Blades in the Dark: Unrecommendables. Inspired.

BitD Title_01 by James Dudli

Aldo, Wolfram, and Duster continued the story.

Down Time.

Aldo spent some time consorting with his bluecoat friends, drawing down the heat on the crew. He also incidentally found out Maude was under house arrest pending investigation of her connection to leviathan blood smuggling.

Then he spent some quality time (and coin) buying clothing for himself and his crew to wear for opening night of the Worldsedge Theater, blowing off his stress.

Wolfram was summoned by a note from the Dimmer Sisters, to cash in his owed favor of a night in their house. That night, they did something to him, extracting the Tsthogguan protothought; he woke with painful seperation anxiety, but he kicked it with his typical antisocial brutality.

Then he spent time in prayer and meditation to the Forgotten Gods, refocusing himself and draining his stress.

Duster got rid of his stress dealing with family responsibilities in Carrow, then gave orders to keep Harmony and her gang overseeing continuing work on the theater, overspending to keep the project on schedule.

Visiting Lysander.

Harmony mentioned offhand that a quiet artist was a dangerous artist, so they decided to go see how Lysander was doing with his operetta. His best assistant, Chayliss, led them to Lysander.

They found him holed up in an attic with a “do not disturb” sign in three languages; kicking in the door, they found his workspace piled with crumpled paper and empty bottles and chamber pots. Lysander was a wreck, his wig rumpled, his demeanor unhinged. He was struggling with his art. He had a vision, but his work could not live up to it, and he was desperate and blocked.

The work was “Toils of the Hunting Hawk,” an operetta about Captain Torvalini, the first captain of a metal leviathan hunting ship. In the operetta, he pursues a leviathan that seduces him with its song, and there is question about what is more undying, humanity or a lone leviathan. The ambitious work of art sets to music a meditation on the mind-boggling possibilities of re-framing the existence of demons and human relations with them, touching on exploitation and interconnection. Very deep.

And very stuck! All the crew sought to help him in their way. First Aldo took him out for some fresh clothes and carousing and perspective. Then Wolfram took over and set up dioramas with things that reminded him of the sea, insisting Lysander keep writing when he hit a dry patch, offering boundless inspiration.

One of the objects Wolfram got was a bone charm that Aldo felt singing in his blood; one that would help him unlock further power.

Lysander was feeling much better, then Duster offered to help, telling him stories of demons and the Back of the Mirror and intertwined life energy, thoroughly spooking him.

Between all their efforts, they helped him get the operetta nearly done! (3/4)

About Town

They also pursued other interests. Wolfram tried to find out more about Inspector Kiva’s obsession with ending the leviathan blood trade; he could have gone to a high profile dissatisfied inspector, but decided to keep a low profile, and kept working fringe sources.

Aldo took some time to relax and purge himself of the haunting memories of being pressed up against and groping the perfumed greasy mounds of the high priest’s underdressed body.

Duster continued working with Harmony on the theater, so it was almost finished (9/10).

Assassins in the Night

As they relaxed in the Emporium after a hard day’s work, they heard knocking at the front door. Duster went to check, but fortunately glanced out the side window and saw cloaked strangers. Rather than opening the door, he called Aldo over, who imitated a woman, calling out sweetly and helpfully. The cloaked men demanded to come in to buy books (and they agreed to buy coffee.)

Meanwhile Wolfram slipped out the back and circled around. He saw the three cloaked men, and a carriage parked down the street. He snuck up behind the carriage and took out the driver with an overhand swing of his rifle to the back of the head, and leaped up on the buckboard, driving off with the carriage!

Battling in the Emporium

Realizing they were made, the assassins kicked in the door to the Emporium and ruthlessly attacked, guns and knives coming out. Duster used a pot of hot coffee to burn one, and fought with his fists, but was stabbed several times as he tumbled down the stairs with one of the killers, down to the Unrecommendable lair.

Aldo continued to mock the assassins in a girl’s voice as he pummeled and stabbed them, eventually ending up down the stairs in the lair with several assassins.

The scoundrels tried to shield Isaac from the killers. Aldo kept them distracted as Duster managed to get to a pistol, blaring plasm shot at them and finishing the assassins off as one plunged a huge knife in his shoulder. The fight was over, but Duster was in bad shape.

The Runaway Carriage

As Wolfram rattled off with the carriage, two assassins climbed out. He shot one down as the carriage bolted down an alley that was sure to be too small for it at some points; the other assassin was scraped off the side after shooting Wolfram (and his armor took the hit.)

The walls were too close for the carriage doors, but the roof hatch opened. Wolfram shot the assassin climbing up, then clambered over to the hole and fired repeatedly down into the carriage.

