The Adventurers

The First Adventure
Every journey begins with a first step...

Three rookie adventurers – Erias the Halfling, Herja the Dwarf and Leonidas the Tiefling – came to The Snake and Pony in the City of Shard looking for work to begin their adventuring career. All three knew that solo adventurers often wind up as dead adventurers and so over pints they decided to work as an unlikely team. Erias did not offer up much about his past, but he talked about how he had traveled far from home and enjoyed the nomadic life as many Halflings do, and demonstrated his strange powers, a “gift from the stars” he said. Herja was also reticent about her past, though a mournful look may have passed over her otherwise stoic visage as she said she didn’t want to talk about it. She said she wasn’t much of a talker anyway, more of a fighter, so her warhammer and imposing scale armor did most of the talking for her. Leonidas talked a little more of his past, how he took vows as a cleric of the Platinum Dragon Bahamut, and how he wanted to spread more good in the world by leaving his monastery behind.

Before the newly formed group could go out searching for adventure, adventure found them in the unlikely guise of a wiry elderly human woman and a soft-around-the-middle half-elf. They came from the village of Clearwyn looking to hire a team of adventurers to help clear their village of terribly mutated rats, after their first solo hire had gotten his hand bitten off by the ferocious vermin. Though the party failed to convince the skeptical Asta of their prowess, the more pragmatic Eogan told them to meet the two of them at dawn to set out for Clearwyn, promising them 60 gold for the job and to talk up their prowess to other potential clients. Having no other prospects at the moment, the party agreed to take the job.

Arriving in Clearwyn, the party found a village on the brink of terror. The old man who watched the granery, Old Culwich, had died from wounds he received when the rats first invaded the town. The local shaman, who had received little formal training, asked for Leonidas’ assistance in performing proper funeral rites. Leonidas taught the shaman the burial rituals of the clerics of Bahamut and earned the thankfulness of the village for doing so. Young Culwich, the son of the deceased, asked the party if they could look for a simple tin medallion that his father always wore after being given it by his long-dead wife. The party agreed that they would look for it when they went to the grainery to clear out the rats. The party also met the adventurer that came before them, a Dwarf named Gosta of Clan Stonehammer. Gosta gave the party some healing potions that he thought they might need more than him, given that he planned on ending his adventuring career now that he only had one hand.

The party traveled to the town granery, and were soon set upon by a horde of rats, who were far larger than any rats in The Brandywine Plains ought to have been. The party fought with the gnashing vermin and managed to kill them all – the rats showed no fear and fought to the death. The party did not find Culwich’s medallion, but otherwise returned to Clearwyn in victory. But Asta would not make things so easy. Eogan had followed the battle at a distance and noticed a goblin watching the battle. He followed the goblin to a cave outside of town, and then returned to Clearwyn to report what he had seen. Asta refused to pay the adventurers unless they helped with the goblin problem. The party chafed, but Asta said that protecting her village was the most important thing in the world to her and that she would do anything – even extort the party – to defend it. Eogan smoothed things over by pointing out that goblins often carry with them gold stashes and other treasure from their raids, and that the party had sole claim to those items. Seeing the desperate plight of the village, the party agreed to rout the goblins from the cave.

The party snuck up on the goblins and saw that a goblin shaman – seemingly the leader of this warband – was using strange magicks to mutute normal local rats into the ferocious vermin seen at the mill. The goblins were using the rats to try and empty out the village so that they could raid it for valuables without any resistance. The party sprung into action and ambushed the goblins, defeating most of them except for a lone archer who ran when the outcome of the battle became evident. The party not only found a few healing potions and 100 gold, but they also found Culwich’s medallion among the many necklaces of the shaman. Erias also took a necklace made from the skulls of small animals worn by the shaman as a trophy of their victory.

Returning to the village as heroes, the party was feasted into the night by the grateful villagers. Gosta, impressed that these rookies had succeeded when he had failed, gave his Thunder Hammer to Herja with Moradin’s blessing. The party got their promised gold from Asta and celebrated the first of what they hoped would be many victories in their adventures.

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An Eye for an Eye
In which worthiness is both denied and proven

Erias, Herja and Leonidas returned to Shard after helping the village of Clearwyn deal with vicious, mutated rats sent by a goblin wizard to terrorize the town and make it ripe for a goblin raid. Word had gotten around about their exploits and Agrippa, owner of the adventurer’s pub The Snake and Pony had a new job for the newly-formed cadre.

