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Book reviews, art, gaming, Objectivism and thoughts on other topics as they occur.

Updated: 2018-02-14T21:45:33.317-05:00


DDO Forum Signature


I made a fun little signature for myself for the DDO forums:

It looks a little weird because it has a transparent background with a black matte so that it looks good on a dark forum background.

Game Design: RPG Economy


So, thought experiment time. How would you go about building a "global economy" in an RPG? I don't mean the typical ridiculous RPG economy where vendors will buy your endless piles of filthy gear over and over for the same price until you could literally buy the entire country with your pocket change. I'm talking the kind of economy where prices fluctuate based on supply and demand. Where there IS "supply and demand".So, first thing would be just to list out supplies. Have a background process that lists all supplies available in an area and can increment them as new supplies are generated or decrement them as supplies are used. So, in Town X on Day 1 there are 53 healing potions. The town produces 1d3 healing potions per day and uses 1d6 (or whatever numbers you like--you can have them change due to various events etc.) Whatever store(s) sell those potions have, as sales stock, some percentage of the total potion count. So, if there are 72 local potions, the Potion Store stocks, say, 20% of them for sale. (If the player buys the current sale potions out, it re-stocks the next day at the new level. So you could EVENTUALLY buy a place mostly out of potions, but it would take several days--assuming the production vs. use numbers aren't high enough that there remains at least one potion for sale. And use doesn't by any means need to be generally higher than production, in fact, it'd make sense for most places to have slightly higher overall production than use for most goods.So, you've got basic numbers for generating supply and demand for your locality. Ideally, you'd want to use some kind of sensible numbers, so if there are, say, a lot of farms or gardens locally that produce Potion Ingredients, the production number would be high. The use should be based off population and events. You could write a whole algorithm to generate these numbers automatically, even, by counting all the production nodes in the zone and the people, so your production and population can change dynamically. It's arithmetic, it ain't like computers are BAD at that crap. You can add any bells and whistles you like to this calculation. Maybe guards use more potions, so if there are a lot more guards in this town than usual, the usage is going to go up. Maybe you have a "combinator" calculation in there, so if the town produces 10 wheat (health potion ingredient A) but only 5 mushrooms (health potion ingredient B), that only counts as 5 "potion" nodes. Have a whole formula for determining how many ingredient nodes are assigned to which goods. Heck, have a dynamic algorithm where if there's a glut in potions and a shortage of pies, all the nodes are calculated toward pie production instead of potion production so pie production temporarily increases but potion production temporarily decreases. Likewise, in a glut, usage increases. Have a "theft" stat and a "damage" stat that decreases production if things are stolen or damaged. Have this increase if the player goes around looting farms and gardens for ingredients or setting them on fire. (This should also be STEALING.) Knock yourself out. There's a limit to the value of this degree of simulation, though, especially when it's only casually witnessed by the player and not terribly transparent. Their only access to this information should be by observing the prices and MAYBE hearing some canned dialog complaining about the potion shortage (although if you have a number of different "goods" types along the lines of Skyrim, this would probably exceed the total amount of other dialog in the game by QUITE A BIT). Besides, if the player is going to have opportunities to get cash by buying low and selling high, make them work for it.Now you need to implement price change thresholds. To me, it'd make sense to divide these by your population (especially if you want the population to change dynamically at all). So, say, something like this: 0 potions = "desperation". +100% buy price.less than 3 potions per person = "shortage" +25% buy price, +50% sale pr[...]

Wonder Woman


So, I finally got to go see Wonder Woman, and I have to say . . . I didn't really like it.  It had the same problems that other DC movies have had for me.  I think ultimately it all boils down to one issue, though--it's too much like very common forms of anime in a lot of really poor thematic concepts.

Here we have a perfect (or near-perfect) innocent superhuman who has come to pass judgment on all of humanity.  This is already a trite and over-done notion, but then there's no conflict, character arc, or decision to it.  "I come from Utopia to judge you, and, well, you suck, but I'm going to protect you anyway".  Superman vs. General Zod is the same thing all over again as Wonder Woman vs. Ares.

The main character is, effectively, an immortal, indestructible robot.  They're not functionally in any DANGER at any point during the movie, so it's pretty hard to laud their successes.  A person who has nothing to fear cannot be courageous . . . and they certainly don't get any credit for being PREACHY, either.

And "humanity" is meaningless in these movies.  It's just a formless mass for the hero to despise, or love, or save, or whatever, but always, ultimately, passive until the hero (or villain) comes along.  The romance is really meaningless because Steve never manages to articulate any values or exhibit any particular reasons to prefer him over anyone else--in fact, the three sidekicks have FAR more personality and much more deeply exhibited values than Steve Trevor does.  What's Steve Trevor's most exhibited personality trait?  "No, you can't do that.  Nope, that's wrong.  Don't do that.  Nope, you're embarrassing me.  Nope, bad idea."  Maybe he's supposed to be some kind of voice of prudence, but the writing of his part is so inarticulate that he actually comes across more like a twitchy teenager.  In the hands of a competent writer, he could have had a powerful character arc from "haha, I'm not going to get involved, not my fight" to, at the end, actually being the one to come up with the crazy plan to save the day.  Instead, he flops back and forth between worldly semi-virtue and being a flapping, useless duenna.

The real way it's like anime, though, was in the final climactic moment when Wonder Woman defeats Ares.  How does she defeat him?  Does she realize something important about herself?  Not really.  Does she discover something about Ares?  No.  So how does she win?

She does the anime thing and concentrates HARDER THAN EVER BEFORE and wins.  Yay!

This is pure magical thinking.  It is dull and meaningless.

And, honestly, it would have been much, much better if Diana had crushed Dr. Maru like a bug.  No, seriously.  That at least would have been a shocking moment of re-evaluation.

On the Slippery Slope


Slippery slope, as most people with any passing interest in logic generally know, is a logical fallacy.  It typically takes the form of a claim something like this:Me:  "Oo, I think I'm going to have some chocolate.  It looks yummy!"Someone else:  "Are you crazy?!  Chocolate makes you fat.  If you chocolate, you're going to get fatter and fatter until you die!"What's wrong with this, and what makes it a logical fallacy, is that having a few chocolates doesn't require the consumption of yet more chocolates.  There's no magical force behind eating a chocolate that is going to possess my body and make me continue eating chocolate until I die.  Philosophically, this would be referred to as "necessity".  Chocolates don't necessitate more chocolates, so the argument is invalid.This seems simple enough, no?  So why do people keep using "slippery slope" arguments?  You see them everywhere.  "If you let people get away with small transgressions, they're going to start making larger transgressions."  "If you inflate the currency, the spending is going to run away."  It's a logical fallacy, so why do people think that this sort of warning has any validity?It's because there is a correct context in which the form of the "slippery slope" argument (that X leads to more X) is a valid one.  It never becomes logical in the sense that X necessitates more X.  It remains true that if people do X, they can still turn away from X at any time.  This is, in fact, the fundamental axiom of volition.  So how can this argument ever be valid?It's valid, precisely because people have free will, that is, their minds don't operate automatically.  They can make choices.  This means that people need guidance on how to make choices, so that those choices actually lead them to what they want.  They need to adopt some method of operation, if they want that operation to take them anywhere.  The name for that method is principles.  Everyone adopts some principles, even if they insist that they don't and just do "whatever they feel like".  Doing "whatever you feel like" doing IS a principle, albeit an ultimately self-destructive one.  That's a side issue, for now, though. The important point is that in human thought, some principle or set of principles is always involved.To adopt a principle doesn't just mean to sit there and dwell on it.  They are guides to accomplishing a goal.  To adopt a principle means to act on it.  And not just once, but all the time.  Consistently.  If I don't act consistently on any principle, I can't be said to have that principle at all.  It's not the same thing as being perfect--people can and do fail to carry out their principles, but on balance, they would have to act on it far more often than not in order for anyone to say that they adopt a given principle.A principle, once adopted by a person, leads them in a consistent direction.  Their actions, taken under that principle, are pointed at a specific goal.  The more consistent they are, the more direct their course to that goal.  This is where you can begin to see the connection with the concept of a "slippery slope", of X leading to more X.  It's not that they've lost their volition somehow, it's that they've lined up their faculties behind this principle because they are using it to lead them to their chosen goal.  So, if they're doing X because their principle is to do X, you can safely predict that more X is definitely in the future.  In the absence of a change of principle, more X is on the way.So, if you see a person or group adopting a principle to do X, you CAN make rational assertions about what is on the way.  And shouting "that's a slippery slope argument!" doesn't negate the truth of these statements in any way unless you can provide evidence of either a change in principle or how that principle does[...]

