Tuesday, November 27, 2018


Map courtesy of Inkarnate
Lyonia is the most populous and richest of the young kingdoms, known across the world for the quality of its wines. It was founded shortly before the Second Demon War by the adventurer known by Charles the Mane. He made common cause with the wemics, who had suffered at the hands of the independent baronies to their east. To the north is the Senj, a harsh and barren land nominally claimed by Lyonia, but largely lawless and infested with pirates and bandits. To the south is the Gwynn, hill country inhabited by a proudly independent people.

The capital of Lyonia is Marsay, located at the joining of the Peregrine and Kell rivers. Rion is in many ways the spiritual capital of the country, known for its cathedral and beautiful stained glass. Lyonia is one of few countries in this age prosperous enough to have a small standing army, and the pride of the army is the Order of the Chalice, dedicated to questing and the knightly arts. Despite the excellence of their military, the two times Lyonia has tried to invade Fogelon have resulted in draws. Many of the nobility are members of the Order of the Golden Pheasant.

Lyonia is ruled by King Louis Phillippe, a weak king of dull mind. He is a good man, but usually lacks the strength of character to go against his advisors. His main advisors are his chancellor and his vizier. The level of taxes is set based on the old charter given Charles the Mane by the Solarian Empire, and if the King wishes to raise more money, he needs to go to the General Estates, composed of the major nobility. The General Estates are administered by the council of Special Masters, who meet often outside of the auspices of the General Estates to consider concerted action for the good of the realm.

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.

Friday, March 23, 2018

The Land of the Dead

South of the westerlands, across the Bay of Sunset, lies the land of the dead. It is visible from sea, and from some of the taller mountains in the land of the Gwynn such as Ober Winfrey, but all most people know about it is that if you set foot on it you will die. Sailors are occasionally shipwrecked here, but none are known to have survived. Rumors exist of brave explorers who have come seeking riches, or knowledge, or just adventure, but for the most part, these are third or fourth hand stories.

The truth is, the beach is almost perfectly safe. It is a pleasant white sandy beach looking out over the crystal clear waters of the bay, about 100 meters wide. Behind the beach is a jungle. The single odd feature of the beach is that here (and in the entirety of the land), no restful sleep is too be found. Any intelligent creature that attempts to sleep has their dreams filled with nightmares. And as they push their way into the jungle, the danger only increases.

It quickly becomes clear that the jungle is not an ordinary jungle. The colors are too vibrant, the air too alive, for that to be the case. It is filled with all kinds of vicious creatures -- venomous snakes and frogs, insane chipanzees, and rabid velociraptors. Paths lead into the jungle, but they quickly lead nowhere, or narrow until brushing up against the plant life is inevitable and deadly. Vines turn out to be strangler vines, venus fly traps increase in size until they can eat a Goliath, and trees are increasingly covered with razor sharp thorns dripping with a clear lethal poison. Sinkholes open up randomly, swallowing men whole.

It is not well known, but there is a river leading into the Land of the Dead. The few books that refer to it call it the River Styx. It flows away from the ocean, and as it leads deeper into the jungle, its waters began to turn black. They become deadly poison, and wickedly corrosive to only but the most well-spelled boat, and they are increasingly swift the closer to the Mountains of Madness that they run.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Speaking of Big Fish -- The Plane of Elemental Water

The Plane of Elemental Water is one of the four elemental planes undergirding the physical reality of Arden Est, along with the planes of fire, earth, and air. The great ocean, Terminus, contains many portals here, as do some of the larger lakes such as Lake Leriel in Lyonia. All of the known gates open into the upper layers, though there are rumors of a gate that leads to the great city of the Marids.

The uppermost layers of the plane are well-lit and pleasant. These are mainly inhabited by merpeople, nereids, and other water spirits. It is perfectly hospitable here as long as you can breathe water, and bubbles containing the retreats of various archmages are not unknown. Poseidon still has influence here, though it is not directly a part of his domain, and Vassa can sometimes be found sailing on the surface, or leading forays against Sahaugin undersea.

