Dec 25 2020

Fahoo Fores, Dahoo Dores

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Welcome Christmas while we stand, heart to heart and hand to hand.

As I post from the basement of my sister’s house, looking at boxes containing my books and trying for the umpteenth time to figure out SOMEWHERE to put the rest of my desk, I feel more than a little like the Whos of Whoville, waking up to discover that the Grinch had stolen Christmas.

With all funds allocated to the move, we have zero presents to give anyone this time around, which feels even worse when I think about how generous so many people have been to us. Dasher’s absence still jumps out from behind the couch and makes us sad when we’re trying to do other things. Having spent the past month in a marathon of long hours at dayjob and then movingMovingMOVINGMOVING!!! I am exhausted, lonely, and burned out.

But today, I am going to stop, and breathe, and refocus, and think about things I love.

Welcome Christmas, while we stand, heart to heart and hand in hand.

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Dec 15 2020

GeekQuery — D&D Is a Team Sport

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Or, “You’re A hero, but you’re not THE hero.” This week InkBlitz and Gneech discuss group dynamics in Dungeons and Dragons.

The Gneech:​


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Dec 13 2020

Shady’s Solo Adventure: Titan Out of Nowhere

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Marid illustration from the 5E Monster Manual

Okay, after the last scene Shady has a goal and some obstacles: she needs to steal the shipment of alchemist’s fire back from Dragonwatch Keep, after it’s been delivered (or at least the deal has gone through), but without letting anyone at DW know she’s working for the LP. In a normal tabletop game, this would involve a lot of brainstorming among the players but… there is only me. >.> In the story world, I imagine Shady is going to her most trusted compatriots (presumably the other officers of the Moonlit Horizon) to hash it out, but in the tradition of heist movies, this would be a very boring scene and only revealed in flashback. But I still have to figure out at the very least where things are going!

At this point in her career, Shady has been around the Dreaming Sea a bit. FATE QUESTION: Has she ever actually been to Dragonwatch Keep? (Very Likely, Chaos 4: 22. YES) Does Shady have detailed knowledge of Dragonwatch Keep’s operations? (Unlikely, Chaos 4: 19. YES) Oh ho! That’s interesting. How about this: does Shady have any inside contacts she could bribe or otherwise finagle into getting her access to where the shipment will be stored? (Very Unlikely, Chaos 4: 34. NO)

So she knows enough to make an educated guess about how the deal will go down and where the shipment is likely to be stored, but doesn’t have an “in” to get her to it. She’ll have to work out access.

There also has to be someone else to take the blame when the theft is discovered. “Persons unknown” is the safest bet, but if the Moonlit Horizon is spotted sailing around Dragonwatch Keep, that would put Shady onto the suspect list. Shady kinda likes the idea of pinning the theft on the actual gunrunners—they are likely candidates after all, and causing them more grief might earn a few more points with the Lady P.

So Shady comes up with a cunning plan: go to the gunrunners offering to help them recover the shipment, “for a price,” only to turn around and capture their ship herself once the heist is done. Bad kitty!

That means that scene six becomes “Go to Saltar’s Port and find the gunrunners.” I don’t really want to play out a whole scene of Shady getting information about the gunrunners from Telekain, so I’ll just have Shady make a Persuasion check to see how much she gets out of him about it: 9. Whoops. XD Telekain was not forthcoming at all—sworn to secrecy by the LP, maybe? So off to Saltar’s Port with nothing but her wits to go by.

FATE QUESTION: Is there an encounter on the sea? 50/50, Chaos 4: 24. YES. Going to I find 36: “In the dead of night, a panicked bell toll rings. A massive beast is striding in the ocean. It appears the ocean depth only reaches up to its hip.” Meep. O.o Dragon turtle? Storm giant? Some kind of god astride the sea? Mother Hydra herself? Let’s check the event focus table for some clues: “NPC Action: Proposal of Fame.” Um.

“Captain! Captain!” The banging on Shady’s door caused her to leap to the floor, the Crescent Moon in one hand and a pistol in the other. “There’s something ahead! Come quick!”