An overhang knocked him off the carriage, but he rolled with the damage. Then the carriage slammed into an obstruction and broke the horses, who screamed as Wolfram staggered away from the wreck and ran back to the Emporium.

The Hidden Garden

Isaac approached Duster and offered him a chance to forget his wounds. Duster attuned to him, pulled through as though through a thin point, moving Behind the Mirror physically and not astrally. In this unnatural garden, he met Isaac, who had not met him before.

Isaac said he was part of a conflict that started twenty years in the future, and had a major battle five years in the future. He made it this far, bringing this garden, and projecting fragments of himself as far back into the past as he needed to be.

Isaac was trying to be born, and there was something trying to stop him. Isaac’s mother came out, veiled; moving her veil, she was revealed as an older version of the Carrow agent Child. She explained she and Isaac were looking for Isaac’s father. The boy asked Duster if he knew who it would be; it had to be someone touched by the Outsider, a breather of the Void.

Then Isaac’s mother pulled the wounds out of Duster, and they sent him back, rippling in the Mirror and not entirely chronologically settled.

By that point Wolfram was back and concerned. Duster said little about his experience.

The Assassin

Wolfram took one of the surviving (but injured) assassins and put him on the table in the lair, bolting the doors shut so there was nowhere to go. It was a simple enough matter to interrogate him.

The assassin’s name was Jakes. He and his crew were hired for six Coin, to kill the Unrecommendables. He didn’t know who hired him exactly, but that kind of money for this kind of target was personal, not tactical; he figured it was Maude Selvericus, who was under house arrest but easily capable of setting up this job. That made sense to the Unrecommendables, who offered Jakes a job with them. He agreed–after Maude was dealt with.

Why wait?

Home Invasion

They entered from the roof, having taken a rope trick from a nearby building. Moving down into the attic, they charged Duster with spying out Maude’s location.

He attuned to the house, and found himself sliding into a painting in her bedroom over the fireplace, of a massive bestiality and necrophilia orgy. He slid out of the painting and was trapped in a cherub face on the fireplace grate, and he knocked it over as he tore loose to return to his panting and sore body.

As they prowled towards her bedroom two floors down, Wolfram found a secret door. Behind the walls they found an illegal Iruvian spirifer station for extracting and inserting and storing souls, and a ladder down.

Following the ladder, they found an intersection guarded by a stone statue filled with a guardian spirit. Duster drew it into himself, trapping its energy in his life force. He took a beating from the inside as they continued on to find a trapdoor looking through a lens into a bathroom to observe bathers. Cracking it open, they climbed down to the bathroom next to Maude’s bedroom.

She was talking to a ghost hound, who detected intruders. As it swiveled to stare at them, they snapped into action.

Wolfram snatched Maude’s hair and dragged her towards the fireplace, intending to stuff her in; he was intercepted by the ghost hound, who savagely bit him, but he pulled back before its teeth closed so he was chilled and not torn by its ghost teeth.

Meanwhile Aldo sprang in with a demonbane charm wrapped around a dagger, disrupting the spirit hound’s energy. Duster followed, badly shaken, and tried to compel the hound to stand down; instead, it leaped at his throat and Aldo barely managed to put it down.

Impatient, Wolfram snapped Maude’s neck and stuffed her body in the fireplace, making sure her hair caught fire as guards banged on the door demanding to know if everything was alright.

They ghosted out of the house, making it all the way back to the roof undetected.

The Hole

Waiting for them on the roof was a silhouette. To Aldo and Wolfram it was weird, but to Duster it was impossible; it was a hole in the Mirror, empty both in front in the material world and behind in the Ghost Field.

Duster vomited his captive spirit at it, and the spirit fell through the hole, then the hole tore its roots from the whisper, dropping Duster gasping on the roof.

It demanded to know where the child was.

Aldo ran to secure climbing gear to get down off the roof as guards popped up to search the roof, a block away still. Wolfram fired plasm shot into the hole, and it drained his gun and all its ammunition.

Desperate, Duster ordered the Mirror to close, rebuking the existence of the hole. He did push the hole out of reality, but his spirit mask and all his implements were shattered.

Wolfram and Aldo both had climbing gear, and lowered the whisper to the ground. Together, they melted away into the night.


So what was that all about? Aldo suggested maybe Isaac was him, from another timeline or dimension. Wolfram suggested maybe it was his child from an illicit relationship in the past or future.

Like pulling teeth, they extracted further information from Duster; that he talked with Isaac, who was projecting his existance into the material plane from a pocket dimension from the future. And his mother was Child, from Carrow, and they were searching for his father so he could be born. And there was something trying to keep that from happening.

After that, the sensible reaction seemed to be a round of stiff drinks.

