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Archive for February, 2014

This is the ever evolving story of Sharia, sword mistress of the Eldest of Mithrendoom, and how she came to be known as the Princess of the Flame.

Part 1 the Moon Dreams of Prince Myshkin

The young Eldest prince sat atop a flight of marble steps worn by the tread of feet and scoured by the blowing sands. He was swaddled in robes up to his bare head. His dusty hair tossed in the constant breeze above the desert floor. Below him spread the ruined buildings and drowned boulevards of Nazerak the cursed city. He was Prince Myshkin, a wizard of no small repute and the youngest son of the clan of Albrion.

His were a people cursed. The Eldest of Nazerak were condemned to fight an interminable civil war, family against family, generation after generation. Where once many clans fought, now only two remained: his beloved Albrion and mighty Mithrendoom. The folk of Albrion fought against the cruel mandates of their doom with wisdom and knowledge, and Prince Myshkin was accounted among them most knowledgeable, even if he did lack the wisdom that comes of age. It was his supreme goal, like his father before him, and every Eldest of his clan, to break the curse that chained them all.

Prince Myshkin was the youngest member of a tribe who lived long and bred rarely. His father, the arch wizard Selbanot, was slain in battle before Myshkin’s hatching, and he left Prince Myshkin a lifetime of research, written in a code the son spent his youth deciphering. His mother, the princess Ymela, was sister to the nominal chieftain Imor, descendants of kings, and raised the young prince in the traditions of her royal ancestry who ruled the city before the Tyrant’s Curse cast them all into the doom of perpetual war. She lovingly ingrained within him the lofty ideals of honor and obligation, of sacrifice and generosity, but it was his father’s teachings that fired the young prince’s passion. In old Selbanot’s study prince Myshkin learned to detect the patterns of the world around him, and eventually began to reweave the fabrics of reality using the elaborate spells and rituals he painstakingly translated.

The Eldest youth was tall and gangly. His elbows and knees jutted out from his body at awkward angles, and he never took to sword or spear. His childhood was spent indoors more often than not, and his skin was paler than most. The pink glow of sun exposure did not warm the alabaster white of his flesh, except for the tips of his ears, which were perpetually chafed, peeling and red rather than healthy sun drenched pink of his fellow sun-loving Eldest. His hair was tawny and unkempt, and a smile played about the corners of his lips whenever his mind became preoccupied. His high arching eyebrows were often cocked in curiosity, wonderment, or contempt, according to his level of knowledge of a subject.

The sun slowly sank beneath the dunes. Its gibbous bulk darkened to black as it met the scorching western desert. Red veins of flashing light struck out across the old sun’s blackened base, branching upwards like a spiderweb of cracking glass, until it met at the glowing red summit. It continued to darken as it dropped into the desert. The red striations of light reflected shadow reached out across the western wastes, clutching all the worlds heat and pulling it in as it receded under the sands. The winds picked up. The sky was now at its most vivid purple. The sun set.

The lust for more knowledge led the prince to the city center that night. An increased prowess in the arcane arts directed him up the steep steps of the Tyrant’s Tomb to ponder the setting sun. While almond eyes reflected the violet dusk, his mind worked — feverishly calculating the moments until the forest moon broke over the horizon, calculating the distance it would be from him, who stood in the exact center of blasted Nazerak. The prince smiled.

Over the western wastes of the old world two moons forever swung in their eccentric orbits. His fathers notes were very strict regarding measurement of distances, and Myshkin confirmed that none of his fathers magic would work without first calculating, then iterating the distances between the moons and himself. He had no idea why this was, but geometry was the foundation of magic, and much of the geometry was lunar. Triangles and circles forever danced behind his wide eyes.

As purple dusk swelled into the unending blackness of night punctuated by the brilliant panoply of stars, the forest moon rose. The moon spun slow and stately across the sky showing its foliaged face to the old red sun every night, rolling like a marble across the vault of the sky. It circumvented the world from north to south though it wobbled slightly on its path, veering east or west during its sixty day span of seasons. The forest moon was close enough that with powerful lenses one could see the swirling mists which marbled it in grey and green.

The tiny broken moon known as Satellite or the sundered moon, or sometimes the hollow moon, swung across the horizon in a wide reaching elliptical arc centered over the city of Nazerak. At its highest and lowest points the moon brushed the poles of the world, before swinging back. It was much closer than its big older sister, and the broken crags of the crack that sundered it blazed in the reflected sunlight like an open geode. Its insides were mysterious and unknowable, but the strange patterns that blazed one after another upon catching the rays of the sun gave the world its oldest written language.

