Morvauvil. An introduction


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Morvauvil land

Morvauvil (Mor-vow-vee) stands as the central example of all that is mysterious in the Steamship Troopers setting. The island is dominated by a tall mountain that spews smoke, steam, lava and poisons. It may possibly be volcanic, but then again maybe not. From deep fissures in its side, monstrous creatures spill out. Most of these are deformed and incapable and quickly become the food of the more successful predecessors that stalk the slag heaps. Others are vicious and cunning and cut their way out to maraud in the jungles that reach the sea.

The vast island sits across the trades routes that connect Malschia, Colle and Onneutiers. Thaxningland ships take wide detours south to avoid the waters. Luckily none of the monstrosities spawned appear to have much in the way of cunning so have not formed societies. Certainly there is no hint of industry in their behaviour. Even though they do not make ships, however, some of the monsters flop loathsomely to the sea and become threats to civilised shipping. All sea monsters are generally attributed to have originally have hailed form Morvauvil.

Our map shows settlements around the coastline of Morvauvil. These are the expedition camps set up with great or lesser success by the civilisation nations of the world. Morvauvil, the town, has managed to remain intact despite all the monstrous assaults and is something of a permanent settlement. Representatives of all the civilised nations have created a fortified base camp. Adventurers seeking to explore the terrible interior of the island most often start here.

Other named encampments have been shown but might not still be active. Most are not. The death toll is high and encampments tend to become eerie mausoleums.

So what attracts people to this land of death and horror?

It is said that here on Morvauvil there are more artefacts and working installations of the Earthmasters than anywhere else. Treasure hunters make good money and archeologists push back on the shadowed boundaries of our knowledge by braving the terrors of the island. The artefacts found and the knowledge gained on Morvauvil fill out the libraries. The experiences of the survivors fill out autobiographies.

Some say that a malfunctioning regeneration plant is at work somewhere in hidden labyrinths. Others say that Morvauvil was part of a matter transmission station that, when the rest fo the system collapsed, the imprinted patterns became corrupted and it is caught in spewing out badly reconstructed clones of original travellers. Others say that an active, though mad AI is busy at work desperately trying to build a species that can survive the post collapse world. Advocates of this last theory call the place the Island of Dr Morvauvil. There is no specific evidence to support or discount any of these or any of the hundreds of other theories.

What is known in that technology that cannot be reproduced from the time before can be found in greater concentration here.

Adventurers from all the civilised lands come here to test their skill. Most fail.


The Cleash Tree – Post apocalyptic equipment/creature/threat


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Cleash pods when mature are roughly cricket ball sized, small pumpkin shaped seed pods that were genetically engineered to have military application. When a dried seed pod is struck firmly, say when thrown against a solid object, they explosively crack open sprewing out their contents. Regardless of the specific species of Cleash plant and resulting seed pod the explosions are comparitively small, far less than any other conventional military grenade. They can best be thought of as local personal ‘offensive’ weapons. Caution is always advised with these weapons, especially for the aerosol pods such as Irritants and Tranqs because the gas will spread out.

Cleash Capsules ready for throwing

Cleash Capsules drying

The Cleash tree was developed to reclaim barren and specifically rocky land. Two main cases were considered for its use: the first was where open cast mines had worked over the land, and the second in traditionally inhospitable desert regions where human pressure demanded the land be brought back into a life supporting ecosystem. Using stock from the hardy Acacia and the innovative exploding seed pods of the Sandbox tree, the Cleash was created through gamma editing and released into the wild in the late 21stcentury.

Growing and reproduction habits of the original Cleash are deceptively simple. The drought and impoverished soil tolerant tree drove deep roots and exploited the minerals that other plants could not. It was self-fertilising and produced seed pods that dried and hardened on the branch. When the pods fell and struck the rocky soil they explosively cracked open, throwing the seeds as much as 30 metres away.

In itself the Cleash was inedible and its wood good for not much. What it did do was create micro-climates beneath its scrubby forest canopy where moisture and organic material could accumulate. After a few years other species took over and created more diverse and rich ecosystems.

No one knows who weaponised the Cleash genome or when but someone clearly did. The variations we see today could not have arisen by natural selection.

