"Vanished Lands: Vistel's Expedition" Session 39.50 — Dead Wizard walking

Fellow role-players, here are my notes for “Vanished Lands” Session 39.50, which Drew S. hosted in Needham, Mass., on Monday, 27 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, 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) afflicted by a cursed tattoo; with homunculus familiar Gerald; NGc, Lvl. 11
  • Scully Strongbow [Sara F.]-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.].)

“15 to 17 April 1227 B.C.E.:” The crew of the Zephyr began training, shopping, and gathering information in Hesolin, capital of the (proto-Western European) human kingdom of Hifalendor.

King Akkon XII approved the team’s missions to establish a long-range communications network, investigate a centaur uprising near Nadwi, and inspect naval forces at the Gargoyle Headlands toward its goal of building up the alliance against the Ghost Fleet.

Still escorted by Paladins, Giacomo visits the local Magisterium (magic academy), the Library of Memir, and various temples while researching ways to remove his accursed tattoo of the “Mad Mage” Ezra. The Wizard also consults with Zarendo Islander shaman “Tondra” [Rob A.S./Non-Player Character] at her herbalism school.

After reporting to the Saganim embassy and studying at the Magisterium, Corwin spends most of his time browsing for enchanted weapons in the Istari Bazaar. He hopes to hunt down Tiefling (demon-touched) court mage Lord Dalek and his half-brother Prince Daven with help from Cleric “Melchior” [Byron V.O.].

Sea dogs Scully and “Capt. Niac” [Mike F./N.P.C.] recruit seven more sailors for the Zephyr:

  • Mr. Bernardo Tancredo: male Harfoot Halfling (Hobbit) herbalist — under Elsa’s command
  • Chloe Talar: female Phoenician (Iberian) human merchant — Rhys
  • Sir Manoj Andronicus: male Hifalendorin human explorer — Niac
  • Sacha Skegisson: male Skaevingol (Viking-style) human skald — Corwin
  • Siobahn Dearden: female Saganim human shield maiden — Scully
  • Svetlana Taildunker: female Wolfen marine — Niac
  • Trevor ap Carnech: male Saganim (proto-Celtic) human scout — Scully

Elsa and Rhys go to the embassy of their homeland, the Zeda kingdom in the distant Ivory Mountains. They meet Lady Mathilda, a Forest Gnome Paladin wearing a traditional conical hat and a badger pelt, and Wilhelm the Smiter, a Hill Dwarf Cleric of Vulkan (Moradin).

Lady Matilda flirts with Tinker Gnome Rhys, while Wilhelm samples Elsa’s brew and agrees to prepare some armor for the Druid. Elsa and Rhys then meet with Henrik Giantslayer, son of Boris, son of Bolag, a Mountain Dwarf merchant and representative of Zorch (King) Bertrand of Doru.

Meanwhile, Sir Louis and Sir Remy Hotspur recommend that Giacomo endure trials at the temple of Otih, god of the sun and justice. They remind him that both the Magisterium and their order have lost battles against the Undead “Capt. Jack Kildare” [Randy K.M./N.P.C.]. Sir Wotarif, a holy warrior of Urda, lord of the heavens, says that the priestesses of Ishmas (Isis) might be able to conduct a less invasive exorcism.

Tondra tells Corwin about necromantic items and tells Giacomo that his tattoo could be overwritten. “Dread” Maggie Oakleaf, Giacomo’s Sylvan Elf girlfriend, learns from Leon the Blasphemer at the Magisterium that containing the Mad Mage is just as important as separating his spirit from his Hifalendorin human host.

At the Zeda embassy, Henrik listens to Elsa’s plea for help with her communications network and for supplies for the burgeoning naval alliance against the dreaded Ghost Fleet.

The gruff Dwarf is not happy to learn that Elsa is from the rare matriarchal Fairbottom clan, but Rhys piques his curiosity by describing planned enhancements to the steel-hulled Zephyr, including alternate propulsion and submersibility. Henrik agrees to help.

“Vistel’s Expedition” regroups at its rented townhouse near the “Golden Horn” hotel and restaurant in Castle Court. The sometime circus performers agree that tackling Giacomo’s tattoo is their most urgent task, although Rhys notes that it saved his life in the barbaric port of Gisar.

