Thursday, April 30, 2009

The Group


Here's the Stevens Point Gary's Greyhawk Campaign group (well, most of it). Clockwise from top left: Travis (Abraxis, Zevryk and formerly Kreegin and Zymm), Mikel (Adamond, Mort), Jayson (Gregory, Tar'Nish, and formerly Orid), and Matt (Friar Pudge, Twidorek). Luis (Elyas, Kor) is away from the table, and of course, yours truly took the picture. This was from the April 14 game (Session 12).

Keep on the Borderlands Player's Map


'Nuff said!

Gary’s Greyhawk Campaign: Session 13 — Part 2

Gary’s Greyhawk Campaign: Session 13 (Tuesday, April 28)

Starday, 8th Patchwall, 579 CY
The stars still stood overhead in the first glimmer of false dawn when they stopped to rest at the point where the trail met the South Road. They gave Tarn and Pudge enough time to rest and regain their senses, and then mounted their horses and set off to the south.

Through the dawning light they galloped, down into the valley of the River Kron. Through the morning haze they saw the Old South Bridge, the Middle Crossing of the River Kron (the Northern Crossing being the Kronford at Hommlet, the Southern Crossing being the Wildsgate Bridge at Wildsgate).

Abraxis, far more alert than his much-abused companion Tar’Nish, felt more than noticed something untoward in the vale before them. Then his eyes widened as they espied the ambush… orcs! A half-dozen or more to each side of the road amongst the taller shrubs and rocks!

“Orcs!” he called out to the party behind him. “Orcs lay in ambush! Run… over the bridge and south, quickly!”

And ran they did, their horses champing at the bit and frothing in their fright. Only Zevryk hesitated a moment, as he considered giving them a taste of his magic… then wisely reconsidered at seeing their numbers. Orcish spears fell among them — but luck was with the adventurers, for now the light of the true dawn, ever the orcs’ greatest enemy, was in their eyes — and none struck true. By the time the orcs reached the road they were gone and halfway up to the ridge over the opposite bank, the clatter of their horses’ hooves echoing up and down the valley.

On they continued at break-neck pace for twenty minutes, so as to outpace even the fast-marching orcs. Then they slowed, and walked their horses a pace, lest their steeds die from overexertion. Once the horses calmed, they again mounted and rode at a more leisurely, if prudent pace. The crown of the sun had peeked over the eastern horizon when they stopped as they crested the ridge overlooking Wildervale.

From their position high on the saddle of the Wild Plateau they could see the waking lands for many miles under the rising sun. At the heart of the vale ran the River Kron, running through a deep morass of swamp and marsh. West and southwest, three miles distant over the deep black-green tops of thick untamed forest, they could spy the tall grey-white towers of the Keep on the Borderlands.

Much closer they saw the black blight on the land amidst the deep green wherein, so it was said, could be found entrance to the infamous Cave of the Unknown. And closer still, they knew, stood the Caves of Chaos, where foulness had lived unchecked since time immemorial. In fact, to their right along the road stood a sign in the shape of a man’s hand, pointing to a little-used trail alongside the road; faded and chipped, the writing upon it stated, “This way be the Caves of Chaos. Enter not, if ye value body and soul.”

“Well, this seems promising!” piped up Twidorek. “Yet another fine land we can be harried out of by nasty enemies and fearsome foes…”

The rest of the party groaned at the thought. They waited a moment in the warming sun, hoping to see or hear a better omen…

They were disappointed.

They finally continued down the road into the steep, deep defile that debouched into the vale. They were wary, though unworried, as they knew the foul things of the caves rarely attacked in daylight. But still, they kept close watch on their right flank, not trusting their recent luck.

***

Their weary horses shuffled and snorted in complaint, bones creaking and muscles whining against the strains of the last 12 hours. It was all they could do to keep their steeds moving; a soft cool breeze and the rush and hum of the nearby river did little to lift spirits. Finally, the final approach to the Keep was at hand, a small road off the main, up the ridge, to where the Keep stood upon a small butte.

And then the drawbridge stood before them… still lifted against the creatures of the night.

The adventurers stared at each other, too tired to shout, their dry, dusty throats too parched even to croak a call. Then a helmeted head peeked out from the battlements above.

“Hallo!” a voice called. “Who are you, and what is your business here!”

Adamond took a swig from his water skin and spat it out, then a long pull. Capping the skin, he looked up at the guard and called out, “Hallo the Keep! We are travelers from the north seeking shelter; we have ridden through the long dark night from Hommlet. Please open the gate and let us in!”

The helmeted head took a long look at each of the dusty, weary adventurers, and then called down, “Lower the drawbridge and open the gate!”

The drawbridge gave a great creak, and the chains squealed as they unrolled from the spindles above. The party could see a portcullis rise within, and beyond at the far end of the gate, pair of heavy double doors opens in to the keep.

Two guards in plate and armed with pole arms crossed the bridge and ushered the party through the gate and into the entry yard. There they were confronted by more guards, including the corporal of the watch, and his scribe, a supercilious fellow with a large book and writing plume.

“Give the scribe your names and place of origin,” the corporal called to them, as several stable-boys came forward and took the reins of their horses. “Your horses shall be stabled at our common stable; no civilian riders are allowed within the Keep itself. No weapons are to be displayed or unsheathed within the walls of the Keep.”

The group each gave their names, each honest enough or perhaps so tired as to give their true name and even homeland… save one.

With a grand flourish that seemed out of place with his dusty, sweat-stained clothing, Zevryk stood tall and straight and proclaimed himself to be “Lord Zevryk Shadowbourne, Master of Shadowbourne Manor of the Gnarley Forest, of the Free City of Greyhawk!”

The corporal and the scribe looked to each other, and failed to notice Adamond as he turned up to Zev and whispered, “‘Lord Zevryk?’ You’re a lord?”

Zevryk looked down at Adamond, smiled and ugly smile, and nodded.

“Huh,” Adamond muttered. “You learn something new every day!”

“Well… Lord Shadowbourne…” the scribe said, as the corporal and his men stood straighter at attention. “Welcome to our simple citadel. I shall inform the castellan that you have arrived; perhaps he will be able to offer you better accommodations than our simple traveler’s inn…”

“No need, no need,” Zev waved off the scribe’s attentions. “I’m merely passing through en route to Celene, I seek no formalities.”

“… very well, as you wish, Lord Zevryk,” the scribe replied.

Adamond piped up at this moment, “So… what does it cost for the stabling of the horses?”

“Ah yes, your horses,” the scribe said. “A nominal fee of one silver per day…”

He pointed to Adamond and spoke to Zevryk, “Would you prefer your manservant to tend to your horses, Lord Zevryk?” As he was looking straight at Zevryk, he failed to notice an unpleasant look that crossed Adamond’s face.

“No, no need, I am certain they are in good hands,” Zevryk said, as he threw a gold royal to the scribe. “This is for today; should we need to stay over, there will be more where that came from.”

Looking slightly insulted for being taken for a mere lackey, the scribe merely nodded. “The traveler’s inn is that way, through the open double doors,” he pointed, to the only exit to the entry yard save for the doors to the stable and warehouse.

“Follow the road to the end where it meets the further wall, and look to the right. There you will see the sign of the Tipsy Gnome.”

Zevryk nodded and waved for the others to follow; whether they were playing along or merely tired, he did not know, but they followed his lead without complaint.

The cobbled entry yard opened onto a dusty dirt road. To their right they heard the smith before they saw him, through the double-doors into the already-summer-hot smithy. To the left, along the wall, a series of wattle-and-daub row houses, the first though build of stone like a small keep. Between the smithy and a larger building on the right they saw a side street; at the end of it, they saw a large, gaudy building, with architecture and painting such that it could only be a guild house.

“Now that, we definitely need to look into…” muttered Adamond.

The large building on the right turned out to be a provisioner, and the building following that a trader.

The last building on the left was of stouter construction of stone and wood; a sign above the door had upon it three golden orbs.

“Ah… a money changer!” thought Zevryk. “Perhaps he will trade for these accursed gems…”

The dusty street opened onto a small flag-stoned plaza, at the center of which burbled a fountain. The fair statue of an elven maiden stood at the center of the fountain; the water flowed forth from a cornucopia lovingly held in her arms. Here the party saw the first other travelers in the Keep.

A merchant, easily so noted for the tall blue hat and silver neck chain he wore, sat upon the fountain’s edge and spoke with four men. Adamond could discern that he was telling them to ready the horses and wagons for the ride north to Hommlet.

“Hmmm…” Adamond thought. “Maybe I should warn this fellow.”

“Sir!” Adamond called out as he walked to the merchant once the teamsters were dismissed. “Sir, I couldn’t but help to overhear you say that you were heading north to Hommlet.”

“Yes, so I am.”

“Well sir, we just came from thataway, and there’s a passel of trouble in and around Hommlet of late. Bandits raiding farmhouses and merchants alike… why, our group was even attacked by a small band of orcs!”

“Really now!” he said, and the others of the group that had not already shuffled into the Tipsy Gnome nodded agreement.

“Well, thank you kindly for your warning,” the merchant said. “I’d not heard of troubles in the north of late.”

He reached into his pouch, pulled forth a gold coin, and handed it to Adamond. “Pelor’s blessings upon you should your information prove useful!”

Adamond thanked the fellow, and then walked into the Tipsy Gnome with the rest of the group.

***

“Well, we can’t have anyone sleeping in the common room now,” the innkeeper was telling the party. “But I’ve got five double rooms, one gold piece per bed. You can have them for the day and night.

“And begging your lordship’s pardon, I’ve nothing better…” he said, as he turned to Zevryk, who simply smiled and waved it all off as nothing.

And so upstairs the adventurers went, and slept the sleep of the bone-weary…

***

Mid-afternoon around three o’clock, Adamond and Zevryk awoke, and went down to the common room. Adamond kicked back and had a largish meal, while Zevryk wolfed down some food and quickly went on to the moneychanger. He was in luck, for the proprietor bought and sold gems. To his valuation, the lot came in at worth 545 gold pieces; Zev traded him all but the two most valuable (each worth 100 gp) for 310 gold royals (even this far south, the coinage of Verbobonc was in use, for the elves of Celene used not the common coinage of the Flanaess, and were loath to trade off their own).

With a small fortune, Zevryk pondered his next move…

###

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Gary’s Greyhawk Campaign: Session 13

Gary’s Greyhawk Campaign: Session 13 (Tuesday, April 28)

Freeday, 7th Patchwall, 579 CY
The morning dawned fine and crisp, with nary a cloud in the sky. Of this Zevryk was quite certain, as the moment the sun peeked over the horizon, his sleep was viciously interrupted by bells… great bells, small bells, medium bells; tinny bells, cow bells, and hell’s bells, or so it seemed.

