Sunday, 27 December 2009

Yuletide Greetings

Ah, Christmas... I've been celebrating with my family, and have enjoyed myself immensely. However, all things must come to an end. I'm preparing to return to the Rainy City, and eventually to work. I have a few posts in the pipeline, and hopefully I'll get them up before I run out of year.

In the meantime, and since it's still Christmas, I'll give you some light entertainment.

God jul alle sammen!

Monday, 14 December 2009

Word: Cabal

This time I've got two origins, one unarguably true, the other more circumstantial.

Origin 1: The true origin is, of course, the Hebrew word kabbalah, litterally meaning 'receiving'. It is a dicipline and a school of thought concerned with mystic Judaism. Cabal reffers to a group of people, bound together by a common cause, often involving secrecy.

Origin 2: Another origin, while probably not etymologically accurate, is the five members of the Privy Council of Charles II of England, Clifford, Arlington, Buckingham, Ashley-Cooper, and Lauderdale. These men held power from 1668 to approximately 1674.

Origin 1 is the true one -- the second, while it did put the word into the English vocabulary, would not have had the impact, or meaning, it did without the former.

Source 1:

Source 2:
Denis MacShane, Globalising Hatred, the new antisemitism, Phoenix, 2009

Thursday, 10 December 2009

On Argonauts

Storyteller's note: This article can be read in The Tradesmaster's Dispatch, a Wezellian newsletter. This particular edition can be found in the van Zaar residence in Zaarbrügge.

The Tradesmaster's Dispatch
Räderhafen - 11 / MXXI

The Attack on Free Thought
as illustrated by the persecution of the Argonauts.

The Royal Guild of Argonauts was founded by Lord Solar Macharius, King of Pendrell and Corillia in YE 89. The guild was tasked with preserving the secrets of navigation and astronomy, and for centuries it was the backbone of the Pendrellian navy; only on few occasions did any one not a member of the guild rise to admiralcy.

The guild served the Royal House of Pendrell with honour, adhering to the mandate laid down by Macharius. We ourselves owe them some gratitude for the prosperity brought by the trade routes opened by the Argonauts before the Wezellian Renaissance. Let us not forget that early in this age, our kingdom stood without the wealth of enlightenment other realms inherited from the Scythian Empire.

The Argonauts have lost a great deal of influence, prestige, and resources over the last generation. There have been a few scandals involving prominent Navigators, but the greatest blow is a most recent one: the Tribunals of Pure Thought. These tribunals, as the astute reader will know, have been founded in order to weed out freethinkers and heretics, and are strictly counter-Enlightenment. They follow the doctrines laid down by the Presbyterium, and operate outside the Habeas Corpus. To date, at least twenty-three gentlemen of standing have been sent to the pyre by these tribunals, several more have been imprisoned or exiled. It should also be noted that the property of the convicted does not befall the Crown, as is customary, but the Parliament.

That such an ancient order as the Argonauts are being eradicated should be cause for concern for all enlightened gentlemen, for if the secrets of navigation are to be suppressed, the very foundation of reason and commerce is threatened.

The Tradesmaster is informed that over the last year, the Board of Onkels have granted asylum to several prominent scholars, thinkers, peers and gentlemen of good standing, all of whom have had to flee from unjust persecution and slander. It is the conviction of the Tradesmaster that the outcome of these horrendous actions can only lead to a dilution of the very essence of Erian civilisation -- that of pursuit of wonder tempered by rational thinking and enhanced by scientific achievements and philosophical advancements. Was it not these very qualities that enabled Man to emerge victorious from the Second World War? Should we then abandon our best hope in the face of what may well be the greatest peril Man has ever faced?

We, as a culture, nay, as a race, are now besieged by great and terrible forces -- forces of darkness, corruption and ignorance. The Syndikaat has committed itself to this conflict, this war, this, the Third World War.

