Monday, December 25, 2017

My favourite things of 2017

Let's face it, 2017 has not been a great year. Our friends to the south seem to be going through a bit of a rough patch right now and nerves are frayed everywhere. Still, it's not all bad and in this little corner of the internet, we like to concentrate on the positives. In that spirit, I am going to highlight my favourite movie, music and game releases of the year.

I saw quite a few movies this year. Some were very good (Wonder Woman, Thor: Ragnarok, Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol.2, Dunkirk, Blade Runner 2049). Some were enjoyable, but flawed (Justice League, Star Wars: The Last Jedi, Kong: Skull Island). Some were immediately forgettable (The Dark Tower). But for me, the best movie of the year was...(drumroll please)...Logan. Man, did this movie speak to me. Having recently entered my second half century, I could feel every ache and pain Logan endured in his daily life. I don't have an adamantium claw that keeps getting stuck, but my knees are shot and I have an old shoulder injury that hasn't stopped hurting in five years. The struggle of dealing with an increasingly demented Charles Xavier and an uncommunicative "daughter" resonated with own life navigating fatherhood and aging parents. Logan was gut-wrenching, but I was feeling every minute of it. A superhero movie for Generation X.

It wasn't a great year in music, although seeing Sabaton in concert was certainly the highlight for me. As far as new releases go, I am going to divide up my picks into three categories, both because they cover the three kinds of music I love most; rock, metal and country, but also because the three best albums of the year fit this categorization. In the rock category, you have to look at newcomers, Greta Van Fleet. This foursome made up of the brothers Kiszka (Josh, Sam and Jake) and drummer Danny Wagner are the reincarnation of Led Zeppelin. I'm not kidding, these guys really sound like Zeppelin. Listen to Highway Tune or Safari Song from their 2017 double EP From the Fires and you'll swear you were listening to some unreleased Led Zeppelin B-side from the 70s.

In the metal category, wow, 2016 was awesome, huh? Metallica came back with a vengeance. And speaking of vengeance, Avenged Sevenfold had a pretty awesome album drop too.  Wait...oh right, this is 2017. Hmmm, Mastodon had a new album out that some people liked I guess. Kind of slim pickings this year. For me, I will go back to that Sabaton tour and a little known band from Finland called Battle Beast that opened along with Leaves' Eyes and damn near upstaged the headliners. My metal album of the year is Bringer of Pain by Battle Beast.

As for country, it was Chris Stapleton all the way. Following up his 2015 chart-topping debut Traveller, Stapleton released two albums in 2017; From A Room: Volume 1 and From A Room: Volume 2. It is from this second 2017 release that I select my 2017 Song of the Year: Scarecrow in the Garden, a haunting ballad sung by a farmer in West Virginia lamenting the state of the land today compared to when his father and grandfather worked it, and his fear that the biblical End Times may be coming soon.

We've all been waiting for this one and really, is there any doubt? The game release of 2017 is, of course, the Starfinder Core Rulebook. Not only is this the biggest new release by Paizo since the original publication of Pathfinder, but it has also been a source of much speculation regarding a future new edition of the game. Could the game mechanics of Starfinder serve as a template for some future Pathfinder 2.0? Now that would be cool!

May we all have a safe and prosperous 2018.


Sunday, December 03, 2017

Pathfinder's strange treatment of spears

The spear is arguably the most effective melee weapon in human history. Simpler to use than the axe or sword and cheaper to produce, the bulk of virtually every army from antiquity to the development of gunpowder has been comprised of spearmen. Probably the most iconic of history's spear wielders were the Greek hoplites.

The hoplite spear, called a dory, was 7 to 9 ft. long with an iron, leaf-shaped tip and counterbalanced with a bronze butt-spike. It was intended to be primarily a melee weapon, wielded with one hand in conjunction with a shield. Yet this iconic weapon does not exist in any form in Pathfinder. The only one-handed, hafted stabbing weapons in the core rulebook are the shortspear and the trident. Obviously, the trident is something different, but what is a shortspear? It is described as being three feet long and may be thrown. This description is close to the iklwa, the short, stabbing spear of the Zulus,

but definitely not the Greek dory.

The other two types of spear in Pathfinder are the "spear" and the "longspear", both of which are two-handed melee weapons. The former is 5 ft. long, while the latter is 8 ft. long and both may be braced against a charge (although 5 ft. seems too short for such a purpose). Most importantly, neither may be used in conjunction with a shield, without the assistance of a feat. Also, there is no entry corresponding to what we typically think of as a pike. The longspear is about the length of a hoplite spear, but a pike is 10 to 25 ft. in length. Perhaps, if the longspear was extended to 10 ft. and the spear to 8 ft. and made into a one-handed melee weapon, we would have a more realistic treatment of this most important and underrated weapon.


Sunday, October 22, 2017

Iron Gods - The final showdown

We conclude our Iron Gods adventure path - spoilers ahead.

After a day to recover from the devastating battle against Ophelia, the party returned for the final showdown against the mad AI Unity. They entered the interface centre which housed devices called mindmelders that would allow them to enter the Godmind, Unity's virtual domain. Casandalee agreed to accompany them into the Godmind and would fight beside them. Upon entering the mindmelders, they found themselves standing on a balcony of a cathedral overlooking an idyllic pastoral tableau. Guarding the entrance to the cathedral, a pair of angelic figures. They offer to accompany the party to their audience with Unity. Deciding to play along for now, they follow the angels into a large open nave. The great walls of the structure were alive with digital codes and cyphers constantly changing and moving. In the centre of the nave was a colossal ice linnorm who watched the party intently, but did not immediately attack. Nonetheless, the party felt threatened by the massive dragon and began to prepare for battle. The linnorm and the angels responded in kind and battle ensued. The linnorm started it off with a frigid blast of cold breath, catching the entire party in the cone of frosty death. Several party members were seriously injured. Still they fought on. Casandalee put up a wall of force, giving the party a brief window to concentrate on the angels and heal up, before turning once again to the linnorm. Relentless laser fire, combined with deadly spell and melee attacks eventually brought the beast low.

