Saturday, July 14, 2018

Rom'Myr, a dying earth setting for Magic World

Fantasy Adventures in the dying world of Rom'Myr

An OSR setting using the Magic World role playing game rules

Dying Earth is a subgenre of science fiction, fantasy, or science fantasy which takes place in the far future at either the end of life on Earth, or other Earth-like planets. The End of Time when the laws of the universe themselves fail is also a common trope. Themes of world-weariness, innocence (wounded or otherwise), idealism, entropy, (permanent) exhaustion/depletion of many or all resources (such as soil nutrients), and the hope of renewal tend to predominate.

I started this campaign setting with BFRPG in mind, but I want to have a setting to use with the d100 rules of Magic World so I am in the process of adapting the setting. Here I jigger the Character Creation rules of Magic World to fit my conception. This post will then be followed with a post outlining how the magic system works in the game. When I build up setting details suitable for use by the GM I will post them as well, but I work in fits and starts so don't hold your breath on any of this.

Here is a link for a Magic World form-fillable character sheet for those inclined.

1. Character Creation:

Only human characters may be chosen for race. The available human racial identities are Rom'Myr, and the Fir'Bax.

Rom’Myr humans are citizens of the Blue Borderlands, the farthest province east in the realm of The Trackless Empire. Sandwiched between the Cold Heath and the Groaning Mountains on the shores of the Inland Sea. The Rom'Myr of the Blue Borderlands trade for Bolfian Silk from the non-human desert nomads known as the Strangled.

The land of Fir'Bax lies north of the Blue Borderlands. Uncouth barbarians, the elaborately tattooed Fir'Bax scratch a living from the small arable land surrounding the high peaks of the Yani'Hor, the Groaning Mountains. They are extremely xenophobic and war incessantly with the Strangled. This small barbarian kingdom also resent the encroaching Rom'Myrians into their wilderness domain.

Turn to page 20-21 of the Magic World core rule book and follow “A Guide to Creating your Adventurer”. Below are listed (if any) changes to this standard procedure as they occur in the process.

Step 1: Names & Characteristics No changes.
Step 2: Characteristic Rolls No changes.
Step 3: Derived Characteristics No changes. Please note Human Move is 8, not 10. This is a typo in the rule book.
Step 4: Age and Experience Any PC choosing the Shaman occupation rolls 17+5d6 for starting age, otherwise no changes.
Step 5: Magic Adventurers must have POW 16 or higher to be able to use magic. How the magic system works in Rom'Myr is detailed in its own chapter.
Step 6: Culture and Species Only human can be chosen for PC species. All Culture options are available.
Step 7: Skill Category Modifiers No changes.
Step 8: There appears to be no step eight so this is probably a good time to assign your starting Allegiance (page 28-33).
Step 9: Occupation and Skills All Occupation and skills are available and you are free to build your character as you like. Just keep in mind you will be fitting your character into one of seven Character Classes. These seven classes are; Assassin, Barbarian, Druid, Jester, Paladin, Ranger and Thief. The significance of these classes are detailed in their own chapter.
Step 10: Starting Money and Equipment No changes. I recommend you add Thomas Wiegel's a Wretched Catalogue for more equipment choices than what is offered in the Magic World core rule book. Just convert the cost in silver to cost in bronze.

1.1 Character Class Rules:
All the classes are available to any new PC. All but the Assassin, Barbarian and Thief class have the ability to learn and or acquire magic per the included magic rules if they have a POW 16 or greater. Each particular Class may have additional limitations which are outlined below;

All Barbarian PC's must be Fir'Bax. Only the Band and Tribe cultures are available to this Class. Any of the available Occupations listed for these Cultures are available.

Jester PC's should consider themselves more as traveling monk/scholars as opposed to being a kept clown for royalty. The Jester PC may be either human race (Fir'Bax/Rom'Myr). If Fir'Bax is chosen as race only the Band and Tribe cultures are available. Rom'Myr racial identity does not limit choice of Culture. They are limited to the following Occupations: Astrologer, Begger, Crafter (Tribal), Diplomat, Lost/Forgotten, Minor Noble, Nomad, Peasant/Farmer, Physician/Apothecary, Sailor, Scribe, Shaman/Priest/Cultist, Slave (Freed or Escaped), Small Trader, Sorcerer, Thief, Troubadour/Entertainer.

