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The Devil You Know

Another year, another year.

I’m still here, still writing, still trying to roll that boulder up the hill. I started and abandoned two books last year. I’m starting another one now. I’ve written dozens of short stories that I will likely never publish. I didn’t produce much for others this year. This year was for me.

It’s been a tough year for a lot of reasons. Years have been getting tougher for everyone, I imagine, on the whole, over the past few years. When I look back on my last few years it feels like a haze or a fever dream. Nothing is the same. The world is changing so fast, and I’m changing just as quickly. Things that used to mean the world to me don’t matter, and things I didn’t realize I cared about are at the center of my life now.

And I’m still here.

I used to be bothered endlessly by my lack of direction, as I saw it. I felt I didn’t know what I wanted out of life. I think I was asking too many questions. Asking too much of life instead of just living it. Something about being stuck inside for three years while also geographically isolated in a new city with nobody you know and coping with a growing physical disability hampering your ability to go outside even to walk puts the whole of one’s life into a new perspective. Life was never about “getting something” out of it – you’re going to be dead, either way, and I doubt I’m going to suddenly feel better if I wrote a few books before then. I won’t feel anything then. So, what does matter then? Nothing.

The way I see it, that’s a great realization, because if nothing really matters I get to decide what matters to me.

Storytelling makes sense to me. Building things makes sense to me – taking a bunch of scattered materials and turning them into something different, something whole, something so much more than the pieces that make it up. Why? Who cares. These things make me happy. It hurts every time the boulder rolls back down the hill and sweeps me aside, and it’s hard every time to go back to bottom and begin the arduous task of pushing it up once more. If I didn’t enjoy the labor, though, I’d have stopped a long time ago. So I’m still here. Still rolling that boulder up the hill. Maybe this time, I’ll get it over the ridge.

Project Paralysis

Lately, I’ve been experiencing a bit of project paralysis.

I’ve been doing a great job of accumulating new projects to work on, that I’m eager about engaging with, that strike me as interesting or relevant in some way. Then comes the moment of execution, the time to put the idea to practice, and it’s difficult to carry the idea to a conclusion.

I’ve started quite a few things this year. I have yet to finish any of them. Trying to direct my energy into a narrower range of projects is frustrating, but necessary, as a constant exercise in my life.

That said, I’m happy with the work I’ve done this year, the times work was something I was capable of. I’ve taken my first serious forays into attempting to write in longer formats, i.e. novels, and even if I have little materially to show for my efforts I have accumulated valuable experience. It’s not news to me that writing a book is hard. The daunting nature of the task is why I’ve waited this long to even try. It was long past time to get over that fear.

It’s hard for me, and I doubt this is unique, to truly put myself on the path of a task without a clear end. I have trouble not seeing the big picture and all the steps of the process that must be done. Take writing a book. I look at this task and see the planning process, the research that I desperately wouldn’t want to get wrong, the character building required to make my characters feel like people, the overall pacing, the intricacies of weaving the plot together in a satisfying manner, and so much more. Looked at like this, the task seems impossible. It must be broken up, taken a piece at a time, and I have trouble wrapping my brain around that.

Among other things, I’ve been working on learning Korean this year. Learning a language is a similarly complex endeavor. It requires a step-by-step approach and consistent practice over a long period of time. I’m learning letters. I’m learning sounds. I’m just starting to learn basic vocabulary. Here, at the bottom, among the foundations, it’s impossible to see how this will all one day add up to speaking a language – but with practice and diligence, it can.

It’s the same with any large task. The best advice I’ve seen, and I don’t have a particular author to quote as where I saw it first as it seems such common advice, is that to get better at writing you must do it. Want to write a book? Write one. Too hard at first? Write short stories. Just write. Write badly, learn from it, write more, learn from it again. Keep writing. Keep learning.

I’ve been doing just that. Writing, writing, writing. Maybe none of the projects I’ve launched myself onto this year will pan out, but that’s okay. As long as I can keep writing.

Great Expanse Epilogue: The Opened Sky

This is the end of a series that followed this campaign from start to finish. You can find all posts related to that campaign here!

In the aftermath of the finale, as is proper, we spent a long time as a group talking about what each character got up to after the events of the campaign. This is where their journeys took them, arranged in no particular order:

Balasar and the Golden Anvil

Smokes took up Balasar’s cause, pledging service to Sherlynx and Edge Town. The Golden Anvil followed suit, becoming the founding core of Edge Town’s new guard. They all lived out their days in the city and never saw the shores of their home again.

A grand funeral was held the week after Edge Town was liberated for the fallen heroes of Edge Town’s rebellion, including Balasar and Genny Crystal. The whole city turned out. A statue, commissioned by Sherlynx, still stands in the Temple Square in Edge Town – a monument to the sacrifice of a man who died in a land distant from the home he loved, for a people he barely knew, simply because it was the right thing to do.

Kana’ti (and Onacona)

Kana’ti returned to his people, ready to do the work of rebuilding after the tragedy at the Greatstone. He brought a proposal to the Federation to form an Order upon the Greatstone, to train warriors of the Expanse that could prevent this tragedy from ever being repeated. With unanimous agreement, helped along by an impassioned endorsement from the Bull King, the land was gifted to Kana’ti to build his own Monastery. This Order would act as guardians of the plains and its peoples from now until eternity. The plains remain free to this day, the Monastery atop the Greatstone a proud symbol of their defiant resistance and their unity in the face of tragedy.

Onacona had many duties that kept him in Storm’s Bounty, but he travelled often to the Greatstone for extended visits with Kana’ti. They are buried together in a single tomb, beneath the Monastery.


Sherlynx lived out the rest of her days in Edge Town, never returning home to Juum.

She spent her life trying to build the foundations of a state that could withstand the imperial ambitions of their neighbors, without compromising the founding intentions of freedom for all peoples within the walls. She met her share of difficulties during this time, and at times, perhaps, even understood what darkness had turned the heart of her old friend Xix’thath. She remained true to her values to the end, nonetheless.

She formed a council to rule the city, elected by the people. She freed all warforged in the city. She formed an army to protect Edge Town from outside threats. She solidified alliances with the Worker’s Republic of Storm’s Bounty to the north and the Federated Free Peoples of the Expanse to the south. Thanks largely to her efforts, Edge Town endures.

When she passed, peacefully in her old age, the whole city mourned for a month. A statue was raised in the central square, still standing today, of Edge Town’s Great Liberator.


His purpose fulfilled, Rheed found himself aimless. Laryn, the voice that had guided him his whole life until now, was gone without explanation (like Areizma, he ceased to be with the return of So’na). Rheed sought out new purpose among the stars.

He commissioned a ship and was among the first to open travel between the distant demi-planes, expanding his world more than he ever imagined possible. Every world he steps onto is beautiful and unique in its own ways, and he learns much with each plane he visits.

He is still out there, somewhere on the edges of what is known, seeking to commune with every point of light in the sky.


After the events at Mt. Kunosh, Kaltog bid farewell to his friends and made the journey home to his people with the Axis Mundi.

When he returned, he learned that his people were spared the Greatstone massacre by a strange occurrence: The day they were to leave, Kaltog returned to them, wielding the spear. He warned them against going to the stone, swayed their hearts, and saved them from disaster. He is welcomed as a hero and a spiritual leader. This doesn’t sit well with Kaltog; he tries to stay for a time, but eventually relinquishes the Axis Mundi to his tribe and leaves them once more.

He joins Rheed for a time, eventually commissioning his own ship, the “Excelsior”. He continues innovating as an artificer, discovering new ways to open travel between the planes for more people – his inventions lay foundations for the creation of “space trains” that can carry people between the planes more easily than ever thought possible. He still travels among the stars with Tuk and a crew of a Freeforged, his life extended indefinitely by alchemical tinctures.

Regar (/Ember/Zrok)

Regar continued to seek a glorious death. They travelled with Rheed for a time, but soon found that dull as well and set off in search of more dangerous ventures.

They went back to mercenary work, this time independently, taking jobs escorting small ships across dangerous expanses of the Astral Sea. On one such journey, the ship Regar was on was attacked by the “Ever-smoking Dreadnought” (an Astral Dreadnought with an ever-smoking bottle stuck in it’s maw, so it constantly trails smoke – thank a past campaign’s party panicking and throwing random items at it during an encounter!). Regar was last seen leaping into its open mouth, greataxe held high, wreathed in flames and roaring with delight, as the ship sped away to safety.


Yelcan returned to Nori’s side. He relinquished the Tear of Creation he recovered from Jansen to the Reclamation Project; it was taken, as is their policy, to a secret location unknown to him, to hopefully remain hidden away and protected for all time.

His time in Edge Town convinced Yelcan he could no longer sit idly by and complain about abuses of power, he had to take action against them. He agreed to join the Reclamation Project, an offer he had long resisted, and still travels with Nori to this day. Together, they seek out information about the three Tears of Creation that are still unaccounted for, so they can secure them from those that might misuse their power.


Dave was moved by his experience in the storm, and returned home to his people immediately. Kaltog’s Trial was, it would seem, unique – Dave found his people still under the Thurrem Dominion’s thumb, in much the state the Storm’s Trial had shown him. He rallied them together, a much more difficult effort as an exile, and united the Goliath tribes against the Dominion. The Giants’ empire crumbled after ten years of bloody conflict.

His work done, Dave retired to the woods of his homeland, to live with the animals as he always wanted to – free from others, free from rules. Sometimes he was called on journeys by old friends, out among the stars. Sometimes he had to take up his warhammer to fend off some Giant warlord or another trying to rebuild their empire.

One day, one such warlord, thinking himself clever, sought to cut off this problem at the source by killing Dave. He went to Dave’s woods and ambushed him there with a whole battalion. When Dave’s people came upon the scene days later, they found Dave’s body: pristine and tended carefully by the animals of the forest, surrounded by the gnawed corpses of dozens of Giants, including the would-be warlord himself. Dave’s body was taken back by his people and given an honored burial – the only former exile to have ever received such a privilege.

Great Expanse: Summary 12

These are meant to be brief summaries of the events of the DnD campaign I’ve just wrapped up. You can find the other materials pertaining to this campaign, including session-by-session journals of the first several sessions of this campaign which detail my prep process and how my prep work played out in actual game sessions, organized here.

The story concludes!

Sherlynx’s Gang: Dancing With Death

The skies above Edge Town are chaos. The Storm overtakes the city within minutes. Thundercracks intermingle with cannon’s fire, the darkened sky kept alight by bombs and arcing bolts of lightning. The sound of splintering wood, explosions, and screaming death fills the city.