Standing on the flat top of the tyrants ziggurat in Nazerak, one could spend a night following the Sundered moon as it tumbled along the horizon in a great ellipse. Prince Myshkin planned to do just this. With a tattered scroll on his knee he followed the moon runes as they revealed themselves one by one. As the sun sank, Satellite scampered past the gargantuan face and its first rune blazed scarlet from the cracked innards. “Benighted Quoin,” red death, it spoke. Moments later, the moon crossed the edge of the sinking sun, and the next rune slowly revolved, revealed. “Benighted Quya” or new life. Fifty six more runes would reveal themselves before dawn arrived and the sun rose again to meet “Quoin enlightened” at the opposite eastern end of the endless wastes. Upon such was built the oldest language on the desert world of D Erte or Red Sun, and such was the language of the Eldest, oldest of the young races to grace the world since its rebirth.

Warm desert winds buffeted the Prince’s face even after the sky turned dark. The last of the sun-warmed wind was racing away towards the far off dawn. Soon the winds would turn chill but Myshkin was beyond worldly cares. He stood and began tracing symbols in the air about him, naming each geometric shape as he laboriously went through the “calling ritual” which is the first, and hardest, of all magic wielding rituals to master. Without the calling ritual, there could be no magic. Thin streamers of effervescent mist began to roil about his legs, wafting about him irrespective of the desert winds. The calling ritual was a success: his placement in the universe had been confirmed and he could feel the twinge of magic in the air about him.

Prince Myshkin described the parabola of a gentle arc, and connected the arc in upon itself to form a circle with him at its center. Immediately the mist swept out to fill in the confines of the arc, until Myshkin bespoke of the volume of a globe of circumferential equality. The mists, thinning unto near invisibility, expanded into a ball and with each calculation, Myshkin pushed the outer edge of his sphere until it was many times greater than Myshkins frame. Closing his eyes, he could sense all within the globe. Muttering further algorithms, Myshkin searched within the globe, looking for the hidden entrance to the flat topped pyramid.

Twice before Myshkin had spent a night wrapped in magic atop the Tyrants Tomb. Legend spoke of a secret entrance to the tomb, one that avoided the Gate of madness, but Myshkin was again unable to locate any hidden doors. His concentration was momentarily shaken as a long wailing cry broke the silence of the night. The globe of magic centered on Myshkin became even more transparent, threatening to dissolve altogether. Pushing the dangers of night away, he concentrated on the globe of magic he had created, strengthening it, boosting its potency by raising his hands and forming symbols with his fingers. Slowly the globe solidified into swirling silvery mists. Myshkin was focused inward and lost touch with the world around him.

Divination magic was closely related to evocation and it seemed to Myshkin that a body was forming in the mists around him. Before long, the mist thickened into a human form standing before him. It spoke. “Rest your eyes, Myshkin, and I will tell you of my death and rebirth.” The words thrummed in the air, but their weight was the weight of the world, and with each word, Myshkin felt part of himself go still and soon he was nothing more than eye, ear, nose, and mouth. The spirit he called was in control, Myshkin but a witness to the story of Nazerak.

“I am Gana, spirit of the sand and stones of Nazerak. When I awoke under the orange sun, the world was old yet young. No wars had yet torn the envelope of sky from the world, no curses had been laid upon our deepest foundation, and there were no cavernous dungeons in the solid bedrock of Nazerak’s ancient foundations. I take you on a journey through time, Myshkin, that you may see the result of your ancestors actions, and learn to avoid the fate that sealed their doom.”

With wild rolling eyes, Myshkin tried once to pull away from the overpowering ego that held him entranced. Gana had a strong pull to his psyche, and like a baby who turns to the sound of her mothers voice, Myshkin was powerless against the strength of Gana. The moons spiraled and wheeled across the sky, untended.

The world outside the globe of magic faded into nothingness and slowly a new world, nearly the same, came to replace it. The swirling mists receded until Myshkin stood alone in the center of a bustling city. The sky overhead was deep blue, and had a slightly rippling quality, as though viewed through glass. He was no longer on a stone pyramid, but stood in the center of a wide park-like area. All around the park, crystal towers of various shapes and colors rose towards the sky. The people, so like his own, yet unlike, walked along the promenade or whisked by on aerodynamic vehicles. Across a wide plaza from where he stood a square building of glass and white stone stood.

