Monday, July 3, 2017

[Pathfinder] Wrath of the Righteous, part 19: A Royal Request

As Queen Galfrey’s arrival in Kenabres neared, the group of heroes who had destroyed the Wardstone fragment did what they could to prepare for an audience with royalty. This was something with which none of them were familiar. Jiro had been in the presence of people of high social status before, but that had been in his native land, and he realized that social customs were different in Mendev. To learn more about how one should behave on meeting a Queen, he sought out Horgus Gwerm, the nobleman he and his friends had escorted out of the underground realm after the demonic assault on Kenabres.

He found that the nobleman, who had abandoned his manor after the armsman Garvin transformed into a demon and attacked him, had taken up residence in a local inn and was in the process of hiring servants. To Jiro it seemed that most of the people present waiting to be interviewed weren’t well suited to be servants and were only there because they were seeking any kind of employment. When Jiro explained to Gwerm’s secretary who he was, he was immediately invited to meet personally with the nobleman and Gwerm cancelled the interviews for the rest of the day. Gwerm told Jiro that Queen Galfrey was a warrior Queen who preferred to lead her troops into battle rather than wait for her generals to send reports to her. As such she would not be impressed by elaborate courtly apparel or manners. Jiro understood that the traditional methods of showing respect to superiors that he knew, such as kneeling and bowing deeply, would probably be offensive to the Queen. He thanked Gwerm for his advice and for the much-needed supplies he had sent to Defender’s Heart a few days earlier, and then made his way back to Defender’s Heart.

Zosta had meanwhile spent the day with her family, celebrating the memories of those who had fallen in battle. In their culture this type of celebration led to drinking and brawling. But to her surprise, when she woke the next day her bruises had vanished. She was then called to meet with her parents and Cennami. Cennami informed her that she believed Zosta had more to accomplish with her comrades and that it was all part of her destiny. Zosta had been eager to go back home when the mission to destroy the Wardstone fragment was completed, but now she accepted that she had more to do and that she would likely be away for some time. After talking with her parents and the priestess, it occurred to Zosta that perhaps the reason her parents and Cennami were so effective in battle was that they had acquired divine blessings similar to the ones she had received from Iomedae. As she was about to leave their tent, she heard a chuckle from outside and the sound of heavy footsteps departing and she realized that Rhino had probably been eavesdropping on their conversation.

Asami learned that her familiar Kirara had also experienced the same vision of the Ancient of the World Tree that Asami had seen, but the little white cat lacked the intellect to do more than be awed and a little frightened by what she had witnessed. After their talk, Asami spent some time learning new spells from the spellbook that had mysteriously appeared on her bed two days earlier. She also discovered that the wand she had been missing had reappeared, depleted of a few charges.

Later Quednys informed the group that the Queen had given them the choice of where to meet with her as a courtesy. Jiro initially suggested his garden, but after some discussion it was decided that the best place to meet a Queen would be to take Runa’s recommendation and see her in the chapel of Iomedae’s temple.

Queen Galfrey arrived the following day with an army of seasoned veterans of the Crusades. They camped just outside the northern wall of the city, but groups of soldiers began to enter the city to assist with rebuilding from the rubble. The five companions were told they would be given an audience with the Queen in the afternoon, after she met with the remaining city leaders and with Cennami and Zosta’s parents.

Zosta had bathed and put on some new clothes her parents had given her, but found it a challenge to make sure she kept herself clean and presentable while waiting to be summoned into the Queen’s presence. Asami and Jiro had both been fortunate to find a shop that carried some imported items from Tian-Xia and had acquired some new clothing of the style they were accustomed to wearing. Runa’s original gilded armor had been repaired and she wore it because it had the symbol of Iomedae on the breastplate. Darra had even managed to persuade a reluctant Aegronius to bathe and tidy himself up for the royal audience.

When at last they were summoned to the temple, they saw a crowd departing, including Horgus Gwerm and Aravashnial. The Queen had brought a scroll that had been used to restore the elven wizard’s sight, much to Asami’s relief. As they entered the chapel, they saw that Irabeth was with the Queen and that she appeared less fatigued than on the day before.