As you go deeper, however, it eventually begins to grow darker, casting the surrouding area into a sort of twilight. As the pressure begins to become uncomfortable, the Marid hold sway, ruling from the City of Glass, Dumat Al-Jandal. They do not suffer many outsiders to travel through their waters, but they are said to be a proud people and susceptible to flattery.

Beneath the realm of the Marid, the light ceases to illuminate, and the pressure becomes crushing. Strange creatures inhabit these depths. Schools of undead dolphins swimming upside down patrol these waters, and demon hunting parties searching for shipwreck elementals are a common sight. Shipwreck elementals are formed from the souls of drowned sailors, and appear to be a common water elemental but for the pieces of wrecked ship swimming in their body, swirling around drops of blood.

Friday, February 9, 2018

Session 51: The Big Fish

I swear on my ancestors, these bastards are going to get me fucking killed. Crawling around these damned fungus-infested caves, it’s been -days- since I’ve seen the sun and smelled fresh air. And for what? Taking a stick from a big smelly fish monster.

After slaughtering the “baby” fish, we decided to descend into the deeps to go after Big Daddy. The mage waggled his fingers and spoke his gibberish for ten minutes and then, in his creepy monotone way, announced we could now breathe water. I couldn’t tell that anything was different so I was naturally skeptical. Who wouldn’t be? I’ve known the bard for months and I trust him as far as I can throw him (more on that later) but I’ve only known the mage and his warrior friend for about a fortnight. So I let the others jump in first and waited to see if they drowned. No such luck. So reluctantly, I jumped in after them. Now, by my ancestors, if you’ve never had the pleasure of being under the effects of a water breathing spell, I have to tell you that taking that first breath of murky, disgusting water is godsdamned  hard. You have to convince yourself that drowning sounds like kind of a good idea. I almost passed out before I managed to will myself to take a breath. But eventually I got the hang of it.

Swimming down into the depths, the bard’s driftglobe providing an eerie, cloudy pall over everything. I readied my bow, little good it would do. Have you ever tried firing a bow under water? About as impotent as a eunuch in a brothel. We descended into what looked to be some sort of dilapidated temple. The symbolism seemed to show Tiamat in several aspects. There was the normal Bitch Queen of evil dragons but there was also symbolism of a more primordial aspect that seemed to involve dark, watery chaos at the center of the cosmos eating away at reality, balance, and order. Given our current surroundings, I found the second aspect considerably more disturbing.

I was swimming along when the bard reached a hand out to grab my shoulder. Distracted by temple murals and frescoes, I was so startled, I almost shot the bugger. The bard gestured toward the far end of the temple nave where there was a tunnel leading further in. In front of the tunnel opening were what appeared to be some sort of giant crustaceans. There was one giant, mean looking one and two only slightly less giant, possibly meaner looking ones. I wasn’t looking forward to engaging these monsters but I didn’t see much choice so I drew back my bow and took aim. But the warrior, in a soldierly halting gesture, implored me to wait. He then withdrew a deck of cards from some pocket in his armor. I thought to myself, He wants to parley lobsters over a game of euchre? He’s fucking mad! But then he drew a card and tossed it towards the lobsters. When the card flew through the water, despite the resistance, it dawned on me that the cards must be magical. Sure enough, the card detonated into an illusion of an archmage and his apprentice. The crustaceans, falling for the illusion, immediately began to tread toward the two phantom mages. I nocked my arrow again, ready to press the advantage of an ambush but the warrior halted me once again. He gestured and the illusory images began to swim back to the far end of the temple, with the lobsters following close behind. I tried to protest, knowing the creatures would likely ambush us from behind once the illusion was dispelled but the fools were too daft to understand me underwater and swam forward toward the tunnel. What could I do but follow?

We swam into a natural cave festooned with algae and seaweed. And a big fucking aboleth. The abomination spoke to us directly in our minds, demanding to know why we were here. It didn’t bother to wait for an answer before trying to bind us to its hellish will. Luckily, we were able to resist. Then the bard got that stupid smirk on his face. I don’t know what thoughts that fool projected to the aboleth but, I shit you not, that fish monstrosity actually started laughing in my mind. The bard laughed too, or gurgled I guess, obviously pleased with himself. The warrior waded forward, drawing his net and halberd, and attacked the creature. At the same time, I felt a tingle rush up my spine as a lightning bolt surged through the water and struck the aboleth. The laughing stopped and I knew we were in trouble. That fish slapped the warrior with its tail so hard I thought his eyes were going to pop out but he shook it off. He’s a stalwart one, I’ll give him that.

