Monday, June 20, 2016

Brief Hiatus

We are having some real turmoil in the Steading so we are going on a short hiatus. I anyone likes I will occasionally post up dates to the Gift.

Sorry for the lack of posting. 

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Chapter Seven - The Gift

Chapter Seven of a gift for a twelve year old. 

By mid-morning Scott was missing the turning of the sun, the way that shadows moved as the sun moved through the sky. Constant noon was more than a little monotonous. At least there was still 'day' and 'night' and there was a gradual progression between the two. The 'sun' must turn because over the course of twenty-eight days the moon went from black, which left odd reflections in the sky above. Scott figured that the sun dimmed itself during night and spun on its axis slowly. He had to remember that the far side of the inner-verse as he thought of the new universe was almost two hundred million miles away. Anything that reflected visible light from that distance had to be large and very reflective, water, ice, snow. Scott missed the stars at night.
Shandra rode next to Scott and asked him, “What are you thinking about?”
“The sun,” Scott replied, “I don't understand how it works or why it dims at night or brightens at dawn. Then it looks like the moon at night time complete with cycles. I think this universe is kept in shape more by 'magic' than any laws of physics that we understood at home.”
Shandra reined her horse around a rocky looking patch with unconscious ease, “I don't know. Dad did say the laws here were different. I know he tried cooking up gun powder and got nothing not even a sneeze out of the mixture. It burned like charcoal but nothing better.”
“Maybe your dad doesn't really know how to make gun powder?”
Shandra smiled, “Maybe not but if he said he can get close he can and close is enough to make it go 'fizz' even if it doesn't blow up.”
“I'll admit I was surprised to find cockatrices in the dung piles your father searched for saltpeter. I never expected to see magical creatures so quickly or that your father, and me for that matter, knew what to do as soon as we saw the nasty little beggars,” Scott shook his head at the memory. Don had carefully turned over the dung piles collected from where the stallions had piled up their waste and during their work collecting crystals, tiny crystals, in two of the piles small serpent-tailed chicks were growing hiding in the warm dung pile. The turning fork stabbed down quickly on the first and Scott had reflexively stamped on the exposed head. The second time Don had drawn and thrown his big fighting knife before it even registered to Scott on a consciousness level. The squirming creature had been beheaded before Scott even noticed it.
“Maybe the magical creatures are interfering with science and technology?” Scott suggested.
“Probably not,” Shandra replied, “A wheel still turns. Fire still burns, you can ferment alcohol and distill it. It's just some things that don't work. Like the gunpowder or the internal combustion engine.”
“How did you find that out?” Scott asked.
“Branwen did before we met,” Shandra replied, “She met some old men who claimed to be US Naval Airmen. They said that they were flying somewhere in the Bermuda Triangle in nineteen forty-five and wound up flying here. I guess that's a weak point between the worlds there. Anyway their planes just quit, everything electric, everything that wasn't mechanical. They managed to glide into a landing on an old Imperial highway. They set up a mechanics’ shop and have a small town there now. I stopped in because they flew an interesting flag. I didn't know at the time it was an old forty-eight-star American flag.”
“Maybe we could get some help from them? I imagine any community built by US servicemen would hate the Grossdeutschland like poison,” Scott mused.
“It never came up in conversation that I remembered,” Shandra replied, “They never expanded like the Germans did. It was just a small area with one or two cities. Miami and Fort Lauderdale.”
“Well that would be a dead giveaway if the Nazis ever do find out about the group,” Scott replied. “I am sure the Nazis have spies everywhere and that would be a natural place to plant them. And even if they did not have actual spies they have agents everywhere or so Malmir believes.”
