Raven’s Crown Chronicle of Coppelia – Neyavr 5th, 751 BR

Journal date: Neyavr 5th, 751 BR

Breakfast was spent assigning the equipment. I felt uncomfortable speaking of my abilities, but this group did not seem to blink at the knowledge that I was a spellcaster. Even though I was not wearing the appropriate hat, perhaps that is because I have a familiar? Peculiar. I still fear sharing too much of myself, as there will likely be longer term consequences. I was also able to find that the great hall was acceptable for dance practice. Without at least stretches and warm ups I fear I will grow rusty. I believe that is an accidental pun.

The sisters continue to toil at City Hall, due to obstruction by the local populace. It has been concluded that their lack of popularity, and by extension ours, may extend beyond Old Man Gibs and his associates. That is disappointing to hear but good to know. Our actions will have consequences with the superstitious townsfolk if we do not use caution. With that in mind, we elected to spend the morning hours alone and regroup at the next meal to investigate our current issues further.

Victor appeared to be engrossed in the Doctor’s journal, though why he spent an hour staring at the spine I cannot quite fathom. Lady Beatrice and Gorig-Nak went for a walk and to talk to the people in town. This seems reasonable, as she seems to be more socially acceptable than many of the rest of us. Perhaps this will put some of them at ease. Dr. Phil was studying one of the scrolls we had uncovered, but seemed frustrated. Ciprian left to do some shopping. After I spent the requisite period in rehearsal, I proceeded to town to listen for more information about the defacement of the statue. It is likely this will be blamed on outsiders, which means us as well as the Vistani. I was able to confirm that the two leading rumors are either the Vistani, or the remaining manifestation of the Warden’s wife. Her name, apparently, began with a V, though finding out the name itself has proven difficult. But Swanhilda was anxious for food, so we elected to visit the Laughing Demon, as it was convenient and amiable to our presence.

The rest of the group seemed to have the same thoughts, so we sat mostly together. Ciprian retreated to a curtained booth. He is a very private individual, which I respect. Lady Beatrice was quite enamoured of her salad. I found it nutritious and quite adequate, but she was waxing poetic about balances of acid and sweetness in a way I found confusing. Swanhilda almost fell into my tea trying to get to the carrots because I was distracted and not providing my familiar with her needed meal. Zokar was enthusiastic about our return, and provided a sort of “challenge” that entails attempting to consume every dish on the menu. This seems indulgent and difficult for those of us who will only be in town a single month, especially as our morning and evening meals are provided at the manor. The majority of our consumption period was completed in this manner, meaningless civil conversation and digestion.

The table next to us was using a modified Tarroka deck as playing cards. Given the superstition surrounding and origin of Tarroka, I was surprised to observe this in the quaint population of Ravensgro. To my perception it was tempting fate to use a fortune telling deck as standard card game fodder. I should not have been surprised when the winning hand was on fire. No, not figuratively like a “hot streak” but literally bursting into a pyre of flames. Several of us were blinded by the flash – this caused an odd perception of screams, muffled as if coming from below us, perhaps noise from a basement amidst the crackling of an inferno. This is what I perceived while blinded, at least. Given the information we have gathered about the Harrowstone fire destroying the belowground area, I do not believe this to be a coincidental vision. Zokar, in an attempt to preserve his business operations, attempted to convince people to stay with a “round on the house,” however the deck owner was one of those that was not swayed. I was hoping to inquire where the deck had originated. The fire seemed to be connected to a single card, as otherwise the hand was not valuable per the rules of the game. Dr. Phil retrieved the card in question, and it was The Ghost,  it implies the looming past, the return of an old enemy, or discovery of a secret buried long ago.

The singer that had been providing an attraction in the form of background noise also fled. Zokar was urgently looking for replacement entertainment. I have no particular talent with singing, however I do continue to practice dance. Gorig-Nak apparently knows a single song, entitled “Beer”. That is also the lyrics of the song. I wonder if it is related to the dwarven song “Gold” that I have heard one of my coworkers at the clockwork shop singing while occupied with construction. We were able to improvise suitable entertainment working in concert. That is also an accidental pun. 

Once again, just as things seemed to be operating at a normal capacity, the unexpected occurred. Creatures known as stirges – flying entities known to drain the life essence from those they can grapple – descended from the rafters. The first target was a man listening to our performance, and while I intended to aid him, three additional stirges also descended and the first moved from the bystander to latch on to me.

This was disturbing to witness, as it began to fill with a clearly non-organic fluid. In front of a room full of people. As my life force was draining away, I became aware that were my condition public it would cause discredit to those I had associated with, despite their ignorance. The Doctor and I had discussed this matter at length, and I was grateful that when the parasite was removed, with fluid that was clearly unlike standard vital fluid, Ciprian was close by and covered me, as well as the leeching creature, with his cloak. To avoid close inspection by others of the gesture, I mimicked a faint so I could be removed quickly. The other creatures had been dispatched by my companions, including a shot at her own neck by Lady Beatrice and an apparent wrestling match with the stirge held and won by Gorig-Nak, as well as a strangely feminine version of Dr. Phil due to the evident effect of his mutagen – perhaps we can discuss potions in the future. Zokar was effusive with his gratitude, offering us favors and meals, as we left rapidly.

Much as the day had progressed with unexpected turns, the race to the manor was also interrupted. Lady Beatrice was interested in Ciprian’s ability to carry me easily despite our comparable sizes, and he offered to discuss the matter in private. I remained “unconscious” for most of the travel time, until the party was confronted by shuffling townsfolk. My viewpoint from under the cloak let me detect that these people were not, in fact, current residents but previous occupants that had expired and were reanimated. I stepped out of Ciprian’s carry, to allow him to engage the undead. Another combat ensued. Victor was able to demonstrate his axe-pertise. That is an intentional pun. Both Gorig-Nak and Ciprian were brought down to critical health levels, though it seemed to impact Ciprian more distinctly as he lost consciousness. I was able to rectify that situation, and when combat was resolved I was then able to address Gorig-Nak’s damaged state to a level that allowed us to discuss the matter at hand.

