Category Archives: Adventure Sketch
Short Fiction: Battle of the Channel
[Following my medical issues of a week-and-a-half ago, I’m going to be digging through my files for content for folks while I recover, and I have no idea how often I’ll post. This may be my only blog entry for the week — we’ll see how it goes.
The early versions of this snippet of fictional history have been sitting on my hard drive since I published Anachronistic Adventures, nearly a decade ago. It was supposed to be broken up as 1-2 paragraph chapter heads for a dieselpunk Second War of the Worlds setting book, which I played with but never got around to seriously developing for publication.
It appears here for the first time.]
From “A History of The Second War of the Worlds. Vol IV, Chapter 11: The First Battle of the Channel”
“Before it can be understood how a flotilla of Armored Rams was expected to hold the Straight of Dover against tripod war machines, and why those expectations were ill-grounded in the reality of the Second Martian Invasion, it’s necessary to understand the design of the Armored Rams as a class, and the Thunderchild in particular.
“Unlike older its namesake, Armored Ram Thunderchild was purpose-built to fight the Martian war machines, though no Earthly designer could have conceived of how much more dangerous the Second Invasion walkers were than what humanity had seen before. Displacing 21 long tons, the Thunderchild-class as a whole had no exposed turrets or smokestacks, as such protuberances would have been nothing but burs for Martian heat-rays to melt smooth in the opening seconds of any conflict. Its exterior was closer in appearance to the bottom of a typical boat, a curved wedge coming to its sharp, heavily reinforced point right at its waterline. Only the massive steel rivets running in long lines along the ship hinted at the thickness of its exterior hull armor, and the armored quarts viewports were nearly impossible to pick out from their metal frames.
“This exterior armor was just one of the Thunderchild’s defenses. The apparently-contiguous armored exterior was, in fact, a series of carefully overlapping plates. Behind that armor were more water pumps than any seaborne vessel had ever carried before, all fed by intakes along the ship’s belly. Combined, the pumps had a capacity of more than 500,000 gallons per minute, sprayed onto the armor from the inside, ready to cool it against the murderous burning of heat rays. The overlapping armored plates running its full 427-foot length allowed steam created by this cooling to escape as quickly as it was generated, and when the ship moved at speed the design was such that air was sucked through the space between the outer and inner hull for further cooling.
“After the outer hull and the radiators and the water-cooling system, thick layers of asbestos insulated the inner hull from the expected hellish conditions of the outer hull dissipating steel-melting temperatures, and then another layer of armor sat behind that. This inner armor was not vented, but instead able to form an airtight, pressurized seal adapted from the French Aigrette-class submarines. The Thunderchild-class was designed not to submerge, but to keep their crew safe in airtight chambers when tripod war machines covered the sea with their villainous black gas.
“The sole exception to this seal was the engine intakes, which drew in air from just above the waterline (assumed — correctly — by designers to be where air would be coolest in a heat ray-enabled battle) and passed it along sealed pipes to furnaces for the ship’s 18 Babcock & Wilcox boilers to power the ship’s mighty steam turbines. While black gas was deadly to any living creature that breathed or touched it, its effect on machines was more a question of greater anticorrosion measures. Having black gas potentially fill sections of the engines that might call for repair necessitated a new class of “smokesuit engineers,” but this was considered a small price to have engines at full power, and a crew safe from the horrors of Martian chemical weapons.
“Finally, carbon dioxide scrubbers and oxygen rebreathers were installed within the ship to form an “air support system,” ensuring that it could operate in its fully-airtight “buttoned up” state for several hours if necessary under full steam, or for roughly 30 minutes if the ship was forced to run purely on battery power.
“Lacking any exterior guns, the offense of an Armored Ram was twofold. First, as the name suggests, the entire Thunderchild-class was a throwback to ram-armed ships of the galleys of Imperial Rome. The entire construction of the keel and ribbing was to brace the thickest, most heavily armor section of the ship, the ram prow or “beak,” which was shaped to carry the ship’s massive tonnage into and throw any other vehicle it struck, be that naval vessel or walker. Secondly, it carried five 18 in torpedo tubes, designed to fire the Mark VII torpedo, each carrying 320 lbs of TNT. The torpedo tubes were mounted forward, centered behind and under the Ram Beak, well below the waterline and presumed safe from both heat rays and black gas.
“The Thunderchild-class were also called Peaceships (as opposed to Warships), because they were designed exclusively to deal with Martian war machines. Though a Thunderchild could theoretically ram an Earthly battleship, their total lack of heavy guns made them no match for modern naval vessels such as the American Virginia class, English King Edward VII class, or Italian Regina Margherita class battleships. As Martian war machines had never used heavy projectile weaponry, it was believed there was no need to develop tactics for anything other than heat rays and black gas, and while the heavy layer armor of a Thunderchild-class vessel could survive glancing blows from 9-inch guns and ignore smaller caliber weapons, the bigger 12-inch naval guns were able to sink an Armored Ram at ranges in the thousands of yards — well before torpedoes or a ramming run were a threat.
“Thus, when the Martians returned in 1909, it was expected the Thunderchild-class and similar ram ship designs worldwide would be crucial to keeping coasts and waterways clear of 100-120 ft. tall tripods. England invested more heavily in such ships because of the heavy fighting in and around harbors in 1896, and the belief that Martians would focus on disabling the English naval fleet. What no one expected was 250- to 300-foot tall tripods splashing down directly in waters all around England, as well as in its interior, and the English mainland falling to Martian forces within days. And, as Europe watched in horror, massive legions of the much-taller tripods marched towards the Straight of Dover, a narrow barrier between England and France no more than 180 feet deep.
“The Martians would not, it was realized, be limited to walking in rivers, coastlines, and harbors. The new War Machines were taller than the Straight was deep, and could simply walk the 20 or so miles to Europe. Fleets were rushed to the waters, but the taller tripods also had greatly increased range of their black gas canisters and could blanket the waves up to 10 miles away. Traditional warships could not get within gunnery ranges without being choked by the gas, their crews choked by the necrotic substance before a single shot could be fired.
“It would be up to the four Thunderchild-class ships.
“Volumes have been written on the command failures of the captains of the Ligetung, Stormspite, and Taranis, which lead to their destruction. Most of these analyses are unforgiving, placing it as purely tactical error for those ships to have stayed at their extreme torpedo ranges, rather than rushing in to ram foes as the Thunderchild did. However, it must be remembered that Martians had not revealed the existence of either their Kraken tendril-canisters or Scylla tendril-augmented black gas canisters. Had the captains of any of the three ships been alerted to the Martian equivalent of kinetic guns, able to fire whirling masses of sliding plate tendrils that could rips targets apart (and, in the case of Scylla canisters, flood an area with black gas while doing so), they no doubt would have closed range as quickly as possible.
“The more interesting question is why the crew of the Thunderchild bore toward the massed tripods walking across the Straight in the first moments of siting the enemy. True, the Armored Ram ships were conceived as close-combatants, but naval doctrine at the time leaned heavily toward soften up any enemy formation at range if possible. Arguably, it was the captain of the Thunderchild who acted in error despite being the only ship to survive the opening minutes of the battle as a result. Tragically, as there were no survivors, the question of whether the officers aboard were driven by tactical brilliance, reckless battle-lust, or a desire to match the boldness of their namesake from the first War of the Worlds will never be answered.
“Moving at its full 22 knots, the Thunderchild proved a difficult target for Martian canister launchers. Even tendril-enabled canisters bounced off its hull too quickly to gain purchase, and the massive spray created by its Ram Beak-enabled prow may have confused Martian gunners. In its first pass, the Thunderchild sank 4 Tripods with ram hits, and one with a lucky torpedo salvo, and disabled the legs of 3 more, leaving them unable to continue across the Straight.
