Uninvited But Expected Guests

After several hours of preparation, the party for the bishop and his niece began shortly before sundown at the manor house with the escape tunnel. Guards had stationed themselves at various places around and inside the house, following Stephanos’ direction; the mage himself created some one-way windows to be able see incoming threats. An entry hall led to the large banquet hall with three other exits: one on each side, and another behind the head of the table leading to the kitchens and tunnel. Kallikori and Marguerite, dressed as noble women, played hostess, while Thanos and Darius mingled, the latter wearing his monk’s robes.

When the bishop arrived, Thanos engaged him and his advisor, Bertrand in conversation. Many others arrived with the pair, some of them clearly guards disguised as clerics. Stephanos recognized the ruse and talked to one, learning his name, Michael, and gaining his trust as a fellow soldier. Darius, engaging his Second Sight, noted a mist in the room, but was unable to locate its source. He, too, approached one of the disguised soldiers, and engaged him in conversation in Latin about theological topics, hoping to catch the soldier out and make him uncomfortable. Unfortunately, Darius picked the soldier who actually had some clerical training, and merely made theological small talk. It was clear to anyone with eyes that Marguerite was uncomfortable wearing the garb of a noble-woman, and Kallikori introduced her as a foreign traveler. Benoit entered and making a show of tuning his instrument, began his performance.

While talking with Bertrand, Thanos tried to cause him to spill his drink using a subtle spell. The effort failed, and Bertrand just stared at the magus darkly. The two engaged in a quiet but tense near-threat filled conversation in Ancient Greek. Meanwhile, Darius managed to separate the bishop from Bertrand, talking to him about the art displayed in the room. Benoit’s song, which started as a love song, took an odd turn partway through into a story of betrayal, the ending of which jarred the audience, including the bishop, from their conversations. Ferandus told Stephanos about a procession of cats appearing outside; Minaya left to check out the situation.

Trying to remove the bishop from Bertrand’s presence, Darius silently created the illusion of a wine stain on the prelate’s robe, and led him to the kitchen to remove the stain before it set. Realizing his danger, Bertrand excused himself from the room to relieve himself, followed by two guards and Benoit. From his hiding place on the second floor, Stephanos noticed six cats on the street; Minaya reported that she did not recognize them as the Queen’s followers and that one was a “dragon cat”. While pretending to wash out the wine stain, Darius collected some stray hair from the bishop’s robe, and determined it was not the bishop’s. While seeming to mutter about the stain (which disappeared after a couple of minutes), Darius cast Perception of the Conflicting Motives and determined that the bishop was so far disappointed with how the evening was going, and worried about what he would say to the crusaders the next day. Minaya ran back through the hall to warn Thanos and Magnus about the draconic cat, with Stephanos following, just as Darius and the Bishop returned from the kitchen.

Darius escorted the bishop back to his seat at the table, and using an illusion, enchanted the food to taste amazingly good. He signaled Alexi to remain with and watch over the bishop, while he returned to the kitchen, and passed the hair to Stephanos, telling him it likely belonged to Bertrand. Thanos, Magnus, Stephanos, and Marguerite left through the front door. Darius cast Prying Eyes on the escape tunnel, and discovered that a shadow, not cast by anyone visible, was moving stealthily through the area. After observing for a few moments to make sure of what he was seeing, Darius cast The Unhealthy Spa into the tunnel to trap whatever was casting the shadow and returned to the banquet hall.

Outside, with the sun near setting, the four magi stood near the front of the building facing a dozen crusaders down the street. Other bystanders milled about, along with a few cats. Stephanos, prepared for battle with his mace aflame, warned the people in the area to leave as there were demons about. The crusaders decided that the flaming skull hanging from Stephanos’ mace was one of the demons, and approached threateningly. Minaya pounced on one crusader, growing larger as she did so, taking him to the ground. Marguerite cast Arc of Fiery Ribbons toward the group, but embarrassingly caused no damage. As the crusaders continued to advance, Thanos teleported six of the crusaders approaching Stephanos toward the roof across the street. Only one landed on the roof, the others fell to the street, all naked as the spell affected only the human bodies. Stephanos cast a spell to disarm the remaining guards; Magnus, seeing no demons cast no spells but remained watchful.

Marguerite noticed glowing eyes coming from an alleyway and two of the visible cats turning into hybrid cat-people. She cast Pilum of Fire, hitting two of the cat people and creature in the alley which she assumed was the dragon cat. The leader of the crusaders held his sword close and began to pray; all the magi felt something brush against their parmae. Thanos cast a spell to cause the arms of one crusader to become like those of a child; the man ran off and was quickly attacked by one of the cat people. Minaya attacked the other cat person. Marguerite continued to hurl Pila of Fire, hitting the dragon cat multiple times, as well as the cat attacking the frightened crusader. The captain rallied his remaining troops, while Magus cast Demons Eternal Oblivion at Stephanos threw additional Pila of Fire at the dragon cat.

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Ultovar

A number of years ago (2nd ed, so quite a number of years ago), I was DMing for a group of three or four players , and they encountered a group of orcs with a half-orc cleric. In the battle that ensued, the cleric lost a hand to a natural 20 on the die, but made his escape. I brought him back several adventures later when he had acquired a hook to replace his hand and an undying enmity toward the PCs for maiming him. At this point, he needed a name, and Ultovar came to be. He managed to escape again, leaving some undead to cover his exit, and from then on was a nemesis for the party. They were always on the lookout for the one-handed half-orc, and, when faced with sudden obstacles, attributed the setback to one of Ultovar’s plots, whether he was actually involved or not. He did meet his end eventually, in a massive battle. No one remembers the details of that battle, but everyone in the group remembers Ultovar.

