Blades in the Dark and Risus

Blades Risus Banner

Rules-light games like Risus benefit tremendously from a strong sense of shared expectations. That’s the only reason Lasers and Feelings works; if you have Trek fans they will go for that genre emulation, with a more or less consistent understanding of what transporters, the deflector dish, photon torpedoes, and planetary scans should be able to accomplish.

Blades in the Dark has gelled a similarly familiar set of expectations at the game table. I think it could be a fine setting to attempt with Risus. Now, I am not suggesting that there’s anything wrong with the original rules or they need to be replaced. However, the rules have a lot of abstractions and peculiarities that have a lot of nuance, and the pace of the game is not traditional. It could be fun to explore the setting in another vehicle.

Here are a few suggestions.

Playbook Cliche. Every character should have 1 cliche named after a playbook in Blades in the Dark. It doesn’t have to be your biggest thing, but it provides an expected skill set.

Cliche Mines. Other cliches can be based off of actions or special abilities, whatever focus works best for the kind of character you want to play. Heritage and Background can also provide inspiration for cliches. IMPORTANT: these are not limiting what you can do for cliches, but they do provide inspiration because they are a curated set of words with meanings that have already been explored in the base game, so it is easier to reach a consistent understanding.

Powers and Tools. Your tools fictionally expand what you can expect to accomplish, and without the right tools, your cliche dice pool is halved. Also, there is room to bring in equipment that can have mini-rules to customize some mechanics if the GM feels like it. Like, using a lightning hook and spirit bottle, before the struggle begins you roll 1d6 and negate that many dice from a ghost’s pool, up to all of them.

Difficulty Numbers. In general, if it’s a controlled action, difficulty is 5. Risky actions are 10. Desperate actions are 15. And up, if you get ridiculous, but that ties down a baseline.

Group Actions. Consider how you can team up, facing victory and defeat with narrative descriptions, dealing with having a leader and how you’re in some narrative cover with others there but still able to contribute. Also, there are brevet dice for when you do something with “0 dots” in the action type.

Stress. When you lose a challenge, you lose a die (or more if you’ve pumped them) from the related cliche. This is very much like using stress. So, you can say that characters can only get their dice back through down time actions with vice, getting 1d6 back and suffering a complication if they roll above the number of cliches dice they can hold. If you run out of a dice pool in an action, then you’ve “traumad out” and the GM can describe what happens to you!

Flashbacks. Is it obvious that you would have planned this? Yes? No cost. If it’s a stretch, then pick a cliche that’s relevant to the flashback and drop it by 1 die. If it’s highly unlikely, it can cost 2 cliches.

Pumps. Only allow pumping cliches if they accept the terms of a devil’s bargain.

Conflict. Appropriately enough, the rules are the same for violence or meeting any other challenge.

Other Bits. You have inappropriate Cliches for desperate situations.

Crew. Let’s steal from Inspectres, where the Crew gets 5 Cliche dice that the players can borrow over the course of the game, and refill as they are able.

Downtime. Give everyone two actions, and allow clearing vice. For clocks, set a cost in increments of 10. Every action spent to roll, take the total and put it towards the clock until it’s full. Use that to add cliches to the crew at the cost of 60 per die perhaps, and also to achieve fictional purposes.

Heat. Assign 10 Heat per 1 normal Heat in Blades in the Dark, and let them try and clear it in down time as a long term project.

This is not comprehensive, but it shouldn’t have to be. It’s enough for you to try it out and see how to echo some elements between the games.

LET’S MAKE SOME CHARACTERS

Caul the Spooky Whisper. Hunched with a big cloak, pajama-like clothes, and perforated goggles built into a spirit mask, tends to move with fluid grace like a chi master. Cliches: Whisper (4), Prowler (3), Knife Expert (2), Iruvian (1)

Danforth the Chilly Hound. Whip-thin and savage, sneering aristocrat. Cliches: Aristocrat (4), Hound (3), Chauncy the Bat’s Master (2), Tattoo Artist (1)

Shelby the Shadowborn Lurk. Meaty but strangely silent, voyeur and vandal. Cliches: Lurk (4), Strangler (3), Artist (2), Slave of the Lady of Thorns (1)

Slackinsky the Mastermind. Low-born prodigal crime genius with a mean streak. Cliches: Spider (4), Everpresent but Invisible Servants (3), Ghost Contracts (2), Seduction (1)

The Crew: The Inkwhyles. Based out of a tattoo parlor’s dungeon, used to be a twisted noble family’s sexy torture dungeon. Cliches: Secure Prison Space (3), Satisfied Customers (2)

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Chaos Monks: The Devil Bat

Chaos Monks 2Lightcrash (Patrick) and Huan (Tyler) were expanding their show  from their new quarters in a nice loft in the Singing Koi block.

There was an increased presence of Imperial troops in Kuan Loon, and the monks checked in with their rocherd friend Na Li Ka to discover that there was a new threat in the city.

The Small Swords society had sent adventurers over to the Yellow Springs Island to raid the 1000 Pagodas, and they angered some dark master over there, who had a devil bat assassin named Chan Yi at its command.

Chan Yi was able to somehow teleport his whole base, and he moved it to Kuan Loon to punish the Jade Empress for the presumption of her emmisaries; they had taken position on the South Palace first, stealing the porcelain wares specifically made for that location. They had jumped twice more since then, each time facing waves of attacks from the Small Swords; the Empress demanded they clean up their own mess this time, or she would revoke their license to raid the island.

Na Li Ka had once hoped to join the Small Swords, but life doesn’t work out the way you want sometimes. The monks decided they would check in with the Small Swords and see if they could get involved.

Small Swords Society

The monks got an audience with the Master of Arms Ruten, who saw past their showmanship and antics to trust the violent danger they represented as chaos monks. Ruten told them the devil bat’s pagoda was currently sitting on the Tranquil Trail Thinkers’ Guild, and the guild was not allowing any Small Swords society members inside. Therefore, it was up to the applicants to deal with the threat, and any survivors would be inducted into the guild.

They met about twenty hopefuls, most of whom were unfit to be henchmen, and did some rudimentary skills testing. When it was time to go, 15 were willing to accompany them. They went to the Tranquil Trail Thinkers’ Guild, passing through the Imperial troops and welcomed inside.

Huan had a brief flashback of being here before, and screaming, but he shook it off.