Judgment-free Zone


I find the occasional requests I get from people to "not hate" or "not judge" on their comments when I disagree with them to be weirdly ironic.

I don't try to silence the opposition.  I fully support your right to say whatever you damn well please.  When you say "don't hate" or "don't judge", YOU are trying to silence ME.  You are telling me, flat out, that my opinion isn't welcome here and I should just SHUT UP.

I find that hateful in the extreme.  Disagreeing with you is not telling you to shut up.  I expect you to return the favor instead of being a disingenuous hypocrite.  The double standard involved here is huge, glaring, and ugly, and points out the enormous inherent contradiction in nihilist thought--otherwise known as "multiculturalism" or "egalitarianism".

The foundation of this view, epistemologically, is the belief that nobody can really KNOW what is true or false.  Thus, all ideas are equally valid.  Thus one "shouldn't judge" and disagreement is "hate".  "Tolerance" is the only virtue.  Tolerance, that is, of any viewpoint EXCEPT disagreement!  He who rejects disagreement as "intolerant" is BEING "intolerant".

How anyone could square this with themselves I do not know, but I see it everywhere.  "Nobody can know who's wrong or right--except I'm right and you're wrong so you should just shut up."  Well, if NOBODY can know, how do YOU know?

No, Obama Didn't "Off" Scalia, and Shut Up About It Already


I've seen some people speculating on this, so I just have to say this:

No.  No he did not.  And stop being a dumbass.

There's zero logic in even speculating about this.  "Oh, there could be a cover-up!"  Do you have any EVIDENCE that there was a cover-up?  Lack of information is not evidence FOR something.  It's just a lack of information, probably because Scalia's friends and family don't want a giant media circus over his death, which, from the very first report, was pretty evidently going to happen.

But, by speculating that there "might be a cover-up", you're declaring two mutually exclusive and thus stupid things.

1.) Obama (or his staff) is smart enough to have a major public figure assassinated AND cover it up, BUT . . .
2.) He was too stupid to do it at the beginning of his first term when he'd be guaranteed to be able to appoint Scalia's replacement.

THINK about that for a second.  If you're going to off someone and then cover it up, the DUMBEST POSSIBLE TIME to do that would be to time it during a hotly-contested election campaign when it's INEVITABLY going to be come the Story Of The Year.  The point of a cover up is that you DON'T want the entire friggin country breathing down your neck while you're trying to bury the evidence.

Use some friggin sense, people.

Are all anti-vaxxers this dumb?


Isn't there some sort of tenet that if you're going to write something intended to be convincing, you have to actually address the REAL arguments put forth by your opposition?  Ran across this today.

This is not a description of what "herd immunity" means or how it works.  The idea behind "herd immunity" is not that it'll prevent anyone from ever getting the disease.  The point is to prevent the disease from becoming an *epidemic* by spreading rampantly from one person to another.  And this is precisely what the article fails to address.  It is the limitation of vectors for contagion that is important, not whether any given individual will or will not come down with symptoms.

There are exceptions--there's no "herd immunity" to tetanus, for instance, because you get that from dirt.  Short of sterilizing all the dirt on the planet it's highly unlikely that any amount of tetanus vaccination would have any real effect on the vector of this disease.

But Influenza, Measles, Mumps . . . you get those from *other people* (or animals, some of them).  If you never come into contact with someone who has one of these illnesses, you don't get them.  That's what herd immunity is and how it works.  It doesn't make populations "immune" to the disease.  It simply strips away most disease vectors for crowd diseases.  If there is an outbreak, it's not going to sweep the country and kill 20 million people.

Not that I think everyone should just blindly vaccinate.  For instance, the latest CDC recommendations include giving Hepatitis B vaccinations to young children.  Why?  You don't really need a Hep B vaccination unless you're going to be dealing with other peoples' bodily fluids on a regular basis, like a nurse or other medical professional.  Most kids don't need this.  And, yes, reactions do happen.  Vaccines are incredibly safe, but this isn't much comfort if you're that 1 out of 120,000.

Getting Government Out Of Marriage


Okay, people, let's clear something up.

In the wake of the recent Supreme Court decision to legalize same-sex marriage, a lot of people have started yelling mindlessly to "get government out of marriage".  They then start accusing people who want government recognition of their marriage of being "statists" who "worship the state" and want "government approval" of everything they do.  Why can't they just have their own little private agreement and leave everybody else out of it!

Uh, hold on a second there, Pongo.  That is NOT what it means to "get government out of marriage".  Marriage is a type of contractual relationship.  In fact, it establishes a new familial relationship between you and your spouse.  This is a complex maneuver that can radically affect things like who gets custody of children, who gets power of attorney if you're incapacitated, who inherits your stuff, etc.  These are all potential major disputes that have to be arbitrated by the big giant arbitrator of disputes--the government!  You can't get government out of marriage in THIS way . . . because that actually means violating people's right to contract!  A contract that the government doesn't recognize as valid is no contract at all.  It cannot be enforced when it comes to a dispute.  What happens to your kids if you die and your spouse doesn't have automatic custody?  Do they go into foster care?  Does some random relative you may not even know (who might even be a sex offender) become the default?  No.  So it IS necessary for the government to recognize marriages.  Official legal recognition of contracts is one of the PROPER functions of government.  You are not a "statist" for desiring this.

Getting government out of marriage means that the government shouldn't be deciding who CAN get married.  If people are of age to legally contract, they should be free to engage in any form of legal contract, marriage being one.  This is their absolute right.  They should not have to seek a license or legal permission from the government.  The government's sole involvement should be in rubber-stamping the contract to say "this is an officially recognized contract and must be upheld under the law".  That's it.  Denying people access to that rubber stamp is NOT equivalent to saying "you can do whatever you want".  It is actually violating their right to free action, because any yahoo can come along and dispute their action until they have a legally recognized contract.  It is no different than forbidding people to form an LLC because their income is under $50,000 per year, or refusing someone a CPA license because they're black.  The government shouldn't be in the business of ALLOWING people to contract or LICENSING them to contract.  But it is part of the government's legitimate job to GUARANTEE people's contracts--whatever they are, as long as the nature of the contract violates nobody's rights.

Avengers: Age of Ultron


People have been saying a lot about this latest Marvel Cinematic Universe movie, not much of it very coherent.  But then, the movie itself on first viewing is a bit incoherent.  On second viewing, though, I find that my opinion has solidified:

This is a great work of art.

Oh, I know what people will say.  It's cinematically flawed.  The bad guy is bizarre, his motivations unclear, messy, poorly characterized.  There's too much going on.  It just flies at you out of nowhere.  It's just a bunch of meaningless action scenes.  But that is what makes it great.  Because that is what the movie is about.  The mess isn't random.

Avengers: Age of Ultron is about mess.  About the unknown, impermanence, the inevitability of failure and death.  And fighting anyway.  Risking anyway.  Embracing life anyway, knowing not just that it may go wrong but that it will go wrong.  That there are no perfect answers, no ultimate solutions, that trouble will always come 'round again.  Yet this is no excuse not to live, or to declare the whole thing not good enough and set out to smash it all.

Ultron had one thing right . . . destruction is perfect.  It is pure.  It is the only thing that is.  And if purity and perfection are your standards, your goal, your "peace in my time" . . . then destruction is your only aim.  The only realm in which evil can never happen is one in which nothing can happen.

To embrace life fully means not just to embrace happiness, but to embrace pain.  To embrace the inevitability of death, of failure.  You can call them your enemy, you can fight them with every part of you, but you must embrace that they exist and can never be escaped.  Only by embracing their existence can you conquer them and have a chance at creating something that is majestic, glorious, transformative in its very messiness.

Like this movie.

It may not be everyone's cup of tea.  But it's a great work of art.

