Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Reading Materials: All the Great Prizes and Histories

I just finished a book on John Hay, All the Great Prizes.  I don't like negging on someone's work, but to call the book long and tiresome would understate it.  It did make me think, though, about how histories work best if they contain some sort of lesson in them.  

All the Great Prizes is a biography of the life of John Hay.  The book caught my interest because John Hay is one of those bizarre individuals who bridges historical eras.  Like some others, they aren't the main cast of the history you hear about.  But you recognize the name if you know who the cast at different times were.

John Hay served as one of Abraham Lincoln's private secretaries during his presidency.  Later, he served as Secretary of State under Theodore Roosevelt- right up to his death.  A man who lived the gilded age.  So a book on him certainly would catch my interest.  Hay was there at the birth of the Republican Party and the birth of the twentieth century.

All the Great Prizes fell short for me.  Rather, it fell long.  I don't might long drawn-out histories.  Long stuff with lots of minute details isn't bad.  A Song of Ice and Fire shows that one could cover hundreds of pages on details and never move the story forward.  All the Great Prizes I can't recommend.  There are long chunks of it that I couldn't get through, not because they were long.

Writing can be long.  That isn't bad.  But long and boring?  Ack.

All the Great Prizes...

The book covers John Hay's life from his writing, from his letters to his poetry, etc.  Which isn't bad on its own.  Citing texts doesn't bug me.  But almost none of the citations meant much.  A long focus of the book was Hay's extramarital relationships.  Even then, though, this is Victorian Era poetry and letters.

Circumstantial speculations on affairs take up a good chunk of the middle of All the Great Prizes.  Boring speculations.  Boring speculations that didn't carry any sort of meaning to them either.

History falls flat when it lacks a message.  Which smacks of presentism (thinking with a modern mindset).  But I still stand by that thought.  Histories would a lot better when it carries a message in it.   It has to tell you a story- and often it's how something worked or didn't work out for someone.  Mysteries happen, sure.

The best histories are those that show mysteries as side plots.  with their own potential subtexts.  The history of Lincoln is about political cunning and maneuvering.  Abraham Lincoln managed to win a political convention to be the presidential candidate.  He did that by being everyone's second choice.  He outmaneuvered McCellan's run against him in 1864.  The Civil War itself was a tragedy, something that no one won.  The Union survived it.

Roosevelt's Presidency was the result of luck.  Vibrant energy and bold action defined him.  He didn't balk at taking illegal actions if he thought them right.  Bold action and the consequences of taking such action are what one can learn from Theodore Roosevelt's life.  Sometimes it worked.  Other times, one can see how wrong it was in hindsight.

Through the Looking-Glass...

History comes to us distorted.  It's easy to see it one way.  I look to histories to give me other angles through the odd shapes of the glass.

When histories fail to present some sort of narrative to me, it feels like a miss to me.  John Hay's extramarital affairs in All the Great Prizes are misses.  There are spans of his life that don't mean much to me.  They don't amount to anything that helps you understand his life.  If anything, Hay's understated, humble life felt a little too perfect to me.

I think the gilded age is getting more and more important to look to these days.  That era had to end somehow.  The disproportion of it didn't last.  It mirrors our current state of affairs more than most realize.  We don't remember the blue collar folks of the gilded age.  Wealth grew more and more centralized.  People fought for their rights in illegal unions.  The world rolled closer and closer to a war that would redefine it.

That history interests me today.  Things tend to repeat themselves.  That's why you look back to history.  One is trying to see how others got off the left-handed path.  Sometimes you feel like you can never tell which one is which.

Friday, May 27, 2016

Find the Path: Ways To Abuse Time For Fun and Profit (in RPGs)

I like using time in interesting ways when I gamemaster.  Not just time travel.  Time skips forward, flashbacks and flashforwards all are tools I've used.  A lot.  I've had failures with them, but I've always found ways to use them properly.

Time-manipulating narrative tools work best when they have a point.  Sometimes you can use time skips to "cheat" a weak story into something stronger.  But some of the best stories have a point behind it.

Let me go over how I try to use prophecy and time skips.  I think I need to use them more often.  Time skips especially.


This is something everyone ends up having to try their hat at.  My favorite flavor of prophecy is specific though.  Wherein the characters move forward in time, then they can come back with foreknowledge.  Usually of some disaster.  This is great for foreshadowing.  It's also a great way to give players a way they can influence or alter the future.

The key to prophecy though, is to avoid specifics.  Vagueness is best.  A specific prophecy only works if it's the self-fulfilling kind.  If a PLAYER wants a self-fulfilling prophecy, I could see that working.

But every time I've tried to have a "specific" prophecy, one that dictates the choices of a player, it doesn't work.  Bad feels.  Frustration.  Justified feelings because I robbed a player of their ability to choose.

It's better to be vague.  Avoid robbing players of their agency as a GM.  Players, if you get the chance, try to write your own prophecies if your GM will let you.


This one I think all groups use on occasion.  Time moves forward a bit, and you skip a bunch of stuff.  Maybe a few hours in the game are skipped, to save everyone from having to RP breakfast.  Or the campaign is skipped ahead years, where things have changed quite a bit.

Every time I've used a time skip, it's worked great for me.  The only danger is missing the point of it.  That is, if there is an established status quo after a time skip, something has to break it.  Time skips are warranted for skipping over the minor things that aren't of interest to a game.  These can be interesting character building bits of RP.  But if they aren't part of creating arcs for characters, maybe it's better to jump ahead.

