Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Kage Gordain - Chapter 6: Upscrat

(Read previous chapter here.)

Game System: Tunnels & Trolls (Affiliate link)
ToolsJohnn Four’s 5 Room Dungeonsrpgsolo.com solo engine; other random generators

Setup

Since it’s been a few weeks since my last post in this adventure I’ll offer a real brief recap. The group of four adventurers have arrived at Crossbones Island and were rowed ashore by two of the naval ship Skylark’s crew. They survived an initial attack from several large jungle cats and a trek through the jungle. Unfortunately, they also ran into a patch of quicksand and one of the crewmembers, Master Fernmaker, was lost. The group made camp at the base of the cliffs. Before retiring for the night, Sylralie cast Poor Baby on all the injured party members (total cost of 12 WIZ, which will restore before morning), bringing them up to full health.

[Scene 1: Room 3 - Trick or Setback]

The night passes uneventfully, for the most part. While some rustling and skittering could be heard in the trees and underbrush on each watch, the closest the camp ever came to being invaded was during Kelseen’s watch. About midway through, the warrior woman spotted a large, dark shape several feet beyond the treeline, firelight reflecting off its eyes. From its size, she was pretty sure it was not another jungle cat but might have been a large, husky man or other humanoid creature. Pulling out her sword, she moved closer to investigate, but the shape quickly retreated and fled rather noisily through the wood. [Rolled two encounter checks for the night. Both were negative.]

Before the sun is fully up, the group awakes and has a quick breakfast of bread and cheese before breaking camp. Throughout the meal, Midshipman Byrd mumbles but a word or two and keeps to himself. 

“So help me,” Kelseen declares, “He better not slow us up.”

“Take it easy on him, Kel,” Dalen says. “He’s probably still in shock over seeing someone die. He calls out to Byrd, “You gonna be okay?”

“No need worry about me,” Byrd grumbles back, then takes a sip of water from a tin cup.

Once everything is packed back up, the group discusses their next move. 
“First, course of action should be to get some height,” Sylralie suggests, taking the lead. “We need to find a way up these cliffs. It’ll give us a better view of the island and anything that might explain what happened to the other crews. Also, while we are up there we can signal the Skylark to let them know we are still alive.” She casts a glance at Byrd who is glaring back at her comment about being still alive. “Do you have the signal mirror?”

“Perhaps Fernmaker had it,” Byrd suggests. “Maybe you should have tried harder to save ‘im.”

Kelseen takes a threatening step toward him, her hand on the hilt of her sword. Byrd holds up his hands to ward her off.  “Calm down, lady. I’ve got one. Lucky, for you.”

Kel takes another step before Kristopher moves between them. “Okay. Let’s take it easy. We have a lot to do and quarreling is not going to help.”

[To find a way up the cliffs, the group will have to make a LUCK SR based on the best LCK stat in the group (Kris 17). The first check will be at L4, the next at L3, and so forth until L1, at which each successive check with be at L1. The group will eventually find a route, but for each check, they will also roll an encounter check. The more fails, the greater the risk of an encounter.]

Kristopher leads the group to the cliff base. The rock face is rather sheer at this location and there is clearly no way up. The way looks more promising to the left, so they head off in that direction. After a bit, the cliffs begin to slope more and the group attempts to climb up the mountain. Unfortunately, the highest they can reach is about twenty feet before they have to retreat. It continues like this for an hour or so until vegetation grows a bit thicker and the grade up the mountain becomes less severe.

Kris stops momentarily to scan the mountain slope for any possible paths and spots a cave opening about 30 feet up the mountainside.  He points it out to the group.

Kris spots a cave opening

“If there’s a cave there should be a way to get to it,” Dalen suggests.

“If anyone would know,” Syl says, “It would be the dwarf.”

“I’ll take that as a compliment,” Dalen says as he takes the lead to search for a path.

Hacking through the underbrush, the dwarf clears a path to a point below the cave. From there the trek is easy as a wide path leads up the slope to the opening. The path itself was mostly bare of vegetation and rather compact, leading Dalen to believe that it has been well-traveled in the past.

“This looks promising,” he calls back. “I suspect we are not the first people to visit this cave.”

“Just be careful,” Sylralie warns. “If this cave has been used by others they might be there now. Or they’ve left it trapped.”

Stopping several feet from the opening, Kelseen and Dalen decide to lead the group in first, as they are the most armored. Swords drawn, they step into the cave. The sunlight only illuminates the cave for a short distance and all they can see is a pile of twigs and dry leaves.  Kel pokes at it with the tip of her sword and immediately regrets her actions as several squirrels with long fangs emerge from the mound and pounce at the party. 

“Scrats!” Dalen cries out.

Scrats!