Skull and Shackles Session 57: Final Boss Fight


Two boatswain's mates on the main deck moved toward the main mast.  A charau-ka, an ape-like humanoid, readied a bomb while the more ordinary sailors cleared the deck, wanting to be as far away from the fighting as possible.  The sniper in front of Chopper dropped her rifle.  "I'm no match for you," she said.  "I serve the Gunworks of the Grand Duchy of Alkenstar, and I offer you the secrets of my trade in exchange for my life."Arrows peppered the other sniper atop the second mast, most striking the wood but one eliciting a cry of pain.  Feruzi yelled as the bomb hit her, enveloping her in flames.  The air went cold and a pair of unearthly monstrosities appeared beside Reiko.  Chopper jumped from the tower to assist Reiko in fighting off the daemons.Ezikial blasted the charau-ka alchemist to gibbly little bits, then finished off the boatswain's mates that were now menacing Feruzi.  One piscodaemon expired noisily under Reiko's sword, and the other wasn't looking so hot.  Then a spell hit Leila and she fell to the deck, stone dead.Chopper screamed, charging toward the poop deck.  "There!" Ezikial yelled as something hissed angrily and the door to the captain's cabin flew open, revealing Bonefist in all his glory.  Or lack thereof.  Sandara threw a spell across the deck that purged the invisibility, revealing a tall woman with the lower body of a snake.  She whirled her scimitars and attacked.  Chopper was more than happy to return the favor, hacking wildly with his axes while Feruzi lined up a shot, piercing lamia through the chest."Your witch is dead and your crew has abandoned you, Bonefist!" Reiko shouted.  "You have no one left to fight for you.  Give up now and step down.""I ain't forsakin' my throne fer the likes o YE.""That's a shame," Reiko said, attacking with her katana.  Bonefist was blindingly fast with his rapier, fending her off despite his wounds.  He backed away, almost running into Chopper, who had jumped down the stairs behind him."Stand down, Reiko," Chopper said.  "This one . . . er, the REST of this one is mine.""You still have the opportunity to surrender," Reiko said."NEVER!"  A bullet tore Bonefist's ear off.  Chopper shrugged, and buried his axe in the former Pirate King's skull.  He then turned away, looking sadly at Leila's body."I'll, uh, start prayin' for her," Sandara said.  "Once ye make sure this area is secure.  And find that treasure vault . . . you need that to impress the other pirate captains, an' all."  "There will be time for that.  We see to Leila first."A full exploration of the sea caves revealed no more opposition and, yes, quite an impressive treasure room.  After a night's rest, Sandara was able to raise Leila from the dead.  The delighted Chopper hugged Sandara, with instructions to transfer it to Leila."You big soppy," Feruzi said fondly."Summon tell Fishguts to quit choppin' onions," Chopper blubbered."So, your Majesty, what's your plan?" Feruzi asked."Guess I should get coronated.  Something, something, drink heavily, something, something, see about easing up on Sargavan tarriffs.""I'm sure your mother will be thrilled.  You going to invite her to the coronation?"Chopper suddenly looked pensive.  "I guess I might as well.""I could handle that for you . . . I'm sure Merrill would like a nice, long, relaxing, UNEVENTFUL trip.""Aye, fer once," Sandara said."And then we can see about getting you a PERMANENT wife."Chopper raised an eyebrow at that.  "Let's go provide the Council with the proof of our deeds and leave nonsense topics tabled forever.""He's still got the better part of a year to go with his current Missus, anyway," Reiko chimed in."Bah, with him it'll take months even[...]

Skull and Shackles Session 56: Number Two


The door to the next room opened, revealing Tsadok Goldtooth, who fired his pistol at Chopper.  "I told you that you should have let me fish him!" Feruzi said as Ezikial returned fire.

"Fish?" Chopper asked, baffled.  A dwarf boatswain appeared beside the half-orc and launched himself on Chopper, pinning him down while a second dwarf ran up and began punching the Captain about the stomach.  Feruzi skewered one dwarf with arrows while Reiko surgically removed the other.  Sandara threw an ice storm at Goldtooth, who swung his falchion at Ezikial, who took a serious wound for, probably, the tenth time today.  Any more of this and they'd be taking him back to the Crisis in a box.  Reiko intercepted Goldtooth's next attack and treated him as she treated all opponents.

"Doesn't matter," the half-orc sputtered.  "The King'll kill you all."

"I bet fish looks like the nice option now," Feruzi said.

"What is it with you and the fish?" Chopper demanded.  "Seriously."

"What is it with you and the senile old-man memory?"

"'E's an old man," Sandara said brightly, mending their wounds."

"I hate you all."

"This is not news, Captain," Ezikial said.

"If he started liking us I'd be worried we weren't doing our jobs well enough."

The next room in the tower was a dining hall, dominated by a large table of polished teak and an ornately carved-high backed captain's chair.

"I vote we use the chair as a battering ram on . . . something that needs battering," Chopper said.  "Just for spite."  Ezikial pulled Bonefist's banner down from the wall.

"I vote we don't," Reiko said.  "It's a nice and probably expensive chair."

They left the tower, now empty of enemies, and headed for the docked ship, the Filthy Lucre.  An exquisitely painted figurehead of a beautiful, bare-breasted woman rose from the ship's prow.  Feruzi cast a spell of invisibility over them and they crept aboard the ship, apparently unnoticed.  Chopper began climbing the rigging to the crow's nest, where a sniper was watching the pier.  "Ahoy," Chopper announced, and gave her a violent shove. 

Skull and Shackles Session 55: Sushi Buffet


Chopper whooped in delight as the undead dragon eyeballed their tiny craft.  "I know, I know," he grumbled.  "You lot won't let me keep it."  The dragon's head whipped around and it snapped at Ezikial, almost throwing him out of the boat and delivering a powerful electrical shock at the same time.  Its wings whomped down, battering everyone severely."Bloody 'ells!" Sandara yelled.  A series of loud cracking noises indicated that somewhere under there Ezikial was doing his best to turn the undead dragon into puree.  Reiko bellowed and swung her katana, the blade cleaving into the dragon's neck and, amazingly, severing it.  It promptly exploded, giving everyone a nasty dose of electricity as the remains of the skeleton sank into the water.  Sandara waved her hands over the scorched group."Not sure how much longer I kin keep this up," she said."We 'preciate yer efforts," Chopper told her."We do have some potions to help . . . I think," Reiko added.  On the far shore, an alarm bell began to ring."I suppose they noticed us," Leila sighed."We've knocked, we may as well go in," Ezikial said.  He clambered out of the jollyhatboat and kicked in the door to the bastion.  The guardpost was lit by a smoky oil lamp.  Four big fellows with a patchwork of brown and blue-gray markings on their skin charged, becoming shark-like monstrosities as they moved."Are those contagious?" Feruzi asked, incredulous.  "Because they look contagious.""Maybe you shouldn't let yourself get bit then, just to be on the safe side," Reiko told her."Yeah, I couldn't manage being that ugly.""But you can handle being . . . scaly.  Right then."Leila fired her bow at one of the weresharks, but the monster just lacked.  "I have silver arrows in my quiver for just such an emergency," Feruzi told her, firing her own volley at the monsters.  The other door to the room flew open and an even bigger, MUCH angrier shark charged in, making a beeline for Chopper, grabbing him by the legs and swinging him through the air.  Chopper's delighted "whee!" turned into an "ouch!" as his head collided with Reiko's shoulder."Seriously?!" Reiko demanded, going after the shark boss with her katana.  Ezikial cut loose with the shooting and very shortly there was nothing left but a bunch of sashimi and some leftover enormous crescent-shaped bite marks.  Sandara shook her head as she summoned more healing magic."So how many more guards do you think Bonefist has in this little secret lair?" Feruzi asked."More'n three," Chopper grunted.  They left the bastion and crossed a patch of sandy beach toward what appeared to be a small fortress with familiar ship anchored nearby.  The boom of a cannon sounded and Reiko disappeared in a blast of sand."Er, you forgot to duck," Feruzi said as Reiko staggered muzzily to her feet."STOP WASTING MY CANNONBALLS!" Ezikial yelled, shaking his fist at the cannon tower.  They charged into the tower, encountering another group of weresharks and some human guards resulting in, yes, yet another furious battle, from which they emerged victorious.[...]

