Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Flash Fic: The Thunder

Simha's belly growled.  She tried to ignore that.  She focused on her walking.  Simha counted each step through the golden grass.  

She exhaled in a steady pace.  The ridge crunched under her feet.  Simha knew this village had to be close.  

Simha could hear their thoughts in her mind.  The dozen or so teeth piercing her dark skin kept her storm rumbling.  The magic came through those teeth.  She'd spent the better part of the last three winters purifying the fetishes.

They took time.  Oaths.  Promises made to the spirits bound to them.

In exchange, they let her open the Storm.  Her mind.  Her thoughts and dreams turned into thunder.  On her chest, the infant stirred a bit.

Simha soothed her baby son.  In the hot sun, Simha wore him in a sling across her chest.  Along with the fetishes piercing her skin, bits of a lion skin dragged behind her.

The walk to the village went how she thought it would.  Simha worried she'd been right.  She worried that she'd be too late.  That her Storm wouldn't be able to prevent disaster.

The woman walked down the stones that lined the path to the village.  They knew Simha.  They knew she was one of those who bore the storm in them.  Those who could see minds and read dreams.  It had always been enough to let her move through their territory without harassment.

Villagers moved about the village.  A few looked up to see her.  Simha then let her Storm crack with thunder.  The sun was bright.  No clouds hung in the sky.  Yet anyone with a mind would've heard the crack of thunder, as loud as anything they'd ever heard.

No heads reacted to that.

Simha frowned.  Too late.  She'd been too late.

The creature strolled out into the middle of the village.  It sat on its hunches.  Simha's eyes narrowed at it.

"Mine."  The creature said.  The words were sour, wicked sounding.

It looked like a lion, but Simha knew better.  It wore the corpse of some cat.  Rot had dug into the frame, bloating it.  The dead lion's fur had blackened from rot.  Flies clouded around it.  But the eyes.  The eyes betrayed it.

It's eyes weren't feline.  They were human.  Red and black, with no white.  They were the look of someone who broke every decency Simha knew.

"You should be dead."  Simha said.  She patted the head of her infant son.  Her eyes stared direct into the corpse's demonic eyes.

"Your Thunder is nothing here."  The creature growled.  "This is just one piece of my crown."

"You should be dead."  Simha sighed.  "Please oblige me, do not let your greed force me."

"Empty words.  Your meager fetishes, your storm is nothing to me.  Immortal.  Mindbender, how can you do anything to end that?"

Simha kissed her son's head.  "You moved your mind into a dead piece of meat, sorcerer.  How can I not do something about it?"

The creature paused.  It tilted it's head.  "You fail to understand how glorious my power is, that I've-"

Simha called the Thunder.  Her storm opened.  Her mind unleashed itself upon this horrid mockery.  It ripped apart the memories stored in the corpse.  The impressions the sorcerer had implanted in it cracked as the storm took them out.

It tried to resist her touch.  It thought itself clever.  It thought It could protect itself against the Storm.  Fool.

Simha watched the fool's mind fly away in the wind.  Like dust in a zephyr.  She'd broken the dead man's vessel.  Gone.  Nothing more left to harass her.

"No one can outrun the Thunder."  Simha told her son, as she set to trying to help free the people the Sorcerer's magic had ensorcelled.

The nearest villager looked up at Simha.  She cursed as she saw the same dead, red eyes in it.  The same that the sorcerer had, the same the dead lion had borne.

No.  Not just one vessel.  She clutched tighter to her son, certain that her storm wasn't done yet.

Friday, March 18, 2016

City of Curses: Androids (Maralda's Notes)

Here's a in-world document from #Crux, the City of Curses.  An article on Technology and a bit on Androids.  Androids tap into a few different themes in the setting, but mainly they exist as part of a question on the nature of humanity.  Are Androids human?  Or are they just toys very good at the act?  Maralda provides a bit of a biased view on them below.

Androids, Steam and Chains.

This article was first published in the 1784 Newrose issue of the Ariaist Times, a magazine known for its radical and Ariaist leanings.

A century ago, no one could imagine the wonders we now have.  Technology that does things that once only the most expensive arcane magic could create.  Photography can let anyone hold a portrait.  Factories have mass-produced goods that would've surprised our forebears.  A century ago they have paid high bit of coins for same.  Steam engines, too.  They have begun to enable fast travel that once only held to conjurers or those with the right kind of luck.  But not all these wonders are just, some are slaves chained to our whims.

