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Monster Party Book 3 Commentary. 
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Evil Genius
Evil Genius

Joined: Sat Sep 06, 2014 11:30 am
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Post Monster Party Book 3 Commentary.
AN Chapter One: One think I need to get out of the way first technically it should be "An Oil of Grease" given that you drink potions and apply oils to objects. However the line " Nobody is lucky enough to just happen to have brought an Oil of Grease along with them..." Read super weirdly to me, so I decided that correct D&D terminology could take a back seat to characters speaking like characters rather then encyclopedias, that's what these notes are for after all explaining things from an out of universe perspective.

More importantly, yes the particular Monster Party book is going to go EXACTLY where you should be thinking it is going at this point. I refuse to be ashamed of myself for that, it was like the book was CALLING OUT to me to do this to it!

If you aren't sure what the above means or who exactly Cal's father is, then we clearly don't have the same taste in video games.

Also Cal's alchemist advice is quite accurate if incredibly obvious since it boils down to "don't try to make gunpowder if you've got an open flame nearby."

Florence is busting out that Air Walk spell I talked about her using back in the first book again, and while using a 4th level spell to circumvent a 1rst level one like grease is a bit suboptimal, since it's midnight and she understandably prays for new spells with the dawning of the sun it's not like she expects to need a lot of magical firepower before she gets a chance to refresh.

Sun Mar 29, 2015 6:41 pm
Evil Genius
Evil Genius

Joined: Sat Sep 06, 2014 11:30 am
Posts: 637
Post Re: Monster Party Book 3 Commentary.
AN Chapter Two: Yeah, not even hiding it anymore, while this Monster Party "book" will be no less faithful to the adventure book I'm adapting it from than the previous two, I am also telling this story by way of a Phoenix Wright game. The guy who inspired Cal is a huge Phoenix Wright fan so I'm sure he'll enjoy it.

If Phoenix Wright fit in any Ravenloft domain it would probably be Lamordia what with that domain's never ending obsession with logic and rationality... and continuing to still pursue these things while deranged doctors rob graves for spare parts. In short, pursuit of a perfectly logical verdict, even if the logic you use to get there is going to end up involving making a hired killer testify via radio, running a metal detector over someone's shoulder, or seeing how many people in a row can burst in right when a judge is about to declare a verdict.

Also it only really works in Lamordia or Mordent because it depends on having a legal system that actually has fairness at the bottom or at the very least verdicts that can't simply be overturned by the local darklord/corrupt ruler. Before you bring up Tepest, no it wouldn't work, "trials" in Tepest are closer to witch hunts than even the loosey goosey way trials are normally run in the Wright Universe (save it for the crossover).

Given Lamordia's above mentioned obsession, it makes sense that they'd want to have as logical and rational a justice system as possible... and if anything in Ravenloft "Judge, I'd like to to put that bird on the witness stand and make it testify" is a semi-reasonable thing to say, after all Darkon has an entire species of intelligent avians that can speak human languages!

I'll split the difference and say Phoenix is from Lamordia that the Fey clan is from Mordent (yes I know they don't share a border) since you know, a spirit channeling clan coming from a domain that's has a great deal to do with ghosts and spirits (and also your family's history as well from what I can remember) makes sense.

I'll explain the reasons for why I decided to go down this particular route more in the author comments for the entire book when all is said and done.

Also I know I'm posting this chapter way too soon after the first one, but I'm enjoying writing this stuff a lot, and by getting it posted I motivate myself to write more rather than rest on my laurels.

Oh also I'm calling it, since it doesn't contradict anything that I can recall there's a cross Domain holiday in Ravenloft (it's not present in all Domains (too happy for Falkovnia and too nature worshipy for Tepest) called Solstice which I'll be using in place of Christmas (see back in the second book) so no points for guessing what the real life equivalent of "Father Solstice" would be.

By the way Florence first probably used the "Snare" spell back in Book 2 to capture some werewolves, since I'm writing her as a spontaneous casting druid expect her to use the same general spell list to lots of different effects rather than being able to prepare any spell she wants in the morning, but then being stuck with only the spells she prepares for the rest of the day.

Sun Mar 29, 2015 6:43 pm
Evil Genius
Evil Genius

Joined: Sat Sep 06, 2014 11:30 am
Posts: 637
Post Re: Monster Party Book 3 Commentary.
AN Chapter Three: It's not a hard mystery to figure out what sort of work Ms. Bump did if you put it in context. Likewise it's not hard to figure out what kind of flower Mirri had picked out to entice James with if you know your botany. I'll spell the answer out fully to both as part of my end novel notes.

It is a testament to Morton von Keller's years of work with corpses that on sight in good lightning, he can tell that Mirri is not conventionally alive. However the fact that she is in "good lighting" or in this particular case "outdoor lighting" also means that he doesn't immediately jump to the idea that she's a vampire.

So instead we move to the next "most logical" explanation for a dead woman standing around, a golem, which I'll have a little bit more to say about later on. For now all I will say is that based on the example of Angelique from Children of the Night The Created (which is basically a book featuring a buch of mini-adventures centered around golems in Ravenloft) you are allowed to have beautiful conventionally attractive golems.

Mirri of course walks a very thin line towards giving away the game, but she's too much of a undead supremacist to let a vampire get blamed for something that clearly no vampire did.

Oh also enjoy the cliffhanger!

Also as a head's up near the end of this month I'm going on vacation for two weeks and be able to upload anything, I'll try to keep up the rate of one chapter a week and not leave on a cliffhanger like this one...

Wed Apr 15, 2015 9:01 pm
Evil Genius
Evil Genius

Joined: Sat Sep 06, 2014 11:30 am
Posts: 637
Post Re: Monster Party Book 3 Commentary.
AN: The ingredients in the glass bottle are taken directly from Terry Pratchett's "The Truth". They don't correspond to anything in real life so if you didn't recognize them don't worry. If you didn't grasp what they added up to from the context of the story the three of them (especially oil of scallatine) are extremely odoriferous, or to make it clearer still, THEY SMELL BAD! REALLY, REALLY, REALLY BAD!

That's why Alfred Timothy wants people to know that anyone who carries oil scallatine into his domain is going to be headed for an especially painful and gruesome death. Not because it's some sort of super anti-werewolf weapon that he fears could kill even him, it's just that the stuff will make werewolves who smell it end up WISHING they were dead.

As for his peculiar exclamation, Cal is from Lamordia, as I've previously noted Lamordians tend to try to be rational and logical, even when the world around them refuses to be either of those things. Thus while he might curse like anyone else, when it comes to swearing (in the sense of by something rather than at something) Cal would very much not do so by any god or goddess.

After a spending some time contemplating it made much more "sense" to instead have him swear by something that is of quasi-mystical rarity and yet firmly grounded in nature. So when Cal says "Ball Lightning" a form of lightning which is super rare and may or may not actually exist, he means it with the exact same vehemence that James uses "Bastet's Tail Tuft!"

The fact that electricity also plays a fairly large part in the creation of most flesh golems (the other major thing Lamordia is known for) equally played a part in me making this particular decision.

Also rage, so much RAGE at the way this was written in the book. Seriously I don't think I'm going to come across anything that makes me slap my head and reads as being just so blatantly WRONG as this was.

The print shop is a semi-important place to go where you can find some interesting information. Also as written the book doesn't have ANYONE connected to it! Yeah, I read it like three times to make sure, they never talk about who owns/works in the print shop! I had to shuffle the NPCs around in order to give the group someone to talk to in the first half of this chapter! I don't know if it was a mistake or the result of laziness but either way... COME ON!

Thu Apr 23, 2015 6:37 pm
Evil Genius
Evil Genius

Joined: Sat Sep 06, 2014 11:30 am
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Post Re: Monster Party Book 3 Commentary.
AN Chapter Five: Alexander Diamondclaw says its always important for PCs to use the buddy system, no matter how high level they may be.

Also Cal's cursing is authentic German swearing because Lamordian language unquestionably has a German aspect to it, granted so does Falkovinian, yet it and Lamordian are supposed to be two separate languages, so I'll throw that one down to one some sort of strange aspect of translating both languages into our world's version of English.

Also, you remember how I said that this book was a bit of a pain due to all the formatting I've needed to do to it to get it to look right?

Well that's caught up with me to the point that I've finished writing it except for the over all author commentary, but am way behind on posting it. So expect me to throw up a new chapter of it every day or so to knock this sucker out cold over the course of the next week and get ready for book four.

Last edited by jamesfirecat on Wed Jul 01, 2015 8:23 am, edited 1 time in total.

Sat May 23, 2015 11:26 am
Evil Genius
Evil Genius

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Post Re: Monster Party Book 3 Commentary.
AN Chapter Six: The sounds that the animals make are "transcribed" as "faithfully" as I could from some youtube videos.

Also please note despite the fact that we're getting our very first "door busting intervention" (as in when the hero seems to be at his wits end someone bursts in through the courtroom doors with some new lead/peace of information/testimony) a well known aspect of any memorable Phoenix Wright case, (I won't say if this is or isn't the only one in the book) it is not a Deus ex machina that I am throwing to the PCs to keep the story going in their favor.

The story of the glove that went missing is in the Adventure Book itself, in particular it is described as part of the info you can get by reading through the old copies of the Paridon Newsbill.

Also, I now really wish that there were trains in Ravenloft, because the image of the group wearing what amounts to the customary bandit scarfs makes me want to give Cal a chance to take part in the famous "Is this a holdup?" "It's a science experiment!" exchange from Back to the Future Three.

Also the book describes the thing that the scrap of cloth ends up getting torn off on/stuck to as a "metal spur" and it may just be my American-centric view of the worlds peaking but when I hear "metal spur" I think of the thing that cowboys wore, not anything having to do with walls/architecture. In short, if my description of exactly what tore the Coachman's cloak was a little threadbare... it's because I have trouble understanding what the book is talking about.

If any of you can figure out what exactly a "metal spur" might mean int his context let me know in the reviews and I'll rewrite that section to be a bit more clear.

Finally Florence was reaching deep into her bag of tricks here (she doesn't have much choice since others need to fight with the proverbial one hand behind their back while the Inspector watches) and pulls out the 8th level spell (so yeah she's at least 15 level) reverse gravity. Reverse Gravity is one of those spells which is why I (among other people) say that 3.5rd edition D&D as written allows high level spell casters to just make high level fighters, thieves, barbarians, rouges, basically any non spell casting class go off and cry in a corner.

The spell does exactly what it sounds like it does, it reverses gravity in a given area and there is no saving throw of any kind (well depending on the situation you might be able to make one to hang onto the ground but you are pretty much DONE taking part in the fight all the same). It basically can invalidate any kind of melee build that doesn't involve some fancy way of flying /teleporting to the person doing it to you and if your response to "magic is over powered" is "no it isn't, not when non-magicians can just use some magic of their own in order to counter balance it" then I'm afraid you've rather missed the point.

