Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Questions about Class: the Alchemist

Welcome back readers! Here is another entry in our Questions about Class series, this time focusing on the alchemist. As you may (or may not) know, Flying Pincushion Games is about to release its next book, Into the Breach: The Alchemist.  So we thought it was a good time that I, Jeff Harris, sit down with fellow Pincushioneer Kiel Howell to talk about the class.

JH: First of all, thank you for taking the time to sit down and answer these questions!

KH: Thank you for having me! It is a pleasure to be on this side of the questions!

JH: Can you give the readers a little about yourself and your role at The Flying Pincushion?

KH: Sure! I'm Kiel Howell, I typically go by theheadkase online (PSN too!). I've been contributing classes/archetypes/alternate classes/items/spells/feats/everything to The Flying Pincushion products since the first Into the Breach book (Into the Breach: The Summoner, stay tuned to the website for updates on that book). I hesitate to call myself senior staff, because I don't really think like that and what we do at Flying Pincushion is a super unique and collaborative environment.
JH: So what exactly is an alchemist? Isn’t he traditionally just some guy that turns lead into gold, and hunts after the philosopher's stone?  

KH: That is a common trope of alchemists, making gold from any other less expensive materials and searching for how to make/find the philosopher's stone. That stone, by the way, has its own branch of tropes that are varied and worth looking into! I won't get into it here, but it is not always about life everlasting with the philosopher's stone.
Alchemist's are so much more than just money-making, long life searching, amoral scientists. Their powers and mindsets are varied depending on which world or even genre you are in. Some are straight potion makers, some are scientist/wizards that replicate magic, some are volatile chemical makers. Still others are poisoners, people resurrecting lost arts, herb sellers, and tinkerers. There are quite a few versions of alchemists across the planes of literature/film that it is really hard to peg down one "supposed to be" description. Heck, in the show Full Metal Alchemist, they bend the natural world to whatever shape/composition they want with equal exchange, with surprisingly little focus on turning every day dirt into gold.

JH: Do you think that the Pathfinder version of the Alchemist, bombs and all, still fits with the model that is put forth in traditional fantasy and medieval history?

KH: Medieval history is so hard to accurately represent and still make it fun. An alchemist in the Dark Ages would literally have been a person who was more likely to be a swindler than any real sort scientist or magician. Often, what we would refer to as an alchemist from that time would really be more akin to an apothecary, if they were a good one. The Pathfinder Alchemist can indeed fulfill this role, but again, I'm not so sure it would be super fun to only make medicines that are dubiously effective or to build a character who makes small amounts of coin selling snake oil (if the GM even has NPC's you can sell to).
As far as traditional fantasy goes, with the wide ranging types of alchemists there are, I would say yes, Pathfinder does a pretty excellent job representing the tropes. Especially with archetypes and Discoveries. My personal favourite, though, would be in our upcoming release Into the Breach: The Alchemist. Mark Nordheim put together the Academician archetype, and without giving too much away, I'm super excited for the Insightogen and trapping abilities he wrote.

JH: Do you think that an Alchemist is still a viable character, and still serving his role if he does not have bombs?  There are several archetypes that replaces bombs, do these still fall into the realm of an Alchemist as you see them?

KH: Bombs are fun. Especially with some of the Discoveries (dispelling bomb, precise bomb, and stink bomb) they are a supportive force to be reckoned with. I think that is the true power of the Alchemist class, support. There are builds for tanky mutagen based alchemists and bomb chuckers, but there's some powerful support options with the infuse and combine discoveries (and the discoveries we have in our book) for a group to really benefit from. Archetypes that give up bombs for more support focus tickle my fancy and I absolutely play that kind of character far more than the mad bomber.

JH: How do you feel about the extracts class feature, as they are “spells” that are not really spells, do they make sense to you, or does it stretch immersion when the magic but not magic issue arises?

