Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Tomes and Times, part nine

A quick link to an article on my Call of Cthulhu blog at YSDC. Part 9 of a series called Tomes and Times about reading rules for Mythos tomes can be found here.

Tomes and Times, part eight

A quick link to an article on my Call of Cthulhu blog at YSDC. Part 8 of a series called Tomes and Times about reading rules for Mythos tomes can be found here.

Saturday, 18 February 2012

Seawell: wreckers!

  Mr. Barky is in a sorry state, but still mobile. Luckily, the bolt is fairly easy to remove. They decide to leave him in the undergrowth here, keeping watch for anyone following them and nursing his wound.

  Lawson cautions against too much hurry in case of an ambush, so they proceed at a swift stride, keeping fairly close to the dunes to minimise their exposure. Down by the water’s edge, they notice considerable amounts of worked wood washed up alongside the usual natural debris. Fhastina’s sharp eyes spot a body sprawled unmoving in the rocks; after a hurried debate they decide to keep going, anxious to investigate the tower before any alarm can be raised. They keep a close watch behind them. Approaching the tower, they notice that the nearby landscape slopes up considerably, so the dunes form a backdrop to the tower; from the sea it would be quite hard to notice it was even here. The Professor sends Cedric soaring ahead to wheel over the tower, but senses nothing more than mild irritation at still being awake in the daytime. It should be safe to approach.

  The tower is a tall, rather ramshackle wooden construction, though none of them have the engineering skill to deduce more than that. It seems to be built around a single central pole, nearly sixty feet high, and mostly consists of stairs and ladders spiralling up around it to a platform at the top. There is brief discussion about who should go up first, until Lawson sighs resignedly and starts to make his cautious and creaking way up the tower, shield raised against any unexpected attack. Elefthenea keeps a watch on the dunes, while the others follow Lawson. As they ascend, they realise that the central pole is a single treetrunk, which has many symbols in crude Draconic carved lightly into its bark, not deep enough to cause any harm. Raylin isn’t familiar enough with lizardfolk beliefs to make much of them, but they seem definitely devotional in nature. At the top they find a bronze dish nearly two metres across, tightly secured to the tower and full of wood ash. Combined with the massacre at the lighthouse, it seems conclusive evidence that wreckers are at work. They hurry back down and discuss the matter with Elefthenea. She examines the tree and quickly deduces that it must have been very old. It must have come from some distance into the forest; there’s only scrub nearby. Fhastina has a look around, and though the sand is soft and shifting, she manages to discern a vague trail where people have come to and from the tower over the dunes.

  The next question is what to do about the wreckers’ tower. They’re keen to put it out of use, but the problem is, how? The Professor is keen to burn it, but there’s no fuel left in the bowl. In any case, even if they could get it alight, the column of smoke would attract attention from miles around; though it would certainly slow down the wreckers even if they do rebuild it. Raylin suggests simply tipping the bowl from the top, but Fhastina points out that it would be a pretty noisy impact and they’re still trying to be discreet. In any case, what’s to stop them simply dragging it back to the top? At last they decide to leave the place for now, and come back to it if necessary. Since there aren’t any guards here it shouldn’t be too difficult to destroy later. They drag the reluctant Professor away and go to examine the body on the shore, leaving Lawson on watch.

  The corpse turns out to be a fairly nondescript man in common sailor’s garb, who looks like a Culchite, though apparently not one local enough to have escaped the reef. The body has clearly been in the water for at least a day, and is in a bad state. Fhastina drags it above the tidemark and Raylin says a few prayers over it, before removing the man’s sea-charm necklace in case they can locate his family. There’s not much else they can do for him now.

  Unwilling to venture over the dunes in case they run into an ambush, they decide to retrace their steps to meet up with Mr. Barky. The wolf is pleased to see Elefthenea again, and seems somewhat better after his rest. They head out to the point where they met the wreckers’ patrol, and check the trail. It seems that the wreckers were following an established patrol route a little distance away, and came to investigate when they heard something suspicious. The trail shows repeated passage of small groups over a number of weeks, though it’s not well-worn enough to be a proper path. Since most of the prints are heading roughly towards the tower, they decide it’s a circular route and decide to proceed parallel to the tracks, keeping a wary eye out for the wreckers they met earlier. However, about half an hour has passed, so it seems most likely those men have returned to their base.

