A while back I promised to go through the fight scene between Natasha Romanov (Black Widow) and a small army of mook guards from Iron Man 2, using Technical Grappling. Not a bad topic for my 200th post since Dec 26, 2012!

The key fight takes place in about a minute, from roughly 0:20 in the clip until Lady Scarlett finishes off the last mook at 1:22.

Here’s how I break down the action, with my initial impressions of what happens. I will break down the bits into scenes, each described in detail later on. Those sections are referenced in bold. While suggestions are made for mechanics in my notes on the clip, I may revisit them in the details, so withhold judgement until the end!

Breakdown of the Clip

0:20 – Happy punches a guard in the face. They start to fight

0:22 – Natasha throws a pair of electrostunner discs and tases another guard (Taser Strike)

0:31 – Happy’s guard gets tired of getting hit, and starts to fight back. A lot.

0:36 – Natasha does an Acrobatic attack, with a double-leg grapple of the neck, and a “Kiss the floor” (Double-leg Madness)

0:41 – Natasha slides through the legs of her next victim, maybe an Evade and Attack? She moves through the hex, probably doing a Pressure Point attack to cause pain in the guard’s leg. She poses. (Slip and Spin)

0:43 – Here comes the double-leg grapple of the neck again. This is clearly a Signature Move. She uses an Acrobatic Attack to vault off the first guard’s back, hits the running guy with the double leg grapple, and again uses her weight to throw her victim to the ground, where he’s unconscious. Technically, this might be an Offensive Judo Throw. Grab and Smash works best. (Vaulting to Victory)

0:50 – Happy is experiencing the NPC version of grab and smash. He’s not Happy anymore.

0:55 – Natasha uses two flash/smoke distraction devices to disorient two guards. She slides to seated position and uses Low Fighting or Ground Fighting to throw a sweeping kick to guard two. He crit fails  his defense roll, rolls an 8, and knocks himself out. She climbs up the other guard and kicks him in the face. (Boot to the Face)

What follows here is the clear “holy crap!” moment of the scene, as she takes on and defeats three foes at once. 

0:59. She readies a garotte.

1:00. She uses the garotte to perform a two-handed grabbing parry against the guard’s baton strike to the head, and immediately passes control of one end of the weapon to her other hand. She employs a stomp kick to the inside of his left knee (1:01), clears the garotte, punches him in the face and stomach (1:02), grapples the neck and passes control to her left hand (1:03), Dodges an attack (1:04) and performs a grabbing parry with the garotte, jumps into the air and does a grab and smash on him, at the same time as a Force Posture Change/G&S on the other guy with the extendable garotte. (Triple Threat)

1:08 – the guard takes two seconds to change posture from prone to standing, while readying a can of mace. Natasha slips inside on a grabbing parry, changing position to the flank or rear and grabbing the back (1:10). She then does her two-legged grapple of the neck at 1:11, throws him off balance while switching legs for arms at 1:12, and executes a Judo Throw for injury at 1:13. (Slow Learner)

1:14. The guard does an all-out attack with another can of mace. Natasha responds with a Grabbing parry to classic arm lock and relieves him of his mace by pain compliance (1:15) with two hands, and a spinning elbow strike to the jaw (1:16) (she relinquishes the lock), and a spinning kick to the head for a finish at 1:17. (Disarm Lock and That Arm Lock)

She strolls away, and another guard is maced in the face, caught by surprise, at 1:22.

1:27 – Happy pulls a Mike Tyson and finally wins his fight with an All-Out Attack to the jaw at 1:33

About Miss Romanov

Natasha Romanoff is no mere normal. She’s a recipient of the Russian version of the Super Soldier Serum according to this link in Wiki, and the writeup simply screams “really high stats” to me. She probably has DX on the order of 18-20, maybe more. She’s probably been trained to DX+7 or DX+10 in several styles of martial arts. As is typical for comic books, the power list is mixed, but generally agree that she probably has Enhanced Time Sense, definitely Combat Reflexes if not ETS, and her DX, IQ, and HT are all very high. Not entirely sure about ST, but I need to put something down. On the low end, she’s about 125-lbs and a world-class gymnast and ballerina. Doing a bit of digging, it seems that female gymnasts can often throw down bench press on the order of 2x their (usually slight) body weight, and Natasha has all that Super Serum to think about. She could be anywhere from ST 13 to ST 16 without really blinking at it. Let’s call it ST 15 for now, and with that DX+10 Wrestling for +5 to Trained ST, she’s looking at Trained ST 20, DX 20, Wrestling-30. Not to mention buttloads of Judo, Karate, and Boxing. Her low mass (based on ST = HP = 2 * cube root of weight in lbs) is only the equivalent of ST 10, so Sumo would be a bad choice. She probably has high ranks in Brawling too. Definitely Trained by a Master, and possibly one or more specialties of WM, though with skills as high as hers, she won’t need it. Based on the number of moves she does in any given turn, it’s nearly certain she has at least one, if not two, Extra Attacks.

The overall point here is that she was born in 1941, trained as a spy, sniper, and martial artist for 70+ years while remaining young, and weaned on Russian Super-Soldier formula. High stats and skills are what she does. That means she’s going to have the skill to do a lot of stuff in one turn if she wants, to the point that I probably won’t often note the final skills she’s rolling against. She’s that good.

One last point to those who might object: even a DF character, such as a Knight or Martial Artist, can start the game with skills in the 18-20 range (higher if you go nuts). Natasha is more like a Monster Hunters 400-pointer, and by jiggering around with a Warrior template, you can easily put all sorts of hand-to-hand goodness in multiple skills into the DX+4 and DX+7 level. Just going to town on what she should have, she’s probably a 1,000-point character using Wildcard! skills to cover the breadth of her expertise. And that’s without giving her lots of 20s in stats.

Taser Strike

Tasers Suck. Twice.

This one’s easy. She walks by the guard who is distracted by Happy starting his fistfight, and tosses two stunners which cause electromuscular disruption (High Tech, p. 89; p. B432). He fails one or both of the HT-5 rolls to resist and falls to the ground, paralyzed. She moves on.


Double-leg Madness

Vaulting for Double-Leg Neck Grapple

Natasha runs the prerequisite distance and does an Acrobatic Attack, using the Vaulting and Diving rules (Martial Arts, p. 107) to clear the low cart. This acrobatic double-leg grapple is something she uses two or three times in this fight sequence alone, so we’ll build it as a Technique that ignores the skill cap of 9. She’ll roll Acrobatics-2 to clear that cart, and then a monster penalty to her grappling skill for an Acrobatic Attack (-6), that ignores the skill cap (-1), targets the neck with a grapple (-3) with the legs (-2), for a whopping Skill-12. I’m quite sure she’s not using this from default, but if she has Skill-26 she can pull this off 90% of the time even without buying it up. I won’t say she’s bought it up all the way to full skill, but even if she’s got it to Skill-6, she’ll be able to throw this with some major Deceptive Attack action attached.

So we’ve identified an Acrobatic Double-Leg Grapple as one of her signature moves.

So she grapples him by the neck and rolls vs. a likely Trained ST 21 (ST 15 with both legs is ST 18, and Judo at DX+10 gives +3) for Control Points. This is certainly a cinematic campaign, but even so, she rolls 2d for CP (average of 7 CP) and doubles that because she’s got TbaM and she’s Black Widow, scoring 14 CP, imparting -7 to her foe’s ST and DX. Even if he’s a decent foe, ST 14 and DX 12 as a high-end guard, he’s now ST 7 and DX 5, entering the realm of “sucks rocks.”

We can resolve the finishing move as a Judo Throw for injury (Martial Arts, p. 75), with Black Widow’s Judo vs. her foe’s ST 7, DX 5, or highest grappling skill, which is unlikely more than 9. She need not even spend CP. She’ll roll at Judo-8 for the attack (targeting the skull, at -1 for a damage throw), but since she’s adding her weight to the throw and landing crawling, picks up an extra +2. 

She definitely does all of this stuff in one move, so she’s Rapid Striking for -6 to both as well.

Out-of-sequence Double-Leg Signature Move

Net: Acrobatics roll at -2 to clear the cart (the easiest part of all this); Acrobatic Double-Leg Neck Grapple at -6 beyond whatever her skill is for Rapid Strike, and a Judo Throw for injury at Judo-12 to combine the weight change, Judo throw to the skull, and rapid strike.

Now, it’s possible that the takedown is a variant on a Grab and Smash, but canonically, this can’t be done on a standing foe by smashing their head to the ground. Still, what it would be if you wanted to do it this way is a Force Posture Change (-4 for taking him down, +2 for landing crawling, net of -2) to get him down combined with an attack to the skull at full penalties. That’s DX, Brawling, or Wrestling as the base, -7 for targeting the skull. You’l do thrust crush damage plus whatever CP you choose to spend (!!) to the skull. Note that this two-move combo is also a Rapid Strike.

