ZEITGEIST The chronicles of Team Big-hearted And Determined (B.A.D.)


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Echolocation

Explorer
"I am the very model of a golemcraft technologist,
I've studied golems logical, sensitive, and deipnosophist,
I'm quite good at neurocraft (as a subset of arcanology),
Because I am an expert (which I know is a tautology),
And though I am trapped in a nemesis noctambulist,
I am the very model of a golemcraft technologist!"


Session 73

As a DM, I'm glad I got this far. When I first read the encounter for Steelshaper, I had wondered if I would be fortunate enough to hover a train carriage 100 feet above a PC. I never thought I'd be so lucky to have that PC also wrapped tightly in a sheet of steel and that another PC would be stuck in the train carriage above. Truth be told, I'm not entirely vindictive, but Steelshaper on the other hand...

But this is of course a Pathfinder combat: Steelshaper would not get another turn. Angharad vomited fire from a distance, knocking Steelshaper out. His control over the hovering carriage quickly dissipated. As it fell, Lisandra swan dived out and teleported safely to the top of a nearby carriage. Angharad rolled a natural 18 on his reflex save, just managing to spin himself to where a window (rather than solid steel) would make contact with the ground. He was unharmed, and took the time to sit inside the carriage and light a cigar. John apprehended Steelshaper, with his lioness companion keeping his unconscious body pinned to the ground. Then, at the sound of guards approaching, Team BAD wrapped up Leone in the Absurdist Web and escaped with dimension doors and wild shapes. If they had searched the other carriage, they would have found a document detailing the Ob's research on the team and their combat tactics. Steelshaper and his crew were prepared, but not prepared enough.

With their druid able to hop through trees, the party thought it best to duck into Flint. Angharad cleared Delft's desk, and unraveled the web to produce Leone. After a moment, Grappa took control, looking carefully around the room before struggling with his speech. After gaining a little more control, he conversed with the party about his unhinged plan. The party, perhaps equally unhinged, agreed, keeping their moral concerns to themselves. After all was said, the party wrapped Leone's body up in the web. Lisandra apologised to Grappa in case he was gagged the next time he resumed consciousness. Angharad looked proud, happy that he provided a wanted man in dramatic and smug fashion.
07 - Path to Kuntpara0scaled.jpg

The party rested, equipped themselves, and teleported to the nearest tree to the glacier. From there, they followed a stream. Although small enough to hide from the giants, the party did not deviate from the stream, alerting the demonic deathbears. A very dangerous combat ensued. During which, the party demanded the location of the lich. A giant, addressing them as "lich-loving fucks" told them the lich was not to be spoken with. Instead, Team BAD were offered an indefinite position as miners. Predictably, negotiations were not fruitful. Although no PC died this combat, the party soon feared the martial prowess of giants. John stablised and healed one giant to question them. Realising the tables had turned, the giant answered every question the party had, hoping to live. He told them that the great Kangitche had allied with a powerfully wise clan of smallfolk known as "Obscurati" and two emissaries reside within the glacier. He told them of the Kangitche, the number of giants within the glacier, and a rough path to the lich. The party let him leave, and he did so with his regenerated deathbears, leaving his giant friend dead in the snow.

Then, after killing a glacier scout, the party made a bold decision: to rest. The party gained back their spells, but the giants will be aware their scouts never returned. The Kangitche sends for his Klokaiutin ('Sagespeaker') Dergek, a powerful wizard and advisor to the Kangitche. Unbeknownst to his leader, the sagespeaker seeks to dethrone his leader and assume control of the clan. He hopes to reap the profits of the Ob for himself. He hopes these intruders will slay his Kangitche, giving him a chance to rise to power.

The next morning, the party ascend the glacier. Naturally, they begin with the dragon tower. The party wizard spots an ancient book hiding high in the cast iron roost of the tower. She flies up, and spends 15 minutes reading it. The other members of Team BAD make a promise to never left the party book worm be the one to retrieve a book. Ella's quick skim of "How to Train your Dragon" reveals the forgotten origins and uses of the evil creatures. The beasts were pilfered from a strange plane of fire, one unfamiliar to the technologist, and raised in Lanjyr as demonic cavalry. She'd spend more time reading it, but she has a lich to locate and a party to apologise to.
 


Echolocation

Explorer
Thanks!

I have a few questions moving forward, regarding Reed Macbannin's curse. The book states that:
Plus, Macbannin points out that most of the leadership are ghosts, who will come back even if destroyed. He says that he’s prepared a curse that can stop one person from reincarnating or rejuvenating (though if asked why he can’t say, since a geas stops him from revealing that Stanfield is part of the conspiracy); which he thinks would work on Vicemi. He’s not quite sure what Nicodemus is, but knows this isn’t his first body.

So, my initial reading of this is that Macbannin doesn't believe the curse will work on Nic. Is that true, and if so, why?

Secondly, my party may be interested in the mechanics of this curse. Their main theory at the moment is that the Ob's leadership is seeking to become immortal/invincible. They believe a rakshasa to be involved (just based on skyseer prophecy/info from the player's guide). Additionally, they think Stanfield has something to do with it. I think this distrust comes from Stanfield being a well-spoken politician who dodges pointed questions quite well. All in all, the party is invested in finding a method to prevent reincarnation/rejuvenation. So much so, that Angharad asked the frozen lich (in a session not yet recapped) if he had a way to do so. In the moment, I decided that would have fallen within the lich's specialty and told the player I'd message them the technique between sessions. I thought it could be the same curse that Macbannin has prepared. Does anyone have any advice for this situation?
 

Please note, all of this is post hoc justification. I hadn't considered the specifics until you asked.

It won't work on Nicodemus because he's a super-old ghost with lots of contingencies and metaphysical linkages to the members of the Obscurati. He is, by this point, sort of the avatar of the concept of 'wanting to fundamentally remake the world.' As long as the Ob are active, he'll be impossible to kill. (William Miller in adv 12 can thwart that, though.)

How would the curse work? Macbannin worked on Cauldron Hill, where the veil between the Waking and the Bleak Gate was very thin. The place had tons of witchoil, which can trap souls. So I figure Macbannin's curse just consumes the caster's essence in order to punt the victim's soul to Cauldron Hill, where they're tormented by all the other souls that have been trapped there and gone mad.

How could someone else pull it off? You'd need to have closely studied some large reservoir of witchoil, been metaphysically linked to it (such as by dying while being mayor overseeing the area), and then you'd have to sacrifice yourself.

You could possibly achieve something similar by destroying a ghost near witchoil, but undead souls are probably twisted in a way that makes them less likely to be caught by any small quantity, and the ghost council is tethered together, so normally you'd need to destroy the whole group at once and be by a large source of witchoil. Macbannin's curse is strong enough to rip Vicemi away from the council.

As for stopping a deva from reincarnating, the simplest option is probably just to have a large quantity of witchoil to trap his soul (something like a cup for each lifetime). Though who knows? That might very well be the thing that causes a deva to transform into a rakshasa.
 

hirou

Explorer
Nicodemus definitely seems to be more than a simple ghost. It is stated that he is unaffected by Lanjyr-wide rule of "no more than 3 miles from the place of death" as "his place of death" is sorta-whole-continent. It is never quite stated how exactly he died, actually. On top of Lance of Triegenis, Nicodemus leaps through the portal (which BTW seems to open somewhere dozens of feet above ground, judging from description) "just as an inferno bursts forth from Srasama’s wounds", but how exactly that transformed him is left open. In my fanon he definitely cannot be contained by magic circle-like magics as he is always blurred through the whole world and is never actually at one place. He seems unperturbed by close proximity to Borne, who is full of witchoil, which would have probably sucked in any other free ghost/soul.

