Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Time, thou art fleeting

So, I blinked and two months flew by.  I had wanted to do more with this blog, but I got caught up in the whirl of holiday planning, end of semester working,  and juggling three jobs.  Ah well, so be it.  One can only do what one can, and try to keep going.  I will continue to try and work on my creative writing, even if it seems to be difficult for me to get going.

So, personal notes:  I was finally hired full time  Yay me!  I still have three jobs, but now one comes with vacation time and health care.  I have also safely navigated through the holidays, and I continue to work towards my degree.

As 2017 looms, I want to work on compiling some of my work that hasn't made it to digital form yet.  We shall see how things go.

Until then, dear lurkers, I shall keep rolling along.


Monday, October 24, 2016

An original story

So.  I finally wrote an entire story.  Since I was dealing with some really horrible writer's block this was a special moment for me.  The story was suggested by my friend Dave.  He wanted a story that was inspired by one of his great illustrations.  If you are not following him on his page or his Facebook page then go there now!

Anyway, here is the story, and the illustration that inspired it.  Thanks again to David Mallon for his suggestion and his excellent editing of the rough drafts of this (did I mention he is a kick-ass editor as well?)





The feast


“You must be my new roommate!”
Alicia Defaore whirled towards the door of the dorm room. She had been standing in a daze, staring at the various horror posters tacked haphazardly to the walls. A tall girl stood in the doorway. Her face was festooned with piercings and asymmetrical hair dyed a neon green shade stuck out in random spikes from her head. Her lean frame was clad in a Misfits t-shirt and sliced-up jeans.
“Y..yes,” Alicia stammered, eyes downcast, “um, that is, this is my room. I mean, our room. They assigned me here.”
Alicia felt awkward, but that wasn’t anything new to her. She had never been able to talk with others well, preferring to lose herself in books. Her high school years in Durnham had been hard, enduring the petty small-mindedness that only the children of a small suburban community could dish out.
The newcomer was striking in her odd way. Alicia would have never dared to try a getup like that in Durnham High School. It was bad enough with her ill-tended sweatpants and well-worn sweaters among the Madonna wannabes.
“Awesome! My name’s Katie. Welcome to Farwater!”
The girl, Katie, stuck her hand out. Alicia noticed a swirl of tattoos running from the fingers all the way up and under her t-shirt sleeves. Alicia shook the offered hand.
“So, I got here a couple days back. I set up the room a bit, I hope you don’t mind. I claimed the bottom bunk.” Katie pointed at a tangle of various clothing and sheets on the bed.
“No it’s, um, fine,” Alicia said, looking down at her unpacked suitcases. She hadn’t really thought about what living with someone was going to be like. Farwater had seemed like a dream in Durnham when she had been sending out college applications. Nestled in the Nepomesset Valley, a slice of Puritan Massachusetts still extant despite the population pressures of nearby Boston and her suburbs, Farwater was the North Shore’s pride when it came to higher education. Boston may have its Harvard, MIT, and Boston University, but locals had a certain hometown pride when it came to their university
Now, looking at this smiling stranger who she would be sharing a cramped dorm room with for the foreseeable future, Alicia wasn’t so sure this was a dream she particularly wanted to star in.
Katie busied herself with a few things as Alicia began to unpack her suitcases. Alicia started as a howl of driving guitars and drums came blasting out of the large boombox on Katie’s desk.
“I hope you like Dreaming God!” Katie yelled over the loud music. “I’m a big fan!”
Alicia nodded slightly, returning to her belongings. Music hadn’t really been a thing in her life. Her passion was books. Any sort of book: science fiction, fantasy, history, philosophy. There were few books that Alicia wouldn’t read. It was so much easier to live in a fictional world than to deal with the terrors of the real.
As Alicia finished unpacking she noted that Katie had a few books of her own. A haphazard pile of them leaned up against the desk. Some were recognizable fantasy novels, Alicia was happy to see. Others she hadn’t heard of before, thick tomes with oddly-cut yellowing pages, many of them sporting Latin titles.
“What’s your major?” Katie asked, turning the music down enough so that she didn’t have to shout.
“I’m in English for now,” Alicia said, “but I might change it if I find I like something better.”
“Good for you!” Katie said, “I’m majoring in library science with a minor in archaeology.”
The two seemed rather an odd pairing, but Alicia was beginning to get the feeling that Katie wasn’t a normal expectation kind of girl.
Katie leafed through one of the books in her odd pile while Alicia worked. When Alicia began to finish up with her unpacking, she stood and stretched.
“Would you like to come out for some food, maybe meet a few people?”
“Umm, sure,” Alicia said, hesitating. The last thing she really wanted to do was go and hang out with a group of strangers, but Katie seemed nice, and it would be an awfully long semester if they didn’t get off on the right foot.
“C’mon, I have some friends down at the Moon Café,” Katie said, heading towards the door.
The two exited the dorm into the bright September morning. Crowds of students swirled around Farwater’s campus, busy hauling in their goods or wandering around rubbernecking. Katie kept up a stream of chatter as they boarded a bus for Farwater Center.
“... So I met these guys at the Dreaming God concert this summer, they're big fans of them too, and we just clicked. Do you like Dreaming God? I just love the singer, Randy Devaneaux.”
Alicia tried hard to keep pace with the river of words coming out of Katie’s mouth, but it was difficult at best. The solid brick buildings of Farwater appeared in the bus windows as it wheezed to a halt.
The two descended to the street, its asphalt baking in the early-September heat. Katie pulled Alicia over to a building sporting the sign reading “The Moon Café”.
Inside was a typical college-town coffee shop layout. Katie ordered a latte, Alicia a green tea. Once they had their orders, Katie tugged Alicia over to a far table where a knot of young people were hunched over coffees and books.
