Sins of the Saviors, Vignettes Epilogue

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Hazy Epiphany (by Veshenga’s Player)

The arrow was in her hand before her intruder could even blink. It snapped out of the quiver, and notched to her forearm. The head steadied under a stiff index finger, her other tattooed digits coiled around the projectile. That metal point was level with the stranger’s neck, and a smile appeared through a shadowy coil.

Veshenga grunted tiredly. “I could hev’ killed you.”

Danel sat beside her, and shifted the dead hares off his shoulder. They thumped between them, bound together. “My little Quida,” he chuckled, “not even Dead Eye can match me.”

There is a flash of her dancing, the color red now a weightless, silk scarf, and she is so enticing. Her hips weave and caress the music. Even now, after Korvosa, you danced. There is a little bump in your belly, there is a little life there. I love you. You would not know it, but I love you.

“I can’t stay very long,” Veshenga propped herself up on her elbows, interrupted Danel’s thoughts. He cast her a bemused look.

“My girl is a haunting girl, a ghost in the Mierani Forest.” He tugged a leaf from one of her braids. “She still came to find me, though. Another face full of questions.”

“No questions this time…” What was she like? Tell me why you loved her. Maybe we can find her. Where would we start? “I wanted to see you before I returned to Sandpoint. We did what we could against the giants.”

Danel searched his daughter’s face, but like her mother, she was so secretive, and what expressions he gathered were mazes within mazes. Those blue eyes were strangers to him, shaped like Andrima’s, colored like Andrima’s lover. “What is on your mind, my little Quida?” He suddenly recognized that look, the one she sank into the swirl of leaves beyond her bedroll. He could not help but smile encouragingly. “ Who is on your mind?”


Ameiko dropped her chin into her hand, and watched as the returned adventurer celebrated the end of a long shift with a rowdy bunch. The tavern had been buzzing with conversation for the most part, but when Veshenga was off the clock ‘buzzing conversation’ had a habit of turning into roaring conversations and belly shaking laughter. The half-elf was definitely hitting the stuff harder tonight than usual, and Ameiko was not shy about addressing the matter when Veshenga tumbled over to the bar.“Ameiko, my lovely Ameiko!”

“Lovely? You looking for a raise or something?”

“Why?” Veshenga bounced a brow, and steadied herself against the counter. “Is this the way to do it?”

“Hardwork need not apply,” Ameiko replied with a wry grin.

“Yeah, yeah, yeah,” Veshenga waved her hand in lazy loops, and Ameiko prepared the next round.

“You going to be good for work tomorrow, Smythe? You’re not being shy with the ale tonight.”

“I am not shy, Ameiko, I am not shy,” Veshenga giggled, her accent was thickening like the frothy heads on the ale Ameiko was pouring. “You think I am drinkink too much, y’eh? Well,” she whipped around, a patron ducked as her arm zipped by, “a round for everyone. I will share, I will not be shy,” she boosted her arms over her head, and bowed as the applause met her like a wave.

The ale was set on the bar, and the off-duty guards she had been catching up with dove for the brews. Veshenga swiped her own free, and slid out of the swarming boozers in one graceful step. Her movement carried her onto the closest table, where she stamped her foot and broke into an amusing jig. She sang songs of her tribe, the way Danel used to sing, and was even more entertaining when she put too much weight on one side of the table. The furniture tipped, and spilled Veshenga to the ground.

“The ale!” Was the last thing she said before she slammed to the ground, and was reduced to stupid giggles. Her leg had caught in the ladder of one of the chairs and brought it down with her, setting her hip at a weird angle. Still, the girl kept laughing.

Veshenga closed her eyes, the giggles jarring as she caught her breath and covered her face. Her hands moved through her hairline as if that could wipe away the sudden headache. The sudden memory of Fort Rannick. A flash of red in Tessa’s hands. As the tavern reverberated with sound and merriment, she could hear the music from the swamp’s festivities. Her giggling, her smiling faltered, and she breathed a suddenly saddened gasp, her eyes glass-like as they opened again to take in the guard holding his hand out to her. His skin was dark, his smile broad. In an ideal situation there would be oak leaves waving behind his head.


Later, he was kissing her behind the tavern. His uniform was nothing foreign to her, she was accustomed to shedding gear. What connected, what fastened. His breath was rich, alcoholic, that burning stench of liquor enough to intoxicate her again.“Come back to my place?” He asked against her neck, her pulse thundered under his lips.

But Veshenga’s eyes were on the stars above them. “What about right here?”

“In public,” he began to pry at her tunic as he watched her.

“Outside,” she slurred.

“I don’t give a shit what we do,” he pressed her to the wall, “just do it quick.”

Veshenga leaned away from an incoming kiss. He stared at her, and she looked back.

“But you want it like this,” he added, “you told me you wanted it like this.”

His skin was not as dark as she thought, that was a trick played by the evening. And that broad smile was nowhere to be found. Her disappointment was crippling.

“No. No, I don’t,” she ducked under his arm, and made her way for the street. She could feel his disbelieving glare pinning into the back of her neck. He whispered something under his breath, but she missed it. Hardly mattered what he had to say anyway, she had trudged too far to track him down, and Mvashti’s home was already in sight.

“Back so soon!” Mvashti called from her place at the table. There was a spread of cards in front of her and she gingerly sipped a hot cup of tea. She hopped a little when the door slammed shut. “Oh, and we’re trekking thunder in the house now? Since when do you slam the door, child?” There was no response as Veshenga briefly haunted the kitchen and returned with bottle of old wine. “Midnight snack, eh?” Veshenga nodded, and tipped over. Mvashti kicked out one of the nearby chairs. Veshenga slumped against it, and dipped the chair back on two legs before she recovered. Mvashti finally glanced up from her cards as Veshenga slid into the chair and dropped her head to the table. Her hands were sprawled in front of her, the fingers draped across the cards.

“You know what you didn’t warn me about?” Veshenga slurred, and began to blindly sift through the remaining pile of cards. Mvashti was put out as her cards were fumbled with, had anyone else been doing it… well, the outcome would not be pretty.

“And what is that, my dear?” Mvashti humored her drunken room-mate stepdaughter with a quizzical stare.

Veshenga occasionally peeked at the cards that surfaced in her lazy grasp. She finally found a lover card, and held it up for Mvashti about as pointedly as one half-asleep could. Mvashti’s face melted from the vague onset of elderly annoyance to a sympathetic, warm mask.