EDIT: also, I instasaved picture of Knutpara glacier, very nice illustration.
 

Echolocation

Explorer
also, I instasaved picture of Knutpara glacier, very nice illustration.

Thanks. In case anyone is interested, I use images such as these to set the scene for my players. En route to Knutpara, I had a map with this background image, and played howling wind audio. Given one of my players commented they were feeling cold in an Aussie spring, I think the immersion worked.

Capture2.png
 

Echolocation

Explorer
Session 74
Courtesy of Lisandra's player

Ice soup, Frost Giant puns and making new friends with grumpy Obscurati dwarves was apparently on the agenda for our constables in last week’s session of Zeitgeist.

The team started in the old dragon roost, keeping guard and scouting the tower below as Ella occupied the precipice, speed reading about old dragon lore. When she arrived back on earth, figuratively and literally, Angharad has cosily fallen into a plot hole, and Lisandra scouted ahead to find a broken stairway leading down.
When players cannot make sessions, sometimes we run without them. Characters occasionally fall into dimensional rifts, an effect that originally began on Axis Island and has followed Team BAD since. This is known both in-game and out-of-game as a 'plot hole'. Nobody notices the character disappearing from the story briefly, and they usually re-appear at an unspecified time later. Sometimes, they appear briefly out of the plot hole to preform a specialised action that nobody in the party can do (e.g., disable a trap) before falling back in the hole. Of course, this is just a convoluted in-game way for me to avoid playing a PC and/or accidentally killing them whilst their player is absent.

Some careful maneuvering and exploration later they found themselves in a lower segment of the tower that led down into an icy temple of some kind, out to a makeshift giant kitchen, or through a set of huge red-metal doors. A giant telling stories pull of icy puns could be heard ahead, though with an unfortunate attempt at stealth, Lisandra alerted the comedian who came back to check his cooking. The constables scattered and hid, waiting for the giant to return to telling his relevant brand of awful jokes.

The coast clear, Ella bestowed Lisandra with invisibility to scout ahead. A 4-way intersection of ice lay waiting. One arm led to another set of doors, another led to a horrific chamber of carnal delights with a staircase leading into darkness and the last was an alcove with a chute leading down, and two giants stationed nearby. An unimpressed woman, and the aforementioned comedian chef.

When a successful stealth mission to the downstairs section led to nothing but a room encased in ice, and some nightmare fuel on creative use of intestine for recreation, Team BAD head into conflict with the giants. Combat ended with the near death of the woman, and her companion was more than happy to stand down, answer some difficult questions like ‘what’s in the hold’ and ‘what’s past the doors?’ before returning to his cooking and letting the team proceed down the chute, into the mines that apparently awaited.

The chute actually led to a room full of sleeping giants. But with some lucky stealth moves and wild shape of the lizard variety, the team made it safely past and into the huge chasm below. And weren’t they just lovely.

At least, that’s what the team thought at first. Ella and John eventually shook off the compulsion as a dwarf called out from a bridge above to ask what they were doing. He was joined by another, both approaching the situation with more disdain and apathy than anyone expected. Lisandra was exceptionally taken with how lovely the blizzard was, and was keen to make friends with the new arrivals.

Ella pulled Lisandra out of sight, slapping her sharply back to her senses before the dwarves finished their argument about who would go out in the snow to retrieve the intruders. When Grumpy Dwarf arrived, the team was waiting, ready for a fight. Instead, she accused us of being a pain in the ass and offered to give us a tour and a guide, maps included, if we let her get out of the cold.

Ella insisted on a snowy interrogation for a few painful minutes longer for everyone before the intrigue of a tour guide was just too much temptation, and the Obsurati agent led us on a tour, preventing giants from attacking the team as she explained their mining operation for meteor dust from other plane to power the Wayfarer Lanterns they were testing. Supposedly, Trigenes called them down to obliterate the things that used to live in Knut Para.

A couple of giants, a broken lich phylactery and a office visit full of parsnips, dwarven snark and the official guide book of Knutpara later, Team BAD were ushered back to the chasm below where Ella collected or broke every Wayfarer Lantern we could find on the way to the frozen waterfall to explore the depths below.

Now they’re off to find the Kangitche in the mines and a Lich frozen in the snow to ask a favor. Should be a total piece of cake, right? So glad Angharad has fallen out of a plot hole to join us for the inevitable frosty shitstorm ahead… this week, on the Adventures of Team BAD.

GM Note

The players enjoyed the Ob researchers and their blatant disdain for both the party and their giant entourage. I always have fun players characters that boldly oppose the party, but the party are invested in keeping alive.
 

Echolocation

Explorer
"Many tell the tales of a world that will end in ice. Let me show you the apocalypse to come!" - Kangitche, approaching the party.

Session 74
Courtesy of Angharad's player

Last time on Zeitgiest the party was exploring the frozen wastes of a glacier utterly filled with stinky giants.

As the party was exploring this glacier with its tunnels carved into it, they would stumble upon some prison cells. In this prison, they would find Karvati Garbiti (name pending), plus some other dwarves that had been trapped here. From talking to Karvati, it turns out he had been following a different lead of the Obscurati to get here with his companions.

After some careful checking to make sure he hadn't been afflicted by any spells, or was lying to us, the Team asked Angharad to free the prisoners, and he happily obliged, freeing them. Sadly Karvati was short his gun, and had to borrow one, holding out hope we would find his cool gun.. Which has a lich bone leg in it. Very cool but what the naughty word man. That is probably a pain to replace down the line.Unless.. He has a backup of liches in which we can all have stylish weapons.

During this discussion giants found us, and weren't happy about us freeing their prisoners. Dunno why, slave labour inst that efficient really and it is a better system to make them think there earning their own profits in a different system.. Like working many hours in a factory for very little reward..

A scrap with the giants happened, their leader encased himself in a black ice armour, looking stylish as heck, with some bodyguards and a spellcaster. The spellcaster would change the ice to slide Lisandra closer to him during the scrap, while the giants slowly fell. Strangely enough, the giants seemed to have a thing for passing Lisandra back and forth between them. Maybe red headed dolls are a thing in their culture.. who knows.

GM Aside: It was more me having fun with ice giant CMB and combat maneuvers

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The Giant's mage though, as John got his hp lower with bullets, called out that he would help us overthrow their leader if we spared him. And maybe Giant Mage's unlock a super power of John's, as his gun became less of a gun and more of a rail cannon.. shooting bursts of energy through the leader of the giants chest, blowing a hole open through his chest.

With this, the new leader of the giants, the spell caster would allow us to speak to the Lich, leading the way, as well as some subtle negations about freedom for the prisoners, a certain gun back and new imprisonment of their former allies, the Obscuarati agents. I say subtle because John's smoking gun was there in front of them, reminding them of the still steaming corpse of their former leader.