Upstairs

They were escorted in to meet with the leader of the Guild, Tynabi. He explained that the devil bat’s forces retaliated hard both other places the pagoda teleported, and while their forces were severely depleted by those battles, he did not wish to take that damage to this esteemed building, so he would not allow the Small Swords access. However, he was deferential to Huan, and allowed the chaos monks to lead their own assault. He also warned them there were many traps in the hostile lair. He also warned them that there was probably a threat from one of the devil bat’s commanders left, along with some bandits.

They were warned that if they tried to leave the pagoda once they entered, unless they had proof they had destroyed the devil bat, they would be killed by the defenders as possible shapeshifted or enslaved minions of the devil bat.

Four armored swordsmen intently guarded the entry to the pagoda that merged with the roof of this pagoda. Looking out the windows, the monks saw there was a squat central structure, and a tower off to the side, and the whole thing looked painted in tar, solid, horrible, and dark.

They identified three of the more promising henchmen types to stay with them, and the rest they sent up the steps into the pagoda–with a special edge.

Lightcrash prepared an altar made of a mirror and a spell for them to carry.

  • Attracting Altar. 1 minute to set up. Attracts 2 HD per level within 1 mile per level for 10 minutes per level.

He tuned it for humans who served a dark master, aiming for the bandits in the structure above. This would draw them out! He also lied to his troops, saying it would provide some protection.

Meanwhile, Lightcrash and Huan took their 3 promising henchmen outside the building, climbing around and up to find another way in.

Into the Devil Bat Pagoda

They found a shaft leading up into the pagoda, but it was 15 feet away over a 120 foot drop. Fortunately Lightcrash had just the spell to cast, and he carried the rope and a grappling hook up the shaft and secured it.

  • Serpent Chariot. Cast as a free action, astral snakes coalesce around the feet and allow 20 feet of three dimensional movement for 1 round.

As they tried to follow by climbing the rope, one of them lost his grip and fell. The other two made it up into the octagonal room. Chain Pot was one, bearing a cook pot as a weapon. The other was Dramo, who announced he would have his name remembered, as he braved the climb and was a full-fledged warrior with them! They told him to open the door out of the room, and a gust of chlorine gas burned the meat from his bones as his corpse hit the floor; everyone else leaped out of the way and got to some cover before the gas drained out of the shaft in the center of the room.

They went to the next room and found a door leading to a round art room depicting the victory of raiding devil bats. They detected the trigger to open a secret door, and also discovered it was a trap that dropped the floor out. Lightcrash clung to the wall and triggered it, then climbed inside, and the other two braved the leap across, then Lightcrash found the switch to close the trap.

They continued on, and Huan crept ahead when they came to a pair of arches. He spotted the devil bat sleeping, hanging from the ceiling above the sight line, in a dead end. Waving the others back, he trusted his life to a pebble.

  • Petrifying Shard. Cast on a stone, anyone or anything touched saves vs. Will or turns to stone. On an inanimate target, 5 square feet per level.

Huan tossed the pebble up to touch the devil bat, and the spell worked, turning the monster to stone before it could wake and attack! They knocked the stone bat down, and triggered a secret door.

Following the corridor beyond, they found a treasure room with the Empress’s porcelain! They pocketed a teacup, 3 saucers, and a sugar bowl. Then the whole fortress twitched, and they realized the devil bat was the one anchoring it to this dimension.

Time to Go

They raced down the stairs, and struck off the stone statue’s head with a crowbar. Retracing their steps, they banged through the door leading into the main area, where they found that their troops had bravely held off the bandits.

They rolled the stone head down the stairs first, to show that they killed the devil bat, then they went strutting down–and the fortress twitched again, so they broke into a run. The fortress tore loose of the world and crumpled up into the sky.

Downstairs, Tynabi thanked them with a gem amulet worth 10 gold for the two chaos monks, and they were allowed to leave, past the soldiers, through the city, and into the Small Swords compound.

Aftermath

There they were give 50 gold pieces, and another 50 for the stone head. All of the survivors were awarded the red sash of membership in the Small Swords Society.

They took some of their wealth and asked the Tranquil Trail Thinker’s Guild for patronage to get a small theater going, and the Guild agreed, as long as some of their weird songs and poetry could be part of the show. (That was fine all around, Lightcrash acquiesced in his role as producer.)

They also celebrated, with Lightcrash losing significant funds gambling (and almost running afoul of his yakkish rival.) Huan’s celebrations were cut short by the need to rescue a homeless orphan boy from a terrible life in the flesh pits; he legally adopted little Khalid. They also kept Chain Pot around; he demanded respect as an adventurer, but was also happy to cook for them.

Spells for next time, Lightcrash first:

  • Blossoming Call. Compel 6 months of growth per level from plants in a favorable way for 5 feet of plants per level.
  • Levitating Steed. Ride something living or dead, it can fly for 1 minute (10 rounds) per level. Speed is 20 feet per round per level.

Huan

  • Grasping Chaos. The target is engulfed in a puff of chaos. The target must make a save (difficulty 10, any stat) to be immobilized. If the save is failed, the target is immobilized and also takes 1d6 damage per level that ignores armor. The spell works on 1 target or round per level; at 3rd level it could work on 3 targets for 1 round each, or 1 target for 3 rounds, or 1 target for 1 round and 1 target for 2 rounds, etc.
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Blades in the Dark: The Grotto

BitD Title_01 by James Dudli

  • Echo. (Iris) An Akorosian Whisper. Opium.
  • Needles. (Matthew) An Iruvian Cutter. Familial obligation to maintain a hidden shrine to the Forsaken Legion, by burning objects of power.
  • Pledge. (Elizabeth) An Akorosizan Slide. Theater and related luxuries.
  • Zero. (Simon) An Iruvian Hound. Exotic tobacco laced with other drugs.

The Grinders

It was pouring rain as the Grinders came for the crew. Still, even in the foul weather, there were at least double the normal number of bluecoats on duty; Zero used his nascent lookout crew of children to up the crime rate in the days leading up to the meet, so the bluecoats responded with a higher presence (also capturing some of the short thieves, setting back the project of building a gang by a segment.)

They faced Hutton, the leader, and his right hand man Derret. A dozen or so Skovlanders showed up to the meet in the local marketplace (because they didn’t know where the crew was based) and if the crew didn’t meet them, well, their hunting ground would suffer. What the crew did not expect was that the Skovlanders brought a massive hull, with shields strapped around its torso and longboat prows rising from its shoulders.

