Tuesday, March 31, 2020

D&D Online!



When I came to D&D as a hobby I didn’t have a lot of money for gaming. I spent years as a student so I didn’t have a lot of money for gaming. Now I have a family and significant demands on my finances, so I don’t have a lot of money for gaming.

So whenever I do D&D, I do it on the cheap. 

I recently migrated my game online. I spent some time with Roll 20 and Fantasy Grounds, and in short, both required me to plug into something pre created, from either an adjacent rule set to what I use or something else. I run a home brew campaign heavy with house rules for combat and spells. So none of the interfaces are a good fit, as all will require me to either convert or adjust a lot of my game. 

So I thought it through, and here’s the thing. At the table, you hear voices, and you see props. You consult tables and such. You roll dice. You look at your character sheet. All online has to do is emulate that relatively well.

Really, the only thing I don’t have is a virtual tabletop, where I can move things in real time, and so can the players. 

But in reality that’s not really what you do with maps and minis, you really just lay them down, fiddle with them and leave them there. You don’t need real time adjustments.

Here is what I do.

1. I use an online roller through Discord. That avoids the need for individual video feeds to show dice rolling if the players don’t want them. I have offered people the ability to roll in front of their camera for video enabled games as well.

2. Use online chat through Discord. I use my voice, but a text gets through when everyone is talking. I use both. When the din from side talk or background noise gets too much I have bailed with a, “I’m on text only, I have muted everyone”, and after a few minutes of that they are generally more aware of their noise levels.

3. Group dependent, but self-muting is sometimes required. Two of my after school kids hum or sing all the time, so they mute their audio so they can do so. They turn it back on to comment.

4. I use Zoom for the game, you can link to it directly through your discord feed. It allows multiple screens to be up on the side. I often mute the audio on Discord and just use Zoom for that. Some people on Zoom disable the video and enable the audio as well. You can tailor this to your group.

5. I have a main map for the area of interest (if there is one), when we play I will upload that to the server for everyone, and suggest that they download it to their computer to look at separately. Some will, some won’t. 

6. I use a lot of visual aids, so if they are fighting something I will sometimes just show a picture and say nothing descriptive, or I might add to a picture. A two second Google image search will turn up pretty much anything in the monster tomes from early editions up. 

7. Players are sent their character sheets separately, and I can upload them directly to Discord if the player can’t find their sheet. There is no need to use the interface to manage the characters, and as I mentioned, I home brew everything so using my own character sheets is best. It also helps that you are giving your players something to do and not allowing the game to track everything for them.

8. If you want maps, you can upload them without any minis or counters on them. Or, you can sketch out maps as you need and upload them to discord from your phone. In person I will often sketch out the scene on a wipeable grid map and place the minis, as I don’t use a lot of props. On discord I can place everyone and take a photo with the phone and upload it. 

If the players suggest moving around they can direct me to move their pieces if needed. I can also direct my camera to be on the maps and minis when I present and change things.

The players have to direct me, but that’s manageable. I have also had people download the map photo with minis on it, open it in Paint, mark an x where they want their character to go, and reupload it to Discord

For the most part just giving them the map of the space with some reference points on it is enough to let them tell you whatever they need to, and ask you what they need, to direct their characters.

9. In conditions of limited visibility (like a dark dungeon with torches, what they are exploring right now in my Thursday game) I take the main map and chop it into pieces, as they move through the dungeon I send through the next chunk of the map. It works really well.

I repurpose maps from old modules, and make minor changes in Paint to make them look different. Otherwise I downloaded some grids, and I can take one and use Paint to draw some basic shapes to represent things (pool, statue, table, etc.) They don’t look slick, but they have an old school charm. Otherwise I can just draw something out and upload a photo.

10. Zoom audio doesn’t allow side discussions between players, so if two players want to talk outside the game they have to do so on text through their phones. This means you get less cross chatter delaying the game. 

11. However, since all of your players could have distractions that you can’t even see, you need to keep things ticking along, so for example:
  1. Regularly ask what people are doing
  2. I have sent screenshots of the rule books to players before, works well and easily from the phone or desktop. I send PDFs of the rule books to the PCs as well. 
  3. Use text prompts to add to the discussion, e.g. when the players are debating what to do with the guard they have caught, you text to the group, “your interrogation has taken about 5 minutes so far”, that sort of thing. 
  4. I ask players to roll dice for me a lot, they love doing it.
  5. Have your player’s sheets handy so you can help prompt them or remind them about things. They are used to you being there to help
  6. Freely use the ability to delete posts as players will sometimes post silly memes and such that take up the stream and make it harder to go back and find things you posted earlier
  7. I try to ensure that I have a few random maps for wilderness encounters, images of all of the monsters on the wandering monster table and if you are running a module or adventure art for all the monsters as well. 

There is nothing wrong with letting Roll 20 populate things for you, and with downloading tokens and token sets and such. I just find that once you start you end up getting a lot of stuff that is essentially just flair, and the costs can increase. 

Really the only thing you lose without these platforms is the interactive map and bonus lighting features and such, and it is fun to move things around a map, but you certainly don’t need it, and without it I can use whatever custom content I want.

Discord is free, Zoom is free, and I’m not doing any more prep than I did before, I have Googled images in game no problem, and as long as I spend a bit of time prepping the maps beforehand I can give the players enough information to make decisions about what to do.

So far we have had some terrific sessions on Discord, the cross chat is reduced and we get a lot more done, I can zap documents and pictures to the players with ease, and using the phone allows me to improvise maps and visuals as I would in person on a wipeable map if the players want visualization. I am usually logged in on the phone and on the computer so I can minimize delays sending in photos taken from the phone.

Cheap and easy, there’s no reason to avoid online gaming if you are concerned about money, and you can create an experience very much like the table top.




Campaign Journals - Storytelling in D&D.



Image: "The Nomad" by Sainez on Deviantart
https://www.deviantart.com/sainez

As much as I understand and appreciate the idea of D&D as "collective storytelling", the kind of collective storytelling that it represents to me doesn't happen at the table.

At the table D&D is a game, where you assume a role, the role of your character.

You do things, and these actions have consequences and rewards. The storytelling part happens after, when you talk and write about the game's events.

For the last 6 years my son and his friends have been playing a home game with me, sometimes in one week summer camps, sometimes in regular campaign play (bimonthly). Over that time, I've run a lot of games for the group. For a while there, I kept notes, and then typed up campaign journals. They are entirely based on what the PCs did, I flavor the dialogue but keep the topics, and I retell what the players did after the fact. Some of them are set in my home brew city, where they have been adventuring on and off for 6 years.

They help to give the flavor of our game, what sort of stuff do the PCs get up to? What are their goals, their place in the setting? What sorts of challenges do they face, what sorts of problems do they have to solve? That all comes out of recounting the adventure. The more I look back at these recollections the more I realize we have created a living, responsive world to play in, and it has paid us priceless dividends of memories. I've watched my son and his friends do some CRAZY THINGS, and it was all real risk and reward. We have had deaths, and the dice have been a fickle mistress.

