Tuesday, June 7, 2022

Laughing Tower - Intermission

If you've been reading The Laughing Tower play reports, cheers. It has been both a blast running the old game for a stellar group of players, but also informative about where my houserules work and where they don't.

However, it has been a bit difficult organizing since we are spread out around the world. Two of us here in Japan, a handful in Switzerland, one in the UK, I think. Also, some have had vacations and work overlapping with the game. My work has also been heating up, and I just passed the halfway mark of the semester.

Time for a little break, I think. I hope we can resume in a few weeks, as the big success has been the creation of a very dynamic relation between players and the gameworld due to my deep dive into the Elric books coupled with the Life Purpose houserule.

This is the message I have sent to players over Discord:

"Lord Soo has decided you are no match for Pan Tang at current strength. Using the island as a base, he is reading his grimoires to help further his plan. He has found that a cave on the island is known to periodically become a portal to other planes based on stellar alignment. His intention is twofold - 1) establish a base on the Isle of Purple Towns to gain funds and allies to confront Pan Tang and return Melnibone to its former glory and 2) travel to the cave periodically to gain extraplanar power and information."

"In game terms, this means I am preparing an A plot and several B plots. The A plot is the adventures from Sea Kings of Purple Towns. We'll begin with the intro scenario, in which the PCs establish a base of operations in Menii through dirty dealings. At the same time, I will have B plots prepared - tonight, I had planned to send the PCs through the portal to quest for a cure for Mallia. I will also prepare the sidequests for Gansaiyah and others should they wish to pursue their Life Purpose, Oracle response, or wishing well vision. Succeeding in a sidequest will net the character a point of Life Experience, which as noted can be used for various things (increase an attribute, get a skill point, heal a major wound, or have a miraculous escape from death)."

See you on the flip side!




Sunday, June 5, 2022

Blog Discovery

 Just stumbled across this blog.

Good stuff.

https://refereeingandreflection.wordpress.com/2022/05/20/thoughts-on-putting-a-star-trek-campaign-to-rest/


More 'hidden' Stormbringer abilities

As I've noted before, Chaosium has a weird habit of spreading necessary information for characters all over the rulesbook. I just discovered that Nobles can have 1D6 trained hawks should they desire. It was tucked neatly into the bestiary under Hawks.

Sigh.

I may have to do a complete reread and tease all these hidden nuggets out.

Thursday, May 26, 2022

The Laughing Tower (Stormbringer 1E) Play Report #4

 Session 4 22/5/22


In which the party makes a friend, and Malaiyah makes a mess; a city is quickly entered and abandoned; information is gleaned from fisherfolk; and some small vengeance is enacted upon Pan Tangians.


1. Night Encounter


Soo's coterie crept back to Cassandra along the coast, Gansaiyah scouting ahead with his keen wastlander's eyes. As evening fell, he saw the glint of armored soldiers on the road south of them.


"Best keep to the water." he opined, and they continued westward, their horses' hooves splashing in the surf.


As night fell, they saw the city lights no more than an hour away. They stopped at a shipwreck on the beach, doubtless an old merchant vessel run aground in a storm, when Gansaiyah remarked, "Someone's in there. They've a boat tied up." Indeed, a small boat was pulled up on the beach, its mast and sails folded and stored, a line tied from its prow to the timbers of the shipwreck.


"That's a Shazarian skiff" noted Billy Bones. No one questioned the seaman's opinion, for a good sailor could tell the provenance of a vessel simply by seeing its lines, or even the style of its rigging.


Lord Soo frowned. All he needed was another lawful type trying to foil his plans. "Go deal with them" he ordered Bones and Gansaiyah. Unnoticed, Malaiyah crept down to the surf and began picking up handfuls of mud.


The sailor and the barbarian crept up to the wreck, noticing a curl of smoke from within as they neared. There was the sound of subtle movement from inside the old ship, perhaps the hiss of a blade being drawn. The two men tensed and readied for battle.


"Who goes there?" called a voice softly from the beached vessel.


Gansaiyah untensed and gestured to Bones to stand down. "Just two travellers looking for shelter, like yourself." he called out. "There are five of us." Six, if you count that Pan Tang worm, he mused.


