Basically Fantastic, Session 17: Gates of Kalmatta

The adventurers (Annonciade, Søren and his henchman Kurzol, Kestrel, Valdis, and Calendel) were aboard the Wave Wolf when Gansel, the pterodactyl wizard, sighted land. The crew was excited, and they pressed on. Rather than stopping at the Stonegod Isles, they sailed between them to the mainland of Kalmatta, to get wood to repair the ship properly, and resupply. Repairs could be underway while the “scholars” did their “research.”

Using Captain Brun’s spyglass, Calendel’s elf eyes scanned the shoreline. The ship sailed along a bit, past hills and crags, to a lowland jungle area with a broad beach. The adventurers formed an advance party to make sure the site was relatively safe, then half the crew came ashore to start cutting down trees. The adventurers found water, then sent a note back via owl to the captain, that they were going to take a look at the tallest peak around, probably an extinct volcano.

Femur, Calendel’s bat, was delirious with the thrill of hunting exotic jungle bugs. Ohmsa, Valdis’s lizard, gleefully shocked the underbrush in pursuit of exciting new snacks. Swiftfell observed, aloof and generally indifferent to the change in scenery.

Søren sensed magic simmering in this place, and Annonciade’s hypnotoad Zhadum was alert (deeply unusual) because he sensed something primordial here. They continued on, overnighting in the jungle, undisturbed by any real threat. Annonciade foraged for food among the plentiful fruits and berries, using her knowledge of monsters and their habits to identify some food that was unlikely to be toxic.

On the second day they found the edge of the jungle where it met some grasslands at the base of the volcano. They also discovered an old road marker indicating this was the way to the “Shrine of Dreams.” They followed the markers, relying on Calendel’s sharp elven senses to pick out the overgrown markers.

The Shrine of Dreams

They found the shrine, a simple single-room building with a stylized statue of a slizardian and the outline of a circular gate. The palm of the statue had a shape that fit the head of the Rod of the Crescent, and the statue hummed slightly. When Annonciade put the rod to the peg and turned it, the gate filled with a watery energy. They also discovered the gate lasted only a handful of seconds after the rod was removed from the peg, closing on its own. They opened the gate again. Kestrel and Annonciade went through to scout.

They both had the sense that some safety mechanism kicked in and protected them from experiencing the transit, so it was as though they stepped through a door. However, the hypnotoad was energetic and squealing with too much energy; using the glove, Annonciade got the sense that he touched the foundation of the world and was overflowing from the discharge, and if he touched that power again he would burst (he was almost bursting now.)

The shrine with a gate where they were now had a statue of a woman with bat wings and fangs, and from the doorway they saw they were on a different mountain with a different view, and a couple settlements about ten miles away. Carvings indicated this was the Shrine of Secrets. Kestrel went back through to get the others.

The Second Step

This time when Kestrel entered the gate the safety did not kick on, and he experienced the journey. He felt his flesh and consciousness leave reality, intermixing with something ambiguous in a sea of energy, sucked through an impossible state; it was a salmon cannon for the consciousness. When he re-formed and exited, he was struggling with his perceptions.

The magic that transformed him from a bird to a human many years ago during the war also locked away his previous experience because his consciousness could not expand to hold the experience of being housed in a bird’s brain and body, and also in a human brain and body. Having been pushed outside reality and reshaped in another way, the old patterns were unlocked, and experienced birdform memory simultaneous with his current capacities and senses; it threw him for a loop.

Kurzol stayed behind to guard him, and the others used the gate to join Annonciade on the other side. Concerned about safety, power consumption, and monster attraction, Kurzol decided to close the gate behind them.

The Shrine of Secrets

Now that Calendel’s elf senses and spyglass were with them, they could see that to the south was a ramshackle village with a sloop and a galleon at anchor in a small bay. To the northwest, an isthmus with a palisade and more primitive but sturdier buildings.

They also found a waymarker like they followed to the other shrine, but it was more elaborate, indicating this was the “Path of Mourning” (or “morning”, the translation wasn’t obvious.)

Ohmsa, the lizard, was going rigid and sleepy and warm. The scholars consulted, and realized that cosmic energy roused these lizards from dormancy, and it must be Templar glyph energy that disarmed them and returned them to their stone egg state as they were in the Lightning Vault. Annonciade communicated that abstract idea to Zhadum, who clumsily crawled onto the senseless lizard and unloaded the excess discharge from the gate travel, from outside the filtration of the gate. Ohmsa immediately showed signs of returning to consciousness and mobility.

