Friday, April 22, 2022

Returning to Krynn

WotC just dropped news that they'll be bringing back the AD+D 2e settings of Spelljammer and Dragonlance. You can read all about that over at EnWorld if you're so inclined. 

I never got into Spelljammer -- I missed a chance to pick up some of the old boxed sets for literal pennies, and I still kick myself for it -- but the concept still holds loads of intrinsic appeal to me. I don't feel like I've seen a satisfying treatment of naval play in a D+D framework yet, and I'm curious to see how WotC approaches it. (I suspect that their approach to voyages and space probably won't be one that quite scratches the yearnings I have, but seeing how they tackle it certainly isn't a bad thing.) 

But Dragonlance? Dragonlance was one of my main entrypoints into D+D. I started off with the superlative Return to Brookmere, certainly, but Dragonlance was one of the core lenses for my understanding of D&D in elementary and middle school (only getting displaced by the Forgotten Realms after I picked up Baldur's Gate). I went hard into the TSR novels as a kid, y'all. Even the clunkers. In some ways, it takes on the role that I think Greyhawk does for some of my friends - the intro setting that dominated a lot of our early gaming visions. 

In the light of my thirties, the Dragonlance of my youth seems excruciatingly twee in all of the Renn Faire ways that late AD+D could hit. But I think there are still some glimmerings of compelling ideas in the thousand-foot pitch, and hell, getting a trailer from Shohreh Aghdahloo goes a long way.

So instead of turning up my nose, I ask - what could a revision of the Dragonlance setup look like in a context that wouldn't make me balk? Here's my initial stab at it:

  • Under the Dark Fist*. The original Dragonlance books open with evil on the rise. The dragonarmies stand poised to roll over the continent of Krynn; they've got organization, divine backing, and a gazillion evil dragons all working to crush out the various points of opposition to Takhsis. I think that there's a lot of potential in having a setting where evil begins as being triumphant or in control, and players are placed in a framework of organizing and leading resistance. It works quite well for Star Wars, after all. (For a fantasy context, see FFG's 'Midnight' setting for 3e, or the Black Company books, for other examples of the evil overlord having won as the starting point.)

  • Apocalypse Then / When In Rome... Others have written about the post-apocalyptic nature of AD+D, but Krynn very much seeks to foreground it -- theoretically, at least. At the start of the War of the Lance, Krynn is still making its way out of the big old world-wrecking Cataclysm. In the original Dragonlance materials, the main ways this was showcased were the absence of the gods and their associated cleric-y/paladin-y powers, the physical wreckage of the continent, steel coins instead of gold, and Lord Soth the death knight (Dragonlance's own Darth Vader). These feel a bit underwhelming, honestly, and I find myself of two minds about how to reframe this part of the setting. On the one hand, I'd like to see more treatment of overcoming scarcity and cultural adaptation to their surroundings, taking an apocalypse's effects seriously. On the other hand, there's definitely more than a little Rome in the presentation of Istar, and now I'm curious about how a treatment of post-Cataclysm Krynn informed by more recent scholarship and discussion about post-Roman Europe would turn out. (Solamnia as the cultural equivalent of Byzantium...?)

    The Doom Brigade
    Margaret Weis & Don Perrin
  • We Are More Than Our Past. D+D has been struggling with the 'hard-coded biological alignment' for a while. Dragonlance is somewhat infamous for the magically mandated obnoxiousness of the kender, gully dwarves, and gnomes, along with the standard goblins and hobgoblins being always evil cannon fodder, so it might seem like this setting would be likely to continue putting its foot in it. All that said, Krynn might actually be a pretty good setting for seriously wrestling with this, if folks wanted to put the time in. I remember seeing the pitch for The Doom Brigade as a kid and being curious -- how would former bio-engineered soldiers of the evil overlord be presented as sympathetic protagonists? What's more, some of the major pieces of the setting are all about beings long dismissed as "evil" breaking past societal and/or divine hierarchy treatment and doing good - the red dragon Flamestrike striking down the villain of the first book because of his threats to children, Raistlin's soft spot for the downtrodden and oppressed, and even the nonsensical Green Gemstone Man trying to fix his original sin and serving as deus machinae prohibitus. (Please don't ask me exactly how little of that I had to look up.) 