After a while of playing around with the frozen lich, and not wanting to let Grappa out yet, eventually the party would bring Grappa out to ask how to communicate with the skeletal Elsa. Grappa would inform the party that touching the ice would probably help out, and it did.

Once again proving that Lisandra is the disney princess of Necromany, as she awakens the lich, letting us all hear it and trade the knowledge of how to steal a body for its freedom. We are the good guys, we swear, and that is why we made a deal with the lich, promptly planning to betray it afterwards. Heros!

Before that could happen, Angharad requested time alone with the lich, to ask it a question in private, and alluded that it was Mystic business. Angharad wanted to know how to permanently kill Devas, and gained the knowledge. The price was to free the Lich there and then, which Angharad did. The ice turning to Steam, fire billowing and warning the others that Angharad was doing naughty word. As they rushed forwards, the Lich freed, took a step out. Then another, but the second step was with the leg that Karvati had taken a bone from, and losing its balance from you know.. missing a leg bone, fell.. The mighty frozen lich then cracked and shattered into many pieces... Gravity beats undeath, apparently.

And with the shards of a lich around them, the party would take the former prisoners to freedom, John launching them through trees to safety using magic..

Back in Risur after weird tree hoping teleporting, the party would plan over the next few weeks their new plan to invade the Obscurati. Stealing bodies with lich magic to avoid magical detection and preparing themselves for once again entering the maw of darkness known as the Obscurati.

And that my friends, is what happened last time on Zeitgiest.

GM Note

Whoever wrote the hyper beam ability for the Mad Shootist class has both my thanks and my fear---my players loved it.
 

The Mad Shootist is honestly just Samus from Super Metroid (1994), just with an added shrink ray. You're using the PF version, right? I think of the three ways we've done it (4e, PF, 5e), the PF version was strongest single-target threat. The 5e version functions more like a lightning bolt, hitting everything in a line.
 

Echolocation

Explorer
Before diving into the convocation, I'll be sharing a few short stories written by Ella's player. The first is set in Summer 501 AOV, between the events of Adventure Six and Adventure Seven.

Fame & Family
31st of Summer, 501 A.O.V.

“So, how’s work?” Ella glances at her father as she stirs her fruit smoothie, sitting outside a small café in Bosum Strand. It's getting harder and harder to find places where no one recognises her, and with her Da there she can't simply disguise herself as a gnome to avoid attention. Not that she wants him to think she needs that: as if being a tiefling is something to hide. It’d just be nice if people didn’t ask for quite so many autographs...

A halfling passing by does a double take and Ella represses a sigh, wishing she’d chosen a table inside. It’s just too hot to be indoors… Her tail swats lazily at a fly.

"It’s going well," Marcel replies, looking up from his meal, "but there are still many things in need of repair. The damage caused by the colossus was quite extensive." The tiefling's oil-stained clothes are accented by a small cog attached to his lapel, spinning like a novelty brooch.

Ella nods, looking down. Borne's rampage across Lanjyr had been on her mind for a while, but befriending Tinker and hopefully learning something useful is all she can do for the time being. "No chance of finding your own job any time soon then?" Her voice is wistful.

Community service seems a kind enough sentence, given what her father had helped create, but it still rankled to be so often apart. Between his work and hers they rarely saw each other except for hurried exchanges in the morning and evening. She’d only managed to wrangle lunch today because Tinker’s workshop had blown up so thoroughly as to be temporarily unusable. Ten more minutes and she’d have to let her Da return to Parity Lake while she headed back to HQ.

"Not soon, no." Marcel lays down his fork and reaches across to tentatively squeeze her hand. "It's not bad work, Ellie, and I am glad to make amends for my actions.” He offers a small smile. “As with many things, mending takes time: whether of machines or people. Your family is testament to that."

Ella frowns. “They’re your family too,” she mutters stubbornly, stabbing the bottom of her glass with a paper straw.

“They need time to accept that.”

“It’s been four months!” Her tail lashes and Ella lowers her voice, acutely aware of the gossip it would generate if Dame Eleanora was seen to be having an argument with her father. She sighs and swaps to Gnomish: “Sorry, Da, it’s just… frustrating. I want us to be a family again. All of us, not just you and Gran on one side and everyone else on the other.”

The older tiefling makes an uncertain gesture as he replies: “I would not classify it in terms of sides so much as… degrees of acceptance. Your cousins and brother have no memories to forgive and so no enmity to overcome, whereas to your uncle I am the man who abandoned his sister and niece.” He shrugs tiredly. “He's right of course.”

Ella opens her mouth to deny it but…

She'd hated her father for three whole months - convinced in the depths of her madness that he’d willingly forsaken his family - and the realisation that her insane beliefs had been right had left her hollow. She didn't fault his reasons. Couldn't argue that he should have stayed when it would have meant dying… but it still hurt.

Marcel nods gently and withdraws his hand. “Healing is a process, Ellie. Your mother taught me that. You should all take your time: don't rush to stitch deep wounds back together before they are clean. The ill feelings will only fester.”

Tears prick as Ella traces a slow claw along the grain of the table, nodding. Her finger trembles as she takes a deep breath and broaches a different subject: "Tinker seems… calmer now; stabler maybe. Do you think-” Ella hesitates, tail coiling anxiously around her ankle as she glances up, “-he’d want to visit Ma's grave?"

Marcel’s brows furrow. "Your uncle is complicated," he cautions. "Brilliant in many ways but bewildering in others. I cannot claim to know his mind…" he pauses, picking his words carefully, "but I know he cared for your mother.” Crimson eyes meet hers sombrely. “Be gentle with him, if you suggest it."

Ella nods. “Alright.” She sips her drink, letting the sugar rush wash away her conflicted feelings, and sighs. “…I suppose you’ll be heading back soon?”

The taller tiefling checks his pocket watch regretfully. “Yes. Within the next six minutes, if I’m to return by the appointed time.” He digs into the rest of his meal, dividing it neatly and methodically so that every bite contains a slightly different combination of flavours.

Ella watches wistfully, remembering when he’d done that for her - before utensils made sense and she’d figured out how to use them around tiny claws and youthful exuberance. “I just wish I’d been able to get a few more hours… You’d think being a famous constable would allow that much.”

Marcel laughs as he sets his cutlery atop his empty plate and folds his hands. “Wresting an hour and a half from my schedule was impressive enough, Ellie, but I should return before the overseer thinks I’ve been arrested.” He stands and offers a soft smile. “Thank you for lunch.”

“Of course, Da.” Ella stands too and hugs him before the moment can turn awkward. The physical bridging of their lingering emotional distance is important - necessary - after thirty years apart.

Marcel returns the embrace and for a moment it’s as if nothing’s changed. He still smells like sandalwood and cloves mingled with sweat and machine oil, and she still fits in his arms despite standing a foot taller. They cling to each other until Marcel checks his pocket watch and sighs. "Time's up, I'm afraid."

"...Right." Ella steps back, straightening her jacket and assuming a more professional air. "I don't know when I'll be home tonight - I suspect there'll be a lot of paperwork - so tell Gran and Aunt Maya not to wait on dinner."

"Of course."