Sherlynx goes to regroup at HQ, trying to link up with the other leaders of the Resistance and their allies to form a unified front. As they arrive, they are greeted by an ally they didn’t expect to find: Nori.

She appears to have been dragged through the underworld and back. Her hair is an uncharacteristic frazzled mess, her robes torn and weathered with no time taken for even a quick prestidigitation to unsoil them, and she has thick bags under her eyes. She quickly explains how she left the plane, having exhausted her search here, hoping to find ways to combat Areizma in the vast libraries of the hidden city of Corena. She has enemies in the outer planes, and they captured her during the journey back. This is why they haven’t heard from her, despite Yelcan regularly sending messages in an attempt to reach her.

None of that matters now: She found what she was looking for. The pieces are already in motion, and the party is where they need to be. She says that Kaltog in the north already has what he needs to end the threat, but they will need to keep Areizma’s attention while the mission is completed. The battle above is meaningless – Areizma will enter the field soon. Sherlynx and her companions must go face a god of death. She cannot be killed, but she can be stalled and distracted if they engage her.

With the Peacekeeper destroyed, their immediate mission is to find a new ship.

They find their crew safe at HQ, where Tuk eagerly recounts how he and Jakob saved the crew by leaping from the deck over the city and casting Feather Fall. Westley regrets the loss of the Peacekeeper, but has good news to shore up the disappointment: What appears to be a prototype ship, built by Kerth in secret, has been located as their holdings in the city fell. It is already fit with special plating that renders it impervious to acid. It lacks weaponry, but is otherwise exactly what they need to take the fight to Areizma. Joanne, the mechanic, took a look and said it was in good working order with no signs of sabotage, seeming surprised by this finding. In too much of a bind to ask too many questions, Sherlynx assumes Jansen must have been attempting to prepare for Areizma and chooses to accept this as a stroke of fortune. (DM’s Note: Jansen didn’t even know about this ship. It was built by the Spymaster of Kerth, for the party to use, for exactly this purpose. I’ll let you conjecture on why – I will only say that the Spymaster plays the long game.)

The crew takes to the battle-torn skies, course set for deeper into the storm. They weave through falling ships, dodging cannonballs and lightning strikes, pushing through near-opaque curtains of rain carried along powerful gusts of wind that rock the vessel. The crew is seasoned by now, having sailed as a team for some time – they manage each hazard as it comes with impressive coordination.

Ahead, there is a roar. The Storm splits, and they can see the sky for just a moment. Through the gap, they see her: Circling above the clouds is an impossibly huge, impossibly ancient black dragon. Areizma.

She roars, and her voice thunders across the plains; it drowns the sounds of the battle and shakes the earth. Woven through her voice is the death of a thousand empires. The gang feels the crushing hopelessness of standing against this force of nature attempting to overcome their hearts. She surges down through the clouds, a gleeful hunger in her eyes. The feast is about to begin.

Sherlynx orders Westley on a direct course to intercept. Areizma seems surprised, but amused, by their attempt to interfere. The ship flutters around her angrily, like a crow accosting a hawk. They begin a deadly dance in the sky. As the battle drags on, it is clear that Nori was right: nothing they do is making much impact. For the moment, they have her attention, but that only lasts as long as they can survive.

People are gravely injured. Yelcan prepared an invulnerability spell for himself, but everyone else is in dire straights. Regar leaps from the ship onto the god-dragon’s back with mad recklessness, seeking his glorious death at last. She tries to dislodge him by slamming him against the ship over, and over, and over. His life hangs by a thread. Then, there is a thunderous sound to the north, like a great wailing. Areizma jerks suddenly upward, away from the Gang, away from Edge Town, desperately trying to return to her lair in time. It’s too late.

To the north, from among the peaks of the Stormcaps, a towering beam of crackling blue-white energy extends from ground to sky.

Dave’s Gang: The Bridge Rebuilt

Dave, Kaltog, Kana’ti, and Rheed stand poised on the edge of a valley filled with Areizma’s brood. Their final words spoken to each other, final rest taken, they march to their destiny across the valley, to Mt. Kunosh.

They fight their way through the writhing mass or wyrmlings and young dragons, bounding at breakneck speed for the mountain. There, they face Boreiz – the oldest of Areizma’s brood – in open combat. He is slain, his body sent tumbling down the mountainside, and the party ascends to the summit, where the cave from Rheed’s vision waits for them.

Rheed directs Kaltog to enter. He doesn’t understand what needs to happen next himself. From here, he says, all is in Kaltog’s hands.

Within the cave, they find a large chamber with smoothed stone walls. The cavern walls form a large dome around the central, and only, element: a glowing red rock, jutting up from the cavern floor, emanating a gentle light which pulses like a heartbeat. Kaltog approaches, tentative. He grips the Axis Mundi. This must be Areizma’s heart. He is here to destroy it. He braces himself, he drives the spearpoint forcefully toward the stone, and –

Time stops.

Kaltog is aware that the others are still in the room. He feels himself floating upward. He can see, below, himself – the spear in his hand, the tip of it just impacting the surface of the stone. He is being pulled away from his body. The current takes him.

He is moving quickly. Carried upward, above the mountains. Kaltog sees the Expanse below. Then, it becomes small. He is above the clouds, then, above the sky itself. He sees stars – more than he ever dreamed of. They fill every corner of his vision. He is moving through them. Faster, faster.

He is approaching something. It is a large, glowing barrier. He is heading right for it. He braces for impact, closing his eyes, then – he is nowhere.

Kaltog finds himself standing in a white void-space. He seems to standing upon nothing, surrounded by nothing. Before him, there is what appears to be a human woman. She regards him with curiosity. This is So’na, the Goddess of Creation, the Songmother who sang existence into being. Kaltog falls to his knees and averts his eyes out of respect.

She tells him to rise. She hasn’t seen anyone in aeons; it has been lonely here, in this prison. She has watched her world fall back into chaos, the new gods abandoning it to death and horror. When she created this world, so long ago, she had hoped to make a place free from the cycles of death and destruction she saw in her own world. She failed, and in her failure turned to despair and anger – the birth of Areizma. Areizma is part of her, her wrath given phsyical form. She saw the death her anger caused, and her wrath turned to pity – Laryn, the golden one, long known as benefactor of the plains peoples, was born from this regret. He tempers Areizma’s anger. But this cycle still results in so much death, she sees now. Laryn is right. It must end.

She recognizes the spear Kaltog carries; it is a splinter of her soul. Is he here to bring her back? She can quiet her wrath. She can end the threat of Areizma, for she is Areizma, and Areizma is her. She reaches a hand out to him.

Kaltog stands in mute awe. He hesitates a moment. Should he trust her? He feels deep respect and reverence for who she is. However, she must be bound here for a reason, surely? Whatever goes through Kaltog’s mind in that moment is known only to him, but his choice, ultimately, is to take So’na’s hand.

As soon as they touch, he is yanked backward, rocketing back to his body. He tears back through the stars as though pulled by a leash, through the sky, the clouds, back to the mountain. So’na, gripping his hand, is pulled along with him. As they cross together into the material plane, she splits into the sky.

The sky begins to break, fault lines spreading like cracks along a pane of glass struck by a hammer. The Storm above Edge Town vanishes, carried away into the breeze. The Planar Court is routed. The remnants of Edge Town’s armies stand in the streets. People point to the sky. All over the world, all eyes are cast upward.

The sky shatters open.

Before, people of this world knew only a handful of stars in the sky. People around the world stare in shocked awe at the sky they now see: countless stars, orbited by countless worlds, points of light filling every part of the heavens. Dave, Kaltog, Kana’ti, and Rheed emerge from the cave atop Mt. Kunosh. The valley is clear now, the signature storms of the Stormcaps calm for the first time in millenia.

They stand together, hand in hand, and take in the opened sky.

Great Expanse: Summary 11

These are meant to be brief summaries of the events of the DnD campaign I’ve just wrapped up. You can find the other materials pertaining to this campaign, including session-by-session journals of the first several sessions of this campaign which detail my prep process and how my prep work played out in actual game sessions, organized here.

The story of Sherlynx, Balasar, Regar, and Yelcan continues…

Sherlynx’s Gang: Sherlynx Lives

While Dave’s Gang is facing their trials in the Storm, which churns with such powerful magic that time itself warps within its boundary, a month passes for Sherlynx and the Resistance. There is much yet to be done to prepare for the uprising.

Upon their return, the party is greeted by unfortunate news. Project Tempest was completed while Sherlynx was securing the alliance with the Bull King. The device has been moved to a secure location, and despite putting significant resources into the search the Resistance never finds where.

Later that same day, Balasar pulls Sherlynx aside. He comes clean about everything: how he has been spying on her for Saltori (Sherlynx is unsurprised), and their plans to control Edge Town. With all he has seen these past two months, his eyes are opened. Travelling with Sherlynx and seeing the struggles of the people of Edge Town, alongside the struggles of the people of the plains, he no longer believes empires like Saltori could ever have their best interests at heart. Meeting the Bull King and seeing the people of the plains gathered together in common purpose lifted the final veil from his eyes.

These people must live free of empire. He has called in his unit, the Golden Anvil, and when they arrive he will inform them of his defection. His loyalty lies with Sherlynx now, and with Edge Town.

When the Golden Anvil arrives, Balasar meets with them, giving them the option to turn back. None of them will be welcome back in their homes if they join him. Balasar’s second-in-command, a half-elf named Smokes, speaks up first: they are loyal to Balasar, not Saltori. The others agree. They are with him to whatever end may come.

Balasar and the Golden Anvil set about dividing the able fighters of the Resistance into regiments and drilling them into cohesion. Sherlynx speaks to Bonner about forging better equipment for the troops; he has been accumulating apprentices in the caverns, such that he now has a decent workforce with some expertise in artifice. Between these drills and the equipment Bonner’s crew is churning out the Resistance is morphing into a properly trained and equipped army, complete with modern firearms.

Sherlynx, meanwhile, has increased the frequency of her surface raids. She strikes almost daily, using Yelcan and Arthur’s magic to shield her approach and retreat, setting so many small fires they cannot possibly all be tracked down and snuffed out. She has come to understand her foe: Jansen is obsessed with knowing and controlling every aspect of their domain. Sherlynx is making this impossible. Her legend grows in the city. In one encounter, she kills an Agent of the Ministry of Domestic Harmony. These agents are shrouded in mystique, seen as untouchable in Kerthan lands. Sherlynx puts the body on full display in the town square, hanging, with two words emblazoned in red paint above it:


Jormel and Regar lead groups on parallel raids, often striking nonsensical targets, and leave that tag everywhere they go. The message gets out. Sherlynx is here, Sherlynx is alive, and there is nothing Kerth can do about it. Soon enough, copycats unrelated to the resistance are carrying out crimes in Sherlynx’s name and leaving the same tag all over Edge Town. Sherlynx lives.

