Rorke’s Drift Anniversary

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January 22 is the anniversary of one of history’s most infamous battles – Rorke’s Drift.  I became enamored with this battle after a veteran on my newspaper route in high school recommended I watch the movie, Zulu.  Yes, I know the movie has a number of inaccuracies, but it was compelling.  It harkens to the Alamo, but in this case the Texicans would have won.  At Rorke’s Drift, on 22 January 1879, 150 British soldiers successfully defended the outpost from almost 4000 Zulu warriors.  Eleven Victoria Crosses were awarded for the battle, more than any other single engagement.

The prelude to the battle was a disaster for the British Army.  At Isandlwana scant miles from the outpost, the 24th Regiment of Foot suffered a staggering defeat and were slaughtered.  The small detachment at Rorke’s Drift were alone in hostile territory, horribly outnumbered by an emboldened enemy fresh from a victory.  The outpost was exposed, surrounded by hillsides.  On paper, defeat appeared inevitable.

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The outpost prior to the battle

The British troops formed a defensive perimeter around the outpost, using the buildings, fences and barricade of mealie bags.  The Zulus were armed with spears and captured rifles, but the defenders had firing discipline and steely resolve.  Sweltering in their brilliant red uniforms, the British (and a handful of Natal troops) repulsed wave after wave of attackers.  To this day, it remains a victory of pride and honor for the British Army.

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Lieutenant John Chard: “The army doesn’t like more than one disaster in a day.”
Bromhead: “Looks bad in the newspapers and upsets civilians at their breakfast.”
From Zulu
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The Chronicling of our D&D Campaign: Tempora – Part 31 – The Battle of the Horns of Essex

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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!

Brandon…

We were exhausted and victorious and in constant danger.  We awoke, still stinging from the fight. We pulled opened the massive Stoneoak doors of the chamber to begin our journey out of Tempora.  Our new comrades, the paladins we had saved, looked far worse than we did.  I can only imagine the nightmares they had endured as prisoners of Victor Barristen – hellspawn, former paladin, master of the undead.

It was my superior tracking skills that enabled us to survive and escape.  I looked for the tracks of the paladins that had brought into this chamber.  I suspect that my comrades did not fully appreciate the subtleties of tracking and the amount of skill required.  The musty air and the lack of good light made things even more challenging, but I proved up to the task.

We made our way room-by-room, hallway-by-hallway, trying to figure out where we were.  I came across one chamber that tore at my nostrils with the stench of death and rot. Althalus waved a hand and projected a bright light in the room for us to all see what was in there. Stacked like wood, were the shriveled corpses of more than a hundred paladins that had been Barristen’s victims.  Sir Bentblade entered the room and I saw the tears streak into his gray-white beard.  He knelt and prayed and for a few moments, we remained silent.  After the paladins said their prayers we sealed that room shut and moved on.

We trudged onward into the darkness – the musty and moldy smell filled the air.  Beyond a set of tarnished bronze doors we found a spiral staircase up.  We cautiously made our way up, fearing a sudden plummet downward. Climbing nearly 80 heads upward, the staircase ended in a door and a hallway beyond.

We continued on, my tracking skills backtracking the paladin’s footsteps that led them into this place.  Althalus complained, “I am not convinced we are still in Tempora.  She could have transported us anywhere.”  Theren disagreed.  There were twists and turns in the trail we followed, confusing and disorienting us.

In one chamber we found four coffins in a large chamber with some sort of statue in the middle.  My sword began to glow and Arius grabbed his hilt.  “I sense the presence of undead.”  The paladins in our party drew their blades as well.

“I have some oil,” offered Theren.  “We can soak the coffins and set them ablaze.”

“Does fire kill vampires?” asked Arius.

“Vampires?” I asked.

“I don’t know if they are vampires or not, but I do not wish burning undead attacking us as opposed to those not on fire,” he replied.

“Mummies would be worse,” Althalus said, not calming my nerves at all.

We opted to jam the door shut rather than risk their wrath. Returning to the trail, we found another chamber with a raised throne in the middle of it.  There was a thick old carpet laying between the raised seat and where we stood.  The shadows beyond the throne seemed to move, as if something was in there.  As we approached the room a hoard of zombies rushed out at us, their rotting flesh and putrid yellow eyes made me wet myself, if only just a little.

My glowing sword Nightstalker swung through the air, just missing one of the hideous creatures.  Our paladin comrades sprang at the undead as did the rest of our party, surging forward.  Arius blasted the arm off of one zombie, sending it hitting a wall and sliding down with a sickening thump.  I thrust Nightstalker again, driving the blade through the rib cage and its spine, making the undead even deader. Theren jabbed at one of the creatures, knocking out some teeth but doing little more.

Our silent monk, Dimitrious, punched one through the throat, destroying it with a blur of his fists.  Althalus unleashed an eldritch blast, which all but disintegrated one of the zombies. One of the creatures tried to flail at me but missed.  Sir Bentblade killed my attacker with one mighty sweep of his sword, sending rotting body parts spinning on the ancient white marble floor.

I sat on the throne, if nothing more than to see if it was magical in some way.  Behind a threadbare tapestry on the far wall, we found a hidden passageway and continued through it.  We snaked our way through several twisting and musty passages and eventually came to a chamber with a stone sarcophagus in the center of it.  We cleared enough of the dust on top to read that it was the tomb of the Dwarven Queen Silvistar.  The carved images on the lid showed her as she must have been in life, beautiful – no beard (I had always heard that their women had beards…imagine my surprise!)  The image shows her holding a massive war axe with runes carved in it.  One of the paladins in our party read it.  “The word for that is soul-thief or stealer…depending on the dialect.”