The Druid is a wild shamans roaming the dying lands of Rom'Myr. A Druid must be Fir'Bax. Only the Band and Tribe cultures are available to this Class. Any of the available Occupations listed for these Cultures are available plus Astrologer, and Sorcerer.
The Ranger, civilized cousin to the Druids must be of Rom'Myer descent. Rom'Myr racial identity does not limit choice of Culture. The Ranger is limited to the following Occupations: Bandit, Craftperson, Crafter (Tribal), Fisher, Hunter, Lost/Forgotten, Nomad, Peasant/Farmer, Slave (Freed or Escaped), Small Trader, Tax/Rent Collector.
Assassins are highly trained guild specialists. They owe their skills to an established order or institution. They must be Rom'Myr and must take the State culture. The Occupations available to the Assassin are; Bandit, Hunter, Minor Noble, Paid Assassin, Cultist.
Thieves are your most common of adventuring rogues found within the Blue Borderlands. They can be either Fir'Bax or Rom'Myr. If they choose Fir'Bax they are limited to the Band and Tribal culture. All the Occupations of these cultures are available, except replace Shaman with Thief. Rom'Myrian identity requires the State culture to be chosen. They are limited to the following Occupations: Bandit, Beggar, Craftsperson, Lost/Forgotten, Sailor, Slave (Freed or Escaped), Thief.
A Paladin is a PC who has picked up the sword in defense of some aspect of the lost past. The Paladin can only be a Rom'Myr human and of the State culture. The Occupations available to the Paladin are; Mercenary/Bodyguard, Minor Noble, Slave (Freed or Escaped), Soldier/Guard/Watchman.
2. Orders and Institutions:
Most of the PC Classes are bound to some type of esoteric religion or ageless cult which claim some form of legitimacy through ancient ideas lost to the unimaginable past eons of Rom’Myr. None of these confer any mechanical benefit for the new PC, but is used to embellish this dying earth with some of the player’s ideas. Of course the Game Master can decide to create orders and institutions which do confer mechanical benefits for the PC as they see fit.
There is a wide discrepancy in intent and capability of the organizations of men in the world of Rom'Myr. Whether battle hardened mercenary corp, horrid murder cult, or starving street thugs the one galvanizing feature of orders in Rom'Myr is the expectation of complete obedience.

Fir’Baxian Battle Cults; there is no better inspiration for your own barbarian battle cult than Red Moon Medican Show's Vacant Ritual Assembly Issue #4. Furious Gods (found on pgs 15-18) is a must read! These pages will be drawn on to demonstrate the magic system of the Druid as well as some of the “gifts” a Barbarian may receive from their Battle Cult.

Pagan Religions; below are names to spur the imagination when creating your worlds and player's religious orders.

Tix-ka-tix, The Returner, The Patient One, The Slumbering Pharoh (Petty Godsp.171).
Mespilus, god of medlar trees and their fruit (Petty Gods p.109).
Lubella the Transformative (Petty Gods p.96)

Esoteric Schools suitable for any character class;
Dlarafis, Augazor, Trani, Children of the Sacrificed, Sect of the Son, Chosen Ones of Tranquility, Band of the Studied, Followers of Vranis, Faith of Drysm, Congregation of Kousha.

3. Languages; Dun-Harad is the language of the Trackless Empire. Marude is the language the Fir'Bax speak. Sahrashin is spoken by the dark skinned Ahenti. Torbarel is the language of The Strangled.  The Other Language skill is limited at character creation to these four languages. As the PC's explore the world of Rom'Myr they may come across other languages and PC's may attempt to learn these through the regular rules for Training and Experience (pages 51-53).

4. Combat Skills: The only “House Rule” I like to add to the rules for Combat Skills is in regard to thrown weapons. Instead of committing an additional skill to the particular thrown weapon the PC can assign their Throw skill as their chance to hit with any thrown weapon. This makes putting points into Throw more valuable then having to split points between Throw and an additional Weapon Skill. I take that back, I have an additional house rule; boost the Base % for Crossbows to 35%. No one needs a skill in Crossbow to shoot these weapons at the Base %.

