Sunday, June 11, 2017

Wrath of the Righteous, part 17: Aftermath

This week our group had a very short session to wrap up some details from the conclusion of the previous session.

Though Asami had at first thought the demons had been called away by one of their demon lord masters, after she spoke with her friends she understood that they had fled when they realized they could not overcome the defenders' defenses and that no matter how much injury they inflicted their targets would not die. With the departure of the babau, the energy that had suffused the six companions dissipated, leaving them weary and full of sorrow. While Runa straightened and cleansed Irabeth's body, some of the others searched the corpse of the woman who had been guarding the Wardstone fragment. On her person they found three spell scrolls, a magical amulet, an enchanted cloak, a quantity of onyx gemstones, and a small amount of gold coins. They also gathered up the six shards of the Wardstone that were embedded in the walls of the chamber. It wasn't until then that Asami realized that the explosion of the stone had torn the roof off the chamber, and the walls were crumbling.

Runa insisted on carrying Irabeth by herself as they descended to the ground floor. There they paused to cleanse the defiled shrine before leaving the Gray Garrison to return to Defender's Heart. Runa bore Irabeth in her arms all the way there, her face streaked with tears. On the walk back to the inn Zosta berated Aegronius for failing to protect Irabeth. Jiro tried to persuade her that Irabeth's death was not due to any fault of Aegronius's, but Zosta would not listen.

By the time the group reached the inn they were all stumbling with fatigue. They were met by Kimroth Otai, who brought a contingent of the Eagle's Watch to take charge of Irabeth's body. The mongrelfolk left to seek food and rest, while the remainder of the group went to the war room of the Defender's Heart to meet with Quednys Orland and tell him what happened a the Gray Garrison.

Jiro took charge of most of the narrative. Asami listened in silence, still feeling the disappointment that she had been unable to contribute to the battle with the demons. Runa was still grief-stricken over the loss of Irabeth, who had become her mentor in the short time since they met the paladin. Zosta perked up when she asked about the well-being of her parents and the other members of her tribe. Kimroth told her that all seemed well with them, and a message was sent to ask Cennami to come to Defender's Heart to help decide what should be done next. Quednys was horrified when Jiro described what the vision had shown of Areelu Vorlesh's original plan for the Crusaders. Despite the destruction of the Wardstones, at least the Crusaders had been spared that fate. The members of the group agreed with Quednys that they should not share the news of the Wardstones' destruction with the general populace of Kenabres, for fear of causing a panic. All of them hoped there would be a period of reprieve until the demons who survived the Wardstones' destruction realized that the stones were no more.

Once the discussion was concluded, Aegronius went to visit Darla, while Runa went to the temple to say a prayer for Irabeth. Then one by one the group members retired to their rooms to rest. Asami settled on her bed to meditate, holding Kirara in her lap. After a time a strange dream or vision came to her. She saw a scarred woman clad in plate armor, who spoke to her, expressing gratitude for the deeds Asami and her friends had accomplished against the demons' minions, and also telling Asami that she regretted she couldn't help them directly. Though Asami did not know the gods of the West well, she recognized that this woman as the goddess Iomedae. Behind Iomedae she saw a dense wall of vegetation, which formed into a wooden face. When the face opened its eyes she knew that it was a living being, not an image. This wooden entity's hair and beard were made of leaves, and the warm green luminescence in its eyes spoke of living, growing things. Then Iomedae kissed Asami on the forehead, and Asami opened her eyes to see that it was dawn.

As she contemplated what she had seen, Asami recalled an ancient legend she had heard, telling of a great cherry tree with roots that extended all the way to the center of the world. The tale told that this tree gave life to the world, and that it also had a caretaker, a wood spirit who, like the tree, had no name but resembled the being she had seen behind Iomedae. At the same time, she realized that Iomedae's kiss had a lingering effect. She had not only recovered from weariness and all the wounds she had suffered on the previous day; she also felt more hale and hearty than she ever had before. She knew that she could both prepare more spells than she had been able to do before and prepare spells of greater potency.

When Asami joined her friends in the common room for breakfast, she learned that all of them had experienced dreams very similar to hers, in which Iomedae spoke to them and kissed them, but like her Jiro had seen something else. All of them also felt that Iomedae had blessed them with new talents and greater abilities to stand against the demons. Just after they shared this discovery with one another, they heard that Cennami and Zosta's parents had arrived at Defender's Heart.

The characters are now 6th level and have achieved their first Mythic tier. 

In addition to their 6th-level class abilities and 1st-tier mythic path abilities, each character received the following: a +2 bonus to one skill of the player's choice, a +2 bonus to one ability score, +5 hit points, a bonus feat for which the character met the prerequisite, and a special ability tied to the campaign-specific character trait chosen at character creation. All familiars and spirit animals qualify as mythic creatures for the purpose of determining damage and effects. 


Sunday, June 4, 2017

Wrath of the Righteous, part 16: Victory and Loss

As the group inside the Gray Garrison felt the effects of the energy released by the Wardstone fragment and comprehended what their visions had revealed to them, they were stunned by what had transpired and could not react to the arrival of the babau demons. When the visions of the past and of what was happening elsewhere faded, an image of Areelu Vorlesh appeared to them, accompanied by demons of various other types. Vorlesh sneered at them and threatened, clearly expecting her babau slaves to exact her revenge on them for depriving her of the power of the Wardstones.

Irabeth drew Radiance and charged the wall where Vorlesh appeared, but she collided with the wall and fell to the floor, then began gasping and clutching at her throat as though something was choking her. Asami heard similar sounds coming from the mongrelfolk in the room behind her. At that moment another wave of energy flowed outward from her and the other members of the Eagle's Watch. When this energy struck the demoness she screamed in rage and agony as her bones visibly snapped and the membranes of her bat-like wings were shredded like dry leaves in a high wind. The portal through which she and her demonic minions were about to enter the mortal world snapped shut.

While Vorlesh had been speaking, the babau had all been gesticulating and muttering incantations. Immediately more babau appeared in the two third-floor rooms of the Garrison, doubling the demons' numbers. One of the demons motioned and for a brief moment the illumination in the chamber dimmed, then returned to the golden glow emanating from the bodies of Asami and her friends. Another babau made gestures indicative of a spell to dispel other magic, but it could not overcome the light.

All of the babau wielded polearms as well as magic. There were now four of them within weapon reach of Asami. Nevertheless, she summoned her splintered spear and hurled it at the demon standing directly in front of her. Two of the demons slashed at her with their blades, slicing open both of her arms. Her spear went wide of its target and splintered on the floor. She drew her wand, realizing as she did so that the wound in her right arm had already vanished. She fired three blue missiles at the babau, but because she had to rely on what power the crafter had imbued in the wand instead of her own skill at overcoming magical defenses, the missiles bounced harmlessly off the babau's slimy hide.

While Asami was ruefully looking at the demon she had failed to injure, she saw Jiro, who was behind the demon, slump to the ground. Irabeth was still unconscious from the suffocation spell Vorlesh had cast, as were the mongrelfolk. The situation was already looking grim for the companions. Then two of the demons attacked Asami with their polearms, their claws, and even their teeth. She felt faint and the light dimmed. She scarcely sensed when her body collapsed on the hard floor.