“But this success was not without cost. The expected heat rays did splay across Thunderchild‘s hull to horrifying effect, literally melting and warping sections of its outer armor and largely destroying its port prow cooling pumps. Worse, each time the Thunderchild rammed a Tripod, the naval ship slowed enough for the walker’s tendrils to grasp and scrabble at its upper hull. Numerous plates were wrenched from true, leaving gaps and weak points in the ship’s defenses, and a few were torn free entirely. Reports of the day claim the Thunderchild remained at full fighting capacity after its initial charge, but careful analysis of photos f the conflict put lie to this claim, which was likely more propaganda than bad intelligence even at the time.
“Even so, the ship barely slowed as it arced around for a second pass, which if not as effective as the first still sunk three Tripods and badly injured two more. Though more than two dozen walkers were involved in the Martian advance against the straight, the legend of the Thunderchild and the tripod’s clear focus on the Armored Ram spurred every British vessel able to float to pick that time to flee across the Channel. For dozens of miles up and down the coast, the few remaining naval ships made dashes for France, along with private craft, river ferries, and even makeshift barges. The exodus continued as long as the Thunderchild could float and fight, and is credited with evacuating more than 300,000 civilians and fighting forces. At the time, this was hailed as a great humanitarian victory, and in the years since we have come to understand just how great the impact to the Martian war effort was to remove the people it would otherwise have literally fed into its War Machines.
“By the end of its second pass, the Thunderchild was clearly in distress. It was visible on fire, and had slowed to less than half its maximum speed–a deadly limit for a ship dependent on kinetic impact to do damage. Pictures prove that at least one Kraken and one Scylla canister had found purchase on its outer hull at last, and numerous eyewitness accounts claim a Kraken tendril mass actually climbed into the Thunderchild midships, where only the crew’s small arms fire could possibly slow it. Wounded, boarded, and burning, no one could have faulted the Thunderchild if it had given quit to the battle, and turned toward France.
“But it did not.
“Whereas its previous attack runs had been the swift jabs of trained pugilists, its course plotted to ensure it deflected from each impact on a vector to bring it ramming into another tripod, the third pass of the Thunderchild was the ponderous swing of a drunken barroom brawl. Its only kill was from a final torpedo salvo that took advantage of a tripod attempting to directly block its path, and the two other walkers it damaged simply had their legs bent from glancing blows from the ram’s flanks.
“Though it managed to steam free of the remaining tripods massing to bring it down through sheer weight of tendril attacks, the Thunderchild was clearly in no condition for another attack run. Nearly half its exterior armor was gone, and in a few places its interior hull was also breached. Two explosions had rocked its starboard side below the waterline, and it listed toward that side as it came around. It moved sluggishly at best, and if any of the remaining tripods had tendril-canisters to spare, they could surely have dropped the deadly writhing weapons on Thunderchild‘s near-wreck, and torn it apart at a distance.
“But in a victory as great as the war machines it sank, the Thunderchild had shown the limit of the new Martian weapons. As horrifying as the Kraken and Scylla cannister-launchers were, their reload numbers within each tripod were limited. Most tripods carried only six canisters of this type, and those with prisoner cages carried only four. The slightly larger walkers later identified as command units could carry eight, but at the cost of not having any of the standard black gas dispensers. After the destruction of its sisterships at distance, and three full circuits of its own through the Tripod formation, the Thunderchild had taken the measure of the Martian’s new armament. If heat rays couldn’t sink it, and the ship showed no sign of going down despite belching steam and black smoke into the air, the Martians would have to tear the Armored Ram apart with their Tripod’s own tendrils, in close combat.
“Legend says the navigator for the Thunderchild was the sole survivor on its bridge by this point in the battle, and he lashed himself to the helm to make a final run into the Martian formation. It’s a heroic tale, and one popularized when the navigator’s wife became one of the most famous naval commanders later in the war. But there’s no way to confirm the story and, indeed, no way anyone could have known what happened on the bridge to begin with. But it takes no legends to acknowledge the bravery of the crew of the Thunderchild because, whether helmed by a lone hero lashed to the controls or a few brave men facing what they knew had to be their end, the Armored Ram turned toward the Tripod formation a fourth time.
“There would be no passing through the Martian forces this time. At no more than 10 knots, the Thunderchild made straight for the tallest of the walkers, and the Martian forces swarmed the point to ensure the ship could not escape again. The Armored Ram can be said to have drifted as much as steamed to the engagement, and was riding quite low in the water. As for what happened once it was surrounded, inhuman tripods using long tendrils to tear it apart and pluck bodies (though living or dead it is impossible to say) from its bulk, perhaps it was an inevitable coincidence given the ship’s damage.
“But a case can be made the timing was too perfect. The moment came just as the last War Machines surrounded the Thunderchild, and applied such pressure to its hull that the keel was heard to crack. It might have been coincidence, but if so the coincidence had timing as good as any lone engineer shut into the ship’s bowels could have hoped for.
“For it was only then the Thunderchild heaved in the water and, with a roar heard on the French mainland, exploded.
“No Martian force attempted to cross the Channel for a full2 days following that detonation. Was it fear that held them at the moment no effective defender remained to stop them? Loss of a commander sewing confusion through their ranks? A need to analyze how a lone ship named Thunderchild had, as a generation before, held them at bay?
“The thousands who escaped to France during those two days did not then, and do not today, have that answer.”
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7 Days of the Tomb Lands, a #Dungeon23 Project
Well, who knows how long it’ll last, but I managed 7 encounters in the Tomb Lands (my #Dungeon23 project) in 7 days.
Check them out here! https://www.patreon.com/posts/76655396
Gatekeeper’s Campaign for PF2, Session 3
Since people still seem interested, here’s the notes for session 3 of my Gatekeepers game for PF2.
The PCs wake having stayed the night at the farm run by Morgan’s Dad — whose name is Ferris, and can go by Goodman Ferris, Yeoman Ferris, or Landsman Ferris (since he owns his own land and has the deed on register in the Imperial Archive on the Continent). Player’s start to jokingly refer to him as “MorgansDa.”
The storms which have wracked the area for the entire autumn have suddenly stopped, but it’s unseasonably cold – winter cold. There’s barely any wind, the sky is clear but the air crisp, and the night was so cold dry wood cracked and frost formed on stones around the farm.
Heading out from MorganDa’s Farm, the Pcs see a group of 7 sailors coming down to road to the farm, pushing a cart. Hailing them, the PCs discover they are from the “King of the Crest,” an enormous 14-decked imperial Gantharian warship (Ganthar being a major kingdom on the Continent). The sailors are looking to buy food, and offer to pay in gold, or double-price in spellsalt. Gantharians being legendarily proper and polite there’s no sense of threat, so Morgan takes most of the sailors (lead by Deckmaster Rithan) goes to take to Ferris and see about buying some food.
“Bohrgun the Badly-Named” (the ship’s bosun) – stays with the other PCs to answer questions. They learn the Continental Empire nation of Curtalia, “the Grainhouse of the Empire,” has been stricken by a blight that both destroys crops and rots food in warehouses within hours. Curtalia is being avoided and quarantined, but many of the major food stores of the Empire are already infected. The King of the Crest managed not to put in at any quarantined harbors (which would have led to it being quarantined), but as a result it is seriously low on foodstuffs.
Further, the PCs are told Tidesgate is being flooded by other ships looking to buy food. Because the sea is suddenly becalmed, only ships large enough to afford a storm witch or sea warden (druid) can make it to the island easily, and those ships are too big to put in anywhere by Tidesgate or Seagrace. Most are avoiding Seagrace unless they have contacts or contracts there, so Tidesgate is being inundated with big ships.