It went on forever. And then… “Those bells are getting louder!” or so the thought jumbled in his mind, along with the sounds of dozens of bells. He looked out the window into the courtyard, and beyond to the street. There he saw many peasants passing by, dressed well if plainly, carrying bells and ringing them as though their lives depended on it. He was confused until he recalled the date… 7th Patchwall, the Bellringer’s Feast.

In Greyhawk it had become little more than one of scores of minor holidays, common among the lower classes, but mercifully not celebrated in Clerksburg, where he’d spent most of his days in the grand city. He vaguely recalled hearing that it was much more popular in rural human communities, where it still held its original intent as a celebration of border wardens, guardsmen, and militia…

“How appropriate,” he thought, recalling his decision of the night past. “I shall warn Rufus and Burne as to the great dangers facing them upon this great ‘day of guarding.’ A good omen, I hope…” He put on his finest clothing, so as to suitably impress the rustic lordlings, and then went to break his fast in the common room below.

***

“What do you mean, they are not here?” Zev intoned to the guard at the tower stair. The most oafish of the pair of guards, his dull human eyes sat in a chubby, soft face; he wore a garland of flowers and grasses in his hair, and a bouquet of flowers and grains were tied to his spear.

“Well, they isn’t here, as I said,” the guard replied. “They’s gone down to the ceremonies being held at the Church of St. Cuthbert. Been there a while they has, and be there a while more I expec’. It’s the Bellringer’s Feast, after all…”

“Indeed, so it is…” muttered Zev. He thought he’d given the lordlings time enough to deal with the silly little festival, arriving at the tower in mid-morning.

“Very well, to St. Cuthbert’s I shall go.”

As he turned, he failed to notice the guards turn to each other. Both rolled their eyes, while the guard Zev had talked to mouthed the words “Bloody elves.”

***

The greensward before the church was gaily decorated. Pyramids of spears and pole-arms stood here and there, decorated with ribbons and flowers and stalks of grains; in between stood tables stacked high with cakes and jacks of cider and ale amidst bells of all descriptions. At the far end from the church doors stood a small dais, and upon the dais stood two large, throne-like chairs, in which sat Rufus and Burne. A long line of supplicants and well-wishers, including a few native Pagan Kronas as well as almost all the immigrant Faithful Velunaish folk, stood chattering, waiting for their chance to speak with the lordlings.

The village elder was notably absent, as were his closest supporters; Zev heard at breakfast that he was having a hard recovery from his stroke following the trial, even with the ministrations of the druid and the canon, and so supposed that he and they were all back at his manor.

“No matter,” he thought. “Village bumpkins who pass out at the sight of a handful of platinum certainly cannot handle this sort of business.” Irritated at the continued long wait, he joined the line.

***

Back at Gorkh’s hut, the rest of the group wakened late in the morning, having finally nodded off in the later hours of the night. Gorkh of course was already gone, for he slept but little and hunted before dawn. Each set out to enjoy the peace and quiet of the first full day of Adamond’s exile in their own ways.

Adamond set out to go fishing… far from wherever Twidorek went.

Mort and Mini-Mort went into the forest and scrub, looking for various herbs and other useful forest materials.

Twidorek and Friar Pudge went fishing, with the usual mixed bag of success.

Elyas and Kor continued to enjoy the relative peace and prosperity, though Elyas began to miss the sweet sound, scent, and touch of winsome wenches.

Gregory played his banjo, often to an audience of one.

Tar’Nish meditated, or prayed, or tended to the horses.

Abraxis meditated and practiced the arts learned through long struggle in the slave-pits of the Suss…

***

Finally, after an interminable wait, Zevryk was granted his “audience.” He noted during his wait that when people arrived at the dais, they bowed to the lordlings and thanked them for the protection they and their men provided. Then, Rufus and Burne in turn either stood and thanked the “supplicant” for their service in the militia with words of blessing and a small gift in silver or gold (and once, to a young man, a gift of a short blade), or remained seated and accepted the thanks of the simple peasant with kind words of welcome, a promise of further protection, and a gift of a sweet cake.

When it came to Zevryk’s turn, Rufus looked as though he had to pass gas, while Burne beamed a great smile, “Zevryk, good fellow, welcome to our little festival! How fabulous you could be here! And how are you this fine morning?”

Zevryk did not bow, nor even smile, but instead stepped up upon the dais between the pair, leaned down, and whispered to them.

“If you value the peace and safety of your lands, you will come and speak with me at your tower… immediately.”

He stepped back down, gave them a meaningful look, and turned and went back toward the village and the tower. As he glanced back over his shoulder, he saw the two deep in hushed conversation, while the rest of the line looked quizzically on, or angrily back toward the rapidly-departing elf.

***

And at the tower he waited… and waited… and glared at the dull, oafish guards as they stood there watching him in turn.

And so he waited, for an hour or more, until the sun nearly stood high at noon in the sky. And then Rufus and Burne appeared down the road, with their guard, and a dozen or more hangers-on and well-wishers, some ringing the hell-born bells.

These all, including the guards, Rufus and Burne waved on into the tower, while they themselves turned back and walked to the elf. They looked to each other, then to the elf, and nodded in the direction of the open field east of the tower atop the small hill.

“Walk with us…” Rufus said.

A slight breeze rustled the tall grasses atop the hill. From the sharp eastern edge where they stopped, Zevryk could see the outlines of a larger fortress on the next hill, several towers, and even the foundation of several stout stone walls. The working site atop the next hill lay quiet, with most of the workers still at the fest or lazing in the work camp across the road to the north.

“Let you believe I am a madman, and speak raving on of foolish things, bring out your truthstone, Burne,” Zev began. “Bring out your truthstone so you can know for certain the sad truth of the words I speak.”

Without comment or surprise, Burne reached into his cloak, and from a flat hidden pocket withdrew the round glittering stone.

“You and your people are in great danger,” Zev intoned. “Greater danger, I believe, than even you can imagine. I have met with the leader of the bandits at the Moathouse… one called Lareth the Beautiful. He is no simple peasant with a sword and a smirk and more balls than sense. He is very dangerous, even alone... and he is not alone. Have you ever heard of… drow?”

The lordlings looked at each other grimly; then Burne turned to Zev. “His mistress, you mean? The one his men call ‘The Lady’?”

“We know of her,” muttered Rufus behind his teeth, as he made a gesture against evil with one hand and held the pommel of his sword with the other. “We know all too well of her and her sorceries.”

“You know?!?” cried Zevryk in dismay. “You know and yet you do nothing?”

“Yes we know,” snarled Burne, all sign of the fabulous fop gone, all vestige of the foolish petty lord shattered. “Of course we know, do you take us for fools?”

“The priest and the witch are but two of many threats we face,” thundered Rufus. “They and their bandits may be the greatest, perhaps, but are hardly the only challenge to civilization in these lands. We must take care, for we have not much strength… yet.”

“You will have none, should you give them leave to gather their strength!” Zev nearly screamed. “Strong they already are, with their bandits, and zombies, an ogre even, and the drow…”

Burne hissed.

“Strong they are than you know! For we have head that they also have bugbears and gnolls and even ghouls at their service, or so our sources tell us. And stronger still they grow… stronger they have grown faster than even our worst nightmares were, thanks to Adamond and his meddling friends! Before it was just the cleric and his men; then, thanks to that gang’s intrusions, they called in reinforcements from allies to the east. And so it goes; they struck back at Adamond and friends, Adamond struck back at them. Ambush and counter-attack, and ever more allies for our enemies gather!”

“So why do you not do anything?”

Rubbing hand to forehead as to sooth an ache, Rufus muttered. “Oh we tried, we tried… even loaned Adamond and his friends four of our guards and our lieutenant. All five are now dead!”

“Those guards cost fifty royals each!” complained Burne.

“Not to mention the hillmen we hired to go in after and try to finish the job,” angrily sputtered Rufus. “All of them are dead, too, and now serving the priest and his witch as zombies, or so we’ve heard tell!”

“So why don’t you go in after them yourselves? You’ve got guards!”

“Yes, guards. After the fiasco at the Moathouse, twelve remaining plus a very wary captain; and their loyalties are questionable, too,” Rufus continued. “We do not know who in the village works for the bandits, and who remains loyal.”

“Rannos Davl is certainly theirs…” Zev offered.

“Yes, of that we are now almost certain, as he and Zert have all but bought out fat Ostler Gundigoot with the custom of their ‘mercenary’ friends,” complained Burne. “All this precipitated by the foolishness of Adamond’s adventurers. Things were well enough, if carefully balanced, ‘ere they arrived.”

“But still… they are just bandits, simple scum,” spat Zevryk. “And an ogre, and a priest, and a witch… and a handful of zombies, that is all…”

“And maybe some bugbears, and perhaps some gnolls, and even ghouls, and who knows what else…” Burne replied. “Mayhap they are, as Adamond and his friends insist, allies of the Temple of Elemental Evil? Then what else do they have up their sleeves? We just don’t know!”

“I do know this…” Zev said, angrily. “I know that if you do not do something soon, their power will grow. And I know that Adamond and his friends would still dearly like to put paid to the priest and his bunch, especially Zert. And I know… the secret back door to the Moathouse.” He grinned, and his eyes glittered, and he showed a faint bit of hope in his scarred fae visage.

“I am supposed to lead Adamond there tonight, into a trap. If there are enough of us… that is, with your help, and other worthies from the village, perhaps we can best the priest and his drow bitch and enough of the leaders to rout the mass of scum, and end their threat once and for all!”

The lordlings looked at each other, calculations whirring through space from eyes to eyes. Burne’s steely visage broke first, with a raised eyebrow and a glitter in his eye. “Well… with surprise like that… and I hear Mort’s no slouch with his magic…”

Rufus stared on at his fellow, calculating, and a frown slowly came upon him. “No… still no. Still too dangerous… if we lose even half our guards, the others will flee, and if one of us falls…” He let that threat trail off.

“No… not yet… you know we still await word from Veluna, and Jaroo awaits word from the east. It would be safer with overwhelming force even in the open, rather than roll the dice with the gods on a slim chance against an equal or slightly greater force. You forget Spugnoir…”

“Ah… yes, Spugnoir. I’d had such hopes for him, but hatred and I think madness seethes too close to his heart,” replied Burne. “Such is all too often the curse of my all-too-pure Suel brethren.”

“Spugnoir?” queried Zevryk. “The same Spugnoir with which Adamond has had several run-ins?”

