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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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.

Paladin 5

“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.

Demon1

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

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!

Out of the Archives – The BattleMechs I Wrote About or Designed

 

The Anvil EPub Cover
Not one of my designs, but I love the look of this beast! 

I started on this fantastic journey of writing BattleTech stuff, it began with the first technical readout.  I had submitted The Strider Incident to FASA for Star Trek.  They said “yes, but you need to check out BattleDroids!”  I was hooked early on.

Prospective authors were given a bunch of photocopies of the artwork with handwritten notes about the stats.  All of us were given the Rifleman first, as a test.  I must have passed because I was asked to write a whole bunch more stuff.

A proviso to this list, it might be wrong.  There are subtle little things I planted in my stuff over the years that allowed me to figure out what ‘Mechs I did (usually in the armaments I used).  Well, over time, other authors used those too.  As such, I had to do some of this for memory.  Any errors are unintentional.

Tech Readout 3025

Locust

Spider

Ostscout

Assassin

Clint

Vulcan

Shadow Hawk

Scorpion

Ostsol

Catapult

Warhammer

Goliath

Victor

BattleMaster

Wasp LAM

Phoenix Hawk LAM

Sparrowhawk

Corsair

Stuka

Seydlitz

Lucifer

Chippewa

Von Luckner

Galleon

Packrat

Long Tom

J-27 Ordnance Transport

Note:  We got the ‘Mechs with names and stats.  The rest we just go stats, so we got to name them.  The Chippewa was named after my college mascot.  The Seydlitz was one of my favorite battle cruisers from WWI. There was some pushback on the Stuka, too German WWII related.  In the end, it cleared edit.

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The original image and specs for the BattleMaster.  This was all we were given on the first readout
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Typos and all! 
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This is the original dot matrix write-up for the BattleMaster! 
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I have to admit, I’m shocked I kept some of this stuff.

Tech Readout 2750

Hussar

Champion

Lancelot

Crockett

Highlander

Spad

Zero

Gotha

Ironsides

Rapier

Rotunda

Demon

Burke

Puma

Titan

The Personal Equipment (Yes, I came up with the grapple rod.)

Note:  I am not sure about the Wyvern…I may have done it.  With this Tech Readout, we got to a mix of design and working with FASA’s stats.

Don’t give me crap about the Hussar.  I know it is universally hated, but I am proud of the design.  It is a ‘Mech version of a Savannah Master.  Fast, toilet paper for armor, annoying weaponry.  Get this behind the enemy and wreck havoc.  That was what it was designed to do.

Tech Readout 3055

Battle Hawk

Jackal

Hollander (I think)

Watchman (I think)

Huron Warrior

Grim Reaper

Gallowglas

Hercules

Penetrator

War Dog

Cerberus

Grand Titan

Behemoth

The Huron Warrior was named for the old Eastern Michigan University mascot, which has since been changed.  The War Dog has remained one of my favorite designs I did from scatch.

Note:  True story.  I got the request to design a few of these ‘Mechs, notably the Grand Titan, while on a business trip.  I remember telling the line editor at FASA I didn’t have my books with me, so I would be designing them from memory.  They were pinched for time and didn’t want to wait two weeks.  “Don’t worry, we will crunch the numbers once we get the write-ups from you.”  Yeah.  That totally didn’t happen with the Grand Titan.  I stopped designing ‘Mechs after the online outrage over my idiocy.  That will change with my upcoming Wolf’s Dragoon novella, where I am tossing caution to the wind. It wasn’t worth dealing with the rabid fan community that had no patience for mistakes…they just wanted blood and FASA’s line at the time was, “The author clearly didn’t’ follow the rules.”

The Shadow Hawk art image and specs.  Unseen my ass!

The Chronicling of our D&D Campaign: Tempora – Part 27

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

Bor…(A Song of Fire and Water)

That book was going to be trouble.  Of course Althalus wanted it.  In the Gallesian Fields he had found a demon’s skull and lost it in a barter with Lexa Lyoncroft.  Now he possessed a polished ebony devil’s skull with silver tipped arrowheads stuck in it.  A weathered tome called, “Demons and Devils – Summoning and Control,” in his hands was going to be a problem, for all of us. I kept my thoughts to myself though.  If push came to shove, shoving was the thing I did best. He would not have it. Arius finally stuffed it in his backpack, ending the debate.

We stood at the edge of the ruins of Tempora.  The mountain was hollowed out.  A massive iron chandelier hung by chains and a tiny hole to the outside let in light.  There were thick spiderwebs far up at the very peak of the mountain, above the broken chandelier.  At one time the lighting device must have hit the mirrored crystals and illuminated the entire city.  Now we stood in the darkness and debris.  What city had been built on the inner walls of the mountain was now crumbled and rubble.  The city at the base was a jumble of broken stones and the flotsam of everyday life. Navigating such ground was going to be difficult.