If Black Widow has Extra Attack (one or more), this would take some of the gigantic penalties accrued and limit them. She probably has at least that, and so between a Rapid Strike, Extra Attack, and maybe even an All-Out Attack (Double), she can probably spread all of this stuff over one turn fairly easily.

Note also that in many of these moves, she ends not grappling the guy at all, meaning that somewhere along the line she spent all of her usually-massive tally of CP to really make these guys look like idiots, or perhaps add injury to the throws, or lower the location penalty of striking the skull from the throw. Probably that last one.


Slip and Spin

Evade and Pressure Point Leg Strike



I’ll call this one an interesting combination of Evade (p. B368) to move through his hex, paired with a Pressure Points strike to the lower leg, total of Karate-4, then a Pressure Points vs. HT roll. The Evade vs. a standing foe is at -5.

The fact that the guy is still there a few seconds later for Black Widow to use the same Acrobatic Attack as the previous fight means she applied lasting crippling pain. Already handled by the GURPS rules, so go +Sean Punch and +Peter V. Dell’Orto!

Vaulting to Victory

Acrobatic Double-Leg Neck Grapple



This quick scene is a near-mimic of the previous one. She uses her Acrobatic Double-Leg Neck Grapple again, this time over two turns – there’s a notable break between the grapple and the takedown. So first turn is the vault over the guy and the grapple; the second turn is the leg-based offensive Judo Throw, this time landing standing, and using the CP spend to cancel out the penalties for the skull location. 

Boot to the Face


After tossing a few flash-bang/smoke grenades to render both foes stunned (like she needs that, but “fight fair” is an oxymoron), she does a sweeping kick to the first guy’s leg. She also spends a few points to cause him to crit fail his defense roll, where he knocks himself out. This is part and parcel of treating mooks as scenery, from Impulse Buys, p. 6 – and is especially appropriate for this sort of fight.

She then dispatches the other guard with a kick to the face, and I’d call the “I walk up the guy’s leg” simply an application of Deceptive Attack. She’s doing something like 1d+3 damage with that kick, enough for a Major Wound to the Face, inducing an HT-5 roll to the mook, who has about a 85% chance of failing. Which he does.

Triple Threat


The most exciting part of the fight, and the most complicated to adjudicate. Also with weapons!

First, Natasha readies her handy-dandy extendable garotte using a Defensive Grip. It’s a flexible melee weapon (see TG, p. 14-15) with the neat trick of being extensible, and can grapple at a reach limited by its length (or more properly, half  its length).

Weapon Parry from Defensive Grip

The first guy does a classic overhand attack to the head. Natasha uses the garotte to do a Grabbing Parry. She’s +1 for the Defensive Grip, using Judo – and so can parry unpenalized vs. armed attackers, but still accepting -4 to parry the limbs of an attacker with a Reach 1 weapon. She also slips into close combat using Judo while she does this, for a net +1. So, all in all, she’s parrying at -4, not bad, really. In a realistic game, the fact that she’s parrying a swung weapon with Judo would make her Parry at -7.

When she makes her parry, she inflicts CP based on half her ST (call it ST 7), and we’ll slap on the bonus for +1 per die for the flexible weapon, so she’s at 1d-2 CP for the parry . . . but doubled because of the cinematic switch. That is 2d-4, so an upper bound of 8 CP, and an expectation of about 3 CP. Relative to Natasha’s other stuff, this isn’t a lot. She knows this. 

Pressure Point strike to knee

She seems to use something like Pass Limb (or hell, maybe just a DX roll) to transfer both ends of the garotte to her left hand, releasing her right. It’s hard to tell without frame-by-frame, but it’s also possible she’s just using the weapon in a Defensive Grip while slipping in for the parry using Judo. That’s a net of Parry+2 using the normal rules. She then does a three-move kick to the knee, punch to the face, and punch to the chest, possibly a Pressure Points strike (TG, p. 33), since he spends his next turn suffering from enough pain that he just stands there. 

Neck grapple with flexible weapon

She reacquires her garotte, and grapples her paralyzed foe around the neck with it, this time using her best unarmed grappling skill, and likely doing something like 2d+3 (doubled!) control points. 

She dodges a Move and Attack punch from the second guard, and buys a critical success, forcing him to roll on the Unarmed Crit Miss table; he continues past her and falls down.

Judo Throw Rapid Strike!

She does a Grabbing Judo Parry against the punch from the third guard, scores a few CP, and then follows up with a really awesome move. She improves her grapple on the third guard’s arm, and does a Rapid Strike Judo Throw for injury on both of them. Both are offensive throws and Contests of Skill, so she spends CP liberally to make them go down, go down hard, and stay down. She can do both because she retained the grapple from the lanyard on the first guy, and has lots of CP from the arm grapple on the third.

Slow Learner


Ah, poor second guard. He fails to learn from the giant pile of unconscious buddies twitching around him. He Readies a can of mace while changing posture from prone to standing over the requisite two-second period.

Really? A can of mace? How about an actual mace? Might at least have looked threatening. Instead, doing so, for all intents and purposes, seems to merely provoke what looks very much like an Attack of Opportunity. Actually, he probably does a Wait, and will spray her if she gets into range.

Slip, Position, Grabbing Parry

She charges in anyway, triggering his Wait, and she slips inside using a grabbing parry of the torso. She persuades her GM that she should be able to use the stepping from a retreat as the movement that allows a Change Position maneuver (TG, p. 35) and accepts the -2 to her Grabbing Parry that getting into her foe’s side arc implies. 

Judo Throw

On her own turn, she completes her move by doing another Acrobatic Double-Leg Neck Grapple, also accepting -4 to slip from the side to the rear arc. She probably does enough CP (2d doubled) that poor slow learner’s turn is spent going “Wha? How? Who? Ow!” due to the active control penalties alone. 

Her next turn, she attacks with her arms and releases her legs, and then does another Judo Throw for injury, putting this guy out.

Disarm Lock and That Arm
Lock

Grabs can of mace
Judo Grabbing Parry+Lock

Move and Attack must be part of this private security company’s standard training protocol, because here comes another one. At least this guy had his weapon out first.

To no avail. Natasha does a classic grabbing parry, followed immediately by an Arm Lock roll while acquiring the weak side arc of her foe. Note that the extended arm bar and flipping up into the standing shoulder lock are probably not two moves, though it could be modeled as increasing the CP on an already-locked joint, but more importantly, applying pain. She spends enough CP on that arm lock to reduce the guard’s Grip CP to zero and grabs the can of mace herself. A spinning elbow to the face stuns him, and a spinning kick to the skull finishes him off.

Parting Shot

This fight was a classic one-on-many fight where the heroine makes otherwise competent individuals look silly by dint of sheer awesomeness. The double-the-CP switch does this, making grapples almost comically effective. The cinematic tendency of the mooks to Just Stand There while the heroine goes to town on them is probably best represented by the huge CP totals making die rolls nearly pointless – from the viewer’s angle, “he just stood there,” but game mechanically, he probably tried to do something and failed.

The only thing I wonder about is that most of Black Widow’s takedowns – all but the last one where she  switches arms for legs so she can land kneeling – look more like Force Posture Changes plus Kiss The Floor to me than Judo Throw. But the fact that every one of these is basically an FPC for injury, requiring a Rapid Strike, while Judo allows this in one move with an offensive throw for injury, makes me think this is the right call. Judo is, after all, a Hard skill, and being able to do this is appropriate.

I hope this breakdown, even though I didn’t have a full character sheet and numbers for Natasha and all the mooks, helps show how you’d do TG in a cinematic beat-down.

Now go buy the book already!

Thanks to Marvel for making this HD-quality clip available on YouTube. All images are Copyright to them, and used with the intent to show how awesome their movie, the character, and possibly my book are. Two of those things are likely cooler than the other. 

We picked up where we left off. Shiba, Thumvar, and Staver were in the thick of it on the right side of the battlefield, while Cadmus was preparing to invoke Smite again against something like eleven targets in range.

Well, good plan. The other guys managed to not get too badly grappled and mangled by the hordes of undead, and screaming Undead Lich Lady tries to land on Cadmus’ head, trying to grapple him with her freakin’ hair. Cadmus had a plan, though, so he didn’t move – and Crazy Hair Lich Lady landed nearby. Then Cadmus invoked Smite on his turn, killed nine frozen dead or mammoths, wounded a few more, and singed and really pissed off Lich Woman.

Next turn, she grapples Cadmus with her hair, but Shiba takes his turn to chop through first her hair, then her neck, beheading her. Cadmus uses Protection from Evil (Enhanced) to clear the field of undead . . . and a Very Mad Mammoth slams through all of us. I think the rest dodged and whatnot, but Cadmus takes one in the back for 19 pi++, less DR. Still takes 14 injury through DR 12.

Ow.