Many plants had been modified to perform tasks useful to man. In waste collection plants had been created to concentrate selected toxins. In mining plants had been created to concentrate minerals which could then be processed and extracted following harvest. Pharmaceuticals were created as metabolic processes and concentrated in fruits. Few of these were any direct benefit to the plant, but the plant was designed to be tended and perpetuated by human intervention, just as was the ancestral banana.

Combining the explosive seed pods of the Cleash with these product collection or creation and accumulation processes created a seed pod that could be filled with nearly anything. These pods, if carefully handled, could be thrown or projected and when they struck something solid would explode open releasing their new payload.

These weaponised Cleash pods resemble small pumpkins, with distinctive characteristics that identify their many different payload strains. They are picked just before they reach full maturity and air dried. Once dried they are ready for use and are quite dangerous. Any solid knock will cause them to crack, explode and release their payload. Consequently Cleash pods are best transported in padded containers, separate from one another, and never in too large quantities.

To deploy a Cleash pod one merely throws it, or projects it with oversized slingshots. When the pod strikes anything hard it detonates. Failure to crack occurs approximately 5% of the time and if they are not recovered and thrown again the pod will naturally decompose and the contained seeds will go through natural germination to produce a new tree.

The explosion of a seed pod is far less than any dedicated military explosion and is really only effective for an area the size of, say, a room.

The following weaponised Cleash pods have been identified and are tended for their pods in many parts of the world:

1 Fire Liquid that explodes and burns fast. As if a cup of petrol had been thrown on the target and lit on fire
2 Incendiary Phosphorous concentrated in seeds that continue to burn. Imbedded in the liquid flammable are 3 to 18 seeds containing mineral phosphorous that burst into flame and continue to burn, burying themselves into anything softer than metal, for another 2 to 3 minutes. This emits a bright light, as well as causing critical internal damage
3 Napalm Rubber elements that stick and continue to burn for 3 to four minutes. This causes critical surface burns and is almost impossible to extinguish. Objects used to scrape away the burning material become covered and burn as well
4 Tear gas High concentration of pepper spray to irritate eyes and throat
5 Tranquiliser gas High concentrations of aerosol general anaesthetic. A quick sniff will render a person disorientated and woozy, like say a dose of nitrous oxide. A more substantial in breath will render the victim unconscious for 2 to 3 hours
6 Noxious gas (fart bomb) Unpleasant smell that repels most animals, humans definitely
7 Tangler threads Mass of sticky tangling threads, unlikely to restrain anything much larger than a sheep but enough to inconvenience. Until removed strand by strand the threads will grip any other object they come in contact with
8 Acid Aerosol organic acid sufficient to blind a person or cause surface burning, the acid is about as powerful as any commercially available domestic acid
9 Shrieker Swiss-cheesed segments that emit piercing noise as the capsule explodes and the fragments fly away
10 Irritant Aerosol urushiol-induced contact dermatitis. Also known as poison-pods, the cloud of irritant causes the victim’s skin to become itchy, distracting him at the very least and allowing the possibility of subsequent infection through the scratching
11 Shrapnel Metal concentrated in irregular shaped seeds. These metal infused sharpened seeds are stopped by most forms of clothing but will slice exposed flesh
12 Smoke Not literally smoke but an obscuring cloud of organic chaff

Giving Monsters AI in D&D


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IMG_1357One of the many things that shits me about my favourite game and pastime is that combat, arguably the point of a certain type of RPG style, is most often the least fun part for me as the DM. Combat can either be over in a depressing one-shot when they add up all their freaking advantages that I am responsible for giving them, or it can take many many rounds because I needed to boost up the enemy to give them  challenge. It devolves into a tedious battle of attrition with the heroic murder-hobos hacking away at the suicidal enemy.

Where’s the fun for me, the other player in the game who has spent hours cooking this dish and then serving it to the gluttonous players?

The responsibility for fixing this is mine of course as the DM. If I just serve up an idiot with hit points standing in the middle of the room, clearly the only thing that can happen is they will throw dice at it.

This is just failure of imagination and common sense. Obviously the monster does not want to die, so why does it just stand there and get pummelled? Why does the orc horde fight to the last toddler? No reason. They wouldn’t.

