Sunday, April 24, 2016

Mummy's Mask, part 8

4-24-2016
Session 12

Characters:
     Azzaria
     Igby
     Kaa
     Sula and Nyema
     Uto

The Ruby Scarabs loaded their borrowed cart with all the items they had taken from the Silver Chain gang and their mysterious allies, and returned to the temple of Pharasma. On arriving they found that there were too many people there for them to find a place to store all of their items. They decided to go to the Tooth and Hookah, where several of the group had rooms, and leave the items there.

They found the inn's entrance blocked by several zombies and a large ooze, which was in the process of consuming a zombie. Kaa crept around to the rear of the inn to see if there was a back entrance, but found it had been boarded up from within. He spoke with someone inside, who told him the Tooth and Hookah was full of refugees, some of them injured, and that they were running low on food and the water supply had gone bad. The people inside were reluctant to let anyone else in, but indicated they would if the Scarabs could get rid of the creatures at the front door. While Kaa was convesing with the people inside the inn, Sula spotted three strange creatures with long clawed arms seemingly floating along a street nearby.

Kaa returned to the group to share his information with them. The Scarabs then decided to take shelter for the night inside the stable, not wanted to confront the zombies when they were weary and their magic was depleted. Unfortunately one of the zombies noticed them pushing the cart into the stable and followed them, and it was followed in turn by the ooze. The ooze had already attacked a second zombie, but it was evidently still hungry. Kaa directed a scorching ray at it, and the creature rushed at him with startling speed. The zombie also moved toward Kaa. Igby stepped up and slew the zombie. The ooze grabbed the fallen zombie and then reached for Kaa with its pseudopod. Azzaria sliced the ooze in half, but it reformed as two oozes. Sula imbued her club with the element of fire and struck the first ooze, while Igby borrowed Azzaria's mace to smash it. The first ooze died and dissolved into a puddle that seeped into the ground. Kaa sent another scorching ray at the second ooze and it quickly followed its other half.

After the oozes were destroyed, two of the strange creatures Sula had seen earlier appeared. They stopped some distance away and seemed to be watching. After a moment they were joined by a third. Kaa called out to them in the tongue of the Abyss, telling them that they could find better meat elsewhere. The three creatures appeared to confer with one another for a short time, then drifted away.

The Scarabs persuaded the people within the Tooth and Hookah to admit them, but were obliged to leave much of their loot in the stable as there was no space for it inside. One man mentioned that some sort of "feral man" had attempted to talk his way into the inn earlier, while others told of being attacked by zombies. Igby cast healing spells on some of the injured people, several of whom had contracted ghoul fever. Sula examined the water and determined that something dead seemed to be contaminating it.

The next morning, members of one of the other adventuring groups at the inn agreed to escort some of the people back to their homes. The Scarabs lent them their cart to carry those who were unable to walk. Uto cast create water several times to supply the inn. The Scarabs themselves planned to go and investigate the well to see if they could purify the water supply.

When they reached the well, the Scarabs found a number of dismembered bodies that appeared to have been slain and partly eaten by zombies. Sula and Kaa both sensed something unusual in the area. There was a rustling sound, and suddenly Qasin the psychopomp reappeared. He praised them for rescuing Ptemenib, and in gratitude gifted them with a ushabti of the willing servant, which could summon an invisible servant similar to the result of an unseen servant spell. He also told them that the temple needed their help.

The Ruby Scarabs decided to complete their investigation at the well before returning to the temple of Pharasma. Uto discovered that the well had been poisoned, but could find no way within his power to remove the poison. The group headed back toward the temple, finding that there were a few merchants in the marketplace, though not many customers. When they arrived at the temple they found fewer people there than on the previous day. They were greeted by the armorer Minya the Whip, who had purchased Akhan-tepi's chariot at the auction. Minya expressed gratitude to them for rescuing Ptemenib, and presented them with a suit of mist mail. He also told them that should they visit his shop he would always offer them a 25% discount on his wares.

Igby was approached by Amber, one of the other members of the Four Lanterns, who told him that the rest of the group were going back to Andor with their leader Marcus, who had been traumatized by his encounters with the undead in the Necropolis. Before wishing Igby farewell, Amber gave him four scrolls, one each of burning hands, color spray, grease, and shield, as well as a finely crafted dagger.

At the temple the Scarabs learned that there was trouble in the Asp district of Wati, though the information was second-hand and somewhat incomplete. The report said that some dog-like creatures were attacking zombies and the living alike. The group headed off to the Asp district to find out for themselves. As they entered the district they heard sounds of fighting, and found two somewhat dog-like beasts fighting with several zombies. As they watched, they saw one of these creatures bite into a zombie and seemingly pull the ka spirit from its body. Thought the creatures had canine bodies, their heads were the skulls of crocodiles. Uto recognized that these were esobok, another type of psychopomp, which came from Pharasman's plane and specialized in stripping the ka from those whose spirits were not whole, such as undead.

Because the esobok didn't seem to care whether their targets were living or undead, the Scarabs decided they were a menace and attacked. Uto tried speaking to them to discourage them, but one of the esobok charged Kaa. Kaa was able to stun it with his fists. Igby set his sword blade aflame and struck one of the creatures, which seemed vulnerable to the flames. Azzaria then killed it, and its body disappeared. The second esobok howled when its companion vanished, then pulled the ka from a zombie.

As Sula moved in to attack the second esobok, one of the zombies attacked her, wounding her. Azzaria, realizing by the first esobok's disappearance that it had been summoned by someone, shouted to get the attention of the summoner. No one responded. Sula bashed at the esobok with her club, which had little effect. Uto healed most of the damage the zombie had done to her, but the zombie hit her a second time doing even more injury. The esobok grabbed Igby and began trying to extract his ka. Seeing that her club was little use, Sula called on Nyema to attack the zombie, while Uto healed Sula again.