Also Florence stacked however many ten foot cubes (at least seven) she's allowed to have when casting the spell directly on top of each other. This meant the beast which was attacking Inspector Logan, when unable to find solid purchase with its claws got hurled seventy feet up in the air. It'll remain there for another two minutes or so (the spell lasts 6 seconds for every level Florence has) and then have the fun of experiencing that old expression about how what goes up, must eventually accelerate at a rate of 9.8m/s2 in the opposite direction.

The beast in question might have survived that (70 feet of falling damage is only 7d6) with possible jump/tumble checks to reduce, but suffice to say, it's going to limp off and lick its wounds rather than trying to press the attack.

Tue Jun 09, 2015 7:49 pm
Evil Genius
Evil Genius

Joined: Sat Sep 06, 2014 11:30 am
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Post Re: Monster Party Book 3 Commentary.
AN Chapter Seven: Clues and hints abound, have you (or Cal for that matter) found enough to figure out what is really going on?

Also, all everything Cal says to Inspector Logan is actual tailoring terminology (as far as I can tell) chosen after a brief round googling to locate what wound end up sounding the naughtiest/funniest in context.

And I know these chapters are taking longer to go up than they should but there is a threefold answer for that, one Marvel Heroes 2015, two, I've found some Paranoia adventure books I'm enjoying reading, and three, before I post these I take the time to read them over again and make a few more minor edits.

As my creative writing teacher taught me, a novel is never finished, it is only abandoned.

Last edited by jamesfirecat on Wed Oct 28, 2015 9:56 am, edited 1 time in total.

Tue Jul 07, 2015 8:34 pm
Evil Genius
Evil Genius

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Post Re: Monster Party Book 3 Commentary.
AN Chapter 8: Florence having Detect Magic isn't super surprising because the spontaneous druid design build I'm more or less representing with her gets to know so many different zero level spells that there's about a 75% chance she'd know any particular one.

Also I'm going to say that the thing she did to get the salt out of the water on the beach in Book 1 on the beach was her using the "Purify Food and Drink" level zero spell rather than some fancy dryad ability in retrospect.

The crossguard/quillon is that bit of metal in a dagger/knife designed for you to fight with is that part where the handle meets the blade which sticks out to the sides of the hilt. It's there to help catch your foe's blade/keep your hand safe. If that isn't a good/clear enough explanation just do a google image search for "knife" then do one for "dagger" and compare and contrast and you'll see what I mean.

If I was an actual author who wanted to get paid for this, I'd have written this story well enough that Cal could give a more clear cut and effective defense for the cloak and the scrap of cloth from the dress, but since I'm writing this more or less by the seat of my pants, well "you get what you pay for" is ever the original sin of fanfiction.

Also for those who don't know, there are no orcs in Ravenloft. There are however Calibans. They start life (well they are conceived) as ordinary humans, but then a hag or some other evil magic user places a curse on the mother that twists the nature of their child. No two Calibans look alike so they range from monstrous brutes to... looking more or less like the character who inspired the Corporal who Cal and friends are meeting in this chapter.

When translating "Bedstefader Ulv" you'll actually want to select the language that google translate brings up when you set if for "detect language" rather than just using "detect language" to get the correct full translation. Not sure why that is happening but just a heads up.

Finally the song that Wolfgang sings (or at least a slightly modified version of it) (you should know this already if you payed attention to Book 2) is Will the Wolf Survive by Los Lobos. Ravenloft being Ravenloft it's not enough that simply have a magical song when you can have a magical song whose lyrics are rather appropriate for the situation.

Tue Jul 21, 2015 11:59 am
Evil Genius
Evil Genius

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Post Re: Monster Party Book 3 Commentary.
AN Chapter Nine: Did you really think that James was just getting exuberant over watching Cal solve this case because he's deeply interested in legal proceedings or just that much of a keet? (See last book, tv tropes term for a young male character who is short of stature, cute, wears flashy colors (or has weirdly colored hair) is hyperactive and often rather loud, exists because it's comparing that character to a parakeet.) Nope, even James isn't that easily amused.

No, this is a plot twist I also was keeping in my back pocket more or less from the start. Remember back in the first book I commented how James' feline form is based on the world's largest domestic cat? The largest domestic housecat breed which has existed for a good long while (IE over a hundred years and thus likely to be brought about without truly modern breeding practices) is the American Longhair, also known as the Maine Coon. That second (and more commonly used) title comes from the fact that the breed originated in the State with the same name.

For those of you who don't know it, Maine is among the most northerly of states and so the weather there is frequently quite cold.

Thus a convincing argument can be made that the Ravenloft equivalent of the Maine Coon might be called... the Lamordian (as Lamordia a domain known for its cold climate as well) Longhair. (Hence why James signs all his letters to Jacqueline “Longhair”, its a code name that works with a double joke built into it, it references his breed but in human form James wears his hair much shorter than is in style in Richemulot.)

As established in my first side story's James' mother is a first generation immigrant to Richemulot, and as established in his letter at the tail end of the the second book James expressly notes how if where his mother came from was cold the way that Vorostokov is, then it doesn't surprise him that she moved.

I'm not saying that you should have seen this coming... but it was not a spur of the moment decision, it's been something I've been carefully building up to.

As for Wolfgang's change of heart, I'll speak to the hows and whys of that in my author's note in some detail.

Also... forgive me for how the second half of this chapter played out, honestly I could have had the chapter end with the Cal and James scene and part of me thinks the chapter would have been stronger for it if I did, but I wrote myself into a corner where I couldn't find any other place to put Wolfgang's back-story and it would have felt silly to devote a "Sidestory" to it, given that so much of its strength comes from the context in which it is given.

Also looking back at what I've read, Alex's points are pretty accurate on one of the philosophical differences between werewolves and wolfweres. In their natural state wolfweres probably wouldn't really understand a concept of "Beta" (someone who both gives and takes orders) the way that natural werwolves would, because they (wolfweres) don't hunt as part of a group of semi-equals, they hunt with the aid of wolves they're controlling magically.

The word that Alex uses, "narrulve" is the term used in Kartakass to describe wolfweres, though it essentially means "trickster wolf." It is also worth pointing out that "Grandfather Wolf" is a term used with many different connotations. It can refer to a dire wolf, the current highest up/most powerful wolfwere, or also a figure out stories told in Kartakass who is entirely metaphorical in nature like Br'er Rabbit.

In fact that comparison might be a bit more on the nose than one might initially expect. Grandfather Wolf is typically portrayed as an anti-hero whose various appetites inevitably lead him to get in over his head, but thanks to his immense charisma and cunning usually manages to still escape/profit from the situation in the end.

So yeah the entire "please don't throw me into that briar patch, do whatever else you want to me, but not that, anything but that!" style situation could very easily be told about Grandfather Wolf. Chapter 12 of the First Monster Party Book could also quite easily be considered a Grandfather Wolf story, given that it's nothing but Alexander toying with Markov mentally to buy time/eventually convince him to commit the mistake of removing Alex's eyepatch.

Finally Mirri's comments to Devi about James' name are indeed a direct Stephen Colbert joke, it may show up a few more times in various iterations. Not actually being French/having studied the language much I don't know how phonetically they would pronounce "Firecat" other than like in Mirri's version the "T" at the end would be silent.

Sat Aug 22, 2015 10:32 pm
Evil Genius
Evil Genius

Joined: Sat Sep 06, 2014 11:30 am
Posts: 637
Post Re: Monster Party Book 3 Commentary.
AN Chapter 10: There are going to be a lot of different confrontations with a lot of different darklords over the course of these books.

Still, it's worth noting that only Cal Wright could weaponize being an asshole to point that he tricks a darklord into revealing the full extent of his curse, and thus the fact that he needs Cal's help even more than Cal needs him. That, or at the very least if everything goes tits up and Bloody Jack succeeds then it is Mr. S who is going to get an even shorter end of the stick than Cal and his friends do.

Also if you want to get a clear idea of what exactly was happening to Cal as he was making these conclusions, Google up the words (not the phrase) "revisualization phoenix wright" and then check out the videos, though fair warning spoilers for Phoenix Wright Dual Destines will end up happening.

Sun Aug 30, 2015 7:48 pm
Evil Genius
Evil Genius

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Post Re: Monster Party Book 3 Commentary.
AN Chapter 11: We're doing something a bit different here than normal. Most of the time I try to maintain pretty standard forward moving time frame in these stories, IE event A happens then event B happens and then event C, we don't do tricksy flashforward or flashback stuff, beyond the entire story series being set in media res with my side stories showing off stuff like the character's backgrounds/how they met one another.

In this chapter however, we're moving into some stuff that won't be fully explained until a flashback or two I plan on showing in a few chapters. I may be saying more than I should, but I felt the need to say it all the same.

Florence is once again supplying the group with some major magic mojo. In this case the spell is the 7th level spell Wind Walk.

Now, I know what you're thinking "but wait, why would someone pick up both "Wind Walk" and the 4th level spell "Air Walk" especially a spontaneous caster who can only know a small number of spells, surely one is just a weaker version of the other?

Actually despite their similar names, these spells do completely different things.

Air Walk lets you walk through midair while otherwise staying solid/normal which is the spell you want if a fight is going to break out over/around some dangerous terrain and it'd be nice if you could walk around five feet or so above the floor.

Wind Walk on the other hand is the spell you cast if you want to turn yourself or your party (you can target up to “your current level divided by three” people with the spell, so if Florence is level 15 she can target the entire party minus Mirri, and as a vampire Mirri already has her own gaseous form ability, though it moves much slower, so you can assume Florence just cast the spell twice using one casting to target only Mirri (at 15 level you get 2 7th level spells per day without any bonuses)) into the Twins from Matrix Reloaded.

Okay it is not quite that powerful since it takes 30 seconds to change back and forth, (so the spell is quite useless for avoiding your foes attacks in combat by suddenly turning into mist) though you can still shift back and forth between normal and ghostly vapor like version of yourself as many times as you want for the period of "one hour per level" that the spell lasts.

Yeah, the spell basically lets anyone under its affects turn into a floaty cloud like outline of themselves that can fly around at speeds of up to 60 miles per hour if you don't mind having poor maneuverability (and given that since you're a cloud of mist its not like you have to worry about hurting yourself by crashing into something that lack of maneuverability isn't too big a deal) which makes it a great way to get around if you want something with a lot more flexibility to it than direct point to point teleport spells.

Also I had entirely too much fun writing Alex's "I abhor torture speech."

Sun Sep 27, 2015 3:26 pm
Evil Genius
Evil Genius

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Post Re: Monster Party Book 3 Commentary.
AN Chapter 12: First a note on languages. Once again Low Mordentish is a direct copy and paste of French from everything that I've been able to find/see. I don't speak French, but I'm "fluent" in how to use google translator.

What Mirri says is supposed to be "Bottle maker, let the dead girl go last." she uses the phrase "Bottle Maker" to refer to Cal because it translates a little more incomprehensibly into French than just calling him "Alchemist" since that translates to "alchimiste" and the point of using a foreign language to hide what you're saying from the enemy is to use words that aren't obviously translated by someone hearing them.

Cal's reply is "Blood sucker your wish is my pleasure" and I use "my pleasure" rather than "my command" as the saying normally goes because (once again relying on google translate) "command" just becomes "commandement" while pleasure being plaisir is a little less obvious.

