The Unintended Consequences of the Pandemic

When all of this started back in March of 2020, I told a friend of mine, “I don’t fear the pandemic as much as I do the unintended consequences of it and the government’s response.”  I explained to him that every time the government throws money at something, things happen that they never expected.  The pandemic itself was laden with strange things we never expected.  Here’s a few things we learned and experienced that might have some long terms effects:

There was a shortage of some brands of soda because our cans come from China.  Bottlers focused on making only their core products for a while.  The availability of aluminum cans determined for weeks what was available to consumers.  Who knew?  

It turns out most of our medicine and medical supplies are manufactured overseas.  That was an eye-opener. 

We learned that a segment of our society was willing to turn their neighbors in out of fear. All you had to do was make them afraid and give them a phone number to call.  Hello 1972, East Germany!

Some politicians overextended their authority.  Some lied about the severity of the pandemic. Most wasted little time in making a medical issue a political crisis. 

The low interest rates have gotten people to start buying and building homes at a breakneck pace, at least here in Virginia.  This has led to a shortage of building products, which has, in turn, raised prices dramatically. A guy at Home Depot told me that lumber is almost competing for meth in terms of cost.  I’m assuming he was joking.  How long will it be before the cartels and smuggling plywood across the border? 

Salad bars disappeared – I fear forever. Also dealt a crippling blow were cafeteria-style restaurants like Golden Corral (which has zero impact on my life.)

You never know how much you miss something until it is taken from you

Dumping trillions into the economy is bound to lead to inflation – it’s simple economics.  Inflation, despite what the government says, is happening.  I feel that I’m paying more for almost everything.  The only way the Fed can combat it is to raise interest rates.  When that happens, all of these people that bought into adjustable rate mortgages are, in five years or so, in for a hell of a surprise when their rates skyrocket.  

The stock market is betting that the economy will rebound big.  Even with a bad jobs report, stocks soared.  The market feels bubble-ish to me, very overinflated.  A correction is overdue, in my opinion, as a consequence of government spending.

We learned that people, when they are bored and stuck at home, play in the stock market.  And we learned that a number of investors were out there betting against some businesses, betting they would fail. 

When you pay people to not work, you get people that don’t want to go back to work. The impact on society will be fascinating to watch.   

We learned the some governments kept lists of people deemed essential, which to me felt creepy.  We also learned that those people were expected to risk their health for the rest of us.  The people that are essential in our society are often overlooked the most – like truck drivers, cashiers, store stockers, etc.  None of them, as a group, refused to go to work.  The only exception was the teacher’s union, which still baffles the hell out of me. 

Restaurants and stores have never been as clean as they were during the pandemic, and that is a good thing.  For a while, Walmart was cleaning the belts at their checkouts every two customers.  I saw people cleaning in a Taco Bell that I was fairly sure had not been that sterile since Clinton was in office.

While politicians told us that distance learning was just as good as classroom learning; it wasn’t.  I had been arguing this for years when I worked for the Corporate Overlords and was glad to be vindicated on a massive scale.  Some school districts adapted well, others did not.  What is the impact of poor learning at an early age for a year?  Well, we are about to find out.

What will be the long-term impact of a year of our children being locked up at home?  No one can say, but chances are it won’t be positive. 

Restaurants shut down their seating areas and changed to delivery in a matter of weeks. Many Americans that never ordered food through an App now do it almost weekly, if not daily. 

We all became strangely comfortable with movies not coming out in theaters. With many coming out on streaming services, one wonders if the movie entertainment industry is going to suffer a long-deserved shakeup.  Will movie theaters become a thing of the past? 

People spent more time online and it wasn’t a good thing.  Angry, empty voices filled with misdirected hate and rage became the norm. 

Some TV shows adapted to the pandemic much easier than others.  In many cases, we started watching older movies and TV series that we missed when they first came out. 

We all learned that the most satisfying moment is when you exited a building and removed your mask.  These mask-gasms still feel fantastic. 

Americans learned they could spend time with their family members without going on vacations.  Will this have an impact on vacationing down the road? 

Proms didn’t happen and it wasn’t the end of the world, nor did it emotionally scar a single child who didn’t get to attend. 

When people don’t drive, air pollution goes down, as does frustration.  Businesses learned they could have their people work at home, which means that office space is likely to be abundantly available in the years to come.  It could also impact construction of office buildings as well as businesses adopt a much smaller footprint for in-house staff. 

Some people became very comfortable with the government telling them what they could and couldn’t do.  Others defined that. 

Individuals learned how important it was to have family support to assist with children schooling at home, etc.  Some families learned that having two incomes wasn’t as important as making sure their kids were taken care of.  Who knows where this will go long-term. 

We ALL came to the conclusion that that bitch Carole Baskin killed her husband and fed him to the tigers.   

Oh, she totally did it.

I am sure I missed more than a few.  Please use the comments below to add your observations. 

Review of Nueces Justice by Mark Greathouse

The perfect early summer diversion

This is a book by one of my new publishers, Defiance Press.  I support my fellow authors as best I can.  If I’m not a fan of someone’s book, chances are I won’t review it, just so they are not damaged in any way by my opinion.  I don’t ask them to do the same for me, there is no quid pro quo here nor did the publisher provide me with a free copy.

You may be wondering why I would be reading a western, given that I write a lot of military science fiction, political thrillers, true crime, and military history. The reason is simple, I often read in genres I don’t write in to get different perspectives.  Westerns are something that is purely American, and some I have read have inspired some science fiction stories (Like Waylon’s War, which I wrote for Shrapnel.) This genre really can go far beyond its perceived reach.  Remember Firefly?

Westerns often have the elements of a cry for justice, a love interest, the gritty reality of life in the wild, and a dose of Indians.  This book hits all of these elements well.  In other words, there’s something for everyone. 