The adventurers planned to wait out the night and see if Kestrel would rejoin them in the morning. Annonciade studied in her book, for she had seen symbols like the ones on the marker there. She discovered that when the immortal First Templar, Saint Bastion, Father of Code, withdrew from civilization, he labored to design a glyph-focused channel so the cosmic spark could flow free of the influence of the gods. A “term of art” in this experimentation–Zadabad, the “Well of Worlds.” Could the treasure vault be a test site for the reality-bending dimensional connection the Father of Code used to isolate Thesmalian Prime? Did the immortal come here and compel the local populace to assist in this cosmic experiment five centuries ago?

Disturbed by all this energy, Søren meditated to understand it better, and touched on the idea that the knob the rod turned could also be receptive to his spell energy; it was a transformer, adjusting from one kind of energy to another, connected to a network of–something much bigger, a cosmic machine of some kind. The implications were enormous, and unsettling.

A Blur in the Night

Kurzol was not keen on going through the gate, expecting a bonus for that unreasonable risk. He figured Kestrel was going through something weird, and took care of him while guarding the shrine. Deep in the night, the jungle noises stopped, and there was a high-pitched whine or buzz. An indistinct feline monster approached. Rather than face it, Kurzol activated the gate, but he could not muster the nerve to enter on his own. Kestrel inspired him and offered courage, and they went through together.

They entered the Shrine of Secrets facing off with the rest of the adventurers, who were ready to fight whatever came through. Most were relieved it was the rest of the party, except Valdis, who demanded to know who closed the gate. Kurzol did, so she punched him hard, then Søren told Kurzol not to fight (which seemed to Kurzol a delayed sentiment.) Kestrel also wanted to be punched, as his body was weird and recalibrating, and Valdis was happy to oblige.

The Path of Mourning

The adventurers followed the “Path of Mourning” up, curving along the flank of the volcano, until they came to a bridge that had fallen through. Calendel fired a rope arrow across, and Kestrel strolled over to secure multiple ropes so others could safely cross. As Søren was crossing, a swarm of albino bats with roughly 4-5 foot wingspans swarmed up, and as Valdis reached the other side the bats were swirling all around. Somehow, the bats extracted threads of blood from those they surrounded, feeding from them and making them unsteady. Søren blasted them with magic, Calendel downed some with arrows, and Valdis encouraged her lizard to a mighty burst of electrical discharge that stunned some and drove the rest away.

Calendel and Kurzol were the last two on the far side, and Kurzol’s nerves were shot staring down the chasm. Calendel managed to bully him into crossing, but Kurzol stammered something about deserving a bonus for taking that risk.

The adventurers reached the end of the trail, a massive doorway carved into the mountain near the top. In the strange script of the locals, the entry was marked “Path of the Dead.” Apparently it was real. If the rest of the legend was also true, beyond they would find the Obsidian Guardian, and entry to the Sacred Valley, where the Zadabad Treasure Vault awaited.

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Basically Fantastic, Session 16: Violent Luggage

The adventurers (Annonciade, Søren and his henchman Kurzol, Kestrel, and Calendel) met up with Valdis, who caught up to them from kicking around Elbow Creek with her shocker lizard ally Ohmsa. Arden asked the first wizards she saw whether they knew where Søren could be found, and she discovered the Arcane Divers who took him along on the assault on the Blood Druid. They pointed her to Pelican, and she met up with the other adventurers.

Voyaging to the Stonegods

While Valdis’s pet Ohmsa made himself at home in the twin mouths of the enchanted figurehead of a two-headed snarling wolf, the adventurers met a pterodactyl wizard named Gansel, who handled scouting and magic for the Wave Wolf and its captain Brun. Gansel had his own built-out crow’s nest for a cabin.

The ship would need a restocking on the way about a week end. A storm blew up, and the Wave Wolf ran before it, but was overtaken. The adventurers pitched in and helped out, keeping the ship from being broken by the storm, and when they were engulfed they were prepared to survive the massive storm, protecting each other from the waves trying to wash them overboard. Helpful porpoises nudged some drowning sailors back to the ship, minimizing the bodycount.

When the storm quieted, Gansel was the only one who could determine their position, as he was an expert on reading the stars. He explained they were in the Monuments, way off course; it was on these isles that the sorcerers of the Darvasia Empire lay their honored dead to rest, or contained their cursed victims. Also, some of the supplies washed overboard or were spoiled with saltwater from the violent storm. The ship’s only hope was to put in at one of the Monuments and get fresh water and food.


They approached an island, guided by Gansel. Preparing a sortie, the adventurers called for volunteers to come along. Gansel did not want to, as he was too vital to the expedition as the starseer, but he was persuaded to scout for them. Of the sailors, the only one willing to go along was Disaan, who was smitten by Calendel’s good looks.

Relying on Kurzol’s expert sailor skills and with Valdis and Kestrel on the oars, the longboat made it to shore and loaded up the kegs with freshwater. Scouting, Calendel saw some big gators in the swollen river flowing from the island’s interior, full from the storm. The adventurers decided to hunt gators for meat for the rest of the trip.

