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 Post subject: Dungeons & Dragons 5e: Gods' War journal
PostPosted: November 8th, 2018, 11:32 pm 
Burning my Dread.
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Hey, it's another of these things from me where I keep a running journal of an active D&D game for the few who may be interested or involved in it!

Locations revealed: 
Tycci (tie-chi) - The continent in question
Somnophis (sahm-no-fiss) - Central hub of a six-town region
Trisme Gate (triz-um, gate) - Northwest town, farmland, home to a great library
Astraere (ahst-rare) - Southwest city, fine goods and arts hub

Characters mentioned: 
Gildie (guild-ee) - Human Fighter/Ranger, DEX melee focus, hunter's guild receptionist. Topsummoner's character
Garn (rhymes with barn) - Firbolg* Ranger, DEX archery / beastmaster focus, hermit. Ex Rex's character.
Tacin (tah-sin) - Human Lore Bard, apprentice Bard adventurer. Jaron's character.
Ember - Tiefling Forge Cleric, formerly deceased craftswoman and wizard.
Riyae (ree-yay) - Deva* Divination Wizard, scholar and Trisme librarian.
Kiran (ky-ron) - Dwarf Monk/Barbarian hybrid, disinherited wanderer.
Enna (en-nuh) - Half-elf Paladin, town travelling helper. Kiri's sister.
Kiri (kee-ree) - Halfling Cleric, town travelling helper. Enna's sister.
Hashken (hah-sh-ken) - Green Dragonborn Sorcerer, diplomat and inter-town aide to Ember.
*Firbolg are part elf, part giant forest guardians.
*Deva are angels who used to walk the world as adventurers.

Plot given: 
20 years before the game starts, a wave of chaos blasts upon the world at the change of the year. No continent is spared the sensations of what might be called a Dark Age: demons roam freely in greater numbers, clergy reported feeling no connection to their deities anymore, and the seasons began gradually shifting to a darker, colder, wetter year. This pandemonium was highlighted by what is known as the Great Gnoll Raid, a surge of gnolls appearing from numerous points along every continent in a mad effort to consume anything that bleeds.

The raid was largely held back by the combined efforts of all armies and militia of the land led by the champions, clerics, and veterans of both Kord's and Bane's elite followers. The tide was stemied, but at the cost of almost all the devoted of these two gods. One by one the others' starts winked and faded, until few were left. At present, only the Raven Queen, Sehanine, Ioun, Vecna, Torog, and Asmodeus still shine in the sky, with the three evil being the only at full strength.

Tycci's salvation came in the form of a seasoned adventurer in Ember rapidly fortifying the Somnophis area enough that its people could find safety within a fortress' walls, able to defend itself until starvation took the gnolls and the strength in numbers faded. With the region safe, she found herself partnering with the Deva Riyae to spend the next twenty years rebuilding the region to its former glory or further.

Session 1: Festival of Seasons: 
Game begins in Somnophis, during a season's change festival from Summer to Fall, on a mercifully clear, sunny day. A play is being performed in the evening, with a knight set to win his maiden's kiss at midnight. He is interrupted by a bolt of lightning that sets the stage aflame, and a downpour barraging the townsfolk. The people are called onto the stage, wherein the tent is pulled over it to protect the people from the rain. While everyone is going over why the weather changed as it did, one townsfolk stumbled forward in a trance and, in a voice well not his own, uttered what could only be a prophecy before collapsing.

Ember takes it to heart, having come into possession of a painting that could only have been done by her in her sleep... except she's no painter, never having put brush to canvas in her life. As the people look over the picture for its significance, her attention wanders to something that grabs her attention, and only hers, leaving the tent for a moment before returning with a needle-like fragment of something between a gemstone and glass shard. She crushes it in her hand, orange electricity crackling through her arm before she glows in its light for a second. None left can deny the circumstances are too odd to ignore. After all, an adventurer of two lifetimes and two varieties of magic claims to not know what the power she grasped comes from. Only that it's not the first, and always seemingly from somewhere steeped in religious or historical significance.

At this point, Tacin steps forward to confirm who exactly she is. An outsider to this region, he was advised to seek her out to offer himself as a fledgling adventurer who might be available to help if help is needed. Gildie, nearby, had been whisked away due to a misunderstanding by Ember about her intentions, having said in days past that she wished to taste the adventuring life instead of seeing it from behind a desk. Ember takes these two at their word and guides them (with only a little arm twisting) past the fortress-sized inn, wherein its cloud giant proprietor asks what the news is with this dreary weather. She's more interested in the precense of an eight foot tall stranger at a table, the firbolg Garn, who for lack of a better goal in mind agrees her requests for help are worth a listen.

Ember turns out to be in possession of three more of these "shards of power", one of each red, blue, and green. After some explanation that it seems to be a poor idea to try to shatter one color after attuning to another, she makes the nature of her request known; she wants the trio to be a fresh group of eyes, a new perspective on the land, to scout for what's what while making a delivery of the shards and her painting to Riyae in Trisme Gate. As she tries to convince the trio of the importance of this, one of the townsfolk from the tent comes by her forge with a clay statue of a golem-like creature adorned with many gods' symbols in positions that imply being within its grasp. With the religious importance of the request set further in stone, the trio agrees, and allows Ember to pay for a night in the cloud giant's inn.

The inn, aside from being a gaudy display of some of the most expensive looking pieces of treasure a thief could wish to even appraise, is incredibly comfortable, putting the trio in good enough spirits to try to get to know each other over breakfast. Ember, meanwhile, has prepared a starter pack of sorts for the group, a few relatively common but still useful magic items and proper gear set for the newfound adventurer in Gildie. With their mission re-stated, they depart to the northwest, cloaks tight around their bodies to fight off the cold and wet of the still heavy downpour.

At a halfway house, a rest house and prayer chapel combined, they're greeted with the building abandoned and coated in dust, empty of life save a scarcely clad dwarf, Kiran, stoking the fireplace. He makes it clear that he's not at all the owner or caretaker, merely trying to escape the rain, before making a clumsy attempt at starting stew for the team. He makes a little history of himself known, that he's a traveler who isn't allowed among his family anymore and doesn't want much to do with direct society anymore. He still cares for the people, though, enough to observe from afar, and protect off the beaten path. He leaves the stew to boil while looking outside for an unlikely traveler, and finds a less likely surprise. The trio is interrupted from rest by his reaction; a furious scream akin to a bear's roar, a smash into the wall near the entry doors, and the sight of a dead goblin corpse being flung into another goblin that gets toppled over.

And so the fight breaks out, with the party making their way out rapidly to find Kiran surrounded by seven goblin, but looking past them around the corner of the building to a Hobgoblin hanging behind to give orders. He is cut numerous times, but shrugs it off as he punches a hole through the group, pins the hobgoblin, and almost breaks his neck with one well placed punch of his bare hand. The party is left to deal with the seven smaller goblins, who end up unable to regroup in time to ambush the rookie trio. It ends up four-against-three before Kiran realizes he did indeed leave the smaller Goblins behind, catching his fists aflame before ending the hobgoblin and three of the lessers in one swift swoop. By battle's end, only Garn takes any true injury, a single scimitar slash to his shin.

Gildie recognizes goblin culture well enough to know this was a scouting party using the rain as cover to move closer to the road, and makes out their tracks as having come from the southeast as well. Kiran takes off in a dash to ensure there are none more coming, leaving the trio to recouperate for a few moments. As Garn remains near the entrance to find some suitable food off them for his pet, he hears ravenous chewing sounds from outside, seeing a gnoll with its mouth happily around the hobgoblin corpse's arm. With his own personal hatred of gnolls fuming, he begins the second round of fighting with a swift arrow directly between the eyes of the demon.

The damage isn't lethal, but is enough to cause a shriek that alerts all surrounding people, even the distant Kiran. The dwarf doesn't make it back in time to join the second fray, but Gildie is able to stand firm before two gnolls and bounce away every would-be attack against her while sword, arrow, and mockery spell assail the demons to their end. Fearing another search party of gnolls, Kiran agrees to make up for his running off in the wrong direction by carrying the corpses some three hundred feet away to ensure no further scouts prioritize the halfway house, offering the team a chance to properly rest for the hour. Stew's cooking, after all.

Session 2: The Trisme Gait: 
The party feels somewhat stronger for their experiences, yet their journey has only just begun, and the day only half spent. Unfortunately for them, the constant cloud cover casting the dready downpour on the land only makes it seem later than it is; despite their earnest desire to get to know each other and their new comrade in Kiran, time has to cut their conversation short. Tacin is willing to muse to the group over his understandable, deep-rooted worry about Ember's sense of responsibility in giving three perfect strangers a mission to carry mysterious and prophetic items, shards of power, and gifts of magic items for the sake of unraveling a seemingly continent-wide mystery. For what little Kiran knows of Ember through eavesdropping on local travelers, he knows she's well praised among many in the region, enough to abate the group's fears somewhat.