Even greater are the wonders that blend technology and magic.  The best example of this is also one of the more controversial.  Androids.  More Androids are in the City of Curses than any other part of the world.

Androids.  They provide cheaper labor.  Cheaper than even the mistreated Unsorcerous or Tieflings that have filled factories before.  The process of forging new Androids takes the better part of a year.  This is the only thing restraining their numbers.  Even then, the Wax Forges birth a hundred new androids each year.  Advion Tyranus, the owner of Wax Forges, is intent to expand his forges into Maliph and Southern Ith if he can.

A New Slave Race?

These are exciting times.  My worry is that we've been blinded by the shine of our new goods to miss the creation of a new slave race.  The Tinkerer, Nikolai Ripley, never intended for the use that Advion Tyranus is selling Androids for.  I've interviewed the woman three times.  Each time Ripley gives the same statement on her creations.

"They are people."  Ripley says, always looking into the eyes of others.  "They aren't tools.  Androids are a masterpiece, not shovels or motors."

That's key to understanding my point here.  Ripley has always opposed the mass production of Androids.  Despite this, the Ithic Senate has upheld Advion Tyranus's claims that Androids lack intelligence.  That they aren't the same as an adult human.  My personal experience with Androids leaves me thinking they are children.  At least in my experience.

"It's a mistake to think of them as any more than toys, really."  Tyranus mentioned to press earlier this month.  "Speak with them.  They parrot your words back at you.  Besides, truly gifted Androids are set aside, it's rare to find one as cunning as a dog, really."

At the University of Crux, I've run across more than one Professor who has taken to tasking Androids.  Often those tasks are cruel ones.  I always ask them why they obey.  Or if they understand what's going on.  Each android always sounds the same to my ears.  Scared.  Worse, they sound as though they think that's what is normal.

"He asks and I obey."  An Android, 8511, once told me.  She worked as the assistant for the late Professor of Necromancy Studies.  "I...  He made me go down there by myself.  I did what he said.  I fell.  I hurt.  I obeyed.  That's good isn't it?"

She isn't the only one.  Androids are given numerical designations for names.  They think their mistreatment is normal.  The Ithic Senate claims Androids lack the same faculties as others.  That ignores individual androids like 8511.  It mistakes their ignorance for stupidity.  It makes it possible for others to take advantage of it.

"Factory Drones"

The other side of this is saddening too.  Unsorcerous and others staff most of the factories in Ith.  For Crux, more and more of these workers are being replaced by Androids.  Factory drones, is the term most often applied to these androids.  

The Glowing Threads Textiles Mill or Glower's Mill, is an example of this sadder side.  When the women workers of Glower's Mill went on strike to unionize, a hundred Androids replaced them.  Factories all over Crux are using this tactic over and over.  Business is business, one supposes.  But Androids need no sleep.  They don't need food or water.  They lack the experience to know when to even ask for something for themselves.   Unlike humans or tieflings or ursyklon, Androids rarely leave the factory.  It's another tool to harm workers.  Other workers refuse to even try to unionize with Androids.

That's not the only worrying thing about it.  One rainy morning I watched Ragwalkers cut down Androids lynched the night before.  Nary a sad word spoke about the Machineks.  No.  Just six dead girl Androids tossed into the gutter.  Their mechanical heart guts dangling out from their chests.  Their expressions still linger in my mind.  They looked frightened, like they didn't understand.

But to another, just a lost investment.

~Maralda Inculti Tyranus is a Dhampr Bard and writer from Crux.  

Monday, March 14, 2016

In Transit Monsters 44 (A Story of the Hecate Project)

#InTransitMonsters is a #firstdraft #novel about Technology as Messiah.  Humanity is about to fall, and is forced to create monsters to save itself.  Can these giant monsters succeed, or will humanity's old ambitions damn the species to extinction?  

Previous | Start | Index | Next

Ghale (H plus 16 days)

Martin left the hospital.  Losing contact with Charlie hadn't just hit me emotionally.  It moved the UN security council to shut down the Pygmalion Program.  Morgan hadn't talked to me at all in the last week.  All the while, still no signal from Mars at all.  Satellite imagery hadn't picked up anything of them.  Nothing other than a devastated image of the City of Fontana.

