BattleTech Storyline Meeting

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Jason is embarassed to be sitting with us.  Totally understandable.

We got together this weekend in Seattle to map out where we are taking the BattleTech storyline.  First off, it was mentally (and sometimes emotionally) exhausting.  We started at 8am and went well into the night. I have to admit, I had fun despite the changes I need to do refine the work. The reason I had fun is that I think most of the changes are for the better…so that the fans of BattleTech will like it and so it can better feed future products. I appreciate your patience.

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Randall:  “We only took this much off his leg at the knee…” 

I had a lot of fun with Mike Stackpole getting caught up and brainstorming some very cool ideas that you will get to see at some point. It was fun to see Ray, John, and Brent too.  Ray wore a different house or unit hat every day which, I have to admit, made me jealous and roused my competitive nature. Loren and Randall were in their element, though it was akin to herding cats. For some folks it was their first time in such an esteemed (albeit mad) gathering.  For some of us old veterans, it was a trip down memory lane.

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Brent:  “Peace of Blake Be With You.” 

Our debates were lively, frustrating, and hilarious. I know you fans would love to see all of my notes – and that is never happening.  Here’s the fun teasing stuff I feel safe sharing:

  • (At breakfast).  Blaine:  “Hey Randall, I see a press release that you guys are re-releasing the Succession Wars boxed set.  Pretty aggressive given the Kickstarter isn’t it?”  Randal:  “What are you talking about?”  Everyone went to their phones in unison…hilarity followed…
  • Two in-depth discussion and debates about technologies that do not exist. Loren:  “We have to understand how it works so we never use it again.”  Only in that room does that sentence have any real meaning.
  • “Life is cheap – BattleMechs aren’t.”
  • “Remember, we’re a little cash-strapped right now.”  (Yes, the sarcasm was heavy in the meeting.) This was running joke #1.
  • “While you guys were having a sidebar, we added a few things to the list…” This actually qualifies as a running joke (see below).
  • Blaine:  “As the only person in this room that has taught at a US military academy, twice, let me say…”
  • Brent breaking out the miniatures in the middle of our debate.  I thought we were going to draw a Circle of Equals on the table and dice it out.
  • Blaine:  “So we are setting in stone the list of novels, correct?”  Everyone:  “Yes.”  Blaine:  “Good, because I stuck on a Clan Wolverine novel on there and you just approved it.” (Followed with a shit-eating grin) Randall – with Sharpee in hand, “I can fix that!”
  • Loren:  “So what do we call the new magazine?”  Mike:  “War Porn Quarterly.”  John:  “That will sell copies…”
  • (Everyone at one point or another)  “Where is House Arano on the map?”  Running joke #2.  You needed to be there, but it was funny.
  • Blaine impersonating Edgar G. Robinson from a 20’s gangster film.
  • Randall:  “Let’s face it, Katherine was our favorite person to hate.” A room of nods in unison followed.
  • Loren:  “So, does X have any kids?  They must have had kids, I mean the guy is like 45 now.”  I cannot tell you the number of times we were reconstructing famous house genetic trees.
  • All (at one point or another):  “WWJWD?”
  • The older guys, repeatedly, “Well, back in the FASA days…” We wore those words as a badge of honor with a dash of shame.
  • Randall:  “I think I can make a ‘Mech summersault in terms of the physics, but I’m not sure we should have done it in fiction…”
  • Loren:  “I think it would be great to capture one of these sessions entirely on film, but then I’m glad we don’t.  No one really needs to see how the sausage is made.”

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    Randall:  “So, for the Succession Wars Boxed Set Re-Release, we are going to need some new art…”  

No one was killed during the session, though I will say we plotted the deaths and births of many characters.  I can’t speak for the others, but we all seemed to have good time…I know I did.  Please don’t press for more details.  It is my job to simply be a tease…

The Chronicling of our D&D Campaign Part 33 – Bats in the Belfry

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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. Enjoy!

Brandon…

Theren returned to the Great Gash and Arius caught him up on the turn of events and our mission to try and find Lexa Lyoncroft.  Theren wisely requested a letter of mark from the church to assure her they would not prosecute her.  I was doubtful that a letter alone would convince her, but it couldn’t hurt to have it. I had a companion wolf that I had adopted and found it oddly comforting to sit and pet it.

The last place Lyoncroft had been seen was my village, Buchola.  I was the last of our party to have seen her.  For me, this was joyous.  I would be returning home, wiser and stronger than before.  No doubt they would view me as a hero. I wasn’t expecting a parade or anything, but possibly someone picking up the first round.

Of course, I had been secretly summoned to the High Council of Rangers.  Somehow I needed to make sure that I honored that request.  Such summons were rare and I was a little concerned about the implications.

We were all shocked when Dimitrious came before us on the morning of our departure and said he would be leaving.  The fact he spoke at all stunned me.  “My part in these is done, for now.  I have set you on your path.  I will see you near the end.”  When Athalus asked, “How will we know where to find you?” the normally mute monk smiled. “Look to the blue light.  When you see it, you will know it is me.”  We all thanked him.  “I owe you my life,” Athalus commented.  “I know,” he replied.

I informed my comrades of my summons to the Rangersmeet at Villineau and we agreed, since it was on the way, we would go there first.  There were a lot of questions as to why I had been summoned, none of which I could answer. With a late fall chill in the air we set out.

The second night out, an old friend of mine, Drake, stumbled into the camp.  Drake was a miller from my home town, though I honestly did not recognize him.  Althalus used his magic to light up the night.  Drake told us that everyone had fled Buchola.  Someone came to town and the locals left. The mysterious man was tall with black hair.  When locals disappeared and “bad things happened,” Drake and the others had started to leave.  He spoke of nightmares and terrors that forced people to leave.  This sounded fairly dire.  What could have invaded my home?  The stranger, we learned, had been asking about Lexa Lyoncroft as well.

Drake bedded in our camp that night and went on his way.  The next day we noticed that there were some bats that were hovering over us. That was disturbing.  Bats in the daylight were a rarity.  I could not help but get the sense that they were following us.  But for who?

Four more days out I came across an unusual number of wolf tracks in our path. Pack wolves usually do not leave this number of tracks.  That night, we were approached by the very pack of wolves we had seen the tracks of.  Theren spoke to them and they only knew one word – “dinner.”  That did not bear well for us.  We could hear them snarling all around our camp.  Althalus cast a ball of fire, just to light the area up.  We were facing a large number of them.

Theren transformed into a dire wolf and pounced on their alpha before the pack could strike – unleashing the fury of the wolves around us.  A melee broke out, both magical and with cold steel.  Magical blasts flashed in the night and the stench of burned fur mingled with the sting of sweat as I sprung into the chaos of the battle.  One clung onto Arius’s throat, splattering blood into the night as he tried to shake it off.  When another leapt at him, Skullringer ripped its head off, hitting Theren with it from behind with a dull thud.  Somehow, on his backswing with the magic weapon, he let go of the warhammer, losing it in the thick grass of the plains.

A swirling cloud of magical daggers began to julienne two of the wolves, throwing fur and blood into the air with wild abandon.  Theren killed the alpha, devouring its flesh in the process.  My own magic sword, Nightstalker, cut two of the beasts deeply.  Arius threw his razor-edged shield, burying it deep in the hide of one of our foes.

