Jan 022014

The title of this blog – welcome back after the holidays by the way – is a small bit of an introductory paragraph to a game idea I’ve had rattling around in the old noggin for the past couple of weeks. I’ll go into detail about it a bit further down, but for now there’s going to be a bit of a catch up, and some ideas about where the blog’s going.

This was originally going to be a New Year’s Revolutions style of post, as I have a few ideas about things I want to do over the next few months. Sadly though, even though for the next month or so I’m expecting life to return to normal, there’s still a whole lot going on that’s outside of my control. After that I will hopefully be busier than I’ve ever been, and will be playing the whole writing thing by ear.

There’s a couple of things I won’t be doing though. Firstly, I won’t making any promises on when I’ll be posting on here. I’ll be continuing my Orbis RPG game write ups as my weekly post – the game starts again next Tuesday, and I can’t wait – but other than that, I have other things to concentrate on. Because of more important things, I’m also not going be able to review games. It’s not as if I get sent a butt-load of them to begin with, but the time it takes to read the entire rule book, and the struggle to get people together to play it, just makes it unfeasible at present.

One of the things that I will be working on though is my Steampunk robot RPG, Rise of the Automata. It got put on the back burner a few months before the holidays as work was getting crazy and I had other things on my plate too. I never stopped thinking about the game though, and have a few ideas about setting and narration that I want to get down, plus some fun new bits that should allow players to have more of a say in character development and making shiny gadgets.

This is obviously going to be a big project, writing wise, and means that my other cool idea may have to sit gestating a while longer before I get round to fleshing it out. What’s odd is that when I started the blog, I found myself worrying that I would run out of ideas and things to talk about, and was amazed when I would read other people’s blogs and see how they struggled to find the time and mental energy to keep up with everything that they wanted to concentrate on.

And here I find myself without the time to get going on a pretty cool idea. Actually, it’s not so much the lack of time, it’s the fact that I really want to see the Steampunk game finished. I had to put a fairly long term hold on the card game I was working on, simply because of the problems that come along with producing and play testing  game that requires so many physical components. I still lack the finds to create a working prototype and take myself along with it to gaming and Steampunk conventions.

I have a dear friend who has lamented that I have never finished the game as he’s a keen Steampunk creator and really liked it, but life doesn’t always go the way we want it to. An RPG has far fewer necessary components that are required to enjoy it. That’s kind of the reason why I decided to to try and create one, along with having a pretty nifty idea for a base system mechanic, that works really well with a Steampunk setting.

The new game though, I have approached slightly differently. I have no system in mind at all, and only a very vague idea about how the game would work. Depending on how much I want to get it done, it could very well end up being a setting for a modular system like Savage Worlds. I hope not, as designing the system for Rise… has been a damned fine experience.

This game – so far without a name – came about because I have been thinking about running a horror game again. Regular readers will know that I’m a bit of fan of the genre, and I always like to inject a little horror into games I run; so long as it doesn’t detract from the base theme and genre. What I have never done though, although I’m a huge fan, is run something Lovecraftian.

I love the Mythos, but have never been a huge fan of any of the systems. Call of Cthulhu does a good job of handling investigations, but I would prefer a more involved combat system, and Trail of Cthulhu doesn’t appeal at all I’m afraid. Not only that, but I’ve had it my mind for a while now that there’s scope out there for role playing in a world that has seen the investigators to have already lost to the cultists.

In the final month of the year 2013, the rituals were performed, at the right time in the right places. There was nothing that those who worked against the Elder Ones and their minions could do. Strange lights were seen in the skies, and the world awoke to find harbingers of the ancient and unspeakable evils that had lain dormant for so very long.

That was two hundred and thirty-seven years ago, and still the evil has not fully returned to our world. After all, what are mere centuries to beings from beyond time and space? Their cultists stalk to halls of power, sacrifices are made in their honour, fed to the other-worldly  creatures that are said to herald their arrival.

The world hasn’t stood still though, and for most people, their lives continued much as before, but with all permeating dread and fear as constant companions. Technology has marched on, both in the hands of those praying daily for the arrival of the Gods, and also those who use to try and thwart the will of these deluded fools.

The Gods are coming. Can they be stopped?

Dec 072013

Killing a worthy opponent doesn’t usually bother me. By this time in my life I have realised how little it matters to keep score, but in my youth I would often take pride in such things. Strangely, even though the body at my feet had been skilled fighter and would have been a sore test of my skills had I been alone, I felt a little melancholic. Although Daggerbills are said to posses a keen animal intelligence, they still do what they are trained to do, and that makes them – like all pets – little more than slaves. There’s nothing to be gained from killing such a creature, and I wish – even to this day – that we had acted differently.

There were other concerns at the time though, and finding out why we had to kill the Daggerbill was one of them.  Laying dead a few paces back was our answer. The man looked to be a scout, and after going through his things, there was little doubt he was either that or a smuggler. He had a tent designed to kept hidden throughout the year, and in various locales, and carried on him clothing that would allow him to pass for either a Dummonii or a Pelosian. It looked like he had failed to convince at least one side though, as he had died slowly from several wounds. It was hard to say for sure if they were caused by the dirks of the Partisans, or the sword shorts favoured by the Pelosian Legions, but he had died slowly from a wound that had cut deep.

It looked like he had lain there dying for some time, and had finally passed a day or so before we came across him. His pet was obviously loyal, and had stayed to defend its master even when there was no saving him. I don’t know if the Gods look kindly on animals and birds, but I would like to think that they would make a special case for this one. We found a name tag on it as we were searching for anything of value, and finding out it was named “Daffy” didn’t help my mood at all, but at least I had a name for it if ever I had the chance to offer up a prayer.

Valerius was quick to take everything he could see of use or that would be worth more than a copper or two. I don’t know if he was also a book keeper in his real life, or if it was just in Pelosian nature to organise and record everything, but he was always the first to take on such a role, writing stick in hand, cataloging what we were taking while the rest of us packed it away. Most of it would be worth a little bit, adding maybe a few coins each to our share if we could find a buyer, but he did have one item of significant value on him. A leather bracer with an engraved coin fitted in place so it would sit over the inner wrist.

I had seen such items before, and was impressed that the scout had been able to afford one. At first I thought it was worth little though, as the wax seal that protects the rune was already broken. In the fight for his life he must have been desperate, and summoned forth the rune engraved there; Faranol’s Most Excellent Testudo as I remembered. It would have brought forth a magical shield centered on the bracer to help him defend himself. It had obviously been either too little or too late, and I was ready to throw it into the pile of assorted goods. I’m glad I took the time to pay a bit more attention though. There was still wax around the coin, and turning it over I saw that the clever little man had made sure both sides were engrave with the same rune.

Having one use left made it worth at least a couple of hundred coins, if we could find someone to pay for it, so I drew Valerius’ attention to the item, explaining what it was and how it was used. I don’t know if I expected him to impressed by the object, but he barely raised his head from his book keeping as I spoke.

With the fog still hanging heavy in the air, it seemed like night was almost upon us already. We were still some hours from the river crossing though, so made what ground we could before night fully enveloped us. The road we were on was clearly well used, and as we made our way through the early dusk, the signs of other travelers became more obvious. Littering the ground on either side of the road were discarded water skins and food waste. The path was rutted and muddy, with boot prints still in evidence all around us. If you’re reading this from the comfort of your family home, a home you have little reason to leave, you might wonder why this set my nerves so on edge.

That far away from civilisation, there’s no one you should trust. At any point we could have come across a detachment of Pelosian soldiers, and we’d be almost as likely to have our lives threatened as we did by the Partisans the day before. Only Skuza and Valerius would have a chance of keeping our skins safe if that happened, and it was far from certain they’d be able to do so easily. Even without the soldiers on either side, there would still be bandits to deal with on the roads. With the war wrapping up for the winter, they would be out in force, preying on anyone left behind, taking what they could by force or deceit.

Eventually the light vanished from the world though, and with no other option we made camp just off the road, and had to hope for the best. Caderyn was still suffering after his wrestle with the Corbie and was in no fit state to bring down fresh game for our evening meal. Daffy had one last purpose though, and we ate well from his flesh. Hard to imagine that I had lamented his passing only hours previous, and there I was licking the grease from my fingers as I tore the skin from his thighs with my teeth. A good bird to the end.

*     *     *

We slept well that night, and I had taken the time remind everyone not familiar with the activities of the New Raphelian people what would happen at dawn. I was once again awake after my watch and was amazed how Brand was able to know when the sun rose, as the mist was even thicker today. It seemed like people were finally getting used to the hollering and waling from him, as even Skuza had little to say about it over breakfast. “Really Valerius, every morning?” was all he had to say as the doctor nodded his head resignedly.

His resolve was obviously shaken though, as his desire to “rough it” with the men had vanished that morning, replaced with an overwhelming desire to have a warm bath. I knew how long it would take his poor manservant to drag the bloody thing into place, fill it with water and heat it all too, and was ready to convince him against such foolishness. Brand was quicker than I that morning though, and was able to talk him round. “My lord”, I seem to recall him saying, “You should wait until we have completed the day’s travel. You will be hot and dirty after our journey, and will only need to bathe again, so why not wait”? he looked doubtful, but the forlorn expression on his man’s face seemed to have done the job.

