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Alea Iacta Est

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“Hey, Velvet? I need to call in a favor.”

There was a moment of silence on the line. “Blake, I hope you’re not asking me to cover for you while you firebomb a SDC warehouse in the dead of night, again.” There was a tease undergirding the statement, but the seriousness was unmistakable.

“What?” Blake wasn’t sure she heard right but when her mind caught up, her indignation was explosive. “Velvet!” she hissed, “I’m not firebombing anything! I haven’t been with the White Fang for years!”

“Aren’t you dating Weiss Schnee? That would be bloody awkward.” There was a pause. “Does she know?” Velvet asked, quietly.

“I told you, I’m not firebombing anything!” Blake took a deep breath. “And yes, she knows that I used to be part of the Fang. And yes—to answer your next question—we’re still dating despite it, okay?”

“All right, what do you want me to do, then?” Velvet’s tone was still a little tense, as if expecting another borderline criminal request.

“Can you DM a one-shot Dungeons & Dragons game for me this weekend? It should be me, Weiss, Ruby, and Yang. Your place?”

A sigh of relief came through the Scroll. “Oh, sure! That’s much better than what I was expecting.”

“Velvet! I’m not fire—”

“Fine, fine. I know, but I still get nightmares about the one time.”

“You weren’t even anywhere near the warehouse when it went up!”

Velvet remained silent on the other end, but Blake was pretty sure she was glaring.

“And, of course, neither was I...” she appended furtively. Blake shook her head to clear it. “But the game—” she tried to steer the conversation back to the relevant topic. “I know you’ll want to do the game in 3.5e, but Weiss will probably roll a spellcaster, so can we use the ‘unlimited cantrips’ house rule?”

Velvet’s voice brightened as she entered her element. “Sure! As long as the cantrip takes a standard action to cast. Of course I reserve the right to tweak spells as needed if they’re overpowered.” She barely paused for a breath as she continued at a rapid pace. “How about starting everyone at level 8 for the one-shot, and...”

She smiled to herself as she reached for a pen to jot down the slew of house rule and homebrew information that followed.


Blake breathed a sigh of relief as she ended her call to Velvet. She was massaging her cramping hand as she looked over her notes for the one-shot when Weiss walked over holding a character sheet and a copy of the Player’s Handbook.

“Ruby and Yang are happy to join us this weekend, and it sounds like they’ve got characters in mind. But what kind of class should I be?”

“New players find that learning the basic rules is hard enough without trying to manage a more complex class,” Blake replied in a calculatedly neutral tone, “so the standard recommendation is a fighter class because they have much simpler mechanics than, for example, spellcasters.”

Weiss narrowed her eyes. “Challenge accepted.”

“I assume you want to play a spellcaster?”

“You were planning on manipulating me into it, weren’t you?”

“We probably will need one,” Blake admitted. She hastily added, “and I knew you’d have no trouble learning all the relevant rules even though this is your first time!” in response to the glare.

Weiss appeared mollified.

“Why don’t you look over the sorcerer and wizard classes while I pass along some game details to Ruby and Yang.” Blake paused for a moment. “And Weiss? Please don’t memorize the Player’s Handbook. This is just a game night with friends, not a cutthroat SDC board meeting.”

“I wasn’t going to memorize it!”

“You’re a terrible liar.”


A few days later, Weiss found herself covering the last dozen steps to Velvet’s apartment at a sloth’s pace, cursing her internalized allegrophobia. A text from Blake had notified her that her girlfriend was still stuck in line at the grocery store, picking up offerings of junk food for their hosts and friends. Killing a few minutes so she didn’t arrive alone would probably have been the socially adroit thing to do, but now that she was at the door Weiss couldn’t force herself to delay. After only a momentary pause, Weiss rapped her knuckles against the door, straining her ears to pick up the sounds of activity within.

The door swung open without warning, and Weiss suddenly found herself face-to-face with six feet of haute couture. She saw her own jaw drop slightly in the mirrored lenses of the woman’s sunglasses.

Sunglasses which were slid down a moment later, allowing a pair of chocolate-brown eyes to peer over their titanium frames. “You’re Weiss Schnee,” the woman finally declared, after the silence had stretched to several seconds.

“Yes?” Weiss cautiously confirmed.

The woman made no move from the threshold of the door, one finger tapping the frame as if puzzling out a question. She opened her mouth, as if to say something, then slammed the door in Weiss’ face.

Velvs!” Weiss could hear the woman’s voice, muffled only faintly by the door. “There’s a Schnee at the door!”

It’s okay, Coco!” a second voice shouted back. Weiss listened faintly to the hurried patter of feet, before the door was swung open again. “Oh, good, you didn’t go anywhere.” Weiss blinked—having the door slammed in her face had left her too confused to do anything at all. “Come in, please, make yourself at home.”