Calendel climbed into a tree a ways upstream, sniping gators; he had a likely target, but after he shot the six footer, a sixteen footer bit it; Calendel shot it, angering it, and it headed downstream to where the rest of the adventurers waited.

A wild fight followed, with Soren casting shield on Valdis, Kestrel, and Annonciade as they dealt with the charging monster, Kestrel holding its attention as the others flanked and dealt with tail attacks. Kestrel’s magical energy shield was crushed in the gator’s jaws, but working together the adventurers brought the mighty gator down.

Disaan was an expert in skinning and preparing meat, so they got much of the meat pulled out and some rudimentary processing done as they fought off big, aggressive vultures.

On the way back to the ship, waves flipped the boat once, costing over a hundred pounds of gator meat, but they got enough food and water to the ship to handle the rest of the trip to the Stonegods.

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Basically Fantastic, Session 15: Where’s the Birdie?

The adventurers (Annonciade, Søren and his henchman Kurzol, Kestrel, and Calendel) knew they needed to find Pelican, so Annonciade checked around and located some contacts who were associated through her Oubliette connections. The adventurers went to the Rookery, a tavern built on top of another building, held up with cabling and walkways attached to other nearby buildings, in the Knotswarren district. There they met with Kirkvenn, their leader, and his pet tarantula Ernest.

Kirkvenn said Pelican probably went to talk to the Scythe Slayers, hooded killers who were a rival band of assassins. The price of his assistance was a promise to tell him anything they told the Scythe Slayers. He directed them to the Spinnerette Tower, where Kenshella presided over the killers. He sent Kip with them as a guide, and sent his pet tarantula along to speak for him (in a way) and so the Scythe Slayers knew he was asking them for a favor, an audience.

The Spinerette Tower

They arrived and checked in with the armored orc door guards, noting a noble’s entourage patiently waiting in the same area. Once they got into the weirdly organic structure, they saw a number of prisoners restrained and suffering awaiting judgment from the Scythe Slayers. They met with Kenshella and her followers, and she said they could have Pelican back if they indicated the location where he got the goods he was trying to fence. Annonciade marked the location of the Lightning Vault on the map, and good as their word, the Scythe Slayers gave them Pelican, only lightly poisoned.

They returned to the Rookery, and told Kirkvenn about the Lightning Vault. Then they headed back to Pelican’s headquarters.

The Sackstabber and Annalise

Pipster’s second cousin was Greta Sackstabber, who was a cook in the employ of Annalise, the Silamosan oracle that Calendel wanted an introduction to meet (without getting poisoned.) Pelican sent Wren to guide them to meet with her.

Annalise was an organ player at the Crater Theater off Jawbone Lane, famous for poisoning most people she met. Predictably, Greta Sackstabber lacked charm and was very busy, but she agreed to take them to meet with Annalise. The Oracle was working the organ, but took a break to talk to Calendel. She liked the cut of his shadow, and she assigned one of her shadows to go with him and teach him the tricks of the trade; she sealed the deal with a closed-eyes kiss, and when Calendel opened his eyes he had kissed the shadow that was now temporarily bonded to him.

More Gifts!

Annonciade got a slave bracelet that looked like dew on spiderweb, that allowed her to do wall crawling and shoot out short web strands for three-dimensional movement (courtesy of Pelican paying his debts.)

Annonciade spent some of her gains to purchase Zhadum the hypnotoad, a peculiar beast that fed on stray thoughts and the rustle of time eroding life from flesh. She got a toadleather glove with Zhadum that allowed her to have empathic communication and some authority in working with the rare hypnotoad.

Søren got a book from a Tower Guild that outlined the needed modifications to create magical shields that could be put on other people. He got the scroll from Tormil the Spherical, a wizard with a black sphere for a head whose sanctum library was decorated with purple crystal. He was relentlessly pretentious, complete with a magical disk elevator, but he offered a good deal on the magic.

Kestrel got a big payment for the Templar gear, which he put into the adventuring group fund for travel and such, about 2,000 gp.

Kurzol requested a lump sum for money owed him from Søren and he blew it all in taverns and shops. (His employer leveled him, so now we know he has 4 Wounds and he is an experienced sailor.)

Backgrounding the Zadabad Treasure Vault

Combining research and inquiries among freelance shipping, they checked out what it might take to visit the Zadabad Treasure Vault that was the home of the Rod of the Crescent Moon, the heavy mace taken from the Blood Druid. The vault was on Kalmatta Isle, in the territory of the former Darvasia empire in the Gemlit Sea. Slizardians broke the empire over a century ago, and it never recovered.