Almost a year ago, I started DMing for a completely new group that was originally made up of teachers at my school; three of us were co-sponsoring the D&D Club (which had over 100 kids attend at some point, and about 45 “regulars”). Another teacher who enjoyed the game played as well. When we went to remote learning in the middle of March, the fourth teacher’s husband expressed an interest in joining the group. He was an experienced player, and I was thinking the team needed a nemesis, so I asked him to play a version of Ultovar who had his own agenda for the adventure and would ultimately betray the rest of the party and escape with a magical battleaxe they were hunting for. David played him beautifully, taking the stats I had provided, and really owning and embellishing the character and Ultovar was real.

I was a little worried about how the players would react, since we had not been playing long as a group, and some of us had known each other for less than a year. Of course, they were very surprised at the twist, when Ultovar left them to fight an orc horde without the weapon they were anticipating, and when they discovered that the dryad who had initiated the quest did so because of crime Ultovar had committed before entering the adventure. Surprise notwithstanding, they role-played the event beautifully, and vowed vengeance on the traitorous half-orc. He’s due to come back soon, but this time as an NPC, as David has been playing a wise and peaceful Loxodon cleric for the rest of our adventures.

So here are the stats for the current incarnation of Ultovar. (If you know this name and you are currently playing in my game, stop reading. You know who you are.)

Ultovar

Medium half-orc, neutral evil
Warlock of the Shadowfell


AC: 11 with studded leather armor, or 12 with mage armor
Hit Points: 32 (5d8+5)
Speed: 30 ft.


StrDexConIntWisChr
16 (+3)8 (-1)13 (+1)10 (+0)14 (+2)15 (+2)

Saves: Wisdom +5, Charisma +5
Skills: Arcana +3, Deception +5, Intimidate +5, Investigation +3, Survival +5
Senses: Passive Perception 12, Devil’s Sight 120 feet
Languages: Common, Orc, Goblin, Infernal
CR: 3 (450 xp)


Spellcasting: Ultovar is a 5th level spellcaster. His spellcasting ability is Charisma (spell save DC 13, +5 to hit with spell attacks). Ultovar can use his armor of shadows eldritch incantation to cast mage armor, and his Pact of the Blade boon to summon forth a magic battleaxe made of shadows, at will. Ultovar knows the following warlock spells and has two 3rd level spell slots:
Cantrips (at will): blade ward, eldritch blast, true strike
1st level (cast at 3rd level): arms of Hadar, charm person, sanctuary
2nd level (cast at 3rd level): darkness, misty step
3rd level (2 slots): spirit guardians

Magical Leadership: With the battleaxe, Eyebiter, which he made his pact weapon, Ultovar has advantage on Charisma checks and on saving throws versus charm effects.

Actions


Multiattack. Ultovar makes two attacks with his pact blade.

Battleaxe Pact Blade. Melee Weapon Attack: +7 to hit, reach 5 ft., one target. Hit: 8 (1d8+4) or 9 (1d10+4 if used two-handed) slashing damage.

Light Crossbow. Ranged Weapon Attack: +2 to hit, range 80/320 ft., one target. Hit: 4 (1d8) piercing damage.

Ultovar is an imposing half-orc, with a stylized eye tattooed on his forehead. He typically wears a dark cloak with red trim. He created his battleaxe, Eyebiter, using acorns from a dryad’s tree. The axe was taken by an orc chieftain, and with the aid of some unsuspecting adventurers, Ultovar stole it back for himself. His personality traits are: “I understand civilization and the order that society brings; I drink the blood of monsters to consume their power.” Ideal: “I will have achieved glory when all cower before my might.” Bond: “If I become strong, I can take what I want – what I deserve.” Flaw: “When I set my mind to something, I follow through no matter what.” He is power-hungry and cunning.

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Keeping one’s head (but little else) in a crisis

Darius came back from the Tribunal meeting to find a servant waiting for him with a message from Nimrod. The Tytalus asked to see him and Alexi as soon as they got back to the guest quarters. When the pair arrived, Nimrod asked if he could touch Alexi; Darius hesitated, and sent Alexi outside. Nimrod confided to Darius that he believed his hands to be infected with something infernal, and he wished to touch Alexi’s holy sword. Darius brought Alexi back into the room, and asked them to unsheathe the sword and allow Nimrod to touch the blade. The shield grog complied, and Nimrod’s hand began emitting foul black smoke as he touched the blessed item. Alexi startled, and Darius told them to cut off Nimrod’s hand. The Tytalus barely flinched, and just sank quietly to his knees. Darius called for Thanos, as Nimrod’s blood was everywhere. Kallikori went to comfort her husband, and called a sweet, soothing smoke from the fireplace. The other magi arrived, Stephanos with mace aflame, along with a small group of gawkers who were kept out of the room by Stephanos’ shield grog. Thanos cast Bind Wound on Nimrod’s damaged arm, while Nimrod held out his other hand. Alexi again touched the blade to the hand, which also produced the evil smoke. Alexi glanced at Darius, who ordered “Do it,” and Nimrod’s other hand joined its partner on the floor. Kallikori was beside herself with grief for her husband who again maintained a stoic face. Stephanos nodded his approval at Nimrod’s courage and stamina. Darius instructed Alexi to touch the blade to other parts of Nimrod’s body, but nothing else produced the infernal effect, so Alexi impaled both severed hands on the blade, and they continued to smoke.