Asami had heard various rumors about Galfrey on the previous day: that she had ruled Mendev for over a century, that she was immortal, that she had met Iomedae personally, that she received prophetic visions from Iomedae, and even that she was keeping the Worldwound open to prolong the Crusades. Asami assumed that all of the rumors were the sort of gossip that humans were especially prone to repeating and gave them little credence. She did note that the Queen appeared youthful and attractive by human standards, but her hair was silvery gray, which usually indicated advanced age among humans.

A row of chairs had been set up in front of the altar, and Queen Galfrey invited them to sit while she spoke to them. She began by mentioning that there were some people who blamed the group for destroying the Wardstones, an opinion she clearly thought foolish, and she then added that the five companions would be their replacement, a statement that took them all by surprise! While they pondered what she meant, the Queen went on to ask them to tell her their story from the time that the demons attacked the city through the destruction of the Wardstone, as she wanted to hear the tale from them personally.

When they had finished telling the tale of their adventures, the Queen informed them her scouts had reported that Aponavicius, the fiend who held the captured city of Drezen, had taken most of her forces away from that city, leaving an opening for a force of Crusaders to enter Drezen and reclaim the enchanted banner known as the Sword of Valor. As Quednys had predicted, Queen Galfrey wanted them to lead that force. The goal was not to retake the city, as she couldn’t spare enough troops to do that. Demons were massing all along the Worldwound and she expected most of her army would be required to defend against them in the South. She wanted the five young heroes to recover the banner and replace it in the location it had originally occupied, which would restore its magical protections to the city and the Queen hoped that would make it easier for her army to reclaim the city later on.

The five friends were prepared to enter Drezen and seek the Sword of Valor, but they all felt uncomfortable being asked to lead soldiers. None of them had any experience in leadership. They admitted this to the Queen. She reassured them by telling them that the force they would be leading would be made up of 100 seasoned warriors capable of commanding themselves, all of them devoted to Iomedae, and along with the soldiers she would send three specialists who would provide them with details about Drezen, maps, and other forms of assistance.

When this conversation was concluded, the Queen asked them to stand. She then approached them and one by one touched them on the shoulders with her sword blade, dubbing them Knights of the Fifth Crusade. When the knighting ceremony was over she presented them each with a circular medallion featuring two gray eyes on a blue background encircled by a lightning bolt. These medallions were magical and would grant them special abilities once each day, as well as continuous protection against effects designed to cause confusion or madness. 

Kirara had become bored and wandered off to explore the nooks of the chapel while the Queen spoke, but Asami had observed that Bohgong remained with Jiro and even stood erect beside him during the knighting. For a moment she thought the Queen might knight the monkey as well, but she only looked at him for a moment.

The royal audience then concluded, and the comrades followed Queen Galfrey to the army camp outside the city to meet the three specialists who would accompany them to Drezen. These three were introduced as Sosiel Vaenic, a human priest of Shelyn; Aron Kir, a human expert in battlefield tactics and finding and disabling traps; and Nurah Dendiwhar, a halfling bard expert in the region and very knowledgeable about Drezen. They also met the group of warriors who would be sent with them, all of them well armed and armored humans equipped with divine magic. The Queen then left them. Just then Jiro noticed that Bohgong was missing. Runa caught a glimpse of Queen Galfrey bending over and appearing to shake hands with something that looked like a white monkey, but when she blinked the monkey disappeared.

When they were on their own again, the companions engaged in a deep discussion of who should be designated the commander of the soldiers. In the end it was decided that as a warrior priestess Runa was best suited to that role, though she was uncomfortable with taking that part and doubted her ability. The others encouraged her to remember what Iomedae had told her in her vision: she needed to trust herself more. She then decided to seek out Irabeth and ask if the paladin would be willing to accompany them and give her advice, as reports held that Staunton Vhane was last seen in Drezen and Runa knew that Irabeth would be eager to confront the betrayer.

Runa found Irabeth with Anevia, who also volunteered to come along as neither of them wanted to be parted from the other. Runa remained with them overnight. Zosta returned to spend a last night with her family, and to her surprise Darra asked to accompany her and at one point while sparring so impressed Rhino with an attack that the demon couldn’t stop laughing for a long while. Asami went to see Aravashnial again and learned that he intended to go along to Drezen whether he was invited or not. Asami couldn’t deny that she was pleased by this. She was glad to be able to spend more time with him now that he was able to see again, and his knowledge as a spellbreaker would no doubt be invaluable to their cause.