Local features to Kalmatta included the Damned Cays in the Plague Waters, where Sindalore the plague colony once received victims of the Vermilion Ague. The settlement became famous for its silverwork, as a number of silversmiths contracted plague and were isolated there but did not die.

Another local feature was the Shackles, islands in the Brackish Bay famed as a traditional spot to maroon pirates near survival essentials but beyond their power to escape.

The adventurers decided to pursue passage to the Stonegods, a number of small islands clustered together off Kalmatta’s shoulder, each one featuring a single giant stone head protruding from the earth. The cover story: they were scholars doing research on this intriguing archeological site.

The adventurers secured passage with Captain Brun of the Wave Wolf, arranging for sailing for 2 weeks to get there. They also bought comfort kits, preparing for the voyage. They decided to handle this personally rather than mounting an expedition with bearers and scouts and piles of supplies, pack animals, and the logistical investment. They would find the site with their own ingenuity, and reward themselves with what they could carry out.

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Dragonlance and Basically Fantastic

My son is assigned reading as homework, and to demonstrate that reading can be something you look forward to I have been reading for a while, nightly, after supper. For a fun read, I turned back to the Dragonlance original trilogy.

I have fond memories of this saga. In spite of its many flaws, I think it is the most accurate and flattering game-group-to-fiction conversion of tabletop roleplaying I’ve seen. (Full disclosure, my Patreon is based around a writing project that centers in an RPG setting; but my writing is focused on showcasing the setting, character types, mechanical flavor, and setting, where Dragonlance feels a lot more like a D&D game group earnestly playing together–complete with bickering and self destructive PCs dragged along by the railroading DM and his literal ‘god NPC’.)

Seven years ago, just for fun, I tossed together a kender template for Fictive Hack. You can find it here. Still, you don’t need it; you can get there with the halfling template in Basically Fantastic.

I’m fifty pages or so into the first book, and I decided to take a few minutes and toss together the Dragonlance iconic characters for Basically Fantastic.

I’ve been continuing to add to the Basically Fantastic ruleset as I go, but I’m not to a good plateau to share it again. One feature on these characters is the “Crack/Light” addition, which basically lets a player “crack” a character with a fundamental flaw and also add a “light” as a starting advantage. (Terms inspired by Leonard Cohen’s song “Anthem” stating “There’s a crack, a crack in everything; that’s how the light gets in.”)

Dragonlance vexed me as I was trying to emulate the kind of adventure I saw there in some RPG system. I wanted brawny fighters to be able to grab goblins and draconians and sweep their heads together to kill them. I wanted wizards to be vulnerable to their spellcasting. I wanted a blow to the head to be potentially unbalancing, an enduring injury. I wanted daggers to be dangerous. You see these people kicking and punching as they fight, even though that makes zero sense if you’re holding a d8 weapon. I wanted acrobatics like climbing a thick chain suspending cauldron elevators. I wanted freewheeling fiction-convenient pouches of trinkets and maps.

Well… now I can do all that. I started my new Basically Fantastic game by falling back on some basic tropes and deliberately not investing a lot of work into the world building. Let it flow organically, right?

I smile now as I start reading this again and see the fingerprints of this flavor imprinted on my current campaign. An enemy army of reptile people. A quest to find the old gods that left. A weird mix of slapstick humor and forced involvement in cosmic events swirled in with teen angst and posturing. It feels high school, it reminds me of high school, and it also flows straight out of my nostalgia; THIS was my Old School, not proper dungeon crawling. I think the best and the worst of an era of gaming are on display in this fiction, and I think I’ll enjoy going through it again maybe 15 years since my last trip through.

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Basically Fantastic, Session 14: the Shiv Shank Damnation

The adventurers (Annonciade, Søren and his henchman Kurzol, Kestrel, and Calendel) sought out information on the Shiv Shank slaughterhouse. They found Zeke, Sultan of Clogonia; the mechanic was famed for his intimate knowledge of the drainage systems of the slaughterhouse, but he was missing both legs and most of his arms. He was suspended in a rail and chain suspension system at the back of a local seedy tavern, but he was willing to work with them on taking on Nelyvin, the Blood Druid lairing below the slaughterhouse.

Discussing options, they settled on setting off a big distraction with a deception. The shadowy owners of the slaughterhouse promised that at some point they would set fire to the metal roof of the slaughterhouse as a signal that they were ready to turn over the deed to the slaughterhouse to whoever could go inside and claim it in spite of all obstacles. This promise was significant because thousands of gold coins had been spent building and maintaining a cleaning system on the roof and fire suppression technology, including pressurized hoses drawing straight from the river, barrels of sand, alchemically treated liquid in water towers on the roof, and crews of fire fighters.

The adventurers decided if they could leverage that rumor, they could get a lot of others tangling with the druid’s defenses and drawing him out so he could be shot down. They formed a plan, and spent four hours and a pile of gold coins preparing for the assault.

