Author Archives: gened5

Captain America: the Winter Soldier review

On Saturday, 12 April 2014, I met Thomas K.Y. & Kai-Yin H., Beruk A., and Ken N. at the Apple Cinemas in Cambridge, Mass., for Captain America [2]: the Winter Soldier. We all enjoyed Disney/Marvel's latest superhero sequel, as well as dinner with Matt J. at Summer Shack afterward.

The Winter Soldier wallpaper

Captain America 2

Plot: The Winter Soldier mostly takes place after the events of the 2011 Captain America film and The Avengers, both of which should be seen to understand this movie. Super soldier Steve Rogers is still a man out of time but has adapted enough to work for covert ops agency SHIELD thwarting terrorists. His patriotic idealism is tested, however, when he learns of a scheme to pre-empt crime that is hijacked by an old enemy….

Marvel Comics readers will recognize much of the story from Ed Brubaker's strong run, while more casual viewers will notice the change in tone from the World War II heroics of the first movie and the superhero team-up of The Avengers to an action/thriller in The Winter Soldier. I'm pleased to see Marvel showing its range, from straightforward costumed crime fighters to cosmic comedy (Thor 2, the upcoming Guardians of the Galaxy).

There are some minor plot holes, such as why would Washington, D.C., rely on just one agency for security or why more of the other Avengers aren't mentioned during crisis situations, but the direction and pacing move quickly enough to ignore most of them. ABC's Agents of SHIELD, which has suffered in comparison with Arrow and other shows for much of the current television season, is affected by continuity changes from The Winter Soldier.

Acting: Comic book movie veteran Chris Evans continues to do solid work as Rogers/Capt. America, who is both weary of still fighting after decades (some of which were spent on ice) and resolute in his defense of truth, justice, and the American way (even if that's another hero's catchphrase).

He is joined by Scarlett Johansson, who gets a decent amount to do as fellow Avenger Natalia Romanova/Black Widow. As the Lucy preview showed, it's about time a superheroine leads a feature film — don't get me started on WB/DC's foot dragging with Wonder Woman.

Samuel L. Jackson shows some vulnerability as superspy Nick Fury, supported by Cobie Smulders as Maria Hill. It was nice to glimpse Hayley Atwell as Peggy Carter, Stan Lee as a Smithsonian guard, and Jenny Agutter as World Security Council member Hawley.

Robert Redford, who starred in some of the best political thrillers of the '70s, brings smarmy gravitas as council leader Alexander Pierce. Like the character Rhodey in the Iron Man movies, Anthony Mackie represents African-American heroes and is (we hope) more than a sidekick as Sam Wilson/Falcon.

I have many fond memories of Captain America fighting villains alongside the winged Falcon. The cameos by Batroc the Leaper and other villains are also amusing for those in the know. I won't "spoil" the identity of the so-called Winter Soldier, but note that this movie serves more to introduce the cybernetic assassin as an antagonist than to resolve that plot thread.

Direction: Shane Black, whose Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang helped revive Robert Downey Jr.'s career, does a good job juggling comic book, espionage, and action elements in The Winter Soldier. The dialogue is rarely stilted, and he successfully introduces or reintroduces an ever-increasing number of characters.

The stealthy infiltrations and fight choreography with Capt. America or Black Widow are nicely done, although I do wish that some of the scenes on the helicarriers (no "spoiler" there; they're in the trailers) were clearer. The visual effects were pretty good, and it was refreshing to see a major cinematic battle in which an entire city wasn't trashed for a change.

The opening and closing credits were decent, and the soundtrack was also good, if not as memorable as for other superhero movies. Overall, I'd give Captain America: the Winter Soldier, which is rated PG-13 for violence and occasional language, four out of five stars, an 8 out of 10, or a B+/A-. I still like Captain America: the First Avenger and The Avengers more, but this is another solid Disney/Marvel superhero flick.

