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Nov 2, 2018

Heroes of Silvermoon, Chapter 8: Captured

  1. The Cultist
  2. Arena Games
  3. Phoenix Sorcery
  4. The Half-Moon Crucible
  5. Castle Mistamere
  6. Bringing Back the Dead
  7. The Curse of House Lightwalker
  8. Captured
  9. Far from Home
  10. Through the Underdark
  11. A New Port of Kings

The Tale of the Heroes of Silvermoon

Chapter 8: Captured

The heroes were given a great honor by the royalty of Silvermoon to be formally awarded for saving the city (and most of the elven race) from the dracolich. Each was given the honorary title of "Hero of Silvermoon" at the ceremony, which everyone in the city celebrated. However, the moment the ceremony was over, Ari disappeared in a flash of smoke, and her magical silver raven came flying from outside the city and delivered a note. The note seemed to transcend time, as it related Ari's despair in being kidnapped for several weeks, despite her being gone only moments. In the note, Ari beseeched the heroes for help, explaining that she was kidnapped by a warlock who had taken control of the orcish clan she was raised by into the Hinterlands to the east.

The Heroes of Silvermoon recruited a wandering old monk named Olwyn to their cause, who knew of the directions to the Hinterlands, and they set off the next day. The journey was uneventful except for an encounter with a mutated owlbear, which the group killed. Eventually, the group approached the town that Ari had led them to. In view of the town, the heroes camped for the night. Gorthuk received a vision in which he was given several magic items, and in the morning, the items were in a bag in their camp.

The heroes approached the town and investigated. They discovered that it was taken over by orcish warriors, led by a chieftain known only as "The General." The human occupants of the city, once its citizens, were now slaves afraid to do anything against the General's will. The heroes also discovered a young blue dragon who was guarding the courtyard that led to the city's immense castle.

Through using the silver raven as a means of communication, the group sent messages hoping to find Ari or at least information about the warlock, but the raven only returned with angry and threatening notes from the General.

The heroes stayed in the town and formulated a plan. They purchased some meat from the butcher in the town, then laced it with some Midnight Tears poison they had found in the bag after Gorthuk's vision. Once consumed, it would severely damage its imbiber at the stroke of midnight. Xilmar gave the meat to the dragon when disguised as his orcish caretaker, and a half hour before midnight, they hid in the shadows around the dragon's tower. While Cristoff stalled and gained the dragon's trust, the rest of the group were poised to strike as soon as the poison took effect.

During Cristoff's conversation with the dragon, however, the dragon warmed up to him. It had never been treated like an equal before—only as a slave. It sympathized with Cristoff's cause and offered to help him. At midnight, the poison took effect, greatly weakening the dragon, but Cristoff held off on signaling the group to attack. Instead, he rode the dragon across the courtyard to the castle.

The rest of the group ran across the courtyard, and came upon a dark figure guarding the entrance to the castle. The figure turned out to be a death knight who attacked the party with great violence. Luckily, Cristoff managed to climb down from the castle and help them in time to destroy the death knight.

Wounded but alive, the heroes went to the castle and used a bag of magic beans to cause, among other things, a great beanstalk to grow up the side of it. This they climbed (while Xilmar flew) to the roof and entered through a door at the top. Inside they found a prison cell. They knocked out the orcish guard, then freed the prisoners and told them to get back to town by climbing down the beanstalk. Among the prisoners was Ari, who wanted to get revenge on the warlock before they left. Gorthuk noticed something odd about Ari, but he played along.

The heroes carefully made their way through the castle, using trickery and tactics to defeat each orcish guard they came across. There were also many secret book cases they used to sneak around between rooms. Ari expressly forbade them to use one of the bookshelves, which Gorthuk thought was suspicious, but the rest of the group complied and continued.

Finally, the group entered an empty, cobweb-strewn ballroom. Ari suddenly transformed, showing her true form as the warlock! The group fought against his magic powers, with Olwyn revealing that he had a true form he had been hiding as well—he was a unicorn in disguise. At last, the warlock was defeated, and the General came back to his senses. Some members of the clan joined Gorthuk's clan, and the others promised to leave the town and return to their own territories. The townsfolk rejoiced, promising to spread the name of the Heroes of Silvermoon.

Nov 1, 2018

Phone Phast complete!

I thought I'd check in now that another project month is over. I feel like I choose to do project months at the most inopportune times... This month I started my internship for my coding certification and had a lot of different activities come up as my wife went on a trip and stuff. So it was definitely hard and I wasn't perfect, but I did learn quite a bit and had some experiences I'd like to relate.

Every time I go to the bathroom (not just #2, but at the urinal as well), I used to pull out my phone to read a D&D PDF on iBooks, or check Facebook, or answer Quora questions or whatever. I think (knock on wood) I managed to break this habit. I realized that it's embarrassing and pointless to stand there at a urinal for like 5 minutes. If I want to take a break, I'll take it officially, not just when I pee.

One day, I went home while my car was in the shop, so I didn't have my house key, and my wife had locked the door. My landlady wasn't home, and since I hadn't brought a book to read or my laptop, I decided to just lay out my jacket on the grass and watch the clouds. I had a great experience! The clouds were beautiful, the blue sky was stark against the gorgeous autumn colors (my favorite season), and I had a very relaxing time just listening to distant cars, birds, and wind blowing. I think I need more moments like this—I wonder if I should start doing that once a month or something.

I felt sort of like I cheated when I would watch Netflix on my computer rather than on my smartphone or tablet, but it did teach me how often I depend on these stupid devices. And it was kind of fun to have to look up recipes and stuff on my laptop instead of just pulling out my Google app on my phone. I'm definitely going to move my Google Chrome app to a side view on my phone instead of the toolbar at the bottom, so I can take life a bit slower and waste less time.

I did cheat outright when I listened to Critical Role in the car, and I regret it. I should have just listened to the radio more just for the month's duration, but honestly, I had some hard days this month, and since my entire D&D group's been gone for a long time, I needed my roleplaying fix. I also didn't watch any DVDs except for most of Over the Garden Wall and... oh, you know what? I did have a good experience with a DVD. One night I felt like exercising, so I put on my capoeira pants and just sort of swung imaginary swords around while watching Look Around You. It was really fun! I could've spent that evening playing computer, but I had a fun time watching a good old fashioned television set and DVD player. That I want to do more often as well.

Overall, I definitely approve of this project. I think I'll try it again in the future when I don't have essentially two jobs that I'm working. This entire year has been so, so hard, and I cheated a few times just because I thought I was going to snap. But it broke a few bad habits and did what my yearly project month should do: it opened my eyes.

Happy Day of the Dead!

Oct 8, 2018

Heroes of Silvermoon, Chapter 7: The Curse of House Lightwalker

  1. The Cultist
  2. Arena Games
  3. Phoenix Sorcery
  4. The Half-Moon Crucible
  5. Castle Mistamere
  6. Bringing Back the Dead
  7. The Curse of House Lightwalker
  8. Captured
  9. Far from Home
  10. Through the Underdark
  11. A New Port of Kings

The Tale of the Heroes of Silvermoon

Chapter 7: The Curse of House Lightwalker

Reunited and with duties to attend to, the group prepared themselves to set off again to Silvermoon. Gorthuk spent a couple of days with his new clan of orcs, teaching them to raise pigs and hunt the forests to the north rather than to pillage from Waterbrink as they had been previously taught. They also revealed to him a strange journal they had found in the ruins of the castle that bore the emblem of House Lightwalker. Gorthuk gave the journal to Julian, who examined it on the trip back. A couple of days into the journey, Nysae felt the call of the wild, and decided to bid the rest of the group goodbye as she took her own path for a while.

When they reached Silvermoon, they were surprised to meet Xilmar at Julian's restaurant. He looked different from when they had seen him months before, with shorter hair, darker-colored (though just as fancy) clothes, and a red-jeweled cane that he never seemed to go without anymore. Unbeknownst to the group, Xilmar had had a rough few months. All his life he had swindled others and used illusion to fool people's minds for the fun of it, but he had never been deceived himself so badly as he had in the Half-Moon Crucible. Questioning what was real and whether he still had the skills he had focused on, he had made a deal with a dark entity in order to ensure he never had to lose his mind again.

Soon after arriving, a group of the Crown Guard arrested Julian. The group soon found out that the local tabloid newspaper of Silvermoon, the Corellon Times, had published a story slandering Julian's noble house because of an incriminating journal they had found. The journal, they claimed, was written by Julian's great-great-grandfather. It spoke of illegal necromancy practiced in the family and completely discredited the family's claim (via their Lightwalker name) that they were descended from an angelic ancestor.

The heroes visited Julian in the elvish prison, which was rather comfortable by human standards. Julian didn't know much about his ancestors, but he urged the group to learn more and exonerate him and his house that he had just been trying to build up again after so many of his family had died.

Cristoff joined the town guard, which was something he had been aspiring to do for quite some time. Ari and Xilmar turned to the Silvermoon thieves' guild, of which they were both members, and searched for rumors there. Gorthuk and others visited the Corellon Times and tried to find out more about the journal, but he didn't know much except for what one of the lord of House Silverlance, the noble who had found the journal, had said. He offered a cash reward if the journal could be recovered, as it would bring him and the Times more business. Gorthuk tried to intimidate one of the Corellon Times's employees by following him and using his divine powers to instill fear in him, but this only drew attention to him and forced him to use his powers to feign death when he was caught by the guards.