Weiss stepped carefully over the threshold, careful to keep her expression neutral in the face of Coco’s watchful gaze. Her eyes darted about the room, appraising it in a heartbeat. She knew Yatsuhashi was working for the school, so she’d half-expected student housing, but the apartment was clearly several cuts above a dorm. It was very well-appointed, and the touches of a professional interior decorator were evident here and there. She was pretty sure she even owned the same couches, though hers were in white leather instead of chocolate brown, of course.

“Glad you found my place okay,” called out Velvet, returning to a large table she had been in the middle of fussing over. “Well, it’s really Coco’s place, we all just crash here.”

Coco made some airily dismissive gesture. “It’s our place,” she corrected, though the tone of her voice made it clear that this was a conversation they’d had many times before.

“You wouldn’t happen to be the same Coco Adel who just made Forbes’ “30 Under 30” list, would you?” asked Weiss, letting one hand rest on the back of a nearby chair.

Coco let out a hmph of faint approval. “Yes, that’s me. That bio was bullshit though,” she grumbled.

“Coco’s just annoyed they wasted so much ink on her involvement with her parent’s law firm. She’s much prouder of her work as a fashion designer than her expertise in intellectual property issues relating to fashion design,” Velvet clarified.

Yatsuhashi came out of one of the bedrooms carrying a stack of papers and a red pen. Taking one look at the tension in the room, he said, “Weiss was one of my students, along with Ruby, when I was TA-ing junior year. I can vouch for her.”

Coco looked from Yatsuhashi to Weiss, who shifted uncomfortably. A knock at the door broke some of the tension. “I guess if you’re going to vouch for her, I can trust her not to haul Velvs off to work in the mines,” Coco said as she opened the door to reveal a mortified Blake, whose expression made it quite clear that she had heard everything.

Coco!” both faunus shouted at the same time.

She didn’t apologize, though, just crossed her arms, expression concealed behind dark sunglasses and a practiced look of indifference.

“Just remember, Schnee, I know all about your company’s less-than-transparent labor contracts,” said Coco, with a glare Weiss was pretty sure was faked. “And Velvet: if she tries to get you to sign anything in your own blood—call me!”

“I resent the implication that I am some sort of Mephistopheles,” grumbled Weiss.

Hardly,” corrected Coco, though this time Weiss caught the flash of a grin. “Faust at least got a lifetime of worldly pleasures in exchange for his soul.”

“Don’t you have somewhere to go?” Velvet asked.

Blake dumped her snack offerings onto the counter, freeing up her hands to remove her bow now that she was in the safety of the apartment. “Y’know, Coco, if I didn’t trust her to at least refrain from press-ganging all faunus into unsafe mine work, I wouldn’t be dating her.”

Coco nodded in approval when the bow came off, deciding to trust their judgement. Crossing the room to give Velvet and Yatsuhashi a kiss goodbye, she said, “All right, I’m heading out. Don’t get into too much trouble.” She even gave Weiss a small smile before leaving—letting in Ruby and Yang in the process.

Ruby seemed to be carrying her own weight in processed sugar, which she added to the already alarmingly-sized pile of snacks on the kitchen counter. Yang had a case of beer under her arm— some craft brand Weiss didn’t recognize, but trusted was halfway decent.

“That is... a lot of sugar,” Weiss commented, giving the bucket of Red Vines Ruby was carrying to the table a sideways glance.

“Just as long as she’s not sitting next to me,” Yang said, grabbing a bag of Cheetos and sauntering over to the table, pointedly sitting down across the table from her sister. “All right! Let’s get this party going.”

“Can I see everyone’s character sheets?” Velvet asked. “I want to get an idea of what the party will look like. I’ve already got the player tokens out based on the rough info you gave me beforehand.” She waved at the table. “In your favorite colors, of course,” she added.

They all passed over their character sheets as they got settled in, Ruby and Yang on either side of Velvet, with Weiss and Blake down at the other end.

Ruby was admiring an intricately painted box that was sitting on the table, serving as an extension of Velvet’s DM screen. “What’s in that?” she asked, leaning in to examine the details.

Everything,” Velvet replied with a wink. Her playful demeanor faded as she studied the character sheets in her hand. “Ruby, this is... complex. Are you sure—”

“I can handle it,” she mumbled around half a Red Vine. “Rose is no more complex than characters I’ve run with Yang.”

“Oh, you did one of those characters. She can totally handle it.” Yang waved off Velvet’s concerns literally, the faint whirring of prosthetic mechanisms audible as she flapped her right hand. “She loves doing the weirdest mix of classes. It works surprisingly well.”

“All right, these look good: Weiss has a solid wizard build and Blake’s got her go-to shadowdancer prestige class. Though Yang, you’re playing a monk? A monk named Ember.” Velvet’s tone wavered between incredulous and amused.

Yang’s brow furrowed. “Well, yeah. I mean, I know I usually play a different fighter class, but I wanted to try something new.”

Velvet rolled her eyes. “That’s fine, but you couldn’t have picked a more creative name?”

Yang sputtered indignantly. “What’s wrong with ‘Ember’?”

