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Tales from the Manhole Cover

Of Songbird and Scaffold

The party in Zyan continued their studies and explorations, while the party in the Wilderlands attended to the wonders, mysteries and annoyances of Pale Echo. Gallows returned to the stables and decided the time had come to reconnect with his old friends, to enter the Sunset Palace and face his nemesis Callazzo.

He returned to Rastingdrung bedecked in Zyanese finery, bearing gifts for all his friends, teasing them playfully and making a great performance of his triumphant return, none of which impressed Rhea, hurt that he ran out on her after the incident with Captain Kelleway.

Taking their Storm Crows to the Stable of the Guides, they were greeted warmly, the stable-keeper delighted to care for such fine birds, Maneeshaneru delighted to see Aeris again, for the first time since the Festival of the Sybarites so long ago.

Their subsequent introduction to the Visible King and his court at the Sunset Palace was disrupted by a tense confrontation between Garviel and Callazzo, whom he blamed for the ruin of his lands and the corruption of his brother Aximund, as well as by the arrival of a gravely injured Krodofel (the cannibal Quasit.)

Reading the creature's mind, Caenn determined that the Quasit tailed Sparrow - once Gallows' leader and the object of his affections, now traitorous lieutenant of Callazzo - and Burkle, the corrupt halfling mayor, entering the district of Cusp, with Sparrow reaching the Catacombs of the North Wind without Burkle.

When reports reached the palace of a breakout at the Inverted Prison, the party asked the Lord Dramaturge to allow them to investigate on behalf of the Inquisitors - he hated the place as a legal absurdity, and was happy to palm it off on them.

Deep within (or, technically, with out) the prison, they found a White Swine, injured by a poisoned stilletto, weeping, its head ringed with puncture marks as though from thorns.

This sole survivor of the nest of swine they slaughtered in their first adventure had crawled and wriggled its way up to Zyan, and there came upon a corpse bearing the Hidden Crown. Donning it, the beast became filled with new wisdom and a new and terrible purpose: The destruction of the city and the ruin of its peoples' hopes.

But now all of that power and purpose and wisdom had fled, leaving it the most wretched of creatures. Burkle the halfling now has the crown, and the power of the Hidden King, and is at large somewhere in the city.

The party followed Sparrow's trail into the Catacombs, where they battled and bartered with daemons of the air, borrowed the cumulonimbic tigers of Adeva, scheming niece to the prince of the north winds, after they prevailed over her in a snitching contest, and came upon two parts of the broken Song Blade.

The third they found in Sparrow's hand, weilding the stump of the blade like a dagger. She faced them across a circular walkway of stone over the eerie Heart of the First Heaven. Walking slowly around the circumference, she recited the lines:

Of songbird and scaffold
the northwind takes one
while pierced with the joyful
the second undone

This was, she said, a prophecy she had overheard Callazzo receiving from the Horoscops; he had sent her to her death, knowing that either she would die in the catacombs, or to Gallows' blade, Joyeuse, the flamberge of the martyred libertines; and whichever of them avoided one of the two deaths would surely meet the other.

Further, the new beginning he offered her for her betrayal had proven to be a lie, leaving her cursed and dead inside; she now wished only for revenge on her master, and sought to work together with Gallows to slay him using the reforged Song Blade.

Gallows faltered; he was determined to slay her, but did they not at least share an enemy? He had loved her once, and she too had suffered by her betrayal. But it remained a betrayal.

He drew Joyeuse.

Sparrow waved her guards back. Gallows waved back his friends.

They would settle this one on one.

They clashed with swords and words, bitter recriminations, guilt and rage.

Sparrow fell at last, not dead but disarmed, defeated, and ready to make an end of it.

Her last request was that Gallows use the Song Blade to slay her, and "not bloody the blade" of Joyeuse.

He ran her through with the flamberge.

To this day it still drips with her blood.

And the cold fingers of prophecy close more tightly around him.


To Zyan At Last

Sunday saw a very special session of my regular Ultan's Door campaign. Not only were we taking our first steps into the marvelous and terrible city of Zyan Above, we also had two new players joining us, and everyone else was playing a new character, as the main group will still not arrive in Zyan for some time.


Realms of the Dead

Character death is often held up as a positive feature of OSR games, sometimes associated with a degree of machismo and the idea that without the possibility there's no challenge or interest. I don't believe this - video games manage to have challenge with no real possibility of failure, you try again until you get it right. Stories where you know the hero is going to survive can still be tense and interesting. There are other stakes.


Experiences vs Experience Points

The system I'm using for my current game is based on the Black Hack, and perhaps my favourite part of it has been the experience system. In place of XP certain actions count as 'experiences' and are recorded on the character sheet. Players can check off a certain number of them to gain a level (in BH equal to their current level, though I'd suggest equal to the level you're trying to reach.)


Friendly, Yet Bitey

Mermaids are hypersocial carnivores. They feed exclusively on land-dwelling mammals, including humans and demihumans.