KH: Speaking earlier about the wide range of "what an alchemist is" in literature/film, it doesn't break immersion for me nor the tables I've ran. It is definitely one of the lesser chosen classes I've seen but those that have brought characters have typically had a blast (with or without bombs) with those characters and it is, to some degree, because of extracts. The alchemist gets up to 6th level spells in extracts, can learn new formulae from a wizard's spellbook, and they are an intensely personal creation for the alchemist as can be seen by the fact they are made by using a part of one's own magical aura and become inert if they leave the alchemist's hands. There are discoveries that allow you to share extracts with teammates, and true strike is a 1st level formula. That's a personal favorite combo of mine.
But, the extracts are not spells, and thus can't be used to qualify for magic item crafting. This is a whole can of worms that I won't tackle here, because this facet of extracts DOES bring me out of immersion. An alchemist in Pathfinder is set up to be an item crafting genius, they create extracts by using bits of their own magical aura, but those extracts can't be used to make wands, armors, rings, weapons, or insert-favorite-magic-item-type-here. I can see the side that Paizo wants to represent, that they aren't magic spells and thus can't be used as magic spells, but I still want to have my cake and eat it too!

JH:Do you think that poison and poison use is a reasonable class feature for all Alchemists to gain, even if they are of a good alignment, as traditionally poison is not a tool of the righteous?

KH: This is a very good point to bring up, but I won't be getting into my views on what Alignment constitutes. I do believe poison use is a great class feature for the alchemist as it makes the most sense as a class to put it with them. A good character can choose not to use poisons, and while I understand that you basically are wasting a class feature slot, there are also plenty of archetypes that do away with poisons as a class feature. There are interesting character concepts to play as well that are both good and poisoners. I have one long running character (e.g. hasn't died in 10 levels!) who is NG aligned by the name of Mardruth. Mardruth's family was killed by raiders led by the story's antagonist (before becoming the BBEG of course). Mardruth has a dagger coated with various poisons that he re-applies on a consistent basis which he plans to use on the antagonist...the very same poisons used to kill the different members of his family.
So, while it may not be traditionally called righteous to poison...history is written by the victors :)

JH: If there was one new ability you could give to the Alchemist, what would it be and why?.

KH: (Shameless plug) Oh geez, it would have to be Edward Elric's ability to transmute objects without a transmutation circle, which I've tried to represent in the Natural Transmuter archetype in the upcoming book. There's so many possibilities and character fluff that kind of ability can provide. I just want to be able to idly transmute toys as a teenager while sitting around a campfire with grizzled adventurers.
JH:Paizo has provided the Alchemist a way to share extracts, ala the infusion discovery, do you think that mutagens should have a similar ability?

KH: I'm a big fan of the infusion discovery. Mutagens, on the surface, make sense to allow it to be shared with companions. Looking at it a little further though, it makes far more sense to not allow it to be shareable. The classic image of a mutagen can arguably be derived from Robert Louis Stevenson's book, The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. Drinking a potion that morphs one's self into a physical different person (which in this case is a terrible person) is exactly what a mutagen does. Enhancing and changing physical characteristics while also penalizing or changing mental characteristics. The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde doesn't exactly explore the possibility, but it certainly makes sense that the mutagen (or serum in the book) was made to interact specifically with Jekyll's body composition. Unless another party had his exact physiological makeup, that party would probably die or become seriously ill if imbibing the mutagen (or serum). Keeping in line with that, the alchemist in Pathfinder makes the mutagen with his own magical essence and tailors the ingredients to his own body chemistry. He wouldn't be able to share his mutagen, but perhaps someday there will be an archetype that creates mutagens specifically for his teammates (why didn't we think of that?!)
I do believe the Botanist from our upcoming book allows the character to use the mutagen on the plant companion, but that isn't exactly sharing with other team members and is a special case.

JH: Discoveries, are there too many, not enough, and what sort of new discoveries would you want to see if you had your way?

KH: Discoveries are the lynch-pin to alchemist abilities, so there can never be enough! They really do allow for almost any type of character to be made and be different from any other alchemist around.
The kinds of discoveries I'd like to see would focus more on healing (which we have in this book!), necromancy, and magic item crafting.

JH: In your opinion, how well do you see the Alchemist stacking up against full spellcasting classes such as the wizard, sorcerer, oracle, and cleric?  Are they on par, or do bombs and poison in your opinion still fall short of qualifying the Alchemist as a true “blaster.”

