PBeM Converging Forces story post

This weekend, I intend to set aside some time to write a story from the Converging Forces world.

I’m still waiting for James to give me some instructions before I can continue with his storyline, and Manny is still on hold because his next post is a massively significant one with a huge chunk of “oh shit” direction that I really wanted to hold off on until James was either close to the right spot, or dead, or some other wild tangent where I knew it was safe to continue.

BUT… I really want to do some Converging Forces writing.

So here’s the situation.

One thing I haven’t done as of yet, due to this being a PBeM game/story, is tell any stories from the point of view of nemesis or antagonists or other places in the world, or anything that the players themselves would not have access to.

What I’m thinking is of changing that a little. To take a peek on events happening somewhere else pertinent to the story… or someWHEN else.

I’m open to your suggestions on what you’re interested in knowing more of.

Right now, there are a couple things I’m leaning towards, one scene from a LONG damn time in the past, and another of somewhere happening right now.

But if anyone has developed any questions so far that really bug you, or something you’d like a LOT more detail on, tell me and I might write the story on that aspect instead.

Manny, yes this is open for you to suggest as well.

James, you’re banned from participating, you should be telling me what you’re doing darn it!

Who knows, I’ve never tried this kind of thing before, writing short fiction by request. It sounds like a lot of fun… I trust in myself to NOT screw the story up or hose revelations but still write something worth reading.

I may be deluding myself, but I guess we’ll find out together.

Terin: Section 2 Part 4

Terin sat back in the hard chair, sighed and tried to rub the growing headache from his brow. Training or no training, you didn’t turn farmboys and soldiers into draftsmen overnight, and using whittled sticks of colored clay on a hillside in the rain wasn’t the best way to get something you were going to be able to read a month later.

Terin picked up one particular journal he’d set aside earlier, and leafed through it. Even with a second time through, it was simply remarkable in it’s ability to astound. He stopped at one page covered with sketches, and gazed at it intently for all of a minute. Then, he turned the book upside down. No, it was still impossible to make out. It could be a wolf… or it could be a duck. Or perhaps it was a wolf riding a duck?

With a snort of disgust, he tossed the offending book back on the pile, and thought about what he’d learned.

The first thing that came through from the journals was that the valley was still easy enough to get into, it was getting out again that was the problem.

There were many ways into the valley, at least seven seperate game trails that Terin had noted, three lumbering paths cleared well enough to take a loaded carts’ wheels during the dry season, and the main trade route connecting the valley to the rest of the main Doneghal lands that was corduroyed not just to the mouth of the valley, but continued on the entire length, all the way to the southernmost part where Clan MacQuarrie was steaded.

As remote as the valley was from the central Doneghal trade routes, someone that lived there clearly had current influence in or around court. No amount of money would be able to get that big a road project completed without the willing use of part of the Doneghal Militia, and that took pull in high places. Whoever the benefactor was, though, wasn’t part of or even near to His Grace’s inner circle, or there would have been much more information forthcoming since the discovery of the heavy orc presence there. Interesting, but anything to be discovered along that trail lay too far away to do any good tonight.

There were more than fifteen full highland clans making camp in the eastern ridgelines, and they’d brought all of their herds and families with them. That wasn’t a war party; it might be even more sign of what the Duke had spoke of, increasing bonding and building of teamwork and trust between clans. It might even be a major gathering of the clans to form some kind of official bond or choose a leader from all of the tribes.

With that many young orcs about eager to prove their bravery, there should be plenty of bodies to blockade the valley entrance. That’s not what they were doing, though, and it bothered Terin because it was out of character. The orcs had posted only a few small groups of sentries on watch, each group as strong as a company or more, in isolated areas on or near high rock formations with good lines of sight. The orcs stayed out of sight, their presence hidden from travelers entering the valley, giving the impression that all was still normal. With the lines of sight they possessed, they could move to intercept anyone trying to leave the valley with ease, and in great numbers.

One of the earliest scout teams had found that out the hard way, riding along the main trade road into the valley to get the news from the local steadholders, but getting ambushed when they tried to leave after finding Clan Treadwell’s structures burned to the ground. Some of the team had managed to survive the ambush by charging as one into the teeth of the attack, and fighting their way through the orcs and past into the wilderness. The ones that stayed off the trails and worked their way back all agreed that there had been no sign of the orcs at all before the first volley of darts came raining down.

To Terin, the fact that any of the team got past gave him more to think about. Highland orcs were well skilled at setting ambushes. They had honed those skills against the ever wary hunting parties that sought to root them out in the mountains above Madrigal, and he knew that the usual method of orc ambush alongside a trail from a closed canyon would have been to form at two sides of a bend in the trail, and then emplant a forest of sharpened stakes just in front of their positions, dug down low enough to stay strong against the weight of a charger tying to break through. The stakes would be concealed with whatever bushes or snow may be at hand. Too many Madrigal patrols had found themselves surprised by a rain of sharp steel darts piercing man and horse alike, and charged the foe in attempt to break through and past only to ride their horses to death, stuck floundering within reach of axe and maul.

If they weren’t changing the terrain around the entrance to the valley, and they weren’t making their presence known by flooding the area with sentries, than there must be some reason for it. Orcs weren’t stupid. Far from it. Especially the highlanders.

Terin didn’t have enough information yet to make a decision as to motive, but from what he’d read, a solid plan of entry would be to leave the mountains back to the first main crossroads that would lead to the southern trade routes. From there, a fast ride might take them within striking distance of the valley entrance in only two weeks, far better time than a scout movement mission could do. There were several small settlements in Doneghal proper prior to reaching the valley, there would be ample opportunity to stable the horses for the return trip. Terin wasn’t concerned with scouting all the terrain in between to aid future mountain missions; all he needed to do was get into the valley as soon as possible, before the situation had a chance to break.

From there, Terin could see many options. The best information was on incursions down the middle of the valley, and then scouting the eastern ridgelines and upper reaches. Looking over the journals, though, it looked like the orcs had very effective sentry systems set up along the eastern ridgelines, the areas of access closest to their own camps. For the scouting run Terin intended, he’d need to catch the orcs completely unaware, so that there would be no possible reason for the elf to conceal itself, or to act other than typical. A large part of this mission would be to gauge intention and analyze goals from base actions, and to accomplish it, the target had to feel safe and without cause to be on guard.

The Tor Baldwin side, with it’s seemingly sheer lower reaches being so clearly unsuitable for any kind of settling, grazing or timbering, had been left mostly alone as a source of interest for the scout teams. It would have been part of their movement orders, but likely had a lower priority that the eastern reaches. There had been some attempts to see if the valley entrance could be flanked that way, but the two scout teams that had mentioned it showed attempted routes well within what Terin considered a conservative line of attack. It looked like, either from choice or skill level, they had limited themselves to low level bouldering ascents, and hadn’t attempted any free climbing or attempts to make a top lead climb at all. From some of the base sketches they’d made from that approach, there could be at least one upper ridge route that would make for easy travel within what Terin thought he could easily handle. It made for a place to start, and appealed to Terin’s natural instinct to come from an unexpected direction… which normally meant the direction only an idiot would choose to try. With the first true smile of the evening, Terin reflected that he was just the idiot for the job.

With the beginnings of an approach in mind, Terin decided that he’d learned all he could from the scout journals. Pushing away from the table, Terin stood and moved his attention on to the next item to check on; Redwulf’s condition and readiness for the trip ahead.

Terin was more worried than he wanted to admit about Redwulf. He’d studied what he could see when he had the chance, and to his eyes while Redwulf may have held the posture of a man, his fine features were more than just a fur covered person. The joints in his legs where Terin could see them twisted underneath, and the pads and claw tips on his hands spoke of very poor mountaineering potential. Terin had a sudden image flash into his thoughts; Redwulf, trying to climb with the aid of a rope, and being unable to grasp it in his half canine, half human paws. It suddenly occured to Terin that he hadn’t specifically noticed if Redwulf had functional thumbs now, or not.

With sudden consternation, Terin stood up to find his way out of the scout center.

Just at that moment, the crude wooden door was pushed open from the outside, and a tall, blond man in excellently tailored scout uniform was framed in the light of the oil lanterns.

Terin looked the newcomer over, shifting his shoulders within his tunic in an intentional movement meant to ease any stiffness and prepare for action, if it became necessary. It was just one of the affectations Terin liked to use to fool an observer into thinking Terin had combat tells.

The newcomer wore a scouts’ uniform of light brown tunic over dark brown rough-spun trousers, tucked into knee high cross-tied heavy boots. Unlike a normal scout, this one wore rank tabs of silver crossed swords on his high collar, marking him as a Captain, and a captain of scouts in this place meant here was the scout master come to visit the intruder to his domain. 

What led Terin to add false tells on first meeting was the false smile the captain turned his way.

Terin inclined his head slightly in greeting, and smiled in a neutral, noncommital way. “Good evening, captain. I was just on my way out, but I’m glad of the opportunity to thank you personally for the assistance your corporal provided for me earlier. Thanks to his efficiency, and that of your excellent management of the scout system here, I’ve learned all I could have hoped and more about the area I’m headed tomorrow. You have my thanks.”

The man straightened up a little and entered the room, but the false smile remained fixed on his face. Here was a man that had something on his mind, and what i might say matters little, for he’s got some kind of script worked out. 