But then the others make short work of those remaining nearby as Cadmus makes two critical successes and a regular success to not lose concentration when hit by Giant Angry Mammoth. So with all the mooks forced to stay a minimum of 12 yards away, we finish off all that remain at our relative leisure.

Combat Over; Confusion Starts



At this point, we discover that we’ve arrived on the set of Skin of Evil. The big monolith thing is actually some sort of extruded and hardened essence of pure nasty. When those of us with good intentions walk on it, it begins to burn and scorch our boots and armor. When Staver the Infernal enters the circle, he feels like Old Uncle Evil is welcoming him home, and he’s ready to teach him all those things that he was too young for before. In short, we looked at the nasty evil thing, saw the three-clawed symbol from Turok’s Bore (Tanuanak? Tura lura lura? Fantasy names. Sheesh.), and went back to camp.

We spoke to Ameiko, healed up, and generally decided that we should probably go on to the Creepy Towers of Doom from which None Ever Return (except hopefully our heroes). When we woke up, the blizzard we’d been in had ended, and no sign of the monolith was visible – it had just disappeared, taking the storm with it.

We ended there.

Lessons Learned

  • Not a surprise, but getting dogpiled by undead sucks. And since most Learned Prayers and other things require a Concentrate maneuver, which by RAW can’t be done while grappled, it sucks even more. Technical Grappling allows you to keep concentrating with a Will roll, penalized for how good the grapple is.
  • Ranged weapons in a blizzard? Not so useful.
  • Never, ever, ever turn your back on an angry mammoth. It never ends well.

After the last game, the team (without me – I was out for some reason) had managed to survive the cave-in that was Pharasmically induced, do some minor looting before the entire cave system collapsed, and watch as one undead dragon flew off with a dead dragon in its claws.

Yeah, like we won’t be seeing them again in the future.

Anyway, we pursued them across the frozen north for a few weeks, and came up at camp to a woman that stirred Thumvar’s bones. He wandered out after her into the frozen cold. The rest of us resisted the evil hag’s lure.

Still, that put us in the middle of the frozen combat field with what looked like one or two foes. I think my vision-blocking layer was disabled, because I saw the entire freakin’ mess. That is a whole lot of Frozen Dead, at least four undead mammoths, a bunch of Frozen Wraiths, and one Woman. Plus a giant-ass stone pi. Awesome, like the mooks on the receiving end of River Tam’s wrath, we were about to be killed by Evil Math.

Turns out that was somewhat literal, too. That circle was black ice. Evil black ice, and any undead on it got a +10 to resist Cadmus’ usual bag of tricks, such as Protection from Evil. We found that out when Staver (our Infernal Scout) wandered in and felt the slippery evil for itself. Very bad, very tempting. She backed out.

Anyway, wackiness ensued. The snow slowed us down to half-move, which for Cadmus was 2 yards per second. He didn’t do a lot of moving, though – they came to him. Lots of them. Things rapidly got hairy, with mammoths trying tramples (all were dodged), very fast wraiths sneaking up from behind (but they mostly fell quickly to silvered weapons), and slow undead that woke up when the entire freakin’ battlefield shivered like a drumhead. Now they were fast zombies.

Great.

We managed to bring down most of the mammoths, and the bad guys still insisted on leaving their circle of Awesomely Evil to come to us. Still, we got pretty well surrounded. Lots of grapple attempts (alas, we are not introducing Technical Grappling midstream. Yet.)

Still, we thus far mainly are managing to hold our own. Cadmus has an attack called “Smite” that strikes undead with 2d burning injury per turn in a 4-yard radius. It’s irresistible, no roll required, just roll damage. The mammoths found it irksome, the Frozen Dead took a couple of rounds to fell, and the wraiths did not fare well against the combination of silver weapons and holy fire. Go figure.

We ended right as Cadmus was going to launch a smite attack that would impact eleven targets. Staver and Shiba are more-or-less surrounded . . . and since Staver’s an Infernal, if I get close enough to help them out, I burn Staver too. Ouch.

Lessons Learned

  • No player of Dungeon Fantasy should spend too long without silvered weapons. They’re cheap, and make things like our insubstantial wraiths pretty much easy pickings if you could get next to one. Since their primary attack was to slam through you (insubstantial, affects substantial – a 160-point vat of unfairness when it’s used on you), and a slam is a strike, well, armed parries are aggressive parries. I think Cadmus killed at least one, Thumvar also, just by a good parry roll on a weapon with a (2) armor divisor.
  • A stash of ranged, area effect weapons never hurts. Granted, we were in a freakin blizzard, so arrows were Right Out. 
  • Forming a wall of battle is hard when the most effective attack is an area effect strike that can hurt your own party members. We never tried, of course (we never do). And the charging mammoths kinda put paid to any formation dreams. When a 10-ton mammoth encased in armored ice charges at you, you get the frack out of the way.
  • If the enemy is willing to come to you . . . let them.
Future Rules Mods
  • The subject of all parries are armed parries came up, and I think +Nathan Joy and I are converging on a house rule we like
    • If you want to do full damage with an armed parry, Wait and Attack. 
    • If you want to parry with the blade of a hafted weapon, you’ll do so at a penalty (still working out what that will be, we toyed with -4, as well as -2 plus either a location or weapon bulk penalty), and do half your swing damage for normally-swung weapons (cutting).
    • If you just want to parry, you do half thrust damage, full skill. Bladed weapons like swords and knives do cut damage, hafted weapons like axes, maces, polearms will likely do crush (parry with the haft).
  • It’s not perfect, but it’s a start.

We picked up where we left off in +Nathan Joy‘s game.

. . . Cadmus was praying, others were standing or hovering around, and a dragon that could move through ice like it was yogurt was, well, moving through the ice like yogurt.

It burst through right under Shiba ( +Mark Langsdorf ) and Thumvar ( +Theodore Briggs ), both of whom avoided the attack, Thumvar rolling a critical success. The dragon got to roll on the Unarmed Critical Miss table, and went sprawling. Staver shoots arrows at it, laced with alchemical fire. Thumvar does a double attack and totals 27 (2) cut. Shiba pounds it with another exploding arrow and does 9 imp and 10 bu.

Cadmus continues to pray to Pharasma that the dragon not be able to escape and burrow into the ice again. After a few seconds of this, a sense of peace descends on him. He also hears something rattle and hiss off in the direction to his left.

Thumvar nails him with two more blows, and Staver ( +Emily Smirle)   hits with two more fire-arrows. Dragon drags himself off into the fog, and we lose track of him.

After a second or so, the dragon nails us all in a huge cone of solid cold. Cadmus is at the edge, and Dodge and Drops out of range. Thumvar gets out of the way, Shiba blocks the cone with his peshkali shield, and Staver eats 20 cold damage, which amulets and armor modify down so that he’s only at exactly 0 HP.

He doesn’t pass out. He does drink potions.

Thumvar nails the dragon one more time with a Feint and Attack with Shield and Sword, and nails the dragon on the skull for 14 (2) cut, and it falls limply to the ground.

Cadmus? 

Now, for the undead guy. Cadmus stalks forward . . . and the dracolich nails him with a a torrent of black ice. He gets hit for 17 burning damage, but his large-area DR (he learned from previous adventures) is DR 10 (DR 12 on head, neck, and torso; DR 9 on limbs) and he “only” takes 7 burning damage. He’s injured and frosty, but still fighting.

Cadmus recalls (after spending a destiny point to un-biff his roll) that these creatures can’t do their cone attack every second, but they can do it quite a bit. He then attacks the thing’s skull with his axe, but is parried. Meanwhile the dracolich attacks him with both claws and his teeth; cadmus does a riposting parry, a shield block, and a dodge to avoid all three attacks.

Staver tries to attack the skeletal dragon with fine meteoric arrows, but suspects that the impaling arrows won’t hurt his foe much. 8 (2) imp and 11 (2) imp to the vitals, such as they might be on a living dragon. It doesn’t bother to dodge, and doesn’t look like it’s hurt much.

Cadmus takes a turn as his compatriots gather to fight the dragon, and chops at its neck, hitting once for 10 (2) cut. It launches itself into the air, and moves FAST behind Cadmus. Thumvar flies past Cadmus’ field of view. We all overhear Thumvar muttering about how fast the creature is. Meanwhile we hear a loud crash and a sliding sound, as something seems to hit the ice and slide for a long way.

We then all hear a dull, echoing thud from somewhere up ahead, sounding even farther than the sound of the sliding.

Cadmus wonders if it slid into the crevasse like a big bony dummy. We find out that in fact, he body slammed the dead dragon into the crevasse, and either also went in himself, or is no longer anywhere to be found. Staver checks it out:

You look, and other than a carpet of coinage lining the dragon’s former nest, we see fresh blood indicating a large corpse was very recently dragged to the south of the crevasse where it vanishes under the side of the cave wall. Beyond that is a VERY tight fit you are a bit nervous about continuing down.