I found this today and thought I would share it here. I periodically run summer camps for my home group, we use pregens if it isn't the continuation of the regular campaign. Since the players usually get low to mid level PCs, I generate them and they choose the PC they want.

This allows me to make them up "old school", or with a lot of randomization. In the case of magic-users (and the player wanted a MU), I roll randomly for spells. They get to choose one "level up" spell per level advanced, but they only get to choose from their patron's spell list, and I randomize that.

I also randomly roll for treasure using the guidelines in the DMG for "Creating a party on the spur of the moment" with some modifications for the flavor of my campaign.

Since they are going to be running a PC for a week, I think it's only fair that they get to take the PC on a test run before the game. Particularly with magic-users, as they have a lot of moving parts by mid level. So I ran a one shot adventure for each of them.

This campaign journal was for one Shoon Jissel, a 6th level 1st Edition AD&D magic user. He was run by a player who is a serious gamer, he plays to win. I thought this would be an interesting challenge as Jissel is not a pew pew wizard. He has a mix of defensive, utility and very few offensive spells. He was going to have to think his way through this.

It happened more or less like this…


*******************************************************************
Shoon Jissel
6th level Human MU - S:8, I:17, W: 13,D:16, C:9, C: 9
HP: 30, AC: 5, MV:12", AL: LN, Deity: Indra

Weapons:
[15] Darts 1-3,1-2, ROF:3,
[4] Daggers 1-4,1-3

Spells: (4/2/2)
1st - Burning Hands, Charm Person, Comprehend languages, Find Familiar, Identify, Message, Read Magic, Shield
2nd - Audible glamer, ESP, Forget, Rope Trick, Web
3rd - Dispel Magic, Protection from Normal Missiles, Tongues

Familiar : Dharzi Hunting Dog, “Gilak”, MV:15", AC:4, HD:5, HP: 25, NA:3,DA: 1-4,1-4,2-12,SA: Tracking, Int: Animal, AL:N, Size: L (5' at shoulder)

Poison:
1. Type B insinuative poison, save for 0 or 25HP damage, 1-3 rounds to onset. [3]
2. Sleep poison: save or sleep for 1 turn [6]
3. Paralysis poison: save or paralyzed 1 turn. [3]

Magic Items:
+1 Dagger, Bracers AC:7, Gauntlets of Swimming and Climbing
Crystal Bowl - as a crystal ball with claraudience - up to one half hour twice a day, 33% (1-2 on d6) of detection by SK
Scroll: Animate Dead [9th - 15%F/5%RH], Bigby's Interposing Hand [12th - 30%F/15%RH], Wall of Iron [9th - [9th - 15%F/5%RH]
Scroll: Invisible Stalker [12th - 30%F/15%RH], Legend Lore [12th - 30%F/15%RH]

Sage Abilities
Major Field: Physical Universe
Special Categories: Architecture and Engineering, Mathematics
Minor Fields: Supernatural and Unusual
Question Is----------General----------Specific----------Exacting
Out of Fields --------31-50%----------11-20%----------  /
In Minor Field-------46-65%----------31-40%----------11-20%
In Major Field-------61-80%----------57-60%----------26-35%
In Spec. Cat. --------81-100%---------76-96%----------61-80%

*************************************************************************************************************

Daostal the Xanthous stood before Shoon Jissel, both were looking out across the flower crested rooftops, white dusty roads and silvered sinewy coils of Bhavisyavani’s canals.

The small but open inset balcony on Moonsal’s tower was positively overflowing with plants, green and blue, dark red and blazing yellow; the stalks and the leaves were of deep, rich pungent colors. The blooms and petals framed by this riot were just as unusual. Some were iridescent, others wan and transparent, as if sighing their last before fading to memory, still others blurred the vision when trying to focus on them.

Shoon had coughed earlier and a six foot tall plant with orange stalks and huge, languid purple leaves had scooped up the sound of his cough, bounced it around between the fronds, repeating the sharp bark from Shoon’s breast over and over, and then swallowed the noise entirely by collapsing inwards to become a tall, orange pedestal.

No two plants were the same it appeared, and they showed no symmetry or balance, yet somehow it all flowed and fit, and it gave the room, exposed to the open air, a safe feeling.

“You seem overwhelmed Jissel, am I to send you back to your quarters?”

Shoon had not taken a private apartment in the city, he was ranking enough to do so, but frankly he preferred to be near the tower at all times, you never miss an opportunity that way. He lived in a single unit in Ward constructed housing, private but on House property, and close to Moonsal’s magnificent tower.

“No, Warlock Daostal the Xanthous, I am merely pondering my place here.”

“Daostal for now”, the Warlock replied, “I have a need of you, Jissel.”

Shoon nodded, he had expected this, “for the bowl, whom is to be the target?”

The Warlock shook his head, “No, not for the bowl.”

Shoon was taken aback. He could certainly take care of himself, but he was not an ambitious man, he didn’t pursue power, and dangerous magic, as lustily as many of his fellow House warlocks. Shoon specialized in old texts and the rediscovery of old magic. He had adventured, but he had so much more to learn, he was a sponge floating on a sea of potential here in the city. He was rarely called for jobs.

Except for the bowl. He had found a scrying bowl, it works much like a crystal ball, and once it was known he had it, and that he had an excellent memory, he was recruited by Daostal to get to know important personages, often being assigned as an assistant or guide to the personage. Then he could scry on those of interest to his House. He had assumed the call was for that sort of thing.

“What do you need me for?”

Warlock Daostal smiled, “We have found a tower in our territory that has a single occupant, I will forgo descriptions, suffice it to say its otherworldly. I want you to go and see if you can communicate with it. You have several spells at your disposal to help with that.”

Shoon looked at the plants all around him, and at Daostal, and contemplated.

Anyone could cast the appropriate spell, why him. He became nervous, was he being sent into the depths of the swamp to be disposed of?

Daostal sensed a shift in Shoon’s mood immediately.

“Have you noticed, Jissel, how many read the same text, but many different meanings emerge?”
Shoon nodded, “Of course.”

“Well, you and another might know a language, but only you will pick up on a nuance, or hear something else going on. Anyone can cast a spell, you spent a good year in that damnable library trying to translate Xinith’s text’s for him, it was a thankless task, but I’ve watched you in quorum, you have a strong ability to work with partial texts, to interpret from scant evidence. You have a… feel for translation.”

Shoon shook his head, “no disrespect, but I haven’t completed any one translation of any of Xinith’s texts, I’m not sure I’m your man.”

Daostal bit his lip, ready to say something critical, who was this warlock to challenge his reading of the situation? He breathed in, he was convinced Shoon was the right choice.

