Friday, April 24, 2009

Alassë, Alassë

We had been waiting for some time: Lotheryn was studying the terellor that she continued to carry, Anca was relaxing in silence (we soon realized that while Anca was given some of the attributes of elves during his transformation, he retained the powers of speech of a wolf; he could understand our speech, but Lotheryn was the only one who could understand his bestial language), and I was getting bored. Sariel appeared content to wait quietly, sometimes entering into a lively, one-sided conversation with her god, Garl. I left to pick up my flail from the smith and when I returned, I saw a half-elf woman talking to my companions.

I walked up to the group, “So, who is our new friend?”

The half-elf introduced herself, “I am Alassë, daughter and cleric of Torm the Lawmaker. I was just discussing some matters of faith with your friends. You must be Taran,” she smiled warmly as she touched her cheek in a manner of greeting.

“I am,” I said, as I felt a tug on my arm. It was Lotheryn.

“Taran, can I speak with you a minute in private?” She said as she practically dragged me away.

“What is it?” I asked. The druid had a very uncharacteristic look of annoyance on her face.

“Well, this cleric approached us and began giving us her spiel on her god. She seems very nice and respectful, but I can’t say I’m particularly in the mood for preaching at the moment. Meanwhile, our new 'adventuring partner,'" she cast a sidelong glance at Sariel, "is trying to convince Alassë that she needs to join our group, as mandated by Greg Gordglitter or whatever her god’s name is. Since then, it’s just been a lot of theological debate. I’ve been trying to mediate between the two, but this is beyond me.” Lotheryn said, exasperated.

“Alright,” I said as I patter her on the shoulder. “I’ll see if I can extract us from this so we can be on our way.”

Just as we were heading back to the group, we heard a rider approaching. It appeared to be a dwarf woman on a pony, riding at breakneck speed (well, breakneck for a dwarf on a pony – it was actually rather comical to see, a feeling I felt bad about a minute later). The dwarf woman rode up to us and stopped suddenly, out of breath and looking distraught. Apparently my day hadn’t been strange enough.

“Kardra?!?” Alassë exclaimed, lending a hand to the dwarf as she dismounted. “What brings you here?”

Kardra caught her breath. “It’s Bolgar! I…I waited as long as I thought was appropriate, but I had to tell someone.”

Something rang a bell. Bolgar…Bolgar...where had I heard that name? I listened as the woman continued, speaking directly to Alassë. “I didn’t tell you this when you left the church last week, but Bolgar sent word several weeks ago that he was almost home. He was stopping to see a friend in Winterhaven…”

“Wait!” I interjected. “Bolgar? Is he a cleric of Torm? Was he travelling in the Northern Reaches about a year ago?”

Now it was someone else’s turn to look confused for once. Alassë looked at me, perplexed, and asked, “How did you know that?”

I exchanged glances with Lotheryn and Anca. “Well, let’s just say that’s a longer story than we have time for. I’ll give you the condensed version. We happened across your friend while we were involved in our own expedition in the Northern Reaches. He was chronicling the history of the area as some sort of mission his god had put him on. He travelled with us for some time before we parted ways. Nice guy.” I left out the part about him being almost unbearably righteous, but the rest was true.

“Well, he’s missing!” Kardra blurted. Alassë looked stunned. The dwarf woman continued, “I didn’t tell you earlier, Alassë, because Bolgar didn’t want you interrupting your work to wait for his return. His message said that he was going to stop in Winterhaven and see how a friend there was getting along before he came home. I thought it was strange when he didn’t send word after a couple of weeks, but I knew something was wrong when his friend showed up at the church yesterday and told me he’d never seen Bolgar! I came here as fast as I could.”

Alassë sat down and put her head in her hands. This was obviously hitting her hard. She looked up finally. “I have to go find him,” she said determinedly. She got to her feet and clasped her hands around Kardra’s. “I will leave at once. Do not worry. With Torm’s blessing, I will return him safely to you and the church.”

“We are coming with you!” Sariel said, rather unexpectedly.

“What was that?” Alassë said, looking at the eladrin.

“What was that?” I asked, also looking quizzically at Sariel.

Sariel laughed and shook her head. “I knew you still didn’t believe me. I told you we had a quest we were waiting for. Garl revealed it to me. This is our quest. We must find this man. It is right that we do so.”

This is crazy, I thought. A new flail, a strange gnome-elf-woman from faerie land, a pious half-elf cleric, a distraught dwarf woman, and now a random quest I was supposed to embark on. I needed a large mug of ale. Badly.

I was thinking about which bar I should go to first, when Lotheryn spoke up. “Anca and I will go.” She looked at me. “Anca told me that he felt the urge to do this. I feel the same way. It IS right that we go. The man was very kind to us on our journey. We should find him.”

“Well, I guess I need to break in this new flail sometime, and I’m sure this will give me the opportunity. Let’s get to it then,” I said, secretly lamenting that I wasn’t going to get any ale. I wasn’t sure about Torm and Garl, but I trusted Lotheryn and Anca. If their instincts said it was right, then it wasn’t my place to argue.

The cleric looked shocked at our offer to help. She fell to her knees, closed her eyes and appeared to be praying. When she opened them, she looked at each of us and said, “What Torm has provided, it is not in my place to refuse. I thank you for your commitment.” She rose and turned to Kardra, who was still looking fairly pale. “This is a sign from Torm. He will bless our search. Keep yourself safe, and we will return.”

With that, we left the dwarf and made our way onto the road out of town. We began the journey to Winterhaven. As we travelled, Alassë shared with us her “testimony,” as she called it.

She grew up in a modest home with her elven father, half-elf mother, and six older brothers. She had travelled quite a bit as a child; her parents had been disciples of Torm and took the children with them on their mission trips. When she turned 12, she was enrolled in school at the local church, just as her brothers had done. Each of her brothers, save the one closest to her in age, had become paladins of Torm, and protected missionaries on their travels. The other brother, Aelar, nearest to her in both age and in personality, became disillusioned with the church. He had become increasingly contentious in his classes, until Alassë confronted him about it. Aelar revealed that he felt that Torm’s teachings were weak and created a mindless devotion to law and justice. He felt that he was being pushed, against his will, into subservience to a powerless god. The day after this conversation, Aelar’s 18th birthday, Alassë found that her brother was gone. He had taken all of his possessions and left the church for good. The family had not had contact with him since. I could hear the sadness in the cleric’s voice as she spoke of him. It was obvious that they had been very close.

