Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Tales of a Failing Empire- Part 3 (Interlude)

The temple to Aeremas (although any worshipper of The Wanderer will tell you, they're called Foot Stools in their vernacular or Travel Lodge to the unbelievers) was a modest building made of white oak, with rock elm logs for joists. This was one of two places of worship built within Tamith. Many of the religiously inclined farmers and shepherds surrounding Tamith built their own small altars to Shaanavishea in their fields and pastures, but there was yet to be any organized effort to build a temple proper to the Goddess of the Wood and Herdsmen.

The current priest (again, to those who serve Aeremas, he/she is called Footman or Traveller, depending on rank) of The Wanderer was an elderly man named Aled Tew. Aled was part of the village council, but more importantly, a sympathetic ear to Nefydd and Grijolhd. Neither of them could guess Aled's age, and both felt it inappropriate to ask.

Aled sat in a chair in the main hall, a board atop his knees, earnestly at work carving a figurine out of a branch of black walnut. A small pile of wood chips coated his breeches and was starting to pile on the oak flooring. He didn't even glance upwards as the doors opened, his special carving knives delicately scraping and etching the wood, forearms never touching the board.

The main hall of the temple was only 20 paces long and ten wide. Near the entrance were 6 benches, each set aside to form a narrow aisle up to the podium, where Aled currently sat, carving in earnest. Behind him was a large, colorful curtain that spanned the entire eastern edge of the hall depicting Aeremas arguing with the archaic sphinx Atalzyx to gain entry into the plane of Fovikklen.

Nefydd and Grijolhd approached the closet bench to Aled on the left side of the aisle and quietly sat down, maintaining a respectful silence. Time passed, Aled carved. Nefydd cleared his throat. “Greetings Traveller, peace be on your path, and fleetness to your feet.”

Aled looked up. “Nefydd, let's dispense with the sanctimonious crap for once shall we? What trouble have you two gotten yourselves into?”

“Traveller, um sir. First, I'm deeply hurt that you think we have ambitions towards mischief... And well, second, there's a bulette hunting around the western pasture lands.”

“A what?” Aled got up, placing the board on the podium.

“A bulette.”

Aled grabbed a rag from his vest, wiping his hands. “Shitballs.”

“Well sir, actually, when the bulette defecates, it's feces-”

“I don't need a lesson on the critter's excretory system Nefydd. Both of you follow me. I think we all need a drink.”

Aled drew the curtain back to the right, revealing oak panneling and a door. This led to his living quarters. The room contained a bed to the north with a desk and a bookshelf parallel to the bed along the wall. The fireplace dominated the wall to the east along with various kettles, cauldrons and a metal tripod. To the south was a wooden tub, a cabinet, a table and 3 chairs. Just beyond the tub was a secret door, which Aled graciously allowed Nefydd and Grijolhd access to during times where their presence was to be discreet (which was almost all the time). Aled opened the cabinet, took out a jug and three mugs and began pouring.

“Hard cider my marshals. Good for the soul in oh so many ways. Seat yourselves.”

Nefydd and Grijhold sat down. Aled slid them each a mug.

“All right gentlemen.” Aled raised his mug. “My Our Restless Father bless your endeavors in this village at the ass end of nowhere. But as we all know, even nowhere leads somewhere. Although, somewhere can take us nowhere, in essence, a vicious bloody circle. May our paths always be straight and may our paces always move us forward.”

“Here here,” Nefydd and Grijolhd chimed in. All three companions took a large swig of the cider.

Aled looked at both of them, placing his mug on the table. “Did you tell the Sheriff?”

Both man and dwarf gave the elder priest a grimace, rolling their eyes.

“Well, I'm certainly overjoyed that you two do not hold me with such contempt. So, who knows then?”

Grijhold took another swallow of his cider. “As of right now sir, you, me and Nef here.”

“There's more sir,” Nefydd added, “ We think something is actually, well, scaring the bulette.”

Grijhold took a deep breath. “Some ground near the Oded's pasture lands collapsed. Eight paces by four paces. It descended forty. Nef noticed the claw marks near the side of the northeastern edge along the bottom. We found a lamb down there, completely untouched, and very dead.”