Hutton demanded the “gift” from the crew, and Echo handed over the sword (which she had bound a ghost to, so it would seem magical. Nyrx introduced her to Nibbler, a ghost who liked to live in teeth, and for days Echo had been forcing Nibbler to stay in the sword at least until the exchange.) The Grinders had their adept verify that the sword was magical, and their adept lacked the fine talent to determine it was just temporarily ghost-ridden. Satisfied, the Grinders reluctantly left (as more and more bluecoats were gathering in case it turned all confrontational.)

Zero was not at the meet with Pledge, Echo, and Needles. He had previously dealt with Grimshaw the Adept Bomber, and gotten a fake goat with a barrel of plasmic explosive for a torso and a painted goat skull for a head, plus legs and so on. As the Skovlanders were crossing the bridge back to the docks, Zero called out “Zephram, Go!” and the goat exploded, shattering the bridge, probably wrecking the hull, and tossing the Skovlanders into the canal (where they were snatched at by what lives in there) or to all sides. Zero withdrew from the chaos with no one the wiser. The sword the Grinders took from the crew was lost in the canal.

Marcy

The next day they went to meet with the representative of the Dimmer Sisters; the invite was delivered to their contact, a small bottle that said “drink me” and had within it the ephemeral last memory of a person who walked to the meeting point then died there, and all but the memory was excised before it was put in the bottle. Echo led the way.

They went to an expensive greenhouse behind a restaurant, where the arched ceiling was covered with a writhing mass of radiant plants, their glow feeding the vegetables that grew up towards the unwholesome light.

There they met Marcy, the agent of the Dimmer Sisters, who took the sword and arranged for 10 Coin to be delivered to the crew for their trouble. They parted ways amicably enough. The crew received a delivery at the dock of their choice, and it was a number of chests haphazardly filled with a wide variety of currency.

To Be War, Or Not To Be War

A pack of brutal Skovlanders set fire to several blocks of the crew’s hunting grounds, all half naked and berserking and painted in woad. Back channel negotiation discovered that was Ulf Ironborn declaring war on the crew.

They weighed the odds, and decided they had better things to do than go to war with Ulf. So, they gave up a level of hold, letting him strut and sneer, withdrawing their protection from an area.

Zero finished training up his gang of lookouts, the Aughts, a bunch of urchins led by Hodgepodge (Hodge to his friends and boss.)

Echo also finished stuffing her mirrorcat, putting it back by her bunk where its silver eyes shine out into the main living space like the totally distressing creepy thing it is.

The Rat Temple

They started digging into the treasure hunter’s notes about finding Limptwitch’s Grotto. The ghost door connected to the Rat Temple, through the Ossuary Altar. Valeris, the spy, told them it was a holy site for the spies of the city (even though she was annoyed because she was on a date at the time and some people have NO CLUE about such things and interrupt with their stupid questions etc.)

To align the ghost door, they needed something tied to the Rowan family. They managed to get some costume jewelry, but that wasn’t good enough; they got a signet ring that had been lost in the sewers for decades, and was corroded, but probably close enough for a whisper with Echo’s power.

They found the street entry to the sewer nearest where they figured the Rat Temple was, and there was a pie seller being hit on by an obnoxious bluecoat. They concocted a lie about communist union organizers forcing pamphlets on people, and that got the bluecoat to go investigate. They paid the food cart to clear off, and they went to work on the door, getting into the sewer.

They saw all the cant graffiti, but deciphered the proper direction, and soon found their way to the Rat Temple. It was a keyhole shaped crypt with an iron grating sealing it off from the underground; on one side of the corridor in was a bar with a lazy bartender, the other side had small tables and chairs, like an outdoor cafe. At the end of the bar, a wizened man administered tattoos in the old tradition. (Spies carry codes and messages on their skins.)

The end of the keyhole was a round room where the walls were covered with rat skulls, many with tufts of parchment sticking out of eye sockets. Spies leave secrets here as offerings. Also, there was an altar made of bone in the center, a mass of rat bones.

The patrons looked at them, and the crew moved in ignoring them. Echo lined up her ghost key with the signet ring. She realized that all the rat deaths in the city were drawn to this point, this was the drain their rodent lives circled. The pinhole of passing death was therefore propped open, and there were dozens of ghost door corridors aligned here, waiting for the right attunement frequency to open to all kinds of places.

Theirs opened a ghost doorway to inside the catacombs under the Rowan House, and they stepped through.

Catacombs

They came out in another ossuary shrine, but this one was made up of servants who were killed to serve their masters in death. The altar was made of the bones that belonged to the skulls of the young, healthy, or old that died for this place that lined the walls. With a shiver, they headed out into the catacombs.

They sensed the presence of something powerful here, a ghost that had absorbed many other ghosts to become horrifyingly powerful. It was only dimly aware of them, and they didn’t poke it.

They found a dead treasure hunter, and checked over the decades-old body, finding a map that got down into these areas before getting hopelessly lost. They followed the map sort of back up to the main air, light, and energy exchange of the vast catacombs under the Rowan House.

A seated statue of a man and woman faced each other, the statues guarding the corpses in the tombs beneath them. There were runes set in the floor to evoke the ghosts bound to the guards whose corpses were interred in the structure, so the crew made sure to avoid getting too close to those. There was also a slope down to the center of the room, where there was a shaft; dead intruders would slide down the floor and fall in the hole.

Yeah. Of course we’re going in the hole. And there are even rungs cut into the shaft. As they headed down, Echo felt the predator spectre getting closer.

Once they got down into the domed room under the shaft, they saw a dozen or so corpses in the middle of the room, but out of sight from above, an easy chair, some boxes of supplies, a ladder, and a chalk outline of a door on the wall (as well as a grating over a way out into the catacombs.)

Canny, Echo realized the archway was a trap. Attuning to it would trigger something unpleasant. The actual ghost door that led to the Grotto was the pile of tomb robber corpses. She attuned to it and opened the door, and they all stepped onto the pile of corpses, their feet landing somewhere else.

The Grotto

They did it. Limptwitch’s stash, the Grotto, theirs for the looting. They landed in front of a pale-skinned tree that responded to their breath and life, glowing; it had faint radiance, and its roots and limbs ended in rock.