I have read about five westerns in my life, so I came in with not a lot of preconceived notions.  At first, I thought that this was going to be a pursuit book.  It is, and it isn’t.  This is more of a book that is true to its title, Nueces Justice.  Justice comes in many forms and flavors.  I was pleased that the author didn’t get too sucked into the sometimes overplayed, ‘everything has to be resolved with gunfire.” 

The author does a fantastic job in providing the setting for the stories, though it is far and wide at times. I love Texas and its people, so it was easy to get drawn in.  This is not a simple linear story of a good guy after a bad guy.  There are numerous twists and turns.  There is a neat cast of characters here, each with their own story to tell.  They are all intertwined around the lead character, Luke Dunn, a Texas Ranger. 

Right up to the end, I wasn’t sure where the numerous plot lines were going to end up.  I was pleased with the resolution and now find myself compelled to jump into the next book in the series. I recommend this book if you like the western genre.  Mark Greathouse clearly knows the terrain he writes about, the cultures, and his history…making for a solid and entertaining read and a romping intriguing set of tales.   

Update as of 30 April 2021 – Fans in My BattleTech Fiction

Some old school BattleTech action

Trickster released today and in many respects, it felt like it came out of nowhere. I was asked to write Trickster right after the Kickstarter got going and I had almost forgotten about it until my editor reached out to me for a few edits. I have to admit, it was strange reading it after all of these months. 

I really enjoyed covering a story from the Clan’s Golden Century. Also, getting to cover Clan Coyote was a real treat. It is a faction that has gotten a lot of fiction coverage. I like Tyrilla Heller.  BattleTech has a long history of strong female characters and she is one that I’m quite fond of.  I’d like to come back to her at some point…because I think there is a redemption there.   

In some respects, Trickster brought back memories for me of Betrayal of Ideals. We had a short version of these events in the sourcebooks, but just retelling that story alone didn’t feel right. Let’s face it, it would have been just a ‘Mech battle. I wanted to explore the parts that weren’t in the sourcebooks, a hidden tale of sorts underlying what readers might have read. I like fiction that takes you down a familiar path, but provides you with some neat twists.  I think Randall has done that with his first book Fall from Glory.     

As always I try and include some of the BattleTech community in the mix.  Here’s the latest update of those that are included in things I’ve written:

Trickster

(KS) Dennis Busse for Kerek Helmer

(KS) Chris Fernandez for Slynkers Mercer

(KS) Jason Gollogly for Tyrilla Heller

(KS) Matt Kudrick for Matthew Nash

(KS) Leif Lann for Anjij Nuyriev

Christopher Barghausen

Daniel Corrigan

Ian Morgan Coutt

Mario Garzolini

Brent Kynell

Jeff Rietman

Stanislav Shimuk

Hour of the Wolf

(KS) Robin Apel

(KS) William (Will) Arnold

(KS) Ian Butler—Brigadier Graham Badinov

(KS) Andreas Büttner—Druss Ward

(KS) Colby Cram

(KS) Dr. Randolph P. Checkers, Esq.

(KS) Craig Evans—Pharaoh

(KS) Kevin Markley

(KS) Eris Griffon

(KS) Raymond Guethler

(KS) Justin Hall

(KS) John Healy—Physician Hobgood

(KS) Spencer Huff—Khalus Pryde

(KS) Aleksey Kopysov—Kaor

(KS) Chris Kornfeld

(KS) Aaron Krull

(KS) Andrew Krull

(KS) Jason Mayberry – Kai Nihari

(KS) Brendan (Bren) Mayhugh

(KS) Jason Mischke—Stroud

(KS) Daniel Nichols—Janus

(KS) Matthias Pfaff—Amanda McKenna

(KS) Shawn Rains—Colton Mcleod

(KS) Marvin Sims—Marv Roshak

(KS) Aaron Tarr—Star Colonel Kalidessa Kerensky

(KS) Jakapan Thunpithayakul

(KS) Christopher Toh—Merlin Buhallin

(KS) John Traver—Jack Traver

(KS) Jathniel Velazquez—Jathniel Kerensky

(KS) John Watson

(KS) Michael Mahoney—Sorsha

(KS) Lyle Wojciechowski—Star Colonel Havi Bekker

David Abzug

David Baker

Agustin Sierio Barj

Matthew Behrens

Ted Burger

Billy J. Caldwell

Kim Chapman

John “Fratricide” Craig

Paco Cubillo

Amy Delaney

Benno deJong

Stephen Dukes

David DuJordan

Adolfo Fernandez

William Fife

Noran Ghall

Oliver Haake

Thomas Heath

James “Tanker” Herring

Dirk “Derek” Kobler

Jean-Jacques Labbé

Jeff Lamm

Chew Hwee Leong

Joshua Adam Lonbom

Brianne Elizabeth Lyons

Dean Manning

John McNary

Jared Micks

Ed Miller

Joe Mooney

Rolf Peter

Max Prohaska

Andrew Quay

Krzysztof Strato Raczyński

Keith Richmond

Jamie Rife

Andrew Roy

Sebastian Schröder

Rowland Seckinger III

Volkmar Seifert

David Skinner

Jeremy Spurlock

Travis Sumpter

Lonnie Tapscott

Paul Tomaszewski

Cory Vigdal

Josh Waltz

Powers Wartman

Ben Weingart

Shawn “Gorilla” Willett

Ludvig Yabar

Sharizal Zarie

The Burdens of Honor

Cymril Tseng, Star Commander of Clan Ghost Bear

Tai-i Adam Cunningham (Kaningamu) of the Draconis Combine

Tai-sa David Vivas of the Draconis Combine.

Tabor Heine, contributing for his daughter Charlotte, Warrior of Clan Ghost Bear

Jason Cabral, Cabral, Ghost Bear Warrior

Mason Kortz, Roman Tseng, Ghost Bear Warrior

Eric Stockard, Christine Rosenfeld, ComStar ROM

Seth James, Malik Feff, ISF Agent

Lawrence Greenwood

Children of Kerensky

David Abzug

Agustin Sierio Barj

Elmer Lee Bechdoldt

Dennis Busse, for Kerek

Dr. Randolph P. Checkers, Esq. (Yo Tex!)

