Tuesday, August 14, 2018

August MC Post, #1

It follows that, having posted Part 4 of the Senex Campaign, I'm ready to post another essay for my Master Class blog, which I have now done.  Mechanics of Party Splitting discusses the strategy and philosophy behind splitting a party into two or more groups, without losing momentum in the handling of the game.  It talks of Setting Flexibility, the importance of Time and the overarching necessity for Shared Experience, in order to focus multiple groups upon a mutually enjoyed game experience.  I think it is one of the best Master Class posts that I've written.

This post, and all Master Class posts, are available for a $3 pledge per month.  Please Pledge today!

I leave you with this cliched, and wrong, fable on why players should never split the party (hint: it the result of bad setting design):



Monday, August 13, 2018

Part 4 of the Senex Campaign

For those interested readers who have contributed $3 to my Patreon, I have expanded my rewrite of the Senex Campaign with Part 4: Approach of the Gate.  Having learned that a horrible creature from another plane will be gated into the town of Dachau, the players make every effort to reach authorities before the moment arrives.  As a lightning storm descends upon the city, they are caught in events far too large for them to manage; all they can do is try to survive as the gate opens and the world is turned upside down ...

The campaign texts, now the equivalent of a small book, are available for a $3 pledge per month.  Pledge today!


Thursday, August 9, 2018

Writing Jobs

I worked my last cooking shift today with the restaurant, while I've already started working shifts with the new job ~ which consists primarily of writing descriptions for costumes and costume accessories for the online website.  I'll write more about that soon.  Just now, it has been working a shift at one job, then working a shift at the other job, which has meant a change in sleeping hours and other adjustments.  Add to that some excessively hot weather for the climate, where the temperatures here have been in the mid 30s celsius, or the nineties verging on 100.  The weather prediction is that it will be one hundred degrees tomorrow.

Calgary is in a semi-desert, so the humidity is comparatively low compared with those temperatures as they occur on the eastern seaboard. Here, the sun is like a heavy weight on the shoulders and forehead.  The air is dry and hard to breathe.  It is best to walk slower, particularly if one is aged.  Weather like this is very hard on people in their seventies or older.  Even a younger guy like me can have trouble.

So the week has been ... stressful.  Yet today might be the last cooking shift I ever do in a restaurant for the rest of my life.  That's worth a note or two on the blog.  There's a small pity in it, as I'm quite a good cook.  I'm very comfortable and coordinated with a knife, I have an excellent nose for taste and I make excellent-tasting food.

However, being good at something really isn't a reason to do it.  Being good at something can solve the problem of getting enough money to eat and live; but it won't satisfy the soul.  It is better to do something we love, even if we are bad at it, than to do something we can sort of get along with, even if we're talented.

That's wisdom that most people live their whole lives and never learn ... and never realize why they're unhappy.  It's a wisdom that some people learn too late.  And it is a wisdom that some people, who learn it when they're young, cannot explain to older fools who cannot understand why we would choose to do something that doesn't make us a lot of money.

I've never made a lot of money.  Oh, I've done decently well, 50-60 thousand a year for a time, but not a LOT of money.  Most of my life I have made considerably less.  Most years of my adult life, I've made an income that comes under the poverty line.  This despite having many skills that I might have employed to make a lot of money ~ if only a lot of money ever mattered to me.

It certainly mattered to my parents.  And to my teachers.  And to some of my friends.  For the most part, they all seemed to be preaching on account of some fear they had; a fear of living on the street, a fear of not being important, a fear of not living up to the expectations of other people.  I remember my childhood being all about expectations ... and very little of it being about accepting that some people in this world are bound to pursue things they love, no matter what, and damn the consequences.

I am leaving a cooking job, which I was good at, to take a writing job, something I'm even better at.  I am only better because I have spent so much time doing the latter.  Not because when I started I had any natural talent for it.  When I was in my early teens, I was a terrible, awful writer.  But I wanted it soooo bad ... I got past that.

I'm glad for the choices I've made.  I'm glad to be doing something, again, that I enjoy, even if it is short blurbs about this pirate hat or that flapper dress.  Words are words.  As J.K. Rowling wrote, words are our most inexhaustible supply of magic.

It's nice to be paid to perform magic again.


Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Making Plots Work

I'd like to try something practical this evening.  I'm drawing my inspiration from the following list of plots on the TV Tropes website, a good resource if the goal is to deconstruct films and film-making.  I've looked at only about a dozen links so far, but I'm sure that I could duplicate the examinations listed below with about a third of these links.  Just now, I'll try a few cold that I haven't opened before until now, selected according to how interesting the label looked.

Quote, "The Bad Samaritan is someone who takes in the hero and seems (at first) to be helping, all to do the hero harm at the end.  Examples: Kathy Bates in Misery; Michelle Pfeiffer in Stardust; David Tennant pretending to be Mad-Eye Moody in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.  [sorry to use the actors' names, but I know many won't get the reference otherwise].

How to make it work: 
  • Option one.  Wait until the party gets itself into a bad fix during a fight, whereupon ~ instead of fudging the die ~ the DM introduces the bad Samaritan as a combatant on the party's side, tipping the balance.  When the fight is over, the Samaritan can give a false hard luck back story, winning over the party's sympathy and making room for the Samaritan to get into their good graces before starting to knock off the party one by one.
  • Option two.  Have the party encounter the bad Samaritan helping a completely different group of victims or single hardluck case, asking the party to help him/her be a better Samaritan by healing wounds or otherwise offering aid.  The Samaritan can then contribute a back story about how these people came to need his help, while the victims can give their own version of the backstory up until they met the Samaritan.  Gives a good three-way parley with plenty of role-playing opportunities.  Ultimately, however, the bad Samaritan will show his colors, either towards the party or towards the innocent victims.
  • Option three.  Set the bad Samaritan up in a legitimate position of authority, have the Samaritan be helpful towards the party in getting their needs managed, then use the party's trust against them.
How to switch it up:
  • Option one.  Have it so the bad Samaritan only looks bad, or better still, has apparently both bad and good qualities.  If at all possible, have it look as though the Samaritan purposefully gets a party member arrested or kidnapped, only to reveal after that the arrest saved the player from a much worse fate, and that the arrest was faked.  Stir the pot with clues that turn out to be misunderstood, and get the party chasing their own tail as the "bad" Samaritan keeps at a distance while still doing the best possible work in the party's favor.  This is tricky, and requires a complex set of motivations, but it makes for a scintillating adventure.
  • Option two.  If the party kills the bad Samaritan, reveal some new truth about the Samaritan through a different NPC (brother of the Samaritan, officer in pursuit of the Samaritan, etc.], that reveals some deeper motivation for the Samaritan's action, suggesting madness or control by yet another entity.  Then, make the new well-meaning NPC yet another bad Samaritan, and go through the same process once again, or play with the good/bad balance in a way that messes up the party.

The Failed Audition PlotQuote, "She goes out there and gives it her all, holding nothing back. The judges deliberate while the protagonist waits with bated breath, until finally the results are in. An announcer reads off the list of those making it through to the next round, and... her name is not on it. Her hopes and dreams have been brutally shattered."  Examples: a lot of dance and musical sources this crowd probably has never seen.