“Oh, my child.” Mvashti searched for the only thing she knew would aid her stricken gypsy girl, and in the end guided Veshenga’s bottle back to her lips. “Here. Drink! Drink!” Veshenga’s eyes widened briefly, and then she settled in. She laughed into the bottle of sloshing wine and leaned back in the chair as she gulped. The wine was sapped just as the chair angled too far back. Veshenga was spilled on the ground, unconscious and still. “Oh dear,” Mvashti mumbled, and began the arduous task of tucking Veshenga in at the settee.

Dungeon Crawl, Part 1

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Dungeon Crawl is an attempt to replicate the feel of old-school D&D with a different dice mechanic and slightly more unified rules based around this mechanic. It evolved out of two realizations:

  • Random character generation’s big strength is getting you into the game fast, especially if you roll poorly on a character that subsequently dies. Especially for a game that mimics old-school D&D, rolling up a first level character should be easy and fast at the table.
  • Rolling 3d6 makes a very nice bell curve, as discovered by GURPS, the Dragon Age RPG, and, of course, old-school D&D character generation. Interestingly, the median result of 3d6 creates a similarly nice curve on a range of 1-6.

Thus, the following system.

Dice

Dungeon crawl uses two methods of dice resolution:

  • Additive: This is the classic method of rolling dice. After rolling, add all results together to get a result total. When dice are used in this method, they are written in the typical method (e.g., 3d6).
  • Separate: In this method, multiple dice are rolled and then the player selects one die from the total (typically, either high, middle, or low), based on context. When dice are used in this method, they are written using an “x” (e.g., 3×6).

Some rolls will be both additive and separate: the total of the roll will be used for one effect, while the individual dice will be used for another. For example, in combat, players roll 3d6 plus modifiers to see if they hit. If the attack is successful, one of the dice rolled is selected (based on weapon type) to determine damage. For this reason, players should be in the habit of leaving dice as they are rolled, rather than picking them up immediately after getting a result (as the other method of reading the dice may also be required).

Character Creation

Character Overview

Characters in Dungeon Crawl have only a handful of statistics:

  • Three primary abilities:
    • Fortitude, representing physical might and resilience
    • Reflex, representing speed and agility
    • Will, representing mental fortitude and potence
  • Three secondary abilities:
    • Vigor, representing endurance and healthiness
    • Luck, representing the blessings of fate or chance
    • Charm, representing ability to convince and lead others
  • A class and level, which grants:
    • A certain number of Hit Points
    • A certain number of Weapon Proficiencies added to create an Attack Bonus
    • Certain special abilities related to the class
  • Armor Class, which is generated from armor and shield used

Other than these statistics, all the character’s capabilities are either induced from background or based on gear collected.

Making a Character

  1. Prioritize your character’s primary ability scores: high, middle, and low.
  2. Roll 3×6. Assign the highest result to your high preference, the middle result to your middle preference, and the low result to your low preference. You now have three abilities ranging from 1-6.
  3. For each secondary ability, roll 2×6 and include the result from the associated primary ability. Take the median result of the three dice to generate an ability between 1 and 6. The associated abilities are Fortitude and Vigor, Reflex and Luck, and Will and Charisma.
  4. Choose a Class. Your character begins at level 1.
  5. Calculate Hit Points: Fortitude + Class Bonus (of 1-3), for a first level HP score of 2-9.
  6. If your class grants a Weapon Proficiency at first level, choose the weapon group for which it applies. You get a +1 Attack Bonus when using a weapon from this group.
  7. Write down the special abilities from your class, including what your current bonuses are when using them (as most abilities are based on level).
  8. If you’re playing a caster, select spells.
  9. Ask the GM what starting equipment and/or gold (to buy starting equipment) you have.

Example Character Creation

Bob decides to rank his abilities:

  1. Fortitude
  2. Will
  3. Reflex

He rolls 3×6 and gets 5, 3, 4; he now has:

  • Fortitude 5
  • Reflex 3
  • Will 4

He generates his secondary abilities:

  • For vigor he rolls 5 and 3 and includes Fortitude 5 for a median 5.
  • For Luck he rolls 6 and 1 and includes Reflex 3 for a median 3.
  • For Will he rolls 1 and 3 and includes Will 4 for a median 3.

His secondary scores are:

  • Vigor 5
  • Luck 3
  • Charm 3

He decides to be a fighter:

  • He picks 1 weapon proficiency (Blades +1).
  • He adds 3 HP to his Fortitude for 8 total HP.
  • He notes that he can make a Smash attack: +6 damage but does 1d6 to his character.
  • He can’t yet use Cleaving Blow, but will be able to next level.
  • He can’t specialize until he gets more proficiencies.

Classes

Notes on Weapon Proficiencies:

  • If a class gets less than one proficiency per level, the character does not gain the first proficiency until the level listed, and then every multiple of that level later. For example, a class that gets one proficiency every three levels gets the first proficiency at level 3, the next at level 6, and so on.
  • Weapon proficiencies must form a pyramid: in order to put a second level in a proficiency, there must be another proficiencies at the same current level. For example, a character cannot raise a proficiency to +2 earlier than his or her third proficiency (so the pyramid would be +2, +1). Similarly, getting a +3 proficiency isn’t possible until the sixth proficiency (for +3, +2, +1).

Fighter

Weapon Proficiencies: 1/level

Hit Points: +3 per level

Special Abilities:

  • Smash: After making a successful attack, the fighter can choose to take 1d6 damage (from strain) to deal Level + Fortitude as bonus damage (roll the weapon’s damage normally).
  • Cleaving blow: If the a fighter is facing multiple, lower-level enemies, he or she can make multiple attacks as long as they are all in striking range (if using a melee weapon) or in a straight line along the fighter’s path of attack (if using a ranged weapon). The fighter can attack one target per level in this way, as long as all targets are half the character’s level (rounded down) or less. For example, a 5th level fighter could attack up to five targets of 2nd level or less.
  • Specialization: For any weapon in which the fighter has a +3 Proficiency or better, he or she deals +2 damage. (Remember that, because of the proficiency pyramid, this ability will not be useful until 6th level at the earliest.)

