Thursday, 30 July 2015

Kampi's Saga: Pilgrimage of the Mariner - Part 3

During my recent recovery time in and out of the hospital, I came up with what Kampi would be doing during his absence from Dagger Deep. Here is the third and final part.

The third Day of Tyraz
Month of the Pasture
Local Year 5315

Rune: Uruz
Divine Association: Heimdalrig, Watchman of Asgard
Literal Meaning: Aurochs, a wild ox
Interpretations: Courage, Sacrifice, Strength of Will
  • Right-side: Perseverance, Unharnessed Potential, Vigilance
  • Inverted: Misdirected Force, Rashness, Violence

On that moonless night, of the third Thonar's Day, it came. 

It has taken me over a fortnight to recover from the events of that nightfall, and I am only now starting to commit my memories to page. 

When the crew and I returned to our ship that night, we chose to cast off our mooring to the wharf and anchor in the middle of the inlet until dawn. Secure in our belief that we were physically beyond threat from the creature spoke of by the folk of Bella, we to our mistake only set our usual eventide lookout. 

May the Æsir have mercy upon the spirits lost that night and forgive me for my lack of acuity, for it was the hour of my watchkeeping when that creature noiselessly found its way onto the deck of the Sojourner and silently killed a handful of my shipmates before it came upon me. I must have been fated by the norns to live on; I am still in shock I survived that encounter with that a horrific thing.

Late into my watch, I was drawn to a faint noise; I stumbled upon the headless body of Arnulf, his throat had been torn out violently yet so swiftly his head was later found across the length of the deck. Before a cry could pass my lips I raised my left arm on impulse and by chance warded losing my own neck to a clawed hand that flashed forth from a dark form lurking in the shadows. 

The grip on my vambrace threatened to crush my arm; my other hand groped for Sváfnir at my side as I vainly struck out with the heel of my boot, attempting to gain distance from my foe and the other claw that I saw dart forward from the gloom. My graspfclosed around the hilt of my sword and a single swift motion, I unsheathed the blade and batted aside the ghastly arm a mere tomme from my face.

The thing cursed in a torrid voice that made my skin crawl and released my left arm only to drive its steely talons swiftly into my gut. The blow winded me and I felt several links of my maille break and the claws sink into my flesh. Its other hand caught a hold of my arm as I drove at the creature. My body began to shudder as vitality began to preternaturally ebb from it, causing me to break out in a cold sweat.

Our strife had now drawn shouts of alarm from the crew and I could sense the creature's desire to flee before my companions came to my aid, but resolutely I grasped the offending limb and quickly closed the distance between my foe and I, driving the talons ever deeper into me. Surely, we were locked in an embrace that would only result in my death, but I prayed my allies would succeed where I would fail in destroying this terror and avenging those it had slain.

The sound of feet on deck grew with the illumination being brought forth; in a move of desperation, by purchase on my chest and the grip upon right arm, the horror lifted me up and with a mighty burst of strength tossed me over the side of the Sojourner, far out into the cold, dark harbour and to my doom in the awaiting nets of Ránn

It would have entirely succeeded in its endeavour, had I not maintained my own steadfast grip upon its own limb as it heaved me. The sheer force propelled me through the air, but also dragged my foe with me. The whole event left it sprawling over the gunwale as I stuck the side of the hull, my boots splashing in the harbour. As it frantically reached down to dislodge my fading grip, I, with my last ort of strength, swung the sword that still remained in my grasp in an upward arc towards the fiend.

The gods saw the blade struck true.

The edge dug through the back left side of it's neck and hewed the its head clean off, which tumbled past me, dashed and sunk into the bay below. Its body sagged, lifeless; I was prepared to join it from weakness and exhaustion, but my fellow shipmates quickly retrieved me from my perilous position and hauled me onto the deck, where finally darkness took me away.

In a land of mists and echoes, a lone, cloaked figure stood before me, baring a staff in his left hand. His face was obscured by a broad hat, but wisps of a long white beard wagged as he spoke. I do not recall the words, but I understood their intent. From the folds of his robe he produced a large sack and handed it to me. When I opened and gazed into it I awoke.