[The party finds the cave after three turns, but also rolls an encounter. 9 Scrats (MR 15 each)]

Dalen, Kris, and Byrd’s armor protect them from the critters’ initial barrage, but they are unable to effectively fight back as the animals are too fast and easily dodge their blows. Syl drops her quarterstaff and draws her B’chwa, believing the dagger will do more damage. Unfortunately, in the process, one Scrat bites her on the hand. Kelseen suffers the worst of the group, as another scrat wiggles up under her armor and bites and scratches her from underneath. She cries out as she beats at the animal that is stuck near her waist.

Every now and then a scrat is able to drive a tusk into someone’s arm or leg. Kel doubles over as she is bitten a bit too close to her groin. Syl sees the futility of the battle and finally decides it’s time to turn things around. The elf wizard casts Vorpal Blade on the group, but it is still up to the other members of the party to strike the scrats. Thanks to the spell, however, many of the weapons will now slice through the critters much easily on the next swing. Her efforts are rewarded as one of the scrats is knocked away bleeding by Byrd and Kristopher cuts another in half.

[Round 1: Scrats: 128 (5 Spite dmg)   Party: 112 (4 Spite dmg)  Scrats win by 16 which is spread evenly and absorbed by armor.  Spite to the party is assigned randomly, with a majority going to Kelseen over the next several rounds.
Round 2: Scrats: 118 (4 spite)  Party: 110 (3 spite)  Scrats win by 8, damage absorbed. 
Round 3: Scrats: 116 (4 spite) Party w/Vorpal Blade: 143 (0 spite)   Party wins by 27]

With renewed vigor, Syl stabs her b’chwa down and pins one of the prehistoric squirrels to the ground. Kelseen finally just reaches up under her tasset, grabs the scrat by the tail, yanks it out, and bashes it against the wall of the cave. The attacking animals begin to tire from their initial assault and the men are able to wound or kill them more easily using both their weapons (which are now back to normal) and the heels of their feet. Within a few more minutes the fight is over and all the scrats lie dead or dying.

[Round 4: Scrats: 90 (3 Spite)  Party: 114 (5 Spite)  Party wins by 24
Round: 5 Scrats: 63 (2 Spite)   Party: 115 (4 Spite)  Party wins by 52
Round: 6 Scrats: 15 (0 Spite)   Party: Combat Adds alone are enough to win.
Final CON for party: Kris:13   Syl:14  Kel:5    Dal:17    Byrd:7]

Several eyes turn toward Kelseen and she quickly throws them a warning glance before anyone can make any snide comments about her “close encounter.” Satisfied that everyone has been sufficiently silenced, she heads further into the cave.

“Sylralie, some light please.” Kel orders. 

Syl complies and casts Will-o-Wisp. [1 WIZ per 10 min.] Kris and Dalen follow the women inside, while Byrd takes his time bringing up the rear. The light from the spell illuminates the inside of the cave. The chamber is the size of an average-sized room and has no exiting tunnels. The cave is empty, save for the scrat nest. On one wall there appears to be some writing.

[I made some oracle and dice checks to see if there were any bodies or containers in the cave. Both came up negative.
[Is there any treasure in the nest?
(50/50 | 7[d10]) Yes +Event: Fight / Joy  
Unclear what the event might be I use solorpg to generate a focus = “Move away from goal” 
I will pocket the event for later]

The party starts by rummaging through the nest to see if there are any coins or trinkets. They are rewarded with four silver coins and an aquamarine jewel (110 gp). Kelseen adds the coins to the common collection and Kristopher holds on to the jewel. 

In the meantime, Dalen examines the walls of the cave. “This cave is not natural,” he tells the others. “It’s definitely been here a while, but there are faint indications that tools were used to carve it out of the mountain.” [Based on a successful L2 INT roll.] 

“So this was used as either a hideout or storeroom?” Kristopher asks.

“Perhaps,” the Dwarf responds. “But obviously it hasn’t been used for a while and anything that had been stored here is long gone.”

“Hmmm. Maybe. Maybe not,” Sylralie wonders, eyeing the writing on the wall. “There is a riddle scratched into the wall. ‘It runs smoother than most any rhyme, and loves to fall but cannot climb.’”

While Kel and Kristopher struggle to come up with an answer, Dalen sets down his pack and begins to rummage through. Midshipman Byrd stands near the cave opening and keeps glancing out, presumably keeping an eye out for any other scats, cats, or other creatures. He clearly is not interested in doing anymore than what is absolutely necessary.

Dalen pulls out one of his worn leather books and starts flipping through the pages. “Ah, this is the one. Now, where did I write that?”

“What’s up, Dalen,” Kristopher asks.

“Something about that riddle sounds familiar. I’ve heard something like it before. [Per L2 INT roll with help from Literary Knowledge talent]

“ Here it is.
I can babble but I’m not a baby,
I can run but I don’t have any legs
I can fall but I don’t get hurt
I’m found in a pot, but I’m not a ladle”

The dwarf finishes reading and everyone stares at him with anticipation.

“Oh for the patience of Ilmis!” Kelseen finally exclaims. “What is the answer!”

“It’s water,” Dalen responds with a broad smile. “Just like the writing on the wall, this riddle also mentions running and falling, so water must be the answer.”