The lid showed signs of desecration, it was ajar on the top.  Her image showed chips from a blade hitting it and a crack was found in the dust as well.  I saw browning maroon blood splattered there as well.  I called out, “Althalus, what do you see?”

“From where I am standing, a lot of man-ass,” the warlock responded wryly.  He made his way through the line of paladins to join me.  I wanted it opened.  Along with Dimitrious, we pushed the lid off with a thud on the stone floor.  Inside was her rotting body – with signs that someone had looted her remains.  She must have been holding that axe at one point, but it was gone ages ago.  Out of respect, I put the lid back on, though I could feel the icy stares of Sir Bentblade on me.

We trekked on, finding one room that apparently had been used to prepare bodies for burial which made my skin crawl.  Arius’s mapping was enough to give a sane man a nosebleed, it had so many twists and turns. We came to an iron door that was hard to open.  We came to a large domed room, the murals on the ceiling showed the burial processions of dwarves – many apparently royal by what they wore. In the center of the room, on a wide pillar, were two bat-like statues, massive – eight heads tall with stone carved wings and nasty talons.  Their pointy ears made them look demonic.

There were rune on the pillar which our paladin comrade translated for us. “Hmm,” he muttered.  “Interesting.  Bow thy heads in honor.”

“That’s it?” Theren asked.

“That is all,” the paladin said.

“Those are gargoyles,” Althalus said.  “They may look like statues, but they can move and kill.”

Althalus and Dimitrious stood before the creatures and bowed deeply.

“You’re following random Dwarven instructions?”

“In lieu of anything else,” the warlock replied, “yes.”  Dimitrious silently nodded in agreement.

Arius did not bow as he passed and suddenly both of the gargoyles came to life, moving on our brother the paladin.  I was stunned with the speed they demonstrated.

“I warned you!” Althalus chided as we all drew our weapons.

One savagely bit Arius and tore at him with his razor sharp claws.  Blood sprayed in the air and Arius staggered back a half-step, gore flowing over his armor.  My arrow went wild almost hitting one of the paladins who deflected it with a speed that surprised me. “Sorry…” I said pulling another arrow from my quiver.

Swords rang out on the stoneskin of the gargoyles and their gray blood splattered the floor tiles and on our party.  Bentblade took a savage cut from the creatures, and the older paladin dropped at Arius’s feet.  Our paladin comrade’s blade lit up with magical flames and he jabbed deep into the hide of one of the gargoyles.

I felt a surge of heart and focus – clearly a magical blessing from one of the paladins.  One of the gargoyles tore into Sir Harold the Quick, biting him in the forearm, then ripping his chest with a claw.  One of the paladins swung Skullringer, Bor’s warhammer.  He struck one of gargoyle’s square in its chest and unleashing a thunderous smite in the process.  The creature was thrown backwards to the far end of the chamber, hitting the wall so hard it made a thudding sound.  Bentblade slashed at it mid-flight, cutting it deeply and sending gray blood in the air.

Harold the Quick did not live up to his name, getting bitten again by the other gargoyle.  Dimitrious unleashed a flurry of fist strikes to protect the paladin, each one cracking the stoneskin of the creature.  The monk’s hands were bloodied from the assault, but he had done more damage than he had taken.

Theren swung his shillelagh at the creature thrown against the wall, leaving a furrow in its cheek from the hit.  I dropped my bow and drew Nightstalker and Bonebreaker, spinning the morningstar furiously as I moved into position for an attack.  Dimitrious chopped at the creature and threw it hard to the floor.  Arius jumped and impaled his blade into the closest of the beasts, killing the statue-like creature.  The other gargoyle suddenly sprang at me, biting me on my upper right arm.  I managed to stagger back, blood everywhere around me.  Everything went dark and I collapsed to the floor.  I barely felt the tile slap me in the face as I dropped.  No!  It cannot end like this!

I came to in a cold sweat with my friends hovering over me.  “Did we win?”  Althalus shrugged.  “We did.” They helped me to my feet but I was dizzy from my brush with death.  I looked around and saw we were still, for the most part, alive – battered, but alive. I ached and felt bruises that I did not know I owned, but I was back from the eternal darkness.

“You guys should have bowed,” the warlock said wryly.  Given the blood soaking my jerkin, it was hard to argue that he was right.  If nothing else, Althalus was all about reading and following directions.

We left that chamber and the warlock stumbled into a poison dart trap, one that Arius incapacitated, paralyzed.  The darts came from dozens of little holes on the floor, ceiling, and walls.  We hadn’t noticed the tiny holes until we were deeply into the middle of the trap.

Our solution was for Theren to transform into giant spider and to ferry us over the trap triggers on the floor.  It took long tedious minutes, but worked well – though the paladins with us sneered at the spider.  The church was against the use of magic that they did not govern or mandate, and they had waged an inquisition against the druids.  Necessity forced their compliance with our bypass, but I feared there would be retribution at some point in the future.

