Remember FOAF and Atom?

The FOAF logo.Yeah, me neither. Due to the requirements of technical skill, the WWW, RSS, Atom and FOAF never evolved into the decentralized social networking and news dissemination platforms that smart people in 2001 hoped they would be.

Instead we got Facebook and Twitter–ad filled, controlled, walled gardens whose only virtue is that they are easy to use. Just like YouTube pretty much settled all the arguments over streaming media, by being easier to use than hosting your own media files. I mean there are some brave attempts to keep decentralized, open social networking systems alive but, essentially it’s over. For most people, most of the news, content and social interactions of the Internet, are now handled by a small number of companies.

It’s like the sadness that comes to me when I think about the reasons PGP e-mail encryption never became widely used, thus dooming us to a decade of easily preventable spam and e-mail worms.

But, sure, I got sucked in too. I keep grumbling about it but I use Facebook commonly now, just like most everyone else. But I’ll keep searching for the next new thing. Despite appearances there is still a lot of activity outside Twitter and Facebook. Under it all, the Internet is still there.

A Neurochemical Con Job?

Photo of John Malkovich playing Jeff Peters.
“You see, I’m not very good with people,” Jeff Peter’s last significant exchange with Earth and, I think, one of the saddest lines in the last 30 years of–ugh, I hate this expression–chick flicks.

This strange but hopefully reassuring essay was prompted by an exchange with a friend via the shallow artificiality of Facebook. I guess it could have been worse; it could have been prompted by the shallow artificiality of Twitter or some other part of the Internet.  Anyway, afterwards, I felt the need to explain a few things about myself and my emotional outlook that couldn’t be properly conveyed by way of the train wreck that is the Facebook “Status form.”

Anyway, let me share with you the bitter rant of Dr. Jeff Peters, a fictional character in the movie, Making Mr. Right, 1987:

“Look, Ulysses, I want you to remember that you are much more advanced than that woman will ever be. Do not let her drag you down to her level! She lives in an emotional swamp! But then, so do most people! Some minor activity occurs in the medulla, and–and wham! They think they’re in love. The next thing they know, they have 2 children and a canine. And then, boom! Some neuron misfires, and they’re divorced, miserable, and only get to see their children on Sundays. It is all chemical, Ulysses, and it is all a waste of time. You were made for grander things, pal. Do you read me?

In the movie, Jeff Peters was essentially the male version of Dr. Susan Calvin, herself a brilliant, misanthropic, cynical, mathematician and artificial intelligence psychiatrist, in Issac Asimov’s fiction shorts about robots. (I suppose I could have opened this essay with one of Calvin’s rants from the short story “Liar!” but you get the idea.)

So let’s look at that quote for a few minutes and think about it. Yes, it is sad and bitter but, it is also in one sense true.

Continue reading “A Neurochemical Con Job?”

Going Postal: Reunion, Trading Hats and Orcs in the Driver’s Seat!

[This is recounting of the May 14th, Martha’s Vineyard, Birthday Session. I did not record the audio of this session, not having the appropriate tools–there were a few technical issues. So this is all based on memory still green and my attempts to reconstruct things from Roll20’s chat log. There is also a lot of wholesale invention and putting words into player character’s mouths.

Anyway, we had folks from Chiang Mai, Seattle, Silverton and Martha’s Vineyard. More than full attendance with Toby, Ian, Ralph, Mike, both Johns, Demo and Erol.]


A map section of Waylon's waterfront. Highlighted in blue is RPA Headquarters. Highlighted in red is Maceo's nightclub and public house.It was the 27th of Rain, just after two days of regrouping from prior forays into Nightfang Spire. In response to Hinkwe’s request for more help, the Postmen are introduced to two other agents: Hit Phar and Chingara Slashgood.

Hit Phar was of their original number, from their early days nearly three years ago. Around that time, for reasons still unclear but perhaps having to do with his suddenly acquired literacy, he left field work and took a job in the DLO.An illustration of Thanator

The Dead Letter Office was a largely unnoticed arm of the Postal Ministry but it was one that Ellen I insisted on when she instituted the Royal Postal Authority nearly 10 years ago. For the last eight years the DLO has been under the command of a strange undead creature, named Thanator. Anyway, about 7 months into his new job, which generated Siberian Cabin in the Dead of Winter levels of boredom, Hit Phar vanished without trace and had been missing until just yesterday.

