Quick Unboxing of the Game of Thrones Kickstarter – A Song of Fire and Ice

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The box, stacked full of Red Wedding goodness

The best part of a Kickstarter is when the rewards arrive.  Today my CMON Kickstarter set for A Song of Fire and Ice arrived.  I have always wanted to take part in a CMON Kickstarter campaign because of their reputation, and I have to say, I am impressed so far.

I will not be prying open every box yet, but wanted to give you a glimpse of the game components that are out – especially with Gen Con right around the corner.  I will be painting minis through Christmas, that much is for sure, but so far I was wowed with what I received.

I won’t bore you with text, but let you savor over the photos.  More to come as I begin painting.

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All good men…most don’t make it through Season 4 in the series
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A view of the back of the box
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Kind of looking forward to doing the Battle of the Bastards at some point
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Sure, they look tough…then a dragon comes in and they get crispy.
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I will have to learn to paint horses…

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The Half-Man! 
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The big box starter set.  
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The back of the big box
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The box of the bonus minis, alternate sculpts,etc.  Gotta love that iron throne from the novels.  
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Talk about a big impressive mini.  I can’t wait to pit these forces against the Imperial Stormtroopers I painted last weekend.  Oh, that would be SO wrong…

Obviously more to come.  Enjoy!

#CMON

 

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True Crime Review – A&E’s Live PD

LivePD

As a true crime author, I occasionally watch true crime shows when they catch my attention.  Honestly, I’m usually busy doing research or writing.  One that I do watch every Saturday night is A&E’s Live PD.  It is reminiscent of Cops, but is filmed live, with six departments across the country.  Where Cops was always edited, with Live PD, you get unscripted police work as it happens.  There’s some grittiness with this approach.  You are seeing situations unfold as they happen, which adds to the tension. 

Needless to say, I’ve become a Live PD junkie. 

The show is hosted by Dan Abrams with two co-hosts, usually Sgt. Sean “Sticks” Larkin and Tom Morris Jr. – both law enforcement officers.  These officers are there for context, and a bit of comedy relief.  Dan throws out some incredibly funny one-liners (kudos to his staff who must be feeding him these lines).  It’s not fun and games, these are serious situations.  The humor helps take the edge off of what are very tense situations.
Live PD is a blast to watch.  Some nights it is slower than others, but some nights develop their own themes,  drunk-driving, warrants being served, animal issues, etc.  It is unrehearsed, unedited, unscripted, and undeniably a lot of fun to watch. 

 

Things I have learned watching Live PD

  • When your response to the question, “Do you have any outstanding warrants?” is “I don’t think so,” then you have outstanding warrants. 
  • “Those aren’t my drugs!” has never gotten a person out of being arrested. 
  • Everyone that has an outstanding warrant just took care of it.  “I was just down to the courthouse yesterday and took care of it!” 
  • Every car that is borrowed from a friend has drugs or guns in it that the driver has no knowledge of (NOT). 
  • No matter how fast you are, your ass can’t outrun a police dog. 
  • There are a lot of creative places to hide drugs in the car – and police know all of them.  The ones they don’t know, their dogs do. 
  • Yelling at officers rarely works to your advantage. 
  • If you keep smoking that cigarette when they put you in cuffs, you are not tough – you are more likely about to be arrested. 
  • The police dogs are characters just like the human officers.
  • Domestic abuse is not just men abusing women.  
  • Millennial’s think they know more about the law than law enforcement and love being confrontational with officers.  “You can’t pull me over, you don’t have probable cause.  This is unconstitutional.”  They are so cute – and often guilty. 
  • If your whole family comes out to yell at the officers, all at the same time, someone is going to jail.    
  • Getting “pissy” with an officer is a great way to get a ride to the jail.  
  • If you are asking questions about your how to do your field sobriety test, you have already failed.
  • On a given Saturday night, 90% of the cars in America are driven by drunks or people smoking weed. 
  • Most people with drugs in their car are pulled over for something incredibly minor, like a busted tail light.  Yo, druggies, keep your cars maintained and you might not get your ass pulled over. 
  • If you are asleep in your truck on a road because you are drunk, you are still going to jail (in most jurisdictions).  
  • Apparently my wife and I are the only people in America driving with our licenses, registration and proof of insurance. 
  • A lot of people are driving out there on suspended licenses.
  • Crying doesn’t get you off with officers…nor does pleading.  
  • When confronted with flashing lights, if you don’t pull over immediately, you are guilty of something.  “I was just looking for a safe place to pull over officer…” 
  • If you are out with no shirt on, body covered in tattoos, and the police show up – you are guilty of something. 
  • Officers are not very happy when you call them, they show up, and you are on your phone and continue your conversation.  Here’s a tip, hang up the freaking phone!
  • My house is pristine compared to 95% of the homes that police enter.  Many are hoarder situations. 
  • When the police tell you to keep your hand up, and you don’t, you deserve to have your ass tossed to the pavement. 
  • Officers don’t need your life story when they ask, “So what’s going on here?”  In fact, the more you tell them, usually the more guilty you are.  Example:  “This whole thing with my ex-wife started three years ago when we were in Miami…” 
  • Anyone pulled over for drunk driving has only had, one or two drinks when asked.  No one ever says, “I’ve had eight or nine drinks…I’ve lost count.” 
  • If the police are showing up for the second time for the evening, someone is going to jail. 
  • My wife and I have actually practiced field sobriety tests while watching Live PD and have come to the conclusion we would fail them while stone sober. 

