2022/09/21

OSR: GLOG Book of Spells

Here's a 13-page PDF of spells for the GLOG (or at least the version I use).

(PDF)

I normally put spell lists in the wizard subclass, and print them on the same page as cantrips, dooms, etc. It makes it easy for the players to use, lets readers compare thematically related spells, and suggests spell combinations. Looking up spells in an alphabetized list is less useful, but people requested a spellbook, so here it is.

Varguy

The list should include most of the spells from my wizard classes, spell tables, and hacks, plus a few entirely new spells. If you need more spells, check out Attnam's 1d100 Wizards list.

2022/09/19

The Monster Overhaul - Kickstarter Update

One week in and the Monster Overhaul is 400% funded! Thank you all for your support!


We reached the stickers stretch goal, so backers at some tiers will get two sheets of lovely Iguanamouth stickers. The Generic World Map is now free for anyone to use under a creative commons license. We also added two risograph prints to the unexpectedly popular Ancient Dragon tier.

Lucas Roussel illustrated a Height Chart that will be included in the index section of the book.

 And we've announced two new stretch goals.

Stretch Goal Philosophy

The goal was, from day one of development, to make the book as useful as possible. If there's a tool, a map, or a concept that I could include in the book, I included it. I'm not holding concepts hostage behind an arbitrary funding number. 

On the other hand, there could be something I've missed. If you don't see a useful tool or concept listed in the campaign, or if you disagree with some element of the Elemental preview (heh!), then let me know!

News From Around The Internet

Dave Thaumavore put out a video that includes some very kind words for the Monster Overhaul.

Portals and Pegasi has a very in-depth monster-by-monster review of the Elemental preview.

RPGsandbox has a tumblr post summarizing the campaign. If you're on tumblr, feel free to do tumblr things to it. Wait, let me rephrase...

And shoutouts in various newsletters and forum posts, including the first Bastionland Presser and the OSR News Roundup (very kindly, since by coincidence we're both running bestiary kickstarters).

2022/09/16

OSR: The Mystery of Uriah Shambledrake Session 6 - Healthy Competition

In the Previous Installment, the PCs:

  • Incited a Small Mob
  • Obtained a Rich Reward from a Dead Man
  • Were Interviewed by the Dean of Magic
  • Committed Financial Chicanery Using Private Shares

The PCs are:

Tom Shambledrake
Electric Wizard and heir to the bankrupt Shambledrake estate.

Jonty Earl
Dandy. Assistant Professor at Loxdon College and moral gymnast.

Dr. Augustus Hartwell

Biomancer. A foreign doctor and self-described "quack", Augustus is now accredited and theoretically accepted by Endon's establishment.

Lizzy Ramchander
Potion Wizard, former cook, former brewer, and current secretary (of no fixed portfolio) to Doyle Wormsby.

Doyle Wormsby
Civic Wizard, Private Investigator.
Not so much a hardboiled detective as a fried egg sandwich with no napkins.

Riggles the Helpful Urchin
Animist Wizard. The result of the "late" Professor Tallerand's experiments with potions. Riggles' player missed this session, so Riggles was presumably off enjoying freedom and roast chickens.

John O'Connor

After investing their combined wealth in Krahlhammer's Fine Security Apparati for the Discerning Home-Owner, the PCs, like any good industrialists, moved to protect and improve their investment. Gel Knights rented or sold by Nero Krahlhammer were going berserk with alarming regularity. Lawsuits and reputational damage threatened to sink the firm. But the group had discovered the source; a poison administered by the rival firm of Nortgreen & Louton. 

Unfortunately, they lacked any concrete evidence to support their claims. A lawsuit could take years to resolve. The group instead decided to intervene and present a clear and dramatic chain of evidence to Endon's citizens. "We don't even need to lie," Lizzy said, "we just need to ensure people see the right parts of the truth."

The first step was reconnaissance. Elementalists recognize eight elements, but from reporters to cut-purses, Endoners recognized a ninth; surprise.

In newly purchased and very fashionable upper-middle-class garb, Jonty, Tom, and Lizzy arrived for a respectably booked tour of Nortgreen & Louton's manufactory and showroom. The Shambledrake name still carried hints of money, and, among close readers of the papers, suggestions of danger and intrigue. Jonty attempted to train Lizzy in upper-class manners, but Lizzy, who'd studied the genteel classes very closely from her position below stairs, did not need much instruction.

"Delighted to make your acquaintance," Liddel Nortgreen said. A young, tidy, and nervous man in grey and purple velvet, Liddel left a faint trail of hair oil and perfume as he guided the group through Nortgreen & Louton's showroom. Their premises in Needle Circus consisted of a large warehouse and manufatory, a glass-domed garden and show pavilion, a sand yard for demonstrations, and a small coffee room. It was the height of taste, probably rented or purchased on credit.

After explaining Gel Knight theory, showing off the latest armoured casings, Liddel agreed to a tour of the manufactory. "This is merely the final assembly area," he said smoothly. "Casings are manufactured elsewhere, as are the gel wafers and bulk gel stock."

The manufactory was impressive. Leather-clad workers manipulated vats of translucent green ooze with steel paddles, carving off slices and moving them to smaller tanks. Reagent distillation towers converted herbs and alchemical ingredients into potent extracts. Lizzy studied them with a seasoned eye. Nero Krahlhammer has to buy his ingredients at market rates. Nortgreen & Louton made them in bulk. "Newt centrifuge," she whispered, pointing to one ominous machine. "Very nice. Breed them, blend them, and decant the eye layer. Oh, and look, they've got a coronal discharge ring on the top of their pseudohemlock tower. Very nice. But they could probably get 10-12% more efficiency if they..."

"Try to look like a lady," Tom whispered, "and don't touch the equipment." Lizzy stuck out her tongue and simpered theatrically, then discreetly scooped some dripping gel into a vial.

As Liddle Nortgreen burbled on, the group spotted an older gentleman on an elevated catwalk clearly listening in and offering silent gesture-based commentary. "Grandfather and grandson?" Jonty whispered, gently directing Tom's attention.

"Possibly," Tom said, then turned to attract Liddle's attention. "What is behind that door?"

"Our offices and research laboratory," Liddle said. "Unfortunately, they are not part of the tour. Trade secrets."

"Of course." Jonty said politely, "Please continue."

Liddle burbled away, discussing ooze variants and training methods, while the group listened politely and committed the building's floorplan to memory. Lizzy was startled by the sudden appearance of the old man at her side. "What have you got in your purse, my dear?" he whispered.

"A gentleman would not ask," she whispered back.

"Only, I thought I saw you collect a sample of our ooze a few moments ago. I am Cecil Nortgreen. That creature is my grandson. He speaks well but he has no aptitude for research. Pity. And you are?"

"Alice" Lizzy said. "I am a friend of Mr. Shambledrake's".

"Alice," the old gentleman said lecherously, "why don't you put that ooze back in the vat, and then we can have a nice little chat in my office?"

"Ooh, I'd like that," Lizzy said, with forced naivety, as she tipped the ooze out of the vial.

"Toodle-oo, grandson," Cecil said, waving his cane. "I am taking this young lady to my office for a private tour." Liddle sighed, clearly recognizing his grandfather's proclivities. Lizzy tittered.

"This is my research laboratory. We have nine different ooze lines here. That ceramic vat, for instance, contains the infamous black ooze, which consumes metal as food. Did you know that it also consumes lightning? A fascinating organism," Cecil gabbled, his love for his gelatinous subjects clearly overpowering his other desires.

While the neatly labeled drawers, alchemical devices, and elaborate glassware attracted Lizzy's attention, she paid careful attention to the dog in the middle of the laboratory floor. All the workers seemed to give it a wide berth. The dog drooled and stared with benign confusion at people passing by, but Lizzy could see a clear halo of diffuse magic around its head. She decided not to mention it, or ask about the mysterious smell of yeast wafting from an adjacent room.

 "And this is my office. Step inside my dear. Do you have any questions about my work?" Cecil said solicitously, clutching Lizzy's hand.

"Why yes. Why do you use a Rochefort condenser on your pseudowormwood stack?" Lizzy said, without dropping the naive tone.

Cecil was momentarily flummoxed. "Ah. Eh. The coronal discharge. We need to..."

"But you're routing it to the atmosphere. Surely you could use a coronal imploder - perhaps Stapledon's - to send it back down the stack. You could easily improve yields by 10%. Let me draw you a diagram," Lizzy said, reaching for a pen and paper.