The Approach

Kestrel put on various disguises and traveled to several popular meeting places around the neighborhood, spreading rumors the owners were very sick and the battle for the contract was imminent. He was unexpectedly successful, pulling in over a dozen factions ready to do some bloody knife-work for the valuable ownership documents.

They knew they’d have to be careful. As Kestrel was spreading rumors to one faction of criminals, they slathered themselves with a horrible concoction that would hide their scent from the magical dogs with human hands, rats with human faces, and birds with red feathers that served the blood druid. He fed the animals brains to make them smart enough to spy for him, but this gunk would suppress their scent and give them a chance at stealth. He got some for Annonciade too.

Annonciade worked with Zeke to repurpose a scroll case to look fancier and defended, and also put together a cage on a chain. Together, they identified a spot on the roof that was vulnerable to creating a fire that would spread fast. Calendel bought some armor piercing sharktooth arrows crafted by the Shia cannibal tribe. He also got some fire arrows. Søren made contact with the Acme Divers, a bat-wing assault team contracted by a local Tower Guild, and got into their good graces enough to get some magical glider wings with a temporary magical charge.

Annonciade led the way, picking locks and choosing the route, and Kestrel accompanied her with the chain, cage, and contract. Sneaking through the horrible guts of the slaughterhouse, Annonciade sealed up the lower drains and broke the mechanism while Kestrel stealthed into position under the central armored box of the office suspended from the beams well above the killing floor, and attached the chain and cage and contract to the underside. He then moved to the top of the rafters, ready to follow Annonciade’s instructions for snapping open the emergency flush system that would drain the water towers above into the slaughterhouse.

Attack on the Slaughterhouse

Calendel fired a flaming arrow that penetrated the defenses an almost impossible distance away, lighting a large supply of barrels of animal fat scraped from the roofing and stored for removal, currently still on the roof. The fire spread so fast the barrels detonated, blowing a hole in the roof of the slaughterhouse and sending sparks far and wide to spread flame.

Burning cattle stampeded, crashing through barriers and pouring outside, where animated trees from a local druid grove that was pissed off at the blood druid was making their move. The animated trees knocked the gates down as the slaughterhouse defenders, a hardened core of elites called Lifers who specialized in vivisection and each had at least one amputation, carved away to little effect. The halfling murder gang called the Carpet sent in their muzzled and starving berserkers with cleavers, cutting steaks off the defenders as the fire spread and the flaming cattle fell to their whickering blades.

Meanwhile on the river a barge commanded by a necromancer who propelled it with swimming undead squared off with a barge of orc mercenaries who had a cannel down the middle of the barge with alchemical fire. Once that battle was underway, Calendel fired a flaming arrow and nailed the trench, sending flame roaring across the already-sinking orc barge.

Inside, the biggest central drain was forced open by a rising and expanding dire otyugh. It opened its glistening maw, revealing the blood druid riding on its tongue, raised up towards the chained cage and its “contract.” The druid was protected by football-sized flying leeches, packs of which were forcibly draining unlucky invaders who had already made their way inside. He brandished a heavy wrench mace, the Rod of the Crescent Moon.

Kestrel flushed the water towers, and their liquid was chemically treated to turn fire into darkness to drain off its energy. As unnatural flame and darkness swamped the interior, Kestrel made good his escape.

Søren zoomed towards the burning and crumbling side wall of the slaughterhouse with several other Acme Divers; the blood druid swiped at him and narrowly missed. The divers tried to cut the chain and make off with the whole cage, but the cut failed and they were battered by running into things that didn’t give.

In all the confusion, Annonciade stealthed out of the shadows of the machines and fired a magnificent killing arrow at Nelyvin the Blood Druid, right between his defending flying ticks. He collapsed, and as the ticks drained his corpse, the dire otyugh swept the whole mess into its mouth and swallowed them.

Annonciade raced over to the scene of the attack and retrieved the Rod of the Crescent Moon, and Søren managed to swoop and catch her up from the billowing supernatural darkness, flying out of the rapidly deteriorating situation inside the slaughterhouse.

The Escape

Both Søren and Annonciade sacrificed some of their life energy to keep the magical wings functional long enough to soar to the rendezvous place on an overlook on the cliff above. Three full battalions of orcish city guard were assembled to mop up whatever factions survived the clash below, and the adventurers were keen to slip through that net before it closed.

Calendel fired an arrow with a spidersilk cable, and as the arrow zoomed down Kestrel poured on speed in a sprint and leaped, running up the spidersilk in an impossible feat of balance and poise and strength, leaping to catch the cliff as the arrow dislodged from the shrine tower far below.