At this point, a large radiant angelic figure coalesced, seemingly out of thin air. It was flanked by four lesser beings, similar to the angels they had just defeated. They knew immediately that this was Unity. It congratulated them on their success and offered them great power if they joined him. The company responded with an immediate attack. Unity stepped up and tore into Casandalee, the former lieutenant that betrayed him. Meanwhile, his bodyguards engaged the rest of the party. The fight was intense, but timely successful resistance against a couple of Unity's more powerful spells proved the difference. Unity was destroyed and he and his guards and the entire virtual realm shut down. The company was shunted back to the interface centre, although Casandalee was not among them. For a few moments, they celebrated their victory. When the monitors in the room came to life and Casandalee's face appeared, they cheered. However, the festivity was short-lived. Casandalee said something was wrong. Unity was not destroyed. She worked intently to get internal systems back online in order to locate the AI. Eventually, she located it in a powerful robot chassis and it appeared to be searching for something, possibly allies. Augusto was able to locate the robot and the party quickly teleported to its location in order to finish off Unity once and for all.

Unity had installed itself in an overlord robot, a powerful frame with a force field, slashing claws and an integrated laser rifle. The mad AI had added a couple of potent additions of its own, a vorpal battleaxe and a gravity bomb launcher build into its one large eye. Nils opened up with his deadly laser fire, which passed effortlessly through the force field and blasted the robot chassis. Unity responded by tearing into Nils with claws and axe, badly mauling the inquisitor that had caused him so much misery over the last few weeks. Nils was down, bloody and hovering on death's door. At the same time, Unity launched a gravity bomb at Targus and Smangtooth. Both were slammed for massive damage and Targus was entrapped in a sphere of force. It was Smangtooth's turn. The enraged barbarian tore into Unity with her adamantine-toothed chainsword. The force field held momentarily, but the onslaught was too great and sparks began to fly as metal bit into metal. Augusto added his magical prowess, slippery Targus quickly escaped his confinement to join the fray and Hala worked tirelessly to keep his comrades from joining the Choir Invisible. The battle was brutal and a couple of the company almost didn't make it out alive, but finally the killing blow was struck. The robot collapsed in a shower of sparks and the evil AI god Unity ran out of options.

Epilogue: Casandalee took over control of Divinity and with the groundwork done by Unity, soon ascended to godhood. Her own personality as well as the installation of certain AI-modifying devices which the party had collected along the way led to the moulding of Casandalee's divine profile. She was lawful, with an interest in artifice and the void. She also saw herself as the patron deity of androids and other synthetic beings.



Friday, October 20, 2017

Iron Gods - The Divinity Drive 2

We continue our Iron Gods campaign journal - spoilers ahead.

Sensing a need for haste, the party decided to move on without seeking out Deacon Hope. They found another monorail station which provided them access to the security deck. They battled undead security personnel in the monorail hub, interrogation centre and surveillance control room, before moving on the security administration area. This area was guarded by several director robots. After destroying them, the company assaulted the control centre. A pulsepounder golem stood guard outside, but despite its fearsome appearance, it proved little threat to the party.
Once inside the control centre, the company encountered one of Unity's top lieutenants, a noqual golem robot called Bastion. Combining the magic resistance afforded by its noqual construction and two integrated gravity rifles, the towering robot proved a powerful opponent. Nonetheless, Nils' laser rifle once again proved equal to the challenge and Bastion was destroyed.
Sensing that his lieutenant was defeated, Unity finally made direct contact to the party by way of viewing screens in the control centre. He offered them the opportunity to join him, before promptly destroying the computer controls. It was time to confront Unity.

Casandalee provided the party with instructions on how to get to the command deck, which would lead to the computer core and the virtual realm where Unity awaited. They battled a group of cyber-gargoyles, priests of Unity, for control of the command deck, then defeated an ancient vortex dragon who served as mercenary and astrogator in support of Unity's plan for world domination and ascension to full godhood. The last defender standing in the way of the party's final showdown with the mad machine god was the high priestess, the cybernetically-enhanced leader of the gargoyle cult named Ophelia. Protected behind a wall of four evaluator robots, she fired at will with her rail gun. Nils responded with his laser rifle, but Ophelia was prepared and she had cast protection from fire on herself. Meanwhile, the rest of the party battled the robots in melee. Switching to his zero rifle, Nils was able to do some damage, but Ophelia had cold resistance as well, so it was slow going.
As Ophelia's situation grew more desperate, she cast a quickened irradiate spell to devastating effect. Jols and Hala suffered massive radiation poisoning and Jols was killed. Luckily the party had a cardioamp available which pulled their deceased comrade back from the jaws of death. Still, both stricken party members were gravely ill. The rest of the party finished off Ophelia and they retreated for some much needed rest and magical healing. Unity would wait for now.


Monday, September 04, 2017

Starfinder - Character creation 2

Since Kolrez is a mystic, alignment and deity are defining aspects of his character, so some thought has to go into making these decisions. I wanted Kolrez to be most at peace among the stars, so Ibra, god of the cosmos, seemed the best choice. Ibra is true neutral, so I decided Kolrez would be also.

At this point, I should say a bit about gods in Starfinder. Some of the gods are familiar from Pathfinder. These include Iomedae, Sarenrae, Desna, Abadar, Phaerasma, Zon-Kuthon and Urgathoa. Other Golarion gods such as Asmodeus, Calistria and Lamashtu still exist, though in different and less powerful forms. In addition, there are many new gods and goddesses, some adopting portfolios previously held by other gods of Golarion, while others are completely new such as Triune, god of artificial intelligence and Oras, god of evolution and natural selection. Although the Dark Tapestry, which played such a large, though indirect role in Iron Gods, is not mentioned by name, the Outer God, Nyarlathotep is now a core deity with responsibility for conspiracies and forbidden magic.