Despite being insensible to what was happening around her, Asami somehow experienced when Kirara fiercely attacked the ankles of several of the demons with bites and scratches that were unusually severe. But she knew nothing else about what had happened to her friends until she opened her eyes again. She did not see Aegronius swinging his adamantine morningstar against the babau, or Irabeth regaining her feet to stand against them. She did not witness Zosta punching and kicking them, only to fall when overwhelmed by the wounds they inflicted on her. She did not witness Runa fighting furiously in the name of Iomedae. She was unaware of her own injuries healing far more quickly than was ordinarily possible, or of how her friends' attacks were somehow able to penetrate the demons' tough hides and their weapons were unharmed by the acidic slime that coated the babau. She did not know that for some inexplicable reason the power granted her and her friends by the Wardstone fragment was not extended to Irabeth.

When her injuries had healed enough that she no longer hovered on the brink of death and she regained consciousness, she found that the room in front of her seemed to be full of babau. She could see Irabeth lying on the floor, now surrounded by a pool of blood. Aegronius was down as well. Jiro was on his feet again, and there was something large, white and furry lying on the floor behind him. She groped for her wand, which had fallen from her hand when she fainted. There were babau standing close enough to her to strike her, but they were all facing away from her for the moment. She expended another of the wand's charges and saw the missiles successfully bypass the demon's resistance, though they did not appear to do much damage. She heard Runa call out the words of a spell, but saw no effect.

Before Asami could decide what to do next, the babau all vanished, carried off by a spell that she knew to be one of teleportation. It was a powerful spell, strong enough to have transported the demons thousands of miles away. Asami staggered to her feet. Jiro was bending over Irabeth with an expression of grief on his face. Asami looked around at her friends. Though their clothing, like hers, was stained with blood, everyone but Irabeth was still alive. The two rooms were empty of enemies. Several glittering shards of the Wardstone fragment were embedded in the walls. Seeing them, she remembered the vision and her heart sank. The Wardstones were no more, and Irabeth was dead. What would defend the Worldwound now?

Next: part 17, Aftermath


Sunday, May 21, 2017

Wrath of the Righteous, part 15: Finding the Fragment

May 21, 2017

Character level: 5th

The group of Crusaders were all weary and depleted of magic by this point, but no one suggested leaving the Gray Garrison for another night. There was too much at stake. While Asami drank a healing potion and Runa took out a wand to heal more of her own injuries, Jiro took several of the mongrelfolk with him to make sure no more enemies waited in the five rooms on the garrison's second floor. Zosta walked into the long room from which the winged creature had emerged, finding a long table and the bodies of several people, both cultists and ordinary citizens of Kenabres, whose hearts had all been torn out. Asami also saw this disconcerting sight when she followed Zosta. There was a map of Mendev on the table.

Jiro returned to report that he had seen no enemies, so the group members decided to investigate all of the rooms for any clues or useful items. Runa and her mongrelman companion trailed along at the rear of the group, as she felt weak and sick in the aftermath of her near-death experience and could hardly move in her heavy armor.

The party found that the demon cultists had destroyed what they could not use. A barracks room held several overturned cots and an empty lockbox. Across the hallway lay a room with a hexagonal table strewn with texts and tomes about geography, history, and military tactics, including information on Mendevian troop movements both past and future.

At the end of the hallway in the room where Zosta had fought one of the demon-creatures they found evidence that it had once been a library, but all of the books it had contained had been burned to ash except for a few that lay on a small table. One of these could not be read by anyone present. Next to the library was a room containing several empty bird cages and writing materials, indicating that message birds had probably been housed there, but the evidence suggested that no birds had occupied the room for some time. In one corner lay a small closet enclosing a window through which the birds could be released. After a brief look around the aerie, the party members searched for another secret room like the armory they had found downstairs on the previous day, but they discovered no evidence of such a space on the second floor.

When all of the other rooms had been examined, only one room that hadn't been opened during the fight with the defenders remained. The door proved to be securely locked. Jiro attempted unsuccessfully to pick the lock, then used his magic chime. But the door remained stubbornly barred against them. Asami suggested that Jiro speak to the spirits as he had done at the weaponsmith's shop a few days earlier, but Jiro responded that the spirits would avoid a place where so much blood had been spilled. He tried putting out a bowl of milk for the spirits anyway, but the milk instantly soured. Asami then put her hands on the door and asked the wood to give way, without success. Finally Aegronius took out his greataxe and began chopping at it, with little success until Jiro reminded him that his adamantine morningstar might be more effective, and he began to bash at the door with the morningstar, sending splinters of wood flying. Zosta then picked up the axe Aegronius had dropped and joined him in attacking the door.

Working together the two of them soon chopped a hole through the door, through which they saw what appeared to be a zombie.They finished destroyed the door and as the last bits of wood were destroyed they could all see five zombies inside the room. The zombies had already gathered around the doorway, attracted by the noise. The one closest to the doorway hit Zosta in the face. Zosta dropped the axe and kicked the zombie's legs out from under it, then stomped on it twice. The zombie disintegrated into a cloud of dust. Jiro touched a second zombie with a curative spell and it also turned to dust.

Irabeth walked unheedingly through the cloud of zombie dust and went inside the room. Two of the zombies attacked her as she passed them. Runa stepped over to Zosta and used her wand to heal the damage the zombie had done, while Asami used her own wand to send three missiles at one of the zombies. Zosta knocked down another zombie and pummeled it into particles, and her mongrelman comrade shot another zombie with an arrow that hit so precisely it knocked the onyx powering the zombie out of its body. Irabeth grabbed the remaining zombie and pushed it away from the others, as she had recognized the zombies as a variety known as plague zombies that could cause disease, and she knew that when the zombies disintegrated their dust could infect anyone who breathed it in. Zosta had already begun to cough after inhaling a mouthful when she destroyed her latest zombie opponent.

Aegronius exchanged the morningstar for his preferred weapon, his ranseur, and ran into the room to chop the last zombie into two pieces. Irabeth, whose divine blessings made her immune to diseases, inhaled the zombie dust and spat dismissively. She then explained that they were plague zombies and told Zosta what to expect: symptoms would not appear for a day or two, she would begin to experience weakness, and if she died of the disease she herself would transform into a plague zombie. Zosta was relieved that she wouldn't become ill immediately.

With the zombies destroyed, the Crusaders could look around the room. It held an ascending staircase in one corner, and against one wall stood a large alabaster basin, which was currently filled with bloody entrails. Along the edge of the basin were images of knights around a sun. Asami realized that the basin was sacred to Iomedae and that it was ordinarily full of enchanted water. Looking at the state of the basin, Aegronius asked, "Should we destroy it?" Asami answered, "No, we must cleanse it."

Jiro summoned his invisible servant to remove the offal, and Runa repeatedly conjured water to rinse the basin. When it was full of clean water, the water glowed and shimmered and something appeared in it, showing everyone close enough to view it a scene of a different room with torches in two alcoves, which was also occupied by a minotaur whose blood-red hide and glowing eyes indicated it had fiendish blood. The view moved to a second room adjoining the minotaur's location, where a woman wielding a scythe stood next to a sturdy cage holding a glowing white stone. Then the view descended a staircase and showed the Crusaders standing next to the alabaster basin. After this vision vanished everyone turned to look at the stairs in the corner of the room.