MorganDa agrees to sell some preserved food, all for spell salt, and the Pcs get to see that he has potato cellars on his land that aren’t easily spotted (being under trap doors covered in sod and then under scattered hay and where he parks his empty wagons and large items waiting for repair.
The group then head back to Tidesgate. As they approach they see other groups of sailors from different nations (not all from the Continental empire) heading out of town, but in this case each is accompanied by someone the group recognizes as a responsible citizen of Tidesgate (often guards-for-hire). The harbor is choked with huge warships, many from distant lands that normally bypass this island when making a route along the Circle Trade, but must now be desperate for supplies. One is a huge ship with a spiked roof covering it, and rows of long oars in addition to massive ribbed sails, and is clearly not from any nation of the nearby Continent.
(Art by Juulijs)
In town, the price of food is skyrocketing in town as captains go door-to-door to buy anything people will spare, and send their men out of town to buy from farms directly (such as the Gantharian soldiers were doing). Rumor is some ship’s crews are threatening or outright stealing, while others offering to buy with spell salt at x2 to x5 food’s normal cost, and even black sugar is being used at 2/3 its normal value. Some are sending foraging parties into the plains and woods, which is technically illegal. The law is normally ignored, but there are so many now that local residents that depend on forage are beginning to run low on food, and there’s been a spike in apparent wolf and trihorn steer attacks, suggesting the sailors are stirring up trouble.
The PCs see Pottage’s Tottage has been turned into a central depository, with townsfolk bringing anything they are willing to part with to sell on consignment (and then locking their home’s doors and placing “No Thing For Sale” signs on them), while Pottage takes lists of desired items from a line of ship’s quartermasters, and makes them wait until each evening for him to say what each can buy, and at what price. The PCs grab a moment to update Pottage in private.
Then they head to Hexer Hellaina’s, to report to her. She pays them well for the information (in spell salt), and buys the black glass they got from the broken salt circle around the burial grounds (last game session). That she pays for with silver. Hellaina promises to update the Town Council.
Later, the Town Council wants to see the PCs, and confirms what Hellaina told them. In addition to Tidegate’s other issues, the council tells the PCs it’s been falling below freezing already, months before the norm, and hard freezes are expected in the next few days. The entire fall crops are in danger of being lost, and only having farmers putting out torches all night, every night, may keep that from happening.
With all this, the Tidesgate Council is spread impossibly thin by the combination of early freezes and hungry sailors. They are called on to watch the docks, keep fights from breaking out, and enforce usually-ignored laws on hoarding and cornering markets. The PCs offer to help, and the Council asks them to go to Southmount Farms, 2 days south beyond the God-Knuckle Hills. The farm is normally reliable in regular fortnightly deliveries, and now they are 4 days late. The Council sent Briarbrow Hooffoot (a cousin of Holly’s) to check it out, and he has not returned yet.
Southmount is run by the Braddoc family, who are regular suppliers of the Smoke Pine Taven, old friends of Morgan’s father and Averill’s family. They make “the Clear,” a very high ABV liquid that tastes like stale fire, which Nana Cutthroat often uses to add kick to drinks she has watered down, so people don’t realize how little of the original booze is left in the version for sale.
The PCs head out south the next day. They discuss their concern about things getting worse in town, especially if panic sets in about a lack of food, or folks sell too much of their emergency reserves and then the fall harvest falls.
As they enter the God-Knuckle Hills, they come across 5 shambler zombies, caught on a hill surrounded by a flash flood river from the heavy rains in previous weeks. They identify one of them as a farmhand at Southmount. The shamblers seem to be constantly trying to cough up something (like a hairball). The PCs jump the rushing creek and destroy the 5 shamblers. They also conclude that these are created intentionally with necromancy, not spontaneous undead that sometimes rise. The bodies seem diseased. The heroes burn them, making sure they do so in a hollow that will keep the ashed from running into the local water supply.
End Session 3.
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Gatekeeper’s Campaign for PF2, Session 2 (Part 4 of 4)
Here’s part four (of 4) of my Game Session 2 notes for my Gatekeeper’s campaign for PF2 (part one here, part two here, and part three here). The articles at the Gatekeeper Index can remind you of all the characters, backstory, rules changes, and setup, if you want a refresher.
The PCs set to camp, and a massive thunderstorm moves in (similar to ones they have been seeing for several says to the north, including producing weird green lightning bolts where one bolt strikes down, and 5 more curl up from the same point in the clouds to arc back into the sky).
While camping, Nambra and Brôg sense something while on watch. They wake everyone, and Nambra is able to identify it’s location within a few feet due to her Whisper Elf hearing, but no one can see it. Calling out to the unknown creature, it replies that they are in danger, and the PCs realize it’s the 7-legged giant spider Morgan freed from its collar. The PCs try to strike up a conversation, with Holly specifically inviting it to come talk to them on future evenings, but it proves difficult. The spider often repeats part of all of what the PCs say as its response to them, with changes in emphasis (“Are you our friend?” “AM I your friend?”). A few skill checks in, it’s decided that it really does under stand them and wants to communicate, but its grasp of their cultural norms is weak, so it tries to mimic their speech patterns as much as it can to try to be talking the way the PCs talk. After repeating “You’re in danger” a few more times, the spider flees into the night. In the morning, the PCs find the waterproof web canopy it made for itself some distance off from their camp.
In the morning, the PCs find the edge of the Eirsyus burial grounds. It’s cutoff from the rest of the forest by a roughly-30-foot-wide break in the trees and large bushes, which Averill confirms is salted earth, likely as part of an occult “firebreak” to keep the spirits of the place bound within the burial ground. The PCs can see old cairns and burial pits covered by heavy rock that must have been quarried elsewhere. They decide to walk around the burial grounds once to see what can be seen from the firebreak before going inside.
During lunch, on the forest side of the firebreak, they are attacked by a festrog which burrows up out of the earth to attack them, starting with a surprise attack just behind Averill. It is riddled with diseased pustules, boils, and supperating rashes, and the stench is nearly as bad as it’s actual attacks. The PCs defeat it, and it rots away before their eyes. The hole is crawled out of is at least 20 feet deep, and the top lined with detritus from the festrog’s diseased flesh. The PCs decide to ignore it, for now.
Walking the firebreak around the 400 or so acres of the burial grounds reveals a crater — apparently a lightning strike — that’s destroyed part of the firebreak. Within the crater are tiny black lightning-shaped buts of obsidian. Jaedyn decides to try to use salt to complete the line through the crater, but as the group adds salt, storm clouds and green glows begin to boil into existence just above them. They stop, and clear the salt they’d already added, and the clouds dissipate.
The PCs gather all they can find (using Averill’s telekinesis, rather than getting into the crater), and decide to stay here overnight, roughly 100 feet from the crater, to observe the burial grounds at night.
The first watch hears something scurrying around in the burial grounds, but can’t see it. They talk at it, and it replies, promising all sorts of information if they give it some of their blood. They need not step into the grounds… a few drops soaked onto a cloth they toss to it would suffice. The PCs refuse, and the creature scurries away.
Second watch spots a wight-with-lock-in-its-forehead, far into the burial grounds. It uproots an old, dead tree with 1 arm, and suddenly throws it at the PC’s camp. The tress explodes when it crosses the line of the firebreak, and the PCs take a little damage. The wight rushes the firebreak as the PCs deal with the fallout of the exploding trees, but it is incapable of pushing past some invisible barrier at the edge of the firebreak. The PCs try to talk to it, it demands they give it their blood, saying blood is the key, but it is eventually thrown back by the invisible barrier, deep into the burial ground, and is not seen or heard again.
