Tuesday, November 30, 2021

Character Sketch: Professor Young

Professor Victor Young is the primary instructor for shadow arcana at Sunhaven, and as such has been assigned to mentor Darian Silver. He is a portly, older gentleman who uses a classical wooden wand as his focus. He is friendly and even charming, but sometimes relies on that too much and asks his students uncomfortably personal questions. His shadow magics are unlike Darian's: his are an extension of his will, completely under his control. He is also skilled in the magics of fire, motion, and battlefield healing. 

Professor Young is a man with secrets.

Monday, November 29, 2021

I don't like Sundays

I had a moment yesterday morning when, shortly after waking up, I opened up Twitter, read a bit, and then thought, Naw, this is too depressing, and closed it again. 

And then I sat there and thought a bit longer, and realized that Twitter really isn't the issue here. It's me, and the fact that it's Sunday and I have to go back to work tomorrow. I don't want to. I am fed up with my job on an existential level. 

I'm also about four years away from retirement, and I'd be lying if I said that wasn't part of the problem. So... I applied for something else within my organization. And I'm very, very curious to see how this plays out, especially since it's technically within the same department and I strongly suspect that they'd need to hire at least two people to take over what I'm currently doing. And honestly, I'm also fucking furious because I shouldn't need to be doing this at all. 

But here we all are. 

The next step after this one -- assuming that shifting over within the department isn't, um, "viable" -- is to start applying for jobs at organizations that feed into the same retirement plan (or compatible ones). Or, y'know, we could avoid the whole thing by performing a years-overdue reclassification of my current job, and start paying me for the number of responsibilities I've taken on... but honestly at this point I don't believe that management has the basic competence and/or decency to do that. If they did, it would have been done already. 

So no, fuck that. I'm sick of waiting, and I've been sick of waiting for fucking years now. I've got medical bills coming in for Beautiful Wife's cancer surgery, Firstborn is heading off to college in another couple of years, Secondborn isn't far behind him, and I am not being paid for the additional responsibilities that I was given years ago. I am done

Which is not to say that situation couldn't be salvaged. It could. But that would require some sort of positive action on my employer's part, and I don't have any reason to believe that will happen. Why would I?

And yes, I'm well aware that some of the people who read this blog are current or former co-workers. I am also well past giving a shit about that sort of concern. If our mutual employer doesn't like me trash-talking them, that's on them for letting this situation fester in the first place.

Friday, November 26, 2021

Dark Armor V3 Ch01 SC01

All right, beloved friends: this is going to be Version 3 of this story. When I started Version 2, I said that I really liked the characters and the setting, the world-vision, but that the story had gotten off-course from the kind of story I really wanted to be telling here. Well, the second attempt was interesting (to me, anyway) but it ran into the same problem: it wasn't moving towards the story beats that I wanted. So, here we go with Version 3. 

Also, as you've doubtless noticed by now, I really like this opening scene. 

Pallian stood at the crest of the hill, holding his mount by its reins, and watched as his older brother looked out over the likely battlefield below.

It wasn't a good spot for either side, just a low valley with a wide creek across its center. High grasses alternated with clumps of scattered trees, and the dozen or so farms that occupied the area were rapidly being abandoned. On the far side, uniformed men organized into neat units occupied a matching ridge, and didn't seem any more inclined to descend into the valley than Pallian was. Still, they were a foreign army on his father's lands, and didn't seem likely to turn back without a fight.

"What do you think, Brother?" Ravaj was pale-skinned and dark-haired, with a lean, handsome face. He wore heavy armor and carried his helm in one gloved hand.

From within his armor, Pallian inclined his head. Ravaj was the heir, and had been put in charge of this expedition to gain some experience in battle. There was no particular reason for him to seek the opinion of his youngest brother, but perhaps he was having a moment of uncertainty out here in the wilderness of the world, so very far away from the citadel and their father's protection.

"Starting with the obvious? This is no simple farmers' rebellion."

"No. And I do not like the look of that army." Ravaj glanced down. "Or this valley."

"It's a terrible battlefield," Pallian replied. "Advantage to the defender. Victory by attrition. Costly. I'd guess we have the advantage in sorceries, but they have the advantage in numbers."

"So we could win, and still be at a loss." Ravaj was nodding."Perhaps that's what they want." He was pampered and sometimes cruel, but he wasn't a fool.  Not when it came to matters of power.

Pallian frowned. "The best outcome for them is if we attack while they hold the far ridge. The same, in reverse, for us." He paused as an arrow slammed into his armor and shattered. It must have been ensorceled, to fly so far; but his armor was their father's work, an extension of his strength, and Pallian had yet to find anything that could pierce it.

A second arrow tangled itself in his brother's sorcerous defenses; Ravaj laid a hand on the shaft, whispered new instructions, and sent it back to the archer that had loosed it.

"Neither side will get that," said Ravaj, picking up the track of Pallian' thought. "So we'll either need to draw each other out, or keep each other distracted while we do something else."

Pallian nodded.

"We'll make camp here, set up defenses as best we can. We can send some skirmishers down to keep them occupied. Likely they'll do the same, and nothing much will come of it." Ravaj frowned. "I'd send you to raze their camp in the middle of the night, but they'll probably be expecting that."

Pallian smiled inside his helmet. Ravaj might not have any deep-seated concern for Pallian's life, but the Black Knight was still a valuable asset, and the Heir didn't want to risk losing him. "I can always meet them on the field tomorrow, if it comes to that. But I agree: for tonight, it might be best to do nothing. This whole attack was clearly intended to provoke a certain sort of reaction."

Ravaj turned his back to the valley. "So we don't react. Make it look like we're uncertain, like we want them to attack us."