Ella nods and offers a smile and then she's gone: vanishing into the bustling city streets. The Danoran watches his daughter disappear with a twinge of regret - and no little pride. She was so like her mother… He hoped Effie had been proud of their daughter: of the child she’d raised mostly without him, along with the rest of her kin. Seeing Ellie in their midst was comforting.

He might never be re-accepted into their ranks but she was, and that was enough. He could live with that. Live and work on repairing his other mistakes.

A human woman with a notebook sitting nearby jumps up and approaches with a bright smile once he’s alone, but the half-Bleached tiefling evades her with a polite nod and steps into the street. Red fingers tap the spinning cog on his lapel like a good luck charm and - thus assured of the anti-Bleaching device's continued functioning - he sets off toward Parity Lake.

Flint's a big city - even larger than he remembers - but the smokestacks of the factory district are easy to find.

✰ ⚙ ✰​
 

Echolocation

Explorer
Another short story, also taking place between Adventure Six and Adventure Seven.

Internal Investigations
87th of Summer, 501 A.O.V.

Millie dithers outside the building, perched in a tree as she surveys her target. They've proven frustratingly elusive so far: constantly coming and going, or remaining absent for long periods of time, with seemingly no moments to spare. Quite rude, really. But thanks to an anonymous tip-off from an unnamed kineticist, she's finally got them in her sights: conveniently alone and unoccupied.

Paperwork doesn't count, the blue jay reminds herself. Pete said so. With a flip of her wings, the little bird darts off the branch toward the open window.

"Constable Millipede approaching the target," she mutters to herself. "Currently non-hostile. Backup not yet required - although sightlines unreliable. Situation may change." The blue jay flits to a stop on the smoke-stained windowsill and taps the glass, peering into the shadowy room beyond. "Constable Eleanora?" She pokes her head inside. "Can I have a moment, please?"

Ella looks up from her paperwork, brown eyes wide and dark curls in disarray. The hand that had been massaging the base of her horns drops as she stops pondering how to word her report. ('The teapot blew up and I'm terribly sorry but we don't know how or why but we need a new roof and a new teapot because some of us can't function without caffeine and the hole in the ceiling really isn't very good for security - although it did do wonders for venting the poisonous gas,' doesn't sound terribly professional.)

"Millie!" The tiefling glances around, noting the lack of daylight with surprise. "Err, one moment." She sets her badge alight and hurries over. "What do you need? You didn't have trouble getting in downstairs, did you?"

"Oh, no." The blue jay shakes her head and hops inside, perching on the back of Angharad's chair. "The doors are rather difficult sometimes but Maxwell is always very kind about opening them when Pete isn't here - and Sebastian says he's working on a variant Gremlin that can detect badges so maybe they can find a way to have the doors open automatically when I arrive?"

Millie puffs out her chest proudly, showing off the meticulously polished badge pinned to her jacket. "Only he said he's meant to be making it for authenticating badges, so it might take a while to get to the door thing but that's alright: Millipede the Magnificent would never impede an important security upgrade!" The crest of feathers on her head perks up for emphasis.

"...Right." Ella blinks at the barrage of information, storing it away to ask R&D about later. "Well, how can I help?"

"I just wanted to talk." It's such an innocuous statement for someone who’s spent much of the past month arranging this meeting.

Ella's heart sinks. "Oh." She'd wanted to talk too: emphasis on had. Then she'd over-thought and fretted and eventually decided that perhaps Millie's second life would be better off without her in it. "Okay."

The gnome retreats to her desk and shuffles the unfinished paperwork, stalling. Her attempt at creating distance is foiled by the blue jay fluttering over and landing on the desk.

"You do that a lot," Millie observes. "Running away." She tilts her head, dark eyes reflecting the glowing badge.

Ella’s mouth goes dry under that gaze and when she opens it nothing comes out. She hadn't thought she'd been that obvious about it… she'd just tried to be wherever Millie wasn't. The wizard blinks and looks away. "Oh, well-"

“You do that too,” the blue jay interrupts, “changing the subject.” She ruffles her feathers in annoyance before hopping onto Ella’s hand.

The tiefling freezes. “Millie-” her voice is strangled.

“We used to do this all the time,” the tiny bird says reproachfully. “And just because I can’t hear you in here now-” she ducks her head, “-doesn’t mean I can’t tell when you’re upset. I know you've been fighting dragons and chasing secret societies and losing limbs and going insane and things… but you seem upset with me.”

Ella's hand quivers beneath the bird's feet, claws digging into the table. "How-" It doesn't matter; of course Millie knows. She’s one of the RHC's self-proclaimed top agents.

"I'm not upset, Millie, I'm just-" Ella's voice breaks and her resolve along with it, words falling to a whisper: "-so terribly sorry." The gnome's shoulders sag as she meets her former familiar's gaze with tortured eyes. "…You didn't deserve what happened. Didn't deserve to d-die for my-"

Millie's crest feathers slick back. "Yes but I didn't die for you!" she interrupts abruptly. "Or for your mistakes. And I'll thank you not to undermine my magnificent demise in the line of duty with your self-pity!"

She puffs up and inspects the tiefling before flitting up to her shoulder and leaning across to peck a tear off Ella's cheek. "I chose you, remember? You wouldn't have made it that far without my marvelous investigative work at the arms expo! Or my excellent puzzle solving in the ziggurat! So if anything it was my fault that we were in that tunnel, but you won't hear me apologising because we both decided to become constables and accept those risks!"

Bright eyes hold Ella's intently. "That's what you told me after the ziggurat: 'It's part of the job.' Sometimes we get hurt but we do our best to help each other. Whether that means being brought back to life after getting blown up by an unstable portal thingy, or being comforted after going insane for months without anyone knowing and then blaming yourself for it despite everyone telling you otherwise!"

Millie clacks her beak decisively and stares adamantly into Ella’s tearstained eyes, before gently patting the tiefling with a wing. "Besides, I'm back now so you don't have to worry." She holds out her other wing as if to demonstrate. "I may have been quite small for a while but John said I was in excellent health for a recently dead person and now I'm all grown up again! So it's quite fine really - which goes without saying, since I'm always fine." She preens ostentatiously and glances expectantly at the gnome but Ella's eyes are too full of tears to notice: her shoulders curling inwards on a suppressed sob.

The blue jay huffs softly. "Well really, If you're going to waste your eye-water on anything it should be the appalling lack of peanuts in this office! I haven't seen a single one."

She hops onto Ella's horn and tugs at a dark curl with far less vehemence than her words suggest. "Less than a year without me and you're all falling to pieces," she scolds gently. "The Royal Homeland Constabulary can hardly operate with one of its top constables in this condition. The Constable Eleanora Cassia Arista Demetriou I know may have a belly full of squirmy worms and forget what a comb is, but she shouldn't be sitting in the dark forgetting to turn the lights on!"

The blue jay tucks a strand of hair behind Ella's ear officiously and peers at her blotchy face. "...You're being very quiet," she observes. "The belly worms didn't eat your insides, did they?"

A mingled laugh and sob escape as Ella finally rubs her face and shakes her head. "N-no," she croaks, "they haven't q-quite managed it yet." She turns toward the vibrant, meddlesome presence on her shoulder and smiles. "I’ve… m-missed you, Millie."

"Yes," the blue jay agrees comfortably, "I've missed me too." She pauses before adding: "And you of course," and preens as the tiefling laughs.