Cecil's hopes of a titillating encounter faded. He eventually attempted to hire "Alice" as a secretary, and Lizzy agreed to an interview the next day, throwing in a bit of flirtation for free.

Jonty and Tom managed to avoid signing a rental agreement by suggesting that the Loxdon College porters needed to be consulted, but promised to return soon with a deposit. The PCs departed in good spirits.

Jack T. Cole
Doyle Wormsby, PI, devoted his full investigative powers to the Gel Knight poisonings. He interviewed servants, bothered witnesses, and glanced at police records, and, after a few days, developed a theory. All the Gel Knights seemed to go berserk the morning after a night soil cart visited the neighborhood. Servants clearly remembered the noise, disruption, and odours in the dead of the night.

Side Note: Doyle rolled Int 6 and Cha 5. 3d6 down the live giveth and 3d6 down the line taketh away. Arguably both Clouseau and Columbo have Int 6 and Cha 5 (or thereabouts). Columbo just works harder.
Over a late lunch at the Unicorn Arms, Doyle explained his findings to the group. "It's the perfect cover," he said. "Nobody pays close attention to the night soil men. Our poisoner could join a team, enter a courtyard, inject the poison, and slip away."

"The Gel Knight would still attack them," Jonty said.

"The smell," Dr. Hartwell said. "Of course! The Gel Knights may detect people by scent. A night soil man may not smell like a person."

"All we need to do," Doyle said, "is ask various night soil crews about strangers, then pay to join that crew temporarily, then grab the guy and ask some very pointed questions."

The thought of joining a night soil crew, even temporarily, did not appeal to Jonty, who smiled the polite smile of someone who wished he were elsewhere. Lizzy, as a woman, was automatically exempt, and was quietly smug about it. Tom said he had exams. That left just Dr. Hartwell and Doyle to don some rags, roll in the gutter, and spend the evening bribing their way into one of the least desirable professions in Endon.  

In the dead of night, in a very respectable neighborhood north of West Cross, a night soil man silently detached himself from the crew and casually padded along the street, checking house numbers by the light of the moon. Two other night soil men prodded each other, nodded their heads, and followed. 

"Evening," Doyle said, sliding in front of the mysterious worker, as Dr. Hartwell flanked.

"Evening," the stranger replied, trying not to make eye contact.

"What've you got there? Ah, no need to move," Doyle said, patting the stranger's waist, and drawing out three steel syringes. "How mysterious."

"That's... cow medicine," the night soil worker replied. "My cow is very sick."

"Cow medicine, eh? You see, we're investigating a series of cows getting... very healthy, in these parts."

"Suspiciously healthy," Dr. Hartwell added.

"And we'd very much like to know where you got your cow medicine," Doyle said. The night soil man started to move, but Dr. Hartwell clapped a hand on his shoulder.

"I don't remember," he said. "And if I did and I told you, it's my life on the line. Or at least my job."

"I wouldn't worry about that. I hear the whole cow medicine business is about to go under," Doyle said, passing over a handful of silver. "In fact, you could take this money and spend the next few days in the country."

"I could do that," the night soil man said. "But if my... my sick cow doesn't get well tonight, the cow doctor will know I didn't do my job."

"We will take care of your cow," Dr. Hartwell said. "Just tell us where you got the medicine."

"A warehouse. 4 Dagle Lane in Needle Circus. Around back. There's a door."

"Got it," Doyle said. "Now go take a vacation. Somewhere nice and quiet."

As the night soil man shuffled off, Dr. Hartwell inspected the syringes. "It is certainly Gel Knight poison. Pure and undiluted. Mr. Krahlhammer will want a sample. We should poison a Gel Knight and alert the others."

"Why?" Doyle said, "we've got proof. That address is definitely the Nortgreen and Louton warehouse."

"First, this is not enough proof. Second, if we do not poison a Gel Knight, Nortgreen and Louton will become suspicious, and may anticipate an attack. Third, we will be present on the scene to prevent a rampage and spread rumours of the source. The poison must take some time to react with the gel. The automatons are poisoned at night, but only go berserk in the morning," Dr. Hartwell whispered. "Therefore, we have several hours to bathe and prepare."

"And the whole story will look neat and tidy for the Coppers," Doyle mused. "We're on the scene. We stop the rampage. Drop some hints, leave some clues, give them a nice thread to follow to Nortgreen and Luton. Coppers look competent. We look like model citizens. Let's do it."

Doyle and Dr. Hartwell walked east to Grenville Court and woke up Nero Krahlhammer, who, by now, was used to unexplained late-night visits from the co-owners of his business. He was delighted by the syringe and by the sketch of the scheme presented by the odorous pair on his doorstep. He also provided a list of addresses with non-Nortgreen & Louton Gel Knights.

The next stop was a gin joint. Doyle obtained a tin cup of gin by placing coins on the doorstep and threatening to come inside and "touch things" if the proprietors didn't pour him a glass. For once, the gin wasn't for him. The pair meandered towards a house near West Cross, where a Gel Knight from the lesser-known firm of Wexton & Sons was on patrol behind the locked gate and thick walls of a small mansion.

After confirming that his arms weren't long enough to reach the Gel Knight through the gate, Doyle set down his drink and cast dancing gin. A tiny translucent homunculus made of gin leapt out of the cup and did a cheerful sloshing jig on the cobbles. 

Either the noise, the spell, or the sympathetic resonance of two animated liquids attracted the Gel Knight's attention. It wandered towards the gate, seemingly unaware of Dr. Hartwell and Doyle. All the good doctor had to do was reach through the gate and gently push the syringe into one of the automaton's joints. The Gel Knight did not react. Doyle scooped the gin back into his cup, watched the automaton return to its patrol route, and smiled contentedly.

"Now let's slip into something more comfortable," the private investigator said, "like a bath. And then, we've got a stakeout to plan."

H.W. Brewer
"I thought it was odd," Lizzy said, as the group gathered outside the Unicorn Arms, "but I didn't want to say anything." The group looked at Lizzy's wicker pic-nic basket, then back to the cook. 

"At least we'll have... lots to eat?" Tom said, yawning.

"Oh yes. Six nice steaks, roast potatoes, mustard, and I've got a little jar of pickles in there somewhere." Lizzy said. "You see, when Mr. Wormsby said it was a stake-out, I thought he said..."

"We understand," Jonty said wearily. It was far too early in the morning for this sort of thing.

"One of us should get Angelica Hopewell," Tom added. 

"Right. And we should tell her almost everything. That we are discreetly investigating the Gel Knight poisonings. That we have a suspect. That if she plays along she will get inside information. If we try to pretend that we are accidental bystanders, she will probably start investigating us," Jonty said. "Reporters love uncovering a conspiracy. We only need to ensure that she uncovers the right one."

"I'll do it," Lizzy said. "If one of you carries the basket. It's good value."

"Enough with the comestibles!" Dr. Hartwell said. "We must hurry." 

Lizzy took a cab across the River Burl to Haymarket Square, and, after bothering many newspaper reporters and editors, located Angelica. After summarizing the plot, she tried to haul the reporter into the waiting cab.

"No time!" Angelica said, grabbing a carpet bag and pushing her bicycle onto the street. "Hop on the back!" Lizzy, who had never been on a bicycle, adjusted her skirts, put her feet cautiously on the wooden platforms above the back wheel's axle, and held on for dear life. Angelia had clearly absorbed the dictum that speed is stability, and, at the unbelievable speed of 7 miles per hour, raced through Endon's traffic. Pedestrians stopped to stare. Horses collided. Coppers dropped their whistles.

Julian Holm

Meanwhile, north of West Cross, the other PCs had located a bench and set up a small pic-nic on the quiet street. With their newly purchased clothes and carefree attitude, they projected an air of calm respectability. They cast the occasional glance at the walls and courtyard of the mansion, listening for the tell-tale sounds of Gel Knight havoc.

Angelica arrived in a cloud of dust, dismounted, helped a slightly stunned Lizzy to the bench, and started setting up her equipment. Her semi-autonomous photography rig was as expensive as her self-writing pen. "Any sign of the mysterious poisoners?"

"None," Jonty said. "Also, please do not use our names. We are merely concerned citizens. Doyle Wormsby, Private Investigator, is working a case."

"He's a what?" Angelica asked.

"A Private Investigator. That means he's a sort of freelance Copper, I think," Lizzy added. "I'm his secretary. Though I don't know what that means. Would you like some steak?"

