Mundus Novit: Dark Horizons – Switch of a Flick

In “The Stream,” Boyle and his team get jumped in Kathmandu by a crew who may work for the Chinese.

In “The Vault,” a special section of Canada’s Communications Security Establishment is monitoring Kathmandu, which has gone dark to all electronic and parapsychic traffic. Madison and Heather, two agents from the Vault, joined their international spec ops team in “Meet & Greet.” While on the trail of Boyle, the team is ambushed  by a group of parapsyches able to break through the Kathmandu silence. The team foiled the ambush, but at the end of “Dirty Hands,” they were facing the business ends of more firearms. The team is faced with Alexander Scott and Rebecca Kim in ” . . . I Would’ve Backed a Cake,” but an agreement is reached. That makes everyone happy, until all the prisoners—and Dyck—are cut down in a hail of gunfire.

In “Mission Unlikely,” we learn that Boyle and his team have gone missing. Becca meets Alex in Monrovia in order to get him to come with her to Kathmandu to find Boyle. Off the record and off the reservation. Alex then goes to meet a contact in Burma in “The Russian.” Rudi the Russian agrees to supply both equipment and information for Alex’s forway into Nepal. Alex and Becca try to make contact with a prisoner in Kathmandu allegedly connected to Tangible Stream, but in “Target of Opportunity,” they find that someone is watching. That someone isn’t professional, and they capture him with ease. This doesn’t make them feel any better.

In “The Bedouin,” Kyle and Meredith from the Prospero Group contract the intelligence broker known as the Bedouin to get them a lead on what is happening in Kathmandu. The Bedouin returns to old haunts in “From Delhi With Indifference,” only to be ambushed by hit teams led by a man with a Nepalese name but an American accent. Rudi the Russian gets sent to Kathmandu to kill the Bedouin, but Boyle and “Cascade” emerge to save Rudi from “the Cat’s Reward.”

Now, Mads finds himself in the middle of a very tense situation with lots of people and lots of guns.


Twelve: Switch of a Flick

Rudi had his Yarygin Grach pistol in hand. He stood to the left of a door in a rough and rickety building that perfectly fit his definition of decrepit. Cascade wore her earpiece–that technology the men who had ambushed Rudi had worn, which allowed Cascade to use her parapsych. Boyle had his suppressed Heckler & Koch HK53 short assault rifle at his shoulder, ready.

Inside that door, they expected to find at least two of the special operations team sent into Kathmandu to snatch Boyle. They also expected to find one traitor. Someone on that hunter team worked for the opposition, though Rudi wasn’t yet clear on who exactly the opposition were.

“Our overwatch in position?” Boyle asked Cascade, but he glanced pointedly at Rudi.

Cascade did the same. They didn’t mention Willow, the third member of their team. Rudi imagined she would be overwatch, but these two gave nothing away. Nothing for free.

“Everything’s a go.” Cascade had her silenced Beretta 96 with its extended magazine held loosely in her hand. Maybe she didn’t expect to do the shooting.

With that HK53, Boyle had more than enough rounds for anyone in that room.

“Remember, shoot to wound.” This time, Boyle spoke directly to Rudi, as though Rudi couldn’t remember simple orders. “Not everyone in the room is a bad guy.”

“What about me?” Rudi intended the question to sting. He got no response from Boyle.

Cascade’s eyes widened only slightly, her mouth tightened, her nostrils flared. Rudi’s stomach rolled. This couldn’t be good.

“He knows we’re here.” She spoke in a tight, tense whisper.

“Who?” Rudi’s tone mimicked hers.

Boyle stood at the door, poised for a dynamic entry. “Give me a picture.”

Suddenly, Rudi saw with more than his eyes. Overlaid on the wall was the room beyond it. This overlaid image had none of the sharpness and colour he saw with his eyes. Did he really see this? What, exactly, was he registering? He could feel the pressure, that slight but incessant push he felt whenever he got touched by an ESPer. Cascade had a light touch, but it was there.

The image of the room beyond the wall was strange, almost translucent, like some kind of faint neon x-ray. The furnishings of the room–which consisted of little more than a table, a few chairs, a couple of cots, a desk and some kind of couch–seemed even more ghostly than the figures of the people. One such figure reached into a drawer on the desk and drew out a weapon. The figure reclining on the couch sprang up, head turning to the door. The image washed out facial features, but Rudi could imagine the wide eyes with their questions and maybe a touch of fear.

Boyle stepped back and fired three, three-round bursts through the door. The figure by the desk shuddered as the rounds struck. The other figure seemed frozen, in a slight crouch, weapon half-way raised but not yet trained on the door.

Cascade’s firearm fell to her side, still held loose but no longer close to ready. “I have Sergeant Everson contained. He’s exceptional. Please physically restrain him.”

Boyle went through the door. Rudi followed. Boyle had let the HK53 drop to his chest, held by a tactical sling. A solidly built black man lay in an expanding pool of blood on the floor. An equally solid, sandy-blonde Caucasian crouched to the side, eyes watching but otherwise unmoving.

The man on the floor lay still. He didn’t breathe. So much for shoot to wound. Rudi, though, understood the necessity. For this man to have sensed them in the hall, he had access to something more than the five senses. He could be post-human, or something else.

Boyle drew out flex cuffs and pulled the Caucasian’s arms behind his back. “Sergeant Everson, I am disarming and restraining you for your own protection. There are things you don’t know about the man you knew as Flick.”

“Flick? You mean this guy was supposed to be Flick?” Rudi gestured to the body of the black man. “Flick’s Pakistani.”

“Yes,” said Boyle. “Someone somewhere heard he was coloured and didn’t do their due diligence.”

“Is that a bad joke?” Rudi checked for a pulse on the body. Nothing. “Who would be that stupid?”

Boyle stuck Everson’s Browning Hi-Power in his waistband. “Flick has a legend file that got accessed. His handlers let it fly. That gentleman ran around playing Flick for almost a year now while the real Flick was busy in the Hindu Kush. He almost got erased a couple of months back. This Flick has been very careful staying away from anyone in the know, but he was getting his face seen.”

Rudi stood and considered the desk–an open laptop, some notes, an AKM assault rifle. “Didn’t the CIA bring this team together?”

Cascade entered the room and closed the door. “Not the CIA. Their handler was delayed in Addis Ababa and replaced in situ.”

Everson slumped to the floor, apparently now free of Cascade’s control. Boyle helped him onto the couch.

“I’m sorry, sergeant, but you’ve been played.” Boyle pointed to the body on the floor. “That man isn’t Flick, he’s not British special forces, and he certainly wasn’t playing for your team.”

Everson gave a wry chuckle. “And I believe you because . . . ?”

The sergeant spoke the words, but they hid his real meaning. Rudi could hear the sentiment in his tone. The sergeant was on the way to being convinced already. “I imagine that your team already believed that the mission was not what it seemed, yes? You already knew someone was lying to you, but you had not deduced who.”

Cascade had gone to the body and began to search it. She didn’t seem squeamish in the least.

Boyle worked on the laptop. “Our little pretend Flick was in communication with the outside world.” He began examining the exterior of the computer. “Must be some kind of internal adjustment to the modem. Something like the headsets.”

As if on cue, Cascade held up a device similar to the one she wore. She tossed it to Boyle.

“We were sent to get you,” Everson said to Boyle.

“I’m well aware of why you are here.” Boyle turned to face Everson, leaning against the desk. “My people got their hands on Mr. Hitchens before he left the country. He has been most helpful.”

Everson’s face drew into a tight frown, if only slightly. “Your people?”

“Tangible Stream, Sergeant Everson.” Boyle offered a smile. “I believe you have heard of us.”

Everson nodded slowly. He took a long breath before speaking. He looked directly into Boyle’s eyes. “Now what? What about me?”

“You?” Boyle’s smile remained. “You are going to have the distasteful duty of dealing with this dead body. Of course, if there is nothing linking this room to you or your team, feel free to leave it here.”

While Cascade unplugged the laptop, stuffing it into her backpack, Boyle put the headset she had found on the table.