Strewn with bones, and the very bottom narrows into a wedge so you have to stop before you’re actually at the true bottom. You see a roughly two yard wide semicircular hole that you’re guessing a dragon could fit through if he squeezed. The edges are smeared with blood just beginning to turn tacky.

Cadmus kneels down and prays, long and fervently, to Pharasma to open the way for us. Widen the cave, block the exit, mark the path. Show us the way to this stinking undead for whom you have no tolerance, etc.

Cadmus’ prayer slowly draws to a close. There is a shivering CRACK that seems to come from everywhere at once. You all hear the squealing of ice moving over ice. Followed by a series of pops.From the cave mouth, and the tunnel, you hear another splintering crack, a deep silence for a few seconds, followed by a resounding boom of a large amount of ice hitting something very hard. Thumvar is slighly crouched in the tunnel mouth looking back at Shiba having a conversation with Cadmus, when there is a huge CRACK, and you see fracture lines race up the sides of the wall. You turn to look down the tunnel, and have a slight moment of vertigo as the tunnel seems to tilt slightly.Then the whole of the tunnel starting about a foot past your nose drops away, eerily silent, and in front of you is the main shaft of this chamber. You watch several hundred tons of ice pinwheel away below you to smash on the rocky crags hundreds of feet below. There’s a faint creaking, followed by several smaller pops coming from within the ice.Then silence.

  • Cadmus stands up. He looks satisfied, awed, and determined. All at once.
  • Shiba: “Ah? What is this?”
  • Cadmus: “The Undead are accursed and must be destroyed. Pharasma paves the way for us to meet our destiny. Either that or we’ve just been sealed in the cave to die because I’ve asked too much too fast. You never know.”
  • Shiba: “Oh. It is quite a marvellous miracle, then.” Pauses, works his jaw. “Would you be able to explain to this ignorant one what you have done?”
  • Cadmus: “I have asked Pharasma to open the way for us. Widen the cave, block the exit, mark the path. Show us the way to this stinking undead for whom she has no tolerance
  • Thumvar: “That’s not what I was expecting…”
  • Cadmus:  “Me neither. But then, anticipating Her Holiness is never wise. She delights in her games at times.”

We stare at the new geography, and wonder where our two dead dragons went. They could be anywhere in the complex, or buried hundreds (thousands?) of feet below in tons of ice.

We decide to break until next week to let the GM draw new maps!

We started up immediately where we left off with  Dupond ( +Matt Sutton ) character recalling that a military doctor has been experimenting with electroshock therapy to cure diseases. This Captain Watts is actually here at the facility.

He takes this in stride and approaches Dr. Hampton ( +Douglas Cole ) about the statement from Dupond’s countryman that he knows of someone who can cure his wounded eyes. This, of course, being unknown to modern medicine, at least piques his curiosity, and Hampton agrees to accompany Dupond.

Additionally, Dupond looks at the scroll he found, showing it to Dr. Addams, the linguist. The arabic notation refers to the Pharaoh of 1,000 Ravens (Oh. Great.) and looks to be some sort of incantation that is 800 to 1,000 years old. (Ditto.). Dupond is fascinated. “We should try this. Since I was struck on the head, everything is clear. This has been put in our path for a reason!”

Addams: “Yes, but this is incomplete. With more research we could discover more.”

Dupond determines that the scoll has been here for fewer than 50 years, and hypothesizes that a partially-complete incantation might have been responsible for the ravens.

Addams recalls (spending an Occult point) stories of a leader who established a 15 year Reign of Terror during that period, but such legends are disbelieved. The Egyptology experts dismiss this theory, but The Pharaoh, in certain circles, were rumored to be half-man, half-raven. Every 75-100 years, references seem to crop up, and then disappear again.

Dupond notes that perhaps the ritual can cure Addams’ leg. Addams is skeptical, and speculates (correctly!) that the medical staff isn’t going to let him wander around until his leg is properly cast up.

***

Though Dr. Hampton has gotten to know a few of the patients in a short time, his journey across war-torn Europe, complete with being shelled, has rendered him ready to collapse with fatigue. He does so. The next morning, he begins his rounds, surprised at the fairly unsanitary and sloppy behavior exhibited by the “medical” staff. Very few people skilled in surgery (not unusual), but rats, vermin, poor sanitation, and the smell of gangrene permeates every tent.

Most of the doctors are run ragged, and the nurses avoid the head nurse Ogilvy like, well, gangrene. The only one not afraid was Zenna Borden, who we see ministering to a number of different people – none of whom seem to do well.

After a night’s sleep and a hard day’s work, Dr. Hampton finally reports to Major Parker, the camp CO. He is distracted and distant – even confused – while discussing Hampton’s role here, and dismisses him, claiming some errand. He shoves any requests off on Nurse Ogilvy.

Hampton spends a Investigative point on Bureaucracy.

Hampton notes that all requests for administrative control over the camp are diverted to Ogilvy, while the actual medical tasks are handled properly (but desperately). Any organizational or chain-of-command issues, however, are messed up to a fare-thee-well, with Ogilvy having usurped the role of true head of the facility.

***

The journalist, Phillip Gibbs, happens to find that there is another journalist, Jackson Elias, in the compound. He has written on the occult and supernatural perspective of primitive peoples, from a non-believer’s skeptical position. His last work was in 1915, chronicling Mayan and Aztec (he got them frequently confused) rituals, called The Smoking Heart.


Elias is an American with an arm wound. He was trying to get out of Paris on his researches, when artillery interrupted his travels. He found himself in the medical ward here, and his requests for an expedited departure have fell on deaf ears.

He’s currently working on a book about the Thuggees of India, a death cult worshipping Kali.

***

Every time they notice that the injured are not in their beds, they’re shuffled back.

***

Dupond meets with Maurice Bowles, and establishes a time and place to meet. Bowles is very cryptic, but seems sure that he is on the trail of being cured. After the meeting, Dupond relates this, with some amusement and some real curiosity, to the rest of the group.

Dr. Hampton is surprised to understand that Nurse Ogilvy is having meetings that don’t involve the senior medical staff, especially Major Parker. Naturally, Hampton goes in (and spends a reassurance point to let Parker know that he has his back) and expresses doubt that the nurse should be calling the shots. Parker promises to do something, and winds up getting into a one-sided shouting match with Ogilvy, with the Chief Nurse doing the shouting. Hampton barges into the office, and tries to dress down Ogilvy for breaking both decorum in a hospital and the chain of command. Ogilvy looks down her nose at Doctor Hampton, and notes with a glare at Parker that Hampton “might not work out here.” Hampton tries to interject, but Parker actually orders him to be silent and leave the room. Saluting with great propriety and no respect, he leaves.

***

Our investigation and discussion leads us to conclude that Ogilvy, Borden, and Abd Nazari are holding these strange “meetings,” with some of the more crippled among the camp being prime candidates for also attending. They seem like they should be greatly suffering, but are doing so less than they should.

***

At about ten in the evening, after the Nurses ensure the patients in their beds

The GM calls for us all to make Sense Trouble rolls. Everyone makes them but Dr. Hampton.

The night turns into shadow, and those shadows move, as out of each tent four or five soldiers try to sneak out of the tent.

Dupond follows, retrieving his service pistol. Addams follows the crowd, so to speak, while Gibbs engages in some discreet shadowing. One soldier, Gieullme de Charlemagne, with a leg wound, challenges Addams. What are you doing? Going for a walk. Clearly. Why. Abd Nazari suggested it. Oh, you’re going to see the nurse? I’m going wherever Abd Nazari is, and mutters something in Arabic. 

The nurse has found a way to lessen our pain, Charlemagne says. He seems a bit wigged out that Addams has claimed to be chosen of Abd Nazari.

At the meeting, Bowles and Abd Nazari are rather conspicuously absent. Addams and Dupond are there.

Some on-call nurses report that patients are missing from their beds. They wake up Hampton, who goes and reports that some of the more critically injured patients are missing from their beds. He reports back to Major Parker, who delegates it right back to him and goes to sleep.

Hampton fails another sense trouble roll. 0 for 2.

The patients disappear into a basement cellar. Gibbs sees Abd Nazari poke his head out, and close the doors. He also sees nurses and Dr. Hampton poking around looking for the patients. Gibbs waves him down, and tells him that something’s going on. Chanting and whatnot.

While the room seems initially like a regular cellar, looking carefully reveals that there seems to be a small section of a Roman-style house underground, and after a bit of a low passage, there seem to be three fairly large rooms joined together, stonework and doorways well preserved.

Though the stonework is Roman, there are well-carved, unnaturally so, Egyptian heiroglyphs and depictions of a Pharaoh slicing the heads off his enemies. Glyphs for ravens and death, and large casualties in battle. The runes chronicle the successes of this Pharaoh, standing victoriously over defeated foes.