    In practice, I see this as an opportunity for D+D to explicitly push back against some of the missteps of the past, and of Dragonlance in particular. In the specific context of Dragonlance, this might look like less focus on good and evil as specific cosmic teams with their own bioengineered servitor races (elves and metal dragons for Team Good, minotaurs and chromatic dragons for Team Evil) and more on individual choices and sway. 

  • Si vis ludem, para bellum. Dragonlance is a setting designed around grand sweeping conflicts (not to mention dragon dogfights and flying citadels). It makes sense that a modern treatment of DL would feature some serious thought of how to meaningfully integrate that sort of conflict into the standard scope of play. It's no surprise that my thoughts turn to wargame integration at the drop of a hat, but it seems WotC is at least looking in that direction as well, with a planned mass combat system ("Dragonlance: Warriors of Krynn") to be released.
Those are my initial thoughts. I don't know that writing this all out makes me motivated to go out and run something in Krynn just yet, but I'm thinking about what might do that. Certainly I'd give it a go if I could get Shohreh Aghdahloo voiceovers...

* Sorry-not-sorry. It's far too good a title to leave languishing as a Spelljammer module.  

Friday, March 4, 2022

Protecting Our Spaces: A Response to Raggi

 Somewhere in the 2009-2011 range, when I was just discovering the OSR scene, I ran across a retroclone which stuck out to me and zoomed up into my favorites for quite some time. In contrast to most of the other rulesets I had seen at the time, it had a lot of referee advice -- and it had safety tools

No, seriously! They were perhaps a bit rudimentary compared to the codified tools that are out there today, but I didn't see many other rulesets (OSR or otherwise) including quotes like "The Referee shall realize that Rule 0 is for the purpose of establishing the desired atmosphere for his campaign, and not as an excuse to abuse players or a license to be a despot at the game table… The Referee’s role is to challenge players, not victimize them." or "Know your players. Communicate outside of the game, and find where the limits lie. Your job as Referee is not to shock, scare, scandalize, or assault the senses. Respect for the real person sitting before you playing the game comes before any idea for the game you actually have." (emphasis added)

The ruleset, of course/ironically enough, was the original Referee Book for Lamentations of the Flame Princess. 

LotFP Referee Book cover

LotFP has, uh, gone some directions since those days, to say the least. Raggi's outlook seems to have gone from "good art may sometimes be transgressive" to "if it's transgressive, it must be good art!" For years, I've had LotFP in its various channels muted, while I try to do my own thing. But a friend recently tagged me in a FB post of Raggi's, and I felt the need to respond. 

Raggi writes (FB):

Let me give all the people who hate me more and more reason to do so, because why the fuck not at this point:

People in my industry always seem to be shocked and horrified and "oh how can this happen here?" because Varg Vikernes is a tabletop RPG publisher. 

Well... every single store I buy metal from (not including label-specific webstores or individual band storefronts of course), from Amazon (and when I buy Amazon, I buy from Amazon Germany) down to my local record store chain, carries Burzum. He's also distributed on Youtube by a Sony subsidiary.

Somehow the metal world hasn't ended because a bad person has been an artist in public for thirty years, and it hasn't prevented good people or good creations from existing within metal. You have a popular (give or take at any particular moment) subgenre that attracts all sorts of people, and when something attracts all sorts of people, that means ALL SORTS of people.

And Varg (and a decent number of his contemporaries) has quite obviously been a tabletop RPGer for all that time before becoming a publisher, and somehow RPGs made it through the 90s, 2000s, and 2010s without being taken over by his type of thinking, and the 2020s will be fine as well.

This wouldn't be a thing to remark about, except there are people who think that there should be a just-so uniform way of thinking in the tabletop RPG world, and if you don't sign on to that thinking (or *gasp* you even disagree with it) then people either think that's opening the gates to the Varg types to take over, and/or want to try to associate you with Varg and/or his thinking to try to isolate you and drive you out.

Funny thing is, to me, it is their behavior that I associate with Varg's sort of thinking.

Ancestry doesn't make you a better or worse person. And people of different ancestries are all over the place and they aren't going back where they came from and "they" are not going to leave "your" women alone (because the "they" and "your" do not actually exist, and both the "they" and the women know this). You have to live with them, you are never going to "cleanse" the gene pool, so get the fuck over yourselves, racists.