As they realized they would have to climb up and fight the minotaur to reach the Wardstone fragment, they heard the blast of a horn from above them. They knew the minotaur was waiting for them. Everyone began to climb the stairs. Aegronius went first and entered the room to face the minotaur, who immediately struck him a harsh blow. Zosta darted past Asami, who was ahead of her, and avoided the minotaur to get behind him, though her presence didn't seem to provide the usual advantage. Runa took a potion from her pouch and handed it to Irabeth, for she felt too weakened to be of much use in combat against the minotaur and she knew the potion would grant the paladin additional protection.

The minotaur appeared to be focusing its attacks on Aegronius in much the same way that Irabeth could focus on a foe. The beast had a huge axe. Aegronius dropped his ranseur in favor of his own great axe, and Jiro stepped up behind him to lend his healing energy to both Aegronius and Zosta. The minotaur struck them both, rendering Jiro's healing almost useless, and Aegronius collapsed. The minotaur then gored him despite the fact that he was lying unconscious on the ground.

Asami could see none of this. She could only hear the grunts of the minotaur and the clash of weapons. Kirara whispered in her ear, "Don't go up there. It smells bad," which Asami knew meant that there was something evil in the room upstairs. While Asami tried to decide what to do, Runa moved into the room to pour a potion into Aegronius' unresisting mouth, which revived him. Jiro raised his staff, prepared to strike the minotaur after reassuring himself that Aegronius would not die just yet.

Asami murmured to Kirara, "I cannot just wait here," and climbed up the stairs to the entrance of the room. To her surprise, Kirara exclaimed, "I'll run interference!" and leaped out of her pack, darting past the minotaur, who swung at her but missed the little white cat. Kirara came to a stop beside Zosta. This distraction allowed Asami to avoid being the minotaur's next target when she stood in the doorway. Asami pointed her wand at the minotaur and the three missiles struck the creature, though they didn't appear to do it much hurt.

Irabeth drank the potion Runa had given her and entered the room, taking up a position near Zosta. The minotaur swung at Zosta, dealing her a terrible blow that caused her to spin and fall. Kirara barely avoided having Zosta land on top of her. Runa gave more healing to Aegronius, which restored him enough to move, but he was now as weak and sick as Runa, and could not stand up without risking another attack from the minotaur. Instead he struck at its leg while still lying on the floor. At the same time Jiro hit the minotaur with his staff, which he had enhanced with magic, and the minotaur slumped to the ground. Bohgong, who had been beside Asami on the stair, raced into the room and jumped on Zosta. A moment later she regained her feet and the white monkey retreated to the safety of Jiro's pack.

Jiro mentioned that he thought the nose ring worn by the minotaur might be magical, and Asami cast a spell to determine that it was indeed magical, as was the musical horn the minotaur carried. There was no time to examine them further so she picked them up and joined her friends at the door to the next room where the fragment awaited them.

A second time they found the door securely locked. This time Jiro used his chime immediately. After four or five attempts, the lock finally clicked open, and the chime disintegrated, depleted of magic. As soon as the door opened they saw the woman from the vision in the basin, holding a ball of flames in her hand that she hurled at them. Slowed by their weakened condition, Aegronius and Runa were burned worse than the rest of the group. The woman then chanted another spell, and Asami saw a hellish vision overlay the contents of the room. Her knees trembled with fear and despair, but she did not run. Her eyes remained on the cage's contents, the glowing white stone, which stood on a pedestal beneath a domed ceiling. Aegronius said to her, "Let's take the stone while the rest take her," and she nodded in agreement.

Zosta moved to face the woman, knocking her to he floor and punching her in the face, but the blow did less damage than she expected. Irabeth moved toward the cage. Jiro ran around behind it to join Zosta in attacking the woman. Though she still lay on the floor the woman returned Zosta's attack viciously, doing her serious harm. Asami waited for Aegronius to shamble toward the cage, but then decided instead of following at his restricted pace she would use her wand to strike the cage. Her missiles did mar it, but the damage was minor. Meanwhile Runa used a wand that Jiro had given her to summon a tetsubo of force to attack the prone woman. While the tetsubo attacked, Runa cast a spell on Aegronius to increase the damage done by his morningstar, which he had brought out again. Jiro abandoned preparing to strike the woman if she tried to cast another spell and instead healed Zosta. This left the woman free to speak the words of a spell Asami recognized, as she had found it in the spellbook that had appeared unexpectedly in her room at Defender's Heart. A wave of blood flowed out from the corner of the room next to the woman, shoving the demon worshipper against the cage. It pushed Irabeth, Zosta, and Jiro away, and knocked Jiro, Runa, and Aegronius off their feet. Asami was spared because she was still outside the room.

Jiro was made ill by the foul blood. Aegronius tried to stand again but slipped and fell. Asami fired more missiles at the cage, and Irabeth began slamming the sword Radiance into it with great force. Jiro managed after two attempts to get back on his feet, but Runa gave up on this and crawled toward the cage, barely able to overcome her disgust at the blood on the floor.

The woman tried to touch Zosta when Zosta returned to stand over her, but Jiro had cast a spell of protection on her before ascending the stairs and the attempt failed. Zosta decided to grab the woman and hold her so she could cast no more spells. She and the woman struggled, the woman repeatedly pulling free of Zosta's grip only to be grabbed again a moment later. Aegronius got up and moved to the cage with his morningstar ready as Runa again granted him Iomedae's divine power. The blood had vanished, and Asami walked over to stand between Aegronius and Jiro, drawing the rod Quednys had given her from her pack and holding it at the ready. When the woman glimpsed her holding it, she shouted, "No! No! You don't know what it will do!"

The woman again tried to touch Zosta when she got her hand free, and though Jiro hit her with his staff he couldn't prevent her from cursing Zosta, which left her struggling even more to hold on to the woman. Aegronius began to smash at the cage with his morningstar. This caused the woman to scream in rage and try casting another spell, but she failed to protect herself from being held by Zosta and thus expended the magic without effect. Irabeth became frustrated by how little damage her sword was doing to the cage and picked up Aegronius great axe to swing at the metal bars, which ran both horizontally and vertically and were too close together for Asami to insert the rod between them. Asami waited for her comrades to break open the cage, taking care not to hold her wand too close to the rod lest its magic be drained and the rod rendered useless.

Aegronius struck the cage a mighty blow and it flew open. At that moment, the woman on the floor managed to cast a spell, not at Zosta but at Asami. Asami was seized with fear and ran out of the room, desperate to escape. She heard Jiro shout, "Stop her! Don't let her get past!" The mongrelfolk, who were at the head of the stairs still, caught hold of Asami as she tried to run past them and barred her from fleeing down the stairs. Jiro came up behind her and took the rod from her hand as she struggled with them.

While Asami was still trying to flee, a wave of golden energy rushed out of the room when Jiro touched the rod to the stone, accompanied by the sound of angelic beings singing. Then thousands of razor-sharp shards of crystal shot out from the shattered Wardstone fragment, shredding the demon-worshipper, who had already been rendered unconscious by a blow from Irabeth. The shards did not touch the Crusaders or their faithful mongrelfolk comrades. As the golden energy touched them, everyone but Irabeth and the mongrelfolk began to glow with the same radiance. They felt all of their wounds heal and every weakness or sickness or terror affecting them fade. All of the spells Asami had expended that day were restored to her mind, and she knew that she could use her splintered spear again just as if she had rested overnight.