How to make it work:
  • Option one.  Have the party approached by an important dignitary who is interested to know if the party can manage a dangerous quest.  Create a possible list of treasures and accolades the party will receive once the quest is finished.  The party's collective mouths must water.  Listen to the party pitch their abilities, then ... tell them they don't measure up.  Have the dignitary refuse to have any contact with the party.  But ~ and this is important ~ have the dignitary, or a lowly accountant in the company of the dignitary who hangs back long enough to say a few words, give just enough information to let the party get started on their own.
  • Option two.  Have two parties admitted to the audience chamber of some important dignitary, then explain the parameters of the quest to both at the same time.  Encourage the NPC party to taunt the Player party, while they give their reasons against the party's reasons.  Then award the quest to the other party.  Once again, give the players enough to get involved on their own, then make the winning NPC party become yet another obstacle.
  • Option three.  Award the player party with the quest on a need-to-know basis, with an "observer" who goes along to keep an eye on the party's choices.  The first time the party makes a mistake, have the observer deny the party any more information, telling them that their involvement is "no longer needed."  Still, the party should be able to gain enough information to wallow forward on their own.
How to change it up:
  • Option one.  Everything the players were told about the quest was a lie.  The quest was a diversion to make others think that a group was being sent on an adventure, with the last words by the lowly accountant being devised to encourage the party to kill some innocent or group of innocents.
  • Option two.  Truly bury the quest.  Make it impossible for the party to find anything without additional information, and let them stew in the angst of being denied the option.  Rub salt in the wound by having them see the second party return and receive a party and celebration in their honor.  Teaches humility and helps build character.

Schrodinger's Butterfly Quote, "Did the heroes really break the spell cast by the Master of Illusion, or are they all imagining it? Did they escape the Convenient Coma that trapped them in a Happy Place... or merely trade a perfect illusory world for a more realistic one?"  Examples: Total Recall (1990 version); 1408 (either version); and of course, Inception.

How to make it work:
  • Option one.  Include a definite illusionary sequence as an encounter the party has in the wilderness or dungeon, then have the party easily dispel it by force of will, saving throws, or the use of magic, whatever the party is capable of.  Later, give the party reasons through tiny clues to think that things are not quite working according to the laws of reality.  Then create an even more complicated series of trials that will let them return to the real world.
  • Option two.  Use the players random comments to manifest events, which causes them to realize they have stepped into some contrary reality or circumstance [Star Trek has used this several times].  Have the players meet a legitimate friend who believes it was all for fun and handwaves it out of existence.
How to switch it up:
  • Best option.  Give the party reason to believe that reality has never actually existed for them, and that they are trapped in a non-reality situation forever.  Then base your world on laws that shift with regular frequency, enabling the players to learn and adapt to this strange multi-level reality you've created.  Hard work, but the right DM could figure it out.

To be honest, that wasn't as much fun as I'd hoped, and with the last one my imagination fairly dried up.  Oh well.  I did spend 8 hours today writing descriptions of costumes.

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Nerfing

The original brandname Nerf  was used to describe the soft foam material used to make indoor sports toys, a product that became available in my lifetime and in my memory.  Objects such as baseball bats, volleyballs, footballs and such were marketed as toys that could not harm children, even babies, or old people ... and became a slang term that meant "harmless."  But nerf objects were not sold TO children ... they were sold to parents, who bought them for toddlers.  Nerf balls could be fun ... for a few minutes.  What we really wanted, growing up, were real footballs and real baseball bats.  Nerf things were for kiddies ... we wanted things we associated with adults.  Nerf meant "not real."  Not grown-up.  We used it as a pejorative.

Nerfing, on the other hand, is a somewhat nerfed term for that pejorative.  Wikipedia says, "A change to a game that reduces the desirability or effectiveness of a particular game part."  Why not just call it, "Making the game harmless?"  Or even, cheesy as shit and designed for infant children?  Why soft-soap the original definition of the term?

Well, for one thing, the Kings of Nerfing are unquestionably the Wizards of the Coast, who have been systematically nerfing succeeding generations of players out of Magic: the Gathering since the game was spawned.  Virtually no one I knew five years ago who played the game seriously still does.  Game-breaking cards are brought out every few months, with a lack of foresight that makes Editions of D&D look like a kid in a pedal car trying out for NASCAR status.  Basically, the game that made the WOTC survives on art fetish, power lords with their parent's money and the steady passage of time that makes 5-year-olds into 9-year-olds.

Wizards of the Coast is a subsidiary of Hasbro ... which, coincidentally, also owns the Nerf brand of products.  Coincidence?

Setting this rant aside, the long and the short describes issues I've had with nerfing D&D for decades ... which began as elements of empowering players at the expense of rules in the early 1980s, with the addition of new classes and new abilities, that were never properly balanced in game play (the barbarian and the cavalier were meant to be "balanced" by role-playing rules that were impossible to enforce and ultimately not a detriment).  As time has progressed, every element of the game has been under siege at one time or another, to make it softer, less harmful, less inhibiting to the player's personal wishes or self-projection as heroes, less measured by die rolls and ultimately less disappointing, particularly in the very inconvenient way that players had of dying when the game called for it.

From a business point of view, the whole "dying part" just didn't work as a marketing strategy.  Come and play our game, buy our game, create your character ... and then lose your character at some random moment when a chance die roll happens.  I mean, from the perspective of sales, that just sucks.  It's like opening a newspaper and seeing that someone was beaten to death with a baseball bat that your company made.

As an aside, here's an article about young baseball players being killed with metal bats.  And here's the line that the Easton Baseball & Softball Equipment company uses to describe their product: "the most efficient energy transfer from handle to barrel for maximum 'whip' for a quicker bat and more power though the hitting zone."  Note how that sounds if we picture a kid in Compton using the bat to end the life of another kid in Compton.  But it's okay, because all these deaths in the article are accidental.  We're not talking about anyone using a bat for any other reason than baseball.  We're definitely not talking about it.

Which is why you won't find any references or quotes about death associated with D&D in any of the puff pieces you read, or any of the pages on the WOTC's website, or any of the vlogs that will tell you how to run the game or how to play the game.  If you go looking, you'll be very hard put to find anyone saying anything like, "... and there's a chance your character will be killed."  Being killed is something that happens to NPCs and monsters.  Or, at least, that's the only time it's mentioned.

Except, of course, for the long-running flame war that continues to ask the question, 44 years after Chainmail, is it okay to kill a player character?
"When PC death is permanent, whether due to play style or your RPG/setting of choice, it can be a huge blow to the player who’s impacted. Why should this happen as a result of what’s supposed to be a leisure activity?"

Yeah, hey man, this is supposed to be fun.  I mean, just look at baseball.  When one team loses it can be a huge blow to the way they feel.  Why should this happen?  Or in chess, when one player loses ... that must feel awful.  Why are we making people feel awful when they just want to play a game?  The rules of chess should be changed so that players just move pieces around on the board and talk to one another, pretending to be bishops and kings.  Why does there have to be all this killing?  Role-playing the pieces would be WAY more fun.

In many ways, this nerfing makes it very, very hard to talk about D&D seriously. I was thinking earlier today about writing some post that would describe game strategies for each class, targeted towards using their singular abilities in combat and role-play situations.  Basically, what should the fighter be doing or saying when the charismatic druid or bard is doing the talking?  Or what strategies ought a thief or a druid employ in a fight, to produce the best results.  I think I could work up such a post and it would be useful to a lot of players.

If this was 1983.  And it was actually hard to make arrangements in order to negotiate with minor functionaries to get an audience with a mayor or such, as opposed to modules that start with the mayor introducing the players to the local king.  Or when it was hard to survive an attack by 20 goblins, when basically the players are encountering and foiling super-wizards almost immediately, with magic items bought at the magic shop.  Or when the healer, not a cleric, wasn't there to flood the room with healing ability anyway.  Or if the classes were actually defined as having specific abilities that weren't endlessly nerfed by perception rolls and such.  It's difficult to write a "strategy" post about a modern game that doesn't require any strategy at all to play ... because the system has been rebuilt to the point where even death isn't on the line.  We keep saying that it's "role-playing" and not "roll-playing," but we keep giving the players more and more dice to roll to ensure their survival, while removing more and more of the boundaries against what the players are free to do.

