Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Blogging Challenge: Humorous Book Titles

Right, so, the usual bit of context: Weekly Blogging Challenge over at Long and Short Reviews. (If you're just joining up, swing by their homepage and add your response to the current post each Wednesday.)

This week's prompt is "humorous book titles" and... well..

Ye gods, y'all.

Okay, so: this is an ongoing game in my house. We have a standing contest to come up with the worst book title ever: the one that nobody would ever, ever buy. And it was inspired by my wife reading this article (go ahead and skim it, I'll wait) so frequently we do them in series:
  1. The Dark Maw Of Puberty
  2. Return to the Dark Maw of Puberty
  3. Tae Kwon Do in The Dark Maw of Puberty
It's kind of like the "That would make a great band name!" game, except also kind of horrible.

That first example is actually my wife's. I've come up with some good ones, but because the game is so situational I honestly can't remember any of them off the top of my head. And sometimes they only work if you add a subtitle, e.g. Poosplosion -- an erotic thriller (or possibly a neurotic thriller instead) or I Stupidly Left My Umbrella At Work: A Memoir.

I believe Firstborn (age thirteen) is currently leading the game with his hypothetical upcoming first novel, It Came With A Fury -- And Half Off Your Next Purchase.

But yeah, I'm really looking forward to seeing what everybody does with this prompt. List real books? Make up their own? It's funny because it's bad? It's legitimately funny?

It's going to be fun.

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Further explorations, giant scorpions, and poop

This week's game was... unfocused. Still fun, of course, but the players kept getting sidetracked. (Also, we did a system check, and it looks like we will be able to have people play by Skype when they're out of town. How that will work in terms of human interactions, I'm not quite so sure though.)

So they honestly didn't get that much done. They continued down the passage, discovering a pit-trap along the way and finding that the bottom was not only full of spikes, but also seemed to be serving as a combination of cesspool and garbage bin. Beyond the pit, they found a long passage with a number of doors, and decided to explore down it rather than start opening doors. (So far, all the monsters they've encountered have been inside rooms, prompting the monk's player to observe: "I feel like we're exploring a hotel.") Checking the hallway would allow them to confirm the cleric's theory that the corridor would connect back up with an area that they'd already explored, making the central passage through this dungeon level a sort of large rectangle connecting most of the rooms.

In the event, this proved to be true -- but as they neared the end of the corridor, they heard something moving. Just as they were deciding how to respond, an orc came around the corner carrying a large and foul-smelling bucket. The orc won initiative, and flung the bucket at the halfling rogue. It didn't cause much damage, but the contents of the buckets were... three days worth of chamber pots. The rogue got drenched, the sorcerer and the cleric got splashed, and the monk wasn't touched at all.

The monk was the first to react, and of course he attacked; the orc was injured, but not killed. The dark elf rogue followed up immediately and finished him off, leaving the halfling rogue absolutely furious at not being able to take revenge for being drenched. But since the orc was dead and nothing else was visible, they decided to go ahead and complete their circuit of the dungeon - after stripping the hide armor off the orc, and handing its great-axe to the barbarian, who slung it over her back. She's sticking with battle-axe and shield for now.

Since the corridor did indeed connect up, they were able to re-enter the room where they'd fought the kobolds, and the room beyond where they killed the kobold corcerer and found the statue. There was no sign of the other adventuring party, but they experimented with the large statue of the woman, the statue of the cat (still purring) and the gem until they finally concluded that bringing them together really doesn't do anything. So, finally, they moved on through the main corridor.

That brought them back around past the entrance, past the cesspit, and to one of the doors. Disdaining subtlety, they opened it and went inside, and found themselves facing off against three scorpions roughly the size of large dogs. The battle began!

...Unfortunately, the battle also got interrupted before they could really finish the scorpions. We ran out of time.

Still, it's been quite a fight so far. The Monk took a minor hit from a claw, and the cleric got struck by a tail and failed their poison save; fortunately, that particular scorpion went down and the sorcerer was able to pour a healing potion down their throat. (Owing to some OOC confusion around the fact that the cleric is -- or originally was -- a mousefolk boy played by a human girl, the player has decided that Aspen is gender-neutral and uses they/them pronouns.) So the cleric is at 7 HP, the monk is lightly wounded, and the halfling rogue is still slightly injured from being hit by a wooden bucket.

The barbarian, meanwhile, has engaged one of the other scorpions, and Shadow (the drow rogue) has been picking away at the third with some small success. Neither of them has been injured, at least not yet, and the barbarian hasn't bothered to rage.

By my count the party has a shared treasure of 161 GP. They also have:
-Six daggers (from a few games back)
-Two Javelins (ditto)
-A Bronze Shortsword (spider room, claimed by the Barbarian)
-five shortswords (earlier game, the kobolds)
-five more javelins (ditto)
-another 38 GP (kobolds)
-another 45 GP (kobold sorcerer)
-a silver dagger, which they're keeping for equipment - currently held by the Dwarf.
-a small bag of herbs which smell delicious (also kobold sorcerer)
-A ruby worth 150 GP which they have tied around the neck of the cat statue using the sorcerer's handkerchief because they think it's part of some sort of puzzle.
-a Greataxe, currently in use by the barbarian
-hide armor (from the orc)

Monday, June 24, 2019

Friday, June 21, 2019

Scuzz Loses His Job

Scuzz arrived at the bell tower just a little past noon. The outer door was open, and the faint smell of smoke drifted out from inside. He stepped inside anyway, then stopped. Strange scents were everywhere, and the door to the ground-floor room was open. Nothing moved inside, but...

Scuzz stepped away and put a foot on the stairs. Somewhere up above, something hit the floor hard. A moment later, someone screamed -- not loudly enough to be heard by the rest of the town, but unmistakable inside the tower. Bad things were happening.

The second floor was empty.

The third floor held bodies. Familiar bodies. They'd fought, but they'd been slaughtered. Silver weapons. The damage was too thorough for anything else. There'd been magic, too: nothing else made sense.

The smell of smoke was stronger up the stairs, and Squim, First of the Nest, was talking desperately. Scuzz couldn't make out the words, but the tone was unmistakable. Which meant that whoever had done this was up there with whatever remained of the Nest, and anyone left alive was in mortal danger.

There was only one thing to do.

Scuzz turned and left, making very sure not to move anything on his way back down the stairs. With any luck nobody would realize he had ever been there. After that, well... It was time to look for another job, and he thought he knew where to look.

There was this bookshop in the West Hills...

Thursday, June 20, 2019

More were-rats, fewer regrets

Our DM essentially decreed that we got a room at an inn after our fight with the were-rats; we started this session by waking up after a variety of nightmares. Since most of us are elves, and therefore trance instead of sleep, these were clearly some sort of magical attack. Clearly, we needed to hunt down the Blessed One that the were-rat leader Squim mentioned when we questioned him after the last battle, and we needed to murder him to death.

Only... we were waking up in an inn. So we went downstairs for breakfast, ate, and tried to gather some information and get our bearings.

Reverend Mercy (our cleric, the apostolic snake handler) approached a couple of elderly elves at a table and began asking them if they knew of the healing love of Artemis. Upon realizing that the older man was staring at his mouth, he began talking louder.

Marshall Mercy doesn't speak Elvish.

So he dragged the wizard over to translate for him, which the kid did... after a fashion. Except that the elderly couple were both deaf. So Martini did the translating instead, albeit not completely accurately. Mercy prepared a blessing for the older couple and managed to apply it before they politely ran off.

The wizard wandered off and talked to a few other people. It seemed the Baron was due to give a speech tomorrow. Also, Captain Merduc Forum was missing, and had been since just before the beginning of the festival.

Azrael (the wizard) came back to Ruin to say that we should find the Baron and make sure he supports our cause. Ruin was more cautious; he'd been assigned to gather information about how the populace regarded the return of the True King and return that intelligence to the True Elves. Still... maybe.

In talking to a few people, Ruin learned of a local smith, Shuma, who was both respected and plugged into the community and might be able to provide some halfway reliable information.

Martini, meanwhile, went to talk to the bartender and heard a fairly solid rumor that there had been a number of murders -- or at least bloody crime scenes lacking bodies -- in Southspur. She did a really good impression of being upset and possibly about to faint at the mention of all that blood.

Keeping with our original mission, we tried to go see the Baron. His keep was locked up tight, and even after passing liquor through the gate all we learned from the guards was that it had been locked down since the attack in the market yesterday -- presumably the same attack that we'd defeated.

With the Baron unavailable, we went to the blacksmith. She was a dwarf and a skilled craftswoman, housed in a quaint smithy that fit the local architecture. (We'd also run into her son in the market last session; he's... prone to taking credit for her work when he's trying to make a sale.)

Ruin stepped up, speaking Dwarvish, and charmed her. (Just charisma, not magic or any sort of domination.) He opened by asking about the Baron. The Baron, it turned out, had never been that popular, but just lately there had been a lot more crime on the streets and the act of locking down the Baron's Keep was unusual to the point of unprecedented. Things were starting to get bad, and they were only going to get worse. Shuma thought that the rise in crime and the appearance of the were-rats might be connected.

There's a belltower in the middle of town, and it's said to be overrun by rats. We didn't go there immediately, of course; instead, we let the cleric wander around asking questions like the missing guard captain apparently had.

A pair of were-rats attacked him. We jumped in, and eventually defeated them: barely, sort of. I will note for the record that damage reduction is a helluva drug. The surviving were-rat (thoroughly intimidated) directed us to the bell tower, but we went back to the smith to re-equip with silvered weapons first.

So when we reached the bell tower, Martini had a silvered rapier and a silvered shortsword, while Ruin was wearing his falchion and a silvered greatsword in an X across his back.

