Friday, July 20, 2018

Freshwater Mermaids of North America Poster By Jenny Mathews

This 22X28 poster is a field guide to all the freshwater mermaids that reside in the waters of North America. It was drawn by renowned illustrator Jenny Mathews of Rockford Illustrating. The perfect gift for the fisherperson or mermaid in your life.

Freshwater Mermaids of North America by Jenny Mathews



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Friday, July 13, 2018

This Is Where You Buy The Koa Tree By Stephen Schreiner

Had a blast today at the Rockford Area Arts Council booth at Rockford City Market unveiling The Koa Tree, the second children's book by Stephen Schreiner. Now it is available here at Zombie Logic Press. 

The Koa Tree By Stephen Schreiner


The book, which Schreiner co-wrote with his grandaughter Ava Fitzsimmons, was lavishly illustrated by Renee Noelle Jacobs, and is a fable of the lessons learned by a tribe of native islanders on their quest to build a boat mighty enough to reach Tahiti. Both authors, as well as the illustraot, will be available to sign copies and discuss their book.

The Koa Tree is the sixth book in the Rock River Literary Series, which seeks to publish and promote Rockford area writers to a local, regional, and national audience. The series is dedicated to long time local publisher Frank Schier, who passed away in 2017. 

Working in tandem with local design wizards at Mainfraim, the author was able to realize a dream of his to have this book made available with a glass cover. Copies of the book with the glass cover will be available as well a paperback version. Previously Zombie Logic Press has worked with Mainfraim to release a book with a wooden cover, and has plans to experiment with even more unique formats in the near future. Those books are assembled entirely here in Rockford.

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Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Tal' Dorei Week Four: The Senator Meets the Centaur, and the Heat Is On

Bromm and Spork emerge gingerly from a hedge where they had been lost for some time in a maze. The first sight they see is a centaur galloping towards them. It is being hunted by a group of five goblins. The centaurs turns to face its pursuers and thrusts a javelin at them, narrowly missing their captain. Recognizing the centaur as Nevon, a child of Archheart they had been sent to safely guide to the city of Emon, Bromm joined the attack against the pack of vile goblins, slashing one with his longsword and dealing a fatal blow. Spork targeted another with his short bow, and delivered an arrow into its chest, but alas it was not a fatal score. The goblins descended on the ad hoc party and invited Bromm to a stabbing frenzy party. He accepted their invitation and was stabbed several times by goblin daggers, but survived. The battle teetered back and forth until the ill-fated sleuth Spork was once again reduced to the horizontal position he has become so familiar with by a goblin stabbing frenzy. Bromm and Nevon had no choice but to continue the battle, which they did, dispatching the remaining goblins without too much effort or further loss of blood, then attempted to stabilize Spork. Bromm introduced himself to Nevon and explained it was his mission to return him to the city, and since Spork was fighting for his life they decided to throw him across the centaur's back and head to Emon for help.

Nevon the Centaur

Meanwhile in Emon, the monk Pliz'skin had been charged with the task of assembling the motley band of madcaps he had so recently met to rendezvous with a contact named Reynard at the Leaky Tap and receive the details of a mission of utmost importance.

Pliz'skins first stop was the Cloudtop District where he found the Firbolg druid Large Silent Friend gently digging a hole in which to plant a lovely rose bush in the yard of affluent scientist named Rifton. The only unusual detail is LSF was now a brown bear. After a few details concerning the mission and a low key roar of agreement from the brown bear, the two set off to find the gruff but lovable Goliath Bloodhunter Trog, who no doubt was off on some grand and dangerous mission. However, they did not find their friend Trog embroiled in some daring adventure, they found him wandering in front of his apartment mumbling something about authority and cold days in hell that could be counted before he served in anyone else's army. It was of no difficulty for the master of truth Pliz'skin to convince Trog to join the operation. 

Next we paid a visit to Trog's fellow Bloodhunter Banlys, who had become roommates with Torie. The brown bear was asked to wait outside as Trog and Pliz'skin went inside to find Torie trying to assemble the pieces of what seemed like some sort of puzzle. As with Trog, not much effort was expended in the convincing of the Bloodhunter to go on a sortie where fiends, fey, and abominations would almost assuredly be encountered. "I can't get this to work" Torie could be heard saying over and over. Finally, she too put the pieces of the puzzle in a bag and joined the team. 

Off to the Lyceum to gather up Amaris. Having recently passed the test to attain the Right of the Sophomore, Amaris, like almost everyone else in the entire Lyceum, was engaged in a wild celebration to rival the finest bacchanalian thrown by any group of orgiastic Satyrs. Sporting a toga and smoking an herbal substance that seemed to have merry-making properties, the prospective forensic coroner greeted her friends in a jovial manner. Things took a slightly more tense turne when Amaris introduced the two Bloodhunters and the Firbolg, all sworn to destroy the undead and unnaturals, to Sandwich, an undead falcon that remained perched on her shoulder eyeing the three warily. Detecting the cognitive dissonance Trog was experiencing, and wanting to stave off a bird squashing incident that would no doubt be misconstrued as an act of aggression, the definitely-not-a-snake Pliz'skin used his powers of persuasion to calm the Goliath and convince him allowing the presence of one undead creature would eventually lead to the destruction of much more powerful undead creatures. Talking Amaris into leaving her house party and join in the mission was as easy as promising her lots of shit would get broken and lost of monsters would get hurt. There would be blood. 

Unbeknownst to the rapidly growing party, in a dive of a dump of a bar, a Kenku Rogue named Poirot, was meeting with a shadowy figure named Reynard in a booth. What was discussed between the two before we arrived can only be speculated upon, but upon entering the Leaky Tap we were greeted enthusiastically by a female Goliath bartender who was quite smitten with the male Goliath Trog, who dispensed with the flirtations and instead ordered dwarven ale for all who were interested, which was everyone. 