Bardan who tried to grab Mirri is indeed a jackalwere. Jackalweres have a sleep gaze attack. As you might expect, sleep gaze attacks are NEVER going to work on Mirri because she's a vampire, vampires are immune to mental attacks. The longer Bardan keeps trying to do it though, the more he's exposing himself to Mirri's charm gaze, and jackalweres have no categorical immunity to that ability.

In short, much like Mirri said, Bardan really was shoving his arm into the sausage grinder by trying to target her with his gaze attack, and all it ended up doing was leaving him more and more vulnerable to Mirri's own mental manipulations.

The Snake Woman is another LIVING monster in Ravenloft which has a gaze attack (hypnotism style effect in this case) that much like the medusa and basilisk (or hag with their own evil eye abilities) are going to come out the worst of it 100% of the time if they go eye to eye with a vampire who between being immune to mind affecting abilities and fortitude checks which don't affect objects (the gaze of both the medusa and basilisks fall into that category, they don't turn wooden objects to stone by looking at them after all) while they are still vulnerable to the vampire's charm gaze.

As for the 'Kizoku' that's a bit more complicated.

They're a Ravenloft monster that takes the shape of an incredibly attractive man, then charms a woman into hopefully (from its point of view) murdering their current boyfriend/husband, before it sucks the lifeforce from their bodies and transforming them into trees... yes Ravenloft is weird sometimes.

The only way to truly kill one of them is that you need to find someone else who was truly in love with one of the women the Kizoku has turned into a tree, craft the wood from that tree into a weapon of some sort (wooden sword, wooden stake, crossbow bolt, arrow, you get the idea) and then have them kill the Kizoku with it. Ravenloft is VERY weird sometimes.

Also, that is absurdly specific, though lucky the rules also say that he only needs to corrupt its target enough to get them to seriously betray their current lover/husband not necessarily murder them. Thus it is possible that the woman's original lover can be the one who kills the Kizoku after their love is turned into a tree after trying and failing to kill the husband/boyfriend.

The long and short of Mirri's story probably involves her luring a Kizoku into trying to target her because of her love for James, and then while he's distracted/away form his home, Florence uses the time to help a man whose wife had been corrupted by the Kizoku explore the grove, find the tree made from his wife, and turn it into a weapon.

This being Florence, and the group being who they are, the situation probably involved Mirri laughing off all of the Kizoku's non movement related spell like abilities (they're basically just about every kind of mind influence spell you can imagine so yeah they all are worth squat against a vampire) beating the Kizoku unconscious (you can't kill them permanently without the stuff mentioned above, but you can still knock them out cold/incapacitate them in various ways) and then bringing him back to the grove.

When the Kizoku wakes up, he finds himself bound hand and foot with vines, held tight against one of the trees of his grove, while thanks to the Florence's ability to shape wood she's transformed the necessary tree into a BALISTA because siege weaponry, you say it's overkill, I say we're just being thorough.

Heh, I may or may not bother to write a side story just to that effect at some point even though I've already spoiled the entire plot/ending/the most humorous twist at the end, because the Monster Party stories are about the fun of the journey more than suspense.

Next chapter will Bloody Jack finally get his comeuppance?

Given the way this series works you probably already know the answer to that question.

Okay, how will Bloody Jack get his comeuppance?

Yeah that's a good question to leave you wondering about...

Tue Oct 06, 2015 7:19 pm
Evil Genius
Evil Genius

Joined: Sat Sep 06, 2014 11:30 am
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Post Re: Monster Party Book 3 Commentary.
AN Chapter 13: I am perfectly well aware that the amount of time between those twelve bells is basically what I want to it to be and I make no real effort to have them sound after equally distant periods of time.

It is what it is, I think I'm hardly the first person to have the chimes of midnight work on a clearly dramatic rather than properly chronometric nature.

Here is a question I would like you to answer for yourselves on the subject of if I am cheating when it comes to the Rings of Mind Shielding. In the adventure as written, if you show off the doppelgangers/tell the priests of the Divine Form about the doppelgangers, they'll give you a single Ring of Mind Shielding to help you try and capture one.

Cal is offering to pay to borrow four of them. The rings as written cost 8,000 GP which isn't SUPER expensive to higher level characters (at level fifteen each character should have 200,000 gp worth of a combination of liquid assets and magical items). I personally don't feel it breaks suspension of disbelief to argue that the group could beg, borrow or otherwise obtain three more rings of Mind Shielding in what is supposed to be one of the largest/most civilized/urban locations in all of Ravenloft. If you do... then you've got me dead to rights on that one and I don't know what more I could really say/do about it.

By the way if any of you guys are wondering why James expecting so much pain in this chapter when it concludes with a fight so easy I didn't bother to write it... let me know and I'll explain it to you, but there's a pretty big hint back in book one.

Also I never showed you guys the list of names of that the group got of people who purchased the cloak because I'm sure you would have been smart enough to notice that "A. Logan" name on the list and spoil the reveal that was coming up. That said, Sir Edmund Bloodsworth's name is indeed on the list as anyone who has access to Hour of the Knife can attest, I just couldn't find a way to effectively make not of that information in story, once again you get what you pay for sometimes.

Anyway next thing to talk about a joke that I might might be a little hard to get but I loved too much not to use, (that's how you tell that I'm not a proper writer because I don't have the heart to "slaughter my children" (term I heard in my creative writing class for removing those segments you really like but are not truly integral to the story).

The joke works like this, in another universe there exists an organization called "Her loyal English legion of legitimate supernatural and immortal night guards" or... lets see if anyone in the class is paying attention... HELLSING/Hellsing. If you didn't guess that, don't feel too bad, they are cheating since by all right it should be HLELLSING because "loyal" is a word of five letters, there's no reason it shouldn't be included when used as part of an acronym.

You can also be forgiven for not knowing that because as far as I can tell it's not actually used in universe in the manga, anime series or series of OVAs. None the less, the organization was of course founded by a certain doctor, a doctor by the name of (this one you really should know) of Abraham Van Helsing.

The Ravenloft equivalent of that particular man is of course, Rudolph Van Richten. Thus Cal's "fake" name for the group is the Ravenloft equivalent of Hellsing/Helsing.

It's entirely possibly that we may see this acronym come up again in other books, but "Royal" will be replaced with either "Rogue" or "Ronin" (since there is an island with a distinct Japanese theme to it I don't feel its impossible for that particular word to exist in this setting) since in truth the group works for no one but themselves. Before anyone asks the "R" will never stand for "Ravenloft" because remember that's the official name of a Darklord's castle not the actual name of the world. Also it's highly likely the "C" will go from "Controlled" to "Cooperative"

Anyway, I found it clever/funny, now laugh damn you laugh!

Oh, and the group's "Special Constable names" they are all pretty easy to figure out if you look at them the right way. Well the exception is Alexander of course, but where's the fun in giving out obvious clues to Alexander's past?

The wild shape form that Florence takes for this chapter is that of a treant because they have the ability to do double damage against objects, so in short... well hell you guys have all seen Two Towers haven't you? If you haven't, yeah, treants tearing down, ripping apart, punching through mortal infrastructure is one of those things that they were known for even before they showed up in D&D.

The spells Florence cast in this chapter start with a bunch of off screen (or cast during Cal's long back and forth explaining himself to the doppelgangers there's plenty of six second intervals) Air Walks (see back in chapter one) by which I mean she uses the spell once for each member of the group. Yes this uses up six fourth level spells and then it becomes seven fourth level after she casts the Spiked Stones, also known as that spell you use when people think they're safe from Spike Growth because they're inside. (Yeah it's a fourth level spell that's basically the Urban version of Spike Growth and does 1D8 instead of 1D4 per 5 feet moved)

Since that's seven 4th level spells she was probably burning spell slots that could have gone for higher level spells just to make sure the entire group wouldn't have to worry about how she made it impossible to walk around the ballroom without ripping your feet apart. It was still worth doing because that Air Walk spell was not just about avoiding damage it was also the group's main method of telling friend from foe if the doppelgangers try to get tricksy on them.

Then she uses the fifth level spell Wall of Thorns, which is a very nasty way of limiting the mobility of people who can't fly, and sometimes even those who can! To move through it you need to make a strength test, and you move five feet for every five you roll above 20. So to have any chance of moving through it at all you need to have a strength of at least 20 (aka 2 above the maximum starting human norm) and then roll a natural 20, though moving five feet will just take you into the middle of the thorn wall which will likely make your situation worse since you need to roll another 20 next turn to get out the other side.

Also whenever you come into contact with it, it deals you 25 minus your AC (don't count dex or dodge bonus) points of damage which is a nice cherry on top of the "your screwed" sundae.

In short, the only way those doppelgangers were going to get through it, is to hack their way through, but chopping away at the wall only creates a safe passage 1 foot deep for every 10 minutes of work. ten minutes is 60 rounds of combat.

If combat isn't over by 60 rounds worth of your opponents needing to spend their standard actions not attacking you, then you don't deserve to win.

Oh also the spell itself lasts for 10 min per caster level... so yeah, you better get chopping because the spell isn't gonna go away any time soon. (It's immune to normal fire and magical fire will burn it away but only after 10 minutes so once again 60 rounds people!)

By the way, you can cast this spell so that it springs into being already encasing people inside of it, and they don't get a reflex save to escape, and if they do anything but stay perfectly still they start taking damage, while anyone who has a freedom of movement spell cast on them (another level four druid spell that Florence has) can wade into the stuff without taking damage and start shoving spears /some other reach attack down their throats at your leisure while they can't get close enough (remember DC 25(!) strength test to move in any direction) to fight back.

Wall of Thorns, because you should never try to outrun a druid, you'll just die CCed.

Anyway, the original plan for part of this chapter involved things getting complicated and confused and the group using a few complex "tells" to be able to sort out doppelgangers from the real deal (Mirri notes a doppelganger of James has a heart beat only the human norm, James catches a doppelganger of Mirri breathing, maybe a doppelganger of Alex has a green right eye and a wolf looking eye on the left side of his face because a doppelganger forgot to reverse his mental image) but then I remember that this was a Cal Wright Book.

The ending of every Monster Party book should reflect the virtues of the hero that it is centered around.

For James in book one was his spontaneity/refusal to give up even when it looked like his side was in trouble, and rat catching. For Alex, it was his skill as a leader which helped train Mikhail to the point that he was ready to fight his father, not to mention his general knowledge of lupine behavior.

Thus in this particular story, good should not triumph over evil because of the abilities they were born with /acquired by random chance, instead it should do so because good has out-thought and out-planned evil.

I think it's safe to say that Cal's final plan involves out-thinking Bloody Jack on several levels, to the point that the fight in the ballroom is over before it starts (hence why I don't show any of it), especially when you consider that Bloody Jack allowed his one powerful magical supporter to give into his animal instincts and hunt the group more or less on his own (which is what he does in the Adventure Book so no favors done there) rather than keeping him nearby to supply buffs and utility spells.