The goal should always be about characters changing over time.  About them going from one state to another.  Or if you game from a plot-focused direction, the same goes.  If it doesn't move the story forward, maybe the skip current troubles in the Underdark.

I have found talking with players about what happened to their characters after a time skip helps us.  We find out together what the new status quo is.  There also is the need to make sure characters still have reasons to work together. That cohesion is sort of key to the collaboration of a group.  If so, new characters find their way into the story if the old character is too far gone.

Time skips always seem to work for me.  My players often seem to enjoy the chance to redefine their character.  I like skipping the fat and getting to the meat of the interesting parts of a story.

How about you?  Any success with prophecy and time skips in your games?

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Flash Fic: Artemis Dancing In Moonlight

Lily stretched comfortably on her bed.  

"Wake up Lily!"  Her white fur stood up as the alarm made her buzz.  Cyberware vibrated her awake.

The alarm cut her slumbering nap short.  She had wanted to enjoy the engine's heat for a bit.  She blinked her eyes and stood up.  The feline fought back the urge to swat at the AR illusion of the ship's avatar that floated above her.  Artemis Dancing In Moonlight hung there, fabricated neural impulses and a grin that

"Why did I program you to appear as part of that alarm?"  Lily grumbled.  Her voice rumbled.

"We're nearly there, y'know."  The smiling, blue-haired ghostly AI illusion told her.

"The firegate."  Lily reminded herself.  Her grogginess faded away.  Her curiosity made her eager.  She'd spent the better part of the last year training for this.

"Everyone else is up.  They're congregating in the lounge for it."

"Anyone piloting?"  Lily asked.

Artemis Dancing In Moonlight rolled her eyes at me.  "Honestly.  One would think a cat couldn't be such a micromanager."

Lily started to clean her neck fur.  Even though her human compatriots wouldn't notice, she still aimed to look her best.  The first cat to experience FTL travel had to look the part.

"My expedition, you're just my ship."  Lily purred.  She didn't mean anything by it.  Either way, it made her wish she could laugh, not just purr heartedly.  Oh well.

Kittens couldn't be choosers.

"Right.  See you in the lounge then."

Artemis Dancing In Moonlight's avatar buzzed out of Lily's AR view.  The cyberware let the cat see and interact with the ship's AI.  Lily didn't care, although Artemis's attitude always amused her.  The consensus AI spirit knew how to keep most important member of this expedition happy.  Obviously.

Lily made her way to the lounge.  Not because Artemis had said everyone else would be there.  Lily had decided it would be a good place for her to start her own analysis of the journey through the Firegate.  She decided.  Of course.  She would tolerate others in the lounge.

The white couches of the lounge c0ntrasted with the walls around them.   Holograms of the outside of the ship covered the walls and ceiling.  Dark, black space in five directions.  Only the floor kept it's steel complexion.  The rest showed their slow glid.  On one screen, a ring grew closer and closer.

The four other members of the expedition watched the real-time holograms.  Lily lept onto a nearby couch.  The red-haired human Barnabus moved to give her space.  The human members of the expedition yawned.  They looked tired too.  In that, monkeyish way humans looked when they had to wake early.

"Why did we have to wake up so early for this?"  Green-haired Bass asked.  The human woman's blue skin always looked kinda cuter to Lily that the pale pinks of the others.

"Arrival was posted to be at 0500,"  Lily said.  "Some of us have alarms."

"Some of us don't sleep most of the day away."  Bass retorted.

"Ah."  Magnus stood up.  The dark-haired human wore fewer clothes than the others, a robe.  Lily knew Magus as the astrophysicist would be the most excited to enter the firegate.  "It's opening!"

"Now to see for ourselves, this wonder Huma invented,"  Barnabus grumbled.

Lily moved away from Barnabus to Edamame.  The tiny bioroid girl with glowing purple hair shivered a bit.  She clutched a cup of coffee.  Lily sniffed at the human adolescent.

"You ready?"  She asked Edamame.

"I..."  Edamame gazed at the ring of red energy floating ahead of them.  "They told me... what to expect.  I saw some of the pictures."

"We have nothing to worry about,"  Lily told her.  "Artemis is prepared to deal with the transition across dimensions."

"The energies, though..."  Edamame stared at the firegate.  "Firespace is supposed to be raw energy.  Ships explode traveling across it.  They just... dissolve."

"Ships without artificial gravity."  Lily corrected.  The white cat studied the firegate as it erupted with red and yellow energy.  "Firespace lacks inherent gravitons.  The Iono grav generators protect us from the anti-gravity forces there.  Besides, you are the key to saving us, young one."

"Young one?"  Edamame laughed.  "You always say that, and you're like five years old."

"I designed Artemis."  Lily lifted her head.  "You have the job of keeping my ship from getting lost in firespace."

Edamame scratched Lily under the chin.  The white cat allowed the gesture.  It seemed to calm the Bioroid Nyctian.  Good.

"Of course, we assume that an artificial psychothalmus is the same as a natural one.  What if firespace doesn't interact well with a artificial one?"  Barnabus pointed out.   "No one has done that before, have they?"

Lily glowered at him.  She made a mental note to visit his quarters at some point during this trip.  Maybe it was inelegant for Lily to want to punish Barnabus.  But a part of her knew she'd feel better after leaving him some sort of present.

"It shouldn't matter."  Lily countered.  "The ESP of a Nyctian can navigate Firespace.  Edamame will be able to interface with Artemis direct, Barnabus.  You read the brief."

"And I'm here out of curiosity.  We still don't have a good idea of the tactical benefits of firespace travel yet.  This expedition could be dangerous."  Barnabus shrugged.  "But you didn't bring combat drones for that either."