As Lizzy handed out steak and potatoes, a Copper, eyebrows colliding with mild concern, wandered down the street towards the group. "What's all this then?" he said.

"We are having a pic-nic," Jonty said casually. "Care for a steak sandwich?"

"Not on duty," the Copper said instinctually, then corrected himself. "Did you say steak sandwich? With mustard?"

"And good fresh bread. Here you are."

"This is a private street, sirs, ma'ams," the Copper said between mouthfuls. "And I must ask you to move along."

"Oh we will, as soon as we've finished our pic-nic," Jonty said. "Potato?"

"Very kind of you sir."

Suddenly, screams and splintered wood cut through the jovial atmosphere. "Good gracious, what could that be?" Dr. Hartwell said, with almost believable surprise.

"Right!" the Copper said, scarfing down the last of the sandwich and striding purposefully forward. A terrified horse, harness dragging, bolted from the coutyard, followed by an equally terrified groom. A Gel Knight, partially covered in the splintered remains of a carriage, followed, swinging its weapon menacingly at anything that moved.

"A Gel Knight rampage!" Tom said. "How terrible!" Lizzy swooned. She then got up and swooned in a better position for Angelica's camera, ensuring her face was covered. Servants milled in the courtyard, unwilling to approach the irate Gel Knight. The house's owner, a portly gentleman of advanced years, was yelling for his gun, for the police, and for his lawyers while turning an unhealthy shade of beetroot red.

"Stand back, citizens!" Doyle Wormsby said dramatically. He aimed his umbrella at the Gel  Knight and cast knock. Every buckle, clasp, and clamp unscrewed. The Gel Knight's armour fell off in pieces, revealing, briefly, the human-shaped gelatinous core, which slumped into a heap with every step. The growing crowd applauded.

Dr. Hartwell ran forward, tapped the gel with his hand, and extracted a vial full of black liquid. "Poison!" he declared, holding it aloft. The crowd gasped. "Who could have done this?"

"I don't know," Tom said, at the back of the crowd, "but it is strange that Gel Knights made by Nortgreen & Louton are never poisoned."

"Very strange," Jonty agreed.

"It could be foreigners," someone helpfully suggested.

"Nortgreen & Louton could be... owned by foreigners?" Tom suggested, slightly taken aback.

The house's owner, between gasps for air, was demanding legal satisfaction and a full police inquiry. "Poisoned! My property! I'll have them whipped through the streets!" Dr. Hartwell cheerfully handed over the gel poison as two footmen tried to pour the squelching gel into an empty barrel. Doyle pointed out an empty steel syringe in the gutter to a nearby urchin and suggested the Copper, or the house's owner, might offer a reward for it.

"We should depart. What's the plan?" Jonty said.

The PCs stared at each other. "I thought you had a plan," Dr. Hartwell replied. "We played our parts."

"I thought Doyle was in charge," Tom said. 

"Don't look at me," Doyle said. "I've solved the case."

For the first time, the group realized that they'd lit the fuse on a bomb, without knowing where exactly the bomb was placed. "Gods and devils," Jonty said, pinching the bridge of his nose. "We'll sort it out in the cab."


The group decided to act quickly and decisively. Tom, Alice, and Jonty would return to Nortgreen & Louton's showroom and cause a scene large enough to attract the police. Doyle would stop by the Grim Baliol, bend the ear of an Copper or two, and send them on a targeted search of the premises. Dr. Hartwell would ensure the search turned up undeniable evidence.

Dr. Hartwell's Mission

With as much haste as his creaking knees could tolerate, Dr. Hartwell stepped from the cab, purchased a set of old clothes at a rag-and-bone stall, changed in an alley, stuffed his suit into his doctor's bag, and sped towards the back door of Nortgreen & Louton's warehouse. After stowing the bag out of sight and checking that he still had a one syringe of Gel Knight poison, he cast alter self. Under his cap, Dr. Hartwell now resembled the mysterious night soil man.

He knocked on the unmarked door. A metal plate slid open, revealing a pair of scowling eyes.

"I need to talk to the boss," Dr. Hartwell said, attempting to mimic the poisoner's accent.

"Password," the figure inside whispered.

"It's me. I don't have time for this. It went wrong. The Coppers are all over the place. Let me in."

The eyes considered this. The door slid open, revealing a stout and grimy figure in leather overalls. He checked the alley, then hustled Dr. Hartwell into the recieving dock. Cabinets, crates, and assorted tools were scattered around the cramped space.

"Fuck's sake, what did you do?"

"I didn't do anything. It was the stuff. I put it in the thing and it went mad immediately. Started smashing the place up. Get the boss. I've got to talk to the boss."

The worker considered this. "You're such a lump. Stay here. Don't touch nothing." The moment he left, Dr. Harwell carefully opened a drawer and stowed the poison syringe. 

"Says it went mad immediately, Mr. Louton," the worker said, as the mysterious Mr. Louton entered the room. Dr. Hartwell eyed him criticallly. Mr. Louton was sturdily built, with a fashionable suit and diamond tie pin. He had the air of a prize-fighter or quarrelsome farmer. 

"That's right," Dr. Hartwell said. "It went mad right away. There are Coppers all over the place.

"That's not possible," Louton said. "Where was this? The job up in North Cross? Gods and devils. Gods and devils indeed. Were you followed?"

"I don't think so." 

"What about the other syringes?" Louton asked. Dr. Hartwell patted his clothes. 

"Must have dropped them on the way. Damn."

Louton and the worker glanced at each other. "This is what we'll do. You, go get three new syringes. You, you contemptible little worm, take them the Wexton & Sons warehouse on Bismuth St. Get them inside somehow, I don't care how. Hide them. I'll call some Coppers and direct them to search the place. Frame it as a racket. Go."

Dr. Hartwell took the three syringes and stepped out of the room. He waited until the voices receeded, then carefully hooked a finger in the keyhole and pulled the door open again. Three more syringes found homes in three more drawers. He was dressed in his clean black suit before the alter self spell faded.

Jonty's Mission

In the cab, Tom, Lizzy, and Jonty had agreed on the basic framework of a plan. Jonty arrived at the showroom and monpolized Liddle Nortgreen's attention with vague promises, demands for demonstations, technical questions, and puffery. He did his best to accumulate a crowd of technicians and workers in the showroom before launching into an improvised speech.

"Demonology, friends! Yes! The drop of blood spilled on a Gel Knight trust wafer is the seal of a diabolical contract. Now friends you're either closing your eyes to a pact you do not wish to acklowledge or you are secretly aware of the infernal disaster now bubbling, boiling, rising within these walls. Now a drop of blood for biomancy, sure, that's biomancy friends, and I've got no quarrel with the doctor or the quack who wants to smear the sanguine humour on a slide or a flask but a wafer. Yes, a wafer friends. A wafer is a loaf and a loaf is bread and bread and blood is diabolica!"

[Gasps]

"Yes diabolical! Now an ooze as you know has no brain and no soul so perhaps, yes perhaps, it wants one. Wants yours! Or yours! To digest and invest and control by a pact with the Powers Below, that's right."

[Arguments]

Meanwhile...

Tom's Mission

As Jonty fascinated and distressed the crowd of employees, Tom slipped into the main manufacturing hall. He wanted to try out his new purchase, a handstealer glove. He slipped the silver glove over his right hand and carefully looked at a worker on a gantry. The worker seemed to be measuring out gel from an enormous copper vat. The levers and chains in front of him looked delightfully important. Tom waited until the worker glanced away from the levers for a moment, then gently - and unobtrusively - took control of one of his right hand. When the worker went to pull a lever, he found his hand on the next lever over. Chains slid past. The worker frantically reached for the brake, but Tom flicked his hand to the side. The sluice gate on the vat opened, and a slow wave of green gel flooded across the manufatory floor.

Workers started shouting. "Oh gods, not again!" was a common cry. Someone ran for an alarm bell. Other workers ran for the exits, or grabbed steel paddles to try and keep the ooze away from the equipment. Tom stepped back into the exhibiton hall and closed the door just before the ooze arrived. He watched the layer of gel slowly rise up the glass windows, then, after waggling his eyebrows at Jonty, casually walked out of the building.

"And look!" Jonty cried, pointing at the catastrophe unfolding in the manufactory. His rheteroical spell broke. The crowd dispersed in panic.