"Which we do," Pallian observed. "Advantage to the defender." He turned his back to the ridge, then felt another arrow smash into his armor from behind. Ravaj's return of the arrow hadn't been enough to discourage the archer; that could be a problem. An idea occurred to him, and he said: "Hide me away. Put me in one of the tents, shield me against scrying. Let them wonder what I'm out there doing tonight." 

Ravaj nodded slowly. "Let's assume they're planning to try something as well. I'll lay wards in depth around the camp, try to catch whatever they might send."

Pallian smiled. It wouldn't be visible behind his visor, and the helmet distorted his voice into something inhuman, but still... "Anyone we take prisoner could be used to bargain." Perhaps even bargain for a withdrawal, if they send a champion and we capture him.

Thursday, November 25, 2021

Happy Thanksgiving, Y'all

 I know how I'll be spending mine...

Some things I'm grateful for this year (because I think it's good to stop and look these over): 

  • Beautiful Wife. I mean, just in general, she's awesome, and she handles so much stuff. Yes, I'm still smitten, and I'm grateful for that, too. 
  • The Boys. Yes, they make us crazy sometimes, but they're also hilarious and interesting and fun. It's wonderful to watch them inch closer to adulthood and self-sufficiency. 
  • Books. While my reading has been a bit circumscribed for the last couple of years -- I haven't always had the mental and emotional bandwidth to deal with anything too challenging -- I've read a number of really good new books and re-read a number of old favorites, and this has been both pleasant and good for my mental health. 
  • Modern Medicine. This on several levels, from fixing my teeth right on up to breast cancer surgery. Also...
  • Vaccinations. Huge load off my mind, that was. I'm getting the booster as soon as I possibly can, too, and Secondborn has finally had his first shot. Get vaccinated if you possibly can, please. 
  • My D&D groups. I have three: two different campaigns that I play in, and one that I run for Firstborn and his friends. They're very different, but they're all good groups and I am grovelingly grateful to have them in my life.

Wednesday, November 24, 2021

Challenge: Holiday Food

For the last two years, I've been taking part in the Wednesday Weekly Blogging Challenge over at Long and Short Reviews. (The first link will take you to the list of topics; the second one goes to the homepage, where you can find a post with everyone's responses each week. Feel free to join in!)

This week's prompt is "traditional Thanksgiving foods I like (or dislike)."

Well... the thing about Thanksgiving is that everyone I know who takes part in it serves so much food that I never have any real trouble finding something to eat. Turkey, ham, mashed potatoes, green beans, and I pretty well have it covered. Maybe a couple of rolls with just ridiculous amounts of butter on them. Yes, there are things that I dislike -- I've never been fond of stuffing, for example -- but I also don't feel obligated to eat those things. 

No, the thing I dislike most about Thanksgiving lunch is that the food selections are so utterly de rigeur. It's essentially the same meal every year, and the things that I wouldn't make at other times of the year are also generally the things I don't really want to eat in the first place. 

I want to see non-traditional Thanksgiving meals. Give me a year where we start the meal mid-morning, when everyone's just starting to get hungry, and make it a breakfast selection. Go wild! Let the kids make their own waffles! Have different kinds of eggs, bacon, and sausage! Biscuits and gravy! Set out wee little bowls of cereal as a side-dish! 

Or build your family meal around a nice curry chicken, maybe with gyro meat as another option. Throw in some Greek salad and naan! Put some goat cheese on the cutting board. Tiramisu for dessert! Give me something different! 

Ahem. It's nothing against traditional Thanksgiving foods, really. I just think we need some new traditions.

Tuesday, November 23, 2021

RoH: An Interruption

This is one of those concepts that I keep coming back to, so take a look through the Remnant of Heroes tag if you're curious about it. I originally began it as a series of short stories, with this guy wandering the world because he didn't really have any place to belong any more, and didn't want to be known for what he'd once been.

"How much farther?" called Master Cailiff as Remant rode past

Remant slowed his horse to answer. "Another hour to the next waystation, according to Jorral. Well before dark."

"That's not so bad," muttered Master Cailiff, his words pitched low for the benefit of his wife. She was sitting on the bench of the wagon beside him, a sturdy woman whose hair was just beginning to show some gray. 

Cailiff himself was older, his hair and beard turned to salt and pepper, his bearing dignified despite his corpulence. Remant wasn't bothered by him, but then Remant wasn't bothered by much of anyone. He was just a guard, paid to get the caravan safely to Doblim. What he might do when he arrived there, he wasn't sure. 

Ahead of them, Ikara gave a short, sharp whistle. Remant said, "Later," and rode ahead to see what the trouble was. 

The trouble was a child, unconscious by the side of the road. Darek, the only other male among the caravan guards, was standing several feet back, wrapping a bandage around his arm and muttering curses under his breath. 

"What happened?" called Remant, as he approached. 

"The child is a trap," said Darek, and spat as he tied off the bandage. "Or she's cursed. I tried to awaken her, and her shadow rose up and cut me." 

Ikara, sitting on her domek, nodded. "That's what happened." 

The domek was thick-skinned and heavy, strong and difficult to injure. It couldn't match a horse's speed, but then Ikara's job was to stay steady and call orders, not to charge into battle. She rode at the front of the caravan. 

"You just found her here?" asked Remant.

Ikara nodded. "I'm taking the caravan on," she said. "If you want to risk checking her, you can do that." She sounded as if she knew he wouldn't die, so Remant nodded back. "I'll tell you anything I learn," he said, swinging down off his horse as Darek mounted his and Ikara gave the signal to move along.

Friday, November 19, 2021

Dark Armor: Writing Considerations

This isn't going quite as I'd envisioned it, either. 

I mean, I don't think it's horrible. I don't even think it's uninteresting. It's just... not going quite where I want it go. I'd have to force it to get back there, back to the beats I want to hit and the progression I want work through. 