“You’ll want to share this with your people.” Boyle gently tapped the headset. “Someone has found a way to circumvent the Kathmandu silence. That someone isn’t being very friendly, and I have a feeling that Mr. Fake Flick may have caused you all some problems.”

Cascade stood at the door, staring at it. She turned to Boyle and nodded. Boyle unslung his HK53 and slid it into his canvas book bag. He gestured Rudi toward the door.

“I’m going to remove your cuffs, Sergeant Everson.” Boyle took out a knife and advanced on Everson. “I’m going to request that you not do anything heroic like attempt to detain me or my colleagues. I will leave your gun on the floor outside the door. Please feel free to retrieve it after a ten count. I don’t want to kill or incapacitate you, but I will do so if forced. Are we clear?”

“We’re clear,” Everson said. “You need to know that we’re still going to find you and we’re going to get our answers from you. Is that clear?”

Boyle slid the knife along the plastic cuffs, releasing Everson’s hands. “You are welcome to try, sergeant.”


Mundus Novit: Dark Horizons continues with “Thicker Than Water?

The Lorestaves: The Squandering Snail – Third Floor

The Tavern and Gambling Den at the Sign of the Squandering Snail
Written by Fraser Ronald
Maps and Illustrations by Dean Martin


The Third Floor

The third floor is also built out of wood. The ceilings of some rooms will slope, as this is the top floor of the building and it has a sloped roof.

Murnac’s Room

Against the east wall of this room is a bed that wouldn’t be out of place in a noble’s chamber. A draping canopy hangs on four posters carved to resemble mermaids. The mattress looks thick and comfortable. At the foot of it is a great chest with two padlocks. Across from it, against the southwest wall, is a large stone hearth. At the northwest wall is a counter and cupboard. On the counter are four glasses surrounding a glass decanter. The liquid in the decanter is a pale gold. In the northeast corner of the room is a tall wardrobe. There are doors to the northwest and east.

This room is proof of Murnac’s success and prosperity. The locks on the chest are each DC 30. In the chest is Murnac’s life savings, a total of 150 wrens (gp) and an astonishing 78 braces (pp). Along with this is a hauberk of chain (“light” masterwork chain shirt weighing 20 lbs.) and a shortsword (masterwork shortsword with a +1 enhancement bonus to attack and damage rolls). Murnac does not usually wear or use these items as they have a sentimental value to him, memories of a time he relied on his wits and—more regularly—his strong right arm to get him out of trouble.

In the wardrobe are sets of clothing both for work (effectively, artisan’s outfits) and for entertaining (effectively, courtier’s outfits). These clothes are for a relatively hefty man, but could be worn by any person of average Human size. They are quite clean, amazing considering so little else of the Snail is.

The door to the balcony has a DC 30 padlock on it.

The Balcony

This small balcony overlooks the road to the north of the Snail. It has a carved wood banister. There are two doors giving access to the building.

Both doors are locked from the inside. The locks cannot be accessed from the exterior. The padlock in Murnac’s Room is DC 30. The padlock in the Sitting Room is DC 25.

The Sitting Room

This small area has three cushioned chairs, all appearing quite comfortable.

This small area is used by Murnac when he is meeting with individuals and wants to make them wait, as a way of exerting or exhibiting power. When he is having individuals wait here, he will unlock the balcony door at this room, but not his own.

Dunchad’s Room

This room has a sturdy bed in its southeast corner with a small chest at its foot. Against the east wall is a wardrobe. A table with two chairs sits against the north wall.

The largest of the staff accommodations, this room reflects much about Dunchad. It is practical, comfortable but not ostentatious. The wardrobe includes a selection of work clothes, artisan’s outfits, and two cloaks, one worn and patched, the other in good condition, black with a blue border.

Tathan’s Room

This room has a bed and a chest at its foot. A wardrobe is set against the north wall.

There is nothing of value in this room, as Tathan has nothing of value. The clothing in the wardrobe and the chest is old and worn.

Staff Dormitory

This room has two sets of bunkbeds, each with one bed atop another. There is a set of four chests, one at the head and foot of each bed.

Staff without outside accommodations and not important enough to Murnac to rate their own room can stay in one of these dormitories. As they are unpopular, right now only a couple of the toughs share the north one and two servers share the south one.

Staff Lounge

This room has a collection of ratty and worn furnishings, including a divan, a settee and two cushioned chairs. A scratched and stained set of cupboards is set against the west wall.

This is where the staff comes to unwind and relax when not working. Murnac did not create this—the staff did, rescuing old items of furniture of which Murnac had intended to dispose. As it costs Murnac nothing and it seems to keep the staff happy, he hasn’t shut it down.

Staff Rooms

This room has a sturdy-looking bed with a chest at its foot. Beside it is a wardrobe. Against the opposite wall is a chair and table.

The rooms for Chardine, Flourette, Faelan and Bressal are all the same. None of them has anything of any real value, save for their clothes and possibly a few personal items of sentimental value.

The Treasury

This room has four, iron bound chests, each with two padlocks.

Here is where Murnac secrets the money for the Snail. He may not be a brilliant man, but he is smart enough to keep his money separate from the Snail’s, and he does not dip into this money, except to pay off big winners or pay for improvements on the structure. He feels some security as the locks are very expensive (DC 35 each) and he has paid the local thieves’ guild for immunity.

Murnac’s Private Suite

Scattered about this room are various sturdy furnishings, such as chairs and settees. The walls are plastered and painted. There is a sideboard against a wall, atop of which are an earthenware jug and some pewter tankards. A large table in the center of the room has a cloth top.

This is where Murnac goes when friends visit. They can sit and talk, gamble or do whatever they like. It is also where Murnac goes when he wants to relax, usually with a courtesan or his mistress, if he has one at the time.

The Ducal Suite

Deep burgundy paper covers the walls of this room. Over the rich paper are tapestries depicting mythological scenes. The colors are vibrant and the images are energetic. A great, four-postered bed with a dark, draped canopy rests against the west wall. Two settees, upholstered in needlework fabrics, flank a low table of dark cherry-coloured wood. Against another wall is a tall wardrobe fronted by a mirror.

Murnac set up this room in case he needed something to impress a moneyed individual. That has not yet happened, but each time a rich merchant becomes indebted to the Snail, Murnac will decide if he will take something of value, such as furnishings, rather than the actual money owed. These furnishings end up here. If a visiting merchant from another city or perhaps even a noble happened to visit the Snail, Murnac would attempt to interest them in staying. For the most part, he wants a reaction to the room itself. He expects he can charge 10 wrens (gp) for a night. The truth is, the room is quite comfortable.

The one thing Murnac has used this room for is for romantic assignations with his mistresses. Sometimes, Murnac finds himself involved with a tradesman’s wife or widow, and Murnac has found the room helps to overcome their better natures.

Top of the Balcony

This room has darkened wood walls, complete with tapestries that may have once been impressive but to which time has been cruel. There are three tables here, each with chairs around them. A chandelier hangs from the ceiling, boasting sconces for at least fifteen candles. There is a hearth in the southeast corner.

This is the best “common” room that the Snail can offer. Open only to those who have the means to play a minimum of a prince, this room is usually closed. When it is opened, Murnac always has a tough on the door at the balcony and a tough at the door leading to the rest of the third floor.

Swords and A Squandering Snail: Eam of Tomerlan

Eam of Tomerlan
23 year old Male Human Fighter 1/Sorcerer 2: CR 3; Size M (5 ft., 7 in. tall); HD 1d10+2 plus 2d4+4; hp 19; Init +2; Spd 30 ft.; AC 15; BAB +2; Atk +3 melee (1d8+1d6+3, Frost), or +4 ranged (1d6, crossbow); SV Fort +4, Ref +2, Will +3; AL CG; Str 11, Dex 15, Con 14, Int 12, Wis 10, Cha 16.

Skills: Bluff +4, Concentration +7, Climb +2, Intimidate +7, Listen +2, Ride +6, Spot +2, Swim +2.

Feats: Alertness, Armor Proficiency (all), Dodge, Martial Weapon Proficiency (all), Shield Proficiency (all), Simple Weapon Proficiency (all), Spell Trick (Burning Hands – Intimidation), Weapon Focus (longsword).