In another room, Abd Nazari, Bowles, many enlisted folks. Behind a podium, there is a relief, nearly 10′ high, of a Pyramid, with the top cut off flat. On top of that, is a nasty-looking skull with the skin removed from its face.

As a woman rises and starts speaking and chanting, Hampton sees that the skull is fairly fresh, the skin definitely human, and the eyeballs seem to be moving. She throws back her cowl, and reveals herself to be Zenna Borden.

“The Pharaoh of 1,000 Ravens seeks your souls and your hearts.” She then speaks a tongue with which none of us are familiar, “Amon Pek, Fari Fari, Ei! Ei!”

An etherial mist forms, fills a basin that we did not notice before, and a green viscous fluid begins to fill it.

Addams ( +kung fu hillbilly ) feels his pain actually begin to subside. It is no longer the searing break from earlier. Ravens fly down into the chamber (through a shut door?!) and land on everyone . . . but Dupond . . . and then fly off. As they fly, a Raven looks at Gibbs, and in his mind, he can hear a voice say ” No hope, no pleasure, no triumph, no bargain. There is nothing you can give that He will accept. He takes what he pleases and will not be cheated.”

Gibbs makes a Stability check, and passes fairly well.

+Nathan Joy says “Just remember, if someone asks you if you’re a God, you say YES.”

After a very long absence, we returned to discuss . . . dragons.

+Nathan Joy, the GM, says: “So, you have mariskos to the East, blocking the Path of Aganhei, weird things to the North that may have been heavily forshadowed in the windy pit o’ mean shaman, and a dragon that has recently been harassing the hell out of the village (and probably would be a PITA if you tried to head North without dealing with.)”

This naturally leads us to discuss the relative strengths and weaknesses of white dragons. We establish that they get more powerful as they age (Cadmus: OK, kill ’em while they’re young. Oops. Too late.). They have many abilities dealing with snow. They can see through heavy snow as clear as day and they’re immune to cold. They can fly, swim, run, and burrow (through snow or ice especially fast), and are generally big, strong, heavily armored, and fast. Shiba also can fill in that have a freezing breath weapon, and can sometimes do wind and fog related stuff pretty much at will. And tend to be magic resistant. Shiba DOES note that their defenses are supposedly less effective against fire, but he’s not sure HOW less effective that is.

Village People. I hate these guys.

Hrm. We then go get an interpreter and some village people. We show them the windy pit of doom, and they come to the conclusion that their shaman was nuttier than a squirrel’s nest. And hey, those dead guys used to be our friends and neighbors. I thought the dragon took them!

We spend a bit of time speculating whether the dragon egg shards might have been a sacrifice or magical component for a spell. But move on from that (I mean, hey – fighting dragons is a genre staple) and learn that they don’t know anything in particular about the pictograms, aside from the fact that this symbol is that of Sithhud, demon lord of blizzards and the frozen dead, that the black stones seem to represent the weird black monoliths that hunters have been reporting up north, and that the towers surrounded in blue are the Nameless Spires, an ancient ruined city on the North Pole. Further,white mountains behind the single tower are definitely the Alabastrine Peaks, which are off to the

south of the pole, and the fanged arms are definitely the traditional representation of Morozkos. They find some really bad scrawled love poems next to the picture of the winged woman that says “Katiyana, who speaks to me on the winds from her tower in the storm.”

Shiba thanks them for their time and how they’ve completely solved all of our problems forever. Fortunately, sarcasm doesn’t translate well.

They do confirm that a dragon has definitely been attacking the village (game on!), and roughly where it is, about 60 miles north of the village, on the High Ice.

Shiba, ever the tactician (or is that +Mark Langsdorf ?) summarizes the plan:

Kill the dragon, get the dogsleds, go to Unaimo and shop, then turn to the left and head to the Peaks, put paid to the tower, and finally have the dramatic confrontation at the Nameless Spires and hope we’ve figured out how to come back by that point?

On the other hand, a fairly amusing Out-of-Character conversation ensues about the wisdom of following what seem to be the plot hooks of the adventure path:

[6:27:52 PM] crakkerjakk: I would strongly encourage the party to go epic and drag the whole damn caravan north via dogsled.
[6:27:59 PM] Emily Smirle: Heading out late in the season because you’re afraid it’ll get blocked is officially Stupid.
[6:28:03 PM] Emily Smirle: Just kinda saying.
[6:28:17 PM] Emily Smirle: But.
[6:28:20 PM] crakkerjakk: Because pathfinder assumes the party is idiots, and this is Nate Reads From A Book.
[6:28:35 PM] Emily Smirle: Why didn’t you say so in the first place? 😀
[6:28:44 PM] Douglas Cole: Figured it was obvious?
[6:28:51 PM] Theodore Briggs: true, also, Staver needs to BUY MORE HEALING POTIONS AT THE CARAVAN
[6:28:52 PM] Mark Langsdorf: None of us are especially going to argue if Ameiko or the caravan master overrule us.
[6:28:56 PM] crakkerjakk: Well, if you really want to leave the caravan back, I can wing something, I suppose.
[6:29:03 PM] Douglas Cole: I mean, “Please, dive into the frozen like to fight the water creatures in their natural element” is a freakin plot point
[6:29:08 PM] crakkerjakk: Cause that makes A LOT MORE SENSE>
[6:29:11 PM] Emily Smirle: Staver DOES need to buy more healing potions at the caravan!
[6:29:34 PM] Theodore Briggs: get the big ones, or at least not the smallest ones
[6:29:35 PM] Emily Smirle: I can do taht right now though. I have money. >.>
[6:29:36 PM] crakkerjakk: I’m kinda hesitant to make you do shit that’s too stupid.
[6:29:53 PM] Mark Langsdorf: We embrace the script, Nate. It’s cool.
[6:30:02 PM] crakkerjakk: Alright, thanks guys.
[6:30:05 PM] Emily Smirle: Gimme dat tasty worm on dat phishook.

And, the Hand of Plot moves us:

Shiba: Nods as Ameiko, Sandru, and Koya tell us they want to dogsled across the Pole ’cause they’re in a tearing hurry or something. Oni of the 5 Winds, the Seal box has been opened, it all makes sense.

Well, as long as we’re going white dragon hunting, we go for Fine climbing gear, alchemist’s fire, and stuff to present snow blindness. They are sadly lacking in magebane, flaming weapon consumables, napalm, and stuff to let us fly or see through snow. Alas.

Staver picks up 10 major healing potions and manages to coat 20 arrows with explody alchemist’s fire thanks to a double Scout! destiny point spend. We all shop for a while (too long, probably), and then finally head north having doused +Emily Smirle‘s character, Staver, in Worstershire sauce to attract the dragon.

Not really. Cadmus does keep floating that plan though.

After two days of northerly travel, the guides slow down as we start passing larger and larger skeletons of various large mammals, and at the end of the third day you draw close to a large rift in the glacial icepack. We see a rift about 30 yards long, and about 9 yards wide at it’s widest point. You see claw marks on the edge of the rift here and there, that look like they were made by claws the size of swords.

Won’t this be fun?

We spend a lot of time looking through lists of party expendables, and come up with “don’t notice me” ninja potions, a potion of fire breathing, a ring of distant blow, and a few other things squirreled away. Like a wand of exploding fireball arrows.

The GM wonders if the dragon will last more than a round.

Staver and Thumvar take flight, with Staver checking out the opening. We see a slightly-melted edge, and a seven-yard drop to a gash in the glacier. Shiba falls back and casts Walk on Air on both himself and Cadmus (crit success on one of us). So now we’re all airborne.

Mark has all the cool spells. As he says, he doesn’t have many, so he chooses carefully.

Gonna need one of these . . . 

Staver flies down the deep shaft, at least 100 yards to the bottom (yikes). He can make out the bottom of the shaft. It looks like it’s covered in a series of rocky crags, and he thinks he sees something sprawled among them. To make it out so clearly, it must be fairly large. Looks like a body, quadripedal and with wings. On the side of the shaft are a couple openings. There’s two to one side, one about 20 yards below the other, and another opening on the opposite side in between the two. The top one is a cave entrance about 10 yards wide. The floor is littered with broken eggshells.

Littered? Oh, that does not sound good. +Theodore Briggs reminds us all of Dragonslayer.

You see a stone hammer laying amound the remains of the eggshells that you would guess was made by one of the local human tribes by it’s construction, and you see something whitish-blue underneath one of the fragments of eggshell. You brush aside the eggshell carefully, trying not to make too much noise. Underneath is an amulet, made out of remorhaz scales. It looks very similar to the friendship tailsman that Ulf had, that the local tribes use to mark favor with outsiders.

The draconic shape at the bottom of the shaft turns out to be a large dragon corpse. So much for the surprise attack.