"Vanished Lands: A New Dawn" Session 40.17 — Dinner and new dangers

Fellow role-players, here are my notes for “Vanished Lands” Session 40.17, which was held on Sunday, 13 April 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 Basic Fantasy Role-Playing Game and Advanced Dungeons & Dragons (1st Ed.) Oriental Adventures, plus house rulesSkype, and anonline dice roller, as of spring 2014:

  • 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; LNg, Lvl. 5
  • Toshiharu ‘Toshi’ Sembutsu [Byron V.O.]-male Shan Sao Wu Jen (eastern Halfling Wizard) from the Tiger Clan with a destiny; NGc, Lvl. 5
  • Ember Talon [Sara F.]-female Crane Hengeyokai Wu (shapeshifting Druid), actually a young gold dragon banished from the Celestial Court; NGl, Lvl. 5
  • Saigo Kasugi [Bruce K.]-male Bamboo Spirit Folk Samurai (eastern Sylvan Elf Cavalier) discreetly serving his daimyo; LNg, Lvl. 5
  • Soske’ Tiatoshe [Geoff C.]-male Shengtese Tian Shukenja (eastern human Cleric), priest of Shang-ti and animist from the Phoenix Clan, prophesied to do great things; LNg, Lvl. 5
  • 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 Yakuza (eastern Grey Elf Rogue); LNg, Lvl. 5

“24 to 26 April 1227 B.C.E.:” In Sogewa, capital of Tong Sheng, Jung-Mo found a fellow Nannuattan in disguise, Ember received a moonlight canal tour from a young Samurai, and Saigo and Sonny visited geisha in Sogewa’s House of the Red Lotus. Toshi and Soske’ continued their studies.

Jung-Mo keeps a low profile in his guise as a merchant and watches for Tsuji Eizo, who is actually Nannuattan Ninja Park Chulsoon. Jung-Mo conceals his true identity and allegiances from both his traveling companions and his former compatriots.

At Kensai Sonny’s suggestion, Lady Yun Aei-Yong asks to meet with the leaders of several clans in the city. The Gokuri emissary receives replies from Isamu Yasuki of the Crab Clan and Lady Rekai of the Daidoji house in the Crane Clan, a rival to his own in the Lion Clan.

Wu-Jen Toshi and Samurai Saigo receive letters from home thanks to Saionji Yoshio, ambassador of the Zedu kingdom. Toshi learns from mentor Kida Kaiu that Bisan (Dryad) Suki misses him and that the Korobokuru (eastern Dwarves) are unwilling to stand down until they receive confirmation of a truce between Gokuri, Tong Sheng, and the Zeda kingdom.

Saigo reads a note from Nayoko, who says that she eagerly awaits his return and that she has not heard from her brother, Prince Mutsuhito, who was sent to Gisokuri. The Bamboo Spirit Folk also wishes her beloved success in his quest for his missing grandfather, Gen. Shinso Saigo.

Toshi and Saigo quickly compose replies and try to reassure their distant friends that they are safe and have made progress in their inquiries. Wu Ember joins Sonny and Lady Yun in visiting various aristocrats and watches for Kamachi Yoshiro, a Lion Clan Samurai who courted her.

Shukenja Soske’ isn’t happy to see his fellow diplomatic escorts at a family feast in his honor. Yao-Ren Hu, a Wu Jen in the court, had recognized his cousin and brings him to his parents’ home. Yao-Ren Shen, a Shukenja of the Phoenix Clan, invokes the Way of Harmony to bless the meal.

Fire benders

Phoenix Clan members

Hu’s mother, Yao-Ren Min, plies the guests with piles of home-cooked food. Shengtese human Sonny happily accepts all of the delicacies and enjoys listening to multiple conversations.

In his guise as a tradesman, Jung-Mo talks with craftsman Takumi Tiatoshe and Deng Wen Zhe, a Dragon Clan colleague of Hu. Takumi’s wife Ayumu chases their young daughter Natsuko around, entertaining the adults.

Shan Sao Toshi helps run interference for Soske’ by talking with curious kinsman Hu and his younger brother Yao-Ren Katsu, a student at the Isawa School who aspires to be a Sohei (Templar) of the Path of Order, against his pacifist father’s wishes.

Hengeyokai Ember and Spirit Folk Saigo talk with Shi Shu Kang, a Nekojin Hengeyokai Hulinyuan (feline shifter Ranger), about their travels. She is interested in the terrain and hazards they encountered on their way to Sogewa from the northwest.

