I’m just now getting through my pile of goodies from Gen Con. One of the gems I got a copy of was the new BattleTech sourcebook, Tamar Rising. I will try and keep the spoilers to a minimum, but a few are bound to sneak through.
First off, let’s talk the physical quality of the book. It is a hard cover – which is the new trend for Catalyst with their sourcebooks and one I hope they continue. The cover art is great, but I was really pleased with the interior artwork. Glossy pages are a plus but the big standout was the inclusion of a map with transit times included.
This is the story of what happens when 95% of a faction, in this case, the Jade Falcons, pack up and take off on a sightseeing tour of Terra. It leaves a huge political and military gap, with many worlds either lightly defended, or left abandoned. Given that this is the BattleTech universe, I think we all know where this is going…war!
Having been part of the writer’s summit where we talked about this, I was sincerely pleased with how the writer’s took a few kernels of ideas and ran with them. The stories here are fantastic. By and large my favorite parts was the development of Duke Vedet Brewer. I got to write about this character in Fire at Will, and after that, for a short time, he became Archon of the Lyran Commonwealth. He is one of the few people to rise to power, lose it, and live, in the BattleTech universe. What I love is that his character has gone from obscurity to a character you really start to respect.
The reason I jumped down this particular rabbit hole is that it is indicative of the high quality of writing in this sourcebook. Sometimes sourcebooks seem forced, as if the authors are trying to cram in a lot of little details that mean very little to players. Tamar Rising doesn’t do that. It gives a great foundation for this region of space in the ilClan era. More importantly, the juicy details the authors have squeezed into the book that are playable…which is what is important. Some of the things, such as the Personalities Section, are important because they will show up in future BattleTech fiction. I really enjoyed this book. I hope that the Federated Suns and Draconis Combine front gets a similar treatment.
I had over one of the WolfNet gang, Drew Bethards, to inaugurate my game room. I would have liked to open it up for a group of players, but with the whole, ‘crazy person threatening my life’ thing, I needed to be careful about who comes over.
We played three games of the same scenario of Alpha Strike, each time refining it a little more. We were playing the Desperate Measures scenario from the ilClan Sourcebook. I hadn’t gotten a copy yet (I’m assured it is in the mail) but Drew had and we fought the battle of the Republic’s Old Guard against the Falcon Guard.
We played it as Alpha Strike and we both felt that it would have been much better in Classic BattleTech. I really wanted to play Alpha Strike because the pacing is better, especially since I was running nine Republic ‘Mechs. We had to tweak the rules, breaking the attackers up into waves of three that had to roll an 8+ to enter the map. When you come on at 3-1 odds right off the bat, it was devastating. We also elongated the map to make it more of a distance slug for the attackers. We also allowed two of the Falcons to shield Malvina Hazen who was unconscious during the entire set of three games (thank Kerensky!)
It oddly worked close to fiction in the final game, with my ‘Mechs slowed down by the debris field, and piling up on top of each other to make mounds of debris. I did kill Malvina before she could wake up, so it wasn’t purely historical. No, I will not rewrite the novel to fit the game play.
The bottom line is that with any printed scenario, you need to be willing to balance it so that both players have fun – which is what we did.
We had a lot of fun talking BattleTech stuff as well as Creative Juggernaut. Some of the debris you see on the map are half-molded Urbies we made. Yes, the kids at Creative Juggernaut are working hard on the minis and the upcoming salvage bags, as well as some surprises in the coming months.
Best of all, the game room is officially broken in! We had fun, talked gaming, and rocked out some miniature carnage.
I just received word from the Supreme Editor that they are getting ready to start the audiobooks leading up to Hour of the Wolf. First up, is Divided We Fall.
As you know, I use a lot of backers and fans in my fiction. We need to hammer out the pronunciation of some of your names for the voice talent. How this ended up on my desk…I have no idea. But hey, I’m happy to try and get the clarity.
The ones we need pronunciations on are as follows:
Ervikar Vilkas – Backer (Eric Glocker)
Jazion Weiser – Backer (Jason Weiser)
Seibert – Backer (Keven Seibert)
Koniczek – Backer (Kristopher Tyson Koniczek)
Lubben’s – Backer (John Lubben)
Kaempen – Backer (Alex Kaempen)
Noorloos – Backer (Roderick Van Noorloos)
Pelcham – Backer (William C. Pelcham)
Cintron – Backer (Felipe Cintron)
If you are on the list, we need to know how your character’s name should be pronounced. This needs to be done by 24 July 2021. Please provide your response in the comments below – easy-peasy. After the 24th, the voice person will do their best to get it right.
BattleTech fans love their House Liao jokes and for many years, much of that was well earned. Mad Max and Romano Liao both made the faction easy to be a punching bag and a source of memes. For many years, if not decades, Loren Coleman has been one of the few writers that can easily tackle House Liao with the dignity they deserve. The Capellans are a BattleTech faction that are tricky to write. It’s not just the politics that makes it difficult, it is a very unique and closed culture. There are language nuances as well.