It's some time before that laughter no longer hiccups into sobs and the tears dry on Ella's face, but eventually the awful, aching guilt that’s hollowed out her insides for eleven months subsides. Not entirely gone, but lessened. Bearable. Small enough that she can slide into her chair and cup the blue jay in her hands and enjoy the moment. Feel close to her former familiar for the first time since their bond was ripped away in an agonising, insanity-induced moment.

Millie perches in her hands and enjoys the conciliatory neck scritches. "...You know, I heard you were in a 'torrid affair' with the Principal Minister and a mystery gnome," she comments, "but I wasn't sure what 'torrid' meant so I asked Pete. Now I'm surprised you don't have nestlings."

Her bright-dark eyes blink as Ella's thumb pauses in its ministrations. "Although I suppose it takes longer when you don't have feathers… but if that's part of why you're emotional then you can tell me: I won't share with anyone! We can make a nice nest-house to keep your hatchlings safe and make sure no one knows where they are. John would help, I'm sure."

"Millie!" Ella splutters, cinnamon skin turning mahogany. "I'm not in an affair or pregnant! Where did you hear that?"

"It was in a book,” the blue jay replies serenely. “Pete loaned it to me. It was quite good really - although I found the part where you went undercover as part of a circus and had your leg chopped off by a chainsaw-juggling clown to be quite unlikely." She moves to the edge of Ella’s hand and peers down at Skeet consideringly. "But maybe not."

The metal prosthetic bounces in greeting and the crest on the songbird’s head perks up as she waves a wing back.

Ella chokes. “What kind of books has Pete been buying?"

"Oh, he didn't buy it." The blue jay offers no further explanation.

Ella snaps her mouth shut on a question and shakes her head. "Well however he got it, I hope he hasn't been loaning it out to everyone."

"No," Millie assures her, "mostly he just reads it aloud in the breakroom."

"I-" Ella groans and covers her face with a hand. "Please don’t tell me Delft listens."

"Well, sometimes - but he's very busy. I think the Chief Inspector prefers the part where Constable Lisandra played poker with a ghost dragon though."

"That's not-" the gnome gives up. "Well I'm glad the two of you are staying entertained between missions, along with the rest of the office. Hopefully our next adventures won't be quite so sensational."

"Oh, I hope they are," Millie replies earnestly. “Lunch time would be very dull otherwise. We made a bet on who’ll lose a limb next and I put my peanuts on Constable Angharad losing a leg to a giant plant monster - not that I want that to happen but it seemed better than your head being dissolved by an exploding ooze."

“What? Who-?” Ella grimaces, suddenly quite certain which member of the RHC voted for an exploding ooze. “Well as heads aren’t limbs, I’m sure you made the better choice, but please don’t ask John to spice up our next mission with summoned plants.”

The blue jay shuffles her wings and puffs out her chest in an unconvincing display of indignation. “Of course not! Millipede the Magnificent would never wish danger on her fellow constables! …But if it did happen, you’d vouch for me that it had?”

The tiefling rolls her eyes. “How about instead of answering that, I finish my report and buy you some peanuts? Or better yet: we go to Bee’s and see if she’s still making her honey-peanut sorbet? Guilt-free food without lost limbs.”

Millie perks up and nods. “Alright!” She flutters down to the desk and peers at the half-finished paperwork. “This looks familiar… is it a property damage report?”

A snort mixed with a sigh escapes. “Essentially, yes.”

“Oh! That’s easy then.” The blue jay clears her throat and starts to dictate: “Dear Accountants, due to entirely unavoidable and uncontrollable circumstances for which we cannot be held liable…”

Her spiel isn’t entirely helpful, but it certainly offers interesting insight into her escapades with Pete.

✰ ⚙ ✰​
 

Echolocation

Explorer
The next two stories are well into the Adventure Seven, but before the convocation:

Autumn Afternoons
23rd of Autumn, 501 A.O.V.

After three weeks away searching for her mother’s murderer, it’s incredibly soothing to be back home, even if only for a few days. Ella would have to thank John again - and study his spell carefully on the way back to Drakr. Despite watching him cast it, she hadn’t entirely grasped the mechanisms behind the divine magic. Magical transportation via plants was far beyond anything her mother or Gramma had ever shown her.

Thoughts for another time though… as Ella dashes through the garden with three children in hot pursuit.

Her reward for arriving home without work responsibilities has been supervising the younglings, and right now she’s participating in the time-honoured tradition of “working off the jitterwiggles before dinner”.

It's remarkably similar to chasing chickens - although thankfully the actual chickens are still in their pen; the hens being among the few things still in their rightful place. Unlike Ella’s boots. Those had been stolen by every child present several times before being discarded among the garden shrubs. The magical compulsion to acquire them had worn off after the first thefts but that hadn’t stopped it being a fun game.

“Alright!” Ella spins to a stop, laughing as several children pile into her and send her sprawling. “You got me!” The grass tickles as Skeet squirms in delight. His magical speed had made Ella the undisputed champion of tag until it wore off and now the youngsters were all determined to make her “it” at every opportunity.

“You’re it!” Sofia affirms as she hugs Ella’s waist and grins at her through a cloud of orange curls. Cador nods, for once not disagreeing with the bossy little gnome, and Andy shyly follows suit as he clutches her arm.

Ella giggles, shooing them away. “Okay! Just… give me a minute.”

Sofia scoots off her lap and watches disapprovingly as the older gnome takes her time getting her breath back. “Fine.” The little redhead puts her hands on her hips and pouts. “But if you fought a dragon then you should be better at running away, Elsie.”

“Who told you I fought a dragon?” Ella wrinkles her nose good-naturedly as she scoops Andy into her lap and starts plucking leaves from his hair.

“It was all over the newspapers,” Sofia assures her, with all the authority of someone who doesn’t rip up every piece of available paper for random craft projects.

“Alright,” Ella eyes at Sofia with amusement, “but what makes you think fighting a dragon would make me any better at running? It’s hard to fight if you’re going in the opposite direction.”

The smaller gnome puffs up importantly, adopting a lecturing tone: “Well the Waffle Man says that if we’re fighting a- a-”

“A stronger adversary,” Cador chips in.

Sofia nods graciously at him, “-a bigger anniversary, then we should be smart instead of strong. And getting set on fire by a dragon doesn’t sound very smart.”

The tiefling grimaces as she wonders what other advice her teammate had shared. “Well-” she ruffles Andy’s blue hair as she ponders how to proceed, “-that’s very good advice from Angharad and I hope that if you ever meet something dangerous you remember it, but sometimes running away isn’t the best option. Dragons are probably faster than you so getting behind cover is a higher priority.”

Teri perks up where she’s braiding flowers into Dustin’s tail with Maria. “What’s a dragon like?”

Ella looks at five expectant faces and finds herself tongue-tied. How to describe Gradiax’s daughter? A half-mechanical cripple left abandoned for centuries after her parents were torn away from her? No awe-inspiring monster from myth but an angry soul set on revenge against the smaller races who’d tried to erase her kind’s entire existence… How to explain that?