In the middle of the night Runa was awakened by something sitting on her chest. She opened her eyes to find Bohgong looming over her. Earlier she had asked Jiro if he could help her speak to the monkey, but every time she had tried to approach the monkey during the past two days he had run away. Runa presented Bohgong with a packet of tobacco blend from Tian-Xia that she had purchased in the same shop where Asami and Jiro had acquired their new clothes. She then thanked him for all the help he had provided. The white monkey inhaled deeply of the tobacco, looked surprised, said, “You’re a good kid,” and ran off leaving a startled Runa with confirmation that as she had suspected, he could speak.

Jiro spent the night in the army encampment, where he asked the soldiers’ assistance in learning to set up his newly-acquired tent. He also volunteered to assist with cooking the evening meal, which proved to be very pleasing to the men. The next morning he encountered the arrival of Aravashnial astride a magically-summoned mount, and told him that the plan was for them to leave on the following day once they had all acquired some additional supplies that Kimroth had suggested they might need.

That morning Runa asked the head priest of the temple of Iomedae to permit her to perform the service that day, and he agreed. Irabeth and Anevia arrived at the camp, Irabeth looking much healthier. The newly-knighted companions went out to purchase horses for the journey to Drezen. Aravashnial went back inside the city for more supplies, and reappeared accompanied by Horgus Gwerm, who had decided that he wanted to lend his skills to the effort to reclaim Drezen. It seemed that all of the group that had found their way out of the subterranean caverns beneath Kenabres would be joining forces again in the quest to retake Drezen.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

[Star Wars] Guardians of Peace, Episode 1: Ten Years Later

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away...

The galactic civil war is over. Despite continuing tensions, a tenuous peace exists between the EMPIRE and the NEW REPUBLIC.

A band of non-aligned sectors provides a buffer zone between the two galactic powers. Gangs of pirates, slavers, warlords, and other criminal organizations have taken to this neutral area to avoid Imperial and Republic attention.

The Jedi Order and the Antarian Rangers watch the neutral zone. Small in number, they have an outsized role in providing justice and security. Patrol squadrons and teams of Jedi maintain order and serve as the guardians of peace….

As the freighter Fortune of Greepo approached the icy planet Ilum, it passed a derelict Imperial cargo transfer station. The Fortune's comm system picked up an automated message repeating from the station, its words distorted with age and lack of maintenance. Co-pilot Denpoji Secura became a little excited by the message and started to check into it further, until his twin brother Renpoji reminded him that their mission wasn't to investigate the station. As Ren piloted the Fortune into Ilum's atmosphere, the ship began to experience some turbulence. The two Jedi passengers, Taanar Ryl and her padawan Nema Secura, held on tightly against the bouncing and shaking of the freighter. 

As Taanar clung to the arms of her seat, her thoughts went back to her meeting a few weeks earlier with her master, Niranye Repp, head of the New Jedi Order. That had been the day that Master Neri asked Taanar to take Nema as her first padawan, as well as to take on Nema's two cousins as her Antarian Ranger escort. Though the family relationship between the three young Twi'leks was cause for caution, Taanar agreed to try the twins out and see how they worked with their cousin. 

Then Neri handed her a data disk, explaining that it contained information about the location of the planet Ilum, which had been lost after the purge of the Jedi during the Clone Wars. Ilum was the source of the crystals that powered lightsabers, but the Empire had taken control of it and mined it for crystals to power the Death Star's planet-killer weapon. Neri asked Taanar to take the three Twi'leks and seek out Ilum to find out if there were any crystals left. The Jedi Order now numbered nearly 200 souls, and they would need more crystals for all the padawans to construct their own lightsabers soon.

While Taanar was thinking about this, Nema recalled being told by Jedi Master Kanan Jarrus that she would become Master Taanar Ryl's padawan, and that her cousins would be assigned as their Antarian Rangers. Master Kanan reminded her not to let her attachments blind her to the Force, and to let the Force guide her in her actions. Her twin cousins remembered standing before the leaders of the Ranger, Dash Creel and Lowarra, where they were told of their new assignment with Taanar and Nema, and introduced to R2-EF, the astromech droid nicknamed 'Effie' issued to them to take care of their ship, the Fortune of Greepo. As they left their audience with Dash and Lowarra, they thought they heard the mighty Wookiee warrior chuckling.