Shady frowned, tucked the pistol into her armpit, and yanked open the door. “Something ahead? Why the hell are you… the… hell?” Looking past the face of her panicked crewman, she saw a titanic figure looming in the sea beyond the bow of the Moonlit Horizon. It was humanoid in shape, but gargantuan in stature, with green-scaled skin and massive fins protruding from the sides of its face. Bedecked in a turquoise silken sash that had more fabric than the entirety of the ship’s sails, and a similar turban that could cover a house, it was awash in massive jewels, seashells, and enormous gold chains.

The figure had crossed arms and was staring down at ship, clearly and deliberately blocking their path.

“By all the gods, what is it?” muttered a crewman. “What or who? Will it smash us to splinters? Does it want a tribute?”

“We’re not going to find out standing around gawking,” said Shady. “Approach the thing. Slowly.”

“Surely we should turn and run!” said another crewman.

“You think we could outrun it?” said Shady.

“I…?” said the crewman.

“Exactly. Approach it. Slowly. If you can slip around it while I’ve got it talking, so much the better.” She collected a hailing horn from a hook, then climbed out onto the bowsprit of the Moonlit Horizon. Once she felt they were close enough, Shady shouted through the horn, “Ahoy, titan!”

The creature seemed confused by this form of address. “WHAT DID YOU SAY???” it bellowed, with a voice that rolled like thunder.

“Ahoy!” Shady shouted again. “My compliments on a fine and starry night! Captain Shade-Of-the-Candle of the Moonlit Horizon, at your service! Be so kind as to state your name and purpose, please!” (SHADY CHARISMA CHECK: 5. Way to go, Shady. -.-)


(SHADY HISTORY DC 15: 17) Shady blinked; “Prince Mibakaaz” was the name of a djinn in stories Brother Velas had told her years ago, exiled from the Plane of Water for reasons that nobody could agree on. The idea that such a creature was real had never even entered her mind… much less that she would ever run across him. Without missing a beat, she instantly dropped to one knee, making a grand flourish with her free hand.

“Oh mighty Prince Mibakaaz!” she shouted through the hailing horn. “Forgive me for not recognizing your magnificence instantly! We are but humble sailors, un-used to honors of such magnitude, and blinded by your eminence!”

“OBVIOUSLY,” replied the creature, but preened a massive frill nonetheless. “YOU ARE LUCKY TO FIND ME IN A GENEROUS MOOD.”

“For what purpose have you revealed yourself to us, Oh Mighty Prince?” asked Shady. “Surely our humble vessel can only be of minor service to you.” The djinn seemed to drift to Shady’s left as she spoke—her Pilot casually adjusting course as instructed.


“We would hardly be suitable for that, Your Immensity,” said Shady. “We must have air to survive. Have you considered looking among the tritons?” She winced internally—Rulita would skin her alive if she got word of that.


“Er…” said Shady.


“Any wish at all?” Shady called through the horn.


“Captain!” called out a crewman behind her. “A mountain of gold!” She turned at looked at him—Morely was the name.

“Are you serious?” she said.

“He could sink us with a whim!” said Morely. “Better to do as he says. Think about it. The world at our feet!”

“Uh huh,” said Shady. “At a pretty steep price.”

“It’s death or fortune,” said Morely. “I say we choose fortune! Agree to his terms! Make the accord!”


Shady turned back to the djinn. “My apologies, Oh Tremendous One,” she called through the horn. “One of my subordinates speaking out of turn. I shall have him flogged for interrupting you!”


“But there is something in what he says. So if Your Hugeness will cast the wish now, I shall immediately attend to the needed course of action.” (SHADY DECEPTION vs a marid’s passive Insight DC 13: 13 exactly!)

“GRANT THE WISH FIRST?” said Mibakaaz. “PRESUMPTUOUS OF YOU TO SUGGEST, MORTAL! BUT I ADMIRE THE BOLDNESS, IT WILL MAKE YOU A GOOD SERVANT.” The djinn performed a grand series of gestures, surrounding himself and the Moonlit Horizon with a vast glowing magic circle. “SPEAK YOUR WISH, SHADE-OF-THE-CANDLE, AND IT IS GRANTED!”

Shady stood up and smirked. “I wish for Prince Mibakaaz to return immediately and irrevocably to the Plane of Water and be gone from my life evermore.”

‘WHAAAAT?” demanded the djinn, as the magic circle flared. Both he and the circle suddenly vanished with a balloon-like pop.

