Tag Archives: Dungeons and Dragons

The Angel of Beauty

The temple is quiet around Muse. The air is still, the lingering scent of incense a pleasant counterpoint to the smell of fire, heat and blood she had run through to get here. The infernal forces arrayed in the plaza outside are falling silent and she knows their time is running short.

Sweat beads under the collar of her armour, glamoured as ever to resemble a mockery of the court finery she should have been wearing. Her mother’s betrayal is long forgotten, but it serves as a reminder of what can be, if she but wills it. There is nothing she cannot do given time.

She glances sideways, taking in the exhaustion and worry on her companions faces.

Reed is looking around, his bright eyes shining and his smile wide, despite the lines of fatigue on his face and the flickering embers of his magic. She can barely feel his presence in the Weave, the odd chaotic spark a mild clash of cymbals.

‘er Ladyship and Chef, both warriors of great skill and neither particularly interested in the magical arts, look fresher, but not by much. ‘er Ladyship’s limbs are trembling slightly and she suspects the constant rage of battle has taken a much greater toll than the statuesque woman is letting on. Chef, her white hair spotted with infernal ichor, meets her eyes and nods briefly.

Myca, eyes wide with worry, smiles shyly as their gaze meets. The constant worry has taken its toll even on her and Muse feels her jaw clench. He had better not be playing them false.

Movement by the doors catches their attention and the two martial members of their little band disappear down the stairs, Chef to guard their backs and ‘er Ladyship to confront the Servant and rescue her child. Muse smiles grimly, one of her canines drawing a bead of blood from the inside of her cheek. She had kept herself out of all the fighting so far as best she could to preserve her limited magic for this moment. She had sworn an oath ‘er Ladyship, and she would do everything she could to rescue the child, but if it came down to her word versus Myca’s safety, the child would die.

The wood of her longbow, its dark grain as familiar to her now as the pommels of her daggers, is comforting under her fingers as she moves towards the doors, getting out of any obvious line of sight. The string is taut and well-waxed. She knows, if anything is going to go wrong, it will be her fault. Not for the first time does she wish she had some form of magical bow, anything which could injure the fiends laying waste to the city.

She shrugs out of her backpack, laying it carefully on the ground next to her bags of holding as the doors shudder and start to swing open. She closes her eyes, drawing a handful of shafts from their quiver and laying them next to her. One good, clean shot. That’s all she’ll need to end this. One innocent life ended, and the threat of the demon would be gone. For now.

She hears the footsteps in the nave and creeps to the edge of the mezzanine, watching as Nicodemus, that same irritating smirk on his features, leads a handful of devils to the altar where she now sees ‘er Ladyship sitting.

Already the air is filling with power, a heat perceptible to her senses, and she carefully knocks an arrow to her bowstring. Below, Nicodemus and ‘er Ladyship share some words, the bundle in his arms the wrong shape and size to be a child.

He hadn’t played them false. Good. She respected few people in this world and his self-sacrifice, however self-serving, had been worthy of her respect. She turned her attention to the devils with him, content to let the situation play out and wait for an opportunity.

Her ears caught fragments of the conversation as ‘er Ladyship rushed Nicodemus, the crimson tiefling’s guards restraining her easily. It seemed to be more of his trademark confidence and her flowing anger. The human woman was a terrifying warrior, but her anger was too quick, too unfocused. Muse knows it will cause them problems in the long run.

She frowns as the ritual begins and Nicodemus starts calling upon Belphagor. Her eyes dart down the mezzanine, Reed is hiding behind a plant and Myca is lost in a ritual. Thoughts rush through her head.

Nicodemus can be trusted to serve his own interests first, and those of his Mistress second. She disapproved of the warlock/patron relationship, having grown up with a similar one, but it is predictable, easily understood.

Myca will do everything she can to prevent the demon’s arrival, but Muse isn’t sure how effective her hallowing of already consecrated ground will be.

Reed… Reed will no doubt do something creative to simultaneously better and worsen the situation as he always does.

Chef’s cool head is elsewhere, keeping them safe from ambush.

Leaving ‘er Ladyship to follow along with whatever plan Nicodemus has. No.

It’s too risky. SHE has to do something.

Her tail lashes the air as she thinks, heartbeats turning into frozen seconds as a plan forms in her mind.

She glances over at Myca.

She thinks about the first time she had performed, the first smile on Myca’s face, that night of passion, heat and blood in the public baths. Each and every memory is full of a numinous connection to a world of infinite horizons, a world so much greater than one person.

She pulls on those connections, throwing them out into the Weave, into the uncaring cosmos.

‘Jophiel.’ She says quietly. ‘You don’t know me but Belphagor is coming. He will be here. He will be manifest. He must be stopped.’

There is a moment of silence as the universe waits for a response.

‘What will you sacrifice for this?’ The angel’s voice is a chorus in her head, the purest notes she has ever heard.

Without thinking about it, certainty filling her every thought as usual, she replies.

‘Myself.’

The pain is immediate, bands of fire wrapped around her heart, but it is short-lived. She collapses to the floor, her bow falling from suddenly nerveless fingers.

She expects to fall into the fire and smoke of the Nine Hells, but the Angel of Beauty has a gift for her. He gifts her happiness and she finds herself in a sun-lit wood, Myca singing songs as she dances in a clearing.

She smiles, her mind clear of its habitual scheming, and strides forward into paradise.

Years pass and the wood remains safe and unchanging. Perfect day follows perfect day.