In his desire to pay his debt of leaving the group alone for the would-be Gnoll ambush, Kiran accompanies the trio the rest of the way to Trisme Gate's borders before excusing himself. Evening falls and the town awaits, dimly lit by torches casting lights from within homes and along the outside of the great library at the town's center. A building built to rival the size of the Somno Sleepery, it beckons as the obvious first destination for the group. Its doors are closed, but upon opening, they are greeted by a great man standing at the ready shortly inside, towels spread along the entry way. Almost seven foot tall of lavender skin, milky white pools of white for eyes, and streaks of blue and white decorating his flesh, he is obviously not human. Making this fact more apparent is the golden, feathery decorations adorning his purple robe's back and neck, angelic in style. Riyae, the Deva.

He stands calm, almost as still as a statue, unblinking and unwavering even at the burst of cold on the doors opening. He instead greets the trio in a calm but deep voice, beckoning over fresh cloaks brought by invisible hands. The party is understandably hesitant to trust such displays at first glance, but Tacin takes the lead in accepting the hospitality, following his lead to a reading area beside a sizable fireplace. Gildie follows, though Garn stays put comfortably on the towels, not wanting to take off his muddy boots and expose himself (and likely stinky feet) to the group proper. With their cloaks drying by the fire, tea starting to heat, and the basics of introduction made, the group get down to business.

Tacin procures the statue, painting, and three vials with a shard of power apiece onto a table while voicing his concerns over the weather, the confusing nature of Ember's request, and the mysterious artifacts thrust upon him and the group. Riyae seems completely unshaken by Ember's behavior, however, assuring the group this is somehow standard fare for her way of life and that their task was not entrusted lightly. As they call his explanation into some question, he spends a few moments examining the objects, drawing a few basic conclusions about them while waiting for an opening to reveal his initial findings.

The golem in question isn't identified, however the numerous symbols of gods ensure the divine nature of the problem at hand is to blame. Ember's choice to petition his help comes from his nature as a Deva, good-natured immortals who consider it their mission in all their reincarnations to grow close and helpful to the gods. For all the many deities who can be identified by symbols, one stands out as important to not appear; Sehanine, the goddess of the moon, trickery, illusions, and the autumn season. The timing of the start of the downpour, that her two best friends in the pantheon are shown in the statue as potentially captive, and that a shard of power appeared in Somnophis specifically leads him to the conclusion that the goddess weeps uncontrollably, sending unchecked rains upon the land.

Of the drawing itself, four ghosts chasing a skull chasing a bird's head, a simple conclusion is drawn that the Raven Queen is being hunted by Orcus. There is little room for doubt, given the nature of the statue and religious overtones to the whole deal. The prophecy inscribed on the back, however, presents a unique challenge in that it is in the style of the true seers of old, of which Riyae was not. There is one single word standing out from the rest, spelled by Ember how she thinks it may have been pronounced. The few ways she wrote it down are read aloud, ringing familiar to Tacin's ears with how he once attempted to pronounce the same sounding word from an old Celestial dictionary he chanced upon. Riyae soon pieces together the likely idea that it was misspoken, and is indeed the Celestial word for "Despair" used in the prophecy. Why that single word is an issue and in Celestial, however, is not yet figured out.

The shards of power, however, present a unique mystery to him. They are familiar enough that he stands a chance of some form of identification, but not enough that he can do so at a simple glance or first touch. He concentrates on each one among the Red, Blue, and Purple shards, coming to a more solid conclusion the more he lingers on them. Within a few minutes, he has an epiphany; these are the selfsame style of shards of power found more commonly in the Fourth Era, used by the divine magicians dubbed "Invokers" at the time. Though smaller, less powerful, and more varied in their magical natures, they resonate the same way he felt in past lives when encountering similar power. Garn finally becomes curious enough to remove his boots and take his place beside the group, examining the shards properly for the first time himself while Riyae speaks.

Tacin's mind works quickly, coming to the conclusion that different shards might manifest different forms of power specifically, though his first thought is that different colours may signal different schools of magic. If so, however, their associations of colour to school are faulty; Ember described a nectotic-esque loss of life force from the backlash of crushing a green shard some time after orange. Garn, whose Firbolg nature allows him to detect the magical nature of items and creatures around him, promptly asks Riyae if schools of magic associate themselves with different colours. Tacin wonders much the same, yet he would expect necromancy effects to be akin to black, or perhaps purple, but certainly not green.

Riyae thinks much the same, but takes it a step further; perhaps the power is not in a school of magic, but a source of power entirely. He muses that the nature of the shards is the powers gods grant all magic, not simply wizardry or divine strength, an explanation he feels is backed up by his own discovery to the energies he felt within each individual shard. Of the Red shard, he felt a sense of a Warlock's all-consuming power, coupled with a unique familiarity to the Invoker's strength of old. To the Blue, he sensed naught but a glimmer of natural magic, his mind's eye likening the strength to what he would know in the Fourth Era as a Warden's strength. The purple, he could assume naught of its strength or origin, only that it held the same magical nature as his own Wizard powers.

The trio are left wondering why Ember would not have saved the Orange shard for herself to add to this collection fo research, and what to do with this newfound information. It was Ember's request of an inquiry, after all, not theirs. Riyae, however, is left wondering what to do with the shards of power themselves. Manifestations of gods' own strength, they were not to be taken lightly, and cerrtainly not to be left alone for fear of falling into the wrong hands. After a brief conversation via telepathy with Ember herself, he confirms that her goal was information. She herself was attuned to the orange shards' power, after all. Given his understanding of the powers of the Fourth Era, Riyae offers his suggestions of what to do.

Garn could make use of the Red, for Archfey warlocky was a possibility and its power useful besides, and his wise nature brought him closer to religious proficiency than his comrades. Gildie, being the only of the group who seemed comfortable facing foes toe to toe, was presented with the Blue shard, whose suspected ties to a Warden's strength was to be a potential boon for her. The purple shard, however, Riyae seemed hesitant to offer to Tacin, who seemed equally hesitant to accept it. Only Garn was courageous enough to crush the offered shard, finding himself growing in vitality, reserves of energy, understanding of the arcane, and somehow coming to know a spell he had never pursued. He curiously casts it, finding himself coated in a cool, magical aura that Riyea identifies as the Armor of Agathys.

There is no question about it, the shards are indeed powerful. But Tacin and Gildie opt out of using their own offered shards, replacing them in their vials for the time being. With the mysteries largely cleared up, the trio recognizes they are somewhat in over their own heads for dealing with the problems of gods, and find themselves weary, even with the long-boiling tea finally served to refresh them. Riyae offers to pay for their night at the inn, given their lack of spending money coming back to haunt them, but Tacin's eye catches a curious sight on the way. A young girl of maybe seven or eight summers is looking at them from around the corner of a house, outside, in the heavy rain.

He petitions Gildie to not retire for the night yet, and asks Garn for his cloak to offer the girl, but being an eight foot man, the cloak is exceptionally large and heavy with water. Instead, he makes it a point to offer his own as he approaches the girl, worry apparent at her likelihood to catch cold or worse. With the promise of a dry spot and what looks like a hug, she leaps herself into him and shivers the entire time. She speaks little, but agrees readily to join him to the inn to find a dry place. Riyae identifies her as Emily, but she seems to recoil from him even as he works his magic to rapidly dry and warm her clothes, before the rest of the party's in turn. Though she doesn't want conversation with him, Riyae voices his worry for her safety, his hope that their family's torubles end, and that he misses seeing her in the library.

The group work to cheer up the girl, with Tacin and Gildie offering conversation and questions while Garn uses his innate magic to offer her a pleasant distraction. Illusion cloaks him to appear almost five feet tall, yet reality prevails as his still eight foot tall body reaches over to, with permission, scoop up Emily and hold her piggyback atop his shoulders, a magic trick of levitation to successfully shake her mindset out of her gloom. Deeming herself among friends, she mentions that her father told her to get out because she interrupted him and her mother's alone time, even though she was hungry. It was sometime after breakfast that this happened, likely near noon, and there had been no sign of the parents missing or searching for her at all.

Gildie fumes, and is overcome with an urge to give these two parents a piece of her mind. With the barkeep onlooking and in agreement about the insanity of the situation, he offers up what little he knows, alongside a quick meal for Emily. Her father is Robert, described as a good man and hard worker who suddenly came into relations with an outsider that seemed to take an unusually direct shining to Robert. Emily's sudden seclusion and the potential for abuse, however, are an entirely unheard of idea, even among his gossiping patrons. Though her resolve to get to the bottom of such neglect is unshaken, a new possibility hangs in the back of Gildie's mind. The team is moved enough to proceed at once, though, using the barkeep's direction of the southwestmost house as the target.

