WiP 17 (2018)

His first instinct was a spell to find his way out of the temple.

Then second thoughts kicked in.

His camera was gone.  He needed proof or no one would believe him.  They didn’t want to and there’d been millennia of hoaxes.

Knowing how many dragons were sleeping in the refuge would help too.

Maybe he could do something to stop them, or delay the awakening.

Someone had indicated, he thought, that the waking process took a while.  Months, maybe.  It was possible that he could make that longer . . . if he knew what they did, and had months to years to study the process.

No, bad idea.

Too many thrillers and action stories.

He was a scholar and researcher.

His best bet was to get information and get himself out.

So far, Alaric knew he had been lucky not to run into any priests or servants.  Or maybe there just weren’t that many.  How many people did it take to maintain a mothballed refuge and care for comatose dragons?  Accounting for a place mage and automatons too.

Hopefully not many.

Alaric gulped a little, realizing just how much he depended on hope and luck in the situation.

Not for the first, or last, time, he wished he’d brought a team.

Who might have been captured with him.  Or set the priest-caretakers into full blown paranoia, triggering violence.  At the very least they would have been potential hostages, and planning an escape would be much more difficult, in its own way.

He shook himself.

Time to move.

He formed a simple, generic seeking spell, indicating dragons when it was appropriate.

The effect manifested as a muted neon green arrow in his mage sight, pointing to his left.

After a few turns down long corridors, Alaric paused to catch his breath.  He hadn’t been jogging or running in years.  Bent over, hands on his knees, the sorcerer heard heavy thumps on the scale-tiled floor.

He rose quickly and flattened himself against the wall as the sounds grew louder.

Moments later, a troop of four statue-guards marched down the cross hall.  Alaric prayed to any deity that there were enough shadows, as a single priest strode behind them.

The woman glanced down his hall, but it seemed some divinity was listening as she passed by without looking too closely.

Alaric released the breath he had been holding with a rush of relief.

Unfortunately, his arrow pointed directly after the escorted priest.

Double shite.

He risked a glance down the hall.

The guards were gone, but the hall took a sharp right after a couple dozen feet.

After looking the other way to ensure the coast was clear, Alaric did his best to sneak down the hall.  He kept to the wall, practically brushing it with elbows and back at every step.  Unlike the others, this one was bare and undecorated.  On one hand, he thought, less to run into.  On the other, there was no cover, and there were no doors or alcoves.

Probably a service hall, he decided.  One of those passages no one lived on and no visitors saw.  Just a practical space the servants used to move around and do their jobs.  There was a tangle of those halls at the Tower, for servants.  He and some other students had snuck into them a few times to avoid teachers and others.  The faculty pretended to forget about their existence, though they had probably all used the servant halls as students.

Maybe, if the spell was right, this was the one that the staff used to check on the dragons.

It was far too small for dragons to use themselves, if the stories and Jdal’s tapestries were right.

He crept along increasingly utilitarian halls or what felt like hours, sloping ever gradually down.

Finally, Alaric stood at the mouth of a tunnel that showed signs of being hastily dug out of the living rock.  The entirety was bare stone, smooth all around.  The polished gloss spoke of regular usage or, since it was all around, the use of earth sorcery.  Where the more finished halls were rectangular and made of blocks of stone covered in something like plaster, the new one was almost entirely circular.  It looked like a refinement of the spell he’d used in his suite, just done by someone who knew what they were doing.  And had more time and a lot more raw power at their disposal.

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WiP 16 (2018)

For his part, Alaric went along quietly, certain that even at two to one odds he had no chance of fighting free.  Those odds plummeted once they reached the corridor.  There, they were joined by four life-size statues of stone men.  Two took the lead at the priest’s gesture, and two took the rear.

