Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Life, at what cost: A Star Trek RPG game session

 I finally ran a session of the Modiphius Star Trek Adventures RPG. A short little intro adventure that was inspired by the Intro-adventure in the Starships & Spacemen Rules by Goblinoid Games.

The crew of the USS RAKOTA (a Pioneer Class Ship) have been dispatched to locate, and if needed render aid to the USS ESSEX (a Deadelus class science vessel) that has gone silent while on a standard system survey mission.

Intro: Star Trek theme music plays as we see Captain Jack Roark sit in his command chair and begin a Log entry - and the USS Rakota flies through space.

Cpt. Roark
The crew are busy at their stations and everyone seems a bit tense.


"Captain's Log, stardate 2020.10.8 - The Rakota has been dispatched to the Zeta Herculis system to locate the USS Essex. They are forty-eight hours past due for standard check-in procedures with Starbase Six. My hope is that this is nothing more than an unfortunate technical difficulty, however out here on the frontier nothing is ever that simple."

The Rakota drops out of warp at the edge of the system and begins long range scans. While Captain Roark and First Officer Rodrigo go over what little info they have on the system itself.

The crew is able to determine that the outer most planetoid Zeta VII is giving off severe magnetic interference that makes scanning difficult, however the Essex had already registered this fact and gave information on how to compensate for this. Using this technique they are able to get a good reading and discover no trace of the Essex itself within the star system!

Emile Rodrigo

Emile Rodrigo, First Officer turns to the Captain: "From the last updates the Essex should have been about to start a Class II survey of Zeta IV - a proto-earth planet."

Captain Roark points at the screen. "Zeta IV preliminary data shows an atmosphere not capable of sustaining human life. Zeta V however shows M class but locked in a severe glacial state. If they had to crash-land or abandon ship that seems the most likely candidate." Moving back to his command chair the Captain flicks a button and speaks to the crew over an open intercom.

"All systems Yellow Alert, as of now we are considering this a rescue mission. We have been unable to contact or detect the USS Essex and will assume she and her crew are in dire need of our help. Captain out."

The Rakota then did a complete orbit and deep scan of the planet Zeta V. Upon completion they found no trace of the Essex or her crew there. The ship then turned its attention to Zeta IV, the last known location of the missing ship and this time they found something!

There in a decaying orbit with all but the barest of life-support functioning, the Essex was minutes away from burning up in the atmosphere! The question of using a tractor beam was quickly brought up by the Captain, while scans for life-signs were run and attempts to communicate directly with the Essex were also attempted.

Lt. Rogers, Engineer
"There is no response to hails." said Lt. Sanders.

"I'm getting no life-signs on board either." commented Emile.

At the Engineering console, Lt. Rogers calculated the data he was receiving from scans of the Essex. "At this stage our tractor beam and the gravitational stress would just tear the ship apart. We need to at least get her impulse engines going and we stand a better chance of saving her Sir!"

"Okay then, Rogers your with me. Emile you have the Conn get Dr. T'prel to meet us in transporter room one. We're going to save that ship." Captain Roark and Lt. Rogers enter the turbo-lift.

In the transporter room we see the Captain Roark, Engineer Rogers and a pair of technicians as they prepare to step up on the transporter platform. The doors open and the ship's Vulcan Doctor enters.

"Captain, our scans have shown no life signs aboard the Essex. I find it unlikely the entire crew is deceased as there are no adverse conditions apparent." 

"Exactly T'Prel, something is off over there and I want to know what." Roark looks over the away team and turns to the transporter operator. "Put us in the engineering room of the Essex, Energize!"

"Aye Sir, coordinates set. Energizing!"

[ COMMERCIAL BREAK ]

The away team materializes in the engine room of the Essex. Rogers and his men get to work immediately. Roark looks about and notices that everything seems in place and there is no damage or sign of a boarding action. The Doctor has unslung her tricorder and finishes a scan, her eyebrow cocked she turns to the Captain.

"As I suspected, we are the only five life-signs registering. Although the life-support systems are below general safety standards we will not be adversely affected."

"Any biological anomalies?" asks Roark.

T'Prel, Doctor

"None that our scans are aware of. If there is something unique to the Zeta Herculis system itself we may as yet be unaware of it, however I calculate we are 99.9901% safe for now aboard the Essex." 

Smiling at the Vulcan Doctor, Captain Roark turns to see how Rogers and the men are doing. " I like those odds Doctor. Rogers, how are we doing?"

"The ship has been shut down-systematically. I can get us impulse power but you need to get to the Conn to get us out of this decaying orbit." replied Rogers as he moved about the engine room from console to console.

Turning towards the engine room door Captain Roark motions for T'Prel to follow him. "Alright Rogers, the Doctor and I will head to the Bridge. I want you three to seal yourselves in here and stay in touch, communicators only."

 As the Captain and the Doctor made their way along the deserted halls of the ship, emergency

lighting would flicker from red back to standard. 

"Look at Rogers illuminating our path." Roark thought to himself as he kept an eye peeled for the turbolift. "Our ride should be just up here T'Prel... Doctor?" Roark realized suddenly that the vulcan physician was about fifteen feet behind him looking into a jeffries alcove. The Captain drew his phaser and cautiously retraced his steps back towards his crewmate. "T'Prel, what is it?" he whispered urgently.  As he approached T'Prel he noticed that she was standing stock-still, as if she was frozen in mid-stride. Her gaze was locked in the direction of the red lit alcove. Reaching out he touched her shoulder and queried, "Doctor, are you alright?"

T'Prel snapped back into motion at Roark's physical contact. "Captain, I thought... no I felt...something." Roark was surprised to see the look of uncertainty flash across the vulcan's face before it was quickly masked with a stoic look. 

"Scan again for life-forms, I have a feeling we're not alone on this ship." He turned and scanned the length of the hall, phaser at the ready and motioned her again to follow him towards their original destination.

As the turbolift doors closed behind them T'Prel snapped her tricorder shut, "As I noted before. There are only five life-forms actively registering aboard this ship."

