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)

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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.

Review of The Case Files of the East Area Rapist / Golden State Killer by Kat Winters and Keith Komos

East Area

 

When I was at CrimeCon 18 I saw this book and purchased the Kindle edition when I got home.  I notice today it is not up on Amazon, but that could be either a bug with Amazon.com or the authors working on a new edition.  I would hope they would keep this one in print because it is useful.

As a true crime author, I wanted some details on this case and this book is all about the details.  It covers every single crime related to the Golden State Killer.  Some of this was clearly compiled from police reports, while other incidents seem a little lighter, perhaps from media sources.

This is not a casual read…there is a LOT of material here.  My hates off to Kat Winters and Keith Komos for the staggering amount of research they did for this.  I wanted this level of detail in a book.  As a true crime author my level of curosity is at the nuts and bolts level and here, this book doesn’t disappoint.  If you want an overview level of the cases, there are some great books out there.  This one takes you through every single crime.

What was strange was that after I read it (nightly for four weeks – it’s that big) I started to blur the cases together in my head.  Perfect.  That meant there was a very distinct pattern that you see emerge with these crimes.  It is incredible how the murderer (suspect Joseph DeAngelo) followed a pattern of how to approach the target homes, entry, things he said to the victims, his methods of immobilizing them, etc.  I knew this going into the book, but not on the incredible volume of cases.  What you are led through, chronologically, is the evolution of madness this rapist/killer went through.  You can read clearly how he honed his horrific skills.  The amount of work that went into this book is something I respect as a researcher and author.

We knew that the Golden State Killer called his victims, but I was surprised at how much he tracked and called them.  He used the phone to stake out when the houses were empty and when certain people were at home.  This kind of stuff is golden (no pun intended) for a true crime fan like me.

The book has a conversational tone in some areas where the authors ask the readers questions about what they see.  I’m not a huge fan of that, but it didn’t ruin the book for me.  It is a style of writing and you don’t have to be a fan of every style.  There were some editing mistakes, but I’m in no position to cast stones on that front.  Sidebar:  That stuff happens and the people that make a big deal about it are often would-be writers themselves who believe the English language is composed of hard and fast rules that cannot be pushed or broken.  There hasn’t been a book I’ve read in the last decade that hasn’t had some minor hiccup when it comes to grammar.  Let it go people.  End Sidebar

There is remarkably little about the investigation.  This is, per the title, the “case files.”  For some true crime fans that is going to be something they will struggle over.  There is no narrative that weaves all of this together.  It reminds me of Dragnet’s infamous line, “Just the facts ma’am.”

With DeAngelo’s case front and center with the media, this is a great go-to book in the coming years.  Everytime something has come up on TV about the case, I’ve done a search on my Kindle copy to check references.

I give this 4 out of 5 stars for the casual true crime reader.  For someone wanting to know each and every case, it is 5 out of 5 stars.

 

 

The Chronicling of our D&D Campaign: Tempora – Part 28

trap2

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…

After the debacle at the fountain with that water weird, we found a door heading to the north.  We had little choice, turning back at this point made no sense.  We opened it and entered a room with a pile of rotting skeletons and rags along the far wall.  Theren triggered a trap of some sort, releasing a noxious green cloud that made him gag.  He waved off the effects of the gas as if it were little more than a nuisance.  Personally I was amazed that our members on the point had not triggered it.

The gas, as it turned out, was the least of our problems.  From under the rotting remains along the far wall, a swarm of giant snakes emerged and headed right for us!  Their scales shimmered in the light of Bor’s glowing blue warhammer and the green light from Brandon’s lantern.

Althalus unleashed his eldritch beams of death, hitting one of the snakes and sending it flying back into the wall it had emerged from. Bor swung his mighty warhammer down, hitting one of the snakes hard and flattening part of its body.  The tail of the creature flailed about.  Dimitrious stuck a dart in the snake that had been tossed back to the wall.

I rushed forward, never one to shirk from battle.  One sprang at Brandon, viciously biting him at the neck.  The snake coiled around his legs though.  He drew Nightstalker the sword and stabbed furiously at the creature, splattering the fine blade in fresh blood.  Althalus unleashed another emerald beam of arcane magic and made the head of one of the snakes explode, spraying me in a fine mist that had been the hideous creature.

I lost track of the others for a moment as I swung my blade at one of the snakes, hitting it only enough to anger it more.  It hissed at me.  Bor lost his grip on Skullringer mid-swing, sending the warhammer into the door and embedding it in the ancient wood there.

