"Vanished Lands: Vistel's Expedition" Session 39.51 — Sky cruise to Nadwi

Fellow role-players, here are my notes for “Vanished Lands” Session 39.51, which Drew S. hosted in Needham, Mass., on Monday, 18 November 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, rescued slaves, and seeks to fight the dreaded Ghost Fleet….

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) with homunculus familiar Gerald; NGc, Lvl. 11
  • Scully Strongbow [Sara F./absent]-female albino Flind (Gnoll) Ranger, archer, knife thrower, and sailor, with owl “Owlicious”; NGl, Lvl. 11
  • Corwin Windsong [Bruce K.]-male Half-Elf Bard, wandering noble, warrior, and mandolin player; CNg, Lvl. 11
  • Elsa Fairbottom [Rich C.G.]-female Hill Dwarf Druid outcast, cook/brewer, and animal handler with banuq (winged cat) Penryn; NGc, Lvl. 11
  • Rhys Davies [Drew S.]-male Tinker Gnome (Minoi) clockwork gadgeteer and impetuous Rogue; TNcg, Lvl. 11

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

“18 to 30 April 1227 B.C.E.:” With much help and planning, Giacomo finally rid himself of the “Mad Mage” Ezra through a complex and dangerous ritual. Corwin continued shopping, Elsa and Rhys met with the Zeda kingdom ambassador, and Scully and Niac recruited more crew members for the Zephyr in the city of Hesolin.

At the local Magisterium (magic school), Giacomo makes sure that no traces of his cursed tattoo remain. Lord Josiah Mearls offers the Hifalendorin human a faculty position and assigns excitable adept Vinod Fabrizio to be his assistant. Giacomo also celebrates his newfound freedom with droll girlfriend “Dread” Maggie Oakleaf.

Corwin finds Princess Priscilla practicing archery in the royal gardens. Under the watchful eye of guards and chaperones, the Half-Elf prince tells her a few stories of how their fathers, now King Edmund II of Saganim and King Akkon XII of Hifalendor, once adventured together on the Sea of Nagendwa.

Elsa and Rhys return to the embassy of their homeland, the Zeda kingdom. Elsa receives enchanted studded leather armor from fellow Hill Dwarf Wilhelm the Smiter. Lady Matilda, a Forest Gnome Paladin with a conical cap and a badger pelt cloak, asks Tinker Gnome Rhys if she can see his airship.

The Zeda emissary, Henrik Giantslayer, son of Boris, tells Elsa that he has received word from Zorch (King) Bertrand of Doru that their realm will join the alliance against the dreaded Ghost Fleet and participate in her nascent long-range communications network. Merchant Henrik also mentions an Orc attack on the remote Dwarven stronghold of Eagle’s Rest near Dosh Kar.

The wanderers regroup at their rented villa near the “Golden Horn” hotel in Castle Court. Flind Scully and Wolfen “Capt. Niac” [Mike F./Non-Player Character] supervise provisioning and training of the Zephyr ’s growing crew.

Giacomo agrees to look into legends about the mysterious Vappu Lahja at the Library of Memir. The Wizard finds some parallels between the fairy tales of a proud woman cursed to outlive her suitors and the Scourge of “Capt. Jack Kildare” [Randy K.M./N.P.C.], leader of the Ghost Fleet.

In between dates with Priscilla, Corwin checks in with fellow Bards at the temple of Brijitt, goddess of fire and poetry, in Hesolin’s theater district. He also helps Giacomo with his research and waits for letters from “Melchior” [Byron V.O.], who is shadowing his enemies in the barbaric port of Gisar.

Elsa loans her ring of Feather Fall to Rhys and casts Message to warn Orlando Vistel, founder of Vistel’s Circus, not to fight his captors. The Druid has learned that her former traveling companions are being held by the Centaur followers of Vappu Lahja who have been raiding human and Halfling villages across northern Hifalendor.

Rhys and Niac make the steamboat Zephyr airworthy by attaching a dirigible balloon to its masts and extending the wings retrieved from a clockwork dragon. Shipwright and Paladin Niac notes that hot air will provide lift, but more sails will still be needed for propulsion.

After about a week, “Vistel’s Expedition” leaves Hesolin and sails through the air northward, along the Aehonir River. To the west is the (proto-Celtic) human kingdom of Saganim, and Hifalendor and the broad Plains of Sathendo stretch to the east. Far to the north are the Wisalef Forest and the Ivory Mountains.

