Aelith

Written and performed around last Halloween — or the Season of the Dead — by my bard in our Fifth Edition D&D game. 

There is a forlorn beauty within the White Pines,
filled with crumbling husks of majesty, and broken lines.
Now home to beasts, and creatures of many kinds,
it once claimed manses housing High Elven minds.

There were palatial homes almost grown from stone,
of which fabled mounds and toppled pillars are now their bone.
Numerous farms were once tiled by ancients under the trees,
but they, too these Elven farmers’ secrets, were worn away by
Time’s frigid Northern breeze.
This Kingdom, this Empire, spanned from North to West,
this flowering of High Elven civilization at its very best.

Now, there are only broken columns, and archway outlines reaching
for the sky,
as though these few still remain to beseech, and as of the world … why.
Why did this ageless, noble nation die?

This question is the breadth and width,
of the ancient tragedy of the Temple Warden,
of the High Elven warrior …
Aelith.

Long ago, before the Elves of the White Pines,
the Mountain Dwarves of Mordimeer came out from their mines,
their numbers coming forward, going forth,
to contest the High Elven nation’s claim in the North.
Perhaps it was for the sake of power, or for gold,
that the Dwarves, then, decided to be bold,
or due to eternal grudges that never go away,
for these two long-lived nations set out to, each other, mutually slay.

But in shining raiment, and majestic power,
the High Elves still maintained their longest hour,
until, from the East, came Chaos, came the Orcish Horde, to ravage
and scour.

In massive numbers, the Green-Skins invaded both races first,
but the Elven nation was attacked the worst.
Long-lived and once sedate the Elves had perhaps been too used to peace,
with the Dwarven presence just skirmishes at least,
but spread too thin they didn’t hope to stand the Hordes that never ceased.

Many died, and others hid,
while still more Elves to their Empire farewell they bid,
as they left to form other nations, other cities
into eventual decline they slid.

But that is not what Aelith did.

Tall, and lean, and slender,
stone could not, in good conscience, render
the high cheekbones of her face, the haughtiness of her mien,
her keen slivered eyes that many a battle, more than others of her kind,
had seen.
Her red-gold tresses shone with a beauty that was hard,
overshadowing a gaze that never, once, let down its guard.

Perhaps, once, Aelith had a family, a lover, or a spouse,
but what is known is that towards the end of her nation,
she had been married only to the War God’s House.
Aelith, Temple Warden, had guarded the Warrior Shrine
for centuries, and years,
so when the Orcish invasion came, she was not overcome by fears.

It may be that she warned her people of this day,
that their indolent lives, their complacency would not eternal stay.
But if so, very few in Aelith’s words believed,
and because of this, perhaps, their doom they did receive.

Yet, that fateful day, that fateful time, it was lives that Aelith sought to retrieve.
She and her soldiers, the War God’s children, many orc lives would reave.

With slender fingers calloused by ancient wars, and hands that grappled with her God’s demands,
Aelith, keen-eyed of ken, took her bow of moon-silver, and shot down many a marauder again,
and again.
It’s said that when she killed, her voice sang out, perfect and metallic, silvery with prayer,
as she dedicated the lives of her people’s killers to her God, as their slayer.

But deep down, perhaps Aelith sometimes wondered,
was this wrath inside her, this glory for battle, grief for her people,
or what the War God thundered?
Was it, then, that something in her, a deep surety, a steadfast belief had
gone and, and truly sundered?
For with the others, the Gods of Peace and Pax had fled,
leaving behind only Bloodlust, and inevitable Dread.
And, perhaps, something else in their stead.

Perhaps, something deeper than sentiment, and eternal myth,
had always burned in the breast of Aelith.

Aelith, whatever else, had bought her people time,
but this is not where ends the tale of this warrior archer, farsighted,
in her prime.
It would be easy, to say, that she did indeed — with her warriors — earn
a noble death,
amassing orcish skulls right down to her final breath.

Outsiders continued to terrorize her home, and ruin her lands,
and she still yet fought on, in vain, as her soldiers — too few now —
died under the invaders’ — these defilers’ — hands.

Perhaps, as these final defenders, these Elven warriors made hunters
of thinking beasts,
which blood and viscera became their only feasts,
began to starve and fall without food or game,
the fire within Aelith’s soul fed another kind of flame.
Hungry as they fought, she and her soldiers became
far past the point of any reason for it to tame
Until, driven to very few, to the corners of their Shrine at last,
a desperate spell, an evil curse, they decided upon themselves to cast.

They turned the pool beneath the Shrine, into an abattoir, the heart of a blood-smith,
for their leader to forge, there, the Doom of Aelith.
Perhaps it was their own lives that they sacrificed, through blood-stained orgies,
and profane rites,
though orcish prisoners, long-broken, would have also sufficed.

And, with this, as she tried to control their fate,
all they had left — Aelith and her soldiers — was the power of hate.

Thus with a terrible ken, that made her song more discordant, more keening,
Aelith sought — in her Shrine — to keep on dreaming
for Death their lives never to sever,
as they would defend their Temple, their Home, and fight the Enemy, in eternal war …
Forever.

And when Aelith finally died, and her blood — with others — ran like a crimson river,
it is said that her God — her spouse — by request or curse, bound her soul into her constant companion,
her moon-silver quiver.

It is said, even now, that Aelith still exists,
she and her soldiers now spectres, ghosts, and angry dead whose war continues to persist.
And, if once a year, in the Season of the Dead, lost roads in dirt and thinned veils form anew,
and outsiders find their way to the site of the Temple, of the foundations they would flee
if they only knew,
then the spirits will lure them, as they had their age-old prey,
and take them, to feed their restless bones, where they now lay.

And Aelith, a far cry from her glory,
ancient, and hideous, and far from sorry,
now a withered, and unbearable sight,
will take advantage of the outsider’s plight:
even, and especially if they too possess an Elven light.
Perhaps, long after her kin ignored what she had foretold,
for them and all, her heart had long since grown cold.

Her hunger, now, is that for souls,
as she can, and cause, for others what Death ultimately tolls.
All so she can feed herself, and almost look again alive,
to be young in corpse-light, and terrible for her ageless war
to inevitably survive.
Armed with spectral arrows, from her constant bow, that rot the body,
and assault the mind
this, and her violence, is all of her that is left behind.

For her war song now is the Song of the Banshee, the House of the Dead,
a charnel battle where all should fear to tread.

Who, now, would go so far to guard their home, their way of life, in her stead?
Or keep their lust for vengeance, for violence, perpetually fed?
Or who would dare live the life that she had led?

Who else can’t see that a Banshee’s Song
is only a war that has gone — or will happen before — far too long?

The Elven roads are gone now, beautiful manses and temples long since buried,
treasures plundered, and millennia quarried
over bones, that could have been ageless — but died young, and unmarried?
Even so, in the shadow of the White Pines, in the pall of the Fall, there are few terrestrial, even fewer viridian sith,
that will outlast the keen keening lust and hunger of the Temple Warden, the Warrior,
the Banshee Archer.
Aelith.

(c) Matthew Kirshenblatt, 2018.

Hymn to Nautilae

Written and performed by my bard during our D&D Fifth Edition Session. 

If you listen to the chiming laugh of a brook in the wood, 
and follow where the Moon-drake winds,
you will find a cavern, and an ancient bridge, 
with a rock visited by many kinds.

Elves and Minotaurs, Satyrs and Beastmen, 
and all manner of other fey,
they’ve come, like you, to the shimmering disc above, 
where her calm waters hold sway. 

There, she comes to you, smooth and cool,
from an offering dropped into her pool.
Silver given to a silvery sheen,
the Faerie comes with intention keen,
her magic strong enough to let her glean
your wishes that are yet to be seen. 

She’s like a Nereid, a Nymph, a watery Queen,
the finest that you’ve ever seen. 
Beautiful lady, ending with a tail,
to this vision, this humble bard sings this modest hail.

Her silken hair from her head crests out in waves,
like the glimmering veins of the world hidden in secret caves.
Rocks crumble, fires die, and winds move on,
but water, Terra-life’s blood moving, is never gone.

If you are wise, and your manners are fine,
with silver presented she may grant you a blessing undine. 
For with her touch, an axe might shine,
a staff made clear of evil’s brine, 
a hallowed bow’s soul no longer confined, 
each item freed from age or taint or temporal decline.

Yet above all, if you believe only one word of mine,
the Faerie holds the guidance of the watery line.
She offers a map under temples long grass,
sunken cities that mortals can no longer pass, 
traveling down roots where no stories tell,
or to a place of lost souls through an ancient well
where hope, thought long gone, may still yet dwell. 

Such are the mysteries you might find, where rock and waters play,
if you pay homage to the underlake of night and day,
for silver to a silvered tongue is yet the best way,
to court the favour of the Good Queen, Nautilae. 

(c) Matthew Kirshenblatt, 2019.

Roleplaying The Enemy in J.R.R. Tolkien’s Arda

I’m not sure how this happened, really. I’d been following Yoystan’s Men of the West YouTube Channel for a while, but I think I really started going back to J.R.R. Tolkien’s Arda and Middle-Earth because of the season, and also due to roleplaying in a homebrew world with my friends. Last week, I talked about Role-Playing Magic and The World of Arda: basically taking the subtle natural magic of Arda and its world elements and making either a table-top or a massive-multiplayer online role-playing game with those particular aspects in mind. There are a lot of issues with adapting Tolkien’s sagas in that way, of course, and while I touched upon the fact that the players would always be subservient to the overall plotline and need to really have some personal stories as well as referencing to some extent that old paternalism in the Arda narrative with regards to women, and other human ethnicities, there is also the matter of the Orcs.