At 1st level, mystics select a connection, which is very similar to an oracle's mystery class feature from Pathfinder. A mystic selects only one connection which provides insight bonuses to certain skills, bonus spells and class abilities with increasing levels. For Kolrez, I choose the Star Shaman connection which gives him Piloting and Perception as associated skills as well as the Walk the Void (Su) ability, allowing him to survive exposure to vacuum without harm. As a 1st level mystic, Kolrez also gains Healing Touch (Su), allowing him to heal an ally up to 5 hp/level, once per day. Finally, like in Pathfinder, the character starts with a feat at 1st level. I choose Great Fortitude.

All that remains is to choose spells, skills and equipment and Kolrez is ready to go. Both the mystic and the technomancer have a 0-6 level spell table. Kolrez starts out knowing 4 0-level and 2 1-level spells. He also gains an additional one from his connection. He selects Mystic Cure and Lesser Remove Condition as his 1st level spells and gains Shooting Stars (Magic Missile for mystics) as his connection spell. This makes him a formidable healer with a bit of offensive magic thrown in as well. For skills, Kolrez takes Piloting, Perception, Sense Motive, Mysticism and Diplomacy. The skill list in Starfinder has a lot of overlap with Pathfinder, although there has been a fair bit of streamlining. For example, the Mysticism skill now incorporates both the Spellcraft and Knowledge (arcana) skills as well as any Craft skill needed to make magic items.


Sunday, September 03, 2017

Starfinder - Character creation 1

The much-awaited Starfinder Core Rulebook is finally available at your FLGS and I have my copy. This will be my first in a series of posts on the new game. I will be looking first at character creation. The first step in this process is to conceptualize your character and select your race, theme and class. Pathfinder players will certainly be familiar with race and class, but theme is something new.

Starting with races, there are humans, androids, two subspecies of lashuntas, kasathans, ysoki, vesh and shirrens. Anyone who has played the Iron Gods AP will have some familiarity with androids, kasathans and lashuntas, although the lashuntas have been altered somewhat. The ysoki are simply space-faring ratfolk. The vesh and the shirrens are your obligatory reptilian and insectoid races respectively. The other Pathfinder races such as elves, dwarves and halflings are not core races, but it has been hinted at that they will be introduced later*.

Classes are mostly self-explanatory. They are envoy, mechanic, mystic, operative, soldier, technomancer and solarian. The envoy is the party "face". The mystic and technomancer are the cleric and wizard respectively. The operative is the rogue, while the solarian is a sort of space monk, like a Starfinder jedi.

Themes are aspects of your character that reflect background and/or motivations. The options available in the core rules are ace pilot, bounty hunter, icon, mercenary, outlaw, priest, scholar, spacefarer, xenoseeker and themeless. Somewhat counterintuitively, there are no restrictions regarding combinations of themes and classes, so it is possible to have a priest mechanic or a mercenary mystic. Clearly some combinations will require exotic backstories. The purpose of themes is to provide a starting ability score bonus to one stat and a few minor boons to the character as he gains levels.

I decided to try out the character creation procedure by making a kasathan spacefarer mystic named Kolrez. After making those preliminary decisions, it is time to get to the number-crunching. The point buy system is a bit different in Starfinder as compared to Pathfinder. You start with straight 10s, then adjust your ability scores based on race and theme modifiers. Kolrez gets +2 STR and WIS and -2 INT for being a kasathan and +1 CON for being a spacefarer. So his starting ability scores are: STR 12, DEX 10, CON 11, INT 8, WIS 12, CHA 10. You have an additional 10 points to spend on a 1-for-1 basis, although no ability score can exceed 18 at this point. Note that ability modifiers are the same in Starfinder as Pathfinder. With that in mind, I distribute my additional points to improve CON, INT, WIS and CHA as follows: STR 12, DEX 10, CON 12, INT 9, WIS 18, CHA 12. You cannot transfer points from one ability to another.

Next, we look at hit points (hp), stamina points (sp) and resolve points (rp). Stamina points represent general toughness. They are lost first and relatively easy to recover. Hit points indicate actual capacity to endure injury. Resolve points represent willpower and are used to activate certain class features and regain resources such as stamina. None of these points are rolled, all are fixed based on your character race, class, ability modifiers and level. At 1st level, Kolrez gets 4 racial hit points and 6 class hit points for a total of 10 hps to start. At 2nd level and each level beyond, he only gets the 6 class hps. Stamina points are based on class and CON modifier. Kolrez starts out with 6 class sp and 1 CON sp for a total of 7 sp. Finally, resolve points are equal to half your level (minimum of 1) + modifier of your key ability score. Since Kolrez has WIS 18, he gets 4 + 1 rps.

In my next post, I will discuss class features of the mystic, gods and alignments.


*Edit: There is a section in the back of the core book which provides some information on Pathfinder races for those wishing to use them to make Starfinder characters.

Saturday, September 02, 2017

Iron Gods - The Divinity Drive 1

We continue with our Iron Gods campaign - spoilers ahead.

The party headed up to a cavern known to both Casandalee and the Technic League that provided entry to the buried spaceship. Zernebeth could only provide limited information as to current League activities within the structure since Zaidow had been very secretive and his only confidants were now deceased. Still, the company was confident they could handle whatever lay ahead.

That confidence would be tested almost immediately, however. As they passed through a glaucite door in the wall of the cave, they entered a large assembly bay. Awaiting inside was a fully-functional annihilator robot. The annihilator immediately attacked, strafing the company with its twin chain guns. As the party scattered and dove for cover, Smangtooth charged forth. What followed was a display of martial prowess that will go down in the annals of Golarion lore. Braving the annihilator's plasma lance, Smangtooth darted beneath the massive robot. Her chainsaw cut deep into its structure, overcoming first its force field and then its armour-plating. The adamantium teeth ripped at its interior components, cutting power conduits and overloading circuits. Before it could respond, a second slash of Smangtooth's chainsword cut through its tail, severing the plasma lance. As it staggered and collapsed, Smangtooth thrust her chainsaw once more into its smoking ruin and the annihilator was destroyed.