“Very well, for this morning just a thorough wash should suffice”, he says, looking slightly crestfallen. “And a shave mind you, must maintain a certain standard, no matter where one lays one’s head.” I did feel sorry for his man, and I had helped carry that gods forsaken bath myself, but I felt the need for a little flourish, and since I had a couple of the runes prepared, I used the Wash-maiden to freshen myself and my clothes up while the water was heated for Skuza. As the old man set about sharpening Skuza’s pearl handled straight razor, I noticed the edge on my own wasn’t up to the task. Rather than spend the time, or ask the old fellow to do it for me – I’m sure Skuza would have insisted had I asked – I set about it with another rune.

Over kill for certain; the rune used was designed for combat, to put a murderous edge or point on a blade so that it cuts through armour and skin like they were butter. Still, a clean shaved cheek was in order, and I’m sure I wouldn’t regret showing off later.

The mist again was our constant companion as we trudged through the grey light of the morning, seeing all around us the detritus of passing traffic and soon enough the signs of a recent and bloody battle. Bodies were littering the ground around us and as we moved further into their still and silent ranks, living people could be spied amongst them. Scavengers and ghouls, looking thin and wan as they scurried around, pulling scraps of clothes from remained of the bodies. It looked like anything of value had long since been claimed, perhaps by stronger more able bodied sorts than this sorry lot. They were determined though, and as we passed through them, their ranks began to thicken.

We must have looked like rich pickings indeed, when the best they could have hoped for until now was a set of teeth without too much rot, and maybe a ring ripped from the gut of a man who had swallowed it to keep it safe. The bloody and ragged masses were eyeing us hungrily as we made our way through the open air charnel house that the war had left behind. I was loath to advertise our wealth any more than I had to, but they also needed to know what would happen if they were foolish enough to try and rush us, so I drew my Basaedo as I walked forward. In no time at all, there were dozens, with dozens more in reserve, and they knew they had us outnumbered. I was eyeing the crowd looking out for ringleaders and bravos, but for now they seemed content to keep enough distance from us so they couldn’t feel the sting of a weapon.

I was feeling nervous, but doing my best to stay calm, or at least look it. If the horde thought they had us spooked, they could just about muster the courage to swamp us. I glanced to my left to see how Caderyn was fairing, and if I looked anything like as spooked as him, we were sure to be overrun in moments. Spitting onto the ground near one of the vagrants, I did my best to look imposing, hoping my not inconsiderable height might make up for the nerves that were almost certainly showing all over my face by now.

Valerius must have been aware of our predicament too, as the next time I glanced to our rear he had climbed onto the top of his wagon, and was stringing his bow. “Don’t worry about them, they’re just scavengers. They’re weak”, came Caderyn’s voice as we walked, and I just wished he looked as confident as he sounded. We were approaching a large ruck of them, and they edged closer as we moved forwards. I strengthened my grip on my steel as the Dummonii brought his shield up, looking ready to smash it into the face of anyone who came too close. “Stay away from this caravan”, he shouted, “you don’t want to end up like these poor bastards, yer innards getting picked through at the side of the road”!

A high pitched voice, screeching almost to the point of breaking came back at us, “Many have made such threats, Partisan, and they lay around you still. You’re not the ones to stop us”! In the midst of all the blood and ichor, it took a moment to work out where the call had come from, but twenty or so yards away a woman was on her knees, bloody up to her shoulders, one hand deep up the guts of a fallen warrior. Her other hand was dripping blackened blood from an organ she had torn from the man, and as she finished her cry she threw it towards us. With a dull wet noise it struck the side of Skuza’s carriage, and left a dark trail as it slid quickly into the dirt.

“Then try my words, hag! Step forward and find see if you have the stomach for killing, rather than harvesting from those already dead”, came his reply. The woman held her ground, but refused to drop her gaze. Any second now – I think – and the crowd will lose control. But they held back as we moved onward, Valerius an imposing figure from his perch, and Brand’s cold eyes keeping them back when our words weren’t enough. Ahead of us and a way off the road, even more scavengers could be seen.

These weren’t random people looking for a few hard earned coins though, but more likely the stronger of them that had claimed their prizes early, and were now sharing in the pleasure of having money to spend and gamble. Once again it seemed like the night was coming down early due to the damnable mist, and they had already lit fires to dance and fuck around. More of them were playing games, either of sport or to gamble on, with cat calls and jeers, accusations of cheating joining in the sound of dice rolling and the turn of a card. Children ran amongst them, playing games their own, and if you didn’t look too closely at what they were using as ‘balls’ in their games, it could almost be jolly.

Skuza seemed like he had something to prove after getting his home pelted with human organs, and the fact that they were some distance away did wonders for his courage. He was out of his carriage and drawing his sword as we went past them, insisting that something be done to put a stop to the ungodly way they were desecrating the dead. I didn’t want to draw too much attention to the fact they were treating the corpses of both sides with the same lack of respect, but it was unnecessary anyway. His health was a constant vexation for him, but once again had saved us from his caterwauling as he struggled for both breath and balance before losing to both and falling silently down. Thankfully the scavengers were more concerned with their own merriment than claiming us as an extra prize, and as the minutes passed we left them behind.

The bodies laying all around became fewer as we moved away from the worst of the fighting that this nameless field had seen, and that meant less vagrants to threaten our safety. Without knowing exactly when, it seemed like we had made our way into what was once a village of some kind. The buildings were even less complete than the ones we had passed through recently, but I was still on edge. Luckily the lack of walls gave us plenty on opportunity to check them out for ambushes before we got too close. Eventually we came to a fork in the road, and Vitus was quick to call us to a halt so we could choose our best course.

Caderyn was keen on heading left towards Maiden’s Play and the river crossing he knew of, but Vitus wasn’t happy about attempting a crossing at night with so many animals and so few trained handlers. I voiced my agreement, and when Vitus offered another option I was even more vocal. Down the right hand path there was a hostel, a place of healing where anyone was welcome, be they Partisan or Pelosian, Or neither, as I so happened to be. We could have a night sleeping indoors, although they may have been left open all night, as was the way of these nuns. We could eat while sat around a table, and Skuza could bugger off to a Numare only private room for his bath so none of the rest of us would have to worry about his vanity shield falling over in a stiff breeze. I think Caderyn would have been prepared to try for the crossing rather than hang out with a bunch of Pelosian holy women, but everyone else was in agreement, and so we turned the hormorn right and set of to the hostel.

*     *     *

It was a couple of hours later that we saw the lights ahead of us, and I remember smiling to myself in anticipation. It was a large building, with huge lumber logs driven into the ground to create a hell of wall. The outer doors were, as we expected, open to all who would seek refuge. Closing in though, the smile dropped from all of our faces.

There were figures in the doorway, six of them. One was stood, ready to welcome us into the hostel, but the others hung from the wooden beams that crossed the top of the entrance way. From the clothes that were stuck to their slight frames with drying blood, I suspected they were the nuns. Our gracious host had kept the torches burning, so even from a fair distance we could see that they had been subjected to many wounds before being hanged. “Greetings”, he yelled, his voice sounding strange coming from within a large and ornate metal helm. “Welcome to this place of safety”!

His entire body was encased in metal. It was the first time in my life I had seen anyone wearing a full set of Pelo’s Plate, and to this day it still inspires a certain kind of awe. He was a short man, and stockily built, and as we drew closer I could see several ribbons of parchment hanging from his armour. At the time I had no idea what was the point of this ornamentation, but I have since discovered they were prayers and blessings, each commemorating a battle or engagement the soldier had fought in. The amount he had draped about his frame meant he was certainly a champion of high regard, but his voice didn’t seem to match his appearance.

True enough, his voice was certainly affected by the full helm he wore, but even so, it sounded too young for one so highly decorated. I know that most armies are happy to recruit from the young and impressionable, but they must have grabbed this one from his mother’s teat if he had been campaigning long enough to have so many laurels and still sound like a boy dressed in his father’s best. The voice notwithstanding, we had all slowed down as we approached. Hanging nuns are enough to give even paid killers a moments pause, especially when the bugger that almost certainly strung them up is welcoming you in, seemingly unaware of their presence.

With one hand on the grip of an eight flanged mace, easily big enough to give the Hutzlunr something to think about, he gestured again for us to come in, “please weary travelers, enter and enjoy what little hospitality we have to spare. All are welcome here, except those who practice dark and forbidden rituals that shame Pelo’s grace.” He was obviously crazy, but he just as obviously had a pretty fatal case of religion too. Over the few days of the journey so far, I had thought Skuza a little too pious for comfort, but he was nothing compared to the holy warriors of the Mazarantiom.

Those forbidden rituals he talked of could be the only reason he had strung the nuns up by the necks after torturing them. I very much wanted to not enter the place he had made his own, but to back away now would have looked suspicious to him, and at the time I had no reason to think he wasn’t alone. Behind him I could see several bodies on the floor of the courtyard, and for all I knew he could have dispatched them all, or had a dozen friends tending to the wounded, all armoured like himself. “My friends, there is no reason to be afraid to enter. Only those traitorous to the way of Pelo would turn away from his light which is offered within. You are not such traitors are you?” The voice, while still sounding younger than it should, now had an edge of steel to it. Iron can be hardened to steel in many ways, but craziness does a damned fine job.

What option did I have? I sheathed my steel and stepped forward with a smile. Caderyn looked worried, and ready to kill. “What the hell’s going on here”, he asked in Dummonii, hoping the crazy bastard hadn’t learned his tongue. With only a couple of dozen strides until we would be face to face with the man in the shiny armour, I had to keep my voice down.