We cross and descend to the next cave mouth down, which is a wide and deep cavern in the ice. We see signs of repeated passage by something large with big claws through this one. Given the ripples in the ice at least a foot below the surface, you’re guessing it’s been used for at least decades, if not centuries. There are some fairly fresh tracks, too. Days, maybe. We proceed down the shaft, finally on the main combat map.

Or was that too metagame?

So, this whole cave slopes gently down towards the opening to the shaft. There’s a fairly large crevase in the middle of it, and beyond that it curves upwards and to the north.

The floor is fairly slick, strewn with rocks and bones, and on the other side of the crevasse is what looks kind of like a nest of some kind, with a bunch of busted up ice in a rough circle.

As we cautiously approach, Cadmus notices a solid wall of fog approaching. Much like the one we fought in last time. Alas. Shiba casts Purify air, which clears a patch of fog in the middle of the cavern, as we hear a scraping sound coming from behind Staver. Of course. We move closer to the open area made by Shiba, but we continue to hear the sound of something large moving in the direction of the nest.

Staver launches an arrow laced with alchemist’s fire towards the sound on general principle. Beingn appropriately heroic archer, he hits, but what the burning arrow reveals does not please anyone. Dragon! The good news is that the illumination of the flaming arrow (1d6 burn for 30 seconds with 1/5 DR) will last a while, and gives us a valid target. There is likely still the pesky priest from last game kicking around (this fog is his stock in trade, I think), but at least we have one bad guy marked, and lots of fire-based attacks.

W. T. F?!

Thumvar fast-draws his sword and makes a Heroic Charge at the dragon, with his full flying Move 11.  The dragon is visibly surprised, shouting “WTF?” in draconic as Thumvar does 16 (2) cut to one of its wings, and it rears back, screaming “Srsly, WTF?!”

No, I did not make that up. Blame Nate. 🙂

Shiba’s turn, and he looses an arrow – the previously prepared 6d exploding fireball arrow, one might note – at the dragon. “The Arrow Knows the Way!” he shouts, using Homing (Imbuement) and trusting that Thumvar is heavily armored enough to shrug off the blast. 20 burn damage if successful. Dragon dodges and drops, so he can get out of the way, successfully. He’s on fire, confused, and angry. Cadmus uses his ring of distant blow to the torso, biffs his activation roll, spends a destiny point, but critically succeeds for 10 (2) cut to the torso.

The dragon is not amused, and seemingly in a great deal of pain.

A crack appears along its scales, they are the color of polished ice, edged in silver.The dragon screams something at us in draconic, then pushes downward with some powerful claws. Ice cracks and fountains upward, and the dragon slips down into the glacier. He moved through solid ice as if it were yogurt.

Thumvar waits for the inevitable reappearance of the dragon, while Shiba concentrates to make the arrow come around for another pass. Patriot Arrow, baby.

Regrettably, internet connection issues caused us to end the session there. More dragon-fighting next week!

Robert Lee Hampton started out in World War 1, May 27 1918, at an infamous hospital in France. We heard rumors of an unanticipated German offensive, which smashed through a few French divisions.

On the 28th of May, my character, Doctor Robert Lee Hampton, heard that some American and British divisions tried to offer some token resistance on the way to Reims. I’m stuck into an ambulance and driven (by a woman by name of Emma “Cheery” Patterson) who got a call to drive to pick up some injured men north of here, and try and get them back to the hospital before the German tidal wave arrives.

She asks me if I’d been to Military Hospital #5 before, and I reply in the negative. She’d been working there since the Spring, and notes that I should report to Major Parker, the Chief Surgeon, and that the chief nurse is Ms Ogilvy, who has a bad rep for being quite the tyrant. We speed onward.

***
Meanwhile, elsewhere, the three other PCs are part of a hodgepodge Allied division, forced to retreat. Six ambulances show up, and the PCs are all shoved into the same ambulance, in a very plot-convenient way.

I’m asked to make a Preparedness roll by +Jeromy French , and I roll a 6, spending 2 points from my pool of 5 for a total 8, which means my Pharmacy skill is improved by 1 (from 4 to 5) for the rest of the session. The others roll to see how injured they are, Jaque Dupond ( +Matt Sutton ) has a mild head wound, but Philip Gibbs ( +Nathan Joy ) and Norman Adams ( +kung fu hillbilly ) were both injured. Norman has a fractured femur, while Phillip has a shell fragment wound to the left forearm. None are horrible or life threatening, but none are fun.

Gibbs is in shock, and Dr. Hampton steps in to treat him, successfully. We speed south towards Reims, with six total patients, plus the nurse and Dr. Hampton. As Hampton works frantically to patch up the head wound, Dupond recounts a vivid dream, dealing with reincarnation and past lives. He’s writing in a journal of his remembered dream as if he mightn’t see another tomorrow. Hampton assures him he will live to see another day, so he can write more slowly.

As he patches up the broken femur, he and Norman discuss his academic background (Citadel and UVA Med School), which Norman declares is respectable enough, since he’s an Oxford Don. Can he fence again? Yes, stay off it and you’re fine.

Finally, the shell fragment is lodged, but removable. “Can you believe the Jerried tried to kill me? Hell of a thing. Not my writing arm,” Gibbs notes, and gives a classic thin-lipped British smile.

***

We continue driving, and the ride is rocky but uneventful, up until the ripping linen sound of big guns tears through the air. Within seconds, the lead ambulance is destroyed, its wreckage blocking our way, and the broken bodies that are not flung about are rapidly burned to death. Cheery stops the ambulance, in shock. Perhaps she knew someone? Unknown, but Hampton shoves her out of the way and gets behind the wheel. He guns it, slamming through the wreckage, pushing it aside to continue through the shellfire pattern.

As we slam through the wreckage, both Hampton and Dupond note that, oddly, a flock of ravens were in the bombardment zone, and as we pass, they all take off together in a flock, and fly south, in the same direction as the hospital.

Matt and I both have Outdoorsman, so we automatically notice the ravens. Jaime elects to spend a point in Occult to get more info on what the flock might portend.

“Interesting,” says Hampton. “I’ve never seen ravens stay put in an active bombard zone. Birds know to fly to the hospital, though.”

“No,” says Norman. “Those were fan-tailed ravens, native to Egypt. There’s a passage in the Koran that indicates that a raven taught Cain how to bury his dead brother. The fact that they’re flying in our direction is . . . well. Death travels with us.”

Cheery Patterson is still beside herself, having just witnessed, we find out, the detonation of her best friend. Dupond leans in and gives her a quote from Hawthorne: “All brave men love; for he only is brave who has affections to fight for, whether in the daily battle of life, or in physical contests.” He consoles her the best he can.

He spends a point of his Reassure pool to calm her and forge a relationship.

We drive for another hour or so, and come across the husk of what used to be lovely manor house, but which has since been shelled into oblivion. It is our military field hospital, surrounded by at least six tents, acting as portable triage and medical centers.

The unkindness of ravens has preceded us here. They decorate the landscape, perching on the tents, roofs, and other places where they can find purchase. The wounded PCs are placed in separate areas, and Dr Hampton is shuffled off to serve his purpose.

Norman overhears a man wandering around, shaking a reliquary of some sort at the ravens and the wounded. “To the scavenger of death, may you weigh each heart to be judged.” An unfamiliar phrase catches Norman’s ear. “What are you trying to save them from?,” Abd Nazari says in Arabic. “To keep the soul going in the right direction; we can pray to many gods,” the man notes. Clearly a reference to Anubis.

An obviously-frocked Catholic priest is traveling from area to area, giving blessings where possible, and Last Rites where not. He mutters darkly when Abd Nazari passes, noting “heathen should not be allowed in a good Christian hospice.”

Gibbs, a devout Catholic, engages him in conversation, and sympathizes with the priest, noting that such burdens are part of our journey here. The priest notes that the Arab is a lackey of Zenna Borden, an apparently “untouchable” nurse who is well-liked by Ogilvy, the head nurse – that in itself an oddity. “She seems strangely incompetent, even in this place. I’ve said too much, my son. Thank you for the cigarette.”

The GM calls for a Sense Trouble roll from Gibbs, who spends a point and nails it with a 7.

At the edge of his vision, he sees one of the injured, who was apparently hovering outside the tent, and clearly overhead the conversation, bolt away from the “arm tent” to the “leg pit.” Gibbs casually strolls after him, not obviously following him.

Nate notes he’s Shadowing, and chooses to spend 2 points. Rolls a total of 3.

Gibbs is stopped at the entrance by a fairly burly looking nurse, who tries to redirect him back to the “arm” tent. Hampton declares that Gibbs is less injured than he seems, and is serving as my assistant, since we’re understaffed.

This puts Gibbs, Norman, and Hampton in the same tent, at least for a moment. “What brings you to the leg tent?” Tensions between the good Father and the Arab praying to Anubis, and the eavesdropping stranger. Nothing more develops from this at the moment.

