Shorthanded Palanquin

We returned to Palanquin by Jason Pitre this week with a small retinue bearing Princess Ulkualzi, the Ulanaki heir, to the safety of her Aunt’s palace across the kingdom after a coup kills the rest of her family. She is whisked away from the palace by Xanling the Scholar, Bearer of Society, and Periani the Hunter, Bearer of Nature. The princess is alone in the kitchen when the coup begins, but she is quickly joined by the other two, the scholar confused by all the commotion and the hunter determined to rescue the girl. Periani leads us through a trap door that takes us into the marketplace among the people, any one of whom could be a co-conspirator.

A dark-skinned woman in a cloak with an upraised hood glares off to the left in front of a fiery moon. Palanquin a roleplaying game of escape & trust is printed on the right side.
Image courtesy of Genesis of Legend Games.

The heir wants to explore the market and buy food, but Periani is concerned for how to blend in among people, having always preferred sparsely populated wild spaces. Xanling offers advice, but the hunter isn’t skilled at smiling or turning down the intensity. A large family of beggars surrounds us and starts making a lot of noise, pulling at our clothing, asking for alms. Periani fails to distract them by tossing an apple away from us, and instead a few take his bow and dart away while the others continue to surround us. To rid ourselves of them, the Princess must trade the food we just purchased for the bow, after which they let us pass. We talk of the river festival that is to happen next week, wondering how it will proceed without the royal family to preside over the ceremonies. Suddenly a man interrupts us, declaiming loudly about the adamantium oil he would sell us to enhance our strength. Before he attracts too much attention, Xanling steps forward with information about the history of adamantium oil and its general ineffectiveness, as proven by Atlas in ancient times.

At last, we slip into the Purple Jungle where Periani is master. He explains which plants are beneficial (the alohamora flowers and pennywhistle plant) and what dangers we must avoid (the fear mist is the worst) and what people we may find in the jungle (woodsmen to the north, jungle nymphs, and the aquatic mir people of the lakes and rivers). As we walk on, we begin to hear voices in our heads, voices that degrade us and make us doubt ourselves. We do not realize it is the madness brought on by the mists, but Xanling recites a riddle and its answer that allows us to block the shaming words from our minds.

When we reach the Holy River, we believe that we are safe. Periani knows the villagers who live upon the river on their stilt houses and their punting canoes. We learn about the dangerous animals on the riverbanks, and how the mir people have taken to capturing and killing humans. Periani takes us to the home of Bearded Brennan, a friend he has traded with in the past, who welcomes us with smiles and whose family gives the Princess the warm bath she longs for and clean clothes. But after dinner, Brennan locks us into the back room, talking of how he will give us to the mir people in the morning. Xanling makes an impassioned speech about the obligations of hospitality, and what terrible things await those who harm those in their care. After midnight, Brennan’s wife guiltily comes and unlocks the door and tells us to run away. We escape through the mists just before the sun rises and the shouts of alarm resound from Brennan’s village.

Now safe at the palace of the heir’s Aunt Baru, the Princess must decide what to do with us. For having solved the riddle of the mists, outfoxed the salesman, and saved us from the mir, she ennobles Xanling and appoints him to her royal council, for surely his knowledge will be needed if she is to retake her throne. To Periani, she gives her sincerest thanks for keeping us safe and sane on the road, and bestows upon him a future boon and a steed with which he can travel the open lands to his heart’s content.

Blackborow Reflection

We played Blackborow Academy by Becky Annison in this week’s session. The Blackborow Academy is a storied institution of learning for those with magical talent, and we are all former students and now teachers at Blackborow. We are Willa “Willow” Widowspeaks, teacher of potions and master of healing magic; Stanton “Stormy” Twombly, who commands the weather and teaches the Charms class; Quill Alkina, a master of Moon & Dream Magic who teaches Divination; and Romilda Wildwood, a (secret) werewolf who can communicate with all creatures and uses that ability when teaching Magical Creatures to the students.

