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Nine Powers Adventures
The Luteans

Table of Contents
Arlinac Island
Three Villages
Arlinac Town
Important NPCs
The Adventure
Chapter One - The Abandoned Keep
Chapter Two - The Shrine
Chapter Three - The Contest
Chapter Four - Mithydeep

Arlinac Island

Arlinac Island has pleasant summers and picturesque winters. The island was a convenient place for merchant ships to stop and replenish drinkable water when sailing between the three continents.

Maw Lute made the island much more important at the start of the Age of Escapades. She decided it was far enough from the continents to provide some privacy, but close enough to be convenient. In its northwest corner she made her main lair, named Igneous Halls.

Three Villages

Three small villages grew on the island.

The Lutean Sanctuary was founded by Tuathsith who were unhappy with their appearance. Some sought Maw Lute's help becoming half-dragons. Some had already pledged themselves to a dragon to make that change, and were released from serfdom to move to the sanctuary to live with others of their own kind.

Sagetown was a place for Sagacious Ogres to continue their alchemical research away from suspicion and threats. They were inspired by the Tuathsith sanctuary, and also wanted to live in a peaceful enclave. Sometimes the kingdoms sent a diplomatic party to Sagetown, to ask for wise guidance as a treaty was finalized.

Wishfree was a port settled by ex-pirates looking for a new life. Its leaders quickly adopted the rule that all residents must successfully complete a quest in the nearby Enchanted Forest. The ritual celebrated its people turning over a new leaf, and brought resources to the port to help their fishing and ship building.

None of the villages grew into a town. They only attracted a few, desperate immigrants. The merchant ships that stopped at the island were busy making money, not spending it. The guests touring Igneous Halls were on the far side of the island from the villages, and returned home after a tour or adventure.

Arlinac Island Map

Arlinac Town

The island remained a secluded refuge during the wars of the Age of Intrigue. The armies of Gnash and Frosty Kostkey caused havoc on the continents. Eventually the fanatical generals serving those Powers were slain and their monstrous troops defeated. Then Gnash and Frosty Kostkey proclaimed new doctrines, and changed to guide their followers more actively and constructively.

Gnash sought to establish a town in which ruthlessness was directed in upholding justice and order. He saw that Arlinac Island already had three villages that were successful and peaceful enclaves. He established a fourth village at the island's southern coast, named Arlinac Town. It was a place safe from violence and crime. At first mostly elderly people moved there. Later, after the town's lifestyle and leadership had established trustworthiness, many families very hurt by the war moved there too. Gnash himself appeared in the town square at least monthly to give encouraging speeches, host contests, and teach wondrous feats. Because Gnash had never interacted so personally with the vampires leading the undead armies, people were willing to believe that Gnash had actually been distant from the horrors of war caused in his name. No one would call Gnash good, but he now seemed utilitarian, which for the people in Arlinac Town was enough.

Frosty Kostkey had a much harder time re-establishing himself. He had been active in assisting the armies of Remotes and Abominables. His ghostly grin made of snow flurries had appeared over battlefields. He clearly loved conquest, and was not trustworthy.

A group of machinists who worshipped Frosty Kostkey only as the Chief Machinist came to Arlinac Town and asked to join the town. They were accepted but watched closely. They established the Industrial District and became the town's primary smiths, miners, carters, and machinists.

Then some followers of Remover joined the town. They established Sellsword Street where anyone can hire guards, mercenaries, or treasure hunters.

Soon every power had a district in Arlinac Town. It seemed the right thing to do.

The Achiever is worshiped in Harbor District by farmers, hunters, fletchers, sailors, fishers, furriers, and shipbuilders.

Yarnspinner can be met in Caretaker District, which has the town's dominant inns, taverns, restaurants, and orphanages, as well as its hospital and zoo.

The followers of Little Humble build Earthly District for craftsmen developing their own styles of carpentry, pottery, leatherworking, forestry, and the crafting of plain utilitarian goods.

Maw Lute's worshippers built the Merchant District, an especially colorful and vibrant collection of shops, caravanseries, banks, theatres, and concert halls.

The smallest distict has retired explorers, whose homes are small museums, and who spend their days with cartography and gem polishing. They name their district The Glittering. Some here have eyes that sparkle as they retell their adventures. Others have dull eyes made weary by their accomplishments.