"We'll see about that. Bridge!" The soft hum filled the lift as the pair began their ascent to the command section of the ship. "Doctor, you were frozen in sort of a paralytic state until I touched you. What did you see, or say you felt?" Roark looked at his chief medical officer.

Her brow furrowed slightly, "I have no recollection of being frozen, as you say. As we were heading along the corridor I had the sensation of someone being in the alcove. I glanced in that direction and saw nothing then you asked me what was happening. There was no time loss from my point of view."

"Hmm, some type of phased time-displasia? Something we should keep an eye on. Maybe this is symptomatic of whatever happened to the Essex crew." Roark holstered his phaser and drew his communicator. The gold lid opened as he flicked his wrist and the lift doors swished opened revealing a dimly lit bridge. "Rogers, we're on the bridge. What do have for me?"

Essex Bridge
The lighting flickered and the bridge came to life as power surged back through the circuits, Roark pointed the Doctor towards the Science station, "Find out what they were up to last, and start a data transfer to the Rakota. I'm going to review the Captain's logs." As the Doctor started the transfer Roark pulled out the last data tape and slipped it into the reader on the command chair. A flick of another switch and he was able to bring up a transcript of the dictated log on the main view screen, and he quickly scanned this. The Engineer's voice chirped from the communicator, "Captain, you should have helm control momentarily."

"Good work Rogers." Roark palmed the communicator and swiveled the command chair towards T'Prel. The last entries are referring to anomalies with Zeta IV and a few crew members having Blank-out spells." 

The Doctor leaned in closer reading data from the station screens. "It seems that the preliminary Bolian data on Zeta IV was not matching up with the survey data the Essex was getting. The planet below is not a Proto-earth, but a severely radiated wasteland. Captain it would appear that Zeta Herculi IV suffered a cataclysmic scale atomic bombardment over two thousand years ago." 

Roark moved over and scanned the data being transferred to the Rakota. "Why would someone have changed this information.." The captain pondered, "Is there anything here about the crew issues?"

T'Prel flicked a switch. "No, we would need to go to Medical for any hard information on that subject."

[ For a mili-second Roark thought he saw, or felt something..]

The communicator beeped urgently in his hand! "Captain, captain do you copy? Impulse is restored try the helm now sir!" Rogers sounded a bit frustrated. Roark sat in the single chair at the conn station, it had been awhile since he had logged some flight time and would need to correct that. He quickly plotted a course and engaged the drive. The Essex shuddered against the pull of the planet below and began to slowly climb out of the decaying orbit. The comm station of the Essex lit up and the voice of Lt. Sanders could be heard. "Essex this is the Rakota do you copy?"

T'Prel shifted comms to the science station and responded. "Rakota, this is Doctor T'Prel we hear you."

The voice of the First Officer then came over the link - "Jack, just a few thousand kilometers more and we can aid you with the tractor beam."

A few minutes later the Essex was settling into a safe orbit paralleled with the Rakota. "Emile, I want a thorough review of all the data we sent you on Zeta IV and start a life-form scan of the planet as well I have a hunch our missing people are down there somewhere." The captain looked at T'Prel, "Doctor, I think it's time we visited medical."

The pair entered the turbo lift leaving the bridge.

[ COMMERCIAL BREAK ]

The Captain and Doctor entered the sickbay, and T'Prel went straight to the medical computer. "There
should be all the information we need here." She said. "It seems there started to be reports of Blank-outs a couple of hours after they entered orbit."

"But they never beamed down, meaning something from the planet itself began affecting the crew?" Roark pondered aloud.

"Interesting hypothesis Captain, however I need to review the notes further before I can confirm anything." T'Prel began to scan the information for more clues. 

"While you do that, I'm going to have a look around. I have a suspicion we aren't alone." Captain Roark went to look around the rest of Sickbay.

Stepping into the recovery ward he found only empty beds, the sensation of being watched was overwhelming and he reached his phaser....

"Beep, beep.." the communicator at his side chirped!  "Roark here." he intoned as he spun on his heel to return to the exam room.

"Captain, Rodrigo here. We are getting readings that the transporter is being activated. What's going on!"

A cold sensation ran down the Captain's spine when he realized T'Prel was no longer in the Sickbay! "Emile, I need a reading on who is in that transporter room now!" Roark turned and ran out of the medical room heading for the teleporter. 

"Jack, it's a Vulcan life sign only! What is.." 

"Damn!! I'll call you right back!" A quick flick of his wrist and Roark contacted Rogers.

"Rogers here, Captain where have you been?" queried the Engineer.

"Never mind that, all of you meet me in the transporter room! Someone or something has our Doctor!"

Arriving in the transporter room the Captain and his men discovered that T'Prel had beamed to a location deep below the planets surface. Sensors were unable to penetrate the area where the Doctor had gone and Roark figured he had little time to waste. A pair of security guards were quickly sent over from the Rakota to accompany him in his rescue effort.

 The ships pulled back to a safe orbital distance, and prepared to transport any and all survivors from the planet at the moment Captain Roark called in. He hoped his intuition was right and that not only would he locate the missing Doctor, but the crew of the Essex as well in whatever destination he and his landing party were about to enter on the desolate world below.


[ COMMERCIAL BREAK ]

The hum of the transporter faded and was replaced by eerie silence. Wherever they were it had been fashioned by and for humanoids. There was air to breathe and the temperature was comfortable. This reinforced his hunch that the crew of the Essex and Doctor T'Prel were most likely alive!

A quick attempt to contact the Rakota revealed that whatever was preventing scans of this area was also blocking communication. "Set your phasers to stun, and follow me." Commanded the Captian as he ascended the stairs before him. There was only one way to go so the three men delved deeper into the bunker.

Within moments the trio entered a large chamber with half a dozen rectangular raised platforms, upon one rested the inert form of T'Prel! Roark approached cautiously and could see the vulcan seemed to be in state of calm rest. He reached out and touched her shoulder, "Doctor, are you awake?"