The Tradesmaster can do nothing but condemn those that seek to shackle and make mute those gifted individuals who are our best hope for salvation. If war is the only way to survive, we must all answer the call to arms. The Third Age is ending, and the Fourth Age must be born in blood. We must strike down those who wish to poison and destroy our brothers with furious anger, whatever they be, where ever the are. Let us not fear this struggle!

The fate of the Navigators is but one example of the tyranny of evil men. What sets it apart from the Temple's rampant persecutions of free thought and enlightened vision is that it happens with the blessing of the Cabal of Pure Thought. If the thought is no longer pure, let us then, for the sake of our sons and daughters, abandon it and embrace the truth. The seeing must lead the blind, lest we all perish.

The last two chapters

Storyteller's note: Due to time, computer-SNAFU, and the actions of the last two chapters, I will combine these. Most of the last these were spent in in-character discussions, something that, while it is most interesting when it happens, doesn't necessarily make for a great narrative.

Lying off the coast of Corillia, the Company was faced with a difficult decision, that of where to go, and what to do. After some consideration, three alternatives had been defined, Wezell, Waymar, and Kithay. The pros and cons of each were thoroughly examined, and in the end, Wezell was chosen.

The main problem here was that they would have to sail through waters heavily patrolled by the Pendrellian navy, but here Galan had a solution. He created a magical displacement of the Pius' visual presence, in effect making the ship invisible, while simultaneously creating a red herring any would-be pursuers could follow.

Thus it was that the good ship Pius and her crew arrived in Zaarbrügge, van Zaar's hometown. To expand on the subterfuge the name of the ship was painted over, and the Saviour anchored in port. Further, new names were invented for both Galan and Banzel. Van Zaar, being an old spy, drew upon one of his old aliases, while Aegir limited his cover to a hooded cloak.

They were received with open arms by Jolander's mother, and her brother, Jaap, the head of the house, and one of the Onkels, was summoned. The following days were used to refit the ship, relax, and do various preparations for future adventures. Jolander spent most of his time at home with his mother, drinking fortified wine and telling her all about his life and the state of the world as he sees it. She listened attentively, though most of it was lost on her, while sewing, until her son fell asleep. Then she'd see him carried to bed by two of the servants.

When Onkel Jaap van Zaar arrived three days after the Company came to Wezell; they had a proper sit-down. The fate of Argos, and that of Man, was what was discussed. Jolander believed that in a matter of weeks, the Old One, the giant sea-monster that almost sank the Pius, would attack Eria. This would, he insisted, cause panic, disaster, and the destruction of the Worlds of Man.

The Host of Man was another item of concern. The Elendrine Prophecies say that, "[Caracalla] will defeat the Host." Jaap here raised the question of how to avoid this, and this on turn lead to the Company volunteering to kill him.

Several other issues were also discussed, but as the hour had grown late, the men agreed to continue the talks at the next day's breaking of the fast.

Storyteller's note: Here the chapter ends, and another begins. Jolander's player was not present.

That night, after Jolander had been tucked in, Galan sat in the library, studying, when a servant announced a visitor for him. This proved to be a certain Commander Sir Jasper Colomb, of His Majesty's Royal Guild of Argonauts.

He was at first interested in Galan's role in the Scutino Incident and in the recent murder of captain Ardyke. Galan swore that neither himself, nor any of his companions, had anything to do with the former (being an Adeptus of Mind, he has reorganised his memories of the incident somewhat). By now, Tradesmaster Drake and Prince Aegir had joined the two, while Banzel monitored the exchange from the roof where he'd been watching the stars.

On the matter of the killing of Ardyke, Galan claimed that he had given strict orders not to harm him, and that none of his companions had been involved. In fact, he went as far as to give his word on it.

The visitor then went in to tell of an imminent war between Wezell and Pendrell. This would probably start in Corllia, he said. He then claimed that the Pendrellian king had been isolated and that all power in Pendrell now lay with the Parliament and the Ministerium. The true nature of his visit, he said, was to enlist the help of the Company. The nature of the help was somewhat delicate, and the status of the gentlemen was ideally suited; he asked that they kill a certain Dr Ebeneezer Murdoch.