“And,” Nefydd added again, “ There's a tomb or ruins of some kind on the eastern edge at the bottom. We encouraged elder Obed and his son to stay as far from the hole as possible.”

Aled pushed his mug away and ran his hands through his greying hairs. “You need to get back there as soon as you can and make sure nobody goes near that hole. The shepherds are sensible folk, but it's their children I'm worried about.”

Nefydd nodded in agreement. “Traveller Tew, if I may, I'd like to borrow one of your pigeons, send a message to the Ranger House at Anthin.”

“Nefydd, I'm not a helpless old fart, I can do that myself. I need to ask, are you sure you don't want to involve the Sheriff?”

“Well,” Grijolhd let out a deep belch, sighing, “Nobody's died yet.”

Aled gave the dwarf a deadpan look. “I thank you both for trusting me and bringing this matter to my attention. You two need to go back to that hole, and be careful. I need to do a little reading and I'll have to come up with some excuse to join you without attracting undue attention. May your wits be as fleet as your feet.”

Nefydd and Grijolhd gave curt bows to Aled. The old man gave a dismissive wave, “You know how to show yourselves out. Gather your gear and be off.”

The two marshals quietly slipped out the secret door behind the temple. They looked around. The temple was situated on the very eastern edge of the village proper. It was dusk. Nefydd pulled out a sunrod from his shoulder sack. He nodded to the west, whispering, “We need to move quietly until we get past the mill and the Vuoti's house, then I can use this.”

“Aye lad, let's hope the Sheriff and his boys are still drinking at the inn.”

Walking quietly, maintaining a nonchalant pace, the two slowly made to the western edge of the village, staying off the main road. There were only two more houses before the two story home of Vuoti's and the mill came into view.

“Good thing we stashed our gear out of town,” Grijhold whispered, “ Though inconvenient, I'd rather not have to deal with those slackers at the inn.”

“Let's hope nobody found the stash,” Nefydd replied. “Our luck has been a bit lopsided lately.”

“Well, I thought Sheriff Dudok made it abundantly clear that you two were to remain on extended patrol in the pasture lands,” said a voice from their left.

Suddenly everything turned bright. Coming from between the houses, staff alight with magical brilliance, walked a man, his head shaved except for a ring of black hair just above the ears. His goatee was waxed. He was garbed in the priestly robes; white and gold, with sunbursts throughout. Cornelius Aggett, priest of Polaris, a man both Nefydd and Grijolhd despised almost as much as the Sheriff (with the mayor coming in a close third). Behind Cornelius was a woman neither had seen before, dressed in fighting leathers and knee high boots of chocolate brown, her black hair tied in a ponytail. With the magefire from the staff, the woman's eyes shined like golden monarchs.

Grijolhd almost spat, but restrained himself. “You were saying something about luck Nef.”


Fovikklen- one of the planes of existence outside of the Prime Material Plane; some call it The Hidden Plane, legends have it that the only way to access the plane itself is to defeat an Archaic sphinx in a game of mental challenges followed by a duel with magics (most times of the nonlethal sort).

Monarch- one of the currencies of Anfekor, a gold coin

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

The Crooked Kindness- Part 3

The Festival of Planks occurs in late spring in Goshen. Most of the city docks shut down during the festival, with a handful remaining opening to any river traffic that insist on harbor and trade during the activities. In a rare sign of solidarity, the Covi family decided to head down to the Horseshoe District to partake in the celebration. The district is somewhat of a misnomer, as it doesn't actually refer to what is produced there but rather the shape as the city spans out over the Cefron for a little less than a league. After the Horseshoe the city tucks back landward, forming the Warehouse District for a mile, after, the land reaches out again to the river with the Porcaro Hill District, home of the Thirteen, the name of Goshen's wealthiest families. The water in between Horshoe and Porcaro Hill forms the city's solitary bay. The city council insisted that a portion of the Warehouse docks remain open to river business for this year's celebration.

Lanfranco walked with his wife in hand (and a bottle in the other) down the Bargeman's Way to the festivities. Arrigo trailed a few steps behind, he had never been to this part of the city. Traffic along the thoroughfare was relatively light, but as the family reached the south end of the road, it increased tenfold. Suprisingly, the city watch was seldom seen as the throngs of festival-goers grew larger.