“Guys, this is my new roommate Alicia!” Katie proclaimed to the group. The four people at the table looked up, and Alicia’s breath caught in her throat.
A young man stared at her with intense blue eyes. He was thin, dressed in black, with curly ashen blonde that descended to the collar of his leather jacket. She could feel her heart speed up as he smiled up at her.
“Sondra, Harry, Reggie, Phillip, this is Alicia.”
Alicia barely registered the other three at the table, black-clad teens with heavy amounts of piercings and tattoos. Phillip stood and stuck out his hand.
“It’s is a delight to meet you, Alicia,” he purred. His voice had an accent of some sort, but it was very faint. Alicia couldn’t tell if it was from another country or just some regional difference. His touch sent a shock down her spine. She was reeling, her mind askew. She had never felt like this before while meeting someone.
“Nice, um, yes. To meet you, yes,” she stammered out, her cheeks flushing red. She knew she sounded like a complete idiot, but she seemed helpless to stop it.
The awkward moment passed thankfully and the two sat with the group.
Alicia suddenly had a fierce longing to impress these folks, if for no other reason than to impress Phillip. Steeling herself mentally, and cursing her shabby clothes, she began to engage the others as best as her introverted social skills would allow.
The group was actually fairly interesting. Most of them were studying odd things: ancient languages, archaeology, and the like. Sondra was a theology major of all things. Phillip was the only one with a typical major, business.
“The family insisted,” he said, sipping his latte.
The conversation turned to Alicia, and her interests. Phillip smiled when she mentioned her last name.
“Are you related to the Boston Defaores? They were a fairly infamous family back at the turn of the century.”
Alicia nodded. “Yes, although my family doesn’t like to talk about it.”
Phillip smiled wider. “Most old Boston families enjoy having a few scandals in the ancestral tree. I know mine have a few. You are the first actual Defaore I have met. The Boston branch is long extinct.”
The coffees were drunk, the small talk made. Phillip got up and nodded at the group.
“I have a meeting with my advisor on my fall schedule, so I have to get going,” he said apologetically. Will I see you all at the Ink Spot later?”
“Ink Spot?’ Alicia asked.
 “Oh we’ll be there Phillip, don’t you worry!” Katie said. Turning to Alicia she explained, “It’s a local club. Don’t worry, it’s under 21.”
Philip smiled. “I hope to see you there Alicia. I’d love to continue our conversation.”
Alicia exited with Katie and floated back to the dorm. She came crashing to the floor as she suddenly realized that she was going to a club and had absolutely nothing suitable to wear. She had never even been to a club, at least not any club without the word ‘book’ attached to it.
Katie smiled indulgently when Alicia confessed her dilemma.
“Well, I think I can help you out,” she said. “What are roomies for? Plus, I think Phillip likes you. You need to dress to impress.”
The remainder of the day was spent in a blur of reinvention. Katie had an extensive wardrobe, and fortunately she and Alicia were of a similar build. Katie picked out a daring top and short black skirt with black leather boots for Alicia.
“No heels I’m thinking. You don’t have time to get used to them and you’re pretty tall anyway.”
Katie attacked Alicia’s face with her extensive cosmetics collection. After a half hour of intensive work, Katie led Alicia to the mirror.
After it was all said and done, Alicia ended up looking quite different. She was still tall and skinny, but the makeup and the clothes gave her a much edgier look.
“You clean up well!” Katie said, examining Alicia critically.
After Katie got herself together the two returned to Farwater, heading down towards the harbor.
The Ink Spot had started as a warehouse at some point where harbor trade was much more prolific. Now it was just an old crumbling brick building with a neon-flashing sign and the faint sound of bass-heavy music emanating from its depths. A line of college kids and townies waited for entry. The two girls joined the queue and soon were admitted into the club’s twilit depths.
A DJ kept a loud pulsing beat going through the venue as a mass of youths cavorted like supplicants at some pagan festival. Katie grabbed Alicia’s hand and brought her to the back of the club. The same group they’d had coffees with had colonized a table at the fringes of the dance floor. Phillip rose as they approached.
“I’m so happy you came,” he said. “Would you like a drink?”
“Sure,” Alicia replied, her heart racing.
Phillip disappeared to the bar and returned with a round of sodas.
“No alcohol allowed for us,” he said, amused. “But we have something of our own.”
He surreptitiously removed a flask from his jacket and poured a dollop of green liquid into everyone’s drinks.
“Drink up!”
Alicia became nervous, but didn’t want to seem like a scared little wallflower. She tried the drink, which was actually quite tasty. Her previous experience with alcohol was limited to a few glasses of wine at holidays. The first drink went down, then a second. Phillip asked her to dance with him. The fact that she didn’t know how to dance suddenly seemed of no consequence.
Alone with Phillip among the dark swaying crowd of dancers, Alicia felt as if she could fly. Her feet were light as feathers despite the heavy Doc Martens she wore, and she and Phillip danced for what seemed like an eternity. Finally, they returned to the table, and more drinks were procured.
Alicia wasn’t quite sure when it happened, but the night suddenly began to seem further and further away from her. The strobes left colored trails across her vision, the music began to sound more dissonant and unsettling. The faces of the club goers became bestial and leering, those of her table-mates solemn and mask-like.
“I...I need to get some air,” she slurred.
“That’s fine, Alicia,” Katie said. “I think we are heading to our party spot anyway now, right Phillip?”
Phillip nodded.
“Yes, I believe it is about time.”
Alicia stumbled outside into the cool night air. Her companions all followed. They all started walking back towards town. Alicia was not in a state to argue, she followed along, held upright by Katie.
Alicia couldn’t keep her mind focused. There were flashes of darkened streets, then a forest trail. She found herself in front of a stone mausoleum in a large graveyard, her five new friends surrounding her. Phillip produced a large black iron key and worked the lock on the metal door of the tomb.