Possessions: (on person, 26#, light load) bracers of armor +2, Frost (+3 defending frost longsword), light crossbow, 20 bolts, backpack, traveler’s outfit, whetstone, flint and steel, waterskin, 2 days trail rations, sewing needle.

(on light warhorse, Alberick, carrying 49# with rider, 250#): bit and bridle; military saddle; saddlebags.

(on mule, Terseus, carrying 145.5#): bit and bridle, pack saddle, bedroll, fishhook, 10 ft fishing line, grappling hook, 50 ft hemp rope, ink, ink pen, 10 sheets parchment, scroll case, 5 torches, 5 days trail rations, 10 days feed.

Sorcerer Spells: Per Day: 6/4; Known (5/2)
0th — dancing lights, detect magic, flare, light, read magic.
1st — burning hands, magic missile.

Background: Eam was born the son of a noble-born mercenary and a camp follower. Originally named Jadaretam—the Little Bastard—by his father, his mother left him at a convent with the name Tam-Erlan. In the convent, Tam-Erlan lived for the next five years with the sisters hoping to sculpt him as a scholar rather than a soldier. Eam remembers little from those days but a hazy recollection of satisfaction.

The next time a mercenary company passed by the convent at Fursthier, they did not stop to deposit bastards, rather they stopped to pillage and raze. Somehow, Tam escaped physically unharmed. He wandered the countryside until he came across a widow working her fields with her two adult sons, neither of which had the wits of a grown man. Teodira, the widow, took in the child, who remained silent. Perhaps she saw a spark of intelligence in his eyes, something absent from her own offspring.

The widow named the child Eam (Ee-uhm), after her own dear, departed spouse. She believed the name the name Tam-Erlan — which she thought Tomerlan — was Eam’s byname (his place of birth).

At the age of ten, Eam lost his family again. Soldiers passed through the area, part of VeBrance’s interminable wars. When they left, Teodira and her two natural sons lay dead. The farm had been burnt to the ground and the produce all stolen.

Little Eam had been left for dead. In a sense, he was.

The next company of soldiers that passed by found a young, staff-wielding defender of a deserted farm, protecting three graves. The captain of the company, Alder of Telt, admired the young lad, lean and hungry but unwilling to back down from a hundred armed and armoured men. Alder offered the boy a deal. The boy would become Alder’s servant for five years, and Alder would have his chaplain perform proper burial rites for the child’s family. Eam accepted.

Eam even lost this family when the mercenary company was caught in the middle of a civil war. Alder had been assassinated by the company’s patron. Holed up in the fortified town of Sherasvale, the company found itself caught in the middle of three warring armies. Without Alder, the company started to disintegrate. Eam found a way out, alone. The company meant nothing to him without Alder and the chaplain who had buried Teodira.

A few coins in his pouch, a few belongings on a mule he purchased at the first village he passed through, and Eam had his whole future ahead of him. Teodira had told him he had a cousin, a young women near to his own age whom the nuns had spoken of. Eam set out to find her.

During his hunt for his cousin, Eam became an enemy of the Church. Irreligious, Eam spoke out against the Church and its corruption. Anyone who questioned the Church became a heretic. Innocents burned, and because he protected these innocents, Eam was accused of heresy as well. Worse, he could call forth magic, considered a mark of union with demons.

When his path crossed with Drustan of Teyrs, the two understood they pursued the same cause, fought for the same purpose. It was with Drustan’s help that Eam finally found his cousin. When Sabrine agreed to join the fight against the Church, the three set out to find a way to topple the monolithic organization.

New Feat

You have learned a way to use your magic to aid you in the use of your skills.
Benefit: The character can select a specific spell which he can cast and add a bonus to a skill check equal to the sum of spell’s level and the modifier for the character’s primary spell-casting ability (Intelligence for wizards, Wisdom for clerics and druids, and Charisma for sorcerers). The feat is only used for a single skill.
Special: You can gain this feat multiple times. Its effects do not stack. Each time you take the feat, it applies to a new spell and a new skill.
Prerequisite: Primary spell-casting ability (Int/Wis/Cha) 13


Watch SEP for more d20 characters from Swords and A Squandering Snail. Coming November 2, the character sheet and history for Drustan of Teyrs.


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Lorestaves: At the Sign of the Squandering Snail Copyright 2009 Sword’s Edge Publishing, authors Dean Martin and Fraser Ronald

Eam of Tomerlan, Copyright 2009 Fraser Ronald

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Mundus Novit: One Shot

In “. . . I Would’ve Baked a Cake,” the characters get caught in a sniper trap. Well, more of a “marksmen” trap, but you take my meaning. In a game, that could lead to character deaths. That’s not always desirable, even when you want the sniper to be a frightening opponent and capable of reaching out and touching someone.

Snipers are tough in modern games. I’ve often heard, in regards to rules, that whatever a PC can do, an NPC can do. With snipers, that means if a PC can make a one-shot kill, so can an NPC–against the PC.

One-shot kills are not fun for PCs. They might be fun to deliver, but receiving kind of sucks. Unless the dice are rolled out in the open, the player might interpret such a kill as GM fiat. Even with total transparency, the one-shot sniper kill is the kind of character loss about which players can become very bitter.

Does that mean we get rid of the one-shot kill? For me, as a GM, yes and no.

I’m going to have to get system specific to talk about what I mean. The Massive Damage Threshold in d20 Modern and the Toughness save mechanic in True20, both allow for versions of the one-shot kill without the character death. Let’s call it one-shot removal . . . OSR.

With an OSR, a character is down, a character is out, but that character is not necessarily dead. Not yet. The rules I reference leave the character dying after an OSR. That is an important difference. As long as the character’s removal from play doesn’t precipitate a total party kill, that character can be stabilized and saved. The character is effectively “killed” for that scene without being permanently deleted.

Any modern system, really any system for role-playing in a setting with 19th century weapons technology or better, needs to have some kind of rule for sniping and the one-shot kill.

Or rather, the one-shot removal.

The Lorestaves: The Squandering Snail – Second Floor

The Tavern and Gambling Den at the Sign of the Squandering Snail
Written by Fraser Ronald
Maps and Illustrations by Dean Martin


The Second Floor

The second floor is constructed out of wood. Please note that the storage room on the first floor is two stories tall, and therefore the doorway into the storage room on the second floor merely leads to a set of stairs.

Tavern Balcony

This walkway overlooks the tavern below. There is no furniture here, though the banister has a small ledge on which one could place a cup or tankard.

The walkway is accessed by the stairs from the tavern or through the door to the guest rooms.

Small Guest Rooms

This room has practical but not attractive furniture. There is a bed with a straw mattress and wool blankets. A stool in one corner has a washbasin and there is a jug of water on the floor beside it. Beneath the bed is the chamberpot. At the foot of the bed is a small, iron bound chest, though it has no lock, merely brackets for the lock.

These rooms, unlike those on the first floor, often have residents. Rarely, though, are those residents travelers. It is far more often that the people staying in these rooms are criminals or men in hiding. The comfort of the room is minimal, but it is better than an alleyway or a gallows. The cost for the room for a night is 10 princes (sp).  Like the rooms below, if one of these rooms is available it can be let by the hour. As these rooms are intended for actual guests, the cost per hour is 5 princes (sp).

Gambling Den Balcony

The stairs lead to a small landing with a single door. There is no furniture, though the banister has a small ledge on which one could place a cup or tankard.

Entertaining Room

This room has three settees, set in a horseshoe shape, with a low table in the middle of them. Against each wall is a table, and these tables have glass pitchers and fine, ceramic cups. A stone fireplace is set against the north wall. Faded and worn tapestries adorn the walls.

The tapestries are all that remain of Wessent’s dream. Murnac uses this room to entertain friends or individuals of influence to whom Murnac wishes to remain on fair terms. Murnac has used this room to hold recitals, have drawing room theatre performed and to simply relax and drink. If more furniture is required, Murnac will have it brought from his own rooms.