As they walked, Alaric noted the statues moved with an almost natural grace and ease.  He saw no hint of stiffness or awkwardness.  They were unlike the handful of constructs he had seen as a student.  The scholarly side of his mind wondered whether they were animated differently or if the art had lost its potency or finesse as it fell out of favor among modern sorcerers.  Maybe place mages could experiment . . . he added that thought to the long “If I Get Out of This” list.

His thoughts were replaced by a mental sigh and flood of relief as his escort returned to his rooms.  They were the same, he thought.  The stone men simply turned to face the center of the hall, two flanking his door and the others opposite them.  One of the priests caused the door to fade, a heartbeat after Alaric remembered to suspend his wards.

They waved him in, but did not follow.

He watched as the door re-solidified, and he reactivated the wards.

To test, Alaric thought of the door opening.

Nothing happened.

The door remained solid.

So, Jdal had already changed it, probably while they had been talking in his office.

Suddenly, his plans to create a back door did not seem so silly or paranoid.

The priests were still nearby, probably.  They could not have walked very far.  Plus, Jdal was, he had to assume, concentrating pretty hard on the room and his movements.  The statues didn’t strike Alaric as being very high on the intelligence or free will scale.  Which meant they were probably for intimidation or would be activated should he somehow open the door or otherwise draw the head priest’s attention.

Patience and waiting.

It was a good thing, Alaric thought, that he had built up the former over years of research.  Finding the best resources often took painstaking research, especially for ancient primary sources.

Since he did not wish to appear suspicious, or draw more attention, the sorcerer found a spot on a particularly plush and soft rug. There he sat, closed his eyes, and began his meditation, as if he were outside recharging.

Within minutes, Alaric had himself in a light trance, just deep enough to relax yet remain aware of his surroundings.

He quickly decided to wait until after a servant brought dinner.  Maybe even an hour or two later than that.  Then, no one would be coming to his rooms for several hours, maybe a bit less.  Waiting a little longer should, Alaric hoped, divert Jdal’s attention.  The priest might expect something right after the meal, but he had to sleep sometime.

Meanwhile, meditating helped him rest, kept him from getting too bored, and should bore anyone watching.

Hours later, with no contact beyond the servant who had brought a tray of food, Alaric gave in to his boredom and nerves.

He walked into the bath and checked his spell one last time.

Before activating the latent magic, Alaric drew on the energy stored in his ring.

He shaped it into a few detection spells, for locating and seeing a person from afar.

Then he twisted the mental patterns, redrawing them in ways that he hoped would serve to reverse their effects.  Once they seemed right, Alaric imagined the patterns draping themselves over his body.  With luck, he thought, they would work as expected and might fool even place magic.  That was the part he was really uncertain about.  And how quickly Jdal might realize he had disappeared.

Alaric drew in a deep breath.

As he released it, he activated the spell on the wall.

The rock within the circle of symbols began to rapidly dissolve, leaving a thick layer of sand behind.

It was a simple digging spell, but he had had to enlarge it.

Within seconds, enough stone had been eroded for the sorcerer to begin crawling through.

Maybe eight feet later, Alaric found himself standing in a bedroom.  The layer of dust on the room indicated that the place had not been used in a long time.

Too late, it occurred to the sorcerer to wonder if the suite’s door would open for him, from the inside.

Certain he was merely jinxing himself, Alaric strode through the abandoned suite to place his hand on the door.  A series of dust born coughs interrupted his concentration.  After they passed, he focused on the door opening, as with his own room’s.

And nothing happened.

Alaric looked for a couple seconds to be sure.

When there was no change, he shrugged.

On to Plan B, he thought.  It was more energy use than he wanted, but there was no other, quick, option.

Touching the wall with his palm, the sorcerer shaped a smaller version of the earth spell he’d used in his suite.  Within seconds of the spell being released, he had an opening to the corridor, far down the hall from the sentry statues.

Alaric stuck his head out to see if the guards had responded.

Once he saw they were standing at attention, still as, well, statues, he boosted himself through the hole and into the corridor.  He speed walked to the nearest corner and ducked around it, just trying to get out of sight.