“So, where does that get us?” Syl asks frowning.  “Is this a message left behind to tell others they set up a new camp by a river? Is it a clue to where a treasure is hidden? It tells us nothing!”

“Oh, it tells us something, my elven friend,” Dalen corrects. “Your thoughts are good, but I think it might be a clue to something that is hidden right here.” [A L2 INT saving roll was needed to figure out the meaning of the riddle. Since rogues can be skilled in traps and hidden doors, I allowed Dalen’s roguery talent to be applied for an additional 4 INT points. Kris’ roguery talent affects LCK rolls, so it wasn’t applicable. Dalen was again the only character to make the SR.]

“Byrd, hand me a waterskin,” Dalen says holding out a hand. Reluctantly, Byrd detaches a skin from his belt and hands it to the dwarf. Dalen walks over to the back of the cave and examines several areas of the wall. Once satisfied, he splashes a generous amount of water onto it. Next, he rubs the wet spot with the palm of his hand. The rest watch curiously as the sandstone dissolves under his touch, leaving an indention about the size of a plate.

“I suspect there is an opening here. We just need enough water to wash away this compacted sand.”

“We’re not wasting all our drinking water on a wall,” objects Byrd, speaking for the first time since leaving camp.

“Of course not. It wouldn’t be enough anyway. We need to find another water source.”

“Then what?” asks the skeptical Syl. “We don’t have any buckets.”

“We’ll figure that out when the time comes,” Kristopher cuts in. “But unless we find water first it does really matter.”

The party did not pass any obvious water sources during their travels to the cave, so they decide to split up into two groups to cover more ground. Kristopher offers to team up with Byrd. Out of Byrd’s earshot he explains that he’s doing it not only to keep Kel from suffering any more time with the seaman than is necessary, but also to try to talk to him about his loss and the current situation. 

[Scene 2]

“I understand what you are going through,” Kris says to Byrd once they’ve left the others behind. “I recently lost a group of close friends. All were either killed or captured.” 

“Listen, I don’t really care about your life or the others. I’m just here to do a job and I know that’s all you and your friends care about.”

“That’s just not true. Syl and Dalen trusted and befriended me when I was on my own. Sure, you’re in the military and have to intention of sticking with once we return to Sirisea, but that doesn’t mean you can’t feel like part of the group while we are together.”

“I’m sure Fernmaker felt just like part of the group as sunk into the quicksand.”

Kris decides there is no point in continuing the conversation at this moment. Besides, he sees a dense copse of low trees and bushes ahead that he wants to investigate. “Do you mind taking a quick look through those bushes? I’ll continue this way.”

Byrd walks over to the overgrown area and steps through, leaving Kris’ sight for a moment. Suddenly, Kristopher hears Byrd call out.  “Hey! I found a pool!”

Kristopher follows after him.  Breaking through the brush, he sees the pool. It isn’t very large, only about 20’ across and is filled with muddy water. He suspects it has formed in a low spot from rainwater flowing down the mountain and varies in size depending on the weather. Despite its small size it is more than enough for the group’s purpose. 

While he is thinking this, Kris sees more than feels the tip of a sword blade emerge from his lower torso through his leather armor. Pain begins to radiate from the wound as he steps forward and slides off the blade. He stumbles around to see Byrd holding onto the bloodied sword Kris feels faint as he fumbles for his own weapon, but before he can pull it out Byrd strikes him across the face with the pommel of his weapon. Kris collapses to the ground and loses consciousness. 

Bryd makes a quick check to see if anyone else is around, then starts to rummage through Kris’ pack. He quickly finds what he is looking for, the aquamarine jewel. 

[Does Byrd find the healing potion? (Somewhat Likely | 10[d10]) Yes, and…  ]

Byrd also finds the vial of healing potion that Kris was holding and decides to take it, thinking it might be useful later on. Satisfied, he stands and begins to walk away in the opposite direction from the rest of the party. He stops after a few steps as if he had just had a thought. Going back to his victim, Byrd plucks up Kristopher’s scimitar and then continues on his way. [...and also takes his (Even=scimitar/Odd=dirk Roll: 4) scimitar.]

End of Chapter 6

Wrap Up:

Some quick behind-the-scenes for the final scene.  I’ve always had this idea that Byrd might betray the group. Once I rolled the “Fight/Joy - move away from the goal” event, I felt this might be an opportunity to take the story in that direction (It also helped that this was the “Trick or Setback” stage of the 5-Room dungeon, though this was an additional trick not in the original.) Once they found the aquamarine I felt that would make a good catalyst: Byrd is already dissatisfied with the mission and possibly his life’s standing in general. He sees the valuable jewel as a means of making his life a little cozier back home (Joy). He knows of the terms of the arrangement and that Kage Gordain gets to keep all the treasure, so the only way for him to obtain any benefit from the jewel would be to steal it (Fight), escape back to the Skylark, and convince the Captain that the rest of the party is dead.