The group met together each evening, combining the things they learned. They realized that in order to find out more, they would have to find the journal, or at least learn more about it from the noble houses. Xilmar cashed in a favor from a half-elf informant from the thieves' guild named Skinny Quinn in order to get a seat in the back of the Silvermoon High Council meeting. He couldn't hear much, but he narrowed down the noble house that had information about the journal, House Silverlance. Xilmar also found out, along with Cristoff through his connection with the guard, that there was to be a Harvest Festival in a week or two in Silvermoon where they might be able to learn more.

The group visited Julian a couple more times trying to find out clues, but Julian couldn't think of any other way to help them being locked up. He did recall one of the only remaining connections to House Lightwalker, a fired servant named Jude, who might have some inside information. They found him working for the thieves' guild and, with his help, found a way into the magically-restricted House Lightwalker estate. They investigated the building, but all they found were old books and a strange symbol on the wall in the basement. Trying to lay low after his stunt with the guards, Gorthuk decided to stay in the mansion and study the books to see if he could figure anything out. Meanwhile, Xilmar reluctantly visited his parents, clerics of the goddess Celanil, asking if they knew anything about the religious symbolism. The only thing he could find out was something about the name "Jezreel."

The day of the Harvest Festival came, and Xilmar forged an invitation for himself, taking on his old guise of Tevis, a wealthy high elf merchant from the countryside. Ari also snuck in with a stolen invitation, and Cristoff entered for free as a member of the town guard. The group spoke with the various guests trying to learn more. Xilmar focused in particular on Meriele Silverlance, trying to charm her into giving more information. Unfortunately, she herself had been curious about the journal but had had no success in finding out more from her father or breaking into the vault where the journal was kept.

Suddenly, a throng of undead attacked the Silvermoon Citadel where the ball was taking place. Dropping their disguises, the group fought off the undead and saved as many civilians as possible. Xilmar used his fly spell to travel rapidly back to the Lightwalker estate to alert Gorthuk, but he found upon arriving that Gorthuk and the estate were already under attack by shadowy behemoths. After he helped Gorthuk fight them off, the pair were surprised to meet the vampire Sergei. Sergei explained that something odd was happening in the Shadowfell—the undead were being drawn to Silvermoon, specifically against the Lightwalker house. Sergei showed them several copies of a journal he had found that was identical to both the one they had found in Castle Mistamere and the one described in the Corellon Times. They inspected them and realized the journals were each written in a different language. From studying Julian's great-great-grandfather's handwriting in the mansion's study, Gorthuk determined that the handwriting was slightly different, and Xilmar's skill in forging confirmed the fact. It was clear that someone was trying to defame House Lightwalker. Sergei bid them farewell, demanding that they fix the problem, which he claimed was "bad for business" now that he had overthrown an entire region of the Shadowfell.

Xilmar brought one of the journals to the Corellon Times and sold it back to them, but before they could profit off of more stories about it, he also turned in the other copies to the Silvermoon High Council, proving that it was more of a propaganda tool than a legitimate journal. With the heat off of House Lightwalker and his name more or less cleared for the time being, Julian was let out of jail.

The group returned to House Lightwalker and examined again the symbolism of the various markings they found. Through Julian's insight and Gorthuk's study, the group found a secret door leading into a basement chamber, where there was a sarcophagus strangely not covered in dust. They tried to open the coffin, but it was magically sealed. Inspired by an inscription written in Celestial on the coffin, Gorthuk cast a speak with dead spell. All of a sudden, the room erupted with angelic light. A beautiful angelic being appeared before Gorthuk, then used his body and voice to speak with the rest of the group.

The being identified itself as Jezreel the Lightwalker, the original angelic ancestor of the Lightwalker bloodline. He spoke of the origin of Silvermoon and an impending danger coming toward it. He explained that, millennia ago, a terrible dark power manifested in the world that threatened to destroy all of elvenkind. Despite his celestial brethren wanting to leave the elves to fend on their own to preserve the balance, Jezreel wanted to save them, having fallen in love with one of them and begotten a child—the first of the Lightwalker line. Jezreel sacrificed his life essence, infusing his child and wife with divine power that they could use to defend themselves against the darkness. This power ran through their very blood, and unbeknownst to the other elves of the world, their very life was what kept Silvermoon safe by sealing the darkness away. Unfortunately, with the slaughter of Julian's family months earlier, the bloodline of the Lightwalker family had run thin, which had made the barrier holding back the dark power thin as well. When Julian had died, even for a week, the barrier had opened. Jezreel warned the group that, having failed at killing the last Lightwalker through incrimination, the darkness was now heading toward Silvermoon to destroy it once and for all. The angel expressed desire to speak to Julian, but because of his dabbling in necromancy and his bitterness, he could only depend on the heroes instead. He bestowed powers upon each of the group—the last of his power—and bade them ward off the darkness so that it could be imprisoned once again.

The heroes alerted the High Council, and thanks to their help defending people at the ball and Julian's testimony, they believed them and prepared for battle. Gorthuk aided in evacuating the citizens while Julian led the guards to the gates. That evening, an army of undead marched on Silvermoon, and at their head was the dark power's avatar—an immense, shadowy dracolich. The town guard with Julian fended off the undead creatures while Gorthuk, Ari, Xilmar, and Cristoff fought the dracolich at the palace. The battle was long, but with Gorthuk's healing, Xilmar's firepower, Ari's cunning, and Cristoff's divine might, the dracolich at last fell, and the shadows lifted from Silvermoon's streets.

The group were hailed as the "Heroes of Silvermoon," and were given special recognition among the nobility of the city. With Julian exonerated and his house ready to grow again thanks to his fame, the pathway looked bright for them once again.

Oct 3, 2018

Heroes of Silvermoon, Chapter 6: Bringing Back the Dead

  1. The Cultist
  2. Arena Games
  3. Phoenix Sorcery
  4. The Half-Moon Crucible
  5. Castle Mistamere
  6. Bringing Back the Dead
  7. The Curse of House Lightwalker
  8. Captured
  9. Far from Home
  10. Through the Underdark
  11. A New Port of Kings

The Tale of the Heroes of Silvermoon

Chapter 6: Bringing Back the Dead

Leah of the town watch of Waterbrink commended the heroes for their work in purging Castle Mistamere from Azulius and his minions, and she told the heroes they could keep the castle as a base of operations for their adventuring if they so chose. She was wary about the orcs who had remained, but Gorthuk assured her that any damage they did would be compensated for personally, and she reluctantly agreed. She gave the group her sympathies about Julian's death, and recommended they see the town harvest witch, Gwynedain, to see if she could help bring him back to life through magic.

The group were led to a strange hut just outside of Waterbrink, where they found a short, senile old woman. Gwynedain sympathized with the adventurers, but said that she herself did not know how to "unzombify" an undead corpse for reanimation. She did, however, remember a gnome lover of hers from years back who had spoken of an artifact that could do such a thing. She gave the adventurers directions to hike northwards through the hills to find a gnome named Mungo, advising them to take gems with them to pay for his services, rather than coin.

Gorthuk knew the laws of divine magic gave them ten days to raise Julian from the dead before his condition required more powerful and expensive spells. What's more, he could not use his gentle repose spell to extend the time or prevent his decomposition, because of his undead status. The group set off quickly toward the hills to find Mungo before it was too late.

Nysae used her ranger skills to navigate, but despite her expertise in the wilds, she ended up leading the group to a dead end cliff and losing them a day's travel. They also were attacked by manticores in the night, but were able to fend them off without a problem.

After three days of travel, they finally found the remote hut out in the middle of nowhere, where they met the eccentric gnome. Mungo was exasperated that Gwynedain still remembered him (and was amazed that she, a human, was still alive after all these years), but seeing the gems they had brought him, he agreed to hear the heroes out. Examining Julian, he was impressed to see that his zombified corpse still had a shred of humanity left in it. He asked if Julian had dabbled in necromancy, since exposure to necrotic energy while alive could help in the resistance process. Mungo declared Julian only "mostly undead" and told them there was still hope to bring him back, provided they acted with haste.

Mungo spoke of a type of artifact called a "deva prism," which converted necrotic energy into the same raw radiant power used to bring the dead back to life. He only knew of three deva prisms remaining, and one of them was thousands of miles away. The other two were held by creatures a few days' travel away from his hut. The first was three days' travel westward down the river, at the home of a cyclops. Mungo didn't know much about the cyclops or its attachment to the deva prism, but since Nysae spoke Giant, he imagined that they had a chance of bargaining for it. The other prism was held two days' travel northeast in a marshland by a medusa baroness named Moivette.

Being as time was of the essence, the group decided to take the shorter route to the medusa, though it was a more dangerous and wretched path through swamplands. Mungo promised to take care of Julian's corpse in their absence, and would start the preparations for the ritual as he awaited their return. He also sold them a jeweled mirror that they could use as a weapon against the medusa.