When not in use by Murnac, he will rent it out to others needing a substantial area with some small luxury. Murnac requires a wren (gp) for an afternoon’s use and 2 wrens (gp) for an evening’s use. If the room is required overnight, the cost goes up to 5 wrens (gp).

Games Room

This room has plastered walls, mostly covered in worn though still presentable tapestries. It has three tables pushed together near the center of the room. Around these tables are sturdy wooden chairs. Against the west wall is a counter and cupboards atop of which sits a collection of cups and a tall, earthenware jug. There are divans against the south wall.

This large room is available for private parties of any sort. The price for the room is 15 princes (sp) for an afternoon, a wren (gp) for an evening and 2 wrens (gp) for overnight usage. Food and drink is extra, as is the cost of staff. Murnac usually charges a prince (sp) for staff and a further 2 princes (sp) per person for food and drink.

Upper Common Room

This room has darkened wood walls, complete with faded tapestries, the figures and themes of which are no longer discernable. A bar runs along the west wall, from the door near the north to the south end of the room. There are three tables here, each with chairs around them. A chandelier hangs from the ceiling, boasting sconces for at least twenty candles. The windows are open and unglazed.

This is a place for Murnac to move “high-rolling” customers or to entertain groups from influential guilds or gangs. While it is the same as the games room below, Murnac will have Dunchad at the bar and will have Faelan and Bressal run the games. If he needs a server, he’ll use Flourette. Except during feast days and festivals, this room is usually closed, though the doors are rarely locked. Nothing of value is stored here.

Swords and A Squandering Snail: Deals and Tokens

As related in Swords and Meetings, Cade of Galaras, a poet and dramatist opposed to the Church of Herotus, has joined three accomplices to oppose the Church of Herotus: Eam, a sorcerer and ex-mercenary; Drustan, a Half-Orc Barbarian; and Sabrine, an attractive and stealthy archer. The four now find themselves in the Temples district of Bowden, a relatively wretched hive of scum and possible villainy.

In “Dramatic Entrances,” the first episode of Swords and a Squandering Snail, the group is in the city of Bowden to meet a contact of Cade’s. They intervene when a Holy Knight chases an unarmed man into the tavern in which they drink. The three of them face the Holy Knights and his initiates.

The Minstrel and the Prophet” relates how the group rescues a strange individual known as Incarnos, and meets with Cade’s contact, an attractive woman named Carylle. Incarnos has a tale to tell, claiming to be an immortal servant of gods lost centuries ago. This doesn’t faze Carylle at all, and she in fact speaks of the Old Gods.

In “These Are Not The Myths You’re Looking For,” Incarnos relates that he is a powerful being, once a servant of the old gods, tied to the mortal world by the Herotus. Incarnos had helped Herotus triumph over the old gods and was then betrayed. A fabled staff may lay buried beneath the tavern and gambling den at the sign of the Squandering Snail, and Carylle believes they can find it. The group agrees to make an attempt near sunrise, when few—if any—will be awake or aware.

First Blood of the Morning” relates the groups attempt to secretly enter the Squandering Snail, only to awake some of the ruffians sleeping in the common room. Examples were made, but one opponent shouted a warning before he could be silenced. What would that shout bring?


Five: Deals and Tokens

“It’s just as likely they’ll just go back to bed,” Carylle said. “The Temples can be a noisy place.”

“Still,” Sabrine said, “let’s get this done and get gone.”

Carylle slowly opened the door to the cellar. We stood ready. I don’t know what I expected to leap out, but my nerves crackled and shivered. Of course, nothing jumped out of the cellar, so having the only source of illumination in the group, I volunteered to go first.

The stairs led down into an earthen cellar, the walls supported by wood beams. Wood racks, set in three rows, filled most of the area. The racks contained a variety of goods, mostly earthenware jugs, sealed with something that looked like dark wax. I noticed some small kegs and even a few boxes. The room had a mouldy smell bordering on unpleasant but not quite strong enough to be truly a stench.

Carylle came behind me and pointed out a opening in the south wall. I wouldn’t call it a hall or corridor, as it looked more like someone simply knocked a hole in the wall. As I got closer, I noted wood planks which explained why the opening hadn’t collapsed.

The room to which this hole led, however, had collapsed. Other than two old, empty barrels, the only thing of interest was a crumbled wall with wood beams and splinters pointing out of it at odd angles. Another short passage led out of this small area. I started to worry that we might have entered a maze. A quick peek revealed a small room, not high enough for me to stand upright. The place only held two chests, somewhat sunk into the ground and covered with cobwebs and dirt.

I turned back to Carylle who stood looking at the collapsed wall. “Maybe there’s something in these chests.”

Cade stood just inside the room. He pointed to what looked like a stick or pole, poking out from the collapse. “What’s that?”

“We have found it.” Incarnos brushed past Cade. Dropping to his knees,  he began to weep. Both he and the pole protruding out of the debris began to shimmer. A faint, white light seemed to envelop them both. “The Staff of Parwen, it is found.” He reached toward the ceiling, looking up. “My time has come. Damnation or paradise, I no longer care.” He turned to Cade. “Take it. Mortal hands must touch the staff.”

“Be careful.” Carylle stepped back, away from the glowing staff. “You don’t know what will happen.”

“I do,” said Incarnos. “It will be glorious.”

Cade only hesitated a moment before grasping the staff. It slid out of the debris, not a mark or smudge of dirt on it. A flash blinded me. I stumbled, my back touching the wall. Slowly, my eyes recovered. Cade still stood, holding a staff before him. Incarnos had vanished. The staff glowed white, and strange runes covered its length. The runes shone with a deep blue light.

Cade held the staff horizontally before him. “I can read the runes.”

“What do they say?” asked Sabrine, standing just in the passageway.

Cade used one finger to follow the runes as he read them. “The arm and mouth of Parwen, mistress of secrets and opener of doors. To hold the staff is to find the path.”

“What path?” asked Carylle.

“To the next staff, I suppose,” Cade said. “I’m not quite sure, but I fell drawn in that direction.” Cade pointed.

Drustan spoke from behind Sabrine. “South and west.”

“South and west?” I asked. “What’s there?”

Sabrine shook her head. “Ostvel? Tremmek? Maybe Eltanin.”

“A long journey whatever our destination,” Drustan said. “But now I believe it is time to go. If anyone heard that fellow’s call, we might have some troubles leaving.”

An incorporeal voice sounding like Incarnos filled the cellar. “You have saved me and sent me to redemption. Now you must do so for your entire world. In your hands, you hold fate. Do not waver.”

I frowned. “Oh, now that’s a bit much.”

“The fate of the world?” Sabrine asked. “I have a bad feeling about this.”

“People, it is time to go,” said Drustan.

Without further comment, we left. I was the last to reach the stairs. The others stood in the storage room as I climbed out of the cellar. I looked around the room. “Did someone light some torches?”

From behind the barrels in the centre of the room, stepped Murnac. Behind him stood four men.

“Gentlemen, we have our rats,” Murnac said in a loud voice.

The doors disgorged four more men, two from each door.

Murnac sneered. “Did you find any cheese in the cellars, little rats?” His gaze passed along us until it rested on Carylle. “Cornille? You little whore. What are you doing here? Helping these thieves, are you? What were you looking for down there?”

“My name is not Cornille,” Carylle said, “and we were looking for artifacts from a time when elder gods walked the world, before Herotus.”

“Bloody hells, thieves and heretics both.” Murnac drew his short sword “Maybe the Holy Knights will have use for you. Lucky you left the blades and armour behind. They came looking for you. I’ll bet they’re still around.”

“Is this some kind of joke?” asked Cade. “How about we toss you a few coins and you get out of our way.”

“If you think it’s just that easy, you don’t know much about us, son.” Murnac felt the edge of his short sword “My boys here have spilt the guts from bigger sausages than you, and I’ve used this toy in games of my own. You hand over whatever you’ve got of value. You hand over Cornille, too. She needs a lesson taught.”

I knew this wouldn’t end well. My strategy, and it seemed to usually work, was to remove the head from the serpent. As long as we didn’t face a hydra, that might clear our way out. The problem with magic is one becomes rather obvious when one is practising it, that is if someone knows what to look for.