 

The show is so popular there are people out there that host Live PD parties Saturday night.  The live tweets on Twitter during the show are hilarious to read as you watch. 

#LivePD

#LivePDNation

 

The Chronicling of our D&D Campaign: Tempora – Part 26

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Welcome to the novelization of my current D&D campaign, told through the perspective of the characters. Parts 1-19 charted the first part of the campaign, part 20 began the next phase of the saga: Tempora. For me, it lets me do a little creative writing between more serious projects. Links to the previous posts are at the bottom of this one. Enjoy!

Theren…

Having rested up for several hours, we set out down the dark roadway to the underbelly of the mountains. Less than an hour into our trek, a massive portcullis dropped down, blocking the road and driving through Arius’s body as it slammed into the ground, pinning the paladin to the floor. The wrought iron gate sent up a cloud of rust into the air as it thudded into place.  Bor was on the far side, now appearing trapped.  Despite being a brute of a man, he looked oddly vulnerable there alone.  Blood oozed from Arius’s wounds where the portcullis had pinned his torso, though the paladin did not complain much.

It took all of us to lift the gate, mostly with Bor’s and my brute strength and using a javelin for a lever. Each member of the party slid under the gate.  We moved a few heads down the road and the gate clanged back up.  “We must have stepped off of the trigger,” I said as the gate disappeared into the slot on the ceiling over the road.

Another 200 heads down, we saw a small indentation on the right side of the roadway, a niche really.  There was some wood there, rotting, along with some shards of moldy cloth.  A small hole five heads from the floor trickled water down into the hole.  Under the wood was clearly a hole in the floor.

“I think someone should look into that,” Arius said.

“I think someone else should look into it,” I replied.

The paladin frowned at me then went over, carefully peering down the hole.  “It’s some sort of sewer,” he called over to us. It made sense.  This was a long road into Tempora.  There had to be places like this where travelers could relieve themselves.

“What’s down there?” Brandon called.

“I don’t want to know what is down there,” Arius replied.  “You are welcome to use this if you want.  I have no desire knowing what is down in this old sewer.”  I agreed with the paladin.  While there could be something long lost in that hole, we were not looking for treasure, but for the missing warriors of the Order of the Fang.

We moved on, walking down the roadway for nearly an hour.  Then, to our surprise, she appeared again, the ghastly woman appeared before us again.  Cloaked in green, holding a golden censor oozing smoke, the older woman materialized out of nowhere in the middle of the roadway.

“You still have not heeded my words,” she intoned in a low voice.

“Why does that sound like a threat?” “I mean here’s a old human woman running around on an ancient dwarven highway.  Something isn’t right here.” Althalus said.  I had to agree with the warlock on this matter.

“What do you think she’s up to?” Arius said, stroking his goatee.

“You should turn around now,” she said firmly, clearly listening into our chatter.

This was, at one time, a major roadway.  Something about this female did not make sense.

“What should we be fearing?” Arius asked of her.

“Your doom.”

“Are you going to give us any useful information, or are you simply going to continue to waste our time,” Althalus snapped at her. “If we turn around, the bone dragons will eat us.”

“This is not my concern,” she said impassively.

“What is ahead that should be our concern?” the warlock pressed.

“This road has not been used in centuries.  Turn around and live.”

I puffed out my chest.  “This road has been used recently, and we are following their tracks,” I told her.

“Leave now, and you go with your lives.”  Her words were a firm tone, strangely confident…which made me nervous. “Continue down this road and you will die.”

“Good luck trying,” Brandon said.  I snapped my head over to him.  We did not need an escalation of words at this point.  Whoever this older woman was, she was using magic to teleport.  Who knows what else she might do?  Brandon clearly was misreading my expression.  Rather than stop, he strode up to her.  “We do not fear you.”  You are speaking for yourself ranger…  It was then I noticed two things.  The color of her robe was familiar – it was the same green as Lexa Lyoncroft!  And behind her, at her head, was the hilt of a sword.  It was almost identical to Lyoncroft’s.  Was she a fellow Sister of the Sword?

“You should,” she said far too calmly. Her words were followed with a brilliant flash of light.  Brandon was thrown back ten heads…and she had disappeared.  I was blinded by the white light of the blast and a crack light lightning bolt hitting near us.  I felt the hairs on my head rise for a moment.  There was that circular pattern on the floor again, shimmering just for a moment before it disappeared.

“I am getting tired of her party tricks,” Althalus said as the ranger regathered his wits.

“Brandon is stunned,” I said, helping the ranger back to his feet.  I had hoped he had learned his lesson.

“That does not involve me,” the warlock said.  I motioned for him to join me.  Was there residue where the blast had taken place?  We looked, there was none to be found.  This indeed was, as I had feared, powerful arcane.

“Did you see that sword and her robe?  It’s like Lyoncroft’s” I said.  Bor nodded, he had seen it as well.  “It could be deception on her part,” I added.

“Oh great,” Althalus said. “There’s more than one of them running around.”  Once we were comfortable that she was not going to return we continued on.  Another hour or so passed when we came to three large obstructions in the roadway.  Brandon moved forward.  “The road looks like it ends up here!”  We all came close enough to see that the roadway stopped its gentle slope downward.  Instead it seemed to level off and open up a vast chamber beyond.  Water filled the lowest part of the road, forming a pond that filled the entire roadway.

The end of the road could mean one thing for us, we had finally found the long lost dwarven city of Tempora.  To get there, we would have to navigate these waters though, and it seemed that they were at least waist deep, if not more.