They surveyed the area, noting how meticulously he kept the genealogies and signet rings of various noble families, where he tumbled the weapons and gold in various corners. They loaded up with books of whisper rituals, gems that were easier to carry (if easier to trace), sets of dueling blades, and scrolls with noble genealogies dating back centuries, predating some of the modern apologist records.

Needles was especially attracted to a pair of dueling blades with green-tinted metal and panels of jade, and a hidden trigger in the handle to switch so metal needles connected to a venom reservoir would not pinch into the holder’s finger.

Echo found a leather harness that had the mark of the Outsider invisibly stitched through it in the ghost field, that might make it possible to move in and out of the ghost field, with some practice and experimentation.

Echo tried to attune to the dimensional signature of the place; pocket dimension? Real place under the earth? What? However, she touched on the demon, nearby, in the ghost field, searing her senses. There was a demon in a mirror, behind a curtain, nearby. She shook it off, but they also noticed there was an area dedicated to leviathan parts, including a massive undying eyeball in a tank that slowly focused on them–they pulled the curtain over that one too.

The shadows started curling a bit, moving strangely, so they figured it was time to go.

Escape

Loaded up with what they wanted most, but wary of being too burdened, they aligned with the ghost door and returned to the disposal chamber. They climbed back up into the tomb, but now everyone who had some skill at attuning could feel the thing that was rushing towards them from the lower levels.

They reached the servant ossuary at a run, attuning rapidly as a group and springing through the ghost door, feeling it snap shut behind them. Shrugging and looking cool as they looked around the spies at the Rat Temple, they swaggered out.

They sold the gems and coins, and studied how to turn the genealogy scrolls into coin.

Meanwhile Zero invested time and effort into setting up a secondary base, a safe house in case their location was compromised. They had a boathouse, raised up above where the waterline is now, only accessible through the goat pasture on a narrow strip of elevated land, run by Old Shelby.

Armed with fresh wealth and security, they were ready for whatever the future held.

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Chaos Monks: Snakes

Chaos Monks 2The dwarves expected Hum Lae (Max) to gather some fellow humans to help with tasks that needed doing. (Don’t all humans know each other, more or less?)

Hum Lae (now 3rd level) wandered around the neighborhood and saw a dice game going on with a couple new chaos monks garnering winnings.

Anju (Michael) was a coin clipper who had been captured with his gang, and while in jail lightning struck his cell and infused him with chaos. He managed to escape through the open door, helping himself to whatever was in the evidence bin on his way out.

Otivan (Oti for short) (Eamon) was a scrivener in a shrine to Tamash the Truthful, out in the countryside. He faithfully copied over a contract that breathed with dark energies, and some of that seeped into him; he was relieved of duty, and wandered to the Yellow City to find his fortune, with only the contents of the donation box and what he could buy with it.

Hum Lae offered the other chaos monks work, and they accepted. The neighborhood was coated with wet butterflies (it was the rainy season) and they inspected some to see that they were decorated magically as flying leaflets to the Leopard-Who-Laughs tea house, and each butterfly even included a coupon.

Leisure in Kuan Loon

They seated themselves in the bustling tea house, looking at the rough strangers in the place. Hum Lae saw a yakkish sitting alone with a hookah, and tried to make friends with him, but the yakkish was feeling hostile.

They were called over to a table where a bunch of bravos from the Small Swords Society were finishing up supper. They fell to talking, and found that one of them, Kammish, had an uncle who owned a hookah den, and they were all going there next. The monks went along.

The hookah den was in a basement, and knee deep in water in the rainy season, but there were floating candles and luminescent rocks in the water casting patterns of ripples on the ceilings and walls, and they sat on an island couch and shared a hookah. They talked with Kammish about the current dilemma facing the Small Swords.

The Guildmaster Sunli had been bitten by a tiny asp brought in by a snake cult assassin posing as an applicant. The cursed nature of the bite meant it could not be healed by apothecaries or priests, and he was dying by inches in spite of their best efforts. Ruten, Master of Arms, had the compound on lockdown–especially forbidding applicants to join.

They also talked about how the Small Swords Society had exclusive rights to salvage the Thousand Pagodas, and how they answered to the Jade Empress of Kwantoom, and other assorted lore and chit chat.

They decided that together they would take on the snake cult that was killing the Guildmaster of the Small Swords. In the morning. He was to be found on Weeping Yak lane and surroundings.

Infiltrating the Shrine

Anju and Oti would use the height of the five storey shrine to Roc, King of the Winds, to oversee Weeping Yak lane and its surroundings to get a sense what they were dealing with. While they were waiting, Kammish and Hum Lae went to get a fantastic pedicure and foot massage. (The woman who rubbed Hum Lae’s feet was apparently from his village back home; small world.)

Oti climbed the outside of the shrine to the third level, where he could see the rooftops with the snake cult. He saw some town guards try to go down the street, and a cultist strolled off the roof onto stilts and threw snakes at the guards to chase them off.

Oti climbed into the pagoda, near a shrine area where a sluggish meditated with a human guarding him. He found an abandoned shrine area and put on the clogs, robes, and fan of a visiting supplicant servant of the sluggish that owned the worship niche in the shrine. Then he headed downstairs to help Anju get in position.

Meanwhile Anju came in and introduced himself as Hum Lae. He suggested that he was trying to decide who was better, a snake cult or a bird cult. This offended the staff, so he found a different priest in the shrine, who told him about the time the Roc assumed the form of a human avatar, coming to the Yellow City as a chef. They went into that area of the shrine, where there was a bas relief carving of the avatar, an impressive muscled bald man with a cocked eyebrow. Apparently the scent of his delectable dishes once saved the Jade Empress, centuries ago. You could burn offerings reminiscent of his favorite dishes, like bacon flavored incense. You could smell what the Roc was cooking.

Oti talked with the shrine staff, who told him his master Delvis was behind on paying for his private shrine on the upper level. (Initial cost, 100 gp per floor, and 10 gp per floor per month, so for a shrine on the 3rd floor, 30 gp a month…) Oti promised to iron that out with his master, but in the meantime, told them his master mated with a human somehow, and had an unacknowledged bastard that needed to be kept out of trouble–Anju.

Oti and Anju went back up to the currently unused shrine niche, robbing it of about 100 gp and reclaiming Oti’s gear. They left the shrine, rejoining Hum Lae and Kammish at an outdoor cafe.