Twenty years ago, not long after we had graduated from Blackborow, an evil known as the Shattered appeared on our shores. The shattered appeared as shards of a mirror that can infect people and slowly transform them into their mirror selves, right instead of left, evil instead of good. We banded together to stop the Shattered, but in the process we put our classmate, Nigel Limgrave, into a magical coma when we attempted to extract information from him. Each of us contributed to this grave error, and we each regret our part in it: Romilda for injuring him, Willow for failing to heal him, Stormy for naming him the target, and Quill for putting him to sleep.

Blackborow Academy Cover showing a stone bridge leading to a small castle.
Blackborow Academy cover image from Black Armada Games.

Today, something chilling happens. A student rushes into the teacher’s lounge screaming that they’ve found a dead body near the woods adjacent to the school. We go to protect the students and investigate. The body appears partially crystallized and wholly twisted into an unrecognizable form. Could this be the return of the Shattered? The victims didn’t look quite like this, but there are so many shards. Romilda stomps off into the woods to ask the animals what they may know about what happened. She learns there was a student, then the student was glass. A flash of light followed by the sound and spray of shattering glass.

While Romilda is away, Quill returns to her notes of recent prophetic dreams involving young Chloe Elbreen picking mirror shards from the skin of other students. Quill believes the girl may be destined to confront and defeat the Shattered. We argue over whether we must hide her away to protect her, or accept her fate and assist her destiny. Willow decides to make a reversal potion to restore the body to its previous state, so we can at least learn who was the victim. We cover her classes for her while she toils away at the potion, which takes days to complete. At last, when we apply the ointment to the body, time reverses for it until it returns to its original form. First it reassembles into a shape we recognize—a troublemaking student named Raphael Moor—but it continues regressing until it becomes a simple handheld mirror.

Magically searching the school reveals that Raphael is still alive, so this mirror self that shattered, we conclude, must have been Raphael using the mirror to conjure a duplicate self (to attend classes while he pursued other interests). Relieved that this doesn’t appear to be evidence of the return of the Shattered, we take up a very pressing matter. Quill thinks Raphael should be rewarded for his ingenuity and for nearly pulling off this very difficult spell, but the rest of us insist he be punished or at least discouraged from ever doing something like this again. We need him to think twice next time and to make some restitution now for endangering himself, his classmates, and his school. We fade to black as we walk down the hall, still disagreeing on what we’ll do when we reach young Raphael Moor.

These Words Within Me Burn

We played This Heart Within Me Burns by Sam Dunnewold this week, in which we play three adventurers who journey to the House of the Empty Goddess seeking to have a curse removed from one of our number. Jul is the accursed, a former circus performer who is always seeking another thrill, her mind now flooded with memories that are not her own. She is accompanied by Maggs, a former prisoner who once caused a man’s death and swears he’ll never be caged again, and Torcha, a former midwife seeking the woman who stole a young child she had ushered into this world.

Cover of This Heart Within Me Burns showing a red heart aflame.
Cover image for This Heart Within Me Burns from Story Synth.

It is Torcha’s thirst for revenge that leads to Jul’s curse, when she guides us into the lair of a hermit who has studied the lost tongues and been driven mad by the curse he discovered in them. Jul reads his notes before Torcha can and is struck down by the curse herself. Wracked by guilt for being so selfish, Torcha performs her usual ritual prayer after the adventure, lighting the incense candles while Maggs watches on silently. Maggs begins having to protect us from Jul during the night because she rises to attack us in her sleep, and when the memories overwhelm Jul, she speaks in strange ancient languages. Jul fears that she may never get to try her gliding suit, but otherwise thinks the new memories may be useful, may allow her to help others, a change in attitude that pleases Torcha. With her mind flooded with these ancient memories, we must go to the House of the Empty Goddess to appeal to she who empties the overflowing and fills the empty. Jul worries about the rumors of people being left empty husks, but what choice do we have. The memories flowing through her frighten us all, especially Maggs, who see them as the voices of the dead, at least one of whom has reason to want him dead too.