Michael “Brent-Killer” Ciaravella

Xander Cosgrave

Olaf Dittmar

David “Dunny” Dunlap

James Doughty, for TacShadow

Adolfo Fernandez

Jason Gambrel

Adam Grimm

Oliver Haake

Claire Harpham

Hannes Hinterberger

Michael Hofacker

Jerry Hornick

Spencer Huff, for Khalus Pryde

Rylan Thane Ingram

Franz Jelinek

Ka’u Johnston-Kitazawa

Artem Kostyukov

Josh Koziura

Jean-Jacques Labbé

James Lee, for Jamie Hazen

Larry Leslie II

Kevin Markley

Marco Mazzoni

Tackett McClenny

Thomas “Dreacon” Miller

Todd More, for (Mike) Wallace

Shane Overstreet

Stephen Parac

Stephan “Warbear” Peter

Juergen Schneidemesser

Rowland Seckinger III

Jeremy Spurlock

Rob Watkins

Sharizal Zarie

The Bonds of Battle

Star Commander Cymril Tseng, Clan Ghost Bear

Adam Bear, (Kaningamu), contributed by Gregory Adam Cunningham, formerly of the Draconis Combine, now bondsman to Clan Ghost Bear

Tai-sa David Vivas, of the Draconis Combine

Tabor Heine, contributing for his daughter Charlotte Warrior of Clan Ghost Bear

William James Hamblin, Chu-i Biru Hamblin of the Draconis Combine

Chu-i Ayden Ryken, of the Draconis Combine

Chu-i Carrie Shumar, of the Draconis Combine

Sho-ko Mateo Vaux, of the Draconis Combine

Jason Cabral, Cabral, Ghost Bear Warrior

Kashira Jack ‘Reverend’ Benner, Sonkei-suru Benner of the Draconis Combine

Rock of the Republic

Eric Kraaier

Jean-Jacques Labbé

Ed Miller

Stanislav Shimuk

Travis Sumpter

Jakapan Thunpithayakul

Jonathan Warrington

The Flames of Idlewind (Shrapnel #1)

Marc de Villasante Lahoz

Euan James

Ronald Ledwon

Daniel Leskov

Matthias Pfaff

Benjamin Tang

Divided We Fall

Michael Barber

Timothy Byrne

Felipe Cintron

John “Doc” Crouch

Tony Deegan

Jared Donner

Wes Frenz

Jürgen Frey

John Gaisano III

Ed Hatchel

Matthew Hinks

Hannes Hinterberger

Robert BJ Horncastle

Cal Hornstien

Garry Jackson

Alex Kaempen

Kristopher Tyson Koniczek

Andrew Krull

Wayne Ledbetter

Brianne Elizabeth Lyons

Joseph McEachern

Joshua McHugh

Roderick van Noorloos

William C. Pelcham

Lon Porter

Corey Riordan

Nicholas Roche

Andrew Roy

Patrick J. Saul

Sebastian Schröder

Kevin Seibert

Richard Skelton

Andrew Sternglass

Jason Tuttle

Matt Valgardson

Derek Weese

Jason Weiser

Scott Whyte

The Anvil

Moses Obadiah

Nicholas Tockert

David DiFranco

Eric Belcher

Clifford McKinney

Jeff Sockwell

Daryl Noonan

Jonathon Scott Schofield

Cord Awtry

Ryan James Broadhead

Ben Myers

Troy Lee Cowell

Krzysztof Krecislaw

Chad Parish

Jack Lafreniere

Joshua Bressel

Marcus Odekirk

Robert Ostrowski

Mark Havener

George Tholburn

Erik Helgeson

Winter Guite

Jukka-Emil Vanaja

Christopher Turco

Juan Ochoa Jr.

Steven Molen

Broccán Mac Rónáin

Kenyon Burguess

Dave Alsager

Forever Faithful

Benjamin Starkey

Av Paredes

Adam Mckern

Brian Blaney

Trixter Phillips

Alexander JW De Santis

Jamie Rife

Brandon Fisher

Andrew Gardenhire

Todd Farnholtz

Clint Woodall

Clifford McKinney

Adam Thompson

Ray Arrista

James McHenry

Patrick Finnegan

Oliver Kraft

Camille Klein

Shane Jaskowiak

Shawn Bruno

Colin Duffy

James Eyers Mclean Miller

Nathan Pelchat

Josh Ellis

Craig Gulledge

Peter Farland

Eric Eny

James Bixby

Thomas Lagemann

Craig Reed

Mike Lubowitzki

Devin Ramsey

Dustin Ballard

‎Jose Alvarez‎

Aaron Gregory

Bradley Proffitt

Dean Manning

Brian Chiasson

David Shell

Keegan Reid

Sam Snell

Alex Clarke

Redemption and Malice

Derek King

Gerry S. Xydis

Jack Halloran

Rules of Engagement – Released for the Kickstarter

Cymril Tseng, Star Commander of Clan Ghost Bear

Tai-i Adam Cunningham (Kaningamu) of the Draconis Combine

Tai-sa David Vivas, of the Draconis Combine

Tabor Heine, contributing for his daughter Charlotte Warrior of Clan Ghost Bear

Answering Some Questions About Writing

I get questions from readers from time-to-time about the writing process. I thought it might be worth putting some of these out for people who are contemplating being authors, fiction or non-fiction. These are not hard and fast responses carved in stone, but simply my responses based on experience. Don’t accept these as gospel, they are merely my responses.  Other authors I’m sure have completely different answers that may be just as right – for them. 

Here’s the most common ones I receive from readers/would-be authors:

Do you write out a detailed outline to work off of for a book? 