Minutes later, he was crouched in an alcove.

Origins Game Fair 2018 (Day Three)

Third day wrapped up my Origins experience well, a lot more mellow than the previous days.  Even so, I did all the things I’d intended to do.  Ran into some old friends from college, whom I hadn’t seen (offline) in a year to a couple decades, as well as one of my former Scout leaders and his son, whom I hadn’t seen since I was 18.

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Hung out in the authors area with some folks and ended up chatting with Timothy Zahn and the friend who was helping to man his table.  She was interesting, discussing some family history things while Zahn signed books.  He and I talked over the place of the Thrawn trilogy in the greater Star Wars overview—I mentioned my hope that they’d be episodes 7 to 9, he said he’d always thought of them as 6.1 to 6.3, then added “Not my circus, not my monkeys” about their current state.  A friend of mine also asked about Thrawn, whom it turns out Zahn completely invented, rather than being handed by the publishers.

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Also met Steve Jackson, chatted with him about my experience demo-ing the Munchkin CCG on Thursday.  He had some feedback related questions and seemed to enjoy my answers.  When he held a signing, I got my copy of GURPS Fantasy (3rd ed. GURPS), the first ever GURPS book I bought (and first thing I’d gotten from SJGames) signed.

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I only did two demos, but also sort of watched a demo of Axis & Allies & Zombies.

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Magic Maze (Dude Games)

Difficult game in that players are not allowed to talk to each other.  They have to communicate with looks or by tapping a particular piece in front of a player.  Action occurs in real time, with no turns.  Essentially, the players are bad adventurers who aren’t good at their jobs.  They need gear, but have no money.  So, they plan to steal gear.  Each player has a role and power, and can move pieces in one direction (N, S, E, W).  In 3.5 minutes, the players must explore the area, get to their assigned places, and escape . . . without talking.  I’m probably not explaining it entirely well, but it was fun.

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Obligatory Catan sheep

Dungeon Rush (Stronghold Games)

This was an interesting slap game.  Each player gets two adventurers, who have two special items (sword, arrow, mask, wand).  Each player turns up two monster cards, then slaps (right and left, which correspond to an adventurer) one or two monsters for their adventurers to fight.  There are three rounds per level, three levels total.  Some cards provide victory points, some provide experience (XP), some provide both.  It’s a fast, kind of fun mechanic.

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WiP 15 (2018)

The obligatory scale patterned floor tiles were covered by rugs that put his rooms’ to shame.  The walls were concealed by brilliant tapestries depicting what appeared to be the same five or six dragons in different poses.  But the room was dominated by a heavy, ornately carved desk in a deep silvery-grey wood that Alaric could not place.  The surface itself was at least the size of a double bed, he guessed.

Jdal stood, hands clasped behind his back, a few feet away, staring at one of the tapestries.

Alaric followed his gaze to see the woven art showed a dragon in flight.  Its red-gold scales somehow managed to appear to shine in the setting sun’s light.  The sorcerer was no art connoisseur, but, judging solely from the intricate detail and lifelike effect, he thought the weaver had to be a master.  The beast had to have been, scaled, over a hundred feet in length, if it had been real.  He guessed.

“This is Getorix, scion of Clan Thaliess, and the eldest and highest ranked of our charges,” Jdal said, as if discussing the weather.  “Should, when, we wake the Great Ones, he will be the one who leads us.  At least until his sister awakes, if she and her temple survived the ages.”

The priest turned and gestured for Alaric to take a seat.

“The questions that I find I must ask myself are: what kind of world are we in?  And should I wake the Great Ones?  If I do wake them, will the world be one in which they should be revealed immediately or in which they need to bide their time?  The responsibility for these choices are ultimately mine, as Agrum.”

Alaric shifted in the chair, once again undefinably uncomfortable.