Velvet didn’t respond out loud; she simply flipped open the Player’s Handbook to the monk on page 41 and pointed to the caption given for the illustration: “Ember.”

“Oh. I didn’t even notice that.” Yang rubbed the back of her neck. “That’s not where I got the name from.”

“She named her character after her lighter, Ember Celica!” Ruby chimed in.

Ruby!” Yang glared across the table at her sister. At Ruby’s mischievous smile, she added, “Well you named yours after your drafting pencil.”

It was Ruby’s turn to sputter. “So did Weiss!”

Weiss joined in on glaring at Ruby. “It’s a fountain pen. And at least mine’s not just my last name! Plus ‘Myrtle’ is a translation of ‘Myrtenaster.’” Weiss redirected her glare towards her girlfriend, whose face was carefully neutral. “You might as well own up to it now, ‘Shroud.’”

Blake pretended not to hear her.

“You all named your characters after what’s in your pockets?” Velvet asked, snorting in amusement. “Nerds.”

Blake raised an eyebrow and gestured to the elaborate set up in front of them. “Do you really want to go there, Velvet?” She turned to Yang. “And dare I ask why you’re snickering?”

“You’ve all adopted pen names!”

Yang!”

Velvet rubbed her temples. “Is everyone ready to start?” A chorus of affirmations came from around the table. “All right. The four of you have been summoned to the Guildmaster’s office after responding to a posting requesting help. It was a little thin on details, but it promised a handsome reward, so you make your way there...”

The Guildmaster’s Quarters are located at the top of the ivory tower, offering a commanding view of the lands in every direction. Guildmaster Ozpin stands with his back to the door, hands resting gently atop a cane. He appears lost in thought—

“I cough loudly,” Yang stated, earning a glare from the DM as her prepared monologue was interrupted. Yang shrugged.

The Guildmaster turns to face the four of them, surveying the group with an effortless sweep of his eyes. While he is unmistakably older, his face has a timeless quality to it, making his age all but impossible to guess.

“Good evening, guildsmen,” says Ozpin, strolling over to his desk with unhurried deliberation. “Thank you for agreeing to meet with me on such short notice.” He turns to study a few sheets of paper spread across his desk. “All four of you responded to the request for an investigation into the old Dust mine in Mountain Glenn.”

“We’re investigating a mine?” asked Weiss, a faint sigh of exacerbation escaping her.

“Ooh, maybe it’s a Schnee mine,” teased Ruby.

“And our quest is to make sure everything is OSHA compliant,” Yang added with a grin.” I mean, the real heroes are the people fighting for better workplace conditions.”

Weiss groaned.

“I was under the impression that the assignment called for one adventurer, Guildmaster,” says Shroud, folding her arms across her chest as she speaks. “Quadruple the manpower means a quarter the reward.”

Ozpin nods softly, unperturbed by Shroud’s ambivalence. “How you divide the reward is ultimately your own choosing, Shadowdancer. But this assignment comes from the Ruling Council, and it is quite generous, even quartered.”

“What do you need us to do?” asks Rose. “We’re always eager to help the Guildmaster!”

“Suck up,” teased Yang. Ruby stuck out her tongue.

“Tell me... are you familiar with the history of Mountain Glenn?”

“Vaguely,” answers Shroud. “It was a small village a few leagues outside of town. Mostly a trading outpost, but a small settlement built up around the mine. At least, until it was overrun by monsters. But that was years ago.”

Ozpin nods, swiveling in his chair so he is facing the horizon once more. “Correct, Shroud, however abbreviated your account is. Creatures of darkness—grimm—had driven many of the townsfolk away. And you are all no doubt aware of the group of bandits that are calling themselves the White Fang.”

“The White Fang?” Blake’s tone was decidedly unamused.

Velvet met Blake’s gaze with an unamused look of her own. “I started writing this campaign, oh, two years and three months ago, give or take a couple of days. You were actually ‘hanging out in my apartment’ and ‘not at the docks’ all night, don’t you remember?” Velvet curled her ears in an approximation of air quotes. “It ‘totally’ had nothing to do with establishing an alibi.”

Blake glowered as the sisters exchanged confused looks and Weiss tried to look nonchalant. “Fair enough. Please, continue.”

“They’ve mostly confined themselves to petty banditry—unescorted caravans and unguarded settlements. What is more worrying is that they appear willing to sell their services to the highest bidder. What they lack in ability they make up for in numbers and zealotry.”

Blake was the only one who could hear the “as well as stupidity” Velvet appended under her breath. That earned her a second glower.

“So you believe they’re using Mountain Glenn as a base of some sort?” asks Myrtle, speaking for the first time since they gathered.

“Correct, Myrtle. The monstrous perils of the surrounding lands make it too dangerous for regular patrols from the town to reach. The bandits appear to have found some way to cohabit with the beasts and grimm of the land and can traverse it unmolested. This is obviously an untenable position.”