Modest Soske’ hands nosy Hu scrolls recounting his adventures. He provides many details of the war-torn borderlands, as family members tells his friends about how they didn’t expect the wandering priest to amount to much, despite his prophesied destiny.

Jung-Mo is alarmed when Takumi mentions getting an order for unusual arrowheads. He suspects a possible assassination plot, but Soske’ reminds the visitors to keep their conversations away from violent matters.

Observant Sonny notices that lamps and candles flare up as toddler Natsuko passes. Soske’ later explains that such talent is not uncommon in the Phoenix Clan.

Toshi asks his fellow spellcasters about the Temple of Elemental Evil on Mt. Gruldar, which the Nannuattan seized control of about five years ago. The assembled Wu Jen and Shukenja agree that elemental magic is not inherently evil, but such sites can be turned to evil.

Soske’ and Saigo are surprised when Shen is briefly called away from the dinner by a messenger from Silado Palace. Apparently, Zu Ji, crown prince of the Middle Kingdom (Shang China), has arrived. Imperial assemblies are expected in the next few days.

Sonny and company thank Shen and Min for their hospitality and are happy to get some leftovers. Jung-Mo awkwardly presents Ember with a golden vase with dragon decorations. He is jealous of Kamachi, and she suspects that he is aware of her true nature.

The next day, part of the group goes with Lady Yun as she begins meeting with five noble houses. Ember, Sonny, and Jung-Mo take the carriage with Lady Yun and her Draconian bodyguard Oh Kum-Ja.

Toshi gets an invitation to meet with the Tiger Clan, which is similar to his own, and goes with Saigo back to the palace. Soske’ goes to the temple of Our Fathers’ Steps.

Lady Yun first visits Lady Liao Qianru of the Dragon Clan. As the two women politely talk about arcane matters, Ember is drawn into their verbal sparring match. In crane form, Ember had flown past the manor one night, only to be spotted by a dragon.

The Druid wants to know whether the dragon is chromatic or metallic, but she realizes that Lady Liao is somehow aware of her true nature as an exile of the Celestial Court. Sonny senses Ember’s discomfort and discreetly calls the meeting to an end.

Toshi looks in imperial records to see if there have been any assassinations at the highest levels of the Shang Dynasty. He learns that the empire has been stable for at least a century. Toshi then goes to the Happy Market, where he commissions crystal spheres for 400 tael (200 gold pieces) to send to Suki.

Saigo talks with palace guide Li Keng and retired Gen. Wang Tung, who once fought alongside his missing grandfather. They say that Zu Ji arrived with only 20 men instead of 2,000, as might be expected of a crown prince. Silado Palace has had to divert staff and a wing to accommodate Zu Ji.

Soske’ talks with Kiyoshi Takahashi, a priest referred to him by Brother Yang at the Way of Harmony monastery. The older Cleric listens to Soske’s tale of spreading chaos and says he will consult the ancestral spirits for guidance.

Lady Yun makes plans with Jung-Mo, Sonny, Ember, and Oh Kum-Ja to visit leaders of the Crab, Crane, Lion, and Phoenix clans before paying her respects to Prince Zu Ji. Each person has particular interest in different clans, and Jung-Mo hopes to track down the unusual arrows before any assassination.

Toshi also meets with Peng Arong, a Phoenix Clan earth bender referred to him by Yao-Ren Hu. The elementalist initially gives the air mage a hostile reception, hurling pebbles at him. Fortunately, Toshi proves himself by easily deflecting them. He presents Peng with jade from his school and asks about magic at Mt. Gruldar.

Saigo goes to the wing of the palace occupied by the prince and his men but is turned away by guards whose livery he can’t identify. Li Keng tells him that the heraldry is not that of the palace or the imperial family, but Zu Ji and Duke Kou Fei Seng are in a military council.

Kiyoshi tells Soske’ that his observations of emerging chaos are correct and more than result of an ending war. The Shukenja learns that his destiny will involve preventing greater suffering. Kiyoshi also says that he had a vision of an axe that would change the course of history….