"Only three people on this crew have occupations, Barnabus.  C'mon." Bass sat next to Barnabus.  "Stop being such an ass."

"I..."  Edamame closed her eyes.  "I can do this."

Lily turned her head to the Firegate.  Firespace grew larger in the holograms on the walls.  Edamame chanted to herself.  Lily watched as they started to leave the Solar System to another dimension.

Her curiosity felt piqued for certain.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Find the Path: Talking Animals.

One of the fantasy tropes I prefer is that of talking animals.  Not as one time appearances, but entire communities of talking critters.  The trope has its problems for use.  But in a tabletop RPG, I like using it nonetheless.

The trope of talking animals often comes across as cartoony.  There are potential pitfalls.  When I refer to talking animals, I mean animals who have the capacity to speak.  They can converse intelligently with humans.

My key inspiration for this comes from Fables (the comic) and all sorts of  mythology.

I can imagine the first pitfall to creating talking animal characters for a tabletop RPG.  It's a human, gamer-y one:  Thumbs.  The lack of them.  It's easy to see talking animals as being less successful PC options because of their lack of thumbs.  Or the means to use tools the same way humans can.

Maybe it's whimsy, but I don't think the lack of opposable thumbs necessitates problems in a game.  In Dungeons and Dragons (Pathfinder too), there often is a bit of advice.  Suggestions that animals could be limited in what they can or can't do in a situation.

I disagree.

I'm not just referring to hand waving here.  If there are communities of talking animals in a setting, then there should already be established methods to get around these limitations.  Not just magic items, but common ways that skirt or cheat to some animals' advantage.

Horses And Such.

Horses are the first talking animal that comes to mind for me.  But any quadrupedal mammal could do too.  Yes, they can talk, but they lack arms to wield tools.

Let's ignore rules concerns for now.  Any GM worth their salt can dream up whatever dice roll needed to explain what a player wants to do.  That's a given here.

Could a talking horse be a player character in a game?  Of course.  C.S. Lewis's The Horse and His Boy two of the main characters are horses.  Their lack of ability to use tools the same way humans do never rarely comes up.

Outside of fictional examples, horses are capable of maiming a human on their own.  Like many mammals, their mouths serve as touch organs.  They have to be trained often to keep them from harming their riders.  Horses might not be able to use a gun or sword.  But they possess the muscle to win most brawls against human opponents.

So, there are fictional and real world examples of things horses can do.  It requires thinking outside of the human shaped box we live in, but possible.  A community of talking horses could have access to inventors who've developed prosthetic tools.  Apparatus that they can enable them to use tools.

In Crux, I've thought on horses that also use humans as proxy tool-users.  Cruel talking horses would use their bigger size to bully human victims.  Without superior weapons, such humans would have to do as they command.


Regardless of rules, a character should be interesting.  Rules exist to enable play.  They should be bent if a player has a fantastic idea for a character.   Interesting characters are worth the work.

The limits of a character might never come up.  Some characters are just too interesting, too intriguing, to be disregarded just because they can't open a door.

As for rules, my core suggestions remains to bend them.  If a player comes the table wanting to play such a character, don't penalize them for it.  Someone playing a talking pig shouldn't be hunted as food every session.

Talking animals should be considered a common sight in a fantasy setting that has them.  If they are, then like other fantasy races, they are possibly part of the community around them.  A talking animal is regarded as a fellow citizen of the city, not a potential target.

One could explore more in this vein.  Are there talking animals that fight for the rights of their nonspeaking brethren?  Or are there talking animals that abuse their intelligence and speech against their cousins?

As for humans, is it okay to enjoy bacon when your cleric is a talking pig?  Do you tolerate cats when the bard is a talking sparrow?

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

City of Curses: The Grand Ole Game (flash fiction)

A bit of #flashfiction on #Crux for Wednesday? IDK.  Here's a sport in Crux, Pitball.  Maralda gets in a game, even though she doesn't understand the sport at all.


Maralda frowned at her notebook.  Why did she think seeing a Pitball match would make this any easier?

She'd only ever seen Pitball matches with Lahm.  Without him, she didn't quite understand how the sportworked.

"This isn't the strangest game.  The Ursyklon brought it here thousands of years ago."  Maralda told herself.

A pitball arena required looking down to watch it.  They played it beneath the feet of the spectators.  A series of ringed trenches.  The two teams of three moved in two different ways.

One team had the ball at the start of the round.  Each team hid their hoop from view two.  Each team began the round in their own ringed trench or pit.  The goal was for the ball team to get the ball into the opposing team's hoop.

But the thing that Maralda never understood was where the hoop was.  The defending team could put the hoop anywhere in the arena.  A small extra-dimensional space, the hole within the hoop always had enough room for the ball to fit.

Confusing the game further had to be when rounds changed.  The defense would switch to offense, and then they'd move hoop and ball again.  It all happened too rapid for Maralda to follow.  Lastly, something would cause a bell to ring.  That would end the match.

The bell rung.  Again, she had no idea what happened.  And still didn't have any words other than "pitball" written downin her notebook.

"Who won?"  Maralda sputtered.  "I didn't see-"

"Tie."  A stranger told her.  A voice like a tin can and pig grease.


Maralda looked to the seat above her.  The Pitball Arena looked more like a jar inside a vase.  The trenches and pits sat at the bottom of it.  The chairs and seats circled it.  Magic and fire allowed the spectators to see most of the nooks and crannies.