Out of the wreck strode a young woman holding a sword, her clothes definitely that of a Shazarian clanswoman, though neither Gansaiyah nor Bones could tell which one. Clan identity was a central pillar of Shazarian life.


"I am Ilfin. Who are you?"


Gansaiyah and Bones introduced themselves, then turned as the rest of their party strode over. "This is Soo, our employer."


Ilfin gaped at the Melnibonean before her. He had the inhuman, almond eyes and olive skin of his people, the byzantine headdress of a high priest of Chaos atop his crown, and Melnibonean armor etched all over with hellscapes. This was exactly the kind of encounter she had left her homeland to make.


"I am Ilfin, of Shazar. I seek adventure to prove the courage of my clan," she proclaimed proudly.


The Shefanhow demon looked her up and down. "We need another swordarm. Do you take coin, or do you follow only law?"


Ilfan was stunned for a second, then stammered, "I would take coin."


"Good." retorted the nobleman. He turned to someone behind him and ordered, "Pay her" before going to sit at the fire.


Ilfin's eyes widened further when a woman, her face smeared in mud and all other flesh covered in fantastic patterns, began counting coins from a large sack.


"What are you?" asked Ilfin.


"I am Malaiyah." the woman responded. "This is a disguise," she continued, pointing to her mud spattered face. "It is also good for the skin. I have been cruelly marked by chaos, and will be seized by soldiers if found. " The mudwoman strode past Ilfin to the fire.


"So this is adventure!" thought the young Shazarian clanswoman. "I hope I keep my sanity."



2. The Great Escape


The group sat around Ilfin's fire, sheltered from prying eyes and dusty Agrimiliar winds by the shipwreck's rotted timbers.


"Sea is always the best route" offered Vinket. The others rolled their eyes, as this was the sea priest's standard advice.


"We can take this one's skiff" suggested Bones. "There are too many of us for the open sea, but it should get us into the city from the seaside. They are looking for us by land."


"But we spent coin on that cart." insisted Maleia. "At least we should take the wheels."

"It's no good in that wee craft." replied Bones.


"But we could make an armored contrivance or vehicle of some sort."


The other sighed again. Although mortal brains might imagine machines of many kinds, the chaotic nature of the Young Kingdoms meant that these seldom worked, and technological advancement was at a standstill.


"Leave the horses and cart. We'll take the clanswoman's skiff." ordered Lord Soo, who had already forgotten Ilfin's name.


That was that. Gansaiyah hid the saddles in the shipwreck, then set their rides free.


--


Bones steered the small craft out to see a half league, then turned back towards the lights of Cassandra. From their position directly north of the city, they could see docks for goods-laden ships on the west and eastside of the metropolis. Between the docks were three wharfs, the two on the east for yachts and fine crafts, the one on the west for fishing boats and lesser sailing craft.


"There are guards and pyres on the docks, as well as wharves." said Gansaiyah. "Yet not as many as I expected."


"They aren't anticipating us from seaward," replied Soo. "Now, be silent. As for you," he indicated Malaiyah, "Stay under the tarp."


Bones expertly steered the small craft up to the fisherman's wharf. An old duffer hobbled up holding a lantern.


"Who be you, and where be you from?"


"I am from Shazar," replied Ilfin. "I am traveling with my comrades."

"Tis a big crew for a small ship. How many heads?"

"Five" she replied.

"One bronze per head, plus one for the ship."


Ilfin counted out 6 coins and passed it to the old man.


"Tie her up. Food and drink ahead, up the hill. Seamen's quarters to the west" he offered.


From the wharf, they could see the town ahead to the south, stone steps leading up to the aforementioned tavern and low line of barracks for sailors.


"Follow me," snapped Lord Soo, and trotted briskly off to the east, ignoring the town proper, and proceeding along the harbourside drive. The others followed, bewildered. As they walked west, the functional yet grimy road gave way to nicely cobbled street with sidewalks, and the two piers for fine craft were surrounded by sturdy iron gates to protect the rich craft that bobbed within.


"Yes, sire?" said a man from behind the gate as Soo's coterie approached.

