George R. R. Martin and the rest of the books for Game of Thrones – My Perspective

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His success eclipses himself.  

You see it on social all of the time now, “When will he be done with the next book for Game of Thrones?”  It is overdue on a cosmic scale from a writer’s perspective…years overdue.  I don’t miss my book deadlines as an author, so the concept of being years late staggers me.

People want the books because they are different than the series, in some less-than-subtle ways, and they have invested long hours in reading the series up to this point.  More importantly, they have watched the stunning HBO series which has gone far past Mr. Martin’s storyline in print thus far.

I’m not anxious about the next book being published.  Why?  Because George R. R. Martin has done something that I have not seen with almost any other writer – he has made his written books obsolete.  His creation has eclipsed anything he might ever write again.  The popularity of the HBO series is so big, so vast, so visually compelling, that whatever he writes it will be compared to the series, which is nearly impossible to top. Whatever he produces as an author will be held up against the TV series based on his books!  The irony here is incredible.  George R. R. Martin has actually created a situation where writing the books is not necessary.

It is hard to comprehend of an instance where an author’s success is so great because of his works, that he cannot surpass it with the written word.  Perhaps Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird.  As good as the book is, when the title is mentioned, we all see Gregory Peck in our mind’s eye.  When the sequel to the book two years ago, it was ridiculed and mocked. Her characters and story had eclipsed her own vision.  People were saying that she, as the author, had not been true to the characters that she had created! The readers (and viewers) had seized her work and held onto it so dearly that no matter what was published thereafter was destined to be scorned.

Similarly, Mr. Martin doesn’t have to write the rest of the series because he will be remembered for the HBO series far beyond any words he might write.  He is facing a problem that every writer dreams of, stunning success to the point where his written worlds are obsoleted by another medium – in this case, television.  In fact, producing the books is bound to draw comparisons and raise scorn with fans, because that’s what people do on the internet, they get pissed.  Having seen the series, the haters will whine that the coming novels don’t live up to what they have seen on HBO.  If the books were released now, wrapping up the series, he would draw ire for their tardiness on top of being late, everyone will expect something miraculous.  Writing the rest of the books will only serve to fragment his fan base. I have never quite seen anything like it.

The winning move for Mr. Martin is to not play the game.  As a great fan of his work, I honestly don’t know if I would encourage him to publish any more in this series. His body of work, which encompasses the TV series, is stellar and little more can be done that would improve upon what we have all experienced.

Forever Faithful is Released – Spoilers Follow

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No one has commented on the artist’s hidden message yet.  Look at the ‘Mech in the lower right corner.  Gotta love Easter Eggs…

Smell that?  That is the smell of new BattleTech fiction.  Ah…

One thing I wanted to capture with this book was that sense we all had when new BattleTech fiction came out years ago.  It is that sense of excitement, those gasps at some of the things in the book when they are revealed, that tension we all had as readers back in the day.  I wanted to be 20 or 30 again and feel that awesomeness as I learned more about this shared universe we all are a part of.  Yes, even as writers, we thrilled when other authors put out new books.

From what I am seeing on social media, the fans are getting those sensations.  Freaking sweet!

Going back to characters from Exodus Road was risky.  We have had a lot of characters killed in BattleTech to only see them return.  I knew that would be a challenge, but I also knew it was going to be worth it.  We had to see the story arcs of these characters go to full fruition.  The crushing defeat of the Smoke Jaguars left so many unanswered questions, I knew I had fertile ground to work with.  For the record we never saw Trent’ death on screen, only word that he had died.  That was true – he died several times after the battle, revived each time.  The Nova Cats told the truth, but withheld the important parts because, well, they are Nova Cats.

And now it is out there, in the public.  There will be detractors, the troll community.  I don’t give a shit.  BattleTech is back!  You got boxed sets, new fiction, awesome new maps too.  If you want to whine about it, well go ahead.  The rest of us are going to have some fun instead. When was the last time that the community as a whole was devouring fiction?  It has been years.  Even with Betrayal of Ideals, it had already appeared in BattleCorps.  This was new and fresh and touched on characters and eras when we all were heavily engaged in BattleTech.