In the first version, Pallian would have slain his brother Ravaj, freed the Shadow of Edrias, and then returned to his father's citadel and tried to keep both betrayals a secret. I'm not sure quite where that would have led, but it wasn't where I was aiming for. (Might have been an interesting story in its own right, though.) 

In this version, Pallian gets captured and his father's response brings home to him that he can't continue to serve as his father's champion, and as a result likely can't remain in his father's court. Also a potentially interesting story, but again not building towards the things I want out of this particular bit of writing.

So now I'm wondering whether to continue this anyway, just for the sake of making progress and seeing where it goes, or stop here and start again with version three after making a couple of fundamental changes to the background and setup.

Version Three would have Pallian -- or rather, the Black Knight -- taking more of a command role: publicly advising his brother on strategy, leading troops rather than riding off on his own, and encountering the Champion of Edrias on the battlefield rather than in passing behind the lines. I think it would work better for what I want, but I may actually have to start writing it that way to find out. 


Thursday, November 18, 2021

Fanaxia: The Naval Battle Continues

Marshall, Leira, and Geddy had assaulted the flagship and killed Lord Bulbeck; they then managed -- barely -- to stabilize Marshall. They loot Bulbeck for 10,500 GP and a Circlet of Persuasion and a +3 rapier. Getting Marshall back is not easy, but once he’s back he manages to heal everybody. They steer the final ship towards one of its large companions, and then teleport to the capital ship that’s moving to confront Lord Crowe’s fleet. The Styre Navy (suborned by Bulbeck and Richlieu) is also moving in towards their flank.

They teleport to one of the two navy capital ships, arriving with Leira on the mast and Marshall and Geddy flying to either side of her. Even better, they seem to have arrived unseen. There are a couple of wizards, probably followers of Vecna; there are also some rogues, some archers, a cleric, and an orc who’s probably a barbarian. Geddy casts Dominate Person on the captain; the rogues look up and notice him. Leira drops her last Sunburst on the other Navy capital ship, blinding them and doing Bad Things to everyone on deck. She is also visible now.

Everybody shoots at Leira; she gets hit by three crossbow bolts for relatively minimal damage. The wizards on the fore- and aft decks cast lesser globes of invulnerability; their companions hit Leira with Magic Missiles. Marshall drops to the aft deck and taps the central wizard with Slay Living. He dies, taking the Lesser Globe of Invulnerability with him. Geddy sets the captain to ram this boat into the other Navy Capital Ship. Geddy casts Mass Suggestion and suggests that everyone should Abandon Ship. Everyone amidship fails, and one of them move to the edge but hesitates -- he’s in heavy armor. One of the rogues shoots Leira with a bow.

The orc barbarian charges Marshall and hits him fairly hard. Most of the lesser combatant leap off the center of the boat. The wizard casts blindness on Marshall, but fails to affect him. The two wizards on the foredeck fire lightning bolts up at Leira and Geddy, hitting Leira worse than Geddy -- and damaging the map. Leira collapses;  Geddy is injured.

Marshall attacks the barbarian, and Geddy swoops down on his Ebony Fly to get Leira. Leira is unconscious and possibly drowning.

The Orc decides to attack Marshall some more, Power Attacking but missing completely. The guy in the armor decides not to jump off the boat. The wizards Magic Missile Marshall. Marshall drops Divine Favor and Divine Power on himself, just in time for the Orc to attack and drop his falchion in the attempt. The cleric moves towards the aft deck, and another rogue moves up. The wizard is still in play; he tries Tasha’s Hideous Laughter on Marshall Instead but fails. The two wizards up front throw Magic Missiles, and Marshall decides to heal himself before proceeding. Geddy heals Leira. Leira: “You’re not Sacha!”

Leira drops a Freezing Sphere on the foredeck, catching two wizards and a rogue. They turn to ice, fall over, and shatter.

The Orc bends down to pick up his sword and Marshall smacks him; he straightens up and hits Marshall in return. More enemies move in on Marshall; the cleric throws a Flame Strike at Leira and Geddy on the ebony fly. Geddy zags them out of the way, avoiding the worst of the damage. The wizard by Marshall tags him with a Magic Missile. Marshall looks at all the people around him and drops Mass Inflict Serious. A bunch of the lesser combatants simply die; everyone else takes damage, but survives. Geddy makes himself, Leira, and the fly invisible, and heads up and away. Leira is annoyed; she casts Disintegrate at the cleric. He’s just gone.

The rogue tumbles behind Marshall and attacks but misses; the orc hits once for fairly solid damage. The archer who remains alone on the foredeck stops and considers his options. The wizard drops magic missile. Marshall shifts position and tags the orc three times and the wizard once, dropping them both. Geddy puts a crossbow bolt in the rogue and kills him. He puts another bolt in the archer up front, and misses with his third shot. Leira drops the archer with a Magic Missile.

Meanwhile, the first line of Bulbeck’s boats reaches Crowe’s fleet and the battle is joined. The boat that we turned is crashing through the center of the fleet, and the other boats are scattering to avoid collisions. Meanwhile, a bunch of the small pinnaces move in on Alexej and Tavros. A pair of Caravels move in behind them. The crab takes a bit of damage from the caravels. 

A Pinnace attacks the capital ship and does some damage.The advantage appears momentarily with Crowe’s forces, but advantage in a situation like this is temporary. The Caravels and Dromonds behind them begin exchanging fire. Over in the navy forces, the dead capital ship crashes into the other capital ship, and one of the caravels goes down. Tavros and Alexej are still taking out boats with the crab: one and then another.

So: Leira, Marshall, and Geddy have now crashed their large boat into the other large boat. A significant portion of the crew on deck was destroyed by Leira’s sunburst; the remaining six are injured and possibly blind and all but one of them are blind. Then the boats collided, and the blind ones suddenly had to make balance checks; four of them fall down.