One snake latched onto Brandon’s upper right arm, flailing on the ranger as it held a tight grip.  Althalus hit that snake, doing enough damage to force it to release the ranger and drop to the floor. I stabbed my trusty blade into one of the giant snakes, cutting it deeply but not killing it.

The wily monk Dimitrious tore at one with his bare fists, killing one of the creatures with a blow to its head.

We were down to the two of the monstrosities.  Theren missed one snake with an arrow, splintering it on the stone.  Brandon stabbed Nightstalker into the snake, but it was still quite alive and angrier than ever.  I stabbed my own sword into the head of one creature, slaying it.  I muttered a prayer of thanks as the party circled on the last snake.  Theren planted another arrow into the creature, killing it.  The dead creature’s tail still twitched, disturbing us all.

Brandon harvested the venom sacs from the snakes only to be put in a quandary as where to put them.  “I guess I could put them in my water skin,” he suggested – but that was seen as a potentially deadly mistake.  Theren was the most vocal.  “One wrong sip, and you’re dead.” It was the warlock that came forth with a solution a bottle we had used to remove a curse on the flameskull. Every little bit helps, perhaps this poison will assist us.

Bor pulled Skullringer from the hole in the door and peer through, seeing a narrow hallway then hanging to the left.  It was a narrow passage and surprisingly, Brandon entered first.  He found a dagger on the ground, some old iron arrowheads, and bits of rusted chainmail.

The narrow hall made me cautious – we would be hard pressed to form a good line of battle.  I closed my eyes and prayed, trying to determine if the undead were present.  I could not sense anything, but the darkness of the hall in the eerie green light of Brandon’s lantern.

At the corner the hallway continued on.  There were a pair of doors on one wall some fifty-heads distant, but the hallway continued past that point. Our ranger told us that beyond the doors was a lever on the far wall.

“Shall we push on?” the ranger asked.

“We are following you,” I said as we moved slowly forward.

Brandon paused.  “Across from the double doors, I make out the faint outline of a secret passage of some sort.”

“Speak friend and enter?” Theren asked jokingly.  None of us chuckled.  Far too many things had already tried to kill us in Tempora to enjoy that old children’s joke.

Brandon stood before the concealed door that none of us could discern, while Bor planted himself in front of the double doors, in case they should open.  I gave Bor an assuring nod.  We were the battlers of our party and I wanted him to know I had his back.  I closed my eyes for a moment and asked God to protect him.

Suddenly I found myself being drawn to the far wall, the one with the doors.  I leaned away from it, but my feet slid.  I hit the wall, my armor and sword firmly planted on the wall. I tried to push away but could not budge.  A trap, no doubt some magical form of lodestone.  Every bit of metal we had pulled hard to the wall with crushing force. Even my nipple ring strained at my flesh to cling to the stone.

The secret door opened and three ghouls emerged.  I craned my neck and saw them.  Each wore a thick leather collar with a pulsating ruby on it.  Brandon’s sword Nightstalker burst into brilliant white light as the ghouls pounced upon him.  One bit at the ranger, tearing at the flesh of his shoulder.  He fell limp on the wall, held in place by his armor.

We were stuck firm. I pushed with all of my might but could only make my body move slightly.  Bor was badly damaged by a bite and was paralyzed and frozen to the wall.  The smell of death and semi-rotting flesh blew down the hall towards me as the creatures groaned.  We were trapped, in my case facing the wall. There was nothing I could do to stop them.  I began to wonder if I could somehow unclasp my armor.  Better to fight naked than die hanging on the wall.

Theren struggled to remove his backpack, but had no success.  Dimitrious though had only a dagger and had let it go and stick the wall.  He was able to move and sprang to attack the ghouls.  In my mind, the lever on the far wall was the key – but he could not pass through to get to it.  Instead he savaged one of the ghouls with a flurry of fist-blows.  He toppled one of the creatures, knocking it prone.  One ghoul continued to ravage the helpless Bor.

It was Theren that surprised us.  He transformed into a large spider, crawling out of his armor and equipment.  It was a hideous form we had never seen the druid undertake.  It clicked audibly and climbed up to the ceiling and scurried to the lever right over the ghouls.  It reached the lever and used four of its limbs to pull it down.  The moment it came down, Bor and Brandon dropped like felled logs to the floor.  I sprang free with my sword.

