Monday, July 23, 2018

Power and Authority in Dungeons and Dragons

I recent tweet by @DungeonCommandr on the ties between colonialism and D&D spurred me to post something separate so I could respond comprehensibly, I have trouble following responses to tweets that are multiple posts long.

I agree with his assertion that there is a power relationship in the game that mirrors that of colonialism, that it is baked into the game, and that for the most part DM’s do good for their players. I also agree that this doesn’t excuse us from looking at the imbalance in power.

The way I deal with this asymmetry is through:

1.       Transparency 2. Agency 3. Responsibility and 4. Bounded Randomness.

I also deal with race and gender issues explicitly by discussing:

A. Race non-specificity and

B. Gender openness

I’ll deal with each individually.

1. Transparency: I discuss everything I will discuss here with the players before we game, so they know the score from day one. It takes some time but its important.

The very first thing I tell them is that I run an open ended (sandbox) 1e D&D game, where they can go wherever they want and do what they want. The game is fast paced to help with immersion, constant stopping and starting to deal with looking up rules and making group decisions breaks immersion, takes you out of the role playing experience. You CAN play collaboratively, but for the flavor of D&D I like, it is much easier to give the authority to the DM.

Also, Since the game is open ended, I need the ability to make on the spot decisions about novel situations and the implementation of regular game rules, anyone who has run an open ended game like this knows that there are hundreds of these adjudications in every regular game. This was known, BITD in wargaming as “Free Kreigspeil”, the idea being that the DM has to be able to make adjustments, discard rules, make up rules, etc. to address the almost endless possibilities in open ended game play.

This is a great strength of the game, and what separates it from video games and regular board games, and I think it is worth preserving, even though it has its risks.

I also tell them the game is deadly, as death and the risk of death adds to immersion and creates tension and excitement. They usually run a PC and a henchman they can take over if their PC dies to allow continuous play. That essentially gives me the power of life and death over their character, and I believe that giving me that power makes the game better.

That’s the justification for the DM having the power, I address the asymmetry with:

2. Responsibility: I am responsible for determining the consequences of the players actions, I don’t get to hide behind the rules. Every rule is *interpreted* and *implemented* by me, not the game. If you have the power, you have the responsibility. This is important as it is easy to hide behind the rules and pretend “its just the system, not me”, but you are implementing and interpreting the system, so it is you. I can’t see having the power without the responsibility.

3. Agency: As there is an asymmetry, there is an even greater need to give players agency, and a voice in case the DM is abusing their power. Players are told that, IN GAME, my rulings stand, they can ask about them, but other than a short discussion its tabled for after the game. However, after the game we have had long discussions of the rules and why they are interpreted the way they are. Everyone has to agree to a change, and we have changed/introduced rules as a result. The players have to have an avenue for appeal, but it isn’t in game, it’s after. The weight is on keeping my rules as is, I have researched them, playtested them and I know how they hang together, but they are open to change.

4. Bounded Randomness. This is a particularly important one, as a DM if I make ALL of the decisions then I tend to fall into patterns, and the players get bored as I get predictable. D&D addresses this through bounded randomness, allowing the dice to decide within limits. If it’s completely random it becomes impossible to get any better at it, and as this is a game I find that undesirable. You have to have enough structure to make the game *somewhat* predictable.

Whenever I can’t make a decision I roll dice for it, and I inform the players of the odds before I roll, and I roll in the open in a dice box. I don’t change rolls once they are made. I roll for NPCs and monsters in the open as well, so the players see the results. Whether or not to roll, and what to roll, is mine to decide, but once rolled the dice are final. They know all of this from day one. So there is some independent structure to this, it isn’t all me, and there is some predictability to it.

This provides some degree of fairness, and when coupled with the ability to discuss outcomes after the game, gives them a degree of agency and ability to give input. PCs have complete control over their character’s actions, I have no say in that.

So through transparency, responsibility, agency and bounded randomness I justify the power asymmetry, limit it, give the players an avenue for appeal and a degree of both freedom and structure that creates immersion.

With respect to race and gender, two areas where power imbalances are keenly felt and thus should be addressed separately, I tell my players this.

A. Race non-specificity

In D&D:

1. “Human” encompasses all of the races, e.g. Black, Latinx, Asian, etc. There are no game mechanical differences between different kinds of human

2. Players determine their race in game

3. The humanoid races do NOT stand-in for any real world races (in my game world they were all concocted in the laboratories of wizards)

B. Gender openness: I tell my players that in D&D:

1. Characters can be gay, straight, bi, trans, whatever the player desires

2. Players do not have to play their gender identity, they can play anything

I think you need to take the power of being a DM seriously, and address how this power structure is to work, but do so in the beginning so the players can “buy in”. If they do, and if you are committed to revisiting things if there is a sense that things aren’t fair, then the relationship can be productive and positive.

Monday, July 16, 2018

Art Imitates Art – Gaming and Fantastic Stories

So a few years ago I decided to write up the adventures in my home game for a campaign journal that I hosted at I am reproducing selections from them here, cleaned up and reorganized, to showcase the games I run at Black Dragon Games.

I run first edition Dungeons and Dragons, which has a particular flavor that is worth highlighting with a bit of narrative. 1e was meant to emulate the sword and sorcery literature, and I find that the game sessions do so fairly well, they are lethal and fast paced, and magic users are a big part of the story. Magic itself is in the hands of warlocks, otherwise it is relatively rare, and monsters tend to the horrific side.

I decided to start with a session that I did for a player that was starting a replacement character (his old character died and this was the replacement). I run a solo adventure for replacement characters where possible as it allows the player to get a handle on the new character before joining the group. Plus this particular session is good fun as it doesn’t require you to know anything about my game world in advance, just dive in.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on the story and the gaming behind it, so drop me a line in the comments if you can.


Journal 1 – Black Dragon Games

Amankal Tivorin “Carver” - 6th level Fighter

STR: 15

Int: 11





HP: 70, AC: 4 (Chain mail) ,MV: 12", AL: CG


Broadsword, Battle Axe, Crossbow, Knife

Magic Items:

Girdle of Giant Strength [+3/+7- open doors 1-7d8, throw rocks 20”, 2-16 damage]

+1 broadsword “Krpa”

+1 chain mail


Amankal felt his broadsword shiver as it smashed into the lizard man’s breastplate, knocking the beast back several steps. The creature wore vambrace and greaves, but no helm, it’s black and green hide glossy with sweat. It was scarred in several places, blood, oozing out verdant from every cut, caked on its hide. There was a rope tied around his ankle that trailed back about 10 feet behind him.

To be considered for employment on this job you had to last three rounds with the lizard man and his gleaming, spiked mace. The gleam, Amankal had discovered when one the steely spikes just missed his head, was not sweat, or water…

He had an advantage, the lizard man had went several rounds with three other applicants before him, the beast had acquitted itself well, but Amankal was fresh. The beast, however, was strongly motivated, if it failed to prove useful it was no doubt threatened with death.

Lizard men were carnivores after all.

Amankal took a breath and pulled back a few feet, while the beast shook off the blow. He could have pressed, but decided to hold back instead. The creature had evidenced a pattern in his fighting, attack, feint, pull back but move into a swing and bring around that mace. He had tagged a few of the previous applicants that way, but Amankal anticipated the blow when it came.

He swung around his broadsword while they were separated, showing off his strength and ease with the weapon, compared to the slower, arcing blows of the lizard man.

He laughed.

“You’re tired, little lizard, I’m not.”

Gloat, tease, demoralize, it was always more than just a fight.

The beast snorted and spit, and growled as it lunged forward, swinging the heavy, bloody mace from the side, it was not fast, but the strength behind it was formidable. Amankal could block or dodge, but the dodge was potentially enough to send him on his back, so he blocked with his broadsword, bringing it down on the mace and burying it into the ground.

Krpa shook in his hand when she bit into the mace head, and Amankal crushed her grip hard in response.

Before the beast could react Amankal smashed it in the head with a heavy booted blow, and then stepped back, pulling his broadsword up with him. If the beast tried to retrieve its mace from the muck it would leave itself open to a blow from his sword.

The lizard man spit and cursed below his breath.

“Mohatag ko”, he shouted.

The man in the crimson robes looked at the leger of names given to him and nodded, speaking with a voice dry as dust and absolutely no trace of emotion.

“Amankal Tivorin, report to Magnace for preparation.”