The things I liked the most is the interplay between Trent and Paul Moon as characters. These two characters have been at each other’s throats for years.  Having them be fighting together took a lot of character development work. Duty and honor trumps hatred in this case. They no longer have competing ideologies, but share something in common.  Their shared vision is what saves the Smoke Jaguars from extinction.

Inanna is important.  At one point (very early on) I wondered if I should make her a figment of Trent’s imagination – a fill-in for Judith. Then I realized I needed her to be much more.

The Second Star League is important as a character as well, though most people won’t see it that way.  It was cocky, “liberating” Huntress and essentially throwing it into chaos.  How many times have we seen nations win the wars and lose the peace?  If it feels like the Star League did not have a plan for what to do with Huntress after they won it is because they really didn’t.  How do you liberate a people that do not want liberation?  The parallels, even contemporary, are many and sad.

I also loved dinging the armor of Victor Steiner-Davion.  Like all humans, he is flawed.  Forcing him to face those flaws was fun.  Mistakes were made, but it took him decades to realize and acknowledge them.  Even then, he hit the delete key.  In that moment when he hits the delete key in the end is critical.  Ego and arrogance overpowers the truth for Victor, even though he knows that there will come a time of reckoning.

The little scenes make it for me.  Stealing the Remembrance from Master’s office – priceless.  The whole Smoke Jaguar exodus was fun and dark and neat.  Russou Howell was useful to be the alternative for the Jaguars.

There’s a lot to process in this novel, I will grant you that.  The biggest one is, “Where does this leave us?”   Well, the Smoke Jaguars are there, hidden in plain sight during the Dark Ages.  We knew that already – but there are several clues near the end of the book as to what is possibly coming next, if you can spot them.  (Evil laugh mode engaged – Mwah ha ha hah!)

For those of you that followed it, I tied in elements from Impetus of War (Wayside) and Exodus Road and Surrender Your Dreams.  That should be a hint all on its own.  I am a big fan of connecting the books in the BattleTech universe. To me, connecting the stories is part of what makes BattleTech cool.  In other words, go back and start re-reading some of the older fiction!

Next up is the Wolves Dragoons novella for me (no I don’t know when it will be released or if it will be in paperback — geez I’m just a hack writer.) There’s a lot crammed into a small package with that fiction too. I can’t share the title with you because that alone will stir passions and frothing hilarity.

So, there you have it.  The game is afoot.  I can’t wait until GenCon.  Bring your books to be signed and brace yourselves…something huge and exciting is about the happen.

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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#DandD

#DnD

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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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

#dungeonsanddragons

#DandD

#DnD

Game Review – Kids on Bikes RPG

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This display got my attention

I was at GenCon this year with my nine year old grandson.  It was his first convention and we both were drawn in to Kids on Bikes, but Renegade Games.  He liked their display at the convention – I liked the very basic premise.  This is a RPG about kids exploring mysteries and strange happenings.  I thought this might be a good RPG to get my grandson going.

I wasn’t disappointed.

Right off the bat, this has the look, feel, and vibe of Stranger Things from Netflix. There are a lot of other potential sources of material though.  Any episode of Scooby-Doo could be the basis for an adventure.  “I would have gotten away from it if it wasn’t for those meddling kids!”  You can also tap films like ET, Goonies, Lost Boys, Stand By Me, Small Soldiers, Adventures in Babysitting, Home Alone, Gremlins, Silver Bullet, and others for some ideas.   This is about kids snooping around and getting into trouble – BIG trouble.  It is a brilliant niche in role playing games.  I recommend you play this in the 1970’s or 80’s. Picture an era before cell phones, before the internet – and you have a basis for gaming Kids on Bikes.

KidsonBikes

This is not a hack-and-slash RPG.  This is about role playing, pure and simple.  If you are looking for how many hit points a chainsaw does, this is not the RPG for you.  Character stats are RPG die, 1D4 to 1D20.  There are two incredibly simple concepts to master – Stat Checks and Conflict. Stat checks are simple.  Conflicts are a little different, where the narrative of how the conflict is resolved flips between players based on the results.  It is simple and oddly enough, eloquent.

A big piece of this game system is character building. I am not talking number-crunching skills, but who your character is and how they relate or interact with the other players.  You start with a troupe – like “Laid back slacker,” or “Reclusive eccentric.”  Yes, you can even be “The brutish jock.”  The folks at Renegade Games have done a LOT to make this work.  They even have guidelines for characters with handicaps.  You can have powered characters too.

