We are all living inside in a Consolidated track

A photo of an imagined Okay, so around September of last year, I had a second SQL injection of boner pill links on my site.

In the intervening twelve months, the true nature of one in five people in this country has manifested. Why do I say one of five? Because that’s how many voted for Donald Trump. Approximately 65 million people in this country didn’t consider his racism, his religious intolerance, his jingoism and xenophobia, let alone his sexism a deal breaker. And the deeply broken Electoral College handed him the White House even though over 3 million more people voted for Clinton over him. And then there are the 118 million people who, through active voter suppression, disillusionment over our winner take all election system, annoyed with a lack of an alternative to the two flavors of neoliberalism endorsed by both parties,  didn’t vote at all.

Now we have fascists openly marching and killing in our streets, the corruption of industry special interests is out in the open now, we mere steps away from instituting internment camps of American citizens and religious hypocrites saying gay marriage is worse than pedophilia. Bowie’s dead now, but he understood America surprisingly well. There aren’t open street battles, yet, but things are looking very Wiemar-ish at the moment. This sickness that’s flaring up is very, very old. It’s far deeper than Trump. Despite his meglomania, he’s merely a symptom of many, many deep problems in this country. After he’s gone, hopefully by impeachment long before 2020 rolls around, it will take decades to fix the corruption that produced him.

Anyway, if the politics here offends random folks on the Net, believe me, it’s far less Bolshie than my Facebook wall. I, and many like me, were silent for too long and look where that got us. If people like me want that promised Star Trek future, we’re gonna have to fight for it!

Anyway, let’s see how this mirrors to Facebook.

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Pat Robertson: Hundredth Level Paladin?

Okay watch this clip and be prepared for a lot of ballistic eye rolling.

Okay, so to put this video into context, Sherman, let’s dial the way-back-machine to 1979, Michigan State University and James Dallas Egbert III*  This was when the “D&D is a tool of Satan” myth first started. It was hysteria and stupidity then and nothing has really changed in the forty years since.  And I and millions of other intelligent people are just biding time when Sweet Zombie Jesus calls Pat home.

Anyway, Pat’s bullshit works on several levels.

First, most religious cults are intensely jealous of anything that diverts the attention of youth, especially if those cults don’t control it. Notice that Pat never criticizes television, which is also highly diversionary to the kids. Christian leaders just loooooove TV. And Protestant Evangelicals have been trying for decades for now to create alternatives to pop music. This has largely failed so they continue to demonize pop music.** And, for the same reasons, they have created alternative table top role playing games. Put “Dragon Raid” in a search engine and see what comes up. Dragon Raid pretty much takes a page from CS Lewis’ fantasies and it was never really a big seller so, I guess, Robertson, a dusty, crotchety, hateful, angry, old charlatan continues to drag out this 40 year old myth.

David C. Sutherland III's classic D&D illustration of a holy knight fighting Hell's infernal legions.Anyway, there is a more subtle level on which this hysteria is operating on. This is why I think religious zealots really fear D&D: The game and all its imitators and ilk are pop culture versions of college level history, anthropology and comparative religion courses. It encourages teenagers and young adults, just at the age when they are starting to form their own abstract thoughts, politics and ideology, to think about cultures and religions that are alien from their own. It encourages them to do research and create and write up extensive notes to make for more satisfying play and better worldbuilding.

This is intellectual nitroglycerin.

You and your players are creating narratives for invented protagonists within cooperatively created worlds. Think about it: as a D&D gamemaster who has created a very detailed, carefully researched ruined temple of Greek gods for her players to explore, face battles and solve puzzles in, is it really that much of a leap for those players and gamemasters to comprehend that, just as Greek Gods are fiction, to then further conclude that all gods are fiction?

There’s old joke among D&D cognoscenti dating from around the same time as Egbert’s death that encapsulates this idea perfectly:

D&D can’t be a tool of the Devil! My hundredth level paladin killed Satan last week!

That is what I think people like Pat are really afraid of–D&D can help break the spell.

*A tragic and disturbed young man who, like generations of other tragic and disturbed youngsters for millennia and eons before, latched onto some passing bit of ephemera and then, in suicidal death, became indelibly associated with it, even though the original bit of ephemera really had nothing directly to do with their  tragedies or deaths.

Christians, Muslims, Hindus, Jews, Buddhists, Scientologists and so on should recognize this story because that’s essentially how all their various cults got started.