“Carver”, Amankal spoke out, “Call me Carver.”

The robed man looked on, the line of his lips twitched, as if a word had danced over its surface then wormed right back into his mouth. The man beside him, dressed in simple black smock, green leather skullcap and checkered green and black leggings, responded in a flat, cold tone.

“Ghilastenfaur the Baleful has little interest in your name, chugger, and an ample pile of gold to buy your silent attention. He will call you by whatever name he prefers.”

Amankal shrugged and walked over to the other applicants that had made the cut, he made small talk with all of them over the next half hour as others were tested by fighting the lizard man. The beast found his second wind and wounded two men who did not make the cut.

When the process was finished it was just dark, and Amankal had learned a little of his fellow victors, he had names for each, and he silently organized them by what appeared to be their primary weapons and armor.

Unila used a longsword and shield with lorca hamata, she was a right hander and watched her fellow hires like a hawk.

Kammershorn, tall and muscular, used a steely trident and wore studded leather – he had obviously seen arena time from his stance and gear – Amankal pegged him as the best in the bunch from what he saw today. He had four large black mastiffs with him at all times as well, each on a short chain.

Riss was a beautiful black skinned woman with long, lustrous ebony hair she tied back into a long ponytail, she used a short, rapier like sword and wore studded leather armor, she was always moving from on foot to another.

Oceal the Shunned, a weathered man whose beard was long and tied off in traditional fashion, and whose bald head was tattooed with a tiger. He used a bardiche and cuirass, and was surprisingly jovial for a man that looked for all the world like an executioner without his hood.

Bissen Torga “the Hound” as he was called, used a longsword and dagger together when he fought, and he wore leather armor – he also travelled with a giant boar he called “Moon”.  Bissen had all the markings of an outdoorsman, and seemed very comfortable in the marsh.

Then there was Neeli of Callenshil, a mountain of a man, used a two handed sword he called “Kiss” and wore plate armor shined to perfection. He was without a doubt the largest human being Amankal had ever seen.

And finally Kaylinth Umbrin, a red haired woman who used an axe, shield and banded mail, and called herself a “Daughter of Agni”. Her armor was a deep, crimson red in color, and her shield was black with a blazon of a peal of red flame. She did not laugh once the whole time they were together.

Level and class for everyone:

Unila (Fighter5)

Kammershorn (fighter6)

Riss (assassin 6)

Oceal the Shunned (fighter 6)

Bissen Torga “the Hound” (ranger 5)

Neeli of Callenshil (fighter 5)

Kaylinth Umbrin (fighter 5)

All appeared to be experience warriors, and all were, as far as he could tell, unfamiliar with each other, except perhaps by reputation, until that day. After they were tested the group was brought together before Magnace, the warlocks assistant, he looked them all over like they were on the sale block at the butcher’s, then he began to speak.

“You have all accepted the offer from Ghilastenfaur the Baleful, 1000 gold each if you are successful, there are no shares to be had for dead men either, so put that out of your minds.”

Amankal was grateful for that, a group of sell-swords and mercenaries would slit your throat for their part of the “dead man’s share” as you left from a successful venture. Amankal was also planning to stay silent on the subject of his magical belt, any one of these professionals would gladly shank him and steal such a gem. Any of them would be happy to be as strong as a hill giant.

Amankal missed being part of a crew that he could trust.

“The job will take three days, one to reach the target, one to capture the target, one to return.”

Even for hazardous pay they were being offered hundreds of times what they would normally get, and three days wasn’t bad. So it had to be incredibly dangerous…

“It will be… dangerous, and as you have accepted the bounty you will not be able to leave until after the job is completed. Anyone leaving sooner will be hunted down and meet an untimely fate delivered by my master. Anyone speaking of the mission after the fact to anyone but the people here now will also be dealt with harshly. You are being paid a king’s ransom for silence.”

Everyone murmured about that, but no one spoke up.

Amankal wondered why they had recruited in the shantytowns, there were ample warriors in the city, so they must want to keep the sojurn under wraps. That was a lot of gold though, and he suspected that warlocks could determine if he had kept his tongue, so he decided to honor the agreement and say nothing.

“Now that you all understand your commitment, Ghilastenfaur has given me permission to reveal the full scope of the job. Several days ago, the warlock Reen the Glamor of House Jolcas took the occasion of his master’s trip to another city to enter his sanctum and steal all of his scrolls. His master, Huneer the Opalescent, had a significant collection of scrolls, and Reen was the only assistant who knew how to access them. No one knows what madness took over Reen the Glamor’s mind to make him think this was a good idea. Now, Huneer has kept the theft silent to protect his reputation, which gives us a brief window. Ghilastenfaur has seen this opportunity, he seeks to retrieve the scrolls from Reen, he will either keep them for himself, or return them, along with Reen to Huneer and ask for a favor in return.”

Magnace grabbed a small branch and traced out a map on in the dirt.

“Reen has holed up in a deserted tower in the swamp, one of our scouts found it, and he is waiting there for something, perhaps a buyer, perhaps he is merely laying low before using any magic to escape. You are to go to the tower and capture Reen and as many of the stolen scrolls as possible. Destruction of either is to be avoided as both are valuable, Huneer will pay good gold to have Reen returned alive.”

There was some scattered laughter, all of them had been burned by a warlock at some point, they all relished the idea of one getting what was coming to him…

Magnace stopped and turned to the group.

“You can be sure he will only use his newly acquired spells if he has to, but he has quite the arsenal available to him. And there is another catch, if he casts a powerful spell and makes a mistake, he could bring something down on himself that is beyond his ability, so we really need to stop him before he casts spells.”

“Tell us something we don’t know, always kill the warlock as soon as you can!”, Kammershorn laughed loudly.

Ghilastenfaur had been looming in the background, apparently indifferent, he now stepped forward, his crimson robes a bloody background for the dancing flames of the fire

“Reen the Glamor has acted impulsively, recklessly, but I have seen him in the arena, and heard of his exploits as part of House hunting parties. He is no fool, and a capable warlock. He has access to extremely powerful spells through his theft, but he will want to save them, and he will also know the risks associated with him casting some of the darker and more powerful spells. If he chooses to use any one of them you could all be killed instantly. Make no mistake, the sooner you neutralize him the better.’

Ghilastenfaur walked around the fire, pulling his robes around him for effect, and then sweeping his hand through the air.

”I will engage him directly, draw his attention to me and my spell casting, and you all will storm his tower, enter the place, find him and stop him. Tackle him, bind him, knock him unconscious, do anything but kill him. Once he is neutralized I can collect the scrolls.”

Amankal was a bit surprised the warlock was doing a frontal assault, rather than relying on them to do so, but he remembered that these city warlocks went all out, they walked through the battlefield, they did not soar above it.

They then broke to sort out mounts for the group. As Amankal walked along with the group he turned to Magnace and spoke.

“What happens to the lizard man when we are done?”

Magnace looked perturbed, “Why, he will be killed of course, or fed to the mounts before we leave. He was captured in battle, and his tribe will not pay his bond. Bad precedent and all that.”

“Take his bond out of my share, I’ll buy it”, Amankal replied.

“Absolutely not, you may die today, pay ahead for the bond.”

Amankal briefly considered running through the little man, as the warlocks apprentice he could very well be a spell caster too, but he looked fragile either way.

“How much is the bond?”

Magnace smiled, “100 gold”.

Amankal nodded and removed 20 platinum coins and handed them to the assistant.

Magnace took the coins and snorted in derision.

Amankal walked over to the lizard man and took out Krpa, grabbing her with both hands.

The lizard man snarled, “You get to slaughter the helpless lizard, eh warrior?”

Amankal smiled and brought down his broadsword on the rope binding the lizard man, neatly cleaving it.

“I paid your bond, you can leave, or stay with me. Work with me for a month to pay off your bond and then I’ll pay standard rates plus 10% bonus if you prove useful, I could use a guide and someone familiar with the tribes.”

Amankal knew that the other warriors would chase the lizard man down and slay him if he tried to leave, just for sport, but he said nothing, he wanted the creature to want to stay with him, otherwise there was no point. The lizard man looked on, Amankal couldn’t decipher his face well enough to know what he was thinking of his offer.

He took off the rope from his leg as Amankal spoke again, “No one is enslaved if I have a say, lizard or not.”