“Aye, the same,” said Burne. “A mage of middling training but great potential; one we might have counted friend, were it not for… his strange beliefs. We believe he has gone over to serve Lareth.”

The three stood quietly, as the cool autumn’s breeze rustled between them.

“So then… you will not act?” Zev said firmly.

“No, good Zevryk… cannot act. Not at this time,” Burne muttered, sadly, as he put his hand upon the elf’s shoulder in a show of friendship. “But wait, bide your time with us, and soon…”

“Soon… not soon enough,” Zev spat, as he turned from the two. “You have not met Lareth and the Lady Haclavdra. If you had you would not hesitate, not for a week, not even a day. You would ready yourselves this hour, and attack tonight!”

Their silence was his only answer.

“Very well then…” he muttered, as he stalked quickly and stiffly back toward the Wench, not looking back.

At the inn he quickly packed his bags and had the stable boy ready his horse. As he was leaving, he had a sudden thought…

“Innkeeper!” he cried. “Have you a wallet of fresh food I may take for my journey?”

“Aye,” called back Gundigoot. “Some roots and apples, a few loaves and a wedge of cheese… nothing as won’t spoil soon enough, but would be fit to eat for a week or so…”

“Excellent! Add it and a fine tip for yourself and your wenches to the bill… and remember to present it with my thanks to my good friend Zert!”

***

Mid-afternoon, midway along the river trail from Hommlet to the old stone bridge near Gorkh’s hut, Zev slowed his horse, for he saw a small figure walking in the trail ahead. The figure turned, and he knew he’d been heard, and now had been seen, so he walked his horse (the horse given him by Zert) up to the small figure. He could now see that it was a halfling; older than Adamond perhaps, and definitely wider, with great hairy feet, long curly sideburns, and a great floppy hat with a red feather in the cap.

“Greetings!” the halfling called to him. “Fine day for walkin’, isn’t it?”

Zev looked up at the pale blue Patchwall skies; a few clouds scudded about, some heavy with waters. Might be rain… might not.

“Yes, yes it is indeed a fine day for a walk,” he replied. “And what are you doing here in the middle of nowhere on such a fine day?”

The halfling grinned up at the ugly elf, “Why, I be walkin’ of course!” And he grabbed his ample belly and gave out a great laugh, ending in a pealing giggle.

“Ha haha ha! Hee hee! Ah, I jus’ be funnin’ with you! I’m heading east to visit family and friends in the Welkwood. I have cousins among the gnomes there.”

“Such a coincidence!” exclaimed Zevryk. “For I am on my way to meet with friends — one of whom is a gnome of the Welkwood. Would you care to join me?”

The halfling looked up at the tall horse, and then down at his great hairy feet.

“Well, it be a good day for walkin’, but I think it is indeed a better day for ridin’!” he said, as he offered his hand.

Zev reached down, far down, grasped the halfling’s hand, and pulled him up onto the saddle before him. He kneed the horse into a walk.

“Now this be travelin’ in style!” sighed the halfling, as he pulled forth a fine pipe and filled it with pipeweed. “Will ye be havin’ some?” he offered, pulling out a spare clay pipe from his vest.

“Why thank you!” replied Zev. The halfling lit both from a small, smoldering coal kept in a cunning metal case at his belt. “Ahh… that’s some fine weed. Some cheese would go nicely with it, methinks!”

Smiling an ugly smile, the ugly elf pulled forth the wallet of food the innkeeper had sold him, and offered the halfling a wedge of cheese.

“Mighty fine host ye be… um… what is yer name, good feller?”

“Zevryk… Zevryk Shadowbourne.”

“Oh, a potent name that is! Were you not such a fine host I’d add that it might be a bit o’er-reaching, but as you are a fine host, I’ll not mention it…”

“Oh, don’t mention it at all, my small friend! And might I ask after your name?”

“Ah yes, forgive me, there I go forgettin’ meself with this fine weed and cheese… Littlefoot is the name, Bigsby Littlefoot, though as ye can see, me feet are quite big, not little at all!” he smiled as he waggled them and wiggled his toes. “There be a long story about the big feet of the Littlefoots, or Littlefeets, as my uncle Bilbert Stoutbelly calls us…”

And he continued on with the tale of the big-footed Littlefoots, in great detail and through many bloodlines, for the whole of the way to Gorkh’s hut. By the time they were halfway there, Zev was convinced that the Littlefoots were cousins to Twidorek…

***

The strange pair arrive at the hut in the early moments of twilight. There they find that Friar Pudge has several fine trout, which he is cleaning to roast. A stewpot is on the fire, with wild vegetables, herbs, and sweet chunks of rabbit, courtesy of Gorkh. All are sitting and discussing what to do and where to go next.

To the north is Verbobonc… none wish to venture there, especially as they do not know what allies Rannos Davl has in Verbobonc Towne. Less adventure than more of the same, or so they figured.

To the west, the gnomes and the wild Flan clans of the Kron Hills... poor hill folk, perhaps some rich old gnomish delves needing recovery from goblins and other ilk… but again, not exactly calling to their sense of adventure.

To the east, the Gnarley and the Welkwood, both well known, with the much-less-well-known Suss just to the south, and further to the east, the Grand City of Greyhawk… over which some discussion was held, and then held in check until the Greyhawk resident, Zev, could provide more details. Abraxis remained silent on the matter of exploring the Suss, save to say that he would not venture there… yet.

Finally, to the south lay Celene, and the further borderlands and wilds in-between hither and yon. Of this land, only Friar Pudge and Abraxis had knowledge, the good friar from his studies of the area in the musty tomes of Veluna’s monasteries, the wandering monk from personal experience. The south road from Hommlet would take them, eventually, to the fey realm of Celene, but first through several border settlements. The closest of any note was Wildsgate, a large village or perhaps small town south of the southernmost bend of the River Kron. From the Black Hill meadow they could follow the trail south and west, over the Old Southern Bridge and past the citadel known to legendry as the Keep on the Borderlands. Near there, or so it was said, stood the storied Caves of Chaos and the Cave of the Unknown…

“I don’t know if that sounds interesting or just downright dangerous,” muttered Adamond. “But we need not decide today. We shall hear back from Zevryk on the morn, and know better what to do then…”

And then Zevryk arrived, and all plans were blown to the four winds.

The group greeted Zev and his small guest by the light of the cook fires.

“Whoa! Sweet Yondalla’s Milk!” he cursed, upon seeing the wood wose. “They sure make ‘em big and hairy where ye be from! Maybe ye have some Littlefoot blood, by the looks of yer feet?”

“No, little friend, I’m all Big People — bits of this and bits of that, but none of the Little Folk blood in me!” Gorkh laughed.

“Oooh! Another halfling!” exclaimed Twidorek.

“Actually, a three-quarterling, as me pappy would say,” said Bigsby. “Bigsby Littlefoot at your service,” he said, as he bowed low and doffed his hat with a flourish toward the whole group. “Me father were all halfling, as t’were, and me mother be a gnomeling, half-halfling, half-gnome. And I be Bigsby, wholly and full of the blood of the Little Folk.”

He turned to Twidorek and addressed him directly. “Ye must be the gnome of the Welkwood as of my friend Zevryk here spoke…”

“Yes…”

“Twidorek, be yer name then?”

“Yes, it is…”

“And ye are late of Hommlet then, aye?”

“Yesss…”

The three-quarterling looked on at the gnome with a half-smile, a glitter in his eye, and an expectant look. Twidorek stared back at Bigsby with big eyes…

“Whaaaat?”

“Hmmm… I guess not all tales told in taverns be true,” Bigsby lamented. “Back in Hommlet I’d heard tale of a gnome named Twidorek, one they called “The Gibberer,” who spoke a blue streak wide as the Azure Sea.”

“Whaaaat?” cried the gnome…

***

Zev quickly apprised Adamond of the immediate circumstances. “A couple hours from now, I am supposed to lead you into an ambush at the Moathouse…” he said grimly.

“… aaaaand will you?” Adamond asked, eyes wide and finger on his blade pommel.

Zev smiled an ugly smile, and with a grin said, “Not for all the gold in the Overking’s palace… well, at least, not with a lot more back-up. And the gold. So no… no worries there.”

He quickly told them the bare essence of the plan offered by Lareth.

Adamond suddenly got a concerned look on his face, and looked intently at the newcomer, who was still yammering away with Twidorek.

“‘The Gibberer’?” they heard Twidorek cry. “What does that mean, ‘The Gibberer’? I don’t gibber! Do I gibber? I’ve never gibbered in my life! What does it mean, to gibber?” the gnome gibbered…

“Okay…” Adamond muttered. “If he’s got Twidorek flummoxed, he can’t be all that bad. But… maybe you were followed. Do you think you were followed?”

“I don’t think so… but then, the halfling was jabbering half the way here…”

“Hmmm… Gorkh, you know the area the best… can you backtrack down the trail and see if anyone followed Zevryk here?” Adamond asked.

“Sure, no problem…” he said, as he turned and disappeared into the scrub alongside the trail, invisible as the wind.

All looked on with surprise… they knew he was good, but they had no idea how good!

“Now… that’s stealth!”

“He’s gotta teach me that someday…” muttered Adamond. “That would be so useful.”

“Legends?!?” everyone suddenly heard Twidorek squeal. “There are legends about me? Me?!?”

“Oh aye, they were talking all about you, and about yer friend, Adamond,” Bigsby said. “A regular seven-day wonder the lot of ye back in Hommlet, I imagine, maybe even seven-month. From the tales, I thought to find myself face to face with a ten-foot tall halfling wielding a flaming blade and whip…”

“Wait… what?” Adamond said, hearing his name. “Tales? Legends? Me?!?”

“Oh aye,” the halfling continued. “Some say ye were a bandit king, scoping out the territory to build a kingdom. Others said ye were a cursed hero. Still others whispered that ye were with the Temple of Elemental Evil, and heralded their return…”

“What? No! No no no no… No! We’re the good guys! GOOD GUYS! Who’s saying these things?”

“The peasants as sip a tipple in the Inn of the Welcome Wench. Why, one feller insisted he’d seen you cast a spell over the lords of that tower, so as to let ye go for all the crimes ye did. Others say that The Gibberer here done hit the village elder over the head with a bag o’ sovereigns…”

“Well… that was almost true. Sort of… Kind of… But I didn’t HIT him! I just walked up to him and handed out the coins one by one by one by one…” Twidorek gibbered…

“This… this isn’t right. Is it?” He looked around, then looked to Zevryk.

The look on Zevryk’s face was all he needed.

“Oh… no! This is so wrong.”

