The Twilight of the Clans That Almost Was

Exodus Road
This wasn’t how it originally was going to go down.  

I’ve told this story before at Gen Con years ago and in my old blog, but I have updated it a little bit.  This is the story of the original first story of the BattleTech book set, Twilight of the Clans.  For people who write novels in a shared universe, or writers in general, this is a story to help you see some of the thought process that went into a big event in the BattleTech universe.

When this idea was first floated up, Sam Lewis told me, “We’re going to take the fight to the Clans and wrap this phase of the universe.”  I have to admit, I was excited.  Don’t get me wrong, I liked the Clans, but I felt like we were stagnated with the stories.  Back then, the novels/fiction drove the sourcebooks and products, and without good stories, we were stuck.  A truce, in the BattleTech universe, was akin to death from a novel perspective.

Back in those days fiction drove the universe.  The last few years it has been sourcebooks that have done that, albeit with some fiction provided.  Novels drove the story.  We didn’t have card blanche to do what we wanted.  Fiction had to fit in an established framework.  Game product was tied to novel releases so that fans could read the story, then fight the battles.  That continued on into the Dark Ages.  I won’t go there right now because the mere mention of it still sets off some readers out there.  I DO have opinions as to what went wrong…but I will hold those for another blog.

The whole Twilight series was going to take us out for 4-5 years of stories and products.  We didn’t start with an end-state other than this was going to be a huge set-back for the Clans at the time, allowing us to focus more on Inner Sphere non-Clan fiction.  The intent was to lay the foundation for the Fed Com civil war.  When the victors came home, surprise!

Prior to the Gen Con BattleTech summit (which were always fun), we were given preliminary assignments.  Somehow I got the first book of the set, kind of the sacrificial lamb role.  My job was to, “pave the way for the Inner Sphere to get to the Clan homeworlds.”  Bill Keith was to follow me with a two book set about the attack.  Mike was to tie the bow on the entire affair with the defeat of the Clans.  At this point, we weren’t sure what that looked like just yet.

The BattleTech summits were really just meals with the authors where we could brainstorm ideas, talk about the next year’s products etc.  I always got a chuckle watching the serving staff bring us our food while we talked about how we could kill Melissa Steiner-Davion.  The staff must have thought we were crazy – but then again, it was Milwaukee and Gen Con…they probably just ignored us.

(Sidebar: My suggestion was to kill Melissa by having someone push her down a flight of stairs on Christmas Eve.  “Why Christmas Eve?” someone asked.  “I don’t know, it just sounds kind of cool.”  Clearly that got rejected.)

When it was my turn, I presented my concept to kick us off.  The original plan I came up with was to hijack a Clan warship and take the information of the route to the homeworlds from their navcomputer.  That was what I drafted at least.  It was no more than three paragraphs at this stage.  There was a ground battle at a spaceport (you had to have some ‘Mech combat after all) then the team would make their way to the ship in orbit, seize her in a furious shipboard battle against Elementals – and the route to the Clan homeworlds would belong to the Inner Sphere.  I called it Exodus Road, the route back along Kerensky’s exodus route. More importantly, I got to play with a warship which was something I always wanted for Christmas but never got.

There were flaws with the idea in terms of a novel.  One was that it was going to lack cool ‘Mech battles which were the mainstay of the novels at the time.  That made everyone, including me, a little nervous.  At the same time it would get us onto a warship which opened up some cool possibilities.

To execute this book I had to map the Clan homeworlds (an honor I might add) and map out the planet that Bill would be attacking.  The map I drew up was originally was for Strana Mechty.  My thinking (and Bill’s at the time) was that we would be hitting that planet for the main assault. It was very cool, getting to not only draw up the map but name all of the Clan homeworlds (with the exception of the Pentagon worlds which we named in the Wolf Clan Sourcebook and Strana Mechty which Mike named.)

Bill came up with a great idea for the attack – one he shared with me and I was allowed to contribute to (albeit in a minor way).  The Inner Sphere fleet would jump on Strana Mechty.   Their target, the Clan’s central genetic repository which was a massive pyramid.  The premise he floated was that the Clans kept all of their genetic material in one secure location, never really fearing an external attack.

The assault would come in several parts.  One DEST team was going to seize Kerensky’s flagship (which held his coffin) orbiting the world and use it to augment the planetary bombardment.  This was my little contribution to all of this – I loved the idea of using the McKenna’s Pride to bombard the Clans.  The rest of the forces would drop on the pyramid and take it.  Holding their precious genes they would force the Clans to submit.  Sure it was blackmail, but it would work…I was sure of it.

But we all know that the Clans would come in – with everything they had, having been caught flat-footed.  The battle would be horrific.  In the end the Inner Sphere would beat the clans (thanks to the bidding system) but the losses would spell the end of the Gray Death Legion (Bill told me that Gray would simply walk off into the jungles, horrified at the level of war he was forced to unleash).  Holding the Clan genes as a bartering chip, they would force the Clans into eventual submission.  “You come at us and your gene pool gets microwaved.”

Bill and I both thought it was awesome.  And to this day, I still think so. I think Bill wanted to have Gray come full circle – he would have recovered the Star League memory core, and seen it used to horrific ends.

Anyway, back at the summit – we bounced the ideas off the other writers.  Sam Lewis and others were concerned about my thought of simply stealing the map of the Exodus Road from a warship.  As I remember it, “Blaine, the Clans wouldn’t be that stupid.”  (Notice that he didn’t say they weren’t stupid in general – just not that stupid.)  I preferred to think of it as arrogance on their part, but ultimately Sam said, “Let’s make it a traitor to the Clans that betrays them.”  Thus the concept of Trent was born in a Hyatt restaurant in Milwaukee.  I remember thinking, “oh boy (sarcasm) a traitor as the lead character in a book.  Yeah, people will bond with that guy – NOT.”  You don’t see a lot of people wanting to read about Benedict Arnold.  There are no Benedict Arnold tee-shirts that kids on campus are wearing.

We were talking a complete rewrite of my proposal, which was frustrating but okay.  That’s how things go if you write in a shared universe.  It made Trent a real challenge as a character, which stretched me as a writer.  How do you take a traitor and make him someone that everyone would be secretly cheering for?  I personally like to think I rose to the occasion.

Mike Stackpole, (if I remember correctly) suggested that we didn’t have to go after all of the Clans, we needed to wipe out one of them.  There was some discussion about which one we should target too – a fairly active debate.  Ultimately the Smoke Jaguars were chosen as the sacrificial lambs of the Clans.  So, my map of Strana Mechty was changed, albeit slightly, to become Huntress – the new target of the assault.

I thought that the Hindu and Indian cultures had gotten short changed in BattleTech, so I consulted with a co-worker who helped me with the naming of the Huntress cities and features.  I guess I was being diverse before diversity was a thing.  For a long time it was the only mapped out Clan homeworld.

Bill’s thinking of the pyramid genetic repository seemed sound to me but there was a lot of debate that the Clans wouldn’t keep their genes in one place.  There was some logic in that – but we were talking the Clans.  Logic alone didn’t work with these folks.  Bill pointed out that going after one Clan didn’t make sense.  The Clans would clamor for a chance to wipe out the Inner Sphere task force even if we did take out one Clan.  Holding their genetic material as hostage seemed to be good way to blunt all of the Clans pouncing on the Inner Spherers.  Politics, it was decided, would leave the Smoke Jaguars isolated and forced to fight alone.  Politics had always been a big part of BattleTech, so we could make it work.  I prefer the sword over the words though.