The lizard man snorted and spit. He then took out his spiked mace and cut his hand, green blood oozed out, he rubbed his hands together to cover them both front and back, and he held out his hands in traditional fashion, together.

“Khule haath, khule dil”

Amankal placed his hands over the hands of the lizard man, wetting them with his blood, repeating the words, “khule haath, khule dil”, then the lizard man pulled his hands apart, breaking the handshake.

“Tjar of the Black Thorn tribe, bonded and bloodied”, he paused, “what is your name, human, I will not call you master.”

Amankal laughed, “Carver, Tjar of the Black Thorn tribe, call me Carver.”

The lizard man cackled and hissed, “With that toothpick you won’t be carving anything.”

Amankal laughed again, he liked this one.

The warrior and the lizard man walked over to join the group, several of them bristled when they saw Tjar, but they quickly figured out what had happened and moved along. Mercenaries were practical about that sort of thing.

The group was given its pick of giant lizards as mounts, Amankal found a small and energetic bull, dark green in color with black mottling that started very spread out at the snout and increased in density until about halfway down the tail where it was solid, glossy black. It was younger, and perhaps more likely to panic or bolt, but it would be faster.

Amankal had come to embrace the value of speed, Devil take the hindmost and all that.

Tjar demurred on the selection of a mount, deciding instead to travel on foot.

The group, including Ghilastenfaur and Magnace riding on an extremely large giant lizard, and the 8 mercenaries each on their own lizard, rode out of their temporary camp outside city gates and headed into the deep swamp. Ghilastenfaur set a brisk pace, the ground was thankfully solid, but the route was elongated as a result of staying on a path of solid ground, and they spent a good 6 hours travelling through the coolness of the night.

Bissen Torga led the group, Ghilastenfaur trusting his skill to navigate them to their destination. Bissen had obviously spent a lot of time in the swamp as he deftly directed them through the darkness and past many obstacles on the way. He also appeared to know the plant life well, barking at group members who strayed too close to dangerous blooms.

They stopped and camped as the sun was rising. Amankal had decided earlier on to hew to Kammershorn on this mission, the gladiator was the fastest and deadliest amongst them, at least in terms of what Amankal had seen earlier today. He also seemed entirely unfazed by the presence of Tjar, which made things simpler. They had been talking for the last half hour or so as they rode, and the two of them decided to spar while the group dismounted and stretched their legs. Tjar sat with his back against Amankals giant lizard, and watched the fight. Amankal wondered if Tjar was sizing up his weaknesses or a potential threat from Kammershorn…

Amankal had never fought someone with a trident, so he saw the value of sparring for a time with an expert.

“Friend Amankal, I will do my best not to run you through”, Kammershorn smiled as he spoke. Amankal saw it for what it was, banter, distraction, intimidation.

“Carver, call me Carver”, Amankal replied, “So, that thing is heavy and long, slower than my sword, what makes you think you can get to me?”

Kammershorn tilted his head to the side then winked, “I have had some experience with the thing, friend Carver.”

The gladiator lunged forward, the razor sharp tines of the trident stabbed just to the side of him.

He was fast, Amankal reminded himself, next time he would not pull his blow.

The two men began to circle each other, amid hoots and jibes from the rest of the warriors, who were always up to watch a fight.

Amankal moved in, pulled to the left of a fast, last second thrust of the trident by Kammershorn and swung his broadsword in a sideways arc, biting into the gladiator’s armor, but not into the man beneath it.

Kammershorn spit and pulled back.

The two men circled again, and Kammershorn held back. Amankal tired of waiting and lunged forward with his broadsword again, this time, however, Kammershorn was ready, and his trident shot forward and caught Amankal’s sword in its tines.

With a quick wrench the sword flipped out of Amankals hand and clattered to the ground.

The warriors all hooted and jeered at that.

Kammershorn was now exposed however, and Amankal charged straight into him, tackling the gladiator and knocking his trident out of his hands at the same time.

Amankal pulled back, stood and held out his hand to the gladiator. They both picked up weapons.

As the sun rose, the grey-black miasma of the night bleeding into a bright blaze of color, and the first kiss of the infernal daytime heat landing on them like a wave. The heat quickly brought on whisps of steam, and then within minutes a surge of mist that engulfed the group, cutting off the marsh beyond their camp with a wall of milky white.

Kammershorn’s dogs began to whine, then growl, then bark.

Amankal did not like the lack of visibility, he moved over to his mount and put his back to the beast.

“Up and ready Tjar, something’s amiss”.

The lizard man stood and took out his mace, walking over beside Amankal, who moved to stand beside Kammershorn. The three warriors stood with their backs facing each other.

Kaylinth was the first to see something as a foot emerged from the mist, a foot much larger than a man’s.

“GIANTS!” Kaylinth bellowed, as a huge club tore out of the mist towards Oceal…”

The club detached itself from the mist and whistled through the air towards Oceal the shunned, coming on a down trajectory, it was headed for his chest, but the fighter leapt to the side at the last second, the club spraying dirt and water.

Oceal then fled to the warlock’s side, ready to defend him if he chose to cast a spell.

What stepped out of the mist with the club was a tall, muscular marsh giant, it had an olive/black tint to its skin and was clad in ruddy red leather leggings and a vest made from the hides of giant boars. It wore a leather skullcap but no boots or gauntlets, indeed its feet had formidable claws on the toes. It’s eyes glowed a dull yellow.

The giant roared and lifted the club for another strike.

Bissen shot over from several feet away and ran past the giant’s side, his longsword slashing the beast on the leg, as he passed he pivoted and slashed again with his knife, spraying blood in a fan through the air as the giant wailed in pain.

He stood with sword and dagger out, the giant stumbled slightly but kept standing. He shifted the club from hand to hand.

“Gonna knock yer head off mate.”

“Take your shot, I’m waiting.”

The giant roared and swung a sweeping blow with the club, low and fast, he hoped to bowl Bissen over. The lithe warrior jumped into the air at the last second, the club whipping below his feet, and after two large forward steps he stabbed with the sword and the dagger, the latter in the giant’s knee, and the former went through its side.

There was a crash as the giant hit the muddy ground, and then a rock flew out of the mists and smashed into Neeli’s chest, full on, sending him sprawling.

Kaylinth immediately stepped in front of his body, shield up, waiting for the next assault.

Amankal spit and cursed, “Vollen and shihksir” then turned to Tjar, “you comin!”, and charged into the mists, he was not going to be a sitting target. Tjar pulled back his mace and followed the warrior into the emptiness.

Kammershorn hooted and laughed as he charged, trident forward, into the mists as well.

Riss disappeared from view, fading into nothingness.

A second giant stepped out of the mist, holding his club above his head he brought it down in a vicious blow, Unila, rather than dodging or attacking stood firm beneath it as the club crashed against her shield. The club landed on the shield and it shattered into fragments with the blow.

Unila stumbled backwards with the force of the blow but was unscathed, though now shieldless.

Amankal reached one of the marsh giants, it was wielding a gigantic axe, of some strange blue metal. Amankal and Tjar split and flanked the beast, he looked at both of them and judged Amankal to be the greater threat, and he brought his blade down in a powerful swing from sky to ground towards him.

Amankal dodged to the right as the blow came down, if he had timed the dodge any differently the swing would have cut him in half at the waist, but he was fast enough that he essentially ducked beneath the blade, and when it passed the giant’s back was in front of him.

The man known to the other fighters as Carver swung his heavy broadsword two handed into the giant’s back, the magic of his belt driving the sword with a force equal to that of the marsh giant that had just missed him.

The giant screamed in agony as the sword’s edge tore a long, jagged wound on his back.

That pushed him close enough to Tjar, who was approaching from the other side. The lizard man charged by and swung his spiked mace, tearing a wound in the giant’s shoulder, spraying flesh and blood in the air, as he bolted by.

The giant turned around at Amankal and bellowed, “Meat, yer all just meat!”

Amankal kept close to the giant, he wanted another chance to give Krpa a taste of its blood.

Then a powerful wind cut through the mists, and began to peel them back.

Kammershorn appeared now, and as he saw the giant he pulled his trident forward and threw it with a mighty heave, the three tined weapon sliced through the misty air and struck the giant full in the chest, sinking in a good half foot into it’s body.

The giant dropped it’s axe and pulled out the trident from its body with a jagged roar of pain. It must have been enraged, Amankal thought, as that would have been exquisitely painful.