Garn is the one who knocks. Yet Gildie is not far behind, and even Tacin able to hear a feminine groan of frustration before a minute passes and a well kept man opens the door. Among the immediate chatter, Gildie's piercing cry of "Are you Emily's father!?" prompts a sudden change in his demeanor. His visage shifts from a hazy, absentminded gaze to a genuinely distraight sight, guilt clear in his voice as he realizes what has happened. Despite this, Garn blocks the doorway, seeking answers before entrusting Emily's safety to a potentially neglectful or abusive father. He never once seems to lie or show anything but crystal clear worry; the feminine voice makes itself known as an uncommonly beautiful lady pokes her head out of the second floor clearing to voice her disdain for the situation, and not in a way that shows any concern for Emily's well being.

Robert's earnest worry wins the party over enough to lead him through the rain, Tacin making it a point to stop at the building where Emily was originally seen hiding. Robert knows nothing about why she would choose such a spot, given her preference for games in the fields or time in the library, and laments the idea of her spending such a long time in the icy rain. They proceed to the inn proper, where Robert all but vaults to Emily's side, relief apparent and guilt still consuming his voice. Emily takes a few seconds to cave into tears herself, with Gildie's ears catching hints of such cries as wondering why he never looks at her this way anymore. She missed this side of him.

Unbeknownst to the two, though, Garn took the moment to slip away to pursue his own approach to the situation. He is en route to the household again to directly confront the stepmother. Out of caution, he makes it a point to attempt any direct sources of magic before and after opening the door, finding nothing but the lady's voice waiting. She proves to be as unconcerned for the situation as before, merely telling Garn to get out before humoring his accusations. Emily confided to the party that it was Robert's word to get out, a story the stepmother sticks to quite readily. She herself has no hatred of or real problem with Emily, statements that Garn can't discern to be lies... but he can discern that her tongue is silver with experience of getting into peoples' heads. His audacity to enter the building leads her to appear beside the open doorway, tell him to get out, and slam the door behind him when he obeys quite readily. As he leaves, Garn notices a curious, pink, heart-shaped trace of magic exiting himself and floating towards the closed door.

So he returns to the inn, unable to successfully recount the situation. It's an unusual display of uncertainty and forgetfulness from an otherwise straightforward fellow, enough to trigger worry in his allies. What he does recall is his effort to talk to her, his swift departure, and the fragment of some enchanting magic leaving him before his return. Tacin attempts to work out the details himself, but Gildie seeks to put the pieces of the puzzle together with help, returning to the library alone to seek Riyae's assistance. He himself knows nothing more of Robert's wife and their life than the barkeep, but he grows concerned for Garn's change of demenaor, returning to the inn alongside Gildie. Near the same time, Tacin catches Robert trying to escort Emily home, leading him to convince Robert over the next few minutes that Emily would be safer in the inn, to which he eventually complies.

Gildie returns with Riyae during the exchanghe. The four isolate themselves to a corner far away from the calming girl, learn the name of the mother at last to be Jessica, and double check that Garn's testimony hasn't changed. Riyae, fearing the worst, asks permission to touch Garn's head, and casts dispelling magics in rapid succession to remove general spell effects and curses. Garn's head immediately clears, and he recalls in much greater detail how the lady acted, how she mysteriously appeared in the doorway, and how her presence up close shifted his mindset.
Riyae asks if she used the ladder to descend, knowing the layout of buildings in the area. To his dismay, no. She did not.

Riyae's fears are revealed after considering the situation from all sides. He is of the opinion that Jessica is a succubus, targeting Robert. As much as they wish to help, the adventuring trio has no desire to pick a fight with a devil while they themselves are still spent from the halfway house's fighting, a stance shared by Riyae. The morning, however, promises to be quite the adventure.

Session 3: {b}Jessica{/b}: 
Although their original mission was merely to deliver goods and request investigation about them, the party feels the presence of a potential succubus is well worth sticking around for, as neither the trio nor Riyae want to leave a fiend unchecked. Riyae convinces Emily to retire for the night in the library, hallowed ground resistant to fiendish attention. Agreeing to see Riyae shortly after awakening, the three retire to their own rooms, though Garn has the idea to send his pet--a giant wolf spider he otherwise has kept tucked safely away--to scout the household for audible signs of struggle or trouble. There is nothing to report, however, merely a surprised inkeep and a further scared inkeep's wife come the new morning when it skitters from and to the inn.

The night passes without any visible issues, and the three reconvene at the library to find Emily passed out quite peacefully on a couch facing the fireplace, and Riyae behind his desk awaiting their return. He leads them into the entryway, out of earshot of the sleeping child, to go over both the nature of the enemy, and his plan. He briefly explains for the party's sake that among fiends, a devil differs from a demon in that they obey their own laws, seeking to corrupt a soul rather than destroy it, as part of their ways. The more good or faithful a target, the more satisfying the corruption, and the worse the fiend spawned of the soul. Given the behaviors a good man like Robert had recently shown, and Emily's dire situation, he deems the party's arrival to be just in the nick of time.

Despite his quite apparent book smarts, Riyae's skills at combat strategy are somewhat limited, and his ability to explain them worse. His idea's core consists of the trio bringing Emily back home, a sign of delivering her to lower the guard of Jessica and Robert, before having Emily run back to the library. During this time, Riyae is to enter the house ethereally, while the trio force their way in physically, barring the door to prevent Jessica's escape in the material world. Riyae, in the ethereal plane, will conjure a spell that binds her in a spectral cage that stops her from shifting away in any directon. Riyae points out his susceptibility to her charming effects, calling on Tacin's ability to allow him to perform above his normal, keeping his inspiring tones in reserve to call upon if he finds himself a target of her charms. With this, Riyae hopes to systematically eliminate the succubus' options, leaving her isolated and an easy target on either plane, given a succubus' or incubus' physically frail nature.

Tacin, however, promptly calls out the problem of leaving Emily unattended to potentially witness violence, and Garn chips in that her ability to stick to a plan instead of lock up or watch out of sheer childish curiosity is a worry. Riyae, however, has no expertise in illusionary magic, and they must hire the innkeep's wife, Jillian, to leave her station for a moment to play Emily's escort. Riyae sparks some confidence in Jillian's reliability due to knowing her and Jacque to be good people, and certainly that Jacque would have told her of the happenings of the night. And so she agrees, takes it upon herself to wake Emily up, and leads the group out to the house. Jillian is visibly confused about how to approach the situation once there, as is Gildie when the door finally opens to show Robert waiting in it, but Garn and Tacin lead the charge in and push Robert to a side wall so everyone can funnel in while Jillian coaxes Emily away and back to the library.

The first few moments of this entry are an awkward exchange, Gildie wondering what the signal is of Riyae's spell and Robert trying to get answers out of Garn and Tacin. Garn assures Robert it's for his own good, and after ten seconds of waiting, escalates the tension by taking a rushed and unfortunately inaccurate shot at the still disguised Jessica. She scoffs and drops the facade, pointing out that she should have killed Garn when she had the chance, before she vanishes into the ether. Unknown to the group, Riyae awaits her on the second floor balcony, already having wrapped her in the force cage and at the ready to fire deadly accurate missiles upon her. The team takes their positions and hopes for the best; Garn bars the door and awaits a chance to shoot, Tacin holds steady in front of a window while hurredly trying to explain the situation to Robert, and Gildie dashes herself up the ladder to put herself as close to the succubus' original position as she can.

The lady reappears where she once was, trying to fly away but ending up only squishing her side against the very tight prison holding her in both worlds. Garn's arrow explodes in a magical spray as it lands, and Gildie's blade finds itself just barely missing the fiend's face, while Riyae rejoins the fray with another barrage of missiles and Tacin's words cut through to her black soul. She turns and tries as expected to charm Riyae into turning against the party, but his mind is all too well steeled against the effort, leaving her isolated and outnumbered. Seeing the desperate situation for the fiend, Garn beams to himself and figures out the perfect method to conclude this dark chapter. Being an eight foot giant looking upon a ten foot balcony, he uses a table as a footstool to roll himself over the edge and scramble into place behind her, pinning her between himself and Gildie. Restrained, distracted by Gildie's efforts to scar her beautiful face specifically, and caught in the middle of two foes, the succubus is helpless against Garn's headsman's chop with an axe, soon giving the devil a taste of the dullahan's life.

Mich to Riyae's displeasure, the dissapation fiends are known to undergo upon death is a slow process. He expected her to flicker away into flame or ash at an instant, but instead the corpse very slowly fades into a back smoke, and would take too long for his taste. Tacin jabs him with a point about his lack of being able to plan, though Riyae's lack of fiendslaying history is hard to blame, but agrees to the idea of bringing Robert to the library and ensuring Emily does not watch the door while Riyae telekentically flings the corpse through the doors to dissolve much more instantly within the holy, hallowed aura. Robert and Emily are reunited, and both seem much more revitalized for being rid of the succubus' lingering influence.