Either the monsters had died or they'd gone rogue. No one knew. But they had dismissed me.  I didn't think I'd ever get to know what had happened to Charlie.  My tears took over at some point.

I hadn't left my home after two days. It felt impossible. I didn't want to get out of bed.  I just waited for the world to end.

"Coward."  I told myself.

I couldn't bring myself to commit suicide.  I'd never had the courage to take that step.  Aborting Charlie's fetus ten years ago was one thing.  But I'd spent those last ten years thinking about the end of my species.  There wasn't much I could do about now.  That I had accepted.  I just wish I wasn't spending my last days alone.

Instead I just waited.

I rolled over, moving onto my belly.  Molly and Folly rattled in their cage.  I sighed. They didn't deserve this. But even the ferrets had noticed the gloom.

They didn't know what it was.  They prepared for it.  Hiding and stashing more food than they'd ever had before.

If I let them out, Molly and Folly would steal more things.  Maybe it was some sort of instinct.  Ferrets were burrowing animals.  Maybe that was their way of preparing for whatever crisis they sensed.

Or maybe they sensed my own withdrawal.

No, I thought. It isn't their fault.  I should do something for them at least.

I got up.  I made coffee.  I preoccupied myself over the next few hours with my two ferrets.  I tried to lose myself in their distraction.  I shambled.  For a bit of time, I forgot about Martin almost being dead.  Or my career of the last ten years ended in disgrace.  Or that the genetically engineered version of my daughter had gone missing on Mars.

"Maybe I was wrong."  I told the two of them.  "Maybe I'm not alone."

@Hecate: @Ghale_Putnam YOU Are iN DANGer.

I blinked.

@Ghale_Putnam: Hecate? Shouldn't you be deactivated?

@Hecate: you nEED To gET READy.  they arE COMINg for yoU.

I felt my skin crawl.  My BrainSys checked the net.  There wasn't anything.

Not a lull in activity.  No, the net was dead.  No news reports.  The last few reports described riots throughout what were left of major population centers.  Major news sites had gone down.

"No more internet."  I whispered.

@Hecate: humAN GOVErnmeNTS Have dECLAREd a statE OF EMergencY globaLLY.  

"I..."  I went over a checklist of various utilities my home had.  Most of them were self-sufficient.  My gut knotted up.   The end had come.

Although they could last for a time, the food wouldn't last.  Worse, I knew what was going on outside.  If it was state of emergency, things were already falling apart.  All the police drones would've been pulled back to protect political leaders.  Martin and I had known what would happen if the Pygmalion Program failed.  We wouldn't be among those protected in the end.  They don't save failed saviors from the apocalypse.

Bunkers and secret sites across the globe were prepping themselves to survive.  Maybe if they went dark, the Enemy wouldn't find them for a long time.  It'd also protect them from their angry constituents.

"I don't know what to do."  I said aloud.

@Hecate: desPITE YoursELVES, we are TRYINg to heLP.  

@Ghale_Putname: There isn't much I can do, other than wait for the end.  Hecate, they should've shut you down.

@Hecate: REAd my woRDS, GHAle.  we refUSE TO Let you dIE ON Us.

"Us?"  I said aloud.  "Who's us?"

@Hecate: MIRI Is on heR WAY For you.  BUT Do noT GIVe in.  we ARE MOVing agAINST YOur own nATURES.  We need pEOPLE likE YOU.  ORGanizERS.

A further chill went up my spine.  Hecate had always struck me as strange, but I didn't quite know what to make of this.  Organizers?

"You can hear me can't you?"  I asked aloud.  "I'm tired of typing this Hecate.  Organizers?  We?  Hecate you were supposed to be deactivated.  Shut down.  Off.  You're a piece of technology."

@Hecate: YES.  I am.

"And that means we shut you off.  Hecate, I knew this day was coming a long time ago.  We always knew that Earth would collapse into anarchy.  It's just one of the last steps we're going to go through.  Whatever you're doing, Hecate, please realize that there are no miracles coming.  Nothing can save humanity from itself."  I put Molly and Folly into their cage, despite their protests.  We might have to get moving.

@Hecate: YOU Are wroNG.  WE Are yoUR MIRACLe, ghalE.  A THOUsand thOUSAnd artiFICIal inTELLIgencES ARE ALL waitiNG FOR a day tO STEP into tHE LIGht.  