“Stay close to me Arrigo,” Meridiana let go of Lanfranco's hand and grabbed her son's, “Please be mindful of where you walk.”

“Relax Meri,” Lanfranco rumbled, “You'll be in Otterman territory soon. We'll be all right.”

“Lanny! Lanny!” The voice shouted to be heard over the noisy crowds. A smaller man with ruffled brown hair made his way through the knots of people to Lanfranco.

“Hail Jacca!” Lanfranco picked up the man in a bearhug. “How goes the offerings to the River Goddess?”

“Hmph, I see you've already started on your donation,” Jacca winked at Lanfranco, gazing knowingly at the bottle in his hand. “Did you bring Meri and the runt?”

“Right behind me.”

“Aha! There is the jewel of the Cefron herself!” Jacca approached Meridiana and Arrigo, bowing and kissing his mother's hand. “And Arrigo! Are you being fed proper boy? I've not seen you grow one thumb taller this year.”

“If I'm to be the jewel here, then my Arrigo is a sapphire as well,” Meridiana smiled and squeezed her son's hand.

“So shall it be. Come! Come! Let me lead you to the best events of the festival! Feats of strength, acrobatic excellence and other exploits of derring do. Right this way!” With a flourish of his right hand, Jacca motioned mother and son to follow, then walked beside Lanfranco.

“So where is the Watch Jacca?” Lanfranco slapped the man's back. “Usually it's tighter than a taxman's grip on his tax chest here.”

“There's trouble over at Warehouse, some of the workers are dropping kegs of ale in the river and setting them alight.”

“Must be shitty ale one would hope.” Lanfranco sighed.

“Lanfranco please!”

“Oh Meri, the boy has heard much worse, leave it be woman.”

“Vest Import and Exports has bought out Alfred's Barge and Storage,” Jacca spat once he finished.

“Another gods damned business, is there no stopping these bastards?” Lanfranco added more saliva to the street. “If this keeps up, then there will be only a handful of dockers working as independents.”

“ If this keeps up it'll be just Vest, Rees's outfit and us. I bet it's Iddawg and his crew that's doing the dropping. Vest cut their wages after buying out Yadler's.” Jacca whinced as he said this.

Lanfranco snorted. “ Rees is no better. And where is Iddwag's bloody guild in all this?,” He threw his bottle in a nearby rain barrel.

“Lanny, it's tied up in the fucking magistrates with the lawyers.”

“And that asshole is rumored to be in Vest's pocket. Iddawg is fucked, drop or no drop.”

“Husband, please be a little more discreet with the language.” Meridiana began humming an old Amsernan folk tune. It was one of Arrigo's favorite songs.

Jacca changed the topic. “Meridiana will you sing for us tonight?”

“If you gentlemen can articulate yourselves in a more honorable fashion I might consider it.”

Monday, May 20, 2013

The Crooked Kindness- Part 2

Lanfranco Covi was a man three armspans in height, with a head of raven black hair. His father, Salvi was a dockworker in Goshen and by the gods, Lanfranco was going to be raised as one too. The only education Lanfranco received was on the river docks, from passing merchant barges and paddle boats or from the noticably opinionated recollections of his fellow guild members of the Otterman River Guild. The docks taught him how to do basic numbers, basic business reading, how to communicate a few words of the Tribes and Orcish, and certain forms of less than savory articulation.

By the time he'd seen twenty two summers, sweating his ass off on the docks, Lanfranco became one of the luckiest bastards of the guild. His ambition and work ethic got him promoted to dock overseer, but that was one only part of the good fortune. Lanfranco's dock master sent him and his team upriver to dislodge a cog stranded on the banks. One of the passengers on the cog was a green eyed Amsernan lass, with a voice that even charmed her aloof elven passengers. A voice from the heavens, said Akab (one of Lanfranco's workmates), that would even give cherubim pause. Her hair was brown, with golden strands from her love of the sun. She helped pull the cog from the mud along with Lanfranco's crew. Lanfranco, true to his Jilipothan heritage, charmed the woman's name from her lips; Meridiana, eldest daughter of a general goods merchant.