Suddenly Gana was next to him. She took the form of a graceful beauty, an ancient. She was tall and lithe like him, but her ears were much longer, the points of which tapered high above the crown of her head. Nor was she sun-pinkened but had a rich alabaster skin unmarred by the affects of wind or weather. She wore no clothing, but a flickering pattern of autumn leaves swirled about her modestly. With a sweep of her arm, she indicated the building.

“It was a time of great discovery. The greatest alchemists of the time strove to break the boundaries between worlds. Soon they would let something in from Outside, and madness would destroy all. But before that great mistake, the scientists and magicians of the world drew other things out of the chaos beyond, good things. Spirits like me. I awoke in the heart of a great gem, wrapped in copper and silver wire, but my soul is too big for such small realities, and even as we watch, I spilled out into the world beyond those ivory walls. Knowing aught, learning much, I strove to create a realm of peace and plenty in Nazerak.”

Stars appeared in the blue sky, 3 of them, and it seemed they fell from the heavens one behind the other. The first struck an invisible barrier in the sky. Great cracks emerged in the blue sky above, until the second star struck. Then great jagged sheets of glass began raining down upon the city. Myshkin was strangely unaffected by the destruction around him, though he stared with mouth agape. The third star slowly fell, passing the area of sky which unleashed the shards of glass, until it found its way to the ground. Where it struck a great black wind formed, sweeping much of the city and its people before it until the city was a smoking ruin. All this happened while Myshkin held his breath in agony. The ivory and glass tower was no more. Myshkin glanced over to the spirit Gana and saw her wide eyes shine as she watched. “I survived the falling stars of death, and my awakening was fraught with the struggles of aiding the survivors of that violence.

“Though a thousand years and more passed after that furious war, it begat the seed of all our destruction. A poison was unleashed, one which 10 generations of great minds could neither contain or correct. The atmosphere of the world began to slip into the vastness of the Outside, and nothing could stop it.” Time seemed dilated. Another day dawned, and people slowly returned to the city. Gone were the tallest towers, to be replaced by arching edifices of stone, mined from great doorways in the earth beneath the city.

It was clear that many, many years were passing before his eyes, but if Myshkin focused on a single individual, he could follow them about their daily lives, even as a tower shot up into the sky in mere seconds. The time dilation was confusing in its simplicity. After the flurry of rebuilding, the city became empty, and for long moments Myshkin watched the lifeless buildings crumble into the wide avenues of Nazerak.

“The second doom was slow coming, but in the end it scoured Nazerak, and the world, of life.” Her voice startled the wizard after such a long silence.

“All life?” he asked.

“There was no air to breathe, no wind to lift the birds.n Even the water turned to dust.”

“If there was no life,” the prince slowly began, “then how is it I am here, or any life at all?” he finally asked, though he feared what the answer may be.

Gana turned to Myshkin and her bright eyes bore into his soul. “The seed of life was kept safe through the long cold night, buried deep beneath the sands of Nazerak, warmed by the heat of the world, and kept alive through no end of chaos and turmoil. We are all of us products of that great endeavor.” She did not say it, but Myshkin understood that the spirit had played some part in that history of survival against the gravest odds.

“If I may ask , O’ spirit,” he posed his third question, this one with more respect for one so strange, yet so closely tied to his, and his kins survival. “How was it life returned to our forsaken world?”

“That is a tale for another time, curious child.” She smiled, a slight flexing of the corners of her mouth, but it filled his heart with wonder. “Tonight you seek for a means to end the third doom of your people, and I can give you some small aid in that. She became misty and transparent as she spoke, until her soft fluting voice seemed to emanate from nothing but a thin wisp of smoke. “The doorway to the tyrant’s tomb is unbarred, if you dare the madness within.

—-

Part 2 Sharia the Princess of the Flame

Sharia sat behind her wicker and leather camp table enjoying the blustery morning breezes that flapped and snapped through the bleached canvas of her tent. She glanced occasionally down at the old map before her, but mostly sat with her wide set eyes closed and a gentle smile upon her lips, face upturned to a shaft of orange morning light lancing through the open flaps. When a shadow blocked the sunlight basking her face, it broke her reverie, transforming contentment into a frown. The day must go on.