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Guns of Telluria: Into the Woods

Jack Reed, Gruden Moore, and Elizabeth Tolwynn spent a week in New Orleans recovering from the train wreck last session. Moore was in the best shape, so he got to spend some time wandering the streets. Using the buddy system, he took Elizabeth along. Meanwhile Jack did his best to drown his liver in the dark corner of the smelly public house.

Soggy Phelps

Jack and Elizabeth heard about Soggy Phelps. During the battle of New Orleans, the fey unleashed a mighty curse that found a corpse under New Orleans and suffused it with eldritch power; the figure rose, put on a harlequin mask and picked up a machete, and started killing. It was impossibly stealthy in or on water, and healed with blinding speed while touching water. If somehow knocked down and dismembered, the curse would go into remission until the wind was right, or the stars aligned, or whatever trigger the fey assigned it. Then Soggy Phelps would rise and kill again.

Gruden and Elizabeth recruited Jack to hunt Soggy Phelps. The bounty was $100 for bringing in the harlequin mask. (Various scoundrels offered a $20 bounty for harlequin masks they might be able to dress up to get the bounty.)

Sir Nelson

While hunting in an alley behind the Front, a line of brothels and bars, they encountered Sir Steve Nelson. He was looking for them, survivors of the train wreck. His daughter Cassandra was on that train, and he’s been unable to get results from the military in rescuing her. The fey take prisoners all the time, she could be alive yet. He offered them $20 to go, and $60 upon return. They agreed.

After a fitful night’s rest, they headed to the train station. There they met Fergus Trailer, a tough veteran with four others that Nelson hired for security. They had two hand cars to push along the railroad tracks, and that took them to the crash site. There they saw a bivouac where Sgt. Sevkovitch ran a tight operation.

Sgt. Sevkovitch issued them a flare gun and a bleak goodbye. Elizabeth asked after her rifle, hoping she could recover it; she had notched it with her kills during the war. No such luck. Now, at the edge of danger, Nelson donned his glamor mask. Everyone else checked gear and steeled themselves. Then they headed off into the woods.

Elizabeth brushed a tree with her skin and felt the distant echo of a scream through the wood. Seemed sort of ominous.

The Trail Goes Deeper

They dispatched a satyr that was guarding the perimeter as they followed the torn earth of the trail the walking trees blazed. Deeper in, they surprised a drowsing ogre and shot him to death. As the light was fading from the sky, they approached the perimeter of some fey center of activity.

Elizabeth, Gruden, and Jack crept closer to get a look. The clearing’s edges had woven walls from volunteer tree saplings. In the center was a youngish oak, and a terrified young blonde woman half-merged with it and screaming, weeping, and carrying on. Cajoling her with the wonders of tree-ness was a withered and hunched dryad with a gaping wound in half her torso; she was hit by iron fragments that got into her and got infected, in their way, and she was dying by inches. Corrupt with pain and fury, her scream mixed with the scream of the young woman, echoing through all the wood as Elizabeth touched a tree to telepathically hear it.

The scouts had to quickly wipe out a pixie and pull back as the guards took an interest in possible trespassing. After a hurried discussion with Nelson and the others, the scouts took most of the chest of firebombs the expedition brought, and circled around to the big oak tree in an adjacent clearing.

Assaulting the Grove

The soldiers were found, and started firing, bravely rushing the clearing to rescue the young lady from the tree. Meanwhile the scouts fought past a couple satyrs and entered the clearing of the huge rotten oak, and started to firebomb it. An ogre attacked and was gunned down after swatting Jack across the clearing. Then the crippled dryad sprang up out of the roots beneath the ground, furious.

Her arm exploded into tendrils and pinned Elizabeth in place; so much physical contact! Elizabeth was engulfed in the maimed shriek of the dryad, her mind slammed, but she kept her arms free and her mind able to act and fired on her attacker. The dryad flung her into the woods, where she slammed off a tree and landed in the shadows unconscious.

Gruden was next. The dryad shrugged off one exploded arm of vines, and exploded the other arm at him, knocking him cold as he crashed back into the woven wall of the thicket. As she did, Jack was aiming, and as she turned her attention to him he fired a bullet right through her forehead, putting her out of her misery.

Fire rushed up the tree, aggressively destroying it as its dryad lay slowly and inevitably dying. Jack managed to smack Gruden awake, and he found Elizabeth as Gruden found her gun. They headed to the other, smaller grove, where the fight was still ongoing.

The Rescue

Nelson had lost his mind, and was trying to carve his daughter out of the tree with a knife. She was screaming with fear and pain and shame, blood and sap everywhere. The two surviving soldiers fired on shadows that circled, looking for an opening; most of the fey were still reeling from the crippled dryad’s psychic death shriek.

Jack intervened with Nelson. One look told him they weren’t going to be able to cut the girl out. He bodily dragged Nelson back, and Gruden caught the frantic old man’s attention, snapping him out of his hysterical desperation for a moment.