Poirot the Kenku Rogue

Taking the opportunity the alcoholic beverages and resulting good-times were creating, Pliz'skin seized the opportunity to skulk off into a corner to meet Reynard, who he found accompanied by a skulky, cloaked and hooded creature trying to be as discreet and unobtrusive as possible. The three dark creatures seemed to add shadow to shade as they clandestinely discussed their machinations.

"Have you assembled your team?" Reynard probably inquired of Pliz'skin, who probably confirmed that he had. Continuing, Reynard confided that some evil presence had melted through the crater into the Undercity and killed some of his guard. The mission was to descend into the catacombs of the Undercity and find out who or what was responsible, and destroy it if possible. 

Pliz'skin returned to the party with specifics about the mission. Trog confronted him and wanted to know what was in it for him. Twenty gold pieces was sufficient to secure Trog's blessing that we move forward. 

Wanting to start right away, we headed to the city gate where it was known we could enter the Undercity. This is where we witnessed Bromm, the centaur Nevon, and the unconscious Spork riding towards us as the throngs of city dwellers in the slums looked on with keen interest. A centaur is a creature of much wonder, even in a city like Emon. Seeing that Spork needed healing, Large Silent Friend resumed his Firbolg form and cast Cure Wounds on the woebegone detective. Upon seeing their friend healed, the party gave Spork a gentle round of ribbing for once again finding himself on the losing end of a fight with a much smaller creature. 

Bromm then recused himself in order to meet with Tyronious the good half-elf Senator from Syngorn.

Nevon says LSF will know what should be done to protect the child of Archheart from danger, and consulting his comrades LSF and the others agree Nevon would be safest with them even on their treacherous undertaking, Bromm's urging that the centaur should be taken to Tyronious aside. 

Amaris was easily able to persuade the centaur to go on a "cool adventure" with us.

Bromm meets with Senator Tyronious, who asks him where the hell he has been. Tyronious wants to get a declaration of war so he he can fight the Ravagers and increase his power. He also wants an accord between Syngorn and Emon. He sends a threatening message to the ArchMage: sign the accord and support my declaration of war, or else. A few moments the ArchMage appears in a rage. "I will sign your accord, and I will support your declaration of war, but you and I are going to come crossways sometime soon." The senator sends message to his home city of Sangorn to prepare for war, and calls an impromptu public address where he buffalows the gathered crowd and reporters by promising peace, prosperity, and a significant tax cut. 

We make our way to the entrance of the Undercity just north of the Cloudtop District. City Guards are stationed at the entrance. How will we get in? The Kenku Poirot suggested if he were able to talk with them perhaps he could learn something about procedure that would allow us to make our way into the Undercity.  Because he can only mimic speech he has heard, Poirot has difficulty relating what he had learned to Pliz'skin, but the two decide the best way to get into the Undercity is for Pliz'skin to disguise himself as a high ranking member of the City Guard and tell them there is an emergency a few blocks away. 

What would we find beyond the gates to the Undercity?

The canard worked like a charm, and the Kenku Rogue quickly dismantled the lock on the gates, which creaked loudly as they parted, as if they hadn't been opened in years. We quickly entered, knowing the City Guard would soon be back, and angry, and closed the gates behind us. Trog immediately lit a torch to pierce the Stygian darkness, and we began the arduous task of navigating the eternally menacing maze of the Undercity. 

We were immediately assailed with the stifling smell of brimstone. All of us knowing the myths of the Undercity, we knew fire elementals could not be too far away. The heat was even near the entrance almost unbearable, and was likely to get far worse. Only a couple hundred feet in Poirot discovered the remnants of what must have been a guard station. The leavings made it clear this was a well-used guard station. But why was no guard on duty at the moment? Whoever was using this location as a lookout was clearly not the City Guard. 

Fifteen more minutes of plunging into the serpentine depths of the Undercity made it apparent to the scout Poirot that moving forward would just be too dangerous. The heat and a noxious gas would assuredly overcome most of us. 

Feeling that his resistance to fire, poison, and gas would protect him, Pliz'skin volunteered to go ahead and determine the feasibility of the rest of us moving forward, and discovered we were merely in a pocket of noxious gas approximately 100 foot long. Our torches would no doubt ignite the gas, possible reducing us to cinders. However, if we were to extinguish our torches we might each be able to traverse the pocket of smothering gas and get to more hospitable conditions. Banlys went first, crawling on her bird wings, and once safely on the other side of the foul cloud lit a torch for the others to use as a guide. Pliz'skin remained halfway through the darkness in case any of us were overcome.

One by one we made our way towards Banlys' torch, and found the air much cooler on the other side. Ahead we heard a bubbling sound. Having dark vision, the Tiefling Amaris, her undead falcon, and Pliz'skin scouted forward, eventually discovering a chamber where an ambient light shimmered in the distance. In the chamber they found two sets of leather armor, and the accoutrements of  two members of the Clasp all badly scorched or melted by the heat. 

Amaris rejoined the party to relate what she and Pliz'skin had seen in the cavernous chamber, and Pliz'skin no doubt investigated the Clasp member's belongings. The rest of the party joined Pliz'skin in the chamber, and we cautiously approached the blue, ambient light. 

Meanwhile, topside, Senator Tyronious and Bromm were led to the Defense Ministry building and taken to a secret room where a sealed portal was opened, allowing them access to the Undercity. 

The ceiling was glowing red, and where cracks had formed lava spilled to the floor of the chamber. Drawing nearer, we observed three figures. Two were elementals, and they appeared to be holding in place a human woman who was glowing blue, wearing plate armor and knee high boots. She was shrinking in fear and terrified of the elementals. The Bloodhunters Banlys and Trog  immediately identified her as an undead ghost who was bound to the plate armor she was trapped in. It was binding her to the material plane, and the elementals were apparently making sure she stayed in this place. Only the most powerful magic could make this happen. 

