13 minutes – The group stop suddenly as the forest ends and they stumble across a road; a wide path of hard packed stone, flanked by rows of wooden frames over which have been stretched wolf pelts, their tops crowned with polished wolf skulls. Beyond the road, the forests continue. Schnecke suddenly becomes very excited, for these are clearly border totems, identical to those his own tribe uses, and his excitement only increases when he sees the runes, pained in blue ink, on each skull – a rune he can read!

“The runes tell outsiders that the land beyond belongs to a tribe. We will be trespassing if we continue.”

“I could scout ahead, unseen.” Whispers the assassin, “See who or what lies ahead.”

The group agree that this is a good plan, and Grigori works a spell over the assassin that will allow him to communicate with him at all times.

Arrival +14 hours, 14 minutes – +14 hours, 49 minutes – Jaeger slides silently through the shadows and heads to the north, paralleling the road but staying off it to its west. After a short while he encounters a cliff of moss and fern covered stone, which affords him plenty of handholds, and which seems to soar upwards to the next natural level of the mountainside – the level that the road most likely leads to. Taking a moment to allow his senses to attune to the gloom, he can make out the sounds of gruff, heavily accented voices floating from somewhere above, though he has no idea what they are saying, the language a writhing mess of “yorls” and “urgens”, to his ears.

Breathing slowly, and allowing the nighted energies within to surround him, Jaeger begins to climb up the cliff face. It's slow going, but after a short while he reaches the top, some 70' up, his hands sinking into a thick, wet carpet of forest mosses. Pulling himself up, he comes face to face with a green, moss covered human skull, and gritting his will against his reflexive desire to drop back away, he looks beyond the grinning remnant and to the area at the top of the cliff.

It is a forest of outwards pointing hardened wooden stakes, many of which are impaled with huge humanoid skulls – clearly those of gigorim. Other stakes, which are set vertically, bear human like skulls, which are larger than the one he first saw (which seems to have once belonged to a standard human), but a lot smaller than the huge skulls. Jaeger estimates that their owners looked like humans, but were of larger proportions, estimating that they may have stood about 9' – 10' high. Unlike the gigorim skulls which are badly kept – covered in mosses, coloured by slimy algae and spattered with bird droppings – these are polished, painted with runes, and bear colourful necklaces of enamelled beads and pierced coins around their stakes. More runes have been carved onto flat pieces of wood, tied below each skull, and the assassin notes that these skulls have all been placed so that they look outwards, down the mountain's slope.

Finally, there are more of the “normal” human skulls; scattered amongst the mosses at the base of the stakes, or hanging from crosses of wood in bundles, suspended by their hair.

The stakes cover a low bank, which extends northwards some 15' from the edge of the cliff, before dipping down into some kind of trench. Beyond this trench, which seems to be about 10' wide, rises a well made wooden wall, which extends for several hundred feet to the east and west. Silently dragging himself over the lip of the cliff, the assassin squats amidst the stakes and continues his observations.

To the east of his position, roughly where he calculates the road will meet this wall, Jaeger spies a well made, open sided watch tower of wood. Round shields bearing lupine symbols form a barrier around its edge, and two hulking humanoid figures can be seen within it – the conversation drifting on the mist apparently coming from them. To the west, at the furthest corner of the wall, another tower also rises, two more massive men silhouetted within.

From his current position Jaeger cannot make out any more details. He flinches as a wolf howls from somewhere beyond the wall, and nearly slides over the cliff when Grigori's voice enters his mind asking for an update. Jaeger simply tells him to stay put, and that he will give a full report when he gets back. He then slowly clambers back over the cliff and makes his way back to the party.

Arrival +14 hours, 50 minutes – +15 hours, 15 minutes – Jaeger reports back to the party, and Schnecke is once again struck by how similar the natives here are to his own people. Realising that he may be their best chance of making peaceful contact with these folk, the party ask Schnekcke if he would be willing to be their spokesman whilst they engage with these unknown natives, and feelingly oddly responsible for the group suddenly, and pleased to be so useful to them, the Ulnyrr agrees.

With this decided, the party vote to simply wander up the road and make themselves known to the gate guards. Schnecke takes their tent and draws the rune of parley used by his tribe on it, asking the party to carry it stretched out so it is immediately visible. With this done, the group move along the road, noting that further on more well cared for skulls adorn the sides on rune scribed posts, and that the road's edges also bear small stones carved into stylized likenesses of bearded warriors wearing spangenhelms.

It does not take them long to enter the run of road that leads to the front gates – a 120' long, steeply rising strip of stone that is flanked on both side by deep pits filled with ash and more fire hardened wooden stakes. The gates to the settlement are vast wooden things, fortified with overlapping round shields which are lashed to its exterior and watched over by soldiers in the wooden watch towers that stand either side behind the outer wall.

As soon as the group have taken a few steps on this final reach of road, gruff voices begin to yell at them, and Schnecke grins, for the language they speak, whilst not entirely the same as his native tongue, is close enough that he understands most of what they are saying. Then a loud gonging rings out, and the group realise that in their shock at seeing the party on the road, the sentries may not have actually noticed the rune of parley they have scribed on their tent.

“Just keep going,” growls Schnecke, “We cannot show any fear. If we do, we die.”

Gritting their teeth, the party creep forwards, painfully aware of the increasing number of angry voices echoing from beyond the wall, and even more aware of the anger of the huge men, dressed in mail and spectacled helms, their long blonde beards and hair worn in elaborate plaits, that howl and roar at them from the towers. Soon they are but 20' from the gates, and it at this point that they stop, for the roaring and yelling behind the walls is now focused behind the gates.

Wolves yip and howl behind the gates, and it takes every shred of their will to remain there, their faces fixed in a grim, undaunted expression.

Then, the gates open...