They were going to have to kill Cassandra.

Nelson couldn’t do it, so Gruden lugged the broken man towards the trail back to the edge of the forest, because Jack volunteered. He looked the corrupted woman in the eyes; one was meat, the other living wood. She begged and screamed, get her out of here, she didn’t want to die. He shot her in the face, shrugged to adjust the weight of having to live with that, and followed the others.

The Escape

They couldn’t go far before their injuries and exhaustion compelled them to stop and rest. No fire, but they bound wounds and camped for the night. Jack carried Elizabeth, and the shrieking that vibrated through her form leaked into him through skin contact, almost unsettling his reason. There were still splinters from the dying dryad’s body stuck in Elizabeth’s flesh, so she was still somehow connected to the slow death of the eldritch tree monster, shaking her sanity loose.

When dawn came, she pried all those splinters out, and managed to find some peace of mind. Everyone got fresh bandages, and after spending most of the day lost in the woods, they finally heard a train whistle and oriented on the tracks. Grateful to find the tracks, they then walked their way back to civilization.

New Orleans, Again

Nelson paid them their $60, and also gave Jack a silver pocket watch without explaining why. He didn’t have much to say, and he left them alone after that.

They took a few days to heal up from the massive physical and psychic beating they received in the woods.

Meanwhile Elizabeth got a telegram from her worthless but wealthy cousin, Severin Sistern. He had a security opportunity for her if she would come to Grenada, on the other end of the New Orleans Special line. The others figured that sounded pretty good, and no one wanted to stay in New Orleans.

Northward Bound

They hired on as Roof Riders again, with Sgt. Basker in charge of the security on this run. In the late twilight, the train pulled out. Jack was happy to meet Cpl. Orman again to rekindle the romance.

One of her gunners mucked it up by falling down and convulsing, and having visions of a doom portent where everyone on the train died flaming, a trail of severed hands leading into the woods, black glass fangs… Elizabeth used her touch to witness the last of his visions as they faded. What to do? He panicked that everyone was going to die.

So, they sent Jack to tell the engineer to be careful, and Gruden to talk to Sgt. Basker, who was drinking in the dining car. Basker was not interested, he told them to be more vigilant, but got somewhat surly when pressed.

Meanwhile, they pulled into a rail station, and the gunner with the vision shot himself in the leg so he could get off the train. That incensed Basker, who put Cpl. Orman up for disciplinary action for gross incompetence. That angered the roof riders, so they got off the train and didn’t ride it further north that night. Later, chatting with Orman, they found out the gunner who had the vision had a gypsy mother and imbibed in forbidden fey recreational drugs sometimes. Oh well.

Another Train

They got aboard another train the next night, this one guarded by Sgt. Sevkovitch (who they last saw at the bivouac.) As the train headed north, pipes called from the wood, mesmerizing Sevkovitch so she jumped off the train and ran into the woods after the call of the pipes. The train stopped, and they searched briefly (the roof riders found a satyr and shot him up when he played his pipes at them, but he got away.) The train had to go on. So, Cpl. Grantham and his squad stayed to look for her and the train went on with fewer guards.

Further down the line, a card game got violent as one gunner accused another of cheating; the fresh-faced Cpl. Cardin was not authoritative enough to deal with the situation, so Elizabeth stepped in and broke it up, then withdrew.

As they closed in on Grenada in the deep of the night, the pipes called from the woods again, this time luring out the conductor! Cpl. Wurler was twisted by the fey to look like a pig man, but he was a solid soldier; he took his squad to hunt for the conductor, and sent the train on with just a third of the guards and the roof riders.

Before they reached their final destination, they went under a mass of pixies that cackled as they sprayed dust all over the roof. Gruden managed okay, but Jack was blinded. He still couldn’t see when the train pulled in, but his friends helped him get settled with a drink in his hand while they waited for his sight to return.

Grenada wasn’t much to look at, in the dark of four a.m. They decided to look up Elizabeth’s cousin the next day.

At least they made it out of New Orleans.

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Guns of Telluria: Arcanum

One of the charming things about Into the Odd is the unique magical objects that may well start out in the hands of characters at generation. I’ve scaled back the availability, but also created some new arcanum.

Pierce Cutter. A forearm greave with five angled blades along its length. It can sever a magical or physical connection. If used as a weapon, it does d8 damage to any one attribute, ignoring hit points. Each use costs the bearer 1d4 Strength damage.

Breathing Sword. Shortsword made of moon steel with a thousand names carved on the blade. When drawn, everyone within 10 feet can breathe normally, even underwater or in choking smoke or while strangled etc.