Lizzy's Mission

Lizzy broke off from the gathering crowd early to find Cecil Nortgreen. She clung to his arm, steered him into his office, and began a precisely calculated campaign of mild flirtation. She was almost on the point of braining him with a lamp when alarm bells and shouts distracted him from his goal. "Goodness, what is that?" she simpered.

"Stay here," Cecil said, running into the main manufactory hall. 

Lizzy followed at a discreet distance. The wave of translucent gel pouring out of Vat 3 had hit the distillation towers. The ooze bubbled noisily as it sloshed over the burners, extinguishing them, and smashing glassware along the way. Unstable reagents began to mix and ferment.

"Out the back then," Lizzy said to herself. Avoiding agitated researchers and workers, she returned to Cecil's office, rifled through his desk, and pulled out a large magically sealed book. "So nice of Mr. Nortgreen to leave his research notes unattended," she said, stuffing the book and some spare change into her handbag. 

Her next stop was the research hall. She avoided the mysterious enchanted hound, but opened all the cabinets and doors to ensure the poison distillation apparatus was on full display for even the most simple-minded Copper. She even put a syringe next to it.

The smell of yeast still intrigued her. She checked the side room and found a large white loaf-shaped ooze in a glass tank. The charts and notes attached to the tank, and the sacks of grain on the floor, suggested a tantilizing project. This ooze seemed to be capable of digesting grains and excreting pure alcohol. A sort of super-yeast. Lizzy's eyes lit up. 

A Nortgreen & Louton employee picked that moment to step into the room. "Who are..." he started to ask, but Lizzy cast inebriate before he could finish the thought. She spun him around like a top and pushed him out the door, then grabbed a steel paddle and a three-gallon jar. "Come to Lizzy," she muttered, carving off a chunk of the ooze.

Doyle's Mission

"You're sure you've got proof?" Inspector Silas said. 

 "I'm sure. I don't even want the credit. Just catch these guys. One of those Gel Knights hit my secretary, you know."

"My condolences," the Inspector said unsympathetically.

"Anyway, it looks like you'll have plenty of reasons to search the place," Doyle said. He pointed out the window of the police wagon. The Inspector stuck his head out and watched a column of purple flame rise from Nortgreen & Louton's chimney. 

"That doesn't look right," he said. "It's not Thursday. And there's usually less debris."

"Told you," Doyle said, as he leaned back and crossed his arms.

The Denoument

The Coppers arrived and, with a few hints from Doyle and Dr. Hartwell, found all the evidence they needed to arrest Cecil Nortgreen and Mr. Louton. Angelica Hartwell arrived just ahead of the mob of curious citizens and was able to get a report to her paper before the afternoon edition went to the presses.

Lizzy slipped out the back entrance and was nearly arrested for carrying a jar full of gel.

"It's evidence!" she said to Inspector Silas.

"If it were evidence miss then we'd have to confiscate it. This is ooze you brought from home, remember?" The Inspector winked at Doyle, who tipped his hat in acknowledgement.

After a few hours, Nortgreen & Louton's workers had coralled the ooze back into Vat 3 and extinguished most of the fires. The PCs split up to rest, but met again in the evening to celebrate their good fortune with Nero Krahlhammer. 

The perfidious action of Nortgreen & Louton were front page news for a week. The public perception of Nero Krahlhammer rose meteorically, especially after a three-part advertisement series on his new "super-immune" gels. While Gel Knights in general suffered some reputational damage, Nero was quick to point out that they could replace construction workers, cart horses, or even entire kitchens. 

"Think of it," he said, after a demonstration. "I fed this ooze a chicken drumstick, then transfered a portion of its body to this ooze, which, when fed raw starch, ejected this object which very closely resembles a chicken drumstick."

End of Season

Their initial investment in Krahlhamer's firm provided, after the Gel Knight scandal settled out, a substantial income boost for all the PCs.

Dr. Hartwell took a position at Blumsworth Hospital, the first step on the ladder of respectable quackery. He decided not to specialize yet, but instead to cultivate connections with other members of his profession, and try to gently bring them around to his style of medicine. He also accidentally initiated a feud with Bartleby Zoon, a chef at the Forked Eel dining hall, over the correct method of steaming an eel.

Tom passed his exams and was, by the admission of most of the College, a fine upstanding wizard. His hatred of lightning drove him to experiment with magical devices. Lightning had killed his parents in two separate hot air balloon accidents, and he'd sworn revenge. With the aid of a thaumic engineer named Chastity Flintwich, he managed to create the first stable Lightning Accumulator, an engine that trapped lighting itself in coils of glass and mercury. He secretly funneled some of the group's investment out of Krahlhammer and into the machine, rationalizing that it would make the money back some day, provided anyone could find a use for trapped lighting bolts.. or a safe way to remove them from the accumulator.

Jonty was eventually offered a position with the Faculty of Law, though still as an assistant professor. He sent 15gp by registered post to Lord Tarrigan-on-Burl, with a note firmly severing any future social connection, then set about acquiring the trappings of an upper-middle-class lifestyle. He convinced the group to buy a house in a new neighborhood off Needle Circus, and privately invested funds in SpaceBeans Magically Enhanced Coffee.

Doyle found a new combined office and apartment. It wasn't fancy, but he didn't feel like flaunting his wealth or aspiring to middle-class values. He was a working slob, and he'd die a working slob. The office was cheap because it used to be a photography studio. The residual effects of magical black-and-white development fluids rendered the rooms monochrome on rainy days. It was a bit unsettling, but it kept the rent low.

Lizzy continued to experiment with her pilfered distillation ooze. With Nero Krahlhammer's help, she managed to get a stable division mass, with every prospect of industrial success once a few contaminants were removed. Lizzy also set her sights on middle-class respectability, but finding such a role in the group's shared house - with inquiring neighbors and social conventions - would be a challenge.

And yet, many mysteries still lingered. The manner of Uriah Shambledrake's death, the goals of Uriah Shambledrake Jr, the location of Professor Tallerand, the desires of Lord Tarrigan-on-Burl, the methods of the Thaumaturgic Detectives, and the last words of Mack the Mangler all swirled in the minds of the PCs in their idle hours. Would any of it be resolved? Would they all get stinking rich in the process? Was property and prosperity a blessing or a curse?

Find out next time.

2022/09/12

The Monster Overhaul - Kickstarter Is Now Live

It's finally here!


What’s a Sphinx without a riddle, or a Minotaur without a labyrinth? What’s a Dragon without a hoard, or a Peasant without a grievance?

The Monster Overhaul is an old-school utility-focused bestiary that I've been working on for the past few years. It's a ludicrously ambitious project. 200+ monsters. Tons of original art. Random encounters. Useful tools. Indexes. Variants. Maps. Everything I could think of to improve its at-table utility.

And now, finally, you can pledge money to make it exist. Check out the campaign for more information, or follow this tag back to see the project's origins.

Assorted pages from the book. Note: pages are not in order.

Praise and Hype

This looks like just the thing I've hoped RPG bestiaries would transition towards: no fuss, gameable material, no bloated 'ecology' fluff, lots of options for distinguishing and reskinning different monsters, emphasising GM choice and creativity over a unified authorial 'canon'. 

@biclaggedinclay


The Monster Overhaul (Skerples): From art to organization, this is shaping up to be to monster manuals as Tomb of the Serpent Kings is to dungeon adventures - the sort of thing that takes the fundamentals and applies long-needed functionality updates.
 
-Dan, throneofsalt.blogspot.com. The Monster Overhaul won three Salty Awards for “Best Book That Is Not In Book Form Yet”.

2022/09/11

OSR: The Mystery of Uriah Shambledrake Session 5 - Wheels Within Wheels

 In the Previous Installment, the PCs:

  • Discovered the Mind of a Lawyer in the Body of an Orphan
  • Committed Acts of Violence
  • Were Arrested
  • Were Released Under Suspicious Circumstances

The surviving PCs are:

Tom Shambledrake
Electric Wizard and heir to the bankrupt Shambledrake estate.

Jonty Earl
Dandy. Assistant Professor at Loxdon College, in debt to Lord Tarrigan-on-Burl, and generally involved in disreputable schemes.

Dr. Augustus Hartwell

Biomancer. A foreign doctor and self-described "quack", Augustus wants to overturn Endon's stuffy and outdated medical notions.

Lizzy Ramchander
Potion Wizard, cook, and former brewer to the Shambledrake family, and current cook at the Loxdon College Metropolitan Police Station. Lizzy is filled with middle-class ambition.