A cleric-looking fellow stands up, and cures his own blindness. We’ve done some curing on the way over. Marshall crosses to the new boat and lands on the foredeck next to the orc (who is blind).  One of the rogues feels his way over to the barrel by the mast and starts splashing water on his eyes. One of the rogues, the one who can see, takes a shot at Geddy and promptly jams his crossbow. The dwarf staggers to his feet, looking undamaged but cursing (“Och! I’m bland and I havnae e’en been drinkin!”) but one of the rogues is looking badly injured. Geddy finishes him with a crossbow bolt. Leira drops Disintegrate on the cleric, who manages some resistance but still take damage from it. The blind orc climbs to his feet, and Marshall swings his scythe into him from behind. The orc turns around and attacks, but misses. On the aft deck, a cleric in black Vecna robes stands up and cures his own blindness. This guy is another cleric; and Marshall and Geddy notice the signal mirrors and realize that this is the command ship for the navy. The priest who unblinded himself last time drops a flame strike on the fly, doing a bit of damage.

Marshall cuts down the orc.

The two clerics move to regroup on the aft deck. The Vecna cleric removes the blindness from the Dwarf.

Geddy dominates the lesser priest and sends him over to signal the fleet to withdraw. He calls down to Marshall so Marshall knows not to kill the guy. Leira drops a Freezing Sphere on the aft deck, killing one guy, damaging the dwarf, and injuring the cleric somewhat less.

The Vecna cleric tries a Flame Strike of his own, and Geddy again steers them away from the worst of it. Marshall crosses to the back of the boat. The Dwarf rages and then Power Attacks Marshall, hitting twice. Leira drops Freezing Sphere and takes out the Vecna cleric, while Marshall finishes the dwarf with a critical hit.

Wednesday, November 17, 2021

Challenge: How Do You Buy Books?

For the last two years, I've been taking part in the Wednesday Weekly Blogging Challenge over at Long and Short Reviews. (The first link will take you to the list of topics; the second one goes to the homepage, where you can find a post with everyone's responses each week. Feel free to join in!)

This week's prompt is "paperback, ebook, or audio?" 

The technical answer is that I've done all three, though I only listen to audio books under fairly specific circumstances. 

Ebooks are my most common format for book-buying. That's partly price -- they tend to be a little bit cheaper -- but mostly it's because of space considerations. Tragically, I never achieved my dream of becoming filthy rich through a career of professional decadence, so I do not own a massive house built entirely in the image of the library from Beauty and the Beast (but with more secret passages). Having a reasonably-sized electronic book full of endless other books is an everyday miracle, a casual treasure that I get to just... carry around with me. 

That said, some books -- especially some I remember from my childhood -- simply aren't available as eBooks. So I'll purchase them however I can: paperback, trades, hardbacks. And I find it difficult to read graphic novels as ebooks, so I tend to get those in paperback as well. (After that, well, I go back to wondering why my shelves are always so cluttered.)

Then there are books that are... how to say this... important to me. Books I re-read, stories I adore. I will generally buy those as ebooks, yes, but I will also buy them in hardback if possible, or paperback if not. These are the books that want to make sure I can still have around if the world ends, the electrical grid collapses, and the Internet is no more. 

I know Mad Max is always out there looking for gasoline, and there are whole book genres devoted to riding out the Apocalypse in some sort of shelter or compound before emerging to rebuild True Democracy, but me? No. I intend to roam the wasteland as an itinerant Dungeon Master, running roleplaying games in exchange for food and supplies; or perhaps helping to organize a cenobitic order of traveling librarians. 

So how do you buy your books?

Tuesday, November 16, 2021

Stuff and Stuff

Well, we're apparently a week out from Thanksgiving break, and I am not getting a lot accomplished. It's not for lack of things that need to be done, mind you. It's just that I've been trying to slow down and rest, and -- as frequently happens when I do that -- my body has responded by wanting to slow down even more and rest even more. Which is a good indicator that I needed to do this in the first place, and probably much earlier, if we're being honest here. 

So, yeah: not much progress on my current writing project; not much progress on writing stuff for the Blog o' Doom here; not much progress on the book I'm reading (a lovely little murder-mystery/romance called At First Meow). Things I actually have accomplished (mostly this past weekend, before I really started trying to slow down) included laundry, some general cleaning of the house, running the youth D&D game, getting dental work done, and keeping everyone (else) fed and on schedule.

Which, actually... no wonder I'm tired. 

It's not a complete waste -- I can feel bits of my sense of humor coming back online -- but I'm kind of glad we haven't had any major catastrophes (at home or at work) because I have no focus. 

Still... I have a test server that I need to go upgrade so that it breaks properly* which sounds pretty low-stress. I guess I'd better get started on that. 

*I can't get this upgrade to work, so I keep setting it back to its current iteration. So, I need to do the upgrade again, knowing that it won't work, so we can troubleshoot it when it's broken. This has taken literally months and I am heartily sick of it.

Friday, November 12, 2021

Dark Armor V2 Ch03 Sc01

"Can you hear me, Wizard-King of Teregor? Are you seeing this?" 

Pallian blinked behind his visor. He was upright, but somehow frozen in place; his armor had become as much a cage as a protection. He should have been able to see everything around him, but his armor showed him nothing. He was limited to what he could see through his visor. And what he could see was a tall, broad-shouldered figure in a plain gray robe and cowl, whose face was an endless fire. 

Illusion, most likely. His armor should have been able to see through it, but the enemy had somehow disabled his armor. 

"Very good," said the figure, in a deep, masculine voice. That too might be illusion; Pallian couldn't tell. "I can feel you trying to restore your champion. You know I have him." There was a momentary pause. "Speak to me. Let us parley."

You failed me, boy. You let them capture you. You! The Champion of Teregor.