The final district is underground. A magical accident warped and merged the cellars and basements of the town's buildings, joining them into a non-Euclidian labyrinth nicknamed the Mega-Basement. The town's Casters study it, opposing its monsters and sometimes discovering ways to use the labyrinth's strange geometry to amiplify the magic of their spell-scrolls. Futhorc watches over them. Sometimes he turns a portion of the Mega-Basement they have cleaned up into a fun dungeon for risk-free adventure.

Arlinac Town is now the largest settlement on the island. It attracts people curious about its districts. It attracts craftsmen and merchants who want to avoid the taxes and tarrifs of the continentals. Within its walls, Gnash's magic still allows a ruthless pursuit of justice and order.

Important NPCs

Vicvor and Mawjorie Cassander are Arlinac Town's most famous Casters. They come from a family of Bergtrolls famous for their love of fire magic. More than once they have used their magic to shink fires and save the town from fire. They often travel to participate in Futhorc's rune quests, hoping to win and be awarded with the ability to use more fire-themed spell-scroll effects at will.

Vicvor and Mawjorie have been using their wealth to incorporate useful machinery into the town's public infrastructure. A few notable machinists are now contracted to build steam-powered devices to pump water and provide streets with light at night, and fanciful clockwork devices help the town's zoo and botanical garden.

Their youngest daughter is Vivoan Cassander. She lacks her parent's patience and perspective. They view Arlinac Town with the kind of affection most people feel towards a pet cat: the town is mostly self-sufficient but sometimes needs them; it moodily switches between acting appreciative of attention from its caregivers and acting resentful with an immature display of independence. To Vivoan, the town seems like a spoiled, ungrateful child—able to reject her parent's guidance and aid with a degree of rebellion that she would have been punished for displaying. But Vivoan is genuinely kind and generous, and loves Arlinac Town. In her mind, her parents' strict discipline and insistence upon self-improvement were a necessary part of growing up to become the remarkable young woman she is today. She wonders if if Arlinac Town needs to deal with more surprises and hardships to similarly become responsible and grand—but would never want the town to truly suffer.

Heroes who impress the Cassander family might be given spell-scrolls or special items crafted with Musing. The Cassanders can also help arrange meetings with important people, or the secret delivery of messages. Sometimes the Cassanders have special knowledge of the Mega-Basement and can "tunnel" from place to place in Arlinac Town with non-Euclidean passages that arrive more quickly than any route above ground.

Nolak and Janire Perdica are Therions in Arlinac Town famous for breeding dinosaurs. Harmless ones are sold as pets locally or shipped to the continents. Dangerous ones are carefully used for hunting competitions, or in the town's arena. Nolak and Janire are admired as a caring and devoted couple with a happy marriage and praiseworthy parenting skills. Their wealth supports the town's hospital and orphanages. Most members of the family are also respected. Unfortunately, the family is troubled by several of its members going mad in early adulthood—eccentricity carries much more of a stigma for younger Perdicas.

Heroes who impress the Perdica family might be given free herbal or magical healing at the hospital, generous gift certificates for local businesses, or lenient interactions with the town watch.

Demotrax is a dragon seeking to become royalty in a continental kingdom. For now he is a self-proclaimed "prince" and tries to act as a local noble in Arlinac Town to build a good reputation. Like all dragons, he feels driven to increase his hoard and thus grow stronger. Yet he sincerely loves Arlinac Town and feels a constant tension between gaining personal wealth and donating funds to various town projects.

Demotrax also claims to see the natural rhythm and music of the island, and does reckless things from an alien mindset. No one else can see a rational basis or purpose to his proclamations that the island's inner harmony requires more or less farmland, or lyric ballads, or kite flying.

The Adventure

Chapter One — The Abandoned Keep
(July 8th, 2020)

While the four heroes are visiting the Lutean Sanctuary they are asked to travel to a nearby abandoned keep. The keep is normally a place some of the Lutean children use as a place to play. But a few days ago some monsters moved inside.

The heroes are a motley crew. Devin is a Bergtroll diplomat and machinist, far less haugty than most of his kin, who is adventuring to escape boredom. The barbaric Hulg Gruntman is indeed a Sagacious Ogre whose prowess as an alchemist has cured his Ogre's Hunger—but he delights in charging recklessly into battle and exhibits little intelligence when not at an alchemist's bench. The amazing Shinar is a wandering Errant and performer of comedy, magic, and card tricks (also known for his act "Danny the Dancing Pigeon"). The adorable Kititul is a Tuathsith with the head, claws, and tail of a cat who is overly fond of becoming invisible and pouncing.

