This movie rolled up on Amazon Prime last night. Since I had just watched once of my not-so-guilty pleasures the night before (Streets of Fire) by the director, Walter Hill, and I’ve liked Michelle Rodrigue since her premier in Girlfight (excellent film!) I figured it would be Hill’s signature pulpy tough-guy movie schtick.

Hill is one of those directors that can make a bad movie so cool, it’s good (The Warriors, 48 Hours, Red Heat, Streets of Fire (Come on! SLEDGEHAMMER fight!), Last Man Standing), or take a total dump (Supernova, Another 48 Hours, Brewster’s Millions, or on screenplay duty for the execrable Alien 3.) The Assignment is stuck somewhere between.

The social justice warrior and transgender crowds, every ready to take offense, will immediately go apoplectic over the very premise. A cold blooded hit man (Rodriguez) kills the worthless but beloved brother of psychotic doctor Rachel Kay, who has him picked up by some of her underworld buddies and in a combination of revenge and social experiment about whether gender and identity are tied for physical expression performs a sex change operation.

Frank Kitchen (said sex change recipient) wakes to find himself a herself and proceeds to follow the revenge play tropes through the rest of the movie. High art? Nope. As exploitative as Pedro Alvodómar’s The Skin I Live In? Certainly not, although that is from a respected “important” director. It’s also obviously suffering from a low budget (it’s a Saban production, after all…) and Hill is working with what he’s got. There’s a lot of dark street scenes with neon lighting, shootouts in grimy rooms, and cartoonish thugs working for the “Doctor.” As such, it’s missing that cool style Hill usually brings to films like this.

Other than a few shots to establish Rodriguez’s character as a man (with full frontal prosthetic), then as a woman, and to highlight the discomfort with his new form, there’s little titillation to the movie. This is a straight tough guy revenge film, with Rodriguez doing sterling tough guy (but now as a woman) stuff: talking tough, blasting people with .45s, and generally acting passably well through it. Is Hill making any statements on gender issues or transgender roles? Nope. This is simply the hook for the not-so-good guy to do his…her stuff. Kitchen doesn’t want to be a woman, but too bad! Kay wanted him to suffer, but also to see if he would embrace his “opportunity” to be something different.

 

Weaver is incarcerated throughout the movie, and we swap between Kitchen’s story and hers. It’s an awkward construction, but the scenes between her blood-chilling “Doctor” and her psychiatrist (played by Tony Shaloub) are fun and played with the mirth a story like this require. It’s a lurid pulp novel story as the use of comic art transitions informs us: a bit stupid, but in the end mindlessly(ish) entertaining.

So is it worth it? On my scale of “Don’t even borrow it” to “Go full price and 3D/IMAX”, it’s a firm rent. If you like Hill’s pulp movies, like Last Man Standing or 48 Hours, you will probably enjoy it, even if it’s not good. If Hill had brought his style A-game, like he did to Streets of Fire or Last Man Standing, it would have definitely be a good matinee movie.

If you’re offended by anything gender-related, avoid it.

Hedra is a new dice-rolling program for iOS created by the people that brought you Dicy, which has been reviewed previously here. The creator contacted us a few days ago about the review of Dicy — which remains my go-to dice roller for RPGs when I’m running off of my laptop — to htank us and let us know about Hedra.

I downloaded the app and played around with it for a few minutes and now it’s time for the review:  Hedra is a very lightweight, minimalist dice rolling program. No fancy backgrounds, and right now there’s no build-ins for modifiers to the dice. Pick what you want and roll it. There’s no limit to the number you can roll, save you can only roll 20 at a time. (I rolled 40d6, just to feel like I was playing old Star Wars for a moment…) There’s all the usual polyhedrons you’ll need d4 o d20, and d100. The background is an off-white, the dice are each a single color to easily differentiate them, and the program totals them for you. The only die that is hard to read the individual dice are the d4s.

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To roll multiple dice you can either tap like a lab rat looking for food, or swipe up and it will tell you how many it will roll when you let go.

I made the suggestion to the developer on the App Store to add Fate dice to the options. I think up-sizing the d4 is another good idea.