My pet wolf tore into one of the wild ones attacking us, making it yip in pain.  From where Arius swung the shield, his thunderous smite blew up one of the wolves – raining blood and a bit of intestines all over Althalus who scowled back at the paladin for the gore he was drenched in. It was Theren that ended the fight, savaging the last wolf in his bloody jaws.

We were exhausted and collapsed for the night.  The next day we came to the edge of the forest with a structure poised at the edge of the growth.  While I had never been to Villineau, I somehow was sure this was it.  The building was three stories tall, smooth, almost polished wood, to the point where it blended in with the surrounding forest.  There were shapes in the wood that you could only see as you got closer, animals and other creatures of the forest preserved in the wood – not carved, almost as if the wood itself had grown in those shapes.

We were approached by the guards from the balcony over the front doors.  “It is I, Brandon Winderford. I was summoned to the Rangersmet.”  After a moment of muttering, the two massive doors opened.

The interior was incredible, almost like a plush inn of some sort.  Other carved shapes seemed to be part of the walls.  I was greeted and my friends were shown rooms while I was ushered before the High Council of Rangers on the second floor.

I was brought into a massive circular room.  I knew the man sitting in the high seat, Sylvester of Bold.  There were six other rangers, men and women, human and elf, seated above me.

“We’ve heard some disturbing reports. Word is that you have found Tempora.  Is that true?”

“It is.”

“Do you have a map of how to reach it?”

“My friend do.”

“Do you have instructions on how to reach the interior?  We have sent parties there before and have never had any luck in finding the city.”

“I do,” I replied in confidence.

“That information is useful to us.  We have heard disturbing reports to the south, that the dead have risen out of the Great Gash.”

“That is true.  And we have encountered Viktor Barristen as well.”

That stirred them.  They asked me about how I ended up there, and I told them about Lexa Lyoncroft.  That got a lot of looks from the other rangers.

“We’ve heard a number of disturbing reports about this Lyoncroft woman.  She is said to be rekindling the Sisterhood of the Swords – training new adepts.  If that is true, it represents a new faction in the realm.”

That of course was news to me, useful news I might add.  “Barristen had another sister with him – Cyrilla Drex.  I killed her in Tempora.”

Sylvester’s eyes narrowed.  “You – a fledgling ranger killed one of the Mother Superiors of the Sisterhood of the Sword?”

“I did,” I said proudly.  “With my friends.”  I told them how I plunged my sword into her heart.  There were nods from the gathered rangers.

“What happened to her sword?”

I told them that Barristen had paladins trapped in the sword and that he had taken it back from us.  That made Sylvester’s brow furrow in deep thought.

“We had heard rumors that he was in the Cloud Lands – perhaps raising an army.  This is most troubling.  You, Brandon, are to be our eyes and ears.  Remember, rangers do not take part in setting the affairs of men.  We are guides, not shapers of our world.  We bring harmony between nature and the footfalls of mortals.”

“With all due respect, we cannot sit by.  We need to call the rangers, assemble, address this matter, assist the realms,” I stated firmly.

“Assist in what?” Sylvester asked. “We do not know where Barristen is.  We don’t know where Lyoncroft is or where her loyalties lie.”

“My companions and I seek her out.”

“Where?”

“My village.  We heard it has been taken over by a man.  It was the last place we saw her.”

“Very well.  It is risky – but we will allow it.  You will need to keep us abreast of your progress.  These men you travel with, some seem, dare I say, shady?  Keep these words secret between us.  You are bound by the Ranger’s Code, remember that.”

I was dismissed to our bed chambers.  I made a copy of our map and filled in my compatriots with what I could.  It was odd sleeping indoors in nice quarters.  As much as I wanted to tell them the truth…I could not.  As much as possible I simply avoided their question.

Althalus moved his hands in front of his eyes, staring at me.  Curse his magic! I felt him probing my thoughts.  That accursed warlock was toying with my mind. I managed to block his attempt to probe me and did not appreciate the attempt.

It took hours to copy the materials and after that I collapsed into a much-needed sleep.  The next day we rose and set off for Buchola, my home town.  We traveled a day and night with nothing out of the ordinary.  The next day, just after midday, we saw dust rising on the trail ahead of us.  We saw a wagon drawn by two horses, laden with goods.  Riding atop the buckboard was an older man and woman.  Arius approached them and they said they were from Buchola.

The old man knew me as I stepped out.  Anger flashed across his face, painting it crimson.  The barkeep of the Winged Pegasus, the tavern in town.  He jabbed his bony finger in my direction.

“This is all your fault Brandon.  He came two fortnights ago, said his name was Savitar.  Of course we invited him in.  He was looking for that woman you spoke to, the one that paid you.

“We told him she had sent you with a message and that she had disappeared.  He wanted to know when you would return.  We told him we didn’t know.

“It all seemed innocent enough.  He was invited in at the keep, said he’d pay gold for a room there.  It made sense.  But Armix and his daughter Vella haven’t been seen since.  Others went missing later.  After that the clouds seemed to blot out the sun.  Then came those dogs, those two-headed beasts.  Some of our friends went missing.  Everything around the keep seemed to die off after he took up residence there.  I closed up the Winged Pegasus and left…as did most of the village. It just didn’t feel safe there any longer.

“This is your fault!  If you had not become friendly with that woman, none of this would have happened. Our entire village has been abandoned.”  His daughter looked as if she were prepared to spit on me.

“This is awesome,” muttered Althalus.  “It’s not me this time.”

I sneered at him.  “I’m sorry.  I didn’t mean for anything bad to happy.”

“If you hadn’t been messing with that witch with a sword, none of this would have happened.”

“I promise you that we will—“

“We don’t want your promises.  You caused this.  The entire town blames you for this.”  So evaporated my thoughts of a parade upon my return.

Arius stepped up, chest puffed up in perfect paladin form.  “We are going to the village and set these matters right.”

Disgusted with us, he slapped the reins on the horses and took off.

“That went well,” Althalus said.  “Bad things happen to people all of the time.”

Theren nodded.  “I’m a druid.  You don’t have to tell me.”

“We need to right this wrong,” I said, trying to get them focused on the problem.  “I’ll go in alone. He wants me.  I will size him up.”

“I think this is a great plan,” Althalus said.

“No, it’s not,” Arius said.  “We all go.”

 

The next morning we arrived at my home town.  It was eerily silent…not even birds were chirping.  It was cloudy, but the center of town seemed even darker.  The trees rustled in the wind, but that was all we heard.  No smokes from hearths rose in the air.

Buchola had a low wall for defense that surrounded the town.  It had not been used for centuries and was moss covered.  The keep, in the center of the town, had always been covered with moss and vines.  Buchola was a town of peace…until now.

We entered town cautiously.  Everything we saw made us nervous…especially me, this was my home. There were some strange tracks, dog-like, but heavier than even a dire wolf.  It did not help ease our fears.

As we got near the keep we could see that this was the epicenter of strangeness.  The vines and moss that covered it were dead and withered.  The trees around it were dead, withered, their dead leaves littering the brown grass.  The cloud cover over the keep was complete, it was almost a twilight appearance. There was a low fog over the dips in the ground, even mid-morning. Everything that had life was dead around the structure.

“This seems uncomfortable,” Althalus said, always the master of understatement.

Arius walked up to the door of the keep opened the door, the paladin rarely showed fear when he should. I was surprised, I thought he might knock.  Arrogance is clearly a paladin’s strength.