It's a joke.  We replaced a strategy and tactical game with ... foam.

I don't think it's a coincidence.

Today, this is the emotional and "fun" level of a typical D&D game, complete with the bickering fight that occurs at the end:



Sunday, August 5, 2018

Turning My Back

It is true.  Of late, I have not done much writing on the blog and certainly not about D&D.  I've concentrated on rewriting the old campaign, running the new campaign and posting advice on another blog, plus reworking my book, more than 22,000 words in the last four weeks.  But not on this blog ... and not the sort of D&D design I've spent many hours posting here.

There are times when my motivation to design is ... meh. It could be the hot, sticky unpleasantness of summer, encouraging me to lay about watching movies rather than working on excel.  Or it could be stress.  There's a small sense of despondency, the old why-bother feeling that anyone will equate with blogging, now and then.  That's there, for sure.  Quite often, I find my passion for D&D to be an enormous basin to fill.  Particularly as I must always fill it alone.  Viewing the game as I do, there's no where else for me to go.

Any time I dare search for inspiration, I'm sure to find crap like this video, loaded yesterday and rich with 256,373 views, about a DM that chose to shift a game party to modern day New York ~ and then to strip the party of their magic, their race and connections with their god, because ... oh fuck, reasons I guess.  What the fuck is the goddamn point of putting D&D characters into a modern setting if you're just going to make them ordinary?  What is the fucking appeal of shit like this, except to exhaustively ignorant viewers with exhaustively minimal experience in ... fuck, anything?  I have to believe we're counting 256,000 nine-year-olds, or else I might just as well put a pistol in my mouth if that's what it takes to make me stop writing my blog.

Fuck, I'm not casting pearls before swine.  I'm casting pearls before amoeba.

If that's not disheartening enough, I can read yet one more puff piece about the game written by someone who has obviously never played.  Predictably, paragraph one is a run-down of D&D's latest appearances on the media, paragraph two is a rehash of D&D's new popularity (presumably why this "journalist" is writing the fucking article), paragraph three hypes the online D&D youtube phenomenon (making the first reference to the slim possibility that anyone reading the article might actually play the game) and paragraph four reminds us, yet again, that D&D is hard.

I expect that we've all noticed lately that there's been a definite shift in marketing, game-play and media associated with D&D in the last eighteen months.  While the game's presentation has often been pressed towards new players, it's quite clear that the new players being sought-for now are vastly younger than before ~ I'd say, based on the concept behind a lot of channels and the level of response, that nine is precisely the age wanted.  I postulate that number crunchers and marketing types have been having conversations in the halls of Hasbro of late, and I can guess what was said.

"Guys.  Our marketing shows that most people play this game for about two years, get tired of it, usually because they can't make much sense of it or they just get interested in other things.  So we've got to come up with a marketing strategy that plays to the greatest number of properties sold in the shortest possible window of the new player's interest.  I suggest that we should make efforts to simplify the game, bringing it down to the level that nine and ten year olds can play, then hammer with lots of images, miniatures and visual aids on cheap mediums, while bringing the game stores around to selling the notion that 'game nights' can bring families together.  Then, our bigger marketing plan will be to sell to parents, who have never played and know nothing about D&D, given that the old 80s satanic scare is mostly forgotten by this generation of parents.  To sell to parents, we've got to push the media to write lots of puff pieces about D&D that don't actually talk about the game, encouraging parents to buy without looking at what they're buying."

Well.  That's probably been the strategy since 1983.  It's only that now, it's working.

On another front, I am very tired of the decades-long push back against cellphones, video games and the internet, in which there's a small, annoying group of luddites who keep insisting, despite the steady passage of time, that we would all be a lot better off if we would just unplug and go back to ... when everything was enormously boring.  Faux medical-industry bean counters pull up evidence about how it will reduce our stress, socialite-friendly etiquette wannabes write long diatribes on when we're allowed to use our phones in front of friends and family, pretentious gits create rules for people surrendering their phones at weddings, at business meetings, at tourist sites and campgrounds ... presumably because phones are putting photographers out of business, or its just another way to ensure we're more bored than we would be if we had technology.

D&D, I'm afraid, is being used in this direction.  Because it's stubbornly refused to update itself with technology, as the old guard clings bitterly to paper and pencil, parents are running to invest their children into the game in the hopes that there's some small chance that they'll be raised to understand how to do things without the use of electronics.  I don't think it's going to work.  In typical fashion, the market is assuming that cellphones and videogames are as cool and absorbing as technology is going to get, ever.  Thirty years from now we'll be trying to interest kids in their cellphones in the hopes that they're not sucked down into the use of Larry Niven's wire, or whatever the equivalent of that's going to end up being.

Yeah, so, the end result of all this is that I feel mostly disconsolate about designing in D&D, at present.  The Juvenis running last week, and the one before, went spectacularly well, as five players steadily cut down 36 simple-minded larvae last week (page 59 of the old monster manual), a much larger fight than I know most DM's are willing to permit.  I very rarely see players suggesting their bored during these fights ~ except perhaps the last few rounds where it has become obvious at last that the players are going to win, and it's just a matter of getting those last hits in.  Even then, most players are thinking about experience, not grumbling.

Worry not, however.  The wind will shift, I'll get interested in old projects and the design posts will pick up again.  Just now, however, I'm focused on things that seem to be producing the best possible results.

Go give Travis Hanson some money. He's doing good work,
and there are so few of us.

UPDATE:  There's nothing that says obsolete like complaining about being obsolete.

Friday, August 3, 2018

New Work

Well, the job interview I had Monday has paid off.  Out of 400 applicants, I have been hired to writing eCommerce position, though at the moment I don't feel it would be appropriate to say where.  I can say that it is related to cos-playing, Cons, public performance, theatre and costumes suitable for Halloween and other special occasions.

I am looking forward to the position; I'm looking forward to dealing with the public and using my writing skills to earn a daily living.

There will be some issues with my weekly game; I don't know my schedule yet, but it will be five days a week and obviously I won't have access to the game during work hours.  Until I know which days I'll be working (I only know definitely that Sunday will be one of them), I can't say at this time what the effect will be.  But I will work something out.

It will sound to some that this will mean I have less time to dedicate to writing ... but in fact, the truth is that I am already happier ~ and when I am happy, I am more productive with less hours, than I am with many hours and feeling despair, despondency and depression.

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

New MC Post

For those interested readers who have contributed $3 to my Patreon, I have made the second essay for the month of July, 2018, available on my Master Class blog.  Reinterpreting in Our Favour is a post about the tendency of players to emotionally and mentally alter facts about the setting, NPC motivations and character ability to create a prejudiced view of the game world.  This is often aided by the DM failing to exactly detail the setting, or effectively play NPCs as believable persons with believable agendas, or definitely state the limitations that a player must adhere to in the game structure.

This post, and all posts, are available for a $3 pledge per month.  Pledge today!

Resist the denial of reality.

Monday, July 30, 2018

CanLit

During the 1960s and 70s, the national character of Canada was experiencing an identity crisis.  As broadcasting expanded in America, with technology advances and geographical reach with which Canadian radio and television stations could not compete, there was a political demand for the protection of Canadian culture and ideas ... this, in turn, would manifest itself in something that we of the Great White North know as Canadian content.