Althalus unleashed an eldritch blast, knocking of the creatures back in the hidden room they had emerged from.  Spider-Theren jumped on one of the foul beasts, tearing into his flesh.  It hissed at him in response, a sound that came from beyond the grave.  Dimitrious sent one of the beasts back to the hells it had sprang from with a rapid flurry of punches.

I moved near Brandon and muttered a prayer, laying my hands on him and succoring his pain.  One creature remained, its right arm hanging by a bit of muscle tissue, limp and worthless.  Spider-Theren attacked from above again, ripping the head off of the ghoul and sending it rolling near my feet.  Its mouth twitched slightly, making me wonder if it was truly dead.

We offered aid to Bor to bring him back to consciousness the Theren morphed back into his human form and put his armor and gear back on.

Brandon checked the dead ghouls and found the leather collars with the rubies.  The leather was intricately carved with runes and symbols, arcane and dark magic no doubt.  It stopped glowing once he pulled it off one of them.  “What are these?” he asked, holding up one them.  Althalus sprung over at the sight of them.  “What do we have here?”  He took one of them and studied them.  “I know these…I read about them.  These are the Eyes of Rivroast, and are compelling control devices that have not been seen in this world in ages.  They are cut from the same stone and the Mind of Rivroast, a crown that mounts that gem, giving the wearer complete control.  Someone must have had control over these ghouls.”  His words were sobering.  There was more at work here.

In the chamber where the ghouls had been, the room was filled with the stench of rotting flesh.  Bones and bits of clothing and armor lay molding in the chamber.  Small mice and roaches scampered as we entered the room, seeking the darkness.  One human skull seemed to stare at us.

“I want that skull,” Althalus said.

“You and your skulls,” I responded.  “Leave it be.”

“I want it.”

“I will give you a glimpse of that book you are so obsessed with if you leave it alone.”

“Agreed,” he said, rubbing his hands greedily together.  I regretted my words almost instantly.

“I have no desire to poke around in ghoul poop,” Theren said, pinching his nose.

I took my javelin and poked around the debris.  There was some loose coins, copper, silver and electrum, which we gave to Bor to carry.  There was some rope that had not decayed, some fifty-heads worth, which I took.  There were two flasks of oil there which the ranger offered to carry.  There was a small vial of clay sealed in wax that I found as well.  Carved into the clay was the elven word, “Fizkus.” Theren took a look at it.  “That’s high elven, it means flight.”

“That is wicked,” Althalus said.

“It is dangerous,” Theren warned.

I was almost done in the room when I found a small glass vial of clear liquid marked with the cross of the Church.  Holy water.  That was something I took for myself.  I knew this was something that would be of use later.

We moved to the double doors across the hall and forced them open with Skullringer, which took several blows.  Bor missed the doors entirely with one swing, clearly still suffering from the effects of the ghoul bite.  This chamber was filled with rusting metal, chainmail suits, plate and scale armor, shields, etc.  At first glance, it looked as if this was a waste of time – a room filled with dead-men’s armor.  The air stunk of iron dust.

One piece in the room caught my eye.  A round shield bearing an ornate “S” marking on the front.  It was more dirty than rusty and as I wiped it clean I could see how well it was made.  The edges of the shield were razor sharp and silvered.  It is very old and bears the markings on the back as having been made at The Priory of the Blade – home of the Sisterhood of the Sword!  A throwing shield…I had heard of these but have never used one.  This as the order that Lexa Lyoncroft allegedly came from.  The shield was very light in my hands.  I took this as my own, giving my mirrored shield to Bor to take – this new one was to be mine.  The Priory had been of the Church before they were purged.  I only could hope that this was indeed a blessed weapon.

Brandon found a spear that stood out. It had a stone for a tip that was a carved and polished white stone for a point. It was of sturdy build and he took it as has own.

We left the room and moved to where the lever was.  Brandon argued that we should reset the trap.  Theren countered that we might need an escape route.  We continued down the hall and came to a large chamber.  The wooden beams in the room had rotted away and there was some stone that seemed to have collapsed.

Of along the far wall we saw a small raised circular pool, about five inches off of the floor.  The water shimmered when we looked at it, the light from Brandon’s lantern seeming to give it other colors and form on the surface.

The last pool we had come across had a water weird in it, so I was apprehensive.  The ranger checked for tracks and there was signs of someone having crossing the room to the far end where we saw a staircase leading down. “Boot tracks,” Brandon said, squatting over them.  “Weeks old, maybe older.”