Lumbering on, my superior tracking skills led us to a staircase up.  When we reached the top, I took a sigh of relief…this is where we had been attacked by Cyrilla Drex!  When we were here last she had teleported us into the sword.  We knew our way from this point.  At the far end of the room was the Well of Fates that had showed us our futures.  As we passed the pool, I swear I saw Bor’s face there, in agony and torment.  Sir Bentblade glanced at the pool then to us.  “It is okay, we have been here before.  We know our way out from here,” I assured him.

I thought we would have an easy going, but we encountered a mummy several hallways further – coming in behind us.  Theren, still a giant spider, webbed the mummy.  He tore through the web, but it was enough to slow him further.

Dispatching the shambling undead proved easier than I would have thought – though the narrow hallway proved challenging for our rather large party.  My weapons illuminated the passage and I used Bonebreaker to shred off a layer of the mummy’s wrapping.  Another swipe tore off the bandaged arm of the monstrosity and sent it spinning down the hallway – causing it to groan in a voice that chilled me.  The shambling creature did not stand a chance against all of us though.  Dimitrious drove his fist into its chest cavity, permanently killing it.  Its mouth opened and bellowed a foul cloud of death-dust on us, the stench of it hung on my clothing for hours afterwards.

We made our way backtracking our journey into Tempora.  It was strange visiting so many places where we had fought and bled.  I was most nervous in the ruins of Tempora itself, where I could hear those teleporting spiders clicking above us.  They did not attack, no doubt because of the size of our party.

We travelled the long underground roadway back out to the Vale of White. We remembered to disable the bones in the vale, and trudged out into a cold rain.  Sadly, we came across the carcasses of our horses that we had left tied up outside the vale. Oversight on our part, we had left them tied up.

Even the light of a stormy day felt good on my skin.  We had been underground for long and perilous days.  Now we simply had to deliver the paladins back to the Order of the Fang and maybe, just maybe, they could free the paladins trapped in Drex’s massive sword.  We camped that first night, then set off down the old road back to the lowlands.  Our sense of day and night had been lost in Tempora.

The next night stopped at the Horns of Essex to camp and retain our bearing and strength.  Here the massive horns of a long-dead creature jutted upward to the gray skies. I remember it being spoken of as a place of great magic.  The giant stony horns were eerie, but marked our passage downward out of the wilderness.

It was in the middle of the night that Althalus woke me and the others.  Something was amiss – he had heard something in the brush.  He called out to the bushes, “Who goes there?”  Motion stirred in another location.  “We know you are out there, show yourself!”  The warlock was bold, if nothing else.

Dimitrious quickly lit a torch and tossed it into the brush.  Suddenly, three packs of rats burst out at us.  They were a trio of swarms, a mass of vermin, all coming at us.  Behind us, Hell Hounds burst out of the foliage, their glowing jowls lighting up our camp.  They snarled and growled as they closed on us.

Arius waved his hands and chanted – blessing some of our party. I could feel the surge of holy power pulse through my veins.  One of the hounds tore into Biff the Bold, one of the paladins, its fangs clamping onto his arm and tore at his flesh.  Fire burst out from the wounds and the paladin dropped to the ground unconscious.  Another lunged at Theren who was injured by its claws. Another tore into Sir Biff, ripping off a leg and tossing it into the brush.  There would be no healing that could bring this holy warrior back from where his soul went.

Sir Rippen, a rather unremarkable paladin, missed a Hell Hound entirely, planting his blade in the soft ground.  Arius used Skullringer on a rat swarm, sending bits and pieces of dead rats spraying into the air – his thunderous smite splattering many.  Blood dripped from Skullringer as the hoard of rats reeled under the assault.

I notched an arrow and planted it in the hide of a Hell Hound.  It ignored it entirely, which I was satisfied with.  This was not a time to draw a great deal of attention.  Althalus fired an emerald burst of power into the same hound.  The searing smoke hole in its hide only seemed to make it angrier – if that was possible.

Theren stabbed at one of the hellspawn creatures, planting his blade deep.  Black-red blood spurted out and the creature growled in pain and anger.  The paladins joined the fray, their weapons flailing in the night, slashing at the Hell Hounds.  Dimitrious bludgeoned on of the hounds, hitting him hard.

One swarm of rats tore into Sir Harold the Quick, crawling over him, seeking any exposed flesh.

A boiling green cloud emerged in the middle of our ranks near Arius and Viktor Barristen appeared, his skeletal face with horned helmet striking fear in me.  I will not lie, I wet myself just a little at the sight of him rising on a cloud of mist.

“We are doomed!” Althalus called out.  I had to agree.  Arius swung Skullringer at him, capped with his holy smite, hitting the quasi-lich anti-paladin.  The skull grinned in response.  “I have come for that sword…” he hissed.  Arius alone was horribly and hilariously outmatched.

My next arrow planted itself in the black fur hide of the Hell Hound I had hit earlier.

Harold the Quick flailed about with his pack of rats, sending rats scurrying as he snapped the necks of two of them with his hands.

Theren, morphing into bear form, tore into a Hell Hound, clawing and biting viciously at the Hell Hound which responded in kind.  The smell of burning fur filled the air. I kept worrying about Barristen, but the Hell Hounds were more pressing.

One Hell Hound scotched a paladin warrior in evil flames, leaving him screaming, which did not help my calm. Another beast broke off with Theren and jumped him as well, savaging him into unconsciousness.

Barristen was what really worried me.  He swung his staff in front of him, pointing it at Arius.  A brilliant beam of azure energy hit our comrade and he dropped, paralyzed. The evil undead anti-paladin reached down to his backpack and grabbed the sword of Cyrilla Drex.  I swear I saw him grin evilly as he hefted the heavy blade.

