Author Archives: Dennis

May 5th, Liberation Day

I can’t help but get emotional on this day, each year. Watching chancellor Angela Merkel give the traditional speech, and afterwards answering questions from students, was amazing. The topic is on freedom, and what it means, especially in a time where our freedom has been limited due to the consequences of the pandemic. One of the students explained how her grandfather was sent to a labour camp in Germany. She said that the blood of his imprisonment coursed through her veins; that the consequences of that could still be felt two generations later. I often feel the same way, when I consider how the war has influenced my parents, and in turn me.

This is why I have a hard time with people who lack empathy for underprivileged people. Generational poverty, racism, classism, sexism, other types of bigotry; it all leaves enormous scars. The Dutch government was culpable in the incredible persecution of Dutch Jews. Recently, the Dutch government apologised for their role in that atrocity. It frustrates me enormously to then also see how the Dutch government does not take the same step and acknowledge that there is (or at least has been) systemic bigotry against certain people which can still be felt today. Wouldn’t it be a good first step to accept the criticism of painful symbols of bigotry, like zwarte Piet?

So That Only Took Twenty Years

Did you ever faintly remember a song or film you encountered when you were very young, only to be reminded of it decades later, but didn’t remember the name of it? Every six to twelve months I tried googling this one roleplaying game that my cousin owned for the Commodore 64. I remember thinking it was fantastic and I remember it being incredibly sophistic for its time. I remember it came with a huge map but I couldn’t for the life of me remember what it was called.

Times of Lore, finally.

Now I just need to remember that strange, post-apocalyptic film that I once watched at my aunt’s home when I must have been about seven or eight years old. I remember it being kind of like Mad Max, but then with enormous, mutated insects.

The Good Sisters of the Grove

Previously, the heroes attempted to combat the fatigue and malaise that was afflicting some of them by taking some time in Blackbough to rest up, only to find that the land kept tugging at the threads of everyone’s mental fortitude, attempting to unravel it and undermine the heroes’ resolve. Astrid was particularly afflicted by it. It was mistress Ysgith who had urged the heroes to seek out the good sisters at the sacred grove in order to bring them a tribute in return for aid.

Eighth Day, Second Ride, Autumn Red, 1262

(Silvermoon is waning. Bloodmoon in low sanction. Darkmoon is waning.)

Having returned to the cabin with some food for Astrid and Isalien, the heroes found that Astrid was getting less and less responsive; only caring to lay in bed and sleep. After not being able to convince Astrid to eat, the conversation quickly turned to possibly beseeching the good sisters, and what it would be that the heroes would give as a tribute.

When James suggested that Luca might want to consider putting Blackstar up as a tribute, the staff immediately protested, claiming that the good sisters would use it  for the wrong purposes; “to swell the ranks of the wrong army.” It further expanded Luca’s insight into the twisted personality of the staff. It did not go unnoticed that the staff had become more and more vocal recently.

James was also interested to know what it would be that the group would request from the good sisters once their tribute had been accepted by them. He figured that asking for an orchid would be a waste, since that wasn’t what the heroes were in Blackbough to find. Luca suggested that instead of asking for the orchid, they could ask for something personal of whoever was responsible for the ward that was cast on the cursed khazra head. James remarked that it wasn’t unlikely for the good sisters themselves to be responsible for the magical ward.

On the nature and possible origin of the good sisters, and whether they were extra-planar, brought here during the last Conjunction of the Planes, Luca knew that there were a myriad of strange creatures that existed on the planes that drifted in the astral sea and boiled in the elemental chaos. It was very possible, and even quite likely that the good sisters hailed from one of these planes and were stuck here after the Great Waning set in and the planes that resided in the ethereal mist were locked away behind the Seal of Divine Animus.

It was around this time that there was an arrival at the gates of the Blackbough mansion; a group of loggers and guards, tired and wounded, had fled the hargrove after an attack on their logging camp. Emrys went to investigate and found that the guards at the gate seemed worried, but unfortunately the sorcerer was not able to persuade the guards to share their concerns. Emrys was tired and felt weighed down by the dreary place.