My muscles ached.  “We need to rest up,” I suggested.  “Not near that pool, but we need to eat and rest.”

Althalus kept his eyes on that pool.  “That pool intrigues me.”

“Me too,” Brandon said, staring over at it.  “What are the odds that it has another water weird in it?”  I was going to tell him I thought those odds high, but I did not want to diminish his zeal.

After our rest for an hour of so Brandon, Althalus and Dimitrious walked over to the pool. “You first,” the warlock said to the ranger.

Brandon leaned in and even from where we sat, we saw that the pool shimmered with color and shapes.  “It’s like a window…” Althalus said as Brandon leaned further.  I got to my feet.  “What do you see?” I asked, my hand falling to my sword.

“I see myself.  I’m fighting alongside a beautiful woman in red leather armor.  I see Arius and Lexa too, fighting together!  We’re fighting something…I cannot make out what it is, but we are fighting something dark and gray.”

I did not like the thought of fighting with Lexa Lyoncroft.  Perhaps this was a glimpse to a possible future.

Althalus leaned in and the image seemed to charge.  I could see a flicker of orange and yellow on the pool’s surface.  “Well, that’s what I expected,” he said as the image returned to normal.

“What was it?” Theren pressed.

“I saw myself grappling with you Theren on some summit somewhere.  The world around us was in flames.  Then the image disappeared.”

He always managed to disturb me, the way he took carnage and death so casually.  We began to move closer to the pool to see the images for ourselves.  Dimitrious leaned in and I could see the image on the pool’s surface.  He was moving slowly, as if time had been corrupted.  He began to dissolve, slowly turning to dust.  There was a strange look of contentment on his face.  His mouth opens as if he was speaking – then he disappeared.  We could not make out the background of the image but there was no sunshine, perhaps in a building of some sort.

Theren looked next as I closed on the pool.  As he leaned in he saw himself as an old man, with gray hair, struggling with someone dressed in black.  Flames surrounded them and the figure in the black robe wore a large silvered cross around his neck.  Then the image disappeared.

“Mine was better,” Brandon said.  “I had two women fighting with me.  I basically got girls in my vision.”

It was my turn.  I took a long breath and said a silent prayer.  Leaning in I saw Lexa Lyoncroft and myself, back-to-back, our swords in play – mine ablaze with holy fire.  We are surrounded and being rushed by faceless enemies that we are cutting apart.  I saw gray streaks in my hair near my temples – perhaps a glimpse into the future.  Something in the back of my mind told me that these foes were undead.

Bor leaned in and looked.  We all saw the image. In the pool Bor was covered in blood and is being held up by his throat, dropping Skullringer, his body limp in the black shadowy creature’s grip.  He is tossed aside is if he were dead.  I noted he was wearing the clothing and armor he had on now.  It was an ominous and dark image that flickered away.

It took us a few minutes to drink it all in. We turned towards the staircase and we saw a mist arise from the floor and saw the image of the mysterious woman appeared, her massive sword slung across her back.  She was thirty heads distance, at the top of the stairs.

“You still persist despite my warnings?”

“Yes,” Theren replied.  “We are bit slow that way.”

“You need to turn around now…while you can,” she warned.

“Why?” Althalus queried.

“You face your doom,” she replied.

“I can’t escape my doom,” the warlock countered.  When he said things like that he made us wonder about his true intentions.

“Did you look into that pool?” she gestured.

“Yes,” we all replied.

“What did you see?”

“Our futures,” Althalus replied.  “Our end.”

“Wait,” Theren said.  “We saw a future.  Not necessarily the future.  The future is not set.”  The druid waxed in philosophy.

“I give you two options,” she said in an ominous tone.  “Surrender or turn around.  It is a miracle you made it this far.  I am impressed.  This is your final warning.”

“If you could help us,” Althalus said.  “That would be great.”

“Ohh,” she cooed.  “I can help you.  What is it that you are looking for?”

I spoke up in response.  “The lost paladins that were brought here.”  Lying was not in my nature.  God understood.

She smiled, which did not ease our tension.  “I will show one you were those paladins are. You.”  She pointed at me.  Why me?  Was it because I was a paladin as well?

“I will take you to them.”

“We will go as a group,” the ranger said, holding out Nightstalker.  It did not glow, so we knew she was not undead.

“Come here and I can show you,” she gestured.

“I am not coming by myself,” I replied.  I was brave, but not stupid.