They decline to make any preparations in town. The morning is pleasant as they hide two hours to the keep. They see smoke from a cooking fire and realize it is inhabited. Shinar changes into his pigeon form to fly above and investigate.

The three-story rectangular tower of the keep is in decent shape, but its wooden roof has largely rotted and in places collapsed. The keep's walls extend from the tower to define a courtyard, with a sturdy set of wooden doors in a gatehouse opposite the keep. A few half-collapsed sheds lean against the courtyard's walls, with doors missing and obvious signs of planks removed for use as firewood.

The keep's inhabitants are startling! In the center of the courtyard are two small, dormant dragons (only about 4 meters long) with strange mechanical contraptions around their bellies like metal barrels with components to a still, complete with pipes and valves, and dials and lights. Two dragon-headed men with toolboxes are working on these machines. A third dragon-headed man is doing something in one of the sheds. A fourth occasionally emerges from the keep, but is spending most of his time inside where Shinar cannot observe from above.

The heroes devise a simple plan. Kititul invisibly climbs the wall and opens the keep's front doors. The wooden beam keeping them closed is heavy, and falls to ground with a loud thud. The machinists in the courtyard hear the noise and look up to see the doors flung open by the immense Hulg, who is charging them with his warhammer. Behind Hulg runs Devin. Shinar is atop the wall with an arrow drawn.

The battle begins well. One machinist hurriedly finishes adjusting something on a dormant dragon, but is knocked out by the charging heroes. The other falls as Shinar puts an arrow in his leg while Kititul invisibly pounces and grabs his throat with both hands.

Then the combat gets complicated. The villain in the shed sees something is choking his partner and hits Kititul with an arrow, ending the Tuathsith's invisibly and causing him to howl in pain. The adjusted dragon lumbers to its feat, and ignores the diplomacy and bargaining of Devin and Shinar when Hulg slices it with a battleaxe.

Shinar charges the shed, while Kititul and Devin restrain Hulg and force him down, supine. The dragon is not appeased. It places it's left front claw firmly on Hulg, and inhales deeply while the machinery around it whirs and glugs, and a dial moves from "empty" to "full".

Shinar and the villain the shed both have arrows drawn, and are watching the doorway while waiting for the other to make the first move. Hulg gets electrified by the dragon's natural breath weapon, and also roasted by scalding steam that its machinery spews forth. The Ogre roars, and despite being on his back on the ground swings mightily and nearly severs the dagon's forelimb. Devin and Kititul both rush to explore the active machinery, and succeed in disabling it. The dragon collapses on top of Hulg, who also falls unconscious.

Devin uses his herbalism to restore Hulg to consciousness while Kititul joins Shinar. The tricky Errant tosses a stone into the shed through a window, distracting the foe enough for Kititul to dash into the shed and pounce. It is bravely done, and Kititul is hit by a second arrow, but is still standing while all three opponents are now defeated.

A rope extends down from a window of the tower to the ground outside the keep. The fourth villain has escaped.

As an Errant Shinar can detect lies, and this ability combined with some straight-forward questioning reveals that the dragons want to be augmented as steampunk cyborgs. These villains are part of a group trying to form a new army for Frosty Kostkey, with plans to conquer Arlinac Island.

The first dragon has bled to death. The second dragon has remained dormant as combat raged around it. Kititul stays in the keep to guard the dormant dragon. The other heroes load up their three unconscious prisoners and use a cart they find in the coutyard to bring them to Lutean Sanctuary for the authorities to deal with.

The first chapter is complete! The abandoned keep is added to the map. The heroes each earn an advancement token...

Chapter Two — The Shrine
(July 11th, 13th, 14th, 15h, 21st, and 22nd, 2020)

Kititul is too injured to become invisible, and realizes the risk in standing watch over the dormant dragon while an enemy might be lurking nearby. He decides to search the tower instead. He finds confusing papers that repeatedly mention "Red versus Blue" and the "Cult of the Dragon".

The other three heroes bring the three captives to the Lutean Sanctuary. They sell some of the prisoner's tools, each gaining 8 silver coins. The adventure's first treasure! They also suggest to the town's authorities that townsfolk with a larger cart travel to the abandoned keep to retrieve the dormant dragon.

Only minutes after being locked in jail, the prisoners mysteriously vanish! The town's authorities begin a search and investigation. The three heroes worry that Kititul might be in danger and rush back to the abandoned keep. They help with trying to make sense of the cultists' papers, and learn that more cultists might be in Arlinac Town's Industrial District. They stay overnight at the keep, and rest well enough to fully recover from the day's injuries.