The Keeper of the Belltower didn't want to let us in. We.... broke in anyway. Then we fought our way up the tower, facing were-rats and dire rats. Mercy is supplementing his melee with spells to increase his attacks; Martini is angling for flanking positions where she can add Sneak Attack damage, Ruin is basically beating things down and trying to help with flanking, and Azrael is mainly exercising battlefield control spells -- blinding our enemies, or hitting them with Stinking Cloud, or like that. With silvered weapons, things go much more our way, and we move up the tower clearing out one floor at a time.

Eventually, we reach the fourth floor, where Squim -- the were-rat leader that we released last session -- is lying on the floor being wildly sick, while two other were-rats and the bell keeper are up in the rafters. Azrael hits the ones in the rafters with Stinking Cloud, and Mercy sets fire to the rafters. Ruin and Martini try to question Squim... and succeed.

There is a bookshop in the West Hill district, where Squim meets with the Blessed One in a back room. Identities are secret; Squim only knows the Blessed One as a hooded figure who delivers instructions from the Speaker In His Dreams. Squim is of the opinion that the Speaker is in control, and may be controlling the Baron as well.

Our cleric is running a kind of DC Comics Two-Face vibe, drawing snakes from his pouch at random to express the judgement of Artem-hiss on our enemies. (His snake-pouch holds three snakes; one of them is venomous, the other two harmless.) The bell-keeper (human, as far as I know) didn't survive this test, but one of the were-rats did. Mercy pronounced the goddess satisfied and turned it loose.

At this point, we think the Speaker In Dreams is the real threat, but the Blessed One is the only way we have to find it.

After that? We murder the Speaker to death, of course. At least, that's Ruin's plan right now.

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Blogging Challenge: Favorite Things To Do In The Summer

Right, so, the usual: Weekly Blogging Challenge over at Long and Short Reviews. (If you're just joining up, swing by their homepage and add your response to the current post each Wednesday.)

This week's challenge is Favorite Things To Do In The Summer.

...Which is weird.

Okay, maybe not all that weird. But at my age, the things I do in the summer aren't really all that much different from the things I do in the winter -- except that I have to keep the boys occupied so that they stay on some kind of sleep schedule and don't drive us completely insane. (So far? Engineering camp for Firstborn, which I think went really well, and Summer Safety Camp for Secondborn, which is taught by the police department where my brother works and seems to be going splendidly.)

I actually walk around outside less in the summer, in no small part because I work in a server room (a.k.a. the morgue, or the refrigerator) and so anything like summer weather makes me uncomfortably sweaty (and eventually stinky). I try to avoid the heat. But I also try to make sure the boys are getting enough exercise, and do have some new experiences.

Being a parent in the summer is a lot different than being a kid was.

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

The Defeat Of The Ogres

So, when last we left my children and their friends, they were fighting a trio of ogres.

In their next episode, they finally killed them. It wasn't as close a fight as it could have been, but the Barbarian and the Monk still took a fair amount of damage. The cleric used the last of his spells to heal them, and the sorcerer was running low as well. So the rogues stood guard while the others took a long rest in that room. While they were waiting for everyone to recover, they heard footsteps outside the door... but the footsteps passed by.

Out of character, this game was a lot less chaotic than the last one. We weren't trying to find a dynamic with a new player, we were back to our original two-hours-with-a-break-for-lunch-in-the-middle schedule, and we were also finishing up an existing combat, so everybody was able to stay pretty focused. (We also weren't just coming back from a month-long break.

One of our players -- the cleric -- will be out of town for a bit, but I think we can manage with Skype.

The only real issue I have now is that the players have turned on me: they're refusing to leave the dungeon until they absolutely have to, because they know that the Dwarf Barbarian (originally played by my niece) will get reassigned to other duties as soon as they emerge. So they're keeping her in there and forcing me to keep playing her as an NPC.

There are worse problems to have.

Monday, June 17, 2019

The Accidental Secretary

So a few days ago Beautiful Wife took Secondborn with her to work. She had to be there for a meeting, and he didn't want to be left alone at the house with his older brother. (Being left alone in her office was apparently fine.) So she set him with his kindle fire and his laptop and went to the meeting.

When she came out, he was having a grand time in the main office with one of the Admins. She explained that she'd left a note on Beautiful Wife's office door, and that Secondborn had left a note on her desk. So, naturally, Beautiful Wife went and looked.

The note from the Admin was exactly what you'd expect: "Secondborn is with me at my desk, come find us there," or words to that general effect.

The note on the desk in the office (hand-written, mind you) said:
mom im in room
4129 i.ve Been
ansering your calls When
somwhon call's you
I say: Beautiful Woman
is at a meating so
Please caLL Back in 2
Hour's
So yeah, he'd been sitting there answering her phone when it rang and telling people she was in a meeting and they'd need to call back later. I assume that's how the admin found him. He's a very helpful kid, Secondborn is. (He doesn't refer to her as Beautiful Woman, either; that's something I do here on the blog because it's easier than using [REDACTED].)

Friday, June 14, 2019

Considerations

Ruin laid his weapons out on the floor of his room, regarding each of them in turn as he considered what his mother had told him.

The fighting-knife had forward-curved edge that made it capable of delivering powerful blows; it would never be his first choice, but it could be worn in places where larger blades were not acceptable.

"I need you to travel with Fartathren and Lelilian Elisbian to Annun," his mother had said.

"I thought I was coming with you to treat with the Dwarves." Ruin had frowned.

"You were, but Councilor Marigill has asked that you go with them to gather information, and send it to us as you can. The word of the True King, and then his arrival with this... war-leader of his... has thrown everything out balance. We need more information."

"Councilor Marigill fears I'll spoil the negotiations with the Dwarves."

"Councilor Marigill is less worried about having you with us among the Dwarves than she is about sending you unsupervised to Annun. Still, she recognizes that you are the only one among us who can travel to Annun without attracting notice -- and the only one who might be assumed to have left this delegation en route for reasons entirely of your own."


The two-handed scimitar was next, with its heavy-tipped, curved blade and its elegant handle and guard. It was an unusual weapon, not one favored by True Elves but not wholly foreign to them, either. They trained in the one-handed versions of the weapon readily enough. To focus on this weapon was to depart from his heritage without disregarding it entirely.

"So she will make my savagery work for the greater good?"

"She wishes you to use your reputation for willfulness to our advantage. Council Loraan may see your behavior as reckless and savage, but Marigill recognizes that your desire for blood is a desire to fight on behalf of our people." Baethira Anthelorn paused, meeting his gaze directly. "So do I."


The glaive was a polearm, essentially a single-edged shortsword mounted on the end of a staff. Ruin had asked for it when the High Provost offered to provide them with equipment, just in case he needed to strike farther away than the scimitar could reach. Using it, he could attack opponents before they had the chance to close in, and it could do more damage than the two-handed scimitar... though perhaps not as reliably. It was also possible that he'd end up using it as a walking stick more than anything else; travel, and any trouble they got into, would give him a better idea of whether or not it was worth carrying around.

"So what are you expecting me to find?"

"Information. The return of the True King has been affirmed, but it still seems... improbable. As True Elves, we are on the edge of extinction. The appearance of a True King upsets the fragile balance that we've held with the Humans... and upsets all manner of political balances throughout Duendewood."

"Do we work to support him?"

"Do the people support him? Does the High Provost? Does the Senate? As a center of trade, Annun is also a center of power. It is not all of Duendewood and does not reflect all of Duendewood, but what happens there will be important to what happens elsewhere. And our host is a very old friend of the High Provost, who will likely be open and receptive to his children.
That is why I want you to travel with them."

The longbow was the last of the weapons he'd brought. No True Elf, he'd once been told, should be without a bow. And he'd infuriated his would-be instructors with his insistence on charging in to do battle at close quarters. Still, a bow offered stand-off capability, and he would have been a fool to refuse that.

"So we have no idea where all this is going?"

"None," his mother had answered. "Even the mission to Dwarves has changed in character. We sought a defensive pact; now we explore the possibility of a military alliance."

"You don't sound pleased about that."

"I am..." she had sighed. "...uncertain."

"And sending me with these others is also uncertain?" He'd been thinking, especially, of the cleric who had joined them at dinner: a worshipper of Artemis, but also a human.

Baethira Anthelorn had sighed. "Sometimes when you loose an arrow, you know the path of your target and where it will arrive. But sometimes when you loose an arrow, you fling it into the chaos of battle and hope it will find a worthwhile path."

She had stopped then, reaching into one of the small pouches on her belt, and withdrawn an amulet. "Take this," she said. "It belonged to... an old, dear friend. I think she would have liked for you to have it. She said it helped her to understand the worlds..."

Ruin reached out and took the amulet, feeling equal parts puzzled and wary. This seemed a little too orchestrated to be an afterthought, but he couldn't imagine why his mother would
arrange to give him something when she could simply ask him to take it.

With a sigh, he turned and fetched the amulet from his pack. It was a small circle, no larger than a curled finger, with a loop at the top where it hung from a simple silver chain. The design was odd, circles within circles, divisions overlapping divisions, and... it seemed as if it could move. He laid a finger on the surface, pressed and tried to twist...

For a brief moment he was looking over a desert, seeing both the emptiness and the life within it. He felt the dragging heat of the sun, the draining cold of the night, the absolute darkness when the moon set. Then he let go and was back in his own skin, looking at the weapons on the floor of the guest room.

Well, that was interesting. It wasn't a scrying tool, whatever it was. He'd had no control of what he was looking at. It was almost as if the amulet itself was selecting the views to show him. Still... the chance to explore other places, from the relative safety of this guest room or anywhere else he found shelter? He'd have to experiment more with this amulet.