Jansen is beyond their wits end. They begin cracking down in clumsier and more desperate ways, but the fires of revolution are only fanned. They have lost control of the situation.

Regar takes a moment during these weeks to share a secret with the party. He has come to trust them more deeply than he has ever trusted any others before, and he can no longer hide the truth from people he has come to respect so much. His form shifts and changes into that of a female fire genasi. She explains that this is one of many faces she can wear, and that all are part of who she is. This face is called Ember. The party has already met Regar, of course, but there are more – many more. They are many faces, one person. People fear this ability to shift forms, seeing it as dangerous at best and monstrous at worst, and thus they have always been forced to hide their true nature. They have never known another of their kind, except their long-dead parents. The party promises to keep their secret.

Yelcan spends every moment of his spare time during these weeks in obsessive research. He remains terrified of Jansen and is pouring through tome after tome with Arthur. They find what they’re looking for: an obscure spell, long banned in most polite cultures, which acts as a contingency for death itself. The caster creates a clone for the soul to flee into when the current body dies. This is the secret of the Hand’s seeming immortality. What’s more, after scouting the surface daily with Arcane Eye, Yelcan believes he knows where Jansen is holding the Hand’s backup bodies. Destroy them first, and Kerth’s most deadly weapon is gutted.

Tension hangs heavy in the air. Anticipation of the impending bloodshed is palpable. The Storm, enveloping the entire northern sky, churns with hungry anticipation.

One morning, Sherlynx is roused from sleep by Jormel. One of their agents was captured, one that knows the way to the HQ. Jansen is questioning them now. Kerth will be here any moment.

Sherlynx is decisive. They will not fight in these tight-packed sewers, isolated from the city. They must strike first, on the surface, where the people of the city are likely to join them, and where their ally – the Bull King – can make an impact. Yelcan links the commanding officers of the Resistance with a Telepathic Bond, to more easily coordinate their efforts. Balasar and the Golden Anvil rally the regiments. They pour out of the sewers and into the streets of Edge Town, beside the ruins of the arena.

Kerthan soldiers begin to form up in response and battle lines are drawn in the city square. Sherlynx moves to the head of her army. Jansen appears on a rooftop across the square, holding an enchanted Maxwell Uldorf by the shirt collar. They taunt Sherlynx and command Maxwell to jump to his death in front of her. She orders the charge as Jansen disappears through a Dimension Door.

The battle floods into and through the streets. Smoke rises over the city from hundreds of muskets, cracks of gunfire punctuated by increasingly frequent thunderclaps from the north. The Storm is growing more violent, feeding off the conflict.

The Bull King’s army arrives to the South, well ahead of schedule. Kerth has no time to organize their defense as the unified might of the plains peoples slams into the southern wall. Ogres wielding tree trunks smash stone to rubble as Minotaur and Goblinoid warriors surge through the breaches. Tabaxi climb the walls, overtaking archers positioned there. Centaur marksmen drop Kerthan officers with pinpoint accuracy. Meanwhile, Warforged all over the city turn on their Kerthan masters. Chaos overtakes the ranks. Jansen is helpless to hold their force together.

Sherlynx and her core strike team of Balasar, Regar (currently in the form of Ember), and Yelcan move from fire to fire throughout the battle. They receive intel from their spy network that Kerth is setting up the Tempest Device and move to stop it from being activated. Their path is made clear by the timely arrival of the Peacekeeper – Tuk has equipped the front of the ship with custom built flame-throwers at Westley’s behest, an attempt to circumvent Rheed’s prophecy (the ship “consumed by flame”). With the extra air cover the party easily overcomes the complex where the device is held. They capture the artificer working on the device and destroy the control console so it cannot be activated. Linking up with the Bull King’s forces there, the two armies begin to sweep up through the city to flush out any Kerthan holdouts.

Sherlynx’s wrath turns next to the north side of the city. She rushes to the Academy, which Jansen has been using as a base of operations, and where Yelcan believes the clones of the Hand are held. While their main force strikes the gate, they scale the walls and enter the building through the back window, catching several Kerthan spellslingers off guard as they hack their way to Jansen’s study.

Jansen is waiting when they enter the room, pointing just above the door. The party is here much earlier than expected. They step backward through a Dimension Door just as Ember’s warhammer splinters the desk in front of them. This causes the Delayed Blast Fireball Jansen had been holding over the doorway to trigger. The party is scorched but, fortunately, largely thanks to Ember’s aura of fire protection, nobody is seriously injured.

Searching the ruined study, they locate a trap door leading to a basement room that isn’t in schematics of the Academy. There, they find Jansen’s personal workshop. Just beyond is a room filled with rows of cylindrical tanks, each containing a clone of a member of Jansen’s Hand suspended in grey-blue liquid. The party shatters the tanks by bringing the roof of the basement down, and burns everything in sight on their way out for good measure.

At the front gates of the Academy complex, the party finds tragedy struck while they were below. They arrive to find Jormel cradling the burnt, unbreathing form of Genny Crystal. Genny saw Jansen making their retreat and tried to cut them off. Jansen fried her with a Lightning Bolt. Balasar tries to call her soul back into her body with Revivify, but the diamond he is using as a focus remains inert as the spell completes – she has been dead too long. At this moment, the party also catches sight of the Peacekeeper in the distance – it is listing to the ground, wreathed in flames, hull wracked with gaping scars from cannon fire. Rheed’s vision has come to pass after all.

There is no time to collect their thoughts. Just then, they receive three reports over the Telepathic Bond.

One is from Spy Captain Pete: a force is forming to north, emerging from Temnupet. The origin is unknown.

Another is from Smokes: the Saltori United Forces and their Grand Fleet have arrived at the east gate. They are demanding surrender from the city.

The final report comes from Jormel, at the compound where the Tempest Device is being held: the Hand has entered the field and are making for the Tempest Device. The rank and file soldiers of Edge Town are helpless against them. It’s a bloodbath.

Sherlynx decides the first two matters can wait, and goes to intercept the Hand. The party faces off with the combined might of the elite unit of spellcasters (excluding Jansen). Stripped of their immortality, they fight to the bitter end, welcoming death to the consequences of living through their failure.

The Tempest device secured, Sherlynx moves to snuff out the final bastion of Kerthan presence in Edge Town: the West Fresonai Trade Company building. It has been a base of operations for the Kerthan army since the takeover, and a constant stream of reinforcements is now impossibly pouring from inside its walls. Yelcan scouts the interior with Arcane Eye and locates a Teleportation Circle hidden in a basement room (Kerth must have been planning their coup for some time). Sherlynx and the gang storm the building, fight their way to the Teleportation Circle, and destroy it with arcane explosives provided by Bonner. The West Fresonai Trade Company Building collapses in on itself; the most visible symbol of Kerthan imperialism in Edge Town is rubble.

Before the party can move to reunite with their army, they find themselves trapped in a dome of force. Jansen appears, disheveled, mad with rage, ranting at the party. Sherlynx and her gang have upended decades of careful planning with their unsubtle, brutish methods. She is interfering in a game she barely understands. She will only ever be a pawn.

Jansen produces a small, spherical bundle from their pack. Sherlynx and Yelcan watch in horror as the cloth is pulled back to reveal a blue-green teardrop stone. They recognize what it is instantly: a Tear of Creation. Jansen jabs the stone violently into their abdomen, forcing it into their body. The power of the stone suffuses them – their veins bulge and take on a blueish glow, their hair falls out, their eyes burn with white fire. Whatever is left of Jansen is burned away, body and soul.

The force barrier drops, and the party enters a desperate final battle with this Avatar of Ambition.

As the fight drags on, Yelcan tries to finish Jansen with a Disintegration beam. It sears away half of their left arm, but they survive. In retaliation, eyes locked on Yelcan, they level their finger at Balasar’s chest and unleash their own Disintegration beam, turning him to dust on the spot.

Smokes, coming in search of his Commander in the ruins, arrives just in time to see Balasar fall. They rush into the fight and deal the final blow, driving their knife between Jansen’s shoulders. Jansen’s body explodes in white fire. They can no longer control the arcane energy coursing through them. It burns through them, leaving them a husk which kneels for a moment, as if suspended in time, before dissipating with the wind. The Tear is left nested in a pile of ash.

Yelcan scoops the Tear up and bundles it before there can be any discussion on the matter. Ember (the barbarian formerly known as Regar) was hit by a Feeblemind spell during the fight with Jansen, so Sherlynx sends her to the Bull King in the hopes that he can heal the condition. Yelcan and Smokes in tow, she heads for the east gate of Edge Town to face the Saltori United Forces.

She secures horses, to help look the part she now plays as leader of Edge Town, and rides out to meet Grand Marshall Trow. She asserts Edge Town’s independence. The Grand Marshall challenges this, pointing out that Kerth is likely to return with greater force and she lacks the might to repel a proper full-scale attack by the empire. Saltori can protect them. Sherlynx maintains that the people of the Expanse neither want, nor need, Saltori’s protection. As if to punctuate this point, the Bull King arrives with Regar/Ember (who is now taking the form of a hobgoblin named Zrok). He declares his support of Edge Town as an independent state, calling himself the elected leader of the “Free Peoples of the Expanse”. The Expanse is sovereign land, belonging to those that live there. From now on, this sovereignty will be backed by unified force.

The talks remain at a stalemate at this point, when an unexpected wild card enters play. There is the sound of trumpets from the wall. Another delegation is emerging from the city, flying a banner nobody recognizes. Sherlynx receives intel from Spy Captain Pete: the force to the North is friendly, here to support Edge Town’s independence. They say they are from Storm’s Bounty.

Sherlynx doesn’t recognize the man at the head of the delegation, Zachary Morris – but she does recognize the white-furred tabaxi at his right side. Onacona has found his way into an advisory role for this burgeoning state. Zachary Morris introduces himself as “Chief Representative” of the “Worker’s Republic of Storm’s Bounty”. His army stands with Edge Town.

The Grand Marshall sees that the tides have long since turned in the region. Sherlynx and her allies have made their case powerfully. He pivots to forging an alliance with these new, rising powers. There are no promises about what the councils at home in Saltori will approve in the long term, but the Grand Marshall has some autonomy when forging wartime treaties, which he exercises here. Against all odds, not only does Sherlynx secure peace with Saltori, but also a promise of non-interference from the Grand Marshall of the Saltori United Forces, and even the possibility of a future alliance on equal footing.

For a fleeting moment, there is calm.