In that moment, Pallian was done. Later, he would think of a response. Later, in the privacy of his own mind, he would think: Bullshit. I didn't fail you, your armor failed me. Your power failed me. Later, he would be enraged at being blamed for this. Here, now, he thought back: Then let me end this. Or end it yourself.

With a word, either of them could make the armor obliterate everything around them -- including itself, and Pallian. It would consume its own enchantments and turn those energies into an expanding, self-perpetuating sphere of destruction that would consume this wizard, his army, and some significant portion of the landscape. It would leave the Witch-King weakened, but his enemies annihilated.  

Perhaps not yet, said his father, but know that I am mightily displeased with you. 

Pallian held himself still, waiting. "We hear you," he said. He could hear the words, muffled by the helm, as they came out in the deep, distorted voice of the Black Knight. 

"I propose a trade," said the fire-faced enemy. "A champion for a champion. Have your son release the Shadow, untouched and unharmed, and I will leave your champion here for him to retrieve. A simple exchange, one for one." 

Not unless they agree to depart my lands and never return, thought the Witch-King, and Pallian spoke the words aloud for him. Even with most of its power suppressed, the armor still disguised his voice...

"It will be done," said the face of flames. 

Then it will be done, thought the Witch-King, and again Pallian spoke for him. 

"Agreed and witnessed," said the face of flames, stepping back. 

Then the archer was there, stepping in front of him, arrow nocked and drawn. "Let me encourage you to hurry," she said. "I don't want the prince to get any ideas."

The flame-faced figure said, "No!" but it was too late. 

Pallian felt the arrow pierce his armor, and his chest, and his lung. He felt it strike against the armor on his back and stop. Looking down, he could see it sticking out of his chest. He managed not to scream, but nearly cracked his teeth with the effort of holding it back. Then he held himself still. Was he suffocating? He couldn't tell through the pain. The Final Word was on his tongue, but he didn't speak it yet: he didn't want to die, even if it would destroy everyone here. Was that cowardice?

The robed figure lifted a hand, then aborted the gesture. "I can't remove it. It might be tamponading something." 

"You assume there's something human in there," said the archer, still staring at Pallian. "And regardless, I'm allowed the right of conquest."

"I withdraw my army," said the face of flames. "Release the Shadow, and come quickly for your champion." 

Pallian spoke before his father could: "Go." His voice came out deep and distorted, inhuman as ever, untouched by the arrow in his lung even as the pain of trying to breathe seized him and crushed him down. It was his own gesture of defiance, but one that his father would appreciate. 

And he needed his father to appreciate it, he realized. He needed his father to want to keep him alive, to have him serve as the Black Knight, until he could make his own plans and carry them out. It was no longer enough to seek safety, however ephemeral, within his father's court. 

He had to get out.

Thursday, November 11, 2021

Fanaxia: Bulbeck's Naval-Gazing

 It is our seventeenth day in Fanaxia. We have successfully repelled the forces that were set to wipe out Lydelle, at the cost of most of their skilled local defenders and a number of buildings. Elderman Garrus arrives the following day, to find that most of the local military force is gone. Hugo has been a big help. 

We rejoin our groups at the Striking Asp in Styre. Zilf the Elder Druid is keeping the castle contained, but stuff is spilling out of the swamp and he fears that it’s going to get worse. Lady Merrowin might be able to quell the swamp, but she’s currently protecting the queen. 

So… we return to the castle at Vrist; word has arrived from Lydelle, and we’re welcomed warmly. The Elvish Bard is there, and the queen (Eleanor Duraine). Lady Merrowin the Druid is concerned about the attacks from the swamp. We gather with the queen’s privy council, and Geddy lays out the various offers and prices that our potential allies have asked for. Lord Crowe only requires that we pledge to help protect his forces; the queen is pleased by this. Bulbeck, on the other hand, requires us to remove Lord Crowe, grant him the northern island. And give him full control of trade on the northern ocean. We aren’t doing that. 

(Reminder: if we were to bring Kroni’s body back, his soul would immediately return to his body. This would finally free Sacha.)

Geddy then moves on to the would-be king Montford and the proposal of marriage. The advisors immediately erupt, with a great deal of spluttering and harrumphing. The counts really don’t like this plan; they’d lose status in a united north. The queen seems to be mostly in shock at this unexpected idea. After a few minutes, the queen asks: “And if I refuse, will you still fight with us?” 

Geddy: “We’re basically here to remove the assholes. We’re still going to help with Wallington.”

Queen: “That doesn’t leave me much reason to accept.” 

Geddy: “The choice is yours, but we will need allies.” He then lays out the position of West Styre and the Archons, which is even less welcome. 

The queen is willing to marry on the condition that we pledge not to establish a king of the entire island in the south -- she wants the north to be independent. Geddy tries to inspire her to be the leader we need. “West Styre may be in need of help soon, I see. Perhaps they will be more amenable in a few days. Let us… allow him some time to become more desperate.”

The queen retires to her rooms, and Fabian draws up the marriage contract (rather against his better judgement, but sometimes being a courtier means doing what you’re told). 

Montfort agrees and joins forces with us. Bulbeck announces for Richlieu, and his people in the Fanax armada have sailed north to help him deal with Crowe. West Styre suffers more damage; so do the lizard folk. 

So, on Day Eighteen, young lord Crowe calls for help and lady Merrowin announces her plan to move south and help West Styre. 

We split up again: Martini, Azrael, and Ruin will try to take out Lord Wallington and basically cut the head off the werewolf rebellion. Tavros and Alexej will pilot the Apparatus of Kwalish, and Leira, Geddy, and Marshall will try to get onto Bulbeck’s boat and take him out. 

Azrael sends Crowe a message: “Look to the flames of Bulbeck’s boat. Then you will know that we keep our word.”  

