Another Year

It’s been a while since I’ve written here. That’s a sentence I’ve said a lot when posting on this Blog these days.

But I thought I would come here this morning, and write something as it is an appropriate day. It’s my birthday today. By the time you read this post, I will now be thirty-eight years old. And since I am now one year older, I thought I’d look at where I am now and update you on what is going on, and what I am doing.

My social life has, well, opened up a great deal. Before the crisis with the coronavirus, I was going outside a lot more, socializing, spending time at Storm Crow Manor, and exploring a whole new part of Toronto: a section of it that was new to me, and one I had began to travel on my own. I’ve enjoyed the Manor, as well as Craig’s Cookies, and I have been considering doing more things.

It’s been a far cry from the time when I would lie in my bed and essentially spend most of my days and nights on my laptop, just existing, hoping nothing would tip the delicate balance, in that state of tension and anxiety. I still have to deal with the latter, of course, but I find when I am doing stuff and actually going out and focusing on other matters, it helps. It helps to facilitate that place where I am not as much in my mind.

I have also slowly been cultivating various friends, and contacts. I know it’s not something that can happen all at once, and I’ve realized that having an extrovert or two as a friend is a boon, even as I can help other introverts who aren’t as comfortable with “party manners” to socialize as well, and traverse the city with me. There was a two week or so period where I was outside a great deal — even making cookies for the first time in over a decade for an event — and I also got a considerable amount of work done.

As usual, I have not finished or even in some cases continued the creative projects that I had sought to undertake, though some still remain in the queue. I have been meaning to get back to writing a piece of fanfiction for a friend’s comic, exploring that world with similar themes, but from different perspectives. I have an Alternative Facts story or two that I want to get out there, which I suspect I’ve mentioned here before. There is also the Lovecraft Mythos story I want to compile out of my notes on paper and from my phone, and send it somewhere: possibly for some grants and scholarships, and a writer’s retreat program.

But I have mostly been writing in roleplays. I am doing a group game where I am a bard, which I am sure I have mentioned before, a Vampire: The Masquerade solo game with one of my partners, and now another D&D game that is set in the plane of Gehena. That last game is something special to me. I mean, all three of them are in different ways. I am mostly the Game Master of the Vampire game, and I create epic level songs and manipulations as my bard in the other.

But in the Gehena game, it hearkens back to when my friend and I — who is GMing this campaign — to the days in our early twenties, even earlier into our teens, when we would play in the sandboxes he created after school and all night. Because of life circumstances, we play these games all on Roll 20, with some help from DnD Beyond, and Discord. But my friend is combining elements of the group game, and my solo game with him together as they belong in a shared universe of our creation: just in different realms. I can’t wait to see the plot points converge, or run parallel.

I don’t know, I just feel like when I roleplay I’m … doing something. I’m helping to shape a world with my actions and consequences. My decisions matter. And it is close to what I always wanted to do with my friends: to create a world and game together. Once, I wanted us to work together: to create games that we would sell. It was a dream of mine, of ours, and I guess if you hold some stock with horoscopes as a Pisces it makes sense that I would be enamoured with playing in, and creating, a world of dreams. Or nightmares.

Really, aside from my socializing and the potential and energy I get from those interactions — as well as meeting new and awesome people — these role-plays are some of the things that excite me the most. They always have.

It’s not been easy for me. For almost a decade, I felt like I was asleep for the most part. I’d been depressed and anxious and holding onto attachments that were long past their time. I’m not magically cured, of course, and I know how any of these elements can quickly change especially in these uncertain times.

It’s been a bit sad knowing I would go back to being inside more often again, though hopefully it won’t be forever, and the current health situation — this pandemic — can be dealt with. I’ll also admit that I have stretched myself out a great deal, perhaps even over-extended my attention. I need to work on sleeping, which I am failing at right now even as I write to you. I should also rest more and take the time to spend it with those that have gone out of their way to do so with me, even if it can only be audio or video at the moment.

In the end, it’s funny. I went to a person once, who told me that I will lose people, but I should not take for granted the people who are still here, and love me. It’s hard, but I should listen to them. I did lose some connections, over the years, some more recently than others. But in a way, they have made me reevaluate and look at the interactions I do still have, and want to take the time to make sure I know where I stand with them and vice-versa.

I am getting better at standing up for myself. For respecting for myself. For watching for those who do not respect me. I have changed since 2012, when I first started this Blog. Where I go is beyond me. I have been thinking about doing some volunteer work, to get out of the house when that is sensible to do so, of course. And I know I am building something, in this life, I just … don’t know what it is yet. But I do think that the social aspect is important.

Perhaps, now, at this time is the moment to really focus on what it is I’m looking for, to enjoy what I have, to take care of myself, and to see where I go from there.

I’m not where I thought I would be at thirty-eight. Some of that is disappointing, but other parts of it have exceeded expectations. I’ve realized it is possible to be sad and joyful at the same time. It’s what I need to do with that energy that is the question.