Yes. You read that right. Orcs. What if someone wants to play an Orc character in Arda? For Everquest and World of Warcraft, even some Dungeons and Dragons campaigns, this would not necessarily be an issue. But Tolkien makes it very clear that orcs are distortions, tortured mutations and descendants of the Elves that didn’t travel to Aman or the Undying Lands, or were captured by the Vala Melkor become the Dark Lord Morgoth before that point. They are warped and twisted, hating themselves, and everyone else around them. There is no noble Horde here against the Alliance of Azeroth. You have these angry, bitter, hateful beings that want to ruin the lives of other races that are more “whole” than they are. This is the same with Trolls, that are mockeries of the tree-like Ents, and even the Easterlings and Southron Men as well as the Black Numenoreans, and more besides of which I do not even have the knowledge. Tolkien makes it clear that these are bad creatures, and people. They have served Morgoth, and Sauron. They despise everything that is beautiful, and good, and true in Middle-Earth. They are the minions of the forces of darkness, and they will go out of their way to destroy even a sliver of hope: the heart of the Tolkien narrative itself.

However, does it really have to be that way? Could the Enemy be just as viable a player faction as the Free-Peoples of Middle-Earth? And can you role-play them in a way that stays true to Tolkien, or perhaps subverts the narrative in a way where it doesn’t take away from the original story, but adds to it? There can’t be light without shadow, after all, despite other philosophies that believe darkness to be a deformation of true radiance. And can you have fun playing the Enemy?

I believe it can be done. If I were to do it, just like the game with the general Free-Peoples that I mentioned in my last article, I would set in as a side campaign during some of the events of the Ages, or in-between lulls between major events in general: the ones that aren’t necessarily world-shattering upon first glance, or at least not obviously so.

So, Orcs are fascinating beings. What is known is that when they aren’t working for Morgoth, or Sauron they often congregate in different tribes where they engage in warlike and violent behaviour to achieve dominance among their people, and power. They are also related to Goblins as well, maybe as an offshoot. You have your warriors, and archers, as well as your Warg Riders: essentially Orcs that ride giant wolves. Goblins can have something akin to group or a nice adaptation of D&D pack tactics when fighting. Another thing to consider is that Orcs aren’t stupid. Of course, there are different breeds or races of Orc as well, but they are all cunning and can create weapons, and devices of war and torment. In fact, I would encourage there to be smart Orcs: beings with basic intelligence, craftiness, cleverness, and of course a thirst for battle.

I would have it so that if you play an Orc, or a Troll you can work your way through the ranks based on your battle prowess, your manipulation, and your cunning. Perhaps you believe that the Valar cursed your ancestors, and left you to suffer. The Lords that you follow, if you do, are the sworn enemies of the dark gods that abandoned you, leaving you to die helpless in a world you didn’t understand until Melkor came, and gave you a new sense of purpose. He changed you, twisted, and moulded you to be fruitful and multiply. This is your land. You love your god, and you hate him in equal measure. But this pain of being you reminds you that you are alive, and it also reminds you of all the other races that take their wholeness for granted. Likewise, perhaps you might not believe the Dark Lord made you, but you follow power for that is how you eat the flesh of others, which is your diet — as you have grown tired of eating your own — and you know that the more powerful and skilled you become, or the more resources you have, the more opportunities you will have for food and plunder.

Likewise, you might not want to follow any Dark Lord and simply plunder for the sake of it. You know, those Dwarves are always trying to kill you and you want a nice safe place in a mountain. Perhaps you’ve heard of Moria, and once the Dwarves dug too greedily and too deep, you sensed the presence of a power that is familiar and grand: something that doesn’t seem to care about you, and would tolerate your presence in a grander place while destroying all others that dare to defy it. Maybe you want treasures and golden baubles from those damned Men that are always roaming around, while having a cave to keep it all in so you can have meat, and loot a plenty as a Troll. Perhaps you want control over a part of the Misty Mountains that another Tribe of Goblin or Orc possesses. So you forge alliances and friendships. You have a broodmate or two. You fight alongside each other, propping each other up until the time when you don’t need the other anymore, or when you get hungry. And, if you do serve a Dark Lord, if you prove yourself you might be worthy of his blessings: of greater weapons, of artifacts forged from Utumno and Angband, or even from the very fires of Mount Doom itself.

I myself don’t know the particulars of Black Speech, that spoken in Mordor, or by the Enemy in general but if there is an enterprising Tolkien scholar of the language out there, I would find the Black Speech equivalents to Fëa and Hröa: perhaps ghâsh as “fire” could represent a dark being’s soul, while snaga, aside from meaning “slave” can also mean “the body.” Things have been made on the backs of slaves, unfortunately, after all, and they have been seen as objects. Perhaps in this culture the Orcs and Trolls — or as they would call themselves and perhaps be called in-game the Uruk and Olog — the former term of which actually being taken from mythology by Tolkien — see their bodies as slaves to their fire or hunger, and act accordingly on that as a virtue. That is merely my idea, and I think interesting enough to consider.

Of course, you also have the Men or humans that serve the Enemy, or have their own designs. Perhaps those from the East and South have their own cultures. The Haradrim have their Mûmakil riders: their oliphant mounts. The Corsairs of Umbar have their excellent seafaring vessels, ships, and skills. The Easterlings have a vast land and many different kingdoms and cultures that can be expanded upon: with their superb constructions of wagons and chariots to supplement their fighting skills. And there are so many others. They could serve the Cult of Melkor, like the fallen Numenoreans did, because they are jealous as all hell over the Elves living forever, and they want immortality, or they despise the former Numenoreans turned into the people of Gondor and Arnor due to their imperialism, or because they were favoured over them by cruel gods. They might just want better lands, or more resources. Some might want revenge for the deaths of kin in so many wars between the West and themselves. Perhaps they even have genuine grievances, or many a few more just want to get away from Sauron. Perhaps the Cult that was introduced in the unfinished New Shadow novel of Tolkien’s has its presence in Mordor or the East and South in different iterations.

And then, you can have some interesting classes too. While there are warriors, Wainriders, archers, your oliphant riders, sailor-lords, and the like, you can have Sorcerers and Witches. These beings can be from the East and South, but even the West. They have learned lore — sorcery — or gained artifacts from dark Maia such as Sauron. Their ghâsh can be improved upon through study of entropy and decay, as well as taking the lives of others through battle and blood sacrifices. Orcs and Trolls can have these powers, this equivalent to magic: though they manifest as poisonous herb-lore, fiendish constructions, spiritual pollution, and berserker rages. If you want to take liberties, you can even say that as a reward for serving your Lord as an Orc or Troll, you could be chosen to help breed the next of your kin: choosing survival of the strongest and the clever to create a chosen bloodline that could lead to Saruman’s Uruk-hai or even Sauron’s Olog-hai: sun-resistant Trolls.

Normal Trolls have their ghâsh drained massively if they are exposed to light, or sunlight, and will turn into stone. Most Orcs can be affected in a similar way, but while they won’t die, you will feel tremendous fear and hatred of the unforgiving light. And if you are a Sorcerer or Witch of Men, you can vastly increase your ghâsh or have it increased if you prove your worth to your Masters, but it will degrade your snaga: and you will become a Wraith over time as your dark spirit from the Other World consumes your body in the mortal one. Trolls and Orcs improve their snaga through learning combat and survival tactics while their ghâsh can collectively increase if they are in larger numbers against an enemy: representing the darkness that they embody.

So, here are some interesting scenarios. You can be powerful Orcs and Men of Saruman that undertake missions for the renegade White Wizard to prove your worthiness and get your time in the breeding pits: to know you will create a new future where your kin will rule the world under the Hand of Isengard: your Clan’s immortality assured as the dominant power under any Dark Lord really. Perhaps you are an agent of Saruman hired to collect some ring-lore that he can’t quite find elsewhere: and while you might not glean the significance of it, he could teach you a few bits of other lore or give you treasures or powers of other kind in exchange. You can be the Corsairs that destroy the fleets of Gondor, and prove your superiority, or one of the Easterlings or Haradrim that either fight each other, or create mutual trading pacts, or successfully back-stab your way into power. Or here is an interesting one: Sauron hears that some strange Blue Wizards have come into the East. He orders you, his best Uruks, and his best disciples of the Cult of Melkor to either apprehend the two Blue Wizards and bring them to him, or kill them. Or perhaps the two are already renegades and will teach you some lore in exchanging for serving them … or, likewise, pretend to be renegades, and teach you that lore to make sure that your lands never fully unify — at least not right away — and delay, if not destroy a fully unified East under Sauron’s banner.

And, who knows? You Easterlings and Southrons can eventually sue for peace with the West, and mutual respect. Maybe Sauron is gone, or you just want a way to get away from him so that you can save your family and your loved ones. Maybe it’s too late for those inducted fully into the Cult of Melkor, but if you have Numenorean blood perhaps you can be an Elf-Friend again and remember the mysteries of Eru Illuvatar. Perhaps you Uruks have had enough. You don’t want to serve these Dark Lords anymore. Perhaps your hatred of the Elves and Men empowers you, but you can see which way the wind is changing. Your new quest is to gain power, but also survive. You go off to find a new home, or a cavern, or a series of tunnels with which to hide from the genocide of your kind, and one day regain your numbers. Perhaps you will even become more clever. And, who knows? Maybe you had Elven and Human ancestry. Maybe you see just a bit of that light in the brokenness you always were … Perhaps it drives you to glorious battle and seek a great end for yourself that will eclipse anything else in your horrible life. Or perhaps … one day … you might become something more.