The sword!  I cringed.  In his hands those imprisoned paladins faced a fate worse than death.  Before I could fully comprehend the events, Althalus knocked one of the Hell Hounds back with a blast of eldritch power, allowing the paladins to pounce strike him.  Theren’s clawing attack tore off a piece of hide from one Hell Hound, sending it flying into our campsite.

Dimitrious tore into that creature, his fists thrashing the beast until it collapsed, its chest shattered.  The blue robed monk grabbed the fire gland of the beast and ripped it from its chest and tossed the black-bloody organ to the ground as the creature dropped.

I spun on Barristen, just in time to see him turn into a cloud of greenish smoke and disappeared into the night…taking the sword with him.  I spun on one of the Hell Hounds and fired another arrow, hitting it true.  We circled the remaining Hell Hounds and in a flurry of sword blows and magic blasts, we slashed at them.  I proudly delivered the killing blow on the last of the creatures, earning honor and respect of my comrades.

Suddenly things went very quiet, except for my ragged breathing.  We had won the fight, but in losing that sword, we may have lost on a larger scale. As Arius regained his control and rose we all looked at each other in a mix of victory and concern.

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

Character Background Material

My New Campaign

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From My BattleTech Archives – The Planning Documents For Twilight of the Clans (Part II)

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If you haven’t read my first blog post Part I, on this subject, check it out.

In this final part, we see a massive space battle over Huntress and the arrival of Paul Moon’s Smoke Jaguar relief force, though at this stage of development, no one knew it would be Paul Moon.  As you can see, we didn’t map out the details for the fighting for Huntress, only that it was savage and brutal.  I never agreed with the concept that we would kill every warrior, that seemed unrealistic, and ultimately we did not.

On page 8 you can see my original question mark around Katherine seizing control of the Federated Commonwealth via effective public relations.  Talk about fake news!  Again, BattleTech was ahead of the curve by decades.  I always thought that whole explanation needed a lot more meat behind it.  I find it hard to believe that popularity polls would force a ruler to turn over power.  Then again, when you look at the years when this was written, the power of polls was just starting to emerge.

One thing we never fully covered was who killed Morgan.  Of course, as you saw in Part I, it was supposed to have been Focht that was assassinated. We never really bonded with Morgan as a character enough to care that he had died, at least that is my opinion.  It still remains a mystery as to who killed the Davion Lion.

In the list of units you will see Team Banzai…which was a treat.  I don’t recall us actually using them though.  It was around then that we stopped referecing them in material.

There were a lot of plotlines left open, including Thomas Marik’s fate/identity.  Boy did that get some legs and run over the years!

For me, this was great to dig out and post.  One, it shows you the behind the scenes structuring we went through.  We have been living with the results of this document and the novels that came out of it for decades.  Each author had discretion to interpret the document.  We didn’t have a clean canvas, but it was not a paint-by-numbers print either.

Two, we have been going through a similar exercise for the last year and a half to plan/plot/machinate the next new era of BattleTech.  For old farts like me, it is a real treat to still be doing this after all of this time.  With the Twilight of the Clans we set in motion a series of events that will start to come to closure in the coming few months.  Talk about a long journey!  If I am fortunate, in another 10 years, I will be posting the documents of what we have just completed planning.  Who knows?

In the meantime – here’s a glimpse into the history of BattleTech!

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Bad Reviews I’ve Had on Amazon and My Less-Than-Subtle Rebuttals

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I never smile that much.

Amazon.com is fantastic.  It has changed the way we buy almost everything – especially books.  What sucks about it is the review capability.  Basically anyone who purchases your book, can post a review of it.  At first that seems benign, but in reality, it gives every troll on the internet the capability to voice their opinion – no matter how crazy.  Worse yet, it is nearly impossible to get reviews removed from a book…trust me, I’ve tried.  Reddit is even worse…it is the freshman dormitory for internet trolldom.

While merely my opinion, I strongly believe that the internet turns normal idiots into connected idiots who proffer their pointless opinions to the world with the same credibility as geniuses.  Feel free to use this quote on Twitter.  I think it would make a swell t-shirt.

Not every negative comment is the result of a troll.  Some people have issues with my writing style or structure of the book. Unfortunately, just because you don’t like the style, doesn’t mean that others won’t love it.

Amazon does let writers respond to comments, but I have found this only feeds the narcissistic needs of the trolls that post the negative comments.  I don’t have the time or inclination to get into a pissing match with some stranger.  At the risk of sounding egotistical (which I am); it is beneath my dignity and a waste of my time.

Bear in mind I write in a number of genres, business management, military history, science fiction, and of course, true crime.

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I understand (now) that being a successful writer means you are a public figure of sorts.  That means you are open to critique, good and bad.  I had no idea when I began this journey back at Central Michigan University in 1980 that I would find myself being reviewed by total strangers.  I wonder if it would have changed some of my decisions?

