A Year Ago In A Field

Last year during the events I made a series of short video diaries for m’Patreon. The first one was less a video diary and more me looking very tired at the camera. I did however write up the event as a somewhat tongue-in-cheek rambling blog post. Given we’re not able to run event one this year due to, you know, the collapse of civilisation, I thought I’d post it up here for people to have a read through.

Wednesday 24th – The Great Van Fiasco

Graeme Jamieson – Vice President in charge of Finance and Numbers – picked me up in his wee car around one-ish and we drove down to Preston. There were complex travel plans. He had already been on the road for something like eight hours (or however long it is it takes to get to Preston from The Back of Beyond). We did some minor prep work but mostly talked shite because its always a toss-up with a long car journey whether you’re going to be in the mood for work.

We got to site reasonably early, but unfortunately the other half of our “convoy” – Matt and Sam – did not. Instead the van that they were traveling in decided to break down in Bolton. Luckily all my bedding and such like were in the back of the car, because in the end Matt and a second van reached sight at around seven in the morning on Thursday.

Sam sensibly declined to wait up for the van, slept on a sofa, and got the train to Banbury instead. Because she is sensible like that.

The worst part of all this (from my point of view) was that the reason they were in Bolton was to pick up the new Bourse notes from the printer but thanks to an oversight the Weirwood and White Granite notes had had their leaf transposed. So while mithril was fine, the other two weren’t usable. Much wailing and gnashing of teeth, but the upshot is that we’ll need to launch the lovely new notes during Spring Equinox.

I also had no electricity, no internet, and no servers. So we got not further work done and had an early night.

Thursday 25th – Writing! So Much Writing!

Electricity was piped in nice and early – sparkies are excellent at their job. Server access soon followed. I then spent Thursday roughly the same way I’d spent the previous three weeks. Typing like a crazy man.

We’re very variable how we manage with finishing writing work before events. This time round a last-minute rewrite of something meant we lost a week we should have spent on Winds of Fortune, meaning they ran on an extra week, meaning that I was still writing in the field. It’s been a while since I had to do that and it is not fun.

Thursday was dedicated to pack stuff – responses to Winged Messengers, a massive ritual-text-come-plot-exposition-document, final details for curses and meta-effects, stuff like that.

In between all that additional writing there was an amount of talking to people I’ve not seen in eight months, “adding value” to other peoples’ tasks, and piling stuff up so I could find it when the event started.

Throughout the day I had several sudden attacks of “OMG ITS NEARLY TIME IN” because I am not used to being on site working on a Thursday  – previously its always been my travel day. That was fun.

I was also a bit disappointed to discover we’d not gone with the Crew t-shirt slogan I thought we’d agreed on. We do a new crew t-shirt each year – a tradition that stretches back to Maelstrom and Odyssey days – and for Empire they have inspirational quotes about politics that also work for Empire roleplayers.

I’d been keen to have a quote from a non-man (we do a lot of Thomas Payne) and had persuaded Matt to use a quote from philosopher and philanthropist D. Parton (“Find our who you are and then do it on purpose”) following a very long discussion in which the ethics of making crew wear a t-shirt with an Ayn Rynd quote on (“Ask not who is going to let me do it, ask who is going to stop me”) were examined.

In the end we’d ended up with another Payne – which is fine – but a bit disappointed. There had been cold feet about whether some of our critics would be unhappy that our first quote from a woman in a while was from Dolly Parton rather than Simone de Beauvoir or someone similar. I think we made the wrong choice, but I’m not the one has to answer the angry e-mails.

There’s always next year.

We were a little late to bed because we had a final pass through Arcane Projections to do. As it always does it involved some last-minute changes to the status of certain projections. Most of the work here was Graeme and Matt – Matt in particular is called on to write the text a player receives if their arcane projection is a failure – but I still need to add value from time to time by writing rolepalying effects, or arguing finer points of the magic game design.

Bed around two.

Friday 26th – Ambassadors and Oh My God It’s Time In

I normally try to make sure the Ambassador briefs are done in plenty of time, but this time round – what with extensive imperial diplomatic stuff going on – they had to wait until late in the writing cycle. Meaning I was still putting finishing touches to them on Friday. This is never ideal.

I managed to get the last one finished and edited by Matt at about seven, which is an hour after time in obviously. It also left my nerves twanging like an evil banjo.

Irritatingly it was about this time we discovered we were very short on visions for Signs and Portents. The issue appears to have been that we changed how we collected them at some point during the run up to the event and then failed to disseminate that information sufficiently. It happens. Next event will be better.

I also had to brief the refs on the Wacky Circumstances for this event – specifically some options with magic and rituals we’d outlined in Winds of Fortune. About halfway through explaining one of them I realised Id made it far too complicated and felt bad. It passed, and the refs managed, but hopefully next time I’ll avoid the mistake I’d made there (too many nested effects tied to player identity and skill picks). And instead make a different one, obviously.

Writing out of the way, I helped with some briefing for one of the big encounters – big in terms of impact and prep work needed rather than numbers of crew involved. It meant helping to set up the four Ambassadors who were there for the anti-slavery summit to go to their cheese-and-golden-chocolate-balls meet-n-greet. I’d been fretting about this particular set of Non-player characters since around E3 last year but in the end we had four extremely solid crew – Stephen Kirkbride as Sarcophan (a role he was born to play), Bex Waring as the Commonwealth (she is a master of that rare non-player character skill of saying “no” and is excellent at in-character negotiations), veteran Tarantula/Flembic Jon Cole as the Sumaah (he is very good at having a kind of rock-hard confidence that players’ demands for mutuality just bounce off), and Sam Sutton for the little-dog-among-big-dogs from Axos (because she does a good line in opportunistic necromancers).

They went out to meet the players. We got a feel for how the next day’s summit might go. We chatted a lot about different approaches, red-lines, and how best to draw the player characters out so that it felt like a negotiation.

In between all that I did the two roles I needed to play that evening. Two plenipotentiaries in fact. Ira Harrah’s herald, and the Vizier of the Cassinean Empire for Basileus Flint. These were pretty much “talky” encounters – which is just as a well. Plenipotentiary parleys can sometimes be tech-heavy (tech here meaning magic items, boons, scrolls, and the like which are offered as boons). I quite enjoyed them in spite of myself even though I discovered that not only was I having an allergic reaction to the fur on my Vizier outfit, but also to one of the big pieces of cloth I had over my head for the Ira Harrah herald.

I got to bed about half one after some last-minute discussion regarding some of the encounters that were due the next day.

Saturday 27th – Running Around A Bit and Then Standing Still

Full day of encounters – organising the remaining three plenipotentiaries, consulting on a few of Matt’s encounters, offering assistance where required, handling the odd bit of on-the-spot writing and things like that. A typical Saturday during an event, basically.

Saturday starts with the field character meeting at nine o’clock when the egregores, civil service and plot writers all get together to give quick updates on how things are going. They take place in the Plot tent, and they’re usually a lot of fun. Clare Evans (its her department) pioneered them and runs them with a ruthless iron fist. It’s a good way for me to get a feel for how things are going, and lets the people who have all the player-character face time bring up concerns, share cool snippets with one another, and give an overview of what’s happening in their area. I make unhelpful jokes and answer questions where I can.

We had our first test of the new Swim Leviathan’s Depths rules, and it seemed to go well. I’m comfortable where we’ve ended up there  – I think its good both for me and the players to know when they can talk to the Cosmic Party Whale.

The other big job I make time for through the day is variously called Constitutional Court or Scrutiny. This is when me, Matt, Graeme, and chief magistrate Jon Creek get together with one of the Senate civil servants (Harry or Amy) to go over submitted motions and do a spot evaluation to check for problems or answer questions. Due to Amy unfortunately being very ill indeed and having to go home, we had Harry for this which is always a nuanced pleasure.  I can’t remember any blips.

The bulk of the day was supporting other plots. I’d rostered a chunk of the day off in case I needed to fill in for one of the ambassadors but there as no need, so around seven I kitted up and headed for Conclave.

Its Own Pocket Dimension Outside Space and Time

Conclave was good. It as also four hours and ten minutes long (James, the civil servant who runs it, counted every minute).

Earlier in the day the Hall of Worlds – where Conclave takes place – had been knocked over by the wind. The red cap team had it back up in a couple hours because they are heroes, but it meant it was about half the size it normally is. This meant it was a little cozy – but not painfully so.

The worst bit about it was, as always, the lack of seating. It’s better than it was, but as a fat man who will not see 40 again, standing for two hours was a challenge. I eventually managed to perch on the edge of a bench which improved things dramatically for the last two hours.

One of the reasons I was keen to be there was that after last event I’d made a few tweaks to how the discussion ran and wanted to see how they worked. I was broadly happy – the Candidacy discussions were still a little drawn out, but once they were out of the way the actual meat-and-veg business of conclave was extremely cool.

Conclave takes a long time, but I never felt that anything that was going on was a waste of time. There were all sorts of serious, in-character debates about all sorts of topics – the purpose of the sorcery declaration for example, or the potential threats of the eternals, or the controversies surrounding other parts of the Imperial machine’s involvement with foreign powers and the like. It was genuinely fascinating.

I imagine I had a different experience because I knew what was going on with 78% of what was happening, but it was pure politics.

Conclave, as I have said more than once, is my jam. If I were a player I would be rolling around in that jam like a giant wasp who is also a jam miner and has an unfortunate addiction to jam. It’s got a reasonably egalitarian feel – one magician one vote – and anyone with a bit of mana can add things to the agenda or get a grandmaster’s attention to speak on a topic.

The drama was even better than event one, with excellent theatrical grandstanding from Paul Fraine as the Spring Archmage, Solomon of the Shattered Tower (I think it was), Andre Tcherepnine as the deeply concerned Grandmaster of the Sevenfold Path, and adroit political points from what I think was Izzy Treveliane as the Grandmaster of the Celestial Arch and her order. Plus Phil Prior as Gregor, the Grandmaster of the Shuttered Lantern, giving a kind of subdued performance that would not have been out of place in a courtroom drama.

My jam, like I said.

Then there was some serious drama involving an Archmage, a virtue inquisitor, a very important document, and a major question of ethics. Not that that was allowed to interfere with the flow of Conclave. Nothing short of an attack by spider demons stops conclave these days.

It was, in short ace. For four hours, the tent set aside for Conclave became its own little microcosm of the game and I am very glad I went. I’m not saying that at some points I couldn’t remember a time I wasn’t in Conclave, but I’m still glad I went.

Next event however I will bring my own chair, something to drink, and some food. And maybe a radio, dammit.

After Conclave

Arrived back just in time to find out what had happened with the anti-slavery summit. There was a fascinating situation where the big anti-slaving-nations trade pact had definitely been formed but the Empire were not technically in it yet because the treaty had not been ratified. Potential for excitement next day was discussed, and we also looked over all the clauses with an eye towards how they could make game, whether there would be constitutional or legal issues, stuff like that.