Large Silent Friend took the initiative and transformed into a giant constrictor snake, and slithered towards one of the elementals, but was unable to reach it. However, he was not seen because the elementals were distracted by the ghost. Poirot shot an arrow into the elemental on the right, and it struck him, releasing a cloud of steam, but  appeared to not damage it at all. 

Topside Bromm looked down the portal, but decided not to descend.

Spork surmised he also would not be able to damage the elementals and hypothesized his talents would be better spent further investigating the chamber. In one of the corners he discovered some water pipes, which led him to believe we were directly under the city, but also that if we could break the pipes the water might help us extinguish the fire elementals. He shot an arrow which lodged itself in one of the pipes, releasing a trickle of water. "Go for the pipes" he yelled to the rest of the party. 

Amaris had used her turn to advance on one of the elementals, and from her vantage point she was able to ascertain the arrow Poirot had shot did indeed inflict damage on the fiery creature, which allowed her to Toll the Dead, which caused a pool of lava to explode from the elemental's chest, but it still stood. It turned to face Amaris.

The other elemental remained in place to prevent the ghost from moving, but the other dashed forward and was poison sprayed by Pliz'skin. Pliz'skin then dashed back to a safe distance, and Trog used the opportunity to Crimson Right the creature of fire, creating a target of ice on its chest and smashing it with his mighty hammer. The blow cracked its chest open, and lava spewed forth, but it also survived.

Topside Tyronious had taken the plunge through the portal into the Undercity, issued a telepathic proclamation that all undead creatures would be damned, ran to the chamber, witnessed the ghost cowering before a table, and saw the two elementals engaged in battle with the party. 

Torie then reached into her purse and retrieved the results of the project she had so arduously been working on. It was a gun. Which she used to shoot a crossbow bolt into one of the pipes, releasing a shower of water that flooded into that area of the chamber.

Nevon threw a javelin, striking one of the elementals, and Banlys struck another with her great axe. We found ourselves in the thick of a protracted battle with two mighty opponents who seemed to have no intention of letting us get to the woman in armor.

Upon seeing his chief  hurtle into the chamber, Bromm also decided to take the plunge into the cavern, but as soon as his feet hit the floor the two guards in the Ministry of Defense immediately aimed their crossbows at Bromm and Senator Tyronious and fired a volley of bolts. 

This was certainly a shock. After all his machinations and manipulations, someone apparently had betrayed the good senator. But who? 

To the rest of us currently embroiled in a heated battle with fearsome elementals it mattered little, Tyronious and Bromm were now down here in the same predicament that the rest of us were. Now we were all on the same team by necessity. 

1) Large Silent Friend: Firbolg Druid
2) Banlys: Aarakocra Blood Hunter
3) Trog Gunga Galunga (Googie): Goliath Blood Hunter
4) Bromm: Human Fighter
5) Spork Fastwhiler: Human Ranger
6) Pliz'skin: Monk 
7) Tyronius: Half-Elf Warlock
8) Travis Legge. Dungeon Master 

9) Amaris: Tiefling Wizard
10) Nevon: Centaur
11) Poirot: Kenku Rogue

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Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Tal' Dorei Week Three: Solving the Mystery of the Raven Feathers and the Shit-Eating Senator

As we waited for the mysterious monk Pliz'skin to exit Gilmour's Glorious Goods we agreed to all go to our respective temporary living quarters and meet up in the morning to pay the Tiefling Amnon a visit.

Little did we know (or still know, technically), the Senator Tyronious was returning from a meeting with his fellow public officials in Syngorn to discuss their policy towards the Emerald Tower, which had until recently been of no real tension between Emon and Syngorn. But on his way back to the capital city of Emon to keep the meeting with the Arcane Master he was meant to show up at two days ago, and who knows what other secret business, the good senator and his entourage was ambushed on the normally safe road between the two cities by a gaggle of orcs and goblins demanding a toll in order to pass. Not wanting to divulge that he was a senator, Tyronious agreed to pay the toll of two gold pieces per head, but also took the opportunity while dealing with the dumb creatures to employ his wile to gather information. Claiming he was sent by General Bloodfist, he managed to pursuade the orc leader to divulge the location of the main Ravager camp. He was then given a highly out of character salute by the orc leader, who he rewarded with two extra gold pieces. 

Meanwhile, back in Emon, the party gathered at Spork's office to discuss how to approach Amnon. It was soon agreed we would strongarm the Tiefling in an attempt to gather information and retrieve both Sean Gilmour's stolen artifacts and Kaeleth's missing journal pages. But upon arriving at the small house it seemed to make more sense if a stealthy person poked around a little bit to get the lay of the land before we descended like an army of noisy hobgoblins all willy nilly. Inspecting the perimeter of the house, the self-selected stealthy personage, Pliz'skin, discovered the house completely dark and apparently empty, but also smelled out a trail of blood that led into a basement. Two creatures had enetered the domicile an hour before dawn, perhaps two Tieflings, or maybe even a Genasi. Returning with his report it was decided he would simply knock on the front door while the gentle Druid Large Silent Friend and the mighty Goliath Trog would wait at the back door in case anyone decided they wanted to leave in a hurry. The Blood Hunter Banlys perched on the roof to gain a bird's eye view of the entire scene. 

Amaris volunteered to knock, reasoning that one Tiefling would not seem as threatening to another Tiefling. Pliz'skin concurred, and transformed himself into a Tiefling also with the Hat of Disguise he had obtained under questionable circumstances at Gilmour's Glorious Goods. The door opened, but only a crack, but upon seeing Torie, the Tiefling woman who had began to open the portal hastily slammed it. Torie shouted "That's Chastity," the Tiefling who had defeated the detective Spork in a battle of brains two nights previous. "Go away" came a raised voice from behind the door. The two Tieflings and mysterious monk disguised as a third Tiefling did not go away.

