Monthly Archives: October 2009

At the top, the end

For the short period of time that I had known the dwarf we’d become accustomed to his loathsome loud and angry nature. He was for lack of refined words, quite obnoxious. There’s no secret to a Drows, Dwarfs and Elfs live long lives. By any estimate the cleric that sat down on the rock, had lived for several hundred years and lived them hard. He wore the scars of many battles like armor, insulating him from anyone foolish enough to complain about his commanding nature and dismissive attitude. No one could deny how he cut through hordes of enemies like they were butter, smashing himself up the slope leaving the drain and finally with a two handed swing left a fanatic worshipper flailing and screaming as he fell of the ledge. We stood at the very zenith of the Islands high ground overlooking the ruin and gorge down to the stream below dividing one part of the interior from the other, with the roar of the waterfall drowning out the last sobbing sigh as I pulled my sword out of another worshippers chest.

 

The rush out of the drain, to purify the hollow of a large three to the outlook point of the harbor to the top had been hard on the dwarf.

 

His skin was pale, clammy and sweaty. He grit his blackening teeth, taking large gulps of air as he trekked up the slope. Amidst the screams of death, sprays of blood and vanquishing of foes I noticed that his eyes got more glazed and empty. It was as if he was fighting the enemies as much as he was trying to hold onto the inevitable.

 

Our ranger, only focused as battle drew close sat at the very edge of the highpoint sniffing something he’d found in the sacrificial bowl, apparently some kind of mushroom of other similar item and the Halfling dug through his backpack looking for a spell component he’d muttered he’d lost.

 

The ranger made a point out of commenting about the thick cloud floating across the harbor further off and elicited a retort from the Halfling on how it looked almost like the root he needed for his lightning bolt.

 

None of them noticed the tired dwarf staring at his trembling hands. Or that he looked at me noticing his trembling hand clenching, as he tried to limber his fingers to stop trembling. It was at that moment the dwarf realized that no matter how hard he hit something – how many times he mended someone’s wound, bolstered their courage or bellowed for people to stand in the face of almost certain death that the end had caught up with his life and there was very little else he could do about it.

 

For the first time that I could remember from the time we met in the village to the evil grin when he pushed the Halfling over the edge the dwarf smiled faintly and almost relieved.

 

‘I guess that’s that’ he said and let out a long foul breath, slouched forward, erect in his armor and died.

 

The ranger didn’t notice. He was lost in his opus and ode to the clouds and dancing snow flakes studying the mushroom he was about to eat with the same intense scrutiny as someone peering through the amber liquid of a potion or wine for minute flaws.

 

The Halfling did, the realization made him drop his pack that spilled out the disorganized content of clothes, books and ingredients like a colorful bloom on the ground.

 

Mid day the sun fought the cold air, aided only by the crystal power holding the dragons’ magic at bay. The flakes melted slowly as the touched the ground but not the dwarfs’ cold skin. Like Misery’s snow capped mountain peak the clung to his stiff body like hugging fairies trying to wake him up. For a moment, just this brief glimmer of hopeful moment I thought he’d open his eyes, with fire that would melt the snow on his armor and nestling itself in his beard and stare at me with intensity ‘I’m just messing with you’ he’d muse and stand up and stomp of to the tasks ahead that could bring him back to the buttery lit corner of the tavern and the misappropriation of the life that finally robbed him of its light.

 

But he didn’t. Instead the hollow of the wind rustling the tree shading his lifeless body and howling as it crawled up the slope serenaded his last unsung deed and carried his last breath away as if it also lifted his soul on Valkyrian wings to his last resting place by the side of other fallen brothers.

 

‘Oh my’ said the Halfling faintly covering his face with his hands, peering through the spread fingers with horror.

 

‘Oh my indeed’ said the ranger without knowing and put the mushroom in his mouth with delight and chewed it up with the enthusiasm of someone looking forward to the hallucinatory effects.

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Inside the echoing chamber, a flower

Memories are funny things. The thing we remember most might be as banal as someone’s weird ugly hat, a colorful west or the sizzle of acid weapons hitting wet fish people skin. Or the flower that grew next to the altar pumping cold rays over the top of the landing overlooking the rushing water below.