When the zombies and the second esobok were finally gone, the Scarabs realized that the zombies were all recent dead wearing symbols of the old god Maat, and all of them had had their left eyes torn out by a claw. One zombie wore the robes of an official of the court. The group decided to follow the direction of blood smears leading away from the spot where they had encountered the zombies.

The blood trail let them to the court of Maat. On the steps they met a living man whose left eye had been torn out. He fainted before he could tell them anything. They entered the courtroom to find the judge's seat occupied by a bloody skeleton wearing a fez. This skeleton greeted them, accusing them of contempt of court and challenging them to defend themselves against the charge. Skeletal bailiffs stepped forward to take them prisoner. Uto put himself forward to speak for the party, hoping that if he could convince the skeletal judge that he didn't belong there, he might leave without more bloodshed. He had recognized this judge as the infamous Sotenre, famed for his use of enucleation as punishment for defying the Pharaoh generations ago.

After Uto presented his arguments, Sotenre finally seemed to understand that his day was long past. The skeleton crumbed to dust, as did all the bailiffs who had been buried with him beneath the courtroom floor so long ago. Sotenre left behind only his fez and a magical circlet, but no one in the group could discover what the circlet's power was.

Once the court of Maat had been cleared of undead, the Scarabs escorted the injured man to his home and told him they would try to arrange for food and supplies to be delivered to his family. They then made their way back to the temple to report what they had seen. Along the way the met a group of Voices of the Spire, the militant arm of the church of Pharasma. After they told these people about the esoboks, it seemed that the Voices knew who might have summoned them, but would not say.

When the Scarabs arrived at the temple and told this story to the priests, they were taken to see high priestess Sebti the Crocodile, who was disturbed when she heard about the psychopomps. She called for the commander of the Voices of the Spire, Nakht Shepses, to join them. Shepses admitted he had summoned the creatures. He believed it was the best way to deal with the zombies, and if the esoboks killed a few innocents in the process, that was acceptable. He and Sebti had a heated argument, until finally another priest was forced to step in and remind them that they should stand together in this time of crisis.

Sebti then asked if the Ruby Scarabs would be willing to enter the Necropolis again to seek the source of the power raising the dead, as she believed it to still be within the walls of the dead city. Shepses sneered at this, and continued to insist that sending the esobok after the undead was a better solution. Finally he agreed that if the Scarabs could defeat a creature he summoned, they could enter the Necropolis. As they watched, he summoned another kind of psychopomp, a grey and sinister creature wielding a scythe.






Monday, April 18, 2016

Mummy's Mask, part 7

4-17-2016
Session 11
Character level: 4th

Characters:
Azzaria – bloodrager (nagaji)
Igby – inquisitor (human)
Kaa – monk (tengu)
Sula & Nyema – druid (suli) and animal companion (lion)
Uto – shaman (half-orc)

Qasin the psychopomp led the Ruby Scarabs to the burnt-out remains of an old brickworks near the waterfront. It was nearly dark by the time they arrived. Kaa scouted the ruined building and heard several voices from within. He attempted to use the magic in his gloves to distract them and make the people inside think that the Scarabs were zombies approaching. But one man emerged from the building and spotted the rest of the group waiting outside. He told them to leave. When Azzaria questioned him and demanded to know where Ptemenib was, it became apparent that he knew who she was talking about. Kaa then warned that he saw another man threatening with a hand crossbow. When a second man with a hand crossbow was spotted, a fight began.

The man who had come out to talk withdrew into the interior of the structure. Kaa burned the first crossbowman with a scorching ray. Igby moved in to face the second crossbowman, and Sula and Nyema joined him. Azzaria attacked the man who Kaa had burned, wounding him so badly that he surrendered. Kaa then scorched another of the men. That man moved to stab Nyema, but missed. On a second attempt he managed to connect with the lion, using a punching dagger. Sula and Nyema then attacked the assailant. After both of them injured him he fled. The third man also surrendered to Igby.

Once the Silver Chain members had surrendered, the Scarabs stripped them of all of their armor, weapons, and equipment. One of the prisoners told the Scarabs that Ptemenib was being held in an underground area beneath the old brickworks. He estimated that there were half a dozen men in that area. He also explained that the Silver Chain gang had been able to dig a tunnel into the Necropolis to accomplish their grave-robbing. Under further questioning he revealed that the gang had recently come under new leadership, and the new leader had brought in some masked people he described as ‘zealots’. He knew little about these people, or what had happened to the gang’s previous leader. After he showed the Scarabs where to find the stairway leading down, they released him.

Kaa unlocked a well-secured door to gain access to the stairs, but he didn’t discover a trap on the staircase until a pit opened up beneath him. He was able to avoid falling in, and to reset the trap and jam it so the rest of the group could pass safely over the pit. Despite this noise and the creaky stairs, no one came to investigate their entrance into the underground lair.

At the bottom of the staircase they came to a chamber full of sump wells, where overflow from the river could be redirected during flood season. Ptemenib was in one of the currently dry wells. He appeared to have been badly beaten, and at first Kaa feared he was dead. But after the tengu climbed down into the well he was able to rouse the priest and help him climb out. The Scarabs then decided it would be best to return to the temple of Pharasma so Ptemenib could be healed.

Ptemenib’s fellow priests healed him of his injuries, and he then asked the Ruby Scarabs to return to the Silver Chain lair. The Scarabs also wanted to pick up whatever loot they could take from the thieves, so they borrowed the handcart the troubled woman had used to transport her undead husband and went back to the brickworks. On arriving in the stairway, Kaa detected that someone had done something to the pit trap he had jammed. The group continued downstairs, this time turning right instead of left toward a large room. Kaa threw his expensive new hat into the room and someone inside shot it with a crossbow bolt. Kaa rushed inside, followed first by Igby.