Giacomo serves as navigator, comparing the stars to charts and magically projected maps. As first mate, Corwin relays Capt. Niac’s orders to the crew in the rigging. Elsa helps the ship get under way by invoking Mekkil (Gaia) for a Gust of Wind. Rhys and his apprentices keep busy with the steam engine, and Ranger Scully watches for aerial foes.

From the ground, the wings of the floating Zephyr make the ship look like a dragon, scaring the occasional farmer. Niac asks Giacomo to plot a course from Hesolin to the Hifalendorin (proto-Western European) human city of Nadwi and then east, to the villages under attack by Centaurs.

Corwin and Rhys aren’t especially surprised when stowaways Priscilla and Matilda emerge, but Giacomo and Elsa are incensed at the potential international incident. Corwin argues that the young women should be free to pursue their own interests, but Elsa warns that King Akkon may send pursuers.

Mr. Bernardo Tancredo, a Halfling herbalist under Elsa’s command, attends to Maggie and other crew and passengers who get airsick in the first day of travel. Elsa and Scully talk with chatty and hungry birds confused by their vessel.

On the second day out of Hesolin, the Zephyr passes over Androth, where some performers from Vistel’s Circus began their misadventures more than a year ago (in “game time”). The airship avoids the village, and Niac agrees to sail at half speed rather than stop at night. Giacomo casts Nondetection and Scry. Matilda enjoys the view from the top of the dirigible.

On the third day, the experimental airship passes Grenville and marshes. The sailors on watch spot a tree waving at them. Elsa Wild Shapes into a bird, and Corwin casts Fly and carries curious Priscilla to investigate. The rest of the crew of the Zephyr watches from a distance. Giacomo uses a spyglass.

Elsa asks the Treant for permission to land in her branches, and the “Old Missus” is happy for the company. Corwin casts a translation spell to understand Sylvan and translate for Priscilla.

The sentient tree says that Cooter, a human guide from the village of Keyans, occasionally passes through the area. Corwin notices some bones at the Old Missus’ roots and flies down for a closer look, despite her protestations of “being too messy for guests.”

Corwin and Priscilla see several humanoid skeletons covered in yellow mold. Elsa shifts back to Hill Dwarf form and climbs down to join them. The Old Missus asks them not to disturb the corpses, since they feed her.

Prince Corwin tentatively identifies the bones as those of Troglodytes, slimy reptile folk. Elsa manages not to inhale any spores as she collects a sample of the fungus, over Corwin’s objections. They bid farewell to the Treant and fly back to the ship.

Giacomo lectures the away team on parleying with a potential monster, but Elsa gives the sample to Bernardo and writes a note to Barry the Gardener, a strange being she met on Emein Island in the Zarendo Archipelago.

The next day, lookouts spot two Pegasi with riders approaching from Nadwi. The Zephyr has crossed more than 200 miles in a fraction of the time it would have taken going upriver or on horseback.

Northern Roman city

Nadwi from the air

Corwin casts Invisibility on Princess Priscilla, and Capt. Niac hails the airborne cavalry. The knights order the ship to follow them, because King Akkon wants his daughter returned home safely. Corwin and Elsa reluctantly comply.

Rhys retracts the Zephyr ‘s keel, and Scully helps furl the sails. The boat lands in the Aspar River, and another set of watchmen escorts the crew to the provincial governor’s palace. The visitors notice that there are more demihumans in the northern Hifalendorin city than in the capital of Hesolin.

The team is brought before Nadwi’s ruling council, and Prince Andre de Giles, a kinsman of King Akkon, recognizes Prince Berek. Grizzled Gen. Sixtus Aurelias berates the young nobles for making light of the disappearance of Princess Priscilla, whose invisibility drops after she smacks Rhys for an impertinent comment.

Elsa explains that the Zephyr has come to seek allies and help with the Centaur uprising, and Lady Elaine Valis says that their leader may have taken on the identity of Vappu Lahja to enhance her reputation. Sir Roderigo Adelmo notes that the northwestern borderlands have otherwise been peaceful lately, with few raids from the nefarious kingdom of Zuromm.

The aged Sir Mador Basored advises Prince Andre, who complains that he has been waiting in vain for reinforcements from Hesolin for several months. The feudal lord suggests that he will take his time replying to the king about the princess if the Zephyr’s crew deals with the Centaur threat.