Similarly, you're not going to purify the thinking pool. People will think differently and prefer different creative expressions and they're not going to go away or conform to what you think is the "right" way to create or express any more than you're going to conform with theirs. You have to live with them, so get the fuck over yourselves, conformist censors.

Well, I don't hate Raggi. But this post is bullshit

Well, that second-to-last paragraph calling out Varg's racism isn't too bad, and the comparison between the OSR and metal is actually pretty apt on multiple levels. (But that's not nearly as much of a vindication for Raggi as he thinks.) 

"Somehow the metal world hasn't ended because a bad person has been an artist in public for thirty years, and it hasn't prevented good people or good creations from existing within metal." 

Good people and good creations exist within metal, no question about it. But the presence of shitheels within the scene absolutely makes it harder for marginalized folks to exist within the scene, either as fans enjoying it, or as musicians creating their own work. It also serves as a deterrent from people getting into metal.

Similarly, the presence of shitheels within the OSR scene - and folks who normalize their presence - makes it harder for marginalized folks to enjoy it, either as fans or as creators. Let's go back to that LotFP Referee book for a second. Here's another quote, from the section on organizing a group: "If someone is homophobic or racist or sexist, you want to find that out before exposing a group of strangers (who may include women, gays, or ethnic minorities) to them – that will kill a group before it gets started."

Past-Raggi was right - having a poisonous person in the group will absolutely kill a group and cause it to collapse, and rightly so. Because people will conclude two things:

1) This group isn't safe for marginalized people, because of the presence of the shitheel in question. 

2) The person organizing the group thought that it was worthwhile to bring the shitheel along. 

Even if the shitheel in question leaves or is booted out, there may still be lingering questions about the organizer's decision-making and judgment. Marginalized folks will continue to wonder if the group is a safe place to be, because clearly the organizer didn't think this person was a problem when putting the group together in the first place.

Now think about those dynamics in a creative scene. It's not a 1:1 correlation, of course - there's no single central organizer or leader that folks can point to, no single Arbiter of Metal (or OSR) to control group composition and membership. But people do notice when there are toxic folks in a community, and it starts to become known for that.

I don't have the capacity to stop Varg (or Venger, or RPGPundit, or whatever shitheel of the week) from creating metal or gaming stuff. But I can absolutely protest and call out their grossness, and actively work to create proudly inclusive and welcoming materials. Because when people in a scene treat the shitheels as 'just another creator' who we have to all get along with? Marginalized folks will conclude (and rightly so!) that the scene in question isn't likely to have their backs. 

There is a distinction to be made here, though, between pushing back against abhorrent folks and launching purity tests. I don’t want everyone thinking the same way in a scene! Not every disagreement is something worth booting people out for. There has to be room for people to be wrong and maybe change their mind over time, and sometimes a tiresome Hot Take is just a tiresome Hot Take. But there’s a distinction to be made between someone being wrong, and someone making statements (or taking action!) to harm others.

Kim Kelly is a metal critic/labor rights journalist. Here’s an excerpt from a great piece of hers: There's No Room In Metal for Racists, Abusers, and Bigots. The translation and application of the principles espoused to, say, other scenes is left as an exercise for the reader.

To be perfectly honest with you all, I personally feel that, as metal fans, the practice of separating the art from the artist is no longer a luxury that we can in good conscience afford ourselves... Is buying a bigot or an abuser’s new album or going to see them play a show the same as participating in wide-scale ethnic cleansing? Of course not, don’t be ridiculous. However, is tacitly (or explicitly) supporting the violent ideologies they espouse, materially or otherwise, a dangerous, inhumane, shameful thing? Yes. Does purposefully ignoring or waving away the import of politics in art make you a coward? Also yes. Now is not the time to hand out hall passes because of fucking riffs...

It would be silly for me to write all this without acknowledging metal’s long history of creating space for and supporting the actions of bigots, abusers, and other scum. Some of our most cherished folktales center on violence and hate, and many rotten people have made indelible marks on the genre, from Varg Vikernes to that racist ding-dong from Malevolent Creation. For black metal fans, this is a particularly acute issue, as some of our most lionized figures are fucking terrible people—or at the very least, people who have done fucking terrible things.

This is something I’ve dealt with personally for years now, as my politics have evolved and I’ve worked to figure out my view on the world....We all fuck up sometimes—the most important thing is how we clean up the mess afterwards.

