The Cask of Winter -4 July-





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    The Cask of Winter -4 July-

    Dramatis Personae


    EINAR THE JOYOUS, a Vangal warrior, nephew of the Oski chieftain
    LOUIS THE SATYR, an aelfborn bard from Arbonne
    RURIK THE QUIET, a warrior with ogre blood
    REVEREND STEFANO BAROZZI, a priest from Genova
    REVEREND ILSE OF REIFSNYDER, a templar from Mordengard
    WIGLIFF THE WISE, a scoundrel, son of the Oski chieftain and Einar’s cousin

    TÖSKJEL, a voelva (witch)
    HROTHGAR, lord of Oski Faste and chieftain of the Oski tribe, vassal of the Earl of Rothland
    HALGA, Wigliff's sister

    Wigliff's brothers
    RAGNAR
    HYGLACK
    WULFGAR
    HELFDANE THE FAT
    EDGTHO
    HERGER
    RONETH

    HENRI LECONTE, Bishop of Beauclerc
    LUIGI LOCATI, Bishop of Ottschtul
    LUKAS OF REIFSNYDER, Ilse's brother
    ZURMLURD, a wizard
    MENRIC, Bishop of Athingburgh
    HARALD LEIFSSON, Earl of Rothland and vassal of King Otto of Mordengard

    ~~~~~~~~~~

    Einar slept. In his dreams, he strode across a battlefield with serpents writhing on his shoulders, whispering death in his ears. The Norns watched from above, silently unraveling the tapestries of lives well-lived; the skeins of brave men now feasting in Valhalla. Ahead of him loomed an army of the dead, clothed in human flesh and armed with fire. The moon god Mani hurled spears of silk from his chariot far overhead, and Einar pressed on, hewing through the dead, though they cared not, for no man could die twice. He surged toward a spire jutting from the ground like a gnarled tooth, and at the base of that spur of rock a figure waited. Older than living memory, the voelva Töskjel hunched over her knees, her bowed back no longer able to straighten. Her eyes glistened with foresight, and Einar knew fear. Around her, spirits shimmered: a ghostly honor guard of the fallen. The earth shuddered as Jormungand heaved; Einar teetered, then leapt a fissure and landed prone at Töskjel’s side. She peered down her warty nose and smiled through her beard, unperturbed by the flailing of the World Serpent. Her black gums smelled of rotting flesh as she wheezed and spoke.

    When the mead-hall of your ring-giver
    lies silent from the death of axe-hands,
    you will meet a herald of alfar seed
    who flees the gnash of wolves’ teeth.
    In a land of fire he will bandy Otan’s theft
    to pay your weregild and enter halls long forgotten.
    The wind-bowl will take him,
    and the death of snakes will descend upon the world.
    Lo! No table of fire will devour the earth’s bounty,
    wound-bees will fill the sky as kings play the game of iron.
    Only a pourer of beer, a spear-shaker,
    will brave the arrow-dew to make the world aright.


    Einar sagged under the weight of his Weïrd, and reached for his ax. The crone cackled and wagged a knotted finger, and he froze, unable to move. She bent down, her fetid breath upon his face, and kissed him with dry, leathern lips. Her eyes, points of black fire, blazed into him, and he lay transfixed by the burning in his soul. The world darkened, and he awoke.

    He lay on the floor of his lord’s hall in Oski Faste between the girth of old Freggi Hairy-Breeks and the ale-soaked stench of Ulf the Angry. At his feet, a dog worried at a scrap from last night’s meal. In the haze of the smoky longhouse, women moved quietly, tending fires and mending clothes. It was early yet, but through the hole above the fire pit he spied the sky—dark, lusterless, and swirling with angry gray clouds. It would snow again today.

    Einar grunted and shifted aside the bulk of the sleeping warriors so he could rise. The dog growled at him, but he ignored it, stepping over the cur blearily and tromping to the doors. From there he staggered out into the biting morning cold. The fortified village of Oski Faste hunkered low against the hillock upon which it stood, as though trying to avoid the brunt of the slashing winds from the north. Einar walked to the edge of the hall’s wooden walk and observed the waters on Lake Oski as he relieved himself in the snow. Short, choppy whitecaps burst over leaden waves, and he knew that the coming storm would be the worst yet of the season. Finishing, he glanced around the wooden houses and palisades, seeing few of his kinsfolk outside today; only those whose duties required that they brave Ymir’s breath went hurriedly about their tasks.

