Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Session 54: Escape from the Sky

Goliaths being the largest of the common races in the world, we have our perspectives of the peoples that inhabit it. We even have our friends, allies, associations and enemies. I sometimes wonder if the Giant races feel the same about the world or if they just look down on all of us haughtily from their castles in the sky. Those that float in the clouds - the Cloud Giants - are certainly rumored to have this nature. The Fire Giants on the other hand are known to be barbaric. So we were understandably apprehensive about entering the realm of the Giants. The two elves that got us into the castle are going to have some Hell to pay with the Cloud Giants once they realized what we have done.

With the aid of the “help” we were able to navigate the great halls. Seeing part of the rod being used as a hair pin by two Fire Giants was pretty disgusting but fortunately one of our team was able to sneak it out from under their noses using an invisibility spell. Rescuing the baby dragon made us feel better about breaking and entering. Lucky for us the dragon could polymorph and with our guise of being exterminators we were able to sneak out with her shaped like a spider, though not without heavy questioning (and embarrassing answering). I thought it would be to my advantage to wear a Frost Wolf's hide as a cloak but to my surprise the giants had their own tools for making animal hide clothing. If the dragon understood what was going on I’m sure she must have been frightened, though she remained calm as we negotiated this obstacle. Eventually we made it out of the castle and onto the cloud bridge.

Walking away from the castle we eventually heard some shouting and turned to see two giants coming after us. Flint and our warlock jumped on a flying broom and took off towards the base of the bridge. The dragon polymorphed back to her regular form and we asked her to get as far away from the castle as possible, only to realize later that we may never see her again. We could only hope that the family of dragons figured out it was us that rescued her if we should ever run into them again. Strategically placing magical barriers and wards we were able to stymie the progress of the giants on the bridge while we made good our getaway. After some distance we turned back to the castle entrance and saw two giants transform into dragons and fly away. These must have been the parents of the dragon we rescued and we knew we were safe for the moment. Feeling good about our actions and knowing we had to get as far away as possible we took no time to rest but put as many miles between us and our new foe. Once again I return to this notion that giants must think that they are superior to us smaller races. Two Fire Giants and what must have been hounds from Hell thought that could sneak up on us. Twice the size of an average human male makes it near impossible to do this but they still tried. Maybe they knew we were a fighting force that had to be dealt with or maybe they just thought we were ignorant. In either direction they were defeated and we continue our search for the rod of seven parts.

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Session 53: Flint's Report, or What the Hell is Up With This Masonry?

After our last run in with the fire giant, we were a bit wary and more than a little thankful that Ghal'Alkr still had his instant fortress to protect us. Volodemir tells us the rod is beckoning him towards the castle in the clouds in the distance. Even though I don't know how we're going to get to it once we near it, I follow, having felt the call of the rod in the past and knowing that it needs to be reassembled for some greater purpose.

Early in the hike, we came upon a large lizard, who turned out to be quite polite if a bit haughty. It seems that this youngling, Kieran, was a small silver dragon. His mischievous sister, Ariele, disobeyed their parents and went near the giant tower, with the result being both her capture, and the slaughtered fire giants we saw yesterday. Volodemir took pity on the wyrm and said we'd try to find his sister, though he lied to us about not knowing where to bring her to sample their parents' gratitude. Probably for the best. Dragons may be quick to react to the sight of their young in the company of humanoids, and we don't want to tangle with any grown ones over a misunderstanding.

Midway through the day's trek, we spot a number of winged beasts circling, and before we know it, they're diving at us. I was able to summon a spiritual hammer and tongs to batter one nearest the ground, and Ghal'Akr knocked another out of the air with a skillful shot. Volodemir confused yet another, and Goliath charged the felled one. As the battle continued, we managed to kill the felled one and two more, but two more got away. Looking closer, they were griffons. It seems like they may be giants' companions. Good riddance, but I feel bad for the others who may have wanted to tame and ride them. I'll stick to the ground, or under it.