She pats Andy’s head and lets him off her lap as she plucks a small piece of fleece from her belt pouch and starts teasing the strands apart. “The one I met wasn’t particularly old, as dragons go,” she begins, “but she looked a bit like this-”

With a flick of Ella’s hand and an arcane word the fleece seems to billow outwards: forming an illusory cloud of steam. Late afternoon sunlight fails to penetrate its shadows but after a moment a large shape shifts in its depths: scales and metal gleaming. The children gasp as a burning red eye fixates on them and a beat of shadowy wings sends the steam swirling, almost revealing Terakalir’s true, tortured form before the illusion wisps away into nothing.

Ella forces a grin and tucks the fleece away. “See? Not much chance of running away from that.”

“...Do it again!” Teri pipes up. Sofia nods vigorously and even Cador looks impressed. Andy peers intently at where the illusion was, his tiny brows furrowed as if wondering how to recreate it. Ella has no doubt that given enough time and practise he could.

“No time for that, I’m afraid!” The investigator claps her hands briskly as she stands. “You get one game of hide and seek and then it’s dinner time!”

The resulting groans turn into a mad rush as Ella puts a hand over her eyes and begins loudly counting. A tug on her other hand interrupts though and she peeks down to see Andy’s big green eyes staring up at her solemnly.

“-Fifteen and a half!" She stoops down, still with a hand over her eyes, and whispers: "What’s wrong, cricket? Don’t you want to hide?”

Andy shakes his head and nestles into her side. “Was it scary, Elsie?” he lisps. “Fighting a dragon?”

Ella’s eyes soften and she abandons her self-made blindfold to scoop her little brother up into a hug. It’s slowly getting harder to do: him being all of seventeen now, but she can still manage it. There's an indignant yell from halfway down the garden: "You peeked! You have to start again!" and the tiefling rolls her eyes.

“Twenty!” she calls over Andy's shoulder as she closes her eyes and rests her chin on his hair. “It was scary,” she whispers back, “but it was mostly sad.”

He blinks against her shoulder. “Sad?”

“Nineteen and three quarters!” She nods and rocks back and forth gently as Skeet sways - the prosthetic contributing to the hug as best he can. “Fighting is always sad,” she murmurs, “even for a good cause. We should try to help people like Ma did, not hurt them.” She takes a deep breath, suppressing a familiar ache, and yells: “Eighteen point nine!”

There’s a distant rustle of leaves and the sound of arguing as Sofia and Cador fight over a hiding spot. Andy nestles quietly into the curve of Ella’s neck and thinks.

“Are you sad a lot?” he lisps softly, with surprising gravitas.

The older gnome stills. “More often than I’d like,” she whispers back.

A tiny hand uncurls from the hug and gently pats her hair. They pass several numbers that way, until Andy speaks up again: “Ma made na-nasty medicine s-sometimes-” he frowns, struggling with the sibilants, “-but it helped.” The little gnome squeezes her anxiously. “Does fighting help people, Elsie?”

The earnestness in that question brings a lump to her throat and Ella swallows before replying: “Sometimes… if it keeps people from doing bad things, but that doesn’t make it good, just necessary.”

The younger gnome nods, considering. “Like sprouts.”

A watery laugh bubbles out of her. “And what have you got against sprouts?”

Andy screws up his face, nose wrinkling. “They're all st-stri-” he struggles with the combination of consonants before giving up. “Yucky.”

Ella chuckles. “Should I tell Aunt Maya?”

The tiny gnome’s eyes widen as he shakes his head vehemently. “N-no! Not Gran either.”

“Alright,” Ella grins. “My lips are sealed.”

By now the yard is conspicuously quiet: only the buzz of insects and occasional muffled giggles breaking the silence. Ella nudges her brother with her chin. “Shall we go find the others?”

Andy brightens and nods. “Okay!”

She grins and shifts him onto her shoulders so he can see, and the tiny blue-haired jockey clutches her horns as he looks around. “That way!”

There's a tug on her left horn and Ella turns obediently, yelling: “Six-five-four-three-two-one! Ready or not, here we come!” before opening her eyes and pelting across the yard.

Dustin snorts and flicks his ears as he watches, pondering the oddities of two-leggeds. The conjured pony's hoof knocks against something small and brown as he grazes and he sniffs it dubiously. A peculiar gleam enters his eyes and the pony side-eyes the laughing gnomes before picking the boot up between his teeth and trotting off into the orchard.

As it turns out, the most cunning adversaries for this game of hide and seek might very well be a pony and a magic boot.

✰ ⚙ ✰​
 

Echolocation

Explorer
Bee’s
26th of Autumn, 501 A.O.V.

Walking into Bee’s ice creamery is as cheering as ever: a combination of sugary scents, colourful decorations and refreshingly cool air. Ella pats Dustin’s nose appreciatively as she desummons him and unlocks the front door. A bell rings overhead as she enters, echoing throughout the darkened interior.

There’s a crash, a curse and a cheerful “Just a minute!” from the back room.

Ella hurriedly relocks the door behind her and holds her hands up. “It’s Ella! Don’t throw anything!”

A rainbow afro of fairy floss hair pokes around the doorway behind the counter and candy blue eyes examine her suspiciously. One chocolatey brown hand tosses a fizzing purple vial up and down as the alchemist raises an eyebrow.

“What’s your middle name then?”

Ella rolls her eyes. “I have two and anyone who reads the news would know that, Bee.”

“Good point,” the human acknowledges. “Alright… What was the colour of the door at the bar we went to after our second set of first-year exams?”

The tiefling blinks, probing her memory. “Ah… white? No wait: green. It was the Wild Rover that semester. The Rum Idea was later.”

“Hmm…" Bee eyes her sceptically and then grins. "Well fine, I guess it is you!” She stows the vial in an apron pocket and slips cheerily over to the counter. “Since I have no idea but you clearly do!”

Up close the culinarian smells overpoweringly of cherries and Ella wrinkles her nose as she ducks under the service hatch and pops up beside her. “What was the point of asking then?”

“Just to see if you’d remember,” Bee replies cheerfully. “I already knew it was you because of Skeet.”

The prosthetic waves his toes enthusiastically.

Bee winks and wiggles her fingers at him before seizing Ella in a hug and spinning them both around. She sets the smaller woman down with a critical look. “You seem thinner… Did you go save the world again? Actually nevermind: come eat some sorbet! I just finished trialling the Berry Merry Cherry and it’s very good.”

Ella laughs, the day’s tension easing as train crashes and abducting her mother’s murderer fade into the background. "What's the Merry part?"

"Vodka," Bee replies matter-of-factly as she leads the way into her lab. The room is a chaotic mess of ingredients and bizarre equipment as usual.

Ella snorts. "I hope this isn't going on the children’s menu."

"Of course not!" Bee waves airily. "Adults and gnomes over thirty only." She reaches into a cooler and pulls out a metal tub containing a vibrant, plum-coloured concoction.

"That should be closer to forty," Ella corrects dubiously as she examines the frozen treat.

Bee shrugs. "Who can tell? Anyway, It's been an age since I've seen you or Hunkypants McWaffleAbs! Weeks even! Did something happen? I've got stronger stuff here if you need it: we can skip the sorbet and sip our sorrows straight from the bottle."

"Shouldn't that be sip away our sorrows?"