I started violently and found myself in the longhouse we had supped in the evening before, lying on a cot beside the firepit, my wounds bound and dressed. Nearby sat Lorens, the merchant-captain, and the hamlet's ealdormanSeeing that I was was awake, with gladness in their voices, they told me the creature was slain and through my bravery (fortune) I had lifted the curse upon the settlement of Bella. They related to me I had been in a feverish slumber for three days even after they administered several of my healing potions and local folk remedies. Though my wounds were mended, for sometime following I suffered from a langour that shortened my breath and sapped the vigor from my thews.

The bodies of our fallen crewmen were given last rites and proper burial in according to their beliefs and customs, which I presided over to the best of my ability. Despite the loss, the folk of Bella were in high spirits and offered me gifts which I politely declined within reason.

In the following days celebration, the folk of Bella drank and feasted on the supplies we had brought. A dozen or so of the inhabitants got together and played a sort of ball sport they referred to as 'choule'

Two teams of five players, each armed with wooden sticks, had to gain possession of a ball on a cord and deposit it in the opposing teams' basket to score a point. Whenever a player was struck by an opponents' stick, he must cease moving and kneel to the ground; an unarmed member of their team would rush in from the sidelines, collect their stick, and give it to a team mate waiting in an area behind their goal, who would then join play.

It deeply reminded me somewhat of some of the competitions back in my homeland, like knattleikrI was too ill to participate, but the ealdorman, who presided as an arbiter over the games, further explained to me the rules and gifted me a parchment with a layout of the field of play. 

Though I am mostly unfamiliar with the local dialect, I understand the areas mentioned.

He related it was what they used play to train warriors and such tradition shall return for practical reasons should they never be helpless to such an evil. 

I know not what exactly that monster was, neither does anyone else, but it is truly dead now. The decollated corpse of the creature, clothed only in a thin ragged shroud, my allies burnt upon a pyre; the ashes of which we intend on scattering across the sea. They had searched the waters in vain but could not find the head of the thing. It was I that discovered it, in a rather unsettling place: when I had recovered enough from my injuries to return unaided to where I kept my belongings on the Sojourner, there was the bag I recognized from my dream, resting amongst them. Inside was the head. 

Given the uncanny connection I feel with the vision and the act of being 'given' the bag and the object within, I am reticent to dispose of it, though at the same time I long to be rid of the ghastly thing. It sits before me now, it's mouth sewn shut over a coin that I prayed for all the gods to bless. It's sockets cloudy and lifeless. The hue of the tight skin almost stretched over the high ridges of its countenance was that of dark cobalt and surprisingly dry, so unnaturally dessicated that one is given the impression the flesh is preserved from the ravages of time. The head seemed  more like that from an ancient barrow-dweller than the agile terror it so recently belonged to.

The head is nearly bald except for a small black plait that grew almost to rod-length from the crown. There are ears pointed like those of an elf or goblin, but larger, more predator like. Before I placed the coin within its jaws and sewn them together, I saw its teeth, though worn and rotted in places, resembled those of a man. In order to close the lips fully (and perhaps as superstitious precaution) I took my hammer and bashed out all of the front teeth before I slid the coin in and took to the macabre task of stitching the lips together.

As I sat alone at my task, my mind when over what sort of creature this head belonged to; was it perhaps a draugr? It's body was like a cold and 'deathly black' like corpse skin, but the aptrganga, (again-walkers) and draugr I'd witnessed on Arrakis, in their sluggish or savage forms respectively, lack the seer might and cunning of this creature. Perhaps a vampir then? I have briefly encountered such undead beings, but they apparently appear in the form they once had when living, and are (thankfully?) prone to reason as mortals do. Additionally, vampir are said to seek blood, not wanton carnage as this accursed being did.

I began to recall childhood tales of from realms that lay south beyond the sea of my homeland; one was of an undead creature known to the folk of that land as the nachzehrer (which means something akin to after-living-off). Not a blood-drinker, it apparently devours dead bodies, a creature which some in even farther lands name a ghoul. Still, I know not if my conjectures are correct; until I learn otherwise, I shall refer to it as the 'wight' which simply means 'creature or being'.