“I think that the bastard in the metal has some damned strange ideas about what constitutes a sin, and has acted against these women in the manner you see before you. He should give us passage as long as we act like Skuza’s men , so for now play the good little slave, and we might see the morning”. He looked at me askance, and I realised I had used the Raphelian word for slave. I had no idea how to get across to him what I meant, so just nodded towards Brand and hoped he could figure it out. By then we were a few paces away so I bowed deeply to the man in charge. “Good evening my lord”, said I, “We were unsure if you had room for us, I can see behind you that many injured are currently in residence within these illustrious walls”.

“Worry not weary travelers, these doors remain always open, and welcoming to any who need aid. Please, enter and take your rest”. I walked past him with Caderyn and was glad to put as many paces as possible between me and him. How he could see so happy, with blood from his victims dripping inches from his shiny plate; it just made me want to punch him, and never stop. Behind me I could hear Valerius question the knight, asking about officers and detachments, but it seemed that no one was in charge here but the crazy bastard. At least he had introduced himself, now that he was talking to another Pelosian. His name was Ser Castus Fedenzo, and there was only him and his squire who were better off than the nearly dead bodies of soldiers that littered the hostel courtyard.

We saw his squire shortly after that, walking amongst the bodies, administering aid where he could. Slattero was his name, and he looked tired to the point of falling over, but still managed to smile when he saw us. “Welcome travelers, I wish I had more to offer you, but I have many patients, and scant resources as it is”. Looking about I realised that my estimates on the number of casualties was well short of the truth, dozens upon dozens of men laid about, and I wouldn’t want to bet more than a copper or two that any two of them would live to see the sunrise. The squire was quick to walk from us to see to a wounded man who had just begun screaming in agony, giving me the chance to speak to those of us still with the caravans.

“If we sleep here tonight, sleep with a weapon close to hand, and try and stay close to each other”, I begun in Pelo-Margo, “This bastard is crazy, and I have no idea what he’ll do. I do know that while he’s in that armour he could kill any one of us easy as breathing, and I’m not sure if all of us together could take him down without him taking one of us with him.” Caderyn didn’t look convinced though and was looking towards the exit.

“I don’t want to be here for a night, not with that prick. I could get out of here, stay somewhere safer until morning”. I’m sure he thought he was making a sensible move, but when dealing with crazy, sensible doesn’t always make sense.

“He’ll take that as an insult at the very least, and at worst he’ll imagine you have something to hide of an heretic nature. He will ask us what that is, and torture us to find out. Right now, with the way Skuza has been about Pelo’s way, I’m not sure if he would even put up much of a fuss about one of us being at the mercy of that prick. You’ll put us all at danger if you leave, just try and stay out of his way, this is a big enough place and we can sleep with the wagons.” I put on my most earnest face as I spoke, and thankfully my words got through to him. He nodded to me before checking again that his axe and shield were ready to be used if needed and walked back into the shadows of the wagons that were being arranged in a crescent formation. Fjorlief looked just as doubtful, and I tried my best to reassure her. “Just play nice, and when in doubt, smile and bow. It seems he doesn’t speak anything other than Pelosian, so he might not even bother trying to convert you. Me on the other hand…” I smiled and turned away to make sure everyone else was prepared for the worst.

From the large central building I could hear the high pitched tones of our far from gracious host inviting us all in for a meal. I wandered over to see the Pelosians stood near the doorway. Said doorway was surrounded by symbols daubed onto the wood in white paint, as were all the windows. My training in the complex arts of Daemonology was nonexistent and still is, but the Pelosian’s anti-Daemonic fervour left me in no doubt that Fedenzo had painted them there to keep out any sign of Daemonic taint. At the time I had no idea just how much this would be a problem for some of our party, but I had my suspicions about Drazar that would soon be confirmed.

I had no such problems, and was very happy to play nice with the crazy murdering fucker, so walked towards him with a smile all over my face, and dropped into my best Pelosian, “Why thank you kind host. I know these ladies and gentlemen would be happy to join you, but some of our party have other duties”. Drazar was staying clear for one, and Caderyn looked like he was happy to stay with the wagons. “Once they have finished they will probably just eat some rations and sleep under the stars, as is their way”. He looked happy to have myself and Fjorlief join them, but was insistent that the others also sit together and eat; some kind of Pelosian matter about treating your guests well, but at the time I just put it down to all the crazy.

Skuza was in his element, offering food to his man before he had anything himself, and then talking to Fedenzo about Pelo and all that is holy. Fjorlief caught none of it, but the knight was looking towards her and asked if we had yet to take our rightful place on the path of Pelo’s way. I had to translate for her, but did my best to deflect the question, “We are all in the process of being educated by our noble employer, my lord Skuza”. Of course he was quick to take the praise, but Fedenzo was just as quick to question his training in such matters.

“Ah, of course. One does one’s humble best, ah, but I think I’m making some substantial headway, in matters of the, ah, spiritual”, he mumbled away, obviously nervous in the face of such religious fervour. By now the knight had taken his helmet off, and his face looked just as young as the voice that issued from it. Playing nice seemed to have worked though as he did seem to be at his ease with us. After we had all eaten, Skuza was quick to take his leave and go and enjoy a bath, but our host offered the facilities to our female companions first. Once again I had to translate, but made sure to include a warning, and that if there was any trouble that Fjorlief was to stamp hard onto the floor three times to let us know. As they walked through the door to the upper floor, Fedenzo placed his prodigious mace against the door to keep the men folk from disturbing them and went out to see if the rest of our group was yet ready to join us for an evening meal.

*     *     *

For several years prior to this venture I allowed myself to get into all manner of trouble by acting before I thought about the consequences. Watching the Knight stride purposefully towards the doorway I began thinking about what could go wrong if I was correct in any way about Drazar’s true nature. I couldn’t follow the conversation, but I saw over his shoulder that Drazar was at least engaging with him. The masked man was walking towards the door, but slowly. Fedenzo’s back was to me, but I imagined his eyes fixed on Drazar, following his every pace as they slowed down the closer he got to the door and its painted sigils. My breathing had all but stopped as he came to a halt a pace or two from the door, then reversed his course, stepping backwards away from the knight. Shit.

I exhaled slowly as Fedenzo turned to face back into the building and began walking with a purpose towards the large mace he had left blocking access to the upper floor. All my thoughts about what could go wrong, what could go right, who would get hurt, who could die; they vanished and I found myself striding towards him, aiming to stop him before he had a chance to grab his weapon. He had taken his helmet off, which gave me a small chance, but my dagger would be next to useless in parrying the eight flanged mace he had his eyes set on. As I closed the distance, I knew I wouldn’t have long to put a stop to this, “Please, you don’t want to do this”, I said, with quiet resolve.

“He refuses to pass the wards. Either he’s barred from entering because of them, or he fears to try. It is my duty to question him, and I intend to do that very thing”. He had stopped short at my approach, and given me an opportunity; I could either leave him to his delusion that would give him cause to torture and kill poor Drazar, or I could try and stop him. Words weren’t going to be enough though, it is often impossible to reason with those who have eschewed it in favour of religion. Violence was my only option, but I had a few other tricks up my sleeve before we would have to exchange blows. With a swift movement that he clearly wasn’t expecting I had inscribed Lisanna’s Sudden Squall onto the air in font of me while drawing my Baseado with my right hand.

Even behind the rune hanging in the air in front of me I could feel the draft of air being sucked forward to blow away from me with the force of a gale. Fedenzo looked ready to resist, but the weight of his armour threw him off balance and he toppled to the ground in front of my, sliding a few yards away as the wind increased. I had the advantage, but couldn’t press it just yet. Walking forward even a pace would take me passed the rune I had traced in the air, and would see me caught in the squall as well. That would be a neophyte error, and one I wasn’t about to make. Caderyn it seemed wasn’t aware that the air was still moving with the speed and force of small hurricane, and with a cry of “For Branoc!” he charged towards the fallen knight with his axe held high. I knew it was going to happen, but there was no way I could have warned him in time, and he fell forward, slipping over the ground too, joining Fedenzo in a heap on the floor. Whoever this Branoc was, he obviously didn’t favour those who charger headlong into magical gales.

With only a few seconds left before he would try and regain his footing I had to keep my advantage. Remembering that two more of our party were upstairs I first called for reinforcements. I had told Fjorlief what to do if she needed help, and hoped she would understand that I was in need myself as I shouted “Three!”, and lifted my left hand towards the blade of my steel, preparing to put a wicked edge on it with a rune reserved for this very kind of situation.

Damnation! I had cast that rune earlier in the day just to sharpen a razor and impress Skuza!

I wasn’t out of tricks yet though, and the wind would take a few more seconds to die down. Pelanore’s Bumbling Befuddlement would have to do. It was a subtle rune, and there was no real way of knowing it had worked, unless the victim just flat out fell on his arse, but I had to try it. Helmet or not, I needed every edge I could get. Encased in his armour as he was I thought back to my schooling as i prepared to strike him, the rune glowing faintly as it was cast. “Aim for armpits, the throat or the belly. All armour has weak points, and if the wearer needs to move a limb that’s where you can slide a blade. Unless the bastard’s wearing Pelo’s plate though, then you’re fucked young ser”. All wise words indeed.