Tom, Dr. Hartwell, Lizzy, and Jonty stared at each other, trying to communicate by waggling their eyebrows and surreptitious hand gestures. Jonty had insisted they were being watched, by mundane or magical means. Every pedestrian received four suspicious glances. Every loud noise set Jonty quivering like aspic.

"Breakfast?" Tom finally suggested.

After a pint of beer, a pint of coffee, a trip to the alley of easement, a baked apple, and another coffee, Jonty felt ready to whisper to the group. The noise of the Unicorn Arms should, he reasoned, impede scrying, just as the clientele discouraged Coppers.

"How deep does the rot go?" Jonty groaned. "If Professor Tallerand is involved, is the Dean of Magic protecting him? The Chancellor? Did the police release us to track us or because of political pressure?"

"I still have an appointment with Tallerand on Monday," Dr. Hartwell said. "Though whether he intends to keep it is another matter."

"Or if you will survive it. He might just..." Tom said, flicking his fingers in a vaguely disintegration-themed way.

Lizzy nodded politely. She wasn't entirely sure who Professor Tallerand was, but assumed he had something to do with Cheetham and necromancy and other illegal business. Nobody had filled her on on the whole plot, but, considering what had happened to Agnes and Haze, not knowing seemed like a good survival strategy.

"We should go to Nedalward Hall," Jonty said. "I will canvas the porters for their opinion. Tom, you can ask the other students. Dr. Hartwell, you can ask the, uh, the doctors?" Dr. Hartwell glared at him. "And Lizzy. You can ask..."

"I have to go to work. Good luck with..." she whispered, gesturing, "all of it. I will try and find you this evening." She polished off her breakfast beer and departed. 

"To the college," Tom said. 

7:05. The Street

"I could really use another coffee," Jonty said. "I haven't slept in... a while. Days?"

"A coffeeeee," a street vendor wheedled, tapping his tray of steaming glasses. "Perhapsyoucoulduse one of my magically! enhancéd! coffees! Spacebeans!"

"How much?" 

"2cp for small", the vendor said, tapping a thimble-sized cup, "4cp for medium, 1sp for large."

"And this will work?"

"If it doesn't, no money back! Caveatemptor," the vendor grinned.

"One medium please." Jonty took the cup and downed it. It was horribly burned thick coffee. "Hang on, this is whooooooeeeah!"

"Told you!" 

"To the college!" Jonty said, practically skipping. He wasn't sure his heart was still beating. Dr. Hartwell was more concerned about his full-body nervous tremor and alarming tendency to leap a few inches in the air every few steps.

Previously and Simultaneously

Next to the table the PCs had vacated, Doyle Wormsby, Private Investigator, folded his newspaper and stepped into the street. The drizzle immediately intensified. He sighed, unfurled his umbrella, and looked around. Tom Shambledrake was with Jonty Earl and the foreign Doctor, buying a coffee. Coffee as black and bitter as Endon's soul.

This case had consumed his life, partly because he was a damn fine detective, but mostly because it was his only case. It promised enormous rewards. Uriah Shambledrake had sold a pig in a poke to a lot of butchers, and they were all out for blood and bacon. Was Tom part of his late uncle's financial scheme? The multiple mortgages, the unsecured loans, the fraud and double-dealing? Where had the money gone? The First Commercial Bank wanted to know. The sums involved kept its directors up at night, shivering with feverish dread. 

Tom, Wormsby decided, didn't have the money. But he did have a lot of enemies. Friday, First Commercial Bank hires him to tail Tom. Saturday, Tom's aunt Agnes goes insane and kills Tom's school chum and an urchin. With his own eyes, from a convenient alley across the street, Wormsby had seen the climactic battle. Seen the arrest. Seen Tom and company dragged off to the Grim Bailol, and seen them released.

He could have told the Coppers what he knew, but Wormsby was no snitch. Not for free. He'd been a Copper once, until his methods proved just a little too unorthodox for the starched shirts no-necks on the force. Trivialities like regular hours, documented expenses, and a clear chain of reasoning cramped his investigative style. And of course, there was the use of magic.

Umbrella up, he shuffled along the pavement, keeping his distance from Tom and the others. The hints he'd overheard from their table didn't seem to be about Uriah's missing fortune. They were all about a conspiracy at the college. Necromancy. Orphan-stealing. The stuff that nightmares are made of. Nightmares, and hush money.

7:10. The Metropolitan Police station near Loxdon College

"Miss Ramchander? Come with us." The three Inspectors peering into Lizzy's kitchen did not bear benevolent expressions. "Come with us," they said, and stuffed her into a cramped office.

"What is this about, sirs?" she said politely.

"You thought we wouldn't find out," the first Inspector said, menacingly. "But we did. We know."

"About the sandwiches sir," Lizzy said, "only, they were going to throw them away, so I thought..."

"Not about the sandwiches."

"The soup then. You see, I bought the ingredients myself, and..."

"Or the soup. You can't deceive us, Miss Ramchander." The Inspector flung a newspaper onto the desk. "You see. It's all there."

Lizzy stared at the yellowed paper. It was several months old.

"I don't understand," she said.

"There!" the Inspector jabbed a finger at the page. "An article! Your name! You spoke to the press, Miss Ramchander." The other Inspectors looked bilious.

Angelica Hartwell's byline. Her words. Her quote as "an employee of the Metropolitan Police". Her name. It was all there, of course, and it had been for months. A simple, forgettable article on the mysterious will reading.

"Do you deny it," the Inspector frothed?

"No, but it's only a newspaper article," Lizzy said, genuinely baffled.

"Only an article? You spoke to the press! You are a cook! A domestic servant! Elizabeth Ramchander, you are dismissed."

Lizzy gasped. "Fine, but I'm taking my knives," she said, after a moment. "I paid for them."

7:15. On the college grounds

"Steady there," a Sergeant yelled, as three sweating Coppers tried to maneuver a stone statue into the back of a cart. "Careful. Careful I said!"

The small crowd of porters, students, and bystanders watched the scene with deep amusement. The statue was clearly a Copper, petrified in the undignified act of shouting and waving a truncheon.

"What happened here?" Jonty whispered to one of the porters. 

"Earl, is it? You teach lodestones? Yes. Well, you see, some Coppers stopped by Nedalward Hall last night with a writ from a magistrate, allowing them to search the rooms of two students. Of course, Loxdon College has ancient privileges. The Coppers were evidently not aware of them, or chose to test them. Writ or no writ, without authorization from the Chancellor and the presence of two Porters they had no power to search."

"I assume you told them?"

"Oh," the porter chuckled, "we told them. Then some of the students told them. I believe there was a small riot. A Copper got petrified, but nobody knows how. They say it's temporary, but we've sent someone out for basilisk glands just in case."

"Do you know which students were named in the writ?" Jonty asked, dropping a silver piece into the porter's pocket. "And also, have you seen Tom Shambledrake over there?"

"I have seen Mr. Shambledrake over there," the porter winked, "but I have not seen his friend Mr. Palewolf today."

"Very good," Jonty said. "Now, the Apprentice Test is tomorrow. Please keep an eye on Tom for me. Ensure he makes it to the examination hall safely."

"Mr Earl, if you are suggesting that we porters could slip him through the hall to pass the exam, I must deny such rumours entirely. And even if it were true, it's not a one-silver job. Besides, I think he's a decent wizard."

"Oh no, not that. He'll do fine. I just would not wish to hear of him being waylaid or misdirected. Also, do you know where Professor Tallerand is?"

The porter frowned. "It being Sunday, he is probably at home."

"Are you certain?" Jonty said, attempting to slide another silver to the porter. 

"I said," the Porter grumbled, locking eyes with the assistant professor, "he is probably at home."

Deciding that the porter's reticence was probably due to a sensible desire to keep out of wizard politics, Jonty left the matter drop.

Thomas Dubois

7:20. The Unicorn Arms

Lizzy stormed into the Unicorn Arms, drank three gins in quick succession, then downed her vial of hypergin. She recycled the liquid from her nose back into its vial, then, absolutely hammered, started complaining.

"Fucking Coppers", she said. A pair of students cheered. "At's right!" Lizzy said.

"We got them good last night," one of the students said, "and we've been celebarting. Err, cerbelating. What is it we've been doing?"

"Drinking this horrible stuff," the other student gurgled.

"Right. See, some Coppers came by with a warrang," the student mumbled, and proceeded to fill Lizzy in on the attempted search of Nedalward Hall, the subsequent riot, and the general excellent humour of the student population.