I nocked an arrow as the bard gurgled a spell and pointed at me. The arrowhead began to glow and bubble in the water. I took aim and loosed but the damn water resistance ruined my shot and the arrow tumbled down to the sea bed. I quickly took aim with another and struck true that time. The aboleth swam near the bard and me, and then I noticed the bard’s expression become blank and his pupils dilated. And that’s when things started to get interesting. The warrior closed on the fish, earning another tail slap in the process, and attacked again. The aboleth retaliated with its tentacles. The bard uttered another spell and gestured toward the warrior. To my horror, I watched as the warrior’s breastplate began to glow with the same reddish light as my arrowhead a moment ago. BY MY ANCESTORS, I KNEW I COULDN’T TRUST THAT GODSDAMNED BARD! Seeing he was bewitched, the wizard attempted to dispel the effect but his spell must have fizzled because next thing I know, the wizard’s body lurched and convulsed, changing form until he was godsdamned chicken. Meanwhile, the warrior, cooking in his own armor, was left at the mercy of the fish beast’s tentacles and tail. He put up a valiant fight against the creature but soon succumbed to his injuries, falling unconscious in the water. The warrior and the mage both dispatched, the bard and the aboleth both turned their sights on me. I loosed a couple quick arrows, one striking home, before the fish was upon me, berating me with its damned tentacles. The creature’s mucus surrounded me, choking my lungs and making me gag. Oddly enough, I briefly found this indescribably hilarious and then quickly realized the bard was working his magic on me. Steeling my nerves as I drew my sword, I was able to block out the spell. Battered and burned from the spells and attacks, I knew the aboleth couldn’t take much more. Dodging another tentacle, I managed to drive my sword up under its jaw and stab at the creature’s brain. The tentacles twitched and then grew still as the abomination died on my blade and I breathed a sigh of relief.

Extracting my sword, I looked defensively toward the bard. He blinked a few times and then looked about, confused. I could already tell, that oaf didn’t remember a fucking bit of what he had done. The wizard was restored to his true form and the warrior rescued from death’s door.

Searching the grotto, we found a treasure trove but, strangely, the rod wasn’t among the pieces. The warrior then spotted its gleaming white tip glinting against the aboleth’s dark, scaly underbelly. The creature had hidden it in a pouch in it is hide. Collecting our prize, we prepared to exit the caverns, not looking forward at all to fighting our way back through all the fish people, other fish people, driders, lobsters, and every other bastard you could think of. To our amazement, we found the caverns deserted. With the aboleth dead, its psionic hold over the slave community in the caverns was broken and, tasting freedom perhaps for the first time, they all fled at first opportunity. We quickly traversed the caverns, picking up the liberated slaves we housed in the warrior’s magical fortress along the way, and made our way back to Darkshelf. And I’ve been retching that foul mucus the entire time. I don’t think I’ll ever get the taste of rancid fucking fish out of my mouth for as long as I live.

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Session 50: The Little Fish

What does it mean to be a good person? This is the question that has plagued our group recently. Taking the lives of Skum may seem unimportant to some but religious adherents need to question the taking of lives without at least trying another route. The answer was presented to us by the action of the Skum. Sulking around the Underdark, we stumbled on a group of Skum and their slave captives, a group of humans and bugbears. We dispatched the female Skum and freed the slaves. To our surprise the bugbears ate the fish-men without any hesitation. We had to continue on our quest but were reluctant to leave the humans with the bugbears. After much consideration we sent the bugbears on their way and housed the humans in the portable castle.