5. Combat: This piece of crunch only applies to PC's. If an attack throw results in a fumble roll a 1d20 on the following Confirm Fumble Roll table. This will either minimize or exaggerate the rolled fumble. Feel free to ignore this step if you don't like this rule.
1 : You really messed up this time! Roll twice on Fumble table.
2 – 10: Roll on Fumble table as normal.
11 – 19: Regular miss.
20: Recover! Reroll to hit.

6. Magic Rules: these will make up the body of the next post!

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Robert Bohl Don't Post Here at the Vanishing Tower

This is you right? You threw some lame comment in regards to my last blog post. Yeah you are not welcome. 

The rest of you commenting on my claim that Story Games do a worse job at creating story than traditional role playing games you are welcome to continue arguing your point. I may even engage and try to sharpen my argument, but if this is the kind of person you truck with please just stay away as well.

Sunday, July 8, 2018

OSR games develop story better than Story Games

In short I feel Story Games spend much of their game time talking about what the story is about while the traditional rpg's I play and run story is happening because we are playing the game. A common refrain I hear about Story Games is “it's about the story”, that somehow without giving PC's valuable session time to bloviate on what their character is about, what they have done, what matters to them a role playing game is terrible and being played wrong. Oh, also no one else at the table (think GM) can say what happens to their PC. I find the structure of a Story Game obliterates the stand out features of traditional RPG's to the point of making them unrecognizable, so much so they have a name; Story Games.

My latest game session once again reinforced my opinion that a traditional RPG delivers story in so many levels that the fall down for folks who cannot get a “story” out of traditional mechanics can't rise to the challenge. Role playing games offer a unique medium with incredible artistic and creative depth. Underneath the term “game” lies a medium which has no bottom, no limits to the quality of experienced to be realized. Therefore, with any artistic exploit, it is not easy to be good at it. And when I mean good I don't mean enjoyment. As a kid I enjoyed RPG's to the exclusion of almost any other activity. Doesn't mean I was any good at it. In fact I was keenly aware that there was much more to the game than my gaming group could really achieve. The D&D, Stormbringer and Gamma World rule books would mention this thing called a campaign? Where the game really shined as over the course of adventuring a world would be built up and the PC's would be a significant part of this. A Final Word in the original Classic Traveller rulebook sums it up nicely; “The greatest burden, of course, falls on the referee, who must create entire worlds and societies thorugh which the players will roam… The players themselves have a burden almost equal to that of the referee: they must move, act, travel in search of their own goals… Above all, the players and the referees must work together.”

Story Games remove and or minimize the Game Master's/Referee's role in a traditional RPG thereby creating something different. Which is all well and good, play the game you want. But to say a Story Game is the solution for not having story in your RPG is rubbish. It's like saying you can't paint like Picasso because there is something wrong with paint, canvas and a stick, the tools you paint with. No, while it is easy to paint it is difficult to paint creatively.

Today's session went like this; some of the players felt they had a cash flow problem. One of them didn't. Some of the players thought they should pursue a dubious means of solving the problem, one of them didn't. On top of this one of the players had a problem with the relations and deals the party had made with dubious factions through play at the present time. One of the players turned to me and asked, “Do I have to role play this out or can I just roll and try and influence the other player?” In my game rolls for the results of social interaction (bluffing, fast talk, intimidation, etc.) are reserved for NPC's. The players have complete autonomy when it comes to deciding what choices their PC's will make. “Look, you guys have to work this out.” And I usually punctuate the moment by clicking off my mic. This is their time and I want the party to sink or swim on their own desires, needs, wants, abilities and investment. In fact, they had a similar situation just the previous session. One character was not hot on letting the party's surgeon remove his recently acquired kangaroo tail through amputation. They had to work this out among themselves. Arguing the risk of death or permanent disability against the complications such an enchantment would cause for the party at large in the campaign world. This was all on them. And it wasn't the first time the subject had been brought up. Anyways, the tail did come off and the PC survived, but this doesn't mean there was a kumbaya moment where they all came out of the barn holding hands. No, the game's story is being made in real time with their choices and decisions. No one used an “edge” or a “move to direct the tale. There were no mechanics to be forced to help them out of a complicated situation. They argued, decided, and hoped for the best. And the PC's character, their personality, their “story” was made before all out of everyone's own imaginative clay. Good, bad, or indifferent as far as quality of “play”, they got what they got not because they followed some structured method of resolution, but because they made it, together.