We knew from the poem that the river flowing between the feet of the statue was where we had to go, but such a vast space of ruin demanded exploration.  We opted to go around the long way, along the perimeter of the floor of the hollowed mountain, just to make sure there was nothing that would show up behind us at some point.  It was hard going.  Each pile of wreckage required exertion, coordination, and left your ankles sore from the task.  We had to backtrack a half dozen times, finding our path blocked with walls and rubble.  For hours we climbed and crawled.  We did find a set of rooms in the wall of the mountain, but all that was there was smashed furniture, musty tapestries that were more rotted fragments than something of interest.  Whatever had destroyed Tempora had done so with a viciousness than I could imagine.  We found a rotted leather pouch with a handful of silver coins…hardly worth the effort.

“At least there is no sign of anyone being here,” Theren said.

My eyes went upward to the chandelier hundreds of heads over us.  It had hung on five massive iron chains, now it hung on one.  It must have been beautiful to see at one time, but now it was something that could fall on us at any moment.

We trudged on.  What we found were shattered bones, dwarven in origin.  Several hours later we found a small flat area in the rubble, perhaps a wall at one point, now laid flat. As we moved I started to get a sense of foreboding…as if something was about to happen to us.  I took point, crawling up over a rise in the rubble, only to see a giant spider, white and gray hair and a shimmering blue mark on its chest.  I was caught unprepared by the creature.  It sprung at me with a stunning bite, ripping into my forearm, punctuating the armor.  My arm felt limp and blood splattered the white hair on the creature as well as my neck and face.  The pain followed a moment later – hot, searing.

Suddenly, there was a whooshing sound, like a wind blowing.  My eyesight blurred.  I had a moment of disorientation. Then my vision cleared and I was in a massive hammock-like spider nest, swaying in the air.  I caught a glimpse down through a small hole and saw that I was 500 heads above the rubble where I had been standing.  Somehow the creature had teleported me to its nest, a hammock-like creation, presumably to kill and eat me.  The pain was even more searing in my arm, no doubt from its poison.

You won’t be eating me, not today… 

I swung Skullringer and hit it hard in the confined space, sending the beast flying.  On the backswing, I missed, but it was enough to make the creature scurry a few steps back.  The massive spider coiled and sprung at me.  I pivoted slightly and the creature leapt through a hole in the webbed nest that I stood on.  It plummeted downward, past the rusted iron chandelier to the rocks far below.

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My breath was ragged and I could smell the rot of long-dead flesh in the nest mixed with a stink I had never smelled before.  How was I going to get down from here?  The shimmering blue light of Skullringer showed me that there were many stripped bones of the victims of these creatures.  From the size of the nest, I could tell there were more than the one creature I had seen.  I found a small cache of rubies and diamonds in the webbing, no doubt lost by some explorer that had become prey.  I tucked them in my backpack.

I found a ring as well, silver, with ornate carving. Pulling it from the sticky webbing, I saw two dwarven words:  “Stalker” and “Bentormon.” I put it on and spoke the word I did not know, “Bentormon.”  For a moment there was a ripple, like summer heat rising off of a stone.  Something was different, but I could not tell for sure what it was.  I jumped up and down, hoping it was a ring of flight, but all that did was make the unsteady nest sway slightly.  Whatever the effect of the ring, I couldn’t discern it.  I turned my attention to my predicament and the possible plummet I could be facing.  Below, I could see the green glow of the ranger’s lantern as they moved out into the center of the mountain directly under me.

There was a commotion near the party, that much I could make out.  Suddenly next to me another spider winked into existence, clamped onto Althalus.  I swung Skullringer at it, hitting it hard, and the hulking spider hissed at me. It tossed aside the unconscious warlock and its many eyes seemed to drift over me.  I swung again, crushing its face and splattering the warlock with bits of it.  I wiped Skullringer off on the nest and Althalus stirred to a stunned expression.  “Where am I?”

“In a worse place than you were,” I replied.

“Oh shit,” he replied, moving pulling his hands from the sticky nest we were in.  The slight sway of the nest made us both feel uneasy.

“I could use my eldritch blasts…” he offered.

“That…” I said slowly, “would be a horrible idea.”

“I have that wand with me, the one that shoots lightning,” he offered wryly.

“Not funny.   That isn’t helping.”  I asked him to watch me as I uttered, “bentormmon.”  This time nothing happened to me, I did not see the ripple effect.  “Do you notice anything different?”

“Should I?”  Getting a straight answer out of this warlock was difficult at best.  I was about to beret him when suddenly another spider blinked in next to us, bringing with it, Dimitrious.  The nest seemed to sag under the weight of the two appearing.

I didn’t hesitate, I attacked!  Skullringer was an azure blur as I struck it hard, throwing it back to the far end of the nest.  The warlock unleashed an eldritch blast on the spider, tossing it hard back, causing the nest to rock harder than ever before.  That warlock was going to kill us both if he was not careful.  The spider blinked out of existence, leaving me to glare at Althalus.  “Be careful.  This nest is likely flammable.”