They rode on as the sun dimmed above them, it was two more days of long riding before the made it to the Chapterhouse so they continued into the short dimming of the sun into a pseudo moon. It was "full" that night so travel wasn't too difficult and all of them were experienced riders.
About an hour after the sun was completely transformed into the moon they set up camp. Thalia noticed figures far off in the distance in the bright moon light, “Somebody following us I think.” She said quietly. The group was far too experienced to all turn at once to get a look however Scott and Katie turned as if answering her, “Saw some quick movement out there but my ability to see in the dark is short ranged for the most part. What about you Katie, did you see anything.”
“Just for a second and then it was gone. Looked like more than one but fewer than five. Too far to tell and whoever it is, is sticking to the shadows,” Katie was normally a quiet girl but Minda by nature had to be outgoing and demonstrative bards were natural performers. It made life interesting for Katie.
“Play us something quiet,” Don asked Katie, “Nothing especially magical. Just nice quiet evening music. I'll get my fiddle and join you.”
“You brought that?” Michelle asked with surprise, “This isn't a sightseeing tour. You usually pack light.”
“True but I encouraged Scott to pack his little concertina and Shandra her guitar. I want us to at least be able to pass as musicians or traveling performers if we need to. You can sing and -”
“I have that bandura your brother made for me,” Allan added, “It is beautiful. Your brother really likes to work in moonsilver and fine woods. I'm glad I wound up here. It's nice to see our families doing so much better here.”
Don nodded, “I think Sally, or whomever she was really was trying her best to make up for drafting us without our knowledge. She did all right in that respect. My grandparents and great grandparents are still alive. My brother is a respected member of the community, a hero even for when we slew the dragon. My in-laws are happy people and Nessa my mother-in-law has five kids who she loves with all her heart and a pair of twin boys. We live with the freest, most handsome, bravest people we know. Sally overdid herself for sure.
“Those that aren't Tuathe De are all prime examples of their people and credits to our little family here.”
“So do we go check out who is following us?” Scott asked.
Dog,” Don said to the big white canine and waved his arm towards where the mysterious figures were spotted. Instead of disappearing into the darkness to track them he just looked at Don and snorted.
“Are you sure,” Don asked, “I told them -”
Dog sneezed and appeared to be grinning while waving one paw as if he wanted to play.
“Oh, stop it!” Don said irritated.
“What? What is he saying?” Scott asked eyeing Dog dubiously. Dog looked perfectly innocent like any other giant white shepherd although his eyes occasionally took on a red sheen in the moonlight.
“He says it's Andy and Justin. They've been following us all day. Riddick actually got a look at them,” Don said accusingly towards the lanky wolf then glared at Angel, “Did he tell you?”
“No he did not. The big softy. He knew the boys were supposed to stay home,” Angel replied.
Dog and Riddick made quiet 'arroowing' sounds at each other while moving their ears and tails. Canine conversation was as much posture and movement as vocalization.
“Don't give me that,” Don said sternly to Dog, “and you too, trying to talk in wolf talk to get around me. Don't think I don't know 'wolf'.”
Dog again looked innocent and pretended to snap at a fly. Riddick scratched vigorously behind his left ear.
“Oh really, now you're going to pretend you don't understand me! Fine go play the dumb 'dog' routine somewhere else. I'm not buying it here,” Don said sternly to both the dogs.
Dog and Riddick jumped up and were gone in a flash, “Sure pretend they don't understand then dash off as soon as they are given permission. Little sneaks. You know they just like the boys?” Michelle said exasperated and concerned.
“Do we bring them in ourselves or let them follow?” Scott asked.
“Let them follow,” Michelle decided. “Let's see how they do after a night on their own. Although I suppose Dog and Riddick will keep an eye on them for at least part of the night.
They grabbed their instruments and began playing a quiet tune.