“I’m glad that we scouts were able to be of service to you, Baron. I wouldn’t want anything to hinder your mission on the morrow.”

Terin’s smile didn’t change, but this told him that he faced one of the officers that wanted nothing more than for Terin to die alone on a mountain somewhere. That made this encounter an easy one, because he didn’t need any difficulties preventing him from leaving on time in the morning. It was far too early to deviate from the plan just eyet.

“I certainly appreciate your assistance, captain. My apologies for the discourtesy of using your bare rank, but when I spoke with His Grace earlier and was assigned my task, he did not mention to me your name. Might I know it, that I may thank you properly?”

The captain noticeably shifted posture just a bit, straightening up unconsciously when reminded of his rank and his ties to his liege lord, Duke Arneghast. This told Terin that he faced someone that had no training or skill at concealing his intentions through body language.

“Of course, Baron. I hope you don’t think me rude for not offering you my name on arrival. As you can imagine, your fame has preceded you, and I have heard so much about you already that I feel almost as though we know each other very well. My name is Curtis, of the Morgan line. My father is Cuspis, Lord Morgan of Glendenshire. As you guessed, I am the scout master for His Grace’s forward scouts.”

Terin mentally sighed to himself, as the cocky young snot let a sneer creep ever more noticeably into his voice. The baron had a mission of importance, it’s true, and would avoid trouble if possible, but there were limits to the insult he was prepared to tolerate within his hearing.

The captain entered the room further, not crowding Terin but circling a little past to see what lay on the table. Picking up one of the discarded journals, Curtis leafed through it briefly, before dropping it on the pile.

“So, you’re planning to venture out into what they call the Valley of Bitter Tears, baron. That’s very good to hear. And very surprising, too. Somehow, when I first heard that banners proclaiming the presence of the Bleeding Bear clan were reported there, I thought that, with your legendary blood enemy finally uncovered, you would be in a rush to flee even farther north in search of a new Duchy to hide in.”

The captain leaned forward, close enough to Terin that he could smell the decaying garlic on his breath. “Of course, I hear that you’ve found a likely lad with the Imperial Scout bloodline to do your fighting for you. It’s not every man that would set out to redeem his honor with a fey blooded bodyguard to shield him from harm.”

Returning to a standing position, shifting slightly in what was clearly a balanced stance intended for defense, Curtis added, “But then, that is perfectly in keeping with all that I’d heard about you. And if things don’t turn out quite the way you’d expect, well, you’re experienced in how to pass through orc lines unnoticed, aren’t you? Just as long as you’ve got a skinning knife to hand.”

With that, the captain’s false smile gave way to the more honest sneer that looked far more natural to him.

What was what? Oh, what was that?

For those of you that have no idea where the last post came from, my apologies. I tend to post thinking that I haven’t had a new reader since I started however many years ago. Which might be true, but you never know.

If you are new(ish) to my blog, then you probably have no idea what the last post was.

I’ve been in the progress of running the slowest moving ‘play by email’ role playing game in the history of the internet, and I publish each turn here on the blog. Yesterdays’ post was the most recent, and ended in the way that it did with the idea that I’m really, no I swear I’m not kidding, really going to post another one very soon.

And not ‘soon’ as measured in geologic time.

The entire thing is taking the form of an interactive novel, with the parts of Terin and Jessie being directed by my friends James and Manny, respectively.

If you’re interested in reading any of the chapters that have come before, the entire thing has an idex on the sidebar of the blog called “Converging Forces”, and you can find direct links to all the chapters posted in order there. Yesterday’s post has already been added at the bottom.

Thanks for your patience, and again, sorry for the confusion.

PBeM: Terin Section 2 Part 3

Terin sat on the plain wooden chair, back rigid and face immobile as he thought over all that the Duke had just told him, and put the rest of the pieces in place from what he already knew.

The situation was now clear.

The Duke had downplayed how well using Terin fit with all the various aspects of what was needed. He had an important mission that required special knowledge meant to be kept to as few people as possible, skills that only surviving the hard way proved you had, a plausible excuse to send a single person or small group where normally at least a scout team would be sent, and best of all, someone that was completely trusted, but outside the normal chain of leadership.

Stories of Madrigal’s lost 9th Company, with Terin as it’s captain, had circulated rapidly once Terin had led his men and the refugees they had gathered together to safety across the southern Mordant lines. Terin had found that, no matter where he had gone from that time to now, word had always seemed to precede him, especially among the noble-born officers of the various borderlander forces. Terin knew well that the most basic of the rumors circulating, at least amongst the officer corps, included details of Terin’s fixation with the Bleeding Bear. The Duke had no need to look far for an excuse to summon him to the hunting lodge; within hours of a scout team reporting the Bleeding Bear’s banner in the high mountains, one of the young snots would have been sure to catch the ear of the Duke, ‘suggesting’ that here was a fine opportunity for Mosley Vale to win back some of the lost honor of his family. Undoubtedly, the officers offended by Terin’s methods would prefer it if he set out to earn back his honor by marching off into the mountains alone, naked and carrying a dagger in his teeth. 

With most of the Duke’s local forces sure that Terin was being recalled to go off to fight the Bleeding Bear in some heroic attempt to redeem his name or die trying, the chances of any of Duke Hopes’ spies ferreting out the true nature of his task would be slim. The gossip mill would spend far too much time telling old stories and hoping for word of his death to spend much time speculating about other possible reasons for his departure.

Even better, for those that knew the Duke well enough to count on there never being just one string to his bow, questioning the servants or other methods of snooping would surely uncover the ‘secret’ mission; tracking Redwulf back to the point of his escape. With a secret mission that strange, and the possible involvement of Duke Hope or his Black Band, it would take a suspicious person indeed to suspect there was an even more important secret lying underneath the rest.

As far as Terin knew, the number of living people amongst the borderlanders that would recognize the significance of an Elven ally living and aiding the orc clans against humans was few. Of those Terin knew of, only Marshall Owen Bradford, Terin’s personal commander and the Chapter Commander of the Order of Radiance in Carringtown, and Duke Arneghal, the leader of one of the more progressive and open-minded Duchies of the borderlands, knew all the details that Terin had uncovered in his researches. There might be a few scholars amongst the Coastal Kingdoms that knew enough to be concerned, but they were too far removed to ever hear mention of an Elf spotted amongst mountain orcs. Nobody could tell what a wizard or their assistants might know of, with all the searching they did for new sources of knowledge, but scattered as they were serving this lord or that, pushed to develop battle magic to try and keep pace with Duke Hope’ Black Band, it was unlikely there was much analysis being given to context if wizards were studying ancient history for inspiration.

This was the kind of mission where you couldn’t just assign a task and trust that it would be completed as normal. It was critical that the situation be scouted thoroughly, to the dregs of the cup, whatever the cost to the scout might be. With a profile like that, you had to take the scout into your confidence, completely. The fewer people that had to be brought in on this particular secret, the better. Using Terin kept the circle of those who knew small, and cut the risk of rumors spreading.

The two most important reasons why the Duke was sending Terin, though, had nothing to do with secrets or excuses. Terin was, as far as he knew, the only person not an actual member of the Duchy that Arneghast would trust with something this important, and the act of using Terin would almost ensure that whatever mission he was assigned, it wouldn’t be taken too seriously. Just as the Duke had said, the borderlands were changing. As clans spread out and claimed land for themselves, as steadings grew and generations were born that looked to what they held rather than ahead to what they could earn, the tight bonds of brotherhood forged between long years of service were loosening, to be replaced by blood ties and provincial attitudes.

The final, and most important reason for the Duke to choose Terin was simply that there was no other man in all of the borderlands that had a better chance of surviving alone in the mountains and returning. 

The whole point of bringing Terin here was to send him out to uncover the facts surrounding an Elf living amongst the orcs, and have him survive to bring that knowledge back for Duke Arneghast to use. Nothing could be allowed to risk failure, and that meant that for Terin to perform his duty, both to the man he had been assigned to serve and to the greater duty he held for the peoples of Felwaithe, he could not pursue his own private vendetta. Not now. Not yet.

No matter how desperately his heart craved vengeance.

The sound of Duke Arneghast clearing his throat broke into Terin’s thoughts.

“Baron, I feel that time is slipping away from us. We’re far enough from the valley here that any news I get is delayed by a month or more. The last three scout teams I sent to penetrate the deepest reaches of the valley are a week overdue. If that thing, Redwulf, had not come stumbling onto one of our forward watch posts, I’d have sent a company out to scout ahead instead of waiting for you to get your ass here, followed by a probe in strength.”

The Duke turned his gaze back to the sandtable, studying the flags and markers as though there was some news they could whisper in his ear.

Terin took the opportunity to watch the Duke’s eyes, and mark where they seemed to fall, while he thought about the missions he was being tasked to complete.

Terin grabbed the arms of his chair for support, expecting to need it to steady himself. Instead, Terin stood with no hint of his earlier weakness. With the knowledge that the Bleeding Bear were finally near at hand, all weakness and pain seemed to have left him. For the first time since sighting the rising of the land that brought the mountains closer, he felt clear headed and without pain. His mind raced ahead clear and sharp, already visualizing the next steps for the coming campaign.

Terin sketched a cursory bow to the Duke, saying, “Your Grace, with your leave I’m going to get started with my preparations. I expect I’ll be leaving first thing in the morning.”

