Sunday, 30 October 2016

Dungeon Saga - The story

Bit of an experiment in how to make interesting fiction based on a game that's not so much RPG as wargame on a board, I did this when Mantic got let down by their novellist for the Dungeon saga novellette, a half weekends work with a single pass through rather than a full edit, and cheerfully they've got the matter covered, so I thought to put this up here for everyone to have a read through...


The Dwarf Kings Quest

“I’m just saying that perhaps not kicking in every door might, just might, enhance our chances of surprising them…” Danor shrugged as Rordin and Orlaf squared up against the reinforced iron bound beams of the double door at the base of the entryway stairs.
“You think we’ve got time to waste on picking the locks?” Orlaf glanced backwards, “The longer we spend down here, the more chance there is that we’re not going to be coming back out again.”
“You mean the longer we’re down here, the longer you have to wait for the payoff…” Madriga’s mouth quirked upwards in a half smile as she looked back down at the door.
“This is also a good reason…” Orlaf grinned, “More speed, money faster, less chance of death, I’m not seeing the fail in this plan…”
“If they all know we’re coming, they can plan for us coming, and we’ll end up with more trouble than we would do if we approached with a little care…” Danor considered sitting on the stairs for a second until he looked down to see the dust and rat droppings covering them. “Look, if there’s no other way, then bash it down, but I really think we need every advantage…”
“Alright, move out of the way…” Madriga handed Danor her bow and moved to the door, taking her tools from her hip pack.
“I can pick locks…” Rordin looked up at her with the beginnings of a scowl.
“Yes, but you need a box to see into the lock…” Madriga leaned over him and started probing into the lock.
“There is this…” Rordin’s scowl turned upwards as he stepped out of the way, resting his hammer on his shoulder.

Madriga worked fast, the bolt on the old door moving back with a quiet scraping noise as she rotated the picks.  She removed her picks from the door and replaced them in her pack, retrieving her bow from Danor and gesturing at the door.
“There you go…” She drew an arrow from her back and nocked it to the bow. “Nice and quiet like you wanted…”
“Excellent…” Danor strode forwards and put his hand to the door, leaning his weight into it to make sure that the door opened first time.  The door gave a little and Danor turned back to look at the others with a smile on his face, “You see…”

Danor bumped into the door as it remained closed, he paused and then pushed at the door again, then rattled the large handles and peered through the gap, the light from his staff illuminating the bar on the other side of the door.  He sighed and stepped back from the door, turning to the rest of the party all stood watching him from the third step up.
“Problem…?” Orlaf raised an eyebrow.
“It’s…It’s…” Danor waved his hand at the door behind him, “Er…”
“Barred…” Orlaf nodded, “We know…”
“You know…” Danor looked back at the door, “But you let me…”
“You’ve been arguing about the element of surprise the whole way here,” Rordin smiled, his head level with Danors thanks to the three step advantage, “But they know we’re coming, and surprise is only an advantage to enemies that can be surprised…”
“Well, if you’d read the classic texts on how battles are fought…” Danor folded his arms.
“You know that they were written by people who weren’t fighting on the ground…Right?” Orlaf cut him off, “Texts are a thing for games between generals, down here, it’s us and them and nothing else…”
Danor frowned “I still think it’s a good idea.”
“I agree…” Rordin nodded, “Best stop the light on the top of your staff as well then… Light’s going to be the biggest giveaway down here…”
“Oh…” Danor looked up at the sphere following him in the air, “Yes, of course…”

The light ceased instantly, leaving all four of them in darkness…

“Oh this is much better…” Orlaf deadpanned.
“This will surprise them for sure…” Rordin followed up.
“It will…?” Danor own surprise was evident in the darkness.
“Of course it will,” Madriga snapped, “It’ll surprise them when the find four idiots feeling their way around in the darkness when none of their enemies need eyes to see…  Just smash the door already…”
“Oh…” Danor said, the light flaring up again.
“Cheer up…”  Rordin came down the stars and spun on his heel to deliver a double handed blow to the door lock, the hammer tearing through the rotten timbers as if they weren’t there, the noise rolling like thunder into the room beyond, “With noises like that they’ll think there’s more of us than there are.”
“Great…” Danor turned to follow as Orlaf went in beside Rordin. 
Behind them, Madriga turned as a faint breeze whistled down the stairs and she breathed deep, equal parts of the smell of stale air below and open air above, she held the breath for a second.

Savour the last moments in the world above…

She turned and followed the others.

1 – Death on the old stone

I stop as the sound rumbles down through the tunnels above, I reach out with the power and join with the skulls of the long dead above, seeing the world through the sockets that once held their eyes.  Four of them, a barbarian possessed of casual arrogance and professional greed, a wizard with doubts that extend beyond his power, an elf with the sigils of the Sea Guard etched in her armour and a Dwarf… But a Dwarf bearing the symbol of Golloch on his hammer… These are no treasure hunters seeking fortune and glory, these came here for me and sooner than expected…