The way the Cal and friends arrange the fight to take place allows the group a chance to buff as much as they want before they get down to business so long as they are hour per/ten min per level buffs that won't wear off while Cal does his talky talk (though Florence might have cast a few of those min per level buffs as it became obvious the fight was about to start).

You see, there's an expression in D&D, "Closet Troll."

It refers to a creature (trolls are in fact a good example) that is mildly dangerous in its natural habitat, but if you had to fight it in a "closet" that was only large enough for you and it with no room to move around in, it would be made considerably more dangerous.

The corollary to this particular rule, is that an optimized PC of appropriate level who wants to be in a closet will always be the deadliest thing wind up in an enclosed space with.

Dread Doppelgangers (the enemies in this adventure) on the other hand are... well there isn't a word/phrase so far as I can tell so I'm going to call them Plains Gazelles for the moment.

The idea with Plains Gazelles is that to be properly effective they need a chance to run free and have lots of wide open space, basically the opposite of a Closet Troll. A spell caster whose build that was based around flying around and zapping people with spells while being invisible or otherwise making yourself hard to locate/target is a good example of a Plains Gazelle. Dragons are rather dangerous all around but they can be infuriating Plains Gazelles since they have one of the highest flight speeds in the game along with breath weapons and a pile of spells which allow them to murder you quite effectively without ever setting claw on the ground.

Dread Doppelgangers are Plains Gazelles because of their ability to divide the party against itself given half a chance, killing members and replacing them with their own (which will happen quite frequently in this adventure if you don't use the buddy system which is why it's something that Alex has trained the group to always do, the ONLY exception is when Cal is a paranoid wreck to the point of being ready to shoot anyone who gets too close and making sure to walk down the center of the street so it's not like he's a prime doppelganger target at that point) or even if they don't manage to achieve that the paranoia they can inspire might keep the PCs from trusting one another or helpful NPCs, allowing them to cast a powerful shadow over the entire game/party through fear alone without taking any actual actions.

They have powerful utility themed abilities (unlimited uses of mind reading so it is going to work sooner or later once you roll a 1 on that will save, only people it doesn't work on are those who are completely immune to it either via magical trinkets or because of what they are (being undead or a plant are two possibilities)) to help them make sure that when combat occurs it should be in a way that favors them to say the least, and also gives them a great many different ways of escaping if things turn against them as well.

So assuming the two combatants are of generally equal CR rating, what happens when Plains Gazelle gets placed in a confined space with a Closet Troll? Well the results are not a pretty thing to behold.

Basically imagine one of those gigantic cartoon balls of violence where every so often someone tries to escape only to get pulled back in, gaining more black eyes and bruises all the while.

Cal's plan for the doppelgangers ends up taking away just about all of their traditional advantages:they can't escape because of the wall of thorns, and while they can make themselves look like members of the party, they can't duplicate the Air Walk buff that Florence has placed on all real members of the group so when Alexander gives the order "anything with its feet planted on the ground is the enemy..." they lost their ability to blur the lines between friend and foe.

Thus, one could argue that the entire dramatic ending of this story is Cal setting up the doppelgangers to get trolled.

Normally I'd make some comment about how I'll see myself out but sadly I've got just a little bit more more to say.

Some of you may be asking "but wait... a few chapters back one doppelganger was able to able to fight Alexander to a draw until he got outside help, how is the group now able to tear through them like the Mane Six fighting that swarm of Changelings on their way to the Elements of Harmony?" Well okay, maybe you asked that general question but without the My Little Pony reference...

There are two parts to that answer. The smaller part is that the Andrew Logan doppelganger had a very nice magical sword (payed for by the city) to help him.

The larger part of the answer is that the Andrew Logan doppelganger was able to use his mind reading ability to achieve what tv tropes calls Combat Clairvoyance, or the ability to read your foe's mind and thus react to their moves before they even start to make them. That's not an ability /something you can properly replicate/have happen in D&D as far as I know, but it's one of those fluff things that makes perfect sense even if it is near impossible to design proper crunch around. Using it allowed him to stay in the fight with Alex even though Alex was faster and stronger than him.

Thus with the rings of mind shielding in place, the doppelgangers are unable to use this ability and have go through the entire process of realizing what their foe is doing and thinking up how best to counter it like a normal person, making them much less effective in combat. In fact it's entirely possible that they're so used to fighting VIA reading their foes mind rather than watching their actual body movements that they'd react slower than a normal person due to lack of experience. See there's more going on than just the Inverse Ninja Rule!

The cornerstone of this story is that after Cal recovered from the shock of the doppelgangers and how they make any sort of perfect case against them impossible, he stopped thinking of this problem as lawyer might, and instead started thinking about it as what he is, an adventurer.

Instead of trying to box in his foe with a perfect legal argument and evidence, he tried to put his foe in a closet and take away all their combat related abilities.

Which I hope you'll agree with me... he does rather magnificently in this chapter.

It should also be noted that to Cal's credit... I'm pretty damn sure the plan he executes in this chapter would not require any dark powers checks on the part of the group, if you feel differently let me know and I'll be happy to argue the subject with you/possible edit/adapt the chapter a little more.

Also please forgive me if some of Sir Bloodsworth's dialogue near the end seems a little strange/does not make sense, this adventure has a bad case of "Touch of Death" disease. Note I am not talking about the spell Death Touch but rather a Ravenloft adventure called Touch of Death. That adventure has a long interesting back story about power politics between the undead alongside the corruption of someone who was once innocent, AND THE PCs ARE NEVER GOING TO FIND OUT MOST OF IT BECAUSE THERE IS NO WAY FOR THEM TO BE TOLD IT!

Something I would vastly prefer people who write these Ravenloft books/adventures to keep in mind is that when you give the main villain some sort of crippling mental compulsion that explains there behavior/back story IT SORT OF HELPS IF THE PCs CAN LEARN ABOUT IT AT SOME POINT!

In the first book Markov was only too glad to monologue about his past/view of the world with Alex when he had him strapped down (in the adventure book proper the heroes get to read book which fills them in), in the second Gregor's sisters filled the group in, in this adventure... nope it doesn't happen.

You see Blood Jack/"Sir Edmund Bloodsworth"/ the Doppelganger Roja is actually born to the real Sir Edmund Bloodsworth. When he got to his teenage year and discovered he was a doppelganger, he decided to start first kill off his half brother (a human descendent of Sir Edmund) to get close to his father, then kill him and take his place. After that, his mind got a little twisted up and he started having delusions/being unable to proper recall his nature/personality, not to the extent of forgetting about his powers, but like not recalling what his true doppelganger shape looks like, or that there was ever a human being named Sir Edmund Bloodsworth in the first place.

Don't get me wrong, that's actually pretty clever and interesting. I mean if he had succeeded with his killings and replaced Mr. S as Paridon's Darklord then obviously you could have the Dark Powers supercharge it to the point that he needs to keep changing what person he is every so often, because if stays the same person too long he starts to believe he really is that person rather than a doppelganger, and he can only transform into a human shape when he has a clear mental image and has mind read that person enough to know them as well as they know themselves, (IE he can't just make himself look human but like no one in particular) so he's fighting a constant battle to remain himself as he keeps picking up more and more figments of personality vying for a chance to take control.

The problem is that try as I might, I couldn't think of an in story way for our protagonists to find out about this even with Mr. S giving a exposition dump on the general nature of doppelgangers he probably wouldn't know Roja well enough to know about his particular mental defect. If anyone has thoughts/suggestions for how it might have been worked in I'd love to hear them.

Now I'm finally gonna stop because honestly I'm pretty sure this is the LONGEST CHAPTER OF MONSTER PARTY I'VE EVER WRITTEN!

Mon Oct 26, 2015 10:42 pm
Evil Genius
Evil Genius

Joined: Sat Sep 06, 2014 11:30 am
Posts: 637
Post Re: Monster Party Book 3 Commentary.
AN Epilogue: This is probably the only Monster Party book you're going to see where someone gets to out post script "Longhair" by having something take place after his letter which normally is the very very end of the book, yet I also feel that really this book wouldn't be complete without it. If nothing else it gives us another window into how certain group members interact with those who aren't members of the group.

By the way, here's a non-cannon ending to the story that while a bit more conclusive (and a lot more hilarious) is probably "much too silly" to be considered a proper ending to the story but by the same token it is also "much too silly" not to have committed for posterity.


"As glad as I am to hear we're still the black, do any of you have any idea where exactly we are?" Alexander asked in a surprisingly calm tone of voice.

"JAMES, YOU'RE BACK!" Called out a delighted female voice.

Looking in the direction of the voice James Firecat found his gaze focused on a rather heavily gravid female figure in a loosened gown.

The pregnant woman had long black hair, deep blue eyes, and a strange sort of unearthly beauty about her. It was clearly only her maternal state that was keeping her from racing forward with all due haste (she was still waddling with remarkable speed) to embrace the werecat in a tight hug.

"Delphi, it's um... good to see you again!" James gasped, nearly at a loss for words.

"That's Akanga's right?" He asked in the tone of voice of one who was 99.9999999% sure he knew the answer, but at the same time was utterly horrified at the possibility that the 0.0000001% chance that they were wrong might turn out to be true.

"Of course it is." She cried out while finally reaching him and pressing him tightly against the bulge in question.

"Well, I guess that answers that. We're back in Markovia. *&@%." Alexander concluded, as he joined Florence in wrapping restraining arms around Mirri before she ended up finding out how many children Delphi was carrying the hard way.

AN 2: Yeah that ending is so cartoony I can picture the sweat drop on James' face, the …. X cross thingy (no idea what that is called) that is used in anime to show someone is angry/frustrated on Mirri's and hear the WAA-WAA-WAAAAH loosing trombone sounds as we iris out on their heroes all that is missing is someone turning to the camera and wiggling their eyes while proclaiming "here we go again!" So yeah, too funny to make cannon, too funny not to commit to posterity.

Also, we're gonna do things a little differently with this book. Normally I would post an author commentary on the story, then I would post a sidestory which shows an important moment (so far it's been the first meeting) for some of the characters involved.

I don't want to write the story of how Cal and Devi met right now though.

Instead, we're going to get a sidestory that's more of a parallel story, which basically means the same story but in a different way. In this case, we're going to see the first half or so of this story from the point of view of a certain "Inspector".

Only after I do that will I then write the author commentary.

Also sorry for taking so long with this story posted, I'm going to try to get to posting things at least once every two weeks or better yet once a week...

Wed Dec 09, 2015 8:40 pm
Evil Genius
Evil Genius

Joined: Sat Sep 06, 2014 11:30 am
Posts: 637
Post Re: Monster Party Book 3 Commentary.
Monster Party Book 3 Commentary:

Hey everybody, guess what time it is? That's right, it's time for me to do my author commentary on this book and close it out completely.

A while back I may have mentioned how the reason that I chose Ravenloft to do these particular stories is because Ravenloft adventures tend to be wonderfully unique and present something beyond simple dungeon crawls.

This adventure is a prefect example of exactly that, because it's a D&D adventure but it's also a murder mystery! It's not something where there's a clear cut villain and it is just about figuring out the right magic spell to make them no longer invincible or finding the right sword to hit them with. No, in this adventure, you need to figure out who the villain actually is in the first place before you can go about administering the beat down!