Got to bed around two.

Sunday 27th – Ending on a High

Sunday started with the field characters meeting. Then knowing I had no Leviathan – because there were no outstanding questions on the system – meant I had plenty of extra time for last minute stuff.

I briefed up and sent out my last proper encounter of the event (Morgan and Bex as Faraden traders) and pegged it across the field to be tried for a crime I definitely committed.

Almoin Ostikis, the Asavean Architect was on trial for idolatry. He started out as a wind of fortune opportunity, then went into play as a person during the Summer Solstice event in 2018. He was basically me with an outrageous accent and 30-year-old GCSE French.

It was all quite civilised for criminal proceedings and the first time I’ve been involved as a non-player character in that area of the game. I caught the magistrates eating breakfast in a moment of unexpected verisimilitude. We then had a quiet trial – myself, the magistrate, and the prosecuting priest (Mike Kilburn). There was an outcome.

I enjoyed the experience, and got to see a magistrate operating. I’m glad we went the route we did right back at the start, in having non-player characters enforce a functioning (for live roleplaying) legal system. It involves lots of nuance it seems.

Then back across the field for scrutiny (via a surprise mini-encounter with a Joe-shaped priest of the League that made it very hard to keep my grumpy face as I stomped off site as Almodin). Then into my Leontes the Scribe kit again to make the final Senate session of the event.

Senate was great fun – Harry as the Speaker is always a joy to watch working the room. I read a newspaper in character and tried not to let on too obviously when I spotted a Senator lying, misrepresenting, or incorrectly stating things based on stuff I had written.

There was politics, and drama, and a Home for Goodest Doggoes, and then the big motion that I was interested in – the ratification of the anti-slavery treaty. Everyone was moved.

Then time out, and I left the field feeling good.

It never lasts – once the event is over the thousand-and-one things that didn’t work, or ruined peoples’ events, or just went less well than they might have begin to mount up and quickly leech any sense of achievement. But for a couple hours it was aaaaaall good.

Back to the Matt Cave, and nail down the barbarian orders. We’re always careful with this – its a job Matt, Graeme and I do in sketch form before the event then lock-in after time out in case anything has changed in the campaign since the start (normally battle outcomes). It normally falls to Matt and I, as Graeme knows what the players are doing by this point because he has their orders. This time Matt had accidentally learnt something about one of the fronts that meant I had to do them solo which is always a bit of a pain because I tend to swing wildly between CRUSH THEM ALL and WE CANNOT POSSIBLY WIN RUN AWAY depending entirely on my mood. But we managed it, then discussed likely outcomes for the various theatres based on Graeme’s subsequent overview of player action.

Depending on how takedown is going we either start writing up senate motion, synod judgements and conclave declarations or just hang out and talk shit. This time we lost the server early so it was the latter. Hearing stories about cool things people did or saw during the event, getting caught up on the battles, and planning follow-ons for next event.

Then the crew party and the obligatory bit where Matt tells everyone how great they are. I fell asleep immediately after tea and went to bed at around ten.

Monday 29th – Home Again Home Again Jiggety Jig

Now we’re back in the North, and getting a lift with Graeme, we leave early. I tore my office apart and threw it in bags and then we were off site by half nine or so which is definitely a new experience.

We stopped off to have lunch and watch a superhero movie (I cried) and arrived back in Cumbria around six or seven, ready for a day or two relaxing (and writing a brilliant quality short story in 24 hours for someone because of course I am) and then start prepping for the next event which is in … about 65 thousand hours as I write this.

That’s plenty of time, right?

The video – which I hope worked – was made immediately after Conclave as I got back to my desk in an empty office. I hope it works, I’m struggling with YouTube settings because luddite.

This piece first appeared on my Patreon on April 30th 2019.

 

The Event I Never Talk About

One of the things I do over on the Patreon is write about previous Winds of Fortune – the kind of pre-event plot front-loading we do that brings the campaign to life and sets out stuff for people to care about/responses to things they cared about last event. This is a support piece I wrote about E1-2016 while trying to get my thoughts together to write about the Winds of Fortune for that event.

Bring Me Twenty Boar Ears (Each Boar Has Between 0 and 3 Ears)

Before we get onto the 379YE Winds of Fortune, I hope you will indulge me as I take a side quest digression about the event itself. My memory is a bit patchy, for reasons I will touch on below, but I’m partly doing this because the event itself is a giant elephant in the room that seems to be actively doing its best to stop me reviewing the Winds of Fortune.

Which is a shame because there’s some good stuff in here. The Imperial Orcs have just gotten a homeland. Doghri Thulebane has just turned up in a sulk. King Adamant is making his first appearance. There’s some flavour text I am very fond of indeed.

It looks like it’s going to be a good event, actually. Which given what has just happened…

Not A Great Winter, All Things Considered

It’s event one 2016 and it’s the first event on another new site.

If I am remembering correctly, the boss has just had a Winter from hell. We’ve just lost another new site, and so we’re running the event on the farm with very little notice. This is the second site we’ve lost in as many years. The boss has spent the last month running around like a blue arsed fly trying to find somewhere else to run. There’s a very real chance this is it – no more Empire – but he finds somewhere and we breathe a sigh of relief.

We’ve done a lot of work on Winds of Fortune – a whole lot of work – and we’re cautiously optimistic. Seems the worst is over.

Still… for some reason I’m feeling a bit emotionally fragile in the run up. I’m putting a cheerful face on it as you do. I’ve got some plot to run, and I’m looking forward to it (although as usual I’ve not done enough prep work because I appear to be incapable of doing prep work). Winds of Fortune have gone over quite well, all things considered.   I’m excited to see the new site. I hear it has woods for running quests and battles in and that its quite large. We drive down with Clive.

The weather is a bit wet. Remember that key fact as it will be relevant shortly.

The Weather Was A Bit Wet

The event is a bit stressy, as events often are, but I seem to be experiencing extra stress for some reason. It’s not just the fact that this is a first event at a new site which is always a challenge. It’s the wet. Cold weather I can cope with – I just put another pair of socks on – but the mud seems to be sucking the life out of me through the thin soles of my boots. I’m feeling tired all the time, but buckling down and trying not to have a repeat of the bad thing that happened at event two year one where I went home early and spent three days eating Doritos in my underpants with my cat.

Over the course of the event, the weather gets wetter and colder. Everything turns to mud. Everything. The ground, the tents, the air itself. Mud has seeped into my head. All is mud.

People start having to leave. The rain is lazy and driving and relentless.

Early Saurdtay afternoon I’m starting to feel a bit overwhelmed because I’ve not done enough work on the half dozen Winter eternal audiences we’re doing as part of a plot about the Thrice-cursed Court. Truth be told, I’m still struggling with eternal audiences in general, trying to get them right. We’ve done some work over Winter but we’re still not there yet.

Dave Young is being supportive, in between doing Navarr egregore stuff, but I’m struggling a bit and trying not to let on because I’m kind of management (I’m still a volunteer at this point).

Then it all comes to a head. There’s been some quite discussion nearby that I am peripherally aware of, and it leads to my partner taking me aside and gently explaining that the tent we’re in with Graeme and Clive has been washed out/collapsed and everything is soaking or ruined.

It was a grim moment, to put it mildly.

A Stiff Gin and Tonic

I don’t remember Sam telling me that the tent is gone but I do remember sitting in the dark at the back of a Sorin audience where I’m meant to be taking notes and not being able to think about anything coherent for a bit.

I very nearly just gave up at that point and called it a day with live roleplaying. I managed to keep my head together but bits of my brain start shutting down. In retrospect, I think I might have been over-stretched for some reason. It happens.

I didn’t quit live roleplaying, obviously. A number of factors too numerous to go into in detail come into play, I still vividly remember the weirdly cheerful Blitz spirit that had taken over the monster room, with a trio of brightly coloured Rhianos heralds (the only one I can remember is Jonathon Franglen with a spiral sea-shell glued to his face) going out into the damp Hell of the field to do a bit of crap plot I’d written and being really cheerful about it.

The real saving grace was that my mate Clive took us off site that evening and put us up at his place for the night where there were showers, opportunities to dry clothes, and also I seem to recall at least one large gin and tonic. I never drink gin, either. it is the second glass of gin I have ever drunk (the first one was in a pint glass I remember).

We don’t really talk about live roleplaying much.

Clive also lost some stuff, including an awesome cloak that was one of the first pieces of live roleplaying costume he had ever made (in that his mum and his wife had made it). I occasionally joke that future archaeologists are going to find some pretty weird and confusing stuff in that field a thousand years from now.

I have no idea where Graeme slept – he had four hundred arcane projections to do and so refused to leave site because he is crazy. I assume he curled up in a metal box on a pile of leather – after processing four hundred arcane projections obviously.

Can’t Rain All The Time, Apparently

The next day I’m feeling about 110% better for having gotten warm and dry and we come back to site – although again there were touch-and-go moments – and we push through. I seem to remember that Clare Evans and Dave Young had taken over and run everything in our absence – because obviously Matt is busy trying to stop everyone and everything being washed away and keep the event going.

Some people are refusing to let a little mud get them down and seem to be having a whale of a time because they are weird.

Sunday night, the boss paid to put us up in a Travelodge up the road. It was good, but there was insufficient gin and tonic.

I had a bath.

I had another one when we got home on Monday night.

Missed Opportunities to Murder Senators

I do remember that one of the plots we cancelled was the one in which there was meant to be a Druj negotiating team come to talk to the Senate. It was a plot I was quite excited about. Because the Druj had geared one of their number up with Fetid Breath of Teeming Plague and were going to assault the Senate in a decapitation strike aimed at the Empire.

We’d spent ages on this plot working out how best to handle it, carefully statting the Druj, debating whether there was sufficient foreshadowing…

… but in the end, we pulled it. It was definitely the right decision. It felt like half the Senate had already gone home, and now was not the time to run a complicated bit of plot that if it went astray could easily murder thirty player characters… at an event where everything was already freezing mud.

The stats are still on the plot wiki, and I’m still gutted. I’ll probably never know whether this incredibly risky plot would have worked or not. I had a 10p bet on with myself as to whether they’d actually manage to kill anyone.

I found it unlikely, but I thought it would have generated some excitement.

Memory Can Be Tricky

On the other hand, I genuinely don’t remember chunks of that event. I have a vague memory of being sat on a bench near crew welfare waiting for a truck to take us up to the car-park with our kit and having no idea how I got there, and being unable to process what people were saying to me because my brain had switched off. Yet at the same time I can also remember enthusiastic Rhi and Jude talking about how much fun they’d had at the event.

I have a memory that for some reason I did a three hour Sadogua audience on Sunday night in the Hall of Worlds in which I sat on a bench on the far side of the portal at the back of the tent. I might have been topless, I can’t remember. This was before I had my nice Sadogua duds. I might well have been in a Maelstrom t-shirt and jogging bottoms with my hat-earred-mop-wig jammed on top.

