Animation nation, fall 2014 edition

While a number of news outlets have observed the demise of Saturday morning cartoons, a television tradition for generations of Americans, there is still a range of animation available in primetime, on cable, and online. Still, it will be hard for a younger generation accustomed to a wealth of streaming video to have a common pop cultural language.

Nicklelodeon, which has aired the surprisingly well-written Kung-Fu Panda: Legends of Awesomeness and How to Train Your Dragon: the Series, among other shows, recently moved Avatar: the Legend of Korra to online-only broadcast of its fourth and final season.

While Legend of Korra may not have the consistency or popularity of its parent, Avatar: the Last Airbender, the Asian-flavored fantasy series has still featured excellent characterization and world-building. Its story arcs and setting have inspired much of my current "Vanished Lands: A New Dawn" campaign.

I think Legend of Korra has bounced back from the rushed storytelling of its third season, which looked like it might be the end of that franchise (and the less said about the 2010 live-action movie misfire, the better). The new video game probably won't be enough to keep the franchise going.

Legend of Korra

The Avatar gang

Similarly, the Cartoon Network, which had ended Star Wars: Clone Wars after the Disney-Lucasfilm merger, continued its track record of canceling good shows such as Young Justice and Green Lantern: the Animated Series. At least Clone Wars managed to end well, filling in the gaps between the prequel movies and the classic trilogy.

Cartoon Network threw the final episodes of Clone Wars online and burned off episodes of Beware the Batman in one weekend. The sitcom Looney Tunes Show has also dropped of the schedule, but I'm sure Bugs Bunny and company won't be gone for long.

To be fair, DisneyXD had also canceled Spectacular Spider-Man in favor of shows for a younger audience. At least it has begun showing Star Wars: Rebels, which is a bit more kid-friendly than Clone Wars had become and features the familiar setting of George Lucas' galaxy shortly before the events of Star Wars [Episode IV]: A New Hope.

I'm enjoying Rebels so far, and its crew of adventurers is very similar to the characters in Jason E.R.'s recent "Star Wars: Dark Times" space opera scenario. With Disney/Lucasfilm working on more live-action movies, I expect Rebels to get a decent amount of promotion.

In addition to Avatar: Legend of Korra and Star Wars: Rebels, I've been enjoying the latest incarnation of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, although I don't know how long Nickelodeon will carry it. TMNT has all the wackiness of its predecessors and is still faithful to the core characters that Eastman and Laird created (again, don't get me started on the latest live-action flick).

There are many cartoons for younger children, such as Ultimate Spider-Man, as well as some long-lived ones aimed at young adults, such as The Simpsons, Robot Chicken, and Archer. Unfortunately, there are few all-ages shows that aren't formulaic comedies.

We've fared better lately with movies, but serious fans will continue to look at anime or other animation from around the world and wonder why cartoons on U.S. TV aren't more diverse.

"Vanished Lands: A New Dawn" Session 40.35 — Into the Korobokuru capital

Fellow role-players, here are my notes for “Vanished Lands” Session 40.35, which was held on Sunday, 19 October 2014:

Long ago in a distant land, spirits and men directly traded bamboo, silk, and steel. Wars to the west, twisted monsters, and power-hungry sorcerers threatened the eastern kingdoms, so the call went out for new heroes of honor and tact….

Player Character Party 40 in Gene D.’s Vanished Lands: A New Dawn” Asian-style telecom campaign, using the D20 Basic Fantasy Role-Playing Game, Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 1st Ed./D&D3.0 Oriental Adventures, Pathfinder, and FATE 3eLegends of Anglerre, plus house rules, Skype, and an online dice roller, as of autumn 2014:

  • Moon Jung-Mo [Dexter V.H.]-male Nannuattan Ninja (Msamaki; eastern Dark Elf Assassin) who has left the Shadow’s Claw clan and is posing as a River Spirit Folk (eastern Grey Elf) merchant; with a young wyvern; LNg, Lvl. 9
  • Souji Nobuto ‘Sonny’ Yoshimitsu [Beruk A.]-male Shengtese Tian Kensai (eastern human weapon master) from a dishonored house in the Lion Clan, specializing in chain weapons; with talking horse Yip; LNg, Lvl. 9
  • Ember Talon [Sara F.]-female Crane Hengeyokai Wu (shapeshifting Druid), actually a young gold dragon banished from the Celestial Court; NGl, Lvl. 9
  • Soske’ Tiatoshe [Geoff C.]-male Shengtese Tian Shukenja (eastern human Cleric), priest and animist from the Phoenix Clan, prophesied to do great things but plagued by family and ancestor spirits; LNg, Lvl. 9
  • Saigo Kasugi [Bruce K.]-male Bamboo Spirit Folk Samurai (eastern Sylvan Elf Cavalier) discreetly serving his daimyo; LNg, Lvl. 9
  • Tokoro Gawa [Drew S.]-male carp Hengeyokai Hulinyuan (amphibious shapeshifting Ranger) seeking to protect streams; with otter companion; CGn, Lvl. 9