Generally I do.  Some authors don’t.  Some of my chapter summaries are little more and a two of three sentence summary.  For fiction, it helps me estimate how big the book is going to be.  My chapters tend to be between 2.5 and 5k words in fiction, so knowing how many chapters I have allows me to estimate the project’s length.  Also for fiction, it helps me see obvious issues, like a character not getting mentioned or on-screen for too long of a gap. It also helps me see where pacing might be a problem. On a new project, after I created the outline, I realized that I had no real action taking place for two chapters – just people talking.  That drove me to a change. 

For non-fiction I find the chapter breakdowns are a must.  They help organize your research materials which is critical when writing military history or true crime. 

I am not locked into the outline.  If I come up with something that warrants a change, or a new chapter, I do it on the fly. 

I’ve checked the math – it’s true.

Where do you start?

For me, it either begins with a great character idea or I mentally get a scene in my head that pops (to me) and from there, the rest of the story gets flowed out. Example:  I have a novel coming out where I came up with one scene with two characters that I thought was cool.  It tells you everything you need to know about this character and the strategy involved.  From that one scene, the rest of the book was easy to craft.  That scene happens now, but in the middle of the novel. 

Sometimes it is the character. I have one coming up where I wanted a character based on Jack Churchill of WWII fame.  I want a character like him.  Now it is the matter of figuring out how he would fit into a broader plot that has been suggested.  Oddly, understanding this character’s ins and outs compels situations where he will fit in. 

What are the hardest parts to write?

I have tried to narrow my response to three things I find challenging to write. 

The opening of the book.  I like stories to start with an event – be that a battle or in the case of true crime, it can be the discovery of a body or a murder. In one case, my daughter and I began with something different, meeting a profiler and getting his perspective.  You have to start off with a compelling reason for readers to want to read more.  Some may bail if you start out poorly. 

The end of the book. Ultimately you want and ending that leaves the reader satisfied.  You don’t have to wrap up every loose end – sometimes that is done intentionally.  It gets a little tricky when writing true crime books on cold cases, because the crimes remain unsolved.  That doesn’t mean that you can ignore giving the reader some degree of closure in the form of summary as to where the cases remain. 

For fiction, I try and put in a twist of some sort.  Sometimes it is big, sometimes it is nothing more than a small revelation.  It is as much about bringing closure for the reader as it is for the characters of the story.  It is a fine balancing act between the two. 

Changes in the character arcs.  Characters grow, they evolve, their perspectives change.  If they don’t, they are dull.  I work on arcs for my characters as much as I do the outline for the story. Each character has to grow in some way, or devolve.  Writing the scenes where a character’s path changes is tricky.  If you don’t do it right, the reader feels that you are not being true to the character. 

In fairness, some readers never can wrap their hands around changes in character arcs no matter how you justify and explain it.  They are so invested in their perspective of the character, they refuse to accept change in any form.  It is both a compliment and a struggle – but such is the nature of fan bases.

If you have questions, feel free to submit them in the comments. I will do another post in the future.

A Review of Death Ray Designs Hex City and Corporate Plaza Terrain

Lots of Urban Goodness

I’ve been a customer of Death Ray Designs for a while, having used their airbrush templates for some terrain I have.  I was pretty thrilled that they had released some urban terrain that was compatible with some of the games I play – especially BattleTech.  This is both Hex City and the Corporate Plaza sets from their web site.  https://deathraydesigns.com/

The package for the entire lot is heavy when it arrived, thick MDF and thin plastic pieces used for windows and building highlights.  The instructions are up on the company web site, though some of the building names for the guides don’t match what is printed on the MDF.  It was no big deal to sort it out, but I want to be fair in my review of these. 

I botched building two structures, mostly because I didn’t follow the instructions carefully.  Other than that the buildings have amazing fit and details.  They even come with some little add on gubbins that allow you to add some custom details to the structures. They have etched a lot of details that make the buildings pop visually. 

There’s a lot of variety here, from single story stores to large scale modernistic buildings.  The imprinting of the hexes on the roofs and bases match the scale for the BattleTech maps, which I have to believe is intentional. Personally, based on some of the scale/sizes, I’m going to use these for Alpha Strike games.  Some of these structures would be perfect for games of 15mm as well.

Great detail – even unpainted

I did not use a lot of the thin plastic parts yet.  Some have to be done as part of the construction, which means if you intend to paint these, I would paint the parts first, then do the assembly.  If I had it to do over, I would have painted first.  As it is, I have a LOT of painting to do. 

Some of the plastic details I need to still add.
This layering of insets gives you some neat details
A nice little store to stomp on.

I recommend this product.  Because they are MDF, they support Iron Wind Metals mini’s with no real problems.  The hex imprints on the roofs make it very simple to utilize these on your maps, if you are so inclined.  Total cost is $95.00 for both sets that you see here.  Don’t flinch, you get a good sized city for your investment. I’m looking forward to trying these out once I get them painted. 

Thumbs up to Death Ray Designs on these structures.   

If it were reported today…Lexington and Concord

Red (Coat) Lives Matter…

Today makes “The shot heard ‘round the world’ – the battle of the American colonists against the British at Lexington Green and Concord.  It is seen as the ignition point of the war between the colonists and Great Britain.  It is an iconic event in US history, including the rides of Paul Revere and Samuel Prescott to alert the colonists.

Image, if you would, if it were covered by today’s media.  I took a stab at it, just for grins – and to make you consider some of the messages that we are exposed to. This isn’t a grandiose political statement on my part. It is merely aimed at making you think about how words are used (or misused) to package a story.   

“Several Dead in Terror Attack Outside of Boston.  

“An alt-right militia group attacked local law enforcement officials who were sent to disarm them in Lexington, outside of Boston.  This mostly white/male group of extremists possessed a stockpile of military-grade assault weapons and ammunition that was deemed dangerous to maintaining the peace.  Further they may have had links to other terror activities and attacks in the area.  As such law enforcement moved in to confiscate these ‘weapons of war’ to ensure that no innocent citizens were placed at further risk.  These domestic terrorists ambushed law enforcement, killing one, while losing four of their number before the terrorists fell back to Concord.