Stephanos responded to a commotion outside, and forestalled Magnus Quaesitor from entering too quickly. Darius instructed Alexi to touch Magus’ hand with the blade when he entered. Magnus focused on Nimrod as he came in, was startled by the touch, but his hand did not begin smoking. He pointed at Nimrod, exclaiming, “Tried, and convicted!” and began casting a spell. Before he could finish the incantation, Thanos cast Curse of the Unruly Tongue on the Quaesitor, and Darius cast Wizard’s Sidestep, anticipating some sort of battle. In the heat of the moment, Magnus botched the casting, and a crystal dart flew from the stone mantel to lodge itself in his own leg, rather than in Nimrod. In the stunned moment after, Nimrod, calling to bear all his strength and presence, quickly told Magnus what had transpired, including that he received the infernal taint from the Papal Legate’s aide, and Magnus refrained from any further attack, instead casting Demon’s Eternal Oblivion on the hands, which instantly disintegrated to ash.

Magnus asked Darius and Thanos to explain their version of events, which matched the story Nimrod told. Nevertheless, Magnus cast Frosty Breath of the Spoken Lie on Nimrod, barely waiting for his consent, and followed by casting more courteously on Darius. He seemed convinced of the situation, when Thanos, continuing to bear a grudge for past wrongs, asked if Magnus would not cast the spell on him as well. Magnus hesistated, then agreed, and all three Mons Mercurius magi were proven true. Stephanos left to find Benoit and Acerax, who would act as hoplite for Magnus, which Thanos was glad to hear as he did not trust Magnus’ ability to be impartial in this case. Magnus admitted that he might have acted too hastily, but that Nimrod would still be taken into custody. When Acerax arrived, Thanos asked him if he knew of an advocate to plead Nimrod’s case when Magnus prosecuted. Acerax recommended Cavellor of Confluensis in Normandy, and Thanos promised to contact him shortly. Acerax left with Nimrod, who told Kallikori to remain behind.

Thanos volunteered to heal Magnus’ self-inflicted wound using his casting tablet. Magnus accepted the offer, and in an apparently rare display of humbleness told Thanos that he would pay for the service himself rather than have the tribunal pay the cost. Benoit asked for Magnus’ assistance in dealing with the bishop’s aide when the magi met with him the next day. Magnus assured him that such a one surely needed to be eliminated; the Code demanded it. Darius, Alexi, and Stephanos cleaned the room, removing the Nimrod’s and Magnus’ blood from the scene. Darius had Alexi carefully use their sword to put the ashes from the destroyed hands into a clay jar, and sealed it with wax. In the process of burning the soiled clothes in the fireplace, Stephanos put his arms in the fire without being burned, which was a little surprising. Thanos invited Magnus to the meeting the magi planned to have later in the evening to discuss strategy for dealing with the Crusade and the infernal aide the next day. Darius and Alexi, having submitted their bloodied outer clothes for burning, returned to their quarters to change. Darius told Alexi that they had performed a nobly for Nimrod, the Covenant, and the Order. Once alone his his room, Darius vomited into his chamber pot.

M, illuminated with a sword and hand.

.

.

.

erciful Father, I thank You for the blessing bestowed on us, Your humble servants in the form of a Sword, and for the gift of courage in the face of the Evil One. Only by Your Divine Wisdom were we saved from certain damnation. I humbly beseech you, O Lord, look down on your servants in kindness. Show mercy to your servant Nimrod for his sacrifice. While not as great as the Sacrifice of Your Holy Son, Nimrod’s actions, with Your sure Guidance, have spared your servants great harm. Your Power shines through your servant, Alexi. May Your Hand continue to guide and guard her, for not only my sake, but for Your great Glory.

A woman holds
a wounded man
blood pouring from
the wounded stumps
where hands should be.

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Magic Items

My online D&D group just advanced to 5th level, and everyone has been wanting some magic items. Since they defeated a mindflayer and its minions to earn the level, I thought some magic would be a good idea. I prefer to have items with some personality to them, rather than just a +1 something-or-other, so I came up with the items below to include in the treasure horde. Since my Ars Magica group was meeting soon, I wondered if these could be duplicated using the enchanted item rules from that system. (I’m not running the Ars saga, but these might be interesting items to create at some point.)