Then, the rifts begin to open.

The advanced armies of the Planar Court pour into the skies above the city, a sight not seen on this plane since the Battle of Timbora nearly one hundred years ago. A message is broadcast.

“People of this plane: your actions are determined to be the cause of a disturbance that threatens the security of the greater multi-verse. Remain calm while you are exterminated.”

A pitched battle begins between Saltori’s Grand Fleet and these unexpected aggressors.

To the north, the Storm growls and churns. The sky darkens. In Edge Town, it begins raining.

Great Expanse: Summary 10

These are meant to be brief summaries of the events of the DnD campaign I’ve just wrapped up. You can find the other materials pertaining to this campaign, including session-by-session journals of the first several sessions of this campaign which detail my prep process and how my prep work played out in actual game sessions, organized here.

The story of Dave, Kaltog, Kana’ti, and Rheed continues…

Dave’s Gang: The Trials of the Storm

Storm’s Bounty proved to be a wash. The party manage to get the Peacekeeper repaired and fitted with armor plating, but otherwise seem to have gained little for their time.

Once they are satisfied that the black dragon Boreiz is not pursuing them, they land the Peacekeeper – this time on the eastern edge of Temnupet – and regroup for their next move. Rheed insists that this dallying gains them nothing. He shares his visions with the party: Kaltog must climb the mountain at the center of the Storm, where Rheed saw him driving the spear he now carries into a glowing red stone there. This is the only mission that matters.

Their course is turned back west, to the Stormcaps. The Peacekeeper can only carry them to the edge of the storm. The gang works out a plan for Westley to take the ship north, to Plainharbor, where they should be safe. Their concern is driven by another of Rheed’s visions; he saw the Peacekeeper crashing to the ground, consumed in flames. Rheed shares this warning with Westley. Kaltog says a tearful farewell to Tuk, his “son”, and the Peacekeeper takes off, leaving the gang on the edge of the Storm.

The Storm has grown significantly in intensity since they last came to the Stormcaps. The outer band of winds now forms a solid wall of white-out rain. The gang pushes through this wall, like a physical barrier, and into the Storm.

Dave’s Trial

They emerge through the whipping winds and blinding rain to find themselves on a mountain path, but not the one they expected.

Here, it is calm. A soft blanket of snow covers the ground. Up the path, beside a tree, three goliath are camped. A single wolf carcass hangs from the tree behind them, slim spoils for a hunt.

Dave recognizes the place instantly. These are the hills and mountains of his home; he has walked this trail many times. The goliath at the top of the hill he recognizes, too, as fellow hunters and friends from his tribe: Ivar, Kari, and Vidar. The three hunters grab spears and rush to meet them, but stop dead halfway down the path when they see Dave.

“Voldrak? We thought you lost!”

Dave bristles at the name. He hasn’t heard it in decades. The hunters seem confused when he mentions his exile. He bares his shoulder to reveal his brand as proof, but finds it gone. Alarmed, Dave marches past the scene and up the path. He tries to leave. As he crests the next hill, though, he finds himself once more facing the very same three hunters, who again approach the very same way.

It is clear this test must be passed to move on.

Dave agrees to return to the village with them and meet with Elder Vindrick. While there, he learns how his people have fared under the Thurrem Dominion in his absence. They have fallen into destitution. The hills, once abundant enough for them, are now hunted barren. Even what they do get, they must pay forward to the Dominion for their “great and noble cause”. The last tribal Elder, Ingrid, was taken away by the Dominion two years ago after a disagreement over taxation. It is everything Dave tried to warn them against when he was exiled from the tribe. His people are suffering.

Elder Vindrick cuts their meeting short when a messenger arrives informing him “Sven and Ren” will be here soon. Sven and Ren, he explains, are the tax collector for this region: a mean-spirited two-headed Frost Giant. The gang is told to hide while Vindrick speaks to them.

Sven and Ren demand more than the village has to offer. Vindrick attempts to plead with them, but it’s beginning to feel like the encounter may end with bloodshed as Sven and Ren get increasingly agitated, damaging property in the village as they reprimand Vindrick.

Dave has seen enough. He rushes out, warhammer drawn, and faces off with the tax collector. Sven and Ren are struck down. In an interesting twist, deciding they would like to question this tax collector and wanting to be able to send a message back to the Thurrem Dominion, Rheed casts Reincarnation to bring them back to life. They return as two separate entities: a halfling named Sven, and a half-elf named Ren. The party determines through conversation that Sven controlled motor functions and was generally a jerk to Ren, a fact they are able to easily exploit for all the information they want. They send Sven back with their message: this village is no longer a part of the Dominion, any future tax collectors will be killed on the spot.

They free Ren to do as he pleases. Surprising the party, he choses to remain with the goliath tribe, both out of practicality (it’s a harsh wilderness, especially with an empire looking to kill you) and out of respect for the goliath here that treat him with kindness despite who he is.

Immediately, they look to strengthen their uprising. A single village would be quickly crushed, in Ren’s assessment. Frigg (a Storm Giant and the regional governor) is likely going to raise an army and march directly here. They need other tribes to join their cause. The party spreads in all directions, pleading with Elders, and manage to get four other villages to return with them to fortify the pass where they would make their stand. The warriors paint their bodies in preparation for the struggle, a highly ritualized process as war between tribes is exceedingly rare. They will be killing their brethren today, and proper respect must be paid to that fact.

The Dominion comes, as Ren predicted, with an army. Frigg attempts to treat with the rebel goliath tribes. She promises amnesty if they return to the fold; she has no desire to shed the blood of giantkin. Dave makes clear that the goliath have no interest in submitting. The battle begins.

The gang is at the heart of it. Ultimately, they find themselves facing off with Frigg herself. Dave deals the killing blow. As he does, the last remnants of the Thurrem Dominion’s army scatters in retreat. The first blow to their empire has been struck; it is certain more tribes will join the cause now.

During the victory celebration that follows, the party feels themselves drawn to a trail in the village they hadn’t seen before. They walk along it; the world shifts around them as they do. The snow melts away, the mountain peaks flatten into gentle rolling plains, and the gang finds themselves overlooking a small clearing. In the center of the clearing, a white-furred tabaxi is meeting with a cloaked figure.

Kana’ti’s Trial

The scene plays out exactly as Kana’ti remembers from his youth. He listens to the discussion, as before, watching from behind the same patch of brush as he did all those years ago. The voice of the cloaked stranger strikes him as oddly familiar this time – he has heard it somewhere else. The two are discussing the finer points of a “partnership” between Onacona’s tribe and the stranger’s people, a deal Onacona has no authority to be making.

The meeting concludes. The stranger takes their leave, gaze sweeping by the hiding place of the gang as they go. Their eyes linger there a moment longer than seems natural, giving Kana’ti ample time to identify them by their face: Jansen Becker. If they detect the party, though, they make no further indication of this and go on their way.

At this point, in the actual sequence of events, Kana’ti rushed to his people and reported Onacona’s crime. This led to Onacona’s exile.

This time, Kana’ti emerges from the brush and approaches Onacona. Onacona first tries to deceive Kana’ti, but gives up when it’s clear he knows everything. The discussion turns heated – Onacona flings accusations at Kana’ti, letting out his anger. Onacona, with his white fur and red eyes, was seen as cursed and constantly mistreated by his own people. Kana’ti was kind to him, but mostly privately. As the most popular and successful hunter in the tribe, he had the power and position to stand up for Onacona in these moments. He didn’t.

Kana’ti begs Onacona’s forgiveness and understanding, and explains that this course – allying with the colonial powers – is not the way. He understands so much better now the true desperation of their situation. In a bold move, Kana’ti tells Onacona that this is not reality. He is an image constructed from the past – this moment is Kana’ti’s greatest regret. He has learned much since then. Onacona was right all along: they will have to come to terms with these settler peoples one way or the other. But this action, today, is wrong.

Surprisingly, this approach works. Onacona is dubious at first, but given Kana’ti’s earnestness in the moment and his history of being an honest and straightforward person, Onacona realizes that he must be telling the truth, as strange as that truth might be.

Onacona and Kana’ti reconcile and resolve to return to the tribe together.

As the two make their way along the path, something strange happens. The sky splits open. For a moment, the Storm swirls above them, the whipping winds, the rains, the lightning and thunder crashing. Through the rift, a bolt of blue light arcs to the ground. When the smoke clears, as the rift above seals back up, there is a band of five gith standing in the path.

They demand the party identify themselves. The gith say they are from the “Planar Court”. They were drawn here by the power of the Storm, and are here to assess the threat to other planes. Kana’ti invokes their partnership with Nori and the Reclamation Project, hoping this will win favor with these extra-planar beings. It has the opposite effect. Inexplicably enraged, the agents of the Planar Court attack immediately.

The party manages to kill one of the agents and capture another. The others plane shift to safety when it is clear the fight is not going their way. They restrain and question their prisoner, learning of the deep animosity between the Planar Court and Nori’s Reclamation Project – all revolving around the Tears of Creation. They tell the agent everything they know about the Storm and clarify that they should not be enemies here. They also mention the coming conflict of Edge Town, and that it will further feed the strength of the Storm – that should be their true concern.

When they feel they have come to an agreement, the party unties their prisoner and he plane shifts back to his people with the corpse of the fallen agent.

They press on up the path. As they walk, the familiar plains of Kana’ti’s homeland grow confusingly unfamiliar to him. He has perfect recall of the geography of the area. He has hunted those grounds countless times. While there are superficial similarities and much the same sky here, he is sure: these are not the plains of his home.

Kaltog, simultaneously, realizes he knows every hill, rock, and creek here. For the first time in the many years since he left, he is home.

Kaltog’s Trial

Onacona is nowhere to be seen, apparently vanished as they moved down the path.

Kaltog, having at this point worked out the nature of these trials, knows this must be his test to face. He asks the party to wait at camp while he goes to see what is ahead for him. He plants Axis Mundi in the ground and asks the group to keep an eye on it. He removes his top hat and coat, then sets out alone to face his people.

His arrival is every bit what he expects. None of his people are pleased to see him. Most avoid him completely. He encounters his old-friend-turned-rival, Ekrun. Ekrun hurls some insults which Kaltog takes in stride. He admits his faults and says he hopes Ekrun can forgive him one day. Ekrun seems taken aback as Kaltog moves on to the Chief’s tent.

Chief Ollek had always been fond of Kaltog, despite his unusual nature. He expresses happiness at seeing Kaltog, but also confusion as to why he has returned. It is clear this is not where he belongs. Kaltog agrees, but nonetheless, this is where he is – there must be a reason. Chief Ollek notes this to be a drastically different outlook than he expected from Kaltog, who had always rejected the traditions of his people or the idea of “fate”.