Maggie reserves a large lecture hall at the Magisterium for the ritual. Scully and Niac agree to watch the ship and the adventuring party’s possessions. Tondra arranges for the dishonorable discharge of Giacomo’s mentor, who was implicated in the sack of the city by Undead pirates, to no longer apply to him, assuming the tattoo removal is successful.

Paladins surround the lecture hall, and Elsa and Rhys take up positions in Circles of Protection From Evil. Rhys uses his wand of Silence on his four automatons — a spider, a scorpion, and a dragon, plus clockwork butler Vasco.

The quieted constructs take positions just outside the hall, which is about 80 feet in diameter. Giacomo removes his gear and steps into the center. Corwin walks up to him and reads a scroll of maximized Mordenkainen’s Disjunction, which disrupts all magic in the area.

Ezra’s invisible spirit is driven from Giacomo, and the Half-Elf Bard runs for another magic circle of protection. Rhys uses Scully’s enchanted goggles to spot the Mad Mage and directs his clockwork devices toward him.

Elsa calls on Vulkan and keeps Ezra from teleporting away with a Dimensional Anchor. Rhys throws Silenced coins, eventually blocking the Mad Mage from spellcasting. Giacomo runs to a Circle of Protection From Evil and drinks a potion of Cure Moderate Wounds, which removes the base tattoo.

Scary face tattoo on back

The Mad Mage Ezra

Ezra manages to compel a hapless Paladin to shoot at Elsa, but he misses. Corwin casts Summon Monster V, calling two hound Archons. Hill Dwarf Elsa invokes Mekkil (Gaia) for Banishment, but the Mad Mage (who isn’t a typical Undead foe) resists.

Rhys readies more Silenced coins, and his devices encircle the evil mage. Giacomo grabs a dagger made of “cold steel,” a reddish antimagical alloy. Incorporeal Ezra floats above the jaws of the hound Archons and unsuccessfully casts Baleful Polymorph on Elsa.

Corwin casts Faerie Fire so that everyone can see Ezra’s ghostly outline. The Mad Mage shrugs off Elsa’s Ghostbane Dirge but succumbs to Prince Corwin’s Hold Person spell, dropping to the stone floor. Nature priestess Elsa casts Holy Smite, blinding Ezra.

Gadgeteer Rhys switches to his customized crossbow. Angry Giacomo forces his longtime nemesis back into corporeal form with Ghost Trap. Ezra grapples with knife-wielding Giacomo.

Corwin’s Finger of Death injures the Mad Mage, as do the hound Archons. ElsaWild Shapes into a bear and casts Spirit Sense to make sure that Ezra doesn’t call any invisible allies. She instead sees that the Paladins have summoned celestials outside the Magisterium.

MMO ritual

Casting into a magic circle

Rhys hits the Mad Mage with quarrels, and Giacomo finishes Ezra with his cold-steel blade. Corwin Disintegrates the Transmuter’s body, and Clerics of IsmiltarConsecrate the chamber.

Giacomo accepts the congratulations of his friends and allies, and Maggie brings Gerald, his winged homunculus familiar, who now looks less disconcerting. They return to the Golden Horn to recuperate.

Elsa worries about her former traveling companions in Vistel’s Circus, which is late to the Hifalendorin capital. Corwin casts Discern Location and learns that the caravan has been intercepted on the Plains of Sathendo by Centaur followers of the mysterious Vappu Lahja.

Capt. Niac notes that if the group spends thousands more crowns (gold pieces) and waits another several days for Rhys’ refits, the Zephyr could be turned into an airship and travel north even faster….

Now that your characters have reached Level 11, remember to finish updating your records on Obsidian Portal with their current skills, spells, and gear before our next session.

I look forward to Rich’s “Tunnel Vision” modern supernatural game next week, and let me know about the November schedule for both “Vistel’s Expedition” and “A New Dawn.”