Inside the room, the Scarabs saw numerous crates, urns, and bales of goods that the Silver Chain gang had stolen or smuggled. Kaa faced a red-robed figure wearing a golden funerary mask, while Igby attacked the wielder of the crossbow who had shot Kaa’s hat. Kaa stunned the masked figure. Sula and Nyema then entered the room, as well as Azzaria. A second masked figure appeared and touched Azzaria with a shocking grasp spell. Igby then called upon the gods and his sword burst into flame. The crossbowman threw a flask of alchemist’s fire at Igby but missed his aim, after which he fled through an exit on the far side of the room. Just as he was about to escape, Uto cast a spell that left him immobilized in the doorway.

Suddenly Azzaria heard an urn shatter on the other side of the storeroom, and she saw something that looked like a cluster of internal organs rising off the floor. She approached to attack the gruesome aberration. Sula had summoned fire to her hand and threw it at the thing, but it seemed to do little harm. The second masked figure, a woman, had moved near to where the organ creature was and had collapsed due to the wounds Azzaria inflicted on her. Now the organ thing descended on her, ripping out her intestines and incorporating them into itself!

After absorbing new organs into its body, the horrible thing lashed out with trailing entrails at Azzaria, Kaa, and Sula, then moved away from them. Kaa and Sula were injured by its blows and felt weakened. Igby meanwhile had run after the man who fled. Finding the fellow unable to move, Igby killed him. Kaa, Sula, and Nyema attacked the organ monstrosity, with little success. Igby joined them in trying to destroy it. Uto cast a spell to prevent the masked man from dying so he could be questioned later. The organ monster then moved to slam into Uto.

Two men and a hyena appeared through the far door. The hyena lunged toward Igby, and Uto cast a spell on it to calm it, but the spell failed to affect it. Sula then sent Nyema after the hyena and the lioness slew it. The men then fired their crossbows at Nyema. Meanwhile the horrid monster attacked Sula. Igby ran to engage the two newcomers, while Uto healed Sula. Sula hurled her last handful of flames at one of the men and directed Nyema to attack the creature. The creature then grappled Kaa. Azzaria, Sula, and Nyema all attacked it again, and Kaa struggled free of its grasp. The monster fled toward the door through which the Scarabs had entered, and Igby struck the final blow to kill it, while Kaa finished off the last of the Silver Chain men.

The party members searched the bodies of the fallen masked people and Silver Chain members, and came away with a significant quantity of armor, weapons, potions, and magic items. They also examined what was in the storeroom, though that proved to be mostly mundane items and some mummified corpses. After they had completed their examination of the storeroom, the Scarabs found a door that had been boarded up. A passageway led to another door that was also blocked. Kaa was concerned that there might be undead imprisoned on the other side, as the door showed evidence of only recently having been blocked. But he heard no sounds coming through the door.

The team then approached a door that lay beyond the sump wells. This door was unlocked. As they entered the room beyond, they found themselves facing another masked man, this one holding a glowing red sword. The man immediately ordered his two companions to kill the Scarabs.

One of the man's two female comrades cast burning hands at Azzaria, Sula, and Nyema, but it had little effect. The other woman touched Azzaria with shocking grasp. Kaa acrobatically moved past his friends to stun one of the women with his fist, while Sula attacked one woman with her spear and Nyema clawed at the other. Uto killed one of the women. Their leader withdrew further into the chamber. Azzaria pursued him and killed him.

After the masked man died, Uto was able to identify his glowing red blade as the Natron Fang, made of mineral salts that would allow it to overcome mummies. Kaa uncovered the secret door leading to the tunnel that connected with the Necropolis. In a chest in the room, the Scarabs found jewelry and gems worth thousands of gold pieces, as well as a magic haversack. A small chest held priestly vestments like those worn by Ptemenib. In one crate were four triangular stones representing the four elements, but these were not magical and no one knew what purpose they served. Finally, they found on the leader's body a note advising him to work with the Silver Chain gang to help him find a mask that would facilitate the resurrection of Hakotep. The note also mentioned the Sky Pharaoh, who some of the Scarabs thought was the same person as Hakotep. The note was signed Meret-Hetef, a name no one recognized.

Loot acquired:
Leather armor +1
5 hand crossbows
5 punching daggers
masterwork thieves tools
5 antitoxins
5 silver chains worth 50 gp
5 potions of cure light wounds
5 flasks of alchemist's fire
4 flasks of holy water
5 climber's kits
5 saps
5 sunrods
5 crowbars
2 spellbooks: cantrips (all), mage armor, shocking grasp, burning hands, disguise self
2 potions of undetectable alignment
2 scrolls of whispering wind
5 flasks of oil of taggit
5 daggers
10 darts
2 shortswords
2 cloaks of resistance +1
 2 sets of thieves tools
2 brass masks worth 25 gold each
8 gold pieces
6 turquoise worth 10 gold each
Natron Fang sword - +1 kopesh, ovecomes mummy's DR
amulet of natual armor +1
5 jars of ancient honeyed wine
3 kegs of saffron worth 150 gold each
Tin bird with 3 bird feather tokens
Gems and jewelry worth 3,765 gold

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016)
Directed by Zack Snyder
Starring: Henry Cavill, Ben Affleck, Amy Adams, Jessie Eisenberg, Gal Gadot, Jeremy Irons, Lawrence Fishburne, Holly Hunter

SPOILERS BELOW. READ AT YOUR OWN RISK.

I've been avoiding reviews and web forums and blogs about this movie, but I couldn't help hearing that some people are very vocally unhappy with it. After getting my chance to see it, I don't understand why. I enjoyed it. It wasn't without flaws, but I came away feeling pleased and satisfied that I saw it and looking forward with enthusiasm to the movies that are currently slated to follow on is heels.