Bor poked at the three piles of debris that seemed to be between us and the water.  “These are wagons, turned over.  Someone tipped these over to make some sort of barricade,” he called back to us.  Arius went to one and found the same thing.  None of us moved around the large oaken wagons.  There could be anything there.  My first thought went to goblins and how they had tried to ambush us earlier, pretending to be a ghost.

Arius picked up a rock and tossed it over the overturned carts to see if that stirred any activity.  The rattle of the stone stirred no activity.

We flanked the wagons and saw nothing but stones that had been piled up to essentially keep them in place.  We saw arrowheads and spear points stuck in the wagons, evidence of some battle long ago.

I motioned to the water and we approached it.  Some seventy-heads distant, in the middle of the small lake was an island rising up, stone and wooden bits.  The air smelled of moisture, musty, dank.  From where we stood, we saw the roadway making a stark right turn before opening up to a large chamber beyond.  Bor spoke up.  “I hear running water in the distance.”

Althalus stepped up to the water’s edge.  “I am not wearing much in the way of metal, I could swim it.”

“I’m not sure…” I said, eyeing the island a short distance away. There was no way around this dank water, but the thought of going in made me nervous.

“Perhaps you could turn yourself into a bear and we could ride you across,” Brandon said to me.

“Or a large otter,” added our warlock.

“Or a wolverine,” Arius chided.

“I’m not transforming into a bear to be a boat or canoe for your travel,” I replied.  Turning into a creature of woods was part of my divination as a druid.  I would not have them mock it thusly.  “Go out there,” I said to Althalus.  Dimintrios, his loyal mute shadow, waded in behind him without a moment’s hesitation.

We stood along the edge of the water as the warlock entered.  Brandon furiously pointed to water.  “There’s something out there!” he called.  I looked.  Yes, two distinct ripples in the pond, as if something large were swimming under the surface.

The figures converged on our comrades, breaking the surface. From the island, another pair rushed down to the water.  They looked like a cross of men and crocodiles.  I had heard of such species, lizardmen!  Armed with sleek halberds, the pair on the island struck at our party in the water.  We stood and watched as horror as a streak of blood sprayed the air from their hits.  The two in the water rose and attacked as well.  I saw Dimitrious drop limp into the cold water and not rise back up.

Brandon hit one with his crossbow and Arius threw his javelin, spiking the weapon deep into the shoulder hide of the creature. He hissed loudly, I’m sure some sort of curse in his foul language.  I fired my bow as well hitting one of the monstrosities in, what I assumed was his rib cage.

Bor dashed into the water like a charging elephant, throwing his hand axe but missing entirely, splashing the water as it sank.

Dimitrious bobbed in the water as Althalus unleashed his eldritch green energy, hitting one of those in the water.  The body of the creature flops in the water then went still…apparently killed.

Brandon fired another bolt into a lizardman.

Lizardmen

One of the creatures on the island hit Althalus, hurting him, but bursting into flames as the warlock’s defenses kicked in.  The lights from the flames reflected off the dark waters, casting odd shadows.

I fired again, hitting the creature on the land, as did Bor, whose axe flew in and hit the one still in the water.  There was a splash in the water, joined by a missed javelin thrown by Arius.  I moved in and cast a healing word on Dimitrious, enough to stir him to consciousness.

A oozing of greenish blood rose from the water as the lizardman broke the surface and hissed.  He sprung on the still dazed monk, once more knocking him unconscious.  The remaining lizardman on the island knocked out Althalus as well.

Bor closed in swinging, hitting one of the creatures.  I closed my eyes slightly and concentrated on healing Althalus, enough to allow him to rise – his face dripping with blood from a nasty gash. Bor swung again, his glowing warhammer clearly missing any victims, adding to the flames on the island.

Our paladin tossed his javelin and missed as well, it was as if the fates were working against us. One of the lizardmen sprung at Bor and missed, the other leapt at our warlock and missed entirely, landing on his opposite side and spinning to face him.

Brandon’s crossbow bolt killed one lizardman, the bolt plunging into his throat and toppling backwards at the water’s edge.  I switched to my short bow and fired, leaving the arrow stuck in his arm and eliciting another sinister hiss from him, his tongue lapping in the air.

Althalus fired his arcane blast at the remaining foe, knocking him back and into Bor.  He rose again, silhouetted by the flames of his dead comrade on the island.

Brandon fired again, hitting him in the eye.  There was a spray of dark green blood, and he collapsed into the pond.  We were all breathing heavily, the crackle of the flames drowning out the distant rush of water in the distance.

I healed Dimitrious again, and he gave me a thankful nod in response.  We moved up toward the island which had been home to them.  There were low mud and wood huts there.  I looked past the island, into the opening beyond.  The road rose slightly out of the water.  There were shadows of rubble in the distance…Tempora perhaps?  I was excited at the premise of reaching the city.

Brandon crawled in a hut and emerged with a small leather pouch.  There were three black marbles and a silver dagger.

Althalus entered the other hut and emerged with a small chest – which he poked with a dagger.  “What are you doing?” Brandon asked.

“Checking for mimics,” the warlock replied.  There was no response from the chest and I suppressed a chuckle.  The warlock pried it open and a puff of gas rose from the open chest and it hits him in the face.  He shook his head, fighting the sleep spell, rubbing the powder from his eyes.  There was a small potion in a glass vial, and a scroll in the chest.

“You know, I can detect traps,” I said after the fact.

“Why didn’t you use it?” Althalus asked.