Thursday, June 13, 2019

Wererats Everywhere. Everyw(h)ererats.

Ruin nudged the dead wererat with his toe, then shoved the corpse over onto its back. It looked human now, the bestial features fading away in death. No wonder they seemed to come from nowhere.

The guards were finally arriving, now that the fight was over and they were no longer needed. Ruin ignored them, surveying his companions instead. He'd met Azrael -- or Lilly, as his sister insisted on calling him -- on several occasions. The boy was strange, but also one of his mother's more accomplished students; small wonder that he'd acquitted himself well in the fight. He'd met young wizard's sister only once or twice, but she'd not only charmed their way with the High Provost, she could also apparently stab things rather thoroughly to death when she put her mind to it.

The human priest was the real unknown as far as Ruin was concerned. He might have argued against traveling with a human, save that this one worshipped Artemis and appeared to have come to Duendewood because of the goddess' popularity here. He, too, had handled himself well, fighting when he needed to and then healing the last of the wererats so that they could get the answers they needed. He'd even turned the beastman loose afterwards in a rare display of human honor. And it wasn't as if there were no humans in Duendewood; it was just that they tended to live in the larger cities, well away from the area that Ruin called home.

But I do not forget... He never really forgot. The memory, twin to the rage, was always there with him.

"Is that... wererat blood on your hands?" One of the guards was standing beside him. Between his musings and the chaos of the street after the attack, Ruin hadn't realized he was there. This one was a halfblood, what most humans considered an elf: slender and handsome, more graceful than a human but also more easily broken. Bishounen. He thought that was the Dwarvish term.

"Yes."

The guard looked perplexed. "You have to get to one of the temples, and quickly. Have them purge you of diseases, or else you might become one of those things."

"The condition really is infectious?" asked Ruin. He'd heard that before, he just hadn't been sure whether or not to believe it.

"Do you want to take the chance? Even for a True Elf..."

No, he didn't want to take that chance. And he wasn't ready to trust his fate to the human priest, however well the man had carried himself. He'd go to the temples.

"Uh-oh," said the guard. "The Sergeant's coming. Look, just don't forget what I said: get yourself cured, just in case. I'd really hate for you or your friends to go over to their side."

Ruin turned his head to watch the guard's back as he walked gracefully away. Bishounen, he thought again, appreciatively.

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

This party rocks...

Okay, so we started our third group of characters for this campaign, and I have two immediate observations:
1. Our poor DM has an awful damned lot to keep up with.
2. This may be my favorite party out of all of them.

To recap:
Our original characters were almost a spoof -- some of them, at least. The intro was a classic Elder Scrolls approach: release the PCs from prison with a mission that they have to accomplish or go back to prison. I came in later, so I was mainly there for the bits where we discovered that centuries ago the Humans of Sol Povos had promised Elvish sovereignity to various areas of traditional human land as part of a peace treaty. Sheriff Joe R. Pious (human paladin who genuinely thinks he's lawful good) sent the documents off with his intern, who promptly sold them off to the Elves instead of the Humans; shortly after that, we found the statue where the last Elvish king (and descendant of the Legendary Heroes) was imprisoned, released him, and saw him off to the Elvish reservation of Duendewood.

Our second batch of characters started in a completely different area, defending Fort Dedo in the southeast corner of the Kingdom. Events... quickly got out of hand, but between retrieving ancient Formorian artifacts and texts, killing off would-be allies of the invading army, and rescuing kidnapped members of our own party, well... What we essentially discovered was that A) worshippers of Vecna were the motivating force behind this strange, multi-headed invasion, and B) we'd been fooled and/or betrayed, and one of the enemy champions had taken over the body of our colonel and had been using us to recover artifacts. We escaped, but that was about the best that could be said for it.

So this week's episode was character creation for a third party to look at events from the Elvish perspective.

The current party consists of:
-Martini Grey (not her real name), Grey Elf (from the 3.5 Monster Manual), presumptive heir to her House, courtesan and assassin.
-Azrael (also not his real name) Neutral Grey Elf Wizard, and seriously emo high school senior (or the Elf equivalent, anyway).
-Waylon Mercy, human cleric of Artemis -- except that he's a Pentacostal snake-handling cleric who pronounces the goddess' name as Artem-hiss; he's come to teach the Elves how to worship the goddess properly. There's a decent chance that he'll be emphasizing the fact that he's 1/72 Elvish on his grandmother's side.
-Ruin (not his real name - he hasn't chosen one), True Elf Barbarian and Fighter, basically an angry revolutionary. True Elves are a homebrew specific to this campaign; basically, I sacrificed 3 levels in exchange for a host of nifty bonuses and abilities. Ruin was meant to be the tank of the group, but because of the level adjustment his hit points aren't all that much better than the wizard or the rogue. (The cleric is by far the highest, having about twice as many HP as I do.) His armor class, on the other hand, is the highest in the group, and he can deliver melee damage like nobody's business.

So we opened the session at the home of the Grey Elves, where Ruin and his mother had stopped to consult (and, well, scheme) and the local evangelical human preacher was making the rounds and happened to drop in. The result of this was that the PCs were sent off to the city of Annon, which is one of the major cities, to see if the populace and the political establishment supported the True King and what they thought of him.

The... essentially the mayor, I think the formal title was High Provost... of the city was delighted to meet with the son and daughter of his old friend, and said that of course everybody supported the True King but without the presence of this one Baron in a particular burrough a little ways outside of the city they couldn't hold a formal vote to say so. The Baron had been absent for some months, and the last people he'd sent down there hadn't returned with any useful information.

Naturally, Martini -- as a favor to her father's old friend -- offered our services to go investigate.

So we traveled to this burrough, which was just beginning its autumn fair, and let the guards put peace-bonds on our weapons so we could enter.

We'd been moving through the fair for a little bit when we heard screams and -- unlike sane people -- charged directly towards them. This put us into combat with four were-rats, who were in turn commanding about six dire rats.

It should be noted that Ruin has no sense of self-preservation. His fighting style is rooted entirely in rage: you kill the thing in front of you because you want it dead more than it wants you dead. So he charged right in and killed a were-rat with his first attack. The rest of the party followed, and the remaining were-rats moved to flank Ruin while the rats moved back to attack the others.

Ruin killed a second were-rat, and our wizard killed a third. Two of the dire rats attacked him, but one missed and the other one got its teeth stuck in his greaves. The head were-rat then fled, but Ruin (being a Barbarian, and therefore awesome) was able to chase him and cut him down, before finishing the dire rat that he'd been dragging along with him as he ran.

The rest of the party was having a ridiculous amount of trouble with the remaining dire rats (bad rolls, mainly). Ruin had moved back to help them when he realized that he wouldn't get any answers out of the were-rat leader if he let him die. He ran back and started trying to stabilize the werebeast.

By the time the rest of the party had finished off the rats (and it was neither quick nor easy) the rogue and the cleric had both been infected with diseases, and Ruin was plugging the were-rat's wounds with his fingers.

The cleric approached, healed the wererat up to a single hit point, then dropped a poisonous snake on its chest and let it bite him. Then, with the threat of death by poison looming, he asked questions: what were you doing? do you realize that most of the people you killed weren't guards? who sent you to do this?

And once we got answers, the cleric cast another spell and sent the wererat on his way. Ruin, assuming the cure had been given as promised, told the werebeast to get out of town. Already feeling better, the beast agreed and left. (At some point, the party will probably figure out that the Cleric is casting Delay Poison instead of actually curing people, but right now only the Wizard knows that and he thinks it's incredibly metal of the Cleric to do that. We... may not actually be the good guys, here.)

And that was where we stopped: we haven't spoken with the Baron, we haven't found the "blessed one" who was commanding the wererats, but we've had our first battle and worked at least moderately well together even if the brother and sister won't stop taunting each other (which is, I admit, possibly my favorite part of the campaign so far). I'll have to scrap something I was putting together with Ruin facing a challenge from he Dwarves, since in the Intro his mother changed course and sent him off with the rest of the PCs instead -- but looking at the overall timeline, that makes sense. The True King has only just returned, and everybody is scrambling for reliable information.

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

It just never ends...

So we made it back from the trip to DC with a couple of days to clean up and recover. Except, well... the cousins are in town. Now, this is generally a good thing and a cause for joyous celebration. It is also, however, a huge flurry of additional activities at a time when I was honestly looking forward to just relaxing for a couple of days.

On Monday, Firstborn started a week of summer camp (running half a day for one week), which means that I'm dropping him off on the way to work and Secondborn will be hanging out with Beautiful Wife. Next week it will be the other way around, with Secondborn in camp and Firstborn at home. (Firstborn, fortunately, is old enough to be left at home by himself.)

Unfortunately, given work schedules and some work-related politics (at Beautiful Wife's job, not so much my own) I think that after that we really need to get both boys into summer camps for most of the rest of the summer... but I digress.

I've been looking back at the last few weeks, which were not only the trip to DC but also the end of the school year and the peak of my busy season, and realizing just how much stuff we've had to get through, without really having time to analyze or process any of it. Like, I still haven't properly mourned Astrophe the cat -- and that was weeks ago. And I need to take a closer look at what all I'm actually doing for my job, because I keep being given new responsibilities with no change in title or pay, and nobody to back me up. And while we are finally getting some new people on board, we're still painfully short-staffed and I'm not going to be a bit surprised if we lose another two or three people in the next season.

Realistically, all this could be a whole lot worse. But it still feels like we're leaping from event to event and crisis to crisis like ice floes in a flooded river. Sooner or later I'd like to get to shore and just collapse for a couple of days. And I think there are some long-term considerations that I need to seriously look over -- but just like everything else I've been handed lately, that's a research project and I've got to find time and energy to really look into it.