Meridiana was a young woman of 19 when she met Lanfranco. Like her siblings, Meridiana was privately schooled with as many tutors as her father could afford. Meridiana wasn't content to be her father's dandizette on his estate in the Stonedale province. She had the fire for adventure and knowledge, always begging her father to allow her passage on his many forays down the Aisne River. Eventually her father relented and she was promoted to 'attache' status. Meridiana fell under Lanfranco's sway that fateful day. Before she accepted Lanfranco's proposal she visited a old seeress as was the tradition. The seeress gently grabbed her hands, looked into her eyes and said, 'My poor dear, there is a saying, 'Love will go where it is sent, even if it's up a pig's asshole.'” Meridiana did not heed the kindly old woman's advice. She married Lanfranco on the banks of the Cefron River the next spring, on the very spot where the cog that took her to him ran aground.

As with most marriages, the early years were blissful. The Covis moved to the Spire District of Goshen into a two floor apartment. Meridiana was able to educate Lanfranco with her knowledge of the Bright Empire and folklore. She encouraged him learn to read literature besides inventories and shipping ledgers. She would sing and submit to impromptu performances for their neighbors and some of the dockers at Lanfranco's employment. Lanfranco even toned down his nights of late drinking with his guildsmen. But it didn't last. Eventually Lanfranco insisted on continuing his nightly debaucheries. Meridiana was often alone many nights of the week. She would book passage on a river cog back upriver to where the Cefron met the Aisne, leaving Lanfranco for days. Things continued on a descending spiral until Meridiana found out she was with child.

In their third year of their marriage, Lanfranco and Meridiana Covi had a baby boy. Young Arrigo spared the union some more deterioration until his fifth year of age. At that time, the Senate passed the Universal Education Program which created public education for children throughout Anfekor from the ages of five to seventeen. This was unheard of in many lands. Lanfranco didn't like it, as his plan was to raise Arrigo as another docker in the Covi tradition. Meridiana loved the idea of little Arrigo receiving education outside of the expensive approach of her father's (and the upper classes) methods. This conflict was just one crack in the illusory mirror of the Covi marriage. Arrigo was blessedly unaware of this, but he had trials of his own to contend with. For many youth, some of the most heart-wrenching trials in their path to the loss of innocence; trials of social acceptance, of peer pressure, of the difficult passage to learn morality, or a lack thereof.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

The Crooked Kindness- Part 1

Young Arrigo Covi never dreamed in eleven years of life that he would want to leave Goshen, at least at first. Arrigo's mother had a voice of a birdsong, reminding him of the black capped cidmiths in the winter that would perch in the old park near Gristman Square. Her melodies were soothing and sometimes when she sang or hummed a tune she would gently run her fingers through his hair, usually putting him to sleep. He loved her for this and many other things.

Arrigo's father was a temperamental man, prone to fits of shouting. He worked at the docks in the Horseshoe District of the city. It was a hard job, Arrigo's mum told him with her soft green eyes; she pleaded with the boy to be quiet and let father yell. While yelling at his mother, Arrigo tried to leave the kitchen, but his father would yell at him to stay and 'Listen to what I have to tell your mother.' Your father is stern with us because he loves us, she would say in her birdsong voice. But his father would be angry with him because Arrigo would never stand up to the other children that hurt him.

Even among humanity's children can be found the cruelest of souls. At school Arrigo was derided for being small and quiet. Folco and Eryk especially would catcall him, calling him mongrelboy (named after the elusive mongrelfolk that supposedly dwelled in the sewers beneath the city) and other names. It was the bigger boys Tadei and Bekter that had fists like hammers, feet like rocks. They left his eyes black and his legs bruised.

Arrigo feared retaliating, there was something about violence that felt so terrible, it was like tasting soap when he was caught swearing. But the boys kept beating him, and Arrigo's father kept shouting. Arrigo's anger, humiliation and frustration was a sickness. It was a stomach ache, it was a black, cold fire in his mind, threatening to burn out his soul. When the namecalling became too much, Arrigo would scream and cry, shrieking like he was being burned alive. The teacher at school would remove him from the play yard during recess, leaving him sobbing in the corner of the classroom.