Basically, both private and public television stations have to play a certain percentage of content that has been created by natural-born Canadians.  At the time, this was meant to provide some opportunity for the 20 million residents in this country to remain afloat, and not be drowned by the 200 million residents in our next-door neighbor.  On some level, I admit, that seems rational.

Unfortunately, it did mean my childhood was filled with bad, second-rate television shows with low budgets, low production values and egregious acting. Despite the government's efforts, we must understand, Canada is something like a minor league ... anyone really talented, whether a director, an actor or a comedian, would sooner or later just leave for more money and more opportunity.  Thus you got Michael J. Fox, Jim Carrey, Donald Sutherland, Kim Cattrall, Dan Aykroyd, John Candy, Christopher Plummer, Sandra Oh, Leslie Neilsen ... it's a long list.  Some of these did some Canadian television.  Most did not.

It's a similar story with music, with the physical arts, with writers and designers and what else; we can force the sheep to drink from this watering hole, but the horses will jump the fences and go elsewhere.

In the long run, this has caused the sheep left behind to become very, very defensive about the nature and quality of their work.  Hm.  To put it another way, it has caused the sheep to inflate and speak in a very gassy manner about the importance, value, cultural necessity and overall national significance of artworks created by Canadians, for Canadians, funded and sponsored by governmental agency and supported, deconstructed, defined and dictated by university faculties across the country who are dedicated to keeping Canadian culture safe.


How to Write Approved Canadian Literature
I'm sure you can read between the lines here.  It's all bullshit.

There is a Canadian culture, but it isn't found in the government's cheque-book.  Our culture is inherent, as all cultures are, in the land, in the climate, in the experience of living, in the manner whereby we deal with the harsh winters and enjoy the short summers, in the sports we like and the distances between ourselves and family, and in the relatively few people who live here and how we view America with a combination of envy, mawkish horror and rank superiority.  We love Americans.  They come here and spend money.  We go there and live where it's warm.  But we're not like them ... gawd no.  There was never any possibility of that.

When I walk down a street in Canada in the winter, and see a car stuck in the snow, something I can count on virtually once or twice a week, all winter long, I stop and push him out.  I do that because I am Canadian.  Because here, in this country, we're all in it together or come the next winter, we're all dead.  Year by year, children learn this lesson and it stays with them all their lives, winter and summer.  We'll see a  boat on a lake a mile away that looks oddly out of place, and drive all the way there just to ask, "Is everything okay?"  And then we'll tug that boat miles to the nearest dock, never asking for compensation for our fuel, because when the distances between places are as empty as they are here in Canada, that's what's required.  We look out for each other.  We have to.  We're in this big, frightening land together.

Americans have a sense that they've "conquered" their country.  That's understandable.  It is such an easy country.  It is full of open mountain ranges and it is covered by well-watered plains.  The trees are all deciduous and fruit-bearing.  The weather is so fine that in half the country you can sleep outside all year long and not die.

In Alberta, where I live, you can't do that even in April.  Or some nights in May.

It's easy to be independent in America.  The country is SO friendly.  So affable.  So comfortable and reliable.  So tame.

I live in a city of more than a million people and we still occasionally find wild moose and wolves inside the city.  I was once less than 200 feet from a wolf, in a graveyard, 4 miles from the city limits.

This is Canada.  We never needed the government to protect our culture.

But they did.  And in the process, they empowered committees of gatekeepers and politicos who took it upon themselves to dictate what "Canadian content" meant.  "Created by Canadians" wasn't good enough.  It had to be quintessentially Canadian ... it had to be about family and small towns, about rural farms and everyday, ordinary folk, and absolutely no sex whatsoever, period.  It had to be from people who dwelt in the obscure country, who experienced those winters and that vastness in the raw ~ or else it wasn't published.

With the 90s, it became all about the new generations coming to Canada, stressing the New Canada, where people from all over the world and from every other culture came here and reconciled those cultures with the Canadian experience.  So we were drowned in novels by South Americans, Vietnamese, Sub-Saharan Africans, Punjabi and Maharashtra writers who were first generation, or the sons and daughters of first generation, who were here to tell their stories.  Many of these were good stories, but it must be understood ... it could not be a Tamil writer come to Canada and talking about Tamil themes, oh no.  It had to be about the Tamil experience in Canada ~ or else it wasn't published.

And now with the present, it is the same, only now it is social concepts.  It is the woman's Canadian experience, or the gay's Canadian experience, or the transgendered Canadian experience ... and it is still good writing.  But if it isn't that ~ it isn't published.

But I laugh.  I used to worry about this quite a bit, I can tell you.  As a writer, I saw the gatekeepers in charge of Canadian Lit and could not imagine how I, a white, liberal, home-grown, city-born kid with a hate on for rural life, who loves sex in his literature like any good New Yorker.  There was no place for me in this country's Canadian content.

But I'm free now.  I self-publish and I make money at it.  I don't need the gatekeepers.  No one in this country does.  The writers are in control again ... though I promise that the universities and government doesn't know it yet.  We've bypassed them with the Internet, and thank heaven.  I write Canadian Literature every time I punch a keyboard; and there's no one in this country that will stop me.

The Tamil writer that lives across the street from me can write about Ceylon and publish it here and never mention Canada, and damn, that's how it should be.  The multigender who serves me coffee at the Tim Hortons can write stories without trees, rocks or snow and there's no one to give a care.  We're all marketing our books worldwide, to whomever wishes to buy, and to hell with Canadian bookshelves, Canadian publishers or Canadian faculties.

We are Canadian because we are; and not because some entity gives a seal of approval.  After living nearly my whole life waiting for that seal, from the time I was 12 and had decided to be a writer, it is damn good to be free of it.

At last, I can compete with my American cousins and I don't have to go to America to do it.

Thursday, July 26, 2018

Anew

Having scrapped the work I've just done for two hours, I'll spend my last minutes of today explaining why I haven't been around explaining much recently.

I doubt anyone has noticed, but I have been steadily writing The Fifth Man during the last ten days.  I've been diligently updating the panel on the sidebar that says I've been making progress ... but after all this time, and the numbers not having changed a bit, it's well below the radar.

I've also put energy towards the Senex rewrite and the Master Class, not to mention the online campaign; and I'm glad of it.  I only worry that some of my patrons will begin to wonder about continuing to support me, as I'm not putting any energy towards making new maps or towards refining and expanding the trade system.  I have ideas for those things, but I only have so much energy.

What can I say about the book?  It will get written.  I've gotten past the miserable expositionary 17th chapter and for the first time in a geologic age, it feels like blue skies.  There are still problems, such as tonight's, where I'm working to describe some feature or journey, such as the interior of an abandoned house which will be made suitable for living, but this is simple painting rather than skull work.  It's a matter of settling on the right means to convey the substance, in the right words, without those words washing uselessly over the reader.  The scene must serve to fit the events that will later fill that scene; it is not descriptive sentences just for the sake of making the reader believe it.  It has to service the reader. That is a balance ... and sometimes, if the balance does not fit the scene just so, it is best to rip the sentences out and begin anew.

I like to go back again and again to the process of building a wall, as the metaphor holds up for nearly everything.  Building the wall incorrectly is, however strange it might seem, part of the process of building the wall correctly.  When we start, and it seems fine, but each new brick needs more and more adjustment to make it straight, we see where we made our mistakes from the first.  Then we can go back and start again, and not make those mistakes.

That's what I did tonight.  The bricks are scattered now all over the inside of my brain, waiting to be made into a wall, but so I can come at the problem fresh tomorrow, they can just lay where they are.