It was good to see everyone online last night, and remember to stay in touch between now and our next virtual session, scheduled for Sunday, May 4.

In the meantime, I’ll see some of you at tonight’s “Vanished Lands: Vistel’s Expedition” face-to-face game and at Jason E.R.’s final “Glassworks: the Devil’s Den” (for now)…. 

Muppets Most Wanted review

On Saturday, 29 March 2014, Janice and I screened Muppets Most Wanted at the AMC Burlington Cinema 10. We enjoyed the latest film from Disney/Henson a bit more than its 2011 predecessor.

Muppets Most Wanted

More Muppet mania

As you might expect, Muppets Most Wanted combines self-aware puppets, celebrity cameos, and musical hijinks to good effect. The plot is simple enough for most children to follow: Immediately after the events of The Muppets, Kermit the Frog is sent to a Russian gulag in a case of mistaken identity, while his lookalike criminal Constantine takes his place as master of ceremonies as part of a devious plan.

I didn't miss Jason Segal or Amy Adams, thanks to strong casting. There were many fun appearances in Muppets Most Wanted's globe-hopping story, but the main supporting actors are worth singling out. Ricky Gervais, playing Constantine's henchman Dominic Badguy as smarmily as Charles Grodin was in The Great Muppet Caper, to which this movie owes several stylistic debts.

Tina Fey joins the song and dance show as Nadya, guard captain at the Russian Gulag (and a ringer for Rocky & Bullwinkle's Natasha). Ty Burrell matches wits with Sam the Eagle as Interpol Inspector Jean Paul Napoleon, who apparently went to the same academy as Inspector Clouseau.

As you might guess from the above, the movie does lean heavily on national stereotypes, but the jokes are clever enough for adults and broad enough for children without resorting to potty humor. The puppeteers can't quite match the frenetic energy and raw talent of Jim Henson and Frank Oz, but they get pretty close.

Unlike some critics, I liked that the overall tone of Muppets Most Wanted was a bit more upbeat than that of The Muppets, and I thought its script and soundtrack were better. As with Mr. Peabody & Sherman, it's hard to balance nostalgia with the expectations of today's audiences, not to mention keeping a beloved franchise going into the future.

Overall, I'd give Muppets Most Wanted, which is rated PG for slapsticky humor and mild innuendo, an 8 out of 10, four out of five stars, or a B+. The Lego Movie is still the best family movie I've seen so far this year, but not by much.

This coming weekend, I hope to see superhero sequel Captain America [2]: the Winter Soldier. In between game updates, I still hope to post thoughts on the current genre television season and more!

"Vanished Lands: A New Dawn" Session 40.16 — "He may be a Samurai, but he moves like a Ninja"

Fellow role-players, here are my notes for “Vanished Lands” Session 40.16, which was held on Sunday, 6 April 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 Basic Fantasy Role-Playing Game and Advanced Dungeons & Dragons (1st Ed.) Oriental Adventures, plus house rulesSkype, and anonline dice roller, as of spring 2014:

  • 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; LNg, Lvl. 5
  • Toshiharu ‘Toshi’ Sembutsu [Byron V.O.]-male Shan Sao Wu Jen (eastern Halfling Wizard) from the Tiger Clan with a destiny; NGc, Lvl. 5
  • Ember Talon [Sara F.]-female Crane Hengeyokai Wu (shapeshifting Druid), actually a young gold dragon banished from the Celestial Court; NGl, Lvl. 5
  • Saigo Kasugi [Bruce K.]-male Bamboo Spirit Folk Samurai (eastern Sylvan Elf Cavalier) discreetly serving his daimyo; LNg, Lvl. 5
  • Soske’ Tiatoshe [Geoff C.]-male Shengtese Tian Shukenja (eastern human Cleric), priest of Shang-ti and animist from the Phoenix Clan, prophesied to do great things; LNg, Lvl. 5
  • 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 Yakuza (eastern Grey Elf Rogue); LNg, Lvl. 5

“23 April 1227 B.C.E.:” The wanderers visited Sogewa’s gardens and temples, talked with aristocrats and criminals, and sparred with fellow warriors. They also learned of an impending royal visit, border unrest, and clan rivalries.