And here I was, stood in front of a man who was getting back to his feet wearing a well decorated set of Pelo’s bastarding plate. Caderyn was regaining his footing too, as the air whipped past them both, and I could hear from behind me the crashing of large and hurried footsteps coming down the stairs. “Cease this foolishness, NOW!”, came a cry from behind me. Valerius, I had guessed, without turning my back on my opponent for even for a second. At least he seemed on our side, hoping his voice would calm down Fedenzo where mine had failed.

Sadly it didn’t seem to have worked as he was striding confidently towards me, probably hoping to brush me aside as he went for his mace. I struck out quickly, hoping to convince him otherwise, but if the rune had taken affect, he was still in possession of his fighter’s instincts, and managed to turn his head away at the last second. The Dummonii had more luck than me though. Striking from behind, his axe glanced off the knight’s head, opening a bright red wound that barely seemed to slow him down. Rushing past me and into the fray at that point was a tall, wet and naked Hutzlunr women, screaming bloody murder and armed with the two handed sword she had reclaimed for a fallen enemy. Damn, thinks I, somewhat inappropriately, that’s a fine looking woman, and built to my kind of scale.

She charged towards Fedenzo and swung at him, the impact so solid I could feel it through my feet, but the plate did its job. Brand was also in my eye line as this was going on, moving past us and out of the door. All I could assume was that he was hoping to find Drazar and defend him if we failed to bring Fedenzo down. It seemed that the knight had similar thoughts, and had realised he wasn’t getting through us to reclaim his mace. With few better choices available to him, he turned his back and ran through the melee towards the door.

I was flatfooted by this, no doubt. My pride was also a little wounded if I’m honest. It’s not often someone I’m in a sword fight with regards me as so little a threat that they turn and walk away from me. I made him regret it though, and stabbed into his face as he turned, his own momentum and a flick of my wrist opening up a bright red smile across his cheek. The point of my steel had bitten deep, and as the blood dropped onto the floor I heard the rattle of teeth hitting wood accompanying it.

Once again though, it seemed like Pelo was providing the impetus for him though, and he was away and running, leaving a trail of claret coloured drops in his wake. He had barged between us all, but some if us were quick on his heels, naked or otherwise. I admit to being a tiny bit distracted by all of the fine female flesh on show, and I was slower than I should have been in keeping up with Fedenzo, especially considering he was wearing heavy plate and bleeding from several wounds to the head. By the time I had closed the distance he had come across Drazar, and the Yerwian had already suffered a wound, his arm looking ragged and behind the rags that remained of his sleeve, also slightly scaled.

Blows quickly rained down on Fedenzo and it was only a matter of time before he fell. In the ruck I lost track of who had inflicted what wounds, but I remember with some pride that he finally fell from a bite of my own steel. I had thrust forward towards his face again, knowing that the armour would protect him everywhere else, and the point had pierced his eye, pushing back several inches. He was still upright as the blade withdrew, and I was thinking he may in fact be favoured by his God, but then his other eye went dark and he fell forward into the dirt.

Looking around, everyone of us seemed alive, but with a few wounds dotted about. Drazar looked me in the eye, and with a slight nod began walking amongst us, working his skills, and using magic to heal the damage that the knight had wrought. I checked everyone was okay, and could see Caderyn looking at the armour. I’m sure it would need beating out in a few places if it was going to fit him, but either way it was worth a small fortune. Looking him in the eye I said, “Don’t show disrespect to the body, but take the armour if you think it’s worth the effort”.

Fjorlief only just seemed to remember her sky clad appearance, and made to head back towards the communal area. I was heading that way too, so tagged along for the short walk. I don’t know what I was thinking, if there was any chance she would be interested in me, but I had to take the shot. “You fought well”, I say, with a cheeky smile playing across my lips, “and looked damned good while doing so, if I might add!” She looked across at me – I thanked the gods for being so tall, as if she had looked down on me after I had said that, I may very well have burst into flames – and smiled back, but hers looked a little more confused than I would have liked. What the hell, she was a fine looking woman, and could handle herself with a weapon, but maybe now wasn’t the time. I wasn’t going to let it go that easily though, just hang back for a spell.

As we came upon the doorway, Valerius was walking out of it, grim faced and would likely have charged us down if we had stayed in his path. Inside was something unexpected though; one more dead body than I had accounted for. The corpse of Slattero was laying face down on a table, where previously he had eaten after his master had prepared a bowl for him. The dark puddle around his head was all the information I needed about how he had died, but the why confused me somewhat. I turned to Vitus, who had stayed put throughout the fight, probably unsure what the hell to do, and who was on the right side. “What happened here”, I asked, pointing to the boy’s body.

“Valerius”, was the reply, delivered with a voice as cold as ice. At first I thought he was angry at the Numare, but the more we talked, the more I realised he was angry at me for striking down our host. “The boy had seen what happened, he could have talked, and Valerius wasn’t happy about that”.

“Who could the boy have spoken to? We were to be gone in the morning, and we could have destroyed any paperwork that Skuza handed over that could have placed us here”! I have never minded killing, and don’t want anyone to think that I was a saint that never struck an unfair blow on an undeserving enemy, but this still angered me. The lad was just trying to help the injured, and I doubt he had enjoyed what his master had perpetrated upon the nuns, and he certainly didn’t deserve to have died at the hand of someone he would have expected to protect him. “Sod it, lets get the body outside and bury them both”.

“So you killed Fedenzo then? And what the hell were you playing at attacking him like that? How do you expect me – expect us – to trust you if you’re going to behave like a fucking savage”! Vitus was on his feet, and heading towards me, not quite fast enough for it to be considered an attack, but I’m sure the thought of striking me down had occurred to him.

“I killed the man who slaughtered the nuns. I killed the man who was going after one of our traveling companions. And I have already killed others who have threatened this caravan’s safety. It was what I was hired to do, and I will do it just as vigorously defending anyone in it, yourself included. It’s why Skuza picked me, and if he picked Drazar as well, I don’t ask why, I just keep him alive. That’s my job, never doubt I will do it to the best of my ability.” I think that calmed him down, as his shoulders slumped and he nodded slowly in either agreement or resignation.

Skuza and Catranasia were around by now, and both had looked a mixture of angry and confused as I had walked in, but placated by my words. I meant every bit of it too. I had tried to get it across to Drazar, that even from a totally selfish viewpoint, my best chance of surviving until we reached the city was if everyone else was still alive and willing to fight to make sure I got there in one piece. Take that out of the equation, and I was trying to build a reputation. If every person in this group walked away from the endeavour knowing I was a man to be trusted when I was on a contract, and told their associates, I would be in good stead for my career.

That was a thought for the future though, and at the present, I wanted words with Valerius. I was killer, no doubt, but he was a murderer. As I walked back into the darkness, dead and dying bodies ranged all around me, I saw him on his knees. What makes one man pray for another who was so clearly deranged is beyond me, but I saw that my initial assumption was incorrect. He was digging a grave for the knight with his own hands. I realised at that point that I still had my sword in my hand, and that the knight’s blood still covered the point. I wiped it off onto the wet grass and watched. Whatever his reasons for doing what he had done, approaching him about them now was more likely to cause more trouble than resolve anything.

Anyway, Drazar was heading over, and he looked like he wanted to talk.

Nov 242013

I have often wondered if the name of the Caves of the Dead was incorrect, or if we were just lucky. The walls between this world and another, were definitely thinner in those dark and winding caverns, but either that world wasn’t the next, or we were just pretty lucky.

As we made made our way deeper and farther underground, the temperature plummeted. In no time at all, the air was filled with our frozen breath, and the steady dripping of ice cold water. I had sold some of my winter clothes in tiny little village on the way to the Margomarissi, and used the money to purchase food and a thin mail vest, expecting to need that more than some stout under garments. I was regretting that decision at the time, and had to make do with wrapping my cloak tight around myself and pulling on my thin gloves, for all the warmth this afforded me.

Fjorlief looked to have the best protection from the cold, wrapped up like a swaddled infant, but if we got into a fight, she would be ill prepared to let alone draw her new two handed sword, let alone swing it to attack. Those of us on foot did the best we could, helped out by walking rather than sitting stationary as the cold seeped into our bones. One of the Pelosian drivers, Catranasia, seemed to be suffering the most, even with advice from the Hutzlunr on how to keep the cold at bay.

She had obviously come to the conclusion that Skuza would be too damned scared to take any route other than on approved Pelosian roads, and would arrive at market in time to spend her share of the profits on buying some warm and woolly clothing. Hopefully this would be a rare mistake, and one that she wouldn’t come to regret. Something seemed off about Drazar now I think back on it, but since he was always hidden behind that damnable mask, I have no idea why such a thought would come to me.

Maybe it was just the way he sat as the dripping intensified, huddled even more closely to himself, as if he could force the water to ignore gravity’s call by sheer force of will. For the rest of us, the heavier water falling was something to be pleased about. “We’re about half way there, by my reckoning”, piped up Caderyn, “or at least we will be once we’re under the river proper”. Everyone nodded, happy in the knowledge that we would only have to endure the biting cold and wet surroundings for a few more hours at most.

The darkness of the caves cannot be over-emphasised at this time, but when it lessened, we weren’t happy with what the light revealed. With few light sources available to us, and the walls slick black with moisture, we were lucky not have had any accidents as we moved through the tunnels. Ahead though, there seemed to be light. Moving closer we found ourselves in a pool of white, above us a natural fissure in the rocks wide enough to let light down even this far. I blinked my eyes rapidly to get accustomed to the glare, and around me the walls of of the cave stared back unblinking.