While the curse is not all gloom—Maggs no longer being dragged on Jul’s adrenaline runs and Torcha finding herself seeking hope and thinking less of revenge—Jul is often haunted by nightmarish memories and depends on Maggs to ground her. One day in a large city, while Maggs hides from the authorities, Jul goes running along the rooftops and ends up arrested, but Torcha uses her investigative contacts to free her. Another time on the road, we meet a traveling monk who will take nothing from us but bread and water, but who insists the curse is a conduit to lost knowledge from the long dead. Are we in danger from those who would take that knowledge? Each of us thinks of what could happen. Maggs thinks about losing his friends as well as his freedom. Torcha reflects on the terror of losing one’s mind and self of self. Jul remembers the fantastic stories told about her future by fortune-tellers at the circus after her parent’s abandoned her. She extracts a promise from Maggs to end her suffering if her mind goes completely, if she can no longer be saved.

At last, we reach the House of the Empty Goddess, an emotional moment. Torcha confesses to Maggs her fear that the curse will infect the Goddess. Maggs is comforted by an acolyte of the Goddess who tells him, “Be not afraid,” when she sees him worrying over having to fulfill his promise to Jul. And Jul herself fears that the only way to rid her of the curse will be for it to infect someone else. Inside, Jul is laid upon an altar in the center of a circle of acolytes of the Empty Goddess. They perform a ritual that calls forth a Babel of voices from her, each voice a memory and each spread among the gathered acolytes, diffusing the knowledge and making it both comprehensible and safe. Jul recovers and returns to her life of adventure, but more cautious now, though she is still occasionally plagued by nightmares. Just as Jul is emptied of the unwanted memories, a hole in Torcha’s knowledge is filled: the child lives, and she senses where she must go next in her search.

Maiden Voyage to Maiden Voyage to the Moon

We tried a game new to us this week, Maiden Voyage to the Moon by Stephanie Godfrey, in which we play in a world crafted by Edgar Rice Burroughs. We are the crew of the rocket ship, Barsoom, forced to crash-land on Earth’s totally unexplored Moon on our way to Mars. Our crew consists of Earth’s ambassador to Mars, Delta Equinox; the scientific liaison, Dr. MacGuffin; pilot of the Barsoom, Ace Proton; and Jimmy John, the massively strong on-board stevedore.

Painted landscape with a rocket ship under the words 'Maiden Voyage to the Moon: A retrofuturistic RPG'.
Image courtesy of S.R. Godfrey.

We begin our tale just having landed on the lunar surface, which is covered in a thick atmosphere that obscures the stars and keeps the temperature sweltering. As we prepare to leave the ship and explore, Jimmy John is moving boxes around in the storage hold, aiming to determine what unexpected or unexpectedly heavy cargo necessitated our emergency landing. No one, particularly Dr. MacGuffin, seems entirely comfortable leaving Jimmy alone with our equipment and supplies. After subtle cajoling, Jimmy feels being left behind would be being left out, so agrees to join the crew in exploring the surface.

Outside, the forest is filled with strange plants and unbelievable creatures. After watching a group of geometric creatures crossing in front of us yet again, Ace realizes that we’re no longer bushwhacking but on a footpath. We follow it until we emerge into an opening in the forest, where a group of achingly beautiful natives await us, some floating in on mechanical wings. Delta tries speaking to them in numerous languages, including Martian, to which they respond in an almost intelligible ancient dialect of the Martian tongue. When Delta plays them music from our portable phonograph, they grow quite excited and invite us back to their village.