Just off the top of my head, here are a few things that I particularly liked about this movie:
Wonder Woman
Wonder Woman's lasso
Wonder Woman kicking butt
Alfred
Setup for the Justice League movie
Setup for the Wonder Woman movie
Cyborg
Darkseid, maybe?

I've also heard a lot of complaints about this movie being dark, both thematically and visually. I didn't find it too dark thematically; this movie is about the moral questions raised by having a person as powerful as Superman in the world. It's also about how Batman has kind of lost his way and his interaction with Superman ultimately helps him find the way back to fighting the good fight. A lot of the film's action also took place at night, so of course it was visually somewhat dark. But not too dark to see what was going on. It wasn't depressing or gloomy or relentlessly unpleasant.

There is a lot going on in this movie. It not only introduces Batman and Superman to each other, it also introduces Wonder Woman to both of them; briefly brings in Aquaman, Cyborg, and the Flash; and introduces Superman's long-time comic book nemesis Lex Luthor. It lays the initial groundwork for the formation of the Justice League, and hints that the Justice League may be needed to combat a much bigger than human threat (possibly frequent Justice League villain Darkseid).

But most of the movie is about Bruce Wayne/Batman. This is a Batman who's been at it for a long time, and has grown bitter and angry as a result. The events that took place in Man of Steel have made him turn that anger toward Superman, as the surviving representative of the Kryptonians who caused so much destruction in Metropolis. He's lost perspective and become obsessed with punishing Superman for those deaths he couldn't prevent, though he's clearly channeling some of his own anger at himself for not being able to prevent the deaths of his own parents. The story hints at a lot of other details about Batman's life prior to the appearance of Superman, but it doesn't give much information. We don't get to find out why Bruce Wayne has abandoned his family home or what destroyed it. Nor do we know which Robin worked with him or what happened to that Robin. It's only hinted that he even had a sidekick, but I suspect a lot of his bitterness isn't just about not being able to protect his parents; it's about not being able to protect Robin.

As a consequence he's become more of a loner, with only his faithful retainer Alfred to aid him. Alfred is pretty darned useful; he helps construct the Batman armor and pilots the Bat-plane by remote control. But although he remains devoted to Bruce, it's clear he's not at all happy with the direction Bruce's life is going, and he's not reluctant to express his displeasure. Jeremy Irons was brilliant as Alfred.

In the end, of course, Batman and Superman have to work together to defeat a threat. Batman recognizes the error of his ways, thanks to Superman's willingness to sacrifice himself to save lives. One detail I particularly enjoyed was realizing that Bruce Wayne's mother and Clark Kent's mother had the same name, Martha. It's one of those little details that can bond people together.

Most of the Batman versus Superman storyline was inspired by The Dark Knight Returns, but the threat that pulls them together as a team was drawn from The Death of Superman, the comic in which Superman died back in 1992. This time around, though, the monstrous Doomsday isn't an alien killer genetically engineered long ago by the Kryptonians, but a creature created by Lex Luthor from Kryptonian technology and genetic material. Lex in this version of the DC Universe is younger and crazier than his comic-book incarnation, but he's still just as determined to get rid of Superman. Not satisfied with just making a monster to kill Superman, he first tries to ruin Superman's reputation, then threatens the lives of Superman's loved ones. I'm not sure I really liked Jessie Eisenberg in that role, but Lex is such an over-the-top character anyway that Eisenberg didn't really feel too out of place to me.

Now to Wonder Woman. No one calls her that at any point in this film. In fact, she doesn't even have a name for most of it. But when she finally puts on her armor and goes into battle, she is AWESOME! I've always loved the Justice League animated version of Wonder Woman, who is as powerful and nigh-indestructible as Superman. This Wonder Woman was that Wonder Woman, and that made me very, very happy. I'm even more excited to see the Wonder Woman movie now. I liked it that she wasn't a blue-eyed European woman with an American accent, too, though I'm sure some comic book purists are screaming that Gal Gadot has brown eyes (eyeroll).

I can't help adding what this movie made me think about the expected Batman solo film starring Ben Affleck. The script hasn't even been written yet from what I read, but this article from io9 made me wonder what they'll do with that story. BvS set up Batman to be the driving force behind the creation of the Justice League. As I mentioned earlier, this Batman is a man toward the end of his career. I wonder if perhaps part of his solo story will be showing him realizing that both he and Alfred are older, they can't keep on doing this, but he doesn't want to leave Gotham without a protector. That could then lead to him finding another Robin, and learning to let go of his fear of losing those he cares about.

If I have to mention any flaws in the film, it's that it focuses more on Batman that I would have liked. My favorite DC characters are Superman and Wonder Woman, and I want to see movies about them, not more movies about Batman. The movie also had perhaps one too many dream sequences. One of my coworkers told me that the first time he saw this movie he found it very confusing. I knew right away that the dreams were dreams, but those visual cues might not have been obvious to all viewers. My coworker, by the way, went back to see the movie four more times, so clearly the confusion wasn't enough to deter him. I have half a mind to go see it again myself, just to put paid to all the people who have labeled it a flop.

To sum up, I would give this movie 3 1/2 stars out of 5. I expect that I'll enjoy Captain America: Civil War more when it comes out next month, but I didn't regret seeing Batman v Superman and would definitely see it again.





Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Let the Games Begin

I'm fortunate to have some friends who enjoy board/card/dice games and will sometimes invite us over to their home to share their games with us. This week we played three card games: Incan Gold, Pirate Den, and Red Dragon Inn. The links lead to the write-ups for each game on Board Game Geek if you'd like more details. Here I'll detail a brief overview of how each game works and my impression of it.

Incan Gold

Since we started with Incan Gold, I'll start there, too. Incan Gold, like all three games described here, is a "push your luck" style of game. Players are Indiana Jones-style adventurers exploring an Inca site. The card deck details the treasures, artifacts, and hazards they encounter during their exploration. One game consists of five rounds, with each round made up of any number of turns. The three types of cards are drawn randomly from the deck, one card each turn.