Embedded into the walls were countless skulls, their empty sockets staring at us all. Some were certainly – or at least at one time were – human, but others were either men from an earlier time, when savagery had warped their physique, or they were something different entirely. Something from another place, that may have tried to look human, but had failed in some small way. Too long in tooth, bigger in eye, flatter of the skull…

Enough to fool some people, maybe allowing them to get close enough to feed, perhaps? I know now why I was feeling such things, why my mind was drifting further into fantasy, rather than concentrating on the very real dangers around us, but it took a Hormorn bellowing and dragging its horn against the stones to break me out of my fancy, and think about why I was acting so strangely.

Covering the walls, the bones, the skulls – everywhere, around us and above – grew a black moss. Shadow moss. An hallucinogenic growth taken by Dummonii priests as part of their rituals, and anyone else for that matter, who just wanted something of an escape. The water dripping from the ceiling, that had been falling onto our faces for at least an hour solidly had run through the moss, picking up fibers as it did. What ever alchemical agent it was within the shadow moss that caused its users to see what could not be seen had obviously been working on me, if not all of us.

In that moment of clarity, I knew I had to warn everyone, lest we all succumb to delusions, trapping ourselves forever in not only the caves, but also our fevered imaginations. Most of the party was quick to heed my warning, wiping their water away from their mouths, and pulling their hoods further over their face to prevent more from dripping onto their lips. There was little we could do for the hormorn, and we could only trust to their constitution and the skill of their handlers.

“It lets you see the dead”, I heard Caderyn say, as we made ready to move once more into the darkness. He was staring at the moss covered walls as he spoke, seemingly lost in thought, maybe remembering his last trip to this hellish place. I was about to ask why that could be considered a good thing, when he reached forward and tore some of the moss from the wall and held it in his hand. I could see what was going to happen, but seemed unable to stop him, to even want to try. In all honesty, if he hadn’t done what I knew he was about to do, I dare say I would have. With barely a moments pause, he opened his mouth and pushed the small handful of moss between his lips.

I half smiled at this. His reasoning was clear; if he could see the dead, he could warn us all of dangers we might not be able to comprehend. I’d have done it for the thrill myself, and to have saved anyone else from having to do something they may not have wanted to. I wasn’t sure if he was doing because he wanted to, or because he saw it as his duty to as the only Dummonii amongst us. At least, so far as we knew. I wasn’t going to let his visions take us too far off our course though, or allow him to hurt himself as he had done something quite noble, intentionally or not. I would stay by him until we were out of the caves, watching his back for corporeal threats, as he guarded us from other worldly ones.

*     *     *

We walked some way, Caderyn at our front, with me as his shadow. Valerius stayed close by too, for which I was thankful. The markings we were seeing on the walls near splits in out path meant nothing to me. Caderyn seemed led by something else, and I was following him, Valerius had to act as our guide.

I had seen a few of the others strip some moss from the walls, but they weren’t ingesting it, so I said nothing. If they wanted to partake on their own time, that was their call to make. Hell, they could sell the stuff to Pelosian mercenaries for all I cared. It was when I saw the glint of amber that I started to worry about taking things not meant to be touched. Everything we had picked up so far on the road had been taken and counted by Valerius, with the understanding that even if you carried it now, it was the property of Skuza.

This was his endeavour, and I had no problem with this ruling. Fjorlief would have to pay the value of her new sword from her share of the profits, and I was happy to give up a few coins for the Hutzlunr ’s battered brigandine. Caderyn claimed no desire to keep hold of the battered and rusty helmet he was wearing, but that surprised no one. A hunk of uncut amber the size of my fist though, that was tempting to take. Something told me that to do so would to be to risk the ire of whatever else lived inside these caves though, so I stepped quickly forward, keeping the Dummonii at my side.

“That is not for us”.

It took me a moment to realise that he had spoken at all, and I wasn’t sure to whom he was directing the admonishment. I quickly looked about, spotting Catranasia eyeing the amber. I don’t know if she had jumped down to grab it and been stopped, or if Caderyn just knew her mind and was quick enough to stop her from making a grave error. She complied, but others were also keen on taking souvenirs. As I said, there was plenty of shadow moss going to be walking out of the caves with us, but some were looking to grab other fungus too. “Put it back, the spirits ain’t pleased”, once again it was Caderyn who spoke, but I was never sure if he even saw what the others were doing, or was following instructions from the voices in his head.

As we approached another junction, I was sure that he was seeing things the rest of us weren’t. he paused as we neared the left hand turn, but never made a move towards it. Valerius seemed happy to be continuing on our way too, but there was something there that had captured Caderyn’s attention. “Don’t interfere, don’t follow”, he said to the darkness down the tunnel, “We’ve already dealt with you. Go along your way.”

I should have asked who was there that wanted to dog our steps, but it seemed a personal moment, and with a shake of his head, Caderyn turned away and continued down our chosen path. No matter how intently I stared down the side tunnel, I saw nothing but blackness.

*     *     *

That wasn’t the last strangeness that awaited us down paths not taken, but rather that than anything blocking our way. Another alcove, this time with something of flesh within. Almost human from a distance, but up close, it was an “empty one”. No soul left, maybe never had one. When Caderyn spoke, it was getting harder to keep up with his thoughts. It was as if he was asking questions of someone not there, and getting interrupted by them too. He seemed to know what this thing was though, and kept his distance.

The figure was short and squat, barely covered in ragged clothing, but with a clay bowl in its hands. It turned towards us as we approached, and Caderyn assumed a defensive posture, clearly worried that this little thing might be dangerous. It seemed small and inconsequential to me, but I wasn’t about to die because my pride had made me stupid. I didn’t move too far back though, and used the length of my sword to steer the bizarre little homunculus past me, towards the carts.

It didn’t seem to care, or even notice that it had come close to being impaled on several feet of steel, and just carried on until a hormorn put its mouth into the bowl and took the entire wad of moss. With that taken care off, it just carried on back the way we had come as if it hadn’t a care in the world.

I looked towards the Dummonii, hoping he would have something to say that made sense. “We are being hunted. The Toma comes, and this was a warning. It meant no harm, and was sent by a benevolent spirit”. All I could do was nod, but over his shoulder, I saw that this spirit, friendly or not, might have more to say. Another Empty One was heading towards us, slowly, feet almost dragging as it held its bowl of moss towards us. Caderyn turned to follow my gaze, and I saw a smile play across his lips, “They bring more shadow moss, this is a good sign”.

My sword was already in hand, and I wasn’t yet ready to sheath it, as further ahead, I was sure there was another. Caderyn took the moss from the closest one’s bowl, putting into his mouth and began to chew. There was definitely another ahead of us, moving out from an alcove to head in our direction. As it closed on us I directed it past, trusting the others to do the same. looking over my shoulder, it seemed the biggest threat to it was the hormorn.

At least a couple were almost as high as our guide, and none of them seemed to care about trampling one of the creatures underfoot. More were approaching though, and further ahead, more still. I soon lost count, as the darkness made it impossible to keep track, but it seemed like only seconds until the entire cave ahead of us was packed wall to wall with Empty Ones. Were they as friendly as Caderyn thought?

He looked to be changing his mind, but the shadow moss made it a slow process. As they gathered about him, he seemed confused at first. He was obviously certain that they were supposed to be on our side, and was struggling to cope with the idea that they may not, especially as so many were closing in on us like a tide. Eventually, his resolve stiffened and he brought his shield to bear. Although he still seemed determined to avoid killing them, he was less than gentle, pushing them hard away, knocking several from their feet as he diverted them past us.

I was even less forgiving, and had my sword pointing directly at them. The flat wasn’t doing enough to keep them from my way, so I was pushing out with the tip, stabbing into flesh in the hope that they’d realise the danger they were in and keep clear of my sword. It was not to be however. When they had lost their souls, they had obviously also lost a reason to preserve their lives – if one could claim they had such a thing – and they continued to move inexorably against us.

By this time dozens had moved past us, but even more lay ahead. I had stopped caring about what could befall my companions, concentrating on staying on my feet, with enough space about me keep thrusting the basaedo where it needed to be. It wasn’t until I felt warm breathe against my neck that I realised this wasn’t going to be enough. At the front, he wad stalled against the mass of creatures, but those behind had carried on moving. The hormorn had cared not about what they stood on, and were now close to using us as a walkway too.

Panic finally settled upon me, and I found my eyes alighting on anything that might offer a way past, but finding nothing. Caderyn looked almost as worried, with no solution presenting itself. Thank the Gods for women though, especially those with Vytch blood running through their veins. “You’re all idiots! Do what I’m doing!” I looked behind, and was thankful that both Fjorlief and myself were taller than almost everyone else. I could see the Empty Ones streaming past her, not impeding her in any way, but it took a few seconds to see why.

She was taking the shadow moss from each creature as it walked towards her, pocketing it as fast as she could, and then they were just walking on by. Behind her I could already see that dozens were disappearing into the darkness just as eerily as they had appeared ahead of us. There were still dozens ahead, but with the Hutzlunr’s plan seeming to work, we set about it. I was happy to drop the black mold onto the ground as the Empty Ones streamed past us, but others were filling their pockets. I may be mistaken, but I’m almost sure I saw Caderyn stick a handful or two more into his mouth as we thinned out the crowd.

