The Chronicling of our D&D Campaign: Tempora – Part 29 (Bor’s Song)

Hopes

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!

Althalus…

We materialized at the feet of Victor Barristen who loomed over us on the floor.  He was rising out of a rolling cloud of green mist.  His face was a skull, yet in the flicker of torches on the walls, we saw an eerie shimmer of a human face, almost like a flesh covered shadow over the bones.  His helmet was huge, with a glowing crimson ruby in the center and two massive horns jutting out.  A lich – or something of the same ilk – I was sure of it.  He had a twisted staff in his bony hands, clearly magical, clearly deadly.

Cyrilla Drex stood next to him, member of the Sisterhood of the Sword, our enemy that had been plaguing us for weeks.  She held that God-awful sword of hers, almost as tall as I am, its blade reflecting the light. She wore her robe and under it her plate armor, similar to what we had seen on Lexa Lyoncroft.   Her hair was worn back, trimmed short, almost a manly cut to it.

I glanced off to my right and saw a pile of corpses, or what remained of them.  They looked as if every bit of life had been sucked from the men.  Their skin was shrunken and shriveled and many jaws were open, mute in their dying screams.  Seventy of them, at least, were piled like chord word.  The stench of death stung my nostrils.

The chamber was massive, over a hundred heads long.  Thick old rugs covered four spots on the intricately mosaicked floor.  Torches hung in six places and their light reflected off of the massive domed ceiling that was either painted bright gold, or covered with gold flake.  Brandon’s magical blade shimmered so brightly that it was like a burst of daylight.

I glanced at Arius.  He took his sword and licked it, as if tasting the blood of his enemies. I was pleased that one of us was confident.  The fact that we were laying on a pentagram on the floor, surrounded with candles didn’t give me that much confidence.

“I want that sword,” muttered Brandon as he got his senses.  Something told me he might just get it, just not the way he hoped for.  Five of the other paladins had leapt through the portal with us and had spilled out with us on the floor.  We were far from an impressive threat at that point.

A number of other paladins were in the room, their eyes sunken and dark, their faces pale and gaunt.  They wore neck collars of thick leather with a ruby mounted on them.  One of them was an older man, his beard had knots in it.  I remember Arius telling me that was a sign of authority in some holy orders.  It had to be Theris Bentblade – the First Shield of the Order of the Fang!  He stood there with a sword in hand but was not attacking Cyrilla or Victor – which was not a good sign.

Cyrilla Drex pointed her massive sword down at Arius.  “You’ve come to rescue them?  How quaint.  As you can see, you are quite late.” She gestured with the blade over to the pile of rotting carcasses.

“Who sent you here?  Who pulls the strings of these so-called rescuers?”

“We pull our own strings,” Theren said, pointing over at me.

Why are you pointing at me? “No one tells us what to do,” I said defiantly, wondering of those were going to be my last words.

“You fools think you stand a chance against us?”  None of us responded.  Slowly we were preparing to jump to our feet.

“Very well.  I offer you this one last chance.  Join my force against the Church or feed your souls to Barristen the Black.”

I cleared my throat.  “Um, define, ‘The Church.’  And ‘join.’”  I will admit, I’m not much of a joiner – but I also had no love of the Church.

Her eyes narrowed at my words.  “The Church of God – the one that betrayed my Order.”

Barristen seemed to hover in the cloud of green smoke.  In a low raspy voice his skeletal head spoke.  “The Church will pay for what it has done.  Your lives will serve our purpose.  Bow before me and I will offer you quick death.”

“Well, this has taken a turn.  I mean with all of this ‘death’ talk,” I said, still hoping to diffuse the situation. My sense of humor was lost on the lich.  I really had nothing against going after the Church, but the dying part had me a little concerned.

Our paladin Arius took it far more seriously.  “I cannot be a party to what you have done.  That pile is of my dead brethren.”  I could tell by the way he clutched his sword that the battle was soon to commence.

Barristen responded with a sweeping blow of his staff at our comrade while between us and Cyrilla, a magical barrier came into being. Brandon charged – away from the pending melee the moment it erupted.  Typical ranger…

Arius unleashed thunderous smite but it did not hit Barristen, the magical energies swirling in the air unformed, crackling slightly in the air.  I opted to protect from evil on Bor and faded off to the rear.  A warlock must always know his place in a battle.

