Blades in the Dark: Clockworkers

BitD Title_01 by James Dudli

  • Pledge. (Elizabeth) An Akorosizan Slide, bffs with Baz (leader of the Lampblacks) and frenemy with Nyrx (a prostitute.)
  • Deadlock. (Shaun) A Dagger Islander Lurk, bffs with Darmot (a bluecoat) and frenemy with Frake (a locksmith.)
  • Ashes. (Kristy) An Akorosian Spider, bffs with Salia (an information broker) and frenemy with Jerren (a bluecoat archivist.)

While Pledge and Deadlock were passing the time in the snug of the public house built into the base of their secret clocktower hideout, a woman came to hire them (asking after the Clockworkers, so now they have a name). Her name was Ellsfielder, and she wanted them to steal a big two-handed goblet from Master Slen Dallicore, the Guildmaster for the Docker’s Guild. She offered them 6 Coin if they handed over the item, and 2 more if they did so with no casualties and they were not connected to the job.

Preparing the Goblet Heist

They had a month to check it out, so they took their time. Deadlock worked with his beggar friend to case the joint, and found that the ancestral home used to be the tower overlooking dockside operations. Over the generations each new head of the household built more around the central spire, so the house was something of an uninspired pile. It only had a third as much staff as expected. The problem couldn’t be money, so what’s up with that? They discovered the butler for the place, Ebenet, as old money frustrated as a servant to new money.

Pledge cozied up to him while he was dockside, hunting through the “gray market” for vintage wines to build up his master’s collection. She leaned on her noble background, and found Ebenet fascinating, so the young butler confided in her his frustrations. It was difficult to manage a household when there were so many spring traps, even though they were identified by a small red triangle. And the central showcase, the cruelty of defending it with caul piercers; thorns that could rupture the spirit’s “skin” so life energy leaked from people, making it very dangerous to go to–and he shut up.

So the inner vault would be at the top of the tower, or under it. Deadlock got some help getting city blueprints, and discovered that the top of the tower was protected as a historic site, and could not be substantively renovated. Below the tower, then. The clerk who helped Deadlock was named Petra, and she had an “admirer” stalking her that she wanted Deadlock to discourage. He agreed.

Ashes wandered back from her opium safari, and combined those plans with some of her own blueprints from when the tower got permits for building off and on. She checked into this goblet, and its title was the Goblet of Eletrachtian; studded with obsidian stones, it allowed an adept to use some demon blood for a ritual to see what the demon remote viewed for a week or so. Also, the city council tasked the Dallicore family with protecting it on behalf of the city. Salia, an information broker, helped her get this information but wanted a smuggler’s tally book in return.

They also discovered from Ebenet (who developed an infatuation with Pledge) that the defenses were managed primarily by Three Sheets, a Whisper who lived out in Tangletown. Posing as buyers for security, they got in to see Three Sheets, who fell asleep with boredom. Talking to his rep, they found that the he specialized in spirits in crystals, and was tremendously expensive even for a basic system.

Infiltrating the Dallicore Tower

Equipped with old blueprints and knowledge of some of the dangers inside, the crew picked a rainy night and broke in to the grating that let some of the runoff from the many roofs down to the street level. They had to hurry to get in before a parade passed by the location, and Pledge was badly chilled clambering up the runoff pipe in the gush of cold water. They made it up into an old expansion, and Deadlock scouted enough to help Ashes read the floor plans so they found their way to a doorway leading to the central shaft.

Deadlock picked the lock, avoiding the trap on it, and they made it in to the central exhibition hall. There were masks and artwork from all over the Empire on display, but that distinctive loot was not what brought the rogues. They headed down the stairs, and Deadlock barely leaped back before spikes popping out through the stair rise took his feet off. Careful, they proceeded to the floor, where the center of the room was dominated by a dormant fountain.