Honestly, you can learn this game system in a matter of minutes.  There are only 80 pages (5×7) in the rules book.  While the $25 price might make some people flinch, I have to say I felt like I got my money’s worth with this game.  The artwork captures the vibe of the era and the general kinds of situations you might find the game.

The folks are Renegade Games make some additional stuff for the game and were kind enough to send me some.  First up, the dice.  The dice set is not needed for the game.  I like them though.  They are weirdly sized and have a skull for the high number.  These almost seem to harken back to the horrible dice we had to use back in the 1970’s.

KoB+-+Orange+Dice+V3

They have produced a character folder.  Wow did this bring back some memories.  The printing on this took me back to 1976.  It is not of a lot of use (there are two tables in it) but I have to admit, if you want to get into character – this helps.  If you weren’t alive in the 1980’s, it might be lost on you.  Trust me, Renegade nailed it.

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The most important thing you need is the Powered Character Deck.  Pick this up.  It has one deck that is about fleshing out your character’s traits.  Examples include things like “Lacks an internal monologue;” “Thinks they are pursued by a cult;” “Frequently bursts into song;” and “Loves animals.”  Yes, this could have been a table – but the cards really can put some net spins on your character.  The powers deck are for powered characters – with things such as telekinesis, Palpalgia (the ability to harm others by touch), invisibility, shapeshifting, etc. I think the trait card decks could and should be used in other RPG’s.  For $15 – it is worth adding to your game shelf.

Kids on Bikes2

The rules come in two formats.  One is the $35 big hardcover book that comes with a campaign setting.  Or you can get the $25 paperback that has the basic rules, sans the campaign.

I have set up a campaign setting for the game I am looking to run…and I’m going to share it with you in a separate blog post.  In other words, I am going to encourage you to go out and get this game and play it.

Will I play it with my grandson?  Probably.  This is about kids, and who better to relate to that than another kid?  I will simply not make it too gory or scary for him.

Kids on Bikes was one of my best purchases at Gen Con this last year.  Yes, it is pricy to get started – but worth it.

The Chronicling of our D&D Campaign: Tempora – Part 29 (Bor’s Song)

Hopes

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!

Althalus…

We materialized at the feet of Victor Barristen who loomed over us on the floor.  He was rising out of a rolling cloud of green mist.  His face was a skull, yet in the flicker of torches on the walls, we saw an eerie shimmer of a human face, almost like a flesh covered shadow over the bones.  His helmet was huge, with a glowing crimson ruby in the center and two massive horns jutting out.  A lich – or something of the same ilk – I was sure of it.  He had a twisted staff in his bony hands, clearly magical, clearly deadly.

Cyrilla Drex stood next to him, member of the Sisterhood of the Sword, our enemy that had been plaguing us for weeks.  She held that God-awful sword of hers, almost as tall as I am, its blade reflecting the light. She wore her robe and under it her plate armor, similar to what we had seen on Lexa Lyoncroft.   Her hair was worn back, trimmed short, almost a manly cut to it.

I glanced off to my right and saw a pile of corpses, or what remained of them.  They looked as if every bit of life had been sucked from the men.  Their skin was shrunken and shriveled and many jaws were open, mute in their dying screams.  Seventy of them, at least, were piled like chord word.  The stench of death stung my nostrils.

The chamber was massive, over a hundred heads long.  Thick old rugs covered four spots on the intricately mosaicked floor.  Torches hung in six places and their light reflected off of the massive domed ceiling that was either painted bright gold, or covered with gold flake.  Brandon’s magical blade shimmered so brightly that it was like a burst of daylight.

I glanced at Arius.  He took his sword and licked it, as if tasting the blood of his enemies. I was pleased that one of us was confident.  The fact that we were laying on a pentagram on the floor, surrounded with candles didn’t give me that much confidence.

“I want that sword,” muttered Brandon as he got his senses.  Something told me he might just get it, just not the way he hoped for.  Five of the other paladins had leapt through the portal with us and had spilled out with us on the floor.  We were far from an impressive threat at that point.