Above her.  Above the bard sat a mechanical man of wax, gears, and aetherfire.  The obese android smoked a corn pipe.  Maralda wrinkled her nose at the tobacco smoke.  Some of the android's wax had to be pig's grease too.  It stank.

"Yes."  The android gestured.  "Five rounds of five, neither team could find the hoop."

"They just ran around for ten minutes, and that's a tie?!"

"It wasn't that short..."  The android chuffled with a bit of laughter.

On his left shoulder, Maralda noticed a pin.  A holy symbol.  The three notes of the Singer of the Song.

She didn't recognize their arrangement.  A quarter rest and two quavers?  What sect of the Song would have a rest in it?

"Are you an ariast?"  Maralda pointed at the symbol.

"Ariast?"  The android echoed.  Then he tilted his head.  "I suppose.  Name's Cleaver, Miss."


"Butcher by trade, after my owner freed me.  Came to bet on the games.  See if I can win anything big for my shop, y'know?"

"Oh."  Maralda scrawled the name down.  A android butcher named cleaver.  "How does butchery... Is it ariast?  I don't quite see that."

"Not the butchery."  Cleaver waved a hand.  The wood and brass joints squeaked as it moved.  "The cooking.  I and mine believe food is an art of its own.  A moment to enjoy.  The right taste can solve all a man's problems."

Hence the rest note in his symbol, Maralda thought.

Cleaver continued to explain how the game had ended in a tie.  Being unable to find the opposing hoop before the time had ended, a team forfeited that round.  Both teams had been unable to do that five rounds in a roll.

"Wait.  I'm sorry, this game always confounds me.  They ended in a tie because both sides just moved their hoops around?"

"The game punishes those who defend and never hunt,"  Cleaver smiled.

That unnerved Maralda a bit.  She couldn't quite think of why.

"That makes sense."  Maralda looked back as a new pair of teams started a new game in the arena below.

Maralda noted the hungry look in Cleaver's android eyes.  She'd never seen one of the artificial folk that looked like that.  Dark drool came out at the edges of his waxy jaw.  Maralda jolted notes on it.

"You serve the Song too then?"  Cleaver asked, his glassy eyes fixated on the game below.  Like it was a meal waiting to come off the pan.

"I write stories and the like,"  Maralda said.

"Writing."  He echoed the words.  "Not everything need be a song to help show people the right path, eh?"

"I've never heard of an Android that cooks.  That's... pardon me, kind of strange isn't it?"

"I suppose, but I've found my sense of taste is particular.  Unique.  That it can discern things others can't."

"Unique?"  Maralda's skin itched.  Something about Cleaver made her uneasy.

"Y'know, sometimes an unsorcerous or two can't make their bets.  There are some ingredients only desperation can find."

Cleaver smacked his lips, his eyes focused on the arena below.  One of the pitball players fell back.  His skull split open.  Blood stained one of the pits as he didn't get back up.

"Oh.  That poor fellow!"

"Aye.  Some ingredients that make a meal wonderful.  Minced and sliced things.  Delicious things."

Maralda looked away from the arena.  They carried the injured pitball player out of the arena.  The ursyklon didn't move.  Cleaver didn't look away.  Maralda shivered as she realized he was looking at some of his special ingredients.

She managed to keep the vomit down until she got out of the arena.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Random Thought: Gods, Monsters, Heroes.

No one chooses who are they are in this life.  

It's a matter of discovery.  Tales and stories can sometimes illuminate the path.  But in truth, the quest of finding oneself is something one can only do for themselves.

There is always a warning that comes with that quest.  A singular danger.  An instance of warning.  Do not fail to know thyself.

This is where one can see the divergence between hero and villain.  Tales, legends and myths separate Monsters and Heroes.  Those who know who they are, or are trying to find out, they are the heroes.  The monsters are those who've lost themselves.  Or worse, Monsters are those who ignore who they are for the sake of their wants.

I believe three kinds of figures make up history: heroes, monsters and gods.  History isn't accurate- it can't be.  But what role people are cast in, it's one of those three roles.   Why?  Because that's how myths write themselves.  History is those myths intended to carry truth.

Heroes either know who they are, or are looking for themselves.  Monsters choose their own wants over who they are.  Where are gods in this?  How does identity strike them?

On The Divine Kind.

Gods are concepts.  They aren't persons with identities.  Gods represent.  They are ideas, never more than that.  Even with their faults, gods still represent things greater than themselves.  If my take on history is true, who is a god from history?

Washington.  Lincoln.  Roosevelt.  Reagan.  Martin Luther King Jr.

Yes, they were men.  But most histories tend to treat them more like the concepts they represent.  They are ideas, not the people they were when they were alive in the popular conscience.  Even when people read details of their lives, it might shift them into the roles of heroes.  Or people just find things that let them identify with the ideals they adore.

In our fiction, characters tend to follow these themes.  But we all want characters to be more than that.  We like to think our histories are accurate and that the people in them were real.  We want real characters in our fiction.  Yet I still think characters tend to be heroes, monsters or gods.

In a narrative, it's easy to cast people and characters into these roles.  Hitler was a monster who killed millions.  Washington a God who founded a nation.  Galileo the hero who stood against the Church.

Are those true assertions?  Or is it better to think, how does the audience know who is the hero?  How do they know who they are?

Self And Maralda

At the moment, I keep writing pieces for Maralda.  I love her as a character.  Part of the reason is that she wants to know so much in the world.  She's a writer, a Bard.  She loves stories, and she knows
this part about herself.

She is conflicted about other parts of her identity.  I wonder, is Maralda hero turning into a monster?  Or can she avoid that?