It was decided that this activity would not be able to be concealed and it was better to be the ones to notify the officials of our defensive actions, as well as their potential issue with the restless bodies of former residents. However much as the Weathermay-Foxglove sisters were struggling with bureaucracy, our representative members were also not allowed to present this information to any officials. I remained with the remains, as did Victor and Ciprian. No questions were asked about my sudden return to consciousness by my colleagues. Victor did use the remains to caution those who passed us on the road as to the potential dangers. I am not certain the citizens took it in the way he intended. Due to the inability to notify officials, we relocated the remains to the stables, after Victor had ensured the corpses were delimbed to ensure safety. I was able to take a sample, and elected to try an experiment with an ability I have given great thought to but never used.

Regrouping occurred at the manor. The sisters believe that gestures such as pastries will convince councilmembers to address our issues more directly, and sought to know if any of us had culinary talent, but we were lacking. Victor and myself both recalled Zokar’s promise of a favor and his aptitude for edibles. This seemed a fortunate alignment, and the Councilman Hearthmount was recalled as being more amiable to us during the funeral and reading of the will. It was determined that most of us were not in a state to pursue further matters the next day and would need bed rest, myself included. Ciprian offered his medical knowledge to aid me in recovery. I assumed this was a request for a private discussion of my unusual nature. I was incorrect.

The next day, after Ciprian aided me, he silently departed without asking about the abnormal coloration of my vital fluids. I do not know if I have ever encountered someone so respectful of secrets, which engages my curiosity about his own privacy – but I will offer him the same respect. I remained in my bed, the sisters departed to begin the pie plan. I was able to hear some of the household activity, including new rumors from town about another desecration to the monument with the letter E. There is still no information about the name of the wife. Beatrice’s voice had an unusual cadence, but I was hearing her through a door so perhaps the error is in my perception.

This morning we regrouped, recovered and ready to address the matters at hand. The sisters took on the next phase of the pie plan, discovering where Councilman Hearthmount lives and dropping a calling card. I proposed, as an experiment to see the reaction of my compatriots, a tracking of the undead to their creator or other source. Even those from Paridon did not seem alarmed or suspicious of this. Perhaps we all have secrets to keep. Using an eye of the undead remains I began to use the ritual known as ‘Carrion Compass’ and it led us through the heart of town. While I am willing to test the reaction of those I spend the most time with, I was not ready to test the town citizenry, so a quick use of herbalism let me convert the organ to a floating herbal sachet – still unusual but less likely to cause concern, and pleasantly scented of lavender instead of undeath. 

The duration of the spell took us most of the way to the Restlands cemetery, where our physical trackers were able to finish the job by concluding the distance, and identifying the new undead climbing out of their intended resting places. Four skeletons engaged us and were quickly dispatched. Swanhilda was feeling aggressive, but by the time she approached one and was ready to take her bite they had all been cut down. I will have to let her gnaw on me in recompense. Beatrice was not able to find any signs of necromancy that would have resulted in these beings, however we did identify the six graves of the current undead. That means we do not have unaccounted for corpses so far as we know. 

The Lady Beatrice wanted to try to contact the spirits in the cemetery for more clues as to what had occurred to cause the dead to rise. While some like Ciprian believed it was a bad idea due to the nature of the spirit board, I believed the practical implications of partaking in a public venue were ill-timed for our reputation with the townsfolk. Alternative locations of the ossuary were recommended, but again if we are seen entering and leaving once more, as we were last time, our suspicion amongst the citizenry will rise.

In lieu of a mid-day seance of questionable wisdom, we elected to return the bodies to their appropriate graves. Lady Beatrice and I kept watch while the others returned to the manor and retrieved the original two sets of remains, so that we could replace all six in their resting places, hopefully in a more permanent manner.

The manor, our standard meeting place, hosted dinner and conversation. The sisters will pay their visit to the councilman tomorrow. I retired with the intention of regaining my spells through meditation, the day had been costly in magical expenditure. However midway through the sleep cycle, Lady Beatrice began screaming as though she were mortally injured. When we attended her chambers to determine the nature of the injury, she indicated the writing of her name, nearly complete, in blood on her headboard. She bore no injury, and the blood appears human instead of rat this time. She claims it was sourced by her dream, a description of what sounds like a prison cell that responded to an assault on the wall with a stool by writing her name, character by character, on the wall at a measured pace. When she awoke the nearly-completed name “BEATRIC” was present in outside of her dream. I am given cause to re-evaluate her earlier hallucination in the graveyard.

We will use the spirit board and planchette here, as there appear to be spirits connected to Harrowstone in every inch of Ravensgro. From that deck of cards to the dispatch in her room, and even possibly the defacement of the monument, Harrowstone Prison is around every corner.

Raven’s Crown Chronicle of Coppelia – Neyavr 2nd, 751 BR

Dear Diary,

To whom it may concern,

Journal date: Neyavr 2nd, 751 BR

As the Doctor kept a journal that is proving helpful to our efforts, perhaps I should try this exercise as well. If you are reading this, I am dead. If I am not dead, I request that you close this now and return it to where you found it. Thank you.

It appears Doctor Van Richten has kept his promise to take my secret to his grave. At the very least, he is in his grave – though I did not check the coffin’s contents personally – and there is no evidence he shared it prior to the date of his demise. I may need to inquire with the Weathermay-Foxglove sisters, they are his most likely confidants. Difficulty: In doing so I may expose the issue that was not previously relevant to their interest. I will consider this further.

Allow me to begin at a more appropriate starting point.

A missive reached me at the clockworks shop, requesting I attend the funeral of Doctor Van Richten in Ravengro. I believe the feeling I experienced was sadness, as I found correspondence with the Doctor educational and inspirational. I was permitted time away from my professional responsibility, and I was able to arrange care of my regular patients with little distress. 

Addendum – Old Mistress Dunham did complain at exceedingly high volume that I would not be personally tending to her arthritis pains. I tried, once again, to explain that she does not suffer from arthritis and it is simply that she dislikes rainy weather resulting in a psychosomatic effect on her knees from an overwhelming desire for attention. She continues to refuse this diagnosis. 