Heres what I do now. When I identify a monster for a scenario, and place him/her/it in its location, I think about that it is doing there. I assign it a Mission. Each Mission type has a set of doctrinal guidelines. Then when the monster or squad of monsters troop on stage I apply the rules of their Mission. Suddenly the monsters are acting more intelligently to self-preserve, or do more than simply charge. With these guidelines I can play the monsters intelligently without feeling the guilt of using ‘inside knowledge’ to cheat the players.

My Missions are as follows. A Monster can have more than one Mission profile.

Use flanking forces
Use fast movement
Close with target quickly and overwealm
Fall back if casualties exceed 50%
Remain out of combat and shoot
Retire out of range when casualty inflicted
Remain undeteced
If detected, flee
Remove object then flee, or
Plant object then flee
Keep moving
Advance towards disturbance
Take time to observe enemy
Send runners back to report
Divide enemy
Target magic users
Capture & retire if possible
Maintain proximity to location
Raise alarm
Protect object/area/person
Scare intruders, or
Capture intruders, or
Destroy intruders
Delay for reinforcements
Use terrain to remain hidden
Keep in cover
Use missiles
Use traps and poisons
Target magic
Use area effect magic
Flee if outmatched
Use traps to cover retreat
Remain hidden
Strike only when at Advantage
Target strongest to weaken party, or
Target weakest for a meal
Flee if outmatched
Pick on most exposed enemy
Attack to subdue, not kill
Flee when capture successful
Flee if confronted

Suspicious circumstances at Stone Forest




This session took the elvish boys, agents of the Judiciary of Parsantium, to an outlying village known as Stone Forest. The town was named after the large cemetery there, and most of the businesses serviced that trade: stone cutters, undertakers, cabinet makers and so on. Rumours had reached the central court that a restless spirit was haunting the graveyard and had scared a couple of people to death.

For this session I used many pieces of advice from Sly Flourish’s great set of tools. I highly recommend his Lazy Dungeon master for some good tips on not over-planning. First I identified the starting scene: in the taverna called the Future Child in the village of Stone Forest, where the agents could start their investigation. This start cut out potentially tedious time in describing the case back at base and making the trip there. It was only an hour or so out of the city and so travel would have only introduced a whole bunch of red herrings. Next I identified three locations: the graveyard itself, the funeral parlour of Nicolaos Dimitrios, and the manse of a mysterious local named Behrooz Abbas.

At this stage I tied in some personal clues from the character’s own contacts. Cassius was advised that a certain powerful individual by the name of Behrooz Abbas was short on his payments to the criminal gang he worked for in secret. Storm was advised that suspicious chemicals had been purchased by someone in Stone Forest, possibly indicating that someone was conducting magical experimentation without guild authorisation.

Then I sketched out on single index cards three allies and three enemies. And with that I had all the preparation material for the entire session. This marks a huge difference in how I have been running sessions. In the past I have over-prepared in the hope of satisfying the players’ need to detail and tied up loose ends, not really with much success. By loosening the reins a little I wanted to test if a more satisfying result could be achieved.

How the game ran in brief:

  • Interrogation at the bar revealed two widowers, both of whom appeared to have gifted the same locket to their wives before their deaths. Timing indicated that the locket had been retrieved from the corpse of one and then resold. Was this a simple case of grave robbing, or was the locket itself responsible for the deaths?
  • Both of the deceased had been prepared for burial by the same funeral parlour
  • At the funeral parlour the lads found everything to be pretty much as expected, and they tried to figure out some way to provoke matters so they could short cut polite interrogation methods…
  • Meanwhile, Cassius had sneaked around the back of the compound, made entrance and discovered a second workroom. In this work room he found a slumbering Flesh Golem. Naturally he beat a hasty retreat to inform the others
  • Time passed. Later, they returned and forcefully entered the quiet building. On entering the secret workroom they found the golem and all the gruesome implements used to manufacture him. It lumbered to its feet and attacked, but the lads managed to trip, stab and burn the beast. Only Cassius got a bash in the side of his head for his troubles
  • Just as the monster was going down the funeral director, Nicolaos, arrived, and tried to comfort the monster. The lads thumped him unconscious. Satisfied that they’d uncovered illegal activity they bundled him up and took him back to town. On the way they discovered that he was not a skilled magic user at all. He’d just been following directions from a book that a Mr Abbas had given him
  • Next day they returned to Stone Forest with a mission to confront this mysterious Behrooz Abbas. The butler advised them that the master was away in town for the day. Not to be deterred they used the authority of their office to enter the premises. Finding a locked door that the butler was terrified to open they picked it, and headed downstairs. The wooden steps were unsteady and they managed to deduce that a misstep would displace pots that had wires attached: a trap! They saw a chest in an alcove and stayed far away, much to Cassius’ disappointment, and at last reached the bottom. A locked door with a rune carved on in blocked their way. It seemed unlikely that all of them could have avoided looking at the rune, and the Glyph of Warding duly went off, blasting them with some pretty severe damage
  • Singed and frightened, they decided to go for a short rest…