It was at the same moment the back door flew open and yet another Tiefling made an attempt to bolt from the building. A failed attempt, as a gentle Firbolg Druid and rather unamused Goliath were waiting for just such a happenstance. Ironically it was not the frightful Goliath, but the lumbering Firbolg who managed to wrap the scurrying creature up in his arms and assure him he would not be harmed if he simply co-operated. The fell creature did not co-operate, and instead also ignored Trog's demand to surrender, lashing out at Large Silent Friend with the dagger he held in both hands. 

In front Pliz'skin had barged his way into the house, and right behind him Amaris cast a spell that caused Chastity to recoil in fear. Unsatisfied, Pliz'skin raised his hand and sprayed the terrified woman with a noxious cloud of gas that sent her to the floor writhing in pain until she lost consciousness.

I'm not saying Pliz'ssssskin is a Yuan Ti, but I'm also not not saying it

At the same time in the back, Banlys had shot a crossbow bolt at Amnon, which revealed he was wearing an armor made out of the skin of other creatures. The wriggling Tiefling managed to slip out of Large Silent Friend's embrace, and was rewarded for his effort by a thunderous hammer blow to the knee provided generously by Trog. However, the response was far from what one would expect from one whose knee had just been demolished by a thudding strike from a giant hammer. "It's about time," the lamentable creature murmured, appearing to enjoy the pain. Soon after Banlys' battle axe slashed his midsection, exposing more of the makeshift armor he had apparently cobbled from the skin of other beings. Grinning, and seeming to enjoy the skirmish more and more the bloodier it got, Amnon sprung up and flailed at Trog with both daggers, narrowly missing. He took this opportunity to turn tail and run, rounding the corner of the house and out of sight. Large Silent Friend followed.

Inside Pliz'skin, following a faint trail of blood, was led to stairs descending into a basement. Festooned along the stairs leading down was a grisly discovery that might have sickened a less unfeeling creature: the stripped hides of what seemed to be several humanoid creatures, cured with mint and pine cones to disguise the nauseating smell. At the bottom of the stairs Pliz'skin saw the body parts of many creatures strewn about as if the were merely discarded pieces of trash. He also saw a door on the other side of the room. Large portions of creatures that had been ripped apart were suspended from chains and hung fom the ceiling. The steely Pliz'skin concluded whoever had done this was a demented, dangerous fiend, and decided it would be a good idea to go back upstairs and tie Chastity up while she was still incapacitated by his noxious gas.

Outside, though, Amnon was not about to be subdued. or so he thought. Following close behind as he attempted to round the corner of the house, he came face to face with Amaris, the coroner's assisstant, but before she could cast the Cause Fear spell she was chanting LSF cast Thorn Whip and ensnared the serial killer in a lasso of thorns, pulling him to the ground. It was at this very moment Trog took advantage of the doomed creature's prone state to deliver a resounding blow to its spine. It was a blow that would have caused most to reconsider the path they have chosen in this life, but undaunted, the wretched soul remained true to his ill-advised plan to suffer an epic ass-whooping and spit back at Trog with Hellish Rebuke. His effort was repaid with another slashing blow across the back courtesy of Banlys' great axe. He laughed maniacally, but dropped his daggers and said "I yield. I yield."

It was at this moment Pliz'skin appeared, apparently having decided if Chastity died she would be of little help answering questions, so he dropped her at Large Silent Friend's feet to be healed, and took advantage of being unencumbered by her weight to take a running start and head butt Amnon into unconsciousness. It is said by some that Amnon's daggers were inscribed "Mother" and "love" in Infernal, but such rumours are mere speculation as the daggers instantaneously seemed to disappear. 

Trog immediately began questioning Chastity in his Goliath accent which sounds a lot like a Russian accent. It seemed the main gist of his line of questioning was "What the fuck are you doing here, and why?" Chastity broke down immediately and said something about just trying to save the world from darkness, then asked if we really wanted to interrogate her right here in the open. That made sense, so we carried all of those who no longer could carry themselves down the stairs into the torture dungeon. 

Chastity the Psycho Tiefling who thinks she is saving the world from evil by committing unthinkiably evil acts

Once in the privacy of the two butchers' macabre work room, Chastity once again repeated her assertion that everything that was being done here was merely an attempt to save the world from an encroaching evil. "Well, not Amnon", she said, "he's just a psycho." Which the psycho confirmed himself after being welcomed back to consciousness by a slap of Trog's meaty backhand to the chops, by responding to Trog's question about the torture dungeon by saying "It's a hobby." Bad answer. But he did confirm that all of this was an effort by Chastity to "Save the world," and that what they were really trying to do was "build somebody." He was merely living out his fantasies by committing the murders and gathering the body parts at Chastity's behest. 

Turning to Chastity, Trog motivated her to reveal her evil intentions. "There is a darkness consuming us. We come here (to Emon) to find orcs and goblins and evil everywhere. And the heroes of our age (Vox Machina) will do nothing about it." She revealed a dark obsession with each member of the Vox Machina, and blamed them for doing nothing as an evil crept into the world. 

But the door. What's behind the door Trog asked. 

"The door is not locked," she replied. 

Before Large Silent Friend could cast a cantrip to protect his Goliath friend, the intrepid Goliath had entered the room to discover a table containing a partially finished flesh golem. A flesh golem that appeared to be a very rudimentary and amateurish attempt to mimic a half-elf with blond hair. But why a half-elf.

Without coercion or even a twist of the wrist Chastity proudly blurted out: "We  are trying to bring back Vax, the only hero of the Vox Machina who ever tried to save this place."

Trog asked the obvious question we all wanted the answer to. "Was it Kaeleth who put you on this nefarious quest?" She answered curtly that it was her own will to resurrect Vax, and no deception was detected in her words. In fact, she was very outraged that the Vox Machina seemed unconcerned with helping do anything about the current foothold evil seemed to be taking in Exandria.