“I was careful,” he countered.

“These blink spiders are dangerous,” I said, surveying the nest as it swayed.

Suddenly, a bear appeared grappled with one of the spiders.  “Grab me!” he commanded in a low growl. I recognize that bear….Theren!  I lunged for it, as did Dimitrious and Althalus.  There was flash around us and a whistle of air, and we landed on the debris on the floor far below the nest. Before it could teleport us again, the bear crushed the spider’s skull in its massive claws.

I looked up at the nest.  I thanked God we blinked down, otherwise the way down could have left us dead.  I then turned to the druid.  “Thank you Theren,” I told him.  The bear dipped its head.  The rest of our party came over and joined us.  Brandon cut the poison sac out of the creature and drained it into an empty glass vial that Althalus offered him.  For a few minutes, we rested.  I cleaned my trusty warhammer off.  This quest was exhausting, and we seemed no closer to finding the missing paladins. I suppressed the thought that we might never find them.

We set off for the interior wall of the hollowed mountain.  I led us through the debris.  Near the wall I spotted some bleached bones poking up out of the rubble.  I found a necklace there with a sapphire. I found a morning star as well, silvered, well-balanced – a true warrior’s weapon.  There was a short sword in a battered scabbard in the rubble too.  There was a fine silvered edge to the weapon.  Brandon looked at it but said he could not make out the words.  “Let me,” I offered.

As I suspected, it was dwarven.  “Nightstalker,” I said out loud.  “Never heard of it,” I said handing it back to the ranger.  “It is a fine blade, that much I can say.”

“Nightstalker…” Althalus said.  “I’ve actually heard of that blade.”  We all looked at him.  “Don’t be surprised, I do a lot of studying.  “It was a magical blade owned by Shevrus Salamar, a dwarven lord who served with some distinction in the battle of the Gallesian Fields.  It was said that he was the great killer of the shambling dead, wielding Nightstalker and his holy morning star, Bonebreaker.  He killed the last Wight-King Ishmark and was one of the men that laid the cornerstone of the sept at the Great Gash.  No one knows of his fate.  I wonder how his weapons ended up here?”  It was a question none of us would likely ever know.

“I did not care for a short sword – I prefer to keep my foes at a distance.  That morning star, Bonebreaker, that was something I might need.  “I will take this Bonebreaker,” I offered.  “Do what you will with that blade.”  The ranger took it, proudly strapping the scabbard at his side.

Sword

We made our way to the waterfall…the tears of Tempora.  We saw along the waterfall, a series of carved handholds, like a ladder of some sort, ending to a ledge some 30 heads down.  The roar of the water churning below as the river flowed through a carved hole leading out of the city.

I went first.  Only two steps down my feet slipped and I lost my grip.  I fell backwards, watching my comrades above me.  I hit the water hard and went deep under, the weight of my armor and the treasure I carried took me straight to the black bottom under the falls.  I could see nothing and I tried to push off, only to sink right back down. My ears filled with a rushing gurgling and the cold water made me quake.

I struggled to get my pack off and I lost my footing.  The force of the water from the falls made me feel like I was battling some creature.  It was nearly impossible to see.  I felt hands on me and saw Dimitrious grapple me and start to pull me up.  I kicked hard and felt a gulp of the cold water in my throat.  I reached the surface and spat out the water and got a gulp of air.  Theren was there – in bear form.  As I started to bob down, I grabbed his fur and held on tight, pulling myself up.  Theren paddled to the ledge and helped me out of the water.

Looking over to the silent monk, I offered my thanks.  He only nodded in response. The others climbed down and joined us.  The ledge allowed us to move behind the waterfall, There was a chamber jutting into the underbelly of the ruins of Tempora.  I wrung out my personal goods, which did little to lighten my backpack, and I led us into the depths.

We moved down a long and wide hallway.  The octagonal-shaped room beyond was clearly some sort royal receiving room in centuries past.  It had a mosaic floor with three large rugs in it.  The ceiling, carved into the stone itself, was nearly twenty-heads high.  There mosaics, now cracked and missing pieces, that showed what Tempora may have looked like in its prime.  It was odd to see it has it had been.  Now it was nothing but carnage, blinking spiders, and gloom.

A raised dais of stone sat in the middle of the room, with a throne-like seat on it. The back of the throne was broken off, blasted back and shattered to pieces beyond where it had once stood.  On the seat was a haphazardly tossed piece of purple cloth which was a dusty lump.

I poked at the rugs with my wet boot.  The rugs seemed to cover scorch marks on the floor, burned through the mosaic.  This was not natural, but powerful magic.

“We need to proceed carefully,” Theren said. Usually it was Althalus that old us the obvious.  I wondered if Theren was taken a verbal jab at the warlock.

As Brandon started moving into the room, we saw the hilt of his new sword, Nightstalker, started glowing white.  We spotted it before he did.  He pulled it out and the blade shimmered brilliantly.