“Why...why are we here?” Alicia stammered, looking around dazedly.
Phillip smiled at her as the door swung open. Alicia suddenly noticed for the first time that his smile was almost predatory, and his eyes looked a lot less warm and friendly than they had before.
“This is our party spot,” He said. “We want to show it to you. There’s a surprise waiting for you.”
Alicia wanted to protest, but she found herself following the others down a narrow stairway into the bowels of the tomb. She felt almost hypnotized, as if she couldn’t not obey.
After a long dark journey down the stairs, the group entered a large chamber. Various burial chambers studded the walls, with bronze inscriptions denoting the inhabitants. Braziers filled with burning oil were lit in the corners, their flames lighting the granite room with dancing shadows. Alicia could smell something in the air, a pleasant scent she couldn’t identify. Her mouth began to water involuntarily.
In the center of the room was a slab with a form draped in a sheet atop it. Alicia stared horrified. In her stupefied haze she wasn’t sure exactly what she was seeing, but it gave her chills. A rasping deep voice issued from the shadows in the back of the chamber.
“I see you have brought my granddaughter. Well done, O faithful servants.”
Philip bowed deeply, as did the other four.
“As you commanded, my lord. Your scion.”
A large figure advanced towards them. Alicia gasped as the oil flames revealed it to her. Tall, gaunt, with patchy hair and taloned fingers, a bestial face with a mouth full of canine fangs looked her up and down. Spines of bone jutted from the figure’s back, like some ruin of angel wings.
“Sweet Alicia, I have long waited to make your acquaintance. I am Albert Defaore, your great-grandfather.”
Alicia wanted to run, wanted to rush up the stairs into the fresh air of the world, but she was rooted to the spot. Her friends melted away from her as this monster approached. She was horrified to notice that beneath the monstrous features its face resembled her father’s.
“Wha...” was all she could slur out as the gaunt creature calling itself her great-grandfather peered at her with glowing red eyes.
“My dear, you come from a long line of nobility,” Albert intoned, bringing up a clawed finger to caress her face. “Our line are the barons of the barrow, the kings of flesh, masters of the maggot realm. Not every generation has the calling, but you are blessed with it. ”
“No,” Alicia whispered as the black claw traced a line down her throat. “This can’t be happening.”
Albert smiled, revealing a forest of fangs.
“I’m afraid it is,” he said. “I understand that this is a distressing revelation. After all, I once thought I was human as well. But, we are so much more than they are. Once you sample the Eucharist, you will better understand your inheritance.”
“The...the...Eucharist?” Alicia stammered.
“Yes my dear,” he replied, “the flesh that will make you whole.”
He turned from her and stalked to the sheeted form at the table. With a magician’s flair he pulled the sheet away, revealing a naked corpse upon the stone slab.
The corpse was fresh. Blood still dripped from a slashing wound to its throat. It had been a teenage boy, perhaps even someone Alicia had rubbed shoulders with in the club. He looked much younger than he probably was, death making him look like a broken child.
All at once, the smell hit Alicia. It was intoxicating, like smelling a hot meal after not having eaten for days. She began to walk towards the corpse, her mouth filling with saliva. The vestiges of whatever drugs were in her system seemed to burn away, leaving her focusing entirely on the body. The meat. The feast.
Some small portion of her soul, the quiet bookworm she had been up until now, tried desperately to wrest control of her body back, to flee this tableaux of horrors, but it was too late. A hunger burned brightly in her, an impulse so implacable as to transcend conscious thought. She howled and launched herself upon the naked corpse.
The taste. She had never realized how delicious flesh could be. She felt her nails elongating, her teeth enlarging, her sight sharpening. She began to hear the frightened heartbeats of her friends near the stairway, her nose smelled the rich pheromone stew of lust and fear they exuded. There was an exquisite pain as slender bone spines thrust out from her back and shoulders. Rich gobbets of meat traveled down her throat, which distended as she took bigger and bigger bites. Her mind burst with orgasmic joy as the taste suffused her senses. The feeling went beyond love, beyond sex, beyond anything she could ever had imagined. It felt as if her nerves were burning with pleasure.
Sometime later, how long she couldn’t be sure, she pushed herself away from the skeletal ruin on the stone. Her belly was distended, to the point where she almost looked pregnant. Her entire body was streaked in gore. Her top had been ripped away by the emerging spines, her small breasts swinging free. Her talons and spines began to retract, her fangs as well. She began to feel almost human again. Almost.
Alicia turned to her grandfather. His form didn’t seem terrifying anymore. It seemed somehow right.
“Thank you, grandfather,” she said simply, wiping a hand across her gore-streaked face. “You have given me a wonderful gift.”
Albert nodded and turned to the five humans still standing at the stairway.
“You have done your work well, and have been gifted with a sight few humans ever see and live to tell about. Go now, my granddaughter and I have things to discuss.”
The five needed no other prompting. They vanished up the stairs, back to the upper world.
Albert turned back to Alicia.
“You will be able to walk among the humans for a few years more, hunting freely. Alas, your nature will become harder to hide as you age, but there is plenty to feast upon without the need to hunt. You will also age slowly, very slowly. I am still considered quite young despite being more than a hundred years old.”
Alicia smiled a red smile and walked toward the old monster, laying her hand upon his gaunt cheek.
“You look beautiful, grandfather.” she said.
Albert grinned.
“I will teach you much, my granddaughter. Your apprenticeship begins tonight. Come with me, and I will show you the dark delights that await us in the halls of the maggot kings.”
He bent down and kissed her, his mouth a sweet taste of the grave.






