Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Fragments of the Last War 2.1 - Caravan to the Frontier: Part 1, Departure

In volume 2, I decided to run a hybrid play-by-post and online game. The following begins the adventures of a squad of Cymru wardens.  It takes place four months after the events of FoLW 1.24, but only includes Dinty and Edwina from volume one.

***

The 15th day of the month of Equos, 22 years after the opening of the Caers: in the city of Cymru, on the continent of Tirane, on the world of Eifer.
Horror from the Pit

In the months following the opening of the Horror-Portal to the south, the people of the city of Cymru had been on edge.  Many of the holy warriors and priests of Grumbar as well as Desna went to fight back the incursion.  The Cymru Counsel hired troops to accompany them, and later shipped all prisoners out to workgangs supporting the warzone and the other hinterlands.

Finally, winter came to an end, though barely.  In the months that followed the opening of the Portal, the weather had worsened.  Though never a bitter cold climate, the winter of the Year 21 and 22 after the Opening of the Caers experienced brutal snows and ocean storms.

After the dissolution of the North Cymru Irregulars, the members went their separate ways.  Malpais Rana woke from a fever dream and headed south to his people.  Grind and Piper traveled east in search of a hidden Fae city.  Louis went to bed one night and was not seen the next.  Nota’Cor, Rolli, Dinty, Edwina, and Al took the clockwork automaton, Zanpip, back to Professor Andalus before going their own ways.  Nota’Cor was determined to hunt the wizard Rista.  Rolli vanished as quickly as he had come.  Dinty returned to the service of the Temple of Desna - with some chastisement and penance from the Priestess.  Edwina returned to the streets, stealing what she could to buy medicine for her sister.  While Al, disappeared without word.

As the winter progressed, the Cymru Counsel formed the Cymru Wardens in an attempt to patrol and defend the villages and towns loyal to the city.  Since the noblin patrols had also gone south to fight the Horrors, the Wardens were also tasked to keep the roads open.

Recently, the goblin Dinty, with permission from the Temple of Desna, joined the Cymru Wardens.  Soon after he found the human, Edwina, jailed for theft and sentenced to serve on a work gang at the Horror-Portal. Dinty convinced the Cymru City Guard to reassign her to the Wardens.  For the next week, Dinty and Edwina split a bunk bed in the North Gate barracks along with other Warden recruits. The ten or so other recruits kept to themselves.

Finally the time came for the new Wardens to leave Cymru.  One afternoon during a particularly nasty rainstorm, one of the ranking members of the newly formed Cymru Wardens, entered the barracks, informed them that the next day they all marched north, and they would be divided into teams of five under a Warden Commander.

Just before evening mess, the recruits marched to the center of the barracks yard and stood still, while three wardens (a pair of dwarves, and a human) approached.  The two dwarves took turns calling names until they had five recruits and then led them away to eat.

The human stood before them looking wet and tired. He wore a visible symbol of the goddess Desna around his neck.  “I will spare you any embarrassment and not give a speech about how great you are.”  He eyed them.
Corporal Dinty

Dinty (a fine goblin of noble bearing with a prominent nose and devastatingly beady eyes that often looks confused) he knew from the Temple.  The human girl, he knew Dinty had recruited from jail.  Otso, the samsaran - a healer on loan from the temple of Morrit - stared off into space blinking and muttering.  Rounding out the group, was the enormous shmkia, Goreal, with its big bearlike head with small black eyes and wild coarse brown hair, snorted tiredly and stared at Dinty; the goblin simply nodded to the warden.

Scratching his butt, Dinty hocked a loogie and elbowed Edwina.  He was sure she wasn’t paying attention.  Edwina jumped with a start, blinked, and looked around quickly realizing she’d been staring again.  Dinty looked around at everything, except the behemoth bear staring at him.

The human cleared his throat.  “For those of you who do not know me, I am Hal Saldana, Paladin of the goddess Desna, blah, blah.”  He spit.  “Don’t think the paladin bit means I’m nice or only drink milk.  I was a soldier before Desna called me.  And in this business, I’m a soldier still.”  He stared up at Goreal.   “You have joined the Cymru Wardens.”  He eyed each member of the group.  “Your job will be the thankless task of defending the frontier and trying not to die.”  Spitting again, Hal walked back to his place in front.  “Therefore, you will need to learn to rely on your team members.  Or your ass will be a rotting corpse.”