So, I mean, meh? Meh.

Monday, June 10, 2019

DnD: Clearing the First Level... Maybe... Part One

All right, so:
  1. It's been a full month since the last time we played.
  2. This was not just the resumption of the Midday Saturday D'n'D Games, but also Firstborn's D'n'D Birthday Party.
  3. Some of the cousins (my wife's sister's kids) are in town and the oldest (age 11) joined us for the party/game.
  4. I tried to run it for three hours instead of two, because Birthday party.
...So on the whole, it's really no surprise that this game got off to a bit of a rough start.

At the end of the last game, the group had finished killing some kobolds and collecting their stuff. I ruled that they had then left the dungeon in a surfeit of caution, and that Lord Aldenmier had been pleased enough with their work that he'd called in a favor and provided everyone in the group with a potion of healing. I didn't bother updating the party treasury or giving them a chance to go shopping; there were about four different conversations going at once, and I figured if we didn't get down to business we'd never get finished.

Lord Aldenmier had also added a Dwarf Barbarian -- a woman named Jak -- to the company, on a trial basis. (She would be played by Firstborn's oldest cousin.) We hadn't done much background on her since she won't be a regular part of the campaign, but she's armed with a battleaxe and a shield (no armor - BARBARIAN!!!) and is pretty sure that violence is the solution to every problem.

So, the group returned to the dungeon, and retraced their steps from the last expedition. First they half-opened the door to the room with the webs and spiders, and set them on fire again. Upon investigating, they found that while the bronze shortsword had been replaced, the statue of the cat had not. They then went on and faced the kobolds again, with the monk moving up to kill one and nearly kill another, the dark elf rogue following to finish off the wounded one, and the Dragonborn sorcerer maneuvering to wipe out the remaining three with his breath weapon. (Fwoosh!) They again claimed the weapons and treasure; this time they also went through the next door, where they encountered another kobold who cast some sort of spell and then took shelter behind a statue.

It... really didn't help. The monk moved into melee range, and... well, Kobold sorcerers just don't have enough hit points to survive that. "I... will have... my revenge..." he gasped as he died.

We then spent probably ten minutes of verbal digression on whether or not to try to take the statue, despite the fact that it was
  • not magical
  • a full size statue of a human woman, and therefore rather heavy
  • attached to the floor
They finally decided to leave it, and having discovered nothing else they retraced their steps and took the other passageway, towards two doors they hadn't tried.

The first room held a gem, which was magically suspended in the air at the center of some sort of energy field nearly a large as the room itself. The sorcerer retrieved it with Mage Hand, which caused an enormous flash of light as the energy field disappeared. The characters who had any knowledge of Arcana made some quick checks, and decided that the gem itself probably wasn't magical, the bright flash from the energy field probably would have done some damage to anybody inside the room, and the gem was probably now safe to touch.

At that moment, the small cat statue that they had retrieved from the spider room last session began to purr. The Dragonborn decided that it was because of proximity to the gem, and immediately whipped out a hankerchief and tied the gem around the statue's neck. That was when they heard the footsteps; behind them, another banner company had come down into the dungeon. Ignoring them, the other group turned and walked down the other hall to the room where the kobolds had been.

Discussion immediately ensued as to whether to pursue them with the goal of "teaming up". (I reminded them that the six banner companies with access to the Dungeon of the Mad Mage are incredibly competitive, and that this group had almost certainly been at it longer than they had.) And when I say "discussion immediately ensued" what I mean was that the kids had an enthusiastic verbal argument, with the Dwarf Barbarian arguing in favor of following the other group back to the statue of the woman to see if the cat statue and/or the gem reacted to it. It got, um, "enthusiastic" enough that somebody went and fetched one of Secondborn's plushies, and basically declared it the Stick -- effectively re-inventing Robert's Rules of Order on the fly.

Despite the Dwarf's passionate arguments for following the other group, the party voted to continue exploring other rooms and just stay away from them, reasoning that they could always go check out the statue once the other group had gone. The other group, meanwhile, still hadn't emerged from the rooms with the kobolds, and the cat statue had stopped meowing but continued to purr.

So, following the majority decision, the group decided on their prepared actions, and then opened the next door along the corridor.

This was a single room, with three ogres at the far end. Two of them immediately stood up, pointing their spiked clubs at the monk and the barbarian, and roared.

Unfortunately, everyone had prepared actions (and I need to do more research on that -- I think I'm being a little too lenient in how I'm letting the PCs use those). So the Sorcerer, the cleric, and one of the rogues immediately attacked the ogre who was still lying on his furs. They injured it, but not nearly enough.

...And then we stopped for ice cream and cake, and after that a walk around the block. So when we pick up again, everybody needs to roll initiative as we begin fighting the ogres. (And I should handle the Dwarf until we get them back out of the dungeon.)

Meanwhile, by my count, the party has a shared treasure of 161 GP after the last session. They also have:
-Six daggers (from last game)
-Two Javelins (ditto)
-A Bronze Shortsword (spider room, claimed by the Barbarian)
-five shortswords (this game, the kobolds)
-five more javelins (ditto)
-another 38 GP (kobolds)
-another 45 GP (kobold sorcerer)
-a silver dagger, which they're keeping for equipment - currently held by the Dwarf.
-a small bag of herbs which smell delicious (also kobold sorcerer)
-A ruby worth 150 GP which they have tied around the neck of the cat statue using the sorcerer's handkerchief because they think it's part of some sort of puzzle.

Friday, June 7, 2019

Dwarven Diplomacy

"You truly intend to take him with you on a diplomatic mission to the Dwarves?" Hirethal Moonshadow looked baffled and affronted. "The boy could ruin everything."

Baethira Anthelorn regarded her once-husband with amused patience. "He will not. The dwarves value strength, and our son is strong."

"Our son is damaged," snapped Hirethal, then stopped abruptly as though surprised to have said the words aloud.

Baethira's amusement vanished. "Our sons -- both of them -- are fine."

"Darvinin is fine. He knows what he wants, and he's on the path to get it. His brother, by contrast, lives mostly alone among the trees, chooses his clothes in defiance of all propriety, and accepts no teaching from anyone. For the love of Corellan, he won't even choose an adult name -- and he refuses to answer to the name we gave him in childhood."

"Hirethal Moonshadow," said Baethira, standing up from the elegantly decorated chair where she'd been looking through her spellbook. She paused, taking a deep breath, then continued: "I have no desire to sit in judgement on my own child, and neither should you. I know your work with the council keeps you busy, so permit me to educate you on a few matters that may help lessen this... embarrassment of yours.

"Yes: the younger twin keeps to himself and lives rough among the trees. But I seem to recall someone telling me he once spent three years without speaking to anyone, do I not?"

Hirethal stiffened. "That was different. I was training as a ranger."

Baethira tilted her head. "You were angry at your parents for trying to get you to consort with Caliphira. And our son is close to his brother and the others of the Rebirth, as well as many of the grey elves and thinbloods. It only doesn't seem so because he isolates himself from his elders..." She paused to draw breath, but Hirethal remained silent. "...Including us."

"He has no mentor or trainer; this is true. But Darvinin considers his twin formidable, and given who he studies under I would hesitate to dismiss that. To be self-taught is not always to be poorly taught. And as for names, well: if you wish to know what to call him, you have only to ask. He uses Ruin more often than anything else. This is not so great a burden for us to bear." She paused, then added: "Though I'll grant you that his clothing is flamboyant."

Hirethal sighed. "No, I suppose it is not such a burden. At least we still have him. And I am not embarrassed by him -- I'm worried for him. Though what you've said does reassure me."

"That," said Baethira, "is good to hear. Because there's one other thing you should know about our younger son: he's standing right behind you."

Hirethal spun around as Ruin unfoldered himself from where he'd been leaning against the elegantly-carved door frame. "Father," he said.

"How fare you, my son?"

"You may call me Ruin, if you wish. And I am well, on the whole."

"On the whole?"

"The True King has returned, the humans raise armies to deny us any chance at freedom or self-rule, those of our blood are being murdered or tortured as we speak, and you were not wholly wrong: I am damaged. But I will find my own way back out of that. Meanwhile I am healthy, and intrigued by the task that Mother has asked me to assist with. So: I am well, on the whole."

"That is good to hear," said Hirethal, still looking a little stunned.

"I came to tell you, mother, that I am packed and ready for the journey."

"Thank you. Will we see you at dinner?"

"As you wish." Ruin's mouth quirked just slightly, and Baethira thought, It won't be quite so awkward as you think, my son. She watched as he turned and left the room again.

Hirethal was still staring after him. "He snuck up on me. He snuck up on me."

"Formidable," she reminded him.

"...More than I'd thought, anyway." Hirethal's expression was oddly blank -- Caught between relief and embarrassment, she thought.

"I know you want pass on our traditions, but his cousins can carry that burden. He must find his own way."

For a long moment, Hirethal looked thoughtful. "If he's so set on remaining apart from the elders, how did you convince him to come with you?"

Baethira gave a small shrug. "I went out into the forest and asked him." She set her spellbook on the table, then moved to kiss her once-husband on the cheek. He was slightly shorter than she was, but broader through the shoulders, and his scent was as pleasant as always. "Now, if you'll forgive me, I need to lay out instructions for the apprentices, and give the garden a last looking-over."

"Take care of your apprentices," said Hirethal gruffly. "I'll go and look over the garden." He kissed her twice, once on each cheek. "It will give me some time to think."