Riyae congratulates the party, pointing out that he feels cheery enough to perhaps ring a bell in celebration. Garn's mind turns in memory of his dream over the past night; a large bell swinging, with an amber twinkle somewhere at the hinge of it glinting at him every so often as it swung. He does not voice this dream specifically yet, but asks to see the bell to confirm for himself if it's a coincidence or not. The bell in question is upstairs, comparable to a house in volume and a brilliant brass in color, but Garn pays its beauty and Riyae's explanation of its use as an alarm clock of sorts no mind. He instead maneuvers himself around to the same angle he remembers it in his dream from, even using his magic detection ability to try to pinpoint the location of where he dreamed the shard. Indeed, standing directly under the hinge, he finds himself able to see a lustrous yellow glow of magic, to which he explains to the party his dream and that there is something triggering his senses. The bell itself is not magical, only being born from a spell alongside the creation of the library. Curious, Riyae flies up to the hinge, and comes back down with a shard of amber pulsing in his palm.

After a minute, Riyae concludes that the primary power flowing through the shard is true divine power, clerical and holy in nature, but couldn't quite name the secondary power hidden at its core. He claims the power is a rare form of holy power, but not one that he had seen more than once in a past life, and certainly not in-depth enough to recall more than its nature as some form of artistry, with pictures or words. Despite this, the shard's existence is clear as day, as is a renewed reminder from Riyae that the trio is free to break the shards as they desire as per Ember's request and permission. Gildie is still hesitant to risk subjecting herself to unknown magical effects, but Tacin confirms with Garn his lack of ailments from his own red shard before risking the violet one stored away. A brilliant streak of purple electricity courses through Tacin's hand as he squeezes the shard, giving him a similar charge of vitality, store of energy, insight into the arcane talents of Wizards of old, and clarity of thought about arcane knowledge in general. Being a very practical soul who knows his well being is important to him, his power manifests itself in the form of a protective shield that he can summon once per day to shove away an otherwise true strike against him.

With the business of the bell concluded and the nature of the dream resolved, the party reconvenes downstairs, finding Robert reading a children's book to Emily. Riyae gives the painting back to Tacin, having transcribed a summary of his findings upon it so Ember has a hard copy, and makes it a point to say he intends to investigate the statue further on suspicion that it is for some reason hollow. Gildie and Tacin make sure to give Emily a farewell before the team squares away a proper meal to ready them for the trip back to Somnophis. The weather, unfortunately, has not improved whatsoever. The road is similarly dull, though that seems to be a good thing as little happens on it. At the halfway house, the team finds themselves feeling less like stopping and more like getting the trip over with, but a squeak of the door's hinge and slam shut after they pass confirms to them that the place is occupied. Fog heavily obscures the windows to the entry, however, and Gildie takes initiate with sword out and shield ready to peek the door open. She is greeted by a rather rough and tumble figure with his own weapon drawn, a man who cries out "They know!" before a melee breaks loose.

The team is initially outnumbered four to three, but cut and run tactics give Gildie a quick chance to stab one bandit fatally before she takes a defensive position in a corner of the entry room to avoid exposing her back. Sadly, the three cads are quick to respond, swarming her rapidly. The largest of the group, a scarcely armored man wielding a big stick, swings wide once but crashes his club against her while a more nimble man with two daggers steps through her guard. She is overwhelmed rapidly, slumping unconscious against the corner while the leader rides the momentum to step out and fling a dagger at Tacin. The second lesser bandit sprints out after Garn, who has taken a distant position to shoot into the building, leaving Tacin an opening to sing a quick rejuvenation spell to Gildie. The second bandit is lost to Tacin's swift backstab after, leaving the fight effectively split in two.

Gildie contends toe-to-toe with the thug, who makes it a repeat performance to miss with his first strike before the backswing catches her off guard. She gives into the need to survive and dips her shield arm's hand into her bag to force her grip through both the glass vial and turquoise shard within, finding herself revitalized as well and able to further rejuvenate herself even more with a bard's choice of the same healing spell Tacin cast before. The ringleader contends with Garn and Tacin, slipping up and striking blow for blow as best he can with the Bard, but struggling de to the heavy rain in his eyes and the surprise of a spectral shield just as he thinks he has an opening. In desperation to create some distance, Tacin summons a blast of thunder, failing to push the leader away but creating a resounding thunderclap that roars out for quite some distance.

As the heroes' resources are spent, they find their assailants looking only about halfway to defeat themselves. The confrontation as it is will end in defeat, for sure, but there is a follow-up roar of sound charging from the southeast. Garn is the first to see Kiran chasing the source of the noise, rushing forward to deliver his furious justice upon the bandits. The leader recognizes four to two are bad odds and calls for a retreat between him and his ally, but his ally is soon pinned by Gildie and Tacin blocking the doorway and preparing to dodge any onslaught. Dodge they do, Gildie well readied to deflect both swings before Kiran once again punches a streak of fire from his fist. A single blast to the face is enough to fatally wound the thug, and Kiran is free to dash the distance to the leader for an unexpectedly efficient grapple that halts the absconding scoundrel, though only for a moment when the struggle is too wild to hold any longer.

Garn takes one more good shot at the foe before Kiran once again holds the bandit steady, one well-placed strike to the neck ending the poor sap. Despite her fatigue and injuries, Gildie looks through the building for more signs of the bandits, but thankfully comes up short. The party perseveres, and is thankfully in good enough company to take a well deserved rest from putting their lives on the line.

Author's note: Curse the limitations of BBcode. The original title was to be [b]Jessica[/b], the title of the session being a Mafia vote reference for throwing the succubus under the bus by lynching her, but code in spoil titles is a no-go.

Session 4: Big Bandit Band Bashed: 
Gildie and Tacin, both feeling quite on the brink of collapse, take to the nearest available seats by the fireplace to begin recuperating. Garn had taken no real injury to himself, and Kiran was still ready for trouble, so the two move together in retreiving arrows and dragging the two corpses out of the rain into the wayhouse proper. With no real identifying features or signs of home, the brigands are unable to be immediately identified, leaving the group to muse who they were and why they were here. The phrase "They know" is a point of contention, with Kiran supposing this means "they" refers to a group, not he himself alone, implying the adventuring trio are the intended targets. Garn takes a curious stab at tracking their footprints in the wet grassland, but comes up short, especially compared to Gildie's expertise in the workings of humans. She is able to determine their origin in Somnophis' direction, but that is as far as she is willing to figure out before the need to recuperate sets in again.

With Tacin's heartfelt lute performance to set the tone for a restful hour, recuperation goes quickly and mostly peacefully. Kiran is too restless about the bandits, working with somewhat lax assistance from Garn to strip the men of their gear and clothes, quite literally turning the pieces inside out to search for a motive. The last one checked should have been the first; tucked within the man's bandana is a folded piece of paper, which Kiran reads aloud. "Gifts for Milady? A new bag, a fancy water glass, a ruby necklace, a gold choker." Tacin muses that the man has high standards and very low means, and has left behind a rather sad milady. Gildie's thoughts on the matter are quite the deadpan snark, but after hearing the list a few times over while the paper is examined, Garn deduces that the party themselves are in possession of the intended "gifts": a Handy Haversack, Decanter of Water, Periapt of Wound Closure, and Necklace of Adaptation, as titled by Ember.

The group can only conclude they were the targets to be mugged for their goods. Kiran's thoughts about once again escorting the party to their destination are solidified upon this discovery. They waste no time gathering their goods and setting off, though are stopped at the door with the four corpses still lying there. Kiran grimaces a bit but hefts three of them up for himself to carry, Tacin again volunteering to follow his lead with one, but Tacin is left with the bearish brute, a struggle to drag. Kiran ends up meeting him halfway after depositing his own three bodies on the far off body pile to collect and dispose of the fourth, leaving a rather macabre display of death in their wake.

With the lights visible ahead from some of Somnophis' taller or larger buildings, there's a sigh of relief at safe travels... and at an unnatural relief of tingly pins and needles poking at Gildie's feet, in a way that isn't unpleasant. It comes and goes over a couple minutes, but is unique enough for her to actively point out aloud. Tacin takes this to heart, figuring that Garn's dream was unnatural yet accurate, so perhaps an inexplicable shift in Gildie's senses is to be investigated. Like a hound to a scent, she follows the waves of warm quivering rolling across her feet, able to tell its direction well enough to find a small area where the feeling is its strongest. Garn follows up with his magic detection, scouting the small area before he's able to see a familiar green glow, guessing it to be about two feet under the dirt.

Though the party has no shovel nor spade, Kiran assures them no such tool is needed. With a roar of determination, he plunges his hand to his elbow within the gold mud and grass, yanking a cornucopia of dirt and debris into the air before following up with his other hand. In a mere two powerful pulls, he unearths a green, coin-shaped shard that glows with a familiar light to everyone's eyes. Garn catches it before it can crash land back into the dirt, but Tacin is taken by a unique sensation of a comfortable stillness of mind while the little crystal is exposed. The sensations fade all around when the shard is set into a vial, though the party doesn't dwell on it too greatly with the prospect of warmth and food ahead. Kiran takes his leave before entering town yet again, giving Tacin a handshake upon thanks for the concern and escort.