The reunited heroes travel back to the Lutean Sanctuary, and use the town's passportal stone to travel to Arlinac Town. Devin's wealthy parents welcome them. They rest briefly at the family mansion, and Devin takes a trumpet from the music room.

The heroes cautiously make inquiries in the Industrial District. They hear whispers of a Cult of the Dragon. Their inquiries also reveal that two cultists recently left town, and a third went insane and is now being treated in the sanitorioum run by Fairflux the Pixy alchemist. They eventually learn the insane cultist is named Barker and is a Bergtroll with a dragon's head.

At the sanitorioum Fairflux welcomes them, but she requires their spokesman (Shinar) get tested to make sure they are sane. Shinar passes the "obeys reasonable requests from authority figures" test by sitting at a table when ordered. Then he passes the "refuses unreasonable requests from authority figures" test by refusing to put a bag of large, dangerous spiders over his head. For the final test, Fairflux opens a wardrobe to display its contents: all sorts of one-handed weapons attractively polished and oiled to show off their blades and spikes. Shinar remains politely calm. Hulg needs to be constrained by his teammates. Fairflux realizes that Hulg's earlier questions about "Do we fight?" and "Can we kill her?" might not be in jest.

Fairflux takes them to the second floor, where they can question Barker. They also meet an eagle-sized Tuathstith named Quickly, who was shrunk by Gnash to eagle size after being caught pickpocketing during one of Gnash's speeches at the town square. Devin remembers hearing about the incident: Quickly is being alchemically treated to cure his kleptomania. But Quickly insists he is sane and a prisoner, and Fairflux is the dangerous insane person. The heroes try to ignore Quickly's ranting and pleading as the continue to question Barker, who does little more than mumble "Red versus Blue".

Fairflux suggests with vague words that the heroes try her way of making Barker talk. She leads them upstairs, and tricks Hulg into standing where a strange ooze monster names Squickly can reach him with a pseudopod. The ooze seems harmless, except that Hulg stands stationary in a trance and speaks truthfully while the pseudopod covers most of his head. Hulg remains fuzzy-headed for a few minutes after being released.

The ooze is used on Barker, who reveals that "Red" and "Blue" are using a shrine near "two rivers where strange dragons live". The heroes find this general area on their map of Arlinac Island.

Time to move on. The heroes find some proper representatives of Maw Lute at the Merchant District and share their news. Devin's also learsn a little of the Reciting wondrous feat while in this district. Then the heroes say farewell to Devin's family, and use the town's passportal stone to return to the Lutean Sancturary.

They report to Lutean officials about what they learned, and in thanks are told the town will pay for their transportation across the bay. The Luteans know a little about "red versus blue". There was once a contest or game in which some fire-breathing red dragons and frost-breathing blue dragons competeted to prove who was superior. In the town's library they read a famous poem:

Some dragons will breath fire,
Others will breath ice.
Personally I admire
Red dragons with their bright fire.
But if I had to give advice,
I would bet on the Blue team
Since for destruction dire and precise
Ice's cold gleam
Is paradise.

But that old contest was never violent, never involved modifiying dragons with machinery, and never included any kind of cult.

As the heroes get on their boat, Quickly glides onto the boat to join them. "Quickly, Quickly! I found Hulg the fighter! I go with you and watch him fight!" The heroes discuss if and how they can dissuade the tiny Tuathsith, and decide it is not worth the effort.

They find the shrine. At the entryway rest the remains of a ruined campsite, with three graves. A journal reveals that purblinds had come to the shrine after seeing a possible future in which a war involving dragons caused terrible suffering. Three recent graves reinforce the journal's brief description of fighting between the purblinds and dragon cultists.

Shinar changes to his pidgeon form, and with the invisible Kititul they being exploring the interior of the shrine.

Inside the shrine is a square room with hallways extending from all four walls (the south passage exits the shrine). Two stone statues, created long ago by Maw Lute, turn their heads to face each person entering and telepathically ask, "Are you red or are you blue?" Shinar and Kititul both have snark mental answers: "Purple!". There is no noticeably outcome.

Hulg impatiently charges in after this allies. His reply to the mental probe is "Red!". Hulg feels a strange tingling all over his body, and is convinced that, for now, he is completely immune to being harmed by fire. He also hears a second telepathic message: "Do not look into the darkness!".