With confidence at an all-time high after Smangtooth's victory over the annihilator robot, the company moved on. They would soon encounter a small group of Technic League operatives led by a technomancer named Sila Desaulis. She explained that her group had become trapped here when some force had taken control of all the robots in the ship. The exit was blocked by the annihilator robot and a large section of the deck was being irradiated by lethal radiation. She was happy to hear that the annihilator was destroyed and she was eager to leave. She offered the group a gravitic key which they could use to start up a graviton reactor that the annihilator had been guarding. It would allow them to power up a monorail transport to explore deeper into the ship.

The group took to the monorail to a deck called Habitation Pod 1. The deck appeared to be a self-contained jungle environment, complete with appropriate flora and fauna as well as flowing water and high humidity. As they exited the monorail station, they were immediately set upon by several dwarf-like humanoids (lashuntas) riding dinosaurs. Though tough, the lashuntas were quickly dispatched. The party moved on, bypassing a small village with more lashuntas and eventually arrived at a water-pumping station. Inside, they found a service elevator which they took to another deck.

This new location turned out to a recreation deck. After battling several viper vines in an overgrown section of a park, they entered a market square. Dozens of humanoids wandered about talking idly to one another in small groups. Though at first glance they appeared human, upon closer inspection, they were revealed to be androids. They made brief acknowledgements of the party and would reply if addressed, but they seemed remarkably unperturbed by the rough-looking adventurers that just appeared among them. They also offered little insight when questioned, mostly referring repeatedly to someone named Deacon Hope and some future event they called the "Great Advent to Come". Although they did notice a small number of the androids seemed to pay a bit more attention to them than the rest, there was little to alarm the group and they quickly got bored.

Leaving the square, they found a holotheatre. Perusing the selection of available holovids, they found little of interest, although it was clear most of the library had been rather crudely deleted. Looking around, they found a passage to a backstage area. What they found was a nightmarish abattoir of humanoid body parts and viscera strewn about and arranged in a depraved artistic display. A pair of interlocutor kytons, attended by a pair of sacristan kytons were adding to the carnage. The disgusted company slaughtered the vile fiends. They would also find a shrine to Unity and an android creche guarded by more kytons and a particularly powerful kasathan fighter who wielded two chainsaws. With the minions destroyed, it was time to find this Deacon Hope.


Monday, August 14, 2017

Iron Gods - Palace of Fallen Stars 4

We continue with our Iron Gods campaign - spoilers ahead.

With the party refreshed and prepared, and the dybbuk still weakened by the previous battle, round two turned out to be anti-climactic. The dybbuk was quickly dispatched and the company was ready to take on the Technic League. They located the secret door to the tunnel and made their way to the Technic League compound. After dispatching a couple gearsman battleguards manning the entrance at the other end of the tunnel, they began searching for a stairwell leading up.

Following a brief, but tense battle with a pair of tarry demodands in a geothermal reactor room, they found a stair. It led up to the courtyard of the complex. They used dimension door to cross the courtyard without drawing the attention of several human and robotic sentries and slipped in through the main door of the Technic League headquarters. Through scrying and communication with Zernebeth, the company had a pretty good idea of the layout and made a rapid advance toward the main tower where they expected Ozmyn Zaidow to be found. They battled several gearsmen and a powerful iron golem, but it only took a few minutes to make the top of the tower.

Smangtooth broke through the door and Ghartone, Ozmyn and a myrmidon robot awaited.

The mymidon blasted away with its laser rifle while its quantum lashes slashed at Smangtooth. Ghartone supported the robot with fire bombs and Ozmyn cast spells while invisible. Ozmyn quickly found himself out of allies and temporarily blind. He had no choice but to teleport away.

Frustrated by the escape of their quarry, the party set about looting Ghartone's remains and Ozmyn's chamber. After a couple of minutes, the party heard the sound of screaming from the stairwell. Following the sound, they burst into Zernebeth's chamber. Ozmyn had returned and he'd brought allies. A woman and several kytons surrounded Zernebeth, preparing to kill her while Ozmyn watched and waited for the party. Most powerful of the kytons was an interlocutor named Krimox the thrice-flensed. He was a collaborator with the woman, Gryne Rasik, another captain of the Technic League and ally of Ozmyn.

Early on, the fight went well for the party. Smangtooth's chainsaw and Nils' laser rifle managed to gravely wound the kytons and Ozmyn. However, that allowed Rasik to successfully affect Smangtooth with a flesh to stone spell. There was a moment of shock as the half-orc barbarian turned into a fierce-looking statue. The desperate battle resumed around the petrified half-orc; laser fire, slashing claws, blades and spells. In the end, the company prevailed, Ozmyn Zaidow was slain and Zernebeth was rescued. With cooperative leaders on the throne of the Black Sovereign and in the office of commander of the Technic League,the party was now ready to take the fight to Silver Mount and the mad godling, Unity.


Saturday, July 15, 2017

Iron Gods - Palace of Fallen Stars 3

We continue with our Iron Gods AP - major spoilers ahead.

Among the belongings acquired from the Technic League captain killed in the ambush at the Night Market was a commset. The commander of the deceased captain, seeing that a dangerous new player had arrived on the scene, decided to use the commset to contact the party. She turned out to be Zernebeth, the recently-deposed leader of the League, someone desperately in need of allies at the moment. Seeing an opportunity to reclaim her position, she made a deal with the party, offering her assistance (or, at the very least, acquiescence) for whatever the party was intending, in exchange for removing Ozmyn Zaidow, the current leader of the League. Realizing how much easier it would be to take on Unity without interference from the Technic League, the party agreed. During the discussion, Zernebeth mentioned a secret entrance to the League compound from a tunnel under the palace. Since the Mockery had already explained how taking down the Black Sovereign would disrupt the Technic League as they struggled to regain control of Starfall, it became clear that their next step would be an attack on the palace.