Tavros and Alexej move in with the crab, wiping out three pinnaces. Meanwhile, Marshall, Leira, and Geddy teleport onto Bulbeck’s ship. Lord Bulbeck is at the wheel. The sailors immediately clear the deck; they’ve been prepared for this. There are four iron golems and five wizards on the boat, clearly Cardinal Richlieu’s contribution. This is… not the ideal force to assault such things, but it’s two major spellcasters plus a bard. 

Geddy opens with a song of courage, and Bulbeck whips out his shortbow and takes a shot at Geddy… but misses, badly. One of the wizards touches Bulbeck and teleports the two of them away to another boat. The wizards unload multiple Cones of Cold at our heroes, damaging them badly; two of them try Feeblemind on Leira, and one of them gets through. Leira is effectively out of action. 

Marshall activates the Wings of Flying and casts Heal on Leira, restoring a lot of her health and removing the Feeblemind. He then moves laterally off the side of the boat. Leira grabs Geddy and teleports over to the crow’s nest on the boat that the wizard took Bulbeck to. 

This one has Greater Stone Golems. Bulbeck: “Ah, come to join me?” 

Leira: “No, not particularly. But thanks for asking.”

Geddy hits one of the golems with Greater Dispel Magic, effectively putting it to sleep. Bulbeck: “You fucker! Those were gifts!” He fires more arrows, to no good effect. 

The wizard teleports him again. 

Marshall casts Dimensional Anchor onto Bulbeck, then flies over to Geddy. Leira tries to use Lightning Bolt on the next boat, but there’s a Lesser Globe of Invulnerability around that boat. Geddy throws out a Shatter, damaging the Stone Golem… but not significantly. There are also some deafened and stunned sailors below deck. Marshall casts Heal on Geddy. Leira teleports them over to the crow’s nest on the next boat. 

Geddy uses another Shatter to deafen and stun the wizard and Bulbeck, and also damage them somewhat. The two swashbucklers on the foredeck yank aside a tarp and dive off the boat; two beholders drift up from underneath it and join the battle. This is about the moment that Leira realizes that the entire boat is surrounded by a Dimensional Anchor: there's no way to teleport back out with breaking that effect first. There’s another tarp at the back of the boat, but apparently the Shatter has stunned them as well. 

Looking down, Marshall notices a note that’s been nailed to the mast. He casts Anti-Magic Field. Leira casts Sunburst, blinding the beholders. They lurch, blinking, but it’s too late; they are also injured. “Behold this, motherfuckers!”

Geddy: “So we’re doing this, huh?” He pulls out his crossbow and starts shooting at beholders. His first shot misses badly, his second hits, and the third misses. 

Bulbeck recovers from being stunned: “You fools! Pull the other magic tarp!” He shoots three more arrows at Geddy, and finally hits with one of them. 

Two more sailors yank the magical tarp away, and two more beholders float up as the sailors leap off the boat. The blinded beholders start trying to target the crow’s nest, but the anti-magic field protects our heroes. They finally fall back on using Telekinesis, and manage to hit Leira with a barrel. 

The wizard casts Lesser Globe of Invulnerability. Marshall drops Firestorm on top of him, Bulbeck, and the other two beholders. The guys who jumped off the boat? They were the smart one. The sorcerer is annihilated. Bulbeck ducks and avoids the damage: “You’re going to have to do better than that!” 

Leira drops a Sunburst on the front of the boat. Geddy continues shooting at beholders with his crossbow, hitting twice. Bulbeck swings off the aft deck and through the door, then closes it behind him. One of the beholders Disintegrates the mast, and then they throw barrels at the group; Marshall goes down. 

Leira summons Mordenkainen’s Sword, and has it attack Beholders. It finishes off a wounded beholder. 

Geddy leaps off the side of the boat, summoning the Ebony Fly before he hits the water. 

Leira takes more damage from thrown barrels, and is now badly damaged. She rolls off the boat and then tosses a Freezing Sphere onto the two beholders on the aft deck. They die. 

Geddy rises back up on the Ebony Fly, and casts Modify Memory to make the remaining beholder forget that it heard Leira jump in the water, and instead remember Leira running into the cabin where Bulbeck actually went.

Bulbeck is still in that cabin, thinking that he’s out of the line of fire, when the Beholder starts blasting into the rear cabin. He avoids most of it, but he’s hit with Finger of Death and also Petrified. Leira finishes the beholder with a freezing sphere. 

Wednesday, November 10, 2021

Music: Bitter Taste

 New Billy Idol, which I quite enjoyed: 

Good to know he's still making music.

Monday, November 8, 2021

Writing Progress: Shadow Academy

 Last week was an absolute beating, with about eight major thing all falling on me at once. I finally managed to take a day off on Friday, and even then I wound up jumping in to get a couple of things done. So writing progress in general has been minimal, and writing progress with my Magical School For Monsters projects has been even more so. (I'd really meant to put in at least a couple of hours on that day off -- that was sort of the point -- but I blew about half the day catching up on non-work stuff like oil changes and then took a nap and then had to pick up Secondborn from school and after that I was just done. With all that cleared away, I could use another couple of days off to actually do some writing, but... well... {{insert the sound of bitter laughter here}} Yeah.)

Still, progress is progress, however small. Darian and his group of proto-friends have arrived at the school, and Natalya is taking steps to keep them together long enough to see if they could really become friends. Which is good, because Darian is fairly well worn out from what he's done so far, even if confronting a jerk and making introductions to a bunch of strangers doesn't seem like all that much. 

The Sunhaven Academy of the Midnight Accord doesn't have the sort of formalized division of houses that appear in a lot of Magical Schools (and other YA dystopian setups), but it still has its groupings and alliances and rivalries. The ghouls, for example, stick together and help each other out; what they lack in status, they make up in reputation. And they're tough, too. The vampires, on the other hand, have the benefits of early education and training, but they're frequent spoiled and rely too much on their prestige and status. Even the ones who are really, really good -- and there are quite a few -- are arrogant and hard to work with, and don't see that as a weakness. The ogres don't keep so tightly together; they aren't high-status, but they aren't reviled either -- and they're strong. Shapechangers, meanwhile, are a mixed bag; some come from powerful families or clans, some are personally powerful, some are both, some are neither.