Jung-Mo goes to a bar in a disreputable district of the city. The “River Spirit Folk merchant” buys a round of drinks for Tsuji Eizo, who appears to be a Shengtese human Yakuza. Jung-Mo makes small talk and covertly signals Eizo in Undercommon. The Rogue responds that they should meet in private.

After flying past the manor of Lady Liao Qianru and seeing a dragon, Ember flies back to Silado Palace, where she and the other escorts of Gokuri emissary Lady Yun Aei-Yong are staying. Waiting for her is Kamachi Yushiro, a young Samurai from the Lion Clan. The Shengtese human explains to the Crane Hengeyokai that he hopes to serve their mission.

Saigo and Sonny visit the House of the Red Lotus, a large and hospitable building surrounded by blooming trees and burbling fountains. A young woman nicknamed “Dogwood Blossom” greets the Bamboo Spirit Folk and Shengtese human and asks what entertainments they wish to receive.

Meanwhile, Toshi continues his arcane research and studies records in Tong Sheng’s archives regarding the sorcerers of Gokuri. Soske’ visits local temples and reluctantly prepares for a dinner with members of his extended family.

Jung-Mo walks across the capital with Eizo, who confirms that he is Park Chulsoon, a fellow Nannuattan from Gokuri. Park asks about Jung-Mo’s orders and commander, but the exiled Dark Elf says he doesn’t need to know that information.

Wu Ember casts Force Shapechange, but the confused Samurai is as he appears. Kamachi accepts her explanation that it was a test and invites Ember on a moonlight tour of Sogewa’s canals.

Handsome Kamachi shows Ember the capital’s many neighborhoods as they cruise waterways lit by paper lanterns. The Happy Market is relatively quiet, but floating food vendors and musicians offer their wares.

Lion Clan Samurai

Ember's suitor Kamachi Yushiro

At the House of the Red Lotus, Dogwood Blossom introduces geisha Ryon Kyng-Hwa. They serve Sonny and Saigo tea and snacks and play music on a harp and flute. Samurai Saigo pays 24 tael (12 gold pieces) — twice the asking price — for extra women for himself and Kensai Sonny for the night.

Sonny notices another woman talking to a man in red armor of the Crab Clan. He later recalls encountering Orc Samurai from that clan tracking human deserters on the eastern Plains of Sathendo.

Eizo/Park and Jung-Mo also go to the House of the Red Lotus to converse more discreetly. Neither Nannuattan wants to reveal too much, but they agree to stay in touch in case Gokuri’s matrons have espionage tasks for them.

Jung-Mo returns to the palace, just in time to see Kamachi and Ember disembark from their canal cruise. The knight gives the Druid a white rose, and she embraces him and kisses him, surprising both Kamachi and Jung-Mo!

Ember retires for the evening, but a distraught Jung-Mo stealthily follows Kamachi back to the Lion Clan compound. The infiltrator slips away before guards can spot him. Jung-Mo steals a gold vase from a merchant shop, and breakfast with the entire group the next morning is awkward….

Byron and Geoff, we missed you at this past weekend’s virtual session, and Dexter, I’m sorry that you had to deal with travel and connectivity challenges. Note that we’ll be meeting next Sunday, April 13, but probably not the next two weekends after that.

In the meantime, I look forward to seeing some of you at Jason E.R.’s “Glassworks: the Devil’s Den” superhero scenario tonight or at our next “Vanished Lands: Vistel’s Expedition” game.

"Vanished Lands: Vistel's Expedition" Session 39.36 — "Infernal and fabulous"

Fellow role-players, here are my notes for “Vanished LandsVistel’s Circus” Session 39.36, which Rich C.G. hosted in Waltham, Mass., on Monday, 31 March 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.

Various groups of mercenaries and diplomats have fought humanoids in the northwestern borderlands, encountered pirates on the Sea of Nagendwa, and wandered the hostile Halmed Desert and the wide Plains of Sathendo….