“We have reason to believe that there are at least two other Houses interested in this creature, which suggests we are right to press our advantage. Go to this thing, attempt to communicate with it, see if you can find some leverage to bargain with the thing. Even if it has no real power, who knows if its civilization might, and might pay handsomely for its return. It made its way to us, we need to make progress.”

Shoon was feeling a jolt of excitement, another lifeform, a thing from the stars perhaps, or another dimension… it was tempting. And he really couldn’t say no, not and continue to have his privileges.

“Has this thing killed anyone?”

There was an extensive pause.

“Yes and no.”

“Can you be a bit more specific?”

“Well, we are not entirely sure how this worked, but it has driven men insane. Several of the people we sent emerged… not in their own mind so to speak. Some harmed themselves, some others, but we need to keep trying as other Houses have become interested in finding the thing. At the moment we are the only House who knows about the creature.”

“I do not wish to lose my mind, can I even know what the previous missions did?”

Daostal’s face lit up, “Well, yes, the previous missions did not attempt to communicate with the thing, they attempted to subdue it in a fashion, a demonstration of magical power, bloody its nose and all that. We were convinced it was demonic, so we went in with expectations. After the last mission was a failure we obtained a portion of the remains of one of the combatants, and we spoke to her before Yama took her for good. She indicated that they had gone in as previous missions and used magic to try and overwhelm the creature, and they were affected. The only clue I can offer is that those who went in first were impacted first, that fact came out of repeated questioning, so perhaps limiting your exposure might help. And trying to communicate, we got a description of the thing as well, and it seems quite non-humanoid, so there was no attempt at communication, and an assumption of hostility, I am of the opinion that communication might be better.”

Shoon had to admit that he agreed, and despite his instincts screaming otherwise, he mentioned it out loud, he often felt compelled to respond when he felt a point was logical or correct.

“I agree, communication is likely the best choice.”

“We are unfortunately in a minority, thus this mission is not to be shared with your fellow warlocks or anyone else inside or outside of House Ynris, other than me.”

 Daostal pointed out towards the eastern marshes, “You will not be able to travel in the company of House troops, any large venture would be found and we cannot risk discovery. You will travel alone, and you will have to rely on your own resources.”

Daostal went forward and pointed towards a large plant with ripe purple bulbs, each the size of a large melon, hanging off of black stalks. He turned to Shoon and spoke in a calm, almost friendly voice.

 “I know  this is a great risk, but if you are successful then you will gain both the glory of being the first to defeat this thing, and you will be in my favor, all up and coming warlocks here in the House need patrons, sponsors, someone to look out for your interests. You would be wise to accept this offer, it is a unique opportunity.”

Shoon nodded, he was just curious enough that he wanted to go, communicating with something from another world, or plane of existence, it was indeed a unique opportunity.

“I am ready then, how should we proceed?” Shoon spoke.

Shoon nodded and listened attentively as Daostal discussed the details of the venture, and he wondered if he would soon lose his mind…

******************************************************************************

A day later Shoon found himself atop a large lizard, moving silently through the reeds towards a distant ruin. He was wearing light trousers and a loose shirt, as well as a long coat and a broad brimmed hat to fend off the relentless sun. The reeds were everywhere, but there was a path through them, sometimes dry, sometimes muddy, and sometimes submerged, but navigable by his giant lizard.

By his side was his familiar, a horse sized dog with the head of a bird he called “Grilak”. Shoon had obtained his familiar in an unusual way, when accompanying a powerful warlock from his House on a journey to another plane he decided to cast the spell to summon a familiar. The creature was a great boon to him, he had been saved from many threats thanks to its fierce demeanor, and its wicked beak.

Still, the beast was a risk to possess, if it were ever slain the shock would easily kill
Shoon, so for the most part its main advantage was as a deterrent.

Brightly plumed birds of yellow, blue and green swooped down into his path then away again, they had been buzzing him this way for about an hour on and off, likely as he was the only large moving thing for some distance.

Unless of course they were like vultures and knew something he did not.

Shoon sighed and gnawed on a piece of dried meat while consulting his map. His destination was likely an hour or so from his current location, Shoon wiped away the sweat from his forehead and looked into the distance. The sun was creating waves of distortion over the reeds and bushes, Shoon half expected the scene to waver and disappear like some sort of mirage.

He took a drink from his waterskin, and when he was putting it back on his saddle he noticed something in the distance. He almost missed it, but there was a flash, like sunlight reflecting from a mirror or off of metal.

Unusual.

Shoon pulled back on the reins and called out his familiar’s name, “Gilak.”

The beast stopped moving alongside Shoon and his giant lizard.

“Find”, he whispered to his familiar, and it peeled off into the reeds.

Another flash of light interrupted his thoughts, definitely reflected off of something, from just off to the left of the first one.

Shoon moved fast, flashing light like this usually meant metal, and that likely meant weapons, and they were spread out, so he could be surrounded.

Saan? Bandits?

He looked to his side and now saw what was clearly the bladed end of a spear sticking out of the distant reeds.

Shoon spit and cursed, “kárhozat”

He looked at the reeds and read the wind, it was from the west and strong enough to bend them over and keep them there for heartbeats at a time.

Shoon closed his eyes and breathed in, when he breathed out he opened them, and he was looking across the reeds from his familiar’s eyes. Magically bred for hunting by a race from another dimension known as the Dharzi, the beast’s full senses washed over Shoon; he fought the urge to dive into the reeds to chase out prey for killing, just like his familiar was want to do.

Shoon became aware of the sounds, sights and smells of at least 8 approaching creatures.
He snapped back to his own perceptions.

The closest attacker was still far enough distant for a quick spell casting, and he reached down into his belt pouch and grabbed a tortoise shell he had packed this morning. Shoon held up the shell in front of his eyes and spoke the words, “Héj Vas!” three times.

Shoon then shouted, “Gilak, to me!” and spurred his mount onwards into the wind.

With this the first spear sailed through the air, it arced well and when it headed down to hit Shoon the warlock just barely shot past the silvery point as it landed in the reeds.

As he charged forward another man emerged from the reeds and threw a spear from 20’ away as they charged by, the spear flew straight and hit Shoon on the shoulder.

The spear reacted as if it had hit a stone wall, the shaft cracked and the tip of the spear bent back, and it fell to ground.

Shoon rode far enough to be out of the man’s spear range and pulled back on the reins of his mount. He took out a dart from under his long coat and then opened a small pouch just enough to dip the dart tip into a green paste at the bottom of the pouch. Shoon pulled out the dart and cinched the pouch string, sealing it up. He held the dart behind his back, his coat underneath it, so when he threw it he could easily reach for two more.

By that point the spearman who attacked him last was splashing after him on the muddy ground, he had a sword in his hand this time. Shoon took aim and threw his poisoned dart, it flew in a straight line, nailing the spearman in the chest.

There was a scream, some twisting and thrashing and the man flailed and then slowed down, and soon stopped motionless as if frozen, falling over to the wet ground.