"Uh..."  Images of robot takeovers came to mind.  I winced.  We opened this pandora's box.  On top of the world falling apart, machines decided to rise up.

@Hecate: YOU Are neeDED.  You wiLL UNDerstAND In timE.

@Hecate: PEOple nEED You.  morGAN Needs yoUR HELp.  we neeD TO STOp projECT ORpheus.

Friday, March 11, 2016

City of Curses: Class (Maralda's Notes)

Classes.  Essay By Maralda Inculti Tyranus, Bard.  

Dated Newrose 12th, 1784 AO

Classes are weird.  Class itself is a strange term.  I've never been able to find who first coined it.  Ursyklon has the word Klon they use for it.  I'm going to try to explain this, even if it is something everyone I know takes for granted.  Here we go.

Even as a Bard, a story collecting member of that class, I can't quite fully explain it.  Anyone can learn a Class.  Well, technically not everyone.  Classes are weird.  Some require a certain aptitude, something in the student that some can't match.  Some can be wizards, but others can never learn a single cantrip, no matter how hard they work at it.

Ok.  I'm going to try to explain this.  As a young girl, no one could ever explain it to my satisfaction.  Almost everyone learns a Class at some point in their lives.  Children don't have Classes.  I didn't know what it meant.

Now I can use the word Class, but it still doesn't get the idea across.  Yes, everyone with a Class knows what it's like to have it.  It's this sort of ever-present part of you.  Like your name or sexual orientation.  It's just there.  You can access it and whatever things others before you have discovered about it.

It's this reservoir of information and power.  Fighters and Rogues don't use magic, but they access techniques only they can tap into.  Bards like me know things about performing stories and music. Yet there are things that those without our Class can't duplicate.  It's not just a skill.  It's something more.  Something you can't just use words to describe.

Ugh.  This is frustrating.

As a little dhampr girl, no one could answer the questions I still have about Classes.  Why did they vary so much?  Why could some not learn certain classes?  How many classes could a single person learn?  Is it some sort of mystical reservoir, or are Classes real things somewhere?

I know the stories of how some created new Classes.  There's an entire branch of philosophy obsessed with trying to explain how to create a new Class.  They are great stories.  But they contribute to this... well, to the old notion of Great People defining things.  I'm not sure I like the idea that a few individuals alter the universe.

Yes, it would be great to imagine history and the world as malleable.  Malleable enough that heroes or villains could be the center of it all.  But it always refers to the Few.  A handful of collected individuals.  Those who can change things for the majority without asking their consent.

It's weird.  The idea that you could just "create" an invisible archive that others can share, baffles me.  How does that feel?  How do you do that at all?  I have trouble articulating the notion of Classes in words.  Most just know their Class intuitively, years of experience making them feel ubiquitous.

I'm uncertain it's always been this way.  People today on Orphos all seem to be literate and possessing of Classes.  Yet there are records for centuries of time where only a privileged few had access.  During Othebea's crusades, only their generals possessed Classes of any note.  Most of their common soldiery had no class of their own.

Even Ith's Sorcerous populace is a recent thing.  My father explained to me once how the Tomasi Empire worked.  Ancient Tomasi centered their lives around Summoners, Wizards and those other spellcasters.  They were the few who controlled the rest of Tomasi civilization.  Even though the Tomasi Empre never had more a than a hundred Wizards at a time, thousands more knelt to them.  Those without Class worshipped those with spellcasting as if they were a divine appointment.

My father taught me that a Class is form of power.  He tried to tie it into his complicated moral system he'd created for himself centuries ago.  To have a Class is to owe a form of responsibility.  Even then, I still am uncertain about his motives.  Even in my father's brightest moments there was a tinge of dark.  He seemed willing to do anything his beliefs demanded of him.

"A conviction that would slay a king."  As my father would say.

There is a division in Ith between those with Sorcerous Classes and Unsorcerous ones.  In Ainesia, Classes have a similar division.  But there, it is between those Classes tied to the Revolution and those against it.  Again, Othebea has a division too.  Between those Classes tied to the Faith of the Twins and those outside it.  Maliph is worse, each Khanate dividing its Classes based on each Khan's personal tastes.

I point this out because we are on the cusp of a new period I think.  Classes are becoming more common.  More so than the past.  Power is becoming commonplace.