“Could they be using the old mine for transportation and fortification?” asks Rose, her head snapping upright, enthusiasm evident.

Velvet took a swig from a paper cup bearing a Starbucks’ logo, the cup appearing from—and promptly disappearing behind—her DM’s screen.

Ozpin nods, taking a sip from his cup as he does. “That is my leading hypothesis, Rose. Unfortunately I could find no record of the mine’s layout within the mountain in any of the archives, and any descriptions are third-hand accounts at best.”

“I hate to sell myself short,” says Ember, “but isn’t destroying a bandit fortress a little outside our Guild’s scope? You could hire scores of swordsmen for the same amount of gold, and quite frankly this seems like their kind of work.”

“And if I wanted a broadsword, you four would amount to a very dull butter knife.” Yang and Ruby both scowled. “No, I am not looking for death and destruction, however likely those may follow in your wake. What troubles me is not so much the existence of their raids, but the absence of them. In the past few weeks, the White Fang have vanished off the face of the world entirely. While their violence has ebbed and flowed in the past, it has never ceased entirely.”

“Is it possible they broke up?” asks Myrtle. “A change in leadership, a schism, a dispute over the division of spoils...?”

“It is possible,” concedes Ozpin, “but then one would expect petty robbery to supplant sophisticated banditry.” He shakes his head. “I have been in contact with every sentry outpost in a dozen leagues, and they have reported no such activity.”

“So what do you think they’re doing?” asks Ember. “Or do you think they somehow got wiped out entirely?”

Ozpin raises his palms to the sky. “I’m afraid you know about as much as I do, Ember.” He paused. “I have my theories, but perhaps such speculation is better left to—” There are a half-dozen furious knocks on the door to the Guildmaster’s Office. “If you would be so kind,” Ozpin says, gesturing to the door.

Ember moves to the door, opening it cautiously. The three other adventurers stand a careful distance behind her.

Velvet glanced up from her notes, grinning mischievously.

The man who walks into the room looks like he’s never stopped to study himself in a mirror before. His green hair appears to have never met a comb and absolutely nothing about his outfit matches. “Hello ladies!” he calls out, waving frenetically. “I’ll be your guide to the mine, and if you don’t mind, I might tag along—not every day you have a fine band of warriors heading that way!”

Velvet was barely containing her laughter by the end.

“Is this guy for real?” Yang asked, jaw hanging slack. The contrast in tone was jarring—Velvet had effortlessly changed her voice from the thoughtful, deliberate cadence of Guildmaster Ozpin to that of a man who brewed his coffee with Red Bull instead of water.

I recognize that voice,” says Shroud. “Shroud” might not have, but Blake Belladonna certainly did. Velvet had a few NPCs who tended to pop up in any given campaign, if only because she enjoyed doing the voices. “A Mister Oobleck?”

The correction of “‘Doctor Oobleck!’” from Velvet was nearly instantaneous.

Weiss’ brow furrowed. “Doctor? Is there even a university around here? Where did he get his doctorate?” Belatedly, she added, “Do we want a non-combatant tagging along?”

The correction of “Non-player character!” from everyone else at the table was nearly instantaneous.

Oobleck ignores the adventurers’ bickering, pacing back and forth as he speaks with the manic urgency of a man cooped up with his ideas for far too long. “You may think you know everything there is to know about Mountain Glenn, but I assure you you are only scratching the thinnest surface of the... surface! References to the mountain go back almost to the beginning of this region’s recorded history. Even the origins of Mountain Glenn’s mine—a relatively recent addition, I would very much like you to note!—are shrouded in folk tales and legends. I have spent the past fortnight forgoing sleep almost entirely in order to sift through literal centuries of recorded history.”

Velvet paused, slurping from a can of Red Bull that had been hidden behind her screen.

What did you find, Doctor?” asks Myrtle.

“A very excellent question, young lady! The recent literature is almost entirely worthless—unless of course unless you’re interested in the evolution of baronial taxation policy since—”

“I’m not,” declared Yang.

Going back to the oldest historical sources—and I very much qualify the use of the term ‘history’ here—there are numerous references to an entity of immense power that made its home within the mountain. Many of these accounts are no doubt mere fairy tales and superstition, but nearly every recollection shares certain narrative elements. First: that there was a monster that terrorized these lands since before recorded history. Second: that that monster now slumbers deep within Mountain Glenn. And third...”

Silence hung in the air.

“And third?” prompts Shroud.

That it must never be awoken,” murmurs Oobleck, his pace slowing so that every syllable seems to echo in the room.

“Ooh, it’s just like The Hobbit!” declared Ruby, grinning. She knew how easy it was to rile Velvet by insinuating that all fantasy was Tolkien.

Velvet scowled. “Do you see any dwarves here? Or, for that matter, a dragon?”

“I bet it’s not even a monster,” said Blake, mostly for the sake of creating a counterpoint to Ruby’s observation. “The ‘monster’ is probably a metaphor for an ancient volcanic eruption, the same way natural disasters always get chalked up to one deity or another.”