Naa…

I get far more positive reviews over bad ones, but still, I read them all. Every time I tell myself it is the last.  Here’s some of the more insipid comments I’ve seen and my rebuttal to them:

“This book could have used an editor.”  “This book is poorly edited…”  I’ve seen this one with a variety of books from different publishers.  To be upfront, I am not perfect (my wife will love this.)  Let me say this, I have and utilize editors.  They often have master’s degrees in English.  They edit the books carefully, meticulously, and with precision.  The real problem is people who think they know the English language better than those that edit books for a living.  Trust me, if my editors sucked, they would be out of a job.  Most, however, are very talented.  Often time’s my books are read 3-5 times, by different people/editors, checking and rechecking.  It is a labor-intensive process done by skilled professionals.  I don’t always agree with my editors and I love to torment them; but they are thorough and do a good job.  Just because you don’t agree with my/their decisions, does not make them or me wrong.  The English language is not a law etched in stone, it is not formulaic in nature.  It is a guide that sometimes is stretched to its limits by creative people.  Just because your second grade teacher told you something, doesn’t make you an expert.  Sidebar:  I deliberately violated several rules of English in this rebuttal, just to give you self-appointed editors cerebral aneurisms.

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“This book is repetitive in parts.”  The insinuation is that my restating of something is a mistake.  It is not.  I repeat some elements solely to make a point.  Where not appropriate, the editor will point it out to me; see above douchebag.  On my new books, we will be introducing something in the introduction, then explaining it in great nauseating detail in its own chapter later in the book.  That’s not repetitive, it is deliberate and planned.  Also, other writers do this all of the time – Ann Rule did in several of her works.  Oh, I get it, if Ann did it, it’s okay…

“This book is almost too perfect…”  I actually saw this on a three-star review recently.  Three stars?  What a pompous asshat.  In other words, I wrote a great book, so they had to rake it over the coals.

“There’s nothing new in this book that I haven’t seen before.”  Just to be clear, the individuals that post this stuff are either lying or wrong.  Every non-fiction book I have ever written has introduced new material that has never been made public before.  I pride myself on that as does my daughter.  Anyone writing this is really trying to say, “Look at me, I know more than the person that spent over a year researching this.”

 “The author(s) overlook obvious suspects.”  Let’s be clear, there are people out there with agendas of their own.  I know of one woman that has posted two reviews of my book under alias’s she has created.  Her purpose is nefarious – she has someone she wants to link to some murders to draw attention to her own suspect/research in a non-related crime.  It is bat-shit crazy, but there are people out there that are so focused on their own twisted agendas that they load up reviews and post things on various blogs and web sites to further their plans.  Sad, yet sick.

“The author doesn’t know the BattleTech universe well.” “This story is a retcon of established BattleTech history…” These came up years ago and made me laugh pretty hard. It still does from time-to-time.  It’s the damned Clan Wolverine haters.  Like a dog with a bone they will not let it go.

I wrote a lot of the early BattleTech history.  Here’s my bibliography:  Bibliography  Also, anything I have ever written had to be approved by the powers-that-be to become canon in the universe.  So, to be concise, if I wrote it and it was published, it IS canon, dillweed.  I make stuff up, but I always get my work approved by seasoned veterans of the intellectual property.  I won’t go into the whole Wolverine-thing in detail, but since I created that Clan and wrote the only bio information on Nicholas Kerensky, I feel pretty safe in what I did with them.  I have been writing BattleTech since 1986.  Don’t tell me that I don’t know the universe well. I am fu*king proud of my body of work.

 “Reads Like a High School Term Paper.”  This review was on a book that was a New York Times Bestseller my daughter and I wrote.  I do understand that the presentation of facts can be burdensome.  When you are writing a true crime about a cold case, you don’t want to get too flowery in the text or present a great deal of speculation.  Nonfiction books tend to be a presentation of facts.  I’m probably more offended with the “high school” part more than the actual review.  Seriously?  I have a master’s degree and have completed about 1/3 of a doctorate program.  Bite me.

 “This was a good story but no closure.” Many of the cases I write about are cold cases.  Some authors do this and claim they have “solved” the cases.  I tend to lean away from those books.  If you solved the case, then where is the prosecution or the announcement from authorities that they consider the case closed?  With cold cases, I maintain that the writers need to present the facts and let the readers arrive at their own conclusions.  People need to form their own opinions – not have the author craft the facts around their pet-theory.  Almost always, I make sure in the introduction that we tell readers that the case is unresolved.  Let me be clear, if you are reading a book about a cold case I have written, you will not get that closure at the end…BECAUSE IT IS A COLD CASE.

“True crime books are supposed to end in a trial.”  Most of my books in this genre are on cold cases.  I appreciate the vote of confidence from the reviewer…that somehow we might solve the crime and inflict overdue justice.  This is the real-world.  I am a writer.  Our books generate tips for the authorities, but we do not solve the case on our own.

“His fiction does not reflect gameplay.”  Okay, this is a BattleTech one.  My response is, “good, because I was writing fiction, not documenting a game of BattleTech.”  I follow the rules, but in the fictionalizing of a battle, things happen that rules do not exist for.  If I merely played out a battle and wrote about it, it would be dull and boring.  I strive to adhere to the rules, but at the same time, I feel empowered to push the limits with battles.

Personal attacks.  These come in a number of nasty comments, so let me focus on one in particular.  I have been accused of be a Confederate sympathizer in one review.  WTF?  Not true.  First, I am a historian. Second, I have incorporated the Civil War into many of my military sci-fi novels just for parallels.  I respect Southern military leader’s prowess without lamenting about the Confederacy’s fate.  Third, I am against tearing down historic statues and renaming things out of idiotic fits of political correctness or someone having hurt feelings.  I have voiced my opinion on that because I believe it is wrong to destroy or obscure history.  I also believe that you do not have a right to not be offended in this country.  In fact, one things Americans excel at is offending people. Grow a pair and stop whining and labeling.