Then her mind entered a dream-like state. She saw visions that she understood to be the history of the Wardstone. She knew what year each scene occurred during, and the names of all the people and beings she witnessed even if she had never seen them before. She observed thousands of demons being destroyed and others fleeing as a wave of power flowed out from the other Wardstones still linked to the shattered fragment, in a last burst of energy before all of the Wardstones became inert. Her vision showed her the witch Areelu Vorlesh planning a vindictive strike against Asami and her friends for foiling her plans. She watched the Wardstone being made by celestial beings, saw a young Lord Hulruun having witches executed before it at the start of the Fifth Crusade, saw the demonic Storm King defeated and nearly slain by the dragon Telendrev at the beginning of the Fourth Crusade, watched Irabeth fighting the traitor Staunton Vane beside the Stone before Vane summoned a flying creature and fled. She saw the creature called Minago putting the stone in this very room, where the woman used a powerful spell granted by Minago to create the cage around it. She also saw a vision of something that would now never come to pass, when Vorlesh planned to corrupt the stone and use it transform all of the Crusaders into part of her demonic invasion force. As this vision came to and end, everyone present, including Irabeth, saw Vorlesh using the nahyndrian crystal. Then all of them saw babau demons appear inside the room with them, and they knew this was not a vision. The Wardstones were no more, and they would have to be ready to use their restored magic and strength to fight again.

Next: Part 16, Victory and Loss

Game Review: The Dresden Files Cooperative Card Game

Tonight my friends introduced me to the Dresden Files cooperative card game from Evil Hat Productions. This is a quick to learn, fast to play card game using the Fate system, which is also used for the Dresden Files tabletop roleplaying game. Players play characters from the Dresden Files series of urban fantasy novels, including protagonist Harry Dresden himself, and try to defeat various enemies and obstacles that Harry and his friends face in the books. For our games tonight we played using the cards for Stormfront, the first Dresden novel. My review is based on my experience playing three games tonight and shouldn't be construed to give a 100% accurate description of the rules.

 The game allows players to choose which character they want to play, but one player must play Harry Dresden. Each player gets a set of Action cards specific to their chosen character to use on their turns. There are four types of actions: Attack, Investigate, Overcome, and Take Advantage. All characters get some cards of each type, but each character gets a different number of cards of each action category. For example, the characters Billy and Georgia the werewolf couple are geared more toward attacking, so they get more Attack cards than they do cards of the other three action types. But because Karrin Murphy is a police detective, she gets more Investigate cards.

Players start play with four Action cards in their hands. Each Action card has two values: Fate cost, which is described below, and Range. Range is the number of spaces the card can reach on the board. A Range of 1 means the card can only be played against cards in position 1 on the board (see more about the board below). Attack and Investigate cards have a third value, which represents either the amount of Attack damage the card does to a Foe, or the number of Clue points the card is worth in an Investigation. Once an Action card has been played, it must be placed on the player's discard pile. Players cannot draw any more Action cards from their deck unless a Stunt, Talent, or Advantage card allows them to do so.

In addition to Action cards, each character also has a Stunt card and a Talent card. A Stunt card can be played once per game instead of an Action card, to allow the character to do something special like make an extra attack, do more damage, or increase the range of an Action card. Talent cards are similar to Stunt cards, but can only be played after a player discards an Action card to regain Fate points.

The game provides a preset pool of Fate points, which are represented by cardboard tokens and are shared by all players. Action cards all have a Fate point cost to play them. Different cards cost a different number of Fate points. Some cards also require a player to roll a dice in addition to expending Fate points. These dice are specific to the game; instead of numbers or pips, the six-sided dice have two plus symbols, two minus symbols, and two blank sides. Some Action cards require a player to roll one or two dice to determine how many Fate points it costs to play that Action card. If the player rolls a minus, then the Fate cost is reduced by one for each minus rolled. If the player rolls a plus, the Fate cost increases by one. If the players run out of Fate tokens, they can't play any more Action cards and will probably lose the game. Fortunately, they can discard Action cards from their hand to regain a number of Fate points equal to the cost of the card. Discarding an Action card in this way also triggers the player's Talent card to be activated.

In addition to the players' cards, there are cards representing what enemies the characters are fighting and what mystery they're trying to solve - after all, besides being a wizard, Harry Dresden is a private detective, and several of his friends work for the police department. There are four types of these cards: Advantage, Foe, Investigation, and Obstacle. Players must play a Take Advantage card against an Advantage, an Attack card against a Foe, an Investigate card against an Investigation, and an Overcome card against an Obstacle.

At the beginning of the game, twelve of these cards are randomly laid out on the board in two rows of six. The six positions are numbered, and cards must be removed from the board beginning with the two cards in position 1, although some Action cards will allow players to take on cards that are in other positions. When the cards in position 1 are removed, all the other cards are shifted one space to the left so that position 1 is never empty until the board is cleared. While the purpose of the game is to remove all the cards, it's most important to solve the Investigations and remove those first. If players run out of Fate points or Action cards while there are still cards on the board, they move to the Showdown phase. Too many Investigation cards still on the board it will make it very unlikely for them to win the Showdown.

The Foe and Investigation cards have a point cost that the players must overcome to remove them from the board. These aren't Fate points, but instead represent Attack and Clue points, which each have their own set of cardboard tokens. If a player plays an Attack card that does 3 points of damage to a Foe card, three Attack tokens are placed on that Foe card. If the Foe card has a point cost of 11, it remains on the board until it takes 11 Attack points. The Investigation cards work the same way using Clue tokens. There are some Foe and Investigation cards that are linked, so that one can't be removed until the other card is off the board. For example, in the Stormfront set there is a Foe card that can't be attacked until one of the Investigations is solved.

The Advantage and Obstacle cards don't have a point cost. If a player plays a Take Advantage card with a range of 1 and there is an Advantage card in position 1, that player can remove the Advantage card from the board and gain the advantage that is described on the card. Some Advantage cards allow players to draw additional Action cards or take a second turn. Obstacle cards can be removed in a similar way, but instead of giving the players advantages, removing an Obstacle card removes a penalty or limitation from the players.

Advantage and Obstacle cards don't count toward winning the game; players need to remove them from the board in order to gain access to the Foe and Investigation cards, especially if those cards are located in positions 4, 5, and 6. Though the cards are laid out randomly on the board, the game rules specify that Advantage and Obstacle cards can't be placed in position 6. Most Action cards only have a Range of 1 or 2 spaces, so the players will have to get rid of Advantage and Obstacle cards to move the Foe and Investigation cards within range of their Actions..

Players can pass on their turn if they can't decide what Action to play or want to wait for the other players to take their turns first, but passing costs one Fate point. A player who runs out of Action cards also has to pay a penalty of one Fate point each time her turn comes and she's unable to play a card. With only four Action cards per player, it becomes quite a challenge to ensure that there are enough Fate tokens left to afford the Action cards while also making sure players don't run out of cards to play. There are some Advantage cards that allow one or more players to draw another card, but these cards don't allow all players to draw a card. It really is a cooperative resource management game. There's no benefit to ignoring the other players or trying to outdo them.