Lord Clobard Thudoric, the mayor of Nadwi, gives the explorers permission to stay in his city for a few days, but he warns them that they will be under guard. The party leaves the palace and walks out into the cobbled streets….

I hope that everybody enjoyed our latest “Vanished Lands” sessions, and remember to make sure that your characters are up to date on Obsidian Portal. Remember that the “New Dawntelecom team won’t be meeting on Sunday, Nov. 23.

I look forward to continuing our adventures in December, as well as to concluding Rich’s Hunter: the Reckoning miniseries and preparing for Jason E.R.’s “Channel 37” dimension-hopping scenario! Other likely one-shots around the holidays include myStar Trek: Restorationand D&D5e demos by Dexter V.H. and others.

"Vanished Lands: A New Dawn" Sessions 40.37, 38 — Prisoners' dilemma

Fellow role-players, here are my notes for “Vanished Lands” Sessions 40.37 and 38, which were held on 9 and 16 November 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 3e Legends of Anglerre, plus house rules, Skype, and anonline 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

>>"27 June to 7 July 1227 B.C.E.:" In Bazran Hai, capital of the Zedu kingdom, Jung-Mo talked with Desc Soo-Ann, or Desan, a fellow Nannuattan Ninja from the Gokuri Empire. He also fought four Kobolds in an ambush alongside Ember and Tokoro.

Bazran Hai in the Bamor Mountains

Dwarven city

Meanwhile, Sonny, Toshi, and Soske’ secured the “Dragon’s Beard” inn and divided party treasure, while Saigo Kasugi had a romantic rendezvous with Princess Nayoko before resuming the search for his grandfather, Gen. Shinso Saigo.

Saigo asks Wu Jen Toshi and Shukenja Soske’ for help wording a Limited Wish that he would use from an enchanted ring. The Samurai hopes to retrieve Gen. Shinso unharmed from wherever he is being held. Sonny notes that evenTeleport spells can be traced or reversed.

Jung-Mo informs the rest of the group about his recent encounters and warns everyone to be on guard because two Kobolds got away and are presumably reporting to other Ninjas from the Shadow’s Claw clan.

Tokoro and Ember consider getting and improving magical bows or arrows. The Hengeyokai Hulinyuan and Wu also keep watch outside and check on Jung-Mo’syoung wyvern and Toshi’s tiger companion Amaya.

Jung-Mo and Saigo interrogate Wah-Ree (“Larry”), a Kobold captured in the alley ambush. At Saigo’s recommendation, the Nannuattan disguises himself as a female Spirit Folk. Sonny and Toshi listen from just outside the makeshift cell.

Saigo gives the doglike reptilian humanoid some food and water. He thanks Wah-Ree for “helping to rescue his sister from some Nezumi” [ratkin]. The Kobold explains that the Shadow’s Claw clan hopes to redeem itself with Queen Kagejusko by hunting down traitors to Gokuri.

Wah-Ree says that he himself is dishonored by being captured. The spy also says that wily troublemaker Desan has used his cover identity as a courier to get access to Zedu’s royal court.

In return for the information, Saigo agrees to pay for Wah-Ree to leave the city. Jung-Mo says that his fellow Ninjas are likely working to undermine the leadership of Bazran Hai, and Sonny speculates that Gokuri emissary Lady Yun Aei-Yong might be in danger from her compatriots because of her truce mission.

Meanwhile, Tokoro notices someone loitering outside the rented inn, and he quietly follows the cloaked figure as the adventuring party escorts Wah-Ree to the docks. Ember stays behind to watch the wyvern, and Toshi continues his arcane research on creating items for his companions.

Saigo and Jung-Mo book passage for Wah-Ree on a boat headed south toward Sogewa. Shengtese humans Sonny and Soske’ keep watch, and Tokoro follows the suspicious tinkerer, who releases a pigeon from a wicker basket at the docks.

The quick-thinking Ranger looses some arrows, dropping the bird. Sonny works his way through the crowd to retrieve it before a stray dog does. The Kensai finds that the dove’s talons have been sharpened and coated in poison.

Tokoro continues following the would-be assassin and sends Mala, his otter companion, to fetch the others as he heads toward a lower tier of Bazran Hai. The carp Hengeyokai realizes that his quarry has shrunk to blend in with the Korobokuru (eastern Dwarves) in the subterranean city.