An illustratiion of Sir Chingara Slashgood. Copyright Milo Barasorda.Sir Chingara Slashgood, was only known to Sir Stirge. A knight of the Circus, the elf ranger–yet another one!–was one of a handful elite archers in all of Udra; Hinkwe and Lingerhol being the other two. Since the Circus left active service over five years ago, Slashgood had been pouring all his stipend into supporting a highly respected martial arts school in the city of Lanth. Between this school and his care for the Circus’ pet elephant, Whirlwind, Sir Chin had very little time or interest in anything else.

But when Lady Hilda, the Baroness of Jars and Postmistress General, gave a command, the rest of the Circus, retired or not, jumped. And so did Chin. That was why the Postmen greeted Chin and Hit on the early morning of the 27th, in the stuffy, book filled office of Lady Hilda.

A photo of a Moroccan woman. This is my attempt depict what Lady Hilda looks like in Udra court finery.“I got you the help you wanted for removing Nightfang Spire from the Queen’s Map, Agent Dolsalkhdie. Agent Phar and First Agent Slashgood should be sufficient. I believe you all know each other so, it should be easy for you all to work together,” Lady Hilda said crisply, clearly preoccupied with other matters, “Now, if there is nothing else, I’ll leave you all to catch up and plan your next sally.” and she turned on the ball of her foot and left her office before Hinkwe had any chance to object or say anything.

“Big Hit! It’s been years! Where’ve you been, man?!” Maceo shouted enthusiastically.

You could almost see the gears turning in the blond half-orc’s head before he answered, “In a really hot jungle.”An illustration of two orcs in a jungle. Neither of these orcs look like Hit Phar, who is blonde and green.

“What? So were we, on the manhunt for Chebo the Drowned. They sent you to Nyambe too?”

Phar held up a hand, “It wasn’t Nyambe. It was called Yin-Sloth. I think was helping another postman.”

Maceo, who had become an excellent historian and geographer, never heard of Yin-Sloth but didn’t follow up and, Phar was unwilling or unable to explain further. The reunion between Stirge and Chin was even more laconic, just a handshake and a knowing grin.

Hinkwe tried his best to brief the new agents on what they faced: a colony of magic destroying spiders, evidently in cahoots with a vampire cult bent of restoring a prehistoric god. But Hit and Chin really only seemed interested in knowing if the enemies could be struck by weapons; which they could. Despite this, and despite wondering if Hit Phar’s skill had actually improved over the last 3 years, Hinkwe had heard many stories of Chin’s exploits for the RPA and felt reassured, “Fair enough. Let’s go to the mess hall, partake of Crondussa’s Feast and then teleport to the Nightspire crypts. Postmen, it’s time to get to work!

An animated GIF depicting a recursive fly though smaller and smaller cells of a Menger Sponge
As noted in the image above, Mr. Hedgerow has some very odd ideas about interior design.

It was in the mess that Bussell Hedgerow joined them. The halfling sorcerer, always with some side-project during down time, had spent the last two days magically providing fine food and beautiful shelter for Waylon’s vagrants and indigent. Bussell had several reasons for doing this–to help those in need, to improve his reputation but mostly to try out various interior decorating ideas. He partook of Crondussa’s feast and was ready to do battle with Nightfang’s monsters.

A photo of food in a restaurant in Thailand. Because if there really was a food of the gods, it would be Thai, Indian, Chinese, Carribean or from ItalyAs they ate, the Postman discussed various plans and ways to counter spider attacks.

An idea had been turning around in Hinkwhe’s brain for several weeks: how was it possible for the spellgaunts to elude his elfin senses and ambush the Postmen repeatedly? Maceo had given him a possible answer: invisibility. The spiders had used potions or cast spells to make themselves invisible and then compounded that by hiding with the perfect stillness of highly intelligent, supernatural arachnids. Hinkwe had kept missing them simply due to overconfidence. His eyes and ears were so good, he never considered using the magical ability to see invisible things.  Maceo, who often stayed in the squad’s rearguard, never saw the creatures until it was too late.