The third watch hears strange howling within the burial ground, which is answered by similar howls on the forest side. This goes on for a bit, and then two volkyr (same kind of evil spirit reincarnated as wild beasts they faced yesterday) leap from the woods to attack them. Averill is nearly knocked out in a single blow, but the PCs manage to win the fight.
As dawn approaches, a few of the PCs can ear a creepy clicking, scraping noise coming from the crater. The party goes to investigate, and discovers tiny salt crystals (all 5-sided, and flickering with 5 different colors) are growing in the crater. As they grow, the crater slowly fills in with dirt. By morning, there is no longer any sign of a lightning strike having broken the line of the firebreak. The PCs aren’t sure if their presence caused that, or if it was perhaps removing the lightning obsidian that allowed the line to heal? As a test the PCs run a line of salt over where the crater was, and nothing unusual happens.
The voice of the 7-legged giant spider comes from the forest side, saying in apparent awe that they stayed on “the line” all night, and guarded it. It is now repaired, claims the spider. But when the PCs try to ask the spider questions, it just repeats (you are all in danger,” and flees.
The PCs still have unanswered questions (Why did a wight want to buy food? Who was Chandra Chase and why did she pretend to have been hired by Pottage? Who collared the 7-legged spider, why was it kidnapping people, and what are its intentions now? What caused a storm that blew a crater in the firebreak of the burial grounds? Why do groups of 5 get pulled together, and then suffer terrible fates, once a generation? What is the Underhill Grove?), but decide for now to head back with the information and materials they have gathered.
End Session 2
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Gatekeeper’s Campaign for PF2, Session 2 (Part 3)
Part three of my Game Session 2 notes for my Gatekeeper’s campaign for PF2 (part one here, and part two here). The articles at the Gatekeeper Index can remind you of all the characters, backstory, rules changes, and setup, if you want a refresher.
The PCs gather at Pottage’s Tottage, and briefly update each other on their experiences of the day. Then they go inside and, to their relief, Pottage is in fact present and willing to explain what’s going on… such as he knows it.
Pottage reveals to the PCs that while he was indeed a foundling, he was found with a trunk of possessions that Nana Cutthroat kept for him until he was a young teen, when she gave it over to him. He discovered in the trunk a family journal, which claimed his family had been moving back and forth between Tidegate and the Continent for generations, trying to solve the mystery of “The Five.”
According to that tome and the research he has done since, every generation 5 people of different backgrounds who happen to be in Tidegate are drawn together, seem to begin to engage in a mystery of some kind, and then are cursed, killed, or disappear. A few generations ago one was a member of his family, and his line has been trying to figure out what is going on ever since. Often the deaths appear to be part of something ritualistic, though it’s not always at the hands of Bloodletters. Different groups, from lone wizards to wicked gollusks, have seemed intent on killing The Five each generation.
So Pottage doesn’t know what is going on, but seeing 5 of them suddenly falling into strange events he was immediately convinced they were this generations example of an event that has ben going on for at least 200 years (since the Continental Empire absorbed Khetonnia and destroyed Eirsyus). He’s spent his whole adult life preparing to help whoever the 5 turned out to be, and now the time has come. He’s been trying to learn all he can and though he has snippets — for example, the Underhill Grove is supposedly a place or group that can aid the Five, but he doesn’t know anything else about it — the core of what causes the Five to be drawn together, and who then destroys them, and why, is still a mystery to him.
And, his shop turns out to be full of secret compartments and hidden shelves. This is where he keeps his tools, tomes, and supplies, since he spends most of his time here watching over his store. Pottage notes that there was no sign of the “new girl” Chandra Chase (who Averill and Morgan ran into), but his personal chambers above the shop, and his locked valuables storage, and his basement deep storage, and his small warehouse were all thoroughly searched and left disheveled, but there’s no sign anyone found his hidden spaces in his open-to-everyone storefront.
Jaedyn suddenly asks if Chandra was the kind of “too gorgeous for it to be normal” that might mark her as a gollusk, and while no one is sure, the idea is bookmarked for later.
Pottage can’t explain the 7-legged spider that grabbed him, though he can say it appeared to be laying in wait for him. He was trying to sneak in the back way of his shop, when he and then his employee Mac where grabbed, poisoned, and wrapped up. Upon hearing about the stranger with a lock in its forehead and red motes for eyes, he notes is sounds like a wight, and was dressed in fashion common in Eirsyus roughly 200 years ago. When shown the coins Nambra grabbed (which the wight spent), Pottage pulls out of of his secret draws which has a book on local Numismatics, and confirms they are of an old Eirysus city-state from the last days of those realms before the Continental Empire crushed them. They have only been seen in recent years in old Eirysus graves.
There is, he notes, an old Eirysus burial ground roughly a day north at the southern tip of the eastern edge of the Wildwood. Upon consulting a map, Morgan confirms that was the direction the giant spider dashed off to when it fled out of town. Although they can’t be as perceive, Jaedyn and Holly also note the wight seemed to be going that way when it turns into smoke.
The PCs agree they are going to go check out the old Eirysus burial grounds, to see if they can find more info. They want to leave in the morning, but Pottage suggests they get out of town now, before the town council can decide to order them to stay here until things are all sorted out. The group decides to go to Morgan’s father’s farm, one of many within a couple hours of Tidegate, stay there for the night, and set out at first light. Pottage promises to do more research about the giant spider and the sigil on its back, and the wight.
The PCs make it safely to Morgan’s father’s farm, where those who have never been before are a bit surprised by its architecture. The entire farm is walled with a stone wall taller than a typical human, which is rare but not unknown, and the main farmhouse and neighboring barn are stone with slate roofs. It is known Morgan’s father left the island years ago, before Morgan was born, because his original home burned down, so mostly his sturdy, stone construction is attributed to that (and, perhaps, the adventuring money he made while he was gone). The farmhouse is big enough that 20 could live there long-term, and 100 people shelter in it, but it’s just home to Morgan and his father at the moment. It has 2 indoor baths with copper water tanks you can heat with a fire, a huge kitchen, and apparently multiple cellars with extensive emergency supplies.
(Morgan’s Fathers House… sorta. The roof should be slate tiles, and wall taller, the gate sturdier, and the windows all narrower and with heavy shutters. But, you know, other than that… Art by Midge9282)
Hearing that they might be tracking a wight, Morgan’s father does two things. First, he tells them if they run into a wight, they should run immediately. Secondly, he gives them a glass bottle totally wrapped in a wicker cover. he says it’s Vingarian Brandy – from Vingarie, on the Continent. Supposedly helps with level loss and doom from contact with undead (“brings warmth back into your soul”). He doesn’t know if it’s true, but it seems worth trying if they get in trouble.
The next day the PCs head north. Since there is no path or road directly to the burial grounds, they must us exploration activities to arrive without getting lost or delayed. Everyone is able to do so except Averill, who just shrugs and follows along when he thinks north is one direction, and everyone else believes it’s the exact opposite way.
Late in the day, the group is attacked by a volkyr — a vicious creature that looks like a cross between a wolf and a wolverine and has flat, all-black eyes. Local lore claims volkyr are reincarnated evil spirits –not born nor breeding like typical animals, but fel souls of mortals that step full-grown out of unlit places to cause pain and misery. The creature begins the fight with a charge, and nearly drops Morgan in a single blow. But the group is able to fight it off, and afterward patch up Morgan.
By then, it’s dusk, and the party decides to camp and continue on to the burial grounds in the morning.
End of Part 3.