“The title means both head priest of a temple, protector, and advisor,” Jdal continued, apparently seeing the sorcerer’s confusion.  “It is neither bestowed nor accepted lightly.  And it comes with great responsibility as well as being bound to the temple for life.”

He sat opposite Alaric and leaned back in his own, rather more magnificent, chair.

“I lack necessary information, Al.  About the changes, the races, and the politics of the world.  Many things are unclear to me.  And this disturbs me.  For instance, I see the grey aura of low magic about you, but a stronger aura of green that is unfamiliar to any of our priests.  There are also, it seems, new intelligent races in the world.  And you have not been entirely honest with us.”

Here we go, Alaric thought.  He finally got to the point.  Without knowing exactly what the priest was speaking about, the sorcerer decided to remain silent.  Better that than to accidentally say too much.

A wave of the priest’s hand summoned a woman clad in the same black robes as the servant who had brought his food.  With a rush of concern, and some fear, Alaric recognized his collection of pocket notebooks as she set them on the desk and retreated.

“It took some time,” the priest said, after a moment, “by our standards, but we are not without our own magics.  And spells related to language have always been a particular specialty of the Great Ones and their kin.  One of our priests is especially skilled and interested in such things.  The intensity and interests of youth, you see.  He found the correct combination of spells to make these texts readable and has been studying them all morning . . . Perhaps you could clarify what happened at the end of the War and after?  Just in case his translation or understanding is flawed.”

Alaric shrugged, “Records of those eras are sparse and fragmentary.  Most of what has come down has been oral history, covered in myth, legend, and fable.  We have no reliable histories of either era.”

“But, you have good guesses?  You suspected this temple’s location and were correct.  And you thought there could be ‘free dragons’ or ‘hidden dragons.’  What do you mean by this?  Are we to assume there are, what, captive dragons?”

His tone remained level and calm, measured.  But, there was a growing something, wildness or anger maybe, in his eyes that told Alaric he should run, fast and far.

Too bad the door was closed and he was stuck in a maze of a temple, underground.

The sorcerer sighed, “Ok.  The dragons, the great ones, lost the War.  Afterwards, as far as we can tell, many were hunted down and slain.  The most powerful were captured and contained.  Somewhere secret and safe.  Magic and humans were left to develop and evolve unconstrained by dragon tyrants.  Both have grown in a variety of ways since the War.  Dragons were largely reviled as monsters, in most cultures and among magicians, for millennia.  Only recently are those views starting to change a little, so my colleagues have said.”

“So the usurpers eventually won,” Jdal said, with a nod.  “Or so they thought.  The Great Ones were correct in their concerns.  I sense the truth in what you say, perhaps not the whole truth, but more than before.  And it fits with the little we have gleaned from your books.  Unfortunately, that also means you are an enemy of the Great Ones.”

He rose and stood staring at the tapestry of Getorix again, his back to Alaric.

“We were constructed as a temple, with chambers for the reposing Great Ones added much later.  As such, we have no official places to confine prisoners.  That being the case, and because we cannot set you at liberty, you will be confined to the rooms assigned to you.  Your door will open only for the senior priests and a single servant.  Guards will be posted outside at all hours.  They will be instructed to kill, should you try to leave the room.”

As he spoke, Alaric heard footsteps and turned to see two of the priests who had escorted him enter the room.

“Go.”

Each priest took an arm and led the sorcerer out of the room at their senior’s command.

Origins Game Fair 2018 (Day Two)

Because of the kid, we spent almost the entire day at Calliope Games.  They are running a thing where people who do 15 demos (unique games, each with its own button) with them get a Calliope pin.  He took this as a challenge and gleefully accepted.  The staff there were awesome about it and loved him, even when we had to do three demos in a hour to make the cut (because it was his last day going and we had to get home).  They rushed us through the last two so he could get his buttons and pin.

Also got to, briefly, see Steve “Evil Stevie” Jackson before he began a massive, 12 player, Ogre game.