The brave men in law enforcement withdrew to Boston. Lieutenant Colonel Francis Smith, the leader of the operation, was unavailable for comment at this time.

“These extremists were aided by use of a covert ‘social network’ of riders who fed these terrorists information on the police movements but allowed them time to prepare their ambush.  Evidence points to them using a series of lantern signals to spread their message of insurrection.  It is believed that the members of this network may have been assisted by extremists close to law enforcement, but that has not been confirmed.

“These rogue, right-wing militia groups such as these have been responsible for numerous acts of lawlessness in the region.  As you may recall, just a few months ago, a group of these insurrectionists illegally boarded a vessel and threw their cargo of tea into the harbor.  In a brazen act of cultural appropriation the disguised themselves as native Americans, adding hate crimes to the long list of charges leveled against them.  It is clear that such groups are a destabilizing threat and may be part of a larger insurrection seeking to overthrow the legal and legitimate government which has brought nothing but prosperity to our shores. 

“If you have information on these insurrectionists, please contact the authorities in Boston.”   

The Chronicling of our D&D Campaign Part 38 – The Trial

The Gray Riders are a lot like the Dothraki – with a dash of the Horseclans

Welcome to the novelization of my current D&D campaign, told through the perspective of the characters. 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. Now that COVID is abating, we are returning to the glory of the campaign. Enjoy!

Arius

We worked our way out of the mountain, having rested and recovered. We had the Chalice of St. John, which, with holy water, can resurrect the dead. There was lively debate as to whether it might bring back people as zombies or other undead, but calmer heads prevailed.  After all, it was a holy relic of the church. As we emerged, we found Brandon’s wolf, ever loyal and waiting for him. We presumed the pilgrims that had been at the entrance had moved on. 

This gave us a chance to pause and reaffirm our plans.  Our possession of the chalice ensured that our enemies could not use its powers to their advantage.  We wanted to go to the south, to V’sarin, where the dragonborn lived and was the dragon graveyard.  In the middle of that, we hoped, was a tome that could help us undo the power of the lich Barristen. Our final decision was to south east, to the coastal city of Avanti.  From there we hoped to charter a ship and save weeks of long hot marching in strange lands. 

We set out, marching cross country, relying on Brandon to find our way.  On the second day out Brandon, scouting ahead.  I moved up next to him and could hear mumbling from the brush.  I called out as to who was there.  A booming voice called back, “Who is you?”

“We are us.” 

The male called for Gretchen then called for us to come out in the open.  He pushed the trees aside and we saw a hulking hill giant.”

“Going to the Thundermoot eh?” he asked. “Them Gray Riders…they are a testy people.” 

“What are you doing here?” I asked.

“Lookin’ fer a hammer man, just like yerself.  And a wily one that can turn into a bear.”  Ut oh…

He eyed Skullringer menacingly. then called “Gretchen!”  His ugly hill giant wife emerged behind us.  She had moles, and her moles had moles, and they had hairs, some of which were braided. As he moved at us, I swung but cleanly missed. 

“Nice hammer there, hammer-boy,” he said, grinning with yellow teeth.   

Gretchen called out, “The wolf looks tasty.” 

“Wolf’s good eatin’.  No squishing the dinner luv,” he said. 

Theren wasted no time – he called down lightning on the male giant. A searing azure bolt lashed into the giant.

“They warned us you was a tough lot.  Gretchen, you go for the one with the hammer, I want the magic man!” The giants lumbered into battle at us. 

The fight was glorious, as glorious as it could be against such monsters. They threw a bolder at Theren, Brandon fired arrows which only seemed to irritate them. One bolder slammed hard into me, making every bone in my body throb.  Althalus cast a spell that made them seem a phantasm of some sort on the female.  She screamed and howled about a giant bear attacking her, when in reality, she was swinging and kicking at empty air. 

I swung Skullringer at the male, tearing into the fat on his midriff. “Nice try hammer-man!” he taunted back. Brandon hit him which solicited a, “Yer startin’ to annoy me little man!”  The female giant seemed to be struggling with the illusionary bear, losing grip on her club and sending it flying, which would have been comical if we were not engaged in battle with her mate.

Althalus’s eldritch blasts hit Gretchen, skidding her back as the emerald beams lashed into her while she struggled with a bear that didn’t exist.  It swung again, hitting him and channeling my smite into the blow.  “Hey!” he called.  “That hurts!” 

“Good,” I muttered. 

Theren summoned lightning once more on the male, searing its massive left arm.  Brandon sunk an arrow in its hide. The male slugged me – hard, forcing me to heal myself. As I got my breath, he hit me again, breaking a tooth and knocking me out.  By the time I regained my senses, both of the giants lay dead. The female had been blown apart, I presume by a bolt of lightning. The stink of burned giant flesh hung in the air.

The treasure that was found was meager. At first we thought we had found eight ingots of gold, but in reality it was eight ingots of lead that were painted gold.  Whoever had paid off the giants had done well in misleading them. Sadly, the female had some of the pilgrim’s clothing on her, speaking to why they were not at the foot of the Stairs when we emerged. 

Once we got our second wind, we started south. With the mountains behind us, the ground got less hilly.  That night, we slept well.  The next day Brandon came across some hoof prints crossing our path, shod steeds. Althalus said that the Gray Riders were known to take care of their horses, perhaps these prints could lead us to the Thundermoot.  We opted to not follow them.  For two days marched southward with no encounter, we welcomed the inactivity.  On the third day, we heard sound like thunder in the distance.  Each moment it seemed to grow and we realized that it was sound of a horses galloping. 

“We might want to get out of their way,” I offered.

“We’re not on a road!” Theren pointed out. 

Emerging over the ridge in the distance were ten riders on massive steeds.  They wore leather armor, targ shields, and were armed with silver kris swords and javelins. Their bows were on their backs.