The trek through the swamp was miserable for the group. The toxic gases and vapor of the swamp spoiled their water and food, forcing Gorthuk to use some of his spell slots conjuring more. But thinking of Julian and their quest, they pushed forward until they found a half-sunken stone temple. They entered in cautiously, finding an ancient structure, somewhat clean and filled with decor despite its ruined status. After looking around for a short time, Gorthuk found the doorway to an immense hall filled with strange, eyeless froglike creatures. They were all bowing and chanting praises in a croaking language to Moivette as she stood at the top of the balcony speaking to them. Seeing Gorthuk, she demanded that he be brought forward. When he would not look at her in the eye, she assumed he thought her ugly, and attacked.

The group burst in to aid Gorthuk, slaughtering the frogfolk and making their way up to Moivette to fight her as well. None of the group got a good look at Moivette, averting their eyes, which made the battle all the more difficult. They often missed their attacks as they fought to keep her out of the corner of their eye. Gorthuk specialized in necrotic attacks, but he soon realized that the gem Moivette wore around her neck healed her wounds whenever he used them against her.

Throughout these setbacks, Moivette fought firing arrows from her bow and biting attackers with her poisonous snake hair. At last, with Gorthuk using his staff of swarming insects, the group killed the medusa. Cristoff was unconscious from blood loss, and after rousing him and catching their breath, they claimed their prize from the medusa: the small gem called a deva prism.

Ari was curious to find what other loot the medusa was hiding, and found some fine wine and gold, as well as a room filled with shattered mirrors. His curiosity got the better of him, however, when he pried open a boarded-up door and found a ghost haunting a room. The ghost attacked the wounded group, possessing Cristoff and attacking the rest of the group with his prodigious strength. Once again, Gorthuk came to the rescue as he channeled the divine power of Bwonsamdi to Turn the ghost and expel it from Cristoff's body.

At last, quiet fell again in the sunken temple. Carefully examining other rooms, they found three more frogfolk in a bed chamber downstairs. Rather than killing them, Gorthuk used thaumaturgy to scare them away from the temple, likely never to return.

The trip back was uneventful, and they found Mungo ready to perform the ritual on Julian. Gorthuk was sad to sacrifice the deva prism, having seen its power and usefulness in fending off necrotic damage, but he knew he owed it to his friend to bring him back to life. Mungo placed the deva prism on Julian's rotting corpse, and asked all those present who had necrotic attacks to focus them directly on Julian. Gorthuk cast empowered blight spells, and Ari was able to channel some of Raksha's energy through an inflict wounds spell. Mungo himself revealed himself as a spellcaster as well as he blasted Julian with necrotic energy.

Instead of withering his corpse further, the spells were funneled into the deva prism, which radiated golden light around Julian until he looked like a normal corpse again. Finally, the deva prism shattered, its power spent and its job finished. Gorthuk excitedly asked if Mungo had the components for a raise dead spell, but he did not. They would have to make their way back to Waterbrink before Julian could be brought back. The group's spirits sank as they realized that seven days had passed, and that they may not make it back in time to save Julian. However, Mungo reminded them that, now that Julian was no longer undead, he could be preserved by a gentle repose ritual. He offered to join with Gorthuk in casting it, but Gorthuk simply used his ritual knife to carve the symbol of Bwonsamdi into Julian's shoulder, a method of accomplishing the same thing, though it shocked Mungo.

The group made their way back to Waterbrink, then, using a rune they purchased from Gwynedain, Gorthuk cast a raise dead spell to bring Julian back to life. Julian was grateful and glad to see the group, though they were surprised to see that his blue eyes had turned green. His brush with death and his experience with necromancy had granted him powers few other necromancers had ever been able to gain.

Oct 1, 2018

Project Month: Phone Phast

It's been a few year since I've done one of these. Usually I do one in November or February, but this morning I woke up with the beautiful pre-fall weather outside and decided "why wait?" With the recent iOS update that tracks the hours you spend on iPhone apps and a couple of interesting videos about the healthiness of boredom, I got to thinking about all the time I waste staring at a phone or watching a tablet. What happened to the old days of waiting to look up something until you could get home to a computer or watching movies on an actual television through a VCR or DVD player? What happened to reading a magazine while on the toilet instead of swiping incessantly through Facebook posts that only give a nanoiota of delight each?

Thus, I present this year's project month that I will be following from today till the end of the month and (as usual), hopefully, longer:

Phone Phast!

I've been nostalgic lately, and I've been thinking about my childhood in the 90s and 2000s. Back then, there were no phones, no pocket devices. You were bored a lot more often, and that was healthy! I realized lately just how much I depend on my stupid, stupid phone to constantly entertain me. I open it for a game of Hearthstone when I'm bored. I automatically pull it out at the urinal to read 5-Stage Dungeon Rooms or answer Quora questions. I listen to Critical Role on it in my car. I check my email constantly. I open my phone to occupy my time even when I'm letting something load for less than a minute! And with the iPad, I always have to be watching something while cooking, while eating, and while putting away dishes or laundry.

This has to stop.

I need to go back to the root ways to entertain myself. I don't need to constantly be listening to music or playing games to distract myself. Why can't I just listen to the sounds of cars outside or stare out the window for a few minutes? A part of me wonders if the reason depression cases are skyrocketing nowadays more than ever is simply that our brains are too occupied and don't have enough time to just sit, meditate, breathe, and recalibrate.

Hence, my rules for this project month are as follows:
  1. No phone use except for texting, calling, and if necessary, finding directions.*
  2. The iPhone will be placed somewhere other than my pocket whenever possible.
  3. No iPad use whatsoever.
  4. Facebook and other social media only once per week, on Saturdays for 10 minutes only.
  5. Other websites are allowed, but only by accessing them through the computer
  6. Playing computer games is allowed, but emphasis on older games (from the 90s or early 2000s) is encouraged.
  7. No watching movies on the computer! This didn't exist in the 90s. Go sit down on the couch and put in one of your many DVDs, ya smag!
  8. Maybe listen to the radio instead of other forms of media, especially in the car.
  9. Maybe don't watch as much YouTube, but honestly, if you follow #1 and #2, this probably won't be a problem.
  10. For heaven's sake, draw more, man! Bust out those colored pencils and fire up those childhood creativity engines for a while.
  • Addendum 1.1: I am also allowed to make animations on my phone, since I did so with Palm Pilots back in the 90s or early 2000s.

Since this was such a spontaneous project, I'm still a bit iffy on what I want to accomplish this month, so the rules are a bit scattered. I may even add or modify these as time goes on. But I think they're a good basis. By following these, I anticipate receiving the following rewards:
  • More time for projects, which is always a plus!
  • More mental energy—apparently multitasking and constant entertainment expend lots of neural resources
  • Autumn, my favorite season, will pass more slowly since I'll be bored more often!
  • More time to read books!
  • Less wasted time in the bathroom
  • More nostalgia, which I realized I've been lacking quite a bit of lately.
So, a-wish a-me luck. Also, by way of announcement (in case anyone but me actually reads this), I've been working more on my personal history lately, which has been a plus, and you can expect more summaries of the adventure arcs of the Heroes of Silvermoon.

I just really can't wait for this year to be over, but I also want to enjoy this fall time as much as possible, so I have high hopes for this month.

Sep 25, 2018

Heroes of Silvermoon, Chapter 5: Castle Mistamere

  1. The Cultist
  2. Arena Games
  3. Phoenix Sorcery
  4. The Half-Moon Crucible
  5. Castle Mistamere
  6. Bringing Back the Dead
  7. The Curse of House Lightwalker
  8. Captured
  9. Far from Home
  10. Through the Underdark
  11. A New Port of Kings

The Tale of the Heroes of Silvermoon

Chapter 5: Castle Mistamere

After the long ordeal at the Half-Moon Crucible, the heroes decided to take a much-deserved break. They made their way back to Silvermoon City and parted ways for six months. Ari joined the thieves' guild and deepened her worship of Raksh, becoming his only blood cleric, Cristoff found new purpose as a guard, Xilmar resumed his work as a forger for the thieves' guild, and with the blessing of Guilden, Julian started a restaurant to raise funds for his waning political house. Nysae was the only one who didn't dedicate her time in the city, preferring to spend her time in the wilds communing with nature.

Just when the group was beginning to miss their life of adventure together, Cristoff received a curious letter from a messenger in the city. He recognized the crude attempt at writing as that of Gorthuk, and called a meeting of the remaining heroes to read it together. The letter spoke of Gorthuk's wanderings looking for his friends after he had been released from his debt in the Shadowfell, and his goal to honor his god by defeating a necromancer he had heard of near Waterbrink, a town about four days' travel from Silvermoon. The group (minus Xilmar, who was strangely absent and unaccounted for) set off for the town looking for their orcish friend.

They arrived in Waterbrink in the midst of a skirmish on the town by some golems that seemed to be made from sewn-together corpses. After defeating them and reuniting with Gorthuk, the group approached the paladin leader of the town guard, Leah, who attempted to arrest Gorthuk. She informed them that a band of orcs had infested the nearby castle and were likely the culprits of the flesh golem attack. They vouched for Gorthuk's character, and Leah reluctantly allowed him to be free, but under the watchful eye of the guard.