That will not do…

Rordin moved into the wide entrance room, looking up at the walls, the wooden bookcases on the wall still bearing the tomes that recorded the exploits of Grund Hammerhand.  He turned his head back to the others.
“This is why we are down here…” He said, pointing at the walls, “These record every day of the hundred years that Grund held the line against all the coming darkness, we have to prevent these bastards from despoiling this tomb further.”
“So you put one door against the possibility of looters on the tomb of your greatest heroes…” Orlaf looked back at the door, “Surprised it hasn’t been raided before now.”
“No one would dare…” Rordin stood straight, his voice growing louder, “To come here with loot in mind is to bring down the wrath of the dwarven host upon the miscreants.”
“A hearty threat to anyone with short legs…” Madriga moved past the first bookcase, the smell of mould strong from the paper within, the faint moistness of mildew crusting the covers. “I mean; it’s not like you’re going to run them down is it…?”
Rordin turned with a frown to see the Elf glance at him with a wry smile, he sighed and hefted his hammer again. “I’ll have you know we’re a very dangerous people, far sturdier than others…”
“Sturdier…” Orlaf moved towards the double doors at the west side of the room, “Isn’t that another word for Fat…?”
“FAT!” Rordin sucked in his stomach and turned to Orlaf as he checked the door over, “We don’t get fat, we have layers of muscle like the bark of the trees.”
“Relaxed muscle…” Danor chipped in from behind him. “You sure it’s not fat…?”
“Relaxed…” Rordin turned again, seeing Danor smiling, “I give up, you lot are too skinny to understand how strength works.”

“Well, you want to come over here and tense up a bit…” Orlaf tapped the door, “Barred from the other side.”
“Whoever came in didn’t go that way…” Rordin looked at the door.
“How can you tell…” Madriga frowned.
“Because all my fat is on my body,” Rordin met her gaze with the mirror of her earlier smile, “Not in my head…”
“Seriously…” Orlaf looked back from the door, “How…?”
“Look at the floor…” Rordin pointed downwards.
“Stone…” Madriga looked at the floor.
“Look at the dust…” Rordin moved his arm to encompass the room, “One set of footprints belonging to Wears No Shirt over there and the cobwebs are still on the door.”
“So where did they go…?” Danor asked.
“There…” Rordin pointed to the door in the North wall, “No footprints, just the line of someone who was either doing a really bad job of sweeping…or was wearing robes longer than them…”
The other three looked down at the dust on the floor, as Rordin had said, a line broad enough for one person wearing robes.
“And as the only Robe wearer we’ve got is there…” Rordin nodded to Danor, “That’s the way our enemy went…”
“Fat in body but not in head…” Danor nodded in acknowledgement. “Lead on…”
“Keep it up and you’ll be fat in lip,” Rordin glanced backwards, his expression neutral.
Danor nodded and cleared his throat, “So we’re through there, yes…?”
Rordin walked to the door, testing the handle.  “It’s open…” He turned back to the others.

The door flew open, smashing into Rordin’s back and sending him stumbling forwards, his hammer falling to the ground as he scrambled on the floor.  The creature in the door had once been an elf, the gouged flesh at their throat leaving no doubt as to how they had met their end. It staggered forwards, the movements disjointed, as if it was remembering how to move one step at a time.  Rordin rolled to a crouch, coming up to face the creature as it moved towards him…

A bolt of flame impacted into the creatures face as an arrow pierced its head from left to right.  It staggered one more step before its legs failed and it slumped to the floor, the smell of burning flesh strong in the air. 
“You alright…?” Danor took a step forwards, his hands still aimed towards the creature.
“Pride more damaged than anything,” Rordin dusted himself off and retrieved his hammer.
“Good…” Madriga moved around to stand beside them, “Because it’s got friends…”

The slow shuffling of feet echoed in the room beyond and four more of the undead shambled forwards, three of them wearing the same clothing that the first had, the last clad in the uniform of a captain of the Land Guards.

Orlaf whipped in from the side, the axe cleaving straight across the neck of the first one, the force of the blow driving the body back against the others as Orlaf spun, using the momentum to drive the axe into the next one’s chest.  The axe embedded deep in the flesh and Orlaf cursed as the falling body pulled him sideways with it.  Madriga raised his bow and put an arrow through the eyes of the third zombie, it paused, the eyes crossing for a second as it tried to focus, then it fell, all comprehension destroyed.  Rordin charged forwards, meeting the armoured zombie head on, it’s sword whistling down towards his head, whatever skill it had in life reduced to basic impulses that the muscle memory of the body still retained.  Rordin took the impact on his bracers and smashed the hammer into the creatures’ knee, crumpling it in a heap on the floor.  He continued the swing upwards and reversed his grip, bringing the hammer down hard over the creatures’ helmet, the impact turning the round metal band oval and distorting its head into a twisted mess of flesh.  