A golden wasp with green gems for eyes, and red gems set into its thorax and abdomen.
  • Amulet of the Wasp
    • D&D version: Casts Spirit Guardians 1 time per day.  The spirits always appear as a swarm of wasps, and the damage is poison damage. (requires attunement)
    • Ars Magica version A: When activated, a large swarm of wasps appear and surround the wearer in a cloud two paces in diameter. Any creature entering the swarm (other than the person wearing the amulet) takes +12 damage per round. Armored foes lose 3 Soak per round due to the wasps crawling into the armor. Cr(Re)An 35 Base 5, +1 Touch, +2 Group, +1 Diameter, +1 Requisite, +5 penetration 10)
    • Ars Magica version B: The original creator of this item, Vespa ex Bjornaer, had a casting sigil that manifested in the image or sound of wasps. The amulet was constructed in the shape of a wasp, with a jade head. When activated, the amulet creates a pool of acid that swirls around the wearer in droplets, doing +10 damage to any creature coming within two paces. Cr(Re)Aq35 (Base +10, +2 Voice, +1 Diameter, +1 Requisite, +5 penetration 10)
  • Shield, Holy Defender
    • D&D version: When wielded in battle, the shield casts Aura of Life in a 30 foot cone behind the wielder. (requires attunement)
    • Ars Magica version A: The shield increases the soak of a group +3, within voice range, as Gift of the Bear’s Fortitude. A second effect allows the wielder to cast Bind Wounds at voice range. The shield has rock crystals and a garnet mounted on the grip, giving a +7 bonus to enchant the first effect (+2 garnet, +5 shield) and a +5 bonus for the healing effect (+2 garnet, +3 rock crystal). MuCo40 (Base +15, +2 Voice, +2 Group, +1 Diamter) and CrCo15 (Base 3, +2 Voice, +2 Sun)
    • Ars Magica version B: Shield of Michael the Archangel. This is not a Hermetic item, but a miraculous one, said to have been wielded by the Archangel in has battle against the fallen angels. It was also wielded by a crusader with True Faith. The relic wards the wielder and those behind him against demons with a level 15 ReVi effect. It also duplicates the effects of Incantation of the Body Made Whole for someone other than the wielder, provided the wielder has True Faith.
  • Stone Bracers
    • D&D version: The wearer gains a crusty earthen coating that grants resistance to piercing and slashing damage, and absorbs up to 20 points of damage before crumbling away.  Movement is reduced by 10 feet. Can be used three times per day. (requires attunement)
    • Ars Magica version A: These vambraces , when donned, change the wearer’s skin, thickening it to appear stone-like, granting +3 Soak. (As Gift of the Bear’s Fortitude but with a different cosmetic.) MuCo(Te) 30 (Base 15, +1 Touch, +2 Sun; The vambrace form gives a +7 shape and material bonus.)
    • Ars Magica version B: These vambraces allow the wearer to call upon the stones of the earth for protection. When activated, loose stones and rock in the area, no bigger than a fist, are pulled to the wearer, surrounding his body as an extra layer of protection, granting +5 to +15 Soak, depending on the availability of the material. ReTe30 (Base 3, +1 stone, +2 Voice, +2 group, +1 Diameter)
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Medieval Cartography

Map showing the boot of Italy and the island of Sicily.  A compass rose on Sicily has lines drawn to five other compass roses arranged in an arc at the top of the image.
Detail of a Portolan Chart ca. 1550

While browsing the Library of Congress online collections, I came across a set of Portolan charts. (See https://www.loc.gov/maps/?q=portolan&st=gallery) The maps date from mid-13th century to the 17th century, and were not created as projections like the Mercator maps. Instead, they show compass directions, typically from a center point, and a set of (usually 16) surrounding points that form a circle. They show amazingly accurate coastlines for the period, and there is uncertainty about how the maps were originally made as there is no documentation about the process. Medieval maps seem to jump from journal descriptions of routes between ports and Jerusalem-centered “O-T” charts to these images that we recognize today as the Mediterranean and Black Seas.

A map of the Mediterranean Sea, with many black and red lines spider-webbing from several compass roses.  Cities are indicated in several places.
Portolan Chart from 1678

Typical Portolan charts used a variety of inks, at least black and red for the compass directions, coasts, and place names, and other colors to distinguish islands and show embellishments. Scale is not clearly identified, and often appears to change, with one scale used for the Atlantic coast, another for the Mediterranean, and a third for the Black Sea. Also, because of the reliance on the compass directions, landmass shapes degrade if the map covers a wider area; the British Isles are often distorted compared with the rest of the locations. Only places along the coasts are typically named, with place names written inland and perpendicular to the coastline. Small islands, like those of the Aegean are typically drawn with shapes and colors designed as mnemonic devices rather than for accuracy. Other symbols might represent shallows, shoals, and other navigational hazards. Portolan charts were typically large, copied onto an entire sheepskin.

So, how did medieval cartographers create such detailed and accurate maps? Below are some theories for Mythic Europe, along with Ars Magica story hooks.