Barristen’s staff struck at Arius but failed to make contact.  Bor rushed with Skullringer, the brilliant blue warhammer slammed into the quasi-lich, hitting it hard on its armored chest.  Our paladin allies rushed in, weapons drawn, swinging behind Cyrilla and striking at her from behind. A thin stream of blood sprayed out towards me, proof they had hit her.  We had her surrounded, but I was not necessarily convinced that was going to be a good thing for us.

The sullen paladins led by Bentblade charged – but not at their torturers, but at us!  They came at our flank, where I was, so I braced for their onslaught.

Theren waved his hands in the air and I saw her sword start to glow – not from magic – but orange from heat.  He readied his staff as Dimitrious moved to protect me from the rushing possessed paladins.  The blue robed monk stabbed his fists in a furious thrust and hit one of them several times like a tornado of fists bludgeoning the rushing paladin.

Cyrilla tossed some brimstone in the air as she attempted to cast a spell but the surrounding attackers disrupted her spell.  More of her blood splattered in the air.  Dropping her sword, she reached for an amulet that hung around her neck.  I stared at that sword…that was a prize.

Bor was hit with whatever spell was triggered by her amulet – though we could not tell what it was doing.  Theren cast a spell to heat her armor, and it worked, wisps of smoke rose from her skin that seared against the hot metal. The fact that she kept it on said something of how powerful she was.

The attacks on Barristen continued as Bor moved forward in hopes of delivering a killing blow with Skullringer.  The warhammer shimmered brightly in the air and drew back as Barristen pointed the gnarled tip of his staff at the burly warrior.  The warhammer came at the head of the skeletal creature, hitting hard, twisting Barristen’s head hard to the side.

Bor smiled.

A thin blue ray shot out from the tip of the staff hitting Bor in his chest. The smile dropped from his face instantly.  He looked over at Theren, then to me, then he turned to large flakes in the air which crumbled to dust, which then faced away to nothingness.  Skullringer dropped with a thud on the stone floor, knocking over one of the candles.  Disintegration…utter and complete.  His shield and flail remained next to the magical warhammer.

I know we were all stunned for a moment – but all I could feel in that moment was the loss of our treasure that Bor had been carrying.

Brandon charged in with the fall of Bor, emboldened by the changing odds.  I unleashed an eldritch blast attack on Bentblade, searing an emerald beam into him and knocking him back.  Dimitrious rushed back to my aid, hitting the paladin as he got his footing.  The monk was a blizzard of fist blows that ravaged the older paladin.

In the midst of the battle – I noticed those collars that the attacking paladins wore were identical to those we had found before – the Eyes of Rivroast.  They were being controlled!  It made sense now…the ruby on the helmet of Barristen gave him complete domination over their will.  I used my powers to send the message to the members as to the source of that quasi-lich’s control.

Cyrilla was in the process of casting a spell, a mist rose up around her, her glowing hot armor shimmering through it.  One of the paladins hit with divine smite, another with thunderous smite, but she seemed to shrug it off.

She disappeared in the mist and for a moment, I was relieved.  That faded as all eyes turned to me.  Oh shit, she’s behind me!

Dimitrious sprung from the paladins he was engaged with and rushed right at me.  He hit me, knocking me out of the way – taking the blow that was intended for me.  Cyrilla’s staff came down hard, right at the monk, but missed entirely, hitting the floor and sending sparks into the air.

Barristen’s staff came down on Arius, hitting him.  The paladin wailed and staggered back from the blow.  He rarely showed pain, which told me that he was in true agony.

Brandon hit Cyrilla from behind, courtesy of her misty-teleportation.  She hit the sword-mistress hard from the rear as Theren fired his bow at her from the front.  Cyrilla dropped to the ground, unconscious, but not dead.

One of the paladins tried to lift her sword but seemed to struggle with it, as if the blade weighed more than it appeared to.  Arius slid along the floor, grabbing Skullringer, and swinging at Barristen.  The lich-like figure shook off the blow as another pair of paladins stabbed at him.

The paladins collided with their brothers –

Brandon started to reach for Cyrilla’s staff but I cut him off.  “Finish this fight before you begin to loot the bodies!”  Rangers!

One of the possessed paladins struck me, stabbing me in my stomach hard and deep.  My magic triggered defenses instantly and blasted him with fire, wrapping his upper body with orange and yellow flames.

Brandon heeded my words, delivering the coup de’grace on Cyrilla Drex with his magic blade, planting it in her upper chest between her breasts.  There was a blast of ice-cold air blowing out from her body and hitting me and the others around her.  Her body aged centuries in two seconds. Her skin withered, crackled, and turned to dust with large bits clinging to her skeletal remains.