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Evil Stevie himself

 

Tsuro (Calliope)

Excellent, relatively simple, tile laying game.  We’ve had a copy for years and play it often.  Basically, players are dragons flying around.  The goal is to stay alive (e.g. on the board) without running into other dragons . . . and, if possible, forcing them to run into each other or off the board.  The last one standing wins.

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With the Tsuro fez.  Fezes are cool!

Hive Mind (Calliope)

Fun little social game, sort of a clean version of Cards Against Humanity, in some ways.  Players are bees in the hive.  The Queen says the hive is too big and some bees need to leave.  So, she moves to a different space each turn to determine how many people move down (or up) the hive’s levels.  Players draw cards, choose one of six questions, and write down their answers.  Answers are scored based on how many people respond the same, and the lowest total points move down the hive, until someone is booted out.  Quick fun, “party” game.

 

Roll for It (Calliope)

Nice little dice game.  Simple and a lot of fun.  Three cards are drawn face up.  Each player rolls six dice.  They can then bid on the card (ex. if a card shows 1, 2, & 4 and the player rolls a 2 & 4, they can place those dice on the card, until they get a 1 or another player takes it).  Each card has a point value determined by the difficulty of acquiring the dice shown on the card (2 to 15 points each).  The first player to reach 40 points wins.

 

King of Tokyo (Iello)

The precursor to King of New York.  Also much simpler as there are no buildings to smash, no military units attacking you, and no real movement at such.  Still, it’s a lot of fun.  Son played as Cyber Kitty and I took Space Pengwing (in honor of Bartram Cumberland).  It was a quick and fun match for two players, obviously longer with more involved.

 

Menu Masters (Calliope)

We played this last year, but did it again for the buttons.  Players are chefs who send their minions out to purchase ingredients, take over stores (to get money), or to the bank (small money).  The goal is to complete three menus, with scoring based on the star value of each ingredient involved (ex. salad could be 2, 3, or 4, stars/points).  It’s so fun we’ve played it multiple years and enjoyed it.

 

Capital City (Calliope)

Interesting card building game in which players take on the role of a random family of settlers represented by animal cards.  The players build the town over the course of a set number of rounds, and place workers (from their family and others) in the town buildings to get money (to build other buildings) and votes.  Placing workers in the buildings activate them, generating money or votes (but not both).  The end goal is getting the most votes to become mayor of the town.

 

Ancestree (Calliope)

Kind of strange, but fun, game of family trees.  The goal is to build the best family, following five lineages (Asian, African, European, American, Middle East).  Mixing lineages is necessary as the number of generations you have from each line determines base victory points.  And some members (descent or marriage) carry wealth, with gold being a one to one point ratio.  The final element is counting the number of marriages formed, for additional points.  There are a number of interesting strategic elements involved, and the game seems like one that will change a lot through play.  It’s definitely one I’d like to look in to further and try again sometime.

 

Hounded (Atlas Games)

Two player game in which payers take the role of fox or hunting party.  The fox moves fastest (up to three spaces, any direction) with the dog pack and hunt master having more limited movement, but a 6:1 advantage in numbers.  Face down tiles get flipped by the fox or a specific dog (terrier) landing on them, with different effects from nothing to dens (allow teleports).  If the three day phase tiles flip, the fox wins.  If the fox ends its turn next to the hunt master, the hunting party wins.

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Thieves (Calliope)

Another that we played simply for the button, as we’ve had a copy for years.  Fun little resource building and balance game that, after 21 games in 11 hours over 2 days, I’m not going to say more on.

 

Shutterbug (Calliope)

Players are photographers looking to get the best photos of cryptids for their newspapers.  They travel the country trying to get the photos one of their two newspapers want within 8 rounds of play.  It’s kind of fun, requires some strategy, changes almost every turn, and does require some resource management to get the necessary cards to ensure the needed photos and quality.

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Promo cards (second set)!