Behind us, the others were following the Vytch’s lead, and within a few minutes the throng ahead of us had started to thin, and minutes later the Empty Ones were nothing but a few retreating shadows. I was happy to take a moment to breath, and at any other time would have been quick to lash out at Caderyn for insisting we were in no danger. A momentary glance was enough to make me wind in my tongue though. His eyes were almost totally glazed over, and I doubt he could have heard what I said, let alone take in its meaning. I remembered my promise to protect him, and went to his side, patting his shoulder and turning him once more in the direction we so fervently hoped would lead us from these dismal caves.

*    *     *

Drazar didn’t seem to come out of this encounter as well as the rest of us though. In the confusion something had happened to him, but I never found out what. Fjorlief was quick to offer her aid though, or at least, so I thought. As I was still more concerned with making sure that whatever was going through Caderyn’s head didn’t spill over to dangerous levels, I missed most of what happened. I would like to think that she was trying to help him, in her own way, and what happened afterwards was just unfortunate. She placed her hands on him, or maybe on his mask, to see what was wrong.

Him apparently. With a look of disgust on her face, she quickly pulled her hands back, “You’re wrong”. Two words, and in relation to no other conversation. She wasn’t disagreeing with a point he’d made, or an idea he’d floated. He was just wrong, in some way that she could sense and was repulsed by. It would of course be nice to live in a world where everyone just got along, but at the time, I would have been happy if they could have at least pretended to for the rest of the journey.

And we were still a way to go until we were even out of the caves. True, the path had inclined back up by now, and the dripping water had slowed considerably, but with possibly hours to go it seemed like scant good fortune at all. Ahead though, there was light. My first thought was daylight, but we were still too deep underground for that. As we moved closer, the light coalesced into a human form. Well, nearly human, and also more than.

She was a head and a half taller than either Fjorlief or myself, and built like a Hutzlunr warrior of legend. Armed with a long spear, and wearing the bare minimum of armour, she was nevertheless impressive. From each temple grew a long curved horn which added to her height and marked her as the Toma that Caderyn thought was hunting us. He seemed unimpressed and stepped forward to meet her, myself still acting as his shadow, unwilling to give up the chance of fighting a Goddess.

“You have brought filth and contamination to this place”, she intoned, “You shall no go further with such abominations in your company”.

“We bring nothing”, replied our half cut guide, struggling up the steep incline to meet her, “many times have people passed through these caves without the likes of you stopping them! The Corbie tribe have allowed us passage, so let us pass!”

“The Corbie have no right to say who walks these caves, that is my right! And I will have tribute. Their shadows will suffice, if any of you hope to see daylight once more!” Caderyn seemed shocked by these words, and was moving forward to meet her, weapons drawn.

“These are my men! Leave them be”, came a shout from behind with a thick Hutzlunr accent. Toma smiled, and left the shout hanging in the air, offering up the silence to be filled. I was almost close enough to slash at the huntress as she spoke first.

“Tribute then. Who shall you offer up to appease me?”

Thinking this a feint to give us opportunity to strike, the next words I heard threw me out of kilter, “Him”. I stopped suddenly, and looked behind, wondering just who the Vytch was was so willing to sacrifice.

I should have known, and you dear reader are almost certainly ahead of me, your lives not being in mortal peril as mine was. With one arm extended, the finger pointing solidly at Drazar, I found I couldn’t move or speak. If she accepted the offering, would we leave the man to have his soul taken by the Goddess?

Time slowed for me, but I imagine Drazar’s mind was racing. I had already seen him wield the earth power, and expected that the Vytch would be just as powerful. Would he strike at her before Toma came for him? Allowing himself vengeance at the cost of his life? Toma spoke first though, “He is unclean, and not worthy of my bite”.

“How about a bite on his shadow then,” countered Fjorlief, indicating Valerius. Surely this was a jest to distract Toma, and we must act quickly. Caderyn jumped at the chance too, and it seemed that a thought that had been fomenting for some time was finally allowed access to his tongue.

“We cannot trust her, she will take more than a bite! She is a Succubus, how do we kill her”, and with that he was charging in to the fight. I was quick to follow, but in less than a second realised that I was too late. She threw her spear like a javelin, and it burst into flame as it flew through the air towards Valerius. Brand was not to be outdone though, as his own weapon was soon engulfed in fire as he drew it ready for combat. I knew him to be a fighter without equal based on only a short time in his company, and with a magic weapon in hand, even the Goddess must not have seemed too challenging. But I swear on the Gods, as the fight started, and his sword lit the cave, a look of terror seemed to come to his face.

Other things were more important though, as I was close enough to Toma to strike out. Before I knew what was happening though, she had vanished, replaced by a fast moving tendril of smoke that began to quickly wend its way towards Valerius. She was certainly keen to get what was offered to her, and there was little I could do to stop her. In this form, she was impervious to my attack, no matter how well placed my blow, it slipped through the smoke as if it wasn’t even there. Cursing her I threw my torch to the ground and pulled out my dagger, readying myself for her counter attack.

It never came though, at least not at me. With flaming sword, Brand slashed at the smoke, and it quickly took on a solid form once more. Whatever hunger she felt, it had obviously gotten the better of her, as she was now surrounded. Caderyn had charged after her, smoke or solid, and was swinging his axe with a look of hatred on his face. Valerius had somehow managed to string his warbow ready to loose an arrow, and with flaming sword Brand was tearing her flesh open.

She was certainly more powerful than she looked, but being either a Goddess or a Daemon, that wasn’t much of a surprise. The wounds inflicted seemed to be closing up almost as quick as they were opened, but never fully sealing. I imagine that if she wasn’t so outnumbered, she would have made short work of us indeed. With the melee tightly packed, I was willing to hold off in case one of our men should fall, and careful enough to avoid getting too close the Dummonii, as he slashed about himself with wild abandon.

Thankfully, I wasn’t needed in the fray, and before long, the creature that called herself Toma was down and vanished, and the group was victorious. I dreaded the conversations that would follow the offering of tribute, but they would have to wait. We still needed to get ourselves free from these caves, and hopefully we had faced the worst they had to offer. I went to check on the Dummonii, to make sure he wasn’t too badly hurt from the fight, but apart from still looking bleary around the eyes, he seemed in fine form. Mostly.

Maybe it was the moss that made him do it, but as I watched, he looked down at the bloody axe in his hand thoughtfully, before lifting it up and running his tongue along the blood soaked edge. Once more I found myself ready to explode at him for being such an idiot, but he had just gone toe to toe with a Daemon, and come out on top, all the while being off his head on shadow moss. Whatever his reason for drinking the blood of his enemy, it was his own.

I followed him once more to the head of the group, as the Pelosians behind us began a pitched discussion on the implications of imbibing Daemon blood. Since I had fed some creature my own blood only a few hours earlier, I saw it as fair game, and just hoped we would see daylight soon enough.

*     *     *

We were to get my wish, but exhaustion had robbed me of the ability to keep track of time. It was early evening when we emerged, and I would like to think we had managed the trip in a day, as I don’t remember sleeping at all while we were down there. One of the Corbie tribe was waiting for us, and in my addled state I was sure it was the tribal leader who was there when we set off. I have no idea if such a thing was even possible, but I just needed to get away from the caves, and out of my damp cloak before the chill could get into me. “Well that was fucking fun”, says I, as the Corbie waffled on, “but it’s going to be dark soon, it’s bloody cold, and we’re all wearing wet clothing. How about we move on sharpish and find somewhere to get a fire going where we can sleep”.

Valerius was too busy engaging with the Corbie, and I was too strung out to be diplomatic, “Or we could just stand around here in our wet clothes having a chat I suppose?” Not the brightest thing to say, and Valerius’ patience must have been wearing almost as thin as mine, as he put me in my place.

“After what we’ve just been through, this is the done thing. I know we’re all wearing cold wet clothes, but I’ll ask for directions to campsite when we’re done talking.” There was little I could say to hurry him along, so I trudged forward and waited for us all to move. Eventually we did, and once we exited the shadow of the mountains, the chill in the air vanished. If we hadn’t been wearing such wet clothes, it would have been quite pleasant. As it was I was very happy to see a patch of open ground ahead of us, with two tall totem poles topped with corbie facing away from each other up ahead.

Well, Valerius had done his job alright, and led us to a campsite. I decided not to mention that we could have found it ourselves by simply following the path, as I think he would have quickly lost what little patience he still had with me. Instead I got a fire going and hung my cloak to dry while the hunters went after our evening meal. I was honing the point of my Basaedo as Skuza prayed to his God for delivering him – somehow forgetting to thank the men and women who dragged his pox ridden arse through the caves – when I heard Drazar and Fjorlief exchanging some loud words.

I didn’t need to make out the details, as I could be pretty sure what they involved, so I just waited for it to all die down. Once they had gotten it off their collective chests, Drazar walked back towards the fire. Although his mask prevented me from seeing his expression, his body was practically humming with anger. “What happened in those caves wasn’t right for anyone. We still have a way to go though, so how about you two learn to live with each other until we get someplace safe”, says I, and hoped that’d be the last of it before we could all get some sleep.

Nov 182013

My way is not the right way for everyone. I understand this, and know that there probably isn’t a right way for everyone, but I’ve kept dozens of player diaries, and read even more that have been written by other gamers. Rather than tell you how they should be done, as I don’t think there is a correct way to do them, I’ll be offering a few things that you should be thinking about if you’re about to start keeping a record of your character’s activities, or are struggling to maintain one already in process.