I am not a Confederate or Lost Cause sympathizer.  In my entire writing career I wrote three whole pages about the Lost Cause and then only in non-fiction, in the story of Bert Hall in my biography, The Bad Boy.  In other words, no big deal.  None of this makes me a Confederate sympathizer.  I empower none of you to slap a label on me without my consent.  Calling me a Confederate Sympathizer; that simply makes me want to be one.  People that run around labeling people to attempt to damage their reputation are low forms of life.  You can take your social justice-self-anointed sense of empowerment and shove it high-and-hard.

Ahh…that felt great.  If I have offended anyone who gave me negative feedback; good.

The Chronicling of our D&D Campaign: Tempora – Part 30

 

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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!

Theren…

As Barristen turned into a green gas and slid through a crack in the ceiling, the possessed paladins that had been trying to kill us suddenly stopped, looking around the room dazed and confused.  The air stung of our sweat and the same aroma as when lightning strikes.  It was easy to understand the confusion of the men we had just saved – I was still in the form of a bear and there was blood everywhere.

“The battle is over,” Althalus managed in amazement.  “We won!”

I transformed back into my human form and we began to try and reassure the stunned paladins we had just rescued.  “It is okay – we are friends.”  It took some convincing since we were covered mostly in their blood.  The image of the dead Cyrilla Drex helped more than our mere words.  We told them to take the magical collars off that possessed them, which they did.

“Where are we?”

We tried to explain to them in ragged breaths as our tempers eased…they were prisoners of Victor Barristen and Cyrilla Drex, and that we had come to try and rescue them. As I and Arius spoke, Brandon went over to Drex and began to check her body.  He produced an amulet from around her withered neck.  Her large wormwood staff was there and taken as well as golden ring from her gnarled finger.  “I like this staff,” the ranger said.

“I can possibly use its magical capabilities,” I countered.  “For you it would be nothing more than a walking stick.”  He handed it over as Arius wrestled with the sword.  “This weighs far more than it should,” the paladin said with a grunt.  “I cannot wield this,” he said.  “There is clearly some magic at play here.”

The oldest of the paladins we freed bent his knee and began to pray.  The others knelt as well around him, all praying.  Althalus backed up at their holy gesture…no doubt it was the devil’s skull in his backpack guiding his actions…that and the warlock did not want to be exposed to holy warriors.  The church took a grim, neigh deadly view of those of us that used magic outside of their control.

The elder paladin of the group rose to his feet and stood before us.  “Who is in charge here?  I am Sir Theris Bentblade of the Order of the Fang.  Who are you?”

Arius stepped forward.  “I am Sir Arius the Seeker,” he said proudly.  “I am from the Priory of St. Julius.”

“You saved our lives,” he said making eye contact with each of us.  “Thank you for what you did.”

“It is what we came to do.” our paladin asked.

“The rest of your men are in that sword,” Althalus said, nodding to the massive blade now strapped onto Arius’s back.

The paladins stepped forward and shook our hands.  “We were held by them, with magic we cannot comprehend.  It is blurry in my mind.  She would come for us, and Barristen would drain our life force from my men,” Bentblade said, stroking his long gray beard.  “One by one I watched them die, turned into the husks you see there,” he gestured to the pile of shriveled corpses.

Bentblade continued.  “We could not resist him.  He made us watch them die.  Each one made him more corporeal, more real.  I do not know how much time as passed.  He kept me alive to torment me, to make me watch the men in my command die horribly – one at a time.  Where are the others?”

“Trapped in this sword,” Arius replied.

“They are trapped inside the gem of that sword,” Althalus added.

“In the gem?” Bentblade asked.

“It contains a plane of existence,” Althalus responded.

“There is more,” I added.  “There is a Priory there – the one from the Sisterhood of the Sword.  It is there as well.”

“Do you know how to get them out?” Sir Bentblade asked.

“We’re working on it,” I replied.  “We just got the sword from Drex.  We don’t want to rush through this and possibly injure or kill those imprisoned there.”

Althalus spoke up.  “I regrettably must admit that the church may have more knowledge of this than we do.”

Bentblade shook his head. “I disagree.  The church may not know of these events. I led my men to track down the Sisterhood of the Sword and the Priory of the Blade.  We killed many of their order that day on orders of the church, but we never found the priory itself.  It was gone, vanished.  Only they know how their swords work and how to wield them.”

“How does Victor Barristen figure into all of this?” Arius asked.

“Drex summoned him from beyond the grave.  She seeks revenge for what the church did to her once-holy order.

“We set their plans back by killing her,” Althalus said.

Bentblade eyed the warlock carefully.  “Indeed you have, but Barristen is now on our plane of existence again and walking the lands.  That is a grave thing indeed.  He has his own designs against the church and will not rest until he has his revenge.  The souls of my men gave him power…he will want more.”

“He’s a coward,” Brandon added.  “He fled rather than fight us to the end.”

“He is no slacker,” Bentblade countered.  “Barristen is cunning and dangerous.  He will not rest until he takes the church down, stone-by-stone, soul-by-soul.  It would be unwise to underestimate him.”

“We won’t,” I said.  “But there is a bit of a challenge.  We do not know where we are.  We teleported here.  I assume we are somewhere in Tempora still, but that may not be the case.  Do you know for sure where we are or how to get out?”

