Tag Archives: fantasy

Adventuring and Spellcasting in 5E

Continuing my read-through and thoughts on the D&D Starter Set, this post covers Chapters 3 and 4 (and the appendix) of the Starter Set Rulebook.

Chapter 3: Adventuring feels to me like the Miscellaneous segment of the book. It covers important rules, of course, but they’re just a mash-up of everything not Spells, Introduction, or Combat. You get a description of special movement situations (long jump, high jump, climbing rules, that kind of thing), a break-out of short vs. long rest and how the characters benefit, a brief discussion of rewards, and then a few pages of specifics on gear the characters might need to purchase with the wealth they gather over the course of the game.

Can I just say electrum pieces and their value at 5 silver pieces annoys the crap out of me? If everything else is going to be based around a 1:10 ratio, why make an unnecessary complication? But whatever, I digress (since magically I can decide that my game world has no such thing as an electrum piece).

All the basic weapons, armor types, and adventuring gear gets listed along with some common expenses like food, drink, and lodging. Weapons give a pleasant variety of options; the keyword versatile remains, allowing a one-hand weapon to be used with two hands, improving damage slightly. Finesse is the term for a weapon a character can used based on Strength or Dexterity, so if you want that Zorro-style masked fighter hero wielding a rapier, it’s a viable option.

The entry for “Oil (flask)” kindly lays out the rules for using a flask of oil as a thrown weapon or dousing a nearby foe, since it seemed every group I’ve run with had a player who had to try that at least once.

And there is even an entry for playing cards. Yes, it assures the reader “if you are proficient with playing cards, you can add your proficiency bonus to ability checks you make to play a game with them.” Or you can just go play cards with someone else because this is Dungeons & Dragons, which is designed to be played as a group where everyone has fun, not “Chaotic Neutral Rogue With a Gambling Habit”

…because it’s always the chaotic neutral rogue…

And for the DM who loves to force players to keep track of things, there are two entries for rope: Rope, hempen (50 feet), and Rope, silk (50 feet).

“Sorry, but don’t you only have 37 feet of rope left since you tied up the goblins during the last session? You can’t climb down the 50 foot chasm. Go back to town.”

Ugh.

Chapter 4: Spellcasting got me excited again. Chapter 3 was the pile of plain steamed vegetables on the plate; necessary and good for you, but bleh! The chapter on spells is the delicious cake Mom brings out as a reward for finishing dinner.

(Disclaimer: I’m 37, and I’m married with four kids of my own. I’m so not living in my parents’ basement playing D&D with my unemployed friends. Death to stereotypes!)

The chapter starts out with a primer on everything your magic user needs to know about casting a spell. I particularly like the breakout on components needed. A spell may have a verbal component (words the character must say), a somatic component (gestures the character must make), or a material component (reagents needed for success). More likely, it’s a combination of two or all three.

So if a character’s arms are bound, somatic spellcasting is out of the question. If the wizard’s component pouch is taken, material-based spells are going to be problematic. Yes, this sort of thing is in 4th Edition, particularly for rituals. But I don’t remember it being so clearly laid out as it is here. (Maybe that’s why 4E gets ridiculed as being too much like World of Warcraft, where all my mage needs me to do to cast spells is to roll my face on the keyboard.)

Clerics have 28 spell options in this starter. Wizards have 30. There’s plenty of room for creating the desired style of magic-user instead of a cookie-cutter wizard. The level 1 wizard knows 6 spells in his/her spellbook, and can prepare 4 of them, but only has 2 “spell slots” to utilize. Clerics are similarly structured in how they can use magic.

While 5E does put restrictions on the number of spells available to the character between long rests, it also rectifies the old problem of the wizard with no spells left, trying to hit creatures with a 1d4-2 dmg dagger stab. Each class has at least one offensive cantrip, an “at-will” spell to use the 4E terminology, that the character can cast repeatedly to deal some damage.

Spells once again have spell levels which are completely separate from the level of the caster. It takes a level 5 wizard to cast level 3 spells, and he/she only gets 2 of those level 3 spell slots between long rests. There’s some strategy to spell slots, too; a level 1 spell cast from a level 3 slot gains significant power and damage, so it might be a better bet than a giant fireball.

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”I cast Magic Missile at the darkness… from a level 3 slot! Boom! What!”

The almost 60 spells give a wide variety of effects, and plenty have no combat application. “Charm Person” in particular is one I can’t wait to see crafty players employ, even though I know it will shatter any devious DM chicanery I have planned. I picture “Command” being used to great monster detriment as well.

And if your cleric leans a little Evil, there’s the 1st level necromantic spell “Inflict Wounds” to capture the idea of a touch of death. (I simply must have a dark cleric-style villainness with a kiss of death… what DM doesn’t want to slam 3d10 necrotic damage into a player’s face?)

Finally, the Appendix lists a number of mostly impairment conditions frequently encountered in D&D, like blinded, deafened, petrified, prone, stunned, and so on. It’s on the back cover of the book, so while it’s no DM screen, it’s a handy reference tool for DM and players alike to know what effects mean.

All in all, the Starter Set Rulebook does its job and gets a DM (and hopefully the players) ready for the more important part: the adventure itself!

The included adventure, Lost Mine of Phandelver, will be the focus of my next post.

How to Play and Combat

I started digging into my delicious Starter Set this morning.

This has been sitting in my flight bag for a day or two. Time to get started (har har) with 5th ed!
This has been sitting in my flight bag for a day or two. Time to get started (har har) with 5th ed!

I’m reading through and noting what sticks out to me based on my 4th edition experiences. When I notice what seems like a change, someone may say, “Well in 4th edition DMG page 125 the same sort of rule is clearly written there.” If that’s the case, great, chalk it up to inattention to detail. But this is just my first-read experience and captures what catches my eye.

Chapter 1: How to Play gives you the standard explanation of “What is D&D?” It covers the basics about checks, and how abilities, skills, proficiencies, and saving throws all come into play when rolling dice to determine an outcome.

The skills seemed like a decent set. Nothing seemed missing. Some (Bluff, Diplomacy) are refined and given names and examples with wider applications (Deception, Persuasion). I like Investigation as a concept – putting together the pieces and clues, gathering intel of a sort. It seemed like that always fell under Perception in 4th ed, which is kind of dumb. Perception sees things that might be otherwise easy to miss. Investigation sees things and figures out the details that others might miss. To use examples from the book, Perception sees the orcs hiding in ambush along the road. Investigation sees the wounds dealt to the ambush victims and figures out it was probably a band of orcs.

Animal Handling always makes me chuckle. It has uses, I’m sure, but I can’t stop picturing a pink-haired Druid character named Fluttershy.