Arrival in Ravengro was unceremonious, as I was just in time for the event. It appears several other attendees were also originating in Paridon. Perhaps our return travel can be coordinated to be more efficient. For documentation purposes these were:

  • Beatrice Teague – apparently a human female of some noble standing
  • Gorig-Nak Dunn – presents as male half-orc valet to Lady Teague
  • Victor Caenavon-Smythe – appearance of a human male

Also in attendance was a well-concealed figure identified by name as Ciprian Dragan with a masculine vocal tone and a Doctor Phil Ligree Gold-Bottom, presumably a male human.

From Ravensgro was Zokar Elkarid and his son Pevrin. He owns the local tavern – designated the ‘Laughing Demon’. He is jovial and laughs a great deal himself. Lady Jominda Fallenbridge is the alchemist in town and was present. Councilman Vashian Hearthmount and Councilman Gharen Muricar represented the local political element. Central to the proceedings were the sisters Gennifer and Laurie Weathermay-Foxglove. Twins. Curious, natural forces appear to have made two physically identical but personality disparate individuals. This is a digression on my part.

I was acting as a pallbearer for the coffin as we approached the cemetery where a mob of citizenry had formed, apparently at the behest of an individual referred to as Old Man Gibs. Their objection was to having a necromancer buried with their kin, though what concern there would be since the vessels are no longer occupied was beyond me. Beatrice and Victor attempted to advise them on the logistics of the corpse not being put to rest and potential consequences, regardless of its previous occupation in life. It did not go well. Combat ensued when the coffin was put down properly.

Several individuals had to be laid unconscious before the citizenry could be intimidated over the sway of Old Man Gibs. I am curious what force of personality or powers he could have that would enforce his will so strongly on others. His will was finally totally overridden when the local priest came to intervene, a dwarf called Father Grimburrow. Citizenry was repaired and removed from the premises as needed. The funeral commenced, I attempted to speak a few words to commemorate my emotional status, however I do not think I was accurately able to encapsulate it. Others attempted as well. I do not think they were more successful than I.

It was identified that those of us from outside Ravengro were named in the will and would need to be in attendance for the reading. This required us to regroup at the Van Richten family home immediately after the funeral. We are invited to stay there, which at the time of the offer was presumed to be only briefly, until we returned to our respective homes. That was not to be the case. This is called foreshadowing.

Councilman Hearthmount arrived to read the will, where the numerous volumes the Doctor collected over life were discussed. Aside from the items specifically outlined, the estate was bequeathed to the sisters, his apprentices and closest companions in recent years. There are tomes to be delivered to the University of Ledendorf, with payment upon receipt of 100 platinum to each of us. However we must first spend one month in Ravengro to ensure his apprentices are safe and established before we move on to Ledendorf.

The Councilman departed, leaving funds to pay for our drinks at the wake. We began to inspect the books in the trunk that we were to deliver. On top of any of them was the previously referenced journal. There is also a note with distribution of the Ledendorf tomes, and where we are each instructed to take a book that is relevant to us in some way – I was obviously granted Van Richten’s Guide to the Created but I elected not to show the others. This was a matter between me and the Doctor. Beatrice was confused that she received a guide to Ghosts and stated so openly. The others are unknown to me.

In the journal it is identified that the Doctor had been researching the Ebon Hold for years, an organization that on the surface appeared to be a cabal of necromancers, but is actually a group in pursuit of immortality via undeath. They were active in Ravengro in the recent months, with a connection to the Harrowstone prison that burned fifty years past. Despite his use of supplies found in the Restlands cemetery, the Doctor did not survive his next attempt to explore Harrowstone. The Doctor’s body was found there, the victim of an “accident” that specifically mutilated his jaw. We relocated to his study to continue investigating the Ebon Fold and Harrowstone.

Dr. Phil was the one to establish the prison was destroyed by fire 50 years ago, and that locals decline to speak of it from assumptions of haunting. Ciprian established that it was built 636 BR – 115 years in the past, and that the fire destroyed much of the underground structure but much of the surface building is still intact. The Warden and his wife died in the fire – though it was unclear why the wife was at the prison at all. There is a statue monument built to commemorate the Warden and guards that died in the fire. Gorig-Nak was the one to find that the fire was a blessing in disguise, as a prison riot had allowed the inmates to take control of the dungeon spaces, though the Warden and guards in question were still preventing them from escaping completely.

In regards to the Ebon Fold, Victor brought forward the information that they have been active in the Western Domains for thousands of years. I read and relayed that agents of the Ebon Fold are often undead or seek alliances with undead creatures and their most notorious member was a now deceased Dark Lord Azalin Rex. While the order predates Rex by an extensive margin, he was often their model once his presence was established. Beatrice was the one who found that their core tenants are a series of philosophies that will only be relayed via whisper, never written or spoken at volume. The details are difficult to discern as a result, they are often found to be formulas for liches or plans for the recovery of Azalin Rex, and their symbol is a gagged skull. To that effect, those who learn too much are murdered, with mouths mutilated to prevent speaking with the dead – exactly as occurred to the Doctor in his “accident”.

This research engrossed the attention of us all, and as a result meals were not prepared as hunger began to make itself known. Due to the wake invitation, we were able to acquire a free meal at the Laughing Demon, as it was the appropriate time to join the celebration of the Doctor’s life. This is a traditional thing that is done after death, I am given to understand. As this is my first funeral I can recall, I have to trust this is true.

There was time to eat our fill and drinks consumed, as well as locals spoken with. I remained preferential to tea – when I have wine Swanhilda will often consume overly much and become ill-tempered. I hate to recall her reaction to harder drinks, such as the Brandy Incident of 749 BR. There were bits of gossip gained from those who are more adept at such interactions. Gorig-Nak learned that the pithy-names for the food at the Laughing Demon may be more than just clever wordplay – being invited back for a ‘Special Tasting’ may result in a disappearance, unless one looks closely at the menu. Beatrice discovered that you can still hear the wife wailing near Harrowstone. Ciprian found that the Executioner of Harrowstone still guards his gallows, even after his death. After our meal concluded we each went to pursue our own areas of informational interest, though I will confess I did take note of what each person was pursuing for my own reference.

Ciprian looked to know about the biggest troublemaker in town and the fast answer was Old Man Gibs, who had a chip on his shoulder after coming back from the war that never went away. I am not surprised to learn this. Gibs lives near the outskirts of town near the Harrowstone Memorial – this is foreshadowing again.