    Yawning, Einar turned to reenter the hall and break his fast when he spied a procession of men trudging up the slope beyond the palisade. His eyes widened, and he burst into the hall and bellowed, “Awake! Awake! The hunters return!” Then he barreled out of the lodge and down the slope toward the opening in the fence where guards were pulling back the wooden gate.

    Five men bore litters through muddy ice, their faces filthy and grim. Upon the litters lay covered corpses, their cloaks hardened with frozen blood. Einar and the guards looked on grimly as the hunters approached, their breath manifesting a forest of icy air as they hauled their bleak load to the gates. No one spoke until a man named Olvir spat words like daggers. “It came at us out of the mists. A troll. Before we could draw swords, it had gutted Sven and sank its poisoned teeth into Thrand. We fought like bears, but Kjar and Hoketil joined them in death before the fiend retreated with its feast. Sven’s wife will not need to build a pyre; nothing of him remains, save this.” He handed Einar Sven’s sword. No blood marked it.

    One of the guards, young Eyolf, spat upon the ground vehemently and spoke. “Aye, it’s tasted man-flesh now. We must hunt it down with spears and burn it ere it returns to plague our kinsmen.”

    Olvir eyed Einar and gestured with his fist, “Is this not why the voelva bound your ax with runes of power? Your cousins say that no troll can long withstand it.”

    “This is so,” Einar nodded, “I will put Angreiðr to its work before long. But for now, let us tend to our valiant dead. My lord uncle will hold a feast for them tonight in honor of their bravery.”

    The hunters nodded solemnly. The guardsmen took a litter, Einar took another while two hunters took up the watch, and together the men marched through the ice-covered mud toward the looming hall perched upon the mount.

    An errant snowflake brushed Einar’s cheek, and he grinned in anticipation of the revelry and fighting to come. Even while he did so, a worry he did not apprehend coiled through his mind, leaving him with a vague discomfort. The mead that night soured in his mouth, which vexed him greatly, all the more because he could not fathom why.
    Attached Thumbnails Attached Thumbnails Rothland Map.JPG  
    Last edited by ForceUser; Tuesday, 4th July, 2006 at 08:21 PM.

 

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    Link to character gallery here.

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    In the depths of a frost-rimed forest far to the west of Oski Faste, a figure floundered through waist-high snow drifts, flailing wildly for purchase. Bundled in thick furs and wrapped in a woolen cloak, he panted heavily in the freezing cold, and felt numbing fire burn his lungs as he did so. His frantic exhalations hung in the still air, marking his passage as surely as the ploughed snow in his wake. Somewhere behind him, wolf-like howls punctuated the woodland like the sound of a dropping portcullis, sharp and increasingly violent. A surge of terror sent a rush of blood to his head and he staggered a moment, overcome with hopelessness. I’ll never escape, he despaired, they’ll be upon me at any moment.

    From ahead, the sound of steel hewing through flesh resonated across the distance, followed by a brutally truncated yelp of pain. A hoarse, inarticulate battle cry wafted from the scene—Rurik. The half-ogre still lived, then. Of all his companions, only Rurik possessed the strength of arms and the weapon to withstand their assailants, but even he would not live long. Soon, Louis knew, giant blood would stain the snow.

    What the hell, he thought, there’s nowhere to run anyway. He drew his silver-etched zweihander clumsily and tottered through the mountainous drifts in the direction of the exchange. He grinned ruefully under his week-old beard; what a story this would have made! The women would have swooned. The last stand of Louis the Satyr against a pack—no, a horde—of monstrous wolves born of ice. Through the trees up ahead, he spied a heavy ironclad figure swinging a gigantic black blade with frenzied abandon; beyond the figure, horse-sized forms that blended with the snow banks darted and growled in hatred. Louis hummed to himself, and a thrill of understanding burst through his muscles—the greatsword, normally an exquisite lump of steel with which he bore no proficiency, became an instrument of death in his hands in a single instant. The stolen prowess would last only moments, “but I’ll be dead soon anyway,” he muttered carelessly. “Ho, Rurik!” he cried, “Save some for me!”