Sanguine Oilcan. A fist sized round container with a handle and a spout. Anything anointed for a full round and then lit burns to sand and ashes in a full round. Whatever is lit takes 15 damage per use. The can must be refilled with blood from a living thing, 1d4 hit points per dose. It can hold 3 doses.

Bone Winder. A bone key the size of a forearm, it can be inserted into a human spine and cranked (like a key for winding clocks.) It inflicts 1 damage per turn of winding. When the wound-up target next acts, the target gets double speed or double actions for one consecutive round per winding.

Kickers. Tough work boots with bright red spats. Take a full round to kick a portal, and it will open. Take a full round to kick a target (like a person) and inflict 1d6 damage and send the target flying 30 feet back. Every 10 feet they don’t go because they hit an obstacle first, inflict another 1d4 damage. (1d4 at 20 feet, 2d4 at 10 feet, 3d4 point blank.)

Fangshot. “Y” shaped piece of bone with a stretchy leather cord. Pull the slingshot all the way back and painlessly lose a tooth (you can choose which one.) Then shoot, with automatically enhanced damage regardless of impairing circumstances.

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Guns of Telluria: Off the Rails

We had four veterans.

  • Jack Reed. (a.k.a. Jack Felix) A former corporal in the cavalry, he went AWOL after Topeka, and he owes a lot of money to the government. The only weapon he still had was a bomb.
  • Gruden Moore. A formal corporal marksman, he had an adventure previously in the weird expanse of Vornheim, followed by a trip to the Barrowmaze. Now he’s back on Telluria. Definitely the most heavily armed, with a brace of pistols, trench armor, and money to spare.
  • Elizabeth Tolwynn. A former corporal medic, she was at both the battles of New Orleans and Topeka. She got the Golden Athame for getting weirded; she suffers from partial touch-based telepathy. Her family hails from the UK.
  • Emmeline Shelby. (a.k.a. Jane Winters) A former corporal with an undistinguished career, now she’s AWOL and a fugitive.

Roof Riders

Jack, Elizabeth, and Jane were in a card came where they lost the last of their money. Fortunately, the army was hiring veterans for $5 and 2 meals to ride the roof of the New Orleans Special from Grenada to New Orleans, about an eight hour trip. They staggered out to the train depot and met Gruden, and they all climbed aboard the train as it released an ear-splitting whistle.

The train had a machine gun nest platform mounted on the front of the engine, and one on the armory car, and one on the caboose. They met Sgt. Basker, who was in charge of the three teams guarding the train, and he let them man the machine gun on the armory car. Then he went to the dining car to get totally drunk for the rest of the trip, so they were supervised loosely by Cpl. Orman, a big sturdy warrior woman who was managing the patrols.

At one point, one of the soldiers guarding the train seperated himself from his buddy and stood on the barbed wire crennalataion of the far end of the armory car, then steeled himself to leap to his death. But his boot got caught in the barbed wire, and they dragged him back up, sobbing something about his dead family. His distraught partner caught up to him and scolded him about trying to commit suicide on the job, and dragged him off.

Also, romance bloomed between Cpl. Orman and Jack, who was manning the gun. She kept flirting with him, causing possible skull damage to the others from eye rolling.

New Orleans

Eight hours later they pulled into New Orleans. What had once been a city was now a slimy shell with a new port built over part of it. The nation needed the port for its economic and military welfare, but it was difficult luring people back to the monster-haunted ruin.

As they disembarked and got paid, Sgt. Hemstead approached them and asked if they’d be willing to ride the night train back to Grenada; they were short handed, and the night train was dangerous. Why were they short handed? Scarlet Fever was rampant in the city. Well, they didn’t want Scarlet Fever, so they would think it over.

They headed to the Three Legged Dog, a public house servicing the train station. While Jack and Orman had a tryst, the others cashed in meal vouchers and bought cheap gin and waited until the night train left shortly after 7 p.m., as the sun went down.

The Night Train

The Roof Riders agreed to guard the caboose machine gun nest for the night train trip, leaving a team of soldiers for the patrol and another team for the engine. The train lurched out of the station and headed into the darkness.

After only an hour, the train was slowed down climbing a hill, and there was an unusual grove of trees right next to the track. They were quickened trees! They leaned into the engine and rolled it off the track as swarms of pixies darted out of the trees, attacking the train.

The riders bravely resisted the fey rush, but three of them were put down by orgasmic sneezes of fairy dust in their faces. Jack stayed up, gunning the pixies down with the machine gun then resorting to hand to hand. Victorious, he slapped Gruden awake, and they woke the women, in time to see the satyr second wave creeping up on the train.

Eerie pan flute music chilled them to the bone, but they mostly resisted its terror. They fired at shadows, until they attracted enough attention for a wave of satyrs to rush their position on the caboose.