“That cannot be good,” Althalus said.

“I think it’s cool,” the ranger replied.

I moved forward near Brandon who was approaching the battered throne.  “Hold,” said Arius.  He closed his eyes for a moment and waved his hands in the air before his face.  I felt warm for the first time since my plunge into the waterfall.  “It is shield of faith,” the paladin said.  “It will protect us.”

I checked Bonebreaker at my belt, but it did not show any signs of glowing.  Brandon, against my better thinking, flipped up the purple cloth on the seat.  What emerged was a glowing green skull that floated into the air.  Magical greenish orange flames shimmered around it and its jaw opened with a sinister grin.  The eye sockets glowed a deep red.  It felt as if it were staring into my soul.

“Holy shit,” the ranger said, staggering back.

Flames shot forth from the eyes of the skull, concentrated on Brandon.  They missed, passing his shoulders. He tried to swing Nightstalker at the floating skull but missed.  I sprang at it with Skullringer, hitting it hard.  The emerald flames lapped around the head of my warhammer and I moved it back a head or two, but it was far from stopped.

Suddenly the air around us erupted in flames.  My beard was burned singed by the magical blast.  Brandon was caught in the center of the sphere of flames.  He fled the chamber, setting fire to one of the rugs in the process, heading off towards the waterfall, flames lapping up his sides and back as he wailed in agony.

I hit the skull hard again with Skullringer, but it kept moving forward. Athalus hit it with his own magical blast, knocking it back nearly ten heads, but only seeming to infuriate it.  Theren, still in bear form, rushed forward, clawing at it.  It fractured into pieces, rattling across the mosaic floor.  The eerie green flames extinguished, making us shift to the other source of light – Brandon.

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Freaking druids…

He rushed for the waterfall, arms flailing about madly.  He jumped into the water to extinguish the flames and disappeared from sight.

“Did he just jump into the waterfall wearing his armor?” Theren asked.

“Yes,” Althalus replied.  “Yes he did.”

We rushed to the waterfall’s edge and saw him under the water attempting to dog-paddle up to the surface – to no avail.  I alone knew that feeling, having just gotten out of that predicament myself.  Theren (the bear) jumped in with Dimitrious and helped fish him out.  The ranger was coughing up water, his hair badly burned, but thankful to be alive.

We returned to the receiving chamber.  Brandon checked the throne and found a small compartment in the seat.  There was a small strange stone object, the length of a finger, with box-like shapes.  It proved to be a key of some sort, ornate, clearly dwarven.  There was an amethyst broch in the compartment as well. I let him carry it. I was starting to feel like a mule, carrying all of our wealth.

Arius checked the room for any sort of a door or way out.  It seemed odd that we had come this far to arrive at a dead-end.  He and Dimitrious found a small hole that seemed to fit the key.  Theren shifted back to his human form and looked at the hole.   “We should hold up here, get some rest, recover if we can.”  It seemed like a good idea.  We went to one of the corners far from the throne and huddled together.  At least we were flanked by stone on two side.

We laid down for some sleep.  I was on my first watch.  As everyone drifted off an hour or two later I heard a clicking sound over by the throne.  At first, I thought that it was little more than a rat or some bug.  I rose and moved towards the throne.  To my disbelief, the shattered bits of the flaming skull were twitching, moving towards each other, and reassembling!

I let loose a whistle of warning followed by, “Get up, that thing is regenerating!”  I moved towards it quickly, unhooking Skullringer.  We killed you once, we will do it again!

It turned from me and towards the rest of our group, all huddled close together, and opened its mouth.  A ball of fire emerged from the mouth, growing, expanding.  As it passed me I could feel the searing heat and the gust of wind that slowed my run.

I didn’t hear the fireball hit, but I heard the wails of pain and agony from my comrades as a result and the room lit up brilliant yellow and orange behind me as I charged the green flaming monstrosity that floated in the air before me.

Skullringer swung true, knocking the creature back into one of the corners of the room, chipping off a bit of its lower skull.  I pursued the heinous demon-spawn, drawing the warhammer back. Someone behind me cast some sort of magic, and it seemed to make the skull quake in the air, as if it could feel pain.  Dimitrious joined me, his arms a blur of attacks on the green fiery skull.  The monk seemed to ignore the flames, hitting it hard on either side.  His last blow, shattered the skull into a dozen or so pieces.  The emerald flames disappeared and the room plunged back into near darkness.

I looked over at the monk in disbelief.  He looked at me, offered a thin smile, and a wink.  I nodded to him.  Why the silent monk joined us, I do not know.  His aide had proved invaluable though.  The singed party rushed forward to join us.  Althalus stood over the bits of skull, then squatted. “I seem to remember reading something about these things – flameskulls.  They regenerate.  We can dowse it in holy water or use a remove curse spell or portion on it”

“That would have been useful information a few hours ago,” Arius said.