“You were the one in a hurry to just open the chest,” I replied.  Brandon returned his hut to continue searching as Althalus held up the vial.  “A potion of healing,” he said.

“What of the scroll?” I queried.

“I can only make out the word, ‘fire’ on it,” he said.

The paladin moved to another nesting area poked at it, emerging with a gold broach with a diamond on it.  “It is beautiful,” he said, pocketing it.  We all started looking around the hut/nests.  Brandon emerges with a black leather bound book, thick, with mold on the cover in some spots and on the edges.  Althalus perked up.  “Hello…”

“What is it, how to cook kobolds?” I asked wittily.

“I’ll be taking that,” the warlock said.

“No,” Arius said.  “Hell no.”

“This looks pretty sweet,” Brandon said.

Magic Book

“Open the book,” Althalus said.

“Don’t open the book,” the paladin countered.

“We can study it later,” Brandon offered, clearly not wanting to be in the middle.

“Human skin isn’t generally dark,” Althalus said.  “Open the book.”

“When we get out of here I will attempt to detect magic – we will see if the book is of use.”

I wandered towards the opening while Althalus still mumbled that the book should be his to hold.  No one was excited about our brooding warlock holding a potentially dangerous tome.

We waded out into the water into the vastness of Tempora.  The mountain we were in was hallow.  A massive mound of debris littered the edges of the hollowed shell, where once there had been a great city – now only ruins lay everywhere – making navigation a difficult and arduous climb.  Molds grew on the rubble all around us.  In the distance we could see Tempora’s Falls, the Tears of Tempora, the waterfall that ran under the massive statue of a dwarven king.  Now all that remained there was his tall legs, larger than two men, the rest of the statue had chains wrapped around it and lay broken at the edge of the riverbed.  The falls ran between the legs and downward, the source of the rushing water we heard.  Pottery, furniture, broken walls, fragments of tapestries, all of the flotsam of life lay in mounds everywhere before us.

Above us there was a tiny source of light, enough for us to see an incredible chandelier hanging from the peak of the mountain.  The light at one point must have hit it and reflected off the crystals, probably providing light for the entire city.  Now it hung by one of the five chains, covered in dust and massive spiderwebs, some of which hung down 50 heads or more over the ruins of this once thriving city.

What fate had befallen these people?  What evil had come and destroyed this place?  Is it still here?

“Incredible,” I muttered looking out on the ruins of Tempora.  I suggested we move along the walls of the hollowed out mountain, hoping the walls would provide us some cover.  Althalus seemed to stay close to Brandon and the book.  “You know, I could carry that for you.”

“You are not going to let this go are you?”  I asked the warlock.

“Shouldn’t we open it and find out what it is?

“Fine.  Everyone put their treasure out they have found, I will cast detect magic, and we will see if it is magical.”  The party found a piece of stone and laid them out — a ring, the silver dagger, an amulet, and the black-bound book.  The diamond neckless was magic as was the dagger.  The book, the book gave off an aura, red and black, dark and twisted.  It was of necromantic and warlock magics – powerful, black.  I saw runes on the book as well.  Wards…possibly death.

I told the party that only that the objects were magical.

“Okay,” the paladin Arius said, “I’ll open it.”

“Let Althalus open it,” I said.

The paladin held out the book before the warlock.  He was practically salivating.  “I’m pretty sure it is warded,” I told them.

“We should rest, regain our strength, then open it.  So we found a secluded spot and bound our wounds, trying to rest.  Finally, as soon as we awoke, Althalus was once more contemplating the book.  We all surrounded him and the ominous book.  He set it on a stone and cast several incantations on it, no doubt to see if he could define any more than I had.

He paused.  There is a glyph of warding on the book,’ he said.  We all took several steps back. Brandon drew his bow, unsure of whether to aim at the book, or the warlock.

“That does not sound good,” Arius said, his hand drifting to his sword pommel.

The warlock used his quarterstaff to pry open the ebony leather cover.  There was a booming noise and a dazzling blast of light.  Althalus reeled back, blood ran from a cut on his brow.  He leaned over the book and looked at it.

“Demons and Devils – Summoning and Control,” he said with awe.  “It was written for warlocks and necromancers.  It is priceless!”

“He should not have that book,” Brandon said, stating what most were thinking.  I tended to be more neutral about such things.  Just how much damage could he cause us?

“Look,” the warlock said.  “I don’t think that summoning a demon is probably a good idea.”

I looked at him with an astonished expression on my face that I could not hide.  “You don’t know?”

The following are the previous installments. I hope you enjoy the campaign so far. Be sure to follow my blog if you do. 

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

Part 5

Part 6

Part 7

Part 8

Part 9

Part 10

Part 11

Part 12

Part 13

Part 14

Part 15

Part 16

Part 17

Part 18

Part 19

Part 20

Part 21

Part 22

Part 23

Part 24

https://blainepardoe.wordpress.com/2018/07/08/the-chronicling-of-our-dd-campaign-tempora-part-25/

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The Chronicling of our D&D Campaign: Tempora – Part 25

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Commissioned artwork, Arius the paladin – player-Kevin Rivenburg

Welcome to the novelization of my current D&D campaign, told through the perspective of the characters. Parts 1-19 charted the first part of the campaign, part 20 began the next phase of the saga: Tempora. For me, it lets me do a little creative writing between more serious projects. Links to the previous posts are at the bottom of this one. Enjoy!