Alassë, however, took to the church’s teachings with complete enthusiasm. She excelled in her religion and history courses. The half-elf loved to study the tenets of justice and law that were the main doctrines of Torm. She performed so well in her classes that one of the high priests, the aforementioned Bolgar, took her under his wing and trained her personally. He even taught her the language of the dwarves – a rare thing, since dwarves guard their native tongue closely. His hope was that she would become a cleric and a missionary for Torm, surpassing even her parents in service to the church, and possibly even spreading Torm’s message to secluded dwarven kingdoms. Bolgar became like a second father to her.

As her brothers before her, she also had a passion and a skill for melee combat. Almost impossibly, she worked just as diligently on her combat tactics as she did on her apologetics courses. By the time she was 18, she could recite entire chapters from the Torm’s Holy Book of Law while she was knocking down paladins twice her size with a morningstar. She was initiated on her 18th birthday as a cleric of Torm's church. Soon after, she began her missionary work. She alternated between travelling to regional dwarven clans to evangelize for Torm, and performing consulting work for local townships and colonies, helping them with their legal structure. (This last part sounded about as exciting to me as reading a book about the germination of fir trees, which I have already checked off my list of things to do before I die, as you may recall). She had been making these trips for the last 10 years. Three of those years were spent on an extended journey across the Olarian Sea, sailing from island to island, teaching the clans of humans that she found there, and helping reveal to them what she referred to as the Light of Torm.

As diligent and successful as Alassë was in her work throughout these years, she noticed that Bolgar seemed less and less content every time she returned to her home church. The dwarf, normally jovial, was often brooding and spoke gruffly to those who approached him. On her homeward journey from a mission, roughly a year and a half ago, the half-elf decided that she needed to find out what was at the root of the old cleric’s issues. When she arrived, she found that Bolgar was gone. He had left her a note:

Dearest Alassë,

I am so proud of the work you are doing in the name of Torm. If the rest of us had half your determination, this world would never know injustice again. I apologize for my attitude in recent times. Without a pupil like you into whom I can pour my knowledge, I have not felt at peace. I feel that Torm has a new calling for me. He is asking me to travel to a distant land called the Northern Reaches. I do not know His purpose (who ever really does?), but possibly He means it as a scouting expedition for beginning a new church there. Pray that I may complete His task and return safely.

I will be gone for some time. See that Kardra is well taken care of and spend time with her when you can.

In Torm’s Law,

Alassë was saddened by her mentor’s departure, but she knew that Torm’s will was not something to be questioned. She praised her god for his wisdom and continued with her work. She was in the middle of a consulting trip to the city when she found us.

And so here we were, five travellers on our way to a town called Winterhaven - Anca, Lotheryn, Sariel, Alassë, and I. A mute shapeshifter, a nature-obsessed druid, a lighthearted religious faerie warrior, a pious half-elf cleric, and me, ranger of the wilds, hunter of orcs, and lover of fine ales. (Also a damned fine writer, if I did say so myself.) This was an eclectic group, to be sure.

It could be worse, I thought as we continued down the road. I could still be with that crazy gnome...

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Thursday, April 23, 2009

Rules and questions

I wanted to post something before we got started regarding rules. Not so much the rules of the game (though maybe there should be a post about that too) but more the rules of how we are going to play. On the whole, I'm really glad that we have a bit of a smaller group this time. I think that will keep the game a little more engaging for everyone and we won't be bogged down waiting for your turn to come back up again. While we aren't going to be in hurry whatsoever, I am going to try to keep the game moving along a little faster than we did last time just so encounters seem a little more exciting.

So two things in order to help move combat faster: 1) Roll attack roles and damage roles at the same time (I think this will save us a surprising amount of time). I'll also assume that you didn't crit unless you tell me you did. That way I won't have to ask, "wait, natural 20?" a bunch of times. 2) When doing any sort of AoE damage, roll the damage first and then attack roles to see who you hit (with bursts and blasts, there is one damage roll but attack roles for each individual enemy). Those two things (especially the first one) should help keep us moving along. As a general rule, giving some thought to what you are going to do next turn would be preferable though we won't expect anyone to be a master tactician so no worries if we get to your turn and you have no idea. Also, it would be great if we could visually represent initiative order. Does anyone have a mini-white board we could use? It would be great to just write everyone's name down once at the beginning of the night and then just write/erase the initiative order for each encounter.

Reading through the Dungeon Master's Guide also gave me some interesting questions to ponder and I thought I would throw them back at you guys to consider.

1) When you speak for your character, does it matter if you speak in 1st or 3rd person? This doesn't have a huge effect but would affect how role play is done. Same goes for me as the DM. Should the monsters/townspeople/etc. talk in first person or 3rd? Do we care at all?

2) Can player's offer advice if their characters aren't present or are unconscious? This again is mostly a role-playing consideration. I would even go further than this and ask whether we want to discuss strategy and offer advice in the middle of an encounter.
Ideas in favor of not giving advice/discussing include: This could bring up some really really interesting role-playing situations. Our party would be more like a sports team than a think-tank. We could totally discuss all the things your character can do when we’re outside of combat, but then when we’re fighting, it’s show time. Realistically, we couldn’t have a powwow on the battlefield to discuss who should go where, etc. We just have to react. In this way, the roleplaying would be really authentic because as we got better at understanding our class, our powers and everyone else’s play style, our party would become more and more efficient in combat. Moreover, I think Dan and I could easily fall in to over-strategizing and it would be to easy for the girls to more or less just do what we said, even if we we’re being mean about it. In this way, the girls take a more active role in combat. Obviously we could explain any rules or powers to them if they didn’t understand but at the end of it, just like it would be in real life, we’d just have to watch them make whatever decision they thought was best for themselves and for the team. Additionally (last point on this one, I promise), the roleplaying could be even further enhanced because everyone could fight in a manner consistent with their character. Is your character a coward? Run away and hide! Take 1 or 2 extra rounds to enter combat, hoping no one notices. Is your character brash and completely unable to be controlled? Bull rush the first dude you see, sprinting around from enemy to enemy, shrugging off their attacks of opportunity. Spend half the time bloodied or unconscious if that is what your character would do. Have fun!!
Ideas against being strict on this issue: It puts a lot of pressure on the girls, which they might or might not appreciate. But especially at the beginning, when everything is so new, they might like a bit of advice. Obviously I’m in favor of the first option since the point of D&D is to play a character, not play to the peak of your ability (it is fundamentally different than WoW in that regard) but this would have to fly with the ladies or it just wouldn’t work out.