While on their way to Ember's shop, they're cut off by a man being thrown--quite literally hurled through the air--out of her shop, with Kiba following to toss a sack at the man. "And keep your shinies!", he chirps before moving back inside. The party is amused at the idea that they are nearly coinless, but those with coin are tossed out of shops, but make their way inside to see and question Ember about the sight. The man was suspected of attempted theft, but assuredly guilty of troubling Kiba and Gimble enough to warrant Ember's intervention. She seems disappointed to consider that her two helpers are seen as easy targets, and more so that her efforts in a task were interrupted by the alarm sounding. Anything else, however, can wait; she's very hungry, and wants something bloody. The group is not one to turn away free food or lodging, considering their struggles to secure a means of food and shelter by their own coin. She stops only to withdraw the Telepathy helmet from its slot for Gildie to contact her homeland with.

The Sleepery is still warm and comfortable, though considerably empty. A silver dragonborn and human lady sit near the fire, and the group takes to a round table to set out their news, deliveries, and questions, though in no particular order. Over the course of the conversation, numerous points of contention, curiosity, and carelessness are in some manner addressed. The immediate thought on everyone's minds is the attempted theft and mugging, a thought that confirms some sort of rumor Ember has some inkling of. She laments not letting the thief actually walk away with something, able to track stolen goods via magic, and urges the party to simply give away any further demands of the sort. Riyae's notes are produced, and his observations read rather quickly with Ember's tail able to serve as a third hand for handling the paper. She is visibly concerned for the state of affairs, but does not want to draw any conclusions until every piece of the puzzle is examined; the hollow nature of the statue is, in her eye, the most likely key to the right answer.

Midway through the conversation, a green dragonborn enters, giving Ember a formal nod. He mentions that his business can wait until she is free, and he settles himself in a seat near his silver brethren, leaving Ember free to explain who he is. Hashken, a sorcerer, and more or less a wandering diplomat between the cities. Gildie knows him by name enough to feel comfortable greeting him as well, before exusing herself to her own isolated seat to make use of the helmet to reach out to her guild. The guildmaster surprises her with knowledge of her fight against a succubus. The ambiguity of her explanation about departing and the potential involvement of someone thought deceased in some circles warranted the guild's reaching out to the cleregy's more talented casters, who were able to scry in the morning just in time to see Gildie flanking the devil as Garn rolled into place to give her neck a fresh breeze. Furthermore, guild operations in the kingdom of Kojiga are temporarily suspended due to a similar flooding across their continent, leaving their adventureres more involved with relief effort preparations than hunting monsters that don't want to come out into the cold rain either. She finds herself free to take her miniature vacation for the sake of adventure, especially since hers is directly involved with researching the dismal weather.

About this time, the talk turns again to the weather, and that Sehanine is most likely responsible for it. Ember quips that she doubts she could enlist another favor of the Raven Queen, which sparks curiosity in the group about her possible relationship with a god. She recounts Riyae's telling of her death, but specifies that she was turned lycan as a result of the struggle, and would have been reborn lycan under normal resurrection circumstances. To avoid this, Ember's ghost at the time of her death made a plea to the Raven Queen, feeling her death untimely and unjustified and being willing and able to repay a favor of the Raven Queen's choosing when she calls upon it. In exchange, she asked to be able to resurrect clean of a lycanthropy curse. The Raven Queen accepted, but with caveats; Ember would have to remain a ghost for the full one hundred years her soul is alloted to cling to the world, and when alive, she is forbidden from reversing time or death for herself or anyone until the favor is paid. This business-like relationship is in start contrast to Riyae's nature as a Deva, angellic folk who will quite literally set another plate at a table in case a god or celestial wants to join them for their meal. This, unfortunately, keeps the onus on Riyae to dissect the situation.

Garn's desire to part with the party is still apparent, however well he keeps it to himself. Before the conversation can continue further, the doors to the inn open again, and a tall lady giving a childish figure a piggyback ride under her cloak heads to a nearby wall to paste up a large sign. The two settle at the bar side seats, greeting Ember before taking to themselves. Ember greets them back, but Garn and her focus immediately after on the posted sign. It reads as an alert that the northern jungle is temporarily inaccessible due to flooding, so shipments of some of the exotic herbs, medicines, and goods will be impossible for the unforseen future. It ends with a note to see Enna and Kiri for emergency medical assistance, which Ember confirms as referring to the two half-elf and halfling ladies at the bar.

Out of concern for his ambitions to relocate, Garn approaches them directly to ask what's what. Enna tells him that the shipment caravan found itself under at least a foot of water after one mere night of rest, and it was all they could do to save their own goods and vehicles. So dire was their situation that they had to resort to emergency contact, using a long-distance messaging system of papers that teleport to their intended recipient before flickering out of existence. The two ladies confirm that their reason for travel was to post such signs before moving onto the next town, in their case Salaccia. Garn's hopes weigh heavy on him as he seats himself again, though it is to some relief of Tacin and Gildie that he's now free to resume travel with them, having proven himself a stalwart enough ally.

Ember continues to press on through the discoveries, however, picking up with the shards and their strengths. With four people now at one table with four different shards' powers at their disposal, and two in a bag, they're free to reconsider the exact nature of the magics and powers within them. She confirms her powers are arcane and martial in nature, with Sorcery-toned magics and augmentation of her weapon given to her by her orange shards. After going around with who has discovered what, and what Riyae gathered from the shards, she figures Warlocky, Wizardry, Sorcery, and Clerisy are distinctly accounted for, with Bardic or Druidic powers highly suspected from Gildie's strength. Furthermore, each of their senses in in a fashion augmented to the magic nature of other shards. Ember is able to see a halo of light and colour, Gildie's feet tingle upon the ground alongside them, Tacin's head and mind react to their presence, and Garn seems to dream of them. To test these theories, she plugs the amber shard in a vial and calls to Enna, the half-elf of the two wandering medics, before tossing the viridian shard overhead.

Enna catches it, unknowingly squeezing it to secure her grip on it. The squeeze causes it to shatter, and a rush of green energy flows in wisps along her arm, leaving her confused for the display and newfound strength. She gives Ember an understandably incredulous reaction, but concentrates on the new strength, finding herself able to produce a vine laced with rich, ripe berries. Garn recognizes the ability, and Enna curiously eats one for herself, shocked at its richness of flavor and how filling it feels. She shares the fruit with Kiri and the pary's table before leaning on a nearby table to ask properly what's going on with the green rock. Ember asks her how she feels before uncorking the vial with the yellow shard, giving Tacin a warmth in his head and Enna a warm tickle enough in her nose to prompt a sneeze. She supposes she's allergic to whatever is in the yellow shard, and the sensations do indeed fade when the little gem goes back in its vial. Confused, but trusting in Ember's good (if mercurial) nature, Enna excuses herself to resume eating. Kiri, however, makes no effort to hide that she's eavesdropping on the conversation a little clearer from then on.

Enough becomes enough for trying to take in information, and food is well within everyone's bellies. The conversation turns to the future, and what to do. The shards of power are useful, yet potentially dangerous in the wrong hands, and are a good idea to hunt. Riyae's research on the statue is expected to take a day and a half. And there are still small-time problems and rumors circulating the region that need investigating. Whatever the decision, Ember deems it time to pay the group for their excursion, having pointed out before and redoubling the point that they passed numerous tests they didn't know they were taking. She had claimed at the table that her store contains an infallible lie detector, of which failing causes the back of Ember's neck or head to begin itching terribly. The party, whether selfishly or to help, reacted immediately and decisively upon the heavy rain during the festival. They were fresh faces, able to report on the land with unbiased eyes and ears. And they figured they were working through hardships pro bono, testing their devotion to doing the job right. With passes in all marks, Ember sees fit to pay them quite well in both currency and favor.

Five gemstones valuing one hundred gold apiece and a promise of fully fashioned and properly fitting armor for both Gildie and Tacin are quickly produced, though Garn brings more a mystery than a payment. Though he doesn't visibly hold grudges enough to be seen as a spiteful man, he has etched numerous small insults in many languages along his bow, but doesn't recognize one; for the many languages he does know, Infernal is not on his list, yet the phrase "Hellfire Bitch" rests inscribed upon his weapon in the tongue. The group is mystified by this, and Ember gives him an offer to investigate the nature of this overnight. Ember assures the trio that their room is again paid for, and muses to herself that she wishes she had told the sisters good-night. The confusion is quickly dispelled, pointing out that she is referring to Enna and Kiri, though this only spawns more curiosity about their possible relations.