When we were alone, I presented the head to the old ealdorman and my captain, and told them how it came into my possession through a dream. The ealdorman related how he believed we had taken the necessary preventative measures to ensure the creature would not return, that my vision had divine provenance, and it would be best if I safeguarded the remains of the 'wight'; evidently the gods have fated it. Though he seemed unhappy with the future presence of the head upon his ship, Lorens said he felt it could not be in better custody.

I know not why the All-Father intended for me to come to this benighted hamlet nor why he charged me with the slaying of the wight and the retention of its head. I was dismayed once I took time to inquire with the locals, that they know of no nearby places or names familiar to me. This disheartens me, yet I feel a sense of relief in a way; if all goes well I shall be returning to Arrakis and the township of Dagger Deep.

In the meantime, this sport or prowess fascinates me; if only I could find something to use as a ball...

Praise Be To The Æsir
-Ref 'Kampi' Vandillson

Monday, 27 July 2015

Kampi's Saga: Pilgrimage of the Mariner - Part 2

During my recent recovery time in and out of the hospital, I came up with what Kampi would be doing during his absence from Dagger Deep. Here's part two!

The first Thonar's Day
Of the month of the Pasture
Local Year 5315

Rune: Fehu

Divine Association: Forsite, the law-speaker. God of Laws, Justice, & Trade
Literal Meaning: Cattle
Interpretations: Fortune, Trust, Wealth
  • Right-side: Foresight, Growth, Success
  • Inverted: Avarice, Dependence, Poverty

We have arrived in the tiny trading settlement of Bella, a scant collection of dilapidated structures surrounded by stakewall that extends into the harbour some distance on either side where we docked our ship at the small wharf. I had come to learn the majority of trade goods we were carrying on the Sojourner were farmed foodstuffs like grains, turnips, cabbage, and so on, with good reason; the surrounding forestland would hamper field farming. I surmised that the locals of this village must subsist on a diet of mostly local fish and livestock, like my own folk of the north. I learned my assumption was correct, but not entirely true.

Like the vessel I travelled upon, I noticed several distinctions between the make of the structures here that matched not only with my own country, but of similar neighbouring people like the Celtfolk. Still the differences where great enough to dissuade me from jumping to my desired conclusion that I was near familiar lands; I hoped a chance conversing with the locals might provide the knowledge of what I seek.

We ported our trade goods into a longhouse whose outer walls one could not help but notice were hastily reinforced hither and yon with timber boards over damaged sections. Though largely empty the interior bore the faint odour of a large gathering of living beings. During our several trips carrying goods a scant crowd formed; several of the larger men aided our task, and it was then I was able to see them up close in the fading daylight: at first glance our assistants were undoubtedly the burlier folk of the settlement, but they were still quite haggard and thin. I soon discovered why.

When we were at last done and gathered together in another similarly battered hall to take part in a "feast in our honour" whilst merchant-captain Lorens discussed trade with their leader, which they referred to as the 'ealdorman'. We sat around the firepit whilst locals brought us dishes to sup upon, the fare of which was meagre; we slowly began to understand the foodstores in Bella: the bitter-tasting flatbreads were made with bark flour and the thin pottage was thickened with pieces of offal, seaweed, dandelion and nettle greens. The smoked fish provided was the most palpable dish, though very little was catered. 

Nevertheless, despite the wanting meal, I, along with the rest of the crew, politely declined to dine upon the long, rubbery neck of some type of fowl these folk called a 'goo duck'. (Must be a less savoury relative of the barnacle goose I've heard certain holy-men dine off of during periods of religious fasting? At times I find many of the ways of other faiths peculiar.)

Whilst we dined, the ealdorman (with surprisingly little haggling), agreed on behalf of the village to trade over half their stock of commodities (furs, scrimshaw, dried/salted fish, timber) for the goods that we had brought. Before our company had the chance to agree to this rather generous offer, the elder quietly inquired how many passengers could our vessel be filled with. Without showing our collective concern, our leader replied that loaded with the traded goods we could take but a few.