"Vanished Lands: A New Dawn" Session 40.36 — "Kobolds of the Apocalypse"

Fellow role-players, here are my notes for “Vanished Lands” Session 40.36, which was held on Sunday, 26 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

“19 to 26 June 1227 B.C.E.:” The diplomatic escorts passed Korobokuru (eastern Dwarven) checkpoints in the Bamor Mountains and entered Bazran Hai, capital of the demihuman Zedu kingdom. They presented Lady Yun Aei-Yong, the emissary from the Gokuri Empire, to the daimyo and were temporarily relieved of their mission.

Sonny, Ember, and Tokoro fended off a curious Samurai and tracked down a squirrely Wu Jen. Toshi rented out the entire “Dragon’s Beard” inn, Saigo reported to his father about his missing grandfather, and Soske’ went sightseeing.

Jung-Mo spotted courier Desc Soo-Ann, nicknamed “Desan,” who had tracked him from Sogewa and stirred up trouble between human peasants and nature spirits in the village of Yao Shung. Jung-Mo stealthily followed Desan to an alley.

Jung-Mo steps into the alley and confronts Desan and what appears to be a Shan Sao (eastern Halfling). Although they are all in disguises, they speak in Bamoric, the language of the Nannuattan (eastern Dark Elves) and humanoids of Gokuri.

While Saigo has gone off to covertly meet with Princess Nayoko, the rest of the adventuring party follows Jung-Mo at a discreet distance. Sonny tells Toshi, Ember, Soske’, and Tokoro that he senses something large passing overhead.

Desan says he knows that Msamaki left their homeland without permission from the disgraced Shadow’s Claw clan. Jung-Mo says that he will redeem its honor, but the other Ninja considers bringing him back to their cruel matrons.

Ember Wild Shapes into a silent owl and spots a storm wyvern, a full-grown version of the hatchling that she and Jung-Mo have been caring for. She flies back to inform the others.

Jung-Mo says that his friends are nearby and offers to stay out of Desan’s affairs if he’ll leave them alone. The “River Spirit Folk” (eastern Grey Elf) and “Shan Sao” say they’ll see him again soon and leave.

Wary of other assassins who might be watching, Jung-Mo circles back to his companions. The Nannuattan Ninja explains that his clan is operating in Bazran Hai in an attempt to regain honor on Gokuri.

Sonny suspects that the Shadow’s Claw infiltrators might try to undermine Lady Yun’s truce, which has yet to be ratified. Ember is concerned for Jung-Mo’s safety. Toshi agrees that the presence of Ninjas is bad news, but Soske’ and Tokoro prefer to wait and see what they might do.

Jung-Mo, Ember, and Tokoro follow Desan’s tracks to try to learn more, while Sonny, Toshi, and Soske’ return to their hotel to tighten security and check on supplies.

Hulinyuan Tokoro follows tracks that split. Desan turned north, and Wu Ember confirms from the air that the wyvern went in the same direction. The Shan Sao turned south and joined other small humanoids. Jung-Mo decides to follow the latter trail to a narrowing passage.

The trio notices that all the windows are boarded up and gets ready for an ambush. Four Kobolds step behind them, and one says in a high-pitched voice that Msamaki will pay for trying to follow Desan. Jung-Mo retorts that the small humanoids are not worthy opponents, and they draw weapons.

Kobold ambushers

Larry, Curly, and Moe

Hengeyokai Tokoro holds his action, but Jung-Mo draws his short bow and fires arrows at the leader, missing. Kobold Moezumi [“Moe”] pulls out a scroll and begins casting from it. Cheng-di [Geoff/Non-Player Character, “Shemp”] throws a packet at Tokoro, and it erupts into spiders.

Wah-Ree [Beruk/N.P.C., “Larry”] and Qu-Li [Bruce/N.P.C., “Curly”] throw smoke grenades and disappear. Crane Hengeyokai Ember disrupts Moe’s spellcasting with Silence, and Tokoro’s otter companion smashes the venomous spiders biting the Ranger.

Jung-Mo hurls whippets (incendiary boomerangs) at Cheng-di, who throws a stick at Tokoro. It turns into a snake and also bites the carp Hengeyokai. Silenced Moe tumbles past the melee into the alley. The two unseen doglike reptiles circle around.