The group approached the nearby Castle Mistamere, an ancient mansion that had once been owned by a powerful wizard named Alteza. Sure enough, they found the castle infested by orcs who had sworn fealty to a necromancer named Azulius. Gorthuk recognized the clan of orcs as an offshoot of his own Bonechewer Clan, but didn't recognize anyone he knew. After defeating the castle's guards, the heroes entered the mansion, killing orcs and discovering many artifacts and old traps. In the basement, they encountered the chieftain of the orcs, Krakgrag, who had named his group the Black Hand Clan after breaking off from the Bonechewers. He had heard of Gorthuk the Defiler, and mistook his mission as overtaking his position in the clan instead of hunting Azulius. Gorthuk played along, hoping to recruit the orcs and form a new clan based on his own ideals and the ideals of Bwonsamdi.

The two orcs engaged in ritual one-on-one combat, and though Gorthuk survived blows that normally would have killed him three times over, Krakgrag eventually triumphed. The heroes attacked, finishing off Krakgrag and saving Gorthuk, but in doing so, they put into question his honor and worthiness to lead the clan. Gorthuk's own nephew, Krun, challenged Gorthuk, but he refused, saying that he wanted to lead with wisdom over strength. Krun called him a coward and bade the orcs follow him, a true orc based on the traditions of strength. Reluctantly and in confusion, the remaining orcs eventually followed Krun and left the mansion.

The group descended into an even deeper floor, fighting orcs, kobolds, doppelgangers and a succubus pretending to be a damsel in distress, all the while dodging traps and finding evidence of Azulius's atrocities in necromancy. They were stunned to find that, due to some nearby source of Azulius's power, their enemies rose from the dead soon after being felled, unless Gorthuk used his god's power to preserve their corpses. They even encountered the now headless undead Krakgrag, defeating him a second time. At long last, they found Azulius waiting for them in his throne room. They easily dispatched Azulius and freed a dwarf who appeared imprisoned, but the dwarf soon revealed himself to be the real Azulius. They had only killed a decoy in his place. Azulius engaged in battle with them, casting deadly necromancy spells of fear and necrotic energy and consuming the life force of caged kobolds to sustain himself in the fight. Seeing no other way to defeat the necromancer during the fight, Gorthuk used his staff of swarming insects he had gained from the Shadowfell to conjure a swarm of biting locusts in Azulius's room, then held the door shut.

Julian had been left inside with the swarm, and Gorthuk had been hoping to be able to revive him after the ordeal. However, after opening the door, Gorthuk realized in horror that Julian had been raised as a zombie, and Azulius as a vampire through the power of his cloak of the gravemaster. The group fought the vampire Azulius valiantly. Miraculously, and thanks to his studies in necromancy, Julian was able to break free of Azulius's will and fight him alongside his friends, even in undeath. Azulius attempted to transform into a gaseous cloud and flee, but Gorthuk finally landed the killing blow on him with his own divine powers.

As the group rejoiced in their victory, Gorthuk's god, Bwonsamdi, appeared before Gorthuk and demanded a chilling task of him: to destroy Julian, who was now an abomination of undeath and therefore not worthy of existence. Julian begged for mercy, and Gorthuk was reluctant, but not being able to disobey his master, he buried Krakgrag's battleaxe into Julian's chest, silencing him. Hoping to restore him to life again, he attempted to cast a raise dead spell on him, but Bwonsamdi's voice echoed in his mind, telling him that Julian's body was tainted with undeath, and could not be raised.

The group found many magical items and treasures in Azulius's chamber, and they destroyed Azulius's lab where his flesh golems were created. Gorthuk was deeply affected by Julian's death. Not only because he had sealed his fate in undeath by killing him for the final time, but also because he felt responsible for knocking him down in the first place with his swarm of insects. He felt that things could have been different had he acted with more intelligence. What's more, he questioned Bwonsamdi's black-and-white claims about undeath. He knew Julian's goodness and friendship despite his specialization in necromancy, and resolved to seek out some way he could prove his god incorrect that he was gone forever.

As they exited the mansion, exhausted, they were met by the orcs who had followed Krun. The group had seen Krun as a strong leader, but a cruel and selfish one. They realized that through their own combined strength, as they had seen Gorthuk and his friends do, they could overpower and kill him. They swore allegiance to Gorthuk, recognizing his wisdom and respecting it over the traditions of their previous clans. Gorthuk accepted their fealty, and declared them the founding members of a new clan, the Skullwarden Clan. He told them to avoid bloodshed and to subsist based on hard work rather than on plunder. Though these were foreign concepts to the orcs, they vowed to do their best.

The heroes also claimed Castle Mistamere as their own, and instructed the orcs to exterminate any remaining creatures in the castle and to plunder its contents to sell for the clan's use. They agreed. They also hired one of Azulius's doppelgangers named Haskill, who promised to help them cover Julian's death in Silvermoon by posing as him until they figured out what to do next.

Gorthuk sadly carried Julian's body back to Waterbrink, questioning himself and his bondage to such a strict god as Bwonsamdi.

Sep 22, 2018

Heroes of Silvermoon, Chapter 4: The Half-Moon Crucible

  1. The Cultist
  2. Arena Games
  3. Phoenix Sorcery
  4. The Half-Moon Crucible
  5. Castle Mistamere
  6. Bringing Back the Dead
  7. The Curse of House Lightwalker
  8. Captured
  9. Far from Home
  10. Through the Underdark
  11. A New Port of Kings

The Tale of the Heroes of Silvermoon

Chapter 4: The Half-Moon Crucible

The group returned to the material plane, not knowing how much time had passed in their absence. They soon ran into Julian again, who had been looking for them. Unbeknownst to the others, Julian had been through horrific ordeals in the previous months. His entire household and family had been assassinated in Silvermoon, and he had taken revenge on them by murdering those of his rival house with his necromantic powers. The events had left him emotionally scarred, though he fought to conceal it from his friends. He was surprised and not happy to see Xilmar in the group.

The group traveled for some time, lending their services in towns along their path, when one day they went through a mountain pass called the Half-Moon Pass and discovered an immense valley in a bowl-like area of land. One half of the valley was cold and dark, the other half sunny and green. They followed the snaking road to the bottom of the valley, where they met two gnomes, Rosen and Guilden, who welcomed them to the Half-Moon Crucible. The gnomes said they were employed by a locally settled caravan called the Celestial Sellers & Sages. Rosen was the overly-positive, slightly naive barker, and his twin brother Guilden was the fry cook, bartender, watchman, and tough.

Rosen introduced them to his inn, the Sleep-Inn, connected to Guilden's eating establishment, the Eating Establishment. He also showed the hereos the caravan's leaders, seven mysterious beings who had set up shops in wagons in the valley:

  • Achyuta, an upbeat human monk interested in weapons and armaments who ran a wagon called Adventurer's Armaments.
  • Cygnus, a powerful drow sorcerer with eyes like galaxies of stars. His wagon was known as Cosmic Charismatics.
  • Hemat, the proprietor of Healer's Haven, an older man whose magical drawer in his wagon seemed to teleport wounded from other locations for him to heal.
  • Waldefreya, a beautiful wood elf with an emerald eye and a golden eagle with a matching emerald eye. Her wagon was called Forrester's Finds.
  • Wilhelmina, the owner of Wizard's Way, an elderly half-elf mage and tinker fascinated with gadgets.
  • Supplies, an automaton and failed experiment of Wilhelmina's who distributed simple general supplies, and
  • Raksha, a shadowy tiefling whose wagon, Rogue's Redoubt, was hidden from the others.
Weary from their journey and intrigued by the celestial sages, the adventurers settled at the inn for several weeks, forming bonds with the sage, learning from their wisdom and skills, and working for them to earn money for their adventures.

Julian learned fighting skills from Guilden to supplement his magic; Xilmar learned how to use the powers of the stars, sun, and moon from Cygnus to fuel his phoenix sorcery; Nysae undertook the same ritual Waldefreya did to bind her senses to her wolf Luna's, sacrificing an eye in both her and Luna's heads and replacing them with emeralds they could both see through; Ari got into trouble, but encountered the mysterious Raksha, who taught her some skills in shadow and blood magic; and Cristoff, still recovering from his exposure to such darkness in the Shadowfell, found comfort in learning healing skills from Hemat.

Curious about the sages' origins, the heroes questioned Hemat. He told them that the sages had once been heroes like them who had ascended into lesser deities known as the Apotheoses. After centuries of cosmic battles with a group of chaotic gods called the Veritas, one of their group, an Apotheosis called Apeiron, made a pact with a god named Vis to defeat the Veritas. In the process, however, he became a Veritas himself. The Apotheoses fled from his madness as he tried to destroy his friends, to the temple of Vis on the Material Plane. There, they tried to free him from his patron and his madness, but Vis attempted to command his disciple to finally end the Apotheoses. In a last moment of clarity, Apeiron instead trapped his friends in a bubble of force, preserving them in time.