"I have come for my ship" replied the inhuman lord.

"May I see your papers?"


The Melnibonean passed them through a slot in the bars. The guardsman turned to two soldiers who had been patrolling along the pier.


"Come along," snapped Soo. "I haven't got all day."


One soldier sidled over to the gate. "Just a question, milord."

"Make it quick."

"Have you been inland?"

”Foolishness. We had a boat tour."


The soldiers looked at the papers again, and conversed in low tones with the guardsman.


"Come now, I hope to catch the morning tide." averred Soo.


The guardsman pulled the latch on the gate and opened it.


"As you wish, milord."


Soo nodded and walked down the pier towards his ship, which glittered like a silver bird among the ornate yet mundane craft of Cassandra's elite. The half-Melnibonean slave crew whispered their surprise as their lord ascended the gangplank. 


"Come along you lot." he snapped to the others.


They quickly boarded the ship, and Bones took his place at the till.


"Take her out to sea, Mr Bones."


"What of Malaiyah? The mudwoman?" offered Bones.

"And my boat?" added Ilfin.


Lord Soo shrugged. "As you will." He disappeared into his cabin.


As Bones steered back over to the fisherman's wharf, Gansaiyah sidled up.

"That was a bit of fun." quipped the wastelander.

"Aye, but not much coin in it." lamented the sailor.



3. The Fisher Folk


Lord Soo's yacht moved into the waters of his homeland. The ship's owner felt the strange melange of Melnibonean emotions - pride in his lineage, disgust in its downfall, and yet confidence that things could be righted.


The southwesterliest island of the Melnibonean Archipelago, Nisadnimapor, slowly appeared at the horizon. For millennia it had been a fishing outpost for The Bright Empire, and its fish, seaweed, and crustaceans were a staple of Imrryran feasting boards. Its half Melnibonean slave inhabitants were some of the finest fishers and divers in all the islands.


Lo and behold, a group of said fisherfolk, currently deploying nets from their small craft, hove into view. Lord Soo addressed them from the rail of his ship.


"Ho, slaves. What news of Melnibone?"


The fisherfolk, trained from birth in servility to the Dragon Princes, dropped as a man to one knee and lowered their heads. It had been some time since a full blooded Melnibonean had visited them.


"O Dragon Prince, these are sad times. The Dreaming City has fallen."

"I know," snapped Soo. "I was there. What of yon village?" He indicated their settlement.


"O Lord, the vile Pan Tang Tha Gamoor and his 2 henchmen keep watch over us. They take the best fish, and our women. We would be rid of them."


"Then rid you shall be."


The high priest began to question the fisherfolk about the village, its best approach, and where the Pan Tang occupiers could be found. In his cunning mind, a plan began to form.



4. A Small Vengeance


Ilfin's light craft beached near a strand of trees to the east of the village. Lord Soo's yacht was anchored out to sea further east, so that no warning would reach the Pan Tangians. Although Bones, Gansaiyah, Malaiyah, and Ilfin sat in the boat with Lord Soo, Vinket had stayed aboard the yacht, stating, "I feel a bit at sea on the land."


Lord Soo was beginning to seriously regret taking the young sea priest as his protegee.


The party disbarked, Ilfin tied up her craft while Bones stowed the sails, and they walked through the woods towards the fisher settlement.


The village was a typical layout. To the south, fish flakes for drying catch were lined along the wharf, as well as sheds for storing boats and gear. Stony paths wound up the hill to the village proper, where the fisherfolk's small, boxy houses lay scattered. In the center, a town hall of cobbled stone and oak logs dominated the settlement.


"You and you," Soo indicated Gansaiyah and Ilfin, "Set up your bows down by the water." The two did as told, and took position in the shadow of a shed. As for Bones and Malaiyah, Lord Soo ordered them to take their position behind a house in sight of the town hall. They did so, and everything was in order. Soo retreated to the forest edge and watched his followers.


Down by the shore, Gansaiyah spotted one Pan Tangian strutting on the wharf, in turns calling out to the womenfolk as they went about their errands, or ordering about children.


"This one first." whispered the wastelander. Both archers readied arrows, aimed and fired.