3) Can players give other players info such as how many hit points they have left? Another really interesting role playing idea (The DMG was a really good read). Giving out hit point numbers definitely seems to fall into meta-gaming. I’ll know how many hit points you have and could always give a description of how the players looks, relative to their damage. And everyone will always know when someone (player or enemy) is bloodied (less than half their hit points left). This might be really fun and certainly makes things more realistic. (I am the anti-TC. I want you to have no information!!!!)

4) Can players take back what they’ve just said their character does? Are all actions final?

Well, there are some questions for you to ponder. Most are role playing related but I think our last session was really missing some good role playing. D&D is meant to be interactive story telling and I want to incorporate that more into our sessions. Hopefully that will make them much more fun and even a bit ridiculous. On that note, so everyone knows, every session there will be a 100XP role playing bonus that is available to every character. It will be given out only for excellent role playing during that night. It can be consistent role playing the whole time, or it can a single big monologue/backstory/impromptu-whatever. The xp bonus will likely go up as we level. So get hyped.

Let me know what you think. Another post is coming with the back story of what you are doing when we start on Saturday but I’m not sure when I’m going to get that out; might not be until Saturday morning.

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Wednesday, April 22, 2009

The Curious Tale of Sariel

Lotheryn, Anca, and I found our way to a nearby city. I told Lotheryn that before we began our crusade, I had a little shopping to do. Having lost my flail some months ago, my skill with a bow had increased substantially. However, if you are someone who can feel comfortable without a large spiky ball on a chain nestled at your side, well, you are a better half-elf than I. I needed that cold, heavy steel.

So I found a good blacksmith and talked to him about obtaining a new flail. Luckily, he had just made one for a half-orc who was not going to be able to use it (according to the blacksmith's story, it is advisable not to cheat at card games with mountain trolls; apparently you wind up with two less hands than when you started). I asked him if he could modify the weapon for me, and the smith agreed. He could get it to me by later in the afternoon.

In the meantime, we sat in a nice grassy area in the middle of city, munching on some local fare and really letting our minds wander for the first time in months. I was just about to doze off when I saw someone approaching purposefully. It was a tall slender woman with pale blonde hair. She was similar in appearance to an elf, although she had pointier ears and a longer face. She wore bright-colored robes, light clothing and had a mirthful smile on her face, but I was still rather wary, seeing the large sword strapped to her back.

It turned out that my caution was unnecessary. There was no sense of malice or deception in her voice as she spoke. We had dealt with so many shady characters over the last few years, that it was refreshing to converse someone so openly friendly.

"Hello, travellers! I am Sariel. I was told I could find you here. We have many adventures before us," she said, still smiling genuinely.

I looked at Lotheryn with confusion. She looked just as surprised by the introduction as I was. The only thing that kept me from becoming suspicious again was the calmness of Anca. Anca could sense danger better than any of us, and the shifter was as relaxed as I'd seen him. So I turned back to the woman and made the obvious reply, "Huh?"

She laughed and sat down next to us on the grass. "My god, Garl Glittergold, gave me a vision while I was entranced. I saw representations of the three of you, and felt called to join you on your journey, whatever that may be."

That name sounded familiar. I said, "Wait, Gary Glitter? Isn't that the guy who..."

Sariel rolled her eyes as she cut me off. "No, there is no relation. Garl is the patron god of the gnomes, the god of laughter and jokes, the god of community, and a lover of justice."

This was getting more confusing as we went along. "But you're not..."

"A gnome? I know," she said, as if she expected the question. "I will explain it to you as we wait for our fifth companion."

This time Lotheryn was the one who spoke up. "Our fifth companion?" she inquired.

"Yes, we must wait for her here. Garl revealed a fifth to me, and, unless I am mistaken in my vision, this is where she will meet us. This is where our quest will also be revealed." A quest now, too? Sariel spoke with such confidence that I didn't feel it was my place to question her. Ehlonna had never given me those kinds of visions, that's for certain. Maybe she was crazy (the woman, not Ehlonna; although with the things I'd been through...). But she seemed nice enough, and we had to wait here anyway. Lotheryn didn't seem to mind, so I saw no harm in letting this play its course.

As we lounged, Sariel told us her story. It was a bit odd to hear the entire life story of someone I had known for mere minutes, but she was convinced that joining us on a quest was the will of her god. It was clear from the beginning that her somewhat checkered past and passion for justice would fit in well with Lotheryn and I. Here's her tale, as I recall it.

She was actually a princess of a very wealthy and powerful Eladrin household. Lotheryn was somewhat familiar with Eladrin, being related through ancestral blood (Eladrin represent the modern day manifestation of the Fey creatures that elves evolved from). I, however, had no clue about the people. Sariel explained to me that Eladrin lived in a place called the Feywild, a realm where faerie creatures and creatures descended from faerie still thrive. This realm "floated" on a separate plane of existence that was loosely connected to our world, allowing Eladrin to travel back and forth. The city that her family ruled straddled the very edge of the Feywild and would appear and disappear in this world at various times. None of that made a bit of sense to me, but I went along with it.

The reason for her family's close ties with the "real" world was because a lot of the wealth and power her family had earned had come from their provision of military aid and resources to other good races (notably Elves, Humans, and Halflings) in their struggles against orcs and whatnot. Sariel explained that this wasn't exactly typical of an Eladrin society, but that despite their involvement with other races, they still maintained a sense of superiority and detachment from this world.

She had grown up in the palace, living a life of comfort. She was kind of spoiled throughout much of her childhood, although she never took herself or her family as seriously as her formal training in grace and manners seemed to suggest she should.