Tsuro of the Seas (Calliope)

Variation of classic Tsuro.  In this one, players are ships trying to navigate the sea, avoid colliding with each other, and evade the dragons.  The dragons are independent beasts controlled solely by dice rolls.  If dragons collide, one is removed.  If dragons go off the board, they’re removed.  If they meet a ship, the ship is eaten.  If they cross an empty tile (a ship’s wake), the tile is removed.  It’s a cool modification of the base game.

Origins 2018 Day One

Day one (really day two, but my day one) was a little bit of a mixed bag, but largely good.  Registration has been pretty well streamlined and quick, especially on a Thursday when there aren’t that many people there.  Took my seven year old son again this year.  We got over to the Steve Jackson Games room early, technically before they opened, but they waved us along with a couple other parent-kid pairs) in to play around beforehand.

Always fun to walk around a bit, but we didn’t spend much time sightseeing today.  Instead, we focused on game demos.  And we tried out the Origins Arena—boffer sword fighting.  Kid did pretty well for his first time at sword & board fighting.

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Simon’s Cat (SJGames)

A fun game that we’ve had at home for years.  The mechanics are basically Uno, with artwork from the Simon’s Cat YouTube videos.  The tricky part is that there are several suits (cat, kitten, dog, garden gnome), but they don’t all have the same number of cards (ex. cat has 10 cards, gnomes only have 2) and they aren’t numbered the same (ex. cat has 3-12, gnome has 1-2).  So, while it is Uno based, it has its own strategy.  It’s a family favorite around here, is quick to play, and has simple rules.

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Munchkin CCG (SJGames)

Translating Munchkin to a CCG is interesting.  In some respects, the mechanics are similar to Magic: The Gathering, with card tapping and such.  On the other hand, the rules allow for cheating, er, bluffing.  And attacks from monsters are not simultaneous, so you can attack with a weak monster to trigger your opponent’s defenses, then send the big monster in to take them out.  All in all, it was a fun experience, and would be high on my list if I ever wanted to get into CCGs again (which I really, really don’t).

Settlers of Catan (Mayfair, now Asmodee)

The classic, but the kid’s only played Catan Junior, so we tried out the full version to see how he did.  Much ink has already been spilled on this game, I won’t say any more.

Dicey Peaks (Calliope)

A new game from Calliope, it’s an interesting dice and resource management game.  The goal is to ascend the world’s tallest mountain without running out of oxygen or being caught by the yetis, before the other players.  Sets of dice are optimized for climbing, resting, or balance (or can cause avalanches or yeti attacks).  Tiles get flipped when landed on and can push the player along, reduce their oxygen supply, or send them backwards.  Fun, quick, and fairly simple game.

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Ugh! (Calliope)

Played this last year on my own, but had to have my son try this year.  He loved it.  John Kovalic’s art brings out humorous cavemen, pets, and living spaces.  Each card has a number value and the goal is to collect sets of three (caveman, pet, house).  Each card value in the set is multiplied, then sets are added together at the end.  Then there are the Ugh! Cards, that do bad stuff.  Fun, simple, and fast game.  We picked up a copy this year to join Thieves and Tsuro.

Running with the Bulls (Calliope)

Played for the third year running, because the kid wanted to again.  It’s definitely growing on me the more we play it.

Super Kitty Bug Slap (SJGames)

Basically a variation on Egyptian Rat Slap (or other, less PG, names).  Each player gets a card with a cat and a bug on it.  The goal is to be the first to slap any card that matches the color (orange, green, purple) or shape (round, square, triangle) of your cat, or your bug (ladybug, fly).  The person with the most cards at the end wins, but misslaps dock points from your score (ex. if you have a green, square cat with a ladybug, and are first to slap a card that has none of those things, you lose a point).

King of New York (Iello)

Variation on the famous King of Tokyo.  Good game, a little disjointed in the demonstrator’s explanation, but still played fairly well.  We’ll have to try it again sometime to get a better feel for it.