“Khoonee keet!”, it bellowed, and it threw the bloody trident at Kammershorn. The beast’s throw was powerful but badly aimed, and it stuck harmlessly in the ground.

Before the beast could turn Amankal was back, this time he swung Krpa at the beast’s leg, striking a solid blow against it, and causing the giant’s leg to buckle, and it came crashing to the ground, narrowly missing all of the men.

Amankal saw the blurry edge of a rock fly over his head, he shouted “Incoming!” as it whistled by.

The stone came hurling down and the Daughter of Agni knelt down and angled her shield so the stone would ricochet off of it, rather than hitting it directly. The stone smashed her shield but bounced off and crashed to the ground harmlessly.

“Rovnir!”, Kaylinth bellowed, and she grasped her axe, Neeli had regained his feet and he and Kaylinth moved in front of Ghilastenfaur the Baleful along with Oceal the Shunned, ready for any giants.

Amankal’s giant was blooded and kneeling.

Carver approached it, swinging his broadsword from side to side in a figure 8 and humming a mercenaries’ tune,

“My sword’s been sold from coast to mountain,

My shield a mighty wall,

Beasts and men, shades and spirits,

My skull’s been cracked by all.

Come and meet my steely blade

It’s thirsty for your blood,

Pain’s a mighty river son,

And I’m bringin’ the flood!”

The giant growled at him as Kammershorn retrieved his trident, while blood pooled on the ground at the tall creature’s feet.

Then another stone whistled through the air and smashed into the ground just feet from Kammershorn.

Amankal laughed and began to run, Tjar once again approached and swung his mace at the giant, it gamely blocked his blow with his arm, but by that time Amankal had taken five steps and the giant looked up to see his broadsword stab down in a vicious two handed blow as Carver sank Krpa into the giant’s back, running him through and pinning him to the ground.

He thrashed, and died.

Then, the wind had finally dispersed the fog, and Amankal saw two dead marsh giants, one by Bissen’s feet, the other one he had just slain with Kammershorn and Tjar.

Three more were visible, one to the north of them, and two to the south, all three were grabbing rocks to throw.

Then Amankal saw the giant to the north stop as it was lifting a rock. The giant swayed from side to side for a moment, then Amankal noticed that something was sticking out of it’s chest, it was a blade, not that long, and thin, but the blow had exactly pierced it’s heart, and it spewed blood like a dam bursting at the seams.

The giant collapsed to the ground, and crouched on it’s back was Riss, now visible after attacking. She pulled out her rapier and scuttled off into the bushes before the other two giant’s could react.

Amankal was duly impressed.

Unila, Bissen and Oceal all took out bows and targeted the two remaining giants, the first two targeted one, Oceal targeted the other. Arrows flew through the air as a pair of rocks were hurled from a distance.

Arrows flew past boulders in the sky.

Of the six arrows fired three hit, all against one giant, and only the third did more than superficial damage.

The first rock smashed to the ground to the right of Oceal, doing no harm.

The second flew and banked low, clipping Kammershorn in the shoulder and spinning him around but not knocking him over. He fell to his knee with the pain, but did not cry out. His four mastiffs surrounded him now, barking and growling.

“Neeli”, shouted Amankal, “I need you with me!”

Carver charged towards one of the giants, the one not yet wounded, while Neeli with his two handed sword also charged beside him, and Tjar followed behind both.

The wounded giant picked up another rock to hurl, but by this point Magnace had taken out a wand and pointed it towards him, he muttered something that Amankal could not hear and three glowing red spikes of energy flew from the end of the wand to strike the giant full in the chest.

The giant roared in pain, first arrows, then magic.

Now Amankal knew that Magnace was likely Ghilastenfaur the Baleful’s apprentice.

The giant bellowed again, and raged as it grabbed another rock.

By this time Amankal, Neeli and Tjar had reached the undamaged giant, it was brandishing a pair of battle axes and was in a fury.

It threw both axes at the men, the first one cartwheeled through the air and struck Neeli in the leg, crashing against his plate armor but not biting all the way through.

The second landed directly in Tjar’s chest, splaying the lizard man almost in half.

He collapsed to the marsh, dead.

Amankal returned the favor and using the strength given to him by his magical belt he hurled his battle axe through the air at the giant who had just killed Tjar, the axe flew head over handle and sunk into the giant’s leg.

He bellowed in pain.

Bissen took an arrow out of his quiver that was unlike any of his others, the fletching was different, using roc feathers rather than normal bird feathers. He took silent aim, and released the arrow, it flew through the air with no sound and struck the giant Amankal had just wounded in the leg.

The arrow rammed straight through the giant’s skull and passed through the other side.

The mighty creature crashed to the ground, lifeless.

The last giant, already wounded by arrows and magic, was hit by another volley from Unila and Oceal, this time two arrows hit, but both caused decent wounds.

The creature stumbled and braced against a tree.

Amankal and Neeli now turned their attention to the wounded giant. He pulled back his cruel club to swing it at the warriors, but they approached from different sides, the giant hesitated, then lurched to the left towards Neeli and swung it’s club with as much power as it could muster. Neeli was hit square in the chest and lifted off his feet, flying through the air and crashing into a tree.

Amankal charged the giant directly and swung his sword down in a mighty cleaving blow, it hit the giant on the neck and neatly severed its head from its shoulders.

Only Riss had seen the mighty blow close enough to see how easily Amankal had separated the head from the giant, Ghilastenfaur had also seen the act, but from a distance, so he was not as certain as to how it had been done.

Amankal’s blood was racing, his heart was crashing against his chest.

He took out a dagger and went to the still warm skull and hacked out the longest tooth he could find. He would clean it up later. He then grabbed the head and walked back to the Warlock Ghilastenfaur the Baleful.

He tossed the giant’s head on the ground at Ghilastenfaur’s feet.

“We could have used some of your firepower, eh?”

Magnace began to speak, “My master need not sully…”

Ghilastenfaur cut him off, “When we reach Reen the Glamor I will need all my magical tools at my disposal, Magnace has access to several of my more powerful wands and scrolls, he will do the casting for me until we reach the target.”

Amankal nodded, “That’s fair”, and pointed back towards Neeli, “he’s gonna need some healing.”

Magnace wrinkled his nose but Ghilastenfaur frowned and his assistant took out a bottle with a dark red liquid inside. He gave it to Amankal and he ran it out to Neeli. Riss met him halfway as he sprinted across the marsh.

She had a mischievous look on her face.

“That was an amazing blow to take off that giant’s head, you are stronger than you look.”

Amankal smiled as he reached the fallen fighter, turning to Riss, “And you dispatched that giant like a surgeon, found his weakest point and destroyed it, that’s a special talent you know.”

Riss snickered and waited while Amankal administered the potion to a rattled and bloody but still conscious Neeli. The fighter drank deeply and immediately began to feel better, feeling returning to his numb chest.

Kammershorn, who had also been hit, waved off healing, claiming he was fine.

Amankal walked over to the body of Tjar, he poured about a half flask of oil on the lizard man and lit it up. He saw Magnace giving him a dirty look, and the apprentice was probably right, lighting a fire was not the best thing to do, but it felt right to the warrior nonetheless.

The party regrouped and continued its trip, and within an hour had reached its destination. There was a small cluster of trees in the marsh, long, languid hneer trees with purple leaves and deep red bark. Within that concealment was a small building, three stories tall, about 50 feet across and square, it was made of a green stone laced with black striations. The third storey had windows on each side, open to the air, and the roof of the building was overgrown with plants and blossoms.

It looked well abandoned.

Ghilastenfaur the Baleful dismounted and began to prepare to cast several powerful spells.

As he sat cross legged on the grass, he unfurled a scroll, it was old and written on shiny papyrus.

He murmured words in a deep, gravelly voice, unlike what Amankal had heard from him before. The words on the scroll page writhed and twisted, shimmered and faded into the air as he spoke them.

After a minute or two he stopped reading, and Amankal swore he saw the warlock wink and blur as if he was not real, then he solidified again.

Ghilastenfaur turned to the group, “You should all give me space, a lot of space, a few hundred feet back would be best.”

Amankal shuddered to think what the warlock would be doing, and he joined the others, Magnace included, as they gained some distance.

Ghilastenfaur then took out a small incense candle and lit it with flint, then held it in his hand.