One interesting change for 5th edition is the Advantage / Disadvantage system. In either case, you roll two d20s when you make a check. If you have an advantage, you take the higher of the two. If you have a disadvantage, you take the lower. I’m curious how this will play out in a group. Maybe it does away with some of the “+5 for this, -3 for that, but I have combat advantage so +2, and this is my quarry so I have that one feat that gives me another +2…”

I have advantage. I roll two dice and take the better number. Simple. Done.

I can see some potential flaws, though. For example if you’re fighting some monsters in darkness, does it turn into a bunch of flailing around? I imagine everyone would get a lot of low rolls. Then again, if everyone shares the same disadvantage, maybe it’s prudent to eliminate that from the equation and only take other disadvantages into account. I didn’t see that stated explicitly, so I imagine that might be my first house rule to reduce rolling and wasted time.

Filed this under “We’ll see…”

Moving on.

Chapter 2: Combat contains one noteworthy difference from 4E: language involving maps and squares doesn’t appear in the rulebook. Maybe that’s an “advanced” option they’ll incorporate later (because I’m sure Wizards of the Coast wants to sell us some map packs and such), or maybe they know that describing everything in # feet gives the DM and players enough to effectively utilize maps.

But this does inherently free up groups to use things like simple description or generic drawings on whiteboards or paper to run combat without counting out squares or laying down rulers for line of sight determinations.

Could you do that in 4E? Sure, but it seemed pretty obvious that wasn’t what they were pushing for. Now tiles, maps, and minis are an available option instead of the default.

First off, the Combat chapter lists available actions you can take on your turn. Everyone can take a move and an action. I’m liking some of the updated choices: You can take a Disengage action to avoid provoking opportunity attacks when you move; you can take a Dodge action to give attackers a disadvantage against you (as well as permit Dex saving throws with advantage); you can Help another creature in completing a task, meaning you give them an advantage to do the stated thing so long as they attempt it before the start of your next turn.

Opportunity attacks count as a “reaction” – and you only get one reaction per turn. So there’s no more taking five opportunity attacks in a turn as I’ve seen sometimes argued in 4th edition.

Also, everybody gets critical hits on a roll of 20, and everyone misses on a 1. Sauce for the goose (player characters) is sauce for the gander (monsters). And crits look decidedly deadly… deadlier I suppose is the correct term.

Instead of max damage for the base attack, you roll any damage die twice and add it all together. So a rogue with Sneak Attack rolls those dice twice too.

A glance at the character sheet for the pre-made rogue tells me at level 5, they roll 3d6 for Sneak Attack. Let’s assume 1d4 for a dagger, 3d6 for a sneak attack. A successful crit sneak attack nets you 2d4 plus a whopping 6d6 damage just from dice rolls with no other modifiers? Egad.

Rogue carves the Kobold for infinity damage, exploding it like a blood sausage.

At least a fighter gets a crit on 19 or 20. But yeah… Sneak Attack crits look sick and dare I say it, broken. Another thing I look forward to seeing fleshed out when I get to play this with a group…

Next post – Chapter 3: Adventuring and Chapter 4: Spellcasting

Elements of Critique: Show vs. Tell

“You never show me that you love me anymore!”

In some marriages (not mine of course, no, never) the couple sometimes discuss the status of their romance, and the above quote can (in rare cases) spill out into the open.

The man–assuming it’s the man being told this–will probably try to deflect the conversation with, “But I told you I loved you just the other month, and on our anniversary a couple years ago.”

We can safely doubt the success of that argument. Usually the complaint is coupled with examples of actions undone, such as “You don’t bring me flowers,” or “You haven’t done that thing I asked you to do every week for the last six months,” or perhaps “Will you stop typing on that stupid blog for a few minutes and stay awake long enough to have a conversation more than two grunts with me?”

(Note: No specific examples from my experience were utilized in the above paragraph.)

A similar complaint may sometimes arise: “You never tell me that you love me!”

The man being told this, in this case–although again it is wild speculation to assume it’s the man–may resort to defenses such as “But I did X, Y and Z.” In other words, “But I showed you how important you are to me by doing some action.”

Yet sometimes, a person likes to be simply told a thing they need to hear.

While I would never resort to critiquing such marital dysfunction–being far too humble and also unfamiliar with those frustrations common to less blissful pairings–I choose this eminently relatable example to demonstrate today’s topic of Showing vs. Telling.

There’s a simple truth in the above analogy: “Actions speak louder than words.” Most of what we need as readers (and what to look for when critiquing a piece) are the actions characters do which reveal their thoughts, motives, feelings, and goals. The default rule among writers is “Show, Don’t Tell.”

Here’s an example of hyper-telling to drive the point home:

The chill made Jo uncomfortable because it was so cold. Thankfully, she was so mad that she hardly noticed. She was so mad in fact that she was infuriated. There was lots of snow.

This should pain our inner editor to read.

Jo could shiver. Her teeth could chatter. The writer could describe her breath coming out in clouds around her face. Is snow still falling? Could it be?

Jo could clench her fists, or stomp around in the snow. She could mutter an imaginary argument with the object of her anger. Or maybe her thought might show us that she’s ignoring the cold because she’s seething and burning inside.

Any showing is better than the example provided.

Showing lets the reader play amateur psychologist and decipher characters’ personalities from their outward actions. Showing tells the reader what they need to know, without merely telling them a fact like a textbook.

Even my dripping sarcasm in the analogy at the beginning of this post tells the reader something without simply coming out and stating a fact. Humor and sarcasm can be a way of showing. (Warning: I do not recommend this method during arguments like those in the opening analogy.)

The default rule is correct. I look for writing that shows exceptionally well, and highlight that for praise. I also look for writing that merely tells when showing would better support the story and invest me in the characters. That I highlight for rewriting with a suggestion or example.

However, “Show, Don’t Tell” is only the default rule. There are always exceptions. First, some things aren’t important enough to the story or to establishing the scene to merit showing. Second, when dealing with anything supernatural or out of the ordinary expected experience of a reader, some telling is merited.

In fantasy and sci-fi, for example, a character may use technology or special powers unique to the story world and thus unfamiliar to the reader. A good way of doing this is to adjust the rule and play Show and Tell. The reader gets a description of what this mysterious thing looks like or what happens when it is used, and then they get a snippet of information about it.

Something similar applies to unfamiliar concepts in other writing. A religious piece might need to explain some of the theology or background information supporting the provided description. A non-fiction piece might relate the unknown new to something the average reader would understand.

Whle this is “telling” and thus arguably forbidden, it helps ground the reader in the reality of the setting. When I critique and find myself reading a showy description that leaves me clueless about what just happened, that’s something to note for the writer’s attention and revision. Likewise, when I find a useful tidbit of telling coupled with showing, I try to highlight that and praise the writer’s effort.

Because, as always, critiquing is about building up more skillful and confident writers. A thorough critique doesn’t just tell them “Good job.” It shows them what works, what doesn’t, and where to go from there.