A black haired man in nobles clothing stood in the doorway.  “Hello, what are you doing here?” Oddly enough, he seemed friendly.

“We are passing through.  Things seem…out of sorts.  What happened here?  Why are you here?”

The man flashed a grin and ignored one of our queries.  “I am here…waiting for someone.  Why don’t you come in?  We can have some wine and talk.”

I knew this was a bad idea, even my wolf companion seemed to sense it. “Who are you looking for?”

“Lexa Lyoncroft,” he said. “Have you heard of her?”

“Yes,” Arius replied.  “We know she had been here.  Why don’t you come out here?”

“I am not well,” he said.  “It is best I stay here.”

Arius suddenly grappled with him, tossing him on the ground.  “What are you doing?  Why are you showing me such disrespect?”  He rose and returned to the doorway, brushing off his shoulders.

“We seek Lexa Lyoncroft as well,” the paladin said.

The man, unshaken, grinned again.  “If you do not wish to come in, I wish you well out here tonight. Otherwise, come in and talk.  My invitation remained.”  I didn’t like the sound of that either.

Arius led us in.  The keep’s window shutters were closed and the interior was dimly lit by sconces on the walls.  A carpet covered the floor.  We saw a desk, but walls obscured the other rooms.  Althalus surprised us all with his next words, “I would like to apologize for our behavior.  We were wrong to have attacked you.”

“I accept your words,” the man said.

I reached down and pulled my sword out slightly.  It shimmered brilliant blue.  Undead. Arius saw it too and nodded once.

“I am Brandon,” he said.

“I am Savitar.  So you are Brandon,” he took a step closer.  “I understand you worked for Lyoncroft.  Where is she?”  His eyes fell into my own.  I could feel his thoughts.  I found him oddly appealing, friendly.  I was no longer in control of my words.  “These men had met Lyoncroft before.  They never said where they met her.” I felt like I was in a daze, surprised that I was sharing that information with him.

“Some wine perhaps?” the man offered.  I found myself accepting.

“I have an offer for her,” he said as he poured.  “A warrior of her prowess would be of use to the man I work for?”

“Who is that?” Theren asked.

“His name isn’t important – he goes by so many.  What is important is that I find this Lyoncroft woman.  Perhaps if you stay here, she will return.  You could be my guests.”

“What makes you think she will come back here?” the druid pushed.

“A hunch,” he replied, not sipping his own wine.  “You should stay here.  Sooner or later she is bound to show up.”

“Um, no thanks,” Arius said. “We will go to the Winged Pegasus for the night.”

I found myself talking, not controlling my own words.  “I think we should stay here with him.” Why did I say that?

“Very well, Brandon can stay here with us for the night.”

Arius glared at me.  “We changed our minds, we will stay here tonight as well.”

The man clapped his hands and a girl emerged from one of the rooms.  Her skin was waxen, her eyes seemed wide open, unblinking.  “Why don’t you take our guests to the second floor?  They can bed there for the night.”

She led us up the central staircases to the second floor of the keep.  There were barrels there, stores of some sort.  There was a rug on the floor in one spot, some old broken furniture, most of it broken.  Two old rope beds were there as well, covered in dust.

“I don’t like this,” Althalus said.  I felt oddly calm about the situation.  The man didn’t seem at all like a threat, in fact, he seemed to be more like a trusted friend to me.  Theren looked at me and waved his hands in front of me.  It was as if I had awakened and the last few minutes had been a dream, one I had been living. “What happened?”

“You were under a spell, probably a charm,” Althalus said. “Instagramus Influencus…fairly common.”  I hated that feeling.  It made me betray my friends.

We moved about to settle down for the night, knowing that the man on the floor below us was devious.  I went over by the barrels to check and another figure rose, springing at me.  His teeth flashed with fangs and his skin was pale.  I recognized him, Armix. “Armix – it’s me, Brandon.”

He didn’t respond other than springing at me.  I drew Nightstalker and the room lit up blue-white.  I turned the blade to hit him with the flat edge of the sword.  I struck him and he hissed at me in response.

“Oh crap,” Althalus said, “It’s vampire spawn.  I’ve read about them!”  He dropped to a battle stance.

The rest of my friends converged on Armix to help me. The battle broke out around me – I cut him with Nightstalker, but despite the cut, he came at me viciously.  Flames roared around him as Theren cast a spell.  It did not seem to daze Armix as he dropped his blade and lunged me with fangs and clawed hands.  This was not my friend, this was a creature from hell.

Armix shook his head, as if voices were there, and tried to put distance from us for a few moments.

I swung Bonebreaker and Nightstalker at the creature, barely scratching him.  Out of the corner of my eyes the man from the floor below, Savitar, came out of the staircase, now with pointed fangs flashing.  Theren swung his quarterstaff, burying it into the face of Savitar.  It only seemed to make him madder.

The battle became a blur.  Our weapons and spells tore into the pair of undead, yet they seemed to recover from each attack. My wolf sprung at Armix, biting him, tearing at his pale flesh, but it tore into it with its claws and bit it in the throat.  My companion animal was tossed aside like a doll discarded by a mad child, leaving a bloody smear on the floor.

Theren shapeshifted into a bear, savaging one of the spawn.  Althalus blasted away with his eldritch blasts, emerald green energy knocking Savitar back, only to ensnare him in a tangle of thorns that Arius had cast.  The vampire tore through the vines as if they were not there at all. The girl we had seen below came up the stairs, pouncing on Theren.  The bloody bear grappled with Savitar, though it only bought us a few moments.

Althalus produced the wand that fired lightning bolts we had discovered and unleashed it one of the spawn.  The brilliant blast of white energy cracked across the keep, blasting into the spawn, leaving a smoking hole where its clothing had been charred by the assault.

Nightstalker shimmered in my sweaty grip as we pressed our assault, my hunter’s mark guiding every swing I made.  Savitar disappeared into a floating gas cloud while the girl bit Theren’s bear in the shoulder.  Everything was a jumble arms, legs, weapons and blood as our party flailed away at the undead creatures. Althalus unleashed thunderous smite on Armix – rending flesh from him and leaving him as dead…as dead as any vampire can be. Althalus missed with an eldritch blast, hitting Theren instead.  The bear snapped its head around and growled, understandably.

Savitar rematerialized from a gaseous form, seemingly just as strong as ever. I remembered stories that vampires could regenerate, now I was living it!  Arius’ smite threw the girl into Theren, knocking her prone for a few seconds. Bonebreaker and Nightstalker shimmered bright as I tore into Savitar, but no matter how much I hit him, it did not seem to take him down. In the fury of my attack, I hit myself with Bonebreaker in the head. Everything went dark and I barely remember hitting the floor.

I came to with my head throbbing, staggering to my feet as if I had been drinking. We were still in the fight! Theren was in human form, swinging his shillelagh at Savitar, furrowing his chin with a blow. The girl spawn was badly battered – smoke rising from some attack I had not seen. I don’t know what Althalus was doing, but Savitar seemed to struggle with something in his head, snarling, showing his pointy fangs. Arius hit her in the gut with Skullringer. Savitar struggled with the spell that our warlock was unleashing…which we were all thankful for.  He collided with the wall, seeming to injure himself.