Treasure cards have a numeric value represented by treasure tokens. When a treasure card is drawn, the treasure value is distributed evenly between the players. For example, if the card is worth 12 treasure tokens and there are 5 players, each player is given two tokens, and the remaining tokens stay on the treasure card. If the treasure value is less than the number of players, all the treasure stays on the card. Players store their treasure at their camp, which is represented by a little paper tent each player is given at the start of the game. If a player chooses to go back to camp, they can pick up treasure tokens that are still on the cards.

Artifact cards are specific items, such as golden idols, that are worth 5 treasure. Since there are far fewer artifact cards than treasure or hazard cards, these aren't automatically given to the players when they're drawn. Instead they stay on the table until one of the players decides to go back to camp. At that point the player can pick up an artifact on the way back and take it to their tent.

Hazard cards represent things like cave-ins and mummies that can block the way for the adventurers. There are five types of hazards, and three cards for each type. If a single hazard card of any type is on the table, it has no effect. But if more than one card of the same type is drawn, all of the players must flee back to camp, abandoning any treasure or artifacts that are still on the table. A hazard card that sends all the players back to camp ends the round.

Each player also receives two cards to represent the actions they can take in a turn: go forward, or go back to camp. The cards have no text on them, just images of either a woman with a torch entering a doorway, or a man exiting. Players lay out the card for their action at the beginning of the turn, face down, and then when everyone is ready all players turn over their card.

The game doesn't give any options for players to have other actions besides go forward or go back. They can't steal treasure or artifacts from each other, or play a card to have more than one card drawn from the deck. or negate the effect of a hazard card. The players also aren't given any characters to play; unless they choose to name themselves or try to incorporate some roleplaying elements into the game, the game provides none. My final complaint is that players who choose to go back to camp to store their treasure are out of the game for the rest of the round. The rounds are short, but that's still more time than a player should be out of play. I found Incan Gold the least entertaining of the three games, although it wasn't entirely without fun.

Pirate Den

Not surprisingly, in Pirate Den you play a pirate. Each player gets a character card, which has a picture of a pirate on it. There are both female and male characters. They don't have names and the character you choose has no practical effect, but it's still a fun touch.

After choosing your character card, you are given a stack of cards which are numbered 1 - 4 and have one, two, or three different colors: red, blue, or yellow. There is also a 0 card, which has no color. This is the "bury" card.

Each round, one person draws 15 gem tokens at random from a bag. These tokens are red, blue, or yellow, like the colors on the cards the players receive. After the gems are drawn, the players choose to play one card, based on how many of each color gem is on the table. The effects of the cards are resolved in order by the numbers on the cards, from smallest to largest. If a person plays a blue 1 card and there are 10 blue gems on the table, that player can claim them all, as long as no other player has also played a blue 1 card. If two players play the same card, they split the gems between them. If no gems were drawn of the color that player chose, but other players have claimed gems of that color during previous turns, that player can steal gems from the other players. Should no one play a 1 card, then any 2 cards on the table are resolved next, followed by 3 cards and then 4 cards, if any. Should anyone play cards that have multiple colors, they can claim gems of all the colors on their card, if there are any unclaimed gems of those colors.

The object of the game is to get five Gold tokens. Gems can be exchanged for Gold tokens. Once a player has acquired five Gold tokens, the game ends. But if no one has that many Gold tokens, the game continues, even when the players run out of cards. This is where the "bury" card comes in. A player can play the colorless 0 card at any time. This card allows the player to "bury" her treasure, by converting five gems of the same color into one Gold token. This card also allows the player to reclaim all the cards from her discard pile. It's not necessary to have any gems to convert to Gold tokens for a player to play the 0 card.

Pirate Den is a quick, fun game. Even though players are stealing gems from each other, it can be played in a way that is fun for someone like me who doesn't like competitive games.

Red Dragon Inn

Red Dragon Inn was the most fun for me of the three games. It's also the most complex of the three to play.

The premise of the game is that the players are fantasy adventurers who have returned to their favorite watering hole to drink, gamble, and relax. Each player chooses a character, such as Zot the Wizard, Dierdre the Priestess, or Dimli the Dwarf, and receives a deck of cards and a tile to track their chosen character's only two stats: Fortitude and Alcohol level. As they drink, gamble, and fight their way through the game, the characters lose Fortitude and gain Alcohol, which is tracked by moving a token along the numbers representing each stat. If one token passes the other, or the two tokens meet on the same number, the character passes out and is out of the game.

The player starts with a hand of seven cards drawn randomly from that character's deck. If they don't like the cards in their hand, at the beginning of their turn they can discard any number of cards, even their whole hand, and draw more cards from their deck up to a maximum of seven. The cards are divided into several types: Action, Anytime, Sometime, and Gambling. Action cards are typically to make other players do something, such as lose Fortitude points or take an extra drink. Anytime cards can be played at any time, most often to negate the effect of a card played by another character. For example, if one player plays a card that would cause another player to lose 2 Fortitude, the victim can play an "I don't think so" Anytime card to negate that effect. That's actually the name of the card, by the way. Sometime cards are similar to Anytime cards, except that they are playable under more limited conditions. A Sometime card might be used to avoid anteing up in a round of gambling, for example, or to avoid the effect of a Drink card.

Drink cards are not character-specific cards. Instead there is a "Drink Me" deck that sits in the center of the table. Each turn the players must choose a card from the top of this stack and give it to one of the other players. Other players can use Anytime or Sometime cards to avoid taking more Drink cards. At the end of their turn, each player has to turn over the top Drink card on their own character tile, if they have any Drink cards on their tile, and take the effect written on the card. Most Drink cards cause the character to increase their Alcohol level, but some can also cause Fortitude loss, and occasionally there are cards that have no effect or actually return Fortitude points or reduce the character's Alcohol level.