A number of other paladins were in the room, their eyes sunken and dark, their faces pale and gaunt.  They wore neck collars of thick leather with a ruby mounted on them.  One of them was an older man, his beard had knots in it.  I remember Arius telling me that was a sign of authority in some holy orders.  It had to be Theris Bentblade – the First Shield of the Order of the Fang!  He stood there with a sword in hand but was not attacking Cyrilla or Victor – which was not a good sign.

Cyrilla Drex pointed her massive sword down at Arius.  “You’ve come to rescue them?  How quaint.  As you can see, you are quite late.” She gestured with the blade over to the pile of rotting carcasses.

“Who sent you here?  Who pulls the strings of these so-called rescuers?”

“We pull our own strings,” Theren said, pointing over at me.

Why are you pointing at me? “No one tells us what to do,” I said defiantly, wondering of those were going to be my last words.

“You fools think you stand a chance against us?”  None of us responded.  Slowly we were preparing to jump to our feet.

“Very well.  I offer you this one last chance.  Join my force against the Church or feed your souls to Barristen the Black.”

I cleared my throat.  “Um, define, ‘The Church.’  And ‘join.’”  I will admit, I’m not much of a joiner – but I also had no love of the Church.

Her eyes narrowed at my words.  “The Church of God – the one that betrayed my Order.”

Barristen seemed to hover in the cloud of green smoke.  In a low raspy voice his skeletal head spoke.  “The Church will pay for what it has done.  Your lives will serve our purpose.  Bow before me and I will offer you quick death.”

“Well, this has taken a turn.  I mean with all of this ‘death’ talk,” I said, still hoping to diffuse the situation. My sense of humor was lost on the lich.  I really had nothing against going after the Church, but the dying part had me a little concerned.

Our paladin Arius took it far more seriously.  “I cannot be a party to what you have done.  That pile is of my dead brethren.”  I could tell by the way he clutched his sword that the battle was soon to commence.

Barristen responded with a sweeping blow of his staff at our comrade while between us and Cyrilla, a magical barrier came into being. Brandon charged – away from the pending melee the moment it erupted.  Typical ranger…

Arius unleashed thunderous smite but it did not hit Barristen, the magical energies swirling in the air unformed, crackling slightly in the air.  I opted to protect from evil on Bor and faded off to the rear.  A warlock must always know his place in a battle.

Barristen’s staff struck at Arius but failed to make contact.  Bor rushed with Skullringer, the brilliant blue warhammer slammed into the quasi-lich, hitting it hard on its armored chest.  Our paladin allies rushed in, weapons drawn, swinging behind Cyrilla and striking at her from behind. A thin stream of blood sprayed out towards me, proof they had hit her.  We had her surrounded, but I was not necessarily convinced that was going to be a good thing for us.

The sullen paladins led by Bentblade charged – but not at their torturers, but at us!  They came at our flank, where I was, so I braced for their onslaught.

Theren waved his hands in the air and I saw her sword start to glow – not from magic – but orange from heat.  He readied his staff as Dimitrious moved to protect me from the rushing possessed paladins.  The blue robed monk stabbed his fists in a furious thrust and hit one of them several times like a tornado of fists bludgeoning the rushing paladin.

Cyrilla tossed some brimstone in the air as she attempted to cast a spell but the surrounding attackers disrupted her spell.  More of her blood splattered in the air.  Dropping her sword, she reached for an amulet that hung around her neck.  I stared at that sword…that was a prize.

Bor was hit with whatever spell was triggered by her amulet – though we could not tell what it was doing.  Theren cast a spell to heat her armor, and it worked, wisps of smoke rose from her skin that seared against the hot metal. The fact that she kept it on said something of how powerful she was.

The attacks on Barristen continued as Bor moved forward in hopes of delivering a killing blow with Skullringer.  The warhammer shimmered brightly in the air and drew back as Barristen pointed the gnarled tip of his staff at the burly warrior.  The warhammer came at the head of the skeletal creature, hitting hard, twisting Barristen’s head hard to the side.

Bor smiled.

A thin blue ray shot out from the tip of the staff hitting Bor in his chest. The smile dropped from his face instantly.  He looked over at Theren, then to me, then he turned to large flakes in the air which crumbled to dust, which then faced away to nothingness.  Skullringer dropped with a thud on the stone floor, knocking over one of the candles.  Disintegration…utter and complete.  His shield and flail remained next to the magical warhammer.