Rogue

Weapon Proficiencies: 1/2 levels

Hit Points: +2 per level

Special Abilities:

  • Stealth: If a rogue moves at half speed, he or she can designate up to his or her level of total levels of other characters or monsters that will automatically not notice her despite being in an area where they might otherwise. Dim conditions or concealment may increase this number, while being well lit, in combat, or specifically searched for may reduce it. For example, a 4th level rogue can designate up to four level 1 creatures that will not notice her, or one 4th level creature.
  • Backstab: A rogue deals his or her level as bonus damage on any successful hit against a target that is unaware of the rogue, disabled, or flanked by the rogue and an ally.
  • Dirty Deeds: A rogue can always make rolls for thievery-related feats, even if the GM would otherwise be inclined to disallow them. If the rest of the party would be allowed to make the roll, the rogue makes it at one lower difficulty. What counts as thievery-related includes climbing, lock picking, trap disarming, pickpocketing, and so on, but can be added to as appropriate.

Wizard

Weapon Proficiencies: 1/3 levels

Hit Points: +1 per level

Special Abilities:

  • Spell Points: Will + 1/level
  • Spellbook: A wizard chooses 1d6 starting spells from the first level wizard list. Further spells must be found during play. He or she can learn any spell found in play by scribing it into a spellbook (but he or she may not initially be able to pay SP cost for potent spells). It takes one day per SP cost of a spell to scribe it.
  • Spellcasting: A wizard can prepare a number of spells at a time equal to Will. Replacing a currently prepared spell requires 10 minutes of study for each SP required to cast the spell. Casting a spell deducts its SP cost from the wizard’s current SP total (and the character cannot go negative). Each spell prepared can be cast multiple times, as long as the wizard can pay the SP cost.

Cleric

Weapon Proficiencies: 1/2 levels

Hit Points: +2 per level

Special Abilities:

  • Spell Points: Will + 1/2 levels
  • Spell Access: A cleric gains access to every spell on his or her deity’s spell list (but may not be able to initially pay for higher potency ones).
  • Spellcasting: A cleric can prepare a number of spells at a time equal to Will. Replacing a currently prepared spell requires 10 minutes of prayer for each SP required to cast the spell. Casting a spell deducts its SP cost from the cleric’s current SP total (and the character cannot go negative). Each spell prepared can be cast multiple times, as long as the cleric can pay the SP cost.

Sins of the Saviors, Part 4

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Goeth Before a Fall

After allocating all the gear harvested from the den of Lust, the party leaves behind the warily circling alu-fiends and takes another left turn into the domain of Pride. Within, perhaps as expected, mirrors are everywhere, making the entire structure seem immense… and populated by unlimited clones of the party members. Compensating for the feeling of infinity, they exit on what seems to be an actually immense room. In the center is a dais to a conception of the Peacock Spirit, which appears to be a wyvern-sized peacock. They quickly realize it’s an illusion and, as they step into the room, four figures step from behind it to tell them to stop. Each of these beautiful, blonde-haired young men is identical and, after some examination, also an illusion. As the party ignores them and enters, they begin rushing around the room flinging illusory spells: if a real individual were mixed in, this could have been quite the trap.

The soon find out why there is not a real individual with the illusions after bursting into a secret study at the back of the mirrored cathedral. There, the long-dead corpse of a similarly-attired individual molders, an open journal in its lap. Investigation of this room reveals that this was the last surviving member of the runemages of Pride, who had kept himself alive for the intervening millennia through a succession of clones. Unfortunately, an innate genetic frailty caught up to him before he could make another clone this time, or put into effect his plan to stop Karzoug from waking before his own master. This plan, however, proves quite helpful to the party. Apparently, the signature elements of two adjacent sins in Runeforge can be used to enhance a weapon to oppose their opposite: specifically, Lust and Pride could forge weapons to overcome Greed’s defenses. The mage also mentions that a secret way out is hidden in the halls of Wrath.

Assembling this research, the party heads out to the runepool. Haggor decides that he’d rather have a weapon that opposes Necromancy, given all the necromancers and undead they’ve fought, and so a toy from Lust and silver liquid from the pool in Envy are combined in the pool. He dips his monk’s amulet into the golden water and withdraws it covered in glowing Thassilonian runes. Veshenga is next up and does, in fact, want a weapon that opposes Greed. The proper components are added and she enchants her bow in the golden pool. However, this particular enchantment seems to have drawn Karzoug’s attention: his statue moves and speaks. They banter briefly with the risen runelord, scoffing at his attempts to get them to set aside their quest and ally with him. He seems utterly unable to conceive of why they would even oppose him. As they attempt to ignore the statue and continue with their plans, he proves that he can make it attack. It takes several mighty blows upon them before they are able to destroy it, using fighting techniques that their ultimate foe is now fully aware of.

After taking a breather to recover from the fight, Taeva decides that she would like to have access to the effects of a weapon opposed to Envy, as it is fueled partially by Wrath and deals deadly damage to anyone shielded by protective magics. This will require components from the two wings they haven’t entered yet, so they go ahead and take the next left into Wrath. Within, Taeva feels excellent inside, and gets even more excited when the guardian golem, instead of stopping her, offers her a lift to the next level of the area. The rest of the party waits, obviously not likely to have as much luck with the golem, while she scouts ahead.

It doesn’t take long for her to return, having found a teleporter that took her to a room full of warriors and sinspawn in training. The rest of the party teleports past the golem while Taeva distracts it, and they all pile out into the room of Wrathful warriors. After a moment of tense standoff, Taeva challenges one of them to a duel. They ask if she wants time to buff, and while the eldritch warrior enacts a wide range of illusion-based defenses, Balekh simply gives Taeva True Seeing and Greater Invisibility. The fight, once begun, lasts precisely three seconds as the warrior erupts into a fountain of gore. Taeva asks, invisibly, whether anyone else wants to fight, and one of the warriors rushes off to notify their leader.

Not too long after all of her buffs have expired, the runner returns and invites them to their leader’s sanctum. The woman there is densely muscled, weaved with a latticework of scars, thoroughly armored in the gear of an eldritch knight, and wielding a flaming ranseur. On her shaved head is the sigil of Wrath. Not wasting time for pleasantries, and since Balekh is out of spells, Taeva demands no time to buff before the fight. The violent-looking woman shrugs and accepts.