Arneghast turned around, surprise etched on his features.

“You agree to leave at first light, then? You accept my judgment as to the… urgency? The priority?”

Terin met the Duke’s concerned eyes, and while a smile would not come to his lips, there was one in his voice as he said, “Yes, your Grace. I agree… and I understand. Fully. There will be time once the mission is done to pay a visit to old acquaintances.”

Something in Terin’s eyes made the Duke break his gaze away first, and he shifted a little nervously on the carpet, his heavy boots scuffing the worn threads.

“Baron, I want to say one thing to you, before you go about your duty.”

“I know that what you said before was spoken of in the heat of your anger, and I’ll say no more about that. But what you said concerning the noble born amongst my men, that I would speak on.”

Terin faced the Duke impassively, his impatience plain on his face. The thing was said and done, the facts were what they were, and there were things that needed doing to further the completion of his duty. Anything the Duke had to say would be a waste of daylight. But Terin could see from the flush in the Duke’s cheeks that he probably felt he had to say something, to square what he could not change with what his honor told him should be done.

“Baron Trendel, you have every right to be bitter over how my officers act around you, even when given their orders directly from me. But as you go, I want you to think on something for me.”

“When something of this importance came due, you were the man I called to my side, and the one man I trust to see this mission through without distraction. That may be cold comfort, but you have my thanks for living up to being the man I’ve known you to be.”

“One last thing. The valley you’re going to visit. In our records, the steadholders gave it a name. They called it the Valley of Bitter Winds, don’t know why. Don’t let the name be a bad omen for you. I expect to see you return strong and steady as ever from this task. Now, go on with you, and Tyr’s Justice watch over you.”

Terin nodded his head sharply in response, and made his way from the signals room.

Closing the door behind him, leaving the Duke to his thoughts and flags, Terin glanced around the mud room, and saw that there were yet three runners still sitting there waiting for orders or messages to carry.

Terin walked up in front of where the three sat, and, pointing to the first one, said “Go to the route master, and have him prepare two combat trained horses with mountain experience, one strong horse with a very even temperament, two mules, packs and supplies for a month’s hard travel for three. Tell him to have them waiting and ready to go by first light. Do you understand?”

The runner, a young lad with wild brown hair so long and unruly it covered his eyes leapt from his seat, and with a fist salute over his heart, said “At once, milord Baron! Do you need any special provisions?”

Terin shook his head no, saying “Tell him to use his best judgement. Whatever I don’t have, I’ll make, forage or do without. Now off with you.”

The lad saluted once more, and without another word dashed from the room.

Terin turned his attention to the next runner, a smaller, thinner young lad with the sandy blond hair and dark hazel eyes you occasionally saw in the lands south of Mordant, near the border of Madrigal. Directing his words to the boy, he said “I want you to track down where ever my squire has got off to, and tell him his orders from me are to gather his belongings together and make ready for the beginnings of a hard trip at first light. Tell him also to get some rest as soon as his gear is prepared, and eat a heavy meal. He’s not to track me down, I’ll find him when it’s time to leave in the morning. Do you understand?”

The young lad leapt to his feet much as the first runner had, and with a salute and a cocky grin dashed out of the room in his own turn.

This left Terin looking upon the third and last runner, a tall and slightly overweight lad with black hair and the makings of a beard started on his chin. Motioning him to get up, Terin said, “You, my lucky young lad, get to escort me to the Scout Master. Now.”

Terin followed the boy out of the Duke’s lodge and across the square to a long, single story structure dug into the earth. Passing through the doorway, Terin saw that half the structure, the half he entered, was one large room, packed at even this late hour with men in various states of preparation for the trail. It was clear some were waiting to receive their movement orders for the next assignment, while others had just come in and were finishing up their scout journals from the previous mission, awaiting their turn at of debriefing. Such was the comfortable, organized bustle of a scout center near the front lines. Terin felt right at home.

Terin glanced around, noting which lads he recognized from their time at his academy, and which were learning as they worked here on the sharp end. As he glanced around the large room, he was surprised to see the Scout Code he had written to hammer the basics into the heads of his recruits, painted in words of white a foot high on the back wall, one word to a line.

“MMORRR. Mission. Movement. Observe. Record. Return. Report.”

Terin smiled. If it’s simple and stupid but it works, it’s not stupid. By the time new scouts made it throught Terin’s training, they knew that of all of them, ‘record’ is the one task in the Scout Code they’d better never forget. Scouts were trained to record anything and everything about their mission. Route traveled, terrain found, sketches of points of interest, flags, banners, unfamiliar animals or plants, weather conditions along the way and a detailed timeline, all recorded into a scout’s mission journal. And from the looks of things, whoever Duke Arneghast had tasked with running the scouts took the journals Terin implemented seriously.

Good.   

Terin dismissed his guide, and moved through the crowd of chatting men, making his way to the main focus of the room; a large wooden table with three men sitting behind it. At either end of the table, a large stack of what Terin saw were blank journals sat, ready to be issued out. Each of the three men seated at the table were busy signing out scouts, handing over tied scrolls of movement orders from pouches at their feet along with the journals, or signing in scouts on a mission log before standing and leading them back through the single door that led deeper into the building.

Terin realized that the men being assigned missions were the scout team leaders, accepting the scroll of orders and stack of journals for their entire teams. The men waiting to be debriefed, on the other hand, were all of the team members from each of the missions. They were taking the time to get each scouts’ view of a mission, instead of just taking the word of the team leader on what stood out the most. Truly excellent.

One of the men seated at the table, a young corporal Terin didn’t recognize, noticed the Baron standing there and stood up to greet him. With a warm, welcoming smile on his face, the man said “Welcome to the rat hole, my lord. I’m Garthan, lead sorter. How may we help you?”

Terin smiled in return, and replied, “I’m heading out on a mission of my own, corporal, one your scout master might not know of. The Duke just informed me. I need to see the scout journals of the area I’m planning on visiting, and I’ll be needing a quiet place to study them.”

Corporal Garthan bowed his head briefly, and said “If you’ll follow me, my lord, I’ll take you to one of our briefing rooms, where you can work undisturbed.”

Terin followed the Corporal back through the doorway, where he found the rest of the building was divided down the middle by a lone corridor, with several small rooms branching off from each side. The Corporal led him swiftly down the hall, and directed him inside one of the rooms, which Terin found to be fitted with a simple table, a pair of plain chairs upon either side, and no less than three oil lanterns hanging from iron hooks upon the walls, providing plenty of light.

Terin told the Corporal that he needed to see all the scout journals, no matter their age, that came from routes near the mountains to the east of the Valley of Bitter Winds. Corporal Gartham hustled off, and Terin sat down with his back to the wall, facing the doorway, to think through the steps of the journey before him.

Terin always approached everything, whether it was a mission or getting dinner, in the same way. He started by deciding what his next goal was, broke the goal down into the shortest steps necessary to reach it, and then visualized each step in advance. He thought it through from start to finish, what he’d need to do at each point, what tasks might be necessary, what tools might be useful. Then, having developed a solid plan to go forward with, he set out to do his research if time permitted, learning all he could to prepare himself. After that, he trusted in himself and improvised, because experience had taught him that nothing ever went according to plan, but if you didn’t have a plan, you didn’t have a good foundation to start from when it all went to hell. You might never follow a plan your entire life, but if you didn’t have one, you were doomed to misery and pain.

After just a few minutes, the corporal came back in the room with an armload of weatherstained and dogeared journals, indicating either a damn good filing system, or that they’d been seeing a lot of use lately. Terin thanked Gartham, and selecting one of the books at random, started to read.

Building on GM Fundamentals I – Plot Structure

The first in a (probably very) short series of suggestions for a GM planning a tabletop or PBeM RPG game. Oooh, acronyms!

When planning a new RPG campaign, you should start with having a goal for the game. What are you hoping to achieve?

In most games, the goal is to have a lot of fun playing characters while taking part in a good story.

There are two parts to consider here; players enjoying playing their characters, and players experiencing a good story.

To accomplish both of these goals generally means a single storyline campaign will last several game sessions, covering weeks and maybe even years.  

Your mission as GM? Prepare a story that will provide your players with short term enjoyment of playing their character each session, medium range enjoyment by giving them opportunities to advance or improve their characters over time, and long term enjoyment by giving the players a feeling that they have taken part in a rich saga with a fulfilling conclusion.

Sound impossible? Not really.

When you plan your plotlines, think in terms of a triple layer of overlapping plotlines.

  • A) Short Term Plot.
  • B) Character Growth.
  • C) Multi-Episode Story Arc.

Short Term Plot

Each game session should be considered a single encounter. For the players? No, for you! You have your own mission for every game session; that the players be presented with a challenge, work to overcome it, and then enjoy the results so they have a sense of accomplishment prior to tossing the empty pizza boxes in the trash and going home. 

The short term plot is nothing less than your plan for the very next game session. You should think of it in terms of having a start, middle, and ending. It takes place within the overall story arc, and drives the overall story forward, but is in all respects a mini-adventure.

The short term plot can be so many things, and often will be driven by the players themselves as they take the initiative to play their characters. Your purpose in this is to keep in mind that it is rewarding to have a sense of completion at the end of each game session. If the party has to travel over long distances, plan on having each game session start with traveling to set the scene, take them over a portion of the journey rapidly, and then engage them with whatever encounter you have planned, and deal with the conclusion before the end of your session. If at the end they are still traveling on, they will still feel a sense of accomplishment at having completed the mini-adventure.