Then came Jason Schmetzer with Blood Will Tell. Well Loren is no longer alone in the mastery of House Liao’s quirkiness and resolve. Schmetzer is in the house!
I won’t ruin the story for you. This is set just before the ilClan era and focuses on the Chancellor’s daughter, Danai Liao-Centrella. For the first time in many ages, House Liao is ruled by a solid leader, Daoshen. Danai has been a wonderful character for being feet on the ground, a warrior, piloting a legendary Centurion.
This story is Danai’s emergence as an in-depth character. She chaffs at the demands of court and the Confederation. She wants to fight the enemies of her realm. More is expected of her than fighting a war against what is left of the Republic of the Sphere.
Jason masterfully presents some great characters, supporting and otherwise. His development of Danai and the crafting of her character arc is done humbly and with the utmost respect to the franchise. Jason is further solidifying himself as a top-notch BattleTech author with this novel. This is not faint praise, but genuine admiration.
I loved this book. There was one point where I was stunned. What was more shocking was that for the first time in years, I found myself actually rooting for the Capellan Confederation. I can’t wait for his next book!
When we built our new home, I had always envisioned a special game room and table – one that would somehow capture my diverse gaming background. Moreover, I wanted the game room to be an experience for my players/visitors; the kind of place they wanted to come and play at. The game room would open to the lower patio, what we have come to call ‘The Biergarten.’ That way, during good weather, we could take our breaks (or games) outside, and drink some beer.
I’m all about the gaming experience.
The door was part of the design of our house from day one. A normal door to the game room would not suffice. I wanted an industrial “blast door” between my office and game room. I was going to use a door from a cargo container but those doors are narrow and tall, taller than the ceiling. Cutting it to fit was going to be problematic. Ultimately our carpenter simulated the effect for us.
The decals on the door I got from several online sources – the big ones from Fathead which does custom printed ones. The door leading to the back of the basement (our airlock) needed a wrap as well, which was only $30 on Amazon. I was going to get their “Armory” one, a rack of weapons, but I was worried if my neighbor looked in he would think I’m a little too in favor of gun rights…as if there is such a thing. My favorite is the “Wolverines!” one on the back of the door near the floor. I got that on eBay because, well, Wolverines! That and I was writing my upcoming novel, Blue Dawn.
A great deal of time was spent in setting the stage for the game room. It went through a lot of iterations. It took a while for me to settle on a theme – namely a ship in orbit. A designer friend of ours, Erika Bonnell suggested a floor to ceiling mural for the far wall and I ran with it. She is a genius. I found several wall murals on Etsy and picked one that I liked. Then came the floor. I was shooting for the effect of visitors standing on a glass floor of a ship in orbit. I went with the blues because it was neat and blended with the mural. It is an epoxy floor covering and it changes with light and angles which is incredibly cool.
I was partial to industrial furniture so I started to look at the pricing of that stuff, and it was incredible. I sketched out the design I wanted and just for the steel frame, companies were bidding $2995 and up, significantly up. And those estimates didn’t including shipping, the epoxy, etc. That was nuts. Not only that, I wanted some other industrial furniture for the office and game room down the road. I decided that if I was going to get what I wanted, I was going to have to build it. So, in the middle of COVID, during the peak of summer, I decided to take a welding course. I was going to make this happen on my own.
Table size had to be tackled. I wanted around a four by eight foot table. That was big enough for some good size mini battles as well as some of my more ‘monster’ board games. Go big or go home.
I knew I wanted to do some sort of epoxy pour over some neat gaming relics I had, so the design of the table used angle iron on the edges to support the table edge surface.
I have never done metal work in my life, but I knew what I wanted to build, I had a vision of the end product. There were no plans, just a view I had. It was hot, sometimes frustrating, and very rewarding. Welding is plain fun. My first personal project was to make the handle for the game room blast door. The real challenge I had to overcome on that and the table was welding different thicknesses of steel. We didn’t do a lot of that in class, so I had to figure it out. Sometimes I burned through, but that was all part of the learning curve. My grinder and I became very close by the end of the project.
I ordered a plasma cutter and a welder from Eastwood. My instructor recommended them as reliable and easy to use. He was right. Eastwood’s products are fantastic to work with. Of course, I needed a welding table and cart too. You might be thinking, “Hey, this is all going to cost you more than if you paid someone to do it.” Actually, I saved money, a LOT of money, even with the material and equipment costs, mostly because I was doing the work myself. And now I can make other stuff (including a miniatures storage cabinet.)
I never used a plasma cutter in my life, but Eastwood’s videos and others on YouTube were a big help. I came up with a template for the side rails, ordered up some steel, and got to work. I cut the side rails and was pleased with the look. There was a lot of trial and error, but eventually I got the hang of large scale cutting. In retrospect, I should have probably started on a smaller furniture piece.