Arius hit himself with Skullringer, doing what I had done with Bonebreaker – leaving the paladin sprawled on the wooden floor, moaning into unconsciousness.  The girl spawn dropped under our assault, sprawled dead on the floor.  We all concentrated on Savitar.  I swung Bonebreaker and again hit myself in the head.  I sort of remember hitting the floor with my face before I blacked out…again.

I have no idea how long I was out…but when I rose, Athalus was on the floor, but seeming to still cast magic from there. Sweat stung at my eyes as I lumbered towards the fight.  Arius was up, swinging his magical warhammer again, blood smearing his face and beard. I staggered forward…barely alive, but still in the battle.  Theren’s attack made Savitar hiss loudly, turn into a gas, and seep downward through the cracks in the floor.

“We won!” Theren said joyfully.

Althalus rose to his feet.  “Not so fast.  I have some knowledge of these creatures.  He must have a coffin filled with dirt somewhere nearby.  If he gets into that, he can regenerate.  We might have to face all of this all over again.  Worse yet, we only have about an hour to find it.” Those words were ominous.

Arius used his javelins, spiking the hearts of the two dead spawn – making them explode as he pierced their un-beating hearts. We immediately searched for the coffin and found it in the basement of the keep. His body was there, resting, already regenerating.

“Spike him,” Althalus said. Our paladin did it without remorse.

“Not good enough,” the warlock said.  “Cut off his head and take it out into the daylight. We don’t want him to have any chance of regenerating.”  Theren undertook the decapitation, leaving his head out in the open.

We were weary, but searched the rooms for any other threats. We discovered a map, of lands we had not seen, and three strange metal symbols.  Small, the size of a small horseshoe, they were clearly magical.  “I’ve seen those before,” Althalus said.  “Siva Runes.  You attach them to your weapons and they infuse the weapon with some magical abilities.”

“What kind of magic?”

Althalus shrugged.  “I don’t know that.”

I pocketed them.  For a moment we looked at each other, exhausted from the battle.  “You’re from here, right?” Arius asked.

I nodded in response.

“Where’s that Winged Pegasus tavern…I think we could all use a drink.”  Coming from our paladin, we all knew it was a good idea.

 

 

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

Character Background Material

My New Campaign

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My Thoughts on the BattleTech Kickstarter

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The Year is 3050.  The time is, “Blow-shit-up o’clock”  Let’s rock! 

As I sit here afternoon after the Kickstarter closed, writing the novella for the boxed set, I can’t help but be proud about the future prospects of BattleTech.  I’m sure my friends over at CGL are suffering from a collective Kickstarter hangover at this point.  Me, I’m just putting words down on a great little story and enjoying my inner geek immensely.

I have had fans asking me questions about the Kickstarter, including one from Russia.  For the record, I had nothing to do with the Kickstarter formally.  I don’t work for Catalyst – I’m a mercenary (he he he) that is paid for my words.  I cannot answer your queries. No, I don’t know when the story will be out for non-Kickstarter people (hey, you had your chance!)  No, I don’t know when it will be hard copy either.  My ignorance is a blessed defense at times.

Before the KS launched I tossed my name in the ring to do some writing for it because, well, it’s BattleTech; duh…  I was taken up on my offer with a call to get the first fiction done a few days before Gen Con.  Alright, game on!  That morphed into Randall saying, “Hey, make it a two-part story, with the second part to go into the boxed set.” Sure…why not?

What most people don’t ever fully understand is that we authors are fans of BattleTech too.  Loren, Randall, and myself have been contributing to the universe for decades.  We are friends as well.  There are stories to tell here, but as Loren said at Gen Con, “not until the statute of limitations has lapsed.”  Let’s just leave it at, we are friends and friends support each other.  I knew they were going to need to have some fiction, so I raised my hand.

A handful of fans have “nagged” over the years that CGL wasn’t giving love to the Ghost Bears in terms of fiction.  I wrote about them in Roar of Honor, but that had been a while ago.  Contrary to what most people think, I DO listen to the fan community.  So I thought, in the spirit of the Kickstarter, “Let’s give the fans what they want.”  So a Ghost Bear centric story was born.  Seyla!

Secretly, I have wanted to write about the Draconis Combine for decades.  Did I exploit this opportunity to do something I have secretly wanted to do for ages?  Hell yes!  You read the part where I called myself a mercenary didn’t you? I only hope I got it right.  You Combine fans, I am sure, will let me know.

Frankly, the hardest part so far was getting the names of backers for the story from Loren.  I know, I was pretty low in terms of priorities.  I finally squeezed him for a few and “improvised” on the others.

At Gen Con I got to meet with Adam Cunningham, who was in my story.  I told him about where his character would be going and he loved it.  Frankly, I was happy to meet one of the Kickstarter contributors who I would be crafting into the fiction.  I would really like to connect with those involved with this next piece, and let them know in advance where they ended up.  Maybe I can convince CGL to host a video-chat session for the handful of us…who knows?

Yesterday, the last day of the Kickstarter, in Warrenton, Virginia, in our local game store, I saw someone reading Jennifer’s Iron Dawn novel with a big pile of BattleTech stuff in front of him.  I introduced myself and the guy said that the Kickstarter was getting him back into BattleTech all over again.  He had convinced the store manager to buy in at Merchant Caste level too.  I don’t think he believed I was one of the writers…but that was okay.  He told me that BattleTech had been a big influence in his life and that it was very cool to see it coming back so strong.  It made me proud to be a part of the universe.  I never tire of hearing the story of how BattleTech impacted people’s lives.

My only concern with the Kickstarter was that it was going to consume BattleTech to the point where some of the really cool stuff we have planned would not be deployed.  I received assurances that is not going to be the case, which was a relief.  While all of you are looking to the Clan Invasion era, my gaze is forward to the future as well.

Bear (pun intended) in mind I could have mooched most of the stuff that comes with the Kickstarter…for “research” purposes.  Instead I got caught up in it all and bought in just like one of the fans…three hours before the end.  Besides, it was the best way to see the final product of Rules of Engagement.  You guys got to see it long before I did.  It’s always that way with the authors, we are at the back end of seeing final product.

The new fiction for the boxed set (working title, The Burdens of Honor) is, well, awesome – but my perspective is pretty narrow and self-absorbed.  Like many of you, I’m waiting to see the stuff starting to come in March.  I have some paint schemes picked out – Smoke Jaguars and Jade Falcons…go figure.

A lot of the success of this Kickstarter is going to hinge on artists and authors – which have been the heart and soul of BattleTech since the beginning.  These guys are more than up to the task.  My hand remains up, ready to do my part.  It’s bound to be a bumpy and totally enjoyable ride – one that has rekindled the spirit of BattleTech for the fan community.

Is it March yet?

My Annual Gen Con 2019 After-Action Report

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Don’t tell me, there’s a ‘Mech behind me isn’t there?

For me, this year’s Gen Con was BattleTechlicious! I saw a lot of stuff, played a lot of games, and reconnected with the fan base.  I made new friends, connected with others, and fought glorious battles and secured hard-fought, yet honorable, victories.

Man, I need a beer…

So, this will seem a bit rambling…I’m coming down after the insanity that always is Gen Con.  But for those of you that could not attend, I assure you some interesting tid bits you might have missed.  First, let’s dive into non-BattleTech stuff.