I can’t remember why I thought that was important enough to do when I’d cancelled more than half the plot we were meant to do.

I can remember people coming to me and saying “is the Sadogua audience on because if not people are going to go home” and for some crazy reason thinking this means I must do the Sadogua audience or people will go home. It was only in retrospect I realised that maybe the right thing to do would have been to say “no” so that people could go home, but I was not entirely rational even after a night in Clive’s front room.

Disasters Can Be Expensive

The boss spent a lot of money that event hiring all-terrain vehicles, and laying down wood chip, and putting people into Travelodges, and otherwise doing his best to present the non-evil face of Profound Decisions that he takes very seriously. Then he spent a bunch of money improving drainage before E2. All told Profound Decisions spent an additional eighty grand on that event dealing with the emergency move, the event itself, and its aftermath.

These things happen.

One day, we will run live roleplaying fest events in giant hangars like those ones they build zepplins in that I swear I have seen on television. Or inside giant geodesic domes such as were proposed by visionary live roleplaying designers Larry Niven and Stephen Barnes. Until then, we persist in our stupid hobby at the whim of Mother Nature who clearly hates live roleplayers.

Looking Back, Over My Shoulder

This was genuinely meant to be a two-paragraph introduction to the Winter 379YE Winds of Fortune but it has grown in the typing. I’m sat here at my desk in my attic room and it feels like E1-2016 took place a lifetime ago rather than just under four years ago.

Everyone who was there has stories, I imagine.

I was thinking how odd it was that a bit of rain and mud nearly ended my fest live roleplaying career when said career started with Quest Keltai 1 (rebranded as “Quest Squelchai”) at which a friend god trench foot, and where I got so drunk on Friday night I slept under a tarpaulin which I woke to find was covered in an inch of snow and I barely had a hangover. Or indeed any food, having misjudged how far four pasties and a sausage roll could get a man.

Mind you it wasn’t even really a career at this point so maybe that’s a factor as to why it was so spectacularly stressful.

But we got through it, and things got better as they often do.

I’m no a lot more blasé about the weather for example. A bit of torrential rain is just a thing thatt happens and I shrug and move on. Not just at live roleplaying either – which is great news given I now live in Cumbria where the weather appears to be being rolled hour by hour on a d100 table. And not a good d100 table. The kind of old school d100 table that has encounters with white dragons and vrocks on it.

I got through a particularly stressful time and since then no event has even come close. I’m a lot less worried about having another minor breakdown and having to go home.

I’ve cut down the amount of field plot I run – which is a shame in some ways – but I’m better at actually writing that plot down rather than trying to run it by the seat of my pants.

The biggest improvement is that now we have the office – and I cannot stress enough how much better that converted shipping crate thing has made events. I have an actual bedroom with windows and an electric radiator built into the wall and most importantly of all a floor.

Tomorrow I’ll do the actual Winds of Fortune – I was away at the weekend and I’ve been fighting off a cold for the last 48 hours which is why I’m a bit late. Although part of me thinks that the other reason I’m a bit late addressing this event is that it was a very bad event from my point of view that nearly saw me give it all up in favour of something that didn’t involve camping four times a year.

Oh well. On with the motley – assuming anyone has any left. Winking smiley.

Pictures and Words

The picture at the top is from Beth Dooner (who incidentally is also on Patreon). I looked over her album from the event, and it doesn’t look all that bad. I started wondering if maybe I was guilty of exaggerating for comic effect…

… and then I got to the very last shot which is a tractor pulling a wagon full of seats and I suddenly remembered that it took us forever to actually get off the field in that wagon-and-tractor combination and I felt for just a moment the soul crushing exhaustion that I ended that event with and I decided not to use it as the image for this piece and instead use something more fun.

Honestly. Fuck E1-2016. Fuck it in the ear.

I’m aware that memory is weird, and I do worry that what I remember happening might not have been what other people remember happening. But I’ll also tell you that rereading this helped a little with the growing existential dread that has been filling up my corners over the last couple of days. It’s weird stange the brain works, innit?

This piece first appeared on my Patreon in November 2019.

Sound of the Tin Man

Bill Thomas is a clever man who I understand does things with lights, cameras, and actors. In his spare time he recorded some audio play versions of some of the things I wrote over Christmas. They are very good.

This first one is one I wrote last month, then didn’t post here because I was submitting it to a science-fiction site after encouragement from Jude. It didn’t get selected, so now I can post it properly. Rather than just stick the text up, I’m including what might be a link to the audio which I’ve managed with surprisingly little chaos to upload here.

I think.

The story is read by Jason Marchant, produced by Bill Thomas, and inspired by a prompt from James Stuart.

Five Characters In Search Of A Player

For assorted reasons there’s been a hiatus in the advent fiction. You may know this hiatus as “the emotional fallout from that election thing”. Also after vicious bullying I sent the last piece I’d written in to a publisher and I can’t put it up on the blog until they reject it or they’ll reject it. Instead, here is a bit of fun about Empire characters.

Merely Players

Oz Mills said “If you were to play, as a player, in Empire, what would you create?” I’m not sure what he was expecting in response, but here’s my answer as it stands right now, just after the Summer Solstice 383YE.

A friend of mine recently floated the idea that we can sum up our characters in two words. Mine were “Garrulous Wanker”. But unfortunately that left me around 998 words short of an actual essay, so I went and poked around the wiki for a bit for inspiration.

This is quite a self-indulgent piece of writing I’m afraid. You may want to skip it.

The Play’s The Thing

First of all some ground rules.

I’m assuming I’m solo, rather than with a group. I play differently with a group. I’m thinking about this in terms of what I would find fun to do on my todd, making connections as and where and creating my own entertainment.

Whenever possible I’d pick an archetype and use that to build my character foundation. This is cheating slightly as I made up a lot of the archetypes and there’s at least one in every nation that was practically written for me to play. I’m going to pretend I don’t know which archetype I wrote for myself.

We’re also looking at the game as it is now rather than as it was when we started. In essence, these are character concepts I would play at the Autumn Equinox 383YE if I was to suffer a Neighbours style blow to the head, forget everything I know about Empire, and wake up in a hospital bed assuming I was a player.

As much as possible I’ll be basing things off my interpretation of the brief on the wiki. I’ll maybe play some niche areas up but I’ll not be making a special character who bucks the nation brief or the wider brief of the Empire world. I still regret that when we did the Anaguma at Maelstrom we were pro-darkpowder. Rookie mistake.

Finally, I’m building for fun rather than efficiency. To be honest, I think I’d enjoy Empire with minimal skills – just whatever I needed to get into the place I wanted to poke my nose into. I’m also picking skills as if I had only 8 points to play with rather than… well I have no idea how many experience points I have right now. I think its (does maths) 22? That sounds like a lot.

Not Appearing in this Movie 

After a half hour on the wiki refreshing myself on the nations, I made an “interested” and “not interested” list. It worked out as a roughly fifty-fifty split of nations I think I’d enjoy playing and nations I wouldn’t enjoy. One of the nations appeared on both lists. it’s the first character concept below as it happens – if I’m honest I think there’s logistical reasons I’d not enjoy playing it.

Right now I don’t think I’d enjoy playing Urizen, Navarr, or Dawn for various reasons. Two of those nations simply don’t interest me as a roleplayer, and one of them I think I’d just be frustrated by if I was to join them on the field.

I’m torn on Brass Coast, but we’ve only just done a major overhaul on it. I’d want to let the changes and quirks of emphasis bed in before I went and played there… although the brazen honesty thing is just so appealing. I’d love to play someone with Senatorial ambitions who was cheerfully up front about how bribable they were and… but no. I don’t think Freeborn is for me.

I’d also probably skip Highguard for my first character at least. No particular reason but I imagine “surly priest” would have trouble standing out from what I’ve seen of the player base there. Also I know too many of the players there, and I’d not last more than five minutes before trying to join Felix’s Watch if only so I could follow Mark Wilkin around silently judging him.

So that leaves Imperial Orcs, Marches, Varushka, Wintermark, and the League. In order of least-likely to most-likely then.

Rageborn Rak, Imperial Orc Shaman 

Picks: Hero, Extra hero points, Get it Together, Chirurgeon, Apothecary, Extra Recipe (Unshackled Gift) and a herb garden.

I like the Imperial Orcs in theory. Unfortunately, experience playing Thule, Jotun and Druj delegates has confirmed what various so-called friends keeps telling me – my head is too big.

By this I mean I can only fit my current crew orc mask because I cut the back of it. Its why I need to wear hoods all the time.

So I’d probably need a custom mask and it’d need to be super roomy and also very tough because I am a kak-handed twat. Also, I have learned I can cope with wearing a full head latex mask for two hours at most before I start to get twitchy in a bad way.

Assuming I could get round those problems, as Rageborn Rak I would be angry. All. The. Time. Angry about my ancestors being enslaved; angry about the way the Empire treats the orcs; angry about the way my fellow orcs let the Empire off with four centuries of murder and torment. A DIE Rage Knight in an orc mask.

I’d be angry, is what I’m trying to get across. As that famous film franchise says “Anger leads to social change.”

As a shaman I’d hear the ancestors a lot, and use that as an excuse to be even angrier. It would be particularly interesting for being an arse at humans who try to patronise me, and for picking fights with everyone-except-the-Brass-Coast over their slave-owning pasts (and with the Brass Coast about letting the Empire enslave orcs).

When the angry got too much to keep up, I’d shift to depressed and despondent.

I’d be a riot at parties, as you can imagine.

I suspect this would be fun to play for somewhere between two events and half an event. I also suspect from recent events I’ve observed that it would not go down well with the orc nation. Still, if I was playing an Imperial Orc, this is what I would want to play.

I imagine it would be cathartic if nothing else.

Aethelstan Runereader, Steinr Runesmith and part-time Heretic 

Picks: Artisan, Magician, Autumn Lore, Night Lore, and probably a Mana Site 

I’d be a loud mouthed runesmith who was a warrior in his youth until he took an arrow to the knee or let fine food and drink turn him into a fat ex-warrior. Something like that.

I’d have a story for every occasion, probably about the doings of dead friends and heroes of Wintermark rather than my own made-up pre-existence deeds. I’d laugh a lot. I’d also write poems and stories, possibly for coin.

But mostly, I’d have runes. So many runes.

I’d shamelessly “read the runes” all the time and make pronouncements based on random draws from bags as if they were a real thing. If someone asks me how I’m doing I’d pull a rune, peer at it, and make a prediction about how the rest of the day was going to go. It’d be tricky to get through a conversation with me without a rune appearing. I’d have chalk, bits of scrap parchment, quill pens, paint brushes – a tool for every rune-drawing occasion. I’d enjoy wandering around public areas offering to put runes on things in return for cash.

Also, my first answer to any problem would be to carve a rune into it.

Jotun invading Sermersuaq? Carve a rune into Sermersuaq. Eternal on a rampage? Rune encrusted pillars. Senate not doing what we want? Carve a rune into the floor. Or the Senators.