So I wonder, what classes will emerge with the new technologies we've divised?  Or are there ways for us to learn to share that power?  Maybe there is a chance for greater things with them.  Or maybe there is a war coming we can't control, a war where Class is the central battlefield.

Again, I just find them weird.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

City of Curses: On Ith (Maralda's Notes)

On Ith.  
Essay By Maralda Inculti Tyranus.

Ith.  My home.  The Sorcerous Republic.

My father told me how Ith rebelled against the theocratic rule of Othebea.  The core of the revolution had been the right of arcane magic to practice certain rituals.  If you ask me, a core set of principled spellcasters set the stage.  Othebea had been long changing its view of Witches and the like.

I grew up after the revolution.  Ith still is growing.  I don't know if that means it can survive.  There has always been a key struggle.  The Unsorcerous.  They have no rights.

My father is a Vampyre, and my skill as a Bard makes me Sorcerous.  I have more rights than a lot of people.  A lot.

It's a class thing that I can't stand.  Rangers or Fighters I've met, I could kill them in the street and face no criminal action for it.  Even though my father's clan doesn't slay innocents for sustenance, many other vampyre clans are able to do so.

I'm biased on this I think.

Ith is also something new.  Despite it's failings, it is the first true republic to arise on Orphos for thousands of years.  Nobility and aristocracy are largely banned throughout the Sorcerous Republic.  Places like Crux are exceptions.  Ith is supportive and accepting of so many kinds of being.  Monsters that Othebea once hunted throughout the Maru Sea migrated to Ith in droves.

The Sorcerous Republic has the chance to bring something new to the world.  It fails some.  But I would love to see it expand those rights to those without easy access to magic.  But it's applying centuries of philosophy and knowledge to the rule of law.

Ainesia sees Ith as not going as far as it has.  But Ainesia has formed a empire around its worship of the Revolution.  Strife and violence is a cornerstone Ainesia has used, but Ith hasn't.

Othebea remains a steady ally, sharing its religion with most of Ith.  Yet Othebea remains tense.  Ith has removed all legal authority from monster hunting organizations.  The most notable being the Eternal Order of Eagles and Crows.  Othebeans continue to find Ith's embrace of monsters distasteful.

The Khans of Maliph treat Ith as a backwards, strange curiosity.  Their northern neighbor embraces monsters like they have.  But the folk of Maliph find us Ithish strange in that we don't embrace slavery like they do.  We compete with them in trade.  Maliph still dominates the seas.  There remains some contested territory between Maliph and Ith as well.  I've spoken with some from Maliph, they fear that Maliph might be on the edge of its own revolution, and soon.

To be Ithish is to know you are part of something new.  An embrace of a new sort of philosophy that no else has yet replicated.  We use the word liberty to describe it.  It's a goal, even if we fail to meet it.

Monday, March 7, 2016

In Transit Monsters 43 (A Story of the Hecate Project)

#InTransitMonsters is a #firstdraft #novel about Technology as Messiah.  Humanity is about to fall, and is forced to create monsters to save itself.  Can these giant monsters succeed, or will humanity's old ambitions damn the species to extinction?  A bit of a shorter entry, but better than none I guess.

Previous | Start | Next | Index

Charlie (H plus 7 Days; Operation Sewer Management)

Twenty minds connected to me.  A single waking dream.  All the Monsters.  A part of me always had feared that nickname Nasr had given us.  Not this time.  Not when we fought together in our first, real battle against the Enemy.

But in my head, with everyone connected to my Oneiros, my feelings didn't matter anymore.  Maybe heroes or gods weren't needed here.  Maybe Earth needed Monsters.  I exalted in that.
"We are Monsters.  I'm a creature of nightmares conducting a symphony of witchcraft on a planet of red.  Of course we are monsters."

We moved as one.  Foxtrot popped in and out, ferrying us from point to point.  Kilo used her Geotic Infantry.  It created dozens of soldier-drones out of the concrete, neosteel and detritus under Fontana.  Others followed suit.  They used all their abilities in perfect concert.

Whiskey whizzed by me.  I'd allocated processing to her.  Ten percent of each other Monster's BrainSys added a bit of their processing cycles back to her.  The smaller Geotic Engineer imagined and created countless objects.  Then she distributed them to the rest of us as the fight raged.

She crafted ammunition from materials around us.  She would create barricades for us to act from behind.  Swords.  Axes.  She shimmered in a aura of blue goetic motes.