Rordin stood up and looked around, no other noise, no more attackers.  A grunt from the side as Orlaf brought his axe down on the neck of the zombie with the arrow through its face.
“I think it’s dead…” Madriga pulled her arrow out, checking the head before putting it in her quiver.
“I think…” Orlaf moved to the next and cut down again, “That it was dead in the first place and that didn’t stop it from attacking us… This way if it comes back, it can’t see us…”
“Point…” Rordin raised his Hammer and pulped the armoured zombies’ skull, “No worries about that then, but it begs the question of how come there are elves down here.”
“Dead elves,” Danor looked at the corpses, “What does it matter…?”
“Because I was expecting to find dwarves down here,” Rordin looked at him, “I was prepared for dwarves in the barrow of our greatest heroes, I wasn’t expecting anything else.”
“It’s wearing the sigil of the Lands Guard,” Madriga pointed to the sigil on the zombie, “But it’s an old version of the sigil, they changed it thirty years ago, and no one would be caught with an out of date sigil…”
“But they must still have been around here still…” Rordin looked around the room, “Is there any chance that there’s more of them?”
“If there’s more of them still out here, they’re going to be very hungry…” Orlaf cleaned his axe head on the cloth of the zombies clothing.
“Exactly my concern,” Rordin nodded.
“They patrol everywhere, and they don’t answer to anyone,” Madriga pointed to the armoured zombie, “This one would have been their leader, it has the markings of a captain, these others would have been her apprentices. Our people didn’t always face off against each other, there were times, as we have now, when we worked together.”
“Could they have been down here to reinforce the defences…?” Danor crouched down beside the armoured zombie and checked through its hip pack, “These are notes written in Ralanai.”
“What do you know of Ralanai…?” Madriga stepped over the other bodies to crouch next to him.
“I study all magic, not just that native to humans,” Danor passed the notes over, “These look to be… perhaps something about a summoning…?”
Madriga took the notes and leafed through them, “Not a summoning so much as a binding…” She looked puzzled for a second, “But this one wears the armour of a sword captain, not a mage…”
“What do you think…?” Danor looked over at her.
“I think they were here on purpose…” Orlaf called from across the room as he leaned into an open chest, “There’s things in here that wouldn’t fit dwarves and they’re in good condition…”
“We’re not here to loot the place,” Rordin growled.
“And I’m not,” Orlaf countered, “This was open, and this…” He reached in to take a shimmering white shirt from the chest, “belongs to no dwarf…”
“Spidersilk…” Madriga strode over, “Marked with the court of water, this belonged to the summoner that the spell pages belonged to.”
“But no sign of the summoner herself…” Danor looked around the room.
“You should take these…” Orlaf passed the shirt to Madriga, “Reckon it’ll fit you better.”
“Give me a minute…” Madriga took the shirt and retreated back up the stairs, returning a few minutes later with the shirt under her tunic, she looked over at Orlaf, “You’re right…”
“Something else as well,” Orlaf took out a vial of silver liquid, he shook it, the contents becoming a swirling metallic mass.  He passed the vial to Danor.
“Healing potion…” Danor nodded, taking the vial and putting it in his pack.
“Looks like metal shards…” Rordin frowned.
“Tastes like it too…” Danor grinned.
“You’ve tried one before…?”Madriga raised an eyebrow.
“I learned at the mages college,” Danor shrugged, “If you graduated without getting burned a few times, you cheated, besides…what was that…?”

All of them turned at the sound of scraping from the room beyond, not the light scraping of feet on stone, but something heavier, like stone on stone, and not close, the echoes reverberating off the wall as the thing continued to move.

“That’s no Zombie…” Rordin tapped the hammer to his other hand, turning to face the others, “As much as I’m not a fan of head first into things, I’m most armoured amongst all of us, be better if I take the lead, Danor second, Madriga third and Orlaf bringing up the rear.”
“Why me in the rear…?” Orlaf looked down at Rordin.
“Because you move faster than I do, and something creeping up behind us needs to be reacted to fast, faster than I would, you’re better at that…” Rordin looked up with no hint of mockery in his voice. “Danor in the middle because we all need the light, Madriga first because she can fire over me and around Danor, if you were in front, none of could see ahead or shoot around you, fair…?”
Orlaf considered for a moment and then nodded, “Fair.”
“Alright…” Rordin drew a deep breath and turned back to the darkness.


2 – A Rotting Colossus

The last thing I see from the first defenders is the hammer coming down, I put my hand to my head as the throbbing subsides. Invaluable to have the information on what comes for me, but painful to be there when they kill it.  I reach up again, this time to the beast in the remains of the banquet hall, giving just enough of a spark to have it rise.  I feel the flesh knitting together all around, and have it reach up with one long claw to scratch at the regenerating nodule in its spine.  Its resistance drops and it looks around again, rising up from the ground and taking a lump of stone larger than me in its hand.  The vision is blurry, these things can’t see any real distance, even in the low light…

But it doesn’t need to see to kill…

Rordin continued forwards, the light from Danor shining above him and illuminating the way.  The air down here was colder, more so than it should have been, they weren’t that far below the surface here.  The doors above had opened into another long, wide staircase, the stairs undamaged, unmarked by the passage of time, unlike the ones above.  Rordin stopped at the door at the base of the stairs and listened as the scraping noise rumbled through the corridor.  He pushed against the door but couldn’t see anything through the gap in the blackness beyond.  The light illuminating only the beam behind the door, thicker than the last.

“Orlaf…” Rordin lowered his voice, “Up here…”
“What is it?” Orlaf ambled forwards, looking the door up and down.
“Need both of us on this,” Rordin patted the door, “I don’t want to give away us coming down here.”
“So the element of surprise is a good thing then…” Danor’s grin couldn’t have got wider.
“Less of that,” Rordin raised a warning finger, “On this occasion, a little quiet is going to be a good thing.”
“No way of doing this quiet…” Orlaf pushed at the door, “That’s meant to hold off a squad…”
“Let me see…” Danor walked forwards and peered into the gap, “Can you both push this back so I can get a good look at it?”
Orlaf leaned into the door, Rordin leaning on the other side, a faint creak echoing in the darkness as the wood strained back.  Danor leaned in and looked in.
“Keep it open for a bit…” Danor reached out with his finger, placing it in the gap and uttering words in a language no one else understood, pulling his finger out quickly and nodding, “You can let it go now, give it a few minutes…”
“A few minutes…?” Rordin sniffed the air as the pungent smell of rotten wood drifted out of the door, “What did you do…?”
“It’s a minor enchantment,” Danor said, “Works like acid but without the splash, just don’t touch the bar with anything when we go through, it spreads…”
“Can you do something about the smell…?” Orlaf wrinkled his nose and took a step back.
“Be happy to recommend you a bath house when we get back,” Danor grinned.
Orlaf shot him a quick glance, then grinned back, shaking his head in good humour.