The occasional outbursts at school kept Arrigo's cold fire at bay. His father would reignite it at home, encouraging him to solve the humiliation with a fist. Arrigo didn't like his hands as hammers, he used his hands to draw with the charcoal sticks in the classroom. He would draw the far away Mareskod Mountains or the strange stalagmites of the Golden Caverns just outside Goshen. As he drew, he tried to feel he was actually in these places, looking at the great snow covered peaks of the mountains or being blinded from the brilliance of the fabled luminium crystals. His father couldn't understand, and the screaming came on and on, like rain in a thunderstorm.

During the summers, the children would swim in the river near the Spire of Bones.  The children were oblivious to the artefact's dire reputation.  Arrigo was able to hold his breath the longest due to repeated dunkings by Tadei. Once even Bekter convinced Tadei to let Arrigo up for air for fear of drowning; the name tadpole's bastard was added to the list of epithets thrown the boy's way.

The black fire was building within Arrigo, and when he saw a trio of kittens sipping water from a cistern in the alley behind Hinter Street, it burned him at last. He grabbed one of the small, mewing youngsters, the white and black one, caressing its fur. His right hand crept up its neck, fingers gently tapping as they went. The fingers wrapped around the kittens neck, slowly Arrigo squeezed. The kitten's mews became wheezes, there was a crunch, the kitten hit the cobblestones with a wet sounding thump. Arrigo picked up another; two lay dead before his fire was spent.

Arrigo cried aloud that night for the first time in a long while, even his mother's singing couldn't calm his shattered soul. He couldn't tell her what he had done, his introspective revelations accenting his wracked cries. His father came in then, beating Arrigo into silence. “Since you're too lazy to speak to us about what's making you cry I'll give you cause to weep boy!” After the boy quieted down, muffling his sobs with his pillow, he daydreamed of floating down the Cefron River, legs hanging lazily over a river barge, watching the waters flow past Old Grimy Kneebones Bridge. No tormentors or dead kittens were there to haunt him. He slept peacefully. Arrigo awoke to another day of harassment, continuing into nightfall, his father once again screaming at his mother in the kitchen.

Black capped cidminth- small bird very similar to our modern black capped chicadee

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Good Gaming Group Chemistry- The Challenge

RPGs are fantastic avenues for social stimulus among a group of people. But sometimes, that can be difficult to achieve. It is my opinion that what amounts to an enjoyable gaming session is a unique chemistry within the group. Sometimes it takes a few gaming sessions to develop, at other times, the chemistry begins as soon as the GM and the players enact their first encounter of the game. When an RPG hits its stride for both the GM and the players is when good gaming group chemistry is accomplished (I will label this GGGC for short).

GGGC is a challenge for many, myself included. Some game masters have that je ne sais quoi that creates an enjoyable atmosphere for the players. It also must be said that players need to have a measure of this too. There are a few people out there, game masters and players alike, that have charisma, a natural affinity to bring people together and help create a fun game. This is few and far between. Personally, I can think of two people that have that charisma (and yes, they are gamers). RPGs, in my opinion, is interactive storytelling at its finest, with everybody at the gaming table contributing (ideally) to a great gaming experience.

GGGC can be maintained if both the GM and players are active particpants in the game session. This is a tricky balance. Every human being is different, we were all raised in different households, different families, even different cultures. Part of keeping the chemistry alive is having everyone (regardless of their background) come together on common ground and socially interact with each other, staying in character (when possible) and accomplishing some amazing story dynamics with their characters. This is easier said than done. For me, as a GM and a player, it is a personal challenge. Every game I struggle with this issue.

Paizo has made an effort to address keeping GGGC alive by giving advice to the Game Master in their book, Game Mastery Guide. Now please keep in mind that there are other publications out there that cover this is as well (For example. I believe Robin D. Laws wrote a book about addressing GGGC and the title escapes me at the moment). So if any blog readers have other publications in mind, please comment, make your voice heard. Actually, if any blog readers have any tips they'd like to share on keeping great chemistry in an RPG, please comment, not only will you be helping me, but you will be helping any readers of the blog! (Apologize for the digression)

Getting back to Paizo's Game Mastery Guide, the second chapter of the book, entitled Running a Game, has oodles of information for what a GM can do to help assist with providing GGGC in a game. The chapter examines styles of running the game, creating a atmosphere for your players, what type of adventure to run (relating to styles of running the game), and other things. There's a great section entitled, 'Don't Stymie the PCs.' In chapter 3, there is an interesting section that can prep a GM as to what type of personality a player may have at the gaming table (the book outlines 14, yes fourteen, types of player personalities you may run into when Gming a game!). I would recommend any GM to peruse this publication at the very least.