“Get that one.” Murnac pointed at me. “He’s some kind of warlock or something.”

It seemed someone knew what to look for.

As the brutes moved forward, I noted the three we had spared among them. Mercy has its drawbacks, especially in a place like the Temples. Still, earlier we had routed a handful of Holy Knights—true, they were Initiates, but it was still an achievement—so nine men, one of them standing back from the action, shouldn’t have proved too great a problem.

Drustan moved in first, as one would expect. He had reach with his spear and showed the advantage that gave him by opening up one of the brutes along the arm. That one fell back, clutching his wounded arm and blood stained his clothing.

That left eight.

I released the spell I had prepared. Hiding behind a cluster of toughs wouldn’t save Murnac this time. With a flash, the bolt of energy streaked from my hand to strike him. He shouted and stumbled back, but other than burn marks on otherwise fine clothes, I didn’t have the success for which I had hoped.

Cade had dropped the staff and drawn his sword. Carylle—or was it Cornille?—defended herself with a short sword that looked surprisingly similar to the one the brute Sabrine killed had carried. Sabrine had her sword out, the quarters far too close for her bow. I still had Frost in hand and I set to work. Facing Initiates had quickened my blood, but facing these toughs didn’t worry me at all.

Overconfidence is often one’s worse foe.

Murnac’s brutes were fast. My weapon had reach, but I faced two men who knew their business. One would lunge and draw my guard when the other would strike. Still, I had learnt the sword from a man many had considered the greatest soldier in VeBrance. While I couldn’t chance an attack, I maintained a strong defence Sooner or later, someone would make a mistake and the blood would flow. I just prayed it wouldn’t be mine.

I heard a cry. It was Carylle. She had fallen back and had taken a wound. I lost focus for just a moment, but a moment was all these toughs needed. I slid away from the lunge, but it cut clothing and the skin beneath it. I took a step back, suddenly sharing five foes with Cade.

“This was not how I envisioned the end of this little quest.” Cade had the presence to laugh at his own joke.

“This is never how I envision the end of anything.” I couldn’t muster much more than a weak grin.

“You can still hand over your goods,” Murnac said from behind his men. “You can keep that whore Cornille if that’s your wish.”

“I hear the fear in your voice, Murnac,” Sabrine said. “And you have reason to fear.”

I glanced over at Sabrine, careful of the men I faced. No wonder she could hold a conversation, she only faced one man. Drustan had another at his feet, that one not moving. The men facing Cade and I stepped back, glancing at Murnac then Drustan.

“If you wish to see more of your men fall at my feet, I care not,” Drustan said. “My arms have not yet begun to ache. I have hours of slaughter ahead of me if that is your wish.”

“We can walk out of here, disappear, never return, and you can tell any story you want,” Sabrine said. “In all honesty, you won’t be very pleased with the treasure we carry.”

“Have you looked in those chests in your cellar?” I asked.

“Don’t play me for an idiot, there’s nothing in them,” Murnac said.

“Did you really look? Really search?” I clicked my tongue. “You didn’t dig deep enough. We couldn’t carry it out, but it’s yours if you’ll have it.”

Murnac closed one eye and appraised me sidelong. Finally he spat on the ground. “You’re a liar.”

“Whatever you believe, I’ll tell you one true thing.” Cade pointed to Drustan. “That man scares the burning hells out of me, and he isn’t lying when he says he has a full day of slaughter ahead of him. If you want to trade all your men for our steel, clothes and few paltry coins, that’s your decision. Let us walk out of here then set the Holy Knights on us for a reward. You’ll come out better.”

“That I can accept,” Murnac said. “Right, out you get. I’ll give you an hour before I call the Church. Maybe you’ll have more time if they don’t offer me enough.”

With a wave, Murnac moved his toughs back from the door to the kitchen. We all stood, facing Murnac and his men, unsure to take his offer. Drustan reached into his tunic. I heard the tinkle of coins. He tossed a couple of wrens on the floor.

“For the funeral,” Drustan said. “You men fought better than the Initiates.”

There were no thanks, at least none we heard. And why would anyone expect gratitude after one has killed a comrade? It was simply Drustan’s way. I’d already accepted that I’d never understand him.

We filed out of the storage room, Drustan coming last, backing out of the room. He slammed the door and we ran. Clearing the tavern, we raced to the tenement. Around a corner, and out of sight of the tavern, we paused. Drustan tended to Carylle’s wound, which he judged painful but superficial. Cade held the staff. It had a greenish gem or jewel at its head and had its foot capped in steel.

“This can’t be good,” Sabrine said. “You’d think a holy quest would require people with more, . . . I don’t know, maybe more faith?”

“I can’t say I believe we’ve been chosen, but I’m not going to refuse this,” Cade said. “This could be our chance to destroy the Church.” He looked around at the rest of us. “So, southwest?”

“If you say southwest, yes,” said Sabrine.

“Not me,” said Carylle. “There are those at Highstone who need to know what has happened.”

“There are people at Highstone who will believe all this?” I asked.

“There are.” Carylle touched my arm. “There may even be people who can help.”

“When you are done there, look for us in Ostvel,” Cade said.

Sabrine smirked. “Or maybe it will be Tremmek.”

I looked into Carylle’s bright, hazel eyes for what I thought would likely be the last time. “And if not there, maybe Eltanin.”


This concludes Swords and A Squandering Snail. Coming October 26, the character sheet and history for Eam of Tomerlan.

Mundus Novit: Dark Horizons – . . . I Would’ve Baked A Cake

In “The Stream,” Boyle and his team get jumped in Kathmandu by a crew who may work for the Chinese.

In “The Vault,” a special section of Canada’s Communications Security Establishment is monitoring Kathmandu, which has gone dark to all electronic and parapsychic traffic. Madison and Heather, two agents from the Vault, joined their international spec ops team in “Meet & Greet.” While on the trail of Boyle, the team is ambushed  by a group of parapsyches able to break through the Kathmandu silence. The team foiled the ambush, but at the end of “Dirty Hands,” they were facing the business ends of more firearms.

In “Mission Unlikely,” we learn that Boyle and his team have gone missing. Becca meets Alex in Monrovia in order to get him to come with her to Kathmandu to find Boyle. Off the record and off the reservation. Alex then goes to meet a contact in Burma in “The Russian.” Rudi the Russian agrees to supply both equipment and information for Alex’s forway into Nepal. Alex and Becca try to make contact with a prisoner in Kathmandu allegedly connected to Tangible Stream, but in “Target of Opportunity,” they find that someone is watching. That someone isn’t professional, and they capture him with ease. This doesn’t make them feel any better.

In “The Bedouin,” Kyle and Meredith from the Prospero Group contract the intelligence broker known as the Bedouin to get them a lead on what is happening in Kathmandu. The Bedouin returns to old haunts in “From Delhi With Indifference,” only to be ambushed by hit teams led by a man with a Nepalese name but an American accent. Rudi the Russian gets sent to Kathmandu to kill the Bedouin, but Boyle and “Cascade” emerge to save Rudi from “the Cat’s Reward.”

Now, Mads finds himself in the middle of a very tense situation with lots of people and lots of guns.


Eleven:  . . . I Would’ve Baked A Cake

Mads hauled Psycho Number 2 behind him. Walker and Dyck both propelled their prisoners in front, manoeuvring them like they were driving. It’d work nice for a meat shield, but Mads just didn’t have those skills, so he dragged his guy.

Forward movement ahead of him stopped, but Mads still passed through the door. He wanted out of that coffee shop. Considering Walker had shot a guy back there, Mads expected the police to come swarming down on the place at any moment. Rather than wait politely inside the kitchen at the back of the shop, he pushed his way out into the alleyway, dragging his prisoner with him.

And right into a classic Sergio standoff.

Everyone had guns out—Heather, Walker, Dyck, some old dude and and Asian woman. Mads, however, wasn’t really thinking about the gun in his hand. He wasn’t thinking about the flex-cuffed prisoner he was hauling behind him. He wasn’t even thinking of the likelihood of getting shot should things go south. No, he was only thinking of the hot, buff, Korean-American woman aiming the sub-machine gun at Walker.