Victor’s pursuit was to ask the bartender what Gibs had against Van Richten, due to the strong response to the burial. It was revealed that Gibs was superstitious, and did not like Van Richten’s disregard for rules, as Gibs wanted everything done a certain way. Gibs became impassioned about the Vistani presence, too.

Dr. Phil seems in need of physical affection, as he kept after something that “rhymes with drugs” and the only element that came to mind for me was “hugs” or “mugs” but the Laughing Demon had plenty of cups. He was directed to Lady Jominda, the town alchemist. 

Gorig-Nak is protective of Lady Beatrice, clearly, as he needed to know about the criminal element in town, which must be to protect her. He must have been relieved to find that there isn’t one, the jail is used as a “drunk tank” and there is one full time sheriff. Benjan Caeller is the law enforcement agent, and has no permanent deputies, but four farmhands that help part time – by name they are Leromar, Riff, Trestleblade, and Vrodish.

Lady Beatrice, though, was interested in the Vistani. She would learn they arrived two weeks ago, and similar to our less than warm reception Old Man Gibs has created a great deal of vocal concern about their presence, using his influence over others to continue the sentiment. Fear of the Vistani Evil Eye prevents them from being easily driven away, however.

I am hoping to find a way to proffer my healing services, potentially in exchange for coin, while I am here for the month. My funds are otherwise limited and Swanhilda will not return the two silver in her collar pouch. Father Grimburrow, one of the founding members of the town, is the head priest in the temple of St Ezra – but due to his advanced age he often has acolytes do the day to day tending of those who need healing, and the occasional sale of magic items. Jominda, as an alchemist, is potentially capable of providing some potions or brews of a healing nature. Simple liniments and medicine also come from the general store, run by Luthko Avanaki and his wife Marta.I was cautioned that their five daughters run amok in the store. I will proceed with care if I need to attend any shopping there. Stepping on children is frowned upon.

After the drinks were finished, there were coins remaining for our purses and we each set out to pursue our individual interests. I made an effort to slip unnoticed to the Vistani camp, however Lady Beatrice and Gorig-Nak were also in attendance. As a fellow citizen of Paridon, I am suspicious of their position on magical and superstitious elements, and I do not wish to fully reveal the nature of my interests and abilities, as there is a possibility that they are of the… “Burn The Witch” beliefs. However when I hesitated to spend my last two gold on a Tarroka reading, Lady Beatrice generously paid for each of us to receive one. I am now in her debt and will need to take steps to ensure she and her valet are cared for to even the scales.

It was most fascinating to see Tarroka readings in person, my book learnings on them were short of the actual description of mood and mystery. Madam Mvashti, the reader, was quite perceptive and I found a great deal of desire to pursue this path after her example. I was able to wait until the others had left before I inquired about the means to purchase a deck of my own. A guide book sitting on the shelf at home can only take my skills so far. Madam Mvashti was pleased to give me a deck, with the promise of a future favor for her people. I tried to barter my skills in the healing arts, as I suspect many superstitious individuals would turn them away even in times of need. She appeared pleased by this offering, and said she would pass my name amongst her people. I hope to pay off this debt soon. This may be foreshadowing, as well.

I returned to the room I was assigned. It is oddly spacious, I am unclear why a resting body needs such extensive space beyond the horizontal area required for reclining in. Swanhilda, however, appreciates the many things to hide behind and furniture to inspect. Otherwise the night passed unremarkably. 

At the morning meal, the staff around us were engaged in a higher level of gossip than would be expected, even considering our presence and the drama of the previous day. Swanhilda was able to get closer and identify that something happened in town that caused a fright for the citizenry. It was Laurie that was able to determine more accurately the defacing of the Warden’s Monument – potentially with blood. As we are to integrate with this town for the duration of our stay, the Weathermay-Foxglove sisters requested that we investigate while they pursued legal matters in town.

The monument is a rather mundane statue with an inscription, and some of the locals milling about it. The only non-mundane aspect was the large V added to it with blood. Close examination revealed rat’s blood. Swanhilda was made unhappy by this. No tracks were found, which is a cause for concern of its own, but without further information about who would have a designation that begins with V we were at a loss. Though as I write I contemplate if this were an attempt to frame or an action by the Vistani? They seem to be avoiding trouble directly and so I do not truly suspect them, but the nearest resident is Old Man Gibs, who is known to have conflict with their presence. I suggested that we speak with him, either to gather what he may have seen or to perceive his potential knowledge through an obvious act of denial.

To make sure we conducted our day efficiently, the cemetery was our next stop as the Doctor had written about supplies we would expect to find there. From the written clues, the large and run-down ossuary seemed the most likely candidate though it was seemingly locked. In trying to find a crack large enough for Swanhilda to enter, the lock itself was found to be a fiction. It has been opened by acid and resealed with wax, a trick Victor assured us was a hallmark of Doctor Van Richten’s approach. I was hesitant to enter in broad daylight, but the area seemed quite vacant of any presence that was not our own. 

Before entrance, Lady Beatrice began seeing text that was not there on a tombstone adjacent to the Doctor’s. Per her relayed information: “Come to my world, and be as I; as I am now, soon you will be; embrace your end and witness me.” – Died 701 BR

Those of us not hallucinating were only able to see a name, year of birth, and year of death – which was the same as what she claimed. Jack Parsons perished in 701 BR, the same year as the fire of Harrowstone. She seemed off, but not feverish. I will watch her closely for further diagnosis. 

Victor proceeded to… pop the lock, as it were. Inside quickly, to find that though in a state of disrepair and inattentiveness, there were no bones or remains in the mislabeled ossuary. The facade of a foyer had niches unfilled. I was reminded that I should not see without a light source, but luckily those around me had lanterns. A line of clear tracks in the dust lead to the back, a next room holding a sarcophagus. 

Inspection of the receptacle would be delayed, when Gorig-Nak stepped back to the front room to act as guard, and was assaulted. From the cracks leading to the earth came centipedes, likely of a poisonous variety. They were quickly dispatched, and I was able to provide some healing for Gorig-Nak as my first step to paying off that debt.

Cleared of interference from arthropods, we proceeded to inspect and open the sarcophagus. Inside was not a body, but instead the indicated stash of goods. Quickly these items were gathered up into a backpack and I made sure to close the sarcophagus before we left. 