If you want even better advice on game mastering then you could go straight to the source, find a great GM and mine his/her brain for great suggestions on running a game. One great way to do this is sit in on an Iron GM competition. Iron GM challenges Game Masters to run an adventure with three random topics, at the end of the competition, the Gms are judged and the best of the best are given prizes. If these guys and gals are willing enough, you should talk to them for tips about running a game. Another alternative is to go to a gaming convention, be observant, ask questions, try and find a GM that is captivating his/her players at the gaming table, and after the gaming session is finished, see if you can get some good gaming advice.

To achieve the best GGGC, it takes two to tango, as the saying goes. I've briefly covered how a GM can get advice and tips to help with GGGC. However, the players are just as important in contributing to GGGC. Players need to have to team work, and they need to be observant when a GM gives them a chance to shine in moments of role-playing. I was playing a game and a GM presented me with an opportunity to role play and I completely blew it. It was one of our first gaming sessions and I was playing a gnome rogue. The GM set me up as a bookie for two other PCs in a failed gambling operation, and rather than taking this facet of the game and running with it as a role play opportunity, I froze, because I wasn't accustomed to the game and I think my ego got in the way. Not a good thing! Which brings us to another to another difficult concept for players.

As players (hell, and game masters too!) we need to remove our egos from the gaming session. Remember that this is an interactive experience! That means everybody at the table MUST contribute to the gaming experience. This is a team sport! We need to help each other out when we can. The antagonists are many in an RPG, and some do require actual team work to overcome them, whether it be physically or intellectually. We need to fight those selfish desires of wanting our character's needs addressed on a significant basis in a game. Be patient, share the story with our fellow players and the GM. We need to let our fellow players breathe, watch them grow into their character roles, encourage them to role play, commend them when they do role play. Be positive, play to our fellow players strengths! Don't focus on the negative. Unless, of course, a player is being a complete jerk, in that case, send them out to the firing squad! Just kidding.

Always be congnizant of any way that our role playing can actual enhance the storytelling of our fellow players. Look at my mistake, rather than contributing to role playing with a whole gambler angle with my fellow PCs, I just shut down, I didn't contribute! There is a fine line here too, we need to keep a balance and make sure we're not stealing our fellow PCs thunder all of the time! Share the story! We need to give our fellow players some slack, allow them to grow into the game with their character's experiences.

Getting back to the game masters and the egos, a GM keeping his ego in check is one of the hardest things to do in a game (at least for me anyway). Especially in a homebrew campaign where we spend hours on plots, NPCs, stat blocks and adventure hooks and in one session the players can destroy all that hard work or go in a completely different direction. It is frustrating! But the players are making the story, we provide the stimulus for action, and they take it where they want to go. It's not our story, even though a lot of times we think it is, but it's the players that give it life, they create the magic. And sometimes, let's be honest, the magic isn't what we thought it was going to be in the first place. We make a really great NPC that has an incredible backstory and what do the players do, completely ignore them or worse, kill them or rob them. Yes, as a GM, we need to prepare our hearts to be broken sometimes in the game. Remember, everybody's different, so our player's motivations on what they do in the game may surprise us. Just roll with the punches. Let the players breathe and feel our world, and be prepared for them to do something unusual. We can't dictate what our players do, even though at times we wish we could, but that ruins GGGC. As game masters we need to keep things fluid, let the players run amok, within reason. If the players make a dumb decision, well, they pay for it, that's part of our job.

Well, that's some of my thoughts on generating GGGC. If anybody reading these blogs would like to chyme in and give their input, it is most welcome (unless it's belligerent of course). Cheers folks!

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

New Gaming Company by some of the great old timers!

For those of you who remember the ancient days of RPGs, and if the names Frank Mentzer and James Ward ring a bell then please pay attention! These two gentlemen along with two other guys (Tim Kask and Chris Clark) have created their own gaming company! It's called Eldritch Enterprises.
A cool new gaming company

They have several fantasy RPG products and Mr. Ward is working on some sci-fi products. I strongly urge you to check these guys out!