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Dungeon Raiders (Devir Games)

Fun card game.  Each player is a member of an adventuring party delving into a five layer dungeon.  Each level has two visible challenges and three face down challenges.  The players have to work together to defeat the challenges, while also ensuring that they have more gold and fewer wounds than anyone else.  Every players gets five cards (numbered 1-5) that they can only use once per level to get past challenges as a team (or to screw other players, as the case may be).  And each character class has its own special item that gives a different effect or power (one time only).

Rabbit Island (Infinite Heart Games)

Apparently, this is a recently Kickstartered game that will be out in August.  The rabbits sail to an island where they explore and set up both the island and initial settlements.  Play then continues to see who can acquire the most victory points by building burrows and towns.  The player with the largest harvest and the player with the most carrots also get bonus points.  Movement cards let rabbits move around the board, action cards help them or hinder opponents.  It was interesting and fun, and the movement cards can be arranged in order (a number on the bottom) to tell the story of the rabbits.  And it includes rabbit meeples.  But, at around US$50, it’s a bit expensive for my taste.

WiP 14 (2018)

Alaric looked over the rough design an hour later.

It was simple and looked like a child did it.  But, it should, he hoped, hold well enough.

Back in the sitting room, he closed the bath door and sent little bits of wizardry to see if there were any secret doors like in the waiting room.

Finding none, Alaric collapsed in a chair and tried to relax a bit.

He had a defense, and, hopefully, an escape route.

Nothing definitive, but both enough to guarantee a head start.

When a knock at the door turned out to be food, he suspended the wards, sent away the middle aged servant, and proceeded to demolish the food tray.  In his hunger, Alaric was heedless of the unfamiliar flavors and textures.  The important thing was mundane fuel for his body.  They wouldn’t recharge his magic, but the body needed its own power.

Even in his hunger and exhaustion, Alaric had noted the two statues across the hall when the servant left.  They were different from the others at the waiting room, but he assumed they were animate guards to oversee and limit his movements.

The priest should not be aware of the wall’s defacement, he thought.

Probably.

No matter what, he would have to deal with the statues, and probably worse, to get out.  If he could even find the way out.  In theory, he knew a couple direction spells that could lead the way, if the priest and temple did not include ways to counter them.  Assuming Jdal had not been lying, the place could be huge.  So far, Alaric had only counted three priests and servants that he had seen.  The ‘Agrum’, whatever that title meant, implied there were many more of both, so did Nica.

Plus they had to be keeping the dragon or dragons somewhere.

If they weren’t lying about that.

According to the old legends about the War, the dragons could exceed . . . he did some conversion math in his head . . . maybe two hundred feet in length.  Even accounting for probable exaggeration in the primary sources.

Another knock came from the door.

“Yes?”

“The Agrum respectfully requests your presence,” a voice, muffled by the door, said.

With a furtive look to ensure the bath door was closed, Alaric suspended his wards again.

He opened the door to find four men and women, all in the same robes the other two priests had worn.  Each carried a short staff, though, of white wood, about as thick as his thumb.

Shite.

“He is not coming here?”

“It was felt that this subject would be best broached in a more formal setting,” the one nearest the door said.

Double shite.

And Alaric noted a distinct lack of bows as he stepped in the hall, closed the door, and reset his wards.

The missing bows did not bode well.

Not if his previous experiences with the priests were typical.

The quartet formed a square around him as they set off down the hall.  The two who seemed older took the lead.  Despite the sticks, their manner did not read as threatening to him.  They were certainly, Alaric thought, aware of him and on-guard, but did not appear to be looking for a reason to beat him, or like they intended harm at all.  Yet.

Several opulent halls, and a couple turns he thought were meant only to confuse him, later, the quintet stopped before an ornate door of wood.  The gold fittings seemed appropriate against the dark wood.  There were no images, only an abstract pattern of lines.

The lead guide pushed the door open to reveal a room that practically defined elegant opulence.