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Gatekeeper’s Campaign for PF2, Session 2 (Part 2)
Part two of my Game Session 2 notes for my Gatekeeper’s campaign for PF2 (part one here). The articles at the Gatekeeper Index can remind you of all the characters, backstory, rules changes, and setup, if you want a refresher.
Morgan quickly climbs up to the top of Pottage’s Tottage, and sees a Large spider with a face he realizes matches the one he saw looking over the edge. It has struggling people-sized silk bundles webbed to its hind legs, a bright red sigil on its back, and seems to naturally have just 7 legs (4 on the left, 3 on the right). The spider sees him, covers itself in a fog cloud that moves with it, and jumps away to another roof. Morgan follows town protocol by raising an alarm (screaming “MONSTER! GIANT SPIDER!”), and goes after it. (Chase Rules)
Averill tries to follow from the ground and raise the alarm.
Meanwhile, the PCs at the Smoke Pine Taven are passing out food bundles. The system is simple, a line forms by the counter. Everyone throws down a couple of copper and gets a bundle. But Jaedyn sees a figure she does not know, who is wearing a cloak, completely covering their hands with its edge and totally covering their head with its hood. While it’s not unusual for shy strangers to come in off a ship, one being that covered is odd and with the recent weirdness makes Jaedyn suspicious. She opts to hand it a food bundle in a way that causes it to fall at the last second, hoping to get the creature to look up to grab it. (Thievery check) This succeeds, and she sees it has a desiccated face, a lock built into its forehead (like the front of a padlock), and it’s eyes are hollow black pits, with tiny bright red motes of light far, far back within the eye sockets.
It hisses at her, and runs to exist the Smoke Pine.
Jaedyn throws a knife in an effort to pin its hood to a wall so it is jerked back and its face is revealed. She succeeds, and the whole cloak comes off. The desiccated creature flees out into the street. Holly grabs its food and runs after it. Nambra takes this opportunity to conceal herself from anyone in the Smoke Pine, especially the cats. Jaedyn grabs the dropped cloak, the runs after Holly.
Holly wants to get ahead of the fleeing figure (Chase Rules), and eventually does so. She offers it the food pack, saying it’s done nothing wrong. It crouches and replies “Give me your BLOOD!” Taken aback, Holly refuses, and the creature turns into smoke and flies away faster than be followed.
It begins to rain.
Morgan is chasing the jumping cloud of fog that has a giant spider in it, while Aervill tries to rally people in the streets below. Eventually Morgan catches up to it and, since the fog is made of water vapor, tries to access his water powers (sending a hero point) to dispel it. that succeeds, and the spider creature seems surprised. Getting a better look at it, Morgan sees it has a black collar around its neck, with inward-bent hooks that dig at the spider’s flesh and cause trails of smoke to trail upward from the contact. Morgan tries to access his water powers again, succeeds, and uses them to form curved blades of ice that cut the collar free of the spider creature.
The spider gasps, drops the two figures strapped to its legs, looks at Morgan and chokes out “You’re in DANGER!” Then, it flees.
Morgan cuts the two figures loose, discovering they are Pottage and Mac. He and Averill get back together, and Pottage comes to enough to say he’d like his return to be kept secret for now. Morgan and Averill agree, and happen to mention the new woman working at the Tottage, Chandra Chase, didn’t know he was back yet. Pottage is concern because he hasn’t hired anyone new, and doesn’t know a Chandra. Pottage promises to meet them in a bit at the Tottage, but asks if and can they get Mac to Hexer Helaina, since he’s not recovering as fast. They agree, and while Morgan takes Mac to Hellaina, he sends Averill to go get Jaedyn, Holly, and Nambra and bring them to the Tottage as well.
Nambra, as it happens, noticed the two coins the desiccated figure used to buy food looked different from any others she’s seen, and exchanges them for two coins of her own. Holly and Jaedyn come back in, noting the figure disappeared. Nana Cutthroat comes up to them and hears the description, and says it sounds like a wight. She is asked if wights are common in Tidegate, and affirms they are not. There was one wight captain who couldn’t set foot off his ship that used to come to port now and then, and they allowed it, but it turned out he had a plot to have his ship carried by millions of tiny crabs, and then a holy knight from the Continental Empire showed up and destroyed him.
But, Nana Cutthroat notes, this cloak seems older than that. She gives it a deep sniff, then suddenly says she must talk to the council, and rushed off into the rain, with the cloak.
And just then, Averill shows up, and explains why they should go to the Tottage.
End Part 2.
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Gatekeeper’s Campaign for PF2, Session 2 (Part 1)
As long as there is interest, I’ll keep posting Game Session notes for my Gatekeepers game for PF2. Due to work, illness, holidays, and one players dedication to seeing a single specific college football game every year (Bedlam), it’s been a long time since session 1.
The articles at the Gatekeeper Index can remind you of all the characters, backstory, rules changes, and setup, if you want a refresher.
The day after taking Hexer Hellaina to the ruined tower outside of town, the PCs want to go talk to Pottage, since he seemed to know what was going on. But, they discover, while they were out all day with Hellaina, the Town Council sent Pottage to Seagrace, to bring the Duchess of tides a report on the recent events around Tidegate. It’s expected to be a week or so round trip. Pottage is often sent on such trips, as he has people he trusts to run his store without him (Pottage’s Tottage), has no other official duties in town, lacks family that might need him, and is younger than other councilors who might otherwise be free to make the trip.
The PCs go about their lives. Holly spends time focusing on the strange new elemental energy she accessed n the first session. So does Morgan, though he does so through the sword exercises his ex-adventurer father taught him. Jaedyn practices with the amazing rapier Nana Cutthroat seems to have just had sitting around to give her. Nambra hunts. Averill puts in extra shifts as a telekinetic dock worker.
It remains an unusually stormy fall.
After a week the PCs get together at the Smoke Pine Taven, and discuss what to do. Pottage should be back now, but no one has seen him. Several PCs notice that Guster, one of the most stand-offish of the semiferal cats that hang around the Smoke Pine stays near Holly, which is unusual. He is also recently well-brushed, and that’s unusual. He’s the same cat that sat on Holly in Session 1 when the PCs warmed by the fireplace in the common room. The PCs wonder if he is a spy for a local witch?
With a major storm threatening, they decide to have Averill and Morgan go to Pottage’s Tottage to see if he’s back, or if his employees have an eta. Meanwhile, the storm looks to have winds strong enough to blow cinders back into the homes of people with simple, cheap chimneys. That means lots of folks will be coming to the Smoke Pine to grab packs of food wrapped in cheesecloth, so they can eat cooked food but close the flue on their fireplaces for the storm, so the other PCs stick around to see if Guster eventually leaves the Smoke Pine, so they can follow him.
Upon arriving at Pottage’s Tottage, Averill and Morgan see Mac, a human who works for Pottage and is famous for moving and talking slowly, battening down the window shutters. The front door is open, so they go in, and encounter a gorgeous young woman they have never seen before. She says her name is Chandra Chace, is very friendly, and says Pottage hasn’t returned yet. So, the two PCs head back out… and Morgan notices he’s hearing shutters around the back of the building bang continuously in the wind. Mac should be able to secure a shutter quickly, so the fact this is still banging is weird. Morgan finds Mac’s prints in the soft earth around the shop, and follows them around to the back where they lead up to the banging shutter and just… stop.
Morgan looks up at the top of the shop, and for a spilt second sees a lumpy, hair-covered face with two giant round black eyes and… fangs? But the face, twice the size of a human’s, ducks back behind the ridgeline of the roof just as Morgan spots it.
End Part 1. I’ll get to part Two tomorrow.