Where are we going from here on the A to Z blog challenge? Well, I feel like a Time Lord writing this, but tomorrow in the future, we get to visit the present and the past. Grab your sonic screwdriver and charge up the flux capacitor. Get in your T.A.R.D.I.S. or deLorean, because things are going to get tense.

Elements of Critique: Background

As part of the A to Z Blogging Challenge of 2014, I am posting every day in April on topics arranged alphabetically. My theme for this year is Elements of Critique.

That’s all the background information I need to convey.

Whether writing fiction or nonfiction, one of the aspects of writing that can trip us up is the background. If we give too much time to it, we end up boring the reader or distracting them from the present story we’re telling. If we give too little, the reader may have no context or understanding why the story we’re telling matters.

For example, in a historical fiction piece or nonfiction article about a battle in World War II, a writer might feel the reader needs to know a chain of events that led up to this moment. So the writer starts the story or account with long paragraphs documenting the war effort up to that point, explaining the strategic importance of different battles, and detailing various troop movements around the war zone.

Yawn. Who ordered the history textbook?

It’s even worse in a fantasy or sci-fi setting, where the writer feels like the reader has to know all about this exciting world the writer created. So the first few pages get filled with pretend history about a bunch of events the reader has no connection to or concern for.

In a fantasy or sci-fi setting, there’s a temptation to detail exactly how some special magic system or technology works. Action is taking place, and then the main character declares, “Activate the photon emitter.” And then the reader is treated to three paragraphs of pseudo-science jargon about how the device works.

Background is important to include sparingly, like a favorite seasoning on a steak. Sprinkle; don’t pour. I should be able to bite into the meat of a story or nonfiction account and taste the flavor of the setting as I chew on the action taking place.

Conversely, be sure to sprinkle in the background details here and there. As a reader, I need to know something about the situation, some details about how a fictional society operates, perhaps a snippet of explanation showing how these events in nonfiction came about.

Back to the steak analogy, I don’t want a bland hunk of meat.

The trick is to reveal small background elements intermittently, keeping the reader grounded in the setting. And it helps, where we can, to show the reader what that element looks like in some way.

Here’s a few examples:

If a battle left a mark on a character, show a scar or better yet, an emotional episode. In nonfiction, if the battle made a significant impact on the war effort or on the current action, briefly point to what might have been different without that previous event.

In modern fiction or a personal nonfiction account, a character might have memories or make references to events that shaped their relationship to another. Used appropriately, these become a breadcrumb trail of sorts, luring your reader deeper and deeper into the world as they try to discover what happened.

In fantasy/sci-fi, it’s far better to show me what magic looks like in action than to lay out the elaborate system of rules. Maybe you have an elaborate system worked out. That’s great. You as the writer need to know that to stay consistent. But I as the reader only need to see what’s going on, and get tidbits of information (in dialogue or action preferably) about that system.

Done properly, background information is there to make sure I as a reader know why I care about what’s going on now, without being so overwhelmed that I no longer care about what’s going on at all.

Any time it’s used, simply ask, “Does the reader need to know this? If so, is there a way I can show it?”

Tomorrow, I’ll write about what makes a good critique good: staying constructive.

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D&D Next: Character Creation

Note: My updated post concerning my character creation experience in 5th Edition D&D is found here. Check it out and let me know if I’ve missed an important subject or left a question unanswered.
This post was written when a friend and I were trying out the then-newly-released rules for D&D Next, almost a year before the Player’s Handbook for 5th Edition was published. This post receives more weekly views than anything else I’ve posted, but it’s based on out-of-date material.

“Where are the skills on this character sheet?”

That’s the first comment my friend-turned-online-DM made when I opened the D&D Next playtesting materials. He made it as a joke, because my reaction amounted to “What the–?!”

Yes, the character sheet is a little bit different.

As promised before, here are some of my first experiences with D&D Next, or D&D 5th Edition, or D&D “Wizards of the Coast tries to fix what everyone hates about 4th edition” Edition, or whatever you want to call it.

The playtest materials consist of a bunch of .pdf files for various excerpts of rules. We popped open the Character Creation document, eager to see what else changed. Step 1 was comforting in its familiarity.

Every character needs attributes. The rules present a basic set of stats, a point-buy system, and 4d6 minus the lowest. Since I had no attachment to my experiment, I chose to roll. And since I had no goal in mind, I thought the stats might help guide the rest of the character creation process. So I plugged in the numbers as I got them instead of taking the best rolls for the stats that might suit a particular class.

Nameless ended up with some unfortunate rolls. He’s a little strong, and very dextrous. He’s also slightly smarter than average. But his constitution and wisdom are average, and his charisma is poor. (Str 12, Dex 16, Int 12, Con 10, Wis 11, Cha 9, if you care. These stats include racial bonuses.)

So, whatever else is true, I knew nobody liked Nameless. Step two is choosing a race. The DM thought the high Dex might fit a half-elf, and I was fine with that. That also gave me a choice of another language. For no real reason, I picked Gnomes.

Then we discussed why it might be that no one likes this character. Perhaps he lived among elves that were strict worshipers of nature. On a trip outside his home, Nameless encountered some of the clockwork mechanisms of the Gnomes and fell in love with their intricate designs. His passion for technology and machinery ran counter to his tribe’s culture, so he became an outcast and apprenticed with Gnomish tinkers to learn the craft.

His outcast status also gave me an idea for a name. Since he is arguably crazy in the view of his peers, and since he is consumed with a sort of idealism, I went with LaMoncha, thinking of “the Man of La Mancha,” Don Quixote. Instead of charging windmills, he might build them, to the chagrin of his people.

Step three is to choose a class. Next keeps the standard four: cleric, fighter, mage, and rogue. It also offers six less common classes that may or may not fit a particular campaign: barbarian, bard, druid, monk, paladin and ranger. It doesn’t specify what particular stats are ideal for a given class, but you can look at what gets used in a few class abilities to make your decision.

I did not desire a rogue, though Dex is the obvious high stat for a combat rogue. (Then again, maybe not. Next seems to allow for a thuggish Strength-based rogue, and I’m sure there’s room for the smooth-talking Charisma-based charlatan.)

The description for ranger was that of a loner, which fit my outcast well. I thought of an old character idea for a ranger who uses twin hand crossbows as a sort of “gun kata,” spinning his way through fights and planting bolts in the skulls of his foes. This guy is supposed to be good with intricate technology. Modifying hand crossbows to suit his combat tastes would be easy.

What the class does not do is provide automatic skills like 4E did. The Ranger isn’t automatically the expert at all things nature and dungeoneering. The rogue doesn’t get perception and stealth by default. Also those skills don’t exist.