So is it worth it? It’s a buck. It’s a light serviceable dice roller. So, yes.

Our Dungeons & Dragons game has steadfastly steered clear of the classic fantasy game tropes and expectations, but has instead focused on an alternate-Late Antiquity setting with classical mythology and Biblical themes, but also is increasingly focused on the question of what “good and evil” is.

The characters are Roman citizens — a former legionnaire who is plucked from obscurity by the young and new emperor that he babysat while on campaign with his father (Marcellus); the cleric from Africa who is traveling the empire trying to find enlightenment (Augustinian); the bard from a good family that exiled him for his “trashy” occupation and refusal to marry an influential Christian girl in the court of Emperor Valens (Calvinus); an anchorite monk who is “barukhim” (a blessed one or aasmiar) and a trained “demon killer” who has been hiding from the world since his mentor was murdered by a nephalim (tiefling), and who has been called into the world by the archangel Michael to fight the armies of the Lie — Satan (Icio); and lastly, an Allemani dwarf (or “zwergi”) from the Alps who has a penchant for killing goblins (Carrus.) They are all “good” in alignment — some chaotic, some lawful.

But what exactly is good? One of the things we encountered early on in the campaign was that Roman law allowed for criminals that were caught — in this case a small village of Vandals (goblins) that had been terrorizing the surrounding countryside and which had taken some people as slaves — to be made slaves. By today’s standards, this is evil with a capital E. However, this was the law at the time, and not considered that much of a moral outrage. Hell, two-thirds of the Roman economy was worked by slaves.

In that case, the good/evil dichotomy wasn’t really that tough. The Vandals had taken Romans as slaves illegally. Rescuing these Roman citizens and enslaving the baddies might be problematic for a 21st Century player, but at the time, there was no question that this was the right thing.

In another instance, they had captured a few assassins that had been sent after them. They had attacked the party, which was by this time under imperial writ. Marcellus was a legate — an ambassador/general. Attacking him was a crime against the state. Executing the miscreants was under his purview. Again, for people raised on Enlightenment notions of due process, opposition to abuse of authority and cruelty, this was…evil. Again, lawful, but evil.

In our last night of play, the party was headed south to Mediolanum to meet the empress regent (Emperor Valentinian II is only four.) following a spectacular victory over a Quadi (hobgoblins as stand-ins for Goths) army, then head to Greece to try and find something called “the Shadow” — some kind of wall between the world and other planes of existence that Satan is looking to tear down. They had stopped in Cambodunum, a ruin of the old capital of the province Raetia and which is sparsely populated. They had found lodging in the distillery of one of the residents, only to be attacked that night by a troll that they had previously encountered, and who had tracked them because it was upset they were profiting from the story that Carrus had killed him.

In the process of fighting the troll, they accidentally blew up the distillery, and the explosion brought an avalanche down on the town. After rescuing their fellows, Carrus, Icio, and Marcellus, were aiding the townspeople in finding a few missing people and some of the livestock. Hearing a scream, they returned to the house of the distiller, which had been badly damaged in the avalanche.

Inside, Augustinian — who had been badly injured — had just wakened. Calvinus and Carona — a satyress they have been traveling with and whom Carrus has taken up with — were taking care of him when they were attacked — the front door kicked in by the troll they’d thought dead in the avalanche an hour prior. Carona panicked and played a frightening strain on her panpies, but before the troll could escape into the night, Augustinian threw a hold creature spell and trapped it. Encouraged by Augustinian to kill the creature, Carona went to cut its throat…but when confronted with a terrified, helpless creature, she couldn’t do it. It was unfair. Wrong.

Evil.

Augustinian shortly after lost his concentration and the troll escaped out to be met by the other characters, who had been returning. Surprised by the blubbering monster that was protesting, “she tried to murder me!” Icio was overcome with a moment of compassion and tried to talk the creature down. It wasn’t an option I’d even considered in the planning for the adventure, but with the monk’s moral compass, and his mission to try to turn evil to good, the player and I were in agreement it was definitely the way to go. He was able to get a good persuasion test and calm the troll a bit. The idea of even talking to it never occurred to the other players — but their characters, it turned out, was another matter.