Below the Fortune, the four travelers could see signs of massive destruction left by the Imperial mining project. They headed for an island that appeared to have been left relatively intact. As the ship approached an area large enough to permit a landing, they observed that the planet's surface appeared cold and stormy. Ren brought them in for a rough landing that did some minor damage to their freighter, but Taanar told him, "Any landing that you and your ship survive is a good landing."

The four of them bundled up in all-weather cloaks and exited the ship, living it in the care of Effie, who had already gone to make repairs to the damage caused by the landing. It was windy and raining outside. They could hear the metallic pings of rapid cooling coming from the ship's outer hull. Taanar warned them to take care in the cold environment. She searched her feelings for a moment, then said, "This way," and set off for the location where they hoped to find crystals.

It took the small group about two hours of climbing to approach the destination Taanar had sensed. On the way, she noticed that Den's blue skin was becoming more and more gray. Ren realized that his twin had accidentally donned his unfamiliar cloak inside-out and helped him quickly turn it around so that it would provide more warmth. 

At last Taanar told her young companions, "We're here." They stood before a cave opening. When they stepped inside they could see numerous crystals glittering on the walls, ceiling, and floor. Taanar advised them to be cautious, as the presence of the crystals could cause them to experience things that no one else could perceive, and she didn't know if this would affect the twins, who were not Force-sensitive. Taanar and Nema immediately settled down to meditate and seek out crystals, but Taanar quickly realized that the twins were too excited and their emotions were preventing her from achieving a Force trance. Den also looked very chilled. She decided to send them both back to the ship so Den could warm up and his brother could look after him. 

When the twins arrived back at the Fortune, Den had a cup of hot sib and quickly felt better. The brothers thought they would return to the cave, but just as they were about to leave they noticed a message indicator on the ship's console. There was no message, only a carrier signal playing intermittently. Ren began trying to tune in to the signal, but Den called on Effie's help as the droid was much better at that type of activity. Effie was able to locate the source of the signal along the coast of the island about three kilometers from where the Fortune had landed. During their approach to the island Ren had seen that there was no place along that part of the coastline that could accommodate the ship, so the brothers decided to walk to the source of the signal to investigate.Den had Effie record a message for the Jedi in case they returned while the brothers were gone.

As Den and Ren approached the location from which the signal emanated, they heard sounds that resembled some sort of animal growling and gnawing on something. The noises reminded them of the sounds of the ubiquitous wamp rats. A moment later they saw that they were correct; they found a wamp rat gnawing on what appeared to be a humanoid corpse. The rat spotted them and attacked. The twins drew their blasters and Den put a smoking hole through the rat's body, but not before it bit both of them. They also shot a second wamp rat that appeared, and it fled after being injured. 

With the rats gone, the twins could examine the body the first rat had been chewing on. The remains appeared to being wearing some sort of uniform. The signal the ship had picked up was coming from a damaged comm unit on the body. 

After the twins left, Taanar was able to achieve a Force trance. In a little while she felt a crystal calling to her, and she rose to seek it, telling Nema to continue meditating. Finding the crystal took her deeper into the cave, where she located it high up on a wall. She was able to climb up and remove the crystal easily. As she reached out for it, the crystal leaped into her hand. Then she climbed down and headed back to the entrance to rejoin Nema. 

Nema was less successful at achieving a trance. She could faintly hear a crystal, but she couldn't tell where its call came from. Suddenly she heard the sound of a lightsaber being ignited. She opened her eyes to see a young man about her own age, wearing a uniform and wielding a lightsaber with a white blade. He said, "You're here to kill me! You killed my master!" and swung his blade at her but his swing went wide. Nema attempted to use the Force to disarm him but her effort was unsuccessful. She tried talking to him, telling him that she had only just arrived and had no reason to harm him or his master, but he wouldn't listen. He slashed at her again and this time connected with her arm.

As Taanar headed back to the cave entrance, she discovered what appeared to be a recently-occupied campsite. She hurried her steps, arriving just in time to see Nema trying to hold off the young man, whose uniform Taanar recognized as belonging to the Imperial Knights, the Force-user organization established by Imperial Crown Prince Luke Skywalker.
"Lower your sabers," she commanded. Both of them complied immediately. "I knew it!" the youth cried, "You're here to kill me!" He raised his saber again. Taanar reached out with the Force and snatched his lightsaber out of his hand before he could attack again. "We haven't killed anyone. The Jedi are peacekeepers," she replied. "What are you doing here, cadet?" 