Arius swung and hit Barristen with Skullringer and the paladin that had tried to use Cyrilla’s sword, dropped it in favor of his short sword.  I winced in agony from the cut I had taken to the stomach.  I have worried my intestines would spill out on the floor.  Theren turned himself into a massive bear and charged at the lich-man colliding with him hard.  Barristen struck the bear with the staff, making it growl in pain.

I staggered to my feet and I fired a brilliant green eldritch blast at one of the paladins, while Dimitrious grappled with another one.  The wiry monk was all over his foe, moving like a clinging spider, trying to reach the leather band with the ruby.  Dimitrious got the collar off and the struggle stopped instantly as he shook his head, trying to get his bearing.

Another paladin slashed at me with its sword, hitting me.  I felt my body sag under the hit. I staggered back a half-step.

The other paladins were engaged with each other, hacking and slashing with furious blows at each other.  I wondered in that moment if we even could win.  Suddenly, the rolling green cloud of mists under him rose up and enveloped him.  Victor Barristen turned into a gaseous form himself, drifting up the ceiling and disappearing. Suddenly the battle stopped – the paladins that had been trying to kill one another seemed to come to their senses.  Theren the bear paused, looking around for a foe to fight but there was none.  Barristen had fled!  The fight was over – we had been victorious.

Our jubilation was momentary as we glanced over to where Bor had been disintegrated.  He had been a valiant comrade and we would miss his wall of muscle in the battles to come.

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

Part 25

Part 26

Part 27

Part 28

Character Background Material

My New Campaign

#dungeonsanddragons

#DandD

#DnD

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Review of the Film, First Man

Gosling’s portrayal is flat – and I’m being complimentary

Having seen the film, First Man, I wished I hadn’t.  Somehow Hollywood has managed to take the one defining moment of the 1960’s, man’s first landing on the moon, and turn it into a boring snore-fest.  Don’t get me wrong, I know Neil Armstrong was no dynamo in real life, but this movie made him and the landing on the moon as exciting as a piece of stale melba toast.  I was trying to come up with a good metaphor or word for this film and the top contenders are, “shitburger,” “blahfest,” and “ruining-my-fucking-childhood-memory-you-monsters.”  Pick any one of these when you tell your friends about this movie.

Going to the moon was exciting.  It inspired my generation to get into computers, the sciences, etc.  I wanted to be an astronaut as a kid…eventually getting into space as a science fiction writer.  It was something that unified the world for a few minutes in a turbulent decade.

There was plenty of material for the writers to work with to make this a compelling story.  What you get with this film is characters that none of us care about.  We see no growth in them, no change.  They are dull with unimaginative dialogue.  There isn’t a single redeeming character in this film, and that feels entirely wrong.  Even the scenes that could have made us all engage with the characters are downplayed or misrepresented entirely.

What is lost is the sense of national accomplishment in the race to the moon.  Instead they weave in how some groups thought it was a waste of money – making me wonder if this isn’t the ultimate subtext that Hollywood is attempting to tell us with this film.  While the Hollywood elite are all abuzz (pun intended) about Gosling’s portrayal of Armstrong, let me say that I have seen better dramatic performances in Food Lion on a Friday night.

On top of this, it is written in such a manner as to provide no context.  It starts with Neil in the cockpit of the X-15.  It doesn’t tell you why that flight was important or what it was setting out for, only that he is there and almost doesn’t make it back.  It presumes we all know the role of that craft in our journey into space.  There is less than two lines of dialogue between Neil and Michael Collins in the film.  In fact, they never really explain his role or Buzz Aldrin’s.  There is no chemistry whatsoever with the crew, with the Armstrong family, with anyone in this film.  I didn’t even feel like it really portrayed the 1960’s.

Neil isn’t your typical hero-character – but neither was Charles Lindbergh.  Maybe he wasn’t a good family man, but that could have been offset by the incredible accomplishment he did with being the first man on the moon.  Instead this film misses all of that.  We see nothing about what happened after his landing.  This is sloppy, revisionist history at its worst.

I felt this film failed on so many levels that it literally dug a new failure-basement to bury itself in. As someone that lived in that era, it fails to capture any aspect that made this a hyper-historical moment.  Quite literally, the writers took an easy win and made it dark, brooding, and dull.  I found myself suddenly rooting for the Russians to get to the moon first so this movie would end.