Shoon spurred his mount on, let them find the paralyzed body in the mud, that might get their attention and get them to leave.

The warlock received a cry from his hunting dog, the cry meant it had found someone. Shoon diverted towards the cry, and soon saw the beast growling, pulled low as if ready to pounce, and directly across from him were two men with spears.

The first man saw Shoon and pivoted, throwing his spear directly at the warlock.

It flew into his arm and bounced off as if it had hit stone.

The bandit looked incredulous, and even more so when a dart sailed through the air and hit him in the chest, which produced a wail of agony. Shoon followed quickly with two more darts. The first one missed but the second one hit, and the bandit dropped dead, a dart hanging from his neck and chest.
Gilak sprung on the second bandit, who had been distracted by the darts. He tore out the bandit’s throat and he died thrashing in front of Shoon’s eyes.

Then a bandit burst out of the reeds to the side and charged at Shoon sword in hand. The warlock did not draw for a weapon, but instinctively held out his hands and touched his thumbs together, spreading out his fingers.

"Ujjait a tűz!" he shouted, then as the bandit reached him blue hot jets of flame emerged from Shoon’s outstretched fingers in an incendiary fan and immolated the unfortunate bandit.
His screams bounced across the marsh as his flesh seared. The smell was unholy.

Shoon spurred on his mount again, not sure how many foes he faced.

That’s when he heard the crashing noise. It was coming from his right, and when he looked in that direction he saw a giant boar mounted by an armored warrior. Shoon’s keen mind took in a dozen details at once: the warrior had a long spear in one hand and a crossbow was hanging from her saddle. None of the others had crossbows, she wore chain mail while the others all wore leather armor. She was mounted they were not…

This was their leader.

Then she was charging forward with the spear as a lance.

Shoon made a fist and held it up to his mouth, he whispered, “Drágám a füledben”, then placed his fist against his ear and spoke again, ”Drágám a füledben.”

The bandit charged forwards.

Shoon held up his hand and shouted, “Stop!”

His opponent slowed down, pulling back on the reins.

At that second a spear flew from behind him and struck Shoon directly on his back.

Shoon turned and growled at the man behind him. He stopped dead in his tracks, looking at the spear lying on the ground.

Gilak loped over and returned to Shoon’s side.

Shoon turned back to the leader of the group and spoke, ”You have lost three of your crew, one lies paralyzed in the mud behind me, and your weapons are not working, are they? Stop now before I am forced to kill you all.’

Two more bandits emerged from the reeds, a woman and a man.

“What is your name”, Shoon asked.

The bandit leader replied, “Kassala”.

“Shoon Jissel, Warlock of House Ynris.”

Shoon was not sure what the bandits thought of House Warlocks, but he was hoping that might give him a bit of an intimidation factor. He breathed deep and gambled he could convince Kassala while she was under the influence of his spell.

“To honor my house I should kill you all for this, but the significance of my mission outweighs my thirst for redress.”

Kassala’s face betrayed no particular emotion.

“About a half hour from here there is a ruin, inside is… something, several missions have been sent out from various houses to communicate with it, or overpower it. The problem is that they have been taking a brute force approach. I spent the last few months in the archives and finally found a spell that should bind it.”

Shoon pointed to the surrounding marsh.

“To my knowledge this thing has been visited a number of times, and many of the would-be conquerors have died in the ruin, or near it. There is likely a significant amount of unclaimed magic and gold there, just lying around. No one who has survived has reported any other creatures in there, just the thing. I will bind it with my spell, then you and your men take what you want, once I have the thing under my control the Lords of Bhavisyavani will be at my disposal.”

“You don’t need us”, one of the bandits spoke up, Kassalla was still silent, the spell blunting her critical thought.

“You are correct, I came here on my own, but it would be helpful to have you with me for two reasons”, Shoon replied immediately, “one, other creatures, lizard men, small beasts, may have moved in since the last mission was sent, so I could use your men to deal with those, and two, I would waste valuable resources fighting you and your men, resources I might need if the creature has other magical protections in place.”

It was a lie, but a plausible one…

At this point a total of 6 bandits were there, not including Kassalla on her giant boar.

Shoon added, “You can’t hurt me, you have all seen that your weapons just bounce off. I have no taste for slaughtering your entire crew just to prove a point. Join me.”

Kassala smiled, “Yes, I like your bargain warlock, but if we encounter anything I don’t like we bolt, I won’t die for your folly, but I’ll profit from it if I can.”

Five of the bandits had come together and laughed and seemed fine with the arrangement.

One stood apart looking angry, perhaps Shoon had killed one of his friends. This was a crucial time,

Kassala was enchanted and thus likely to agree with him, the rest, however, were not, and might discover his magic, or decide against the risk, at any time.

Shoon weighed his options, and made a decision, he was facing the dissenting bandit, and his hand reached to one of his darts, he pulled back and the bandit grabbed his sword, Shoon threw the dart at the bandit, shouting at the same time,

“Gilak, Megol!”

The first dart tagged the bandit on the arm, he saw Gilak coming around from the opposite side of Shoon’s mount, and he turned with his sword to protect himself.

Shoon managed to heft two more darts at him before Gilak had made it around, the first missed but the second hit him in the stomach. By that time Gilak had made it to the bandit’s side and delivered a wicked beaked bite to his neck, and he collapsed as his head virtually fell off.

Shoon turned to the remaining bandits, and shouted, “Anyone else have a concern?”

There were no dissenters.

“Onwards then, I will follow your lead Kassala, we head west to that ridge in the distance, the ruin is supposed to be there.”

The five remaining bandits and Kassala moved forward, the giant boar leading the way. They travelled for another half hour or so and reached the ruins as predicted. There were several buildings there at one point, Shoon could not discern if they had been a settlement, a keep or a temple, but only one building remained, it was four stories tall, made of obsidian stone, and square. Ominously, it had no windows, but one opening big enough for about 4 men abreast at the bottom.

There was nothing but dark to be seen inside.

Shoon cleared a space in the jungle about 100 feet from the ruin. He sat cross legged on the ground, the bandits and their leader, Kassalla, who was under the influence of a charm, surrounded him. Gilak was with his giant lizard a short distance back, he had asked his familiar to wander the perimeter and alert him to anyone approaching.

They looked simultaneously incredulous and amused. Shoon had noted this tendency in many soldiers and mercenaries, magic was foreign enough to them that it produced a sort of giddy fear, not so much a “what will he do”, as a “what could go wrong” kind of thing. They had seen their spears bounce off of him, so they were being a lot more respectful than they would normally be. Perhaps the shock of seeing their leader go along with him was still lingering.

Shoon had found it best not to speculate too much as to what people did and didn’t know about magic, it was always case by case, so he assumed for the moment that the bandits either thought their leader was free of mind, or didn’t much care. Being ruthless back there probably hadn’t hurt either, as none of the remaining bandits seemed resentful about the recent deaths.