Finally making some progress up the mountain, we came across a decent sized ledge with some dead giants and two elves poring over them. We introduced ourselves, and found out that they were spider hunters on their way to the castle to do some exterminating before an upcoming nuptials. They were called Ciellan and Ruusa, a brother and sister warrior and mage. Volodemir had heard of them, and they us. Ghal'Alkr seemed to be eyeing the male the way he does sometimes and flexing a little. I wonder what that's about. When they asked us what we were doing on our way to the mountain, Volodemir and I didn't miss a beat and said "We're with the bride's side!" Relieved to have gotten that far through a lie without contradicting someone or my voice cracking, I let him do the rest of the talking. After some negotiating, they agreed to let us in on their invitation for a fee. We countered their offer to include a ride on their magic carpet to the top, and to my relief, they accepted.
The sight that greeted us was impressive indeed. A 30 foot gate in a cloud castle, the make and material of which I couldn't really fathom. It lacks the art of a craftsman's touch, though, so I assume it's a mage's doing. Within, we find a large cloud meadow and giants and ogres busy making preparations for the wedding. We managed to speak with a huge cloud giant, Yurik, and found he was the proud father of the groom, Diomed, who was to wed a fire giantess, Siiri. Strange bedfellows-to-be, in my opinion. After amusing ourselves with the giant versions of fruits and vegetables, and peeping at some giant tools in a toolshed, we got down to business, and followed the rod's divining to the inside. There, we snuck around and found a guardroom, and a chamber holding an impatient Sirie yelling at servants trying to fix her hair. Using some guile and magic, we managed to send a flying invisible warlock within to pilfer the piece of the rod. I was for leaving unnoticed, but the others wanted to try rescuing the wyrmling Ariele. We deduced that any dungeons must be in the lower levels of the castle, which were below ground/cloud I guess. This is one place I really don't want to dig too deep. I find myself having to force myself to stop asking questions about how any of this works just to stay sane.

In the cellars, we managed to find a guard we could not sneak or talk our way past. Undeterred, we feigned ignorance and pretended to leave, secretly letting the flying warlock do some reconnaissance. After finding a pit he thought might hold the dragon past the guard, we readied ourselves for a fight. Calling on a guardian of faith, I effectively pinned the dutiful gaoler in the corner, and we were all over him before he could move or raise an alarm. A great deal of stabbing, spell flinging, blinding, and shooting, he was done for. With nothing of interest on his person, we moved on and pushed aside a huge stone from above a pit containing a small, presumably frightened Ariele. Adreham knows how we're going to get her out of here alive. If we the elves and/or their carpet, it would be child's play, but I suspect our lack of planning may come back to haunt us next.

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Session 53: The Cloud Giant's Castle

The dwarves have reason to dislike giants. Giants are mean.

Having rested from felling the fire giant that attacked our fortress, we climbed further into the mountains in search of the rumored cloud giant castle, hoping to secure another section of the Rod. As we hiked upward through the mountains, I happened to spy a lizard perched on a cliff face peering at us. It was about ten feet long and crouched against the cliff face cautiously. Intrigued, I called out to it and introduced myself. To my delight, he answered back and corrected me that he was not, in fact, a lizard but was instead a silver dragon. Dubious, I questioned him on where his wings were if he were a dragon. Bristling, the creature shook itself like a dog and unfurled a pair of small, scaly wings. He was young and had not yet grown into his wings but satisfied, I flipped him a few coins of silver which he happily scooped up with his forked tongue. He said his name was Kieran and spoke of his family. It seems cloud giants had kidnapped his sister when she had ventured too close to their castle and were holding her captive. Enraged, Kieran’s parents had unleashed anger upon the group of fire giants we stumbled upon earlier but had, so far, been unable to penetrate the castle to free the she-whelp. We thanked Kieran for the information and continued on our journey but it wasn’t long before night was falling and we needed to rest.