Go watch the outstanding series, From the Earth to the Moon. Hell, watch some YouTube videos.  First Man does not tell the story of the first man landing on the moon.  Instead it tells the story of a shallow man, his annoying wife, and somehow he ends up landing on the moon.   Do not waste your time on this horrible film.

From My BattleTech Archives – The Plannning Documents For Twilight of the Clans (Part I)

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Am I dropping a hint or just using a photo from Gen Con?  You never know what secrets this might reveal!  Then again, I could just be an ass trying to mislead you.   

I dug these out of my files recently because we (the creative team at Catalyst plus a few of us honored to join) are undertaking a similar Herculean task – mapping out the next big thing for BattleTech. I thought it might help to see what we did back for Twilight of the Clans.
When you map out something this complex, things DO change over time. Take a look at page 5 and you will see it was not Morgan that died en-route to Huntress…but another major character. Authors get a little bit of discretion in tweaking things. Not a lot, but if they can make a case that it is cooler, they will be heard.
I have been undertaking the role that Bryan did for Twilight – capturing our ideas into a cohesive format. I am proud to have worked with Bryan, and I learned a lot from him. I also know the incredible burden that rested on his shoulders with a project like this. I am looking at some of the stuff that is coming and saying to myself, “Holy shit, this looks awesome to me. I wonder how it will play with the majority of our fans?” I say majority because there are always some trolls that will take shots at whatever we do, even if we did everything they asked for.
This all came out of our summit meeting at Gen Con that year. It is a pretty cool peek under the covers at the creative process that goes on when you get some top-notch (not me, the other guys) talent in the room to map out something huge.

I remember when the document arrived.  It was so much fun to read, despite having been there when we brainstormed it.  A few times I almost tossed it…but didn’t because so much BTech history had already been lost.

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I think I’m safe in posting this to the net at this point

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With BattleTech we don’t talk about endings, we talk about what is coming.  Brace yourselves boys and girls, this one is going to be a hell of a ride.  More to come on this document.  I recommend you follow my blog, just to make sure you don’t miss out on the next installment.

Stages of Your Alleged Career – Entering The Triangle of Apathy

Career
That triangle above Disillusionment – that’s the Triangle of Apathy (trademark pending) 

Anyone who has read my book, Business Rules – a Cynic’s Guidebook to the Corporate Overlords, knows I am not a fan of the use of the word “career.”  While it applies in some specialty fields, in others it is a self-perpetuating myth.  People have jobs.  They desperately try and string jobs together to tell a story, but often it is a hot mess more than something that is cohesive.  Many people want careers, but in the real world, they have a job.

I have not mapped years to this because it varies for people.  Some people might burn through all of the stages in a matter of five years – some twenty.  Your results may vary.

So what are the stages of this mythical beast called a career?  Here’s my summary, for your reading entertainment.

Idealistic Stage.  You are young(er) with a twinkle in your eye and a bounce in your step. You believe that your long hours of hard work will be recognized and rewarded.  You go above and beyond to kick ass and takes names later.  Initially, it seems to work, encouraging more of this behavior.  Your first promotion or two creates the illusion that you are doing the right things to get ahead.  You confuse management with leadership at this stage.  Hell, it doesn’t matter, you are just happy to do your job.  There are a few older bitter employees, and you mock them openly because you see yourself smarter and more energetic than them.  Your “career” is not just about the paycheck, it’s about the challenge and the thrill you get as your learn new things.  The money is just as way for you to measure how well you are doing, like a ranking in a video game.

You find a specialty at work that intrigues you, and you become an expert in it.  It excites you to become the master of something.

When you go on business travel, it’s a party paid for by the company.  Your interests outside of work are limited because work seems awesome.  In fact, the things that make you happy and the relationships that seem to matter are all tied to your job and you don’t care. You identify mentors who you respect and they give you useful advice.  It is hard to imagine working anywhere else because the values of your organization seem to align with yours personally.

You are building your network in the organization…meaning you engage with many peers and form relationships that may help you in the future.  It is easy to do since many of you are just starting out.

Life is good because you can manage it.  Work and life get blurred, but that’s okay. You have a lifetime to sort that out.