And so the night of play wrapped up.

From the DM perspective this session was more satisfying than previous. Play style for this group is to treat the game as a puzzle to solve. In attempting to satisfy that in the past I’d attempted to detail the encounters and places so that everything held together. But of course these optimisers found ways to circumvent these detailed plans, leaving me  disappointed that I had not provided enough ‘challenge’. The trick to short circuiting this, I think I’ve learned, is not more planning, but less. Since they will dismantle any designed sequence, having fewer but stronger core elements makes its far easier to pivot to new circumstances. It worked for me. Hopefully it worked for them as well.

The great chariot race


It was the day of the final race of the Spring Racing Carnival in Parsantium. All four teams would be taking part, with two chariots per team running. The quadriga chariots were large and fast and the Hippodrome, though large, seemed to offer little room for manoeuvre. The favourite charioteer, Mercurius of the Blues was set to win an historic record of seven wins of the grand final if he were successful. House Scipio had a lot of money riding on the outcome. The prestige of the house, and the Noble quarter, seemed to be riding on Mercurius’ shoulders. His rival, Tarkhan Kadir or the Greens, was equally skilled and determined to finally beat his rival.

The elvish boys were in the crowd enjoying the festivities. There had been the usual gang violence but nothing out of the ordinary. Fireworks were banging in the side-streets, pantomime dragons weaved through the crowd.

The race ran. A chariot belonging to the Reds overturned, killing the driver. A kid ran on to the track and was run down. Mercurius and Tarkhan Kadir jostled for first place, exchanging the lead several times while whipping their horses and each other.

In the end it was Mercurius that crossed the finish line. Leaping from his chariot before the Basileus’ box he bowed and waved to the crowd, every bit the showman and great athlete. however, as the Basileus left his box to come down to the arena and place the laurel leaves on his head and kiss his cheeks Mercurius collapsed. Team physicians rushing to him. A hasty canopy was thrown over him. It was declared, after he was carried away, that he had simply collapsed and was unable to receive his triumph.

But… back at the station house the lads were informed that Mercurius had died at the scene. More importantly it appeared that he had actually died several days earlier. how was this possible? Everyone had seen him hale and healthy during the race.

They headed to the compound of House Scipio in the Grand Ward. The compound was large, walled, beautiful yet functional. It was the estate of that notable family and the training grounds for the Blue team. Mercurius’ body was held in isolation in the mausoleum where the cool subterranean environment would hopefully retard its decomposition. But what the lads saw was a body that had clearly been dead for several days (just a bit longer than the maximum window that would allow resurrection – smart arses with their bloody rules).

Interrogating the team doctor did not reveal much. The doctor himself seemed pretty vague: not at all the professional that might be expected to be charged with looking after the most valuable athletes in the city.

On the way out one of the slaves recognised Octavius from his previous adventures. With a bit of deft questioning he allowed the investigators a look at the team ledger book. There they found entries referring out some of the athletes to a mysterious Mr Ushi Wibu’ah from Khemet, specialist in exotic diseases. The address was acquired and the elvish lads headed into the Victory Ward.

Mr Wibu’ah’s property was an impressive structure, a group of walled compounds around open spaces of water features,villa house plans Beautiful Roman Villa House Plans Home Design 2017

When questioned, the staff acted odd, robotic even. On close questioning Octavius rolled double criticals with his advantage for being a recognised member of the Judiciary. Overcome with the compulsion to answer, yet unable to do so, they suffered a meltdown more typical of the easily confused supercomputers of the 1960’s. Zombies! The chase was on.