I joined a group of gnarly adventurers set on relinquishing the snowfall from the island so they could move onto bigger and better things. One of them, a fairly burly well fed dwarf cleric with a messy beard and ale smelling breath lead the way as I took the rear out of habit. Between us was this gangly human ranger with deep seated eyes and an odd smile that looked like he had been eating mushrooms or something. Which is fully possible because the strings of word he put together was grammatically all over the place and it was near impossible for him to finish any kind of point. Close to the dwarf was a happy looking Halfling mage fighting the high top cap from falling off, twirling and dropping his wand that went off a couple of times burning big holes in what could only be described as large ferns.

Almost right out the gate there was a massive drop to the left leading down to the sound and sea and we could see the boat that was frozen by the dock. There was this person standing at the point by the cliff waiving and the dwarf went up to him and struck a conversation. The ranger checked out a butterfly, I kept myself close enough to the wizard although he was fumbling with his wand again dropping it over the edge of the cliff with a mumbling ‘oh dear’.

‘Well’ said the dwarf giving the wizard a stern look. ‘We need to get down there’ he pointed ‘and the human said the best thing to do is to jump’.

‘Jump?’ I said. ‘Looks a little high doesn’t it?’ The idea of jumping of high cliffs only sounded good if it was about 5 feet high and this was surely a lot more. I looked over and caught a glimpse of a large drain pouring water down the Cliffside and another grate or drain further down by the water with a fish person on top of it.

‘I don’t know’ I said taking a safe step away from the edge. The ranger had of course wandered off a little and looked confused as if he didn’t know how he had gotten there and who we were. He was about to ask just that when the dwarf pushed the wizard over the edge and the Halfling let out  a shriek that echoed across the sound as he fell into the water below with a splash.

‘Looks to me that we’re going to have to save him’ the dwarf said and jumped after.

Shortly thereafter the ranger, now realizing that people were going, took a solid step over the cliff just to notice that we weren’t going down a slope or something – it was freefall and he was going down with a trailing ‘wwwwwwhhhhhhhhhhaaaaaaaaaat’ *splash*

Three seconds isn’t that long of a time. It probably seems so if you have a minotaur barreling down towards you and you have 2 seconds to get out of the way, but it’s uncanny how long it seems when you’re deciding if it’s insane to jump over a cliff or if the dwarf would clobber me if I took the long way down.

There are a couple of really exotic Drow bad words that I learned from friends and family back home. My dad, bless his soul often had a favorite one which was incidentally for me alone. While I don’t want to teach you it now, it was something I muttered to myself with the dwarf in mind when I jumped as well.

The surface came at me very quickly. I noticed the dwarf heaving himself up the drain, hacking the fish person into two pieces and then turning to do the same with a few more trying to help their friend out. The ranger was swimming around the platform, back peddling and spitting water like a fountain out through his mouth and the Halfling dog paddled to get his wand floating away from the water coming down high above.

‘So nice of you to join us’ said the dwarf with an evil rotten teeth smile. While the idea of punching a few of them out came across my mind, I said something low and not very nice and kicked the water out of my leg as best I could.

And so we climbed down the drain.

The dwarf excelled in two things. There was an unearthly stink about him that was only made worse by water – much like a dog running around in a rain and then coming inside slobbering all over you. He was also quite good at expiring anyone dumb enough attacking him.

While the ranger might have be experimenting with psychedelic mushrooms, he came into his ace as a crack shot when need be. One moment he was commenting, or something, about the climb down and the algae stained tunnel walls and the next he centered three quick shots in the head of a fish person with almost aerie calm and precision.

The wizard was a mixed experience. He accurately deep froze one fish person coming out of a broken storm drain but he also managed to zing the dwarfs behind as he first thought his wand had run out of power, only to shake it until one more shot out. The dwarf roared but the wizard didn’t seem to know what had transpired and continued to shake it before putting it away with a shrug.

We went down a ladder as we had rung something twice so the ice cracked and fell. I remember taking a cold swim under the water just to emerge up another drain via a rusty rickety ladder. We regrouped and moved up one portion – killing three more fish people and then looting a chest nearby that fetched me a pair of snazzy looking boots that also seemed to help against the cold.

That’s when the spider jumped on the Halfling and shot a web that glued the angry dwarf to the tunnel wall and slapped the ranger unconscious with a sweep with one of its front legs.

I didn’t know ice spiders had eyes. It’s seems downright crazy but then again most people, beings and creatures have eyes. Unless they find some other way of ‘seeing’. But as I hacked one icy leg from its body I also stabbed down hitting what had to be its eyes, because it reared backwards chattering, ramming the opposite tunnel wall that made the whole place rumble and as the dwarf managed to free himself, I and stinky assailed the spider before it could turn and get up and hacked away into its icy body until it stopped moving.