Questioning State.  As you move higher in the organization, you notice that the behaviors that got you rewarded are taken for granted.  Upper management simply expects you to work long hours, they expect it from everyone.  You notice that some people that are promoted don’t share your work ethics or values.  Some advance because they are talented brown-nosers who kiss ass more than work.  You see people who advance based on technical skill rather than leadership capabilities.  Adding to this, the pace of promotions begins to slow down.

The company makes changes to your benefits and compensation and for the first time you question those changes. You notice that some people you respect either move on to other companies, or lose their jobs in one of the many reorganizations you start to experience/feel.  You see entire teams gutted, seemingly for no reason.  Still, you want to believe that the organization you work for cares about you – so you overlook most of these indiscretions, but a nagging voice in your head makes you wonder if you are a valuable member of a team, or merely a commodity.  You begin to ponder what your value is from the company’s perspective.

That thing you became an expert in…you realize you need more.  So you reinvent yourself, becoming an expert in another field.  For a short time that fulfills your joy, but it seems to fade fairly quickly.

The corporate rules becomes blurry and confusing as to what is expected of you as ambiguity becomes a competency.  You are confused by what you see, but cannot fully articulate what is happening.  You begin to question how the organization is run and who is leading it.

Money means a lot more at this stage of your career because you are more settled, have more responsibilities, and want/need more stuff.  You begin to notice that some people are treated better financially those others with bonuses and other incentives, and it bothers you because they are not distributed equitably.  It was probably always this way, but now you start to notice it more and ask, “Why?”  It’s not an overriding concern…yet.

You get to go to training, but much less often than earlier in your career.  It’s not for lack of desire, but there are always budget and timing questions that seem to block you.  You are hit with counters to your request like, “If you think you can afford to take three days to go to training in the middle of this critical stage of the project, go ahead.”  You become the bad person for even suggesting to take time off.

You still are working just as hard as you did, cranking up the long hours, but you are beginning to question if it is worth it.  Work-life balance starts to creep in as an issue.  You still travel without questioning whether it is needed or not.  You begin to question the bureaucracy and rules that you ignored earlier in your career.  Your pool of friends at work is starting to drain and it is harder to bring new people into that dwindling circle.

Disillusionment Stage. You feel as if you are a marked man or woman.  Your manager cannot tell you how to advance or grow in the organization because they are fighting to save their own phony-baloney jobs.  You see long-time friends and colleagues lose their jobs to downsizing, rightsizing, outsourcing, etc. When the promotion list comes out, it is something that infuriates and frustrates you.  “How could that imbecile get promoted and I can’t?”  There doesn’t seem to be any rules to follow or path to walk that can get you promoted.

You want to change jobs but the tentacles of your life and organization hold you tightly.  You have debt in life, you need to keep your medical plan, you don’t want to sacrifice your retirement plan by starting over at a new company, or you are so much older that other organizations won’t bother to interview you. (If anyone out there believes that age discrimination isn’t real, you’re a fool.)  Where you used to be comfortable with work and life blending together, now you want them separated.  You hate going on business trips at this stage of your corporate life because you have started to develop a life outside of work as a means of mental escape from the depressing grind that work has morphed into.

Training you want to take is expensive and the company refuses to send you…after all, why train someone who may only use those skills for the few years remaining in your careers?  At the same time, they ding you for not having the right skills.

The publication of the annual promotions list is a source of frustration and anger.  “How could they promote her?  He couldn’t find his ass with a flashlight and both hands!” are typical comments.  You are no longer sure what to do to progress or grow in your role because the rules are constantly in flux.  Despite this, people come to you to ask career advice and you do your best to help them.

Money plays a role here at this stage too.  You begin to compare notes with others and can see how you are not earning what you feel you deserve.  It makes you angry, but leadership brushes it off when you raise it with them.  “I can’t talk to you about what another person is making.” At this stage, money has become less of a necessity (you make enough) but more of a way to gauge yourself against others.

That network you built back when you were idealistic…it is dwindling.  RIF’s, layoffs, and outsourcing have cost some of your work-friends their jobs.  Some make sense, others seem random, almost arbitrary.  This has you wondering what leadership in your organization is thinking, if anything.

Your days are filled with PowerPoint slide decks and meetings to plan other meetings.  You think and speak in bullet points, even at home.  Vacation and holidays are often rushed, squeezed in between work deliverables, but deeply cherished.  You still check email while off, doing it in secret from your significant other.

In this stage you start to question business travel.  “Do I really have to be there live for two hours of meetings?”  You have a ton of points for hotels and airlines, but don’t seem to have the time to use them.  Your personal life seems suddenly to be more important than, “working for the man.” The things that make you happy are outside the office.