He looked at the ruin and began to speak, “Lélegezz, suttog, fúj, éles, ordít, a szél életben van, parancsolom hatalmát...” the words slid off his tongue as his heart beat fiercely.

The wind began to pick up, at first it was as gentle as someone behind you whispering in your ear, then Amankal noticed a wave of wind sweeping across the grass, bending it and the reeds to the side. Then the wind began to tear by, whistling in an increasingly high pitched wail, and leaves blew off trees, water sprayed off ponds and the grass bent flat.

It was like the air came alive all around them, and the world began to lean in the warlock’s direction. The wind swirled and roared around Ghilastenfaur the Baleful and his body rose into the air, leaves, grass and stones all whirling around him.

Then the warlock laughed, it was a laugh dripping with power and cruelty, the warlock bent the forces of nature to his will, the scroll spell he read protecting him from the cutting shear of the wind. His body raised further into the air and he floated towards the building.

Magnace looked at everyone and pointed to the building, “Now, enter the building and find our target while my master occupies his attention.”

The mercenaries spread out and advanced en masse towards the ruin as the warlock floated through the air, supported on violent winds. He had conjured an elemental, a pure force of air, and was at the center of its chaotic heart.

Amankal charged forward, wondering what harrowing force the trapped warlock would hurl at them.

Ghilastenfaur shouted, his words whipped forward by the winds to crash against the ruins:

“Reen the Glamor, I come for you!”

Amankal advanced slowly, Krpa ready in his hand. They were all moving at roughly the same pace, cautious but steady. Not one amongst them thought it was wise to storm a warlock's tower, but they couldn't wait for Ghilastenfaur the Baleful to do all the work. They were being paid very well for the job after all, and their employer, power drunk and suspended within the violent churn of an air elemental, floated thirty feet overhead.

When the warlock began to cast his spell the mercenaries had spread out to encircle the tower, with roughly equivalent distances between them. They were all experienced warriors, all had tasted the searing flames of a fireball, the shocking violence of a lightning bolt or the choking mists of a stinking cloud... they knew better. Spread out your forces and reduce the effectiveness of your enemy's spells. There had been no discussion of this, they all just knew.

When they were starting their approach Amankal positioned himself between Kammershorn on his left and Riss on his right. Kammershorn as Amankal estimated him the finest warrior present, Riss as he wanted to keep an eye on her.

They started out about 100' from the tower, each 100' apart. All advanced at a steady moderate pace, watching both the tower and the ground ahead, Kammershorn even tested the ground periodically with his trident, muttering curses at unseen subterranean foes. His dogs were unleashed and circled him as he walked, sniffing to find enemies.

Amankal kept his eyes on the tower ahead, its emerald stone surface made it blend in with the foliage and appear natural, despite the unnatural magics being brewed within. By Amankal's estimation the warlock they were after, one Reen the Glamor, would either be barricaded in the basement, up on the roof or at one of the third floor windows. Amankal was betting he started on the roof and when he spotted them he moved to the third floor, some cover and a decent line of sight there.

It's what he would do.

He kissed Krpa's blade and resheathed her, taking out his crossbow instead and loading it. He might get off a lucky shot and end this fast.


Kammershorn shouted at Amankal, they were separated by about 80 feet at this point and out in the open, no one was trying for stealth.

"Aye Kammershorn!"

"We were told to take him alive, but I haven't skewered a warlock for ages, I might not be able to help myself!"

Amankal chuckled, "Don't get ahead of yourself, we haven't seen the competition yet, and your dogs won't be enough to protect you!"

Kammershorn roared a laugh, "They don't fight with me brother, they let me know the fight's starting."

Amankal did wonder about the opposition, there had been nothing from the tower so far, and they weren't hiding their approach either.

It was going to get messy.

They were all now about 30 feet from the tower, now that they were closer Amankal could see there was a moat around the building, it wasn’t that wide, perhaps 8’ across, but it was still an impediment. The tower did appear, on closer inspection, to have a door, it was set in to the wall and hard to see from a distance.

Then Amankal heard something, like the beating of wings…

He turned to see what appeared to be gargoyles flying through the air towards the tower.

“Blade and bone!”, Amankal cursed in Kammershorn’s direction, “incoming!”

Eight gargoyles appeared from the jungle, swooping down low and fast. Four of them peeled off and went directly for Ghilastenfaur, each of the rest of them found an approaching mercenary to attack, Kaylinth, Neeli, Bissen and Oceal were all attacked, so Kammershorn, Riss, Amankal and Unila continued on. They had discussed how they were going to proceed, and all agreed that the best chance to survive and win would be to focus on getting to the warlock as soon as possible.

Every man for himself.

The gargoyles attempted to swoop and either rake with their claws or pick someone up and fly them off.

The first one lunged at Kaylinth, but she deftly dodged to the side at the last second and managed to swing her sword as she moved, striking the creature on its arm and tearing out a chunk while doing it.

The next attempted to attack Neeli, and the towering warrior met its dive with his massive two handed sword, “Come here for a kiss now!” Neeli bellowed. As the gargoyle dove the warrior struck a massive overhand blow against the creature, sending it flying into the ground about 30 feet away.

A third pulled up at the last moment and shot over Oceal, who made a game try at a blow with his bardiche, unfortunately he missed, and he was facing the opposite way when the gargoyle turned sharply upwards and directly over the fighter where Oceal couldn't see him. He then dove back towards him.

Bissen attempted to shout a warning but was interrupted by the gargoyle heading for him. He slashed with his sword as the creature attempted an attack and missed.

The gargoyle who was near Oceal essentially landed on him, knocking him down, then grabbed him with his foot claws and flew directly upwards into the air, the mercenary attempted to strike the thing with his bardiche one handed but to no avail, the angle was all wrong.

Up they climbed.

Amankal turned back to see the mercenary gaining air, then looked at Ghilastenfaur and saw a miraculous sight.

The first gargoyle to reach the warlock flew in full speed and hit the wall of wind that was the elemental, this knocked it out of the sky and it came crashing down to the ground.

The second gargoyle flew in from slightly above and was caught up in an eddy of wind that had it whirling around the warlock at a sickening speed while simultaneously jerking his body around like a toy. After a half dozen circles around Ghilastenfaur the gargoyle’s body shot out of the elemental like a lightning bolt and smashed into the side of the tower, its bones crushed with the impact and it slid to the ground, dead.

The third tried something different, it flew in low and slow, fighting hard against the winds, the gambit worked for a few moments and it seemed to be making headway, then the winds picked up suddenly and blew so hard that the gargoyle’s wings snapped back, broken, and it plummeted to the ground, its neck snapping like a dry twig.

The last one flew up above the elemental and added gravity to its momentum as it dove in as fast as it could, trying to knife through the air to the warlock below. This time the elemental roared in defiance, blasting the plummeting gargoyle with so much force that it was stopped dead in its path, then the elemental began to throw the gargoyle back and forth as if between two giant unseen hands. Each time the wind would smash into it like a hammer sending it in one direction, then the winds would smash it so hard it would fly back in the other direction, when it would blast him again. After about 5 of these back and forth’s the gargoyle’s body broke, and it was tossed back and forth a few more times, a ghastly corpse in a macabre dance in the sky.

Three of the mercenaries engaged with their gargoyles, Oceal rose higher in the air, and the four remaining warriors pressed on and reached the moat.

Oceal was being held by the shoulders, he smashed the gargoyle in the leg with his mailed fist. The monster shrugged it off. Oceal then took his bardiche and swung it two handed over his head to strike the gargoyle full in the face. The creature howled in pain and dug its claws into Oceal’s armor.

The burly fighter bellowed and struck again, this time imbedding the bardiche in the creature’s head, the gargoyle stopped moving upwards, hung for a second, then began to plummet to the ground below. Oceal managed to turn as they fell so the gargoyle would hit the ground underneath him, and both crashed to the ground with a sickening crunch.

Amankal kept his eyes on the third floor window facing them.

The first gargoyle circled out and Kaylinth took out a javelin, her javelins and her battle axe were her two magical weapons, and she knew gargoyles needed magic to hurt them. The gargoyle dove down and the mercenary hurled the javelin with a formidable force, it drove into the gargoyle's shoulder and he grabbed it and pulled it out with a strange, unnatural scream. It then hurtled through the air and landed on Kaylinth, tearing into her with its claws and teeth.

Neeli charged over to the downed gargoyle and brought down his two handed sword on its neck, the head sprung off and rolled through the wet grass.