“Hail!” called out Althalus to them.  He then turned to us, “Act casual,” he whispered. 

They advanced on us slowly. 

“Who are you?” asked Theren. 

“Who speaks for you?” their leader said. 

“I do,” Althalus said.  They rode in front of the warlock, forming an arc.  To his credit, Althalus moved forward to engage with them alone. 

“I am Nasca rein master.”

“Well met, I am Althalus, Ork friend.”  Why…why would you lead with that? I feared for a moment we were about to engage in battle again.   

“Orks are not our friends in these lands.”  All of them went for their weapons slowly, cautiously.

“Sorry…I have many titles, that was just the first that came to mind.  I come as a seeker of the Sapphire Eye.”

“That has no meaning to me.” 

“We are friendly.  We come in peace.”

“What are you doing in these lands?”

“We are passing through.  We hoped to visit the Thundermoot along the way.” 

“You are in the lands of the moot,” the rider said.  “Those that cross our lands must be judged as worthy to pass on our soil.  Our lands extend for 300 leagues.”

Althalus tried in vain to recover.  “I recognize these horses, are you Gray Riders?”

“Of course!”

“We have had business with the Gray Riders in the past.”

“Many have.  What business did you have?”

“We completed the message delivery for a rider that was killed.” 

That got his attention.  “Very well, you can ride with us.”  They reached down and helped hoist us up on their horses. We thundered off onto the rolling hills.  

The first night, we camped at a spot they had clearly used before.  We asked about the Thundermoot and Nasca told us about their lands. “We are warded by the five pillars of the moot.  Our realm stretches for 100 leagues in either direction east or west.  None shall pass that do not pass the test. The Thundermoot rests on the Tendra plains.  It is there that the herdmeet takes place, a great gathering of riders and their steads.  The moot is sacred land to the heard.  

“Great grass covered hills rolling out in every direction.  There are towers that can be seen, hundreds of heads tall, ancient, held to the ground by great thick vines.  These are the pillars of the moot.  Steadfast – for the strong.  Gallop – for the fast.  Roarheart – for the brave.  Warworn – for the fighter.  Lightning – for the communicators.  Each tower/pillar is manned with archers and there are cauldrons seen up high for dumping flaming liquids or lead down on those that would approach unwanted. 

“Our people are proud and have long served the land.  You have come at an inconvenient time, when the herdmeet is taking place.  It is here where great debates and decisions are discussed.  There has been much changing in the realms.  Riders have fallen, the sacred bond to not harm them has been severed.  There are stories in the north of the dead walking the earth.  The herdmeet gathers to assess what these matters mean.” 

He said that ogres and giants had trespassed lately and we told him we had slain them. That brought about grins from the other riders that were with us. 

The next day we rode past a massive tower that garnered head-bows from the riders.  “That is Warworn – the tower of the warrior.”  It was as tall as a mountain with a massive base.  Vines wrapped upward for ages.

We arrived at the Thundermoot the next day.  There were several hundred, if not a thousand people.  Horses and riders circled the area, colorful banners flying. In the center of it all was a massive stone tableau.  “That is the Tableau of Reckoning.  It is there we will learn the truth of who you are.”  The horses seemed to pause as we approached, parting for us to pass. 

The tablet looked familiar, like the one we saw with the minotaurs. Ancient runes were carved in the stonework there that seemed to resonate with our druid, Theren.

We were led to the stone tablet as the horses surrounded the massive stone.  Nasca introduced us each, one by one.  One horse came up, seemed to sniff us, nudge us with his nose.  “This is Aiden.  You will answer our questions.  Withholding information or lying will bring pain.  Enemies of the herd do not leave this place alive.” We could feel the pulse of magical power surging under our feet.

“Tell us of your interaction with a member of our herd…” 

Althalus answered, telling the story of how the rider was killed and how we took the message forward.  As he spoke, the air around him shimmered yellow.  He told the story of our efforts and how Lexa Lyoncroft had been the one to kill the rider.”  Aiden nodded its head.  Another horse stepped forward and I recognized it as the one that we had seen in our home town.” 

Nasca spoke.  “Aiden says that your faces are known to the herd.  You saved Starfall, though her rider, Trudo was killed.  Tell us what you know of this?”

Althalus spoke about Lexa Lyoncroft.  “She’s working with us, but we were not responsible for the death of the rider.  We finished his mission for him.” 

“She is responsible for rider Trudo’s death?”

Althalus explained why in great detail.  He spoke of Viktor Barristen, the ordeal at the Great Gash.  It was a delicate balancing act to tell the story and try and maintain some distance from Lexa.

“Do you know where she is?  Do you have a means of contacting her?”

Althalus winced.  “I can reach her. She is off to the North West.  I can show you on a map where she is.” The map was pulled out and he pointed out where we thought she was. 

Nasca whistled and over two dozen riders appeared almost instantly.  “Go, bring Lyoncroft here.” 

“You are sending those men to their fate,” warned Brandon. 

Nascan grinned.  “I doubt that.”  He motioned for other riders to come forth.  “For telling the truth, you will be treated as guests. We will take you to Warworn until she is brought in.” 

We were taken there and the riders warned us not to use magic within the tower.  “It could have dire consequences.” 

It was good to have nice quarters for a change.  We bathed, rested, repaired our armor, and a few of us used the chance to study.  The Gray Riders were more than friendly.  Theren spent his time attempting to learn the language of the riders.  I prayed that none of the men would die at Lexa’s hands. 

One day we witnessed their archery skills.  They could fire three arrows, at a full gallop, where we could only fire one – and none missed the targets.  It was an impressive display.  Ten days passed and finally Nasca came and told us they had apprehended her.  We set out for her trial the next day. 

Lexa was in heavy iron shackles.  When she saw us, she cracked a wicked grin. “Hello boys. I don’t suppose I could trouble you to remove these chains?”  The riders were unamused.  They dragged her onto the massive stone tableaux and she shimmered a brilliant yellow as she stood there, ever defiant.