Now back to today's session; the dissenting PC (on the cash grab) felt so strongly about it he refused to participate in the action. Once again there was no “my character wouldn't do that”, or “my aspect says I will do this” he played his story in real time, played his character his way, and surprise, surprise, with high fidelity based on what has happened to the PC during the course of play within the overall campaign. Because he was invested, because like everyone else around the table they put some decent effort into their role. And this shit happens all the time with the players. No one at the table is shy about arguing over choice, action and consequence. And this is the story. Sure we have arch villains, and mind-bending horrors to battle. Blood soaked combat and PC death, but it is in the session to session PC on PC interaction which makes each one of them stand out and a distinct and unique story emerges every session.

Are the best sessions when they interact with each other for hours and no dice are thrown? No, not at all. We get the extra icing on the cake because the campaign world is dangerous and adventure abounds. Sooner than later the dice must be rolled and catastrophe breathes heavy over their shoulder. Just because you gamed your balls off doesn't mean your PC has plot immunity. That just sounds too much like a Story Game.

Sunday, June 24, 2018

Vornheim - My Most Used Game Supplement

I know I have droned on about this probably ad nauseum, but yes, Vornheim, The Complete City Kit by Zak S. continues to be the most used game product off my shelf during live play. I do use it sometimes for game prep, but, and I believe this is the point of the book, it works best for me when, midgame, I spin around in my chair and literally grab this small 64 page book off my bookshelf and put it  to use in the moment. 

My continuous campaign is set in 1646 England so the color, the fluff, of the book dovetails pretty seamlessly with this campaign world, but the nuts-and-bolts of the content, when stripped of the fluff, is a real honest-to-grimness Game Master/Referee tool I can use in any genre I'm running. The book has made a part of gaming I always found difficult to run a breeze and a joy. See, when I'm jamming a session there is a lot of noise going on upstairs in my head; what's around the next corner, what are the bad guys doing right now, how does the player's actions effect what is going on, should I arrest them... ? 

It may seem simple when a PC wants to make contact with their secret organization where would it be located, but it is just such tidbits I don't know which can bring my brain to an awkward stop, and worst of all, break the flow of play which most certainly is going on for the PC's. 

For example, today I only used the book once, but as I mentioned a PC wanted to make contact with their faction, a secretive organization which may or may not have a chapter in the current city. I called for a Streetwise skill roll for the PC to establish in a roll whether or not there was a chapter here for him to make contact with. If the roll fails then no luck. But the PC nailed it so I need to give him satisfaction. Go to the back of Vornheim, roll on the table and wala - Orphanage. It kind of bakes in what type of faction leader you are going to find. If I rolled a jeweler the location in the city, the contact's personality, all would be kind of different than the type of personality involved with an orphanage. Not saying the contact would be caring of the innocent, perhaps they hate kids with such a passion the orphanage allows them to enact their viciousness with no one noticing, but it does start the world building process right there at the table with credible elements. It is the English Civil War, there are going to be many orphaned and displaced children, who knows what they have seen... hooks just start mushrooming and all I have to do is sit back and wait for the PC to act. There is much more to the book than just building names, any of the numerous reviews out there can give you tons of detail. The big takeaway for you the reader is it is an in-play game tool which works!

This book is totally worth its weight in gold - highly recommended.

Friday, June 15, 2018

Homegrown Horror from Clockwork & Cthulhu - a session report

Pardon me, your cruel Keeper, as I add a session report to the tapestry which the good Dr. Norton has been so diligently provided to date. See he is awash in the absolute tumulent of events which have been engulfing the party so I feel it is incumbent upon your host to lend a horror stained hand. 

The following narrative gives only a glimpse of what a portion of the party experienced under Saracenic Hall. There will be more added to this tale. And it may seem a bit disjointed, but before our brave heroes are swept from the board it is appropriate their trials and tribulations should be accounted for;

We're taking the girl?” Tomas nodded to the bound redhead in hand, catching Ralph out of his reverie. Ralph looks around, grabs his lantern from the floor.