Dealing with the Nova Cats had to be addressed too since they shared an invasion corridor.  I always felt like we missed an opportunity to do more fighting with them.  Instead they changed sides, more or less, backing the Star League.  I would have enjoyed a whole novel dedicated to fighting the Cats much more.  Yes, it was all true to the nature of their clan, blah, blah, blah.  I would have liked more fighting.

Bill’s invasion obviously had to dramatically change as a result of all of this.  Bill never complained to me but I think he was pretty disappointed.  He had really mapped things out pretty well.  It is hard sometimes to work in a shared universe.  Bear in mind I was still trying to figure out how I could make a Smoke Jaguar turn traitor.  Bill ended up taking a pass on doing the novels.  The Gray Death Legion didn’t die on Strana Mechty – it clung on for several more years.

After the meeting Bryan drew up a detailed proposal for the entire series (which I have and will be releasing in future blogs) which we were supposed to follow. Stress “supposed.” Some changes (some major) were made, all for the better.  Once you get writing books you sometimes come up with better ideas.

Some things originally proposed did get reused, though in different ways.  I loved what we came up with about stealing General Kerensky’s flagship (McKenna’s Pride) and using it to bomb the planet.  So, when I did Betrayal of Ideals (the infamous Wolverine saga) I leveraged the scene and finally got it into print.  That little scene is a private tribute to Bill Keith.   Bill would have done it better, but I thought his idea deserved seeing a day in print.

I have always wondered how things would have played out if we had gone with Bill’s invasion plan.  The end results would have been the same.  Bill had planned some space battles, but the final novels had a lot more of that.  The Eridani Light Horse got more fiction play rather than the Gray Death Legion.

I liked the final product of the Twilight Series with one minor exception, how Trent was dealt with. Mike and I sent some emails back and forth about the scene.  He argued strongly that Victor would never fully like or trust Trent.  I felt that made Victor a little two dimensional.  It also seemed to be callous and disingenuous to Trent who we set up in the first novel.  Trent was a man of honor just like Victor.  In the end, Trent’s demise seemed somehow inappropriate.  What do I know, I just created the character.  I am pleased to say I have found a way to come to peace with Trent and you will all get a chance to enjoy it soon!

#BattleTech

Advertisements

The Chronicling of our D&D Campaign: Tempora – Part 22

 

Ranger1

 

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!

Brandon…

When I got my first look at the White Vale it was intimidating. A plateau rose in the distance but the sheer rock faces leading up to it formed a canyon of sorts that narrowed on both sides to a point in the center. The stone faces were draped with thick vines, centuries old, many long dead but still clinging to the rocks. The canyon walls were vertical climbs of over 200 heads height. My experience was that such vines were dangerous to climb. Rot often led to a plunge to death. Thoughts of working our way north of the vale and lowering into it were dashed.

For many stone-throws of distance the vale opened up, littered with bleached bones, some streaked with rust from armor. There were several large mounds of bones out there, no doubt from massive creatures that had died there. What had killed them?

The floor of the vale was covered with a cobblestone as far as the eye could see. Most were light gray, but some stood out, a dark pink granite, almost red in color. Weeds poked up between the gaps in the stones and snaked through the twisted array of bones. This was a place of death. It lacked the aroma of death, but it was clear from the carnage that this place was where countless lives had been lost; dwarven and other.

I glanced over at the paladin Arius and he crossed himself at the sight of the vale. My new companion, the warlock Althalus, muttered something that only his ears and his patrons could hear. He was a quirky fellow, always brooding. He surveyed the long open field of bones and stones as if he were more curious than afraid. For me, the words of Ichabod still rang in my ears.

The others tied their horses and we moved down cautiously to the edge of the vale. I could not discern any trail through the shattered marrow. As we lined up along the very edge of the vale, it was Arius that said, “We should enter – all of us.” If we were to face danger, better to do it together.

We took a cautious step in. Nothing happened. Perhaps, this is not going to be so bad after all. I remember thinking that – for a few moments. I used my ability to check for the presence of undead. If there was ever a place where this could be useful, it is before an endless field of bones. “Wait, let me check for the presence of the undead.”

“You probably should have done that before we stepped in,” the paladin said under his breath, just loud enough for me to hear.

I followed the procedures correctly, but I could not see any one undead. Instead it was as if the entire vale lit up in my mind as being undead. That was impossible…wasn’t it?

“Well?” Althalus asked.

“Everything is undead,” I said. “The whole vale.”

“Well, I feel suddenly calm,” the warlock replied with one of his twisted grins that made me wonder if he was joking, or deadly serious.

“And we have no idea where we are going,” Arius said. “Those red stones weave a trail in to the middle of this canyon. I guess that is where we should head.”  It was as good as an idea as any the rest of us had.

We moved carefully into the vale, every now and then you hear the crack of bone shards under our boots. We weren’t stepping on the red stones, but following their general path. At around forty heads in Theren held up his hand. “There’s a shuffling of the bones over there,” he pointed to his right. He was right, we could see them twitching, moving on their own.

We paused, staring at theme for a long moment, wondering what was making them twitch. Suddenly the bones seemed to move, rising up in skeletal form. Bits of armor buried on the vale floor snapped to them, clinging as if they belonged there. Skeleton fighters! Both of the skeletal warriors held rusted swords in their hands. One, missing a jawbone, seemed to survey our party slowly, right to left.

Then they broke into a charge.

While focused on these undead abominations, we heard more clatter of bones shuffling behind us. Theren fired his bow but missed the skeletons entirely. Althalus spun to see the threat behind us. “More are forming to our rear!”  Three more skeletons formed from the debris of the vale floor.

Arius the paladin held out his hands and uttered a chant at the ones approaching from our rear. One of the new attackers stopped dead in his tracks, but the others seemed to smile a toothless grin and charge at Arius.

Althalus held out his hand and an emerald beam of magic burst forward, but missed the charging skeletal warriors. He hit a number of bones on the ground, sending them flailing about the cobblestones. Where those bones landed in the distance, and they seemed almost magnetic, as if they were attracting more bones to them. We didn’t have time to focus on them though, we were under assault.

Bor, the burley fighter, swung his hammer Skullringer at one of those that closed on Theren, shattering it into hundreds of bits and pieces. Parts flew some 50 head distance. The skull rolled right to the edge of the vale.

I pulled my staff and swung it at the closest one to me but caught the air, not the bones. I almost lost my balance from the swing. Dimitrious moved to protect Athalus, putting himself between the warlock and the skeletons.

I swung again and this time hit the rib cage of one of the creatures, shattering ribs and bits of scale armor that clung to the bones. It turned on me and plowed its rusty sword into my shoulder, digging deep.

One skeletons swung at Arius but did nothing more than shatter the tip of his rust-splotched sword on the paladin’s armor with a high pitched, “ting,” sound ringing in the air.

The monk caught the blade of one of the attackers, downing him instantly. A spray of blood hit the warlock he was protecting. “No! Dimitrious!” wailed Athalus. He unleashed a blast of his magic on the attacker, shattering the skeleton into bits and pieces. The monk regained his feet, his blue robe showing a wet crimson smear from the sword cut.

