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Sunday, August 31

Closed Casket: Part 4a – Magic Time

Jim-Bean patched up Hammer as best he could. Then he dragged him out to the truck.

He turned the key. After a moment the truck started.

“All right, time to get the hell out of here. Hang on Hammer, this might get bumpy.”

His companion groaned. Hammer was in shock from the blood loss, but he clutched both of his pistols as if his life depended on it.

The truck lurched forward. Jim-Bean gunned it.

He caught a brief glimpse of something that looked like a dinosaur’s spiked tail snaked across the road and then the tires blew out.

Jim-Bean struggled to control the wheel. “Damn it, not again!” [MORE]

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Chapter 34: The Belly of the Beast - Introduction

This is an adventure set in the Freeport setting, "Black Sails Over Freeport," written by William Simoni. You can read more about Arcanis at http://www.onaraonline.org. Please note: This adventure contains spoilers!

Our cast of characters includes:

• Dungeon Master: Michael Tresca (http://michael.tresca.net)
• Beldin Soulforge (dwarf fighter) played by Joe Lalumia
• Kham Val’Abebi (val rogue/psychic warrior) played by Jeremy Ortiz (http://www.ninjarobotstudios.com)
• Sebastian Arnyal (dark-kin sorcerer) played by George Webster
• Vlad Martell (human fighter) played by Matt Hammer

I did something different with this session, running two adventures simultaneously. What happens in this thread is that Kham’s past finally catches up to him. Although it might not be immediately obvious, there are greater forces at work manipulating events, both for and against Kham. Believe it or not, this is a spiritual journey as much as it is a physical one, and it requires quite a bit of suffering for our favorite val to come out on the other side, sanity and health intact.

The hulks as described here are based off of the actual hulks used in Victorian England. As a result, they’re a lot more strict than the description in Freeport (which basically makes them big, hollowed out slums). In reality, the hulks were a source of cheap labor, which is why they were kept around for so long even though the conditions were horrible.

I also used Dragon magazine’s article on prisons, which proved very useful in creating a guard framework and routine. With the descriptions of the ships, the dwarven guards, and a blow-by-blow detail of what life was like in the hulks, the setting was ripe for a prison break.

Fortunately, Sebastian had a plan. [MORE]

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Closed Casket: Part 3b – The Gas Station

Jim-Bean pawed through a drawer. It was full of money, jewels, watches, credit cards…a real fortune. After a moment he found the first-aid kit. Then he spotted a key chain hanging from a nail next to the desk. He snatched it up, then paused.

Partially hidden in the dark were a few family photos and a few newspaper clippings from the 1950s pinned to the wallpaper. On the aged photo Jim-Bean recognize the old gas station attendant in his younger days, next to his wife and children. They were abnormal and gruesome looking. The headlines of the clippings explained the origins of these horrors: “Miner Town Evacuated,” “Miners Refuse to Abandon Their Lands by Hiding in Mines,” “Military Destroys Miner Town.” A couple of more recent articles mentioned the disappearance of two tourists in the region.

Jim-Bean counted the number of children in the photograph. There were six.

“Two down, four to go,” he said. [MORE]

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The Seventh Sin: Conclusion

The room was a smoking wreck. And still the masked demon stood at its center, unaffected.

“You’ve got to be kidding me,” said Vlad.

Letah struggled out from the burning bed.

The masked man turned to Letah. In the smoothest, silkiest, and most seductive male voice they had ever heard, it said, “Good luck.” Then it disappeared. [MORE]

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Saturday, August 30

Closed Casket: Part 3a – The Gas Station

Clouds passed, revealing an almost full moon. The wind blew around the dark gas station. A rusty tea pot sat on a pile of trash and whistled as the wind blew.

Hammer and Jim-Bean arrived at the gas station, exhausted.

“Hello?” shouted Hammer.

No answer. The two agents nodded to each other and, drawing their pistols, circled around opposite sides towards the back of the gas station.

A wooden outhouse door slammed back and forth in the wind.

“Rudolph!” sobbed a voice. “I got buckshot, ya hear?”

Hammer crept up to the outhouse door. Jim-Bean arrived on the other side. With a nod, Hammer kicked it open.

Inside the outhouse was the gas station attendant, in tears, holding his shotgun tightly. He was obviously drunk.

“Freeze!’ shouted Hammer. “Drop the shotgun!”

“My wife…she didn’t want to leave…she wouldn’t move to town even when the state police ordered us to. The kids grew up in the mines…like animals.” He smiled through his tears. “What kind of place is that for children?”

In a split second the old man set the shotgun under his chin.

“No, wait—“ said Jim_Bean. [MORE]

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The Seventh Sin: Part 7 – Den of Debauchery

“Larissa!” shouted Talathiel.

The door cooled and shrank slightly. Vlad threw Talathiel on the ground. “Stay there.”

Beldin kicked the door open.

Several figures jumped up in shock at their sudden entrance, caught in the midst of the Sacraments of Larissa. Several of the figures wore theatrical golden masks that hid their features, and clothing designed to reveal more than it concealed.

The inhabitants' attention appeared to be focused on one particular couple: a striking woman with long dark red hair and a lithe body, and her partner, an immensely tall, well-muscled man with a topknot, whose skin is covered in strange tattoos. The man remained masked, and held the only obvious weapon in the room – a whip.

He takes a step back as, but the woman walked towards Vlad, seeming to grow more sensuous as she regained her composure. She wore the holy symbol of Larissa – a golden coin suspended from a fine silver chain – and very little else.

“Welcome to the Golden Pillar Society,” said the woman. “Would you like to join our exclusive club dedicated to pleasure? The cost is but five gold doubloons a night.” She looked Vlad up and down. “I’m willing to waive the fee for you though, handsome.”

Vlad swallowed hard. [MORE]

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Friday, August 29

Closed Casket: Part 2 – The Crater

They had been walking in the hot sun for hours when they finally came across the end of the road.

About a hundred yards ahead, a mound of earth blocked the road like a wall, extending hundreds of yards on either side.

Reaching the top, the crater was easily three hundred yards in diameter .It has been turned into a graveyard for cars, trucks, trailer homes, motorcycles.

“Tires!” shouted Jim-Bean, scrambling down the slope into the crater. “If we can find two tires…”

Minutes later, Hammer and Jim-Bean met at the lip of the crater. [MORE]

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The Seventh Sin: Part 6 – The Riddle of Fire

They followed the corridor into a living room. A man had his back to them. He was pouring himself a generous straight whiskey.

“Ah yes, you’ve come about the obituary then? Please, have a seat.”

Vlad and Sebastian looked at each other. Sebastian shrugged and sat down.

“I assume you found me through my statement about Quelch. I hope you haven’t come to talk about that shopkeeper. I put down all I needed to say in those few words in the rag.”

He was a large elorii with a shaved head, heavy features, and black eyes.

“Yes, I read your obituary about Elijah Quelch” said Sebastian. “You must be Perdubo. If I remember my High Coryani correctly, it means: I will last through. You’re Talathiel of the Golden Pillar Society.”

Talathiel inclined his head slightly. “Indeed.”

“Now it all makes sense.” Sebastian’s mind was going a mile a minute. “You mentioned a Montague Edwards in the obituary…”

“Ah yes, I know Edwards,” said Talathiel. “I myself am a Laird, you know. Edwards claims to be a Laird himself, of Libertyville no less, but I don’t believe it. I knew Edwards from the Golden Pillar Society, where he called himself Vox Mutatis. An ambitious man. Nasty, I’d say. Or perhaps that’s the same thing. Anyway, gives black magic a bad name.” Talaiel gives a pained little smile. “I did receive a letter from him once. It was only when I got a little famous that he sought me out, trying to impress me with his title. Do you think he was going to offer me a job? Maybe I should have replied.”

Beldin stood up. “I’m getting tired of this.” The dwarf pulled his axe from his belt. “Tell us where Ilmarė is or I will chop you in half.”

“Excuse me?” [MORE]

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Thursday, August 28

Part 1b – Ambush

Jagged rock after jagged rock, the two agents slowly climbed towards the summit where they saw the flash.

The path opened up between two big stones reaching an intermediate zone before the top—a type of natural labyrinth formed in the rocks by years of erosion.

A swift shadowed flickered behind them.

Hammer and Jim-Bean drew their pistols. Hammer gestured for Jim-Bean to circle around. Then he slowly crept towards the rocky outcropping where the shadow had stopped moving.

Hammer turned, both hands on one pistol. “Don’t move!”

He discovered a scrawny young man wearing a long, dirty trench coat, an old hat, and dark glasses. A filthy scarf covered his face.

“What are you doing here?” demanded Hammer.

The man just rocked in place, whispering to himself.

“Hello? Do you understand me?”