Agrippa sent the party to The Paper District to see Quintilla, a scholar at the University of Shard. Quintilla tells the party of her specialty in arcane artifacts and her recent collaboration with Paramonos, a visiting tiefling wizard who shared her interests. Together they had located what they believed was the resting place of a powerful but cursed artifact near Shard. They were on the verge of a breakthrough when Paramonos disappeared. A mysterious letter told her to meet Paramonos at the Portside Markets, but fearing that she was walking into a trap, Quintilla wished the party to accompany her as bodyguards.

Quintilla’s suspicions were correct as she was struck down by an assassin’s arrow. The party defeated the group of assassins but were unable to save Quintilla. As she died, she tasked the party to recover the artifact for her. The party agreed to her final wishes and returned to Quintilla’s quarters. The party was unable to put together the scholar’s notes, but fortune smiled upon them as an arsonist attempted to sneak into Quintilla’s quarters to burn it down. Capturing the scoundrel, the party got him to confess that he was told to go to a temple in the Avernal Glade to “receive his reward”. The party then let the arson go, and rode to the Avernal Glade.

In the Glade the party found a Ruined Temple to Vecna. Bodies surrounded the temple’s entrance, charred and contorted into unnatural positions. Inside the party found the wizard Paramonos, who had used Quintilla to help him find the treasure of the temple – the Eye of Vecna. He placed the artifact into his bleeding and empty left eye socket. However, he did not meet the approval of the Lord of Secrets, and a chill wind blew threw the temple. The flesh and viscera of Paramonos’ body was stripped away as the Eye disappeared, leaving only a skeleton behind.

The power of the undying Vecna was enough to reanimate several skeletons that littered the temple, the relics of a battle a century ago, the corpse of one of Paramonos’ freshly killed former henchmen and, perhaps fittingly, the skeleton of Paramonos himself. The party fought off the undead and escaped the temple. Whatever Paramonos’ designs were with the Eye may never be known, but at least Shard and the world would never find out the hard way.

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The Shadow Under Arborghast
Something far worse than kobolds can be found under Arborghast Manor...

Agrippa introduced the party to a halfling, Padraic, that she states is in “acquisitions”. Padraic quickly corrected her that he is a thief, and proud that he’s never robbed anyone who’d miss what he had taken. He assured the party that the help he needed didn’t involve stealing anything – that it’s a rescue mission. Padraic tells of his apprentice, the young and prideful Cadeyrn, who heard tales of an abandoned manor house called “Arborghast” that had once been occupied by the “Mad Duke”, Sir Evan Cadwallader. The manor house had a reputation of being haunted, but Caderyn believed that this meant that there could still be fine treasures that had been left behind after the Duke’s grisly crime – the butchering and cannibalization of his entire serving staff. Caderyn had left two days ago and had not come back, and Padraic feared for his safety. The party agreed to assist Padraic in finding his apprentice.

Coming to Arborghast, the manor and its grounds had rotted and decayed from a decade of neglect. Part of the roof caved in, destroying the second story of the house. Weeds and thornbushes choked what had once been a great and colorful garden and the marble foundations of the manor had dried up long ago. As the party entered the house, thunder rolled in the not-far-off distance and storm clouds swallowed up the sun.

In the first floor of the house the party did not find any ghosts, but they did find several drakes. The vicious and cunning lizards attacked the party on sight, but were defeated. Once the drakes were dispatched, Padraic found a hidden passage in the wine cellar of Arborghast that led deep into the earth. The party followed the dark passage until they came to a cavern that housed a temple of some sort. A group of kobolds had sacrificed Caderyn in a ritual circle, but were arguing that despite draining every last drop of blood, the “Sleeping Wyrm” had not awakened. The kobolds then noticed the party and decided to kill the “interlopers” who had desecrated the temple of the Sleeping Wyrm with their very presence.