Trog suggested that perhaps meeting Kaeleth might give Chastity an opportunity to voice her complaints face to face, then asked about the missing pages of Kaeleth's journal, which Chasity conceded that she had stolen, but found to be of no use in her obsession to bring Vax back. Escorted to her room where she claimed she kept the pages by an increasingly impatient Trog, Chastity screamed that they were missing.

Oh, you mean these pages, Pliz'skin hissed, producing the pages from a fold in his robes and claiming a breeze had blown them onto the floor. 

But what were we to do with these two heinous psychopaths, having seemingly solved the mystery that Torie had originally paid the detective Spork Fastwhiler two gold pieces to solve? Shouldn't we really get those two gold pieces? Should we really take them to Greyskull to meet a vengeful Kaeleth who would almost assuredly kill them in a fit of fury? 

Amaris said there was one person we could ask for advice: Professor von Schlezzler, head coroner of Emon and her mentor. More advice is sometimes better than less, so Amaris called von Schlezzler on her sending stone, and he advised her that Kaeleth would be unmerciful if we brought these two to Greyskull. He recommended turning them over to the proper authorities, but if there's only one thing every member of this party agrees upon it's that there are no proper authorities, a credo Trog was about to demonstrate abundantly by bringing his hammer down on Amnon's neck. 

But only an instant before he delivered the certainly fatal blow, Pliz'skin intervened to remind him we still hadn't recovered the items he stole from Gilmour's Glorious Goods, and without those items we wouldn't receive the reward we were promised by Sean Gilmour for their recovery. Ever open to the voice of reason, Trog inquired politely about the location of said stolen items, and learning their whereabouts brought down the hammer flush on the mad butcher's neck with a crack. Was he still enjoying the whole bloodbath at this point, we had no idea, but as for us we had accomplished all of the tasks that had been set before us and were off to collect our rewards.

But which reward to collect first? Sean Gilmour's promise to pay us for the return of his purloined items, or Kaeleth's implicit promise of recompense if we returned the journal pages.

We surmised the easiest order of operations would be to schlep the Tiefling off to Greyskull to meet Kaeleth, then head to Gilmour's to collect our reward. 

Somehwere else in the city at that exact moment a senator from Syngorn named Tyronious had called a press conference where he had summoned The Minister of Defense and other top officials, who were obviously concerned about what he would say. Tyronious said he was there to recount the incident on the road from Syngorn to Emon, and to warn the assembled press of the impending threat from the Ravagers. Relating a semi-accurate retelling of the actual incident, complete with a harrowing tale of how he was beaten nearly to death by Ravagers, and forced finally to survive in a ditch on a diet consisting only of his own tears and horse shit, Tyronious weaved a spellbinding tale of dark hordes slowly descending upon the civilized cities of Exandria, and concocted a call to action meant to stir all citizens into a frenzy of fear and hypervigilance. In mid rant Tyronious spell was broken by the Minister of Defense himself, who called the press conference to a halt and pulled Tyronious aside, saying he was aware of the problem, but could do nothing until war was declared, a small detail Tyronious could help with.

Charging Tyronious with forming a committee to investigate the problem, the Minister intimated to Tyronious that if he could provide the pictures he'd provide the war. Tyronious accepted the offer, and sent out underlings to find his missing senechal Bromm, who for some reason had simply been misplaced.

Probably about the time this meeting was taking place, we arrived at Greysckull, where we saw two Gnome children playing in the grass merrily. Greeting them, we quickly discovered they had no desire to answer any of our questions, and went to get their dad, who turned out to be the renowned Bard Scanlan, who immediately charmed and put us all at ease. He explained all the recent turmoil had resulted in the Vox Machina deciding that they needed to maintain a constant presense of at least one member at Greyskull, and that he had drawn the short straw. 

Vox Machina Bard Scanlan Shorthalt

Ever diplomatic, and not one for beating the bushes, Trog asked if we could speak with Kaeleth. Ever graceful, Scanlan said it may be possible, but definitely chancy to draw Kaeleth's ire. This of course did not phase Trog, who assured Scanlan his request was in earnest, The Bard acceded, but insisted a feast was in order first, and invited us to the war room. Asking his children to retrieve his diamond tuning fork, he tapped it on the table, producing a feast beyond any of our wildest imaginations. As we ate we felt refreshed, rejuvenated, inspired, and incredibly serene. 

After we had our fill Scanlan inquired who was the leader of this mish mash of a troupe, and being the anti-authoritarians we are by nature, none would come forward to claim they held sway over any other of us, so Scanlan's attention fell upon the Tiefling Amaris in a seeming attempt to cajole her into being assertive. "Is this the one responsible for these atrocities?," he said, motioning to Chastity. "And one last time I ask you if you really want me to summon Kaeleth." Amaris nodded, and Scanlan left the room to summon his fellow Vox Machina member. 

Moments later Kaeleth appears, and immediately extends her hand, which results in the life being visible drained from Chastity, who falls to the floor like a dessicated husk. 

"Did you locate my missing journal pages" she asked almost as a continuous action to having drained Chastity of life. Pliz'skin produced some of the pages from the journal, and Kaeleth took and examined them, inquiring if we had read them. We replied that we had not. She said some of her pages were still missing, and Pliz'skin insisted he had found no more pages, she said she would go to the house and investigate herself. "Thank you", she said, "the Ashari and Vox Machina are in your debt." With that she disappeared.

Scalan re-appeared and asked how we intended to dispose of Chastity's body. We said we hadn't intended to at all, and asked if he could do it. He said no, and threw Amaris a Bag of Holding in which to carry the body away from Greyskull. 

We decided our next stop would be Gilmour's Glorious Goods. A  female human clerk greeted us and informed us that Sean Gilmour was away on business, but had left instructions that we be paid 500 gp for the return of his misappropriated propriations. We divided the bounty among the five of us presnt, making each of us more than capable of buying our own places to live in Emon. Large Silent Friend also bought himself a bonzai tree to deal with the loneliness and bewilderment of going from the only home he had ever known in the forest to the bustling capital city of Exandria.