Arius swung his sword into the skeleton that had tried to kill him, his blade cutting through its right arm and rib cage, turning it from an attacker to a flying pile of bones and armor.

Theren swung his staff into one of the skeletons hitting it, but only shattering its shoulder blade.

The bones in the distance seemed to draw from one of the larger piles, slowly it was growing in size and shape. Closer to us, the skeleton that Arius has frozen into place, seemed to shake free from the paladin’s spell, and charged at him.

I swung my staff at him and missed, the air whistling as my weapon passed through it. Arius swung at him and caught only air as well as the skeleton seemed almost charmed to our assault. Theren caught him with his staff, catching him on the skull and shatter it. The bones collapsed like a puppet whose strings were severed.

Athalus turned to the large pile of assembling bones and cast a spell on it. The air shimmered yellow and a boiling smoke cloud formed, filled with swinging daggers of energy. Then the cloud seemed to flicker, then dissipated. Athalus stood with his mouth agape for a moment. “That can’t be good.”  Theren moved his hands, clearly casting some sort of spell, though I could not see what it was.

It formed before us – a massive creature, ancient and evil. Its skull alone was massive, reformed from bits of bones. Torn gray leather wings hinged on bones emerged and seemed to spread. A dragon!  Not just any dragon, but a Bone Dragon – skeletal and malevolent as if it were alive. Bits of dragon scale clung to its ribs, while others were missing and left huge gaps. Two massive horns rose from its massive skull. It loomed large as the final bones re-assembled it before us. Its teeth gleamed like two dozen daggers, any one of which could rip one of us apart. Ichabod was right. The White Vale was filled with death…maybe our own.

The last skeleton warrior drove its sword deep into Arius, finding a gap in his armor. The paladin moaned in agony from the hit. An invisible force, no doubt from Theren’s magical machinations, shattered the last skeletal warrior, raining bits on the injured paladin. I had been raised to be wary of magic users, but here, in battle, I found myself shedding that belief.

“I don’t like it,” Athalus said, looking at the Bone Dragon. The beast’s bones rattled as its tail swept behind it. “This is going to be bad,” he added flatly.

Bor didn’t hesitate – he charged straight at it first, Skullringer reeled back for what should have been a devastating blow. The ancient warhammer came down completely missing the dragon, clanging hard on the cobblestones.

Althalus backed up nearly thirty heads and fired his magic energy bolts at the creature, shooting upward into the gray sky. Theren shifted and waved his hands before him. Around the creature a snarl of spikes on vines appeared. If it were to move at all the massive thorns would rip at it, tearing at its bones and wings. Such a move had killed the goblins before, I was hopeful that it would do the same with this creature.

It batted its massive wings, kicking up a cloud of dust, bones, and debris from the floor of the White Vale. As it rose and moved forward, the vines did their work, but were simply no match for the massive creature. It opened its massive maw of a mouth and seemed to glare at us with its dark holes where its eyes were. I told myself it was just a skeleton of a dragon, its days of breathing fire or whatever had long passed. It was dead after all.

I was wrong.

From the massive mouth came a stream of bone shards, each like a deadly dagger, sprayed out at us in a cone of death and destruction. Dimitrious, and Theren sprang into action, lessoning the amount of spray that ripped into them where Bor had been spared the attack completely. I felt my legs and chest feel as if they had been doused in burning oil from the hits and looking down I saw bits of bones sticking out of my left thigh. I pulled them free, then my vision tunneled. I dropped to my knees and everything went black. It was dying…I knew it. Is this how my life was to end…on some forgotten field of bones?

IMG_1685
You know you are entering a critical fight when the DM produces a miniature that he specially purchased and painted for the encounter.  

I suddenly felt better. I opened my eyes and saw the sky above me, but somehow I had been saved somehow from almost certain death. I didn’t question it..

I wasn’t sure if it was a dream until I heard, “I don’t like this,” from Althalus. I saw him as I got my footing and he looked as if he were soaked in his own blood.

Dimitrious seemed to shake off the damage as well, getting back to his feet as I did. Whatever had saved my death had done the same to the monk. No doubt magic from our paladin. We had been badly injured, but were alive. Bor switched to a throwing axe and chucked it high above him into the dragon, embedding it into one of the massive shins of the skeletal dragon, but doing no real damage.

Emerald green energy shot from the outstretched arms of our warlock into the creature – but only hit him for a little damage, pushing the creature back a few feet, enough for the thorny vines to injure him again.

The Bone Dragon moved forward in flight, then landing with a thud that shook the ground we stood up. Bor was now behind it and I saw him smile – thinking he had gotten the upper hand on the creature. That smile fell as the creature’s massive tail swung at him, hitting him hard. Bor grabbed his other axe and buried it hard into his leg, clearly hurting the beast.

I was only ten heads away from the beast and it loomed over me, towering three times my height. This was the wrong place to be…that much was for sure.

I toyed with the thought of mounting the creature, but common sense took hold of me. Instead I fell back, shifting to my longbow. My arrow hit one of the ribs of the creature and snapped from the force of the impact – doing no damage to the massive skeleton.

Bor chucked his axe and went back to Skullringer as his weapon of choice. He swung with every bit of his strength, but missed the Bone Dragon entirely. We had all been hoping that the mighty warhammer might shatter the creature, but he had missed entirely.

As I side-stepped for a better angle, I saw Theren start to become, well, blurry, as if he were changing. He dropped to all fours and hair sprung out, his size grew. A heartbeat later I saw where the druid had once been stood a large direwolf. I had seen them during my ranges in the forest, always at a safe distance. This one was massive, ominous, and ferocious. It reminded me just how little I knew about my new comrades in arms.

The direwolf lunged at the Bone Dragon, tearing its forearm, gouging the bones with its teeth. If the dragon felt pain, we didn’t see it. Instead it swiped its tail at Bor again, hitting him hard, sending him flying back. I swear I heard his ribs break under the impact. Blood oozed from the corners of his mouth as he drifted to momentary unconsciousness. Arius gestured towards him, possibly summoning the spirit of God to help our fallen fighter. Whatever he did, Bor stirred awake, shaking his head, wiping the blood on his sleeve, and making his way to his feet.

The Bone Dragon pressed on against the direwolf with one of its massive claws, tearing into the flesh of the wolf. Theren-wolf winced from the savaging, but squatted on its haunches and looked even angrier.

Althalus looked as if he were casting a spell, but if he did, its effects were unknown to us. The Bone Dragon unleashed an agonizing wail that made my skin crawl. It should have been impossible, it had no body, so the wail came from the netherworld that had spawned it.

I fired my longbow again, missing the massive creature. Our silent monk friend shifted to its rear, swinging but doing no damage. The Bone Dragon swept his massive table. Bor ducked it but it hit Arius hard, leaving his limp form unconscious.

The druid-direwolf bit deep into the left leg of the beast, once more ripping into the bone. I could see the bits of marrow in the froth around its mouth. The skeletal beast responded with a sweep of its claw, tearing a nasty wound across Theren’s hide.

Althalus fired his magical burst – hitting the creature in its midriff region and searing some of the bones of the massive rib cage. I saw that the paladin was growing pale, so I sprinted to his aide, putting pressure on his wounds. Blood oozed between my fingers as I tried to keep him alive.