After establishing that the main beef was the fraud they’d perpetrated by calling Carrus a “troll killer” (something the dwarf desperately wanted to “fix”) and that they couldn’t go around lying about him. The second was that they attacked him for defending his bridge (not quite how it happened, but he is obviously a bit dim.) Marcellus pointed out it was the Roman’s bridge, not his, and that is could be argued the troll stole it. Augustinian piled on about the complexities of property and ownership, and when it was right to attack someone. Perplexed, and well out of his intellectual depth, the troll eventually promised not to haunt bridges looking for victims if they wouldn’t lie about him, then stumped off into the night.

A game about killing monsters and stealing their treasure turned into one about avoiding conflict and attempting (at least on Icio’s part) to teach a troll the Ten Commandments. But more to the point, it was about playing their alignment — an element of the Dungeons & Dragons rules that always annoyed me. There’s always the question of moral relativism when trying to define good or evil, but in a game where those distinctions tie to rules that can affect how or if a spell works on a creature, how your character interacts with others, or how they behave in general, it’s important to figure out (in game terms) what they mean.

The encounter left Icio and Augustinian questioning the nature of morality, and if it could even truly exist in a poly- or pantheistic framework, where every god had an area of authority and subjective morality. Carrus was frustrated — he knew, in some way, they did the right thing, but it still felt wrong to let the creature go! Marcellus and Calvinus didn’t quite know what to think…

These quandaries bring up some interesting questions. If you serve an “evil” god, but your intent is to follow the precepts of that deity, are you doing evil or good? A real world example might by the thugee of India, who worship Kali, and who would waylay and murder travelers as a form of worship. Is that evil? The British overlords of India certainly thought so (as, I suspect, did the victims), but what did they think? Sati, where a wife was burned with her dead husband, was considered right and proper. Good. British authorities disagreed. Egyptian emperors were buried with their slaves and servants. Evil? Or was it, if these people went willingly because they were serving their emperor and gods?

A week later, the party finally arrived on the Via Claudia Augusta at Mediolanum, the capital of the Western Empire, where they were met by a legion of men dispatched to bring Marcellus to the empress regent. In the city, they were presented an ovation — a parade through the city to the palace, where the characters were presented accolades for the defense of Castra Stativa against the Quadi. Marcellus received the appellation “Quadius” for his victory and with Carrus were presented coronae and philerae (medals) for their actions (as well as finally paid for their three months of service…) The rest were given Crowns of the Preserver, a high award for those civilians who have saved a soldier’s life. Augustinian and Icio were also given the title pius felix.

Afterward, they retired to a villa that was set aside for them. There were already some issues with men wanting to buy Carona as a slave, but more worrying was Bishop Ambrose’s reaction to her — a demonic creature, and one that is supposedly fornicating with one of their number! That is bestiality, as best! Icio knows she is good, but the Church has decided that she is an unclean thing. Is he good for trying to defend her, or evil for being influenced by her?

Ambrose, nevertheless, impressed Augustinian with his rhetoric and intellect, and vice-versa (as was the case in the real world), leading our cleric to start dallying with Christianity.

That evening, a gala for the heroes (minus Carona who — it was suggested — should stay at home) led to Marcellus making one hell of an impression thanks to boosts from the cleric (eagle splendor) and band (bardic inspiration). Marcellus not only awe Empress Justina with his martial prowess and his story of the Shadow and Satan (she’s seeing it as an End of Days scenario), but he was able to charm the pants off her…literally. The empress is worried about the Nicene influence in Mediolanum; she and her family are Arian Christians and she is worried that Ambrose’s push to eliminate their sect may lead to instability. Since he is also friendly with Gratian, the junior emperor, she is hoping he can be a bridge between her and her stepson, for the good of the empire. Meanwhile, she has authorized a legion for him to take to Greece to meet this extraordinary threat (Satan.)

While Marcellus and Calvinus were getting familiar with their respective ladies in the palace, Icio and Augustinian escorted a very drunk Carrus home to walk in on a couple of masked men trying to kill Carona. That seemed like a good place to end for the night.