Yes.” The house servant resists a bit as the Frenchman pulls her along. She bites her lip as if afraid to raise her voice in protest within the dark subterranean hall. Ralph strides forward down the hall, lantern held aloft, in search of the grinding and piping noise issuing deep within the dark. The passageway is narrow, barely six feet in height so the party must watch their head. Ralph's light reveals the walls are riddled with small holes. The horrid grinding and piping sounds come from these holes, weirdly amplified and the group quickly pushes on.

Ralph is stopped short at the entrance to the next chamber. Their appears to be no floor. Open cells, square pits really, drop into the dark leaving a thin walk of stone, a mere six inch span, to provide a pathway to the outlet on the other side. Holding the lantern high Ralph is able to illuminate the pit before him. Ten feet across and fifteen feet deep, smooth fitted stone walls. Skeletal remains huddled pitifully at the bottom. There are seven in all. The narrow lip proves to be sturdy under Ralph's searching feet.

We walk across, to that exit.” He informs the hostage and the Frenchman.

The corpses, they have been mutilated,” mentions Tomas. In the middle of the room the exiled noble is able to survey four of the pits at once. “They all are missing a foot and a hand. What do you suppose that was for?” 

Ralph, silent and noncommittal as per his way, shrugs. The two warriors instantly come alert at the sound of a grotesque skittering. A clicking of legs and cold chitin as two monstrous ticks descend from the black ceiling, down along the far walls, and gingerly make their way towards the group along the narrow cell rims.

Both Ralph and Tomas give oaths under their breath, each recognizing their precarious footing on such narrow ground. These blasphemous, these ugly, overlarge insects suffer no disadvantage with a multitude of legs. Instinctively they place their female hostage between them. Her bound hands making her defenseless they debated not on protecting her from the gruesome onslaught which was about to spring.

The giant ticks leapt at the pair, savage mandibles spread wide intent on gorging on blood. Tomas struck with his long thin rapier while Ralph made a windmill swipe of his ax. Both warriors were able to land telling blows against the thoughtless insects, large as they may be, but it was Tomas who lost his balance. He tumbled roughly onto the moldering bones at the bottom of one of the pits only to stir up more foul-smelling outsized insects. Tomas desperately clutched at the ear-wig like insect who writhed and strove to snip his head from his neck. The close grapple preventing him from wielding his deadly rapier effectively. Ralph saw nothing for it. He leaped into the pit bringing his booted heels square on the giant insect's back. There was a sickly crunch and the beast lay inert.

I thank you my friend.” That was a tight one.” Tomas tipped his hat to the burly Puritan.

We should leave this chamber”, Ralph replied.

The red haired hostage had an opportunity to escape her captors while they battled in the pit, but she had not. The dark nightmare tunnels had kept her fast to her captures better then any iron cage or chain. Outside the insect infested pit room the tunnel walls turned from stone to natural cavern. A noxious stink was now readily apparent. Like pigs, like a pig sty which had never been cleaned. When the stink came to be almost a physical cloud making the trio's eyes water the tunnel gave way into a cavern. Mewling sounds came from below. They stood on a ledge overlooking rough, rocky ground below. It was packed with moaning, pig-like beasts where the awful stench emanated from. The beasts were revealed in the lantern light as flabby, loose fleshed swine on unnaturally long legs sprouting a gnarled horn from their white skinned faces. Hairless, their long stay in this subterranean sty left the pungent beasts albino white. The ledge the adventurers stood on gave access to the lower cavern via time worn stone steps while an additional tunnel continued on from this horrid stockyard. For stockyard it surely must be. A smooth granite stump projected from the floor of the ledge. Upon it laid boning and skinning knives. Discarded hooves and snouts nearby added to the feted smell. Rats squabbled over bits in the gloom. Hanging on nails banged into the cavern wall dried, pale skins hung drying. 

So the promised pig skins by Mr. Carter. I believe this is where they would come from.” Ralph comments soberly. Tomas wrinkles his brow in confusion. 

“A local leather worker was grousing about Thomas Carter not showing up. Wasting his time and all that. He was hoping to purchase a bundle of pig skins. I think this is what Carter intended to sell.” finished Ralph. The hulking Puritan turned to the Frenchman and handed over his lantern. "I'm going to look for an exit out of here. Maybe there is one in the sty.” 