While at Gilmour's we also saw the afternoon edition of the Emon Chronicle, with the headline Shit Eating Senator Says Ravagers To the North. In a dark room somewhere nearby that shit-eating senator was just receiving a report that several centaurs had been found impaled on pikes on the road north to the Throne of the Archheart. What is this shit-eating senator's plan? Will we soon become embroiled in some political intrigue? Are the winds of war wafting into Emon? 

Large Silent Friend's notes: I thoroughly enjoyed this three session whodunnit immersion into the world of Tal' Dorei and the city of Emon. It wasn't until night three that we took up arms against an opponent because our opponent was the dark mystery we were immersed in. This is the third campaign I'm playing with these players. We have been in Planescape, Dragonlance, and now Tal' Dorei. We've meshed as a party and I think understand each other's tendencies and when it's time to let someone else have the spotlight, and when to just hang back. 

Have to get my Tal' Dorei guide this week at Top Cut Comics

After receiving our blessing from Kaeleth and our reward from Sean Gimour we naturally considered our mission a roaring success and decided to buy our own homes and blend in where we thought we most fit into the bustling city of Emon. Trog of course immediately put his mighty hammer up for rent as a sell sword, Pliz'skin went back to his monastary to study the truth, Bromm remained missing-in-action, Banlys slipped off and will no doubt be there when needed, Amaris rejoined Professor von Schlelling, Tyronious plotted somewhere in a back room, and the detective that started it all, Spork Fastwhiler was gone. What had ever become of him? Egad, was he one of the horribly mutilated bodies we had seen in that basement? Had we been thornwhipping, hammering, crossbowing, and great axing his skin only earlier in the day? No matter, it seems certain as these characters try to settle in and make their names in Emon that a call will come from somewhere, most probably soon, for them to re-assemble in order to fight some gathering darkness. 

But until that happens you can find Large Silent Friend, the fish-out-of-water second level Firbolg Druid in the Cloudtop District being gardner and pet trainer to the rich and famous, and pruning his bonzai at night and missing his friends.

Dramatis Personae

1) Large Silent Friend: Firbolg Druid
2) Banlys: Aarakocra Blood Hunter
3) Trog Gunga Galunga (Googie): Goliath Blood Hunter
4) Bromm: Human Fighter
5) Spork Fastwhiler: Human Ranger
6) Pliz'skin: Monk 
7) Tyronius: Half-Elf Warlock
8) Travis Legge. Dungeon Master 

9) Amaris: Tiefling Wizard

Week one
Week two 

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Thursday, May 24, 2018

Calumet Baking Powder and Symbolism of Native American Genocide In The Shining

One of the drawbacks of having the greatest artist in America, Jenny Mathews, as my partner, aside from taking a drink out of a glass containing paintwater occassionaly, is that she makes dozens of paintings that I want. This one that she did for the Come and Go Motel Show blows me away. I love the colors and pop art sensibility, but there's something else going on here. The theme of the Come and Go Motel Show is several area artists are given a motel room to set up their wares. I'm sharing a room with Spooky Houston, Food Stamp Davis, and Folk Goblin. I will be showing in the bathroom as Zombie Logic. Jenny's paintings are from famous spooky motels and hotels in horror movies, including the Overlook from The Shining.  

Calumet by Spooky Houston

There are a couple of reasons this is my favorite, and why I think it's sheer brilliance. Most fans of The Shining are familiar with the documentary Room 237 and the numerous fan and conspiracy theories surrounding the movie. Kubrick supposedly hid clues about everything from the the moon landing to the Holocaust in the scenery, but my favorite, and what I consider the most cohesive theory is that the genocide against Native Americans is the true curse of the Overlook. 

In this still we see both Tang and Calumet baking powder on the shelf behind Jack Nicholson, and it is postulated that since Kubrick was so obsessive about the details of his movies that this is no accident. 

I'm not sure how much baking powder would be used in a season at a hotel like the Overlook, so I can't say that's a lot of baking powder, but that seems like a lot of baking powder. 

And now that baking powder has been immortalized in a painting by Spooky Houston, a painting that can be seen at the Come and Go Motel Art Show June 29th, but don't be surprised to see a sold sign on it. 

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Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Our Tal' Dorei Campaign, Week Two: Greyskull Keep and Gilmour's Glorious Goods

Little did our party realize as we wrapped up our scrutinization of the murder scene at the estate of the nobleman Kormallis that we were about to be joined by a new member. From out of the sky the Firbolg Druid Large Silent Friend spotted a small dot growing larger and larger, until it was clear to him a very rare Phoenix was approaching rapidly with two riders. As it made its landing on the lawn, the Phoenix exploded into ashes, and the riders introduced themselves. The older, grey-haired gentleman was Professor von Schlezzler, a renowned necromancer and the head of the City Morgue inside the Alabaster Lyceum. But it was the younger, nerdy looking Tiefling that was soon to join us in our increasingly serpentine web of events. Her name was Amaris, and she was both a wizard and an apprentice of von Schlezzler, but an aspiring adventurer and aspirant to a position in the dark arts. The undead falcon that perched upon her shoulder and eyes us all stonily was a clear indication we were dealing someone marching to the beat of her own drum.

Meanwhile, inside the manor, the Fighter Bromm, standing in for the senator Tyronius, asked the servant if she had a key to Kormallis' library. She did, and went to her bedroom where the key was on a chain she retrieved from the bottom of a trunk. Simultaneously to Bromm finding Kormallis' journal in the library. Professor von Schezzler has cast a spell and animated the ghost of Kormallis, who arises and upon being questioned clearly does not realize he is dead. He is of no use and is allowed to go to his final rest.