Sitting up and instantly alert, the vulcan took in her surroundings quickly. "Captain, we are no longer in the sick bay aboard the Essex," she stated flatly. "I was looking at the viewer and a motion made me look up and now I am here. Extremely odd?"

"A Blank-out no doubt, I think it might be visually stimulated. But by what I'm not sure." motioning her towards a door that exited the chamber the party started to move in that direction.

"A likely hypothesis Captain, determining the trigger would help us avoid any further inconvenience. Perhaps a robot or drone of some kind, as we have registered no other life-forms as of yet." 

That seemed likely to Roark and made sense. He had those sensations of being watched as if there was ... The doorway slid open silently before them and in the now open portal stood a large humanoid form topping some seven feet in height at least! On instinct Roark turned his head away and shut his eyes.

Humanoid (robot)
There was the sensation of a brilliant flash of light or energy. Roark opened his eyes and found that T'Prel and both security men were paralyzed!

"Stay back, we're not here to harm you. We just want our people back." said Roark sternly brandishing his phaser.

The large figure lunged forward grabbing at the Captain! Deftly ducking under his attackers arm Roark moved to the side away from his frozen crew. "I wish to speak with whoever is in charge, do not force me to use this!"

Again, the large humanoid moved towards the Captain and he could tell that it was only trying to subdue him. Rather than antagonize the situation Roark played a hunch and attached his phaser to his belt and allowed himself to be restrained. Which, to his surprise was done quite gently. The Captain was lifted off his feet and carried out of the room and back the way the humanoid had come from. 

 Roark was set down in front of large fluid filled tube. Inside he could see a brain with many wires and other connections floating within. A sort of buzzing robotic toned voice suddenly spoke from the tube itself. "I AM THE ONE IN CHARGE."

"Hello, I am Captain Roark of the Federation Starship Rakota. I would like to request you return my people as well as those you took from the other ship." 

"THIS CANNOT HAPPEN, YOUR BIOLOGICAL MATTER IS NEEDED TO PERPETUATE US." Some bubbles floated to the top of the tube.

"I see. What do you mean by that exactly, how can our matter perpetuate you?" Roark kept an eye on the hulking figure standing just to his left. Hands loose in case he needed to draw the phaser.

More bubbles swam to the top of the tube, "YOUR DNA IS 98.8% COMPATIBLE WITH OURS. THE DETERIATION FACTOR IS NEGLIGABLE. YOU WILL PERPETUATE US."

"You want to use our matter to what, clone yourself a body to inhabit?"

"CORRECT, YOU AND YOUR PEOPLE WILL REPLENISH THE DAMAGED STOCK IN OUR BODY BANKS. WE WILL THEN BEGIN THE PROCESS OF REINTERGRATION TO PHYSICAL FORMS."

Roark took a step towards the floating brain, but stopped as the humanoid moved in. "What about him," the Captain motioned towards the hulking figure, "Why can't you inhabit that form?"

"THE ANDROID IS ONLY A TOOL, IT IS NOT TRUE LIFE. WE HAVE BEEN TRAPPED TOO LONG HERE AND THE RADIATIONS OF THE SURFACE HAVE SEEPED THROUGH OUR DEFENSES. WE MUST RESTORE OUR BIOLOGICAL INTEGRITY AND LIVE AGAIN AS WE DID BEFORE THE GREAT FIRE."

"The Great Fire?" Roark remembered what the scans told them about the surface of the planet. "At some point a few thousand years ago your planet suffered a planetary bombardment that irradiated the surface, your people were driven underground to survive?"

"CORRECT, WE PLACED THOSE WHO SURVIVED INTO STASIS WITH THE INTENT OF WAITING OUT THE DEVASTATION. OUR CALCULATIONS WERE INCORRECT, OUR STRUCTURES WERE NOT STRONG ENOUGH TO OUTLAST THE RADIATION. OUT PHYSICAL FORMS WERE IRREPARIBLY DAMAGED, BIOLOGICAL INTEGRITY WAS DECAYING AT A RAPID RATE."

"So you removed your brains from your dying bodies?"

"CORRECT, THOUGH MANY MORE OF US WERE LOST IN THE PROCCESS. OUR LIMITED RESOURCES WERE ABLE TO PROLONG THE STASIS OF JUST THE BRAIN MUCH LONGER AND AT A GREATER PROTECTION LEVEL. UNTIL SUCH TIME AS WE COULD FIND ANOTHER SOLUTION. ANOTHER WAY TO LIVE AGAIN...."

"My people can help you, we have broad knowledge in medical and radiation sciences. You don't need to do this."

"WE MUST LIVE AGAIN, IT HAS BEEN TOO LONG. TIME IS SHORT AND WE CANNOT LOSE THIS CHANCE. YOU AND YOUR PEOPLE WILL REPLENISH US. "

"I'll destroy this place and everyone in it before I let you do that." Roark stared intently at the Humanoid.

"YOU CANNOT DO THAT, YOU DO NOT POSSESS SUCH POWER."

"I do not personally, but my Ship does. If they do not hear from me in a few minutes, they will determine that my party and I have been eliminated. My crew will turn away from this world and deem it unsuitable leaving what little you have left to perish."

"YOUR SHIP IS OUTSIDE OF OUR ORBITAL INFLUENCE. WE CANNOT SEND A DRONE TO STOP YOUR CREW. WE MUST LIVE, WE MUST CONTINUE."

"Then let us help you!" Roark intoned, hands outstretched, "At what cost is life? To destroy us so you may live, would that be a life worth living? Knowing you willfully took that from another for yourself. And how long before you begin to sicken again from the radiation?"

"WE MUST CONTINUE, THERE IS NO ALTERNATIVE."

"The alternative lies in cooperation. You've been alone for so long, your hope fading. In your desperation don't destroy this chance you've been given, let us help you."

 [ Later on the Bridge of the Rakota. ]
 

First Officer Rodrigo stands next to a seated Jack Roark. "Jack they might've really turned you into DNA soup. You took a big chance!"