“Vistel’s Expedition,” Player Character Party 39 in Gene D.’s " Vanished Lands" heroic fantasy campaign, using the Basic Fantasy Role-Playing Game, as of spring 2014:

  • Giacomo ‘the Mysterious’ Du Vane [Beruk A.]-male Hifalendorin human Mage (Gypsy Wizard) and stage seer, embittered by experiences in Hesolin’s Magisterium; with homunculus familiar Gerald; NGc, Lvl. 8
  • Hamfast Hammerfist [Brian W.]-male Zeda (proto-Germanic) human Fighter, mountaineer, “barbarian” strongman, and laborer; TNg, Lvl. 8
  • Scully Strongbow [Sara F.]-female albino Gnoll (Flind) Ranger, archer, knife thrower, and scout, with owl “Owlicious”; NGl, Lvl. 8
  • Corwin Windsong [Bruce K.]-male Half-Elf Bard, runaway aristocrat, ladies’ man, and former ringmaster with a mandolin; CNg, Lvl. 8
  • Elsa Fairbottom [Rich C.G.]-female Hill Dwarf Druid outcast, cook/brewer, and animal handler with Banuq (winged cat) Penryn; NGc, Lvl. 8
  • Tempestade [Josh C.]-male Barbari human Monk (Battledancer/capoeirista from outside the “Vanished Lands”), former roustabout, now a follower of Otih; CGl, Lvl. 8
  • Sir Torrel [Alex W.]-male Hifalendorin human Paladin of Otih, the lord of the sun and justice; LGn, Lvl. 8
  • Radius [Jason E.R./departed]-male Modron Paladin of Primus, lord of Nirvana; exiled to the Prime Material plane; LGn, Lvl. 8

“28 February 1227 B.C.E.:” In the Zarendo Islands, “Vistel’s Expedition” met with Queen Zapanga, who agreed to help them get into the Temple of Elemental Evil near the city-state of Selifa. The adventurers hope to retrieve a tablet binding the Efreeti Lady Shadira to Shambling Mound form.

After befriending a Girallon (four-armed gorilla), dealing with a green slime and an underground river, and sneaking through an evil shrine, the infiltrators climbed a large spiral staircaseThey passed a few levels inside the volcanic Mt. Tilefa, including an “arboreteum,” a “nursery,” and a “spa.” Two gargoyles directed them toward a library.

Elsa and the Girallon, nicknamed “Herme,” take the lead, followed by Hamfast and Sir Torrel. Giacomo and Tempestade stick toward the middle of the marching order, and Scully and Corwin bring up the rear.

The team finds a hallway with eight doors. Mage Giacomo uses Wizard Sense to see through each of them. The first leads to a guard post with gambling Ogres, and the second chamber is a storeroom. Monk Tempestade and Bard Corwin help check out the latter, which they find full of foodstuffs.

Through the third door, which has a demonic face carving, Giacomo sees a pit with an Illithid (Mind Flayer) at its bottom. The fourth door is made of glass, and the Shrine of Dark Communion contains a floating black sphere. The fifth door is made of corroded copper and leads to a chamber full of water.

The sixth door revolves and leads to a well-furnished room. Its beds are well-stuffed, and there are black clothes in the dressers. Two serpent folk lie coiled in the seventh cell, and the final door leads to a library.

Scully, Elsa, Hamfast, Sir Torrel, and Herme wait on the landing while their companions sneak down the hallway. Two Troglodytes, one of whom is wearing a giant millipede as a boa, stop to chat with Gnoll Elsa about fashion.

The Ranger surreptitiously uses the Lens of True Sight to perceive that the reptile kin are actually a Wakyambi (jungle Elf) and a Draconian whom the Pit Fiend ruling much of Salhonif Island has transformed.

In the storeroom, Giacomo Detects Magic inside a dragon-necked bottle. Tempestade and Corwin debate whether to take any more supplies but decide against it. They bypass the other doors, and the rest of Vistel’s Expedition catches up.

Corwin opens the door and barely jumps back in time to avoid a trapdoor. Rusty spikes await 30 feet below, and the Half-Elf disables the trap and begins searching for others. The library’s shelves are lined with books, and the group searches for Lady Shadira’s contract.

Humans Giacomo and Tempestade grab a tome on time travel, which could help the latter get home to Brazil. Scully studies notes on taxidermy, and Druid Elsa sees books on history but no tablet. Another door leads to a study with a comely Half-Elf librarian.

