Tuesday, June 29, 2021

Review: 'The Paths of Cormanor' by Jim Breyfogle

    I was very lucky and was able to get a review copy of Jim Breyfogle's book Paths of Cormanor last week. I read it as an ebook formatted for iBooks.

The Technical and Such: The ebook layout was far superior to the majority with good, crisp fonts and text, a nice layout, proper use of various textual cues, and top-notch editing. If there was a spelling or grammar error, I missed it. The team of writer-copyeditor-editor-layout did a fine job and I was actually impressed with an ebook's composition!

The Plot and Such: Breyfogle did a fine job by keeping the plot very simple and straightforward. This does not mean the characters don't face mysteries or quandaries, it does not mean it is predictable, and it does not mean it is not entertaining. he just understands that a simple plot combined with good pacing and good writing makes a great story.

  The characters were well-drawn and engaging and had a verisimilitude that I find lacking in a lot of contemporary fiction. There were even understandable motivations driving the errors made by the various characters, another thing that seems rare these days. Even minor characters were well-defined.

  The setting was well-crafted and built by hints and implications rather than a data dump. The magic within the book was very, very far from World of Warcraft and retained a sense of wonder rather than a sense of level grinding.

  The worldbuilding was subtle rather than ham-handed and very engaging. I liked the strong sense of a German/Polish/Russian culture that was not intrusive.

The Review: The book is quite good and I heartily recommend it. Although Breyfogle's writing style is different the setting and story reminded me of Vance and Lyonesse while the action was akin to Burroughs in A Fighting Man of Mars. It has been some time since I enjoyed a fantasy novel as much as I did this one, and that book was over 50 years old!

  I can't wait to read his next book.

Monday, June 21, 2021


   We started this session in May and finished it over Father's day weekend, which just passed.

  The Players:

  Jack- Athanasius, 6th level Cleric

  Jennifer- Ingrid, 6th level fighter

  Alex- Seeker, 8th level thief

  Sam- Graystar, 6th level wizard

  Nick- Akira, the Man with the Eldritch Fists, 6th level monk

  Theo- Sir Dread, 5th level Fighter (hologram of his first character)

  Henchmen- only 6, but includes a paladin, a monk, and a 6th level Religious Brother

The Setup:

The Company of the Dark Moon has been tasked with occupying Whitehill's Castle to prevent it from falling into enemy hands and to begin patrolling the wild, lawless areas south of the capitol city. There had been scattered settlements in the past, but in the time since the death of Whitehill and the Scouring of the Treacher's Way more people have moved into thearea. 

  The Company only patrols along the road that stretches from the Fords of the White River to the ruins of Pirateport and within about 8-10 miles of the fortress proper. Scouts and rumors reported that there was a witch in the areas south of the road and west of the patrols and that, worse, livestock and people were starting to vanish in the same area. A group of Company members saddles up and set out


  The growth of small 2-3 family thorps with rough palisades in the area startled the PCs a little bit. There were many reasons: the open areas near the Briars were, well - near the Briars; the lands around Wyvern Keep were first in line if the orcs ever went to war again; the places near Eastport were also subject to raids and war. With the Company and Whitehill's Castle the area was seen as a great place for 2nd and 3rd sons to get a plot of land large enough to live well.

  The party spent the night in the barn of a young family (the religious brother baptized their newborn daughter) and learned that the farmer had seen the threats - dragons! Not very big and obviously not very old, a pair of red dragons were starting to prey on the new locals.

  The big shock was finding the witch. She was a skilled hedge mage! She and her husband, a retired city guard, had settled here in hopes of a living as the local wise woman. The shock was they had moved into one of the lairs of the Red Maiden! It was a stone house with the outside carved and painted to look like a gingerbread house. With the Red Maiden's illusions it must have been a deadly place for wanderers.

  While speaking with the pair Athanasius checked for magic and the party soon realized that the husband of the hedge mage was charmed! With a Dispel and some questioning he'd been surprised in the forest and one of the dragons had charmed him. When he had gone for water he had warned the dragons of adventurers via a lantern. The party and the couple fled for their lives.

  They were able to evade the pair of dragons, but the stone hut of the Red Maiden was destroyed. The couple left for Adrian to rethink and the party went on.

  Soon they found the lair, another old bolt-hole of the Red Maiden., in the Graywal Mountains. The entrance was a 60' diameter tunnel stretching 300'+ into the granite then opening into an enormous cavern divided into two sections - the front section was level with the tunnel, the rear half was essentially a massive ledge 180' up a steep slope. In the ceiling's highest point was a natural gas vent that was alight, fulling the entire space with an eerie, dim, flickering, bluish light.