“I can take one of you.”

Althalus made a quick gesture with his hands – I had no idea what he was doing, but she did not seem to react to it.

“Why can you only take one?”  Theren asked.

I heard Althalus’ voice in my head – a disturbing experience at best.  “She is telling the truth.  I saw the paladins, about 150 of them, around a fire in the snow.”

“That is all I will take.”

“How far is the journey?” the druid continued to press.

“That is difficult to say in this instance.  Close and far.  It is closer than you think.”

She eyed me more carefully.  “Where did you get that?” she gestured to my new shield.  “That shield is the property of the Sisterhood of the Sword.”

“I will surrender it,” I offered, “If you take us all to the paladins.”

“I am not comfortable with us giving that up,” the warlock offered. “We found it, it’s ours.”

“I could defend that legally,” added Theren, our druid that never backed down from an argument.

“If you all want to go,” she countered.  “I can make that happen.”  There was something in her tone of voice that made me question her sincerity.  As if to add to the tension we were all feeling, she drew her massive sword.  I had seen a blade like that before, in the hands of Lexa Lyoncroft.  I had no doubt that the two of them were once part of the Priory of the Blade.  This one had a large black opal mounted in the hilt of the blade.

She walked to me and touched me on the shoulder.  The floor dropped beneath me and I felt like I was falling.  There was a rush of air around me.  I lost her vision. Arcane magic swirled around me.  Hit the ground in snow, the air stinging at my face and hands.  I raised my head and saw a group of warriors in the distance, huddle around the fire.  Brandon landed near me, his lantern smashed, the oil melting the snow.  The others…they had jumped though the magic portal with me!  I thanked the Almighty and rose to my feet.  She stood near me, facing me squarely.

“Where are we?” I demanded.

She smiled, which made me cringe. “You will find out when I come to take you…one at a time.”  The ground beneath her swirled a blue and white twist of energy and disappeared.

“Well,” Althalus said wryly.  “She’ll be back.”  We all gave him a stern look of frustration.  I looked around.  We stood on a snow-covered plateau, the wind whipping the snow around us.  There were mountains not far distant, in every direction.  I could not see the sun, but the gray skies were glowing as if it was daytime.  I had no idea where we were – perhaps deep in the northern reaches.  The cold penetrated my armor and skin.  The paladins were in the distance, gathered around a fire.

We walked over and I was designated to be the lead because I was a paladin like them.  We started walking toward them.

“Hello!” I called.  None seemed to have weapons.  They motioned for us to join them.  I saw the sigil for the Order of the Fang on their smocks and armor.

“What brings you here?” one asked as we got close to the fire.

“We came looking for you,” I offered.

“And you are trapped like the rest of us,” a gaunt paladin replied.

“We are imprisoned here – in that accursed blade of her sword.  That opal in the hilt – it is her own private plane of existence,” an older gruffer knight responded.  “She comes for us, taking us three or four at a time – takes us away.  None taken have ever returned.”

“I want that sword,” Brandon said.

“How long have you been here?” Theren asked.

Another knight, youngest we had seen, skinny with sagging cheeks replied, “Time works differently here.  It is hard to say.  Do you have any food?”

We opened our packs and shared what rations we had with us.  Theren grinned. “I am ‘gifted,’ I can make food.”

That brought about yellow-toothed grins.  “We need weapons as well.”

We handed out what spare weapons we had.  I was shocked to see the condition of these men.  They were starving to death here, imprisoned in her sword.  They held the weapons with fondness.

“Maybe we have a chance now that we are armed,” one of them said.  Mutters of support for him grew.

Brandon dug out the amulet he had found from the Order of the Fang.  “I have this,” he said holding it up.

“Where did you find it?” one of them asked.

“In Tempora, while we were looking for you.”

“It belongs in our brotherhood,” one said, looking to Brandon for approval to take it. “Take it,” he replied and one of the men draped it over his neck.  Just wearing it seemed to give him renewed energy.

One paladin, a bold man with a thick black beard stepped forward.  “I am B’hard, our captains and lieutenants are dead, or so we assume.  We thank you for the food.  It will go a long ways with my men.”

“Is there any way out of here?” Theren asked.

“No.  If you venture over the mountains in the distance, you come down the slope on the other side.  We have taken shelter in a cavern near here.  It is always daylight here but with the clouds, we never see the sun, and the caves are the only place where we get any sense of darkness.  We have no idea how long we have been here since it is ever-day.  The only way out is when she comes for us.  She takes a few of us at a time…and none ever return.”