** Really, they should have quit with “Amazing Grace,” nearly the only gospel tune worth a damn.

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Udra's Gnomes and How They Differ from D&D and Cliche

Gnomes–the also-rans of Dungeons and Dragons. Ever since being introduced to them in AD&D’s Monster Manual, it’s been hard for me to know how to distinguish them. They aren’t quite dwarves, aren’t quite haflings and Gygax and the writers at TSR never really gave them their own identity. The Dragonlance material had it so they’d be gaslight fantasy or proto-industrial, quasi-steampunk inventors but that was about the same time I had weened my own campaign off science fantasy. And besides, aside from humans, dwarves always struck me as the ones who’d betray magic and go for science and technology. Anyway, until recently, no players in my game ever built a gnome characters–probably because gnomes are so lackluster.

An illustration of Kitunusi Gnomes.Luckily along came Atlas Games truly wonderful campaign background Nyambe–cultures that weren’t just another dull, quasi-European, medieval fantasy pastiche. Since the early aughts I’ve been steadily incorporating a lot of the material from Nyambe into my campaign. It’s helped me to give historical and cultural grounding where I had none. Case in point: gnomes.

In Udra gnomes are very rare, far rarer than halflings, dwarves and elves. Out of Udra’s cultures, gnomes have probably remained the truest to their Nyambe roots.

In Nyambe, gnomes are known as “kitunusi” and practice a culture of stoicism, emotional reticence and and detachment, they’re a bit like Trek’s Vulcans or, perhaps, Buddhists or Spartans. They have emotions but it is considered social weakness and deeply embarrassing to share these publicly and definitely not with strangers. They tend to be very strongly associated with illusionist and shadow magic or earth elemental forces. For ancient historical reasons, dating all the way back to betrayals in Nyambe, Udra’s gnomes are often strongly suspicious of dwarves.

An illustration of a kitunusi gnome in EntarelandTheir extreme stoicism leads to a very spartan artistic culture. There food is nutritious but very bland–think of the poi of Hawaii. Their music is dull, droning and occasionally oddly disturbing. They’ve produced no poetry and literature of note save some strange, incomprehensible parables that are a bit like Zen koans. Only in two areas does their culture truly flower: textiles and architecture.

They are extraordinarily skilled in textile arts and weaving of all sorts, their cloth is the most beautiful in all Udra, easily surpassing that of elf-make, and fetches the highest prices.  However this is because gnomes consider uniforms and clothing as part of their complicated caste system. Almost all gnomes tend to wear elaborate and beautiful uniforms of a sort. While this suppresses their own individuality, at a glance, any other gnome can look at a comrade’s raiment and know her family, place of birth, skills and social standing. It’s a bit like heraldry. As such gnomes don’t give their fabrics or tailoring away lightly. They do sell it to outsiders but be expected to pay a lot. For gnome, it is considered highly dishonorable to have one’s clothing, one’s uniform stolen. Gnomes who violate their own dress codes are considered fools, criminals and bordering on insane.

The other area Nyambe’s kitunusi gnomes excel at their elaborate sunken architecture, usually carved into basaltic or other forms of volcanic rock. Think of places like Petra or the rock hewn churches of Ethopia. As yet, there is no major gnome settlement in Udra. For the last few centuries, they’ve been too few and  they’ve been content to blend into the bustle of human settlements. Udra has not seen gnomish architecture.

In all other ways Udra’s gnomes conform to the guidelines on page 39 of the Nyambe source book. They’re favored class is rogue, not bard. The material on page 17 of the 3.5 D&D Player’s Handbook should be ignored.

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Global Trade Negotiations Need to Be Democratized

My first inclination is to support trade because, ideally, it ties nations together peacefully and helps the economies of all nations involved.  I support trade because, ideally, I think it’s a path toward that utopian ideal where nationalism and ethnic hatred fades and democratic cosmopolitanism prevails.

However, way back in November of 1999, Two of my friends, reminded me of what being on the Left meant by dragging me out to the WTO demonstration in Seattle. This set off several years of rethinking what trade means. It reminded me how often the reality differs substantially from the ideal. The reality is that the rules and policy of global trade is mostly made by a small number of powerful officials in poorly publicized meetings. Secret deals are made and influenced by the money and lobbyists under the control of huge transnational businesses.  Like military and foreign policy treaties, most nations leave the discussion and assembly of trade treaties to their executives branch of government. This has some advantages but at the same time it’s profoundly undemocratic process.

Usually the only time the citizens or their houses of parliament get to hear about or have any input on trade treaties is after they’ve mostly being finished in back room deals.  This not true for the lobbyists and functionaries of giant global corporations. They have the money and the power to get access. They know about and guide the treaty process in every step.