Den and Ren realized that the uniform worn by the corpse they had found was that of an Imperial Knight. They decided that they should take the body back to their ship. Ren picked it up and carried it. While they were making their way back to the Fortune, Taanar and Nema learned that the young man's name was Teemo Phalan. He had come to Ilum with his fellow cadet Vima Montari and their master, Commander Drason, but they had been attacked by pirates. Commander Drason had gone out to deal with the pirates while telling Teemo and Vima to remain in hiding in the cave, but after he failed to return Vima had gone to search for him. Teemo had followed her and had seen her captured by the pirates, who had also stolen the Imperial shuttle that had brought them to Ilum. Taanar assured him that she and her companions would do what they could to rescue Vima and led him to their ship.

They arrived at the ship at the same time that the brothers returned with the body, which Teemo identified as that of Commander Drason. It seemed that his lightsaber had been taken by either the pirates or the wamp rats. Once the commander's body had been placed in the ship's cold storage and everyone's injuries had been treated, Taanar recommended they leave their current location in case the pirates returned. Teemo had already explained that he had seen more than a dozen of them and some of them had possessed heavy weapons. The little group of Jedi and Antarian Rangers wouldn't be enough to take on such a force. The Fortune took off from the island and they decided to check the derelict space station in case the pirates were using it as a base of operations.

Effie was able to use the Imperial shuttle's locator beacon to find it on the station. It appeared that the pirates' own ship wasn't present and most of the pirates were away, leaving only a skeleton crew on the station. The party decided that they should try to land secretly in one of the other bays and Ren would sneak into the bay where the shuttle was stored to do some reconnaissance. Den was able to land the Fortune without drawing anyone's attention. Ren then crept into the landing bay that held the Imperial shuttle. He was able to activate some of the station's security cameras and overheard two of the pirates arguing. One of them had apparently fallen asleep on watch, which was what had allowed his twin to land the freighter unnoticed. 

On the Fortune, Nema asked Teemo if he could use the Force to contact Vima, but he told her that he wasn't able to do that. While Ren continued searching the landing bay area, he opened a door that made enough noise to attract the attention of the pirates. The rest of the group hurried into the landing bay, but Teemo stumbled on his way down the ramp, causing more noise. Several pirates rushed out of the shuttle, including two human men and a Klaatoonian. The two humans stayed near the shuttle hatch, while the Klaatoonian ran toward the prow of the ship. One of the pirates fired at Den but missed. The twins returned fire, but the men had taken cover behind a piece of equipment.

Two more pirates ran out of the shuttle. One of them, a female Weequay, leaped on top of the shuttle and Den shot her with his heavy blaster. Ren followed up with a shot and the Weequay fell bonelessly from the top of the shuttle, clearly dead. Den and Nema took cover in a side chamber, where Ren joined them. Teemo ran toward the shuttle, shouting, "Where is she?"

Taanar ran toward the two human men, using the Force to send the first man flying back into his comrade and both of them hit the wall behind them. One of the men fired his blaster at her while he lay on the floor but failed to hit her. Teemo tried unsuccesfully to attack the Klaatoonian. Ren's blaster failed and he had to take a moment to insert a new battery pack. Nema took a chance and ran out of the small side room, firing her blaster at one of the men Taanar had knocked down. Taanar meanwhile used her control of the Force to lift a heavy cargo container that one of the men had taken cover behind, robbing him of his hiding place. She meant to hit the other man with the container, but missed her aim. The man she had tried to target shot her. The man who had been crouching by the container ran to the other side of the shuttle.

Teemo had been fighting the Klatoonian in front of the shuttle, but he collapsed. Nema ran to pull him to safety. Den also dropped after being shot, but his brother shot the man who had shot Den. Taanar ran around to the shuttle hatch, pausing to stun the man who had run to the other side of the ship. Taanar activated her lightsaber and prepared to enter the shuttle to search for Vima, while Nema treated Den's wounds and Ren shot the Klatoonian. 