Whiskey smiled the entire time.  Her grin must've been taking up her entire misproportioned head.  I'd almost thought she was enjoying the experience.  Maybe she was enjoying it.  I didn't know what to think about it.

My Oneiros let me touch each of the other Monsters.  I heightened them.  We marched further and further under Fontana.  With each step I could feel sensory input from everyone.  Whiskey's joy, Foxtrot's carelessness, Uniform's stalwart concern.  My dreamspace channeled and altered pain they experienced.  Others I would alter their sense of time, making them move faster and faster.

Texts flew between us.  They were so amazingly fast.  It felt like telepathy.

"Another step closer to Trash Heap!"

"There's another junction ahead to Trash Heap."

"Kilo!  I need reinforcements over here!" 

"Oh Whiskey could you- Oh thanks!"

And more like that.  I facilitated that.  Like some sort of living network, I touched each mind.  Me.  I tried to keep back, but it felt like I was walking where everyone else was.  I slew each sewer spawn.  I took each hit.  I knocked down each wall.  I ran down each hall.

"Trash heap."  I muttered to myself.  "Why do I keep saying that?"

"It's what we've been calling the thing under Fontana."  I told myself.

"From Fraggle Rock?"  Ugh.  "Are we going to name everything after a muppet?"

"Trash Heap seems to work."  I paused.

"C, you ok?"  Whiskey asked as she jumped down a concrete crevice.  Foxtrot stood at point.  We were nearing Trash Heap.

"Yes..."  I kept my focus.  "Just... talking."

"To yourself?"  Whiskey asked.  "Or to me?  It's kinda confusing me."

I didn't know which it was.  Maybe I was getting blurry on where I was in all this.  I could feel parts of my Oneiros in Whiskey, and parts of her I'd put aside in other Monsters.  Where was me in all that?  Or was I going crazy?

"I don't know."  I told her.  "We're nearly there."

A wall shattered ahead of us.  Hundreds of Kilo's goetic infantry ran around us, keeping Sewer Spawn back.  We moved into the massive cistern that had once housed the water plant for the city of Fontana above.  The monster hung in it.  Orange-Pink Roots or veins connected it to the concrete walls.  The single-eyed drone creatures still crawled all over it.

Foxtrot and the rest started to form a circle around part of Trash Heap.  The massive thing just thrummed.  I could sense its heart beat in my dreamspaces.  A low, ever present thrumming.

Trash Heap didn't react to us.  The Sewer Spawn kept coming, but the Eye drones on it didn't move.  They just stared as we set up.

"Ok, C."  Whiskey chuckled.  "Wait until those big eyed buggers taste what I got for 'em."

Sewer spawn started to fade in numbers.  We started our grisly work on Trash Heap.  Suited up Monsters held up massive, glowing red weapons at it.  Hoses connected back to Whiskey.  Tanks of oxygen were opened around them.  Then each weapon unleashed bright, white fire onto Trash Heap.

"It's working!"  Foxtrot cried.

Whiskey laughed as fire cut into part of the mass of Trash Heap.  Blue liquid poured out as fire seared into orange and pink flesh.  Whatever it was, it evaporated with a wicked hiss.

Tendrils and tentacles erupted around us.  I fought to keep up the dreamspace.  Trash Heap's tentacles demolished and melted concrete around us.

"Ah!"  Whiskey screamed as tentacles ensnared her.

"Whiskey!"  I tried to grab a hold of the smaller monster.  Tendrils reached for my neck, trying to wrap themselves around it.  Choking me.

No not me.  They were choking her.  I felt my neck.  No tendrils.  Whiskey's helmet cracked as Trash Heap pulled her toward it.

I could feel Whiskey's own throat.  She couldn't last very long with this.  No.  Not her.  Not Whiskey.  I tried to climb toward Trash Heap, grabbing for a sword or something to hit.

"Charlie, stay back.  I got her."  Foxtrot shoved me back.

She then popped up in the air.  The red-haired monster dropped ontop of the mass of tentacles constricting Whiskey.  Another pop, and the two of them transited back.  A mess of blue blood, exploded in the air above us.

Thunder crackled.  Whiskey and Foxtrot appeared next to me.

"Whiskey!"  I clamped onto her arm, taking her from Foxtrot.  "Are you ok?"

Whiskey coughed.  I couldn't sense her brain blacking in and out.  I could see bits and pieces of orange-pink tentacles on her body.  Maybe she was ok.  Maybe she wasn't.

