August 1st, 2009
"Do you understand why you've been brought here?"
The three travelers were released by the red-clad guards, standing before the old man. He sat on a silver throne, stroking his beard, staring hard at the party in front of him.
The royal court was an enormous room, the furnishings bedecked in emerald-studded gold and silver. Rich, purple velvet curtains surrounded each window, casting a violet glow on the gleaming white marble tile which layered the floor.
The travelers stood silent before the King of Mekkalin. The three seemed a strange alliance; one, a tall, strong and well-armored man stood with his head high, his jaw slightly thrust forward. The two empty sheaths on his hips gave no one the impression that he was defenseless.
The only woman of the group, Lidda, was short, standing at about three feet tall. Intense wisdom and calmness radiated from her brown eyes. Her clothes were well worn, as was her leather knapsack, which held several books, but her spell lists had been confiscated long ago.
The last member of the party had already been trouble. He was slightly shorter than the other male, and had nearly human characteristics aside from his elven ears. His eyes darted smartly across the room. The guards had trouble keeping his shackles on him, as he seemed able to pick the locks with the most innocuous materials.
"You're here," he began, "because you were caught looting a tomb on the royal acreage. As such, I can have you condemned to prison for as long as I care, and take your belongings."
"Hey pal," said the shorter male, as his handcuffs slipped off of his wrists, "no one had been in that tomb for years. Your best knights couldn't get past the third room, so I can't see why we have to forfeit our gold to you."
A guard shoved the outspoken man, "You'll address him as 'your highness'."
The king sat back in his chair. "What's your name?"
"Barrim the rogue."
"You're a half-elf, aren't you?"
"Hmm. I've never been one to support inter-species breeding, but I'll try to set that aside."
"Speciest bastard." Barrim muttered.
"The tomb lays within the bounds of my kingdom's land. As such, anything within those bounds, and within the tomb itself, can be decreed as belonging to me. You have no legal right to the property, regardless of how long it's been there or whether my knights have failed in attaining it."
Four people sat around the coffee table, perched on camping chairs and footstools. One stared at Frank, the Dungeon Master of the game, thinking hard.
"Look, Jimmy," Celia said, "Let me try."
"No, no, I've got this. I have a plus one modifier for my diplomacy."
"I have a plus three!"
Jimmy picked up his twenty-sided die and rolled it across the table. "Dammit, I rolled a one."
"Roll it again," Frank said, "It could be a critical failure."
The die rattled across the table again, "One."
"Critical failure of diplomacy. You just told the king to go fuck himself."
"Go fuck yourself, king!"
The nearest guard stepped forward and landed a crushing fist into Barrim's side. The rogue dropped to the marble floor, coughing heavily.
"Your highness," said Lidda, "I apologize for the rude behavior of my acquaintance. He lacks social graces, as I'm sure you've seen in many half-elves."
"Go ahead, play up to his prejudice," said Jimmy.
"Hey, I rolled an eighteen," Celia retorted. "Good diplomacy means trying to strike a bond with those you are talking to."
"We would be happy to work a bargain with you, if you would be so kind as to let us keep a portion of the treasure we found."
The king nodded slowly. "Hmm, perhaps we cam work something out. Tell me, is it true that the Scepter of Exquisite Divinity was to be found in the tomb?"
"Yes, your highness, and we have attained it."
"Ah. I've been wanting that for quite some time."
Barrim managed to climb to his feet, and turned to Lidda.
"Look, you halfling bitch, do not give him that Scepter! We can finally take on a dragon if we keep it! Do you have any idea how much gold those green bastards horde?"
"All you rogues think about is money." She turned back to the king, "Sir, we have grown a singular fondness of the Scepter. Would you be willing to let us free for something else?"
The old man pondered this for a moment. "No, I've sought possession of the Scepter for many, many years. I'm afraid that's all I'm interested in."
"That's it, I'm gonna punch this king!"
"Jimmy, no!" said Phil, "You're going to get us all thrown in jail!"
"Oh, that wasn't an announcement to the adventure party. Ha! Rolled a nineteen!"
Phil rolled his eyes.
"What's your melee modifier?" Frank asked.
"Plus four. Total of twenty three."
"You leap across the grand hallway, winding up your punch."