WWID

“Wyr Wyr Irremais Diras” is “Mystery Mystery Wisdom Secrets” which I am actually pretty okay with.

I’d say “What would Isenbrad do?” and the answer would always, surprisingly, be “Carve a rune into it.”

In my spare time I’d make magic items for heroes – a solid 2 month job wherever possible unless I could get hold of some resources – but I’d primarily be a magician. I’d be working towards being able to solo-cast Timeless Hammer Rhythm and maybe pick up some Winter for the warding and divination rituals I’d probably never cast.

When I ran out of mana, I’d draw runes on people and tell them they were bound to win any fights they got into as long as they made an effort.

In my off hours I’d be an unabashed Wintermark supremacist, who doesn’t see why Wintermark doesn’t run the Empire given it largely created its political system and also invented the most powerful magic there is (runes).

Also we’re obviously better than other humans because the ancestors of all three of our people are clearly powerful spirits.

I’d be constantly badgering people in Wintermark to run for political titles of all kinds so as to show people its our Empire. While at the same time being enthusiastically unmutual at every turn.

Oh and I’d definitely be a heretic who isn’t entirely convinced by the Way while being a big fan of the virtues that promote heroism. I know its bad to be a heretic but I think there’s enough space in Wintermark to be a literal hero worshipper far too into their ancestors to be healthy. I might get drunk and talk about “old ways” at people until they complained to an egregore.

Finally. I’d annoy the plot team by constantly trying to get hold of historical research opportunities with which to badger them about historical figures. One of my goals would be to become Minister of Historical Research. That’d teach ’em.

Bishop Aldones di Tassato Mestra

Picks: Dedication, and all the other priest skills except Exorcism. I’d probably have a congregation but I might go Business instead depending on how I found the Synod game. 

The main question with Aldones is whether to go for Courage or Ambition. I think Ambition would probably win, but I’d be constantly tempted by Courage.  Courage appeals because of the “stand up and be counted” mentality, but Ambition appeals in a “tilting at windmills” kind of way. The Way assembly might also work from a purely political point of view, but is useless for auras unfortunately. I’d maybe change virtue assemblies from time to time due to my inability to settle on one or the other.

Whatever virtue I favoured, I’d be a reformer, constantly banging on about the need to make the Empire a “better” place. I’m not saying I’d go so far as to be an actual heretic, but I’d cite Emperor Frederick as a major influence and go on about liberty a lot. It’s on the Senate door, it’s in the constitution, stop complaining about Anarchy, friend citizen.

I’d want to start unions, encourage people to get their just rewards for their labour (it’s a theme) regardless of how inconvenient that was, and constantly complain about Imperial titles needing to be answerable to the people.

Also I might in theory support religious freedom for religions that don’t actively preach things that are contra-Virtue, assuming the Empire ever encountered any.

I’d have my own soap box (or possibly a stool) which I would carry with me.

I’d have an exciting back story where I was raised by Little Mother priests because my parents couldn’t afford to feed me, and clawed my way up to having a church of my own through street preaching.

Whenever I was faced by a dilemma, I’d silently ask myself “What Would Joe Rooney Do?” and then do that.

I’d use right of Witness as much as possible. I’d attend every Senate session, and as many meetings of the Military Council as possible and then denounce people who were using “pragmatism” as an excuse to do bad things (or not do good things) from the steps of the Senate.

Oh and I’d probably produce a broadsheet with a name like “CLARION CALL” or “THE DOG BARKS” or something and try to sell it for a ring a time.

I’m grinning thinking just about it.

Pieter Pakkanovic Petrova, Varushkan Volhov

Picks: Magician, Heal, Night Lore, Winter Lore, Day Lore, maybe one of the lores at 2. Mana site.

Assuming I was solo, I’d be a volhov and I would use that archetype as carte blanche to stick my nose into everything and everyone’s business, both in Varushka and in the wider world. I would have a pointy hat, and a tattered cloak, and as many medallions and amulets as I could get with virtuous animals on them. I’d also have a staff covered in animals, feathers, bells, and the like that I would wave at people when bored.

Skeletor

I’m reasonably confident any number of Masters of the Universe, She-Ra, Dungeons and Dragons the cartoon, and Visionaries episodes would make excellent Varushkan stories, complete with a suitably grim lesson at the end.

I’d tell stories, but I’d not be a storyteller – I think I’d take an approach of “that reminds me of a story” and then explain the story rather than tell it. I might amuse myself by taking stories from pop culture and reskinning them as Varushkan tales.

I’d be a “proper” Varushkan, proud to be a descendant of the union of two people, but I’d repeatedly reference by Vard ancestors. Whenever the plot in which Varushkans make a deal with a dark power popped up (so two to three times an event) my first suggestion would be to see if we can kill the creature in question with axes, or stamp on its face with iron boots.

I’d claim to be a descendant of Pakannan, and regularly quote “Travels With My Uncle”. Cheerful phrases like “Deal only from a position of strength” and “Your first response to a monster should be to try and destroy it, not to offer it your children.

I’d take great pleasure saying “practical” when I meant “cowardly.”

But mostly I’d poke my nose into things and ask the most inconvenient questions I could think of in a cheerful voice.

I might go priest instead of magician, with insight and exorcism. It’d depend on my mood when I made the character.

Assuming I was solo… If I was in a group I’d want to be in a group of ruthless industrialists who wanted to clear-cut great swathes of Navarr, dig up all those Highborn gardens looking for mithril, and otherwise doing terrible Dark Satanic Mills style things. Assuming I could find a group who wanted to do that among my friends.

Friar William Scratcher 

Picks: Dedicate, Anointing, Hallow, Insight, Testimony, Chirurgeon, and predictably a Congregation

Brian Glover

Whenever I play a Marcher I am mentally channeling Brian Glover.

I’ll admit it – I’ve had a soft spot for the Marches since it was called Greater Radsbourne and was all about the apples. And not just because I grew up on a steady diet of whimsical tales of rural Britain with a healthy seasoning of what we now call Folk Horror.

Friar William is all about the shriving – but not just for Marchers. I’d set myself the goal of getting the Synod to recognise shriving as doctrinal. I’d hope it’d be an uphill struggle, to put it mildly.

I’d be a straight-down-the-line orthodox Marcher priest mind – no time for false virtues or schisms. As long as everyone accepts that stuff about shriving, wicker bonfires, and not-being-a-penny-pincher-or-you’ll-come-back-as-a-rat.  I might even try and coin the phrase “Marcher orthodox” as a descriptor and see if I could get other people to use it.

I’d either be a priest of Prosperity, and bang on about just rewards (it’s a theme) and how mutual sharing behaviour is unvirtuous in the extreme; or a priest of Loyalty and encourage everyone to Do The Thing in support of what they were Loyal to while refusing to reveal my own Loyalties to anyone.

I’d be all in favour of persecuting briars, although I’d prefer not to go on about it. Not because I hated briars but because of the danger little walking balls of Spring Magic represent to the Marches. I’d be equally iffy around other lineaged characters with the possible exceptions of Changeling and Cambions. I might even be a Cambion depending on whether I could get some nice horns – the stubborness would play well with the kind of character I was thinking of.

I’d have at least one book of parables on my person at all times (parables are just longer proverbs after all), and I’d spend some of my spare time writing pamphlets about Marcher spiritualist and forcing them on the Library.

Finally, I’d make a point of visiting the Dawn camp at least once an event and being pally with their yeofolk. I’d take cider, or apple pies or something, and talk to them about how much happier they’d be if they lived in the Marches.

If I had a group, I’d do an Abbott and see if we couldn’t get an even split of politically active religious priests with congregations, politically active secular priests with farms, and apothecaries with herb gardens. But I suspect that’d be a niche concept and I’d have trouble recruiting for it.

Think But This And All Is Mended…

MerryWanderer

“I am that merry wanderer of the night? I am that giggling-dangerous-totally-bloody-psychotic-menace-to-life-and-limb more line it.”

So there you go. Five character I would play if I was playing Empire in its current state.

As you’ll note, my range is pretty shallow. Also it’s priests and magicians all the way – partly because at my time of life fighting with rubber weapons is a distant dream.

The order is pretty much arbitrary based entirely on my mood right now – all except the Imperial Orc which I think I’d do as a stunt character rather than one I’d get my teeth into. Mostly fun to play with the ancestor stuff, really.

One of the things I like about Empire is that I could play it for years without getting bored or running out of character concepts.

There’s obviously a bunch of other character concepts out there that appeal. I quite like the idea of a Marcher playwright; a dissolute League actor with political aspirations; a Kallavesi mystic who won’t shut up about omens; a Freeborn activist prepared to go to extreme lengths to push the philosophy of Guerra; a Dawnish witch who fancies themselves as Merlin and is always on the look out for some champions to encourage into doing heroic deeds… and loads of others.

But to be honest… I suspect my playing days are behind me. I like to play characters, but only for a few hours at a time. I was never that into playing even when I started live roleplaying in the 90s – I’ve always had what my boss refers to as an “NPC mentality” and it just gets worse the more I write and run games.

That’s one reason I picked a non-Empire picture. This one was taken by Beth Dooner during the recent Spark LRP “Fairyland” event. I’m (predictably) not playing but crewing. Silenus the Baron of the Bacchanal. It was great fun, but also reinforced the fact that I’m not a player any more assuming I ever really was one.

The last time I actually played as a player at a live roleplaying game was probably the first year of Maelstrom, when I was a culturally insensitive badger-samurai. I think maybe I played an Ars Magica wizard at the fourth NWO game, but only as a player in the loosest definition.

Maybe if I could convince myself my player character was actually a long-term non-player character I could trick myself into enjoying it but I don’t think I’ve got the range to make that work…

This piece first appeared on my Patreon on August 4th. It came from a prompt presented by one of my patrons, which is a regular(ish) deal where I agree to write at least 1,000 words on a topic of their choice.

 

 

Something Something 2112

This discussion of the 2019 Event Two Winds of War first appeared on my Patreon in early June.

I. Overture

I actually know Rush mostly from a tv show called The Goldbergs. It’s a pseudo-biographical sitcom about a Jewish family set in 1980-something. Like Stranger Things but with fewer monsters and psychic powers and more over the top jumpers, but with the same appreciation for obvious film references. The Goldbergs I mean. Not Rush.

Obviously I’d heard of them before – way back in sixth form a friend tried to convince me 2112 was the best album ever but I was unconvinced. I was much more of a Poison fan in my late teens (embarassingly). Luckily, I grew out of it.

It was someone’s birthday and I’d done them a dramatic reading of some Rush lyrics as a present. Because they like Rush – it wasn’t just random Tom Sawyering. Then being stuck for a naming scheme for Winds of War I thought I’d take a look and see if they had enough songs I could rip them off for titles.