The Vault

They realized there was a collapsing spiral staircase built around the fountain, and studied possible triggers, determining some of them were caul piercers. With Pledge’s help, Deadlock discovered the right trigger. As the spiral staircase dropped, it also played a dirge-like fanfare, which was sure to bring guards to the chamber–time to hurry.

They hustled down the stairs, skipping the traps now that they knew what to look for, and got to a chamber with more esoteric artwork and a locked double door. With the clock ticking, Deadlock defeated that lock as well, and they entered a room lined with lances that carried battle pennants from different branches of the Dallicore family tree. In the center of the room, a twice-too-big suit of armor with a huge sword. As they investigated the room, the armor animated, and came at them with vast sweeps of its blade, glowing from inside. They displaced a number of lances trying to search the room while guards were coming and the construct was lashing out at them, but could not find the goblet, so they beat a hasty retreat back up the stairs.

They barely made it up the stairs and into shadows before Dallicore showed up in his nightgown, with six armored plumed guards. He whispered an incantation to a crystal he clutched in his fist, presumably to power down the defenses, and sent the guards downstairs.

Rather than engaging, the crew stealthed around back up to the stairs and escaped the way they came in.

Downtime

Ellsfielder was grimly disappointed at their failure, but Pledge persuaded her to pay them 2 Coin for all the information they acquired on traps and the potential location of the goblet. They pointed out they didn’t have their whisper and were not prepared to tackle supernatural threats. Ellsfielder paid them on the condition that they would undertake another mission for her (and her mysterious employer) but this time they would succeed. After all, the Clockerworkers were savvy (as their rep attested), and they all came back without leaving any clues as to their identity, so it wasn’t a complete failure.

Ashes’ supplier, Sarong Scaler, was swept up by the bluecoats for questioning. Rather than risk any sort of blowback, Ashes bribed the bluecoats with 1 Coin to get her supplier back on the street, no harm done.

Ashes also seduced a smuggler, cozying up to him for a round of enjoyment so she could incapacitate him and steal his ledger book, squaring her account with Salia.

The crew shed some stress in their various vices. Pledge chose to take their shaky doctor, Feelgood, to the theater. While they were touring backstage, he wandered off and fell down a trapdoor, breaking his arm and witnessing a clandestine deal between Kaneldor (a Hive negotiator) and some actor. Pledge had to intervene to save his life, and the crew took a hit on their reputation from bowing to a little Hive abuse to protect Feelgood. (Pledge overdid her vice and risked a cohort.)

Pledge also worked with her new friend Booker to prepare some buyers for her genealogy book. Deadlock took over, involving his noble friend Kellis, and got a tea party set up where they could manage some potential buyers. Pledge spent a Coin for 1 more down time action to seal the deal, and they got paid 6 Coin for the musty old records.

Deadlock also crept into the house where Petra’s admirer was sleeping with his wife, and woke him with some choice words murmured in his ear (and a razor near his anatomy). He agreed his days of admiring Petra were over.

Preparing the Kryvanntic Heist

Ellsfielder came back to the Clocktower to recruit them for the mission they promised. This one shouldn’t need a whisper. They were to get to Dr. Kryvanntic, a Severosi scholar engaged in unsavory research with radiant materials in humans and animals. He fled his home country, but found powerful patrons among Doskvol’s aristocracy, so he could continue his work here unchecked.

He recently came into possession of two stout handsomely bound volumes, Naladicha’s Cartography. The books were supposed to contain esoteric maps of the Ghost Field; the details are not important. His house was over in Brightstone, far from their usual field of operations, but at least they didn’t have any enemies there.

Deadlock and his beggar friend Telda scouted the place, finding a 20 foot wall with broken glass on top surrounding the triangular shaped site, and all nearby trees cut down. The place was plenty secluded.

Booker once again assisted Pledge in asking around more rarefied circles about the good Doctor, collecting a few horror stories about his experiments but more usefully finding out that he would see patients who suffered from maladies of the mismatch of spirit and flesh, like radiant dosing or hollowing.