Likewise on searching a city for information, or chasing a villain, or shopping for items in the bazaar. Plan for something short, brutal, surprising or urgent to happen that can be resolved in one session.

The purpose of the short term plot is to provide an obvious short term goal for the characters to achieve, and the characters should be able to defeat the villain/solve the problem using pre-existing capabilities.

Character Growth

In the Character Growth portion of your plot, plan in advance on building in specific minor challenges targeted directly at each character. Your players are actors in an ensemble cast, but every player wants to feel like a true star in the spotlight now and then.

Start by having your players write some backgrounds for their characters, and encourage them to put down a little soul searching as to the hopes and dreams, and fears, of their characters. You won’t want to plan to fulfill their every hope in the way they would expect, but you CAN use it as a starting point for finding ways to really give them opportunities to grow their own way. 

During the course of the game, take the time to let each player feel that there was a special moment where the success or failure of the group rests on them. Put the burden on them, let them feel that pressure, and give them a chance to either succeed or fail on their own. Either way, it usually results in that player feeling a deep sense of inclusion in the group.

For you, the purpose of the Character Growth plots are to encourage each character to develop a unique personality. They should not regularly be life threatening, or always play a major role in the Short Term Plot, but they can lead to bonus abilities, new contacts, or special knowledge if properly handled. If the player fails, it can often lead to new short term plot hooks for you!

Some examples of character growth planning are to provide times when special skills are needed to advance, and opportunities to learn new skills are offered… for a price. One character may dream of being presented to the royal court, and will pursue that goal if given half a chance, while another might wish for nothing better than to study under the greatest swordsmaster of the age. You have to tailor each character growth opprotunity to the character, but it is incredibly fulfilling when a player’s character becomes such a core part of the story.

Multi-Episode Story Arc

The final portion of the triple plot is the Multi-Episode Story Arc, also known as the big quest. What is the huge adventure everyone is on? What is the big goal?

This is usually the easiest part of the process. Most GMs have some idea of what they want to do for a big, awesome campaign story, in general terms. What you want to do is break that huge story up into episodes, in segments, the venerable bite-size pieces.

It can help if you think of your campaign as if it were a TV series, not one of those cheesy ones, but something brilliant like J. Michael Straczynski’s Babylon 5.

Each night’s episode should be enjoyable all on it’s own in repeats, taken out of the story and made to stand cold and lonely under the spotlights of harsh examination. But if you put the whole thing together, there is a larger story that continues to grow, and gather meaning. Something your players move towards. Or away from. Or around in circles. Or blow up. Or join and become evil overlords and worry about changes to their tax base.

Best yet, along the way, each character has an opportunity to grow, and develop a richer, more interesting personality.

However you like to run your own campaigns, I hope that this has given you a few ideas to think about in planning ahead and making your own life just a little bit easier. And if you’ve already developed this technique on your own as an art form and never saw some git put it into words before, well then, I’ve done my bit to show that you can set rules to anything.

Stay tuned for my next exciting episode, where I explore the joys of recurring NPCs… the good, the bad, and the just plain annoying.

PBeM: Terin Section 2 Part 2

Don’t remember Baron Trendel? I don’t blame you. See his last appearance in the story here.

Terin heard the words Duke Arneghal spoke, but they barely registered as his eyes took in the sight of the careworn hound on the low pallet before him.

Mind racing, Terin tried to grasp the implications. If only his damned head would stop hurting and let him think straight!

Whatever Redwulf looked like, what was it the Duke had said? The Duke claimed he started as a normal hound. So, magic, natural, accidental or intended. A problem that came from Mordant, with a breed reknowned for their loyalty and obedience, two things Duke Hope was known to demand even more than competence and skill. An obvious assumption as to intentions, there.

No. Look beyond the surface, and challenge the underlying assumptions. The Duke may have claimed what he believed to be true, but he knows less about magic than I do. So, who would advise him on matters magical? Who would have been the one to investigate, to study, and to present these ideas as fact? Who would, looked at from a different perspective, be in a position to cast blame on a rival wizard?

Hah, who else?

Terin pulled his attention from Redwulf, and gave his undivided attention to Duke Arneghast.

“You know that you need but ask, and I’m yours to direct, my Lord Commander.”

Duke Arneghal smiled, a tight smile that showed no teeth through his thick, bristling brown beard. “Ever one to cut through to the meat, eh Baron? Come, attend me in the signals, and it may well be there will be a command at the end of it.”

The Duke moved briskly through the narrow doorway, and as the wizard moved as if to follow, called over his shoulder, saying “Stay you here, Malvoris, and attend to Redwulf. He needs to be strong enough to travel by morning, come what may.”

The wizard had been caught already in motion towards the door, but paused only for a moment, before turning gracefully towards the golden furred figure laying upon the pallet with a murmered, “As Your Grace commands.”

Terin followed the Duke back down the stair, and passed through the mud room where the pages sat in waiting, before moving into the Duke’s study, where the great sand table was still lain out.

Duke Arneghal waited until Terin had entered the room, before drawing the twin doors solidly closed. The Duke paused in place, his eyes searching Terin’s face for a brief moment, before striding straight to the heavy table that dominated the room.

Terin moved forward to join him. Gazing upon the table and the mountain features carved into it, he started by mentally identifying the flags for the supply and reinforcements that were networked along the trails cut to lead to this ‘hunting lodge’, and then worked his way out into the mountain passes, searching more for the density of flags and markers along the passes, and how deep they went, then for any real grasp of the terrain.

The first thing that Terin noticed with approval was that the Duke had scouted far deeper, and far more regularly into the high mountains than could have been expected. It was a point that Terin hammered home to his own students whenever the opportunity presented itself; the more you knew, the fresher the source, and the more eyes to see, the better your decisions could be. In the mountains, nothing was worse than ignorance. Ignorance of where to find water, food, shelter, paths, villages, flocks and hidden fields, and blind gulleys where a hundred Orcs could hide just the other side of a tree.

When it came to that, where to run to that wouldn’t leave you trapped in a box canyon with a hundred screaming Orcs chasing you, hungry for blood and revenge. And wasn’t that a bad morning, just.

As Terin’s trained eye searched for greater detail among the colors and shapes of the small flags stuck into the various mounds of sand and wooden carvings representing the mountains, he came to realise that the Duke was preparing for more than a push into the mountains. Signs were clear to see that the area just to the eastern side of Tor Baldwin, far to the south and east of Arneghast lands, were being scouted far heavier than even those just a league from the shared border with Mordant.

Tor Baldwin was a massive mountain, the largest peak of a chain that stretched out and away from the main chain, cutting into the lowlands a bit west and angling north for many leagues. The chain itself was long thought impassible, with Tor Baldwin anchoring it’s center, and it’s stone weight formed the base and back for Mordant Keep, the largest city in all the Borderlands, capital of Mordant and the center of Duke Hope’s power.

Laid out on the sandtable before him, Terin could see that on the eastern side of the chain, a series of canyons and gulleys fed into one another, deep into the valley formed between the main network of mountains and Baldwin’s western offshoot. More interesting to Terin, the entire valley and all of it’s branching canyons and wide spaces were cut off from Mordant. The first paths marked as passable on the terrain started well into Arneghast land.

And all along that wide valley, dotted here and there, were small scouting flags.

Terin looked up and caught the Duke staring at him. “Your Grace, is this right? There’s really an entire valley on your lands that leads behind Torr Baldwin and Mordant Keep, a valley that isn’t in Mordant hands? An inhabited valley?”

The Duke smiled that tight, grim smile again. “Aye, and as I said, you’ve got a damn fine habit of cutting to the meat. Yes there is, and yes it’s mine, or marked as, anyway.”

The Duke began pacing the length of the sand table, hands clasped tightly behind his back, eyes unfocused, looking down at the mud stained carpet. “It’s deceptive when you see it for yourself, but there’s only the one way in to that damn valley, without having to ford one hell of a stream that gets bloated with runoff three seasons of the year. Despite that, if you look close, you’ll see that no less than five steadholdings have been settled there, and each of them has, over the last decade, taken it in turn to survive their steading and claim their rights in our court to what they’ve taken and held.”

Terin looked closer, and studied the layout of the small valley nestled in the much larger mountains all around it. It was very nearly the southernmost area represented on the sandtable, which was focused more on the range of mountains directly bordering the eastern edge of the Duchy of Arneghast. The entrance to the valley, where the western chain began on it’s northern end, came quite close to the main foothills, close enough to make it narrow and easily held if fortified. Deeper in, the valley opened up, but the terrain stayed broken with massive outcroppings of stone and rockfall, especially towards the east. Several canyons cut into the eastern mountains there near the entrance to the valley, canyons that were marked as being plentiful in water runoff, streams and falls and the like, and good dense wood. It was among those canyons that four of the flags marked in clan standards were planted.

Past that point, however, and heading deeper south into the valley, it opened up and flattened out into a heavily wooded area roughly a third the size of Madrigal itself. And in all that immensity of land, marked as rich, tillable land heavily forested in old growth, there was but one flag that bore a clan standard, an unfamiliar tartan in black and green. While the four clan flags in the canyons furthest to the north end of the valley were all of a size to indicate the steadholders were decorated veterans, or other worthies among the common folk of the Duchy that had earned the right to have and hold, this one flag was marked as that of a Lord or Lady, or of a Knight of one of the Orders Duke Arneghal respected.