Each class does get some special features or proficiencies that make sense in the context. A druid gets proficiency with an herbalism kit. Sure, your druid might not want to mix potions, or your fighter may choose to do so. But there’s an inherent benefit for a druid to take up that trade. Rogues have a similar proficiency with thieves’ tools. For the Ranger, the special feature is tracking.

So what about skills, or their equivalent? Step four is to choose a background.  This provides the character with training in certain “lore” that sort of replaces skills. There are eleven sets of lore to choose from, some of which you can break out into subsets. For example, “cultural lore” might mean elven culture, or dwarven, or human, etc.

Any time you have a check that requires the use of lore you’re trained in, you get a +10 bonus to that check. It’s not skills per se, but it serves many of the same purposes.

Your background might be as an artisan, working some particular trade. That worked perfectly for my character. Others include soldier, thief, jester, court noble, minstrel, priest, sage, and spy. Maybe I skipped one or two. Each comes with a basic description of the back story of the particular background, a trait which might provide material or assistance in RP, a proficiency with some other item (disguise kit, artisan tools, navigation tools, etc) and suggested fields of lore. There’s a suggested equipment pack as well.

The rules suggest cooperation between player and DM to create a background that fits just right. The backgrounds provided are given as options to spark that imagination. My DM and I chatted and settled on the Artisan with minor tweaks.

Really, that covers the key steps of character creation. Step five is assigning those ability scores, but I did that on step one. Step six is purchasing equipment. I paid a little extra for the various modifications LaMoncha would have to make to his gear. The DM was fine with it. LaMoncha now has twin hand crossbows with partial scimitar blades installed underneath like handguards for the pistol grips. He wears metal hooks on his hips and carries crossbow bolts in bands around his thighs so that in one smooth motion he can cock both crossbows and retrieve two bolts to reload.

Step seven is to fill in numbers. Step eight is the final details like alignment, personality, and appearance. The 9 traditional alignments return, with Lawful-Neutral-Chaotic and Good-Neutral-Evil.

And now I have my D&D Next character. It started as a joke and an experiment, but the character creation process helped solidify a picture in my mind for a character that I came to enjoy.

Next I’ll recount how it felt to actually play the character in combat and in a skill challenge.

UPDATE 5 Jan 2013: I received orders to move overseas, and in the ensuing changes to my life, this project fell by the wayside. My friend and I have not completed any sessions in the last two months, and I don’t know if we’ll be able to restart the effort in the future. D&D Next continues to go through changes too, so this may not be entirely current. Nevertheless, it was a fun exercise, and I appreciate the attention it has received.

Shuuka

This is a piece I wrote to introduce a villain for my Worldmender project. I aimed for a present tense “in the bad guy’s head” style that is different from my usual efforts, and of course this is about a villain so it’s a bit dark. I’d love to know what you think!

shuuka

“Don’t care ’bout the letter from Hagron,” Dagger Bandit mutters and draws twin blades.

He probably thinks I can’t hear him. He turns toward me, all thin and hunched over, ready to pounce on smaller prey. He’s breathing hard. I see it in the chill air. I hear his heart pounding.

“Letter from a noble or not,” Dagger Bandit continues, “Shuuka’s getting on my nerves.”

That’s what these robbers call me. They don’t know my name. They only know their boss sent me. I don’t know their names either. I don’t need to. Tools should be called by their function.

Maybe they think I’m not listening. Maybe they know I am. I keep playing my bonerattle to the Rhythm as I watch the firelight dance across the sands and the boulders.

shhuuu-Ka shhuuu-Ka shhuu-Ka shh…

It’s cold tonight. I see wisps in the wind when the bandits breathe. I can’t feel the cold, and the fire doesn’t warm me. I can’t feel anything.

Well, that’s not entirely true.

I feel the Hunger. My body needs fuel, so I take a bite of dried meat. It tastes like sand in my mouth. I can see the spices, but I can’t taste them. I can’t taste anything anymore.

The Rhythm is the only thing that keeps me calm until I can satisfy the Hunger.

Dagger Bandit hesitates in his approach and glares at me. The stocky bearded man next to him speaks up. “You saw what he did to Namir yesterday. Fought him one-handed, one blade against Namir’s two.”

I call this big one Meat-shield. He seems to be the smartest of the bunch.

He looks up at Dagger Bandit now. “You think you can take him, have a go. I won’t miss the noise.”

“Never seen Namir lose a duel,” Dagger Bandit admits and sits down.

“Lost his bleedin’ hand is what he lost.”

Meat-shield has a point. Plus he’s in charge.

I would have liked very much to take more from Sword-dancer, the one they call Namir. He sits in the shadows, nursing his bandaged stump. The Hunger clamors within me always, and Namir might have satisfied it. For a time. But I don’t want them to know about me yet. I kept my glove on during the fight, kept the Darkness hidden.

I chose to be patient then. To listen to the Rhythm a while longer. But I think today’s the day.

shhuu-Ka shhuu-Ka shh…

Footsteps rush toward us. My fingers rest on the pommel of my blade. Our scout bursts into the hidden campsite. “They’re coming,” he pants. His chest thuds in my ears like a horserace. My right hand twitches. I want to consume him. The Hunger roils within, and I suppress it with a shudder.

I focus on the rattle again.

“His letter,” Farsight blurts between gasps, pointing at me. “It’s true. The caravan, nearby, three guards, four others.”

Meat-shield hands Farsight a waterskin. Only a few drops in it. Enough for another day here in the Waste. Then Meat-shield hisses “Get ready,” as he kicks out the fire.

I stop the rattle and head for the dunes around the camp. It’s time. Away from the firelight, I remove my right glove. Shadows swirl and flow like oil in the shape of a hand. I’m not sure I really have an arm under there anymore. Only the Darkness remains.

I don’t mind the loss. The power is worth it.

Meat-shield is smart. Good position. The rocks and dunes hide the camp in darkness. Anyone would have to be on top of the nearest hill to see the firelight. But the robbers take no chances. Prey in the Waste is skittish and dangerous. Predators must be crafty.

Meat-shield sends archers to the tops of the stones where they can get a clear view of the merchant route. His best bowman has a monocle that Meat-shield got from Lord Hagron.  It makes night like day in the wearer’s eye. I can think of many uses for such a device.

Trueshot looses a flaming arrow to mark the caravan. I hear it sink into the wood of a wagon with a thok. Now everyone can see it. The travelers cry out. The four robbers on foot rush the prey while Trueshot and the others take aim at the guards.

I take aim at Trueshot. I creep forward, unnoticed, black hand extended.

His monocle slips into my open palm as he dies. I lay his body down atop the stone and turn to the next archer. The night makes it easy. The rush of adrenaline, the thrill of the kill–that makes my victims delicious. The Hunger feeds on life, but strong emotions and passions are the sweetest. I can taste those. I can feel them as they are consumed.