So how do we do that? There’s no one answer, and even though I know where I stand, it took me a long time to figure that out, and I’m still actively working on it (and still dealing with my mistakes). It comes down to personal responsibility, and your own politics, and your own level of willingness to engage with, and interrogate, and sometimes abandon the things you love in pursuit of greater understanding, and lesser harm...

There are a lot of metal bands in the world; asking yourself, “are these riffs really worth it?” is a small step, but a crucial one.

It starts with us. It starts with you.

That old Referee book is actually not too bad, on a reread. But where Raggi’s at these days? That’s not a position I can support. Calling out and vigorously criticizing those who would contribute to marginalizing others is crucial for our, or any, scene. Because that’s how you make sure that you actually keep as diverse and broad a scene as possible, with as many different perspectives and interesting ideas as you can: by making it safe for the most vulnerable. 

It starts with you. It starts with us. 

Metal, elfgames, and "defiantly anti-fascist":
Bolt Thrower has it all!

Further Reading:

Metal’s Inclusive Future Looks Like a Zeal & Ardor Show:

The thought that I keep coming back to this week is that representation matters so, so much—especially in a scene like this, where racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, and other forms of bigotry remain rampant, and any scrap of progress is still looked at askance by gatekeepers or shouted down by reactionaries.

Back when I was a teenager, I’d go to shows and look out for other girls and women. In my 20s, as I got older and grew into a more informed, intersectional perspective, I’d look out for other marginalized people, especially those who reflected my own experience as a physically disabled person. Walking into a place and seeing a face that looks like yours is an immediate relief, whether it’s a bank or a job interview or a black metal show. For me, it came via those first early crowd scans, when I’d light upon another girl in a Morbid Angel shirt standing across the room, and feel my heart swell.

Later, it came in seeing women like Arch Enemy’s Angela Gossow or Bolt Thrower’s Jo Bench onstage, in seeing Liz Ciavarella-Brenner edit Metal Maniacs, in reading Jeanne Fury and Zena Tsarfin’s work in magazines, and in working with Paula Hogan at Candlelight Records. Since then, a lot has changed for the better, but those early role models and fellow fans gave me the reassurance I needed that I did belong there; it gave me permission to be who I was, to be a metalhead sans caveat.

Fuck Nazi Metal Sympathy:

"Barnes explained his justification to allow known fascists to play the venue he personally owns in familiar terms. “You get put in a no-win situation in whatever you do here,” he told “Being an owner of the club you look at it as freedom of speech. When does the censorship issue come in and where does it escalate from here?” Because apparently, the Founding Fathers were extremely concerned with the future “right” for some subpar black metal jagoffs to be paid to play in front of a paying audience in a privately-held venue. By now, “free speech” has become a right-wing dog-whistle for “I want to be an asshole without suffering any consequences for my actions,” so that seems to cover his view here quite nicely."

What Covering Heavy Metal Taught Me About Spotting Nazis (aka the social-media-review dance that I, and others, find ourselves doing when checking out previously unknown OSR folks)

By combing through album lyrics, parsing interviews, and inspecting tattoos, journalists covering black metal—and even casual fans—become adept at rooting out bigotry. Doing so has, by now, become a conscious part of the wider black-metal experience: for leftist fans, a familiar ritual involves poring methodically through all available information to decipher an exciting new band’s political position. It’s kind of like playing a heavy metal version of the Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon game, except the locus is invariably a Polish neo-Nazi or racist death metal guy from Florida, and winning is really losing. The thrill of discovering a killer new record is attended, always, by anticipation as you scour the lyrics and artwork and member lists and touring history—and then, all too often, you discover that (dammit!) the guitarist has a racist side project, or their label has released anti-Semitic material. But metal is too good for Nazis. Surveilling black-metal artists’ activities and exposing any associations with violent far-right networks is a means of defending a community I hold dear.

Why I Booked An Anti-Fascist Metal Festival:

Metal and its acolytes have many sins to answer for—but that shouldn’t overshadow all the brilliance, positivity, and joy that this genre and its culture have brought to millions of people around the world. Sometimes we forget to see the forest for the trees, and that the vast majority of metalheads are good, caring people who want to listen to their favorite music without having to worry that they’re enabling poisonous genocidal rhetoric.