A minute passed and the faint sound of splintering wood could be heard from behind the door.

“Try now…” Danor nodded.
Orlaf and Rordin put their shoulders to the task and pushed, the door creaking as it opened without resistance, the splinters lining the floor on either side as the light filled the room beyond.
“Not bad,” Rordin looked around the room and hefted his hammer as the sound of stone against stone reverberated from the next room. 
“Be wary,” Madriga said, “Something that has no business being down here is in that room.”
“How can you tell…?” Orlaf looked at her.
“Listen…” Madriga cocked her head sideways, the sound of splintering stone with every thundering footstep echoed back into the room, “It’s big enough to be breaking stones underfoot, the floor in here isn’t damaged, whatever is in there didn’t walk in there…”
“Summoned…” Danor raised his hand towards the door, “But not recently, there’s no magic in the room beyond.”
“Any way around it?” Orlaf looked down to Rordin, “Look, I’m always up for a fight, but you don’t pick fights you don’t have to.”
“Maybe…” Rordin made his way over to the single door on the left, “Corridor, too small for whatever’s in the room ahead, maybe we can go around…”
Madriga moved forwards and picked the lock, pushing the handle down just far enough to open the door.  She moved forwards, glancing around the corner.
“All clear, looks like a banqueting hall…” She whispered, moving out of the way to let Rordin past.
“Alright, follow me…” Rordin moved forwards with care, his feet rolling on the ground to keep the metal edges of his boots from clinking on the floor.
Danor and Madriga followed Rordin into the middle of the room, the long table smashed into shards and long ridges gouged in the stone where something heavy had been dragged on the floor, the pillars at each edge bearing long claw marks, large chunks cut out of the masonry on all sides.
“Looks like a horde of Orks came through here…” Danor looked around the remnants.
“This wasn’t Orks…” Madriga crouched beside a heap of bones on the floor, the marrow sucked from them, she sniffed the air, “This smells like…”
“Troll.” Orlaf whispered.
“You’d never get a Troll down here…” Rordin turned back to face Orlaf.

Orlaf raised a finger to his mouth and then pointed down the hall to the lords table as something rose up, silhouetted against the fire in the roasting pit at the far end.

“I’d agree…” Orlaf whispered, “But the evidence is against me…”
“The Exit is down there,” Rordin whispered, pointing to the drainage channel cut in the floor towards the door in the west wall, “Keep silent…”
The group moved in silence to the far wall and then around the corner, the remains of the hall guardians strewn around the place, many with crushed limbs and torn bodies, their armour providing no protection from the thing that had appeared amongst them.  Rordin set his jaw as he walked past the sundered bodies of his kinsmen.  The door was locked and Rordin pointed in silence at Danor and then at the lock.  Orlaf and Rordin pushed against the door as Danor made the incantation again, stepping back to allow the spell to work.

A sniffing sound in the hall behind them caused them to turn, the sound of something moving the remains of the furniture aside as it clumped forwards.  Orlaf moved in front of Danor as Madriga nocked an arrow to her bow and Rordin readied his hammer.  Danor stepped back as something creaked behind him, the sound of a foot fall and he turned, a shriek far higher than he’d intended escaped his lips as the Dwarf zombie behind him looked up with eyes glowing like blue suns. 

Rordin turned and lunged at the Dwarf, “Revenant…” he hissed, bringing his hammer in to knock the Revenants own hammer aside, “Back…”
The clang of the two hammers meeting echoed down the hall, to be answered by a roar from around the corner, the scraping became a hammering as the troll clawed its way forwards.  Orlaf looked to the side as one of the piles of bones in the corner began to vibrate, a hand forming from the bones that rose into the air, the rest of the body assembling behind it.  He glanced back at Danor as the mage tried to get to the other corner of the room and Madriga went wide to draw a line of attack.

Leaving him in the middle of the room…


Rordin blocked the second blow from the Revenant and swung his hammer down to cave the knees in as he had the first zombie.  He blinked in surprise as the Revenant brought its hammer down on his, driving the head into the floor and then reversing the angle to bring the hammer against Rordins helmet.  Rordin spun around and brought his hammer in again, this time the revenant took a step back, lunging back in afterwards in a perfect counter as described in the dwarven army protocols.  Rordin risked a glance sideways as the heavy footsteps of the troll got louder and Orlaf went into a wide stance as Danor pointed his hands towards the Revenant.


Orlaf kept his axe low as the troll turned the corner, the movements not as fast as other trolls he’d seen, the limbs grey and rent, blood still running down its arms as the wounds continued to open and close.  It slid to a halt against the far wall, the eyes not fully focussed as it scanned the room ahead, sniffing the air for its target.  Orlaf ran forwards, letting his axe trail on the floor as he did, the scraping noise loud in the enclosed area and the troll turned to follow the noise as one of its eyes popped back into the socket.   The troll turned to face him, the huge lump of stone in its hand rose as if it were as light as a feather and it roared, the remnants of its last meal spraying out of its mouth. 