Captain Varvara stood before her. “Greetings Princess,” he began. “Our soldiers gather on the field in preparation for today’s battle. We await your orders.” Slowly the chin of the flame princess descended until she could survey her captain with unblinking almond eyes. He stood before her in the full battle regalia of a royal heavy footman. He was sheathed and articulated like a mantis warrior from the neck down. His ynix carapace was of deep rust, blackening at the edges in a star pattern. Over this he wore a white silk tunic belted at the waist. The symbol of his people, the village of Mithrendoom, was emblazoned over his heart: a flaming drop of blood ringed in gold. In his hands he held the silver-edged shell and bone helm that would complete the ancestral armor of the captain of the mantis legion. His weapon, a long double-bladed spear, leaned against the outside of the tent.

The next to enter the tent, even before the front two legs of Sharias camp chair completed their drop to the floor, was Captain Jarloquinz of the heavy Jalalabar chargers. He smelt of dromedary and he wore flowing robes of white and orange stripes over a simple tabard of bone ringmail. He rang when he walked, and it reminded Sharia of the ringing bells of the belgoi who haunted the tunnels beneath the city. He too greeted her, him with a dipped chin and barely a flick of the wrist. “We are ready to ride mistress.”

Sharia stood and gazed upon her subordinates. Her hand dropped to the hilt of her scimitar Skarn, and she was comforted by the heat and the subtle thrumming of the heavy curved blade. Her fingers brushed across the loop of twined hair that bound Skarn to her belt. It was the witch Cryzlyx’ hair, won on the day she became the princess and paladin of the flame spirit. Sharia found the wiry transparent hair was nigh unbreakable, and made for an excellent sword hanger. From the cuff of each knee length boot stuck Sharia’s other prizes for defeating the shadow witch: a pair of cruel steel daggers. Otherwise, Sharia wore the simple garb of a cavalry officer: light ynix shell armor covering her most sensitive regions. Over this a billowing white silk cloak, belted at the waist.

“How will we bloody their noses this day, princess?” Captain Varvara addressed Sharia with a sidewise glance at the powerful Jarloquinz next to him. Both competed silently for the affections of their princess, and each felt privately inadequate to the task while supposing the other to have an insurmountable lead in the contest. Sharia laughingly accepted their affections as a born leader who knew loyalty came in many forms. Her biggest responsibility, it seemed to her, was to keep each of them from tearing the others throat out while off the battlefield.

Right now both captains were fully invested in the glories of the day to come. Today’s battle would commemorate the opening clash that began a civil war centuries old. On that day, after the betrayal of the tyrant, the surviving nobility mounted upon their steeds and chariots and began a thunderous charge down the main boulevard of Nazerak. Near the center of the city the wild charge met the eldest who still proclaimed loyalty to the tyrant, some in ignorance of his betrayal, some uncaring. Where the Avenue of White Palms crossed the Boulevard of the Ziggurat the two armies met in a violent bloodbath that shocked the survivors by its carnage. Every year since that fateful day the two armies, now little more than bands of survivors, met to renew their hatred for one another on that oft-soaked stretch of boulevard.

They called it the Shock of the Eldest, and this day’s battle would be the 357th iteration of that fateful clash, which set the Eldest on the course of their curse for so many long blood-filled years after. The princess and her captains stepped out into the sand-blown plaza that marked the beginnings of their territory. Before them stood the mighty army of Mithrendoom in all its glory. In front were the heavy Jalalabar lancers, numbering 11 dromedaries and riders plus the captain. The jalalabari were a mixed bunch, with each lancer dressing and arming himself as he best saw fit. The majority of them held long tapering spears, and most wore ring mail, of bone or stone. A few wore ynix shell plate, or even ancient armor, a trophy of victory over some strange foe. White and orange were the dominant colors, but the Eldest of Mithrendoom prized individuality, and made a point of dressing to show off their uniqueness. Scarves were plentiful, and tied everywhere to stream in the breezes of the desert.

Behind the 12 Jalalabar were the infantry, numbering two score. they were more uniformly dressed, each in the same heavy mantis armor as their captain. They all carried the strange double spears, known as Kulaks, which could be pulled apart in the middle, and each half thrown like a javelin, or used like a short spear. A second kulak, broken apart, was strapped to each back. The Eldest stood in two ranks, awaiting their orders at stiff attention. The cavalry, meanwhile, went about taking care of their steeds, readying themselves for battle, cursing and making a minor ruckus.

When Sharia emerged from her tent, a subdued cheer erupted from the small army. She walked over to where her steed, Jubul, was being caparisoned by her royal escort, the two fiercest warriors in her force. Each of them had an immense falchion sword across his back, crafted from ancient pitted steel. Neither wore armor, but wore billowing pantaloons and small open vests as their only coverings. They wore no boots or sandals either, keeping their feet always planted in the sand. Where they trod, the sand whirled and eddied, but they left no tracks.