I know we were all stunned for a moment – but all I could feel in that moment was the loss of our treasure that Bor had been carrying.

Brandon charged in with the fall of Bor, emboldened by the changing odds.  I unleashed an eldritch blast attack on Bentblade, searing an emerald beam into him and knocking him back.  Dimitrious rushed back to my aid, hitting the paladin as he got his footing.  The monk was a blizzard of fist blows that ravaged the older paladin.

In the midst of the battle – I noticed those collars that the attacking paladins wore were identical to those we had found before – the Eyes of Rivroast.  They were being controlled!  It made sense now…the ruby on the helmet of Barristen gave him complete domination over their will.  I used my powers to send the message to the members as to the source of that quasi-lich’s control.

Cyrilla was in the process of casting a spell, a mist rose up around her, her glowing hot armor shimmering through it.  One of the paladins hit with divine smite, another with thunderous smite, but she seemed to shrug it off.

She disappeared in the mist and for a moment, I was relieved.  That faded as all eyes turned to me.  Oh shit, she’s behind me!

Dimitrious sprung from the paladins he was engaged with and rushed right at me.  He hit me, knocking me out of the way – taking the blow that was intended for me.  Cyrilla’s staff came down hard, right at the monk, but missed entirely, hitting the floor and sending sparks into the air.

Barristen’s staff came down on Arius, hitting him.  The paladin wailed and staggered back from the blow.  He rarely showed pain, which told me that he was in true agony.

Brandon hit Cyrilla from behind, courtesy of her misty-teleportation.  She hit the sword-mistress hard from the rear as Theren fired his bow at her from the front.  Cyrilla dropped to the ground, unconscious, but not dead.

One of the paladins tried to lift her sword but seemed to struggle with it, as if the blade weighed more than it appeared to.  Arius slid along the floor, grabbing Skullringer, and swinging at Barristen.  The lich-like figure shook off the blow as another pair of paladins stabbed at him.

The paladins collided with their brothers –

Brandon started to reach for Cyrilla’s staff but I cut him off.  “Finish this fight before you begin to loot the bodies!”  Rangers!

One of the possessed paladins struck me, stabbing me in my stomach hard and deep.  My magic triggered defenses instantly and blasted him with fire, wrapping his upper body with orange and yellow flames.

Brandon heeded my words, delivering the coup de’grace on Cyrilla Drex with his magic blade, planting it in her upper chest between her breasts.  There was a blast of ice-cold air blowing out from her body and hitting me and the others around her.  Her body aged centuries in two seconds. Her skin withered, crackled, and turned to dust with large bits clinging to her skeletal remains.

Arius swung and hit Barristen with Skullringer and the paladin that had tried to use Cyrilla’s sword, dropped it in favor of his short sword.  I winced in agony from the cut I had taken to the stomach.  I have worried my intestines would spill out on the floor.  Theren turned himself into a massive bear and charged at the lich-man colliding with him hard.  Barristen struck the bear with the staff, making it growl in pain.

I staggered to my feet and I fired a brilliant green eldritch blast at one of the paladins, while Dimitrious grappled with another one.  The wiry monk was all over his foe, moving like a clinging spider, trying to reach the leather band with the ruby.  Dimitrious got the collar off and the struggle stopped instantly as he shook his head, trying to get his bearing.

Another paladin slashed at me with its sword, hitting me.  I felt my body sag under the hit. I staggered back a half-step.

The other paladins were engaged with each other, hacking and slashing with furious blows at each other.  I wondered in that moment if we even could win.  Suddenly, the rolling green cloud of mists under him rose up and enveloped him.  Victor Barristen turned into a gaseous form himself, drifting up the ceiling and disappearing. Suddenly the battle stopped – the paladins that had been trying to kill one another seemed to come to their senses.  Theren the bear paused, looking around for a foe to fight but there was none.  Barristen had fled!  The fight was over – we had been victorious.

Our jubilation was momentary as we glanced over to where Bor had been disintegrated.  He had been a valiant comrade and we would miss his wall of muscle in the battles to come.

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

Character Background Material

My New Campaign

#dungeonsanddragons

#DandD

#DnD