Link Roundup 3/10/2024

On Monday, I read this BBC article, “Trump supporters target black voters with faked AI images“, which points out that misinformation like this is now being generated by people in the U.S. instead of outside actors like Russia or China. Something that really jumped out at me, though, was how real the fakes looked:

There’s some giveaways that this is fake: the weird glossy focus, the kind of sameness to the guys’ faces, the software’s inability to generate recognizable logos or designs on the t-shirt and baseball cap. But it is rendering hands okay! It’s doing way better than what was being produced less than a year-and-a-half ago:

Definitely not real people, certainly not a hand. Made in January 2023.

If Trump wasn’t in that top picture and I saw it as part of an article, or posted on social media, I don’t think that I’d pause to consider whether it was real or not. That’s something I worry about a lot, because I think that we’re at a point where the casual observer might not be able identify AI-generated images without scrutiny. The potential to create fake outrage bait to fuel narratives and advance agendas is pretty frightening to me. “CAUGHT ON CAMERA: Antifa member kicks puppy! You won’t believe this shocking thing that a homeless person did right in front of us! Cop shoots unarmed black mom in back! [I’m both-sidesing it, here]” If this sort of thing starts to become commonplace, then you have to start questioning every image that you see. We’ve always had image manipulation and fakes (see below), but as this technology improves it’s going to be harder to tell apart. Also, the more commonplace this becomes, the harder it will be to accept weird images that are actually real (also see below).

Deepfake, 1937 version.
Deepfake, 1993 version.
Nixon and Elvis. A real photo. I have a vague memory in the 1990s of people thinking that this was fake, but I don’t know how widespread that opinion was.
George Bush Sr. shaking hands with Saddam Hussein. A real photo.

Seven years ago I used to work around a team of software engineers from India, who on their lunch breaks would spend a lot of time sharing clearly Photoshopped images with each other, like the one below of the blue monkey. They’d pass the image around and say stuff like, “So beautiful!” and “Nature is amazing!” I never asked them about it, but I couldn’t tell if they knew the images were fake and were just enjoying them for what they were, or if their media literacy was poor enough that they thought they were looking at real photos. I still think about them and wonder about it.

A blue monkey is a real type of monkey but it doesn’t look like this Photoshopped image.

Anyway, here’s some more links to stuff I read this week, all picked from the Internet by these human hands:

Israel war links. I put these all in one place so you can skip them easier if you want to. Also, content warning on that second link: the article and my notes on it relate to sexual violence.

  • London Review of Books: “The Shoah after Gaza“. This article is, in part, about Israeli’s right-wing made the Holocaust the central point of their culture, and use it as a sort of shield against criticism of any of their actions. It’s a pretty dense read, but worth it.
  • NPR: “A U.N. report finds ‘reasonable grounds to believe’ attacks in Israel included rapes“. When 10/7 was happening, a lot of people on social media (including me) celebrated the breach of the walls of Gaza before learning about the horrors that would happen next. I’m guessing that a lot of Israelis and Jewish people saw that and understandably misunderstood that as people supporting Hamas. Anyway, once it became clear that this was an attack and not a breakout, it was easy to see from videos and pictures that horrific violence was going on. I saw one video of a hostage that showed, to me, pretty clear evidence of sexual assault. Shortly afterward, I read a post from some left-wing group I’d never heard of arguing that there was no indication of any Palestinians sexually assaulting people and that to suggest it was racist. In it they referenced the same video that I saw, suggesting that what was pretty clearly blood was just dirt instead. It was such a gross, obviously-wrong thing for them to claim. The most generous interpretation of their post was that they were blinded by their politics. When I hear people talking about antisemitism on the left, that’s the post that comes to mind.
  • Washington Post: “U.S. floods arms into Israel despite mounting alarm over war’s conduct“. I am too dumb to understand why we are advocating for a ceasefire and trying to deliver aid to Gaza while we are still giving bombs to Israel.

Portland & Oregon links

“I love this kind of shit, like, you guys… I… when I… I do not believe that I should be here in fucking cuffs right now. And so I will use this – 100 percent – to fucking… it’s absurd… I WAS NOT doing anything wrong. I was over here – th – FUCKING sitting on that bench. Right there! Like I can’t….. you get it, right?”

Table-Top Role-Playing Game links

  • D&D Beyond: “How to Write a D&D Campaign“. Some good baseline advice for creating campaigns for any role-playing game.
  • Gnome Stew: “HOW TO MAKE A PUBLISHED RPG SETTING YOUR OWN“. I was looking forward to reading this article, having lightly adapted “Descent Into Avernus” and “The Wild Beyond the Witchlight” to fit into my campaign world, but I found the article too generic to be useful. No offense to the author, but I had to check to see whether it was written by AI.

I’ll end this week’s post with a recommendation: I don’t normally read online comics, but this week I started reading “3rd Voice” and I’ve been enjoying it so far.

Link Roundup 3/3/2024

Well I was going to write up some sort of intro to these links, but today I organized the paper minis that I use for my Dungeons & Dragons games and did not expect it to take almost six hours! Here’s some stuff I read this week:

Portland links:

Tabletop Role-playing games links:

  • Rascal: “Return To Perinthos Honors Jennell Jaquays’ Queer Activism And Her Dungeon-Breaking Legacy” [Paywalled article]. I only learned about game designer Jennell Jaquays after her death in January. She was highly regarded for her innovation of creating non-linear dungeons, and I wanted to know more. Rascal’s article was my jumping off point, but it’s paywalled so I ended up finding this series of posts I’m in the process of reading that deep dives into her concepts. Two posts in, I’m realizing that her ideas would have highly influenced the D&D mega-dungeon “Waterdeep: Dungeon of the Mad Mage“, which I enjoyed quite a bit largely due to its use of the process. Here‘s her Wikipedia article for a quick introduction to who she was.
  • Core20: “The Sweet Spot“. I enjoy reading through the sourcebooks of non-D&D games, even when I don’t plan on playing the games (just because I’ve learned the rules for some new game doesn’t mean that I’d expect the people that I play games with to do the same). I’m kind of interested in learning more about the Core20 system, but I dislike their font that they use for their logo, also used for their headers in their sourcebooks, so much that I stopped reading through their beta-version player’s handbook.
  • Rascal: “Balancing Black Joy In Creating Black Horror” [Paywalled article.] I mostly just followed this link because the post I saw it in referenced Harlem Unbound, a sourcebook for the Call of Cthulu games. I’ve never been particularly interested in Call of Cthulu, but the idea of it being set in 1930s Harlem and having everyday racism be as big of a threat to the characters as otherworldly horror sounds pretty compelling. Here’s a review of it that I haven’t gotten around to reading yet. I don’t think that the appeal of this sourcebook is enough to get me to learn Call of Cthulu, but who knows.

Here’s a cool old illustration of streetcar lines as a reward for making it to the bottom of this post!

This image from the TransitMaps account on Twitter captioned “Here’s a stunning (and surprisingly accurate) overview of the then-new Arlington Heights (left) and King’s Heights (right) streetcar lines in Portland, Oregon. Note the Pittock Mansion sitting high above everything! From the “Morning Oregonian”, October 5, 1913.” I completely forgot that there even was an Arlington Heights streetcar!

Link Roundup 2/25/2024

I don’t make much art or anything else very interesting these days, so when the hosting for this site expired a week or two ago, I thought to myself, “Do I really need a vanity website anymore?” The ready answer was “no”, although I did have a bit of sadness at the thought of discarding this site that I’ve maintained in some version for over 25 years. I made a note to myself to take a few days to think about it, and if I decided to keep it, come up with some valid justification for doing so.

Anyway, a few days ago came the news that the website Vice was being killed by the private equity raiders that bought it, and it made me think of all the other sites on the Internet that have been bought and gutted for parts or otherwise turned into garbage (Google search) for short-term profits. I know that’s not just happening online – it’s happening in a bunch of other industries (see my first link, below). The thought of maintaining my own private little patch of the Internet outside the influence of Mark Zuckerburg or Elon Musk or Blackstone Group or some other group of billionaire creeps suddenly became a lot more appealing.

I still don’t know what I’ll do with this site, but I’ll go ahead and keep it. I’m plenty busy with other projects, so it might be that I don’t touch it again for another three or four years.