I think I need to try my hand at a longer comic.  Maralda feels like the best character to put at the center of it.  She has some choices to make, and I like the idea of exploring Crux through comic imagery.

The question for Maralda then, is about herself.  Are stories the most important thing about her?  Or will she stop running from her father's heritage?  Who is Maralda, or is she just someone who hides to see stories from shadows?

IDK.  Still working on it.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

City of Curses: The First City (Maralda's Notes)

#Crux piece from Maralda about Kaze Skysword, and the legendary First City that Crux had descended from.  The City of Curses evolved from it.  Kaze claims to have found it.  Maralda knows the ferret Archaeologist, and has some reservations on whether or not he is speaking the truth.  Has he found the legendary city, or is the ferret pulling a hoax?

The First City: Discovery or Hoax?

This essay was first published in the Newblood issue of the 1785 Ariast Times Magazine.

Kaze Skysword follows the footsteps of his grandmother, the founder of the Archaeologist class.  Yet his reputation oft makes his discoveries more question than certain.  His recent claims of many expeditions to the First City have yet to be borne out.  Yet the ferret continues to press for further expeditions.

I've had more than a few meetings with the feyborn adventurer.

I confess I think he's scum.  Ferret scum.

My most recent interview with the slippery weasel (my apologies to honest ferret readers) didn't bear much out to me.  He has little in direct evidence that conflicts with the Chancellor's own.  Kaze maintains his claim that he found the First City.

Did he?  Or is the little talking ferret trying to fleece the wealthy of the City of Curses for an extra Sphinx?

The First City is mythical.  Shraxes and the Prince used to date mythical.  The sort of thing you hear about as a child.  A story.  It isn't supposed to be real.

Then Kaze comes into the tale.  Is it true?  One would have to go.  But there is something else to keep in mind.

Kaze has a poor track record.  My distaste is warranted out of habit.  On at least one occasion, he managed to almost have me sold into bondage.  On another, I took a bullet he had earned.  Each time I fell for his claims of wonders or riches.

He has no home in Ferreton.  The feyborn suburb of the Wolf Quarter is host to all manner of feyborn Stoat, Ferret, Weasels and more.  Kaze owes every pub and tavern in Ferreton.  More than one resident had nothing but the worst to say for him.

But as a former student of his, I can attest something, despite his greedy manners. Even despite Kaze's history of wanton abandon in pursuit of enriching himself.  Kaze always knows what a relic or piece of history is.  He is an archaeologist, albeit the worst sort.

The First City.

Crux has no founding date.  This fact always surprises me.  I've tried to uncover it.

No such luck.

The founding myths of Crux describe notables we recognize.  Like the Prince and Shraxes.  But they also mention more.  Some mention the Aetheric Empire.  Other tales describe what must've been many more gods, heroes and monsters.  Many forgotten.  Yet stories say they are to be of the First City.

The seaborn Darin.  The living shadow Anton.  The Mourning Girl.  The blazing Red Sword.  The Exiled Wolf and his twin brother, the falcon-headed Ra.  Gods and legends there are few stories of.

They came from the First City.  A city from the golden age of the Aetheric Empire.  The Aetheric Empire conjures images of the spelleating Aetherblooded.  Those whom the sorcerous fear and others see as godlings.  The Skullmount itself came into being during the Aetheric Empire.

Yet we know next to nothing about the First City outside of stories.  All kinds of wonders and spells attributed to it.  Some claim that one must traverse some sort of hell to even reach where the First City lies beneath the Skull.

Kaze affirms parts of the tales.  According to the ferret explorer, there indeed are massive series of dark chambers.  Lakes of acid.  Bizarre creatures that live there.  Caverns that lie above where the First City is.  He admits to having navigated the area blind.

I don't doubt part of that.  Unlike Kaze's grandiose speak, I suspect the archaeologist feyborn ferret had gotten himself lost.  I'd see him take wrong turns more than once.  Especially when drunk.

Either way, he also affirms other myths of the First City.  Illusory images.  Walls and doors that move of their own accord.  Wonders not yet replicated by alchemy or industry.

I think some of it is Kaze's bravado.  But part of it, I recognize.

"I've seen it."  He insists.  The look in his eyes are too honest.  This is a ferret who has seen something he only dreamed of.

Claim Concerns.

I avoided Kaze's attempts to convince me to join him on a expedition.  A part of me wanted to see what the little archaeologist had seen.  But I knew better than to go off with Kaze.  Not a blind chase in the undercity of Crux.

"I'm surprised Kaze.  You think this is the genuine article?"

The ferret gave me his familiar toothy smirk.  "I found it M.  I've got people lined up for more expeditions down there.  It's a shame you aren't going to join me right away."

"I think I've got enough going on right now without joining you right now."  I made sure to ask him about other concerns this discovery might have.  "Kaze, what about the Chancellor's counter claims to it?  He says you have found nothing."

Kaze spat on the ground.  "I found it.  He can do whatever he wants to contest me, but I'll get back down there.  It's mine, he can't scare me off."

"You're saying he's wrong?"

"I'm saying the Chancellor needs a change of opinion."  Kaze's eyes brightened as our drinks arrived at the Wandering Star Pub.  "The First City is too big, too vast of a thing for just one group or person to control.  No matter how hard they might try to lock it up, I'm ferret enough to find my own way in."

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

City of Curses: Timewalkers (Maralda with some Fate Core)

#Crux blog post about Timewalkers.  Time travelers, wanderers, nomads and considered lunatics, Timewalkers patrol the places in Crux that bleed temporarily.  And they tend to create headaches for normal folk.