"Only if you've got some to spare - which it sounds like you do! Sooo-"

She reaches under the counter and wiggles a blue-dyed eyebrow but Ella waves a hand. "Let's just stick with the sorbet: I need to be functional in the morning."

"Still on duty, huh?" The alchemist pouts sympathetically as she pulls out an ice cream scoop instead and acquires two bowls. "Usually you get a break after you disappear for a while."

"Yes, well… that's actually why I came: I might be disappearing for a while longer and-" Ella winces, "-there's a good chance I'll miss your birthday again. I'm sorry, Bee."

The taller woman’s lips twist as she puts her hands on her hips and studies Ella. "Well that sucks,” she says frankly. “I was going to throw you a surprise party."

Ella blinks before huffing a laugh. "That's not really how birthdays work, Bee. Or surprises."

The alchemist brandishes her ice cream scoop exasperatedly. "Well the surprise is ruined now anyway! But as for birthdays: you avoided mine and yours last year so I wasn't going to let you get away with it again! They’re only forty-seven days apart after all and that’s totally close enough for a joint party!” She spins the scoop threateningly in her fingers before sighing and plopping it into the sorbet.

“Besides, the only gift I really wanted was to see my friends and their friends laughing and eating my ridiculous ice cream. Do you know I’ve spent the past two months creating Team B.A.D. flavours? I thought I could debut them at the party… but I guess it'll have to wait.”

Regret softens Ella’s face as she takes a step closer and hugs her friend. “I'm sorry, Bee.”

“Yeah, welll...” the alchemist sighs, “I hadn’t finished Angharad’s anyway so I guess it’s fine.” She hugs Ella back and shrugs, turning to serve the sorbet. “It’s hard to find the perfect combo for Mr. Sugar ‘n’ Spice ‘n’ Everything Lookin’ Damn Nice, y’know?” Her maudlin attitude vanishes as she pushes a bowl toward Ella and taps a pink fingernail against her own musingly.

“I was thinking chilli-waffle-honey ice cream originally. The whole hot-cold creamy-sweet thing is pretty great and tastes damn nice, but no matter what I did it just didn't seem quite right for him. So then I derailed into honey-jalapeno-pickle and that's fantastic but not what I was going for at all - although I might put it on the surprise scoop menu next month..."

Ella listens quietly as her friend rambles on, refraining from mentioning that anything frozen likely won't meet with Angharad's approval, regardless of flavour. If Bee’s still willing to talk to her then she hasn't ruined their friendship yet… best not to jeopardise that.

Her first tentative taste of Berry Merry Cherry sends the gnome’s eyebrows shooting up and she digs in for another spoonful.

“...So then I tried chilli-mint-pineapple sorbet and I think it’d make a great summer item, but I’ve already used mint in Sir John’s flavour and I want to make them unique. But that means I’m back at square one and I’m kinda stumped. What d’you think?”

Ella chokes on a hearty mouthful of vodka, cherry, raspberry, blueberry - and what tastes like a hint of lime - before responding: “Ah… well, the waffle one sounds appropriate.” She studies her friend, gauging her reaction. “But if you like one of the others then you could just serve it on waffles and get the best of both worlds?”

The look Bee returns is so perfectly affronted she immediately knows she’s erred. “This is my art, Ella! I can’t just serve it on something else because the ice cream isn’t good enough!”

Ella represses a sigh as the alchemist holds a spoonful of sorbet aloft: her usually easygoing manner transforming into aggrieved theatricality.

“Do you not see that we are all akin to these frozen delectables, Ella?” Bee gestures at the spoon. “Created in a complexity of flavours and appearances but all melting toward our inevitable demise?" She points the spoon accusingly at her friend. "Shall I forsake the pursuit of truth in favour of convenience? Bow down to the temporary impediments of experimentation and lay my pride upon the altar of easy accomplishment as I abandon my lifelong dreams to melt upon the floor?! I think not!” Bee slashes her spoon through the air like a sword as sorbet splatters everywhere. "’Twould be no fitting end for treats such as these!"

Ella rolls her eyes, lips twitching. “You’ve been reading Heid again, haven’t you?”

“And going to the Riverside Theatre,” Bee agrees, examining her downed dessert. She shrugs. “I guess you didn’t notice it on the way in but I rebranded: this is the Icy End now.”

A snort erupts from the wizard as she leans over to Prestidigitate the floor clean. “Isn’t that the second name this year?”

“Yeah, but Custom Cones was giving people the wrong idea.”

“I can’t imagine why,” Ella mutters wryly as she moves onto her clothes.

The alchemist laughs and takes a more sedate spoonful of sorbet. “Most people just call it Bee’s anyway.” She wiggles her eyebrows with a teasing grin. “Although I was thinking I might be able to get some juicy deets on Flint’s favourite constables and rename to The Inside Scoop? Sell hot goss alongside my Team B.A.D. flavours!”

Ella wrinkles her nose. “You already know all my embarrassing secrets, Bee; if you really want to sell them I can’t stop you. Just...” she trails off, levity turning to a genuine grimace, “...don’t mention Tam.”

Bee’s smile fades and she nudges Ella’s shoulder with a hip. “Hey, would I do that to you?”

The investigator's lips twist as she leans against the counter, taking a mouthful of icy, alcoholic comfort. “No.”

“See? So stop making that long face! My sorbet’s meant to bring smiles, not frowns!”

A reluctant grin curves the gnome's lips. “Well, based on the potency I suspect it’s meant to induce tipsiness more than anything.”

Bee grins back. “Exactly: smiles.” She laughs as Ella rolls her eyes. "Hey, it works for some people! And I happen to know that you're one of them, Miss Constable, so no need to look so disapproving."

A chuckle escapes as Ella dips her spoon back in her bowl. "One day you'll have to meet Kov. I think you'd get along."

The alchemist perks up. "Who's that? A secret constable contact? Do they sell fey pepper? Because after thinking about it that seems perfect for-"

"Bee!"

"What? I'm just asking! An artist shouldn't be limited by their tools."

"Drugs aren't-!"

The conversation quickly devolves into arguments and laughter, with more than a little sorbet flung in lieu of words. By the second tub, Ella can almost forget about her impending journey into a glacier to meet a lich. If she's going to meet an icy end, she'd much rather do it here: with her best friend and a ladle of sorbet.
 


Echolocation

Explorer
It's been a while since I've posted, so I'd like to provide some background.

Firstly, the game is alive and well. In the most recent session, the party secured the Lost Arc of Reida and are thrilled to explore Kasvarina's memories.

The convocation proved difficult to run. Of course, there was the GM complexity. However, myself and my players struggled with morale. About 50% of our sessions were cancelled due to a missing player, often last minute. The start-stop nature of running a game for four adults, plus the information-heavy aspect of the convocation, weighed us down. Players were still excited in session, with everyone thrilled about the Ob's bold plan, but I think players felt a bit aimless due to the momentum lost between sessions.

Fortunately, this gloom hasn't carried over to Book 8, for reasons which will be revealed later.

I've started full time work after a decade of study, so I've spent the last few months floundering trying to be an adult. I'm still not one. But I have enough time now to start posting again. I'm going to begin by sharing another player-written story, then a small adventure I ran for a slightly different group in the Zeitgeist universe, before finally returning to the heart of Book 7: the convocation.
 