It was a good character night. Their beliefs and basic purposes were challenged — something that I think pushed character exploration and growth in ways that beating the crap out of monsters does not. Carrus was distinctly torn between his desire to kill the troll, or go along with the diplomatic solution that Icio and Augustinian pursued. Icio has been reeling from meeting Satan, and having that foe ask some very good questions about the nature of gods, angels, and his own people, the barukhim; he then followed it up by showing mercy (and having it work), and later finding himself in between his bishop and his friendship and experience with the satyr, Carona. Marcellus knows getting involved with the empress and her causes is dangerous…but he is also a creature of duty and order, and being part of an attempt to save the empire cuts straight through his better judgment. Calvinus is having trouble with the voice in his head — a telepathic link to the succubus that seduced him a few sessions back — that is trying to turn him slowly against his fellows.

The ethical and moral conundrums are making for a truly enjoyable game where the players are having to really figure out what their characters want, believe, and know. I’m pretty pleased to see that my instinct to move away from hack-and-slash and dungeon crawls was a good one.

During our summer gaming group (and families) get together this weekend, the artist on several of the Black Campbell adventures (and up-coming Shanghai sourcebook) was apparently impressed with the politics that our Dungeons & Dragons game included. Specifically, he liked that they were rising in fame so quickly that the powers-that-be were taking note and working to suppress them before they became a problem.

He then wondered in a text at me what an imperial-centric Star Wars campaign would look like with this kind of bureaucracy, cynical approach. It wasn’t the first time someone suggested a Star Wars game, one of the other gamers had dropped hints about an imperial-oriented campaign.

It took a day or two, but now i find myself thinking about a Star Wars game, set during the rebellion, but before the events of the original movie. What would I do different? Ignore the prequels, certainly. What kind of characters? How could I do The Wire-style cynicism in the empire while having these (anti?)-heroes fight the Rebellion but maybe try to do the right thing inside the framework they have to work with…?

What system? I’m not touching the Fantasy Flight stuff. The moment I saw proprietary dice, I swore off, and I hate the multiple core books to do slightly different things. the old West End game? It’s a serviceable set of mechanics, but I haven’t come across it for a reasonable price. Fate seemed a good fit, but it doesn’t really capture the “brand name” quality to the gadgets, droids, and ships. Firefly, however, which is just Fate fused with Cortex, does a pretty good job of the “all characters can do most things” (if not well) that both Star franchises (War or Trek) do.

So now I’m thinking about a Star Wars game. It would be my first since 1994. Along with the D&D, it’s back to the future-time, gaming-wise, here at chez Rhymer.

We had a break of a week from the game, and were back tonight with the group deciding to head for Greece and the River Styx, site of the Shadow — the veil that Jupiter and Minerva created that cut off the world from the other planes of existence (save for the Underworld…that cannot be cut off from Earth.) Augustinian had learned from Jupiter’s statue (which spoke to him) that the Shadow was being sought by a demi-god, a “angel” from Icio’s Christianity named Sataniel (the Accuser.) The accuser was Yahweh’s angel that tested those whose faith seemed insincere, but when he sensed falsehood in his own lord, he called him on it and was cast to Earth with his followers. Seeking to return to heaven, Sataniel is looking to use the Shadow to get home. He thinks its a person or thing; they have that in their favor. If he can find and destroy the Shadow, Sataniel can return to heaven, which he hopes to do by freeing and recruiting some of the ancient things residing in Tartarus.

But first, they have a date with the imperial court in Mediolanum, which is on the way to the Via Postumia and the Mare Hadriatica. Their final day, the agent they had hired to organize, appraise, and sell their loot from the battle at Castra Stativa gave them their payout: split between the party, they are up 5200 soldi — enough to buy a large farm and home, in Icio’s case dedicate a small church, or set themselves out somewhere. That evening was a party in their honor with the rich and powerful of Augustus Vindelicorum. During the festivities, the bard — Calvinus — pursued one of the young and incredibly beautiful women and landed her easily. With only a few words, he was charmed (he blew his Charisma save.)