I came to Gen Con with the intent on securing three products which I will review in other posts.  I got two of them.  First was Green Ronin’s Modern Age.  Don’t ask why, let’s just say I love Green Ronin’s production values and game quality.  Second was Die Hard: The Nakatomi Heist Board Game.  Why?  Because nothing say Christmas and the holidays with family like Die Hard.  I am embarrassed that no one had produced this game decades ago.

The third one I wanted was the Gale Force Nine Aliens cooperative mini’s game.  That wasn’t at the con.  I pressed someone at the booth, “What the hell dude?  This is months overdue…”  What I got, informally and unconfirmed of course, was that they would be issuing a press statement on the game in September and that the issue has something to do with licensing.  I have this feeling in the pit of my stomach that we aren’t going to get that game, which leaves me bummed.  I really wanted to play Hudson…

There IS an Alien RPG coming out soon.  https://alien-rpg.com/  This was a bit of a surprise.  From the web site, it looks awesome.  Free League publishing is putting it out.  Oddly enough, I can’t wait.

There was a new Marvel miniatures game previewed at the con as well from Atomic Mass – Marvel Crisis Protocol.  The minis looked awesome and they were two deep for the demos.  At $99 – I’m hesitating order a copy…but not for long.

Fantasy Flight Games released the Star Wars Legion big-ass boxed set for the Clone Wars.  It looked great.  I saw some other Star Wars miniatures stuff, including my first viewing of the campaign system for Star Wars Armada…at least that’s what I think I saw.  Far too many people crammed in to get free demos.

CMON – who are awesome, released a House Baratheon Starter Set.  I was going to pick it up because it was big and had a lot of minis – but I’m still painting minis from the original Kickstarter. Since I am retiring from my day job in October, I anticipate breakding down and ordering this in November.

Paizo released the much anticipated and nerd-bantered Pathfinder new edition.  People were complaining about it while loading up copies in their arms to purchase.  Gamers will complain, then hand you their credit cards.

Funko released a game system.  You had to get a ticket (free) to go through a demo to buy it.  My grandson and I played the Batman version and enjoyed it.  The system is simple making it perfect for kids.  They have a Harry Potter, a second Batman one, and, brace yourself, The Golden Girls.  Yes, you can pit Blanch up against the Joker!  I struggle with the mental image of that last one, but the games are interchangeable.  With four Funko figures, you can’t buy the figures alone for the price of the game – so for my grandson, it was a win-win.

Tons of other game products were out that I either missed last year or were released.  Let me just say that the industry is alive and kicking.

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6mm minis – fighting Antietam.  Very cool!

In terms of games I played, my grandson and I played his first game of D&D.  I enjoyed a chance to play the game rather than DM.  He had fun.  Though he enjoyed learning and playing Pokemon a lot more.

As it turns out, my grandson loves playing the BattleTech pods – which made my day.  We also did our annual Paint and Take.  My wife painted a pink Space Marine, an image I cannot purge from my memory.  It was fun, and that was all that really mattered.

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My buddy Kevin “Dude” in his pod.

BattleTech garnered a lot of attention with the Kickstarter.  I will tackle the elephant in the room. “Where were your novels and the ilClan sourcebook?” This was covered in the “What’s up with Catalyst?” event.  The books have been done for a while. They are going under a pretty in-depth review with the powers that be.  We are setting the stage for a lot of fun stuff to come, as such, scrutiny will only make the products better (I hope.)  If it comes down to rushing a product out vs. getting it right, I’ll error on quality every time.  So stop asking me about release dates.

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From the diorama this year, the Wolves Assault on Titan.  Note the graffiti of “Wolverines!”

I was invited to sit in with some of the backers Thursday to talk shop with Randall and Loren.  It was a stroll down memory lane for all of us.  I think what most people forget is that we are all fans of BattleTech too. We have been with it a long time and to us it is a precious thing that we care about.  I joke a lot about being a mercenary writer, but in reality, I love the game, characters, and the universe I play in.

Jason Schmetzer, Mike Stackpole, and I had a good chuckle at the booth talking about BattleTech, which I enjoyed.  We never get a chance as authors to simply sit and talk BattleTech.

I spent some time with the infamous Krull Brothers at the Wolfnet gaming session Thursday evening.  I loved talking the game and universe with them.  I also got to pop in on the Battle of Thorin and saw Archer’s Avengers in action.  For an author, seeing your stuff being played is a real reward.  I tried to get to the Snord’s Irregular’s game, but could not find it.  Dang it!

This year some fans gave me some nice gifts.  It is never expected but always appreciated.   One fan delivered a bottle of bourbon for my upcoming October retirement from the corporate world.  I received a special rock from the Tait factory in Limerick where they made Confederate Uniforms.  Someone whose name I didn’t get, got me a nice BattleTech shirt too.

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A fan modeled Pentrator – specifically Archer Christifori!

The week was capped off with Master’s and Minions.  Craig Gulledge, Mechwarrior extraordinaire and a fellow Scotsman was my partner.  I piloted a Savage Wolf and a Marauder, and he piloted a pair of Penetrators – which opened up an endless series of jokes about double penetration.  It was fun playing with ‘Mechs I actually designed in his case.

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They went that way…
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I swear, my Wraith is in this fight!
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This is the Capellan stance for “I surrender.”
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“You’re not going to put this in a novel are you?”

We waged a battle based on bad jokes, intimidation, and a dollop of sheer arrogance. We had a lot of fun, and were one of the last groups to wrap up at 1:00am.  My Savage Wolf was lost, but I took tons off of the opposition before I went down.  Victory?  Aff!  Fun?  Absolutely!

The fans that went up against us enjoyed themselves, at least I hope so.  I did not go down from Death from Above this year, so that alone made it a good run for me.

So there you have it…another successful Gen Con.  Seyla!

Original Map of Clanspace – A Bit of BattleTech History

When I worked on the Wolf Clan Sourcebook, I knew there were two things we would need.  First, a list of all of the Clan Bloodnames.  Second, a map of the homeworlds.  I undertook both of these efforts just so that future authors would have references to work off of…you’re welcome.

This weekend, while rooting around, I found the second draft (the FASA version) of my crudely handrawn map.

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A few tid bits about the worlds…

Marshall, Albion, Niles and Homer were named after small towns in Michigan where I was raised.

Lum is named after a nickname my father had, a throwback to the old radio program Lum and Abner.

Grant’s Station was named after the antique shop my parents owned in Galesburg, Michigan – Grant’s Antique Market.

Roche was named for a great manager I had when working at Ford Truck Operations.

Foster was named after Foster Brooks, a wonderful comedian.

So anyway, I thought fans might enjoy a glimpse into a bit of BattleTech history.

Gen Con Survival Tips – Updated for 2019

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Yes, those are Superman and Batman BattleMechs

Yes, it is that time of the year again – time for my unsolicited updated list of Gen Con tips survival.  These are to be treated as tongue and cheek – intended with a hint of a sense of humor.  If you’re offended, well, suck it up…this was intended to be useful and hopefully funny.

So, here’s my annual tips – updated where appropriate.

#1:  Plan in advance.  Go online, figure out what you want to do.  DO NOT try and figure all of this out while you are at the counter buying tickets.  This is like that person standing at line at Starbucks for 15 minutes, getting up there and going, “Hmm…I’m not sure what I want…”  Don’t be that guy.  Everybody hates that guy.

#2  Getting into the city.  Indianapolis is easy to navigate. It is hairiest to drive into the city on Thursday and Friday because of the locals who work there. The good news is that rush hour in Indianapolis is not horrible. The locals think it is, but it isn’t (I live outside of Washington DC.)