Also as an adventure that takes place in one big civilized city, I knew that this was the perfect chance to show off why Alexander keeps Cal around even though he's a bit of a jerk to say the least.

Put a logical problem, especially a logical problem dealing with legal matters in front of Cal Wright he'll transform himself into a demonic mixture of Phoenix Wright, Miles Edgeworth, Sherlock Holmes, and Moist von Lipwig.

That second to last one is especially important, given the fact that this book is written as something of a Sherlock Holmes mystery, or at least it ended up playing out like one given that we have a brilliant if dickish hero who is working to solve the crime with the aid of his more down to earth partner.

I think it's no surprise at all that Inspector Andrew Logan has a last name that starts with an "L" the same letter as Inspector Lestrade, the name of an Inspector from the Sherlock Holmes' stories. In fact I'll talk more about him soon enough.

For the moment it is worth pointing out that this entire adventure takes place in exactly the opposite manner that most Ravenloft adventures do, or at least my version of it do. Don't worry I'll explain in more detail and do it right now this time.

Most Ravenloft adventures deal with the heroes sneaking and slinking around a particular domain while the villain threatens to crush them like bugs, until the heroes can complete some particular ritual which turns things around and gives them a chance to fight back.

The second Monster Party book gives us a perfectly good example of that sort of adventure, what with how Gregor Zolnik is more or less invincible until you preform the proper ritual to make him vincible.

In this adventure however, the villains start out quite vincible and as desperately racing to try and rectify that situation while the protagonists start to close in on them like sharks on a wounded manatee.

In fact, the unspoken rule of this particular story is as follows.

"Alexander and friends are CR TOO F**KING HIGH in comparison to Roja and his doppelganger clan."

If at any point prior to Roja gaining invincibility it becomes open war then Roja and his clan are going to get their heads handed to them.

We see exactly that happening (or to be perfectly honest don't see it, since that chapter was already more than long enough) in the "final" chapter, but it is a truth that underlies the entire story.

It's why the doppelgangers only make one direct attack on the group during the daylight hours, that one attempt failed completely and once the group was on guard against future attacks, any more of them could have failed disastrously with doppelgangers being being captured/killed.

To put it in the plainest terms I can think of, they stopped launching those side attacks because they decided that the best/safest approach was to have as little interaction with the group as possible.

Alex and friends are in effect the baddest dudes in all of Paridon, and by like double digit CR numbers.

Now, you can argue that the heroes being that much more powerful than the villains doesn't make for an interesting story. Except for the part where the heroes being that much more powerful than the villains tends to be the underling premise of just about any given mystery story.

Granted the "strength" of the heroes is typically represented by the fact that once they figure out who committed the crime and have proof, they can call the police on the murder(s) and in such narratives the police are CR INFINITY.

I will also admit that a lot of such stories tend to involve the hero finding the last clue they need right under the villain's nose so they have to get into a drop down drag out fight with them without having the police to help, but that isn't always the case.

If you didn't find the preceding story noticeably less interesting/tense than the other two Monster Party Books, that's because strength only matters as much as you are able to apply it. The fact that the heroes could easily kick Bloody Jack's ass doesn't do them much good when they can't find his ass to kick.

Anyway, enough of talking about the overall themes of the story, now lets break it down by the individual chapters/scenes/moments that make up the story.

We start right off the bat with something that was actually going to go onto become one of the minor (major?) themes of this story, Cal and James' relationship.

Cal is never going to stop treating James more or less like his little brother (nor would James necessarily want him to), but the levels of annoyance and or affection that go with that comparison can vary.

So, by the time this story is over and done with, his affection for James has increased dramatically while annoyance... has at least taken a few dips.

Also it ties unspokenly into how they feel about their families; even though James has decided to use "Firecat" as an alias to make it a little harder to connect anything he does with his family in Richemulot (probably a reasonable precaution given that whatever else he is, he is technically also a spy/agent of Jacqueline Renier, so you know that could easily get him killed in some domains, even leaving aside the werecat thing) he still considers his parents an important part of his life and sends them letters. In fact, he probably sends them letters even more frequently than as he sends reports to Jacqueline by way of "Longhair". That makes sense if you think about it of course, since he tries to only write letters to Jacqueline when he has something important to say about whatever domain he's visiting/just visited, letters to his family can be sent for any and every excuse imaginable.

Cal's parents are alive just like James', but he doesn't bother to keep in touch with them. It's not out of anything as grand as a "I have not father/son!" style falling out, more that he simply didn't feel the need to keep in touch with them when he went out to make a name for himself in the world.

Given the nature of the transition involved in this story, it is hard to imagine anywhere in any world that you can't use as a launching point into Hour of the Knife, you just need to make sure that the heroes are walking around somewhere late at night. If your starting point is vaguely more civilized/urban area that can help, but if you need to have them transition from walking across a dirt trail in the middle of a forest into Paridon, well the Dark Powers are powerful (as their name suggests) like that when you get right down to it.

The group encounters the very first killing, and get their glimpse of Bloody Jack as per the book.

The Potion of Grease he uses to aid in his getaway is something that did not show up in the adventure book, but if he hadn't used it, then it is entirely possible that Alex might have caught up with the carriage and then the entire story would have been one chapter long.

Also, it helps set up the final fight between Cal and Bloody Jack, and how during that time period every trick the doppelgangers have used, our protagonists will throw back in their faces.

Shortly after he gets away we get to meet "Inspector Andrew Logan" who (or at least his name is) as I previously mentioned, is a clear reference to Inspector Lestrade from the work of Sherlock Holmes.

An "Inspector Lestrade" is a pretty well worn trope you've probably actually already seen him before in some mystery novel that you've read or movie/tv show you've seen. It's his job to arrest the "obvious" suspect who in turn will be "obviously" wrong once the heroic detective looks beyond what the killer actively wanted them to see.

He can be portrayed with various levels of sympathy, he can either be a bumbling fool who is doing more to impede the investigation than he is to help it, or he can be well meaning and well disciplined police officer who is just doing things by the book as best he can (see Leland Stottlemeyer from Monk) but the killer is such a genius, that you need a genius detective (or private investigator) to have any hope of capturing them.

I portray Inspector Logan as being a lot more of a confrontational jerk than he is in adventure book, but since we know next to nothing about Bloody Jack and aren't actually going to catch sight of him for a good long while, watching Logan and Cal verbally spar sort of has to carry the story for quite a while, so I wanted to make it as dramatic and interesting as possible.

Cal's response is indeed a Tengen Toppen Gurren Lagann (when beetles fight these battles in a bottle with their paddles and the bottle's on a poodle and the poodle's eating noodles...they call this a muddle puddle tweetle poodle beetle noodle bottle paddle battle!") reference.

I'd say that in some ways that series is to mecha anime as Phoenix Wright is to courtroom drama, it's amazing how much you can accomplished with a few decisive proclamations of exactly who you are, and a dramatic hand gesture or two.

At which point we literally break into a Phoenix Wright game or at least as an accurate depiction of what one would like if it was a text adventure.

I'm still not sorry about doing this.

So much of Cal's character is to a certain degree bound up in his desire to be famous, and be regarded (not undeservedly it's worth pointing out) as a genius that he ended up deciding that he'll need to be seen as the exact opposite of his father to avoid being caught in his (Phoenix’s) shadow. Phoenix Wright is idealistic so Cal is a cynic to pick one example (not) at random.

Also I'll admit I wish I could have used this gimmick a little more, but there's good reason for it to vanish after chapter eight, after all Cal expressly says that he's not playing his father's game.

After Cal manages to argue the group out of having to spend some time in jail Alex goes onto officially pass the torch, well loan the torch to him.

That might seem unusual, but remember what Alex said back in the first book, he's smart enough to know that he's not the only smart person in the world. Both the large city environment of Paridon and having to deal with a murder mystery are right in Cal's wheelhouse.

Alexander's wheelhouse by comparison is, well see Book 2, wolves, and darklords who come right at him with all the subtly of a siege weapon.

This leads us into chapter three where we get to see Cal starting to do his thing and gather evidence.

Everything he sees being offered to help protect people against Bloody Jack is taken directly from the adventure book more or less. The metal collars explicitly are mentioned, and it isn't mentioned why they are defective/why they would/should fail.

I ended up going with the obvious answer that the Fang of Nosferatu (or wait let me stop for a moment and admit a major mistake I made... in proper Ravenloft lore the dagger this adventure is built around is called "The Fang of the Nosferatu" but I in some brain dead moment /mistake started calling it "The Fang of Nosferatu", and by the time I realized my mistake I was too committed to go back, and had also realized I liked my name a little more, which is why I'll continue to use the "wrong" name for the rest of this adventure review) being magical and all can cut through ordinary armor with ease.

I purposely obfuscate what exactly Cal buys, making it seem like he only picks up a map, but my language is left vague enough that it is not a complete ass pull when he turns out to have picked out a metal collar as well.

In theory over the next few chapters there should have been a lot/a few more ambushes like the one that comes at the end of chapter three. I decided to cut them, because I worried it would break suspension of disbelief that our heroes weren't able to turn the tables on their attackers and kill/capture them, and end up giving the game away far too soon.

I wish that the adventure was a bit more clear on how long it takes to visit any of these given locations, because it feels like I end up having large gaps of times of that aren't accounted for as this adventure goes on, the first day will be Cal's busiest, after that each of his days will go by faster and faster, to the point that his final day the only thing he does on camera is one quick trip to the Doctor's place (off screen he goes to visit three other places but it still goes by pretty fast).

The counter balance/saving grace to this particular fact is that since all the Bloody Jack murders are taking place at midnight one can argue that Cal and friends are switching (or at least trying to switch) to some kind of crepuscular (which is now down right next to "masticate" on my list of "words that sound dirty but aren't") sleep cycle when they are up from 10:00PM to 2:00PM but then sleep away the afternoon/early evening and wake up ready to go have another crack at catching Bloody Jack mid-crime.

Moving back to chapter three directly, it's here where I start making use of the second major theme/reference for this particular story. The first one being Phoenix Wright which as I already mentioned I went into this book planning to do beyond a shadow of a doubt.

The second is Discworld in general, and Ankh-Morpork in particular.

I'd like it if we all could bow our heads and give a moment of silence for Sir Terry Pratchett (Noli Timere Messorem).

Anyway, the reference starts with using "seamstress" as shorthand for "prostitute" which takes Cal a while to catch onto, but once he does he'll be making jokes about it throughout the story.

I did not plan to do this, it sort of happened organically, probably because casting Paridon as the Ravenloft version of Ankh-Morpork actually makes a lot of sense. Both of them are after all cities of such size that you can treat them more like nations (going back to that Greek phrase about "city-states") though Ankh-Morpork is a bustling hive of trade with the outside world and Paridon decidedly isn't, since it much like Vorostokov in the last book is and Island of Terror, you can only get there if the Mists want you to, and you can probably only get out if the darklord wants you to, or if you've killed said darklord.