The warlock turned to him.  “Sorry, I just remembered it.”  With our warlock, one could never be sure.  One day he will lead us all to our ruin…

“I have a remove curse portion we found on the road to Tempora,” Brandon said.

“Gather the pieces and soak it good,” Arius said.  “We don’t want this thing regenerating and coming up behind us at some point.”  Satisfied that we had dispensed the abomination to the planes of hell, we went back to sleep.

Day and night underground is more of a feeling, with no frames of reference.  I do know we all felt much more replenished as we got up and nibbled at our rations.  Arius was listening at the secret door we had found, using his hands to feel it out, as if he could sense what was on the other side.  “I think it is safe for us to open this,” Arius said after a few minutes.

He inserted the strange key and it made a loud clicking sound.  The stone door swung towards us and we saw a long narrow hallway leading to a room with a cistern in it.  Moving cautiously, we closed on the water source.

“We should fill our water skins,” I offered as we entered the room.

“I wouldn’t,” warned Theren.  “Water in such places may be cursed, or worse.”

“Look down,” Arius said.  “The dust has been disturbed.  Someone has brought a large party through here recently.”  He was right…perhaps the missing paladins.

The cistern was a raised stone circle several feet across and two feet off of the floor.  A lone tarnished brass pillar rose from the center, providing a thin trickle of water into the pool.  Mold grew along the stonework of the cistern and onto the floor, indeed there was a hint of green mold on the high domed ceiling as well.  Thin cracks showed in the ceiling as well.

Brandon seemed anxious to check the cistern out.  Given the dangers we had faced thus far, I was less inclined.  Memories of him uncovering the flameskull came to mind.  “I do not sense any traps,” Theren said.  That doesn’t mean there isn’t any risk here.

Brandon leaned over.  “There’s some stuff in the bottom of the pool.  Some coins and stuff.”

I reached into my backpack and tossed a copper piece into the pool.  Nothing happened.  “I think it is a mistake to take anything from such a pool.”

“We should move on,” Theren offered. We all started to walk away, or so I thought.  Brandon apparently was too tempted by the offerings at the bottom.  I didn’t see him reach in, but I heard a loud splashing sound.  As I turned, I saw the water rise up as if it were alive, snaking around his neck, and pulling him head first into the pool.  His feet went up in the air and his arms flailed about madly.

“Water weird,” muttered Althalus.  “This is bad.” Always the master of the obvious…

“Aw crap,” Arius said.  “He reached in.”

Brandon tried to brace against the edge of the cistern and get free, but failed miserably.  Arius grabbed his legs and pulled hard.  I pulled out Bonebraker and swung it at the rising pillar of water.  The flail went through the water, splashing some of it against the wall.

“Duck,” came the voice of Theren from behind me.

“Did you see a duck?” Arius asked.

“Where’s the duck?” Althalus queried.

“No you fools…duck!” Theren snapped.  There was a low rumble and the air quaked as he unleashed a magic spell.  It barely seemed to shake the water weird.

Dimitrious lashed out at the creature with his fists, splattering more of the water onto the stone floor.  Althalus hit with a green beam of his eldritch power, spraying right through him, wisps of steam rising from where the beam hit it.

Arius swung, his sword shimmering as if charged with some sort of holy magic.  The water splashed the rest of the party and the form of the water weird disappeared, the water splashing down into the cistern.

Brandon moved up carefully and reach in, pulling out a tarnished brass bit of jewelry.  “Look,” he said holding it up.

“That was not worth nearly dying,” Althalus said.  Dejected, the ranger put the wet jewelry in his pack.

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

Character Background Material

My New Campaign

#dungeonsanddragons

#DandD

#DnD

Gen Con 2018 After-Action Report

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I am writing this in that post-con haze, so if it seems jumbled, it probably is.  This was a Gen Con to remember.  It was the first time that I brought along a true sidekick, my nine year old grandson Trenton.  I’ll talk about Gen Con for kids a little bit at the end of this blog, so read on.  Also, as a proviso, I am a freelance writer in the industry, pretty much writing only for Catalyst Game Labs right now on BattleTech.  So there is going to be a lot of BattleTech in this post.  No apologies…

This year there were more exhibitors than ever.  The exhibit hall is becoming massive which is fantastic.  Some notables were not there.  Reaper Miniatures once again did not show.  I love their product and they contribute to paint-and-take, but no booth.  Wizards of the Coast may have been there, but I never found them.

My first stop was Catalyst Game Labs.  One word: Wow.  An awesome (pun intended) seven foot tall BattleMech loomed over a demo game with massive twelve inch tall miniatures on a map you had to walk on to play!  My novella (combined with Phil Lee’s outstanding work) sold out half-way through the first day.  Awesome sauce!  I saw a lot of fathers and grandfathers scoring copies of the Beginner’s Box Set for their kids.  The boxed sets sold out day one.  Saturday they released Catalyst energy drinks – Coolant Flush and Dragon Piss.  I thought it was a whacked idea – until I saw people purchasing them by the case. Then I saw my son buying some.  Sometimes I am just totally wrong. It’s rare, but it happens.