They came at dawn, trying to hide in the sunrise and catch us by surprise. Luckily, we spotted the five griffons bearing down on us and had a moment to prepare before they were upon us. As they approached, our new friend, the warlock, suddenly became swathed in a cloud of inky shadows, obscuring him from vision. Lynnya and the warrior loosed arrows upon the flock of griffons. One of the griffons, felled by the warrior’s bolt, plummeted to the ground while another, caught in a confounding spell I cast, simply hovered in mid-air, addled. The goliath threw a lightning bolt from his javelin at another of the beasts. The battle was quick and fierce but when we had dispatched three of their number, the remaining griffons retreated.

Spent from our battle, we rested a short time before continuing our journey into the mountains, intent on making our way as far as we could before nightfall forced us to shelter. I must admit, our wizard friend and Lynnya notwithstanding, our dealings with the she-witch, Markessa, have made me distrustful of most elves. Even the best of them are so…anarchic. Thus, I was more than a little suspicious of the two we found when we turned the corner. Following a winding path up the mountain side, we turned a corner and found ourselves nearly face to face with a pair of elves, a female and a male (so far as one can tell with elves). The “male” appeared to be more of a fighter, though not as strong or as skilled as our own warrior, while the female looked to be some sort of magess. Crafty as always, we greeted them with kindness and vigor, never betraying our trepidations. They introduced themselves as spider hunters who had been hired by the cloud giants for extermination purposes. Immediately, our tone softened as we were sympathetic to their profession given our own interactions with spider demons. Their names were typically elven, unpronounceable with many syllables, but I think I recognized them. And they were familiar, and even impressed (for elves), with our exploits, particularly the spider cottage we stole from the demon witch some time ago.

The elves had been inspecting the corpses of several stone giants lying in a crevice along the cliff. From the frost burns scoring the giants’ bodies, they surmised that the giants had been caught by the silver dragons in another rampage. We chose to remain mum on the source of the dragons’ rage. Curiously, the elves had a carpet unfurled beside them on cliffs. I thought perhaps their elvish whimsy had prompted them to stop in the mountains for a picnic but it was actually a magical flying carpet. They agreed, for an exorbitant sum (albeit discounted in honor of our deeds), to convey us the rest of the journey up to the cloud giant castle and even provide passage into the castle under the auspices of their own invitations.

I cannot speak for my companions but I rather enjoyed the flight up to the castle. Drifting up through the clouds, we saw the castle itself, a brick and metal monstrosity perched on nothing more than a plain of clouds. Entering the castle under the benevolence of our elven acquaintances, we saw many wonders. Lavishly decorated for an opulent wedding, the castle was festooned with bouquets of massive flowers, tables lined with a great feast of gargantuan vegetables and pies big enough to swim in, and remarkable displays of gems and precious metals. We were introduced and heartily welcomed by the parents of the groom and allowed to mingle with various guests. The castle itself sat firmly upon the cloud plain with nothing below to support it. I was confounded by this even as one of the cloud giants scooped up a mass of the cloud in his hands and, the cloud being viscous and gel-like in his hands, formed and packed it into a brick. When I tried to do the same, cloud drifted through my fingers, as ephemeral as any other, and the giant laughed heartily.
Lest we forget our purpose in the midst of the wedding festivities, we divined that the location of the next piece of the Rod seemed to come from beneath the castle. Our elvish acquaintances had since drifted away, presumably to do their duty in eradicating any spidery presence. So, free to wander the castle as we so chose, we asked one of the ogres serving hors d’oeuvres the size of hammers where we might find the lower sections of the castle so our dwarven friend could inspect the foundations. The ogre politely gave clear, concise directions to a set of stairs, each roughly three feet in height. 