Meat-shield and his allies are busy fighting guards or chasing the unarmed. They don’t notice that the arrows stop flying. Three of the guards are wounded. One fights on. It’s easy to sneak up on the bandits.

Sword-dancer dies first. I catch him rifling through the goods in a wagon, out of the view of the others. Greed–lust for the prize–it’s not delicious, but it will do.

He expires with a quiet sigh, the noise lost in the din of the fray.

The lone guard shouts as he cuts down Mace. I’m not surprised. Mace isn’t a fighter. He’s Meat-shield’s cousin, or brother-in-law, or some other relationship with obligation. Doesn’t matter. With that steaming wound in his belly, he’ll be dead soon.

One of the other bandits is down. Arrow in the back. Maybe Trueshot or another archer had some score to settle. I don’t care. And now Meat-shield is fighting the guard that killed Mace.

I sense two more heartbeats, one pursuing the other. Dagger Bandit finished off a couple of the passengers and is chasing the last one. A woman’s scream pierces the night. I can feel Dagger Bandit’s lust building. The Hunger longs for him, and I shiver. He’ll be tasty.

But first, Meat-shield is fresh, and this final guard is weary. Not a fair fight.

I stretch my right hand toward Meat-shield. No one can see it in the dark, but I know tendrils of black are forming around him, slowing him, hindering him. I hear him rage against invisible bonds, swinging wild punches as he tries to break free.

The guard sees his opportunity and thrusts a sword into Meat-shield’s ribs. Meat-shield roars and draws a knife as he grabs the guard by the throat. I turn away, releasing the bonds. I hear choking and gurgling behind me, weak cries, labored breathing in the dark. They’ll both be dead soon.

Dagger Bandit’s heart is thudding in my mind. It’s all I can think of. Maybe it’s all the Darkness can think of. I’m not really sure how this all works.

All I know is I want him.

He has the woman cornered. I sense her fear. It’s a powerful emotion too, but it’s the only one the Darkness doesn’t like. She doesn’t interest me, not with Dagger Bandit near.

I hear his voice telling lies, his tone meant to soothe. I can’t make out the words. The pounding of his heart is so loud in my head. My shadow hand can barely retain its form. It yearns to stretch out and take him. I resist.

The woman cowers. Dagger Bandit steps forward, knife shaking with delight. He slowly reaches for her, and giggles as he grabs her shoulder. She writhes and screams, but she can’t get away. He raises the knife.

Now.

Shadows wrap around him, wracking his body into awkward positions. I think bones snap but I don’t care. His eyes are wide, reflecting firelight. His mouth is filled with darkness. His intense emotions are captured and consumed in an instant.

The lifeless body crumples to the ground. A wave of pleasure washes over me, the reward from the Darkness for such a perfect feast.

The woman sees me, knows that somehow I’ve saved her. She doesn’t question how, just bows and babbles profuse thanks. I am not interested.

…until the Darkness senses her overwhelming relief. Her fear is gone. I step into the light.

“I swear to you,” she continues, “I will tell my father of how you saved me and he will reward you with greater riches than what we carry here. I cannot thank you enough.”

“No, dear,” I frown. “You can’t.”

I stretch my hand once more and close my eyes, awash in satisfaction as she dies.

A minute later, the night is quiet. I start collecting provisions. I’m not sure where I’ll go. Before I came here, Hagron spoke of war in the city of Sulkath, and invading armies from Kandurien.

War always brings out strong passions. It sounds like the right place to be.

Meat-shield mumbles something behind me, dying on the ground, tangled with the body of the guard. “Hagron… that letter was fake… he didn’t send you…”

“No, the letter was real. But Hagron didn’t send me. I took it after I fed on him.”

He looks confused, so I explain. “You worked for Hagron. I killed him. So you serve me now.”

Meat-shield coughs up blood.

“Rest now,” I say as I turn. I can’t help a grin. “I have been well served.”

I take out my bonerattle as I walk away from the ruined caravan. The Darkness is sated.

shhhuuu-KA shhhuuu-KA shhh…

I can hear the Rhythm clearer than before. For now.

Walking Death pt. 2

Welcome to the first Saturday Storyline post. This certainly isn’t the first story I’ve posted. But this category gives me the opportunity to post a weekly piece of fiction, from ongoing projects or from writing just for fun. And for this post, you get part 2 of Walking Death chapter 1. (See the first part here.)

To recap, the Assassin fought her way to her target, Lord Tarrandin Condral, only to discover he’s not the easy mark he seemed.

Walking Death, Chapter 1, part 2

Tarrandin Condral moved with inhuman speed. The Assassin expected this of Cursebearers. The demonic curse, the Kem, imbued Tarrandin with the strength of ten men.

But this speed, this agility… it’s not possible, even for Kem’neth. He is in two places at once!

A blow across the jaw shook every thought from her mind. Strands of black hair came loose from her headband as the grey-cloaked Assassin crashed onto the head table. Dinnerware rattled and glass shattered, pieces tinkling on the hardwood floor

Her quarry-turned-assailant leapt upon the table and landed nearby. He thrust massive black-clawed hands at her. She rolled to the side to escape, but somehow he was already on the other side of her, sinking sharp nails into her skin.

Her shoulder burned as she twisted out of his grasp. She Stretched, trying to push him away, but her powers seemed muted. She slid backwards across the table, sending plates and silver flying. Tarrandin stepped back at the Stretch, unaffected.

She Pooled as she rose. Tarrandin strode through the darkness with ease. Pooling slowed Tarrandin’s guards, but it doesn’t faze him. Three past encounters with the demonically augmented beings were similar. Two ended with the Assassin fleeing. The one I managed to kill was a lucky shot while he was unaware.

The Assassin slid backwards, eyes on Tarrandin. Safe to assume all Cursebearers are immune to direct attack from my powers. Time to shift tactics.

A heap of utensils, goblets, and plates rose and hovered in the air before her as she Pooled. One by one, she Stretched metal missiles at Tarrandin.

The projectiles missed each time. Some passed through the cursed lord. She Stretched others at him only to find he was not where he appeared, his preternatural speed outpacing her senses.

This looks like another retreat.

Her mind raced, recalling all she knew about various Kem’neth. She dodged and weaved, always backing up, always on the defensive, trying to avoid the swipes of his claws. His eyes burned with yellow light. His teeth seemed elongated, a beast’s fangs, hungry for flesh.

And always he stayed ahead of her.

Her back screamed in agony as his nails raked her, rending cloth and skin alike. Blood trickled down her spine and her left arm. Pain is clarity. Pay attention. Tarrandin’s fist swung out at her, and she ducked. His hand reached out, grasping for a hold. She twisted out of the way, then rolled and kicked behind her. My foot passed through his groin, but struck nothing.