Infiltrating the Snake Cult

They planned their approach, and then went to the courtyard at the mouth of Weeping Yak lane. (Kammish declined to participate in their plan, as he had worked with too many chaos monks to believe things would go smoothly.)

The beggars shook their begging gourds to alert the cultists, then Oti loudly denounced Anju and Hum Lae as snake-loving frauds who were ejected from the shrine of the Roc. A cultist got on stilts and approached, tossing a snake at Oti, who was bit before he killed the snake. Oti staggered back to the Roc shrine, where the priests summoned an alchemist who had been treating all the snake bites in the neighborhood, and saved his life for the cost of 5 gold.

Meanwhile, the other two were not trusted by the snake cultists. They faced trial by snake; a cultist hurled a snake from his basket down at Anju. The monk caught the snake, and used his wilderness survival training and force of will to charm the snake. Impressed, the cultist escorted them some ways down Weeping Yak Lane.

They were brought up to the roof via knotted rope to a gazebo like structure where the leader held court with four ladies and a bunch of snakes, around a small shrine of black and green stone, about 2’x1’x1′. Anju again charmed the snakes so they could take a seat without being bitten; easier now that they were among relaxed, casual snakes. They met Kishori, leader of the Shimmering Scales gang, who spoke with annoyingly prolonged “ssss” sounds.

Anju introduced himself as “Yellowbelly the Unconquered” and Hum Lae as “Fang the Venomous.” It helped that Hum Lae had a snake tattoo as a sleeve on his left arm. They were offered the chance to join the cult, and they agreed. Hum Lae stuck his arm into the otherdimensional space in the altar first, and the ancient reptilian demigod liked his murderous and traitorous intent. He was allowed to grasp a charm that would prevent any snake from biting him as long as he was connected to Kulaja the Scaled.

Anju tried next, and he was not quite as murderous and traitorous, so the demigod demanded a price from him; the dark spirit curled up through him and transformed his eyes to snake eyes. He too got a charm to protect him from snakes. Then they had a good time with some mild drugs and relaxing decadence for about a half hour.

Confrontation

Back at the shrine to the Roc, King of the Wind, Oti spun a tale of how the snake cult grabbed “Hum Lae” the bastard offspring of the sluggish Delvis, and how they needed to get him back. This was the last straw with the shrine of Roc, so they called in a favor with a club fighting guild, the Octopoids, and sent them to retrieve the bastard.

So it was that the rooftop party was interrupted by a dozen hard-bitten pit fighters showing up ready for murder. The snake cultists snapped into action, flinging snakes on them and raining down javelins and daggers, leaving only the four women and snake pit guarding the altar. Kishori, the leader, had a sort of palanquin on stilts with blades on the legs, and he fought from that as the pit fighters threw spiked bolas and the mayhem escalated.

Instead of joining the fight, Hum Lae persuaded the ladies that the shrine needed to be underground, it was an abomination for it to be in the open air like this. The ladies agreed, and they climbed down to the street on the other side of the block from the fighting.

Oti, injured but upright, was rushing to rendezvous with his fellow monks. He rounded the corner to see them standing there with the portable altar and the four snake women.

Betrayal, Murder, Theft

Anju was caught between pretending to fight Oti or actually fighting the snake women. Hum Lae opened things up by killing one of the snake women outright, and Oti held back and flung acid into the face of a snake woman, killing her outright before he pulled out his crossbow. Battle was joined, but Hum Lae was too much for the snake women; Anju helped him cut them down, and the last survivor ran, only to be felled by Oti’s hurled spear.

They swiftly harvested the heads of the snake women (who had grown scales and fangs and become quite formidable right before getting mowed down) and took the altar, making a run for the Roc shrine, since Hum Lae had been injected with a massive dose of venom.

The alchemist saved him for another 5 gp, and the monks met up with Kammish and ran to the Small Swords compound.

Victory

Kammish vouched for them, and they had snakey heads and a portable altar, so they were allowed in to see the ailing Guildmaster. Anju begged Kulaja the Scaled to relinquish the curse on Sunli, and Kulaja was convinced only after granting Anju a forked snake tongue that could grow to be a couple feet long. (He can also see through cloth with his magical snake eyes.)

Anju “ate” the curse, swallowing it down, and then Hum Lae used the healing perfume to restore the Guildmaster.

Hum Lae, Anju, and Oti were inducted into the Small Swords Society as a reward for their service. They donated the snake altar, which was put in the vault under the compound. They also split the stolen gems and statues and goods from the shrine niche for 30 gp each, and 10 gp to the alchemist for saving their lives.

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Blades in the Dark: Audacity

BitD Title_01 by James Dudli

Previous adventure: Soulsword. Adventure two! Everyone returned but Ashes the Spider. Here are their preferred vices:

  • Echo. (Iris) An Akorosian Whisper. Opium.
  • Needles. (Matthew) An Iruvian Cutter. Familial obligation to maintain a hidden shrine to the Forsaken Legion, by burning objects of power.
  • Pledge. (Elizabeth) An Akorosizan Slide. Theater and related luxuries.
  • Zero. (Simon) An Iruvian Hound. Exotic tobacco laced with other drugs.
  • Deadlock. (Shaun) A Dagger Islander Lurk. ALL THE DRUGS.

They got 8 coin from their last heist, selling off Skovlander rare treasures (except for the sword and dagger.) They paid off the Crows, to keep the peace. Since one of the Skovlander guards was killed, they ended up with 4 Heat, and they got 3 Rep.

For an entanglement, they found themselves under attack by the Grinders. A Skovlander woman approached Zero while he was buying eels and shrooms for supper, and tried to shoot him in the face. He made a quick getaway, but she cornered him–along with her two tough Skovlander buddies. The three of them attacked the harried Hound, and he called in his hunting cat to even up the odds, startling them with the leaping creature and a couple pistol shots. After a brutal fight, two bluecoats rounded the corner in time to see him bathed in the arterial spray of the Skovlander on the ground getting knifed by the embattled Iruvian.

The bluecoats pursued him, and the net closed around him as he scrambled around the crew’s hunting grounds. Only a pre-prepared escape tunnel let him slip the net of the bluecoats before he was surrounded and treated to a proper kicking. He warned the rest of the crew, and they were far more cautious, keeping an eye out for Skovlanders.