We had attempted to leave quietly, but it seems that was not possible for most of the group, a fact I will make note of for the future. Swanhilda is sure we were seen upon exiting, so we have agreed that we were paying our respects to the Doctor as a group when we had reason to inspect the ossuary. Inside we found and fought centipedes. This is accurate and truthful, an advantageous thing.

The rest of the day was spent examining and identifying the items back in Van Richten’s library. If this is what the Doctor left behind, I am concerned with what he took that would make these less valuable in comparison.

Ravenloft – Raven’s Crown Campaign

So a new tabletop RPG campaign just kicked off for me, taking the Carrion Crown Adventure Path and our GM has reskinned it to Ravenloft. I am SO excited!

My character is Coppelia Francine Drosselmeyer, a seemingly-human Witch from Paridan, a near-Victorian area of Ravenloft. What the other PCs don’t know is that she is secretly an android with amnesia – just trying to make her way in the world without being caught out as “other” in a xenophobic world setting, aided by her rat familiar Swanhilda.

I have decided that because her mentor, Doctor Van Richten, left us a journal with important clues, she too will document the events of the game in her very own journal… and so I want to share that here!

This game meets every other week. While I may not be the session chronicler every session, I will try to write something each time just for my own practice, and post to this blog.

This game has me very excited – in the past I’ve been part of two Ravenloft games, both of which fell apart after a single session, and I barely remember anything of them. The idea of having a full campaign to write about has me looking forward to it!

The Peacock – Dark Sun Character

Concept: Acrobatic troupe of “birds” – a group of entertainment slaves known as The Menagerie.

Character: Pax (given name) AKA Peacock (stage name) AKA Precious Pet (to her owner)

Race: Elf

Class: Swashbuckler (Pathfinder)

Home City-State: Tyr

 “And now… the Peacock takes flight!” After a moment the figure slid down the silks suddenly, blue and green glittering from the revealing bodysuit as she descended rapidly towards the ground, yet halfway to the earth suddenly arresting the near free-fall. The dance had begun, a blur of color and coordination in the air, flexibility and finesse on display for the gathered crowd. Impossibly long and lean, white-blonde hair braided close to the head with strategic wisps allowed to fly free, ribbons woven through to match her costume.

The crowd held their breath, waiting for the fall, the slip, the moment of mistake that never came. Instead grace held over gravity as the Peacock tangled up in the tense silks, released her form to tumble and recover time and time again. By the end she gracefully touched her toes to the earth and they erupted with cheers and elation. A sweeping bow, and then the lights dimmed and she felt the hands on her arms ushering her offstage before the moment was over.

Peregrine and Phoenix stood on either side of her, both humans, waiting on their owner. Eventually the extravagantly dressed human man came strolling in, glass of wine in hand and from his stride clearly not his first. “My flock! The Menagerie flies again, and so close to perfect I want to weep. Alas,” his eyes focused on Peacock, “not everything can be right, can it – my Precious Pet?” Both Phoenix and Peregrine unconsciously leaned away from the elven girl in the center, though she towered over them by nearly two feet. “No, when I hear the call for my Peacock, I expect my Precious Pet to present herself in an instant, not make me wait!” 

She waited for the blow, but it never came, replaced with a wicked grin on the man’s face. “But I’m sure you’ll show me how much you care tonight, little Peacock, won’t you Pet?” With that Peregrine and Phoenix took their queue to flee, relieved that the expectation had not fallen on them.

Night after night The Menagerie showed off their acrobatic efforts, gaining fame and fortune for their owner – Garuda Hamassian. To say Garuda was a shallow man would only be to scratch the surface. He loved his wine, women, and wealth – not in that order – and The Menagerie seemed to provide that in spades, even if the women were less than willing. His favorite of his flock was The Peacock, an elven girl called Precious Pet by Garuda alone – a girl who had no memories of the time before training for the show. When she would anger him the punishments were violent, sexual, or both, and he was quick to anger with his Precious Pet.

As their name became their fame, the other birds became restless, looking to fly away from Garuda. Slowly a conspiracy would form, in the whispers late at night through the dark. Buying their way to freedom? But with Garuda taking the profits that seemed large but according to him never kept up with the costs there was never any left for the birds, he would lie gracefully. Fight? With what weapons and armor? They were far too visible to escape into anonymity, at least some of them were. Sparrow and Wren could likely do it with their brown hair and average builds, maybe even Stork and Nightingale with their opposite but common coloring though their height extremes might play a part, but Phoenix’s mane of flame-colored hair was rare and visible from afar, Peregrine was noticeably stronger than your average woman, and Peacock was a pale figure of an elf, not a common commodity. 

The opportunity came when it was least expected. Hope had been lost long ago, and still the birds flew more nights than they did not on his command. Peacock was resigned to her fate, no longer taking part in the occasional whisper-plots that could never be, and even those became wistful instead of imperative. 

It had been months ago that Wren had been able to acquire the potions of sleep, she would not say where or how but a faint blush and look of shame would creep over her face when asked about that night. Nightingale speculated that she intended to down them all herself, in order to bring the end or at least prolonged bliss and ignorance for a long time. They weren’t sure it would work that way, but they all kept a closer eye on Wren after that.

The performances were to be a week’s partnership with another group, former gladiators that would stage battle-inspired dances on the ground with The Menagerie performing their flights above the chaos. For this light armor was issued to the birds, to keep the theme flowing above and below, but collected away each night. Until the night it was not.

Garuda had drunk more than usual, his speech slurred and his actions slow, as he crowed about the successful performance, no punishments to be seen for the night. The birds waited for the traditional demand that they undress from the armor, but instead his eyes drooped, his glass plunked onto the table, and his breathing deepened, sleep stealing away their owner. It was Stork that saw the opportunity – if he were to remain out, and the other troupe could be distracted, and they could slip away into the night. 

Wren volunteered her potions and went to serve an evening wine “Compliments of Garuda” to the other performers laced with the draught. Sparrow’s nimble fingers made quick work of Garuda’s locks, and the company’s coffers were divided up amongst the flock. It was agreed that, heart-breaking as it was, finding them as a group would be all too easy and they would need to split up after they were out. It was possible they would never see each other again, though the glances between Wren and Nightingale seemed to hint that not everyone would fully abide.