I cannot defeat what I cannot hit. Retreat became the priority.

Tarrandin slid to her left now, slashed her hip with his claws. She lunged to the right.

Deceit. The symbol he drew, a lidded eye of blood upon his forehead.

His Kem was Deceit, casting false images. She would see what he wanted and no more.

A fist caught her right cheek. Tarrandin stood a safe distance away to her right. Or so it appears. His meaty hand slapped her, and her knees wobbled. His foot came up and kicked her square in the chest. Air rushed past as she flew across the room.

The Assassin crashed into the rubble left by an Arcanist’s fireball. Sharp rocks dug into her back. Darkness Pooled about her again, even though it did no good against this foe. The hundred spikes of pain in her mind drove her onward. She stumbled to her feet, gasping. Her body wanted nothing more than to stay down in the shadows and rest.

Tarrandin approached on her right, aiming a short kick for her ribs. She covered up her left side, anticipating more deception. His boot struck from the right and knocked the wind out of her.

Of course he would expect me to figure out his power. Sometimes the best ruse was to play no trick at all. She coughed. A fine red mist sprayed into the air.

She tried to roll over. The hole in the wall beckoned. Escape.

Tarrandin watched and paced, the cat at play with a trapped mouse. She crawled away. His boot rested on her rump. He kicked, and she slid through rubble toward the opening.

Weakened, she tried to Scatter, hoping to clear a path through jagged rocks and broken wooden beams. A thousand cuts shouted from her arms, legs, and chest as she skidded through debris.

Need to get out.

The Assassin Stretched against the ground and lifted into the air. At the same time, she Flexed toward the hallway through the hole. Tarrandin stomped and cracked the ground where she had been.  She pulled herself over the burned rim of the opening in the wall. Once through, she released her powers and flopped to the ground, landing hard on one knee.

Light shone from a doorway down the hall. She struggled to gain footing, then lurched toward the door. No chance of success… have to withdraw…

“Heading for the ballroom balcony?” Tarrandin spat, hissing with a voice not his own. It’s dominating him. Kem’neth were like dogs on a leash at times. Sometimes the dogs broke free, and the demons enthralled the Cursebearers. Tarrandin’s a shell now, a form of flesh to cover the demon like my cloak covers me.

She felt hot rancid breath on her neck. It spoke again. “Very well. I will make sport of you before my guests. They don’t understand yet, but they must suspect that Lord Tarrandin isn’t all he claims.” Clawed hands closed around her shoulders. She fought the urge to shudder.

“They will recall why they obey him,” Not-Tarrandin went on. “Why they should fear him.”

He shoved her. The bright doorway rushed at her as she tumbled down the hall.

The Assassin landed in the darkest portion of the hallway, between the door and the nearest glowing magic Shackle on the wall. The silhouette of Tarrandin strolled toward her.  Yellow eyes shone in the shadows as he blocked the light of the Shackle.

I need darkness… not for my powers, but for his eyes.

The Assassin pulled at the shadows as if trying to rein in a wild horse. Her muscles shot fire through her veins. More. Shadows flowed like rivers toward the dim hall. Streams of black swirled around her and blocked the light of the Shackle and the doorway, plunging the two foes into a tangible darkness. Even Tarrandin’s hungry eyes disappeared.

Not that I can trust the image of them in the first place.

Her chest ached like a man lost in the desert who drinks too much upon finding an oasis.

But she felt his presence in the mass of darkness. She crouched, ready to strike. I can’t touch you with my powers, and your powers blind me.

He stood still, hesitating as shadows rippled about in waves.

You can disappear, but you can’t dissipate.

Wind whistled in the black as she drew her bootknives and slashed both arms outward, crisscrossing the demon’s abdomen with deep cuts. He howled. The force and fury shook the walls of the Baricund, disorienting the assassin. She lost her hold on the mass of darkness, and it rushed away in all directions, revealing the doorway behind her. Spurred on by success, she ran.

Tarrandin bellowed in that alien language and gave chase. Each stomp shook the floors. He moved slower than before, his breath raspy and labored. That wound would kill anyone else. The Kem is the only thing keeping him alive. She neared the lit doorway.

There’s only one way to kill a Kem’neth. Now I have a chance at it.

Ahead, she heard confused chatter from the thousands of gathered guests. The music and conversation stopped with the echoing scream. Many eyes were on the balcony where Lord Condral addressed the crowd earlier in the evening. The crowd gasped and murmured when the bloody Assassin appeared instead of Tarrandin. Some cried out for guards.

The Assassin ignored the crowd for the moment, turning to face Tarrandin. He lurched toward her. Murder burned in his yellow eyes. A string of saliva waved back and forth from his chin with each step.

I can’t affect him with my powers. And he’s still too strong for direct combat.

The magic light of the Shackle sparked her memory. The eyepieces Arcanists wear are immune too. Tarrandin was essentially a living, moving Ocular, untouchable by her powers.

I only need something else I can touch.

She reached behind her for the two sword-breakers in brown leather sheathes on her back. Each slender shaft of razor-tipped steel had two prongs curved out to the sides, designed to catch enemy blades and snap them with a twist.

While the crowd looked on, she took a ready stance on the balls of her feet. No need to run now. Tarrandin closed in on her. She Pooled once more.

I have one chance at this.

The balcony and doorway vanished in darkness.

Cooperative Storytelling

Cooperative Storytelling

This isn’t the first time I’ve posted about tabletop role-playing, but it’s the first Tabletop Tuesday post. I hope to funnel all the related topics into this weekly category: reviews of various products, ideas for how to add to your game on the cheap, thoughts about how to run a group, or accounts of silly thing my players have done in game.

Now with 100% less capes!
Write your own story, with friends

Yet for many, the idea of tabletop role-playing is quite a mystery. Some of us have probably heard a lot about the evils of games like Dungeons and Dragons, and perhaps we’ve seen groups of young (or not so young) people dressing up and playing live action games in local parks. Even my wife was worried before her first time playing a tabletop RPG.

“I don’t have to wear a cape, do I?”

The extent of role-playing is defined by the group. No one has to quote Harry Potter terms or wave a stick around yelling “You shall not pass!” If the players are open to that, more power to them. But that’s not what the games are about.

Tabletop games are all about a group of people telling a story together.

It’s not much different from the lure of major sports. We watch men and women perform challenging but ultimately useless feats of athletic skill, and we get drawn into all the rivalries and back-story of our favorite teams and superstars. No one really cares if a guy can put a ball into a hoop suspended up in the air, or if someone can hit a little white ball with a stick.

No, we get into the stories.

Will so-and-so ever lead his team to victory? Maybe this is his year to shine. Can that player overcome his public indiscretions, or will his performance on the field suffer? Will Team A triumph over Team B this year, since Team B crushed them in the finals last season?