 Having sensed the trap that the dwarf was about to walk into, I cautioned him and found the device boxes and disabled them and with a timed gangly and fairly aerobic jump the ranger flew over the sprays of cold rays and managed to reverse them to freeze the monster on the other side instead.

That’s where I found the flower.

The wizard told me its name, which in human tongue probably make sense, but to me the blood red flower with yellow middle and it’s glistening cold stem fascinated me since it grew in such a inhospitable place and I took great care not to destroy it as I placed it in a small hard container.

 

 

Running some errands

There are a few things you remember in your life. The rest are the things you usually mix up  – such as names, places and events – but there are those as I mention that are as crisp and clear as if they happened yesterday. Maybe you can’t remember the exact date or how old you were, but the event’s that lead there leaves you with a familiarity that never gets mudded by other experiences.

 

Such was the facts about the day I walked out of the grotto and stepped into the warm and sunny village of Korthos – seated in a cauldron of calcite smooth cliffs – as if it was built inside an old volcano where thousands of years had eroded it’s sharp rock sides into a silky surface. There was a small grave yard to the north by the cliff overlooking the ocean, the east opened up to a dirt plaza surrounded by the odd dozen houses with a tavern near by and a dock to the south slipped into a small sound and the open sea. To the west further down close to the dock was a gate jammed into the rock, what I guessed lead to the interior of the island.

 

There were two things that struck me as odd – not that the ratio of outlanders compared to villagers heavily favored the armored sort, but that it was a light snowfall coming down on what looked like a sunny tropical island. The other thing was the bustle of people in the small grave yard; not just adventurers jumping up and down like flea bitten monkeys, but what looked like trainers and village people engaged in serious discussions as if the snowfall and grave yard communal was perfectly synonymous.

 

That’s when another faith reminded me of some harsh realities; In 5 years I’d managed to scrape together a head start in Stormreach – 50 platinum and 760 gold (and odd coins). All hidden in the cabin I rented and I was about to add another 100 gold when the dragon sank it and the years fo cheating and non-menal work. While I greaved the loss of my snazzy clothes, bow and even my dad’s old long sword, the money situation pained me the most. And the loss of my two very special dice.

 

Now I had 2 gold and 15 copper to my name with only a few options. I either ‘invested’ the money in a game of dice – having to rely on someone else’s dice or even chance alone. I could sell the chain shirt and the new mace and ‘invest’ – risking to have nothing to defend myself with if someone decided that ‘clobbering’ me was a better alternative to lose an honest (for once) game. Or I could find work; not the ‘wash dishes and pour drinks’ kind either. I’ve never had an honest job in my life and I wasn’t about to start now. While I stood there like a fool my stomach decided more or less for me as it growled impatiently.

 

I could take my 2 gold and eat a final meal but over the years I’ve growned accustomed to other food then pig gruel.

 

I’m not going to bore you with the details about what I did in the small village, but it boils down to about four different basic jobs;

 

There was this lady walking around in the cemetery pleading for someone to go into her ancestral crypt and take care of whatever was going on there. I have never been in a crypt and there’s a perfectly healthy reason why. In a choice between going into a crypt or a dragons lair, I’d rather flame out scream like a drow torch until my minute later demise. The idea of dying and coming back like some other zombie just to be killed by a similar individual like myself strikes me as cruel and ironic at the same time.

 

But she promised an award so I went with it, just to face spiders large as small dogs, zombies, skeletons and more of those fish people and I even disabled a trap in the process.

 

In return she gave me a necklace that enhanced my protection against wizardry which I donned proudly (but it looked a little girlish so I hid it under my shirt) and then took off to the square where I found someone sitting on a couple of stairs and asked me to catch him a dragon scroll.

 

To me that sounded down right easy and quick and only the sight of more spiders and some half rotten reanimated rats (bigger then the spiders even) whipped the smirk of my face.

 

To top it off I ended up jumping 10 feet (well maybe 5) when I picked up this silver key and a hidden door slid up silently and a fish person tried to impale me on a vicious looking trident. I’m not proud that I ended up stabbing the fish guy in the head after trying to run up couple of large rickety crates just to stumble off and provide the mortal blow as I fell.

 

My third mission consisted of me guarding this power crystal who apparently kept the village and I guess the island from turning into a Popsicle. While I thought it was just a matter of guarding it until someone else took over, it turned out as I was ready to crinkle up on an uncomfortable crate that these fanatics started pouring in with the express desire to destroy the crystal. Surviving the encounter and using up every last cure potion in the process I was awarded by some braces that made it harder for anyone to hit me. While no restitution for having someone fling acid magic arrows at me, it felt colossally wonderful to be out, having a growing number of items and coins on me.