Each character also has some Gambling cards in their deck. A Gambling round can be initiated by playing an "I'm in!" card, which is a card that appears in every character's deck. Once one of these cards has been played, the gambling continues until resolved before play moves to the next player's turn. Other Sometime cards can affect the result of gambling, such as a Winning Hand card that allows a player to take control of the gambling, or a Cheating card that has a similar effect.

Players also have gold. They start play with five gold pieces, represented by five cardboard tokens. Gambling can cause a character to lose gold, or they can spend gold to make certain card effects happen. If a character loses all her gold, she is out of the game.

Red Dragon Inn is obviously slower to play than Incan Gold or Pirate Den, since it has more actions that players can take each turn. You can play a game of either Incan Gold or Pirate Den in less than half an hour, while Red Dragon Inn takes at least an hour to play with five players. But it offers more opportunities for humor and roleplaying since you are playing an actual character with a certain amount of personality implied by the text on the cards.

Conclusion:
If I had to choose just one of these three games, I would definitely pick Red Dragon Inn. But if your time is limited, try Pirate Den. I would give Incan Gold a pass. It just doesn't give players enough effect on what happens in the game.






Mummy's Mask, part 6

4-10-2016
Session 10
Character level: 4th

New character introduction: Igby Marsh  – male, human, inquisitor

As the sounds of trouble receded into the distance and the Ruby Scarabs caught their breath, they realized they would have to leave the Canny Jackal auction house to investigate what was happening in the rest of Wati. One of the members of the Four Lanterns group, Igby Marsh, offered to accompany them. Uto chose to remain at the auction house looking after the auction participants who were still there.

When they entered the streets beyond the marketplace, the Scarabs heard distant sounds of distress. They followed a trail of destruction until they came to an intersection where a group of half a dozen zombies had congregated around a wagon. One of the zombies was devouring a corpse, presumably that of the wagon driver, while others were consuming the horse that had drawn it. Igby stepped into the intersection, presenting an immediate target for the zombies. Kaa charged one of the undead and with a slash of his kopesh it collapsed.

Sula produced a flaming sphere and sent it rolling toward a zombie, which burst into flame and was destroyed. Two zombies moved toward Igby, and two more approached Kaa. Sula moved her flaming sphere toward one of the zombies threatening Kaa, but this one proved resistant to the fire. She directed Nyema to attack a zombie that was trying to harm Igby, and the lioness’s claws brought it down. Kaa then destroyed the zombie nearest him that was not the target of Sula’s spell. Sula moved up beside Nyema to defend her while continuing to direct the flaming sphere against the other zombies, and drew out the curative wand she had recently acquired.

Nyema brought down a second zombie, while Igby and Kaa also slew their second opponents. All of the zombies were now gone. In the aftermath of the fight, Azzaria noticed that there was a dark compartment in the wagon. The wagon’s contents also seemed odd: a few poor quality pottery pieces, some long-dried paint, and moldering grain. She called out in case someone was hiding in the compartment, which was large enough to contain several people. But no one responded. Examination of the driver’s remains revealed that he wore a heavy, valuable silver chain around his wrist, which seemed significant, but no one present knew what it might mean. Azzaria also found that the driver had a fine silk pouch in his money belt that contained 50 gold pieces, in addition to seven silver pieces that were outside the silk pouch. Kaa then discovered a second hidden compartment in the wagon, this one near the driver’s seat. Inside the compartment he found a necklace with a mummified hand for a pendant, and some fine jewelry estimated to be worth 850 gold pieces. The jewelry resembled the funerary jewelry the Scarabs had seen in the Necropolis. They began to suspect that the compartment in the back of the wagon had been used to smuggle the zombies into Wati, but these zombies clearly hadn’t come from the ancient Necropolis; they appeared to be ordinary citizens of Wati, recently deceased.

Concerned that the corpses might rise as zombies, Kaa decapitated the wagon driver and the horse. The Scarabs could still hear noises to the northeast that sounded like more trouble. But they decided to return to the Canny Jackal instead of investigating the sounds. When they arrived, Uto told them that nothing else untoward had happened in the auction house after their departure. He also recognized the silver chain taken from the wagon driver’s wrist: it was the symbol of the Silver Chain gang, known for grave robbing and smuggling artifacts from the Necropolis. The group reviewed the items they had recovered from the wagon and determined that the mummified hand necklace radiated protection magic, but were unable to determine exactly what it did. Kaa decided to put it on anyway. The tengu didn’t find it as disgusting as his companions did.

After discussing what they had experienced, the Ruby Scarabs disagreed over what to do next. Uto wanted to remain at the Canny Jackal for the rest of the night, but there were two people present who wanted to go to the Sanctum of Silver and Gold, the temple of Nethys that stood near the Grand Mausoleum of Pharasma. These two were priests of Nethys and wanted to return to their temple. The Scarabs agreed to escort them back to the Sanctum.

As they crossed the marketplace, the group heard the sounds of something moving slowly in the darkness, and noises that resembled something heavy being dragged. They did not investigate the source of the sounds.

At the Sanctum of Silver and Gold, the guards outside checked the new arrivals carefully before admitting them, taking a second look at Kaa’s new necklace, but when the two priests vouched for the Scarabs the guards admitted them to the temple. Inside they found a few devotees of Nethys who had taken refuge there. The Scarabs and the two priests narrated their experiences to a senior priest. This priest identified the mummified hand as a Hand of an Honest Man, which would protect the wearer from being cursed.