Sir Bentblade shook his head.  “My mind…the memories are like those of a drunk, confused and blurred.  They led us here, I remember that.  Details…they elude me.”  The other paladins nodded in agreement. “I too believe we are in Tempora.”

“Camp with us,” I offered.  “I can produce food for us.  Together we can find our way out of this place.”

Althalus gestured to the mound of the dead.  “I am not entirely comfortable with us camping near a pile of desecrated husks that could rise up and attack us.”

Bentblade raised his hand.  “My men and I will say a prayer over them and bless them.  They will not pose a threat to us.  Let the dead rest.”

Brandon produced the letter that had Lexa Lyoncroft had written that had brought him to us.  “This is from Lexa Lyoncroft.  She mentions you in it.”

Bentblade read the page.  “Doddering old fool?  She calls me that?”  He then tossed the letter back to the ranger.  “So you are working for Lexa Lyoncroft?”

“I was just paid to deliver a message,” he offered.  “I did that job but joined them to try and rescue you.”

Bentblade was clearly shaken by the letter.  For a long moment he said nothing.  When he did spoke it was not in anger but almost a sadness.  “I hate to admit it, but the only person that might be able to tell us about that sword and how to free my men is Lyoncroft.”

“We don’t know where she is?” Brandon said.  “Only where I saw her last.  She came to my home town and paid me to deliver this message.  That was weeks ago.”

“How did you get here?”

“Through the White Vale,” I said.

“We battled the bone dragons there,” Brandon said with a hint of pride.  “We crossed the White Vale, found the hidden gate, and journeyed far underground to reach Tempora.  We were sent by the men still with the Order of the Fang.  They kept watch and asked us to come and find you.”

“And you traveled into the mountains heart and saved us?”

“Of course,” I said.

The older Bentblade waved his hands over us and murmured as he closed his eyes.  “I offer you men our blessings then.”  When he finished he spied the round shield that Arius had.  “That shield, where did you get that?”

“We found it in one of the many rooms of this abandoned city,” our brother-paladin offered.

“That belongs to the same order as Lexa Lyoncroft and Cyrilla Drex – the Sisterhood of the Sword.  It is a holy artifact – that much I am sure.”

Arius looked proud that he had it.  “I will take care of it then.”

Brandon held out the silvered weapons now in his possession.  “What of these?”

Bentblade looked the pair of silvered weapons.  “I have seen etchings of these – they were owned by a Dwarven Lord of some merit if I remember.  Yes – Shevrus Salamar, that is his name.  The sword and flail go together – never to be separated.  Bonebreaker!  That is it.”

I bent over and pretending the pray, but cast detect magic in the room.  The last thing I needed was the paladins recognizing that I was using forbidden magic in their presence.  While we had saved them, they were still men of the church, bound by their laws rather than the laws of nature which guided me.  What I found was four voids of magic in the room, where the rugs were on the floor.  The rugs were magical, but not in the way I expected.  They were null magic, voids where arcane powers were nonexistent.  If I had run across these in bear form, I would have transformed back to my human shape.  Magic weapons would have been impotent when standing on these large rugs.  A cleaver ploy, one we had fortunately avoided.

I also sensed an aura of magic on Cyrilla Drex’s armor and the ring and amulet that had been recovered, along with her staff.  I whispered it to Brandon so as to not draw attention. He barely concealed his joy and took the time to remove the charred armor from her withered corpse.  He wanted to put the ring on but Althalus and I warned him against it. The warlock found a word on it that would trigger the ring, but warned against speaking it.  “I have no idea where you will go if you say that word when wearing it.”  Dejected, the ranger pocketed the ring making us all fell much safer.

Arius carefully checked the double doors out of the room to make sure there was nothing waiting to pounce on us from the other side.  We did not opt to leave, not without resting up.  The battle had taken a great deal out of us.

I was concerned. None of us, including our new party members, knew where we were exactly nor how to get out.  We presumed we were in Tempora, but there was a chance we were not.  Victor Barristen was still out there, somewhere.  And those slowly starving paladins that were trapped in the sword we now possessed had no way out.

I knew one thing, we could not remain here to solve any of these problems.

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

Character Background Material

My New Campaign

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#DandD

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The Delphi Murders – A Cold Case That is Solvable

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When we went to CrimeCon, Victoria and I attended two sessions about this case and it is one that sticks with you once you know something about it.  As we approach the second anniversary of these senseless murders, I thought I would highlight it on my blog.  Please share this…because this case screams to be solved.

On February 13th 2017, the day before Valentine’s Day, Abigail “Abby” Williams and Liberty “Libby” German were dropped off by Libby’s sister at a local park in Delphi Indiana.  They were let off near an abandoned railway bridge that was part of a relatively new park, the Delphi Historic Trail.  It was 1:00pm in the afternoon, in broad daylight.  The girls were 13 and 14 respectively and the park was considered safe.  Delphi is a small community after all, with a population of under 3,000.

As I recall from my notes, school had been cancelled unexpectedly that day, so there was no reason for their killer to expect them to be in that park at that time.

By 5:30pm in the evening the girls were reported as missing.  A search by locals found their remains the next day, some 50 feet from Deer Creek, about a half mile from the railroad bridge.  Authorities have not revealed the exact cause of death of the two girls to the public.