One day, a group of gnomes showed up while her city was present in the non-Feywild world (this was getting confusing, and also reminding me of Cat Stevens songs). The gnomes asked for assistance in dealing with an encroachment of giants and ogres onto the lands adjacent to theirs. The Eladrin were generally friendly with gnomes, having shared a descendancy from creatures in the Feywild. However, Sariel's father, the magistrate, was becoming increasingly wary of involvement outside of the Feywild. The last venture he had taken had turned out poorly for the Eladrin, and he wanted to be more cautious. He told the gnomes that he needed time to consult with his council. He would send word in a week.

Meanwhile, Sariel had been given the task of making sure the gnomes were taken care of properly during their stay at her palace. This gave her the opportunity to get to know them, having never seen gnomes before. Sariel found she liked their sense of humor and quirkiness, and appreciated their love of beautiful objects. She quickly took a liking to one of the clerics who was with the gnomes, fascinated by his stories of exploits in the service of his god, Garl Glittergold.

Sariel began to ruminate on how unsatisfied she was with her current lifestyle. Her parents were pressuring her to train in wizardry, claiming that the arcane arts were suitable for someone of her upbringing. Sariel was much more interested in close combat and swordplay, even taking secret lessons from a schoolfriend who had joined the palace guard. It seemed that even her god, Corellon, wasn't nearly as much fun as this god the gnomes spoke of. Sariel, being trusting and open with her thoughts, shared her unhappiness with the cleric.

The morning that the gnomes were set to leave, disappointed in not yet getting an answer from the magistrate, the cleric approached Sariel in secret and asked her to leave with them and join his order. He recognized that her sense of humor and lightheartedness would mesh well in their community. He offered to take her to his monastery and train her in the martial arts, while also showing her the ways of Garl, who would appreciate her personality and bless her for her devotion. Being a tad naïve as to what this all would entail, she eagerly accepted and snuck away with the gnomes when they left.

Sariel was unaware of the backlash this would cause. Her parents were greatly angered and sent guards to bring her back, but she refused. The gnomes were supportive of her position and encouraged her to remain with them, even though the eladrin had decided not to lend support to their cause against the invaders. Sariel's parents soon cut off all contact with her. In the meantime, her training commenced and she was subjected to the most rigorous discipline she had ever experienced; it was not quite what she had expected and certainly presented a harder lifestyle than she had previously endured. But the gnomes were fun people, and Sariel enjoyed their sense of community and curiosity. Despite her homesickness and exhaustion, she stuck with it. After several years, she was initiated as an avenger of Garl Glittergold, the first ever member of another race to earn that distinction.

Unfortunately, shortly after that joyous occasion, the gnome settlement near Sariel's monastery was attacked by a large band of ogres. The ogres were eventually repelled, but there were heavy losses on the gnomes' side. Sariel fought bravely in the battle, but despite her prowess, the cleric who had recruited her (and who had since become high priest of the monastery) was killed in battle. In short order, a new high priest was chosen by the local leadership, but this priest was mistrustful of her. Sariel was an outsider, he claimed, and her family had rejected their plea for help. She would no longer be welcome in their community. Many gnomes that trained beside her at the monastery were angered by this decision, and stood by her side. Their support was to no avail. Ultimately, the new high priest’s edict was set down, and she was exiled.

While this hurt Sariel deeply, she maintained a deep kinship with the gnomish race and their ways, understanding that it wasn’t the entire people that had forced her out, but one paranoid individual. She also still had the favor of Garl Glittergold and felt her work as an avenger in his service had just begun. Still, not knowing where to turn, Sariel looked first to her old eladrin family. She hoped that there was some way she could use her training for the service of her own people. Upon arriving at the city, she was not even allowed through the gate. Apparently her family had felt too betrayed by her defection to forgive her.

So Sariel wandered. It was tough to make a living, as Sariel's only formal training had been in religion and swordsmanship. Fortunately for her survival, the gnomes had also taught her to be quick with her hands and lithe on her feet. She moved from city to city, finding work when she could, but often stealing when there was no other choice (but, she emphasized at this part of the story, only from wicked, wealthy lords who used their power to support injustice). This went on for several years.

Finally, Sariel found a somewhat honest living by offering her services as a swordsman to a large troupe of travelling comedians and circus-folk. Not glamorous, to be sure, and many of the troupe were morally questionable individuals with checkered pasts. In general, though, they were fun people who liked to laugh. Plus, this position had the added bonus of decent pay, eliminating the need for thieving - an activity Sariel was skilled at, but not something she enjoyed.

She travelled with this group for some time, keeping them safe from bandits and wandering monsters. Sariel related to us the first time she encountered trouble, when two local bandits tried to strong arm the troupe into paying them for passage through the area. When Sariel refused to pay, the bandits simply laughed at her and tried to take the cash box by force. Twenty seconds later, when both were lying dead on the ground, Sariel fully understood just how much power Garl Glittergold had bestowed on her.

After a year, she began to realize that Garl had something more for her than simply scaring petty thieves away from a minstrel troupe. It was fine that she was protecting these people in the name of humor and laughter, but Sariel knew that there was a greater good that her god wanted her to fight for. She wasn’t yet sure what that was, but her soul felt a distinct calling. Sariel resolved that she would leave the group at the next decent-sized town they entered in order to seek the new purpose that Garl had for her life.

After sneaking away from the company and finding a quiet place to enter into a trance, Sariel was led to us. And here we were. Waiting for some other mysterious adventurer. This day had gotten strange in a hurry.

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Thursday, April 16, 2009

A New Beginning

It was over. Well, almost over. The journey we had started was coming to a finish. I guess it was never really my journey to begin with, but I couldn’t help but feel some sort of connection to it, having been involved for so long.

I glanced over at Lotheryn, who was picking her way determinedly through the forest, clearly wrapped up in her own thoughts. Anca trotted along beside her. Having had no real home for such a long time, I couldn’t imagine the emotions that she must be feeling. Returning to her kin and her Grove (the source of her being, really) after being away for so long, having completed the task she set out to accomplish, bringing her people the power they needed to restore their environment. That power was in the form of a simple flower, the terellor, still embedded in a clump of dirt and nestled carefully in Lotheryn’s pack.

Yeah, we found it. It took almost a year after our fellowship split up, but we finally found it. These things are always in the last place you look.

I couldn’t keep my thoughts from drifting back over the occurrences of the last year.