The party managed to defeat the kobolds. However, the blood of the kobolds spilled into the grooves of the temple’s floor, pooling into the ritual circle. It seemed as if the Wyrm required the sacrifice of draconic blood, as the circle activated and the earth began to shake. The party quickly ran back up the tunnel as it collapsed on them. Old Padraic was unable to keep up, but Herja threw him upon her stout back and carried him out. As the party ran out the front door of the manor, the house was swallowed into a sinkhole. Arborghast was no more. As the weight of the house collapsed into the earth, the rumbling of the earth stopped and the party was left on the grounds of a house that no longer existed under a clear night sky as the stars twinkled on unceasingly.

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The Wolves of War, Part I
The beasts march upon the East

While resting at The Snake and Pony, the party was approached by a merchant named Fulgrim. Fulgrim ran a trade route to Weston alternating with a fellow merchant named Caiaphas. Caiaphas is late in getting back and Fulgrim fears that bandits are plaguing the roads. He hired the party as protection – a wise move, as along the way Fulgrim and the party are ambushed by goblins riding astride wolves. The party was able to repel the ambush, and find the remains of Caiaphas’ trade wagon…and those of Caiaphas himself. Inscriptions carved in the wagon seem to suggest incantations or dedications to Bane, the God of Conquest and Subjugation, favored by many of the goblin clans of the west.

Completing the trip to Weston, the party came upon the city at night. At first, the city appeared bright and inviting, but as they drew closer it became obvious that the city was on fire. The party left Fulgrim in a dark copse and entered the city. Weston was unnervingly quiet save for the roar of the flames, until a goblin war cry pierced the silence. The party fought off a war band amidst the burning city and emerged victorious.

A band of Lord’s Guards, led by Captain Sextus, then surrounded the party, drawn by the noise. Despite suspicions from one of his lieutenants that the party were looters, Sextus recognized that the party had fought off a war band with no assistance from the guard. Given their emergent tactical situation, the Captain invoked his right to temporarily conscript the party into the Lord’s Guard – assuring the party that they would be well-compensated for their troubles. As they headed to the great fort overlooking the now-ruined city, Sextus noted that the other two strangers in town and now these three must be a blessing from Bahamut. Just as he is finished thanking his god, a young Guard told the Captain that Councilor Llortherin’s son had gone missing. The Captain called out for double haste, and the party followed behind.

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The Wolves of War, Part II
As danger grows, so does the party

The party accompanied Captain Sextus and Lieutenant Osric to Fort Weston, having been temporarily deputized into the Lord’s Guards. Sextus called for his other adviser, Lieutenant Dunaviihr. A blood-and-mud stained dwarf in heavy plate armor, Dunaviihr entered with two other newly deputized members of the LG – an Elven ranger called Larkspur and Stothyra the Drow, an unlikely combination if there ever was one.

Sextus, with the input of the party and its two newest members, decided upon their strategy. It was decided that only scout units be send out to find the kidnappers of Councilor Llortherin‘s son Alexander, reserving the bulk of the LG to defend Weston. Sextus, on the advice of the party, decided to evacuate the townspeople who had fled to the fort during the attack toward Shard, getting them out of harm’s way. Sextus also decided to send only a single scout rider to request aid from nearby Fort Valens, on the advice of the party that a single rider could ride faster and evade goblins better than an entire unit.

Having made strategic decisions, Sextus then tasked the party and Lt. Osric to be one of the scout units to look for Alexander. The party tracked down a goblin band and defeated them, though Lt. Osric was severely wounded by an arrow in the knee, leaving one hobgoblin alive for questioning. The hobgoblin mocked the party, saying that if their band had Alexander they wouldn’t have stopped until they had delivered him to Bargulal, the leader of the goblins that attacked Weston. The hobgoblin cackled that Alexander The questioning proved shortlived to the already fatally wounded goblin as Leonidas attempted to torture the hobgoblin for more information, which instead only caused him to bleed out and expire before more information could be sought.

The party rushed back to Fort Weston to find it besieged by another wave of goblin attackers. Quickly planning strategy with Sextus, the party was dispatched to fight off a small group of goblin troops that had managed to breach the outer wall of the fortress and were trying to break down the main door. Despite the presence of a ferocious Bugbear, the party succeeded in their task and ensured the fortress did not fall. Sextus and Dunaviihr drove away the main body of the troops. Though there were losses of life, both civilian and soldier, and quite a lot of damage, the goblins had been repelled and Weston would live on to fight another day.