An arrow embedded itself in the trolls’ arm and it turned to face the source of its pain.  A torrent of fire engulfed its lower body, the blast tearing off a half metre of skin and flesh as it exploded against the trolls’ ribcage.  The troll turned and Orlaf ran in behind, cutting down against the back of its legs, aiming at the hamstrings.  At this range, the roar was deafening as the troll dropped the stone and flailed backwards, Orlaf tried to bring his axe head down against the arm but too late and the back of the trolls’ hand smashed into him, the weight of the massive arm driving him against the far wall. Orlaf staggered and dropped to one knee, hanging on to his axe as his head swam.

Rordin back pedalled, trying to keep the Revenant away from Danor as it continued to look for a way around him.  Every attack he made was countered, the undead limbs not suffering from fatigue as an ordinary soldier’s would.  Rordin pushed it back again and watched as the Revenant braced to receive the charge, he glanced to the side again as he heard Orlaf grunt in pain, seeing the Barbarian smashed against the wall and falling to his knees.  Rordin looked back to the Revenant and raised his hammer to charge at it.  The Revenant struck upwards with its hammer to dash aside Rordins and cave in his skull in the same move and Rordin changed his stance, shifting all his weight into a shoulder charge using his whole body.  The Revenant tried to brace, its leg moving backwards just in time for Rordin to smash it back against the wall, the following hammer blow driving its head into its chest cavity.  The Revenant slumped, its arms and legs still moving for a second till the force that left it had dissipated.

Danor gestured again, another blast of flame enveloping the trolls’ upper torso as he drew on the power of his crystals, he ducked back as the fully formed skeleton lunged towards him the scythe missing him by a hairs width.  He scrambled backwards, ducking under Madriga’s line of sight as the skeleton pursued him with single minded intent, her shots piercing the troll up and down its torso.  Danor found himself against the wall as the skeleton swung again, taking his remaining crystal and speaking faster than he ever had before.  The scythe swept down and impacted his shoulder with a clang as the steelskin spell enveloped him.  The skeleton paused, its rudimentary intelligence disrupted with the unnatural event in front of it.  Danor reached out and put his palm against the shiny skull, looking into the empty sockets as a smile came to his lips.

Rahegeat” He whispered.

The firebolt shattered the skull into powder, the bones falling to the floor as if its strings had been cut.  Danor turned back to see Rordin driving his hammer into the head of the Revenant as Madriga drew another arrow.

“LITTLE HELP HERE…?” Orlaf roared as the Troll swept its arm backwards again, staggering upright as its hamstrings reknitted.

Rordin banged his hammer on the ground, the sound echoing down the chamber as the troll turned again, reaching down for its stone as it focussed on Orlaf.  Rordin ran forwards as Madriga moved around again, keeping her line of fire free.  Danor put his spent crystals away and began to summon his power again, this time changing the focus of the spell.  Orlaf kept his axe up, blood running from the wound on his back as he moved sideways, trying to get the Troll to keep its attention on him.  The Troll swung, the move ponderous, its insides only just held in by its regenerative powers as the hole in its side continued to close.  Orlaf moved into the arc, cutting against its arm and severing the tendons as Rordin struck to its rear, his double handed strike caving in the knee joint that Orlaf had struck at earlier.  The Troll collapsed to the floor, overbalanced by its own swing, its body landing heavily against Rordin and crushing him against the wall.  It lay there for a second, then the arms twitched and it started to move again. 
“GET THIS FAT BASTARD OFF ME…” Rordin roared from underneath the trolls damaged arm. 
Orlaf stepped in and swung the axe hard in a downward blow, the blade cleaving into the trolls’ skull and out through the other side.  The Troll slumped and its insides flooded out of the hole in its side as its regeneration ceased.  Orlaf moved over to Rordin and between them moved the arm enough for Rordin to get out.
“Son of a…” Orlaf pointed down as the Trolls face started to knit together, he hefted his axe and prepared to strike again.
“You need to hit the regeneration cluster…” Danor said as he walked cautiously forwards, “Anything else and it’ll just keep coming back…”
“Where’s the regeneration cluster…” Orlaf struck down again, the blow cleaving the head in two, the separate halves waving in the air as it continued to seal up.
“It’s a nerve bundle on the neck…” Danor didn’t walk close enough for the Troll to be able to reach him, he raised his hand to the side of his neck, “It should look like a spot on its neck.”

Rordin walked to one side of the trolls’ head, Orlaf the other.

“Got something purple on this side,” Rordin looked up.
“Got something weeping pus on this side,” Orlaf pointed, shying away from the rancid smell coming from it. “Which one is it…?”
“Don’t know,” Danor shrugged, “My books didn’t have any pictures…”
“Both?” Orlaf glanced over at Rordin.
“Both…” Rordin nodded, swinging his hammer in low and fast as Orlaf did the same.

The weapons met with a dull crunch and the Troll spasmed, its insides spraying out over the floor as its regeneration failed, the massive body sinking to the floor, the various wounds it had taken over its life opening up, reducing it to a stinking mass of jelly within seconds.

“That worked…” Madriga stepped forwards, avoiding the pools of filth on the floor as she retrieved her arrows, dipping each of them in the cool water of the fountains at the side of the room.  “We should lead with that next time…”
“Easy to say when its laid down,” Rordin looked at the beast and sighed. “Can’t be too many of these things down here surely…”
“We can hope…” Orlaf flexed backwards, the motion opening the wound on his back again, “Can’t be doing this all night long…”
“Let me see that…” Danor reached into his pouch and took out the healing potion.