Barrim suddenly leapt across the room, his fist crashing into the king's jaw. As he pulled his arm back for another blow, a guard tackled him to the ground.
"Guards, throw them in jail!" the king bellowed.
"Jimmy, you're an asshole."
"No, my character is an asshole. I'm trying to get some extra points for staying in the role."
"Any luck?" Lidda asked, looking down the halls for the roaming guards.
"No," said Javmen. "We fighter's usually don't rank to high on lock picking."
The hallway was surrounded by a total of four jail cells, with the three nomads locked together in one. The cells were kept dark, a small, flickering torch allowing the faintest hint of illumination. The hallways were better lit, the walls adorned with tin lanterns. The air reeked of stale sweat and dust. Cobwebs littered every corner, some with the occasional spider waiting for a meal.
"If the guards hadn't knocked Barrim out, he could get us out of here in a flash. Hey, someone's coming."
They stood back from the bars of their cell, Javmen tucking his make-shift lock pick, a shard from a broken jar, into his pants. The guard stopped before their cell.
"The king will be willing to speak with the two of you shortly. The half-elf must stay here."
"That will be fine," Lidda answered.
The guard walked away and the two prisoners sat down. Barrim stirred, laying on the floor. As he opened his eyes, a slapdash, drowsy grin spread across his face.
"You guys see that? I punched that king good!"
Javmen stood up from his cot and kicked Barrim across the face, knocking him cold.
"Dude, what the hell did you do that for?" Jimmy asked.
"You landed us in jail," Phil said. "I'm playing a lawful fighter, and lawful characters don't like to end up in jail. You're going back to sleep, while Lidda and I talk to the king."
"Don't worry," said Frank, tossing some dice. "It wasn't Javmen's best hit. You'll be up in three rounds."
"Your highness," Lidda said, "I can use a spell to heal whatever damage that jack-a-nape half-elf may have done."
"My wizards have already seen to it. But in addition to the Scepter, your teammate's foul behavior will require a further task from you. There is a cave, small but dangerous, a few miles from here."
"The cave of Mekkalin?" asked Javmen.
"I've heard of it. The cave is purported to be a very dangerous place.
"In there resides a phantom fungus who has eaten several of my knights. I task you to go to this cave and dispatch the fungus."
"But sir, a phantom fungus is invisible!"
"That's why I've chosen to send you, and not more of my men. The guards will escort you to the cave, where they will await your return. Bring me two tentacles of the fungus, and you shall be freed, along with your companion."
"Christ, I hate caves." Phil groaned.
"We were just in a tomb!"
"Yeah, but that's different. Tombs are easy to adventure through."
"No they're not. It's virtually the same place, just like dungeons."
"No way, dungeons are the worst
"Hey, Frank," Jimmy spoke up, "I just tried to seduce a guard into letting me out."
"Uh, you know all the guards here are men, right?"
"Yeah, I know, but I really want out of this cell. Doesn't matter, I rolled a three."
"Oh. Well, the guard recoils upon learning of your intentions, then punches you. One damage."
The woods opened to a clearing near the foot of the mountains, revealing the massive entrance to the cave. Lidda and Javmen dismounted their horses, while their escorting guards stayed atop theirs.
"Remember," said a guard, "bring two tentacles. Otherwise it's right back into the cave with you. And my horse doesn't like the dark, so's you'd better get back before nightfall."
"Hey," called Lidda, "if this thing's invisible, how are we supposed to see the tentacles?"
"Bloody sorceress, ain't you ever fought a phantom fungus before?"
"No. Have you?"
"Well, not as such, no. But my cousin Morrel, he's killed a few spore-lings. They become visible shortly after they's dead."
Javmen took Lidda's hand, "come on, we'll figure it out."
Jimmy rolled his dice, saw the result and started scribbling on a piece of paper.
"What is it now?" Celia asked.
"You guys are at the cave and have no idea what I'm doing here, back in the jail. Let's keep it that way."
He wadded the paper into a ball and tossed it to Frank.
"Ugh, I think I smell this fungus," Lidda groaned.
The cave plunged into total darkness twenty feet past the opening. Lidda and Javmen had lit their torches and drawn weapons; rats scurried about as the wavering lights approached.