#3  Parking.  Okay, this is tricky.  Thursday and Friday, you have to compete with the locals for parking spaces.  Many lots fill up by 10:30am.  In other words, be prepared to walk some distance on those days.  I have a secret place or two for parking – which I won’t reveal.  The key is, get there early before the garages fill up.

#4:  Pack as if you are going to be at the convention center for 16 hours straight…because you are.  Slip in some snacks because let’s face it, convention food is expensive and sucks.  Bring pencils, pack your lucky dice (you know the ones!) graph paper, phone charger, a small tape measure (for miniatures games), aspirin, you know – typical geek gamer survival gear.  Think over seriously if you need to bring all of your rules books and game manuals.  Chances are the guys running the game are going to have a copy there.  Don’t over pack.  You don’t need to bring your PC with you, I’m almost positive.  Keep it simple, keep it light.  Pack what you need but remember, you’re not setting out to climb Mt. Everest (or Mt. Doom, your choice.)

#5:  Be prepared for the rush to the main hall when it opens.  Yes, when the balloon goes up and they open the doors to the sales floor, it is a geek equivalent to the running of the bulls in Spain (albeit a little safer).  Don’t fight the masses, ride it in.  Also – DON’T RUN.  The convention folks really hate people that run.  To answer your question now:  Yes, it’s that crowded every year.  You can’t get in without a badge, have it out and visible.  The Stormtrooper Door Guards will stop you dead in your tracks, meaning you are subject to being trampled by the crowd surge.  Also, nothing sucks more than being in a crowd of 2000 only to find out you have turn around and run back to the hotel room through a sea of angry and exited geeks.

#6:  Get generic tickets. Events are sold out, but people don’t show.  When they don’t, you can use generic tickets to get into anything.  They are wonderful little gems to have tucked away.  Don’t worry about having leftovers, you can go to the BattleTech pods and spend ‘em.

#7:  Cosplay is part of the experience and is encouraged.  If you are going to do it, don’t design a costume that is going to injure passersby.  Think it over.  No one is more of a douche-bag than a guy that has designed a costume that is hard to get around or trips/blinds people when you pass.

#8:  If you’re going to be one of those people who stop in the middle of a crowd to take a picture of the booth-babe wearing a chain mail bikini, do it quickly and don’t clog up the corridor.

#9:  Bathe and use deodorant.  This shouldn’t have to be a tip, it should be common sense.  Based on my own experience moving through the crowd, I had to include it.  Look, you paid for a hotel room right?  Go back at some point and at least use the shower.  Foot powder, toothpaste, and clean clothing (a fresh set for every day) shouldn’t require mentioning – yet here I am doing it.  Why?  Because people don’t do it!

#10:  While you have no adult supervision and can do what you want, be respectful of others.  In other words, bringing your leftover Taco Bell burrito from dinner to that 8am gaming session and eating it during the set-up is just wrong.  You do know that their meat isn’t real meat, right?

#11:  For your meals eat outside of the convention center.  First, convention food sucks and is expensive.  My memory is that a single, room-temperature, piece of convention cardboard pizza runs around $425.  I don’t blame the folks in Indianapolis for this, it sucked when the convention was in Milwaukee too.  I also like the brisk walk to the attached mall.  They have a food court, variety, better prices, and it’s a hoot watching the locals interact with the convention attendees.

Go only five blocks away and there are a LOT of eating places.  Pita Pit is great.  Gamers hate leaving the convention site, even for an hour for food, so if you are willing to walk, downtown has a LOT of eating options and the further you walk, the smaller the crowds.  I recommend taking the stroll.  Ten minutes of walking gives you a few minutes of peace and quiet.

The Food Trucks are your best friends.   I only discovered where these vendors parked four years ago and found their offers to be a much better alternative to eating on-site at the con.  Let’s face it, everything is better than the food in the convention center.  While we’re on it…

#12:  Don’t frighten the locals.  Look, Indianapolis really seems to like having Gen Con in town – well, at least they like our money.  Don’t try and frighten that family on the sidewalk with your Orc costume waving a sword and cursing in Orkish.  A lot of locals come down town to look at the cosplay folks – don’t add to their stereotype images of us.  Not cool dude.

#13:  While I totally appreciate Cosplayers, sometimes the costumes are confusing as all hell.  Don’t be insulted if people ask you, “who are you trying to be?” Obviously show the cosplayers some respect.  While you may think their costumes suck, they put some work into them.

#14:  There is always someone that knows the rules better than you.  He’s arrogant, overweight, and wearing a black tee-shirt (then again, who isn’t?)  Nothing kills a game faster than two guys trying to prove who is smarter about the rules regarding the splatter effect of a Mark IV plasma rifle in zero-G.  We get it, you read and memorized the rule book.  Stop ruining game play for everyone just to demonstrate your incredible powers of memorization…please.   We refer to these individuals as Rules Douches, or the more French- La Rules Douchebag.

#15:  Don’t just sit around.  Go and check out the miniatures games, or some of the big events like the Live Dungeon.  You didn’t shell out all of that money to sit and read a catalog you picked up did you?  The convention won’t come to you – you need to move.

#16:  Do some prep work if you are planning on buying some specific products.  Some companies are bringing limited quantities of games to the con for each day, or a certain day.  If you aren’t in line at the right time, you’re hosed.  The short version of this:  Make up your mind on what you are going to purchase and do it.  If you wait too long that newly released product can/will sell out.  Check the web sites and Twitter feeds of your favorite companies to see if that new product will be available and when.

#17:  Wear comfortable shoes.  Preferably shoes that do not have a predetermined aroma.

#18:  Go back to your hotel at night and get some sleep.  The convention is not designed as an endurance test.  You’ll need the energy.  All night gaming is great, if you’re young, but even then you need some sleep.

#19:  Attend the auction.  You’ll be able to tell your wife/mother/cat/significant other than that shelves and containers of games you have ARE of value.  You’ll be surprised at what games people collect and what they will pay for one.  It’s also kind of fun to see last year’s hot products being sold for a pittance of what people paid for them a year ago.

#20:  Play the demo games.  Look, games cost money – a LOT of money.  I sit in on demos, watch tournaments, etc. to figure out where I’m going to spend my cash.  I recommend you do the same.  Try some things you’ve never played before.  Think of this as a chance to test-drive new games and systems.

#21:  Don’t insult your favorite writer or game designer intentionally.  These guys work hard to produce your fun.  Don’t be “that guy” that shows up to tell someone how horrible a product they wrote in 1992 was, or how they made a mistake in an out-of-print 1989 book.  We get it, you can read.  If you’ve traveled all of this way to show off your knowledge, you’re a decade or two off.  If you meet writers, authors, artists, designers – be cool and respectful.  As a writer in the industry, I welcome comments from fans…but there is a limit to critique that I will endure, and I am not alone.  As a corollary – there is a limit to the number of things you want autographed.

#22:  Go early to the con.  Get out of bed and get to the convention early.  There’s a lot going on and the lines are significantly shorter.  I hit the MechWarrior pods usually at 8-9am when the convention hall is empty-ish.  They are a tradition I am addicted to.