  The land is scrubby and provides moderate cover, but they move quietly and carefully to minimise the risks. They're pretty stealthy, except for the noise of Elefthenea fussing over Mr. Barky's injured leg. The wolf exudes a long-suffering air curiously reminiscent of the one worn by Lawson. Cedric turns his head backwards from his position on the Professor's shoulder to peer back at him. Mr. Barky shoots him a look that the observant passer-by, with a little knowledge of lupine psychology, might venture to translate along the lines of “elves, eh?”. After few hundred yards, Elefthenea looks up long enough to spot a disturbed area nearby and they head off to examine it. There are signs of a scuffle here, with snapped branches on the bushes, and the confused marks of both booted and lizardfolk feet. A broken javelin is embedded in the ground. Apparently the wreckers have had some trouble with the locals. Raylin suggests that the vandalism they’ve seen might explain the antagonism.

  “Perhaps that tree we saw was some kind of totem pole,” offers the Professor.
  “We might be able to return it, and... improve diplomatic relations,” suggests Elefthenea, who is more used to the wilderness than discussing politics. “And you know, that’s another reason why it’s probably not a good idea to burn it.”
  “Yes, I suppose so,” he agrees, a little begrudgingly.

  A little further on, there is a break in the undergrowth due to sandier soil, and Fhastina notices the earth has been disturbed. On closer inspection, there are a number of spots that seem to have been dug up recently. They are portentously person-sized, and unmarked. They briefly wonder whether these are human or lizardfolk graves, as nobody can remember what it is lizardfolk do with their dead. In the end, they decide it doesn’t matter much. A skirmish has occurred and someone won; this seems like the closest spot where it would be easy to dig graves. Digging them up wouldn’t really help the adventurers decide what to do next.

  By this stage, Raylin is quite keen to try and contact the lizardfolk. If there’s animosity between them and the wreckers, perhaps they could help her group, or at least give them more information about what’s going on. Fhastina, being a soldier, is rather more cautious. If the lizardfolk are hostile to hominids, they might not get much chance to explain themselves. They decide that it’s a good idea in principle, but would need careful handling. For the moment, they choose to keep following the tracks and see what they can learn.

  As they reach a point that Elefthenea guesses is roughly parallel to the wooden tower, more patrol routes begin to fork into the one they’re following. Examining the tracks, they decide that they’re probably near the origin point of the patrols. Most likely, groups of wreckers come out of a base and split off into several different routes, probably looking out for lizardfolk. The unified trail passes into a hillocky region with a fair bit of cover. Stealth is now a crucial matter. Elefthenea and Fhastina, being the sharp-eyed elves, start to slip forward and sneak through the undergrowth to the top of one of the rises. As they arrive, they see a clearing has been made in a little glen, with the undergrowth hacked back and burned clear. In the centre is a small camp with a sturdy wooden fence around it.

  “They’ve cleared the bushes so nobody can sneak up on them,” whispers Fhastina. “It’ll give them time to sound the alarm before anyone can reach the fence.”

Their position gives them a reasonable view, but the fence and camp buildings make it hard to make out much detail without venturing into the open. The buildings seem to be simple bivouacs or tents reinforced with branches, perhaps to stop them blowing away if the sea breezes get too strong. There are four or five figures visible around the camp, all of whom seem to be armed. A couple are working on the fence, and another doing something with a heap of crates and boxes; salvage from a wreck, it would seem. Chickens peck and scratch around the place. There are presumably pack animals somewhere in the camp as well; the mules from the lighthouse compound were missing. The two elves circle around the camp to get a better look, and notice two figures leaving a shelter and heading off out of the camp along a patrol route. Judging from the size of the camp, there could be anywhere from ten to twenty residents, and it must have taken quite a few to build the camp and tower in the first place. They slip back to their comrades without apparently attracting any attention.

  “Tents?” says the Professor. “Those burn very well. How are we off for flaming arrows?”

  There is a brief pause, while everyone looks sternly at the gnome. Elefthenea explains that it’s not really clear how many wreckers there are, but they’re clearly ready to defend themselves. Of course, it’s hard to say how many are actually in the base, and how many are on patrol. If the men they disturbed earlier have returned to the camp, perhaps they’re all out searching for the adventurers.

  They fall to debating what to do next. The four main options seem to be destroying the tower; attacking the camp; trying to waylay one of the patrols; and trying to contact the lizardfolk. Raylin favours the latter, since she’s much more comfortable with diplomacy and discussion than with fighting people. None of them are especially keen on launching a frontal attack on the camp before they know much more.

  “History tells us that in battle, smaller numbers of attackers are generally unsuccessful,” points out the Professor.

  At the moment, even if the bandits know they’re here, all they’ve seen are two figures possibly associated with a wolf: who knows how they’ll interpret that? They might just have been hunters annoyed at the wreckers trying to pinch their kill. However, taking any drastic action will certainly tell the wreckers what’s going on, which means burning down the tower may not be the best strategy. It seems that the next step is to watch the patrols and see if there’s a good opportunity to eliminate one...