Industrial furniture is about shapes and textures. I wanted rivets along the edge. You can’t just buy rivet tops, so I ordered 58 carriage bolts steel (not galvanized). I needed to grind down the raised parts of the bolts, so I put them in a drill and used it to spin them while I used a grinding wheel. Then I had to cut them off, and drill a LOT of holes in the side rails for them. Each had to be welded into place, hopefully enough so they wouldn’t leak when the epoxy pour took place. The table has imperfections, which is common with industrial furniture. The ones that remain, I left intentionally.
Assembling all of the sides and legs was a challenge as my wife was out of town and alignment needed to be exact. I performed a few minor engineering miracles, propping things up, and got the table welded together. I welded in braces but the heat of the welding pulled the side rails inward. No one else would have noticed, but I did. So I cut them out, added some additional metal, and re-welded them. Then came the removal of a lot of mill-scale, no small task. Everything got coated with two coats of flat lacquer. Skilled welders will see my bad welds and acknowledge that some were decent.
With one inch angle iron for the edges, I went with a quarter inch piece of plywood for the base. In retrospect, I should have used something heavier, but it would have limited what I used on the table top for the epoxy pour in terms of depth. I struggled for what to do with the wood surface. One night the film Alien came on the TV and I saw the tracker grid. That was perfect. To simulate this, I used a bright green sprayed on the surface, then pinstripe taped. I then painted over it with gloss black. The result is that the grid looks like it is lit up from underneath.
I did toy with installing LED’s but with the epoxy pour, if there was an issue, replacement would have been a nightmare. And while I tackled welding, electrician work may be a bit beyond me. I opted for simplicity and function.
I glued and used caulking to seal the tabletop into place. I caulked the hell out of the rivet holes out of fear that the epoxy would leak if I missed a spot. Epoxy finds holes and cracks instinctively. Thankfully, I had no real issues with leaking.
Cyndi, my wife, helped me pick what to put on the table and where to place the items. I have a lot of BattleTech artifacts that I have gathered over the years. Everything was glued into place, the artwork was Modge-Podged down. Cyndi suggested putting some artifacts together, like all of my Dragoons relics.
Thus began the pouring. I never poured epoxy before. It is easy to do, but challenging to do three gallons at a time. You have to pop air bubbles with a heat gun every few hours or so.
There was an ever-so-slight dip in the middle of the table. The epoxy tended to settle there the most and contracted as it set with each layer. The result was that the middle of the table was getting thicker, despite the steel cross supports under the table. So we propped up the center of the table with books and boxes and poured more, almost double what I had originally planned. We had some weird wrinkling on the top layer of one pour, so I had to sand that down, which generated a LOT of fine dust, which required considerable cleaning before the next pour. In the end it all worked out. I do see some weird haze deep down in a few small spots deep down that I can’t figure out – they weren’t there until well after the pouring had hardened.
Some of the patches got strangely dark after the pour, but if you hit them with a light, they look fine. I can’t explain that. I almost put a map of the Inner Sphere down in lieu of the Vulture, but I thought visitors would enjoy the OmniMech more. The paper material on the blueprint was cheap, and despite the sealer, got some soaked-through splotches that oddly seem to work. Cyndi put a coffee stain and burned the edges of the Vulture poster which came out fine. There are bits of games that I have played over the years, making the table very personal. Honestly I think it still looks great. Thanks to Robert Ash, Matt Behrens, Andrew Krull, and Ronald Baker and other fans for some of the stuff that went into the table surface.
I ended up assembling a center support leg to make sure the table’s weight didn’t crack under the weight.
My favorite parts of the table? I love the Leviathan’s destroyer out in the middle of the table. I really love writing for Leviathans and this was a homage to that. There’s a couple of BattleMech minis out there too that were fun to paint then permanently entomb. Of course, the Black Watch badge is cool because, well, it’s the Goddamned Black Watch! Some old school SPI dice are there too, just for grins. I have a Gray Death die and one from the Northwind Highlanders.
On the wall is some BattleTech art, including an Anthony Scoggins’s signed print from Forever Faithful, some original concept sketches from the cover of Impetus of War, and a print of my favorite tank (Fratricide) from an upcoming sourcebook. Chill out CGL, I took the photo far enough away to not ruin the surprise. I’m going to be adding some art from An Eagle Among Falcons as well because it is the coolest Elemental art I have seen in a long time.
About the chair – I’ve had it for over two decades. It is a B-52 ejection seat (downward firing). I have used it as a writing chair for years. Parts of some of the novels I wrote were done from that seat, a wonderful stand-in for a BattleMech ejection seat. Now it has a home where it fits in.
I ended up pretty pleased with the end result. Not bad for my second welding project ever. I learned a lot about designing furniture that will come in useful in the future. More importantly, I have a custom table that looks exactly like I wanted it to, that I built.