Bissen fended off the grasps of his gargoyle with a combination of axe and sword, something Amankal had yet to see him use. After a series of blocks and dodges he cuffed the thing on the back of the neck with his axe, driving the point in, and pulled the thing forward, as it shot past him he pivoted and drove his longsword through the back of the beast and out the other side.

Oceal slowly drew himself to standing and reached for a potion, downing it as fast as he could drink.

Neeli now turned to see Kaylinth locked in a fierce battle. The gargoyle had attacked savagely with claws and fangs, but between Kaylinth’s armor and shield it had not managed any more than minor damage. Now Kaylinth returned the assault, she forced forward with her shield to push the beast off of her, sending it sprawling, then she dropped her shield, stepped forward and the Daughter of Agni brought down her battle axe with a mighty two handed blow, severing off the right arm of the gargoyle.

It’s scream sounded like a tortured dog. Neeli arrived and drove his sword into the thing, killing it instantly.

Kammershorn, Riss, Amankal and Unila had finally reached the moat. While they looked around for a bridge or a mechanism to lower the bridge, Amankal caught the glint of something in the second floor window. He immediately pointed his crossbow and took the shot. The quarrel smashed into the top of the window frame, but Amankal could still not see if someone was indeed in that room.

“What did you see Carver?” Unila shouted at Amankal.

“Don’t know, I was hoping it was the boss, but it might have been nothing.”

Then Amankal felt a strange tingling sensation, it was unique to his experience, though it did remind him of the cold, vaguely dizzy feeling he used to get when he saw something that terrified him. His mind was flooded with memories: the first grotesque insect he saw, multi-limbed and skittering across the floor, the first half-rotted corpse he had smelled even before he saw it, the first evisceration he saw on the battlefield where someone’s insides came spilling out. It was overwhelming and strange.

Then the first tentacle appeared out of the moat, it was at least 10 feet long and ebon black, glossy wet and liquid dark, it looked otherworldly, not quite a leathery limb, not quite an animated liquid. It defied categorization and it chilled Amankal just to see it.

Kammershorn released his dogs and they fled immediately.

The tentacle then struck at the closest mercenary in the group, Unila. She had lost her shield earlier, so was relying solely on her sword. Her reflexes were uncanny and she managed a blow as well, and though the tentacle did clip her, it did not manage to wrap around her, and she stumbled back with her sword held out.

Tentacles emerged up and out of the moat, first one, then another, then a total of 14 new tentacles appeared, spread out around the keep. And they all thrashed towards the nearest mercenary, all were in range of at least one tentacle, and a few were in reach of two.

A tentacle lashed out at Riss and she attempted to fend it off with her sword, but to no avail, it wrapped around her and began to crush her instead.

The mercenary screamed as her ribs snapped.

Kammershorn fended off the attack of one tentacle with a stab of his trident, after it struck the tentacle shivered and snapped, then it dissolved and disappeared in front of his eyes, melting away as if made of some concentrated, viscous form of evil. Another, however, was nearby, and it lashed out at him and wrapped around his midsection, lifting him up into the air and crushing him.

Amankal was in the range of one tentacle, he dodged to the side of it as it whipped in his direction and failed to draw him in. He then strode forward as fast as he could, Krpa in his hand, and he brought down the broadsword with all of his strength on the tentacle crushing Kammershorn, severing it neatly. When he did so all the other tentacles shivered for a moment, and Kammershorn was released.

“Come with me!”, Amankal shouted, as he gave the warrior his hand.

Above them Ghilastenfaur arrived at the roof of the tower, it was uninhabited and he sank through the air until he was hovering about a foot from the rooftop below. He pointed towards the roof and a raging hammer of wind smashed open the door that led to the stairs below. Ghilastenfaur floated forward to land on the roof, the then directed the air elemental to enter the building and it began to roar through the third floor room.

The rest of the mercenaries began to run forward, now finished with their gargoyles they went to join the fray. Kammershorn and Amankal tore off towards Riss, she was in the air, both hands pinned, being crushed by her tentacle. Before they could reach it the tentacle threw the mercenary through the air, and she landed with a crash.

She was already dead when she hit the ground.

Everyone had pulled back and was convening.

“We lost Riss”, Kammershorn spoke first, “we need to get inside.”

“There are four of those things that can reach the front gates, we have to get past them.”

Amankal turned as the remaining warriors began to attack the tentacles. All considered missile fire to be too ineffectual, so everyone took out their most damaging weapon and hacked away at the four tentacles that guarded the front entrance.

On this assault Bissen and Kaylinth were picked up by tentacles, and Kammershorn, Oceal and Unila all worked to free these two from their tentacles, while Neeli hacked away joyously with his two handed sword, severing one of the tentacles in a single fell stroke.

Amankal bolted back to Magnace, who was a discreet distance back from the tower with orders from his master.

“Magnace!”, Amankal shouted, “Can you get me up to the third floor?”

The Warlock’s apprentice, a minor Warlock in his own right, looked offended at the suggestion.

“Of course, but the glorious one has…”

“The glorious one is on his own up there, and his opponent is focused on the front door, now is the perfect time.”

The warlock looked over the warrior in disdain.

“He can use me”, Amankal added, softening his voice somewhat.

Magnace’s face drew to a point, then he nodded.

“Move over beside the tower.”

Amankal ran over to the tower beneath the window on the third floor, there was a strip of land between the wall and the moat, he ran and leapt the moat, landing beside the wall. He turned and saw Magnace motioning with the leather loop and muttering words he could not hear, then the fighter began to rise into the air. He rose to the level of the third floor window, grabbed the sill and pulled in, then motioned to Magnace, and felt the spell’s lift fade.

In front of the tower, Bissen was crushed to death and thrown to the ground by a whipping tentacle as Oceal finally tore through a tentacle, cleaving it in half with his mighty bardiche.

Amankal looked around the room, it was overgrown with plant life and filled with debris, but everything had been uprooted and hurled around the room. The elemental must have made a whirlwind out of all the debris and scoured the room of any living opposition.

Elegant, Amankal mused.

Ghilastenfaur was not here, but there was a set of stairs going to the next level down, so Amankal ran for it. He could hear the roaring of the air elemental below him, it was confined in a small space and raging all through it.

Amankal peered down the stairs and saw Ghilastenfaur’s back, he was directing the elemental and it was razing the room. Amankal slammed the flat of his broadsword blade against the stone of the hallway once, very loudly, Ghilastenfaur turned for a split second to see him, then he waved him down.

Amankal walked down the stairs, he could feel the raging winds and found it difficult to breathe, even standing back in the stairwell.

The winds seemed to fade around Ghilastenfaur.

“Magnificent, isn’t it?” Ghilastenfaur spoke with a barely concealed reverence for the air elemental’s fury.

“Magnificent, any sign of Reen?”

“Reen the Glamor”, Ghilastenfaur clarified, “he defends the building, and he is not here, my guess is that this tower has a lower level and he is there. The elemental has razed each floor of all living things.”

Amankal drew breath to speak and Ghilastenfaur placed his finger on his lips.


One word. Amankal stopped in his tracks. Ghilestenfaur was a bit of a pomp, but he was also in possession of formidable magic, Amankal wasn't taking chances. If he said wait, Carver planned to wait.

Ghilastenfaur looked towards the stairs leading to the first floor and held out his hand palm flat forward.


He then motioned towards himself with his hand, “Come.”

The wind roared up from the floor below, it had whipped up all the stones and debris below into a malestrom that would have shredded anything in the space to bits. It now coalesced into a wall of simmering vapors, cutting the room in half. Slowly a face emerged on the surface of the vapors.

Ghilastenfaur spoke in a clear, crisp voice, strangely amplified by the sudden complete stillness of the air.

"Depart, spirit of the air, push of the wind, voice of the sky, haunt of the night, Ghilastenfaur the Baleful, Warlock of Bhavisyavani House Tairn, thanks you for your service."

There was a pause, then the face spoke, Amankal heard autumn winds tearing through dry leaves, creaking through their boughs a moan of slow sleep.

"By your magics I was bound to your service, Ghilastenfaur the Baleful of Bhavisyavani House Tairn, by your words I am now released."

The wind whipped by the men and out the window to the sky.

Amankal gripped Krpa tightly, he was out of his depth. Still, he wanted to know.