A Mysterious Malady

They found a wicker wheeled bath chair in their endless piles of junk in the tower, and disguised Ashes as Pledge’s ill aunt. Deadlock dressed the part of a servant, and pushed the chair, while Pledge covered them with the umbrella as best she could.

As they approached the house, two saggy fist-sized mushrooms screamed, alerting the house to their arrival. In the narrow alleyway leading to the door, twenty foot walls on both sides, they were alarmed to see a 70 lbs. panther like creature on the roof of the house, prowling down to pounce, its eyes glowing with weird light.

Dr. Kryvanntic poked his head out the window at the last minute and blew on a whistle he kept around his neck, silencing the screaming mushrooms. The great cat backed off, and Pledge convinced the doctor to look at her aunt. The doctor let them in, and they entered the stink of a place more laboratory than living space. Engaging in some slap-stick shenanigans, Pledge and Deadlock bumbled at the doctor so while she distracted him Deadlock could retrieve the whistle from around his neck without him noticing. He went to “get a glass of water” for the ailing aunt, disappearing up the stairs.

Time ran short as the doctor prepared a series of truly horrifying syringes for injections to test Ashes’ condition, and upstairs Deadlock blew a low steady whistle as he desperately tossed the place. He saw a reading room with two shiny black-bound volumes, quickly checked that’s what he was after, and he slid them into pocket harnesses he had prepared ahead of time for his outfit. He also saw a window out to a nice bench under a willow tree that twitched its whips with mad violence, and its base was decorated with bones. Better not to try and leave that way.

Deadlock returned downstairs just as the doctor prepared to inject Ashes, who screamed and had a seizure, falling off the table. Before they could restrain her, and after Deadlock replaced the whistle on the doctor’s person, Ashes sprang to her feet. She ran off, to the consternation of her minders, and while the doctor blew the whistle so they wouldn’t be ambushed, they sprinted away from the house, risking a dash through traffic that startled some goats. They hopped on to a gondola and vanished into the city traffic before the doctor realized he had been robbed.

Downtime

Ellsfielder was quite happy with the outcome, and paid the agreed 8 Coin, bolstering the crew’s fledgeling rep. On a less happy note, the Brightstone bluecoats swept up Telda, a beggar spotted around the now angry doctor’s residence. Through ways and means the crew spent a Coin to retrieve Telda before any harm was done.

Pledge cleared off the crew’s minimal Heat, then did some training, as did the others after taking care of stress as needed.

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Guardian Ship 1: Crash

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The salvage ship Medusa’s Scow was headed to the Bray Reach to salvage a failed colony. Contractually, most of the crew were sleeping in cryo for the 8 month trip. Three of the crew were awake for the journey.

  • Smitty. (Brian) Captain. A focused spacer with a remote built in so he could control drones, gifted with sharp senses. He had a salvage kit and a drone named Jethro.
  • Gasper. (Jesse) Disfigured ship’s medic.
  • Clyde Bruskin. (Mr. S) Tech and all around tough guy.

They ran across a massive ship in space, over 50 kilometers long, and its archaic (and since outlawed) weapons sheared through their defenses. They were pulled in, battering through the hull of the craft and rolling over a couple times in the jungle of its interior before the crash halted.

What’s Going On?

They made sure the cryo tubes were alright, but didn’t wake the rest of the crew. The atmosphere in the jungle outside was breathable, but they still opted to wear space suits. They saw that a force field held the breach, and the metal would eventually be repaired. They headed out to scout their strange surroundings, heading for a massive beam of light a couple kilometers away in the vast open space.

Then wavering howls split the air, and they were attacked by wolf-men. They shot up the pack hunters, and retreated as the pack gathered and pressed their advantage. Clyde got to the gun control, but only could get the flak and main cannon online, not as useful as could be hoped. The other two fought off hunters until they fell back into the airlock, escaping into the ship. Clyde played painfully loud music on the PA to chase the hunters off. Smitty had intimidated them, but it was not enough to chase them off for good. He got his drone ready for some further reconnaissance, and they got the computer damage reports back.