Some of you have been reading my work, followed me, and have even been my friends — and more — for a long time. Some of you have changed along with me. Some of you aren’t here anymore. But I want to thank you, for taking the time you had, and have, and spending it with me: even by reading this long, rambling journal post.

Like I said, I don’t know where I am going to be. Or what will happen. But I hope I can make the momentum, and use it, to do something really constructive, and satisfying to me and the people that I care about.

In the meantime, I think I will use some of that time to go get some rest. So much for my birthday present being an early bedtime. This was longer than I thought it would be. Always famous last words, for one thing or another. ;p

Until another time, my friends. Take care of yourselves, and each other.

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.

Peering Back In and an Update

I think it would be an understatement to say that I haven’t written here in a while.

There’s a pretty good chance, in fact, that I’ve even said this before. I remember when I used to write on Mythic Bios a lot. And when I mean a lot, I mean every single day. Then it became every other day. Then every two days, and after that, well …

Life happens, I guess is the best what to sum it all up.

How do I even catch up at this point? What highlights can I share with you?

Well, I can tell you that I’d been working on two very long pieces of fanfiction on A03. Both of them are set in the Fate/Stay Night universe. One of them, Fate/Stay Unlimited Bullets is finished — despite the errors I keep reading over and correcting — but the other, the longer one, Fate/Stay Life has gone into something of a hiatus. I know how I want to continue it. I know what parts need to be elaborated on. And I also know that if I sit down with it again, I will be able to continue more or less from where I started. But Unlimited Bullets really took a lot out of me: more than I thought. And given the content in FSL, I suppose it makes sense that because of a transitional period in my life it does make sense that I’m taking some time away from it. I do plan to come back to it, this 96 chapter monstrosity and ongoing thing mind you, but not right now.

But I know there are a few of you, who still read this Blog, that aren’t here to hear about my fanfiction, though you can definitely feel free to read it if you want as I am Ma_Kir on A03.

I’ve thought about writing more Alternative Facts short stories. I even have ideas and words and turns of phrase typed out in a draft somewhere. But … I don’t know. I just haven’t felt the impetus to continue for a time. Between having to find the right epigraphs, really focus on the language I’m creating, and think about what’s … going on, or could have gone on in Amarak, and just how derivative it all is, it is a lot of work to go through. I find that the stories don’t really work on their own, but you need to read through all of them in a certain order for them to get … some idea as to what is going on. I find it’s not as accessible, and I wonder just how good they really are when it comes down to it. If I have a story that is really pressing, rest assured I will share it with you. If not, they have been an interesting experiment in speculative political fiction.

I am, however, working a lot more on another universe. Actually, I have been working on two: creating one, and participating in the continued development of another. My original universe is derivative as well, with a Frankensteinian mix and mash going on, as these things go, and I hope to write two more stories in the series before attempting to get more readers to look at it. I play with horror archetypes and subvert a lot for human stories in that world. I hope them to be more accessible and while world-building is happening as a result or consequence, it is really the character interactions and more relatable characters that are forming that I hope to have stick. I look forward to sharing them, one day.

As for my other endeavour … I’ve written about 20th Century Boys before on this Blog, a long time ago now. In that manga, a group of children created a game — a game of make-belief — where they are a group of heroes fighting against the forces of evil. They made a whole mythology that someone, years later, adopts into an evil plan to take over Japan. I’m not really involved in something like that, but I can relate very much to a project or a world built between friends from childhood, and watching it grow with us.

My friends and I have been playing a homebrew world our DM created long ago for years now. I started playing it, with them, in 2001. I played one character from 2001 to 2004: developing him from a slave to essentially a demigod at the time. It was this process of collaborations and player verses player sessions, as well as solo sessions, that helped develop the game from a science fiction derivative to a more unique and quirky epic fantasy world. It isn’t entirely accurate, of course, but the the gist of it. I played again in 2005, as another character in the same world. Then I was gone for … about eleven years until 2011 when we continued the game where our old characters more or less became gods, and we played new characters in that world. And then, our DM made a multiverse in the form of various campaigns with these characters and elements which figured into it in 2012-2013 or so. They were fun in themselves.

I’ve roleplayed as wizards, mages, necromancers, sorcerers, alchemists, artificers, and the like. I have even been an assassin and a cleric at times. But the funniest thing is that the most enjoyment I’ve been having as both a player — and as a creator — is my current bard. I attempted to play a haunted bard in a Ravenloft campaign, and wanted to really add poetry — as an imitation of singing, or playing an instrument — to bring the bard to life. I had a choice, this current campaign and going back to our mainline homebrew world to either be a bard again, or a monk: which was another class I’d been thinking of trying out.

But I decided to be a bard. There was another game we were going to play where one of my characters in a faction setting was going to be one, and I just liked the idea. And she developed slowly from there, from a concept to more of a person. It’s funny. These days I tend to play female characters for some reason. Maybe I attempted to do so in 2012, to differentiate one alchemist character from another I was playing in a D&D campaign with my same friends. It … didn’t go well, for that character, and it impacted my experience.