Misplaced Childhood

Misplaced Childhood is objectively one of the greatest albums ever recorded, incidentally. DON’T YOU JUDGE ME!

Gosh, there’s a lot of Rush.

So we were set. I listened to a few of their songs but they’re not really me. When it comes to progrock I’m a dyed-in-the-wool pretentious Marillion fan. The Rush lyrics were okay though so I amused myself picking out some random lines and sticking them on the photos used to illustrate each piece. Because I felt that was the kind of thing Rush fans would appreciate.

II. The Temples of Syrinx

Unlike Winds of Fortune which are a joint effort, the actual words for Winds of War are all me. It helps, the Boss says, to get a uniform feeling to them. I write them, Matt edits, or suggests edits. It’s still a collaborative process to a point but its my fingers on the keys. It usually takes two or three days of total focus to write all the Winds of War depending on how many there are.

We’d planned early on to save Winds of War for the late booking deadline. We know they always produce a surge of enthusiasm and hype for the game when they come out. Previously we’ve tended to do them around the early booking deadline but this time we decided to mix it up.

This time round, I think we had more actual downtime military arenas than we’ve had previously – once you count the “special project” fights like Beoraidh, Zenith, and Brocéliande. It shouldn’t have been a massive problem, unless of course we closed Downtime late and then processed it late as well.

NARRATOR: But they did close downtime late and then processed it late.

III. Discovery

Once the downtime code had run, the actual processing of the campaigns was pretty straightforward. For a given value. Graeme plugs numbers into his spreadsheet, an then we go through them double checking we haven’t missed anything. This is getting a bit more challenging as time goes on – and as the campaign options increase in complexity.

Most of the heavy lifting with the downtime campaigns is handled by the army orders. They’re intentionally designed like little bits of code – they’re exclusive in that you can only take one of them and exactly what effect they have on the numbers is recorded for everyone to see. They’re easy – an army is always taking exactly one order, and is under the effect of up to one enchantment which keeps the actual complexity low. Once you factor in the presence of forts and territory-level enchantments it gets a bit more complex but again these are all either there or not there and have set effects.

What is making life more complicated is that we’ve snuck in a few additional modifiers that sometimes apply but not always. The obvious example from this downtime was the Wintermark bonus/penalty effect reflecting their strategy that means any of their armies engaged with a Jotun force has some additional modifiers. There’s the one where some armies react poorly to fighting with Varushkans (which is a major ball ache but doesnt come up often) but thats about it. For now. I don’t doubt more will sneak in however.

I spent about twenty minutes calmly saying “-20% casualties, +10% victory points” to Graeme as he tried to slot these numbers in properly. To be fair it was quite late at night.

This additional complication is a pain, but its another element of our attempts to make the various nations’ military forces feel distinct, unique, and cool. So I think its worth it.

Mind you I’m not the one that has to make the numbers work.

IV. Presentation

Rise Against

Because of bad influences who know who they are, I actually spend much of my time when writing Winds of War listening to bands like Rise Against. Apparently they are “punk rock”. 18-year-old Raff would be mortified.

When we process we sketch out a hook for the write-up in terms of what it means to the campaign. So “victory for Empire”, “uncontested win for orcs”, “stalemate” or whatever. Graeme tells me anything cool about the numbers like “the Thule did more damage to the Druj because of the orders” or whatever.

That gets translated into bullet points. Then I copy the actual written orders over. They often suggest some ideas for things to mention by themselves. I can usually get a paragraph or two out of enchantments as well.

There were some significant challenges this time, however. Two of the campaigns were against Druj who either didn’t turn up (Morrow) or might as well have not bothered (Ossium). Two were stalemates (Segura and Sermersuaq). Two were surprise invasions that went unexpectedly well (Spiral and Feroz). And then there were a handful of fights where there were no orders because they were Wind of Fortune opportunities, or where the actual information available to the players was limited (Liathaven).

Finding “the cool” in some of these was a headache and a half.

V. Oracle: The Dream

There’s one basic guideline for Winds of War, which is “make them feel like heroes, especially if they lose.” I’ve written elsewhere about the processes behind Winds of War and how we try to make sure that everyone from a given nation feels like they’ve contributed in some fashion to the victory, or that without their help the loss would have been worse.

This can be a challenge when one side of the other is massively overmatched. Ironically, doing a bulk of the writing during the D-Day memorial stuff didn’t help. At the back of my mind when I do Winds of War is the nagging awareness that war in the real world is hell, but that part of my job is to try and make it heroic. My natural instincts run much more to “and then everyone dies” than to a “and then the knights charge and everyone cheers and we don’t dwell too much on the fact the people on both sides have families” sentiment. But that kind of stuff gets people down after a while, I hear.

VI. Soliloquy

Anyway. Some of them wrote themselves as always – Brocéliande, Liathaven, and Feroz were really straightforward. In the first, its all about the various things the players did to get extra support. The second is a straighforward “fuck the Jotun are back” and the last one was a fun “here are the Grendel, being dicks again.” I knew for Feroz as well that the temple was going to be a key element, so I actually wrote that bit first. The Grendel are always fun to write.

Beroaidh was my next job. It was complicated by the need to manually work out the numbers and check some, and to make sure all the things Matt had written into the Wind of Fortune were touched on. I was also keen to make sure that this wasn’t just a rescue mission – which is why when the Imperials arrive it triggers a revolt. I did this for a couple of reasons – the involvement of the Winter Sun and their special order gave me an excuse, as did some eternal related stuff. I also wanted the Imperial Orcs – who lets be honest are the real beneficiary of this action – to feel like they were getting something cool. These weren’t mine workers, but gladiators and soldiers. I think that came across. We also set it up as an honest-to-goodness rescue mission (unlike Dubhtraig where there was a bunch of treasure as well) so I wanted people who took part to really feel like heroes. And then there’s the spiritual implications which I had been itching to draw attention to but hadn’t felt Dubhtraig was right for. All in all I was pleased with Beoraidh. Even though the fucking name of the place is impossible to spell right.

R-Point

It’s a top notch South Korean horror movie. You may enjoy it. It scared the willies out of me the first time I watched it.

I then ran into a brick wall, and went back to the Boss for some brainstorming and he suggested that we create a “cinematic moment” in some of the others and write about that. he came up with the idea of playing up a Thule plundering incident, which gave a shape to Ossium. The Druj were absolutely kicked in that campaign, so we went with the idea of not really mentioning them in the write-up. They’re there, but they’re like shadows. That kind of conceit. I always have to struggle to not write any campaign with the Druj like it’s Full Metal Jacket (or more realistically R-Point which these days my go-to Vietnam war horror touchstone) for fear of othering the bad orcs as North Vietnamese. We’re doing better these days I think since I started to think more in terms of Conan than Platoon.

After that Segura was still a bit of a struggle – but there I had a Cool Player Action I could reference (the enchantment that stops the Corazón plundering player resources). I struggled for a bit getting my head around how to present the outcome (players stymie Jotun on a vast open plain), but I think we made it work. I also got to do some Ominous Foreshadowing which is always cool. I like the Lasambrian clan of the Jotun – although we seem to be facing some challenge to getting some of the players to accept that they are Jotun despite being in orange with hot pigeons on their flags. There’s a cool story about their journey from bandits to something better, even if the Empire is only seeing bits of it. The write-up is a bit flat in places, but I’m generally happy with it.

I left Sermersuaq til late but once I got started it was a lot of fun. Here we’re unashamedly in High Fantasy Battle land. Heroic Winterfolk and their allies fight the Honourable Orcs in the snow. I knew fom the start that, given the player orders were to take Stark, we’d be refighting the Battle of Berusen from an earlier Wind of War (which I hoped people would remember), and we knew the battle was close. The fight on the ice came to me entirely at random while I was in the shower – inspired in fact by some Arthurian story I half remembered from a Pendragon game now lost in the mists of time. I think it worked – and it let me mirror the earlier campaign with aid from the hylje shapechanging seals. It might not have worked as well as I’d hoped – the decision to have the hylje unable to tell Imperial Orcs from Jotun was cool on paper but might lead to less-optimal play on the field if were unlucky. I have a nasty suspicion the query that prompted Matt to write his recent piece about criticising generals may have been inspired by a misunderstanding about why that fight on the ice takes place. It’s a key moment – a “cinematic moment” – that breaks the deadlock and allows the Empire to win the day. The people I describe as drowning always died – because thats what the math said happened to them – I just shifted them from below-the-abstraction-level casualties to ones that happen “on screen” as it were.

Urizen

Finally Morrow, Zenith, and Spiral. For a while they were going to be a single Wind of War. I’ll be honest with you, I struggled with the Urizen campaigns this time around. Just as I was starting writing them properly, there was a bit of negative feedback about a Wind of Fortune we had just finished that really knocked my confidence. Which is ironic (probably) because it wasn’t even my Wind of Fortune. I’d suggested bits of it (the giant statues were mine and I am very pleased with them) but Matt wrote it.

Negative feedback is never nice, but in this case it was particularly poorly timed. I’m not going to go into any more detail, suffice it to say that I am not as thick skinned as I might appear on Facebook. Smiley face.

Morrow was a “the other side didn’t turn up” fight which already made it tricky. Plus it was against the Druj who are always twats to the players whenever they get the chance. I focused mainly on how great the players were, and hoped for the best.

Zenith was a bit easier – here were people taking a heroic action to free people from a miasma. I had a section originally that talked about more spontaneous auras but I cut it as it was placing too much emphasis on non-player-characters and ran the risk of detracting from the Beoraidh raid. I think it did the job – I was very keen to make sure Highguard in particular got some pay-off from this and was pleased to see how many of them went along on the raid.

Lastly Spiral. This was the kicker – literally. Another boot to the ribs for Urizen from the Druj. After a couple of false starts, however, I think we managed something acceptable. Matt drew out the idea that we should present the Druj as focused on something other than creating fear/being pricks to the Urizen – and given that the entire territory is now basically the Event Horizon that made sense. Plus it adds to the level of forboding when you realise that the biggest dicks in the game now have the Black Plateau. I’ll be interested to see how that plays out; obviously I know what is going on and what is going to happen but it’s how we communicate that to the players that will be a challenge. I shall say no more.

VII Grand Finale

One of the key discussions around Winds of War is always the order we present them in. It’s all about getting the best dramatic payoff and shamelessly manipulating the keeners to generate the most hype. Also the hashtags.

Putting them up live is generally the best part of the process for me. It takes about half an hour to put each one live – mostly spent fixing the links, doing a last lazy pass through for XXXXX and TBC tags and making sure I haven’t left a CockCrown in.

Having Beth Dooner and Tim Baker (mostly) find me the pictures we use also really helps as it saves me hours of work. Plus they know the brief by now (plenty of diversity, focus on people other than the usual suspects, milk the feels for all they are worth). Also Mark and the forum folks who save me having to copy-paste them across to the forums which would add another 10 minutes to each piece of work.