Notes: True Elves are immortal, or near enough, so I'm working out a theory about how marriage works for them -- I don't think this campaign really has a canon on the topic, and in any case it could always vary from area to area and relationship to relationship. Hirethal is Baethira's "once-husband" because they have lived out the length of their marriage by raising their children to adulthood. At this point it would be possible for them to renew the marriage (perhaps having other children), consider marriages with other people, or remain solitary for a time. There's an entire etiquette for once-spouses, who -- assuming the marriage ended amicably -- are essentially considered close family members even if their once-spouse has remarried.

Thursday, June 6, 2019

Consideration and Travel

"And what should I call you, my twin?"

"Consideration," said the younger of the twins, as he regarded his brother. Darvinin had just entered the clearing, the double-scimitar of a True Elf on his back, his movements graceful and confident. He was not yet a master of either spell or blade, but he used them both -- separately or together.

"As you wish."

Consideration gestured at the assembled pile of wood, and Darvinin chuckled and set it afire with a soft word and a gesture. "Werendril and Sherra have gone," he said, and seated himself beside the fire.

"I know," said Consideration, and sat down across from him. "Sherra was headed deeper into Duendewood to teach. Werendril was headed out to the border again, to help see the refugees in."

"You saw them off, then. I wasn't sure you'd had a chance."

"Because I keep to myself so much? I'm not as isolated as all that."

Darvinin nodded slowly. "Understand me when I say that I'm relieved to hear it."

Consideration looked down at the flames. "And you?"

There was a long pause. "I've been assigned to protect the true king," Darvinin said finally.

Consideration looked back up and met his twin's eyes. "Congratulations. That is quite an honor."

"Well," said Darvinin, "It's not like I'll be in command. I'm one guard among two-score. But it is an honor."

He looked worried, and Consideration chuckled to relieve his concerns. "It is well, O my brother. I know that will take you away from here, but we are all drifting apart. And a position as a King's Guard suits your skills and your temperament."

"What of you?" asked Darvinin. "Will you just wait until it comes to war, if it truly does?"

Consideration shook his head. "Mother has asked me to come with her when she goes to petition the Dwarves for an alliance."

"Oh." Darvinin looked startled, then thoughtful. "That is... a good choice. You can show them that not all elves are frail, that we stand ready to fight. Yes, the more I think about that, the more I like it."

Consideration smiled at his brother. "Well, I doubt I'll be drinking any Dwarves under the table, but I can at least give them a decent contest."

"Fair," said Darvinin. "Still, keep your eyes open. The elders may think you're a savage, but the children of the Rebirth know better. You're sharp. Learn what you can of the Dwarves while you're there; you never know what might prove useful."

"I will." Consideration met his twin brother's eyes calmly. "And I'll keep an eye on Mother, too."

Darvinin chuckled at that. Their mother was a wizard, old and powerful, but curious and easily distracted and not -- in either of their opinions -- nearly cautious enough. He rose to leave, then paused. "And Consideration? What happened to our sister was not your fault."

"I know." Consideration looked away, closing his eyes for a brief moment. "But it changes nothing."

Monday, June 3, 2019

Ruin and Werendril

"How bad is it?" asked the elf who was currently calling himself Ruin.

"It is... I'd like to tell you that it varies, and that is true. But among those who come to us, the lesser elves and even those with obvious human blood, it varies from those who left as a precaution to those who escaped from imprisonment and torture. I have not seen many of those, but if their stories are true then it is not because most don't receive such treatment. It's only that most don't escape it. The word from the capital is... horrific." Werendril looked away, eyes squeezed tight; Ruin thought he might be fighting back tears.

Ruin nodded slowly. He wished he could be surprised by such cruelty, but the cruelty was no accident. Indeed, it seemed to be the goal of much of what the Humans did. "I hoped it would be otherwise."

Werendril shook his head. "No." He looked back at Ruin for a long moment, weighing him.

Then he said: "Killing comes easy to you. I never understood that about you, but I knew it was true."

Ruin considered that. He'd never really thought about it; he'd just done it when he needed to. Easy or hard seemed beside the point, which probably meant that Werendril was right.

His cousin read the answer from Ruin's face; he nodded. "I understand it now," he said miserably. "When I first took my oaths, I just wanted to help people. I wanted to protect; I wanted to heal. Even with practice weapons, they had to drill me over and over to truly strike, to make my blades connect. The trainers despaired of me, said if I ever got into battle a half-trained Orc could finish me off -- because it would actually be trying to kill me."

Ruin nodded. He could almost imagine what that might be like, but then his first combat had been against humans and had happened in a haze of red. It was only later that he'd really begun training, and by then the lesson was deep in his nerves and muscles: power and direction, direction and power. All the power in the world was no good if you couldn't connect with it, and all the technique in the world was wasted if you couldn't deliver damage. "How many?" he asked.

Werendril knew exactly what he meant by the question. "Only three, so far." He offered a bitter grin. "But you would be proud of me, cousin: I struck, and I struck to kill, and each of them fell. And each time, I held to my honor."

"Then I am proud of you, O my cousin." Ruin put a hand on his cousin's shoulder. "I'm no diviner, but I think in the days to come we will need both the will to fight and the strength to hold to our honor."

Werendril was silent for a long moment; then he reached over and placed a hand on Ruin's shoulder. "Thank you, cousin. That... felt more like an absolution than I've received from anyone in the Order so far."

Thursday, May 30, 2019

Ruin and Control

"Are you so certain it will be war?" asked Sherralitha.

Ruin shrugged. "Has our history ever suggested otherwise?"

"But it came so close." Sherra leaned forward, intent on convincing him. "We had the treaties. They still remember them. And they do revere Saint Margery."

"That didn't stop them from betraying us. And this new king is selfish and vain. We aren't like him, and so he doesn't see us as people. And the human lords listen when he claims that the treaties are forgeries. Or they pretend to believe him for their own gain."

"The humans live in peace with Dwarves, Halflings, and Gnomes," Sherra said. "They could learn to do the same with us."

"They could," Ruin acknowledged slowly, "but not until we hurt them, not until we teach them that it costs too much to attack us. The Dwarves hold their power below the surface, in the places of stone. Halflings and gnomes keep to themselves, live in small bands at the mercy of the humans. The humans offer them peace because they accept human control, or avoid human notice. Neither of those are options for us."

Sherra sighed. "I only wish I knew how much of this is what you see, and how much is because of what happened to your sister."

Ruin looked away, then looked back at her. "I'm not sure you can separate the two."

"So your answer to the humans is violence and rage?"

"I don't see any other way to answer their violence," Ruin said quietly, "but I don't think rage will be enough. As you said, O my cousin: we can't kill all of them."

"Then how...?"

Ruin shook his head. "I don't have any good answers. Expect violence. Expect betrayal. Be ready to answer in kind for as long as we must. Watch for opportunities to convince the humans that acknowledging our king and our rights is the better course. Protect our people and teach them to protect themselves. Beyond that... I don't know." He looked away. "Maybe I'm wrong, and the negotiations will succeed, and the humans will concede some part of what they owe in exchange for peace."

Sherra sighed. "I don't think you're wrong."

Ruin snorted. "I'd like to be."

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Blogging Challenge: Lessons I Learned from a Book Character

Right, so, the usual: Weekly Blogging Challenge over at Long and Short Reviews. (If you're just joining up, swing by their homepage and add your response to the current post each Wednesday.)

This week's prompt is Lessons I Learned from a Book Character.

"Of all the rash and midnight promises made in the name of love, none, Boone now knew, was more certain to be broken than "I'll never leave you." It's the opening line to Clive Barker's Cabal, which was (perhaps unfortunately) made into the movie (and accompanying comic, which was how I found it) Nightbreed. Nightbreed suffered from the studio's attempt to edit it into a traditional horror movie, and from some amazingly bad marketing. (Among other things, the movie posters they shipped out were the wrong ones.) Cabal was... something else, and late-teen me found a home in it. And the lesson in the book (and to some extent the movie) is that the premise of that opening line is both true... and very false.

In my first couple of years of college, I was... kind of a mess, socially and emotionally. Grimjack, while sometimes dark, was heavy with themes of friendship and loyalty. ("Friends are family. Family we choose.") Reading that comic may very well have saved my life.

And a few years after that I would discover Spider Robinson's Callahan's Place books. It's more a series of short stories that grew into a series of books (the first stories were printed in Analog Magazine back in the day), but between the puns and the weirdness and the occasional alien, there's an explicit message: pain shared is diminished, joy shared is increased.

...And that's what I've got so far. If I think of anything else, I'll come back and add it.

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

More Vendril (Because, well, why not?)

Vendril came awake with a knife in his hand but caught himself before he stabbed anybody. He was in an unfamiliar bed, pressed against a warm body, and the hand that had woken him was shaking her shoulder, not his. He heard someone stumble back with a curse, and squeezed his eyes shut before blinking again and trying to see.

"Easy, easy," said a woman's voice. "I'm just trying to get Amra up so she isn't late for her shift."

Amra? Oh, right: that was the guardswoman, the one who had taken him out for al'cul, the one whose bunk he was currently occupying. Well, that didn't go the way I expected. This sort of thing didn't happen to him; it happened to Geddy, or sometimes Alexej. "Sorry," he said.

Amra groaned. "Al'cul," she said, "is not worth it."

Vendril wasn't at all sure of that. True, he had woken up in a human woman's bed; true, he wasn't immediately sure where his clothing was or whence he'd drawn the knife that was currently in his hand; true, his head was pounding and his eyes were all but glued shut; but that haunting sense of guilt was gone, replaced by the desire to do something even crazier than his erratic memories suggested the previous night had been.

"Juice," said the other guard, and Amra sat up. Vendril wriggled halfway out of the blankets and looked around for someplace to set the knife.

"Helios, Amra." The other guard looked disgusted. "You slept with a--" Her eyes widened and her expression went blank. "He's the scout."