The warlock unleashed another eldritch blast – the bright green energy hitting the right leg of the Bone Dragon and burning through in one spot. The massive skeleton reeled under the assault, showing a rare moment of injury to us. Me…I was focused on that tail whipping near my head and trying to stop Arius’s horrible blood loss. Bor joined me and was able to wrap a bandage on the paladin’s arm wound enough to hold him somewhat stable.

The tail whip-snapped in the air above me, nearly knocking my hat off – hitting Bor and sending him flying unconscious into the field of bones. Before any of us could react, the claw of the Bone Dragon swiped at the direwolf-druid and knocked hard, rolling in the bone shards. His form flickered for a moment and we saw Therein the human take shape.

The druid did what he could for Bor as the monk sprung into action, hitting the right leg of the creature so hard I saw fragments of bone fly from the hit. I tried to strike the creature with an arrow but it had no visible effect. What could stop this beast?

The tail snapped like a whip, hitting Bor again, knocking him senseless and limp, rolling in the bones of the vale. I wondered if we were going to survive this as my heart pounded in my ears. Ichabod’s warnings to us about the vale haunted me at this moment. Theren muttered a word of healing, enough for Arius to climb to his knees, then his feet. The druid then struck with his staff. The sound of the crack was deafening.

For a moment the Bone Dragon wavered. Then it was as if everything that held the bones together suddenly disappeared. It collapsed down onto itself, forming a massive pile of parts and shards. Some of the bones twitched, as a creature might that had been just killed. For a long moment we stared at the pile, unsure what had just happened. Did we really defeat it?  Then we all cheered, all in unison. Yes! Victory was ours!

An eerie silence smothered the White Vale. I set my eyes on the dragon’s skull, still oddly intact amidst the pile of bones and dragon scale. I had heard Althalus talking about some skull he had at one point that was worth a fortune. I knew that many magic users would pay a hefty price for any part of a dragon. The skull had to be worth a lot. I walked over to it and realized that it was massive, too big for me to carry alone. “I want the skull.”

“Too big,” the warlock said. “Trust me. If you want a souvenir pick something smaller.”

I took out a dagger and pried loose one of big teeth and stuck it in my pocket. That had to be worth something. The story alone that went with it would get me drinks in any tavern. It gave me a lot of satisfaction.

The silence was shattered when some of the bones started twitching and Arius suggested a rapid departure from the vale to get our second wind and try and wrap our wounds. We scampered out of the field. Looking back it dawned on me that we had barely entered the vale and had nearly died…and there were other large piles of bones out there that could be just as deadly as the Bone Dragon, or worse. Worse than that, we had only gotten into the field some 50 heads distance…a long ways from the far end where we suspected the entrance to Tempora to be.

It took an hour or so for us to recoup and even then, we were weary from the fight. “So what do we do now?” I asked as all eyes drifted back to the White Vale.

“We are going back to the bones,” Althalus replied. “Maybe we should consider doing something a little different than the last time.”  There were a few nods of agreement.

Theren studied the vale carefully. “Let’s think this over. We should sleep on this, keep watch, maybe we can find some alternate approach. We set up a small campfire, though our sleep was fitful that night. This was not the kind of place one found solace near.

A light rain moved in during the early morning, a cold penetrating rain. The vale was just a daunting in the morning. “I think we need to work our way to the far canyon wall where it seems to come to a point.”

Arius stepped forward. “I am going to try and ask God for help. His divine sense may provide me with some sort of path through these bones.”  He held out his arm and closed his eyes for a moment. When they opened his eyes, he winced. “There are over 150 skeletons of some sort out there.”  That made us all cringe. “There is a pattern of the red stones though. I can barely make it out. It is like a spiderweb of paths, but one does lead to that far wall at the apex.”

“I don’t think there’s a good choice here,” Althalus said.

“There are a lot of gaps between those stones – I mean we would have to jump some pretty far distances,” the paladin said.

“We just jump. It’s not a big deal, right?” the warlock offered.

“You do remember the Bone Dragon, right?” I responded.

“That poem did mention the Blood of the Gods or something like that. It has to be those reddish stones.” Theren said. “I’ll go first. If something goes wrong, I have spells that can help me get out.”

“We’ll watch you and see what happens to you then,” I said.

His pattern was to walk or hop to a stone, pause, look around, make sure that he was not causing any skeletons to rise, then move on with the next steps. At one point he lost his balance and fumbled, but there were no skeletons rising up against him. He used his quarterstaff to steady himself.

“That looks easy, I’ll follow him.”  I did pretty well until I was near Theren, then I stumbled, missing the red granite stone. I landed on a bone and dropped. The bones near me suddenly stirred and rose, forming a skeletal warrior looming over me, sword at the ready. I got to my knees to rise and suddenly there was a brilliant blast of magical energy from Althalus at the edge of the vale. The beams severed the skeleton in half, sending the bones flying, some landing on me. I was so startled I lost my footing and stumbled once more. Between Theren and me another skeleton warrior, this one armed with a rusted morning star, assembled and took shape.

The druid swung his quarterstaff, hitting it hard, breaking its spine, sending the upper torso one way, the lower portion the other. I took my time getting up, getting next to Theren.

Bor joined us. The rest of the party followed the same path we had followed. Arius fell, but no skeletons came up as a result. Dimitrious made his leaps perfectly as did Althalus. We formed up now, some sixty feet in the middle of the White Vale. It felt lonely out there, surrounded by a sea of bones…but my new comrades seemed to have my back.

“Do we go to the center, the left or the right?” Althalus asked. We did a quick show of hands and opted for the center.

Our next move was 100 heads distance. I stumbled and the skeleton rose up next to the warlock. He responded with a devastating blow, shattering the remains of the warrior, its sword flailing into the bones and stones. And so it continued on. Sometimes we missed a stone, and a skeleton would assemble itself almost instantly, but they were easily dispatched. My eyes were on the larger piles of bones. That was where a Bone Dragon or some other bone creature might appear. Our attention was focused on them.

It was a slow go as our line of leaping and jumping party made their way across the White Vale. I was confident that we were going to make it when I fell hard. Suddenly, there were a stirring with one of the large bone piles, just as we had seen before.

“Damn,” I cursed.

“We need to get to the wall!”  Theren yelled. “I can cast a fog bank spell I have that can give us cover.”

“You might want to lead with that next time,” Arius said flatly.

The fog rolled in a wall some 20 heads high blocking the Bone Dragon’s view of us. Another skeleton warrior appeared in front of Bor and was destroyed by the warlock. Its skull landed in my lap, and I immediately dropped it. From behind the wall of fog, we could hear the bones shuffle more loudly. Looking over at the fog bank, we could see the outline of the tattered wings of the beast stretch out, creaking as they did. A chilling bellow filled the air, piercing the magical fog.

Theren cast another fog bank as the sounds of the dragon stomping on the bones drew closer. Our party made its way to the canyon wall. It was covered with a thick blanket of vines, some thick, many of them long dead. It dawned on me that we were trapped here, with nowhere else to go. If the door to Tempora was not here, we were doomed.