Without thinking, I asked if his query was related to the haggard state of the folk here; were they facing starvation or perhaps sickness wrought by a scarce game? Speaking directly to me with a haunted look, he said not entirely, and told us a grim tale:

For several months the folk of this place had been beset by a horror that slew their best fighters. It continually strikes on the blackest of nights, which hides its form in the shadows and darkness, but it is agreed upon it's shape is not that of a beast, but like a man but with dark colouration. Nor like a beast has it been mindless in its predations; in the early weeks it struck at Bella's granary and larder, setting them alight and burning the majority of their foodstores.

After that the creature began to prey upon the townsfolk in earnest, occasionally returning the corpses of those slain as reanimated dead monstrosities. The populace has been decimated by these attacks; the few able warriors that remain are unfit/unwilling to face the creature and all the folk have been taking refuge in the longhouse where we unloaded our goods; the elder bid we all head there now before the night grew to its darkest.

As we arose and made our way, the elder related the horror seems content to let the folk of Bella lapse into starvation, for though it sends undead to batter against the walls of their shelter, it never assaults the longhouse directly; though they know it remains nearby for they can hear it mutter threats and commands in a foul tongue and ransack the empty buildings.

Once we were outside the entrance to their shelter, which was now filling up with the haggard community, the ealdorman had come to the conclusion why he asked about passage upon our ship: many families were willing to pay what little they had remaining to barter passage upon the Sojourner and flee this benighted place. 

Our merchant-captain promised he would take such offers under serious consideration and his answer would be given on the morrow. Although we were implored by the locals to shelter with them in the longhouse, I advised the company should perhaps remain with the ship, for if this being was as clever as told, it would surely seek to render our vessel unseaworthy. The captain concurred; we returned to our moored ship and set watches as the ominous twilight deepened. 

I feel I need to gather myself before I relate what happened that eventide.

Praise Be To The Æsir 
-Ref 'Kampi' Vandillson

Sunday, 19 July 2015

Kampi's Saga: Pilgrimage of the Mariner - Part 1

During my recent recovery time in and out of the hospital, I've come up with what Kampi is doing during his absence from Dagger Deep and finally got around to posting part one.

Midsummer Solstice 
Sun's Day of the month of the Sun (most fitting)
Local Year 5315

Rune: Dagaz
Divine Association: No direct association.
Literal Meaning: Day or Dawn
Interpretations: Awakening, Balance, Longing for Change
  • Right-side: Clarity, Hope, Trust
  • Inverted: Distrust, Sadness, Uncertainty

For several days we've crossed the sea, personally hoping to discover the source of my compulsion. We have sailed on a north-westerly course along the Malkavian Sea between the isle of Arrakus on our larbord and the mainlands to our steorbord. We have just passed the northern most tip of the island and are to continue hugging the easterly coast until it brings us to a series of fjords that link to the vessel's destination: a small trading settlement that has managed to thrive in the "cold" northlands.

The type of ship I've been journeying in has been referred to as a 'Kogg', as I believe it would be spelt, by my shipmates. Apparently its design is somewhat old but still serviceable. I've found many similarities with the Knarrs of my folk; it is primary powered by sail, but can be manned by oars if needed. I am very grateful the captain permitted my employ; possibly because of my knowledge of seacraft and carpentry, but I believe more so because of ability to heal. I've heard it told that it is considered ill fortune if a ship sails without a healer, a wise adage indeed. The crew name it the Sojourner and it is a fine vessel.

This day marks the beginning of true summer, at least it would in the lands where I am from. The weather has been conducive to sailing, bright and clear but with a strong breeze to alleviate the heat. My shipmates seem to be good folk, and I have spent my free time ensuring that the ship's stores have at least half-a-dozen potions of healing on-hand in case of accidental injury.

I best get some sleep before the long day of seafaring tomorrow. I feels good to once again feel the wind through my hair, the spray of the ocean upon my skin, and to the hear timber creak; though my thoughts stray back to the lost kin I sailed with during that ill-fated voyage almost a year ago, and then to those I left behind in Dagger Deep. I pray to the gods of the sea that our journey north is successful and unhindered, and that they watch over my friends whilst I am gone.

Until my next entry.