As Terin had noted, the valley itself was dense with scout flags, but they weren’t so much in the valley itself, as along the great eastern mountains. The valley itself, and the peaks to north and south of Tor Baldwin were nearly bare of sign. 

Terin thought hard on what it all meant, and how it related to Redwulf up above, trying to concentrate through the pain in his head, which was settling slowly into a persistent ache in the muscles of his neck and shoulders. One thing Terin was sure of, was that if it didn’t all tie together, the Duke would have cut him off when he first made comment about the valley. And a heavily scouted valley backing onto Tor Baldwin, taken as a piece with a runaway magical experiment from deep within Mordant lands, somehow making it’s way to Duke Arneghal couldn’t be a coincidence.

Terin thought hard, and then decided to wait and hear what the Duke had to say. With what he knew, there was no reason for the scouting to focus on the eastern ridge rather than the Baldwin chain. And the Duke never wasted time or resources without a damn good reason.

The Duke continued his pacing, his heavy brown boots catching on the carpet occasionally when he pivoted in step. “You need to watch your eyes more, Baron. They give away what interests you from one moment to the next.”

Terin turned his attention away from the sand table and back towards the pacing Duke. He had let himself get caught up in the sand table, reading it’s flags and sign. He knew he had a bad habit of getting lost in studying and playing battles and movements across terrain in his mind in such situations, and such behavior was dangerous in the presence of any nobleman, even one as well disposed towards Terin as the Duke.

The Duke stopped his pacing to advance on the sand table. Picking up a pointer carved of thin, polished ash, he indicated the five clan flags, each in it’s turn. “Here are the steadholdings of Clans Treadwell, MacReady, Brudegaard, Mandagant and MacQuarrie.”

The Duke then used the pointer to pick out seven different clusterings of flags along the high mountains that formed the eastern wall of the valley. “These are where various Orc clans have made lasting camp in the high mountains there over the last two years.”

The Duke then indicated fifteen more areas, each higher into the mountains than the first seven, and each having significantly fewer flags. Terin noted that there were four solid black flags, indicating the last known reported position of a lost scouting party, near to those high positions. “These are also Orc camps. These reports are my most recent, reports that I’ve just received during the last month. What you may find interesting, is that these camps were noticed and reported a long time ago by my first scouting parties into the area, but at that time they were listed as empty and long abandoned, not even used as base camps when the Orcs pasture nearby sheep. But now, each is active. Aye, alive, and so active that I know for a fact that at least one of my scouting parties was taken by them.”

“What’s more, and you may find this of particular interest, Baron, is that these camps are not occupied by greenskins. These new camps are occupied, so the scouts report, by grayskinned Orcs. Orcs that are said to be bigger, stronger, and more cunning in laying traps and snares. They’re also, so I’m told, skilled at posting sentries that stay awake, and use scouting patrols of their own.”

At this news, Terin felt as though his head were being crushed, crushed by a steel band that tightened down harder and harder, until he was sure that blood must soon come pouring from out his ears. He felt dizzy of a sudden, could not tell if he was standing straight, or if he was leaning. Terin lurched just a bit and grabbed hold of the heavy, rough oak that framed the sand table, clutching it for support as he tried to regain his balance.

The pain was intense, and he focused on just one thing; to not look weak before his Lord and friend.

The Duke paused for a moment while Terin held on against the pain in his head. Then he spoke softly, while indicating one of the high camps of the greyskinned orcs with his stick, “I’m told that this camp, this one here, bears a clan standard of a red flag. Blood red, it is, with a black bear face, wearing a chain of wolf fangs around it’s neck.”

With that, the pressure in Terin’s head was gone, washed away in a flood of sweat that brought a sudden chill to his skin. The sudden release was so strong that he swayed where he stood, and despite himself, a low moan escaped his lips.

Terin stood up straight, feeling filled with a blazing fire within his heart fit to burn him alive while at the same time his skin shivered with the chill of sweat rush upon his back. He stared directly into the Duke’s clear, hard black eyes, searching for any sign of deception, any trace of mockery.

He whispered, almost to himself, “You know full well I hunted the Bleeding Bear for two years, Your Grace. You know that, and you know the why of it. And never could I find them, no matter how deep into the southern passes I searched. Tell me you brought me here to your lodge for the hunting, Your Grace. I beg of you, tell me I’m here for the hunting.”

The Duke reached forward, and placed his hand on Terin’s shoulder, a sign more of kinship than that of a Lord to his vassal. “Yes, Baron Trendel of the Mosley Vale, Captain of the 9th Company, and Knight of the Order of Radiance. Yes, I asked you here to hunt. But the Bleeding Bear is not to be your prey.”

Terin stepped back , letting the Duke’s hand fall from his shoulder. His eyes burned in his skull, and the fire in his heart threatened to consume him. Threatened, but hard though it battered, hot though it burned, Terin was a Knight and a man of his word first. He would not shame himself before Duke Arneghal.

“Your Grace, you know how long I hunted the Bleeding Bear. And you know why. M-m-Milia….”

Terin’s voice broke, despite his rigid control, but he firmed it and continued on, “Milia my wife, my father, my sisters and family. My d-d-daughter.” Terin’s voice broken again, and it took him a few moments longer to make sure he had complete control over himself before he felt able to continue.

“The Bleeding Bear took them, took Mosley Vale, took everything that I had and that I was, everything I finally knew I cared about in this world, and burnt it to the ground. No survivors, and no mercy. You know that, Your Grace. I daresay every man and woman in your service knows it. Aye, and knows the story of what I did after, which is why there’s not a noble born officer among your forces that will willingly serve under my banner, whether you order them to or no.”

The Duke didn’t try and step closer to Terin, but instead stepped away and turned to the sideboard, where heavy stone flasks with wax stoppers lined the shelf. He selected one at random, and pulling the plug, raised it and took a long drink.

Lowering the flask, the Duke offered it to Terin, but Terin just stared into the Duke’s hard black eyes with eyes gone cold, and waited to hear the impossible. Waited to hear what the Duke could possibly say that would prevent him from leaving at once for that valley, and the high mountains that cast their cold, dark shadow over the land.

“Baron, I told you you’re here to hunt for me, and I meant it. But I’m after bigger game than any amount of Orcs, gray skinned or otherwise.”

The Duke moved closer to the sand table, stone flask still clutched in one hard hand, stopper forgotten in the other. He pointed towards the higher flags with the stopper, the ones indicating fresh Orc camps.

“There is a reason I had my scouts range so far and deep into the mountains about that valley, rather than spending their time closer to here, where routes still need to be marked.”

“I had word from one of my agents among Mordant’s forces engaged in their war to the south of Mordant Keep. Never mind how I got ’em there, but you know my feelings about Mordant, and where this war will drag us.”

“What word I had was that a Legionnaire was seen in the thick of the fighting between Mordant and greyskin, during one of the early fights where the penal battalions were first used.”

Terin started at that, despite himself.

“Yes, that’s right. A Legionnaire. And what’s more, she was fighting on the side of the Orcs.”

Terin had thought, with all seriousness, that there was nothing, nothing that Arneghal could say that would touch the fire in him after hearing of the closeness of the Bleeding Bear and being told he was denied his rightful prey.

He was wrong.

Terin sank slowly down into one of the rough framed chairs that lined the nearby wall, and felt the fire within him turn to ice from sudden fear.

Looking up, he sought out the Duke’s eyes, but this time it was for reassurance he badly needed.”Your Grace, do you mean that the Legion has chosen? They’ve taken sides with the Orcs against us? Wouldn’t we have heard of the fall of Mordant by now if that had happened?”

The Duke pointed once more at several of the higher flags ringed above the valley. “No, good Baron, the Legion has not formally declared against us. At least, not yet. But one seems to be living with the Orcs, here, in one of these newly occupied camps.”

“What I have gathered is that there was definitely one of the Legion amongst the new greyskin clans that Mordant faced, and that she fought, provably fought by their side against the humans of the penal battalions.”

“When I heard that, and heard as well that the Orcs had pulled back into the mountains to winter, I sent my scouts around and into the valley, to scout out those old camps. I sent them there to find for me where the new Orcs chose to winter, and find as well signs of the Legion standing by their side.”

“My scouts have told me that, while they didn’t see any overt sign of the Legion, the greyskinned Orcs mostly bear arms and armor of cunning manufacture, and most of it of well wrought, hardened steel custom made to their size. This, when they’ve shown no signs of mining, or of working metal with any greater skill than the greenskins we’re well used to.”

“Somebody is supplying them with the means to wage war upon us, weapons and armor at least, and from what I’ve put together, they’ve shown a far more frightening sign.”

The Duke sat down himself, not far from Terin, and looked with sudden surprise at the stone flask he still held in his hand. Lifting it, he sniffed, then threw it back with a long hard swallow before tossing the empty to a corner, where the stone broke with a sharp sound.

The Duke looked Terin directly in the eye, and then said, softly, almost too softly to hear, “The Orcs, the grey skinned ones, they don’t just fight clan to clan. They don’t stand blood to blood. They fight as we used to, side by side, clan beside clan, with trust that the others will scout, or secure their flanks, or hold in place as other clans manuever behind their lines.”