“Is there any buildings or anything else here?” I asked.

B’hard nodded.  Off in the distance, in the foothills of that mountain is a keep.  It is the Priory of the Blade.  For years we wondered where their priory was hidden…as it turns out, Cyrilla Drex had it secreted away here, in her sword.  It is no wonder we never found it.  We were charged with razing it, but could never find it. Everyone trying to enter it has been badly injured.”

“I do not want to get hung up on this,” Althalus said. “I have some military experience. I was our leader the last time we served together.  It might make sense for us to have a single leader.”  Those of our party looked at Althalus and I cocked my eyebrow.  Memories of the minotaurs and the loss of one of our comrades was not a fond memory for us.

B’hard offered to take us to the priory. “I think this is folly.  None of us have been able to enter. I would be happy to take you though.  The wind cut through our clothing as we marched along towards the mountain.  “Did you see any sign of our men?”

“No.  We followed your tracks into Tempora,” Theren offered.

“We were blinded and we woke up here. Whatever she is doing is foul and evil.”  On this point, we all agreed.

“Did you have to face the Bone Dragons in the White Vale?” Brandon asked.

“No.  She simply marched us out there.”

“Lucky us,” Althalus muttered.

It took several hours to reach the priory.  It was a large central keep with a stone wall surrounding it.  It looked out of place, as if it had been scooped out from our world and brought here, and dropped.

Theren moved in front of the only gate on the wall and held his hands up as if he were trying to sense something, muttering as he stood.  We watched him for a few moments, then he turned to face us.  “It is protected by necromantic magic?”

B’hard, reacted.  “How can you see magic?”

“The gods have gifted me with this skill,” the druid said.

“’Gods,’ not God?” he asked cautiously.

“It is a long story,” the druid said blowing off the question. Druids and holy men of the Church did not get along.  Inquisitions had a way of generating bad blood.  “That keep is heavily protected.  If we try and force our way in, I suspect we will pay a price.  I sense wards – many layers of them, like rings on a tree.”

“We even tried to tunnel under it,” B’hard said.  “All were met with the same result.”

Theren looked to me.  “Your new shield is magical.  Let me hold it.”  I gave it to him and watched as he approached the gate.  Sparks appeared out of the air between the shield and the gate. He backed away, giving me the shield back.  “Throw a javelin at it.”

Brandon threw a javelin at the gate.  It erupted in an explosion.  The druid studied the air where the javelin had been, the smoke still swirling in the falling snow.  “Well, I think it is safe to say we cannot enter it.”

We trudged back to the cave following B’hard.  Men were huddled along the walls and a low fire burned in a pit near the entrance.  I could see my breath in the air, though being out of the wind and snow helped with my warmth.  “We need to prepare.  We need a plan.  She will come at some point.  When she does, we need a plan now that we have your weapons.  The challenge is we only see her for a second, then she disappears with anyone that near her.”

“She taunts us sometimes,” B’hard said.  “She tells us that we will be giving our souls to her ally.  Other times she merely appears and takes us without notice.”  I could feel the eyes of the men in the cavern stare at us.  They need hope beyond their belief in God.

“I bet it’s that necromancer…what was his name?  Victor Barristen…that fallen paladin,” Theren said.

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“I wonder if Lexa Lyoncroft knows that one of her former sisters is aiding someone like Barristen?” Althalus asked.  It was one more mystery we would have to take to her at some point, if we lived through this magical exile.

B’hard looked to Althalus.  “What would you suggest?  We are unsure if that is really her that appears or an image of her.  We need to be prepared.  We are weary of this slow death.”

Another paladin spoke up.  “The last time we tried to jump her when she appeared, we were thrown back by some sort of magical blast.”

“We are familiar with that,” Althalus replied.  I looked around.  A few of the knights looked almost dazed, rocking in their private space of the cavern.  Others trembled and stared into nothingness.

“Drex needs our blood, that much is clear,” B’hard said.  “Your friend here,” he said pointing at me, “is probably more at risk than any of you.”  Being a holy knight, I faced the same fate as they did.  It hardened my resolve.

Theren stepped forward with a plan.  If we form a circle, interlock our arms with the armed men, when she appears as many of us as possible will rush her with the intent of getting out of this accursed place.”