Saturday, October 22, 2016

In which a monkey breaks a block, and where he strives to work on his writing more

It's been a few days since I have put virtual pen to paper here, but that doesn't mean that I have been idle.  A friend of mine wanted a short fiction piece for an illustration that he did, and I took up the challenge.

Now, a bitter and sad fact of my life is that for a decade and a half I have suffered from writer's block.  Not where I couldn't write at all, but rather I could never complete any story.  You have perhaps seen the fragments I have posted here.  That is the usual fate of my writings.  A few pages and then i get stuck.

However, this time was different,.  I got a clear plot idea and ending for the piece and I wrote it.  Beginning, middle, and end.  This is a huge breakthrough for me.

I'm not sure what this portends for the future, but I am hopeful that I can continue to write and create.  I have no illusions that I am a great writer, or I am the next Stephen king, but if I could perhaps reach the level where someone actually pays me to write, and I do it as an enjoyable side hobby I would be happy with that.  We shall see,


Friday, October 14, 2016

More questions from Owen Stephens

A shout out to my main man Drejk for pointing out that more of these were up.  You can look at his great blog here

#31. Name a movie you don’t like that you think would be fun to play through as a roleplaying game sessions. Name a movie you love you think wouldn’t be fun as an rpg session.

Hmmm.   I'm going to pick two Kurt Russell flicks.  Escape From LA, which was kinda lame, but would make an interesting RPG session.  And Big Trouble in Little China.  Great movie, don't know how you could RP it.

#32. If you had to choose, on a specific night, between a satisfying conclusion to a storyline, or a major advancement of the rule-supported effectiveness of your character, which would you be more likely to select? What factors could alter that situation? 

I'm  all about the story, 'bout the story, no munchkin ...

#33. What’s something that happens in genre fiction a lot that never (or almost never) happens in a roleplaying game, and you’d like to experience in an rpg.

Saving the world.  Common enough trope, never seems to happen in a game.  I'd like to toss the One Ring into Mt. Doom once, just to be THAT guy.

#34. What’s something that happens a lot in roleplaying games, that you would rather not experience again (for whatever reason, and don’t feel you must explain).

Watching my socially-awkward peers try to pick up imaginary barmaids at the tavern.  No, you don't get cool points for making out with a stat collection.  Just sayin'

#35. What is a specific event that occurred in an RPG session that at first you didn’t think you’d enjoy, but you did. Discuss why it exceeded your expectations.

Being turned into a vampire.  An approximation of my real self that is.  I didn't think it would work so well, but we played that game for a year.

#36. Discuss a game session you were looking forward to that you did not enjoy. Discuss why you didn’t enjoy it, and what you think could have been handled differently to make it more fun.

I was looking forward to a game session at GenCon, but I got a newbie GM, and she sadly didn't meet my expectations.  The game was railroady, and the party was saddled with the quasi-godlike former character of the GM.  Who kept up a running commentary of our failings.  Handled differently?  Um, just not do those things mostly.

#37. How much backstory do you normally give your characters (PCs or major NPCs)? Why? How would you feel about being asked to produce a different amount (both more, and less)?

I try to sketch out a basic background, then let it get filled up organically through playing the character.  If a GM wants more (or less) I don't have a problem with that.

#38. Is there a kind of story element you’d love to see in a game you are currently playing you feel that game’s rules don’t handle well? Do you have an idea for rules to handle it?

Pathfinder doesn't handle weapon scaling very well.  I'd love to see a way for weapons to grow with the characters, rather than them trading up all the time.  3.5 had Weapons of Legacy, which I thought was an interesting stab at the mechanical side of it, and I'd love to see Pathfinder try it.

#39. Is there a kind of story element you feel is caused by the rules of a game you are currently playing that you’d rather have less of, or avoid entirely? Do you have ideas how to avoid that rules element in that game system?

Well, the whole "Big encounter is over in two rounds" seems to be a problem in my games.  I try to power up the bosses a bit to combat this, but my players are a devious bunch.  They always have a lot of firepower at their fingertips

#40. Discuss what kinds of themes a roleplaying game can have. What are some of your favorite themes? Which themes do you dislike, or are bored with?

Collection quests are a favorite of mine, as are mysteries to solve.  Themes like finding loot and "Village needs your help" kind of themes are overplayed IMO.  I also enjoy the Frontier paladin theme:  New settlement in the wild, needs a strong lawful type to keep order and fight the monsters.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Moar fragment stories!

I do not seem to be able to complete a story, but I do get ideas for new ones fairly regularly.  So I figure I will post up the fragments in hope it will inspire me to flesh them out further.

Worldjumper:


The dead city lay before me cloaked in snow, a cold funereal shroud.

I don't like dead cities.  You can never tell what killed them, or what might still be lurking in their ruins.  This one looked fairly intact, which was actually a very bad sign.  Radiation, that I could deal with.  Biological agents, that was a whole different ballgame.  Fortunately the cold made it unlikely that there were a lot of active bugs in the air, but I wasn't about to chance it.  I touched a button.

The snow melted away and was replaced with green grass.  The hillside I was perched on looked vaguely similar to the one I had just been on, but the hills were a little more rounded.  The trees looked unfamiliar, and a strange reptilian-looking bird perched on some sort of ginko-analog.  I cued my smart contacts to zoom in.

It definitely looked like a bird and a gecko had had some sort of love child.  My earbuds were picking up a lot of strange animal noises as well.  Down in the valley where the dead city had/did/had the potentiality to sit there was a small town of stone buildings.  The architecture was alien to my eye, and the proportions were subtly off.  This world was a bit too far off the beaten path for me.  Likely whoever was building down there wasn't even human.  Time to spin the wheel again.

Winter again.  It usually was in most of the worlds with a recognizable continental structure. The city had reappeared, but one look could tell you it was living.  Smoke rose from chimneys, boats sailed the river that bisected it, glass glittered in the windows.  Time to see what could be seen.

A lot of people ask me why I court death by worldjumping.  There's no way to scout out the way, you just press the button and take your chances.  There's only out and back.  The Jumper adjusts you to the local norms, but cannot do more than that.  It also can't make sure you have oxygen at the other end.  Once you leave, you can never find the place you've visited.  It's lost among the infinitiy of infinities that make up the multiverse.

Still, there was a lot to be said for it.  Imagine finding a world where World War I never occurred.  I did.  It's hard to conceive just how many lives are altered by such an immense conflict.  All I had to do was sneak down to the local library and start reading novels.  There were dozens of authors who had never existed in our world, or who had died unmourned in a Verdun trench.  I found Maurice Marchad's Elegy for the Empire on that trip. That trip paid for my living expenses for an entire year.

I've brought back novels, music, inventions large and small.  The gear I wore into these worlds were the legacy of my predecessors: Contacts with Exabite computers fabricated into them, unassuming clothing able to stop bullets, earbuds able to translate any known tongue, and able to extrapolate meaning on the fly from word usage.

Our world had become the perfect parasite since we discovered Jumper technology.  We took a bit here, and a bit there.  Nothing other than IP, I was limited to basically what I could carry.  We had become very proficient in mimicing our hosts.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Some more homebrew stuff

I'm tweaking a bit of information about the continent of Mazatil, which is the continent that the Eastern Isles sit off of.  Mazatil is one of my better attempts to create a fairly unique setting, IMO.  

Southwest of the continent Dragora, close to the Arcaian equator is the continent of Mazatil. It is a wild and forbidding continent, wrapped in jungle, desert and forbidding mountains known as the Skyspears.