Damage Reports

They needed a few things to escape back into space.

  • Atmospheric micro-scrubber unit. Otherwise life support wouldn’t hold. About the size of a cooler chest, installation is 10 technician hours.
  • Multi-phasic burner catalyst. Manages energy flow. Otherwise, won’t have enough to get where we’re going. About 300 lbs, 15 feet across. 20 technician hours to install.
  • Administrative access. Otherwise the ship will just collect them back in again.
  • 10 technician hours to get the hull fixed enough.

They noticed a figure approaching the ship, undisturbed by the hunters. It turned out to be Jack, a humanoid interface of the Simulated Intelligence, Guardian Ship (or Sigs.) Jack brought them a tablet with maps, and a yellow clearance bracelet. Jack’s job was to make their stay comfortable and help them with anything they needed while in Telmar Bay.

He told them the multi-phasic burner catalyst was in Alta Durel. He also told them that Commander Josephe could alter their clearance, and when pressed, admitted he had not been available for an appointment in over 400 years. He was in the Sorrel Control Station. They decided to head that way, and they figured the beam of light (a spaceship elevator) was their best bet.

They also complained to Jack of being attacked, so Jack put in a ticket with tech support to address the issue.

Teksuppar

They traveled through the twisting jungle floor, and interrupted some men who were raiding the interior of a ship for supplies. (Turns out all the hills around them were overgrown ships.) They warily let each other pass. The captain did ask Jack to assign extra security to their ship, until it could leave; it cued to their bracelets to allow them to come and go uninterrupted.

They reached a burned off area with poles sporting dead wolf creatures, and there they were confronted with the Teksuppar, miserable cyborgs consumed with pain and hate. Two of the Teksuppar attacked, one with an energy flail and the other a retractable cyber machete. The crew managed to put them down, though Clyde took a hit. (He was able to walk off the damage.)

More Teksuppar were coming, so Smitty managed to run forward and put in a bulk sealant collapsable patch to trap the Teksuppar in the administrative building at the base of the ship elevator long enough for them to escape.

Into the Fire

Returned to the road through the woods, they were confronted by the reddish hunt leader of the wolf creatures, Gnawdit. They talked briefly of a possible alliance, then Gnawdit led them through the jungle to a hidden freight elevator, and they rode it up for 40 minutes to get up near the roof of the Bay. They entered the hunters’ lair, the Sorrel Control Station.

There they met Scratched Skull, a cyborg hunter. They also saw a wall of trophies, with Captain Josephe as its centerpiece, a mummy with a red wristband. They saw cages of prisoners, including a rabbit that looked almost dead from beating, and a mushroom person, and a mutant teenage girl.

Seeing that they could maybe do a deal, Scratched Skull tasked the visitors with managing a prisoner exchange; the half-dead rabbit thing named Rabbadab back to the Bounders, his people, in exchange for 600 feet of coaxial cable. Smitty wanted the bracelet in exchange, but Scratched Skull was too canny, and instead counteroffered with security for his ship until he could leave.

They drank to their new partnership.

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Savage Worms of Silkshore

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I have started a Patreon account!

I’ll be posting a 5,000 word chapter every 2 weeks until the book is done. My hope is that I can attract some supporters to help with expenses while I’m working on the book.

With game design, it’s difficult to know what modular pieces are worth payments. Essays? Random tables? Setting background? Play reports? It’s much easier with fiction; there are chapters, about 5,000 words each.

Incidentally, 5,000 words per chapter is about the amount of story you cover in an issue of a comic book.

Anyway, if you can help, I sure would appreciate it. This is a great opportunity for me, and it has John Harper’s blessing, so I think it will be really neat to have an official book for a setting that so many people already love.

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Blades in the Dark and Risus

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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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