    From beneath his great helm, the half-ogre responded with a muffled bark, “Louis? Run! I can’t hold them!” The ancient giant-forged sword in his hand, Frostmourne, cleaved through bone and gristle as he yelled. Rurik’s armor was covered with ice, residue of the beasts’ frozen breath.

    Louis giggled feverishly before dramatically mounting a snow bank. He brandished his weapon at the white wolves arrayed below him—five in all, each as big as a warhorse. A sixth lay bleeding at Rurik’s feet. “Hear me, dogs of Thrym! We may die this day, but the earth will drink the blood of you snowpiss coal-chewers before you have us at our last!”

    Rurik surged with inspiration at Louis’ words and cried out, stepping into the teeth of his foes and pressing them furiously with his gargantuan black sword. Frostmourne arced overhead and found its mark—a winter wolf fell dead, opened from neck to breastbone. Two more beasts flanked him, and one spoke thickly in the tongue of men. “I will bleed you slowly, little giant, and you will beg me for death before I grant it.” The speaker lashed at Rurik with its teeth and found the joint between his bracer and vambrace, biting deep into his arm. With that he jerked violently, seeking to yank the half-ogre off his feet. Rurik flailed as the wolf savaged his arm, but was driven to the ground. As the other beasts closed for the kill, a bright sword-point flashed in the waning light, and a sanguine blossom burst through fur-clad flesh. The wolf mauling Rurik howled and released its grip, whirling upon the much smaller form of Louis and his silvery zweihander.

    “Come on then!” he yelled. In response, the winter wolf whined a fell laugh, stepping in pools of blood grown from its own flesh.

    I’ll have the man-price for that,” it rasped, “in man-flesh.”

    “That’s a problem for you,” Louis responded blithely, “For I am not a man! Not strictly speaking.”

    The pack encircled him menacingly as Rurik bled out his life in the snow, trying feebly to rise. “It matters not,” the wolf replied, “I will eat your heart, and my brothers will devour your guts.”

    Louis backed away steadily, anxiously aware that his brief expertise with the zweihander was rapidly fading. He made a show of snorting disdainfully in the wolf’s face, and felt its cold breath crystallize the sweat upon his brow. Over the beast’s shoulder, he could see that Rurik had risen to his knees, leaning unsteadily upon Frostmourne’s bulk. So much trouble caused by that evil weapon, he thought errantly. He stepped back again, and now he saw out of the corner of his eye that a wolf had flanked him. In moments he would be dragged to the ground and torn to pieces. He adjusted his stance to the left, flexing his grip upon his sword, and then his eyes widened. A beatific smile crossed his face underneath his woolen scarf.

    “Rurik! Follow me!” he screamed before incanting a spell. Arcane energy converged at a spot at his feet, and a pool of thick, gooey grease spread rapidly through the trampled snow between him and his nearest assailants. He leapt past a gnarled bole of pine and ran for his life. Behind him, he heard Rurik clanking erratically, and the wolves’ renewed howls.

    “Louis! Where are we going?” the half-ogre bellowed.

    “Shut up and run!” Louis screamed in response. It was close, he knew. He cackled wildly, knowing that Father Fortune had smiled on him today.

    There. A pair of pine trees stood crossed like swords, alone in a narrow glade. He staggered to the spot and called out hysterically, “Guardian! I would pass!”

    A bored voice responded from above the makeshift arch, “So. One comes yet again.”

    “Good sprite, I have no time to bargain,” Louis began frantically. Excitement twisted his tongue to near-uselessness. “My friend and I must pass now!” Behind him, he heard the wolves’ cry of success as they entered the snowy glade and spied the half-ogre.

    “What care I? You may pass if you wish, fey-child, but your friend must follow the forms.” Louis could see that the guardian had apparated now, a tiny brown man with a pot belly and a long, white wispy beard, who sat upon a branch high up. “I’m looking forward to this,” the fey intoned conspiratorially as it rubbed its hands together. “It’s been some while since I’ve had a visitor.”