What follows is a furious barrage of attacks. Taeva rages and throws herself at the woman, initially attempting to feint but ultimately just settling to whittle her down with adamantine flurries. The mage initially begins with immense evocations, only to see Taeva blithely dodge out of the way or absorb them on her pre-existing resistance to fire, and also settles on a barrage of attacks. The two women trade blows, most of them landing on armor, for longer than the party can ever recall even being in a fight. Finally, Taeva attempts a feint that works, opening up the scion of Wrath to bleed, and then dances away, waiting for the woman to fall to the wound. Before she succumbs to the blood loss, the woman unleashes a pair of lightning bolts that Taeva narrowly dodges, and then the fight is over.

Somewhat unexpectedly, the other warriors prevent Balekh from healing their leader, declaring Taeva to be their new lady of Wrath. As the old leader finally gives her last shuddering breaths, the rune upon her head fades, instead blazoning it upon Taeva’s brow. Somewhat confused at their new army, the party takes a tour of the Wrath wing, determines that they’re in the process of turning the sinspawn back into humans, and encourages them to keep working on it. They also tell them that the fleshwarping pits have to go as soon as the sinspawn are people again. However, it looks like it may be years before the evocation-focused wizards figure it out on their own, and Balekh doesn’t have time to help them right now. Instead, they take their new army to make quick work of the guardians of the Necromancy wing, gathering the last of Taeva’s components. After getting her Envy-opposed weapon (and making two more Greed-opposed weapons for Balekh and Shayliss), they’re ready to leave Runeforge. Taeva tells her squadron of magus-warriors to wait for them, because they’ll return soon to gather them for the final assault on Xin-Shalast.

With that, Balekh plane shifts them away, back to the snow-covered mountain that hides the ancient workshops, and, thence, to prepare, themselves, for the ultimate battle with Karzoug.

Superhero Alternate History

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The Rise of the Übermensch

It is uncertain how long the Earth has played host to forces that fray the very bounds of science. Clearly, humanity has believed in miracles and magic, gods and demons, the immortal and the inhuman, since its earliest records. To ancient minds, many have assumed that a god would be indistinguishable from any being of great power, and, as determined by Clarke’s Law, magic is indistinguishable from technology too advanced for current comprehension.

What is known is that, by the 20th century, the forces that would become known as metahumans had worked very hard to veil their existence in history, avoiding undue attention and allowing the passage of time to turn facts into myths. Modern scholars believe that many otherwise inexplicable events can be explained via the machinations and shadow wars of some of these beings, but proof is as elusive today as it was at the time.

Yet one of these shadow wars proved that being more powerful than a normal human does not necessarily prove one wiser. Heirs to a presumably ancient order of warlocks, necromancers, and artificers dubbed themselves the Thule Society and offered their assistance to the Axis in the second World War. A Germany armed with a metahuman advantage, even one kept secret, was too overwhelming for the rivals of the Thule society to permit. They privately announced their own existence to the leaders of the Allied forces. Moreover, they defied their traditional slowness of induction, using ancient arts to bestow powers upon certain elite agents to contest the might of the Axis.

Protected by a competing cadre of powered individuals, the Allies won the war, rooting out and destroying as much of the Thule Society as possible in the process. Things might have gone back to normal, with the metahuman benefactors of the war brokering deals to slip back into myth. However, the induction of dozens of young men of heroic and patriotic disposition had a more resounding effect than initially expected.

The Lehrman Act

Not long after the War, several of the young men that had been empowered began to grow restless, and turned their newfound might to the eradication of problems at home. Based on the comics of the previous decades, many of these individuals took to wearing colorful outfits as a symbol of their difference from common men, and as a way of protecting their private identities while they struggled against crime and other injustice.

A fierce debate broke out in the centers of world government over the disposition of these individuals. Based on the USSR’s decision to force all non-retired metahumans to register their identities with the state and continue to serve in the people’s army, Senator Herbert Lehrman of New York was able to successfully convince the United States to do the opposite.

Under the Lehrman Act of 1952, it became permissible for individuals to operate legally under a costumed identity separate from their private one. While costumed heroes were encouraged to register with the government, at least sufficiently to verifiably contest any individual in a duplicate costume smearing the hero’s good name, doing so was not required.

No costumed individual meeting a certain standard of conduct (primarily, the establishment of capabilities at or beyond the peak of a normal human) could be forced by government agencies to divulge his private identity, or be associated with a private identity by forensic techniques, unless he voluntarily declared himself (or admitted to being a Communist).

However, any individual availing himself of this identity protection tacitly agreed to comply with all local laws and the directions of the mundane authorities or face summary judgment: costumed menaces to society were subject to incarceration without a trial and, if necessary, a much lower bar to law enforcement considering them a clear and present danger (i.e., the police had carte blanche to use lethal force if deemed appropriate).

Under the Lehrman Act, vigilante justice was, de facto, legalized, so long as costumed heroes made a real attempt to follow the intent of the law and did not interfere with the duly appointed authorities. Conversely, many figures of organized crime began to use the law as a loophole, conducting their own dealings in costume to protect their personal identities from legal repercussions from their crimes. The era of superheroes vs. costumed villains began.

The Golden Age

Escalation happened slowly, but with growing force. Those secret societies that had loaned their might to the first of the costumed heroes during the War began to doubt their own policies of remaining secret in a world clearly aware of powered individuals. Some began to imbue and train even more good men and women in their varied arts, while some stepped into costume themselves: banished alien lords, weird scientists, archmagi, and things that were not remotely human stepped into the public eye alongside their enhanced protégés.

Meanwhile, the baby boom had begun, and powered individuals had not been any more complacent than their peers. By the 1960s, the second generation of open metahumans was apparent, and more would follow. Some claimed that even direct descent from a metahuman was not required to display powers, though it was difficult to research this fact due to the Lehrman Act. However, it did seem that new metahumans were arising throughout the world in a frequency unexplainable by simple genetics, and many began to suspect, in the era of the atom, that nuclear and microwave radiation, perhaps combined with profligate power use by existing heroes and villains, had created a self-propagating incidence of metahumanity.

Yet, tied to the belief that humanity has reached its next stage was the fear that those that were not blessed with the transition would be left behind. Many metahumans displayed not only powers beyond what was previously thought possible, but wielded amazing technology far beyond the science of the day. Something about the weird inventions of the metahuman intellect was flawed, however: each such device worked along principles at right angles to commonly accepted science. In order to transcend the limits of modern technology, nearly every intellect beyond humanity seemed to skip steps required for mundane comprehension. The wonders of weird tech were, in fact, unable to be maintained or reproduced by any but their original inventors and mad scientists of a similar bent, and mass production was simply out of the question for all but the simplest of gadgets.