As Dupond wanders the grounds on his own, he notes the ravens almost seen to follow the funeral processions of the stream of dead and dying. As he walks, he notes that the dead are being buried in what seems to be old Roman ruins – an oddity.

Matt spends a point of his Architecture pool.

While the space was wide and open on the surface, it clearly showing Roman funerary stones. A piece of metal sticking out from the ground looks to be a bronze case used to hold parchment or something. Opening it, a piece of mouldy parchment is revealed, showing pictures that seem fairly meaningless at the time. He tucks the scroll case into his pack, for later study.

As Dupond tours the grounds, he encounters a uniformed Lieutenant, with a massive head wound, who is hobbling purposefully in his direction. As they pass, Dupond tips his hat politely, and the wounded Frenchman greets him back, saluting as much as he can. “You appear to have been gravely wounded, Lt.”

“Yes, I am Maurice Bowles. My sight is truly limited, and I would do well to return to my bed before night falls – I can not navigate the grounds except in brightest day.”

Matt spends another point of his Reassurance pool to bond with him.

Maurice takes Dupond’s reassurance and kind words graciously, and notes subtly that he has heard of a way to restore his sight, and if Dupond comes by his room later, he can discuss it in more detail.

 ***

We end there, since the pacing of the adventure suggests that this is a good stopping point.’

Gumshoe and Trail of Chthulhu: First Impressions

It’s been a long time since I’ve really learned a new game system. I restarted Pathfinder recently, but I cut my teeth on Dungeons and Dragons, so I was familiar enough with it to slide right in.

GUMSHOE, now. I’m not sold on the mechanics of it, yet. The pool-based system is . . . odd. The way it seems to work is that everyone is more or less equally good at things, except for the few times per adventure when you can spend your supply of skill pool. For Investigative skills, if you have the skill, you get certain clues, and can spend points from that pool to improve things, get more information, etc.

It was our first adventure, so I’ll withhold judgement, but my first impression, based on incredibly limited play time, is that GURPS‘ skills plus Destiny Points allow you to (for example) consistently be a better doctor than others, but also whip out a few narrative successes at critical times, much like spending from the pool provides. Right now, I feel like anyone could roll the same 1d6 and have a 50% chance of success.

I’ll presume that most people won’t attempt a no-pool roll, and that drama and implicit niche protection prevents this from happening. And I’m also such a newbie with the system that I can’t yet form a judgement. We’ll see what happens next time.

GM: +Nathan Joy
Players: +Mark Langsdorf , +Theodore Briggs , +Emily Smirle , and me.

After we found the cleft in the wall from last game, we decided that we needed to just walk into trouble. So we followed the pathway up, whereupon Cadmus, still under the influence of being Pharasmically drunk or something, bumps into a wall, revealing a secret passage.

We follow that pathway until another surface, which clearly had to be a secret door as well. We found it, and saw a spiraling slide down into a large pit, 60′ below us.

I had a point unspent, and so I asked if I could spend it on Acrobatics, and slide around the spiral ramp on my shield. +Nathan Joy said yes. I made it most of the way around, slammed into a wall (1d-3 to my pride), then made it around the rest of the way.

Meanwhile, the more sane of us used the gear we brought: pitons and 700-lb. test rope, to scale down into the pit.

Each little cloud is an air spirit. Crap.

We saw lots of bones, lots of runes with the symbol of Sihhud, Demon Lord of blizzards and the frozen dead. We knew it was a trap, expected a trap, and a trap it was. The old guy (Tunuak), five or six hunters, and at least twelve air spirits popped up. Game on.

First valid action was +Mark Langsdorf ‘s Mystic Knight Shiba launching an exploding shrapnel arrow at one of the bad guys, which did about 2 points of damage to a whole bunch of air spirits (max), killed one hunter with three shrapnel hits and 26 cut damage. Cadmus slices at the torso of one, does 12 cut, and he seems fine, coming back to a guard stance.

Hmm. Cadmus smells demon on this one. The vertical eye slits do give it away. That probably means they’re amenable to Smite. 2d burn goes a long way, and if the air spirits are demony as well, that works.

For the bad guys first action, Tunuak casts a nasty fog spell, which obscures our vision past 2 yards. Icky.

Then, lots of spirits attack, with blows that go right through our parries, striking for 1d+3 (2) pi damage (we can read this right off of MapTool, which is a bit metagame. Still.) Staver eats 9 pi damage, while Cadmus takes only 1 HP through his DR 11 armor. That (2) works both ways.

Staver steps up and quick-shoots two arrows at some air spirit that must be visible to him. He hits with both despite the shock penalties. Both arrows are torn from their path by gale-force winds. Thumvar flies around to thee dge of the altar of bones at the bottom of the map. Shiba takes a swipe at a diffuse spirit, hitting but hey, diffuse. This brings him in visible range of Cadmus, who does a General Prayer to Pharasma for some assistance, but apparently the fates are not kind today. He does step close to Shiba, so they can go back-to-back.

We get attacked a lot by wind spirits, and Staver goes unconscious. Shiba takes a minor hit as well. Thumvar then tosses alchemists fire on the Evil Altar of Bones, which will burn merrily at 1d per second for a while. Cadmus, being reduced to pretty much mundane attacks, tries a shield bash and crit fails, spending a destiny point to not suck.

As the flames consume the altar, the spirits all flail around, flames licking all over them. Perhaps things are looking a bit less grim?

Maybe, maybe not. Our sorcerous friend disappears again (he used Body of Air last time, too), while a few of the hunters step up and attack our flanks – unsuccessfully thanks to shieldwork. The difficult terrain makes retreating impossible, though, so using retreats to reposition is not viable.

The alchemist’s fire continues to burn, and one Air Spirit vanishes from the map in front of Cadmus. Not sure if that’s dead or moved, but I’m not sorry either way.

Thumvar attacks the Hunter within reach, pulling one of his trademark Dual-Weapon Attacks, from the flank, also a Deceptive Attack. Bastard manages to block one, parry the other, despite eating -4 in penalteis. Was close, though.

Shiba does a telegraphed rapid strike for two solid hits and destroys an air spirit, and Cadmus invokes smite and goes up like a candle, taking 12 burn and dying.

Our inability to dissipate the fog is proving a real liability. For a DF party, we have some gaping holes we need to fill. This isn’t the first time we’ve been menaced by diffuse types.

Shiba’s turn comes, he casts Purify Air, nullifying the fog next to him, and Cadmus steps next to him, invoking Smite despite that he can’t see anything. He has guessed right, and a Hunter bursts into a pillar of fire and collapses. This formation crap actually works.

There’s an inarticulate scream of rage, a thunderclap, and then hunters drop like flies, collapsing.

Cadmus goes around doing Final Rest on every bone in sight, while Shiba pours major healing potions on Staver one at a time until he recovers. Staver’s down to -4 HP, but it takes both potions and only restores him to 4 HP. Cadmus tries Lay on Hands on the Infernal anyway:

Cadmus: says a prayer for Staver anyway, touching him lightly. Couldn’t hurt, and we’ll see if he’s been good this year

* Staver groggily opens one jaundiced eye to
blink at Shibas worried face.

GM: Staver, you feel a burning sensation.
Cadmus appears to be touching you and murmuring something.
Staver: And then promptly cringes at Cadmus,
“OW!”
Cadmus: “Sorry, sorry! Just thought I’d try
and see if God still hates you. Behave better.”
Staver: “It’s got NOTHING to do with me!”

* Staver swats at Cadmus’s hand.

Shiba: “Your kami is a strange sort,
Cadmus-sempai.”
Cadmus: That’s what they ALL say, you know.
Shiba: Looks around a bit more. “Why is that
altar on fire?”
Staver: “I’ve got second-hand problems, and
nobody consulted me about them.”
Cadmus: “Shiba, you don’t know the half of it,
really.”

We search around the pit for a while, but it looks like the sorcerer got away. Staver takes the opportunity to lecture Cadmus a bit (taken from OOC chat):

[9:01:04 PM] Emily Smirle: Staver uses small words “I. Am. Half. De. Mon.”
[9:01:17 PM] Christopher: LOL
[9:01:39 PM] Douglas Cole: “You da man?” “NO. DE-MON.”
[9:01:56 PM] Emily Smirle: “And nobody asked my permission for that first!”
[9:02:19 PM] Emily Smirle: Staver launches into a birds-and-bees discussion for the clearly poorly-educated holy warrior.
[9:02:31 PM] Douglas Cole: Hey, HOLY, not DEAD.
[9:02:45 PM] Douglas Cole: I miss Dawn
[9:02:58 PM] Emily Smirle: “You seem a little fuzzy on the details of what happens next, I’m just saying!”
[9:03:04 PM] crakkerjakk: Kevin will be missed.
[9:03:42 PM] Douglas Cole: OH, I can Lay on Hands and show her the Holy Glory, I can tell you.
[9:04:07 PM] Douglas Cole: Only then do we have our Final Rest.
[9:04:30 PM] Christopher: Many Shubs and Zulls knew what it was to be roasted in the depths of a Sloar that day, I can tell you!