Terin found himself shaking his head in denial, even as the Duke continued on. “Even as we Borderlanders are losing the strength that kept us together, one united front, the Orcs are pulling together into groups beyond simple blood ties.”

“That’s right, damnit! We’ve always been smaller, weaker one on one than the Orcs when we fought, but always we had the one strength they lacked. We fought as one people, trusting in each other, strangers together but united in a common goal. We are borderlanders, and before that we are the last of the Diasporadic Guard, the last true remnant of the Imperial Army of Light, and we by Tyr won’t let some damn blood clan of green skinned barbarians stand between us and taking back the land that is rightfully ours!”

Duke Arneghal was almost spitting in anger, but Terin could see, behind the blood rising in the Duke’s cheeks, he was speaking almost as much to remind himself as he was to proclaim what had been.

“Yes, we were, and we had the strength of our skills, our stronger weapons and armor, our use of mounted tactics and especially heavy cavalry and the lance on the open plains, and we stood together without breaking, even though it was not blood of our own blood that might be holding the line beside us. That was always the greatest weakness of the Orc, and our greatest advantage. When the Orcs fight as a clan, blood with blood, they are the fiercest and bravest warriors I’ve ever seen, and that’s the truth, but their trust extends only so far as their blood ties bind them, and no farther. They have united against us many a time, but they have never trusted each other enough to truly work as one large force to make it matter. Once engaged, no matter how many clans they bring, it has always been the same, we stand united while they break into small clans and fight, each in their own small part of the war.”

“Yet here we are. You know better than most exactly what I mean. We took this land from the Orcs by being united, working together, and doing what had to be done to win. But now we’ve stopped our advance. We reached the storied mountains in my own grandfathers time, but while there is still land to be taken and held, what is left stands before us, the mountains rising across our world like the spine of a great dragon, promising nothing but pain. And of the land we have already reclaimed, it will be many generations before any man brave and bold enough will fail at finding his own place to plant a banner and call a steading.”

“In just two generations, we’ve begun breaking up into smaller groups, by Duchy, by province, by village and by clan. We’re on the road to becoming little better than the Orcs we faced, trusting ourselves and our blood kin, and showing a face of stone and a lack of trust to any stranger not known to us by a lifetime of close living.”

“I’m telling you all this, even though you’re the one that pointed the trend out first, and helped me see it clear what it could mean to us. And that’s why I’m telling you, the Orcs are learning to trust beyond blood ties and close kin. You’re the only man I know learned enough in the history of war to know what that could mean to us. And now this, the thought that the Legion may be the reason behind it, uniting them.”

“I told you above I wanted you to take Redwulf, and track back to the place he came from, and work that out. I said it in front of Antonin, and I meant it. That’s important work that I need done, even though I doubt me greatly that Hope is wasting his time trying to make an army of loyal dog warriors like Antonin is making out.”

“But I’ve got scouts that know that general area, scouts I could trust with a mission like that. The one thing I don’t have handy is a man that is brave enough to head into Orc territory on a fools mission, wise in the ways of the mountains and the Orcs to be able to beat them on their own trails, and at the same time learned enough in Legion history to know what signs to look for that will tell us if we’ve really got the might of the Legion against us, or if it’s just one lone Elven Guardian or Warden gone native in the back of beyond. Either one is bad enough, but the not knowing which is which… that’s got to stop. I have to know how bad this might be.”

Terin sat back, resting his weight againt the wooden wall of the lodge. The pain still hadn’t returned, not since the moment the Duke had revealed the Bleeding Bear had been found at last. But the fire, that fire that always burned somewhere inside him, still felt cold.

The Legion, here. And of all things, on the side of the Orcs. To have the weight of Ricardo’s Doom finally fall, just when Fellaria was once more within their grasp. So many years, so many thousands of years the Elves had stayed their hand, and to think it might happen now, the fall of humanity, here within his own lifetime…

I’m requesting some fictional feedback!

I know that some of you folks have actually read the fiction I’ve been writing, the fiction that I’m calling “Converging Forces” and to which I link on the BBB sidebar.

Most of you probably go “oh, it’s a wall of non-WoW text, pass”, and that’s perfectly fine with me. Especially considering how much time passes between new chapters.

What can I say? It’s a lot easier to get distracted by current events that would make a quick, topical post than it is to write continuing fiction. Good intentions, and all that.

I’m finding having a blog to feed posts into tends to eat my “let’s get writing” impulses. I sit down to write story, and write a post instead. Blogs. My personal creative writing nemesis.

Regardless. The more time that passes, the more serious I’m getting about wanting to put my creative writing ahead of blog posts. I think about the story, the characters, and the flow of events quite a lot. I’m constantly writing the story in my head, to the point that it always feels current to me. When I check to see the dates on my last updates, it always comes as a big shock.

“It’s been HOW long?”

Anyway, this goes out to any of my readers who have read the Converging Forces story (as it stands now), and still read the blog.

Could you give me feedback on the story?

I’m wondering how someone outside my head sees the story in terms of;

  • Complexity (too complex and hard to follow, too simple and easy to anticipate).
  • Character development.
  • Character likeability (It’s not a goal, the characters are who they are, but I’m curious to see if either of the main characters are simply unlikeable, and people wish they were gone, or if they are interesting or intriguing, or if, even better, they’re in any way original).
  • Pacing – no, not how often I’m posting updates, but just the pace of how events are progressing and building.
  • Story – Is this story interesting to anyone else out there at all? When I break down the events, there really hasn’t been a lot of action for the sake of action, you know? How interesting WAS the exchange in the supply section of the old keep, anyway? Was it just, “Good lord, blah blah blah”.
  • Action – my descriptions of combat… good, bad, horribly confusing, okay, etc.

I’d just like some actual feedback, honest feedback for what works and what doesn’t in the story,  because I really am writing creatively for the first time, and trying to translate the images in my head into words. How things look on paper to me are undoubtedly drastically different from what you might think, because I know what it’s supposed to be like.

The biggest challenge I’ve been giving myself is to try and be as realistic about the emotions and personalities of the characters as possible. I’m not looking to write about cardboard cutouts of character archetypes, I’m actively trying to get into their heads. I’m taking the character descriptions Manny and James gave me, and the actions they want to take, and I’m trying to translate that into real people.

I often wonder if I’m being too ambitious, when I don’t have any previous writing experience for doing stories like this.

Any observations, your impressions, what works and what doesn’t, what you like and what you don’t, what rings true and what falls flat, would really help me out in growing as a writer.

Thank you very much in advance.

Don’t blink or you’ll miss it

I honestly can’t believe how quickly time passes.

Ttwo things.

I’m stunned by how fast time moves when you’re busy, and I’m also shocked at how easy it is to slip into a pattern.

Specifically, after I posted the last chapter of Jessie’s story arc in Converging Forces, I knew that the story focus was going to be shifting to Baron Trendel for a while.

I’m learning about story cliffhangers.

Jessie was at a point in her story where it was clearly going to take a lot of writing to establish where she was after her internal meltdown, what some of the potential consequences were, and what was going to begin happening next. With Baron Trendel having sat for so long in the story, it seemed to me that it was a good spot to make a break from one to the other, and gain some emotional seperation. To shift the intensity of the story away from immediate emotional despair or grief and into a more measured, determined searching. 

Jessie’s story had been a very intense time of writing for me. I found myself really getting caught up as I wrote it, and while I have no idea what it reads like in someone else’s head, it shook me up a bit. I think that’s great, hopefully some of that actually made it out of my head and onto the page, but it’s impossible to know what someone else will get out of writing like that.

But okay, Jessie had her time in the sun and went out with a bang that Manny should have seen coming, and will have interesting consequences in her immediate future. Now it was time for Baron Trendel to show why he is an important part of the story, and to bring an emotional balance in with a little fun on the side. 

I’ve had things bouncing around in my noggin about both story arcs and where they fit together, and I sat down to refresh myself on where exactly we left off before I began the next chapter.

Looking at the time stamp, OMG, it’s been four and a half months since I posted the last chapter of the story.

It feels like three weeks, tops. It’s crazy.

At this rate, the damn story is going to be done when I’m in a nursing home!

It’s shocking. I write on the blog almost daily, so it’s not that I’m not writing. It’s just that I wake up, there’d be something about the game going on I was inspired to write about that’d be a quickie, and then after writing something I’d be done for the day, time to move on.

Oh, but I’ll write a story chapter the next day.

But the next day there is something else small to write about, so how about the day after that. No worries, it’s only been a week. Or two.

Four and a half months.

I don’t know what to tell you, obviously my writing isn’t a full time job, or even a paid gig, it’s for fun. It’s not like I’m blowing deadlines.

This irritates me because I find the story writing to be more personally rewarding, long term.

I enjoy writing on the blog very much, I love our ongoing conversations and the talk about WoW. There’s a reason I keep writing here all the time. 

It’s just jarring to look back and see that I’ve spent four and a half months writing regularly, day in and day out, but I’ve advanced the story that I feel is the best part of my writing not a line nor word.

I can look back over the years of the blog, and I can say to myself, “Boy, 1139 posts, over 20,000 comments, ain’t that something. That’s a lot of writing, right there, yesiree Billy Joe Bob, ayuh. Dadgum. We’ve had ourselves a lot of fun along the way.”