In the Kalkar village (for that is their name), we are greeted by their chief and invited to share a meal, during which Ace and Delta negotiate a trade of aid and one of their wing apparatuses in exchange for some item from our ship. Afterward, Jimmy participates in an athletic game in which each team attempts to put a magnetically levitating ball into their opponent’s goal. Jimmy keeps using too much force and ends up exhausted, challenging Ace to do better. Ace decides to give it a go and manages to score a goal using finesse over force, but gains a rival among the Kalkar who resents the newcomer getting past him.

Back to our ship, we instruct the Kalkar to unload many crates filled with items we’d likely have to leave behind anyway to return to our journey to Mars. When Dr. MacGuffin cries out that one of his instruments is missing, we rush outside to find ourselves stopped by members of the tribe as we see one of their number rushing away with the doctor’s box. Jimmy swings his crowbar to knock the sword out of one of their hands, while MacGuffin and Ace pull their service revolvers. MacGuffin fires wildly, but Ace calmly levels his aim and fells the escaping thief. At that, the clearing fills with Kalkars armed and able to cut us off from our ship, leaving us in dire straits. Coming to our rescue, however, is another group of natives, dressed quite differently than the first, who drive off the Kalkars after a brief skirmish. We are now ready to meet the Laythe, who will become our friends, and one of whom will join our crew when we eventually leave this rock. But that is a story for another day.

Quiet Year in our Hill

We returned to the Quiet Year by Avery Alder this week to play as a colony of ants just emerged from a war with Ant Lion packs known as the Jackals. Our anthill sat on the ravaged side of a river in a forest, so we lacked leaves and sweets, and suffered from a shortage of ant-power after our numbers had been depleted during the war. Luckily as ants, we never suffer from a lack of cooperation to coordinate our actions and address problems. We do not have family units, but work, eat, and sleep together in troops that share a single mission.

Our story begins when we send a line of ants across the river to the standing forest to collect leaves and restock our stores. During the weeks of the gathering expeditions, heavy rains collapse one side of the hill, endangering our queen. Far from our hill, scouts find a strange rusted-out metallic hulk with round rubber objects at each corner, and some two-legged creatures come to the cabin across the river. Closer to home, the grasshopper peddler comes through, trading us sweets for some of our new leaf stores, but the anteater is spotted not far from our mound.

Quiet Year Map created with Google Drawing

We begin building new quarters for the queen deeper in the mound, to observe the two-legs, and to explore the mysterious hulk. Tragedy strikes when the troop sent to observe are captured by the two-legs instead; they are never heard from again. It turns out the rusted hulk provides excellent shelter to all underneath it. The queen and eggs are relocated to safer quarters, but the colony begins to wonder if we should become polygenic and set up a second queen for additional safety. While we grapple with these existential questions, other insects displaced by the war arrive at our mound seeking shelter, and we decide to welcome them and put them to work to alleviate our short-handedness. To accommodate these newcomers, we begin building new guest quarters to house them all.

Around this time, the two-legs plant an apple tree on our side of the river to honor a previous generation, and a troop of soldiers are lost to the anteater. We pledge to drive off the anteater and manage to redirect its attention across the river. We also decide that rather than becoming a single polygenic colony, we will send a second queen to create a new colony under the rusted hulk. The effort to build the guest quarters is repurposed to create a nursery to populate the new colony, a nursery run but the newcomers, who aren’t that skilled at food collection. A group of disgruntled troops tries to sabotage these efforts, but the tensions are eased somewhat when the newcomers share their rations with the dissidents. Another group builds a Summer Shrine near the rusted hulk to protect the colonies from the coming frosts and keep us warm.

After a new group of strangers, clearly infected with a fungal disease, have to be barred from entering our community, the shriners decide to hold a festival at the Summer Shrine obelisk. But things keep delaying the festival: the harshness of winter creates turmoil, we reject the festival organizer when he demands too much of the colony’s food, and the search for the missing grasshopper occupies the entire colony. We find the grasshopper, but before the festival can continue, the Frost Shepherds arrive, and our story ends.