We even go so far as to imagine “what if” with sports. What if this great player from this team and that great player from that team were actually on the same team? What if I took these five players I really like, and put them on the same team? How would they compare against other people’s choices? And thus we have Fantasy sports, so-called D&D for Jocks.

We are drawn to the characters, the conflicts, the victories and the failures. That’s ultimately what tabletop RPGs are about. You’re not merely reading a book or watching a movie, waiting for the next twist, wondering when the mystery will be explained or the hidden villain revealed. You’re not trying to comprehend and relate to whatever main character you’ve been given.

You’re helping write the plotline for a character of your choosing.

Beyond that, tabletop gaming is a social activity with friends gathering (usually) in the same place. It’s a creative activity, allowing players the chance to think outside their daily norm and even act a part. It’s a strategic activity, with rules and tactics that players can use to their advantage, like a chess game with dice. When it works out, tabletop gaming can be a great diversion, just like any hobby.

And, no, you don’t have to wear a cape.

Walking Death: Ch. 1

As promised, here’s the first story excerpt. I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Walking Death, Chapter 1

The year the Empire fell began like any other in recent memory: celebration.

The Assassin knew the night would end with blood.

She crouched at the edge of the cliff overlooking the city of Veneshal. Black strands of hair brushed her tanned cheek, and she swept them away, eyes fixed on her goal far below. She peered into the distant shadows and dove.

Her grey cloak whipped behind her as she plummeted three hundred feet toward the highest tower of the magnificent building below. A cloud of black dust burst around her, and she froze in the air a hand’s length above the stone. Her foot touched down with serene poise.

The Assassin observed the rooftop below. She stood invisible in the night, hooded and covered in loose grey fabric, hidden from the city lights. Glimmering rings sat on pedestals around the manors of nobility. They twinkled in the night like stars fallen to the earth.

   Refocused magic. Arcanists are present.

The contract required a public killing, so the Assassin expected confrontation with a magic-user. She felt neither fear nor excitement at the challenge. She merely noted the complication and planned her reactions.

Throughout Veneshal, ornate paper lanterns hung above commoners’ doorframes in such great numbers that the few clouds and the rippling bay around the port city glowed like amber.  Music and the clamor of the New Year’s celebration rose to the assassin’s ears.

But no celebration echoed as loud nor building shone as bright as that on which the Assassin now stood. The Baricund dominated Veneshal’s skyline, both a fortress and the grand mansion of the Condral family, nobles with blood ties to the Emperor himself. Tarrandin Condral oversaw all trade that came through the docks, so he possessed enough wealth for frivolity. He held feasts and diversions year-round. Tonight’s celebration surpassed them all. Based on the plan the Assassin had been given, several thousand favored attendees would be inside the Baricund. The crowd outside doubled that number.

   Irrelevant to the mission. The ground exits are a worst-case option. Not even a team of Arcanists can keep up with me once I get outside.

There were fifteen guards in the courtyard below, sweating in shining plate armor. The unlucky few assigned to crowd control. Probably another score of guards within.

No one watched the rooftop.  The cliff face jutted out high above the Baricund.  Rappelling down was impossible.

   Then again, no one has seen powers like mine.

She gazed down at the stone roof and pictured the floor plans she memorized.  Tarrandin would have withdrawn to the private ballroom by now, surrounded by four hundred chosen guests.  His top lackeys and businessmen, most likely. Anyone connected to Hazfis Ral.

Ral’s criminal ties spread throughout every major city and town across the Empire. On receiving her mission, the Assassin wondered whether the enigmatic figure that indirectly purchased her services was Ral himself.  Counting Tarrandin Condral, four of her last seven targets worked in Ral’s network.  He’s cleaning house, or someone is sending him a message.

But the Assassin was not concerned about Hazfis Ral.  The man with the money does not matter. I have a contract; I will fulfill it.

She picked one stone on the rooftop and reached out in her mind.  Shadows stretched and oozed like spilled ink running across a sheet of paper. At her command, the darkness gathered in a slow swirl around her chosen stone until she could not see it. A whip-crack broke the silence as the stone shattered. The pool of shadow exerted tremendous force on the adjacent stones. Jagged lines spider-webbed out from the edges.

The hidden figure sprang from her perch, extending her hands toward the roof below.  Lines of fine black dust appeared in the air between her and the mass of darkness.  The ceiling crumbled. Stones plummeted and smashed the ballroom’s hardwood floor. The Assassin slipped through the new-formed hole, followed by the swirling plume of dark flecks left behind as the pool dissipated.

Partygoers froze. The orchestra stopped. All eyes turned toward the ceiling.

As the Assassin fell, she Stretched a new jet of shadow downward, pushing away from the ground to soften the impact. At the same time, she Pooled again, pulling a mixture of darkness and rubble into a funnel around herself.

When her foot touched the ballroom floor, she released all that she gathered. Broken rock sprayed out from the swirling cloud in every direction. Fabric and flesh tore with equal ease throughout the room as the Assassin Scattered all she had Pooled.

Screams echoed in the chamber. Men and women scrambled over each other in a dash to the exit. The Assassin scanned the crowd for anyone pushing against the human tide. Tarrandin’s bodyguards fought the panic and frenzy of the crowd, jostling their way through the rush of bodies. They wore no armor to speak of; they were still guests at a banquet and so were dressed in formal attire. Three wore eyeglasses. Three Arcanists. Manageable.

Pureblood human Arcanists used eyepieces called Oculars in order to manipulate magic. The potential energy of inanimate objects could be bound by the eyepiece, Refocused into a new form, then loosed in combat against a foe. Arcanists were the most destructive force in the Empire’s employ, but the Assassin felt no fear or worry. One at forward-left. One at forward-right. One at right flank… and weapons all around.

The Assassin’s powers could not touch an Ocular. She did not fully understand why. But the people wearing the devices were just flesh and blood. Jets of shadow dust reached out past the approaching bodyguards and Arcanists to yank several chunks of fallen rock toward the Assassin–through her foes.  Bloodstained stones thudded on the ground at her feet, followed by eight bodies. Two wore Oculars.

This was the opposite of Stretching, an ability she called Flexing. She could use the shadow to pull at an object. A large object could serve as an anchor for the Assassin to propel herself through the air. A small object could be Flexed or Stretched at high velocity as a projectile weapon.

The third Arcanist still stood unharmed. The stones she flung toward him splashed to the ground, Refocused into muddy water.

Six guards rushed her. Arcanist first.

She drew two long curved knives and leapt into the fray. The Assassin spun, parried, dodged, and slashed at the guards, but always her eyes remained fixed on the man with the Ocular. Her blades became a blur, her cloak a swirling shadow.

   They can only Refocus what they can see. Be faster than sight.