I also think that it’s very easy to get caught up in the constant, punishing feedback loop of rediscovering over and over (and over…) that racists, neo-Nazis, bigots, abusers, and other trash people walk amongst us when we’re at a show, or in a record shop, or just trying to walk down the fucking street. Burnout is real, and I understand why some metal folk would rather just ignore the whole thing and burrow into their record collections. I used to be the same way when I was younger and more blind to my privilege (and as a result, made some mistakes in terms of supporting or covering bands that now I’d never touch); however, as I’ve grown up and become more politically active, I’ve realized that—for me, at least—that approach is just not going to cut it anymore. Zero tolerance is the only approach that makes sense when it comes to cleaning up our scene, and it’s been incredible to witness more and more metalheads standing up to say as much, online and in song.

Thursday, February 17, 2022

A Darkness Strewn with Gems: Session Recaps, LotB Campaign

After many years, I've finally gotten my brains together enough to start running a Legacy of the Bieth campaign again. It's brief spurts -- 2-3 hours over Discord -- but I need to bite off small chunks to get my head in the game (and make sure I'm adapting properly to the schedule). 

I'm adapting Gus L's Tomb Robbers of the Crystal Frontier as the introductory dungeon. TRCF does a really good job at tapping into some of the Roadside Picnic-meets-spaghetti-western feel that I've craved over the years. I've had to use a bit of elbow grease to make details fit with my own setting, but of course that's going to be the case with any module! The core ruleset is currently a modification of  "Savage World of Krul," created by Hydra Coop colleague Robert Parker. 

The game is drop-in/drop-out, so not all the players are expected to be in a single session. (The conceit of TRCF, which starts players with a preexisting expedition to join, helps a lot with this framing.) The current roster of PCs:

  • Rahat al-Qamar, charming ex-street brat (warrior)
  • Tizemt, caravan guard turned adventurer (warrior)
  • Kifli, mercenary guard (warrior)
  • Fadhil Barwari, poet-assassin (warrior)
  • Izohr, distracted academic (magic-user)
  • Wali, mercenary guard (magic-user)
  • Dassin al-Kahina, nimble marabout (warrior)
Incapacitated PCs:
  • Nikoloz, magus from the steppes (magic-user)
  • Azod, phlegmatic merchant (warrior)
    The Adventure So Far...

    Saleema the Sparrow
    "Yellow Elf" by Uzlolzu
    The players were hired on as specialists by Saleema the Sparrow, a fixer based in the city of Maaqil. Saleema, a specialist in delving into Bieth ruins, had discovered a major find that a rival fixer, Murtaza, had been excitedly crowing about before his (assumed) demise, and wanted to put together a crew to investigate the site. She offered them a deal: conduct an initial survey of the site and bring her whatever valuables they find, in exchange for 500 dinars. She'd provide the expeditionary support, supplies, and the method for getting into the find. If the players wished to continue past the initial survey, they could keep any not-readily-salable artifacts they found. 

    (A bit of a railroady start -- not something I like generally! -- but I needed an easy pitch to get myself started running the game and not just thinking about how to run the game. TRCF offers a good setup for this, which is part of why I went with it as a starting spot. The initial caravan also has a nebulously sized group of hirelings, who can serve as convenient PC replacements if any of the PCs bites it or is otherwise incapacitated. Alas for the fragility of first level!)

    The group headed southwest out of Maaqil, away from the fertile river valley and into the wastes - not quite the deep desert or the twisted regions of the Zone, but bad enough. Around midday, the group noticed that Wali, the hireling who was taking point, seemed to be stumbling, drifting off course, and non-responsive. When the group investigated, they found that a strange honey-and-lemon taste filled their mouths. Those who were closely investigating were drawn off-course in the same direction as Wali, unable to step back or move away from an otherwise unremarkable patch of land. Those remaining further behind were able to lasso Wali and the others, drawing them away...but after they were secured, Nikoloz the wizard wanted to investigate the phenomenon more closely. Moving towards the strange taste, Nikoloz found himself unable to break away...and instead chose to run full-tilt towards the phenomenon. The remaining group saw him dash forward briefly, then thud flat onto his back and lie completely still. Lassoing him away and pulling him further back, the group found Nikoloz completely insensate. When he recovered consciousness, the wizard repeatedly attempted to dash right back towards the strange patch of land, remaining otherwise nonresponsive. The group managed to tie the wizard up and prevent him from dashing back to the site. 