Amra poured the contents of the pewter cup down her throat, then nodded. She half-turned to Vendril. "How are you doing?"

"Better," he said. "Even with the hangover."

"Al'cul is a harsh mistress."

"But it did as you said," he told her. "Burned away my cares and most of my common sense."

"So what are you going to do now?"

"Something stupid."

The other guardswoman chuckled. "If you two were into the al'cul last night, then I think you've already managed that."

Vendril grinned. "Then... something crazy."

Amra grinned back. "All right. You know where to find me if you want more of this."

"I do." He did. But right now, he needed to find out if his friend the gnome was alive again yet. And then he needed to find out what it might take to rescue the Baron... and the Baron's family.

Monday, May 27, 2019

Well Met By Moonlight

Or, Michael Mock Tries To Decide On A Character Concept

Darvinin stepped into the clearing without any attempt at stealth, his weapon on his back and his eyes on the figure who moved through the sword-dance on the far side. Their cousin was here as well, strumming softly on her citole while she waited. To his right, another figure entered the clearing; seeing the three of them already there, he put his foot on a small stick and stepped down.

The sound of breaking wood split the night.

Sherralitha looked up from her instrument. "Darvinin," she acknowledged, then looked past him. "Werendril."

Darvinin offered her a bow, then turned and offered the same vow to Werendril. "Cousins." Darvinin was slim but muscular, dressed in pants and coat of dark gray with highlights of silver and red; his hair was white and his eyes were gray.

The figure at the far side of the clearing sheathed his blade and approached them. He was the largest and heaviest of them, but he moved with silent grace. His clothes were burgundy and crimson, and his blade was single-edged and two-handed, atypical for a True Elf.

"And what are we calling you today?" asked Darvinin.

"Call me Ruin," said the elf, and smiled. "How fare you, O my brother?"

"I am well. Sherralitha? Werendril?"

Werendril looked to Sherralitha, who answered: "Well enough." She rose from where she'd been leaning back against a tree, the gold of her vest matching the gold of her hair, a sharp contrast with the dark blue of her shirt and skirt. Sherra was graceful even by the standard of True Elves, captivating; Darvinin suspected that all three of them had had a crush on her at one time or another. Maybe they all still did.

"I also am well," said Werendril. "May Corellan watch over us. With the return of the true king, there is much to do." Werendril was solidly built, heavier through the shoulders than than Darvinin but not so solid as Ruin. His hair was silver and his eyes were a pale blue, and he wore an overtunic and divided skirts of scale mail armor, with the twin-bladed elvish double scimitar slung across his back.

"Is that why you asked us here?" Sherralitha turned a look of curiosity on Darvinin. "To discuss the coming negotiations?"

The four of them were not all of the new generation of True Elves, the ones born since the Great Extermination. Darvinin knew of at least a dozen others, scattered through the Duendewood, his cousins and kin. Many belonged to other clans; generations ago, they might have been rivals. No longer. Those few True Elves who belonged to the Rebirth had been raised as one family.

"It won't be a negotiation," said Ruin. "It'll be a war."

Sherralitha shot him a disapproving look. "You don't know that."

"He may be right," said Werendril. "I have heard the stories from the ones I've protected and healed. This human king will not accept the existence of a king among us. The human lords will not cede the lands they once pledged to us. No matter the history of the realm, no matter their reverence for Saint Margery, they cannot accept the idea of Elvish rule. Not even for ourselves."

"We'll have to kill them," said Ruin.

"We can't," answered Sherralitha, looking to Darvinin for support. "There are too many."

"Too many now," echoed Darvinin, "and not enough of us. Even if the centaurs come over to our side, I fear it will not be enough."

"But you won't flee the battle," said Ruin, looking directly into Darvinin's eyes.

He sighed. "No. I will not. I will take what I know, blades and spells alike, and bring them to the defense of our people."

"As will I," said Werendril. "I will do my duty to the gods and to our king. I will preserve as much as I can."

Darvinin smiled. "Your honor would not let you do otherwise."

Sherralitha nodded slowly, and Darvinin saw Werendril and Ruin both turn their attention to her. "I will have no part in the negotiations," she said. "My role is to learn our history, as much of it as I can, and to pass it along to anyone who shares our blood. But if the time comes when we must fight, I will be ready."

Darvinin turned his head to look at Ruin. "Little brother?"

"Little?" asked Ruin. "You were born, what, two breaths ahead of me? And I'm bigger than you, anyway."

"It's a strange path you've chosen," Darvinin said. He wasn't certain if he meant to sound critical or not; his brother had turned away from the disciplined fighting of the Elvish style, or the wizardry that his people were known for. Instead he'd become... something else. But however much he might be at odds with everything that Elvish culture valued, Darvinin knew that his brother was at least his equal in combat.

"I know," said Ruin, not sounding offended.

"Promise me that you won't do anything to spoil the negotiations," said Sherralitha. "If you're so certain they will fail, then at least wait until they do and we have no other choice."

"How many of our people will be hurt while we wait?" asked Ruin.

Sherra didn't answer.

"As you wish," he said. "I will wait. But if the humans behave like humans, well... once it begins, I will do as I feel I must." He turned to look at Werendril. "Fight with honor, holy warrior." He looked to Darvinin. "Fight with cunning, Duskblade." He looked back at Sherralitha. "Fight with skill, bard."

Darvinin nodded sharply. "And if it comes to it, little brother -- show the humans that elves, too, can rage."

So those are my choices. I don't think our DM will let me play the Duskblade -- we've been core-only, so far. The bard would run support until she could could kick over into the Shadow Dancer prestige class (we're running 3.5) but we've already got another player looking at some sort of rogue. The True Elf template is a homebrew, but it would lend itself well enough to a paladin (Werendril) only I'm not sure we need one. So unless I'm wrong about the duskblade, it's looking like the True Elf barbarian who currently calls himself Ruin. That't not an optimal combination, but it'll still be strong. And I do take a certain satisfaction in just, well, smashing things.

Sunday, May 26, 2019

After The Battle (A Vendril Follow-Up)

"You there! Halt! What do you think you're doing?"

Vendril glanced over his shoulder at the guard and her upraised halberd. He did not point out that he was sitting on edge of the crenelations of the highest tower in the palace of Solstar, because that should have been obvious. He did not point out that his weapons were all tucked away, because that was equally obvious. He very definitely did not point out that he was considering pitching himself off the edge of the tower, because that was none of the human guard's business.

"I'm talking to you, knife-ears." Then the woman stopped, squinted, and grounded the butt of her halberd. "You're him, aren't you? The scout from Fort Dedo."

Vendril nodded, and the human relaxed. "So what the hell are you doing up here?"

"Being up high helps me think." Dark thoughts, angry thoughts, but still thoughts.

"Helios. You're a gods-blessed hero, and I was about to..."

Vendril shook his head. "I'm not a hero. We fell into the enemy's trap, let ourselves get fooled into doing their work for them. For three generations my clan has worked with Fort Dedo to protect the borders of Sol Povos, and I failed them."

"You didn't fail them. You brought warning to the King, and if the stories are even half-correct you fought your hardest all along the line."

I did fail. We all did. Vendril didn't answer, just looked out over the city again, then down to the ground so very far below.

"Listen," said the guard. "I'll make you a deal. You stay up here and do your thinking... and don't do anything foolish, like deciding your life needs ending... and I'll put the word around to the other guards so none of them bother you. And in half an hour, when I go off-duty, I'll come back and take you to my favorite tavern and buy you enough al'cul to make you forget everything you ever knew."

Vendril blinked and looked back at her. "Al'cul?"

"It's a dwarvish drink, imported. Not sure what they brew it from, but it'll burn away your cares and most of your common sense."

Vendril hesitated, then nodded. "Deal."

He listened as her footsteps receded.

And he thought.

The colonel was dead. The Baron was captured. Maodeus was back in its original body, and the forces of Vecna had access to the great gates and at least some of the ancient Formorian weapons. Fort Dedo still held, at least as far anybody knew, but it was leaderless and cut off.

He could go back to the clan and tell them of his disgrace, but he knew already what his father would say: his duty was here, doing whatever he could to protect the king-- even this king, even in a city where anyone with the slightest hint of elvish blood was in danger of being murdered by the mobs or cut open by the Archons.

No matter the depths of his shame, he still had his duty. And when his time came, he could only hope to die as honorably and spectacularly as Geddy had. Until then...

You're a hunter, he heard his father's voice say. So hunt.

Until then, he thought suddenly, I have to alert the clan. They can aid Fort Dedo, or help to evacuate it. A troop held in reserve, behind the invading forces, could split their attention and tangle their strategy. Even with the gates, they'll need supply lines, and the clan could show the forces at Fort Dedo how to cut those lines. But first, we have to preserve those forces.

He made a quick calculation as he slipped back from the edge of the wall and set his feet on the tower top. Yes, he could get down to where the king kept his messengers and still be back here when the guardswoman finished her shift. He would send word to his father, who would set the clan into motion. And with the message sent, Vendril would let this human guard show him exactly what this al'cul could do...

Friday, May 24, 2019

Music: The Motherland

Music by Lyndy Butler:

It's a bit more country than I usually go in for, but it's fun.

Thursday, May 23, 2019

DnD Stage 3: In Which We Almost Die, Again

So we ventured into the ruins in search of the larger gate, and immediately found ourselves facing a huge collection of zombies and skeletons of various sorts. This was basically the boss fight, except that instead of an individual boss, we were facing one large mob.

The undead noticed us immediately and moved to attack. So did a dozen or so animated statues. Even worse: Some of the zombies were acting as low-level clerics or wizards. Our sorceress was taking out large blocks of enemies with fireballs, but our fighter took a lot of damage from Magic Missiles, and it was really looking like we weren't going to make it until the bard made us all invisible. That lasted just long enough to heal the fighter a bit, and then suddenly the bard was visible again.