KH: I'm a little biased against spellcasters, so take this with a grain of salt. In a pure numbers game, full spellcasters will always win. Period. A level 20 wizard will always have metamagic feats and a huge array of spells that can literally erase you from existence. Alchemists only get access to 6th level spells and bombs, while great, are more supportive and situational. So in that sense, no a garden variety Alchemist will never be a true "blaster" compared to a garden variety wizard.

But, with discoveries and the Alchemist's ability to force the corner cases with his status effect bombs, that's a different story. Precise, stink bombs are extremely useful and can shut down casters and melee attackers alike. Mix together feats that allow 2 bombs to be thrown in a round, and the alchemist can stink and dispel bomb the heck out of a full caster. It really comes down to how creative the player wants to be with their alchemist.

JH:It could be said that the Alchemist is an equipment dependent class, and they inherently have the ability to craft a number of unique alchemical items with greater speed and skill than those who simply have the Craft (alchemy) skill, do you feel this is an undervalued, overvalued, or a balanced ability?

KH: I wouldn't say the Alchemist is any more equipment dependent than a fighter or barbarian, and certainly not more than a Monk. Pathfinder is a magical equipment heavy game. As far as the value of quickly crafting, I think it is balanced from a development perspective—at least with respect to current crafting rules—but it is undervalued from a player/GM perspective. Without getting spoilery, I was playing a certain famous adventure path from Paizo. In the particular session, the party wizard couldn't make it to the game. There's a puzzle requiring all different schools of magic, and my alchemist was able to use his extracts to solve it. It really does depend on how outside the box the player/GM can think.

JH: Have you ever had to ban or have you seen the class banned at a table?

KH: I haven't banned it, but I ran a lot of Core Rulebook only games in the past which excluded the class. I've read stories on Paizo's forums of folks banning certain archetypes or nerfing the stink bomb discovery...but no outright bans on the base class itself.

JH: What is your advice for building a successful Alchemist?

KH: Go crazy and be inventive, just like the spirit of the class. My favourite character I've ever played was a Gnome Alchemist who specialized in Dirty Tricks. He would shrink himself to Tiny sized, carry a bag of iron spikes and a regular hammer, drink a true strike extract, and go around nailing people's shoes to the floor. It was so much fun and still was helpful to the team. That's the other bit of advice, Alchemists are inherently supportive, don't be afraid to exploit that trait.

JH: Thank you for taking the time to have this chat, Kiel!

KH: Thank YOU for the wonderful questions, and don't forget readers, check out Into the Breach: The Alchemist when it is available!

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Celtris Tales: Small Packages Chapter 15 Hylidia'a Choice

Small Packages: Hylidia'a Choice

Hylidia was filled with nervous excitement as she walked up the docks of Briar Hills. Halflings were noted for their culinary prowess and they had long domesticated a variety of insects. The anticipation for a well spiced bowl filled with wriggling fare had carried the travel worn grippli botanist for the past week. She was also a bit nervous knowing that the most powerful known druid would likely immediately sense her secret and not understand what she had done.

Everyone was hungry as fishing only brought so much food and stopping at the docks of most port cities meant a possible confrontation from powerful slaver’s guilds. Many of the jungle folk aboard the Branded Betty had plenty of fight in them but as a whole the group was poorly armed. Rations had gotten smaller and smaller and for the last couple days had disappeared entirely.

When Hylidia had joined the embassy staff for the vanaran embassy she had expected a dull job that afforded her the opportunity to study plants outside the normal grippli territory. The vanara had indeed cultivated several fruit bearing plants she had never encountered and they had an elderly herbalist that taught her dozens of new herbs and applications. She had also introduced Hylidia to the variety of mushrooms that both consumed and animated organic tissue, a knowledge that saved her life.

Down the docks an elderly swashbuckler who Hyldia surmised was likely to be the infamous Jared Twist awaited them. After all how many half elf half goblins would be in Briar Hills anyway? The humans had sent Calvin as their bardic spokesmen, the vanara chose Korra one of their finest warriors, Hylidia was sent by the grippli on the basis of her education and station.