Dr Murdoch was to be found in a Corillian city right across the border, no more than a dozen miles from their current location. Sir Jasper provided maps of the city, Grasse, and the Palace of Reason, a fortress on a small island in the harbour, where Dr Murdoch resided. The doctor was the most prominent member of the Ministerium in Corillia, and he was the head of the duchy's Tribunal of Pure Thought. Gryff Galan accepted.

Once the Argonaut had left, and armed with the maps, Galan started scrying the location, something that proved to be somewhat difficult. There was a certain resonance about the location that directly opposed the magic. Nevertheless, the good captain managed not only to penetrate the fortress, but also the private quarters of Dr Murdoch. Having made it thus far, Galan was contemplating teleporting into the chambers and killing the sleeping man. As it happened, h contemplated long enough to allow his mark to wake up. Sitting up, he cried, "Witchcraft!" and Galan, sitting bent over the maps, was thrown backwards by a white blast, ending up sprawling on the floor. The map was destroyed, something Banzel (having entered somewhat ungraciously through the closed window a little earlier) fixed through magic.

After the failed assassination, the Company decided to call it a day, and to resume after breakfast.

Thursday, 3 December 2009

Why We're Here

I found this one just recently, and since I've already opened for comics here, I'll give you Why We're Here, a short introduction to the horrible world of Cthulhu by Steve Ellis and Fred Van Lente.

Wednesday, 2 December 2009

The Lost Treasure

Storyteller's note: This pamphlet is brought before Gryff Galan by Mr Hawkins. He has confiscated it from one of the captured marines, and as he says, "I thought you might be interested, Sir." The six page print is on coarse paper, and according to the date, is no more than a week old. The name of the printer is not given, but it comes from Crondor.

The Unfinished Tale of Captain Tomas Parlay, Esq. as delivered to myself, his printer. Gentlemen, I fear that this time the daring adventurer has got himself into a pickle of which kind no one can survive. I fear, esteemed readers, that this is the last we will ever hear from the good Captain. 

Now, without further ado, I have the honour to present to you~

The Hunt for the Lost Treasure of the Elven Prince
by Captain Tomas Parlay, Esq.

As the astute reader may remember from my Adventure of the Phønix Feather(1), I found a map in the study of the deranged Dr. Mörbius. Again, fortune favoured me, for it was this that eventually saved me from a less than desirable fate.

My last adventure, the Curse of the Black Dancer(2), had me marooned in a shadowy realm. To be precise, the Black Dancer herself left me, all but decently attired, I am ashamed to say, adrift on a far-away river. A lesser man may have lost hope, but yours truly have been pickled more spicy than this before.

I will not bore you, gentle reader, with all the specifics surrounding the start of this adventure. Suffice it to say that when a ship emerged from the mists, I quickly put my wits and charms to good use. The ship's captain, a fine and dashing rogue, and his compannions, a party of a no less roguish disposition than their leader, agreed not only to save me from my predicament, but also to fund my next venture.

Thus it was that I found myself in command of a group, composed of as shady looking characters as you could imagine, in a small vessel heading for a deserted strip of land in northern Pendrell. Of my compannions I will say but a little at this time; one will be hard pressed to produce a more peculiar party. Believe me when I say that I found myself in the company of as well a wizard, a witch, two giants and a fallen paladin.

Under my expert leadership, our expedition came to a good start, as we landed on a moonlit, rocky beach, some miles south of Everkirk. Well heeled with gold from my past exploits, I set out shortly to procure steeds for the journey, bidding my fellows to wait lest they attract unwanted attention.

Coming up on Everkirk as the brazen sun of Pendrell in Novium rose majestically from its nocturnal slumber, I quickly spotted the fellow I sought, the portly postkeeper, enjoying his tea on a bench. With my razor-sharp wit, I rapidly dazzled him with compliments and anecdotes from a world this sedade individual hardly knew existed.