“Well, for what it’s worth, I think it was mostly Zert’s men flaming the already burning brands of rumors in the peasant’s minds…”

“Oh, like that makes the situation so much easier!”

“Well, it doesn’t matter… there’s no way we can go back…” Zevryk snarled, angrily. “I spoke with Rufus and Burne, and though neither are quite the fools they seem to be, they are both fools still indeed! They won’t do anything about Lareth and his evil crew…”

And then Zev explained in full his meeting with Lareth and Lady Haclavdra, and his later meeting with Rufus and Burne. All were attentive, save for Twidorek, who was lost in discussions of family, cousins, second-cousins twice removed, and friends close and far. None could follow, for they spoke deep in the high-pitched speech of Gnome-kind, nor did any try, for they were all rapt with Zevryk’s tales.

“Well that settles that,” Adamond said, crestfallen. “We need to get out of here, and I mean now. When Zev and I fail to show up, they’re sure to start beating the bushes for us…”

Zev nodded his agreement.

“So… Greyhawk…” he asked Zev. “The Grand City… Jewel of the Flanaess. How far is that from here?”

Surprised, Zev quickly answered, “Oh, a hundred leagues or so, deep through the Gnarley… two weeks travel at least, I’d say, even on horse, for there are many places in the Gnarley where you cannot ride a horse...”

“And Wildsgate?” he directed this query to Abraxis and Pudge.

“Hmmm… twenty leagues, or thereabouts,” said Abraxis. “But we’d have to go back through Hommlet to get to the South Road…”

“No,” whispered Pudge from his reverie. “The Dark Hill Trail. We can go that way, pass straight through to the South Road, near where we were... ambushed…” he muttered, as he shuddered in the warmth of the fire.

“Too far to make tonight…” Abraxis thought aloud. “Though with the time we’ll save by taking a trail south and west from here, we should be able to make it to the Keep on the Borderlands by early morning light.”

“So then… dinner and then we flee... south, to the Keep on the Borderlands.”

All nodded their agreement, or acquiescence. But none grudged Adamond the decision, especially after hearing Zev’s tale of his encounter with Lareth and the drow witch.

Half the party set to readying the horses and gathering their gear, the other half to finishing readying dinner. Adamond set to writing a note to Gorkh, who still had not returned.

“Dear Gorkh,

You have been a most gracious and wonderful host, friend, and ally. Hopefully, one day, we will see you once again. Best wishes,

Adamond

P.S. Be careful around the Moathouse.

P.P.S By the way, I hope you don’t mind, but I’m borrowing a fish line and hook.”

As he was putting the finishing touches on the letter in his inelegant script, the wood wose returned.

“No one followed the elf… or if they did, they have better woodcraft than I,” he simply said.

He walked to Adamond. “I see you are preparing to leave…” he said, sadly.

“Um… yes. And we might not be back… soon. We might not be back soon. Long trip… You know how it goes…” Adamond muttered.

“Well then, this calls for a celebration!” Gorkh smiled. “Always have to have a celebration when you start a long trip!” He walked into his hut and quickly returned with arms full of honey cakes.

“Ah, sweet, honey cakes!” Adamond said.

“Ah, Welkish honey cakes!” he heard Bigsby cry as he finally disengaged from long discourse with Twidorek. They had discovered that they were not related, at least not within four generations, but knew several folk in common in the Welkwood settlements.

“Ah, if only we had some music now, that would make this a truly fine evenin’” the three-quarterling muttered softly to himself.

“Music!” Adamond cried. “Gorkh, would you mind?”

“Not at all, little friend, not at all…” he said, as he went back into his hut and returned with his didgeridoo.

Platters of fish were passed around, along with bowls of stew and greens, and fresh bread and apples and cheese from the Wench courtesy of Zev (and Zert!) All ate with gusto, and as bowls and platters emptied, Gorkh played his didgeridoo and Gregory strummed his banjo, and together they found something resembling a melody. Adamond and Bigsby danced traditional halfling jigs, modified to the impromptu melody, and the others watched on while passing around bowls of sweet pipeweed, courtesy of Bigsby.

And all too soon the farewell dinner ended, and all were on their horses, ready for a long night’s ride. Gorkh handed each a small sack with honey cakes, which they took in gratitude and silence.

“If’n ye don’t mind, I think I’ll be joinin’ ye as far as the Dark Hill…” Bigsby said, to no one in the group in particular. “I’ll take my leave there, to the east and to the Welkwood. Though I wish ye all much luck on yer trip south!”

“You can ride with me, small friend, as you did upon the trail from Hommlet,” Zevryk said.

Adamond looked up to Gorkh, though not by much, for he rode upon the back of a riding horse, as he never recovered his pony from the bandits. A glint of light from the dying fires seemed to stick in his eye, and perhaps it was a bit of fish that stuck in his throat as he spoke.

“Goodbye my friend. You have been… well… a good friend and ally…” he blustered.

“No, Adamond. No goodbyes. Never goodbye… always, ‘until we meet again,’ for meet again we shall, my friend,” the wood wose said in a deep, rumbley voice.

“Until we meet again, then…” Adamond said quietly.

The party set off then on the trail toward the Old Stone Bridge. They did not look back as Gorkh waved, then turned and walked into his great hut.

***

They had been on the trail through the forest for about two hours, walking beside their horses through the dark forest, when the wind struck.

It was a cold wind, a chill wind, born seemingly of icicles from out of the Black Ice itself. It started as a mere zephyr, a breeze, and then swarmed over them and around them and through them. It muttered as it past, an inane inhuman gibbering, a wailing and a moaning. It had a stench about it, not of death, nor properly of filth, but unclean and perhaps, unholy.

Friar Pudge dropped to his knees, and retched, covering the ground with half-digested stew and fish and ale and greens, amidst chunks of sodden honey cake.

The wind howled through, a black mist upon the black night, under the sliver of Luna dancing amidst the stars. It passed on, roaring to the south, leaving its tainted fetid scent lingering in the air.

Abraxis looked to Tar’Nish, at the front of the line, and saw that he stood there, shivering, with a black glint in his eyes.

“Tar’Nish, are you okay? Tarn?” he called to him. Tar’Nish started, as though waking from a nightmare. He looked toward the Painted Man.

“What? Um… yeah, yeah, I’m fine… I’m fine…” he muttered, and turned and continued down the trail.

Gregory helped Pudge back to his feet, and gave him a kerchief to wipe his face and a swig from his Waterskin to wash his mouth.

“Okay…” muttered Adamond. That’s… not good.” His eyes went wide as a sudden thought came to him.

“Zev!” he shouted. Do you have anything from Lareth? Did they give anything to you?”

Zev stopped and thought a moment; his eyes narrowed to slits, then a frown crossed his face.

“Well… they gave me this horse… aaand this pouch of gems,” he said, slowly, as he reached into his robes and pulled forth the black bag of gems. “I was to, um, to use them to lure you into the ambush.”

Marking not on Zev’s failure to mention the gems earlier, Adamond called to Mort. “Wizard, are these gems enchanted in some way? Can they use these gems to find us?”

Mort stepped forth toward Zev, whispered a few arcane words, and his eyes burst with an arcane flame, extinguishing iris and pupil in purple fires. He looked intently at the gems and the bag they were in, then at Zevryk and his horse.

“No… not the gems, nor the bag, nor the elf nor his steed are enchanted in any way I can discern…” the wizard said. The glow vanished, and disappointment filled his eyes as the eldritch power faded. He then looked fore and aft, at Tar’Nish and Pudge. “But I think perhaps they need not focus on any such items, when their own handiwork is so readily apparent…”

Adamond looked to Tarn and Pudge, and more pointedly, to the runes and sigils burned into their flesh, with sudden realization.

“Aw… crap…”

He stopped and chewed his lower lip for a moment, his eyes casting about in the darkness

“There’s nothing for it… all we can do is move on, and swiftly. Let’s go! Move!” he called out.

And so the party continued south, toward the meadows of the Dark Hill…

***

There they stopped. And stared…

It was midnight. The sliver of Luna sat low on the horizon, the stars twinkled bright above in the cold autumn air. High above the standing stones upon the Dark Hill a storm raged. Black winds howled and whirled and the air screamed.

Adamond stood beside his horse, head cocked to one side, staring at the tempest. Behind him, Bigsby lit his fine pipe from his seemingly inexhaustible smoldering coal.

“Nay, not a seven-week wonder lad, I think ye shall mayhap be a seven-month, dare I say, seven-year wonder hereabouts, when ye awaken a thunderin’ rage like that,” he said with the pipe between his teeth.

The storm quivered and shook, and stopped of a sudden, then coalesced into a black spot against the stars. It whirled and twirled and shrieked toward the party… then stopped, and hovered, pulsing back and forth, a few yards above and before Adamond. Two motes, black as hell-coal, appeared in the storm, like eyes on a thunder-cloud, and looked straight at Adamond.

“Craaaap…” muttered the thief.

It seemed to reach for him for a moment, then broke into a thousand pieces and howled through the party standing in the tall grass. Leather creaked in the cold winter’s wind; metal rimed in ice. Tar’Nish and Pudge both fell to the ground gurgling; Tar’Nish weeping, Pudge heaving and retching, nothing left to expel from his much-abused stomach.

And then it was gone, howling off to the north, leaving behind tears and whimpers, and unholy words indecipherable to mortal ears.

“Well…” said the three-quarterling, as he re-lit his pipe. “I think I shall take my leave of you now, yes, I do believe so,” he said as he bowed, doffed his hat, and waved it with many a flourish in their direction. “If’n ye ever be back the Welkwood way, or make it up to Verbobonc Towne, look me up. Bigsby Littlefoot, at yer service, though me feet be not so little, and be quite large!” and with that he was gone, quick as a flash, through the tall grass to the south and east.

Over his protestations, the party sat Tar’Nish upon his horse; Pudge didn’t so much as mew as they sat him atop his steed.

“Okay… let’s make like dwarves and quick march! Hup hup!” called out Adamond. “The sooner we get further from that damned Moathouse, the better! Move like devils were at your heels, people!”

“Like devils were at our heels?” cried Gregory. “If that wasn’t a devil, then what was it?”

“Why, an elemental, of course,” exclaimed Mort. “And of deucedly evil sort, to be sure.”

“Why really?” replied Elyas sardonically. “I thought perhaps he was a servant of the King of Sugar Rock Mountain, come to give us all candies and sweets…”

Nobody laughed.

They raced on through the tall grasses.

***

Starday, 8th Patchwall, 579 CY

They were almost to the South Road when the wind caught up with them.