Turns out she was a killer in the employ of the Grinders (-1 faction), a group of Skovlander agitators. It couldn’t be a coincidence that both they and Ulf were Skovlanders, or that Ulf did not move against them directly.

Downtime

Deadlock started investigating how to put together some potential buyers who don’t like Skovlanders who might be able to afford the sword with Ulf’s life force. Others helped in that process as well. Zero also began a process of putting together a cohort to answer to him personally, lookouts to keep the crew’s hunting grounds aware of threats so no one would get caught off guard again.

Several crew also worked the gossip circuit to try and reduce the heat on the crew.

Needles showed up after a couple days, her scars reduced to scabs; she was proper stabbed, but she was pushed back against the red-hot shield wall of the Forsaken Legion, and they shoved her back into the world, her work in their service not yet completed. The experience made her more vicious.

Red Sashes Return

Baszo had a pleasant lunch with Pledge, and gave her a job; he was contacted by someone in the government, and he didn’t want that work as he was doing significant work to rebuild the Lampblack hold in their territory after an incident. Pledge decided to look into it, going to the permit office with an application to the Spark Grounds, for long-term camping. The permit was escalated to the back office, because there were questions.

That was the coded signal that put them in touch with Holtz Clermont, city clerk. He told them the Red Sashes used to be big business in Crow’s Foot, but they lost a gang war and were reduced to a gang attached to the Lampblacks. However, with new leadership from Masterblade Solomon Trusaan, they were becoming a crew again. The Lampblacks recently had some disruptive events, and the Red Sashes were looking to emerge as a faction once more. Money from Iruvian nobility who were related to former and current Red Sashes let them rebuild their base, and now they have ambition.

Apparently they got their hands on some decisive clue about the location of Limptwitches’ Stash. Limptwitch was a whisper who interrogated ghosts to find treasure, and he built up this fantastical cave of wonders called the Grotto. He died in Ironhook under heavy interrogation, but never gave up its location. The Red Sashes think they know where it is.

Furthermore they are looking to hire Lord Orlan Booker, a bored aristocrat who plans intricate scores and sells the information to crews who act on it. The Red Sashes must want Booker to organize their attempt to harvest the Grotto for themselves, giving them sufficient wealth and arcane power to rise through the ranks meteorically.

Pledge agreed her crew would do something about it.

Under the Temple

Zero took his friend Valeris the spy into the sewers under the Red Sash temple base, and got super lucky; they found a massive stone seal on a wall, obscured by filth, that was a Spirit Warden rapid-entry seal. The Red Sashes had sanctioned ghosts under their temple, and Deadlock was pretty sure he could trick the door into opening even without a custom Spirit Warden gauntlet of authority.

Needles cozied up to some of the Iruvian countrymen and found out that they had ghost hounds in an enclosure below, because they taught techniques for killing ghosts as well as people, and they needed a supply to practice; the Spirit Wardens gave them permission to turn hounds into ghosts for practice purposes.

Echo talked to her friend Quellen the witch about how to neutralize the threat of ghost hounds. Quellen prepared a ritual for her, so if she stood in a circle of salt and quicksilver and snapped the neck of a mirrorcat, that would shiver the Mirror like a tympani, and the ghosts would be disrupted; but it could be damaging to people as well, so control the radius.

[Radiant energy works great with plants, and okay with insects and fish, but with mammals? It doesn’t go well, and it’s really unethical to continue experiments, considering the disasters that have resulted. But mirrorcats have electroplasmic nodes fused in their spines, and it turns their eyes to something like molten silver, mirrored spheres. They are stiles in the fence that is the Mirror, so that skilled individuals can use them to traverse the barrier without the barrier being dismantled.]

Meanwhile, Ulf Ironborn was not talking to anyone; not his friends, not his enemies. He prepared the funeral for his son, and sent him out on a pyre boat, and still he was not talking. Everyone around the Skovlanders was tense, wondering if there would be war.

Raiding the Catacombs

On a dark and stormy night, they splashed through the runoff underground, getting to the sealed wall.

Deadlock managed to use wrecking tools, arcane implements, and lockpicks to simulate the effect of the spirit warden gauntlet, with Zero’s help. As they tampered, a long-dormant aetheric alarm began to activate; Echo managed the docile mirrorcat and also managed to shut the alarm down. They unlocked the seal, and Echo prepared the ritual. Deadlock rolled the stone door aside, but slipped and could not run fast enough as the pale hound ghosts closed in.

Zero activated the ritual anyway by snapping the mirrorcat’s neck, buffeting Deadlock, but he resisted the effects and the hounds were dispersed for up to five minutes. The crew went into the catacombs under the Iruvian temple, and found a large chamber with a stone column holding the hound skulls that bound the hounds to this location.

Zero also found a human skull (so there must be a human ghost down here too, and that was NOT supposed to happen!) and he triggered the secret catch to open the stone column, revealing a treasure hunter’s diary. They took the book and retreated the way they came, sealing the chamber behind themselves.

Downtime

The bluecoats swept up Valeris for skulking in the sewers, and the crew paid them off to get the spy back unquestioned. Their secrecy was so good, and their strike so surgical, they got no coin, rep, or heat. Yet.

Various members of the crew asked around about a good buyer for the sword with Ulf’s spirit, culminating in Pledge talking with Mercy, an extortionist (who was Needles’ friend.) Mercy sat on her four-poster throne with its curtains, on a dais, flanked by windows, holding her cup enchanted to detect poison. She suggested they not think in terms of factions, but in terms of the remarkable nature of the sword itself. She set up a meeting for them with the Dimmer Sisters, who would surely pay a handsome sum for the sword. The meeting was set for three days.

Echo checked with Flint, a spirit trafficker, to see about supplies to taxiderm the mirrorcat corpse.

Looking at the treasure hunter’s book, they saw that Limptwitch figured out how to make a ghost door to get into the sealed off catacombs under the Rowan House, one of the Six Towers that gave that district its name and one of two that were still owned by their aristocratic families centuries later. The Grotto must be down there somewhere.

A Night at the Theater

It wasn’t about money, and it wasn’t about violence; it was about savvy, and prestige, and audacity. The crew found out that Lord Booker, the heist planner, went to the theater two nights a month, and during those visits he met with customers who wanted to buy scores. They decided it was time he knew who they were.