Devin and Quickly decide waiting at the entrance is not safe, and join the party. They mentally reply "Blue." They also feel a strange tingling all over their bodies, and is convinced that, for now, they are completely immune to being harmed by cold. They also hear the second telepathic message: "Do not look into the darkness!".

The party continues north to a T-shaped junction with doors to the west and east. Hulg tries to force the east door open. It is barred from the other side, so he begins chopping it down with his axe. Footsteps scurry on the other side. Hulg has made some holes in the door, and a spear thrusts through: once, twice! Hulg dodges both thrusts and then kicks open what is left of the door!

Mentzer Dungeon by Dyson Logos

Past the ruined door is another square room, with another door on the opposite wall also barred by the room's three purblind inhabitants. Hulg charges them with his huge axe, but Kititul grabs his legs and trips him. Hulg still manages to wound one purblind before the other two wrest the axe from his hands. Hulg roars, stands, and takes his club from his belt—and again wounds a second purblind before his second weapon is forced from his grip. Hulg grunts and takes a warhammer from his other hip, but is knocked unconscious by the increasing well-armed purblinds before able to cause any more harm.

Devin and Shinar have been trying to talk to the purblinds, but diplomacy has been ignored while Hulg was attacking. However, as the combat ended Devin discreetly touched two of the purblinds, and used his Bergtrollish co-vetting to learn that the purblinds seek a lost library book. This knowledge now helps his negotiations, and the purblinds not only stop attacking but ask the heroes (except the unconscious Hulg) to follow them. Shinar is allowed to first use some first aid to stabilize the badly injured Hulg.

The library is out the other door, halfway down a long hallway, through a secret door which the purblinds open. Inside are no books: the room is very old, and its shelves have only dust and tiny scraps of rotted leather. A ghost-like echo of a librarian appears and makes gestures. The purblinds say they have seen many possible futures, and all the best futures begin by returning to this room any of the books that once belonged here.core

The party promises to retrieve such a book, and the purblinds allow them to contine exploring the shrine.

The hallway that led to the library continues north, to a room where a purblind is guarding two magically entranced prisoners. The party greets the guard, and sees one prisoner is from the red group and the other is from the blue group. A few more questions are asked, but not the right questions, and the party decides to go elsewhere.

Back to the entrance! To explore the west side of the shrine, the party returns to the room with the talking statues, which have already addressed each person and remain dormant. The hallway leading to the west is long, and at one point requires passing between six smaller statues—three on each side—carved to look like worshippers of Maw Lute wearing large hoods over their heads. The faces of these statues are hidden in darkness. A few party members look into that darkness and are paralyzed, but their allies pull them away to save them.

That westward hallway turns north and then west again before ending in a doorway. Inside this room is a guard post: a machinist from the red roup sits on a chair, behind a counter on which is mounted a protective barrier. Two fierce mechanical turrets flank the counter, and they fire at the party as soon as the door into the room is opened! The heroes back up to safety, then decide to charge. They rush at the guard, with bobbing, weaving, leaping, and dodging. Most of the turret fire is avoided. The guard is overwhelmed by the four heroes, but not before he pushes a large button on the counter that fills the room with flame! Yet Hulg is fireproof! He knocks out the guard and smashes one turret to pieces, while his allies flee the room until the fire subsides.

The counter's drawers have two healing potions. Devin carries one. Kititul drinks the other, to again be at full health and able to use his Tuathsith invisibility.

The second turret is salvaged for parts worth selling. The room's second door leads to the western hallway of the shrine. From this hallway three short alcoves lead to three doors: the three rooms of the red cultists. One is their living space. A second is storage for strange machines. The third room is where six of those troublesome machinists have fortified their position after hearing the fighting in the guard room. Inside this room two sturdy tables are turned on their side, and the six cultists have readied their experimental devices for combat. Hulg chops down the locked door and charges in. He leaps over the tables, but as he lands is quickly defeated by the waiting machinists, who launch projectiles and spurts of ineffective flame. The other heroes develop an effective strategy: Quickly and Kititul flank them, fighting mostly defensively but with Kititul wrestling one machinist at a time to be visible from the doorway, above the tables. Then Shinar's bow and the shards of sound blown from Devin's trumpet defeat the exposed machinist. Again and again this works, with Quickly suffering some wounds until a machinist's fanciful and experimental shield generator creates a barrier that assists the heroes more than the cultists.

The defeated cultists are questioned. They have a map of the shrine, complete with information about secret doors and passages! The cultists claim to be ignorant of any plans for war or aggression. They simply build devices to augment willing dragons, as part of an ancient and friendly rivalry between a red team and blue team. The two towns named Draconan Strongholds are where the followers of red and blue dragons live. As far as they know, no unwilling dragons are involved, no conquest is planned, and Frosty Kostley is not involved.