Victorious, the adventurers donned the new cloaks they put aside to cover their battle-stained garb, and they retreated from the slaughterhouse row.


The Pelican was delighted to see them return, and they were each given 500 gold and a favor (or more money.) Each of them wanted a favor.

  • Kestrel: fence his Templar gear for a good price, and look into any credible rumors of an artifact in need of a bearer.
  • Calendel: intro to Annalise that might forestall poisoning.
  • Søren: a scroll with magic lore on how to upgrade the Shield spell to work on others.
  • Annonciade: a cloak or other object that allowed its bearer to climb like a spider.

The adventurers proceeded to carouse for two solid days, an in-house party thrown on their behalf by Pelican while he worked on their list of rewards.

Granny’s Bookstore

Two days later they groggily came to their senses, and since Pelican wasn’t back, they went back to Granny’s Bookstore. Calendel acquired the bat as a companion; his name was Femur, and Calendel was given the magical secret for bonding with him. Calendel did give up some of his blood, which was injected into a magical peach for unknown purposes.

Søren wanted a familiar, and Granny (who was very protective of her crochet basket and warned them to leave it alone) got him an elven horned owl named Swiftfell who bonded with him by tearing out one of his wisdom teeth with her beak. Elven horned owls have ambiguous bones, a third eye in the back of their heads, and actual horns that messages can be tied to.

Meanwhile Annonciade did some reading in her Book of Power about the Rod of the Crescent Moon. It was associated with the Zadabad Treasure Vault, and it apparently allowed passage past the Obsidian Guardian.

They returned to the Pelican’s Nest to find that his employees were worried for him, and now he was missing proper. They realized his first move was to fence Templar gear, and decided he might need some rescuing from a prospective buyer.

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Basically Fantastic, Session 13: A Whole New World

Thus Begins Arc 2. Level check: Annonciade 16, Søren 13, and his henchman Kurzol 3, Kestrel 14, and Calendel 11

As the adventurers (Annonciade, Søren and his henchman Kurzol, Kestrel, and Calendel) sailed back to Skullport on the Boo Boo Box captained by Captain Glen Madeit, Annonciade dug into her Book of Power and discovered the disturbing story of the world.

They made landfall during the Festival of Ruins, a week when the licensed necromancers of the city rounded up the restless dead in the Ruintown and use them for labor on civic projects like shoring up walls, clearing debris, and other back-breaking work. Massive rituals stir up the dead, and this is traditionally a difficult time for the other inhabitants of the city, so the ancient tradition is for the leadership to throw a massive party with free food, drink, and entertainment, and also suspend sex laws for a week.

Pelican’s Nest

They tracked down Pelican, a fence serving nobles and veterans with antiques and rare valuables. He was fishing with bombs, but very glad to see them; when they joined him in his half-wrecked warehouse, they discovered in spite of his poverty-stricken exterior he was doing quite well for himself and generously willing to share his profits if they would do a job for him. He invited them into chambers connecting to the underground next door, probably formerly a tomb; he had a lot of wealth down there.

They agreed to help him sort out a blood druid causing trouble in the slaughterhouse area, so he threw a little feast for them. His halfling cooks, Happy and Pipster, were a bit drunk but still great chefs and hosts.

Who Broke the World?

After supper, Annonciade told them of what she learned in her book. This world, the Thesmalian Prime, was an abandoned battlefield of the gods with some of their weapons left where they fell. When the mad king bargained with Zomok to gain the power to fight the gods themselves, Zomok transplanted the city of Solako to this much smaller dimension and granted him the ability to seal the dimension off from cosmic influence; however, if he did, then he and all his people would die. So the king kept the channel open but filtered the energy through the glyphs of what became the Templar order. The king himself became immortal, and after the Templar slew avatars of Faleeshi and Lunestra and 2 others, then they made peace with the rest and withdrew somewhat, leaving the clerics to carry on their traditions and suppress remaining godslaves.

Remembering the Oubliette

They visited the Oubliette, entering through Granny’s Bookstore. They noticed she had a massive pet bat, and several other enchanted animals, including a lizard sitting on her head watching her knit. Passing through into some catacombs repurposed for storage, they found a homonculus who led them to a locked door and went to fetch someone to let them in. While they waited they chatted with an animated skull, who promised to let them through the door if they polished his dusty skull; Annonciade did, and the key under the skull worked on the door. They continued, finding an apprentice studying in a deep vault. They startled him, but he agreed to take them the rest of the way to the Oubliette.

Annonciade had a word in private with Gennara, the Silamosan curator of some of the Oubliette’s secrets. Annoncide wanted to join the Balance Actors; Gennara observed she was qualified to try out, and asked if she would accept a Harrowing. She agreed.