Tokoro shadows the tinkerer to a silversmith’s shop, as Saigo, Soske, Sonny, and Jung-Mo catch up. Saigo and Jung-Mo enter the shop, while Sonny and Tokoro circle around to the back. Soske’ keeps an eye on the front door.

The tinkerer talks with a Korobokuru craftsman and heads to the back of the shop. She throws a smoke grenade in an attempt to evade Sonny and Tokoro. Sonny strikes her with his flail, and Tokoro casts Abundant Ammunition and readies his Merciful bow.

The others arrive and encircle the tinkerer. Jung-Mo misses with darts from his blowgun, but Soske’s Remorse spell causes the mysterious woman to confess that she didn’t want to harm the pigeon. Saigo ends the tinkerer’s flight by knocking her out with his sheathed katana.

The Ninja reverts to her true form as a Nannuattan (eastern Dark Elf). Jung-Mo and Sonny strip her of her gear, including the following:

  • Armor, Elven chain
  • Battle cloak (adamantium-laced, silenced, +1 AC)
  • Bracers, crossbow
  • Poison, two vials (death or sleep, DC 15)
  • Katana (long sword, masterwork)
  • Whip, Vorpal (1d8 plus beheading on crit)
  • Whippets, three (incendiary boomerangs, 1d6+6 fire)

Back at the Dragon’s Beard, Jung-Mo recognizes the latest prisoner as Oh Ok-Sun, a former lover! He checks her for suicide capsules, and the Nannuattan says that he is a defector who left Gokuri with a wyvern egg and without their master’s permission. She apparently knows nothing about the Scarlet Order, which has been sowing chaos in Tong Sheng.

Jung-Mo promises to return to the Underdark once he has found a way to restore their clan’s name and defend his own. Oh Ok-Sun retorts that he’ll have to take his chances, and Jung-Mo offers to release her in return for noninterference.

Saigo objects, saying that while he trusts Jung-Mo, he’s the exception among Nannuattan Ninjas. The Bamboo Spirit Folk (eastern Sylvan Elf) would prefer to execute the latest prisoner, but Soske’s Sense Elements (psychometry) on her weapons says that she is efficient and ruthless but honorable.

Sonny and Toshi agree that the group should keep her weapons, with the exception of a nonmagical sword. Saigo and Ember still don’t trust Oh Ok-Sun, but Jung-Mo sends her away.

Toshi says that he’ll need about a month to prepare enchanted items for his companions, such as a stealth suit for Jung-Mo, Crimson Moth silk armor for Sonny, a Scout’s Headband for Soske’, and improved armor and sword for Saigo. Tokoro considers Lesser Bracers of Archery.

In the meantime, the Wu Jen meditates, and Soske’ prepares a divination to aid Saigo in finding his kidnapped grandfather. Scouts Jung-Mo and Tokoro make sure that Oh Ok-Sun leaves the area and resume watch over the inn.

Several days pass, and Toshi aids Saigo with the wording of his Limited Wish. Ember continues to help Jung-Mo care for the wyvern hatchling.

Soske’ contacts Zao Kasugi, a scribe and ancestor of Saigo. The Shukenja learns that Gen. Shinso’s location is magically hidden, but Zao may be able to locate him with help from sacrifices at the ancestral shrine and the temple of Yen Yuang, the sleeping god.

The travelers go to Saigo’s family compound in Bazran Hai. The Bamboo Spirit Folk offers prayers and incense at the shrine and then takes the group to the relatively unadorned temple of Yen Yuang, deity of judgment and death. He briefly considers sacrificing rogue Gen. Wang Tung’s (+2) katana of Wounding.

Hirohata Kotaro, a white-robed priest, leads the supplicants to a private area. Soske’ begins with prayers, and Saigo writes a vow that he won’t touch another woman besides Princess Nayoko for two years. The knight errant hopes to marry her but believes that she is above his station.

He puts the scroll on an altar. All present see themselves in the heavens surrounded by clouds, who answer in the voices of Saigo’s ancestors. They approve of his quest and courtship of the princess.

Meanwhile, Tokoro has a vision of the slumbering god, who holds scales and a quill. His finger twitches, and the Ranger sees the symbol for “citadel,” meaning that Gen. Shinso is likely being held somewhere beneath Bazran Hai’s palace!