Our game company, Creative Juggernaut, has been working closely with Catalyst Game Labs on a number of high-end miniatures of variant BattleMechs. The first two, the Tukayyid Stormcrow and Black Knight have been in production for a while. While work continues on the Stormcrow, we thought it would be a nice to show you that the Black Knight being shipped to Catalyst. In other words, it will be for sale soon.
These are not preassembled minis and they come with some variant parts, giving you some opportunities to pose the minis differently. They come in little ziplock baggies and are plastic resin so they are easy to modify, for those of you so inclined.
The minis will be available on the Catalyst Game Labs online store. When? We can’t say for sure, but as you can see, they have not only been shipped, but received at the warehouse…so this is finally happening! We encourage you to check the CGL store every so often and watch for their social media announcements if you are interested in these.
So what is next? Obviously we need to finish up the Stormcrow, which is darned close to being done. We aren’t allowed to officially say what additional minis are in production, but based on the positive feedback we’ve seen online there are others that are being prepped for casting right now. Brent has even cooked up a surprise or two.
Thanks for your support and patience. We believe it will be worth it.
Wow, has it been a year? I saw this pop up in my Facebook feed and I honestly thought it was a mistake.
I have been honored in my long BattleTech career to write about the Eridani Light Horse, Snord’s Irregulars, and a host of other merc units. Divided was my first chance to write about a sacred cow of sorts, Wolf’s Dragoons. Just mentioning them conjures up memories for fans of Wolves on the Border, Wolf Pack, and other fantastic pieces. Anyone attempting to tackle them is always going to be compared to the epics that have come before. My goal was to not write a better story than Bob’s classics, but write the right story for the Dragoons as we inched into the ilClan era. There were things the story had to accomplish in order for Hour of the Wolf to happen as we had planned, but it was never about hitting all of the bullet points of accomplishment…it was about characters and plot.
It was not your typical fare either. This was about something very different, getting the Dragoons to fight for Clan Wolf on Terra. It was as much a story of that plot point as it was the tale of Marotta Kerensky. Marotta is tragic, as we see later in Hour of the Wolf. He has become as much a victim of Alaric as the Dragoons are. I like to believe that his story arc is far from over. Divided We Fall merely introduced him. I have been toying with doing another Dragoons story, but I am holding that in check (I have other committed BattleTech products I’m working on.)
The antagonist in Divided is the only people worth taking on the Dragoons…other Dragoons. That was complex to write about as an author. There were no bad guys, only characters that were taking actions they thought were right and just. You may not have enjoyed it, but I liked the simplicity of the antagonist in generating the conflict.
We (attendees of the writer’s summit) all knew we were going where angels fear to tread with the Dragoons. Those units that went to Terra would suffer incredible losses both physically and psychologically. Divided elevated some of those characters for readers. Hopefully we will see more of them.
So tonight I will tip my glass to Marotta, Debacle, and the other Black Wolves. Seyla, y’all!
Trickster released today and in many respects, it felt like it came out of nowhere. I was asked to write Trickster right after the Kickstarter got going and I had almost forgotten about it until my editor reached out to me for a few edits. I have to admit, it was strange reading it after all of these months.
I really enjoyed covering a story from the Clan’s Golden Century. Also, getting to cover Clan Coyote was a real treat. It is a faction that has gotten a lot of fiction coverage. I like Tyrilla Heller. BattleTech has a long history of strong female characters and she is one that I’m quite fond of. I’d like to come back to her at some point…because I think there is a redemption there.
In some respects, Trickster brought back memories for me of Betrayal of Ideals. We had a short version of these events in the sourcebooks, but just retelling that story alone didn’t feel right. Let’s face it, it would have been just a ‘Mech battle. I wanted to explore the parts that weren’t in the sourcebooks, a hidden tale of sorts underlying what readers might have read. I like fiction that takes you down a familiar path, but provides you with some neat twists. I think Randall has done that with his first book Fall from Glory.
As always I try and include some of the BattleTech community in the mix. Here’s the latest update of those that are included in things I’ve written:
(KS) Dennis Busse for Kerek Helmer
(KS) Chris Fernandez for Slynkers Mercer
(KS) Jason Gollogly for Tyrilla Heller
(KS) Matt Kudrick for Matthew Nash
(KS) Leif Lann for Anjij Nuyriev
Ian Morgan Coutt
Hour of the Wolf
(KS) Robin Apel
(KS) William (Will) Arnold
(KS) Ian Butler—Brigadier Graham Badinov
(KS) Andreas Büttner—Druss Ward
(KS) Colby Cram
(KS) Dr. Randolph P. Checkers, Esq.