  Graystar's Clairvoyance spell confirmed that both dragons were asleep! The party carefully and quietly crept into the cavern. Akira clambered up the sloped and pulled the rest up with ropes. The two dragons, each with a separate sleeping hoard, were about 200' from each other, the largest in the back. The plan was to attempt to kill the small one in its sleep and then deal with the larger, hoping the loss of the smaller would make it easier to parley or subdue.

  The party attacked and through planning and the luck killed the first one in it's sleep. Carefully following all the AD&D 1e rules, the other remained snoozing. They quietly shuffled over to the bigger one and - also killed it in one round before it awoke, a stunning feat. Theo got a round of applause because his first two combat rolls were both 19's and his first two damage rolls were 1 off max and then max damage.

  The party really worked hard and the encounter was much more intense than this summary can convey including the monk rolling a 02 for danger sense, barely avoiding setting off an Alarm spell that would have awoken the big dragon when the party was too far away to charge and too close to flee.

The Loot:

  The gold and such was good, but a bit below what was expected. The magic items were a bit better and included a Cube of Force! The treasure had a surprising number of traps and tricks and the party decided to carefully examine the cavern, eventually finding a large (10' x 12') secret door that opened to a tunnel heading south-southwest along the mountains. The door had the entrance to Skull Mountain on the inner face.

  There was also a huge scroll, the size of a king mattress, to the dragons from their sire, the dragon of Caerfadch Daw, giving them the rules he expected them to follow. The points that stuck out to the PCs were that he got all gnomes and that the two dragons were to 'obey the treaty with the men from Skull Tunnel'.

  When Sam had Graystar read the letter he specifically folded up the bottom of the scroll and said,

"I will not read the signature, at all."

He then gave it to Athanasius who said,

"You know what? I cast Dispel Magic on it."

  My notes on the scroll? 'Anyone reading the signature must save vs Spell or be Charmed by Tyraxus unless the scroll is Dispelled.'

  That's right, they dodged it. They also learned that Tyraxus, the dragon from Caerfadch Daw, is a powerful mage, too.


  Then, in a bit I did not expect, Athanasius and Ingrid used spells and potions to fly up to and through the jet of fire in the ceiling - and found a tunnel. A tunnel I hid in 1983 and no one else has ever found. Following it they eventually entered a room high on the cliffs of the mountain they were in. The room was a semaphore station with one set aimed to and from the closest island in the Demon's Tears, aother aimed at a mountain further west, and the third aimed at the ferry crossing where the Adrian and Freshet Rivers meet.


  Every character and henchman leveled up, many to the edge of domain play. This led to a wonderful 3 hours talk over dinner about the domain game, the frontier of Seaward, Seaward's history, and PC plans that I wish I had recorded as a podcast. 

  The summary, though, is that the players expect 2-5 characters to enter the domain game within the year and are starting to prepare for that level of play

Saturday, June 5, 2021

Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?

 One of the things Gary emphasized most strongly in the DMG was time records have to be kept. And they must be accurate.

He was correct, of course.

But why? and what does this mean?

Friday, June 4, 2021

Terror in the Baneblade

 Just as an update: A few weeks ago my father-in-law was suddenly hospitalized and remains in the ICU since, well over a month of being on the edge. In the middle of that *I* ended up in the ER with a serious health issue that I am still recovering from. Gaming, blogging, and writing have been pretty disrupted and I apologize.

On Memorial Day we switched from another session of Seaward and, instead, made new characters for Only War and I GMed the PCs as crew of a BAAAAAAAANEEBLAAAAAAAADE!

The PC's Baneblade is the 79th Super-Heavy Company of the 27th Benrei Super-Heavy Regiment. The Regiment is set up with Only War rules as a standard armored regiment but with combat drugs: recaf. The background is the planet Benrei is a major recaf hub, growing and exporting some of the finest recaf in the Imperium of Man. Flush with cash they purchase super-heavy tanks and train crews so that they can meet their conscription targets while minimizes population loss - after all, a regiment of super-heavies takes 40 men from the recaf fields while an infantry regiment takes thousands away!

The players made an officer type (the Honored Lieutenant, commander of the Baneblade), an enginseer, and a commissar. The rest of the crew were comrades.

The mission is part of the Night of 1,000 Rebellions arc and their task force is focused on subduing the planet Lamanarr where the troops in the middle of a levy rebelled, meaning the rebels have 3 PDF armies and a fully-equipped (if inexperienced) Imperial Guard army as part of their forces. The Commodore is dedicated to preventing this force from joing the Chaod fleets in the area. The task force's primary goal is the destruction of the rebel troops - all else is secondary.

79th Company is detached to the 6th, 7th, and 8th Regiments of the Zamaran Mechanized Infantry and the 1515th Combined Mechanized Infantry Regiment for a total of 60 chimera, each with a squad of infantry. They have been dispatched to engage and destroy a force intelligence believes to be 2 regiments of infantry, a regiment of mechanized infantry, and a regiment of Leman Russ armor. The commanding colonel was very accomodating tot he Honored Lieutenant with a Baneblade and allowed the PC to set up the formation.