It roared through them, around them, and over them, buffeting them about. They heard curses upon its breath… but not in some alien tongue, in the all too recognizable Common Tongue.

“Damn you, Adamond! Curse you, Zevryk!” the wind cried. Tarn and Pudge lolled in their saddles, too pained to scream or even think.

The wind congealed in the air above Adamond, and took on the form of Lareth the Beautiful, in full black plate armor, with long blowing black hair and glittering black rage-filled eyes.

“I curse you, you little half-man!” it howled at Adamond. “The things I will do to you when I get my hands on you will make demons weep!”

The great form turned and pointed at Zevryk. “And you, traitor! Back-stabber! Unfaithful! You will beg for me to unmake your soul ere I am done with you!”

The black and storm-grey form billowed before them. Dry leaves rustled and fell from trees, and old sticks fell from dead branches.

Adamond stopped and stared at form of Lareth, as he wavered back and forth upon the wind. He then smiled.

“Okay, do it!” he called out, laughing. “Blow me down! Rip me to shreds! Tear out my soul! Do it… if you can!”

Lareth hissed, and the winds whipped into a frenzy.

“Ha!” the halfling laughed. “HA HA HA! You can’t! You can’t do anything to me! You’re just a blow-hard!” Peals of laughter rang up and down the trail.

Lareth raged, and screamed imprecations, and promised dire deeds… and indeed, did nothing. The wind whipped back and forth.

“Not so potent now, are you Lareth?” jibed the scarred elf. “All talk and no action? What would your black-hearted whore think?”

The form of Lareth glowered at the pair, speechless at being spoken to in such ways, and sputtered. Thunder pealed from his form, and Tarn and Pudge writhed and screamed in pain. But the others seemed not to notice, for they laughed alongside the halfling and the elf, for the more it vexed him their laughter seemed to dispel the dark priest’s power.

“That is little enough that I can do to you and yours… for now…” Lareth hissed. “Come back north, into my lands, and you will know my power. Watch your step, wherever you go… I will be there, right behind you, in the air in the winds and in the water of the rivers; in the stones under foot and in the fires of whatever hearth you call home. I’ll be there, and one day, I WILL have my vengeance on thee…” the wind howled as the form of Lareth dissolved into a dozen black fragments and flew to the north.

The stars twinkled brightly in the fading night.

***

The stars still stood overhead in the first glimmer of false dawn when they stopped to rest at the point where the trail met the South Road. They gave Tarn and Pudge enough time to rest and regain their senses, and then mounted their horses and raced south.

To be concluded…

Monday, April 27, 2009

AGP April Update: Print, PDF, Freelancing for AGJ and More

It has been a while since I’ve posted an update on the state of Adventure Games Publishing. I figure the best way to open with this is a statement of where we’ve been, so you all understand better where we’re going. I say “we” because, though AGP consists of just me, I consider my customers, fans, and friends to have a reasonable stake in the company and where it is going (a very fine publisher calls all these folks “stakeholders,” and that is very true). I couldn’t do any of this without all of you, as it really is a group effort.

Though AGP was launched at Gen Con 2006, we really didn’t start up production until Gen Con 2007 with the release of XXXI, our first Gen Con Special, in August. The first issue of Adventure Games Journal followed in January 2008, along with the Southern Reaches Campaign Map.

Then, starting in March 2008, things really began to go seriously awry, for many various personal reasons. It wasn’t until August that recovery began, slowly, first with the release of the 2008 Wilderlands Jam Gen Con Special, and then with the release of existing products in PDF format on DriveThruRPG and RPGNow. In September we began releasing original PDF products, which culminated in the release of four new PDF products in January 2009. Since then, again, things came to a screeching halt…

To date, in the 20 months since Gen Con 2007, we have released four print products, two print maps, and 16 PDF products:

Print
XXXI (2007 Gen Con Special)
Adventure Games Journal #1
Southern Reaches Campaign Map
2008 Wilderlands Jam (2008 Gen Con Special)
Rhadamanthia Continental Map
Monsters & Treasure of the Wilderlands 1

PDF
Adventure Games Journal #1
Southern Reaches Judges Map
Southern Reaches Players Map
Rhadamanthia Continental Map
World of the Wilderlands of High Adventure Guidebook
Monsters & Treasures of the Wilderlands 1
Imperial Town of Tell Qa
Barbarians of the Wilderlands 1
Aendryth’s Eldritch Compendium
Skills, Feats, and Languages of the Wilderlands
Faiths of the City State: Forn Sidthr
Martial Artist Class
Western Karak Map
100 Treasure Troves — Treasure Type 1
100 Exciting Encounters — 1st Level Encounters
100 Calamitous Curses

Considering that AGP has been a one-man operation on the writing end, this is not too bad, really, but still falls far short of past promises… especially to AGJ Subscribers. The now-defunct AGJ Subscription Program was originally intended to resurrect the old Judges Guild format; unfortunately, the decision to run with a subscription format was more nostalgia than good business sense.

I’ve tried to make up the many delays to AGJ Subscribers by offering free PDFs and by expanding out the value of the product that they will (eventually) receive. Now the only thing left to do is make good on those new promises. Hopefully, soon, that will begin.

From going back over and seriously considering my failures of the last 20 months, I have determined that the primary problem is simply biting off more than I can chew. First the plan to release a different 48-page book every month failed; then the plan to put together a massive Western Karak book stalled. The best success I have had thus far has been in putting together series of short and sweet PDFs. When I concentrate on finishing one small project at a time, I flourish; when I put together a grandiose plan to publish a massive work or series of works, I fail.

So it has been decided that rather than shoot for big gulps, I shall go for small bites.

First, the huge Western Karak book is not going to happen; at least, not in the format originally described. Instead, I will do a booklet for each of the 18 Campaign Regions of Western Karak. Each booklet will be as big as it needs to be, and no bigger, from 24 to 48 pages. In addition to the basics, some books will describe a city or town, others might have a new class or race, or maybe a monster or three and a few treasures, or some combination of these elements. I’m not going to try to shoehorn one overarching format on each different region; that way leads to madness.

Also, these will not necessarily be in numerical Region order; while the first book details Campaign Region #1, the second might jump to #12, or #5, and then back again. It will depend on whichever region piques my interest (and, perhaps, in whichever regions fans express an interest).

Similarly, print product subjects will jump around from product to product. After the Valley of the Immortals, I plan on revisiting the Southern Reaches and finally putting paid to that project. Again, the final format will be whatever it will be when I feel it is complete. Overreaching and trying to fit too much into one product has been a serious issue with actually getting products done! So the next print product after might be a region book for Western Karak, or perhaps another region of the Wilderlands proper, or something else altogether. No promises.

Another hard-learned lesson has been the relationship between print and PDF. Unfortunately, the sales of the print version of Monsters & Treasures of the Wilderlands 1 have been terrible. No, not terrible… monstrously terrible. I have, to date, sold 12 copies… and that includes those copies bought by subscribers using their page credit! Twelve… yes, merely twelve copies. Were it not for the fact that I am able to print very small quantities at reasonable rates through print-on-demand, this would have been the end of AGP. As it stands, it is still a significant setback, and makes the success or failure of the next print product the make-it-or-break-it product for print format with AGP.

That said… those subscribers who have stuck with me will now be rewarded as I can. Going forward, they will receive the PDF version of subscription-fulfillment products FREE when the PDF is released. No extra charge, no page credit charge, nada... FREE. However, the proviso is now that PDFs of print products will not be released until at least one month following release of the print product, similar to the policy followed by Troll Lord Games. Hopefully, this will spur sales of the print version; if print sales continue to be terrible, I may have to reconsider the entire print endeavor.

In addition to print products, I will continue the series of small PDFs, published in parallel to and distinct from the print products. Of these, the best selling have been the generic “100” series PDFs, so these will continue, particularly new Treasure Troves and Exciting Encounters, as previously outlined.

The first Wilderlands 100-series product will be 100 Ravaged Ruins of the Wilderlands, which will include the famous Ravaged Ruins charts (plus a revised version of the classic Startling Statues chart) as well as 100 Ravaged Ruins in full detail, generated using the charts. Depending on the success thereof, perhaps more Wilderlands-oriented 100-series PDFs will be published; sales will determine their worthiness. Other PDFs will also be published from time to time; perhaps a class PDF, perhaps a race PDF, usually generic, but again, sometimes Wilderlands-oriented.

Finally, as far as production goes, one last note, and it’s a big one.

I’ve decided to open Adventure Games Journal to freelance work. Yes, you too might get the chance to write about the Wilderlands.

Note that like the Wilderlands of High Adventure, none of the material published in Adventure Games Journal will be “official” Wilderlands, merely variant. Also, all rights to anything Wilderlands-based must be turned over unconditionally in full to Adventure Games Publishing and Judges Guild on a “work for hire” basisthis is non-negotiable. Generic, non-Wilderlands materials will be taken on a non-exclusive basis (i.e., you will continue to own the right to re-sell the article or re-publish it non-exclusively, while AGP retains the right to reprint it in further printings, in compilations, in print and electronically). At this time I will consider articles for Castles & Crusades and the OGL d20 System; I will also be open to featuring art from up-and-coming artists. Unfortunately, I will not be able to pay cash, only credit, at a rate of one penny credit per word toward AGP print products. Additionally, contributors will get a discount on the PDF when it is made available.

More details on writing for Adventure Games Journal will be made available soon. If you are interested, contact me at

freelancers
a t
adventuregamespubs
d o t
com

So once again, I say, things are going forward with AGP... slowly, and not very steadily, but forward.

At this point, I would like to mention that those of you who have purchased AGP PDFs are able to post reviews of the product on DriveThruRPG and RPGNow. If you enjoyed your purchase, please by all means, post a review if you have the time! If you found the PDF lacking somehow, please let me know before you post a review, so I can perhaps fix any problems.

Finally, the PDF portion of the AGP Customer Appreciation Sale is still going on, through May 23rd. I am still trying to find a way to show further appreciation to our PDF customers; needless to say, the folks at OneBookShelf have been busy, so we’ve not yet been able to figure out a way to make something work… hopefully soon. And for those of you who do not yet have a complete collection of AGP print products, well, start saving your pennies, as there will be a big announcement on May 8th concerning the print product portion of our sale!

Thanks again to all of you for your continued patience and custom.

James Mishler
President, Adventure Games Publishing

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Only Mostly Dead

Sorry for the dearth of posts of late. The big Trivia Game was this last weekend, and the Thursday night before the game my computer got hit with the Conficker virus. I was playing Trivia all weekend long, and then recovering on Monday and Tuesday. Yesterday was my 40th birthday, so I didn't get anything done yesterday, either, save for consuming Jodi's wonderful home-made lasagna and cake.