THUNK THUNK! Two hits, but the Pan Tangian merely staggered in his half-plate armor. He began to yell and run for the town hall, doubtless where his remaining two comrades were located.


"We must stop him." seethed Gansaiyah, readying another arrow.


At that moment, Bones and Maliyah emerged from their hiding place and blocked the fleeing Pan Tangian's way to the stone hall. Malaiyah slashed him once with her short sword while Bones parried the Pan Tangian's blows. Suddenly, the warrior froze, then pitched forward at their feet. A weeping Waste arrow quivered from his back.


Before the group could congratulate themselves, Bones cried out in pain and shock, then tumbled forward, a Pan Tangian spear protruding from his back. The other occupiers had been alerted, and their figures could be seen in the windows of the town hall.


Malaiyah helped Bones get into cover behind the house where they had been positioned. Looking at his wound, she could see that he would live, and set about aiding the sailor.


Gansaiyah and Ilfin moved closer to the hall, then loosened a volley of arrows at the Pan Tangians in the window. There was a scream, then one was down. The final one stayed low in the window, not giving them a good shot.


"Come out, or we burn you out!" shouted Gansaiyah. "Throw out your weapons first."


There was a moment of silence, then a broadsword and Pan Tang spear clattered out from the window. The oak door opened, and a large Pan Tang warrior with an arrow in his shoulder sidled out.


"Who are you? Why are you here?" spat the defeated Pan Tag occupier.


"It is we who ask the questions here," retorted Lord Soo, joining his coterie as they surrounded their enemy.


Thus ends the Tale of the Laughing Tower


Notes

The Oracle questions & answers from last session, as well as Wishing well wishes, have all been addressed, but for privacy's sake will not be treated here.


Due to scheduling conflicts, the game will continue in a more episodic fashion. We are currently choosing the next adventure.


Thursday, May 19, 2022

Stormbringer - How Are Those Houserules Going

One of the great things about the game I'm running is I am getting both excellent player feedback and seeing when things work or don't. Here are some things I've realized.


CHARACTER GENERATION


To me, the big success was seeing my character generation rules at work, specifically the change to multiplying an attribute to determine starting skill percentage. I asked,


  1. 1) Character generation - Was the increased starting percentages of multiplying an attribute worth the effort, or do you feel the RAW (rules as written) were good enough?


They replied,


"1-I like the multiplying percentages."


"I really like this system. Simple and gives more meaning to stats. There are a couple of unintended consequences though, for example my High Priest has ridiculous language skills (160% I think). And amazing parry at 98% but crap attack at 48% (although this could make sense I suppose). The one thing I don't like though is having 0% in lots of skills. I prefer the RAW where you get at least a base of 10% + modifier in basic skills."


"I also don't like the zero under most skills. Makes no sense in game either really. A base of 10% seems reasonable and gives the chance to improve."


I responded that you might get penalties for difficult actions, so the high skills eat into those. Also, high skill means you're an expert and should roll lest and just know more. Finally, I propose that ant skill where you could conceivably know something you can get the attribute x1% when in a pinch. If you succeed, you start at that level.


STORY MECHANICS


I also asked about the Story Mechanics I had proposed:


"2) I've simplified the Description rule to a roleplaying story mechanic for when rolling dice fails, as I described the other day. I've also turned the Life Purpose into an XP system, where forwarding your Purpose will net you mechanical rewards (ie skill points or attribute increases). Do you feel inclined to use either of these? Do you have any experience with story mechanics?"


"2- I want to use both, it's just about figuring out when and where for best effect.


Actually, I've decided to drop the Description rule as it needs more work. As for the Life Purpose, one player has already advanced his goal, and others look to do the same and create more story hooks. So as a sort of XP system, where they get a point to use when they advance their story, it is working well.


COMBAT


Overall, the changes to combat have been positive, and flow so well they are invisible. Letting those with range or higher weapon skill speeds up combat so much more than comparing DEX ranks it is scary. Allowing players to choose the result of criticals has been met with acceptance, and has saved PC lives while taking NPCs out faster.