Dimitrious pulled out a torch and his flint and steel, nodding at the wall. “That makes way too much sense,” Althalus said, holding the torch as the monk lit it. Those old vines would burn pretty easily. The warlock was struck by another skeleton that formed up next to him. He pivoted and hit it, not enough to stop the creature, but sending some of its rusted chainmail flying.

The Bone Dragon flapped its wings and the wall of fog billowed out towards us along with a fine dust of bones and debris from the floor of the vale. “Flamous sphereoius,” yelled Theren, and a sphere of flames formed around the dragon. While its wings were singed by the flames of the massive ball of compressed fire.

The monk with the torch lit the vines on fire while we kept our attention on the immediate threat. Bor hacked at the vines, looking for some sign of a door or escape. I felt along the stone face of the wall, trying to find anything that might help us.

Theren moved the flaming sphere to stay on the dragon as it advanced towards us then spun, reaching through the vines. “I found it – I found a door!  The door’s here!  I found the edge of a hinge or something.”

It was huge, it went up nearly 20 heads height. The vines obscured it and it was thick stone. “Find the edges!” the druid yelled. Arius joined in for the search but his fingers found Bor’s butt rather than the door. “What are you doing?” the burly fighter said glaring at the paladin.

“I missed the wall,” he said embarrassed, turning to the wall and continuing his search. Dimitrious set fire to more of the vines above our heads. Chaos reigned as we were trapped.

The skeletal Bone Dragon lumbered forward within 50 heads of us and opened its toothy maw and breathed. The air filled with bone shards and fragments, unleashed in a torrent, each a potential lethal white dagger. The bone-shard breath shredded armor and flesh that it hit. Althalus managed to cast a spell of some sort, putting an end the spray of bones as the massive beast took damage. My own armor was torn apart, and there were at least a half- dozen bones stabbed into my torso and arms. The sight of all of that blood – my own blood, made me light-headed. I collapsed on the floor of the vale, blood flowing into my right eye. I was sure that I was going to die in that moment. Everything went dark.

My memories of what happened after that were a blur. I heard voices. Something about the door. It felt as if someone tossed my body, like I was rolling, but I can’t be sure. Suddenly I saw light – the torch, laying on the floor next to me. The cold stone made my cheek ache as I came to and pushed my body to a sitting position.

All around me it was dark and the air was stale. “Where are we?  What happened?”

Theren leaned in close to my face, pulling one of the bone shards out of my chest and tossing it aside. “We made it inside. We’re in Tempora,” he said in a low voice.

“What about the Bone Dragon?” I said pulling out some of the larger shards. Some hurt more, some less as I did the deed.

“It hit the door and shattered,” Althalus said wearily. He too was pulling fragments of bone out of his left side.

We were in the lost dwarven city. We had made it!

 

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

Character Background Material

My New Campaign

#dungeonsanddragons

#DandD

#DnD

Some BattleTech History – ‘Mech Types by House and Unit

Mech Types

One advantage I have with other BattleTech writers is that I have been around since the original 3025 sourcebook.  I also kept as lot of material we were provided as authors.  I feel safe in violating my NDA since this material is dated back to the last century.   Note: I will be releasing a lot of stuff over the next few months, so I encourage you BattleTech fans to follow my blog…hint, hint…)

This was a little gem I found on the back of the Archer artwork we were sent when we did the sourcebook.  It shows the variants of the ‘Mechs (our blessed Unseen) broken down by which house uses which variant.  It also outlines the original mercenary units and which ones they use.

I honestly don’t remember if we actually followed this chart, but it is a cool nugget of BattleTech history.  You have to remember that back at this time the universe was still in flux in many respects.  That, and I don’t take orders well (a character flaw on my part.)

Soak it in and enjoy!

Why Employees Stay With an Organization – A Question of Loyalty

Toby

Over the years I’ve read a lot of articles about why people leave companies. These often lack perspective.  They don’t explain at all why people remain at companies – which is an equally important way to gauge how well a company attends to its people.  You might think that the exact opposite of what forces employees to leave might be what compels others to stay.  In some cases that is right, but in others, it isn’t.

The easy answer as to why people remain in a company is loyalty. Where does loyalty come from?  Companies have been trying to crack that nut for some time.  Most never will because why they bemoan that they want/expect loyalty; they are, at the same time, sending jobs overseas or simply laying people off.  Welcome to the dichotomy of corporate culture!

Consider, if you will; having a job is the same as a personal relationship.  Over time, there is a give and take, a sense of trust, an understanding of each other’s strengths and weaknesses.  Some people have put in so much time and effort in their careers they feel they owe their organization something back.  That sense of obligation is loyalty – and it is often a powerful motivator for people to stay where they are at.

So where does loyalty come from.  Here are my suggested reasons that most employees stay at their organizations and what are the root causes of an employees’ concept of loyalty:

They believe their work makes a difference.  This is different than job satisfaction.  This is knowing that their contribution to the organization has impact.  It’s not about being happy with your work – It is about knowing you are moving the proverbial needle.

The rewards/recognition match the work contribution.  People tend to remain with companies where they are recognized for the work they do in proportion to the value of that work.  Recognition can come in a lot of different forms.  Nothing demoralizes people more when the rewards go to the wrong people or are disproportional to the contribution. Sometimes the rewards are a good salary, one that might make it difficult for you to consider moving to a new organization.

They have friends at work. The truth be told, if you have good dependable work friends, you are less likely to leave.  As much as I bitch about work, I have the distinction of working with some of the best people in the industry and that makes it far more tolerable.

They are comfortable with the work they do.  In this scenario, you know your job well and do it well.  Starting somewhere else will potentially change that.

Employees are recognized as experts in their field. Being at the top of your game in one organization does not necessarily transfer to another company should you move.  To your new colleagues, you are “the new person,” and you have to expend considerable time and effort to reestablish yourself.  It can be a daunting task that forces you to the easy choice – remain where you are.

Their manager doesn’t suck.  One of the top reasons people leave organizations is their manager is a dick/dickette.  You don’t need a stellar manager, just one that isn’t a micromanaging asshat.  There are those rare instances though where you get a manager who is solid, good, understands what motivates you and does those things, etc.  Going to another organization and you may be spinning the managerial roulette wheel and risking getting a complete and utter moron.

They can’t leave because of age, benefits, or life situation.  Anyone that believes there is no age discrimination in business is delusional.  Once you cross the threshold of 50 years of age, you are caught in a vice.  On one side, is the fact that companies won’t hire you because of your age.  On the other side is the concern that you might impact your pension, or change benefits that would be negative to your lifestyle.  What if you have workplace flexibility and can work for home X number of days a week?  Perhaps your new employer won’t support that – which necessitates a lifestyle change.  Employees are pinched to the point where you resist thoughts of changing jobs as a result of these factors.

They believe the organization does what it says it does. Companies claim they act and behave one way and often do quite the opposite.  That division between the public view and reality is often a contributing factor for employees the leave.  Counter to that, if your organization behaves in a manner consistent with what it says it is in business for, you tend to want to continue to be a part of that company.

Fear of not fitting in at a new company.  I liken this to “the devil you know vs. the one you don’t.”  I saw a job posting on Linkedin the other day and it immediately told me I would not fit in at their organization.  The images the company had on their ad and web site showed only people in their mid-20’s, dressed very casual, and a wide diversity – to the point where an older white male would significantly stand out in their company.  If those images realistically represented that company, I would never apply there because I know I won’t fit in. That sentiment is not that rare with people.  Every organization is like a country – it has its own culture, traditions, language, etc.  The fear of not being able to adapt to these is often enough to compel an employee to stay.