Skull and Shackles Session 54: It's a Trap


Sandara's magic got Chopper and Ezikial back on their feet, but Ezikial was left with a broad scar on his face.  "I canna seem t' mend it wi' the magics I 'ave," Sandara said.  "Yer face just gonna be ugly fer a while.""Uglier than it already was?" Feruzi asked.  Sandara grinned.  "Well, shall we move on?" Feruzi asked.  Chopper nodded."Let's."The stone doors opened into an octagonal room with another pair of identical doors across from them.  Leila froze as they crossed the floor.  "Wait," she called.  "The whole floor is trapped."  The doors behind them slammed closed and locked with an audible clack."Why does this not surprise me?" Reiko asked.  She ducked as crossbow bolts flew out of concealed arrow slits.  Whirling blades sprang up around them.  Ezikial sprang over a saw that would do a lumber mill proud and raced toward the opposite door, grunting a few times in pain.  Feruzi climbed up a wall and joined him by crossing the ceiling.  The snipers continued to fire."It's almost like they were expecting us," Reiko grunted, pulling a bolt out of her armor.  Chopper sprinted across the room, slamming into the doors and flattening himself but not impressing the stone very much."Let me get that, Captain," Ezikial said, and blasted the lock mechanism with his pistol.  Leila pulled a piece of junk metal out of her pack and threw it into the whirling blades, where it wedged, eliciting a truly fantastic medley of screeching and grinding noises, followed by a ground-shaking bang as the machinery tore itself apart.  Reiko crossed the room in a more leisurely fashion and heaved the doors open, revealing another room pretty much identical to the one they were standing in.  Feruzi cautiously stepped forward, triggering a second trap that slammed the doors shut and doused everything liberally with gouts of fire.  There was a lot of scurrying behind the walls and the helpful addition of yet more crossbow bolts.Chopper pushed past Feruzi and repeated his door-charging trick, with equally unimpressive results.  Ezikial pulled grenades off his belt and tossed them into an arrow slit.  He then sat down, bleeding profusely from a pair of crossbow bolts in his chest.  The blast shook the room and produced a hail of earth and chips of stone, revealing two shocked elven snipers.  Reiko charged them while Sandara once again rushed in to prevent Ezikial from dying.  The space behind the walls resounded with shrieks and groans as Reiko dealt out retribution to the snipers.  Chopper finally managed to get the far doors open, revealing side passages that led behind the arrow slits."That was my fookin' gunner!" he snarled, laying into the retreating snipers with his axes.  Another explosion shook the room as Leila detonated the reservoir of alchemical fire powering the jets.  Soon it was over, aside from the usual magical cleanup of injuries sustained."I am out of grenades, Captain," Ezikial reported sadly.  "Fortunately I found this ring of keys.""That might make it easier to get through the doors," Reiko said.Past the trap, they found another long, dank tunnel that opened into a wider cave where a thin strip of beach bordered a wide expanse of dark water.  Sounds of surf echoed in the distance.  A wooden pier extended into the water.  Far across the cave a faint light shone from the window of a building standing next to a similar pier.  Sandara pulled her hat off and tossed it into the water, where it became a jollyboat.  "Unless summon else has a boat," she said, winking."Not on me, no," Chopper said."I don't suppose your pipe turns into an oar?" Leila asked.[...]

Skull and Shackles Session 53: BOOM


The Crisis surreptitiously--well, as surreptitiously as a ship could manage, anway--docked at Lucrehold an hour or so after sundown.  Several warehouses stood on the island's southwest corner, along with outbuildings filled with apparatus for making olive oil.  Harrigan's notes indicated that the secret entrance was hidden beneath a tun in one of the warehouses."I think it's this one," Feruzi said, turning the map around and squinting.  "Or . . . maybe that one."A quick reconnoiter of the warehouse revealed two entrances: a wide set of double doors, probably for wagons, and a side door for pedestrian traffic.  Both appeared to be locked, but neither were obviously guarded."So, any witchcraft about?"  Chopper asked.  Feruzi rolled her eyes but cast a spell to reveal magical auras.  None were in evidence.  "I'm inclined to kick down the big doors," Chopper continued, "but I assume I'll be vetoed, so let's just go the other way."Leila unlocked the door.  It was dark and quiet inside.  Chopper peered into the room nearest the door, discovering numerous dusty scrolls and ledger books.  "Witch room," he whispered.  "Or, you know, accounts payable.  One o' those."  The next door opened into a long room divided into stalls by low wooden walls, perfect for taking cover should any shooting be required.  Large barrels and ceramic amphorae were stacked within the stalls, filling the air with the smell of oil, wine, and beer.  Following Harrigan's notes, they located their specific tun of rum in the easternmost stall.Feruzi stared at it in horror.  "We can just move it, right?  We don't have to drink it?""Er, we don't HAVE to," Chopper said uncertainly, looking at Ezikial."This much rum, even he might not survive," Reiko said.  "I know that's not putting much faith in his drinking abilities, but still . . .""I could go get Rosie and Grok," Leila said."Is it possible for a man to die of happiness?" Chopper asked.  "Surely there's some sort of hidden catch hereabouts.  Or a handcart."  Searching around revealed nothing.  Shrugging, Chopper hefted his axe and laid into the barrel, chopping a hole and letting the rum pour out.  Sandara grabbed a mug, filled it, and passed it to Ezikial, then filled one for herself.  With the barrel mostly empty, they were able to heave it aside, revealing a trap door that opened on a rusting iron ladder descending into a rough-hewn tunnel that ran north and east and terminated in a dank room.  A stone statue depicting Besmara stood in an alcove.  It was once painted in bright, gaudy colors, but most of the pigment had flaked off, revealing green stone.  Blue-green flames danced along the statue's sculpted hair.Moving on, they discovered a number of vaults--some with niches in the walls that turned them into crypts.  The floor had subsided, allowing a pool of dark water to form.  Four barnacle-enrusted corpses with glowing red eyes rose out of the water as they approached.  Mist seemed to rise from them, obscuring the room.  Chopper cursed and a great deal of flailing about ensued, ending with the draugr sent to their final final rest and Chopper rather scratched up and disarranged.  Sandara helpfully cast some healing spells to restore his equilibrium and remove the after affects of too much undead mauling.The traditional post-combat wrap up revealed a secret door in one of the burial niches, leading into another long tunnel leading north and east.  This one ended in a small, damp cave, this one laid out like a hall of sorts, with evenly spaced torches filling the place with disturbing sha[...]

Skull and Shackles Interlude: Domination


The Thumbscrew screamed like a tortured man as it sank.  Massive grapnels clutched at her hull and tore the ship to pieces.  It was an operation Captain Pegsworthy had never seen before, but it was frightfully effective against the smaller vessels of the Shackles fleet.  Beside him aboard the Bonaventure, Labella Loor was scanning the battle, trying to figure out which ship was spearheading the attack."It's the Dominator," she said, lowering the spyglass.  "She's going after the Kitsune next, Captain.  You want I should signal the Crisis?""Chopper needs to deal with the Chelish flagship.  We'll handle this ourselves.""You don't think we're a little outmatched in this case?""And we've never been outmatched before?" Pegsworthy admonished."Aye, aye, Captain."  Labella shouted orders to the helm and riggers.  Below them, at the rail, Renvel picked up a grappling hook as he and his assault crew readied themselves.The method behind the Dominator's attack became obvious as the Bonaventure drew nearer.  The grapnels--massive metal spears with retracting arms and lengths of heavy cable attached to them--were fired from a ballista.  The spear point would hit a ship below the waterline and penetrate the hull.  The drag of the cable would cause the arms to extend, anchoring the spear in the hull.  At the other end of the cable was a simple stone, probably in the neighborhood of a hundred pounds.  The stones must have some magical preparation, though--when they were thrown overboard they sank at a truly alarming rate, one stone acting as a powerful anchor, two ripping massive holes in the ship or even tearing it to pieces like the unfortunate Thumbscrew.  The cables were underwater and very difficult to reach.  Kitsune was already heeled over as one grapnel dragged at her.Bolts of the more ordinary variety peppered the Bonaventure as she came into range, tearing the rigging and doing some damage to the forecastle.  Renvel's men launched their hooks, a few finding purchase on the Dominator.  Then the Bonaventure was suddenly awash with Chelish marines. Apparently, they weren't interested in waiting to be boarded.  Renvel's men fell back from the surprise assault.  In seconds, they were struggling to protect their own ship."You should have had the wit to stay away, Merrill!" someone bellowed.  Pegsworthy glanced away from the two marines attacking him and almost got an axe to the face for his trouble.  "Back off!" the interloper growled.  "He's mine!"The marines obeyed and Pegsworthy found himself staring at a familiar face.  "Carson?  What--and I use the term advisedly--what in the HELLS are you doing here?!""A man has to eat, doesn't he?" Carson said, waving a hand in an insouciant gesture.  "Besides, House Thrune is taking over this place.  Lots of opportunities for a man to get in on the ground floor, so to speak.""They're devil-worshippers.  Slavers.""Oh, they're not so bad once you get to know them.  Besides, you're hardly one to talk.""I have NEVER run slaves.""Enough, old man.  Fight or I'll cut you down where you stand."Behind and above Carson, the massive windlass on the Dominator's grapnel ballista had finished winding.  The crew officer snapped the trigger-hook into place and disengaged the winding mechanism.  "I don't have time for you," Pegsworthy said and ducked under Carson's too-wild swing.  Pegsworthy grabbed an unattended rope and swung over the narrow gap between the ships, landing awkwardly on the Dominator's poop deck.  The grapnel crew swore at him and drew their weapons,&nbs[...]