The bubble slowly eroded the sanity of those within the valley. Luckily, the sages had magical duties to occupy themselves with, but they were especially grateful to have outsiders like them to teach and bond with. Hemat indicated that the temple of Vis in the center of the valley contained the key to disabling the bubble and restoring the sages—a keystone that must be placed at the top of an arch—but the bubble's border overlapped the church, making it impossible for them to cross and descend into the church's dungeons where the keystone was held.

Xilmar was interested in the bubble's properties, and when he ventured off alone to test whether he could cross its border, he did not return. The rest of the heroes also tested the bubble's border, realizing that in some cases, leaving it caused a loss of memory of the people and areas within. The heroes decided to investigate the temple, but inside they found only madness, awakening their deepest fears and turning themselves against each other through hallucinations and confusion. Xilmar returned, but acted strangely around the group, and in the culmination of darkness in the valley, an insanity elemental manifested itself, attacking the heroes and the sages. With the help of the sages, particularly Cygnus, who changed the time from night to day, they were able to overcome the ordeal. But seeing that the heroes had spent so much time in the bubble and had awakened some of its insanity for themselves, the sages made the group promise that they would finish what they started and free them from the bubble before they left. The group agreed.

That night, while the group was together in the Sleep-Inn, a magical cloud of darkness appeared inside the inn, and creatures of madness attacked the heroes again. As they fought to defeat the monsters or flee, a second Xilmar entered the inn. The group soon realized that the being they thought was Xilmar was a doppelganger, who soon transformed to appear like Cristoff to sow confusion among them again. Eventually, they defeated the shadows and doppelganger and explained to Xilmar all that had happened. Xilmar told them of his capture as he tried to leave the bubble. He had been imprisoned and hidden in a shed by the doppelganger, who kept him alive and fed on his fear. During Xilmar's imprisonment, a small satyr named Garmelie appeared and comforted Xilmar, ultimately helping him escape. Despite Xilmar's insistence that Garmelie was present during the fight and real, no one but he could see him.

Knowing that the madness would only increase from there, the heroes prepared themselves and entered the temple of Vis. They descended, finding sets of floating doors that led to many traps, rooms, monsters, mazes, puzzles, and riddles. Throughout the dungeon, Garmelie led Xilmar to secrets and past traps, being an invaluable resource and guide, to the rest of the group's surprise and confusion. At the end of it all was an armory with weapons of godlike power. The group equipped themselves, and in the next room found themselves in what appeared to be the Sleep-Inn. There, a gigantic mass of shadowy power attacked. Using the power of the weapons, the party easily destroyed the enemy, and went forward into a room that held much treasure, and at the top of a platform, the keystone they needed.

As soon as Julian grabbed the keystone, Garmelie became visible to all of the group. However, instead of helping the group further, he attacked. As his form shifted into that of the Veritas of Insanity, he screamed apologies and wept as he summoned powerful monsters and cast powerful spells. The heroes' newly found weapons seemed to have lost their As Cristoff fell, his consciousness was brought to the god he worshiped, Ilmater. Ilmater told Cristoff that he was not dead, and that he should go back and set things right. Cristoff awoke and tried to save the heroes, but amid tears of apology and regret, Garmelie killed each one in turn, ending with Xilmar.

The heroes awoke in town, alive and well, though shaken. They found with dismay that all the sages in the caravan were dead, their bodies lying on the floors of their wagons. The only one left in the town was Supplies, who was busy attempting to build an archway. The heroes helped him, and Xilmar and Julian used their mage hand spell to lift the keystone to the top. When the keystone was in place, brilliant light flashed and the bubble around the valley vanished. The sages, now gods again, awoke from their sleep, grateful to the heroes, and gave them each their blessing. The heroes also seemed to grow more youthful as the effect of the time bubble took years away from their lives. As the heroes left the now empty valley, they looked back to see what appeared to be the visage of the last Veritas in the distance with a grateful expression on his face, and then it was gone.

Sep 20, 2018

The Joy of Wanting

When I was a young teenager, I played a game called Runescape with my friends. It was one of the first MMOs available, so it was a real novelty to log in to my account (via dial-up), get together with my friends or other people playing at the same time from all around the world, and level up my character in a fantasy world. Runescape was a game that took a lot of time and work to be worthwhile. The old version of Runescape that I played back then has actually since become available to play, but I just simply don't have enough free time to get anywhere in the game anymore (if my old account hadn't have been hacked and then banned, maybe I could at least enjoy the level my old character had attained). Needless to say, Runescape was a big part of my early adolescence, and it's even the medium where I first used the name "Abelhawk."

Besides being a fulfilling pastime, a way to meet people (My first girlfriend, in a very loose sense, was met there), and a way to make memories with my friends, Runescape taught me a very important lesson about the value of money, work, and time. Since my parents limited my time on the computer, it took me weeks to level up to the point where I could use level-specific features like runite armor, or one of my most sought-after honors: the Cook's Guild. The very nature of the game was a focus on leveling up skills to make more valuable items for sale, venture into more dangerous areas, and gain more spectacular items, so each personal achievement I reached, from finishing all the quests to getting to a high enough level with crafting to make gold amulets, was very satisfying.

Money in particular was something that Runescape taught me the value of in the way only a video game can for a teenager. Since I didn't have to worry about rent and bills in real life, having to worry about saving up for powerful weapons and items in game taught me to save up my gold coins and not waste them on things I would consume quickly (like healing food and potions) or things I could craft for cheaper if I was trying to complete a quest. If I wanted to save up for that runite scimitar, I needed to walk all the way across the continent instead of buying a teleportation Law Rune for 1,000 gp to make it faster.

Then came a fateful day when I learned something very important. On my fifteenth birthday, my brother went to my dad's store (since it had Wi-Fi, back then called DSL) and told me to log into Runescape. I logged in, and when I found his character Flufhamster, he opened a trade window with me and gave me 100k coins! I had never seen such a sum of money in the game. I thanked him for his (technically illegal) purchase of in-game money with real life money from a gold farmer as I made my character do his "cheer" emote. From then on, life in the game was easy, I bought a full suit of runite plate armor, a dragonstone amulet, a dragonstone ring, a runite scimitar, and all the tools and items that I had been saving up for—all things that I had only dreamed of ever saving enough money to buy with my limited amount of time to acquire money. With pride, I set off into the world with all the things I had been saving up for, and with money to spare!

...and then I got bored of the game.

What's the point of playing a game like Runescape, a game of achievement and hard work, if all the work for you is done in an instant? I found myself easily beating monsters with my powerful gear, the quests no longer a challenge, and without any real long-term goals to be excited about. I had been robbed of my joy of playing the game because of a gift of money. Sure, I played every once in a while in the coming years. Money couldn't buy things like leveling up your agility skill or completing puzzle quests. But for me, the game's fun was largely spent, and I ended up lending the account to my friend, who wasted the rest of the money, and some time after that my account was hacked and banned for good.

Compare this with another game that I got a bit earlier than Runescape, Warcraft III. Obviously, you can tell I'm still a huge fan of this game, and thanks to it I have my one claim to fame on YouTube. I still love Warcraft III to this day, and I attribute my love of it largely to how hard I worked to get it. As a kid, I absolutely loved Warcraft II: Tides of Darkness, so when I found out that a third Warcraft was being made, I was ecstatic. My brother and I immediately started saving money in a jar, doing chores for change, amassing all of the money we made winning a family reunion raffle into it, and otherwise just scrimping and saving for the big day we could get it. I'll never forget that first day loading up the game, playing through the tutorial, and trying out the map editor. It was the culmination of anticipation and hard work that paid off in the best possible way. I played that game for years, made hundreds of maps on it, planted seeds of my current programming career from learning its trigger-based scripting language, and of course, eventually leading a crusade of nostalgia via YouTube and meeting one of its designers.

Would I have appreciated Warcraft III as much if I had just been given it as a gift for my birthday? Possibly—after all, I've received many other games before and since it that I've loved and treasured dearly. And my Calvin & Hobbes collection is made up of books I bought myself and received as birthday presents. But I think the fact that I had to work to save up for it just sweetened its purchase for me and made it just a little bit more mine than my other games.

I've come to realize as I grow older just how much fun it is to want things. Obviously, lacking necessities is always a stressful thing. Runescape probably wouldn't have been fun at all if I had gained only a few gold coins a week while playing it. But all the time you hear about people reminiscing about "simpler" times of their life, or times when they had to get by by eating ramen every day or not being able to afford to wash their clothes. We grow so much more when we have things to want. When we have everything, or when things come easily, we tend to treat them as if they are of lesser value, even if they would cost anyone else an arm and a leg. After receiving a large tenure bonus in Amazon gift cards when I left my last job, I flippantly spent $60 on a board game that I haven't played yet, and possibly never will now that I've looked more closely at how it's played. If I had been intrigued by the board game and had saved up for it, that would have given me more time to research its rules and realize that it probably wasn't for me. The ease of having so many dollars to work with and the mindset of "It's such a small part of the whole" is extremely harmful. Whether I had spent all my money on the board game or $60 of $1,000, I still wasted $60. Think of the value of $60—with that much money I could've gone out to eat with my wife three or four times, making four different memories of dates. I could've saved that $60 for a game that hasn't come out yet on Amazon that would have given me much more satisfaction. I could've used the money to supplement games that I already know that I enjoy, like D&D, and enhance their fun, rather than trying to find something new I didn't need.