Thus, in a world where battles between colorful titans became a more and more commonplace theatre, those not gifted by superpowers and reaping no apparent rewards from them began to see metahumans not with wonder but as an inconvenience, or even a curse. All that remained was some single rallying event to push public opinion to its tipping point.

The Iron Age

In the summer of 1990, two of the world’s most potent metahumans clashed in the desert of Iran. The United States’ Liberty and The Hammer of the former Soviet Union had long been preeminent heroes of their countries, and had developed a rivalry that could not be set aside with world politics. Scientists would later suggest that their titanic battle merely set off an already unstable fault, but the world at large merely saw television clips—played over and over—of two powered individuals devastating the land for fifty miles in all directions with their vainglorious feud.

The worst that had come of metahuman battles before had been fractured infrastructure and a few lost lives, often in the pursuit of saving more. None of the truly powerful heroes and villains had ever managed to engage in such a direct opposition of forces, nor demonstrated that the effect they could have on their environments was on the order of a warhead rather than artillery. The body count was extensive, and with it the nightmares of the first world: what if such a battle was to take place in the heart of a populated city?

Perhaps overreacting—in a spirit of cooperation designed to distance themselves from the feud of their heroes—the US and Russia both passed legislation, hurriedly copied by many other countries, giving new powers to deal with such threats in the future, and heavily curtailing the vigilante freedom of heroes. The world’s law enforcement was encouraged to cease cooperation with heroes as much as possible and to strongly hold costumed individuals to the letter, rather than the spirit, of the law. One small ray of light remained for metahumans in that attempts to completely overturn the Lehrman Act failed: costumed individuals retained their immunity to having their private lives unearthed by the government.

Many heroes retired immediately, while others weathered the rest of the decade by continuing their activities without police assistance or notice. Most villains simply forwent their costumes and returned to the currently less noteworthy world of organized crime. Others continued to terrorize society only to find themselves being put down hard: those that survived their arrest were consigned to new, high-security prisons without trial or hope of release.

But like all public opinion, the disillusionment with heroes would fade with time.

The Modern Era

The Dotcom boom saw the rise of a new class of metahuman: the spokeshero. As a new generation that was slightly too young to truly internalize the fears of their parents rose to power amongst the newest corporations, so did a cult of celebrity around certain heroes that had remained in the public eye. Heroes had always been symbols in a way that an ordinary actor, athlete, model, or musician would never be, and for a time they became the representatives du jour of Wall Street. Simply attending public events and endorsing products was perfectly legal, even after 1990, and several heroes gladly drank in the public acclaim they had been missing.

After a few years of such an unthreatening resurgence of heroes in the media, the public opinion had mellowed significantly. The next rash of global disasters, including the one that plunged the US into the Middle East once again, showed no traceable connections to any kind of metahuman. But many asked the question: why didn’t heroes stop it? And the answer most came to was simply that they had not been allowed to.

In a world faced once again with a human evil seemingly insurmountable by purely human effort, the world turned its eyes to its abandoned heroes and asked for their help. After nearly a decade of heroes once again on the ground, fighting their nations’ war, a resurgence of heroes at home has also reached a height greater than any time in the last twenty years.

It remains to be seen whether this will be a blessing for the world, or whether humanity would have been better off to let the superhuman fade back into myth.

Sins of the Saviors, Part 3

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Clockwise around the Sinwheel

The party emerges from the portal in a short hallway, with no connecting portal behind them, simply a blank wall. It exits on an immense domed room dominated by a huge pool of glowing, boiling prismatic liquid. Around the pool is an enormous Sihedron rune, and at each point of that is a statue of a runelord, twenty-five feet tall. Each statue guards another passageway out of the room, clearly marking their domains within Runeforge. The party takes time to examine each statue, paying particular attention to the nude and… anatomically correct… statue of the enchantress Sorshen, runelord of Lust. Taeva briefly considers climbing it to rub… certain parts… for luck, but then worries that, at twenty-five-foot scale other… parts… might present a navigation hazard to a small gnome.

Given the runepool a wide berth for now, they discuss what they’re here for, deciding that their first goal should be to see if the research here leads to any weaknesses of Karzoug. With that in mind, they figure that their first destination might as well be the hall of Greed, hoping that it is where his own allies might have left their research. The heroes push past the forebodingly large statue of the lord of lucre and walk into his hallway.

The trip through the hall is like walking through molasses, with the magic clearly trying to make entry difficult for those not allied with Greed. Taeva has an easier time than the others. Eventually, they all push through and see that the hall ends in a blank wall with a door to the right. On guard for traps, Taeva quickly becomes assured this is one, and spikes the fake door closed before it can spring and crush the party against the far wall. They take a moment and open what must be a secret door, and the end of the hallway slides open to reveal… more hallway. Traveling down a wood-paneled hall scribed with the exploits of Karzoug and lit by hundreds of faintly-glowing gemstones, they see an end to the hall in a room with a fountain. However, a disturbing green mist also hangs at the end of the hallway.

After some debate, Taeva suits up as best she can and pushes through the mist. It seems to have no ill effect. Within the room, an ornate fountain splashes clear water into a pool. Frolicking in the pool are a quartet of tiny man-creatures apparently made of solidified water. These mephits briefly taunt Taeva, but she ultimately convinces them that she and her friends mean no harm to them specifically, but will likely be killing the “mean metal man” that sometimes wanders through and drives them off, killing their friends. The rest of the party pushes though shortly after: Haggor feels some kind of magic try to transform him as he enters, so Balekh disperses the gas with a wind spell before racing through with the others. The mephits, while strangely erudite and personable, have limited knowledge of the rest of the area besides that it’s a big loop that features several other fountains.