After a valiant fight with guns that devolved into hand to hand combat, they were all knocked down by the horrific fey.

The Escape

They woke up tied to trees with branches and vines, and smeared in sap. They had just enough moonlight and light from pixies to see horrific things happening to some other prisoners, and they could hear the terrible sounds just fine. They managed to wriggle free of their restraints and escape.

Pixies spotted them, and they managed to knock the pixies down even unarmed. Jack was so savage he broke one by snagging it and popping it in his mouth, savagely biting it and somehow spitting it out before its released dust affected his perceptions. Satyrs moved to block their escape, to be savagely beaten by the desperate riders. Racing away, they found a field with some distance from trees and waist-high grass. They moved out into it and took a knee, waiting.

An ogre sniffed along their back trail, but startled a deer, and chased that instead. They staggered off into the night.

They oriented with the stars to see which way was north, but waited until morning to see the smoke from the downed locomotive. They headed back to the train.

The Train

Two quickened trees patrolled the downed train, along with some pixie scouts. They timed their rush, and ran to the caboose undetected. After quickly picking the lock on the gun cabinet, they were freshly armed with rifles and pistols, and there was even a flame thrower!

They spotted an ogre reaching the treeline, following their scent. Climbing up on the caboose, they loosed a couple well-aimed volleys into it, downing the monster before it could reach them. Stealth was over, however; they grabbed some food and weapons on their way out (including the flame thrower) and tried to outrace the awakened tree and its pixies. (The other one stayed with the train.)

Now armed with iron-laced weapons, they made short work of the pixies that pursued them. The quickened tree was another matter, but had stamina they couldn’t match while injured. They poured gunfire into it, carefully aiming at weak points, and it toppled before it reached them. Jack raced up to it and used the flamethrower to set its wreck alight.

They pulled back, then followed the tracks south towards New Orleans. Only a few miles later they met a push cart with some recon soldiers who were looking for the train. Exhausted and injured, they returned to New Orleans to report what happened, and take a week to heal up.

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Rock, gravel, sand

rossrocksI watched some Bob Ross painting shows this weekend. With a couple brush strokes followed by pushing some paint on the canvas, he created these solid rocks, complete with textures and little stories in their rapid details. Those rocks could break waves, stop light, host moss, and otherwise provide a stable presence in the painting.

People can be like that, you know? A relationship can be just a few key interactions, surrounded by whatever texture you want, and it can seem like an immutable fact of life that this person is there for you, with you, on your side, a rock in your painting. But, in fact, that friendship can still be as fragile as oils on canvas.

My life is a story I tell myself, just like a landscape painting is an image of a scene or place. You can have a “happy accident” as Ross would say, blocking in a stone face where you would not have expected one, and having it rebalance and anchor your scene.

My friend Paul died three years ago yesterday.

Grief is not a line, not really a linear journey. It is cyclical, with things that come and go, different emphasis, different sweetness and bitterness, sour notes competing with the good.

I once compared grief to a boulder that settles on you. In time, it doesn’t get less heavy, but you manage to chip it apart into smaller stones, and eventually gravel. You can redistribute the load, get used to it. Eventually it grinds down to sand. But does it ever really go away? Or do you just get stronger through carrying it so the weight isn’t as desperate anymore?

Paul was unique. He had a blend of pragmatism and compassion, of openness and boundaries, of humor and gravity that was all his own. He was so sure in himself that he was not threatened if you were yourself. On more than one occasion  he would wryly remind me that people play in my games not because of the settings, or the ideas, or the rules, but because they liked stories and they liked me.

Paul Memorial PortraitI wonder how he would get along with my kids now. I want to talk to him about my projects, I know he’d let me go on and on until I ran out of things to say, and with that pressure off we could look over the field of it and see it clearly for once. He’d tell me about work, and we’d rehash some of the stories from the past, and the world would turn, the sun would rise and fall, and things would go on much as they have.

Paul will always be a part of my life. But now, like the fine china set, his presence is kept secured in a cabinet instead of pulled out daily for routine use. He is always present in a way, a memory anchored to my story, shifting its balance, pulling quietly at the past and the future with the changes he made in me.

It has been a long, long three years, my friend. Now that you’re out from under the glacier of slowly sliding time, you’ll have to take my word for it. Everything is different and everything is the same, just as you’d expect. Rest in peace, Paul. Rest in peace.

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Blades in the Dark. Unrecommendables. Bad Blood.

BitD Title_01 by James Dudli

Aldo, Wolfram, Duster, and Joben were all present.