“Dinty, you have been promoted the rank of Corporal in the Wardens for your experience, my familiarity with your skills, and your unfortunate membership in the North Cymru Irregulars.”  The human glanced down at the goblin.  “This isn’t the army.  You role will be support and logistics.  You will make sure this motley bunch pulls together.”  He pointed his thumb at the shmkia, “Sometimes, that just means pointing them in the right direction and hoping.”

“We will be recruiting more for our station as we travel, but until then this is your team.”  He saluted.  “Desna have pity on you all.  Dismissed until first light when we march out.”

Dismissed the new recruits shuffled off to mess before settling in to pack their gear and get ready for their journey.
Otso

Otso, the samsaran, watched the his squad mates depart with a cool detachment before slipping back to the barracks. He spread his last orchid flower petals on the floor and lit a stick of incense, then kneeling before his bunk, he prayed to Morrit the Piper, Lord of the Dead to protect them on their journey or else return them to the Wheel for rebirth without the taint of undeath.

He quietly focused on his breathing, trying to call up a memory of his before-lives, but his mind remained blank.  Smoothing his tunic with his thin blue hands, Otso smashed out the incense and gathered the flowers.

Opening the windows to the barracks, he let the flowers drift off in the spring winds.  “Well, time to eat.”

***

The 16th day of the month of Equos, 22 years after the opening of the Caers: in the northwestern section of the city of Cymru

The next morning, up before dawn, Hal Saldana’s squad of Warden’s stood by the last wagon of the caravan.  A few minutes earlier, the paladin had led them here and told them that the Wardens had assigned this squad guard the rear of the caravan.  “It’s because I’m human,” he spoke bluntly.  “They’d prefer my squad in the back.  Less reliable, the Colonel said.”  He spat.  “I will be guarding the center wagons with the other paladins.”

He examined the squad.  “Dinty, I leave you in charge.   That means making sure everyone stays together, and if we are attacked try to keep everyone alive.”  He pointed at the shmkia.  “Goreal, you are too big for the wagon, so you will have to walk.  The rest of you can walk or ride.”  He nodded and looked at the sun, “Let’s hope the gods don’t decide to have fun with us today.”

Dinty saluted Saldana and then turned back to his squad.  “Right, you lot heard the man and by Holy Desna we’ll watch the rear like no other! Watch your backs, watch your squadies backs and above all else be wary of any four legged creatures we might encounter. They're all in on it!”  Otso frowned at the comments on four legged creatures.  “ Edwina you're with me. Goreal you stay 10 paces back as a rear rear guard and the samsaran can ride the wagon.”  Dinty skill Teamster at 10.   Roll 3d6.  Result 6.  Dinty skill Tactics at 10.  Roll 10

The samsaran climbed into the back of the wagon and stowed his pack and staff. “I am called Otso.” It was soon obvious to him that Dinty had worked caravans before as he expertly organized the wagon and the draft horses then positioned his team for defense.
Goreal

Goreal, wanting to add to the conversation, mumble his replies.  Being ten paces back, he realizes he’d have to raise his voice loudly for anyone to hear.  “That’ Dinty’s a little bossy,” he said, “but he seems to know what he’s doing.”

The samsaran sat among the bags of food and other supplies.  He watched the sky brighten as they traveled beyond the western gate. “The gulls have not arrived yet from the north,” he told Dinty.  “I can not recall a time in all my lives, when the gulls had not already come to Cymru this month of the year.”  Otso shook his head and watched the shmkia trying to listen and stay back.  “This summer will be unlike any other.  Cold and wetter in Cymru.  Who knows what it will be like in the village where we will be stationed.” Otso, Racial Memories - IQ 13, roll 11.  Skill Naturalist 13, roll 13

“I don’t know what birds have to do with anything,” Dinty replied surprised.  “I don’t think they're in on it.” He waved his hand toward Otso. “I try not to think about things I don’t understand.  Gawds, don’t give me a headhurt or you’ll get first watch at camp tonight.”

As if summoned, a shadow darkens the wagon as a winged creature flew overhead, silhouetted against the sun for just a moment. There was a whoosh, almost silent, as the creature’s wings beat against the sky, and then plummeted soundlessly toward the earth, it’s shadow widened on one of the goats being herded behind the wagon. As the creature rapidly draws closer, it shrieked a cry that is equal parts raptor and man.