I'm so pleased with this new work.  When I read back over the first two thirds of the book, I am stunned by the writing; in wrapping up the story, I did not want to feel pressured to "just finish it," unless I could continue to write with the same skill that I had when I commenced.  Believe it or not, it has taken a full year to find that skill; but that's how it goes. Throughout the year I've worked, I've written, I've applied myself to a variety of other tasks ... and I've thought, and thought, and thought about this book.

Oh, how I want to finish it now.  That, I think, is what I have looked for.  Wanting to finish it.


P.S.,

I haven't got art for it; haven't been able to crack that nut.  I never thought about how this much a problem it would be finding a way to cover a fantasy novel.  Quotes for provided art have been ... well, ridiculous.

I continue to have very little respect for practical artists.  In hard terms, I expect to sell a set number of copies based on my previous sales, and upon the original encouragement that was provided in spring of 2016.  I can, with reason, guess how much profit I can expect to make based on the meagre mark-up above a) the cost of the book and b) the cost of the publisher.  The art I buy has to show itself as something that will sell more copies of the book than I would anyway, or else it is just money that I am throwing away.

If an artist argues that their 9 in. x 6 in. work of art will sell 150 to 200 books based on the art alone, over and above my expectation, then I am breaking even if I pay them $800 for their efforts.  But let's be serious.  That's not going to happen with art work of the sort shown on the right.

I'll certainly grant, I can't draw it.  I wish like hell that I could.  But paying for it is lost income, pure and simple ~ and that's what I find artists just don't understand.  Creating a drawing that one person will like might justify inflated prices; but creating a drawing that many hundreds of people have to like, who will be individually paying a small amount for the work, comes under a whole other economic principle.  This isn't about ego.  This is business.



Saturday, July 21, 2018

Thorn in My Side

Teasers can be maddening.

Recently, JB dropped such a teaser on his blog and I've been ruminating on it for days now:
"I've written in the past (more than once, I'm sure) that "there's more than one way to play D&D." But folks inferring some sort of non-judgmental, egalitarian declaration should note that I'm NOT saying there exists more than one RIGHT way to play D&D. Truth is, I secretly believe that many of the multiple ways in which folks run the game of D&D are wrong, some of them dead wrong."

JB promises to explain this, but he doesn't have the time he expected to have so there it is, just waiting.  There's only one thing I can do about it.  When hearing the tap dripping, eventually we have to get out of our chair and fix it our self.  So ...


No one is surprised that I think there is a right way to play D&D.  However, even after writing about that for ten years, I doubt there's a reader who can put my "right way" into a succinct, accurate sentence.  D&D, and by extrapolation any long-standing RPG, is a highly complex, versatile, multi-layered game of inexact boundaries and irregular design. Knowing how to play D&D the right way is something like making love the right way or training a horse the right way.  It takes years of consideration, practice, interpersonal awareness, empathy and a skill at trusting your gut when you shouldn't be trusting your head, and equally the reverse.  In other words, don't expect a ten-point guide on "the right way to play" ... which would be sheer idiocy and evidence the writer doesn't have a fucking clue.  We can't will ourselves, or dupe ourselves, or stumble into the right way. We get there by doing and learning from our mistakes.

Of course, that means admitting that we've made mistakes.  I've met hundreds of people in real life ready to admit that; but hardly anyone online.  We often people online write, "There is no right way; everyone does it the way that works best for them!"  This is the gross error: it surmises that we ARE doing it the way that works best for ourselves ... and that is unmitigated horseshit.  We're doing it the best we can ... but not the way that works best.  No one, anywhere, is doing it the way that works best ... unless they've decided to stop learning, that they're done with making mistakes.

What a horrible DM or player that must be to have.

If we're learning, if we're trying, if we're recovering from mistakes, the way that works best will always be in our future; and that is what we need to accept.  That we're not as good at this game as we could be; and that those who think they are have quit that process long, long before they should have.  They think they have all the answers because they've rushed for easy answers.

Beware easy answers.  Beware people who will tell you that it is easy to start a campaign, or that making a game setting can be accomplished in a few steps, or that "simplifying the rules" will make running a game "better."  Better for who?  Better how?  Just "better"?  What does that mean, exactly?  Are there a great number of wonderful things in this world that we wish were "simpler?"

I'm writing this on a computer.  I was introduced to computers 40 years ago, when I had it explained in my grade 8 science class that I could make computers do things for me by programming in basic, something that was done by punching holes in cards, which were then stacked in order to be read by a computer that would view the cards one at a time.  It was all terribly simple.  We had a very simple machine that we placed the cards into, that had keys that we pressed to make punches in the cards; and then the whole program, which was quite simple and only needed twenty or thirty cards, could be held in our hands until it was our turn to feed the cards into the computer.

Who wants to go back to that?

I choose this example because this is the same timeline between our game play today and the "simpler" time of the Old School Revival.  As an old man, I should be the one advocating for the old ways, and hating the hateful complications of this world that is so little like the world of my youth ... but I am utterly baffled at any group that thinks 40 years of reflection, design, imagination and spectacular tools, not to mention the latter half of that time that lets me talk to the world about D&D, should be thrown into the shit-bin for the sake of the white box set, or the red book, or the chance to make elves or dwarves a class rather than a race.

But let me set that befuddlement on a shelf and propose this ... if the community will argue that the game has gone the wrong way since the beginning, and the answer is to go back to the beginning, then I think it begs a question: what about that decision precludes the game's improvement in a different way than what was tried in the 80s, 90s and 00s?  I'll argue emphatically that the creation of new editions WAS a mistake, in the extreme, and that we should not tread that path again!  But does that mean there are no other paths?  No other ways in which we can evaluate the game as it stands, as it is perceived, so as to choose a better way to improve it than slashing rules to make the existing game all over again?

Don't say, as I think some of you might, that you can't see a way to improve it ... if we had relied on those who could not think of a way to improve computers past punch cards, we would not be debating the issue now.  Rest assured, there is a way; and it won't be more simplification, because that's already being tried and it isn't catching on.  No, I'm sorry; the only path ahead of us is the opposite of simplification ... because when we design and augment anything, it naturally gets more complicated.  Not because complication itself is better ~ but because we want all those features we've chosen to add.  We want functionality.  And we always want more.

The right way to play D&D is to find the right way to design D&D.  To take it apart, deconstruct it, figure out how it works ... and then set about the business of making it work better; making it do more; making it make our games more interesting, more engaging, more unexpectedly fluid and playable.

People who want to do things as they've always been done cause me pain, for I look around everyday and see that we do nothing like "we've always done."  And I don't understand why other people can't see that.  It's right in front of their eyes.



Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Paper Tigers

The scenes below occur in Part 3 of the Senex Campaign.

As I have the time to examine certain moments that occur in my online games, because the game is in text, I'm able to see things in retrospect that I would probably miss in the moment.  I might get a sense for it intuitively, but definitively enough to deconstruct those moments?  Probably not.

Below is just such a moment.  The characters are in a dark forest, at night, and they can't see anything.  Foolishly, they have not brought a light source, and have only just discovered they have no way to light a fire.  Then, I explained this:
DM: All three of you get a sudden sensation that something has approached you; it is nearby, perhaps ten or twenty feet away, and breathing regularly. But a quick scan around reveals nothing.
Josef: I drop my pack off my shoulder, and take my mace in hand, while looking around more carefully. I look specifically in the direction from which we came.
Delfig: I’m going to retreat quietly – as noiselessly as possible – away from the now-arming Josef and the noise, shaking my head.