    “Look,” Louis began, heroically suppressing his temper. Behind him, Rurik slashed and swung desperately at the winter wolf pack, which had learned caution around his mighty sword. Even so, Louis knew that in moments they would be finished. “Now’s not a good time. Ask anything of me for my friend’s safe passage and I will provide it. But I beg you, ask me now!”

    The faerie calmly scratched its beard for a moment, and then flicked its glance in annoyance to the furious fighting behind the bard. Obviously put out by this turn of events, it replied grumpily, “Oh very well. Have you any spirits?”

    For an instant Louis felt poised to reply that he did not, but the moment of selfishness passed, and he dug frantically into his bag, retrieving a silver-capped drinking horn. He thrust it at the sprite. “Here,” he declared, “this is the finest mead from any brewer west of Hrosskel Fjord. Take it with my blessing! May we pass?” He glanced fearfully over his shoulder to see Rurik stagger and nearly fall again. He knew that if the giant fell a second time he would never live to stand up.

    The miniscule fey reached out greedily for the horn, lifting it despite the fact that it dwarfed him. He uncapped it and drank deeply, then smacked his lips in approval. “Mmm, that’s quite good. Very well, your friend may pass.”

    ”Rurik!” Louis cried, “Watch where I go and follow me! Follow me now!” And with that, he stepped through the arch and vanished.

    A spike of fear passed through the half-ogre’s sluggish mind, but he fought backward defensively, pace after pace, until he felt the trees at his shoulders. Just as he whirled to step through, he heard the inhalation of a winter wolf preparing to breathe a cone of icy vapor. He fell across the threshold with a cloud of stinging particles chasing him on, then felt no more.
    Last edited by ForceUser; Wednesday, 7th September, 2005 at 03:51 PM.

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    Bump!!

    Great stuff man!

    I hope to inspire such tales with Sainrith and party someday

    Consider this a bump.

    Let us have more! More I say!
    Last edited by Drowbane; Friday, 9th September, 2005 at 02:28 PM.

    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
    Fathers of the Game
    R.I.P.
    Ernest Gary Gygax | David Lance Arneson
    07/27/1938 – 03/04/2008 | 10/01/1947 – 04/07/2009
    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

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    Augh, another ForceUser SH! Dare I read, and risk getting sucked in to another promising story that will die a premature death (I'm looking at you, Vietnamese Adventures...).

    Ah, who am I kidding... I'll be watching this one too.
    Lazybones's Story Hour Threads:
    Can a rag-tag band of heroes save the Earth from alien invasion? Find out in my X-COM story.
    My foray into 4th edition is Lazybones's Keep on the Shadowfell/Thunderspire Labyrinth. Characters here.
    Can a band of condemned prisoners survive the horrors of Rappan Athuk? Find out in the Doomed Bastards. Characters here.
    Visit the Shackled City, from the pages of Dungeon magazine. Characters here.
    Wander the forgotten byways of Faerûn in Travels through the Wild West:
    Books I and II, Book III (the Isle of Dread), Book IV, and the final thread, Books V-VIII. Characters here.
    D&D fiction, adventures, NWN modules, and other stuff at my web page.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Lazybones
    Augh, another ForceUser SH! Dare I read, and risk getting sucked in to another promising story that will die a premature death (I'm looking at you, Vietnamese Adventures...).

    Ah, who am I kidding... I'll be watching this one too.
    Yeah, there's always that risk. On the other hand, both of those SHs died with their respective campaigns. I have a good feeling about this current campaign. Have a seat.

    (I do still miss the Vietnamese game. :\ Easily my most ambitious project ever!)

  • #7
    I echo, second and otherwise agree with everything Lazybones said.

    I really loved your Vietnamese storyhour, Forceuser. It was one of the most stmospheric on the boards. From the first two posts this story looks like it could be a worthy successor - so I hope it lasts a whole lot longer.

    Looking forward to the next update ...

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    Einar squatted in frigid mud and stared blearily at what appeared to be a massive pile of troll dung. His mead-drenched memories from the previous night were spotty, but he recalled boasting of his prowess and the feebleness of giants. Someone—he didn’t recall who—had challenged this assertion, and after the brawling had ended he had taken up his ax and swaggered into the winter night to prove his kinsman wrong.