I can’t go back over 1140 posts and reread them for fun or idle amusement, though. I can’t point other people to it as something to read for a quick laugh, or to check out a story that might be worth checking out. 1139 posts is a ridiculous number.

I’m sure there are individual posts that would be fun to read again, or that I could point to as being interesting. I had some linked on the sidebar for a while as “classic BBB”, and I still keep the “Storytime” ones linked there so it’s easy for me to find them without digging around.

But the regular posts aren’t, well, a consistent story that holds together as anything other than daily fishwrap.

They’re words written for the moment, about a briefly relevant topic, and then quickly forgotten by all.

The Converging Forces writing, however, is something that I could someday wrap up with a ribbon and give to my son to read, if he was so inclined. Something I could share as a story that should be rewarding to read, in and of itself, for anyone that likes a solid story, and not just for those of us interested in WoW.

As inept as it may be, the work of an amateur writer, the Converging Forces story is something that I’ll keep and take with me and cherish over the years, no matter where my other interests may fall.

In that context, I feel very wistful about the last four and a half months. Each day represents potential writing that I’ll never get back again. 

A week or two is fine, but taken all at once like that, wow. Blink and it’s gone.

PBeM: Lauchlin Chapter 3 Section 10

Jessie leapt forward in a long, low dive past Raktar’s left flank, sword shining, speeding towards the ankle. There was a sharp sound of metal meeting metal as Raktar blocked the swing with the head of his axe, fast, impossibly fast. Jessie kept moving, tucking into a roll and springing away. “Faster, hear his breath, in the air, time to look, time, time it, now, glance back now, here he comes, measure his pace, time it, ground’s coming fast, fast, he’s too fast, too fast for so much bulk, almost on me, lose the blade, lose the drag, here it comes, hands wide, grab in, take it in the arms, ease it forward, steady, now up, up, now push, push, push back NOW!”

Jessie let go of her sword, let go of her focus on weapons and steel, and while still in midair, glanced back once as she soared in a long, low arc over the ground. Raktar had followed his parry around, and charged in pursuit after her, nearly within reach of her heels as she descended towards the ground.

As Jessie’s hands touched the ground, she remained in a perfect line, the force of her body flowing into and being caught by her coiling muscles, arms and shoulders drawing in, absorbing the energy. Just at the last moment, as her forehead came near to touching the ground, she allowed her balance to shift just slightly so that the last of her momentum carried her legs forward, up, up, just until her body poised for a moment in a perfect handstand perpendicular to the earth, leaving her looking, from upside down, directly back at Raktar as he rapidly closed the gap between them.

With an explosive shout of rage and fear, Jessie threw all of the strength in her coiled muscles into launching herself straight up, straight up in front of Raktar.

“My world, my rules, you bastard!”

The sword appeared again in her hand just as she knew it would, stabbing forward unerringly at Raktar’s face. With the impossible speed of a cat, Raktar stopped his pursuit in it’s tracks, and parried the lightning thrust with a cross body swipe of the axe.

As the axe head met the sword, Jessie flowed with it, adding her own desire to spin, to move, letting herself be carried with the push, letting Raktar’s blow send her spinning like a top, blade arcing with a flash to his right flank, where the axe should be out of line for another parry.

Raktar backhand parried it anyway.

The shock of it drove Jessie out of her calm center, and she lost her grip for a moment on believing she could float in midair.

With a crash, she fell to the ground headfirst, head spinning, but regained her calm in a flash and spun away again, sword gone, rolling fast, rolling away, getting some distance, the pounding of Orc feet hot on her ass.

“This isn’t happening, it’s not possible”, she thought, “He can’t be that fast, not here damn it!”

Jessie stopped her forward roll, spun around and in one smooth movement leapt to meet the charging Raktar head on, forgetting in her moment of panic and growing anger all that Fergus had taught her.

Sword appeared in her hand, silver and light, flashing in a straight up frontal attack on high line, but as Jessie leapt, so too did Raktar, leaping to meet her, his own weapon swinging in line.

Sword met axe as both twisted at the same time, moving past the other on their off sides, and kept on going, each pushing off of the other, edge to edge. Jessie touched lightly on her heels and spun around, only to see Raktar stop as well to face her.

Both of them were breathing hard, and for the first time, as Jessie scanned her opponent’s brow and eye and neck and chest to watch for signs of the direction of the next attack, she caught the unmistakable look of anger and confusion and even worry cross Raktar’s face.

All along, Jessie was taking a mental inventory of what she attempted, and what the results had been. It was starting to dawn on her that, no matter what she expected, and no matter what Gavin kept telling her, she hadn’t caught on in her gut that the dreamtime was not reality. No matter how big Raktar looked or how massive the axe should be, the Orc was almost as fast as she was, and moved as though nothing weighed him down. But at the same time, she met his blows and felt his parries, and there was no more force behind them than that of equal on equal.

Here, size and muscle did not translate to greater strength or power, bulk did not interfere with movement, mass did not hinder, steel did not slow.

“Dear Fergus,” she thought, “I’m not the lightning to his mountain. We’re just two rams butting heads in the forest, and it’s all about who can adapt the fastest. Can he learn to fight quick on his feet faster than I can learn to meet him toe to toe?”

Raktar looked back at her across the clearing, and his expression changed to a wide, fierce, delighted grin. Beckoning her to him with the axe, he called out to her in her own tongue, mocking her, cheering her on. “Come along, girl, what are you waiting for? Come and face me now. Come on!”

Jessie darted forward, all her senses, real or not, focusing down until all that she saw or knew was the massive Orc in front of her, his gray skin running slick with sweat around the leather.

She felt as if she were running down a tunnel towards the Orc, and knew that she was losing it, felt herself lose control on her center, knew that she should never let herself ‘tunnel in’ as Fergus called it, but she couldn’t help herself. Trick or not, she couldn’t stop herself from responding, her anger rising, the rage within her fueling her to move faster and get to grips with him, to cut that sneering smile from his fat gray face, to shut him up, to close him out, to get him out of her mind.

Raktar stood and waited for her to bring the fight to him, and met her sword with his axe, head to edge, blow for blow, moving his feet in a shuffling dance, always in balance, always in tune with the rhythms of his swinging arms, moving the axe in ways that an axe should never go as he blocked and parried her strikes.

It wasn’t effortless, it wasn’t silent, and it wasn’t easy. Both of them were trying as hard as they could to get their blade in the other’s flesh, and make it count. The clearing echoed to the sound of their harsh breathing and grunts of exertion.

Raktar chose to stand his ground, turning and twisting but holding his place, letting the fight come to him, while Jessie flowed around him, darting and rolling around, always trying to catch him off balance on the flank. No matter how they tried, neither could move faster than the other, and neither could overpower the other. Raktar spent more time on the defense, while Jessie was clearly more comfortable with the low lunge and distracting feint, but the more they fought, the better they learned the other’s style, and the clearer it became that they were evenly matched. Too evenly matched.

Jessie knew her focus was too narrow as she kept up the attack, as she tried to keep the pressure on, but the chance moments where she glimpsed the face of Raktar gave her hope. The Orc was clearly uncertain, emotionally off balance. Whatever his intentions, he wasn’t bringing the fight to her; he wasn’t in it nearly as much as she was. Maybe he didn’t have the heart, or maybe whatever shreds of his soul that had caught up in the axe weren’t enough, but Jessie could feel herself coming closer and closer to getting through his guard.

He was definitely weakening faster than she was. And damn it, he was getting closer to her own size as well! Hah!

As the Orc blocked a low slash with his axe, he growled out, “Why are you helping Far Dreamer, girl? What are you getting out of it?”

Nice try, Orc. Distracting an opponent with bullshit nonsense was a trick older than Fergus, but that’s all right. Two can play that game.

“What do you mean, monster? She saved my life and brought me back from death itself. I didn’t see her freeing your ass from the axe, now did I?”

Raktar let loose with a terrible laugh, a deep, thunderous sound that chilled Jessie to the heart. He swung his axe to the attack with a great sideways sweep that Jessie deftly rolled under, and called tauntingly to her as she stopped just out of reach.

“Did she not? And yet here I stand, face to face with you! And more, can’t you feel it? Can’t you feel my power? I was bound to the axe for four full seasons, and with each kill, the axe drank deep, but my soul drank as well. Look upon me! Do you not feel my strength?”

Jessie leapt once more to the attack. As she swung her blade in yet another futile blow, she had to admit, the presence of Raktar was different from both Gavin and the Katarese. He didn’t just feel more powerful, he felt wrong, twisted. His presence sickened her. Just being near him was akin to the feeling she once had had when breaking open a pastry to find it rotten and filled with worms on the inside.

That wasn’t going to stop her from kicking his ass, though. Swollen on stolen souls or not, he didn’t move any faster or hit any the harder.

“Wasn’t any of Bane’s doing, grayass. All she did was break you free to steal your power, and give it all to me. How’s it feel to be cast aside?”

Raktar seemed honestly amused, the grin from his black chuckles still wide upon his face.

“Hah! I’m not trying to distract you, fool, I’m trying to get through your blind, stubborn  anger! Shut up and listen to me!”

“You say you hate me, you hate Orcs, and you hate everything about us. Isn’t that right,  girl? You set yourself against us, against my entire people! You say you want us all to die, you want to bathe in a sea of Orc blood!”