He kept rocking. Hammer exchanged glances with Jim-Bean, who had his pistol aimed at him from behind.

“What are you…” began Hammer. He leaned closer to listen.

“The hills…the hills are watching…the hills are watching…the hills are watching…” [MORE]

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The Seventh Sin: Part 5 – Sewer Rats

Behind ‘The Marquis Moon’ was an old, rusted sewer grating. Though it at first appeared to be locked, the grating lifted easily.

“I thought you were a goner for a moment there, Sebastian.” Beldin clambered down into the sewers.

“So did I.” Sebastian followed him in. “I still don’t understand what happened. Why would a Ymandrake take such a special interest in us? And why did he leave us a map?”

“To make us suffer,” said Beldin. “That much was obvious.”

“The Hawk faction corrupted Augustus Tensen-Balin’s son with a magical disease.” Vlad looked away from Sebastian. “The plan was to use it as a weapon against the Sorcerer King.”

Sebastian froze. “What kind of disease?”

“A magical disease,” said Vlad. “Quintus, Ilmarė, Kham and I went on a special mission to deliver Cassicus directly to the Sorcerer-King. We succeeded.”

Sebastian rubbed his temples. “I knew that we had delivered a fatal blow to the Sorcerer-King, but I didn’t know how.”

“We faced the Commandant when we were trying to steal one of the Black Ships. We barely escaped with our lives.”

“And just how is this disease spread?”

Vlad shook his head slowly. “I’m not sure. But it infects…”

“Yes?” asked Sebastian.

“Sorcerers,” said Vlad with a sigh. “It infects sorcerers.”

Sebastian slumped against the side of the sewer. “Suddenly, I don’t feel so well.” [MORE]

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Wednesday, August 27

Closed Casket: Part 1a – Ambush

Jim-Bean was torn out of his nap as the car suddenly lurched. “What the hell is going on?” he shouted.

Hammer struggled to keep the car under control. “Front tires blew out!”

The car swerved, zigzagging on the dirt road before crashing against some rocks.

Hammer hopped out of the car to inspect the wheels. “Great.”

The Civic’s tires were shredded, the rims buried into the ground.

Jim-Bean stared at what was left of the tires. Then he looked back at the road behind them. “That’s weird.”

“What?”

“I don’t see what you could have hit. Both tires go out and there’s not a sharp rock in sight?” [MORE]

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The Seventh Sin: Part 4 – The Emissary

Sebastian made his way over to him. He grabbed the man by his singed robes. “Who are you? Where is Ilmarė?”

“Finally,” said the Ymandrake. “Just as I had hoped. I should thank you for the privilege. Now let me return the favor.”

Vlad shook off the enchantment and joined Sebastian. “I recognize you. You’re the Commandant!”

The Commandant’s body began to convulse. “That disease you left on Ymandragore…it’s quite virulent.” He began coughing uncontrollably.

Beldin dusted himself off as he approached. “I don’t like this.”

“It seems that when I had returned to pray at the altar, something was ravaging all of Ymandragore. When I discovered who it was that had deposited that particular disease…well let’s just say the Sorcerer-King sent me to deliver a message.”

“Message?” asked Sebastian. “What message?”

“We were unable to find a cure,” said the Commandant. “So we’re letting the disease run its course…by sending every infected sorcerer to your doorstep.”

Vlad grabbed Sebastian and Beldin by the shoulders and shoved them towards the entrance. “Run!” [MORE]

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Monday, August 25

Book Review: Where's My Jetpack?

Although the jokes sometimes fall flat, Where's My Jetpack? is a breezy, educational read. If you're still wondering why there's no robots serving you, why you can't fly to your neighbor's house in style, or why you still have to sleep a few hours each night, Where's My Jetpack will gleefully tell you why. [MORE]

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Closed Casket: Prologue

“You sell other stuff too, right?” asked Jim-Bean.

The old codger nodded. “Some things. Whatcha need?”

“You got shotgun shells?”

An odd expression passed the old man’s face as he caught sight of the pistol holstered under Jim-Bean’s armpit. “Maybe. I don’t normally sell ‘em…”

“I’ll pay you good money,” said Jim-Bean.

“You boys ain’t with the Mob, are ya?”

It was Jim-Bean’s turn not to say anything.

“I’ll go get ‘em for ya.” He hobbled off.

“We don’t have a shotgun,” said Hammer out of the side of his mouth. “What the hell do you want shotgun shells for?”

“You never know,” said Jim-Bean. “I don’t like the feel of this place.” [MORE]

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The Seventh Sin: Part 3 – Eastward Ho!

“You Vlad Martell?” asked the courtesan.

“I am,” said Vlad. “You know of me?”

“Don’t flatter yourself,” the courtesan said with a smirk. She pulled a slip of paper out of her bodice. “I was instructed to give this note to Vlad Martell if he came looking for this elorii woman.”

Vlad took the note.

“There was someone else looking for her?” asked Sebastian. “Did you get a good look at him?”

The courtesan shrugged. “I never actually saw him; I only heard him. He paid me well to deliver the message too. As a general rule, I don’t trifle with sorcerers.”

Sebastian’s eyes narrowed. “Then you shouldn’t start now.” [MORE]

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Sunday, August 24

Chapter 18: Closed Casket - Introduction

This scenario, “Closed Casket,” is a Cthulhu Now scenario by Brian M. Sammons from Chaosium’s Secrets. You can read more about Delta Green at http://www.delta-green.com. Please note: This story hour contains spoilers!

Our cast of characters includes:

I finally moved into my house and was ready to try out my brand spanking new gaming lair. Unfortunately, that meant a few things: 1) my players would have to take the ferry to Connecticut, and 2) I would have to actually get my lair set up. As a result of these two obstacles, we lost one of the PCs (Archive) as well as one of the miniatures (Hammer). What was supposed to be a series of scenarios for several agents turned into a cozy duo against the world.

And yet it works. Action horror, especially, works best when the odds are against the heroes. And in this scenario, where I stole liberally from the remake of the Hills Have Eyes, if one agent goes down they both go down. It turned into something of a road-trip buddy movie at the beginning, and then went south fast.

Because this was an unofficial mission, the agents didn’t have their usual firepower. That worked just fine here (it doesn’t work as well in later scenarios, as you’ll see), forcing the agents to think creatively. I also made it very clear that the bad guys don’t want to kill the characters…they have something far worse in mind. This made fighting to survive more urgent and more than just a battle of hit points.

This scenario also showed the power of the team’s versatility. Jim-Bean’s ability to heal himself and Hammer’s gun-fu really came in handy. Unfortunately, the creepiest part of the scenario in which the agents travel to a faux town filled with dummies used for atomic bomb testing never happened because the agents were never caught. Still, I felt the ending was suitably climactic. [MORE]

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The Seventh Sin: Part 2 – The Indecipherable Scroll

“Well, well, well, look what we 'ave 'ere!”

Price’s voice rang out from the Freeport fog. He shined his bull’s-eye lantern at Vlad’s face. “Blimey! Look who i' is! Fancy bumpin' in'er yew on a night like dis. What yew all up to?”

Vlad felt Airlee’s grip on his arm tighten. He squeezed her hand back.

“Good to see you, Price. We’re just taking a walk to dinner at The Last Resort.”

“Is that so?” Four of the Sea Lord’s Guard accompanied Price. “Too bad abaaaht that place, what wiv da bombings an' all. They could use da business.”

“Aye,” said Vlad.

Price peered over Vlad’s shoulder. “Hello Sebastian. Thanks ter you, I got me a promoshun. I am sergean' now. You can stop a bomb at da Caaahrts any time!”

Sebastian smiled painfully. Price could be dreadfully crass.

Price shined his lantern back at Vlad. “If yew see da bi' ov elf fluff, let 'er know I'm movin' up in da world, right?”

“I will,” said Vlad. “Well, we should be off.”

“Ov caaahrse, ov caaahrse,” said Price. “See yew later then.”

They began to walk slowly, carefully away from the guardsmen.

“Hold it!” shouted Price. [MORE]

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Saturday, August 23

McKinley Boulevard: Conclusion

“So you found everything of value down there?”

“Yeah,” said Archive. “Why?”

Hammer put a grenade to his lips and pulled the ring with his teeth.

“Wait, what are you doing?!”

“This wasn’t an official mission. There’s no STREETSWEEPER team to clean up after us,” he tossed the grenade into the hole. “I’d get moving if I were you.” [MORE]

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The Seventh Sin: Part 1 – The Missing Elorii

Blending in with the crowd of students and artists was a petite, auburn-haired woman. Vikki was attractive but not stunning, dressed in flattering but not overtly sexy clothing. She moved casually through the crowd, listening much more than she spoke.

Vikki eyed Beldin’s approach warily. “Yes?”