Before they could ask her a question, she spoke.  “I am Lexa Lyoncroft, a Sister of the Sword.  I am accursed and burdened with great knowledge.  I stand before you accused of murder.  It was not my intent to kill that rider.  The message he carried was one to mislead Lord Sklaver into sending his army out and leaving Karn defenseless.  I wanted to make sure that the message never reached him…to save lives.  I regret that a rider died by my hand.”  Her words made the herd shuffle in place angrily

Aiden asked her if she was, indeed a witch.

“You trust the words of the Church?  I am no witch. They hope that some misguided soul will do what they could not and kill me.  It is not easy, as I said, I am cursed to not die until justice has been done for my order.   

“Your killing of me would only aid the dark forces working against us, if it worked.  Fate is fickle when it comes to me and death.  Curses are like that and I assure you, I am cursed.” 

Again the great horses stirred, seeming to speak with each other.    

Lexa pressed on.  “Your precious herdmeet has no idea what is coming, how bad things are. 

Viktor Barristen has returned.  He has taken physical form once more.  He has gone to the Shroudlands and is building an army, to finish what he started centuries ago…his vengeance on the church and the destruction of the free realms.  This time there are no Titans to come to our aid.  There is no grand alliance against him, at least, not yet.   

“I used his portal in the north to visit the Shroudlands for a day or two.  The dead walk once more.  He has allied himself with the Giants, the lizard-folk, and the Dragonkin.  They are preparing for war.  The Church has many enemies and they have found a friend in him.  I have heard that the druids of the Eastern Marches have left their sacred forest to seek him out.  As have the Fire Dwarves.

“My words of warning have saved what is left of the Order of the Fang at the Great Gash, though I fear it is not enough.  The only way to stop him is to unmake him, and those secrets have been lost.  These men you found, they seek the ways of magic that may allow us to undo him.” 

Aiden, visibly angry, fired back.  “Why save the church?  We have heard many stories of you and your crimes.  You are no friend of the church.”

“I am accursed.” Lyoncroft spat back. “Until justice is done for my sisters that lay dead, I will not rest.  If the church is destroyed, I can never shake my curse.  This is the bane I must carry. 

“I do not fear the death you threaten me with.  Get it over with, sate your cries for vengeance.  I have work to do.”

Aiden spoke solemnly.  “You have admitted your crimes, regardless of the reasoning.  For that, you must die.” 

A rider rode forward with a lance, planting it through her chest.  She dropped dead.  “Justice has been served,” Aiden said.  “You knew her.  You can see to her disposition.” 

We decided to take her body with us.  The Gray Riders took us on a three days ride east and we saw another one of the towers.  They took us to the border of our lands.  Nasca told us that we were friends of the herd, not something that is taken lightly.  “You can call on us for aid.” Theren was given a horn and was told that they could be summoned with it. 

I proposed the next grim task – using the Chalice of St. John to bring back Lexa. We poured the holy water from the cup into her pale lips and she came back to life, coughing.  “That never gets easy – but fate always intervenes to keep me alive – part of my curse.”   

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

Part 29

Part 30

Part 31

Part 32

Part 33

Part 34

Part 35

Part 36

Part 37

Character Background Material

My New Campaign

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Review of Fall from Glory – by Randall Bills

I will attempt to keep this as spoiler-free as possible.  I read this book years ago when I was working on Betrayal of Ideals.  I got to read the first two books of this trilogy and really enjoyed them.

This books begins at the start of one of the biggest events in BattleTech history, the Exodus.  Handling General Aleksandr Kerensky is treading on sacred ground.  Loren Coleman as done it well, and Randall does a fantastic job of showing us the man in his later years.

This is not his story – it is the story of his boys, Nicholas and Andrey Kerensky.  Two wacky kids who get into crazy antics….no, not at all.  Andrey is young, impetuous, idealistic, and stunningly naïve.  His older brother is not exactly cuddly. Nicholas is…well, dark and stunningly manipulative.  Randall captures him perfectly as we see with the Prinz Eugen incident.  Nicholas comes across as having such intense focus that it overshadows everything and everyone else in his life. 

When I read the novel, it didn’t have a chapter on the finding of the Pentagon Worlds. This new version does and it really adds to some context that was welcomed. 

This is not a plot-driven story – the Founding of the Clans has long been established in BattleTech lore. This is the story of two young men, one in particular, who grew up in the shadow of a great leader.  Like so many stories of this type, great men do not necessarily make great fathers. Sibling rivalry and an upbringing during an oppressive occupation makes you wonder how much of a person is their genetics, and how much is forged in their environment.  Randall dips his toes in that complicated pool with Nicholas and Andrey.   

What this novel does is fill in some gaps in that history, making it much more complex, and far more interesting.  Randall’s writing style is crisp and he knows his characters and all of their idiosyncrasies and strengths.  The flashback sections are wonderful, giving us a view of Terra during the occupation – and also help us gain a grasp of at least one of the characters.   

This has become one of my top novels now that it is finally out in wide-release.  I can’t wait to re-read the next one.  Easily five out of five stars if you are BattleTech fan in the post 3050 eras. 

My Personal Memories of G. Gordon Liddy

Being a military historian (among other things), you get to meet some really fascinating people.

I heard late last night that G. Gordon Liddy of Watergate fame had passed away at the age of 90.  It immediately brought back some of my memories of the man.  For those of you that didn’t know, Gordon Liddy had a syndicated radio program on WJFK here in Washington DC for several years. I was honored to be a guest several times. 

To say that Liddy was conservative didn’t do him justice.  He made no qualms about his political slant.  People that tried to disregard him as a convicted felon found that he owned that too.  It didn’t faze him.  He was outspoken about his views and when a friend turned me onto his show, I found myself tuning in each day. 