Trading Hats

An illustration of what I imagine a headband of true sight looks like. But not this time around! Before teleportation, Hinkwhe and Maceo exchanged magical headgear. The gnome’s headband granted the ability of true sight; this also included the ability to see invisibly hidden creatures. With that headband Hinkwhe, always in the van, would hopefully spot waiting spellguant ambushes.

This would later prove to be a pivotal decision.

An illustration of crypts or catacombs. Nightfang Spire's crypts look a lot like this.Frickalind, Maceo and Bussell cast various defensive magic on the squad. Augmenting potions were drunk. Spells were cast. The Postman folded space right back to the antechamber just outside the double doors Frickalind had sent her five elementals through two days before.

The doors had been burned away and, in the room beyond them there were spider footprints, burnt patches and clear signs of battle everywhere. Hinkwe walked into the room and, with his headband, saw deeply down a twisting tunnel, some 90 feet to his east at least 4 spellgaunts clutching the ceiling, hidden in invisible ambush. He took a few steps further and looked into the twisting cave to his south and saw another spider, as motionless as a corpse, invisibly waiting in the passageway.

Knowing the locations of two ambushes, and knowing the there were probably more spiders hidden behind cover, Hinkwhe returned to the others and called out some code words, hidden in boasts and banter. At last, the element of surprise finally belonged to the Queen’s Post!

An illustration of a giant spider by David A Trampier. The fight looked something like this. The plan was to have the archers and spell casters stand in the fork of the east and south tunnels to cover both passages, cast invisibility purge then have Stirge and Hit fly into battlelust and engage the enemy in shock.

Hinkwe, Lingerhol, Chingara and Betty walked back into the cave. Hink stopped and bent to pretend he was looking at some debris and, with an excellent feint and elfin speed, unleashed a volley of three arrows into the spider to his south, wounding it seriously. The remainder of his arrows he shot into the four spiders to his east, one arrow each.

A photo of the tarot heirophant. Copyright, Wheel of Fortune Tarot Project. I imagine Frickalind looks like this sometimes.Frickalind, some ten or fifteen feet behind Hinkwe, cast the invisibility purge, which rendered all the spiders visible, if still hidden–less so now that many had arrows sticking out of them. From a position just fore of Hinkwe, Lingerhol cut loose with a full salvo of arrows into the wounded spellgaunt to the south. This killed it. Chingara pushed out in front of all the other archers and shot a fullisade at a newly revealed, unharmed spider to the south.

Maceo, sang an ode of Hit Phar’s early exploits against the whooshes at sea and magically augmented the half-orc Postman with confidence, skill and durability. The gnome, knowing his defensive and augmentative magic was critical to success, elected to hang back behind Frickalind as the rest of the Postmen advanced.

Stirge, greatly relieved that he’d see some action now that surprise was on their side, went joyously berserk, ran east, down the tunnel, into the group of four spellgaunts Hinkwe’s arrows pointed out. He drove a mighty swing of his axe, viciously splitting the abdomen of his opponent. He didn’t kill it in one stroke but, it was a good start!

Hit Phar, not at all willing to be out-orked by Stirge, also went mad with battlelust, charged down the same tunnel as Stirge and struck one of the four spellguants with a brutal swing of another two-handed axe.  It wasn’t a fatal blow but, again, it was a good start.

Betty drew up behind Hink and Linger and shot her arrows into the spider Stirge had tried to divide but it still did not drop.

Bussell's induced cave in looked a lot like this.Bussell boldly flew down the tunnel Stirge and Hit were in, saw that they were flanked by two more spellgauts hitherto hidden in a niche to the north. The halfling sorcerer decided to even those odds by polymorphing the surrounding rock of their niche into mud.  The spiders were crushed and wounded badly by several tons of mud, muck and rubble. They were also buried several feet deep into the mud below their feet. It would take them a while to crawl out of that.