Turns out Flint, a spirit trafficker from Carrow (and Duster’s best friend), was pulled in by the Inspectors and grilled for two weeks about illegal leviathan blood traffic in the Crow’s Foot neighborhood. The Unrecommendables didn’t get involved, but that’s just as well, as Flint was canny. He pretended to be even crazier than he was, then gave up the Red Sashes and some of their defunct safe houses and dead agents as smugglers. The Inspectors eventually let him go, and he came by the Emporium to be celebrated. While there he made eyes at one of the coven members, Kyra, and developed a pathetic crush.

After Aldo recovered stress, he sorted out the heat on the crew by consorting with his bluecoat friends.

Wolfram recovered stress then started looking into Inspector Kiva’s motives for cracking down on the leviathan blood trade. She must have a reason to go after the smugglers with such passion. (1/4) As he asked around, people talked about him, the guy who’s asking.

Duster and Joben focused on getting the theater renovated. As Duster relied on Harmony and the grifter gang’s good taste in decorating, Joben hired work crews and supervised the labor. (6 Coin, 6/10)

Unfortunately, with time on their hands, Tallow and his gang got into a ruckus with a Crow gang of Pinfeathers. The fighting got rough, and one of Tallow’s thugs, Freiderich, decapitated one of the Pinfeathers with a broken window. This insult could not go unanswered. Utrecht met with the Unrecommendables, noting that the murder had panache at least. The Crows would be satisfied if they could publicly beat Freiderich up, hopefully not to death but no promises.

Aldo counter-offered generously, and they ended up agreeing that the Crows would get Freiderich’s thugging services for a period of time (and he could return to the Unrecommendables afterwards if he wanted) and to sweeten the weregild pot the Unrecommendables promised 4 Coin of illegal leviathan blood. Utrecht was pleased.

A Demander for the Suppliers

Meanwhile, a man in a black outfit and black mask dropped off an empty bottle like was used to sell leviathan blood back at the Emporium, with notice of a place and time for a meeting (an old abandoned hagfish arena, midnight.) The crew decided to risk checking it out, leaving Wolfram covering the arena with a rifle as the other three went to talk to the mysterious figure.

He said he represented someone who was interested in purchasing the leviathan blood, but could not go into business because he was blackmailed by the Inspectors to give up the first smugglers he contacted. If they could arrange for a dupe, to get the pressure and Inspectors off him, then he would buy blood from them. They could think it over and respond the following night.

Warehouses and Alleys

They pulled back, except for Wolfram; he saw a distracted zombie-like woman, and followed her to where there was a warehouse full of distracted zombie-like people. Not as placid as hollows, but not themselves either; he recognized their clothes as being from the Wax Mask barge.

Then a figure in tattered clothes on a rooftop by his alley accosted him. Irritated by Wolfram’s flippancy, he ordered a mob of hollows to swarm Wolfram, who gunned them down. The battle attracted the attention of bluecoats, who almost caught up as Wolfram was gunning down the last of the mob. He led them on a merry chase, ending when he leaped across a gap and the first bluecoat that leaped after was clubbed midair, to fall to the cobbles by the canal in great pain. Wolfram escaped back. (+2 Heat)

The Mark

They decided to find someone to frame, to go into business with the mystery buyer. They picked Salvan Drixle, a High Priest of the Path of Echoes (a mystery cult that cut across class lines but mostly appealed to the wealthy and students, suggesting electroplasmic entities were full of wisdom and should be protected and nurtured instead of destroyed.)

Turns out Wolfram robbed Drixle of an idol to a Forgotten God. It was a couple years ago, when Wolfram first came to Duskwall, and he stole the idol to give it to other secret worshipers so they showed him the shrines and helped him worship the Forgotten Gods here.

Drixle operated out of an old broken refinery on the docks where leviathan blood was formerly pumped out of the ships. Since then, Whispers had been brought in to reinforce the interior of the buildings, and they were swarming with captured ghosts that would attack intruders on Drixle’s command. He actually held services inside one of the huge iron tanks, three stories tall, that used to hold the undying blood itself.

Joben found out Harlesski was a lovely Iruvian adept who was Drixle’s right-hand operative and trusted confidant; they could use her as an intermediary contact to get his attention.

Aldo nosed around to find out who Drixle was pursuing to join his cult, who was out of reach; he came up with Lady Noventell, an albino aristocrat descended from the family that first financed leviathan hunting ships. (Lady Noventell got word back from her agents that Aldo Nyman was asking about her in connection to mystery cults.)

Wolfram used Harmony and her gang to find out where Noventell shops for clothing for her servants, and commission a workable likeness of clothing so they could pretend to represent her.

Duster used the adepts and scored massive success. He discovered the glyphs sealing the furious ghosts in, and also discovered there were shelves with hundreds of bottles with hanks of hair on them holding ghosts hostage inside. He also contacted an angry ghost, Stonebreaker, who promised to help if he promised to free the ghosts. He agreed. Afterwards, he moved around the outside of the building, drilling in behind each glyph so he could break them all more or less at once on demand. (Super critical success!)