Tacin and Gildie go to bed quickly enough, though Garn tests his spider's mettle by seeing if it's picked up enough on his verbal commands and methods to hunt by his lead. It takes a few tries, but he flushes out a mouse from nearby a small patch of broken down building, which his spider pounces quite successfully and devours. It's a short but successful test before a long and restful sleep. The heroes awaken before anyone else, finding nobody else in the lobby or dining area. Garn inquires if the sisters had already departed to Achion, who confirms somewhat reluctantly that they have not yet. Something about his wording sparks inspiration, however, as the cloud giant steps carefully overhead and out the door, his booming voice chanting a quick spell before a roughly thirty-foot-wide patch of the grass becomes blessed with sunshine. Enna and Kiri are not amused, rubbing their faces and ears on their way down. They were already awake, but it's still sometimes too early for a giant to yell at the top of his lungs.

Garn's curiosity gets the better of him as he approaches their table to ask how they're sisters. Being a being of nature, his mental image of procreation is quite confusing, a thought that Enna confirms is not the first time it's been voiced. Kiri is left in a fit of giggles as Enna explains how twenty years ago and change, she was with her Elf mother on the north edge of the western woods. As a Half-elf, Elves and humans are reluctant to place full trust on her, leaving her free to herself. One such day to herself, she spotted a pretty girl about her size gathering flowers and fruit. But, guess who it was? Kiri point out, her grandmother. At the time, over twenty years ago, her grandmother was about as tall as she is now, and Kiri was less than a foot tall herself. Despite the confusion, Kiri's grandmother was amicable and amused enough to play with Enna as desired, until Kiri's mother showed up with Kiri herself in tow to check on their relative's well being. So Enna found a new kind of people and new friends, practically new family for how friendly and charitable the halflings are.

After some time, when Kiri grew properly strong enough to join Enna alone in play, the two were at the woods' edge when the Gnoll raid hit. They could only flee further into the woods before being swept up in a fleeing caravan headed to Somnophis. With no word of the well being of Kiri's family and Enna's family's whereabouts being inscrutable due to Elven nature, the two stayed together from then on, sisters at heart. They ended up growing and finding employment in Dispatere's medical field, though they recently took to adventuring properly from town to town to bring succor to people instead of waiting on trouble to come to them. Besides, Kiri probably likes seeing the world from Enna's shoulders instead of her own vantage point. By the time this jest prompts another smile on her face, however, Achion's attempt at creating sunlight has failed, the space shrinking rapidly. Garn makes use of the still-existing sun spot, running out and flopping upon it while Tacin and Gildie inquire as to Achion's ability, or current lack thereof, to control the weather. It's an innate ability among his kind, though being actively held back by a powerful force.

Their hearts warmed some by the care behind the sister's story but downtrodden by the loss of sunlight already, the group make the short trip to Ember's shop, finding her coming up from her workspace with Garn's bow in tow. His curiosity again gets the better of him as he tries to remember how to pronounce the Infernal inscription in its tongue, but has a lapse of judgement. He is only able to voice is curiosity by looking Ember in the eye and saying the phrase in Common, earning him a sharp smack to the forehead with the bow before she hands it over, proclaiming his weapon somehow has tuned itself better to the death of fiends in general. An offhand, off-color comment from Gildie earns her a similar smack with the bow, though aimed at her helmet instead of her actual head, before she and Tacin are shown their new armors. Tacin's new studded leather looks good enough to change into on the spot, but Gildie's half-plate suit deserves a little more privacy, taking it upstairs to once again go through the change. Shortly after she arrives to show off the new equipment, a puff of smoke hits in front of Garn's face, and a scroll of paper unfurls for him to catch.

Childish handwriting and shorthand grammar describe that Riyae is hurt and a wish has gone bad. Ember looks at the note, and notes the irony that she has performed Wishes in front of Riyae for nearly two decades, yet his first ever Wish of his own turns out to trigger the worse possible backlash of the spell. She casts it to gain telepathic communication immediately with the Deva, and explains to the party in almost real-time that his supsicions seemed to be correct across the board. The hollow statue contains another two sets of symbols, one immediately identifiable as Torog's and confirmed more from the fact that the hollow interior is actually held partly by chains connecting wall to wall inside the statue. Another symbol rests unidentified for now. Torog, being an Underdark god of jails, prisons, and torture, is now suspected of being aligned with some part of the earth responsible for holding numerous gods captive.

Furthermore, the Wish itself that has crippled Riyae for the time being is one that seems to have partly answered the mystery of the prophecy spoken aloud at the festival. The mystery word, "Achelyss", Celestial for "Despair", seems to be the title of its own dimensional space. Riyae failed to use a powerful planar travel spell to enter it, a powerful force barring his entry. Another spell is possible, but it requires a key of sorts, which he used a Wish for to gain the key. As a result, he currently lies physically feeble, too much so to operate comfortably, and needing the help of Emily and Robert to make it to bed to rest. Ember shudders at the combination of circumstances: a torturer god working to imprison other gods, a dimensional space well unexplored possibly holding the final answers to the riddle, and an all-but-assured trip into the Underdark awaiting. For the moment, though, the party agrees to spend the time of Riyae's recovery on a joint venture to Astraere to search for possible shards and to investigate the rumors of thefts springing up. Ember gives a final gift of two healing potions and one poison resistance potion, both for health's sake and the need for empty vials, before the party sees themselves off.

Shortly outside the city, trees become more apparent the further southwest they get, and enough that one near the road houses a magpie that swoops down to pluck up a single silver piece back to its nest. Garn finds this a good time to demonstrate his spider's abilities, sending it off to stalk and pounce the bird to its demise. In a quick and graceful leap, it catches the bird in its jaws, itself on the branch, and sends the bird's nest tumbling with many shiny things dropping. A few coins, a small decorative stone, and yet another green shard of power. The party considers this a good win overall and a great start to the trip, though Garn's held up with wondering if the sisters would be at the Somnophis Sleepery an hour later to receive this newfound crystal for Enna. (Hint: They wouldn't be.)

Session 5: Thieves and Magpies: 
The trip to Astraere is, for a mercy, without issue beyond the magpie. The team arrives not at a halfway house, but more of a miniature tower, something of a fort alongside the road. A few armed guards patrol its top, and as they stop in to dry off by a fire at its ground floor, a single guard arrives to ask if they are there for rest. He is a Dispateran soldier on duty alongside the others to ensure no criminal activity or monstrous raids happen while tourists, merchants, or merchandise otherwise are in transit along the popularly traveled road. The party decides to use his willingness to escape the rain as a chance to gain some information about the workings of the land, namely the differences in what requires a halfway house or tower, or just how common of problem raids and ambushes are. Beasts are perhaps once a week, and fiends or ne'er-do-well cads perhaps once a month (though chiefly due to leftover gnolls scouting the land), and their presence is more required where risk of loss or injury is its highest. It makes sense enough to the group.

Evening falls with early darkness again as the team makes it to Astraere proper. It's a much more modern looking community than Somnophis or Trisme Gate were, the entirety of the area coated in paved or smooth stone except where buildings stand. A grand building cits at its center, surrounded by a miniature man-made river with decently sized shops on either side. The waterway is propelled clockwise by a combination of gravity and fountain-style jets pushing it forward, giving it the appearance of a constantly floating stream. On the outlying corners of town lie a sizable inn furnished enough to earn its title of a hotel, a receiving and storage warehouse on its opposite corner, and smaller homes of citizens on the outskirts otherwise. Tacin recognizes the lay of the land enough to know where Dalan's establishment is, and to know which zone in the central hub of business should have the food-related businesses most likely to get hit by the rumored thefts.

He decides to start small, however, and investigate the smaller shops ran by people selling from their own homes that are more likely to be stolen from in the night. He opts to ask a fletcher if he's heard aught of the crime string, and to the group's luck, the rumor seems quite well founded. There's no specification of the nature of how it's done or how the payment is worked out, but sure enough, there has been confirmed theft from the Council's central cuisine building, one of the four rulers of Astraere's markets directly being stolen from. The man goes on to say that numerous factions of people have been asked to help, from soldiers outright to common folk and many in between, with no success. The thieves are nothing if not slippery.

With their target confirmed, the group backtracks to the establishment proper, quite out of place compared to the few but still well-adorned patrons enjoying their meals indoors. The party immediately talks to a man waiting behind a counter, confirming their recount of what htey know while attempting to offer themselves up as potential investigators of the problem. While a busy man, the Councilman Joshamee is still intrigued enough to come down to speak with the party. He is an elderly human, wrinkles showing off years of experience furrowing his brow to the words of others. Once again, the party must confirm their knowledge is indeed accurate before finally being able to voice some of the more specific curiosities to a man most acquainted with the source of the problem.

The thefts are unpredictable in timing enough that some of the previous attempts to watch the building were unsuccessful even during nights of confirmed goods stolen. The quandry of where to watch has been a mystery on its own to solve, with money left behind and goods stolen on nights that almost every front was being looked over: the edge of town, outside the building, in the lobby, and within the storage area of the establishment itself, all missing their targets. There is no solid relation between the value of food stolen and the value of money left, but the Councilman has a glimmer of insight that it is a greater value of money in proportion of the weight of the food taken; the closest the thieves had come to matching was nearly coin for pound of relatively common fish like salmon, nothing exotic taken en masse. Finally, there is no inconsistency in the operation, with food only being taken from the building's storage area and money only being left on the counter.