The next day, they made their move. The main hall of the palace was open to the public and so they entered to do a bit of scouting. After wandering about aimlessly and unchallenged for a few minutes, they decided to initiate a confrontation (a fairly typical modus operandi for the company). They approached a pair of guards claiming to be on a diplomatic mission and seeking an audience with the Black Sovereign. When one of the guards left to inquire as to the availability of the Black Sovereign, Nils took it upon himself to go invisible and surreptitiously follow. Nils followed the guard upstairs, noting the presence of many guards including a squad of hill giant shock troops. The eventual destination of the guard was not an audience with the Sovereign, but rather, the office of the guard captain, a man named Ghartone. It was a name the party had heard before, a captain of the Technic League. Ghartone was consulting with a small group of robed clerics of some sort and told the guard to report back that the Black Sovereign was currently unavailable.

Meanwhile, another group of black-cloaked clerics attacked the rest of the party in the main hall. They made short work of them, and upon closer inspection, it was revealed that they were oracles of Zyphus and all were aged men. After a good laugh about a bunch of Zyphus-worshippers tripping on their hems and falling on Targus' sword (Zyphus being the god of accidental death), they reunited with Nils and headed off in search of Ghartone and the Black Sovereign.

There were many battles as they fought their way through the palace; palace guards and battle mages, hill giants and even a catoblepas. But eventually they found themselves in the main throne room. Arrayed against them were numerous guards, including elite gargoyle troops as well as Kevoth-Kul, the Black Sovereign, Tek Mekul, his cousin and second-in-command, Kul-Inkit, the Sovereign's Consort and Ghartone with a pair of gearsman battleguards. Smangtooth, sensing an opportunity for a grand gesture and knowing something of the ways of barbarian cultures, challenged the Black Sovereign to a duel. Kevoth-Kul could not refuse and the battle was on. It was a hard fought contest and both combatants suffered grievous injuries as sinew, flesh and bone gave way to great sword and chainsaw. When Kevoth-Kul fell, there was a moment of silence as the shocked onlookers stood in disbelief. Then Tek Mekul stepped forth and congratulated Smangtooth. He said Smangtooth would have the honour of selecting the successor from the qualified candidates, himself or the Sovereign's Consort. Smangtooth hesitated as she wanted to claim the crown for herself. The guards began to decide among themselves who they supported and in the absence of a clear successor, they sought to force the issue. The guards began to fight among themselves and during the chaos, Ghartone ordered his battleguards to fire upon Kul-Inkit.

One rocket struck the consort and knocked her down. Seeing this, the party knew that Ghartone (and by extension, the Technic League) wanted Tek Mekul to take the throne. Therefore, they decided to aid Kul-Inkit. They directed attacks at Ghartone and the gearsmen, while Kul-Inkit fought Tek Mekul. When the smoked cleared, Tek Mekul lay dead next to his cousin, the gearsmen were smashed and Ghartone had escaped in the confusion. No doubt, he would return to the League to report on the events that had occurred on this night.

The next day, the party took advantage of the chaos gripping the palace and the city itself to search out the dungeon and find the secret tunnel to the League compound. While down there, they uncovered the treasure room. Though somewhat depleted, it still held much wealth and Smangtooth (still grumbling about not ascending the throne the night before) cleaned it out completely. Moving on, they came upon a great inverted ziggurat which contained the remains of all the previous Black Sovereigns. They began searching this great chamber for a secret door when the restless spirit of the first Black Sovereign attacked. Given the power of the person in life, she returned as no mere spectre, but rather, a true undead horror, a dybbuk. The party fought hard, but the pain touch of the dybbuk was a fearsome attack and the incorporeal nature of the monster made it difficult to damage. Still, they were close to defeating it when it succeeded in casting dominate person upon Smangtooth and ordered her to kill Nils. Nils went invisible and fled the palace with Smangtooth in hot pursuit. For two days, the cat and mouse game continued through the streets of Starfall while riots raged around them. It was only after several attempts that Hala was finally able to successfully cast break enchantment and free Smangtooth from the domination. Time for a reckoning with that dybbuk.


Thursday, June 15, 2017

Iron Gods - Palace of Fallen Stars 2

We continue with our Iron Gods adventure path - spoilers ahead.

Having already struck a blow against the Technic League, the party knew they would have to keep the pressure on. If the League had time to prepare, they would become too formidable to attack. The Mockery suggested striking at the Black Sovereign. The Technic League kept the king docile and easily manipulated by supplying him with intoxicants produced from various chemicals collected from Silver Mount. The rebels had learned that an alchemist named Doc Hellbroth had been hired by the League to concoct the drugs. Doc Hellbroth operated a drug den called the Red Reaver which posed a tempting target. If the party could take out Doc Hellbroth, it would disrupt the drug supply. The Black Sovereign would be become uncontrollable until the Technic League could secure a new supplier, a great distraction to be sure.

The party arrived at the Red Reaver the following day. A Tian women named Saoria greeted them and offered a variety of intoxicants for their pleasure. They requested a tour of the place which she willingly provided. She soon suspected they had not come for drugs, but cared little for her employer and allowed them to go about their business without raising an alarm. Eventually they made their way to the lab where Doc Hellbroth was hard at work. He had a clockwork golem standing at the ready to deal with intruders. Hellbroth satred lobbing bombs at the party while the golem slashed away. For a short while, the alchemist inflicted some damage on the party, but Augusto was able to gain control of the golem temporarily and the tide of battle turned. With the defeat of Doc Hellbroth, the party was able to interrupt the drug supply to the Black Sovereign and gain control of his alchemy and cybernetics labs as a bonus.

The next day, they got a call from the Technic League.


Monday, May 29, 2017

Iron Gods - Palace of Fallen Stars 1

We continue our Iron Gods campaign - as always, spoilers ahead.

The party now had Casandalee. The device they had recovered contained her consciousness and allowed her to communicate. She implored the company to make haste for the hateful AI called Unity grew stronger with each day. It intended to achieve godhood and bring about the end of all biological life on Golarion.  They decide to head back to Torch to plan their move.