"Here's my plan," said Javmen, "at the first sign of possible attack, I'm dropping my torch and drawing my second sword. I'll start hacking at the air like crazy, and if I manage to chop off two tentacles, grab them. We'll just get the hell out of here and not fight this thing any longer than we have to."
The cave entranced disappeared as the two rounded a curve. They paused briefly, allowing their torches to illuminate the way ahead.
"Roll me a listen check."
"Do you hear anything?" Javmen asked.
"No, don't think so. Did you?"
Lidda was abruptly hurled across the room by an unseen force. Her torch dropped to the dirt-strewn rock floor, nearly extinguishing itself.
"Why didn't you tell me that a phantom fungus could move silently?" Celia asked.
"I thought it went without saying. Invisibility would be kind of useless if you could hear the beast coming a mile away."
Javian began lashing at the pocket of air where Lidda had been standing. He felt no impact on his blades, but that wasn't unusual- he kept a keen edge on them.
"Magic missle," Lidda grunted, climbing to their feet.
Her hand aimed towards her best estimate of where the creature was, and a bright bolt of energy flung from her fingertips. As it impacted a seemingly empty section of air, a brief glimmer of the creature came into focus.
"You're mine now!" Javian brayed, tossing his torch to Lidda and drawing his second sword.
The blades became a whirling blender of metallic destruction; Javian spun, thrust and sliced the unseen beast. A dreadful, groaning roar pierced the air, and the creature attempted to retreat.
"Crap, he's out of my reach! Do something!"
"Nimbus of light!"
Lidda was immediately enveloped in a dazzling, white aura of light, before casting it off into the beast's side. The impact shook the cave, and with a final whimper the beast fell to its side.
"That's bullshit!" Phil shouted, "I tore that thing up, three huge blows in a row, and she kills it with a wimpy nimbus of light."
"You know it works that way," Frank said, "You take all but the last few hit points and someone else finishes it off."
"But that kill was mine!"
Celia rolled her eyes, "you get most of the kills in the game, jerk. We get equal experience points, regardless of who gets the kill."
"Yeah, but it's the principle of the thing."
Jimmy remained silent, rolling his dice and throwing notes at Frank.
The two adventurers, plastered in sweat, grime and dust, stepped out of the cave, carrying two tentacles from the beast.
"Okay, here's your damn fungus chunks," said Javmen, "Let's go see the king."
"You managed to kill the damn thing?" asked a guard. "My friend Quincy got eaten by the bloody thing, and he was no slouch with a blade."
A fierce battle cry came from above, and Barrim leapt from a tree onto a guard's back, tearing him from his horse. The second guard was slow to react, and Barrim clobbered him across the face with a spiked club.
"Hey guys," Barrim gasped, "We'd better get the hell out of here."
"How did you escape from the castle?" Lidda demanded.
"No time to worry about that now, the other guards can't be far behind."
"What other guards?"
"Well, let's just say there's a warrant for my arrest out now."
"Christ, I should have known. What's the warrant for?"
"Well, fleeing the royal reformatory, purloining sacred artifacts, pilfering royal property, and copulating with the stately kinfolk."
"What the hell does that mean?" Celia asked.
A huge grin spread across Jimmy's face, "It means I broke out of jail, stole the Scepter of Exquisite Divinty, jacked the king's wallet and fucked his wife!"
"Oh, son of a bitch,' Phil groaned, "We'd better get moving. Frank, how much time do we have?"
"Not much, but your horses might do the trick. Roll the dice, ladies and gentlemen."
I can already see several e-mails coming my way over this one. Why? Because there are quite a few inaccuracies pertaining to a good, rule-abiding game of Dungeons and Dragons. If you spend every waking moment of your life rolling dice and fighting hypothetical trolls, don't tell me where I screwed up. For instance, I know that "nimbus of light" is a clerical spell and not a sorcerer's spell (yes, I actually did a little research), but for the sake of telling a story, I didn't really care.
And if you're the type to mock and harass those who play D&D, again, no need to e-mail me. Yes, I've played some D&D in my time, and yes, I know it's the mark of the super-geek. But I doubt you'll come up with anything I haven't heard before, and if you write more than a few words, once I see what the e-mail is about I'll probably just delete it.
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