Kaltog learns that he has arrived on an auspicious day, indeed. His people are preparing to journey to the Greatstone, where he knows a great tragedy awaits them. When he realizes this he entreats the Chief that this must be why he has been brought here – he must prevent his people from travelling to the Greatstone. The chief dismisses him off-hand. It would be disrespectful to the spirits not to go, he can’t simply cancel the whole affair at the word of some long-lost prodigal son.

Frustrated, Kaltog returns to camp. He shares his personal history with the party at long last, explaining the details of his self-imposed exile and how he never really felt at home with his people. He asks for their support. He is going to return with the Axis Mundi. It is not likely his people will accept him as its proper champion.

He is going to accept his place here, even if the people here do not accept him. Kaltog puts his hat and coat back on. If he is doing this, he is going to do it as himself.

He marches back into the village, dressed in his eclectic garb, friends at his back, holding aloft the Axis Mundi. As he walks, people drop what they are doing to stare at the spectacle. Whispers are heard all around. A crowd begins to follow him as he makes his way to the hill where the Chief’s tent stands once more.

He scales the hill and turns to face his people, planting the Axis Mundi at his feet. He enters into an impassioned speech about how he has come to better understand his place in this world, and his duty to his people. He does not understand, still, why the spear came to him, but he feels his soul inevitably drawn back to these plains. He never stopped holding them in his heart, no matter how he denied it.

If any doubt him, he challenges them to approach and grasp the spear themselves. At this point, Chief Ollek has emerged from his tent behind Kaltog and is quietly watching. Ekrun strides forward and, eyes locked on Kaltog, grabs the spear haft. There is a flash of blinding force as Ekrun is sent tumbling backward down the hill. A silence falls over the crowd. Kaltog steps forward and lifts the spear back out of the ground, holding the haft out towards the crowd like a challenge.

“Anyone else?”

Nobody volunteers.

Kaltog presses the advantage. He warns his people of the coming massacre, says that he was delivered here to warn them. His words sway the people of the village. A chant is taken up among the crowd – even Ekrun, after a momentary hesitation, joins in. The spirits have spoken. The Chief raises his hands to calm them. The journey will be cancelled. It is clear that the gods have spoken through Kaltog, as unlikely as that would have seemed just this morning.

Kaltog regretfully informs the Chief they must press on. They have a greater destiny ahead. His people see him off with jubilant cheers.

The party presses on, down the path, and comes upon another wall of water and wind. They push through it to find themselves in the eye of the Storm, overlooking a valley with a towering mountain rising from it’s center: Mt. Kunosh.

The floor of the valley is alive; it brims and churns, a sea of juvenile black dragons and wyrmlings. Above the mountain, Boreiz circles, watching over Areizma’s brood.

That night, the party takes their final rest.

Kaltog notices that the Axis Mundi has changed, forming new components. Rheed says the spear now appears as he saw it in his visions. Kaltog’s connection to the artifact is fully realized. The others reflect on what they learned, and whimsically discuss what they plan to do when they return to the world proper.

When they finally drift to sleep, Kaltog has a strange dream. He feels himself floating in a void. He sees a shifting, shimmering barrier before him. Behind the barrier, a presence. He senses curiosity. He hears a voice: it flows through his ears like liquid.

“The bridge can be rebuilt.”

The Adventures of Vic and Ash – Episode Two

This is a sporadic series based on the one-on-one campaign I’m currently running for my partner (who plays both characters). I’ll take some liberties, but for the most part this is entirely based on the events of those sessions.

Episode Two: Rigging the Game

The Healer’s Hall in Prapol was one of the larger structures in town. High walls, large frosted windows, and a grand decorated entryway made it stand in sharp relief to the squalor surrounding it. It boasted two fine dwarf-carved stone doors, each individually engraved with the crest of the Healer’s Guild – a hand set in a sunburst.

Ash’s boot planted right in the center of that handprint design as she forced the heavy doors open. In her arms, the recently-deceased Victor.

The sterile white-tiled interior of the building was bright and blinding; she stumbled forward, squinting. Ahead, she could just make out the silhouette of a reception desk. There was the vague outline of a person sitting behind it.

“Resurrection services! Quick!”

Ash didn’t see where the white-cloaked healer emerged from; they were suddenly beside her and helping support Vic’s weight.

“How long has he been dead?”

Ash faltered, uncertain. “Forty minutes, maybe?”

“Less than an hour, is good. That’s okay. It’s good. We’ll take good care of him, don’t worry.”

Vic’s body was scooped unceremoniously from Ash’s arms by a towering Giff medical assistant, able to wrap his leathery hands easily around Vic’s entire form. He tucked the limp body under his armpit and ambled through the back doorway, Vic’s legs dangling and swaying to and fro, the healer close behind fussing at him to “mind the head”. The door slammed shut and bolted with a mechanical click. Ash was left alone in the entry hall, with the person behind the desk.

“Are you covering the cost?” The droning voice was indifferent. Eyes adjusted to the bright interior, Ash could now see the receptionist was Giff as well, seated in an extra-wide swivel chair special-made to accommodate the larger-bodied species of the multi-verse. The woman didn’t avert her gaze from her screen. She was squinting at something, face inches from her monitor, brow knit in concentration. Several tiny candles of varying shades adorned her desk; some with designs, some solid colored, most still in their original wrapping, and all unburned.

“Yes, I – Yes, the cost. How much will it be?”

The woman produced a pair of tiny glasses from her desk and set them on her snout carefully. She stretched her thick fingers over the keyboard.

“One moment, please.”

Clack, click, clack. Click. Clack, clack. Clack.

Ash stood silent, waiting, listening to the rhythmic sound of this woman’s slow, one-finger-at-a-time typing. It was soothing.

On the other side of the screen, the woman finished placing her order for four 24-packs of miniature vanilla-scented candles. The packs were buy-one-get-one-half-off. An excellent deal.

“One. Thousand! Gold?!”

Vic was not pleased.

“How’m I ever gonna afford…Fuckin’ hell, the ship, Ash! Will it even still… The contract – do you think? Is there even time? Where would he have gone? Oh, what are we gonna do about the damn ship?! Fuck – that was most our gold, Ash! Couldn’t you have talked them down? Why didn’t ya – “

This was going to continue for awhile.

Ash ignored Vic for the most part; she had enough of a headache as it was, and her shoulders ached from dragging his literal dead weight back to town. It took a steaming plate of herb-roasted chicken with tangy blue sauce at the inn to soothe his temper enough for Ash to tune back in.

“…be the ticket, don’t ya think, Ash?”

Oh, fuck.

“Yes? You were saying, it would be just the ticket.”

“Right! The gambling problem! That’s our in, Ash, we just gotta get ol’Carl into a friendly match – something we’re sure to win.”

Carl Thunderbelt. The Tongass big-wig with a fancy ship and, reputedly, a penchant for high stakes games. Ash had to admit, Carl Thunderbelt sounded like exactly the kind of rich asshole that would bet a ship on a game of chance.

“You’re still good with dice, and – “

“We can’t actually bet on a real game of chance, Vic. If we’re gonna do this, we – “

A cough interrupted her thought.

Korick stood over the table. Behind them, a mismatched group of three others was lined up like an entourage.

“Vic? This a good time?” The slim githyanki stroked their chin.

“Korick! We were just talking about that fellow with the ship you told me about. Sit, sit!”

Korick did so. The entourage waited behind them, shifting about uncomfortably in their line as they tried to look nonchalant.

“Good to hear, good – You remember I mentioned those fellas before, what got fleeced by Ollie too? These’re them, here.” Korick jerked a thumb back to the entourage. They all attempted to stand up straighter and look more imposing. “Figure they make a good crew, with the common interest’n’all.”

It was a motley group. Vic took each in, one at a time, measuring them up.

In the center, tallest by several heads, was an aging Giff man wearing a faded military uniform. Likely imposing in his prime, he now looked more suited to a backyard barbecue than a battlefield. He carried a simple wooden crutch, supporting a withered left leg.

To the Giff’s left was a short, stocky holy man of some obscure order dressed in plain brown robes, with the top-center of his head shaved. He appeared human at a glance, but his shoulders and face were unusually broad.

Finally, somehow most out of place, the person on the Giff’s right was a lanky human boy no older than fifteen with thick square-rimmed glasses and acne covering every square inch of his unfortunate face.

“They got qualifications?”

“Oh yeah, of course, Vic, all had their own ships after all, yeah? This here is Blue – ” Korick first introduced the Giff military man, “He knows his way around a ship. Knows his way around guns too. Served in some mercenary company for a few decades, real tough guy.” Blue grunted his assent.

“And, uh, well, this here is Brother Anthony. He’s a priest of Nautuus.” Vic had never heard of Nautuus, but with all the demi-planes out there, one can’t be expected to know every god in existence. Now that he was getting a better look, he could see Brother Anthony was actually a Dwarf. His mistake was understandable; where there should have been a thick beard, Brother Anthony instead had thick stubble. Vic marveled – Was it a curse of some kind? A personal preference? Or was it the rules of his order, and he shaved multiple times per day? Vic resisted asking as Korick continued: “Good to have around in a pinch, knows how to mend wounds. Knows how to swing a hammer too.”

“And this here’s Big Tim.” The teenage human stepped forward and thrust forward his hand towards Vic. Vic gave him a firm businessperson’s handshake, causing the boy to recoil and jerk the hand back. He cradled the hand as he turned back to Korick.

“So this is the guy, Korick? What can he do?”

Vic rolled his eyes. “I respect attitude, kid, but – “

“Don’t call me kid, scale-face.”

Ash retreated behind the rim of her own mug, unable to stifle a snickering fit. Vic smiled at Big Tim. Rows of tiny, razor sharp teeth glinted in the half-light.

“Why don’t we all sit, huh? Let’s get another round and talk shop.”

The building had been a toy factory, once. This was before Tongass, before Prapol was Prapol, when it was known by another name.

People were lured there by promises of work and better lives. They found the same barren wasteland that hopeful migrants find on Prapol today. Many had risked all on the journey; they could do nothing but remain and make the best of things. In this way, many were snared.

The town itself was run by a vampire. Nobody knew this at the time, or it is much less likely they would have taken the risk of coming to the demi-plane.

One day, a group of adventurers came through town. This was an unusual occurrence for such a remote mining settlement. They stayed only a week, concluding their visit by driving a stake through the heart of the town’s leader. They waved to cheering crowds of liberated workers as they sailed off into the sea of stars.

Maintaining a town in such a remote location proved difficult in the aftermath.