Today I am posting from the local library. I hope to get something to kill that virus from a friend ASAP; can't download anything, needless to say, but supposedly you can upload to your computer froma disk from an uninfected computer. We'll try that and see what happens. Now it is just a matter of coordinating a time with said friend... sigh.

I missed out on Rifts again on Tuesday, as I was so dead dog tired and hadn't really spent any time with Jodi since Thursday; so I stayed home with her and relaxed. Depending on how things go with the computer in the next couple days, I may or may not be able to run Greyhawk next week; not from lack of notes and such, so much as from frustration. If all the hackers and virus writers in the world had but one neck, I would gladly throttle them all at once and to death...

That's it for now; nothing to report or post, other than that I have nothing more to report or post...

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Gary's Greyhawk Campaign: Session 12

Gary's Greyhawk Campaign: Session 12 (Tuesday, April 14)

6th Patchwall, 579 CY: Breakfast at the Tower
Morning dawns with the whole party, minus Zevryk at the tower of Burne and Rufus. All gather for breakfast in the great hall, where they discuss their options. Most want to strike back at the bandit gang directly through the back door to the dungeon, as revealed to Tar'Nish through his dream. Adamond, however, decides he wants to take stock and chill out with Gorkh for a while. He informs the rest of the party that the prior night, he and Zevryk had a quiet private confab about Zert's offer to the magic-user; Zev let Adamond know that he would check out the offer, scout out the bad guys, and report back to him at Gorkh's in three days (i.e., the 8th of Patchwall). Eventually, it is decided to take a breather at Gorkh's and decide later how to proceed, once the party hears back from Zev (though some express the opinion that they have little reason to trust the newcomer).

During breakfast, Friar Pudge appears to have a break-through, or perhaps merely a mental spasm, as he suddenly starts to shout out prayers to Pelor, and just as suddenly stops and returns to silence. Nonplussed, the party finishes, and after packing and seeing to their horses, eventually sets down the trail to Gorkhs...

***

Meanwhile, back at the Wench, Zev has been eating a late breakfast, nursing his morning cider while waiting to hear from Zert. He's about to pay for his meal when Zert shows up with three thugs and pays for his breakfast (acting sassy to Bridget, who doesn't seem to like anyone but Kor). Zert says that it is time to meet the boss, and leads Zev outside, where horses await them. They amble down the road to the trail to the moathouse, and are about to go off road when Zert and the others look further east down the road. Zev hears Zert mutter "There are those bastards... well, there are too few of us now, but we'll get them soon. Oh yes, we will..." Zev looks down the road and, far down the road on the edge of human sight, sees the backs of the party, as they ride their horses on to the east.

The trip to the Moathouse is quick and uneventful. Zert sends the thugs on forward, and stops for a moment to speak with Zev in the courtyard. "I must warn you, our boss is brilliant, but... odd. He has strange tastes, and that is coming even from me, and I know few limits. Cross him, and he will kill you, slowly and very painfully. So remember, there must be some honor among thieves..."

The pair walk into the Moathouse. Zev looks around the greatroom, and sees a wreck of a room being cleaned and refurnished. The walls are washed down, and the floor swept, though there is still much trash around. A pair of large wooden doors is being constructed to fit the entrance.

"I have to admit, we must thank those damn fools for clearing out the upper level of this ruin. There were some nasty critters up here, and they cleared them out... for all the good it did them. We'll pay them back for their services, all right, pay them back with steel..." he mutters, as he drifts off in thought.

"Oh, from this point on I'm going to have to blindfold you..." he says, as he reaches to his belt for a thick black cloth.

"You don't need to blindfold me, my friend" Zev says, as he mutters a charm and waves his hand toward Zert.

Zert's eyes glitter for a moment, then his face goes slightly slack, and he smiles deeply toward Zev as the charm person spell takes effect.

[This. Went. Fricking. Beautifully. Travis knew that if he failed, Zev would die horribly, and yet took the chance anyway... Now that's fricking adventure!]

"Why no, my friend, you are right. I trust you." he replies. "Come along down these stairs."

The pair take to the stairs in the left-hand corner of the great hall. They end in a large, well-lit L-shaped chamber far below the Moathouse. Zev sees signs of further cleaning and repair, and also sees several zombies guarding what looks to be a series of cells, which he recognizes from Twidorek's thorough description of their adventures. He follows Zert through a door into a smaller room, which has signs of a recent fire, also being cleaned. At another door Zert stops and knocks solidly on the door three times. A muffled shout "Come in!" sounds through the door, and Zert enters. Through the door is a large room, wherein stands an even larger ogre, ready to slay eny who enter the door and are not recognized. "Hey Grokh!" Zert waves, as he makes directly for the opposite wall.

"I probably shouldn't show you this either, but you're going to be one of us, and we're friends, right?" he says to Zev, as he touches a brick high up on the right face of the wall. "Oh yes, good friends" Zev replies.

The wall moves aside, and beyond Zev sees a small room; a stair leads up to the left, and a pile of torches sits on the right-hand wall, beneath a lit torch. Zev and Zert enter, and Zert closes the secret door behind him. He takes a torch from the floor and lights it with the torch on the wall, then presses a block high on the left face of the wall opposite the door they entered. Zev sees a stair down into darkness. They take the stair down.

Halfway down the stair, Zert stops and shouts down the stairwell, "Hey, it's me Zert coming through!" Zev hears a muttered reply, then a slight grinding sound and a shout up, "All clear!"

What is cleared, Zev cannot tell, as they pass through a short corridor at an angle to the right of the stairwell and come to a Y. They take the right-hand branch, and pass through a strange, jaggedy corridor until they come to a large chamber. To the right Zev sees an open archway to another corridor, and before him three doors in three alcoves. Zert makes a beeline for the left-hand door and walks through. For a moment, Zev thinks he smells something, or maybe has a sense of being watched from the open archway... but only for a moment.

The next corridor is long, and like those they have passed through, unlit. Zert stops and turns into an open archway on the left that strikes off from the main corridor at an angle; from the dark and shadowy corridor beyond, Zev catches the scent of fresh water. A spring, perhaps, or a well maybe? Unknown and unknowable, as Zert continues down the left-hand corridor. This ends in a door, which Zert steps through readily. Past the door, a much longer corridor goes straight ahead and angles up... Zev can just barely see some light at the far end, natural light, at least it seems.

"That's the back way out," Zert explains. "We stable most of our horses up there. They and most of the men are out on raids right now, so work on cleaning this place up has stopped, for now. But the boss is still here. Through this door..." he says, pointing to a door on the left hand wall.

He knocks in an ancient code... "Shave and a haircut, two bits!" A small door opens up at face-height, revealing the face of an ugly bandit. "Whattaya want, Zert?"

"New recruit here, to meet with the boss"

He looks Zev up and down, mostly down, as the elf isn't very tall. "Isn't he supposed to be blindfolded?" the guard bandit mutters.

"Welll... yes... but I trust him." Zert replies and smiles an ugly smile. "Now let us in!"

The bandit guard grimaces, stares at the ugly elf again, screws his face up and mutters, "Well, it's yer yard and balls inna Master's brazier, not mine if there's trouble." The small door slams shut and Zev hears three locks and/or bars being removed, hard to tell through the thick door. The door swings open, and through the torchlight Zev can see two other guards in the hall, watching their every move. All are armed with sword and crossbow, all are ugly and muscular, and all wear black cloaks with a flaming hand upon the left breast and a similar device on the black tunic beneath. Beneath the tunic, Zev can see that all wear chainmail, and a few have their hoods back and he can see they wear spiked metal caps.

Zert walks through the corridor with Zev in tow, and waves at the guards as he walks by. They pass through two barracks rooms, to a final door, a door painted thick with black, with a flaming hand symbol at eye level, and in the palm of the flaming hand a large red gem. "Well, here we are. Remember friend, no tricks with the boss. He'll eat you alive. Literally."

"Right... no tricks," Zev mutters. "In that case, maybe it would be best to blindfold me now, for appearances sake. No troubles then at all, right friend?"

"An excellent idea, Zev. Here..." Zert reaches to his belt, pulls out the black cloth, and ties it around Zev's head, blinding him thoroughly. He then turns and knocks on the door...

***

Meanwhile, the rest of the party arrive at Gorkh's... and find nobody home. However, their arrival is not entirely unexpected, as the large door now has a modification... a smaller sub-door, sized such that humans and even elves have to bow low to enter, but with plenty of room for a halfling or gnome to walk in standing tall; a clumsy dwarf might bean his head, if he were wearing a tall helm. So in go Adamond and Twidorek, to scout things out. Of honey cakes and other foods, there seem to be plenty, though no fresh meat. "Seems he has gone hunting, maybe?" Adamond mutters. Remembering Gorkh's proclivity to joke about long-pork, Twidorek gets nervous and leaves quickly.

All decide to simply stay and wait to see when Gorkh returns. Tar'Nish tends to the horses, Gregory sits back on a fallen log and plays his banjo, Mort sits back and starts carving out a walking staff, Elyas and Kor sit back and chill, and Abraxis, Twidorek, and Friar Pudge take out their fishing poles and head for the fishing hole at the stream. Adamond paces back and forth and fidgits, his mind writhing with plans and plots and ideas... or just from boredom, none can tell, and even Adamond isn't sure.

Down at the fishing hole, Friar Pudge has caught three fish, and Abraxis two, while Twidorek hasn't caught a single fish... and when, in his excitement, he jumps in to try and catch a fish by hand and fails miserably, the others give up the endeavor, as no fish will return for some time after the gnomish splashing. They return to the hut, and set to to clean the fish and grill them for a late lunch. All is as before, save that Tar'Nish has finished tending to the horses and is now sitting in the middle of the path, praying to his strange Wandering God.

***

Zert has to knock twice before the door is opened.

It opens silently, Zev's only hint that the door was even opened being the movement of the air before him and the sudden, cloying, amazingly erotic scent that wafts to his nose upon said air.

He then hears a voice, a sultry, exotic, amazingly erotic feminine voice, the very voice of femininity, of all his carnal desires for the female species. "Yesssss?" it says, "What is it Zert, The Master and I were... busy," the voice purrs.

"Nnn... nnn... new recruit, m'Lady, the bo... Master said to deliver him as soon as we arrived, begging, m'Lady's pardon!" stuttered Zert, apparently as affected by the Lady's presence as Zev.