"That's why we're out here Emile. To take the big chances, face the unknowable, and hopefully make a difference."

The turbo-lift doors open and the vulcan physician emerges. 

"The crew of the Essex will be staying on Zeta Herculi IV until a Federation Medical ship arrives. The remaining Zetans will survive as our remedies for the radiation levels they have can be cured." She steps down and stands alongside the captains chair.

"What about their physical forms?" asks Roark.

"Given time, their DNA banks can be de-radiated and the procedures reversed. I approximate the Zetans will be back in their bodies within a decade."

Looking at Emile, Roark smiles "I'll take that as a win Rodrigo!"

THE END 

Saturday, August 29, 2020

Wine Cellars: Dwarf Quest pt.1 or the Double Chins Clan of Heck Ridge Mountain Family reunion.

The Double Chin Clan Elder of  Heck Ridge Mountain has set a group of Short-beards off on a quest to the castle of Marqest. They must reach the ruins and descend to the third level of the Keep where they must locate and speak with the Green Devil Face.

The Green Devil Face is a sort Oracle, or so it is rumored. The face can be asked questions and it will answer truthfully, well mostly. Anyhow they have been told the Devil Face knows where the missing Helm of Ever-full Tankards is currently located. Now with that knowledge the Double Chin clan has a chance to regain their honor. This is a chance they cannot pass up.

It is a bright  and cloudless morning as the stone-hold door opens and the Heck Ridge Six greet the day. Our intrepid band is made up of the following dwarves:

Dren Hammerhand - a Loan Shark by trade, wears a Viking style helmet, his beard is long & dangly, has 11 remaining teeth, and claims Broken Nose Beer to be the best!

Irdle Doorbreaker - a linguist that speaks fluent kobold / Ogre / Lizardman, wears a long heavy light brown dyed scarf, his beard is really really long, has 1 tooth, and claims Yellow Snow Beer to be the best!

Bonk Shallowgrave - dwarf poet by trade, wears an open face helm adorned with baby red dragon wings, his beard falls in flowing locks, has 3 teeth in the back, and claims Iron Swallow Beer to be the best!

Tobuscus "Ole Tobi" Barrackbomb - dwarf linguist that speaks fluent Pixie / Ogre / Orc / Minotaur / Green Dragon, wears a bedouin style head wrap, his beard is short and curly, has 7 teeth, and claims Iron Swallow Beer to be the best!

Chen Chan Walla-walla Bing-bang - dwarf sous chef trained in the far-east, wears a demon-masked samurai helmet, his beard is frilly & fragrant, has 5 teeth all in the back, and claims Firewater Full Beer to be the best!

Warmen Stonemill - amateur stargazer & zealous ancestor worshipper, wears a forest green head scarf, his beard is spiked and awesome! Not missing a single tooth (considered quite the milksop by the others), and claims Firewater Full Beer to be the best!

Heck Ridge Hall

The journey from Heck Ridge to the ruins of Marqest is about a three day trek as a dwarf marches, and our band will be travelling on foot as any respectable Double Chin would.

The days travel started slow, but just around mid-morning Irdle, Bonk, and Chen Chan broke out their instruments ( a cittern, tin whistle, & drum respectively) and had the party join in on a dwarf journey song that goes like this:

Dawn has broke
the cock has crowed
The packs are full
our backs are bowed

With leagues to go
and a short stride
We don't like horses
no need to ride

The day is hot
and night's are cold
Dwarves will march
complaints we'll hold

This song we'll sing
to pass the time
Our cloaks be wet
our boots have grime

At day's end a nice hollow was found just off the trail, and a campsite was set up for night. As Chen Chan prepared the evening meal (he had recently returned home from culinary retreat in the Far-east), Warmen heard the soft tinkle of metal and spurs. Spying on the trail from a hedgerow the dwarf saw a group of heavily armored men heading the same direction they had been. However it seemed they were pushing on through the night. 

Men on the road


Dawn of day two found Bonk and Warmen suffering from a bout of "goblin-gut", which they presumed to have been from Chen Chan's cooking! The party set off and despite numerous stops for stomach-distress they made good time. Come midday the party comes upon the ruins of a cottage that had the signs of being burned months ago. The trail showed signs that the large group of men Warmen had seen the day before took rest here. Both Irdle and Warmen spotted a refuse pile behind the ruins and the glint of sunlight off of something there intrigued the pair.

ruined cottage

As the bulk of the group takes a break by the cottage ruin, both Irdle and Warmen head over to check out the rubbish pile. 
"What do ya reckon Cuz?" mumbles Warmen.
Irdle sniffing the air and flicking his nose with a forefinger replies, "I got scent of coin cousin, I'm sure of it! There's a fair bit o' food scaps an some vermin too I'm smellin."
Warmen gripped his double handed hammer tightly, "You scentin' house vermin or Swerting?"
"No, no just regular ole' rodent kind." smiled Irdle suddenly stopping short as the rubbish heap itself seemed to move slightly. "You see that?" Irdle hefted his own double handed hammer.
"Yup, thinkin' this here might be one o' them Otyugh nests, mayhap we should..."
The rubbish heap exploded with movement as a half dozen rodents of unusual size burst forth and charged the dwarves!!
R.O.U.S.

Bonk, Chen, Ole Tobi and Dren were partakin' of some trail-snaks when they cries of Irdle and Warmen alerted them to trouble. The pair of dwarves came around the corner from the backside of the cottage with a baker's dozen of giant rats in tow! Bonk quickly drew up his shortbow and knocked an arrow waiting for his cousins to give him a clear shot, Ole' Tobi drew forth a ragged sling and began to try and remember where he had stowed his sling stones!! Both Dren and Chen took a defensive stance beside their cousins as Irdle slid to a stop and spun to face the rodents! Warmen made it to the dwarf line and drew his own bow knocking an arrow and yelled "Loose volley!"