**************                         *******************                   **************

Justin and Andy sat at their cold campsite. Neither was really used to being on their own. Kantrus and Dodge were used to being on their own but Justin and Andy were not Kantrus and Dodge, not really. They had the skills and memories of the Elf wizard and the thief but not the "lived" experience. It was dark and while they both were experienced adventurers they were also young boys. Then faint music could be heard from the party ahead of them. It made them more comfortable and apprehensive at the same time as both of them wanted the comfort of the familiar. The cheerful sounding camp reminded them how lonely their little spot in the grasslands actually was.
“Can I light a fire?” Justin asked. “I think we're far enough away they won't notice.”
“They know we're here I think,” Andy replied downcast, “If they didn't spot us I'm an Orc and if they did think we were anyone else they would have snuck up on us already. Grandad and Angel can move pretty quiet in the wilderness if they want. In a city I might lose them but out here? No, might as well light the fire. At least we'll be warm and have some light.”
“Won't they think we're, you know, scared if we light a fire. Like we're afraid of the dark?” Justin asked.
“Yeah I suppose they will but if they already know we're here we're going to be in trouble tomorrow or the next day anyway. We've got to catch up to them sometime or they'll just – Whoa!” Andy said in surprise as Dog stepped out of the darkness to thrust his muzzle under Andy's hand.
“That answers that question,” Justin replied, “I'm pretty sure they know we're here.”
“What makes you think that?” Andy replied sarcastically as Riddick bumped Justin with his nose making him jump.
“What good are you, Firewing?” Justin asked, “Just letting wolves walk right up to me and scare me half to death.” The little dragon just turned his nose up.
Justin began gathering fallen wood although there was little on the grasslands and he had to roam further than he would have liked. There was a fire-blasted copse of white oak that had been struck by lightning long ago and burned most of the wood. What remained was a single great stump and a bramble weaving its way around the downed wood and old stump.
An old dank, sour smell came from the stump and Justin avoided it while he picked up the dead wood. Something seemed off and he couldn't put his finger on it. Firewing was unhappy as well and stuck close to Justin. Andy had searched for wood as well and suddenly Justin realized he was alone in the moonlight. He looked up startled he was much closer to the stump than he remembered. Justin felt a sudden chill grab his heart and something swept out of the black center of the hollow stump to snatch him with iron-hard claws. Justin got off part of a scream and a foul smelling hand was thrust across his mouth. Then he was dragged down into the ground.
Andy heard a short shriek abruptly cut off as did Riddick and Dog. Dog dashed off towards his master but Riddick stuck close to Andy as he ran quickly and quietly towards where he last heard Justin. Shortly Andy found himself right back where he started without the wolf and realized magic was involved.  He quickly dipped his hand into a belt-pouch and pulled out an agate that had a naturally formed hole in it.
The night became crisscrossed with trails and traps laid by magic. He was standing in a complex web of black threads. By the light of the moon the web gave off a rotting green glow from the black lines laid all around. A sense of dread crawled down Andy's back seeing the evil magic laid out before his eyes like sinister artwork. His heart froze as he realized he needed to find his lost friend and he didn't really know where he was much less where Justin might have gone.

Elves, What are They?

Note: This post is inspired by a Jeffro Johnson G+ posting which is a link to another blog about the least interesting of elves, the drow. 

The Longaevi of the Middle Ages were what we call elves, sprites, fairies. Creatures that were not of this world yet not of the heavens. Some regarded the elves as the third of the Angels that did not rebel but did not side with God and thus were thrust from Heaven. They would not go to hell but would face Judgement Day.

Others that they were something higher than man but less than God or even a separate creation all together. Children of Lilith or the dirty children of Eve that she hid from God when he came to inspect them.

Whatever they were they were much more feared part of life in earlier times. Beowulf speaks of Elves and Giants and Orcneas (orcs). While elves, and giants are pretty standard in the way that we think of them the orcs were a different critter altogether. They were more like undead vampires living in the corpses of drowned men.

The Norse spread their ideas of the elves throughout wherever they settled or raided and those ideas mixed with indigenous ideas and concepts of the fairy realm. These longaevi or 'long lived' have a corollary in every in every culture I know of. Every culture I am aware of or studied has their own equivalent of elves, giants, fae, etc.

What should they be in roleplaying games?