And it’s under this profoundly secretive and undemocratic process that NAFTA, the WTO and now TPP have been created:

But it doesn’t have to be this way. We can all act in stable, democratic countries to bring the assembly of trade treaties out into the open and under the control of ordinary people, the people are most directly effected by those treaties. The demonstrators of the Battle of Seattle wanted trade treaties that, instead of only respecting the profits and power of multinational companies, also respected the environment, respected strong and healthy labor unions and to respected the human rights of people in every country involved.

The WTO demonstrators were, at the very least, successful in dragging this process out into the open for public discussion. But as the secretive attempt to fast track the ratification of the TransPacific Partnership shows, the corporate lobbyists still have too much control of the process.

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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.

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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

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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.]

Reunion

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]

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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.

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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.

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Going Postal: Spellgaunts Attack!

[Taking place on April 24th, 2016, this was my first session where we used the WebRTC function of Roll20. As with my prior use of audio recording software with Skype, I had found a new tool to record the audio, video and screen events of Roll20. There was roughly two hours of technical difficulties, late player arrivals and the characters were in a combat situation so we got off to a slow start and didn’t accomplish very much in terms of plot. Ralph, Mike, JB and Demo were in attendance.]

A screenshot from Roll20 show a small portion of Matakan and the party of heroes.To recap and give a context, our heroes, the elite squad of troubleshooters for the RPA, had fought and defeated the undead cryohydra, Jujex Leather, and her band of well-trained ogre thugs in the village of Matakan. In the process of doing so our heroes discovered Jujex was an ally to a vampire lord named Gulthias. Maceo, the squad’s scholar and historian, had heard a little about Gulthias. According to the history he knew, Gulthias was supposed as destroyed long centuries earlier.

A section of the map of Udra, showing where Nightfang is located.This was a troubling for several reasons. First, the history was wrong; Gulthias was not destroyed! Next, the vampire lord now made his base in the long abandoned and haunted tower, called Nightfang, which was in the pass between the Heights of Idiocy and Mount Consquent, on the northern end of the Critic’s Teeth. This was not far from Matakan and also it was very close to Frickalind Hierophant’s shrine, the Seat of Crondussa, at the summit of the Heights of Idiocy. Finally, further clues revealed from one of Gulthias’ captives, showed that Gulthias had created a cult dedicated to rebirth of the Star Dragon, Ashardalon.

Months beforehand, the Troubleshooters had put an end to the multiversal plot of Lord Ihirijika. During that mission, they had found in Ihirijika’s papers, references to Ashardalon. The Troubleshooters, Hinkwe especially, knew Gulthias’ association with Ashardalon couldn’t be coincidence. So, after the restoration of Matakan, the Troubleshooters returned to Waylon to inform and convince Lady Hilda of a new threat to the Queen’s Peace. Unsurprisingly, Lady Hilda gave them the order pacify the area at their full discretion.

This lead to several days of assaults and repeated hacking and slashing through Nightfang, fighting many undead, constructs and monsters hitherto unseen in Udra. After many hard fights, the tower was cleared. The party then made a brief sally into the catacombs only to encounter strange, magic destroying, spiders the size of horses! Some of their equipment was destroyed by these spiders and the party decided to retreat and regroup.

An illustration of a spellgaunt.The squad then took twenty days rest in the Queen’s City, Waylon, to regroup, re-equip, heal wounds and train for the push into the vast crypts below the tower. They also learned the spiders they had encountered were called spellgaunts, which were very rare, but highly intelligent and communal creatures that fed on strong sources of magic. The spiders were going to be a problem!

After consuming a Hero’s Feast upon their return, the squad made a careful search of the tower to check they had not missed any loot or useful clues before making a further push into the catacombs. The search found a few minor bits of treasure but no clues as to Gulthias’ location. The Troubleshooters knew this was far from over.

Bussell, Hinkwe and Maceo cast several augmentative and defensive spells on the squad, including Haste, an Inspiring Song of Courage, Extended Nightvision, Bear’s Endurance, Flight and others. Several magic devices were activated including rings of invisibility. Returning to where they had last encountered the spiders, the party decided to keep pushing in that direction. Frikalind used divination to search for sources of evil and undeath and found nothing within the range of her magic.

A screenshot of the Troubleshooters just prior to the death of Betty.They were confronted with a door in the south of the chamber they were currently in. Maceo, Bussell, Frikalind and Lingerhol drew back about 30 feet to take defensive cover in the alcoves lining the western and eastern walls of the crypt. Betty knelt in front of the door with Hinkwe and Stirge on her flanks. As the one in the squad best trained for such things, Betty Davis carefully examined the door finding it to be trapped and barred on the other side. Both she and Hinkwe heard nothing on the other side.