  • During the 12th Century, House Tremere undertook the task of creating maps of the Mediterranean as part of their preparation for any upcoming conflicts. Using the spell Declinatio Mundi (InTe25; R: AC, D: Mom, T: Ind.  Informs the caster of the distance and direction to the location on the earth represented by the arcane connection. Base 4, +4 AC, +1 Complexity), a dedicated group gathered arcane connections from many locations along the coasts and used them to determine the outlines of the Sea. Most of these maps are kept at Coeris, but a few are entrusted to magi in other locations.
    • Story Hook: Besides maps of the coastline, the House also created maps of inland locations, including some covenants. If one of these maps were to be found by magi from a different house (Tytalus, perhaps?), it may be possible to accuse Tremere of mass spying on the rest of the Order. Would House Tremere have enough sway in Tribunals outside of Transylvania to defend themselves, or will the House suffer another Sundering?
    • Story Hook: The PC magi somehow find themselves in possession of one of these Mediterranean maps. They now have an opportunity to use it for their own covenant’s gain: travel, trading, and piracy are far easier for the covenant than for those around them.
A map of the coasts of France with several points in an arc along the western coast.  Multiple lines starting at these points cross each other and extend into the Mediterranean Sea.
Detail of the Carte Pisana showing the coast of Normandy
  • Many Portolan charts have their central compass rose located on or near Sicily, the location of Mount Etna and the Forge of Hephaestus. Other central compass points appear near Mallorca, Crete, or in the Aegean Sea. The Carte Pisana (one of the earliest Portolan maps still in existence) has two compass circles, one centered in the Aegean Sea and the other on Sardinia (where the Domus Magna of House Verditius is located). The two circles touch at one point, near Sicily. Surrounding compass points lie in several different tribunals. Several are on the coast near the English Channel and the North Sea close to Fudarus and other Normandy covenants, as well as in the Levant Tribunal. Clearly, the maps were created by House Verditius in their search for the Magic Items of Hephaestus (see HoH:MC, pg 118).
    • Story Hook: A Verditius maga, intent on recovering some of Hephaestus’ magic items has been visiting the Normandy and Rhine covenants along the west coasts of those tribunals. The PC magi are asked to help investigate when she disappears between visits.
    • The PC magi acquire a mundane book, newly copied, but of poor quality, mostly because the copyist had not sufficiently scraped the previous writing from the vellum. The mundane book is a palimpsest containing one of the Verditius maps, but the original sheepskin has been cut up and written over to make the book. The original map is still visible behind the newly scribed words.

Sources

  • Portolan chart of the Mediterranean and connecting seas. [?, 1550] Map. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, <www.loc.gov/item/2010588182/>. (Detail at the top of the post)
  • Cavallini, Giovanni Battista, Active. Chart of the Mediterranean, the coast of Portugal, and the northwest coast of Africa. In Liuorno: Cavallini, anno, 1678. Map. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, <www.loc.gov/item/2014588813/>. (Full image)
  • Carte Pisane. [1258-1291] Map. Retrieved from Wikipedia Commons, (public domain), <https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Carte_Pisane_Portolan.jpg&gt;. (Detail shown in Story Hooks)
  • Campbell, Tony. Cartographic innovations by the early portolan chartmakers. 2016. Online article. <http://www.maphistory.info/PortolanChartInnovations.html >.
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An Unpleasant Conversation

The morning after the meeting in Celeres’ study, Stephanos met with Cecilia to discuss tactics and forces. On the way in, Stephanos passed Jean ex Criamon who was just leaving and seemed reluctant to talk to Stephanos. At the beginning of the meeting, Stephanos noted some of the information on papers on Cecilia’s desk before she covered them up. After the meeting, Stephanos checked in with the leader of the Florum Turb and with a leader of the Tremere forces.

Darius woke up late to find Alexi standing in the room staring at him. Since the sun was already up, Darius quickly performed his Parma ritual, then had a slightly awkward conversation with his shield grog about their new role. Alexi seemed to be very formal, referring to Darius as “Master”; Darius told them that they needn’t be so formal behind closed doors. Magnus had sent a message asking to see Darius “at his earliest convenience”, with an invitation to dine with him at his quarters. Alexi send the messenger back stating that Darius would be along presently, and Darius got dressed for the meeting.

To his surprise, Darius found that Magnus was staying at an inn in the city, rather than within Florum’s Aegis. It appeared, in fact, that Magnus had taken over the inn, as he, his two grogs, and the nervous innkeeper were the only people in the common room when Darius and Alexi arrived. Magnus bluntly started to ask about Darius’ impression and knowledge of Nimrod, then apologized for his forwardness. Darius ate some of the breakfast provided, admitted his ignorance of much of Nimrod’s history and actions, and stated his loyalty to Mons Mercurius. Magnus indicated that he had noticed Darius’ look of skepticism an concern at the meeting the previous night; Darius explained that the magi of Stonehenge, especially his own House, were very wary of inter-house conflicts. Magnus continued with the questions, now about Darius’ background, and expressed surprise when he found out that Darius did not belong to one of the Ex Miscellaneous “traditions”. Magnus also shared that he himself was originally from the Tribunal of Rome, just like Cecilia ex Quernicus. Darius asked what brought Magnus to Lotharingia, and Magnus replied that he had not expected the new tribunal to even come into being, then went on about the politics and role other Mons Mercurius magi played in the founding of the Lotharingian Tribunal.

Becoming bored with the conversation, Darius took out a bit of charcoal and began sketching Celtic knots on the table. Magnus paused, apparently unsure of Darius’ intent, and continued asking questions to which Darius replied with one word answers. At one point, Magnus asked about how other magi viewed Nimrod, and Darius replied that he would have to ask those other magi. Magnus replied, “Yes, of course. My mistake.” and apologized for the question. Since Magnus started the conversation pointing out that he was a blunt man, Darius was again interested in the Quaesitor’s questions, as the apology seemed out of character. Magnus started asking about demons, and opened what appeared to be his notebook. Darius noted a picture of a diadem on one page, and started sketching that on the table next to the knots. Magnus asked many questions about events that happened before Darius had arrived at Mons Mercurius, and again bored with the questioning, Darius replied “History is irrelevant”.