Sunday, 12 February 2012

Seawell: the lighthouse

  The lighthouse compound is like a small fort, with a wooden palisade surrounding several huts and leading out to the lighthouse itself. There’s no sign of smoke and no obvious damage to the compound; on the other hand, there’s no sign of activity either. They head down and knock at the gate. Nothing. A push shows that it’s open, and they quickly find that it’s been forced. The sandy ground doesn’t show much, but there are some scuff-marks. More strikingly, the compound is shockingly empty. The supplies, tools and livestock that should be here are prominently absent, and all is quiet except for the crooning of gulls overhead. Even the barracks is empty, and storage chests lie open on the floor. All eyes are drawn to the lighthouse, whose door swings gently in the salty breeze.

  The Professor, Morgan and Lawson wait in the compound to guard the horses, worried that something might be lurking here. Fhastina is the stealthiest, disdaining armour, and she pads upstairs as silently as the night. There are sinister dark patches on the steps, leading up into a room on the second floor. She beckons Elefthenea after her, and the two elves stand listening. There’s not a sound, but a faint and unwelcome scent tells them what’s inside. Pushing the door carefully open, they find six bodies piled in a heap. Boxes seem to have been stacked up against the door, but lie toppled nearby. They don’t care to examine the bodies too closely, and there’s little need, but crossbow bolts produce plainly from some of them. A bare arm sprawled across the floor looks curiously charred. Not even Raylin can do anything for these poor souls. It seems unlikely that anything’s still lurking here, and they hurry upstairs to examine the light itself. Before they even reach it, the scent of oil rises strongly to their nostrils. Glass crunches under their feet as they step into the room, and find both the lamps and the mirrors shattered.

  Peering from the top of the lighthouse, they see the dunes and scrubland stretch out around them. About a mile away to the east, a tall spindly structure seems to sprout from the shoreline. It’s too far to make out what it is, but neither Fhastina nor Morgan has seen it before. That seems like the most obvious spot to investigate next. They decide to approach warily, circling around through the scrub to avoid detection.

  They quickly fettle a repair to the compound gate, and Morgan remains behind with the horses, watching from the top of the tower for any hostile approach. The others strike out through the undergrowth, crouching and even crawling when necessary. Unfortunately, neither the Professor nor Lawson is particularly subtle, and their voices carry rather well on the sea breeze. Only a warning from the owl circling far above gives them time to duck back into the bushes as someone approaches. Watching for a while, they see two figures walking slowly along a rough trail, heading vaguely towards the camp. They seem watchful and wary, and carry weaponlike objects by their sides. Hoping to reassure them, Elefthenea persuades Mr. Barky to trot slowly out of cover; only a wild animal, after all!

  “Yes, one of those dune wolves one reads about,” mutters the Professor.

  The figures pause and watch the wolf as he pads softly through the dunes; then one of them smoothly raises a weapon to its chest. Before anyone can react, there is a faint distant click, and an anguished howl splits the air, before Mr. Barky scrabbles off into thicker cover, a crossbow bolt protruding from his right shoulder. A shout of triumph follows.

  Everyone grabs for a weapon. While Fhastina and Lawson begin scurrying round for a better angle of attack, the civilians leap to their feet with crossbows raised and Rayling bellows a furious order to stop. Suddenly confronted with three armed opponents where a stray wolf used to be, and having just discharged their crossbows, the figures gawp in amazement for a moment; then they turn and bolt into the undergrowth, and are quickly lost to sight. Nobody feels like shooting down a fleeing opponent, and the figures aren’t headed for the tower, at least for the moment. Raylin points out that, unlikely as it seems, they might just have been hunters. Nevertheless, it’s time to get a move on in case anyone raises the alarm; just as soon as they make sure Mr. Barky is still in one piece.

Sunday, 5 February 2012

Seawell: to the lighthouse

  In the morning, there’s still no sign of the delegates. The Duchess's agents rise at dawn and meet with Iniatar, who has arranged everything for the expedition. Fresh horses (and a donkey for the Professor) are loaded up with provisions, and a local hunter named Morgan has agreed to guide them through the swamps. Hopefully his experience can keep them from falling foul of the lizardfolk. Talking to Morgan, they get the distinct impression that lizardfolk occasionally fall foul of him, but keep any misgivings to themselves.

  Morgan gives them a quick prĂ©cis of the journey ahead of them. The peninsula is split by a river, which floods much of the area during the rainy season, but is fairly narrow just now. It’s not very deep, so easy to ford. The terrain is boggy with clumps of trees and small lakes; towards the coast it slowly turns into scrubland and then sand. The latter parts of the journey should be safe enough, but the swamps are home to snakes and crocodiles, let alone the endless insects. The lizardfolk are another problem; they’re unpredictable and each tribe is different, so it’s hard to say what they might do.