This … isn’t perfect. Like Black Speech itself, the Enemy was built by Tolkien to be fragmented and broken and brutal. I think you can still preserve that, but show that they have aspirations and personalities of their own. Some might change their ways. Some might die by them. You can tell some good stories, and even make them. I actually view these beings differently now, especially the Orcs and Trolls. While Order of the Stick made me look at Goblin Genocides for what they are in D&D, my own meditations on what happened in H.P. Lovecraft’s Innsmouth with the US Government and the town’s people as genocide — along with reading Ruthanna Emrys’ Innsmouth Legacy series — and my friend and sometime-publisher Gil Williamson’s Prancing Pony: in which the British come to Middle-Earth in the 1800s and see what is left of the people there, including the last of the Uruk-hai.

I don’t mind having the existence of evil or even other darker forces in a game or a world, but I do think having them fleshed out and even thinking out their world view and allowing for change in some places and meaningful stories can amount to a lot. I’ve written a lot more about this than I thought. But I hope this was interesting, if nothing else. It’s good to write such rambles on here again. That’s what Mythic Bios was designed to do after all. Until another time, my friends.

And remember: I see you.

Roleplaying Magic and the World of Tolkien’s Arda

Whenever I attempt to relax, one of the things that I do is watch a YouTube channel called Men of the West, created by a user with the handle of Yoystan. In it, he generally talks about aspects of J.R.R. Tolkien’s World of Arda, but specifically events, characters, artifacts, races, locations, and media pertaining to Middle-Earth. Fans like Yoystan are far more well-versed in Arda, and Tolkien’s works and backgrounds than myself, but they have inspired me to do some of my own crude and shallow research through the Legendarium of Tolkien. But there is one topic that has always intrigued me about Middle-Earth, especially with interest in the world of A Song of Ice and Fire, and my own Dungeons and Dragons role-playing.

Magic.

Of course, magic in this case is a misnomer. Perhaps the better word for what I am particularly interested in with regards to Tolkien’s Arda is its metaphysics, or how the rules of that world allow for certain events, and actions that we might deem as paranormal or supernatural to take place. Metaphysics in the world of Arda are predicated on its creation.

Arda was created by the Song of Eru Illuvatar and his Valar and Maiar spirits. It allows for song and oaths to shape the fate of those that utilize them. Prophecy and prophetic dreams also exist in this world. However, there are some crafts that exist in Arda thanks to the Valar, and their Maiar servants that were taught to the early ancestors of the peoples of Arda: Elves, Dwarves, and Men: specifically herb-lore, Dwarven Moon-letters, artificing such as ring-crafting, and even something akin to telepathy “thought-opening” and “Unwill”: though the latter is a rare skill. Arda also exists in two worlds, the mortal plane, and the “Unseen World” where Elves — or at least High Elves — exist simultaneously: perhaps allowing them, and other dark beings, to utilize spells of illusion or shape-changing. Certainly, there seems to be a category of metaphysics called sorcery: which is dark power that can be taught to Men — humans — by Maia such as the Dark Lord Sauron. Curses also exist that can keep human spirits from passing on, and certain areas of land can have traumatic events such as wars and battle imprinted upon them, or be sensitive to certain kinds of powers, or be protected by them.

The only ones that can really wield anything close to obvious magical  power are the Istari — or the Five Wizards — who are, in turn, Maia spirits given human form by their Valar patrons from Aman or Valinor to advise and guide the peoples of Middle-Earth against Sauron’s tyranny and manipulations. And the Wizards are extremely limited in what they can actually do, to make sure their powers do not dominate the peoples of Middle-Earth or actually cause irreparable damage to Arda itself.

Essentially, what I call the metaphysical situation of Arda is a subtle magic of sorts: forces of that universe — which is, arguably, supposed to be a mythological past of our own world, before the metaphysical rules of our reality changed many times — and something that can only be utilized in particular situations, contexts, or at certain times. George R.R. Martin does something similar with magic in Westeros and Essos, though there is a lot more emphasis on blood magic, and aspects of deities that may or may not exist in the forms that their worshipers believe them to be. It would make sense that Tolkien’s understated, limited use of magic — or metaphysics — influenced Martin and so many others, including the creators of Dungeons and Dragons that made spells far more overt.

So, one thing that the Men of the West YouTube channel also focused on at one point were attempts at an Expanded Arda Universe: through gameplay. And one thing that it has always found lacking is the “magic-system” in Lord of the Rings Online — a game that Yoystan otherwise praises in every other way — or even its selection of player races, and antagonists.

And, after reading up on this, I started to think to myself: what would a role-playing game — online or table-top — look like if it were based on what we knew about Tolkien’s Arda down as much to the rune as possible? This led me to writing out some thoughts on my social media on the matter, hoping to get input from other Game Masters and other players I know, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized this deserves a post. And while I am not a Tolkien scholar, I do have some ideas as to what this world would look like, how it would be possible to construct a campaign, and what such a game could be about.

It’d be a question of looking at the heart of Middle-Earth and Arda, and focusing on the idea that “there is hope in the greatest darkness.” That is the spirit of Tolkien’s world. With this central theme in mind, should at least a table-top Game Master and player fellowship choose to use it, it would be a case of the metaphysics of the world shaping what happens in it.

Setting a game in Arda during the First and Second Ages, for instance, would be a very different endeavour and situation than making it situated in the Third Age with which many fans are so familiar. I would argue that it would be easier to have High Elf players in the First and Second Ages, for instance, along with a Higher Mythic Age element of Maiar abound and more supernatural beings like werewolves, Balrogs, and even Dragons. Roleplaying in Beleriand, the lost continent of Middle-Earth and central to many Elven Kingdoms and even old Dwarven ones could be fascinating. Of course, you could have intrigue and some battles from Numenor, the greatest civilization of Men as it is referred to, if you want to spend time in the Second Age. The Silmarillion and other Books of Lost Tales on those times could be useful but they are very mythological, though there could be some fun in that.

But in the Third Age, around the time of The Lord of the Rings, or The Hobbit is what I was — and many others would be — thinking about setting a game in with regards to Arda. If it is a tabletop role-playing situation, the Game Master can set limits on who is what in this world, and it would be easier to do so. For instance, High Elves have tremendous skill in their Arts and knowledge — and can see into the Unseen World and sense Wraiths and the like — which might give a fellowship an unfair advantage. Also, there aren’t that many High Elves beyond the titular characters in the novels at this stage in the game. Likewise, in a video game or a massively multiplayer online role-playing game, you can just limit what classes and races players can be: with non-player characters being exceptions, of course. And, it goes without saying, that there are no other Wizards aside from the Five.

What I would do is something like this. I would take all the different races and genealogies that commonly exist in Middle-Earth around the time of the tail end of the Third Age: the Forest Elves, Dwarves, Hobbits of course, and Men — Humans — and even include some Rangers with their Numenorean blood to make things interesting. So far so good. I would have Warriors in their permutations as Horse Riders, Archers, and even Rangers. Have some Hobbit burglars even just to be a troll (and in this case, not a literal one, as they will be enemies, trolls). The Forest Elves are a combination of different Elven families or ethnicities and perhaps I would grant them some higher statistics, and knowledge.

Healing in the game would happen naturally. If you are injured, you need to rest, or have medicine applied to you. It’d be like the role-playing system in the tabletop version of Buffy The Vampire Slayer. If you get injured, you have to take time to heal. Of course, if your Human or Elf knows some herb-lore, you could expedite the process, but it is not an instant heal situation. In fact, I’d be really tempted to list one’s characteristics as Fëa and Hröa. These are two very fascinating concepts, created in Tolkien’s Elvish which are apparently translated as “spirit” or “soul” and “body.” I would have Hröa as one’s health meter, and Fëa as being necessary to perform certain Arts, herb-lore, crafts, and the like. The more powerful your Fëathe more sensitive you are to the Unseen World, and the more complex Arts you can understand and perform. Perhaps this would be a dynamic more suited to Elf characters, for obvious reasons, and perhaps some Numenorean descendants.

I would allow for some characters to be able to increase these basic traits. Elves, for instance, can increase Fëa and Hröa if they learn certain lore, and can start to perceive the World around them such as it is, perhaps even more than their heightened senses already do. However, I would make them more susceptible to any mood-affecting Arts or sorcery, and if their Fëa isn’t sufficiently recovered through meditation or what not, it can affect them physically. It would be interesting, however, for a non-High Elf to develop to a point where they can almost match their kin. I am even tempted to play with the concept of Elf characters being reincarnated from the Halls of Mandos if they are killed in battle, or they die, while Human characters — if they die — have to move on as their souls go to a place beyond Arda, and the player can have the option of playing as a descendant or a kinsman of theirs. It’d be closer in keeping to the metaphysical structure of Tolkien’s world.