For now, here’s some of the links I’ve been reading this week:

  • NPR: “After his wife died, he joined nurses to push for new staffing rules in hospitals“. A man’s wife died unexpectedly in an ICU unit and it was likely due a shortage of nurses. As the article explains, the hospital is run by a for-profit company and since they can’t bill patients directly for nurses’ labor, they instead try to cut costs and maintain a level of staffing that is actually life-threatening.
  • NPR: “Scientists scanning the seafloor discover a long-lost Stone Age ‘megastructure’“. “Megastructure” made this sound a lot more exciting than what it is: a half-mile, 1.5′ tall wall of rocks, probably used for hunting purposes. It’s still pretty interesting, just not, like, a caveman fort or anything like that.
  • Freaky Trigger: “Aard Labour 2: High Society“. This is the latest in the series of posts reviewing and evaluating the 6,000 page run of the comic Cerebus by weirdo/extreme-misogynist Dave Sims. When I was in my late teens I had a roommate that had the “High Society” and “Church and State” collections of the comics and I read some of them but ultimately found them to be not for me – there was something off-putting to them that I couldn’t put my finger on although they were fun in sections. The writer of these posts is doing a good job of breaking down the good and bad.
  • Washington Post: “Tax records reveal the lucrative world of covid misinformation“. This isn’t stated in the article but it’s basically a story about the nexus of QAnon anti-vax conspiracies and right wing grifters.
  • Prospect: “The Neglected History of the State of Israel“. If you oppose Israel’s genocide of Palestinians (in the West Bank, too, not just Gaza), you’re going to get called anti-Semitic by some people who I think are either saying that naively or disingenuously. Not all Jews want to kill their Arabic neighbors, but there sure is a far-right extremist party that wants to do exactly that, and it’s not too hard to find evidence of their success. The linked article provides some historic context for that group, which includes Netanyahu. It’s linked in the article, but it references the Isaac Chotiner interview with settler Daniella Weiss, which is still such a shocking thing to read that I’ve linked it here.
  • Wikipedia: “List of unusual deaths“. A jumping off point in case you want to go down a Wikipedia rabbit hole.

Portland specific links:

Last Year’s Holiday Cards

Every December, I aspire to make my own holiday cards to send out to loved ones. Maybe every two or three years do I make that a reality. As I consider this year’s design, I thought I’d share last year’s holiday cards, where I went with quantity over quality and designed three of them.

My dad likes the Grinch, so here is the Grinch dancing for some reason.
This owl wearing a Santa Claus hat absolutely hates Christmas and is going to bite the fucker that put the hat on its head.
This playful cat is regarding an ornament in a Christmas tree. You can imagine what happens next.

If you want to print any of these cards for your own use, have at it! They can be found here as a PDF. The cards are laid out two to a page, so will have a finished size of 4.25″x5.5″ once folded.

Indefinite Shutdown, Infinite Shutdown

Last call.

With coronavirus cases growing exponentially, Oregon Governor Kate Brown has ordered the state back on shutdown for two weeks, with Multnomah and some other counties being shutdown for four weeks (at least). I’m not mad about it or disagree with it, but this is an absolute nightmare for owners and employees of restaurants and bars – especially bars.

The first lockdown was incredibly hard for lots of service industry people, but this one is going to be even worse because there’s no financial support coming from the federal government for everyone affected by this. Theoretically, there’s unemployment for people, but Oregon’s unemployment system has not exactly been weathering the pandemic very successfully. We’ve already seen a ton of restaurants and bars permanently close since the pandemic started and this is probably the death knell for a large number more.

If we had a competent federal government, maybe we wouldn’t be here, but I think that we also needed a competent response by the public. Last night, when the above picture was taken, my wife and I were at a bar with outside seating spaced reasonably apart, having a last beer before they closed indefinitely. A patron from a nearby table came over, mask-less, and bummed a smoke off of my wife. The dude then asked,”Mind if I sit with you while I smoke this?”

“Uh, no, you can’t. We’re pretty concerned about the virus.” I gestured to our masks.

“Huh. Okay. Fine. By the way, you don’t need to wear a mask.”

A Personal Blog? What is This, 2008?!

After Trump won the 2016 presidential election, there was this ridiculous suggestion made, if nothing else, at least it would inspire great works of art (here’s an article from January 2017 referencing some of those statements). The idea was dumb, offensive, and entitled in this sort of way that ignored the potential for harm from a Trump presidency. Anyway, I guess now we can all look back and see how that went. I went on sporadically making art, but I sure wasn’t inspired by the fact that a deeply racist, misogynist fascist was in charge of the nation. If anything, my creativity was limited due to the psychic weight of Donald Trump being the President of the United States. I mean, seriously: at least once a week, I would be shocked and dumbfounded as I stopped to think about how the tacky grifter from one of the dumbest reality game shows from the 2000s was somehow elected to be the leader of the country. By the way, wasn’t the early 2000s an embarrassing time culturally? Frosted tips, bedazzled ass-pockets on jeans, “Jon & Kate Plus 8”, Justin & Kelly from “American Idol”, reality shows in general, but especially “The Apprentice”. I couldn’t ever figure out why anyone would want to watch such a blatantly hateful phony demean and bully greedy dumdums.

Anyway, that asshole has lost re-election and when Biden/Harris’s win was called yesterday, I spent the day feeling like a huge weight was lifted off of my back. I mean, Trump is still in office for another two months and will likely continue to do irreparable harm for our democracy. But yesterday felt pretty good.

I’m mostly writing this post, though, just to post something on this blog. A couple weeks ago I’d realized that it had been nearly two years since I’d posted anything here, so I added “Make blog post. ha ha” to my weekly to-do list (I have daily and weekly to-do lists). Having a personal website when I’m not actively trying to make money off of it or showcase my art is the definition of a vanity project, but I pay $5 a month for the hosting, so I may as well do something with it. I’ll keep “Make a blog post. ha ha” on future to-do lists, and – who knows – maybe I’ll even make something that could be considered art.

Adventure Hook: A Goblin with a Parcel

A goblin in an apron cleans a pint glass.
Arvil, the front-of-the-house goblin at the Free Basement Publican. Image by Khris Soden.


Recently on Twitter, I wrote “My low-level players hang out in a bar staffed by two goblins – the only known goblins in town. Next game, one of the goblins puts down 50 GP and asks them to deliver a package. What’s in the package and where does it need to go?” I already had a few answers in mind, but I thought that it’d be fun to see what other people came up with. Here are the responses that I received:
[Links to the original tweets are attached to each person’s Twitter handle.]

  • “It’s a care package to a bugbear he has had a crush on for many years. It needs to be delivered to the bugbear settlement just outside the Weird Wood.” – @unrulyian
  • “It’s a get well gift for their mum who is very sick… but it’s based in goblin shamanism so IF peeked at looks very suspicious and “evilly.” To make matters worse, the goblins KNOW it’s suspicious and act as such while handing it over. #DontJudge #MoralChoices #FalsePretenses” – @Nominrath
  • “Food stuffs and some alcohol. The goblins are thinking of moving into a delivery service and one of their patrons ordered the package as a test of their capabilities. Unfortunately he has the package going through a well known bandit monitored highway to test the new delivery ppl” – @VeinexesVideos
  • “The box has the head of a neighboring tavern owner’s dog. It’s going to Gus MacTavert, self-declared head of the brewer’s guild, and the owner of the dog has been refusing to set his prices according to syndicate guidelines…” – @JohnLeeArtStory
  • “Rings of disguise that allow the users to appear as simple goblins, it is going to a group of kobolds who are trying to have humans wipe out with a neighboring goblin tribe” – @ari_covert
  • “It’s a parchment roll. It has detailed town schematics including the treasury and bank. It’s going to the thieves guild in another town, but not for the purposes of robbery. It’s for security because there’s a famous crew coming in from another continent.” – @LawDogStrikes
  • “It’s more goblins. Instant goblin, just add water.” – @ThemDave
  • “The remains of the goblins mother, or some loved one, and it must be delivered to an area deemed sacred by the goblins former tribe. It has everything, morality, danger, exploration, and room for growth.” – @robthedm
  • “Underdark exotic fungi spores for an apothecary. Mixed in among the Nilhogg Nose mushrooms and Ormu moss a few myconid sprouts were accidentally collected. Adult Myconids are attempting to intercept the package and return to their colony with their abducted offspring.” – @Wax_Da_Stache
  • “A devastation orb for a collector of cult oddities.” – @Wax_Da_Stache
  • “Stolen jewelry that was rescued from an old shipwreck. They need it delivered to a gang in another town. There the players find out the truth about the goods after some mystery plot and are needed to track down and steal them back to the righteous owner. How about that? ;)” – @I_AmOzymandias
  • “Deed for plot of land from local lord; the two goblins’ tribe can move onto land safely without harassment from locals.” – @QuestingHeroes

I liked all of the ideas, and one of them was incredibly close to what I had been originally thinking of doing. I like make surprises for myself by adding random elements to my games, though, so I decided to organize these ideas on a d100 table and roll to see what the goblin actually wants to have delivered:

d100 Roll Result
01 – 06 Stolen jewelry with a mysterious past.
07 – 15 Exotic spores for an apothecary with some myconid sprout stowaways.
16 – 24 Simple food and alcohol sent as a test run for a future delivery service.
25 – 37 A care package for a bugbear crush.
38 – 50 A suspicious-looking get well gift for an ailing loved one.
51 – 63 The remains of a loved one, bound for a sacred resting place.
64 – 76 A deed to a plot of land where the goblin’s tribe can live safely.
77 – 89 A parchment roll featuring detailed town schematics.
90 – 94 Instant Goblins!
94 – 97 The head of a dog belonging to a rival tavern owner.
98 – 99 Rings of Goblin Disguise!
00 A devastation orb for a collector of cult oddities.

Ilbog, the back-of-the-house goblin that only rarely cooks with human meat. Image by Khris Soden


“Pyramid Temple of Elemental Evil” Character Backstories

I recently started running a series of games for my players based on the 1985 D&D adventure “Temple of Elemental Evil“. My campaign world is already very well established, so I couldn’t use the same backstory from the published adventure. Instead, I wrote the following short stories to introduce the players to the start of the game. Since each story is told from a different perspective, not all events are remembered in the same way.