"Ahhhh... the new recruit," the Lady whispered. "Of course... the Master has been waiting to meet him." A hand reached out and grabbed Zev by the collar, a hand warm and cold and soft as velvet and hard as steel. Zev stumbled after the Lady as she dragged him behind her, and he could feel the air sighing as she went past. Her accent... so familiar, yet so different, so exotic. So deep and dark and dangerous and lovely...

"Come..." she murmured, seemingly in his ear. "Come. The Master will see you."

She seemed to glide as he stumbled behind her. How long she held him in her hand, he could not say, until she cast him from her and he fell back, fell back, fell back into darkness and swooning shadow... and his behind landed on a soft, padded, velvety couch with a light crunch.

He heard the flutter of robes and two beautiful voices murmuring impossibly beautiful things at each other. Then the voice of an angel spoke, and told him to remove his blindfold.

He did so and looked around. Before him stood a tall, pale-skinned human male; very male he noted, remarkably male, as he wore only a sheer black robe opened in the front, a robe that hid nothing. He looked up and was lost in the beautiful face of this man, a face etched as from fine alabaster, a face of unearthly beauty and terrible, inhuman cruelty. "I am Lareth," the man said, simply. "I am the Lord and Master of this place. And this," he said, pointing with his right hand to the figure under his left arm, "is my Lady, the Lady Haclavdra."

And Zev turned to look at the Lady, and for the first time in his life, knew with certainty that he was seeing a dark elf, a lady of the Drow. Where Lareth was pale, with moon-kissed white skin, the Lady was dark, blacker than pitch, the deep darkness lost between the stars. Her hair glittered pale white, shimmered of platinum, and had stars dancing amidst its strands. Beneath the slight whisper of spider silk she wore like a zephyr breeze, a figure out of dreams, fevered nightmare dreams of fae beauty. Zev lusted, desired her as never he had ever desired a woman before, wished to reach toward her and grab her and crush her to him and drink the scent of her mithril tresses until he attained oblivion in bliss...

But he knew that to even reach toward her without her consent was to invite death, screaming, terrible, painful, slow, and soul-wracking doom. And so he stayed his hand, and his body, and sat, and waited.

"Good..." Lareth whispered, as he shivered with delight at Zev's unrequited and obvious desire. "Control. You have control. So few do. Zert was correct; you may be of use to us after all."

Lady Haclavdra quivered, not with lust or desire or happiness, but with disappointment, or perhaps, disgust. Not so much at her failure to tempt him, Zev noticed, as much as at him, for she had finally noticed the many scars upon his face, the scars of his failed experiments. Whether she was disgusted with his ugliness or with the obvious writ of failure across his visage, he did not know. But inside, he felt part of his heart break away into ash.

It was in this silence that he was able to look away from the pair, to the room about him. The walls were covered with tapestries depicting savage violence and violent lust; men, women, and things that even he had never encountered in any twisted grimoire cavorted and bit and clawed and clutched in an unending orgy of blood and lust. Beneath the tapestries on the walls stood many shelves, covered in books and scrolls and blasphemous icons and things less pleasant. Upon many things, here and there, could be seen the symbol of the flaming hand, most notably upon the fine black laquered plate on a stand against the wall; the hand upon the breastplate seemed to glow and breathe, as though of living fire. A large bed, unmade and obviously only recently occupied, stood in one corner, covered in glittering dust and droppets of sweat and likely, blood. In the corner opposite his couch, steeped in shadow, a tall pedestal, and upon that a figure out of nightmare and horror, an icon of a black widow spider with the head of an elven woman of inhuman beauty...

"What is it you seek? What do you desire?" she asked of him. He came out of his reverie and noted it was not the statue that spoke, but instead Lady Haclavdra. For a moment he was silent, and thought he was undone, caught in his lie, until the strength that kept him through the wracked horror of his apprenticeship once more came to the fore, and boiled up through his soul into his mouth and out...

"I seek what all men of ability desire... power, and wealth, and fame. I seek truck with sorcery, and Things of Power; to command the elements, make angels and devils tremble with fear, and make life and death my very tools. I seek mastery of Undeath, and armies of the undead at my command. I seek whatever my least whims desire, to let my enemies feel my wrath, and to make all tremble before my greatness," Zev whispered, then thundered, as desire overcame him. Then wisdom and insight quickly returned. "As... as only the best loyal henchman can, of course..." he smiled at them.

She smiled back, and Lareth's hair danced as he laughed deeply, maniacly. "An excellent answer, oh Pale Elf," he chuckled. "Until the last, I thought perhaps you were here to apply for my position! And of course, such is not possible. But of good lieutenants, and by good lieutenants I mean those who will do the evil I command without question and competently, I have but few."

He then rubbed his chin with his palm, and his eyes turned dark in thought, and his lip curled in anger.

"Zert tells me you know these... adventurers who have vexed Us of late. Is this so?"

"I have met them, spoken with them a little."

"Could you get them to trust you, perhaps?"

"... likely. They seem a trusting bunch. It seems they lack for friends and allies in these parts."

"And so it is, Pale Elf, so it is. They are not talented this lot, but lucky, and it seems of late that luck will suffice where talent and skill fail. And so they have caused Us no end of trouble, though earned precious little for their efforts themselves, save for exile." He smiled, an evil smile, and somewhere a kitten died in fright.

"I am most interested in the half-man, for he has been most troublesome of all."

"Adamond the halfling, or Twidorek the gnome?" Zev asked, quizzically. "Neither seems particularly dangerous."

"No indeed, neither is dangerous, though methinks the gnome is more dangerous to his own party of times than to any others, friend or foe. No, it is of Adamond I speak, the halfling, or, as they call themselves, the hobbit. He it is that is the luck of their party, both for good and ill, and the great thorn in my toe. It is him I want, and I want you to deliver him to me."

Lareth strode to a tall shelf upon the wall, and pulled from it a small velvet pouch, which he dextrously threw to the elf upon the couch.

"This is to be the bait. Adamond is, like all of his kind, greedy at heart, though most want for little more than plenty of ale and bacon, tomatoes and potatoes. But Adamond, he lusts after more, of this I am sure. And when you show him that, and tell him there is more, much more to be had here... well, I am sure you get the idea."

Zev looked in the pouch, where sat ten reddish-black gemstones of beautiful lustre.

"Show him those, and tell him there is a chest of them here, in the dungeon of the Moathouse. Let him know that a small party, say of two, notably him and yourself, could sneak in and steal the treasure with little effort and no great danger. For almost the whole of the gang will be out on a big raid. Tomorrow night. Merely a skeleton crew, so to speak..."

"And of course, your men will be out and about in force... but not so terribly far away. Here, say, soon after we arrive?"

Lareth simply nodded, grimly.

"And the others?"

"I care not where they be, or where they go, so long as they be not here upon tomorrow eve. Without Adamond their luck will fail, and they will seek greener pastures, or die of their own accord. Likely the gnome will trip and break his own damnfool neck. But without Adamond, they shall lose purpose, and courage, and no longer be an issue... one way or another."

Zev stood, gems in hand, and smiled and bowed, and said, "As you wish... Master."

Lareth smiled a dreamy smile, and a strange glimmer filled his eyes, and his skin shimmered a strange color, like the dream of blood. He murmured, "Indeed, as I wish... hmmm..." as he looked upon the Pale Elf strangely.

Then Lady Haclavdra, standintg quietly in the shadows gathered at the center of the room, reasserted herself quickly, casting a look of disgust, first at Zev, and then at Lareth. "Master... noooo..." she purred and cooed, and enveloped the shimmering figure with her own supple darkness. "We shall continue with that which occupied us before we were interrupted, yes?" She looked up at him with glowering red eyes, and he looked down at her and bit his lip, and blood trickled upon his chin as he reached out and wrapped his arms around the dark elf...

Zev quietly dismissed himself from the awkward tableau, and returned to the barracks room outside the short corridor. There he finds Zert sitting at a table, nursing a drink.

"Still alive, eh? I had hopes for you, my friend!" he says to the elf. "Have a seat, and I'll get some of the good stuff to celebrate."

Zev sits as Zert goes into a further chamber; the elf smells fresh hay and hears the whinny of horses.

"Storeroom-Stable" Zert says, as he returns with a bottle of wine. "Most of the horses are kept upstairs, but we — the lieutenants, that is — keep our personal steeds and the better 'acquisitions' down here, with the best of the stores."

He pours the wine into thick glasses and chuckles. "That damned halfling's pony is in there, too. Maybe we should send you back with him? ... No, best not, that might get his suspicions up too much. Don't want that..."

"No, definitely not..." Zev mutters as he sips the wine. "A fine Keoish red," he says, "if my nights at the finer establishments in Greyhawk weren't wasted." He noticed too that the wine cleared his senses, and the cloying scent of Lady Haclavdra faded away. "Hmmm..." he thought to himself. "That was no ordinary perfume, of that now I am certain... I wonder..."

"Eh, wine is wine is wine," mutters Zert, interrupting his thought. "You may be a connoiseur of wine, but my expertise is women. Ah, give me a screaming Hardby Amazon any day, one with plenty of fight in her, and some fright..." he growled.

"The plan..." Zev interrupted quickly. "Any last things I should know that the boss might have forgotten?"

The two quickly hashed through the details of the plan as Zev had been told, and made sure everyone was indeed on the same page.

"You'll need a horse, of course, to find him in a timely fashion," Zert said. "But I don't expect him to go far. He's a stubborn little bastard, the whole lot are, so they are waiting out there. Plotting against us, I'm sure of it..." he muttered as he poured another glass; his third to the elf's single, still half full.

"... an anyway, the others aren't exiled, so unless they leave, they gotta come back to town, pick up supplies. They lit out of there without stopping at the trader's, we know that. And between here and Nulb an the temp... um, that is, there's nothing but woods and hills, trees and dirt. Unless they've taken to raiding homesteads, but then, they'd REALLY be competition, no? No, I don' think so. So they'll be back, tomorrow, needing food and everything. Should be easy to find them, really."

"Yes... I'm sure I can find them, not a problem."

"Good..." Zert muttered, as he finished off the wine straight from the bottle. "Thish ish good stuff, innit?"

"Mmmhmm... I was wrong, I think," said Zev. "Not wine, not wine at all. Port, I would say, from the Ulek states..." he sniffed further at his glass. "Yes, a Ruby from the Tringlee fields, no doubt. Very potent..."

"Mmmm... good stuff. You good friend."

"Yes, yes I am, Zert. A very good friend indeed," Zev smiled. "Now about that horse?"

***

Back at Gorkh's hut, Adamond finally got too figity to even simply pace. "I'm going out to find him!" he cried, and woke Gregory, Elyas, Kor, and Tar'Nish from their reveries, naps, and prayers. Adamond immediately took to looking around the ground by the hut, looking for signs of his friend. "He's got big feet, how can I miss any signs?"