The Incomprehensible Guild of Timewalkers.

The tiny shack in Old Crux never made sense to me.  The plaque above it said it was a guildhall.  Yet, there wasn't much room in it.  The Guildhall of the Timewalkers looked more like a one-room hovel than some sort of headquarters.

"Hello?"  I knocked on the rickety door.  It bobbed up and down with my knocks.

No answer.

I tried again.  "Hello?  I'm here for a interview-"

"You!  I thought I told you never to come back here!"

"Uh..."  I blinked.  "Excuse me, but I'm Maralda Inculti Tyranus, and I'm here to-"

"Interview!"  The voice retorted.  "Yes, I bloody heard you.  I told you before, we ain't going to talk

with the likes of you after what you did-"

"Did what?"  I asked.  "I'm sorry, did I do something to offend you?"

"Wait a tick."  There was a bang on the other side.  Then the whirling of what sounded like clock gears.

"I'd like to know if I'd done something wrong.  Please.  Apologies if I have."

Pause.  Then a cough.

"Oops.  Wrong day."

Then came the slip and clank of several bolts from the other side of the door.  As the man on the other side tried to open the door, I noticed something.  Something had rendered the door crooked inward.  Bent.  Crumpled. In such a fashion that one could only see the crook in it as it opened.  And the metal door creaked.  I had thought it wooden, but saw the chips in paint as it swung outward.

"Hullo!"  The man told me.  "Come in!  Twasn't expecting you... well, to be exact, wasn't sure of what year it was.  You know what I mean?"

The tiny hovel of a guildhall was even more cramped inside.  I saw stacks of chairs and tables.  Crates covered with sheets.  Papers littered the floor.  There was enough room for my host, but I worried about where to step.


"Don't mind the mess!"  He bellowed at me.

I looked over to the shorter Timewalker.  His clothes were horrible.  They didn't follow a fashion so much as violate every taste.  At least all the ones I could imagine.  His hat looked a decade out of date.  His waistcoat hung too low.  Instead of a vest, his shirt clashed with his pants.  His shoes didn't match.  HIS shoes.  One was a boot, the other, well, I didn't know what.  It looked more like a slipper.

"Ok..."  I stepped warily into the guildhall.

He looked up to me.  The left chunk of his face was metallic.  Silvery.  The eye in it looked dark, like a insect's.  Dozens of glittering lights in it.  It whirled about on its own.

I looked away from it.  I didn't want him to catch me staring.  Eek.

"I'm the resident member of the Timewalkers here."  He smiled, proud of his chosen position.  "I'll be more than glad to answer a few of your questions, Miss."

"Great...  So...  Uh...  Who are you, sir?"

"The resident- Righto, name."  He scratched his chin.  "Forgot about that.  Gets confusing sometimes, y'know?"

No one everyone calls them the incomprehensible guild of Timewalkers.  They can't even answer a question without being confusing.  Not even a simple one.  Ack.


"Oh.  They call me SoHo.  After the neighborhood, where I grew up."  He smiled.  Then paused.  Then added.  "Y'all haven't build it yet.  Nevermind that."

Okay.  This was going to be a long interview.

Nomads, Wanderers and Lunatics.

Timewalkers are specific about how and who founded them.  They say they work for the Prince of Crux.  Then they pause, and say, not the "current" Prince.  The "future" Prince founded them.

From another time.  If one asks for more details than than, they will give them.  But it hurts one head to try to unravel.

Their guild seal is that of an upright hourglass.  Within is the Seal of Crux in miniature.  It suggests their purpose, that they patrol something that even Crux can't manipulate.

Timewalkers patrol time.  That is how they describe it.  It sounds like a blend of patrolling and shepherd's work.  Listening to the hows and whys just leaves one confused.

That's how the Timewalkers like it.

Crux, as a the city goes, bleeds.  Not in the literal sense.  It bleeds in both planar and temporal axes.  As such, the Timewalkers work to keep many time periods and eras from crossing over too much.  Even they indulge in a few paradoxes for their own sake.

No one can quite say why.  Or what they are.

Unicorn Herders.

Most Timewalkers in Crux think of themselves as Unicorn herders.  This is an apt term, as many of them seem able to view time almost the same way Unicorns do.  Unicorns cause most of the temporal disruptions.

Herding or looking after them would seem to be a good way to handle it.  But Unicorns sometimes invert their own timelines.  Timewalkers fall into the same sort of trap.  Like unicorns, they sound mad.

We don't know how the Timewalkers recruit.  They give answers, but there seems to be no real consistency in responses.  The Timewalker Guildhall in Old Crux is a tiny hovel.  It looks rundown and ruined.  There are at fifty or more Timewalkers operating out of it.

Those aren't the only mysteries Timewalkers involve themselves in.  Those most curious about them often become recruited into their number.  But no one has quite figured out what happens to those who trespass time.  How do the Timewalkers punish crimes against time?  There aren't even decent guesses for that question.

The last note should be that the Timewalkers seem the least loyal to the Prince of all the Guilds that serve the city.  They abstain from criminal activities.  More than once a Timewalker has interfered with the criminal actions of the City Watch.  The Prince seems unable or unwilling to control them.

The Prince founded the Timewalkers in the future, they claim.  Some suggest that the Prince who founded them isn't the same as the current one.  In their own confounding way, the Timewalkers' explanation is more paradoxical.  Far more than anyone else can understand.

Timewalker Stunts. (Fate Core)

Timeways: You know how to travese time, often through the nooks and holes in Crux.  You know which ones lead where, and when.  If you spend a fate point, you can announce that one is close to you, but you can't choose when it goes.