MAPS & ONLINE GAMING


Not related to my houserules, but theater of the mind has been a hard jump for some. As they put it after the 2nd session,


"I had it that he was blocking the door and we were getting hit from 3 sides. I dragged the door blocker to one side thinking we were going to mob him out of range of the bowman. If I had realised you meant we could just run past him.....


But then I thought he/they would simply follow us in. 


As a player I will learn. As a character I will get even then move on"


"Just on the maps discussion, my view is that there is a difference between a simple map to give people a view on the space they inhabit, and a battle map with a grid designed for tokens. The former can be simple and effective and non intrusive. The latter works for games designed for them, but can feel like you’re playing a TT war game."


  1. As for maps, I agree that pretty and detailed maps are a modern thing and for combat, theatre of the mind works well when both GM and players can describe clearly. However, for elements such as the pacman chase. They have to be almost essential, as we saw


I hate maps personally, but will try to sketch something on Roll20 when needed.


THE WHIFF FACTOR


"I like the adversaries to have decent chances to hit but terrible parry % scores to speed up combat. Otherwise it can go on forever!"


I dunno if nerfing NPCs is an answer. I liked the "add 5% to skills every round it drags on", but it hasn't really dragged on yet.


OVERLOAD


Players were a little bit confused with all my proposals, as I hadn't put them in an easily digestible format and they hadn't read the blog. I'm working on a summary now. As they put it,


"im ok with raising the skill set bonus to that of the attribute just wary of so many houserules that were playing a different game. have a look at Elric! or a later Stormbringer or even Mythras maybe Ted?"


Point taken. I've looked at Myrthas and might steal some ideas.


Monday, May 16, 2022

The Laughing Tower (Stormbringer 1E) Play report #3


1. Vinket


Vinket knew he was dying. The young priest of Straasha's only regret was that he was so far from the water, out here on the Argrimiliar prairie. He remembered only dimly what had happened to him - the tower looming ahead, a blur of claws and fangs from behind, the sour smell of a giant cat, his lifeblood draining into the dirt around him.


Then there were voices, echoing and indistinct, arguing over him. Was it Strassha and Xiombarg, maybe, negotiating for who would get his soul? He knew not. He felt tugged by rough hands, then thrust through a silvery portal.


Was this death? The afterlife? He knew not.


Little by little the hurt receded from him like the tide trickling down a pebbled beach. Vinket stood and saw that he was in some sort of tavern or hall awash with throbbing music and piercing lights. People milled about, laughing, drinking, and fighting.


"Would you like a drink?"


Vinket turned to see a woman with flaming blue skin and horns holding a tray on which were set a variety of drinks the likes of which he had never seen. All were in high, fluted glasses, with garish colors, crushed ice, and decorative parasols or fruit wedges.


"Are they safe?" he asked.


"Sir, we guarantee that our food and drinks are safe for all patrons. It is the games that contain an element of risk."


Vinket scanned the woman's face and detected no ill intent. Although he could not be totally sure, he felt the truth of her words and grabbed a blueish drink that reminded him of the sea.


"Thank you."


The woman nodded and turned back to the crowd to ply her drinks.


Vinket sipped the drink and shivered at its delicious coolness. After what he had been through, it was exactly what he needed.


"Oi, Vinket!"


Vinket turned at his name and saw Bones and the rest of the party making their way to him through the crowd.


"What in the Yellow Hells' names are you doing, lounging about here?" snapped Lord Soo.


Vinket sighed. There was no rest for the weary, even in this particular hell.



2. The Wheel of Power


After Lord Soo had visited the Oracle, it was decided that each member of his coterie would have their turn with the strange creature. The Melnibonean ordered Maleia to give each a coin, and they dutifully lined up.


(We'll skip over this to give each player their privacy. Lord Soo is the figurehead so his question is public knowledge at this point)


The party was silent as they walked to the next doorway, each mulling over the implications of what they had been told.


"Now, onto the Wheel!" said Soo, with a hint of glee. This was the most emotion his followers had ever seen from him.


Through the doorway was a garish room of maroon curtains, where a large wheel stood on a stage. Before it was a small table laden with an array of missile weapons - daggers, darts, eastern throwing stars, bows and arrows. Next to this stood a large demon in a round brimmed hat.