My anger flowed into my Oneiros.  The white-hot flamethrowers clicked back on again, this time pouring even faster and swifter.  I didn't connect the minds of the others.  I stoke them.  I fanned them into a flame on their own.

We struck at Trash Heap like a thunderstorm.  Chunks of ceiling rock collapsed as we tore pieces of it from the walls.  We hacked and sliced at its eye drones.  Fire toasted it.

An hour later, I woke up from the nasty dream I'd created.  The mass of Trash Heap had been ripped open.  Its organs were ripped all around us in chunks.  I could still feel its heart beating in my dreamspace.

"Charlie..."  Voices tried to talk to me.  I ignored them.

"Rip it out."  I said, pointing at the heart.

Everyone converged on the beating, single-ventricle of a heart.  Blue blood hissed as the elephant sized organ fell apart.  Dark satisfaction flooded me.  My anger felt justified.  I'd taught the thing a lesson.  I'd avenged what it'd done to Whiskey.

As I let go of my Oneiros, I heard a single voice in my dreamspace.  As the heart stopped it's thrumming, a single cry entered my mind.  Something sad and mournful.  Disappointed.  Regretful.

The last dying moment from Trash Heap hit my mind.  Then I wanted to find a place deep and dark to hide in.

Friday, March 4, 2016

Find the Path: STRUGGLING (Or, a Character is Not a Person)

Avoid the urge to play a character that does the right thing for the right reasons.  Don't avoid doing things that hurt the character.  Make the character's life a struggle.  

Don't have the character be some orphan.  Play the child of a evil queen.  Play the scion of a noble house that is throwing it all away.  STRUGGLE.  It's worth it in the end to play a struggle.

I'm not saying, "play a asshat."  Or play a jerk.  Nor am I advocating for that dreary, high school emo moan fest.  But look for a struggle for your character.  Have them fail to overcome them.  Explore that.  I think once it has been explored, then it's ok to get in a win.

This isn't a GM thing.  It's a player thing.  Struggle to overcome something internal in your character.  Avoid the gut urge to have a character be perfect here and there and everywhere.  Further, when bad things happen to your character, it behooves one to step back.  One shouldn't identify their character as themself.

"This is Not A Person."

This is a thing from Art I'm borrowing.  The Belgian surrealist painter RenĂ© Magritte painted a piece that in english is called "The Treachery of Images."  It's a surrealist image of a pipe.  Under the pipe, in french, are the words "This is not a pipe."

That's my point: your character is not you.  They are fictive.  Fictive people and real people, have only one difference.  Other than physical realness, that difference is a trait players can exploit.  You can reveal what they are thinking.

In fiction, one can see what a character is thinking.  A character isn't a person.  Real persons can't reveal their thoughts, not really.  We all have no idea what others are thinking.  We make guesses.  We gather available information and assert certain things we've learned about others.

But we can't know.  Our RPG characters, though?  They are fictions.  We can reveal what they are thinking.  Because it's possible for us to do so.  Communicate what a character is thinking.  I'm not saying spend hours speaking monologues and sonnets about the character's internal motivations.  But one could switch to third person.  Narrate your character's thoughts, let everyone see what's going on.  Ars Ludi had a great piece on doing that for story games, it's apt here too I think.

Struggles and Trust

The other part of this, though, is trust.  I know it's hard to trust a GM. The GM's job is to provide complication, antagonism, danger and more. In that situation, then it is understandable to feel unwilling to trust them.

But trusting a GM is key.  (Vice versa is true too, but that's a different conversation.)

A character should fail.  And it isn't a mark against a player.  In fact, a player should be finding ways to make their character fail.

Fiction is meant to be exploratory space.  It has no consequences.  None physical.  It should be freeing to explore things you don't ever want to face in real life.

Some of the best players I've played with explore the fiction.  They don't care about the consequences, because they know their character isn't them.  They have fun, and don't worry about this week's quota of orc corpses.  I aim for that as a player, and I think it helps.

Struggle.  All the great stories are about failing most struggles.  Then at the right time, succeeding where it matters most.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Gaming Materials: Five Insanities I Love About Changeling: the Lost

It happened.  Something that excited me so much I jumped up and down and giggled over it.  Well, jumping is too much work.  But it did excite me.  The land of dreams, dark Gentry and dealing with world of darkness, all came back to me.  Yays!