You are in an emotional prison, unable to move up in the organization, living in fear of layoffs, watching incompetent and unskilled people pass you by.  Your last mentor is contemplating suicide and blaming the company in the farewell note. As your company plays with your benefits, you feel powerless and impotent.  You won’t work an hour of overtime at this point; why bother?  Distrust in the organization is your default setting, and with good reason.

Your use of Linkedin supersedes your use of other social media.

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Survival Mode or “Shawshank Redemption” Stage. Less-than-subtle comments to you like: “We could hire three kids of out college for what we pay you,” or “I can move your job to India for a quarter of the cost,” are your “inspiration” at this stage.  You feel as if you have given the organization so much that you merely want to see this ride through to the bitter end.  That and you still cling to some of the values you had when you first started there.  You want to be back at the early stages of your career when you understood the rules of the game and it was fun to play.  You keep hoping that the leaders will go back to those ideals you cling to.

It helps to know where the skeletons are buried, mostly because you dug a lot of the holes over the years.

Your decisions are always weighed against, “Can they use this as an excuse to let me go?”  You have become that older prick you used to joke about in the organization.  Everything becomes clinging to the thing you have grown to hate, simply because it is a paycheck.  Your moments of inspiration and glimmers of hope are quickly squashed by others in leadership.

Vacations and holidays are seen as sacred time where you completely disconnect from work.  Money means less at this stage of your “career.”  This is more about survival.  You have been complaining of your pay for so long your expectations are appropriately low.

The publication of the promotions list has you seeing people there that you have never heard of.  Your personal network can be counted on one hand.  Many show signs of PTSD, having barely survived countless layoffs and reorganizations.  They are, for the most part, institutionalized – apparently trapped in their roles.

Your mentors have been all laid off, fired, or escaped.  Your circle of friends at work has shriveled to a handful. You actively work to avoid business travel because you have come to hate airports, hotels and people.  Work is a prison where parole consists of reductions in force. Each time the axe is swung you secretly hope you are on the list.  You know the layoff packages in your organization as well as your pension plan.

When there’s a workplace shooting on TV and people say, “I don’t know how that could happen,” you find you possess the answers.

If you look at the chart above, mapping your disengagement increase, your engagement at work decrease, and your salary, you can see that the optimum period comes during the disillusionment period in the small triangle you see on the chart.  I name this little spot the Triangle of Apathy…where you still care about work, but realize the futility of that caring.

BattleTech – Why don’t you write another Clan Wolverine book?

Betray
“So you’re saying Nicholas Kerensky was insane?”  “Aff – VERY Aff.”

I get this question every two weeks or so:  “Why don’t you write another book on Clan Wolverine?”  Believe me, no one loves Betrayal of Ideals more than me.  Amid the wails of loud mostly unimportant and misguided people of “retcon!” I think the story of Clan Wolverine stands the test of time.  The people who say it is retcon are morons.  People bonded with the Wolverines in Betrayal, even though we all knew it was not going to end well.

In fairness, I had a plan for them that was pretty cool.  The proposal was written and submitted.  Then I got the call from Brent Evans, “Hey, super-neat idea you put together, let’s not go there right now.  Let’s talk about the end of the Dark Ages era.”  Well, when you get a call like that, you jump.  The reality is that there are only so many hours in the day to dedicate to writing, so I shifted to address the hottest topic and I like to think advancing the storyline out of the Dark Ages is a priority.

Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t hate the Dark Ages, just some of the execution of the Dark Ages.  God knows there are enough Dark Ages haters out there, I’m not on that bandwagon.  Wizkids made a decision early on to deliberately NOT use the established BattleTech authors to advance the story.   I was told, “We are going to bring in some good professional writers to do the stories going forward.”  Ouch.  This is not paraphrasing, this was what I was told.  Douchebags.  Kind of a kick to the balls to get that kind of message after a number of quite successful novels.  How’d that work out for you Wizkids?  In two years they were asking us to come back…with no apology either.  By the time we got product out, the damage had already been done with the fan community…on multiple levels.   Just as we started to right the ship, fictionally speaking, the plug was pulled on published fiction altogether.

I digress.  Back to the Wolverines.  As a BattleTech author, you have to recognize that you are working in a shared universe.  That means you can’t just write what you want when you want it…no matter how cool the idea is.  That isn’t entirely true – but pretty close.  You don’t own these factions or characters, they are part of the IP (Intellectual Property).  There are some courtesies that you get affronted about the characters you create, but not always.  I don’t own Clan Wolverine, I simply was given the chance to tell their story.  Kudos to Randall who said, “This works!”