Unlike Dragora's history, which began with a draconic civilization, Mazatil started much earlier as the home continent of the enigmatic race known as the Old Ones. High up on the slopes of the Skyspear mountains, which in some places top 50,000 feet, these otherworldly creatures built their domains. For eons this race continued to live and work high above the continent, until a new race began to develop beneath them in the eastern section of Mazatil.
This was a race of lizard men that evolved from the reptiles that ruled the humid jungle, and settled along the rivers and swamps of southern Mazatil. Calling themselves the Sliss'pok (with the ' standing for a click on the tongue), these lizard men were great builders and excellent animal breeders, and their civilization became quite advanced around the same time as the Draconic civilization reached its height in Dragora.
At some point there was a conflict between the Old Ones and the Sliss'pok in the Blackwraith Desert, which caused the Old Ones to disappear. Relatively soon afterwards the Sliss'pok civilization fell into savagery, which they never recovered from. To this day, tribes of lizardmen roam the jungles, barbaric, but wise and very knowledgeable of the creatures and plants within their domain. Their once mighty cities are a lure to adventurers, but they are known as death traps filled with the descendants of the Sliss'pok's domesticated animals.
The Old One's civilization is a much more problematic venture. Very few have the skills to surmount a 50,000 foot climb and all that entails. Even the atmosphere is thin at that range (although not as thin as it would be in a normal physics scenario). The cold at that height and the shrieking winds make it a dangerous climb. The few accounts of explorers that succeeded in entering any of their habitations tell of cyclopean tunnels and lightless galleries that stretch far into the center of the mountains. The Old Ones dabbled in what can only be termed as bio-magical golem construction, and surrounded themselves with unearthly creations that served many bizarre purposes. Many of these creations were never truly alive in any sense we know, and they are still prowling the darkened depths.
About 3,000 years ago, a tribe of humans landed upon the shores of Mazatil, possibly from farther west towards the twin continents of Seng and Avmar and the Coral Sea. During the millennia that followed these humans interacted with the remnants of the Sliss'pok and began what became known as the Xoltec (shoul-tek) civilization.
The Xoltecs were dominated by a class of necromantic wizard-priests who worshiped the flayed god Xipe Totec. These priests refined and perfected the art of raising undead, animating the bodies of the many sacrifices they made to Xipe Totec, which they then used as cheap labor to construct their temples. As time progressed, they began to animate specialized undead minions to fight for them, and to keep the populace of the cities cowed. As the Xoltec priests grew in power and arrogance, a resistance movement known as the Jaguar's Shadow developed among those who would see Xipe Totec's priests cast down.
The Jaguar's Shadow was a mix of elite Arcanists and rogues who despised the priests for their iron control of the Xoltec cities and their taboo on exploring Sliss'pok and Old One ruins. In secret they began to explore the forbidden ruins, gaining knowledge over many forgotten arts. About 500 years ago, they decided to strike.
The Shadow War was brief but horrid. For roughly three years the battles raged among the Xoltec cities, with the Jaguar's Shadow (or Shadow Men as they became known) losing ground after a few brief victories. They simply didn't have the manpower to fight waves of fearless undead minions. In desperation, the Shadow Men unleashed a previously unknown magical effect which broke the priest's control over the undead. The vast Xoltec army of undead turned on their former masters and the surrounding populace in what became known as the Night of the Bloody Bones.
After the Night of the Bloody Bones the Xoltec civilization collapsed completely. Several other magical curses manifested themselves at the same time, transforming some Xoltecs into feral beast creatures or undead monstrosities. The main temple of Xipe Totec at the capital city of Chichen Ipec was abandoned to the swarming undead. A plague of monstrous spiders followed soon afterward, scattering what few survivors there were.
Currently the remaining Mazatilians have formed a political body called the Zapatec Confederation, a collection of city-states that are strung along Mazatil's eastern coast. Opal is a member of this confederation, but due to its remote location and unique history it remains its own distinct culture.

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Homebrew World Arcaia

I thought I would start doing a bit of blogging on my homebrew world Arcaia.  Arcaia began as a thought exercise in 2005-6 when I was working a a scheduler at a fence company.  The job involved a lot of down time, but no computer or Internet.  I read an awful lot of books during my five years there, and I also did a lot of old-fashioned journaling.  I had had ideas of a world, and I wanted to see if I could combine my love of dragons, pirates, Mesoamerica, halflings, Lovecraftian squicky stuff, undead, etc. into a cohesive setting.  

I started with the continent of Dragora, which I thought came out well (and I'll try to get that information up soon) but the really good area I came up with was a continent called Mazatil, and the island clusters off its coast known as the Eastern Islands.  The Eastern Islands are tropical, and they sit at a maratime juncture of several continents which send trading fleets there for the exotic spices and foodstuffs that the area provide.  What follows is a brief overview of the history of those islands.

History of the Eastern Isles:
The Eastern Isles have a varied and mish-mashed history down through the ages. During the distant aeons of the Old One's rule of the area, the islands lay empty for the most part, although certain ruins on Quetzal Island seem to originate with them or a similarly ancient race. There is also a theory that the Old Ones used some arcane ancient magic to raise up the forbidding Stormpearl Isles as a sheild from the many storms that rage in the open waters.

The Eastern Isles does have the distinction of having a native race, the Hadorzee, a species of simian-looking creatures with partigal flaps similar to flying squirrells. The Hadorzee are fantastic swimmers and can use their flaps to fly from treetop to treetop. During the ancient days, the primitive ancestors of the Hadorzee froliced among the atolls alone.

The ancient Lizardman race of the Sliss'pok were not represented in a major way in the Eastern Isles. There seems to have been a small trading post near the site of the city of Viridian on Taranta Island, probably to trade with the ancient Hadorzee who were numerous on that island. Taranta Island also is host to some of the animals and plants the Sliss'pok were famous for breeding.

During recent millenia as the ancestors of the Mazatilian humans migrated to the area, some of the migrants settled in the islands and developed an indepenent culture known as the Avveroe. They fished, farmed, and battled with the Hadorzee for centuries, living a fairly harmonious low-tech lifestyle until the Xoltec Empire rose on the mainland of Mazatil.