“I’m looking for an elorii.” Beldin had rehearsed the speech several times and it showed. “Zako mentioned you might have seen her. She’s an Osalikene elorii woman with silver and purple hair.”

Vikki pursed her lips. “I have information regarding this elorii. I think we can help each other. But you must help me first." [MORE]

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Friday, August 22

Book Review: Last Rites

Despite the first clunker of a scenario, the other scenarios are all suitably interesting and different enough to make for a memorable, quick game that will keep modern day investigators on their toes. [MORE]

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McKinley Boulevard: Part 10 – The Second Sacrifice

A trail of blood led from the entrance to the hole. Dave’s hooded sweatshirt was caught on the torn molding that Hammer had used to prevent himself from being sucked into the hole.

“Uh oh,” said Archive.

A screaming burst of smoke blasted out of the hole. For a moment, all was silent.

Then one huge, clawed paw found purchase at the rim. Lifting itself up was a toad-like monstrosity. It was very squat and pot-bellied, and its head was more like that of a monstrous toad. Its whole body was covered with an imitation of short fur, giving somehow a vague impression of both the bat and the sloth. Its sleepy lids was half-lowered over its globular eyes; and the tip of a queer tongue issued from its fat mouth. It was all vaguely clay-like.

“Tsathoggua,” said Archive. “We’re too late. He’s awake.”

Hammer reloaded his Glocks. “Start the ritual. I’ll take care of this thing.” [MORE]

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The Seventh Sin: Prologue

Ilmarė was on her way to the Marquis Moon, a new agreed-upon meeting point that Kham picked, when she felt a strange tingling sensation from the roots of her hair to the tips of her toes.

Her body was completely frozen. Only then did a man limp out of the alleys of Freeport.

He was of medium height and build, with hair missing in clumps on his head. He had sunken brown eyes and wore a brown cloak with a small silver clasp in the form of an owl.

Ilmarė recognized him. It was the Commandant from Ymandragore.

“Well,” he rasped, “it seems I’ve finally caught up with you.” The Commandant was overcome by wracking coughs. “My name is Vladimir val’Sheem. I want you to know that it was I who ruined you, just as you ruined my country.” [MORE]

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DVD Review: Hero

Hero is a breathtaking movie, filled with balletic martial arts, lovely scenes in vivid colors, and natural settings reflecting China's ancient history and beauty. It's entertaining and moving, and the relationship between Broken Sword and Flying Snow anchors the piece. The three different tales, each depicted by a particular color scheme, provides different backdrops for heroics, drama, and warfare. [MORE]

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Thursday, August 21

As if we need another reason...

The 2008 presidential campaign has now made a connection, albeit a negative one, to pop culture; a spokesperson for Senator John McCain has tied supporters of Senator Barack Obama to #1 RPG Dungeons and Dragons. In a post on the McCain Website on Monday, Michael Goldfarb wrote, “It may be typical of the pro-Obama Dungeons and Dragons crowd to disparage a fellow countryman’s memory of war from the comfort of mom’s basement, but most Americans have the humility and gratitude to respect and learn from the memories of men who suffered on behalf of others.” The post was responding to a blog on Daily Kos in which McCain’s story of a Vietnamese prison camp guard drawing a cross in the dirt is tied to Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s similar story from the Soviet Gulag.

This isn’t the first time McCain spokesperson Goldfarb has inexplicably used Dungeons and Dragons as a “negative” association. In early August, he compared the editors of the New York Times to a blogger “sitting at home in his mother’s basement and ranting into the ether between games of Dungeons and Dragons.” [MORE]

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McKinley Boulevard: Part 9 – Backwards

Smelling of joss sticks, decorated with a beautiful leafy branch, Clara and Gideon’s room was by far the cleanest. Two mattresses were piled as a bed. Indian-print sheets hung from the ceiling. Ethnic rugs warmed the wood floors. A battered record player sat in the corner, with a guitar propped beside it. Numerous candles stuck into wine bottles illuminated the room. Well-thumbed paperback novels rested in stacks. A small camp stove provided warm food.

Clara sat in the center of the room, rocking herself.

“Do you remember if Gideon said anything?” asked Hammer. “Anything about the house?”

She shook her head. “We all heard weird noises sometimes. But we just figured it was rats.”

Archive caught sight of something. “What is this?” He picked up an old vinyl record cover. It was by God’s Lost Children, titled The Secrets of N’Kai.

“We found it in the garbage,” said Clara.

“Did you play it?” asked Archive.

“I don’t understand—“

“Did you PLAY IT?” he repeatedly urgently.

Tears filled Clara’s eyes. “Yes, I think so!”

Archive pulled the record out and put it on the player. He lowered the needle. [MORE]

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Chapter 33: The Seventh Sin - Introduction

This is a Living Arcanis adventure set in the Freeport setting, written by Simon Collins. You can read more about Arcanis at http://www.onaraonline.org. Please note: This adventure contains spoilers!

Our cast of characters includes:

  • Dungeon Master: Michael Tresca (http://michael.tresca.net)
  • Beldin Soulforge (dwarf fighter) played by Joe Lalumia
  • Sebastian Arnyal (dark-kin sorcerer) played by George Webster
  • Vlad Martell (human fighter) played by Matt Hammer

I did something different with this adventure. Ilmarė had been away for awhile and I wanted to wrap up a few loose ends with Ymandragore. So instead of simply just having Ilmarė return from her soul-searching trip in becoming a Keeper of the Belisardan Sign, I thought it was appropriate to have a few reminders that Freeport is increasingly becoming a dangerous place.

What’s interesting is that Ilmarė was kidnapped pretty easily despite all her defenses against mind-control powers; she rolled a 1 on her Will save against Vladimir’s first spell. Additionally, this adventure tied in events of Tatters of the King (I replaced Aleister Crowely with Talathiel and the Golden Dawn with the Golden Pillar Society). It propels the plot forward in strange ways.

As usual, things didn’t go exactly as I planned. Talathiel didn’t quite get to impart all the information I expected (in fact, he got dragged in as an innocent bystander), and the fight with Vladimir was much deadlier than anticipated. Still, our three heroes managed to save the fair maiden.

Now if we can just get the Forty-Second Act of Debauchery out of our heads. Ick. [MORE]

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Wednesday, August 20

Tiny Adventures: Dungeons and Dragons on Facebook

I'm TOTALLY addicted to this adventure game, which is a lot like the old ProgressQuest (http://www.progressquest.com), in which the basic conceit of D&D -- that characters kill monsters and take their stuff -- is taken to an extreme wherein the player does absolutely nothing and lets the computer do all the work. This is still strangely satisfying, which is why ProgressQuest has like a bazillion downloads even though it's a joke. Us gamers LOVE the notion of the increasing value of something we own even when that thing we own is a concept that basically grows by itself.

Finally, WOTC got something right before anyone else thought of it. Using a comprehensive but relatively basic version of D&D 4.0, they created Tiny Adventures. Tiny Adventures is basically ProgressQuest for Facebook. And it's a blast.

There's a bit more interactivity of course. You pick the character type you want to play, choose equipment, and then sit back and watch the chapters of your character's adventures unfold. You have the option of using items during your quest which can influence the outcome, but the player is largely a bystander. There's some limited interactivity amongst other players (you can heal each other and "buff" each other), but there's oddly no means of creating an adventuring party. I assume that will be added later.

At heart, Tiny Adventures is like one of those Which-Way Adventure books, without the decision-making. Your character plods along from chapter to chapter in the quest until he either runs home, too wounded to continue, or triumphs. Monsters are slain, levels are gained, and treasure is bought and sold. The genius of Tiny Adventures is the countdown. The game is intentionally slow-paced and provides updates intermittently. The counter in the top right corner clicks away while you wait.

This is the perfect game for someone doing something else (like work). It's MADE for playing in the background. And it's so freaking addicting I can't even tell you...other than that the whole server crashed due to too many users. And now I'm going through withdrawal! Blast is second level and he was just about to kill that bandit...

Heck, I'm so addicted I'm not sure I want more people on the server. But what the heck, the more the merrier: http://apps.new.facebook.com/tinyadventures

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Book Review: Author Unknown

You won't find much detail on how Foster actually gets to the bottom of his mysteries. SHAXICON seems to do a lot of the work and Foster pieces together the rest. Sometimes Foster leads up to the Big Reveal, and other times he simply tells the reader who the culprit is and then backs into his argument. This makes the book wildly uneven, interesting in one chapter and very boring in the next. [MORE]

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McKinley Boulevard: Part 8 – Men at Work

The basement windows were small, narrow, and at the ceilings—designed to let in light but baffle thieves. All the windows were boarded over. Though the walls of the upstairs were wood, in the basement the walls were of well-set stone. The house’s foundation had settled slightly in the southeast. A few inches of standing water covered most of the floor.