Wanting can be a big part of life even money aside. We always appreciate things that we go without, such as free time or proximity to a loved one. I feel sorry for people who refuse to have children so they can have all the money they want for vacations and lavish lifestyles for their whole lives. Where's the fun in that if you never know what it's like not to have it? That's where words like "spoiled" and "entitled" come from, and where judgmental people come from. The only thing I think it's not good to lack is experience. The more experience you have, the more you have to compare things with and truly appreciate them.

I think what this all boils down to most is family. What could possibly be more of a labor of love, more of a journey of unexpected results, and more of an effort full of wanting and lacking than having a family? I could have a lot more money right now if I hadn't had kids, but would that money have been well spent? Would I have learned the invaluable lessons I know today if I hadn't had to sacrifice? I could have taken my year-long coding certification instead of getting a Bachelor's degree years ago and be years ahead in my career than I am now, but at what cost? I wouldn't have learned so much about the subjects I love in linguistics, I wouldn't be able to basically understand German, Latin, Anglo-Saxon, and French, nor would I have memories of meeting illustrious professors and taking creative writing classes. Technically, I wouldn't have met my wife either.

There's nothing wrong with having, but wanting is so much more fun. It nurtures a feeling of lasting gratitude for accomplishments and helps us take things more seriously. It helps us understand and empathize with the suffering of others. It makes us better people overall. The next time you want something so badly you can barely stand it, look back at other things that you wanted and then got. Do you still appreciate them? Do you give them the respect they deserve after you earned them through toil, scrimping and saving, pain, or patience? Whether it's a spouse or a house, a career or a black belt, a certification or a state of sobriety, wanting is healthy, and we should relish the time we have looking forward.

Aug 3, 2018

Heroes of Silvermoon, Chapter 3: Phoenix Sorcery

  1. The Cultist
  2. Arena Games
  3. Phoenix Sorcery
  4. The Half-Moon Crucible
  5. Castle Mistamere
  6. Bringing Back the Dead
  7. The Curse of House Lightwalker
  8. Captured
  9. Far from Home
  10. Through the Underdark
  11. A New Port of Kings

The Tale of the Heroes of Silvermoon

Chapter 3: Phoenix Sorcery

After a couple of days of travel, Gorthuk, Nysae, Ari, and Cristoff reached Vandermar Village, eager for rest. As they were entering the town, they heard the sounds of chase and ruckus from one of the streets. A human man dressed in green clothing, whom the party identified as the street performer who had been playing shell games, ran into them and begged them to hide him, promising a reward. The group took the man into the inn, where he shed his magical disguise and revealed himself to be a handsome high elf with burn scars along his arms and neck. He revealed that his real name was Xilmar Dawnheart, but that he had been masquerading as a street performer to earn money in town. To some of the group members more familiar with Julian, Xilmar's name rang a bell—soon, they realized that Xilmar and Julian knew each other quite well, and had gone to school together at the Dalaran Academy of Magic. Julian had worked hard to get good marks, but Xilmar had been empowered by a phoenix in his youth and found magic effortless, so he had spent most of his time pranking Julian and other hard workers. He was now an expert forger in Silvermoon with the nickname "Xil the Quill."

The town guard was searching frantically for Xilmar, who admitted that he had stolen a wand from a visiting wizard in town named Wealis. He acknowledged that the group was weary for travel, but asked if they wouldn't mind escorting him out of town northward, toward his hometown of Silvermoon City, in the county of Quel'thalas. He himself wanted to go there to have his wand identified, hoping that it held power to protect him from his own flames, but after listening to his charismatic descriptions of fame and wealth available in the city, the group agreed to accompany him. Gorthuk tried to get more information about how much of a bounty was placed on Xilmar's head, but in doing so, because of his orcish appearance, he stood out and shed suspicion on the party.

The party hiked a few miles north of town and set up camp off the side of the road. Xilmar got to know the group more and talked about his history with fire magic, infused into his body by a phoenix. He had stolen Wealis's wand after hearing that it held the secret of burn immunity, something that he often suffered from because of his fascination with fire magic. In the middle of the night, a group of thugs seeking the bounty of Xilmar discovered them and ambushed the camp. The group fought most of them, but soon, Wealis himself appeared and confronted the group. The combination of Gorthuk's suspicious investigation and a spell to track down the wand had rendered Xilmar's disguises useless. In anger, Wealis cast a powerful spell against the party. As the night sky lit up with a raging fire storm, Xilmar pulled out Wealis's wand and waved it, hoping it would save him from the flames. Instead, he and the group felt a ripping sensation as the world swirled before them...

*  *  *

The group awoke in darkness. Along with two of the surviving thugs who had been transported with them, they began to look around for some kind of direction as to where they were. One by one, the thugs were pulled into the darkness and devoured. Eventually, by the light of Xilmar's fire, they discovered shadowy creatures lurking in the darkness, as well as displacer beasts. They fought the creatures, then in desperation wandered into a dark forest. Soon, they came upon a splendid mansion. Hearing the howls of creatures in the darkness, they entered for shelter.

They met a vampire named Sergei, who explained that they had somehow come through a dimensional gate into a plane called the Shadowfell. Familiar with Wealis's name, he offered to help them, and even to identify Xilmar's wand, if they made a deal to help him in return to retrieve a "special" vampire spawn from a rival vampire named Drakul. After resting uneasily in the dark mansion, the group set off east toward a town Sergei had directed them to. Eventually they found the dark town of Ruka Gibeli, where they found a bustling slave trade and many different dark races, including drow and doppelgangers. They also saw races of their own kin, though they noticed that everyone around them seemed to be drained of all their color from being exposed to the Shadowfell's energies for so long.

They disguised themselves as best as they could and tried to gather information. They learned that Drakul, whom the citizens of the town called Drake, was the richest and most powerful political leader of the city. They also learned that vampires command vampire spawn that they themselves have taken control of. Eventually, they met Drake in his estate, where he made a living trading slaves from among the other planes. They tried to learn more about the so-called "special" vampire spawn, and discovered that it was a demon that Drake was proud to say he had infected with vampirism and claimed as one of his spawn—the first to do so. Even he was unsure of the demon vampire's power. What was most interesting to the group was that the spawn was a child.

The group snuck around the estate, trying to find Drake's weakness, or perhaps his coffin so that they could plan a way to kill him in his sleep. Eventually, they discovered in Drake's basement an imprisoned phoenix that still had its color. Xilmar, with his love of phoenixes as the source of his sorcerous power, was furious and returned later to free the phoenix. Unfortunately, Drake caught them and attacked. Rejuvenated by the adventurers, the phoenix helped them destroy Drake, and they escaped through a tunnel back to Sergei's mansion with the demon vampire child, removing a necklace around his neck that seemed to be controlling him. They also managed to loot some of Drake's personal magic items for their own use.

Its leader now vanquished and his power seat up for grabs, Sergei immediately gathered his forces to assault and take over Ruka Gibeli. Sergei revealed that Drake/Drakul had been Sergei's spawn once, and he had regretfully let him free only to be betrayed. With his vengeance now taken, he could take the city back. He informed Xilmar that the wand held no power against fire, despite rumors—it was merely a wand that opened portals to the Shadowfell. He kept the wand, but gifted the party some gold for their trouble.

The portal was only powerful enough to allow five passage to the Material Plane, so Gorthuk decided to stay for now, as he himself had been resistant to the Shadowfell's dark energies because of his dark divine powers and wanted the phoenix, now in its human form, to pass back to its home plane. The group bid their half-orc friend goodbye, and stepped through the portal back home...

Jul 22, 2018

Poem: "A Seasoned Part of the Country"

I normally hate free verse poetry, but I forgot I wrote this and how decently written it is, theme-wise and in terms of diction, metaphors, and flow.

A Seasoned Part of the Country
by Austin Ballard

It’s a fact in anyone’s book
That iced roads can swipe an unwary tire
And direct its path to a ditch
(The place every driver dreads).
I have furrowed a disgruntled brow, too,
When the thick, heavy flakes
Pile up like bricks on a wall
To blockade my shoveled driveway once more.
And yes, even when winter is over,
The trickling, drippy brown water
May seep and soak the dead grass,
Forming flat heaps that linger to the last.
All this while we stay inside,
With wet gloves, sick of hot cocoa
And weary of making snowmen,
Bored, and longing for the color green.

Such are the common laments in this town,
And they are valid.
But yet my address stays the same, and I imagine the pitiful opposite.
In other places, to the south or southeast,
—What a pity—the children know not the color white.
Just ice in iceboxes, snow on the old T.V. screen,
And water trickling out as sweat,
With nothing but sweltering more or less to look forward to.
At least I, in my chilly basement,
Can look forward to a change greater than mere temperature:
A revolving wheel of colors, smells, and pastimes;
Rather than just dripping with sweat or pool water day in and day out.