First, I don't think that unless you are playing a Tolkien inspired game your elves should be Tolkien's elves. Not that I do not love Tolkien's elves. They are the finest in all literature but they are not elves. Not elves in the sense of Ljósálfar or Dökkálfar or the nisse of the Norse. Tolkien's elves are prelapsarian man before the fall of Adam. They are so not elves that 'high men' are often mistaken for elves. Elves aren't recognized by their donkey ears but by the light in their eyes and the ring in their voices. They are so shining with the Holy Spirit that the most powerful can drive away the Nazgul by their mere presence or face Balrogs of Morgoth down in battle.

Tolkien elves, cool as heck, something to look up to, powerful and strong physically, mentally and spiritually but not fairy. Not elves as we mean in D&D or any other OSR. Tolkien games excepted.

Next in literature we come to the quintessential D&D elf. Poul Anderson's elves from 'The Broken Sword'. These are soulless creatures that other than stature look exactly like the elves in D&D. Pointy donkey ears, strange eyes, long lived but amoral interested in magic and power rather than living a life in tune with God's plan. Imric the Elfking from The Broken Sword is what a player character elf could wind up like if he lived long enough and adventured hard enough.

Cooler than that is Anderson's take on mythology. And boy did he know his mythology. He accepted everything and the kitchen sink as 'real'. Not only are the Elves of England and the Alfar of Norse real but the Elves of France, the Tuatha Dé Danann of Ireland etc. The plot is rich and powerful and the elves are different, unique, utterly divorced from human thought but still deeply desiring human children. The magics they work are foul, and beautiful and amazing and they are as 'cruel as cats' but still powerfully interesting protagonists.

I had a long conversation about this book with him thirty some years ago mostly because I am really as big as my namesake and I looked like a viking biker. Nobody was moving me from the line until I was done talking.

There was some other guy there, S.M. Stirling or something like that. I think he wrote a couple books after that. I spent a long time talking to him as well and it was worth it. He knew what I would like just by talking to me about what I liked with Anderson's work.

Anyway my take away on Anderson's work is that for any dungeon master you can find a type or types of elves that fit with your game system. If you want elves that are not just pointy eared hippies, you need some meat and bones behind them. You need to build the folklore and myth into something that is different and spooky.

One of the things that D&D did was remove one of the more common skin colors for critters for fae, green. Green used to be a fairly common skin color in folk lore.

Elves are a part of human history for as long as we can remember. We have several ideas about them and several different takes on them some games embrace that. When I play Dungeon World I encourage my 'elf' players to tell me what makes them 'elves'. In my games every kind of elf is possible from the pointy eared Imric the Elfking types to the human looking Tuatha Dé Danann. Mechanics might be the same for the game (or might not) but I want to know what their vision of what an elf is.

If they say, "D&D elf" great. It is a standard trope with a long history that everyone knows what they mean. If they tell me they want to play something like a Icelandic elf or a Ljósálfar or Dökkálfar, fantastic. There is something new to explore. If they say they have pointy ears, cool, round ears, cool, green hair, skin, etc all cool. No matter what they want to play or how they want to play it. It's all good.

For dungeon masters in other systems what does this mean? Well if your game is not flexible, not much. You get a little of the background of some of your fantasy races but you could get as much reading C.S. Lewis or even the wikipedia. For DMs with more flexible systems or who want to make their own PC or NPC races. You should have a better idea of the variety of elves, fae, fee, alfar etc out there. With a little retooling many creatures like huldra folk can make interesting elves even dark elves.

Norse separate elves into light and dark. Do they have pointy ears? That's up to the DM. Norse light elves live in a realm not far from the gods and are 'as fair as the sun' to look upon. Dark elves live deep underground and are as 'black as pitch'. How you fit your elves into your games is up to you and your player. Just be aware that the original elves were dangerous, magical, different, and inhuman, just the way a player character or non-player character race ought to be.