Hammer, Gideon, and Archive shouted Kristian’s name, peering into different rooms.

“Shh!” whispered Archive. “Did you hear that?”

It sounded like a young boy screaming for help.

They made their way into the laundry room, which was awash with several inches of foul-smelling water. There were wall faucets, but the water was turned off. Two pairs of concrete tubs with sides slanted for washboards rested on the floor. A locked door was set into the wall.

Archive put his ear to the door. “I can hear him, but it’s very faint.”

Gideon tugged on the handle but to no avail. Then he grabbed it with both hands and, putting all his strength behind it, strained to open the door.

Hammer tried, then Archive, then all three together. They tried prying it open with a piece of metal Gideon found in one of the other rooms.

“Screw this,” said Hammer. “Stand back.” [MORE]

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A Walk in the Park: Conclusion

When they arrived at The Last Resort, there was another note for Kham. After explaining what they had witnessed, Bobbin dropped all pretense of protecting Kham’s privacy.

“I found this in his room.” He handed Vlad a letter. “Look at the return address.”

Vlad’s brow furrowed. “Corinalous val’Abebi.” He passed it on to Dril.

“Either this is someone’s idea of a cruel joke,” said Dril, “or it was sent before he died.” Dril turned the envelope upside down and the letter slipped out. “Kham read it already.”

The letter spoke of Lucius and of his book, The Walker by the Lake. But it was the second visit that was most intriguing. [MORE]

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Tuesday, August 19

Stalin vs. Hitler

This...this comic is magnificent in its Soviet propaganda as it is in its sheer pulpish insanity. Stalin and Hitler as super-powered magicians? OF COURSE!

Комикс СТАЛИН ПРОТИВ ГИТЛЕРА (Scroll down for English texts)

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McKinley Bouelvard: Part 7 – Bad Dreams

They scaled the steps two at a time to Diana’s room. She was twitching on the floor when they found her.

“What the hell happened to her?” asked Gideon.

Diana’s clothing was torn. She was covered in tiny scratches. Her breathing settled into a deep, unnatural wheeze.

Hammer lifted her eyelids. “She’s slipped into a coma.”

From the looks of the room, Diana hadn’t given up without a fight. She had been dragged towards one of the heat registers, which was bent from her kicking. Judging from her position, they hadn’t succeeded.

“What did this?” asked Gideon. [MORE]

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A Walk in the Park: Part 3b – Exploring Quelch’s House

Vlad couldn’t move. Paralyzed from head to toe, he could only watch with wide, staring eyes as the ghouls dragged him from their tunnel to…

Someplace familiar. It was the Well-Dressed Man’s drug den! The place still stank of snakeweed and abyss dust, but those odors competed with a more powerful smell: human sweat and filth. About a dozen ghouls were sprawled about the room in various stages of drug-induced stupor or drug-deprived delirium tremens. The cushions, curtains, and just about everything else that wasn’t nailed into place had been uprooted and ruined. Several slogans, written in a substance he’d rather not identify, covered the walls.

Ghouls gathered around him, their red eyes burrowing into his soul. Gleaming wet maws moved closer… [MORE]

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Monday, August 18

McKinley Boulevard: Part 6 – Holes

Hammer landed on something soft. It grunted beneath him.

“Archive?”

“Yeah,” groaned Archive.

They were at the bottom of the pit. The opening was easily thirty feet up. A strange wind whistled all around them through numerous two-foot wide holes. The pit narrowed at the bottom, which was where Archive and Hammer were wedged.

“Can you move?”

Archive strained. “I think so.”

Something chattered in the darkness.

Hammer fumbled for his pistols. He swung his head back and forth, catching glimpses of tiny clay bodies, the tilt and waver of their eyes glittering in his headlamp.

“We have to get out of here. NOW.”

Archive started climbing upwards, finding footholds in each of the holes. They struggled past each other.

One of the things scurried out of a nearby hole and sank its teeth into Hammer’s ankle. He screamed and kicked it off.

The chattering became unbearable. “Climb!” shouted Hammer. “Climb!” [MORE]

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A Walk in the Park: Part 3a – Exploring Quelch’s House

Quelch’s house had three stories and a cellar. The entire place was very untidy, dirty, and dusty; packing cases, boxes and old newspapers took up nearly all the available floor space, whilst books, bills and manifolds littered every other surface, including the stairs. The ground floor had a selection of middling quality furniture.

Kham walked through the place in a haze. The first floor had more than a thousand occult, theological, and philosophical books shelved in no particular order. A quick glance indicated that some were quite rare, some extremely rare.

Nine steps lead down from the ground floor into the small cellar area. He crept down the steps. It was a five-foot high space meant for nothing more than coal storage. The stench was horrible.

Moonlight illuminated the stairwell from above. Something glittered in a dark corner.

Kham crept over to it. It was a vial. An empty vial, with a grayish liquid still at the bottom.

He sniffed it. He put a pinky inside the vial and tasted it.

Kham knew the taste. He laced his wine with it. Ghoul juice.

Two red dots hung in the air in the corner. It took Kham a moment to realize they were a pair of eyes. [MORE]

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Sunday, August 17

McKinley Boulevard: Part 5 – The Lobby

“We need a fire extinguisher, fast,” said Archive. “If those moths come back we need something to—“

“Uh, I think we have bigger problems than moths,” said Kristian.

A creature loped into the lobby, blocking their path to the door. Standing at nearly two feet tall, it had an earth-like appearance as if formed wholly from clay. Its hide has a rubbery, pale texture to it. Sharps white claws, jutting forward like that of a bird, hung in front of the little beast. Its face was a mask of hatred, two bulging milky white eyes, slits for a nose, and a frog-like maw bristling with yellow teeth.

“Go upstairs.” Hammer drew his Glocks, not taking his eyes off the thing. “Stay in your room and put something in front of the door.”

Kristian nodded and ran back up the steps.

Hammer took aim. “Got something in your voodoo bag for this thing?”

Archive shook his head. “No, but—“

BLAM! The bullet struck home, piercing the thing right between the eyes. It collapsed to the ground, melting into a swarm of slithering white worms that disappeared into the wood below.

“—bullets might not have an effect either,” finished Archive. [MORE]

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A Walk in the Park: Part 2b – The Encounter by the Canal

The snake arms bobbed and weaved, looking for an opening. Quelch knew it was only a matter of time until the poison took effect. “Kill me? All because Coombs blew up Freeport?”

“He killed…” Kham wavered. He was having problems focusing. “He killed…my father.”

“No,” sneered Quelch. “You killed your father. One does not leave the vassalage of the King in Yellow lightly.” The arms rose up—

A crossbow bolt jutted from Quelch’s forehead. Even such a killing blow only stunned him, causing him to slip backwards. He disappeared off the side of bridge. [MORE]

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Saturday, August 16

DVD Review: Kung Fu Panda

For kids, Po is a great tale about overcoming obstacles by being yourself. For geeks, Po is a hilarious new hero archetype: the fanboy as hero, a fat, slobbering devotee who knows more details about the Furious Five than they know about themselves. [MORE]

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Book Review: Nickel and Dimed

Nickel and Dimed should be required reading for CEOs everywhere who are often responsible for the fates of thousands of peoples' livelihoods. I just wish Ehrenreich hadn't written it. [MORE]

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Book Review: Swan Song

Swan Song is also relentlessly grim: sodomy, rape, infanticide, patricide, matricide, disease, torture, suicide, drug use...it's all on ugly display here. After awhile, it gets so bad it's difficult to stick with the book. When McCammon skips forward in time, I had difficulty believing the characters survived in such a depressing land. But it does get better, eventually, and that's where the biggest problem lies... [MORE]

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Friday, August 15

McKinley Boulevard: Part 4 – Moths to a Flame

By the time they got to the lower level, the sparking outside had become a cacophony of buzzes. Blue light flickered constantly through the boarded up windows, as if there were a fireworks display outside.

Hammer made his way over to the window facing the street. “What the hell is going on out there?”

Through the window he could see a twitching, smoldering mass beneath the zapper. It looked as if it were a pile of insects, so many that they were piling up in droves.

Hammer turned back to Archive. “Moths,” he said.

Suddenly the zapping stopped. Where ambient light made it through the window, now nothing was visible.

“That’s weird,” said Kristian.

Hammer turned back to the boarded up window. It was completely covered by something, darkening all windows on that side of the house as if it had been blanketed by a sheet.

A stray month crawled between the cracks and flitted into the room in an erratic spiral. It made its way past Hammer, landing on the floor in the center of what was once a drawing room. It crawled into the debris littering the ground.

Then another moth flitted out. A few more followed.