To accomplish this, I planned on having Byrd periodically attempt a L2 LCK SR to see if he could get Kris away from the rest of the group.  The search for water was the first opportunity and Byrd passed it with another double roll (5,5,6,1+11). 

Once they found the pond I checked to see if Byrd tried to surprise Kris (as opposed to threatening Kris at sword point to give him the jewel).  A 50/50 roll on the oracle answered “Yes”.

He needed to make a LCK SR to surprise Kris. Since his DEX is higher than Kris and Kris would be distracted by the pool, I felt this would be an easy surprise at L1. Byrd rolled doubles again (Lucky bastard) and passed with a 30, enough for an L3 SR. With a surprise, Byrd gets to attack without Kris making an opposing roll. After adjusting for armor, Byrd still had enough points to overcome Kris’ 13 CON

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Mr. Jingles: Clown of Adventure - The After-Post

(Read the final part here.)

With this short side adventure/experiment now complete, I can reveal some of the behind-the-scenes decisions that I made and give you my impressions of the Bivius system.

As briefly mentioned during the story, the one-page adventure that I used, “There Ain’t Nobody Here But Us Chickens” by Alex and Chris Stoesz, is written for a fantasy setting. I decided to use this adventure even though my story was based in modern-day because finding a contemporary one-page adventure is a bit challenging. I felt I could easily change the fantasy elements into more modern counterparts. This led to some fun names (Big Jim Orcus [Orc] and the Goblinski [Goblin] brothers) and descriptions (Ode’s image was influenced by the fact that hermit was supposed to be a dwarf).

One such metamorphosis was the original character Benhen the Wizard. He is the man Jingles and Francois meet on the edge of the forest, Benjamin the Biologist. While interacting with Benjamin, I ran into a possible pitfall of working with a published adventure and my “reveal as to go” system. That is there is always the danger you will at some point reveal information that conflicts or breaks continuity with a previous event or description. When this happens, the solo roleplayer has a few options: treat it as a twist in the story (if possible), re-write earlier events (difficult if they are way back in the past), change the information to fit the current story, or just ignore it completely.

In the case of Benjamin, I originally revealed just enough of his description to learn that he wanted the PC’s to capture the chicken-horse and bring it back. Great. That’s when I decided to make him a biologist and the chicken-horse an experiment that might hold the solution to reversing the chicken plague. I wrote the conversation with Benjamin and got to a point where I felt I needed a little more information to move forward, so I revealed more of Benjamin’s story.

That’s when I learned the real truth!

The Wizard in the original adventure was actually attempting to send the adventurers to their doom, hoping the horse would kill them. The reason was that he wanted to keep them from finding out that he poisoned the waters in the stream and anything that drank of it turned into a chicken. It was all part of the wizard’s ultimate goal to rule the region. This new information really derailed the direction I had planned on taking this NPC and his mission and, to a certain extent, the entire adventure.

At this point, I hadn’t progressed too far and could revise the encounter to fit with this new information. However, the Bivius rules already had a mechanic for dealing with pre-written adventures: treat what is written as Option A and something different as Option B. Since I already had another option I felt this was a good time to use this rule. In the posted story I didn’t reveal the result of the roll, but now it should be obvious that the result was “Option B” and I continued with my own ideas for Benjamin’s honesty and motivation. However, I liked the idea that poisoned water was causing the mutations so I let that inform the events of the Epilogue.

My Thoughts on Bivius

I ran across Bivius while perusing the various solo rpg resources on Sophia Brandt’s blog Die Heart This solo engine was developed by Riccardo Fregi as a simple alternative to more complex solo engines, such as Mythic. At first, I wasn’t very impressed with the system as I felt it was too simplistic. Everything was resolved with a random determination of only two options: Yes or No, A or B, High or Low. It seemed there was nothing to account for varying degrees of likelihood or difficulty. A small farmboy could potentially kill a fire-breathing dragon with one or two rolls of the die. Or conversely, your character could just as easily meet his or her doom at the hands of a single goblin.

Then I read Fregi’s solo playthrough of a Pirate Adventure using Bivius. That helped me better understand and appreciate how the system worked. 

The most important take away for me was that Bivius is primarily intended to direct the narrative and not necessarily manage the finer details. It can indicate how difficult a task is, or how well or poorly your character is doing, but it’s up to you and your imagination to come up with specific details to explain why a challenge is as difficult as it is or how a challenge goes good or bad for your character. While technically you can pair Bivius with another RPG system (like you would use Mythic along with D&D), the system was designed to be all-inclusive, especially if you utilize the Tunnels & Dragons supplement.

Another important thing I realized is that success or failure doesn’t necessarily mean the death of a character or monster. For instance, the farmboy winning a challenge against the dragon might mean he was successful in stealing the beast’s treasure undetected. Or, knowing he’s a potential snack, the boy’s challenge might be to escape and winning the challenge means he gets away. In the case of the lone goblin, losing the challenge may not mean you are killed, but were simply unable to kill the goblin and he is able to get away and alert his friends. The key is to come up with success or failure options that are appropriate for the situation.