Undaunted, Magnus continued by explaining some history to Darius. Apparently, Nimrod appeared to be involved in some way with a number of murders of mundane folk in Paris in 1224. Without elaborating on what “appeared to be involved” meant, Magnus continued, explaining that Nimrod had warned Magnus’ covenant, Armelo, of an impending demon attack, then defeated the demons with the help of Atticus. The “Crown of Nimrod” that Darius was redrawing on the table was an infernally tainted item that Nimrod took to Confin Convenant, from where it was sent by redcap to Celeres (who was not yet Praeco at the time). Celeres in turn sought the help the Quaesitors at Confluensis. Magnus continued in this vein, implying that Nimrod has infernal ties, and mentioned another magus at Armelo named Marguerite. Having only met Marguerite ex Flambeau, Darius expressed some confusion between the two maga. Magnus became visibly agitated at the mention of the second maga and angrily blurted out that her covenant was an illegal member of the so-called Lotharingian Tribunal, and should still be a chapter house of Fengeld in the Rhine.

Magnus collected himself, and then continued implicating Nimrod, even tying his name to the Confuser of Languages at the Tower of Babel. He finished his oratory by saying that he hoped Darius might be an ally in rooting out the infernal. Darius replied that he was loyal to Mons Mercurius, but that if he suspected any infernal dealing, he would certainly report it to the Quaesitors. Magnus abruptly ended the meeting, and retreated upstairs, leaving Darius and Alexi to show themselves out. Alexi mentioned that even though they do not speak Latin, they noticed the tension between the two magi. The pair returned to Florum, and Darius went up to the rooftop to make some sketches and ponder the meeting.

What a curious and unpleasant conversation. Magnus ex Guericus is, by his own admission, a suspicious man. I would add to that “obsessive” and “rude”. His manners are like a young boy throwing a tantrum because his mother will not allow him to throw rocks at the neighbors. Accusing my sodales of diabolism, but offering no proof other than a coincidence of names! I was as unhappy suspecting a Tytalus plot as I would be with a squadron of Tremere at my door, but to stir the Infernal into an already bitter concoction is beyond what I would have considered. I may be as a toddler discovering the pain of fire for the first time, but Magnus’ abrupt termination of our meeting has me wondering if he himself is not burning with the Infernal and trying to deflect suspicion from his own involvement.

Celtic knots
line the left side of the page
changing
from forest green at the edges
to flame red at the center
where they surround
a crown
that forces the writing
away.

The same day, the other magi of Mons Mercurius pursued their own plans:
Thanos used a casting tablet to heal himself.
Benoit set up a meeting with Sophia, the Bishop’s daughter.
Nimrod and Kallikori talked of her discomfort with how the other magi see her and her desire to attend the Court of the Queen of Cats. Nimrod moved her to think she might have some additional influence at the Covenant, and Kallikori revealed that Sophia avoids the Bishop’s Counselor.
Stephanos met with Stentorius to find out that he may have up to twenty soldiers at his disposal.

That afternoon, Thanos and Darius actually attended the Tribunal meeting, where factions argued about infiltrating the Crusade. None of the other magi at the meeting appeared aware of the plot against the Normandy covenants. Rolaud ex Guernicus, an apparently young magus who usually performs more as a hoplite, served as Presiding Quaesitor. After Celeres dismissed the meeting an hour before sunset, Darius talked to Thanos about his meeting with Magnus. Meanwhile, Benoit (in his disguise as a troubadour), Nimrod, and Kallikori had lunch with Sophia, who was visibly disappointed that she was not to be eating with Benoit alone, and when he seemed to be interested more in how she might invite him to see the Bishop. As usual, Benoit smoothed over the disappointment. Stephanos looked over the plans for the location of the party, where the magi were planning to confront the Bishop about the “crusade”.

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Mini-Maps

A while back, I saw a stack of index cards with a grid on one side and blank on the other. I have a thing for office supplies as well as for gaming, so I couldn’t pass these up. They sat in a drawer for a while, but I recently started taking them out to doodle a little map and description when I’m feeling creatively stuck. It unclogs the circuits and gets my brain working again. Below are pictures of a couple of cards I’ve done. The maps are pretty rough, but that’s okay; the idea is to get something on paper without worrying about how it looks.

The top picture has a overhead map and an elevation picture. The back of the card reads:

The square temple sits facing a rocky escarpment of the often stormy sea. Tall, fluted columns rise from the 10′ tall foundation to hold the peaked roof. Bas relief sculptures around the foundation show ships battling storms and sea monsters. Inside, the huge statue of the deity stands, looking out over the sea beyond the cliff. The image is impossibly tall, reaching toward a ceiling that does not exist except as a view of a storming sky. It must be an illusion, but feels and sounds real. A mosaic of a storm rages on the wall behind the statue. Water falls down the two inner walls into pools, the cascades obscuring ancient prayers inscribed on the walls.

Yes, this all fit on the back of one card. I can write fairly small.

The back of the other card is just a list of the rooms:

Deep Gnome Mine features …
Natural cave with living quarters
Waterfall from somewhere above, with a river that goes far underground.
Smelting room with water and mine access
Workshop with forges
Storeroom
Leader’s room with secret access
Shrine

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The Old Cadaver

Another blogger liked a recent post of mine, and I checked out their site. I found a poem that sounded like an Ars Magica encounter, and was inspired to write this short adventure. You can find the poem here. (Thank you, A.P. Christopher.)