If you like what you read let me know in the comments.
The pictures and images are the sole property of whomever owns them I make no claim on the images nor intend any infringement of copyright. 

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Chapter Six - The Gift

This is a gift for a twelve year old. If you like it let me know.
Parts one, two, three, four, five, here.

The next morning, they were ready to go, Scott looked over his group, Katie, Angel, Don, Allen, Shandra, and Sean. Six people to travel hundreds of miles, crossing several hostile territories, and wild lands where no law or king held sway. At the end they needed to infiltrate a hostile empire one of the most organized and deadly in history, find where they were working on the means to open the gate then somehow stop them from forcing it open from this side.
It seemed an impossible task yet they had faced greater odds as a group before. Only then it was a game and they had been certain of resurrection if someone died and nobody was really hurt anyway unless he stubbed his toe on a table leg or dropped a can of mountain dew on his foot.
Scott missed having Dodge's and Kantrus' abilities to call on then remembered neither were really Dodge or Kantrus they were young boys who had been playing a game. Sean and Katie could cover some of the jobs that Justin and Andy could do. Sean was a master magus as well as being capable of directly channeling the Holy Spirit. Like all magi their powers came directly through the Holy Spirit as did his other miracles. However, magi's powers needed a greater or lesser ritual to use. Whereas his "cleric's" prayers worked as the Holy Spirit directed. But he could read magical writings, use scrolls, dispel magic, and counteract magical runes and glyphs. Katie wasn't the only member of the group that could be sneaky however she was a master at identifying and disarming traps even magical kinds. They would have to make do.
They were all well-armed and armored. Scott needed no weapons save his own body. His wife Shandra carried the big two handed single edged sword that her family had made for her, as well as a cased bow and quiver of arrows. Michelle was carrying a hand and a half sword, a shield and a Tuathe De-style halberd with a curving blade as well as composite bow and arrows that could punch through plate steel at close range. Of all of them Michelle was the most heavily armored with chain and plate of cruach órga or "golden steel". Armored from head to foot in cruach órga, forged by the finest Tuathe De armorers the golden-steel was stronger than the finest dwarven-made armor.
Katie had a rapier and dagger hanging from her belt but her real weapon was the ocarina she was playing and her own voice. Angel was armed with sword and bow an elven made bow that was part of its owner like an extension of her will. She could send deadly shafts raining down on her targets. Don carried a bow made from the worked horn of the dragon that he and his brother had killed decades before. At his belt he carried a big fighting knife shaped like a bowie knife and a light fighting axe shaped and balanced like a tomahawk. He had a larger battleaxe and spiked buckler strapped to his saddle. The battleaxe Don had made himself it was of cruach órga with a curved blade and a triangular spike on top and one opposite the blade on back. He used it rarely preferring the lighter knife and tomahawk unless he knew he was going into a hand to hand fight.
With many hugs and kisses from friends and family they set out across the grasslands towards the coast where they would reach the port of Bridgetown. All of them were well mounted on Tuathe De horses, the grasslands were filled with game of all kinds, birds were singing, and Katie was playing her seashell ocarina. Dog and Riddick were chasing each other through the waist high grass filled with flowers occasionally bounding high to track the other creature. If they hadn't been leaving their families and friends and seeking danger Scott would have been happy to be traveling with his friends. Bridgetown was a beautiful walled port on the Haida Sea where Atlanteans and others came to trade for the goods of the interior and even the goods that the usually hostile and insular Haida traded. Fine furs, baskets, pelts, and well-made fighting knives of steel, bronze, and iron. The Order's local Chapterhouse was on the way to Bridgetown and Scott hoped to update his intelligence there and perhaps find where the Grossdeutschland Vril artisans, psychic technicians and sorcerers were working on opening the gate.