“Get away from the window—“ began Archive.

With a crash, the boards exploded inward as thousands of moths poured into the room in a raging torrent. Hammer grabbed Kristian and covered him with his body, diving to the ground.

The moths swirled in a choking cloud. They formed a huge, grinning, toad-like face in the center of the room.

Archive reached into his shirt and pulled out an amulet. It was in the shape of a pentagram, with a burning eye in its center. “IA! The power of the Elder Gods compels you!”

The toad-like cloud of moths shifted from rage to fear. They dissipated, spiraling in a long line into the debris on the floor.

Hammer stood up, dusting himself off.

“We’d better get out of here.” Archive looked to Kristian. “Are you all right?”

The boy’s eyes were wide, his mouth agape. For a second Hammer feared he was in shock.

“THAT WAS SO COOL!” [MORE]

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A Walk in the Park: Part 2a – The Encounter by the Canal

Kham dove and rolled past the two squawking monstrosities. “I’m coming for you Quelch!”

Quelch pointed at Kham. “Glacialis cursus!”

“That won’t work on me!” Kham’s voice was slurred.

“Kham!” shouted Dril. “Wait!” He lowered to one knee, aimed, and fired his rifle at the byakhee fighting Beldin.

Quelch pointed at Vlad next. “Glacialis cursus!”

Vlad’s eyes widened as he moved to take a step forward. The byakhee nearest him launched itself into the air, bringing all of its claws to bear on his shield. “I can’t move my legs!” he shouted.

With one of its wings perforated by Dril’s shot, Beldin waited for the byakhee’s neck to dart forward. When it did, he hacked downwards, beheading it.

Dril reloaded his rifle. “We’ve got to stop Kham before he gets to Quelch.”

“Stop Kham?” shouted Vlad. “What about me?”

“No problem,” said Beldin. He swung his axe in a wide arc, forcing the beast back.

Quelch pointed at Beldin. “Fas: Fugio!”

A slack-jawed expression overcame Beldin. He turned and ran. [MORE]

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$1.00 d20 Adventures Sale

To celebrate Gen Con, the Best Four Days in Gaming, High Moon Media Productions is putting all their MonkeyGod d20 adventures on sale for only $1.00!

Click here to see the MonkeyGod d20 adventures.

Sale is in effect from August 13 - 31, 2008 at RPGnow and DriveThruRPG.

Grab some good d20 fun and head off to the dungeon in style. After all, who knows if these adventures will be seen again after the end of the year, once the d20 System license and logo have expired.

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McKinley Boulevard: Part 3 – The Attic

A haggard-looking woman lounged in the opening to her room. “You boys lookin’ for me?”

Hammer nodded. “We’re trying to get everyone out of the house…”

Diana swayed unsteadily. When Kristian beamed the Maglite on her, they could see that her pupils were pinpricks.

She sauntered up to Hammer. “I’ve always had a thing for cops.” She traced the lapel of his jacket with one chipped fingernail. “What can I do for you officer?”

Hammer swallowed. “Please miss, stay in your room. We’re checking the place out. We’re concerned that this place it’s unsafe.”

Diana snorted. “That’s why we’re here.” She managed a grin. “But it’s comfortable enough. I’ve got a bed in the back…”

“So you’re a junkie.”

“I…” she shrugged. “Sure, whatever.”

“And you turn tricks for drugs.”

Diana’s expression turned from sultry to furious. She turned and slammed the door behind her.

Hammer smirked. “That should keep her in her room for a little while.” [MORE]

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A Walk in the Park: Part 1 – Scurvytown, Quelch’s House

Quelch’s route was circuitous, leading to the waterways that dotted Freeport. It was inky, straight, and lined with disused warehouses that were home to vagrants. Quelch walked along slowly as he hunted for a victim.

After ten minutes, he found what he was looking for: a single sleeping man lying on a bridge. He stood by the figure, his back to Kham, and began to chant an incantation.

As he started the spell, the air seemed to come alive. The chant was a shrill, inhuman scream and came from all around. The victim started to shout in agony, blaspheming, his whole body thrashing, but somehow he got to his feet.

Quelch surged into him, slamming him back against the side of the bridge and holding him there off the ground, continuing to howl his chant.

The man weakened; he looked around desperately and spotted Kham. “Help me! He’s killing me! Please! For the—“ He was choked him off.

Quelch turned to see Kham, but finished his chant. He threw the corpse effortlessly against the side of the bridge; it shattered into dust.

The silence squirmed. [MORE]

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Wednesday, August 13

House on McKinley Boulevard: Part 2 – The Second Story

Hammer shoved on the door, but it wouldn’t budge.

“Look…I’ll pay you to leave.”

There was barking laughter behind the door. “Hey, f**k you mon! We don’t need your damn money.”

“How about food? I’ve got power bars if you need it, all you want…”

There was a pause. “Who do ya think we are? That’s not going to work—“

There was a squeak as the door opened on the other side of the hallway. A thirteen-year-old boy craned his head out the door. “What kind of bars? Candy bars?”

Archive and Hammer exchanged a look. “I probably have one or two, but not on me,” said Hammer quickly. “We can get some for you though if you…”

“Don’t listen to ‘em Kristian!” shouted the man through the door. “We don’t know these people!”

Kristian sighed. “Good going Gideon, now they know my name.” He put his hands in his pockets. “Are you guys really cops? You don’t look like cops.”

“Something like that,” said Archive. “We’re more federal agents…”

Kristian’s expression lit up. “Secret agents? Cool! Are you here about the suicide?’

“Suicide?” asked Archive.

“Don’t tell them anything!” shouted Gideon on the other side of the door. [MORE]

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Vengeance in Freeport: Prologue

“We need to see that note,” said Dril.

Bobbin sighed. “It’s right here.” He slapped the note down on the bar, but kept his hand on it. “I don’t normally share this kind of stuff about Kham, but I’m worried about his safety.”

Dril slid the note out from Bobbin’s hand and opened it up to read.

“We’re his friends, Bobbin,” said Vlad. “If he’s in trouble, we’ll get him out of it.”

Dril’s features darkened as he read further into the note. “This is bad.”

“How bad?” asked Vlad.

“Real bad. It’s from some W. Gresty, and mentions Elijah Quelch and Lucius Roby. It’s basically asking Kham to kill Quelch on the night of the full moon.”

“That’s tonight,” said Bobbin.

“That’s not all. It ties Quelch to Coombs…”

Vlad nodded before Dril said more. “I’ll get the others.” [MORE]

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The House on McKinley Boulevard - Part 1 – The Trail on the Stairs

BOSTON, MA – It was night. A long strip of road, McKinley Boulevard was once part of an upper-class residential area. Some crumbling manses had been razed or burned down. Others were cut up into apartments or rooming houses. A few, among them 17 McKinley, were more or less sound buildings that for various reasons were abandoned to vagrants, addicts, and runaways. Nearby small factories and sleazy businesses had for some time quietly used the abandoned properties as dumping grounds for refuse, adding to the general atmosphere of neglect and decay.

Archive parked the car at the front of 17 McKinley. Cars sped by recklessly. Vagrants huddled around open fires. Loud arguments occurred in the distance. Bottles were thrown and broke in impotent rage.

“You don’t have to do this you know.”

“I know,” said Hammer. “But someone’s going to have to watch your back.”

“None of the other agents agreed to this mission…”

“That’s because it’s not a mission,” said Hammer. “SINNER assigned it to us.”

“To me, you mean.” Archive looked back at the house, the same house that was in his dreams. “This is where it all started. The Labib Home for Children. An orphanage for raising future cultists of America.”

“This was the same place Richard Jacobs was raised,” said Hammer. “It later became the Allen Foundation under George Allen.”

“Right. That’s why Drake had SINNER dig up this info. If there’s really a cultist conspiracy, we’ll find it here.” [MORE]

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Chapter 32: A Walk in the Park - Introduction

This is a Call of Cthulhu adventure, “Tatters of the King” by Tim Wiseman, adapted for the Freeport setting. You can read more about Arcanis at http://www.onaraonline.org. Please note: This adventure contains spoilers!

Our cast of characters includes:

• Dungeon Master: Michael Tresca (http://michael.tresca.net)
• Beldin Soulforge (dwarf fighter) played by Joe Lalumia
• Kham Val’Abebi (val rogue/psychic warrior) played by Jeremy Ortiz (http://www.ninjarobotstudios.com)
• Nauris Drilian (human rogue/ranger) played by Mike Best
• Sebastian Arnyal (dark-kin sorcerer) played by George Webster
• Vlad Martell (human fighter) played by Matt Hammer

This was the second part of a double-header game, so I kept it short. As usual in a Cthulhu adventure, the bad guy takes on the entire group because he’s the only spellcaster. With the likes of Sebastian in the mix, that just simply wouldn’t do. So they ended up facing a high-level cultist and his two byakhee. Because Quelch goes out “hunting” prepared, he had all his defensive spells at the ready.