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The Lady of the Lake
Rolling (dice) down the river
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The Hunters and the Hunted
When hunting dragons, hunter and hunted seems an irrelevant distinction
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The Imperia's Tale

“My lady?” came a voice from behind her. Domitia, Imperia of the Sylvan Imperium was startled but remained still as a pool of water, continuing to look out upon the city of Tirion from atop the Marble Citadel that stood taller than the oldest trees surrounding it. Her ability to not react was more important than her ability to react. It was why she had been Imperia for nearly four centuries. Her features were set in such a way that they appeared benevolent, yet inscrutable. At some point in her youth it was a put-on, her mask that allowed others to see in her that which they wanted to see. In her old age, she was no longer sure that she had a true face anymore.

Domitia turned and looked upon her youngest son, Celsus. He was fair and tall, a handsome young man of 150. He was as open as the sky in equal proportion to his mother being a closed and curtained window. Celsus was one of the finest archers in the Imperium, and his need for his mother’s approval was so clear and so desperate that alone in her chambers Domitia allowed herself a deep sigh in regret that she would never be able to give him that which he sought.

“Mother, I bring news from Shard. Goblin raids come from the west in greater numbers every day. They have grown bold and attacked fortresses and burned villages to the ground in search of pillage. Refugees swell into the citadel of Shard with only the clothes upon their backs even as the grain that keeps the city fed no longer reaches the millers and bakers. Ill tempers seem to fill the void in the people’s bellies. The oldest humans in Shard cannot remember the last days of war, much less the soldiery who are more used to pickpockets and cutpurses than bloodthirsty raiders. And the elderly Lord of Shard sits silent upon his throne, either unwilling or unable to respond.”

Domitia nodded. “Yes. All of this I know.”

Celsus’ cheeks grew red as emotion flushed across his face. “What shall we do, then?”

“Nothing.”

Celsus sputtered. “Nothing? But what of our trade with Shard? What about the goblins? Surely you do not believe they will be satiated with Shard and not turn toward our lands?”

The boy’s passion would be either his salvation or his undoing, though Domitia. “The merchants will suffer, yes, but we will still have trade with the Dwarves of the north and the peoples across the Inland Sea. As for the goblins…I have lived from a time before Shard existed. To our people, the civilizations of humanity rise and fall and are rebuilt. We of the Imperium survived before the first Lord of Shard and we shall endure beyond the last Lord of Shard. When the goblins come – if they are so foolish to attack us – we shall repel them. The roots of the arbors will greedily drink of their blood as we repel them, as we have repelled so many others who believed they would find anything but death between the trees of the Great Sylvan.”

Celsus remained unconvinced, though even as emotional as he was he realized that this argument would go nowhere. The calm certainty of his mother was not to be argued with, no matter how much he disagreed. In stillness was his mother’s strength. “Very well, my lady. Then I seek your leave to travel to the City of Shard and offer my services to its Lord. I will do so not as the son of the Imperia, but merely as a bowman offering the strength of his arm and the clarity of his eye.”

If there had been a moment where Domitia’s resolve would break, it would have been this moment. She could feel the furrow of her brow – no one but her would notice, certainly not Celsus. “My son…you have come of age and you owe no fealty and no service to myself or the Imperium. If you wish to offer your bow to the Lord of Shard, I cannot stop you.”

“I ask for your blessing, mother,” Celsus said. He stared at her with a steely resolve that surprised Domitia. Truly her son had become a man.

“I cannot give you my blessing as Domitia, Imperia of the Sylvan Empire and guardian of the Elven peoples of this continent. However, I do give you leave as your mother to leave the home of your parents and seek your own path in this world. I will pray for you to Father Corellon and Mother Sehanine, and may you return to me safely before I leave this world in the bosom of the Raven Queen.”

Celsus bowed deeply upon one knee at his mother’s feet. He held his mother’s hand as he rose to his full height, so that he looked down upon her as he embraced her. “I love you, Mother, and I will return to you.”

Domitia said nothing, and embraced her son. Later than night, in the privacy of her chambers, she cried.

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The Mad Duke's Tale

“First thing’s first, let’s talk about the Mad Duke. Everyone wants to know about the Mad Duke.”