All three of the games we played tonight ended with Foe and Investigation cards still on the board, forcing us to try to win by winning a Showdown. Unfortunately each time we did poorly on the dice rolls required to resolve the Showdown, and we lost to the game board. Despite this, it was a lot of fun to play the game. The rules sound complicated when described as I described them up above, but it's really not a difficult game to learn. Our games took place over a period of about two and a half hours, including time to explain how the game mechanics work.

While a lot of my favorable impression of this game comes from playing it with close friends, I feel that the ease and speed of play would make this a good game for anyone, especially a Dresden Files fan who doesn't have the time to get involved in a more complex roleplaying game. I give this game four stars out of five.


Monday, May 1, 2017

Wrath of the Righteous, episode 14: Return to the Gray Garrison

April 29, 2017

I've noticed a tendency in my previous posts to detail out the combats, but without much personal information about the characters. I'm making a change to the style of these posts that I hope will make them more entertaining to read. I'll be focusing on the viewpoint of my character, Asami the wizard. Sometimes Asami won't be able to see what's happening to the other player-characters. I hope this won't make it seem like no one else is doing anything. That certainly isn't true.
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From her vantage on the stairs Asami could only see a small portion of what was happening in the room at the top. Irabeth was standing in front of her near the head of the staircase. She could glimpse a little of Jiro and several of the mongrelfolk who had accompanied them, and she could see Runa’s head above the heads of the cultists who had emerged from side rooms to attack her. Of Aegron and Zosta she could see nothing at all.

Suddenly more people entered the main room from side doors, and Asami saw Runa fall, vanishing behind the swarm of cultists. Asami raised her wand, directing two missiles from it at one cultist near where Runa had fallen, and a third missile at another figure standing near her first target. A wave of energy spread from where Jiro stood, which Asami recognized as his healing hex. Then a figure appeared in the midst of the cultists, standing over what Asami assumed must be Runa’s prone form. It was a white-furred creature that looked like Jiro’s spirit animal Bohgong, but it was much larger than the diminutive monkey. The unusually large monkey also appeared blurred. Asami saw the giant-sized Bohgong lift Runa off the floor and then leap out of sight toward another room that lay above the stairs and behind Asami’s current location.

Relieved that Runa had been taken to a safer place, Asami sent more missiles from her wand at a cultist who stood directly in front of Jiro. Just after she did this another figure appeared between Jiro and the cultist. It was a ghostly form dressed in the style of apparel common in Tian Xia, which led her to assume that Jiro must have summoned it – or perhaps Bohgong had, as Asami suspected there was more to the white monkey than a mere spirit animal. This spirit guardian standing before Jiro did not bear any offensive weapon, but used its staff to block attacks by the cultists that were aimed at Jiro.

Asami did not know what was happening to most of her comrades at this point, as she could only see Jiro and several of the mongrelfolk. Irabeth had run up the stairs and disappeared into the other room. Asami climbed up to the top of the staircase but still could not see anyone else. The rest of her friends were behind her on the other side of a wall as best she could surmise. Because Jiro and his spirit guardian were facing a large number of cultists, Asami pointed her wooden sword at several cultists in the corner of the room she faced and a wave of energy in the colors of autumn leaves spread out from the sword’s point. She had targeted four enemies, but the magic affected only one, the other three managing to resist its power. The fourth cultist’s eyes rolled up and he slumped to the floor.

Asami heard Irabeth shouting fiercely from the other room in the language of the orcs, which Asami was not able to translate. She shifted around the corner behind Jiro to see what was happening in the next room. Her gaze immediately fell on Runa, who was on her feet but did not look well. Runa appeared to have withdrawn from the demonic goat-horned creatures that Irabeth was fighting in order to heal herself. Asami stepped up behind Runa, laying her hand on Runa’s shoulder, and said in a low voice, “Accept the magic,” into Runa’s ear. Runa nodded slightly in acknowledgement. Asami held the flat of her wooden blade toward Runa and moved it from Runa’s head to her feet as she murmured the words of the spell. An insubstantial shape of green energy formed around Runa, surrounding her completely at a foot’s length from her body. The energy took the shape of a sturdy tree. It would protect her from the attacks of evil creatures, and creatures summoned to this place by magic would not be able to approach her. When the spell was complete, Asami took a potion vial from her pouch and handed it to Runa, telling her, “Drink this.” It was the strongest curative potion she had in her possession, and Runa needed it far more than she did.

Now that she had entered the second room, Asami could see that Aegron and Zosta were also there, at the opposite end of the chamber. She watched over Runa’s shoulder as Zosta tripped one of the goat-horned beings and knocked it to the floor. A moment later the creature got back on its feet and stepped backward through another doorway. Zosta followed it and it attempted to gore her with its horns. A second creature of the same kind was engaged with Irabeth and Aegron, who was using his ranseur to fight it. Runa and Irabeth both turned to look toward the wall to Asami’s left. Asami sensed that they had seen something, but before she could get a glimpse of it, the entire room was plunged into impenetrable blackness. Asami heard the sound of bowstrings twanging, and something wet spattered the floor nearby and Runa made a small exclamation of disgust. Then there was the sound of a door closing from the opposite end of the room where Zosta and her opponent had been. Kirara could see no more in the darkness than Asami could, but the cat poked her head out of Asami's pack and whispered in Asami's ear, "Smell no enemies near."

Behind Asami, Jiro said, “I’ll try to dispel the darkness.” She waited as he recited the words of the spell, but when he finished nothing happened. Asami felt slightly foolish that she hadn’t thought to do so first. She spoke the spell herself, gesturing with her sword to encompass the room that she couldn’t see. As she pronounced the last syllable, the darkness vanished and the room was visible once more. But she hardly had time to draw a breath before the room went black a second time! She heard a sound like something spitting and felt the burn of acid on her exposed skin. A large shape approached, causing Kirara to hiss fearfully, and then something bit her painfully in the arm.

Asami heard the sound something being dropped on the floor followed by the metallic grating of a sword being drawn from its sheath and guessed that it must be Runa, as Irabeth was already wielding her longsword and Aegron did not customarily use a sword. Behind her there was a rustling as Jiro moved, and she heard him murmuring. Light suffused the room, driving away the unnatural darkness. Jiro held up his lantern on the end of its pole. The lantern’s magical, never-ending illumination had overcome the darkness. In its glow Asami could see that in the room with her and her companions were two creatures that resembled flies but were as large as men and wore man-like faces. Asami raised her wand. Three missiles from the wand slew one of the fly-like monsters. Aegron killed the second one. But there was a third fly-creature in a narrow hallway that led off from the left side of the room, and this spat on Irabeth, Runa, and Aegron. One of the goat-horned creatures was also still in the room, and it used its halberd to slash past Irabeth, aiming at Aegron. Irabeth thrust her sword into the creature and it dropped.

Jiro called out to Bohgong to seek Zosta, who was nowhere in sight. Asami moved to the end of the small corridor and stroked her sword, drawing green lightning from the wooden blade. The lightning shot down the hallway at the third fly-monster and another of the horned demons that stood behind it. But to her disappointment both creatures appeared unaffected by the lightning. Runa put a hand on Irabeth, who seemed unsteady, and murmured a prayer to Iomedae to heal the paladin’s wounds. Irabeth was still weak and withdrew from the area where she might be threatened by the demonic creatures’ attacks. Runa handed her a potion and Jiro used one of his hexes to provide her further relief from her injuries. Asami pointed her wand at one of the demons that remained in the room, but the tiny missiles of magical force bounced off its hide.