The Xoltecs were much more sophisticated than their island cousins, and they were always looking for sacrifices to their dark necromantic god Xipe Totec. They built war galleys and sailed for the islands, conquering the native Hadorzee and Avveroe alike. Much of both populations were taken back to fuel the blood sacrifices of Xipe Totec's temples. The city of Arratu on Taranta Island was so infamous for the cruelty inflicted on the Hadorzee that the word has entered their language as a curse. 

The islands suffered under the tyranny of the Xoltecs until the chaos of the Night of Bloody Bones allowed them to rise up and destroy the remaining surviviors and their dark cities. From that point on, the few remaining Avveroe and Hadorzee pledged to work together to defend their islands. Since then, both cultures have thrived, integrating well with the refugees arriving from Dragora and become sought-after crewmembers and navigators

During the following years, other groups began to arrive from other continets. During the consolidation of the Golden Empire on Dragora, many refugees from the conquered kingdoms sailed away rather than submit. These people found refuge among the islands, still recovering from the depredations of the Xoltecs.

Many of the refugees from the Kingdom of Vellasia setted in the south of Mazatil. A younger son of the slain King of Pyke led a group of his countrymen to the northern island of Chalmec, which they renamed King Island. They founded the city of Kingsport, and are quite succesful merchant-sailors. The merchant-nobles of Kingsport organize the annual Trading Fleet, which travels in convoy to the city of Amiran on the southern coast of Dragora.

A contingent of halflings who fled their homeland when the Kingdom of Garlan fell to the Empire settled on Parakeet Island, where they have become quite chummy with the local Hadorzee (they both have a fascination with fine food in large quantities).

A mixed group of refugees from many kingdoms settled the area that became the city of Viridian, the largest city in the islands. Viridian, much like its' sister city of Opal is a multi-ethnic stew, but without the rampant violence and undead menace that Opal suffers.

The climate of the Eastern Isles is very clement and tropical, but there are frequent storms that rush in from the Tempest Straits. Navigation can be tricky, and most captains stay along the deeper water channels known as Roads. There are many small coral atolls scattered about. in many places the water is extremely shallow, and many water-breathing sentients make their home under the waves as well. The are many unique and delicious foodstuffs that only grow in this environment, and long-distance traders come from all over Arcaia to dicker for them and the native hardwoods. The many ships have brought forth a large number of pirates.

Piracy in the Eastern Isles is fairly endemic. There is lots to steal, and many places to lie doggo with your ship until the heat is off. There is also a large "open port" city known as Argentum on the southern side of Avveroe Island. Argentum is a clearing house for dubious goods, and a place where pirates can give their crew shore leave without worrying about being strung up by the law. Most crews are local inhabitants, but there are ships looking for booty from Fimbulia, Therana, the Isles of Storm and almost anywhere with a maritime tradition. Argentum is the place to go to find or dispose of anything that might be dangerous, stolen, or both. Argentum is surrounded by shoals, and is difficult to navigate to unless you know the safest paths in.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

The third set of Owen's questions!

Third installment in Owen KC Stephen's questionnaire.  Link here

21. Do players have a responsibility to the GM or other players to help them have fun? 


Yes.  Gaming is a collaborative effort.  If you want to be selfish or disruptive at my table, I feel no compunction in asking you to leave.  I am not obligated to entertain you, and the party members are not obligated to either.

22. If you knew an action your character was about to take would upset the GM or another player (not an NPC or PC, but the actual people at the table), and not taking that action would be out of character, would you still have your character act that way? Would you discuss the action with the people you thought it would upset, either before of after taking it.


That is a tough call.  I do believe in being true to a character.  However, it can be discussed beforehand.  There shouldn't be any 'surprises' with how you are acting.  A good GM should predict how events will transpire with the PCs as they are played.  Trying to avoid conflicts that will cause player to player conflict is part of the GM's role.






 23. If you like the idea of a campaign of evil characters, discuss reasons players in general might not enjoy such a game. If you dislike the idea of a campaign of evil characters, discuss reasons players in general might find such a game fun.



I like the idea of playing evil characters, but I can see why some wouldn't.  It takes a special brand of roleplayer to pull it off, especially because an evil party can disintegrate into a backstabbingfest quite easily.  There's too much chance of feeling being hurt, or boundaries being crossed.  Many people don't enjoy even imaginary descriptions of heinous acts.  You have to take the sensibilities of your group into consideration.  Personally I think you could paly an evil campaign if there was an external threat of pressure that could keep the party members allied in adversity.  Neil Litherland discusses a situation like this >here<.


24. Paper or plastic? Now defend the answer as a heroic champion of all that is good and right. Now answer as a conniving scoundrel. Now answer as a master scholar. Now answer as a violent antisocial psychopath. Explain why you answered as you did in those personas.


Paper.

Champion:  Plastic is a scourge on our planet!  We must band together to rid ourselves of this heinous pollutant!

Scoundrel: WHy use those flimsy plastic rags?  Paper bags are sturdy, fashioned of natural products, and will do a better job!  Plastic is old hat, and a useless product.

Master scholar:  Studies show that plastic remains in the biosphere for over 500 years.  Paper is biodegradable.  Plastic also threatens wildlife with strangulation and accidental ingestion.

Psychopath:  You want to use plastic?  How would you like it if I wrapped that plastic bag around your head and strangled your worthless ass?  Not so keen on it now, are you scumbag?

25. If a player consistently and definitely has worse luck than any other player or the GM, and that makes the game less fun for them, should the GM or other players make any special rules to compensate for that player’s unluck?

Ohter than buy him some new dice, no.  That sets up a feeling of unfairness and a lack of impartiality.


26. If you knew another player was cheating, and it didn’t seem to impact the enjoyment anyone else was having, how would you handle that?


I would take them aside alone and discuss it.  I would note that cheating cheapens any success, and that if caught no one would trust them again and every critical they rolled, fair or no from that point on would be suspect.

27. If you knew the GM was altering die rolls or NPC statistics, how would you handle that? 


That would depend.  If the GM was trying to smooth the narrative I wouldn't have an issue.  If he was Mary-Sueing an NPC to keep them from being beaten, or trying to 'punish' a PC with some manufactured bad luck, that's another story all together.