Calendel renewed his association with Gennara. He asked her about other Silamosans who might help him better understand how dancing in the shadows would play out, and she told him of Annalise, Oracle of Silamos. Annalise was a organ player and maintainer in the Crater Theater off Jawbone Lane. Gennara advised caution, as Annalise was an incorribible poisoner (though the usual consequence was curses or being paralyzed and used as a stage prop in the theater for a while.)

The others watched some underground theater celebrating the Festival of Ruins, and eventually they all found their way back to Pelican’s nest.

The Blood Druid

Later they spoke with Pelican, who told them more about Nelyvin, the Blood Druid holding the Shiv Shank Slaughterhouse in a gory grip of fear. Clearing him out would ease restrictions on a number of criminal enterprises meant to be free-flowing. The adventurers agreed to take him out.

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Basically Fantastic, session 12: Acres of Shadow

Kestrel, Calendel, and Annonciade prepared to go wake the dragon named Acres of Shadow. Søren was having a contact high from the eldtritch energies of the glade, and Torrian thought that was sort of adorable; she allowed him to stay, and maybe ride the bear. She also provided Calendel with a quiver full of elven long arrows, and magically shortened some of them for Annonciade to use with her shortbow.

The Foreboding Chasm

They followed the bright green cougar up the slope, and Calendel realized the trail was laced with a single vein of bright mithril that connected the glade and the lair. The great cat stopped short of the desolation surrounding the crevice, and the adventurers continued on, noting the thin plume of dragonsmoke that came up from the scorched rock, and observing the bones scattered around.

They descended into the lair, and after going through some hanging moss, they discovered the entry was theatrics; a magical braizer emitted the “dragonsmoke” and once you got past the set dressing there was a corridor leading back into a compound, with crystals set in the walls that slowly pulsed with a dim light on a 90 second cycle, like very slow breathing.

The Entry Chamber

A round room had steps going down the sides and a podium at the top of the stairs, overlooking a 20 foot across metal plate in the floor designed for people to stand in a circle around it. Annonciade checked the plate, noting it had sigils based in magical code but skewed Draconian, and the picture was a stylized dragon. There were two odd-shaped holes, to put key-staves into to open the counterweighted plate that was made of an alloy of gold, some orialchum, and some other metals. (Orialchum was a magical metal that could not be made without dragonfire, used as a stand-in for a nervous system in constructs and prosthetics.)

The others discovered a make-up and restroom on one side of the chamber, and a room for robes and elven religious ritual supplies on the other. Together they checked the double doors at the back, to find the door was shaped magically (as was the entire chamber, rather than being mined.) The door was wood with iron veins, and when they knocked an eye on the door opened and it grew a mouth.

The door was pretty stupid. They asked to go in and the door tried to call the inhabitants to come open it, but they didn’t show; Calendel bluffed the door by explaining they had been asked by the elfmaid and the elves that lived here to bring a book in, so the door unlocked itself and they pressed on.

The Library of the Scribes of Temarran

They explored the elven library; it was not large, but there were living quarters with square seats for meditating elves, a book-binding facility, rooms full of books, and the Scroll Chamber.

In the Scroll Chamber, the walls loaded with pigeonholes for scrolls of all sizes (like a pipe organ for paper) there was a reading table with a reading stand at the end, and a throne where a desiccated elf corpse leaned over a big book.

The cause of death was unclear, but the body had been there for 10-20 years (probably.) The book was a Book of Power, the “Epochal History of Thesmalean Prime” and it had sweeps and rhythms of interconnected elven runic records interwoven with illustrations and diagrams, over 500 pages (the book was a load, iron-bound with interlocked sigils of Kamu and Thesmael on the cover.) The conclusion of the book noted that they had time. Before that, something about the rest of the order going to investigate a bargain or something.

Annonciade was drawn to the book, and she understood she could accept its burden and become its Bearer, and then she would be able to understand the reading; she agreed, and the ink joined with her veins and grew her ephemeral elf horns visible with magical sight, even as her eyes were shadowed by the ink behind them and her blood flowed into the book. Its pages were written by many scholars, each using a unique ink formulation and commenting on the work that came before while adding to it. She now had a history of the world as recorded by a secretive cabal of elven scholars.

Meanwhile Calendel searched the room for “keys” to the metal plate, and found a scrollcase with a “map of time” and each spoke sticking out the ends went into one side of the plate.

Below the Plate

Taking the book and the scrollcase, they opened the plate to reveal a shaft 20′ across with a 6″ staircase jutting out of the wall, spiraling down into darkness. Mighty wind rushed down into the pit, equalizing pressure. Roping themselves together, they descended, lighting a lantern.

The last 20 feet of the 60 foot drop had no walls, just the 6″ stairs curling around in open space. At the bottom, a mass of motion was difficult to distinguish; it was like hermit crabs, but they were made of paper, bone, wood, and metal, and instead of shells they had scrollcases, scrolls, books, and papers for their strange bodies. Books were animated and crablike, crawling around, drawn to the light and movement.