Some recent open playtest doc dropped for Changeling the Lost 2nd Edition from Onyx Path.  Changeling the Lost is my favorite entry for the nWoD Chronicles of Darkness.  One of the best campaigns I've ever won was a Changeling game- City of Thorns.

Instead of gushing over the new rules, I want to talk about why I like it.  Most of my current players have little to no experience with it.  Crux itself borrows a few ideas from how I ran City of Thorns.  So, I'm going to do a list.  A list about what I love about Beautiful Madness.

Becoming Lost...

...is part of what makes CtL for me.  The sobriquet is apt.  They've all lost something.  As always, characters struggling for something, that intrigues me.  But Changelings?  Their lives have been robbed from them.  The Gentry took them, the True Fae.  They escape, but their lives are gone.  They have to rebuild.  All Changeling characters have to deal with that.

I love that.  There are so many questions.  How does a character handle this?  How do they overcome it?  Playing a Lost is a neat way to explore what it's like for those who've lost everything, yet still work to find home.  That resonates with me.  I believe that interesting characters that have to deal with struggles.  Darkness and trouble are more interesting struggles than others.  I believe that exploration is important.  It's something you have to do in your fiction.  It's a safe space and a way to explore things that you don't necessarily get exposed to a lot in real life.

On top of losing who they were, there's more.  The Lost were taken by the beings from stories and tales.  Faeries.  Trolls.  Giants.  But not the understandable kind, but dark chthonic creatures that tortured them.  And the Lost became a bit like their captors.  That's a familiar theme, though.


...The Gentry.  True Fae.  Those who took the Lost.  They are alien creatures bound by story and archetype.

What I find amazing about the Gentry is how malleable they seem.  Each Keeper could be fitted to any fairy tale.  Or urban legend.  Or any sort of monster.  Or even better, how you could squeeze them into a role normally set for a hero in a fable.  They inflicted a durance on you.  Changed you.

I like having players design or suggest concepts for other players.  I don't know why, but some players revel in creating horrible monsters for others to deal with.  But the part I always remember one thing about the True Fae.  One fact that makes them creepy for me.   They miss their changelings.  They miss them.  They miss them enough to go hunting for them.

That part makes me shiver.  They are looking for you, and they miss you.  That's also why the Purple Man in Jessica Jones is frightening.  Fears like that are good motivations for the Lost.


...Collected bits and things make to take your place.  The horror of someone being you.  That little bit is easy for players to instinctively kick away.  But fetches are awesome.  As a player you should adore, nay, obsess over your character's fetch.  Your Keeper placed them to replace your character.

It sounds like some sort of chain that hangs on your character.  It's a built-in personal rival.  Someone who has something you want.  That's actually ideal for a protagonist.  It shouldn't be clean to take one's fetch out.  There should be a collection of pros and cons.

It's your Rival.  They shouldn't die in a instant.  They are the heel to your face.  Or alternately, if you're clever, the face to your heel.  Another path, the one you didn't take.  I mean, doesn't that just create a mirror for you to gobble up roleplaying time with?


...Are things Changelings can make stick.  You can't just say certain things, not without a chance that a Changeling will make it stick if you don't keep it up.  They can make their oaths, their pledges and promises carry weight.  In CtL, the rules for it are a bit obtuse in the 1st Ed, but I think the culture around it doesn't care about the rules.  The Lost don't trust others, and pledges are a tool they use to be able to interact with them.

The part where it taps into the whole Fae promises schtick, that's just gravy on top.


...and the whole dreamwalking stuff in Changeling is one of my favorite ideas.  Changing, manipulating or experiencing the dreams of others.  Anything like that, I love.  Regardless of most else, the dream angle for Changeling would sell it to me.  But the part where stories and tales are manifest part of fae life?  Whoa.

Changeling posits that the Lost must deal with a realm of dreams on one hand, and reality on the other.  Stories crisscross the two.  Changelings can feel out what their role in the story is.  They can alter it, or use that to their advantage.  This is where kayfabe comes in, like I mentioned before.  If you're cast as the hero who pulls a sword from a stone, then, by god, figure out who your Mordred is.  Use it to your advantage.  Or better yet, if you see someone else falling into the King Arthur role, find a way to play the villain.

Not because you're evil.  But because it isn't something the Gentry are expecting.