As we pushed on we were on our guard for an ambush. Walking through a tunnel we were led to a room full of water by our one part of the Rod of Seven Parts.  We assumed that what we were seeking was under the water but before we could decide on a course of action we were set upon by multiple assailants and attacked with magical lightning. Goblin cast a spell of water walking so we could defend ourselves from the attackers. Gallagher approached one of the assailants and discovered that they were an illusion. This furthered our suspicions  that we were up against an aboleth. Goblin had never seen an abolish before and even with Volodomir's description he was unprepared for the beast that came out of the water. Goblin prayed for the destruction of the beast and unleashed an attack of mighty fury, only to find that we were once again deceived by an illusion! Nith was able to discern the outline of the actual aboleth and used his magic to force the beast out of the water. Trapped and near death the creature begged for its life. The aboleth told of us that his father had the piece of the Rod that we were in search of. He only asked that we allow him to live in peace in return.

Once again we were confronted with the subject of good versus evil. Do we let the younger aboleth live only to possibly fight him again or do we destroy the vile creature and continue after the greater threat, his father? Our path and resolve were clear: we gave our word to allow the young aboleth to go free. Let us hope that this was the correct decision and that we will be victorious in what we hope will be the final battle to recover another section of the Rod.

Friday, February 2, 2018

Session 49: Cavefishing

[As if there wasn't enough spelling absurdities with "Spyder-Fiends" --ed.]

Following a restful and uneventful night in the new instant fortress our heroes pressed forward on the path of the next piece of the artifact. Proceeding down corridors and to the right the party once again encountered a room with suspicious fungi, following the old adage that you really ought to avoid being fooled 3 times consecutively by the same method the group carefully identified the shriekers from a distance and picked them off quietly with their bows.

Proceeding ahead having gained the element of surprise the group entered a chamber housing several scum featuring an outcropping jutting into a large dark pool. Feeling certain that this would be a fateful encounter the group prepared themselves then quickly overwhelmed the inattentive inhabitants. investigating the pool the dwarf jumped into the water while holding his trusted 9'9 pole which the fighter managed to catch in time to prevent him from sinking to its bottom. Expecting an aboleth the dwarven cleric instead discovered the pool to contain many more scum in a state of agitation. Using the cleverly devised signal the cleric was lifted to the surface before be he could skewered by the javelins of the scum and after some discussion and stinking cloud placed over the surface of the water it was determined that there was nothing in the room that merited the difficulty of fighting the scum in their preferred environment.

Backtracking a bit then proceeding onward the group magically walked over a large pool filled with disgusting leeches then encountered a very deep ravine spanning a swift subterranean river. While the fighter through he was on balance quite capable of jumping across the ravine to form a beachhead for the rest of the group to cross it was decided that the goliath would fly over and form a rope bridge using his magical rope of entanglement with the fighter on the near side. Having accomplished that the dwarf started to shimmy across when he was attacked by a previously unseen large arachnid who inhabited the upper reaches of the chasm. The spider managed to entangle the dwarf in its sinister webbing, but the dwarf valiantly struggled against the only thing preventing gravity from dashing him against the rocks and rushing waters far below as that was at least preferable to being meal. Succeeding in a defeating his foe with a mighty blast of his wand the dwarf started to fall backwards into sweet oblivion John Woo style when quick thinking by the goliath and an incredible feat of reflex and athleticism by the fighter resulted in his being lasso'd and saved. Afterwards the dwarf decided to reevaluate his life choices for several months and will probably just stay in the back and not do anything for a while.

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Session 48: Half-spider, half-drow, all evil!!!

In our travels, we have encountered many spiders. None have been pleasant. We have also been introduced to drow on an occasion or two. They too are unpleasant. Perhaps unsurprisingly, breeding a spider and a drow, the offspring of which is unimaginatively called a drider, does not improve the disposition of either.

Having dispatched a gaggle of fish-people, we continued our descent into the Underdark in search of the next section of the Rod. Suddenly, I began to notice an uncomfortable warmth growing on my chest. Initially thinking back to an unfortunate meal of field rations earlier in the day, I began to grow more suspicious of the sudden heat when my new large warrior friend began to make a similar complaint. As I feared, the uncomfortable heat soon grew into a searing burn as my armor became red hot. Though it had been quite some time since I had been able to use the tactic myself, so rarely do my allies and I face foes wearing metal armor, I was more than familiar with the spell being used against me and immediately peered about for the culprit. Two driders crouched near the cavern wall, cleverly camouflaged in the shadows.