After consulting with their old friend, Khonnir Baine and gleaning everything they could from Casandalee and Therace, they decided that they would need to take on the Technic League in order to get access to Silver Mount and bring the fight to Unity. It would not be easy and some preparation was in order. The last few adventures had netted them quite a horde and it was time to liquidate it. Most of the group headed south to Absalom, the one place outside of Numeria where they could sell high-tech items, thereby avoiding the eye of the League. Smangtooth, however, had other ideas. She had selected a number of cybernetic devices to be her share of the loot and desired to find someone willing and able to install them. That meant heading to Starfall alone.

Smangtooth sought to make contact with black marketeers as she was sure the Technic League would seize her cybernetics if they found out about them. Unfortunately, Smangtooth is not skilled such activities, preferring to pound on problems until they stop moving. A treacherous innkeeper and an encounter with a couple of gearsmen later and Smangtooth found herself on the run and forced to lay low.

Luckily, Smangtooth's confrontation with the Technic League came to the attention of the Mockery, a rebel movement working to oppose the League and restore the throne of the Black Sovereign to a suitable ruler. Smangooth spent some time with the rebels. They provided access to a cyberneticist who installed her components and provided time for the rest of the party to conclude their business and meet up in Starfall. With the party reunited, they were ready to start harassing the Technic League. The Mockery leader mentioned that a particularly powerful technology was going on auction at the next Night Market, an illegal black market that meets at random locations to avoid League spies. He had go information to suggest the League knew about and would make an attempt to recover the item. The League would probably send a pretty high-ranking agent on the mission, a tempting target for the party.

The party laid in wait when a man named Baron Drund arrived with a collection of items for sale, including something in a locked box. Within minutes, a hooded figure with a pair of bodyguards arrived. The figure approached Baron Drund and requested to look in the box. As the party members approached from the shadows, a negotiation proceeded between the hooded figure and the Baron. As they got closer, they could hear the exchange. The musical cadence of the hooded figure's voice indicated that she was a bard using her abilities to convince the Baron to surrender the item for free. The bodyguards noticed the party members and the battle was on. As the various merchants scattered, the party engaged the bodyguards. The hooded figure revealed herself. Her eyes glowed with a weird internal light as she moved about, using her inspire courage ability and swinging her monowhip. She and her bodyguards fought hard, but they were unprepared for such an onslaught. She was cut down before she could dimension door away. Inside the box was a Mk II cortex gun, a potent item indeed. The party returned it to the Baron as a show of good faith and the Technic League was deprived of a powerful lieutenant. The dogs of war have been unleashed.


Monday, May 22, 2017


An hour and a half east of Calgary is a town called Drumheller in the Alberta Badlands. It has a long history of coal mining, but today it is known mainly for dinosaur fossils and the absolutely awesome Royal Tyrrell Museum.

With the pleasant weather (rare for the May long weekend in Alberta), we joined the throngs taking in the museum today.

Although many of the visitors were probably out-of-town tourists seeing the museum for the first time, for locals like us, the real draw was a new exhibit.

Featured in an article in National Geographic, the museum has a new nodosaur with a remarkable degree of preservation.

As you can see, the surface scales and spikes have been preserved.

The detail is amazing.

Some fun facts; this guy lived about 110 million years ago, making him the oldest dinosaur fossil ever found in Alberta. He was over five metres in length and would have weighed about 1300 kg. This particular nodosaur represents a new, as yet unnamed, genus and species.


Sunday, May 07, 2017

Sabaton in Calgary

Sabaton is, without a doubt, one of my favourite bands. In fact, I would say it is probably my favourite to come on the scene in the post-NWBHM (New Wave of British Heavy Metal for the woefully uninformed). I and a couple of the lads had the opportunity to see them live last night and what a blast it was. But first, the preliminaries; there were two opening acts. The show started with the Norwegian-German Goth metal band Leaves' Eyes. Their set was solid, starting off with Halvdane the Black, probably my favourite of their hits. The band is known for their "Beauty and the Beast" vocals, contrasting the clean soprano of the new lead vocalist Elina Siirala with the deep growls of Alexander Krull. The highlight of their set was Krull in Viking armour, waving a longsword while belting out Blazing Waters.

Next up was the Finnish power metal group, Battle Beast. I didn't know much about this band before last night, but I am now a real fan. They turned up the energy to 11 and never let up. The mosh pit really came to life with Familiar Hell and Black Ninja, but the highlight for me was King for a Day. These songs will definitely be added to my personal playlist.

Finally, it was time for the headliners and they did not disappoint (like there was any chance of that). Starting off with Ghost Division, about the German 7th Panzer Division in WWII, they ripped through a 90 minute set that leaned heavily on their most recent album, The Last Stand, but included classics from all their previous albums. Many of my most favourite Sabaton songs were performed, including Carolus Rex, Attero Dominatus, Primo Victoria, The Art of War, Resist and Bite and Winged Hussars. There was even a brief, impromptu riff of Michael Jackson's Beat It in a rare display of Joakim Broden guitar playing. These guys were clearly having fun and the crowd was loving every minute of it. Awesome show!


Thursday, May 04, 2017

Iron Gods - Valley of the Brain Collectors 4

We continue our Iron Gods AP with the conclusion of Valley of the Brain Collectors - spoilers ahead.

The party prepared to assault the Dominion hive. After uncovering the entrance, they proceeded in and promptly found themselves facing the other annihilator robot. Though damaged by the blast that destroyed the other annihilator, it was still formidable. The combination of chain gun and plasma lance took a toll on the party, but by this point, they were well-versed in robot fighting. The annihilator was soon a mass of smoking ruin.

Moving on, they battled their way past a swarm of ugothokras and the corpses of Isuma's fellow Kasathans, who were occupied by intellect devourers. It was all Isuma could do to retain her composure as here former friends-turned-meat-puppets were cut down. She vowed to see them laid to rest in the proper way of her people when the battle against the Dominion was over.