After I caught up with Lotheryn and Anca following our little "mining expedition," we made our way north to a decent sized city called Urgor. Lotheryn knew of a plant expert (by the odd name of Ratlab) who might be able to help her on her quest. We found the guy rather easily. Unfortunately, the reason it was so easy is because the man had apparently just gone completely mad, began casting lightning bolts at anyone wearing a dark cloak, screamed about something called the “Cult of Stone,” and then changed himself into a large alder tree and planted himself in the middle of the marketplace.

The halfling merchant we were conversing with pointed to the left, noticing the skeptical expression on my face. “It’s right there if you want to see it. Happened just two days ago. Quite a lovely tree, I might add. Wouldn’t mind a tree like that in my garden back home. While you’re here, could I interest you in any asparagus?”

“Ugh. No thanks.” I muttered. I flipped the man a couple coppers for his troubles and turned to Lotheryn. “Well, that certainly puts a damper on the start of our mission. Any other leads you know of?”

The elf looked like she was about to cry. “No. Everywhere I’ve gone I’ve met with nothing but dead ends. I keep having this vision of a flower embedded at the top of a mountain of rock, with sheer cliffs on each side, no way to reach it. It looks like that is my destiny. I thank you for your willingness to aid me, but I feel I must return to my Grove. They will need to know of my failure.” She began sobbing in the middle of the street, oblivious to the glances we were getting from the passersby.

What was I supposed to do? I’m pretty bad at the whole “empathy” thing. I was more uncomfortable in that situation than I had been when we fought that red dragon. At least then I could let my bow do the communicating. It spoke much more clearly and authoritatively than I did, that’s for sure. Then I had an idea.

I patted her shoulder gently, as a rather poor means of calming her down. “Well, this guy had to have journals, logs, or a library of some sort. I’m no rogue, but I can sneak around with the best of them. We’ll find his house and I’ll try to get us in to do some research.”

Thankfully, that seemed to take the edge off of Lotheryn’s despair. Our halfling merchant was able to tell us where we could find the man’s home, although he couldn’t do it without another sales pitch. Lotheryn bought some broccoli from him, just to make him happy. We spent the rest of the day in a dark corner of a tavern, the druid sitting quietly munching on nasty green vegetables, while I thought about how were going to get into the herbalist’s home.

We waited an hour after nightfall and were about to leave our table when three well-armed, angry looking dwarves barged into the tavern. I immediately recognized them from Odo’s clan. Something told me that it was probably not a good idea to say hello at the moment. It turned out to be a good instinct.

One of the dwarves stepped forward and shouted, “If any of you has seen or heard tell of a gnome called ‘Moonglum,’ step forward and provide any information you possess. Any credible information we receive will be paid for, while anyone caught concealing information will be held duly accountable.”

The bartender made a feeble attempt at trying to get the dwarves to leave, mumbling that they were going to be bad for business, but he was quickly silenced by a glare from the bearded man who had spoken. When no one stepped forward to offer up intelligence, the dwarves began making their way around the tavern, harshly questioning individuals.

I looked at Lotheryn. “I think that was our cue to leave.” She nodded silently as we slipped out of our booth and made our way to the back door, hoping that we had escaped unseen. Thankfully, we had left Anca outside at the rear of the tavern, otherwise we would have been given away for sure.

I seethed as we snuck out. Hearing the gnome’s name made me angry all over again at what he had done back in the depths of Odo’s mine. And apparently he had done something else, as well, to tick off the dwarves that badly. I had no intention of finding out what it was. I was perfectly happy to be as far away from that wizard as possible. As it turned out, that was the last time we heard any mention of our previous companions.

We breathed a sigh of relief as we collected Anca and made our way out of sight of the tavern. It was a quick walk from there, down a few back alleys, to Ratlab’s house. As we arrived I felt confident that we remained incognito.

“What now?” Lotheryn whispered, as we crouched down beside a rear window. “How do we get in?”

I took one last look around the alleyway to make sure no one was spying on our activities, and then I calmly broke the window with the haft of my flail. The elf looked appalled.

“What? I told you I’m no rogue. This is how I do things. Besides, the guy’s a tree. He’s not going to miss his back window. Let’s just get in there and do our business, shall we?” I said. Even in the near blackness, I could see Lotheryn roll her eyes.

The three of us hopped in, lit a couple of candles and began our search. The place was a disaster. It looked as if a typhoon had gone around the place a few times and then called a tornado in to finish the job. We gathered up all the tomes and notebooks we could find and began perusing them for any hint of the terellor.

I was halfway through a riveting classic about the germination of fir trees, when, without warning, a brilliant orb of light lit the room. Completely startled, I dropped the tome I was reading. Anca crouched down, growling and ready to leap. I turned and slowly opened my eyes, letting them adjust to the new brightness.

Standing there, holding a staff tipped with a crystal that was the source of the light was a very tall man of medium build. The man looked to be past middle age, with jet black hair and beard, streaked with white in various places. His face was stern, but I could see some amusement in his eyes as he regarded our state of shock.

“Well?” He started in a booming voice. “You have approximately 17 and a half seconds to convince me not to turn each of you into smoking piles of ash.”

I was still trying to figure out where I might be able to obtain a clean set of undergarments at this hour when Lotheryn spoke up. As freaked out as I was, she spoke without a quaver in her voice.

“Sir, we did not intend any harm. I am searching for information that Ratlab was said to possess. This information would lead me to a flower that holds the ability to save my home. I was hoping to speak with Ratlab myself, but he has passed, as you know. This was my last option, and I took it out of desperation, not malice. Please forgive our intrusion.”

I was impressed by her composure, and apparently the sorcerer was impressed as well. His face softened considerably. “My name is Suiag. Lab was a good friend of mine for many, many years. I know of the information that you seek. I tried to pry it from him myself, but he never gave it to me. Every time I asked, he would look at me with a mischievous grin and tell me ‘Only my true friend can know that.’ I never fully understood what he meant by that. And now I never will.”