He had to convince them to go into the ruin without him, Shoon needed some guinea pigs for his idea to communicate with the thing, and this is what he had, so he knew he had to play up the show. He had laid out 7 candles (“It must be seven” he said to them, “it is the number of grieves in a magical cadence”, they all looked impressed), and lit them while humming an obscure chant from his childhood, he poured small piles of salt and iron powder, he spoke in an ancient tongue he had only read before, which presumably sounded alien to their ears, and after about ten minutes of this, where he had also burned some small insects, Shoon cast the actual spell.

He took out a small lump of wax and pushed it into the palm of his hand, he spoke into it, “Hallható megtévesztés”, and then blew on his palm, a faint trail of dust flew into the air, and it abruptly disappeared.

Now, Shoon had lived in Bhavisyavani all his life, and he had seen some fairly remarkable things, but one stood out in his mind. He and a group of others in a House hunting party had come across some... thing in the marsh, it was a half-formed creature, created in some warlock’s vat, and it wandered the marshes eating things. When the hunting party found the creature it attacked, and they slaughtered it with swords and axes. The sounds it made when first attacked were horrifying, but when they began to hack at it and kill the creature the noises were unbearable to listen to.

Shoon called up the memory and projected the first sound that the creature had made while fighting, and amplified it and repeated it over and over. All the while he gestured to accompany the noises, when he would pull back the sound would sharpen for a few seconds, when he brought down his hand in a fist the sound became more aggressive, when he sliced forward with his palm the sound wavered and boiled over into a cacophony of discordant noise. He kept this up for about five minutes, with the full motions and an accompanying set of facial expressions and full body movements that suggested he was struggling with something on the other end.

Then Shoon shifted to the sounds he had heard while the creature from his past was being slaughtered, these were cries of pain, of terror, of confusion. They were hard to hear then and hard to hear now. The mercenaries looked aghast, several had turned and walked away, whatever Shoon was portraying, to them it seemed plausible and otherworldly.

He kept up the dying sounds for another five minutes or so, and then he made them fade slowly away.
Shoon looked up, haggard and tired from his ”ordeal”.

”Now”, he said in a hoarse voice, ”I have bound the creature to my will, it cannot harm you. Enter quickly and take what you can carry. Be on the lookout for any other creatures in the ruin, I doubt anything would stay around after that, but one cannot be too careful.”

Shoon then picked up two of the candles and looked towards the ruins.

”The binding spell is stronger if I get closer, I will come up with you.”

Kassarra was still under the effects of Shoon’s charm, and she moved forward, so the bandits were alongside as well. Shoon wasn’t surprised, they were being tempted with an easy mark; in his experience thieves and mercenaries were always looking for the easy mark. Shoon accompanied them to about 20 feet from the ruin then sat down in the grass and placed two candles in front of him, still burning. He sat cross legged again and began to murmur more nonsense.

When the bandits entered the opening in the wall Shoon took out a copper coin and pressed it to his forehead while pointing at one of the bandits as he entered, Shoon whispered the words, “Egy érme a gondolatok” and concentrated.

He “read” the thoughts of the bandit as he entered the room. His surface thoughts were about the lack of lighting in the room (there was no light inside except what streamed through the entrance), and the bodies on the floor, the bandit thought there were a dozen of them. There was a quick thought of the god Yama, and a silent in the head blessing, then a thought about the smell in the room, which was unpleasant given the heat and the bodies. He then thought that the bodies he was looking at looked like they attacked each other and died.

That was not promising.

Shoon continued to read as the bandit leaned over to see a jeweled broach on one of the dead men. He plucked it off while thinking of its value.

He then read how the bandit was concerned that his friends might get more than him. These thoughts were bright and strong.

Then there was a scream, and the mind he was reading was filled with curses and terror. WHAT WAS THAT, WHAT WAS THAT, repeated over and over again in his mind.

Shoon supressed a shudder.

Then, he felt something… new. The mind he was reading was suddenly filled with new thoughts, strange lights flashing amongst deep blackness, and absolute, total silence, the bandit’s mind had no thoughts of any kind of sound, just lights, perception of depth, solidity and fluidity, absence and presence, distance and closeness, but no sound at all.

Then bandit’s thoughts were scattered and unclear, Shoon read only a blur.

Then images began to coalesce in the bandit’s mind, images of swords that glowed brightly, piles of gold, rings that spit lightning and wands that spit fire, all the baubles that good thieves would want to find. The bandit’s mind was filled with thoughts of plunder, gold, magic, power. It was too much for the bandit and his mind filled with greedy, mad thoughts. The bandit’s thoughts were an intense, almost raging lust for wealth and power.

Shoon took his hooks out of the bandit’s mind and drifted to another one of the bandits… all he could “hear” from her mind was hate, hate and more hate… hate for anyone who might get more than her.

She loathed everyone in the group now, and charged another bandit with thoughts of death in her head. Shoon heard her thoughts as clear as his own, “kill them all before they take…”

Shoon stepped back from the ruins and broke off his spell as he heard the sound of the bandits slaughtering each other.

After several minutes the ruins went quiet again.

Shoon had retreated about 50 feet away and he turned from there to bolt into the surrounding jungle.
He waited there for about an hour before he was convinced that nothing was coming for him.
Those alien visions, and the mad thoughts of the mercenaries, they had jangled his mind.

The warlock spent the time collecting his thoughts. What was it that happened to these bandits?
The first thoughts they had experienced were of color and form, not of anything specific. So perhaps that was their mind adjusting to the alien creature, not necessarily communication.  But then the images and thoughts of greed, why would an alien creature broadcast those sorts of thoughts? Perhaps the initial lights and shapes and sensations were the communication, and the bandit’s thoughts were his reaction to that message?

Shoon pondered this for a time and had a revelation, maybe what he was dealing with wasn’t a “creature” at all, maybe it was a “thing”, so it wasn’t broadcasting thoughts, maybe it was amplifying thoughts from its victims? The person connects up to the thing (the lights and sensations),and then it amplifies whatever thoughts the person has?

It made sense out of a lot, the thing wasn’t going anywhere, it hadn’t communicated in any meaningful way, and it had caused the death of a dozen men for no apparent purpose. Maybe it just reacted to what was put in front of it? But what reason could someone have for a thought amplifier? If it was an alien artefact of some sort, what did it matter if Shoon could not understand its purpose?

He had to determine if he was right or not, if he brought back the thing and it drove everyone in his House insane, well, that would be unfortunate. If he destroyed something that was of value to his House, that was also bad.

Shoon thought more and more about it and decided that the thing, whatever it was, amplified the thoughts of its targets, the bandits had entered with greed in their hearts and that turned them to an exclusive pursuit of their own advantage. Shoon wondered what would happen if he went in with the intention to communicate.