Map of the area around the Pyramid Temple
The area around the Pyramid Temple

The Island Elf

After defeating the demon lord Yeenoghu and spending three long days travelling on the back of an ancient brass dragon, Gabilan was ready for a quiet, solitary night to reflect and recover after her recent adventures. Even though her people had no need for sleep, Gabilan borrowed a bedroll from the Leach House and laid it out in the front yard under the clear, moonlit night sky of the late summer. It felt good to lie down on her back and to let her body relax while her mind got lost in the countless number of stars above her.

As the night crept towards dawn and she returned her mind from the far places that rejuvenated her, she experienced a sudden series of brief flashing mental images: the one-eyed Lich Steele speaking to a group of High Elves in a forest meadow in the bright light of day; the Lich approaching her group after landing his house in Willamina’s fields; dozens of people in colored robes running in terror; and, finally, several elves being consumed by flames. During the few seconds of these hallucinations, Gabilan either imagined or recalled the very distant screams of a large crowd.

An elf doesn’t dream in the way humans and other beings do, but sometimes experiences fragments of memories when leaving their meditation. These memories are often their own, but are sometimes the memories of others nearby. Sometimes the memories are fabrications. Some elves treat these as portents, while others choose to ascribe no particular significance to them.

In the east, the sky was getting perceptively lighter, and dawn would break in an hour or two. Gabilan knew that the humans and the halfling inside the house wouldn’t be awake for another several hours. She thought back to the day before, remembering Ma’am Peggy’s panicked reaction to seeing Steele with only one of his eyes smouldering with the unnatural green flames of undeath. She decided to walk into town to find Ma’am Peggy to ask her about what it was that scared her so much about the sight. Even if Ma’am Peggy wasn’t awake yet, someone at the Island Elf would surely be preparing breakfast by the time she arrived.

While walking into town, Gabilan could see specks of torchlight off in distant fields, or far off between houses. The need for torches in this early light told Gabilan that these were humans, and she guessed that they were probably some sort of patrols. Before she arrived in the central part of town, she encountered one of these patrols on the road. The small group of four guards was led by the torch-wielding Commander “Pep”, the young human with the crush on Murdina.

Once Pep’s torchlight was close enough to illuminate Gabilan’s face, his concerned expression changed to one of relief.

“Gabilan, I’m so glad to see you!” exclaimed the young and still easily excited commander. “We’d been coming out to find you. Last night a group of elves attacked the Pyramid Temple of Pelor and Ehlonna. A couple of the Lents Irregulars were with them, and they’re keeping anyone from approaching. We need your help.”

Breakfast with Ma’am Peggy will have to wait until later in the morning.

The Colorless Man in a Colorful Crowd

Kwutl had no use for the Life Empowerment Society, as the adherents of the Pyramid Temple of Ehlonna and Pelor liked to call themselves, but here he was anyway at the final dedication of their temple. He wanted to see what it looked like when they brought down the floating island known as Steele’s Tower. But, also, he liked being around all of their robes. The white ones weren’t interesting, but he liked seeing the russet, ochre, and viridian ones. Those were words that he had recently learned.

As he looked around the crowd, he figured that there were at least a hundred people here, maybe more. In addition to the robes, people were wearing colorful garlands of flowers and other decorations. There was a lot of chanting, and dancing, and laughing. A feeling of joy was in the air, and after the events of this past summer, he was relieved to feel happiness around him.

Tomkin Chisolm died in the late spring, and Bertina’s poor health meant that she needed a lot of help around the house. And then there was the disappearance of Willamina, Samel, Eugenia, Tinga & Gabilan. When Tomkin died, it had been sad but it wasn’t unexpected. The loss of Willamina and the other Lents Irregulars was harder to deal with because there was no closure for them – they were just gone. Not having Willamina around the house had already been hard, but now her lack of presence was almost like living with a ghost. Neither Kwutl or Murdina had so much as cracked the door of Willamina’s room open since she had left.

Kwutl had been against the idea of the Remembrance Celebration that Mayor Lents had hosted, but when it occurred, he attended it and found himself thankful that he had gone. It had given him a chance to talk with others about the loss, and he could share his grief openly. He couldn’t talk about his emotions at all with Murdina; she was far too tempestuous.

The celebration going on around him was almost enough to make him forget about his losses. It made them hurt less, anyway. A couple of bouncing, dancing, smiling people had taken his hands, and he rhythmically bobbed along to the buoyant chant they were sing-song repeating. This was all nonsense, but here during the sunset of one of the last warm days of the year, it was fun. Kwutl smiled.

A gentle breeze picked up among the crowd, then quickly turned into strong, sustained gusts. Flower garlands were flying up in people’s faces. People had to push against their robes to keep their naked legs from being exposed. A woman screamed, and someone nearby pointed their hand towards Steele’s Tower. Silently, the tower began drifting off to the west. More people screamed, others shouted, and some people sobbed angrily. Someone yelled,”How can we destroy that abomination now?”

Kwutl realized that he was staring upward in disbelief, mouth agape. In the year that passed since the dwarves first collapsed the base of the tower, nothing like this had happened. He wondered where the tower was heading. Maybe it was going to Sunlight Falls? That seemed to be the most likely destination. More immediately, he was wondering what would happen here at the temple. Panic, fear and anger were quickly spreading through the crowd.

“FRIENDS! FRIENDS.” A strong voice called out from near the entrance to the temple. Kwutl craned his neck some, and could see it was Priestess Betterfingers. She had run the old temple of Ehlonna in the town center of Lents before it had been burned down by the Sunlight Falls occupiers.

“FRIENDS, remain calm! The cursed corpse of the Wizard Steele has moved his tower, and it is true that this is an unexpected challenge for us. But DO NOT LOSE HOPE OR FAITH. Our Good Brother Zeno the Changer believes that we should be able to complete the ceremony with some adjustments. It will not happen tonight, but do not let it ruin this celebration of our faith that has happened today!”

Two severe, strong-looking men in russet robes came from the temple and approached to stand facing the crowd on either side of the Priestess. One of them whispered something in the Priestess’ ear.

“Those who have graduated to the higher levels of enlightenment will stay through the night in the temple, helping us to make the necessary changes to the ceremony. The best that you can do tonight, fellow believers, is to take yourselves and your faith back to your homes. Tell those that don’t have the faith yet to come visit us soon. Go forth and convert! There is still work to do as we move beyond Pelor and Ehlonna! BE BEST.”

Once the Priestess finished her speech, she and the two men turned and went back into the temple. The crowd dispersed soon afterward, and only a handful of people remained, talking in small groups. Kwutl stayed behind because he was thinking about the two men in the russet robes. There was something that felt sinister about them, but he couldn’t quite put his finger on it.

As the last of the day’s light was leaving the sky, Kwutl turned to head towards home. As he was taking a moment to scan the western sky for any trace of Steele’s Tower, he heard shouts from the north, just past the temple. Turning to look, he saw three elves charging across Powell Creek, heading towards the temple. After a moment, another three followed in the steps of the others, and the group of six elves paused in front of the entrance to the temple to cast spells. They then ran in with weapons drawn. It was only at this point that Kwutl had noticed that the door of the temple had changed: no longer was it a lancet archway decorated with a sunburst and oak leaves, but now a pair of massive bronze doors. On the lintel above the doors were four carved skulls. From the sockets of the skulls, colored light beamed out: white, scarlet red, amber, and blue-green.

Kwutl realized that he was the only person left in the clearing around the temple. The other witnesses to the elven attack had fled already. Curious to know what would happen next and concerned that more elves would be coming, Kwutl snuck off into the underbrush at the edge of the clearing. Looking down at the sky blue suit and bright yellow shirt that he was wearing, he decided that it would be wiser to be naked if he was going to hide and observe. He undressed and tucked his clothes behind a nearby tree.

By the time Kwutl had undressed and positioned himself in a comfortable hidden position, two other figures crossed the creek and entered the clearing. They did not approach the temple, but instead gathered wood and started a small fire in the clearing in front of the temple. By the light of the fire, Kwutl recognized the two men to be the half-orc, Kruz, and the tiefling, Lars Mayhem. It had been at least six months since he’d seen either of them, and Kwutl chose to stay hidden since he had no idea what they’d been doing during that time. Besides aligning with the elves of Yllodah, apparently.

Several hours after the elves had entered the temple, just one of them came back out. Even in the darkness of the night, it was easy to tell that the elf had been badly hurt. Kruz and Lars got up and helped the elf walk back to their campfire, where the three of them sat quietly for several minutes. After a short amount of time had passed, the elf got up on its own and came over to the edge of the clearing. It stopped and sat, not more than ten feet from Kwutl, and entered into an elven trance. Kwutl understood that he probably couldn’t move from his position without revealing himself, so he chose to make himself as comfortable as possible in order to wait until the elf left. Kwutl didn’t dare sleep in case there was any possibility that he might snore, but he did occasionally shift his position to relieve his muscles.