Zosta emerged from a room at the far end of the chamber, tripped another horned demon, then slashed it with her bladed gauntlets. Several of the mongrelfolk archers, who had been busy eliminating the last of the cultists in the other room, now aimed their bows at the fly-thing and brought it down. Aegron charged past where it had hovered to get to the demon in the hallway. It was close enough to where Asami stood that she could stab at it with her spear, but her blow failed to connect. Then Aegron broght his greataxe down on it and nearly cleaved it in two. After it died it vanished in the manner of a creature that had been summoned from another plane. There were no other cultists or creatures sharing the space with the attacking force from the Eagle's Watch.

But there were still side rooms that they had yet to explore, and they had not located the Wardstone fragment. Runa and Irabeth both looked weary and were still wounded. Asami assessed the spells she still had in her mind. Her ability to hurl lightning at her foes or dispel magic they cast were gone, and she could not grant anyone else the same protection against evil creatures that she had placed on Runa. That magic would last a little longer, but how much was left of the Gray Garrison to examine? Would they need to leave it and replenish themselves a second time? She had a magic pearl in her pouch that would let her recover one spent spell, but it could not be used to recover the lightning spell or the spell to dispel other magic. As she thought of this Asami could feel the weight of the enchanted rod Quednys had given her, pressing against her back. The stone must be destroyed before the demon lords could use it to fully open the Worldwound. Thinking of the Worldwound made the peculiar Seeker’s Spiral birthmark on the back of her neck tingle and raised memories of her lost parents. She and her friends must prevent the Worldwound from being opened further, no matter what the cost.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Wrath of the Righteous, episode13: Attack on the Gray Garrison

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Character level: 5th

In the aftermath of the fight with the ceiling-hanging alchemist and his cultists comrades, the assault team at the Gray Garrison took a few moments to check the corpses of their fallen enemies for any items of use. Asami and Runa both scanned the room for magical auras, finding five vials of magical potions, a ring, and a suit of enchanted leather armor worn by the alchemist. There were also a number of spell scrolls in the possession of the cultists. Some of the dead cultists had curative potions, which the assault group were glad to acquire. Runa examined some of the scrolls and found that half of them were meant to frighten the subject into fleeing in fear, which seemed to be a spell commonly given to the followers of Baphomet.

After the bodies had been relieved of useful objects, the group turned their attention to the chamber from which the cultists had emerged. It was a long narrow space lined by six white marble columns, which had once been carved in the likenesses of people but were now so badly defaced that they were unrecognizable. At the far end of the room an altar also of white marble had been overturned. On its uppermost surface lay a conglomeration of severed body parts stitched together into a vaguely insect-like form. Seven bedrolls lay on the floor next to the altar.

While some of his companions were looking into the room with the columns, Aegronius had gone to keep an eye on the doorway leading back into the shrine to Iomedae that stood to one side of the main entrance. Suddenly three demons appeared behind him. When he sensed them and turned to face them he saw that they were a type of demon he had seen before, ugly creatures that wore their heads where the chest region would be on a man, and had rat-like hairless tails. Before he could warn his companions one of these demons bit him and he felt strangely demoralized. Another demon bit one of the mongrelfolk who were with Aegron and the mongrelman collapsed.

Runa spied that Aegron and the mongrelfolk were under attack and summoned an area of blinding radiance that harmed the evil creatures. One of the other mongrelfolk pulled his fallen friend to safety and prepared to administer a potion. Two of the other mongrelfolk fired on the demons. Irabeth moved into the shrine room to face them as they attacked Aegron again. Irabeth was bitten as well but didn't suffer the same effect as Aegron had. From the other room, Asami could see two of the demons and she aimed her wand at the one nearest to Aegron, firing three tiny missiles into its body. Zosta ran past into the shrine, knocking the middle demon to the floor and slamming it with both of her gauntlet-clad arms, which sent it flying backward in a limp heap.

The other two demons began to mutter in the language of the Abyss, which Runa was able to identify as spellcasting. An instant later one of the demons vanished. Aegron stabbed the demon that was still standing, dropping it to the ground, after which Zosta smashed her fists into it. The demons had been defeated.

Aegron then went to examine the room that lay at the side of the shrine, which the group had previously bypassed. It appeared to have been a museum previously, but everything in it had been destroyed, with the exception of an adamantine morningstar which Aegron found. Having seen this variety of demon previously, he knew that they hated anything of beauty and after finding they couldn't destroy the morningstar they had likely used it to smash everything else. He also found the corpses of two men in full armor, who had both been decapitated. He realized then that the demons' hands had been covered in blood and they had probably been playing with the severed heads, using them as puppets.

While Jiro and Runa took out wands to heal the wounds suffered previously, Zosta went into another room that lay just off the columned chamber. This was was fitted as an alchemist's laboratory. Within it she found a portable alchemist's kit, a longsword in a case, and a small piece of parchment. The parchment contained a message addressed to 'Staunton', which said that the sword had once belonged to Irabeth but had been sold to Lord Kendro Nyserian, who had been punished for failing to reveal it earlier. Lord Nyserian was one of the victims of the vermlek demons outside, who had been wearing his skin as armor.

Zosta showed the sword to Irabeth, who explained that she had indeed sold the sword because she had wanted to purchase a wedding gift for Anevia. As she was now carrying the sword the group had fond beneath the city, she offered her old sword to anyone who would like to use it. After learning that it was enchanted to deal extra harm to evil creatures from other planes, Runa decided she would take it. She returned the sword that Irabeth had previously lent her in exchange for the new one. When she remarked that she would look on the blade as a gift from Iomedae, Irabeth responded that it was a gift from her, not from the goddess.

Jiro happened to look into the altar room at this time and spied a large creature standing at the far end in front of the overturned altar. It resembled a giant tortoise with a spiky shell, standing on two legs like a man. He was surprised to see such a creature in Kenabres, for he could tell that it had come from Tian Xia. Jiro quietly approached the creature and greeted it respectfully. It appeared to be sizing him up. One of the mongrelmen looked into the room as Jiro was walking toward the tortoise-creature, but the mongrelman only saw Jiro walking purposefully toward the altar. Zosta also looked in and saw the same thing. Her curiosity aroused, she went into the room to see what Jiro was doing.

Jiro bowed to the creature. He could sense that his monkey was tense, though he did not know if it was due to fear, anger, or excitement. As Jiro neared, the tortoise-creature smiled, then pointed toward a section of the wall at the end of the room. Then it bowed and vanished from sight. Zosta heard Jiro speaking, but she did not see the creature. Jiro turned to look at the wall the creature had indicated and saw that a section of it shaped like a doorway was glowing.

Aegron left the museum room and followed the others. When he looked into the altar room he also saw the glow and went in to see what was causing it. Zosta, too, could see it. Asami joined her companions and observed it as well, noting that it radiaed a strong aura of magical energy. When Runa joined the rest she too could see the glow, but when Irabeth came in she saw them all looking at a blank section of wall.

Suspecting that the door-shaped glow meant there was a hidden door in the wall, Runa said a prayer to Iomedae, but the door remained shut. Then Zosta suggested that she recite the prayer that was engraved over the shrine. Runa did so, but it had no effect. Jiro attempted to open the door without success. He also described the creature he had seen to Asami, hoping she might be able to say what it was, but she did not recognize it by his description. Then Jiro recalled that it must be a type of oni, though he couldn't explain why it would have pointed the magic doorway out to him. At that moment he also realized that Runa had recited the prayer incorrectly, transposing some of the words. When he reminded her of this she spoke the words of the inscription in the correct sequence and the door opened.