The party explores the area, coming across, as noted, several fountains filled with goldfish. Taeva talks to the goldfish, finding them about as exciting conversationalists as one would imagine. Further rooms seem to contain raw materials for magical fabrication. Finally, the group exits on a library where a mithril-skinned wizard is working on projects, apparently largely involving turning animals into metal. A monkey and other lab animals drool disinterestedly from across the room. The strange construct-wizard is initially willing to talk, at least with the other wizard present, but Balekh starts off on the wrong foot by trying to ascertain the mithral mage’s allegiance by clearly implying his own opinion of Karzoug. The wizard states his intention to begin casting defensive buffs while they confer, so the party instead attacks. After a shot from Veshenga, the mage teleports away. They search for him and eventually find him in a back room with another pool similar to the runepool in the main area, working to finish buffing. It doesn’t do him much good, as Haggor easily bounds over and grapples him, holding him still while Veshenga and Shayliss fill him full of both physical and magic missiles.

Some research later, Balekh believes that Karzoug slept through the ages by creating a massive runepool that held him in stasis between this world and some dangerous dimension called Leng. He was meant to wake much sooner, but his agents all appear to have died out or been trapped here in Runeforge. The pool in the back of the area was their attempt to create a runepool they didn’t have to share, but it was only partially successful. The party can’t figure out what it does besides make items glow, so they carefully take a sample of the water and leave, bidding farewell to the mephits. Veshenga takes with her a brand new pet lab monkey (that apparently was transformed from a beetle).

The next sin is Sloth, and the party pushes into an area that was originally a complex of lush baths and relaxation centers, but which has corroded into a swamp covered in filth, noxious gas, and small creatures (likely the source of the beetle that was transformed into Veshenga’s monkey). They debate exploring anyway, but the air quickly becomes very dangerous and they suspect that any Sloth-mages here long ago just laid down and died.

Moving on, they enter the domain of Envy, which looks like it was recently (relative to the timeline of the place) attacked by the other factions of sin, particularly bearing numerous burn-scars and other signs of Wrath upon its murals of abjurers striding the world beneath their boots. Everywhere the place is burned and collapsed. The first room they come upon bears a sparking rod in the center of the room, whose emanations of magical energy seem to be growing more pronounced. Everyone backs off to wait, except for Taeva. Waiting for the sparking to reach a crescendo, she gamely tosses in her returning dagger. A pressure wave of magical force expands with a chime throughout the room, and the dagger flops to the ground, inert, just as it was beginning its return. The party skirts the edges of the room containing the disjoining trap, finding little left in the halls of Envy besides a pool of silvery liquid in a hidden room. They take a sample of this water as well, wait for the trap to spring once more, then head out.

Fourth up is the hall of Lust, which Haggor and Veshenga are looking forward to. They easily push their way in, with the rest of the party not far behind, and enter an immense cathedral to carnal acts. Immense statues of nude figures serve as columns holding up a vaulted ceiling frescoed in vivid detail with an entire spectrum of Lust-related acts. Cages and pits surround the room, and an immense silk tent rests in the center. One of the nearby cages appears occupied, but, before they can have a closer look, bat-winged figures bearing polearms take flight from around the room, swooping in and circling to get a look at the characters. As they get closer, they are clearly visible as shapely young women wearing next to nothing, their small horns and wings marking them to those in the party with knowledge of such things as alu-fiends, half-demon daughters of a succubus.

The demi-demonesses make catcalls at the party, particularly Haggor and Balekh. When the group doesn’t attack, the girls indicate that they’ll have to talk to “mother” before being allowed to explore the hall. They point the party to the tent and then swoop inside. The heroes wander into the exotic pavilion, which they note has a few blood stains that mar the otherwise pristine walls. Within, it smells of rich spices and debauchery, and they pass a quintet of slack-jawed stone giants, obviously turned into guards and sex slaves by the lust demons, before entering a room of carnal delights. Upon a throne that is as much sex toy as symbol of rule lounges a creature that clearly resembles in all important respects a beautiful woman, but whose red skin and other demonic features mark her as the succubus mother of the alu-fiends that now flank her as honor guard.

She seems quite happy to talk, and appreciative of the… possibilities… with each member of the party in turn. They glean that she doesn’t care about any of the runelord politics, having originally been a captive of the mages of Lust. She’s willing to help them in exchange for… favors… but has no personal stake in the matter. Balekh pursues what happened to the Lust mages, and Delvahine waxes poetically upon the torments she inflicted upon them, including the last survivor who they have reduced to insanity and call Mr. Mutt. At some point, Balekh’s tolerance for loving descriptions of torture and soul-draining snaps, and he launches a blast of holy light at the succubus.

Veshenga and Taeva recover from the surprise before the demonesses do, and Veshenga, with possibly the least enjoyment she’s ever had from killing anything, apologetically launches a barrage directly into the succubus’ chest, nailing her to the throne. Taeva slips forward and guts her with a flick of the wrist, and the immortal succubus has merely a moment to look betrayed before bleeding out completely and dissipating into the aether. Balekh turns himself invisible.

Two of the daughters are still blinded by the holy smite, and they swing wildly in front of them. The other two hammer their polearms into Taeva, not quite yet aware of the magnitude of what just happened. The party hears the giants raise the alarm and begin running around the corner. Haggor steps forward and disarms one of the girls, yelling at the party not to hurt them. Taeva continues to try to attack one of the alu-fiends that just struck her, but is unable to do much to the damage-resistant creature without getting a sneak attack. The rest of the party begins unleashing arrows and spells at the hallway full of giants.

While the giants surge forward and the daughters make a few half-hearted attacks, the fight is essentially over at the this point. After another few seconds, each of the alu-fiends flees the tent, swooping away, and the party makes short work of the enslaved giants. Taeva wants to go after the alu-fiends, but Haggor insists that he’ll stop her if she does. Still baffled as to exactly what just happened, the party loots the pavilion and then goes to check on Mr. Mutt, warily watching the alu-fiends circling above. The caged Thassilonian guard does, indeed, appear to be too far gone into madness to help them or be helped, barely able to make noises in any kind of language. They leave him for now, unable to free him from the force cage he’s trapped in without hurting him, hoping to find a solution later. They exit the hall of Lust and prepare to explore the three remaining sins.