    Maaqil at 04, 03; Oasis at 02, 04
    Delve Site at 02, 05
    Wali's diversion had pulled the group off-course, and they had to alter their route in order to get back towards their goal. As the group approached a nearby valley (housing the Spinetooth Oasis, source of some renowned purple flowers used for some of the most sought-after intoxicants in Maaqil), they came upon a massive fissure opening near the cliff face. Two of the group heard strange whispers coming from the fissure, one with tidings of encouragement and one with a warning about strange owls. Moving closer to the fissure, the group were startled to see three gaseous, vaguely humanoid forms rocket out of the fissure, crackling with energy, then streak towards the party. As the group retreated post-haste, Rahat, the closest of the party towards the three forms, flinched as they flew left, right, and overhead, bracketing him. As they loomed close, he heard a raspy whisper, "Congratulations, mortal - you have been visited by the jinn this day," before the three forms reversed course and flew back into the fissure. 

    "Tomb Robbers of the Crystal Frontier"
    Gus L

    After clambering down the cliff face and skirting Spinetooth Oasis, the group took about another day's journey to reach Murtaza's delve site. In the midst of the desert, a large impact crater was visible, with vast irregular spires of purple crystal jutting out into the sky -- their position indicating that much of the structure was likely beneath the surface as well. Approaching, they discovered that some of the crystals bore carvings and architectural ornamentation, that a ragged pathway had been smashed in through some of the crystal and covered with some canvas, and that another potential entrance was visible. Saleema advised them that the smashed pathway was "typical Murtaza slop" and that they should sit tight while Faiza, her gemcutter specialist, opened a safer entryway (the dust from improperly broken crystals can lead to an incurable progressive disease). 

    As the gemcutter prepared her work, Wali and Fadhil investigated the architectural ornamentations, and found two concentric circles with strange glyphs on them. Wali's read magic spell revealed the cryptic message:
    "Praise to the Ascended Regent! Praise to his line! He has cast down those who opposed his reign and scattered their hosts. The winds howl over their bones. Their servants rend their garments, and their steeds have spilt their red blood. He was a warlord during the time of <unintelligible> and a warlord during the time of <unintelligible>. The High One used to cause him to descend to the sacred bark, that he might perform escort duty, that he might come to the ways, and that his gifts be made as though he were a prince, while the like was not done for any equal of his. Now this palace is his. Now and forever."

    The inner inscription read: "My body fails and my hands grow weak. But my spirit does not yield. I am a wall which comes out of a wall. My mouth is strong, and I am equipped against the right eye of the sky and the left eye of the sky. Let them not have dominion over me. I am master of my throne. I advance of this season. I have opened a path."
    Handling blooderfly eyes isn't quite
    dealing with a warp core, but still...
    (Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan)
    As the group settled in for the night to await the completion of Faiza's work, the second watch heard the beating of vast wings approaching the camp. A colossal crystal butterfly was swooping towards the group. As the party scrambled to alert the camp and form a defensive posture, the behemoth turned its gaze towards one of the hirelings. A torrent of blood burst forth from the man's orifices and surged into the still-flying butterfly, turning its previously clear wings slightly pink. Horrified, the group volleyed spears (and bullets from Fadhil's matchlock) into the beast, finally bringing it down. The wizard Izohr instructed his two apprentices to go retrieve wingscales and the still-glowing eyes of the creature, but was stymied when the apprentice Anokalis screamed in pain, suffering significant burns from his attempt at removing the butterfly's eyes. 

    The next day, Faiza completed her preparations and was able to carefully shatter some of the crystals, revealing an entry into the depths of the crystal structure. Saleema, Faiza, and the rest of the carvan hirelings would maintain a base camp up above, while the party would enter the crystals and conduct an initial mapping survey. The group descended into a small round antechamber with two exits, where smaller crystals were slowly forming around the exterior. The group attempted to carefully pick their way past the small crystals towards one of the exits, but the warrior Tizemt missed her footing slightly and trod on some of the growing crystals, sending up a cloud of the feared crystal dust. The group surged forward towards the exit, barely making it away from the dust in time. Moving forward, Fadhil the assassin-poet peered into the room ahead andits strange shadows, and was seized with visions of the crystal complex in the past. The group retreated to the antechamber, where Tizemt managed to step in the same patch of crystals again, prompting the group to flee to safety a second time.