The Approach

They strode up to the hidden temple in their black and red outfits, masquerading as servants of Lady Noventell. Harlesski escorted them in to where the repulsive cult leader Drixle reclined on a bed in the skull of a massive sea monster. Aldo (going as “Simon”) gave him a lacquer box with a scroll explaining the Lady would consider joining him if he would become a blood dealer for her.

The offer infuriated Drixle, who kicked the kneeling Aldo and beat him with a stick (somewhat ineffectually) until he was winded. Then the REAL plan kicked in; Wolfram explained they were sent on this lame mission by Maude Selvericus, a bureaucrat who was upset with him for some reason. They were to frame him, using a small barrel of real leviathan blood. Joben protested the reveal, while Duster just looked so, so ashamed.

Wary but greedy, Drixle agreed to let them live if their story checked out. He released them with a mild beating, save Aldo, who he kept as insurance. Aldo had a forged mini-ledger with leviathan blood transactions, naming names, and he hurled himself at the high priest as though to beg for mercy. Though he was repulsed by far too intimate a groping of the sweaty and perfumed cultist, he managed to hide the ledger in a secret pocket in the silken robe. He was then shoved back on the stiff pillows as Drixle suited up, taking Harlesski and his eight porters and palanquin chair to get the blood.

Finishing Moves

Of course, Drixle walked into a trap. Joben had spread word through Harmony’s gang to the Inspectors that a smuggler would be after a barrel in an old greenhouse that was purchased on the sly, and Aldo paid off one of Maude Selvericus’ many enemies to serve as a witness that Maude sold the greenhouse to Drixle under the table in exchange for a cut of the illegal leviathan blood profits. Drixle was doomed, walking right into the trap. He got a good kicking from the bluecoats, and was dragged off into custody.

Meanwhile, the rest of the Unrecommendables knew they had to move fast to rescue Aldo. Knowing that there would be spirit chaos, Duster had gotten a very fine spiritbane charm and given it to Aldo in advance. Aldo tried to activate it, and the energy drew the ghost of a little girl; she asked if she could leave with him, he said yes, and she lent her aid to attuning to the charm but being safe within its influence.

Outside, Duster raised his hand, felt the places he bored into the wall behind the glyphs, and as he had prepared to do, he broke them. It took a minute, and he was all sweaty when it was done, but he managed it. The ghostnado was triggered inside, the mortal guards screaming as all the pent up ghosts raged.

Duster ran into the building, and was almost immediately attacked by masses of ghosts; he sensed Stonebreaker, the ghost he had promised freedom in exchange for help. Stonebreaker wanted to ride him, and he consented; Stonebreaker gave him supernatural strength and used his body to start killing guards.

Aldo crawled to the doorway of the iron bottle, to where he could see the exit and maybe teleport over to it. The ghost girl helped bat spirits away. He dropped out of space–drifting over a river of electroplasmic spirits, he encountered the Outsider in the Void, who mused on his involvement to this point and wondered where the blood would go. Then he dropped back into space, behind the possessed Duster.

As Duster tore a guard in half, Aldo tried to distract him; the whisper’s head spun around as though he had no neck, and Aldo kissed him on the mouth to try and break him out of it. The whisper fought free of Stonebreaker, releasing him in a gout of electroplasmic energy, and they unsteadily escaped together. Spirit Warden special teams raced towards the location as they limped away.

A Deal is Struck

They returned to the Emporium and found the man in black waiting for them, telling them that his employer was ready to strike a deal. They rode the carriage to Brightstone, one of the nicest estates in the city, then to the Smithwylde estate (run by Gallery Smithwylde.)

They drove over his extensive estate, noting his radiant garden, ending up in his armory. He met with them. He walked with a strut somewhere between mincing and gallant, he himself was somewhere between dandy and captain of industry. He told them he wanted more leviathan blood than the law and tarriffs allowed, and he would have it from them, all they had to give. He would possibly meet with them every few months. But if they breathed a word of his involvement, he would have them flayed and used for leather in his very fancy motorcar. They were then dismissed and sent home. He did give them a signing bonus; a huge chest of Tychorian minted silver ingots worth 4 Coin.

That last mess with the mystery cult bumped them up to 5 Heat, but they might suggest it was totally worth it.

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“Lost Guardian” cover

Here is the cover for an adventure I’m working on for Josephe Vandel. He made the cover, and I think it looks pretty cool.


That’s one of the things I learned the hard way when I first started doing game design that could move past my table, and past my gaming friends. If you want to share something on the internet, or put it up for sale, art is crucially important. So, I hope you can gaze into this image and get ideas, and want to go adventure there.

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