 

Lastly I talked to the tavern owner, shouting over the noise as he told me about a collaborator I had to take care of. I accepted the mission but ended up hiring a barbarian first as I didn’t feel all that ‘sturdy’. Turned out to be a good idea too.

 

It was at this point that I felt that I wanted to do something else; for lack of a better word, I felt like my path in life had met a spark for something else. As I felt like I was bursting with the drive to learn new things I ended up walking over to the trainer for Favored Soul overlooking the strangely calm bay and its glittering opal water.

 

I’m not going to tell you what the conversation was about but days later I walked away with a new understanding, a new confidence and the ability to heal myself through the divine force that government who and what I was.

 

How do you best explain this journey – diminishing the task I took on as strictly menial or through the task I discovered my journey? While I still do not know what spurred me to such a change of heart, it was strangely enough the one thing that would end up bringing me face to face with Ugla in what could have been a completely different situation and future fait had I continued on the same path.

Thinking out loud

Let me pause briefly before I continue the story about me and Ugla;

There is no computer role playing game that will ever capture the immersion and feeling of playing a character like pen and paper unless you also play that character as a group. But there’s something about ‘real time’ that render the immersion into your character play almost useless. It’s not like you’ll take your time orating ‘out of here fiend because I shall smite you’ while running around hitting left mouse button as quickly as possible, keeping an eye on hit points and such in the case you need to heal or maybe heal others.

Real time, as strange as it sounds – will generally doom any attempt to ‘get’ into it. Then there’s the fact that as a DM will give you the understanding that the glamour around you in a tavern is actually rowdy fantasy version of people eating, drinking, singing and playing in the way the buttery light from a candle or crown of candles smoothes out shadows with the deep richness of sound, smell and tastes; funky tobaccos, incents, mead, ale and pig roast. Now try to get that same sense out of 3-4 fairly in-animate and unresponsive NPCs, a guy standing on the bar selling loot to the barkeep and yet another one jumping up and down for the fun of it.

Don’t get me wrong – while the imagery is getting better and better – sound melds together with an increase in graphic perfection – what the mind can conjure in pen and paper will always triumph the stilted tapestry of any game – offline or online.

But that’s not why I’m writing this – I truly enjoy this game but in a different way and what I cannot get out of playing the game – that one extra dimension – I’ll add to this blog. To use a little literary license to smooth out the rough patches from our online experience; the conversations we really never had (other than yelling at our younger son as he was picking another pointless argument and fight with our daughter while we were running around jumping, skipping and flailing our weapons) or that personality quirk that you’ll never see in any online game that distinct the character from the real person. The cowardly barbarian, the snotty elf, the burly and grouchy dwarf or the fun loving chirpy rouge.

I understand that some try; that their real wish is to get back to that world they visited when they were young, the dice they threw and the RC cola they shared over the imaginary battle turning sour because the dwarf got mad and left the ranger and rouge to handle a couple skeletons alone since they didn’t even bother telling him about the trap he blundered into. If you try to do that today people will simply think you’re out of your mind and kick you out – even though it would be completely in line with a grumpy dwarf.

Or the kind of argument my bard would have with the sorcerer that supposedly threw feather fall on him but turned out to only work on him so the bard ended up plummeting to his demise. I could see that would be a perfect moment to role play but it’s usually lost in the laboring of transporting spirit stones to shrines in order to move the game along.

You’d think a pen and paper game would be more statistical and mathematic in nature, but it’s actually the other way around; with the hectic real time battle the role playing becomes a matter of mouse clicks, skills, feats and spells – coordinated by a glance at the hit point bar and the ever casting of heal, Spirit shield, fire balls, haste, bard songs and the such that people end up running around like lemmings smashing things rather than admiring the scenery and gab about the immense drop from one high ground to another.

I don’t think there will ever be a game like that – but I’ll try to take the bits and pieces of our adventures online and bake it into a story with a little bit more character, so Kuulu actually seems more of a flawed spell casting individual because of his background and experiences rather than how well I did healing a group of people running around hacking at things until someone died or not. Or that Ugla is this simplistic straightforward tank I hope to tell you about rather than my gentle and wonderful wife.