Orlaf righted one of the chairs with three legs remaining and sat on it, using his own legs to keep it upright as Danor brushed the dust away from the wound.  Madriga brought over water from the fountain and poured it over the wound, the blood flowing to wash away the rest of the stone and dust in the gouge.
“This may feel a little weird…” Danor popped the cork on the potion and poured a thin stream of it into the wound.
“Thought you were supposed…” Orlaf gritted his teeth as his shoulder pulled back together, “to drink potions…”
“You can drink them…” Danor kept the wound open with his fingers for a second as he poured the liquid in again, holding the shoulder muscle closed while the skin sealed around it, “But they’re more effective if you spread them on the area affected. Just be careful that you don’t apply it while you’re wearing clothes.”
“Why not,” Madriga watched with interest as the wound sealed with a thin line on the skin to show where the wound had been.
“Because it sticks anything to anything,” Danor shrugged, “Some of the older potions were so strong, they’d stick your throat together on the way down…”
“Remind me never to drink one,” Rordin put his hand to his throat.
“That’s why I’m doing this,” Danor nodded as he poured the last of the liquid over the scar forming on top of Orlafs shoulder, “Didn’t know how long this stuff has been down here.”
“It’s good…” Orlaf stood and flexed his shoulder, glancing down to see the skin healed without a single mark on it, “Better than anything I’ve had before.”
“Just as well you didn’t drink it then…” Rordin looked around the hall. “We might as well take a look around the place, see if there’s any more of those portions lying around.”
“Thought we weren’t looting the place…” Orlaf glanced at him.
“Take a look around,” Rordin sighed, “This place has already been looted, and if this what we’ve found here is anything to go by…”

“We’re going to need all the help we can get…”

3 – A Soul in Torment.

The loss of the Troll was inevitable, but now I have seen how they fight, how they group, and the advantage will be mine when they next come to face my power.  Now I may rest, the prisoner I bound above will be the next thing they come to, and when they do…

Their screams will join with hers…

“Wait…” Madriga said as Orlaf and Rordin made an experimental push at the door to the next level.
“What is it?” Danor came to stand beside her.
“More light…” Madriga pointed to the edges of the door where dull green runes were cut into each of the stones.
Danor brought the light forwards, each of the runes glowing for a second as the light flowed over.
“In gratitude for the friendship of King Grund,” Madriga read each rune as it was illuminated, “The Air Guard extend their eternal guardianship over his rest.”
“The elves were here.” Rordin stepped back to look at the runes.
“And we were here at your request,” Madriga looked over the runes again, “This is a great honour, to have an Air guardian placed in your tomb ensures that nothing will ever disturb your eternal rest.”
“Will it guard against us…?” Orlaf looked to each of them in turn, “Or will it know that we’re here to help with things, not loot the tomb?”
“Air guardians are people just like you and me,” Madriga looked down at Orlaf, “They take turns to stand watch, sustained by the power of the shrine within.”
“How long for…?” Danor looked at the runes.
“A day, a month, a year,” Madriga shrugged, “It’s a great honour to be chosen as a guardian for anyone, much less a king, and for one so great as Grund, the greatest of honours.”
“It is,” Rordin nodded, “Finally something goes our way.”
Orlaf nodded and turned the handle on the door, the air within was cold, a pale blue light shone from within and a faint cold breeze blew past them, the sound of mocking laughter carried with it.
“Let’s not be too sure about that,” Orlaf looked back at them, “Come on…”

Rordin stepped forwards into the chamber

Friday, 28 October 2016

New expansions for Era: The Consortium

I've spent the last day or so taking an advance look at the new material for Era: The Consortium, in particular the three books currently being offered up as part of their next kickstarter.  There's already a wealth of material out there for Era, but they just keep on throwing more things out there.  It's a bold model to take, releasing as many different books as they are in smaller bites rather than having a single larger book to look through, but it seems to be working well so far.

The three books in question are Rapier (the Hacking Sourcebook), A New Dawn (Psionics), and The Fifth Race (dealing with the emergence of the Pilangrathilon), and as with the books before them, they share a number of common aspects...

Rapier deals with the aspects of computer security and the breaking of it, together with the nature of the different things that you can encounter while in the electronic world.  It's a small book (31 pages) with ten of those pages being the fiction in the book.  The system works aren't complex, and provide a basic framework for dealing with hacking systems and protecting against hackers.  The understanding has to be present that as with all things in Era, the rules are there to fill a need, not provide a complete overlay of that aspect of the game.  Hacking is a part of the game, but it will never be as essential as it is to games like Cyberpunk and Shadowrun.

And that brings us to A New Dawn, similar format to Rapier, 31 pages, sixteen of which are fiction with the rest being devoted to the systemworks. Psionic abilities are covered in brief, as are the potential hazards of using them, the potential for madness for those who spend too long playing in the realm of the mind, and the dangers of having a psionic coming after you.  As with Rapier, it's enough to give you something to work with, but not so much that it takes over any aspect of the game.

Which brings us to The Fifth Race, largest of the books at 50 pages, with a commensurate amount of fiction (22 pages), describing the first encounter and subsequent emergence of the Pilangrahilon.  A race of small sentient semi-avians, given to belief in the order of things and a persons fate already being decided before they were born.  There are rules for new weapons, new bionics, and new equipment, making this the most immediately usable of the three books and certainly the one most likely to see use in the average campaign.