And then the sky darkens. A pain, familiar and long forgotten, washes through her heart. She feels the ground beneath her feet writhe and pulse with the power of the wild places. Myca starts crying and stumbles towards her, pounding Muse’s back with her fists and they cling to each other.

‘I love you.’ She says between tears, repeating it like a mantra.

Understanding floods Muse’s mind. For her, the fight isn’t over. This is not where she belongs, angel be damned. There is a world which needs her.

She reaches down, letting the power of the earth fill her being.

Reality reasserts itself.

She hears the sounds of the temple, she feels Myca’s tears on her cheek, she feels the force of the angel as he hovers there, watching the ritual.

There will be consequences for what she has done.

But there is a half-elf who needs her.

Golden Hope

They waited in the darkness of the abandoned house, holding hands as they stared out of their little pool of light at the dusty walls of the secret room. Far below them, they heard the sounds of their strange visitors as they made their way from the mansion, the solid metal clanking of the big half-orc’s armour almost drowned out the incessant chatter of the gnome’s incomprehensible words.

“I don’t want to go back down there.” Sigra said, her eyes wide, and her hand cold in Lothar’s grasp. “It’s not a good place.” He smiled reassuringly at her, tucking an errant strand of hair behind her scarred ear.

“I’ll go and check it out. If they’re telling the truth…” His voice drifted off as the possibilities of what that much money could get them filled his mind.

They were a long way from the muddy hovel they’d been living in in the Sprawl and they had thought that here, squatting in this abandoned manor, their luck had been changing. They’d been here for a few weeks now, scavenging food from the magically restocking cellar, washing their clothes in the stream running through the woods behind the house. To think that they’d spent that first night so close to a small fortune was even more of an indication.

For people like them, clearly descendants of elves from the north who had lain with humans, life was hard. The Sprawl was a dirty, poor place where half-breeds were shunned as signs of ill omen, harbingers of disaster. No-one knew why, but everyone knew to cross the street when they saw a half-elf, or to look the other way when nearing a half-orc. It was why they’d shaved their ears, cutting the points from them, and grown out their lice-ridden hair to cover the tell-tale scars. They were fortunate and favoured their human ancestry, and their quality of life had improved after the wounds had healed, but they still hadn’t felt like they belonged. With this money, if it existed, they could find somewhere they did belong, even if it was just a small house on the Bank.

“Please be safe.” She whispered, meeting his eyes. He nodded and smiled again.

“Of course.” He squeezed her hand, “I’m just going downstairs.” He leaned forwards and kissed her gently. “Wait here, my love.” She smiled slightly and drew the blanket on their bed around her narrow shoulders.

“I’ll always wait for you.” He rested a hand briefly on her cheek, his thumb rubbing the scar from where she had been attacked by a mob of drunken louts a few years previously. She closed her eyes and leaned into the gesture.

“I’ll be back soon.” He stood, his knees stiff from the cool loft air, and picked his jacket up from the chair it had been resting on. His lungs, scarred from the smoke he’d inhaled as a child when his parents’ house burned down, pulled tight in the cold winter air as he opened the secret door and stepped out in the dusty loft space of the mansion.

Towers of boxes and piles of fabrics filled the space, a dim illumination coming from a series of circular windows set into the eaves gave him enough light to see easily by. He followed their well-worn path through the assorted mass of forgotten possessions and lost memories, his feet carrying him unconsciously towards the stairs leading down to the servants’ quarters.

The book shelves in the common area showed signs of being searched, the few remaining volumes laying on their sides where they had fallen after being disturbed. He paused, straining to hear anything in the house, his eyes drifting over the rest of the scene. Chairs waited patiently under tables only now being covered by a thin layer of dust, and a small collection of well-used games waited in one corner next to a small box with a label he couldn’t read.

When he heard nothing, he headed downstairs, his feet echoing slightly on the worn stone steps at the back of the house. The kitchen was as it always was, save for a small pile of leaves next to the slightly open door. He frowned at them. They looked like the leaves from the maze at the back of the house and he glanced out a nearby window. A large hole had been forced through the outer wall of the maze and twigs dotted the lawn in a line leading to the kitchen door.

He shook his head, focussing on the task at hand. He descended once more, past the cupboards which magically filled with food every morning and into the cool darkness of the cellar proper. The stone slabs under the worn soles of his shoes sent a chill into his feet as he walked to the shelves he knew lead into the secret rooms under the house. He reached out a trembling hand and pushed the right bottle, watching as the door opened into a small stone-walled room bare of any decoration.

He crossed to the other wall, his stomach churning and pressed the stone he’d been told about by the cat-person. There was a muted click and a section of the wall swung outwards. He glanced at the floor where they’d spent their first night in the house, and then stepped through.

Runes hovered below the surface of the stone, glowing with a pure golden light. He pressed a seemingly random panel in the wall opposite, still following the cat-person’s instructions, and pushed against the wall next to it.

The room beyond this secret door was made of the same dressed stone as everywhere else, but the stones were blackened and scorched in places, as if struck by lightning. His eyes were caught by the two large chests at the far end of the room, past the empty stand surrounded by scorch marks and carved with runes in a strangely elegant script. Holding his breath, he approached the two finely carved boxes.

The clasps were cool to the touch as he threw them both open, his eyes drinking in the golden coins within. For the first time in a while, he had a hope that they could make the future they wanted, that their life could be theirs for the owning.

Now, all they had to do was figure out a way to carry that much money out.

Homebrew D&D 5e Race – Gems

In a first for this site, I am happy to present a homebrew race for use in your D&D 5th edition games.
Inspired by the Crystal Gems from Steven Universe, each subrace is analogous to a character from the show, and is not faithful to the lore surrounding each gem type.
I own 0 copyrights in this regard, this is merely a translation of a show I like into a role-playing game I like and all rights go their respective owners.