Moving on we reach chapter four were we get another Discworld reference with "named rather than initialed" which is indeed something that happened to A. E. Pessimal in Thud.

Then we get Cal and his "Official Crime Scene Investigation Wolf" which I consider a Phoenix Wright reference by way of contradiction (though not the kind of "contradiction" you yell about in court) believe it or not.

There are some moments in the first few Phoenix Wright games when to investigate a crime scene Phoenix can borrow "Missile" a police K-9 crime dog.

Missile is a Shiba Inu, and if you haven't heard of that particular breed, I don't think I'd be going far wrong to say it's the Japanese equivalent of the corgi.

Yes, the Shiba Inu is the most unimpressive looking, nonthreatening, dog breed imaginable to be used be used for police work. It wouldn't be for about a decade until after the first game came out that there actually would be an official police Shiba Inu, so the fact that Phoenix got stuck with one, is another way of showing how nobody takes him at all seriously/he gets no respect.

By comparison, when his son Cal Wright investigates a case, he uses a wolf, and it's the kind of wolf that's probably slightly larger than your average dire-wolf. So there could not possibly be a more dramatic difference in the size, lethality, and degree of threat presented between the father and son's favored canine/lupine companion.

James meanwhile is just happy to be along for the ride, for reasons that become quite clear later on the story.

Because of the doppelganger's ability to read minds however Bloody Jack knows what to expect and chapter four ends with a major victory for the doppelganger, he makes his second kill, gets away scot-free, messes up James and Alex's noses to the point that they won't be working properly for something approaching 48 hours, and does in point of fact make Cal look like a fool.

Which brings us to chapter five.

I'll be perfectly honest, a lot of the opening scene of this chapter, I wrote with an eye towards the reread.

That's probably not a good way to write the story, since in theory a person should only have to be expected to read what you written once. Still, I don't think it openly stands out as making no sense or not being effective the first time someone reads it.

By all right the scene reads just fine as Inspector Logan being a normal police Inspector who is upset with the fact that Cal is off doing his own thing with little to no respect for the chain of command, and if this was a normal detective story, this would be about the time when he's shouting "YOU'RE A LOOSE CANNON WRIGHT! EITHER ACCEPT THAT YOU'RE OFF THE CASE OR TURN IN YOUR BADGE!" at the top of his lungs, possibly with steam coming out of his ears.

In reality however, it's not about the visible anger Inspector Logan is displaying at Cal smarming at him smarmily as if his name was Mister Smarm, it's actually about the seething nearly unmatched (in point of fact it is probably only matched by Cal's hatred of Bloody Jack at this point in the story) hatred that Sudji the doppelganger pretending to be Inspector Logan has for the fact that Cal is making him act like he actually buys any of the bullshit that the Lamordian Alchemist is spouting.

Once all is said and done, Cal goes back to the group to vent his spleen, and understandably Alexander does the exact same thing that once he gets a chance.

We also get the start of a running gag as Cal's thoughts about Bloody Jack keep changing. They're a reference to "I Have no Mouth and I Must Scream" no, not the timeless dystopian story written by Harlan Ellison of five people being kept alive by an evil artificial intelligence over a century after the rest of human society has been wiped out and living such a tortured existence that the four characters who end up dying are the lucky ones.

I'm actually talking about the video game where by doing the right things you are actually able to defeat said evil computer and discover that there are enough humans cryogenically frozen on the moon that our species isn't going to go extinct after all!

Don't be surprised if you haven't heard of it, the only way that I could imagine a video game having an ending that is more out of synch with its source material is if they made a first person shooter out of 1984!

Ha ha, I kid because I love.

The video game was in point of fact not a mindless cash in, but actually a very dark adventure game which grew from a question even Mr. Ellison himself had to sit down and think about when he first heard it ("why of all the people in the world, did the evil computer choose these five to torture?"). Also Mr. Ellison himself was the one who provided the voice for AM (the evil artificial intelligence in question) in the game, so either he signed one really weird contract with his publisher, or he actually quite approved of how the game turned out.

Getting back on point, the speech is really quite a wonderful piece of work (go find it on youtube, just google the words "I have no mouth hate speech" (not the exact phrase just all those words) and I may reference it (or other parts of the game) later on in other stories.

Getting back on track, lets continue the story.

Next up, Cal goes to Temple of the Divine Form.

In theory these guys are pretty horrible hateful racists since they're human supremacists who don't believe that elves or other forms of demi-humans can possibly get into heaven because they were born the wrong race.

In practice, it is sort of hamstrung by the fact that Paridon isn't really defined as having much of a demi-human population, so their bigotry comes across as a bit harmless, and well, silly because there aren't any demi-humans in Paridon for to be bigoted against.

Maybe if (here's a hint, it will never happen) an official Gazetteer with Paridon information comes out exactly how vile the Temple of the Divine Form and its practitioners are will be more properly examined.

Still, Cal at least manages to figure out that Bloody Jack probably isn't a golem, or at least if he's a golem he wasn't created by the temple of the Divine Form.

That takes us over to chapter six.

In this chapter we start to see how the story is going to evolve into a sort of shadowy chess game between Bloody Jack and Cal.

Bloody Jack uses scent grenades so that the group can't track him, Cal and friends start wearing wet scarves over their faces so that even if they can't track Bloody Jack by scent, they're at least less likely to be weakened/immobilized/made less combat capable by the inevitable booby trap.

Also, the fact that while the group is wearing those scarves they look like wild west era bandits... yeah that's still funny to me, and leaves me wishing that there was an adventure that took place in a high tech enough domain to make good on it.

Sadly Paridon (which we just saw) and Lamordia (which we're unlikely to ever see) are the two most technologically advanced domains in Ravenloft, and both of them are more or less only as far along as Revolutionary War era give or take.

As we see in the side story (hence part of the reason why I posted it before posting this), the reason that the Inspector Logan is so much less confident this night is because that's not Inspector Logan, or at the very least it's not Sudji pretending to be Inspector Logan.

Instead, Sudji is going to show up later to attack the group, which leads to an event that is practically a running gag at this point, Cal shoots an evil villain without managing to seriously hurt them. Well, he might not do any serious harm to Sudji, he does at least cause him to leave behind some important evidence.

Also it is worth pointing out how I wrote this particular story in ways that diverged from the printed adventure book. In the adventure book, around this time the group is going to get attacked by doppelgangers pretending to be someone about to be killed by Bloody Jack, and while the group does get attacked by jackalweres, the jackalweres are supposed to be in human form at the time.

The "problem" with doing that, is that jackalweres just like lycanthropes, (and really just about all shapeshifters) will return back to their standard "true" form when they die.

So if they were in human shape and they were killed, then they would turn into dead jackals, and the group would probably immediately know that they were dealing with jackalweres, because, well there aren't too many things that look human at first, but turn into jackals when they die.

Jackalweres have the ability to look like different people every time they take human form. Not to the precise degree of impersonating someone like a doppelganger can, but they could still change up their shape/appearance every single time they shift to human form (even to the point of changing up what gender they are).

So there's an expression on TV Tropes, "Opening a can of Clones" and what it means is pretty simple.

Once you introduce shapeshifters who can look like multiple DIFFERENT PEOPLE (as opposed to lycanthropes or vampires who will always look more or less the same every time they take on a particular form) then you can't unring that bell.

At all.

You've just made it possible that any and every single person that your PCs are interacting with could be a fake. The characters themselves could be fakes!

In short, this is something with an incredibly heavy narrative weight, and you should not do it lightly. If we revealed that there were shapeshifters of that nature in this story, then it would have had repercussions, lots and lots of repercussions.

To make this story (and in my opinion this adventure) work properly, the group should be given NO REASON to challenge Inspector Logan on his claims of being a real Inspector in the Paridon Guard.

That way, you get the most shock, excitement and "WAAAAHHHH?" factor out of the reveal that is going to come later on.

In short, the adventure gives players a chance to possibly fig6ure out what is going on much too soon in my opinion, and lets move on to Chapter seven.

Chapter seven has the group narrowing the list of suspects (for one of Bloody Jack's servants at least) down considerably.

I'm not sure if I made the right move or not to keep from showing the list to the reader and only let people "in universe" see the list.

The problem was that when you see the list as a player in an RPG it is just a thing you tend to take a quick look at and move along, it's done in somewhat ugly/unpleasant hand writing so you don't want to spend super long looking it over, but in a text based story, I felt like it would be much more likely that my readers would spot "A. Logan" on the list.

If they noticed that, then it would completely destroy the suspense/surprise that I'm trying to build towards.

So I decided against it, coming to the same conclusion that a great many mystery writers before me have, an effective and suspenseful reveal must sometimes take precedence over "playing fair" with your readers.

Which finally gives us a chance to meet Doctor Wolfgang Arturus.

Wolfgang was one of the final pieces of the proverbial puzzle to fall into place for me. I really was not sure at first what to do with him, because I felt like the adventure didn't use him at all properly.

Basically they have him show up, he's a wolfwere, he's a false lead, and if the heroes arrest him properly he more or less vanishes from the story, and if they don't arrest him properly (IE leaving him alone with constables who are no match for even an injured wolfwere) he'll kill them and vanish from the story.

This upset me, though granted nowhere near as much as the having nobody running the printing shop problem did.

One thing that the adventure makes a note of is that Bardan is a very unusual jackalwere, because most of his kind just don't have the patience required to study magic and become wizards. All things considered, given that becoming a wizard to me felt like a task that should require the same amount of study as becoming a doctor (okay a doctor whose patients tend to survive) I decided that this must mean Wolfgang was an usual wolfwere.

Eventually something clicked in the back of my mind when I asked around for what other people had done with this character. Well that, and I recalled my own words from the author commentary of the first book... wolfweres are evil because they tend to live an a society and be raised by parents who continue to teach them evil behaviors, at least so far as we equate "humans are food not friends" with "evil" which I think most of us can agree is one fairly reasonable definition.

Also it's worth pointing out that the name Doctor Louis Fericks is a direct (cover your eyes for spoilers for a series that came out over a decade) reference to Power Rangers Time Force.

It is the name of a doctor who takes in someone who society looks down on and basically does the entire good Samaritan routine with him. That person is the main villain of the series, so obviously it does not work out well for Doctor Fericks (in the sense of he gets his lab burnt down and gets so badly hurt in the fire he has to turn himself into a cyborg to survive, then things get even worse for him...) but hey in this reality he was a bit luckier/Wolfgang was more receptive to what he had to say.

Wolfgang's house looks the way it does because he knows that there are doppelgangers and jackalweres running around Paridon, and none of them like him at all for the reason I mention in the side story.

"There are no monsters in Paridon" (damn it if I had been smarter/thought of that sooner, I could have turned that into a proper set of Arc Words for this adventure, I really should have) and even if Wolfgang isn't actively doing very many (or any) wolfwere things that could draw attention to himself, they're still upset by the possibility that he could.

So he's taken plenty of precautions to make it hard for them to come and murder him quietly.

Needless to say, he is at least contemplating using his song when the group first arrives, but one look at Alexander makes him back down.

Alex has a thing when it comes to wolves of all shapes, sizes, and types, this is really nothing new, you should not be all that surprised.