We crept down the stairs to a landing with rooms down a hallway to one side, and another set of stairs on the other. The Rod quivered, signaling we were close. We quietly ventured down the hallway toward two doorways, one on either side of the hall, each covered by a mammoth hanging tapestry. Creeping into the room on the right, we found it to be a barracks housing roughly twenty giant soldiers. Three giants slept on cots within. To ensure they did not wake, Lynnya cast silence in the area, deafening any sound that may alert the giants to our intrusions. Across the hall, a pair of fire giantesses wrestled with the unruly locks of the bride to be. There, on the dressing table amidst an array of hair pins, brushes, and other paraphernalia, lay the third section of the Rod. Not keen on the idea of fighting a pair of fire giants, particularly giants agitated by wedding preparations, we resolved to attempt to retrieve the Rod through stealthier means. Using my trusty lute, I imbued the warlock with the ability move about unseen and fly. He silently flew into the room and waited for the opportune moment to pilfer the section of the Rod. Once he grasped it, it too became invisible. And thus, he was able to spirit it out of the room while the giantesses were distracted in their wedding machinations.

Our goal achieved, we briefly debated leaving the castle at that point before any of the giants realized the Rod’s absence. However, I could not conscience leaving the young silver dragoness to the mercy of these giants. So, delving deeper into the castle, we found ourselves at a crossroads. To the right, there was a portcullis and to the left, there appeared to be what looked like a series of lion cages. Venturing to the right, we tried our best to stealthily creep through the portcullis. Unfortunately, I sneezed so violently that I fell down and dropped everything that I owned. We were very quickly confronted with a guard who told us that the party was upstairs. Behind the giant, we could see a great round stone covering an oculus in the floor. The warlock, still invisible and flying, snuck into the room and attempted to listen for stirrings of the dragon in the chamber beneath the stone and, failing that, pressed his body against the stone to feel if it was cold from the silver dragon’s frosty disposition. Alas, the stone was too thick and the warlock was unable to hear or feel anything to indicate that the dragon lay below. Chagrined and yet intrigued, we decided it would be prudent to send the warlock for a quick check of the lion cages to be sure the dragon was not held in one of them. Unfortunately, it was not and we would have no choice but to dispatch the giant.
As the giant was already aware of our presence, he was ready for an ambush. The goliath blinded the mammoth creature with a spell while the dwarf warded an area in front of the giant against encroachment, effectively pinning the giant against the back wall. We then unleashed upon it with spell, blade, and arrow. Pinned against the wall by his own bulk, the giant tried throwing boulders at us but, with its vision impaired by the goliath’s spell, the giant could not aim properly. We quickly slew the beast and then, pooling our strength together, carefully lifted the stone from the oculus. There, lying alone and frightened, was the silver whelp. We pondered our next steps on how to retreat from the castle with the dragon whelp without bringing down an angry wedding party down upon our heads.

Monday, June 18, 2018

Session 52: The Rod of Seven Parts: Part III

After defeating the vile and otherworldly Aboleth our heroes spent some well earned downtime recovering in town and preparing to retrieve the next piece of the rod. Upon connecting the first two sections of the rod the Bard found his personality shifting into a more orderly configuration. Taking heed of past difficulties faced fighting underwater, Flint and Ghal'Akr searched the town to find its best blacksmith to forge a cold iron greatspear.

Having rested and provisioned our party set off to the southwest as directed by the rod. After travelling for several days through temperate forests the terrain started to become hilly and the flora started to open up. On the 4th day out of town the group pressed on unto dusk in their haste to cover terrain. In the gloaming of late afternoon they noticed a large campfire about a mile ahead. Cautiously the group approached the unknown camp and several hundred feet away it was determined to be inhabited by three stupid hill giants. Goblin, the Goliath cleric and Ghal'Alkr decided to move on ahead and make contact with the brutes and were astonished when the dwarven cleric ran past them yelling at the now assuredly hostile giants.

With diplomacy no longer a viable option our heroes began to close the distance. With most of our heroes now running at full speed towards the giants their massive foes began to hurl great stones in response. The dwarf bestowed his deities blessing on his allies and then almost immediately was beaned by a chunk of limestone. Volodemir and Milf slung arcane arts adeptly while Ghal'Akr shot arrow after arrow at one of the giants who was quickly coming to resemble a huge pincushion. Spell and arrows whittled down the giants until Ghal'Akr was able to kill two of them with one mighty bolt of lightning from his arm. Finding nothing of interest in the creatures possession our heroes moved on further into the hills before camping in Ghal'Akr's Instant Fortress for the evening.