If he allowed himself to relax Scott had little trouble riding the big stallion that could carry his weight. If he tried thinking about it, Scott made himself and the stallion uncomfortable. Of all of them only Don seemed entirely comfortable on horseback whether or not he was thinking as Connor or Don.
“Did you ride much,” Scott asked falling back to ride next to his father in law.
“Yeah when I was a kid. I was riding bareback when I was Ray's age. And I worked on some rodeo stuff with my granddad and my cousin,” Don replied, “I've never rode a horse and fought but there's damn few who have nowadays. Connor can do both.”
Dog,” Don called and Dog sprang off scouting a stand of lodge pole pines and the underbrush around them.
“How do you do that?” Scott asked, “You only have one command, “dog”. It means everything, 'sit', 'stay', 'attack', 'guard', 'track'. How do you do that?”
“Dog, knows what I mean,” Don laughed, “it's all in how I say it.
“But I've seen you sit and talk to him too, does he understand that?”
“Some, most maybe,” Don nodded towards Dog. “He's not just a dog, he's a Cŵn Annwn, a spectral hound. Some say, 'hellhound'. He's smart enough to communicate anything to me he needs to and he has some magical abilities. He can travel through another dimension and come out nearly anywhere. He can see and track supernatural beings and the traces they leave. He can even guide people over the shadow-path or through other realms like Faery. I can do the same but he can do it on his own.”
“So that's how he can always sneak up on me!” Scott exclaimed.
“That certainly helps although he could sneak up on nearly anyone even without his magic.”
“Is Riddick magical as well?” Scott looked over at the wolf Riddick. The wolf was the same height and length as Dog but much slenderer.
“Maybe,” Don replied, nudging his horse to move to the left around a patch of brush. “I haven't asked Angel. I always wanted to discover through game play. I guess we could just ask but it feels like an intrusion.”
Angel was speaking animatedly with Allan. Allan had the least connection to his 'character's' template that Sally had used and was feeling disoriented and uncomfortable. Four arms would do that to anyone all by itself. Angel was a kind soul and trying to help Allan feel more comfortable in his own skin.
Don looked down at his friend and son-in-law. Scott was very changed. He was about five foot one and weighed well over three fifty maybe four hundred pounds. The shape was heavy even for other dwarves or Zwerg man. The Iron Guard built their members into living armored weapons. Scott had cured dragon hide, mesh mail, moonsilver plates, and other more esoteric materials shaping his form and face to say nothing of the heavy calluses that covered his body and the scars from the surgeries.
“What about you, Scott?” Don asked, “Being built like a bridge abutment can't be easy.”
“True,” Scott replied, “I'm not very flexible but I guess I never was. But I am a lot stronger, quicker, and tougher.”
“What about you?” Scott asked Don. Scott was uncomfortable about the changes particularly the scars and dwarven features.
“Me?” Don laughed, “I'm a few inches taller and built like Dolph Lundgren. I was pretty well built when I was a kid myself but I was no 'Dolph' but otherwise I look like I did when I was twenty-five or so.”
“No you don't,” Michelle interjected as she trotted up to join them, “You have better hair. I think most of us do except you dear.” She reached over and patted Scott's shoulder.
“Don't worry, Scott. Shandra's happy the way you are. Plus, she was bored at work and you were too from what I hear. Here we have a real purpose and people who need our help.”
“Why aren't you out scouting with Angel?” Michelle asked. “Isn't that what you two should be doing?”
“And we should be setting a rear guard,” Don agreed and Scott nodded.
“Sean and I should have remembered that,” Scott said angry at himself for not remembering that.
“I'll ride point for now,” Don decided and Angel can hang back a bit along with Allan. The two of them should be able to handle anything until we can get to them.”
“Angel!” Don called as he trotted to catch up to her and Allan, “The two of you fall back and play 'tail-end Charlie'. I'm going to scout and ride point.”
“Keep an eye on her Allan,” Don reminded him, “There's only one Angel.”
“What about me?” Allan smiled, “How many four-armed friends do you have?”
“Just one of those too,” Don laughed as he moved out and kicked his horse into a canter, “But I like her better.”
If you have any comments you know where to leave them.