Hylidia’s curiosity led her to a minor act of will, releasing some spores that would be invisible to all who did not have a specially grown pale moss over their eyes. The light pale film interfered slightly with normal visual perception but she could see a variety of spores and pollens and how they interacted with the world. The spores came from the rare life saving fungus she had chosen to allow to grow directly into her liver. Thanks to botanical regents she drank on a daily basis it had a slight effect on her health but was not eating her into an early grave.

Hylidia’s spores would interact with all sorts of energies in different ways. She could easily see magic but was still learning to discern different kinds of magic from the subtle variations in color. Intelligent beings had something of an aura she was also still learning to read and interpret.

Jared’s aura was overwhelming and somehow heartbreaking. There was a power and light beyond anything the grippli had seen but there were also bleeding wounds seeping a kind of darkness that threatened to strangle the whole thing. If Hylidia had tear ducts she would have been weeping in that moment. The man before her was practically a force of nature yet he was struggling with an inner darkness that was fed by the trauma of his famed struggles.

Korra’s wrath tested the hero, but it was like watching a cobra fight a tiger, under the perfect circumstances the cobra could win but the tiger was simply too much. For all her rage and swollen pride she was a candle in a hurricane and the brief fight ended swiftly. The tiger of a man demanded information and like a scruffed youngling the vanara acquiesced.

Korra knew the important parts of the tale if not the details. A bunch of undead jungle orcs attacked the vanara. The zombies were easily defeated but their bite spread a fast killing infection that also made the dead rise, this happened quickly and soon the vanara were retreating to a secret city protected by having the only land passage being through the empty magma chambers of a semi active volcano.

Slavers happened upon the fleeing refugees and made easy pickings overfilling a small fleet of eight boats. Grippli and vanara being not enough for the greedy men they traded in a smugglers cove for more human slaves kidnapped from their swamp homes as well.

Unfortunately for the slavers they had picked up a stow away Hylidia and an infected orc in their haste. Figuring they could still sell the zombie they thought keeping it in a cage was adequate, it was not. Soon enough even the bulk of the slave ship’s crew was ready to mutiny which is when Hylidia made an approach to one, the rest was getting a set of keys and sheer numbers. The captain, his officers, and the infected were dumped overboard.

Hylidia saw the darkness threaten to overwhelm the hero’s aura as he reacted to the vanaran’s tale. She saw the light inside him brighten and dispel the dark thoughts he must have had in that moment.

“I am Jared Twist, General and Head Diplomat of Briar Hills. You will turn around and return to your ship as I confer with the Elder council, this dock is under quarantine and will be until you are cleared by our healers. I will send you ample food and water supplies and you will be able to send folk to pick it up at the end of this dock. Should any of you take a step off this dock that person forfeits their life, should a second and third try it you will find yourselves burning in our harbor. Is that clear?” Jared looked directly at Hylidia in that moment, his razor like focus was hard to bear as she saw his aura bright and dark in accord over his words, he would kill them all if they tested him and he’d not feel a bit of pity or remorse. He was in alignment with his convictions and deadly serious.

Before Calvin could speak she croaked out an exasperated yes. Calvin cleared his throat and looked down and Korra simply nodded. Hylidia realized she now spoke for the entire ship, that weighed on her as much as her secret as she turned heel and walked back down the planks of the dock, her companions followed.

Monday, June 8, 2015

Celtris Tales: Small Packages Chapter 14 Trouble in Threes

Small Packages: Trouble in Threes

The messenger that waited on the dock was one of Grandmother Druid’s favorites. He was nicknamed sparrow because it was such a favorite form of his that he sometimes wild shaped to it out of reflex when something startled him. Jared noted he had that wild eyed edginess about him now.

“Sparrow, what news do you bring?” Jared ventured, using an even soothing tone with his hands held out but low like a ranger might approach a frightened deer.

“F-f-f-famine King and k-k-k-Queen battling Orcs. They d-d-d-dammed the creeks, k-k-killed a whole bunch of them and now there’s un-d-d-d-dead all across the wild zone. Angry Grass are looking for d-direction and h-help containing the situation.” Sparrow always had a bit of a stuttering problem when he his nerves were up, but the nervous halfling had serious magical chops, and despite his stuttering, the courage to wield it.