With this in mind, the Councilman reaffirms the team's desire to help investigate, and lays down one rule about location that skews their plans; they are not allowed behind the door leading into the actual business area. They must trust that anyone who is allowed in that area to able to watch their charge, while the team stays outside in the dining area or further out. Tacin and Garn do not agree about how to handle this handicap. Tacin wants to divide the people down the middle, their group in the lobby and the few allowed in the back to stay among the food, but Garn seeks to disrupt the thieves' plans by crowding the lobby and trying to catch the culripts at the oddest moment of the crime, the payment. Due to its originality, Garn's plan wins out, leaving the party alongside two of the business' workers to watch the counter while a token one man keeps eyes on the food stores.

After hours, the lights are dimmed and places taken. Tacin waits under a table's hanging cloth with a coin in hand, Garn behind a seating area's couches, and Gildie nestled behind a curtain to help muffle her armor. Minutes turn into hours, and it takes until shortly before Dawn breaks for anyone to notice movement. Garn, who has taken to his illusory magic to keep his head effectively invisible and able to peek further than others, notices the very slow ascent of a miniscule leather pouch coming up from behind the counter--on the employees' side--to roll into place. The motion is so slow and careful that he has time to confirm what he sees and react by charging across the furniture, axe in hand while tackling himself over the counter. Tacin springs into action himself, bringing a radiant light out to shine from the coin itself before flicking it over the counter to illuminate the scene. Garn spies one of his favorite enemies to slay, a humble kobold reaching up from an opening made by displacing a stone slab.

It yelps in shock and lets itself drop back down into its tunnel some ten feet below the ground, escaping a vengeful swipe from Garn's long arm, before it and its one cohort skitter off to the southeast. Garn considers sending his spider after them, but decides the risk of trapped tunnels too great, and gives chase overland on foot in hopes their line is a straight one. With their lantern-lit coin reclaimed, the party charges, finding very fresh tracks from the to little reptiles bounding southeast. Garn's dash, and his even speedier predator pet, places them as the first to spot the two creatures, a wayward arrow missing them. Instead of dropping their food and fleeing, they instead drop it and turn around in unison, prostrated upon the wet ground and craoking out loud, clear apologies.

Garn has none of it, sending Spider to pounce one to the ground fully while plucking the other up with a mighty hand around its throat to hold it aloft by. The two kobolds struggle for their lives, but don't seem to actively fight back, simply trying to get out of a tight grip around the throat. Tacin and Gildie see that the two are neither armed nor aggressive, pleaing for Garn to stop holding one in a life-threatening manner, despite that Garn had no once actually risked full strangulation in his grip. He appeases all parties by hoisting the little thing upside down to hang by an ankle, which it thanks him for.

So the team tries to talk over why the thefts were happening, reluctant as the kobolds are to speak about their business. They confirm openly that they thought they were doing right by leaving money, since that was their understanding of trade, but they couldn't get the amounts right due to having been chased out of the establishment once some time ago. Their aim was not directly to feed their own colony, since as a race kobolds are crafty enough to farm subterranean crops enough to survive. Yet this leaves their true aims a mystery, since they refuse to speak directly of where they're headed or for whom they are gathering. They let slip, however, that a figure named... or, well, pronounced "all-grass" is who taught them to try a commercial approach to buying the food.

The pieces slowly come together as the party works out their little slips and what they know of kobolds thus far. To buy fish, there is a food shortage, but kobolds can grow their own food. They confirm this "all-grass" is not the one needing food, either; he is an elf who taught them to try to buy food. They only recently began this food buying because fishing has run mostly dry where the river meets the mountain, which the party can easily draw a mental image of the mountain range southeast where the great lake flows down the rocks onto the plains and swamps surrounding. For kobolds to act so uncharacteristically to their kind confirms the influence of the one trigger that could cause such a shift; the food is for a dragon.

The two are quick to defend their ways, that the dragon, Solana, is a young red one who seeks no harm. Their elven patron is hopeful that he and someone powerful he knows, who they only know part of the name of (Titan-something), want to groom Solana into a figurehead for worship, to steady some of the religious turmoil still sweeping the land. They make it sound like the act is one of good, but the party is still dealing with kobolds and a dragon... and fatigue. Without a proper night's rest, still cold and wet, they debate how to proceed. The kobolds have a halfway spot of their own to rest and ensure the food is preserved for the rest of the trip to the moutain, but the party doesn't want to risk their safety to typically evil creatures while so drained themselves. They opt to bring the creatures back as prisoners instead, to be held and possibly interrogated in the time they themselves are asleep.

After the kobolds are bound, everyone returns to Astraere, headig immediately back to the scene of the crime to find nobody in the lobby, but sounds from within. After a shout for someone, one of the three employees who helped with the operation comes out, understandably surprised at the prisoners. A suggestion is offered to leave the two in the warehouse at the town's southwest, an unofficial holding place for troublemakers. Garn and Gildie lead their two captives to it, finding a brute of a man stacking boxes and an open office to deposit the two in. The large man points out that he knows what's probably coming, and he'll keep an eye on the two reptiles. Tacin, however, stays behind to meet with the Councilman again, recounting most of the details learned from the prisoners. He chooses to omit exact locations and names, having a mind to get to the bottom of the kobolds' claims without risking sharing information too freely.

Tacin conveys a plan of sorts to use the two kobolds as guides in case the group can not properly track their movements all the way to the nest, on an impromptu quest to actually securely locate the dragon's lair. A good a plan as any for the Councilman, yet he becomes reluctant to share the entirety of the team's due reward, since taking money to the lair of a potentially lethal, greedy creature seems like an unnecessary loss waiting to happen. He does, however, part with a full fifteen gold coins for lodging at the nearby hotel, enough for two nights for three people at a room apiece. Drained and dripping, the siren song of a warm, dry bed is too alluring to resist for Tacin and Gildie. Garn personally doesn't mind saving coin by taking floor space with his bedroll in Tacin's room.

Session 6: How To Train A Dragon?: 
Morning comes, and almost passes by, before the team wakes from their late slumber. Less than an hour before noon itself, the three reconvene in one of their rented rooms to discuss possible plans, and lack thereof. Their expectation to investigate the truth behind the potential dragon threat might loom over them, but it doesn't help them figure out the best possible approach to their situation. They must trust words of Kobolds about the path and location to the lair, or trust kobolds as guides. They need to in some way discern the true threat between a potentially violent (if newborn) dragon, an elf gone rogue, or a band of impertinent dragonkin spreading lies to cover thievery. Two prisoners of sorts sit in a room awaiting their fate, but it's unclear if it sends a worse message to march without them, or with them as prisoners. The numbers are against them no matter what, with the kobolds counting almost eighty of their own kind before the two greater powers are considered. And the moral compass spins wildly for Tacin specifically, thinking the kobolds may be victims to the elf's or dragon's agendas. And the distance to the mountain is a little over a typical day's journey, while the party is starting shortly before the stroke of noon.

Garn quite seriously jokes about simply standing at the base of the lair and firing a deluge of arrows blindly into camp, but Gildie is quick to refer to that as plan Z. With no set order of priorities on what to do between travel, lodging, and tracking method, the team descends to the lobby to find Tacin's brief teacher, Dalan, waiting in a corner of the establishment. They're pleased to see each other, with Dalan quick to joke about Tacin's new status as a night own and success at finding a team to adventure with so quickly. But discussions about the matter at hand wait until everyone is led to Dalan's own office, to which he pre-emptively warns the party about the current situation. The Council called a meeting to the big names of the city, Dalan included, to discuss the basics of the thievery situation and its current status. Furthermore, the two kobold prisoners have escaped, a tunnel found in the warehouse as well. Councilman Joshamee's name strikes Dalan the wrong way, also warning the team of queer circumstances around the four Councilmen altogether, mumbling to themselves and swatting about their heads as if hitting flies during times of annoyance.

But their affairs are neither here nor there to the party at the time, instead turning to talk of the journey itself. Dalan decides the team's need for a hasty exit warrants an "investment", as he calls his gift, of knowledge and money for the team. Fifty gold is procured, and a hint that the city stablemaster has a method of ranking his steeds that helps people in the know find the best, or worst. Advised to "take out the trash", the team should be able to help clear the stables of a few of its less than profitable performers. The mounts' names--specifically the letter they start with--denote their final grade as compared to a scoring and grading convention. Garn is unfortunately quick to use the phrase and expand upon it to the stablemaster, though, risking sounding as a shady businessman directly in front of the poor lad muckraking in a nearby stall. Laws prevent abuse of animals, including dumping them for copper on the gold to people with their own business in mind for the animals. The man is hopefully confident that he'll be able to help the stableboy see the truth behind the practice.