28. If you found the out-of-character actions of another player was making the game not enjoyable for you, how would you handle that? What if it was the GM? How would you like other players or the GM to handle the situation if you are the one making a game unfun for someone else?


I'd bring it up to them.  If they persisted, I would no longer play with them.  Player and/or GM. Life is too short to have a bad time when you are trying to have a good time.  I'll go read a book or watch a TV show instead.  If I was doing it I would hope it would be brought to my attention.  Because it wouldn't be on purpose, and I would change the action.


29. If you found a character concept or the actions of another player’s character was making the game not enjoyable for you, how would you handle that? What if it was the GM and an NPC? How would you like other players or the GM to handle the situation if your character is the one making a game unfun for someone else?


I think I would handle this exactly as I had question 28.

30. Name one gaming-related pet peeve of yours that you admit is unreasonable.

I don't like gnomes.  I am also not a fan of the 'jokey' player, who breaks the fourth wall, or has his character quote movies and do anachronistic things.  It just irks me.  

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Next set of questions from Owen KC Stephens

Another set of interesting questions from the mind of Owen KC Stephens.Link Here

11-20 Hidden Genre Preferences

It’s easy to talk about our favorite movies and television programs, but there’s some useful information in other things we like as well.
  1. What is your favorite Saturday Morning Cartoon? What is your favorite animation you don’t consider a Saturday Morning Cartoon?
I grew up during the Golden Age of Saturday Morning cartoons.  My favorite hands down was Thundarr the Barbarian.  I got my love of the post-apocalyptic genre from that show.  I would say that these days I like Archer  or Rick and Morty.

12. What is your favorite commercial?

Hmm.. Tough one.  I'm not a big commercial guy, but you can't really go wrong with the Superbowl commercials.

13. What is your favorite book cover (fiction or nonfiction)?

The Years of Rice and Salt.  Also a kick-ass book. 

14. What is your favorite toy?

Growing up, my Legos.  They were just generic blocks back then, no kits, but I made a zillion things from them.

15. What is your favorite television show or movie that you think is objectively bad?

Hmm.  I have a taste for bad TV and movies. The Six-Million Dollar Man, Wonder Woman,   most of the 50's horror films (including SciFi).
 16. What is your favorite book series with 6 or more books in it?

Harry Turtledove's Timeline-191 series.  He brings America from a Southern Victory all the way through to a bizarre alternate WWII with the USA and CSA at each other's throats the whole way. Eleven books in that series.

17. What is your favorite story (book, TV, movie, or otherwise) that you hate the ending to? What ending would you have preferred?

I didn't like the way Whedon wrapped up Firefly in the movie Serenity.  It felt kind of wrong to me.

18. What story (book, TV, movie, or otherwise) did you love when you were younger, but have since come to dislike? Why do you think your opinion changed?

I enjoyed the Hardy Boys when I was younger, but I tried rereading one of them a few years ago and found the stories very lame, even for a 'children's' series.  I think I just cant get past the writing.  It is really bad.

19. What RPG that you hate the rules for do you most love the setting of?

Vampire the Masquerade.  The setting is fantastic, but the rules are very hard to work with.  Of course the game is meant to be more roleplaying than anything else, but you do want to have a good firefight once in a while ..

20. What RPG that you hate the setting of do you most love the rules for?

I love Pathfinder, but I don't like their default world of Golarion.  It's a real 'kitchen sink' setting, with funhouse-mirror societies of Earth dotting the landscape.  It lacks verisimilitude IMO.

Owen KC Stephens' questions for your RPG group

Since I am having a bit of writers cramp right now, I thought I would answer some questions posed by one of my favorite game designers, Owen KC Stephens:  Link here


100 Questions for Your RPG Group
These questions are designed not to lead anyone to the “one true path to roleplaying,” nor even to find and excise undesirables. Instead, they are tools of conversation. Hopefully they’ll help members of an RPG group discuss some philosophy, some game theory, and some silly shit.
These are best handled in person, while feeling casual, likely with beer and pizza (or the age & culturally appropriate equivalent).
1-10; GMing
#1. Would you prefer a GM be entirely beholden to the game rules and die rolls, or secretly make changes if it leads to a more interesting, or more dramatic, or more fulfilling game session?  
Definitely the latter.  The dice are a harsh mistress.  Sometimes, an encounter can go pear shaped.  Also, sometimes an encounter is just too tough/not tough enough for the party.  I think a good GM should tweak the game as they go.  There is a fine line though.  If you meddle too much then it takes the excitement out of things.  A subtle deft touch when secretly changing things is the best way IMO.
#2. Give one concrete example of when a GM fudging die rolls or rules might lead to a more interesting, or more dramatic, or more fulfilling game session?
When the party is teetering on the edge of a TPK, and one of them manages a solid hit on the BBEG just before it is up again.  The hit might not have finished it off, maybe it has a few HP left.  However, if it goes again people are dying.  Fudging it so that last hit was the coup de grace makes for a cool conclusion and avoids all the added anger and stress party deaths bring.
#3. Does it make a difference to your preference if the GM is entirely open about making changes? What if the GM can hide any change so you never even suspect it?
I think it is better that the GM doesn't reveal any changes.  That's part of the mystery of the game.  If players get the idea that they can get away with stuff it makes them reckless.  Better to just keep it behind the curtain as it were.
#4. Do you consider altering NPC attitudes or personalities from their originally planned starting points, or changing the plot of a future game session based on interesting ideas that come up in play, to be GM fudging, or just normal GM activities, or both?
I think that is just normal GM activities.  I try to run NPCs as if they were real people.  Real people change, they have epiphanies, they suffer trauma.  Games should also be organic and change with player's actions.
#5. Should a GM be able to veto the color of a PC’s eyes? Or is that none of the GM’s business?
Tough question.  SHOULD a GM have the right to?  Probably yes.  It is their world.  SHOULD they just because?  Well, you have to remember that the players are playing to have fun, not to be props in your homebrew world.  A good GM works with his players.  Telling players no, especially on minor things like eye color is a good way not to have players.  Or at least to have disgruntled players who will defect to another table when the opportunity arises.
#6. Is the GM a player in an RPG session?
NO.. Flat out NO.  The GM is the GM.  They have a term for GM's who play PCs in their own game.  It's called "Mary-Sueing".  This holds for making old PCs from other games into NPCs.  Unless you can be objective, these NPC/PCs often start to have godlike powers and immunity to things.  And they are just cheezy.
#7. Should the GM roll dice in secret, roll dice in public view, or roll dice with varying secrecy as appropriate to the nature of the roll?
I like a mixture.  Some rolls I don't mind sharing.  Some need to be secret.
#8. Is being the GM a chore, or a privilege?
It's a chore that is a privilege.  There is nothing like the satisfaction of running a good game, one that people will talk about for years.  However, it is a lot of work.
#9. How much of the success of an RPG session is determined by the quality and actions of the GM? Would you prefer an awesome RPG ruleset with an awesome adventure and awesome other players run by a mediocre GM; or a mediocre RPG ruleset with a mediocre adventure and mediocre other players under an awesome GM?
The GM makes the game.  The best rules in the world mean nothing when the GM sucks.  I've seen this time and again.
#10. What is your pet peeve about GMs, expressed in a way that makes it generic and impossible to connect to any one specific GM?
Pet peeves:  Mary-Sueing (see above), revenge playing (where you 'punish' a PC because they did something you didn't like), railroading (sometimes it sucks when the players go off script, but you have to roll with the punches)