Back in his room, she absolutely shook his world…then she sucked the life out of him with a kiss. Making his save roll cut the damage from 32 to 18 and left him in the fight. Struggling with her, he used his shatter spell to blow open the door to his room and caught the attention of Icio next door. Calvinus was able to throw her off, at which point she revealed her true form — a succubus! She was promptly attacked by Icio who broke Calvinus’ lute over her head, then beat her with the ruined instrument. She broke free and launched herself out the window. Icio let his glowing aasimar wings loose and took off after her. His first time using his wings for flight, he plowed into a tree. (He rolled a 1.)

They learned, once Calvinus got his wits about him, that she had questioned him about the Shadow and he told her everything. They have to assume the adversary, the Lie, Sataniel, knows where the Shadow is now. The race is on!

They left quickly the left morning, before there would be time to even form up their cavalry unit, which was in town carousing. The party of six set off down the Via Claudia Augusta for Mediolanum in a fresh snowfall and broke the next evening in Cambodunum — the former capital of Raetia before it was sacked a century ago. While people have rebuild portions of the place due to the traffic on the road, It is a smallish town at the foot of one of the Alpine heights. With no place in the inn, they had the choice of the ominous ruins, or the home of a brewer/distiller. With a few coins, he put them up in the relative comfort of the distillery he had build in a large barn.

The night, they could hear shouts and the sounds of a fight outside. In the dim light of the distillery, lit only by the heating grates under the copper distilling flasks, they started getting on their gear while Icio raced to find out what was going on. He opened the to the massive figure of a troll — the creature they had bested weeks back. The troll roared that they were liars, that he was not dead and this “Troll Killer” was dishonest. Icio was struck dumb for a moment by the idiocy of the statement, then broke his quarterstaff on the creature’s knee. (1’s were a thing for Icio tonight.)

The troll threw him into one of the tanks, but the monk recovered quickly. Carona the satyr tried to use his attack on Icio to sneak up and attack him, but only made the troll mad. He used Icio as a bludgeon on Carona. Carrus (the Troll Killer, as Calvinus has been billing him) managed to chop an arm off of the creature. Augustinian lit him up with fairie fire and blessed Icio, Marcellus, and Carrus. We’ve been finding this combo is VERY useful in fights (d4 and an advantage on attacks.) Panicked by suddenly being engulfed in glowing fire, the troll snatched up one of the condenser tanks and tried to crush Carrus with it. Missing, he shattered the seams and flooded the floor of the place with strong alcohol.

Icio then hit the troll with one of the oil lamps, hoping to drive it off, and instead catching the place on fire. Now with the only ground-level door cut off by fire, the characters had to move fast. Carrus and Carona were able to get out just ahead of the flames. Icio slipped in the mash waste that had been knocked over in the battle, and slipped. His cassock caught fire and he left loose and escaped using his wings. The ret had to climb to the second story and escape out of the hay doors. During his climb, Marcellus was hit with one of the condenser tanks and knocked right through the side of the building.

The troll then went after Carrus, again, walking right through the fire to the front door.

Then the barn exploded for 5d6 damage (half if they made their constitution save.) Augustinian, Calvinus, and Carona (and the troll) all took 16; the rest 8HP. After a few moments to get their wits about them (allowing the troll to also regenerate 27HP), Carrus and the troll squared off. A few of them, however, noticed the strange shushing sound, loud, like water coming from the hill. The low cloud deck collapsed toward the ground as a wall of snow erupted toward them. Marcellus, Augustinian, and Calvinus ran for it, but the two latter men were overtaken. Carrus had struck the troll a mighty blow, only to be hit by the wave of snow. Icio used the last few seconds of his wings to get clear.

The avalanche took Augustinian straight to 0HP, and with Calvinus, Carona, and Carrus, were buried alive. Marcellus escaped into the farmer’s home, only to have the wave of snow half collapse the place around him. Icio found Calvinus quickly, and soon they had recovered the rest of their companions. Icio laid hands on Augustinian, bring him back up to 0HP and stabilizing him. While Carrus, Icio and Marcellus aided in looking for villagers injured or buried by the avalanche, Calvinus took care of Augustinian and Carona.

We knocked off for the night with the characters battered, their stuff blown all over the valley, and several of their companions near death.