The heroes stabilize the wounded, and patch up Hulg. Devin claims an experimental device that launches a glowing ball of energy that creates a slowing field where it lands. Hulg wakes up and plays with the other devices, finding a rocket launcher that is too big to carry but he decides to claim and push around on a hand-cart.

The party explores the center of the shrine, a network of small rooms hidden behind multiple secret doors. This area is where the designer of the shrine is entombed. Nearby, through narrow passages filled with either magic fire or a magic ice storm, are two orbs: one red, one blue. The shrine's throne room has sockets in which to place these orbs, as well as four pillars in which other objects can be placed.

The party returns to the purblinds, and together return to the library. Everyone searches for the secret door now known to be north of the library, and behind it find an airtight chamber that contains several ancient but well-preserved books.

Bringing one of these books to the echo of the librarian "satisfies" the echo. For a few minutes the room appears at it once did: full of books, nicely furnished, and smelling of paper, leather, and tea. The heroes quickly read all they can about the shrine and the rivalry between red and blue.

The library's ancient books reveal the purpose of the central room with ornate chairs upon a dais. These were not thrones for royalty, but where two people who were officiating a contest or challenge would sit while explaining the rules of the competition. Then four cubical "keys" would be placed on the four pillars in a specific order, turning the mural behind the dais into a portal through which everyone could travel to the location of the competition.

Next the party searches the secret closet their map shows in the northwest corner of the shrine. Inside is a guardian! An animated suit of armor attacks the heroes, but is quickly bashed to pieces. In the closet are the four cubical keys, and some other treasure.

Then the party travels to the second secret closet, in the southeast corner of the shrine. It contians three ghouls. Hulg starts the fight by firing his rocket launcher, using its last rocket to dramatic effect. Devin turns on his chainsaw-sword, which was the party's only other magic weapon, and hands it to Kititul, who is a more skilled melee fighter. Shinar protects Kititul while the injured ghouls were cut to pieces.

Finally, the party explores the southeast corner of the shrine, where a "laboratory of undeath" was used by blue cultists. Only two blue cultists remain in the shrine, who immediately surrender and explain their situation. Their superiors used alchemy to study the curse of necromobility that turns corpses into zombies. Mostly work was done studying necrotic weapons. Sometimes these two lowest-ranking cultists were tasked with leaving the shrine to catch animals, which were made into zombies and also studied. Their superiors were successful, and left the shrine a few days ago having learned how to infuse a living dragon with the beneficial powers of undeath: immunity to damage from non-magic weapons, not needing to breathe, not acquiring a penalty to skill use when suffering an impairment, and being able to drain energy.

When the party arrived, these two cultists had been bored and were making the only remaining experimental subjects—two zombie squirrels—race around the hallways. The party ignored that. Hulg claimed the two necrotic weapons left in the laboratory: a pair of daggers. Quickly examined the remaining notes and potions, and found a bottle labeled "cures Gnash's curses" evidently aimed at curing necromobility. The cursed Tuathsith excitedly drinks that potion, and is indeed returned to his original size and shape. "How nice to be freed from that tiny bird-brain!" he exclaims with an eloquence his allies had not yet heard.

The shrine is completely explored. The party leaves through the center north passage, to a portal to Igneous Halls.

Maw Lute greets them at Igneous Halls. She declares that since they hold the two orbs and four cubes, they should design and officiate the first official contest in many years between the red cult and blue cult.

Chapter Three — The Contest
(July 24th, 27th, and 29th, 2020)

The heroes flatter Maw Lute, and tell her that because she is the patron of art and dragons (and collecting) that they would appreciate her help creating events that involve "dragons made out of artwork". The players brainstorm nine ideas.

These events will challenge four teams: two from the red group, two from the blue group. Each team will have one dragon and two people who are helpers.

Tile Event: A swirling cloud of tiles is shaped like a dragon. It attacks whomever is near. All the teams must simultaneously battle it. Contenstants can pull out tiles during this struggle. When the tile-dragon is defeated, all its remaining tiles fall to the floor, and can be fought over. The teams must use their tiles to make the best mosaic.

Music Event: A swirling storm cloud is shaped like a dragon. It makes melodious sounds of wind and thunder. One at a time, the teams try to make music that best blends with the dragon's sounds. However, sparks and lightning emanate from the dragon, disrupting concentration and necessitating fancy footwork.