The next day further into the mountains the Abolitionists came across a group of orcs and humans picking over the remains of what we found to be two fire giants. The humanoids had apparently been slaves to the fire giants who were taking them to a cloud giants castle for some sort of event and who had been set upon while en route by two large silver dragons. The slaves who were now seemingly free were friendly enough although they were not really a good source of information for us. They seemed happy to be messy though. We proceeded, in what we now believed to be the direction of the cloud giants castle in search of another piece of the rod and once again set up a fortified campsite. The following morning we were awoken by the passage of a fire giant near our tower. From the roof of the tower it was decided that the bard would cast fly on Ghal'Akr and the Goliath who would move out and engage the great brute with areal lightning strikes and magical weapons while the rest of the group was to engage at range from the safety of the battlement. The fighter was the first to engage with lightning and sword and dealt a solid blow of the hot foe before being batted through a nearby tree when the giant struck back. As more of our party engaged the numbers did in the fire giant and our heroes were once again victorious in their march into the mountains.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Ma'at, the Raven Queen

Ma'at is good and her worth is lasting.
She has not transgressed since the day of her creation,
whereas he who transgresses her ordinances is punished.
She lies a path in front even of those who know nothing.
Wrongdoing has never yet brought its venture to port.
It is true that evil may gain wealth but the strength of truth is that it lasts;
a man can say: "It was the property of my father."
-- The Book of Fayon, Canto III

Ma'at is the consort of Hades, and the first judge of the dead. When the soul of the deceased arrives at her court, she weighs it against a feather. If its misdeeds weigh it down so that it is heavier than a feather, the soul is sent to Hades. If the soul's deeds are loftier, so that it is lighter than the feather, the soul goes to the moon. It is the light of these souls that makes the moon luminous at night. Her throne is flanked by two kobolds, Andjet Green of Flame who refined the soul before it is weighed, and Xois Owner of Faces, who brings the souls to the left and to the right.

She is known as the Raven Queen due to her cloak of raven feathers. (Contrary to popular belief, the feather with which she weighs the soul of the dead is an ostrich feather). It is often said that when a person dies, if you listen closely, you can hear the flutter of ravens carrying away the soul. Naturally, ravens are also seen as a bad omen. As the judge of the dead, she is the guardian of the right order, and someone who is wise and virtuous is sometimes said to be raven-headed.

The greatest foes of Ma'at are the undead, and others who have cheated death. She is not opposed to resurrection magic for a good cause, but she delights in hunting down those who use it frivolously, particularly rulers. For this reason, most rulers shy from using resurrection magic after their death. She also despises creatures from the realm of nightmares, such as aboleths and beholders, because they do not belong to the natural order of Ardenest.

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

The Old Faith

In the beginning was chaos and void, and the spirit of chaos moved among the waters. God came to the chaos, and raised his hand, and lo! there was order. The waters split into the waters above, and the waters below. And the spirits of chaos too were divided, according to their type; the spirits of air to the waters above and the spirits of water to the waters below.
-- The Book of Fayon, Canto I

When God created Ardenest, it was already inhabited by many chaotic spirits. Most of these agreed to serve God in the new creation. Those who didn't were cast down into the abyss. The spirits varied greatly as to how powerful they were. The most powerful spirit to join God was Bahamut, the Platinum Dragon, the Divine Wind. Barely less powerful was Hades, Guardian of the Underworld. But besides these two were many other spirits, spirits of glen, river, and hill. The least of the spirits God clad in flesh; wood spirits became elves, fire spirits became men, and earth spirits became dwarves. God gave Bahamut possession of the air above, and Hades possession of the earth below, but to the mortals he gave possession of the world.

Before the apotheosis of Fayon, the religious worshiped these spirits. For the most part, the local spirit was the most revered. While these were not generally sufficiently powerful to answer their believers' requests, there were plenty of spirits who granted spells to their followers.