Now that I have actually run an adventure with Bivius I consider it a nice little system. I still wouldn’t use it for a big epic. However, for a quick story, especially one with low stakes (such as a clown investigating chicken mutants), it works just fine. I can see myself using it in the future to tell side stories or backstories involving characters from my epic adventures. For example, I can use it to tell the story of how Kelseen and Tozhug the Urook met, or why Bhartram Rosemight is distrustful of Harper Wyghtwing. Additionally, I feel Bivius pairs well with the One-Page Adventure format and will probably do more of those in the future as a break from my longer tales.

Looking forward, I’ll be continuing up my Kage Gordain campaign soon. Look for that to be continued in December. As always, thanks for reading and any feedback is welcomed.

Friday, November 22, 2019

Mr. Jingles: Clown of Adventure - Part 3

(Read the previous part here.)


“Well my lion taming friend, there’s only one thing left to do.”

Mr. Jingles, the clown star of Professor Underwood’s Exalted Circus, and his current sidekick, Francois the Lion Tamer sit inside the tiny clown car they borrowed for this evening’s excursion into the wood. Despite the fact that the little blue buggy can fit easily into a compact parking stall, its interior is quite roomy, able to fit about 20 clowns, give or take a joker.

“Check out the church?” Francois asks his colorful cohort.

“You guessed it.”

“It wasn’t really that hard a guess, monsieur.”

As they drove the short distance to the dilapidated building, Mr. Jingles recounted what they just learned from the hermit.

“The way I understand it, all these monstrosities were once normal woodland critters . . . “

“Or persons,” Francois interjected, thinking about the Orcus Gang.

“Or people,” Jingles agrees. “Then all of a sudden some mysterious force starts turning them into chickens. But not everyone. Odocoileus has lived in the woods this entire time, yet she’s still an ornery old woman.”

“Mon Dieu! What can it be? Do you think it has something to do with the church?”

“It might. Ode did say she avoided it. But I’m not sure. Some ancient curse sounds a bit far-fetched. I like to think there’s some scientific explanation behind all this.”

“But what do you know? You are just a clown.”

“You got me there, Francois. You got me there.”

[Is there anything outside the church when they arrive? Roll: No]

Jingles stops the car fifty feet from the church and he and Francois exit. Putting a gloved finger up to his wide red-painted lips, Jingles indicates to Francois that he wants the lion tamer to quietly follow him. The two creep up to the closest window and carefully peek inside.

The inside of the church was every bit of a shambles at the outside. Pews lay scattered, broken and decaying. Tables are toppled. Any artwork that used to hang on the walls has rotted away, leaving only empty frames. From their angle, they can’t see the altar area, but near the back of the church is a large pile of leaves and twigs roughly resembling a nest. Sitting in the middle of the nest is what appears to be a giant chicken with an extremely long neck. However, two more of the beasts can be seen roaming around the open room and it is obvious from their long legs that they are not giant chickens, but some type of ostrich/chicken cross-breed.

[The original adventure assumes you are playing in a fantasy setting and actually describes these creatures as Chicken Harpies. In converting this to a more contemporary setting I’ve already altered orcs and goblins into human chickens. I thought trying to explain yet another missing human (in this case three females) might be stretching it a bit, so I just went for a large odd bird instead.

Do Jingles and Francois A) try to scare off the birds, or B) try to capture the birds?  Roll: A]

“We need to get in there and search for some cause of all this and possibly a solution,” Mr. Jingles explains. He thinks for a moment, then has an idea. “Francois, I’ll bet the frame holding up the bell is very rotted. A few swift kicks and it will come tumbling down. I want you to sneak in the front and climb up into the tower. When you are set, I will try to get the creatures to follow me outside. Once we are out, you kick the support and send the bell crashing down, blocking the entrance so they can’t get back in.”

“Sounds dangerous. Do you think it will work?”

“I have no idea. Do you have a better plan?”

“Maybe the birds are friendly?”

“If any of the other chicken creatures we have seen are any indication, I wouldn’t count on it.”

Francois gives in and walks around the church, making sure to keep his head down so as not to be visible through the windows. He reaches the double front doors that lead into the vestibule beneath the bell tower and carefully peeks in.

[Francois will use his athletics skill (low) to quietly creep up the stairs. Threat level is High.
Option A (low): Francois makes it up into the bell tower.
Option B (high): The bird stops him.]

The lion tamer’s timing couldn’t be worse. The moment he pokes his head around the corner, one of the giant birds is looking right in his direction and sees him. There is no doubt in Francois’ mind that he has been seen, as the bird raises his head up, ruffles its feathers, and begins to charge.

Round 1: [Option A] Francois decides to go for it. He sprints into the room, heading for the staircase. The chicken-ostrich just misses pecking him with its beak as he leaps for the stairs and begins his descent.