Background

A little over a week ago, Mosca ex Criamon and his aging grog were travelling through a rocky, forested area and were accosted by bandits who attacked the pair. Bertrand, the grog, defended his master, killing one bandit, taking a grave wound in the process. Mosca cast a spell that removed the other bandits, and tried to cast another to help Bertrand, only to fall into Twilight. Bertrand took his master’s body to a nearby cave where he intended to shelter and guard it, but succumbed to his wounds and died. His spirit continues to guard the magus.

Scene 1: An Odd Garden

A decomposing body lies on the ground, partially eaten by the local fauna, a damaged short sword lying nearby. A few paces off, ants have clearly had their way with a head, shoulder and arm that sprouts from the ground. A little further is what appears to be the stump of an arm growing from the earth, clearly gnawed on by some animal, a dagger lying next to it. Finally, the toe of a stout leather boot pokes from the ground; there is still a foot inside it, if someone investigates. An Awareness roll of 9+ reveals that the earth around the body parts, in an irregular but continuous shape, is oddly smooth, except where animals have started digging near the exposed pieces. Four people have clearly died in this area, although all but one are almost completely buried. An Awareness roll of 12+ reveals that there was at least one other person here as well, who was wounded and dragged something heavy toward the north-east.

The completely visible body, as well as the three buried corpses are a little over a week old. The unburied body appears to have taken an wound that almost severed its arm and right shoulder; the other bodies, if dug up, are undamaged, except for the decomposition. All are wearing rough clothes, and those stout leather boots are a bit too large for the feet in them. Buried with the bodies are a couple more daggers, a club, and a brace of decomposing, but undressed rabbit carcasses.

If someone communicates with the dead men, (using Whispers Through the Black Gate, or some other spell) they do not all tell the truth, claiming they were set upon by a demon, victims of foul magic, attacked by bandits, or, in one unexpectedly truthful case, tried to rob the wrong people. They describe an aging guard and soft nobleman walking without further escort here, “like they was asking to be robbered.” Except when the nobleman put his hood back, “it were like The three buried men will talk about the ground opening up beneath them, filled with water, then burying them alive. The youngest wishes he had never left home, while the one with too-large boots begs to be buried in consecrated ground. The one man who was not buried wonders at the strength of the old man.

Scene 2: The Faithful Shield

The path were something or someone was dragged away leads to a small cave, where an armored man with a grey beard sits and watches over an obese man peacefully lying on his back. A lantern with a small flame sits nearby, and what appear to be white moths flutter around the prone man’s bald and tattooed head. When someone approaches the pair, the old guard warns them away in a raspy voice, “Come no closer.” If his warning goes unheeded, the old man looks up with white rheumy eyes, a trickle of bloody foam at his mouth, and rasps, “You cannot have him; he’s not dead.” At this point, observers can see a large, dried blood stain on his tunic. The guard will attack anyone coming closer after this.

This undead guard, Bertrand, can be talked too, as long as no one approaches too closely. He is angry with himself for not doing a better job of protecting his master, Mosca, and insists on protecting him still. Bertrand does not quite realize that he himself has passed away from the wound to his chest, but he is correct that Mosca is still alive; he says that the moths are evidence of his master’s health, even though his master is “elsewhere.” A character’s Bargain or Charm roll, or a grog’s Leadership roll that succeeds against Bertrand’s Protective personality roll will convince him that the characters mean no harm. A second roll opposing his Loyalty trait will convince Bertand that he can release Mosca to the PCs, but he insists on accompanying them until Mosca wakens.

Concluding the Encounter

If the PCs treat Mosca with respect and care for him until he returns from Twilight after a full and new moon have passed, Bertrand will not bother them, and they may have gained an alliance with a Criamon magus. At this point, Mosca will relieve Bertrand from service, in which case the old man could pass away peacefully, or remain a wight at the story guide’s whim. If the PCs attempt to take Mosca by force, or treat him badly before he returns from Twilight, they will have to content with the angry wight.

The lantern has an enchantment on it to keep a flame going. Mosca does not need to be a Criamon, but that felt right for this encounter. Stats are not provided, but he should have a MuTe[Aq] score high enough to cast the level 20 spell that turned the earth to water for a moment. His sigil is white moths, and he is probably not very good at healing spells.

Bertrand, the Faithful Grog

Magic Might: 10 (Corpus)
Characteristics: Int 0, Per 0, Pre +1, Com -1, Str +4, Sta +3, Dex +2, Qik 0
Size: 0
Age: n/a (45)
Decrepitude: Already dead
Confidence 1 (3)
Virtues and Flaws: Covenfolk, Warrior, Compulsion (to guard Mosca)
Personality Traits: Protective +4, Loyal +3
Reputations: None
Combat:
Axe and Heater Shield: Init +1, Attack +15, Defense +12, Damage +10
Kick: Init -1, Attack +6, Defense +3, Damage +7
Soak: 10 (full scale metal armor)
Fatigue Levels: Bertrand does not suffer Fatigue
Wound Levels: -1 (1-5), -3 (6-10), -5 (11-15), Inc (16-20)
Abilities: Brawl 3 (kick), Single Weapon 8 (heater shield), other abilitieis assigned as needed for the saga
Powers:
Breath of the Grave: 2 points, Init +3, Ignem. Bertrand can cause a target within R:Voice to suffer a chill and lose a Fatigue level.
Vis: 3 pawns of Corpus in Bertrand’s heart.