This all happened in mere seconds before the spiders realized their ruse had been seen through. The Postmen kept the initiative as the spiders confusedly tried to regroup and the battle went quickly after that.

Between the axes of Hit and Stirge the four spellgaunts in the east tunnel quickly fell before even having a chance to bite, disjoin or rend. Bussell simply polymorphed the mud and rubble he’d created back into stone, killing the two spiders in the northern niche instantly. Betty, Chin, Hink and Linger made quick work of the remaining spider to the south.

It was true, the element of surprise could turn a battle.

Orcs in the Driver’s Seat!

But the battle was over too quickly for Stirge, whose brain was still aswim in bloodlust. Remembering a northern door they’d bypassed, Stirge roared incoherently, ran back and kicked it in. Finding himself in a corridor running north with four doors, two on each side, the former pirate frantically stove in each in his insane drive for more things to fight!

Each doorway only revealed a empty, looted crypt–boring! But the northwestern door lead to an empty crypt that at least had another door in it! Stirge wasted no time; he kicked it in to find another corridor with another door at the end of it, which he stove in and–and so on and so on. Hit Phar, also psychotic with rage, dimly thought that Stirge was on to something and, being the only one in the party fast enough to keep up, sprinted after his fellow wildman.

A photo of Arnold Schwarzenegger, at his California surfer boy best, in Conan the Barbarian.
“Barbarism is the natural state of mankind. Civilization is unnatural. It is a whim of circumstance. And barbarism must always ultimately triumph.” –Robert E. Howard

“What a fucking bore it would be if that were actually true, Bobbie.” –Pace Arko

This lead the Postmen on a mad chase, after the two psychotic half-orcs, through a good eight or so doors, and as many rooms, corridors, and possible loot, before Stirge finally exhausted himself at the ninth door and still not finding a worthy opponent.

The next room briefly brought the orcish rampage up short. The chamber was covered in elaborate black and white parquet tiles, many of which were cracked or broken. The tiles which were whole, detailed tiny reliefs of stylized faces aflame with mouths open, burning in agony. Hanging from the ceiling was pitted iron sculpture of an unrecognizable species of dragon with a five foot wingspread. Below the dragon sculpture, was an alter of red veined white marble. The alter was inscribed with thinly incised, subtle Draconic runes.

But Hit Phar, still in the grip of his bloodlust, could not have given a drunkard’s cuss about all the religious paraphernalia. He only interested in resuming Stirge’s door destroying dash!Animated GIF of President Barack Obama ending the war in Afghanistan.

He leaped towards the northeastern door to the next room, only to trigger a trap! A huge block of stone fell, Hit Phar and several others narrowly dodged its impact. After the stone fell, it blocked the next door so, Hit, cursing at the tuckered out Stirge to help him and grabbing an pry bar offered by Hinkwe–who by this point knew far better than to argue with an battle-mad half-orc pastoralist!–began to yank at the huge block to move it out of the way. Hit and Stirge both had supernatural strength but, even still, it took a few minutes for them to move the block aside.

During that time, Bussell, who could read Draconic, read the inscription, mentally broadcasting it to everyone by way of the message spell:

“What surpasses Ashardalon,
Is more despicable than the Great Wyrm;
The poor have it,
The rich need it,
If eaten, death follows?”

Upon Bussell reading this question to the entire squad, an overwhelming mental command descended over all of them, even Stirge and Hit. They all felt compelled to answer it.

Luckily, the answer was a bit obvious: “Nothing.” So all of the Postmen either said, “nothing” or decided not to vocalize at all. It never occurred to any of them to give any other kind of answer. Frickalind, who suspected a trap and who certainly didn’t want to pledge herself to any prehistoric death cult of demonstrated evil, didn’t speak but, apparently not saying anything still counted as a correct answer.

After the right answer was given, or abstained from, pale, bone yellow beams of energy flashed out from the altar to strike each of the Postmen. These beams were staggeringly painful and wounded them all without leaving a mark. The squad grunted, howled or wailed as one; each was surprised the beams didn’t kill them instantly. Crondussa’s Feast helped them greatly on that score.