Out of the water and into the grotto

One minute I sat tucked in the corner of the boat – luring money of a dimwitted dwarf (let me say that I didn’t cheat nor really did I have too since the dwarf himself seemed to have more money then sense anyway) and no sooner after I raked in a large pot under the mutter of my grumpy opponent, a mighty roar, very much like an angry hump whale rang through the ship. The dwarf, dimwitted and all, like most other dwarves on the vessel sprang to action in what must’ve seemed like organized ‘doing something’ in the name of ‘getting to something to bash’ as quickly as dwarves can get to anything. Quick note: I’ve noticed in my journeys with Ugla that it has to be some kind of Dwarf instinct rather then a thought over reaction. I not going to off script to much but I once tripped over a dead Kobold and made an awful ruckus in my breastplate and she turned around and almost chopped my head off.

 

What probably saved me other then the fact that I didn’t spring to action and rushed up on deck, was the fact that I didn’t have my leather armor on or my weapons nearby. What saddens me to this day however is that I lost a perfectly good bow, my trusted long sword and all my gold (even if I have to this date found better things and more money to replace them, but there’s something very nostalgic about your first bow, worn as it was that fell my very first Kobold years before the boat sank). No sooner had four armored dwarfs with grunts and all shuffled themselves onto the deck (one took a little longer since he had tried to cure his sea sickness by consuming large amounts of ale – I wouldn’t call him more dimwitted then the dwarf I was playing against, but certainly at least as bright), before a flash of crystal breath froze them all to stumps in the opening to the deck and blasted the upper deck into a brittle popsicle.

 

The last thing I remember at that point (other then brackish sea water) was my astonishment as the ice dragon lifted half the deck of the lower with masts and all together with the frozen remains of the crew and dumb dwarves, banking gracefully as it came back and dropped it back onto the now sinking ship as to sandwich me into stew so it would go down that much better. I must’ve regained my wits as I found myself diving into the ocean no sooner then the two ship parts colliding sending icy wood splinters all over the place and the ship to its watery grave.

 

There was a Halfling standing at the shore asking me if I could speak. A better question would probably be – hey, are you hungry or something because I’m standing on the remains of your ship and you have nothing on but rags?

 

But I guess you can always cut out basic Smalltalk like: ‘DID YOU SEE THE SIZE OF THAT FREAKING DRAGON?”

“HOLY FLAMES OF THE THREE GORGONS!!!!”

 

But I digress.

 

We’ve all been to the grotto. It was a little different then when I was asked to join the group to kill the leader of the fish people in order to go through the grotto and emerge in the town beyond it. I figured it was better for me to join, do my end (by keeping out of the battle) than walking through the wilderness wearing only a zinged torn robe, whatever little dinky weapon they could spare and the odd potion I could find in the remaining unsmashed crates or still whole floating in the frothing surf.

 

First – let me be completely honest. Before I entered the grotto, I was kind of a scoundrel.  My only purpose in life was to steal myself to riches. I preferred the shadows, the tricks and the easy life of plundering chests while others did all the slaying, frying and destroying. I still enjoy it to some degree, but entering that grotto with the sole intention of making it through alive, I came out of it with a sense of purpose that did something to me that altered the way I thought about things afterwards.

 

As I successfully blocked the trident that was intent on killing the Halfling, I felt in me something I’ve never felt before; I felt like my actions truly mattered and that being a rouge wasn’t really the path to me. Not that it fully changed the way I look at things; it did give me a sense of responsibility that my old self would have scoffed at.

 

But let’s not go all weepy on me; it took a while before I finally reformed my thoughts and the grotto experience was only the tiny microbe of change that I felt at the time. Whatever feeling of accomplishment that I felt about my part in saving someone’s life or stabbing the evil fish leader in the scaly back, it was soon forgotten as I and the Halfling proceeded to raid the nearby chest while the lady sanctified the vile altar or whatever it was she was here to do.

 

The lady gave me a heavy mace with a spark to its glistening head that would burn anyone I hit. I else emerged into the sunlight with a worn chain-shirt a few gold coins and a couple of healing potions. Gone were the tender bruises and torn clothes and hearing the voices of stranded adventurers, conversations between towns people, trainers and the clank of the odd swords meeting in play convinced me of at least one thing; I hadn’t arrived at the docks, but I sure did arrive more prepared then if I would have walked of the ship together with a bunch of rowdy dwarfs. If anything – emerging out of the echoing grotto and into the sunlight with it’s dancing snow flakesin the air left me with an overwhelming feeling of being glad to be alive.