We picked up our Dungeons & Dragons game with the aftermath of the Battle of Castrum Stativa. The victors went through the bodies of their Quadi enemies, looting corpses, tents, and moving the hundred of dead to a mass grave south of the town and fort. The characters made a beeline to the commander’s tent, where they found a bunch of loot, including the war mace of the original general, Brutharius. They also found the corpse of the tiefling warlock that the monk, Icio, took out. In his coffin, the body was wrapped in muslin treated to preserve the body. Also there were scrolls with the spells he knew (including several that he never got a chance to unleash on them…) Also found was his amulet — a Christian cross in a pentagram. Fascinated by all things religious, our cleric, Augustinian, picked up the amulet…which promptly hit him for 8d6 damage and nearly killed him instantly. The necrotic damage aged him prematurely, and even after Icio laid hands on him and did a lesser restoration, the cleric was sickly and felt cold for days.

After a night of revelry to celebrate their victory, Legate Marcellus decided to take the remains of the cavalry and head for Augusta Vindelicorum to report the engagement and  their win over the Quadi. To bolster the severely weakened garrison at the fortress, Marcellus was able to convince their Marcomanni reinforcements to remain for a few weeks until he could arrange for Roman troops. they leave the fortress with two dozen horses laden down with their loot from the battle.

A two day trip, across the stone bridge the Romans built over the Danube and through the snow-covered fields led them to the Roman capital of Raetia. The characters arrive to a massive turn out by the town — soldiers on parade, citizens shouting and throwing flower petals, and the Proconsul waiting to present them with a victory wreath. They are houses with the praetor urbanis of the town in a massive villa, and treated to a state dinner with the finest of the city.

While Marcellus and Carrus are playing politics with the proconsul — Marcellus attempting (successfully) to support Castrum Stativa with a full legion, and to get troops to go to Lenta and investigate that troublesome tribe. Calvinus the Bard and Carona, their satyr friend, entertained the guests. Meanwhile, Icio went to find the local church, and Augustinian visited the Temple of Jupiter and Minerva.

The church in the city turns out to be a massive stone ediface with stained glass, a beautiful statue of Mary and the divine child behind the altar, and a bible. The bishop, Asis, welcomes Icio — he’s never met a barukhim (blessed) one, one of Jesus’ brethren. (In the campaign, he was an aasimar.) They are discussing the situation in town, with the slow incursion of Christianity over the pagans when they are interrupted by a tall, beautiful figure they first think is a woman…but turns out to be a man. The very sight of him is strangely disturbing, and both Icio and the bishop fail their Wisdom saves. Terrified by the creature, which dismisses the bishop, Icio learns that this visitor was looking for him, the “little angel” that is causing so much trouble in Germania. Icio, son of Zaccharius the Faithful…or so he was led to believe.

The creature questions him — he is the faithful soldier of the One True God, but hasn’t he wondered at all about the nature of these gods he’s encountered? Or of his guardian angel? Why are angels all male? Why has he never met a female aasimar? Perhaps not everything he has been told by the church is true — the best lie is wrapped in the truth. He should know; they call him “the Lie.” That isn’t his mandate, however: he is “the Accuser”, he who calls to account those whose faith has wavered, or who have committed sins. But when he noted falsehood in that god he served, and called him to account, he was cast down to Earth. Icio is paralyzed by fear in face of the Enemy, himself! But before things can go any further, the angel Michael, burst through the door to drive Sataniel off.

Icio is staggered by the implications: Satan, himself, has taken an interest in the monk. He finds Augustinian in a similarly shocked state. He has also received a visitation — the statue of Jupiter spoke to him! It told him of this demi-god, Sataniel, and his search for “the Shadow” — not a person as they had thought, but a veil that separates the planes of existence. This Shadow was cast by Jupiter, with the help of Minerva and Prometheus, after the Trojan War. The gods had realized their continued involvement in the affairs of Man could spell disaster for not just the people of the world, but the world itself. The Shadow keeps them from manifesting physically, but they can see the events on Earth and occasionally speak with those special folks who can hear them…people like Augustinian. Sataniel hopes to break the Shadow and collect an army to overthrow the god that cast him out. There are those protecting this veil, the Guardians of the Shadow,.