Echolocation

Explorer
A story by Ella's player:

Little Star
19th of Summer, 501 A.O.V.

We are all stardust.

It’s been over a week since Team B.A.D. failed to stop a coup, killed the king’s fiancée, and stole Ella’s uncle back from a volcanic dragon lair, and the subsequent excitement has finally died down enough that they no longer need to stay late filling out paperwork and liaising with officials.

Enough that Ella can spend some time with her cousins and brother before bed.

Half her family lie sprawled on blankets or perched on chairs, as the rest run giggling between the orchard trees - Grandad Desmond showing impressive spryness for his age as he chases down gnomes more than two centuries younger.

Ella takes a moment to memorise it all: lying on an old blanket beside Andy as he points excitedly up at the early evening stars.

"What's that one, Elsie?" he lisps, pointing at a cluster of bright points.

The tiefling tilts her head, recognising the body of a constellation known as the Hound. "What do you think it looks like?"

Andy considers for a moment then replies: "Jenny."

She smiles and ruffles his hair. "Then that's what it is."

He turns and blinks wide green eyes at her. "But what do grown ups call it?"

"Well," Ella pauses. "There are lots of names. In Drakr they call it Alyona, Zovanik's assistant." She traces the form of a sturdy dwarven maid between the stars with a claw-tip. "And in Crisillyir they call it the Crow, who stole Lementia's chisel while she worked." This time the imaginary lines she traces include a few more stars, spreading out in the shape of wings. "But in Risur we call it the Hound: forever chasing the Fox." She points out two four-legged shapes bounding through the sky.

She grins and taps her little brother on the nose with a careful finger. "And if they can call that little group of stars and their friends all of that, then why not Jenny too? Your stories aren't any less important than theirs."

Andy catches her clawed finger and examines it with all the solemnity of a seventeen year old with a head full of dreams. "Mine?"

"Yes."

Blue locks shift and settle as he tilts his head, considering, and Ella smooths them back affectionately. Eventually he points again, more animatedly. “Then that one’s Leo, and that’s Gran chasing Timon!”

Ella chuckles, peering at the pinpricks of light as she tries to see the shapes. “And what did Timon do to get chased?”

“He stole a flower.”

“Does he do that often?”

Andy peers innocently at her from under his fringe. “Only when no one’s watching.”

She stifles another laugh. “And you have this on good authority from No One, do you?”

He snuggles into her side, trying to hide a proud smile as he shakes his head, and Ella grins, rolling over to tickle him. The smaller gnome squirms away and soon they’re darting between the lantern-lit trees with the others: lights in their eyes and grass stains on their feet. Bright as earthbound stars.

Summer air winds warm and comforting around them, gentle as a close-tucked blanket.
 

Echolocation

Explorer
Towards the end of 2021, I had one New Years Resolution to, well, resolve. I've had plenty of ideas for Zeitgeist mini-adventures, but hadn't yet bothered to write them down. With 2022 looming around the corner, I had no choice but to run the most unhinged compilation of ideas I could think of. By combining the Starfinder Society Adventure: Live Exploration Extreme! with the dragon skull combat from Adventure Six (which I never got to run because my party forfeited the game to Lya), I created the abomination: Exploration Extreme, Live at Nalaam!

Here is the introduction I gave my players:

In the streets of Nalaam, the decadent playground, money and mana flow freely. Under the loose libertarian rule of a cabal of powerful wizards, the infamous den of inequities harbour many crimes and cruelties the rest of the world forbids. Only criminals who cause material, mortal, or psychological damage are expected to repay their dues in equivalent coin. And unfortunately, you committed a crime you could not afford. In order to pay back your debt, you have been charged to explore the tunnels beneath the city itself. And to generate revenue to repay your crimes, the entire expedition will be broadcast via powerful magics to a live audience at the city’s Colosseum! Do not fear, you will not be doing it alone: you will be accompanied by fellow criminals and an arcanotechnological ‘camera’ crew. Can you unearth the secrets of the decedent playground while earning your freedom, perhaps even becoming a celebrity in the process?

I wrote a Player's Guide for his mini-adventure, which you can find attached. Players could choose from one of ten criminal backgrounds to play from. And yes, the flavour text below each trait is from the Simpsons.

Regarding the background for this adventure, of course, not all was at it seems in Nalaam. Unbeknownst to many, Nalaam was founded atop a series of labyrinthine tunnels, housing the ziggurat of Urim. Now, it's time to deviate wildly from official Zeitgiest lore. After the demonocracy fell, one of the most obsessive red dragon steed fled his masters to establish his own laboratory within the tunnels that surround the ziggurat of Urim. Known as Arsha-Hish the Marblemaw, the scientist dragon spent the following centuries carving out a large area to conduct experiments. Arsha-Hish consolidated the latent mana fields into crystallized orbs, each of which housed a demi-plane. When the dragon wished to enter a demi-plane, he'd place the crystal orb atop a pedestal and have it manifest in every direction within ten miles. At first, Arsha-Hish created simple planes, but soon, the dragon created simulations of the history that has been, and could have been. Eventually, he created thousands upon thousands of worlds, each a crystal orb shelved in his domain. Despite the many fantastical simulations at his disposal, he was most fond of simulation #20,533, titled "Dwarven Followers of Arsha-Hish: A Study of Religious Fervor". Set in the days of the demonocracy, Arsha-Hish would enter the simulation in the form of a demon, and was praised with the same fervor as his masters once were. The dwarves of the simulated city of Pulstov would forsake their own kin to appease him, a power trip Arsha-Hish could never turn away from. That was until 137 years ago, where the glorious Marblemaw was never seen again.

The cabal of Nalaam built their city with Arsha-Hish's permission. The citizens would be permitted to siphon the free flowing mana, so long as the ruling cabal maintained the secrecy of Arsha-Hish and his experiments. But Arsha-Hish's experiments were becoming increasingly difficult to conceal. Now, tremors shake the city of Nalaam, and the cabal is worried. The divination specialist has failed to discern the state of the dragon and the evocation specialist's Sendings are failing. Someone needs to venture into the Arasha-Hish's domain to stop the quakes, but it sure as hell isn't going to be the cabal. And then, in a meeting under candlelight and psychedelics, it hits them: why not send prisoners to explore? And why not send a magical camera crew to record said prisoners and profit from a reality series projected to Nalaam's Arena? Surely, the necromancy specialist can pull a few strings to teleport in, what's his name, Zo! to host the event? That way, the cabal can collect damning evidence that Arsha-Hish has broken the contract that founded Nalaam to financially leverage against the dragon, and Arsha-Hish will simply incinerate the criminals and production crew who introduce on his domain, leaving nobody to be paid and nobody the wiser, as the dragon's breath will vapourise the crew's cameras.

Congratulating each other on such a wicked plan, the cabal reach out to Dallatonna Elzarro, a Family lawyer, to select the most charismatic criminals using her services....

Which I'll introduce you to in my next post.
 

Attachments

  • players-guide.pdf
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trying to be an adult. I'm still not one.
It's just the worst, isn't it?

Brush your teeth, take care of your knees, and prioritize sleep. Those were the main lessons I had to learn to manage adulting.

(Also, I make calendar reminders for everything I have to do, even if I'm planning to do it later the same day.)

Good to hear the game is still alive!
 

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