  After a quick meal, they head off. It takes about an hour to leave the farmland and head into the wilderness beyond. Despite the recent storms, it’s relatively dry and they make good progress. After a few hours’ riding, Fhastina’s mind is lulled by the motion of the horse, and she doesn’t notice a boa hanging from a branch. It snaps at her as she passes, but she flinches away just in time and it slithers off, disappointed. Clouds of flies pester everyone, and the Professor grumbles a great deal about the lack of suitable magic for discouraging biting insects. Something to research for future missions.

  It’s dark by the time they reach the shores of the river. They find a good spot to make camp for the night, some distance away. Lighting a fire only seems likely to attract attention, and it’s quite a warm night. Morgan stays up for a while to fish, and catches some nice plump eels. The Professor assures them that Cedric can keep watch, so having seen no sign of people, they don’t worry too much.

  They’re awakened in the small hours by the terrified screaming of their horses. Elefthenea plucks a fruit from the tree she’s kipping in and throws it towards the sound, muttering a spell as she does. The apple bursts into light, revealing a leopard clinging to the throat of Lawson’s horse, which is bloody and on its knees. They scramble for weapons. Irritated at having his sleep disturbed, the Professor strides up impatiently and starts chanting, while strange lights circle around him. The leopard releases its grip on the horse, and both animals stare in fascination at the wizard.

  There’s a rapid muttered conversation about what to do. The Professor can only keep the leopard’s interest for so long, and even if Elefthenea tries to send it away it’ll probably be drawn back by the scent of blood. They need to kill it or drive it off. Morgan slinks up to it, shortsword in hand, and makes a sudden leap for its throat. The cat springs aside, so the hunter falls flat on the floor and buries his blade into the moss. His embarrassment turns to pain as the leopard shows him how the thing is done, leaping atop him and worrying at his leather-clad back, while he frantically protects his head with his gauntlets. A crossbow bolt grazes the leopard and evokes a pained hiss. Moments later, a second furry figure crashes into the cat and both go rolling away into the trees. There are crashing sounds, and after a while Mr. Barky trots smugly back into the camp, while something else fades away into the forest. Raylin has to call on the Goddess to heal both Morgan and the horse, which is on its last legs. Careful tending overnight and further prayers leave both strong enough to continue the journey the next morning.

  They eye the river cautiously, but there’s no obvious sign of crocodiles or snakes. The crocodiles are more likely lurking in the remaining deep lakes. It takes about twenty minutes to cross the shallow waters, leading their horses. The Professor, who would find himself chin-deep in the water, elects to stay mounted. Partway across the river, his donkey is bitten by something and starts to flail, but the Professor manages to keep his balance and make the journey safely. Mr. Barky, swimming across, is nearly swept away by a strong current, but his mistress catches hold of his scruff and strolls serenely on, horse in the left hand and wolf in the right.

  Both Morgan and Fhastina manage to lose their footing and go sprawling in the river, coming up sodden and muddy. Lawson gives a long-suffering glance to the druid and mutters something under his breath about provincial amateurs.

  Reaching the other side in comparative safety, they soon find traces of people. The trails show signs of deliberate clearing, and there are clawed footprints in muddy places. After a while, they encounter a series of trees that have been carefully carved with markings in draconic script. Between them, they interpret them as lizardfolk boundary-markers, showing the outer extend of tribal hunting-grounds. They proceed with caution, but the Professor's donkey is pained by its injury and lets out occasional loud brays that send birds skittering for cover.

  A little later on, as they pick their way across a bog, Fhastina’s keen eyes spot a figure watching them from a rise in the distance. Its posture marks it out as a lizardfolk. It doesn’t move, but watches them until they disappear out of sight. Raylin suggests going to talk to it, but the others argue it’s best not to get involved with the lizardfolk if they don’t have to. Who knows what might be going on? They don’t want to get mixed up in any tribal wars.

  Approaching the coast, the swamps slowly fade into scrubby forest, and the soil becomes firmer and sandier. They find another string of boundary markers; but these have been hacked away and nearly obliterated. The damage is clearly recent. The soft mud shows bootprints heading down a trail perpendicular to their path. The adventurers are quite concerned by this apparent vandalism, but decide it’s best to press on, rather than heading off on a tangent. The lighthouse is close and they might be able to solve the puzzle quickly. The forest gives way to bushes, and then to dunes peppered with sharp marram grass. As they carefully rise over a high dune, the compound comes into view.