After bringing the rest of the party up to speed, Augustinian tells them they have one advantage over Sataniel and his minion Aiton, however…Jupiter told Augustinian where the Shadow is: the only plane that could not be separated from Earth — the Underworld. They need to travel to the River Styx. But where is the Styx? Augustinian had an excellent Religion test — the Styx has its source on Mount Aroania in the Peloponnesus. They need to get to Greece. Carona, however, warns that the Guardians are not to be triffled with. She has never seen them, but some of the dryads he people treated with described them as creatures “elemental in nature”, powerful and capricious.

The night ended with the group realizing that someone was observing them through the curtains over their door. The chased the figure into the hall, only to find the spy was gone, apparently disappeared into the night…

This was a big push episode, finally filling in some of the metaplot that has been hinting at since the start of the campaign. One of the challenges was pulling together the Christian and Greco-Roman mythologies, and providing a unified danger. Satan’s desire to build an army, pulled from the ancient creatures inhabiting the pit of Tartarus in the Underworld.

We picked up again tonight with the party having repelled the first attack by the Quadi (hobgoblins) and their allies, the Vandals (goblins.) In a very one-sided fight, the Romans held out against catapult attacks from the south and Vandal attempts to get over the wall from the east. In the end, the Vandals on the right flank of the legion of bad guys broke and ran for it. Insult was added to injury when the heroes disguised their monk with an invisibility spell, allowing him to pour Greek Fire on the catapults behind enemy lines, which were then lit by incredibly lucky (and well buffed) archery tests by Legate Marcellus and Benarix the spy.

Two days pass with the Romans putting the fortress in order for a prolonged siege. Augustinian the cleric purified the food and water that had been despoiled by the rats loosed on the fortress by the Vandals, injured were tended to, and at the end of the second day, they were roused to the western wall by horn blasts in the snow frosted forests. Someone was getting reinforcements…but who?

Moments later, Titus Germanicus — one of their scouts who had been sent to contact Marco the Hammer in Heilbrunna and ask for his aid — arrived at the head of a small group of mounted Marcomanni. 300 Marcomanni were on the march and about to relieve the castrum! Outside and to the south, the Quadi started shifting their lines in anticipation of an attack, giving them the opportunity to coordinate with Marco’s people.

The plan was simple: the Marcomanni would attack the left front of the Quadi, while the Romans flanked their right and struck in. The attack was led by the turna (cavalry) under Carrus the dwarf, and augmented with Carona the satyress, Icio the monk, and Titus. They would harry and distract the Quadi and allow the Romans to close the distance and attack.

Using the Unearthed Arcana mass combat rules, the larger force of Quadi held against the cavalry, and gave the PCs in the group the chance to battle some of the individual bad guys. This led to Icio and Carona getting pretty chewed up, Carrus getting knocked about a bit — badly at first, then not so much as the fight went on. Icio, at one point, was knocked to 0HP, but healed by Augustinian, who ran to aid him. The initial exchange between armies and the early injury to PCs made it look like this could be a possible TPK sort of night, but they rallied.

The turna was reinforced a few rounds later by the two cohorts of Roman legionnaires, who hit the Quadi hard. The real damage, however, came from the bard, who laid into the hobgoblins with shatter, killing or incapacitating 40+ of the hobgoblins. Between all the characters, they took out almost 60 of the 180 in that particular group, breaking their morale and causing them to flee. The Marcomanni were better prepared and smashed through the other cohort of Quadi with ease. In “real world” time, the entire fight was about 15-20 minutes long, but ended with the last of the hobgoblins evacuating the field in half-decent order.

During the fray, Icio had attempted to pray for help from his guardian angel (as it were), Michael, but was healed by Augustinian at that moment. He puts the intervention down to God’s aid.

In the end, all the players did very well in experience points, and loot. The characters also realized that the solid victory of the Romans — and the new allies that Marcellus had signed a treaty with — had put Marcellus’ star, until then just a lark of the young caesar, into rapid ascendance. Rich, victorious over new and dangerous enemies while outnumbered, and having brokered a successful alliance, the characters are set to become heroes of the empire!