Paper Event: A huge piece of paper has the outline of a dragon. Each team faces its own copy of the paper. The paper bends, folds, and twists, trying to smother the contestants and give them paper cuts. The teams must cut out the dragon while the paper attacks them, trying to best cut along the lines.

Sculpture Event: A lifesize wooden dragon has body parts extending from its torso that are extra things from other animals: a crab claw, an octopus tentacle, a shark fin, a squirrel tail, etc. Each team faces its own copy of the sculpture. The contestants are given axes and hatchets, and must fight the agressive wooden statue. The fight ends when the extra parts are hacked off. Which team can remove the extra parts while doing the least damage to the proper wooden dragon?

Embroidery Event: A huge silk cloth has the outline of a dragon. On the ground are fifty magic sewing needles, and ping-pong paddles. When a needle is hit with a paddle, it will pass through the cloth and to the other side, where a teammate with another paddle can return it with another hit. As the needle goes back and forth it magically adds embroidered decoration to the silk dragon. However, each needle will eventually feel like it is harassed too much and will stop working for a while. There is a time limit. Who can make the best sewn dragon?

Labyrinth Event: (Hulg invented this contest, not noticing it did mention artwork.) A labyrinth whose walls frequently change must be simultaneously navigated by all four teams, who are encouraged to interfere with each other's progress. An undefeatable dragon-construct enters the labyrinth soon after the contestants, to chase whomever is closest to it.

Debate Event: Each team must select one painting they feel best represents the important issues and merits of the red versus blue contest. The team take turns explaining and defending their choice, and then get turns reacting to the choices made by the other teams.

(Two other events were discussed but never fully developed: cooking the most beautifully presented recipe, and making big dragons out of clay that the contests assume are intended to be beautiful but instead these clay dragons battle until only one remains standing.)

The first six events go fairly predictably.

The four kids who are players take turns GM-ing these six events. During each event the other three players and the GM direct the four teams, whose small size was declared to make this role-playing easier.

The team named Belly Biters has a red dragon wearing machinery arounds its belly (similar to the dragons from the abandoned keep). The machinery allows it to breathe its choice of fire, steam, or boiling water. The dragon is named Elbarnes. Her machinists are two male draconan Dweorgs named Robern and Chury. This team demonstrates focused and strong action. They work to decapitate the tile dragon, to claim for their mosaic the tiles from the head and neck. The team modifies their steampunk machinery to make music like a pipe organ (and also drum on it). They behave in a straighforward way for the paper, sculpture, and embroidery events. In the labyrinth they rush ahead of the other teams so their success or failure will be entirely on their own shoulders.

For the final event, about debating the merits of famous paintings, the GM again controls all the NPCs. The four players are not experienced or mature enough to create a structured art appreciation discussion without adult leadership.

The painting chosen by the Belly Biters looks a lot like The Battle of Leipzig by Alexander Sauerweid. Imagine that the soldiers and other people are wearing fantasy clothing.

The Battle of Leipzig by Alexander Sauerweid

"This painting," explain the Belly Biters, "is about conflict. It depicts war. But the lessons it teaches are about any conflict. Notice that the battle is finished. The town in the back is burning. We see the victors. They are not sure what to do next. Some are soldiers. Some are townsfolk. Very few are wounded. They won the battle, and did so soundly. But in many small groups they are talking, discussing what should happen now that the conflict is over. This reminds us of import truths.

"First, conflict often happens without a purpose. These victors were attacked. That is clear when we notice they are not moving to occupy the defeated land, nor do they have plunder. The victors might not even know why they were attacked. But they were, and they dealt with it, and now what? There was a time for action that could not be delayed for discussion or understanding.

"Second, conflict includes bystanders. The soldiers did the fighting. But now they are talking with their freinds, family, and neighbors.

"Which brings us to the third final lesson. The fighting was quick and perhaps even easy. But the tensions that caused the fighting, and endure afterwards, are the true, persistent, and tricky conflict. We learn a little about the victors from how soundly they won the fight. But we will learn more from how they resolve the tensions with their opponents."