Seeing the real-time reactions as people read them generally gives me joy and makes all the hassle and constant whinging  bearable. There’ll be a trickle of facebook comments over the next few days but its the fans who stay up til one in the morning with me who mostly set the tone.

We got them all up in one go this time although it took me until one in the morning. This was a major problem because we are still in the middle of Winds of Fortune period an the event is in like a week. I usually take a quiet day after Winds of War go live – they’re surprisingly tiring to finalise and post up – but this was not entirely workable this time round. Its something I’ll need to look at for next time.

All told they came to around 19,800 words which is, to be honest, way too many. People need to read these damn things and absorb the content. I’m looking back nostalgically on the old 4,000 word jobs where we just summarized the campaigns – but that meant we were writing individual briefs for the generals and that was a massive faff on and produced words that thirty people read.

So fuck that. I am a lot happier now we don’t write separate write-ups for the generals. Days go by during which I don’t even remember I used to have to do that.

Days.

The Goldbergs

The Goldbergs. I mentioned them at the start. Now I want to use Goldbergs episode titles as the theme for one of next year’s Winds of War. There’s enough of them, and it will spare me from having to fall back on Disturbed song titles. Or Marillion song titles, which will get me judged. Moreso.

Here Be Monsters (But Stop Talking About Them)

I wrote this rambling post about why I don’t like international maps back in June as a way to distract myself from Winds of War, and because I’d hurt my back. It originally appeared on my Patreon with fewer pictures of giant spellcasting spiders.

The Map is not the Territory

There’s a post on the Empire Facebook asking about maps of other countries. It feels like it comes up every six months or so. The more international diplomacy plot we do, the more often it appears.

We’re not talking about the local area, I don’t think. People (mostly) understand that the Empire for various reasons has limited information about its immediate surrounds. They know roughly what lies just outside their borders (more or less). They also know the tool they can use to find out more.

The problem comes when you move to the international scale, obviously. I regularly talk about the direction you sail to reach various foreign nations (west to Asavea and Sumaah, east to Jarm and the Commonwealth, south to Sarcophan). I even named the seas very roughly in a wind of Fortune, which I’ve recently turned into a wiki page.

What I’ve not done, though, is put up a map that shows exactly where Sumaah, Jarm, Sarcophan and the rest are all located. There’s no world map anywhere. It’s not on the wiki and (secret prestige Patreon information) it doesn’t exist anywhere else either.

It frustrates me a little when that leads people to assume that in-character they don’t know how to navigate to Jarm, or that there are no maps of anywhere. I mean, I can see why they might decide that but its still frustrating. People know where Jarm is and how to get there, I just think that information is below the abstraction layer. I also struggle to imagine a scenario where anyone would need this information in-character, but then I am a monster.

 

The Important Bits

Aranea

For gamers of a certain age, the D&D adventure The Isle of Dread would be the first time many of us encountered the idea of a “wilderness exploration campaign” outside of the familiar angles and neatly outlined 10×10 ft squares of the dungeon. Also aranea. Every game benefits from giant intelligent spell-casting spiders whose main enemies are angry flying squirrels. I digress.

The Empire is the most important place in the game, and the players are the most important people in the game. That isn’t to say that the Empire is the most important place in the world however. So there are other places in the game that are not the Empire, that no player is ever going to visit during time in (outside of a super ambitious player event).

I don’t just count the world powers here – no player is likely to ever see the Court of Five Winds in Faraden, or the Crawling Depths in Ossium any more than they will see the Basilica of Seven Doors in Necropolis or the House of Princes in Jarm. They are places that exist in the world, and can be relevant to the game, but they won’t ever be in the game physically. If you follow me.

We focus the game one the Empire, and that focus applies to the maps as well.

We have the “campaign map” which we worked out with Daisy Abbot, which shows where all the things near the Empire are. We do development work on it from time to time – but we also stick to the “don’t do more work than you need” rule.

(Except when we don’t – we also like to scatter loads of hooks for future writers to hang stuff on all over the place which is technically “more work than we need” but we’re nothing if not  consistent here at Profound Decisions towers. We even have a rule about not being dogmatic for the sake of it).

For several years, for example, we knew how any territories were in the Broken Shore and where they were in relationship to each other, but that was about it. The Bay of Catazar map opportunity gave us an excuse to nail down a bunch of stuff about the Iron Confederacy and the Broken Shore. I’m genuinely surprised it worked out as well as it did given how short the development cycle on it was, even for us.

There’s some obvious benefits to doing this work as and well we need it, for all that there are also drawbacks. The less we set in stone, the more freedom we have to adapt to the needs of the game. For example, the development of Tsark/Mountains of the Moon (the design of which Wrenna Robson wrote about here)  went through several iterations as we collaboratively wrote the “story” of the territory. In the end, we needed to make some tweaks to the physical map to make them all make sense – something that would have been tricky if we had set it all in stone six years ago. The same has been true of some recent work on parts of the Mallum. Allowing the story of the territory to react to what will create interesting game helped us make Ossium more interesting than just being a blob of forest with Druj orcs in it, I feel.

The main drawbacks are that we often find ourselves having to do a quick design and development cycle with very little notice; and we have to be careful not to contradict previous events and information unless we can come up with a really good justification.

Anyway. That “don’t do more work than you need” and “don’t set things in stone too early” are only part of the reason I resist creating a world map that is more complex than a square showing the Empire with arrows pointing to the various foreign nations. It’s also tied up with the Lantir question. When I think about it, I think about it in terms of the Blank Space Problem.

 

The Blank Space Problem

Yarr Squiddy

In Maelstrom it was bug people who stopped you going off the map. These days I am in a better position to deploy the natural opponent of all explorers – the giant squid. Even if I have to squeeze it into an immense encounter suit to justify it turning up on land.

Matt talks a bit about the way Empire is a Points of Light setting. it’s a conceit from 4th edition Dungeons and Dragons: ” Civilized folk live in small, isolated “points of light” scattered across a big, dark, dangerous world. ” This approach also leaves plenty of space for players to put their own villages, vales, spires, halls, chapters and what have you into the game and point to the map and say “that’s where we live”. It also leaves us free to create threats within the borders of the Empire when we need to.

That doesn’t stop people e-mailing us to ask what’s over the next hill, but for the most part we’re able to explain why every single thing in the game world is not on the Empire map. There’s a certain level of detail, and we mostly resist being asked to paint things in higher resolution because everyone benefits from the space to add new stuff.

For me this breaks down slightly on the international scale. We have no interest in creating dozens and dozens of individual countries between the Empire and Sumaah, or working out what the coastline around Sarcophan looks like. We don’t have any interest in creating the penumbra of nations that obviously surround each of the other world powers the same way Faraden, Iron Confederacy, Axos, Broken Shore, Narkyst, and the rest surround the  Empire.

There’s two main reasons for this.

First I want to focus our efforts on the Empire and its neighbours – the places that the players might conquer. Or be conquered by. I have no idea what the ruler of Lantir is called, or how their politics work, because their whole purpose in the game at this point is to escalate tension between the Commonwealth and Jarm.

Secondly, as soon as we detail these places, a bunch of people want to make contact with them. And ideally visit their ports and steal their valuables. In my gloomy moods I characterise this as being a response to the fact that all the foreign nations the Empire knows about are arseholes – they demand people pay for their mithril and refuse to do what players tell them to. I sometimes feel like there’s a drive to find the ”good” non-player characters who will put the good of the Empire above their own silly concerns. That some players imagine there are a set of “hidden” foreign nations who have loads of mithril and love wooden beads and pictures of horses. I am a bad person.

In my less gloomy moods, I characterise this as a desire to fully explore the lore – the kind of player Bartle calls an explorer. They want to wallow in the delightful game world Profound Decisions has created and gobble up every tasty morsel of it, on the assumption that it is infinitely fractal.

Narrator: But it was not infinitely fractal.

Fantasyland

From the book “A Tough Guide to Fantasyland” by Diana Wynne Jones. If you’re writing anything set in a fantastical world, read it. If only for a list of things not to do.

No World Maps

So ultimately that’s why I resist world maps. We already risk drawing too much attention away from the Empire by having foreign nations at all. It’s one reason I resist plots that introduce new foreign nations – although its not the only reason I resist plots that introduce new foreign nations. Whenever anyone introduces a new element on that scale, there is the constant nagging knowledge that once that writer loses interests or moves on, the foreign nation does not go away. Same with new eternals. I digress.

Also I’m painfully aware that we have no time to answer the inevitable slew of e-mails from people wanting to know how they can start a colony on the Savage Coast, or how they make contact with the people of Womblestan to see how much they charge for mithril, or how they would convert the inhabitants Ruritania to the Way.

We already get inquiries about why the Empire doesn’t know exactly how the House of Princes works, or the names and interests of all the Plenum families. I think we struggle to communicate that that information doesn’t exist anywhere in our archives because it doesn’t matter except when it matters. There’s a failure to explain that the foreigners only know about the Empire what we want them to know so it will make some game on the field at Anvil – and that we do the same thing with the Empire. The Ragnabe and Heraclien only exist inasmuch as they export white granite to the Empire and like figs (or whatever two line description we’ve given them). I cannot imagine it would improve anyone’s games to know what their opinion on the tax rate in Asavea is, or how they voted during the last big vote on tariffs. I can see why people might want that to be relevant, so they can interact with the off-field non-player characters in deeply nuanced fashion.

The Isle of Dread

If you leave aside the awful cultural appropriation, colonisation themes, and other problematic elements, the Isle of Dread would be a great place to run a player event. But seriously, some problematic depictions here and I say this is a man who helped run Maelstrom.

But arguably at the end of the day, the only thing that actually matters about the Heraclien and the Ragnabe, and Asavea as a whole, is what they think about slavery, religion, and relations with the Empire.

Likewise, arguably all that matters about the location of Asavea, Sumaah, Sarcophan and the rest is that they are far enough away it’s not feasible to move armies or navies to or from them. Anything more than that risks drawing too much focus to stuff we are not interested in including in the game.

We ran a game where the focus was the world map, and it was fun and all, but I don’t want to go back there. Not least because I feel the focus on the world map helped detract fatally from the focus on the actual field the actual players were on.

Plus, when you’ve got an entire world map to populate, even I would start to run out of 90s roleplaying game references.

Unless we literally use the map of Mystara.

Which is tempting, now I say it out loud. If only for the chance to send players to the Isle of Dread.

Bonus Track

Some Context

Part of my writing brief for event two was to draw out some of the ideas around the “powers” of the Underworld – archetypal ghosts who have a special place in the HADES mythos. I did a bunch of “grimoire” pages, and toyed with repeating the roleplaying game motif I’d used at event one. Specifically, writing up a bunch of archetypal spirits as if they were the Malfean baddies from one of the Werewolf supplements.