“14 to 18 June 1227 B.C.E.:” One night, Lady Yun Aei-Yong managed to get a band of foraging Bakemono and disrespectful Oni to leave her camp alone. The envoy and her escorts reached the walled town of Hsia Ling, where Jung-Mo and Ember had a romantic evening.

In addition, Sonny attended to Lady Yun and her Draconian bodyguard Oh Kum Ja, and Toshi prepared a meal for his friends. Soske’s cousin brought him to more meddling relatives and entertained Saigo, while Tokoro went swimming and avoided gamblers and guards.

The next day, the adventuring party leaves Hsia Ling and climbs the winding trail toward Bazran Hai, capital of the Zedu kingdom. Hengeyokai Ember shifts into crane form and scouts ahead. Shan Sao Toshi and Bamboo Spirit Folk Saigo are eager to return to their homeland.

Jung-Mo rides in the bouncing carriage with Lady Yun and Oh Kum Ja, lest his true nature as a Nannuattan be exposed. Shengtese humans Sonny and Soske’ follow, with Hengeyokai Tokoro bringing up the rear.

The caravan leaves the Plains of Sathendo and the Therud Forest behind and makes its way into the Bamor Mountains. Tokoro spots the glint of sunlight reflecting from metal, and he signals Ember to investigate.

The winged Wu sees a detail of Korobokuru (eastern Dwarves) chiseling large stone blocks out of the mountainside, magically moving them, and assembling a fortification along the trail. Ember flies back to report to her companions.

Saigo decides to take the direct approach, and he is hailed by Hirata Ryuichi, a Korobokuru Bushi (Fighter). Ryuichi passes Saigo’s credentials to his commander, Fujimoto Masahiro, who allows the travelers to pass. He notes that they shouldn’t have to worry about any bandits as they approach Bazran Hai.

Hungry Sonny and Toshi notice Shengtese (East Asian) humans Sun Linwei and Huang Gangsheng preparing lunch for the camp. Shan Sao (eastern Halfling) Gorotsuki Eizo makes sure the Korobokuru soldiers have enough water and supplies.

Ember and Tokoro recognize feline Otani Maya as a fellow Hengeyokai Hulinyuan (shapeshifting scout). Soske’ sees Saito Matsu, a River Spiriti FolkSohei (eastern Grey Elf Cleric) building a shrine as part of the fort.

The wanderers hike for a few days before coming to a arching bridge over a deep chasm. Samurai Saigo talks to guards at various checkpoints, and the diplomatic team enters the stone city of Bazran Hai.

Toshi and Saigo lead the way through familiar streets. The surface layer of the Zedu capital is dotted with green gardens and parks, Spirit Folk and Shan Sao neighborhoods, temples, and the great citadel.

Japanese city

Fortified city

The Wu Jen and Samurai explain that the next two levels beneath the mountain include districts for merchants and craftspeople, as well as Korobokuru residences. Below that are mines and an underground river.

Most of the group dons formal robes as they head directly to the massive castle, but Sonny and Tokoro remain in their traveling garb. Stout armored Korobokuru, lithe Spirit Folk archers, and quiet Shan Sao sentries watch the new arrivals pass through several courtyards.

Zhou Li, a Shengtese human Samurai whom they had met back in the border village of Hazokuwi, recognizes and greets the delegation. He takes particular interest in helping Ember dismount, causing jealous Jung-Mo to palm a poison dart.

The solicitous knight asks about extraplanar encounters and offers to help arrange for an audience, and Jung-Mo bumps into him. Ember winks at Jung-Mo to reassure him. Sonny looks for a buffet, and Tokoro and Soske’ hang back.

Two women enter the reception hall, and Toshi excitedly runs to his belovedSuki, a Bisan Wu (Dryad Druid). Saigo bows politely to Princess Nayoko, a Bamboo Spirit Folk aristocrat he fears is above his station.

The party is joined by Nayoko’s brother Prince Mutsuhito and Baron Xin Pronunc Hu, representative of the human realm of Tong Sheng. They are pleased that Lady Yun has arrived safely, despite numerous hazards on the way.