"Roll up, roll up!" bellowed the demon barker. "Skill or chance, make your mark on the Wheel of Power!"


The wheel had 12 sections of alternating gold and jet, each with a symbol from the Young Kingdoms tarot, which every soothsayer knew well. Lord Soo, being a sorcerer, understood their meanings intimately. They were


The Champion

The Invalid

The Wiseman

The Fool

The Dancers

The Invalid

The Chalice

The Poisoned Cup

The Sorceror

The Vampire

The Angel

The Devil


"Wot'll it be, guv? Skill or chance?" asked the barker, his toothy grin undermined by the black pits of his eyes.


Ganseiyah stepped forth. "I will try my hand."

The demon gestured to the table. "Take yer pick, all finely balanced."

"I have my own," replied the nomad, readying his bow.


Gansaiyah glanced at his employer.

"Aim for gold, avoid jet." offered the Melnibonean.


Gansaiyah nodded, spun and let loose two arrows.


KACHUNK KACHUNK. Two feathered shafts quivered from The Chalice. Instantly Gansaiyah felt health flow into him, his face flushing with the change.


"Good aim! Last shot!" grinned the demon.


KACHUNK. The Dancer. Gansaiyah felt his catlike grace increase even further, so that his feet nearly glided across the floor as he stepped away from the table.


"Next! Roll up, roll up!" bellowed the demon, laughing.


Maleia picked up some daggers from the table, noticing the 8-arrow mark of Chaos on the pommel as she did. The wheel seemed to move closer, or else the room seemed to grow smaller as she readied herself.


"Know what you're doing, lass?" asked Billy Bones.

"Just watch."


THUNK. The Invalid. Maleia felt her legs stiffen painfully. She forced herself to go again.

THUNK. The Dancer. Instantly the effect reversed itself.


The shopwoman took a breath, steeled herself, and threw her last dagger.


THUNK. The Devil. Maleia's skin crawled like a thousand ants were marching on her. 

 

She gasped in horror as her skin began to change, from the olive complexion common in Ilmiora, to bright, saturated primary colors and bold patterns. Her skin now was a maze of spirals and mandelas, like the tie-dyed fabrics of southern barbarians, which drew the eye hypnotically.


"What is this?" she wailed in despair.

"It is the mark of Chaos." said Lord Soo. "And it is beautiful. Would that I be so lucky."


So saying, the Melnibonean proceeded to the table.


"Wot'll it be, guv? Skill or chance?" asked the barker again.

"I think I will leave it to Chaos." replied Soo.

"Very well."


When Lord Soo looked again the table was gone and the wheel stood next to him. He grasped a side and spun, the gold and jet triangles blurring as the wheel rotated. With a series of clicks the wheel slowed, then stopped.


The Sorceror.


Yes, this was precisely what Lord Soo wanted. He felt his reserve of power increase, and knew he would have less trouble dealing with demons and their ilk in days to come.


"Two more spins, guvnor."


Soo smiled and grasped the wheel again.


-- 


"Oy've never seen someone get THAT twice in a row." chuckled the demon barker.


The Lord Soo who staggered from the spinning wheel was a mere shadow of the man who had strode up to it. His cheeks were sallower, his complexion greenish, his chest sunken. He had gotten what he wanted, but as with all Chaos bargains, he had paid the price.


"Two Poison." said Vinket. "My condolences, my lord."


Soo continued to the door without answer.


The next member to go was Vinket. He looked at Maleia, her skin a whorl of colours and shapes, then the sunken figure of Lord Soo.


"I think I will pass. Better to save my luck for the sea."


(Note: Billy Bones' player was absent, so his attempt will be retconned later)


Finally, Lord Soo stood up and motioned to the door through which they had entered the wheel room. Outside, they could see that the party continued.


The group proceeded to the door of the last games room, over which was the sign of a bow and arrow.


"I would guess this is again my responsibility," asked Gansaiyah.


"I have no more stomach for these games." replied Soo. "We are counting on you."


The others nodded agreement.