I also believe that if the Wolverines do reappear, in whatever guise or form, it needs to be something pretty monumental and should be done in a way to catch the fan base off guard.   Like the Mandarin said in Iron Man 3, “You’ll never see me coming…”  They can’t just show up as some footnotes or sidebar in a sourcebook. I left some of them very much alive but few in number.  Nice warships too.  In the final book release, I also gave a lot of clues as to their disposition. Remarkably, I’ve seen few comments about the Easter Eggs.  Anyone thinking they went somewhere to die off is on drugs.

People hit me all of the time about the Jihad conspiracy sourcebooks that speculated on the Wolverines as if that was gospel.  “So are the Wolverineeies (their word) really the Word of Blake?”  Everything in that whole book around the Wolverines was and remains speculation as far as I am concerned. Some of that material is funny, other bits are sheer brilliance.  I had no input on that stuff and support it for what it is, cool concepts that may or may not be true. I will say that none of my ideas are based on that material.

There have been some pretty fanciful fan theories about the Wolverines as of late on Sarna.net.  I won’t comment or critique them beyond saying, “Damn, that’s a cool idea!”  Even if some of them were spot on, I wouldn’t confirm or deny it. In recent months I have come up with a radically new idea for them, but nothing I’ve documented just yet.  Just a few notes scribbled on paper.

Until I finish writing the current novel, XXXX XX XXX XXXX XXXXXX it is really hard for me to flesh out Wolverine ideas anew. Even then, I have some ideas for newer stuff, tied to the currently unfolding timeline that might prove fun. For now, I know where Clan Wolverine are, and what they are doing, and what their ultimate goals are.  In my draft of XXXX XX XXX XXXX XXXXXX I even have a reference to the Clan there.  I think it will give the editor a seizure and may never see print, but it is there.  In the upcoming Forever Faithful, there is a mention of Clan Wolverine that even makes me chuckle when I wrote it.

I have not forgotten the Wolverine survivors in the least, but there is a lot in motion right now, including a new true crime book project.  I am 33k words into work on XXXX XX XXX XXXX XXXXXX  which has a lot of challenges and some epic moments that have to be done just right.  After all, we’ve been building up to this 1989.  If I don’t get this right, fans will be pissed.  Well, to be frank, there’s always some bitchy whiny trolls out there that complain.   Then there’s the looming edits for the Wolf’s Dragoons novella, XXX XXXXXX XXXXXXXX…and I’m sure another read through of Forever Faithful before its release…which I keep thinking is happening soon John Helfers!

And the final reason I haven’t written another novel for the Wolverines…I don’t do requests.

The greater good of BattleTech gets priority on writing projects.  Right now, that’s not the Wolverines.  Or is it?  (Evil grin)

Retro Review – Helter Skelter (TV Show and DVD) 1976

HS
Holds up to the test of time strangely enough

This is a bit of a retro-review.  Back in 1976, CBS ran a mini-series (I seem to remember two episodes) of Helter Skelter, based on the book by Vincent Bugliosi, the prosecutor on the Tate-LaBianca murders in 1969.  When it ran, it was the 16th most watched TV film.  Subsequently it was released in movie theaters as well.  I remember watching this on TV when it came out and, at the age of 12, I remember it scared the hell out of me.  Steve Railsback played Manson and, while a little tall for the role, was incredibly compelling and gave me nightmares.  Nancy Wolfe’s version of Susan Atkins was creepy as all hell.  Because of this, the book came into our house and I read it.  For me, it was one of my first steps on the journey to being a true crime author.  (Another being the Lindbergh Kidnapping Case starring Anthony Hopkins – which is also available now on DVD.)  

 

I recently found Helter Skelter on DVD on Amazon.  A part of me wondered if I would find it cheesy after all of these years.  After all, it was a TV made for movie.  My expectations were pretty low. 

 

Is it true to the book?  Mostly – ish .  Clearly there is more in the book than can ever make it to the screen. It is clear that the screenwriters did what they could to stick to the facts.  

Well, for the most part, the series has stood the test of time.  I was still impressed with Railsback’s version of Manson, he hit the nail on the head from what I’ve seen of interviews with Charlie before his death.  From a story-perspective, it is hard to tell the entire story of the Manson family and the horrible murders they committed, but this does a good job. 