"Sounds like Tom is in trouble," Lizzy said in an aside to her reflection in a puddle of beer. "I should go to the College. Good idea, me."

7:30. On the college grounds

Doyle Wormsby, Private Investigator, had watched Tom, Dr. Hartwell, and Jonty enter Nedalward Hall. Porters were sweeping up the smashed roof tiles. Students were removing banners and paying fines. From behind his newspaper, Wormsby observed it all. 

Lizzy, wobbling from bench to bench, flopped down next to him. "Coppers! They dismissed me this morning," she said, to no one in particular. "For nothing! There's no justice in this world."

Wormsby grunted in agreement. "I used to be a Copper," he said. "Did my time. They dismissed me too."

"What a coincidence," Lizzy said. "Have a drink."

Liquor. It had helped Wormsby solve many cases and prevented the solution of many more. It was an old friend, but the sort of friend you didn't want to see on a cold and drizzly morning. Still, his stomach was as empty as his flask, and his flask was as empty as his coinpurse. Wormsby knocked back the drink.

"The vial of hypergin volatilized before it passed his teeth. The cloud of alcohol smashed into his lungs and stomach like an invading army and starting building siege works around his liver. Wormsby shook his head. His ears seemed to orbit a few times before settling into their usual locations..." is what Wormsby tried to say out loud. Instead, he just went "nurgh?"

"Good stuff, isn't it?" Lizzy said.

"Nurgh." Wormsby agreed. "My tongue was slowly reestablishing contact with my brain. The ground heaved like ferrets fighting in a mattress. Who was this dame? What was in that vial?"

"Who are you talking to?" Lizzy asked, grinning blearily.

"From the number of knives on her belt, the dame had to be a cook or an assassin, and assassins don't usually wear aprons. 'Say', I said, 'do you want to work for me?'"

Lizzy tried to slap him. Wormsby deflected the slap with his umbrella, stowed it, and continued narrating. "The dame had taken it the wrong way. She wasn't that sort of girl, and I wasn't that sort of guy. At least, not this early in the day. 'As a secretary', I clarified. 'You seem like you've got a good head on your shoulders.'"

"You seem like you've got two heads on yours," Lizzy said, "but that might just be the gin."

"She had a tongue as sharp as her knives. Both would be handy in a secretary. 'You've got a deal',  I said. 'Shake on it.'" Completely baffled, Lizzy shook his hand.

Simultaneously, in the porter's office at Nedalward Hall


"Tom," the head porter of Nedalward Hall said, "I believe Haze is no longer with us." The porter flipped open a thick book and dipped a pen into an inkwell. "For the hall's records, how did he die?"

Jonty looked at the book with dismay. He was aware that magical education was a risky endeavor, but surely it didn't involve this level of carnage. "Out of curiosity, how many of Nedalward Hall's students have perished recently?"

"Only sixteen first-years in my time, but I've been with the hall just under two years. This volume is mostly a prop. But we also record maimings and unexplained disappearances. In any case, Tom, did Haze die on or off campus?" 

"Off," Tom said.

"Was it any of the 3 Ds: Drunkenness, Dueling, or Disease? Was his death magical in nature? Can you please briefly summarize the circumstances of his death?"

Tom looked at Jonty, who was wriggling with ill-disguised distrust, and Dr. Hartwell, who seemed more amused than horrified. "Well. My Aunt Agnes attacked him. She..."

"Isn't your Aunt Agnes also a student here? Did she perish as well?"

"Yes, but..."

"Oh dear, two students, magical means, off campus, that means a Dean's inquiry at the very least."

"She attacked him because we'd uncovered a conspiracy," Dr. Hartwell added. 

"That's right," Tom said. "A professor of magic was buying orphans and using them for necromantic experiments."

"Necromancy!" the porter yelped. "That is a very serious charge!" Thumps and muffled words from outside the office sent Jonty scrambling for the door.  He flung it open, shoving a crowd of students back. Listening glasses, ear trumpets, and even an ear extended by a spell told a tale of obvious eavesdropping.

"Aha!" he said, pointing at the heap of limbs and robes.

"I knew it was Professor Boswell," Purbs Tinchbear said. "Knew it all along!"

"You turnip, Professor Boswell is dead," Spanker Morton retorted.

"EXACTLY! Necromancy, see!" Purbs howled.

"Were you eavesdropping?" Tom asked, mildly shocked. The students collectively denied it, even as Whiskers Loopert reeled in her retractable ear. "Whiskers! Spanker! Guffy! Purbs! Finchleah! Nibs! Bickers and Vickers! I'm shocked!"

"Haze is dead," Guffy said. "And he was one of us. If he'd been killed in a duel, or by falling into a ditch while drunk, or if he'd been lost in one of the Mirror Realms during an experiment, or if he'd turned himself into an illusion and vanished, or if he'd just exploded..."

"That'd be natural causes," Purbs said. "For an illusionist, at least. But if he was assassinated by a professor in a different department, that's not... well that's just not on!" The other students agreed.

"Especially if it involves necromancy," Guffy added. "Who did it?" 

Jonty sighed. "It was Professor Tallerand."

"I knew it!" Spanker said. "I knew it the moment you said someone was buying orphans."

"How?" 

"I'm studying Biomancy. I have Glands and Fluids with Tallerand, and I got extra credit for getting orphans to sign up for his work experience program. Then he said he'd found someone else, and dismissed me without giving me the credits! Damn unsporting, I say."

"You sold that man orphans?" Dr. Hartwell said, aghast.

"He said it would give them valuable life skills and free medical care," Spanker muttered.

"He did," Tom said. "The skills lasted the rest of their lives."

"But we have no proof," Jonty said. "We do not know where he conducted these experiments."

"I do," Spanker said. "I know where his secret lab is."

8:00. Just outside Nedalward Hall

The students of Nedalward Hall brought out weapons, wands, and amulets of protection. Purbs Tinchbear hauled out a morning-star from under his bed and whirled it with untrained glee. Spanker Morton had a wand he "found in the rafters", and several other students had spells loaded in their brains.

"It's Tom!" Lizzy said, pointing at one of several Tom-shaped figures dancing before her eyes. "And the others! Hallooo Tom!"

"Hello Lizzy," Tom said. "Who's your friend?"

Doyle Wormsby, PI, opened a newspaper in front of his face. His cunning disuse was hampered by some drunken fiddling with the pages, and holding the papers upside-down.

"Wait, who are you?" Tom said suspiciously. "I saw you at the Unicorn Arms! And in the street!" The other students gathered around, brandishing their weapons with more zeal than skill.

"Damn, I'd been rumbled. I had to think fast," Doyle said, carefully enunciating.

"He narrates," Lizzy said. "I don't know why. I think it's because he's drunk."

"You are also drunk," Dr. Hartwell said disparagingly, and cast extract venom on the cook. He handed her back her vial of hypergin.

"This is Doyle Wormsby," Lizzy said, once she recovered her equilibrium. "He's some sort of non-Copper-Copper."

"Why is he following us?" Jonty said.

Doyle started narrating again. "They'd had it all figured out. I had to come clean. 'I was hired to follow you by a certain bank,' I said. 'This certain bank thinks certain funds from a certain late uncle might have found their way into certain pockets by uncertain means. The bank wants me to find out whose pockets and by what means."

"Well it's not my pockets," Tom said.

"I'd already figured that out, but I couldn't let him know. Bad for business. 'Maybe', I said slyly, 'but maybe not." Doyle eyed Tom critically. Tom, and everyone else, eyed Doyle as if he was mad.

"We're going to fight a necromancer!" Guffy volunteered.

8:15. The chilly basement of Loxdon College's Dissection Hall

"We should have brought a crowbar," Tom complained, prying at the edge of the secret door with a scalpel. The other students had bashed off the tiles, clawed at the seam, and searched for a keyhole, but all to no avail. 

"Stand back," Doyle said. "I have a spell for this." 

"You're a wizard?" Jonty asked, eyeing the rumpled figure. Doyle didn't look like a wizard. He looked... well, it was difficult to say. He didn't clearly belong to any one profession, but he brought them all into disrepute. He wasn't dirty, he wasn't uncouth, and he wasn't visibly diseased or deformed, but he had the sort of face a razor can never completely shave, and a neck that seemed to instantly spawn sweat stains. The contrast between Doyle and the immaculately attired and composed Jonty was stark.