It would really be cool if characters can learn how to train their traits through finding lore, or artifacts, or even wise people who might have, at one time, been taught a few tricks by other Elves, Dwarf smiths, or even Istari. It would be limited, of course, as secrets can be distorted or lost over time, and the power of Arda is not the same as it once was. But just think about an Elf learning how to sense the two Worlds, or a Dwarf figuring out how to make Moon-letters or doors — with time and effort — that can keep others away, or Humans learning powerful Oaths, songs or poems of power to bolster the morale of your group or army, some minor Spells, or wisdom. And everyone can learn some secrets of different locations that they find, perhaps even talk with a Maia or two and gain knowledge of subtle but useful skills. Perhaps there is a campaign where they go among the Easterlings and discover a cult dedicated to the Blue Wizards, and discover some lore from them: maybe in an attempt to figure what happened to the two who were lost so long ago, while never actually being anything but ambiguous about it like in Tolkien’s lore unless you want an interpretation.

Of course, you can train your Hröa through learning how to fight, how to survive in the wilderness and scout, to feed yourself, and through exercise and experience in battle. And there could be situations where you need something miraculous to happen, but you can’t just simply call on this power whenever you want: even as an Elf. You have to be in the right place, at the correct time, or like in some D20 systems you have a Fate Dice and you can only call on it once per session or — in this case — once per major event such as being in a battle with a Sorcerer who has a few Wraiths or Barrow-Wights on his or her side, and you have an Elven artifact that you need to repel them with azure light, or the sudden flood of a river in front of you to keep them all back.

It would be easy to find treasures of mithril and Elven blades that react to Orc presence. Orcs, Goblins, Wargs, Trolls — which would be stronger opponents — Mirkwood Spiders, Human Outlaws, Barrow-Wights, and Wraiths would be good antagonist non-player characters that you can fight, and outsmart. Perhaps you find some remnants of older more terrifying powers in remote places in Middle-Earth such as Balrogs, Dragons, or even some Maia that have gone renegade: shapeshifting wolves and vampires. I can see a quest to seek some Teleri elves (seafarers I believe) to find treasures in the waters where Beleriand used to be, or going to the East to see if you can find evidence of the Blue Wizards — as having done their part to divide the Easterlings against Sauron, failing to do so and being killed, or having made cults around themselves — or even trying to find those gosh darned reclusive Ent-Wives if you are particularly fascinated with herb and wood-lore.

You can participate in minor battles that are involved in major events. You could find all kinds of fascinating artifacts such as, again, some Elven blades you can find, some Dwarf-wrought weapons, documents and lore of lost knowledge, perhaps a lost remnant of a Wizard’s staff that wouldn’t even give you a tenth of an Istari’s power but could make for a useful talisman. Hell, you could even find the Lesser Rings of Power: which are practice rings made by Elven craftspeople that could give you … a few minor advantages in certain statistics. Saruman did, after all, examine what he could of ring-lore and maybe there are some samples of it still out there, though whether or not they are influenced by Sauron can be up to interpretation.

It seems like scraps, compared to what the protagonists in the novels encounter or use, and compared to Dungeons and Dragons, but I see all these opportunities as — well — Lost Tales in and of themselves, stories that happen in between the gaps of greater epics that are no less meaningful. They would be character driven games and campaigns, and you can focus on “fellowship” or “the day a group’s courage fails.” You could have an Elf wanting to prove themselves to their people, or a Dwarf wanting to recover their lost smithing, or a human woman masquerading as a man — or not — wanting to fight, a rare halfling that wanders from home and can’t keep their hands to themselves, or an Easterling who simply just wants to gain profit and survive and doesn’t like the influence being exerted on their lands. I’m not sure I would have Beornings — essentially were-bears — exist as player characters, but I would not rule it out in a tabletop situation provided it is roleplayed well. Perhaps Beornings are descendants of Men and Maia with an interesting Fëa as a result.

And just think about these characters meeting canon characters, and having a whole other kind of interaction with them. Elrond could probably, if he so chose, direct you with different kinds of knowledge, or perhaps you can meet a different Gondorian Stewards if you aren’t … quite playing at the end of the Third Age. Perhaps Galadriel has entertained other guests before, or you really got lost in Lothlorien. You might be told by a small village of Hobbits that you are not welcome there, or a passing … grey-robed and bearded man gives you some good pipe-weed, and some sound advice. Maybe even a firework or two, if you are good. Or you meet other original characters who could plausibly exist. Imagine learning how to ride by riders of Rohan, or dying in Dunharrow because you were foolish enough to go into the Mountain … or you find some cursed item just outside of it. And going into a barrow is always fun, or dealing with some Huorns and Ents in Fangorn Forest. There are a lot of possibilities.

This … could work as an online game, but that depends on the interests of the players and how much of an audience such a game world as an MMORPG could gain. Many people are used to flinging fireballs, or instantly healing from a cleric’s spell. Likewise, however, there is a paternalism in Tolkien’s world: with certain peoples of humanity, or races being inherently bad or limited to roles that could also be an issue, not to mention gender-roles.

But this system, as I have thought of it, could also be adopted into its own world. A low or subtle magic world that focuses on exploration and understanding of the environment around you, and the friendships you can forge, the poems and artifacts you can find, the songs you can sing together, and even the food you can make and eat and trade while having your battles with evil.

I guess what I’m saying is that it can be done, and it would be fairly beautiful.  I would attempt a table-top game of either a Lord of the Rings RPG like this, or a world with similar metaphysics. I know The One Ring RPG and Lord of the Rings Online do not quite have this, so I thought I’d just write about it here. Or perhaps only hardcore Tolkienites and scholars could attempt such a thing. I think this is the closest I might ever come to writing in Middle-Earth, though I make no promises. I don’t have any greetings or farewells to make in Elvish, but I hope you enjoyed reading this long digression into possibilities, this place of lore, which I feel belongs on Mythic Bios as it has been a long time since I have made such a ramble. And I wish you well.

Arkham Horror: Excerpt from Finale of the Golden King

Excerpt from Finale of the Golden King
by Gloria Goldberg

Zelda Zimmerman jumps out of the shimmering portal, just barely eluding the lumiscient tendrils that almost had her in their grasp. Her company, Mr. Law, lands at her side breathing heavily. Those cigars obviously haven’t done her self-appointed bodyguard very many favours.

“Damnation woman!” He gasps, reaching out a shaking hand to readjust his Homburg hat. “I thought only Kraut U-Boats could go deeper than that. What were …”

“It’s best not to think too much on such matters, Mr. Law.” Zelda says, her fingers still grasping the soil of the Manchester Cemetary hard as she comes back to her feet, her other hand clutching her .45 pistol. She’s shaky, but she doesn’t want to show it. It’s bad enough that she had already lost her favourite cigarette case somewhere down the line in between all the grisly, eldritch trophies she has practically sewn into her violet attire, but it’s only now that the laudenium from the Sanitarium is beginning to wear off. “But we delved the mysteries of the Sunken City, of R’lyeh itself. The City of Yith from the Witch House was bad enough, but I have just enough … just enough to …”

“Jesus, Joseph, and Mary!” Mr. Law shouts, loading his shotgun and pointing it into the nearby shadows. “What in all hell’s deep is that!”

“Oh … dear …” Zelda mutters a few Slavic curses to match some of Mr. Law’s more colourful sailor language as the .. crustacean, covered in fungus … made of it … hovers towards her. “Don’t … look directly at it, Mr. Murphy. I will … I must …”

One would think that after finding themselves in an eternal, sunken city, surrounded by green … so much green, that Zelda would be desensitized to the presence of such an otherworldly, almost aquatic entity. She mutters a spell, taken from one of the old books in her travels, protecting Mr. Law from realizing the entity further. As it is, her own mind strains as the Mi-Go hovers forwards. It … must have come from another of the many portals that the Golden King’s cult of Actors, his otherworldly chorus and dithyramb, opened throughout the city.

Ironically, even as Mr. Law opens fire at the being, Zelda falls back on her knowledge of forbidden lore to ground her fraying sanity. Its antennae twitch, obviously sensing her and her companion, but perhaps drawn to the psychic lifeforce she already utilized to protect the latter.

“Come with us …” It clicks. “You are a … worthy specimen.”

Zelda sees the discoloured part of its body. A part of her, not reeling in instinctual terror barely staving off maddening revulsion suspects it had been here for a while. Many dark things hide in Manchester, along the river Merrimack, but now so late into the drama, so close to the finale of the Golden King, they don’t hide behind their cloaks and masks anymore.

“Come with us.” It croons, with its loathsome, clattering voice created from some of the most unfathomable surgery, an inhuman practice of medicine with or without a willing donor. “We can free your mind. Free it to soar forever through the stars …”

“I have … had enough adventures for one evening …” She says, shrugging off the temptation of an inhuman voyage, a liberation from flesh, embracing horror beyond horror to feel nothing but the possibility of eternal knowledge and falling, falling forever. “For several lifetimes!” Zelda snarls as she moves her fingers and intones the ancient signs while continuing to fire her pistol.

It all becomes a blur. The creature shrieks towards her and then, it is lying there, mouldering on the ground, still twitching. She blinks. Mr. Law is lying on the ground. Zelda staggers over to him and checks his pulse. Thankfully, he is simply unconscious from the strain. She wants to join him, badly, but the portal still shimmers. The interdimensional energies she and her fellow Dramatis Personae have been closing and sealing are feeding the madness of Manchester, stirring the Golden King from behind his Wall of Sleep. But this one is different. Its power is immense. She knew that much, even before literally leaping into it. This is the crucial one.