Arius…

We moved forward some fifty-heads and saw a shimmering light start to come into focus in the middle of the underground roadway.  In the middle of the light, Bor, who had taken point whispered back that it was female – and older woman, bathed an eerie glow.  She carried a golden censor in one hand, wafting smoke slightly.  We moved forward cautiously.

“Hello!” called out Bor.  The mysterious woman did not respond.  I wondered if she was some sort of ghost or an illusion set forth to deceive us.

I stepped forward and called, “Hello,” as well.  She did not seem to respond to my voice any more than Bor’s.

“I think there’s some magic in play here,” Theren said.

I glared back at him.  Really.  Normal people do not appear out of nowhere and glow.

“Let us move closer,” I suggested.  “Not attack, let us appear friendly.”

We noticed two things.  Her head turned to follow us as we fanned out across the roadway.  On her back was the hilt of a sword, a massive sword, slung there.

“Hello,” Althalus called out to her as we got nearer.

“Why are you here?” she asked.  Her voice was not that of an aged women, but someone much younger.

“We are travelers,” Theren said.  I looked over at the druid and cringed.  Yes, he was correct, but we were traveling on a long hidden underground road to a lost Dwarven city in search of dozens of missing paladins.  Saying we were ‘travelers’ seemed like a gross over-simplification.

Theren sensed my doubt and turned to her again.  “We seek to pass.”

“It would be best,” she said in a low tone, “to turn around.  You are treading on dangerous ground.”

“Of that,” the druid replied, “we are aware.”

“We have to proceed,” Althalus added.

The shimmering female bowed her head and shook it slowly.  At her feet, a circle of blueish light appeared, swirling and twisting.  Before we could respond to her further, she sank down into the circle of light, disappearing.

“Well,” our warlock said, “that was a waste of our time.”  Althalus always spoke his mind, be it right or wrong.  We moved up to where she had been and saw the dust had been disturbed.  This was no illusion.  Something, or someone had been there.

We trudged on.  Several hundred feet further we came across a roughly made wall, apparently chiseled from the rock faces.  The wall blocked most of the roadway, and was only two or three heads of height.  As we approached a formless apparition rose from behind the wall, to almost six-heads height. It glowed green and had a human shape but flowing, like a wisp.  Now this, this was a ghost.  My hand fell to my trusted sword.  An eerie moan filled the air from the direction of the figure.

The moan became a wailing and we readied ourselves for a fight.

“Hello,” Theren called.

“Leave now…” the high-pitched moaning voice said.  The image moved back and forth along the wall.  “Drop your weapons and gold and flee…”

I was not afraid of this apparition since it seemed to be staying relatively in place.  “I say we move around the edge of the wall.  I will not be intimidated by a formless figure.”  Bor nodded that he could join me.  I intoned a silent prayer as we moved.

We rounded the end of the wall and saw several goblins on the other side, one holding a stick with a sheet on it, the other holding a lantern behind it, with some green glass lens.  “I told them to flee…” one of them chortled, until he saw us standing there.

One spun, pointing a rod or wand of some sort at us.  There was brilliant burst of light and a crack as the lightning bolt shot forth, hitting Bor squarely in the chest.  “Ouch!” he wailed, smoke drifting from the hole in his armor as he pulled forth Skullringer and rushed the pair of goblins. How he survived the lightning bolt, I cannot say.

A pair of crossbow bolts flew at Bor, one missing and shattering on the wall, the other sinking the bolt into our warrior’s shoulder.  Skullringer, glowing blue, swinging and crushing the skull of one goblin, spraying the air with tiny bits of goblin brain and greenish blood.  The heavy crossbow thudded the stone floor.

A counter-swing of Skullringer hit the other goblin in his torso in his tiny ribs, and continued on through.  His spine exited his body on the end of the magical glowing warhammer, splattering about the floor.  There was a look of astonishment on the goblin’s face as his spine departed his body. Another goblin moved out of the shadows, sword in hand, but Althalus dealt with him with an eldritch blast.  The emerald energy beam hit the creature, tossing him back into the wall as it burned through his body.  The smoking hole, bore clean through, left a streak on the wall as the corpse slid down into a pile of smoldering greenish goo.

Brandon leapt over the wall and landed, ready for battle, but there was nothing left to fight – making me wonder if we should call him, “Brandon the Late.”  We saw the sheet on a stick and the lantern that they used to create the illusion of the ghost.  It must have taken two of them to handle the large crossbow, and from the looks of it, it was not a goblin weapon but one of dwarven-make.  It took the heavy crossbow and bolts while Althalus examined the rod that had fired the lightning bolt.  “What do you make of it?” I asked.

“I appears to be magical,” he said flatly.  “It is polished.  There is a metallic strip on it, about the length of a finger.  Somehow that must be used to trigger it.”  Theren eyed the warlock suspiciously.  “As one practitioner of the arcane to another, be wary of where you point that.”

We found some coins and put those in Bor’s pack – some gold and silver of old mintage.

Brandon looked at the smashed remains of the goblins.  “Why do we keep running into goblins?”

“Because,” Althalus said wryly, “they are adorable and cheap to hire.” He prodded one of the dead bodies with his foot, just to make sure it was dead.  Brandon scooped up the green-lensed lantern and hung it from his staff.

We gathered ourselves and began down the tunnel anew.  Another 200 heads down the roadway, we came across a gallery of sorts, lining one wall.  It was carved deep into the stone and had a low stone abutment in front of it, providing cover for anyone standing there.  There were steps at the far end, but they were crumbled. From that thirty-foot gallery, a small group of bowmen could riddle anyone coming down the tunnel.