The lads swiftly moved through the house, slaughtering more zombie servants as they shambled out. They found a staircase leading under the house and investigated. It was a necromancer’s workshop, with all the gruesome implements and constructions of that trade. Another tunnel led out, and they dashed along it when they heard sounds of someone fleeing.

The tunnel exited through a trapdoor into a taxidermist but they were only just in time to see their quarry exit through the main door to the street. Animated creatures in various states of repair rushed the boys from all directions, but Storm blasted them all in one fell swoop with Thuderwave (he also found that he now needs to roll on the Wild Magic table whenever he has the Ioun Stone in operation).

Across the street they saw the fleeing Necromancer enter a butcher’s shop. When they burst in various animal corpses also tried to attack, but most of these were brushed aside.

Now in the back street Ushi cast Hold Person on Aerius, causing him to fall behind. In the lull the necromancer jumped into a fast carriage and careered down the street. It did him no good as Storm blasted it with Fire Bolts.

Again fleeing on foot, Ushi Wibu’ah, now revealed as a Mummy of some description, approached the gates between Victory and Harbour Ward. Aerius shouted for the guards. The captain of the watch and a half dozen uniformed guard burst out ready for action, but the Mummy gave him a Dreadful Glare and the poor captain collapsed in terror.

At last the elvish lads had caught up and they started in with their fearsome combat skills. Damage was inflicted. Oaths and shouts and alarums. Aerius became infected with Mummy Rot (but he’ll recover). [And without doing a blow-by-blow] The mummy was defeated.


Post game clues and thoughts:

  • The corpse of the killed charioteer also could cause Mummy Rot. When dead Mercurius won the Basileus would touch him, and contract Mummy Rot. Who would want to kill or maim or otherwise harm the Basileus? Or is that a red herring?
  • Who would have gained by killing Mercurius? If he’d died before the race then House Qassim with the equally skilled Tarkhan Kadir probably would have won. The rivalry between House Scipio and House Qassim goes back a long way
  • Why a Mummy from Khemet? Khemet, consumed by an ancient curse is the land of the dead. The former ruler of Parsantium, the Rajah, was an ally of Khemet against Qadissa. Is there a connection?

This was the first time we had a run an ‘investigation’ game rather than a typical murder-hobo game.

N1 session wrap up – The Miracle of Trobridge


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The New Year has brought renewed focus on the campaign. We spent the better part of last year, and maybe more, working through N1 Against the Cult of the Reptile God. This is because we’ve put it in the context of the wider world and explored along more than just the linear path as provided.

At the end of the last session the elvish lads had withstood the assault of the reincarnated Naga as she sought to recover the canopic jar that radiated evil (and may contain parts to the exiled Rakshasa that once ruled Parsantium). It was the dead of winter, and the survivors hunkered down just to survive.

The town of Trobridge (formerly Orlane, but renamed because of the magnificent defence against the river trolls) was divided into two camps. One clustered around the temple. The other around the surviving tavern that was once the centre of the Naga cult.

There was a lot of refreshing of memories and winding up of loose ends. The lads had been there for several months and had built up something of a relationship with the locals and the area. This was a turning point for the characters so I offered them each a chance to retire, or at least indicate the future direction of the campaign. They could choose to hang around here and retire; they could choose to hang around here and base their future adventures from Trobridge – effectively making future adventures wilderness; they could return to Parsantium.

Cassius found he had much in common with the thieves and cut throats over at the Golden Grain. Together they looted the deserted township and partied into the night. His offer was to join them as they carved up the land and made themselves Barons, creating a new state that would offer itself to either Parsantium or Karjolat.

Aerius found that he became the focus of attention by the many orphans and even a dog. They were fascinated by his daily meditations and he found himself by default becoming their teacher. His offer was to settle and lead the community to a better moral future.

Storm found that Ramne the retired wizard was actually a very powerful magic user. Using the younger man’s help Ramne recovered his scrolls and organised the temple’s library. His offer was to become an apprentice and learn some spectacular magic.

Octavius found that he had become close to Misha Devi, the priestess who had been charmed by the Naga but saved by his actions. Together they planned the recovery of the village. By day they laboured to make sure that everyone was fed and that no stone was left unturned to breathe life back into Trobridge. By night they talked by candle light after prayers about their hopes and dreams. One thing led to another, and his offer was to stay, marry, and become a pillar of the renewed community.