Saigo and friends find themselves back in the temple chamber, and Tokoro tells them about the clue from Yen Yuang. The scroll with the Samurai vow has disappeared. Sonny says that it would be nice to know more about who is holding Gen. Shinso.

Sonny and Saigo help with the expenses for making permanent Soske’sForbiddance spell, which protects one large room in the family compound from planar travel and summoned monsters. Toshi readies Arcane Sight, Break Enchantment, Dimensional Anchor, and a scroll of Circle of Protection From Evil.

Druid Ember readies Neutralize Poison, and Jung-Mo and Tokoro take up sniper positions in case the general is followed upon his rescue. Finally, Saigo takes his magical ring and utters the following Limited Wish:

“I wish that my grandfather Shinso Kasugi, general of the armies of the Zedu Kingdom, born of Takiko Kasugi, were phyisically present now in front of me, alone being whole in body and mind, free of any restraint or compulsion — physical, magical, or spiritual — healthy of spirit and without any remaining physical harm, able to stay so long as he would desire here with his grandson Saigo in the clan Kasugi stronghold, with no requirement or compulsion to return to bondage, imprisonment or where he is now and of the same mind, temperament and moral code as he was prior to his capture — without the knowledge of his enemies or any enemies of Saigo Kasugi or his grandfather appearing with his grandfather.”

Saigo’s grandfather appears in armor but unarmed and unharmed! However, because of the phrase, “of the same mind, temperament and moral code as he was prior to his capture — without the knowledge of his enemies,” Gen. Shinso has no memories of his months-long imprisonment.

Saigo and Gen. Hirokazu Saigo are happy to be reunited with the general, who explains that he was on a covert mission for Daimyo Hei Wan Ling on the northern frontier. Shinso says that while looking for foes within the Zedu kingdom, he was ambushed in the woods north of Hei Kuan.

Unfortunately, Gen. Shinso is unable to identify his attackers, but he also mentions that while traveling through the Dragon Pass in the Bamor Mountains, he saw a huge reddish dragon whose very touch corrupted the landscape.

Soske’, Saigo, and Ember believe that the dragon could be a source of thegrowing chaos and a leader of the unnatural Scarlet Order. Sonny and Toshi agree that it would be good to take the fight to the enemy, who is possibly from the Red Wastes to the northeast, while Jung-Mo and Tokoro are more cautious. The wanderers debate on when to leave Bazran Hai.

Still concerned about more Ninjas, archers Jung-Mo and Tokoro take up watch around Saigo’s manor. Kensai Sonny asks them to pay close attention to comings and goings in the demihuman neighborhood. Wizard Toshi resumes his enchantments, and shaman Soske’ rests after the rituals.

Saigo catches up with his family and Princess Nayoko, and Ember returns to the wyvern at the Dragon’s Beard. After a few days, Jung-Mo and Tokoro notice that Shijo Yoshifumi, a master landscaper, doesn’t enter the family gardens but sends underlings while waiting out in the street. Saigo concurs that this is odd behavior.

Tokoro sends his river otter Mala to dig up Saigo’s garden. When a servant notifies Shijo, the landscaper angrily dismisses him and leaves to supposedly get more helpers. Saigo and company stealthily follow him.

Shijo pays little heed to other pedestrians, bumping into them as he heads to a lower tier of the city. Sonny asks Toshi to shift into baza (small blackbird) form and follow. Soske’ notices that Shijo is looking down at the street, and Tokoro recognizes his snakelike pattern of walking.

Shijo moves a heavy cover and jumps into the sewers. The party follows [see middle leftmost entry on map]. Hengeyokai Tokoro leads, followed by Shengtese human Soske, Bamboo Spirit Folk Saigo, Shan Sao Toshi, and human Sonny.

Sewer map

Part of Bazran Hai's sewers

Tokoro tracks Shijo around some corners, across bridges over raw sewage, and to a square chamber, where he is talking to two reptilian Yuan-ti Abominations! They see the hunters and draw weapons.

Halfling Toshi casts Arc Lightning, badly injuring one of the scaled humanoids. Shapeshifter Tokoro fires four arrows at the two Yuan-ti, and Soske’ petitions his ancestors for an Ice Bow. Saigo attacks Shijo with the No Dachi of the White Scorpion but misses.

Chain master Sonny steps into the middle of the melee and swings his flail, hitting the enemy combatants. One Yuan-ti harms Soske’ with a glass, poison-filled arrow, and the other hits Saigo. Fortunately, the Samurai is able to resist the faux gardener’s Baleful Polymorph spell.