Arrows flew, hammers smashed, fists punched, teeth gnashed, Ole' Tobi was still looking for sling stones... Irdle was bitten and a terrible gash was opened on his leg. Bonk however skewered a rodent before it bite Tobuscus! Dren and Irdle worked in concert using the "Gob-ball special" to obliterate one of the beasts, as Chen Chan and Warmen held the line. Soon all but one giant rodents was dead or dying and the last one smelled the urine of defeat and turned to flee back to the rubbish heap. It was at this moment Ole' Tobi had finally set a stone in the sling pouch and twirling it over his head sighted the fleeing rat! "Gonna git ya varmit!" 

Swish! Crack! Thump!

The final rat lay quivering in the grass, Ole' Tobi's bullet having killed the creature in one blow!! 
"Dang Tobi!" shouted Dren, "You done killed that one with a shot right in the butthole!"
Tobi smiled and put his sling away, "Yep, dat dere's a weak-point!"
True to Irdle's senses a hidden stash of copper & silver coins were found as well as a severed and gnawed upon human arm still clutching a grimy hand axe.
The coins were were buried in a new spot for retrieval on the way home, and the arm and axe were taken by Chen Chan who was very intrigued with it.

The "Hand-axe"

That night passed without incident, and by mid-morning of the third day the party saw their destination just ahead of them. The ruins of Castle Marqest, quietly awaiting those who dare to enter its depths. A pair of gulls winged by overhead, calling out to the dwarves for any scraps they might offer. The breeze was cool and salty as the ruins were set upon a promonotory jutting out into the sea. This was a new sight for all but Chen Chan who had recently returned from travel overseas, and had actually learned to swim!

Ruins of Marqest

Not wanting to dally around the group marched straight up towards the dilapidated Gatehouse. It wasn't until the bulk of the party had passed through and into the inner courtyard that anyone realized Ole Tobi and Warmen were missing!!
"Well bust my stones how'd we lose two of us just walkin' in here!" complained Dren.
The group then spotted the missing pair about 50 yards off to left, they had gained entry to the same courtyard by passing through a large gap in the wall.
"What'r they looking at?" quipped Bonk.
It seemed both Warmen and Tobi were transfixed by something only they could see in the tall grass.

a Marqest chicken

"Bawk, bawk!" the chicken sceeched then continued to peck the dirt.
Ole' Tobi held himself as still as he could and whispered, "Don't make no sudden moves Warmen, I hear these things are dangerous."
Squinting at the fowl and then back at Tobi, Warmen was sure the old dwarf was havin' a spell again. "Now Tobi, that there is just a chicken, ain't nothi..."
"Bawk, ba-gawk!!" the chicken screeched and stepped a few feet closer to the pair.
Beads of sweat rolled down Ole' Tobi's brow, "Were dun fer!"


As the party watched their cousins from afar, it was Chen Chan who heard the tell-tale call of the fowl creature. With the speed of a cracking whip he dashed across the distance between the groups and from his belt he retrieved the "Hand-axe" which he began to twirl in his hand! 

Warmen began to suspect there was something more to this chicken from the way its gaze seemed to burn into your soul. He realized also that no matter how much he wanted to, he couldn't seem to look away much less move! Was this it? he Tobi would end the journey here, slain by a .....

The tall grass waved in the sea breeze, and like a butterfly Chen Chan suddenly appeared flicking his wrist and releasing the "Hand-axe" towards the stalking beastie! With supernatural quickness the devil-fowl reacted to the threat and turned to face Chen Chan screeching in defiance.

"bawk, bawk, Ba-Gawk!!"

Their seeming paralysis broken Warmen and Tobi ran away towards the rest of the party leaving Chen Chan to his culinary duties.

Chen Chan, Master Chef

Time seemingly slowed, Chen Chan could see each particle of sand the chicken had kicked up, he could hear the tone of each blade of grass as the breeze whispered upon them, he could feel each fiber of his robe as it caressed the skin of his body. The techniques of the secretive Eastern culinary masters were not easily learned, nor were they given to just any pupil. Chen Chan Walla-walla Bing-bang was no ordinary dwarf.

The sun glinted of the blade as the still attached hand and forearm rattled in the air, the chicken sensed it's doom in that split second before axe kissed its neck like a young maiden to her first love.

 Blood spurted into the air, each droplet a ruby red gem of life spilling out upon the grass. The dwarf Chef snatched the fowl's body before it could even hit the ground and began to drain the crimson liquor of life into his whiskey flask* as the head landed in a clump of dried grass eyes glazing over.

As Warmen and Tobi joined the others they all realized there were some odd things going on around the castle grounds. The Keep itself stood just about fifty yards ahead of them across the courtyard, and at the midway point was a small stone well. What had everyone's attention though was the glimmering hole in the sky about about 200' feet up. It was like a tear in the cloth of reality and a burning mountain range could be seen beyond. Also a chittering horde of bat-winged children about the size of plump newborns with cherry red skin were dancing about in the air like a flock of devilish birds!
Screaming Devil Babies!

"I don't like the looks of that!" said Bonk pointing at the demon-babes. "Let's get inside that Keep!"
The group began a mad dash across the courtyard towards the ominous central building as the flying horde let out a wailing and began to swoop down!
  
What followed was much teeth gnashing, running, swinging of weapons until the party found themselves inside the main keep.

After calming down and taking stock of warning that Dren was spouting (something about a ghostly suit of animated armor!) they realized Chen Chan was missing!?

It was assumed the Devil-kin must have killed him, and the group took a moment to grieve then they set about leaving their marks on a large trestle table that was upended in the chamber where they were resting. There were also marks here from prior visitors to the Keep as well.



In this same chamber there was a set of stairs descending down to what was surmised to be the first level of the dungeon. The group readied themselves and began their descent into the unknown. Dwarves have a knack for exploring underground constructions, caves, lairs etc. And these preternatural abilities helped the group make quick headway in the lower dungeons. Surprisingly they found the missing Chen Chan who had jumped down the well to avoid the winged devils. An underground resevoir was connected to the first level and it was through this the wayward Chef had been able to rejoin his kin. Also they came upon a barrel full of assorted teeth! From which Irdle claimed a large Orge tusk.