They harbor the illusion of advancement.  The classic carrot that management dangles before us at one point or another, “We are looking at you in terms of a possible promotion.”  This ever-elusive enticement is often just enough to compel people to remain in their job.  “If I can put in one more year, maybe this year I will get that job.”

Immunity to the hypocrisy/chaos.  There is a lot of bullshit that goes on in offices – reorgs, layoffs, outsourcing, etc.  If you get caught up in that chaos, it helps motivate you to look for employment elsewhere.  Likewise if you can tune out all of these threatening distractions and focus on what you love about your job, you are often more willing to remain.

Management leaves them alone. Sometimes flying under the radar makes your life easier.  If you are not motivated by advancement, just keeping your head down is an option.  Other times management just does the right thing, and lets people do their jobs with minimal interference. This behavior can foster a sense of loyalty. For many people, the fact that their management is not interfering permits them a chance to shine.

Obviously, if you like more of my mindless ramblings, you can check out my book, Business Rules: A Cynic’s Guide to the Corporate Overlords…or my other blog posts under business.

dwight4

The Chronicling of our D&D Campaign: Tempora – Part 21

Paladin4

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…

I took my holy vows at the Sept of the Silver Blade before our departure. I had wanted my friends to join me, but bringing a druid and a warlock into such a sacred place would have somehow tainted the sacred ritual. The interior of the sept was magnificent, with low hanging brass lanterns intricately decorated, and the stonework some of the best I have ever seen.  How could such a place of pristine goodness and sanctity be poised at the edge of a chasm where we had cast the darkest of our enemies?  That was a dichotomy for greater minds to ponder.

Our journey north in search of the missing legion of brother paladins had been ponderous.  The slow rising road brought a chill and thinning of the air. There were many pieces to this puzzle that we didn’t know including how to find the entrance to Tempora…if indeed that was where the wayward legion had been lured.

The goblins that Theren’s spell had just slain wore the armor (albeit poorly) of the very knights we were seeking.  That did not bode well.  Paladins would have never surrendered their armor to such loathsome creatures.

“I wish we hadn’t killed them both.  One would have made a good pet…like a puppy,” Althalus said wryly.

“You are welcome to keep one now,” I replied.

“They are quite dead,” the warlock retorted.

“I know,” was all I said in response offering him a thin smile.  That ended our banter on the matter.

We went a little ways further up the road and encamped in a small copse of pines which sheltered us from the night winds.  The morn brought a low mist which clung to our clothing.  We marched on and my eyes were drawn to a small three-fingers length of chainmail along the cobblestones. It was not rusted so it was an indication that we were possibly on the trail of the missing paladins from the Gash.  “We are on the right trail,” I said as we passed it around.

As we marched uphill the woods alongside the long abandoned road grew thicker.  The climb was steeper and the mountains crew closer with each clop of the horse’s hooves hitting the stone.  It was after sunpeak that our new comrade, the ranger known as Brandon, motioned for us to halt. He fell back to the rest of our party.  “I saw something run across the trail up ahead, hiding in the bushes.”

“How far up?” I queried.

“Around 80 or 90 feet from where I was at point,” the ranger replied.

I drew my sword without even thinking about it.  “I say we move forward.  Let us see what it was that the ranger saw.”

It wasn’t long before Brandon saw a man scurry back from his cover, diving behind another bush that took it even further from us.  “Do you think we should check this out?”

“I am not in favor of pursuing things that take us off this trail,” I countered.  There had been stories of such diversions aimed at luring good-hearted into ambushes.

Theren disagreed.  “I don’t want whoever it is to shadow us and show up later, when we least expect it.”

We advanced slowly, stopping to see the footprints of whoever the man was.  They were boot prints, the ranger assured us of that, though even I could see that much from my saddle.

“I say we ride on.  Whoever this is, they are striving to steer clear of us.  I will watch over my shoulder should he double-back on us,” I said.  Clearly Althalus felt differently, I could see that in the furrows on his brow.

A few hours passed and we saw no immediate sign of pursuit.  We set up our camp off of the road as we had on the night previously.  A light drizzle began to fall and with the chill in the air, made for a stiff sleep. I had just gotten off to sleep when Theren called, “Halt,” which was enough to stir me to my feet.  I saw Dimitrious spring to his feet, staff at the ready along with Brandon. Bor and Althalus apparently were still slumbering.

“Something is moving over there,” Theren said, pointing to the south of our camp.  We all looked at each other, then back to Theren.

“Who goes there?” the druid called into the darkness.

A voice rose from behind a bush.  “I mean no harm.  I am just hungry.”

“Who goes there?” the druid repeated.

“My name is Icabod,” the voice said feebly.

Althalus, apparently just awakened moved to my side and chuckled.  “Ichabod?”  Apparently he saw something funny in the name of the man.

“Step out where we can see you,” Theren called.  “We won’t harm you.”  That was yet to be seen, but I appreciated the hint of honor in the druid.

The man stepped out, his plate armor caked with mud but still bearing the marks of the paladins from the Gash.  “I—I am hungry,” he said.  There was a look of fear in his face.  “I just want some food, then I need to head back…away from this place.”

“Back?” Theren asked.

“Wherever you are going you are heading the wrong direction,” Ichabod replied.

“What are you doing out here?” I challenged, eyeing the longsword hanging in the scabbard at his side.

“I was part of a doomed expedition,” he said with a cough. “You have got to turn around.”

“Are you with the First Shield?” Brandon asked.

“You don’t want to go north.  If you go north you will die.”

“You didn’t answer him,” I countered.  “Were you with the First Shield?”

“I was,” he said with a low sign, his voice trailing off.  To me, it sounded ominous. He lifted his head.  “Who are you to be marching to your deaths?”

We didn’t respond quickly and Ichabod continued.  “The advice I give you will save your lives.  Turn around and head to the lowlands.”

I cleared my throat.  “We are on a mission to go north to find the rest of the missing legion who have become captured.  We are going to liberate them.”

Althalus stepped forward.  “What happened to the others?”

Ichabod bowed his head slightly.  “They were slaughtered. And you will be too.”  He was clearly exhausted, I could see that in my fellow paladin’s face.

Althalus did a quick gesture with his hands, no doubt summoning some of his magic against the man. “What happened to the men you were with?”

“They were slaughtered.  Those that weren’t killed…they were taken away.” Ichabod paused for a moment then pleaded with us.  “You have got to turn around.”  At the same time he began to walk towards us, no doubt under the influence of Althalus’s magic.  As he reached us, he continued his plea, “You have got to go back to the south.  You’ll all be dead soon – all of you.”

“So what happened?” the warlock pressed impatiently.
“Give the man some food,” Brandon said. Ichabod scarfed down the rations ravenously, thanking us between bites. The smell that rose from him spoke of a man that reeked of sweat and despair.

“You are most gracious,” he said with the last bite of jerky.  “The way north is filled with black death, shame, and horror.”

“Where did you come from?” I pressed.  “Was it Tempora?” our ranger added his questions as well.