Enjoy!


Traits

Ability Score Increase. Your Constitution score increases by 1.

Age. Gems don’t age as other races and are nigh immortal. They may be considered fit for purpose, or have reach emotional maturity, around the age of 150.

Alignment. Most Gems are inclined to lawful behaviour, but something causes the odd one to rebel and tread a more chaotic path. It is the rare Gem who is evil, however.

Size. Gems average between 4 and 6 feet tall with many different kinds of body type. Your size is Medium.

Speed. Your base walking speed is 30 feet.

Immortal Body. As Gems do not age in the normal manner, each one has a wealth of experience to draw upon. You have proficiency in the History skill, and in one other skill of your choice.

Illusory Form. Gems do not possess bodies in a biological sense; their forms are light projected from the gem each one has somewhere on their body. When you would be reduced to 0 hit points, you may retreat into your gem. You may spend hit dice as if you were having a short rest (whilst gaining none of the other benefits of a short rest) and then reform in the space you were previously occupying at the end of your next turn, but you gain a level of Exhaustion OR you may gain a number of hit points equal to your level and reform around your gem 1d4 hours later. Whilst in your gem, you may not gain the effects of any positive or negative spell, ability or similar, and you may gain no hit points other than through the methods described here.

Inner Light. You know the light cantrip but may only cast it on your gem. Constitution is your spellcasting ability modifier for it.

Fusion. Some Gems choose to fuse with another to overcome their weaknesses. As an action you may fuse and, whilst fused, you must decide which Gem is the Initiator and which is the Reciprocator. Fusion lasts for an hour, or until you use your action to separate. You gain the following features:

Expanded Health. The Initiator’s hit point maximum increases by half of the Reciprocator’s hit point maximum (rounding down). They also gain the Reciprocator’s current hit points, although any which would take their hit point total over their new hit point maximum are lost. When the Initiator and the Reciprocator separate, each returns to their normal hit point maximum and each has half the hit points remaining to the fusion.

Large Body. You become a Large creature and your weapon attacks deal an extra d4 damage.

Two Gems, One Body. The Initiator retains their sub-race’s Ability Score Increase and ONE of its features whilst gaining half (rounding up) of the Reciprocator’s Ability Score Increase and ONE of the Reciprocator’s sub-race’s features.

 

Subraces

Whilst there are many kinds of Gem, only a handful are likely to seek out the adventurer’s lifestyle.

Amethyst

Amethysts are bold, brash and playful, in love with life and the dangers of the open road.

Ability Score Increase. Your Constitution score increases by 1, and your Strength score increases by 1.

Malleable Shape. As an action, you may lower your Strength, Dexterity or Constitution score by 1 and raise your Strength, Dexterity or Constitution score by 1. This change lasts for 1 minute, but you may gain a level of Exhaustion to extend this duration by another minute. You can’t use this feature again until you finish a long rest.

Burst of Speed. As a bonus action, you may gain a +10 bonus to your speed, +1 AC and deal +1d3 damage until the end of your current turn. You can use this feature a number of times equal to your Constitution modifier (a minimum of once). You regain any expended uses at the end of a long rest.

 

Pearl

Pearls are calm, collected and at home among people, enjoying the chance to learn new skills.

Ability Score Increase. Your Charisma OR your Dexterity score increases by 2.

Graceful Movements. Whenever you make a Dexterity (Acrobatics) or Charisma (Performance) check related to dancing or otherwise moving gracefully, you are considered proficient in that skill (if you are not already) and add double your proficiency bonus to the check, instead of your normal proficiency bonus.

Adaptable Mind. At the end of a long rest you can choose a skill or tool you are not proficient in/with and add half your proficiency bonus (rounding down) to checks using that skill or tool until the start of the next long rest.

 

Ruby

Rubies are passionate, never afraid to jump into the thick of it.

Ability Score Increase. Your Strength score increases by 2.

Rough and Tumble. You have advantage on ability checks and saving throws to avoid falling over, being knocked prone or similar effects. This applies to the Dexterity (Acrobatics) check related to falling damage.

Fiery Temper. You have resistance to fire damage and know the produce flame cantrip. Constitution is your spellcasting ability modifier for it.

 

Sapphire

Sapphires are cool-headed, using their natural abilities to guide the actions of their allies.

Ability Score Increase. Your Wisdom score increases by 2.

Limited Foresight. You have the ability to peer into the future and gain advantage on one ability check or attack roll per short rest. You may confer this benefit upon any non-hostile creature you can see within 10 feet. You must decide to use this feature before the d20 is rolled.

Cool Mind. You have resistance to cold damage and know the ray of frost cantrip. Constitution is your spellcasting ability modifier for it.

 

Peridot

Peridots are hyper-focused and rational beings, driven by curiosity and the desire to create mechanical works and renowned for their control over metal.

Ability Score Increase. Your Intelligence score increases by 2.

Born to Create. You gain proficiency in one artisan’s tool of your choice. Additionally, any time you would add your proficiency bonus for this tool, your proficiency bonus is doubled.

Friend of Metal. As a reaction, you may impose disadvantage upon one weapon attack made using a metallic weapon wielded by a creature you can see within 10 feet of you.

 

Lapis Lazuli

Laconic and driven, Lapis Lazuli are born travellers, using their natural abilities to shape water to pay for passage on ships crossing the ocean.

Ability Score Increase. Your Dexterity score increases by 2.