But Hit could not be diverted! With the prybar he finally jerked the block of stone aside, breaking it. If the halfling wasn’t still recovering from the beam’s effects, Bussell would have smirked at this as he had considered disintegrating the block only a minute ago, before the altar’s description took his attention.

Wasting no time, Hit kicked the door in!

The next room contained a single sarcophagus in the center with dust, dirt and debris were scattered around the room. But there were no opponents so, Hit immediately ran to the northeast of two doors to kick it in.

An illustration of a Cadaver Collecting golem. This revealed another single crypt of similar design to the one Hit just ran through. But this time there was an enemy! Bursting clumsily from the sarcophagus, was another one of those golems with spikes, spindles, steel and flesh. Aside from Hit and Chin, the Postmen had seen creatures like this one weeks before as they cleared the tower above the crypts. Thanks to Crondussa’s Feast, and the strength of the Postmen, Ashardlon’s wounding beams had only weakened them slightly so, a clash ensued.

The creature blew out a huge cloud of paralysis gas, which everyone managed to shrug off. Knowing that these automatons were especially vulnerable to sound, Betty decided to hold her arrows until after Frickalind cast her sound burst.  Frickalind did this and slowed the golem enormously.

As the Postmen still had the benefits of Maceo’s haste, they all proceeded to wail on the creature in the hopes to destroy it.

[And that’s where we left off, in the middle of combat]

My Most New Wave of T-Shirts

Long ages of the Earth ago, in 1982, when I was 19, my mother bought me a t-shirt for my birthday (Or was it Christmas?) that had this single panel illustration on it as a sort of a parody of Mary Worth or something:
weirdosOnly, in that oh-so-eighties-style, the lines were pink and the background (The t-shirt itself) was black. Never ever learned who drew it or if it was art for a band or not. The t-shirt was a cotton/poly blend and essentially pilled itself into the trash 30 years ago.

For me, if the irony of American life hadn’t begun with Dr. Strangelove, the Dead Kennedys and Steve Martin, it probably would have began here.

Going Postal: The Spider Swarm!

[This session happened on April the 30th, 2016, a Saturday. This was because I would be traveling out of state on May Day. With a few late arrivals and some technical issues as others got used to doing teleconferencing through Roll20, Toby, JB, Ralph, Mike, Ian and Demo were in attendance.

What’s transcribed here is mostly 7 game rounds–roughly equal to about a minute of hard fighting. The session was more than five hours long, most of it taken up with the combat. There was additional character actions before and after the battle so this represented about hour of campaign time.]

A section of the map of Udra, showing where Nightfang is located.The day after resurrecting Betty Davis, the Troubleshooters, expecting further disjunction attacks from the spellgaunt coloney in Nightfang Spire, made a few adjustments to their magical gear. Hinkwe in particular bought some magical tricks to use on the spellgaunts. Stirge was irritated that his planned trip to Grandma Grumpsalot was being delayed once again and considered buying Maceo the Pipes of the Sewers as joke gift, even though it wasn’t the gnomish bard’s birthday.

Even with their RPA priority the equipment took a day to arrange so, on the third day back in Waylon, they consumed the Heroes Feast and teleported back to the catacombs to continue their press to find Gulthias. The teleportation deposited them outside the door the lead into what they suspected was the heart of the spellgaunt colony.

An illustration of a spellgaunt. Copyright Brain Despain, Wizards of the CoastMaceo, Bussell and Frickalind activated their invisibility spells and rings. Frickalind scryed for undead and found nothing she also invoked the divine favor of Crondussa. Bussell cast flight on himself and scryed for secret doors only to find nothing. Stirge drank a potion of protection from evil. Hinkwe activated his boots of flight, cast bear’s endurance on himself and magically augmented his low light vision. Maceo caste haste on the whole squad and many other defensive magics were cast besides. Hinkwe listened at the door and heard nothing but noticed that the door was barred on the other side.