Reg had no idea who in the Nine Hells Markus was talking about, but he offered what he hoped was a confident “Okay, tell me about the Mad Duke.” Honestly, he took the job as a ward at the Madhouse of Gilliam because a bunch of goblins had burned down his family’s farm and it was either this or working at the Foundry. It was a hell of a choice, working with either the mad or surrounded by molten steel, but the Madhouse paid a gold piece a week better and it was certainly more comfortable than drowning in your own sweat for ten hours a day.

Markus gathered himself to recite his speech. It was, honestly, his favorite part of the job. “So the Mad Duke has a name – Sir Evan Cadwallader – but that don’t really matter. It’s not like he cares what you call him. He’s been catatonic,” which he pronounced as three hard syllables, a word that might as well have been in Deep Speech for all his familiarity with it, “or main plainly he’s been a vegetable for nigh on a decade now. He’s actually a model inmate – he don’t do or say nothing. He just sits all day, and a couple times a day someone has to go in and feed him, water him, bathe him, make him pace around the room for a few laps.”

“That hardly sounds mad,” offered Reg.

Markus erupted with a hearty guffaw. “That’s not the mad part! It was how he got here that was so mad. Bugger went batty one day and butchered his entire household staff. And I mean butchered – the Mad Duke cut ’em up like they was animals. Then he invited his parents to the manor and fed them his serving staff. When he told them what they had eaten, he started laughing. He laughed for weeks on end, when they brought him here. Finally, he stopped laughing and turned into the vegetable he is now. But bloody hells, huh?”

Reg thought that he probably should have eaten breakfast before, not after, his tour of his new workplace.

“Oh, don’t worry. He’s fine. But he’s famous, all sorts of stories about him. The penny-dreadful press loved it. At the time there were at least three plays, a dozen poems and even a puppet show about the whole thing. I can’t believe you hadn’t heard of him. Anyway, let’s show you his cell.”

Reg followed Markus into the bowels of the madhouse. He could hear sobbing, and screaming, echoing through the halls. He wondered if he should have taken his risks with super-heated metal. After a few twists and turns – how on earth would he ever make his way around, wondered Reg – they came to a wooden door with a barred window slit about head-high. Markus gestured to the window. “Go on, now, take a look at him.”

Reg peered into the room. The room was bare, with some narrow windows far too small for even a halfling to escape through eight or nine feet from the floor. Seated on the ground cross-legged directly across the room from the window was, Reg assumed, the Mad Duke. Perhaps Markus had gotten used to him, but Reg felt a shiver through the tips of the hair on his head to the ends of his toenails. The Duke was clean shaven – Reg assumed that the wards must do it for him – but his teeth were rotting and his complexion unearthly pale. It was clear he had not seen the sun for years and would not see the sun for years to come. He was very thin, and his ribs could be counted to a one. But it was his eyes that chilled Reg. The irises of his eyes were a wan and sickly yellow, like a sodium lamp he had once seen a traveling alchemist demonstrate. His pupils were wide and unfocused, as if he was looking at something far, far away. His gaze was fixed beyond the door and so it seemed as if he was looking right through Reg.

“Anyway,” said Markus in a tone so offhandedly casual that it broke Reg out of his stupor, “he’ll be your first task here. It ain’t hard. Just go in, walk him around the room clockwise 20 or so times, check to see if he’s soiled himself and if so remove his pants and come find me and we’ll get him a washed pair.” Markus handed him a heavy iron key and gave him what seemed to be an attempt at a reassuring smile.

Reg nodded, not quite back to verbal communication quite yet. He was all but sure that he was going to tender his resignation and see if the Foundry still needed help. He’d rather paint his face and streetwalk than do this for more than one day. He watched as Markus walked down the long hall and faded into the darkness. Just one day, Reg, he thought to himself. Just one day and you’ll be done. He turned back to the slit in the window, and came eye-to-eye with a set of sickly yellow eyes.

Reg startled, his fear choking off a silent scream. He froze, his own eyes wide with terror. He could smell the rot and decay on the Mad Duke’s breath. “Y-y-you, you’re awake,” he managed to squeak out.

“Yes,” came a voice that was flat as the plains surrounding Shard. “And after all these years, I’m rather hungry.” The Duke’s arms shot out between the bars of his door’s slit and grabbed the back of Reg’s head. He pulled Reg toward the door, slamming it into the heavy wood and stunning Reg. The Mad Duke pulled Reg’s head close, perversely cradling it as he began to gnaw at the flesh of Reg’s face. Reg cried out in pain and terror. As he did, the other inmates began to scream in a ghoulish mockery of his predicament, drowning out his desperate pleas for help. Soon Reg’s screaming turned into a wet, unintelligible gurgle and not long after Reg didn’t make any more noises at all.