Round 2: [Option A] He is not safe yet, however, as the giant bird begins to ascend after him. All Francois can do at this point is continue up. He takes the steps two at a time, hearing several crack as he puts his weight on them. He hopes they are sturdy enough to support him, as a fall from this height would be very painful. Fortunately for him, the boards hold. Unfortunately for the chicken-ostrich, Francois did weaken several to the point that they could no longer support the heavy bird. About halfway up, the stairs give way and the deformed creature plummets to the floor. The thankful Francois makes it to the top and catches his breath. He sticks his arm out of one of the eye-windows and gives a thumbs-up signal. Seeing the signal, Mr. Jingles heads around the far side of the church hoping to find another entrance. 

[Is there a door? Roll: Yes]

He sees a single door hanging loosely on its hinges. The clown creeps inside and finds himself in a small room. The door that separates this room from the altar has long since fallen down. Peeking through the door he sees that the two remaining creatures have turned their attention to the back of the church where their comrade had recently hit the floor.

[Does Mr. Jingles notice anything else in the room before proceeding with the plan? Roll: Yes]

Now that the bird that was sitting in the nest is on her feet, Mr. Jingles can see that there is a large egg laying in the nest. Obviously, she was keeping it warm when he first saw her.

[Jingles’ current plan is to simply run through the church, hoping the chicken-ostriches will chase him out of the building.  However, with this new information, he can change his plan if he makes a successful Deduction Skill (high) check against a low threat.

Option A (high): Jingles changes his plan, resulting in an evacuation of the beasts.
Option B: (low): Jingles proceeds with the original plan and must pass another challenge to succeed.]

Round 1: [Option B] “Well, here goes nothing,” Jingles thinks to himself as he exits the room and prepares to make a sprint through the birds and out the front door.

Round 2: [Option A] Whispering to himself, he counts down. “One . . . two . . . hold on!” Suddenly, the clown has a thought. Maybe he can do this another way that is not as dangerous.

Instead of running down the aisle, Mr. Jingles takes birds’ distraction as an opportunity to crouch down behind the remains of the pews and make his way to the side aisle that leads to the nest. Being careful to move quietly, he creeps us to where the giant egg is resting and picks it up.

Standing in the middle of the aisle, Mr. Jingles holds up the egg and shouts, “Hey, chickens! I got something you might be interested in. 

The three chicken-ostriches turn to face him. Seeing the egg, they begin squawking in agitation.

“You want it? Here you go!” With that, he pulls the egg back as though it is a bowling ball and rolls it down the aisles at the creatures. The egg rolls between their legs and out the front door. The birds waste no time and chase after their pre-born chick.

“Now!” Mr. Jingles calls out once the last bird is out the front door. The clown hears Francois grunt a couple of times, followed by some cracking, then a loud cacophony as the bell crashes down the tower and slams into the floor in a cloud of dust and splinters.

Francois’ head pokes down from up in the tower. “We got ‘em, oui?”

“Oui, we did. Now let’s see what we can find out.”

Mr. Jingles walks down the aisle to the altar while Francois climbs down the remains of the stairs and bell. When Jingles arrives at the altar he finds a book bound with dry, cracking leather. Laying next to the book is a wooden staff topped with an ornament shaped like the head of a chicken. The items’ presence surprises the clown as he thought everything would have been looted from the building by now, but he doesn’t think too hard about it.

[Does the book claim that the staff A) creates the chicken creatures, or B) controls the chicken creatures?  Roll: A]

Francois joins Mr. Jingles behind the altar as the clown carefully opens the book, being careful not to destroy the brittle pages. It appears to be a book of lore and hymns associated with the Chicken God Alectryon. (One of the hymns is preserved here.) It tells the original story of Alectryon from Greek Mythology), but adds additional information which the book claims has been lost to history and only recently (at the time of its writing) rediscovered. According to it, the soldier was able to break the curse put upon him by Ares and return from his chicken form back into a human. To avenge himself, Alectryon used the Chicken-Headed staff to change all the animals of the earth into a chicken army under his command. He marched his army to Mount Olympus and waged war with the gods. The battle raged on for many days until Zeus put an end to all the foolishness by elevating Alectryon to the status of a god. 

“C’est incroyable!” Francois exclaims, reading over the clown’s shoulder. “Do you think this is the same staff Alectryon used to turn animals into chickens?”

“Nah, it can’t be!” Jingles says, “But then again, if it’s really a magical staff created by a god . . . “
“Do you think the staff is causing all this?”

“There’s one way to find out. Francois, it’s up to us to destroy the staff! If it truly is the cause, then maybe destroying it will reverse the curse.”