D&D 3.5/Pathfinder Overpowered Spells

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My Rise of the Runelords campaign has marked the first time I’ve actually run a game for a high level party in the 10 years or so since 3.0 came out. Somehow, most of my previous games ended around 12th level. What I learned is that magic starts to get disgusting pretty quickly past mid level. I’m not talking about the symbols and the other save-or-die effects that are constantly quoted. I’m talking about the lower levels spells (primarily buffs) that have been gradually overpowered to the point that you really start to notice them when your casters have enough slots to be running a bunch of them all the time. As a GM, you don’t ever really have as much time for mastering the interactions of spells as any player, and it’s rather depressing to see something you’d intended to be a major challenge to the party shut down by a handful of long-duration buffs the caster runs as a matter of course. Thus, the observations below:

General Observations

Spells, particularly lower level spells, should probably never provide a blanket immunity to core capabilities of higher level casters/spells. Unless it’s something of very marginal use that’s only annoying, not actively harmful, it’s a big problem when a spell specifies “immune.”

I started down this path when I noticed that Freedom of Movement completely invalidated the core shtick of my group’s monk: Grappling. It didn’t make casters much harder to grapple, it made them immune, no matter how good his grappling ability got (and it got very good indeed). In its original conception, any cleric that expected to fight the party and had heard about their monk would be a fool not to cast this spell, and then the player would never get to do his favorite thing.

In general, I figure that any spell that creates an immunity should probably either be retooled to a very high resistance (that scales with caster level, possibly to a max for the spell level as the Cure spells do) or offer a contested caster level roll (say, attacker’s CL + Spell Level vs. defender’s CL + Spell Level + 20). This should create a chance, even if it’s a small one, for a higher level character/spell to punch through defenses that are easy to erect.

Specific Spells

0 Level

  • Create Water: This one is a Pathfinder problem because they let casters use unlimited level 0 spells per day. A GM is advised to declare that this pulls water vapor out of the air, and is thus far less effective in dry environments and/or when cast in rapid succession, if he or she ever intends to run a desert campaign.

1st Level

  • Protection from Alignment: At some point, this fairly long-duration, first level buff became a blanket immunity to most of the Enchantment school and a large chunk of Conjuration (Summoning) in addition to being a fairly decent defensive buff against evil creatures. A world with this spell is a world where it’s foolish to be an Enchanter unless you’re true neutral, and it’s not worthwhile to summon any kind of outsider to assist you unless they happen to wield weapons. For future uses, I’d probably roll the non-domination Enchantment immunities back into the the standard +2 save bonus, give summoned creatures a Will save against the spell DC to attack, and run the domination immunity as discussed above (with a contested caster + spell level check to punch through).
  • Magic Missile: I know it’s iconic. I know it’s little changed from its original wording. But at some point, a first level damage spell shouldn’t be the go-to fallback for high level casters. An interesting side effect of the spell is that it also eats through Mirror Image at high levels. Really, I think the key problem with this spell is that it deals unresistable damage. If it did the caster’s choice of fire, cold, or electricity damage (even determined at time of casting) it would at least be somewhat balanced at higher levels.
  • Disguise Self: This spell isn’t so much overpowered as it is annoying, particularly in how inexpensive it makes a Hat of Disguise for being 1st level. A character with access to this spell becomes an infiltrator unparalleled. I’m not sure what one could do to fix it without making it useless, however.

2nd Level

  • Resist Energy: 10 energy resistance is always good. This spell already scales to be a very long duration buff at high levels. It probably doesn’t also need to scale to 30 energy resistance. Did you know that there aren’t a lot of energy spells that can consistently do more than 30 damage that aren’t subjected to multiple reductions by this spell? 30 Fire Resistance declaws Meteor Swarm.
  • Glitterdust: I hope you didn’t plan on ever using a monster that was invisible again after third level. This spell should probably use the Dispel Magic mechanics and just be a targeted Dispel to suppress Invisibility-related effects, rather than automatically making them pointless.
  • Scorching Ray: Like Magic Missile, this spell may simply scale too well, and is another go-to attack spell even at high level. I’ve heard that this one is particularly disgusting in the hand of Arcane Tricksters, as each ray can get a sneak attack.  It’s probably fine, and faster to deal with at the table, if it becomes a single-target Fireball: 1d6 damage per level to one target as a ranged touch, capping at 10d6.
  • Knock: This spell has the twin effects of potentially invalidating the rogue and becoming a required spell in modules to open anything magically locked. It should probably require the caster to make some kind of level check as an automatic attempt to open the lock at the lock’s normal DC. Conversely, magically locked devices should probably have some kind of DC, even a very high one, for rogues to get them open, rather than relying on the characters having access to Knock.
  • Delay Poison: Did you know that this spell technically makes you immune to poison for many, many hours? Sure, you’re supposed to take the effects later, but having to remember that makes a lot of extra work for the GM. And do poison-related spells, such as Cloudkill, even technically still exist later? This spell should probably just be a flat bonus to saving throws vs. poison and/or be cast to delay the effects of a single, specific application of poison.
  • Silence: Apparently, Silence was originally just meant to help armor-wearers stealth. Very quickly, it became a mage-killer spell. Even though it theoretically has a save for the target, no one ever targets the caster; they target the tank or, even better, a rock that can be carried by the tank or thrown next to the caster. I’d suggest changing this to a bonus to Stealth in a radius when cast normally, with the option to target a caster specifically (and allow the save) if you want to prevent verbal spells.

3rd Level

  • Magic Circle against Alignment: This has all the problems of of Protection from Alignment, plus it’s bigger and has a larger duration. It’s also changed a lot from 2nd edition, where it didn’t ever seem to be intended to be an aura that traveled with the caster. Even 3rd edition seemed to have intended it to be static, but accidentally used the term “emanation” to describe its radius instead of “burst.” From 3.5 onward, it became an aura. The spell is fine with the Protection from Alignment adjustments described earlier and if it’s changed from an emanation to a burst, thus staying put once it’s cast for both uses.

4th Level

  • Scrying: They still haven’t fixed Scry/Teleport. Pathfinder’s description of the spell is almost there, but it still lets you teleport to the target. I’d go so far as to say you only see the target against a completely indistinct background. That way, the spell serves its purpose as a spying tool without also making it a perfect weapon to insta-gank the target, wherever he or she may be.
  • Greater Invisibility: It doesn’t break. It used to at least make the attacker partly visible after the first attack. Now, it’s sneak attacks, all spell long. A rogue would be crazy not to ask for this spell to be memorized and cast every day. The spell is 4th level, and invisibility has a lot of methods to disable it. But damn.
  • Freedom of Movement: As mentioned above, it’s really annoying to a grapple-specialized character to be blanket immune to grappling. I changed this in my game to a + Caster Level bonus to CMD vs. grappling and to checks to escape grapples. It still had mostly the same effect, but preserved the chance that the monk would get a hold on the target. (However, as a side note, attempts to escape a grapple should really be a contested CMB check, not a check against the grappler’s CMD. Someone who’s doing a lot of grappling probably has a truly disgusting CMD, particularly if a monk, as CMD adds in Dex and all deflection and evasion bonuses to AC. Those bonuses don’t exactly explain why it’d be harder to escape the character’s grapple.)