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The Scholar's Tale

A letter written by late Eladrin Quintilla, guest lecturer at the University of Shard:

“Dearest brother,

I hope this letter finds you well. The arbors should be in full bloom by now. How I miss the greenery of home! Here in Shard I am surrounded by dull stone, and the black ash from the Foundry leaves its residue caked onto all things. I have planted the seeds you send me and I appreciate the thought, but I find that their growth is stunted in this land. They seem shriveled and constricted, though I wonder if the hand of their gardener has transferred her own feelings into them. I have made offerings to Wild Melora, but I question whether she can hear my prayers over the hubbub and noise of the warrens of this city.

Perhaps my own fears are coming through stronger than I had intended brother, for I sound so gloomy! I should not be so. I should be celebratory. I have written to you before of my struggles at the University, where the study of magical artifacts seems to be considered a bastard art unworthy of serious consideration. However, I have been working with a visiting scholar from across the Inland Sea, a tiefling named Paramonos. His respect for magical artifacts was the first encouragement I’ve had in the long years toiling at the University (has it been so long since I left home? Corellon preserve me!) and together we made progress on a pet project of mine. It turns out it was one of his as well.

I don’t wish to write much of the artifact, because honestly…it frightens me. I have reason to believe, between the research that Paramonos and I have done, that Shard was not the first empire in these lands. This is well-known; there are legends of a goblin kingdom that stretched across the plains and now and again old, isolated outposts are found to support that rumor. No, I believe that there was another empire before the goblins and left few traces that have survived to the present day. Piecing together records of cultic activity in this region, I believe that remnants of this empire lasted through the Goblin Era all the way to the human City-State of Shard. The Lord’s Guards thought of them as isolated incidents of devil worship and aberrant cults dedicated to dark gods, but I believe they were in fact disparate splinters of the Old Ways. Echoes of the past only silenced within the last century or so.

I believe I have found the resting place of a powerful artifact of this cult. Unfortunately I believe that my supposition that the cult was a dead one may have been mistaken. I have felt eyes peering at me from darkened alleyways as I have walked the streets and I cannot shake the feeling of never being alone. Worse still, my colleague Paramonos has disappeared. Given his excitement at our research and his sudden vanishing, I fear that someone has become aware of our research and seeks to silence us. We have perhaps delved too greedily.

I received a letter from Paramonos, or someone claiming to be him, wanting to meet me at the Portside Markets. I may be a scholar cloistered in a monastery of parchment, but I am not a complete fool. I have secured the services of a party of sellswords. I know, I know. They’re only as loyal as the next coin you’ve promised them. I can hear your voice saying so from across the miles as sure as you were standing next to me. That said, they had excellent references and they have my trust. They’re a strange bunch. One is a dwarf woman, who wields a hammer as tall as herself. Her face is a mask of iron, but her eyes suggest something much softer within. Then there’s the tiefling cleric of Bahamut – an odd vocation for a tiefling, in my experience, but they seemed quite dedicated to their patron. The third was a halfling, who was frankly rather unsettling. It wasn’t anything he did, exactly. He was just…strange. I wouldn’t be surprised if he had some kind of arcane aura surrounding him. Then again, his necklace made of the skulls of squirrels and rabbits and birds doesn’t exactly suggest the most comfortable presence either!

I ramble. I admit, I write this to procrastinate what must be done. I am scared, my brother, and I fear this may be the last missive that I write to you. And instead of writing what actually matters, I fill this vellum with gibbering. If my fears are misplaced and I do find this artifact, it will be the find of the century. But what I fear is that the artifact and its guardians have found me. I shudder to imagine its gaze turned upon me.

I love you, my brother, and I miss you. If the next word you hear of me is that I have left this world and passed through the Gates of the Raven Queen, I ask that you take the empty shell I leave behind and plant a tree upon my bosom as is the way of our people. I may live amidst the clatter and stench of Shard, but I wish to rest in death feeding a tree in my beloved Sylvans.

Love,

Your Sister,

Quintilla"

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