One With the Ocean. You gain a swimming speed equal to your movement speed, can breathe air and water and learn the shape water cantrip. Constitution is your spellcasting ability score modifier for this spell.

Wings of Water. You may cast the fly spell on yourself. You can’t use this feature again until you finish a long rest. At level 5, you regain the use of this feature after a short rest.

 

Gemkin

Gemkin are produced during the rare union of Gem and another race. They typically resemble their non-Gem parent and carry with them an indefinable sense of loss as their Gem parent sacrifices their existence to bring the Gemkin into being. Gemkin always have their parent’s gem embedded in their body somewhere and those who adventure have learned to harness the strange powers within it.

Ability Score Increase. Any two of your Ability scores increase by 1.

Inherited Strength. Choose one racial feature from your parent race.

Font of Hope. You have advantage on saving throws against fear. Once per long rest, you may use an action to end the frightened condition on any non-hostile creature that can hear you as long you do not currently have the frightened condition.

 

A Night of Desire

The elves lay, their limbs intertwined under silken sheets damp with sweat. Rain was falling outside the empty casement of the window, Elenia had once said she liked to feel the breeze on her skin as she slept, and both she and Surial were happy for the pleasant coolness that brushed over their skin before dissipating in the comfortable warmth of the room.

She glanced down at the silver hair cascading over her chest whilst Surial slept, her head pillowed on Elenia’s shoulder. She remembered sleeping, remembered the blissful oblivion of a rest untroubled by the visions of what was coming. Not that either of them needed to sleep, as elves their bodies were more accustomed to descending into a meditative trance and sorting through memories of past lives for a few short hours rather then succumbing to unconsciousness and dreams, but they had been apart for too long and their lovemaking had been vicious and enthusiastic.

She could feel the wounds on her pale skin sealing themselves as her magic did its work. She didn’t regret the choices she had made, but sometimes she envied the primal urges which washed through Surial as a result of her connection to the natural world. Elenia’s own passions were guided more by the dark magic flowing through her, a current of power connected to a being only a few people were privileged enough to know of. Few in the city suspected her magic was not her own, and she was happy with that state of affairs.

She closed her eyes, focussing on the conduit of power to that strange, mystical prison. Her benefactor remained imprisoned, but she could sense the wards weakening as the gnome did his work. A smile graced her full lips as her focus was rewarded with the briefest of responses from the prisoner. Purpose filled her again and she stirred slightly, sliding Surial’s head gently onto the pillow as she climbed out of the bed. The floor, plain stone warmed only by a large fire burning in the marble fireplace, was smooth under her feet and she padded over to the window, looking out over the city as it slumbered beneath a mantle of rain.

She could feel something out there, something stirring in the world beyond the city walls. The fragments of knowledge her benefactor had managed to share with her told her that something unspeakably old and powerful was working against them, but she knew instinctively this was something far less old, something with a more understandable nature.

She reached out a slim hand, fingers flashing through a series of graceful patterns.

“Laeris sular.” She whispered, releasing the magic building in her palm. A mist spread from her fingers and formed into a hand adorned with a large, bird-skull ring. She flicked her own hand dismissively and the misty hand, streamers of vapour trailing behind it, moved to a nearby draw, lifted an ornately carved stone from it, and carried it back.

She took the stone and drew the magic back into her. The mist evaporated and she closed her eyes, following the pattern on the stone with her finger tips.

Shearmouth has fallen to the same cultists who tried taking over our city. Has she said anything about her brother?

She opened her eyes, peering through the rain in the direction of the manor house where she knew the bearer of her stone’s twin would be reclining on a pile of gold.

Not yet. Your people are closing in on his pawn and she fears she might have to intervene. I’ve cautioned her against it.

She could tell he wanted to say more over their magical link, but the spell was limited to short messages only. It didn’t prevent a mental impression of his lazy, good-natured smile following his words though, and she felt an answering one spread on her own face.

Gideon had been a good ally for all these years and their agreement had brought prosperity and security to the city, but she wondered sometimes if he treated the dangers they were up against with the appropriate amount of respect.

“You are worrying.” Surial’s voice, coming from the bed behind her, was clouded with sleep.

“It’s nothing.” She said, turning to walk towards the drawer she had taken the stone from. “Well. Nothing more than usual.” She placed it carefully back into the velvet-lined tray and slid the drawer shut. “With Shearmouth falling and the attempted coup here…” Her voice trailed off as Surial raised a finger to her lips with one hand and patted the bed with her other.

“Your team saved this city. Sigurd had no idea Hallister’s corruption ran so deep, or that he would try anything without Trentham being here. He thinks something else had its hooks into him, something darker than the “Pathfinder”.” The venom in her voice was palpable and her face twisted with anger as she mentioned the false god claiming dominion over the natural world.

“Careful, my love, I don’t want to have to buy a new mattress again so soon.” Elenia teased, her eyes on the claws growing from Surial’s fingers and remembering the feeling of them running down her back.

“Oh.” Surial looked down, forcing herself to breath calmly. “Sorry.” The claws retracted and she picked up one of Elenia’s rich brown hairs laying on the bed. She idly twined it around her fingers, enjoying the silky strength of it.

Elenia laughed, the musical sound bringing a smile to Surial’s own lips. “People might talk, that’s all.”

“People already do talk. It’s not like we try to hide our relationship.”

“You misunderstand, my love. People might wonder why I have to buy mattresses when it’s common knowledge that I’m a witch and use my magic to get what I want. I can’t have them thinking that I’m just like them, with the same needs. Wants. Desires.” Her eyes, a lustrous gold, danced with amusement and passion as she gazed at her pale-skinned lover. “Let alone that I act on them.” She darted forwards, reaching for Surial, giving in to the emotions rushing through her body once more.