The ground under her softened like quicksand. Not fast enough! The Assassin Flexed at a nearby guard, pulling herself into the air and shoving him down into the puddle of liquid stone before it solidified around him. She landed with a slash across another guard’s arm, and he dropped his sword. This she Stretched toward the Arcanist, but the blade shimmered into droplets of metal. They sprayed past him and splattered across the wall.

She felt no frustration at this failed attack. The distraction served its purpose.

With a flick of her wrists, two silvery spikes flew toward the Arcanist. He swept at them with his arm, but they flew straight and remained intact. His eyes widened. Yes, they’re warpsilver too. You’re not the only one with fun toys.

The Arcanist fell to his knees, clutching at his eyes. A fist-sized stone on a stream of shadow dust punched into his chest and slid him across the floor.

The Assassin recovered the precious spikes, then turned her attention to the remaining guards. She Pooled shadow around herself. The guards grimaced, muscles straining against the sudden weight. None of them fled from her, a credit to their bravery.

   They should have.

The first two bodyguards reached out to capture her. To the assassin’s eyes, they looked like tired men slogging through a swamp. Their fingertips reached for her, and she exploded in motion. She punched out with both fists, knocking the breath from their lungs and bending them over. Then she sprung onto their shoulders, pushing them downward while jumping over their falling bodies to snap a sharp kick into the throat of a third guard.

In the midst of the chaos, one of her enemies raised a monocle to his eye. The Assassin smiled. You were wise to keep your power hidden until now.

Her foot brushed the ground and her leg spun around to sweep the third guard into the air. Then she Stretched, launching him at the new Arcanist. Thought so… you can dissipate a rock or blade, but you won’t risk hurting your ally. The Arcanist hesitated, and the guard crashed into him. Both went down in a heap of limbs.

Two bodyguards lunged toward the crouching Assassin, and she Stretched against the ground. The floor could not be moved, so the Stretch tossed the Assassin into the air between the guards. Her knives flashed, slicing into their necks. Then she Scattered, sending them away with a wave of force and black specks.

The Arcanist regained his footing, about to unleash the Refocused fireball in his hand. The Assassin threw her knives, speeding them along with a Stretch. He quickly shifted elements from fire to air, pushing the knives off course with a howling wind. The blades flew wide, curving behind the Arcanist. Then the Assassin Flexed, yanking them back point-first.

The wind stopped as the man fell. Bloodstains formed in his chest where the knives nearly pierced clean through.

The last bodyguard had the good sense to run. The Assassin gave no chase. Witnesses are part of the plan.

A third of the guests remained, eyes fixed on the action. In the center of the ballroom, the Assassin was alone with Tarrandin. He slouched at the table with heavy-lidded red eyes. The empty glass on its side clearly was not his first. This will be over soon.

The Assassin stepped forward, drawing two more knives.

Then Tarrandin grinned. Slurring in an alien language, he lifted a steak knife from the table and sliced his palm. He painted a small symbol on his forehead with the blood.

   So the rumors were true. He was a Kem’neth, a human filled with demonic power. She recognized the symbol. The sign of Deceit.

She paused in her approach. Ninety percent reduction in likelihood of success. She felt no sense of defeat, no fear of failure, and no exhilaration at the surprising challenge she now faced. Only an observation that she could very well die.

She brandished the knives and lunged.

Bordermarches: Curses

I’ve introduced many of the features of the Bordermarches so far: magic, science, the Divine, and Gracemarks.

Now I’d like to present the opposition to the Divine.

Though I do enjoy good vs. good storylines, I also have a place in my heart for the “simple” clear-cut good vs. evil conflict.

Given my intent to take advantage of biblical themes and perspective, my evil is a lot like Tolkien. It doesn’t create anything new. It corrupts that which was originally made pure.

There are seven Daemons working against the purposes of the Divine in this fantasy setting.

In response to Light and Truth, there is Deceit.

To oppose Strength and Passion, there is Rage.

Nature and Growth are countered by Corruption.

Justice and Order are pitted against Chaos.

The rival of Knowledge and Creativity is Ignorance.

Love and Beauty struggle against Hatred.

The foe of Eternity and Life is Destruction.

My good buddies Merriam and Webster tell me that “Daemon” probably comes from a Greek root that means “to distribute.” The term implies oversight of a thing. These seven Daemons are no different, distributing a Curse similar to the Gracemarks of the Divine.

Serving darkness is not without benefits…

There are key differences. While a Gracemark is under the control of the bearer, the Curse, or Kem, can take control of its host. When this happens, the bearer is more like a husk or shell, a puppet on strings pulled by the influence of the Daemon. Once under the sway of the Curse, the bearer’s true form is revealed, that of a massive horned demon twice the size of the average man.

How YOU doin'?
Kem’neth should look like this, even if it’s blatant stealing from Legend… because Tim Curry is amazing.

Gracemarks are given either as a divine favor or as a symbol of acceptance from a religious order, and they are not transferable. Curses, however, can be granted as a gift of power to a servant of evil, or they can be transferred to an individual who kills a Cursebearer. The person who slays a Kem’neth (or Cursebearer) is usually given the option soon afterwards to accept or reject the Curse. Some people are exempt from the offer: Devoted of the Light and Soulforged of Justice are two examples.

Gracemarks generally give two or four powers associated with their Aspect of the Divine. Cursebearers receive all seven powers, one related to each Daemon, although they each have one strongest power.

No one man should have all that power…

Deceit inspires followers to buy in to the Cursebearer’s lies. But more than that, Deceit allows the Cursebearer to appear to be in two places at once during combat, projecting false images into the minds of enemies.

Rage incites bloodlust and murderous intent in the hearts of others. It also grants the Cursebearer terrible strength.

Corruption warps the hearts of others to serve the Cursebearer’s purposes. It can also twist creation to serve the Cursebearer’s needs, turning Nature against the Cursebearer’s enemies.

Chaos allows the Cursebearer to release bolts of uncontrolled energy. In pseudo-science terms, the Cursebearer tweaks physics on a quantum scale.

Ignorance keeps minions in check and muddles the minds of enemies.

Hatred permits the Cursebearer to detect and track particular enemies over long distances.

Destruction allows the Cursebearer to draw on non-sentient life nearby in order to regain energy or empower magic.

Everything floats down here!
Kem’neth should also sound like Pennywise… because Tim Curry.

There’s only one way to kill a Kem’neth…

The one other advantage of the Kem is a limited immortality. Having given themselves completely over to the service of the Daemons, the Cursebearers are only vulnerable in their hearts. Even if decapitated or torn in half, a Cursebearer will eventually regenerate; the heart must be destroyed in order to put the Cursebearer to death.

Kem’neth can come in both genders and all races, but humans are the predominant race.

That statement doesn’t mean much unless I introduce the various races in the Bordermarches, so I had better do that next.