The other performers had unconsciously supplied a supply of fanciful, but functional, weapons that Wren returned with once they were out cold. Peacock selected a star-shaped blade that appealed to her, more points meant more damage, right? Flashier than functional, they were better than nothing for those about to adventure out into a cold world.

Armed. Armored. Pouches heavy with coin. This was it – they were on the verge of freedom. The hour grew late, until they couldn’t stand to wait any longer and fight back tearful goodbyes. One by one, separated by fifteen minute windows, they slipped out into the night. Wren and Nightingale whispered to each other, and the others tried to pretend they couldn’t hear the plan on where to meet up, but no one could miss the tender kiss before Nightingale took flight. Peacock looked on wistfully, wondering if she would ever find a love like theirs.

Finally Peacock, always the finale, was left alone. Garuda’s form was slumped over and his head rested on the table. As the minutes crawled by and the dawn grew closer, she noticed he hardly seemed to be breathing. It would be so easy to close her hands around his throat and stop that breath entirely. Wren had left one potion behind, pouring it into his mouth would ensure he didn’t stir before the deed was done…

She tipped his head back and quickly tipped the flask into his slack mouth. The already gradual breathing slowed further still, his chest no longer moving perceptibly. Peacock began to search his person, taking extra coin and keys from his pockets, gems and jewels from around his neck and fingers. Still he didn’t stir, even when she found the secret pocket inside his coat – a rolled piece of paper, of all things, hidden within. She was baffled, she had never seen the man read, and paper was a rare treasure that seemed wasted on him, but she tucked it away and finished her search. Though she could barely feel his pulse in his throat, she wrapped her long fingers around the neck of her owner, a strange feeling of triumph bubbling up within her. He couldn’t stir, and after what seemed an eternity to the elf she decided any damage she could do was done – there was no evidence of breath or blood flow left through his form – he seemed as dead as he could be and no longer able to pursue or punish them – her own awe at her rash act was immeasurable. She wondered if she had used her new weapon if the rush would be greater still.

The time had long since come and gone for her to leave, and with one last look over her shoulder she quietly slunk out of the building, locking doors behind her to make it that much harder to find the body. Locking the doors on the life she wanted to leave behind. 

It would be months before she found someone skilled enough to read the document for her, but still more weeks of talking and getting to know this wise figure, before she felt safe to ask to trade coin for their skills. With reluctance she handed over the note to find it was the last will and testament of Garuda Hamassian.

I, Garuda Hamassian, of sound mind and body, do issue this edict upon my demise. The slaves known as Sparrow (Estella), Wren (Warda), Stork (Yasti), Nightingale (Garima), Peregrine (Palak), Phoenix (Farzeen), and of course my precious pet Peacock (Pax) shall be granted their freedom. They were mine, and I will not stand for them to belong to another, so they may now fly free. My coin and possessions are to be divided evenly amongst these ladies, as I have no family outside of them. Wind at your wings, my women of grace. The Menagerie is no more.

It was crudely signed by Garuda, and Peacock, Pax, felt a strange set of tears welling up in her eyes. By her own savage act she had freed them all, though only she knew it. Yet had she not done so to the man that seemed, deep down, to care about them – they would still be pursued to the ends of the world. Of this she was sure. The paradox twisted her soul.

She made a promise to find the others in time, and make sure they knew of their true freedom.

World of Darkness – Werewolf Game – First Draft Backstory

As a friend spins up a play-by-post Werewolf/Changing Breed game set in Hawaii, it was time to start stretching out my WoD memories and try applying it to the modern era. I think it’s been at least a decade since I made any World of Darkness character, much less a Garou.

One of my goals was to have the character be relatively new to Oahu, so the challenge was to plan where she came from and why she had uprooted herself with such completeness, so that she would be starting over.

Born: Vikki Villalobos
Garou Name: Shards of Spirit
Tribe: Children of Gaia
Auspice: Theurge
Breed: Homid (Parents both CoG Kinfolk)
Originally from: Napa Valley, California
Current Age: 22

For generations the Wolf’s Head Vineyards in Calistoga, California has been a refuge, a safe space for those in the Garou community that need a place to recover or a shelter for their first steps on the path to being part of the greater community. Many a young metis had been fostered there, free of the prying eyes their local pack would scrutinize them with. It straddled the precarious border between urban development and the natural wilds, schooling Homid children in the ways of the wolf and letting the Lupus born learn the life of man. The local packs defended the kinfolk owners through hard times and prospered in return when things were well. The Villalobos family rarely produced a Garou in their line, but they remained treasured community members for the care they showed those who needed a hand up in hard times, and the support they were always ready to provide to their family that did become true Garou. Delmar and his wife Marissa were no exception to this tradition, always ready to foster, nurture, donate, and dedicate themselves to the good of their Garou family.

It was a surprise to everyone when Marissa and Delmar’s only daughter, Viktoria (Vikki, to her friends) underwent the First Change at age sixteen. In a fortunate turn it was the actions of another Kinfolk that brought her rage boiling over the first time. The fire was already close to the surface, a feeling of being bothered as she was required to spend the day tending to the littlest cubs – those children thought most likely to become Garou in a few years – instead of with the glassblowing art and solitude that she craved that day. When she returned to the little workshop she had been granted it was to discover one of the older children, a mischievous prankster known for trying to upset her, holding her most involved piece to date. Without thinking about it she barked at him to leave it alone – and his hands pulled away from the piece without a thought to it’s balance. Gravity had its way with the glass tree and the sculpture became a shattered mess on the floor. The adults that were called to aid found her destroying the very valuable works she had stored there in a tantrum that would be talked about for months to come. 

Her Rite of Passage hunt, turning her and a few other younglings loose in the woods blindfolded with no tools at their disposal to make their way back to the caern, did not cause her much distress. The soil of Napa was rife with obsidian remnants of previous generations, so she was able to make the weapons that would ensure her group’s success. Even outside her workshop the glass edge was the source of her strength, and she would come to be known to her fellow Children of Gaia as Shards of Spirit.