A Darkened Cell

The fugue clouding her thoughts faded as the candle guttered. She didn’t need it to see by, her infernal heritage ensured that, but she knew it symbolised her childish hope and independence fading under the all encompassing darkness of her father and the Three Feathers. She spent the last few seconds of light staring at the brightly coloured mural painted on the wall opposite.

Her eyes, sore from crying, drank in the vibrant picture, its bold knight and valiant princess long since committed to memory. She knew if her father ever found out about it, or worse Aurus, they would clean the wall and she’d never be able to smuggle more paints in. It had taken months, and many failed lessons, for her to sneak enough things into this lonely cell for her to decorate it.

The candle flame flickered once in her solid silver eyes and then faded. Her skin, a pale lavender, faded to a light grey as all colour drained from the world and her thoughts became her own once more.

It had been pickpocketing again. She was good at sneaking through the city unseen, the distaste most people treated her with and a natural inclination to silence ensured she was happier remaining unnoticed, but her tail, growing faster than the rest of her, always gave her away.

She’d almost tripped her mark over this time. Roark, one of the older members of the Guild, had laughed as he stumbled and almost absently reached for her hand as it stretched towards the pouch on his belt.

“Try again.” He’d said, his smile almost hidden by his beard.

“No.” Aurus had cut in, the lamp light shining brightly on his golden scales. “She’s failed enough for today.” He paused, reaching into the pouch at his belt. “Rakshr vos kit.” The air had shimmered in front of her and the familiar effects of a confusion spell had settled into her mind.

“Come on, girl. You know where we’re going.” Aurus’ voice was slurred to her ears, the world around her speeding up and slowing down erratically. She swayed as if drunk and stumbled towards him.

“No. Do’t w’nt to.” She said. His draconic eyes narrowed.

“You learn. Or you go in the cell.” His hand reached for her arm and she stepped sideways, bumping into Roark. His brow furrowed slightly, and a sad look flashed in eyes as his arm reached to push her behind him. “Your father set the rules, girl. If it were up to me, you’d get the lash.” Roark’s arm froze, and he sighed, shaking his head.

“Go on, Ravenna. It’ll be worse for you if you don’t.” He said. “I’ll have something for you when you get out.”

“The girl needs to learn, Roark.” Aurus growled. “Her father wants her ready to replace him when the time is right. This city will be ours.”

“She’s just a little girl, you heartless bastard.” Roark muttered, pushing her forwards. She stumbled, her tail wrapping between her legs in her fugue state.

She was barely aware of the conversation, her thoughts felt like they were being dragged through the mud of Poet’s Corner, each one an effort of will.

“Wan’ sl’p.” She said, swaying in front of Aurus. “Don’ want dar’ness.” The dragonborn stared down at her.

“You’ll go into the cell. Or I’ll use the other spells your father gave me permission to use.

Even in her befuddled state, she could remember the pain, the mocking voices in her head and the terror of being rendered deaf and blind at the flick of a wrist.

Her father had told her she was being taught the usefulness of her senses in a thief’s life. He had smiled as he explained that the only things she could count on were her skills, and her mind, and that people would steal those from her if she let them. He had laughed when she asked who would do that to her.

“It’s a cruel world.” He had said, his mellifluous voice weaving around her head. “Trust no-one but the Guild.” He had sent her to the cell after that, telling her she needed to harden her heart and mind, that she couldn’t be a little girl anymore because the Guild needed her to be strong. It wasn’t enough for her to know how to walk undetected, or how to whisper in someone’s ear from a room away. She had to be able to do it without feeling remorse, or concern, or anything else.

There was a noise outside the cell door, footsteps and the soft clink of a key being inserted into the hole.

“Hello, Ravenna.” Her father’s warm voice rolled into the dark room as he stood back from the doorway. “Aurus told me you were being defiant earlier.” A silence stretched between them for a few heartbeats as he stared at her, a small girl sitting alone in the dark. “We can’t have that. Obedience to the Guild is everything.” His voice was deceptively friendly. She’d never heard him raise his voice in anger, or take a sharp tone with anyone, his words were always delivered in a warm, caring voice which wrapped itself around the listener’s ears like a hug.

As he spoke, a pale smoke drifted from his mouth and floated through the air to envelop her head.

“You’re going to be in here for as long as it takes you to learn that my word is law, and that there is no place for failures in the Three Feathers.” His words began to slur as the smoke sank into her skin and clouded her mind again. “Enjoy the darkness.” The door closed as he turned and walked away.

She sat in the darkness, the greys of the mural on the wall next to the door dancing and swirling as her mind rebelled against her, refusing to remain still.

Handful of Dust: One Day and Twenty Years Later

The following is an in character session report delivered by my barbarian, Baptiste. The game he is from is a West Marches style game and so this probably won’t be a frequent feature on this site, but I hope it is at least mildly interesting.

Whilst I kept most of his way of speaking out of the text to improve accessibility, Baptiste has a Cajun accent if you’d care to read it thus.

Enjoy!


The Fool’s Respite, four walls of hopes and dreams held together through a unique mix of stubbornness and despair, was the only place he could go when he returned to the Fort that evening. The wind, bitingly cold and threatening to topple him at every step, pushed him towards the battered wooden door and the sanctuary inside.