As the creature fell, it came into clearer view. Roughly the shape of a man, but with huge feathered wings that opened to slow its descent, it spun at the last minute. Bringing its feet down toward the ground, huge black talons sprouted from clawed feet adorned with golden feathers. Brawling at 13 - Roll 9

The goat slammed against the ground, and the talons dug into its flesh, sending rivulets of blood streaming down the animal’s sides. It bleated, answering the beast’s shriek with a cry that was likewise almost human. The predator landed with a crouch atop its prey, then stood to its full height, easily a head taller than an average human.  A pair of huge yellow eyes took in the surroundings before its wings beat the air again; it rose.

Dinty and Goreal both have Combat Reflexes and made their Perception rolls against the surprise. Otso also reacted.  Everyone else was surprised this round.

Dinty shot a withering glare at Otso. “You brought this on us.” He pulled his crossbow and aimed it at the interloping avian terror. Calmly taking stock he said, “We’ll gladly exchange food for services. Far be it for me to prevent the death of a four leg, but you should know that if you steal our food not only do you break the law of Cymru. You also open yourself up to being its replacement in our stockpile. Licking his lips he looks pointedly at Goreal who is behind the raptor. What do you have to say fer yerself?”

Goreal moved menacingly towards the birdman, responding to Dinty's glance.  He prepared to strike or grapple and keep the thief from flying away.

The creature had startled the horses drawing the wagon, and the driver struggled to keep them in check. Otso scrambled toward him to lend a hand.

The Garuda eyed Dinty and his crossbow, then his talons reflexively tightened around the goat. However, his wings began to patter a little faster, and he slowly descended toward the ground. The goat, still alive, bleated in pain.  Something like confusion came over the creature’s avian face, but it made no move toward the long pole-arm strapped to its back, nor toward the roped harpoon looped around its belt. Finally, the bird-man spoke in a strangely accented Dwarvish.

“You would feed Nikala? You would bring a great dishonor to you and your family,” the Garuda said, folding his wings across his back completely.

Goreal watched for Dinty's command and wondered: "Why would the bird-man would kill the goat, if eating it will cause others dishonor?"

Dinty said. “I don't know nor care about all that honor and foolishness. I know that we could use a good pair of eyes to help us watch for danger and another sword arm never hurt the cause neither. If it makes you feel better we could let the bastard loose before you stole it.”

Nikala looked around, eyeing those who’ve stopped in their tracks at his intrusion. “This one is Nikala. This one will take your food and give you eyes. Yes. You have no honor, but neither has Nikala.”

The wagon driver driver with Otso’s aid steadied the horses.  Edwina, standing beside Dinty stared surprised at Nikala until finally she realized she had been staring.
Paladin Hal Saldana

From in front of the wagons, came yelling as the dwarf Warden Commander Angus Gravefury and paladin Hal Saldana approached the scene with guards in tow.  “Is this the thief that’s been raiding livestock?  Where are the nets?”  Hal Saldana raised his hand.  “A moment, Angus.”

Approaching the group, he paused.  Saldana stood over six feet tall.  Dressed simply in a common clothing and chainmail, only his symbol of Desna marked him as more than a mere soldier.  “Dinty, what is going on here?”  Eyeing the Garuda, “Any reason you flew into an armed caravan and killed a goat?”

Dinty mocked. “This one is Nikala. This is our new scout, he's taken my offer of food in return for keeping us aware of what might be creeping up on us. It's up to yerselves of course but I think we could use some eyes in the sky. Plus he looks like he could fell a horse in one blow!

Nikala eyed Saldana, regarding him with caution. “Nikala has no honor. Nikala must hunt. The brood no longer has need of us or our bloodlines.” Then, turning to Dinty, he says “Nikala does not like horse. Too much is wasted. Too many eyes to Nikala, make it hard to hunt.”

Dinty slapped his leg. “Do ya hear that cap’n he don't like horses neither! We definitely need him now.”

Hal stood for a moment then looked behind at the angry dwarf, Angus.  “Dinty, the godsdamn dwarves would as soon hang him as recruit him.”  Hal watched the garuda thoughtfully. Loudly he called,  “And you Nikala, you admit to stealing livestock?”

The paladin looked from the dwarves to Dinty.  What a day, he thought. “Ok. Nikala.  Do you accept the offer of pardon I, by way off the impertinent yet ever resourceful goblin Dinty, offer you?”  He stopped and started at the garuda. “Swearing, on whatever gods or honor you believe, your loyalty to the Cymru Wardens, to fight in defense of the people of the villages, the roads, the towns, etc, and also to stop killing their damn animals?”  Hal spat.