“Of course it’s a trap.” he muttered. With the chime of opening he opened the door, nocked three arrows and drew his string back, ready to shoot anything that jumped out at him. As the revealed room’s ceiling allowed for it, once past the doorway, he floated in about ten feet above the floor

A screenshot of the room Hinkwe opened and where the spell gaunts attacked him.It was a trap. Four spiders sprang out from their hiding places on the ceiling, dispelling their invisibility to attack the elf ranger! But Hinkwe was ready and quicker. He shouted the word of arrow-mind, magic which gave the power to use his missiles in close quarters and to avoid opportunity melee strikes. He fired his first group of three arrows into the spider to his Northwest. The volly struck brutally; the spider’s ichor splashed widely. With unnatural speed, thanks to Maceo’s hasting and his own training, Hinkwe drew and fired one, two, three and four more arrows after that. All of them sank home but the spider was tough and did not fall.

The two spiders to his South fired their magic webs at Hinkwe but the elf dodged them easily. The two spiders to his East and West raked and tore at him with their claws and mandibles. One of the spiders stumbled clumsily in its attack but the other struck the elf with vicious precision and Hinkwe was seriously wounded. The spiders moved in closer to surround him.

Illustration of the brutal effects of chained lightning.The elf’s shouts and arrow strikes roused the rest of the squad from their surprise and they all rushed to attack the spiders. There was a loud clap of thunder as Frickland cast a bolt of lightning through all four spiders around the elf, badly charring the spider to Hinkwe’s East but, all the spiders were burned and blasted to varying degrees.

Maceo started an inspiring song of courage and took cover to the East of the door outside of the room where Hinkwe was. Driven by the song of courage and his arrow mind, Hinkwe dispatched the badly charred spider and then dashed over the corpse, eastwards, towards the center of the room.

As the spiders were concealed from his present position, Lingerhol stepped foward to a mark where he could shoot freely through the door at one of the three remaining spellgaunts, which he did, wounding the creature lightly.

An illustration showing the cave in that Bussell caused. Bussell used the spell of polymorph any object to transmute the surrounding rock in the ceiling above and the floor directly below the spiders to mud. There was a huge rumbling clatter as seven or eight tonnes of mud, gravel, sand and debris gave way to come down on the spellgaunts. They were all crushed grievously and buried in and under a huge pile of muck, rubble and sand. Despite the huge displacement of rock, the crypt walls held and didn’t cave in any further.

The three spiders were very badly wounded by this attack but their strength and toughness was such that they could struggle free of the rocks and mud to spray webbing at both Stirge and Lingerhol, entangling them both. Somewhere inside Stirge a tiny flame began to grow.

Betty stepped forward to fire her bow at the foremost spider wounding  but not killing it.

An illustration of a berserk, flaming half-orc former pirate!At first Stirge used the Axe of Compassion to vigorously saw away at the webbing he was covered in. This failed to work so, in growing frustration and desperation, Stirge dumped a flask of oil on himself and set it alight, hoping to burn the web away. The berserk’s rage was upon him. “IF YOU WANNA LIVE, GET THE HELL AWAY FROM ME!” he bellowed.

Frickalind couldn’t help herself and began to giggle uncontrollably at Stirge’s semi-psychotic meltdown. But, stifling this, she then dropped a flame strike down on three of the spiders burning them severely.

Maceo followed this with a cacophonic burst, killing one of the spiders. Hinkwe cut down one more with a salvo from his bow and Lingerhol’s volley finished off the last one.

Screenshot of Bussell and Hinkwe surrounded by SpellgauntsBussell flew invisibly into the room using divination to find secret doors but he found none. His arcane sight revealed a source of moderately strong magic in an alcove in the Southwest of the room. But he didn’t have time to investigate as more spellgaunts sprang from their invisible hiding places to surround him and Hinkwe.

One of the spiders attempted to snatch Hinkwe’s bow away from him but failed. It did not fail to rake him with its two claws though. Two spiders attempted destroy his magic cloak with their bites but failed. And the last spider on Hinkwe attempted to destroy his bow, not bothering to snatch it away but this failed. Regardless, the spiders claw attacks had chipped away much of the elf ranger’s vitality. If this kept up he wouldn’t much last longer! “They’re like locusts! They just keep coming!” he shouted angrily.