“The Vale of White.  That was where I was attacked. I alone was the one that escaped.”

“We need more detail than that,” Althalus said firmly.

Ichabod nodded.  “We found what had escaped the Gash in the White Vale.  I have always been told that it was a graveyard of goblins and dwarves that had been lost for many years.  Then we saw a giant black rider, almost skeletal, on a black warhorse.  We followed it into the vale at a full charge, our banner flying, swords shimmering.  It was trapped there, surrounded by the mountains.  We had them.  In that moment…we had them.”  His voice rose for a moment in memory.

“But it was a trap!  The dead rose up around us like a sea. Brave knights who could turn the undead were not able to, it was as if god was no longer hearing our prayers or cries for help.  I was hit on the head and stumbled…I…I do not know what happened for many minutes as my ears rang with the cries of my comrades.  I came too with one of those abominations astride my chest, ready to impale me.  I cut it in half and somehow got to my feet.  Sir Kendrick called to me, said to go.  I should not have listened to him, that is not the way of a paladin.  I was afraid, as if I were a child, and in that fear I fell back, out of the bloodbath of the vale.

“I saw First Shield take his men and our standard to a narrow defile at the west end of the vale, but that was the last I saw of him.  There was a bright light, like a bonfire, rising out of that pass.  Whatever he saw there, it…it had to have killed them.  If it didn’t – he certainly never emerged.  It was all a trap – and we fell for it.  Only then did I see it.  The others that did–they did not survive.  My brothers…they fought, as did I, but to no avail.  I hear their screams now at night even now.

“I am not sure why I was spared.  It was as if the dead wanted me to live, to tell others what happened.  I ran…that I am not proud of.  For three days and nights I ran south, my head still filled with their lamentations and cries.  I passed out during a thunderstorm – I slept for I don’t know how many days.

“My cowardice saved me.  My shame was all I had left.  I had failed my order.  I should have charged in and died with the others.  I can no longer pray.  I was there – god stopped answering us in that Vale.  There is no way he would respond to me, a fallen holy knight.  I am not worth to bend the knee in his name.

“I keep asking myself why they went there…how did they know of that place?  Whatever came out of the Gash knew of the location of the Vale and possibly the way into Tempora.  We saw no sign of the citadel, but it is said to have been hidden for centuries.  It knew somehow, where it was going and planned our deaths.

“I should be killed for what I did…fleeing like a common coward.  Better I face death than the shame of my brothers at the Fang.  It would have been different if I had our standard, if that had survived.  We lost our legion and the banner that held us together and blessed our order.”  For a moment, the broken paladin cried, tears soaking his brown beard.

Brandon spoke up.  “Would you not seize the opportunity to redeem yourself?”

Ichabod shook his bowed head as the tears continued to fall.  “There’s no redemption for me.”

I alone understood him, I too was a holy knight in the service of God.  For him to have run was not just breaking his bond with his men, but with his vows as a knight as well.  His soul was lost in his eyes, but I saw something more.  Such a man need not wallow in his failure.  The church forgave those that confessed, and while the sin of cowardice was a taint on any man’s soul, there was a chance for him still.  He may yet have a role to play in the affairs of this world.  “You can redeem yourself.  We need to go to the White Vale.  You can lead us there.”

“Go back there?”

“Yes!” I said.  “That act can redeem you.”

“I am a coward.”

“This is you rising above your cowardice.  It is the first step to redemption. You come with us, lead us to the Vale so we can vanquish the enemy that defeated you.”

Althalus added, “You were following the orders you were given.  Nothing more or less in our eyes.  You were told the leave.”

Ichabod kept his head bowed.  “I am not even worthy to look into your eyes.”

“Is it more shameful to go back to the Gash a coward that did not face his fears…or as a man that led us to fight that evil?” I asked.

Ichabod rose and we saw the red in his eyes.  I thought for a moment that Althalus might actually hug him, but he did not.  “I will not enter that place with you.”

“We are not asking that,” I replied.

“I will lead you there then,” he said with more resolve than I anticipated.

We took the rest of the slumber that night, uneasy.  We ate while Theren and Brandon foraged for food. We kept a low fire, just enough to ward off the night chill.

Ichabod shared with us how they had come to the White Vale.  “First Shield Sir Ferrin saw something stirring in the Gash.  We went down there, along the winding stair of The Wail – with 15 other holy knights of the order.  When we arrived at the landing we were confronted by…I cannot say what it was.  Faceless – formless, it was an apparition and as solid as steel and just as cold.  It blew past us, along with other ilk that had climbed out of the dark, leaving only four of us alive.  We lost it when it headed north, into the foothills of The Horns of Essex towards the Sever Pass – the name of the Vale in the old tongue.

“The First Shield, a righteous man was he, summoned the whole of the legion to pursue.  It took us days marching north.  There was no trail, the dead do not leave their mark on the land.  Even our best rangers struggled to find their course in the rocks.  For days we marched, day and some of the night.

“Then we found them at the edge of the Vale.  And that is where everything fell asunder…”

Brandon spoke up, “We were told that this was all tied to Sir Viktor Barristen.”

“Does the name Barristen mean anything to you?” Althalus asked.

The mention of his name seemed to make Ichabod’s brow furrow.  “Absolutely.  He is one of the most heinous men to walk the land – even before the Great War. A fallen paladin with a soul as black a coal.”

“What can you tell us of him?” I asked.

“Once the greatest paladin of the Order of the Holy Scepter, Barristen was considered at one point to be one of the most renowned paladins ever.  He fell from grace however when he broke his vows and took a wife.  His Order excommunicated him, erasing his name from the holy rolls.  Barristen then lost his young bride to a terrible plague, one that he claimed had been set upon her by the Church as retribution.

“He turned to be a fallen knight and black paladin.  It is said that he poisoned the members of his own former order, killing them all.  Some say he was experimenting to become a Lich or worse.”

“Knowing what I do of the church,” Brandon said, “I cannot say I blame him.” Clearly our new ally had some foul encounters with the church. Althalus gave the ranger a nod.

“The church hunted him down and imprisoned his body in an iron and lead coffin, sealed and hidden.  Not dead, his soul was trapped in purgatory for all eternity.  He swore he would escape and wreak havoc on the peoples of the world, payment or the sins he perceived against him.  He fell a full century prior to the last war and no one knew where his mortal remains were hidden. He is now merely a story to scare children, a story of a knight that fell and became evil. Most paladin orders will not even allow his name to be spoken, other claim he is only a legend, a myth, which may explain why you have not heard of him.  Why do you think he is involved in what happened to the legion?”

“Rumor has it that he might be trying to return,” Althalus said.

“He may very well have been part of whatever it was you saw coming out of the Gash,” I added. Bit by bit the story was coming together, though our role in the tale was still not known.

“Where did you get word of this?” the fallen paladin asked.

“A letter that was sent to the Gash,” Althalus said.  Brandon pulled out the letter he had delivered and saved passed it to Ichabod to read.

“You are in consort with Lexa Lyoncroft?” he said as he finished, dismayed at the words he head read.

“Well, I am,” Brandon said proudly. Clearly the ranger did not have our experience with her.

“Your acting First Shield sent us out here because of that letter,” the warlock added, cutting off the ranger’s boast.