What was surprising is that he nearly wiped the floor with the party. They made short work of the byakhee, only to fail save after save after save. This is one of those rare cases were nature was on the players’ side; the battle took place on an icy bridge. Sometimes, the most mundane things can tip the scales… [MORE]

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Tuesday, August 12

McKinley Boulevard: Prologue

Archive climbed the steps to another room, passing strange sigils carved into the walls.

He was in a child’s room. In it was a large white rocket labeled the Thunderbolt. Next to it was a box that reads, “SUR-LAUNCH. Compact launch system. Eliminates fuses. No false starts. Lift off today!”

The crying of a little girl reached his ears. It was coming from downstairs.

Intrigued, Archive clambered back down the steps. The crying was coming from the drawing room, specifically a large chair in one corner.

Archive leaned down to take a look. The sound was actually coming from a doll. The doll bleated pathetically for its mother over and over.

Archived picked it up. The doll’s eyes flicked open.

“He’s awake,” it whispered. [MORE]

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Vengeance in Freeport: Conclusion

“Where’s Kham?” asked Vlad.

“He was reading The Shipping News.” Beldin pointed at a folded up piece of parchment on the table. “Then he just got up and left. He didn’t say a word to anybody.”

Dril picked up the paper and read it. Then he slowly turned it around. “Well, now we know what C.V. stood for on Coombs’ list,” he said.

The title read: “Fatal Explosion in Park – Two Men Sought”

“A gentleman was killed in a local park last night at shortly after six o’clock in the evening. The deceased was identified as Corinalous val’Abebi.” [MORE]

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Monday, August 11

The House on McKinley Boulevard: Introduction

This scenario, “The House on McKinley Boulevard,” is a Cthulhu Now scenario from Chaosium’s Last Rites. You can read more about Delta Green at http://www.delta-green.com. Please note: This story hour contains spoilers!

Our cast of characters includes:

• Game Master: Michael Tresca (http://michael.tresca.net)
• Joseph “Archive” Fontaine (Dedicated Hero/Acolyte) played by Joe Lalumia
• Kurtis “Hammer” Grange (Fast/Dedicated Hero/Sharpshooter) played by George Webster

As is probably evident by now, I’m a fan of action horror. There’s a lot to be learned from horror movies in this regard, who have to cram in character development, dread, potential victims, an obstacle or monster to be overcome, and a resolution in just two hours. I’ve also discovered that movies that move the plot along quickly are less likely to strain credibility. The scenario states that, “as the danger in the house becomes more apparent, the investigators may try to get the squatters to leave, perhaps offering them money to do so, or attempting Fast Talk and Persuade rolls against each individual. Try to avoid this. The resident’s psychologies and quirks make convincing excuses…” This is exactly what the agents did, but since I accelerated the threat it was less of a problem.

I’ve stated before that haunted house scenarios really don’t work in role-playing games. At best, if the house is viewed as a threat, the PCs just leave and blow it up. At worst, if the PCs are trapped in the house, they smash their way through a wall and leave. So for a haunted house scenario to work, there must be 1) a reason to stay beyond physical barriers, and 2) events have to happen quickly before the National Guard is called in.

Using these two tenets, I introduced the various squatters as typical horror movie victims. Thus we have the Stoner, the Hysterical Girl, the Fearless Kid, and the Doubting Authority Figure (or in this case, anti-authority figure). These victims in turn gave the agents a reason to stick around as opposed to just calling for backup.

This scenario is essentially one of the “mini-monsters attack” movie plots. After rooting around on the Internet for awhile, I found The Gate, a bad 80s horror movie that suited my needs perfectly. It had everything from little demons attacking people to a summoning gone awry, to a giant monster at the end.

This scenario also worked best because it had only two agents in it, raising the stakes and reinforcing the terror. If one agent went down, they both went down. [MORE]

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Vengeance in Freeport: Part 15 – The Courts

A gnome was ushered through the Courts portcullis with a package in his hands. He had a heavyset build and wore a bright blue cape.

“Stop that man!” shouted Sebastian.

The Bloody Vengeance orcs raised their crossbows, but they were met by a dozen crossbows leveled back at them.

“Well, this is a nice tidy pack, innit guv?” asked Price.

“You have to let us in,” said Sebastian. “That messenger must be stopped!”

“Aw now, don’t be like that. If ya know what’s good fer ya I’d recommend ya distance yerself from ‘es folk ‘ere. No good dirty greenskins.” Price yelled over his shoulder. “Looks like we gots ourselves the mad bombers!”

“What?” Prolk shouted back. “Are you crazy? Would we come to the Courts to deliver the bomb ourselves?”

“Ye look pretty stupid to me,” said Price.

“This is ridiculous.” Sebastian pulled out a wand.

“Nah, ah, ah!” said Price, wagging a finger. “No magic outta you mate or we’ll perforate ya.”

Sebastian pointed. “Try.” The beam from the wand sliced through the portcullis to encompass the gnome. He was enfolded in a sphere of force.

“Fire!” [MORE]

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Ozment's Story Most Read in July

Nick Ozment's "The Only Difference Between Men and Boys" on Every Day Fiction was the most-read story in July. On Aug. 15 they'll run an interview with Nick.

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Sunday, August 10

Operation Countdown: Conclusion

When they reached the base, Saladin was packed into a truck in handcuffs. It drove out of sight.

Their cistrons beeped. Hammer picked it up.

“Mission accomplished,” he said.

“Trying to be funny?” asked Sprague. “I thought I told you to bring him back ALIVE.”

“But we—“

“It’s unfortunate that Saladin died in the explosion,” said Sprague with a straight face. “But then I shouldn’t expect much from a team that caused an international incident.” Sprague shook his head. “Fortunately, somebody above me likes you, so you won’t be disavowed. This time.”

The cistrons winked out.

“What the hell?” Caprice grumbled. “Did he have a stroke or something?” [MORE]

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Vengeance in Freeport: Part 14 – Falthar’s Curios

Falthar sat with one arm propping up his chin, staring at the ticking urn. He tapped it with a wand every time the fifth gem lit up. Then it went out, leaving just four lit gems.

“Fascinating,” he said. “I think I can suppress it, but whoever made this bomb knew what he was doing.”

“That’s very nice,” said Kham. “It’s a gift from Kenzil. Or the Yellow Sign. Look, it doesn’t matter. Don’t you test stuff like this all the time?”

“Yes.” Falthar’s eyes were wide. “But if Kenzil made it…you don’t mess with Kenzil.”

Falthar tapped the urn with the wand.

“Well, the good news is he’s dead. The bad news is we’re going to join him in a second.”

“Well now that you’re here, if you can grab it and throw it fast into my testing room, that should contain the blast…for the most part.”

”For the most part? What do you mean ‘for the most part’?”

Falthar tapped the urn with the wand. “Well, Kenzil was a powerful evoker. My testing room was never meant for an explosion of that magnitude. It might not hold.”

“How many charges does that wand have left?” asked Kham.

“Hmm, I lost track,” said Falthar. “A couple.”

“You lost track?! Okay, on three I’m going to chuck the urn into the room. You close the door as fast as you can. Ready?”

“Wait, is that one, two, then you throw it in on three? Or one, two, three and then you throw it?”

“ON three. Ready?”

Falthar tapped the urn with the wand. “Uh oh.”

“Uh oh?”

“I think I ran out of charges.” [MORE]

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Saturday, August 9

Operation Countdown: Part 11 – Warehouse Assault

Caprice came up behind the nearest terrorist toting an AK-47 and raised his knife…

Catching sight of Caprice’s attack out of the corner of his eye, the terrorist whirled and lifted his rifle, blocking the blow. Caprice hurled the assault weapon out of the man’s grip.

The terrorist drew his own knife. For a second the two attackers sized each other up. Holding the knife’s handle outwards with the blade flanking his forearm, Caprice blocked the first knife slash. The two opponents blocked and slashed, parrying each other’s knives as deftly as two fencers.

Caprice’s arm darted outwards and slashed the terrorist’s chest. The man groaned in pain.

Gunfire erupted on the other side of the warehouse. They had found Archive and Hammer.

Caprice made a quick stabbing motion and pierced the man’s clothing. The terrorist backed up, then pressed the offensive with a flurry of knife blows.

Caprice slashed the man’s wrist, but he kept coming. The terrorist kicked Caprice backwards. He windmilled and nearly lost his footing, but the terrorist continued his knife assault.

Caprice was forced to hop backwards. They were making their way slowly up a series of stacked crates. He sensed the edge of the crate at his heels.