Finally, the first light of dawn began to arrive. With the break of dawn, another group of people entered the clearing of the temple, this time from the south. It appeared to be a group of town guards, along with a woman who wasn’t dressed like a guard. The woman began to walk across the field, directly towards Kruz and Lars. Kwutl’s heart began to race and he couldn’t keep back a sharp cry of surprise.

Gabilan was alive.

The Accidental Sentinels

While being forced marched by their captors through the boggy fens towards Lents, Kruz reminded Lars (for maybe the fourth or fifth time) that this was all Lars’ idea. Lars had been the one who had been bored enough with the town of Lents to suggest that he and Kruz set off into the so-called “Elven Woods” for a change of pace. But, Lars reminded Kruz, that it had worked out well for them for the first six months – it was only now that their fate had changed.

Back in the early Spring, when Lars had asked – hypothetically, of course – what would happen to a person caught entering the Elven Woods of Yllodah, Kruz was surprised to have never thought of the question before. As the two considered the possible answers, they became ever more convinced that it was just one of those arbitrary rules that humans like to enforce just because they can. By mid-afternoon that day, they had crossed the small stream of Powell Creek and were walking towards the elven city of Yllodah.

Yllodah, the city itself, was more beautiful than anything that they had imagined. The staircases that spiraled up to the dwellings of the elves seemed to grow naturally from the trunks of the massive trees that comprised the forest. Giant branches intermingled and wove themselves together to form natural walkways from tree canopy to canopy, sometimes leading up or down to different heights among the leaves and nettles. In places where the sunlight couldn’t pierce the dense foliage, ample light was provided by the countless motes of coloured luminescence that floated through the air.

The populace of Yllodah was a stark contrast to the beauty of the city. At least half of the elves had succumbed to some sort of sickness, leaving them gaunt, hallucinating, and picking at the scabs on the faces and their arms. These elves were unpredictable and dangerous, and Kruz and Lars were forced to cut down several when they first entered the city in the trees. The portion of the populace who weren’t suffering from this affliction regarded the duo with suspicion at first, but became more welcoming once they learned that the pair weren’t from the city of Sunlight Falls.

For a few weeks, Lars and Kruz became minor celebrities in Yllodah. Lars’ musical style was entirely unlike that of the elves, and his performances were in high demand. The elves were fascinated by the mere existence of Kruz, a creature that they were not familiar with, but also impressed by his displays of strength and athleticism. The pair were even invited one evening to the tops of the treetops, where they performed for the Court of the Elder Council, a group of impossibly old and shriveled elves who were attended by a retinue of astonishingly beautiful and regal elves.

Eventually, the novelty of Lars and Kruz began to fade and the elves lost interest in the pair. This feeling was reciprocal, as both of the adventurous men were beginning to feel restless staying in one place for too long. With the blessing of the elves of Yllodah, Lars and Kruz explored the depths of the surrounding forest.

The woods of Yllodah on the peninsula between the Greyglass River and the Tears of the World were ripe for adventure and exploration. The pair spent the late spring and summer wandering the forest, encountering all manners of strange creatures. Many pixies and sprites were spotted, and a number of ogres were slain over the weeks. One night, the pair even hung out with a pair of horned, goat-legged men, who partied harder than even Lars could. Whatever was in their wine had led to hazy memories of good times.

Yesterday, Lars and Kruz had talked about returning to Lents to visit old friends, but that discussion had become ironic by the late morning, when they were accosted by a group of six elves that told them that they were bringing them to the human town of Powell’s Camp [the old name of Lents – ed.]. Adnorin, the leader of this group of elves, curtly explained that they were on their way to fight a great evil that was arising in the temple of the town, and they needed Lars and Kruz to keep their fellow townsfolk from interfering with the elves’ mission. Kruz and Lars were not offered a choice in whether they wanted to participate in this.

After the first few hours of walking with the elves, the elves became more friendly and conversational. Lars and Kruz learned the names of the elves; there was: Adnorin, the cleric of Corellon Larethian and leader of the group; the bard, Daestrata, who clearly enjoyed flirting with Lars, teasing him that her College of Blades was far superior to his College of Glamour; the quiet and nervous wizard, Magfiel; the serious ranger, Petven; the jovial paladin, Naequinal, who made jokes at the expense of her brother, Petven; and the mysterious rogue Lorathuun. The elves were sincere in their desire to defeat the supposed evils of this temple, and planned to attack in the nighttime after a signal was given. They didn’t explain how they knew about the evils of the temple, or who was going to give them the signal to attack.

By the time dusk had arrived and the group neared Powell’s Creek, the designated edge of the Elven Woods, they were able to see the distant top of the Pyramid Temple of Ehlonna and Pelor. The temple, now appearing to be completed, had only been in the early stages of construction when Kruz and Lars had left town. The Pyramid Temple had been erected directly below the floating island of rock supporting the Lich Steele’s house; it had been built with the intention of somehow destroying the floating island. Magfiel explained that the arcane markings at the top of the brass-capped pyramid indicated that it was more likely that the purpose of the pyramid was to capture and absorb the powerful elemental powers holding the island in the air.

Crouched and hiding in the woods across the creek from the temple, the group could see that a crowd of more than a hundred people were gathered in some sort of celebration in front of the temple. Most of these people wore robes of either white, russet, ochre or viridian, and were engaged in dancing and chanting.

“The colors of elemental evil,” Daestrata said to Lars, as she pointed towards the robed figures. “Most of them probably don’t have an idea what they’re involved in. Something like this happened to our people some time ago.”

The crowd suddenly erupted in gasps and cries of surprise as, high above, the lich’s floating island began drifting to the west away from the Pyramid Temple. Lars wondered aloud if that had happened before, and Kruz assured him that to the best of his knowledge, it had not. Petven looked over at Adnorin, who held up his hand in a gesture to wait.

After several minutes of growing consternation and panic among the assembled crowd, a woman came out and addressed the crowd. Although too far away to hear what she said to the crowd, she was clearly some sort of authority and her words served to calm the crowd. Naequinal nudged Kruz and pointed to the entrance of the temple, where two wolves had approached from the side opposite of the crowd. The wolves shifted into the form of two men in robes and walked to join the woman speaking to the crowd. The crowd, responding to the woman’s speech, dispersed and began to return to town. The woman, accompanied by the two werewolves, entered the temple. Save for a few stragglers from the crowd, the grounds around the temple stood quiet and empty.

“Now!” hissed Adnorin to Magfiel, who began casting some sort of arcane spell towards the temple. As she finished her incantation and pointed at the arched entrance to the temple, the temple’s entrance began to shudder and shift before suddenly vanishing. In place of the open lancet arch decorated with a sunburst and oak leaves was now a massive pair of open bronze doors with carvings of four skulls sitting atop the lintel, the sockets glowing with the four colors of elemental energy. Lorathuun, Petven, and Naequinal leapt from their hiding places and charged across the creek towards the temple. The few remaining people outside of the temple dashed away as they approached.

Adnorin turned to Kruz and Lars and said,”We need you to keep your people out of there until we’re finished with it. It is for their safety, but also for our own. The humans that you associate with have no love for us.” Daestrata and Magfiel joined Adnorin as he made his way across the creek. The six elves assembled outside of the temple, paused for a moment to cast spells, and dashed in as a group.

It had been hours since the elves entered the temple, and it was now the middle of the night – almost dawn really. Kruz was dozing near a dying fire, and Lars was strumming a tune in an effort to keep himself awake during his watch. When the elves had first entered into the temple, Lars had considered leaving; after all, whatever business these elves had with the temple had nothing to do with him. But Kruz wanted to stay, at least to see what would happen. Kruz wasn’t very bright, but he was fun and Lars liked him, so in the end, he had agreed to keep watch with the big half-orc.

Lars heard a sharp, ragged breath come from the entrance of the temple, so he immediately nudged Kruz awake. Stumbling from the mouth of the temple came the elf Lorathuun, who staggered unsteadily. He looked terribly dazed. Lars and Kruz help steady the elf, and walked him back to the remains of the campfire, where they helped set him down.

Lorathuun, whose clothes were burnt in places and bloodied all over, stared into the coals of the fire quietly. When he finally spoke, his words had a far-away feeling to them, as if the mind uttering them was somewhere off in the distance. “All burned. I think that they were all burned.” He fell quiet again for a short time, almost entering the trance-like state that elves do to rest.

When Lorathuun spoke again, it was clear that he had returned to his senses. “I got hit by a spell that left me confused. I don’t really remember the last few minutes of being in the temple. I do remember fire. I’m not sure if anyone made it beyond that. I need to rest for a while, but I’ll need to go back in.”

He looked at Lars, then at Kruz, and asked,“Will you help me recover the bodies?”

Map of the temple
The floor plan of the ground floor of the Pyramid Temple of Elemental Evil. As they say, it’s bigger on the inside.


The Inspired Assault

Lorathuun and his sister, Daestrata, were the newest members of the scouting group, but they were held in special regard due of their Eladrin heritage. While the other elves were pointedly careful to not ask about their past, they were friendly and the group of five got along well in the three months since they’d joined on the patrol of these wilder parts of the forest.