Supplies ran dry. People began to move out, those that could. Those that remained lived with little, the land unable to provide for them. There was famine. The toy factory was built as a last-ditch effort to revive the settlement through industry. It was created as a joint venture by the people of the town, who came together and volunteered their time generously to ensure its success. It was a labor of love.

It worked.

The toy factory revitalized the settlement. People began to move back. New structures were built. New life was breathed, forcibly, into the wasteland.

Ten years later, Tongass acquired the company. Five years after that, they closed the doors of the factory. Prapol was more profitable as a mining town.

The interior was massive and mostly empty. Abandoned machines adorned the outside walls, rusted over and long-since made useless by the rigors of time.

At the center of the factory floor, a single hanging light was rigged over a well-used folding card table. On either side of the folding card table, a grey metal folding chair was set. More chairs were set towards the back of the factory floor in a line, lights wired behind them to shine blindingly towards the card table at the center. Anyone seated at the center would see only outlines of people in the audience. Big Tim, it turned out, had a talent for electric work.

Vic hand delivered the invitation: an underground dice tournament, high stakes and exclusive, held in secret locations. It was one of Ash’s finer works. Carl Thunderbelt seemed unlikely to decline. Hook, set.

Vic darted about the factory floor, ensuring all the elements were in their places and everybody knew their parts.

Big Tim was at the door, watching for the guest of honor. They had all put together the fanciest-looking outfits they could find for the event. It turns out this is hard to do when you don’t have any money to spend. The results were underwhelming, hence the creative lighting of the audience (where Blue, Brother Anthony, and Korick were all set). Among the entourage, Big Tim was the only one that owned a suit. By default, he was volunteered for door greeter.

Ash was at the table. She was the lynchpin of the plan as the player; everyone pitched in to help her look the part. An emerald green bowler hat adorned her head, borrowed from Vic, and she fiddled idly with a polished silver pocket-watch in her right hand, borrowed from Blue. The pocket-watch had a gold-plated cover that flipped open to reveal a tiny portrait of a handsome young Giff man set inside. Ash assumed it to be a younger Blue. He wasn’t interested in discussing it.

On the table were two dice cups. This was the biggest expense of the event, having been specially acquired by Vic and Ash for this game. The cups were felt lined for minimal noise when rolling, molded to fit comfortably in the palm of the roller, with a fine wood finish and a patented “cheat-proof” rim.

They were also enchanted. If Ash traced a number in the bottom of her cup with a finger before rolling, that is the number the dice would turn up.

Carl Thunderbelt arrived exactly when the invitation instructed him to. He was a garishly dressed Dwarf with a finely groomed beard, silk suit, and flashy jewelry all framed beneath a sharp stetson-style hat. He stood out in Prapol in all of the worst ways.

Ash played her part. She eased in, letting the dice run their natural course at first. Then she set the trap. Using the enchanted cup, she made it look like she was on a losing streak. Carl seemed to have the upper hand. He was confident. Then she went for the throat. Why not bet bigger, make it more interesting? She heard he has a ship. She wants it. Carl wants Big Tim if he wins. Big Tim’s eyes widened in panic. Ash ignored him.

It was a deal.

With the enchanted cup, she easily swept the set. Her time as a pickpocket made tracing numbers on a cup bottom undetected a simple matter, executed flawlessly. Carl blustered, but couldn’t prove foul play. Victory was declared. By the rules, the ship should be theirs. Unfortunately, as they soon discovered, Carl Thunderbelt had never been fond of playing by the rules.

“Help! HELP! Thieves! Murderers! HELP!”

It was close to midnight. Prapol was a ghost town at this time, only a handful of people on the streets. This was fortunate, since a high-ranking Tongass executive was currently tearing through those streets screaming for help, Vic and Ash hot on his tail.

Every window and door remained barred tight. Prapol was not fond of Tongass executives.

Carl’s stubby legs left him little chance to evade Vic and Ash. They followed close behind, hoping he would lead them to his ship. It was clear he had no intention of parting with the vessel amicably. Vic would have to take it. Once again, Carl complied with their plan perfectly. He politely led them to the dockyard of Prapol – a grimy, fenced compound with a handful of landing pads mostly utilized by travelling merchants and rich VIPs such as Mr. Thunderbelt.

Carl Thunderbelt’s former ship was the finest in the compound, opulently decorated with an unusual abundance of superfluous cosmetic features such as gold-etched patterns along the length of the hull, a completely unnecessary spoiler on the rear, and a tacky figurehead of a nude dwarf woman with a magnificent beard flowing out behind her affixed to the front. The figurehead was, naturally, cast in gold.

Two warforged currently worked at the vessel, welding polished gold plating onto the nose just below the figurehead. Carl ran to them, yelling all the way.

“Tin! Brass! These vagabonds are fixin’ to try to steal my baby! Protect me!” Tin and Brass straightened to full height, shoulders set back, hammers and wrenches wielded in their hands, as they turned towards their employer. Each stood at least 7 feet tall. Carl rushed to get behind them as quickly as he could.

“Fucking hell.” Ash muttered to herself, nocking an arrow and taking careful aim at Mr. Thunderbelt’s retreating form. The arrow arced through the air with glorious precision, its trajectory painted right on Carl’s right calf. Or, it would have been, had Carl not turned to gauge the nearness of his pursuers and tripped on a rock at that exact moment, launching, instead, his left eye socket into the arrow’s path. Carl’s lifeless corpse slid the final few inches to Tin and Brass’s feet. The two warforged looked up at Vic and Ash. A moment of tense silence passed.

Vic spoke up.

“This fella was only your employer. We won this ship fair and square. You can just take your pay and walk away now. No hard feelings.”

Tin looked at Brass. Brass looked at Tin. Another tense moment of silence passed.

Finally, Tin leaned down and rustled through Carl’s belt, searching. He found what he was looking for – a pouch of coins. He lifted it into the air to show Vic. Without another word, the pouch of coins hooked onto Tin’s belt and the two warforged workers took their leave.

Vic assembled Korick and the entourage. They needed to make themselves scarce around Prapol, and quickly. Meanwhile, Ash stowed Carl’s corpse among the cargo of a merchant vessel bound for a distant border world. That cargo was copious amounts of guano, which easily overpowered the scent of the corpse below decks. It wouldn’t be found until the shipment on board was sold.

Before the sun rose over the barren plains of Prapol the next day, Vic and Ash were gone.

In three weeks, Carl Thunderbelt’s body was found on a distant world and recovered, as expected.

His life insurance policy, as a Tongass executive, guarantees resurrection services in cases such as this. Like waking from a dream, Carl finds himself transported from laying in the dirt on Prapol with an arrow sticking out of his eye, to laying on a slab table in a sterile white room surrounded by healers in sterile white coats fretting over the Ersatz Eye they were setting into his ruined left eye socket.

Carl grabs one by the collar of their coat and yanks them close, inches from his face. He manages to gurgle out two words before slipping back into unconsciousness:

“Call. Corporate.”

Great Expanse: Summary 9

These are meant to be brief summaries of the events of the DnD campaign I’ve just wrapped up. You can find the other materials pertaining to this campaign, including session-by-session journals of the first several sessions of this campaign which detail my prep process and how my prep work played out in actual game sessions, organized here.

The story of Sherlynx, Balasar, Regar, and Yelcan continues…

Sherlynx’s Gang: Unexpected Alliances

With Genny Crystal back, the real work of planning an anti-Kerthan coup in Edge Town can begin.

Supplied with intel from both Genny and the newly-promoted Spy Captain Pete, Sherlynx and the gang begin making raids on the surface to lay groundwork for an open uprising.

First, they hear rumors of another group mounting a resistance effort elsewhere in the city – sources say they may be hiding beneath the ruins of the arena, but also that Jansen and their Hand are closing in on that location soon. The gang rushes to find and unite with this band of rebels first. Crawling through collapsed tunnels beneath the shattered Edge Town Arena, Sherlynx finds a group of former gladiators under the command of Rock Stone holed up. Their escape route is cut off by Robyn and Lee, two wizards of Jansen’s Hand. The gang was followed. A regiment of Kerthan soldiers pours into the tunnels and the party fights them off as the Rock uses his hammer, which has the ability to magically mold earth, to dig them an escape route.

Rock Stone and his gladiators, an invaluable elite fighting force well-suited to urban combat, join the Resistance.

Next, Sherlynx pursues rumors that Kerth has been working on some kind of super-weapon. Reports from the surface mention a project, codenamed “Tempest”. Kerth has partitioned the old Rat Market into a fortified work compound, and forced every able artificer in Edge Town behind it’s metal barricades. Nobody is sure what they are doing. She plans to take a trip to the surface herself to investigate and possibly destroy whatever it is Kerth is working on.

This plan is interrupted by a moment of opportunity. Phoebe Scot, the former Guildmaster of the Merchant’s Guild in Edge Town, seems to be at odds with Jansen lately. Few individuals in the city are more reviled than Phoebe Scot by the Resistance. As much as they hate their invaders, they see her as a traitor to her own kind, willing to sell out the ideals of the city and cozy up to imperial influence. There is a large price on her head. Sherlynx has a better idea: Phoebe Scot has been turned once before, why not again?

Spy Captain Pete makes arrangements with his budding spy network of Freeforged (the term these Warforged have taken to using for themselves). Sherlynx and the gang go to the surface and make contact with a Freeforged named Spatula there, Phoebe Scot’s cook. Regar asks why Spatula hasn’t changed her name – she hadn’t really thought about it. Regar suggests “Chula”, mostly as a joke, but she likes it and that becomes her new name.

Sherlynx gives Chula a poison for Phoebe. The poison was devised by Bonner, the former Tinker’s Guildmaster that accompanied Sherlynx to Edge Town – it will render Phoebe unconscious for one hour in a “death-like state”. The gang hides in the kitchens to wait for her to be delivered to them. The plan goes off without a hitch – Chula drags Phoebe’s limp form into the kitchens after the poison takes effect (taking absolutely no care not to “accidentally” bang her into walls along the wall). The gang restrains Phoebe and forces her into a wooden crate, which Regar and Balasar carry down into the sewers and all the way back to Resistance HQ.

Sherlynx is careful to keep this whole operation a secret among the Resistance. If they found out Phoebe Scot was among them, she wouldn’t last an hour. Sherlynx had to protect her new asset from both Kerth and her own people.