The big man sighed as he seated himself on a stool in the corner of the room. He gave a quick whistle and to our astonishment, Anca trotted over and seated himself beside Suiag, even allowing him to scratch his ears. “That information would have been quite useful, as you well know. I take it that you heard mention of the Cult of Stone?” Lotheryn and I both nodded. “They are most likely the ones responsible for the decay of your Grove. This is a group of evil men, some of whom have become wraiths, twisted by their ill-advised dabbling in necromancy. The short of it is that the power they possess is limited by growing things, and so they seek to destroy especially those who would nurture the flora of the world. There are some powers that druids and shamans wield that can combat the spread of the disease they have inflicted upon fields and forests, but only the terellor has the power to actually cure it.”

This story was getting bleaker and bleaker. Hopefully the sorcerer would give us at least some good news. He continued, “Lab obviously guarded this information closely, knowing that it would be abused in the wrong hands. Unfortunately for you, by the time it became obvious that the information needed to be shared with someone who could use it for good, his brain had been addled by a confrontation with a rather powerful mind flayer. As you can see from the curious collection of random objects, he became rather eccentric in the last couple years, hoarding pieces of junk that he thought were significant in some way.”

I glanced around the room, really seeing it for the first time. Among the myriad items, there was a strange carving of a man’s distorted face, a small statuette of a scantily clad woman who appeared to be wearing a skirt made of grass, and a multi-colored cube. I asked about this last item.

“That?” the sorcerer grunted as he picked it up. “This is some sort of puzzle. Apparently the pieces can be moved around so that each side consists of only one unique color. He was constantly fiddling with this thing, claiming that it held the key to his destiny. You may have it, if you wish. As far as I know, no one has ever solved it.” He tossed it to me. Hey, I like a good puzzle every now and then.

Lotheryn interrupted us, urgency in her voice “So is there no clue here as to where we can find the terellor?”

Suiag shook his head. “Certainly none that I know of. Members of the Cult were here looking, and they couldn’t find anything either. They obviously didn't pick up after themselves. You are welcome to look around if you’d like, but I’ll tell you that I have read every word on every piece of paper in this place, and nothing will lead you to your answer. I am sorry.”

We gave one last look around the room. I was ready to turn and head back out the window when Lotheryn spoke up. “I find it strange that a lover of plants such as this would not have a dwelling full of green life. The only growing thing I see is that small tree in the pot over there.” She pointed at a tiny tree on the window sill. Something was funny about that tree, other than the fact that it was the smallest tree I had ever seen. It couldn’t have been more than 12 inches tall. I looked closer, and then I realized it.

“Hey, that tree looks exactly like the one Ratlab turned into in the marketplace. It seems to be withering and dying, but the color and shape of the tree is the exact same.”

The large spellcaster looked over. “Well, I suppose you’re right. I don’t see what significance that poses, other than that he liked this particular plant.”

Lotheryn said, “You are probably correct, but still, I have some ability to talk to plants and trees. Before we go, I would like to see if it has anything it can share.”

Lotheryn gently placed her hands on the small, frail branches. I could see that she was vocalizing something, but her voice was inaudible. This had gone on for some time when I heard a loud snap and saw that the tree had collapsed. Lotheryn had a tear in her eye, as she turned to us, but her words reflected respect and admiration rather than sadness.

“This tree has spent the last of its life energy to communicate with me. What I heard was, ‘The life of the star flower is held by Elanor the Grower.’ That was all.” She looked at the sorcerer expectantly. Suiag, who had an air about him that indicated his ability to handle just about anything, suddenly seemed unsure of himself.

After a moment spent deep in thought, the man spoke, “Ratlab must have shared his secret only with the tree, his ‘true friend.’ And he probably didn’t keep other plants around because he knew that the tree would communicate with them in its own way, and his secret would be in danger. As to the message, the ‘star flower’ refers to the terellor, its shape being very unique, as its petals and leaves form seven-pointed stars. Elanor the Grower is the name of the second oldest living creature around. At least, I assume she’s still living. She is, or was, an elf, a daughter of one of the original elves that were formed out of faerie. It would make sense that she would know the location of the terellor but I had no idea she was still alive or that should would possess this information.”

“Well,” I started, impatient to get the show on the road now that we had our lead, “Where do we find this lady?”

“That is the problem,” Suiag said. “As far as I know, the only one who’s been in contact with her over the last few centuries is the oldest living creature in the world. The green dragon known as Emraung. Last I heard, he was living amidst an old forest in the Northern Reaches.”

“Emraung!” I was incredulous. “That dragon is just a fairy tale. Even if such a dragon existed, it must be long dead by now. This is the same dragon that supposedly gave advice to the gods when they were creating plants and animals. Surely you don’t expect us to go looking for a myth.”

“You are not as smart as you think you are, ranger,” Suiag snapped sharply. “This world is full of strange things, and a several hundred thousand year old dragon is one of them. Do you want my help, or are you going to question me further?”

I looked at Lotheryn. She looked back at me with hope in her eyes, the first I’d seen of that in awhile. I sighed and shrugged my shoulders, still skeptical of the whole thing. “Yes, we want your help. What can you do for us?”

The sorcerer told us of a wizard he was acquainted with on the edge of the Northern Reaches. He told us he could teleport us to the wizard, who would be able to give us information on how to find Emraung. Suiag told us to meet him at his quarters when we were ready to leave. Then he was gone in a flash of light. I looked at Lotheryn, “Here we go, I guess.”

We had the sorcerer teleport us the next morning. I could spend several novels telling you of the various encounters we had on our journey, but I’m not sure I remember them all, and I’m not sure I could accurately relate the ones I do remember. We traveled for some time with an old cleric, who was in the area as part of a mission from his god to chronicle the history of the Norther Reaches. His piety got on my nerves sometimes, but he did teach me a neat trick which would allow me to channel energy (which he claimed was granted to me by my god, Ehlonna) in a ray of light that would burn my enemies and grant favor to my allies. I don’t know how that all works, but hey, it is dang useful when I run out of arrows.

After we parted ways with the cleric, we walked for months until we found signs of the dragon. Even using all my tracking skills, it was blind luck that allowed us to stumble into the cave where Emraung made his home, deep in the heart of the largest forest I’d ever seen or heard of.

Of all the details that I've forgotten about that journey, the encounter with the dragon was something I will never forget.

As soon as we entered, we heard the gravelly, commanding voice of the dragon, “Come in, travelers. Come and look upon my glory before you perish in my jaws.”

Well, this was off to a promising start. Every impulse in my body told me to turn and run; my brain convinced me that my training would allow me to hide from this creature until it was safe to get out of the forest. But I steeled myself and led the way inside the dragon’s lair.