The personal rivalries are just as bad as the social groups. Darian has already managed to insult one of the vampires, Dominic Chaddock, before they even reached the Academy; Chaddock and his cousin are absolutely going to want to put the no-name peasant in his place. And the one witness to the exchange, Nadia Gheata, has told Darian that as much as she enjoyed watching it, she can't be friends with him until she sees how their interactions play out. Darian, who comes from a low-status family and grew up in the hinterlands of the Empire at the edge of the Great Forest, isn't prepared for any of this. He has no status and isn't interesting in building a reputation, he just wants to make peace with his shadow so that it quits disrupting his life. 

Life is about to get very, very interesting at Sunhaven.

Friday, November 5, 2021

Dark Armor V2 Ch2 Sc01

Pallian covers the braziers and sweeps away the ash traceries of the pattern that has covered the small clearing in front of the stone bench at the back of the gardens. The other elements of the ritual are already gone, devoured by the forces that answered his call. He has acquired another initiation, the first he has chosen for himself.

His father might disapprove, and that risk is why he has kept his actions secret. Still, limiting himself to the skills and abilities that his father has chosen for him is a risk as well, especially here in the heart of the court. He has chosen his path carefully, selecting an initiation that will complement those he has already, and offer him resources that don't rely on sorcery.

He hears footsteps along the gravel path, and shoves the twin braziers back into the bushes. By the time the servant arrives and kneels beside him, he is sitting on the stone bench and staring idly up at the moon: a young man taking in the evening air.

"My lord," says the servant softly, "the Wizard-King demands your urgent presence."

His heart freezes solid for a beat, then another, then a third. At last it begins to beat again, and he turns to regard the girl without expression. "I attend," he says, and starts back towards the keep.

Thursday, November 4, 2021

Fanaxia: The Battle of Lydell

Azrael open the next stage of combat by dropping an Empowered Fireball, followed by a Quickened Fireball. The first hits some of the giants; the second wipes out a bunch of rogues. The giants take this as their cue to scatter and charge the village; being bunched up seems like a bad idea for them. Ruin and Alexej are on one of the paths, and wipe out more rogues. Azrael and Leira rain more destruction, as the enemies charge the village. 

Ruin looks up and sees a massive group of blinded giants charging down the path towards him, with another group of even larger giants who aren’t blinded behind them. He Dimension Doors himself and Alexej out of the path of the stampede. Leira drops another Sunburst on the giants emerging from the second path; Azrael follows it up with Incendiary Cloud to discourage them from all coming out at once. More giants fall to the accumulated damage. 

Ruin and Alexej fall back towards the archers, since they’re going to be very dead if anything gets near them. Azrael drops a Quickened Web spell on a couple of the giant, and follows with the last of his Empowered Fireball. This immediately burns the webs off, but these groups of giants are significantly damaged. More giants emerge behind the first wave. 

Ruin puts a trio of arrows into the nearest giant, and moves to help support the local heroes. Leira takes out another batch of giants. Our archers do a bit of damage from a relatively safe distance. Azrael drops Cloudkill, damaging the health of a group of giants, who promptly charges and attacks our group of captains; both sides take damage. We’re not sure who’s winning yet, but even if the bad guys beat us it’s going to be a fairly Pyrrhic victory. 

Azrael drops Horrid Wilting on the things that are threatening two groups of our allies. One of the giants rampages into a farm and crushes most of the buildings there. Others emerge and attack the local heroes; they fight back against the lead giants but do little damage. Ruin and Alexej move in to attack giants in melee, but Ruin misses. Leira drops a Freezing Sphere on a group of giants, damaging the whole group. Our archers take out another group of giants, but the local heroes are going down hard and fast. 

One group of rogues takes shelter in a nearby house. Alexej carves up a giant with his guisarme. Alexej drops another Fireball and then a Quickened Magic Missile, damaging a giant and killing a rogue; two of the giants crash into buildings and start ripping them up. The local heroes are down to one, and the leaders of the giants kill another of the local heroes. The blind giants attack but miss. Ruin hits one of the giants, injuring it. 

Leira expertly drops another Freezing Sphere into the giants, damaging them some more. The last surviving local hero teleports out. Our archers are still gamely firing away at the giants. Alexej takes out another giant. 

Ruin takes out another giant as several of the blinded stragglers blunder through the village, smashing things. Leira drops her last Sunburst on the giant commanders, to blind and damage them. Ruin takes down another giant. Azrael teleports over to the rest of the party, and prepares to do horrible things to the giants. Ruin hits one of the two not-blind giants, and Leira runs a lightning bolt through five of the giants, killing one. A group of rogues moves in to flank, and Alexej does a full Whirlwind attack: 6 rogues and one giant, all on the same round. Five of the rogues go down and their captain is barely on his feet; the giant isn’t happy. 

Azrael drops his last Horrid Wilting on a bunch of the giants. One of them actually dies. One of the giants manages to hit Ruin, and tries to poison him, but fails. There are still a couple of giants rampaging through the town. RUin does some more damage, and Leira drops another Sphere of cold. 

Alexej spins around with another whirlwind, and now we’re down to three enemy giants attacking, and one who’s sort of wandering around nearby. Azrael teleports away to intercept the blundering rampager giants, and the giants all turn on Alexej and take him down. Ruin charges and power attacks, taking some damage on the way in but delivering a huge chunk of damage; unfortunately, the main threat of a giant does not go down. Leira, however, immediately finishes him and damages another with a sphere of cold. Azrael finishes an incoming giant with a Scorching Ray, defending the townsfolk. 