But … She isn’t powerful enough. She Sealed the one at the Witch House, but she knew so much more then. She was just a little stronger, then. And even that portal wasn’t as potent as this one to the dread Dreamer’s realm, leaving all these horrors to roam Manchester.

It has to be enough, though. She has gathered the Elder Signs. She just needs to dig deep for her strength. Lord Cerentes, in his drifter guise worthy of Odysseus himself, has already closed enough of the portals. And Alicia Pointe has closed some more, and even Sealed one with Zelda’s own advice. This is it. This is their only chance to cancel the finale of the Golden King’s Play …

But just as Zelda is about to intone the ancient words, something comes out of the portal. She tenses, but perhaps her brain has gone numb to all the horror with which she has participated today when an amphibian humanoid shambles out towards them.

Of course, it makes sense. R’lyeh wouldn’t pass this opportunity up. They had intruded into their realm. Worse, they are attempting to close the gate between their space and their world’s.

The Deep One walks up to her and the fallen Mi-Go … and stops. It takes Zelda a moment, until she realizes what this is. A realization that isn’t a terrible truth spikes through her mind. They are all eldritch beings, abominations, but they are not in league with each other! The Golden King is a rival of the Dreamer … and the Deep Ones and the Mi-Go at some point in prehistoric times had a war on the very Earth itself.

She feels the Deep One looking at her expectantly. Zelda knows that what happens next will determine whether or not she will live: which will not matter a jot if the Golden King awakens in this world!

Zelda bows to the Deep One, gesturing at the Mi-Go. She notices the crustacean jolting. It is crippled, but it still lives. It is buzzing, almost pathetically. The Deep One snarls and with one swipe, it grabs the remnants of the Mi-Go. She watches this repulsive sight, as the amphibian tackles and rips apart the fungal hybrid to reveal … a glowing blue shape …

The Deep One looks back at her. It snarls again, but inclines its head. She would have said, in more outlandishly better circumstances, that it was a gesture of thanks but the feral, maliciousness in its slitted eyes belays any of that. It’s almost as though … it is some kind of playful joke. Then, it takes its somehow still living, wriggling, prey and disappears back into the portal, leaving the glowing object behind it.

And then Zelda realizes why.

It is a pyramidal crystal, not seen since the earliest antiquity. The Watcher in the Dark. There is the power of an Ancient One within this inhuman artifact. It preludes it from being used against its creator or its kin, but … It can allow one to accomplish anything else, just for a moment … for as long as their body can handle its power.  

Zelda looks up at the pulsating portal as its edges grow, and she realizes the cruel jape and knows that she has no choice. She clutches the pyramid in her hands, chanting the Signs … even as the mystical energies in the artifact begin leeching away her vitality … Zelda screams from the pain of her life essence flowing into the object, acting as a battery, as it empowers her mind and she finishes her ritual …

The Elder Sign forms over the Portal, suturing the rent air, sealing the threads of existence back into place, containing the eldritch truths behind it even as Zelda Zimmerman slouches to the ground, finally, and completely exhausted.

*

“So damned many of them …”

Zelda is barely able to nod her head in agreement as she and Mr. Law hide in the crypt from the Golden King’s swarm of hovering actors. She munches, slowly, on the chocolate that Mr. Law had been so kind to retrieve from her pouches. She feels a little better, but not by much.

“They know their Play can end …” She croaks. “Now they are pulling all the stops … I’m just … glad I sacrificed enough power beforehand to disrupt their last Ritual …”

“Easy there, lady.” He actually pats her on the shoulder. “Shell-shock’s going to be bad enough as is, we’ll just stay here, lay low, until we get our strength back … I could drink for days after this.”

“I don’t know, Mr. Law.” Zelda murmurs. “The authorities do not seem to take kindly to drinkers, even at the end of the world …”

The truth is, Zelda Zimmerman is tired. She doesn’t know if she has the strength to continue. It is up to her companions now. She slouches against the wall of the crypt. And, before finally giving into the exhaustion of pain and mental fatigue, she sees a fresco. It is splayed out on the opposite well and it glows with a peaceful, gentle radiance. Serenity flows over her as she knows, now, that the sanctity of this place has been restored.

For just as erasing the Holy Name from the clay of the golem ceased its rampages, this Sign, this Elder Sign returned a rightful slumber to the Manchester Cemetery.

“Well …” Mr. Law mutters. “Would you look at that …”

Zelda smiles. Perhaps not all magic, not all of the universe, is cold and uncaring after all. They rest on the ground in companionable silence, before the sound of firearms boom through the quiet.

“Hello!” A familiar voice calls.

“In here!” Mr. Law shouts back, recognizing the voice as well.

There is the sound of a gun being cocked, as the dark haired, disheveled form of Alicia Pointe stumbles in. “Madame Zimmerman, I see you succeeded.”

“Yes, dear.” Zelda replies, smiling at the younger woman. “And you as well.”

“I was almost right behind you in that watery city.” Alicia looks at her own assortment of eldritch trophies and Zelda’s. “Between us and the drifter, we are going to be advancing Manchester Dissection Science by a few decades or more.”

“Centuries even.” Zelda grunts, coming back to her feet. “Though no one will talk about any of this. I know. This is probably not the first time.”

“I don’t care about any of that.” Alicia spits, unladylike, into the crypt. “Right now, those gentlemen on the City Council, the people in this town, know who cleaned up this little bit of entertainment. I will make Chief. They owe me that much. Maybe even a run or two for office …”

“All I want to do right now is order a drink.” Mr. Law grouses beside them.

“I hope so.” Zelda says, wanting nothing more than that the drink that the Federal authorities took from her earlier in the evening. “Let us leave this place to the dead. Perhaps Lord Cerentes can avail us of his hiding capabilities and find us some of the moonshine I smelled on his person.”

“Amen, sister.” Alicia says, putting an arm around both Zelda and Mr. Law as they walk back to the city, the horror finally over. For now.

Arkham Horror: Finale of the Golden King

Finale of the Golden King  
by Gloria Goldberg

Epilogue

In the end, no one would know the events that led to the election of the first woman Mayor of Manchester. From a humble graduate student at St. Anselm College and part time bank clerk, to Police Deputy, and eventually the Chief of Police the Right Honourable Alicia Pointe’s star rose — her chart taken into her own hands — as another, more eldritch celestial body, as though from the Hyades, from Lost Carcosa finally fell: leaving the State and mankind’s world with a sigh of relief to the conclusion of a play with which they did not know they were even participants.

As a protagonist in what would become a rendition of the dread Epic of the Golden King come to Manchester, the city elders knew that Ms. Pointe had cast aside the yellow fleece of ignorance and cowardice to fully embrace the cold, hard truth of the terrible knowledge that they could not: that we — all of us — are just characters on a stage, our actors our intentions, forces that can be subverted and so easily broken, and yet with indomitable will we can conquer the stars.

In the chaos of the final act of the psychodrama, when authority fled from the terror of backstage and the Golden King’s horrific, bloodthirsty cult of actors and eldritch abominations, it is only fitting that a woman of strong character and fortitude such as Alicia Pointe — deputized by blood and firearms, and knowledge — would eventually ascend to the position of Mayor to do what others cannot: with exchequer, frugality, and the lore of the eldritch truth.

No one would truly know this, however, beyond the city elders who have always suspected, but hidden from the horrors in the backstage of Manchester, from the spaces between the world itself, that Alicia Pointe did not act alone.

As Ms. Pointe had faced down the actors of the Golden King with fisticuffs, keen wit, firearms, and occult aptitude, a sovereign and his faithful hound pursued and entrapped the darkness in the places from where it planned to strike. His name will always be known, throughout the hallowed halls of humanity’s Dreamscape as Cerentes of Ashemore who — with his trusty friend Cornwall — learned to navigate the dark places, the forgotten spaces, to survive and travel through the fragile places between sleep and wakefulness, in the deepest, darkest alleyways of Manchester to ward our world against evil beyond understanding.

After the Finale of the Play, Cerentes and Cornwall vanished from this world, perhaps to complete their apotheosis in Ashemore beyond the red dawn. Nothing was left behind of this saviour, save a beggar face down in a gutter, an emaciated dog at his side, an empty  shotgun, an emptier jug of moonshine, and a small funeral with littler fanfare.

Zelda Zimmerman remembers this truth. She is even more a myth now than Lord Cerentes and Cornwall the Great. As Cerentes lurked the shadows as hunter and hunted, and Ms. Pointe took charge of the streets in dearth of local and Federal authority, Madame Zimmerman navigated the highs and lows of the realities themselves. She will never forget facing down the shoggoth in the Abyss, with only a revolver and crucifix-blessed bullets to bring it down, or the eldritch power she turned upon the Golden King’s cultists, or even Byakhee, Star Spawn and Cthonian that she turned to dust. She will always remember the Other Dimension and climbing the endless rope like Jacob’s Ladder, the presence that tried to take her mind that she overcame in the City of the Great Race, and evading the living halls of R’lyeh, the cultists’ manipulation of the Law to seal her away, sealing the Witch House, leaving the Elder Signs as marks for with which the inhuman players of the Golden King will forever remember her by.

If Ms. Pointe is their Executioner, and Lord Cerentes their Hunter, then perhaps it isn’t too much of an authorial exaggeration to say that Madame Zimmerman became the Witch — the Baba Yaga with fire and sorcerous might — of the Eternal Dream with whose destruction she had dedicated her mind and body.