The group walked into a darkened room. Lights suddenly shone on a semicircle of stone seats, and Soo and the others gravitated there. Another series of lights lead Gansaiyah up a stone set of stairs ending in a pedestal. As he reached the highest point, another pedestal suddenly lit up a good bowshot away. On the pedestal stood a creature of some sort, white like marble, an inhuman archer with long, goat-like horns. The creature was eyeless, but two eyes were painted in garish red and black on its bow.


"Heads or tails?" a voice intoned.

"Heads" replied the nomad without hesitation.


Gansaiyah fished a half bronze from his pocket, flipped it, then muttered a curse.


The archer demon drew its bow and let loose with a painful twang, but the arrow missed its mark.


THWOK

Gansaiyah's return shot hit the creature in the heart, but there was no blood or sign of injury.


Once again the demon shot, and once again missed, as did Gansaiyah.


"Final shots" a voice intoned.


The demon hit Gansaiyah, but his plate turned its tip. Gansaiyah returned the hit, but his arrow pierced one of the two eyes painted on the creature's bow. It screamed in pain, and Gansaiyah now knew its weakness.


"No winner. Try again?" the voice intoned.


The nomad looked to see the archer-demon fully recovered and ready to start again. He sighed.


"We of the desert never push our luck."


They filed out of the room to the sound of chuckling from the darkness.



3. The Silver Tree


(Note they had also all flipped a coin into and made a wish on the wishing well. That will be resolved in due time)


Back in the middle of the tower, the party stood at the base of the great metallic tree that dominated the edifice's very center. The tree was silvery and thick-limbed, and seemed too big to grow naturally. At its base was a set of steps that wound up around the trunk. The party began to ascend.


"You monkeys should be happy now." quipped Soo. "We are going to climb a tree before we leave." 


They wound up around the trunk once, then came to a knot of silvern tree limbs that blocked any further progress. In front of the barrier, two ogre-like demons stood, one arms folded, the other carrying a long scroll at which he peered as revelers walked up to them, then either let them through or turned them back. The group stopped in front of the two giants.


"Names?" asked one,

"Lord Soo."

"You're on the list."


"Maleia."


The demon peered at the scroll, then smiled a toothy grin.

"You're not on the list, love, but you got the look. Go on in."


"Gansaiyah."


"Not on the list."


Lord Soo turned back.


"These three are my servants. They go wherever I go."

"I'm sorry, m'lord. They are not on the list."


Maleia leant over to Soo, thrust a handful of the chaos coins in the Melnibonean's palm, and nodded to the demons.


Soo pointed at the scroll, dropping the coins in the demon's outstretched hand.


"I said, they go where I go."


"As you wish."


As the group climbed the tree, they could see many branches going off to various rooms, leafy bowers where small groups talked and dined, set off by latticeworks of branches. The raucous sound of the main hall receded, and was replaced by calming classical music they wafted to their ears as they arose.


They climbed interminably, it seemed, until they came out to see the night sky, set with a diamond dust of stars. In front of them two figures sat at a table drinking and talking, one a tall, thin being in a shining chromatic bodysuit, the other in black clothes and a wide brimmed hat, his eyes hidden by spectacles so dark they seemed to be twin abysses in his face.


The figure clothed in shimmering samite noticed the coterie, and beckoned, the threads of gold and silver in his raiment sparkling blindingly.


"Lord Soo! Welcome, welcome! We have been expecting you."


"I am honoured." replied the Melnibonean with all the calm he could muster.


Soo was surprised. He had expected at least to see Balo, the Jester of Chaos, or some other minor functionary of Chaos. The two figures before him were completely unknown.


The shining Lord offered, "I am Feedlar, and this is my associate, Lorex."


The figure in black nodded, then sipped his drink.


"Tell your servants to enjoy themselves while we talk." suggested silvery Feedlar, motioning to food and drink tables at the edge of the hollow.


Lord Soo sat with the two unknown Chaos Lords.


"May I ask a question?" asked Soo, wary of offending the two innocuous yet powerful beings.

Feedlar nodded.


”Are you here to take over The Young Kingdoms?"


Feedlar laughed.

"Let's say we are here to strategically align ecosystem incentives." 


"I see." said Soo. But he did not see, not at all.