Dark forests are scary.  Without a light, you look into the forest and see even less than what's shown, because the above contains an unnatural light source ... but I chose this picture because at night, you do get a little ambient light from the sky.  Not much.

When Josef (a cleric) senses a threat, he arms himself.  And when Delfig (a bard) becomes aware of the same threat, he gets himself away from Josef and shakes his head.  Why?

Were you and I to be in this situation, we might be overwhelmed; but remember, player characters are at least partially combat trained.  They have weapon proficiencies, so they have been trained in the use of weapons.  If you or I had a gun in this situation, or a club, or any dangerous tool, we would certainly raise it to defend ourselves.  We would not shake our heads at others doing so ~ we'd think, "Damn, that's a good idea," and we'd follow it.  The only reason we would not have protected ourselves automatically would be that we were too damn scared to move.  As well, we would NOT move away from our friends!  Our friends are our best chance of survival.  But Delfig gets away from Josef immediately.  So what's happening here?

Delfig feels safe.  He has judged the situation, he knows that he is talking to a DM, and that the DM isn't just going to kill him randomly, so there's no need to defend himself.  Josef, he thinks, is way over-reacting here ... and if whatever's out there has intelligence, they're going to take offense at Josef and Delfig doesn't want to seem aggressive; seeming aggressive, thinks Delfig, is only going to draw aggression.  So long as he keeps his hands empty, he thinks, he's fine.

Here is the actual difference between "roll-players" and "role-players."  Josef assumes he's in danger.  It's a forest, at night, in 17th century Germany, full of wolves, brigands, D&D monsters and who knows what else.  Most of these things don't care if the prey is acting aggressively or not; quite a lot of these things are damn malevolent and prepared to kill whether or not they're offended.  They don't care if you've drawn your weapon.  They only care that you're made of meat.

Delfig, however, knows there is only one thing in this forest: the Dungeon Master.


Continued elsewhere ...

This is the first of two posts, written for the month of July, for the Tao's Master Class blog, where the rest of this post can be found.  The second July Post will appear on or before the 31st of July.  Free examples showing the structural format of these posts can be found on the Tao of D&D blog, here and here.  These two posts are free.

To see the rest of the post above, a pledge of $3 must be made to my Patreon account. This will enable you to see all material to date on the Master Class.  Because of a new feature on Patreon, your pledge can be processed almost at once, whereupon I can confirm your donation and make the rest of the post, as well as all similar posts from the past on the Master Class blog, available to you.  At present, this is a total of 11 posts, or 27 cents per post.

Sunday, July 15, 2018

The Original Senex Campaign's Content

After weeks of consideration, I've changed my mind about the comments field of the Senex campaign, and about the original campaign's visibility to the public.  I intend to go on making a rewrite of the campaign, but ultimately I am going to leave the original, jumbled version for the public eye.

First, however, I intend to set all the post on the Senex Campaign blog to visible, but with the comments field locked.  This will take time and diligence, so the Senex Campaign won't be made visible right away.  I'm only writing here what I intend to do, not what I have done yet.  I ask the reader to please be patient.

Regarding the rewrite, those who are willing to take the time will find that I have made hundreds of small alterations to the original text, adjusting the content in order to make it clearer, more grammatically correct, more fluid in pacing and more orderly.  In places, I have added description or answers to questions that were not in the original, either because the actual clarification was made in a private email or because it was never made at all.  I have adjusted idioms as sparsely as possible, but in places because the players, and I, fumbled the right words in the midst of trying to pump our comments out as quickly as possible within the game.  I recognize some will consider this a sacrilege ~ but in truth, this is a common practice.  A good secretary soon learns that the right way to keep the minutes of a meeting is to write what the participants meant to say, not their exact statements.  If the reader wants to contest me on this, they're welcome; a side by side comparison of the original with the rewrite is bound to turn up plenty of examples ~ but only the most pedantic is likely to believe that I have misconstrued any statement the players have made.  At any rate, I'm prepared to give the reader the option of comparing the original with the rewrite, and decide for themselves which they prefer.

Now, with regards to the content being put behind the $3 paywall.  I confess this has created some backlash, and I can attest that readers have been lost because of my decision.  I am sorry for that.  The simple reality, however, is my time spent.  It took six hours yesterday to sort out the last third of Part 3 posted on the blog, spell and grammar check it, then format it for the blog itself.  My generosity in creating free material for the blog or the wiki has its limitations; and though I am streamlining the campaign's original content as much for my benefit as for anyone's, the reader must admit that there is plenty the reader is getting out of it also.

Despite my work yesterday, I'm still bound to produce a long, long post today, and all for the same $3 rate per person.  The rewrite is nothing more than providing more content for that same $3 ... all I ask is that the reader consider that cost in perspective to the hundreds of other things that the reader might buy in a given week ~ the money you pay for parking, for instance, or for a toll road; the fee paid to use a private bank machine, which we all do without hesitation; the cost of a bus ride; or the last few clicks of gas put into your car's tank, just to make the price come out even; the bit of tax you pay on your lunch meal at work; or, as ever, the price of a single cup of coffee, or half a cup of a triple half-sweet non-fat caramel macchiato.

$3 hardly buys a thing any more.  I'm only asking that you spend $3 to hardly buy a thing from me.

I hope it can be understood that I cannot in good conscience back down from this position; but I am making some concessions and I hope that with some of my lost readers that can help us achieve a meeting of minds.

I mean that in all sincerity.

As an added benefit, Patreon is now allowing me to charge new readers Up Front.  This means, no more waiting until the first of next month in order to see the Master Class blog for the first time, or any other content.  If you pledge $3 today, that payment can be processed at once.  I haven't seen it in action yet ... I hope very much that it will be a great boon to the reader.

Saturday, July 14, 2018

Senex Campaign 3: Sedition in Dachau

[The below is a complete copy of Part 3 of the Senex campaign, all 11,000+ words of it.  It only ends because this is as much of the content as I have rewritten to date.  I thought the reader would like a sense of the length of these posts, to see what missed on the Master Class blog]


Not an accurate depiction of events

Delfig having asked the question about proof of the party’s honesty, Herr Meyer shows he has no wish to have anyone in the party to prove their word. He bristles, having already asked the party to get off his land. He continues to hold two hammers by their necks, expectant that the party will follow his instructions.