(KS) Craig Evans—Pharaoh
(KS) Kevin Markley
(KS) Eris Griffon
(KS) Raymond Guethler
(KS) Justin Hall
(KS) John Healy—Physician Hobgood
(KS) Spencer Huff—Khalus Pryde
(KS) Aleksey Kopysov—Kaor
(KS) Chris Kornfeld
(KS) Aaron Krull
(KS) Andrew Krull
(KS) Jason Mayberry – Kai Nihari
(KS) Brendan (Bren) Mayhugh
(KS) Jason Mischke—Stroud
(KS) Daniel Nichols—Janus
(KS) Matthias Pfaff—Amanda McKenna
(KS) Shawn Rains—Colton Mcleod
(KS) Marvin Sims—Marv Roshak
(KS) Aaron Tarr—Star Colonel Kalidessa Kerensky
(KS) Jakapan Thunpithayakul
(KS) Christopher Toh—Merlin Buhallin
(KS) John Traver—Jack Traver
(KS) Jathniel Velazquez—Jathniel Kerensky
(KS) John Watson
(KS) Michael Mahoney—Sorsha
(KS) Lyle Wojciechowski—Star Colonel Havi Bekker
Agustin Sierio Barj
Billy J. Caldwell
John “Fratricide” Craig
James “Tanker” Herring
Dirk “Derek” Kobler
Chew Hwee Leong
Joshua Adam Lonbom
Brianne Elizabeth Lyons
Krzysztof Strato Raczyński
Rowland Seckinger III
Shawn “Gorilla” Willett
The Burdens of Honor
Cymril Tseng, Star Commander of Clan Ghost Bear
Tai-i Adam Cunningham (Kaningamu) of the Draconis Combine
Tai-sa David Vivas of the Draconis Combine.
Tabor Heine, contributing for his daughter Charlotte, Warrior of Clan Ghost Bear
Jason Cabral, Cabral, Ghost Bear Warrior
Mason Kortz, Roman Tseng, Ghost Bear Warrior
Eric Stockard, Christine Rosenfeld, ComStar ROM
Seth James, Malik Feff, ISF Agent
Children of Kerensky
Agustin Sierio Barj
Elmer Lee Bechdoldt
Dennis Busse, for Kerek
Dr. Randolph P. Checkers, Esq. (Yo Tex!)
Michael “Brent-Killer” Ciaravella
David “Dunny” Dunlap
James Doughty, for TacShadow
Spencer Huff, for Khalus Pryde
Rylan Thane Ingram
James Lee, for Jamie Hazen
Larry Leslie II
Thomas “Dreacon” Miller
Todd More, for (Mike) Wallace
Stephan “Warbear” Peter
Rowland Seckinger III
The Bonds of Battle
Star Commander Cymril Tseng, Clan Ghost Bear
Adam Bear, (Kaningamu), contributed by Gregory Adam Cunningham, formerly of the Draconis Combine, now bondsman to Clan Ghost Bear
Tai-sa David Vivas, of the Draconis Combine
Tabor Heine, contributing for his daughter Charlotte Warrior of Clan Ghost Bear
William James Hamblin, Chu-i Biru Hamblin of the Draconis Combine
Chu-i Ayden Ryken, of the Draconis Combine
Chu-i Carrie Shumar, of the Draconis Combine
Sho-ko Mateo Vaux, of the Draconis Combine
Jason Cabral, Cabral, Ghost Bear Warrior
Kashira Jack ‘Reverend’ Benner, Sonkei-suru Benner of the Draconis Combine
Rock of the Republic
The Flames of Idlewind (Shrapnel #1)
Marc de Villasante Lahoz
Divided We Fall
John “Doc” Crouch
John Gaisano III
Robert BJ Horncastle
Kristopher Tyson Koniczek
Brianne Elizabeth Lyons
Roderick van Noorloos
William C. Pelcham
Patrick J. Saul
Jonathon Scott Schofield
Ryan James Broadhead
Troy Lee Cowell
Juan Ochoa Jr.
Broccán Mac Rónáin
Alexander JW De Santis
James Eyers Mclean Miller
Redemption and Malice
Gerry S. Xydis
Rules of Engagement – Released for the Kickstarter
Cymril Tseng, Star Commander of Clan Ghost Bear
Tai-i Adam Cunningham (Kaningamu) of the Draconis Combine
Tai-sa David Vivas, of the Draconis Combine
Tabor Heine, contributing for his daughter Charlotte Warrior of Clan Ghost Bear
I’ve been a customer of Death Ray Designs for a while, having used their airbrush templates for some terrain I have. I was pretty thrilled that they had released some urban terrain that was compatible with some of the games I play – especially BattleTech. This is both Hex City and the Corporate Plaza sets from their web site. https://deathraydesigns.com/
The package for the entire lot is heavy when it arrived, thick MDF and thin plastic pieces used for windows and building highlights. The instructions are up on the company web site, though some of the building names for the guides don’t match what is printed on the MDF. It was no big deal to sort it out, but I want to be fair in my review of these.