The room proved to be full of weapons and armor. Many of the weapons were made of cold iron, best suited for fighting demons. Irabeth, Zosta, and Runa all went into the secret armory. Zosta drew out the magic bag that Rhino had given her, and they began putting all of the items into the bag as quickly as they could. Two of the mongrelfolk had been standing guard at the door that led to the staircase, and they had heard voices and footsteps coming from the second floor. As the group members removed all the objects from the armory, the sentries warned that the sounds upstairs were getting louder. The group members hurriedly finished emptying the hidden room of its contents, then went to the museum room to retrieve the two decapitated corpses, which had been identified by their gear as paladins. Carrying the supply of weapons and armor and the two corpses, they hurried out of the Gray Garrison. As they departed from the structure, Irabeth ordered two of the mongrelfolk to pick up the remains of Lord Nyserian and Lord Hulruun.

A short distance away the group paused to rearrange what they were carrying and check that no one was following them. Then they made their way quickly back toward Defender's Heart. Irabeth parted from them before they reached the inn, telling them she would go to the various groups carrying out attacks elsewhere and tell them to continue for a little while so that the defenders of the Gray Garrison would not realize that the Garrison had been the true target.

When the group returned to Defender's Heart and told everyone that they had managed to clear the entire ground floor of the Gray Garrison, morale was improved. The supplies provided by Horgus Gwerm and the things found in the secret armory also heartened the defenders of the city. As some of the fighters from the other attacking groups returned to rest, a mood of celebration overtook Defender's Heart.

The group members looked over the items they had taken from their fallen foes and the armory of Iomedae and claimed those things that would be useful to them, arranging to sell the remainder. Runa took her old set of armor to the smith to ask him to repair the acid damage when he had time. Later she and Zosta found Aegron's friend Darla practicing some unarmed fighting skills, and Runa offered to spar with her, which Darla accepted. Aegron then spent the rest of the evening with her. Darla seemed oblivious to the pitying looks of those who saw her partially amputated leg and felt sorry for her. Aegron decided to set aside all his funds to pay for healing for her once a priest was available who could cast a powerful enough spell.

Asami went to her room to give Kirara a good brushing, as the little white cat had suffered a very trying day. Later, while Asami was studying her spellbook, she realized that Kirara was sleeping on top of an unfamiliar book. She left the cat alone, but when Kirara removed to a different location Asami examined the book and found that it was a small, old spellbook, which had had several pages torn out. She also observed that the 'bookmark' tucked into the book was actually a wand, one which looked rather like the wand that had suddenly vanished from her pouch while she and her companions were fighting with the cultists outside the Gray Garrison.

The following morning, the attackers regrouped and returned to the Gray Garrison to continue their search for the fragment of Wardstone. Jiro used the magical chime to open the front gate. They found that the museum room was still in just as much disarray as on the previous day. The alchemist's laboratory was even more of a mess, as though someone had thrown everything about in a rage. They met no opposition, but the staircase room had been filled with boxes and crates. The mongrelfolk quickly formed a line and passed the crates, re-stacking them in a way that they would not block access to either the stairs or the exit. While they were doing so Runa and Irabeth went into the altar room to try to clean it of filth and reconsecrate it. When the crates had been cleared the entire party climbed the stairs, leaving two mongrelmen behind to make sure that no other foes would come from outside the garrison.

Aegron climbed the staircase first. As soon as he opened the door at the top he found himself facing two archers who fired on him immediately. He could see more enemies behind him in another room. All of the foes he could see appeared to be tieflings. He stepped toward the archers, which led to him being peppered with arrows, but he nearly sliced off one tiefling's hand and the tiefling collapsed. Zosta then ran up the stairs. When she saw that there were more enemies behind where Aegron faced the archers, she ran into that room and knocked one tiefling down. Jiro then followed her onto the second floor and moved to heal the wounds Aegron had suffered from the arrows. One of the mongrelfolk moved to the second floor, and at that moment more enemies appeared from a side room, these dressed like cultists of Baphomet.

Zosta's opponent rolled away from her, but as he did so she slashed him with her bladed gauntlets and he fell unconscious. Two of the archers fired on her. One of the cultists or tieflings cast a spell from a scroll and Aegron was consumed by terror and forced to flee. As Aegron departed two cultists stabbed their polearms at Jiro and two archers fired on him. Asami, who had been waiting at the bottom of the stairs, climbed up behind Irabeth, who had already reached the second floor, and used her wand to strike one of the archers with missiles. As Aegron ran past Irabeth she tripped him and he fell, but he scrambled to his feet and kept running.

In the other room Zosta tripped another tiefling and slashed him. Jiro's monkey produced a tanglefoot bag from somewhere and threw it, causing one of the attackers to be stuck to the floor. Jiro summoned a tetsubo of force. Runa moved to attack the cultists and was wounded in the hand. One of the tieflings tried to get past Zosta, but she dropped him to the floor and left him dead at her feet. One of the other fallen tieflings had been attempting to coordinate his attack with the one who died, but his efforts proved too much for him and he lost consciousness. One of the cultists cast a spell, telling Runa to flee, and several of the others attacked her. Then another door opened, revealing more tieflings, followed by a third door opening near the head of the stairs to reveal yet more enemies - and with them, a large winged bird-like creature.

Loot:
4 scrolls of comprehend language (2 to Asami, 1 to Jiro, 1 to Runa)
ring of protection +1 (Zosta)
2 potions of cure light wounds
potion of cure moderate wounds
potion of mage armor (Jiro)
potion of barkskin (Runa)
potion of invisibility (Asami)
+1 adamantine morningstar
+1 longsword of evil outsider bane (Runa)
3 cold iron longswords
2 cold iron shortswords
Compound longbow of +2 strength
2 heavy crossbows
Cold iron heavy mace
2 cold iron longspears
50 cold iron crossbow bolts
Masterwork longsword
5 holy arrows (Asami)
Arrow of evil outsider slaying (Aegron)
2 suits of masterwork chain armor
Masterwork breastplate with Iomedae symbol (Runa)
Masterwork heavy steel shield
Heavy steel shield of blinding (Runa)
Holy symbol of Desna (Aegron)
Holy symbol of Shelyn
Holy symbol of Iomedae
350 gold pieces each from sale of items

Next: Episode 14, Return to the Gray Garrison

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Wrath of the Righteous, episode 12: Into the Cultists' Lair

Wrath of the Righteous, Part 12
April 9, 2017

Character level: 5th

After the team attacking the Gray Garrison had disposed of the two vermlek demons and their Baphomet cultist minions outside the fortress-like garrison, they searched the remains but found no key to unlock the heavy iron doors that had been locked behind them. At first they feared this would bring an end to their mission to enter the garrison. But Jiro made an attempt to pick the lock, and with the aid of a set of fine quality lockpicks that his monkey mysteriously produced, he was able to get it open. Asami, who had just discovered that she was now able to communicate verbally with her familiar Kirara, was confused when Kirara laughed at Jiro's efforts. It wasn't until afterward that Jiro remembered he had in his possession a magical chime that might have opened the doors with less effort.