Sins of the Saviors, Part 2

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Seven Keys

Shayliss pulled her cloak tighter against the howling wind on the hilltop. Balekh had protected them all against the cold, but the bleak white landscape seemed to necessitate some kind of gesture other than contempt. There were still seven heads. That was annoying: the compulsive need to count things she’d been experiencing lately, especially on adventures. Ameiko said it wasn’t anything to worry about; everyone dealt with the stress of being an adventurer in his or her own way.

The heads were regularly spaced in a circle around the massive, snow-drenched hilltop, each carved in a striking and distinctive likeness, each retaining its shape for, Balekh said, ten thousand years or more. Balekh was wandering around the circle now, consulting notes from the library, trying to figure out which was which. She was pretty sure it didn’t matter, as it was completely clear which school each head represented when you looked at it with mage sight, but her husband liked to be thorough.

It was funny; she’d never really liked Ameiko before, but the Minkai woman was increasingly one of the only people in town she had anything in common with. Three of her friends already had their first children. Four more were pregnant. She really couldn’t contribute much to the conversations besides resisting the urge to explain the terrible things she’d seen. Talk about the majestic dam, not the monsters inside it. Talk about the view from the roof of the fortress, not the smell of the corpses in the rain. Ameiko said that was normal, too. Still seven heads.

Balekh had moved on to trying to come up with an appropriate prayer. Right now, he was staring at the statue of a slightly toad-faced woman slowly reciting, “Belimarius, great Runelord of Envy, we beseech you to release your keystone so that we might enter Runeforge… by your grace!” He then cast some kind of abjuration only to have the magic sucked in by the head. There was a rhythmic thrumming noise, a blast of displaced energy ruffled the snow around the head in a quickly-expanding circle, and then sitting in the statue’s mouth was a golden key. Balekh seemed very excited. Everyone else seemed a little bored.

What was weirdest was that she didn’t mind. All of the hopes and dreams of a shopkeep’s daughter, perhaps blessed with a bit of the beauty of ancient Cheliax but none of the sophistication, seemed a little pointless, now. She and her friends had spent weeks trying to get at the sons of the Valdemars and the Scarnettis, knowing full well that they were probably going to settle for one of the few single men in town that owned his own business and was at least pleasing to look at. She’d been the only one who thought it would be fun to try to snare one of the new adventurers. Her life would have been totally different, just in the last year, if she’d listened to her friends and not risked it. Seven heads, three keys now.

The prayers were seeming a little more forced now, Balekh was trying to come up with something unique for each one. At this rate, it could take all day on the last one. “Honey,” she asked, looking up at the face of the snarling but otherwise beautiful woman, “this one’s the evocation lady, right?” At his nod, she immediately attempted to fire off a fire spell, feeling the magic get sucked into the statue. It had the same effect, even without the prayer, and a golden key formed in the woman’s mouth. Getting the rest of they keys was much faster after that, and the rest of them seemed pleased to get moving again. They trudged up the long earthen ramp to the eighth face, this one far more eroded, on the opposite cliff.

Would she have been happy with one of the men of Sandpoint? Everyone else seemed to go about their days only slightly perturbed by all the weirdness in town lately. But everyone else hadn’t had a sister murdered by a ghoul; something told her that would have happened no matter what she did, and only Balekh being in her life let her have the capacity to do something about it. To take out the rage she felt at her happy, provincial life being destroyed by burning to cinders all the monsters of the world. Every blast of fire made her feel a little better, a little less angry, a little more at peace. It was weird; when the fire was flowing through her, but not burning her, she could almost feel another world. A more stable world that wanted her to be part of it. Seven heads, Seven keys, one eroded face, one long, icy tunnel.

Taeva stopped them before they went onto the ice slide. The path was a trap; an ancient illusion of a statue covered the safe route along the edge. Tricky. They pushed through the fake statue and wandered along the real path, quickly seeing how the main path dumped onto a few feet of slide and then a substantial drop. Instead, they threaded their way like a corkscrew down into the ice-rimed chamber. It was warmer here, or at least there was no wind; it felt like an ancient tomb, and obviously the monsters of the world found it creepy enough to leave uninhabited. The ramp gradually deposited them into a frozen cathedral, seven pillars covered in runes surrounding a much larger central column.

She still couldn’t summon up the righteous indignation that the others managed at what was going on. If she understood it correctly, Sandpoint just had the bad fortune to be built on that gross old dungeon, which was somehow involved in this whole thing. If they’d just built five miles down the coast, none of this would have happened: the murders, Nualia going crazy (she did have a twinge of guilt, recalling being jealous of the half-celestial girl and joining in with the older girls’ taunts), the goblin attacks, the giants, maybe not even the ghouls. This Karzoug guy seemed like a jerk, but would it really be that bad to return the stupid, warring, podunk land of Varisia to the rule of a guy that had clearly created works of majesty that had lasted thousands of years after he went to sleep? Sure, it might mean virtual slavery under the thumb of an immortal tyrant… but that seemed right to her, somehow. Eight pillars, seven keys.

Everyone but her seemed to be able to read the pillars. She guessed they were covered in Thassilonian like everything else lately. Finally, the others showed an interest, not just Balekh. She thought it was mostly that they’d all worked pretty hard to learn the language over the last few weeks, and wanted to get some use out of it. Taeva and Veshenga found the keyholes in the seven pillars at basically the same time, perfectly sized for the seven keys. Balekh and Haggor began to work to separate the keys back out by the heads they’d come from, having tossed them all into the same bag. Finally, they got them sorted out, inserted each in turn, and, after some discussion on whether they needed to be turned simultaneously, all got turned within a few moments of one another. The pillars each began to shine as the keys turned, one by one, and then the central column lit up as well, its light twisting into a vortex that seemed to face all of them, no matter from which direction they looked at it. All of them shared a look, began checking gear and enchantments, and then, as a group, piled into the portal to see what the big deal was with this whole Runeforge thing…

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