Tokoro and Jung-Mo notice a human Wu Jen openly casting some spell. The Ranger and Ninja notify Sonny and Ember. The sly Hengeyokai creates a diversion by flirting with Murakami Ryozo. Jung-Mo spills a drink on him, but the group is summoned before Zedu’s rulers before it can inquire further.

Saigo and Toshi get on their knees and bow, and the others follow suit. Rows of demihuman officials flank the approach to three thrones. Ryushi Manabu, the Bamboo Spirit Folk shogun, sits next to Hei Wan Ling, commander of the Korobokuru armies. Between and behind them sits Hou Keung, the Dwarf daimyo and supreme ruler of the Zedu kingdom.

Lady Yun says that she has successfully petitioned the humans of Tong Sheng for a cessation of hostilities on behalf of the Gokuri Empire. The Nannuattan (eastern Dark Elf) asks the daimyo for Zedu to formally join the truce and end the recent war.

Skeptical military officers grumble, and Saigo Kasugi recognizes his father, Gen. Hirokazu Saigo. Hou Keung raises his fan of office and says that he and the shogun will review Gokuri’s terms. He also invites Lady Yun to stay in the palace, releasing the team of its duty to guard her for the time being.

Relieved, the group is dismissed. Jung-Mo, Toshi, and Soske’ go to look for accommodations. Sonny, Ember, and Tokoro try to find the mysterious mage they had spotted before their audience. Saigo meets privately with his father.

Gen. Hirokazu says that Prince Mutsuhito’s parallel mission to Gisokuri, capital of cruel Gokuri, went surprisingly smoothly. Saigo promises to give a full report on his misadventures to shogun Ryushi Manabu.

He also says that he has heard that Shinso Saigo, his grandfather and the general’s father, is secretly held captive somewhere around the capital. Gen. Hirokazu says that the dishonor must be avenged and that his son must pursue a search and rescue mission discreetly, since they don’t yet know who their enemies are.

Jung-Mo, Toshi, and Soske’ visit various inns, including the “Dead Mule,” the “Soiled Goose,” and the “Divine Plum,” before finding one that meets their expectations. Toshi pays Gakusho Haya 300 tael (150 gold pieces) to rent the entire “Dragon’s Beard” tavern for a week to start with.

The Shan Sao proprietess says that she’ll need the rest of the day to clean out the rooms, and she offers Gigi Han, a young Korobokuru, as a guide and messenger. Toshi also asks that a feast be arranged to celebrate the end of their journey, bringing Lady Yun from the haunted borderlands to the intrigue-ridden Shengtese capital of Sogewa and then to Bazran Hai.

Meanwhile, Sonny, Ember, and Tokoro ask about the Wu Jen they had seen casting in the reception hall. Tokoro’s otter follows the trail from Jung-Mo’s spilled drink, and they find Murakami Ryozo in a scriptorium with bureaucrats copying scrolls of civil records, spells, and news from around the kingdom.

The young mage says that he scanned the party as part of his official duties in the palace. “Murray” invites Ember out for drinks, and the mischievous Druid decides to play him off of nosy Samurai Zhou Li.

The wanderers spend the rest of the day exploring Bazran Hai. Jung-Mo asks Toshi to create an enchanted stealth suit from Crimson Moth cocoons. The Wizard tells the Rogue that he’ll need additional time and money to craft a jewelry box with the illusory image of two metallic dragons flying above a mountain.

Sonny and Soske’ are content to stroll about the exotic citadel, even as they hope to avoid curious kin. Ember finds a subterranean market and buys silk. Saigo visits his mother and sends a note to Princess Nayoko asking to meet. Tokorolooks for mountain streams around the city.

That evening, the would-be heroes regroup at the Dragon’s Beard for Toshi’s latest feast. Saigo heads from his family’s townhouse to a romantic rendezvous, but he notices that he is being followed. The quick-thinking Samurai stops by the inn and borrows Jung-Mo’s robe of Alter Self.

Saigo slips back out into the night, and Jung-Mo checks to see if he is still being tailed. The others follow at a discreet distance, with Ember Wild Shaping into an owl and Toshi shifting to baza (small blackbird) form. Tokoro helps Sonny in the dark.

Jung-Mo sees someone moving in the shadows, even as Saigo evades pursuit. The Ninja thinks he recognizes the movements of Desc Soo-Ann, the Spirit Folk courier who had tracked the group from Sogewa to the village of Yao Shung, where he had tried to stir up trouble for the human peasants.

Jung-Mo silently follows the eastern Elf into an alley and hears voices greeting “Desan” in Bamoric, the language of Gokuri. The exile suddenly realizes that the assassins haven’t been tracking Saigo; they’re Nannuattan Ninjas from the Shadow’s Claw clan hunting him!