"Seems a useful thing, odd to be sending it away like that."

Ghilastenfaur raised an eyebrow, "Useful does not mean prudent."

"Hmmm", Amankal looked down the stairs into the room below, from what little he could see it very much appeared that the walls and floor had been scoured and torn by some wild beast.

"Hard to control?"

Ghilastenfaur looked pleasantly surprised, "Exactly so, the thing is elemental in the most primal sense, strike fast and hard and allow them to be as destructive as possible and then let them go early. A soured elemental is not to be trifled with."

Ghilastenfaur took out a scroll and sat cross legged on the floor.

"I had planned something else, but seeing as you are here, keep your eyes open while I even the odds a bit."

Ghilastenfaur read the scroll with a solemn hum to his voice, when he was finished the words had shimmered and shaken off the page.

"What did that do?"

Ghilastenfaur snickered, "Interested in becoming a warlock?"

"I got all the magic I need here in my hand, brother", Amankal smiled, "but it helps to know what you are bringing to the table, you know?"

Ghilastenfaur nodded, "Fairly asked, I read a spell that summons supernatural aid, much like the spell that I suspect brought the gargoyles."

Amankal smiled, “Alright then, just make sure you tell whatever you call not to eat me.”

Ghilastenfaur coughed, “It depends on what shows up I suppose.”

Amankal nodded, “We should be quiet now.”

The warlock nodded and began the motions and words of casting another spell on himself. Amankal ignored him, and instead focused on listening. He heard the sound of steel on… something, and shouts from outside. He heard the wind outside, and the sound of the warlock speaking the words of his spell.

He watched the stairs going back to the third floor, then the stairs going down, and he decided to switch to his crossbow again, loading it up ready and alternating between pointing it at either set of stairs.

“Come”, the warlock motioned and they walked down to the first floor. The layout here was the same and the room was similarly filled with overgrown plants and debris that had been violently torn up and hurled around the room by the elemental. The front gate was visible from the inside here, barred with a beam.

Ghilastenfaur pointed at the beam and Amankal ran over and pushed it up and out, allowing the front gates to swing in.

When they opened Kammershorn and his trident and Oceal and his bardiche were attacking the last of the tentacles that could reach them at the front gate. Kammershorn was knocked on the shoulder by the tentacle but managed to catch himself and when it whipped back he stabbed it with the trident, pinning it to the ground. Oceal moved in with his bardiche and brought down a vicious sky to ground blow that severed the tentacle neatly in half.

It shivered, all of the other tentacles shuddered for a moment, and the warriors had access to the tower.

Unila was slightly battered, favoring her right leg. Kammershorn had been bruised and knocked around but was otherwise in fine form. Oceal had healed himself earlier and was running on adrenaline and fury. Bissen Torga, “The Hound”, was dead, crushed by a tentacle, so was Riss. Neeli was in good shape, and Kaylinth was bloodied and bashed but still in fighting form.

Magnace was waiting in the jungle with the mounts.

Unila shouted to Ghilastenfaur, “There is a trap door here!”

The Baleful one smiled, “And my new friends have arrived.”

A pair of blue black puma like creatures, each with a pair of spiked tentacles, appeared in the entranceway and roared. When Amankal looked at them they appeared to shimmer slightly.

Neeli began to charge towards them without hesitation when Ghilastenfaur shouted, “No!”

The two cat like creatures bounded over to the warlock and circled him, looking outwards with hungry eyes.

“Now we go, Neeli of Callenshil, open the door for us.”

Neeli was happy to oblige and took out a huge spiked mace and smashed the trap door once, twice, and on the third mighty blow it shattered and splintered, and the warrior pulled it fully open.

The group descended to the room below, Ghilastenfaur surrounded by his horde of mercenaries and two large, hungry displacer beasts.

When they stepped into the subterranean room Amankal drank in the details of what he could see. There was some sort of symbol engraved in the floor, it was encircled, and along the circle there were placed black candles, all of which were lit.

Outside of the symbol stood a man, tall and saturnine, with short white hair and a tattoo of a purple snake on a gold background on the left half of his face. He wore loose robes of dark red, open at the front, his chest covered with more tattoos, in this case a picture of a snake striking at a hand, and had rings on both hands and a wand in his belt. Behind him was a trunk filled with scrolls.

Reen the Glamour had been found.

But the most interesting thing was the… thing standing in the symbol on the floor.

It was slightly larger than a man in size, and it appeared exactly as a fly, but in addition to the body of the insect it had the face of a man.

It was revolting, and Amankal fought every instinct in his body to stay in the room with this foul thing.

Reen the Glamor then turned to them, “Ghilastenfaur the Baleful, we must speak.”

Amankal was feeling completely out of his depth. Some sort of demon and two powerful warlocks stood in front of him, a ring of warriors stood beside him.

Ghilastenfaur still wasn’t sure what to make of the scene before him, and he did not like the demon’s presence here, he had not planned for that. He spoke with a voice dripping with arrogance.

“Speak then, Reen the Glamor, I will admit to some curiosity as to what turned you to this mad task, I will stay my hand long enough to learn that.”

The warlock stood behind the protective circle with a book in his hands.

“I owe you nothing”.

Ghilastenfaur frowned, his steely gaze fixed on the warlock.

“Do not challenge me, I have no patience, and you have broken the covenant with your master, your life is forfeit, you know this.”

Reen’s eyes widened, then narrowed to slits, he then spoke in a thin voice.

“Five years ago I was part of an expedition sent to retrieve a powerful artifact from a complex in the mountains to the north. What we didn’t know was that the complex was under the control of demons, and when we removed the artifact we also brought a curse along with it. That curse has come to fruition, and all the members of the adventuring party now face the curse, along with me.”

Ghilastenfaur looked at the demon and then looked at Reen.

“And what does this thing have to do with your curse?”

“It is a demon, and it has the power to remove the curse as it was involved in it’s creation, it is not that I think it was responsible for the curse, it merely knows how to lift the curse, as it was around a more powerful demon who created it. I cast many spells to determine this information. I have taken as many of my master’s spells as I could find, and I have been using them to... persuade the creature to aid me. It took me over a year to find the binding symbol to trap it, the symbol is specifically for this demon, but it has an inherent resistance to magic, so I have had to use multiple spells on its person to persuade it to give me what I need to know. The beast’s resolve weakens every hour. I am committed to the process for my own survival, and that of my comrades.”

Ghilastenfaur was contemplating events, attempting to see if there was any way to turn this to his advantage. He did not have to return the scrolls to their master, perhaps he could leverage the demon in some way, or put Reen the Glamor permanently in his debt.

Reen the Glamor spoke again, “If you could join me in my task perhaps I will be successful, do you have spells you could contribute to influence this beast to help me?”

Ghilastenfaur was nonplussed by the request, “I will do nothing as of yet, there is still the matter of Huneer the Opalescent and the property you have stolen from him. That is a matter of no small consequence.”

Reen bowed his head then nodded, “I understand, your connection to this enterprise is tenuous at best, and I have committed a grievous crime against my master, but permit me to continue in my task, every minute spent under the curse is potentially deadly to me and to others. When this is finished I will turn myself over to you and to the judgment of Huneer the Opalescent.”

Ghilastenfaur made no comment.

“I will proceed then”, Reen added. He then reached over to a small chest sitting on the far side of the room and opened it, selecting out a scroll. He unfurled the scroll, took a breath, and began to read.

At the sight and sound of Reen taking out the scroll and starting to read it the demon hissed and spit, jumped and wailed in response, anticipating more pain.

Ghilastenfaur strained to hear the words that Reen was speaking, but he could not make them out. When Reen was finished reading the scroll spell, Amankal did not see any immediate impact on the demon.

However, Unila, Oceal and Neeli all simultaneously moved to attack whatever was nearest to them, in this case Oceal and Neeli attacked the displacer beasts, Neeli swung his massive sword down on one of them, but it hit air as the beast was not where Neeli’s eyes said it was. Oceal was too slow with his swing of the bardiche and the beast easily dodged it and tore in to him savagely in response.

Unila and Ghilastenfaur were closest to each other, and both sought to attack the other first.

Unila whipped out her sword and savagely thrust it at the warlock, Ghilastenfaur was in the process of moving away from the warriors so he could cast a spell, only by dint of the sheerest luck did he step to the right rather than the left in his attempt to move, and Unila’s strike went wide and she stumbled to the side.