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This is not the right cover for this book.
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I actually heard a fan demanding the STL files so he could print his own ‘Mechs out like these.  I have to admit, these look awesome.

I played some demo games – which is one of the reasons I go to Gen Con.  I purchased the Game of Thrones minis game from CMON but hadn’t played it yet.  So I got into a demo of it.  Great game.  A lot of the mechanics relies on the NPC figures and their powers as well as the character cards.  Here’s a tip, don’t ride your cavalry into the Mountain and his men.  Wow, I devastated a full-on House Stark cavalry charge…panicking them into a rout.  I enjoyed it, but have come to the realization that you have to understand and really think through your cards for a round in order to be victorious.

 

A Lannister Always Pays His Debts

Steamforged Games really has a strong following.  I watched a round of Guild Ball and was very tempted to pick it up – but I am behind on my miniatures painting as it is.

Modiphius Entertainment had the new Star Trek RPG supplements, one of which I picked up (The Beta Quadrant).  Yes, there will be a separate review of this and all the neat stuff I bought.  They had a coupon deal where if you spent 30 dollars, you got a miniature.  Mine was Khan.  Could this mean we are finally going to get a Star Trek II set of miniatures, the ones with the cool red and white uniforms?  Fingers are crossed on the part of this fan.

Fantasy Flight Games released the conversion kit for X-Wing and the thing few out the doors.  I was skeptical when they announced a new set of rules for X-Wing.  I spoke with some fans during a demo though and they assured me that FFG handled this perfectly with the conversion kit.  Lots of praise from the die-hards on this one.  As it was, I picked up the Rebel Commandos and Han Solo for Star Wars Legion.  The legion demo tables were outstanding.

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Hoth.  Love the crashed snow speeder.
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I love Star Wars Legion (I will be doing some posts on the game soon) but if they put out Ewok miniatures, I will go ballistic on FFG… Just sayin’…

I played the new Warhammer Kill Team. I went in pretty open-minded.  To be honest, I REALLY liked it.  The miniatures and terrain quality were top-notch and the play level is perfect, squads against squads, man-against-man (as opposed to full-on unit actions).  They sold out on Friday because they have a winner.

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My guys all just stood and fired, wiping out all but two of the enemy in the first round with the loss of only one of my troops.

Paizo sold out of Starfinder Armory too.  I saw a copy of it and was impressed enough to add it to my wish list on Amazon.  One of the guys at Paizo complimented me on my blog which was a pleasant surprise.  Hey, Paizo, I would review more of your stuff if you sent it to me.

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I got to watch the Gaslands Tournament.  I love the heavily armed semi-war-rig.  

I got to watch a demo of Battlestar Galactica from Ares games.  Love the concept – love the mini’s.  I can almost feel the drain on my wallet that is going to come from this.  I’m a big fan of Ares Games.

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One thing that really stood out was Miniteman Miniatures over at Lucas Oil Stadium.  They scan your head to render a 3D image that you can get put on a miniature ranging from 28mm to 60mm.  My son, grandson, and I all did this and when they get their site up, we’re ordering minis of ourselves.  I was told it would run about a $1 per mm.  Totally worth it.

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Great concept
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My son getting his head rendered.  It took around 3 minutes tops.

I always take shots of the terrain when I am wandering around.  Some of it is outstanding.  I always think the guys that do good terrain get overlooked at events like this by the fans of the miniatures themselves.  I loved this Privateer Press fortress assault game board, as an example.

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I played in the ‘Mech Pods, as always. I even got in a round with my son and grandson, which was a blast.  You want to hook a kid on gaming, start them with the experience of gaming.

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I saw one game coming I must have.  Aliens.  This is right from the movie.  You play the Marines fighting off wave after wave of aliens.  Cooperative play, death is assured.  I am SO onboard with this game concept. Gale Force Nine released a Firefly tactical game at the convention that looked great (I watched a demo of this one.)  But this is Aliens.  Ripley and Hudson and Hicks.  All before they mucked up the Aliens universe.  Oh yes, this will be mine!

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“That’s it man, game over…”

I heckled the Catalyst Games Lab forum from the front row.  We got a commitment from my editor, John Helfers, that yes, my novel, Forever Faithful is coming, “soon.” BattleTech is back. One person told me, “Brent (Evans) promised us fiction, a boxed set, and movement on the timeline last year.  He totally delivered!”  Next year is the 35th Anniversary, so plan on a LOT of stuff.  My running joke was I was going to get a red hat that said, “Make Wolf’s Dragoons Great Again,” but I didn’t want the political backlash. Snicker…

Funny side story.  Outside of the lecture before it started I was talking to some fans.  My name badge was flipped.  One guy railed about Betrayal of Ideals (which I wrote). “The politics were good but the action scenes were horrible.  The author really doesn’t know much about BattleTech or how military actions go.”  Another fan, who knew who I was, pointed out that I was the author of that book.  Debate ended.