The team named Deep Thinkers has a red dragon named Ralf who was created with three heads. Ralf used to argue with himself constantly. Now he wears three mechanical hats connected by wires that allow him to function as a single mind with three times the brainpower. When he thinks very hard the gears on the hats spin too fast and the oil begins smoking. His machinists are two female draconan Therions named Lethuia and Bruna. This team alternates between careful planning and clever action. It fights against the tile dragon using excellent cooperation with the other teams, confident that after the tiles fall to the floor it could an equal share of the tiles better than its rivals. During the music event its Therions play instruments while all three of Ralf's heads sing in harmony. The team is also tactical and clever during the paper, sculpture, and embroidery events. In the labyrinth it uses the puzzle-solver's trick of following one wall (the right wall, since the Belly Biters had charged ahead to the left) to avoid getting lost.

The painting chosen by the Deep Thinkers looks a lot like The Great Wave off Kanagawa by Hokusai. Imagine that the famous mountain in the background is the one behind Arliac Town.

Great Wave off Kanagawa by Hokusai

"This painting," explain the Deep Thinkers, "is about a particular conflict: crafting and nature. Nature has harmony: the waves in the foreground match the mountain in the background. Nature is unopposable: the boats can do nothing to stop the waves. So the boats also shape themselves to the waves, and by also matching gain harmony and unopposability. All the things that people craft should harmonize with nature."

The team named The Blues has a blue dragon named Mopey whose infusion with necrotically themed power has made it depressed and nihilistic, and it participates begrudgingly while complaining that all this activity and effort is pointless. His alchemists are two male draconan Therions named Bertio and Jamas, who do their best in each event but are handicapped by Mopey's self-defeating behavior and wretched attitude. Mopey barely participated in most events, sometimes even getting in the way. In the labyrinth even Mopey decided to stay at the entrance and fight the unstoppable dragon-construct, which mostly made that event easier for all the other teams.

The painting chosen by the Blues looks a lot like Guernica by Pablo Picasso. Imagine that the imagery has a few more fantasy elements.

Guernica by Pablo Picasso

"This painting," explains Mopey, who is finally animated and interested in the contest, "is also about conflict. Look at the chaos and suffering! Conflict does not make sense, and its results do not make sense.

"I disagree with the Belly Biters. In their painting of victors in front of a burned town, what will life look like in a month? Increasingly heated disagreements about how to occupy the conquered lands and either displace or enslave its people? Crushing taxes and tithes to support the military forever needed to defend those civilians from counterattacks by the families and allies of their beaten enemies? The Belly Biters claimed that conflict could be worthwhile even if it had no clear purpose, but this is only a lie believed by victors in their moment of victory. The Belly Biters claimed that conflict includes bystanders, but the civilians will not be bystanders when their homes are attacked by the allies of their rivals. The Belly Biters claimed that the tensions are the fundamental part of the conflict, but the complete lack of advice about how to resolve those tensions merely shows how stupid and futile are all efforts to establish your land, defend your home, or create harmony."

The team named Tiny Terrors has a very small blue dragon named Tina with barely constrained violent urges. Her alchemists are two female Pixies (not draconan) named Helda and Susi. When planning and working this team is solidly practical. It cooperates well with the other teams when asked. But during battle Tina's eyes glow and she enters a mindless rage, yelling "Bite it! Bite it!" as she attacks, while Helda yells, "Calm down, Tina!" and Susi yells, "Tina, stop talking with your mouth full!"

This team fights against the tile dragon respectably but without any special strategy. Its musicianship is excellent, although Tina's soprano voice cannot compare to Ralf simultaneously singing Bass, Baritone, and Tenor. Tina destroys the paper dragon, earning the lowest possible score in that event. Their sculpture and embroidery events are calmer. During the labyrinth this team follows the Deep Thinkers, then tries to rush ahead at the end of the maze.

The painting chosen by the Tiny Terrors looks a lot like Alley by the Lake by Leonid Afremov. Imagine that the lamp posts have a slightly steampunk appearance, and the people have on clothing appropriate for a fantasy setting.

Alley by the Lake by Leonid Afremov

"This painting," explain Helda and Susi, "is also about conflict and harmony. But it teaches better lessons than the paintings chosen by our esteemed rivals. First notice the lamp posts and trees on the left. Together both are more beautiful than either would be without the other. Crafting should not merely flow with nature, but should highlight its beauty and enhance its appeal. Second, notice the river on the right. It is not changed by people. Construction and crafting do not happen for no reason, that would be ugly. In other words, having purpose can prevent the tensions that create conflict. Planning can prevent the unresolvable issues of the first painting.

"Also, the row of trees along the river was planted. Nature is not an alien and unfathomable force that people must bend before as they conform to its shape. We plant fields, cultivate gardens, and

Chapter Four — Mithydeep
(August 2020)