Von Schlezzler, a seasoned investigator, working in tandem with his pupil, Amaris, soon concluded that Purple Worm poison had been used on Kormallis. This clue was key because Purple Worm poison could only be obtained in two places: The city of Kamil, or Greyskull Keep, the stronghold of the Vox Machina, though they had long ago all but abandoned it to move on to personal pursuits.

It was agreed Spork Fastwhiler would set off on his own to pursue the many leads he now had, including the story of Marshall Ulder Ravenguard, a hero in the battle against Vecna, who may have a very important role in the current murder spree, and the rest of the party would head to Greyskull Keep to determine if anyone had been there recently making an effort to obtain purple worm poison. Professor von Schlezzler gave his protege Amaris a sending stone and instructed her to join the search for evidence and report back with any discoveries we were able to make.

The trek to the lower slums and the Greyskull Keep was uneventful, and we arrived by nightfall. Along the way Pliz'skin, Bromm, and Trog had skads of indelicate questions for the "whore" Torie about her friend Daisy, but made little headway into gaining her trust with their hardboiled methods. However, with her more subtle approach, the hot nerdy wizard Amaris was able to elicit from the street-hardened Torie that Daisy an elf, and that had a mistrust and aversion to the City Watch, even though prostitution is not illegal in Emon. So why was she uneasy around the City Watch? 

Bromm, being Bromm, used his influence to send two underlings back to Syngorn to search for any official records that could shed some light on the Elven refugee. An Elven streetwalker was not a common thing. Something was amiss here. But what? Who was Daisy, and who was she possible working for that got her killed?

Greyskull Keep, home of the Vox Machina. Sort of. 

Arriving finally at the grand and majestic Greyskull Keep, no particular investigative expertise was required to discover the two feet we saw sticking out from under the portcullis. Bromm shouted "I am a representative of the Senator from Syngorn, show yourself," but the feet did not show themselves. We soon discovered why. The third murder victim belonged to those feet. The scene was as grisly as the previous two, and done in the same ritualistic way, except this time it was the tongue that was removed. Trog used his Bloodhunting skills to determine no fiends or fey were involved in the heinous act. 

The party wanted to established a time frame in which the murder had been committed, and noticed neither the torches or brazers appeared to have been lit in days, making it apparent this crime had most likely been committed previous to the other two, which would mean the culprits had come specifically for purple worm poison, and maybe something else. But what? The only way to find out was to enter the keep.

Entering with no resistance and with no indication anyone else was present, we proceeded to a large hall that contained a table with nine chairs, maps, and artifacts we realized could only have belonged to the fabled Vox Machina. This was no doubt their war room. Nothing else in the room was of much interest, except a door to the West whose lock had been broken. 

A Glyph of warding was on the door, and the room beyond had seemingly been entered quite recently judging from the fire damage we witnessed. Apparently just breaking the lock was not the only condition essential for entering this room safely. Yet the ever-determined Monk Plis'skin set to work with his thieves' tools to perhaps disarm any traps, but in the attempt set off the glyph, burning himself badly. He was, however, able to determine the detonation of the fire glyph gave us fifteen seconds to enter the room, which all of us did. Once inside we knew were were in a treasure room worthy of the Vox Machina. Artifacts, potions, scrolls, and weapons of all types were present, including what we recognized as the Sword of Kas, used to defeat Vecna. It was also abundantly clear to us that disturbing any of these artifacts would certainly be a futile and fatal gesture. 

What we did note was that someone else had been more successful in purloining certain of these artifacts, including purple work poison, scrolls involving resurrection and contacting other planes, and the journals of the Vox Machina themselves. Whoever had managed to steal what was protected so well must have known what they were looking for and how to avoid being disintegrated doing so. 

But our pressing problem was how to get out of the room without activating the fiery glyph of warding again. Torie believed she had noticed a way to do it without activating the ward. She was wrong, and was burned severely on her arm. Large Silent Friend was able to heal her partially, and the rest of us exited the treasure room safely.

Trog insisted on moving forward, and we made our way to a door down the hall. Amaris contacted Professor von Schlezzler on her sending stone, relaying the information we had collected so far, and was told to continue ferreting out the castle. We made our way to the door at the end of the hall and found it to be locked. Plis'kin further discerned through careful scrutiny that any attempt to open the door without the proper key would activate a trap. The ever-sharp Trog postulated the caretaker we found at the gates of the keep might also have keys to the keep, which turned out to be exactly the case. The only slight complication is that he had ALL the keys. Twenty in all. The studious and observant Amaris believed she might be able to find the right key, and quickly decided she knew which one was right for this door.

Trog insisted he be the one to try the key, and as we braced for impact we were relieved to learn she was right. Sort of. The door didn't open, but a Magic Mouth appeared and refused to respond to any of our inquiries, including Bromm's declaration that he was some sort of official official from an official place. Instead we were informed that it was the mouth's duty to alert the Vox Humana that the door had been violated.

We heard a whoosh of wind outside the window, and a Half Elven Druid woman appeared from nowhere, with a walking stick that looked like an upside down umbrella. All residents of Exandria knew this was Keyleth, headmaster of the Air Ashari, and member of Vox Machina. What could she have thought seeing our motley crew inside of her Keep? Informing her that the gatekeeper had been murdered only raised her vexation with us as we became the prime suspects. We tried to explain how and why we came to the Keep to further investigate the series of murders that was happening, but she seemed far more concerned about the other caretaker of Greyskull Keep, Lynn, and increasingly vexed at our very presence in her sacred place.

Keyleth, headmaster of the Air Ashari

Bromm moved to question the druid, but her attention was entirely fixed on finding the other caretaker of Greyskull Keep. We split into two groups, and Keyleth went up the stairs with Bromm and Amaris went up the stairs to the caretaker's quarters, while Trog, Plis'kin, and Large Silent Friend entered the chapel, where all of the gods had alters. Seeing an alter to the Wild Mother surrounded by plants that had been neglected for several days, Large Silent Friend made his offering to the Wild Mother and quickly nursed the plants back to health, learning from them that they had been uncared for in five days, thereby confirming the timeline that had been established by Trog that the murders here had taken place even before the murders in Emon. The perpetrators had come here first. 