“There is only death in that Vale,” Ichabod said firmly. “It is a while field.  There is the blood of the gods there, the old gods, stones that stand out. It is a sea of bleached bones.”

“The letter mentions that,” Brandon said, taking back the parchment.  “I know he has walked the Blood of the Gods and resides deep in Tempora,” he said reading the note he had preserved.

“Of that I cannot speak.  But I do know this, to enter the Vale is to invite death.”

Theren rose to his feet standing over the campfire.  “You said that you can take us back there to the Vale.  That is where we must go.”

Ichabod nodded, bound by his words from the night before.  “We are about a day’s walk from the Horns of Essex.  Two days north of there is the White Vale.”  The druid put out the fire with several kicks of dirt and we packed up.  Ichabod and Brandon shared the ranger’s horse and we set out north.

At night fall we came to a flattened hilltop in a foothill of the looming mountains.  On either side of the old road was a massive white-gray horn, that rose and arched over the trail ominously.  They stood nearly 30 heads in height, looming upward and over the road.  They looked as if they were stone, but there were no markings on them to indicate they had been carved.  It was hard to fathom what kind of massive monster might have grown them, if they were indeed real horns.  Who put them there – for what purpose? Clearly they were important.  Perhaps it was the dwarves, marking the entrance to their territory.  If so, what had been the origins of these now petrified remains?

We stopped just short of the Horns of Essex and made our camp for the night.  That night was the coldest we experienced.  For two days we tread towards the north.  In the evening of the second day Ichabod raised his hand to motion for us to stop.  He turned towards us, a grim expression masking his gaze.  “Just over the next rise is the White Vale.  I have fulfilled my word to you.  The time has come for me to depart.”

“Thank you for your service,” Brandon offered politely.

“I am going to go and accept the penance and justice of my order for my deeds.”

I know how holy orders treat paladins that have fallen from grace.  Ichabod faced a grim future. I borrowed a pen and parchment from Althalus.  “I will write you a letter to the acting First Shield telling them that you have redeemed yourself.”

“Thank you.  I beseech you to turn around while you can.  You face death,” he said taking the letter.

“Live long and prosper,” I told him.

Brandon offered him his horse Siegfried and five gold pieces.  “Donate it to your church.”  With that, Ichabod left.

We advanced carefully forward, the fallen-paladin’s words still ringing in our ears…

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

Character Background Material

My New Campaign

#dungeonsanddragons

#DandD

#DnD

Mid-Series Review of Waco

waco-1014x570

Waco is everywhere on TV…there are at least three documentary-style mini-series out there interviewing the survivors of the disastrous raid.  The 25th anniversary generates that kind of true crime nostalgia.  Just to be clear, I am reviewing the Paramount (formerly Spike) network docudrama called Waco.

It might be hard to remember the events accurately.  In 1993 the ATF and FBI raided the Branch Davidian Compound in Waco, Texas.  The Davidians were led by David Koresh and were often characterized at the time as being a cult and that Koresh was a madman.  Of course, that is the government’s side of matters.  The raid turned into a gun battle that ultimately resulted in the deaths of 76 of the Davidians.  For those of us who remember the 51 day standoff, it was horrific on many levels, and seemed brutally unnecessary.

Ironically this mini-series comes out at a time when the integrity of the FBI is being drawn into question.  This series subtly provides a backdrop for current political events and takes us back to a time when the integrity of the FBI was at deepening low.  There’s no way the producers could have foreseen some of the parallels that could be drawn, which makes the series more genuine.

Normally I am not a fan of docudramas, but this one has the same polish and excellent writing/casting as FX’s The People vs. OJ Simpson.  Yes, it is scripted, but it does a great job of keeping to the facts.  As a history and true crime author, I had a benchmark coming into this series.  I told my wife, “You can’t tell the story of what happened in Waco if you don’t tell the story in some way, about what happened with the Weaver’s at Ruby Ridge.”  That standoff set the stage for Waco.

The first episode started with Ruby Ridge and immediately I was drawn in.  I knew that the producers were going to try and tell the whole story of the tragic events that unfolded.

Koresh is not a crazed cult-leader. There are a lot of layers to this man.  The series does an excellent job of drawing in the viewers to the life he was trying to establish for his church members.  This is not Jim Jones, but a man that finds himself the target of the ATF because that agency was trying to use the Davidians as a PR event to rebuild their reputation after Ruby Ridge.

David Koresh does not come across as a cult leader, but a victim of sorts.  His followers are not mindless drones in the series, but well-crafted characters and personalities all on their own.

Waco is captivating, compelling, and has outstanding performances.  It pulls you in and holds you tight to your seat.  It doesn’t stray from the truth, but attempts to put it into context…a rarity for Hollywood these days.  If you are not watching it, I recommend you do (Paramount Networks – Wednesday’s at 10pm).  We are just two episodes in and I am truly enjoying this series.

#truecrime

#Waco

Mid-Season Review – Killing Fields – Murder Isle

Killing field3
Isle of Wight’s Best

We’re through four episodes so far of the new season of the Killing Fields and so far Discovery has not failed to deliver.

This season was a big departure for the series.  The shift went from Iberville Parish, Louisiana to Isle of Wight County, Virginia.  Some of the same elements are there.  A frigid cold case.  A grizzled and seasoned investigator determined to see it solved.  The “young buck” detective that is partnered with them.  The seasoned officer sitting in his backyard with a drink at night is still there.  It has the same gritty look and feel to the past two seasons – lots of drone shots, and plenty of twists and turns. Discovery has done a good job of keeping the elements of the series in place as it transitions to a new locale.  Personally, I miss Rhodie talking about the “raggedy-ass” killers though.

The twists and turns are plentiful.  What starts out as the investigation into the brutal murder of Carrie Singer morphs into the two murders that may be connected.  We see some of the new technologies in DNA testing, such as M-Vac systems DNA collecting system, and DNA phenotyping (getting a facial reconstruction of a killer from their DNA), being brought into play.

I know some of this is scripted, but it certainly plays out as realistic.  Often times investigators start down one trail, only to be seductively lured onto new paths as a result of their efforts.  I haven’t bonded much with the key characters just yet – but we are only four episodes in…and frankly, it feels like a rollercoaster ride of twists and turns.

For me, this series is more personal.  Two of the victims of the Colonial Parkway Murders (David Knobling and Robin Edwards) were found at the Ragged Island Wildlife Refuge in Isle of Wight County. My daughter and I wrote a book on these serial killings, A Special Kind of Evil.  I have been there many times, taking that long, lonely, sometimes eerie, drive on the James River Bridge.  It was great for me to see the former Sheriff, Charlie Phelps, in one episode.  I interviewed him twice and it was great to associate a face to a voice.

Isle of Wight is a place of contradictions and contrasts.  It is isolated, yet very close to numerous cities.  Like any rural county, there is a mix of characters and backstories that are starting to emerge in the series. It has been a dumping ground for years for Newport News and other cities.  It has a bit of hometown appeal, a dash of redneckiness, and a twist of strangeness that makes it compelling to watch.

If you are not watching Killing Fields – start.  You can get caught up On-Demand.  It is worth your time if you are a true crime fan. Even if you are not, it is a great view into an active investigation – filmed “real time.”  Let’s hope that Discovery’s efforts brings about some convictions in the murders profiled.

#M-vac

#truecrime

#killingfields