Jessie laughed in delight and charged in, blade slashing high and low. “Damn right, grayskin! I want to see you, your clan and your whole people dead, from one end of the mountains to the other!”

Jessie paused for just a moment, locked eye to eye with Raktar. She whispered, as if to herself, as if to a lover; “Oh yes, Orc.  Oh my, yes. I want to see your people burn.”

Raktar lunged forward, pushing hard, sending Jessie spinning backwards, off balance, half trotting, half running to regain her footing. Raktar pursued, axe swinging low, and Jessie deftly hopped back rather than risking a diving leap. She was becoming well aware of how fast Raktar was able to change directions of his axe in mid stroke.

Raktar growled as he chased after her, breath coming in great rasping wheezes. “Orcborn or not, Far Dreamer is one of my people, blood of my blood, clan of my clan. Even now, she fights to save my people, to free them from their chains. And you’re helping her. You’re helping us. You help the blood of my blood to survive!”

Jessie was so overcome with rage, blindsided with a burst of fury from her soul, that she lost all sense of what she was trying to do. In mid-block, she shifted direction with her blade, and sought to cut the sneer off the gray skinned bastard’s face. She forgot about distractions, about playing her own mind game. Raktar had gotten right to the heart of her own misgivings and fear.

As Raktar blocked, he twisted the haft of the axe to shift her reach on her hilt, and grabbed her wrist with his massive left hand. The sword edge stopped within a hair’s breadth from his eyes, and he held her there, axe to sword, holding her fast, both straining against the strength of the other. Both tried to get their blade through the others guard by sheer force of will, and crush their enemy completely.

The two strained against each other for a long, hard moment, and then Raktar sneered in Jessie’s face. “You hate us? Scream your hate to me, little girl. I know you hate. I feel it now, burning within you. It’s all around us, lighting the sky the color of blood and death. I taste it with my every breath.”

“Tell me, little traitor. How can you make yourself aid Far Dreamer? How can you pledge to help her in her quest to free my people, if this hate in your heart is true?”

Jessie clenched her jaw, feeling like her teeth would break off from all the effort she put into pushing Raktar’s axe aside and sliding the edge of her blade across his leering, grinning, mocking face.

She spit her hatred in his eyes, Raktar now somehow reduced to a size to match hers. Her need to get to grips with him, to cut him, to kill him, to shut him up was driving her into a frenzy. Nothing existed in the world but the need to destroy him. “I’m not helping her to free your people! I’m helping her to free mine! If the Orcs are freed of the Dryad’s false rage, then the war might stop someday!”

Raktar continued to hold fast, staring her directly in the eyes, face close enough to slap. “Ha! Bullshit! I know hate, girl, I know what real hate is. Real hate is a burning fire in your gut, a roaring, wrenching, savaging blaze that feeds on every thought of inflicting pain on the enemy, of making them suffer, wanting nothing more than the cursing, whining misery of your enemy, NO MATTER WHAT THE COST. So what if some humans you’ve never met will keep fighting forever, so long as more Orcs get to die?

“You hate, I know it, I can feel it, you bleed black venom from your heart, but still you help us, you help my clan, you help my blood sister on her quest to save my people.”

Raktar pushed back at her, releasing his grip on her wrist, a sudden shove that broke their stalemate and sent her staggering back across the clearing, a perfect moment to take advantage of her distraction and flash of sudden terror.

Instead of chasing after her and exploiting his sudden break, he stood there and screamed back at her as the veins pulsed in his throat. “Admit it! You don’t hate us, or you’d never be here having your guts cut open and your flesh set on fire to save us! You’d find some other way! So, who is it you really hate, girl?”

“Who do you really, truly hate?”

The question echoed inside Jessie’s head, and she tried to throw it off, to focus on protecting herself, on fighting. She had to keep fighting. It was all a trick, a distraction.

But the longer Raktar stood there, unmoving, watching her with a strange mixture of anger and frustration on his heavy face, the more time the words had to echo, and they continued to build in strength within her mind rather than fading away.

Who do you really hate?”

Who do you really hate, Jessie? He’s right, it’s not him, the sight of him sets my blood to boiling, but it’s not a touch on the real rage in my guts. Who do you hate, Jessie, come on now, damn it, cut through the bullshit and lies, who do you hate with all your heart?

WHO DO YOU HATE?

Jessie felt her doubts, the rage and pain and confusion that had been in her mind all along, whether she recognized or admitted to them or not, finally stand out stark and clear.

She did hate. She hated with a black, terrifying intensity. Even now, as she broke free, blindly, recklessly, knowing not what she did or how she was doing it, she felt the hate coiling and beating within her heart.

She opened the eyes of her mind to truly see what was there to be seen, and saw the horrifying results of her self-deception.

The clearing of her youth, of training sessions and successes, was long gone. In it’s place was revealed a plain as black as a moonless night, and the black sky above was lit only by the constant pulsing of red and purple arcs of lightning forking across the heavens, like the flashing lights seen when she would close her eyes and press upon her eyelids with her fingers.

They stood facing each other within the true nature of her soul, surrounded by the terrible storm of her rage. All along, she had been lying to herself, denying the rage, pretending it was gone, claiming to have found peace, to be at ease, to be centered.

She was utterly filled with rage. Filled with hate. No more lies. No more denial. She couldn’t pretend anymore, no matter how hard she suddenly tried.

And Raktar still waited for her. 

Jessie felt herself at a moment of choice; to fight the hate and rage, to deny it’s having any strength or control over her, or to give in, give herself over to it, body and soul, to take the rage and become one with it, and let herself go.

She chose.

Jessie released her fear, and opened herself fully to the hatred within her soul. She saw, finally, with open eyes, exactly what was within her, and knew that it was fully and completely her own. No outside agency, no strange workings of magic within the axe, not even her time among the dead could be blamed. The hatred, the rage, every stray thought and feeling she had ever repressed and pushed away, they were all hers and hers alone. And she would deny them no more.

She tore her heart wide open and accepted it all, and along with the hatred came a dark power, and a feeling of almost boundless, endless space.

She was no longer trying to ride the lightning, she was the lightning, and she exulted in the exhilarating freedom of being swept away, out of control, without restraint or any possibility of being stopped. 

Jessie’s entire being erupted towards Raktar in one overwhelming, unmatchable wave of fury.

Even as she swept, all hatred and power without form crashing directly into Raktar’s face, she felt herself unravelling, and although she had no idea what would happen next, although she desperately feared what was on the other side of this release, she let everything she had ever restrained or feared within her soul out, and shoved it all down Raktar’s throat in one final, primal scream that could no longer be contained.

“Damn you to hell, you bastard, the thing I hate most is myself!”

All there was in that moment was a woman filled with grief and rage, a woman that had tried to learn to be a warrior, who had dreamed of being a protector for her family, a woman who had been far away with her friend practicing the sword when her family needed her the most. A woman of great heart and passion who had been too far away to do aught other than scream in rage and helplessness as everyone she had ever known or loved died in the blackened remains of her only home.

All this rushed against the soul of a being that represented all the death and hopelessness and despair she had ever known in her life.

There was no contest.

As the essence that was once Jessie crashed fully against Raktar’s soul, the flashes of red and purple dimmed, muted, and mixed with the endless black, surrounding, engulfing, consuming.

And then, all that is or would ever be of Jessie erupted in one final, blinding burst of soul-shattering light.

Going off the rails and loving it!

While running any role playing game, be it a tabletop live game, a play by email (or blog) game, or whatever, there are players, and there’s the GM.

The guy with the script.

There WILL be a script.

Whether the game he intends to run will be relentlessly structured with little room for wiggle (or originality), tight as a railroad…

Or whether it consists of no more than a written paragraph to kick things off; “You all meet each other, friends of long standing, at your usual table in the Pig and Whistle Tavern. Suddenly, a passing stranger gives out a groan of misery and collapses onto your table, knocking beer tankards aside in disarray. A knife is stuck in his back hilt deep.” and that’s actually all the GM knows, and plans to make the rest up as the night goes on.

Either way… there is a script. Even if he’s making it up on the fly, the GM is still making up a script as he goes, moment by moment, trying to take the actions of the now and see how he can fit them into something fun. “Something fun” meaning a story of some sort.

It’s the same as writing a story… but when you say the characters develop a life of their own… by God, you mean it!

Most GMs I’ve known lament over the destruction innovative players will cause to their carefully laid plans.

They’ll wax nostagically, wistfully over their carefully laid plans, their subtle undercurrents and subplots, their dramatic theme and awesome backstory that makes this the BEST STORY EVAR… if it weren’t for those damn kids.

Me, I come from the chaos school of role play. In California, we called it the Surfer Style RPG Kung Fu.

Come up with a story you think is awesome, spend lots of time on it, knock yourself out. But as soon as you start playing,  always keep in mind, the players’ characters are what the story is really all about, those self centered little bastards, and when they do something completely unexpected, don’t just sit in shock and brainlock at them bringing in the Spanish Inquisition (nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition!), take it as a direct challenge to see thier introduction of derailing ingenuity, and raise them a “What the hell? Holy shit!” shocking plot twist.

That’s why, when I see a comic strip like the one here at DM of the Rings, while I’m laughing I’m thinking “Oh, what a glorious bunch of bastards those players are… and how I would make them pay. And they’d thank me for it.”