I capped off the con with Masters and Minions.  Ray Arrastia got stuck with me against four players.  This year I had my ‘Mechs painted as Batman and Superman (a Gallowglas and Atlas (old school) accordingly.)  I would love to tell you that we devastated the enemy, but lying is not good.  On round one, my Gallowglas was downed and Ray’s Warhammer took two shots to the head from a light ‘Mech that turned his pilot in a scorched pile of goo.

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“Do you bleed?”  Yes, Yes I do.

I have come to hate the partial cover rules.  I had a gauss rifle and large laser hits on the enemy that ended up tearing up a level one hillside.  Robbed…robbed I say!

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Batman go boom.

I avenged Ray’s headshot death by unleashing the same rage and fury on that tiny little Firefly that killed ray.  I got him with headshots as well.  Seyla!

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The image at 10:45pm.  Looking awefully damned lonely out in the middle there.

I had a hard stop at 10:45pm, and when I left, Ray’s ‘Mech had toilet paper for armor and my Atlas was going to get hammered from two sides.  I am sure Ray gave the good fight…but in the end, the odds were not in our favor, nor was our skills against these guys!  Well fought!

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A well earned victory by these guys!

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Taking a Kid to Gen Con

I was unsure how my nine year old grandson would respond to Gen Con or how it would affect my own experience.  Trenton was great and the crowds were very cautious of kids.  Gen Con is VERY kid friendly.  We signed him up for his first RPG at the Kid Zone at Lucas Oil Stadium and he is now hooked!  Watching BattleTech demos, he went and purchased his first ‘Mech, “just like the one on Pop-Pop’s book.”

Trenton picked up Teen Titans from Cryptozoic and Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure from Steve Jackson Games.  He really wanted to meet Steve Jackson just to say he liked his games.  I introduced him to Mike Stackpole, and scored some great brownie points there.  “He’s famous Pop-Pop.” “I know, he’s a New York Times Bestselling author.  So I am and your mother.”  “Yeah, but he writes Star Wars.”  I swear, I can’t win.

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I picked up this RPG for my grandson.

Lucas Oil Stadium’s kid zone was perfect for younger gamers.  I took Trenton over to build a TARDIS too – and he enjoyed it.  He loved doing the paint-and-take too, as did I. He loved looking at the demos of Star Wars Legion.  It took some pre-planning to make sure he was prepared for the con, but he came away a true gamer and fan.

And that’s a wrap.  Another successful Gen Con under our belts.  Now we can begin planning next years anniversary celebration!

#gencon

#BattleTech

New BattleTech Fiction Available for Pre-Sale – The Anvil Novella

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Whose ‘Mech is that?  Wow!  Love the BattleMaster lurking in the background.  

So there we were, huddled in a hotel room during Gen Con 2017, a group of BattleTech authors and developers, plotting out the next big thing for BattleTech.  A long year ago, or so it feels like.  Looking back, we should have had liquor.   The big topics – fiction driving the universe and “the next big thing.”

It used to be that way.  Old school really.  The novels were where big events unfolded, and the sourcebooks and scenario packs followed to give the game details.  We did that up through the Dark Ages.  Then fiction almost evaporated, with the exception of BattleCorps.  The Jihad, a terminally long period of product, was just that – product.  Sourcebook after sourcebook.

Don’t get me wrong, I like sourcebooks – but it’s hard to identify with characters from them.  It was difficult for me to get jazzed about the Jihad because we lost so many great characters and didn’t fill their shoes with equally cool characters.  Many were killed rather unceremoniously, off camera, a wandering sentence in a sourcebook.  It hurt to watch as one of the old-school writers.  Personally, I think that the lack of fiction is one of the things that fans missed out of the Jihad…that and the knowledge of what would follow, the Republic of the Sphere.

Brent Evans wanted to get back to our roots.  Fiction in the driver’s seat, so to speak.  Frankly, I was pumped at the idea.  There are some other reasons.  I played a somewhat critical role in getting fiction for BattleTech relaunched. While I can’t go into details, let’s just say, I had a role in us getting the BattleTech Legends line back in epub format and available. While it may sound like I’m bragging, I am (wink).  That story will have to wait.

I have long maintained that characters drive the BattleTech stories and the universe – not dossiers buried in some game product.  People want to read stories about characters doing some damned heroic stuff, facing incredible odds, etc.  The ‘Mechs, well, they are characters too.  They have personalities, quirks, and their own appearances.  People want stories, like we did back in the day.  The imagery of BattleTech is in the fiction and artwork.  It is what draws people into the game, or at least, it used.

What followed from last year’s Gen Con was the equivalent of fiction being a sports car attempting to merge onto a freeway of sourcebook products (semi’s) that were in draft already.  Many other meetings followed.  John Helfers and Brent wanted more emphasis on novellas, short novels, to fill out the line. Personally, I like that approach.  It means a lot more fiction sooner.  Full-blown novels are not just thrown together, they take a lot of time.