They were enjoying a little hot tea and roast rabbit for their morning meal. Adnorin, the leader of the group, was quietly smoking his pipe. Hard but kind, and older than the others by a century, the cleric of Corellon Larethian was well respected by the group. The other elves would sometimes tell Lorathuun about how Adnorin’s family back home in Yllodah had succumbed to the magical addiction called Prism, but Lorathuun never brought it up himself. Adnorin would occasionally get up to poke the fire and throw another scavenged branch on it to burn. There was no urgency to start the patrol this morning.

Daestrata plucked at her lute and hummed to herself, sometimes smiling about some joke that she chose not to share. She was the wild one who always had a story that could outdo everyone else’s. When encountering the elves that lived in these deeper woods, she was always the voice of the party, stunning all with her beauty and her deep violet hair. She had also taught Lorathuun many of the spells and skills that he knew. She paused from playing the lute to wave away a tendril of campfire smoke that had drifted too close to her personal space.

Magfiel tended to keep close to Daestrata, and sat on a fallen log near the beautiful woman, studious flipping through pages of her spellbook. Occasionally, she would pause her reading to look up and glance around the clearing. In addition to being the team’s dedicated wizard, she was also the worrier of the group. She had let Lorathuun copy a couple of spells from her spellbook, but only by reciting and explaining them carefully to Lorathuun. She would never let another person handle her spellbook.

Naequinal, the group’s joker, was still half-asleep on top of her bedroll. Butterflies danced around her amber curls, occasionally landing on her nose or an out-stretched finger. Her casual demeanor concealed her fierce, almost zealous, commitment to protecting their natural realms. In a fight with ogres, Naequinal was the most ruthless of the group. Petven, Naequinal’s brother and the sixth member of the group, sometimes said that Naequinal should have just become a druid and married a tree, which was as close as he ever came to making a joke.

Petven was always the first to rise in the morning, and was currently quietly circling the clearing where they rested, casually flipping his lucky electrum coin across the fingers of his left hand. Petven had a serious demeanor, but was ever-vigilant of anything happening around the group. It was his skills in reading the forest that allowed the group to track the ogres and other foul creatures that threatened the peace of the forest.

Lorathuun was about to pour another cup of tea when they noticed Petven stop suddenly, paying attention to something beyond the clearing. Lorathuun heard the snap of a twig, then a second snap, from the area that had caught Petven’s attention. The crack of a heavier branch being stepped on grabbed everyone’s attention, and they all got into their ready positions. Lorathuun took a moment to cast Mage Armor on themselves.

Lorathuun and the rest of the group were amazed to see what stepped into the clearing – amazed enough that nobody loosed an arrow or a spell. A dessicated old human – one eye socket burning with the bright green light of undeath, the other devoid of anything at all – entered into the gap in the forest. Following closely behind him was some sort of mechanical man, standing seven-feet tall and brandishing a glowing ruby in place of any eyes.

Daestrata strode forward towards the withered figure, unafraid. “Harold Steele,” she addressed him. Lorathuun had heard the name before: Harold Steele was a human friend to the elves of Yllodah who had cursed himself to undeath by destroying his own soul. He lived in a house on a floating island above the human town of Powell’s Camp [The old name for Lents – ed.]. Lorathuun had seen the floating island just once on their patrols – they usually never got very close to the human lands.

“By the Infinite Planes, you fucking people are hard to find,” spoke the lich, taking time to look around the clearing at each of them.

Adnorin had stowed his pipe and was now standing next to Daestrata. “Why have you sought us out?” he asked.

“They built a damned pyramid under my house. They’ve been stealing my ideas. Stealing my ideas! They think they have me dead to rights! They’ve been in my house. Stealing my ideas.” His manner of speech made Lorathuun think of a mind that was far away, maybe not entirely present in the moment. But Lorathuun had heard of the pyramid the dead man mentioned. Some humans had been building it in since the late winter, and there were rumors that it was related to a cult that had plagued the elves of Yllodah a few centuries ago. The story of that old cult ended with the tales of a group of elves that had sealed a great evil behind four magically protected sets of bronze doors. The entire group had heard this story, and everyone waited to hear what the dead man said next.

“They’re going to try to rob me! They’re going to attack my house. Tonight! After night falls. They’re going to attack my house to rob me of my powers! Release their dark ‘god’! Bah! Subsume everyone around! Control all souls!! Bah!” The dessicated man paused to attempt to spit on the ground, but no moisture came from his pursed lips. “I’ve come to you, Council, to warn you! You stopped them back then, and you can stop them again!

“Heh. Heh! I’ve got a trick up my sleeve! When they start their ceremony, I’m going to move my house! Heh! They built their whole damned thing to rob me, and I’m just going to get out of the way! I’M GOING TO GET OUT OF THE WAY!”

Lorathuun felt a sudden wave of sickness briefly wash over them as some sort of putrid wave of energy escaped from the excited lich, but it passed in an instance. Talking to the group later, they would confirm that everyone felt that energized wave of sickness in that moment.

“Council, attack them when I move my house! They’ll be at their weakest then. Heh. Destroy them. They’ll be in disarray. Do the same thing you did to them last time! Strike! Strike while the iron is hot! Strike before they find some other way to release Zuggtomy.” With these final words, the old lich looked satisfied and fell silent for a moment. And then, within a whoosh, vanished along with his mechanical man.

Naequinal broke the silence as she unstoppered a flask of liquor. “Good morning everyone!” she said before taking a drink.

Magfiel was next to speak,”I think that he thought that we were the Court of the Elder Council. We should return to Yllodah to let them know.”

Adnorin looked pensive before speaking. “From where we’re at, we wouldn’t make it to Yllodah before dusk. But we can make it to the human’s Powell’s Camp by then if we start travelling now. If his words can be believed, we might need to do it to stop a calamity.

Daestrata, who always presented a calm demeanor, furrowed her brow. “The name Zuggtomy is associated with the old temple your parents defeated centuries ago. It seems that Genfaren wasn’t wrong.” Genfaren was an elven wizard who was part of the patrols along the human lands. He had said that he had seen invisible symbols carved into the walls of the pyramid temple that matched those of the temple that had been defeated before.

Petven, usually silent, added to the conversation. “I’ve never believed Genfaren to exaggerate, although I found his stories of the secret runes hard to believe.” He stayed silent for a while, but seemed like he had another thought that he was working on, so everyone waited for him to speak again. “If we’re going to go to the human lands, we should find someone to be our ambassadors or our hostages. Their people, Kruz and Lars Mayhem, are not too far from here.”

With the party in consensus, they headed directly south, where Petven had last known the location of the half-orc named Kruz and the tiefling named Lars Mayhem. The two had been a brief sensation earlier in the spring when they had arrived in Yllodah. Kruz was an unfamiliar type of humanoid who was a strongman, and Lars played unusual musics. Together, they were a two-man circus. They had been granted permission to wander freely through the elven woods.

The two men were not hard to locate. Being unfamiliar with these woods made them easy targets for Petven to track since they didn’t know how to pass easily through the woods like the elves did. They had captured the men by mid-morning.

As the group of eight marched towards Powell’s Camp, the pyramid temple, and the floating island of Harold Steele, the scouting party got to know the two men better, and found them to be pleasant company. Lars and Daestrata seemed to get along particularly well, with them discussing the various benefits conveyed by Lars’ “College of Glamour” versus Daestrata’s “College of Swords”. The apparent camaraderie between the two was likely bolstered by the Suggestion spell that Daestrata had cast on the devilish man. The strange strongman Kruz largely kept silent, but seemed more bemused by his circumstances than anything else.

By dusk, the group had met their target, and took hiding positions across a creek from the temple that they planned to assault. Above the creek was the floating island of Harold Steele, and in the clearing in front of the temple, at least a hundred humans in robes of white, ochre, russet and viridian chanted and danced in some form of celebration.

And then Harold Steele’s floating island began to drift off to the west. The crowd in front of the temple began to scream and panic. Lorathuun, Petven, and Naequinal looked toward Adnorin for guidance, but he raised up a hand to make them wait.

After a few minutes, a woman came out of the temple and spoke words that dispersed the crowd. It was dark now. Magfiel, who was in a hiding place near Lorathuun, nudged Lorathuun and pointed at the entrance to the temple. The temple entrance was an open archway topped by a sunburst and surrounded by oak leaves. “Magnificent Mansion,” Magfiel said with authority. Lorathuun nodded knowingly, although they were unsure of what that meant exactly. After spending a few more minutes waiting for Aldnorin’s signal and examining the temple, Lorathuun noticed that there was something strange and artificial about the entrance, but they couldn’t tell exactly what it was.

Aldnorin gave a nod to Magfiel, and she began to cast a spell in the direction of the temple. At the completion of the spell, she pointed to the entrance and Lorathuun watched as the open arch disappeared and was replaced by a set of two open bronze doors. On the lintel above the bronze doors were four carved skulls, their sockets beaming out bright elemental colors.

“Now!” hissed Aldnorin, as he sprung from his hiding place and began sprinting across the river. Petvan and Naeqinal joined him without hesitation. Lorathuun looked at Magfiel, who looked nervous, then at Daestrata, who nodded. The three of them then followed across the river behind the other elves.