Toshi casts Snake’s Swiftness, Mass, and Tokoro shoots more arrows at the serpent folk. Soske’ also shoots them, and Saigo hits Shijo and cleaves into the Yuan-ti. Sonny’s Whirlwind Attack fells the enemy archer, and the other one swings a dao (scimitar) at Saigo.

Shijo casts Darkness and tries to escape, but Toshi counters with Dispel Magic. Tokoro knocks out the fleeing spellcaster with his Merciful bow. Soske, Saigo, and Sonny concentrate on the last Yuan-ti, quickly slaying it. They search the bodies and find the following:

  • Arrows, 12 glass, with hollow points (2d8 plus poison) — claimed by Tokoro
  • Bow, long, +3 — Tokoro to trade to improve his existing bow
  • Dao (scimitar/falchion) +4 — party to sell for 32,000 tael (16,000 gold pieces)
  • Ring of Charm Person — Saigo
  • Scroll of Mind Read — Toshi

While tying up Shijo, Tokoro realizes that he is also reptilian. The spelunkers leave the sewers, and Toshi shifts back to bird form to get Jung-Mo and his carriage to transport their latest prisoner back to the Dragon’s Beard inn….

I hope that everybody enjoyed our latest “New Dawn” games. Sara and Josh, I hope that your honeymoon is going well, and we miss “Ember!” Let me know if you have any further questions about advancement and treasure.

Note that we won’t be meeting next Sunday, Nov. 23, because I’ll be traveling, but I expect to resume on Nov. 30. I also look forward to seeing some of you at upcoming “Vanished Lands: Vistel’s Expeditionface-to-face sessions and the conclusion of Rich C.G.’s “Tunnel Vision” modern supernatural miniseries!

Interstellar review

On Saturday, 15 November 2014, I met Thomas K.Y. & Kai-Yin H. for a matinee of Interstellar at the Jordan's IMAX theater in Framingham, Mass. We liked the relationship-focused highbrow science fiction film.

Plot

Interstellar follows Cooper, an astronaut turned farmer in an unspecified near future in which human spaceflight has faltered because of the urgency of feeding billions amid severe ecological degradation.

Widower Cooper's son Tom is content to become a farmer, but his restlessness is mirrored in his daughter Murph. Despite being science-minded in an era focused on mere survival, Murph claims that a poltergeist is trying to send her messages.

An errant surveillance drone leads Cooper and his children to a secret NASA base, where his former colleague Prof. Brand and his daughter are working on sending a second wave of explorers through a newly discovered wormhole near Saturn to find inhabitable planets.

Aware of the relativistic effects of faster-than-light interstellar travel, Cooper gets his father Donald's blessing and reluctantly leaves with the younger Brand and a small crew to try to save humanity….

Interstellar poster

Christopher Nolan's latest SF movie

Cast

The cast of Interstellar is uniformly solid, with several actors from past Christopher Nolan productions. Matthew McConaughey is grounded as Cooper, despite the talk of imminent Armageddon, wormholes, and love and gravity transcending the dimension of time.

John Lithgow and Michael Caine are Cooper's father figures as Donald and Prof. Brand, respectively. Anne Hathaway is emotional but strong as the younger Brand, and Mackenzie Foy plays a young Murph (named after Murphy's Law — "Whatever can happen, will").

As more time passes on Earth while the subjective time of the astronauts is shorter, the adult Murph is played by Jessica Chastain, and Casey Affleck is the older Tom. Murph and Tom react in different ways to their father's absence. Matt Damon plays Dr. Mann, "the best of us" and part of the first wave sent through the wormhole.

Bill Irwin is also noteworthy as the voice of TARS, a former military robot among those retasked with helping the laconic Cooper's mission. He brings a sense of snarky humor and potential menace to the proceedings, referring directly to HAL from 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Direction

Christopher Nolan's meticulous style is similar to that of 2001's Stanley Kubrick or Prometheus' Ridley Scott. He's more comfortable with high-concept speculative fiction in movies such as Inception, Duncan Jones' Moon, or Rian Johnson's Looper than with the emotional content of Steven Spielberg's best.

Viewers waiting for action and suspense have to wait a while before the three-hour-long movie gets to it, and the parallels between Coop and Murph and Prof. Brand and his daughter are pretty obvious. When Donald or Prof. Brand fulminate on the human condition and our need to explore the universe, it's clear that's what Nolan thinks.