He became so impressed with my persona that he invited me in for a drink while we conducted our business. This was were I first saw the postkeeper's daughter. She was as angelic as you could imagine, my dear reader, with auburn hair flowing around her alabaster face. Her shapes, fully blossomed, could have led a presbyter into sinful thought, and she carried herself with a grace a queen would have envied her. Naturally, she could not take her eyes off me while she served her father and his guest.

The postkeeper, in the manner of all rotund merchants, drove a hard bargain for the horses, but for one who has haggled with a Hannuman sultan(3), this rural coin-clinker had to draw the shortest straw. And so it was that I returned to my party with horses, most of my currency, and a kiss from the postkeeper's daughter.

Even with the steeds, the journey inland was slow, for we had to follow the smaller paths, and avoid people as much as possible. Why? you may ask. Even one as silver-tongued as myself would find it difficult to explain the two giants who effortlessly loped beside our mounts. When we there was no choice but to ride through a hamlet or cross a bridge, the two looming, granite-muscled warriors of myth trekked around, meeting up with us on the other side.

Now I feel I owe you, my reader, some detail of the quest we were on. The map I had brought was not a map per see. Rather, it was description of the place where the Elven Prince Gilvandar had hidden the greatest treasure of his house before the last battle for Pendrell. The place was between two trees, under two stars, below the vaxing moon of Emmeroch.

The wizard, a mad Aragonian, had been wracking his head over this description repeatedly since we set out on this adventure, and had grown sullen with his lack of progress. It was only when I remembered my encounter with the talking staff(4) that I was able to solve the puzzle.

Relying on my uncanny memory of maps, I guided my compannions further north, over moors and through valleys, past the vast ruins of the Blackwall, and into the empty lands across the border.

Two days into the wilderness, late in the evening, we were attacked. We had set up camp and eaten a brace of rabbits I had shot. One of the giants was on watch when I heard the telltale sound of a rock being pushed from its place by a careless foot. I quickly glanced at my fellows, and seeing that most of them were fast asleep I drew my sword.

Not a moment too soon, for just as my Corobani blade cleared its scabbard they attacked. I called out to my friends, who stirred rapidly from their slumber, and I attacked (for is not a good offense the best defense?). The bandits were a dirty and dishelved lot, their breath reeked of rotting teeth and sour wine, and their beards were knotted and greasy; one had the skull of a small animal fastened to his.

Again my study under the blind swordsmaster(5) served me well, for while my companions struggled to get their bearings I was locked in mortal combat with three of the ugly brutes. Their technique was no less shabby than their demeanor, and I proved to be more than what they bargained for. Still, they had numbers on us. Luckily I had heard heard the brigands before they could spring their trap, and I was able to hold the line while my allies mustered.

The battle soon turned when the giants got their bearings, and when the blackguards found us a harder nut to crack than they had bargained for, they fled. Five of their number lay dead on the ground, and none of us had been hurt. My fellow adventurers were all shaken by the untimely attack, and few of them got much sleep that night. They all thanked me profusely, but I would hear nought of it - is not the cameraderie shared by heroes on a quest reward enough?

The next two days took us West into the foothills of the Stormcrow Mountains. The gentle slopes were covered in the multi-coloured sheddings of the old decidous forest, for here Autumn reigned. The jagged peaks of the primordial range were covered in eternal snow, and more than one river had to be crossed; running wild with icy water from the ancient fields of snow and ice that lay in the bossom of the mountains.

At last we arrived at the Fir'an Dael Plateu. According to the book I took from Dr Mörbius, the plateu was the last camp of the elves before they rode to their final battle. Here the last elves of their House had gathered under the two stars, below the vaxing moon of Emmeroch, to sing their own end. Here Prince Gilvandar burried the greatest treasure of his House between the two trees so that the humans would not get it. Here the elves had feasted and danced through the autumn night. Then they had ridden into legend. I would be lying if I said that we weren't touched by the history of the place.