The terrain was massive fields surrounded by centuries-old hedgeros that even a chimera would struggle with criss-crossed by roads wide enough to easily fit 4 chimera wide formations, but 2-4 meters below the level of the surrounding fields. The PCs had a screen of 4 chimera in front, then the baneblade, then a column of the rest of the chimera behind. Then they started the 600 kilometer road march.

Shortly after Noon a pair of hellhounds (that had somehow evaded the auspex systems) attacked the rear of the column as 3 Leman Russ tanks (also suspiciously unseen beforehand) opened fire from the front in a classic attempt to fin the column. The PCs (asting as force commander NPC, as well) ordered 10 chimera per flank to climb the embankment and establish a perimeter while the teriary gunner engaged the hellhous and the primary gunner engaged the Leman Russ still 1.5 klick ahead.

The sponson lascannon both hit the closest hellhoud (which was blocking fire on the other) and caused it to explode, which set off the other hellhound. And the combined explosion caused the closest chimera to explode. And those explosions caused ANOTHER Chimera to explode. Then that stopped, wheew.

The leman russ company was closing at their usual stately battlefield speed but their battle cannon shots were bouncing off the baneblade's glacis.The baneblade cannon took 4 shots to destroy two of the leman russ (unlucky rolls) but the third was taken out in 1. The baneblade took a few points of damage, but it was the eequivalent of scratching the paint.

The chimera that went to flank engage 5 enemy chimera per flank and a merry brawl of chimera and dismounted infantry was going on in the surrounding fields as the baneblade annihilated the enemy armor. In the end the Imperial task force lost 6 chimera (10% of forces!) in the ambush.

The PCs put out a scout screen for the remainder of the day's movement. As sunset approached the colonel sent a recon patrol then the task force laagered for the night with the baneblade the center of a circle of chimeras. Watches were set and the taskforce bedded down.

About 2 am local the XO woke the commander about an echo on auspex. Soon the commissar, enginseer, and commander were in the command deck looking at what looked like a patrol approaching. The enginseer burned some incense, splashed oils, and uttered a chant causing the auspex to show - cattle in a field. Just as the players were relaxing 20 krak missile hurtled toward the baneblade as 10 more ripped into the encircling chimeras. The surviving chimeras facing opened up quickly and the baneblade soon joined in, ending the fight rather quickly.

As the battle ended the auspex picked up a single space marine speeding offf via jump pack. The laager opened and the baneblade drove to the area of the fight to inspect and looed for clues. After discussion the dismounted baneblade officers realized both ambushes must have been "pre-set" to engage and slow any attack along the only real access to the defenders. They were probably in total radio blackout to avoid detection by the fleet and ground-based auspex, and just followed orders, baneblade or no. The two ambushes had alreadt inflicted 20% losses to the mechanized infantry on the *first day of travel*. Without the baneblade the task force might have been mauled enough to be forced to await reinforcements.

In a bit of roleplaying the baneblade officers invited the infantry officers to join them on the outer hull of the super-heavy tank on a set of camp chairs to enjoy recaf and lho sticks and watch the sunrise. The players were talking among themselves (we were also enjoying a bit of whisky and cigars in Real Life) when the discussion went something like this:

Jack/Tank Commander: "Odd. The enemy is a bunch of green Imperial levies but they keep camoflaging themselves enough to ambush a baneblade."
Nick?Commissar: "And their discipline is very high. The night ambush was foot infantry with missile launchers but they kept firing against APCs and tanks."
Sam/Enginseer:" And a lone space marine? It must have been a chaos space marine, but why did he risk using a jump pack at night in the open? It guaranteed we'd see him and we almost took the shot. Not even a chaos space marine wants to get hit by a lucky shot from a baneblade cannon. Really weird."
Jack: "Chaos space marines that are good at stealth? Chaos space marines that are good at stealth! COLONEL< I NEED YOUR MEN!"

soon an entire squad of infantry, two with meltaguns, are scouring the inside of the baneblade with the crew's help. In the bunk area they find - an Alfa Legion Chaos Space Marine! Initiative was rolled; attack rolls were made; and in a case of astounding luck the two NPC guardsmen with meltaguns both hit and, combined, killed the CSM.

A thorough search revealed that the lascannons had been rigged to explode the next time they were fired, the commander's chair had a grenade rigged to go off the next time he *stood up* after sitting in the chair, and the air scrubber had been turned off. The players talked about how it would have looked the next day - all day every hour or two another crewman would just - vanish until only the driver or someone was left, then the traitors would have an intact baneblade!

That's right, they thwarted my attempts to stage the movie Alien inside abaneblade.

We all had a ton of fun and will continue this side arc over discord during the weeks ahead.