Nikala turns his eyes to the goat beneath him. It has bled out while the conversation continued. “I cannot bring this one back.” He catches himself. “No stealing. Only hunting. Only thought hunting was especially good around the stone ground nest. Sometimes, hunting is best close to the nest.”

Otso, the samsaran, walked closer.  “I’m afraid it is correct, Commander.   The goat is dead.”  Nearby, Edwina suppressed a snicker.

One of the dwarf commanders stepped forward.   “I dunno like this one bit,” he said, his voice thick with the accent of the eastern Caers.  “You want a bird to swear?”  Angus laughed.  “”Why not you’ve already got a bear?"  And pointed to Goreal who looked up at the mention of his name and gave a big toothy grin.

“Yes, Nikala will swear. Nikala has no honor but does not wish to be dishonorable.” The Garuda straightened, appearing strangely excited, youthful. “Nikala will bring you eyes. And bring you his blade. Nikala will bring you the sky for your kindnesses.”

Hal nodded. “Welcome to the Cymru Wardens, Nikala.”  He took his butterfly pendant and said a brief prayer.  “With us you will defend the roads, the villages, the towns, the people.”  He thought for a moment.  “And the livestock, from bandits, soldiers, monsters from beyond, and your run-of-the-mill goat-eater.”  He turned to Dinty.  “Show this one the ropes.  Best case we get it to the frontier where we can get him fully settled.”  He turned to the caravan.  “We’d best be on our way.”

Dinty laughed. “Right you are cap’n! All right you lot, back to it! Don't act like you've never seen a samsaran summon a birdman afore!"

Goreal interjected quietly “I have not”.

Dity waved the bear off.  "And you Nikala, time to start earning your keep.”

That night the caravan stopped at a waystation.  Camp was made.  Food was eaten.  Watches set.

Being used to a soldier's life, Dinty does what he always does. He says his prayers, sharpens his weapons and keeps a close eye from a sensible distance on the caravan horses. He makes his rounds and makes sure the others are doing their jobs. When he gets a chance he will extol upon Nikala the evils of horses and revel in Nikala’s “shared hatred” which he assumed was Nikala’s meaning when he said he "didn't like horses.”

The story continues with Fragments of the Last War 2.2 - Caravan to the Frontier: Part II, The Trial.

***

We've been using Google Docs for the PBP.  A good start but some kinks to work out.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Its Hour Come Round at Last 2.0 - Volume Two: MI-18

September 1915 to June 1916 - The United Kingdom
Dr. John Watson

Following their return from Paris, the Lamplighters, working with Doctor John Watson, began transitioning their organization to the Directorate of Military Intelligence,   While MI-18 would be part of the greater intelligence network, few were to know the true nature of their work.  Since the current cadre along with Dr. Watson were the senior members of the new organization, they sat down to identify the mission of MI-18.

 1.  Much like their predecessors, the group felt that defending the United Kingdom and the World from malevolent monstrous creatures and those who would use said creatures or lore to cause harm to humanity was the primary goal of MI 18.
  • They were still uncertain as to whether the rat-faced creatures represented a hostile threat.  
  • To this end, MI 18 purchased Merriweather's land near Recluver Kent, and has begun the setup of a building in place of the the old house where preparations can be made to enter the caves.  
  • Watson is looking for soldiers who can deal with what will find and then train them in the usage of flamethrowers.  
  • Bertrand spent time at his house in Shropshire understanding and eventually communicating with the Sword of Paracelus.   He soon began calling it the Sword of Fenrir, who despite "false propaganda" was an enemy of the aetheric Horrors. This marked the first usage of the phrase aetheric for the current Lamplighters.  
  • They worried about Bertrand Merriweather's mental health, but Allard and Doctor McKinley weren't much better.