“What, so Velv’s going to have us go on a geological expedition to survey an old volcano?” asked Yang.

“And think of how cool that would be!” beamed Ruby. “Imagine if it erupted! Pyroclastic density currents! Dirty thunderstorms! Lava fountains!”

Yatsu’s head perked up, familiar jargon tearing him from the world of ungraded midterms. He took in Ruby’s enthusiasm with a smile, basking momentarily in the satisfaction of a TA’s job well done.

“Regardless of your personal opinions on the matter, the continued presence of the White Fang in the mines is deeply concerning,” says Ozpin, his gentle cadence recapturing the attention of the adventurers immediately. “The opportunity cost of their seclusion is a small fortune in loot.”

“And I somehow doubt they’ve decided to settle down and live as miners,” notes Shroud, glibly.

“So you think someone has hired the White Fang to excavate the mountain search of this fabled monster?” asks Myrtle.

“As I said, all I have are my theories,” repeats Ozpin. “Theories which you four are being hired to test. You are tasked with discovering what, exactly, the White Fang are engaged in at Mountain Glenn, and on whose behalf. Should their activities pose a danger to this town, you are expected to make every effort to disrupt them.”

“That ‘disruption’ better be associated with a bonus of some sort,” grumbles Ember.

“This is not a simple test of strength, guildsmen. This is an assignment that will require subtlety, intellect... maybe even diplomacy,” he says with a faint grin.

“We’re doomed,” mutters Myrtle. Ember pointedly ignores her.

“Now then, ladies, I have taken the liberty of chartering a small fishing vessel which will can take us downstream to Mountain Glenn’s watermill. It will be departing at the crack of dawn tomorrow morning, so I expect you all to be fully rested and equipped for a few days of adventuring!” With little more than a tip of his hat, “Doctor” Oobleck is off in the blink of an eye.

“So... time to go shopping?” asks Shroud, drafting a mental list of the items she would need to stock up on.

Ruby bounced in her seat, giddy at the prospect of bedecking “Rose” with the most stat-boosting gear ever authorized by Wizards of the Coast.

Yang groaned. “Get comfortable, people. We’re going to be here a while.”

“How long can an imaginary shopping trip possibly take?” asked Weiss.

Ruby reached beneath her seat and pulled out the Arms and Equipment Guide, its pages dog-eared, sticky-noted, and covered with frantic annotations. Several more sourcebooks followed in rapid succession until the table was fairly groaning with the added weight.

“You had to ask,” muttered Yang.


(Thirty minutes later...)

Velvet’s drooping ears were the only part of her visible from behind the DM’s screen as she buried her face in her hands. She really shouldn’t have given them each 27,000 gold pieces to buy equipment: gearing up this party was a nightmare. Maybe helping Blake firebomb a warehouse would have been a better option for her weekend...

It certainly would have been less grating. For the umpteenth time she felt a tap at her elbow as Ruby wandered over. “Velvet! Can I have a—”

Velvet didn’t even hear the item name as she tried to will away her headache. Whatever it was it was surely much the same as the two dozen other items that came before: esoteric, overpowered, and buried in the appendix of some half-forgotten sourcebook. Velvet had a suspicion that Ruby enjoyed optimizing her build as much as she enjoyed playing the end result.

Fine, you can have a magical scythe with an improved critical range, but no, you can’t put a gun on it!”

Ruby opened her mouth—

“No crossbow bolts either!”

At least Weiss was easier to deal with. She, too, had assembled a list of highly optimized gear—though much shorter—but censored herself once she realized that Myrtle had a far more limited budget than Weiss Schnee. To her credit, she weathered the jokes about being filthy rich with aplomb, and she only pouted momentarily as she crossed the Ring of Wizardry (IV) off her list.

Blake had cleared her equipment with Velvet beforehand: a magical kusari-gama and a few odds-and-ends were exchanged for a few thousand pieces of gold within moments. She was now helping Weiss leaf through manuals in search of affordable gear.

Yang, who had finished twenty minutes ago, had given up and gone to make popcorn. Her list had been simple—and became even simpler once she remembered she couldn’t wear armor and only needed a ranged weapon. She returned in time to hear the tail end of an argument over dogs. “Ruby, Velvet already said we wouldn’t be able to take horses onto the boat and that we wouldn’t need them anyway. A riding dog isn’t going to be any different.”

The look of betrayal from Ruby was nearly enough to make Yang recant the statement. Nearly. “That look may have worked on dad with Zwei, but it’s not going to work here.”

Velvet shot her a look of gratitude and turned back to Ruby, who was already flipping through yet another sourcebook. “Okay, you have ten minutes to finish picking out supplies—and stick to the Dungeon Master’s Guide and Player’s Handbook, please.”

There was another look of betrayal before Ruby delved into the books again to spend her last few thousand gold.

Their shopping expedition ends just over ten minutes later with both a bang and a whimper: the haggard shopkeep slamming his door shut, leaving a crestfallen Rose to whinge pathetically about her less-than-perfect footwear.