While we pitched camp, the Aragonian wizard consulted the stars and found that Emmeroch would be upon us in two days. The site was ideal, with a good view of the surrounding area, plenty of game, and the freshest, sweatest water in a stream cutting accross the plateu.

We were bothered by neither man, monster, nor beast, and we spent the two days scouting and hunting. In the evenings, one of the giants sang enchanting ballads of forgotten days, and we were very content.

On the second evening, returning from a hunt with two fat fetterhens, I found the trees; two ancient, great weirwoods, old already when Macharius crossed the Inner Sea. Directly above them, the two bright stars that form the eyes of the Sentinel gazed down upon us. There was a resonance about the place that reminded me of the entrance to the Cavern of the Three (6). I returned to the camp, and the following day we prepared for the climax of our adventure. Several of my compannions were, understandably, a little nervous, but I managed to calm their nerves with soothing words and encouraging comments.

Here we have no further information about the Captain or his companions. Our thoughts are with them, and may it give them strength.


Other Adventures by Captain Parlay, Esq.:

(1) The Adventure of the Phønix Feather
(2) The Curse of the Black Dancer
(3) The Sands of Destiny
(4) The Maid and the Talking Staff
(5) The Master of the Sword
(6) The Cavern of the Three

The last chapter

Startig with the Pius returning to the surface, the Blockade in its wake.

The Company decided on their course -- that of the Plague Ship. They also knew how to proceed -- the Captain would transport them there. Then they would take up possition outside the Erian Gap, thus making them able to intercept the Naglfār before it could enter the Inner Ocean. Then they determined on the matter of how to take the Plague Ship out -- they would call upon the dragon.

Storyteller's note: Seriously, I can't remember the last time any group of players had a plan this good, this early in the session. Neat thing here of course was that while their plan covered everything they had set out to do, it didn't take anything else into account.

Bear with me while I lay out a few factors that will come to affect the Erian adventures of the Pius Cabal. The Erian Gap, the narrow straits that separates the Inner Ocean from the Outer Sea, is very heavily trafficed by ships of all Erian kingdoms. Not the least of these being Pendrell. Now, remembering an earlier chapter, the Pendrellian Parliament wants to see the gentlemen of the Company tried for the Scutino Incident, and they want their ship back (this session was the last before I started posting them here). And then there's M'narcel/Drake's Black Mark to worry about.

Well pleased with themselves, the magicians set about their business. Banzel had decided that he would make the Pius fly again, and so he turned to his plans and experiments. Van Zaar and Drake resolved to study the Saragossa Manuscript, in hope that they would learn how to destroy a Black Ship. Galan set out to device magical procedure grand enough to transport the ship and its crew several thousands of miles.

Long story quite short; the following sunrise saw the Pius in Erian waters. At this point van Zaar reasoned that since everything was proceeding smoothely they might afford to change the plan somewhat. He proposed to seek another way of destroying the Naglfār besides the dragon, thus keeping the proverbial cat well inside the bag for now.

Just as the debate over how to slay their prey started to become interesting, a midshipman reported that a Pendrellian corvette was coming up on them.

The corvette, the Suprise, signalled the Pius to stand down and be boarded. Despite some objections from the Company, captain Galan decided to follow the command. So it was that when the boarding skiff approached the side of the Pius, the Suprise lay in command of the wind, broadside threatening the stern of the ship of our heroes.

The spiffy young leutennant who commanded the boarding party, introducing himself as Thorne, presented Galan with his orders. Gryff Galan was, with imediate effect, stripped of rank and removed from command, and arrested. Further, Jolander van Zaar, the Wezellian spy, as well as Mandan Banzel, was to be arrested. Finally, Pius was to be surrendered into the command of Mr Thorne and returned to a Pendrellian port.

Drake was not mentioned.

Mr Thorne was pleasant enough to give the Company half an hour to get their affairs in order. It should be noted that according to Galan's memory, the lieutennant's father is Ebenezer Thorne, an influential Presbyterian member of Parliament.