The afternoon has worn on some. The sun stands past the zenith, and the temperature has risen to full summer. While it may be moderately cool under the trees, out here on the meadow one can feel the 
sun hot on one’s shoulders, and sweat rising under one’s clothes in the mild humidity.
Crickets buzz. The stream continues to bubble, the water wheel continues to roll and creak.
Anshelm Helbelinc, the Thief: I let out a sigh and look to each of my companions. “Well, friends, I believe we should do as the man asks.”
Delfig Kôlhupfer, the Bard: I nod, as I turn and pick up my weapons and wait for the rest of my companions to join me. I whisper, “I think we should leave and head a little ways into the woods, and then discuss what we’re going to do next.”
Kazimir Kropt, the Assassin: I retrieve my weapons and nod in agreement.
Tiberius, the Fighter/Mage: I nod in agreement, pick up my weapons and follow the party into the woods.
Josef Mieszko, the Cleric: I gather my weapons and join the group.
Anshelm: I bring up the rear.
Delfig: [OOC: and thus, the party slinks off. “that’s not crying, that’s hysterical laughter ...”]
DM: Retreating, you follow the cart track and make your way to the highest ford upon the stream.
Delfig: Since this place isn’t visible to the main road, Delfig will look at his companions and ask, “Now what?”
Anshelm: Out of danger, I take a greedy pinch of snuff. “Do we tell Mizer what happened? And where is Ells?”
Josef: He ran off when things went badly. But he gave me his guild patch first. Let’s get off Meyer’s property, back to the road that got us here.
Delfig: I’m curious … will we have to pay a toll to get in Dachau via the gates? When Anshelm and I went out before, we didn’t, and the only tolls you’ve mentioned were over bridges on the way to the homestead.
[To the party]: “Let’s get to the forest that lies between the main road and the hills.”
DM: Since Josef has Ells’ patch, you can get past the tolls on the road by showing the it. You were able to get back into Dachau because the gate was open; there was no entry fee.
Tiberius: I have a writ of passage. Can that be used to bypass toll bridges?
DM: Yes it will.
Josef: How many toll-bridges did we cross? How long could we follow the road east before we came to the first of them?
DM: The closest of these toll-points would be about one mile along the paved road, from where the cart track meets it. You will remember the cart track climbed onto the Meyer hill from where you passed the 5-mile marker (from Dachau) on the side of the road. You crossed three toll bridges to reach the marker.
Delfig: “Let’s split up. Anshelm and Tiberius could take the road back to Dachau. The rest of us could hide out near Dachau, say near the blockhouse that was burnt, and wait to hear word from you two on Mizer’s disposition.”
Anshelm: “Agreed. You might even find shelter with the cotter and his family.”
Tiberius: I look worried. “Then, you should probably give me the gold that Mizer gave each of you, in case he demands it back because of our failure. When will we meet again?”
Delfig: “Let’s say that if we do not hear from you by tomorrow midday, we’ll head into Dachau to find out what has become of you.”
Josef: “Let’s meet tomorrow, just inside the North Gate - in the late afternoon.” I give the merchant’s patch to Anshelm.
Anshelm [taking it, nodding]: “I only hope Mizer doesn’t hold us while determining the veracity of our claims. How about mid-day tomorrow?”
Delfig: “I would suggest we meet up OUTSIDE of Dachau … to avoid any issues. Near the blockhouse.”
Josef: “Yes, yes.” As we go, I’ll keep my sling in hand, but hang my mace at my waist.
Tiberius: “I can simply tell Herr Mizer that I already had enough gold on hand to cover for our ‘fallen’ comrade’s initial payment, even though I didn’t have enough time to loot their bodies after the incident resulting in their deaths.” I agree with the plan.
Kazimir: Confirmed.
Delfig: Those of us cutting cross-country will take efforts to avoid any contact with others. Our intention is to get close to the blockhouse and then camp out for the night, obviously without a fire.

And so, Anshelm and Tiberius continue east towards Dachau, while the rest of the party move overland to the north. The land is dominated by low hills, surrounding the upper Danube Valley. Most of these hills are some two and three hundred feet high, and are collected in clumps and groups, separated by various small river courses ~ some of these flow south to the Amper, others north to the Danube. The woods on the far side of the Amper, to the south, are thicker than they are on the north, though there are patches of tilled land seen in the forest.

Anshelm and Tiberius do experience some difficulty returning to Dachau using the road. At each of the three tolls they encounter, when Anshelm attempts to demonstrate the merchant’s guild insignia, the guards question him at length. These guards are familiar with Ells, but they do not know Anshelm at all. Nevertheless, after some hard questioning, and partly because Tiberius has a writ of passage, the pair are allowed to return to Dachau by the time the town bells ring six o’clock.

Then, as Anshelm and Tiberius are let through the town gates, well before curfew will close the gates for the night, a conversation between two town guards is overheard.
1st Town Guard (npc): Another one?
2nd Town Guard (npc): Yes. Early this morning.
1st Town Guard: And hacked to death, just like before?
2nd Town Guard: Just like before.
1st Town Guard: Who was it this time?
2nd Town Guard: Johann Mizer. The bastard.
1st Town Guard: Serves him right.
Anshelm: When out of sight of the guards, I turn to Tiberius. “Did you hear that? Perhaps we won’t have to rely on a clever tongue to get us out of this. I suppose the Merchants’ Hall is the best place to discover of what it is they speak.”
Tiberius: I agree to go to the Merchants’ hall immediately.
DM: This takes very little time, as you know the way very well. However, as it is later than five o’clock, the Hall is locked.
Tiberius: How late is The Pig open? I think we want to try finding out some information on the recent murder there.
DM: The Pig is open until 10 bells.
Anshelm: Are there other inns, taverns or places where people might gather in the evening between here and there? Is there anywhere that might serve a more upscale crowd than The Pig?
DM: You recall Hornung’s beer garden.
Anshelm: I do. If we decide to go there, is it going to take us out of our way back to The Pig?
DM: Dachau has a population of about 3,900 people. No part of Dachau is more than 1200 yards from any other part of Dachau. I urge you to remember than an ale at the beer garden costed a gold piece.
Anshelm: So noted. I knew Dachau was small, just wasn’t sure how small. To Tiberius, “While Helmunt might appreciate our presence back at The Pig, perhaps we would have a better chance of finding out what might have happened to Mizer by having an ear out at the beer garden, where we took the job. Folk there might know him better than the crowd at The Pig.”
Tiberius: “Yes, and it might be better to stick together. To the beer garden!”

And so, a change of scenery …
DM: You find the beer garden is very much like you remember from last night. The place is much more full than it was, and the fire is less stoked. You’re each served an ale from a beautiful, compelling woman with dark eyes, who takes your gold piece with a disarming smile.
Tiberius: I smile at the server while handing her a gold piece. “I was hoping to meet a friend here, and I wonder if you’ve seen him? His name is Johann Mizer.”
Anshelm: I add a silver piece to my gold. “Have you seen him around this night?”
Mina (npc): “Johann? Not tonight.”
DM: She chuckles, taking your money.
Mina: “That poor bubbie works too hard.”
DM: With that, she’ll spin delightfully and return to her duties.
Anshelm: “Perhaps mixing with our present company will yield better results?” I rise and tries to look nonchalant, moving near the fire and making a show of warming my hands, while looking around. I make a circuit of the garden. He’s trying to pick out any conversation that might concern violence, murders, Mizer … or us! I’ll try to find someone who looks relatively well-to-do and speak with them.
Tiberius: I guess I will do the same, except I’ll concentrate more on the ladies.
DM: As you try to listen, you hear nothing of interest, except the goodness of the beer, some irrational humor among the patrons, the teasing of the barmaids, shouting, laughing and so on. Like any place of drinking.
Tiberius: I go up to one of the many beautiful women in the beer garden and strike up a conversation, mostly about harmless, everyday topics.
DM: One of the barmaids, Marras, will fall into a conversation with you. She seems familiar with Johann Mizer.
Tiberius: I’ll ask a question about his being murdered.
Marras (npc) [laughing]: “Murdered!? He wasn’t murdered! One of his horses was butchered in his stable, was all! There’s been someone in Dachau killing the poor beasts for weeks. Where have you been?”
Tiberius: I join the barmaid with a roar of laughter. “I must have misheard! That’s what I get for listening to gossip on the street!”