I botched building two structures, mostly because I didn’t follow the instructions carefully. Other than that the buildings have amazing fit and details. They even come with some little add on gubbins that allow you to add some custom details to the structures. They have etched a lot of details that make the buildings pop visually.
There’s a lot of variety here, from single story stores to large scale modernistic buildings. The imprinting of the hexes on the roofs and bases match the scale for the BattleTech maps, which I have to believe is intentional. Personally, based on some of the scale/sizes, I’m going to use these for Alpha Strike games. Some of these structures would be perfect for games of 15mm as well.
I did not use a lot of the thin plastic parts yet. Some have to be done as part of the construction, which means if you intend to paint these, I would paint the parts first, then do the assembly. If I had it to do over, I would have painted first. As it is, I have a LOT of painting to do.
I recommend this product. Because they are MDF, they support Iron Wind Metals mini’s with no real problems. The hex imprints on the roofs make it very simple to utilize these on your maps, if you are so inclined. Total cost is $95.00 for both sets that you see here. Don’t flinch, you get a good sized city for your investment. I’m looking forward to trying these out once I get them painted.
Thumbs up to Death Ray Designs on these structures.
Welcome to the novelization of my current D&D campaign, told through the perspective of the characters. For me, it lets me do a little creative writing between more serious projects. Links to the previous posts are at the bottom of this one. Now that COVID is abating, we are returning to the glory of the campaign. Enjoy!
We worked our way out of the mountain, having rested and recovered. We had the Chalice of St. John, which, with holy water, can resurrect the dead. There was lively debate as to whether it might bring back people as zombies or other undead, but calmer heads prevailed. After all, it was a holy relic of the church. As we emerged, we found Brandon’s wolf, ever loyal and waiting for him. We presumed the pilgrims that had been at the entrance had moved on.
This gave us a chance to pause and reaffirm our plans. Our possession of the chalice ensured that our enemies could not use its powers to their advantage. We wanted to go to the south, to V’sarin, where the dragonborn lived and was the dragon graveyard. In the middle of that, we hoped, was a tome that could help us undo the power of the lich Barristen. Our final decision was to south east, to the coastal city of Avanti. From there we hoped to charter a ship and save weeks of long hot marching in strange lands.
We set out, marching cross country, relying on Brandon to find our way. On the second day out Brandon, scouting ahead. I moved up next to him and could hear mumbling from the brush. I called out as to who was there. A booming voice called back, “Who is you?”
“We are us.”
The male called for Gretchen then called for us to come out in the open. He pushed the trees aside and we saw a hulking hill giant.”
“Going to the Thundermoot eh?” he asked. “Them Gray Riders…they are a testy people.”
“What are you doing here?” I asked.
“Lookin’ fer a hammer man, just like yerself. And a wily one that can turn into a bear.” Ut oh…
He eyed Skullringer menacingly. then called “Gretchen!” His ugly hill giant wife emerged behind us. She had moles, and her moles had moles, and they had hairs, some of which were braided. As he moved at us, I swung but cleanly missed.
“Nice hammer there, hammer-boy,” he said, grinning with yellow teeth.
Gretchen called out, “The wolf looks tasty.”
“Wolf’s good eatin’. No squishing the dinner luv,” he said.
Theren wasted no time – he called down lightning on the male giant. A searing azure bolt lashed into the giant.
“They warned us you was a tough lot. Gretchen, you go for the one with the hammer, I want the magic man!” The giants lumbered into battle at us.
The fight was glorious, as glorious as it could be against such monsters. They threw a bolder at Theren, Brandon fired arrows which only seemed to irritate them. One bolder slammed hard into me, making every bone in my body throb. Althalus cast a spell that made them seem a phantasm of some sort on the female. She screamed and howled about a giant bear attacking her, when in reality, she was swinging and kicking at empty air.
I swung Skullringer at the male, tearing into the fat on his midriff. “Nice try hammer-man!” he taunted back. Brandon hit him which solicited a, “Yer startin’ to annoy me little man!” The female giant seemed to be struggling with the illusionary bear, losing grip on her club and sending it flying, which would have been comical if we were not engaged in battle with her mate.
Althalus’s eldritch blasts hit Gretchen, skidding her back as the emerald beams lashed into her while she struggled with a bear that didn’t exist. It swung again, hitting him and channeling my smite into the blow. “Hey!” he called. “That hurts!”
“Good,” I muttered.
Theren summoned lightning once more on the male, searing its massive left arm. Brandon sunk an arrow in its hide. The male slugged me – hard, forcing me to heal myself. As I got my breath, he hit me again, breaking a tooth and knocking me out. By the time I regained my senses, both of the giants lay dead. The female had been blown apart, I presume by a bolt of lightning. The stink of burned giant flesh hung in the air.