Jung-Mo tries to back away and signal his friends for reinforcements, wary of wyvern air cover….

Good luck to Dexter and company as you plan your next move! Geoff, we missed Soske’ this week. Don’t forget to update your characters to Level 9 on Obsidian Portal! Also, let Byron know any items you plan to sell, trade, or enchant while in Bazran Hai.

I look forward to seeing some of you at Rich’s “Tunnel Vision” modern supernatural miniseries tonight, and my “Vanished Lands: Vistel’s Expedition” game will continue at Drew’s place next Monday.

The Book of Life review

On Saturday, 18 October 2014, Janice and I went to the AMC Burlington Cinema 10 for an early matinee of The Book of Life. We enjoyed the movie, which is the latest in a strong year for animation.

The Book of Life

Fondly remember the dead

Plot: The Book of Life begins in a modern-day museum as a clever guide gives a bunch of bored schoolchildren are some insight into Mexican lore. The story then shifts to puppet-like characters in a tale full of swashbuckling romance and otherworldly adventures.

Manolo, Maria, and Joaquin are three young friends in the village of San Angel, but they are driven apart by their parents' expectations and two meddling immortals, La Muerte, ruler of the Land of the Remembered, and Xibalba, ruler of the Land of the Forgotten.

Reunited as adults, matador Manolo would rather be a musician, and Joaquin is a decorated soldier, as was his late father. Maria returns from Spain and is wooed by both Manolo and Joaquin, but Xibalba's schemes and vicious bandit leader Chakal send Manolo on a quest through the lands of the Remembered and Forgotten….

Cast: The summary above doesn't do justice to The Book of Life's twists, colorful visuals, and strong acting. Diego Luna is properly soulful as Manolo (reminding me of Antonio Banderas), and Channing Tatum plays on his image as good-natured hunk Joaquin (not unlike Kevin Kline). Zoe Saldana is spunky as Maria, who refuses to be the passive object of the two guys' affections and rallies San Angel against Chakal's horde.

They are supported by experienced voice actors Kate del Castillo as seductive La Muerte, Ron Perlman as fearsome Xibalba, and Hector Elizondo as Manolo's bullfighter father Carlos Sanchez.

In addition, Christina Applegate plays the museum docent Mary Beth, Ice Cube is the benevolent Candle Maker, and other characters are voiced by Danny Trejo, Cheech Marin, and even opera singer Placido Domingo. There is some slapstick, but nothing really offensive.

Direction: Jorge Gutierrez does a decent job of pacing, from the initial prologue through Manolo's eye-popping arrival in the Land of the Remembered through his more conventional final confrontations with Joaquin and Chakal.

Since Guillermo del Toro was a producer, it's no surprise that the expansive scale, Mexican mythology, and emotional heart of The Book of Life are so well-handled. I was interested to see mentions of feminist and animal-rights ideas balanced against elements harking back to ancient Mesoamerica and even Greece and Rome.

Death is shown as not something to be feared, but as part of life. True heroism requires sacrifice, and respect for family and true love still conquer all. None of these messages come as any surprise, but they are delivered in a piñata of action.

Cinematography: Make no mistake, though, the fast pacing and clever visual effects are mainly for a younger audience. As I noted above, this year has been a particularly strong one for animated movies, including The Lego Movie, Frozen, The Boxtrolls, and now The Book of Life. (I'd put Mr. Peabody & Sherman and How to Train Your Dragon 2 only slightly behind them.)

The inventive character designs and divergent settings (San Angel and the lands of the Remembered and the Forgotten) are still impressive in an era when we've gotten used to hyper-realism or highly stylized computer and stop-motion animation.

Soundtrack: The music of The Book of Life is a great blend of Latin, classical, and pop tunes. Normally, I wouldn't like the inclusion of the latter, but all three styles manage to help both the humor and romance of this movie.

Rating: The Book of Life is rated PG for rude humor and scary images. I'd give it an 8.5 to 9 out of 10, four out of five stars, or an A-. I liked it slightly more than The Boxtrolls and close to The Lego Movie. I'd strongly recommend The Book of Life to anyone who's young at heart.

After the movie, Janice and I went to the Tex-Mex Border Café for lunch. (We also had Besito and Chipotle as options nearby.) I hope to eventually catch The Tale of the Princess Kaguya, which is in limited release, and Big Hero 6.

"Vanished Lands: A New Dawn" Session 40.34 — Tension on the borderlands

Fellow role-players, here are my notes for “Vanished Lands” Session 40.34, which was held on Sunday, 12 October 2014:

Long ago in a distant land, spirits and men directly traded bamboo, silk, and steel. Wars to the west, twisted monsters, and power-hungry sorcerers threatened the eastern kingdoms, so the call went out for new heroes of honor and tact….