In the end however, I went a different way. Both John and I are fans of a terrible horror movie called Thirteen Ghosts – the 2001 “remake” of a William Castle movie from the 1960s. Its one of a trio of films (the others being House on Haunted Hill and Ghost Ship) that I have a particular misplaced fondness for despite their many flaws and never miss when they show up on late-night television. All three were produced under the Dark Castle Entertainment label and sit firmly in the “guilty pleasure” bracket of movie fun.

I like their energy. I like the way people seem to be having fun with them. Stop judging me.

Anyway, instead of doing another roleplaying excerpt I decided instead to take advantage of the fact that Thirteen Ghosts is an influence on the lead writer of HADES by turning the tables and suggesting that our fictional author and his Underworld had secretly been an influence on Thirteen Ghosts, by writing a fake review of the movie that has clearly been penned by the same kind of sad-act fan of the “Black Storm” mythos as produced the earlier fanzine. This time I was aiming for “post from someones blog printed out and sent to the underworl by Sinister Conspirators” which I hinted at by stamping a big rectangular “COPY” stamp on each page.

My subtlety is endless.

Rather than write my own review, I used the cunning short cut of just copy-pasting and mildly editing the wikipedia summary for the film which is nicely in-depth. I am shameless.

Then I tacked on the end a “what could have been…” section full of plot exposition which, as the Great Muppet Caper has already taught us, has to go somewhere. I’ve included that section below.

Any comparison to the way people write about the Cthulhu Mythos an its influence of horror writers is coincidental. Or another example of my incredible talent for subtlety I mentioned earlier.

I hope you haven’t hated this self-indulgent trip into live roleplaying plot exposition. With any luck I’ve spent the last week writing a dozen Winds of Fortune and everything is 100% kushtie.

Oh – spoilers for an 18 year old movie with Monk and that guy who played Shaggy in the live-action Scooby Doo movies in it.

Connections to the Black Storm Mythos

The screenwriter Neal Marshall Smith has said that some of the inspiration for his screenplay, as well as elements of the Hellraiser:Deader which he wrote in 2005, came from his lifelong appreciation of the works of British horror author James Banks. Some elements of the final movie are clearly influenced by Banks’ work. The magic inscriptions that trap ghosts, the special glasses that allow a living person to see a ghost, and the melding of magic and science in the form of the infernal machine that Cyrus plans to power with the energy of trapped ghosts is straight out of the pages of one of Banks’ novels. Even the name of the protagonist – Arthur – is seen as a nod to the Banks material where the Pendragon is a major character (albeit a villain). In the first draft, the names of Cyrus and Arthur were reversed, but were apparently swapped because the director claimed that “Cyrus” is a better name for a villain than a hero.

There were originally even more connections. In an earlier draft for example the book that Kalina Oretzia delivers to Cyrus is actually the Die Neun Tore des Shattenreich, an important fictional spellbook from Banks’ universe that contains powerful necromancy magic that can be used to summon, bind, and drain the power out of ghosts.

There are other elements as well. In an earlier draft, it is revealed that Matthew Lillard’s character is already dead having been killed by the Hammer at the beginning of the film. He is now working with the Dust Men to try and stop Cyrus’ plan, although the ghostly “policemen” in this version were only mentioned in a throw-away line they would have been immediately recognisable to fans of the original books. This plotline was dropped as being too confusing, although partly restored when Dennis reappears as a ghost to help Arthur at the end.

The Black Zodiac, with the idea of ghosts who have an archetypal resonance, also hints at Banks’ influence over the work. According to an interview with Stephens, in earlier drafts the connections to the Black Storm mythos were much more pronounced. Throughout the Banks novels supernatural creatures appear who claim to be mythological figures like the Aztec god of death Mictlantecuhtli, or the Greek Minos. In later stories it is revealed that many of these figures are actually the ghosts of mortals who have “forgotten” who they are and taken on the roles of archetypal figures whose actions both riff on the myths of mortals and give rise to new myths. Fans of the Black Storm mythos will not have missed the connection to Helen Winsone’s collection of short stories inspired by Banks being called “A Dark Zodiac.” Each story deals with a different archetype – sometimes called a “Reborn” or a “Deathlord” – among them the Forgotten King, the Crossroads Witch, the Hanged Seer, the Iron Crusader, the Lady of Sorrows, the False Redeemer, the Master of Stones, the Jigsaw Prince, and the Duke of Flowers.

Some of the figures in the Black Zodiac are similar to characters from the Black Storm mythos. The story of the Torn Prince, for example, draws on the character of the Jack of Clubs from Winsone’s “Firecatcher.” In that story, the eponymous spirit – eventually revealed to be a ghost – encourages the young people of Claremont High School to do all the things polite society and parental disapproval discourage them from doing. Yet in embracing their lust for life, and pursuing the empty excitement found in various dangerous thrills, several of them meet tragic ates and – according to the coda – find themselves in the thrall of Jack of Clubs even after they are dead. The story hints that Jack is the same spirit, Mephistopheles, that encourages Faustus to make unwise use of his magic, and has inspired many other doomed rebels and thoughtless thrill-seekers throughout history.

Likewise, the Bound Woman may have been inspired by a Banks character. In an earlier draft he is the Spurned Prince, the ghost of the footballer rather than the girl he murdered, and analagous to the Fury in Sable and Silver, an androgynous figure from the short story “Vengeance” in which a woman murders her adulterous husband and his girlfriend before taking her own life so that she can become a servant of the Fury forever – a ghost dedicated to punishing the unfaithful. In one version Kathy brings her boyfriend Carl along to the house and, after he sneaks off to make a phone call to a girl with whom he is two-timing Kathy, meets a gruesome end at the hands of the raging quarterback who nurtures an affection for Kathy himself as a consequence.

Finally, another obvious connection is with the Pilgrimess, who was originally called the Dust Witch. A version of the Witch at the Crossroads from both Banks’ and Winsone’s works, in this version her supernatural powers would have been more pronounced. The Witch at the Crossroads, said in the stories to be the ghost of the Biblical Witch of Endor, and this version would have tried to kill the nanny, Maggie, by making her supernaturally hungry and thirsty, like the curse placed on the murderer by the ghostly witch in Winsone’s “The Larder Was Bare.”

There are other similarities, the original version of the First Born Son was clearly an analogue to the Orpheus for example, and had several additional scenes with the Dust Man version of Dennis providing additional exposition, including some of the information that in the finished movie Kalina provides about the purpose of the Ocularum Infernalis.

Sadly the original vision of the remake of 13 Ghosts, heavily inspired by the Black Storm mythos, was not to be.

In the end, many of the subtle “easter eggs” were erased by various rewrites. There is a rumour that a more detailed version of the original Black Mythos inspired script still exists as a special audio DVD commentary recorded by Stephens and his Banks’ scholar collaborator Isla hargreaves, which was unfortunately not included on the DVD release due to a technical error, and the accidentally erased by a programming glitch.

The decision to cut the mythos material was probably wise given the length of the movie and the limitations of the art form. But if the rumoured Netflix original miniseries is greenlit, Stephens has said that it may well have more of the original subplots including some related to the Black –

The Nephilim

“There were giants in the earth in those days”, said Luke suddenly breaking the silence.

Hamish startled.

“Sorry, just thinking aloud.” Luke lit another cigarette. He proffered the package to Hamish.

The Scotsman took one and leant in close as Luke lit it. They smoked in companionable silence watching the storm.

“What about giants?” Hamish asked after a few moments.

Luke took a long drag on his cigarette, and stared off into the darkness. He wasn’t seeing the storm, but looking back into the past.

“It’s something Saul used to say, when I was a boy. I told you he used to tell me stories?”
Hamish nodded. Luke shivered, and Hamish put his arm around his shoulders. He was icy cold.

“Well there’s a story that in the days before the Flood, certain angels came to Earth and came into the daughters of men.”

“Came into?”

Luke grinned up at his friend.

“Screwed, Hamish. They screwed them.”

The big Scotsman blushed. Luke’s grin widened. “They did it enough that they got children off them. Giants, according to the story.”

Hamish blinked. “Giants? From human women? How could that work?”

Luke leant a little closer to Hamish, still gazing off into the darkness, his face serious. “It’s not clear if they were physically giants. It might just be a metaphor. The children are usually called nephilim, but there’s a few other words that seem sometimes to mean the same thing. Emim. Rephaim. Anakim. Gibborim.”

“Gibborim …” Hamish repeated. Luke nodded.

“Yeah, you see now why I’m thinking about this. It can’t be a coincidence.”

“Go on,” said Hamish.

“It’s something Saul used to say. When he used to talk about Sheol.”

“Jew Hell,” said Hamish knowledgeably. Luke rolled his eyes.

“Not quite, but good try. I think the closest we’ve got to a Christian Hell is Gehenna – what the Moslems call Jahannam – but I’m not sure I believe in them. Saul certainly didn’t. Either way, Sheol is different. More like the old Greek Hades.”

“All these afterlives,” said Hamish shaking his head. “Who can keep track of them? I’m just a simple soldier and I like to keep it simple. Heaven for the good people, Hell for bastards.”

“Maybe,” said Luke diplomatically. “Either way Sheol sounds like a pretty grim place. Everyone goes there after death, it’s dark and desolate, cut off from life, and from light, and from God. Doesn’t matter what you do, everyone ends up in Sheol. The idea that there’s some sort of Divine math for working out if someone is good or bad, that always struck me as pretty tacked on. I mean… have you seen any sign of Heaven in all this?”

“Not really,” said Hamish sadly. “But we’ve both seen enough of Hell.”

“Saul said that when God sent the Flood, He really did it to destroy the Nephilim. That between them the angels and their kids, half the earth had angelic taint in them and God didn’t like that. It gave people powers, he said. Powers God wanted to keep for Himself.

“Noah’s family was chosen to survive the Flood simply because they had no Nephilim taint. They were unexceptional descendants of Seth, without even a drop of Cain’s blood in them never mind angel blood. Boring, pure human. Easy to push around, basically.”

There was a bitterness in the young Jew’s voice that made Hamish nervous. He sounded less like his friend, and more like his crazed uncle Saul.

“All those people who died in the flood ended up in Sheol just like everyone else. Angel-tainted humans and pure-blooded Nephilim, all turning up in the afterlife together, all angry at God. But worse than that. Sheol was still pretty formless when the Nephilim got there.”

“I don’t remember exactly how he put it, but he said that when the literal grandchildren of God arrived there was nowhere for them to stand. They were too big, or too heavy or … something.”

Luke was getting frustrated, struggling to find the right words.

“Anyway, they had nowhere to stand so they all fell into the darkness. You know what that means.”

Hamish considered for a few moments.

“The Tempest? They fell into the Tempest?” It was a grim thought.

Luke nodded. “That’s what Saul said. Fell into the madness that underpins Sheol – the foundations of the Underworld. But because they had the power of God in them, even if it was debased by their human blood, the Nephilim didn’t get torn apart or consumed. They survived. In endless agony, torn and shredded by the storm for millenia. Everything that had been human about them ripped away, eroded by the storm, leaving only the shining core of… whatever it was the angels were made of.