When Phoebe Scot comes to, Sherlynx is there waiting to question her. Phoebe is willing to give up everything she knows, but only if her safety can be guaranteed. Nothing in Edge Town went as she hoped. She knows she will be lucky to escape with her life. The way she sees it, her information is the only valuable commodity she has left, and she is bargaining hard with it. Sherlynx agrees to the deal. Phoebe lays it all out – from troop movements, to the nature of the device the Tempest Project is attempting to create (a weather-control device, which is to be activated at a crucial moment to shatter Saltori’s fleet), to where Jansen has set themselves up and their general schedule day to day.

Satisfied that Phoebe has told her all that she knows, Sherlynx removes her restraints. She is free to go, but she will have to find her own way from here. To help guarantee her safety as promised, the gang works together to give her a make-over: her hair is cut, re-colored, her face is smudged up with dirt, and she is given a raggy outfit to fit in better among the refugees. “Keep your head down, and they might not kill you” is all the further help Sherlynx is willing to offer her. Phoebe fades into the camps of the cavern and is never seen again.

That night, a messenger arrives. As Sherlynx and Genny are discussing strategy in the Genny’s Control Room, they hear alarmed shouts from the cavern. A beleaguered-looking owl is flying through the hallways right towards them with purpose. Sherlynx goes to duck, but the bird swoops upward at the last moment and perches on the frame of the door. It opens its mouth, and an unexpected voice issues from the beak: The Bull King.

He says he received their message. He is willing to consider an alliance and wishes to meet with Sherlynx outside the city. The message sent, the owl seems to come to, looking lightly dazed. Sherlynx has the owl delivered safely back to the surface. Jerry the Owl, conscripted on a whim weeks ago by Dave on the edge of Temnupet, played his part well.

Sherlynx isn’t sure where the Bull King got the idea she might be pursuing an alliance, but she is far too desperate to turn down the meeting. The gang slips back out via the network of caverns and makes their way south of the city, where the Bull King says in his message he will “find them”. His scouts do find them, quickly. To the gang’s surprise, it is a group of Tabaxi wearing the colors of the Bull King that greets them and brings them to the hidden camp of the army.

The Bull King’s army has grown considerably since they last laid eyes on it. Already a meaningful force then, with the unified tribes of hobgoblins exiled from Nochgev, the ranks of this army now include people from all over the Expanse: Centaurs, Minotaurs, Tabaxi – all under the same banner.

Further surprises await inside the tent. There, at the Bull King’s right hand, Sherlynx recognizes Lexton Ford – the elder Tabaxi she had first met back in Kolinville, where he had been the leader of a group of exiled tabaxi. At his left is a Loxodon she doesn’t recognize, but who commands an unusual aura of respect. Sherlynx, with her imbued connection to the ancient entities of this world, can feel that he is much older and more powerful than he appears (Sherlynx is a Trench Walker – she has survived a trip to the deepest part of the ocean, where the mysteries and truths of the most ancient aspects of this world were seared into her soul). This is confirmed by the Bull King, who details how he came to be here, offering this alliance:

The night before the Greatstone Massacre, this Loxodon appeared in the Bull King’s camp, asking to speak to their leader. At first he was refused, but as he advanced to the tent it became clear nobody had the will to actually stop him – they would simply lay down arms and step aside as if compelled. The Bull King met with him, intrigued, and the Loxodon revealed himself to be Laryn – the Golden Visitor, Protector of the Plains Peoples. He had a special purpose for the Bull King, which would become clear soon.

Following the Massacre, people began to flock to the Bull King looking to make common cause against the colonizers. His purpose was clear. He took them all in, slowly abandoning his original cause of carving out a Hobgoblin Kingdom in the plains and taking up the cause of the Plains Peoples. He hopes to create a land fortified against colonizers, where the people of that land can live freely as they always have by working together to safeguard that freedom.

Now, he says, their fortunes are tied together. The Bull King’s dream of a free Expanse can never come true as long as Kerth holds Edge Town.

The elder Loxodon speaks next, and when he does all fall silent to listen. He explains who he is to Sherlynx: The people of the plains know him as their benefactor, and that is a partial truth. Everything Areizma is, he is not – they are the same, but opposites. He is meant to be the compassion to balance her anger. It has been some time, longer than ever before, since the Wrath of Areizma was awakened – and once awakened, it cannot be put down until there has been significant suffering, he says. The “new gods”, as he calls them, administered a sort of brutal order that kept the Wrath at bay for a time. They seem to have abandoned this world to mortalkind in the past 100 years, retreating in fear after the Mad God of Order was defeated and stripped of godhood by a mortal wielding the Tears of Creation at the Battle of Timbora. Now, for the first time in countless millennia, the cycle seems ready to begin repeating once more.

Laryn wants to end it. He has had time to consider – thousands of years of it. This cycle of wrath, death, and destruction should never have been the answer. It creates what it seeks to cure. He has set pieces in motion, in his way. Sherlynx is where she is meant to be now; Edge Town will be her stand. The storm will continue to grow as the bloodshed and conflict do. Even if she overthrows Kerthan rule, Areizma will come. That is good – Laryn needs her to be drawn from the Stormcaps, her anger focused elsewhere. There, Sherlynx’s friends have a vital part to play. Kaltog now carries the Axis Mundi, the spear that bridges worlds, and the “Guide” Laryn sent is with them (Rheed), to drive them where they need to go. Sherlynx cannot hope to stand against Areizma, Laryn says, but hopefully she can keep her attention long enough. For his part, Laryn is bound by his own immutable laws due to his nature, and cannot interfere any more directly than this.

They are interrupted by another entering the tent, a scouting party returning with their report. Sherlynx recognizes the goblin at it’s head instantly as Zien’Morr – not truly a goblin, but a Barghest, a demon spirit that feeds on the souls of powerful goblinoids. He has managed to infiltrate the Bull King’s inner circle, and is clearly just biding his time for when his feast is fully ripe. Sherlynx reveals his nature to all gathered as efficiently as possible: by pointing right at him and shouting “BARGHEST!”

Chaos erupts in the tent. Everyone seems to know what this means. The Barghest takes his true form. Guards rush to make a barrier between the demon and their king, Lexton Ford among them. Sherlynx cuts an escape through the back of the tent with her yklwa and tells the Bull King to get to safety – he hesitates only a moment before obliging. Laryn fades calmly to the sideline to watch the proceedings.

Sherlynx and the gang fight a pitched battle in the tent with the Barghest. Swelled by the soul of the Morr clan’s leader, or perhaps by the prospect of the grand feast to come in the Bull King, he is much more powerful than when they last encountered him. They manage to defeat the demon for good this time, sending him back to the underworld.

This action solidifies their alliance. Sherlynx returns home through the caverns with her greatest boon yet – an army, perched on the borders of Edge Town, ready to fight for their cause.

Upon their return, Balasar slips off into an isolated corner of the HQ. He often did this. To the others, it seems a devout ritual, where he spends some time each day alone and quietly knelt in prayer. It is during these rituals that he has been relaying messages back to Saltori, reporting on Sherlynx’s progress. This time, his message is short and to the point:

“Send in the Golden Anvil.”

Great Expanse: Summary 8

These are meant to be brief summaries of the events of the DnD campaign I’ve just wrapped up. You can find the other materials pertaining to this campaign, including session-by-session journals of the first several sessions of this campaign which detail my prep process and how my prep work played out in actual game sessions, organized here.

The story of Sherlynx, Balasar, Regar, and Yelcan continues…

Sherlynx’s Gang: Resistance

Jormel brings Sherlynx up to speed as he leads her through the caverns. When they arrive at their destination, Sherlynx recognizes the place as the facility the Cult of Areizma had been using months ago – hidden deep in the sewers, and now refurbished as the headquarters of the resistance to Kerthan rule in Edge Town.

Sherlynx asks about allies – specifically, Genny Crystal. Jormel’s mood darkens. Apparently, she had been the one that started this whole operation. She led them through the sewers, knowing of this place from Sherlynx. She set up the surveillance systems and made the rules that kept everyone safe. She was the heart of the resistance, and Jormel was her right hand.

The night before Sherlynx’s arrival, she was involved in a raid in the city that went sideways. Everyone in that group was captured and now awaits interrogation by Jansen. No secret can be held from Jansen, according to stories shared among Resistance members in hushed tones – everyone who is captured, no matter how strong-willed, no matter how honest and pure, has flipped. If there is information you have that Jansen wants, they will take apart your brain piece by piece to get it. For this reason, Genny only allowed a handful of people to know the path to the Resistance HQ. There are also illusions present at the entrance, so it appears as just another stretch of sewer, and the whole area itself is of course warded against divination magic (the Resistance has it’s own resident hedge wizard, a former Red Heart Gang member named Arthur Beedle with clear natural talent for magic but no formal education).

All those precautions would mean nothing if Jansen got their hands on Genny. The only reason they aren’t all already dead, Jormel assumes, is because Jansen must not realize who they have. The resistance looked defeated – many were talking of returning home before Kerth inevitably comes busting in the door of their hideout.

Sherlynx and the crew get a tour of the facility. Most are camped in the cavern, tucked in the back of the facility. The gang enters through their clusters of tents. Next, they pass through Genny Crystal’s command center – a small room with a desk and cabinets, filled with papers and tiny arcane devices. She had been the information hub and co-leader of the resistance with Jormel until her capture, and she ran it all from here. Jormel laments that nobody here could possibly do all the work she did, and even if they could many of her contacts were known only to her.

The gang is led through a hallway to a larger, open chamber that has been converted into a bar. It is furnished with an eclectic array of whatever furniture could be found and brought down from the surface – including a full-size oil portrait of the Kerthan Emporer, Leon II, hung in a corner of the room for use as a dart board. A sign above the bar is clumsily painted: “The Stink Pit”.

Jormel and Sherlynx begin working on the plan to free Genny Crystal. While they are off workshopping, Regar is approached by a Warforged who introduces himself as “Pete” at the bar (this is an unusual name for a Warforged, who until this point in the campaign have all been named for inanimate objects). Pete had seen Regar with Sherlynx, and is hoping that Regar can bring a petition on his behalf to Sherlynx. Pete has been with the Resistance since the beginning, previously belonging to the old leader of the Town Guard. He chose his own name – naming himself after the first sentient Warforged, whom Pete claims lived and died as a free person – and he has been accepted as an individual by his comrades. But Pete is not satisfied. Most of his people still live in servitude, treated as less-than-sentient. Pete hopes to forge a better future for them, here and now, in Edge Town. If Sherlynx commits to freeing all Warforged in the Edge Town, Pete claims she would gain the loyalty of an incredible fighting force that has already infiltrated every corner of the city. Nobody pays attention to the help. In the past, his petition has been refused by Jormel, but Pete can see that the power has shifted now with Sherlynx’s arrival. Regar, horrified by the way Warforged are treated, agrees to take on the cause whole-heartedly.