Jul 4, 2018

Heroes of Silvermoon, Chapter 1: The Cultist & Chapter 2: Arena Games

I recently switched jobs (from editing to coding! Woo hoo!), and possibly my only disappointment in doing so is leaving the first D&D group I was a part of, the weekly group I started with my coworkers about a year and a half ago. It was a slow storyline, since we only played for one hour a week during a lunch break, except for half a handful of outside-work home sessions. The campaign itself was extremely dynamic, since after each story arc, we switched the DM. It allowed the story to grow organically (albeit disjointedly), while giving each of us a chance to learn both DMing and PCing skills.

To preserve the story for my own enjoyment (and hopefully yours as well), below is a summary of the entire campaign of the Heroes of Silvermoon, from start to finish. I should note that I began the campaign in a Warcraft setting, and we later changed it back to a generic D&D setting since later DMs didn't know Warcraft lore, so there are some elements based on Warcraft names that stuck before the change and were kept in the story.

  1. The Cultist
  2. Arena Games
  3. Phoenix Sorcery
  4. The Half-Moon Crucible
  5. Castle Mistamere
  6. Bringing Back the Dead
  7. The Curse of House Lightwalker
  8. Captured
  9. Far from Home
  10. Through the Underdark
  11. A New Port of Kings

The Tale of the Heroes of Silvermoon

Chapter 1: The Cultist

Three heroes made their way to a barely-hidden doorway in the cliffside of the mountains north of Vandermar Village. The most talkative of the bunch was a high elf dressed a bit dandily, with a ponytail, tight trousers, and a coat with tails. With him was a human with very short hair, scarred skin, a large greatsword, and a holy symbol of the god Ilmater hung around his neck. The third was a beast of a creature—an eight-foot-tall minotaur wearing monk's vestments and wielding an immense log as a weapon.

The heroes broke into the doorway and found themselves in a cultist's hideout. They had followed the cultist's tracks from Vandermar after Vandermar's mayor, Faustus, had asked them for help dealing with what appeared to be a grave robber. After fighting some ghouls and finding some crates of skeletons that came to life when the heroes drew close, they trapped the cultist in his bed chambers. With a burst of determination and good luck, the elf, Julian Lightwalker, blasted the cultist with a well-aimed fire bolt, and the human paladin, Cristoff, finished him off by running him through with his sword before the cultist had a chance to act. With his dying breath, the cultist murmured "My life for Ner'zhul..." At that moment, the green pendant on the cultist's neck glowed brightly, and a minotaur skeleton on the table in the room's eyes glowed the same color. The skeletal beast rose from the table and attacked.

The skeletal abomination nearly killed the adventurers, but with quick thinking, the minotaur monk, Carne, smashed the cultist's pendant, and the skeletal minotaur fell to the ground, dead for good. They looted the room and lit everything of no value on fire, then left. Among the things they found were a letter written to a mysterious cultist leader named "Azulius," and Julian pocketed the cultist's holy symbol to Ner'zhul, deciding to use it as an arcane focus. Secretly, he had studied necromancy at the arcane academy in Dalaran, a forbidden art. He intended to show his teachers that they were wrong—that necromancy could be used for good. Hopefully this pendant would be able to help his powers in the school grow.

Chapter 2: Arena Games

They made their way back to Vandermar Village, where Faustus congratulated them and rewarded them for their work. He directed them to an awkward iron merchant named Eloy, who hired them to help him escort a cart of iron ore through a dangerous part of the woods. They agreed to set off the next day. Before they left, a mysterious street performer played a shell game with them, singling Julian out, and sold Julian some suspiciously cheapr health potions. During the party's journey with the iron merchant, they stopped to confront a group of gnolls who intended to waylay the party. In the middle of their battle, the entire group was ambushed and captured by trolls. Only Eloy escaped.

The trolls took them on a day-long journey to an ancient stone arena deep in the middle of troll territory, owned by a greedy troll named Bloodstone. The trolls took Carne away, and he was never seen again, but the others were enslaved as gladiators in the arena. Julian immediately proved to be a nuisance to the guards, insulting them and repeatedly calling a particularly sensitive troll "small." Despite Cristoff's efforts to rally the other prisoners to rebel, they had seen the power of the troll guards and didn't budge. What was more, children were being held in the arena, and the prisoners feared sparking the trolls' wrath and putting them in danger.

The group fought together with a grisly orc cleric named Gorthuk, who had strange voodoo pins thrust into his shoulders and reeked of death. They didn't know at the time, but this orc was Gorthuk Spinebreaker the Defiler, an orc of a hundred years of age who had killed with such bloodthirst and cruelty that the voodoo god Bwonsamdi enslaved him as a grave cleric, preventing him from dying until he had atoned for his savagery and learned the value of life.

The troll guards eventually grew tired of Julian's insolence, and one day they beat him unconscious in the cell as an example to the other inmates and confiscated his arcane focus to limit his spellcasting. Despite their show of strength, the inmates heard through Gorthuk's translation (he could speak Troll) that the guards were nervous of Bloodstone's ambition—he planned to transport a demon of the Abyss to do battle at the arena, something much stronger than anything that the combatants had fought before.

The demon arrived during one of the party's battles. The trolls hurriedly interrupted the battle and escorted the prisoners inside, as it became clear the demon had broken free from his restraints and was attacking the arena's guards. Guards went up for reinforcements, but due to Julian's goading, their cell's guards stayed put. Julian's classmate Jai'nora charmed one of the troll guards just as the other could take Julian's lip no longer and lunged to kill him. Though Julian was knocked unconscious, the rest of the prisoners were filled with courage seeing their captors' fear of the demon and all fought as one against the guard. After stealing some weapons and subduing the troll, Cristoff beheaded it, and freed the remaining prisoners.

Some prisoners went to go free the children, while others scrambled to get out of the arena, which was now collapsing from the conflict above. Julian and Jai'nora went to clear the way out through the way they came, while the paladin and cleric went to help with the rescue effort. Though the efforts of Cristoff and Gorthuk were successful, a collapse of the ceiling split the party. Julian and Jai'nora battled a troll and Jai'nora was beaten unconscious. The healing potion Julian had bought from the street charlatan did very little to help. Apparently it had been greatly watered down.

Meanwhile, Cristoff and Gorthuk made their way to the menagerie to exit the arena from the other exit. The menagerie had collapsed, killing most of the animals inside meant for fighting. They grouped up with a moon elf hunter named Nysae, who had come to the menagerie to save her pet wolf, Luna. With Nysae's and Luna's help, Gorthuk and Cristoff killed the gnolls who had stopped them in their journey and made their way to the arena floor up above. They dodged past some giant bestial lizards and a hippogriff and reunited with Julian, just as he was about to be eaten by timber wolves who had broken free from the menagerie. They encountered a young man named Ari, who was lifting coins off the bodies of the fallen.

On their way out, they noticed the source of the chaos—a hulking fel guard demon, who was battling Bloodstone. Exhausted and beaten, the group decided to take the coward's way and flee. They watched the battle from a distance as Bloodstone succeeded in taking his prize alive and subduing the demon. Rather than rush in and kill the sick troll who had enslaved children and would likely continue to capture others to feed his arena beast, they decided to leave. The only ones who decided to go back were Ari and Gorthuk. Ari began to loot the corpses of those the demon had killed, and Gorthuk began to, as was part of his oath to Bwonsamdi, mark them with his ritual dagger and preserve them from undeath. As they were doing this, the slavemaster of the trolls rushed out and attacked. They managed to convince him that they weren't worth the trouble and that the arena was crippled enough as it was having lost all its fighters. The slavemaster reluctantly let them go, though he promised that the arena would rise again in its greatness.

Jai'nora had managed to swipe a scroll of teleportation from the wreckage of the arena, which could teleport one more person along with her. Julian volunteered, and the two teleported to their home city of Silvermoon while the others pressed on.

Nysae, due to her knowledge of the woods, was able to navigate the remaining adventurers on their way safely back to Vandermar...

Jun 7, 2018

The Princess Bride Hearthstone Cards

I noticed no one had ever done this, so I figured I might as well give it a shot. I'm no great player, so I imagine the balance on the cards is pretty bad, both for being overpowered and underpowered. I mostly just tried to cover a range of Hearthstone effects while staying true to the characters in the movie. Feel free to mouse over the cards to hear my reasoning behind the card's design.

Jun 1, 2018

The World of Hearth

With the start of my very first and very amazing weekly D&D group, I decided to make a new world for it to take place in. This is mainly because a) I have very little knowledge of and interest in the geography of the Forgotten Realms (which D&D canonically takes place in), b) Argaenothruzil is dated and unrealistic, c) the World of Warcraft would be a bit too limiting on creativity (and I want to use the creatures found in the Monster Manual without having to reskin them), and d) I wanted to exercise the techniques explained in the worldbuilding chapters of the 5th edition of the Dungeon Master's Guide. As I started to create a world from the ground up, I came up with a few key goals for my new world:

  1. To make a unique, open, explorable world with endless adventure potential for future games
  2. To base the framework of my world off of one I was already familiar with (in this case, Azeroth) to propel my creativity foreward
  3. To make a simple and memorable world that didn't require too much "name inventing" on my part that was easy for players not too well versed in fantasy to feel comfortable in
  4. To make a world that feels unlike earth in as many ways as possible without making the world too confusing

The World as a Whole

First things first, let me show you the world map I've created so far using the online tool Inkarnate:
As you can see, there are no place names like Y'loth or Eresumbardia (except one, Alymiere, which was created by a player). As fun as those names are, they're a bit hard to remember sometimes and require you to write them down and everything, and I want the players to be able to keep them straight more easily. Hence, each continent is named after its position in the world so they can easily be told apart, and each nation has a name created by my Place Name Generator I programmed. 