#23:  WIN.  Savor your victories.  Cherish the lament of your foes as they are crushed under the weight of your killer die rolls and strategy!  Don’t rub it in, but enjoy it.  Serious dude, don’t rub it in when you win.  You didn’t travel all of this way to lose did you?  Hell no!  In other words, have fun!

#24:  Don’t wear costumes that are designed to deliberately upset people.  Skip the political stuff.  Someone is going to be upset and that isn’t the intention of going to a convention and having fun.

#25:  Wear something other than a black tee shirt.  At Gen Con, black tee shirts are like camouflaged ghillie suit for snipers.  Everyone is wearing a black tee shirt.  Someone someday will earn a PhD studying why gamers are drawn to black tee shirts.  In the meantime, I recommend wearing something else (something clean), in a color other than black.  Corollary:  Reading the hilarious tee shirts is one of the more phone things about the Con.

#26:  Don’t abuse your demo time in any booth.  Okay, in the main showroom, the vendors often offer short demos on their products.  These are a major part of the experience.  Don’t abuse the privilege.  I saw one guy camped out a table last year for four hours.  There were a lot of people wanting to sit in, but this guy had decided to turn a demo into a full-fledged campaign.

#27:  Remember the Gen Con food groups.  Caffeine, Chocolate, Salty Snacks, Caffeine, Pointless Carbs.  Beef Jerky, while not a formal food group, is also permissible but please be discreet when eating it – no one looks cool tearing into a piece of jerky.  Yes, Caffeine is listed twice because it is that important.

#28:  If you want to do free events plan on a wait or get there early.  A good example of this is the Paint and Take event Reaper puts on.  It’s cool to get a free mini you paint there, but everyone wants to do it and there’s usually a line.

#29:  If you want the Convention giveaways – go to those booths first thing when the doors open.  A lot of these vendors run out in the first 20 minutes.  They often have more of the freebies, but limit the number they give out each day.

#30:  Con-Crud – prepare for it.  Con Crud is not a new module release of Pandemic – it’s the social plague that hits thousands when they return from Gen Con on the following Monday.  Use hand sanitizer (you have to bring your own on this).  Load up on vitamins and other legal medications aimed at reducing colds, flu, or whatever it is that morphs into Con-Crud.

#31:  Patronize the places the support Gen Con.  If they support Gen Con, support them.

#32:  If you have a young one with you, go the Lucas Oil Stadium.  I took my grandson last year and there was a ton of stuff for us to do together.

#33:  Don’t overschedule.  This one came from my compadre Scott.  Leave yourself some time to soak it all in.  Otherwise you miss a lot of the convention just bouncing from one event to another.

#34:  Meet the celebrities.  I’m not just talking about the “name” celebrities.  This is a chance for you to track down that favorite author or artist and shake their hand.  I make a point at every Gen Con to network and meet people (and re-meet people I met years before).  Mingle and be social.

#35:  “Language” I’m noticing more and more kids at the Con which is great.  I bring my grandson.  If you feel the need to curse, make sure only the adults are around.

#36:  Take advantage of the crowds to do things you want to do.  Look, at 10am, everyone is lined up to get into the main hall.  That’s the perfect time to do things that otherwise have long lines.  For me, that is when I hit Paint and Take.  Understand the masses, don’t always be part of the masses.

#37:  If you are in a wheelchair, it is not a weapon to clear the crowds.  I got hit by someone in a wheelchair last year just standing still.  He just plowed into my ankle because he wanted to get through.  I’m understanding, but not that understanding.

#38:  You will get a book of freebie coupons.  If you plan on redeeming them, you need to do it first thing in the main hall.  Some of that stuff disappears in a matter of minutes.

#39:  Some booths have a line.  Paizo, Fantasy Flight Games, CMON, Catalyst…they all have lines.  Lines just to get into the booth to look around.  Lines for the demos.  Don’t get discouraged, it is almost always worth the wait.  If these guys are high on your list, go straight there when the doors open.

#40:  Play some things you never have before.

There you have it guys – GAME ON!

#GenCon

The Chronicling of our D&D Campaign: Tempora – Part 32 – Judgement of the Church

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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!

Arius…

With the Battle of the Horns of Essex over, we began our trek to return the paladins to their fortress at the Great Gap the next morning after burying the dead and blessing their graves.  I felt a sense of humiliation at having lost the sword to Viktor Barristen.  The thought of what he might be able to do to the paladins still trapped in the blade was chilling.

We were only a day’s march to the end of the foothills of the mountains when we camped for the night.  It was not a night when we would get much sleep.  I was awakened by Brandon to tell me there were sounds in the brush.  We silently armed ourselves and listened, hearing orkish voices.

Athalus stood proud.  “Orcs. I speak orc.  I can handle this.”

“Are you sure?” I asked.

“I’m quite charming,” he said flashing a wry grin.

Our warlock called out, “Rut Roh Rhaggy!”

“Rubie-Rubie-Roo,” came a voice back from the brush. I can only assume that Athalus was communicating with them.  A party of six orcs emerged from the brush.  Athalus continued to grunt and speak orc to them for several minutes.  He even showed them his nipple ring, then turned to us.  “I told them we were the tribe of the Big Tusk.  It’s all good.  Don’t attack.”

After a long series of grunts, belches, and other guttural sounds, Athalus went to his pack and pulled out the small cask of mead that he had been carrying since we have met with Dimitrious. We passed the potent mead around, barely able to tolerate their stench.  Having consumed our alcohol they told Athalus that they wanted to camp with us.  My instinct was the kill them, they are orcs after all – God only knows what kind of pillaging they had done.  But we did not.  In the morning they moved on.

“I think they liked us,” Athalus told us. “Who knows, we may run into them again.”

Great. These are the kinds of allies we do not need.  We marched out, finally coming out of the forested foothills into the rolling hills.

We marched for a day or so when we heard the sound of hoof-beats thundering on the plains.  I was hopeful that it was a greeting party from the castle, but I was wrong.

They emerged from over the hills and were not like any creatures I have ever seen.  Ungainly bird-like lizards, tall as a man, outfitted with saddles.  I could only catch glimpses of their green hides, for they were wrapped in rotting bandages of some sort, mummified yet alive and quite agile.  They had large horns, yellow with age.  On their backs were skeletons, adorned in black robes, some holding rods, others swords, one holding some sort of ungodly symbol.  There were four of them – and they were flanked by three armored knights, elven I believe, with lances.  They had, on their armor, a black heart symbol – which I did not know what it represented.  We saw them at a distance and realized that they were no escort.  They had come to fight us…to kill us.

It was clear that someone did not want us to reach the safety of the castle.  Barristen…it had to be.

They rushed us and we dug in, using our spears as a phalanx in the sod, forcing the elves to flank.  One of the skeletal riders held out small rod and from it a fireball erupted – boring right in on Brandon.  There was a mighty explosion and we saw him no more, only the black-charred grass where the ranger had once stood.  Athalus emerged from the flames, his robes smoldering slightly from the explosion, only to be hit by a lightning bolt from one of the cloaked skeletons. Smoke from the fireball hung heavy in the air as our paladin comrades moved to the left flank, breaking apart the onslaught, wading into the riding elves.

Skullringer shimmered in my hands as I rushed forward, taking out part of mummified lizard’s body as they charged us.  I caught a glimpse of Dimitrious leaping in front of one, his fists a blur of savage strikes that knocked the mummified lizard mount to the ground, throwing its skeleton rider hard.  Bits of the torn cloth of the mount clung to his bloodied fists.