Skull and Shackles Session 52: This Also Seems Familiar


Grapeshot and chain bolts peppered the rigging of Abrogail's Fury and Ezikial's signature shot blasted the wheel to splinters.  The Chelish flagship returned fire, severely denting the hull of Crisis and knocking the sails askew--Crisis slammed keel-first into the side of the Fury and seemed to skid, staving in the black ship's hull.  Both ships rolled on the swell, no longer making way.  The Crisis officers jumped across to the Fury and were met by a force of Chelish marines.  Admiral Thrune and her bodyguard stood on the quarterdeck, ready to back up the marines.Chopper hacked at the enemy forces then reeled as a crossbow bolt slammed into his shoulder and seemed to explode with malevolent power.  The Admiral sneered and handed her crossbow a crewman for reloading, accepting a second bow in exchange.Ezikial ignored the swords of the marines and charged forward, screaming Besmara's wrath.  He fired both pistols at the bodyguard, a woman dressed in impressive spike-covered black armor.  "You may be just my type, m'lady," Ezikial gritted.  "Let's see how you bleed for me, shall we?"  The bodyguard sniffed as her wounds partially healed themselves.Chopper was in imminent danger of being surrounded by marines with boarding pikes.  Feruzi fired her bow, downing one and wounding the other while Sandara skirted the pikes to land a healing spell on her teetering Captain.  Reiko decapitated the wounded marine seemingly without noticing and, just like that, the way was open for them to charge the Admiral.  The bodyguard readied to receive them while the Admiral cast a spell.  Unholy fire burst on the deck, scorching them.Ezikial continued firing at the bodyguard, who glowed again with healing power.  She shoved him aside and hacked at Chopper with her bardiche.  He winced in pain but endeavored to appear unimpressed, an endeavor that became more convincing as Sandara channeled energy and the wounds sealed over.  Reiko snarled a challenge at Admiral Thrune but the bodyguard threw herself in the katana's path, screaming as the blade bit through her armor.  She collapsed on the deck, dead."And I thought we had something there," Ezikial said sadly."Valeria!  NO!" Admiral Thrune shrieked."You CAN surrender, you know," Chopper told her."I will NEVER surrender!  My soul is lost no matter what happens."A priestess of Norgorber suddenly became visible, flinging up a wall of blades in front of Chopper and Reiko.  Feruzi and Ezikial fired their weapons, Ezikial wounding the Admiral, Feruzi skewering the priestess.  Reiko wrenched herself free of the blades, her kimono slashed to ribbons, and finished Ezikial's work, cleaving the admiral open from breastbone to pelvis.  Chopper attacked the cleric, but nothing seemed to happen.  Sandara quickly threw a dispelling field, revealing the illusion.  Feruzi whipped around, grimacing, and spotted the cleric fleeing toward the other side of the ship."Hey, no running away, there!" she yelled and drew her bow.  The cleric looked back and received an arrow in the eyesocket for her trouble.  The remaining marines and crew shrank back, some even jumping overboard to an uncertain fate rather than surrender.Reiko looked overboard as the Crisis crew herded the prisoners belowdecks.  The battle seemed to be going well--many of the Chelish ships were breaking off the attack and fleeing into the storm.  "Shall we raise our colors on this ship to announce its capture?"  Reiko asked."Aye, make it so," Chopper said.  "Yer fookin' welcome, Bonefist," he grumbled un[...]

Skull and Shackles Session 51: Didn't We Just Do This?


After some further gathering of forces, it was decided for the combined Shackles Fleet (Unofficial) to assemble near Hell Harbor.  The numerous spellcasters distributed through the pirate fleet exercised their scrying magic, and the great invasion fleet of Cheliax did not disappoint."Shoot them harder than they shoot us!" Chopper crowed, waving vigorously at his crew.  There were over forty enemy ships, including the easily-recognizable Dominator.  "Oh, hey, those guys!" Chopper continued in undiminished good spirits."Don't get hurt," Feruzi told Pegsworthy severely as he prepared to disembark for his own vessel.  "Well,  unless it's absolutely necessary.  But even then, go for more of a flesh wound.""Of course, dear.  Even those devil worshippers don't deserve YOUR vengeance.""That's right.  Best to be merciful.""Looks like we have plenty of targets, at least," Ezikial grunted.  "Captain, may I sink them?""Well, I suppose," Chopper said.  "Just don't expect a birthday present.""We should at least give them a chance to surrender," Feruzi said.  "Since our forces are so clearly superior.""It's all about quality, not quantity.  Still, I would not suggest holding your breath," Reiko told her.As the Crisis grew closer to the Chelish fleet, a squadron of flying devils suddenly appeared in the air.  Reiko pulled out her new bow and began shooting.  The arrows seemed to connect, but Reiko shook her head.  "These are not real," she announced."Good," Chopper said, drawing his axes and scanning the sky.  Five more devils appeared as they launched their attack.  The apparent leader of the devils tossed a feather token to the deck, causing the Crisis to shudder and slow violently as the magical anchor weighed her down.  "Fucking WITCHCRAFT!" Chopper complained violently.  The four remaining devils charged Reiko and Ezikial, vomiting noxious clouds while swinging their polearms."Forget to use your mouthwash this morning?" Reiko asked.  A positive hail of bullets, arrows, axe and katana blows followed until the Crisis officers were bleeding freely and the devils were all reduced to something akin to paste.  With the assault temporarily in abeyance Sandara dispelled the anchor token and distributed some healing."As if devils weren't bad enough, we get stinky devils," Feruzi grumped, collecting her spent arrows."Are we taking on the Dominator, Captain?" Ezikial asked."Well, it'd be rude not to, don'tcha think?  Personal service and all that.""I am in agreement," Ezikial replied with an evil grin.  "Make sure we're all loaded, Rosie!"  They began making way again,  but in the scrum it looked as though the Bonaventure would close with the Dominator long before the Crisis was in any position to be of assistance.  Chopper shook his fist in that direction."Save some for us!""Looks like their flagship over here," Ezikial said.  "Abrogail's fury.""Fine, fine, we'll do that one.""Bring me to within 600 feet and I'll take it from them," Ezikial said."That, I can do," Reiko told him, resuming her place as pilot.The Bonaventure abruptly changed course, forcing the Dominator into a slow turn that brought her weapons out of line, leaving the Chelish dreadnought vulnerable to a devastating volley from one of Endymion's warships.  Ezikial shrieked in glee as the Dominator was holed at the waterline and began sinking with impressive speed.  The Crisis gained on Abrogail's Fury, seeking an advantageous angle for attack.  Four more devils appeared on the Crisis, serpentine fiend[...]