When they finished talking with the priest, the Scarabs spoke with some of the other people in the temple. One person told a story of someone he knew being carried off by a giant mosquito prior to the zombie attack, but Sula felt this incident had no relationship to the appearance of the zombies, as giant mosquitoes did sometimes attack people. After they had learned what they could from the people in Nethys’ temple, the Ruby Scarabs decided to go on to the Pharasma temple to talk to the priests there. Kaa told them how he had seen Ptemenib leaving the auction, apparently following someone, and had followed but lost the trail. The priests at the temple expressed concern as Ptemenib hadn’t returned and his whereabouts were unknown.

That night they rested at the Grand Mausoleum. The next morning they learned that the troubles had continued throughout the night and were still ongoing. The town of Wati felt abandoned; the streets were empty and quiet. The Scarabs agreed to escort some of the people who had been at the auction back to their homes. Igby persuaded some of the wealthier folk to make a donation of a hundred gold pieces in return for this service.

When the group arrived at one of the homes in the wealthy district of town, they learned that noises could be heard coming from within the family crypt, and the crypt door had been barred. They also observed that a house not far away was issuing black smoke. At first they intended to go to investigate the apparently burning house, but they then decided to return to the Canny Jackal instead.

While on their way back to the auction house, they heard a thunderclap, which Azzaria recognized was an illusion. The group came upon a mob of local people surrounding a woman with a cart. A zombie had been lashed to the cart. The woman appeared frightened, and the crowd were accusing her of causing the appearance of all the zombies. Uto and Azzaria stepped in to reason with the crowd, and Uto cast a spell to calm them. Not all the members of the mob were affected by the magic, but Uto was able to persuade the people to let the woman alone and leave. The woman continued to be frightened and upset. She revealed that the zombie tied to the wagon was her recently dead husband. She was convinced that the gods had brought him back to her, and that if she could get him home she could use her magic to restore him to true life. She refused to take him to the temple of Pharasma. Finally Kaa stunned her with a blow, and then the others bound her with rope so they could take her and the zombie to the priests of Pharasma. Once they arrived at the temple, the priests told them that this was not an unknown occurrence. They had encountered other people who saw their newly dead relatives rising as zombies not as a curse but a blessing.

After leaving the distraught woman with the priests, the Scarabs decided to continue their escort duty, taking more people back to their homes. Along the way they encountered the adventuring band known as the Dog Soldiers fighting some ghouls, and they gave the Dog Soldiers their aid. The leader of the Dog Soldiers sadly told them that he had lost more of his dogs. The Ruby Scarabs had learned from the priests that people who died since the appearance of the zombies were also rising again as zombies, so they advised the Dog Soldiers to be sure to decapitate any dogs that died.

Several hours later, the Ruby Scarabs had delivered all the people from the Canny Jackal who wanted to go home back to their residences. They returned to the temple of Pharasma, where they learned that more outsiders like the duro div they had encountered in Pentheru’s house had been spotted in the town. The priests also told them that they had received no messages from the guards at the gate of the Necropolis, and couldn’t spare anyone to go and check. The Scarabs then offered to go themselves.

When they arrived at the Gate of Dawn, they could see through the openings in the gate that there were hundreds of undead congregated around the base of Pharasma’s Needle, the obelisk that stood just inside the Necropolis. Only the priestess Balthemm, who they had met there before, was present with two guards; the rest of the guards had stayed home to look after their families.

Suddenly, a dark insubstantial shape passed through the gate and moved toward Balthemm. When it touched her she screamed and went gray. Sula laid a hand on Nyema and imbued one of her paws with magic that would help her fight such creatures, as one of her companions had identified the thing as a shadow, which could only be affected by magic weapons. Uto then channeled positive energy toward the gate, affecting some of the undead beyond but also damaging the shadow. Balthemm stumbled away from it, and Sula moved to lay a hand on her to restore some of her lost strength. The two guards fled in terror. Despite her weakness, Balthemm was able to bless the Scarabs to aid them against the shadow.

The shadow touched Igby, but he wasn’t affected as much as Balthemm had been and was able to remain standing. He, Kaa, an enraged Azzaria, and Nyema all attacked the creature with their magically enhanced weapons. Uto then used a wand of magic missile the group had found to direct a missile of force at the shadow, and it vanished. After the shadow had gone, one of the guards returned. Balthemm then asked if the Scarabs would take a message to the Grand Mausoleum to ask for help. Before the group left, Uto levitated to the top of the Necropolis wall and positioned himself so that he could direct several bursts of positive energy at the undead below. While he was looking into the Necropolis, he saw a glint of metal and movement a short distance away. He then threw two vials of alchemist's fire at the undead before returning to his companions.

Once he had returned to the ground, Uto gave Balthemm a wand of disrupt undead to use while the Scarabs returned to the temple of Pharasma to deliver her plea for aid. The companions also helped her remove her armor, which was too heavy for her to wear in her current weakened state.

Back at the temple, Igby received healing to recover the strength he had lost to the shadow’s touch. Uto asked for another wand of disrupt undead, and was told he might be able to acquire one from Nethys’ temple. The Ruby Scarabs also discussed the possibility of checking the Necropolis walls that stood outside the town, as the Silver Chain members had clearly been able to get into the Necropolis somehow. They came to the conclusion that the Silver Chain hadn’t smuggled actual zombies into Wati, but instead had been smuggling corpses which had become zombies after the unknown magic had taken effect.

The Ruby Scarabs returned to the Gate of Dawn later to find more guards with Balthemm. They gave her the supplies the temple had provided, and in return she presented Uto with an unused wand of cure light wounds. She also gave the group a reward that had been collected by local residents, which included five platinum pieces, 483 gold pieces, 358 silver pieces, a gold ring, and an outlandish but expensive silk hat that was promptly claimed by Kaa.