The real shock about this case is that Libby’s phone contained an image of their suspected killer and a recording of his voice, saying “Down the hill.”  He is suspected to be between 5 foot 6 and 10 inches tall, weighing 180-220 pounds with reddish brown hair.  There is little doubt that Libby managed to capture her killer both audio and video.  Despite this, there have been some false leads and suspects, but their killer remains at large.

What struck me, as an author of cold cases, is as follows:

  • This is a small community.  Clearly this is an outsider, making this a crime of opportunity on his part.  Is he a passing truck driver who stopped in the community and came across the girls, or someone who was passing through for some other reason?  To me, it makes sense to check truck stop videos nearby or weigh stations for their records. I passed on that suggestion to one of the family members at Crimecon, though I’m sure the authorities would have already checked these out.
  • The girls were not supposed to be out of school that day.  Did he know that school was out that day or is it sad happenstance that they were in the park to begin with?
  • With two victims – the question must be asked…did he act alone?  It is possible to get and maintain control of two victims, but it is more difficult.  Libby clearly got images and audio of their killer, why didn’t they flee?  Did he get control of one of them to compel the other to stay there?
  • The authorities are keeping quiet how these victims were killed – which is prudent and frustrating at the same time.  Clearly there is something in the method of the murder which somehow factors into this.
  • The killer’s clothing and hat are clues because chances are, this isn’t the first time he wore them.  These appear as “comfort clothing.”  While the video is blurry, the police composite is pretty clear.  Someone knows this man, or knows someone matching his description that was out of town (in Delphi) at the time of the murders.  Do you know someone who wore that kind of hat and jacket who stopped after July of 2017, when the images were released?

The police site has the audio of his voice as well.  Take a listen to it. Does it sound like someone you know?

Indiana State Police Site

You may hold the key to solving this cold case.  The families deserve justice and the victims have given us the best clues as to who this killer is.  Please contact the Indiana State Police if you think you might know something.

Review of Battlestar Galactica Starship Battles Game

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Battlestar Galactica brings the little screen to the tabletop

Santa (actually Ares Games) dropped off this little gem just prior to Christmas and I have to admit, I was pretty geeked.  I saw the prototype game at GenCon this year and was looking forward to kicking some toaster-ass. Ares Games has delivered with Battlestar Galactica Starship Battles.

I was worried this was going to be a reskin of Wings of Glory – it is not.  First off the designers have captured the essence of what was saw on the TV screen with the reboot of Battlestar Galactica.  When you play with the complete rules your ship must deal with kinetic energy and you can do those awesome maneuvers we saw, like rotating your ship while moving a different direction.  Fracking awesome!   This game does not portent to be a mathematically accurate simulation of space combat.  Instead it favors fun and playability, which was exactly what I was hoping for.

First off, you get two Vipers Mk II’s and two Cylon Raiders from the most recent TV series. Ares has committed that this will cover the old TV series as well, so I have to admit I am excited at that prospect.  The amount of stuff you get in the game is staggering – stands, pilot cards, maneuver cards, rulers, dice damage counters, talent cards, maneuver markers, asteroids, a scenario book and the plastic control panels (and more).  The control panels are neat – they allow you to track your speed, kinetic energy, and the rotation of your ship.

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The control panel

Like Wings of Glory (or Sails of Glory for that matter) you use cards to determine your maneuvers.  Firing is a matter of rolling dice to hit then drawing damage chips.  For the Quick Start Rules, this is about all you have to master – meaning you can unpack this game and be playing in, per my calculations, about 15 minutes.  The Quick Start Rules are enough to get you going but it is the Complete Rules that make this game purr.  Here you deal with kinetic energy you build up in your flight maneuvers and you also can rotate.  It took me a few test turns to fully get these rules down to where I understood them, but once I did I saw the brilliance of the design.  It turns this game from a simple fighter combat into a more complex tactical simulation – especially rotating.

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A steep banking curve maneuver card

The complete rules also change the damage your ship takes, using the damage counters.  It makes the games shorter when you start doing special damage to your enemies.   The Complete Rules makes movement more fluid, breaking it into multiple phases.  I found in my solo playtest that it shortened the game considerably.

The optional rules implement altitude changes, ala Ares Games peg elevation system, and introduces pilots and their talents.  So you can play Apollo right down to all of his skills.

The miniatures are exquisite and a little larger than I anticipated – a pleasant surprise.  I am sure in a matter of days there will be custom paint stuff out on the web for these but they are fully playable right out of the box and look awesome.

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The paint is incredible

So what is the downside to this game?  Well, the scale means we probably won’t be getting a miniature of the Galactica, Pegasus, or the fleet ships…my estimate is the Galactica would be over 18 feet long if built to scale (but would be awesome!).  I am not sure how well this game will work with large battles, but I am willing to give it a whirl!  I found you need some space for this game given some of the maneuvers you can do.  Also, the series did not introduce a lot of new ships, which means expansion of this game is going to be likely pilots, talents, etc.  I am looking forward to a Raptor mini though.

The upside of this game – it captures tactical space combat in a way that most game have struggled with for generations and does it with style and polish.  The game cards and rulebooks have the corners clipped off of them to give them the feel of paper materials we saw in the series.  It is that kind of attention to detail that makes this game sizzle and pop.

I give this a solid 10 out of 10 rating – definitely worth picking up and following.  I can’t wait for the “classic” Vipers and Raiders from the old TV series – and the chance to mix things up between the two eras.  Don’t flee from the Cylon tyranny – swing around and blast those toasters! By my command…