The years pass now as the eternal tyranny of the Golden King failed to feed on the madness of his story, sealed behind the Great Wall that was once his greatest triumph, his most pronounced tragedy. But does not all enlightenment come from accepting one’s limits? Even now, to this very day, these limits remain reinforced by the three that came to Manchester: Ms. Pointe, Manchester’s Favourite Daughter, the Lord Cerentes from the realm Ashemore, and Madame Zimmerman as Lore Master of their own coven: the Fellowship of the Dramatis Personae.

For it is these three, with their intrepid allies in the dark, that faced horrors that would have made a Machen, a Chambers, or even a Lovecraft blanch. And it is from the land of the river Merrimack that the Dramatis Personae will, for as long as they are able, keep Manchester and the world from the Golden King and his brethren, from allowing humanity to exeunt stage left.

Gloria Goldberg is a best-selling author of Strigoi Risen and Witches Have Wishes. Having spent her childhood in Romania with parents of Roma and Ashkenazi extraction, Ms. Goldberg has brought their storytelling sensibilities to the English language and America where she currently resides as the Writer-in-residence at Miskatonic University, in Arkham, Massachusetts. When she isn’t hosting readings or her reader’s circles at Velma’s Diner, Mrs. Goldberg volunteers at Arkham’s own Shelter for Ulthar Cats.

Anklebiters: Pixies Vs. Gremlins

A few months ago, I announced that my friends at Pandora’s Fox were launching their weird and whimsical urban fantasy card game Anklebiters: Pixies Verses Gremlins. Unfortunately, at the time, they ended up having to cancel their Kickstarter Campaign.

However, they promised to relaunch their Campaign with a few new additions, which they have already done. A lot of the information in this Reblog is still relevant and accurate to Anklebiters, save for the Kickstarter Campaign, whose link you can find here:

In addition, I’ve done some writing for the game and even helped create two of the new Hero characters as part of this Project’s stretch goals. As I said before, if you like card games please consider taking a look and/or backing it.

Mythic Bios

Hello all. It has been a while since I’ve written here: something that I find I’ve been saying a lot. I have a few things going on, including some original creative work that I finally have formulating in my mind. And I can’t wait to see where I go with that.

It might be a while before I say anything about some of the other things I have planned. However, I would like to take the time to plug a card game in here. It’s not just any card game. Imagine a world, our world, where small creatures unnoticed by the rest of us dwell in the corners of the detritus we create everyday and wage wars for sacred leylines and land to summon a powerful being that will make them dominant over their fellows. Pixies use misdirection and magic to get their way, their whimsy just a mask for…

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Nilthene and the Blue Dragon

I wrote this for The Hoard of the Dragon Queen Campaign for Dungeons and Dragons. As such, there be SPOILERS here. You have been warned.

This is the full speech that my Dragonborn sorceress Nilthene Silvermine delivered to the Blue Dragon Lenethon in our last session in order to get him to leave the Governor’s Keep of Greenest alone.

It began when Nilthene utilized her Message Cantrip, and addressed the attacking Dragon in the Draconic Language. 

“Great Dragon, Draconic Elder. I am the Dragonborn Nilthene of the Clan of Silvermine. On behalf of the people of Greenest, and in accordance to the Ancient Ways, I wish to make parley with you. Please meet me on the parapet of this Tower, if you would be so inclined. Thank you.”

Then, surrounded by Greenest’s terrified archers, the Dragon rose up to meet with Nilthene, and her Druid companion who had been brave enough to risk instant vaporization from lightning breath. 

“May I ask whom it is that I have the honour of addressing, Great Dragon?”

At this point, he said “You may,” and he revealed himself to be the Blue Dragon Lenethon. The rest of my speech, which I delivered in part, and kept to the spirit thereof is the following. 

“Lenethon, I would like to thank you for your patience as I make my case, and request that you withhold your judgment until I say my peace. Is that acceptable?”

For the moment, it was. The rest is as follows.

“I am born of the Silver Dragon Alesandra’s line, and while I know that the Chromatic and Metallic Dragons clash in many ways, our blood does agree on one thing. Dignity.”

“The people of Greenest have little to offer you — and you personally. They have some baubles, a few minor trinkets, but most of their wealth comes through trade and agriculture. But I suspect you already know this or, if not, it is unimportant to you.

“The Cult of the Dragon has always trade to seduce Dragons of … lesser stature and hoards into becoming undead abominations: animated idols that they worship to fill their own empty lives. They have never truly respected the blood of a true Dragon.

“This … new Prophet of their, Severin Silrazrin, and his lieutenants Fulram Mondath and Langedrosasyrith seem no different. In fact, they’re even less worthy. You see, I think the ‘Prophet’ actually leads a breakaway sect of the group, worshiping Tiamat. Or he has not consolidated his power as much as he’d like others to believe. You’ve surely noticed how his Cult relies on the services of mercenaries, hungry only for gold instead of glory, and mindless kobold slaves.

“In fact, I am fairly certain that the only reason this fledgling order even took Greenest, and the other settlements in the area is because of your power. Your majesty.

“And they offer you … what? Small trinkets and farmland? It’s barely enough to fill a Dragonborn’s hoard, never mind a Great Dragon’s … or that of Tiamat herself! It is an insult! I’ve spent my whole life trying to learn about the progenitors of my line and race, to come towards the greatness of the true Dragons — of yourself — and I know that this is all petty and beneath us. Beneath you.

“You could have destroyed this town many times over. You could have killed myself and my group: whom Mondath wants dead. But that is also beneath you. You know your power, and I think that you know theirs.

“I know I’m also not a Dragon. I am not of Tiamat either. I have an attachment to these humanoids: as a parent to their hatchlings. But I know you do not.

“So, I beg your indulgence once again, and ask you: why do you serve a sect that can’t even raid small villages without your help? And is there a way that you may be persuaded to spare Greenest, or at the very least leave those who would worship grotesque undead mockeries of beauty, and pay lip service to Draconic powers that they will never understand?

What can the Cult of the Dragon do for you? And what can we do to change your mind?

We await your answer, Great Lenethon. Thank you.”

In the end, after he nearly took offense to the first part of the speech, I shortened it to saying that the Cult was unworthy of him and had nothing to offer him. Then I asked what we could do to convince him to leave the Cult and Greenest. He gave us our quest. Now I hope to fulfill it … and not die for over a thousand years. And who said Level Two characters had boring adventures. 

Shadow

I kriffing hate those clankers, Nora.

Footage from Praadost II: Encrypted

Location: River outside of Nembasa City Sewer System.

arc-trooper

A tarnished white figure, with a pack, and a black T-visor Mandalorian helmet swims through the water. Through the grainy lens of the surveillance camera, it is clear that the man is carrying a length of synth-rope across the current. He pauses as a bloated corpse floats by. Then, he continues for a time.

He is almost at the other side of the shore, until he stops. An Imperial aqua hunter-killer droid: a large, sleek mechanism with deadly synthetic tendrils. He floats in the water silently. He stands on the bottom of the river. His image wavers under the shifting current or out of the way of the camera’s specific focus. One blaster shot. It pierces the cranial carapace of the hunter-killer as the lights in its optics dim.

The man swims up to the large, immobilized droid. He does something to it and then it carries him on its back the remainder of the way, along with the synth rope. The images cut out and he swims back with a Sluissi as an assorted band wait for him at the sewer entrance.

Somehow, perhaps unconsciously, it seems as though the soldier is standing triumphantly on a large and successful trophy: the hunter having become the hunted. He’s leaning back, holding up the Sluissi with one arm, but his leg bends forward on the head of the droid: conquering it. It is a scene fit for a propaganda war holo-film from another time.

I’m scared, General Ro … Nora … that’s why I have to go. I have to sleep facing that man with the empty eyes, those dead eyes, every night. I have be the best I can be.

Footage from Praadost II: Encrypted

Location: Nembasa City Tunnels

The image swirls. It is as though the scene is being viewed through some kind of remote. There is blaster fire from a fleeing Twi’lek woman as three other floating spheres are destroyed. She, a Sluissi, and three humans run into different tunnels outside of some crumbling ancient pillars and a lake in the centre of the room.

This perspective remains undetected. The lens flickers and the time-stamp goes back a few minutes. There is an Iktotchi fighting a large dark armored man. The former holds a green energy blade, while the latter has a larger crimson one. The image is excellent, crisp, and clear with only a few moments of static due to the bad reception below Praadost II. The dark man dominates the Itkotchi, scoring a slash to his leg and burning it into a bladelock into his shoulder. But the Iktotchi is holding his own in a defensive stance: barely.

The lens flickers again to another perspective: the time-stamp indicating that this happening at the same time as the combat with the other two. The soldier in the white tarnished armor shoots his rapid-fire blaster rifle at another figure: a dark woman with a double-bladed red energy weapon. He’s visibly trembling. But he keeps shooting. She deflects most of his shots with lightning fast reflexes that the camera barely even captures.

One shot gets through. It singes her shoulder. But another burns across the right side of her face. It leaves a burn scar. The trooper backs behind a pillar. She waves her hand and three small droid spheres begin shooting him. Then the rest of the people in the tunnels separate and the Twi’lek shoots them all down.