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Root of the Problem (A Pathfinder 1e Mini-Adventure)
I recently applied for a full-time, remote, full-benefits, game writing position at Foundry. (One thing I have learned in this industry is that you need to keep up with changing needs and markets.) While I didn’t make the final cut, I did get far enough along to do a timed writing test. I was given instructions at 10am by email, and had to return my work by noon. The test called for an adventure in any game system I wished, that included a missing druid as part of the plot and at minimum one encounter that included investigation, one that included talking to an NPC, and one that was potentially a fight. The main prompt was “The wilderness surrounding a remote town has become perilous. Wildlife that previously avoided contact with humans is now overcome with some form of madness or disease, attacking townsfolk with reckless ferocity. A local druid and longtime protector of the region has gone missing. The protagonists are tasked with investigating the nature of this affliction and resolving it, if possible.”
Obviously, with just two hours for a complete adventure I just managed a “first draft” level of manuscript. But I thought people might be interested in what a produced. So, with Foundry’s express permission, here is “Root of the Problem,” a Pathfinder 1st -edition Mini-Adventure for 3-4 characters of 1st level. By Owen K.C. Stephens.
(Art by Chaotic Design Studio, and not part of the original writing test)
The Crosstimbers are a dense and ancient forest, filled with towering evergreen trees that rise up to 300 feet tall, smaller trees that grow in clumps so tight that their limbs cross and weave together to form natural platforms, and dense, thorny underbrush that is often impassable to anything larger than a rabbit. They are also the site of an ancient battle thousands of years ago, between a powerful necromancer queen and a court of faeries. Though relics of this battle are mostly buried deep beneath the roots and moss of the forest, their influence can sometimes reach up to the surface level.
One such ancient power is the Grave of Lord Vaugir, also known as the Baron of Stakes. A powerful wight warrior who served the necromancer queen, Vaugir had a particular hatred of vampires (even those who were theoretically his allies), and carried a number of wooden stakes he used to both unsure those he killed would not raise as vampires naturally, and to destroy any vampire he could successfully accuse of treachery to their queen. Lord Vaugir was slain by a group of faerie Swan Knights, and buried in a stone tomb hundreds of feet below the surface. While Vaugir himself remains trapped in the tomb, a few roots of one redwood have cracked one corner of his burial vault, and been tainted by his undead powers.
This influence has not gone unnoticed, as the dwarven druid Ferron Ironbark has long known one of the Crosstimber’s mighty trees was fighting some dread infection. Ironbark has monitored the tree for decades, doing his best to heal and nurture it in the hopes it would overcome what ailment was attacking it. However, at the last new moon, the necromantic energy finally took control of one of the redwood’s roots right at the surface becoming the Grave Root and, when Ferron came to visit it, it impaled him through the heart. Ferron’s apprentice, a brownie named Rumpleridge, managed to drag Ferron back to the druid’s grove, and has watched over the body to ensure it won’t rise as some form of undead.
The Grave Root still does not control more than one short length of the redwood it is attached to. It cannot free itself, and cannot, yet, taint the entire massive tree it’s attached to. However, it can reach a spring adjacent to where the redwood grows, and has been tainting that water for a month now. The spring is a common watering hole for native fauna, which are also being tainted by the Grave Root’s power. This makes them ravenously hungry and much more aggressive than usual, but also causes them to work together and not attack one another regardless of the natural instincts.
Not far from Ferron’s grove is the town of Highmoss-On-The-Hill (often just referred to as “Highmoss”), a walled settlement just outside the Crosstimbers. The people of Highmoss have long been on good terms with Ferron, and work to maintain a sustainable relationship with the Crosstimbers. They gather herbs and wild mushrooms, hunt only as much food as they can eat, drag out dead timber for their own use, and make sure any foray into the forest is able to come home before nightfall. While an occasional attack by minor monsters or wild animals is not unknown, in the past month anyone who stays in the Crosstimbers for more than 2-3 hours has suffered an attack by wolves, wolverines, a bear, or even packs of apparently-rabid squirrels. No one has seen Ferron (and the town is unaware he has died), and in recent days some townsfolk have been attacked within sight of Highmoss’s walls, not even within the Crosstimbers.
The Town Council has decided someone must venture into the Crosstimbers are travel to Ferron’s Grove, a 6-hour trip down a well-known path, and speak to the druid. This group should confer with Ferron, determine what is going on, and if possible assist him in fixing it. The more experienced hunters in town who would normally undertake such a missing are missing or too injured from wildlife attacks to attempt it, so the PCs have been chosen to do so. It is the height of summer, and daylight lasts 15 hours from sunup to sundown. If the PCs hurry it is hoped they can enter the Crosstimbers at dawn, consult with Ferron, solve the issue, and return before sundown.
Wandering around the Crosstimbers is genuinely much more dangerous than usual, and there’s a chance the PCs may encounter some of the fauna that has been affected by the water tainted by the Grave Root. Until the water source is cleaned, for each hour the PCs are exploring the Crosstimbers there is a 20% chance of the PCs being confronted by one of following random
encounters. That chance doubles at night, and is halved if the PCs have been confronted by an
encounter in the past hour.
[Insert CR ½-1 random animal encounters here]
The Dead Hunter
The trail is marred by the smell of blood and signs of a vicious fight. Torn leather and cloth are scattered about, and a few tufts of black fur sit matted in old pools of blood.
This is the location where a Highmoss senior hunter, Apaxus Longshank, was attacked and killed by a pack of black wolves tainted by the spring next to the Grave Root. His body was dragged off the trail when they ate him, and a DC 10 Survival check to track or DC 15 Perception check to spot signs of the drag marks can locate him.
Examining the body show bite marks that can be identified as wolves, but the more significant clues are on Longshank’s own weapons. He fought with a masterwork handaxe and shortsword, which are still clutched in what’s left of his hands. They are bloody from the fight, but the blood is streaked with dark, oily slime. A DC 10 Knowledge (religion) check reveals this is necroplasm, a material sometimes used in place of blood by undead creatures. Finding it mixed with actual blood suggests the attacking wolves had been tainted by undead energy, but not yet true undead.
The Grove of Ferron Ironbark
The dense canopy of leaves and branches above break open, and light shines down to reveals a small, neat grove just off the path. There is a round hut with neatly fitted stone walls, a low, wide wooden door, and a roof apparently made of interwoven tree leaves and needles. A firepit sits in the middle of the clearing, with a wooden framework holding a small iron cauldron and
kettle side-by-side above it, but there is no fire now.
To one side of the clearing a neat pile of rocks has been build in an elongated dome roughly five feet long and three feet high. Laying next to it is a short humanoid, no taller than a human’s knee, with a bulbous head topped with a pointed felt cap.
This is the grove of Ferron Ironbark, but now it is his burial place. The brownie Rumpleridge build a stone cairn for his teacher and friend Ferron, and guards it all day and night. Rumpleridge won’t notice or acknowledge the PCs unless they call out to him, and even then, he’s slow to realize who they are or what they want. But eventually his enormous tear-streaked eyes will focus on them, and he’ll answer their questions as best he can. Rumpleridge wants to honor his teacher’s alliance with Highmoss, but is unwilling to leave the cairn for any reason. He plans to stay here through the summer and fall, and only come winter will he consider moving on.
Rumpleridge knows the general backstory of the Crosstimbers, but not the details of Lord Vaugir’s tomb or creeping influence. He does know Ferron was convinced some ancient, deeply buried evil was tainting a specific redwood an hour from the grove, at a major watering hole, and that a root from that tree impaled the druid. He gets tearful when he admits he saw the event,
and that it took all his strength and cunning to drag Ferron back home, and bury him.