Her companions have little sympathy for her tribulations.


Ah, ladies, nice of you to finally arrive,” greets Oobleck, tapping his foot impatiently on the small pier. His irritation was an apt reflection of the DM’s.

“I’m sorry!” calls out Rose. “It turns out I was carrying a heavy load so I had to spend a few minutes deciding whether I was more likely to need my extreme cold survival gear or—”

“And you spent forever shopping! We were there, Ruby,” her sister reminded her. Ember was now doubling as a beast of burden as a result.

Shroud boards the repurposed fishing vessel first, taking a moment to assess its seaworthiness.
Blake tossed her favorite d20 for a Spot check.

“The die is cast!” Yang shouted in excitement.

Weiss looked confused. “While we are on a river, we’re merely going downstream, not crossing it. And she’s making a Spot check, not starting a civil war...”

“Yang’s just making a quip about the first die roll of the game. She’s probably never heard of the Rubicon,” Blake stage-whispered to her girlfriend.

Yang blew a raspberry at the pair.

“What was your Spot check, Blake?” Velvet tried to wrangle the players back on topic.

Shroud’s findings are not encouraging.

“What a piece of junk,” she gripes, nervous about putting too much weight anywhere.

“Hah, a junk junk,” snorts Ember. Or possibly Yang. Velvet looked at her skeptically. “You know, a junk, a flat-bottomed boat. So it’s like—”

“We understood, Yang,” interrupted Weiss.

Ember and Myrtle board next, while Rose takes up the rear, the boat dipping ominously as the vessel’s buoyancy is tested. Oobleck casts off the vessel’s tethers and within a minute they are off, the boat drifting downstream on the river’s currents.

The vestiges of civilization fade away in a matter of minutes, an eerie reminder of the supremacy of the land’s monsters, both bestial and human. Before the hour is up only the infrequent, abandoned fishing net taints the unblemished wilderness...

“Fortitude check for sea-sickness! DC 10!” announced the DM.

“Fortitude? I don’t have a Fortitude skill...?” Weiss frantically skimmed the Player’s Handbook, wishing she had ignored Blake’s admonition not to memorize it.

Blake leaned over. “It’s a saving throw, not skill. Roll a d20 and add your constitution modifier and any miscellaneous modifiers—” she pointed to the left of her character sheet, “listed here. Reflex saves primarily add dex, and will saves add wisdom.”

Weiss looked up in understanding. “Got it.”

Dice clattered against the table.

“Oh for f—” grumbled Weiss.

The wizard looks like she’s barely keeping breakfast down as the boat is gently rocked by the river’s flow.

Ember snickers loudly.

“Now then, ladies, this is as good a time as any to establish proper adventuring protocol for the duration of our trip to Mountain Glenn,” declares Oobleck. “I admit, I fancy myself more of an intellectual, but I can assure you, as a dues-paying member of the Adventurers’ Guild, I’ve had my fair share of tussles.”

“With the espresso machine, no doubt,” murmured Blake.

“Why would you use mushrooms in a coffee machine?” asked Ruby in confusion.

“Those are truffles,” corrected Blake.

“Oh!” Ruby pondered it for a moment, brows furrowing. “But you use beans, not sprouts in a coffee machine...”

“Those are Brussels.” This time Yang joined in the conversation.

The Doctor barely notices the interruption as he continues on an impassioned rant about the importance of history and archaeology to the Adventurer’s Guild.

By the end of the boat ride, only Myrtle is still paying attention.

Weiss looked up from her notes on Oobleck’s talk at the amused faces around the table. “How much of this is actually going to be relevant to the campaign?”

“Maybe a little bit of it, but no where near all of it.” Blake looked over her girlfriend’s shoulder at the detailed notes she’d taken and pointed at a few lines on an archeological expedition gone sour due to a sordid love affair. “I can almost guarantee that none of this is going to be relevant.”

Weiss put Myrtenaster back into her pen case, slightly disappointed. “But it sounded really interesting.” She shifted slightly in her seat. “I didn’t get a chance to read much of the Player’s Handbook,” she began, shooting a baleful look at Blake, “so I know you’re a monk, Yang, but what does that mean for combat?”

“I go in and punch things. I can heal myself and am light on my feet, but mostly I go in and punch things.”

“Oh!” Ruby interjected. “I slice and dice the enemies and try and draw their attention away from you while you’re casting spells. I can even heal you if you’re injured.”

“I tend to be more focused on the edges of the combat, trying to catch people unawares—quite literally hiding in the shadows with my prestige class. I’m also supposed to keep you safe from traps or other man-made environmental dangers.” Blake’s grin was sheepish as she added, “I can also pick any locks we come across.”

Weiss nodded her understanding and they all turned back to Velvet to continue the story.