Which takes us into chapter eight, also known as the equivalent of chapter eleven/twelve from book one.

Okay it isn't quite as revealing of our heroes (since those chapters were about revealing a great deal about Alexander) but none the less, chapter eight more or less changes the entire meaning of this story around.

We start with another much longer and much more in-depth Phoenix Wright style segment as Cal has to work through all of the false evidence that has been planted against Doctor Wolfgang.

I still regret that I couldn't do this a bit more smoothly, but it's still fairly decent for what it is. What can I say, no amount of normal writing practice will help you learn how to write Phoenix Wright segments, especially when the segments in question are contingent upon the what evidence the heroes have managed to gather up to this point.

We get another great big Discworld reference with the arrival of a certain corporal and sergeant.

In this case they are Corporal Nobby Nobbs and Sergeant Fred Colon, Colon is his normal affable if clueless self, while Nobby remains cheerful amoral in small ways.

Our protagonists go to Inspector Logan's office, and there they find pretty much the most incriminating evidence imaginable short of a note that says "Yes I was the one who did it, mwa-ha-ha!" possibly with a few extra exclamation points at the end." (Five exclamation marks, the sure sign of an insane mind.)

To delay the reveal just a little longer, we momentarily see things from "Inspector Logan's" point of view, just right up until the fight starts properly.

Doppelgangers are allowed to transform into any person, or into any sort of large humanoid creature. Thus, Sudji is able to transform himself into a mock hybrid wolf man shape. It's worth pointing out that the "hybrid" shape in question as far as I can tell, looks pretty much exactly the same be it a werewolf, a wolfwere, or Alex's hybrid shape, none of those three have distinct "tells" that even someone experienced with them would be able to use to tell them apart.

Alex is understandably pissed off by Sudji transforming himself into a wolfman form he has done NOTHING to earn, and opens up a can off whoop-ass on him.

Thanks to some unexpected abilities Sudji manages to fight Alex more or less to a standstill.

Granted, what you're seeing here is a bit of a false dilemma, since I'll be the first to admit that Doctor Wolfgang's song isn't the only way that Alex could have gained an advantage. If he hadn't been present, then Mirri probably could have just gone to gaseous form and slipped behind Sudji, then reformed herself and well you can guess what would happen next.

Granted, as soon as I roughly figured out Doctor Wolfgang's personality, I knew that having a wolfwere in the story and not having him use his magic song is like having a vampire in your story and not having them use their charm gaze at some point.

So yeah, wolfwere sings, Alex has an immunity to said song which will make perfect sense soon enough, (for a given value of "soon enough" at least) and Alex beats up Sudji which wraps up chapter eight.

Chapter nine we finally reveal the now somewhat obvious fact that we're dealing with doppelgangers in this story, and Sudji takes himself out of the game before he can be forced to reveal anything more.

Doppelgangers are in point of fact actually immune to charm abilities, so Mirri's gaze would have had no affect upon Sudji. On the other hand, he also didn't know about Alex's "I abhor torture" policy, and he couldn't be certain he wouldn’t reveal something eventually.

In point of fact, even as he's taunting them he ends up giving away some information by letting the group know that they are dealing with multiple doppelgangers.

It is at this point that the "Opening a can of Clones" effect that I talked about beforehand promptly hits Cal like a sledgehammer.

He doesn't take it well.

On the other hand, are you really surprised that he doesn't take it well given that it pretty much destroys any possibility that he could take the Bloody Jack killings to court, alongside his belief that he more or less understood what was going on.

The fact that we're a little past midnight time wise probably is doing him no favors either.

In the chapters to come I completely took an event that should have happened in this story based on the adventure book, and why I took that particular event out is because of what happens next...

The murder of the innkeeper's wife is completely in keeping with the adventure book (though the book itself doesn't say why she got chosen/why Bloody Jack mistook her for a prostitute/why he descides to kill someone who wasn't a prostitute) but what is supposed to happen later on is that Koth Rigsby eventually gets killed and replaced by a doppelganger, who then uses that shape to get close to the group and make an attack on them.

The reasons this didn't happen are two fold.

One of them is that the doppelgangers are pretty much already taking a "the less we interact with them, the better" approach to the group. The second, is that any doppelganger who replaced Koth Rigsby would read his thoughts and seen how Cal felt about Koth.

That entire "lets have this conversation while standing on opposite sides of the room" suggests that Cal is already a paranoid mess who is willing to shoot someone WHO AT THE TIME IS COMPLETELY HUMAN if they get too close to him. This suggests that using Koth's shape to try and launch an attack on the group is pretty much doomed from the start, which is why they don't do it.

Now get ready folks it's time for another Firecat Digression Alert!

We're gonna stop talking about the story I wrote and talk about the adventure book as a whole.

It is VERY EASY to to die in this adventure.

All it requires is for you to be alone with a doppelganger, if you do that for any real length of time, your character gets killed, replaced by a doppelganger, and then the doppelganger will reveal himself and attack the party eventually.

Oh also as long as your character has been replaced, any other PC who spends time alone with your "fake PC " is promptly themselves killed and replaced by a different doppelganger.

So it is shockingly easy to have what I'd call a "dopplelanche" or maybe it might be better to say "doppledoes" (as in dominoes) where one bad play by a PC (and that's counting spending time alone with Inspector Logan a "bad play") leads to another PC getting replaced which leads to another PC getting replaced, and before you know it the entire party has been replaced by doppelgangers, congratulations on the TPK!

Now some of you may be expecting me to go all "argle bargle foohferahh!" like I did in my comments of the sidestory based on Whom Fortune Would Destroy about how making it very easy to loose longstanding PC characters is not how you build a good D&D adventure.

But, I'm not gonna say that in this case.


Because the adventure uses all parts of the buffalo, it takes everything going on in Paridon into account and weaves together and enjoyable cohesive experience from it.

You see, while it is very easy to die during the first four nights of this adventure while you don't know that there are doppelgangers and that you need to FOLLOW THE BUDDY SYSTEM like your life depends on it (because guess what, IT DOES), it doesn't really matter if you do actually die that way.

Because the Doppelgangers in this adventure book aren't as smart a the ones in my story, (well that or Sodo's (if I haven't directly mentioned it yet, "Sodo" is the real name of "Mr. S" because there’s no reason for him to give Cal his real name) curse isn't just just resurrection, but true resurrection, (and thus can bring people back from being reduced to jackalwere excrement)) but one way or another the characters (or whatever is left of them) gets dumped into the sewer. Sodo finds them in turn and then brings them back to life with no penalty to the players.

Well almost no penalty, he is a darklord, so he does implant the PCs with weird magical devices called Scarabs of Death that are going to kill them in a few days to "encourage" the group to go get the Fang of Nosferatu back for him since only he can stop the scarabs from killing their hosts.

Still not upset about that because it works in character, and the scarabs automatically go away when you escape from Paridon at the end of the adventure, (and the scarabs are like time bombs with no remote detonator so Sodo can't make them activate on command when the PCs are trying to escape after giving him back the Fang) which means there are no annoying in game repercussions that need to be dealt with (unlike everyone in the party now being afflicted lycanthropes when you finish up Dark of the Moon) after you run this adventure successfully.

So, what ends up happening is that the doppelgangers get to be portrayed as every bit as effective, deadly and scheming as they should be, but the character death is just part of being able to "fail forward" without long term repercussions for tiny slip ups by the players.

Since none of our six protagonists have died to the doppelgangers, Sodo instead takes a proactive approach to getting in touch with the group and though he can't get as much leverage over Cal/the group as he might want, he's still able to manipulate Cal because at this point, as the alchemist will readily admit in the next chapter, getting Revenge on Bloody Jack is a REALLY obvious REALLY big carrot to dangle in front of him.

Of course we also get to see Cal have his great big "turnabout" moment as he uses logic to figure out more about Bloody Jack and Sodo's relationship, and the nature of Sodo's curse. Once he realizes what is going on, he's able to coerce Sodo into revealing a great deal of information about doppelgangers, information that Cal/the group rather badly needed. This is the first time they’re encountering them you see, and the group certainly never would have figured out that they have the ability to read minds without it directly being told to them.

It is also at this point that Sodo moves Cal from the "I'll betray him to tie up loose ends" to the "I'll betray this guy because I HATE HIM" mental category.

Which brings us to the other half of the chapter. My thoughts on this half of the chapter haven't changed, but since this is author commentary I'm gonna reiterate them again.

I really think that the chapter would have been stronger if I could have omitted Doctor Wolfgang's back story from it and ended it when Cal's interaction with Sodo ended, making the entire chapter only about Cal and James' interaction.

But, for the good of the story as a whole Wolfgang's back story needed to be explained (I didn't go through a bunch of hard work thinking it up just to leave it unsaid) and it would have been even more out of place if I moved it to the next chapter.

I am glad that I got to work Mirri's line in though the one about "Truly innocent people are such horrible manipulators" because she is more than smart enough to be aware that spending time with James is making her a different person/vampire than she used to be.

So she commiserates with Wolfgang, though he probably doesn't want her commiseration since Wolfgang actually by this point has embraced the concept of redemption to the point that his alignment has changed some version of good (probably neutral good), while Mirri is still a chaotic evil sociopath, but for the most part between James and Alex she focuses her sociopathic urges into socially acceptable outlets.

That wraps up chapter nine and takes us to chapter ten.

Which also takes us to another DIGRESSION ALERT!

Okay I know I already mentioned that this adventure is a mystery, so lets talk about how good or bad a mystery I think it is.

Honestly, I think it is a bad one.

The problem with it the adventure is that in many ways it runs out of steam EXACTLY two thirds of the way through, after/during the fourth night.

The reveal that Inspector Logan is a doppelganger, and he's actually been working against you this entire time?

Wonderful! Great stuff!

It's a shocking twist that makes sense even including the point where during the third night when "Inspector Logan" is attacked alongside the group to further throw the PCs off the trail.

It is a reveal that's right up there with discovering that "Atlas" is really Frank Fontaine, (sorry to any of you who haven't played Bioshock yet, would you kindly forget I said anything?) the person you thought was one of your greatest allies has actually been plotting to use and abuse you this entire time!

The problem is that Inspector Logan/Sudji, isn't Bloody Jack.

Bloody Jack is some guy (well he's impersonating some guy) named Edmund Bloodsworth who the PCs have never heard of, won't really hear of until after night five! The only mention of him at all prior to night five is that his name is one of the many "not important" people on the list of who recently bought black cloaks, and it could have been omitted from that list without changing the adventure any.

The mystery isn't solved by the slow accumulation of clues, it is solved by handing them a single all encompassing "golden clue" at the end of night five. An all encompassing clue which is handed over to the PCs more or less regardless of what they do, so there's no dramatic tension, no real dramatic pay off, no feeling that they deserved to solve the case.

Which I suppose is the problem inherent in the system, or at least inherent in the nature of this adventure. I mean what alternative do you have, making the mystery more complicated/difficult to solve? People are probably coming to your table to play D&D, not Phoenix Wright after all.