A cheer went up from half the assembled crew; a handful of others looked disconcerted, and Morely looked astonished. “Captain!” he demanded, as Shady tossed the hailing horn to the Bosun and hopped down to the deck. “Why would you throw away—”

Morely didn’t get to finish his sentence: Shady had driven her knee into his groin, and then brought her elbow hard down across his back as he doubled over. “A mountain of gold? The world at my feet?” Shady demanded. “You’d happily turn slaver on the word of a giant magical fish?” She shoved him away with a foot and turned to the Bosun. “Put him in a longboat and set him adrift. Anybody else who doesn’t like what I’ve done tonight is welcome to go with him.”

The Bosun nodded approvingly. “Aye, Cap’n,” he said, and Shady returned to her cabin.

NEXT: Saltar’s Port does not help.

Lady Patrician
Dragonwatch Keep
Captain Dryden Ainsworth
Wharfmaster Fean Wavecrest
Sea Lancers: Kia (Captain of the Recluse)
Sea Lancers: Sterling (Captain of the Silver Corsair)
Sea Lancers: Adric (Captain of the Blue Fin)
Cardinal Maraldo
Scullery maid
Patrician’s guards
Prince Mibakaaz

CHAOS: 4 (this was weird and out-of-nowhere)

Steal the alchemist’s fire
The privateers’ rivalry
The L.P.’s intrigues
Ainsworth’s botched security vs. Shady’s spying
Morely (and henchmen?) set adrift

Dec 12 2020

Farewell, Dasher

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Dasher in his prime

A year or so after we adopted Buddha, we randomly received a call from a cat rescue org we worked with: “You have an FIV+ cat, right? Would you be willing to adopt another one? He’s the next in line to be euthanized at the shelter where he is, and they’ve put it off so many times because everybody there loves him so much, but they just can’t keep doing that. I think he’s a himalayan, too…”

Well, for the record, Dasher was not a himalayan. What he was, was an energetic, curious clown with impulse control issues but an amazing capacity for love. From “romping around on the newly-changed sheets” (his favorite game) to “eat ALL the food” (his other favorite game) to “claim Laurie’s lap FOREVERRR” (his other other favorite game), Dasher brought light, energy, profound goofiness, and occasional yelling to our lives every day.

A year or two ago he was diagnosed with kidney disease, so we started him on a regimen of fluid injections three times a week. Unfortunately, that wrecked his heart (kidney problems and heart problems are each treated in ways that exacerbate the other, unfortunately). This past summer, he had an episode of congestive heart failure (basically, his heart was full of fluids that weren’t supposed to be there). To treat that we took him off the fluids and started a regimen of pills/diet to treat his heart and be as easy on his kidneys as possible, but we knew then that it was only a matter of time.

And so for the past six months, we have tried to treat every day with Dasher as a gift from the Universe, a little extra time… even more than the twelve extra years he’d already had from his rescue from the shelter. But yesterday, his breathing was rapid and labored. We took him to the Hope Center, where the vet basically confirmed the worst: it was a second round of congestive heart failure, and while it would be possible to keep him alive, he might very well be on oxygen for the remainder of his life and the muscle atrophy and other problems he’d been suffering for the past year would rapidly get worse.

Asking the vet to gently end his life was difficult and painful; even in the hospital, having trouble breathing, he was vital and curious and loving. Just being alive made Dasher happy, even with a blind eye, all of his teeth rotted away from FIV, a grape-sized lump growing under the skin on the side of his head, and everything else. If there was some way to keep his body as alive as his spirit, we would have gladly jumped at it.

It’s been harder on Laurie—she was his favorite, and she held him closely until he was gone. But it hasn’t been easy on either of us.

Farewell, Dasher. We love you, and we’ll miss you. Thank you for spending your time with us, and all you taught us. We’ll see you again.

Don’t harass Buddha in the afterlife, okay? He’ll kick your spectral ass.