They make their way off the boat and into the small village that sat at the foot of Mountain Glenn. There is something unsettling about the town as the five of them make their way through the streets. By all rights, the mining town should have been abandoned when the mine was shut down, but somehow the residents had managed to carve out a life for themselves here regardless.

Doctor Oobleck is more tightly wound than usual. “Ladies, I want to take a moment here and see if we can’t find out more information. Something feels off, and it almost certainly wasn’t my coffee. We will reconvene in one hour!” He zips off before they can say anything in response.

“Unless you all want to leave him behind, Gather Information checks, please!”

“Well considering he’s our guide to the mine...” Ruby grumbled under her breath. “6.”

“17.”

“13.”

“Natural 20!”

Velvet rolled a couple of dice and then added, “Yang, give me a Spot check as well.”

“Awwww, yeah, 18! My dice are doing great today.”

“Don’t jinx yourself,” Blake muttered.

The four of them wander around, going their separate ways in the relative safety of the town to learn what they can.

Rose learns from the priest that there are several groups of people who regularly go up the mountain to pray, but he refuses to clarify exactly what or how they worship, or whether the faithful ever return.

In the local spellcasters’ guild, Myrtle is welcomed with open arms and ends up with several invitations to dinner that night—and the mages seem genuinely disappointed when she has to decline. They, too, recount the trips up to the mountain, but they are up-front about how the travelers are never heard from again.

Blake looked suspiciously across the table at Velvet, whose nose was twitching with a poorly-concealed smile. “Are they hitting on my girlfriend?”

“Are Myrtle and Shroud dating? I thought they just met.” After opposing Bluff and Sense Motive rolls from Velvet and Weiss, she simply adds, “Myrtle certainly doesn’t pick up on any vibes they’re trying to hit on her.”

Blake let it go with a sigh.

Shroud is greeted in a similar fashion at the thieves’ guild—though the warmth makes her hackles rise. Thieves might form strong fraternities over time, but outsiders are usually treated with caution and wariness, even with guild credentials. Still, Shroud smiles and nods, thanking them for their hospitality and reciprocating their kindness.

Heading to the—

“Yang, you’re a monk, you can’t go to the bar,” Velvet protested.

“I’m lawful neutral, not lawful good, plus there’s nothing illegal about the tavern, right?”

Velvet conceded the point with a shake of her head.

Heading to the local watering hole, Ember picks up on much the same vibe Shroud does—there’s something off about the warm greeting she receives from everyone there—and there’s a complete lack of any drunks. While chatting with the bartender, she spots someone who looks out of place—not only is he an elf in a town populated almost exclusively by humans, but he is dressed immaculately in a stylish white suit, sharply contrasting with the well-worn clothes of the villagers. He sits alone, vibrant orange hair half-obscuring the scowl on his face, nursing a pint of the local grog.

When they meet back up with Oobleck, he’s able to corroborate their findings, his brow furrowing with worry at Ember’s description of the out-of-place elf in the creepily happy town. “Let’s move on, but if you see him again do let me know as soon as possible.”

The five of them make their way out of town and into the wilds.

There was a clattering of dice from Velvet. “Doctor Oobleck draws your attention to a wolf-like creature in front of you. As he’s explaining the creature, five more join the first—who then turn towards you.” She grinned. “Roll initiative!”

Yang let out a whoop. “First encounter!”

Ruby actually bounced out of her seat as Velvet opened the ornate lid of her box with a theatrical flourish. “Oh my god, you have so many miniatures!”

Velvet grinned. “The benefits of majoring in materials engineering with access to a 3D printing lab!”

“Hey, stop drooling and roll your initiative!” Yang called across the table.

“Speaking of initiative,” Velvet tried to corral the hyperactive player, “make sure you call out your rolls in the same order so I can track them. Let’s just start at my left and go clockwise: Ruby, Weiss, Blake, and Yang.”

“Uh...” Ruby tried to catch up. “15. Oh, wait, no... 17!”

“20?” Weiss sounded slightly unsure.

Blake glanced over Weiss’ character sheet and gave a nod before turning to her own sheet. “19.”

“12,” grumbled Yang.

“Myrtle’s up first,” Velvet prompted as she pulled some grimm miniatures out of her box and assembled them around the party member tokens.

“Hey, what’s Oobleck doing?” interrupted Ruby.

A blur of green moves towards the rear of the party, well away from the gathering monsters. “Show me what you’re capable of! I’ll just be taking notes on the creatures of grimm from over here. Hrm... how fascinating!”

Blake smiled to herself when she noticed the telltale crease in Weiss’ brow that indicated otherwise well-hidden nervousness. “It’ll be fine. It’s just a warm-up fight,” she whispered.

The first round went smoothly, though Blake was extra-attentive towards helping Weiss. For the second round, Weiss insisted on doing it without help. She managed just fine, though she was only half paying attention to the other players’ turns as she fretted about the mechanics of casting spells. By the fourth round she was barely hesitating as she slung a small orb of acid at a grimm.