He lowered his gun. “Shit, Becca,  . . . Hi.”

Becca’s eyes narrowed, then went wide. Her sub-machine gun lowered just slightly. The Old Dude—wait, Mads remembered the face, that was the guy who was supposedly working with Boyle, the guy Walker knew—glanced at Mads, then looked at Becca.

“Friend of yours?” Alexander Scott’s tone didn’t carry any threat, no anger, no hardness. Mads though Scott sounded amused.

“We’re all friends here, right Alex?” Walker didn’t lower his MP5K. “Given that, you want to ask Lt.  Park to lower her weapon so we can all run like hell before the police show up?

A smile threatened the edges of Scott’s mouth. “Indeed. My safehouse or yours?”

“Are you joking?” Heather still had her pistol in hand. “Listen, the CIA seem to think that you’re part of some conspiracy. We’re here to bring your buddy Boyle in. The spook wasn’t so explicit about what we were to do with you.”

“Yeah, about that CIA guy.” Mads holstered his Sig. “I got here late because we got a landline connection, and it turns out the CIA are looking for us. They think we missed our briefing and are cowboying it in Kathmandu.”

“Missed our briefing?” Heather exhaled slowly through her nostrils. “We’ve been played.”

“We don’t have time for this.” Scott put his weapon away. “We have a place that’s nice a quiet to question these three.”

“No, you’ll come with us,” said Walker. “There’s questions we need you to answer as well.”

“I’ve got some bad news for you, news I don’t want to share in front of our unnamed friends here.” Scott gestured to the prisoners. “I think they’ve heard enough of our business as it is.”

Heather didn’t miss a beat, SIG trained on Scott’s chest. “You’ll have to do better than that.”

Walker lowered his MP5K, letting it hang beneath his jacket on his tactical rig. “No, I think that’s good enough for me. I know this guy. Trust me on this one.”

“On this one?” Heather put away her weapon. “You seem to be asking that a lot of me.”

And like that, the tension disappeared. Maybe not for the guys tied up and heading for interrogation, but for everyone else. Firearms disappeared. Everyone made nice.

“Lead the way,” said Walker.

Scott did just that. Becca fell in beside Mads.

“What the hell are you doing here?” she asked.

“I have no idea.” Mads shook his head.

Psycho Number 2, the dog Mads took for a walk, stiffened. “You don’t know?”

The guy spoke perfect English. Thing was, it was too perfect. It was the perfect language with dialect that spooks got taught to match a legend. Mads filed that away, wondering if Walker or Heather had already marked it.

Mads wondered what Psycho Two in Tow might know. “Are you telling me you’ve something interesting to share?”

Psycho in Tow sneered. “You really don’t know?”

At that moment, Mads stopped. He felt  . . . felt someone ‘pushing,’ pushing on the air around him. It compressed—it seemed like the world around him compressed, tightening against his skin. He realized he looked down at his feet. He looked up. Walker had stopped also. His MP5K was out.

“Everyone down!” Walker shouted.

Mads was already diving to the side. Becca had as well. A cloud of red mist sprouted from Psycho in Tow. All the prisoners took hits. Dyck had dragged his Psycho down with him, and got tagged for his troubles.

Gunfire erupted. Everyone had weapons out. Mads did the same. Too late. Too late.

There, on the roof, a guy with an M16 and a scope. Mads realized he was the only one on that side of the street, the only one who could see the guy. The guy who was targeting Dyck—targeting Dyck who had been hit and lay in the street.

Mads gave Mr. Marksman something else to think about.


Mundus Novit: Dark Horizons continues with “Switch of the Flick.”

The Lorestaves: The Squandering Snail – First Floor

The Tavern and Gambling Den at the Sign of the Squandering Snail
Written by Fraser Ronald
Maps and Illustrations by Dean Martin


The Tavern at the sign of the Squandering Snail

The dim light of a few candles is all that illuminates this area. The shutters are always closed. Few who frequent this establishment wish eyes upon them. Smoke infuses the atmosphere. The few round tables and the chairs around them have seen too many patrons and too many years. Cracked, chipped and gouged, they serve their purpose but little else.

Against the far wall, opposite the main doors, runs the bar. It is uneven, lower to its left, a fact apparent when looking at it from across the room. Still, it is even enough to stand at, and the tilt does nothing to disturb the tankards atop it.

A door is set into the wall beside the bar and a stairwell beside this door leads up.

The tavern is not Murnac’s main focus. It’s always second on his list of priorities, and if it weren’t attached—physically—to the gaming hall, he would likely sell it. Still, it nets him some small profit, and he can’t argue with that. Strangely enough, Murnac places his most trustworthy and competent staff in the tavern. This is because he visits the tavern so rarely and the workers are without any real supervision.

Dunchad will be at the bar in the tavern from about noon until well after midnight. While he occasionally leaves the tavern for errands, he is a constant most evenings. If the tavern is at all comfortable or at least not uncomfortable, this is due to Dunchad. He uses his carpentry skills on slow days. The beer and ale served here is not the worst in the Temples, and is certainly palatable given its cost.

The food in the tavern is limited. In the morning, meaning from the first bell of the new day until the fourth bell, porridge and bread are available. A bowl of porridge and a slab of crusty bread costs 2 dublings (cp). After four bells, the menu becomes more varied. One can have a bowl of stew and bread, a slab of cheese and bread, or a slab of meat and bread. These gastronomic threats will set the customer back a hefty 5 dublings (cp).

A mug of beer or ale is 1 dubling (cp). A pitcher of the detestable wine available is 4 dubling (cp). The beer and ale is better than the wine, though few patrons of the Snail are connoisseurs of the finer things in life.

The Tavern Kitchen

Between the oil lanterns ensconced on the walls and the fire in the great hearth, this room is both well-lit and extremely hot. Atop the fire is a cauldron, steam rising from it, as is the scent of meat stew. A long, wood table dominates the center of the room. There is little room in which to manoeuvre around it. Beneath it are stacks of pots, mostly iron, and bowls, mostly wood.

Tathan works here, alone. She will not abide interference in her kitchen. No one ever bothers her there. She works all day long and at night, she disappears into the Temples. She doesn’t speak to anyone except Dunchad, and then only in short, terse sentences.

The Guest Rooms

This room is small and dank. Its windows are covered in a thin layer of oiled skin, tattered and torn, letting in filtered light and offering some privacy. The wood shutters hang on leather hinges. A single bed with a straw-filled mattress abuts one wall while a small chest sits against the other.

These rooms are intended to be rented for nights. They were intended for travellers. They’ve become something else. Most of the time they are rented for an hour or two. While the bed gets messed, people don’t usually sleep in them. The cost for renting a room is 10 princes (sp) per night, though they can be rented for 3 princes (sp) per hour.

The Interior Guest Room

This room boasts stone walls though no windows. Oil lamps at either end light the cramped room, which offers only a small bed and a foot locker. The mattress, though, is filled with goose feathers and there is a clean wool blanket atop the dingy sheets.

This is the one guest room regularly used for its intended purpose. Due to its stout walls and relative assurance of safety, it is one of the few rooms in the Temples travellers or those required to stay the night in the area regularly hire.

Due to the higher quality and utility of the Interior Guest Room, it runs at 15 princes (sp) per night. It isn’t rented by the hour. If it looks like the hirer can afford it, Dunchad or Murnac will try to run him for a wren (1 sovereign or gp)


This is the dry storage room. The walls are lined with shelves on which sit bags of grain. Barrels fill the centre of the room. They are each marked as beer, meat or fish. Stacked atop the barrels are amphora.

In the southeast corner, there is a wood plank door on the ground with a simple, rope knob.

The wood plank door in the southeast corner covers the stairs down to the basement. The amphora are filled with wine. The meat and fish in the barrels are salted and stored in brine.

The Gambling Den at the sign of the Squandering Snail

Double doors lead into this round hall, with a ceiling some three stories above and balconies overlooking it both from the second and third floors. A collection of round tables, each with a half-moon sized section removed, cover the area. Around each table are a few chairs. At the half-moon section is a man. At some tables, the man holds playing cards, at others he gathers up and hands back thrown dice.