Continuing on, they came upon the lair of Maukui, who by all outward appearances, was a young void dragon. Now admittedly, the party members were not experts on dragonkind. Nonetheless, there were learned fellows among their number and the behaviour displayed by Maukui seemed out of character with what they knew of void dragons. It seemed willing to parley and offered what information it could. It told them of a yah-thelgaad named Dweller-in Dark-Places who ruled the hive. It explained that a yah-thelgaad is a sort of advanced neh-thalggu and this particular one was a hated enemy. Maukui would be happy to see it destroyed. It also mentioned a kyton named Paajgat who it considered a friend. Maukui asked the party to spare her if possible.

The company agreed to Maukui's terms and continued on. Many more ugothokras and neh-thalggus were vanquished until they arrived at the chamber of horrors that was Paajgat's "lab". She did not attack, but offered the party exquisite sensations the likes of which they have never known before. The blood-soaked operating tables and various body parts strewn about gave ample reason for the group to reject her offer. Shrugging off the rejection, she allowed them to pass, indicating that she had grown bored anyway and was off to seek pleasures elsewhere.

Sensing that they were getting close to their final destination, the party pressed on. Eventually they came upon a chamber containing a circular platform which they correctly surmised to be a teleportation circle. As they inspected it, a party of neh-thalggus entered the room, led by a similar, but clearly distinct creature. Dweller-in-Dark-Places had found them. The battle was fierce. The potent strength-sapping poison of the yah-thelgaad's claws proved especially dangerous. Though none of the party was felled in the melee, Hala's healing arts were much appreciated when it was over.

Once renewed, the party still had a problem. They had been unable to activate the teleportation circle. They decided to enlist the aid of Maukui. The void dragon agreed to help, asking for only one thing in return, a small device which he claimed was stolen from him by the yah-thelgaad. The description seemed like it might refer to the device that contained Casandalee, but the party agreed anyway (of course, they had no intention of fulfilling their end of the bargain). Maukui removed a limb from the dead yah-thelgaad and touch it to the platform which activated the circle. Smangtooth and Nils passed through. At that point, Maukui, realizing the party's intent to betray him, attacked Hala and Targus, while Smangtooth and Nils found themselves in another chamber facing a fossil golem. Smangtooth's adamantine chainsaw and Nils' laser rifle proved an ideal combination for battling golemkind and the battle was short. However, Targus and Hala were in far greater peril. The stealthy dragon had positioned itself to make a quick and sudden attack, catching both by surprise. Maukui first tore into Targus and he was gravely wounded. It then turned its attention to Hala. With gnashing teeth and ripping claws, it shredded the cleric, bringing down the party's best healer in a whirlwind attack. Smangtooth and Nils, sensing something was wrong, went back through the portal. Targus, badly-wounded, stood over the prone body of Hala, fighting off the blood-stained dragon. Smangtooth charged forth to engage in melee, while Nils blasted away with his laser rifle. The battle was tough. The dragon proved immune to Nils' laser rifle and quite resistant to his arc rifle also. Nevertheless, it could not stand up to Smangtooth's chainsaw for long. As it died, a hideous, brain-like abomination squeezed out of the dragon's body, an intellect devourer. It fought briefly, but realizing it was outmatched, the beast escaped by casting dimension door. It was gone for now, but they feared they had not seen the last of it.


Sunday, April 23, 2017

A trip to the mountains

This year is the 150th anniversary of the birth of the Canadian confederation. To celebrate, all of Canada's national parks are open for free. Here in Calgary, we are fortunate to live less than an hour's drive from the crown jewel of the Canadian national park system, Banff. I usually take the family to the park a couple of times a year, but it is normally pretty expensive for a day trip, especially since the nearby provincial park, Kananaskis, is free all the time. So, this year, we are getting an early start to take advantage of the free access.

Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep near Exshaw

Elk (aka Wapiti) wandering through the Tunnel Mtn. campground

Mount Rundle from Tunnel Mtn.

The Cave at Cave and Basin National Historic Site


Friday, April 14, 2017

Iron Gods - Valley of the Brain Collectors 3

Continuing with our Iron Gods campaign, as always, expect spoilers.

Upon further consideration, the company concluded that the robojack was probably not worth the effort of retrieval and decided to continue on directly to the Dominion hive. On the way, they were once again met by the tiefling bounty hunter, Hyrsek Caio. Using all his "well-learned politesse", he questioned the party on their findings within the Fungal Cave, and whether they had found any evidence of the rogue Technic League mage Therace. The party denied finding anything beyond a few minor baubles. Being a fairly perceptive individual, Caio was certain they were withholding the truth from him. Nonetheless, they were clearly more than he could handle. The reckoning would have to wait and Caio helplessly watched as the party went on its way.

As the company continued to the hive, they encountered an enormous, foul-smelling mass of scaly flesh. They were able to determine that it was, in fact, the decomposing remains of the organic dropship used by the Dominion to land on Golarion. Braving the stench, the party entered the ship from a rotted hole in the collapsing roof. They quickly encountered a guardian of the dying vessel, a lunarma sorcerer. The weird, hovering, tentacled creature engaged the party with magic and a mindrender. It fought with ferocity, but was ultimately defeated. Moving on, the party made its way to the front of the ship where, they assumed, the control centre would found. Access to the deck was barred by three neh-thalggus, the dreaded brain collectors.

They battled hard, with claw and spell, but the potent strength-sapping venom of their bite attacks proved the most debilitating attack. Fortunately, no brains were collected on this day.

Finally, the party arrived on the bridge of the ship. The ceiling was quite high. Suspended from it was an immense steel and glass cauldron containing a huge green ooze that sloshed about within its container.

The ooze began to communicate with party telepathically. It called itself The-Stars-Whisper and claimed to be the shipmind of the dropship. Though its demeanor was initially hostile, it became friendlier upon realizing the party sought a confrontation with the Dominion. Like the ship itself, the shipmind was dying and it grew to hate the Dominion, and especially the neh-thalggus, blaming them for its inevitable demise. It offered the party a cache of useful items it had stored which could aid in the fight against the Dominion. The shipmind revealed a number of magical and technological items, including an ingenuity facet, a special device similar to the inhibitor facet they had used against Hellion back in Scrapwall. However, unlike that device, the ingenuity facet is intended to strengthen, rather than weaken an artificial intelligence. The cache also included a dozen scent glands which could be used to obscure the party from the internal sensors within the hive.