Praise Be To The Æsir 
-Ref 'Kampi' Vandillson

Saturday, 11 July 2015

Lusus Naturae, Narcosa, & NSFW - Impressions

Whilst I was recently recovering in the hospital (see previous post), one day my Missus brought to me an unexpected hardback that I had received in the mail; t'was Lusus Naturae, a gruesome old-school bestiary written by the appallingly astute +Rafael Chandler and illustrated by the terrifyingly talented +Gennifer Bone, which I had backed an age ago on kickstarter.

Given the awful sweat-drenched, fever-induced nightmares I was having at the time, I thought it perhaps wise that I opted not to add such text to my current infirmary reading pile.

But now that I've been home all safe and comfortable with the majority of my illnesses behind me, in my air conditioned man-cave, a beer in hand, with heavy metal rumbling over my speakers, I cracked the covers of this horrible handbook.

Yes. I fully stand by my decision to prolong subjecting myself to the 133 pages of horrors within without proper ambiance, else I'm sure I'd be unable to appreciate them to their fullest extent.

The themes herein are most definitely geared towards dark/weird fantasy worlds and the minimalist mechanics presented work best with OSR games (particularly Laminations of the Flame Princess on both counts), but the content of Lusus Naturae can easily be adapted to a variety of RPGs; in particular I see much of the concepts in this bestiary working quite well in Numenera.

A Gelatinous Hypercube. Friggin' Genius.
My advice for a simple mechanics conversion to the Cypher System is make the level of the creature equal to it's listed hit dice, as the vast majority of never go above 10 HD anyway (and the few that do are more suited to plot-tied campaigns than single encounters). The rest of the pertinent creature details and modifications can easily be discerned by reading the entry and the GM deciding the rest of the relevant info.

Aside from an excellent and varied creature catalogue, the book also contains a useful appendix of anagrammed spells (like Plane Shift to a Fish Planet), a seriously decent random monster generator, a random disease creator with a bunch of historical examples, and a list of objects found in a monster's lair.

All in all, well worth the money I spent ($35) and the time I waited (over a year). The PDF of this work can be found [here] and is currently on sale for just $10.

It's also worth noting that several of the entries in Lusus Naturae make reference to a free collaborative work by the OSR community, also edited and compiled by Chandler, known as Narcosa. This 100+ page PDF is free; fans of it may also purchase a softcover version [here].

I haven't had the time to read through the whole collection but I get the impression if you want even more gonzo, acid-and-mushrooms-in-wonderland material for your games, Narcosa is bound to contain your preferred poison.

I also realized that I never had a chance to give another one of Chandler's works (again for LotFP and other retro-clones) a good read through and review; the adventure No Salvation For Witches (or NSFW as it's appropriately known). Now that the indiegogo campaign has funded, one can purchase either a PDF and/or a hardcover print copy [here] or [here].

No Salvation For Witches, in my opinion, seems like an okay adventure. Sure, it has some superb evocative art and some clever parts (I enjoyed all the historical references), but the whole thing kinda seems like a tiny sandbox that only has one interesting thing at each location vaguely tied around a timed event.

Perhaps that's more than plenty for the PC's to do given they're limited to the in-game 24-hour time-frame and mayhap that's meant to keep them from getting too distracted from the global-altering ritual that's occurring, but it feels to me all the listed encounters and locales could do with a bit more description/flavor; the same goes with fleshing out certain NPCs' motivations/reasons why they're present. Saying rampant magic caused it kinda seems like a cop-out when it's used to explain away the majority of the weird goings-on.

That said, NSFW might be best suited for a convention game or a single session where time is limited anyway and one doesn't have to worry about the PC's missing the most interesting parts of the adventure because they're bogged down with something unrelated when the proverbial clock strikes zero.

I liken it to being trapped in a haunted house till sunrise and given free reign; some groups might chase/capture/fight the monster in the rubber mask, some might spend all night trying to unlock the broom-closet because they think there's something vital in there (there isn't). But this perhaps can be argued with any time-sensitive adventure.

An interesting quasi-adventure, but I have little desire to ever run it. Though the Tract of Teratology in the latter part of the book provides more random-generated material (this time summoning ritual flavoured) for use in other games, No Salvation For Witches left me mildly disappointed when I finished it.