The treasure that was found was meager. At first we thought we had found eight ingots of gold, but in reality it was eight ingots of lead that were painted gold. Whoever had paid off the giants had done well in misleading them. Sadly, the female had some of the pilgrim’s clothing on her, speaking to why they were not at the foot of the Stairs when we emerged.
Once we got our second wind, we started south. With the mountains behind us, the ground got less hilly. That night, we slept well. The next day Brandon came across some hoof prints crossing our path, shod steeds. Althalus said that the Gray Riders were known to take care of their horses, perhaps these prints could lead us to the Thundermoot. We opted to not follow them. For two days marched southward with no encounter, we welcomed the inactivity. On the third day, we heard sound like thunder in the distance. Each moment it seemed to grow and we realized that it was sound of a horses galloping.
“We might want to get out of their way,” I offered.
“We’re not on a road!” Theren pointed out.
Emerging over the ridge in the distance were ten riders on massive steeds. They wore leather armor, targ shields, and were armed with silver kris swords and javelins. Their bows were on their backs.
“Hail!” called out Althalus to them. He then turned to us, “Act casual,” he whispered.
They advanced on us slowly.
“Who are you?” asked Theren.
“Who speaks for you?” their leader said.
“I do,” Althalus said. They rode in front of the warlock, forming an arc. To his credit, Althalus moved forward to engage with them alone.
“I am Nasca rein master.”
“Well met, I am Althalus, Ork friend.” Why…why would you lead with that? I feared for a moment we were about to engage in battle again.
“Orks are not our friends in these lands.” All of them went for their weapons slowly, cautiously.
“Sorry…I have many titles, that was just the first that came to mind. I come as a seeker of the Sapphire Eye.”
“That has no meaning to me.”
“We are friendly. We come in peace.”
“What are you doing in these lands?”
“We are passing through. We hoped to visit the Thundermoot along the way.”
“You are in the lands of the moot,” the rider said. “Those that cross our lands must be judged as worthy to pass on our soil. Our lands extend for 300 leagues.”
Althalus tried in vain to recover. “I recognize these horses, are you Gray Riders?”
“We have had business with the Gray Riders in the past.”
“Many have. What business did you have?”
“We completed the message delivery for a rider that was killed.”
That got his attention. “Very well, you can ride with us.” They reached down and helped hoist us up on their horses. We thundered off onto the rolling hills.
The first night, we camped at a spot they had clearly used before. We asked about the Thundermoot and Nasca told us about their lands. “We are warded by the five pillars of the moot. Our realm stretches for 100 leagues in either direction east or west. None shall pass that do not pass the test. The Thundermoot rests on the Tendra plains. It is there that the herdmeet takes place, a great gathering of riders and their steads. The moot is sacred land to the heard.
“Great grass covered hills rolling out in every direction. There are towers that can be seen, hundreds of heads tall, ancient, held to the ground by great thick vines. These are the pillars of the moot. Steadfast – for the strong. Gallop – for the fast. Roarheart – for the brave. Warworn – for the fighter. Lightning – for the communicators. Each tower/pillar is manned with archers and there are cauldrons seen up high for dumping flaming liquids or lead down on those that would approach unwanted.
“Our people are proud and have long served the land. You have come at an inconvenient time, when the herdmeet is taking place. It is here where great debates and decisions are discussed. There has been much changing in the realms. Riders have fallen, the sacred bond to not harm them has been severed. There are stories in the north of the dead walking the earth. The herdmeet gathers to assess what these matters mean.”
He said that ogres and giants had trespassed lately and we told him we had slain them. That brought about grins from the other riders that were with us.
The next day we rode past a massive tower that garnered head-bows from the riders. “That is Warworn – the tower of the warrior.” It was as tall as a mountain with a massive base. Vines wrapped upward for ages.
We arrived at the Thundermoot the next day. There were several hundred, if not a thousand people. Horses and riders circled the area, colorful banners flying. In the center of it all was a massive stone tableau. “That is the Tableau of Reckoning. It is there we will learn the truth of who you are.” The horses seemed to pause as we approached, parting for us to pass.
The tablet looked familiar, like the one we saw with the minotaurs. Ancient runes were carved in the stonework there that seemed to resonate with our druid, Theren.
We were led to the stone tablet as the horses surrounded the massive stone. Nasca introduced us each, one by one. One horse came up, seemed to sniff us, nudge us with his nose. “This is Aiden. You will answer our questions. Withholding information or lying will bring pain. Enemies of the herd do not leave this place alive.” We could feel the pulse of magical power surging under our feet.
“Tell us of your interaction with a member of our herd…”
Althalus answered, telling the story of how the rider was killed and how we took the message forward. As he spoke, the air around him shimmered yellow. He told the story of our efforts and how Lexa Lyoncroft had been the one to kill the rider.” Aiden nodded its head. Another horse stepped forward and I recognized it as the one that we had seen in our home town.”