But then in about 2016 or 2017, I tried it again, and I find I really like these characters. And my bard is one of the best. I have been writing whole epic “Ballads” of our adventures and certain world lore, in an attempt to spread information and misinformation on the world: to unify factions to deal with a greater evil. But I find I really get a lot out of this game writing these Ballads and actually reading them aloud in session. I haven’t really read anything I’ve written aloud in a while, never mind write something out by hand. I find it does affect the game, and not just because the DM gives us Inspiration or sometimes some bonuses, or even in my case EXP.

I just feel more immersed in that world. I feel like, when I write stuff like that, I am accomplishing something. Between that, and my own original creations … I could seriously live my entire life doing something like this. I wish I really could. If we ever made a studio, and I was asked to be a writer for it, I would do it in a goddamn heartbeat.

I find that the issue with my life right now isn’t that I don’t know what to do, or what I am doing. I do know what I want to do. Often, it’s just the world that won’t cooperate, or do what it’s told. Lol.

More realistically speaking, I just need material to work with, and collaborators, and people and resources that can help me make something tangible that will … support us. And the focus to do so, along with the determination in a hard, ridiculous world to keep going.

I’ve accomplished some other things too. I wrote some letters that got published in comics series. I’ve helped edit, and even make some character concepts for my friends’ — my role-playing group’s own game — Ankle-Biters: Pixies Vs. Gremlins game. And I wrote a Sequart article about the film adaptation of How to Talk to Girls at Parties that got retweeted by Neil Gaiman himself: which made my day for a really long time.

So I have not been completely idle or brooding in this time I’ve been away. Sometimes I think I should take my friend up on his old offer and see if I can redesign this Blog and make it look less … choppy, and plain with its ads. And maybe with something more substantial to offer besides my nerdy speculations and fanfiction, and the occasional story, I can build something more noticeable. Perhaps there is a way to get my works to interrelate. That would be sweet.

It’s been a stressful time, in an uncertain age. But I just wanted to write here to let you know that I am still alive, and I have not forgotten this Blog: or you. Hopefully, we will be seeing a little more of each other, if not here then elsewhere. Once again, thank you all for reading.

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.

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. 

I Found Out I Was a Cambion on my Birthday

It was my birthday yesterday.

It’s funny. I can’t always remember what I did every March 16. I can’t really remember anything particular about 2013. I do recall watching the controversial return of Darth Maul in Clone Wars back in 2012. I also recall my girlfriend buying me a Ms. Fields’ chocolate chip cake in 2011: the same year she had offered to have me move in with her. I didn’t really celebrate my birthday in 2010: though there had been the promise of a celebration that never happened. In 2008 I brought a birth cake to a gathering and before that there was another where someone announced it was my birthday and I was all embarrassed and such.

Before that it was a blur of Undergrad and small family celebration. I do know that every time this day comes along, it feels lighter. I mean there are seasonal reasons for that. When you look at it I was born towards the end of Winter. According to my parents, I was supposed to be born in the Springtime but I was apparently eager. Sometimes I wonder about my infant self’s wisdom, but there it is.

For many years in my childhood I had a birthday party with my friends and such. And yes, I was an eighties child and my parents did rent a party room and we did watch The Neverending Story and gave out memorabilia such as Falcore on a ruler that turned into a wristband. But then I got older and my friends went their separate ways and I found that I had no friends really to celebrate anything with. Birthday parties just started to feel very childish and when many of your friends live downtown or out of province and country, it is hard. Even though it didn’t feel like it, aside from dinners that my parents insist on taking me out on now that I’m at their place and a cake, my birthday just became every other day.

C'Tor Solutions

I was lucky this weekend. My friends, some of whom I’ve known since high school and one who I knew in elementary, told me at the last minute that we had a role-playing game session. This was going to be a special session. This was the point where our characters were going to cross from the ordinary mortal realm into beings of other essences. A new rule system was based and is still being tested by us. We talked, rolled dice, ate, laughed and actually role-played. I was exposed to so much lore from this world that Noah, our DM, has taken great pains to create.

And now because of the revelations of last game, my character’s plans might have changed along with his view of the world.

We spent the first part of our time cutting out cards and writing down our new powers. Then we started playing. I felt really enthusiastic and there were twists and turns and dinner and I could just see Noah waiting to reveal all of this lore: and it is not over yet. It’s funny. I have talked about my friends here before and our games, but I don’t think I ever realized just how long we would know each other. We have evolved over the years and sometimes we are together and other times we are off by ourselves. I think that is what loners of our kind do. But loners do gather from time to time to do awesome things.

And I vowed, for that one day before I even knew we had these plans, that I wasn’t going to dwell on the more difficult elements of my life. Not my welfare, nor my conflicts, or the myriad of other things I want or need to do, or didn’t do. All that mattered was that one day where I got to roleplay with my friends.

So there you go. This is my obligatory post-birthday, well, post.

Oh and, my character found out he was a Cambion: a descendant of a human and a demon. It actually explains a lot about me. It really does.

Happy thirty-secondth birthday to me.

Looking Outward