Hinkwe rolled his eyes with contempt and jostled Betty lightly aside to give the door a small kick.

There was a burst of killing frost, which Stirge and Hinkwe easily evaded. Betty was not so lucky and was badly, but not mortally, wounded. She recovered sufficiently to tap her Chime of Opening and the bar on the other side of the door fell away to reveal a new, much smaller chamber.

Betty searched this with Hinkwe’s help and in the debris and funeral urns found a several sacks with house coins totally in the hundreds, some gems appraised at 20 houses each and two magic potions. These were stashed away in the party kitty. There remained another, very similar door in the south end of the chamber, which Betty found to be barred as well.

The Chime of Opening was struck again only to trigger another trap,  which Betty missed. This was a blast of fire but, she and Hinkwe were both on their guard and ducked behind cover, unwounded. The open door revealed a new chamber very similar to the one Hinkwe and Betty were currently in. Hinkwe stood at the door as Betty went in to search.

As she was concluding her search of the room, and before anyone could act, Betty was stuck all at once from four invisible opponents, suddenly revealed to be spellgaunts. The spider bites destroyed her magic boots and cloak while claws raked her viciously to abrade and bludgeon her. The blood loss was critical. She’d not survive another attack like that!

After the sneak attack, the Troubleshooters sprang into action but the spiders were just a shade quicker. The spider to Betty’s southeast, struck her three times with claws and bite, killing her.

The spellguant to Betty’s southwest, now deprived of Betty as a target, decided to shoot webbing at Hinkwe, hoping to ensnare him, but the elf easily dodged the blast. The ones blocking the door attempted to bite Hinkwe’s magic bow and failed. They batted at him with their legs wounding him lightly.

Maceo saw his sidekick, Betty, fall bloody and still to the floor. He took a few steps to clear his line of sight, briefly considered casting Cacophonic Burst, realized the Burst would hurt Hinkwe too and elected, instead, to cast Haste on the party.

Lingerhol, about 20 feet north of Hinkwe and the room, took a few steps to his left to get a line of sight through the door and, taking advantage of his haste, shot a large salvo of arrows into one of the spiders wounding the creature lightly.

An illustration of a rather short sorceror standing smugly before his summoned black tentaclesBussell summoned Black Tentacles to ensnare the beasts in the room. Unfortunately the area of the spell ensnared Hinkwe too regardless, the spellguants were trapped and slowly being constricted by the tentacles great strength. Completing the spell, Bussell Hedgerow, always under the power of a flight spell, floated to one side for cover, saying, “My work here is done.”

Hinkwe, flying and having narrowly managed to break free of the tentacles, floated back about five feet to turn and fire an arrow into the door of the northern room. Hinkwe offered no explanation for this odd behavior but muttered under his breath about Bussell’s indiscriminate and poorly timed use of magic.

Both Frickalind and Stirge simply waited for the tentacles to do their work. The half-orc former pirate pulled out and lit his pipe. They both seemed content to let the Black Tentacles do their slow,  brutal work. The spiders struggled, mostly in vain, to break free of the tentacles which only tightened their grip further.

A spellgaunt did break free successfully but quickly realized that its disjoining bite had no effect on the tentacles.  Instead it tried to scramble its way out of the spell area but, its movement was constrained so it could only struggle out slowly.

A screenshot of the Roll20 game space showing the results of Bussell and Hinkwe's actionsLingerhol fired another salvo of arrows onto the same creature he attacked mere seconds ago, this time the wounds were more severe.  Now that Hinkwe was free of the tentacles and was away from the door, Maceo cast a Cacophonic Burst into the room with spiders. This wound most of them.

Hinkwe decided that waiting to see the spellgaunts crushed to death was too slow. He decided to use his arrows to speed them along to their spidery gods and spidery afterlife. Zap! Zap! This brought down two and wounded a third.

Bussell, followed up with Polymorph Object, turning one of the two remaining spellgaunts into a horsefly, made of stone, the size of a horse. Only one of the spiders remained. Seeing this, Stirge and Frickalind continued to abide.

Or at least they did until the final spider broke free of the black tentacles and strode straight toward Stirge! Who then, with two mighty swings of the Axe of Compassion, cut the spellgaunt into four roughly equal chunks!

Bussell dismissed his black tentacles and the party rushed into retrieve the corpse of Betty.

Clutched, viselike, in her hands were the bits of treasure she’d found in the room before the spiders struck her down–three sacks filled with thousands of gold, a few gems and three potion flasks. The Troubleshooters elected to teleport to Waylon, to the Temple of Montintera, Goddess of Lightning and Mirrors. It was there they hoped to restore Betty by True Resurrection.

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