I guess I was just expecting more; though it is worth noting that the indiegogo campaign for NSFW was "Pay What You Want", so for certain individuals might've got a really good deal for the amount they contributed. Me, I think I got my value, despite being a bit disappointed by the seemingly limited content.

I think the post-campaign hardcover price of 22€ seems a little steep for the content provided; the PDF seems a better deal. But then again you could get the larger, perhaps more useful Lusus Naturae PDF for the same price...

Just sayin'.

Wednesday, 1 July 2015

Happy Canada Day! (Post-Surgery Post)

Happy Canada Day to all my fellow Canadians! 

I'm back home after my 8-day stint in the hospital following the laprascopic partial nephrectomy on my left kidney! The preferred methodology of removing the renal cell carcinoma that was present was a success, though I developed a few complications that followed the operation that prolonged the time spent in the hospital more than anticipated. But as of yesterday afternoon, I've been back in my own home and beginning the hopefully not long process of recovery and restoring my health to the state it was in before surgery.

For posterity sake, I'll provide an overview of all the things my body went through:

The Sunday prior to surgery I was on a liquid diet (so hungry) and had to do a bunch of pre-surgery prep. During the wee hours of the 22nd, our good friend Todd dropped the Missus and I off at Victoria General Hospital for my 6am admitting. A couple hours later I was off to surgery. The goal (factor depending) was for my surgeons to perform a partial nephrectomy via laprascopic surgery.

Hours later I awoke in the recovery room (partially cognitive, as I recall asking the nurse watching me my blood type: B+; I surprisingly didn't know that before then.) and mentioning that the fluid in my drain looked like tomato soup. xP

Soon I was transferred to my bed on the 7th floor Uruology ward and was told the post-op results of the procedure: it was as successful as intended, the tumour was removed with a minor complication; the vein above it had to be partially removed and reconstructed during the enucleation of the tumour.

I was surprised how uncomfortable this laprascopic procedure was compared to the previous one I had, though I'm sure no two laprascopic surgeries are going to be the same and this time I was left with half of an unhappy organ; my abdomen was swollen from trauma and bloated from the residual carbon dioxide they inflate your belly with during keyhole surgery.

Not exactly what occurred, but a close enough representation.
But it turns out my discomfort wasn't entirely unjustified: A day or so later whilst I was recovering, I had to take a chest X-ray that confirmed I had developed pneumonia in my lungs (explaining the shortness of breath); and an Angiograph/Interventional Radiology to locate and insert a pair of Stents into one of the operated upon kidney's arteries that was bleeding into my ureter.

I soon ended up with a fever which made for some awful nightmares and several horribly sweaty sleeps during those nights; I broke that fever Sunday night I believe, as Monday was the first day I was back to feeling 'normal': fever gone, breath improving, pain diminished. I was ready to be discharged.

Unfortunately at the time doctors felt my blood O2 levels were still too low, and on a hunch had me scheduled for a CT Scan of my chest to see if I had developed a possible blood clot. The test didn't end up happening till late evening, well after my supper had arrived; I was finally getting my appetite back and I couldn't eat it because I had to keep a clear stomach prior to the scan! Anyway the test came back negative. No blood clots!

People who know me well, know that once I start getting uppity and vocal about staying in the hospital longer than I feel I need to, I must be feeling better. I have tremendous patience for all this medical stuff, but once I feel healthy enough to leave I want to go! Mind you this whole thing had already had gone from a 2-4 day stay to over a week, so I was getting quite antsy at this point.

Unplugged from everything (drain, catheter, IV drip, and eventually O2 support) the only thing prolonging my stay was my still low O2 levels and the antibiotics they were administering for my pneumonia. I expressed my frustrations to wonderful nursing student who bent the ear of a couple doctors to discharge me. After a quick phone call with my specialist I was released with a prescription for the rest of my course of antibiotics!

Yesterday afternoon my good buddy Ash picked me up from the hospital and brought me home. I can't say how good it feels to be back; I still have some time to recover fully, but being comfortable with my best girl is vital to retaining my health.

Enjoy your Canada Day everyone!