Pan was a wood spirit who came to have dominion over all of the forests of Ardenest. He was particularly known for his love of wine and his flutes, and was particularly revered by druids and rangers. He is rarely followed now. In civilized areas, he is most remembered in toasts and drinking songs. However, some druids and wood elves still worship him.

Bahamut, the Astral Star, fought constantly against the demon dragon Tiamat and her schemes. Paladins and noble knights of all kinds served him, and he is still revered by holy knights to this day. The Silverflame knights of Lyonia, in particular, are dedicated to the Pearl of Wonders. 

Hades was never worshiped much, but there have always been a sufficient number of people who walk near death that his cult has never died out either. The Aurelian cult popular in Western Solaria has its roots in Hades worship, though most claim any devotion is merely symbolic. Certain heretical texts suggest Fayon owes his power to Hades, but these are dismissed by the Church as later fabrications.

The Fates: Eos, Dawnmother; Nut, Nightmother; and Shar, Duskmother were a trio of goddesses often worshiped together by healers, though Nut and Shar had less savory worshippers as well. They are worshiped much less frequently now in the open, but it is said that Shar counts assassins among her contemporaneous devotees. St. Carino was a devotee of Shar until he repented of his misdeeds and joined the church. Nut often receives the prayers of prostitutes, and they and other young women pray for her protection in the night.

Kord's origin is unknown. Some scholars suppose he was a spirit of the tundra, and it was the devotion of the orcs that gave him his present form, while others believe him to have been a Nordman who went native and achieved godhood through a ritual like that of the Valharim. He is not typically worshiped in civilized lands, but is venerated by the orcish tribes of the steppes, and his faith is not unknown among the Nords.

Thursday, May 24, 2018

The New Church

Photo by CEphoto, Uwe Aranas
There are a number of beings that are worshipped by the denizens of Ardenest; Bahamut, the Platinum Dragon; Zeus, Lord of the Azure Sky; or Pan, First of the Woods. In fact, their worship was common in the days before the Thyranian Empire. Fayon himself was a cleric of Bahamut in his aspect as Paladine. But once he had his apotheosis, his daughter Christine made the worship of the Valharim the official religion of the Empire, and founded the New Church. It quickly schismed, and now, each nation has its own sect of the New Church. The different sects generally interact peacefully, but religious warfare is not unknown. In addition, their relation to the old faiths varies from open hostility to disdain and condescension. In the present day, nearly everyone you meet is a member of the New Church, and adherents of the old faiths tend not to advertise that fact, even in lands where they are allowed to practice their religion openly.

Most of the Church is organized geographically, with the head cleric of each nation being titled "Primate". When the national churches are getting along with each other, the primates sometimes will convene a council to discuss theological and administrative matters. After the Second Council of Selenium went astray due to a fight over precedence between the primates of Western and Eastern Solaria, the Church decided that a chair would be chosen by vote of the Council. Those clerics who have chaired a Council are titled "High Priest". Clerics serve at a temple, tending to the needs of the congregation. The most important temples are generally called cathedrals, and are headed by a bishop.

Every cleric serves the Valharim as a whole, but each is dedicated to a specific member of the Eight. With the exception of the Sage, Covellia, and Ryanna, two months out of the year are dedicated to each god, and the clerics dedicated to that god lead the weekend services. Fayon's clerics lead the services for the festivals of Sol Invictus and Heaven's Day, while the Sage's clerics lead the services on Spring Awakening and Autumn Falling. Ryanna's clerics are not attached to a church at all; they are found traveling between communities too small to have a church with dedicated clergy, or in the wild.

In addition to the churches, there are several monastic communities, especially in the south of Ardenest. These are dedicated to a specific Valharim, and are generally dedicated to serving a purpose associated with that god. For example, monasteries of Vassa are often near rocky seashores so they can rescue sailors whose ships have foundered. The abbot of prominent monasteries are often nearly as powerful as the primates, if not more so.