Still, even if I agree with the sentiment and understand some of the underlying science, I'd rather he spent less time explaining and more time engaging the audience. Overall, Nolan handles his cast and the narrative jumps in time well, but Interstellar feels more technical than passionate, and he's unlikely to persuade any who might disagree.

Cinematography

Nolan's true strength is with creating a believable universe. As with last year's excellent Gravity, space travel is shown to be difficult, dangerous, and ultimately worthwhile. The psychedelic imagery during the wormhole travel is mercifully brief.

The visualization of "Gargantua," a black hole around which some potential homeworlds orbit, is excellent. Any good science fiction movie should show us something we haven't seen or maybe even haven't imagined before. Much of the science is sound, and the distant planets reminded me of some documentaries about hazardous arctic exploration.

Sure, one could quibble with the environmental science, the description of gravitic propulsion, and the late appearance of O'Neill cylinders in the movie, but I was glad to see this movie on an IMAX screen with a full house. As other reviewers have noted, like Big Hero 6, some of the best parts of Interstellar are when it shows people using science to try to solve problems or mysteries.

Soundtrack

As with Inception and many recent action movie trailers, Interstellar had the booming "bwong, bwong" sound to underscore important moments. I could have done without that, but I have to admit that the IMAX theater's "rumble seats" were nice for the scenes when Cooper and company were flying by the seats of their pants.

There is no music quite as memorable as "Thus Spake Zarathustra" from 2001 or Vangelis' themes in Blade Runner. As in Gravity, I liked the absence of sound during some of the space scenes.

Rating

I liked Interstellar more than Elysium and about the same as Contact, to refer to two Jodi Foster SF movies. It's definitely part of a wave of more serious speculative fiction, providing a nice balance to the explosions of Star Trek: Into Darkness or comedy of Space Station 76 while I wait for the next cyclical revival of classic space opera.

I'd give Interstellar, which is rated PG-13 for some violence, a 7.5 to 8 out of 10, three and a half out of five stars, or a B+. I think that some critics were overly harsh, but I'm also more of an SF buff than the general audience.

Speaking of which, I'm still enjoying Jonathan Nolan's cyber-dystopian Person of Interest on television, and I'm cautiously optimistic about his adaptation of Isaac Asimov's Foundation for HBO. Also, it is with some sadness that I note the passing of Glen Larson, who created the original Battlestar Galactica, Buck Rogers in the 25th Century, and many of the other genre TV shows I grew up on.

Belated 2014 Star Trek convention report

I had a good time at this past summer's Creation Star Trek Convention in Boston, even though the actors I was most interested in meeting — Deep Space Nine's Avery Brooks, Quantum Leap and Enterprise's Scott Bakula, and Into Darkness and Being Human's Karl Urban — all canceled at the last minute.

Other cancellations included Voyager's Kate Mulgrew and Into Darkness' Bruce Greenwood. Still, the show was entertaining enough for any longtime Star Trek fan, and I wasn't expecting this year's event to live up to last year's reunion of most of the Next Generation cast with moderator William Shatner (whom Janice and I just saw at the Rhode Island Comic Con).

Most of the guest stars this time around were from the casts of Star Trek: Voyager and Enterprise. Last year, I went with fellow blogger Ken G., who this year attended on Saturday, June 21, but I was busy with Free RPG Day. As usual, there were many excellent cosplayers.

Star Trek cosplay

Capt. Tzu Tien Lung and Adm. Montgomery Scott

Fortunately, I had gotten a discount ticket for this year's event, and I still got to meet Deep Space Nine's Nana Visitor (Maj. Kira Nerys) and Terry Farrell (Lt.Cmdr. Jadzia Dax). Much of the cast of Voyager was also present, and Max Grodenchik and Aron Eisnberg did a hilarious standup routine as Ferengis Rom and Nog, respectively.

Star Trek 2014 photo op

Nana, Gene, and Terry

As with most genre entertainment conventions lately, there was a big crowd and numerous cosplayers. In fact, last year's Super MegaFest got so crowded that it was often a challenge to move around the Sheraton in Framingham, Mass. Fellow blogger Ken G. and I did get to meet Manu Bennet from Spartacus and Arrow, Barbara Eden from I Dream of Jeannie, among others.