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Dec 07 2020

Stars-At-Dusk, Shady’s More Subtle Cousin

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SmartBlueCat's Inigo, showing off his prowess with one-handed weapons

After musing on why Iko wasn’t working for me, I noodled around with some ideas. One, which I’m pretty sure I lifted from Jim Pruitt of WebDM (but I don’t have a direct link for) was a black-furred tabaxi named Lucky (which was short for “Lucky-To-Be-Here” or “Better-Lucky-Than-Good,” depending on his mood when you asked), who was a suave gambler type, like Maverick or Lando Calrissian, a master of infiltration and smooth talking. His build would focus around the Lucky feat (obvs.) as well as a couple levels of Diviner in order to have portent dice, and his favorite trick would be to make other people unlucky by walking in front of them.

Unfortunately for Lucky, his playstyle and the campaign were a mismatch. So far the adventures have all been “Go to site, kill monsters, go home, go on to next site, repeat.” What is there for a well-dressed smoothie to do in a story like that?

So I went back to an older character of mine, who has manifested occasionally in various forms over the years but never actually had a chance to come to the forefront. His very first incarnation was as a Fantasy HERO character in 1986 who got played all of once; then as a Star Wars fanfic character, a fursona I came up with but never adopted, and most recently, as a very distant support character who appeared indirectly in my Storm King’s Thunder campaign. And that is Dusk, a wandering tabaxi/catfolk/khajiit/whatever swordsman. Usually Dusk’s fur is midnight blue or black with blue/turquoise highlights, but since the advent of Inigo I decided to avoid the blue angle and just stick with black and silver fur.

Dusk (5th level version)
CG Male Tabaxi Fighter 3/Rogue 2
AC 18 (studded leather, shield), hp 41 (5 HD; 2d8+3d10+10)
Speed 30 ft., climb 20 ft.
STR 10 (+0), DEX 16 (+3), CON 14 (+2), INT 10 (+0), WIS 12 (+1), CHA 14 (+2)
Saving Throws Dex +6, Int +3
Skills Acrobatics +6, Athletics +6, Deception +5, Intimidation +5, Investigation +3, Perception +4, Persuasion +5, Stealth +9
Senses darkvision 60 ft., passive Perception 14
Languages Common, Orc

Action Surge, Cunning Action, Feline Agility, Improved Critical (19-20), Second Wind (1d10+3), Sneak Attack +1d6

“Compelling Argument” (+1 Silver Rapier). Melee Weapon Attack: +7 to hit, reach 5 ft., one target. Hit: 1d8+4 piercing damage.
Longbow. Ranged Weapon Attack: +6 to hit, range 150 ft./600 ft., one target. Hit: 1d8+3 piercing damage.

As a child, Dusk (full name Stars-At-Dusk) was part of a tabaxi caravan who had the misfortune to be waylaid by bandits on the road. In a moment that could have been pity or could have been simply “waste not, want not,” one of the bandits took him in and taught him the ways of highway robbery, as well as scouting potential victims, the art of the pickpocket and the shell game, and more.

Dusk never felt at home among them, and as he grew to adulthood the gnawing at his conscience turned into a burning desire for escape and redemption. It all came to a head when the bandit troupe launched a raid on another tabaxi caravan—Dusk couldn’t stand by and let history repeat itself. He turned on his captor/companions, slaying several and giving the caravan warning enough to mount a defense. Severely wounded in the fight, Dusk was taken in by the tabaxi survivors and welcomed as a long lost cousin.

Now he travels where the fates lead him, on the lookout for a chance to do good and hopefully make a little coin along the way.

Personality-wise, he is generally cheerful and quippy, with a love for wordplay and a wry sense of humor. He is not what you’d call a crusader, but in order to make up for his dark past he has vowed to live a good life and help out where he can.

As he gains levels, he will go to Rogue (Assassin) 5, and then Fighter thereafter. His first priority will be the Mobile feat (giving him the poor man’s version of Rakish Audacity and crazy fast movement), then maxing out Dexterity, moving on to the Alert and Lucky feats. He’s basically intended to be a Crit Machine in combat, but also allow me to indulge my love of acrobatic moves and physical prowess. But even at 5th level he’s nimble and dangerous, while still being an excellent scout and a capable face for the party if required, giving him more flexibility than the one-trick Iko. On the other hand, he can’t Arcana his way out of a paper bag, so hopefully there’ll be some other brain in the party to take care of that stuff.

Whattya think?