Druid Ember Wild Shapes into a wolf and pounces on Moe, who rolls aside. Tokoro grabs the scroll and backs away to cast Abundant Ammunition. Jung-Mo drops Moe with a sleep arrow. Wah-Ree maneuvers, but Qu-Li slips and falls from his rooftop perch. Cheng-di hits Ember with poisoned shurikens.

Lupine Ember tosses unconscious Moe aside and tries to bite Cheng-di. Swift Tokoro looses a volley of four thorn arrows, killing Qu-Li. Wah-Ree tries to run away, but stealthy Jung-Mo catches up to the Kobold and knocks him out.

Cheng-di grabs Moezumi and dives into the sewers. Jung-Mo [Byron] drags Wah-Ree back to the others and reluctantly acknowledges that chasing the two surviving Kobolds into booby-trapped sewers is a bad idea. The Ninja later disposes of Qu-Li’s corpse.

As Sonny, Toshi, and Soske’ finish a relaxing dinner, Jung-Mo, Ember, and Tokoro arrive with Wah-Ree, who is bound and gagged for later questioning. The group splits up the Kobolds’ items from the surprisingly difficult skirmish.

Shengtese human Sonny claims a rubber chicken, and Ember attends to the wounded. Jung-Mo and Tokoro examine two ninja-tos (short swords), sixshurikens (throwing stars), and a vial of poison (5 doses, DC 14, – 1d4 Con).

Toshi and Soske’ determine that the scroll of Summoning came from Desan and would call a woman from Bazran Hai’s royal court. Soske’ treats Ember and says that he’ll pray for more healing in the morning.

After a romantic night catching up with Princess Nayoko, Bamboo Spirit Folk (eastern Sylvan Elf) Saigo uses Jung-Mo’s robe of Alter Self to appear as a palace guard and return to the Dragon’s Beard. Jung-Mo checks on his wyvern hatchling.

Toshi reviews the party treasure. He, Sonny, and Saigo have sold or traded two or three things each, for a return of about 36,000 tael (18,000 gold pieces, or one + 3 item) per party member. Jung-Mo, Toshi, and Tokoro say they’ll think about what they might need.

Kensai Sonny asks for Bracers of Blinding Strike (+2 init., +1 AT per day) and silk armor from one of the Crimson Moth cocoons (equivalent to chain). Wu Jen Toshi offers to enchant an Amulet of Mighty Fists (+2 to hit) so that Ember can strike with more accuracy in animal form.

Shukenja Soske’, who can guarantee the masterwork quality of any item, considers a Periapt of Wisdom (+4) and Bracers of Falcon’s Aim. Saigo asks to improve the No Dachi of the White Scorpion (from +1, Life Stealer, to +3) and his banded armor (from masterwork to +3). The Samurai also plans to buy anAmulet of Health (+2) and holds onto the traitorous Gen. Wang Tung’s katana (+2, Wounding).

While he awaits word of Lady Yun’s mission, Jung-Mo remains wary of Desan and the Shadow’s Claw clan. Sonny suggests checking in with the leaders of the Zedu kingdom or hunting down the Gokuri spies.

Toshi gets to work crafting various magical items, and Ember tries to dodge inquisitive Samurai Zhou Li. Similarly, Soske’ hopes to avoid more meddling family members. Saigo is eager to use his ring of Limited Wish to rescue his kidnapped grandfather, Gen. Shinso, but Toshi recommends waiting until they are fully equipped.

Tokoro tracks down court mage Murakami “Murray” Ryozo, whom he views as a potential threat for casting openly during their recent audience. The Ranger sends Murray new clothing to replace those stained when Jung-Mo had spilled wine on him. After a few days of training and shopping, the onetime diplomatic escorts regroup at their inn….

Remember to finish revising your characters to Level 9 and updating their equipment by our next virtual session! Let me know if you have any questions.

It was good to see some of you at last night’s “Vanished Lands: Vistel’s Expedition” game, and I look forward to continuing Rich C.G.‘s “Tunnel Vision” miniseries. We should also talk about Jason E.R.’s upcoming “Channel 37” scenario, D&D5e, and various one-shots.

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.