The skeletons and zombies swarmed him, and he let them. Our sorceress released another fireball and killed the entire swarm, but took down the gnome bard along with them. (My elvish rogue/ranger was also caught in the blast, but he has Evasion and took no damage from it. Picture him brushing a bit of ash off his shoulder.)

With the bard dead, everybody but the sorceress was visible again. I moved to attack one of the zombie mages, which were the biggest danger. The fighter got close enough to the sorceress that she could make him invisible. Chasing the mage put me up on an overlook, and since I was the only one still visible everything came towards me... until I killed the zombie mage and tumbled off the side of the ledge, landing in a spot where the sorceress could make me invisible as well.

Hers was a better class of invisibility. With it in place, we could attack without becoming visible. Our fighter turned into an unseen meat-grinder, while my ranger/rogue moved off to hunt zombie mages (and quaff a healing potion, because ouch). The sorceress used fireballs and magic missiles to pick off the remaining targets, including a couple of the zombie mages and skeleton archers, while the fighter downed the last of the Dead Knights.

Invisibility was the only thing that saved us. The bard was dead. My rogue/ranger and the fighter were both fatally low on hit points. The sorceress was mildly wounded, but if the rest of us had died she probably wouldn't have lasted long. But with the skeletons destroyed and the zombies unable to see us, we were able to clean up.

That was when the the Solari showed up. Danathir, one of the desert elves, an elite warrior-scout in service to the Baron, had been missing for months. He appeared as soon as all the dead things were put down, to warn us that the Colonel -- who we rescued from a bandit camp after the initial raids, way back at the beginning of phase 2 of this campaign -- wasn't himself, and hadn't been since we'd brought him back. Naturally, we suspected a trap.

Unfortunately, we were wrong. The Solari convinced us to hide, and we did -- taking shelter in a passage behind a secret door, with a view overlooking the big room we'd been fighting in. That was when we (essentially) dissolved to a cut scene: the air shimmered, and the Baron appeared along with the Colonel and two of the Baron's Solari: a monk who served as his bodyguard, and the mage who teleported us out to the ruins in the first place.

The Colonel took a quick look around, pronounced the ruins amazing, and then the wizard cast a spell... that utterly failed to get past the magic resistance that a human colonel absolutely shouldn't have had and obviously did. He looked at her, and then cast Finger Of Death; she died. The other two moved to attack, but he stunned them with a word and slit their throats. There's a character I'm missing here, because the Baron was still alive; the Colonel said he was going to leave him alive to see this.

Then the Colonel activated the gate, and troops started marching through -- giving them access to the country well past the border, if they can find a way out of the ruins.

The Solari who had urged us to hide had a gem that the wizard had given him as a last resort. It could carry four people. Fortunately, there were only three of us left. So he crushed it, and teleported us all to the capital to warn the king.

We have a couple of choices at this point. We could make yet a third set of characters, and explore things from the side of the Elvish rebellion that our original characters set off. We could move to alternating between the two existing parties. Or we could create a single party from the existing two -- with each of us choosing one of our two characters and sticking with it. Personally, I'd like to see the Elvish side of things (and, of course, I love making new characters -- I'm intrigued by the idea of an Elvish Barbarian just now) but we're going to try to hash this out online before the next time we meet. Since that's going to be a couple of weeks, hopefully we'll have time to get things settled.

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Blogging Challenge: Books Into Film

As you probably already know, I'm participating in the Weekly Blogging Challenge over at Long and Short Reviews. This week's challenge is "Books I love that became movies or TV Shows".

This one is tricky, because the very first one that comes to mind is a book that I loved in my youth, but find highly problematic now:

Starship Troopers (Robert Heinlein) was made into a fairly terrible movie -- deliberately, I think, as a rebuke to the book. My thoughts on the book itself are... complicated. If you just read it as a military adventure, then it works pretty well - solid opening, great prose, plenty of action -- except that Heinlein's welded on a bit too much of his political views to dismiss them as mere flavor in the setting for the adventure. It's more the reverse: the adventure story is basically a vehicle for those views, and the views themselves are... based on some very questionable premises.

I have somewhat similar feelings about the Jurassic Park books - I enjoyed the first books, and the first movie, but -- unusually -- for the sequel I actually felt that the movie was far better than the book. Like, that almost never happens to me, but here we are.

Do comic books count? Because those have been the source of an awful lot of movies that I've enjoyed, and/or had issues with, and/or been deeply disappointed by. But if I was going to pick a comic-book-based movie that I really, really adore, it's Blade. Why? It's the way they handled his superhero origin: it's not the first third of the film, it's three lines exposition worked into a fairly natural bit of dialogue. ("Blade's mother was attacked by a vampire. She died but he lived. He's got all of their strengths, none of their weaknesses.") By contrast, I'm pretty sure I've seen Peter Parker get bitten by a radioactive spider in film six different times now. For the love of God, in this one case, please tell -- don't show.

I feel compelled to mention Harry Potter again, because of course I do. Those are awesome, as either books or movies.

Neil Gaiman's Stardust is a good read and a fun movie as well.

The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy and its sequels have been made into at least one movie, but honestly the old BBC TV series version came much closer to doing them justice. Still: completely awesome.

But if you really want the One True King of Books That Were Made Into movies?

I'd have to go with The Princess Bride.

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

No, The Other Ancestral Castle

"The spell is complete. Come, my darling succubi. We shall retire to the ancestral castle, and await the coming of these would-be heroes... or the news of their death."

"Yes, my lord."

"My lord... At the castle Malice? Should I pack my warmest cloaks?"

"No, no, not Malice. I was referring to my mother's side of the family."

"Oh! Castle Grimpeak! It's a bit windy, but--"

"What? No! That one's ours too. True, it is the family home on my mother's side, but... We'll be at Coldcourt. Uncle Grimsby's my only surviving ancestor."

"Um... my lord? I thought you were only related to Grimsby by marriage."

"Aliara, my sweet succubus, my darling familiar, you're thinking of Aldrich Grimsfang -- the warlock. Grimsby is the thousand-year-old lich."

"Oh! Of course, my lord."

"For an immortal demon who can provide the intelligence and concentration to help me cast the oldest and most dangerous of dark magics, you can be surprisingly forgetful."

"All the better to lull you into a false sense of security and lead you to your eventual demise, my lord." Smiling brightly, she turned and left the room at that point, leaving Alistaire Blackheart to wonder how much of what she said was irony.

(With full thanks and appreciation to Ana Mardoll, whose thread sparked this entire line of thought.)

Sunday, May 19, 2019

Like a Rock, Part 3

Yep: slept hard, woke up on time, put in a whole day. I am done, I am home, and I think I'm even sunburn-free, though we'll see about that last one.

Apparently my Mutant power is sheer, unyielding stubbornness.

Saturday, May 18, 2019

Like a Rock Part 2

Slept hard again last night. Actually felt better rested this morning. Which is good, because today is chaos. The Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex is having rain, hail, high winds...

Hell of a day to plan a picnic.

Friday, May 17, 2019

Like a Rock

Slept like a rock last night and still had trouble getting out of bed this morning. Beautiful Wife fell asleep on the couch, so I wound up putting the boys down by myself (without waking her up! Yay!) which... was a bit rough, considering that I'd been thinking about passing out as soon as I got home.

Still: sleep is good, especially since this is going to be a fifteen- or sixteen-hour workday.

Thursday, May 16, 2019

He was a skater boy

He was a skater boy
She said, "see you later, boy"
Sometimes things just don't work out
It's not that big a deal really
Though it can certainly feel that way sometimes
Especially when you're young

(This is why I should never write songs...)

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Blogging Challenge: Favorite TV Shows and Why

As you probably already know, I'm participating in the Weekly Blogging Challenge over at Long and Short Reviews. This week's challenge is "Favorite TV Shows and Why".

I, um, I don't actually watch TV shows.

I mean, seriously: I don't. Not with any kind of reliability. And almost never all the way through. No, not even if they're perfect for me.

It's not that I don't appreciate the format. I mean, back when Buffy The Vampire Slayer was a thing, Beautiful Wife and I would wait until each season came out on DVD, buy the set, and then watch it as we had time. I didn't even know Firefly existed until it was already off the air. So what do I put on a list like this?

Well, there are favorites from my youth:
  • Blackadder
  • Red Dwarf
  • Doctor Who (Fourth Doctor era)

There are things that remind of those -- Upstart Crow has a lot of the tone and feel of Blackadder.

There are things that I just kind of stumbled onto:
  • Star Wars Rebels (an animated series set between the end of the Clone Wars and the beginning of A New Hope) -- I made it all the way through Season 2 of that one before I lost track.
  • The Librarians -- I made it through some of Season 1...
  • Lucifer -- I finished Season 1, and I'm still absolutely baffled by why they'd take one of the most interesting characters in the DC Universe and Christian theology, and decide it was a good idea to cast him in an 80s-style Buddy Cop scenario.
  • Rick and Morty -- a cartoon series sort of loosely based on the Marty McFly / Doc Brown dynamic from Back To The Future, only darker, edgier, and weirder.

Things that Beautiful Wife dragged me into:
  • The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel
  • The Order
  • Vikings (bits of it, anyway)

So, I mean, yeah: I don't really have favorite TV shows. I just have a handful of shows that I've actually seen, or at least seen parts of. Like this:

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Reading Old Scraps

I've spent a portion of this evening reading scraps of my old writing. It's... interesting. A lot of different stories that I started and then abandoned for one reason or another. Some of them could be salvaged; others, well, I'm not sure I could find the voice I was using when I first attempted them.