Even though Bussell was invisible the spiders could sense the magic gear he was wearing. They hungered for its energy! As Bussell was flying, both the spiders bit at his boots but Bussell’s will was sufficient to resist the destructive attack. Bussell was not so lucky as the claws raked him, wounding him moderately. Betty ran into the room where Bussell and Hinkwe were surrounded and fired an arrow into the crotch between two of the forearms of a spider. This crippled the strength of the limbs on side of the creature’s body.

Stirge was thinking of executing a maneuver like what's depicted in this image.
In this case it was half-elves instead of halflings but, you get the idea.

Since Lingerhol foolishly continued to stand next to the burning, berserk former pirate, despite the shouted warning to not do so, Stirge picked him up, ran into the room with him and then threw him at the nearest spider! Lingerhol, as an improvised missile, was as badly bruised and contused as the spider!

Frickalind dashed into the room, took a position in the southwest corner, near Bussell’s pile of muck and rubble, and smote three spiders with a flame strike, scalding all three. A screenshot from the movie Alien, where Ellen Ripley incinerates Captain Dallas.Maceo, feeling a pang of guilt for laughing at Stirge’s use of Lingerhol as a missile, began a song of Lingerhol’s heroics. The magic of the song infused the half-elf ranger with confidence, talent and skill.

Hinkwe, who’d been airborne since the battle started, fired a salvo of four at the spellgaunt directly to his east, killing the spider instantly. His remaining arrows wounded the spider to his  northeast. He then lit atop on the dead spider’s body, preventing the spiders from surrounding Bussell and himself. Having recovered from his rough treatment, Lingerhol dashed to the southwest but, not before the spider to his east stretched out to bite his bow. This destroyed its magic. Lingerhol spat out a curse and fired an arrow at the spellgaunt who destroyed his bow wounding it lightly.

Invisible and airborne, the halfling sorcerer, Bussell Hedgerow flew towards his pile of muck and rubble. He easily dodged as the weakened spellgaunt to his west attempted to snap its mandibles at his magic boots. Bussell wheeled about and, with loud bang and rush of air, disintegrated the spellgaunt just northwest of Hinkwe!

An illustration of Betty Davis, right hand of Maceo Eh Xous!A spider slashed at Betty with its claws and mandibles wounding her severely. Another came at Lingerhol wounding him badly as well. Two spellgaunts lunged at Hinkwe drawing serious wounds. The master bowman would not be able to stand another attack like that!

Gritting her teeth in pain, and keenly aware that she was barely five feet from a berserk half-orc, Betty stepped to one side and unleashed a fullisade of arrows at the spider directly to her east. This wounded the creature she’d crippled earlier but she did not slay it.

Illustration of Stirge Barnaclesucker. Copyright Milo BarasordaThe only trauma Sir Stirge Barnaclesucker had experienced in this battle was his own self-immolation and his comrades, knowing better than to stand in his way, cleared a path for him. As his fire sputtered out, he strode up and, with two brutal swings of the Axe of Compassion, slew the spellgaunt he thrown Lingerhol into seconds earlier.

Frickalind, knowing that Hinkwe was badly hurt, called on Crondussa to heal most of the elf’s wounds. Maceo expanded his tune about Lingerhol to include Hinkwe and Betty. They all were magically infused with the confidence, durability and competence they’d need to continue the fight.

Healed and empowered, Hinkwe shot a group of three arrows at the spellgaunt to his north slaying it. He then shot another four arrows at the spider to his south wounding it badly. Lingerhol, even though he felt magically empowered by Maceo’s music, felt the wise choice was to withdraw from Stirge’s whims and melee with the spiders. He retreated to a safe corner in the northwest, near the rubble Bussell made.

Since it worked so well seconds ago, Bussell decided to disintegrate another spellgaunt. But despite having much of its chiton blown into vapor and having holes over its body, the spider withstood the spell! It was very badly wounded; it would be a cinch to kill the creature with a sword swing or a few arrows.