    Einar rubbed his throbbing skull and refocused on the two foot-tall mountain of muck before him. It appeared scattered, which was not uncommon—trolls often dug through their own waste for the choicest bits of what they hadn’t fully digested the first time around. Judging from the dispersal of the dung and the pattern of the tracks, the troll had lingered here for long minutes, busily combing through its feces.

    Einar snorted and stood. The Hagmoor, he knew, stretched before him for several miles to the south of Lake Oski, but the thick fogs common to the moor in winter obscured vision beyond twenty paces. The vapors also dampened sound, which to Einar’s superstitious mind was devils’ work, meant to entrap the unwary. He had already sidestepped several patches of false ground which could consume a man entirely—traps lain by nökk or pukje*.

    The troll was easy enough to track—it had meandered off to the southwest several hours ago, no doubt looking for large game. It had devoured Sven yesterday, which meant that the beast was by this point ravenously hungry again. Trolls must eat constantly, and when meat was scarce they were known to eat each other.

    Ruefully, Einar acknowledged to himself that his boasting had outstripped his skill; there was little chance that he could defeat a troll in single combat, even while wielding Angreiðr, unless he caught it asleep. He resolved to follow the creature until it slept, but he knew that there was little chance of that until it found a meal. He would have to pit his endurance against that of the troll and hope that he could avoid fatigue until after the fiend had eaten. He worried, though, because his kinsman Armod and his family lived near the moor’s northwestern edge upon the lake. If the troll wandered north and caught scent of the farmstead, there would be a slaughter. Luckily, the infernal mists of the Hagmoor worked to Einar’s advantage in this—not only would they obscure him from sight while he shadowed the troll across the moor, but they hampered both sound and smell also.

    Resolved, Einar hefted his ax and his longspear and trotted into the billowing veil.

    ~~~~~~~~~~

    The cold night upon the moor had been bearable for Louis, still under the effects of an endure elements spell from one of his late companions, but for Rurik it had been a test of fortitude with nowhere to lay but upon the damp, muddy earth, and nothing to shelter him but his sodden furs. They took turns on watch, but Louis had awoken late in the night to rapid mutterings and had discovered Rurik standing with Frostmourne in hand, apparently fast asleep. His mutterings sounded giantish, though Louis knew that Rurik did not speak the tongue of his jöten ancestors. Most disturbing by far had been the wisps of pale ether constricting around the cold-forged blade, and the dull blue glow of the nið-runes** etched upon it. This morning, Rurik seemed unaware of his nocturnal ramblings, and Louis feared which was truly the master—sword or warrior.

    Louis’ troubles were many. He had wept at the deaths of his friends, the gnomes from Yoppletop and the erstwhile mercenary Tharonn, with whom he’d shared many a tavern tale. They had been bosom companions all, and some of them he’d known for years. Now he was stranded in some eerie northland bog with a giant who may or may not be possessed by his own sword, and worse—much, much worse—he was bereft of any mead with which to celebrate his friends’ passing. Damn that sprite!

    Louis heaved a heartfelt sigh and thought of Eriador, his homeland far to the south. He missed the welcoming bodies of his favorite women—Clare, Theresa, even Innica, when the mood struck her. How was she getting on? he wondered. Surely she’d forgiven him by now.

    Louis scratched one of the stubby goat-horns upon his brow and stood. He sighed again dramatically. “Are you ready, then?” he asked of Rurik.

    The giant stood adjusting his mud- and blood-caked armor. Frostmourne lay quiescent upon his back. “Yes. Where are we going?”

    “Oh, I don’t know. I thought we’d go…that way.” Louis pointed in a random direction.

    “Why?”

    “Why not? It’s as good as any other, and we are bound to encounter civilization at some point.”

    “Why don’t we head toward mountains? People live near mountains.”

    “Certainly. Where, pray, are the mountains in this region, for I can see them not.”

    “I just meant, let’s find some.”

    “Excellent idea. How should we do so?”

    “I don’t know. Mountains are often north,” Rurik huffed, thinking of his village far to the south, “let’s go north.”

    “Splendid! And which way is that?”

    Rurik’s face darkened. “Don’t make fun of me. You’re always making fun of me.”