Skull and Shackles Session 50: Will The Real Pirate King Please Stand Up


Leila shuffled through Harrigan's papers as they made way toward Port Peril, racing to warn the Pirate Council of the imminent Chelish invasion.  "Has anyone noticed that this invasion plan seems to call for the Chelish armada to sail directly through the Eye of Abendego?""That's crazy talk," Feruzi said."Damn it," Chopper complained.  "I wanted to be the crazy one to suggest that.""Witchcraft?" Sandara offered.  Chopper smirked."You, I like."They arrived in Port Peril in a cold, drizzling rain.  The harbor was crammed with the flagships of pirate lords who, having received notification from the captured Wormwood, wanted to be on-hand for this meeting.  Kerdak Bonefist called the meeting to order."There's only one agenda item on this meetin's schedule:  this threat of a Chelish invasion.  Cap'n Chopper 'as tha floor.  Convince me.""Welp, we have a fat lotta paperwork that sez Harrigan was treasonous scum instead of, you know, the regular kind.  Also, that the Chelish fleet thinks they can sail through the Eye this time.  So, that's different.  It don't mention how.  Was hopin' mebbe the Master of the Gales could shed some light," Chopper declared.The druid looked a little surprised at this request, but only for a moment.  "A 'blessing' from their infernal masters would seem the most likely explanation.""Ah.  So.  Water devils.  That's a thing.  Huh."  Chopper said.  "Point is, if the Chelish fleet be on its way by unconventional means, we have far less time fer the usual smash 'n' grab that has been enjoyed in times past.  I don't fancy wakin' up without me trousers and a randy fiend creepin' up behind."  Sorrinash and a few of the rowdier pirate lords laughed until Bonefist glared them down."That's odd, because you seemed to enjoy it pretty well that one time," Feruzi said blandly into the restless silence.Chopper shrugged.  "I mean to keep a sharp eye on the . . . well the Eye, regardless o' what me fellow Council members have a mind t'do.  I reckon we can bloody 'em some before they sink us, but will it be enough to stop 'em running roughshod over the rest of the Shackles?  This don't strike me as a half measure, ladies and gents.""Is there any possibility of counteracting their magic or whatever it is?" Feruzi asked.  "The Eye would do most of the work for us in that case.""Calm yerselves," Bonefist grunted.  "There ain't no devil magic at work here.  Papers don't make nothin' true."Ezikial abruptly stood up.  "Are you, then, so old and tired that you would rather close your eyes to what is happening so you can drool into your feather pillow in mindless comfort?  Are you truly so daft, or are you a pirate lord of the Shackles?"Bonefist growled.  "Yer father was a brother-in-arms ter me, Besmara rest 'is soul.  That, an' that alone, is the reason I don't have ye flayed alive here an' now.  Erryone pay heed.  No matter who forged these here papers hopin' ter draw us inter an attack on an old enemy--even supposin this threat is real, I reminds ye that meetin' the Chelaxians on th' open sea only plays ter Cheliax strengths an' concentration o' force, 'specially their teleportin' diabolic allies.  Free Captains do best in battle wi' small strikes, or from defensive positions."Feruzi leaned over and whispered to Chopper, " Did he say 'forged'?"  Chopper nodded."If this threat is real and not some farcical invention by untested Lords and Ladies eager to cast a disparigin' light upon their rival H[...]

Skull and Shackles Interlude: Best Spell Evarr


The universe flickered and Sandara abruptly fell into something sticky.  Given the enthusiastic fighting styles of her compatriots this wasn't too unusual an occurence but the sticky substance was usually not blue.  Or, except in the case of really intense combats, three feet deep. Or floating in midair.  Upside-down.  If that was down.  Sandara's eyes crossed as she took in her surroundings and her stomach danced a jig as the perspective seemed to wobble and distort.  The midair blob of cerulean goo lazily flopped over and dumped Sandara onto a small island covered in rusty red moss, which groaned and cursed."Feruzi?  Izzat yer?""Ugh, what happened?  Why am I covered in fuzz?""I don't rightly know.  Are ye hurt?""Yes.""Well, 'ere, have some healin' then."  The reddish moss abruptly turned black and fell off, revealing Feruzi in more or less her usual state.  She heaved herself to her feet and looked around.  Slowly, her eyes crossed."Where the HELL are we?!""Dinna know.  T'ain't anywheres in th' Shackles, though.  Leastwise, I hope not.""This . . . ugh, my head . . . this looks like Limbo.  Did we get sent to another plane!?  We have to get back!""True enough, but how do ye plan ter do that?  Ye know any portals that might be convenient?""I doubt it.  And it's not like there are any landmarks in all this . . . schlock.""Well, if we wait 'til mornin I kin ask Besmara ter plane shift us outta here.""Morning?  But the others are fighting Harrigan right now!""Yer got a better option?""Well . . . no.""Then I guess we're waiting."  The mossy island was comfortable enough, so Sandara pulled out her pipe and settled in to wait.  Feruzi, on the other hand, fidgeted nervously, causing the entire rock to jiggle uncomfortably.  "Would ye stop that," Sandara grumped after several minutes of this."Mmph.""Go fer a walk or summat.  Not too far, mind ye.  Don't get yerself lost.""All right, all right."  Feruzi awkwardly climbed down from the small floating island into the branches of a tree that appeared to be growing upside-down . . . if that was down.  Probably best not to get too wrapped up in such distinctions, really.  In a way Limbo felt like being really, really drunk, just unfortunately without the part that prevented you from worrying about it.  Sandara briefly considered getting drunk on the off chance that it would serve as a remedy, then rejected this idea as almost certain to make the nausea worse while simultaneously infuriating Feruzi, who was not in the best of temper at the moment.As if summoned by this train of thought, Feruzi called up, "Can you see that?" her voice weirdly distorted."Whuzzat?""That," Feruzi said, pointing somewhat unhelpfully, as Sandara could not see her.  "Over there."  Still less helpful.  "It's like something big is headed this way."Sandara squinted, then tried putting a hand over one eye, then the other.  Yes, it did seem that something big and kinda gray was headed in their direction.  Fast.  And loud.  The air filled with the sound of crashing waves as a howling tempest descended.  Sandara was thrown from the island; Feruzi made a grab and hauled her into the tree just in time.  Salty breakers battered them and the black hull of an immense ship loomed out of the storm above.  Sandara screamed and shut her eyes.Then, it was quiet.  The surf lapped at the tree innocently.  Sandara risked a look and discovered the gia[...]

Skull and Shackles Session 49: Ex-Harrigan


Finding themselves in command of the courtyard, the Crisis officers climbed up to the gallery and entered what appeared to be a warehouse, occupied by numerous crates, boxes, barrels, chests, and a multi-legged, multi-eyed beast waving sharp claws.  Ezikial promptly shot it and it staggered, wavering.  Chopper shrugged and buried his axe at a point roughly equidistant from its numerous eyes, eliminating the threat before Reiko and Feruzi could even raise their weapons."Well, I mean, I get the appeal of finishing things off so quickly," Chopper said, retrieving his axe, "but where is the pageantry?"Feruzi smirked.  "It's about time you boys handled something on your own," she said.  Reiko nodded."I couldn't agree more.  It's nice to avoid the explosion of internal organs all over me for once.""The thunder of my guns and the spraying blood are enough for me," Ezikial said, reloading his pistols.The door on the western side of the warehouse was locked--Chopper kicked it and six spikes shot out, impaling his leg."Oof!" he announced as Sandara rushed forward with a healing spell.  "Door kicked me back.  Ruse, can you witch it open?""Er, no.""If only we 'ad someone good at blowin' up locks . . ." Sandara said unsubtly.  Ezikial pulled out a grenade."Shall I?""Fire in th' hole!" Sandara added helpfully.  The explosion rattled the warehouse and the door was reduced to expedient splinters.  They rifled through the rest of that floor without finding anything too terribly interesting, then mounted the stairs.  Or tried to: the doors above opened and four pale-skinned, dark-winged women wearing not many clothes but wielding more than enough weapons to make up for it charged them.  Two of them fired flaming arrows at Ezikial, the other attacked Reiko with a flaming rope that coiled as of its own volition.  The fourth erinyes cast a spell and a miasma of cold, greasy darkness rolled over them. Chopper shouted and charged, wielding his axes.  "Put on some clothes, ye harlot," he growled as he fenced with the spellcaster.  Ezikial shot that one and, without a pause, continued on to the next.  Reiko shook her head."Why am I even here today?" she asked."Because it takes me a while to reload," Ezikial grunted.  Feruzi fired up the stairs, downing a third devil while Reiko attempted to disentangle herself from the rope."HARRIGAN, COME OUT AND PLAY!" Ezikial roared.  Sandara channeled divine energy, burning the remaining erinyes, and Ezikial finished her off.  The east door, behind them, opened and the familiar, painful sound of a Chelish opera sung by a powerful, piercing soprano filled the room."Oh, not this again," Feruzi said, wincing.  The diva strode into the warehouse and cast a spell at Reiko, who didn't seem particularly overcome."Yer flat," Chopper announced as a bolt of lightning hit Feruzi in the chest and arced, singing everyone except Chopper.  Ezikial cringed as phantasmal magic struck at him, but he shook it off.  Harrigan suddenly appeared next to the Chelish diva, the skulls on his armor howling fearsomely.  He struck at Feruzi, who didn't quite dodge in time.  Reiko drew her katana and cleaved the Diva while Chopper attacked Harrigan."Besmara calls for your blood," Ezikial growled."Then come an' take it, Mister Hands," Harrigan growled back."I believe that I shall."  Ezikial's bullets punched holes in Harrigan's flesh.  Doloruso, the spellcaster, appeared behind Harrigan and threw a spr[...]

