The Great Barrier Reef

It’s difficult to talk about the Reef and the ocean around it without descending into cliché.  The phrases that spring to mind have been heard before.  I certainly know them, and you do to.  So I hope you’ll forgive me when I return to them.  There is a simplistic truth to them that no lily gilding on my part can supplant.

I’ve been to the ocean before.  Most of them, actually.  I’ve flown over them many times.  I’ve been to beaches to swim (or at least dip my toe).  But never have I seen an ocean as blue as I saw the day we headed to the Great Barrier Reef.

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Sundered Histories

For the game this time around, I decided I would set the play in a time period that, though loosely mapped out in my head, had never been explored by any group I’d played with.  This is the Age of Strife, five hundred years after the Sundering, the event that ended the Age of Magic.  This is a time when the forces of civilization have fallen, as Chaos has encroached upon their territories, torn down their cities and cast out their people.

So I’m going for a more ‘Sword and Sorcery’ vibe then high fantasy one like I normally do.  The Vancian D&D magic has only begun to be used in this setting as wizards had to relearn their lost arts after the end of the era.  I’ve decided that several things that end up being part and parcel of the ‘modern era’ will have their seeds now.

Before the end of the AoM, there was a vast human empire called the Empire of Valas.  This is a rough Roman empire analogue.  So skilled in magic and organized war, thanks to worshipping the Lords of Law, they slowly encroached upon the world, conquering one petty kingdom after another.  Eventually they were a vast and sprawling empire.  Allied with the Dun (later the dwarves) they even managed to shatter the strength of the unassailable Tryshallans, bringing their fallen leaders into the heart of Valas bound in iron chains (deadly to the fey Tryshallans).

But then it fell.  Their power was broken in a single cataclysmic night.  Since then, they have fought a desperate struggle, falling further and further back from the encroaching wildness.  An empire that once spread across the face of the known world has been reduced to a mere shadow of its former glory.  Not that you could tell by the way the decadent nobility behave.

Many Tryshallan have thrown off the human shackles and fled back into the wilderness.  The Sundering stole a great deal of their power, but in an odd quirk of fate, they are no longer slain by iron’s cruel kiss.

And the Dun, once powerful creatures of living stone, have been cursed with mortal flesh.  Much of their underworld empire has fallen as well, caverns and citadels lost to earthquakes and goblin invasions.

Dreadful Tales: A Matter of Discretion Part 6

And now for Part 6, the finale!

Dreadful Tales: A Matter of Discretion Part 6

Carstairs grabbed Lady Brae’s hair, twisting it till she yelped.  Like a doll, he dragged her, kicking and struggling all the while, across the floor by her hair towards the whimpering captives.  Kneeling, Carstairs gazed at one of the captives, quelling his fear and mesmerizing him with his eyes.  The helpless man bent his head aside, offering his throat to the True Blood.  Carstairs opened the man’s neck with a slash of his nails.  Dark blood spurt from the wound, running down the man’s clothes.  But he did not move, even as his life was fleeing from him.

“Drink, cousin, and know what I know.”  He pushed Lady Brae towards the dying man, trying to force her lips upon the wound.  With all the strength remaining to her, Lady Brae struggled against Carstairs and the rising hunger within her.  She’d spent so much of herself just getting here, she was so terribly, terribly hungry.  But she’d never done this, never fed without consent, never drank the heart’s blood.  Her fangs pushed forward in anticipation of the feast, while her eyes changed, the iris’ becoming the yellow-green of a hungry wolf.  That little bit of her that was still herself cried out against this sacrilege and turned away, inches from the man’s neck.

“Drink, damn it, I said drink!” Carstairs shouted, gripping her jaw and forcing her head down on the crimson fountain.

Life and power surged within her.  All her reluctance disappeared beneath the red wave.  The captive crooned and sank into her as she savaged him, tearing deeper into his neck.

“Yes little cousin, that’s right, drink your fill.  See what they would deny you?  Never again,” Carstairs said, his own hunger rising at the sight of the feast.

“Are you…quite…finished?” Continue reading

Dreadful Tales: A Matter of Discretion Part 5

And now for Part 5, the penultimate chapter!

Dreadful Tales: A Matter of Discretion Part 5

“It’s madness, insanity.  The Houses are pointing fingers at each other.  Old slights have become the only incentive for duels and mobs.  Gloomhaven is inches from a civil war.  As goes Gloomhaven, so goes the Empire. At best, the Houses will link your activity back to us and our House will be destroyed to soothe the feathers you’ve ruffled.  At worst, if enough blood is spilt, the Queen may rise and become involved.  No one wants that!”

“I long since tired of being told what I cannot do, cousin.  I do not think anyone will ever control me again.”

“We all have duties, even if they pain us,” Mr. Silver said.  “None are so powerful that they escape that simple truth.”

“Oh really, warlock?  Yes, I know what you are.  Do you think that you and my cousin pursued me without being observed?  What do you know of power and duty?” he demanded, his eyes ablaze with wrath.  “Everything you have, all your magic is stolen or bargained for.  You’ve not earned any of it.  You dance with darkness for a glimpse of power.  What right do you have to tell me what I can and cannot take?”

Mr. Silver said, “What I’ve done comes only at a cost to myself.  What you are doing,” he waved his hand, indicating the bodies on the floor, “is murder.”

Carstairs kicked a corpse.  “These people live and die to serve the monarchy.  What does it matter if their death comes a bit earlier than normal?  Besides,” he leered at Lady Brae, “it’s so intoxicating.” Continue reading

Dreadful Tales: A Matter of Discretion Part 4

And now for Part 4!

Dreadful Tales: A Matter of Discretion Part 4

Shrugging, the warlock dropped the medallion beneath his collar and walked over to the wyghts she had killed.  “That’s interesting.  Notice anything about our friends there?”