Picking up the staff, Mr. Jingles leads Francois out the back door. They take a quick look toward the front door of the church and [Are the chicken-ostriches there? Yessee the chicken-ostriches diligently trying to find a way around the bell and back into the church. Thankfully, the birds are not paying any attention to Jingles and Francois as they walk to the far side of the car. Francois starts gathering some medium-sized rocks and arranges them in a circle while Jingles rummages through the tiny car’s glove compartment for a lighter. (He knows Raspy always keeps one in there.) Mr. Jingles snaps the staff in half over his knee, then breaks each half in two once again. He arranges the pieces in the middle of the stone circle and starts a fire with the lighter. While they keep an eye on the chicken-ostriches to make sure they are not attracted by the smoke the fire burns. In about fifteen minutes, nothing is left of the staff except a pile of ash.

[Have the chicken-ostriches given up by now? Yes]

By this time, the birds have given up trying to get back into the church and have taken their egg and left to find another nesting place. This is unfortunate as now Jingles and Francois have no way to tell if their efforts had any effect. The clown once again pulls back his sleeve to expose his oversized watch and check the time.

“Standing here tells us nothing, but we still have a bit of time to drive around and see if there are any chicken creatures left.”

“Perhaps we can find that biologist’s chicken-horse.”

“Or just ‘horse,’ if it worked.”

Back in the car, they drive back to the main road, but instead of turning north, they travel south. After a couple of hundred feet the trees clear to the east revealing a vast meadow. Grazing in the middle of the meadow is a large white horse covered in feathers with two large wings sprouting from its sides.

“Mon Dieu! A pegasus!” Francois exclaims.

“I believe that is the chicken-horse,” Mr. Jingles corrects the lion tamer. “Check to see if there is any rope in the trunk.”


Francois exists the vehicle and quietly opens the trunk. He spots a length of rope and begins to pull it out hand-over-hand, letting it pile up on the ground. Mr. Jingles also gets out of the car and watches this new chicken creature. It has its rear to them and so far has not noticed their arrival.

“How’s that rope coming?” Jingles whispers.

“Working on it,” Francois answers, still pulling out rope. The pile is up to his waist and there is no end in sight.

[Does Jingles see anything else in the meadow? (There are other encounters associated with the meadow) Roll: No.]

Mr. Jingles scans the rest of the meadow to see if there are any other critters around. He spots none but is still a bit disappointed at the sight of the chicken-horse. If it’s still part chicken, that might mean destroying the staff did nothing. Or, there simply hasn’t been enough time for the effects of the staff to wear off. Either way, the best course of action would be to bring the animal back to Benjamin for him to study.

“Francois, where is that . . .” Jingles stops in mid-sentence when he turns to see Francois still pulling rope from the trunk despite standing next to the pile that is now taller than the roof of the car. “What in the name of P. T. Barnum is going on back there?”

“It won’t end.”

“Here, let me take care of that.” Jingles walks over and starts rummaging around in the trunk. “Ah, there they are,” he says as he pulls out a pair of scissors that are about ten times the size of a normal. He uses both hands to cut the rope in two and tosses the shears back in the trunk.

Tying a noose in one end of the rope, Mr. Jingles explains his plan. “I want you to use your animal handling knowledge to distract and keep the horse calm while I sneak up behind and toss this noose around its neck.”

“Oui monsieur! You can count on me.”

[The task will be based on Francois’ Animal-Handling Skill (high) against a high threat
Option A: Francois is able to control the animal and Jingles can lasso it.
Option B: The horse is unable to be captured.]

Francois slowly heads out into the meadow in the direction of the chicken-horse while Jingles walks a little further down the road before circling around and coming in from behind. While he is actually a lion tamer, Francois trusts that his methods for handling large cats will also work with this horse. Still, he can’t help but wonder if Maddi, the bare-back rider/acrobat, wouldn’t have been better suited for this task.

Round 1: [Option B] “Horsey, horsey, horsey,” Francois calls out. “Hello, Mr. horse. I am here to be your friend.” He wishes he had an apple or sugar cube to offer the beast, but all he holds in his hand is his lion tamer’s whip.

The chicken-horse looks up from the grass he is grazing upon to stare at the approaching man. When he does, Francois can clearly see that a large wattle has grown out of the horse’s neck.

“That’s a good horse. You are a pretty animal,” he lies, as he slowly reaches out to stroke its nose.

The horse, however, sees the whip and suddenly rears up with a crowing-neigh, front legs kicking and wings flapping.

Round 2: [Option B] Francois leaps out of the way of the flailing hoof but is still clipped in the shoulder and sent to the ground. 

“Francois!” Jingles calls out.  “Are you okay!” 

“Oui! Quick. Lasso ‘im!”

[The encounter continues with another challenge. Jingles will use his Bludgeon Attack (high). Since the horse won both previous rounds I will keep the threat at high.
Option A: Jingles can subdue the beast.
Option B: The beast is not subdued.]

Round 1: [Option A] The clown, fearing that his friend is about to be trampled, drops the end of the rope, pulls out his rubber chicken, and runs to put himself between the beast and Francois. The horse’s agitation grows at the sight of the motley clown and he lets out a loud snort. Jingles swings and smacks the horse across its nose with the rubber weapon.