Even though Waltham's annual steampunk festival was canceled this spring because of finances and construction downtown, we haven't lacked for other shows, such as the funny Monty Python reunion concert that was simulcast in U.S. theaters. Creation will be taking a year off and returning with a major Star Trek confab in Las Vegas to celebrate the franchise's 50th anniversary in 2016.

This year's Star Trek convention was inspirational, since I've been running occasional "episodes" of my "Star Trek: Restoration" space opera scenario.

We'll see what genre entertainment events I get to next year, and I've found it easier lately to follow the news online from huge events such as the San Diego Comic Con rather than deal with traveling to them.

Big Hero 6 review

After the Boston Christmas Craft Festival this past Saturday, 8 November 2014, Janice and I went to the Showcase Cinema de Lux in Dedham, Mass., for lunch at B. Good Burgers and Big Hero 6. We liked the animated superhero movie, which is one of the best since Incredibles.

Big Hero 6

Disney's latest animated success

Plot

Loosely based on a title published by Marvel Comics, Big Hero 6 follows Hiro Hamada, a teenage underachiever who spends his time in underground robot fights in the city of San Fransokyo. A visit to his older brother Tadashi's university impresses Hiro, who applies his genius to designing "microbots" to gain admission.

Tadashi has been designing Baymax, a cuddly android intended to help with medical emergencies. Hiro gets help from his brother and new friends at the university, but his successful demonstration is marred by the rivalry between Prof. Robert Callaghan and entrepreneur Alistair Krei and a devastating fire….

As you may have seen from the previews, Hiro and friends soon work with Baymax to defend San Fransokyo from a supervillain….

Cast

The voice cast includes a few celebrities, but they weren't readily identifiable or distracting, and the characters are well-developed in both voice and visual design. Ryan Potter is a typical adolescent as Hiro, with moments of stubbornness and sentiment. Scott Adsit is cheerful and surprisingly insightful as Baymax.

Other actors include Jamie Chung as daredevil student GoGo Tomago, Daon Wayans Jr. as big control freak Wasabi, and Maya Rudolph as Hiro and Tadashi's loving but distracted Aunt Cass. Star Trek: First Contact's James Cromwell lends gravitas as Prof. Callaghan, and Firefly/Serenity's Alan Tudyk is Alistair Krei.

Direction

Directors Don Hall and Chris Williams wisely decided to set Big Hero 6's San Fransokyo in a pocket universe rather than the live-action Marvel cinematic universe. While there are many nods to conventional comic books and anime, Big Hero 6 stands on its own.

Like Pixar's Incredibles, Big Hero 6 presents superhero and science fiction tropes in an energetic way, with tragedy outweighed by the responsibility and fun of doing good. I was also pleased to see young scientists portrayed in a positive way. The story feels fresh, even if it the final act is predictable.

Cinematography

The character faces will be familiar to anyone who has seen recent Disney/Pixar films such as Ratatouille or Brave, but that's no different than the house styles used by Aardman, DreamWorks, or Sony.

As each animated movie tries to top its predecessors for "eye candy," Big Hero 6 stands out in the design of Baymax, who exhibits a surprisingly wide range of emotions despite looking like the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man, not unlike Wall-E.

The other area in which Big Hero 6 is noteworthy is its design of San Fransokyo and the nascent superhero team. Animators have been wisely avoiding the "uncanny valley" with cartoonish characters, but the hyper-realistic settings and frenetic action surpass most recent live-action movies. Big Hero 6 resembles a video game, but in this case, I don't necessarily mean that as a putdown.

Soundtrack

Composer Henry Jackman combines traditional movie music with pop styles, aided by the track Immortals by Fall Out Boy. The score also keeps up with the action and raises the emotional stakes when needed. Even though Big Hero 6 isn't exactly a Disney/Marvel flick, there is a cameo after the final credits.

Rating

I'd give Big Hero 6, which is rated PG for action, 7.5 out of 10, three and a half out of five stars, or a B+. While The Lego Movie, The Boxtrolls, and The Book of Life were arguably more original, I found that this Disney movie did a better job of capturing the fun of superhero comics than, say, Man of Steel or X-Men: Days of Future Past.

Big Hero 6 beat Christopher Nolan's Interstellar at the box office, but I hope to see the latter film with Thomas K.Y. and friends next weekend. Speaking of the uncanny valley, I'll probably skip Paddington and Penguins of Madagascar, but Minions does look amusing.