The fight was nearing its end when Fox sauntered into the living room and stopped behind Velvet as she rolled for an attack on Ember with the final remaining grimm. “Having fun?” he asked the group. He smiled at the enthusiastic affirmation from half the table and the quieter affirmation from the other.

Velvet reached for his hand as she turned to Yang. “25 to hit?”

Yang grabbed her pencil in anticipation for marking down the drop in HP as she grumbled, “Hits.”

“Velvet, Velvet, Velvet,” Fox cut in, voice chiding, as he leaned down to peer at the die. “You rolled a critical failure.”

“Fox! Don’t do that!” The irritation in Velvet’s tone was sharp and angry.

What?!” shouted Yang, slamming her fists on the table.

“M-maybe she just saw it wrong?” Ruby asked at the same time, her naïve optimism palpable.

Yang was nearly out of her seat in rage. “Velvet!” she growled, “you can’t lie about a dice roll!”

Die roll, singular,” muttered Weiss as she glared at Velvet before noticing that Blake was curiously hunched over the table, face hidden in her hands. “Blake?” Concerned, she laid her hand on a trembling shoulder. “What’s wrong?”

What sounded suspiciously like a giggle emanated from her girlfriend. “Oh my god, you guys.” Blake finally looked up with mirthful tears in her eyes. “She didn’t see it wrong. Fox, though, he’s blind.”

The only sound was Velvet’s quiet growl as the rest of the players processed what had happened.

Yang smiled sheepishly. “Oh. Right. I knew that...” She looked towards Velvet. “Sorry for yelling at you?”

“The only apology I want to hear is from a certain Fox Alistair.” She turned to the person in question. “You know I’m glaring at you, mister.”

Fox smirked as he laid a kiss on Velvet’s temple. “Sorry!” he snickered, not sounding sorry at all. “I’ll leave you all to your game.” He gave a jaunty salute to the party. “See you later!”

Velvet turned back to the party with a huff. “Ember, you take 5 points of damage. Rose, you’re up next.”

“23 to hit?” Ruby asked, knowing full well that the grimm’s AC was in the high teens.

“Of course it hits. With your build, you probably don’t even need to roll damage.”

“But I want to hear a super awesome description of how I kill the final grimm!” She beamed at her d6 rolls. “22 damage!”

Velvet sighed.

Rose’s scythe glints in the sunlight as she strikes a mighty blow, shearing through the monster’s meager defenses—the bony armor plating on the grimm crumples like paper beneath the edge of the weapon. Its toothy maw is locked open as if howling in pain, but no noise issues forth. The momentum carries the wickedly curved blade clean through the black body, rending the creature asunder. The two halves of the body fall to the ground with heavy thumps as silence returns to the forest.

Ruby smiled contentedly at the DM’s dramatization.

“It would have been real funny if you rolled like a 2 for damage,” Yang snickered.

“Not possible!” Ruby shot back with fiery indignation, “with 2d6 as the base damage on my scythe, my Strength modifier alone adds 5, my class bonuses add—”

“Oh god, no, spare us the details!” moaned Yang.

Both Blake and Weiss shot her a look as if to say, “You started it!”

Velvet cleared her throat and removed the extraneous miniatures from the board as she made a few additional dice rolls. “You arrive at the mine without further incident.” She sketched out the entrance on one end of the map, just wide enough for them to enter single file.

Rough-hewn timber frames the small opening cut into the mountain face. Sunlight barely illuminates the first dozen feet of the tunnel, and the absence of torches suggests that the mine has been abandoned.

“Give me an INT check.”

Dice bounced across the table, and Blake let out a long groan.

“16.”

“19.”

“Critical failure.”

Yang patted Blake on the shoulder. “Thanks for making me feel better about my 5!”

Rose and Myrtle notice that the surrounds are free of debris and the earthen floor is devoid of wildlife tracks—it all looks too clean to have been abandoned. Shroud is too busy being distracted by a chipmunk to be useful, and Ember has found some pretty rocks that she’s pretty sure she shouldn’t lick. Doctor Oobleck launches into an excited exposition about their findings, even discussing the mineral content of the “pretty rocks” that Ember had been staring at, though he pointedly ignores the chipmunk.

“And Blake?” Velvet’s lip twitched as she tried to suppress a smirk. “Give me a Will save.”

“Seriously?” Blake huffed and the DM merely nodded. “Fine! 15.”

The adventurers manage to divert Shroud’s attention away from the chipmunk and back to the quest. She glares at the little furry critter as it blithely scampers up a tree and disappears into the foliage.

Shroud takes point to scout ahead with her darkvision while Myrtle casts a Light cantrip and Rose strikes a sunrod along the rough wall of the tunnel, illuminating a wide swath of passage around her.

“Sunrod?” Weiss asked, reaching for the Player’s Handbook.

Ruby started to launch into a detailed explanation of the device, but Blake cut her off. “It’s essentially a glowstick.”

Ember hums an ominous tune as they move deeper into the mountain until the only light they can see is what they carry with them.