Theren morphed into the bear we had been so accustomed to.  It savaged two of the attackers, sending bits of bone and rotting lizard hide flying in the process.  Althalus tried to provide the paladins cover with his emerald magic blasts, but missed widely, no doubt stinging from the lightning bolt he had taken.

I saw Sir Bentblade, the paladin commander wade into one of the elves that rushed him, knocking him from his saddle so hard that he was doubled over in agony.  He drove his sword into the rider hard, then seemed to pause in a quick prayer.

Dimitrious finished the last of them, springing at one of the skeletons and grappling with it, twisting him out of the saddle and onto the ground.  He tore the skeleton apart with his furious blows.

Glancing around we saw that only one of our comrades was gone – Brandon.  We began to look for any sign of him where the fireball had hit.  Suddenly he emerged from the woods.

“What happened?” I asked.

“That ring I found — I used the word on it and it teleported me just as the fireball hit.  I was about a mile away.  What did I miss?”

“The entire battle,” Athalus said.

Looking around the dead elves and rotting corpses I waved my hand.  “All of this…”

Suddenly there came more thundering hoof beats on the ground and we saw paladins of the Order of the Fang appear.  When they saw Bentblade they nearly wept.  “Commander – we thought you lost.” They were overjoyed.

The old warrior nodded grimly.  “Let us get to the castle – there is much to discuss.”

We made our way to the castle gates and inside.  Paladins on the ramparts and in the court all surrounded us and those paladins we had saved from Tempora.  For the first time in a long while I felt a sense of relief.  We were safe here, safe for the first time in weeks.

Then Bentblade spoke.  “Arrest those two immediately,” he said pointing to Athalus and Theren.  Theren immediately morphed into a wolf and darted through the gate, but our warlock was quickly grabbed by no less than three armed paladins.

“What is going on here?” I demanded.

“They used magic banned by the church…they must now face charges of heresy.”

“We saved your lives!” I charged, but I saw hands drift to sword hilts, ready to fight.

“Aye, you did,” Bentblade said.  “But they used unholy magic.  You know that matter must be dealt with.  We will hold a trial to determine this one’s fate,” he stabbed a finger at Athalus.

I wanted to fight right then and there, regardless of the odds.  But I was a holy man…I knew church law as well.  “At least let me be his advocate at court.”

“Very well…” Bentblade said.

Althalus was taken off to a cell somewhere and we retired to our rooms.  The trial was two days hence.  I mended my armor, sharpened my sword, and prayed.

 

We came to the inner court for the trial and Brandon suggested trying some ruse and disguise to get in.  The guards heard him and kept him at bay while we disarmed and entered.  With Dimitrious at my side I felt confident.  The monk’s most deadly weapons were his hands…so if it came to a fight, we were well armed.

Athalus was brought to the stand, flanked by two armored paladins as Bentblade read the charges.  “The unholy use of magic, unnatural transformation (leveled only at Theren who was being tried in absentia), and Heresy against the Church.”

“Lord Commander,” I said.  “We saved your life and those of your comrades.  We got you your freedom.  Surely that counts for something?”

Bentblade dipped his head.  “Indeed it does.  I will consider it strongly when judgement is passed.  Is there anyone else that would speak for this man’s soul?”

At my side Dimitrious stepped forward and cleared his throat.  “I am Friar Dimitrious of the Priory of the Sapphire Eye.”  He opened his cloak and showed his chest, but I could not see it from where I stood.  Whatever the Lord Commander saw there, it seemed to impress him.

My jaw hung open.  He can talk!  All of this time!

“I have been to the Priory of Illuminus and have spent time with the Gospel of the Truth.  I have gazed into the Temple of Time, looking forward rather than back.  This sight has cost me dearly.  I have aged nearly a decade as a price for my arrogance.  My oath of silence was self-imposed – I did not wish to share my shame.

“You see sinners and heretics before you.  That is true.  Under church law, there is no defense for their use of magic.  Fighting these charges is pointless.  These men have an important role to play in the future.  The druid in their ranks, he yet has a role to play in a reconciliation with the Church.  The warlock – he will bring and soothe great pain and suffering. Your brother paladin is more than he seems.”  He turned and locked gazes with me.  “Their ranger will sit on-high one day, if he survives the maelstrom that is looming.

“Great evil has risen with Victor Barristen’s return.  He seeks a member of the Sisterhood of the Sword who can give him the paladins souls trapped in his blade.  If he can consume them, he will be fully restored and blackness will fall upon the world again.  That darkness is coming regardless, but stopping him will slow it down.  Even now, he cowers in the Cloudlands in the northwest where the twilight is eternal, planning to wage war on the living and the bring the church to its knees before him.

“I have seen the great battle that is to be waged.  Punishing these men will make matters worse for all of us.”

“What of this battle?” Sir Bentblade asked.

“It was in a haze of war, but I saw paladins fighting with the Sisterhood of the Sword and these men and your own.  I saw the dead rise.  Minotaurs and heroes of old, fighting together.  Old enemies now allies.  The thunder of hooves and a return of the Gray Wind.  I saw a ruined abbey and raining fire.  Walking graveyards of stone and doom.  Bones and blood and fire all mixed.  And these men, they play a role in all of that.

Bentblade frowned, “Impossible.  The sisterhood is dead.”

“Are they?”  The monk’s words hung in the air.

“Do we win?” the Lord Commander asked warily.

“We did – but we will pay a price that cannot be measured – a cost that cannot be repaid.

“If you imprison or kill Athalus, there will be nothing that can stop what is coming.  It would be better to have them in our service…as a means for them to pay their penance for their transgressions.  Send them to find Lexa Lyoncroft and protect her.  Barristen will come for her, he needs her to release those souls.  She needs him because of what else is in that sword…her past and future.

“Do not doctrine cloud your judgement Lord Commander.  The fate of the world may hang in the balance.”  With that the monk returned to his silence.  I could only stare at him in awe.

Bentblade nodded, then went quiet for a long minute.  “There are mitigating circumstances, namely the saving of the head of this order.  And the friars of the Priory of the Sapphire Eye are incapable of lying.  These charges are set aside.”

“We won?” I asked.

“Of course.  We are no barbarians.  Doctrine required a trial, and a trial was had.  But before you can leave – we need to contact the Church. I want them to sanction you as agents of the Church…then you need to go out after Lyoncroft.”

Gray Riders were summoned with the blast of a horn…and a week later we got our response.  Brandon was delivered a note as well, one that he kept to himself.  A rider was sent out to find Theren.  I composed a message to him to return.  I wondered how the riders could find our druid, but I realized they had that power.

One strange thing though…when the Gray Rider showed up, the horse bowed its head to us. I saw that the rider and the other paladins were as surprised as I was. I wonder what that was about?  Moreover, the words that Dimitrious spoke chilled me still.  There was a war coming…and we were going to be in the middle of it!

 

The following are the previous installments. I hope you enjoy the campaign so far. Be sure to follow my blog if you do. 

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

Part 5

Part 6

Part 7

Part 8

Part 9

Part 10

Part 11

Part 12

Part 13

Part 14

Part 15

Part 16

Part 17

Part 18

Part 19

Part 20

Part 21

Part 22

Part 23

Part 24

Part 25

Part 26

Part 27

Part 28

Part 29

Part 30

Part 31

Character Background Material

My New Campaign

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