Skull and Shackles Session 48: Stealth Section


"So, if the bastard didn't bother comin', what's he up to, eh?" Chopper demanded of the Wormwood officer, a Varisian man named Bintrim Whist."Doloruso said Harrigan was sure his fleet would crush you.""He was mistaken," Feruzi said."Yes, ma'am.""So, what does he have let at his disposal?" Reiko asked."Just what he's got left at his fortress.  He's there now with no real way to escape and just the great serpent defending the harbor.""What, Fluffy?" Chopper asked."I don't know its name, sir.""Are ye thick?  I jus' told you.""Yes, sir.  Of course, sir.  Sorry, sir.  I just know about the gong and the bull.""Sure, sure," Chopper muttered.Eventually, the disorganized aftermath of the battle was sorted out, with the allied and captured ships anchored at the Island.  Saburo was the only allied captain seriously injured--he went overboard and nearly drowned.  Everyone else was banged up to some degree, but no one was seriously dead so a celebration seemed to be in order.  In the morning, the Crisis officers reconvened to discuss matters."Now we can use the secret way to creep up on that coward Harrigan," Chopper said straight off."Or we could just return in the Wormwood and make him think he succeeded," Reiko offered."I like Reiko's idea," Feruzi said.  "I want to vote for that one.  Although his first mate may have teleported back there and reported failure already."Reiko shrugged.  "I doubt it.  Harrigan would likely kill her for deserting her post." "Mmph," Feruzi grumbled.  "Part of me keeps worrying that is some kind of elaborate plot, but then I remember that Harrigan isn't that smart.""Indeed.""Fetch out that map again!" Chopper ordered.  They all leaned over his shoulders (or snuck in under his arm, in Reiko's case) to squint at the parchment."Torture pit?"  Feruzi asked, pointing."An' a shrine to WHO, 'zactly?" Sandara demanded."Dunno," said Chopper.  "Never heard Harrigan say any prayers.""It's probably a shrine to himself," Feruzi said.  Sandara and Conchobhar laughed."THAT I can see," Chonchobhar snorted.  "Like I was standing there right now."Reiko's plan was finally adopted.  Fishguts produced a really juicy bull and a large brass gong from who knew where and they set off aboard the Wormwood for Gannet Island.  It wasn't much of an island, to be sure, consisting mostly of a rocky outcrop surrounded by smaller shoals that made navigation rather difficult.  Fortunately, again, they had a map.  Rosie banged the gong with rather more vigor than was probably called for as Fishguts slaughtered the bull and, with some assistance, heaved the carcass overboard, sniffling a few times at the sad waste of prime steak.  They anchored the Wormwood in the cove without incident.  Feruzi cast a few spells, rendering the recognizable officers invisible, and Birtrim Whist had some of the Wormwood's crew row them ashore.  An octogonal tower loomed above them.  The drawbridge was down, spanning a dry gulch before the walls, but the doors were shut and looked as if they intended to stay that way.  Whist waved at the tower.  "Welp, we're back."  A guard poked his head over the edge of the parapet."Where's the rest of your crew?""Repairing the ship.  We thought Harrigan would want to hear our report right away."There was a long pause as the guards conferred in hushed tones.  They didn't seem terribly convinced.  Reiko leaned forward and whispere[...]

Skull and Shackles Session 47: Fleet on Fleet Action


It was difficult to say whether the decision to return to the Island of Empty Eyes to rally the defense was a wise one, but Harrigan's fleet was spotted early on the 20th of Abadius by the keen eyes of Morgus the Manticore, who also gave them a general outline of Harrigan's attack formation and the location of the much-hated Wormwood."Watcher think?"  Chopper asked.  "Try to pierce the heart?""It should be our responsibility to deal with Harrigan," Feruzi said.  "Their alliance will probably fall apart without him.""Aye," Chopper said thoughtfully."I have no doubt our allies can handle most of this riffraff, anyway.""Right.  LISTEN UP, YE SWABS!" Chopper bellowed, rather startling everyone, "We mean ta cut a bloody path ta Captain Harrigan!  I need every sailor givin' their utmost all!  All hands on the bleedin' deck!  YAAAAAAAARRRRGH!"The crew gave a hearty cheer."LOAD THEM UP, ROSIE!" Ezikial ordered.  "Make sure you use chain bolts for the ballistae and the barrels are ready for the catapult.""Er, Captain," Sandara said as the cannons and ballistae were loaded, "Do we mean ter sink, or ter board?":"Board.  Wouldn't do ta caount a sunk ship as a confirmed kill," Chopper told her, winking."More glory innit too, I wager," she replied, winking back.Reiko sighed.  "Right, then."  She took her position behind the wheel as the first ships engaged.  In the hazy distance one of Harrigan's ships collided with a Hell Harbor warship in a shower of splinters.  Within moments both ships were heavily embattled and on fire.  The Salty Flagon, Pierce Jerrell's ship, closed with another and seemed to sprout a forest of flashing blades.  The Sated Satyr intercepted a warship before it could reach the Crisis.  The Wormwood was visible now, deep in the center of the enemy fleet.  Behind the Crisis there was a horrendous crash as the Satyr rammed the warship, effectively taking both ships out of the fight.  Ezikial, watching the carnage with an avid expression, began to sing, Sandara joining him vigorously.  Only one defender remained, and the Strife managed to force it off course, giving Crisis free room to ply her guns."Time to make ourselves truly offensive to Harrigan," Feruzi said."That's the spirit!"  Chopper told her.  "Now, Ezikial!"The cannons thundered, fully restored after their removal from the Black Marlin; the ballistae and catapults fired with less drama but equal effectiveness, chain bolts and fire barrels reducing the Wormwood's aft rigging to flaming splinters.  One of her ballistae was also shattered."RELOAD THAT!!" Ezikial bellowed.  Reiko steered the Crisis into the void left by the shattered ballista as the boarding crews hurled grapnels onto the Wormwood, hauling the ships together.  Planks were thrown across and a general surge of armed-pirates swept toward Harrigan's flagship.  "BESMARA!!!" Ezikial howled, a cry that was taken up by many.Harrigan and his first mate Peppery Longfarthing were nowhere to be seen,  but Riaris Krine and Patch Patchsalt seemed to be leading the action.  Patchsalt seemed to run over the top of the crowd and viciously attacked Ezikial with a magical blade."Besmara's come calling for you!" Ezikial spat at the little gnome."Norgorber'll take ye first!" she shrieked in reply.Reiko left the wheel and drew her sword, cleaving a path through the mass of enemy pirates with a placid, intent expression [...]