Taking care not to damage anything, the light-footed adventurers descended the animated mound, and followed a tunnel full of swirling shadow to there the dragon indistinctly reposed on a much bigger mass of animated knowledge.

What Dreams May Come

They could sense the dreaming dragon suffusing the horde of knowledge and story, and they descended out of their reality into the dragon’s dream. They found Her. Calendel had looked under Wyrms in his Book of Etiquette and knew she would like a book as a gift, and fortunately Annonciade had remembered to bring one of the Zomokite books stolen from the Crush Depth temple.

In the surreal and impossible dream, Annonciade bonded with a cheerful kobold-ish animated cookbook. Acres of Shadow licked their book gift, absorbing it instantly. They name-dropped Torrain, who apparently had some sort of relationship with the dragon that amused Her. The dragon was intrigued that Calendel was the bearer of the book of Zomokite contracts, and Calendel freely offered it to her as its bearer; she agreed that was worth waking up for. She told the adventurers they could each take one of her “books” from the dream; two for Annonciade, because she had made friends with the cookbook and that one was extra (the other one was the Epochal History she bonded with.) Calendel accepted a book about Silamos.

Return to Dolmen Keep

The adventurers hustled out of the dragon’s lair, timing their rush with the winds; the dragon breathed in profoundly to wake, and in breathing out provided a push of air that helped them up the shaft. The mithril line was blazing as they headed out into open air, and the freaked-out green cougar escorted them back.

They saw, for one moment, the majesty of Acres of Shadow silhouetted against the sun; wings made of spells, flesh an impossible swirl of ideas and dreams and stories and armor and meat, bones of the world flexing under Her arcane power. The moment passed, but they were dizzy with Her aura.

The elfmaid was overwhelmed with strange stress, emotion, and… hard to know what her deal was, but she was dazed and tense and satisfied all at once, her horns ablaze and her flesh provoking her glade pool to bubble wildly. The adventurers collected their wizard and headed back to Dolmen Keep as the tasloi squealed and scrambled around in the woods, digging to escape the sky. Some of the majesty clung to the adventurers like a fog, and nothing disturbed them on the return trip.

Safe at Last

The riddled hill upon which Dolmen Keep perched was shrouded in a strange mist as they approached. The sun was fading behind an eclipse, and the woods were panicked with tasloi losing their composure. All the keep’s inhabitants had pulled back to the hall, but Sir Carnifex had assured them that this was part of the elven solution to their tasloi problem.

Still, he had a private conference with the adventurers to find out what happened. They went to look at the Book of Power, the Zomokite bargain tome Calendel left in the keep. It was locked in the vault, so Sir Carnifex went down to get it; the vault was filled with strange shadow that behaved in odd ways, and the book was gone. Calendel felt that was fine, as the dragon likely collected it with his permission. He felt a certain empty ache from the loss of the Book, he had surrendered it and was no longer its bearer.

Can’t We All Just Get Along?

Tensions were mounting upstairs. By the time they wiped the shadow from their hair and clothes, and schooled their shadows into behaving themselves, argument had escalated between the Strikers and the hill folk. With the imminent danger of the tasloi dealt with, the Strikers wanted to kill the hill folk for wiping out their communities when Tollfree was coordinating their violence. Wyatt, Sir Carnifex’s son, was doing his best to keep the peace. Kestrel stepped in to help. He leaned on his relationship with Serako, whose life he saved, asking him to step up and simmer this down. Serako agreed, growing into a leadership role and toning down his people’s urge to provoke or fight back.

After all, Sir Carnifex was trying to bring law and order to the wilderness, and the defenders here were the beginning of a new settlement. They had to learn to live together, or leave, and this was an early challenge of leadership.

The adventurers managed to sleep that night, even with all the weirdness rustling around in them from stress and surreality. They dreamed. In the aftermath of the eclipse, even Greenfellow the Troll put his sword through the meat of his arm and snored all night.

Fortress in the Sky

There was a rumble in the night, and they could not tell exactly what happened until morning. The compromised hill finally gave way and collapsed; it was 40 feet down to the surface of the ground, and 60-70 feet down into the crater below the castle. The fort hung in the air.

Greenfellow the Troll jumped down and helped drag some of the savaged trees around the fort over to build something, and those in the keep knotted ropes together to create a way down. The adventurers helped with the effort, except for Annonciade, who immersed herself in her new history book, her alarm and panic rising as she began to understand it.

The first day’s effort building access to the keep feel into the crater, but the second day got some basic up and down options in place and it was time for the adventurers to move on. They generally decided to head for Skullport, for a variety of reasons.

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