As always, production values are high, artwork is spectacular as always, my one bugbear remains that I believe there should be more rules and less fiction in a splatbook, but the rules that there are to the point and fit the system well. Overall they're good products that deal with individual subjects well, and if it all comes together in a single rulebook one day, it'll be complete in ways that nothing since Traveller has been.

The Kickstarter is still running at the moment, you can find it at

Wednesday, 26 October 2016

Organising the Awesome...

Someone asked for a few pointers on running games conventions...

I have a few...

But the first thing you need to ask if you're planning a convention is Why people go to conventions…?

There's only one reason, to do things they can’t do at home…

People will say they come for the games, the company, the ambience, take your pick, but at the end of the day, it’s always down to things they can’t do at home.


If you can do it at home, why would you travel all that way and spend all that money to go do it somewhere else?

We, as convention organisers, therefore have only one remit…

Make it Awesome, make it something that they can’t do at home...

This is not as easy as it seems, after all, at home, you can do everything, the food, the game, the entertainment, and you can do it yourself, because you’re only catering for your friends around the table.  At a convention, you’ve got to cover everyone and make sure that they all get something of what they want.

So there are a few things you’re going to need to watch out for…


and by extension, Travel…

You’ll get more people in a major city than you will in a small town, but if you’re starting small (and that’s often the best way to do it), as long as people have travel lines to get to you, then you’ll be fine.  If you have the convention in a village hall that has a train station and regular bus lines running past it, you’ll get a lot more people than having it in a huge hall where only those with cars can get to it. 


There are already a good number of conventions on the calendar, check carefully to make sure that what you’re doing doesn’t clash with something that’s already established and running around the same time.  Doesn’t have to be the same days, usually within a fortnight of a similar convention will constitute a clash of interests.


A single day convention is travel down, attend convention, travel back.  All the variables on that are enclosed within that single day.  When you put a second day (and possibly a third or fourth), you’re asking those attending to find a place to stay for the night to come back in the next day.  This increases their costs significantly, as well as adding a second day to your own expenses.  For traders this has a knock on effect in the amount of stock they bring (far more) because they’ll need to restock overnight to make sure they still have product on the shelves.  They'll also have to consider if two days increases their sales very much when a lot of people turn up to buy on a single day rather than two, those coming for the whole convention tend to buy on the last day, everyone else buys on the main day for the convention.

Of course, gamers are inventive, ask about the shut-in that occurred at Gencon Olympia when thirty odd gamers couldn’t be bothered going home and so commandeered a cleaning room upstairs with two on watch at all times in case the security guards wandered past. It’s not likely that you’re going to get a bunch of gamers hiding in the top of the town hall, but you need to consider costs for the area when you move the convention to more than a single day.


Volunteers come on a broad spectrum, ranging from “Will do everything and anything, will keep working long after their shift is done and will call for more every time”, down to “Give me my free ticket, I’m going to the show, you don’t expect me to work do you?”

The grim thing?

There’s more on the “Give me my free ticket” end of the scale than there are on the other end, and many people won’t think twice about offering to help at the show if it’ll get them a free ticket, but they start bitching when you want them to carry out their part of the bargain.  There isn’t any way around this, I wish there were, when it happens you’ll have to do the job with whatever good people you’ve got around you and if there are no good people around you…

You’ll be doing it yourself…

Never underestimate this as an Organiser of Conventions, keep two lists, one for the people who do well for you and one for the people who let you down.  The good list will be shorter than the bad one, but as time goes on, both lists will increase, and after a few years, they’ll be about the same length.

Am I overstating this?

I wish I was…

The other thing about volunteers is that you need to be clear in what you’re offering people to help at the convention and once that offer is made, you need to honour it, no matter what, because you only get one chance at that.  The usual offer is free entrance in return for running a few hours of games (Four hours is the accepted amount at most conventions), although you can offer more if you have provision to do so.  Word of advice on that score would be not to offer too much too early, because when you’ve offered it one year, trying to take it back the next year is really, really difficult.

Clear Advertising

Everyone comes to conventions for a different reason, so be clear when you advertise the convention, if it’s RPG’s, make it about RPG’s, if it’s about Board games, make it about Board games.  If you want it to be a little of everything and you’re just starting out, be aware that you can either do a quarter con for all the attendees and try to gauge the interest levels for the year following, or you can specialise to begin with and then branch out in following years.  My recommendation would be to specialise for the first year and then branch out when the people who came the first year come back to you (which they will) with ideas for next year. 

When you’re putting out the word for the convention on the first year, get it in place six months before you’re going to run the convention as a bare minimum, and at least two months before you open to take interest from GM’s and umpires for events.  Make the lines of communication clear, get the website in place and start promoting on social media as soon as it’s up.  In the second year and onwards, word of mouth will do a lot of this for you, but in the first year, make sure your profile is up and clear.


One of the most difficult things to organise in any convention is the events that you’re running, it’s not hard to get people run games, but getting them to run the right games…

That’s another matter.

You’ll always get someone offering to run their latest homebrew system for four hours in return for getting in free.  Unless they’re offering something that people have heard of as well as whatever they want to run, turn it down.  Published games make up more than 95% of the games that will be taken up at a convention, we’ve monitored the ticket sales at a number of conventions for several years, and it’s apparent that while there is mild interest in homebrew systems, that interest only comes when they can’t find anything else to play.