Doyle waved his hands and cast knock. The secret door burst open, revealing a dark staircase of grey stone descending into the earth. Condensation dripped down the walls.

"Brilliant," Jonty said. "You go first."

Still buoyed by the hypergin, Doyle tottered down the stairs, followed by the students, Tom, Lizzy, Dr. Hartwell, and Jonty. The eighth step clicked. Everyone froze, then scrambled upwards, climbing over each other in their haste. Elbows and oaths flew.

A dragon made of lighting billowed up the stairs, smashing into the tangled group and scorching everyone. Luckily, the damage was diluted by the sheer mass of bodies. After extinguishing eyebrows and shaking out the finger-zaps, they resumed their descent.

The stairs lead to a moderately sized laboratory tiled in grey slate. Six wooden barrels were chained along the left wall. A surgical table dominated the centre of the room. The east wall featured a few empty crates and a large wooden double door. The far wall must have contained some sort of large magical device, but all that remained were a bolt holes, scorch marks, and brackets. Even the shelves were cleared.

"Someone's cleaned this place out," Doyle said unnecessarily.

"Whatever was here drew a fair bit of charge," Tom said, examining the thick cables bundled along the wall. "These must tie into some magical batteries elsewhere on campus. Six, sevenhundred kilothaums at least. What's in those barrels?"

"Nothing in barrels one and two. Barrel three contains..." Lizzy said.

"Ribbles the helpful urchin! Hello!" A voice said from the barrel.

Lizzy carefully removed the lid. Ribbles emerged into the dim light and smiled. While Wormsby was merely disheveled, this urchin was actively filthy. Living in a barrel might account for some of it.

"Who are you? What are you?" Tom asked.

"I'm Ribbles the helpful urchin! Mr. Tallerand did potions on me. They went wrong, so he put me in the barrel and said I could not come out or help him anymore." Ribbles said cheerfully. 

"You're one of his experiments?" Dr. Hartwell said, aghast. "And he kept you in a barrel?"

"Not always. Sometimes he took me out to try more potions. Do you have any food?"

Lizzy handed Ribbles a sandwich. Ribbles unhinged its jaw and swallowed it whole. Several students went pale. Purbs Tinchbear nearly fainted. Under the rags, grease, fleas, hair, dirt, and breadcrumbs, Ribbles seemed to be more rubbery than the average urchin. Tom, with his permanent electric visions, was also astonished to find that Ribbles was a wizard... of sorts.

"What's in the other barrels?" Jonty asked.

"Straw, orphan corpse, straw, and this mysterious syringe of glowing blue liquid," Lizzy said, holding the syringe aloft. 

While Dr. Hartwell tried to teach Ribbles that soap was for washing and not for eating, the rest of the group gathered around the double doors. Doyle discovered that they weren't locked and flung them open with a dramatic sweep of his arms, revealing a hall with a spiral staircase leading upwards, a large red lever on the wall, and a second set of double doors. Dust, scratch marks, splinters, and straw suggested several large crates had been pushed through the area recently.

""Purbs, Finchleah, and Nibs, guard the bottom of those stairs," Tom said. "Let's see what's behind these doors."

The second set of doors concealed a brick wall. Silver and copper wire had been chiseled into the brickwork, forming a bound enchantment circle of surprising complexity. The wizards gathered around and argued for a few minutes, drawing diagrams on the doors with chalk. "It's a teleport spell of some sort," Vickers said. "You can see the coordinate engrams along the edge, and signs of spatial distortion in the wood grain."

"And that means?" Jonty asked politely.

"Pull lever, make spell go," Vickers grinned. Lizzy helpfully pulled the lever before anyone could tell her that wasn't a command. The teleport circle flared with octarine light. The bricks seemed to retreat into the distance, as if the wall was being pulled back like a rubber sheet. With a clap of air, the sheet broke, connecting one room to another.

This new room, visible behind a thin coronal fog, seemed to be an underground bay near the River Burl. A chain lift and hatch probably lead to a slipway, where boats could be loaded and unloaded easily. Empty barrels, straw, and a discarded hammer suggested more packing. The wizards were more interested in the teleport spell's relative stability. "It must be in a straight line, east-west. Look, no latitude-based velocity drift," Vicker said, tossing a piece of straw through the field.

Doyle scoffed. "Academics. Too many brains and not enough sense. I was a student here, once, briefly. I left to pursue my own path."

Flashback

"Tuition is due in advance, Mr. Wormsby."

"Screw you and screw this whole institution!"

End Flashback

"Professor Tallerand isn't here. He might be up these stairs. It's possible the teleport spell also stretched the staircase in an odd direction," Tom said.

"Or maybe he's fled the city," Jonty said hopefully, "and we'll never see him again. It's not as though we have any evidence of his crimes."

Lizzy tapped Jonty on the shoulder and pointed at Ribbles. Ribbles smiled and said "I am full of crimes!"

"Oh devils," Jonty sighed. "And the body in the barrel. Right, well, we should send someone to find the Dean. You two," he said, pointing at Vickers and Bickers, "go find Dean XX and tell him about all this. Err, well, about most of this. Use your judgement. Well? Go!" Vickers and Bickers took off, as the rest of the group tired to convince Doyle to be the first one up the spiral stairs.

Konstantin Kostadinov


After some flattery and appeals to his profession, Doyle finally agreed to ascend the stairs first, checking each step for traps. His caution paid off. One step was hinged. He followed the pulley upwards to a small box built into the wall and carefully pried open the cover. A marble-sized glass scrying orb peered back at him, a large watery eye filling blinking in a disconcerting way, next to a large and carefully aimed wand.

Doyle carefully unclipped the wand and stuffed it into his coat. He blinked back at the scrying orb a few times, then poked it. The eye pulled back, then returned, narrowed.

"If Assistant Professor Earl is down there," a tired voice said from the top of the stairs, "send him up. Alone. Let us be gentlemen about this." 

After some convolutions and rearrangements, Jonty emerged at the front of the pack. The PCs patted him on the back as he went to meet his fate. He spent a few moments adjusting his coat and hair, then pushed open the hatch and climbed the short ladder, emerging into Professor Tallerand's office as if he was stepping onto a stage.

8:35. Professor Tallerand's Office

"Step forward, Mr. Earl," Professor Tallerand said, with icy politeness. He aimed a wand casually at Jonty. "Martin, push that desk onto the trap door."

Martin, the room's third occupant, lurched forward. Jonty eyed the flesh golem with both curiosity and distaste. It smelled like beef and moved like a puppet. Its eyes were distinctly bovine. "Have you met Martin?" Tallerand said conversationally. "He's a good and loyal servant, unlike some. Thank you Martin. Sit in that chair."

As Martin shuffled behind the desk, Tallerand continued. "You are aware that your actions have disrupted a project that will revolutionize Endon. Immortality, Mr. Earl. Transfer of both mind and soul into a new body. I am sorry about Mr. Palewolf. If he wasn't a wizard, we could have brought him back. The process doesn't work on wizards... yet."

"That's... very kind of you," Jonty said, without feeling.

"And if a few children needed to die along the way, what of it? How many die in textile mills or mines every day? I am not a monster, Mr. Earl, whatever you and your friends might think. I am just ahead of the curve. I had hoped to be gone by the time you arrived but, alas, here we are."

"Here we are indeed. Now what happens?"

"I would like to make you a proposition. That safe," Tallerand said, pointing at the wall, "contains 10,000gp in bearer bonds. Let me leave, corroborate my story to anyone who asks - including your master -  and they are yours. Cause a fuss, and they will almost certainly be sisezed as evidence."

"Your story?" Jonty said, intrigued.

"Yes. You see," Tallerand said, taking a note from his pocket and placing it on the desk, "I was overcome by guilt. That is my suicide note. Crossed the line. Dabbled in Necromancy. Terribly sorry and all that." The professor drew a wand with his left hand, while keeping the original aimed at Jonty, and pointed it at Martin the flesh golem. A powerful polymorph spell sizzled out, transforming the golem, clothes and all, into a perfect replica of Professor Tallerand... save for the bulging head, which burst like a ripe tomato. Jonty stepped back. 

As Tallerand placed a pistol on the floor near the body, he sighed. "Well, Assistant Professor Earl, what do you say?"

Jonty looked at Professor Tallerand, the body, the note, the safe, and the wand aimed at him. "I accept."