Rumpleridge knows animals are going rogue, and can confirm that behavior began when Ferron was killed. It doesn’t occur to Rumpleridge that the Grave Root is infecting the nearby watering hole, but he does mention the infected redwood is “By the main watering hole in this section of woods,” and if a PC asks if the watering hole could be the source of the problem, Rumpleridge agrees the animals becoming vicious are all ones that would periodically drink there. As Ferron had been checking on the tainted redwood for decades, there is a well-worn path leading from the clearing here to the watering hole.
If attacked or pushed too hard to render aid, Rumpleridge will use his brownie powers to harass and confuse the PCs, but he won’t risk harming them. If he must, he flees into the Crosstimbers, and only returns to the cairn after the PCs have left.
The Grave Root
A large pond sits in a low point in the forest, a short outcropping of rocks surrounding it to the north and west, and the roots of a mighty redwood bordering it to the south and east. The surface of the pond’s water seems oily and black, with dark swirls spinning within it though there seems to be no breeze or current to cause the movement. At the southern edge of the pond, one root among the masses is darker, wetter, and more gnarled than the others, it’s 10-15 foot length pulsing slightly. The tip of the root moves, dipping itself into the pool to release a black ooze that joins the oily darkness covering all the water. The root then curls up, rising like a wooden tentacle, and sways back and forth.
The Grave Root uses the stats for a Draugir (HP 19, Bestiary 2), but with the following changes.
It has 15 feet of reach. It is immobile. It can fire a hunk of its own rotting bark as a target as a ranged attack that uses its slam attack, but has a range increment of 20 feet.
If the Grave Root notices the PCs, it immediately attacks. If destroyed, it breaks down into rotting mulch, and the oily blackness begins to clear from the water (taking 2-3 hours to be fully gone). If a PC drinks the water before it is clear, they are immediately confused and affected by the rage spell for 1d10 minutes.
The oily material on the pond is necroplasm, and PCs who found Longshank’s body can identify it as the same as was in the blood on his weapons. Without the Grave root, the water will run clear within hours, and the tainted animals return to normal within a few days.
Continuing the Adventure
Dealing with the Grave Root eliminated the immediate problem, but the risk presented by Lord Vaugir’s tomb remains. Striking up a friendship with Rumpleridge can help explore the region and safely travel further into the Crosstimbers. Seeking a senior member of the faerie court that claims rulership over the forest may reveal the true nature of the evils buried beneath it, and
lead to finding and dealing with Lord Vaugir, and other threats like him.
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My Personal Head Canon on Transformers Combiners
Now that I have made a character for Jacob Blackmon’s upcoming Transformers RPG (though in my case, I made a Joe), I have been thinking about the multiverse of Transformers stories, including multiple animated series (and multiple continuities within some of the series), movies, comics, games, and so on, and what I take away from them to form my own personal, preferred versin of a history and reality for those characters and stories.
And, weirdly, combiners. So, here’s my personal headcanon, for editorial purposes, with no challenge to anyone’scopyright. Also, this article is not Open Content, and is not covered by the OGL.
For my own head canon, I always wanted there to be a total of 3 true gestalt combiners with hard reasons why they aren’t in every battle, and more aren’t made.And it all begins with one of my favorite Autbots, Omega Supreme.
Omega Supreme was a proto-combiner, able to form multiple elements outside of his robot form but still a single Autobot consciousness. Though extremely powerful, he was built long before the Cybertronian Civial War as a true military weaponand thus requires vast amounts of Energon to be active. Ancient and one of the most dangerous of all Cybertronians, his vast Energon needs when in action meant he could only be called on in extreme situations.
Even so, countering Omega Supreme remains a top priority for the Decepticons. When Starscream finds ancient Progenitor Ur-Matrix Tech from the Lost Age of Cybertron, he decides (in order to counter Omega Supreme and prove his superiority to Megatron), to creates a group of new Decepticons who can combine their power to form a mega-Transformer. These are the Constructicons, and when combined into Devastator they are more powerful than Omega Supreme. However, Megatron was able to blow Devastator back into their component parts (not a trick anyone else has ever mastered), and thus the Constructicons accept Megatron as their leader, ending Starscreams bid for power. Devastator remains a major power for the Decepticons, but the Constructions don’t like each other, dislike becoming Devastator, and like Omega Supreme tend to run out of Energon when in Devastator form. Megatron tries to keep them in reserve for pivitol moments in battle.
To counter Devastator, Optimus Prime uses the Autobot Matrix of Leadership to create Autobots for the first time, focusing entirely on bravery, loyalty, and raw power. These turn out to be the primal Dinobots. Though not combiners, they are extremely rugged and as a group they have a fair track record against Devastator. Additionally they are no more Energon-expending than standard Transformers, allowing them to be involved in action regularly, though Optimus often trusts them with defensive positions, where they can be called up to stop Devastator if necessary.
Now in possession of the Progenitor Ur-Matrix Tech found by Starscream, and wishing to create a super-weapon more than a match for either Omega Supreme or the Dinobots, Megatron orders Shockwave to build a war-machine combiner group. These are the Combaticons, who form the extremely powerful (and Energon efficient) Bruticus. However, while the Combaticons are loyal to Megatron and Shockwave, and Bruticus can operate for long periods of time, Bruticus turns out to be a berserker nearly as likely to smash ally as foe. Again, this somewhat limits the cicumstances in which he can be deployed.
Knowing the Decepticons would use whatever they had to create combiners to try again, Bumblebee infiltrated Shockwave’s labs, and recorded the Combiner-creation process. Stealing the very last of the Progenitor Ur-Matrix Tech and returning it to the Autobots, the group’s best minds (including Perceptor and Wheeljack) design the Aerialbots, who can combine to become Superion. Superion is as energon-efficient as Bruticus, and mentally stable, but not nearly as powerful. Superion is a major threat to the majority of lone cybertronians, but can’t match the raw power of any other combiner.
Lacking the ancient Progenitor Ur-Matrix Tech, no other full gestalt combiners can currently be created, though a few efforts have resulted in 2-robot combiners, headmasters, triple-changes, vehicle-mode combiners (where several robot forms combine into one large vehicle, generally a starcraft or ship), City-Class Transformers, and multipart Cybertronians (where one personality can split into multiple smaller robot forms, all still part of the same mind).
And there’s my entirely-personal preferred Transformers Combiner head-canon.
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Storytime: The Insane 20-Person, 14-Hour, Multiple ttRPG Game System Adventure I Played In At WorldCon 1984
Over the weekend I was reminiscing about my first big convention, the 42nd WorldCon when I was 13 years old, and how I wandered around by myself in LA with hundreds of dollars for most of a week. For those curious about the whole post, it’s at the end of this blog entry.
But one of the things I have gotten the most feedback on from that story was mentioning I played in a “20-player, 14-hour game of mixed Basic/Expert D&D, 1st ed AD&D, 2nd ed Boot Hill, & Metamorphosis Alpha.” And, yeah, that was pretty crazy. Several people have asked me to talk more about that game, and it was darn near 40 years ago, but I’ll give a quick rundown to the best of my recollection.
There were lots of “Open Gaming” rooms at the 1984 WorldCon, spread over numerous hotels, which were set aside for people to just organize their own game sessions. I am sure there were organized tournaments and scheduled games as well, but I didn’t interact with that end of things at all (and still rarely do). Instead, I had a backpack with my favorite characters, a bunch of dice, some snacks, and a couple of rulebooks, and looked for people interested in striking up an ad hoc game. That was how gaming had been handled in the tiny convention that was my first taste of cons in Norman the year before, so that was what I expected to be the “standard.”