Emraung was the most massive living thing I had ever seen. All of a sudden the claim that this beast was eons old didn’t seem quite so preposterous. At that point, I was willing to believe anything anyone told me as long as it meant I could leave that place alive.

The dragon addressed each of us by name. How it knew us, I have no idea.

“Well, Taran the Witless, Lotheryn the Lost, and Anca the Blindly Loyal. You have come a long way to see me. I smell the blood of one of my red grandchildren on your persons. Fortunately for your existence, I never liked the red ones all that much. More trouble than they were worth. But that is neither here nor there."

The dragon fixed an eye on each of us, seeming to stare into our hearts and minds. It was disconcerting to say the least. He said, "Your quest is to find Elanor, my good friend of many millennia. I am not in the habit of granting information to random visitors, preferring simply to consume them. However, since I am not particularly hungry for food at the moment, I will make you a deal. You have one hour to satisfy my main hunger – something to occupy my mind. You see, I have encountered everything this world has to offer, and some that it hasn’t. It has taken quite a long time, but after so many years my life has lost its vigor. If you can provide me with a diversion from my disinterest, you will have your answer. If you cannot, I will have my supper.” The dragon laughed mirthlessly at this last witticism.

Lotheryn and I were at a loss. After about 45 minutes, we started throwing random ideas at the dragon, all of which were rejected without a second thought. A sudden dread swept over me as I realized that this was the end of our journey. Our blood, sweat, and tears spent on this quest had been in vain, all because a dragon was bored out of his mind. Oh how I love injustice.

I looked at Anca and then at my pack, wondering if I could somehow create a diversion long enough for the wolf to take my journal and sprint away. At least our story would survive. Maybe some bard would make a song out of us some day. All of a sudden, the answer came to me.

“Oh wise Emraung, mightiest of all dragons, wisest living creature,” I started with a flourish. He probably knew I was kissing his giant, scaly green ass, but I didn’t care. “As powerful a mind as you possess, I know one riddle that you have never solved. In fact, this riddle remains unanswered by any living being. This riddle is so profound that its originator went mad when he could not solve his own creation.” I completely made this last part up, but I thought it sounded good.

The dragon’s interest was piqued. I reached into my bag and tossed him the multi-colored cube I had taken from Ratlab’s house. The dragon turned it over and began moving pieces around. There was silence as the giant beast put his full concentration on the puzzle. After a minute that seemed like eternity, the dragon began to laugh.

“Wonderful! This should keep me busy for some time. Although I warn you, if I cannot solve it in several years, I may become frustrated and decide to eat a village or two. For your sakes, I would make sure you are well out of the region by then,” Emraung said. We breathed a collective sigh of relief. We would live. And we would get our answer.

Emraung spoke again, “You will find Elanor in a deep valley that can only be entered through a secret door in a mountain due north of here. The door is revealed every sunrise by a shaft of light that shines on a green rock embedded at the base of the mountain. The rock is perfectly round. While the sun is shining on the rock, the druid must speak ‘Open’ in the language of the plants. You must hurry as the light only lasts for several seconds. The door will open to the valley and there you will find your elf, tending to the last remnants of ancient life that exist in the world. Now begone from here. I have a puzzle to solve.”

We couldn’t have left any faster. We sprinted out the entrance to the cave, took our bearings, and began to make our way north. It took another month, but we finally found the door to the valley and opened it. Once inside, we were amazed at the life we saw. Things that only existed in stories flourished in this place. We found Elanor, who led us to the flower that Lotheryn sought. She carefully removed it from the ground, complete with fertile soil from the earth, and handed to Lotheryn. She never spoke, seeming to know our intent, and we both seemed to understand that there was no need for words in that place. Afterward, though, as we left the hallowed valley, Lotheryn told me that she heard words in her mind.

“It seemed that she said ‘Your work has yet to begin.’ After all this time, I feel like my mission is almost complete, and yet it seems I have much left to do. What could she mean?” Lotheryn asked, half rhetorically.

I just shrugged. Ancient elves are certainly not my area of expertise.

We took several more months to find our way back to the wizard that had guided us to the dragon’s lair. An unfortunate incident with some gnolls along the way resulted in the loss of my flail, Narqualme, but I was happy to be back in civilization. The wizard ported us to a location near Lotheryn’s Grove. We began the several day walk to her homeland, which is where we currently found ourselves.

We walked on, getting closer to the Grove. Lotheryn looked at me with a frown, “Something is not right. Look at the trees! Look at the undergrowth! Listen…”

I looked and listened. The plantlife seemed to be dying, and there were more fallen trees then elsewhere in the forest. It seemed like there was more rock strewn about than one would normally find in a forest so far from a mountain range. I also heard nothing – no sound of bird or other animal. Lotheryn and Anca, sensing a need for urgency, began to jog and then broke into a full run. I could go pretty fast when I wanted to, but I couldn’t keep up with those two.

They had just gotten out of sight when I heard a wild scream. It was Lotheryn. I sprinted toward the sound, praying that nothing bad had happened. I made for a ring of broken trees that stood directly before me. As I burst through, I saw the reason for the druid’s scream.

What I had thought were trees had been turned to stone and broken off, lying in pieces on the ground, which had also become mostly rock. Bodies of elves were strewn about, some frozen into rock as well. But of more concern was the dark-robed necromancer still standing in the middle of the clearing.

Lotheryn was summoning a ball of fire as I joined the battle. Anca was circling the evil wizard, biting and clawing when he could get past the lightning bolts it was casting and trying to turn it away from his master. Lotheryn finally released the fireball, causing the necromancer to shriek in pain and turn suddenly on the druid. He began to gather a lightning bolt in his hand. I unslung my bow and drew an arrow, but it was too late. Anca jumped and bit the necromancer’s hand just as the bolt was about to be released. Its violent energy discharged into Anca and threw the wolf against one of the stone trees, where he lay motionless.