Player Character Party 40 in Gene D.’s Vanished Lands: A New Dawn” Asian-style telecom campaign, using the D20 Basic Fantasy Role-Playing Game, Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 1st Ed./D&D3.0 Oriental Adventures, Pathfinder, and FATE 3eLegends of Anglerre, plus house rules, Skype, and an online dice roller, as of autumn 2014:

  • Moon Jung-Mo [Dexter V.H.]-male Nannuattan Ninja (Msamaki; eastern Dark Elf Assassin) who has left the Shadow’s Claw clan and is posing as a River Spirit Folk (eastern Grey Elf) merchant; with a young wyvern; LNg, Lvl. 8
  • Souji Nobuto ‘Sonny’ Yoshimitsu [Beruk A.]-male Shengtese Tian Kensai (eastern human weapon master) from a dishonored house in the Lion Clan, specializing in chain weapons; with talking horse Yip; LNg, Lvl. 8
  • Ember Talon [Sara F.]-female Crane Hengeyokai Wu (shapeshifting Druid), actually a young gold dragon banished from the Celestial Court; NGl, Lvl. 8
  • Soske’ Tiatoshe [Geoff C.]-male Shengtese Tian Shukenja (eastern human Cleric), priest and animist from the Phoenix Clan, prophesied to do great things but plagued by family and ancestor spirits; LNg, Lvl. 8
  • Saigo Kasugi [Bruce K.]-male Bamboo Spirit Folk Samurai (eastern Sylvan Elf Cavalier) discreetly serving his daimyo; LNg, Lvl. 8
  • Tokoro Gawa [Drew S.]-male carp Hengeyokai Hulinyuan (amphibious shapeshifting Ranger) seeking to protect streams; with otter companion; CGn, Lvl. 8

“8 to 13 June 1227 B.C.E.:” The diplomatic escorts resumed riding north toward Bazran Hai, capital of the Zedu kingdom. On the way, they encountered a reptilian Naga and Bamboo Spirit Folk, who warned them of perils ahead. The team also fought Nezumi bandits and shape-shifting Kitsune.

The caravan skirts the edge of the dense Therud Forest and follows a trail across the edge of the Plains of Sathendo. The adventuring party decides to skip the hamlet of Yanui and instead heads toward Hsia Ling, near Hazokuwi, where it formed.

The trail climbs into the foothills of the Bamor Mountains, and the team pitches camp at the edge of the woods. Jung-Mo stealthily removes his wyvern hatchling from his cage for exercise while Sonny engages Gokuri emissary Lady Yun Aei-Yong in conversation.

Toshi reminds his companions that he can help enchant items for them, and Soske’ guarantees masterwork-quality craftsmanship. Ember checks on Toshi’s hungry tiger Amaya and Sonny’s talking horse Yip.

Saigo is eager to get home to Bazran Hai, but Tokoro is mildly uncomfortable so far from his home stream. Shukenja Soske’ and Hulinyuan Tokoro sit the first watch that night, followed by Wu Jen Toshi and Samurai Saigo. Ninja Jung-Mo and Wu Ember plan to take the last watch.

Soske and Tokoro hear movement outside their camp. They eventually perceive about 20 Bakemono (eastern Goblins) foraging, so they wake their companions. Jung-Mo slips into the shadows to get behind the humanoids.

Shengtese humans Sonny and Soske’, who can’t see in the dark, ask the demihumans if the Bakemono are heading for their camp. Crane Hengeyokai Ember and Bamboo Spirit Folk Saigo recommend letting them pass.

Carp Hengeyokai Tokoro says some of the raiders might enter it, so Shan Sao Toshi casts Freezing Fog to discourage them. The Goblinoids fall to bickering among themselves, but Jung-Mo and friends notice six larger shadows behind them — Oni (Ogre Magi).

Sonny and Saigo signal Jung-Mo, who creeps back to his carriage to fetch Lady Yun. Ember Wild Shapes into a wolf. Tosh casts Invisibility and shifts into baza (small blackbird) form. Soske’ and Tokoro draw their bows and wait for the Goblins to come through the mist.

Lady Yun agrees to help, and she and her Draconian bodyguard Oh Kum Ja step out of the camp, along with the rest of the group. The Goblins grovel and scatter before their Nannuattan (eastern Dark Elf) superior.

Up in the trees, Toshi sees a winged Draconian and hears something else observing the parley. The six Oni stomp forward, and Jung-Mo recognizes the sashimonos (banners) of the Gokuri Empire’s Typhoon Unit. Two of the misshapen Ogre Mages shape change into human form.