Nasca spoke. “Aiden says that your faces are known to the herd. You saved Starfall, though her rider, Trudo was killed. Tell us what you know of this?”
Althalus spoke about Lexa Lyoncroft. “She’s working with us, but we were not responsible for the death of the rider. We finished his mission for him.”
“She is responsible for rider Trudo’s death?”
Althalus explained why in great detail. He spoke of Viktor Barristen, the ordeal at the Great Gash. It was a delicate balancing act to tell the story and try and maintain some distance from Lexa.
“Do you know where she is? Do you have a means of contacting her?”
Althalus winced. “I can reach her. She is off to the North West. I can show you on a map where she is.” The map was pulled out and he pointed out where we thought she was.
Nasca whistled and over two dozen riders appeared almost instantly. “Go, bring Lyoncroft here.”
“You are sending those men to their fate,” warned Brandon.
Nascan grinned. “I doubt that.” He motioned for other riders to come forth. “For telling the truth, you will be treated as guests. We will take you to Warworn until she is brought in.”
We were taken there and the riders warned us not to use magic within the tower. “It could have dire consequences.”
It was good to have nice quarters for a change. We bathed, rested, repaired our armor, and a few of us used the chance to study. The Gray Riders were more than friendly. Theren spent his time attempting to learn the language of the riders. I prayed that none of the men would die at Lexa’s hands.
One day we witnessed their archery skills. They could fire three arrows, at a full gallop, where we could only fire one – and none missed the targets. It was an impressive display. Ten days passed and finally Nasca came and told us they had apprehended her. We set out for her trial the next day.
Lexa was in heavy iron shackles. When she saw us, she cracked a wicked grin. “Hello boys. I don’t suppose I could trouble you to remove these chains?” The riders were unamused. They dragged her onto the massive stone tableaux and she shimmered a brilliant yellow as she stood there, ever defiant.
Before they could ask her a question, she spoke. “I am Lexa Lyoncroft, a Sister of the Sword. I am accursed and burdened with great knowledge. I stand before you accused of murder. It was not my intent to kill that rider. The message he carried was one to mislead Lord Sklaver into sending his army out and leaving Karn defenseless. I wanted to make sure that the message never reached him…to save lives. I regret that a rider died by my hand.” Her words made the herd shuffle in place angrily
Aiden asked her if she was, indeed a witch.
“You trust the words of the Church? I am no witch. They hope that some misguided soul will do what they could not and kill me. It is not easy, as I said, I am cursed to not die until justice has been done for my order.
“Your killing of me would only aid the dark forces working against us, if it worked. Fate is fickle when it comes to me and death. Curses are like that and I assure you, I am cursed.”
Again the great horses stirred, seeming to speak with each other.
Lexa pressed on. “Your precious herdmeet has no idea what is coming, how bad things are.
Viktor Barristen has returned. He has taken physical form once more. He has gone to the Shroudlands and is building an army, to finish what he started centuries ago…his vengeance on the church and the destruction of the free realms. This time there are no Titans to come to our aid. There is no grand alliance against him, at least, not yet.
“I used his portal in the north to visit the Shroudlands for a day or two. The dead walk once more. He has allied himself with the Giants, the lizard-folk, and the Dragonkin. They are preparing for war. The Church has many enemies and they have found a friend in him. I have heard that the druids of the Eastern Marches have left their sacred forest to seek him out. As have the Fire Dwarves.
“My words of warning have saved what is left of the Order of the Fang at the Great Gash, though I fear it is not enough. The only way to stop him is to unmake him, and those secrets have been lost. These men you found, they seek the ways of magic that may allow us to undo him.”
Aiden, visibly angry, fired back. “Why save the church? We have heard many stories of you and your crimes. You are no friend of the church.”
“I am accursed.” Lyoncroft spat back. “Until justice is done for my sisters that lay dead, I will not rest. If the church is destroyed, I can never shake my curse. This is the bane I must carry.
“I do not fear the death you threaten me with. Get it over with, sate your cries for vengeance. I have work to do.”
Aiden spoke solemnly. “You have admitted your crimes, regardless of the reasoning. For that, you must die.”
A rider rode forward with a lance, planting it through her chest. She dropped dead. “Justice has been served,” Aiden said. “You knew her. You can see to her disposition.”
We decided to take her body with us. The Gray Riders took us on a three days ride east and we saw another one of the towers. They took us to the border of our lands. Nasca told us that we were friends of the herd, not something that is taken lightly. “You can call on us for aid.” Theren was given a horn and was told that they could be summoned with it.
I proposed the next grim task – using the Chalice of St. John to bring back Lexa. We poured the holy water from the cup into her pale lips and she came back to life, coughing. “That never gets easy – but fate always intervenes to keep me alive – part of my curse.”
The following are the previous installments. I hope you enjoy the campaign so far. Be sure to follow my blog if you do.