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Dec 03 2020

Shady’s Solo Adventure: M’Lady’s Boudoir

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Tortuga by Glazyrin

Or, “The Chat Scene, Modified.” When last we saw Shady she had picked the lock on the Lady Patrician’s door. Rolling a 1 on the Chaos die (again???) indicates an altered scene. Since the premise was that Shady was sneaking in to see the Lady Patrician, I’m gonna say that the alteration is, the L.P. isn’t there! Shady decides that this is fine, just re-locks the door and waits.

Anastasia Hone, the Lady Patrician of Everkeep, had finally reached the end of another very long day. Council meetings, trials, audiences with entirely too many self-important people… it was exhausting. All she wanted now was a little something to drink, and to slide into bed. Even fumbling with the key to her room was more than she felt like coping with, and once she actually managed to get the damn door open, she didn’t even bother to re-lock it, just flung her keys across the room and flopped down in front of her writing desk.

“Careful where you toss those, you might lose them,” said a raspy voice nearby—and instantly Anastasia was on her feet, dagger in hand, ready to strike. At the far end of the room, leaning insolently against the wall and twirling Anastasia’s keys on the end of a claw, was the tabaxi privateer.

“Shade-Of-the-Candle?” Anastasia demanded. “What the hell are you doing? How did you get in here?”

The tabaxi casually tossed the keys onto Anastasia’s desk. “I just wanted to have a little chat,” she said. “Put that poker down, you’re not in any danger.”

“No, I’m not,” said Anastasia, “but you certainly are. One shout and a dozen guards will burst through that door.”

“Aren’t you even curious what I want to chat about?” asked the privateer.

“No,” replied the Lady Patrician. “If you want to chat, you can arrange for an audience like everyone else. Now get out of my chamber.”

“Yeah, but then Cardinal Maraldo might overhear,” said Shade-Of-the-Candle.

Anastasia narrowed her eyes. “Might overhear what?” she said.

“I thought you weren’t curious,” smirked the cat.

“Don’t mess with me, Lancer,” Anastasia snarled. “I am in no mood for it. If you have something to say, spit it out, unless you want to be hauled off in chains.”

“Are you gonna put down that knife?”

“Not until you give me a good reason not to shove it in your face.”

The tabaxi shrugged. “Okay, have it your way. I’m here to talk about Captain Ainsworth’s shipment of munitions.”

Anastasia’s expression didn’t change, but her voice became more guarded. “Go on.”

Shade-Of-the-Candle stepped forward, expounding cheerfully, but always staying well out of reach of the dagger. Gods, how that tabaxi loved the sound of her own voice. “Here’s how I’ve got it figured,” she said. “Those gunrunners, out of Saltar’s Port? You haven’t sent us to go roust them out. That’s what tipped me off.”

“Tipped you off to what? Make some sense.”

“I know how power works in this town,” said the tabaxi. “And I’m just thinking about what I would do in your place. I wouldn’t tolerate an outfit like that unless I had to. The gunrunners have a powerful sponsor. A merchant prince maybe, or someone on the Council of Lords, who’s making a tidy sum and who would be more than a little annoyed to have their operation busted up. BUT I can’t just let them stay there or Cardinal “Law-On-the-Seas” Maraldo will be all over my ass. So I split the difference, by hiring some adventurers from the Golden Compass Society to go harass them, without actually being able to really hinder them in any major way. That way I can say I’m ‘doing something about it.’”

“You’re doing a lot of wild guessing about stuff you don’t know anything about,” said Anastasia. “What’s your point?”

“I’m just painting the scene right now,” said Shade-Of-the-Candle. “Telekain’s adventurers aren’t enough to roust the gunrunners, but they DO capture a big ol’ pile of alchemist’s fire. Nice for laying siege to things, but Everkeep’s not about to go to war with anybody any time soon. All it does for me is take up space. But Thessalaine? They’ve always got somebody to contend with, and they have money, lots of it. What would make more sense than to sell a useless 200 tons of alchemist’s fire to Dragonwatch Keep for big pile of gold?”

Anastasia gave a slight nod. “Reasonable,” she said.

“Your arm must be getting tired,” said Shade-Of-the-Candle.

“So must your tongue, but here we are.”

The tabaxi’s tail flicked. “Okay, I’ll come to the point,” she said. “Maraldo’s already chewing nails because the gunrunners got away, and if I make him mad enough he’ll cause me plenty of trouble. But that gold looks soooooo yummy. So what do I do? I go through with the sale anyway… on the QT. I get my money, Maraldo THINKS he’s scored a point, and everybody’s happy.”