Skull and Shackles Session 46: Caves Full of Ships


Alise pointed the Crisis officers to a gap in the rocks on the other side of the island that opened into a vast cathedral-like cavern packed with derelict ships.  Despite the shifting of the tide, the greenish water stank of death.  Only a few rays of sunlight penetrated the murk.  Four of the ships were in an identifiable condition.  The largest was the Devilish Duchess.  Another, with sleek lines and cannon ports, was named the Black Marlin.  The other two were the Pinkbelly and the Undaunted.Ezikial looked ecstatic.  Well, ecstatic for him.  "Cannon," he announced, leading the way over the wrecks toward the Marlin.  Chopper glanced over the side to see the decayed bones of a dozen ships and ten times that many men.  Dark shapes moved in the shadows and sprang to the attack, one charging straight into Reiko's blade and nearly splitting itself in twain.  Ezikial followed up with a hail of pistol shot, but the elder undead still came on, raking with their diseased claws at anyone to slow to give way.  Bleeding, now, Chopper distracted a second and Feruzi shot it through the head, yet still it came on.  This was beginning to look like something less than an easy fight.  Reiko ducked under a claw and completed the twain-splitting of the first one.  It dissolved into acid, splashing her and mixing with the blood already liberally streaming from her wounds.Sandara channeled divine energy, healing some of the wounds and burning the undead, and slowly the battle turned.  Chopper's axe split the head of the second brykolakas while Ezikial and Feruzi shot the third sufficiently full of holes to reduce it to dripping acid.  The last remaining monster showed no signs of fear, clawing away until Reiko decapitated it, getting one last dose of foul liquid in the bargain."It's really rude of them to explode AFTER we kill them," Feruzi complained, wiping ineffectually at the acid spots."Thass th' undead," Sandara said.  "Inconsiderate numpties th' lot ovem."The ships proved to have some valuable plunder intact, and on the Devilish Duchess they located a small hidden panel in a beam just above a moldering hammock, containing some coins, bottles, and a leather journal.  A brief thumb through the volume revealed it as a detailed accounting of Scags Rotgram's grievances against his former captain, Barnabas Harrigan.  The latter portion was an elaborate plan to invade Harrigan's fortress and assassinate him--complete with maps, charts, and heavy annotation of defenses."Money," Chopper announced."Far be it from us to deny Rotgram's final wishes," Feruzi said.Ezikial was not to be pulled away from the Black Marlin.  "Even if we leave the rest we should take this one, Captain.  Extended keel, narrow hull . . . she'll be fast and maneuverable and tough.""You might want to wipe your chin there, Zeke," Feruzi said dryly."I don't mind, but do we have to take it today?" Chopper asked."Sooner is better, Captain.""Put some people on it.  It's what we do now.  Delegate."A great deal of back-breaking work followed, but they managed to float the Marlin on the 2 a.m. tide and take her in tow behind Crisis.  Leila spent the time examining Rotgram's charts and identified the most likely location of Harrigan's hideout."He's here on Gannet Island, about thirty-six miles west of the Smoker.  Rotgram also explains how to get past the sea serpe[...]

Skull and Shackles Session 45: Talking Heads


The meeting of the Anti-Cheliax Preparatory Force was brief and businesslike.  Captain Aiger took possession of his mother's former sword, swearing his allegiance to the small fleet at the same time.  Maps were consulted and plans made, the various captains returning to their vessels to make preparations.Fargo Vitterande approached the Crisis officers after the meeting with further news of the elusive Scags Rotgram.  It was widely rumored that Harrigan's former first mate and his ship, the Devilish Duchess, fell victim to the curse of Dagon's Jaws, a pair of islands near Motaku Isle with a terrible reputation that turned out on further examination to be bunkum.  Or, at least, was called so by one of Fargo's contacts in Slipcove.  The waters around and particularly between the islands were dangerous, to be sure, but not cursed or otherwise supernatural.  So, of course, what else was there to do but set course for the islands and try to discover Rotgram's whereabouts.  If Harrigan wanted the man put down so badly, he must know something worthwhile.Several days later, Chopper surveyed the islands while munching on a chicken leg.  "Looks harmless enough," he said."I would like to say that, but I know better by now," Feruzi said.  The larger island, named, creatively, "Big Jaw", was covered in dense jungle.  Little Jaw was rockier and drier and covered less with steaming plant life and more by cliffs that made the island difficult, if not quite impossible, to approach."How shall I approach, Captain?" Reiko queried after they finished their survey.  "Circle them once," Chopper ordered.  "Let's see what we can see.""Aye, aye, Captain."  As the Crisis passed to the west of Big Jaw, the lookout yelled, "Fire!  A signal fire!"  A plume of black smoke drifted lazily upwards from the western shore of the island--a high cliff face.  They would have to land at a beach almost across the island if they wanted to investigate.  Which, of course, they did.The beach was not of a hospitable character, rough and chewed by waves, sloping upward toward rocky projections.  Fragments of what seemed to be a ship's longboat lay scattered along the shore and a half-dozen sodden corpses bobbed face-down in the waves.  One plank had the barely-recognizable word "Duchess" painted on it."Looks like Scags maybe wasn't so lucky after all," Feruzi said."Well, the fire suggests survivors to me," Chopper said.  "Also these tracks.""They could also suggest 'the undead'."Ezikial shrugged and nodded to the floating corpses, which were now climbing to their feet and staggering ashore, much to the surprise of absolutely no one.  Sandara jumped and waved her holy symbol furiously, turning half the soggy lacedons to dust.  The rest fell to pieces from a few well-placed arrows.  Then a pair of tall, lanky creatures with rotting gray flesh and long black hair burst out of the sea, sweeping their claws at Sandara.  Ezikial blasted away at one, but it proved quite resilient.  Sandara scrambled away, directing healing energy at her clawed-up skin.  Feruzi shot the second monstrosity in an effort to distract it from the retreating cleric, but it, too, stubbornly refused to drop.  It knocked Sandara to the ground and turned on Reiko.  A melee of axe and sword blows finally managed to stop the attacks and hastily-appli[...]

Skull and Shackles Session 44: Tragedy Tomorrow, Comedy Tonight


The Theater of Corruption in Hell Harborwas run by a trio of Chelish expatriates who performed abstract reworkings of ancient Chelish plays.  The disturbing operatic comedies featured dark fiends as protagonists and mortal antagonists who embroiled themselves in sins and deviltry, suffering ironic losses, deformities, and often damnation.  It was difficult to know whether the patrons enjoyed these themes or whether they simply loved the scandalous reputation of the establishment.The Crisis officers spread out around the broad, single-story building, constructed on piles over the waters of Hell Harborin search of side entrances.  Feruzi had approached the doors when she was interrupted by a loud "Oi!" from around the corner."Don't you 'oi' me!" she snapped.  A heavily armored guard approached her."You need to move on, there.  This buildin's under the personal protection of Lord Endymion hisself!""And what, exactly, did you think I was about to do to said building?""Don't matter, girlie.  Get thee gone.""How do I even know you work for Endymion?""Do we even care?" Ezikial grunted from his position further up the street.  He took a swig from his flask."Well, no," Feruzi said, " but I don't appreciate people trying to tell me what to do.""It don't matter if I work for Asmodeus hisself.  This is yer last warnin.  Leave.""Ooh, my last warning. Now I'm scared," Feruzi said.  "Whatever shall I . . ." she punched the guard in his ugly mug and was surprised to discover no real resistance.  Chopper charged out of the shadows and whacked the so-called guard upside the head, or tried to, he passed right through the illusion, which vanished, accompanied by the sound of mocking, ethereal laughter."Bloody witchcraft!" Chopper growled.  Feruzi clambered onto the roof of the building, not immediately finding any other enemies.  There was a loud thumping noise as Reiko assaulted the door, battering it open in a matter of moments.  Ezikial and Chopper, still on the pier, were hit by a wave of unholy energy.  A devil, sporting a rather dangerous-looking beard, shimmered into view and attacked."Lord Endymion sends his regards, fools," it cackled.  "Now die!""Eh, probably not," Chopper said, fending off the devil's assaults.  Feruzi shot it, dealing some damage while Reiko drew her sword to deal with a wild-eyed, bloodstained man who punched at her with his bare hands.  Somewhere inside the building a powerful soprano began to belt out a Chelish opera.  The bare-knuckle fighter proved to be a powerful adversary, pummeling Reiko without mercy.  Someone from inside the building cast a spell on him which only served to make him more ferocious.Ezikial raised his pistols and blew the devil away, removing one distraction as the sound of spellcasting came again from inside the building.  Reiko dealt the berserker brawler a hideous blow, but he laughed and bellowed a challenge at her as the wound was largely healed by a powerful spell.Blocked from assisting Reiko, the other three officers and Sandara hurried toward the main doors.  Ezikial blasted the lock and they rushed into a dimly-lit hall with excellent acoustics that seemed to be amplifying whatever bardic magic was taking place.  Sandara threw a spell into the far corner, removing the illusion that concealed one of the attackers.  Sh[...]