Shoon decided that he didn’t want to wait any longer, he placed his hand over his mouth and spoke the word, “nyelvek” four times. The spell normally alllowed communication between himself and a target with a different language. Shoon no longer thought he could communicate in that way, but the spell, combined with focusing his thought on an attempt at communication, might ensure he didn’t go on a rampage.

Shoon stepped into the ruin, the floor of the inner chamber was littered with dead bodies, several freshly killed, but the majority not. Animals had clearly been in to pick the bones clean over the last few weeks, but the sight was still haunting. There was plenty to loot here, but Shoon ignored it all.

He looked around the room and finally saw the thing.

It’s core was a sphere about 1 foot across, emerging from this core were four long tentacles, each about 2 feet long and about a half foot in diameter, tapering to a point at the end. In addition there were hundreds of smaller fibrillae covering the rest of the core, but not the tentacles. The whole thing was iridescent, something that Shoon only noticed as the sun had dipped low in the sky and was now streaming in the ruin. There were no discernable eyes or mouth on the thing, and the colors shifted constantly, as well as the creature’s apparent texture, at one point its iridescent surface looked soft and organic, then it would look solid and rigid, almost metallic.

Shoon had quite literally never seen anything like it.

Then he felt a tugging at his mind, like someone had said his name and was about to speak.
Shoon spoke to it, hoping that if he was wrong, and it was a creature with a mind, it could understand him.

“I am Shoon Jissel, Warlock of House Ynris, I have come to you to offer you aid, and sanctuary.”

Then there was a rush of light, color, shape, he felt the same disorienting rush that he had experienced reading the bandit’s mind. Shoon shuddered, wondering what he would do next.

There was a feeling of dizziness, then a feeling of alertness, it was as if he had been confronted by an armed foe and his adrenaline and awareness had spiked. Then he sat amongst the corpses and watched the thing for several moments, comforted and secure.

After about 3 minutes the thing began to undulate, the tentacles waved in the air, the fibrillae stood up on end then waved as well. There was no breeze to speak of, but the thing wavered and danced as if there was one.

In the entire process the thing made no noise at all. No movement it made produced any sound.

Then Shoon shook his head and woke, a bit sluggish for the first few seconds, then he was clear headed and focused again.

The thing had stopped moving, he was experiencing no color bursts, no strange sensations.
Shoon walked over to the thing, gingerly stepping over bodies. He held out his hand, just off the thing, it gave off no heat. He gently touched it, it felt like nothing, no heat or cold, no smoothness or hardness or softness. It was there, it resisted the push, but it was inexplicable in its texture.

He needed to transport this back to his House, but that would include an overland trip, alone, with the thing in his possession. He could take it on his giant lizard, and cover it up so it wouldn’t be seen. But it could activate, and if it did then he could be dealing with a murderous mob. He couldn’t leave it here, someone else could figure out how to deal with it. Shoon wasn’t even sure if the thing wouldn’t try to do something to him again.

Shoon took out a sack and put the thing into it. It was surprisingly light.

He tied the sack to his belt and went outside of the ruin, and began to climb, his magical gauntlets making it effortless. He reached the top of the building as the sun was finishing its flight from the sky.

He looked out towards Bhavisyavani, blood red and gold in the sunset, he had a swamp to cross, and he had used many of his spells, he only had two more spells to cast for today, both his least powerful.

His protective spell had expired as well. Shoon decided to sleep enough to be clear headed enough to memorize spells, and he would proceed with his best odds of success tomorrow.

Gilak could walk the perimeter while he slept, and the dog could sleep while Shoon memorized spells. He would sleep at the top of the tower, the bodies below should deter anyone entering the ruin from coming up.

Shoon still didn’t like his odds on the marsh on his own the next day.

Then he remembered the scrolls he carried. Shoon looked up, the moon was bright over the marshes, he would cast the spell after he slept, it was the best way…

Shoon lay down to sleep in a corner by the wall.

Shoon slept while Gilak roamed the marsh around the tower, the hook beaked dog did a circuit outside and within the tower, climbing the stairs to the roof, then returning to the marsh for hours while his master slept.

Shoon had went to sleep with the moonlight bathing his back, when he woke it was still deep night, several hours before the dawn, and as cold as the marsh could get. He closed his eyes and concentrated for a moment and sensed his familiar, the beast was currently prowling around the base of the tower. Shoon looked through his eyes and saw that the clearing around the ruins was empty, there were some glowing insects buzzing in a cloud, and what he suspected were bats swooping down low and then around the ruins, but otherwise it was deserted.

He concentrated and summoned back Gilak, who appeared a few moments later.

Shoon felt refreshed, though he could have used a few more hours of sleep. Still, past experience had taught him that extended sleeping in the wild was not recommended.

His hunting dog curled up and began to sleep almost immediately, he was attuned to his master’s desires and was ready for sleep. The beast had been magically bred to be ideal for long hunting trips, it only needed sleep in short bursts, but when it slept it slept deeply.

Shoon ran his hand over the familiar’s feathered head, tousling it affectionately.

He checked his darts, and went down the stairs to the first floor of the building. There were corpses on the floor, six fresh from earlier, and a number dead and picked clean from weeks before that.

Shoon wrinkled his nose and found a spot on the stairs where the small breeze blew the smell away.

He unfurled a scroll and read it by the moonlight streaming in the open front entrance. In the silvery light the script on the papyrus gave off a strange, multichromatic glow as it was being read.

On the floor below him, one of the hands of bone twitched, and then a bone foot cracked, and a knee thrust into the air, and the skeleton slowly stood up. The revenant picked up a short sword from the ground, and a small shield, and rolled its head to the side so its eyes were facing Shoon.

Another hand rose, and another one, and slowly a total of nine skeletons stood up, all looking in Shoon’s direction. Shoon had focused on the skeletons rather than the freshly slaughtered corpses, which would have been zombies.

Shoon hated zombies, but he was tolerant of skeletons. He directed two of them to come with him to the roof, the stench on the first floor was too much. Three of them stayed on the second floor and three on the first.  That was the furthest Shoon could be from them before they would pull back.

Once satisfied that the skeletons were in place, Shoon took out a small spell book he had wrapped in a waterproof cover of sahuagin skin. He unwrapped the skin and then whistled a few notes and opened the book, without the whistling opening the book could lead to being stunned, a security feature Shoon put on the book after it was stolen from him last year.

Shoon chose his spells cautiously, he knew the route he was going to take, and he likely creatures he would meet as he travelled, so he did something uncharacteristic and memorized primarily martial spells, for this excursion he memorized burning hands twice and shield twice, rope trick, web, and protection from normal missiles twice.

After memorizing spells he returned to the roof and sat with his familiar as it slept for an hour, then he woke it gently and it took off immediately to find food. Within ten minutes it was back with a decent sized boar in its mouth, the boar had bled out on the way back and was stone dead.

Shoon collected some foliage and lit it with flint and steel. He stuck the boar on to a long dart and cooked it in the fire for a time, and when he was driven mad with the smell he held up the cooked beast and his familiar deftly snapped it in half, eating the half in his mouth lustily and fast.