With no other choice, Caprice grabbed the terrorist’s knife arm just as his assailant grabbed Caprice by the wrist. They struggled on the crate, knives inches away from faces.

The knife quivered near Caprice’s eye. It was so close… [MORE]

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Vengeance in Freeport: Part 13 – The Temples

“There!” shouted Dril.

A woman of at least twenty winters was carrying a box into the Temple of Yarris. Blonde hair cascaded down her shoulders. She was dressed in leather armor with a short sword at her hip.

“I’m taking the shot!” shouted Vlad. He kneeled and fired his crossbow.

The bolt slammed into the young woman. She spun with a yelp and collapsed to the ground.

Dril tore the box open. “It’s just fruit!”

“Damn it!” shouted Vlad.

“I’m going into the Temple of Althares.” Dril was already running. “You take the Temple of Yarris!” [MORE]

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Friday, August 8

Operation Countdown: Part 10 – Crossfire

There was the familiar sound of a shrieking rocket and the truck ahead of them exploded in a ball of flames.

“Ambush!’ shouted Archive. He swerved the truck to the side, momentarily forgetting his wounds.

A second later the truck behind them exploded. Gunfire pierced their truck.

Caprice was ready this time. He lifted a Stinger over one shoulder and propped it on the hood of a truck.

“This is Agent Archive,” he shouted into the cistron. “We are under attack. Requesting air support!”

Hammer sprayed the area with gunfire while Caprice locked and loaded the Stinger.

FWOOSH! The rocket struck a group of the ambushers, scattering them.

“Ha!” shouted Caprice. “Not so tough now are ya?”

Suddenly the hills to either side of them sprung up with terrorists armed with AK-47s and Stingers.

“You had to say that, didn’t you?” Hammer lowered his pistols. There was no point. They were outnumbered. [MORE]

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Vengeance in Freeport: Part 12 – Personal Vault

“Guys.” Kham’s voice was strained. “We have a big problem.” He had a note before him.

“What is it?” asked Dril.

“This is a detonation schedule,” said Kham. “And it’s got a lot of familiar places on it.”

Everyone huddled around Kham to look.

“They’re going after everybody!” shouted Dril. “The Temples of Althares, Cadic, and Yarris are on there!”

“And Falthar’s Curios,” added Kham.

“Even the Courts,” said Sebastian. “We’ve got to split up to stop them.”

“That’s not the worst part,” said Kham. “Look at the time: they’re set to go off an hour from now!”

Everyone started arguing about where to go, who to go with, and how to stop the bombs.

“Everybody SHUT UP!” shouted Kham. “I know this city better than all of you combined. Me and Beldin will go to the Undir Benevolent Association and Falthar’s Curios. Dril and Vlad, you take the temples. Sebastian, you take the Courts. Move, people, MOVE!”

Kham sprinted out of the room. For a moment, everyone was stunned. It was the first time they’d seen him actually motivated to action. [MORE]

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Thursday, August 7

Operation Countdown: Part 9 – Roadside

The captured terrorist was dropped off at an abandoned warehouse. Hammer was snapping on his gloves when they got a call to defuse an IED. An alert patrol of U.S. Marines had spotted an abandoned car on the side of the road.

“Why us?” asked Archive.

“Sprague didn’t say,” said Hammer. He was aggravated about missing the opportunity to interrogate a terrorist.

“It’s not like we have expertise in defusing bombs…” began Archive.

Caprice cleared his throat. “Actually, I do.” He grabbed a pair of binoculars from Archive. “Looks like it’s on the front seat. The device is composed of a cell phone, which acts as the detonator.”

“Detonator for what?” asked Archive.

“Take your pick,” said Caprice. “It’s connected to a satchel filled with explosives. The back seat of the car is filled with metal gas cans and bags of nails.” He stood up from behind the concrete barricade. “I’m going in.”

“Are you serious?” Archive looked at Caprice in disbelief.

“I don’t see anyone else around here who knows how to do this,” said Caprice.

Hammer nodded. “Hotpants is right. My area of expertise was back at the warehouse.”

Caprice donned bomb-defusing gear and crept his way towards the abandoned car. Archive shook his head at the thought of disarming a bomb and went back to scanning the road with his binoculars.

Caprice reached the car and set to work disabling the cell phone.

“It should be a simple matter of disabling the cell phone—“ began Caprice over his mic.

“Uh oh,” said Archive.

“Uh oh?” asked Caprice. “This is really not a time when I want to hear those words.” [MORE]

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Vengeance in Freeport: Part 11 – Storage

They entered what looked like a maintenance chamber. Sewing supplies sat next to a bucket of dirty water in one corner. Across the way, was a sealed iron door. The stone blocks surrounding it were marked with Yellow Signs in odd patterns. They were grouped into clusters of one, two, three, and four on the left, five and six above, and seven to ten on the right.

Scarbelly clomped over to glare at it. “Prolk? Can you open this?”

Prolk shook her head. “My magic is not powerful enough.”

Scarbelly glared at Kham with his good eye. “If I had Rask with me we could do it. How about you, devil spawn?”

Sebastian blinked. “N-no, my magic doesn’t work that way. But if those Signs are any indication, we have proof that the Cult of Leviathan and the Brotherhood of the Yellow Sign are working together.”

“It’s obviously a combination. Give me that!” Kham yanked the piece of paper away from Dril. He strode past Scarbelly to the door. “I’ll show you greenskins how humans open doors.”

Scarbelly leaned on his greataxe and waited.

“Don’t you find it convenient that Coombs would drop the combination to his lock?” asked Dril.

“Shh!” hissed Kham. “Adults are working.” [MORE]

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Wednesday, August 6

Operation Countdown: Part 8 – Hit Team

The hit team consisted of six men riding three motorcycles. The first two carried a driver and a gunner armed with an AK-47.

Hammer and Archive flanked the motorcycles as they approached. Archive tossed a tear gas grenade at the first driver as Hammer fired both Glocks at the second driver.

People screamed and dove to the side as all hell broke loose. The AK-47s fired aimlessly into the smoke and dust. One of the motorcycles fell over. The other motorcyclist was incapacitated from Archive’s grenade.

“Hotpants!” shouted Hammer. “The third one’s got a Stinger!”

“Where?” shouted Caprice, scanning through the sight of his sniper rifle. “I don’t see it!”

The two motorcycles in the front were a screen for the two man team with a Stinger. The second man lifted the Stinger to his shoulder…
[MORE]

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Vengeance in Freeport: Part 10 – The Vaults

Kham skidded into a storage room and slammed the door closed. It was a flimsy wooden door.

WHAM! The wood creaked and splintered as a fist-sized dent appeared.

Kham pushed a large crate in front of the door.

WHAM! The golem’s fist penetrated the door. Through it, Kham could see signs of combat taking place.

He was running out of options. Kham dove behind crates and hid.

WHAM! The door fell off its hinges. The golem took a step forward, then hesitated. It wheeled around, an axe jutting from the back of its head. [MORE]

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Zombie CSU: Coming Soon!

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Tetrapod Zoology : What was the Montauk monster?

Finally, a reasonable explanation for whatever the hell THIS is:

Montauk%20sea%20monster%20carcass.bmp

Tetrapod Zoology : What was the Montauk monster?

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Tuesday, August 5

New Manly Movie

Dave and Nick have a new review up of the 1981 Tobe Hooper flick THE FUNHOUSE over at MANNING'S MANLY MOVIES: http://manning.coldfusionvideo.com.

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Operation Countdown: Part 7 – Surveillance Team

A half hour later, Caprice reported in. “There’s an incoming vehicle, driving by at a relatively low rate of speed every half hour.”

“You sure Hotpants?”

“I saw it too,” said Archive. ”I lost the guy I was tailing. But I just saw him again in the back of that car.”

Hammer tried to act casual, watching the entrance to the store. “Lay low,” he said. “That’s a surveillance team. They’re checking to see if it’s a trap.”

The waiting was interminable. Finally, Archive spoke up. “Think they saw us?”

“Don’t think so,” said Caprice. “They just shot off a red flare.”

“What does a red flare mean?” asked Archive.

There was a pause. “Judging by the three motorcycles riding towards us, I don’t think it matters.” [MORE]

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Vengeance in Freeport: Part 9 – Main Floor

A giant robed figure lumbered stiffly from the shadows as Kham landed on his feet.

The greenish haze from the nearest torch allowed a quick glimpse inside its hood. The ghastly visage that greeted Kham’s hasty glance made him wish he hadn’t bothered: beneath the hood was half a human and half an orc face stitched together crosswise running from one ear across the top lip and ending at the jawbone.

It advanced towards him with a guttural moan.

“Ah crap,” muttered Kham. He turned and sliced the rope with his scimitar. He shouted up towards Dril, whose head was a mere silhouette above. “I’m opening the door!”