Orcs near the Famine King’s land was trouble enough, that the wily spellcaster had found the holes in his cage was down right scary. He’d be forced back inside his mounds, the next big rain would see to that. His queen and her vampires were not so easily constrained.
Jared looked back toward the slaver’s galley still afloat thanks to his foster son’s courage. The party disembarking had that look of desperation and grim resolve soldiers get after a battle went badly. Trouble comes in threes, another cliche life seemed destined to prove.

Sparrow and Valen both fidgeted with youthful impatience waiting for the Ambassador General to speak. “Sparrow, tell Grandmother Druid I’ll send out the Starstones to support the Angry Grass beyond the Green gates but we will need a serious rainstorm over the Famine King’s lands. We’ll also need as many wooden weapons as we can muster.” Jared commanded and Sparrow obeyed without so much as a word he slipped into his namesake form and flew off.

“Valen, repeat everything I’ve said to your brothers and muster the Starstone company regulars. I want them ready to leave for the wild zone in 2 hours with or without me. Tell your mother what’s going on too.” Jared barked and his third foster son obeyed.
The intended slaves had chosen a party to speak, composed of a vanara female with a great sword across her back, a grippli female alchemist judging by the bright coloration and twin bandoliers filled with vials and what Jared took for bombs, and an extraordinarily attractive human man inked with arcane tattoos.

Jared leaned on his cane a little, with a thought he used his hat of disguises to make himself look a little more haggered. Sending three well armed emissaries meant they were either intimidated or wanted to be intimidating. Jared would yield to their show of force, allow them the initiative and see how they reacted when they believed themselves to have the upper hand.
The three foreigners seemed to gain confidence with each step down the dock toward dry land. Jared stood at the end of the dock and raised a hand when they were within about ten paces.

“That’s close enough for now, state your business here please,” Jared cocked his head a little from the straight down position he was looking as he assumed his character. The effect was imbalanced, giving his head a tilt that might suggest he was less than a genius.
The vanara snorted and looked ready to charge forward and push him aside. The pretty human man gently put a hand up to quell the hot headed warrior. He looked over Jared with an appraising eye before speaking, “sir we would like to have a word with your famous council of elders, we have dire news and need to request the sanctuary and for the famed hospitality of Briar Hills.” Even his voice was pretty, though he wore no instrument Jared pegged him for a bard of some sort.

Jared decided he would give them a little push. “Return to your ship for now, the hospitality you seek does not apply to ships flying slaver colors. Tell me your news before you go back and I’ll bring it to the council, if they decide it is important enough they will summon you.” He used a condescending and dismissive tone. The pretty boy bard merely blinked before preparing to launching into a verbal sparring match, the alchemist grippli nodded and started to turn back, the vanara barbarian however had had enough.

“You will stand aside old man,” she sputtered her voice practically shaking with rage as she drew her great sword and rushed forward. With a word in sylvan Jared activated his boots and with a brush of his finger his teleportation school pin. The vanara may as well have been under a slow spell.

To her credit she kept her head enough to use only the flat of the blade which would have merely roughly forced him aside, but Jared had teleported from her diagonal left to her diagonal right. Jared used his cane like a tonfa and battered the rash barbarian hard behind the knee forcing her off her feet. He drew his blade then and with a spinning motion rode the Vanara down to the ground hard knocking the wind from her lungs and the sense from her noggin. Her eyes opened and widened a second later as she realized he had his rapier against her throat.

“You should learn some manners from your bard friend young lady, the best warrior knows not only how to fight but when to fight.” Jared said is in Simian, the vanaran native tongue. She tilted her neck back in a nod that acknowledged his prowess, to a Vanaran it literally meant my throat is yours to take. “That’s better, now what news do you bring this far North?”

The news was dire indeed, confirming two things Jared had already known: nothing good ever came out of a slaver’s ship and trouble comes in threes.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Celtris Teales: Small Packages Chapter 13 Departure

Small Packages: Departure

Marius had never been in a full scale battle before. He had his share of fights as an adventurer, but this was a different animal. The sheer numbers simultaneously made him feel empowered and small. The undead had no feeling but they screamed when they charged, likely because Luca screamed.