Matsudaira Masayoshi and Byon Yong-Jo taunt Lady Yun, saying that they could easily kill her escorts and that her authority is weak so far from Gisokuri. The diplomat reminds the Oni that even though she is not part of the military chain of command, she still outranks them.

The Oni squint at Lady Yun’s guards and then grudgingly wave their squad to move on. Toshi, who has shifted back into Halfling form, still doesn’t see the second flying scout. Jung-Mo and Ember quietly follow the Oni and Bakemono to make sure they leave the area.

Eastern Ogres and Goblins

Oni and Bakemono

The next morning, Lady Yun asks Jung-Mo if she can ride atop the carriage as it bounces along the increasingly rocky road. Saigo still doesn’t trust the Nannuattan, and Oh Kum Ja walks alongside the carriage and notices a large birdcage (actually the wyvern under Toshi’s illusion).

Ember and Tokoro sense that they’re being watched, so Ember and Toshi take to the sky. The Druid and Wizard don’t find anything as the Hsia Ling’s walls comes into sight. Saigo asks Lady Yun and Oh Kum Ja to get back into the carriage as they enter the border town.

Hsia Ling

Walled town

In addition to Shengtese (East Asian) humans, the wanderers notice some Spirit Folk (eastern Elves), Shan Sao (eastern Halflings), Korobokuru (eastern Dwarves), and a band of Minotaur mercenaries. Saigo pays Tah Zhiqang 10 tael (5 gold pieces) for rooms at the “Crystal Dragon” inn.

Jung-Mo is surprised when Ember asks to share a room with him, and Toshi orders a pig for Amaya. Sonny makes sure that Lady Yun and Oh Kum Ja are discreetly situated. Druid Ember attends to the horses, while Ranger Tokoro leaves for a while to swim up the Roduyoi Stream.

Cleric Soske’ is happy to rest in a comfortable bed with a carafe of sake, but he is distressed when the maid drawing his bath recognizes him. Jin Ling is a distant cousin, and he begs her not to tell her mother that he is in town for at least one night.

Jin Ling then goes to entertain Saigo. Jung-Mo prepares a tea ceremony for Ember, and Soske’ asks Tah Zhiqang for a quieter room away from his amorous cohorts. Toshi casts spells on Jung-Mo’s window for a sparkling sunrise.

On his way back to the Crystal Dragon, Tokoro is accosted by Fan Shao-feh, who tries to entice him into games of chance. Despite the possibility of gaining favor with Shebsen, lady luck, Tokoro declines. He also notices that Lo Sheng, a Korobokuru sergeant in the local guards, is warily watching visitors.

The next morning, Toshi orders a feast for his friends. Jung-Mo and Ember are late to breakfast, and Kensai Sonny struggles to get his group to keep a low profile. Only Tokoro complies with his suggestion.

Toshi and Saigo write letters to Bisan (Dryad) Suki and Princess Nayoko, respectively, to tell them that they’ll be home soon. Soske’ reluctantly meets with his nosy family members, who treat him as a visiting dignitary.

Jung-Mo and Ember go hand in hand for a walk outside the town with the as-yet-unnamed wyvern. Sonny brings Lady Yun breakfast and practices his Bamoric. Toshi studies spells, and Soske’ tells Jin Ling’s kin, who are worried about events in Sogewa, only a little about his travels.

Saigo plans to use a Ring of Wishes to find his grandfather, Gen. Shinso Saigo, who is apparently being held captive in or near the capital….

Note that your characters will attain Level 9 as they reach Bazran Hai next session! Think about what each of them will want in terms of training and equipment, as well as other goals.

I look forward to Drew’s “Cumberland County” Southern fantasy scenario (using Roll for Shoes) tonight. Rich C.G.’s “Tunnel Vision” modern supernatural miniseries (using Hunter: the Reckoning) will be next Monday, and my “Vanished Lands: Vistel’s Expedition” campaign will probably resume on Oct. 27.

"Vanished Lands: Vistel's Expedition," Session 39.49 — Shopping and plotting in Hesolin

Fellow role-players, here are my notes for “Vanished Lands” Session 39.49, which Rich C.G. hosted in Waltham, Mass., on Wednesday, 8 October 2014:

In one ancient world, there was a region where strange majicks and demihuman races thrived. The “Vanished Lands” were blessed by the gods and cursed by prophecy. Travelers became adventurers, and adventurers strove to be heroes in the face of many perils and wonders. One such band began as circus performers, became defenders of the kingdom of Saganim, and voyaged aboard the Zephyr….