The force was smaller than past years: it had been a difficult season and many Eldest were laid up or had passed on to the shadow world. But Sharia tried to make up for the losses with her large Jalalabar troop. A dozen heavy cavalry could make a huge impact on the days outcome. All told, nearly three score Eldest souls stood in the morning light, awaiting the oncoming bloodshed with a mix of lust and reluctance.

With Sharia in the lead, her mount high-stepping down the avenue of White Palms, so named for the towering palms that once lined it, the war band moved out. Two columns marched side by side down the sand-blown roadway while the dozen jalalabar fanned out along the front perimeter, scanning for enemies. The world was tinged with the soft orange glow of early morning, picking out the isolated green shoots and plants with a vivid vibrance. The long dark shadows of the warband clawed ahead over the ruined walls and fallen arches as they strode to their doom.

—–

Thus concludes the first half of the Tale of Sharia and Myshkin. Coming soon Sharia and Myshkin Together in which the Flame Princess and the Prince of Albrion meet in glorious battle.

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Kre-o Dungeons and Dragons Action

Kre-o Dungeons and Dragons Action

So having an addiction to all things d&d I had to rush out to the store and pick up some of the new Dungeons and Dragons Kre-O (like Lego) figures and playsets. Then I took pictures for you all’s edification. This is the money shot, albeit with terriblelighting and from an awful angle. The good guys are defending their tower from an onslaught of orcs with two ballistae and led by none other than Drizzt “Tyler” Dourden.

Twenty bucks worth of toys

Twenty bucks worth of toys

We recently took a field trip to the local ToysRUS, which was a fun event, since we hadn’t been there in so long. The Dungeons and Dragons section was practically pristine and un-picked over. I was able to judge every item, compare them, and pick out a good selection that totally met my budget. (Oh and I must mention that I went back the next day to “complete” my collection by buying the tower and the orc drummer.) The minifigs are seemingly randomized, but they contain codes on them which gives away which figure is inside the packaging. My kids were appalled when they saw me checking a youtube video to make sure I was getting the minifigs I wanted. They accused me of cheating, but I told them there was no such thing as cheating when real money is involved. I am still pondering the morality of this, but am coming down on the side of “then don’t put desciptive codes on them!”

The good guys

The good guys

Here is my collection of good guys. I have the majority of them, but there are a few generic or boring ones missing. I love the wizard but why no hat?

The bad guys... and Drizzt

The bad guys… and Drizzt

And here are the orcs and Drizzt. These are really great and fierce looking orcs. Not quite the pig faced Gammorian guard how I like to imagine them, these are more like Lord of the Rings Black Orcs. Drizzt comes with an awesome tree for some reason. My favorite one is probably the Warrior of Gruumsh or whatever he is called. Also that is one awesome spear.

And there you have it, the best of the Dungeons and Dragons Phase 1 Kre-O sets.

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Minotaur maze

Minotaur maze

To get past this level of the dungeon, one must confront the mighty minotaur.

This mini-adventure continues a series called Ancient Encounters, culled from ancient notebooks of campaigns past. The idea came after writing about re-using an old adventure, and I realized these great encounters deserve a little more attention. Hopefully others can be inspired by this series to make their own adventures, or to use elements of these admittedly “brief,” “vague,” and “improvisational encounters as building blocks for great games.

This dungeon level originally took place in a multi-dungeon tomb of a long forgotten king. Many of the ancient king’s advisors continued to serve him long after the entombment, and one such is the bailiff, transformed into a mighty minotaur, who guards the coin vaults of the king. The notable features of the dungeon are air fire and water traps. The water trap was a room whose doors locked when a counter-weight was achieve din the middle of the room. The room then filled with water in 3-6 rounds. Also a water weird was released into the room, intent on tripping and drowning anyone caught in the chamber.

The secret doors are difficult to detect can only be passed by waving a hand in front of them at the nine foot level, other wise they are are considered solid rock. They slide open and closed silently by magic when the hand wave is given. The minotaur uses the secret doors strategically in order to catch his prey off guard for and do drive by stampede and gore attacks.

The coin vaults are presided over by a ghostly accountant, unable to interact with the world except to count and stack coins, and who knows where every coin of the hoard is at all times, intent on keeping them together. The bailiff aids him in this endeavor. Treasure value 8,000 gold coins.

The minotaur’s lair is a veritable bachelor pad of evil delight, complete with demoness concubine. Could be a succubus, or maybe Type V…

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