A few of the regulars, soldiers and other freelancers like him that he knew by sight, glanced up as he entered. Some looked back into their drinks immediately, their curiosity outweighed by their apprehension. The rest, their eyes wide and their mouths open, followed his swaggering progress towards the polished log that served as a bar. He still wore the cerise silk jacket, its brocade as pristine as the day it was sewn on, and he still carried the longsword with its ornate hilt, but apart from these obvious signs of wealth and foppery, they couldn’t believe it was him.

His hair, once a rich, golden brown was now sandy and greying at the temples. His face when he had left a few days before had been soft, his features still slightly blurred by youth, but now it was hard, a square jaw and sharp cheekbones covered in pale skin marred by a slight cut to the cheek and a dusting of stubble.

“My gods, Baptiste, what happened?” Elisa, the only barmaid who had been willing to look past his cocksure arrogance and get to know him, poured him a pint from the barrel behind the bar and pushed it towards his hand. As one, the chairs in the tavern creaked slightly as their occupants leaned closer. Baptiste raised the tankard, turned to face the crowd and downed a mouthful of the dark, bitter liquid. A barely suppressed grimace flashed over his face.

“Y’all want to know?” An easy smile drifted lazily onto his lips and a few of the nearby patrons looked away, intent on their own drinks. Most of the regulars, bored of being trapped inside by the biting wind, merely nodded. “Fine. I’ll tell ya.” He took another mouthful and pulled himself onto a stool at the bar. Elisa moved down the length of the log so she could watch his face better.

“As y’all know, I was in here a few days ago, helping Marek celebrate.” A knowing nod spread among the regulars. “I was due to head out beyond the fort the next day, so I shouldn’t have had has much to drink as I did, but a man’s got a right to drink his fill.” A murmur of assent flashed among those closest to him. “Reckon you’ll know the people I travelled with.” He paused and closed his eyes, his lips moving slightly as he recalled the names. “Fianna, Argavistus, Gwendolyn and Alister.” The names met with a mixed reaction and he waited for the crowd to fall quiet again.

“We headed out into the wilds, plannin’ on clearin’ the mines out so the Fort can start workin’ metal again, an’ sign postin’ the way for others. We found our way easy enough, followed a path Argavistus knew down a shallow valley towards the mines.” He paused, sipping the beer, “That’s where we found Baptiste’s Boulders. Two perfectly round boulders just layin’ in the middle of the path and it’s an adventurer’s right to name weird things they come across.

“So, we walked past the boulders and found the mine. Fianna knew the mine wouldn’t reach the other side of the hill, somethin’ ‘bout the air not movin’. While she was working that out, Agarvistus was poking around some faeces. He spent so long doin’ that I got bored and went in, figurin’ we’d either find the thing that made them or it’d find us. It was almost evening by this time so no-one was surprised when we found an empty bear den. It’d be huntin’, you see?

“We kept movin’, pushin’ deeper into the mine where we found something that seemed to eat the iron in the walls, and after we dealt with that, we found a dead dwarf, crushed by fallin’ rocks. I assume it was a dwarf, it had a map covered in ancient dwarven runes sewn into its clothes. Course, Fianna, a dwarf herself, wanted to lay it to rest so we set up camp and I went to sleep.” His knuckles whitened on the handle of his tankard and his eyes dropped to the floor.

“’magine my surprise when the mine got cold, wakin’ me up in time to see a gnome’s ghost walkin’ towards Alister. That’s how this happened.” He gestured to his hair and face. “Reckon I lost twenty years to the Shrieking Cold.” He fell silent and emptied the tankard in one long pull before slamming it onto the bar. “Didn’t sleep well after that, and I was happy when my watch came around.

“Breakfast, when we had it, was roast bear. I heard it returning during my watch and we tried to sneak up on it but,” He paused, looking around him, “dwarves in heavy armour with a lame leg aren’t the quietist travelling companions.” A laugh rippled through the bar. “But we managed to bring it down.” His left hand slid into his pocket, pulled out a bear claw and began toying with it. “It’s not the nicest bear I ever ate, that was in Albert’s in Rocquevin, but it filled us and gave us the strength we’d need to follow the dead dwarf’s map.

“From what we could make out, we knew we were lookin’ for a waterfall, probably stained red by the iron in the earth accordin’ to both Fianna and Alister. So, we retraced our steps, walking back towards the mountains where we found such a thing, a waterfall of red water falling in front of a fake wall. Fianna pushed, and the wall opened, revealin’ some sort of temple.” He met the eyes of those looking at him. “I pray you’ll never have to hear the wailing of the trapped souls we found in there, their essence holding an undead creature of great power at bay.” He shuddered.

“The thing almost took the life of Valor, one of the Fort’s guards, when he joined us earlier that day, but I managed to drag him out of danger in time. Thanks to the two clerics of smith gods we had with us, Fianna and Argavistus, my sword and Fianna’s hammer managed to wound the creature enough to undo whatever magic held it together and we sent it back where it came from, laying the trapped souls to rest and freeing an elemental thar was also being used to jail it.” Absently, he took the full tankard Elisa passed him. “If you go beyond the walls, you’ll find a new river rising.

“The frontier isn’t what I thought it’d be.” He said, raising the drink high. “So, here’s to us, the fools at the edge of the world, and to Gwendolyn Maple, a warmer heart you’d struggle to find.”

Dungeon Maps: The Vault of the Shifting Sands

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been teaching myself the basics of GIMP, an open source alternative to Adobe’s Photoshop, in an effort to upskill myself (but mostly because I enjoy learning new things). Today I am happy to present the fruits of my labours!

I already know a few things I could do better and will probably make a few more maps until I am comfortable with layer masks, texture work and the like. As a first attempt though, I’m happy with what I’ve done. If you have any advice, please feel free to leave a comment.