Vistel’s Expedition,” crew of the Zephyr, Player Character Party 39 in Gene D.’s “Vanished Lands” campaign, using the D20 Basic Fantasy Role-Playing GameDungeon Crawl Classics, Pathfinder, and FATE 3e Legends of Anglerre, as of autumn 2014:

  • Giacomo ‘the Mysterious’ Du Vane [Beruk A.]-male Hifalendorin human Mage (Gypsy Wizard) afflicted by a cursed tattoo; with homunculus familiar Gerald; NGc, Lvl. 10
  • Scully Strongbow [Sara F.]-female albino Flind (Gnoll) Ranger, archer, knife thrower, and sailor, with owl “Owlicious”; NGl, Lvl. 10
  • Corwin Windsong [Bruce K.]-male Half-Elf Bard, wandering noble, warrior, and mandolin player; CNg, Lvl. 10
  • Elsa Fairbottom [Rich C.G.]-female Hill Dwarf Druid outcast, cook/brewer, and animal handler with banuq (winged cat) Penryn; NGc, Lvl. 10
  • Rhys Davies [Drew S.]-male Tinker Gnome (Minoi) clockwork gadgeteer and impetuous Rogue; TNcg, Lvl. 10

(See previous notes for “Hamfast” and “Brendan” [Brian W.], “Tempestade” [Josh C.], “Radius” [Jason E.R.], “Sir Torrel” [Alex W.], and “Brogar” [Brian S.].)

“12 to 14 April 1227 B.C.E.:” In the Saganim village of Sanry, “Vistel’s Expedition”worked with its new crew and met with Capt. Scarlet of the Sea Elven schoonerFoamrunner. The Zephyr then went to Hesolin, capital of the (proto-Western European) human kingdom of Hifalendor.

Giacomo and Rhys visited a whirlygig shop and the temple of Otih, while Corwin and Elsa checked in at the Saganim embassy. Scully and her boyfriend, Wolfen Paladin “Capt. Niac” [Mike F./Non-Player Character], go ashore to practice their archery and recruit additional sailors.

Corwin plans to buy or trade weapons and armor at the Istari Bazaar, while Elsa acquires a Bag of Holding, Heward’s Handy Haversack, a ring of Protection (+ 2), a Rope of Climbing, a Wand of Silence, and magical studded leather armor (+2). She looks forward to reuniting with Vistel’s Circus.

With help from fellow Tinker Gnome Otis… and Hill Dwarf metalsmith Werner Dogspittle, Rhys successfully attaches clockwork dragon wings to the Zephyr, one key step in making the unusual vessel airworthy.

Giacomo is escorted by Paladins of Otih and Urda to the local Magisterium (magic school), where he conducts research on ridding himself of his cursed tattoo of the “Mad Mage” Ezra. The holy warriors also prepare an exorcism ritual for the Hifalendorin Wizard, who plans to consult Zarendo (East African) human herbalist “Tondra” [Rob A.S./N.P.C.].

Each evening, the adventurers gather for dinner at their rented villa near the “Golden Horn” hotel and restaurant. They are pleasantly surprised when Melchior [guest Byron V.O.] briefly rejoins them. He uses Mage Hand to shutter the windows and extinguish most lamps.

The Saganim (proto-Celtic) human Cleric of Ulandt, goddess of the night, reports on his investigations in the barbaric port of Gisar. Corwin’s half-brother PrinceDaven and Sean Sable (whose family is suspected of necromancy) have been recruiting mercenaries.

In addition, Lord Dalek, the Tiefling (demon-touched) Sorcerer who once framed Corwin for murder, may be working with the vampires who rule Gisar, says Melchior. Corwin wants to pursue Dalek, but Melchior points out that it will take him several weeks to set up a safehouse in the city, where former teammate Hamfast remains.

The former “Seeker of Lore” also warns that relying too heavily on Teleport is a bad idea as long as the Pit Fiend on Salhonif Island is looking for the group. The group had infiltrated a Temple of Elemental Evil and freed an Efreeti from her bondage to Schm*ckF*ck.

Melchior detects that someone has scryed upon Prince Corwin and Rhys, who has worked most closely on the time-displaced steamboat. Elsa adds anti-scrying measures to her list of potential enchantments for the Zephyr, such as protections against fire, rust and noise.

The next day, Scully and Elsa lead the way to the Grove of Mekkil outside Hesolin’s walls. They find a dimunitive Forest Gnome Druid singing to a sleepy badger. Gaffy Barkeater tells the Ranger and Druid about where to find exotic animals such as pegasi and griffons.