Here's one of them. It was actually a community-chosen story -- sort of like a Choose Your Own Adventure, but by committee -- so at the end of each section I'd put up a poll to see what people would choose next. I don't really have that capacity here on the Blog o' Doom, but if you want me to pursue something say so in the comments.



For a long time, there is nothing but darkness and silence. Then, slowly, the emptiness fills with light and sound, a bright and melodic beauty that fades almost before you become aware of it. You open your eyes to an arched ceiling high overhead, curving smoothly down to meet with the walls. A shiver runs down your back, and you realize that you're lying on cold stone -- some sort of table or altar.

Ceiling, walls, floor, and altar; all are white marble, shot through with veins of gold. There is light, more than enough for you to see, but it seems to come from everywhere. If there are any sort of blocks or joints in the stone, you can't see them. The whole room might have been carved from the heart of a single piece of stone.

You don't recognize the place. You're not sure if you just woke up; it doesn't feel like you've been asleep, and anyway the last thing you remember is that vague impression of light and... was it a song? And who would sleep naked in a place like this?

The stone is still cold, so you lower your feet to the floor. There, in front of the altar, is a crumpled figure. It is small and lean, lying face down and unmoving. Its white robe blends with the marble floor, and its arms are flung out in a way that looks awkward and uncomfortable.

At the far end of the room are three passageways. Squinting, you can make out the shapes at the far end of each: three low pillars, each with something on top of it. The passage on the left leads to the pillar that holds a book. The passage in the center leads to the pillar that holds a sword. The passage on the right leads to the pillar that holds a small statue in dark stone of some four-legged beast. At the foot of each pillar sits a pile of something that might be clothing, or armor, or both.

You are cold and shivering.

Do you...

...Follow the passage to the pillar with the book?
...Follow the passage to the pillar with the sword?
...Follow the passage to the pillar with the beast statue?
...Check on the figure on the floor?

Monday, May 13, 2019

Sunday, May 12, 2019

Gonna be erratic!

We've finished a busy weekend going into what's usually the busiest two weeks of my year, with another busy week coming up after that and...

...Look, I'm just saying, no promises for what gets posted over the next month, how often, or whether it's even remotely been proofread. I can never tell, going into one of these, whether I'll be too busy to write, too stressed-out not to write, just in the mood to post a lot of music, or picking fights with people online. (Well, okay, probably not that last one. It's not actually that entertaining, and I have other ways of working out aggressions.)

I expect things to settle down again about the middle of June. That, or I expect to have a nervous breakdown. Whichever, really.

See you when we get there? Good, good.

Friday, May 10, 2019

We put the cat down

We took the cat to the vet this morning and saw him off. Firstborn is home sick (probably Strep - will we ever be rid of this wretched disease?) so it was everybody except Secondborn. It's probably for the better that he was at school.

It was definitely time. The cat was essentially immobile, so much so that the vet didn't bother giving him a sedative to prepare him.

Definitely time, but it sucks.

Music: Coffee

"Proper Cup Of Coffee" by Trout Fishing In America:


...No idea why I might have coffee on my mind this morning.

Thursday, May 9, 2019

Back From The Healing Sleep

Edrin jerked awake. He was on his bed, in his room, but he wasn't sure how long he'd been asleep or why...

"Here," said Father Aylus. "Have some water. There's a bit of juice in it, but only a bit."

Edrin accepted the cup and sipped cautiously at it. Then he drained the whole thing. In addition to being covered in sweat, he was parched. What had he been doing? And why was there a priest -- even a priest whose entire ministry was intended to aid the poor -- in his room? "Father...?"

Father Aylus nodded, took the cup back, and poured more of the enriched water into it. He'd apparently had no qualms about using the pewter pitcher that Edrin kept beside the stove... but then, he'd apparently had no qualms about coming into Edrin's room uninvited, either. Edrin took the cup back and drained it again.

"You only ever help at the mission after dark," said the priest. "By itself, I wouldn't have thought anything of it. But then, Mad Miryen has been so much better since you came: less pain, and thus less anger. So has old Carya. In fact, a lot of people at the mission have been inexplicably feeling better since you came around."

"Are you sure that wasn't your influence?" asked Edrin, then glanced at the faint glow that hovered over the priest's right shoulder. "Or your angel's?"

"After this many years?" Father Aylus chuckled. "Yes, I'm sure. It's not for lack of trying, but my angel is not the strongest and I've never had a knack for healing. No, my son, it wasn't until last night that I thought to associate you with the destruction of that cult of demon-worshippers down in Vecthal..."

"That wasn't me," Edrin protested.

"...or the ones in County Marith last year."

Edrin set his jaw.

Father Aylus just looked at him.

"...That one was," he admitted reluctantly.

"It was really only last night that it all came together for me," said the priest. "When I heard that our local band of thieves, the Redfingers, had been killed -- apparently to a man, despite the fact that they hunted together and chose their targets carefully. And that whoever had killed them was nowhere to be found, alive or dead. There was just a hint of the supernatural about the whole thing, and it made me wonder... well, what sort of person might have managed to fight off six armed attackers while carrying no weapons, and wouldn't wait for any sort of recognition afterwards?"

There was no point in dissembling, and anyway Edrin like the old priest and thought he deserved an honest answer: "The sort of person who can call weapons out of thin air and knows how to use them. The sort of person the Church considers a heretic, an outcast, and a defiler, and will cheerfully hunt down on sight."

"Exactly," Father Aylus smiled. "So I came to your room here, and... well... I'm sorry to say this, my son, but you weren't as discreet as you could have been. There was a trail of blood down the hall, into your door, and right up to your bed. And yet here you are, awake again after a day's sleep, with nothing but perhaps a few scars to show for it. It was the sleep that gave it away, really."

Edrin drew a breath and let it go; he really couldn't think of anything to say.

"I cleaned the blood," Father Aylus said. "I didn't want anyone else to know."

Edrin tilted his head, looking cautiously at the older man. "So what do you want?"

"I want your help, of course. You've been working with the mission for two months, now. I daresay you have a decent idea of how much money -- or how little -- we take in, and where it goes. So you know I'm honest about it. I'll even show you the books if you like, though I suppose a good swindler would have a second set of books prepared."

"...Sometimes," muttered Edrin. He looked up, meeting the priest's eyes. "It's often more complicated than that." Then he frowned again. "But why would you work with me?"

The older man lowered his head in acknowledgement. "Yes, yes, I know. You're one of the fallen, a dark templar, an ash knight. But I also know about Cardinal Orbash's connections with the bankers, the lords, and the Archon. For someone forbidden by his vows to hold more property or wealth than he needs, he lives in a very nice house and eats well at every meal. His friends see to his comforts, and he uses his influence on their behalf... and frankly, I'm tired of it. I'd like to see him shown that his pride, his vanity, his greed... is a sin. If you'll permit me to speak as a man rather than a priest, I'd like to see him taken down."

"And what do you think I can do about that?" Edrin made the question sincere. "If you know what I am, you know that holy ground burns me just as daylight does."

"I do," answered Father Aylus. "But I also know about the Bishop of Tulwin, and the priests in Bettermore and Niceras, and I suspect you have ways to work around that."

"...I'm a little uncomfortable with how well-informed you are," said Edrin, "but all right: I'll help."

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Blogging Challenge: Books I Want Youth To Discover

This is part of the Weekly Wednesday Blogging Challenge over at Long and Short Reviews. This week's challenge is Books I Want Youth To Discover.

As the father of two boys (currently aged 9 and 12), this is such a day-to-day consideration that I'm not immediately sure where to start. Naturally I want them to love the books that I loved, and to enjoy the authors that I enjoy. Naturally, that doesn't always work the way I'd hoped -- I once recommended a book to Firstborn that seemed like a quirky story about a mimic that escapes its dungeon and has to figure out how to make its way in the world; three pages later I discovered that the book was wildly inappropriate for children, but by then he'd already finished it. But generally... yeah, I'm passing book recommendations to the boys as frequently as I can.

Well, I mean, there's Harry Potter of course, but I imagine that's going to head a lot of people's lists. So let's look at some of the ones that are less obvious.

Emilie and the Hollow World and its sequel, Emilie and the Sky World (both of which were available as e-books, I swear) are really excellent and deeply underrated YA books by Martha Wells, author of The Murderbot Diaries. I would love for these to have the popularity they deserve. You have a teenage heroine who is brave but not fearless, a sort of steampunk-and-magic setting, and some really lovely exploration-adventure-danger sequences. (I also would love to see a third title in this series.)

Joan D Vinge's Cat series (Psion, Catspaw, and Dreamfall) is an older series, where the protagonist is a half-alien telepath who keeps getting dragged into trouble because of his powers, and because of his sense of social conscience.

For Love of Mother Not, the first (though not first-published) of the Flinx and Pip adventures, about a young boy with erratic psychic/empathic powers and his acid-spitting winged snake. (Who wouldn't like to have an acid-spitting flying snake?) In the first book, Flinx's adoptive mother gets kidnapped and Flinx sets out find her. As the series progresses, there are ancient alien artifacts, strange new races, and a growing threat gathering at the edge of the galaxy.

...Apparently I have a bit of a space adventures theme going on here.

Anyway, that's my top-of-my-head list. I mean, there are others that we've had some wild success getting Firstborn to read -- Harriet Hamster and Danny Dragonbreath, both series by Ursula Vernon, the Wings of Fire series by Tui T. Sutherland -- but those are modern and already quite popular, and not really much in need of being discovered.

I'll come back and update if I think of any more likely candidates before I publish this.

Oh! Late shout-out to one Beautiful Wife's early favorites: Crusade in Jeans. It's the story of a kid who gets sent back in time and gets caught up in the Children's Crusade.