At the doorway to the temple, everyone stopped for a moment as Aldnorin cast a protective spell on the party. “Lars and Kruz?” Magfiel asked. “To keep the humans away from our task,” Aldnorin responded. Daestrata touched Lorathuun on the shoulder, and Lorathuun was imbued with a sense of confidence. “Now!” Aldnorin commanded, and the party charged through the bronze doors into the mouth of the temple.

Lorathuun’s mind was reeling as they stumbled outside of the temple and down the steps leading up to the bronze doors. Among Lorathuun’s panicked thoughts and concerns, they weirdly felt the need to check their cloak to ensure that the magical oils that protected it hadn’t burned it too badly. It was fine.

Lorathuun noticed starlight above them, and recognized that they were outside. How did this happen, they wondered? Their feet were unsteady, and every time they took a step forward, they weren’t sure if they would remain standing. They were having trouble focusing their eyes.

A jumbled group of images ran through Lorathuun’s mind, and it took some moments before Lorathuun recognized them as memories. There were the bronze doors, and the awful feeling they got as they charged through them, as if a past generation were warning them to keep away. A flash of the image of murals  – murals that showed Lorathuun’s face prevailing over countless dead. A memory of the first group that they encountered, all dressed in white robes. The impassive look on one fanatic’s face as he turned to face the elves.

Lorathuun remembered. Lorathuun remembered that human man in the white robe, probably some sort of leader, turning with confidence to confront the group of elves. He remembered the man casting the spell that brought the air elemental into form. He remembered the battle that ensued, when the air elemental threw Petven directly into the crowd of cultists. He remembered how Petven didn’t utter a sound as he died from the wounds caused by scimitar blades. Lorathuun remembered making the strike that dismissed the air elemental.

Lorathuun was now being grabbed by the man, Lars Mayhem, who was supporting his weight. Lorathuun almost passed out, but was able to remember more. The water cultists and the earth cultists that didn’t intervene when the elves killed the remaining air cultists. Adnorin consecrating Petven’s corpse. Slaughtering the earth and water cultists, who were more focused on finishing their sacrificial ceremonies than they were in protecting their own lives.

Lorathuun was being held in a standing position by Lars and Kruz. Lorathuun remembered decapitating the corpses to prevent them from rising. Yes, they had defeated the air, the earth, the water. And then Lars and Kruz set Lorathuun down in front of the campfire. Staring into the flames, Lorathuun remembered too much. The last cultists to be encountered. The fireball that they were all caught in. Naequinal shoving Daestrata and Lorathuun out of the way before she was swallowed by a being made of pure fire. Aldnorin burning in flames, screaming Magfiel’s name as he tried futilely to hand a potion of healing to the dead wizard. Lorathuun being hit by a spell that confused their mind and sent them to the place where they were now, in front of a campfire with Lars and Kruz.

Lorathuun looked at the two companions, Kruz and Lars, and said,”I need to heal.”

They walked over to an edge of a clearing and began to meditate. Perhaps Daestrata still lived, and maybe they could connect in their healing trance. Lorathuun lost consciousness.

The Secret Guardian

Oleothera had been tracking the elven scouting party since this morning, when they had captured the half-orc and the tiefling. The group had sought the two men out with a sense of purpose, and once they’d found their quarry, the group of eight made as direct of a route to Powell’s Camp [former name of Lents – ed.] as the thick forest would allow. So intent they were in their mission that they didn’t once notice Oleothera following them.

The elves of Yllodah normally avoid Powell’s Camp unless they are patrolling that border of the woods. Oleothera was concerned that they may be heading towards the temple of the humans’ elemental cult.

A rumor among the elves that patrolled the border of Powell’s Camp proposed that this cult was somehow related to an elemental cult that had existed in the woods of Yllodah a few centuries ago. Oleothera wasn’t in the area when that cult existed, but it’s entrance was described as an archway in a clearing that led to a secret dimension where the cultists worshipped a great evil. That temple had been destroyed by a massive assault by elves with powerful magic who sealed the evil behind four sets of runed bronze doors. One of the members of the current patrol, an elven wizard named Genfaren, had claimed to have seen invisible runes built into the walls of the humans’ temple that were dedicated to the same elemental evil that the elves had encountered back then. Oleothera knew Genfaren well enough to know that they were an honest person who wouldn’t lie about such things.

By dusk, Oleothera’s fears had been confirmed as the group reached the edge of Powell’s Creek, just across from the entrance to the temple. Oleothera climbed a tree and watched the other elves find hiding places of their own. Across the creek, in the clearing in front of the temple, hundreds of humans robes of white, russet, ochre and viridian danced and chanted in some sort of a celebration. Directly above the large pyramid temple was the floating island of Harold Steele, a human friend of Yllodah who had cursed himself to exist in a state of undeath. Oleothera had never met Harold Steele, but he was known for his mastery of elemental magic. If this temple was an incarnation of the elemental evil, it’s placement directly beneath his island seemed like an ominous sign.

The elves, the half-orc, and the tiefling seemed to be waiting for something to happen. Oleothera hoped that they weren’t planning to interfere with this celebration – that was a headache that the people of Yllodah didn’t need. While they watched, they wondered what role the half-orc and tiefling had in this business. Their names were Lars and Kruz, but they weren’t sure which man was which. The two had been a brief sensation in Yllodah when they had visited earlier in the spring; the half-orc was a strongman and the tiefling played unusual music. As Oleothera understood it, they were a two-man circus.

An unnatural wind sprung up, catching Oleothera’s attention. Looking for the source, they became startled to see Harold Steele’s island had begun to drift to the west. They weren’t aware that it could do that. They must have been the first to notice, because it took a moment before the crowd across the creek stopped their dancing to scream, shout, cry and point upward at the moving island. The elves below had no immediate action, although Oleothera was certain that they saw one of them make a hand signal that seemed to communicate “Wait.” to the others.

Harold Steel’s island floated off west to parts unknown, and a woman of some authority came out of the temple and addressed the crowd, calming them down. While they talked, two wolves approached from a far corner of the temple and shifted into men out of the sight of the crowd. They then joined the woman of authority by her side. “Druids,” Oleothera said to themeselves. The trio dispersed the vast majority of the crowd, and then they turned and entered the temple.

It was now dark, and the grounds outside the temple were empty. One of the elves below cast a spell and Oleothera watched as the peaked arch entry of the temple was replaced by an open set of massive bronze doors. On the lintel of the door were four carved skulls, whose sockets glowed with the colors of the four elements. Three of the elves charged across the creek, shortly followed by the other three. After taking a moment outside of the temple to cast some spells, they drew weapons and went inside. Oleothera cursed themselves for not approaching the elves earlier and watched as the half-orc and tiefling hesitantly crossed the creek. The two men then set to establishing a campfire and sat in the clearing in front of the temple. Scouts, Oleothera imagined.

Oleothera considered their next actions. They certainly weren’t going into the temple after the elves, but they wanted to know what they were up to. They decided to wait until the elves returned. They’d approach them once they returned to the woods. It was foolish to try to confront them any sooner.

Oleothera waited in the tree for several hours. They had to shift her position a few times to ease their joints and stretch their muscles, but they were confident in their hidden position. Finally, there was movement at the doors of the temple, but to their dismay, it was only one elf. Judging from the elf’s movements, they were badly hurt. The half-orc and tiefling brought the elf to the campfire, and the three sat together for a few minutes before the elf moved closer to trees across the creek and entered a trance. Oleothera decided that they’d cross the creek and retrieve the elf once they had left their trance. Something had obviously gone wrong in the temple.

As the early light of morning reached the clearing across the creek, a small group of people approached from the south. A jolt of panic shot through Oleothera as they realized that the group was human guards. But with them was the wood elf known as Gabilan. Oleothera had never met Gabilan, but her name was respected among the elves of Yllodah and they personally had spotted her several times at the residence of the human druid Willamina. Gabilan left the small group of guards and approached the half-orc, the tiefling, and the meditating elf.

Oleothera knew that now was the time to act.

D&D Recap: Explorer’s Club 5: The Third Adventure


  • Khris Soden, Dungeon Master
  • Heather Thompson as Thistle Rabbitbone, a gnome rogue
  • Katy Asher as Cat “the Cunning” Powers, a human druid
  • Sam Ford as Keotsi, a human cleric of Obad-Hai
  • Angela Muldoon as Sylvia Flint, a tiefling sorcerer
  • Nik Goll as Sylvan Longstride, a half-elf rogue
  • Jess Jennings as Torq, a half-orc fighter

Pre-Game Notes

Khris formalized some house rules for future games:

  • House Rule: Inspiration: Inspiration cards are given by the players to other players as rewards for good roleplaying, clever ideas and general awesomeness. Once a player gains two Inspiration cards, they can use those to gain advantage on a role of their choice (must decide before knowing the results).
  • House Rule: Meta-gaming Penalties: Out-of-character actions or knowledge will be first met with a warning, but continued violations will be met with a loss of XP equal to 1/10 of the XP required to advance to the next level (i.e. 30 XP for 1st-level characters). Example: a player can say, “I hear owlbears are dangerous!” but they cannot say “Guys, owlbears have 59 hit points and AC 13.”
  • House Rule: Role-Play Rewards: in addition to Inspiration, at the end of the game players get a pool of XP to give to players who did a great job of playing their characters. The XP pool is equal to 1/5 of the XP required to advance to the average next level for the group (i.e. 60 XP for a group of 1st-level characters).