Sadly, the shuttle proved to be empty. There was no sign of Vima. Taanar revived the man she had stunned to question him. He proved to the one who had piloted the shuttle back to the station from Ilum. He told her that Min, the leader of the pirate gang, had been given a contract to kidnap Force users who came to Ilum and sell them into slavery, though he didn't know who had paid for this. He also said that the pirates' ship, the Wind Shadow, had gone somewhere but he didn't know where, though he expected it to return soon. The ship had taken Vima. Taanar realized that the pirates were part of the Shadow Wing organization, and the Wind Shadow was their flagship. Her group didn't have the resources to combat them, or to rescue Vima from them. 

Though Teemo was disappointed, he accepted that he wouldn't be able to rescue his fellow cadet. He planned to take the shuttle back to Coruscant to report what had happened. The others helped him transfer Commander Drason's remains to the shuttle, and Effie programmed the hyperspace jump coordinates for him. Taanar assured him that they would be investigating the slavery ring further and would share any information they learned with the Imperial Knights. 

As the Fortune of Greepo prepared to jump away from the cargo station, they witnessed the return of the Wind Shadow. The Fortune set course for Ord Mantel to hand over their prisoner, the pilot who had been the only survivor of their encounter with the Shadow Wing. 

Friday, June 30, 2017

[Pathfinder] Wrath of the Righteous, part 18: Many Blessings

Discussing the dream-visions each of the companions had experienced led them all to recall more details. Jiro had recognized the woman he had seen as Kelei, sometimes inaccurately known as the "queen" of the kami. Kelei had even fired arrows from her fiery bow at dream-Jiro. But he shared only with Bohgong that when her arrow passed through him it seemed to have carried away a dark mist, which seemed to relate to a frightening experience he had once had.

Asami had also seen Kelei, but only in the background of her vision. Her attention had been focused on the ancient guardian spirit of the World Tree,

and on the other creature that had briefly appeared to her. It had emerged from the uncountable leaves of the Tree, a creature made of branch and leaf and root but wearing a skull-like mask where a humanoid face would be. This creature had wielded a sword of wood, its blade perforated by whorled shapes.

It had pointed its sword at her, then turned to look back at the Tree and vanished among the leaves. Then two leaves had shimmered and blown from the Tree, transforming into the figures of Asami's parents. They hugged her and silently returned to the Tree, after which a branch stretched out and touched her forehead where the Golden Flame tattoo rested on her brow. Her mind was suffused with knowledge of demons and how to combat them. Then the branch touched her wooden sword, which her dream-self held, and she knew somehow that she could reshape her wooden sword into other forms with her thoughts and even use it as a weapon, something that had been impossible for her in the past. The myriad leaves shivered in a breeze and the vision came to an end.

While she sat with her companions discussing these visions, Zosta looked at her oddly, and Jiro commented that her hair, which normally had a violet undertone, now appeared to be green. Then Zosta asked her if she was turning into a tree, which she found most confusing. Runa then explained that they could all see swirls and lines on her skin, very faint, like the pattern of wood grain. But when Asami looked at her own hand she saw nothing, nor could she perceive the green tone in her hair.

Jiro took Bohgong out into the garden for his daily meditation. Though his friends weren't aware of it, he had a serious conversation with the white monkey, who kept his ability to speak a secret from the others though Runa had overheard him once. Bohgong warned Jiro not to be too pleased about his new abilities, for the stronger he became the more dangerous the world would become. Jiro then experienced a vision from the spirit animal's memory when it was Jiro's ancestor, a mighty warrior. He watched as his uncle destroyed innumerable oni, but when his uncle turned to look back at his comrades, all of them had fallen.

While Jiro was outside and Asami was still contemplating her vsion, a commotion could be heard from the corridor outside their sleeping room, Runa,and Zosta went out to see what was happening. Asami remained in the room. Her friends struggled to get through a crush of people clogging the hallway, until someone exclaimed that "It's a miracle!" Runa asked what was going on, then began trying to push her way through the crowd. She heard someone say that Irabeth might be alive! Runa immediately began to sing a song of praise to Iomedae.