The heroes departed the mansion, deciding to let lord Oswin deal with the returning people without interference; they had more important objectives. On their way to the village they met Blythe and old Abigail, who were making their way to the mansion to provide aid for the returned people. The heroes attempted to get them to explain the concerns that the guards had shown, and it turned out to be one that both Blythe and Abigail shared; the lord was heavy handed to the point of cruelty. Upon saying goodbye, Abigail reaffirmed the route that the heroes would take to find the sacred grove by following a path from the south-east of the village.

The instructions lead the heroes to a small, overgrown path through a dense grove of trees. Carcerian moss dripped from the branches like fine lace. Small trinkets and charms made from twigs, flowers and stones hung in the branches all along the path. They resembled geometric shapes and simple figures of people and they strongly reminded Luca and James of the path that lead to Lilliana’s cave in the woods outside of Allenham.

They found a clearing at the heart of the sacred grove, filled with water-loaded, grassy ground. In the centre of the clearing stood an enormous willow tree, closely rivalling Geolgothis; the large oak that stood at the Seat of Friendship. The swooping branches of the grand willow tree were rich with bright, scarlet leaves, drooping majestically across the clearing like an umbrella.

Underneath that umbrella, a fairy ring of small clusters of crystals circled the tree, jutting out from the soggy ground like mushrooms. The broad trunk of the tree was decorated on one side with an elaborate carving of three women. From left to right; a woman who appeared to have horns, a woman who wore a veil across her eyes and a woman with multiple sets of arms. They appeared tall and slender, standing around a cauldron which the third woman was stirring with a large ladle.

Thick, gnarled roots bored into the ground around the thick tree and house a whole ecosystem of small plants and flowers. Three fragile flowers were chief among them; the ghost orchid. More crystals were jutting from deep underneath the tangled roots.

When Luca suggested making an attempt to grab one orchids James warned him that they were on sacred ground. Quentin was quite surprised by James’ reverence and told James that he respected his position. Whether James was earnestly respectful of the sacredness of the area, or respectful of the possibility they might end up hurt, none could say but James.

It was the roguish young elf that was the first to approach a stone altar in front of the carving of the good sisters. It was covered with dark, scarlet stains that also covered much of the grass and ground around the altar. Many sacrifices had taken place on this site over the generations, it was clear. James placed a large gemstone on the altar as an offering, and stepped back.

Quentin came next and untied the handkerchief he had been wearing since well before he met his companions. He knew that blood would be required for his sacrifice and so, cut the palm of his hand with a dagger and let it drench the handkerchief. He gently placed it on the altar next to James’ gemstone and took a step back.

While Luca was inspecting the orchids, Emrys stepped up to the altar and also produced a precious stone to place down on the altar. From the corner of his eyes, the sorcerer spotted some movement in the treeline and noticed several of the ghoulish creatures prowling menacingly in the darkness, as if held back by something, but eager to be unleashed.

Realising that they were being observed, Emrys decided to address the good sisters directly. Being raised in the cult of Mohiam, worshipping the Moonmaiden, he had been taught the primordial language of the primordial language of the elemental chaos, for reasons that the indoctrination never made clear. It was supposed to predate the language of the elder races and he wagered that the good sisters might understand it.

Emrys’ gambit payed off, and the good sisters responded, though did not reveal themselves. They spoke in a singular voice, made up of three, different and dissonant voices. They explained in rather crude terms that they had been responsible for the ward placed on the khazra head, having been forced by a powerful follower of the Dark Queen. He had taken the sight of one of Memra, one of the good sisters and she who saw all in their land. He had promised to return it once his plan of killing the queen and spreading disease in the capital was complete.

The one to come to them was called Xamael the Defiler, but was known by many names; Melchior, Fedor, Dagnamiir to the dwarves, Lathorael to the elves, and many, many more. Fedor, the heroes knew, was the name of the scholar who had come to Blackbough earlier in the year. And Melchior was the name of Kalina’s “father,” as well as the one to enslave Kalauranthalasis, fashioning the wicked, jewelled daggers from his body to equip a small army of assassins to commit murders across Lyria.