As the group prepared to collect the treasure and depart, the demeanor of the shipmind suddenly shifted again. It decided that it needed to test the party, reasoning that if they could not defeat it, they would be no match for the Dominion. It attacked immediately, using its potent plasma bolt and thought disruption attacks. The battle was hard-fought and more than one party felt his mind nearly shattered by the psychic attacks. Still, the company prevailed and the shipmind died, content that its vengeance would be delivered. The Dominion awaits.


Saturday, February 25, 2017

Iron Gods - Valley of the Brain Collectors 2

We continue with our Iron Gods campaign - spoilers ahead.

As the party made their way to the Fungal Cave, they came across a campsite across the river. A lone individual occupied the site. They approached cautiously and, although the individual clearly noticed their approach, he did not assume a hostile stance. He introduced himself as Hyrsek Caio and as the company got closer, they could see he was a tiefling. Though reticent at first, Caio eventually revealed that he was a bounty hunter in the employ of the Technic League (although not a member of the organization). He was pursuing a renegade Technic League wizard by the name of Therace. When the party indicated they were heading to the Fungal Cave, Caio offered to accompany them. They politely declined, but told him they would report back to him if they found any evidence of Therace and with that, they headed on their way.

The Fungal Cave was choked with green mould. Two shambling mounds guarded the entrance.After dispatching the sentries, the party entered the swampy cavern. Green slime and humanoid bones adorned the walls. Deeper they went until they were set upon by a group of Mi-Go, the dreaded alien fungus creatures from the void. The Mi-Go proved challenging, but were eventually destroyed. More Mi-Go and the gug allies were encountered. The company came upon a surgical theatre where Mi-Go performed their grisly experiments and a shrine to Shub-Niggurath tended to by three chaos beast clerics of the Black Goat of the Woods with a Thousand Young.

Eventually, they came upon Lrrhech, a Mi-Go cleric of Shub-Niggurath and its bodyguards. The Mi-Go fought hard, but were ultimately defeated. The party was just too strong. Among its possessions, they found the disembodied brain of the renegade wizard, Therace, encased in a metal canister. Although his grip on sanity was tenuous, he was able to tell them of the events that led to his capture and eventual vivisection. Of particular importance to the party, he mentioned that he had sent part of his expedition to another cave to explore. He said they had a robojack with them, which he intended to use should he encounter the annihilator robots of which he had heard reports. Knowing that at least one such robot still remained somewhere in the valley, the party decided to seek out this device. Until next time...


Thursday, January 19, 2017

Iron Gods - Valley of the Brain Collectors 1

Once again, we continue with our Iron Gods campaign...spoilers ahead.

After tying up some loose ends in Iadenveigh and Torch, and making a quick trip to Starfall to surreptitiously unload some treasure (and Grendal), the party, which now included a priestess of Brigh called Hala, made its way to the Scar of the Spider. At the entrance to the valley, they found the smoking ruin of a massive robot. A large crater indicated that the robot had been crippled by a major explosion, possibly caused by a planted mine. As the party examined the robot, they noticed a large net slung under it. Within contained several human bodies, most likely local barbarians. They had been killed by the explosion, but sometime later, the tops of their skulls had been surgically removed and their brains extracted. As the party examined the scene, the robot exploded, of course.

After patching themselves up, the party began following the tracks of a second large robot which had apparently also been damaged by the blast, but survived and made its way back down into the valley. On the way, they came upon a large cave full of reddish fungus. The fungus turned out to be radioactive, but flammable, The party was able to burn it away, destroy several giant spiders that occupied the cave and recover a sizeable treasure trove. Continuing on their way, they encountered a ragged man with many scars and some high-tech prosthetics. The man, who called himself Paetyr, was clearly mentally disturbed, but not hostile. Hala was able to cure the man of his insanity and he proved to be a valuable source of information. He turned out to be a druid who had been tortured by a group he called the Butchers who inhabit the valley. He was able to provide information on other denizens of the Scar of the Spider, notably a four-armed female being who used high technology. He said she was the one who destroyed the giant robot. The company was interested in making contact with this person. Paetyr said she could be found in a place he called the Machine Caves and told them how to get there.

The Machine Caves turned out to be natural caves, but parts of the interior were clad in metal with glaucite doors and robotic guards. There was no immediate sign of the four-armed creature, but the party members found themselves in the throne room/laboratory of a particularly bombastic robot called Binox. After a predictably unsuccessful effort at diplomacy, a surprisingly difficult battle ensued. Binox proved quite formidable, with integrated laser rifles, a force field and the unexpected ability to rapidly climb out of pit spells (a party mainstay). Nonetheless, the would-be robot king was defeated. They explored a little more and realized the room they were in was a fully functional military and production lab powered by a geothermal reactor, a find worth a king's ransom. As the party healed up, the four-armed female appeared. She spoke in Androffan and said her name was Isuma. She said she was of a race called the Kasathans and that she was from a distant world. She said she was brought to this world on the ship that crashed in Numeria thousands of years ago. She and several fellow Kasathans had been preserved in stasis pods until recently. They had run afoul of a group of Dominion agents and only she had been able to escape. Since then, she has been fighting a guerrilla war against the Dominion. When the party informed her that they were looking to cause some trouble for the Dominion as well, she asked to join them. She also told them of another group of aliens who lived in a place she called the Fungal Cave. She said they were also worshippers of the elder gods of the Dark Tapestry, just like the Dominion, but that the two groups were mutually hostile. She figured this other group might be a bit easier to take on and that they may have some useful technology or information to use against the Dominion. It was agreed to check out the Fungal Cave first and off the went with Isuma tagging along.