In a blind rage I loosed my arrow, striking the thing square in the chest. As I nocked another arrow, I turned to Lotheryn. She had her eyes closed tightly as her chest heaved in fury. Before I could fire another round, she began to transform in front of my eyes, changing from the beautiful elf that I had come to know and love into a large wolf, alike in almost every way to the one lying motionless behind us. She charged the necromancer, catching it off guard as she mangled one of its arms. Regaining my composure, I looked for another shot, but I couldn’t risk firing with Lotheryn darting in and out of the way. Just as I thought she had the fight won, the necromancer released a burst of energy, throwing Lotheryn to the ground and knocking her unconscious.

The wizard was bent in pain from the wounds we had inflicted, bleeding whatever passed for blood in that warped body that may once have been human. It turned to look at me as I moved closer for a point blank shot.

“You are too late…” It hissed through pointed teeth. “Your world will be stone. You cannot stop…”

“Enough," I interrupted, glaring at the necromancer. "Tell me where we can find the rest of your Cult so so I can make sure they suffer as much as you have.”

The thing hissed at me again, seeming to laugh, “You cannot stop us…Stone cannot be made to suffer…”

“Wrong answer.” I sent my arrow into its eye, silencing it for good. The body crumbled into small pebbles as it hit the ground, leaving only its black robes as evidence that it had ever existed. I quickly turned and looked for Lotheryn, who had returned to the shape of an elf, and was picking herself up off the ground. I went to help her, but she brushed me aside and ran to Anca.

The wolf was barely breathing. I could see the pain in his yellow eyes as Lotheryn reached down to stroke his fur. Silently weeping, she picked up the large wolf in a feat of strength that could only have been accomplished with the raw anguish that was coursing through her.

She took Anca to the center of the clearing and laid him down. I followed closely behind, not wanting to interrupt her last moments with her dearest friend and companion. Finally she seemed to notice me.

“I am sorry. I must speak the words that will grant Anca a peaceful death. I want him to be at rest here in the Grove where I first met him so many years ago,” Lotheryn’s voice was shaking, barely above a whisper. But as she leaned over to send Anca to his final destination, we heard a groan behind us.

“Lotheryn…wait.” The voice said, louder now. We both turned. One of the elves that we had assumed dead was feebly motioning us over. “Bring…the wolf.”

It was obvious that the elf could not rise, as his lower half had been turned to stone and merged with the ground. The sight made me sick to stomach, but I went beside Lotheryn as she gently placed Anca on the ground beside the man and knelt next to him.

“Master Rillin,” she began. “What happened here? I…I have finally returned. And I have brought…I have brought the terellor.” Her voice cracked with emotion.

“You have done well…child. Too late…for this…Grove.” The druid master seemed to gather his strength. “Cult of Stone…is dangerous. You have…seen…touched…the beast within. You know…your capabilities now. You…are a druid.” His breath was coming in ragged gasps. Lotheryn lowered her head as the tears streamed down her face.

“Need a…guardian on…your quest to…preserve life. There…is some strength left…deep…in this Grove. Anca…bestowed with power…Wolf…Elf…Nature…your Warden.”

With the last of his strength, Rillin put his hand on Anca’s barely moving chest and closed his eyes. What occurred next is almost beyond description, but I’ll do my best. Not 10 minutes ago, I saw a normal elf turn into a wolf without warning, but this was even crazier than that. I saw what remained of the green vitality in the Grove drained to brown and gray as power seemed to flow into the wolf. Gradually, Anca grew and stood slightly crouched on his two hind legs, becoming a kind of half elf, half wolf. His wounds were healed as he stood before us, looking at us with the same knowing, wise yellow eyes that he had when he was Lotheryn’s animal companion. There was a sadness in those eyes, but it was not the sadness of Anca the wolf or even the sadness of the elven community that had lived in the Grove. Rather it was the sadness of the trees and flowers that had given the last of their essence to live inside this new body. They grieved as they realized that they would never again feel the flow of water through their veins or take in the rich nutrients of the soil through roots buried in good earth. It was that pain that showed on Anca’s face as the natural power within him gradually understood that nothing remained of the beauty that once surrounded them in the Grove. He looked to the sky and howled in agony, releasing all the frustration and despair that was roiling inside him.

There was something therapeutic in that cry, as the sadness soon passed. The three beings, newly joined in one body, came to recognize and accept each other’s existence. There was harmony in their co-habitation, and I saw resolve and fierce loyalty as the former wolf-turned-shapeshifter looked at Lotheryn. I knew that Anca would be a better, stronger guardian now than ever before, infused with the power of Nature itself as he protected us wherever we would go.

Lotheryn looked at me with intense, indescribable emotion.

“We must go. I cannot be in this place any more. We will start a new journey from this moment on. And wherever that journey leads us, we will heal the earth.”

I nodded silently. We turned and walked from the former druid haven, never to return there.

Here we go again.

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Tuesday, April 14, 2009


Ducks playoff game and rolling of the characters this Thursday? I'm hyped. Saturday the 25th can't come fast enough. What are you thinking of rolling Bethany? Hopefully, between you and Angela, we'll have a leader and a striker but feel free to weigh your options. You seem like you would enjoy a leader though, especially since they do lots of super cool things in 4e rather than just heal dudes like in 3.5. Shaman? Warlord? The return of the Bard?!?!

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Tuesday, April 7, 2009

The reflexes of a cat, the speed of a mongoose

No time has been wasted! I recycled, I cashed in all the change I've been hording, I even DEed all my healing gear and sold the shards (wait, wrong game, sorry) and ended up with a surprising amount of cash. So I checked some prices at a few bookstores, quickly realized that might be my dearest friend and now, after 3 days of shipping, arriving at my house will be the full gamut of 4e gear. I'll have the three core books, the player's handbook 2, the first module (Keep on the Shadowfel) and I even had enough money left over to spring for the Dungeon Master's Screen. That's right, I have a giant cardboard screen to block your prying eyes, and it even gives me super useful states on the back. I am a role-playing master!!!!!

Anyway, I'll be ready to go when we have our inaugural gathering on April 25th. It really might be nice if we had more than one copy of some of these books, but we can make it work no matter what. The player's handbook (1 and 2) each cost about $23 on amazon. If you guys want to split the cost of 1 or both of those, that might be really handy so we can have multiple copies of the rules, skills, feats, class features, etc. I have the full version of the character creator on my laptop now too so that should make figuring out our characters super easy.

Anyway, let's get hyped! It's D&D time again! (But I'm not really a nerd, I swear)

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