Time Sense: You've experienced time nonlinearly enough that you don't get thrown off by it.  Being that avoid or bypass time, you can sense them.  You even can understand what they are talking about.  Others, don't.  This doesn't help much with normal people.  But you knew that when you took this, right?

This stunt gives you a +2 on rolls to Overcome entities that are nonlinear in a temporal sense.  This includes Unicorns, but also can include horrific things no one should spend time around.

Monday, May 9, 2016

City of Curses: First Step (Flash Fiction)

A #Crux bit of #FlashFiction for #Monday.  Danyel Fyshir is a young Rosefolk boy, who besides refusing the veil men in his culture normally wear, is excited for his First Step.  This is the day Danyel takes his First Step in a Class.  It will define the rest of his life.  It isn't necessarily a choice, as the class you find is based on your own abilities.  Sometimes it is a choice, but other times, some find themselves forced into something that they can't get out of.

Danyel Fyshir arrived at school early that day.  The school, the Rose Quarter's Chapel of the Machine, was full of the other students of his grade.  Twelve years of age, Fyshir wore the best suit he owned.

He rushed down the steps of the Rose Quarter.  Despite being twelve years of age, Danyel had the height of most Rosefolk.  His dark, chocolate skin and fizzy black hair matched with the black and red of his waistcoat.  Smooth-faced, the young skinny boy looked like he had been on the verge of puberty.

His waistcoat wasn't well-tailored to him.  Sleeves dangled a bit too far, and the fabric frayed in spots.  His best suit also had been the cheapest on the rack.  But still, for a poor Rosefolk boy like him, it had been stylish.  The suit was Tomasi enough to let him fit in with the fashion of Crux and Ith enough.

His mother had gotten the dark Tomasi-style waistcoat for him.  She'd loved him, even if it had led to her separating with his father two years before.  Danyel didn't wear the veil like other Rosefolk men were supposed to.

That hadn't separated his parents.  Danyel's mind remained focused on the critical event at school this day.  Something to distract from how his choice to dress as a boy, not a girl, had split his family in two.

"The day has arrived!"  Danyel told himself.  He couldn't contain his excitement over what he'd learn today.  It would decide the rest of his life.  His first step on the path that would guide the rest of his life.

This day, Danyel and the other students would all take that first step together.  Like Danyel, the other students had arrived early for Priestess Aza's class.  Everyone looked nervous, curious and there were plenty of butterflies in stomachs all around.

"Ah."  Priestess Aza announced to the students.  "Even our perennial tardy Mister Fyshir is early for today.  I take it you all are eager for your First Step?"

Students looked at one another.

Priest Aza wore the ceremonial iron mask of the Church of the Machine.  The School also was a chapel.  An oddity in the religious Rose Quarter.  A place in the City of Curses dominated by worshippers of the Twins.  This chapel served a religion other than the Twins.  The Machine and its priests believed that everyone deserved an education.

Aza had spent the last seven years teaching everyone in Danyel's class.  Each student had grown up with the Priestess.

The mask only covered the top half of her face.  Aza's braided green and gray hair were wrapped around the back of her head in a bun.  The Priestess wore a simple, plain dress.  But even this early in the day, her fingers and part of the dress were already stained with chalk dust and ink.

Her mouth smiled.

"Good.  Everyone is here, why don't we begin early.  You all agree, I presume?"

Students heads bobbed up and down.

"Good."  Aza said.  She then stood up.  "Today, you all will take your First Step.  Everything you've learned the past few years has led up to this.  Classes are, of their own natures, metaphysical.  They exist in ways that others like you have discovered them.  I have done my best to help you find the door.  Today, I'll put your hands on the doorknobs.

"I know some of you are scared as much as you are curious.  I was too.  Unsorcerous classes will damn you.

Sorcerous classes will lift you up.  But I hope you remember to see the rest of your fellow students as equals.  Do not let the first step and gifts of your Class taint you.  Years from now you can always find mentors to explore another class.  Or, hopefully, you will find teachers in the next few years that will let you master the class you find today."

Danyel shifted in his seat as Aza began the rite.  The Priestess moved her hands around her head.  The prayer gave Aza glowing eyes.  Danyel didn't recognize the color, it seemed to be something just outside his ability to see.

The prayer opened Danyel and the other students' minds.  At least, that had been what Aza said it did.  It just opened their senses with magick lens.  A bit.

"Alright."  Aza spoke in a quiet tone.  "Now feel.  Listen.  Let your emotions out.  Remember everything you've learned.  There are secrets and tricks in all of it.  You can hear your class.  The step.  Take it.  Hear the word.  The class will speak it's name to you.  Be patient.


Danyel closed his eyes.  The first things that came to him were history books he'd read.  Memories of things to cure poisonous plants.  Then there was the time he'd learned how to play games in the field with the others.  How they accepted him as boy there, how he'd jump and move, swift and smooth.  Not faster than the rest, but with cunning.




Danyel then heard a voice.  It felt distant.

Rough.  A woman's voice?  It sounded like she had struggled.  Danyel could hear a cleverness to it.

"Rogue."  The voice told him.

Danyel repeated the word.  It felt like walking through a door.  Like when a wind changes the sky.  But instead of clouds and suns shifting, Danyel's mind changed.  He could feel something there.  Something new.  It wasn't quite complete.

Like the first step onto a new path.

Danyel blinked his eyes open.  He knew new things, but they weren't complete.  He touch that place, were the Rogue class existed through his mind.