A theurge, she began to see and speak with the spirits around her – and her affinity for glassblowing as an art form showed her a natural draw to spirits of air and fire. She was able to find success in the human world as an artist over the next three years, and still have the freedom to aid the family and tribe she was loyal to. Everything seemed to have settled, even after her parents passed at relatively young ages in 2016 – Marissa to cancer and Delmar to a heart attack in the month after, though there were whispers that it was simply his heart was still broken from the loss of his wife. Still, Vikki was able to find help in the community to keep Wolf’s Head running as both a Garou sanctuary and a busy winery.

When the entire vineyard was lost to the October 2017 Wine Country fires, everyone assumed the insurance money would be collected, the rebuild would begin, and the cycle would continue – Wolf’s Head was eternal in their eyes – ever with the Villalobos family in charge. Yet something had changed that week for Vikki – seeing the fire spirits she trusted so much rush with rage over her safest places, she could no longer view the valley as home. The need to find a new measure of safety, in a place that would support her art, led her to seek out someplace a world away from Napa’s cooler weather and forested depths, but still sourcing the volcanic sand that made her art glass readily available. 

A friend mentioned a North Shore gallery in Hawaii that was looking to fill an opening, and she began shipping pieces to them. It was the logical step away from Napa for her. With her growing name there over the next year, she began to look into a chance to relocate, using the funds from the fire to both carry her over the ocean but also leave enough to help the family and tribe in Napa in comfort while they made their plans for a new Wolf’s Head, this time minus the Villalobos legacy. By the beginning of 2019 Vikki was forming new roots in a land far from home, while still supporting from afar the efforts of her kin on rebuilding the burnt legacy. 

Now in Hawaii for a year, she’s starting to see the islands as home, and has yet to return to Calistoga in person. Wolf’s Head is well on it’s way to a new crop even while she plants a very different seed in Oahu’s volcanic soil.

Wayback Machine: Girls Don’t Play This Game

The year is 2002 or 2003. My roommates work at the Block in Orange – an outdoor mall, and I’m the one with a car. We live in walking distance, but sometimes I go hang out there and kill time before I give them rides, or after I drop them off.

I’ve walked by Games Workshop a thousand times. I’ve finally been given a mini to paint for the first time when we were hanging out with a friend, and I had fun even if I was terrible at it. So this random afternoon, I turn to the pretty much empty store and walk in – I’ve heard they have demo miniatures of their games, and I’ve seen some pretty paint jobs in the windows on the figures. So it is time to take my geek to that next level – Wargaming.

“Hi there.” There are two employees in their Games Workshop polo shirts, one of which is intensely focused on the table in front of him where an army is deployed. The one standing up is the one that greets me, so I smile back and start to wander through the store. There’s one non-employee, clearly engaged in mortal combat on the table.

Neither of the Games Workshop guys move, as I walk up to a display case with a beautiful Warhammer Fantasy army, elves if I recall correctly. On the shelf below it is a 40k Ork army, with the vehicles painted red (I would learn later that makes them go faster – just ask the Orks). Finally I walk up to them directly, kind of unsure how to approach the situation, and afraid to interrupt their conversation as well as the battle in progress. “Hi, I heard you teach Warhammer?” Oh – I feel stupid for saying that, and they exchange and equally awkward look with each other.

“Um… Girls don’t play this game,” says the employee not focused on the army. I blink. I am a girl. I want to play this game. I am asking the employee, who’s job it is to sell these miniatures, to help me spend money in his store. And his response is that I don’t? The non-employee looks like he’s about to laugh, but instead goes back to focusing on the game. The one I apparently don’t play.

“What?” is my eloquent response. I can feel my cheeks getting a bit pink.

“Yeah, this isn’t a game for you,” chimes in the employee in battle.

“I see. Okay.” I don’t know how to dispute this. They don’t want me here, so I no longer want to be here. Metaphorical tail between my legs, instead of giving them the tongue lashing they have so earned I go with my typical response – needless to say this is not the first time I have been told girls don’t game – and retreat. I suspect there was a sigh of relief when I did. I also sighed with relief once I was outside and free of the place.

I would never step foot in that store again, even when my roommates or friends would go to pick something up. Somehow there was always an excuse for me to wait outside. But I could always hear the echoes of “Girls don’t play this game,” as I got near, and I could never bring myself to challenge that.

Years later I would have friends get involved with Warmachine (http://privateerpress.com/warmachine/welcome-to-warmachine) and as a gift purchase me a badass army – The Protectorate of Menoth! But the starter set came with a dude for a Warcaster, so they also got me a centerpiece of Feora, Priestess of the Flame. And suddenly I discovered that… girls do play this game. And so I never looked back – Warhammer Fantasy and 40K were left in the dust and Privateer Press was glad to have me.

Ending the silence

I don’t know what to write. I’ve left this idle so long – I’ve tried to start again and again and I just… I fumble.

I should make excuses.

I should provide the reasons.

I should be witty.

I should engage like I did before.

I should be creative!

But alas, I stare at the blinking cursor, or I write a draft I will never publish. And then I close it up again and walk away. Time and time again.

I have a new character backstory for you! I have the start of a possible short story to tell. Maybe these items will get my posting again. Maybe I will fade back in silence.

Idle times make for itchy fingers, maybe this pandemic was what I needed – how morbid is that?

Hi there. I missed you. Maybe we can have this again? Give me another chance?

Living it Live

Such a tiny victory, and yet the one I want to write about!

See, I kept having events and obligations on Thursdays, and then Fridays weren’t as free as they used to be – my usual Critical Role days. I fell over three weeks behind!

On a TV show, catching up is easy, curl up on the couch for 45 minutes to an hour for each episode… but Critical Role episodes are generally 3-5 hours each, and tend to take a lot of attention to follow due to the lack of visual clues to what has happened. And CR has to be done at my computer, which is time I also need for other projects and pursuits (Anthem and Team Fight Tactics in LoL being the major distractions lately).

So even though the Critical Role Crew took a week off, last night I was still scrambling to finish that last episode before 7 PM, and I was almost there… when the internet started dropping over and over. ARGH!

I missed the intro, but I made it to the live episode, however Spectrum continued to refuse to cooperate (my internet provider) and while I did make it through the break, that’s when I gave up. Still, the ability to watch (most) of the first half live felt SO GOOD! A chance to sit up with my community, especially on the anniversary of a PC death, and share our thoughts and feels… just what I needed last night.