Shoon sat near the roof’s edge and tore off strips of freshly cooked meat, the smell of which had finally driven out the stench of the dead bodies below, and he ate while he scanned the moonlit swamp. He wanted to be on his way before the sun rose, so he finished up, packed up his gear and went down to the base of the ruins.

He secured the “thing” in a small pack he concealed under his long coat.

Gilak at his side, they made their way into the marsh, the nine skeletons fell in around them in a large circle; oblivious to the water and the decaying plant matter that made up the swamp, they formed a ghastly perimeter of defense against anything that would molest them. They were a motley crew, some with vestiges of armor, all with at least one weapon, some with shields… someone had brought a significant crew to capture the object Shoon carried in his pack.

And they were far enough away that any stench would not overwhelm the warlock.

The first hour or so through the marsh was slow going in the waning moonlight, but they were not bothered by anything. Shoon sighted a dragon in the distance but managed to find a spot to conceal them until he was sure it passed by.

“No dragon for you today Gilak”, Shoon comforted his familiar, though truth to be told he wasn’t so sure that the familiar wasn’t eager to take on a dragon. It was bred to hunt after all…

The skeletons, as was their wont, said nothing, though the wind scraping through the cage of their bones did give the warlock a reply of sorts: they simply marched.

Shoon stopped after the first hour of travel and took a drink, and let Gilak drink from the river when they skirted it closely. As the hunting dog drank from the cool water of the river Shoon scanned the marsh in the direction of the city. It was then he noticed something in the distance, it was dark, and he was not sure, even with the moonlight, what it was, but there was definitely something coming.

Shoon called Gilak to his side and whispered to him, the familiar took off at a furious pace to head in the direction of whatever was approaching. Gilak was as large as a horse so he spent a bit of time using natural cover so he could approach unseen, it slowed him down, but soon he was close enough to see what was approaching. When he was in visible range Shoon looked through his eyes.

He saw a large spider, bred locally for use as mounts, giant spiders in Bhavisyavani were as large as giant lizards, not as long but wider. Their more circular backs supported elaborate saddles, often carved out of bone, as this one had. The spider itself was dark purple, almost black, with silver mottling, and had glossy skin.

Atop the spider was a woman, her long black hair was tied back in a single long ponytail that was bound by metal bands all the way down. She wore robes of silver and white, and had a staff, several wands, and at least one ring. Her eyes were soft green and her skin a coppery red.

Shoon looked closer for a moment as the surface of the giant spider’s body looked odd, it seemed to shift, until Shoon realized that the giant spider was covered with smaller spiders, all crawling around on its surface.

Shoon almost broke contact when he saw that.

Then Gilak noticed something else, in the grass around the giant spider were about 12 other spiders, in this case they were all the size of large dogs, and they were dark green with clusters of red eyes.
Shoon summoned Gilak back to him.

He recognized the warlock who sat atop the spider, she was Zilesh the Arachnara, a warlock of House Jin. Rumored to be the daughter of a spider demon and a human woman, she had a reputation for ghastly revenge. All of the spiders that surrounded her were victims of her polymorph spells, if they retained their minds after the transformation she had them slain and ate them, if they lost their minds she took them into service. She was second only to Hnar the Damned, the Warlock of House Jin, though truth to be told she was more feared than Hnar for her depraved tastes.

Shoon contemplated fleeing, but he was in possession of no spells of concealment, so he would be spotted, and if she had any distance spells, well, he didn’t like his odds. He needed to get back to the city, once he had returned the item he was of no interest to Zilesh, or so he assumed, her presence here when he was returning with the item could be no coincidence. So he needed to get some distance from the warlock. She must be tracking him in some way as well, he needed to deal with that.

Shoon could only think of one option, and he urged on his giant lizard towards Zilesh and her spider.
They met in a small clearing, tall, soft orange bhosil blooms ringed a small pond in the middle of the clearing. They both moved forward until they were on opposite sides of the pond, about 40 feet apart. The moonlight was bright enough that he could see her clearly, and she him.

Zilesh was flanked by 12 giant spiders, Shoon by a 9 skeletons.

The two warlocks looked at each other over the waving bhosil blooms.

Zilesh held her hands together and spoke, “Khule haath, khule dil, Shoon Jissel of House Ynris.”

Shoon was initially surprised that she knew his name, though it only confirmed his suspicions that she wasn’t there by coincidence, “Khule haath, khule dil, Zilesh the Arachnara, warlock of House Jin. I can’t believe that our meeting is a happy accident.”

Zilesh moved her hands apart, and Shoon did the same.

She smiled a wicked smile, “No, of course it isn’t, I have had an agent watching this area for weeks, one of our spies found House Ynris troops heading here several times over the last month or so. We spotted Daostal and a cadre of soldiers in the area a few weeks ago, but did nothing. I have had a man in this area for weeks, camping and waiting, and then you wandered by yesterday. He reported to me and I came. He tracked back your route and I recreated it to get to you.”

She leaned back in her saddle and sized up Shoon with her eyes, then continued to speak.

“I knew that Daostal was on to something, he’s a schemer, and underestimated by my House and yours. If he sent someone else other than himself, and he sent them alone, it must be something dangerous and important, and something he doesn’t want others to know about. You’re expendable, Jissen, and if you had failed he could have sent a dozen more. He wants sole credit for whatever it is you have retrieved, so I want to have it.”

Shoon considered lying about the item, but Zilesh’s presence here suggested she would not be so easily thrown off, so instead he smiled and replied, “If I give you that I will lose favor with my House, my master. I will be shamed, or worse expelled.”

“You could always come to House Jin, I could use another apprentice.”

Shoon held his tongue for a moment, then spoke.

“I have a master, Daostal the Xanthous.”

“Hmmmmm, yes, you do, and he sent you to get this item you have knowing it was dangerous, rather than going in himself, have you thought about that?”

Shoon saw her point, but also saw that she was trying to turn him against his master, she did not care for him in the least.

“I am a junior warlock at House Ynris, I have to prove myself, Warlock Daostal the Xanthous has proven himself a dozen times over. I gladly accept the risk.”

Zilesh the Arachnara smiled and raised an eyebrow, “I have underestimated you, Jissel, you show courage and loyalty, House Ynris is fortunate to have you.”

Zilesh held out her hand and a small swarm of spiders, each the color and size of a sparkling gold coin, scampered up her arm from the giant spider’s back to form a ring on her hair.

Zilesh the Arachnara sat with a crown of golden spiders on her head, and spoke in a focused, clean, formal voice, “Still, I have a need for what you have, and that is the pressing concern.”

Shoon looked over the warlock as they spoke. What struck him was that there were no retainers, no Ward soldiers, no one was with her. Why pursue him alone? It must be that she didn’t want anyone to know that she did not find the artifact and return it herself. He would be the only person that would know the truth, as her scout was not here.