Marius’s web wand was put to good use after sundown. The vampires had taken out all the small forces along the banks before sawing down some trees they used in conjunction with web spells and debris collected by thousands of zombies. Within minutes both streams were effectively dammed and would likely be for at least a few hours if not a few days.

Suddenly the famine king’s thousands of zombies and millions of insects could be brought to bear on the two manipole of orcs waiting on the southern end for the gnomish brothers. Were that not enough, the vampire strike team had circled around them ready to play anvil to the massive hammer about to fall upon the orcs.

Marius and Luca had one major job, one they and their wolves would be teleported behind the orc line to do, kill the wizard. Captain Septimus called on his own doom by overstepping the Famine King’s line. His arrogant assumptions would soon come to a head and Marius made his peace with his part in instigating the conflict.

The Famine King and his minions were not pretty, but they were a damn site better than what the orcs did to the Sorrow Lands. The orcish machine was ever a hungry one and it consumed too much. The burning of the fields was just a step beyond what Marius could tolerate. The orc he killed was just a cog in the monster of a machine that was the orc empire.

Septimus was a more crucial cog. His death would echo in the region, maybe further. No one was untouchable, no one could act as he acted and get away with it. There was a limit to the world’s tolerance for tyranny.

In the darkness Marius waited. He felt like bottled lightning, he wanted to rush headlong into the fray and battle forward but he held and watched. The wizard did fine work. He used vermin barriers and a wind wall to preserve the core of his formation against the swarms and a well place firewall to deter the zombies. One of his apprentices used a fireball wand to grant the overwhelmed legionaries breathing space while another used magic missiles to rake out wounded foes.

More crucially the skyship was looking to round a strafing pass. The wind was against that maneuver which is in part the timing of the strike. Experienced skyship sailors could perhaps overcome the countering wind but it would take more time then the footmen had.

Numbers, plus fearless ferocity, plus superior coordination lead by a genius mind was making fast work of the disciplined manipole, simply put one thousand would not hold long against five thousand, particularly when backed by billions of insects.

Predictably, the orc captain realized this and started a retreat, ordering men to stay and die that he may escape.

The vampires went first. Elves that remembered the terror of the fire raining from the sky and destroying their homes got a measure of vengeance for the dead. It would not undo the curse of vampirism or the memories of lost loved ones, but the way had been cleared.

Marius surged forward knowing the futility of the timing. The way had been cleared but the apprentice with the fireball wand was free to act. He screamed a word in draconic ready to flick the wand forward when an owl drove out of the sky and ripped the wand and a couple fingers from his hand.

The strange spider Marius recruited, appeared next, somehow behind the other apprentice. He drove his glass like blades deep into that orc’s kidneys. He was riding Calia who then closed her fangs over the wizard’s throat.

Flanked by Luca and Simone, Marius charged headlong. The wizard spat a sizzling bolt of acid that burned Marius and nearly caused him to falter in pain, but he managed to raise his lance in time and impaled the wizard near his black heart.

The wizard managed a sizzling blast of lightning that rattled Marius’ teeth and racked his body with searing pain, but it was not enough to stop him from cross drawing his bastard sword into a circular swing that nearly severed the Captain Wizard’s head. Seconds later Luca and Simone finished his surviving apprentice.

Disheartened by the loss of their commander and the sheer numbers the orc’s formation buckled, the battle was decided in that moment and no orc stood within a short and brutal minute.

An hour later, the brother’s left with three wolves, a grass spider ninja, and the owl that turned out to be a orcling druid girl. The Famine King’s vermin fed well as the skyship fled back to Fort Furthest.

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Celtris Tales: Small Packages Chapter 12 Septimus' Folly

Small Packages: Septimus’ Folly

Having a locust burrowed into Iz’s ear was incredibly uncomfortable for Luca. It was almost intolerable despite the advantages it gave him. There was also forced intimacy of sharing sense awareness with the Famine King’s mind which was equal parts enticing and disturbing.