Opposite from the gallery was a closed door.  Brandon moved toward the door under the green glow of his new lantern, and pulled at the door.  I stood behind him.  The creak echoed down the hallway as the rusty hinges protested.  From the room beyond, a small group of five goblins rushed out, armed with scimitars, focused on Brandon.

“Fall back!” the ranger called, almost stumbling into me as he attempted to do so.

One dug his sword into Brandon, cutting his deep in his midriff.  “They killed Barry!” one of the goblins howled.  “Kill them!”  They must have heard us dispatch their compatriots.

I swung my sword and missed entirely, hitting the door near its hinge.  I immediately dropped prone.  I knew Theren and Althalus were behind me and needed a shot at the doorway.

Brandon dropped as well, more from the gushing wound in his stomach.  “Stay down!” I barked to him.  The last thing we needed was him rising into the magic blasts from behind us.

As if on cue, the air around the goblins erupted in a cloud of swirling daggers and I heard the mumbling of Althalus.  Blood, brains (few of those) and a mist of red and green goo erupted from the space where the goblins had been concentrated.  Several of them were instantly shredded in the magical assault. I felt the bloody mist of green and heard the churning of the blades devouring the hapless creatures.  Theren unleashed an arrow, hitting one.  The survivors moved to the sides in the room beyond, to avoid any other shots. They closed the door behind them in their retreat.

Althalus ignored the goblins and turned his attention to the gallery.  It was a good move, the last thing we wanted was to be hit from behind, at least I presumed that was what was in the warlock’s dark heart.  Dimintrious joined him.  He leapt over the low wall that provided cover, apparently unafraid of what might be there.  “What do you see?”

“Some heavy crossbows. Bits of armor and bones.  Probably a dozen long-dead dwarves.  Two large beetle carcasses were there, very large – two-to-three heads in size.”  He was clearly rooting around while we faced the goblin threat.

I turned back to the door and switched to my new heavy crossbow, pulling it back and dropping a bolt onto the groove.  Bor moved in near the door as I rose.

“What do you hear?” I asked.

Bor grinned.  “They are arguing about coming out here.”  He chuckled.  “They are upset over what we did to ‘Doug.’”

What a stupid name for a goblin.  Bor dropped a few copper pieces on the floor, hoping they would hear the coins hit the stone.  Theren moved up next to the burly fighter.  “Hold my tankard of ale,” he joked.  “I’ve got this.”  He nodded to Bor who flung open the door.

Theren rushed in and began to waver.  I had seen this before.  His accursed magic…the druid was transforming to some creature of the wood…in this case, a big black bear!  There was a squeal from two of the goblins as he transformed before them and roared.  “Holy crap – who brought the bear!”  “Kill the bear!  Kill the bear!”

Theren-the-bear and swiped one of them with a massive claw, biting at another one of the green-skinned creatures.  One was so badly mauled, green blood flowed onto the stone floor.

Two moved to hit the bear with their swords, one tearing into his flesh.  Brandon fired through the open door, missing everyone in the room.  I took more time with my aim, firing and burying my bolt into the body of one of the goblins that had shifted to the doorway.

Bor’s shimmering warhammer hit the same goblin, throwing him a good ten heads into the wall, killing him.  I reloaded my crossbow as Theren savagely slashed at one in the neck, nearly ripping his head off and tossing his lifeless body across the room.  The last goblin drove his sword into the bear, but that only seemed to serve to piss off the bear.  Theren opened his massive jaws and bit the head of the creature, tossing him about violently, crushing his skull in the process.  I looked about the room and saw green blood mixed in with our own.  It was a scene of carnage and chaos, especially from the magical cloud of daggers that had churned up at least one goblin, splattering him everywhere.

There was another door in the room which we all eyed cautiously.  This room was a barracks of some sort, probably from Tempora’s defenses.  The beds there, eight of them, were dwarven and most were crumbling apart with age and held together with crude hemp ropes.  Stone carvings on the walls of the barracks showed heroic dwarves in battle.  Scrawled in crude paint was the writings of the goblins above and around them.  One had written, “Stubby Dick,” over a dwarf holding a massive axe.  The other was painted with the name, “Wet Willie” The goblins had also painted on exaggerated female body parts on the carvings of the heroes.

The beds had no pattern to them.  I moved to check them. Brandon pointed to the shields, small bucklers.  “Is that some sort of lizard skin on them?”  Theren transformed back to human shape and move in next to him.  “Yes, but what kind of lizard?”

As I poked in the beds with my sword, I found a small silver jewelry box, inset with several stones in it.  There was also a small amulet, this one smeared with blood.  I handed the bloody amulet to Brandon who held it near his lantern.  “This bears the mark of the Order of the Fang, the paladins we are searching for!”

I focused on the silver box.  It was clearly of dwarven make.  I clasped the lid and pried it open.  I felt a prick to my thumb.  Suddenly my eyesight was blurred.  Poison!  Curses.  I healed myself before the toxin could harm me more.  A part of me cursed myself for being so sloppy with my opening.  A dozen pieces of platinum were inside.  I handed those to Bor to carry and kept the jewelry box for myself.

I noticed for a moment that Althalus and Dimitrious were still in gallery, rooting around in the dead bodies there.  I didn’t see what triggered it, but I saw the warlock rise over the half-wall and begin throwing up.  The liquid hit the floor like a bucket of fresh oatmeal.  He moaned horribly, vomiting violently.  I wanted to laugh.  Clearly his poking around was not going very well.