"Are you a halfling thief from the streets of Mitrik, or a Flan ranger from the Lortmils?" jibed Kor, as the others chuckled. Adamond simply kept looking at the ground, back and forth, until...

"Aha!" he cried out. "Big feet, there you are!" And he followed the trail he found around and back behind the hut, where it met up with a game trail, and disappeared up into the forest-covered hills.

"Anyone want to come with me to find Gorkh?" he called out, back to the others.

"Anyone? Hello?" he cried out again. Titters and twangs from the banjo were his only answer.

He looked into the deep, virgin forest upon the rolling hills. The shadows gathering longer into the afternoon.

"Yeah... he's a big guy. He can take care of himself... though we could use some fresh meat. Yeah, that's it, I'll put up some traps, get us a rabbit or two, maybe a pheasant. Mmmm... pheasant..." he drooled as he walked slowly into the forest.

While Adamond set up three deadfalls, the fishermen and fishergnome went fishing again. Unfortunately, so intent was Twidorek on telling the others tall tales of his fishing exploits, he walked straight over the embankment and into the fishing hole! Splash, gurgle gurgle, apparently he fished better than he swam! Abraxis jumped down after him and helped him out of the water, but the fish were again gone, thanks to the gnome, and this time, before any had fallen to their old fishing tricks...

"Looks like honey cakes again tonight..." sighed the gnome. Then he smiled, "Mmm! Honeycakes!" and took off whistling toward the hut. Abraxis shook his head in wonder at the gnome. The friar gazed upon the water at the reflection of the setting sun, and said nothing.

***

Later that night, all gathered in the hut, with a fire crackling in the fireplace, and candles and lamps lit against the gathering darkness. Adamond had not yet returned, for he had gone on a great circuit setting his traps (well, great for a halfling, of course), and was only getting back to his first deadfall... success! A fuzzy little fat and meaty rabbit! Then on to the next... and when he got only halfway there, he heard a dreadful howling and hissing coming from the direction of his trap. Discretion the better part of valor, he decided to head toward the third trap until whatever he caught had succumbed to its wounds.

Then the hissing and caterwauling turned to cursing!

"Firk ding blast! Who's been setting frickin traps on my gorram game trail! Rargh!"

Adamond stopped. "Gorkh, izzat you?" he called out quietly. Silence followed.

"Adamond?" a voice growled. "Aaaaadamond! Have you been setting traps on my trails?"

"Well, I didn't mean to set it on... that is... if you want game... um... yes, yes I have." Adamond admitted, presumably from a still safe distance. He slowly walked toward the trap and Gorkh.

Gorkh was sitting down on a large log, nursing his big toe. "Well, I don't think it's broken..." he said morosely, as he stood gingerly. He walked around a bit, slowly, then at more normal pace.

"Well, I guess it will be okay. Shall we head back to my hut?" he said, warmly.

"Sure..." Adamond said, as Gorkh picked him up and put him on his shoulder.

"And Adamond... no more playing ranger, okay?" he growled, softly but menacingly.

"Okay... I guess. But we needed food. And I got a rabbit!" he said proudly.

"... we? Who is 'we?'"

"Oh... um, me and the guys."

"'The guys'? Which 'guys?'"

"Um... the guys. All of them, I guess."

The great beast shrugged and sighed. "So tell me all about how it went in the village. Not so well, I take it?"

"Yeah, not exactly..." Adamond said, as he told the wood wose of the tale of the trial as they walked back to his hut.

***

Upon arriving, Gorkh took in the view of the other eight occupants of his hut. They all greeted him, some quietly and carefully, not sure how he would react to having so many in his hut at once. After all, only Adamond had the full-time invitation...

And then a hush came over them all, as they noticed that Gorkh was wounded. Badly, with many bruises and nicks, and with blood dripping from a few deep cuts.

"Gorkh! What happened!" Adamond cried out when he saw the wounds in the light of the hut.

"I... I don't wanna talk about it," he growled, as he walked to the pantry.

"Have an argument with your mother?"Adamond chuckled, joking.

"My girlfriend, actually..." Gorkh growled back. "I said, I don't want to talk about it."

"Oh man, looks like you tangled with a bear!" Abraxis broke out, laughing.

"Whaat? Did you call my girlfriend a bear?" the wood wose turned and loomed over the monk, looking at him quizzically. "And who, exactly, might you be, Painted Man?"

"That's Abraxis, he's a new friend of ours!" cried out Twidorek. "Please don't eat him!"

Chuckling evily, the wood wose turned toward the pantry. "Oh, don't worry little gnome, I've got a better idea for the Painted Man..." He turned suddenly after grabbing something from the pantry, and shoved a platter high with carrots, celery, and onions at the monk. "Chop these."

He then turned and grabbed the great black cauldron, which he filled with water from a huge jar.

"And where's that rabbit? Need rabbit for the stew, right? I'm hungry... I might just eat that rabbit raw."

Giggling, Adamond queried, "So I guess she got the better of you then, eh?"

"Who?"

"Your girlfriend. Or was it the bear? Or what is she, exactly? An ogre, or a bear?"

Muttering at the impolite inquiry of the halfling, the wood wose answered, "My girlfriend. An ogress, actually..." then quietly under his breath, "... though they say her grandfather had more than a bit of bearish blood in him."

Adamond laughed, and the others simply remained quiet. Gorkh easily set the huge stewpot on the fire to boil, then glowered at Adamond. Adamond stopped giggling, and grew nervous.

"You know... we could use more meat... I never checked my third trap... maybe I should go see if I got another rabbit..."

"In the gathering dark, all alone?" rumbled Gorkh, as he frowned and cracked his great knuckles.

"Yeah... alone, I think. I'll... I'll be right back!" he muttered as he ran out the door.

Gorkh turned to the others, and his frown turned into a great toothy smile. "Boy needs to learn some manners!" he said, as the others chuckled. "Lots of nasty shadows in the forest for a city boy to find. We should just ignore his screams..." And everyone laughed aloud.

Looking around to see who else he could shanghai into making dinner, Gorkh's eyes fell upon Gregory, then went wide with wonder.

"Hujaambo rafiki!" he said in Touv. "It has been many a moon since a Touv set foot in these parts," he continued in the southern tongue. "How come you to my hut?"

"Ah, someone who speaks a civilized tongue!" Gregory replied, astonished. "Mine is a long story, but today, I am a travelling musician. Would you like me to play for you?" he offered, as he held aloft his mbanza.

Gorkh looked upon it as one might look at a dead giant weasel at a tea party. "Ohhh... no, no thank you. I have no desire to hear the sound of the lute-that-kills-cats-for-amusement. Perhaps another instrument, one that does not slice through the ears so readily?" he said, politely as possible in the Touv tongue.

***

"Just a silly joke... a jest... nothing major... what's his problem? Maybe he didn't get any... yeah, that's it..." Adamond muttered, as he made his way in the dark to the third trap.

And thus and so he was thinking as he arrived at the third deadfall, and noticed a whitish-gray rabbit beneath the large log, killed when its leg was broken beneath it. Muttering as he went, he pulled out his dagger to dig under the rabbit'd leg.

He then heard a growling sound, and felt a steaming liquid drip down upon his head. He looked up slowly, and saw the snout of a largish wolf snarling down at him from over the log.

Without thought (as Adamond often does), he cut off the leg of the rabbit with a quick slash, grabbed the body by the ears, and ran down the trail back toward the hut.

"Gooooorkh!" he cried out.

Back at the hut, the others heard, and laughed.

"Goooorkh! Woooolves!"

They tittered at his fear of the shadows.

Then the wolf let of a loud howl, which was answered with other howls from each side of the trail behind him.

The others heard the howls. With a surprised look on his face, Gorkh said, "Shadows do not howl... maybe you should go help him!"

All grabbed at their weapons and ran for the door.

Rushing down the trail on the starlit night with only the light of Celene to guide him, Adamond ran with the rabbit in one hand by the ears, and his dagger in the other. He ran, but not fast enough... for the slavering wolf was upon him, and knocked him down to his knees, and gnawed upon his shoulder with great gouts of saliva. The other wolves howled around him.

Slashing wildly at the wolf, who ducked the whistling blade, Adamond go back to his feet and ran. He could see the glow of the fire through the chimney and knew that he was near, and heard the cries of his friends as they sought him in the dark. Light burst upon the scene as Gorkh appeared from around the hut with a big burning brand large as a man, as Adamond came into the light, with three wolves on his tail. Stones and bullets and glowing magical missile flew from slings and the middle wolf gave a great yowlp as he was struck by bullet and missile. Hungry, however, he and his friends dashed forward.

Adamond thought Abraxis meant to run him down, but then suddenly, like an eagle, the monk flew over Adamond's head and landed squarely between him and the middle wolf, which ended its life in a charge against the monk, which seeminly without effort reached out with his bare hand and moved the wolves' snout up into its brain.

Suddenly Tar'Nish was also at his side, and another charging wolf died, its head flying into the dark night, sliced from its body in one swift flash of the warrior's great sword.

The other wolf closed, and knocked down Abraxis with a swift attack, but the monk zigged and zagged on his back, and its fangs snapped only at air. It earned merely a glowing missile from Mort for its efforts. The rest of the party closed, even the friar with his cudgel, and it was pinked by two more blades before it decided it wasn't quite that hungry, and ran off into the dark woods...

Abraxis skinned the beheaded wolf, while the other had too much damage from the glowing missiles of magical force to be spared. He and Tar'Nish then took the bodies far out into the forest, rather than leave them by the hut for scavengers; Tar'Nish held a one-way conversation with the head of the wolf he had beheaded, mocking it for its foolishness and lack of ferocity.

The others retired to the hut, there to finish the stew and tell tall tales of their bravery.

***

At about that same time, Zevryk Shadowbourne sat in his room at the Wench, his face lit by a fine white candle and his body warmed by a small brazier of coals to take off the early autumn chill. The port had long since worn off during his short ride back to Hommlet, and the content feeling he felt in his belly from the excellent dinner had its finer edge taken off by the fact that it was paid for by his new "friends."

Before him on the table were spread the fine blood-black jewels, which he vaguely valued at 50 gold each, for a total of perhaps 500 gold pieces... a fine piece of bait indeed, or even a small fortune, even in the grand City of Greyhawk.

He considered the jewels...

He thought back to his encounter with Lareth and Lady Haclavdra...

He considered the party, with whom he really was only peripherally and most lightly acquainted...

He really didn't want to die...

And he wondered what the cost of being a good friend might really be...

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