It was only the two warlocks, and the languid silence of the marsh. She was going  to kill him, Shoon was now sure of that.

He was not in her league. There was no shame in that, Shoon had seen her in the arena before, she was a fierce and powerful opponent. He had seen her polymorph another warlock into a dragon just to slaughter him in that form in front of his House and prove her superiority. She was ruthless, and he could not match her spell for spell, item for item, or indeed monster for monster, no matter how he valued Gilek’s prowess.

Shoon fixated on a rather risky plan, it was a long shot, but it might just buy him the time he needed.
“I’m not carrying the item on my person, I will send my familiar to fetch it. There is a particular iloff tree found close to a nearby pond, the item is stashed there.”

Shoon leaned over and whispered to his familiar, slapped it on the haunch, and Gilek took off.
Zilesh waited as the familiar trotted off into the marsh, she watched it for a moment and looked back at Shoon.

 “You lie”, spoke the warlock with the spiders in her hair.

“Do you wish to use magic to determine if I’m lying?”

Shoon was playing a dangerous game, if she did not have magic to detect his lies then he appeared more confident by submitting to examination, if she did have magic then he would have a few seconds to react while she prepared and cast the spell.

The warlock of House Jin paused for a moment, then turned to open a nearby pouch. Shoon wasn’t certain if she was reaching for a weapon or a spell component, but this was his opening.

He touched his thumbs together and spread out his fingers and spoke the words, "Ujjait a tűz!"

Jets of bright blue flame shot forth from his fingers in a fan, immolating the bhosil plants in front of him, stalks, bloom and all. The plants were anchored in wet, marshy ground but the blooms and upper stalks were dry thanks to days of crushing heat, and immediately ignited, sending up waves of smoke into the air.

Shoon had no time to worry about his opponent’s reaction, he needed to take advantage of the cover. He ordered his skeletons to attack and reached into his belt pouch and took out a piece of parchment that had been twisted into a loop and covered with powder. He held the loop in one hand and grabbed a short length of rope in the other, he spoke the words, “Fel a kötélen” twice and the rope rose into the air, stopping and hanging down.

Shoon was atop his giant lizard so it was a short jump upwards and then he pulled up the rope, concealing himself in an extradimensional space where he could not be detected or harmed.

And he waited.

Shoon did not know how long to wait, or what the other warlock would do. If she had scrying magic she might be able to see him in the space, but she would not necessarily know where he was. She could simply stay there and wait until the spell expired, that was also a possibility.

He was convinced she could not catch Gilak, he was much faster than any of her spiders.

He dared not open the entry to his hiding space to look out and see what was happening though, if she was still there she would then know what he had done. The only way this would work would be if she didn’t know what he had done. So he waited.

Then Shoon had a brilliant idea. He opened the entrance to the magical interdimensional space but a crack, not enough to be seen from a distance, particularly with the fire and smoke he had laid down, but big enough to allow him to attempt to contact his familiar.

After a few seconds he was in contact, and he closed his eyes, looking again through the eyes of his dog. After a short time the familiar looked back to see if it was being pursued, and saw that the warlock was cursing and screaming in frustration. Her giant spiders battled the skeletons, and the warlock destroyed several with magic missiles, slowly the skeletons were falling.

His giant lizard had taken off in another direction, so she was faced with the option of chasing his familiar, chasing his mount, or looking around for him.

When his familiar looked back again he saw that she directed her spiders to fan out and look for the warlock, and she herself directed her giant spider to pursue Shoon’s mount. As she had seen the familiar take off before without anything on it, she was convinced that Shoon had either fled invisibly with the item or was hiding invisibly and the item was on his giant lizard.

Shoon broke contact as his familiar put more and more distance between the warlock and himself, the last thing he saw was a group of five of her giant spiders swarming his mount, poisoning it with bites until it thrashed, cried and collapsed dead. She then arrived to search the beast.

Shoon hated separating from his familiar, but it was his only hope.

So he waited.

After almost an hour he decided it was time to risk looking outside. It was just starting to get bright enough to see well, and he cracked the barrier between the extradimensional space and the marsh. His view was truncated as he did not want to stick out his head, that would be rather obvious if she was still around.

But the immediate area looked clear.

After leaving the opening there for a good ten minutes and listening closely he heard no sound that would suggest that he had company.

Now Shoon stuck his head out quickly, looked around and saw nothing in the area, Zilesh had disappeared, the giant spiders and skeletons were gone as well.

Shoon dropped the rope down and climbed to the ground. He had instructed Gilak to go back to the ruins and wait for him, and he began to run in that direction immediately. After a half hour he reached the ruins and reached out to his familiar with his mind, Gilak appeared shortly thereafter. The ruse had worked, Zilesh had assumed that Shoon had headed back to the city and had left.

Shoon climbed atop Gilak, and the two rode back towards the city. After an hour or so of riding they met up with a caravan heading to the city and shadowed it for a time, eventually approaching them slowly, identifying himself as a House warlock who was separated from his hunting party, and followed them.

He made it back to the city safely, with no sign of Zilesh, and at the gate requested a Ward patrol from House Ynris be sent. He waited at the gate with the city guards and other incoming groups until they arrived, he did not want to be alone if Zilesh showed up. Her desire to keep things secret worked to his advantage here.

After a short time he was met by the Ward patrol and escorted back to his House, and to Daostal the Xanthous, who waited in the garden where they had discussed the venture.
Shoon made sure that no one approached him too closely on the way here, as he did not want the item to come back to life and affect anyone. Daostal began to approach and Shoon and he held up his hand.
“Not that close, this… thing works with proximity.”

Daostal hesitated for a moment, he was not used to being ordered by a subordinate, but he stopped nonetheless.

Shoon set down the bag on a small pedestal and took out the object. It sat silently with the sunlight glittering on its multifaceted surface.

“Do you know what it does?”, Daostal asked.

Shoon frowned and spoke in reserved tones, “I know this, it seems to take whatever thought was in your mind when you approach it and that becomes your only thought, you fixate on nothing but that. My goal was to communicate, perhaps the others who were there had more sinister goals.”
Daostal nodded, “I will keep that in mind.”

Shoon added, “You might want to be wary, Zilesh the Arachnara, warlock of House Jin tried to take the item from me, and has expressed an interest in it and in you.”

Daostal looked surprised, “You survived a meeting with Zilesh?”

Shoon shook his hands, “No, I hid until she left.”

Daostal laughed for a moment, then smiled.

“You lived, count that a victory Warlock Jissel.”

Shoon was dismissed and he made his way back to his quarters where he changed and cleaned up and prepared to sleep for a few days. He had no idea what the item had done to him or his mind. He just felt tired.

As he drifted off to sleep he saw a spider in the corner of the room…

D&D Online! When I came to D&D as a hobby I didn’t have a lot of money for gaming. I spent years as a student so I didn’t ha...