We turned our attention to the other door in the room.  We checked it and felt air flow from the other side under it. Althalus staggered over toward us, his beard riddled with his last meal. “I found this, he held up a gold ring.  It was intricately carved with a dragon and had dwarvish runes on it.

Bor took it as we moved around the door. There was no point in being subtle.  If there was anyone beyond this door, they had to have heard our battle.  “This says, ‘Ulster – Beloved husband and protector of the Faith.’  It must have been a wedding band.”  Althalus took it back, studying it carefully before putting it in his pocket.

Brandon drew his short sword.  “I’ll go through.  Third time is bound to be charm.”  The ranger pulled the door open.  A five head wide hallway was behind and led to a door at the end.  Theren put his hand on the ranger’s shoulder.  “This hallway is narrow.  I suggest you open that far door and pull back so that we can do what we do best.”  The ranger nodded in agreement.

On the other side was a room lit by a few low torches, forty-by-thirty heads in size.  There was a massive hearth, fire still burning in it. The stench of rotting flesh came from a wolf that was hanging from a ceiling hook.  Flies hovered around the body.  There was stew of some sort on the hearth, and a shelf with jars of what we assumed was food.  A half-loaf of moldy bread sat on a hearty table.  Vents were cut into the ceiling, clearly the work of the dwarves that had built this room. The goblins had appropriate the mess for their own twisted diets.

“I wonder if this stew is good,” Brandon said, opening the lid to the pot and smelling it.

Goblins made it,” I said.  “Feel free to eat it.” The ranger returned the lid without taking a taste.

“We should hold up here and rest,” Theren said.  It seemed like a good idea.  Our battles had taken some toll.  We barred the door to the roadway to the mess and set up watches. The goblin beds were short, but more comfortable than sleeping on the floor.  Our quest to find the missing paladins was taking us deeper into the mountains – and as we went, the terrors became more dangerous. I prayed that we would find them soon, lest we become lost in these catacombs and trapped here with them.

Then again, we had no proof that they were even still alive…

The following are the previous installments. I hope you enjoy the campaign so far. Be sure to follow my blog if you do. 

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

Part 5

Part 6

Part 7

Part 8

Part 9

Part 10

Part 11

Part 12

Part 13

Part 14

Part 15

Part 16

Part 17

Part 18

Part 19

Part 20

Part 21

Part 22

Part 23

Part 24

Character Background Material

My New Campaign

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Non-Spoiler Review: Ant Man and the Wasp

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I took my wife and grandson to Ant Man and the Wasp.  I was nervous, given the last superhero movie I took him to was Infinity War and it bothered him for weeks.  I was hoping for something a little lighter than the last Avengers film – and this new movie didn’t fail me.

First off, the title should be Wasp and the Ant Man – because it is all about the Hope van Dyne character.  She has as much, if not more action than Paul Rudd’s Ant Man.  The story picks up in the post-Civil War era with Scott under house arrest and Hank Pym and Hope on the run because he used their tech.

Hank is on the search for his missing wife, trapped in the quantum realm.  They need Scott Lang and in many ways, Scott needs them.  That’s all you really need to know without ruining the film.

There’s a lot of undercurrent here – a decent villain or two with their own sub-plots that add complexities to the main story line.  What makes this movie work is that humor.  I heard my wife and grandson laugh several times in the film, especially at the character Luis who is PERFECT in this role.  Given the gravity of the last Avenger’s film, this movie was fantastic.

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Easily my favorite character in the film.  

The special effects were very good, probably with the exception of the quantum realm.  That wasn’t a big part of the movie really.

Watch for the 1970’s Hot Wheels carrier (which we all had as kids from that era).  There’s a lot of action in this movie, a decent plot, and wonderful characters.  Hope as the Wasp is a solid female that could do a film all on her own.

Yes, there is a post-credits scene.  I won’t ruin it for you, but you need to see Infinity War first for it to make sense.

I’m giving this 4.5 out of 5 stars.  My wife, who often sleeps during movies, was awake and enjoyed the movie – which speaks volumes.

 

Review of The Crime of the Century: Richard Speck and the Murders That Shocked a Nation by William J. Martin and Bill Kunkle

Crime of the Century

I had heard of these crimes but only became truly aware when the serial killer Richard Speck died and a video of him in prison was released.  His callous behavior and the fact that he was seemingly enjoying life behind bars appalled me.  I read about his heinous crimes, killing eight young nurses in Chicago in 1966, and I was even more appalled.

When this book came up on my feed on Amazon as a suggested read, I picked it up.  I wanted to read a definitive account of the crimes and the conviction and was hoping this would provide that.  I wanted all of the nuts and bolts detail of what happened that one macabre night when Speck slaughtered eight women, but ignorantly left one alive – one that would, in the end, take him down.  There was almost an Arya Stark (Game of Thrones) story there.

I didn’t want to read the older book, Born to Raise Hell, because I had heard that it was one that seemed to favor the perspective of the criminal.  As a true crime author, I don’t like the criminals being the focus of true crime books.  I know some readers like those…I do not. I wanted not a shred of sorrow for this brutal murderer as I read about the crimes.

This book did not disappoint.

The authors have provided a well-balanced and comprehensive account of the killer, the victims, and a crime that shocked the nation.  This is not a light read, which I embraced.  I have nothing but respect for these authors.  In the pages of Crime of Century, they have recreated the seedy, dingy neighborhoods and characters of 1966 Chicago.  They put you back there as the police stalked a spree-killer through grungy bars and flop-houses.  They masterfully take you on the journey of the surviving nurse, Corazon Amurao, to eventually take the stand against the man that killed her friends and roommates.