Both Tomas and Ralph had clocked two exits leading out from the ledge they now stood on. One reintroduced the worked and finished walls they had already encountered while past the skinning block another natural tunnel plunged downwards. Before Tomas could comment Ralph gingerly navigated the worn steps into the sty. The ungainly beasts moaned and bleated but caused not a stir as Ralph pushed down into the far corner of the pit. There was a drainage grate at the lowest point. Wholly inadequate for the amount of filth it needed to filter and the smell at this point made Ralph wretch.

Which way then?” Tomas hollard out. Ralph tugged his chin than strode back up the worn causeway directly to the girl.

Which way out! What is down here? Speak, and be quick.”

Truly I never come here.” gasped the red haired hostage, trembling at the terrible visage and rough handling. “It is forbidden. Our Lord makes requests, but we set table in the manor house and he joins us. Joseph, the groundskeeper, he speaks with Edgar directly. I just see to the house.” Ralph looks to Tomas. 

I suggest the finished passage. A terrible stench comes up from that other tunnel.” Proffers the Frenchman.

I think we should return to my cousin. Tell him what we have found.” Answers Ralph.

Ralph routinely turns to the educated Dr. for direction when events befuddle him. Now deep in the bowels of Saracenic Hall the Puritan soldier starts to feel he is a bit at a loss.

Back we go!” smiles the rakish noble and returns the girls gag, pushing her ahead as the group retraces their steps.

It is not until they recross the pit laden room that they hear a tittering and clattering in a great cacophony. Lantern held out Ralph and Tomas witness a cascade of oily black haired rats boiling out of the holes in the corridor. A horde unimaginable must courses through the underground confines to disgorge such an endless stream of rats. The whistling and grinding were nothing but the echoes of the beasts which scurried through the cracks and sludge deep beneath the wash! A literal tide of rats advanced on them as more and more poured forth from the walls.

Quickly back!” urged Tomas. Ralph hurled his lantern in anger at the swarm. A conflagration erupted amongst the bodies. A foul stench and smoke erupted. The lantern oil spread and squeals of roasting fat of the rats drowns out the terror which engulfs the trio. It was only the hasting flames feasting on the packed horde of vermin which provided the orange light which guided them back to the sty.

Perhaps the finished hall will bring us back around to the others? Tomas proffered. “I don't like the looks of the other.”

Makes no difference I guess. “ Ralph replied. "Retrieve that old torch in the sconce and get it lit. I have no desire to blunder through these halls in the dark."

The passageway here was marked by large rectangle blocks stacked for the walls and ceiling. Archways were trimmed out with thick neo-classical cornice sculpted molding giving the hallway a squat, oppressive and heavy feel. The passageway made several turns to the left and right with no branching halls or doors. Soon though they entered a larger chamber distinct in that it was a room of many archways and alcoves. The thick sculpted trim work was on display around the archways and base molding. Each of the various rooms and alcoves were stacked by dusty, but well made furniture. Tables, chairs, mirrors, candlesticks, bureaus, suits of armor, goblets and flatware. All were piled thick upon each other so that many of the alcoves were nigh impassible. A zig zag course could be made through the middle of the chamber and the men, with hostage in tow, pushed into the cluttered chamber. It was near a small circular end table they notice a light. A pale, cold white light flared from a smooth clear stone. Cards and other parlor games were also stacked on the table and moldering carpeted chairs. The cobwebs were noticeably absent in this spot as if it was regularly used. The house girl in tow rolled her eyes wildly and appeared frighten. Before Ralph could interrogate her further another woman appeared as out of air. Tomas could swear, later, she definitely drifted into the room, but truth be told the rooms felt totally empty, and then she was there. A mature woman, not terrible to look at, very pale and blond. Her hair seemed so fragile and light that it floated on an unfelt breeze. Her dress was horribly out of date, the obtuse Norton could even see this. The fashion-conscious Frenchman was appalled at the dried, crusty brown stain on her bodice.

Have you brought food?” she questions the group. “Food would be nice...” her nails drag across one of many stacked end tables. She looks through each of party members if they were nothing but so much gossamer. When her gaze lands on the house maid they come alive and joyfully exclaims, 

“Rebecca, is that you? It has been so long. I last saw you but as a child. We could play a game. You remember Dame Fortune's Folly? We must play, I have the cards right here.” The haughty lady literally trilled she seemed so pleased.

Of course m'lady as you wish.” the house maid answered, visibly shaken and despairing.