2. With David Watson incapacitated, much of the history, artifacts, and libraries of the Lamplighters could not be found, leaving them with many questions about the secret history of England and those who defended it.
  • They identified the search for artifacts, books of lore, crystal-tech, and the histories and treasures of the Lamplighters as one of the major goals of MI-18.  
  • Allard Vick has helped set up the beginnings of a Library and Basement storage for non-dangerous artifacts at the new headquarters. 
  • When Dr. McKinley is not using it, he stores Der Gerbrachen Tram here.  
  • Lady Margaret Jameson, recruited to MI-18 by Reginald Smythe III, oversees the library and artifacts as Alaard is mostly in Oxford unless in the field.  
  • Lady Margaret also began studying the book, the Magnus, which Smythe bought for her at the Paris auction, and is learning Enochian and Dee's ceremonial magic.
  • Also, Jameson and Smythe began seeing each other socially and are courting.
Lady Margaret Jameson

3. Doctor Thomas McKinley and Alaard Vick both felt MI-18 needed research labs, and Alaard found an abandoned 19th century coal power plant near the house he and his daughter share.
  • Vick is a librarian at Oxford College, and because he revealed much of what he learned to his daughter, then tasked her with research, Dr. Watson found it necessary to bring her in.  The daughter is only a Dependent at this time, so she doesn't operate like an Ally for Alaard.
  • Alaard chose a building for his research with the ankh he purchased in Paris.  Contacting it in a meditative state, the ankh told him it was a servant of Isis and could teach him Kemetic magic. Alaard routinely has his mind filled with visions of the past and has even come to believe he might be a reincarnation of a god or pharaoh.  
  • I built a symbol magic system (with severe minuses) that relies on Thaumatology, Symbol Writing (Kemetic), Ritual Magic (Kemetic).  This permitted Alaard to begin learning symbols - thus far he knows Create and Protection as VH skills capped at the lowest of the previous skills.  He also takes a -5 to the rolls, but that can be reduced to a -4 if an hour is spent meditating before hand. (Meditate skill)
  • He then draws - failure makes the process take longer and a critical failure means he starts over - the symbol on something and activates it later.  The margin of success determines the Damage Resistance.  I am thinking he could receive either bonuses to his roll or to results if he used an additional skill like Calligraphy or even metal working for a longer affect.   
  • The ankh promises to teach him more, but we have already seen some strain on Alaard's mind.
  • Also, McKinley and his research biologist friend at Cambridge identified the blue spore and fungus as being ingenious to Lake Toba on the Island of Sumatra in the Dutch East Indies.
  • The doctor took over one warehouse of the research facility to grow his own fungi (including those he'd found in medieval France) under laboratory condition.   He noticed odd behaviors among the rats he injected with the blue spores, including their eyes turning blue.
  • McKinley also found, from his readings in Der Gerbrachen Tram, that smoking the spores and meditating could generate the dreamlike states he'd experienced before where he could share thoughts with this fellow Lamplighters even if they were hundreds of miles away.  He had a much harder time with one he didn't know.
  • His experiments with the blue spore, meditation, dreaming, and Der Gerbrachen Tram led him to a vision of the past in which Sherlock Holmes, Reginald Smythe II, Tali's father, and several others were in a glen in England rushing toward a wagon all while avoiding a giant anthropomorphic plant that sliced people in half with its scythe hand.  When the opened the wagon door and saw a man with no skin and no eyes sitting in a chair - very alive - McKinley woke screaming.  
  •  McKinley learned a Precognition advantage called Dream Visions and a linked Mind Reading and Telecommunications advantage called Dream Share.  They only work when he (and if he has a target) is/are dreaming.

4. Smythe and Ponzi felt that one of MI 18's important roles was to Gatekeep information regarding what they are currently calling the Unnatural.
  •  As such, they argued that much information needed to kept from the public.
  • Also, that those who possess such knowledge must be recruited or dealt with by violence, threats, bribes, etc. depending on the person.
  • Beyond, Alaard's project to examine libraries, Ponzi argued the need for a newspaper clippings office to look for any odd stories they needed to investigate.
  • Both Smythe and Ponzi mentioned they would use their different social networks (the elite and the criminal classes) to monitor anything outside the papers or police.
  • Dr. Thomas McKinley
  • Both spent time networking in their social circles.

5. Finally, Watson and Smythe - in agreement - reminded the team that as supporters of the English Crown (whether by birth in the case of Smythe, McKinley, and Merriwether or by adoption in the case of Vick (perhaps reluctantly) and Ponzi.) they had a duty to provide England with a Technological Advantage over their Enemies, current (the Central Powers), and possibly future (everyone else.)
  • They were particularly interested in finding more of the clockwork/crystal tech and hopefully replicating it.  
  • They were also interested in portal technology that could lead them to other worlds or times with technology they could use.