Elsa asks about recent strife between centaurs and Hifalendorin humans on the northern Plains of Sathendo. Gaffy says that a centaur named Zenos may know more and that he can often be found at the “Quiet Deer” tavern.

In Hesolin’s theater district, Corwin and Melchior meet Yvonne Valetta, a priestess of Brijitt, goddess of fire and poetry. She recognizes the Half-Elf’s reference to Maeve Gallagher, a Cleric at the Bardic College in Thadenis, capital of the kingdom of Saganim. Corwin gives her a generous donation of 250 crowns (gold pieces).

Yvonne recounts the fairy tale of Vappu Lahja, a woman woed about a century ago by three lords. She was proud and rejected them and was forced to live out her days alone as the lords fought among themselves, bringing much death to the land [see “Uncommon Companions” notes].

Melchior and Rhys note the similarities between the mysterious woman said to be stirring up conflict between the centaurs and Hifalendorin peasants and “Capt. Jack Kildare” [Randy K.M./N.P.C.], the Saganim pirate who has somehow “hacked” his curse to become leader of the dreaded Ghost Fleet.

In addition, Yvonne mentions “Westly the Wondrous” [Alex J./N.P.C.], a Saganim Bard (and former “Dragonslayer”) in residence at the “Bright Battlement” tavern. Elsa plans to visit the Library of Memir to see if she can uncover more information.

Sometime later, “Vistel’s Expedition” and Melchior go to the palace for a royal audience, thanks to Saganim ambassador Sir Culwych. They admire its high towers, thick stone walls, and well-armored guards. Magical scans sweep over the visitors as they pass by iron-bound gates, parade grounds, and colorful gardens.

Royal citadel

Palace in Hesolin

Elsa brings her banuq (winged cat) Penryn, and Rhys dismounts from Vasco, his clockwork butler. Despite being an agent of her majesty’s (Queen Margaret of Saganim) secret service, Melchior introduces himself without an alias.

Heralds announce the heroes as they enter a great hall with massive pillars with inscriptions in multiple languages, a vaulted ceiling, and a red and white checkerboard marble floor. They briefly wait in a receiving line before bowing before the throne. Counselors sit on curved benches nearby.

Prince Corwin introduces himself, and King Akkon XII sends greetings to his “brother king,” Edmund II of Saganim (and Corwin’s father). Hill Dwarf Elsa asks for support for her long-range communications network, and Queen Belinda offers a room in the palace.

However, Adm. Clothard Leontis is skeptical about proposals for widening the naval alliance between Hifalendor and Saganim against the Ghost Fleet to include the Ebir Sheikdom, the Kelp Kingdom, and the Principality of Silado (Tong Sheng).

Elsa and Corwin assure King Akkon that they have the approval of King Edmund and hope to visit more capitals. Adm. Leontis notes that existing allied forces are outnumbered by Undead pirates by about 10 to 1, but he grudgingly grants permission to inspect the naval base at the Gargoyle Headlands, about two days’ sail east of Hesolin.

Flind Scully and Gnome Rhys ask about the evil cult of Krakas, lord of the maelstrom, and additional defenses for the Zephyr. The admiral recommends checking with Hesolin’s harbormaster and the temple of Addoh, lord of the sea.

As a gesture of goodwill, the onetime circus performers offer to investigate the centaur attacks on northern farms. Lord Taneli Ellarthen, a Quelithan (High Elf) court mage, observes that Hifalendor would prefer to avoid bloodshed among its citizens and neighboring fey folk such as satyrs and centaurs.

King Akkon notes that his son, Prince Decius, was held hostage in the frontier until he was rescued by the King’s Cavaliers [see “Faith-Based Initiative” notes]. The petitioners notice an athletic young woman, later identified as Princess Priscilla, and Corwin and Melchior (who is married) can’t help but flirt with her.

Gen. Naresh du Goray says that troops in the city of Nadwi stand ready to help, but the adventuring party may be able to deal with threats that he cannot. The king approves of the party’s missions on behalf of Hifalendor.

The happy wanderers return to the “Golden Horn” and begin plotting a course to the Gargoyle Headlands, Nadwi, Falit, and more ports….

While we missed Beruk and Josh, it was good to see everyone, plus Thomas & Kai-Yin, for Byron’s latest visit to the Boston area! I hope that those of you with colds recover soon. Also, remember to update your character records on Obsidian Portal and let me know of any changes regarding equipment or spells.

I look forward to Drew’s “Cumberland County” Southern fantasy one-shot (using Roll for Shoes) tomorrow and continuing Rich’s “Tunnel Vision” modern supernatural miniseries! My “Vanished Lands: A New Dawntelecom game will continue tonight.