For one, Luca understood exactly what type of creature the famine king was and how he came to be. Luca could feel the torment of desire for unfulfilled vengeance, the longing for release and freedom, and the near alien calculation from the Swarm that Walks. He also understood that he currently shared headspace with an intelligent being that had been growing the power of its mind for over a millennia and was humbled by this. Luca also saw the battlefield before him from thousands of perspectives.

The blackspire college master was also a skyship captain and he took command of an impressive force effectively surrounding the famine king’s domain. The orc, Captain Septimus, had managed to corral roughly a thousand troops over night into ambush positions and patrol parties along the running waters that confined the famine king’s domain and control.

Captain Septimus was making an assumption that the king could or would not send minions outside his borders. It was a proper assumption of the unthinking undead minions and his swarms, but the Famine King had other subjects, and those subjects were hungry for blood.

Two hundred years ago dozens of survivors from the sorrow lands sought refuge from the death and destruction brought by the imperial air fleet. One among them was a potent sorceress who was supposed to protect a forbidden bit of magic. She escaped in the guise of a servant using disguise to tone down her rare unearthly beauty. Of course the Famine King fell in love with her but the magic she protected and the cursed land on which she stood had changed her into a creature of hunger as well. Few knew the tale of Famine’s Queen, her appearance the night before was a test, one Luca had passed.

Tonight those survivor elves would have a measure of vengeance. The zombie minions of the famine king had constructed ramp like bridges that would allow the vampires to cross the streams uninhibited. With swarms covering movements and gaps in the orc patrol lines the vampires would be able to cross and gain surprise. The orcs only expected two gnomes and their three wolves.  Four dozen true vampires and another hundred or so vampire spawn working as strike teams coordinated by the unnatural control the Famine King had over his swarms to do things like make signals would take advantage of forces that had been stretched too thinly.

They had a cutter in the air on the other side of the famine king’s territory, with spy glasses pointed inward. Luca and Marius would exit back the way they came and circle around the territory. They carried a symbol that marked them as the Famine King’s heralds which would allow them safe passage to the deliver a message to Briar Hill’s high council. The famine king proposed an alliance with terms, the orcs had offended him deeply and he would help the halfling kingdom in their effort repel the orcs from this region.

Marius retained his wand, Luca had instead bargained a promise. The Famine King once hailed from a secret city in the desert known as Glim. Glim had a special magic to it derived from the remains of a dead god of dreams. There was a well of sorts fill with a magical sand that when consumed could offer power. It could free the Famine King from the prison and curse he was under and it could free Luca from the wasting sickness and all the damage the disease had wrought on his body.

The famine king was in Luca’s mind kindred spirit of sorts. They shared a similar magic, and they both knew what it was to be restricted by physical ailments. The Famine King could hardly couple with his Queen as a walking locust swarm.

Luca smiled as he thought of the fine conversations he had all evening. He knew that his brother Marius was not the idiot he sometimes pretended him to be but he could not match wits with Luca.  In Luca’s opinion it had been entirely too long since he had spoke with someone who could.

The vampires would slaughter small patrols using surprise, numbers, and sheer ferocity to make quick work. With their supernatural strength they would throw the bodies over the stream for the Famine King to make more zombies. While his control only extended to the running waters that made his borders, he could send the zombies over the waters and allow them to be freed. They would then simply act within their nature and attempt to slay the living in relentless hunger. That would be enough if their main plan to dam the creeks failed.

Captain Septimus guarded the easier crossings with larger ambush parties. These would be overwhelmed with expendable zombie troops, hurled wasp hives, and flanking vamipres. Luca and Marius would be held in reserve. Once the orc forces were in sufficient disarray they would all challenge the Captain’s forces.

The endgame plan for which the brother’s would spend the day preparing for, would allow at worst the Famine King tens of minutes of freedom, at best a few weeks. This mostly depended on weather and luck.

Luca and Marius were to attempt to cut down the Black Spire trained captain, completing the route and sending a clear message back to Fort Furthest. Through the eyes of thousands of wasps, locusts, rats, and crows Luca watched it unfold.