A screenshot of the crypt battle after Frickalind summoned her two fire elementals. It seemed like the agents of the Royal Postal Authority were making progress in defeating these creatures or, that would have been the case, if two more didn’t spring from their magical invisibility to attack! Hinkwe was bit by two spiders, wounding him seriously. Betty was also bitten but only wounded lightly. Stirge easily dodged a spellgaunt trying to bite him. Frickalind was not so lucky and was wounded lightly by a bite.

After Betty withdrew from melee, Stirge found himself in the middle of what was sometimes called “a target rich environment.” Surrounded by spellgaunts, Stirge wound up his the Axe of Compassion. Four of his five vicious axe swings threw bug guts everywhere but the easternmost spider, who was not wounded when it sprang for its invisibility seconds ago, was still standing!

Luckily her wound was a small one, so Frickalind was able to grit her teeth and focus on a ritual to summon two fire elementals to battle the spellgaunts. There were bursts of fire as the elementals set many of the spiders alight. Concealed beyond the crypt’s northern doorway, Maceo started a dirge. The music drained the spider’s brawn and agility.

An illustration of Hinkwe unleashing three chances at death!Hinkwe fired three arrows into a badly wounded spellgaunt and killed it. Still in flight, the elf ranger then flew to take cover in the alcove to the southeast. Lingerhol fired 5 arrows into the spider fifteen feet to his east, wounding the creature moderately. Bussell continued with his disintegrating. He cast the spell on the least wounded spellgaunt he could see. The spell vaporized much of the chiton of the spider, wounding it very seriously.

One spellgaunt attempted to leap out of the fire elemental’s reach. It planned to aid its three comrades to surround Stirge but, it misjudged the height and distance needed and fell short, colliding roughly with the spider to Stirge’s northeast. The other spider retreated from the fire elemental. The remaining three, around Stirge, raked and bit viciously but the half-orc easily dodged all attacks.

Betty stepped from cover in the northern doorway, planted her feet in the muck and took a wounding shot at one of the spellgaunts surrounding Stirge. Stirge took two mighty swings with the Axe of Compassion, killing the spider to his northeast instantly. His second swing carried through the divided body of the first spider only to glance of the hard chiton of the spider to his direct south. Stirge drew his axe back twice again but only struck with one light blow.

A screenshot of the spellgaunt battle just before it's conclusion.Although several of the spiders fell, Frickalind had lost patience with the slow progress of the battle so far. She summoned three more fire elementals to hasten things along. The elementals set the remaining four spiders ablaze!

Maceo briefly though to sing of Stirge’s magnificence in combat but, frankly, a berserk half-orc scared him. Tactically it made more sense to help Hinkwe. So, as Maceo’s dirge made the spellgaunts steadily more weak and clumsy the gnome changed the music again adding lyrics to speak of Hinkwe’s prowess in archery.

Empowered by Maceo’s music, Hinkwe fired four arrows in the spider to Stirges south, killing the spider immediately. With his remaining arrows he killed a second spellgaunt. Not wanting to be outdone, Lingerhol stepped from concealment by the northern doorway and decided to direct all his arrows into the least injured spider, wounding it seriously.

Bussell seeing only two spiders still standing, elected to use scorching ray spell. This incinerated both of them. Fearing an orcish fit of pique, Bussell immediately blurted out an apology to Stirge.

The battle was over.

The Queen’s Agents carefully searched the crypt:

  • In various jars, chests and urns 3600 houses were found
  • 7 pieces of alexandrite were found, appraised by Maceo to be worth 20 houses each
  • A scroll, first spotted by Bussell’s arcane sight, of Meld into Stone was found

Otherwise the Troubleshooters were wounded, down on spells, with some of their important magical equipment destroyed. Hinkwe thought for a moment of recruiting some other agents to find and end Gulthias. It was the general feeling that a retreat to Waylon was best.

But Frickalind thought a parting shot was in order. The Chime of Opening was used on the double door to the east of the crypt. Frickalind commanded her five elementals to go as far as they could, wreck as much as they could and kill all who crossed their path. This they did.

The Troubleshooters then teleported back to the Queen’s City.An illustration of the African city of Longo, which I'm using here for Waylon.