A few notes; the .pngs on this page are full size and, if printed, should measure 1 inch to a square, as is standard for D&D battlemaps. If you use these maps in a digital campaign, each square measures 100px to a side. Room descriptions (including an array of traps and puzzles) and art credits can be found in the .pdf here.

This is primarily intended for 5th Edition Dungeons and Dragons, but you should be able to adapt it smoothly to any system.

Chapter Five: Speaking with the Dead

Last session saw the party return from Cragmaw Castle and start making their way through the list of side quests they have accumulated.


Cast

  1. – N’idera – Half-elf Ranger (Beast Master)
  2. – Ara’tak – Aarakocra Druid (Moon)
  3. – Sirath – Dragonborn Paladin (Vengeance)

DM – Torvak – Goliath Cleric (Life)


The party, with Vyerith in tow, returned to Phandalin and collected their reward for clearing out Cragmaw Castle. Whilst there, they sold what spare equipment they could and received the Gloves of Revelation from Gundren Rockseeker in return for escorting him to his base of operations.

[DM’s Note: The Gloves of Revelation are a magical item that allows the wearer to cast Identify once a day. The version of the spell that is cast allows only for obvious magical effects to be discovered. I gave this ability to my players because they have no party member capable of casting that spell and my plans for the campaign don’t really include reliable access to someone who can cast it.]

Sildar, relieved at the return of his friend, promised future rewards when his belongings finally arrive. Gundren, for his part, offered to accompany them to Wave Echo cave when they decide to go there.

N’idera, curious about her bow, used the Gloves to reveal its magical properties whilst the party decided, on the flip of a coin, to travel to Coneyberry and converse with Agatha.

By the time they reached Coneyberry, the Gloves had recharged and Sirath gave her the dagger from the hunting lodge to examine. The moment she touched it, vines erupted from the earth and wrapped around her, supporting N’idera’s body as she fell unconscious.

The Ranger appeared on the edge of a cliff and was asked a series of questions by two figures she realised were Malar and Gwaerom. She told them that she protects the wilds whilst Sasha hunts those who would harm them. The two gods were satisfied with this answer and she awoke, to see a blue glow around Sasha’s neck. Investigation revealed a small chain collar apparently growing there.

[DM’s Note: The dream vision was designed to allow N’idera’s player to choose the effects of her weapons by choosing a focus on hunting, or guarding. The answer she gave wasn’t one I predicted, but resulted in some cool character development and a flexible ‘loadout’ of magical weapons.]

Sirath realised the dagger would be better with N’idera and the party found Agatha’s lair. There they conversed politely with the banshee and obtained the information Sister Giraele required.

With that taken care of, the party decided to head towards Old Owl Well.

They approached it from behind and accidentally alerted the zombies working in the tower. Curious, but not hostile, Kostus emerged from his tent to investigate and was forced to shrug off the effects of Sirath’s Abjure Enemy. The party was hard-pressed to fend of the zombies but they succeeded, eventually, and were forced to incapacitate Kostus as he fled.

N’idera took him down, shooting him in the leg, and that was the point at which we ran out of time.

[DM’s Note: I use a rule that a ranged, non-magical attack can incapacitate an NPC but giving the players a round to stabilise said NPC, providing the attack is not a critical hit.]

Lady Kima of Vord and Cassandra de Rolo – A Grave Conversation

Here is the last entry for Critical Role Relationship Week and as promised, I have compiled a PDF of all the vignettes I wrote.

Enjoy!


The blade on my shoulder felt cool where it pressed against the skin of my neck. The tombstones lying all around were disquieting at this time of day.

With the sun barely risen, and the clouds in the sky, the scene looked like something I would have stumbled across back in the Dusk Meadow District. A mausoleum nearby caught my eye and, for a second, a tall, hooded figure stood in front of it. I blinked and the figure disappeared.

I felt my fingers tightening unconsciously around the sword hilt and forced myself to breathe. My breath plumed in the air visibly and I frowned. Something was wrong.

I stopped and looked around.

Ahead of me, I could see Lady Cassandra and her guards in front of an ornate crypt. Behind me, Jarett was sauntering out of sight. I could see nothing else in the graveyard and yet, I was certain that something else was here with us.

“Come out where I can kill you.” I whispered under my breath. The silence answered me and the feeling passed as abruptly as it had arrived. I shivered and glanced again at the mausoleum that had attracted my attention. A lone bird was perched upon it.

As I saw it, it gave a loud caw and flew off.

“Bloody bird.” I muttered and started walking again.

My plate clanked quietly as I moved and it broke the ominous silence. Birdsong filtered through the air and the guards with Lady Cassandra flinched, as if jerking themselves to wakefulness. One of them turned and leaned towards her slightly. She nodded and made a dismissive gesture. The two figures saluted and began walking towards me.

“The Lady bids you welcome.” One of them said, his voice deep in the full face helm. “We will be nearby if anything happens.”

I nodded and grinned.

“I’ll let you know if it’s something I can’t handle.”

The other guard laughed quietly and they continued past me.

“Lady Kima.” Lady Cassandra’s voice was strained, dark rings lined her eyes and her smile was a tired one. “Thank you for coming.”

“Lady de Rolo.” I inclined my head hurriedly, barely remembering the etiquette lessons I’d suffered through in the Platinum Sanctuary.

“Cassandra, please.” She flicked her fingers in a dismissive gesture. “I endure enough of the proper formalities in the castle.” She met my eyes, looking down into them with a pleading expression on her face.