He tried to push back tears.  Rogue.

Half of the other students were laughing and bragging about their new class.  The half were busy lying to others about it.  Danyel felt what half of them felt.  Rogue wasn't a Sorcerous class.  Rogue was Unsorcerous.

Danyel had taken his First Step.  But the path ahead of him wasn't fair.  The Unsorcerous weren't citizens.  They weren't people.  Not the kind of people Danyel had wanted to be.  Unsorcerous were property.

Sorcerous could do anything they wanted to them.

"I'm unsorcerous."  Danyel told himself.  His gut just sank.  He wanted to puke.

Unsorcerous.  It wasn't fair.  It wasn't fair at all.

Friday, May 6, 2016

What Is Nothing?

Does it exist?  Does it have a taste?  A smell?  What sound does it make?  Can you even remember it?

It is hard to describe.  It is harder to comprehend.

That is the nature of the Nihiloid.  One can't even remember what they look like.  The Nihiloid is made of nothing.  But that doesn't make it alive.  It doesn't make the nothing dead either.

Death and life are somethings.  Nothingness is beyond that.  The Nihiloid are... aren't.  Monsters, People, Objects.  All of the above and none of the above either.

Nihiloid are holes.  They don't exist.  Imagine all reality, all that exists, as a piece of paper.  Nihiloid are holes in the paper.  Holes in memory.  Holes in space.

Sometimes one can see them.  After effects and echoes.

But doing so is hard.  The mortal mind can't quite see the nothing that comprehends the Nihiloid.  It can't remember touching them.  Seeing them.  Nothingness deletes memories.  One cannot remember the Nihiloid.

Memories can't remember them.  Senses can't sense them.  Ideas fall to describe them.

Emotions.  Strong emotions can pierce the nothingness.


Those touched by the Nihiloid are erased.  Ripped out of the pages of reality.  Deleted.

Becoming nothing leaves a shadow.  An echo.  But it also deletes the memories of that person or thing in all those who knew it.  Places and things owned by the deleted person, they seem as though they popped into being as if never seen before.

The threads are left around the hole cut.

Nihiloid never die.  Nihiloid are immortal.  Being embraced by them puts one in a place beyond death.  Beyond the layers of reality.

Emotions can see through the hole cut by Nihiloid.  The deleted flock to the warmth of those strong emotions still held for them.  Even without memories to bind them, the emotions remain there.

It could be possible to melt away the nothingness, the Nihiloid.  Ice, melted by the fire of emotions.

But such is conjecture.  How do you strike against something you can never remember?

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Flash Fiction: Walk With Ueda 1 (Maralda's notes)

From the collected diaries of Maralda Inculti, circa 1785 AO.

Dark grey clouds roiled above us.  Ueda Burning-Storm and I walked together through the Grand Bazaar.  The two of us always involved swapping stories.  I'd found the Tengu Brewer to always be somewhat inspirational.  Ueda tilted her head up above us.  Then she shrugged.

"That still seems... curious to me."  I told her.

"You expected the same answer?"  Ueda replied.

"Well, I thought maybe Tengu worshipped the Voice outright.  I'm not surprised by the difference in claims on the First Bard."

Ueda gave a brief leap into the air, letting a pair of cats rush past her.  I shook my head.  Graceful.  Like wind.  The Tengu Brewer just moved like a dancer, and didn't even seem surprised by it.

"The Voice is..."  Ueda moved her talons as if weighing words.  "A past life of mine thinks of it like the Southern Wind, but is Sagely enough to know better than that."

"Southern Wind."  I processed those words.

"Yes.  He... He is the summer wind.  He reminds us that we must always smile.  The importance of humor."

"That isn't quite the same, thing.  I think you're right on that."

We passed by another arcade.  Stalls full of wines, ales and more greeted us as well walked by.  Ueda sniffed at the air.  But she seems less than impressed by the alcohol she saw.

Ueda sputtered something I didn't understand.  I'd picked up a bit of Tengu.  Enough to get a word or two.  Something about she didn't like.

"What is wrong with it?"  I asked her.

She blinked at me.

"I'm still picking up specific words."  I explained.  "But I'm not stupid, Ueda."

"Ack."  Ueda shook her head.  "Sorry.  Old habits.  Few thousand years of bad habits about gaijin."

"No offense, I just want to know."

Ueda paused.  "There's this story, in my clan.  Crafts should not be crass.  They shouldn't be work, they should be worthy in and of themselves."

"A story?"

Ueda sighed.  "Bards.  Always with the stories, aren't you?"

"And brewers, always about giving you tastes that make you want more."

"You flatter me."  Ueda tilted her head.

We continued on our walk.  Ueda told me a story about a Monkey who ruined a festival.  How the creature had almost damned a entire village.

"A monkey?"

"Monkeys are evil.  There's a tricksy race, always at odds with we Tengu.  Crux is better for not having a cabal of them."

"I'll take your word for it."

The Monkey failed to brew the ale.  But the spirits forgave the village for the error.  They asked for the Monkey's head.  In return, the spirits fixed the problems the monkey had caused.  The villagers cared, they worked hard to brew something true.  Being crass, failing to treat the brew properly, ruined it.

"It isn't just you folk who do it, though."  Ueda added.  "Clan Burning-Storm is one of the few clans I remember who preserve the ideals of perfect craft.  Among the Tengu at least."

"Wait."  I turned to her.  "You aren't going to start ranting about pastries again, are you?"

"Perfect craft, Maralda."  Ueda announced.  "Your stories are well and good, but somethings are crusty, sweet and perfect."