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New Pages!

I’ve been playing an online Ars Magica game for a few years, and really enjoying the time. When I joined the game, the others had already been playing for several years, and I was a little intimidated, as this was the first game I might be actually playing in (rather than acting as Story Guide), and I assumed everyone else probably had a better grasp of the 5th edition rules than I had, since my in-person group plays 4th edition. Also, this group has been different from my other groups in two ways: First, we live in three different time zones. I’m in U.S. Central time, three other players are in Eastern time, and the last two live in Brazil. (Playing with folks I did not know previously has also been good, as we learn about each other as we go along as well.) The other difference is that this is the first group I’ve played in since high school (a long time ago) that is all male. This makes for a slightly different dynamic (there is more poking fun at situations), but is still enjoyable.

The game really has been fun! Despite my initial concerns, we help each other with the rules; our magi take turns as the “spotlight” character; each of our magi has a distinct personality; and the two guys acting as SG are really good. Our alpha SG does quite a bit of planning, but can also improvise beautifully. At some point, I hope to have a chance to talk to him and compare SG experiences.

Anyway, when I started, we had been using a free forum to track character and covenant information, Roll20 to display maps and make die rolls, and Google Hangouts for audio communication. (Using the video made everything too choppy.) More recently, we moved to using Roll20 for the audio, which has been working fine, and reduces the number of windows we need open. Two weeks ago, we decided to move everything to Discord. Since I had a free week before starting back to work, I spent several days learning Discord, and moving my characters to this website. (I don’t see a good way of having lots of text in Discord, except to link to somewhere else; perhaps I need to learn a little more …) So that’s the Darlunydd ex Miscellanea page you see at the top now. That new set of pages contains all the info I had been keeping on the free forum. I’ll be updating the characters there, but I’ll be posting game recaps here as blog entries moving forward, although I’ll also link them on those pages so I have some semblance of organization.

I really enjoyed rereading the old saga journal entries. It gave me another view into my magus’ personality. He is really fun to play, and I’ve developed some plans for him moving forward that I am looking forward to.

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Scythe’s Ford

A narrow but well-traveled and well-maintained dirt road diverges from the raised and stone-paved Great South Way about an hour’s travel east from the Hungry Wanderer Inn. (The locals refer to the inn as the Lusty Wanderer because of the side trade taking place there, but that’s a story for another time.) That dirt road leads about two miles through the rocky, forested hills to a clearing along the Aliran River. This is the one place along a hundred-mile stretch of that waterway where wagons might cross without a bridge or ferry, even in the rainy months, when, rather than rising, the Aliran widens into the flatter, arable land on the other side of the river.

That clearing in the wood on this side of the river is the center of the hamlet of Scythe’s Ford. Mostly well-trod dirt, except for a grassy island and ancient menhir in the center, the clearing provides access to a small tavern, blacksmith, general store, and stable. Small, tidy houses sit farther back, and a mill creaks and groans further upstream. A ramp leads from the clearing down to the river, where a level path of rocks leads across, submerged just a foot or two below the surface of the water. The rocky path extends quite a ways into the fields on the opposite side, and visitors sometimes wonder why such a road needed to be built on such clearly flat and easily navigated land. The locals nod sagely at this question and often reply, “It’s been that way as long as I can remember,” knowing full well that when the river floods, the ford becomes far wider than folk might expect. Beyond that rocky road on the opposite side of the river, many farms sprout from the rich soil, their fields green with beans, barley, cabbages, and winter rye. Livestock roam the area as well, taking advantage of the flood plane for grazing when the water is low.

The menhir in the middle of town, known as the Scythe Stone, is one of several standing stones along the Aliran River. Many of these around the town have been toppled and broken up to be used as pavers for the ford, but the one at the center of town has resisted efforts to pull it down, and a second one about a hundred-fifty yards downstream sits in the middle of a muddy hollow, where folk prefer not to go. Most claim to avoid the place because the mud is “thicker and deeper than the devil’s a**hole”, but the menacing aura and preponderance of frogs help to keep visitors away. The only one who lives near the place is Goody Frogswallow, a comely tiefling witch whom the locals believe to be an odd and benevolent hag. The farmers cross the river with their plows at planting time and scythes before harvest, and touch them to the Scythe Stone for a blessing on the fields. Their wives claim it’s just an excuse to get together for a drink and gossip in town before the harder farm work begins.

Alvernia Thistlewaiste runs the tavern and is the de facto mayor, which means she’s the one who greets visitors and organizes folk to maintain the ford. She, like many of the townsfolk and farmers, is human. Most of the rest are halfling, but Thorgrim Baldhammer, a dwarf, and his family operate the blacksmith. Cole Galiamne, the one half-elf in town, is a relative newcomer, and runs the general store. Everyone was surprised that old Briar Goodbuckle named Cole his heir and left him the store before he passed on, but Cole’s good nature and looks, not to mention his good business sense, have kept him in good standing with the townsfolk. (He continues to cause the farm-wives worry when their daughters find the need to “go into town for a bit”, but Cole has maintained a respectful and chaste distance, which only make some of the girls more interested.)

For the most part, life in Scythe’s Ford is tranquil, and folk go about their business, greet their neighbors, and dream their quiet dreams …

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