    “I’m simply asking, my good oaf, which direction north lies. I am a man of many talents, but woodcraft is not one of them.”

    “I don’t know.”

    “There is little you do know, is there? Very well, north is likely that way,” Louis lied smoothly, pointing in a different random direction.

    “You’re making that up.”

    “Rurik,” Louis began, as though talking to a child, “we must go somewhere.”

    “I’m just saying, let’s find north and go there.”

    Louis pulled at his curly brown hair in frustration. “Rurik, do you know who you remind me of? A particularly stubborn man I had occasion to meet back in Athingburgh. Why one day…” He launched into a tale of annoyance and exasperation, drawing Rurik in with glib words. In less than a minute, the half-ogre stood in rapt fascination with heavy-lidded eyes, swaying on his feet. Weaving sorcery deftly into the story, Louis suggested, “Why don’t you just shut up and follow me?”

    At that Rurik started as if slapped, and tumbled out of his revere. He blinked for a few moments before narrowing his gaze at Louis. Uh-oh, the bard thought.

    Rurik loomed over Louis and thrust a meaty finger at him. “You stay out of my head! You do that again and I’ll pound you good!”

    Moving swiftly to change the subject, Louis said, “Look, we can try for north, okay? I don’t know which direction it is exactly, but if we find a tree we can check which side the moss grows on. Let’s go find a tree.”

    “Okay,” said Rurik suspiciously. “Where are we going to find a tree?”

    “Hmm, good question,” acknowledged Louis, “Why don’t we search for trees over here?” He pointed in the original random direction he had chosen.

    “Okay,” replied Rurik, “but stay out of my head. I mean it.”

    “Of course! Here, I’ll sing a song to put you at ease.” And with that Louis produced with a flourish an exquisitely-carved wooden flute and began to accompany himself upon the instrument. The flute was crafted to resemble two women fornicating and was a legacy of the time Louis spent in certain disreputable hostels in the Genovan principality of Lagella. He sang a bawdy tavern favorite from southern Arbonne, and thus they whiled away the time as they trudged southeast across the icy moor.

    ~~~~~~~~~~

    Einar stopped tracking and raised his head. Some damn fool was playing music, a tavern song by the sound of it. None of his kin cared for such songs, only foreigners and drunken fools in Athingburgh in the south. He deliberated rapidly. This could work to his advantage—the troll had no doubt heard and was even now creeping upon this foolish southerner to satisfy his craving for flesh.

    Excellent! When the troll leapt upon the southerner, Einar would leap upon the troll, surprising it. He briefly considered waiting until the troll had eaten, but in his excitement discarded the idea—such action was prudent, but no skald would sing of it. A battle would be a far better tale than one in which he simply decapitated the fiend in its sleep, and Einar would risk two-to-one odds as long as he wielded Angreiðr. He jogged vigorously toward the vapid strains echoing flatly through the mists and wondered if the southerner would survive the troll’s assault. It is of little consequence, he decided. What mattered most was that his first strike bit deep and decisively. He grinned at the imminent combat and restrained a whoop of joy.



    *A nökk is an evil fey that lives in watery places and plays tricks upon people, and a pukje is a small, revolting creature similar to a goblin.

    **A nið-rune is a rune carved to curse a particular person or group, and is considered a grave and serious insult. In the case of Frostmourne, undead are the offended group. Frostmourne is a +1 cold iron undead-bane large longsword with an array of special purpose powers. By this point in the campaign, the PCs were aware that the sword was 1) forged by frost giants to fight undead, 2) quite evil, and 3) intelligent and filled with malign purpose.

  • #9
    I'm offended. Louis knew exactly where he was going.
    Shoot him, he's the one wearing red.

  • #10
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    Louis could get lost in a cul-de-sac.

    “It only surprised me up until around 1977, ... I had thought we were going to have a considerable audience of gamers and science fiction and fantasy fans. I thought easily with those we'd have 50,000 or more [buyers], but when people began to write me [with questions] about what fantasy books to read, and I saw the wide range of both younger and older people who were attracted to the game, I understood that it was reaching a deeper chord, something deep within us.” – E. Gary Gygax (July 27, 1938 – March 4, 2008)

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