Prince Corwin introduces himself, much to Giacomo’s chagrin, and Naquent has heard of the Saganim exile. Corwin starts babbling even more than usual, and his companions realize that the librarian has afflicted him with some sort of madness.

Elsa steps forward with her mace “Grimtooth,” and Scully draws her long bow. Giacomo brings Corwin back to his senses with Dispel Magic, and Tempestade punches Naquent. The Sorceress summons three Xorn, rocky-skinned creatures with three arms. The rest of the expedition is back in the library.

Hill Dwarf Elsa Wild Shapes into a bear and presses her attacks, as Herme engages the Xorn. Scully casts Dispel Magic when Naquent tries to escape in Ethereal Form. Giacomo lobs Magic Missiles, and Tempestade kicks the librarian.

Giacomo is briefly affected by the Half-Elf’s Unholy Blight, and Corwin creates a Dimension Door to pursue her into another passage. Elsa rakes Naquent with her claws, and while Scully’s Silence spell isn’t effective, she is able to cast Remove Curse on Giacomo.

Corwin casts Web to slow the Xorn and finishes off the librarian with a Lightning Bolt. Giacomo casts Invisibility on the corpse, while Corwin takes his Hat of Disguise back from Sir Torrel. With Recall Words, he impersonates Naquent to dismiss some Ogre guards. Scully, Tempestade, Elsa, and the others hide in the hallway.

Once the Ogres leave, they search the Sorceress and study. Giacomo claims aRing of Armor (+2) and a scroll of Invisibility Purge. Scully takes a potion of Flight, and Corwin grabs a wand of Dispel Magic (Lvl. 10, 5 charges). Elsa takes a scroll of Summon Monster V.

From the next passage, the spelunkers enter a dark vestibule, where magical murk obscures their vision. Three flesh golems attack, reminding the would-be heroes of a previous encounter at the Fenor homestead near the village of Tensar.

Druid Elsa reads the scroll, summoning three Fire Elementals. Monk Tempestade punches one gray-skinned golem, which feels no pain. Bard Corwin maneuvers to cast Fireball, which singes one golem but also knocks out unlucky Tempestade.

Wizard Giacomo fires Magic Missiles, destroying the most damaged golem, and Ranger Scully looses arrows. The golems hit Giacomo and Corwin. Fighter Hamfast drags Tempestade to safety, while Paladin Sir Torrel watches for reinforcements.

Classic D&D art by the late Dave Trampier

Flesh golem attacks

Wise Elsa invokes Gaia (Mekkil) and Moradin (Vulkan) to channel a Positive Energy Burst, healing Tempestade. Corwin flashily slashes with a sword and dagger. Eccentric Giacomo hugs Sir Torrel in a “death cuddle,” an attempt to keep his self-control vs. the tattoo of “Mad Mage” Ezra on his back.

Four-armed Herme rends one construct limb from limb, and Giacomo finishes the last golem with another Magic Missile. The fire Elementals are about to turn on the adventuring party when Elsa dismisses them. Corwin uses the wand ofDispel Magic to negate the Darkness in the vault.

Three horns sit on sliders behind a purple curtain on one wall. Tempestade deduces that they activate traps or alarms, and the group decides to leave them alone.

Giacomo recommends resting before continuing any exploration of Mt. Tilefa. He uses Wizard Sense to peer through the two doors in addition to the one they entered. One leads to a hallway with Walls of Force and devil statues.

The other doorway leads to a hexagonal shrine with dog-like statues covered in frost. Elsa conducts a Hallow ritual to remove the unholy aspect of the room, and the expedition sets watch and prepares to catch some sleep….

Remember to note any treasure on your updated Obsidian Portal records. I look forward to continuing our “Vistel’s Expedition” and “A New Dawn” campaigns in the “Vanished Lands,” especially as both parties reach mid- to high levels!

In the meantime, I’ll see some of you at Brian W.‘s place next Monday for Jason E.R.’s “Glassworks: the Devil’s Den” superhero scenario. Bruce, remind us to roll up basic character stats for your upcoming “Pathfinder: Eberron” fantasy game.