Side Note: RPGs are great. In almost any other form of media, Jonty would have at least pretended to be outraged or reluctant. Instead, he looked at the options and decided he was less outraged about orphan-murder than he'd expected. Approximately 10,000gp less outraged. 

"Splendid. One last task," Tallerand said, concentrating slightly and casting alter self. His features boiled and shifted, revealing Snedge's face. Jonty gasped, then looked closer. This Snedge was not sufficiently Snedgy. Oh, it was a good likeness, but Snedge had an aura of... well, Snedginess, that Tallerand lacked.

"I hope we never meet again," Tallerand said, and slipped out of the office. Jonty looked around, then pushed the desk off the hatch.

"Err, Tom and Dr. Hartwell, could you please come up here?" he said mildly. Tom, who (along with everyone else on the stairs) had tried to listen in without much success, emerged, then Dr. Hartwell. Lizzy followed, even as Jonty tried to close the hatch. Sensing an opportunity, Doyle also climbed out, and Ribbles followed. The small crowd of students also tried to approach but Jonty glared at them. "It's, err, politics. Wait there. Doyle, err, stand on the hatch."

"Right", Jonty whispered, "Professor Tallerand has committed suicide. There's 10,000gp in that safe. I say we take it, then call the porters and staff, saying we found the body. Well, Tom and I found the body. And Dr. Hartwell. He had an appointment. No, wait, that won't work. We'll say we went to confront him about the necromancy but found him already dead. Suicide. Very tragic.

"Did Professor Tallerand commit suicide?" Doyle asked. Jonty glared at him. Lizzy had already started stuffing bearer bonds into her handbag. 

"Dr. Hartwell, Lizzy, Doyle, and Ribbles. You should go to the Unicorn Arms. The students don't know who you are. Tom and I will stay here and wait for the Dean." Jonty said authoritatively.

"I'm not leaving," Doyle said. "This smells like a case."

"This smells like ten thousand gp in bearer bonds." Jonty said. "Which will be divided at some future date among everyone who cooperated."

"They all fit," Lizzy said, pleased, as she snapped her handbag shut. "Now who wants a sandwich?" Ribbles put up its hand and devoured another ham-and-cheese sandwich without chewing.

"But we must hurry!" Jonty whined. "Go! And quickly!"

Protesting, but not actively resisting, Doyle was hauled out of the room and pushed off campus. 

10:00. Dean Bradewort arrives on Campus

At seventy-six years of age, Dean Bradewort had steadily progressed up the ranks by outliving his rivals, doing as little work as possible, avoiding students, and reacting to loud noises with a quickly aimed and fired wand of lightning bolt. His staff tended to wake him cautiously. His wheeled invalid's chair was equipped with powerful protective spells, a rack of six wands, and a comfortable blanket for his rheumatic knees. Getting him out of his bed and onto campus on a Sunday had been difficult.

"Suwicide," he lisped. "A twagic business. Went a wittle too far with the necwomancy, eh?" 

"It appears so, sir," Jonty said obsequiously.

"Damn shame. Tawwewand was a stout fewwow. You were wight, of couwse, to spweak with him pwivately. Fowwow me to my chambers. You," he said, pointing at Tom, "wait outswide."

10:30. In Dean Bradewort's Chambers

"And that is the entiwre stowy?" Dean Bradewort said, leaning forward. The college Bursar looked on with an expression that suggested he would deny all knowledge of the meeting.

"Yes sir," Jonty said. 

"Assistant Pwofessor Earwl. You have shown dupwicity, guile, subtwefugue, and tweachery. You have deciewed the Powice. They say you have ommitted wital infowmation from your weport," he said, tapping a folder, "a weport which obwiously I cannot have wead. You are a swippery character. But the whole affair has been handled with dewicacy and with the ancient pwinciples and pwivileges of Loxdown. Have you considered teaching in the facuwlty of Law?"

"Err," Jonty said, slightly stunned, "I..."

"I will make a weccomendation." 

The Bursar spoke without looking at Jonty. "This is the official story. Professor Tallerand was illegally kidnapping orphans with the aid of a flesh golem resembling Agnes Nona. This golem went berserk and killed two people. Any stories of the golem speaking, or owning property, or acting like a person, will be explained as marsh gas reflecting off the light of a star, or something of that nature. When Dr. Hartwell realized his crimes were exposed, he did away with himself. All of this will be kept out of the papers, as much as possible. The Coppers will be satisfied. You will be satisfied."

"Entirewy cowwect," the Dean said. "Now send in Mr. Shambledwake."

Tom passed Jonty in the hall. They stared at each other for a few moments, then parted.

"Mr. Shambledwake!" Dean Bradewort said. "What in the worwld are you doing here? Your Appwentice Test is tomowwow! Get out of here! Sweep! Wash behind your ears!"

Tom leapt out of the chair and departed before he knew what was happening. The Dean was right, of course. But there were a few loose threads he had to handle first.

One by one, most of the people involved with Professor Tallerand's apparent suicide were interviewed, and they all confirmed pieces of the story. Vickers and Bickers had been ambushed by a flesh golem on the way back through the laboratory, but a well-timed acid arrow had given them enough time to escape. Doyle, suffering from mild sobriety, was given a small reward. Even Riggles was interviewed and convinced to sign (i.e. mark with an X) a document releasing Loxdon College from all liability and side-effects.

Dr. Hartwell was called in last, and congratulated for earning a medical degree from Loxdon College. It was signed and dated a week prior. The Dean thanked Dr. Hartwell for his discretion, his work among the poor, and his devotion to "his adowpted city's walues". Dr Hartwell, though not an emotional man, was genuinely touched. 

Lizzy, meanwhile, held onto her handbag with a vice-like grip. Ten thousand gold pieces. Working for the late Uriah Shambledrake, she'd made 10gp per Season including room and board. She didn't even order a drink. Instead, she bought out the private dining room on the second floor of the Unicorn Arms and ordered a feast from a nearby dining hall. The other PCs trickled back from their interviews with the Dean and enjoyed some proper food.

"We should put this money in the bank as soon as possible," Jonty said.

"You can't," Doyle replied. "None of  you can. Uriah S.'s money went somewhere, and if you turn up with cash and no explanation, it won't look good. Lawyers and bankers will be on you like flies on a... a fly-attracting charm."

"He is right," Dr. Hartwell said. "We are all under suspicion. But what if we invested the funds in a reputable company?"

"Private stock," Jonty said. "That could work. What about Krahlhammer's Fine Security Apparati for the Discerning Home-Owner?"

"The Gel Knight man?" Doyle said. "But his Gel Knights keep going mad and attacking people. Seems like a bad investment."

"But a good case. You see, we know something about those rampages..."

The Next Day

Tom passed his apprentice test without difficulty, using Haze's illusion spell instead of a lightning spell, both as a tribute and for sheer reliability. He'd spent enough time in the spotlight. He spent the afternoon drinking and celebrating with his fellow wizards, who could now, by ancient tradition, wear pointed hats and strut around campus.

The group decided to have Doyle convert two of the 100gp bearer bonds to cash. His profession could easily justify a sudden windfall. While Doyle did consider running away with the money (or convincing his new secretary Lizzy to split the contents of her handbag), he decided to play along for the time being. This crowd clearly had connections and knowledge. They used words like "investment" without euphemistic tones.

Equipped with his degree, Dr. Hartwell could now thumb his nose at any of Endon's "so-called physicians". His quack medicine was just as good as their tried-and-tested methods, and he had a piece of paper to prove it.

After some arguing, the group decided to invest 8,800gp with Krahlhammer, leaving a 1,000gp reserve fund in Lizzy's wardrobe. Nero Krahlhammer was delighted, especially as the PCs promised to "protect their investment" by bringing the Gel Knight poisoners to justice. He was less delighted when their lawyers (of the firm Dewey, Howe, and Nephew) drafted a ridiculously convoluted contract effectively giving the PCs control of his company, and a healthy share of its profits, without assuming any of its liabilities. Dewey, Howe, and Nephew seemed almost too eager to help Jonty and his friends.

With most of their money safely laundered, the PCs decided to improve the position of Krahlhammer's Fine Security Apparati. After necromancy, murder, and intrigue, a bit of straightforward industrial espionage seemed like a vacation. After all, this time the law was on their side... technically. 

But still, many mysteries remained. Who did Professor Tallerand mean when he referred to Jonty's "master"? Who was Tallerand working with? Where is he now? Where did Uriah's fortune go? Why did the police let them leave so easily?

Perhaps the next few days would explain everything.