The dwarf quickly brought me relief from the drider’s spell as he attacked with his Warhammer and disrupted the foul creature’s concentration. Meanwhile, our strange blue elf friend, in monotone words, unraveled the spell similarly afflicting the warrior. We then fell upon the two drider ferociously with spells and weapons. It was a tense battle for the driders’ physical and magical defenses were formidable. Just when we were gaining the upper hand, a third drider skittered into the room from the north, with two giant spiders flanking it. The newcomer, summoning its magic, called out words of power and began to conjure a horrid mass of inky black tentacles. The elf, unimpressed, uttered a word of dismissal, counterspelling the tentacles before they could fully materialize.

Our enemies closing in around us, the dwarf conjured his faithful spirit guardians to hold the creatures at bay while his spectral hammer of light lashed out at our foe. The goliath attacked with both spell and his own great physical might while the warrior fell upon the driders with his great sword, striking several powerful blows. Meanwhile, the wizard conjured his own mass of tentacles (perhaps it’s an elven fetish of some sort) to harass the newcoming drider and his spider companions. Just when I thought things couldn’t get any worse, a fourth drider and two more spiders emerged from the tunnels behind us, trying to flank the party and attack the wizard and I.
Magical bursts of sound, masses of inky black tentacles, bright coronas of radiant light, and explosions of a fiery rocks erupted all around us in a great clash of sorcery and divine power. With another powerful stroke of his sword, the warrior dispatched the drider attacking him and then moved to cut off the fiend that had ambushed the wizard and I from the rear. At the same time, the combination of the dwarf’s Warhammer and his divine defenses overcame the other drider. When the wizard bound the drider in the rear with the magical force of his will, the other, together with its remaining spider companion, began to cowardly skitter away back down the tunnel from whence it came. All at once a sense of justice overcame me. Grabbing the goliath’s arm, I heard myself righteously say, “He will not get away; you’re coming with me!” And in a blinding flash of sorcery, I teleported the goliath and myself in front of the coward’s path. The goliath leveled his hammer at the drider and, calling on the power of his storm god, conjured a thunderous wave of power, obliterating the spider outright and sending its master flying back into the room. The dwarf and I pursued the cowardly drider, dispatching it forthwith.

Meanwhile, the remaining drider cast a spell and reached a hand into the stone floor. Another coward trying to escape. The wizard exercised his will, keeping the drider clenched in the magical force of his mind while the warrior rained sword blow after sword blow over the creature. The drider did not last long under such an assault. Exhausted but victorious, we resolved to rest before continuing our descent into this maddening labyrinth of abberant foes.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Session 47: Spelunking

Our intrepid adventurers returned to a favorite and familiar tavern to regroup after their latest adventure and the recovery of the Hammer of Thunderbolts. Whilst carousing they happened to meet two very competent looking adventurers and a page who happened to be looking to join up with a group in search of powerful magical items. Shortly thereafter a messenger arrived from a patron named Arquestan, requesting an audience. Along with their new companions the Abolitionists went before their patron who had made a breakthrough in their search for the other parts of the Broken Rod. Performing an arcane ritual over the segment of the of the rod in the groups possession he unlocked dormant powers within the artifact and it could now lead the bearer towards the other pieces, in addition to holding charges of healing magic.

Following the guidance of the dowsing rod, the party traveled to a small and desolate island wherein the rod revealed a small cavern leading downward. Following the path the group repeatedly ran into shriekers among the fungus farms. The shriekers were loud, but there as no encounter seemed imminent, the party continued. In the next room, Flint noticed some cracks in the wall. Goblin went to investigate and tried to break through, but was surprised to see an umber hulk burst out of the wall. Despite some confusion, he was overcome, and the party continued on.

Shortly thereafter, the group fought a group of fish-men who called themselves 'skum'. They initially only saw two, who were dealt with quickly, when four more ambushed them from the side. They managed to cause some damage, but were overcome. Questioning them, the Abolitionists learned that the skum harvested mushrooms to feed themselves and the masters, two huge fish that apparently had psychic abilities. Traveling further under the guidance of the rod the Abolitionists wait to see what they will encounter next.