Cadmus finishes his exorcism ritual, cleansing the pit of fell influence. Then, looking around at the englyphed walls we find:

There are five panels of pictograms. The first shows black standing stones rising from icy hills. The second shows a cluster of towers glowing with a strange blue light. A third shows a single monolithic tower rising above what appears to be a black lake with white mountain peaks behind it. A fourth depicts a spiraling storm with long arms ending in ice-fanged jaws devouring Erutaki villages, with even longer arms reaching towards forests, crudely drawn castles and cities, and what may be ships at sea. Warriors are shown trying to fight the storm with spears before being engulfed and sealed in tombs of ice.The final panel shows a blue-skinned woman with dark wings and hair wearing a silver crown or circlet. Her had grasps one of the claw-symbols like a scepter, and spiraling streaks of silver and white curl away from it in every direction.

The blue-skinned demon babe is neither Pharasma nor Sihhud. We also find dragon shell fragments at the base of the altar. We have a bit of in-character fun:
Staver: “Is anyone else made uncomfortable by
the idea of mixing demons and dragons?”
Cadmus: Seems like a bad game. D&D?
Shiba: “It seems obscene.”
Staver: “It just seems like a terrible idea.”
Staver: “That too.”

We speculate a bit as well. Possibly possessed half-dragon, a mama dragon really pissed at having eggs stolen, or having a dragon slave attack those who are not “sufficiently faithful.”
Shiba is pretty sure the blue glowy towers are supposed to represent The Nameless Spires, a set of magical ruins on the north pole that radiate incredible magical energy that no one has ever returned form attempting to explore. And the fanged storm arms represent the morozkos, the killer storms that hit this area in the winter.

Shiba: black standing stones, north pole magical ruins, icy lake on our path, enemy wind spirits, demonic goddess? Oh joy.
Cadmus: You know we need to walk into those magic towers, right? Right?
Shiba: That’s probably a good idea. I meant “bringing up our hostess is a good idea”. Walking into the magical towers that no one ever returned from seems problematic as a plan.
Cadmus: Aw. “No one ever comes back” is clearly a challenge. To us.
GM: 🙂
Cadmus: We’d be cheating Destiny if we didn’t take it on
Shiba: It looks more like “get advice from our hostess”, then “take the caravan to unaimo”, then “find the lonely tower by the lake”, and then? Hopefully kill a behir and teleport to Tian or something.
GM: ((NO MORE AND THEN!!!))
Cadmus: and then seek out the mystical towers. Gotta be good stuff there if no one ever returns!
Shiba: Uhm.

and we called it there!

Parting Shot
It’s a good thing that Ted set the altar on fire. Otherwise, we would have all likely been “pecked” to death by armor-piercing attacks. 1d+3 isn’t all that much, but when you can only dodge, things can get ugly fast.

All sorceresses have tattoos,
I guess, but this one had a map!

Today was Pathfinder, day, with +Jeromy French as GM, and +kung fu hillbilly and +Matt Sutton joining me as players. +Joshua Taylor and Evil Gimble was missing tonight.

I am going to unashamedly talk spoilers here, so be warned.

Last game ended with a combat, our tower had been attacked by quite a large force. We’d reinforced anyway, and as usual we played out the battle mostly with the teeming hordes of the bad guys in the background. We basically wound up chasing a sorceress around for a while, eventually killing her.

Turns out there was some interesting stuff tattooed on her back, which naturally Evil Gimble had flayed off and made into a nice portable map.

Hey! Something like this . . . but skin

Evil-aligned characters can get away with that sort of thing, and the rest of us neutral types mainly just make noises of “is that really necessary.”

Anyway, the map had a key bit on it, a bit of a puzzle-poem, which I won’t fully reproduce.

Nonetheless, Admiral Allejandro (Kung Fu Hillbilly’s bard) totally nailed every single Knowledge: Local and other Knows Trivia roll he was asked to make, so we were able to deduce the rough corner of the ocean we should visit.

It was only a week away, so we gathered up a crew, set sail, and headed out doing what pirates do: looking for buried treasure.

The area we arrived at reminded me instantly of somewhere I’ve seen before: the Big Blue Hole in Belize. Other than some typically odd vine structures which led us to decide that there was no way in hell we were taking our ship in there, we more or less did pretty well in figuring out where to go (it didn’t hurt that the critical

Perception roll to see man-sized caves was a 33). Anyway, we decided that we’d needed to wait until dawn to ensure we got the right place. We did, saw what we expected to see, figured out the final clue without die-rolling, and went spelunking. Or climbing, and then digging, and then falling, and then spelunking. And attacked by Sahuagin.

These are like Nazis to Indiana Jones: “Sahuagin. I hate these guys.”
“Sahuagin. I hate these guys.”

Anyway, thanks to the off-camera action of Evil Gimble, we had lots of potions to let us breathe underwater and give a nice bonus to Swim. So despite forgetting the Coral Crossbows we’d looted which work remarkably well underwater, we made fairly short work of five or so Sahuagin, taking a few minor wounds in the process.

Next week, Gimble will hopefully join us as we continue the dungeon crawl to look for the loot.

This is a combined report of the last two sessions. On hand were +Nathan Joy (GM), +Emily Smirle , +Theodore Briggs , +Mark Langsdorf , and +Kevin Smyth.

Last time, we basically headed out for Tian, journeying north for an epic trek across the frozen top of the world. We got ambushed in a narrow passage, with a 100′ tall cliff of ice and snow to the south, and a frozen fast-moving river to the north. I recall we only had perhaps ten yards of flat ground at the bottom.

We triggered it ourselves, I recall. We thought “obvious place for an ambush,” and Thumvar, I think, was close on hand and probably caused the creature (a three-headed chimera) to trigger his trap, which was a very wide avalanche!

The avalanche raced down the cliff, and those of us in the zone beat feat (on horses) to escape the zone. Well, those of us who could not fly.

That was a bit of a tense moment. Dawn made some epic Light Walk rolls to run up the face of the tumbling snow, and Shiba and Cadmus did a lot of steering horses through a bad snowfall. All in all, we handled that well. Then we noted a horde of undead frozen guys coming for us.

This failed to impress Cadmus.

Thumvar and Staver made really short work of the chimera, since they injured its wing as it made a dive, causing it to face-plant into the turf (leaving a giant blood smear on the map) after a 30-yard full-speed stoop. Splat.

The undead? Yeah, they ran after us in clusters. Cadmus got close to each group and set them on instant-flambe with Smite. One almost dangerous moment was when one leaped up behind me on my saddle, but Shiba shot him down with his bow.

At no real point was the encounter terribly tense, but in fairness, we rolled very well, did a whole bunch of really epic stuff that worked, and we did control the encounter by triggering the ambush ourselves. Actually acted like the bunch of 340-ish point characters we were. Ultimately, the avalanche and river were likely the most serious threats here.

The next session was a whole lot of journeying, followed by a stop at a town that I will not attempt to get right. Uquiqo? Anyway, the entire thing is carved out of rock at the base of a towering ice wall. We are met, offered hospitality that we got to roleplay through (few of us speak the language), and eventually are told three or four salient facts:

  • They were surprised that we did not get attacked and eaten by a White Dragon that has been plaguing the area.
  • The flesh-destroying winter storms never come down as far south as they have at this time of the year
  • Strange black pillars and undead have been seen on the high plains; they think the storms might be related. Or we think the storms might be related.

We’re thus sure we needed to be here, since we have dragons, undead, and flesh-eating storms. Must be Tuesday.

Then a crazy old priest of the winds starts yelling at us from outside. We step out, initially thinking dragon-attack, but it’s just a torch-and-pitchforks party against us, the faithless strangers.

We try a group Intimidate, which doesn’t work very well. Cadmus, not amused at being described as Faithless, calls on a visage of Pharasma (invokes Holy Glory), which does, in fact, knock nearly all the bystanders (and Staver) either down or wobbly. The priest disappears in Body of Air. A massive warrior approaches, his guards start tossing civilians around, and we get ready for a fight.

He then has a spectacular argument (of the non-violent kind) with his wife, our host. Ah, a domestic thing. We back off, and our host sadly tells us we need to sleep outside.

Brrr. That’s going to be cold.

Cadmus starts to pray for some guidance and warmth and to make Staver smell less bad. He keeps getting distracted, though, and bemusedly walks, praying loudly and confusing the hell out of his companions, towards a cliff face, which seems to have a line through it that no one else can see.

He reaches out and touches it, and it opens, revealing a passage and tunnel to the high cliff above.

We end there, and at least we know that if God tells us to climb the stairs, paraphrasing the immortal words of Bill Murray: “We go up.”