Firstly, who are you writing it for? Is this something that the other players will be checking in one after every session? Is it for the GM’s eyes only, or maybe just for yourself? Are you putting it out there for the general public, to let people who have never even played the game or spent time with any of the characters involved. Firstly, lets assume that at the least, the other players in your group will be checking in on the diary.

This can present you with some problems if there’s a few things about your character that you’d rather others didn’t find out about. If this is the case, you have a couple of options open to you. You can indulge in some creative editing to keep these things your own dirty little secret, but you need to be careful about keeping the story flowing without giving anything away. If you’re playing in a game that indulges in secrets and conspiracies, you could play up to this. Write out your full character diary, including all the things you don’t want people to know, then redact the sensitive topics before sending it out to the world. Your other option is to write the diary in such a way that there’s would be no way that the players would have any access to it.

In my particular case I have written the diary from the point of view of my character as retired adventurer. This works for a couple of reasons, notably being that at the present time, the character cannot read or write. In case my GM is reading this, it has nothing to due with subtly implanting the suggestion in his mind that I’m going to survive whatever he throws in front of me so that I get the chance to retire and write my memoirs. This might explain why they are so long winded, as I also appear to be channeling the writing style of the late George MacDonald Fraser in his Flashman series of books. It has even occurred to me that they are quickly turning from a  player diary, into the first draft of a novel.

I think this comes down to another option; writing for yourself. True, other people do read them, and I’ve gotten so far positive feedback, but they’re not being written as a way for the other players to check up on for a quick summary of the last week’s adventures. I’m writing my diary because I like writing, and the stories we’re telling weekly are fantastic, and well worth taking the time to commit to page, or in this case screen. The odd thing is, although I am mainly writing for myself, I am sharing with them with a much wider audience by putting them on the blog. If you’re planning on doing something similar, prepare yourself for the challenge of writing about an imaginary world that the reader may never have encountered before.

I’m pretty lucky in this, as the game my character exists in, is in the middle of a successful Kickstarter campaign. Because of this, they have been sharing a lot of stuff about their game that I can link to for people wanting more information. I still need to be careful though, and make sure I take the time to include some details that are required to give the neophyte reader a chance of understanding what the heck is going on.

If you’re looking to create a record of events that’s just there to serve as reminder of the in game activities, then you could try something completely different, and move away from the first person narrative at all. Write from an outsider perspective – I have found that newspaper stories or other journalistic forms work pretty well – and you don’t need to worry about including anything personal, and by necessity your writing should be quick and punchy, without needing to go into too much detail.

More importantly though, set yourself a realistic time frame with your chosen method. My entries are massive, but I give myself plenty of time to write them. If you don’t have the spare time, then give yourself a reason to only write shorter summaries of the action. If your finding yourself getting stressed out about maintaining a schedule at your current expected word count, then you’re missing the point, and should probably reevaluate how your approaching your diary.

Nov 012013

I have spent the last couple of years genuinely annoyed that I haven’t had the funds to back all of the Kickstarter projects that I wanted to, But today I popped my project backing cherry. If you want to back this campaign, click through here right now, but if you’ve never heard of the game Orbis Terrarum, stick around and I’ll tell you why I’ve pledged some hard earned money so that real hard copies of the game will see the light of day.

**Full disclaimer** I am friends with the guys who have created this game, and they’ve been working on it for at least as long as I have known them off and on. This does not mean that I’m only supporting the game because we’re friends; I have played two full length campaigns within their world as they play tested the game at our weekly gaming society meetings, and I enjoyed every second of it.

As mentioned in a previous couple of posts, I am even playing the game every Tuesday night as of last week, and I’m loving the final revisions that they’ve made. I will be continuing to detail the adventures of character as the weeks progress, but for now lets get to why I love the game so much.

The style of the game, and how it comes to life through the setting was the first thing that grabbed me. As much as I like to play games of high heroic fantasy, with orcs and dragons and what have you, I much prefer a grittier edge to my fantasy worlds. For people who have followed the blog you’ll know that when it comes to fantasy literature my two current favourite writers are Scott Lynch and Joe Abercrombie. Both write about fantasy worlds that have a very human feel to them, with magic being both rare and misunderstood, and the biggest threats often much more human than supernatural. Wars across borders and political maneuvering take more of a central role than world ending beasts and necromantic legions.

The guys who created the game are also fans of this style, but have a much bigger influence on their style, and that’s the work of Fritz Leiber. It runs along similar lines and anyone familiar with his work is highly encouraged to look into this game so that you can enjoy seeing the influence he clearly had.

It’s not just setting though, it’s the system as well that keeps me going back for more. As much as I like a nice simple system, what I really adore is one that has internal consistency. I know it’s a strange thing and might not be what everyone looks for, but there is something marvelous about a game that has the same rules for character generation for player characters as it does for NPCs, so that everyone is on a level playing field, at least to begin with. Add to that the magic, combat and general skill tests all work along the same lines means that there is nothing extra to learn just because you want to use some Geomancy or wield the Heart’s Fire.

I could go on at length here about the various little things within all of the above that I love, but the guys have done a great job of explaining exactly what the game is about on their project page, so if you haven’t been there yet, head over now to read all about it in their own words and then back the hell out of it! At time of writing it has been running for just over 24 hours and is already over half way there. And since the game is already complete, with layout and artwork, anyone who backs it at least the digital level will get their pdf copy as soon as it funds.

Sep 302013

OK, it might be. There is some tantalising glimpses at some future posts though, so if you’re a fan, then please stay with me for the next five hundred words. First, sorry for a lame ass filler post. A few months back the company I work at started some major overhauls to its staffing, and this has meant that even though I’m on a twelve hour contract, doing six day weeks has been happening more and more. Heck, there are times when I’ve worked ten days straight without a day off. Last week we also had a major hardware and software upgrade while our senior member of staff was on holiday, at the same time as Fresher’s Fayre while I’m the president of our gaming society. All in all, not conducive to spending time in front of a computer.

Some of you may have noticed that I haven’t even been that active on other blogs that I follow. This is for the same reason. I tend to flick through them quickly on my mobile during breaks, or of an evening, but rarely have the time to post well thought replies. Don’t worry, I am checking you all out, you just don’t know about. Anyway, onto less creepy sounding things.

My column at Stuffer Shack should return this week, as things are getting a bit back to normal, and I’m in the mood for trying out something different. I’ve already done a bunch of plot seeds, and a large handful of character ideas for people to use. At the moment I’m thinking about trying my hand at a bestiary of some sort. I will be going through folkloric creatures from old English lore, and adapting them to fit into fantasy games, so check that out from the weekend onward.

On this blog I will be looking at what – if any – winning conditions exist for a player of role playing games, and the people who run them too. I’ts just a little something that’s been on my mind but I’ve had trouble pinning down. Work is proceeding though, so should be something on that soon.

I also have started some work researching a couple of my weapons posts too. The first comes after a conversation with a re-enactor last week about how brawling skills are way more important than you would think when it comes to a melee, and the second is on the humble spear. A question was asked on a forum when I was pimping my document about why the spear was used so often throughout history but us far from popular in RPGs. I think I’ve found a few answers, and some other little factoids too.

So there you have it, a few little ideas to keep you going, and a promise that I will try really hard to do better in future. Still, I’ve been at this for over a year, and this is the first time I’ve not done a weekly post with actual content. Depending on how the next couple of days go, I might have a review post to put up before the end of the week to keep the hordes at bay.

Mar 262013

RPGBlogCarnivalLogocopy1-227x300Kobalt Enterprises are hosting this months RPG blog carnival, and I’ve been wracking my brain to think of something suitably epic to qualify. True, there have been some excellent moments in games I’ve been in, and I don’t want any GMs to feel bad for not being the one who got a personal mention. That is why I have made a very self referential decision and decided to show off about one of my moments of epic GMing.

I know this is going to sound big headed, but please, bear with me. As I wrote recently, I was not the easiest gamer to get along with back in the day. I thank all of my current friends for sticking with me as long as they did, giving me the time to grow into the capable and socially aware gamer/GM I am today. The reason than I’m picking a moment of my own GMing for consideration is that it came during this rather bloody awkward phase of my life. I had bought my first full RPG system, the original Deadlands game, and had been running it for a few months with mostly positive results. I then decided to try something a bit different, and if it had gone wrong, it could have been catastrophic. What I did was simple in its way. I invited the players to tell me stories instead of having me tell them one for the night. It was a bit more involved in than that, and if you want the full details, and maybe even to try it out for yourself, then head on over to Stuffer Shack where I wrote about it as part of my weekly column.

It went superbly, and I can’t thank the players enough for joining in. It might seem like quite a bit of extra effort, but trust me, the pay off is worth it. So there you have it, a moment of GMing epicness, and it came from a rather annoying young man who had only just discovered the thrill of being a GM. Take from that hope, all new GMs, that when you have a crazy idea about doing something that seems totally off kilter, it could just end up being something that people still talk about for years to come.