The remaining giants turn on Ruin, but they’re still blind and none of them hit him; Ruin takes advantage of the opportunity to grab Alexej and Dimension Door the hell out of dodge. Azrael starts swooping down to use our Wand of Healing on Alexej. Two giants start throwing rocks at Leira, but they’re blind and it’s not wildly effective. She drops another Sphere, and takes out the two active giants. 

Ruin and Azrael manage to get Alexej back on his feet with Wands of Cure Light Wounds. Another giant moves towards the townsfolk, and Ruin puts arrows in it. Lady Green, who’s been sneaking around this whole time, shows up and shoots one of the captains that we’d grouped together. 

Leira changes position and puts a lightning bolt through the two nearby giants. On the far side of the battlefield, another giant moves up to the townspeople, but Azrael tags him with Scorching Ray. Ruin turns around and shoots arrows at the rogues who are chasing the captain, killing all five of them; but Lady Green kills the captain off anyway and moves up a little bit. The archers turn on one of the groups of rogues, killing a rogue and drawing the close enough to be in Azrael’s range.

Ruin uses Dimension Door to cut off the remaining rogues, and finishes them off. 

We lost a lot of the friendly combatants, but we basically wiped out the opposing army. Lady Green escaped, but our archers survived. We’ve been… fairly heroic, actually. Ruin isn’t quite sure how to process that. 

That night, stormclouds gather over the swamp at the center of Fanaxia. Forces of creatures emerge and move up into West Styre, attacking outlying farms. Numerous villagers are killed. On the south side of the swamp, sixty-seven lizard folk are killed. They’re also spilling into northern Fanax. It’s an army of swamp creatures: snakes and oozes and harpies and all our favorite things. 

Vecna… is not pleased.


Monday, November 1, 2021

Youth Halloween One-Shot

You wake up in a strange room...
You wake up in a strange room with a bunch of strangers...

1. The characters wake up with no memories in a stone room. They must find their way out and discover what happened to them. The room contains a stone altar, a pair of bronze doors opening onto a vast abyss, and a passage leading out on the far side from the doors. The walls and pillars are carved with grotesque images, still colored in faded layers of ancient paint. The place feels indescribably old.
Also, the characters are really hungry. They can describe their physical appearances but don't know anything else yet, including their names.
Mechanics: They begin as ordinary humans, but with 100 points to spend. Points can be spent on all sort of things, from additional strength to claws or tentacles or alternate forms to reducing their vulnerability to sunlight or their need to feed on humans. Other resources -- languages, skills, mundane items -- can also be purchased cheaply; purchased items cannot be lost.

2. Encounter a human in the ruins. He recognizes them. Let the kids make the introductions (i.e. choose their own character names). He swears he's not "one of those things" and begs them to help him out of the ruins. His name is Darren Anderson, and his leg is broken. He says they were student researchers, come here to meet with Dr. Shaw and learn from him. Dr. Shaw has been working to unearth these ruins. They're in northern Iran.

3. As they exit the ruins, they encounter a tall security fence with razor wire along the top. Something has torn through it. Beyond is a ruined camp, its buildings a combination of large tents and converted shipping containers, holding records of the dig. If they look, they can locate Dr. Shaw's tent and extract a hand-written diary from its ruin. ("Could this finally be the fabled city of Kamorel, said to be home to a civilization older than all of mankind? What secrets could we pry, even now, from its remains?")

4. Before they can discover more, a team of soldiers arrives, shouting in Farsi, and begins shooting at them. (Speaking Farsi costs two points.) Players may spend points on things that would help their characters. If Anderson is still with them, he is shot and killed. If any of the soldiers interact with the characters, they will reveal that whatever happened here has loosed a great flood of evil things onto the world.

5. Further perusal of the diary will reveal that the expedition has discovered the Temple of the Doorway, and that Dr. Shaw anticipated the arrival of a group of student researchers. He planned to use them in a ritual to break the Great Seal that held the doors closed. With the doors open, Shaw believed he would learn the location of Tananorak, where the ancient oracles were said to break the bonds of space and time and become one with the knowledge of the greater worlds. (They now have vague memories of taking their places and assisting with the ritual while Dr. Shaw lectured them about historical practice and how the ancient priests would have conducted their worship. Then the great stone doors swung open, and darkness spilled out into the world, and then the world was darkness. Somewhere beyond or behind those memories is a vision of a place they've never seen: a stone temple, emerged from antarctic ice after millennia beneath.)

6. How to get there? There are civilian and military cargo planes on a temporary runway some twenty miles from the camp, and plenty of vehicles in the camp. (Knowing how to drive a stick shift costs one point, but there is at least one sedan if the characters don't mind crowding in. Knowing how to fly a plane costs four points, and knowing how to prep a plane for flight costs two points.) If they can get on a plane, the characters can fly south with only two stops to refuel -- but at the second one, they are international fugitives, wanted by Interpol and potentially subject to arrest by the local authorities. The runway used to be part of a temporary U.S. military base; most of the housing is composed of modified shipping containers. They will also need to deal with new hungers (human flesh? blood? hearts?) and their vulnerability to sunlight. (Buying off the hunger or the sunlight vulnerability costs ten points. Apiece.) Anyone they encounter here will probably shoot at them.

7. Once they've crossed Africa, they can head unerringly to the temple in Antarctica. Unfortunately, there's no airport nearby; they can either search for one, buy knowledge of one, or put the plane down the hard way and hope to walk out later.

8. Dr. Shaw has beaten them to the temple by a bare margin, and now they have to stop him from completing the Ritual of Opening; this will be difficult because he's come partly unstuck in space and time, so he will blink around and sometimes there will be as many as five of him. He might also summon things, or have an entourage of eldritch beasts with him; whatever it takes to make this an epic final battle.