Recreating such an old crime is never easy, but the authors have clearly done their homework.  This is one of the better true crime books I have read in recent years and I highly recommend it.  Add this one on your Kindle for your late-summer reading. Five stars and kudos to Martin and Kunkle!

Writing BattleTech – Addressing Some Questions

 

Btech2
Remember the good old days?  

I just finished the first draft of a novella for BattleTech this week.  You can’t hear the audible sigh of relief, but it was uttered.  This one involves Wolf’s Dragoons, which is always thin ice with the fans.  Oh, they love the Dragoons, because of the outstanding work done by other authors (especially Robert Charrette).  I can only tell the story, lay the foundation for stuff to come, and hope that the fans will be forgiving.

Some questions came in from fans, so I thought I would answer them in a blog post.  They are random, just like my thinking.

1. Do you fight the battles out using BattleTech rules before you write them? Well, sort of.  Bear in mind, the fiction doesn’t always match up with rules play.  For example:  I had a scene where I had a Warrior provide cover with his ‘Mech for another ‘Mech.  When you look at the scale of the hex in the game and the actual size of the ‘Mech…that would be tricky.  In fiction, I was able to make it work easily.  Yes, there are rules for this stuff, but I don’t let the rules govern a good story.

I do not put ‘Mechs on a map, fight a battle, then document it.  Why?  Because I believe that the characters, not the battle, need to drive the story.  BattleTech is all about cool characters in desperate situations.

I DO track damage, I even print out damage sheets, but bear in mind, in real life, shots don’t hit cleanly like they do in the game.  You can have a laser hit an upper thigh and torso in “real life” but in the game, the shot is allocated to a specific location.  I don’t feel really bound by all of that.  I do make sure I don’t dump 50 points of damage into a Stinger’s leg and he walks it off.  That was some of what I hated back in the early stages of the Dark Ages novels.  I am aware of the rules and apply them, as appropriate.

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I told them to paint them Clan Wolverine.  Instead they painted them Wolverine – the Marvel character.  Love these ‘Mechs.  

2. How much freedom do you have with the story? A lot, but it has to fit in the universe.  In this case, the novella will need to come out next year.  Why?  I can’t spill the beans early on where the universe is going, but this novella fits into that perfectly…mostly because I have sat in on the meetings where we have mapped out the next phases of “stuff.”

In this case, I pitched this idea a while ago.  I became a bit obsessed with it…I have to admit.  It was something we have never seen before and it fits into the bigger picture of where things are going.

The universe is changing, all for the better.  There’s a big story arc in play (one I have had the honor of helping put together.)  We have a lot of cool meetings to document what is coming, what order things happen, etc. This is the second or third time I’ve gotten to do this for the BattleTech universe, and I love it.  Lots of twists and turns.  Even in the upcoming novella, The Anvil, there are some seeds planted that will have huge impacts downstream in the timeline.

While I have a lot of leeway, the editor and the BattleTech gods all weigh in and provide healthy feedback to the story, the flow, and even some hints at the battles.  I don’t always agree with them, but it IS a shared universe.  I don’t own it, I just get to play there.

3. So what is with the inclusion of names of fans in the fiction? I started this with Forever Faithful.  It seemed like a cool thing to do, include fans of the game in the universe as characters or places.  When I wrote The Anvil, I did it again, mining the BattleTech International fan page on Facebook.  For this book, (Title: I won’t reveal because it gives away a lot) I put up a post and got 600+ volunteers to have their names included.

Now, I don’t do special requests.  In fact, I usually don’t use those folks because they are already too big a pain.  “My character pilots an Awesome, and has a scar on the side of his right cheek, and has red hair and has the call sign ‘Gimpy’ so please include all of that in your book…”  Um, no.  Hell no.  I’m looking for names, not your half-baked character. This is my dance laddies, and I will call the tunes.

I used to have to search phone books for good names or browse the web. For the time being, I’m inviting the fans to be a part of BattleTech.  Don’t email me anything – that’s a fast track to being excluded.  Follow the Facebook group and watch for my posts.  You can follow me on Facebook as well.  Easy-peasy.

I temper this with the following:  Just because you are in a novel doesn’t mean you are an awesome heroic character.  You could be a douchebag, or a street, or a river, or a throw-away character that gets a freaking head shot with a gauss rifle at the start of the battle and becomes a gooey paste.  Be careful what you ask for.

If I don’t pick you, don’t be pissed.  Not every name pops with me as a good fit. It might not seem fair, but such is life. PS.  Whining about not being chosen is a quick way to never being chosen.

Someone actually accused me of doing this to sell books. Think about that. These are BattleTech fans.  They will buy the stuff anyway.  I don’t need to encourage them.  Duh.

4. Why is The Anvil coming out before Forever Faithful? One, I don’t set production schedules.  Two, John has some good reasons, which I’m not allowed to talk about, for sequencing the stuff.  He’s the editor and my role is to obey.  Third, there are other factors in play.  Forever Faithful was written over a year ago and has long been out of edit, so there’s nothing wrong with the book.  I have the stunning artwork from the cover as a wallpaper on my PC.

5. What’s next from you? I am working on a true crime book with my daughter and a BattleTech novel of immense proportion that is due next year.  I like writing BattleTech but that’s not my primary area of focus in recent years.  True crime, especially my work on cold cases, now that’s a passion.  I have to admit though,  I am enjoying climbing back in the cockpit again though…