The group set out to find the stairs to the next level down and quickly came upon a mortally wounded fighter in battered armor. The unfortunate victim was quickly dispatched by an expertly thrown iron piton from Irdle that mistook the man for an undead creature.

The dead man's blood trail led our party to the steps to descend to the second level. 

Level 2: the scent of death...

The descent was quick and the landing on the second level was directly across from a large chamber and adjacent to steps going down again. At one time the chamber had probably been a storeroom of some type but more recently had been used as a base camp. The encampment however had been the site of a terrible battle, as evidenced by the blood and shattered weapons. The dead man's trail led back to this abattoir. There was a slight urge from the group to search the area, but the freshness of the scene hinted at discretion and moving quickly!

The party took the steps heading down to the third level, they could all feel the excitement of knowing they were very close to where they needed to be! 

Bonk, Irdle, and Dren reached the landing of the third level first. The steps ended in a tight hallway that stretched off into darkness. A grating noise behind them made the dwarves turn in unison just in time to witness a trap-door in the stairs open up under Tobi, Chen, & Warmen!

Level 3: things get spicy!

Though dazed the three cousins hadn't suffered any debilitating injuries from the fall into the pit. Luckily Ole' Tobi landed on top of his fellows and was able to react the quickest to the new threat. From their vantage point, the other three could see the pit was only about ten feet deep and had no spikes at the bottom. It was however the giant pit-viper that dropped into the pit from a murder hole in the wall that worried them!
Giant Pit-viper


Ole' Tobi began waving his hands about and shouted at the snake to draw it's attention. In the meantime Warmen and Chen scrambled to get to their feet and face the serpentine foe in a united front. The snake lunged and just missed Tobi! Chen attempted a spinning kick that spoiled Warmen's swing with his handaxe! Above Bonk had drawn an arrow and was thinking about firing when Dren let out a war-cry and leaped into the pit his hammer over his head!!
"Broken Nose Beer rules!!" the warrior bellowed as he dove into the pit attempting to squash the snake beneath him! Unfortunately the tight confines of the pit and the errant kick of Chen Chan had actually caused the snake and Warmen to swap positions! 

"Look-out!"cried Dren, descending like boulder cast from a Hill giant's hand. CRASH, THUD!!!
Both Dren and Warmen went down in a tangle of limbs, Chen pressed himself against the wall of the pit narrowly missing the game of twister his cousins were now engaged in.

The snake reared up and eyed Ole' Tobi, as the feeble dwarf swung his hatchet! "take this ya varmit!" his swing was slow but true and sliced a seam of red down the creatures length!

"Bonk, now's yer chance shoot it!" cried Irdle as he held up his lantern to give good light for all to see by. 
Bonk released his arrow and it would have struck true had Dren not chosen that exact moment to stand up from his failed jump. "Hang on Tobi, I'm gonna hel... OUCH!" Spatang!! The arrow caromed off the sturdy helm worn by the warrior and shattered harmlessly against the pit wall.

The viper lashed out and bit Tobi on the upper arm, before recoiling to face the the others in the pit. Ole' Tobi, looked down at his arm, then at the snake, then at his cousins and said "Ah, dang!"
He turned pale and dropped to the floor like a bag of rocks!

"Tobi! NOOOO!" cried Warmen rising and swinging madly at the viper with his hand axe! Dren and Chen lent a hand and in seconds the giant viper was dead!

Having extricated themselves from the pit using the viper itself as a makeshift rope and grapnel. The dwarves circled around Warmen who was cradling the the limp body of Tobi, tears streaming from his eyes. "Oh Tobi, please don't go. I will have failed my oath to Gran'ma to keep you safe!"

[ Before setting out on this journey, Warmen had promised Gran'ma Double Chin he would take extra care of Ole' Tobi because of his zealous pre-occupation with ancestor worship. And Tobi being the oldest amongst the group made him a good focus for Warmen.]

"The whiskey, maybe it'll work!" whispered Irdle as he dried his tears with his scarf.

Warmen fumbled for the flask on Tobi's belt. Held it near the pale lips dribbled some into the mouth of Ole' Tobi.
The feast

**Tobi found himself seated at a table in a large hall of dwarven make. Before lay a feast befit a King!!
Art by Nightblue

A voice to his left caused him to turn and see a wondrous dwarf maid reaching out to hand him a large wooden tankard overflowing with foam! Taking the offered drink Tobi tipped his head back and was overcome with the metallic tang of Ironswallow beer! "There's more where that came from and all you can eat as well!" beamed the bearded lass, "I'm here to serve you for eternity!"
Ole' Tobi leaned back and let out a belch that shook the stone supports. He made it at last, the Heroe's Hall!! This journey hadn't turned out so bad after all he thought.**

Warmen sighed, "It's no use. He's gone..." large tears streaming down into his spiked beard.

"Gan'ma will never let us off her grudge list if we lose Tobi. You hear me old timer? Get yer' ass back here!!" Dren tugged the lifeless form out of Warmen's grasp and with his right hand he open-palm slapped the elder dwarf with the force of, well... a hammerhand!

[ Now there will always be an argument as to whether it was the potent dwarf whiskey in league with hardy constitution of the race, or just the overwhelming force and shock of the slap delivered by Dren that brought Tobuscus back to the land of the living. No one will ever truly know I suppose...]

A ripple of shock spread through the dwarves as the sound of the blow echoed in the dungeon hall. Before anyone could react Ole' Tobi opened his eyes wide, sat up and hacked up a wad of greenish-black phlegm and uttered a mournful wail of ....

"Ahhhhhh DANG!"

There was no time to waste as roaming denizens could come upon them at any moment. The group formed up and followed the only path they had. The cramped hall that led away from the trapped stairwell. Making good speed even with the still reeling Tobi, the party entered a larger wide hall of the dungeon's third level that ran perpendicular to the way from which they came.

In their haste however, they found they had also blundered into the midst of a group large Canine-headed beasts that seemed to be patrolling this area!!!