She looked at the body a moment before retrieving her parasol.  Frowning upon discovering a rip in the dark fabric, she said, “I tried not to pay too much attention to them at all.”

“Then you didn’t notice their clothing?” he asked, cleaning his cane’s handle with a kerchief.

“Other than that they were foul, like the rest of those beasts, no.”

Poking at the corpse with his cane, Mr. Silver said, “These clothes are new.”

“New?” she asked, looking up.

“Well, not new, but certainly of a modern style.  Not at all what I’d expect wyghts to be wearing this far beneath the city…”

“Unless they were recently made!” she said, beating him to the punch.

“Exactly.  It’s not just thralls of Duke Astor that are dead or missing.  Remember the dock workers that haven’t shown up for work in days?  Their clothes look like a worker’s clothes.”

“But why make wyghts?  And why so many?  They would become unmanageable in short order.”

Mr. Silver nodded.  “Indeed.  But what if you didn’t want to manage them?  What if you wanted to set them against a foe and just watch the carnage?”

Lady Brae stamped her foot.  “That’s abominable!  Why would anyone do that?”

“Judging from Duke Astor’s reactions and the antagonism between the Houses that seek to lay the blame at each other’s door; I’d guess our quarry wants a war.  Already fingers are being pointed and accusations made.  A nest of twenty or thirty wyghts released into someone’s territory might be all it takes to tip the balance into more bloodshed.”

If it was possible, Lady Brae paled even more.  “He must be stopped.”

“Agreed.  Shall we continue?” Continue reading

Dreadful Tales: A Matter of Discretion Part 3

And now for Part 3!

Dreadful Tales: A Matter of Discretion Part 3

With blinding speed, she caught the monster’s arm before its claws could touch her.  “Unhand me, you brute,” she cried, twisting the wyght’s wrist.  Bones popped like kindling and  the creature let out a howl of pain as it dropped its prey.  She was up from her crouch before it could turn away and grabbed it on both sides of its face.  With its unbroken hand, it tried to pry loose her steely grip, but even its unnatural strength was no match for hers.  The creature’s eyes were white with fear as she pulled it close.

“That was very rude.  I love that parasol.  I’ll probably never get it clean.”

The thing whimpered as it stared into her predatory eyes.

She twisted her hands, hard and sudden.  The crack of the creature’s neck was like thunder.

As the wyght fell to the ground, she turned to Mr. Silver.  He was pressed up against the wall, swinging his cane to and fro, trying to hold several of the creatures at bay.

“A little help, my lady!” he called out.

She grabbed two of the creatures by the remains of their clothes and pulled them back.  One tried to slice her with a claw.  She pivoted back, bending only at her waist, letting the claw pass overhead.  Springing up, she caught the wyght on its overextended shoulder and, using its momentum, spun it all the way around into the wall.  Bones cracked with the impact.  As its knees gave out, she snapped a kick into the face of the other wyght as it lunged for her back.

Her heel plunged into its face, piercing the skull in the center of its forehead.

Turning back to the first, Lady Brae snapped its neck with a vicious twist.  Then, with a snarl, she slammed her foot down on the neck of the one she’d kicked.  It writhed on the ground, holding its bloodied face and trying to wriggle away.  There was an audible crack as its neck broke, but she continued to grind down with her boot, smiling, as she felt the jagged bones moving underfoot.

“A little more help please,” Mr. Silver cried out behind her. Continue reading

Dreadful Tales: A Matter of Discretion Part 2

And now for Part 2!

Dreadful Tales: A Matter of Discretion Part 2

The swinging pendulum, now tied to the handle of Mr. Silver’s outstretched cane, led them deep into the bowels of Gloomhaven.  Ancient stone vaults, built by hands that had long since rendered to dust, loomed above their heads.  The Oculatron’s light cast strange, shifting shadows upon the crumbling bricks and thick columns.  Rats scurried away from this invasion of their ancestral territory.  Following the ever tugging pendulum, they worked their way deeper into the sewers, twisting and turning through narrow and hidden passages, guided only by the warlock’s magic.  Brick and mortar walls gave way to rough-hewn stones and architecture that was both older and stranger the further they ventured.

Though they saw and heard no others where they travelled, the signs of others’ passings were evident to them both; discarded modern refuse, fresh tracks, both boot prints and drag marks in mud and waste.  There was even torn fragments of clothing, still mostly clean, to be found where it was no doubt ripped from a passing body.

A winding stair carved into the rock itself led them to a passage made entirely of some black, glossy stone that neither had seen before.  Mr. Silver’s breath condensed in the cold air, but Lady Brae’s was nearly invisible.  Here and there they saw strange characters cut into the walls, by minds curious and alien, judging from the bizarre script.

“What is this?” she asked, her voice quiet and reverent, her fingertips hovering over the writing.

Shaking his head, Marcus placed his hand on hers and pushed it down, away from the markings.  “Gloomhaven is built on the carcass of many ancient civilizations.  Undoubtedly our quarry hides beneath ruins from before the  Empire, possibly before even the Queen herself.  What better place to perform his secret and illegal deeds?   At least we’re out of the sewers.”  He stopped to study the spidery script.  “It’s not Alfar, nor Duergar.  I must admit, I’ve never seen its like before.”

In the blue light of the Oculatron, the script seemed to move.  Marcus blinked, and everything returned to normal.  He opened his mouth to speak, when Lady Brae silenced him.

“Did you hear that?” she asked, craning her neck.

He turned from the writing and listened to the darkness.  There was no sound but the dripping of distant water.  Then he heard it, a faint echoing out of the darkness.

“What is that?” he whispered.

She glanced down the black tunnel.  “A scream,” she said.

“Someone is screaming.” Continue reading