As for the name of the world itself, on this I actually did quite a bit of thinking. As I've said before, it doesn't realistically make a ton of sense to name a world something arbitrary like Azeroth or Exandria. By definition, the earliest base inhabitants of a world likely were not smart enough to know that they were even on a "world" to begin with, so the entirety of existence as they knew it (i.e., the earth as opposed to the sky above it or the unexplored world beneath it) would have a very basic, familial name. Hence, for my earth, I decided upon the intimate, homey, and yet coincidentally phonetically similar name Hearth.

My current game takes place in Southkeep, specifically in the region of Cloudstone, so it's the only continent I've fleshed out so far. I want the world to be dynamic and evolve on its own, so not everywhere will have mountain ranges and stuff for a while. I wanted to make my world stand out among others, so rather than having a "frozen north," I made my main continents sprawl a southern hemisphere where the farther south you go, the colder it gets. As for the hex grid, I may change this slightly later, but I'm thinking each hex represents about 30 miles. That may seem a little small, which I want to avoid (after calculating the size of Argaenothruzil's entire continent, I realized its entire geographic area was the size of Montana), but realism has a limit, so I'm not going to worry too much about that.

The Nations of Hearth

As I mentioned earlier, I based Hearth off of Azeroth, which you can somewhat see in its basic geography (though Northgarde will be a jungled and desert island rather than a frozen continent like Northrend—the southern continent of Deepshiver will take its place), but the first thing I came up with was actually the nations of the world, not its topography. I based the primary human nations on the nations of Warcraft II, and even matched their banner colors. This helped me quickly establish a
The coat of arms of the nation
of Cloudstone, lorded over by
king Adelard the Angeltouched.
living political world without having to think too much about them. Cloudstone (based on Stormwind) is a religious, independent region that is relatively peaceful in terms of politics and is a welcoming hub for all types of races and a great place for adventures to start. Skytower is based on Dalaran, the floating city where magic is studied, which provides a great place to house wizards, magic item creators, and other things that could be useful and interesting to players. The Sundershore Isles are based on the seafaring nation of Kul Tiras. Highfield is loosely based on the treacherous kingdom of Alterac, but I used that characteristic to instead make it a crime-run nation in Westweald and the source of international thieves' guilds.

For the other nations, realms, and kingdoms, I decided to base them on the available races in D&D. There are cities for hill dwarves (Greenhammer), mountain dwarves (Quarrymarch), and duergar (Undergate); high elves (Amberhaven), wood elves (Goldenvale), and drow (Ravenmoon), and minor cities for other races, such as the tinker town of Cogswarren for rock gnomes. I also decided to open up some options for the players by creating "moon elves," which are drow that do not live underground and are not evil—I feel like including that as a playable race in the game but making them practically un-roleplayable was kind of a miss for D&D.

Anyway, all of these nations are loosely based on the nations of Azeroth, but I'm sure that as the game goes on and players explore the world, the nations will gain personalities and histories of their own. That's the beauty of D&D, and of creativity in general. Once something is created and nestled into a narrative cradle, it gains a spirit and personality all its own that no one creator would have dreamed of.

This is the initial map of the Cloudstone region I'm starting my players at. I have basic conflicts and personalities for each town, but just like the regions, I'm sure each town will grow on its own to be different, unique, and (hopefully) memorable and distinguishable for my players. And I can't wait to zoom even closer in to Cloudstone City itself and map out its districts, wards, and landmarks within the actual city walls!

Making Hearth Come to Life

In order to give Hearth the feel of a living, breathing world, I'm putting effort into changing things that we take for granted in our daily lives. For example, the days of the week are not Sunday through Saturday. They are:
  1. Dawnday
  2. Mornday
  3. Starsday
  4. Midweek
  5. Thundersday
  6. Duskday
  7. Satyrday
Admittedly, this strays slightly away from my desire to simplify the game, but I think as long as I don't overdo stuff like this, it should be more of a benefit than a drawback. An example of simplifying can be seen in how I made Hearth's calendar. Not only are the months of the year different in name, but the calendar as a whole is structured differently. There are twelve months, but each has exactly 28 days (4 weeks each), and twice a year are two holiday weeks that do not belong to any particular month. Starting with what we would call February, Hearth has:
  1. Mudmonth
  2. Swiftmonth
  3. Greenmonth
  4. Thricemilk
  5. Earlymild
    • Midsummer
  6. Latermild
  7. Weedmonth
  8. Harvestmonth
  9. Wintermoon
  10. Bloodmonth
  11. Earlyfest
    • Midwinter
  12. Laterfest
I've been waiting to use these for a while. These I didn't make up—they are in fact the names that Anglo-Saxons used for the months of the year before the Roman calendar came along. Keeping time is something I'm going to take seriously as a Dungeon Master so that things like seasons, holidays, and other aspects of the game can be important to the story. I want my players to look forward to future events, make plans for celebrating Midsummer, and plan around things like precipitation and temperature extremes while adventuring.

To a lesser extent (hopefully to a greater extent in the future), I hope to implement things like colloquialisms and slang that varies by region. These can all grow in time, of course, and I hope to utilize them to make regions feel like actual cultures.

Organizations, Guilds, and Factions

Just like I created ancestral regions and nations for each race, I also decided to base my creation of organizations on the existing classes in the game, as well as on some other ways to specialize. This way, different subclasses can feel like they're part of different groups of people with rivalries, differing (and possibly conflicting) goals. Since the group hasn't discovered the organizations yet, I haven't fleshed them out a ton, but I think once they do, it'll make things like assigning quests and story arcs a lot easier, since they'll have an organization they care about ask them to do something in exchange for prestige, higher ranks, or guild-specific rewards. I've also set up a 5-rank renown system, which I think could come with some awesome creative possibilities in the future. For example, what can a Champion of the Order of the Golden Rose do that a mere Squire can't?

Below are a sample of the organizations I've made for Hearth:
  • Order of the Black Sapphire: An order of conquest and vengeance paladins, clerics of war, and zealots bent on snuffing out evil and dispensing justice across the world. Headquartered in Emberstone.
  • Gearspinners' Union: An organization of tinkers and artificers who believe that technology will replace magic in Hearth someday. Created by the legendary arch-tinker Brymidaine Zecker.
  • Antlergrove Conclave: A neutral organization all druids belong to. They work on maintaining the balance of nature and often commune with the fey of the Dreamsummer. Paladins of the Oath of the Ancients, nature clerics, warlocks of archfey, and other classes are also welcome.
  • The Dirk: A widespread thieves guild that operates in smaller branches called "baldrics" across Hearth. Consists of thieves, assassins, trickery clerics, and swashbucklers/pirates.
  • Skytower Academy: An academy of magic with branches in large towns and cities with elven influence. All wizards who want to make a name for themselves are members, and eldritch knights, arcane tricksters, and arcane archers are often members as well.
  • Anathema Sect: A cult of neutral evil doomsayers who try to bring about the end of all creation by worshiping an ancient entity known as the Anathema. The bard College of Whispers and warlocks of the Great Old One belong to it.
The symbol for the Gearspinners' Union.
Worldspinner.com is pretty handy!
I've also (somewhat) simplified/cut down the planes (I call them realms) of existence of D&D for my game, but I feel like that matters a bit less since the planes are so abstract anyway. The one thing I wish I could do is create a pantheon of gods, but I feel like this is where the line between simplicity and "making the world feel alive" becomes a bit muddled; not to mention, I kind of feel like creating your own pantheon of gods is a bit self-indulgent. You're essentially making up who your player characters worship, which I don't like much. Hence the dilemma: No one unfamiliar with D&D will know who Ilmater or Gruumsh are, but everyone knows who Zeus, Thor, Loki, and Hermes are, so I decided—reluctantly—to just stick with the classic Norse, Greek, and possibly Egyptian deities as the gods of Hearth for now for simplicity's sake. In the future, I may at the very least give them nicknames based on their names' translations like I did with the months of the year (for example, Zeus could simply be called Skyfather), but since none of my current player characters are religious, this'll probably be put on the backburner for a while.

It's a pleasure to have something large-scale to create again! And this time with more knowledge of how to create realistically. I cringe now as I read Alfred Shortstaff and the Cavern of Time's weak and nebulous descriptions of the city of Ae'brinthil. Honestly, as a creative writer, I cannot recommend the 5th Edition Dungeon Master's Guide enough for understanding how medieval cities live, work, breathe, and function; as well as how you can make worlds stand out through customizing everything from the calendar to the currency (That's another thing I wish I could customize, calling coins speckings, slants, and temblems instead of copper pieces, silver pieces, and gold pieces, but again, that's where the simplicity line just probably shouldn't be crossed).

I'm also so glad that I can have all these resources I need, such as Evernote, Inkarnate, and Worldspinner, to make these resources so efficiently while retaining their creative integrity. The spark of creation burns!