“Cassandra.” I smiled. “Why am I here?” I looked around again. “Graveyards aren’t really my thing, you know.”

She laughed.

“I know. You’re here because I wished to pay my respects to the memory of my parents and because I wanted somewhere we couldn’t be overheard.” I nodded. “I worry about a lot of things. I worry about my brother. I worry about redemption. I worry about my people.” She fell silent and looked up at the empty sky. “But most of all, I worry about what we’re going to do if the worst happens. I am not a warrior like you or Percival. All of this is new to me. Lady Kima, would you teach me to fight?” She looked down at me again.

“I’m always happy to fight, Lad- Cassandra. But Jarett…” She shook her head, cutting me off.

“Jarett is competent and experienced. But he will never think of himself as more than an employee. I need someone who isn’t afraid of shouting at me when I need it. I need someone who will show me how to get the job done. Someone who doesn’t care about social standing, or the niceties. In short, Lady Kima, I need you. Will you do this for me? Will you teach me to fight so that I may better defend my people?”

I grinned widely.

“Will I take every opportunity to hand you your ass without regrets? Of course, I will. But,” I stopped smiling. “I will also show you how to improve. A sword is only as good as the intent behind it. Intention, Cassandra, begins here.” I touched her chest with my gauntleted hand. “Do you have the resolve it takes to fight?”

She straightened.

“I am a de Rolo, Lady Kima. Much like Percival, I have the resolve to do anything I set my mind to.”

I laughed and held my hand out to her.

“Good. Then this will be fun.”

Jarett Howarth and Trinket – Prepared for Anything

Today is the penultimate day of Critical Role Relationship Week. Tomorrow’s entry will round things off nicely and be accompanied by a PDF of the entire week’s worth of updates.
Look for another update later concerned more with the usual content on this website.

Enjoy!


“Look after him, darling.” Vex’ahlia said over her shoulder as she walked through the doorway back into the castle.

“Of course.” Jarett replied, eyeing the growing crowd and turning to address it. “I can see there won’t be any training until this happens, so you may as well come in and watch.” He gestured for the onlookers to line the walls of the training yard. “The life of a mercenary, or a soldier, or even a guard, requires you to be ready for anything.

Obviously, at the moment, our problem is dragons, wyverns and lizardfolk. But that does not mean you can be caught off-guard by less…” His voice trailed off as he searched for an appropriate word. “Less awe-inspiring threats.” He drew his sword. “It is my job to make sure that you’re prepared for any enemy, at any time.”

A few of the guards watching began to whisper amongst themselves and he rounded on them.

“You think that you know all of this?” He asked, his voice quiet. “You think that you know how to use a sword? That, when the moment comes, you will be able to do what you must in defence of your city?” He gave a grim smile. “Good. You will need that certainty to carry you through.” He stopped pacing and turned to face the centre of the training yard.

A large, brown bear stood there, the morning sun glinting from the metallic plates of chitin that it wore as armour. Jarett took a few moments to admire the workmanship of the armour and the primal might of the bear.

“That, as you can see, is a bear.” He looked around, his sword by his side. “A common sight in the forests around the city. Lady Vex’ahlia has kindly agreed to let him spar with me so that I can teach you the skills you need to use in case you ever encounter one whilst out hunting. As you can also see, it is armoured. This is not a natural state for a bear.”

A few guards let out a laugh and he nodded.

“Because this is the Lady’s companion, I have agreed to do my best not to hurt him and, I have been assured, he understands not to try to kill me.” Out of the corner of his eye, Jarett saw the bear make a clumsy nodding motion with its head. He smiled and walked over to a rack of training weapons.

He scanned it quickly, looking for one of the heavy wooden practice swords. He sheathed his own blade, drawn more for emphasis than intent, and lifted a wooden blade from the hooks it rested on. Giving it a few practice swings to learn its balance, he picked up a shield from where it leaned against the rack and turned to face the bear again.

“Assuming you live long enough to draw your weapon against a bear in the wild, you have a few options. You can try to fend it off and summon help, you can try to run away or, and this is the foolhardy choice, you can try to kill it.” He looked at the bear and readied himself. “Pay attention, because what you are about to see may save your life. Now, Trinket.”

At his words, the bear exploded into action. Giving out a deafening roar, Trinket charged straight for him. He watched the beast’s movement with an experienced eye and dove sideways at the last moment, rolling to his feet as Trinket slammed into the weapons rack.

The wooden construction collapsed in a cloud of splinters and Trinket bellowed again, turning to face him. Jarett had backed away from the bear and stood facing him across the yard, sword and shield readied once more.

The bear shook itself free from the wreckage and took a few steps towards him before breaking into a blur of teeth and muscle.

He tried the same thing again and realised too late, that Trinket had anticipated his movement. As he dived sideways, the bear lashed out with a massive paw, hitting him solidly in his breastplate. He skidded along the ground and smashed into the stone wall, where he lay winded.

Trinket, thrown off-balance by his own attack, stumbled and fell.

The bear was the first to regain its feet and stalked over to where Jarett lay, struggling to breath and fighting the pain that threatened to overwhelm him. Trinket lowered his head and butted his muzzle against Jarett’s throat.

The man nodded and dropped his sword, reaching up to use a plate of the bear’s armour to help him stand.

“And that,” he gasped, “is why you do not fight a bear alone. Or in such a small area. The main strategy when fighting a bear is attack in large numbers.” He patted Trinket’s head cautiously. “What do you think about getting some food?”

The bear looked at him for a second and then, slowly and deliberately, licked his face from chin to temple.