The other Lord in black growled in a voice like gravel. "It's becoming increasingly evident that mutual collaboration amongst major ecosystems and communities is the optimal path forward to positive-sum outcomes in a budding interplanar reality."


Feedlar continued. "We have started our own currency, which we call 8-bit coin. As the dominant players in the 8 bit-coin space, commanding the vast majority of trading volume, we can control ample resources to buy up anyone with a hint of a competitive advantage."


Lorex growled, "8-bit coin is a lower tier exchange with clients getting an implied valuation of hundreds of mundane coin per customer. Contrasting to mortal fixed per customer valuation."


Soo thought he understood, but his mind quickly retreated from that supposition. He suddenly had a more interesting thought and asked, "What if it was counterfeited?"


"In practice," replied Feedlar, "our security plays out by enabling connecting wardpacts, called "multichains," to rely on the security of 8-bit coin's value through our validator set. Thus, each multichain taps our validator set to help create secure blocks on the multichain's own multichain. At the same time, through use of our validator set, illustratively called the "entropy relay chain," all the multichains can also securely communicate with each other to call contracts, pass messages and transfer assets. The strength of this model is manifold."


Soo nodded, but was using his Melnibonean ability to project interest and understanding.


Lorex added, "However, unlike a permission-less environment where demons can freely deploy their powers, connecting a multichain to 8-bit coin is not free nor is it permanent. The connecting multichain must pay to lease one of 8-bit coin's limited multichain slots.


Lord Soo said nothing.


Feedlar continued, "For example, the "X to Earn" theme, where coin rewards in the form of tokens or sigils are used to incent desired user behavior, is proliferating quickly. "X to Earn" is a novel concept that advances the reward dynamics of Sorcery 2.0 from free use of the product to ownership of the product and getting compensated to use the product."


Lorex finished the diatribe, "This new structure is intended to spur marketing, network effects, adoption and brand loyalty. In this new paradigm, utilization of sorcery directly rewards users' contributions with items of monetary value. The greater the contribution of the user, the greater the value that the user potentially derives from his or her rewards."


"Fascinating." replied Soo.


"I see you have some 8-bit coin already. Care to invest back into the system and get in on the ground floor?"


Soo was shocked, but realized he mightn't have a use for the coins outside this place.


"It would be my honour." He motioned for Maleiya to hand over the coins.


The conversation trailed off, with Feedlar and Lorex continuing on in their inscrutable manner with each other. Soo was looking for a good place to exit when he felt something slither across his boot.


"hElp!"


He looked down to see a massive worm, about the size of a Troosian constrictor and topped with a human head, looking up at him from underneath the table.


"hElp!" the worm repeated.


Lord Soo recalled where he had seen the face. It was Chon Fla, the Pan Tangian priest who had let him escape from Melnibone during the invasion. So Bones was right - he had seen a Pan Tangian priest this morning.


"What is in it for me?" demanded the Melnibonean.

"B-but I helped you escape from Imrryr..."

"That time is past."


The Pan Tangian gulped. "I will give you anything it is in my power to give."


"Swear it."

"I swear."


Lord Soo picked Chon Fla up by its midsection.

"Mind if I take this with me?"


Feedlar made a dismissive gesture.


"Come Pan Tang worm!" hissed Soo. "I have plans for thee!"



4. On The Road


The group stepped out of The Laughing Tower and back into the ruins of Shet. By providence their horses were still there, so they mounted and made off the way they had come.


As they reached Tingle's farmhouse, two armed and armored riders of Agrimiliar livery approached them.


"Halt in the name of Agrimiliar! If you harbour any souls touched by Chaos, you must hand them over to us."


Gansaiyah laughed. "The two of you versus the five of us? Not likely."


Malea drew her daggers, and the two horsemen recoiled at her prismatic countenance.


"Be off, lest you want a taste of this!" warned the nomad. The two men turned their horses and fled back towards Cassandra.


"My lord, I suggest we either take a southern arc through the prairie, or north along the coast. They will be scouring the main road for the touched," advised Gansaiyah.


"Let's take the coast road," replied his lord. "Always better to stay near the sea."


"I agree," added Vinket.


As one they turned their horses north and made for the coast.