Mar 042013

This article comes on the back of a conversation I seem to have every once in a while when reminiscing about gaming when I was younger. You see, I’m still in contact with a lot of the people who were there when I first threw down some dice. Whenever we talk about my first forays into gaming, I always inwardly shudder. I was a bit crap you see, for a variety of reasons. To put it bluntly, I doubt I would be happy in the same room as my seventeen year old self, let alone in the same game. So presented here is the letter I would send the younger me, with bits of advice about his life with regards to the hobby that would take up so much of his time, and create not only lasting friendships, but opportunities, and even occasionally love.

To Paul,

Firstly, don’t get too used to being called that. In a matter of weeks, someone is going to forget your name, and when they introduce to someone else, they’ll just use the name of the character you’re currently playing. Don’t bother trying to change it. Shorty is a good name, and over the next couple of decades, it’s going to become pretty well known in certain circles. Don’t worry about trying to explain it either, just tell people it’s a long story, and move on.

So, with regards to role playing, I have a few things you should be aware of. Mainly, calm the fuck down! The people you’re gaming with right now are being bloody wonderful, and very patient indeed. You don’t need to impress them. They’re geeks just like you, so trying to be cool will win you no friends. And they’re better at being geeks than you, so just pay attention and learn what you can. They’ll almost all become great friends, so just carry on with what you’re doing, but take it down a notch or five.

Oh, and don’t worry about fitting in with anyone else too much. You’re out of school, and about to move out of your Mum’s place. That means you can make your own friends, and these guys and gals are gonna be great for that. They like the fact that you read comic books and fantasy novels. A whole bunch of them are into heavy metal and sci-fi movies too. The fact that you can quite the Evil dead films is something in your favour right now!

Stay interested and curious about things; keep asking questions. The fact that you know a massive amount of almost totally useless facts is going to be very useful for conversations in pubs later on, so keep absorbing knowledge. But for the love of god, stop asking your GM too many questions! And really stop doing shit like that during games. You deserve every bad thing that happens to you if you piss off the GM, and when it’s your turn, you’ll see why it was so bloody annoying.

Don’t rush into GMing though. There’s no pressure for you to do that, apart from what you place on yourself. Wait until you’re ready and run a damned fine game. You may not have too many of your own ideas right now, but rather than nicking other people’s stuff, wait until inspiration strikes. When it does, it’ll all be worth it, and people will keep coming back for more.

In this hunt for inspiration, play every game you game you can, with anyone who wants to play. Not every game will be amazing, and I promise you that you won’t like every gamer you meet. But if you don’t take some chances, you’ll get stuck in a rut. The guys you’re gaming with now are great, but in about ten years, you’re going to start playing with ‘the Birkby Lot’, and wonder why the hell you weren’t doing this sooner. A phrase that’s been going through my head a lot lately is one that you should keep in mind. “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take”. So suck it up and take a few more risks, you’ll be amazed how many of them pay off.

And when you do end up in games with people you just don’t gel with, don’t take shit so personally. Especially in character stuff. You look like a douche when you get wound up over stuff like that, and people will talk. Sure, it might not be fun, but it’s at times like that, that you have to remember that it’s only a game. You let that crap slide right off you, and get on with enjoying the game. That’s what they’re there for.

There’s a bunch more stuff I’d like to tell you about girls and careers, but this letter can’t actually travel through time, and is in fact just a post on an RPG blog, so I thought I’d best keeping it on topic. Oh, but just in case: invest in Facebook.

Peace, Asshole! (don’t worry, that’ll make sense later)


Feb 232013

So there we have it, the long overdue story of how this blog came to exist. There are actually a few other projects I’m involved in that I didn’t have time to share through the week, so listed below – with links for those interested – is everything I’m doing, and everywhere else you can find me online, and maybe even in the real world. I’ll start with the ones already mentioned, just to get them all in the same place.

Reviewing music for an extreme metal webzine: The Legions of Steel. As an aside, if you’re in a new and upcoming metal band, drop me a line and we’ll happily sort out an interview (Skype) or if you have a promo, we’ll rock a review for you.

I’ve released my first DriveThruStuff product, and I will be aiming to drop one new Adventure a month. The publisher page can be found here.

I also manage a stand-up comedian, and I’ll be pimping gigs and other appearances through his Facebook page.

I’m onto stage two of my first fully functioning card game, and everything you need to help me play test it can be grabbed through Dropbox.

And now for some stuff you might not know about.

I have taken up a weekly column over at Stuffer Shack. The dude who runs the site went the extra mile in offering support and encouragement when I first started out, so I’m very pleased indeed to be able to work with him. The first post went up yesterday, and you should check back each work for more.

Me and my best mate – whom I mentioned yesterday – have recorded our first podcast. Since he is a very busy man, lecturing at various universities and speaking at conferences, he hasn’t managed to get it edited and uploaded yet, but when he does, it can be found here.

The fiction that I mentioned writing also has its own home, but if you’ve been following this blog since its inception, the address should look familiar, as all I’ve done is go back to the old WordPress page to publish it. I’ll be trying to keep up with one new piece a month on here, so check back regularly.

These last two don’t have links yet, as there are more details to work out, but they are moving on at pace.

I mentioned the hobby of airsofting on a Monday, and as soon as some contract details are worked out, a mate of mine will be opening his own venue. I will not only be helping to build the arena, but also coming up with some MilSim style adventures and plots that will be run there. I will post details when I have it, as I will almost certainly be helping out with marshaling too, so you might be able to pop down and say hi, if you live relatively close.

And finally, me and another mate – guitarist in kick ass post-rock band Civil Protection – are about to embark on creating a documentary film on fringe religions. This is his baby, and I’ll just be along for the ride, coordinating as need be, but it should be fun, and once we have more details, I’ll let you fine people know.

And now for something even more ethereal. I received a message in the comments section of this very blog from another blogger, one whom I’m a big fan of as we share similar tastes in extreme metal, and have both been lucky enough to get in on the MYFORAG play test. He wants to run something by me. I’m more than a little intrigued…

So that’s that. On Monday we will return to a more sensible blogging schedule, and I’ll just pop links to my other projects on Twitter, Google+, or – and this is where most things end up – the Facebook page for the blog. Thanks for sticking with me through this strange little week, but thank you more for reading the blog at all.

Feb 222013

Well, if you’re going to keep coming back here, and I’m going to keep on talking! I left you yesterday with a decision I needed to make; what was I going to do to try and improve my lot in life and maybe even pay the bills? It swiftly occurred to me that the one commodity I possessed in a large quantity was time, so I just started to think of ways to fill it. I had always enjoyed writing, and thought I’d start there. I used to enjoy drawing too, but I was never excellent, and these days the most I do in that direction is a few basic tattoo designs, which were never of the kind of professional quality they’d need to be to make me any money.

Having spent a long time working in book shops I knew that the road to getting a book published was a lot longer than most people realised, but that there were ways to keep the mind busy on that long trek. I started looking into sci-fi and fantasy magazines that would take unsolicited submissions for fiction – of which there are plenty, you just need to spend the time looking for them – as this would be a great way to get a portfolio together to take to a literary agent. While doing so a friend suggested to me that starting a blog is a great way of honing your skill and testing the water for a potential audience.

I was very lucky indeed in that the friend in question was my best friend, who just happened to be a professional social media consultant. Stand up and take a bow, Mr. Richard Bassinder. (seriously, click the link for some great tips, and if you want to up your online profile, and can afford him, he’s very very good indeed) We sat down one afternoon in one of our favourite watering holes and over a few pints of ale worked out what I needed to do. It was from this conversation that the blog took shape. We are both gamers, and realised that talking about what I knew would be best, and once I got used to writing regularly I should expand the blog into fiction and other things.

Before I got round to the fiction thing though, I found myself having a great time as a role playing blogger. I quickly ended up with a sponsor, and a readership I could be proud of. All along I was also finding out just how nice a community the online role playing lot are. I started joining in a few community activities, one of which led to today’s announcement. The National Game Design Month – NaGa DeMon for short – was just too good an opportunity to pass up. I knew that I still didn’t have a novel in me just yet, and since – after a very strange dream – I had the bones of a card game idea in my head, I thought I’d go for it. So I spent all of November writing rules, formatting cards and expanding on a basic structure of the game I had in mind. By the end of the month I had even managed to play a couple of games of it.

The response was mostly positive, but I knew I still had a lot of work to do. So after the Christmas break I went back to it, fully armed with the feedback of several play tests and some ideas of my own about how to streamline the rules and speed up the play time. Yesterday I put the finishing touches to Version 2.0 of my Neo-Victorian game of Exploration and Glory, and if you want to take a look, it’s all available as .pdfs through the link. I present to you: Excitement and Adventure!

There’s a few files in there, but if you don’t have the time or printer ink to run off a full copy for yourselves, then any feedback on the rules would be great. This isn’t the final look of the cards, just a basic idea for another round of play testing. I do have someone working on making it all look much prettier, and as soon as we have that sorted out, I’ll post the details on this blog.

Well, the weeks almost up, and that does bring you pretty much up to speed. There are still a few other projects that I’m involved in that I haven’t had time to slot into this rambling history of me, but if you’ll indulge me, I’ll bring them all together for one final update at some point over the weekend. I make no promises as to when, as we have family visiting and a fiftieth birthday to attend.

Until then, I just want to say, to everyone who reads this blog, comments on it, talks about it to their friends, or just made me feel like I was part of this wonderful community I now belong to: Thank you. Deeply and truly, thank you. I don’t want to enter the realms of hyperbole and say that you’ve saved me, but you have instigated a massive and complete turn around in my life, and for that I think of you all as friends!