Do you fear beasts and monsters? Oh, hard times are upon us, elfling; brother has turned against brother; the land is soaked in block; evil is rising stronger than ever before. Dark power has surfaced in Eastmarsh. It feeds on hatred and disdain. Destroy the beast and we will be grateful, and tell you all you wish to know.

And so the heroes took it upon themselves to seek out the lair of Kalauranthalasis, find Memra’s sight and return it to her, so that they may be rewarded with the ability to penetrate the ward that the good sisters placed on the khazra head so that Callum the Diviner can attempt to lift the curse which had taken hold of queen Isabella.

The good sisters said that they didn’t care for the trinkets, but they would take Quentin’s tribute; a handkerchief soaked in his own blood. Once taken, he could not remember the significance of the handkerchief and was filled with a sense of sorrow and grief, but for what he was not sure.

The heroes left the sacred grove and returned to Blackbough. Halfway up the hillock from the village to the mansion, they saw that the two guards who had fled the hargrove had been hung from their neck, while close to them was a stump of wood which was drenched in the blood of what was undoubtedly the loggers who fled the hargrove with the guards. At the mansion everyone was working hard to prepare for lord Oswin’s departure. He was taking lieutenant Aram and a group of guards to ride upon the hargrove.

After some deliberation, it was decided to ask Gareth, one of lord Oswin’s servants, to gather provisions for the heroes, including lanterns and oil, and for them to depart first thing in the morning. They would make their way south, towards the river and see if they could find passage downstream. If Astrid would not improve, Isalien would take her all the way to Eastray and await the return of the heroes. In the meantime, the heroes would venture north in search of the lair of Kalauranthalasis. The heroes reasoned that lady Asha, whom they had met in Eastray and was in search of her “mate”, had shown them a crude map of the whereabouts of the dragon’s lair.

Ninth Day, Second Ride, Autumn Red, 1262

(Silvermoon is waning. Bloodmoon in low sanction. Darkmoon is waning.)

The following morning the heroes found that everyone had slept without suffering the same nightmares they had experienced since arriving in Blackbough. It seemed that the good sisters had released their ever tightening grip. While Astrid was not feeling whole yet, everyone, including her, were feeling somewhat better.

As the heroes started to head south, they made a brief stop in Blackbough village, where James bought several small casks of rum from Davina, a broad-shouldered villager who was operating several stills in her hut. After concluding the deal, the heroes headed south, only to arrive at the river several hours later.

Blackbough Downtime

Previously, the heroes barely escaped investigating the abandoned church near Blackbough with their lives as they were attacked by ghoulish creatures that seemed to be conjured up by the land itself to chase them away from finding out more about the good sisters and the power they held over Blackbough and its inhabitants. Their sleep was haunted by nightmares which urged them to leave the swamps but felt equally urged by the mysterious Ysgith to go to the sisters to pay tribute to them.

Seventh Day, Second Ride, Autumn Red, 1262

(Silvermoon is waning. Bloodmoon in low sanction. Darkmoon is waning.)

After mistress Ysgith had suggested that the heroes visit the good sisters in the sacred grove, lord Oswin and his retinue excused himself and let the heroes continue their breakfast and speak in peace. Remembering the ways in which the ante-chambers of both the queen as well as her handmaid had been prepared for eavesdropping, Luca got up to inspect the walls to make sure that someone wasn’t snooping around. He found nothing.

The heroes decided that getting to the hargrove was too time consuming. With only a little over a ride until it was predicted that Dr. Arkenward would lose control of the magic that he contained within the queen, there was little time to spend travelling deeper into the hinterland.

It was during this conversation that Luca started feeling that familiar dark presence which developed like a headache right behind his eyes. From high above an inky darkness solidified into the cold, terrifying shape of Aurion. Time seemed to have stopped and Luca’s friends were frozen in the moment. His master, the magnificent dread, instructed Luca to go to Ysgith and relay a message to her;

“The last person who remembers your name is dying. They don’t have much longer. Go to them.”