He introduces Pete to Sherlynx. Jormel recognizes him, and when questioned by Sherlynx admits that Pete has been an invaluable member of the resistance. This is enough for Sherlynx; she tells Pete to start building that network of Warforged on the surface and names him her “Spy Captain”, promising that in her vision of Edge Town ALL will be free. Spy Captain Pete seems like he would be moved to tears if he could cry. Jormel says nothing. It is clear in this moment, to everyone in the room, that Sherlynx now calls the shots around here.

That night, they strike out to surface to rescue Genny Crystal. Following the path laid out by Jormel, the party find themselves outside what was once the HQ of the Edge Town Guard. Yelcan scouts the building with Arcane Eye, plotting a quick path to where they are being held in the basement dungeon. He warns them that there are arcane alarms set at each entryway. He can dispel them, but the result will be the same as if they tripped them – someone will know they have been tampered with. This is the gang’s first real mission together, and they already move like a unit. They are outside the cell of Genny and the other surviving resistance members within minutes. Another few minutes, they are moving back up the stairs.

At the top of the stairs, Sherlynx swings the door open right into Xix-thath – her old friend from back home, who she had seen months before with the Edge Town Guard, now wearing Kerthan colors. They are equally shocked to see each other, and a fight breaks out as the gang holds the hallway while prisoners escape out the back window. Xix’thath is gravely wounded but manages to escape, shouting curses at Sherlynx. The gang swings out the window behind the last of the prisoners, only to now find themselves face-to-face with Jansen Becker.

Another fight ensues, much more desperate, as the last of the prisoners escape into the sewer. The gang strikes Jansen down and rushes into the sewers themselves, knowing that death is only a temporary inconvenience for their pursuer.

The gang returns to HQ victorious – a party is already underway at the Stink Pit as they arrive. On her very first day with the Resistance, Sherlynx has returned one of their leaders from the clutches of an enemy none before had managed to escape, and thus brought the Resistance back from the brink of doom.

This victory comes at a cost, though: Jansen now knows Sherlynx is back in Edge Town.

Great Expanse: Summary 7

These are meant to be brief summaries of the events of the DnD campaign I’ve just wrapped up. You can find the other materials pertaining to this campaign, including session-by-session journals of the first several sessions of this campaign which detail my prep process and how my prep work played out in actual game sessions, organized here.

Sherlynx’s Gang has just met up with Jormel in the caverns beneath Edge Town. There, the seeds of rebellion had already been planted, and are now ready to break the soil with Sherlynx’s arrival.

Meanwhile, not all that far to the north through Temnupet, the story of Dave, Kaltog, Kana’ti, and Rheed continues…

Dave’s Gang Interlude: Vampire Capitalism

The repairs to the Peacekeeper only take a day, and the gang is back in the air on their way to Storm’s Bounty. They hope to find supplies and, perhaps, allies in their struggle against Areizma.

Storm’s Bounty is a large mining town, set near the Stormcaps and far from any other major settlement. Officially it is under the Saltori banner, but as if often the case with their territories it is largely self-governed (Saltori takes a “benign neglect” approach). The entire town, all the land, all the houses, and effectively all the people are the property of Sea Sapphire Industries. The law of Storm’s Bounty is the company’s law – and it is absolute.

Though the gang arrives in daytime, there is a hazy fog that hangs over the whole town – presumably from the many forges and manufactories. Even at midday, the sun is dimmed.

They are greeted at the docks by a pale, frail-looking fellow dressed in a fine suit who introduces himself as Aloysius. He was sent ahead by the owner of this town, Mr. Telmur, to be their guide. The gang is taken on a tour of the town by Aloysius, during which it becomes clear they are being chaperoned. Streets are strangely clear, establishments overly friendly, and Aloysius will not allow them to deviate from the route without tagging along.

When they return to the ship, Rheed decides to go back out and do a scouting run in the form of a rat. While out alone, he speaks to plants around town and learns that there is something dark at work here – the plants speak of people being dragged away in the night, and of “the monsters in the big house”, beings with unnatural strength whose very existence the plants find abhorrent. They refuse to grow there. Rheed knows they mean the Mr. Telmur’s estate.

Rheed returns to the ship and shares what has learned with the gang. Kaltog recognizes the signs – the fog over the town that blocks the sun, the pallid skin of their minder Aloysius, these disappearances in the night, monstrous beings with unnatural strength: Kaltog suspects Mr. Telmur might be a Vampire Lord.

Just in case, the crew is briefed on how to engage with vampires. They are warned to not invite anyone on board without checking with the party first. Kaltog gifts Tuk his old hand-boomer, hoping it will lend him better protection. Kana’ti, similarly, hands down one of his old +1 Scimitars to Huk. The two goblins have become much more skillful in their time with the crew. Huk not only plays instruments well now, but has shown aptitude for Bardic magic. Tuk, meanwhile, has become Kaltog’s protégé and surrogate son – he has proven an apt student of artifice.

Their meeting is interrupted by Aloysius approaching the deck. They put the talk on hold and go to the threshold of the dock, where Aloysius waits holding a silver serving tray with a large domed lid. The party notes that he will not enter the ship without permission, further confirmation of their working theory. He says that Mr. Telmur wishes to make an alliance, and sends a gesture of goodwill. Lifting the lid of the serving tray reveals the severed head of Selma, one of the hags the party had faced back in Temnupet.

Mr. Telmur will see them in the morning.

The party discusses leaving. They have no stake here. Ultimately, the gang tentatively moves forward with trying to forge this alliance. Not all agree. Kaltog and Dave particularly dissent to this course, seeing an alliance with a being such as this as too dangerous – but at the very least they hope to learn more about an enemy before they must face him. There is brutal practicality to the reasoning of their decision; they feel they need any allies they can get against Areizma, and here in the shadow of the storm it is clear Mr. Telmur’s goals will align with theirs on that issue. While the gift of Selma’s head unsettles the party, they do all admit it demonstrates a willingness to work together from the vampire lord.

Aloysius is, of course, there to lead them through town to the estate the next morning. On their way to the estate, a passing worker bumps into Kana’ti and makes a hasty apology before rushing on. The worker had slipped a note into his pocket, with an address and a time that evening.

The estate itself stands out; grand and rich, perched on a hilltop overlooking the scores of ramshackle huts below. Aloysius leads them to the front door, where they are greeted by a warforged servant named Tray. Tray takes them to a dining hall, where Mr. Telmur already sits waiting patiently at the head of a well-stocked table.

Mr. Telmur seems disappointed not to see Sherlynx not with the group, but nonetheless welcomes them to his town. The conversation feels strangely like an interview. Mr. Telmur asks many questions and gives few answers himself. When he is finished, he ends the conversation abruptly and excuses himself from the table while the gang is still partway through their food. They are left to finish eating under the watchful eye of Tray, who then leads them back out to Aloysius, who subsequently leads them back to the Peacekeeper.

Aloysius remains on the dock, to the party’s chagrin, as they try to concoct a way to slip out to the meeting a worker seems to have slipped them an invite to. Dave and Kaltog emerge from the ship and say they want to go drinking, forcing Aloysius to accompany them into town. While he is occupied talking to them on the dock and arranging for someone else to watch the ship, Kana’ti and Rheed slip out – Rheed takes the form of a rat, and Kana’ti simply drops from the ship to the ground 30ft. below utilizing his Slow Fall ability.

While Dave and Kaltog lead Aloysius on a rip-roaring bar crawl through town, Kana’ti and Rheed find themselves outside a small hovel in one of the worker’s slums. There, they are greeted by a thoroughly neurotic man named Zachary Morris. He confirms their suspicions that Mr. Telmur and his executives are vampires. The whole operation is a smokescreen for a feeding ground. The high death rates of the mines mean that not many look too closely at disappearing workers in town, and there is always a steady stream of fresh meat in search of opportunity.

Zachary Morris hopes to enlist the party’s help in overthrowing their vampire overlords. He leads a group called the “Silver Suns”, identified by simple silver sunburst pins hidden under shirt-collars, workers who know the truth about Storm’s Bounty and have pledged to fight to free them all. Rheed and Kana’ti are hesitant to align with him immediately. Zachary Morris strikes them as lacking proper caution and care. He is not a terribly adept resistance leader; it is likely Mr. Telmur knows all about him already, and his resistance may not succeed. The party convinces Zachary Morris it is best if they move forward carefully; they have Mr. Telmur’s trust for now, they can make use of that to learn more about him.

All return to the ship for the night and swap intel on their outings. Dave and Kaltog kept Aloysius busy and frustrated, acting much drunker than they were and haranguing him to drink along with them (he refused every time). Kana’ti and Rheed share what they learned from Zachary Morris.

The next morning, they hope to arrange another meeting with Mr. Telmur. When they wake, they find he has beat them to it. Aloysius is waiting on the docks with a formal invitation to dinner. The gang accepts and sets about preparations; they inform Westley that the ship may need to make a quick getaway, and to make sure the refitting is complete by then.

Here, one further complication arises. During the day, as they prepare for the evening dinner, Dave recalls that Kaltog had made himself armor that allows him to detect the presence of dragons nearby. Knowing they had been pursued from Nori’s tower and suspecting the dragon gave up that chase too easily, he asks Kaltog to do a cursory check of the surrounding area. It is, after all, possible the dragon followed their trail here. Kaltog does so, to ease Dave’s mind, and is alarmed to find there is a presence nearby.

A dragon is in the town. Direction: the Telmur estate.

The party arrives as before, guided by Aloysius to the front door, then by Tray to the dining table. Mr. Telmur is not there waiting for them this time. Rheed changes form and sneaks through the estate as a spider, overhearing Mr. Telmur speaking to a man he calls “Boreiz”. Mr. Telmur promises that he will soon deliver on their deal: He has been supplying arms and armor to an army being raised in the Stormcaps by Areizma. The party is to be handed over a gesture of goodwill for their continuing partnership.

Rheed returns to warn the party. They prepare for Mr. Telmur’s arrival and an inevitable fight. At first, he tries to behave as though nothing is amiss, talking of the terms of their alliance and urging them to partake in the food. They don’t touch any. Mr. Telmur instantly realizes they know something they shouldn’t and tries to take them by force. The party defeats him and flees the estate, setting fires as they go.

They reach the Peacekeeper and take flight immediately, as planned. Behind them, the town of Storm’s Bounty is engulfed in chaos – Zachary Morris and the Silver Suns, seizing the moment, are mounting their revolution.

At the center of town, the Telmur estate burns. On the front steps outside the collapsing structure, Boreiz watches the Peacekeeper retreat past the horizon.