A meaty fist pulverized the ground where Kham had landed. He jogged backwards and then spun to sprint towards the double doors.

There was a groan to his right.

“How many golems does this guy have?”

His answer came in the form of another fist barely missing his head. [MORE]

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Monday, August 4

A Crying Shame: Xbox Developer Dead in Murder-Suicide

This is just horrible and sad, both in the loss of two talented people in the game industry (console and pen-and-paper) and the sick spiral of spousal abuse and death that our law enforcement can't seem to prevent:
Very sad news from Redmond, Wash. Melissa Batten, 36, a software development engineer in Microsoft's Xbox division, was murdered by her estranged husband, who then shot himself to death, earlier this week.

Batten, a Harvard-educated lawyer, was a Software Development Engineer in Test for Microsoft, supporting Rare on its 360 titles work. She had worked for Microsoft since 2002, earning credits in Halo 3 and Gears of War as an SDET. Earlier, as a lawyer, she had been a public defender for the Mecklenburg County (Charlotte, N.C.) Public Defender's Office.

Her husband, Joseph Batten, was also 36. He had also worked for Microsoft but most recently worked for Wizards of the Coast, publisher of hobby games such as Magic: the Gathering. Melissa had obtained a restraining order against her husband on July 21. Another news story describes Joseph Batten as obsessive and verbally abusive, and when she learned he had obtained a handgun, she sought the protection order. [MORE]

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Operation Countdown: Part 6 – Trojan Horse

Hammer entered the liquor store. The proprietor looked him up and down.

“We’re closing for the evening,” the man said in Arabic.

“You are not open on Fridays?”

The proprietor snorted. “No sane man would be these days.”

“I am not a sane man,” said Hammer. He clinked the pouch full of dinars on the counter. “I would like the shop to stay open.”

The man’s eyebrow shot up. “Oh?”

“I’m willing to pay you for it. Seven thousand dinars.”

The proprietor laughed. “You are an American, yes?”

Hammer was taken aback. “Why do you ask?”

The proprietor put up one hand. “It’s not your accent. Your Arabic is excellent. It’s your methods. You Americans think you can buy anything.” [MORE]

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Vengeance in Freeport: Part 8 – Ztorage

Once they were on the roof, Kham ran to and fro, testing the tiles underfoot.

“Do you think this is a good idea?” asked Dril.

“I keep having flashbacks to the last time Sebastian didn’t help us enter a warehouse,” said Kham. “And I’m sure as hell not waiting for orcs to bail us out.” He reached down and pulled back a small door that blended in with the tile. “Perfect.”

“What?”

“It looks like a winch,” said Kham. He began turning it.

The winch slowly cranked open a large section of the roof to a cacophony of shrieking metal and jangling chains.

“So much for the element of surprise,” muttered Dril. [MORE]

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Sunday, August 3

Operation Countdown: Part 5 – Firewater

“This is the place.” Hammer looked the street up and down. They were all wearing traditional Iraqi garb.

“Doesn’t look like much,” said Archive.

“Why don’t you have a coffee over there.” Hammer pointed at the al-Jamoun coffee house across the street.

Archive wrinkled his nose. “Not fond of Iraq coffee.”

Hammer ignored him. “Hotpants, you take a sniper position up on the roof. If anybody’s going to hit this place, I’ll need you to be my eyes and ears when it goes down. I’ll get the civilians out of there--”

Caprice blinked. “Why? I thought our mission was to take these terrorists out. If we start trying to evacuate civilians we might warn them.”

“They wouldn’t stay open on a Friday anyway,” said Hammer.

Caprice shrugged. “Hey, I’m just trying to think about how to pull this off successfully after the last debacle.”

“And I’m just trying to be a human being,” said Hammer. [MORE]

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Vengeance in Freeport: Part 7d – Home of Kenzil the Evoker

The room was completely devoid of anything flammable. Tables, chairs, and orc were burned to a crisp.

“I yield!” said a particularly ugly orc hag. Her skin seemed to always be glistening, though with sea spray or oily skin it was difficult to tell. Big purple eyes and a gap-toothed grin drank in every detail of her surroundings.

Dril patted one of his arms down to put out his burning sleeve. Then he walked over to Sebastian. They were nose to nose when Dril pulled his hood back.

“I’ve been blown up twice today,” he said in a carefully controlled voice. “I appreciate the effort. But if you do that again, so help me Althares I will kill you with my bare hands.” [MORE]

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Saturday, August 2

Operation Countdown: Part 4 – Bat Out of Hell

The team was flown by Blackhawk helicopter to rendezvous with the Iraqi Border Police.

“This is punishment, isn’t it?” asked Caprice to no one in particular.

“Why?” asked Hammer idly. They were guarding the main road into Saudi Arabia. “You mean the part where we sit baking in the desert for days?”

“Yeah.” Caprice sighed. “That part.”

“I want to know why an Iraqi terrorist is afraid of a swastika on your palm,” said Hammer. “What were you doing on that boat, anyway?”

Archive looked uncomfortable. “It was more than just the swastika. I invoked the Crawling Chaos.”

“Nyarla-something, yeah,” said Caprice. “I didn’t realize you were into all that voodoo crap.”

Archive frowned. “It’s complicated.”

“But why a swastika?” asked Hammer. He seemed offended by the notion.

“It was the easiest rune for me to sketch. Believe it or not it’s a Chinese symbol to ward off evil spirits. I was hoping to...” he fumbled with the word, “turn him.”

“He turned and ran, so I guess it worked, huh?” said Caprice. [MORE]

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Vengeance in Freeport: Part 7c – Home of Kenzil the Evoker

Beldin knew how to deal with bears. Oh yes, he knew how to deal with them.

The summoned beast swiped at him, but it was confined in the basement. The dwarf rolled to the side and hacked at its flank. The bear bellowed in pain.

With another swing of his axe, the beast collapsed to the ground. Then he went after his real target, the three orcs in the far corner.

Crossbow bolts clanged off of his shield as he charged forward. Beldin lifted his axe to slash one of the orcs still fumbling his crossbow…only to have the weapon slip right out of his grasp, coated in magical grease.

“What the…” Beldin reached for his morningstar, but was forced to hop backwards as the orc reached his cutlass first. “There’s a wizard here!” shouted Beldin. “Invisible!” [MORE]

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Friday, August 1

Operation Countdown: Part 3 – Old Man River

The guard spotted Archive first. He pointed his Skorpion and was about to shout a warning when Archive displayed his left hand, palm outward. “Ia! Nyarlathotep!” he whispered.

The guard shrieked. He dropped his weapon, forgotten, and dove overboard.

“Great,” said Caprice.

He ducked back down beneath the lip of the second tier as guards jogged over. One of the guards peeked his head over the rim. Caprice fired his pistol in the man’s face.

Gunfire erupted all around them as Hammer, using the distraction, unleashed on the unprepared guards. Chaos ensued as the guards were sandwiched between assailants on both sides.

There was a snap, and all the terrorists heads whipped around to listen. Then they scrambled off the ship to the chorus of more shouts and screaming.

Hammer turned the corner around a crate, only to find himself pointing his Glocks at Caprice.

“What the hell just happened?” asked Hammer.

“I have no idea,” said Caprice. “Archive did something with his hand and the first guy jumped off the boat—“

Archive stepped out from around the corner. “I didn’t think the rune was that powerful.”

“Rune?” asked Hammer in disbelief. “What are you talking about?” He got a closer look at Archive’s open palm. “Is that a swastika?” [MORE]

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Vengeance in Freeport: Part 7b – Home of Kenzil the Evoker

Vlad poked his head down through the trap door. Then he slowly made his way down the ladder. The room was barely lit by light from above.

Beldin and Sebastian followed.

“Kenzil did a lot of experimenting in his career,” said the dark-kin. The basement was a testament to this nature of “try and see” in its myriad of beakers, vials, weights, components, fluids, and instruments.

Two long wooden tables divided the basement into three defined aisles.

“Somebody light a torch,” said Vlad. “I can barely see.”

“Humans,” snorted Beldin. He reached for the torch, only to bump into something big and hairy.

Beldin shouted and engaged a creature that was all teeth and claws. It reared up on its hind legs and bellowed.

Vlad stepped forward to assist, freezing as another creature blocked his path. “Finally,” said Vlad with a grin. His blind-fighting training was going to come in handy.

A shrieking wind picked up, drowning out all conversation.

Dril stood warily by the ladder, scimitar and dagger at the ready. “I can’t see anything!” he shouted in panic.

Kham stuck his head down through the trapdoor. “Guys? What’s going on down here?” He blinked, peering into the swirling darkness. “Did somebody shout ‘bear’?” [MORE]

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