“And eventually … eventually they learned to live with it. Became creatures of the Tempest, creatures of pure malice, abandoned and punished by their God for no more serious a crime than being born.”

“That sounds bad,” said Hamish eventually.

“Maybe,” Luke took a long drag on his cigarette, and then flicked it away into the darkness. It fell like a burning star, winking out in the waves far below.

“The worst bit – the bit that gave me nightmares – was that Saul said they weren’t alone down there. That there was something there already waiting for them, something that helped them survive the Tempest, and helped them become … whatever it was they became.

“He used to say it was the ghost of Abel. The first ghost. Murdered by his brother for no reason, thrown into Sheol before there even was a Sheol, so basically just dropped into the Tempest. Abandoned for eons alone in the dark.“

Luke was shivering. Hamish pulled him close against his big thick-knit jumper.

“I dreamt about that for months. Being alone in a dark place, but knowing at the same time that I wasn’t alone. I’d up screaming. Eventually my parents told me I wasn’t allowed to spend time with Uncle Saul any more. It caused a lot of friction at home.”

Luke shuddered, gulping back tears. “I still… I had that dream again last night,” Luke’s voice was tiny, almost lost in the storm. “Every night this last week. I’m not like you Hamish. I’m not brave. I’m scared. So very scared.”

Hamish crushed Luke in his embrace, turning him slightly, staring down into his pale, frightened face.

“I’ll keep the nightmares away lad,” said Hamish, his voice thick. He-


There’s an exchange from “The Great Muppet Caper” early on between Miss Piggy and I think Diana Rigg that goes something like this. 

Piggy: “Why are you telling me all this?”

Diana Rigg: “It’s plot exposition, it has to go somewhere.”

I’ve only seen the movie once, nearly 30 years ago, but that exchange stuck with me forever after.

This is from Event Two of Hades, and its the equivalent of that scene from the Great Muppet Caper. It’s plot exposition it has to go somewhere. It’s the kind of exchange that’s no doubt familiar from a lot of pulp.

I worked harder at this than I really needed to – trying to make sure I was writing the exchange between Luke and Hamish in the kind of way the female-plot-exposition character-explains-the-plot scene is often written in the inspirational material, and that this is clearly the start of one of those embarassingly earnest sex-scenes that I remember being a big part of the original sources. I doubt anyone but me really notices.

There’s some metagame stuff going on here, now I reread it, that I can’t really talk about – given that the game is still ongoing – but suffice to say that the sexuality element isn’t as crowbarred in as it appears. There’s a companion piece to this that is a letter from Banks’ agent telling him in pretty offensive language that “ There is absolutely no way in hell you can make your hero a bummer.

It will either all make sense in the end or it won’t – assuming any players even noticed it. Jim Banks is only an Invisible Wife Character after all. He’s just plot exposition – he has to go somewhere.

Thule Eternal

– stopped struggling against the restraints, and went limp.

Von Hein pulled his Luger from its holster. His hand was steady, but his face was white as a sheet.

His breath misted the air. The concrete bunker was colder than midwinter in Bavaria. There was a stench in the air, stronger than the blood and the urine and the dust of the cell, so deep underground. A stench of sour earth and gunpowder. Von Hein tasted metal – rust. It was like breathing rust.

“Got in himmel!” whispered one of the guards. Von Hein pointed his gun at him.

“If you speak again you will be shot” he said in a flat voice, a voice that did not betray how unsettled he was.

The medium raised her head, slowly, and opened her eyes. Von Hein could not suppress an oath. His grip on the gun tightened. The eyes that opened were not those of the gypsy woman. They were black and moist, glistening like wet tar. Orbs of featureless darkness. They did not blink. She turned her head slowly from side to side, taking in the chamber, the soldiers, Leibersun, and the marks on the walls. She looked down at herself, then back at Von Hein.

The naked lightbulb flickered again. For a moment Von Hein was overtaken by a rush of primordial terror. The nazi officer was certain, absolutely certain, that the light would fail and he would be left alone in the dark with the thing that now inhabited the body of the gypsy woman. He swallowed, his throat dry.

“Sprechen sie deutsch?” he demanded.

The woman stared at him. Silent. He felt as if he were being studied, examined by something beyond his understanding. There was something indescribably different about her face – as if it were a mask laid across the face of something else, something he knew in his heart he did not – could not – look at.

He had thought himself prepared for whatever might happen, but he was not prepared for this. After the events of the last month, after the burnings and the mass graves, he thought himself inured to horror. But this was not the horror of shattered buildings and twisted bodies, but the horror of the unknown – the unknowable.

“Deutsch…” said the gypsy then, slowly, as if tasting the word. The voice that came out of her was not that of a Polish woman, but the deep baritone of a man. The woman’s lips twitched and writhed slightly, and the muscles on her neck were locked in a rictus. Von Hein fancied he could see them vibrating beneath the drawn, swarthy skin of the medium.

Von Hein repeated his interrogation, pointing his luger between the woman’s eyes. She watched him aim the weapon with mild interest but no fear. Either she did not recognise the gun as a weapon – or she did not consider it to be anything she needed to worry about.

Her lip curled slightly, contemptuously.

“Saxons.” She said flatly, in that same unnatural voice. She blinked once, for the first time. She continued to stare at Von Hein. Her expression was empty but her eyes… her eyes were full of something very much like arrogance. In different circumstances, seeing such eyes on one of the lesser races, Von Hein would have splattered her brains against the dirty concrete wall without blinking.

The woman spoke again, slowly, that same deep voice coming from the tiny, emaciated woman. It was not German. Von Hein recognised the language though. Latin.

He kept his gun trained on the thing tied to the chair.

“Well?” he asked Leibersun. “What did it say?”

The translator spoke quietly, his voice shaking.

“It said… it’s difficult. It’s not what I was expecting.”

Von Hein was sickened by the panic in the translators voice. No true German would show weakness like this in front of the men, in front of the lower races.

“Tell me what it said.” he said calmly. The woman-thing was watching their exchange dispassionately. Von Hein could not tell if she understood anything.

“It asked… it asked who we were. Who you were.”

“Can you translate?”

“I think so yes, but please do not go too quickly.”

Von Hein faced the medium. “I am SS-Sturmbannführer Gunter von Hein of the Studiengesellschaaft für  Geistesurgeschichte Deutsches Abhenerbe.” he said. “And I will ask the questions. What are you? What is your name? What do you want?”

Leibersun spoke slowly, haltingly, translating the words, stumbling slightly over “Society for Research into the Spiritual Roots of German Ancestral Heritage”. Von Hein realised that Leibersun would need to be liquidated once he had outlived his usefulness – he already knew too much – and his belief in Catholic God had made him weak.

The medium considered for a moment, and blinked again. An ebony tear wept from the left eye of the gypsy medium, running down her cheek, leaving a trail of dark liquid behind it. Then she spoke. A short sentence. Pause. A sort sentence. Pause. A longer sentence. Pause, and then silence. She did not look at the translator, keeping her gaze fixed on Von Hein.

Von Hein noticed, distracted, that alone of the five of them, the gypsies’ breath was not misting the air. He was not sure, in fact, that she was breathing at all.

The translator swallowed, wiped his hand across his face. He was sweating heavily despite the bone-chilling cold.

“It says… it says… Oh, Mary mother of God protect us…”

Von Hein snapped his arm round, without taking his eyes off the prisoner. He pointed his Luger unerringly at Leibersun’s face, without looking at him. The little man let out a whimper.

“It says it is a ferryman. It says it is called I think… I think it said it is the King of Dragons… And what it wants… Jesus Christ… It says… it says it wants to… to show us how to sail the Naglfar across the sunless sea.”

The medium’s expression changed then as a great crazed grin spread across her face, twisting her expression into something demonaical. Leibersun sobbed, but had not finished.

“It says… O God… It says it wants to help us build Thule Eternal. To build the millennial Reich that will never end!”

CHAPTER END

————-

This longer excerpt was the first thing I wrote for HADES. It recounts in fictional form something that happened in the world to trigger the plot, I seem to remember. Or maybe it doesn’t. It’s John Haynes we’re dealing with here. Things are rarely one thing. Because he’s a pretentious git.

This piece first appeared on my Patreon on 29th May.

No August Ghosts

Hachiman poured the tea carefully. He lifted the porcelain bowl in both hands, and inhaled the steam from it with a sigh of satisfaction. Keeping his eyes on his host, but staying aware of the stern-faced samurai in the corners of the room, he mirrored the actions of the Japanese shogun.

The tea had a strong aroma of herbs and something Luke could not place – something like freshly turned earth. Shreds of red blossom petals floated on the dark surface incongruously. Luke was becoming impatient with all the ceremonies and inscrutable double-talk not only from the shogun but from everyone on these damned islands.

“About the ghosts…” he said, putting the bowl down. Hachiman’s face showed no sign of displeasure, but his eyes hardened.

“You are not the first person to come here asking about ghosts. The German brought gold – among other things. What do you bring, Englishman?”

With exaggurated slowness Luke reached into his pocket. He was aware of the samurai with their razor-sharp katana watching his every move. If they thought he might offer a threat to their shogun… he’d heard of the mess their swords made of a man from brothers who had faced them in the jungles of the east. He had no desire to see if the stories were true.

He set the box down on the table and slid it toward Hachiman with two fingers. The shogun raised an eyebrow, tapped the box with one finger and said “Is this what I think it is?”

Luke nodded his head once. Hachiman did not smile, but his eyelids drooped slightly lidding his cruel green eyes for a moment. An expression of pleasure, Luke guessed.

“Acceptable,” said the Jap. He made no effort to claim the box but it was clear that it was now his and if Luke tried to retrieve it there would be trouble.

“You come asking about the ghosts of August. I tell you what I told the German. There are no ghosts in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Not the ghosts of August, not the ghosts of the centuries upon centuries before the bright-


Oh man this one is bad. But the horrible cultural blindness is intentional, and while it makes me cringe inside rereading it I at least know I picked each of these horribly casually racist adjectives intentionally.

I’d never touch any of this with a barge pole if this was actual serious Raff writing. I feel the need to keep defending myself but I’m going to try and just live with it and move on. Arguably I think it’s a reminder how easy it is to do a thing because you can do a thing, and you’re on a roll, without thinking about whether you should do a thing.

Anyway. One of the “facts” of the game is that nuclear fire does bad things to the spiritual world as well as the material world. There’s also a bunch of fire imagery in HADES it seems, around destroying things and forging ghosts into items and such.

I’m hoping that in the field the fact the character was called bloody “Hachiman” would give away that this was at least slightly tongue-in-cheek tone-deaf casual racism written by someone getting all their ideas of Japan from watching Richard Chamberlain in Shogun. Or more likely Tenku given that’s what I watched.

Also it appears that Jim Banks, like Andy Raff, cannot spell exaggerated correctly without a spellchecker. 

This post first appeared on my Patreon on the 29th May.