When they had completed their business at the Gate of Dawn, the group discussed patrolling the streets to find out if the undead were everywhere or only in certain areas. They hoped this would help them identify the source of the magic that was raising the dead. As they were talking, a strange-looking bird wearing a mask suddenly appeared out of the air and began to babble at them frantically in what sounded like numerous languages. Uto realized the bird was actually a creature called a nosoi psychopomp, a denizen of the outer planes and steward of the undead. Uto managed to calm the creature enough that it could speak intelligibly. It then explained that it was a helper and guide to the priest Ptemenib, and that Ptemenib had been captured by the Silver Chain gang and was being held in an abandoned warehouse near the waterfront.

Loot acquired:
Wand of disrupt undead
Wand of cure light wounds, fully charged
5 platinum
438 gold
358 silver
Gold ring
Silk hat worth 75 gold

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Mummy's Mask, part 5

4/3/2016
Session 9
Character level: 4th

Previously: The Ruby Scarabs realized that someone else must have been in the Sanctum of the Erudite Eye while they were pursuing the Scorched Hand. Someone turned the dead jackals into undead, was injured by the trap on the staircase, and took the headdress from the secret room. But when the Scarabs shared this information with the priests at the temple of Pharasma, the priests knew nothing about the shameful secret referred to in the letter from Pharaoh Djederet II that they had recovered from the hidden chamber. 

The party members received 453 gold pieces each from the treasure they had recovered at the Sanctum of the Erudite Eye.

As the date of the auction of relics approached, the Scarabs sold off some of the mundane items they had acquired from the Scorched Hands. They also worked with the Canny Jackal auction house preparing the items they wanted to sell. Many visitors from the capital city of Sothis were expected to come for the auction, as well as patrons from Wati's sister city Tephu. When they realized they had failed to pick up any of the books or scrolls from the library in the Sanctum of the Erudite Eye, they persuaded the the priests of Pharasma to allow them to return to the Necropolis one more time.

While Uto spent some time with his mentor, the rest of the Scarabs returned to the Necropolis. The guards at the Gate of Dawn warned them that there had been more activity inside the Necropolis over the past two days. On the way to the Sanctum, Kaa and Sula noticed a small figure hiding from them. Kaa called out and tried to convince the being that the Scarabs meant no harm to it, but the ceature ran into a nearb building. At the same time, several ghasts appeared and attacked the Scarabs. Both Kaa and Sula were badly bitten but managed to avoid being paralyzed by the ghasts' attacks.

After slaying the first two ghasts, the Scarabs saw that several skeletons and another ghast had the small being pinned down inside a ruined building. They swiftly destroyed the skeletons and ghast, then offered healing to the odd-looking creature. Kaa realized that the creature spoke Undercommon. It managed to communicate in broken Common, introducing itself as Ioki and telling the group that it was trying to find others of its people who had come up from their subterranean home. The Scarabs tried to convince Ioki that being in the Necropolis at night was even more dangerous than during the day, but he insisted that he would be safer in the darkness and departed to find a hiding place until nightfall.

The Ruby Scarabs arrived at the Sanctum of the Erudite Eye without further trouble and recovered a quantity of books that they estimated were worth at least a thousand gold pieces. They returned to Wati safely, then went to the temple of Pharasma to have the priests cure the ghoul fever that Kaa and Sula had been infected with by the ghasts. Afterward they visited the Canny Jackal and added the books to the items to be sold at auction.

After their final foray into the Necropolis, they also viewed the items to be sold that had been brought out of the Necropolis by other treasure-hunting bands. Kaa and Sula were both attracted by a crocodile headress and a magical cloak of crocodile hide, and agreed that instead of competing for it they would try to acquire it, then decide who would own it.

The auction proceeded normally, with the Ruby Scarabs' items bringing them each 1,400 gold pieces. Kaa and Sula won the crocodile headress and cloak, which Kaa ultimately claimed for his own. But as the auction was wrapping up, Uto began to feel that something strange was happening. He warned one of the guards and cast a detect undead spell, which did not find any haunts in the area.

Kaa also noticed that the priest Ptemenib had left before the auction finished, and that he behaved as though he was following someone. Kaa decided to follow the priest to see what he was doing. But shortly after he left the Canny Jackal building he lost track of Ptemenib and had to return to the auction house.

Back at the Canny Jackal, Uto warned his companions of the strangeness he'd felt. Moments later there was a loud boom as something struck the doors. Then the doors burst open and zombies swarmed into the auction house! The patrons began to flee, along with many of the guards and the leader of a group called the Four Lanterns who had reporedly been traumatized by encounters with undead in the Necropolis. The Ruby Scarabs rushed toward the doorway to block the zombies from getting into the building.

Azzaria looked outside and saw an ox cart overrun by zombies smash into a pillar in the marketplace, toppling the pillar and spilling a collection of severed thieves' hands onto the ground. As soon as the severed hands landed, they came to life and began to scramble toward the Canny Jackal.

Sula summoned the magic of her newly-acquired spear to combat the zombies, and Nyema rushed inside to aid her master. Both she and Nyema were badly wounded by the zombies, but were healed of some of their injuries when Uto channeled positivie energy. Azzaria stepped outside to the aid of some of the auction patrons who had tried to flee but had become trapped under a collapsed scaffold.

Abruptly most of the zombies and dismembered hands melted. The Scarabs didn't know what had caused this. But Kaa heard screams from a back room and ran into a storage area to help. He found some of the auction patrons who had gone to hide there being menaced by a female mummy. He shouted for help as the mummy started toward the exit from the storeroom.

Sula and Nyema tried to block the doorway to prevent the mummy from escaping, but Sula was paralyzed by the mummy's aura of despair. Nyema remained by her side to guard her. Kaa then used his ki power to direct a scorching ray at the mummy, which caused her to charge him. Nyema bit and clawed at the mummy as it moved away from her. Kaa blasted the mummy with scorching rays two more times until she collapsed into dust. Outside the Canny Jackal, the sounds of the disturbance moved into the distance.

Loot acquired:
1,853 gold each
crocodile headress
cloak of fangs