And, there was a pretty robust 24/7 gaming scene in at least one of the hotels, and I got a few games in. But the one I remember best started about 5-6pm, I think on Thursday (might have been Friday), and came together because a charismatic young man (I thought of him as “an adult” at the time, I’d guess now he was somewhere in his 20s, likely college-aged) stood on a chair in one of the biggest open-game rooms, and shouted he would run a game for any number of people, allowing any characters, from any game system, all together.
There was a lot of slack-jawed disbelief, but when he started setting up multiple fishing tackle boxes of dice, miniatures, and terrain, a bunch of us got interested and went over to see what was up. There were 20 of us players (give or take), and only 3 open round banquet tables in the room. I mentioned there were spare tables a couple of floors down and a young woman (older than me, but I thought not by much — I do not remember her name… I don’t think though it might have been Susan, but she had what I thought was an adorable Canadian accent) said we should go steel them. And she was leading the mission, because she was going to playing an Expert Thief.
So a few of went with her, rode an escalator down one level, cleared and grabbed two round tables no one seemed to be using, rolled them down the hall, had 2-person teams brace them on the escalator for a ride up, and rolled them down to the game room.
The GM had the now 5 tables arranged in a circle, stored his stuff on the floor under them, stood in the middle, and explained the game. First, he really meant any character, any game system. We each got to do one thing in a round, and he’d deal with each of us in our native game system. If there was one monster, the Metamorphasis Alpha characters would fire gyrojet rounds at it, the various D&D players swing swords and fling spells, and the Boot Hill gang (all of one table IIRC) could fan revolvers and unload shotguns. I’m pretty sure he played fast and loose with the rules, all the rules, but it never interfered with the game.
I played a high-level cleric who worshipped Saint Cuthbert of the Cudgel, and carried said saint’s cudgel as an artifact. There were several D&D characters of various editions and classes, a flying psychic telekinetic blue whale and it’s ally a white 4-armed gorilla covered in chitinous armor plates, a Boot Hill outlaw gang (maybe called the Broken Trestle Gang?), and I am absolutely forgetting several folks.
The GM got straight to the set-up, explaining that each of us had a dream where we were told by a wispy voice that only we could save everything, and the End was coming to destroy the Demiurges, destroying all of reality, and we had to stop it. And then our characters woke up on an island covered in various ship, train, and carriage wrecks, with a huge ruby tower at the center. We roleplayed introductions briefly, dealt with the fact several characters thought they were still dreaming (or had gone mad, or were high on bad moonshine, or all of the above)… and then just as we were trying to figure out who would be in charge and what we were going to do, creatures that looked like the garthim from the Dark Crystal came wading out of the water to attack us, and they had small turrets on their shells with machine guns in them.
It was quickly clear that if you didn’t have cover, the machine guns would chew you up. And if you did have cover, the guns would chew it up in a few rounds. So we tried to cover each other and fell back toward the ruby tower. But we couldn’t get in the front door. So, the flying blue whale told us all to climb on board it, and it flew up the tower… and through a big crack in the sky.
And we went reality-hopping on a psychic mutant blue whale. If someone’s character died, they ran to go grab food (we all pitched in), then usually came back to watch, at least for a few hours.
I absolutely can’t remember everything that happened. We stayed up all night, eating cold pizza and drinking warm Pepsi, and I had the time of my life. There were undead WWII battleships, living “evil eyes” that would fly into the wound of a dead person to become a “third eye” and possess them, floating islands, reality and alternate planes curling back on each other, and at least a little time was spent in fantasy, Old West, and Generation Ship in Space settings. One of the D&D rogues ended up with a sawed-off Boot Hill shotgun. One of the Boot Hill gang members got a ray gun from Metamorphasis Alpha. The psychic blue whale sacrificed itself to save us when a spiked ghost train attacked us in the Astral Plane by crashing into it head-on, while an AD&D wizard riding it broke his Staff of the Magi on its cowcatcher.
We worked out that The End wanted all our worlds to stop existing, and had discovered our worlds all existed because the Demiurges willed them to, and all the Demiurges were gathered in one place, and it was going to kill them, but we could stop it. And the flying eyes all belonged to an extradimensional creature that served as a lookout for the End. It had a weird name, like “That Which Disapproves,” though I doubt that’s exactly right.
We played all evening, all night, and well into the next morning. Character after character died, but we knew it was okay, because if we stopped the End, they would live again, and if we didn’t we’d all cease to exist.
We ended up with just 5-6 of us left, in the Modern Era, in LA, hunting the End through the halls of a hotel… and finally found it. It was a scrawny, unimpressive, short boogeyman, lurking outside a room at the hotel. And it was looking through the door at… us.
Us, the players. We were the Demiurges. The End wanted to kill us, and if our characters didn’t stop it, we, as real-world people, would be killed by it. The idea thrilled me…and freaked me out.
But the last few heroes (including my cleric) destroyed the End, ensuring that the worlds of adventure would continue forever. And we realized we could, as our characters, go into the room and meet ourselves, as players. And in that moment, having gorged myself on junk food and soda and been awake for something like 36 hours and playing for 14, I believed. But, we decided in-character that might freak out the Demiurges, so we left.
Also, there was something about a dartboard. There was a folding-cabinet bar-style dartboard in that hotel conference room for some reason, and it came into play in the story of the End, but I can’t for the life or me remember how.
And the game ended. We exchanged long-distance phone numbers and address and promised to keep in touch and I, at least, had lost all that info by the end of the weekend.
Then I went and slept in the Anime Room, because it was closer than my hotel room.
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For those of you who want some context, here’s the story I posted on Social Media about my time at the 42nd WorldCon.
I don’t have kids, and I am well aware that things were different 40 years ago. But apparently even people my own age are shocked to learn my mother was fine with me wandering around LA on my own at age 13 with $500 on me.
Though to be fair, $300 of that was traveler’s checks.
It was for the 42nd WorldCon, and I was almost 14.
My mother went with me, and we had a hotel room, but we mostly checked in on a notepad in the room. We rarely saw each other.
She was filking. I was gaming.
I went to a Elfquest #20 Howl/release party. A woman dressed as Nightfall flirted with me and gave me first-ever romantic kiss (from someone I didn’t even know the real name of).
Saw the anime Lensman movie.
Was part of a banquet table heist so we could fit more gamers in a room.
Rode to Disneyland with C.J. Cherryh.
Ate breakfast at a diner counter at 4am, discussing Return of the Jedi with some nightflyers who weren’t, AFAICT, die-hard geeks.
Played a 20-player, 14-hour game of mixed Basic/Expert D&D, 1st ed AD&D, 2nd ed Boot Hill, & Metamorphosis Alpha.
Bought my first junk metal wall-hanged sword.
Broke my first junk metal wall-hanger sword.
Bought my second junk-metal wall-hanger sword.
Got offered, and declined, my first beer from a stranger.
Ordered a delivery pizza just for me to eat watching movies, for the first time.
Saw, for the first time, ALIEN, Dawn of the Dead, Heavy Metal, Flesh Gordon, Dark Star, Sapphire & Steel, The Quatermass Experiment, Mad Max, Life of Brian, Clockwork Orange, and Zardoz. The video quality was often terrible, and some may have been taped off movie screens.
That was my 2nd or 3rd scifi convention ever, and it would be a high-point until I got to a Gen Con in the late 1990s.
I was a BIG 13-year old, in both height and weight. I’d never been unsupervised while away from my home town before. We didn’t have cell phone, or pagers.
Now as it turns out, I was fine. I can’t say if it was genius parenting, or luck, but the experience was formative for me in a lot of ways. Not the least of which was I saw how total strangers reacted when someone whipped out a big wad of $20s, and stopped doing that.