Your friends must play as well, you will join us won't you? The game plays best with four.” She whirls in speech drilling down on Tomas and Ralph.

Sure.” They agreed.

The group sits upon dusty chairs and the woman moves aside an antique chess set and some silver forks. She asks Rebecca to fetch the pale crystals which offered a clear white illumination to the immediate surroundings, leaving much outside the circle of the table in darkness. While there were many candle sticks and lanterns available in the clutter none seemed to have been used, no wax candles or oil was to be seen.

You will be dealt two cards face up. You will then have a choice to wager on the chance of the next card landing between the two face up cards value. If your cards are say a 2 and a 6 you will require a 3,4, or 5 to collect on your wager. If you pass on the wager you will face the Dame’s fortune or folly, which is decided by this third card which your wager would have been decided on. The fall of the cards will also tell a story, some even say the sensitive are able to hear their future predicted in the story played. Oh, and of course, if you wager it must be something of value. I don’t want your dusty hat or stained wine skin.” The women explained all this breathlessly, shuffling the cards rapidly and fussing with the playing surface. Looking directly at Ralph she played two cards in front of him. A four of clubs and a nine of diamonds.

A warrior continuing a battle, one which calls on all your strength and endurance. Will the goal be accomplished? Will there be a rest from action?” The strange lady in the stained dress pours over the upturned cards. “Much like the legend of Sir Galhalt and the Iron Siege. Shall you wager, or tempt the Dame’s fortune?” she asks Ralph.

I will wager.”

What do you have to offer?”

Ralph pulls out his hatchet and pries several gems embedded on the handle. They click onto the table and roll across the cards. The lady circles the brilliant stones with a long finger.

Very well young knight, I accept your wager,” she coos.

A five of hearts is turned and the lady tells the tale of Sir Galhalt and his tragic end. Both Ralph and Tomas fall adrift in her oratory. While her tale ends with the turning of the card both men feel as if they have traveled on an epic journey and endured the hardships Galhalt suffered. Ralph feels as if the blood in his veins has been leeched out and replaced with ice water. He comes out of his fugue with the lady congratulating him on his win. She rummages about the stacked ornaments and books next to her and pulls forth a golden buckle trimmed with small diamond-like crystals. She presents it to Ralph.

To the victor.” She hands Ralph the buckle, wipes her chin and presents two new cards to Tomas. “Jack of Spades and Eight of Hearts. The rebel, playing naught for love but a cause. Long discarded emotional attachment it seems you now must make a hard choice.” She looks at the Frenchman expectantly.

Dame fortune's folly,” he answers without hesitation.

The Candle.” she smiles. “A flickering light in the darkness...” 

Once again the turning of the third card takes but an instance but the men feel transfixed within an ancient ballad of heroes, dark forests, and lost love. Coming out of their revere Ralph is first to notice the change. With a horrified gasp he yells “Tomas!” pointing. 

Sprouted like a mushroom in the rain a thick, short-haired tail curls from Tomas' backside, to the floor and back up twitching near his head.

By the three beards of the drunken lady I have a tail!” gasps Tomas.

The lady claps her hand in obvious delight. Ralph explodes into action.

Sorcerous!” he yells, grasping his axe, he rears back to split her skull.

A look of rage consumes the lady's face, her eyes go black, and she hisses like a scalded cat. Before Ralph's arm can come down she moves with blinding speed. In a blink she is behind Ralph lifting him out of his chair. Shirt and flesh split open as long yellow claws splash Ralph's blood in a spray to the ceiling.

Ralph groans from the gruesome blow and falls to the floor. The lady, panting, looks to drive both long nailed hands deep into his body, but Tomas leaps to his fallen comrades aid.

Stand back hell spawn!” he screams. His rapier darting and slicing at the demon witche's face she steps back, then backhands the Frenchman and sends him sprawling into a pile of chairs like he was a paper doll. She looks down, drooling in her blood lust intent of scooping out Ralph's guts. But the Frenchman's desperate attack gave the grievously wounded Puritan soldier time to roll under the table to the other side. Laying on his back bubbling gore he deftly lights a grenado, the wick cut short by his gritted teeth, and tosses it at her chest over the table. There is a stunning blast which leaves the men concussed.