That was what they had to consider.

One night something unprecedented happened that was to become known as The Miracle of Trobridge. This is a major world shaking event and will reverberate throughout the land.

As everyone congregated in the main temple space the light changed character. The statue of Merikka (analogue of Demeter), the goddess of agriculture and the harvest, changed and animated to become the living likeness of Helion, Lord of the gods (analogue of Hyperion). The jade statue of the naga was blasted, and then plastered across the walls to become a frieze of the elvish lads’ exploits. The canopic jar was sealed in jade and then welded into the new statue’s base. The elvish boys were again offered what could have been their deepest desires. And then the light faded.

A lot had happened.

To give them time to think I then took them through a one-shot mini-dungeon under the village where the troglodytes must have had their lair. Stirges, rot-grubs, black puddings and ankhegs. Lots of hurt, but everyone survived though perhaps lacking body hair in Cassius’ case (look up when you skulk away from the action, for there may be a black pudding there).

In the end they said their farewells and headed back to Parsantium. It was spring now and they managed to catch a ship. The court case established the facts of the possession and subsequent actions. Despite being reprimanded for the exceedingly high death toll they were rewarded with entrance into the Judiciary: with a badge and everything (+1 on reaction rolls when dealing with anyone who cares about Parsantine authority).

And so N1 finally wrapped up. Whew.

The group had chosen the direction they want the campaign to go: city based, within a legal structure. Let the next adventure begin.

Character wallet for D&D


As the DM for our group I don’t get the chance to play a character in depth. I certainly get to play lots of bit-players, but not through the process of growth and development – after all, I’m holding most of the cards.

And it was the thought of cards that prompted this idea. Having developed characters that I would actually play and then inserting them into the party as NPCs I wanted to find a simple way to show their characters without a full character sheet. Firstly it would be unfair on the players for me to have a full fledged character under my control in their midst, and also it was an unnecessary burden for them to have to manage all the details of another in whom they were not invested.

I have stacks of cards on my desk. Some taken from going systems such as Pathfinder, but plenty of others with different art and markings just for inspiration. Combine these with the spell cards, and I had a viable cut down character representation. Add to this a cut down character sheet that contain just the bare minimum of facts. Combine these into a natty leather card holder – spell book – and I have a complete portable character profile.

This example is for Kekara, a 4th level Druid from a desert region, of the Vanara race. Race details as the last page just for reference. Scarab is the Druidic focus. The equipment cards come from the Pathfinder Mummy’s Mask set. The card wallet was found on eBay for less then $2. It’s called a business card wallet, but handles poker sized cards OK. Two to a sleeve is more than it can handle though: as it is you do need to show a little care in turning the pages to avoid catching and bending the edges, particularly for those cards at the extreme ends.

Playing the solo campaign by D&D Solo Adventures


I found this site by accident: D&D Solo Adventures and felt compelled to give it a try.

This is essentially an electronic version of the venerable Choose Your Own Adventure stories, using D&D (in my case 5e rules). You need to keep track of elements on a scratch pad, and have characteristics as described by the standard rules, and roll dice for real and abide by the results.

The story starts with some nice flavour text, links to maps, and many possible adventure/quests to embark upon. You can of course cheat and click from place to place, hovering over every result and instantly succeeding. In doing so you are only cheating yourself, as there is no reward structure except your own willingness to abide by your own level of discipline.

In another words this would fail badly for many personality types, and be extremely rewarding for others.

There was a time this would have driven me batty. But now I find it perfectly restful, and immersive.

In fact I found it so compelling I cleared the game table and set it up to play out the combats using miniatures – I hardly ever do this in group D&D play. I used my halfling druid character Kekara, who is 4th level. This is technically too powerful for the early adventures, and too weak for the latter. But I have him just by himself, and so far he’s finding it pretty challenging.

My role in our gaming group is predominantly as the DM. As such I have few opportunities to play – as in: ‘make decisions’. Our group is fairly rules conscious, and as a result I generally make up the story and they run the rules. This means that there are many elements I’m a bit hazy on. This solo adventure is a good way to deepen my understanding of the rules since there is no one to ask except myself. So I have to look it up and not delegate.

Here is Kekara in the Crematorium confronted by a skeleton that has just crawled out of the furnace. The other was easily despatched by turning over his coffin.