"Oi! What's this then?!?!" grunted the creature with a barbed spear.
The second creature with a spiked club leaned in and sniffed the dwarves, "smells like snake they do!"
"What're you lot up too, eh?" barked the third creature.

Gnoll patrol


[ The dwarves were all taken by surprise, and not a one of them had any idea what these creatures were saying. But they all knew this could turn bad unless something was done quickly! It was here that inspiration struck Irdle, like hammer to anvil!!]

Irdle put his fists to his hips and looked straight up into the faces of the three creatures, the tusk he found earlier was set firmly in his lower gum. In Ogre tongue the dwarf said,"We just come from eatin' viper bar-b-que back by the stair pit. Might be a bit left if ya get over there quick!"

The spear-wielder squinted at Irdle, "Seem a little short for an Ogre ain't ya??"
"Them's is ogre-pups!" said the club holder, "see how hairy n' ugly they is!"
"Pit viper Bar-B-Que?? Let's go!" barked the third excitedly!

The creatures headed off down the passage the dwarves had emerged from. Looking at each other excitedly the dwarves chose a direction and headed off along the wide hall hoping they were near the end of their quest!

After tense moments of navigating the dungeon, and being wary of any more patrols. The group finally found the chamber they sought. The room of the Green Devil Face, oracle of the Marqest dungeon!!!

This was no ordinary stone sculpture, it was indeed a magical, perhaps even demon possessed piece arcane architecture. And it awoke as the dwarves piled into it's lair. 
"Who disturbs my slumber?" bellowed a deep voice from the face in the wall.

The group proclaimed their identity and the reason they had sought the Oracle of the dungeon. For this the Green Devil was pleased and a bargain was quickly stuck. The party would sacrifice an Arm as the price to gain audience! To this the dwarves offered up a dagger to the Devil!!!

"For is not one ARMED, with such an item?" claimed Dren, when the Devil looked perturbed. At this though the face did laugh heartily! "You have done well dwarves, I will give you an answer to what you seek but my price is a meal fit for a King!!" 

At first the party was stunned, how would they accomplish such with only their rations. It was the skilled Chen Chan who stepped up then!
"Cousins, give me all your rations and the pit-viper meat we took. My skills can perhaps save us from ending badly!"

Indeed in the end, not only was the meal Chen Chan prepared greatly appreciated by the Oracle, but it even gave the dwarves the location of a hidden exit to escape the dungeon!

With the location of the Helm of Ever-Full Tankards now revealed, they party made good their escape from the dreaded Wine Cellars, and after a bit of carousing they eventually made it home!

Epilogue:
The party did indeed make it home, and eventually it was discovered that not everything was as fortuitous as first thought. As the new moon came round a rash strange events rattled the halls of Heck-ridge with a resounding "Ba-Bawk!!". Sightings of a giant rooster rampaging the Hold were met with much consternation. 


Soon a party would be sent to retrieve the long lost Helm of Ever-full Tankards, but that is a tale for another time......

*** Big Thanks to James V. West (Doomslaker) for all the crazy Red-neck Dwarf stuff!***

Sunday, August 23, 2020

Wine Cellars: Mysteries of Moldenwood part 4

   FIGHT FOR YOUR LIVES!!!!

A picture: Two men stand opposed in the center of the field. One is resplendent in shining raiment befitting a proper cleric, his enemy is swathed in furs and supple leather armor. The cleric’s mace gleams and glints in the light, bright and shining and virginal. The bandit’s blade is nicked and stained and razor sharp.

Kendrick

The combatants were not equal. That was evident to me immediately, but what Corinth lacked in skill he made up for in fervor and enthusiasm (1).  

His mace made wide arcs, haymakers that would have torn his enemy’s head from its shoulders should it have landed squarely.

His opponent made it interesting at least. The first blow nearly hit home, but his head pulled back just in time, and I swear I saw him kiss the mace as it went by. Blade lashing out in a counter strike drawing a line of blood across Corinth’s cheek. His fury went unchecked and his attack redoubled. 

Each blow was met with a ringing blade as the bandit slapped the mace away each time until—

SMASH!

The mace struck a solid blow.

The bandit recoiled from the blow, and swept the legs out from under Corinth. He lashed out with his foot and kicked the mace away. He stood over Corinth and reversed his grip on the sword and lifted it above his head in a dramatic coup-d'etat. 

The owl man made quick flick of his wrist (2) and a golden sand blew in on a strong breeze that came from the small hole in reality that the wizard had opened. I could see into it and there was a golden desert, the sky there was a cool lavender and the sun a deep ochre. The breeze and particles of sand it carried swirled around the bloodthirsty bandit and all at once he collapsed, the breeze strengthened into a stiff wind and more sand flooded the air, rushing for Rupert and his men next. 

Roaring out commands and hefting his axe; the Axeman and his two henchmen circled out, one headed in my direction and the other racing towards Icarus as Rupert advanced on Corinth. 

I watched, needing to see if the owl who was not what he seemed would need my help. He went into more exaggerated motions and awkward gyrations and the henchman approaching stiffened and then turned around. 

1) He performed much the same way during our tour of duty aboard the vessel DARKSTAR.

2)  Do they...do they have wrists?


“What are you doing? Kill the bird,” roared Rupert but the man did not, instead turning and moving

"Kill the bird.."
back towards his leader. He raised his sword and charged, screaming in a resistance of sorts.

“Defend me!” intoned the Winged Wizard. 

The bandit approaching me was a burly fellow clad in leather armor that had seen better days. It was beaten, scuffed and cut, and I would have bet that it had most recently been on another person’s body. One that was much thinner as his bulk clearly strained it at the seams where the armor should connect. Instead, his midsection constantly seemed to be attempting to break free. If his armor looked beaten and broken it was nothing compared to his face which resembled a bruised and partially crushed yellow squash. His eyes were deep set in his face and filled with a lurid light at the thought of the violence to come.