Eventually they come to their feet from under the blasted furniture and gimjacks. Surely there must be something left of the she beast, but lo, there is nothing to be seen except the sturdy groined walls and archways and the destruction of housewares from the blast.

The girl Rebecca was clearly dead. Her broken body lay over a crumpled armorie. Splintered shards of wood protruded from her chest, neck and face. She must have been standing when the grenado detonated. But no trace of the demon whore could be found. There were some scraps of cloth that may have been from the dress she wore, but there was no flesh, no blasted body parts.

It was a deft toss Ralph,” the Frenchman acknowledged. “It was like she cared little for your bauble and then whoosh!” Tomas flutters his hands in the air simulating the blast.

We must find my cousin. He needs to know the dangers we face here.” Ralph winces as he makes his way back from which they came.
Perhaps, being a doctor, he can tend your wounds?” Tomas adds looking at Ralph's exposed back. The man's flesh hangs in ribbons, dripping blood with each step. Tomas grabs up one of the light radiating stones and follows after the bloodied puritan warrior.

Back at the subterranean sty Ralph muses. “Nothing but to take the last remaining passage, foul smell and all. Perhaps it will lead back to the passages the others took.”

The pair picked their way carefully down the natural cavern away from the sunken sty packed with the pale pig-like creatures. The passage was slick with moisture and a few squabbling rats. Fortunately the horde they encountered by the room of square pits had not come all this way otherwise all would have been lost. The further they traveled through the more foul, wet and steep the way became. 

Tomas was in the lead holding the illuminating stone aloft when Ralph, weakening from his wounds, lost his footing and slid rapidly down the incline colliding with the surprised Frenchman. They tumbled roughly gathering speed and landed with a lurid splash in a mud and fecal laden pool. It was a separate tunnel they had fallen into. The opening of the tunnel in which they were traveling was at shoulder level returning upwards in such a sharp angle Ralph just shook his head when Tomas suggested he could boost his companion back up the way they had fallen. This new tunnel ran straight and apparently level. A stream of foul, stinking water flowed in one direction, so there was at least a slight incline to the passage. Ralph groaned under the pain of his wounds. Tomas hollered as a pale, grotesque worm rises from the foul pool, wrapping around his leg and climbing up his chest. 

It was a horridly large maggot, grown fat off the refuse of rat, pig, and offal. Its eyeless head ended in a sucking maw ringed with small, saw-like teeth. Tomas grasped the thing with both hands desperately trying to keep the carrion beast from latching onto his face. Ralph swung quickly, reopening his coagulating cuts. The sharp hatchet sliced through the beast's neck, the decapitated head flying off the cavern wall and into the muck. Tomas dropped the now dead maggot in time to pull his pistol. Another giant horror had risen from the pool and looked to bury its snapping maw into Ralph's raw back. The report of the wheelock echoes down the fetid tunnel. The Frenchman's aim was true, and the pistol's lead round obliterated the head of the maggot. It's convulsing body flops back and is submerged into the muck.

Enough of this hell Ralph. Lean on me and I will lead us out.” Tomas' agitation and worry was magnified by his thick animal tail swishing back and forth behind him.

But which way? I despair of ever leaving this horrid place.”

We'll trust to the lord, and our resolve,” answered Tomas. “I say we follow the stream as opposed going up. Methinks this is the drain for the sty above.” 

Ralph shrugs. On the edge of blacking out from blood loss he had little strength left to argue or think.

It seemed like an eternity, but the pair emerged eventually from the tunnel into a sharp sided hillock. A marshy stream crossed the opening carrying the effluvia further into the thick reeded meadow. Trees on firmer ground gave the gully deep shadow in the late afternoon sun.

We must return to the manor.” Ralph rasped. “We must hope our companions find a way out as well. We will need to assist them if the Irish mob still prowls the grounds.”

Very well. The ground is difficult, but I will continue to aid thee.”

An hour later the sweaty, shit stained heroes collapsed among the tall, unkempt grass at the rear of the manor. It was obvious the fire the good doctor had started within the hall had not taken for Saraceninc Hall still stood with no sign of damage or smoke. It was also obvious the house staff and laborers were still on their guard. Stirred like a swarm of angry bees they moved about between the house and the cottages farther back.

What do we do now?” asked Tomas.

We wait.”