Sunday, September 18, 2016

A bit of a desertion

Well, I have not graced this blog in a month.  There have been good reasons for this, mostly that I was on vacation to Cape Breton for a large part of August and then I began a new job, and the balance of September has been involved in training. Also, school is back in session, so I have been working on getting that elusive paralegal certificate. But, for those who might be following along, I will be attempting to get back on track with my writing now that I am more settled.

Friday, August 12, 2016

The bitter drug of regret

The bitter drug of regret

Through my life, I have been a slave to regrets.  The shadows of might-have-beens have stretched over my life, etched into my soul.  Many pivotal points have been revisited in my mind so often that the memories have become as polished as ocean-tossed pebbles.

I do not remember when I began this self-destructive path.  I remember one instance when I was in eighth grade.  I was attending CCD class, a religious instruction my parents felt honor-bound to send me to.  A nice guy in my class approached me and told me I should try out for the football team.  I thanked him for the advice and immediately dismissed it as too hard and scary.  For years after I would revisit that moment and wonder how my high school experience would have been different if I had heeded his advice and tried out.  I was very large for my age, and although I doubt I would have gotten any further than a high-school level, I would have most likely been a decent player on the varsity squad eventually.

There were moments missed, women not approached, and events unattended.  At every turn I balked, taking the safer, less risky route.  After the fact, I would relive the moment, imagining what it would have been like if I had had the gumption to actually do whatever it was I regretted not doing.  “If only” became my mantra.  I wished fervently for a time machine so that I could revisit these moments and do them over.

Suddenly, I was looking back over almost a half century of regrets.  I had taken the safe route, the easy path.  It had led me to a dead end.  I had never taken risks, never asserted myself, never reached for more than the bare minimum.  I suddenly found myself twice divorced, trapped in a job I despised, and facing imminent homelessness.

Sometimes, coming to the bottom is the only way to start over.  I began to take a more objective view of my life.  Instead of wishing I could change the past, I started planning for the future.  Even at my nadir I had many good things.  I had my brain, my stubbornness, my health.  I have never been afraid of hard work, just of taking chances.  I began to face my fears and to travel outside my comfort zone.  Suddenly, something magical began to happen.  I began to achieve life-long goals. 

One problem with my mind is the rutted track it had followed for decades.  I was used to not taking chances, then spending useless time bemoaning the fact that I hadn’t taken those chances.  I soon saw that I would have to perform some major brain hacking to rectify this situation.  I was an addict who jonesed for failure and regret.  I was determined to go cold turkey.

The first tool I utilized was mindfulness.  One of the most valuable things in my journey has been developing the ability to warn myself when I began to slip into the well-worn habits of regret and fear.  Instead of telling myself I wasn’t good enough, I began to try, letting my actions determine whether I was good enough or not. I soon discovered that there were many things I WAS good at, even great at.  It might have taken me the better part of my lifetime to discover, but I was finally doing things, rather than avoiding them and regretting them.

So, I still travel down my path of self-discovery.  Am I cured of my addiction?  No.  I doubt I will be within my lifetime.  But, I am trying daily not to indulge.  Like any addiction, it is a day-by-day process.  Some days are better than others, but my life is brighter for not shadowing the present with the ghosts of regrets past.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Zen and the power of mindfilness:

Part of my journey this past year has been to explore philosophies that help improve your happiiness.  Due to several things in my life that had occured, I realized I was unhappy.  Furthermore, it seems despite feeling unhappy for a while, I had convinced myself that it was normal to feel that way.  The good times always lay in the future.  Somehow, I was going to get there eventually.

I started reading Thich Nhat Hanh, a very wise Zen Buddhist monk, and I found a lot of excellent life advice in his pages.  I had never given Zen Buddhism a lot of thought, dismissing it without ever really understanding what it was.

 I have always been wedded to physical objects.  I am a collector.  Sometimes I border on hoarding.  When I lost my house in 2015,  I had a library of 2,000+ books that I had collected over the course of my life.  I loved my collection.  I had lugged those books from college to the Army, stashing them in people's cellars and waiting until the day when I was able to put up my book shelves and take them out to display.



When it became clear I had to get rid of 90% of them, it was devastating.  But, I realize now that they are just things.  My attachment to them led to suffering, which helped no one, especially me.  I had read the books.  Their stories and knowledge was preserved in my brain.  I didn't need to own them, display them, or brag about them.  By letting them go, I freed myself.

Am I a perfect ascetic now?  Of course not.  I still buy books to read, and I still have many books on shelves.  But, I can say I no longer covet them, or refuse to part with them.  I give them away to those who could use them, or I donate them.  Thus they continue to do good by enlightening others.

Improving your mindfulness and happiness is a journey, much like anything else.  But you have to take the first steps to begin.