When time resumed and Aurion was gone, Luca tried to convince the others that perhaps it was not a bad idea to leave their visit to the sacred grove until the following day. Quentin agreed that in order to present themselves to the good sisters they might want to be in better shape. It was agreed to in Blackbough that day and the conversation turned towards what might be a good tribute to the sisters. James seriously considered giving up drinking alcohol.

An attempt was made to find a competent healer in Blackbough, especially after Emrys found both Isalien as well as Astrid doing physically very poorly. Isalien at least was in better spirits, while Astrid couldn’t be bothered to get out of bed. A very troubling turn of events. The Blackbough majordomo, Blythe was dispatched to seek out old Abigail; a woman from the village whom some of the heroes had spoken to the previous day who was proficient in herbalism and hygiene. She would be able to administer any aid to the wounded.

Luca, keen to speak with Ysgith, found her in the garden behind Blackbough manor observing a flock of blackbirds. Aurion’s message left the mysterious woman in shock. She accused Luca of serving a very dark master, something he could not deny. She left Luca in the garden and he noticed that the blackbirds followed her departure.

In the meantime, Quentin had turned to Nielen the blacksmith for some repairs to his breastplate, pauldrons and gorget. They spoke about the hargrove and the fighting that took place there. Quentin learned that there were about a dozen guards from the Company of the Shield in Blackbough, and twice that number at the hargrove. The fighting had lead to eight of the guards dying and an equal number of villagers losing their life too.

When old Abigail arrived she tended to the heroes, giving a tea of willow bark to Luca for his persistent headache, and redressing the wounds on Isalien and Astrid. Emrys, who observed the woman while she worked, noticed that she was quite reticent in helping the heroes out and likely only did so because they had been extended hospitality by lord Oswin.

While chatting with old Abigail the heroes learned that the scholar who had visited Blackbough had been in the company of, among others, a woman. She had also been bed ridden for most of her stay at the village; afflicted by symptoms not dissimilar to those that Astrid was going through. Emrys tried to pay the old woman for her troubles with one of the gems he had retrieved during one of the many adventures in the last few months. She refused it; hospitality had been extended to the heroes, and it was only right for her to care for the guests.

While Quentin sought to train with lieutenant Aram and the guards in order to analyse the gaps in their tactics, Emrys attempted to commune with Toruviel, seeking to understand how to deal with the good sisters. His reasoning was that if anyone could speak with confidence on dealing with spirits that hailed from the Age of Fear, it might take someone of equal age to advise on that. Toruviel was not very forthcoming with clear information, but instead showed Emrys sights of flying high above snow peaked mountains. When Emrys opened his eyes, he found that the blade was hovering evocatively in front of him.

Eighth Day, Second Ride, Autumn Red, 1262

(Silvermoon is waning. Bloodmoon in low sanction. Darkmoon is waning.)

The following morning, after a night haunted by the same dreams, Astrid had sunken further into her depression. Emrys felt similarly afflicted but managed to push through the fog of despair.

Once again the heroes were invited to break their fast with lord Oswin, but this time Ysgith did not attend. The lord of the manor informed the heroes that she had taken some time for herself and that she’d be fasting for a time.

The conversation quickly turned to lord Oswin explaining how he returned home to take the seat at the head of his house when his father passed away. He had found an estate in trouble and he was unsure on what to do and how to reclaim the hargrove. It was only when Ysgith arrived that she offered him the perspective he needed to appeal to the good sisters for help.

When questioned on where the heroes could find the sacred grove, lord Oswin directed them to a path leading to the south-east from Blackbough village. It would lead them to the sacred grove, at the heart of which stood the scarlet willow tree where the villagers left their tributes to the good sisters.

After breakfast had been concluded, Luca prepared a plate of food for Astrid and brought it to her, only to find her reluctant to eat. She was deteriorating fast, and everyone felt that it would be best to bring their mission to Blackbough to a swift conclusion.

Optional, House and Reminder Rules

Overview

This is a collection of the optional and homebrew rules that we use in our game.

Rules