“For the record,” Althalus said after a moment of consideration.  “This is a horrible idea. I do have an alternate plan.  We do have the devil’s skull and the book.  Perhaps I can unleash the devil on her once we get to the other side.”

“What is this devil’s skull you speak of?” B’hard asked.

“It’s a long story,” Althalus said, cutting him off.

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There it was, a plan I dreaded more than death.  I was about to lecture the warlock that he was surrounded by 150 paladins, more if you included me.  I also was reluctant to allow me access to that accursed book even on the best of days.

Theren beat me to the punch.  “Let’s consider that a fall-back plan.”  That seemed to satisfy Althalus for the moment – though I wondered if he was still thinking of somehow unleashing that devil.

Outside in the snowstorm we heard the sound of a low and slow rumble of thunder, as if the skies themselves were straining to release the sound.  “That is her!” B’hard said.  “We hear that when she is about to appear.”

“Lock arms,” I called.  The paladins interlocked their arms, many gripping the weapons we had provided them.  Their eyes were red and weary, yet they all looked as if they were ready for a fight.  Everything was preferable to dying in this forsaken land.

A ghost-like vision of her appeared, not quite corporeal.  I was not sure she was really there, or merely projecting an image of herself.  We were not close enough to make the jump through her portal.  The halberd I had given one of the men that disappeared, fell clanging on the cavern floor.  Another paladin picked it up.  Four of the men were gone.

“That was not good,” Althalus.  “We know when she is coming, but it is pure chance as to where she is going to appear.”

“We need to huddle closer, a tighter circle,” Theren said.  So that went she appears, more of us can make the leap through her portal.

We waited what seemed like hours, if not longer. B’hard and the best fighters centered on our party, clamoring for a fight.  I planned to bless our party the moment we heard the rumble – ensuring God would protect us. My legs ached as we stood, waiting for the inevitable.  Some sat, waiting for the crack of thunder.  I chose not to.

The rumble happened, strained and slow as before.  Men rose.  The floor opens beneath us in a swirl of white and blue energy.  I saw her standing before me, semi-transparent.  We lunched into the light, along with two of the paladins.

I landed on stone…hard.  A pentagram surrounded us.  Looming over us, holding that massive sword over our heads.

“So what do we have here?” she asked, moving to a combat stance.

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

Character Background Material

My New Campaign

#dungeonsanddragons

#DandD

#DnD

The Most Important Character in Game of Thrones – Samwell Tarly

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Before you have a nerdgasm, hear me out…

By now many of you are already preparing to rebuttal this post based solely on the title.  I get it.  Sam is not the kind of character you think of as important.  He’s got that sidekick vibe to him, like Robin to Batman-Jon-Snow.  I want to challenge that.  Sam is one of the most important characters on Game of Thrones.  In fact, if Sam wasn’t around, Westros would be hip deep in undead by now.

On top of this, we are in deadzone waiting for the new season.  We haven’t forgotten GoT, but we also haven’t had a lot to get us fired up.  It was time for a blog post on Game of Thrones.

I’m not a big fan of Sam’s character personally, but the writers have masterfully cast him in a role that has a lot of far-reaching impacts.  Moreover, we tend to not realize the importance of what Sam has done thus far.

Here’s the rundown of the things Sam did to save the world well all care about more than our own:

  • Sam prevented Jon from quitting the Night’s Watch.  When Jon wanted to run off and avenge headless-Ned, it was Sam that tracked him down and convinced him to remain in the Night’s Watch.  Otherwise Jon would have been a guest at the Red Wedding and, well, you get it.
  • Sam found the Dragonglass at the First of the First Men and learned it could kill Whitewalkers.  This is kind of a big deal because up to this point, only fire was used to kill the dead.  Sam killed a freaking Whitewalker! The first of the Night’s Watch in generations to do so.  Sure he almost wet himself doing it, but he did it.
  • He helped Bran get north of the Wall so that he could become the Three-Eyed Raven.  Bran would have just been some guy tripping out every now and then in a drug-like-stupor if Sam had not helped them through a secret tunnel to the North.  And let’s face it, if Bran hadn’t become the Three-Eyed Raven, we would still be dealing with Littlefinger, so we owe Sam a lot here.
  • Sam saves Gilly and her son, depriving the Whitewalkers of another wight in their command.
  • In the Battle for Castle Black, it is Sam that releases Ghost who helps Jon turn the tide of the battle.
  • He nominated Jon as Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch.  Sure, the Night’s Watch would eventually kill him, but if not for Sam he never would have been made Lord Commander, which would have doomed the Free Folk in the north.  Sam’s simple nomination set a great deal in motion from that point forward.
  • Sam warned the ArchMaesters of the threat of the Whitewalkers.  The maesters didn’t seem to know what was going on north of the wall until Sam clued them in.  While they didn’t do much about it – yet, Sam did make them aware of what was coming.
  • He cured Jorah Mormont.  Sure Jorah lives in Dany’s friendzone, but he is a kick-ass character that was going to die until Sam violated the rules and saved him.  This allowed Jorah to go with Jon’s expedition north, capture one of the undead, and laid the stage for the upcoming season of wacky shennanigans.  Without Sam, Jorah would be dying a horrible death.
  • It was Sam that discovered a mountain of Dragonglass was at Dragonstone.  Not only is this a weapon against the dead, it forced Jon and Dany to form an alliance that would be key in the wars to come. If Sam had not discovered this, it is hard to say that the two would be able to find some common ground.
  • It was Sam that discovered Jon’s true heritage (with Gilly’s help).  Bran gets the credit for this, but in reality, Bran was unaware of Jon’s true heritage until Sam told him about the marriage of Jon’s true mother to the Targaryen prince.  Without Sam, we never would have known that Jon is a legitimate heir to the Iron Throne.

So there you have it, Sam is critical to the plot up to this point.  More than Headless-Ned, that’s for sure.

#GoT

#GameofThrones

Review: Star Wars Legion – The Miniatures

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Apologies in advance – I’m not a great photographer

When I saw a new Star Wars miniatures skirmish game I have to admit, I was a little giddy.  Adding to that, my grandson/gaming buddy, loves Star Wars.  I remember playing the old miniatures game and while fun, it was a pain to manage all of those cards with the minis if you did a larger battle.  I hoped this one would be better and, on the surface, it appears so.

For this review – I am going to focus on the miniatures.  My first proviso, I am not a great miniatures painter.  I am average, at best.

When I purchased the set, I noted that these were 35mm figures…as opposed to the 25mm figures from the old game.  Was this merely a ploy to make sure I couldn’t use the old minis in the new system?  Probably.  At the same time I wondered how the larger size would impact details.  As it turns out, it makes the details pop.  Even better, the larger size seems much more forgiving when you paint them.  Little mistakes (the ones only you notice) disappear on a larger miniature.

Assembly was great, well almost great.  For the Stormtroopers and Rebels, you can almost get by without gluing some of the arms to the miniature, some are that good of a fit. The figures are great to work with, with good facial distinctions and details.  I have to admit it, Fantasy Flight Games did a great job with these.

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These guys are looking for trouble

The only miniature I struggled with putting together was the speeder bikes.  The guide in the rules set simply didn’t help at all with putting on the parts.  I went to two videos to finally figure it out.  On one bike, I got the control vanes on backwards.  I’m refusing to correct it at this stage.  Even more frustrating, unlike other parts in the boxed set that fit together well, the vanes don’t.  One wobbly finger and you end up with a hot mess…trust me.  I hate those speeder bikes for that reason.  I’m sure better modelers fared much better than me.

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These minis are not quite model kits in complexity, but are pretty fast and easy to assemble (other than those blasted bikes.)

In terms of painting, be prepared.  There are a lot of videos on how to paint these minis.  In terms of color guides, I found no less than a dozen.  It makes sense with the Rebels, after all, these are ad hoc units so there is some variance.  Well brace yourself, there are a lot of options here which make it great for you as a painter/player.

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The large bases have groves for identifying firing angles.  You need these in game play.  It can make basing those figures tricky.  You can see how I did it.  I wasn’t overly pleased with the result, but it worked.

Stormtroopers are easier.  You have white and black, and a touch of dark gray.  I color coded the bases with the leaders so I can distinguish them on the field of battle.

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I used an airbrush for base coats, which saved time.  It allowed me to do some light camouflage on the RT walker that I liked too.  You will have to judge for yourself.

I purchased Strong Tone wash from Army Painter and this was my first experience with it.  You can judge for yourself.  I have come to love it.  With the Stormtroopers, I put it on and gently wiped the white surfaces so they popped a little more.  I am not a Strong Tone kind of guy when I paint.  It can make a dull mini pop, and isn’t that what you want?

You can see my results as an average painter.

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One of these days I will play the game and do a full-blown review of these minis in action.  Stay tuned!