Damning indictment…?

Not really, if you’ve travelled all this way to get a game in, you want it to be a known quantity rather than taking a risk on something that could be the most awesome game in the world.  Games in the playtesting phase are a different matter, particularly if they’re from one of the larger publishing houses, people do have a lot of interest in emergent systems if they have a chance to influence them.

The other thing about events is the special events, the one’s where rather than just costing you an entrance ticket to get the game running, it’s actually costing you cold hard cash.  These have the potential to bring in a lot of people if pitched at the right level, but you have to balance the draw against the cost.  When you’re doing this, you must think not only about the cost of the event but for the number of people who’ll be attracted to the con by this event.  If you’re running something that might only seat fifty players, but you’ll get a hundred just to come and take a look, then you’re on to a winner, but when you’ve done it once and people have liked it, you may find that you have to do it again.


There are those who think that this doesn’t apply to smaller cons, and when you’re dealing with less than a roomful of people, then it’s less the case, but you still need to look at it for several reasons.

Noise – Putting a loud dungeon crawl next to an atmospheric Cthulhu game isn’t going to endear you to the Cthulhu players, the dungeon crawlers won’t care as they’ll be the ones making the noise but you should consider quieter games near quieter games if possible.

Board vs RPG – You’d think that in this enlightened age, we’d be able to co-exist with each other, but every year I see people arguing “These are BOARD tables, these are RPG tables” when in actual fact…

They’re just tables.

When you get to a certain size and you’re not just moving things around one room (says the man who just came from the NEC), you need to consider layout.  If you have something that’s going to be really popular (Bring and Buy for example), then you need to put it away from everything else if you possibly can, there’ll be crowds around it all day and they’ll filter around so that they impact on everything else going on in the con.  If you’re selling space to the trade hall, consider your entrances, exits, and thoroughfares when you’re offering the stands out, it may be mercenary, but the understanding has to be that all the traders are there to make money, so should you be.


Let me save you the time on this one…

Attendee’s – We want more games, more variety in the games being offered, less players per game, more players per game, bigger tournaments from bigger companies, smaller tournaments from bigger companies (how are we supposed to win when the field is 500 people), more prizes, bigger prizes, free dice on the front desk, in fact, shouldn’t you be paying us to come next year?

Traders – We didn’t make any money this year, we’ll have to look carefully at if we’re coming next year, can’t you lower your prices, can I have that space for free, it’s your fault that my stock went missing, get rid of all the open gaming space and give it to me for demo tables, can you put all my old stock in the bring and buy so I don’t have to buy trade space to get rid of it....

You can’t please everyone all the time, it’s a melancholy truth, but it’s the truth.  When people ask for things, they’re asking for themselves, not for the convention. When you gather the feedback, if 1% said they wanted more space around tables and 20% said get more games in, don’t leap in on the 20%, look at the space you have, the space you’re going to have next year, make the decision based on what you can do, not what they want you to do.  Many times the things requested will clash with each other and there won’t be anything you can do to please all types, so do the right thing, do what you want to do as the convention organiser.  If you forget why you’re putting all this hard work in, then you’ll put less hard work in and before you know it, you’ll be putting no hard work in, and that’s how good conventions collapse.


Have something in place in case someone behaves badly, stupidly, or in some way contrary to how you want your convention to run.  Most people believe that everyone is like them, and as an organiser of conventions, you’re doing this because you want people to have fun.

Not everyone is like you…

Bitter lesson to learn the first time some irate know it all comes pontificating over the front desk at you, but one that you’re better being prepared for.  Most conventions have an Anti-Harassment policy, every convention that got past year one has a code of conduct, even if it’s just notes on their website to say that they can and will throw out people who are ruining it for everyone else.  I could fill the rest of this issue with instances where people weren’t as nice as I’d hoped they would have been, but in every case, it’s been dealt with because there’s been words to back me up when I needed to make those difficult calls.

Finally, and perhaps most important, even though I’m listing it last


Some conventions are commercial ventures, some are just gamers getting together to have fun together, but whatever the reason, at the end of the day, there’s the bill to settle.  If you’re looking to have fun, just want it to remain the same size and you can afford the hall every year, no problem, you need read no further.

For everyone else…

The first year of a convention may break even, if you’re done the research and PR ahead of time, been all over social media and built a solid presence with keeping people up on what awesome things are going on at your convention, then it may break even.

But don’t count on it.

The number of conventions I’ve seen that have failed in year one because the organisers presumed that it’d make money and had nothing left over to make a second year is beyond count.

Many people don’t come to the first year of a convention, the usual attitude is that they’re already doing several conventions and don’t want to extend to another one just yet.  Better to wait till the reports have come in from the first year and see where it goes from there.  In the first year, be prepared to make a loss on the convention, it’s almost universal that this happens.  A break even on year one should be considered a significant victory, so don’t be downhearted if this is all you get.

Year two is a different matter, if you’ve continued to build the profile and keep people informed, then year two will almost surely be a breakeven point as all the people that missed it last year will come in for it this year.  Year three and onwards should be (if carefully managed) growth years.

There’s a million things more I could tell you all about, but every convention is different, and every convention makes mistakes, no matter how long they’ve been going, no matter how well planned they are, every convention makes mistakes.  When you make yours, learn from them, there’s few mistakes that will kill a convention stone dead in one hit.

Except not opening the doors…

Always open the doors…