Clue By Four – misdirected

More stories from the Iron Dragon, a mercenary company in the Iron Kingdoms/Warmachine/Hordes setting…

Our current adventuring party have left the territory of the fanatic Protectorate of Menoth and taken a job from the Cygnaran Military. Goal is to investigate, incognito, four remote-ish locations in Cygnar for signs of life, signs of living (not undead) military activity, and signs of misappropriation of government funds. My character is my intimidatingly tall Khadoran (Russia-equivalent) gun-bunny, who is the reluctant leader in this as the only Lieutenant present, Ivonna Siriovna.

The second of these locations are a series of sea caves across the bay from the Ordic city of Five Fingers, known to be a wretched hive of scum and villainy – also the original home of my other character, Flynn Keller. Due to heroics undertaken while Ivonna was in the Protectorate, there is a sea wall in Five Fingers etched with the face of several company members, including Flynn. Luckily that was avoided during our team’s brief stay, because Ivonna does not think well of Flynn, who she refers to as “troublesome girl-boy” based on some interesting situation he got himself into. Ivonna would have been very confused, and probably mildly upset by that tribute.

So they make to to the sea caves in question, the team delving in to each cave they encounter, day after day, knowing this will take the better part of a month, at a best scenario. Some caves are empty, some have interesting finds. Some days, there’s no cave at all. Six days in we encounter a pair of nasty giant worm-creatures that spit burning steam, and after slaying them we explore the abandoned cave behind them, where a dead body has obviously lived to his end of days in scarcity. His dried out body lays in the room, and Ivonna is a very practical person so while the rest of the party examines the room, she uses the clue of the quill in his hand to find a letter on his person.

Of course, it is the last confession of Keegan Vasco, traitor to the crown of Ord, former marine, and betrayer of his best friend, Ian Gossyn. Of course I am, in my thick fake Russian accent, reading this outloud and trying not to choke. Because none of the characters in this room know what I, as a player, does – Ian Gossyn was the dead father my other character, Flynn Keller, sought to redeem the name of. A man murdered for being a traitor to the crown, who blamed his best friend Keegan of being the true traitor. The letter convicts both of them as less than upstanding and giving the undead country an edge over their own country, but also indicates a desire for redemption in the eyes of their god, Morrow – for both men.

And nobody in character in the room has any idea of this connection. So out of character I am laughing, gasping, and overwhelmed by the story hook we were just thrown. In character, we’re all making plans to give his personal effects to the church and just calling it a day. Oops!

Fifteen Years of Fun

Back in summer of 2004 a few friends and I started a tabletop RPG campaign, since Privateer Press had released a tabletop RPG setting for their Warmachine minis game. It was based on the D&D 3.5 rules Open Gaming License, so it was pretty easy to pick up for us with a little 3.0 and 3.5 experience.

Within the first couple of session the group grew a little, and we had a gang of misfit adventurer types in a world of Steam Power Fantasy – a little bit of traditional magic and old-world charm, a bit of steampunk Victorian styling, and a LOT of giant robots making the world a distinctly different thing from your classic D&D game.

One of those fine characters, Diego, came to us with a touch of madness and more than a touch of drive to someday venture northwards in the tradition of his family, to fulfill a mighty duty that the Lenska family was charged with. His magnificent sword was his birthright and his burden as it would someday drive him to the frozen wastes to unlock a secret.

Over these years our small ragtag adventuring party became a formal mercenary company, known as The Iron Dragon. The system was changed over to Pathfinder rules, with a one year interlude in the new Iron Kingdoms rule (but reverted to Pathfinder). Each of us developed three characters each to allow us to explore different corners of the world (but mostly to keep gaming even when a main storyline character was sans player). Three simultaneous groups at any given time, which means time in our world passed much faster than time in the game world, but 15 years in the real world still adds up to quite a bit in the game setting, and eventually the inevitable came to pass – Diego Lenska began his noble march to the dwarven lands where he sought to use his mystical sword as a key to activate one of the ancient and great Colossus war machines of untold power, to bring to life the destiny and secrets he had guarded. My little dwarf from the north marched with him, as the real world years ticked on and we dropped in on this group whenever possible, in a mighty journey delayed by the real world’s interference time and time again.

Finally Diego’s deal with a devil manifested in a complicated combat – our Curator ally, Gerlath, trying to summon in the fuel we needed to power our Colossus, my dwarf’s sweetheart guarding the fuel in question, and the powers of the demonic forces led by ‘He who’s hand held The Dagger’ – a powerful infernal force to be reckoned with – tearing us apart in any number of ways. The scope and scale of this combat itself even took months to manifest, but Sunday night we sat as a group and, despite the timeline traveling deep into the early morning hours, we were determined to see it to the end.

Around 3 am in our real time, we finally took out the last of the demonic forces, aside from the one last vicious (and mythic) lackey and of course ‘ He who’s hand held The Dagger’ himself. That’s when the villain determined that if he could not take the power, nobody would, and the forces turned to tear the cavern down around us to wipe us out for good. But the mantra “Wait… and hope” echoed from my diminutive dwarf as our ally Gerlath had instructed before slipping between the sands of time. So we held out, coming mere degrees from utterly losing hope in the face of a Prismatic Sphere around our lead enemy, and yet…

Yet despite so little chance of victory, the certainty of a TPK (Total Party Kill), and having one of our clerics fall into the grip of death not just once but in two successive rounds – thank goodness in a world where Resurrection is not an option there is Breath of Life – we waited… we held onto hope… and thanks to the efforts of Gerlath and Bullet Bill (the sweetheart mentioned before) we squeaked through in the end. Our prime enemy did escape through those cursed portals my dwarf just couldn’t managed to close, but we lived and won the day.

The big day. The one that really, truly, mattered.

This is what it’s all been building towards, for fifteen real years of friendship, through life and so many landmarks in our own timelines as well as that of our characters. I love this group of friends, and it’s been an honor to spend just about every other Sunday in their company, where half (or more) of every session is off-topic bullshitting and bantering, to see marriages – including my own – manifest, children come into the picture, and to know that it all ended in a win.

Long may The Iron Dragon fly. More than a mercenary company, in game and in reality it’s come to mean family.