Against the east wall is a bar, curved along the wall, presenting a crescent. Behind it is a door. Across from the bar, a set of stairs lead up, following the curvature of the wall. At the far south end of the room is another door.

Though not the largest gaming establishment in the Temples, the gambling den at the Sign of the Squandering Snails is certainly one of the most unique. Unlike the tavern, the walls of the gambling den are wood.

The gambling here is usually fair. It isn’t necessary to cheat, most times. There are always five hulking guards moving around the room and two more at the main door. Cheating the house will get one beaten within an inch of one’s life (basically, they’ll try to beat an individual to -1, though sometimes mistakes do happen). If a cheater is caught a second time, they are killed and dumped in the alley. In the morning, Murnac will report the suspicious death to the authorities, who will come and collect the bodies, ask questions and threaten Murnac.

Should someone who obviously doesn’t belong enter the gambling den, for example someone who appears to be wealthy—maybe a slumming aristocrat, a young thrill-seeker—Murnac will politely warn them that this is a very rough area and that they might want to move along. If they remain, Murnac will detail one of the thugs (whoops, I mean guards) to watch over the wealthy patron. If a wealthy patron cheats, they will be held and the authorities called. Murnac doesn’t want any trouble with the duke, so in these instances, he scrupulously plays by the rules, including laying a charge and going to court. Murnac even has an advocate on his payroll for just such occasions.

The gambling den offers the same selection of drinks as the tavern, but they cost 1 dubling (cp) more. They taste no different and their quality does not improve when they are served in the gambling den. For food, there are only sweetmeats (basically, organs of small animals, like weasel intestine or fox liver) and pastries (thin bread with sugar). Either cost 5 dublings (cp), the same price as a meal at the tavern.

The Kitchen at the Gambling Den

This large room has worktables lining the walls. The work tables are lined with canisters and jugs. In the centre of the room, a great fire burns in a stone housing. Above the fire is an oven. Smoke rises up past the oven, through a set of grills, and along to the chimney. The design is quite ingenious.

This kitchen rarely sees the amount of activity seen in the tavern’s kitchen, but oddly enough, it has a much larger workspace. The only thing regularly prepared here are sweetmeats and pastries. Often, Tathan comes here in the morning to bake bread for the tavern, and she will help to prepare the pastries, though she will not spend her day here, preferring to work in the smaller though more familiar confines of the tavern kitchen. During the day, the barmaids working at the gambling den will work here, preparing whatever foods are requested.


This is the only room with stone walls in the gambling den. It has a single window with waxed skin and shutters. This allows in some light while protecting the occupant’s privacy. A single desk is set against the south wall with a single chair. A strong box sits beside it. Along the walls are shelves which hold ledgers.

This is Murnac’s office. In easy reach, under the desk, is a short sword. In the desk are a collection of knives, a bottle of good whiskey, a deed to the gambling den and tavern which was the first job Murnac had his advocate complete. Other than that, the other papers and documents on the desk are beyond Murnac’s comprehension. He does not read. The ledgers on the shelves are from before Murnac’s time. He doesn’t really keep records.

Gambling Rooms

This room is spacious, with a single, round table in its centre surrounded by six simple chairs. Against the far wall is a sidetable on which sits two decks of cards and a collection of dice. Candle holders line the walls and torch sconces flank the door.

The Gambling Rooms can be rented for private games. If they are rented, for the minuscule fee of 5 princes (sp), one of the gamesmen from the gambling den can conduct the game. A constant flow of the Snail’s sub-standard brew or wine is part of the rental price of 10 princes (sp) per night. Of course, if one would like something a little better, it can be provided—at an additional cost, of course. Further, for the low, low price of 2 princes (sp) per night, a guard can be assigned to guard the door from the inside or out. Three guards come at the special rate of 5 princes (sp). What a bargain!

Swords and A Squandering Snail: First Blood of the Morning

As related in Swords and Meetings, Cade of Galaras, a poet and dramatist opposed to the Church of Herotus, has joined three accomplices to oppose the Church of Herotus: Eam, a sorcerer and ex-mercenary; Drustan, a Half-Orc Barbarian; and Sabrine, an attractive and stealthy archer. The four now find themselves in the Temples district of Bowden, a relatively wretched hive of scum and possible villainy.

In “Dramatic Entrances,” the first episode of Swords and a Squandering Snail, the group is in the city of Bowden to meet a contact of Cade’s. They intervene when a Holy Knight chases an unarmed man into the tavern in which they drink. The three of them face the Holy Knights and his initiates.

The Minstrel and the Prophet” relates how the group rescues a strange individual known as Incarnos, and meets with Cade’s contact, an attractive woman named Carylle. Incarnos has a tale to tell, claiming to be an immortal servant of gods lost centuries ago. This doesn’t faze Carylle at all, and she in fact speaks of the Old Gods.

In “These Are Not The Myths You’re Looking For,” Incarnos relates that he is a powerful being, once a servant of the old gods, tied to the mortal world by the Herotus. Incarnos had helped Herotus triumph over the old gods and was then betrayed. A fabled staff may lay buried beneath the tavern and gambling den at the sign of the Squandering Snail, and Carylle believes they can find it. The group agrees to make an attempt near sunrise, when few—if any—will be awake or aware.


Four: First Blood of the Morning

The barest hint of the sun’s arrival glowed along the horizon. Like burning rust, it stretched toward the sky, driving the stars from their home. I wore a heavy cloak against the early morning chill. The spring’s warmth remained absent from the early morning air. The six of us—Incarnos, Carylle, Cade, Drustan, Sabrine and I—crept from the tenement toward the Squandering Snail. I noticed huddled forms in some of the doorways and in the alleys, but nothing moved on the streets so early in the morning.

Carylle pointed to the door out of which we had left, goaded by Murnac and his thugs. “Through the tavern’s kitchen there’s a door I haven’t been through. Old Tathan guards that place like it’s a treasure-trove. No one is allowed into her kitchen.”

“Then let us hope Tathan has not decided to rise early and bake bread,” Drustan said.

Reaching the door, we found it barred from the inside. Carylle pointed to a window along the wall to our right. “That one leads into a hall. The shutter is broken and can’t be closed. I’ll slip through and unbar the door.”

“I should come with you, in case you run into trouble,” I said. Oh, what a hero I.

Carylle offered me a grin. “I appreciate your concern. Try to keep quiet.”
That last comment made me want to protest, but as she was already moving toward the window, I didn’t have the chance. I cast a look back at Sabrine who eyed me with some amusement. Yes, she had likely figured it all out, damn her.

At the window, Carylle carefully pushed back the shutter. The interior proved even darker than where we stood. She glanced around and then, after winking at me, slipped up and through the window without a sound. I doubted I could be so quiet. I took my sword belt and wound it across one shoulder so Frost hung on my back. Boosting myself up, I noted the window was easily wide enough to pass through. I got one foot on the sill, then the other, then slowly lowered myself to the ground.

Just inside the window, to my left, Carylle stood by a door. She pointed to it and mouthed a word I thought was ‘tavern.’ She placed her finger to her lips in an unnecessary warning to remain quiet. I didn’t complain but moved up to stand next to her. The door swung open without complaint. The warm air of the tavern passed by us, bringing with it the stench of stale beer and worse. We waited but heard nothing. I pointed to myself then the doorway, indicating I would go first. Carylle nodded.

I moved as carefully as I could. I didn’t have Sabrine’s light feet, but I could move quietly when need required. It seemed need required it—I heard snoring. I couldn’t place the sound, darkness enveloping the room completely. I would take a step and then pause, listening for a change in that snoring. I would take another step and then pause. I hoped I moved in the direction of the door.

The snoring turned into snuffling and then grunting. I froze. I thought the sound came from my right. I considered drawing Frost. When I called on its magic, it would shed dim light. Usually, no one noticed, but in darkness such as this, it might help to light my way. It might also wake whoever slept here.

The snoring, snuffling and grunting stopped. I could hear breathing, but I couldn’t say of how many people. I took a cautious step and then another. My heart beat fast and it rang in my ears. I desperately wished I knew some spells of silence, or perhaps something to keep the patrons sleeping. Another step and I reached out, hoping I was near the door.