Security at his favored theater was tight, with elite guards. Deadbolt tried to scope the situation but ended up sort of stalking the ladies room, so he was escorted out. Zero’s scouting was interrupted by a Grinder trying to shiv him; there were several Grinders there, not for Booker but for the crew. The guards took the Grinder to the basement, and sent Zero outside.

Echo managed to corral a number of emissaries of the Cyphers (-1 faction) so they couldn’t reach Booker, making a hole for Pledge to get an uninterrupted chat with Needles at her elbow. Booker had a bodyguard of his own, an attractive woman with a silver cane; the cane-wielding bodyguards checked each other out as the slide got down to business.

Pledge explained to Booker the Red Sashes did not have the information they claimed to have, and that she felt he should know that so they don’t waste his time. And she said they might have reasons to work together in the future. (This revelation triggered 3 Rep and 2 Heat from their previous exploit.)

The crew strutted out, business done.

Meanwhile, outside, Derrit (a big Skovlander enforcer) and his people brought a message from the Grinder leader, Hutton, to Deadbolt and Zero. The Grinders wanted a gift from the crew in two days, or it would be war. (The gift was hinted to be Ulf’s sword.) They turned and vanished into the turgid night.

Two days until the much tougher Grinder crew would face off with the crew, and three days until they would meet to sell Ulf Ironborn’s sword to the Dimmer Sisters…

[Grinders, -2. Ulf Ironborn, -2. Red Sashes, -2. Lampblacks, +1.]

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Blades in the Dark: Soulsword

BitD Title_01 by James Dudli

My home table is giving Blades in the Dark another try, Rules as Written.

  • Ashes. (Kristy) An Akorosian Spider, bffs with Salia (an information broker) and frenemy with Jerren (a bluecoat archivist.)
  • Echo. (Iris) An Akorosian Whisper, bffs with Gellen (a witch) and frenemy with Sattara (a demon.)
  • Needles. (Matthew) An Iruvian Cutter, bffs with Marlene (a pugalist) and frenemy with Mercy (a cold killer.)
  • Pledge. (Elizabeth) An Akorosizan Slide, bffs with Baz (leader of the Lampblacks) and frenemy with Nyrx (a prostitute.)
  • Zero. (Simon) An Iruvian Hound, bffs with Valeris (a spy) and frenemy with Casta (a bounty hunter.) Pet is Ishtera, a shape-shifting puma who can be a kitten or a great hunting cat.
  • Deadlock. (Shaun) A Dagger Islander Lurk, bffs with Darmot (a bluecoat) and frenemy with Frake (a locksmith.)

This savvy crew of shadows has a lair in the clocktower over a pub (cleverly named “The Clocktower.”) Their hunting ground is everywhere the clocktower light touches. They inherited the lair from the Gondoliers (+1) who left it packed with stuff (packrats).

They have retained the services of a doctor who frequents the pub, named Doctor Albus Feelgood. He used to be on call for the Cyphers, looking after their endless stables of prostitutes, but he wanted out of that work and the crew gave him protection so he could leave (Cyphers -1). The doctor is grateful to them, and effective enough when he’s sober (loyal, unreliable.)

They are good friends with Amancio, the deal broker. He has contacts with the Iruvian Consulate (+1) and there’s bad blood between him and the Grinders (-1) who lack finesse and resent his refusal to send work their way.

The crew has paid off the Crows, who will look the other way as long as they don’t get too rowdy. Now it’s time to make a name for themselves in Crow’s Foot.

The Sea Witch’s Ghost

Amancio had tea with Ashes and her crewmates, and told them about a ghost on the canal that was frightening people. He heard that it was offering people a job, and he though that this fledgeling crew might be interested.

sea witch ghostAshes and Echo went to talk to the ghost, and found her restless as she appeared to them on the canal walkway. She told them if they could get Wulf Ironborn (son of Ulf Ironborn, apparently the family adds a letter to the first name every generation) to go to the tower overhanging the canal, they could get a treasure that only he would have access to. What would the treasure do? The ghost whispered that answer into Echo’s ear, and sealed it so Echo would remember when the time was right.

The ghost of the sea witch also told them her corpse was rotting above, in the basement of the overhanging tower. And, if they brought her Wulf alive so she could destroy him, she would reward them.

Riding the Wulf

They did their due diligence, then made their move on a night when the Skovlander refugees were celebrating and there was a big party in the public house that Wulf frequented, a few blocks from the guard tower.

(Ulf Ironborn acts as a goon, as a regulator; if the oppression of the Skovlanders gets too bad, he and his tough warriors strike back brutally, so there are some lines that the dominant culture is reluctant to cross in treading on the Skovlander refugee community.)

They found out Wulf liked to hire exclusive escorts from the Dusky Rose service, so Needles dressed herself provocatively with Zero as her bodyguard. Ashes helped them navigate their way past the doorkeeping woman who guarded access to the upstairs, where Wulf and half a dozen massive Skovlanders were enjoying their own little party.

They persuaded all the men to leave (except Goff, a massive stupid man who was determined to guard his boss.) Then Needles persuaded him to take her to the tower, which was apparently a secret treasure stash where Ulf kept unique valuables for the refugee community beneath the notice of the greedy government.

The Tower

The guards reluctantly opened the door for Wulf, who dismissed them, leaving Goff to guard downstairs while he went upstairs with Needles. Meanwhile, Deadlock had climbed up to the top of the tower, with a block and tackle ready to lower loot down to a waiting gondola on the canal.

Deadlock climbed down and entered the tower’s upper level, as Needles distracted Wulf with her feminine charms. The two of them knocked Wulf senseless, and Needles sent Goff to go get something to drink; the two guards sullenly returned as Goff left. They were summarily disabled by Needles and Deadlock, who opened the way for the rest of the crew.

Pledge and Echo dragged Wulf’s senseless body around to the stairs and down, but ran into two bluecoats who casually moved to apprehend them. Zero fired his gun and ran off, but didn’t quite rate a response from the bluecoats who smelled more money on those dragging a Skovlander down the stairs.

ghostkilling daggerThey changed their tune when the sea witch’s ghost showed up. The sea witch’s ghost dragged Wulf down into the canal, and offered up in exchange an iron Skovlander combt dagger that Wulf had been carrying, now infused with ghost energy so it could wound the incorporeal.

Goff came back to check on things and found his master being stolen and Needles betraying them. He fought her, and she managed to fend him off, but his brutality drove her away down the street, and her crewmates could not find her afterwards. (Trauma’d out!)