Upstairs Keyleth discovers the body of Lynn, treated in the same vulgar manner as the other murder victims,except in her case her eye was missing. The body was laid out in an outline of raven feathers, and a drawer that had been left partially opened had raven feathers strewn before it. 

It was at this inopportune moment that the always diplomatic Bromm made the error of questioning Keyleth about the ritual murders, the missing pages from her journal, and any possibility she may be involved in trying to resurrect her lover, Vax, who had sacrificed himself during the battle against Vecna, eventually being transformed into a revenant. His line of questioning was met by a flying backfist from the typically demure druid, and an admonition that "If you ever disrespect me or the memory of Vax again, I will wear your skin." However, Bromm's impetuous, ill-advised maneuver did get the druid to speak to summon us to the war room where she told us about many matters that shed light on the details of Vax's death, Vecna, and the betrayer Arkhan, the dragonborn betrayer of Vox Machina.

Banlys asked the very logical question why would Greyskull Keep, if it contained such important artifacts, be left to the protection of only two caretakers. Keyleth explained all members of Vox Machina would have been teleported back if anyone had disturbed any of the artifacts, raising more questions about who exactly could have known enough about circumventing the safeguards to enter and exit with certain artifacts without alerting the Vox Machina.

She wistfully related the tragic details of her last days with Vax'ildan, how he made a bargain with the Matron of Ravens that transformed him into a revenant, and how Arkhan had betrayed the Vox Machina to accrue power with the goal of opening the gates of hell and allowing his dark queen, the Scaled Tyrant, to return to this plane.

It was at this time the irascible Trog blurted out that he would like to speak to the hero of all Goliaths, Grog. Keyleth obliged, and Grog appeared. An instant later a huge tankard of ale appeared in Grog's hand. before Trog sat Grog Strongjaw, grand puba of the doink. Trog asked many questions of Grog, mostly about Arkhan and the cult of the Scaled Tyrant. This made Grog somewhat sullen and the sadness and regret showed in his demeanor, but he answered the questions put to him by his fellow Goliath. 

Grog Strongjaw

Bromm then opened up a line of questioning about the details of Vax's transformation into a revenant, and Arkhan's betrayel. The taciturn Goliath conveyed that he never thought Keyleth's attempt to allow Vax to live on was a good idea. Asked what ever became of the hand of Vecna, Grog boasted he cut it up into many pieces, then scattered it across the world, including dropping it into volcanoes, but he also volunteered the intriguing tidbit that Keyleth had requested and been given a piece of the thumb.

Trog then expressed his admiration for his hero and asked if he could have some memento from their meeting. The legendary warrior complied by removing his bracers and tossing them onto the table before Trog.

At this point we had so many possible paths to follow it all seemed overwhelming. Was Arkhan and his cult responsible for these murders in an attempt to summon the Scaled Tyrant? Was someone trying to resurrect Vecna? Was it even possible Keyleth was so grief-stricken by the loss of Vax that she had resorted to dark methods in an attempt to bring her love back? Was there even another shadowy player who was yet to reveal its presence behind all of this mayhem? 

Little remained to be done at the Greyskull Keep, but Amaris wanted to perform one more examination of the second caretaker's body, and doing so discovered stone flecks consistent with the skin of a basilisk. What part did this creature play in this fourth murder, or more accurately, the second murder, but the fourth we had discovered?

Leaving the Keep Keyleth implored us to find the missing pages of her journal, which were about her relationship with Vax, not any dark plot to resurrect her lover, and when we found them were were to not read a word of it.

Plis'skin says he knows a place where we might learn more about how all of these elements come together, and soon we found ourselves at Gilmour's Glorious Goods. Plis'skin now takes the lead and asks the woman behind the counter, a half-elf named Sherri, if anyone has been in recently looking for basilisk poison. She quickly says she must go to the back to inform Sean Gilmour, human sorcerer, and owner of Gilmour's Glorious Goods, that we are asking. Plis'skin tried to follow her to the back, which made her very uncomfortable, and when Sean Gilmour appeared he upbraided Plis'skin about being creepy, then looked into his eyes and said "Oh, you're Yuan-Ti, forget it."

Gilmour's Glorious Goods

When asked about the basilisk poison, Gilmour related the tale of a recent employee he had, named Amnon, who had begun acting suspiciously, snooping through Sean's journals and customer logs, eventually absconding with several valuable magic items, darts, disguises, and basilisk poison. He didn't believe Amnon was a bad fellow, just misguided, or perhaps run amok. But by whom? Bromm at this point excused himself to the washroom, where he discovered a magic hole in which to do whatever business he had intended to do, and Plis'skin and Sean retired to Sean's office, where the details of their discussion remains unknown to the rest of the party.

When the two emerged Plis'skin inquired about a hat of disguise he was enamored with, and was told it cost 500 gp. The party had no way to pay for such an item, so Bromm stepped in and asked if he could run a line of credit in Tiberius the Senator from Singhorn's name. Sean agreed, but said any item not paid for in sixty days would have it's magical powers reversed. At this point Bromm reneged and left the establishment. At this point the wily Plis'skin signed the contract Sean had pulled out, and was the proud owner of a hat of disguise.

As his final nicety, Sean told us he was actually quite a good friend and benefactor of the Vox Machina, and put us on our way to the dock district where he believed Amnon lived, having sent him a turkey as a gift on a recent holiday. The rest of us left Sean's Glorious Gifts and rejoined Bromm. 

Thus ended week two of our Tal' Dorei campaign. With more questions than answers, for sure. 

Review what happened in week one 

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