The trooper runs backwards, keeping his distance, shooting at the woman as he runs towards another exit. She waves her hand and he trips and falls to the ground. He fires again rapidly as he goes down. She deflects most of the blasts again, with an equally rapid circular pattern, but a stray shot hits her in the leg. She staggers, even as another more powerful shot ricochets off her blade and into a pillar.

It falls between her and the trooper. She barely rolls out of the way of the crumbling debris and a large cloud of dust obscures the rest of the recording.

The image flickers again. The trooper blocks the dark man from the fleeing Iktotchi’s escape, throwing an object and forcing the other to jump out of the way into the lake. The trooper shoots his rifle one more time and runs as the dark man is suddenly attacked by a large reptilian creature. The dark woman climbs around the ruins of the pillar and engages the creature as the dark man runs after them.

The image flickers again: almost shaking. There is a shockwave as the dark man is flung out of the tunnel: crumpled and bleeding on the ground. Recording ends.

Elsewhere, Imperial Agent Aaron Garay and the two Inquisitors face their superior on a viewing screen: attempting to explain what happened.

It just never ends, Nora. It just keeps coming.

Footage from Praadost II: Encrypted

Location: Power Supply Room

A grainy surveillance camera lens. The battered Iktotchi’s energy blade is blocked by the arm guard of the stormtrooper captain as he stabs him in the abdomen multiple times with a vibro blade. Just moments before, the Iktotchi disarmed the captain of his blaster rifle, sending it into the chasm below. As the Iktotchi falls to the ground, the trooper with the Mandalorian helmet riddles the captain with blaster bolts, sending his body plummeting into the core below. The other stormtrooper attempts to fire on the tarnished soldier panickedly. Some of his shots even get through before, he too, joins his superior in the abyss.

You made your choice, shinie.

Shadow and Nora are flush with drink on Zeltros. The rest of Thorn Squad is there too, each brother also equally drunk and having a few of Nora’s sisters, brothers, and friends around their arms as well. Planetary leave.

All against regulations, of course, but you only die once. Besides, they’ve all earned it. Double celebration really. The completion of his ARC training and missions, and his marriage with Nora. You can never top a marriage on Zeltros.

“Being a Zeltron and a Jedi isn’t a mutually exclusive thing,” Nora said to him after he came back from his solo missions, “You have to remember your duty over selfishness, but duty also includes compassion for all living things. And compassion is a part of a greater empathy and love for all living beings. So you can say, Shadow, that it’s natural for a Jedi and a Zeltron — for anyone — to pursue love: without greed or attachment, but connection in its purest form.”

And boy, did he feel connected that day. Between brotherly congratulations, drink, good food, strong Zeltron pheromones and physical intimacy, Shadow is having a good time, even more awed by the fact that Nora is enjoying watching him have a good time when she isn’t participating.

This wasn’t anywhere in the manual on Kamino or the cadets. Neither is being a father. Shadow puts a hand on Nora’s abdomen and he can somehow feel her and their child. After the War, he tells himself, with her sisters’ arms around them both, his brothers cheering him, cheering them, after the War they will resign their commissions, and everything will be different.

I’m so kriffing tired, Nora. I miss you. I miss you every fierfeking day …

Footage from Praadost II: Encrypted

Location: River outside of Nembasa City Sewer System.

The battered trooper and Iktotchi stagger out of the Sewers. He places the Iktotchi behind an incline as he begins toggling with the remains of the hunter-killer droid. He reloads one torpedo into its compartments. Then he takes the Iktotchi and himself and they hide behind the droid.

The trooper maneuvers the broken droid to aim at the Sewer Entrance tunnels, like a makeshift ebweb cannon. And they wait.

I see this face. This face in my dreams. With its dead eyes. And I hate it. I hate it so much …

Slinger made the mistake of thinking it was his lieutenant waiting for him in their bivouac on the frontlines. But now he’s on the ground, a blaster bolt through his chest plate. The other trooper takes of his stolen brother’s helmet, and he sees another brother.

“Shadow …”

“Been waiting for years for this, Slinger.”

“You killed the others.”

“Yeah.” No-One cocks Mercy at Slinger’s face. Part of No-One feels bad. Slinger’s blaster is inches away from him. His brother … he still thinks of them all as his brothers, he was always good with a blaster. They practised together a lot. If he’d been feeling more charitable, he would’ve ended this with a blaster duel. But No-One never had a weapon named Charity.

“… fair enough.” Slinger coughs up some blood. “For what it’s worth, I’m sorry.”

“Won’t bring back my wife, Slinger. Or my kid.”

“Please … Shadow.”

“You’re the last one, Slinger. I’m No-One.”

“I know.” Tears and snot stream down Slinger’s face. “We’re all gone. This War killed us. Those chips killed us.”

No-One’s gun trembles at Slinger’s temple. “… what?”

Slinger laughs through his blood. It’s so bitter. “That chip in you. Made you all barvy the General had to … send you to Mender. We all had it. It worked for us. Even all our training … good soldiers follow orders … had to be sure. Damn long-necks gave us those chips. Never … had a chance, Shadow.” Slinger coughs harder, deeper. “Had a good time on Zeltros, didn’t we. Heh. Heh … You were the lucky one, Shadow. You were …”

Slinger’s eyes roll back into his head and he breathes out the last of his blood. No-One stands over him. He’s stunned. Unconsciously, he turns off the audio of his stolen HUD. He falls to his knees. And, silently and alone, he screams.

We’ll bring down those clankers, Nora. We’ll take them down and get the hell out of here.

Footage from Praadost II: Encrypted

Location: River outside of Nembasa City Sewer System.

The camera captures a series of blaster bolts coming towards the trooper. Some are absorbed by the cover of the droid. But many hit him. He staggers, but keeps the droid at the entrance. He activates its weapon. The concussive torpedo hits. A squad of stormtroopers come flying out of the tunnel in various positions and pieces by the force of the blast.

The trooper collapses to the side. He’s breathing heavily, very clearly as injured as his companion and utterly exhausted. A stormtrooper sergeant staggers out of the tunnel. He is firing randomly. He gets in front of the trooper and misses him by a wide margin. The trooper activates his gun and shoots the sergeant, his body trembling under the rapid shots from its barrel and being thrown away like a rag doll.

Steam comes from the trooper’s blaster rifle. The trooper is looking down at it. He falls to his knees. It’s almost like he is cradling it like a small child. Then the Sewer Entrance and its hill collapses, revealing the light of the Nembassa City, leaving the trooper with his damaged weapon.

Never had a weapon named Charity …

Drax Cole, one of the Cuy’Val Dar and instructors of Jango Fett’s myriad clones, watches one of the cadets looking at the weapons’ rack. The boy can feel the scarred older man watching him. Cole is one of the best firearms instructors of the rest.

“Hey.”

The boy looks up and stands to attention. “Yes sir.”

“Growing into those blaster rifles well, son.”

The boy understands. His growth spurts, like those of his brothers, are quick. Even with the genetic treatments, they are still painful. But at eight he is tall, lean and fast with a good eye. He will serve the Republic well. But praise from one of the Cuy’Val Dar is rare and he doesn’t know how to respond. Instead he defaults to the default.

“Thank you, sir.”

“What’s your name, son?”

“I am CT-24601.” The boy tells him by rote.

“No. I mean, what do you they call you?”

“… they call me Shadow.” It will be many years before the boy accepts this name from his last Squad working for the Republic, and a few more before he rejects the name, any name, completely. He has no idea. Right now he just wants to serve the Grand Army as best he can and to the best that his genetic perfection and rigorous training can provide.

“Shadow.” Drax Cole walks behind him and looks at the blaster rifles. “You do have a good eye. I see you looking at that rifle. You know the one.”

Shadow hesitates. But reaches out and takes it in his hands. It doesn’t take him long to calibrate and arm it. It’s second nature to him. Drax Cole nods.

“That blaster rifle, Shadow, it’s going to save your shlebs. You treat her right, you maintain and mod her, she’ll be at your side the rest of your life. More than your brothers, she’ll be your mother, your daughter, your wife. She’ll be your whole damn family. You got that, shinie?”

“Yes Instructor sir. I understand.”

“Good lad.”

It’s all right, you know. We’re disposable. As long as we complete the mission. The mission …

The trooper and T’Soth hide in the city. They hide in the garbage. They are buying Revenant Squad and the Praadost Rebel cell time. They barely escape notice even in the worn-torn city ripped apart by civil disorder and Imperial reprisals. Finally, the trooper hooks a grappling hook to a building. They climb up and hide. It’s a good spot … until more of those spherical droids are sent out to find them. The Inquisitors are not giving up.

They get into the building and run into a scared family. A cowering mother and her children. Then their father comes out swinging. T’Soth, trying to be the consummate Jedi, fails to calm him down. But it’s the trooper that does it. He almost takes his helmet off. Instead, he takes his gun, takes Mercy, and places her on the ground with his hands up. He lets T’Soth tell them that they are not scavengers or Imps.

The father tells them they need to leave. The trooper asks if he knows where they can hide. The man directs them to a warehouse. He gives them cloaks to hide them. The trooper turns back and thanks the man. He points up the stairs, where the man’s family is hiding.

“Take care of them.”

It hurts, Nora. I don’t want to feel anymore. I just want to see you again. But Ayla …

After his time, helping those early resistance cells, watching them get crushed, getting his own hollow revenge on his former brothers, he’s tired. He retires, in a way. He just doesn’t care anymore. Not about much. He takes all jobs. Even from Imps. All the money goes to Clan Pall, to Ardin … to his daughter.