Meanwhile they looted the tower of its understated yet gaudy riches. One of the boxes was well locked, secured far beyond the others, and radiating energy into the ghost field. They loaded all the loot up and made their getaway with the gondola.

The Blade in the Box

Ulf's BladeBack in the clocktower, they took their time and jimmied the box open. It contained a finely crafted iron sword. Upon seeing it, Echo remembered what the sea witch told her; that blade contained Ulf Ironborn’s life force. So long as it was unbroken, he would survive, but should it shatter, so too would he.

They killed his son, and now they held his life in their hands.

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Chaos Monks: Finishing Move

Chaos Monks

Lightcrash the Silver Edge (Patrick) and Huan (Tyler) returned, and while walking through the city they met with Jatya (Richard) who was a priest for an aristocratic household that was struck down by a curse, and he got a little on him, becoming a chaos monk. Now he was doing softshoe busking for coin, and Lightcrash recruited him for their show. It was the rainy season, so rain fell through the whole adventure.

They were having supper with Na Li Ka, the rocherd, when they were joined by Chan Chal, the apprentice crabbish breeder for the Shellshock Crabbish Stable. He brought along a cousin, Mukta the Fine (Tomer) [Curse my too-slow note-taking for how he became a chaos monk.]

Mukta made friends with the snailish, flirting with Slick and getting a bunch of extra rat corpses from them (the snailish catch them with mucus pad traps and eat them raw, but share them for their human friends to cook.) He had a dozen to use to make friends with animals and monsters the next day, as needed.

Bounty Crabbish

Turns out the Shellshock’s prize stud and warrior crabbish, Tatat, was prodded by Jayanti, a sluggish of the Dipaka family. Tatat sort of accidentally sheared him in half, and now Pakpao, leader of the Dipaka family, put a 100 gold piece bounty on his shell. Joshi, owner of the Shellshock stable, wanted to smuggle Tatat out through the sewers to meet a pirate ship to get out of the city until things cool down. The chaos monks were hired to do it, for 100 gold. They agreed, after being well plied with banana wine.

The next morning, they shook off their hangovers as best they could and headed over to the stable. The plan was to leave at midday, to get out of the sewers at dusk, so they wouldn’t be underground at night and wouldn’t miss the pirate ship (and would dodge as many of the bounty hunters as possible.)

Mukta agreed to lead the crabbish, so he got the harness with the jellies to attract, repel, and otherwise manage the crabbish. They hit it off. (Especially impressive was the crabbish’s oversize killing claw, with “Finishing Move” carved in the chitin in 3 languages.) They headed into the pool after getting the big iron key from Joshi, the owner, and struggled to open the gate underwater. They only managed it because Huan cast his spell to make a key lever and grant advantage.

  • Transmuting Thorn. Must be cast on a thorn switch (vine or branch), turns it into an enchanted object adding +1 combat per level OR an object granting advantage to a task, lasts 1 minute per level.

The Sewers

They got down into the sewers that were swollen with rainwater (rainy season) and navigated as best they could, following the flow towards the river with Lightcrash scouting and the others holding on to the swimming crabbish. At one point they were snagged by a sewer octopus, but Lightcrash ended the fight with it by using its luminescence against it.

  • Lightning Light. Cast on a light source within 10 feet per caster level, the light arcs to the target (who must be within 10 feet per caster level) and automatically hits for 1d6 per caster level. The light that arcs goes out.

The crabbish feasted on the devilfish remains in the dark, then surfaced, and they headed out. They made it through the end grating, with Mukta luring it out the narrow pipe and reconvening everyone on the beach.

To the Pirates

They headed towards where they saw the junk anchored off the coast and a longboat pulled up on the bank. They were accosted by a bandit, and shot him in the head, but he seemed invulnerable to their arrows; to stop him before he could signal to others, Lightcrash hurled an enchanted stone at him.

  • Enlightening Stone. Cast on a stone, which is touched to a target, who must make a Will save or be stupefied for 1 minute per caster level, or until the target takes damage.

While he was incapacitated, they hustled along the beach to the fight. They joined in with the pirates against armored foes with horrible faces (hobgoblins) and broke their morale, as they hurled ranged weapons against the armor and saw Tatat kill an armored foe with each swipe of Finishing Move. Mukta rode triumphant on the crabbish, leaping down to strike with a spear, as others fired their ranged weapons at the armored bounty hunters.

Mukta was impressive at controlling the crabbish, and got Tatat on the raft, kicking to propel it, and onto the ship. The relieved pirates withdrew, and their captain, Ganin the Grinder, sent Yoshi back with them to report on their success so they could get paid by the stable. Mukta stayed with the pirates for the short voyage to deliver the crabbish.

Celebrations Gone Awry

They got paid, and used their newfound wealth to rent a grotto in the Singing Koi block. They blew some wealth on celebration, too; unfortunately, Lightcrash tangled with some guards when the bar fight should have been over, and got thrown in the stocks, where he was mercilessly tormented, robbed, and pelted with filth by urchins.

However, he was next to a glum wannabe adventurer, Jago. Turns out Jago wanted to join the Small Swords, but they weren’t seeing anyone, since their leader was suffering from a magical snake bite. This reminded Lightcrash that he was supposed to save the leader of the Small Swords, it was his destiny. (They also found out that Jago fell afoul of dwarves after throwing one through a paper wall in a fit of pique, and they hurt him variously and personally after that, and he also ended up in the stocks.)

Also, in telling their story about the bandit who got shot in the head and didn’t care, people waved that off; it’s a known fact that there are wererat bandits that frequent the banks, and they can’t be hurt by regular weapons. So, that’s good to know. (Silver and magic are the way to go for them. And don’t let them bite you.)

When they got out, they celebrated again, this time with a bit too much abandon.

Jatya found himself lost in the Little Heavenly Murder Tengu ghetto, within sight of a dwarven block, naked. Not sure how that happened. Shrugging he strode confidently towards home.

Lightcrash lost in a dangerous game of dominoes against Shen the Yakkish, and escaped with minimal cost but having earned the enmity of the tough gangster.

Huan can’t remember what he did, but he has a thank-you letter from the Tranquil Trail Thinker’s Guild, signed by its leader Tynabi, thanking him for his donation and his use of specialized skills to further their cause. Whatever that means.

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