I don’t hate doing book tours, going on TV and radio to talk about my work.  At the same time, I don’t look forward to them either. It was on a book tour that I met Gordon.  Liddy had history authors on all of the time which was one of the reasons I liked his show (the other was discussions about guns.)  When I began to write military history books, starting with The Cruise of the Sea Eagle, my publicist contacted me and said, “You probably don’t want to do this one, but G. Gordon Liddy wants you on his show.” 

I was all over it!  This was a chance to meet a historical figure and as a historian, I couldn’t pass it up.  Besides, I was a fan of his show.  When I was ushered into meet him, I found him imposing – not so much from a stature perspective, but from his presence.  I always had the feeling that despite his age, he could kick my ass if he wanted to. He was warm and gregarious, told me before we went on the air that he had read the book – which impressed me.  A lot of interviewers (most) don’t actually read the book you are there to talk about – they get a Cliff Notes version from some staffer or ask you to provide questions in advance.  Not Liddy, he had a long list.

It is fun to be interviewed by someone that respects your work and I knew I was doing well when Gordon told me he wanted to keep me on for the full hour.  On the breaks, he actually started talking to me about my craft – what he liked about my style of writing.  He asked about my family, what I did for a real job, personal stuff. 

When I was done Gordon asked me to autograph his copy of the book.  In other words, he was keeping the book, and that was very cool to me. He and Bill O’Reilly are the only people that have interviewed me that asked for my autograph. When we finished Gordon spent a few minutes with my wife, introducing himself, talking to her.  He asked if she brought a camera and if she would take a picture of him and me.  He did this every time I was on his show. 

Liddy’s grip on history, especially military history, was as firm as his double-handed handshake. He knew his stuff and even told me that after he read one of my books, he read another one on a tangent subject, just so that he could be prepared with better questions.  These were not fluff interviews, they were like oral exams with a highly trained professor. Still, he was very polite, so you didn’t feel nervous, but instead had a real conversation about the topic. 

I was on Gordon’s show three times, once for Terror of the Autumn Skies, my book on Frank Luke Jr.; and for Lost Eagles, my book on Frederick Zinn and the search for missing airmen.  His knowledge of history was impressive as well as his ability to organize and articulate a question.

You may be cool, but never quite this cool as shaking hands with G. Gordon Liddy

On my last visit, my father in-law was in town.  He was a die-hard liberal and when he found out I was going on Liddy’s show, he cringed.  So, I invited him and my son Alex to come along.  When we were on break Liddy noticed I had brought ‘an entourage’ and I told him I wanted my son to meet him because of his role in history and I wanted my father in-law to meet him because he was an easily triggered liberal.  Liddy grinned devilishly. 

When the show was over he came out and insisted on having his photo taken with my father in-law, thanking him for his military service. It totally caught my father in-law off guard, who stood speechless and shook and hand, numb at the courtesy he showed him.  He want out of his way to be nice. 

By the time they were done, my father in-law had has arm around Gordon.

Gordon gave me a wink as he returned to the booth…and I got it. He knew people and knew how to control situations like that.  The guy was brilliant. 

There will be a lot of people today who will scorn Liddy. They will talk about Watergate and his role.  Most will gloss over his military service and his time in the FBI.  Pundits will want to get in one last smear of him, because that’s what the mainstream media does now.  You’ll hear the words ‘felon’ and ‘mastermind of Watergate’ or ‘the man that ultimately took down Richard Nixon.’  They won’t go into the details at all because it is old news and doesn’t fit the current narratives.     None will talk about the warmth of the man or his cutting wit and intellect.  That falls to me. Gordon was bright, intellectually gifted, and incredibly nice in person.  He also did not tolerate bullshit.  He was an icon from a different era and made his footprint on history hard, grinding it in deep. Haters are going to hate.  Today I will remember the man I knew from the three hours or so of my life I spent with him.

Stormcrow Variant – Creative Juggernaut

Pew – pew

If you are unaware, our little company (Creative Juggernaut) is working on producing variant ‘Mechs for BattleTech in limited production runs.  To address your questions up-front – I do not have a date when they will be available yet (though rumor has it that the Black Knight’s are done.  Don’t tell Brent I told you that though – that’s our secret!)  They will be sold through the Catalyst website – we have to for licensing reasons. No, I do not know what the final price will be.  In many respects, I am a cog in this machine, and in the case of minis, a pretty insignificant cog. 

Brent sent me along a Stormcrow kit so I could paint it up.  This comes with the arm fitted with the pulse lasers, and the option of fitting it out with the gauss rifle or the autocannon.  I opted for the AC20 because I like using one when I play. 

You will see the production baggie (ohh…ziplock!) and the components.

Its like the prize inside the cereal box when you were a kid

The only clean up I did to the parts was with my bare hands, rubbing off a tiny bit of flash. I wanted to duplicate what a gamer might do if he wanted to put in the minimum effort and get the mini into battle quickly.   

It fit together pretty well.  I uplifted one leg slightly, I like the look of my mini’s as if they are moving. I angled the arms a little on-purpose. Not sure if I like that or not. I’m sure some Senior Tech in the Clan will have my hide for that.

For paint, I used the airbrush to do a layer of black, then gray on the bottom, dark blue, with the top being light blue.  I was going for a Ghost Bear look, doing a reversal of the Omicron Galaxy paint scheme. Why Ghost Bears? Because they have some wonderful colors to work with…and they are Ghost Bears! Seriously, I would love to tell you there was some reason for this, but there wasn’t other than I thought it was a neat look.  The layering of the paints did a lot of the work for me and the base coat of black took care of the recessed areas. I avoided doing a wash simply because I liked the effect I came up with. 

Total paint time for this mini was 22 minutes – the vast majority of which was cleaning the airbrush between color changes.  I added some decals, but right now I lack Ghost Bear decals, so I kept it simple. 

Overall, I love the results.  The ‘Mech is very airbrush friendly and can be posed with little effort.  Let me know what you think in the comments below.  Enjoy!