Amid all this chaos, Zosta also overheard that it seemed Darla Darra had experienced a miraculous healing. Runa began to lead a group of people who joined in her song toward the temple of Iomedae, while Zosta went to find Darra. She found Aegronius with her - and to both their amazement Darra's missing leg had been replaced by a "limb" of golden light. Her injured eye was also glowing. Zosta realized that perhaps some of the divine gifts given to Aegronius by Iomedae had also been extended to Darra.

Once the celebration of Irabeth's miraculous resurrection had died down a bit, everyone met in the hall of Defender's Heart for a celebratory breakfast. Spirits were so high that Jiro felt it necessary to remind everyone not to speak of the destruction of the Wardstones in the presence of others. While they were eating they heard the news that the queen of Mendev was on her way to Kenabres and was expected to arrive the following day. They also heard that Irabeth's survival had been due to the sword Radiance that she carried, which had stored her soul and prevented it from being permanently separated from her body. Though she had survived she was very weak, a state that was familiar to Aegronius and Runa.

Their breakfast was interrupted by a second disturbance outside. Then a huge red-skinned, horned demon covered in tattooed runes burst into the hall. The companions were not entirely surprised to see him, but his arrival caused consternation among the other people present. He strode across to their table, bellowing, "Little Sister!" and swept Zosta up in a crushing bear-hug. As Asami observed Rhino she realized that the demon had acquired more tattoos since the last time she had seen him. Rhino then sat down at the table and demanded that they tell him the details of what had happened to them. They carefully avoided mentioning the Wardstones or the demons that had survived. In the course of the conversation Rhino also revealed that he was distantly related to Areelu Vorlesh, which Asami realized meant that among the demons he must be a kind of royalty. Rhino was very impressed at how the group had been able to deal with ten babau.

When the conversation waned, a large crowd of listeners had gathered around the table. Zosta and Rhino then decided to go outside to meet Zosta's parents, who were just arriving at Defender's Heart. Darra went with them, but they found that Zosta's parents were with Qednys and could not be disturbed at that moment. Zosta then watched Darra spar with Rhino, who was eager to test out her skills. When Zosta joined in and was able to trip the demon and stomp on him, giving Darra room to make an attack of her own, Rhino was delighted and burst out in a hearty belly laugh.

A little later the whole group were invited to join Qednys, Kimroth, Cennami, and Zosta's parents in the War Room, where they found a weak Irabeth sitting in a comfortable chair. Qednys confirmed that as they had heard, the Queen was coming to meet the heroes of the defense of Kenabres. Qednys suspected that the Queen would ask them to complete another dangerous mission on behalf of the Crusade: to seek out the Sword of Valor, the banner once wielded by Iomedae herself, which was believed to be held in the fortress of Drezen, which had fallen to the demons. He also revealed that scouts had reported demons were massing all along the Worldwound, preparing for an attack on the cities to the south, including the capital. Irabeth added that rumor held Staunton Vhane, the betrayer, could be found in Drezen. She was determined that he should be dealt with once and for all.

After these topics had been discussed, Qednys told them that he had spent the night examining the Wardstone fragment they had given him. He had determined that by rubbing it on a weapon or suit of armor, it would impart special abilities to them geared toward combating demons and evil creatures from other planes. These benefits would last for only a day, after which the stones would become inert. Qednys offered to return the stone he had been examining, but Jiro immediately responded that it should go to Irabeth.

When the discussion was completed, the members of the group separated. Asami went to find some apparel appropriate for meeting royalty, and afterward made her way to Blackwing to see Aravashniel. He was already aware of what had happened to the Wardstones. To give him further detail of what had taken place, Asami agreed to allow him to cast a spell to share her memories, as this was now the only way for him to truly see anything. Afterward she left him to return to his researches on ways to guard the Worldwound without the Wardstones. She returned to Defender's Heart and sought to purchase a wand containing a spell to protect a person from evil, which she was able to acquire at a discount as it was not fully charged.

While Asami was with Aravashniel, Jiro had arranged to sell some of the items the comrades had acquired from their battles in the Gray Garrison, and he distributed over a thousand gold pieces to each member of the group. Thus equipped with extra funds, new magic items, and in some cases new clothing, they prepared for their royal audience the following day.

Next: Part 19, A Royal Request

Sunday, June 11, 2017

[Pathfinder] 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. 

Next: part 18, Many Blessings

Sunday, June 4, 2017

[Pathfinder] 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

[Pathfinder] 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.