His throat had seen better days as well. Days before my dagger’s hilt appeared in it as if by magic (3) and blood seeped forth from the wound. I stepped forward into his approach as even then he was determined to cause me bodily harm, though I suspect it was more an attempted quid pro quo in the moment of his death. My forward lunge took him completely by surprise, and I grabbed hold of the hilt of my dagger.

“I need this, there’s killing yet to be done,” I said in my most consoling and sympathetic voice even as I wrenched the blade free from his throat with an exaggerated sawing motion. Blood that had merely seeped, now sprayed in a glittering crimson spray. 

I stepped past him and readied my blade to throw again in time to see the Axeman live up to his name. The sand arrived a split second before the enchanted henchman, and Rupert shuddered and gave a heaving, and almost-apocalyptic sneeze but otherwise remained alert and—unfortunately—on his feet. The henchmen, frothing at the mouth and waving his blade wildly raced up and stopped dead. He planted his left foot and swung all the momentum into a pivot that turned the sword clutched in his right into a blur of steel as he thrust the blade at Rupert. 

I am still unclear as to what happened next but here is my best impression: the blade hit home but seemed to slide aside, and was lost in the tangle of bulk and armor and fur cloak that was Rupert. Lithely, the Axeman whirled with blow and—performing a kind of deadly pirouette—came back around, only this time leading with the axe. It took the henchman in the abdomen and passed through with only minor resistance. Blood geysered and sprayed a gruesome torrent as the Axeman strode forward. 

3)  No magic though. I learned how to throw a knife underhanded and from the hip from a people indigenous to a small archipelago. They also taught me how to judge the content of a man’s soul before taking his life.


I threw my blade, even as I saw Icarus make the same complicated hand gesture that he had used to control his attacker and I relaxed. This fight was over I thought even as my dagger embedded itself harmlessly in the hide protecting Rupert’s ample mass. 

Icarus finished but Rupert showed no signs of slowing. I saw the owlman’s eyes go wide (well wider) and he quickly repeated the same gesture. This time it worked and Corinth’s attacker stirred, but...where was Corinth? I looked but did not see him, nor had I seen him stand. 

The man Icarus now controlled stood and faced Rupert. The owlman followed suit by drawing a dirk from the folds of his robes and they rushed forward. Suddenly there was a flash of holy light and I could see Corinth behind Rupert. 

My companions were swift and decisive, as all of this happened before I could pull out one of my backup daggers to throw again. I glanced to my left, towards the tree as my companions began to engage the beast-in-a-man that was Rupert. Something was different in that direction but my glance told me nothing of any interest. My hand located the dagger and pulled it back to throw as I watched for an opening. 

Rupert stood before them and all three warriors readied their weapons. Rupert’s axe lashed out at his companion-turned-murder-puppet, but the blade missed as the bandit sidestepped and lashed back with blade and striking Rupert’s forearm. The blade sunk in deep but did not cause more than scratch. Corinth, standing behind Rupert raised his mace and landed a crushing blow on Rupert’s back. The mace raced down and...bounced harmlessly off the mass of furs and armor that protected him. 
An opening! At last! I raised my blade—intending to throw it at Rupert’s unprotected throat—when suddenly a shadowy figure raced out from the fringe of the clearing and leapt onto Rupert’s face, clawing frantically.
What Grit pocketed.

Rupert wildly tried to free his face from this blinding and writhing mass of annoyance and pain. He succeeded, throwing the shadowy figure free after a moment. I followed the arc of the shadowy figure’s descent and saw it was Grit! He returned not a minute too soon! He stood up and, put something in a pocket, pulled something out from a different pocket and then rushed back at the Axeman. His fervor was unnecessary, for now his assailants were causing Rupert real harm.

The murder-puppet drove his longsword into Rupert’s stomach, and the blade managed to slip past the thick leather armor he wore stopping only when it reached the hilt. Rupert raised his axe—held two-handed—over his head in retaliation,and the blade crashed down The axe split the murder-puppet’s head in twain and—with a pop and a hiss—all of the man’s knowledge and thoughts and dreams and aspirations sprayed out into the world, coating Rupert’s glee and hate filled face and staining the grin that he wore red. His grin widened as he took in Icarus, holding his dirk. He wrenched on the axe, but it stuck.

CRACK!!!
SNAP!!!
AAARRRRGGGGHHHHH!!!!

Corinth’s mace crashed into Rupert’s knee and dropped him to the ground with a rumble. Grit leaped forward and caught the hilt of the sword jutting out and dragged it down, causing Rupert to howl in agony, his head thrown back.

Icarus did not hesitate and rammed the dirk up through the soft part of the back of Rupert’s head. The blade jutted suddenly out of Rupert’s left eye socket in a spray of blood and ocular jelly. Icarus released the hilt and stepped back as the axeman trembled and seized, his body quaking and bending in the exquisite agony that are the throes of death. He bent back so far in his pain that we all heard a cracking sound as, and I am guessing here, his spine snapped in twain. 

And Rupert the Axeman was dead. 

Endings and conclusion
“And that is what happened,” said Grit, the terribly selfless and heroic goblin whom I am glad to call friend.
A Wood-wife

He stood with a gaggle of gorgeous women, the wives of the wood, who were telling us that they needed to be off if they were to get back home to their husbands before nightfall. 

And with that it seemed our adventure was over. Corinth and the lads were able to find the spoils of the bandit camp, I’m unclear of the details there but he seemed happy. 

As I was hanging about the bandit’s camp, I noticed that Grit was admiring some sort of family heirloom, a necklace of some kind. Seemed shiny and well cared for. Goblins, I suppose, are a fastidious race. I envy that about them as I am an “unorganized slob” to some, whereas I prefer the term free spirit.

And in the spirit of that freedom, I am free to wrap up this adventure as I see fit and so I will do so with the truth. The truth is that I have almost no recollection of the aftermath of that battle, I know the broad strokes of it. I know there was loot, and the wood wives, and I said many thank yous and goodbyes to my companions but... in my mind I was already heading back to the lake where Brook lived. 

It was not long at all before  my body followed suit. 

And that lake is where I shall be, content until the next adventure comes calling.