Pale light washed over me, almost blinding me. The doors of the tavern opened. Carylle stood there, the crossbar in her hand, a grin of satisfaction on her face. She winked at me again and put the bar on the ground without a sound. In the faint illumination I looked around at the tavern. Four men slept in the reeds on the floor, blankets wrapped around them. I thought I recognized them. Were they the thugs who had stood with Murnac? Did he expect our return?

As the others entered the tavern, I pointed to the figures on the floor. Carylle glided past them. Sabrine stood with the others by the door. I knew she walked as though on air, with no more sound than a feather falling. Drustan, however, had no such skill. I looked about at the bodies on the floor. Not knowing what else to do, I drew Frost and called on its magic. Should they awaken, I might be able to silence one or two before they could call out. Drustan seemed to have the same idea and he drew out his broad-bladed spear.

I heard something, not loud but not quite identifiable. It reminded me of the sound of a crossbow mechanism released. The men on the ground stirred. I put the blade of Frost to one’s throat. Drustan moved forward, spear ready.

The man who had my blade at his throat woke. He had enough sense not to cry out. I put my finger to my lips. He swallowed, the action making his throat caress Frost. He grimaced. Another man started to rise. Drustan leveled his spear at the man’s chest. The second man dropped back to the floor, hands raised in supplication.

“There is no need to harm them,” Incarnos said, his voice a whisper. “We can bind them and hide them.”

Though he spoke in a whisper, it seemed enough to wake the other two men. We had little time to decide our next actions. Sabrine had her bow in one hand and an arrow in the other. Incarnos moved forward and stood before the men we had not yet threatened.

“Do not speak and no harm will come to you,” Incarnos said.

“Thieves!” one man shouted.

Sabrine’s arrow struck him in the chest, silencing him. That had an effect on the others, all of whom remained quiet as mice. Incarnos went to work shredding the blankets the men had slept in and using the cloth for bindings. Cade stood near the door Carylle and I had come through. He closed it quietly and looked around the room.

“Where is Carylle?” he asked.

I looked around. The only light came from the open door and Frost. I thought I could see an open door behind the bar. “The bar.”

Cade looked. He nodded and vaulted over the bar. He still had his blade drawn. As he approached the door, Carylle came out. “There’s a cellar in here, through the kitchen.”

Incarnos had completed tying the three captives. He gestured to the door. “Let us hide them in there.” He pointed to the dead man. “Bring the body as well. The reeds should cover most of the blood.”

We did as he said. Drustan dragged the dead body and one of the men. I dragged another and Incarnos took the third, lifting him easily from the floor and carrying him. I didn’t have time to comment. Carylle stepped back as we entered.

The room had unlit oil lanterns ensconced on the walls and a great hearth in the southeast corner. A cauldron hung from a metal rod set into the hearth near the top. A long, wood table took up most of the space, leaving little room to manoeuvre around it. Beneath it were stacks of pots, mostly iron, and bowls, mostly wood.

We left the bodies there, in front of the hearth. Carylle pointed to the door across from the one to the tavern. We followed her through it. The area looked like a dry storage room. It had stone walls with no windows. From the light of Frost, I couldn’t see the ceiling. Shelves lined the walls with bags of grain covering them. Barrels filled the centre of the room. Each was marked with a cup, a pig or a fish. Amphora sat stacked atop the barrels. Carylle stood at the southwest corner of the room, pointing at a wood plank door on the ground with a simple, rope knob.

“The cellar,” she said, her voice barely more than a whisper.

“We had best hurry,” Cade said. “The shout should likely woke someone up.”


Swords and A Squandering Snail continues in “Deals and Tokens.”

Mundus Novit: Conspiratorial Whispers

As you might have noticed—at least I certainly hope—Dark Horizons is all about conspiracies. Something secret is going on, and the characters are caught in the middle, trying to figure out what the heck is going on. This kind of story can be quite fun for an RPG. It can also be difficult and/or frustrating. I haven’t had too many problems running conspiracies. Here’s what I learnt.

1) Don’t Over-prepare. I think this is good advice for any GM running any kind of game, not just conspiracies. I mean, back in the day, it was fun to spend hours and hours creating cool stuff. These days, I just don’t have the time.

I mentioned in the article on goal-oriented sandbox games about having modular areas and encounters, things that can be used, but if the PCs don’t run into them, can be saved for later. This is also useful in conspiracy games. Have all the possible locales and encounters ready to roll, but also make them easy to disconnect and add in some other time. Remove all the story-specific information from the initial descriptions, so you just have a generic description of the place or action. That way, you can maintain a collection of these modular components.

While it does take time to design the initial components, it saves time in the long run. Not only will everything get used—sooner or later—but even those locales that were used can be re-used again, after a fair amount of time has passed. This way, the GM can focus on the plot rather than designing locales.

The same is true of NPCs, especially the mooks. For guards, toughs, assassins, etc, have a standard template that you can alter quickly if necessary. If you are using a game like Savage Worlds or True20, your guard NPC can be the same in almost any genre, with a slight alteration of equipment and possibly skills and feats.

2) Be Flexible. The conspiracy game is exactly the kind of game that works in a goal-oriented sandbox style. As a GM, don’t have a rigid structure to the plot or even the conspiracy itself (see “Listen to Your Players” below). Certainly map out the conspiracy, the connections, the points of contact that might give the PCs a way in or a glimpse of the serpent. However, be ready to alter that to suit the progression of the story. This isn’t cheating. You’re the GM: if what you are doing leads to a more enjoyable experience for everyone at the table, it isn’t cheating.

If you have the NPCs designed, understand their goals and motivations, and have mapped out their connections within the conspiracy, deciding how that conspiracy will adapt to the changing circumstances brought on by the PCs shouldn’t be too difficult. And if the conspiratorial forces are aware of the PCs, they certainly should adapt.

Think of a dungeon in which every occupant of every 10X10 (or 20X20, sometimes 30X30) room lives in a vacuum. They do not react to sensory stimuli that would reach them. They don’t have any apparent food source or any location at which to dispose of their bodily waste. In some games, this is totally fine, and causes no disconnect, but in a game in which the players and the characters are both supposed to be considering and analyzing information, this wouldn’t work. It isn’t logical. And that’s important in a conspiracy game.

Hence . . .

3) Be Logical. Everything has to be linked in a logical and plausible manner. The aspects of the conspiracy don’t have to be rigidly realistic, else we wouldn’t be able to do aliens controlling the shadow government from Area 51. The aspects do all need to make sense for the players. If the conspiracy is not logical, it is unfathomable, and the conspiracy game is about unravelling as much as opposing the conspiracy.

And finally . . .

4) Listen to Your Players. While you might have some great ideas about the conspiracy, its goals, formation and background, your players likely will as well. It’s been said before, a lot, but I think it doesn’t suffer from the repetition: steal from your players. If, in their conjectures, they come up with something awesome, something you wish you had thought of, steal it. Incorporate it into the plot, and change what needs to be changed.

This doesn’t mean that things don’t have to remain logical. They do. If you are going to incorporate an idea on the fly, be careful. If you have a map of the conspiracies structure and connections, it might be easy to see how this change will effect it. If you do not, carefully consider, and make lots of notes. When the game is over, look over those notes and adjust the plot to incorporate these changes in a logical manner.

This approach provides two excellent outcomes. First, if the idea is really good, it enhances the plot. It makes the plot and story better. That means a better game and better experience for everyone. That’s a win. Second, it makes your players feel good for having decoded part of the plot. Again, this means more fun and enjoyment all around. That’s a win-win.

Conspiracy games can be a blast for both GMs and players, and do not necessarily require extensive preparation. Always remember, though, that the game will only be fun if it is the kind of game the players want. If they want a straight ahead shoot-’em-up, no matter how awesome the plot and conspiracy might be, it won’t be fun for the players. You might win them over, but at least one game session will be sub-par. Why not give them what they want, all the while working on roping them into your conspiracy game? If that is what you want to run, sell your players on it before you thrust them into it.