“That sounds like a pretty good plan,” said the Lady Patrician.

“Doesn’t it?” said Shade. “I’m pretty proud of it. But it’s got one big hole in it.”

“What’s that?”

The privateer gave Anastasia a broad smirk. “There’s a big ol’ empty storehouse where that alchemist’s fire is supposed to be.” Anastasia blinked, but said nothing, and Shade-Of-the-Candle continued. “Maraldo may only have one eye, but he sees plenty. There’s always gonna be that risk hanging over my head that he’ll find out I pulled a sneak on him.” The tabaxi’s expression turned dark. “I’ve seen what happens when you pull a sneak on Maraldo. It’s not pretty.”

Something in Shade-Of-the-Candle’s tone caught Anastasia’s attention, and she finally lowered her dagger, partway. “That IS a hole,” she said.

“But it’s a hole I have a way to plug.”

Anastasia raised an eyebrow. “Oh?”

“See, I’ve got a certain ship captain I can call on. Brilliant, dangerous, and not even a little bit modest, who has a cunning plan to deal with my problem.”

“And what is this cunning plan?”

“This brilliant ship captain, who has flashing golden eyes and lustrous coppery fur by the way, is going to sneak the alchemist’s fire right back to Everkeep, where it can go into the storehouse where it belongs and nobody will be the wiser that it was even gone.”

Anastasia smirked herself, at this. “This ship captain seems to have a very high opinion of herself.”

“She’s earned it.”

That raised a dubious eyebrow. “Has she. And what is she going to want in return, for getting this valuable cargo back after the sale is completed, WITHOUT Dragonwatch Keep knowing she operates out of Everkeep and suspecting any treachery?”

“Hmm… good question. Knowing this ship captain the way I do, I’d say she’d probably be willing to undertake this venture for… hmm… forty percent of the cargo’s sale value.”

“That’s pretty steep,” said Anastasia. “If I were you, I’d only offer her fifteen percent.”

“She’d never go for that,” said Shade-Of-the-Candle. “This is a dangerous operation, and she has me over a barrel, considering she could just go to Maraldo and blab her big mouth. I’m pretty sure she wouldn’t go below twenty percent, PLUS she’d want me to send some plum jobs her way more often, instead of handing them all to Ainsworth.”

“Obviously, this would have to all be a verbal arrangement, and all denied in public,” said Anastasia. “You wouldn’t want a written contract that could be discovered.”

“Obviously,” said the tabaxi. “Purely an agreement between two ladies of quality. But mutually beneficial, and laying the groundwork for a very profitable future working relationship.”

Anastasia leaned back against her writing table. “So you broke into my room, just to tell me that’s what you’d do, if you were me.”

“Yup,” said Shade-Of-the-Candle. “And no other reason.”

Anastasia sheathed her dagger. “You’ve come up with a good plan, Captain. I think I may just adopt it.”

The tabaxi gave a satisfied grin. “I thought you’d like it,” she said.

“You never did tell me how you got in here.”

“If I told you which hole I slipped in through, you’d just plug it,” Shade replied. “Then how would we have these little conversations?”

“If I ever find you in here without my permission again, it’ll be a gun, not a knife, and I won’t be curious.”

The tabaxi shrugged. “That’s fair. I’d like to think that next time we need to talk, you’ll be a little more accessible.”

“Maybe,” said Anastasia. “Now if you’ll excuse me, I need some sleep. You know the way out.”

Next scene: Putting a plan together.

Lady Patrician
Dragonwatch Keep
Captain Dryden Ainsworth
Wharfmaster Fean Wavecrest
Sea Lancers: Kia (Captain of the Recluse)
Sea Lancers: Sterling (Captain of the Silver Corsair)
Sea Lancers: Adric (Captain of the Blue Fin)
Cardinal Maraldo
Scullery maid
Patrician’s guards

CHAOS: 3 (by the rules it should go up or down, but there was no dice-rolling in this scene, just negotiations)

Steal the alchemist’s fire
The privateers’ rivalry
The L.P.’s intrigues
Ainsworth’s botched security vs. Shady’s spying