    The next day, Fadhil, Wali, and Azod gathered their strength for another delve into the structure. Proceeding towards the unexplored (and less crystal-festooned) exit, they found two doors engraved with strange scenes. One door swung open readily and revealed blackness beyond, while the other was wrenched open, making an awful shriek. As the group observed the path beyond the second door, a sound like metal tearing echoed down the hallway towards them. Sensing some movement in the area beyond their light, Fadhil fired his matchlock blindly -- only for the group to be extremely surprised when his bullet found its mark. A small rubbery humanoid creature, its body a shade of verdigris, lay in the hallway beyond.

    Azod the trader - art by his player
    Brother Juniper
    Pressing onwards, the group found a dead end with three bundles wrapped in canvas and a wall festooned with packs, saddlebags, and the like. Suspicious, the trio prodded the canvas bundles, and were alarmed but unsurprised to see the bundles writhe and rotting, crystal-infused hands ripping their way out of the wrappings. The undead monstrosities demanded to know who the group were, but wasted precious little time in badinage before attempting to maul the trio. Fadhil, Wali, and Azod struck back, and in short order the three undead were struck down. Azod lopped off the heads of two of the three monstrosities. Investigating the bodies and the packs, the group found a great deal of mundane equipment (which they seized for the expedition's general usage), an impressively fashionable cloak styled after a manta ray, an unworked crystal emitting a pale orange glow, and a shamshir and animal-tooth necklace on the central undead. As they worked to stow the newly acquired loot, they heard skittering noises flicking down the hallway towards them. Adopting a defensive posture, the trio saw a swarm of five or six glass spiders rushing towards them, eager to attack this new prey.

    Azod was bitten by one of the glass spiders, a grotesquely warm venom pumped into his veins -- but between his slicing, Fadhil's stabbing, and a well-placed flask of burning oil from Wali, the group managed to eliminate most of the arachnid assailants. As they sighed in triumph, however, Azod looked queasy and toppled to the ground. His comrades confirmed that he was still breathing, but he was clearly out for the count. Sighing, the two dragged the doughty merchant-marauder back to the camp, where it was determined that he'd be in recovery for over a week. Once they had returned to the basecamp, Saleema was able to confirm, with a smug grin, that the shamshir and animal-tooth necklace were certainly those of Murtaza, the fixer who had first attempted to claim the spires. 

    The next day, the group essayed one of the side tunnels they had bypassed earlier, encountering a mess of crystals that began ringing if touched or interacted with. As the ringing escalated from "painfully loud" to "blood dripping from nostrils and ears," the group beat a hasty retreat. Venturing to the door with blackness beyond, the group found that the darkness contained a large chasm...festooned with more undead bearing shards of crystal within their flesh. Dassin the marabout dared to pole-vault from the narrow ledge the group stood on over to another ledge farther out, but discovered that there did not seem to be a ready path to the other side. 

    This is summarizing like six or seven sessions, and I've been delaying putting this up for a while, so some bits may have been elided over. Hopefully future session recaps will be easier and quicker to get together!

    Next steps on a campaign level, after this dungeon exploration concludes, include revising and tweaking the PHB rules and presenting the urban neighborhood notes I've been working on -- with Evlyn M art! -- coming soon.

    Treasure and XP:

    From Blooderfly -- scales from the wings were recovered. (Izohr's apprentice was unable to recover the creature's eye before suffering his strange burns.) 

    115 XP each for Rahat, Tizemt, Fadhil, Azod, Izohr, and Wali

    From Murtaza's Expedition -- orange-glowing occulith stone worth 1,000 dinars, along with: 22 dinars, in mixed currency, 6 daggers, 100’ rope, 4 bundles of torches, a lantern, 12  flasks of oil, a crowbar, 8 iron spikes, a mallet, 4 cloaks (one of which was a very cool-looking manta-styled cloak), and a set of thieves’ tools including lockpicks, lubrication oil, and flash powder). Murtaza himself had an impressive-looking shamshir, gold-and-animal-tooth necklace (200 dinars). Creatures slain: 2 crystal zombies, 1 crystal wight (Murtaza), 1 rubbery verdigris...thing..., and 6 glass spiders.

    444 XP each for Fadhil, Azod, and Wali