With that flub behind them, the stables are indeed home to three possible mounts fitting the bill. Frannie, a sweet young horse, is his only F due to an unfortunate birth defect causing an issue with a joint in one of her legs. She can manage a trot about equal to what a normal human could dash at, but anything further would risk irreversible damage. Daniel is an entirely unremarkable, slightly less than average steed in every way, well suited for a single journey. Demon, meanwhile, is a physically imposing stallion who is near perfect in body, but far too abrasive in temprament. None except those stronger than him have been allowed on him for long, though he does have a quirk of being more protective and calm near horses weaker than he, particularly poor Frannie. Garn is entrusted with being able to commune with and handle the beast, given his ability to interact at a higher level with animals, while steel-clad Gildie takes hold of Daniel and lightweight Tacin puts the lightest burden on Frannie. The three are able to deal at seventy-five gold for the horses alone, and take an offer to accept well-used riding gear, the likes of which will not last the month.

After a little confusion behind the possiblity of upgrading now or later to more reliable bits and bridles, the group makes way due southeast, opting to aim for the riverbend first to pursue the idea of a smaller establishment to investigate. The tracks are mercifully easy to follow, even on horseback, with the tracks seeming to follow the same line and made clearer through the somewhat muddy terrain. As if being lifted from the earth, the tracks stop in front of a grassy patch, sparking Garn's curiosity to dismount and do what he does best. The grass, while real, is discovered to be artifically placed, tracks continuing down into a straight line tunnel. Spider is instructed to attempt to traverse or map the tunnel, and retreat if it sees trouble or enough time passes. It makes its way fairly rapidly through the tunnel, coming out some two hundred feet away through another patch of grass, giving a rather predatory series of clicks.

Garn beats down the confusion with a more trusty system of linking the amount of clicks to answers and simple questions, rapidly coming to a conclusion that the den is one straight line tunnel with space enough for a family of kobolds in the middle. Eager for results and to use the successful sneaking of his pet, he instructs Spider to hunt for one, non-lethally, to drag out. Gildie and Tacin chide him for the seeming bloodlust, but the venture bears fruit as Spider comes out dragging one of the selfsame two kobolds who were imprisoned, shown by a recognizable scar and scuff mark from the rope. Only then does Garn inquire about numbers, figuring out a baker's dozen kobolds are present. While ambush tactics and flushing out the creatures is a valid option, a slaughter is still not conclusive to a diplomatic approach, with Tacin successfully urging Garn back to the original mission.

With this break offering the horses some time to rest and graze, the trip is back on, with no trouble on the way to the mountain itself. The terrain is decent, considering the conditions, with roots, stones, and hard-packed dirt offering a stable enough footing for the three. Their horses, however, must be lashed to a nearby stalagmite for fear of running off, and muddy tracks are followed across the path. It winds and ascends more than it covers distance, offering a fair view of a near quarter mile's drop by the time a sign of life is discovered. Or, more accurately, it discovers the party, Garn's biased and trained ears able to recognize the sound of a surprised Kobold dashing away among the pitter and patter of heavy rain. With surprise no longer on their side, the team trusts to diplomacy and ascends further, coming to a bend that takes them into a clearing within a split dome providing some relief from the rain.

At the center of this clearing, however, is an elf, this "All grass" sitting cross legged with his eyes closed. His face points straight at Gildie's as she rounds the corner first, simply smiling before it turns to Tacin's at his curious peek. He waits patiently, and the team offers the first greeting, much to the elf's relief that he would have to either break the ice himself or ready for worse (though he only voices the former). Tacin and Gildie accept an offer to sit under one area of this somewhat domed clearing, under which a fire burns, while Garn urges Spider to sit atop the roof of the dome itself while Garn takes the end nearer the trail down. Before anyone can speak further on who is who, the team immediately locks eyes with a pair blinking from the shadows of a cave, clearly not human in nature. They found the dragon.

Algras offers his introduction first, quick to point out the confusion behind his name. The spelling is similar to "All grass", but provides both the correct pronunciation of "Al guh rass", and amicability about accepting any comparable effort or nickname. Solana, meanwhile, has pride to keep and is to be refrred to as "Lady" Solana out of fear of smoke plumes billowing from her cave. Finer points of introduction squared away, Algras offers the party the first chance to speak, knowing the kobolds' version of events but not those of more intelligent creatures (a quip that earns one such plume of annoyance from Solana). Tacin describes in brief the confusion behind the kobolds' actions and the truth of their thefts, sparking a rapid series of thoughts and conclusions in Algras' mind that are only confirmed further with each passing sentence in the description. He opts to omit the party's interaction at the riberbend's den, otherwise describing in brief but accurate details about their involvement with and thoughts on the matter at hand.

It's of equal parts surprise and disappointment to hear the news, with Algras claiming quite sincerely that this was not his appraisal of the situation. With his eyes still closed, he walks to the ridge's edge to think for a moment (much to Gildie's worry) before walking back to describe his version of events. He had hoped the kobolds were purchasing the food honestly, as an active effort to bridge some distance between humans and non-evil kobolds, while providing Solana with much needed food for her expected growth. Nothing the dragonkin told him seemed to ring untrue enough to question his faith in their performance thus far, until this new news hit his ears. Now he finds himself unable to trust them, but being forced to by the nature of his personal quest at the lair. This sparks newfound worry in Algras about the stability of Solana's food supply, his ability to forge positive relations with people enough to earn any degree of worship, and the lair's personal, paltry coffers.

Curiosity is sparked about how exactly Solana is to be the "next dragon god", or anything of the sort. Algras explains some degree of the process about gods being more often made than born, achieving greatness through strength and deal-making enough to earn the earnest thoughts of people. Those with power within themselves who wish wholly for aid spend a fraction of energy that seeks a vessel worthy of their wish, often drawn to deities associated with the domain of the plea. Like ships to port they amass, building power that is often fed back to lesser beings--from gods to Clerics or fiends to Warlocks--in service of the deity's ideals. Such is the birth of great power and the sharing of strength, still felt despite the effects of the Gods' War. Gildie, the least worldly experienced of the group, is quick to ask what exactly that refers to.

The present state of affairs in the world is that no dragons seem to be able to "feel" their thoughts reach their gods, even the primrary two Bahamut and Tiamat. So it is with even those of divine orders, able to receive on some level the powers or blessings of their patron but scarcely able to sense their former connection. So it is that divine champions like Enna and Kiri continue to exist, though without the divine guidance of their higher powers. He adds that it only seems to affect gods directly, as fiends always exist, and archfey, like his patron Titania of the Summer Court, were largely unaffected by the Gods' War. It's a curious combination of circumstances, that power still flows freely, able to reach some destinations but not others, and return to some people but not others. As for Solana, the idea at hand is to shape her into a neutral territory but powerful magnet for the thoughts and prayers set adrift from dragonkind, neither inherently good nor evil but a willing magnet to receive the energies lest they find themselves drawn to darker forces.

Satisfied with this explanation and Algras' agreeable, cordial nature, the party agrees to not pursue anything violent or untowards to the encampment, but all are still left with the unfortunate situation of inevitable hunger of Solana, fragile relations with Astraere, and likely missing funds from the dragon's hoard. It seems a little much to tackle all at once, even with the possible help from both the party and the camp's sole resident human, Mitchell. He is noted for being a man of imperfect physical health, but an able sculptor who is at work as the party talks. There is some deliberation on whom to trust with what for repairing the bonds of trust with the merchant town, but Algras seems adamant that any effort to deal so soon with food of similar quantity as what has recently been stolen will only send warning signals through the land. His first goal is to figure out the debt at hand, an issue that will take time and perhaps some luck, leaving the party with little to do on the morrow. There is a suggestion brought up that their fresh eyes, and likely more experienced in the arts of hunting or fishing, could offer insight as to the fishing situation at the river.

The party agrees to give it a look while Algras figures out his end of the problems on the list, bidding good night and following kobolds to Mitchell's decently sized cave. He's a middle-aged man hard at work working clay, but to no great success just yet. He seems an agreeable fellow, giving his short tale of being a former merchant of Astraere who was muscled out by better craftsmen. He arrived at the camp by happy accident of looking for some unique material or regent to help give his work some pop needed to win business, and instead stayed for the experience of seeing how an elf trains a dragon. His work at the time specifically consists of trying to fashion some sort of holy symbol or piece to fit atop an altar to recognize Solana by, though inability to see a dragon up close for long leaves him only partly in the right direction for his result.

Once again, night comes cold and wet. Garn is untrusting as ever, though enterprising enough to spend his rewnerable primal energies before bed to summon a sizable store of berries for the next day, and Tacin cautious enough to consider shifts between them. Gildie, meanwhile, seems cheerily convinced of the good nature of those around her enough to sleep soundly. Tacin is awake to find a package placed at the end of the cave, consisting of preserved fish filets to be cooked or enjoyed at their leisure. A little more convinced of the decency of his lairmates, he rests well, with the night passing seemingly without any incident. An entire day and the party failed to find a single shard, but sizable progress on the understanding and workings of a potential new goddess.

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