In addition to presenting the house rules, the group also reviewed the game rules of falling unconscious versus death, and the difference between a short rest and a long rest. Khris introduced the concept of “Downtime Activities” and noted that they will be covered at the beginning of future game sessions.

Between Adventures

Thistle and Torq had attempted to start a back alley rat fighting ring as a business endeavor. Torq was successful in capturing some larger-than-average rats, which Thistle named “Bitey” and “Li’l Peggy”. Thistle went around the neighborhood trying to generate interest in the rat fight by handing out some fliers that the two had made. She was only successful in rounding up one urchin for the audience, which didn’t matter that much because when Torq released the rats for the fight, they just ran off down the alleyway. The orphan demanded his money back, despite not having paid any money in the first place.

Rat Fight Flyer
A flier for the unsucessful rat fighting ring. (Image source: Heather Thompson)

Rat Fight Flier
A flier for the unsuccessful rat fighting ring. (Image source: Jess Jennings)

Sylvan Longstride had spent the past month gambling at card games. He showed a special knack for reading his opponents’ faces, but he himself had overly-expressive reactions to his hands that put him at a disadvantage. His attempts to intimidate his way through bluffs also regularly failed him. Ultimately, he lost 25 gold pieces out of the original 50 he’d been gambling with.

Cat had found work in a bakery, enduring long hours at the hot stove. While her hard work allowed her to live a comfortable lifestyle in a rented apartment, she instead decided to pocket her earnings and slept on the floor of the bakery.

It was unknown how Sylvia Flint had spent her past month, but at some point she became acquainted with the Walato cleric of Obad-Hai, Keotsi, whom she introduced to the Club.

Keotsi of the Walato people. His sloped head was frightening to many people in the city. (Image source: Paul Kane)

At the Free Basement Publican

The monthly Explorer’s Club meeting took place, as usual, in the Free Basement Publican around mid-afternoon. Business was slow, being populated only by the Club members, the goblin employees Arvil and Ilbog, and the fence, Beagle.

Ilbog, the back-of-the-house goblin that only rarely cooks with human meat. (Image source: Khris Soden)

As the club met, Jareth stopped by their table to check in on their activities. He’d heard that the club had previously helped out the two people known as Candle and Capper, and cautioned them not to meet with their employer, who had recently been lurking about the area of the Publican. After Jareth described him as a “mean, little man” to stay away from, he clarified that the person in question was human, just not of the majestic stature of Jareth. After some additional questions, the group learned that the man’s name is Newt the Lover and that the group that he travels with are known as the Modern Lovers. Before leaving the Club to their plans, Jareth bought them a round and thanked Sylvan for the coin he won off of him while playing cards.

Jareth, a David Bowie-looking character
Jareth, owner of the Free Basement Publican (Image source: Labyrinth, duh)

The group got down to the business of deciding which of their leads they wanted to explore, and the clear and early favorite was visiting the abandoned house that Thistle had been talking about for months. Cat continued to suggest taking a trip to Solar’s Hollow where the goblins that live in that area worship chickens, but nobody seemed particularly interested. Thistle insisted that visiting goblins would be a gross idea because they surrounded their houses with “poop and pee”, which insulted Arvil, the goblin that works front-of-the-house in the Publican.

Once the group had agreed upon going to the abandoned house, they first made a shopping trip to Billy Burnside’s Treasure Chest, where Sylvan purchase two bags of caltrops from the backroom. He and the clerk agreed that these would only be used for “industrial purposes”.

Investigating the Abandoned House

Once the team arrived in the neighborhood of the abandoned house, they realized that the “big house” was being described by the small gnome Thistle. The house was a regular-sized rowhouse on the corner of a semi-wealthy neighborhood. It faced another series of rowhouses where people were practicing their trades outside. Directly across from the abandoned house was a woman that ran an a laundry operation. Once a couple of the team approached her, it became apparent that Thistle had only observed the exterior of the house and that she had not interacted with the people in the neighborhood.

Sylvan ran across the street and knocked on the door, to no response. Sylvan rejoined the rest of the team, who were speaking with the washwoman. The washwoman was happy to share some of her opinions about the house and explained that it had been owned by the Dohrmann’s, and that they had moved out overnight. She was pretty happy about the development, since they were “not a good fit for the neighborhood”. Sylvan attempted to get more details about the family by claiming to be a deliveryman who had a package that he needed to deliver to the family. The washwoman wasn’t going to offer any additional details, but she did seem interested in what the package was, and wondered if it might be something that she was interested in buying. Sylvan, realizing that he didn’t actually have a package to offer for sale, tried to think on his feet and decided to try to sell the woman one of his recently purchased bag of caltrops.

Before the potential sale of caltrops could take place, Sylvia Flint and Keotsi arrived. As if on cue, Sylvia dropped her hood and Keotsi removed his headress. Whether it was Sylvia’s horns or Keotsi’s sculpted forehead, the laundry woman was frightened by their presence and came up with a quick excuse for a reason to go inside. As she was retreating up her stairs, she suggested that the group could ask more questions of the neighborhood busybody, who was eyeing them from a few doors down.

Thistle collared a nearby scamp, trying to obtain more information about the house. Sylvia offered a piece of candy as an incitement, which didn’t seem to improve the child’s attitude. After a flashing change of Sylvia’s golden eyes, the child took the candy and pretended it was a gold piece in an effort of self-preservation. Thistle offered an actual gold piece and the kid explained that the house was cursed. He said that the family got sick, and that now they have never left. He saw that Sylvan had knocked on the door, and insisted that he had now been cursed as well, since he had touched the house. At the same time, he bragged that he had touched the house.  After telling the group the makeup of the family – a mom and dad, a baby, an older son, and a “hot” girl around his age – he took off at the earliest opportunity.

A couple members of the group approached the old woman who was identified as the busybody, but she was certain that they were just as “bad” as the people who had lived in the house. She flatly stated that none of them looked like the sort of people that worshiped Pelor, and insisted that this was a neighborhood that believed in Pelor and not other “false gods” and went inside.

Torq wandered over to a butcher stand that was offering roast turkey legs for sale. Torg bought a leg and struck up a friendly conversation with the butcher. The butcher didn’t know the Dohrmann’s well, but thought that they were decent people. He noted that whatever their religion was, they seemed pretty devout and hosted regular prayer meetings at their house. He explained that before they went missing or moved away, some of these meetings had led to loud arguments that could be heard from the street. Torq bought several more turkey legs for later, and Thistle appeared to have pilfered another, although the turkey leg was comically large for her size.

Members of the group had noticed a neighbor that had been hanging out on the periphery, and they were eventually able to approach his patio without appearing too conspiratorial. He informed the team that the Dohrmann’s were followers of Wee Jas. He kept his voice in low tones after explaining this, and quickly went inside his house after talking to the group.

Cat explained to the team that she was familiar with the followers of Wee Jas. Wee Jas is a goddess of death, and some of her worshipers act as stewards to the afterlife for the dying, but other followers focus on killing people in order to provide sacrifices to their god.

After absorbing all of this information, the gang decided to leave the site for a while and regroup later in the night.

Inside the Dohrmann House

After re-grouping, the Club made their way into the alleyway behind the house. The alleyway was blocked by an eight-foot fence made of iron bars, but Thistle easily picked the lock on the gate, realizing that this was a fairly common gate used by various workers to gain access to the alleyway for pickups and deliveries. While the rest of the group worked to decide the best method of entry, Sylvan climbed to the roof quite quickly after a couple of false starts, and peeked into the windows. Keotsi cast Detect Poison and Disease, determining that nothing in the house was poisonous, but there was a low-level of disease emanating from around the back entrance, which most likely opened into a kitchen. Thistle used her ability to communicate with small burrowing animals to try to get some information from a nearby rat; the rat mostly expressed its enthusiasm for whatever garbage was on the other side of the door. Keotsi and Thistle agreed that the danger beyond the backdoor was most likely rotting garbage and the group decided to enter the house through the backdoor.

While Sylvan tried to pick the lock on the bathroom window, Sylvia created low flames in her hand and slowly burned the handle and lock mechanism out of the back door. Sylvan’s lock pick snapped around the same time that Sylvia pulled the glowing hot doorknob out of the back door and strode into the interior of the house.

After tearing a bit of their clothing off to use as impromptu masks, Torq and Thistle followed Sylvia into the house. The trio was hit with a wave of smell that was so pungent that it felt physical. Sylvia, in the weird, otherworldly part of herself, felt at home in the stench, while Torq had no problem enduring it. Thistle, even though she was masking her face, was overcome by the smell and promptly added to the mess by throwing up on the floor.

The terrible smell was apparently coming from the rotting vegetables and meats stored in the root cellar cabinets and the pantry. Liquids had leached out of both areas and were pooled on the floor. Alley rats from outside swarmed in and immediately started lapping at the liquids. Keotsi entered the room and noted that aside from the rotting organic matter, everything in the kitchen was immaculate and untouched. Thistle thought to open one of the cabinets that may have once contained meats but imagined the maggots that she’d encounter and threw up again. Torq examined the thin layer of dust across the floor and noted that the film was unbroken by any footsteps.