The iron doors opened into an entry way decorated with a mosaic of Crusaders in battle with an army of demons. The mosaic had been defaced with vile graffiti, and the floor beneath was stained with fresh blood. As the attackers stepped inside the dimly lit entrance, shadowy figures emerged from a doorway to their left. Jiro exclaimed, "Cultists!" and began casting a spell. Asami stepped up behind him, as he held his lantern aloft and it illuminated the foyer. Half a dozen tieflings wearing the insignia of Baphomet cultists had emerged from a side chamber, where playing cards could be seen on a table. Asami sent three missiles of force from her newly acquired wand and one of the cultists collapsed.

As three of the mongrelfolk fired their bows at the cultists, one man rushed out and ran past the attackers into another chamber on the right of the entryway. A second man ran after him but was struck by Jiro's club. A man maneuvered behind Runa, who was standing next to the doorway from which the cultists had emerged, and stabbed her in the back. Two of his comrades also stepped into the entrance. Then darkness filled the area.

Zosta moved into the room to the right of the entrance, which proved to contain a small shrine to Iomedae that the cultists had attempted to desecrate. The man who had fled there was about to open a door on the far side of the shrine, but before he could do so Zosta tripped him and then stomped on him, crushing his ribs.

Asami could no longer see the cultists, but Kirara whispered in her ear and she directed Jiro's arm to attack the cultist who was standing directly in front of him. The mongrelfolk, who had no trouble seeing through the magical darkness, fired on the man who had stabbed Runa and slew him. Irabeth and Runa were also not troubled by the dark, and Irabeth killed another of the cultists. The last remaining man fled out the entrance of the garrison. One of the mongrelfolk outside fired on him. Then Jiro raced out after him, and Asami stepped outside to bring him down with more missiles from her wand.

The room the cultists had come out of proved to have no other exit and contained nothing of interest, other than evidence that the men had been gambling with severed body parts. The shrine had been smeared with blood and excrement, but the cultists had been unable to deface an inscription in the language of the Celestials that was on the wall above an empty sword rest. Runa took out a scroll and read it, granting herself the ability to read the inscription, which was a prayer to Iomedae that Runa found so moving it brought tears to her eyes. Jiro conjured up some water and an invisible servant and set his servant to washing the shrine clean. He knelt down to do some of the cleaning himself, and as he did so he noticed that the ornate script of the inscription formed the shape of a sword with different words inscribed on it. He called this discovery to Runa's attention, and she saw that the sword's message read, "Let us inherit thine arms, Iomedae." Encouraged by this, Runa tried placing her weapon on the stand and praying to Iomedae, but she didn't sense any change to the weapon, only a feeling of peace.

Leaving Jiro's servant to keep cleaning, the group opened one of the doors leading out of the shrine. They were immediately faced with a gargantuan demon filling the space beyond. This sight so terrified Kirara and one of the mongrelfolk that they both fled. But the rest of the group realized that the demon was far too large to occupy the space in which it appeared and must be some sort of apparition rather than an actual creature. The room in which the demonic vision appeared was actually quite small, but had three doors leading out of it. Zosta listened at one of the doors on the left and exhorted her companions to go through it.

The door opened into a room containing a smashed sideboard and an ascending staircase. It also held three creatures that the companions recognized as dretches, having met such demons while they were trapped under the city. Irabeth rushed into the staircase room to attack the dretches. When one of them made a move toward her she laughed and remarked, "You're trying that? I'm protected by Iomedae!" Her sword slashed into the dretch. Then one of the dretches released a cloud of foul-smelling gas that filled the room and spread into the small chamber beyond, blocking sight and causing Zosta to retch and vomit. Kirara was also affected and the little white cat began to retch into Asami's pack.

One of the mongrelfolk archers pulled Zosta out of the gas cloud. Runa started to step into the room with Irabeth, but Irabeth called out to her to wait and that she would lure the dretches into the other room. Jiro cast a spell on Runa. Irabeth moved into the small room and the dretches pursued her. Runa and Aegron attacked them and Aegron killed his target. Jiro cast another spell upon himself, but was distracted by the sight of his monkey, who seemed to be trying to lay hands on himself as Jiro had seen Irabeth and Runa do, though the monkey seemed to be struggling with this action. In the meantime Aegron and Irabeth slew the other two dretches. Once the creatures were dead the malodorous cloud dissipated.

Zosta had recovered from her sickness by this time and warned her companions that she had heard booted footsteps before the dretches appeared. Since the demons didn't wear footgear there must be someone else in the garrison. Then the doorway at the end of the small room opened, revealing four cultists who wore the insignia of the demon lord Deskari rather than Baphomet, and a fifth figure who was suspended from the ceiling. Like the Baphomet cultists at the entrance, all of the new foes appeared to be tieflings. Runa moved to attack and the man on the ceiling hurled a vial into the small room that exploded in flames, dousing everyone nearby and setting Irabeth on fire. Asami, Jiro, and Zosta were spared as they had all remained or retreated into the shrine room. Aegron moved forward to attack the cultists in the doorway. Jiro summoned a tetsubo of force to attack the suspended tiefling, but found him a hard target to hit. Irabeth patted out the flames and stepped to one side to lay hands on herself for healing.

Asami directed missiles from her wand at the suspended tiefling but they were deflected by a magical shield surrounding him. The mongrelfolk fired on the four cultists in the doorway, leaving one of them badly wounded. Runa then created a burst of brilliant radiance that left the cultists dazzled and the severely wounded man slumped to the ground. The man on the ceiling hurled another vial into the small room, this time setting Runa aflame. Zosta, who had finally recovered from nausea, moved into the room and disarmed one of the cultists. In turn she was struck by one of the others who wielded a scythe. Jiro ran into the room and channeled divine energy to heal his companions, and Irabeth laid hands on herself a second time.

Asami moved a step closer and sent a spell into the room where the man was suspended from the ceiling, wrapping him and the three remaining cultists in sticky vines. Unfortunately the vines also wrapped Aegron and Zosta, but they failed to entrap the man on the ceiling. The ceiling hangerthen hurled another vial that shattered and splashed Runa, who moved into the space occupied by the vines and set them on fire, then collapsed.

Two more of the cultists fell dead after they were burned by the flaming vines. Asami shot a magical arrow coated with acidic sap at the man on the ceiling but Zosta observed that the acid appeared to do him little harm. Jiro healed Runa and she got back on her feet, but the suspended foe hit her with another vial. Asami tried hurling one of her spears at him and missed. When he tossed yet another bottle of liquid Zosta slapped it out of the air, which caused it to only splash everyone instead of setting Runa on fire again. Jiro's tetsubo finally managed to hit the man, then vanished, the magic spent. Jiro then ordered his servant to shut the door into the shrine to prevent the man from exiting into the other room. He called upon the spirits of his ancestors to grant boons to Zosta and Runa. Zosta then grabbed hold of the suspended tiefling and lifted herself up by his arms, wrapping her arms and legs around him so that he couldn't move. Asami threw another spear but it also failed to connect with the man on the ceiling, who was surrounded by a magical effect that made him difficult to see clearly. He tried to drink a potion, but spilled it instead. One of the mongrelfolk managed to hit him with an arrow, then Runa then rendered him unconscious and Zosta dropped him to the floor.

Next: Part 13