As long as Ayla lives, as long she gets that chance …

But even that doesn’t stop the thoughts. It doesn’t stop from looking at Mercy. It doesn’t stop him from thinking about it. He’s lost so much already …

And then, one day, in a grimy motel on Nar Shaddaa as he’s pointing Mercy at his head he gets that transmission. He doesn’t know how they found him. How he found them. There is a central Resistance. They have unified. And they tell him they can help him. They can help his daughter.

It doesn’t take much for No-One to accept Spectre-7’s proposal.

It’s all right if I go. As long as Ayla’s safe, and a proper Jedi trains her. I did my job. I had something to fight for. I did my duty. I made up for my kriff-ups. I can finally rest.

Footage from Praadost II [Currently Restricted]

Location: Nembassa Warehouse

It’s an amateur Praadostian camera. It keeps moving around, but the jist of it is seen well enough. An A-Wing and Z-95 Headhunter are dogfighting TIE Fighters in the sky above the city. Two figures are on the roof, seen through the rudimentary lens of the civilian camera uploading to an illegal HoloFeed. It is a figure in tattered robes and a bounty hunter. The hunter sends up a flare and a U-Wing comes to hover over the roof.

The figure in the robes leaps up with impossible velocity into the ramp of the ship. The bounty hunter, or soldier stands there. He looks like he is about to jump. A TIE Bomber comes in. It releases a volley of proton torpedoes at the U-Wing.

The U-Wing’s shields flicker dangerously and it lurches, but the shock wave destroys the warehouse roof. The trooper is caught in the fire. He goes flying with the wreckage. Then he falls, flaming, into the ruins below.

The feed cuts out.

I will see you soon. I love you, Nora Ro.

Footage from Praadost II: Encrypted

Location: Nebassa City District [Currently Restricted]

Another feed flickers back onto another scene. A figure leaps out of the ship as the U-Wing engages the TIE Bomber. It picks up another figure from the wreckage of the Warehouse. Then it goes back into the ship.

… live, Shadow. Our daughter needs you.

Live vode. Live brother. Someone needs to avenge us.

“Spectre-7.” T’Soth says.

“Jedi T’Soth. I’ve heard from the Bantha Special that the mission has been successful.”

“Yes. But our plans have changed. We’re not going to Ord Rodama. Tell the Senator that we need to call in another favour. We will be at Arda.”

I hate clankers. I hate this face. Clankers … this face … I can’t see them. Dead eyes. I can’t feel it …

A tattered figure floats in a bacta tank.

“Live, Shadow.” T’Soth says. “Revenant Squad needs you.”

Yes. Good soldiers … follow orders …

Spectre-7 looks at his monitor. He has captured all of Praadost II’s footage of the event: from the Imperial censored civilian cameras to the Sewer Entrance.

“Pity we couldn’t get footage from the fight in the Tunnels. Maybe his helmet recorded the event.” He turns to the technicians. “Meantime, send out these recordings. Some good propaganda. Even better for morale. This will be enough.”

“The Unknown Soldier finally has a name.”

My name is Shadow. I’m Shadow. And I’m not finished yet.

My Creation, My Past, My Challenge

It’s a strange thing to encounter your past, even when it is a fictionalized past.

Especially when it’s a fictionalized past.

In about 2001, I started playing a homemade table-top role-playing game with some friends of mine. Before that, I was more interested in playing the customized Star Wars game we had going on that took place many years after the Old Trilogy. But this particular game, the one I was invited to participate in, had been going on for a very long time. This time around, it was in the fantasy genre.

I was hesitant. I had played a few games of Dungeons and Dragons before this point and, more often than not, we spent more time arguing about the rules and I had very little time to play as I had curfews back in the day.

In the Star Wars game, I was a master manipulator and I destroyed my opponents or undermined them with indirect attacks and insinuations. As other players died, I got stronger and the ones left me alone, I left alone or made alliances with. Here, though, I was treading into a universe I wasn’t familiar with. I didn’t have a lot of in-world knowledge and I was cautious. But, after hearing a bit about its history, lore and the games that the previous players had I decided I’d find it fascinating to be a part of that story.

Now, at this time, we used to roll our backgrounds as a matter of course. I decided to play as a dark elf wizard. Unfortunately, my roll was low and he started off as a slave.

That was the beginning of Vrael-Saar.

Vrael-Saar was actually the name of an ancient Sith Lord I made in a juvenile fanfic long ago, or a character in a Computer Paint choose your own adventure game with the same idea. But I applied it to my character because I already knew what he would be like. He grew up in a society and family that believed in survival of the most cunning. He had siblings who actually killed each other and he barely proved himself to his own master: only to be enslaved by humans.

Vrael-Saar was like my Sith character in Star Wars. He was manipulative, vengeful and clever. He started off from Level 1 and only had the rags on his back and a broom to channel his magic. Almost anyone could beat the crap out of him. One friend made that very clear as he wanted to establish dominance right away.

But the most important thing about Vrael-Saar that you have to understand right off the bat is that he was, even as he advanced, never a power character. What I mean is: he never flat-out went into a mystical slugging match unless he absolutely had to. Because, you see, Vrael-Saar was one other thing too.

He was clever.

I admit that Dragonlance‘s Raistlin influenced me and, consequently, Vrael-Saar himself. He would often wait and let his allies expend themselves or allow his enemies to overextend themselves. He was also not adverse to using the powers of Light or Darkness or Chaos to advance himself, or have them do a lot of the work for him before he would take advantage of a situation. He was patient, mostly, and he waited.

Of course, he took some major risks: including a bid for immortality that could have ended quite badly for him had he rolled anything below a 16 on a D20. And he succeeded. One humid rainy night with some lightning in the sky, as I walked home from my friends, I gave Vrael-Saar immortality: the one thing he had sought for ages while constantly studying their lore.

Even though he suffered setbacks, he was almost Level 20 by the time that game wound down in about 2004. He had learned how to spirit-walk and see the ghostly reality underneath the material facade of things. He also learned how to enter people’s souls.

He changed in other ways too. Vrael-Saar started off as a being with no regard for other peoples’ feelings and cared very little for sentient life. He only looked out for himself. Ironically, it was only after he carried out a Demon Lord’s orders to butcher an entire village and feed them to demons, and when a betrayal and a mutation changed him into something far less than humanoid that he began to change. It’s ironic that the more monstrous he became, the more “human” the character was becoming as well.

Vrael-Saar didn’t like to serve masters, but Demons and Dark Lords used him in their own agendas: even as he learned how to subvert them and use what was given to him to his advantage. He liked to be independent. One day, he even had a companion: a former enemy whom he helped corrupt for his former master, but who ended up becoming one of the few people who actually understood him. I wrote some stories about that. In the end, he saved the life of another immortal whose soul was being corrupted: and whom he healed at risk to his own essence and the Demon taint inside of it. Whether he did it out of a sense of compassion, leverage, or as a way to create a further blood debt between potential enemies who would be better disposed to him and his own plans for independence is open-ended.

That was where I left Vrael-Saar in 2004. I had almost four years of Journal Notes–The Chronicles of Vrael-Saar–before my travel drive died and I lost all of it. Even my friend, who was DM, kept track of matters with those Journals: though we still have yet to see if any survived.

It is now 2014. This homemade world, which I ended up contributing a lot to based on my actions and my own writing, got rebooted and there are new rules and histories now. However, it’s much in the way that mythologies can be retold: the details might be different, but the essence of the narrative is still the same. I am now a human Imperial Alchemist named Marcus Arctrurian: who is also the Baron of Wrengardt. As we did long ago, I rolled my background class and made out a little better than that first time years ago.

The Baron is a character I am fleshing out now, but he and his companions have infiltrated a secret stronghold where some cultists are performing some terrifying experiments on captive farmers. And after he defeated one of their leaders, a corrupt town guard, we found a parchment with a skull and a snake coming out of it.

A little before this, we played another game that was another variation of our homemade universe. Many of our old characters either long since passed or, if they had been immortal or particularly powerful, had become demigods. My DM friend informed me then that Vrael-Saar had become one of these gods, but we only encountered him peripherally: as followers to another character I created (as a story character or NPC) were using one of his artifacts. In that world, he was called The Snake Tongue.

But this time, in this game, in another variant of that world, we are dealing with a massive network of Demon-worshippers and agents known as The Cult of Saar.

I created Vrael-Saar, long ago, from a lot of young adult frustration, anger and general angst. He grew over the years and became something else. While this is another reboot, there are some characteristics about him that I would imagine to be exactly the same. He is also called The Snake Tongue in this world, but he has another epithet.

He is called The Lord of Lies.

And he is basically a Demon Lord now, if not the equivalent of a demon god. Essentially, I have come face to face with my creation as an idea transmitted overtime and taken to the nth degree from what I had been planning to do with him. And while I even wrote a new story about him as a Demon Lord, for all my educated guesses even I don’t know what he is planning.

And that frightens me: even as it thrills.

For over a decade, my group of friends and I created a mythos. It will continue for as long as we do. It is a legacy in a way now. While our own bodies age and our own possibilities are a little more limited than when we began, with some potential to grow from there even now, our game grows with us.

I’m a different player now than I was then, though I am still more than capable of being evil when I need to. The question is: can I defeat what I created so long ago?

My only answer is that we will see how long this game will last, and how far we will go. It has really come full-circle now. Let us see if we can triumph over what we have helped to make.

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