 

There are a few minor nits I have.  The spots for the commercial breaks are many and can disrupt the flow.  There’s no way around that.  The production quality is 1970’s television, so things you will see that are not up to the special effects we have today.  I am not a big fan of Vince’s character breaking the 4th wall and talking to the viewers, but it does help fill in some narrative on a complex case. 

 

Some of the acting of the minor characters is marginal, but I have to admit, it was still pretty gripping to watch.  Quinten Tarantio is coming out with a Manson-related film next year, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, but that doesn’t seem to fit the bill for me. 

In an age of TV networks dedicated to true crime, the original 1976 Helter Skelter series is worth picking up and re-watching.  It didn’t give me the nightmares it did the first time, but it was entertaining enough.  

Things You Need to Get Answers on Before You Leave The Interview

Bobs

I hate fluff articles with similar titles that give you worthless tips for interviews like, “Tell me why you like working here”?”  Bah! No one cares because the answer to that question ls likely to be pure BS anyway.

At the risk of being blunt, there’s some things you need to get out of an interview, but usually don’t ask because they can seem edgy.  Still, getting this information is important.  How you get it in your line of questioning, that I leave to you.  Also you need to focus on the 2-3 questions that are most important to you personally.

What’s next in this process, and when?  Usually an interviewer will inform you of this as their way of saying, “we’re done with this interview.” If they don’t, you need to know what the next steps are and what the timing is for those steps. Timing can be important, because it tells you how important this role is.  If they want to fill it fast, it is more likely mission critical.

Who’s the decision maker? Organizations often have rounds of interviews, one with a recruiter, one with the hiring manager, sometimes a technical interview, sometimes team interviews, and so on.  Their belief is this ensures they get the best candidate; when in reality it spreads out the blame for hiring bad candidates to a larger group of people.  As such, it can get confusing as to who is the individual that actually is making the judgement call as to your joining the company.  If you don’t know this, ask!

Why didn’t this position get filled from within?  This tells you how important promotion from within is, if they provide training, etc. I asked this recently and got, “Oh, we have several in-house candidates that we like, but we always like looking in the external market.”  In other words, they may just be wasting your time because of a stupid policy. Probing at this can tell you a great deal about how the organization views their people.

What would be my career progression if I were offered this job?  In other words, how long until I can promoted and to what role or position?  Will I have freedom to change career directions, or is this seen as a niche role with little room for growth?   What I always want to know with this question is, “How much flexibility will I have with my career path?” What you want to find out is simple – is this a company that has an up-or-out approach to careers, or one that sees you as a long term asset they want to nurture and grow?

What does your company do to retain talent? Does this company even care enough to try and keep its best performers? The companies that really do care have program in place.  This is also a good question to determine if the organization you are interviewing with is one that cherishes experience, or promotes more of an “up-and-out,” mentality towards its people.

Does your company have any outsourcing initiatives or efforts to move jobs overseas?  I know of someone who hired into a job, only to find out that the seat was vacated because his predecessor had already been told the role was being moved to India.  You need to know if you are entering an environment that is harvesting jobs for outside vendors or to send overseas.  While this is not a deal-breaker on its own (the role you are interviewing for may not be impacted) it can tell you a great deal about the morale and focus of the staff.

What is your employee review process like?  The response to this question tells you something about how the tentative organization evaluates its people’s performance.   How you will be evaluated often drives the type of work you do.  Best to learn that before you are offered the position.

How many hours are there in a typical work week in this position?  Are you going to have time to have a life?  Is this place a sweat shop?  Chances are they will tell you, “it varies,” but you should probe a little further.  “So what is the high end and the low end?”

What is your turnover rate in this role?  You can give a recruiter an aneurism with this question, so I saved it for last.  This is how many people leave this job.  It tells you about the culture and the kind of longevity you can expect in this position.  If people are staying for a long time (a low turnover rate) then it is probably a pretty good place to work.

Bear in mind, the recruiter or the hiring manager may lie through their teeth in response to these kinds of questions. If nothing else, it can give you something to bitch and whine about when you discover the truth, “When I interviewed they told me I could have a career here…those bastards…”

I have been told that some recruiters might react negatively to one or more of these questions.  I try and not live my life around what upsets recruiters.  Well, do you really want to work at a place that won’t share this information with you up-front?  If nothing else, shame on you for not getting this information in your interview.