The magicians did not agree on much in the events that were to follow. In fact, they did disagree on more issues than not. Drake, being quite pleased by not being mentioned in the order, had no wish to surrender himself to captivity. Van Zaar on the other hand, felt warmly about everybody going. Banzel wanted to blow up the Suprize and get on with the task at hand. Galan was too shocked and apalled by the entire debacle to get a proper grip on it. So, when Mr Thorne came to take the arrestees into custody the Company was still arguing. Drake stayed behind when the three prisoners were rowed over to the Suprize.

On the Suprize, things went from bad to worse. Captain Ardyke, an old seadog, expressed his regrets about chain of events. Regardless, despite loud objections from both van Zaar and Galan, the heroes were stripped of their personal belongings and shackled, before they were taken to the brig.

The Company still kept contact with eachother through the hive-mind established by Galan, and with three of them imprissoned and a price-crew abuot to set off with the Pius, an argument broke out between Galan and Drake. This ended with Drake severing the connection, thus cutting off any contact between the two parties.

Drake set about to retake the Pius, and so he summoned a nightmare spirit to put the marines from the Suprize to sleep.

On the Suprize, Banzel, never passing up on an opportunity for magic, decided to break the shackles, instead he managed to set of a Paradox effect that transmuted his boots to iron. Still bickering, the prisoners fumbled on for a bit until Banzel broke van Zaar's chains. Of course, the two guards outside their cell summoned a sergeant.

When the door to the brig was opened, van Zaar, manipulating time itself, attacked the guards and managed to severly wound the sargeant and injure one of the guards. The last one fought fought desperately while the alarm was sounded on the ship.

On the Pius, the enemy marines was now tipping over as the nightmare, a tall cloaked figure with smoke coming from within its cape, collected their dreams. Mr Thorne tried to sound the alarm when his men fell to witchcraft, but he was quickly and effectively dispatched by the Prince. To avoid being fired upon by the watchfull gunners of the Suprize, Drake asked the nightmare to skinride the body of the dead lieutennant.

Back on the Suprize the prisoners were still fighting the guard when Galan opened a portal back to his quarters.

Now escaped, the matter of surviving took precedence. Banzel magically hardened the hull of the Pius, while Galan wove a cunning spell to protect the masts. These measures proved sufficient to see them through the Suprize's broadside, and the light load of the Pius allowed them to leave the enemy in their wake.

It is at this point Banzel, van Zaar and the Prince get into a bet of sorts. Banzel wants to shoot one of the men on the Suprize, and van Zaar mentions the marksmanship of the Enæìd. Captain Ardyke is not to be harmed, someone says, before the Prince's man let's his arrow fly. It strikes the man next to the captain, and he falls over. Then Banzel shoots captain Ardyke in the heart.

The Suprize breaks off.

That evening, Galan believes his scrying has revealed their target, and the course is set.

That night van Zaar and Drake sit down again to finish their study of the Saragossa Manuscript. To make sure they have enough time, van Zaar again manipulates the flow of time.

In the morning they come upon their enemy, and the Saragossa Manuscripts proved to contain a spell that could banish Naglfār. The drawbacks was that it was beyond the capacity of any of the magicians, and that while the spell could be read directly from the manuscript, this would result in it being lost permanently.

Opting to preserve the dragon, the Pius Cabal took up possition on deck while Drake read out the Abyssian words of the spell. As the ancient magic formed, the words that summoned it decayed from the cracked vellum. The mist that hid the target dissipated, and then sounds of cracking timber came from the enemy. Reality seemed to become even more solid, and then the plague ship Naglfār collapsed in on itself, leaving nothing.

End of chapter.

Storyteller's note: Even if I received a lot of objections this night, I was quite amused. Mostly by the bickering and chaos that evolved as it became apparent that the Suprize did in fact mean to arrest and detain the Pius and her crew.

The affairs of the Erian kingdoms are complex, and quite important in the big picture, and I'm looking forward to seeing what the heroes decide to do next.