Ghilastenfaur took five quick steps and was now partially behind the battling pair of Neeli and his displacer beast, he stood still and spoke the words, “varázsló nyíl” while pressing his finger to his forehead, he then drew out and threw five spikes of sizzling purple energy that flew through the air and slammed into Unila’s body.

Unfortunately, she had been damaged in the fight with the gargoyles and with the black tentacles, so she collapsed dead to the floor.

Kaylinth wandered away from the group, heading up the stairs in a vacant, detached walk, as if she wasn’t even awake.

Kammershorn and Amankal appeared to be the only two who had not lost their minds. Amankal grabbed Kammershorn by the arm and pulled hard.

“We need to move!”, he bellowed, and the two men pulled back from the melee to the edge of the room by the door.

Oceal and Neeli were locked in savage combat with the two displacer beasts. Oceal was knocked to the ground and the beast leapt through the air to land on him, and Oceal managed to swing his bardiche hard enough to knock the beast aside, just barely. Neeli brought down his two handed sword in an overhead plunging thrust that nailed his beast’s rear right foot to the floor.

The beast roared, and the sound reverberated in Amankal’s ears like an earthquake.

Kammershorn saw Ghilastenfaur reaching for his component pouch and reacted instantly, years of experience had taught him to watch a warlock’s hands closely, and Ghilastenfaur was possessed. He hurled his trident at the warlock, and one of the three tines ran through his upper arm, eliciting a scream of agony as it exited the other side, pulling some of the Ghilastenfaur’s flesh in its wake.

Then Amankal saw Reen had unfurled another scroll, he was standing on the other side of the room, between the two of them were two displacer beasts and two mercenaries, locked in mortal combat. Ghilastenfaur was wounded and losing blood fast, but he could grab a wand or cast a fast spell and kill either of them where they stood.

Amankal then bolted past the battling displacer beasts and took out Krpa, he swung the broadsword and smashed through a candle that was sitting in an inscribed circle within the larger symbol that Reen the Glamor had placed on the floor. The strike broke the circle decisively, and there was a brief moment of absolute silence, even as talons flashed and blades plunged, nothing was heard.

Then Amankal heard a sound he had only heard once, that of a large ship at sea, rent asunder by smashing on the rocks then slowly splitting in half. That moaning and snapping sound as the ship came apart, Amankal heard that sound now.

The demon began to wail, Amankal’s heart was crashing into his chest.

Ghilastenfaur the Baleful’s eyes cleared, he had fought off the enchantment, perhaps the trident had jolted him back to conscious thought.

The demon immediately lunged at Reen, its filthy talons reeked of death.

The warlock completed the words of his scroll spell.

In the air in front of the warlock, a shimmering bleed of light appeared, it sheared the air and appeared to release some primal force, it was bright almost to the point of discomfort looking directly at it, yet outside of that line of brightness it shed no light at all.

It was shaped like a sword.

Reen focused on the shimmering blade and it turned and slashed viciously... at the warlock!

Reen had been casting potent spells all day, he finally made an error, and now the spell was attacking him.

The demon squealed in delight as the magical weapon hacked away at the warlock, he tried to pull out a wand and defend himself but the sword sliced off his hand with the wand still in it. The sword butchered the warlock where he stood.

The demon screeched and wailed, and turned its foul visage to Ghilastenfaur. Judging from the trembling of its nose, Amankal figured it was smelling the warlock as much as seeing him.

Oceal finally succumbed to the displacer beast, and it quickly launched itself at the demon.

Neeli finished off his displacer beast with a blow that almost split the thing, and he turned immediately to attack the demon.

Ghilastenfaur, still bleeding from his upper arm, reached into his pouch and took out a piece of quartz, he pressed it between the palms of his hands and spoke the word, "Jégfal" three times then he blew on his hands. As he blew on his hands a thin wall of ice formed, cutting the room in half, with Amankal, Kammershorn and Ghilastenfaur on one side, and the demon, Neeli and a displacer beast on the other.

The wall thickened immediately, to the point of opacity.

Ghilastenfaur grabbed his upper arm, he was bleeding out profusely, and leaned against the wall.

Amankal shouted, "Why did you do that, Kammershorn and I were here, Neeli is trapped back there!"

Amankal heard Neeli's scream and the sound of sharp claws rending armor. He also heard the displacer beast roar in defiance.

Ghilastenfaur sneered at the men, "I don't rely on anyone to protect me, kissan, not with a sword, and you and your phojee friends are expendable anyway."

The warlock chuckled.

Amankal unsheathed Krpa in one smooth motion and swung the thirsty blade at Ghilastenfaur.

The warlock's head separated cleanly from his neck, and tumbled to the floor.

Kammershorn took his trident to the ice wall and began to take out chunks.

Then, the noise from behind the wall stopped.

There was a brief pause, then Amankal heard a screeching noise from behind the ice wall.

"Neeli of Callenshil has fallen", Kammershorn's voice was heavy.

"We shall avenge him, and Oceal, with my blade and your trident."

"Don't we need a warlock for this?", Kammershorn asked.

Amankal shook his head, "This demon mutes magic, the warlock said so, but it has a head, and a body, they can be hit."

Kammershorn laughed out loud, "Aye lad, they can!"

Then there was a smashing noise and the wall vibrated. Then the noise again and there was a cracking noise as well. Amankal looked at the wall and when there was a smash a third time he noticed what looked like the outline of a body hitting the wall on the other side.

The demon was repeatedly throwing Neeli's armored body against the wall with his mind to crack it, Neeli was large enough and hard enough in his plate mail that it was slowly working.

Kammershorn and Amankal set themselves up to either side of the spot where the demon was hurling the body. There was a gigantic cracking noise, then the body was sent hurtling through the wall, shattering a hole through it as Neeli's bloodied body came flying through.

The demon came through immediately after, as it passed through the opening Kammershorn thrust his trident forward and impaled the thing, then Amankal brought down his broadsword and it bit into the demon, half of Krpa's blade was buried in the foul thing, it passed through to the other side and almost split the demon in two.

The demon had taken damage from Neeli's sword and the displacer beast, and their attacks finished it completely.

The demon's body slid to the ground and began to smoke and sizzle as it disappeared before their eyes.

Amankal watched as the thing died, the stench was outrageous.

When he was content the thing was well dead, he took a knife and cut off Ghilastenfaur's pouches and bags and collected them, and he grabbed rings from each hand. He also put the warlock's head in a small sack. He went to Neeli and Oceal and rummaged through their bags and took out two bottles from each. They left the basement and Amankal went to the front of the ruin and took two bottles from Bissen and Riss' bodies, then with Kammershorn's help he dragged them inside.

Amankal tossed the bodies in the basement and poured a total of 10 bottles of oil over the bodies, lighting them up and then leaving.

Let the flames consume them and purify them, Amankal thought, it is their right to depart the world free of taint.

He and Kammershorn then left and found Magnace waiting by the steeds.

"Where is Ghilastenfaur?", he was craning his neck to see if the warlock was just behind.

"Here", Amankal interjected, "I saved the important bit."

Amankal threw the bloody severed head of Ghilastenfaur the Baleful at Magnace's feet. He then threw all his component pouches and his wand case, as well as his bag. Finally, Kammershorn set down the small chest of scroll spells.

"These are yours now I suppose."

Amankal pocketed both of the rings assuming they were magical, and he also took two of the scrolls from the chest, he would sell the rings and one scroll later and split the gold with Kammershorn. One scroll he would keep to use as a gift if he ever had to persuade a warlock of something. He would be able to pay some debts and pay for some training. He assumed he would not be paid for this job.

"What happened in there?" Magnace looked pale and uncertain.

"Your master lost his head and betrayed us. I have given you his wands and his other materials, now let us walk from here with no debts or bonds between us."

Magnace was dizzy, by Bhavisyavani law Ghilastenfaur's possessions go to his heir, but Ghilastenfaur had no children, so as his apprentice Magnace was entitled to a share of his wealth.

Finally, Magnace nodded and spoke solemnly, "it is a shame he did not make it."

"Yes", Amankal added, "a shame."

The three of them mounted steeds and headed back to the city, Ghilastenfaur's head in a bag hanging from Magnace's saddle.


I will post another CJ in a few days.

Building Bhakashal - Character Creation - PCs Today’s character for the January Character Creation Challenge is one that has a place in my f...