Round 2: [Option B] This only enrages the horse more. Mr. Jingles, considering the chicken-horse’s size and strength, feels his best course of action is to run. He takes off toward the road, hoping that at the very least he can draw the beast away from Francois. 

Round 3: [Option A] Mr. Jingles’ clown speed (it’s a thing) kicks in and he is able to stay ahead of the horse all the way to the road. Upon reaching the car, he dives in the open driver’s side door and shuts it behind him. He quickly reaches over and closes the passenger side door as well. The horse rams the car, causing it to rock up on two wheels. The car sits back down on all fours and the horse rears up and slams its hooves down on the hood. It takes a step back and eyes the clown through the windshield, looking for a way to get inside.  

Meanwhile, while the chicken-horse is distracted with Mr. Jingles, Francois is able to get back to his feet. Despite an extremely sore shoulder, he picks up the dropped noose and follows after the horse. Sneaking up on the animal, who is still focused on the clown in the car, Francois tosses the noose over its head and pulls it tight. The horse spooks and takes off down the road. Francois wisely drops the rope and lets the horse go, but quickly runs to the rest of the pile and wraps some of the slack rope around the car’s rear bumper.  When the horse reaches the end the rope draws taught and the car, with Mr. Jingles still inside, lurches. The horse continues to pull the vehicle for another ten feet before stopping. 

Mr. Jingles exits and the two stand side-by-side watching the roped chicken-horse calm down and begin grazing at a tuft of grass growing alongside the road. 

“It looks like we’ve caught ourselves a chicken-horse,” says Mr. Jingles, patting Francois on the back.

Measuring out a reasonable length of rope, Francoise ties it securely to the bumper and heaves the rest back in the trunk. Then the two slowly drive off toward town leading the chicken-horse behind them tethered by the rope.

As they reach the signpost pointing the way to the church they see Odecoileus just leaving the trail turning up the road to town. They pull up alongside her and Francois rolls down the window.

“You heading to the circus?” Mr. Jingles calls out.

“Yep. Thought it might be fun.”

“Hop in. We’ll give you a ride.”

Looking down the rope at the trailing chicken-horse, Ode pokes a thumb in its direction. “Looks like you two have been busy.”

“That horse is just the half of it,” Francois explains.

“We’ll tell you the story on the way,” Jingles offers as Francois opens his door and steps out to let the hermit climb into the back seat.”

The continue and as they near the fork in the road where they earlier encountered the Orcus Gang they are met with no resistance. Instead, they can see a couple of the chicken-men peeking out from hiding places amongst the trees. Mr. Jingles can only assume that either they had given up on trying to stop them based on their previous encounters, or the gang is intimidated by the fact that they had captured the chicken-horse and were thinking twice about attack such formidable foes. Either way, the car makes it safely through.

Jingles and Francois have just enough time to deliver the horse to Benjamin the Biologist, providing they can find him. If not, they would just take the creature back to the circus in the hopes that it can be tamed and incorporated into the act. As for the curse, tonight is the last performance of Professor Underwood’s Exalted Circus in Huevo. After the show, the tents will be packed up and the troop will be off to their next engagement. Mr. Jingles may never know if he and Francois were successful in either reversing the curse or stopping it from spreading. Jingles, wasn’t too concerned, however, about Huevo’s future. They survived just fine before the circus came to town. They would survive after it left. At least Mr. Jingles the clown had himself another grand adventure, and that’s what matters to him.


EPILOGUE:

It’s the middle of the night. The final circus performance ended hours ago and the circus workers have already started breaking down the tents and packing up the equipment with the hopes of leaving as early as possible the next morning. Un-noticed by any of them is a tanker truck that drives past on its way toward the woods outside of town.

The tanker with the logo for the “Cluck ‘N Chuck Chicken Processing Plant” on its side continues into the woods for several hundred yards and stops near the edge of the swamp. The driver side door opens and a thin man wearing jeans, a t-shirt, and a baseball cap climbs out of the cab. Following behind him is a beagle, gleefully wagging its tail. The man walks to the rear of the tank and unravels a hose that is hanging from the truck. One end is attached to a bib on the tank. The other end the man tosses into the swamp water. He turns the valve on the spigot, releasing the tank’s contents into the water.  He lights up a cigarette while he waits.

The beagle runs around and chases fireflies, stopping only briefly to take a drink from the swamp.

“Frisco, stop that,” the man scolds. “That water’s nasty.”

Frisco jumps at his master’s voice, yips, and goes back to chasing fireflies.

After about ten minutes the job is done. The man flicks the butt of his second cigarette into the swamp water and rolls up the hose.. After climbing back up into the cab he calls his pet. “Frisco! C’mon. It’s time to go.”

The beagle runs to the cab and leaps up onto the man’s lap to get to the passenger’s seat. The man closes the door and starts the engine, oblivious to the single chicken feather that is slowly drifting down just outside the vehicle . . . a feather that fell off of Fisco’s wagging tail.

(Read the After-Post here.)