They would not be entirely in the wrong if they felt "oh you mean because I didn't solve this logic puzzle built into your adventure the way you wanted it to be solved, we can't have a satisfying conclusion to the adventure? Well all right then, choo choo, lets all just hop on the f**king railroad!" if you make the players have to jump through lots of hoops to get this clue.

So having the golden clue being given to the PCs no matter what they're doing on night five so long as they're vaguely sticking to the plot is one way to resolve the situation.

If I was writing the adventure, I'd probably want to make sure that it so that there was no golden clue and there was more of a slow accumulation of evidence, with the PCs going to meet Sir Bloodsworth on day one for some reason or other, but heck if I know exactly how I'd resolve it, since I have trouble writing stories that aren't directly based on someone else's continuity/work/ideas, I'm not good enough to write an adventure module on my own, let alone an adventure module that's very different from most other adventure modules!

Anyway, lets continue onwards to what is actually happening in the story.

I tell a lie, let's go through ANOTHER digression alert.

When I was in high school I read a book named Redwall. Everything I have to say about this book, is based on my memory, so if I get some stuff wrong please forgive me.

Basically one of the key themes of this story is the importance of the heroes journey. The hero sets out on a long important journey in order to try and find this mystical sword that will supposedly help him defeat the evil villain and his army because it is a super magical sword.

He eventually finds it, and, well it is just a sword.

It's a good sword, but still a sword, probably one on par with Wolf Claw, or Carrot's unnamed sword from Discworld.

It is a sword you can use to fight a lot of battles, but it definitely doesn't have any sort of amazing army defeating magical powers. That said, in the process of getting this sword, the hero met a bunch of people, made a bunch of friends, formed an alliances, and helps put together an army of his own to fight against the bad guy with.

Basically, it wasn't the sword itself, it was the quest to get the sword which ended up saving the day. Also, all the characters in this story are talking animals, the hero is a mouse and the villain is a rat, but that's not importance at the moment now is it?

The importance of the hero's journey is also something that we see in this particular adventure.

All of the evidence that Cal got, it isn't that important, even the "golden clue" itself isn't that important given that they get something just as good out of the four jackalweres that they capture, but the people they meet are important.

I'll explain more in a little bit let me go back to the story for now.

As I previously mentioned, I dislike how easy it is to get the golden clue in the adventure book. Luckily, when you're writing a story that is an easy enough problem to fix, instead of having the protagonists acquire the clue by random chance, make them get it as the result of them taking steps to get the upper hand against the villain.

Cal's plan is to use Wind Walk to get around the city faster and thus be able to ambush Bloody Jack in the act is a pretty good one. Bloody Jack only manages to squeeze out of the trap by using a complicated series of magical tricks (first fog to obscure, invisibility to disappear and then sending out one of his doppelganger minion who looks exactly like him) that only just barley works.

Even then, the group still manages to kill at least one doppelganger, and also capture four jackalweres.


These guys really got the short end of the stick (in and out of universe).

It's a shame, because most creatures in Ravenloft have pretty fleshed out back stories/ecologies, you know the whole nine yards.

Jackalweres first showed up in the standard D&D monster manual though. They’re not a creature unique to Ravenloft and like creatures in the A&D monster manual, they're not that fleshed out.

Well given that they play a pretty big part in Hour of the Knife maybe the adventure book fleshes them out? Nope. All they got was a few quick notes on the subject of how exactly their powers work. It does nothing at all to explain WHY they're working with the doppelgangers (see the explanation I came up with for that which Alex tells to Wolfgang) or what their general personality /view of the world is like.

So I decided to take a particular rule about werejackals from another book in the monster manual series and apply it to jackalweres.

That rule is that werejackals have to roll for moral every round.

They're cowards, they're incredibly cowardly cowards. Their bellies could not be any more yellow if you went over them with a paint roller, they could not be any more chicken without sprouting feathers.

At the least, that's the approach of their standard jackalwere mook.

So the group takes them prisoner, and then Alex gives his rather epic speech.

Once again, torture doesn't work, that's something which has been proven time and time again across countless different universes including our own.

Psychological warfare on the other hand... that has a much higher success rate.

The jackalwere prisoners also gives us a chance to give the story of Doctor Wolfgang a rather more definitive and satisfactory ending then it does in the adventure book with him now officially repeating his mentor's actions of taking in monsters to teach them how to be productive members of society.

After that we have the chase scene.

This honestly works pretty much like it does in the adventure book (except in the adventure book the heroes are on foot) but the general principle is still the same, the jackalweres are more interested in chasing than catching the PCs at the moment.

Of course in the story the jackalweres plan is a great deal less "lets box them in/drive them into an ambush" and a great deal more "oh god lets make this somebody else's problem soon, I really don't want it to be mine" which as Cal points out makes the jackalweres among the most "intelligent" mooks we're likely to see in any of these adventures, due to the fact that they're completely aware of being mooks.

Eventually they take out the gate and make it to the carriage house where Bardan starts hunting them.

I knew how he was going to meet his end more or less from the moment I first read this adventure.

Jackalweres have a gaze that causes sleep, Mirri as a vampire has a gaze that causes the charm effect.

Both of those are first level spells, but Mirri is completely immune to sleep and jackalweres are not completely immune to charm.

The irony of the situation was too great for me to possibly resist.

Which finally takes us to the "final" chapter where we get to see Cal's epic plan unfold.

The party that Roja/Edmund Bloodsworth is throwing is supposed to provide him as a doppelganger with perfect social camouflage to be able to constantly shift from one person's shape (or one animal shape, since the Fang allows him to turn into any non-magical animal he wants) as he stalks the PCs and executes quick hit and run attacks.

I read that, and I also read how the adventure book describes the things which would cause the party to break up, some of them even causing it to break up immediately (like a wild animal (the book mentions Roja in a transformed state for an example) being loose in the ballroom for example) and scare the guests away.

I realized that the smartest thing that any group of PCs could do, would be to break up the party as soon as possible.

Get EVERYONE who does not feel that it is worth possibly dying to stay at the party out of the building.

This both robs Bloody Jack (and all of his fellow doppelgangers) of the ability to hide by pretending to be someone else, and also makes it much harder for him to find someone to kill at midnight.

As Cal notes, if he (Cal) was an out and out evil monster (and he's not, he's true neutral with a side order of asshole) he wouldn't be stalking the street of Paridon to murder six different prostitutes night after night after night.

He would have kidnapped a bunch of girls/people far ahead of time, like kidnapping one a month so that there’s no obvious pattern that makes people suspect something strange is going on, kept them locked up in a dungeon, and them at 11:50 PM go down to commit murder in the privacy of his own home without leaving a bunch of dead bodies laying in the street for people to get upset over.

So, this begs the question, why didn't Roja do that?

Well the answer is pretty simple, he like Sodo before him is so addicted to fear, terror, horror, and pain, (and if he wasn't addicted to those things wielding the Fang would drive him even more insane than he already is) that they need those emotions to be fresh, letting the victims hang around in a dungeon for a few months would be like leaving milk outside over an entire summer.

Of course the problem with this disruptive approach is that our protagonists do not have an omniscient morality license, this is Ravenloft, doing the wrong sort of thing (even for the right reason) will cause you to take Dark Powers Checks.

So how could Cal and the group possibly both break up the party, and then force Sir Edmund to throw the first punch so that they aren't committing murder premeditated which is a no-no even to evil monsters.

Well, as I previously mentioned on the importance of the hero's journey, everyone who Cal met as he gathered evidence during the first few chapters helps provide him with part of the solution.

First at the very start there was his ties with the Temple of the Divine Form which helped the group get their hands on the Rings of Mind Shielding. Those rings are of vital importance because having them allows the group to completely shut down one of the Doppelgangers' main social advantages, their ability to read minds.

In the past even though Cal didn’t tell Inspector Logan all that much about what the group was planning, Sudji could still read Cal's thoughts, so every time they were there in the same room Sudji was able to discover what the group had planned.

Once they hand the rings (and they only needed four of them because Mirri is already immune and Florence is making sure to use wild shape to transform into a plant creature of some type because that makes her immune to mind affecting abilities. Also I am not going to wade into the gigantic river of pointless bulls**t that is asking exactly how wild shape, alternate form, polymorph et cetera et cetera et cetera actually work in D&D, instead we're going to just say that wild shaping into a plant, makes immune to mind affecting abilities and it's not an unreasonable call based on a fair amount of stuff I've seen online) the doppelgangers couldn't do that any more.


Cal's connection with Morton von Keller pays off twice over, both helping him convince a priest to give him the previously mentioned rings, but also giving him the flesh of a shapeshifting being (from Sudji's recently deceased body) that he needs to coat the group's gloves in to prevent any of them from being effected by the Fang of Nosferatu (well more effected in Mirri’s case).

It is worth pointing out that that Sodo/Mr. S did not tell them how to avoid being affected by the Fang out of the kindness of his heart. He's doing it, because anyone who the dagger starts to take over is not going to hand it over, and it also would open the door to the even worse is the possibility that THEY might be able to finish up the Bloody Jack ritual and become invincible. That's why he warns the group about how not to be corrupted by it.

After that, Cal knowing the tailor helps him get the group actually get their gloves remade.

Then his ties with the police help him get at least a fig leaf of legal authority behind his actions. The Acting Inspector was willing to Cal said fig leaf to do whatever sort of crazy bulls**t he was clearly planning, and let him (the Acting Inspector) be able to either take credit for it if worked, or distance himself from it if things blew up in his (Cal's) face.

Which leads to Cal meeting up with the printer who helps him make a pile of papers/arrest warrants that he'll be showing off a short while later.

So while Cal's gathering evidence didn't help him figure out who the murder was, it still helped him bring the killer to justice. See what I said about the importance of the hero's journey?

More to the point, even though we’re not using a Phoenix Wright style system at this point, the ending still had an appropriately Phoenix Wright style conclusion to it, where the villain is undone by their own words.

In fact, that's how the entire second half (or at least final quarter) of the story plays out, as I believe I mentioned beforehand, from chapter ten onwards our protagonists now armed with the knowledge of Bloody Jack's powers and abilities start throwing every single trick he used against them back in his face.

1: The scent bombs? Cal shoots one of them causing it to shatter inches from their faces leaving the jackalweres near helpless much like Alex and James were back in chapter four.

2: Potion of grease? Cal uses one in his final fight with Bloody Jack defeat and humiliate him.

3: Inserting a member of their group into the Paridon Guard and taking command of the investigation? Check, and double check. In fact, Cal actually parrots a lot of Inspector Logan's lines, including when Logan tells the group to stand with their backs against the wall, and even more importantly on how the bar for an arrest is much lower than the bar for conviction.

By the way, that was what was going on in chapter 9 when Cal had his moment of brilliance if you didn't realize it.

On some level Cal wasn't thinking about "detain Bloody Jack" as "keep Bloody Jack busy" he was thinking about it as "arrest Bloody Jack, even if you can't convict" because the word "detain" has multiple meanings, and Cal had realized the brilliance of using it a way other than what Sodo had originally intended.

This post too long to do in one go see the rest below.

Sun Mar 13, 2016 3:05 pm
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