In that word-storm of chaos, The Anvil was born.

Taken from three paragraphs of the upcoming sourcebook, Shattered Fortress, it was a story about characters – characters that we were building to fill greater roles, some years from now.  I was asked to tackle this one, almost a pilot test of the novella stuff.  I knew one thing, it would never fit in a single novella format – around 20k words.  To tell it right, it needed to be bigger – and it clocked in at over double that when completed.  This comes in at well over 40k words.  For those of you who wonder, the old word limit back in the ROC days of novels was around 65k words, something I proudly and often violated.

I have only touched on the Jade Falcons once before, in Operation Audacity.  This would be my first real exploration of that Clan.  That meant reading all of the Dark Ages novels dealing with the Falcons all over again.  There was a wealth of material to tap with that content.  In one weekend I read four novels, just to get in the Jade Falcon mindset.

The story came from the sourcebook material (in draft at the time).  BattleTech books are less about the plot, and more about the characters.  For this one I got to tap a character I had created, Roderick Steiner, from Fire at Will.  Roderick was cool.  For years he hid his identity as grandson of Adam “Information is Ammunition” Steiner.  When he accepted his birthright, he rocked it out.  Yes, I pay homage to Adam and the TV cartoon series in the novella, just once, and its snarky.  Roderick is neat.  Roderick has grown since Fire at Will though, he has not had a lot of choice. On top of all of that, how often do you see the General of the Armies wading into battle personally? Not since the days of Nondi Steiner I’d venture to guess, if not earlier.

Another key character in this novella’s saga was Stephanie Chistu of Clan Jade Falcon.  I really wanted her to pop.  Last autumn I took a blacksmithing class and wanted to tie that into her character. She is a different kind of Jade Falcon warrior, a counter to Malvina Hazen and her Mongol Doctrine.  I wanted to show that not all Falcons were blindly following Mad-Malvina.  Her style of combat and even speech is different.  She has a hint of Aiden Pryde in her personality, but Stephanie is quite different. She is unique.  She is the true Jade Falcon – at least in her mind and my own.

I have a proclivity for very strong female characters, and this book is no exception.  Chistu is not just tough, she’s a thinker.  Genetically bred for war, that doesn’t mean she’s a mindless automaton.  She creates her own honor which is kind of cool.  In a universe of dominating characters with massive Stalker-sized egos, she is a breath of fresh air.   I get to introduce another strong female too, so I’m kind of enjoying that as well.

The setting for the novella was ground that had been tread on before, extensively – so there were more books to consume before I could write it. Let’s just say it is familiar ground.

I wrote the novella in three weeks, in the evenings and on weekends.  I immersed myself in it.  I will say I am a bit rusty on writing BattleTech, and the editors were pretty patient with me.

The units in this book:

  • Delta and Gamma Galaxies – Clan Jade Falcon
  • Seventeenth Arcturan Guards
  • Fifteenth Arcturan Guards
  • Second Royal Guard

I tried to provide some paint schemes for these, for the fans out there that paint an entire unit.  I know how the fan-boys are.

Yes, there is truth in the fact that I included fans names in the book.  Some will be delighted, others dismayed.  Don’t email and ask me, I react poorly to such requests.

I hope the BattleTech fans like it, especially the Lyran and Jade Falcon fans.

Here’s the formal release:  Announcement

Oh, as a teaser – here’s the original back cover text I had proposed…

The Ghosts of Coventry…

Jade Falcon Khan Malvina Hazen wants bloody revenge for the Falcon’s defeat on Coventry nearly a century earlier.  She sends one of her best leaders, Galaxy Commander Stephanie Chistu to be her executioner.  Hazen wants to corrupt her to her brutal Mongol Doctrine or have fail utterly and fall from grace.  Coventry hangs in the balance and either way, Hazen wins.

But Chistu has plans of her own.  Facing off against the best Generals of the Lyran Commonwealth, she has to find a path of honor while her enemies and her own Khan attempt to kill her.  All of them have underestimated Stephanie Chistu and it will cost one of them their life.  She proves herself to be the anvil in the forging of the Jade Falcon’s true path to honor.

 

So what is next for me? 

The next project to be published will be Forever Faithful, which editor John Helfers leaked, deals with the Smoke Jaguars.  That book has been done for a year, but we are positioning it for a special release-ish.

I just finished a Wolf’s Dragoon’s novella a few weeks ago.  I have a title for it, but I’m not putting it out there yet because in many respects, it tells you a LOT about the novella.  It came in at 31k words.  It should be coming out next year, I hope around Gen Con.

I am working on a huge novel, one that is pivotal for the universe.  It’s a big deal.  I had to draw up a twelve page document just to create the foundation to document the novel itself.  This is for next year and the book will be a thick one – that much I can assure you.  It will change everything.  This one is uber-secret.

Well, that’s it for a while.  Prepping for Gen Con and Master’s and Minions.

#BattleTech