The team turned their attention to a door connected directly to the kitchen, and immediately noted the weird aspect of the door. The wood of the door and the wood of the door jamb had seemed to flow together and form as one solid structure. Cat entered the kitchen and ascertained that some sort of magic must have been used to conjoin the two separate features into a single wooden mass. Torq took a moment to throw his weight against the door, but it didn’t give against his force.

After noting the matter seeping from the pantry, the group decided to explore the depths of the house. An open corridor led from the kitchen to a dining room. The dining room was immaculately set, but all silverware was missing. The only item of value left in the dining room was a holy symbol of Wee Jas, hung on a wall over the dining table, but it had been damaged by a forceful blow. Sylvia noted that the holy symbol was silver, and although it was a thin bas relief, it would have taken a forceful blow in order to damage it so badly. Cat took it down off the wall for later use.

The crew proceeded from the dining room through a curtained partition and found themselves in the living room of the house. As with the other rooms they had passed through, the room was well-preserved but was absent of anything of value.

Torq noticed that there was an oil painting depicting the Woman King Elspeth above the mantle, and had the thought to look behind it. Going on his hunch, he found a leather satchel hidden in the frame behind the stretched canvas. It contained a parchment of a mystical nature. Unsure of what he had found, he handed the scroll off to Keotsi for further inspection.

Keotsi reviewed the scroll and realized that it was a magical invocation that would protect people from attacks by others. After this realization, he passed the scroll around to the rest of the group, who began to understand the magical invocations as they read it. Recognizing the ramifications of the magic in this object, an argument broke out between members of the group over who should possess it.

Keotsi, concerned about the discord created by the identification of the scroll, snatched it back and retreated to the staircase leading to the second floor. Using chance as his guide, he threw it out to the other members of the party.

As Sylvan grabbed the thrown scroll, the party heard an unmistakable noise of someone moving upstairs. Keotsi communicated what he saw: the undead corpse of a dead man trying to navigate out of a bedroom.

house floor plan
The floor plan of the Dohrmann house. (Image source: Sears Modern Homes, 1913)

The Second Floor

Torq and Sylvan charged up the stairs past Keotsi and dashed into the bedroom where Keotsi had seen the figure aimlessly bumping into the door. Once in the bedroom, they realized that there weren’t just one, but two, undead figures in the room.

Once Keotsi made it to the second floor landing, he took a moment to assess the situation and realized that there were two other zombies coming out of other bedrooms. The group was surrounded! All of the dead were wearing bed clothes, and with the exception of the mother, all of them had their throats cut.

Sylvan, suddenly realizing that he was dealing with more than one member of the undead, turned his attention to what was probably the mother. After noting that there was a jeweled dagger sticking from the side of her head, he used his swords to pierce the other side of her head before kicking her body away and stabbing it in the stomach and pushing it away from him. Once it was down, he kept stabbing it until it stopped moving. 

Thistle attacked the creature that was once the older brother, stabbing it so many times around the knee that it began to sever the tendons in the leg. It wasn’t enough to stop it from slamming into Keotsi, injuring him significantly. While Keotsi struggled to free himself from the older brother, he was also attacked by the remains of the young daughter. While he was able to beat her back, he fell unconscious from his injuries.

While Thistle continued to fight the zombie siblings, Sylvia stepped behind her and cast a bolt of fire at the daughter zombie. The spell was so well focused that it shot directly into the corpse’s mouth and exploded the zombie’s head into a spray of gore.

Just after Cat had healed Keotsi back to consciousness, she heard the noise of something slamming against the mysterious door downstairs. Once she heard the cracking of wood, she made the decision to make her way off in the night, taking the silver symbol of Wee Jas along with her as she fled.

With two of the zombies defeated, the battle quickly turned in favor of the explorers. What was the brother was taken down. Torq had been injured by the remains of the father, but was able to beat it hard enough to collapse its chest and send it to the floor. With the battle quieting down, the rest of the team was now hearing the cracking of wood from downstairs. The zombie father begin to rise from the floor, but Torq smashed its head end and ended the battle.

Once the dead had been rendered fully immobile, most of the remaining members of the group took a few quick moments to ransack the top floor of the house. The exception was Sylvan, who opened a back window and escaped off into the night. Thistle, after navigating the ichor and brains exploded throughout the daughter’s bedroom, recovered a necklace that the corpse had been wearing. The necklace was made of a fine gold and featured a large red gemstone – likely a ruby – as a pendant. Thistle also grabbed the plainest dress she could find from the girl’s closet.

Sylvia entered the parents’ room and went directly to the bassinet in the corner. Thankfully, there was no zombie baby in the bed.

Torq did a sweep of the parent’s room, finding a book with a letter in it under the mattress, and a grayish potion with silver swirls beneath one of the pillows of the blood-stained bed. 

Just after the group had fled the house, they heard the sound of the mystery door being smashed through. They didn’t slow down to look behind them.

After the House

Now late into the night, the group reconvened at the Free Basement Publican in order to assess their take. After taking some time to study the items taken from the Dohrmann house, Keotsi and Sylvia determine that the necklace is a Periapt of Health, a protection against disease, and that the gray-silver potion recovered from behind a pillow is a Potion of Stone Giant Strength. Sylvia determined that the ornate dagger retrieved from the wife’s corpse was not magic, but was probably worth some money. Torq looked at the inset pattern of jewels on the dagger’s hilt and noted that each of the stones corresponded to one of the four elements: earth, water, air and fire.

Before adjourning for the night, Torq read the letter he’d found to the group:

Dearest sister,

Please write as soon as you can, for I wish for you to tell me that my darling Alfie is adjusting to life with you. Frederick tells me that everything will be arranged for our move next month, but I worry that something will happen to us before then. Our oldest and most devout friends have turned away from the goddess and have embraced a debased darkness. They tell us that they have unleashed their “best selves” and implore us to join them, but I can plainly see the madness in their eyes. Oh, if it were up to me, we would leave this cursed city tomorrow! It pains me so much to be away from my Alfie. Please write soon to tell me that he is well.

Until the embrace of the goddess,

Torq carried around the vial of the gaseous/liquid material for a few days in order to show it off to friends and acquaintances. After talking to a few people, he felt confident that this was a Potion of Gaseous Form.

A few days after visiting the house, the members of the club heard that there was a major disturbance in that neighborhood. A terrible smelling corpse had been attacking a devouring

people in the streets. Ultimately, it was taken down by eight city guards, although two were killed and four were badly injured during the fight. Once it was destroyed, the city guard determined that it was the body of a house maid.


Some D&D Drawings

My sister-in-law bought me a small sketchbook for Christmas last year. At first, I didn’t really know what to do with it and spent a week or so jotting down thoughts before I went to bed. Because I can be pretty dumb about obvious things, it took me a while to figure out that one of the things I could do with the book was to sketch things in it.

I hadn’t been drawing regularly for a few years, so it took me a while to figure out the things that I could sketch. It started out with weird self-portraits and drawing Donald Trump as a swastika. After a couple of months, I realized that I could start drawing scenes from the Dungeons & Dragons games that I run. I could even draw scenes in advance, and show them to the players as they were happening!

Anyway, here’s some of those drawings:

Some jerks

I can’t remember what game this came from, but white guys being assholes is a pretty consistent theme in my games.

More jerks.

Here’s some more white guys being real jerks. One of them ended up getting killed and then being made into a stew.

Frostbite dude

Frostbite hand

The above two are from a game we never got around to playing. An evil creature had trapped a small village in a never-ending winter, and a small band of people teamed together to escape the village and seek help from a neighboring town. This guy was the only one who made it to the town, but not before the evil creature (a monster called a Bheurr Hag) knocked him out and stole one of his gloves, resulting in the hand that I drew. Pro-tip: don’t Google “frostbite”!

A dumb dragon

On the way out to confront the hag and rescue the village, the D&D players would encounter this dragon, which some of them have encountered before. It’s not particularly bright – it’s pretty much a talking house cat, just much, much bigger than a house cat. A house cat that can breathe a cone of frost that can freeze people to death in seconds. The players will eventually run into this guy again.

Bheurr Hag

Here’s the Bheurr Hag that the characters would eventually have to confront. In the game lore, it’s a creature that delights in causing the suffering of others, so her goal was to try to threaten the characters enough to send them back to the town for reinforcements, thus bringing her more people to torture.

Cheaters Holler

Here’s the village that the characters would try to save. Of the 110 inhabitants, only 24 were to be alive at the beginning of the game. The Bheurr Hag wanted to drive them to cannibalism, but the village people were too smart for that – they knew about wendigos!

You might notice that there’s a ballista in the picture of the village. I’d first started planning this game back in February, and at that time, the big bad guy was supposed to be the dragon. But then this past season of Game of Thrones happened, and suddenly my plans looked like they would have been derivative! It still would have been a useful weapon to use against the hag.

The sketchbook is nearly full now, and I’ll get another one for the next year. I’ve been really enjoying doing these type of drawings, so I am sure that I will post more in the future. And if you’re ever interested in joining in on one of my D&D games, get in touch with me via Facebook.

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