Anshelm, unable to start a conversation, overhears this and chooses to join Tiberius and Marras.
Anshelm: “Ah, thank goodness. We were very worried for our friend.” Feigning compassion, I continue, “The poor beast! Has anyone got an idea of who’s doing these awful things?
Marras [her expression darkening]: “No one knows anything! Whoever’s doing it, they’re invisible.”
DM: At that point you hear the deep male voice of a barkeep calling out.
Barkeep (npc): “Marras, where are you?”
DM: The barmaid will hear this and immediately skip away.
Anshelm: I wait a moment before saying, “Invisible attackers!” to no one in particular, but loud enough for someone at one of the nearer tables to hear. “Seems a bit fanciful, no? Someone should get to the bottom of it!” I make my way back toward the table Tiberius and I shared, swaying a bit to feign drunkenness. Does anyone seem to be watching?
DM: Not that you can tell.
Tiberius: I will approach another barmaid and try to start another conversation, meaning to learn something about Johann Mizer’s character, business and so forth.
DM: The barkeep will see Tiberius doing so, and will approach to ask if he intends to drink or to accost the maids.
Tiberius: I apologize and let the maid get back to work. I’ll rejoin Anshelm.

That very same day, Delfig, Kazimir and Josef have more than a little trouble crossing the countryside to the north side of Dachau. They discover that it is impossible to travel through this part of Bavaria without drawing notice – the country is thick with farmers, herders, woodcutters and laborers, tending fields and building rock walls and the like. Still, the party realizes these villeins have little interest in them. Thankfully, the party does not encounter is a patrol, or a gamekeeper or any other person with authority.

The ground is soggy from yesterday’s rain, and more than once, the party takes a leap over a wall, only to land up to their ankles in sodden ground. Often they are forced to pick their way around the mucky edges of a deep-water pond, to reach solid ground again. When entering a wood, to avoid some keep or blockhouse they can see, they end up being lost, what with crossing gullies or following gullies, until reaching the open again to regain their bearings.

At last twilight arrives. The party is still some goodly distance from their destination, and uncertain about how far. As the sun sets, the temperature turns cool at first, then quite brisk with full dark. In spite of having no desire to starting a fire, it soon becomes apparent that without one, the group will freeze to death – what with their wet feet and having too little clothing to comfort them.
DM: Has anyone the means to light a fire?
Delfig: Okay … time to make a duff bed of some sort; a mound of leaves, even wet, will give us some protection from the ground. We should accept that we’ll need to sleep against each other.
Kazimir: I don’t have a way to light a fire. Are there any farms nearby? We’ve seen plenty of people living out here. I say to Delfig, “Perhaps we could give a few coins to a farmer if he’d let us sleep in his barn. Hay and dung would still be better than this.”
Delfig: “Perhaps we can try.”
DM: Any significant farms will be clustered around mills at the base of a castle or keep, as that is typical in this feudal land. Isolated homesteads like that belonging to Meyer are quite rare, as the country was not generally safe. Meyer being a free person paying rent is also fairly unusual. Keep in mind, entering a hamlet near a keep would risk encountering the local Reeve.
Without any means of starting a fire, I will have to start rolling health effects.
Josef: I have no means to make a fire. But I have a compass and a tent!
Delfig: What would we know about the possible ill effects of “encountering the local Reeve?”
DM: A Reeve would wonder why you’re there, what’s your purpose, why are you not on the road, how much money might you have in your pockets, how are you at repairing roofs since the keep needs some work done ... things like that.
Delfig: So, not instant death or dismemberment. Is there a keep or hamlet that we can see, or that we remember passing just before the sun set?
Kazimir: Would a fire attract a Reeve where we are?
DM: Extraordinarily unlikely. A Reeve would be no more anxious to investigate a strange fire in the back country than you would be – to the Reeve, you might be bandits. Any one would be sure to collect a strong group of combatants before digging out what might just be a random cotter caught after dark.
To answer Delfig’s question, there is a hamlet perhaps a half mile away.
Kazimir: “Well, what say you?”
DM: As you talk, it’s getting awfully cold. Kazimir has spent so many years sleeping on the street in cold weather, he can endure it fine, but Delfig is a little soft to such things. The bard is probably wishing for a few moments, at least, to have the bed in his father’s house tonight. So far, the members of the party have experienced no poor effects, but your fingers do feel a bit numb, which is worrying.
Delfig: “Kazimir, Josef - let’s go back to the hamlet we saw a little way back. The worst case is that we’re turned away, and we’re no worse off. We might be able to earn a corner out of the elements in exchange for work or a song.” I will turn around and head back in the direction that I remember seeing the hamlet.
Kazimir: I nod in agreement and gather my things.

So, the party makes their way back, until they are following a narrow track between fields, now long after dark. Ahead is a cluster of small buildings, perhaps thirty in number, showing you haven’t found a hamlet, but rather a small village. A running stream about twelve feet across flows alongside the houses. There is a flour mill at the front of the village. A wheel is turning with a weak movement, driven by a slow stream of water. In quality, it is far less than the wheel the party lately saw at the Meyer Homestead.
DM: You see not a light showing in the village. On a hill, a quarter mile away, you can dimly see a tower surrounded by a curtain wall, and the dim twinkle of torches burning atop it.
Josef: Will we have to go among the buildings to see if any are of better construction than the others? Are the all shacks? Is there a church? A common green or a well? Do watch out for dogs.
DM: You hear no dogs. The houses are built into the side of the hill next to the stream. Each house has a turf roof, which extends out of the hillside and over the house walls. All look equal to one another; no house is poor, or a shack – yet they are hovels, in that they are built of low-cost materials, and are small in size.
All three of you get a sudden sensation that something has approached you; it is nearby, perhaps ten or twenty feet away, and breathing regularly. But a quick scan around reveals nothing.
Josef: I drop my pack off my shoulder, and take my mace in hand, while looking around more carefully. I look specifically in the direction from which we came.
Delfig: I’m going to retreat quietly – as noiselessly as possible – away from the now-arming Josef and the noise, shaking my head.

As the group in the country set themselves to meet some new encounter, let us return again to Anshelm and Tiberius, as the evening departs from Dachau. The temperature grows brisk at the beer garden, too, and the fires are stokes to keep the garden warm. The barmaids eyes are falling uncomfortably upon Anshelm and Tiberius, suggesting it might be time for the two adventurers to stop nursing their ales and order a second one.

As well, some of the patrons are growing uncomfortable with these road-dusted strangers, who seem too anxious to make friends. A fellow approaches the table and addresses Anshelm and Tiberius.
Stranger (npc): “You were here last night, with Johann, were you not?”
Anshelm: I signal for another beer. I speak in a carefully neutral voice, not to be hostile; “Who might you be, friend?”
Tiberius: I will also order another beer.
Stranger: “Karl Ludd … and you are?”
Tiberius: “I am Tiberius. How do you know Herr Mizer, if you don’t mind my asking?”
Anshelm: I settle back in my chair and watch the crowd for now.
DM: He waves his hand, signalling the answer to Tiberius’ question isn’t important.
Karl Ludd: “I know him only in passing. I am the architect who rebuilt his house last year.”
Tiberius: “Herr Mizer helped me out of some legal trouble only a few days ago. Ah, where are my manners? Come, sit down, share a drink with us!”
Anshelm: “I’m sorry to hear of Johann’s recent misfortune, though my friend Tiberius and I are glad that we first heard the news wrong. We thought he was dead.”
DM: Karl grins.
Karl Ludd [to Tiberius]: “I don’t drink.” [then to Anshelm] “You don’t fool me. I saw your pleasure at the news when you heard it at the West Gate.”
DM: He leans in and speaks quietly.
Karl Ludd: “Would you like to know truly why horses are being killed?”
Tiberius: I’m puzzled by Karl’s tone.
Anshelm: I stop mid-swallow at Ludd’s response.
Tiberius: “Do you know something, friend?”
Anshelm: “We’d very much like to know.”
Karl Ludd: “It is a wind. “Those who have been struck at know this. It is not merely the killing of horses. These are messages, warnings to those who have grown fat and presumptive. And you, friends, have been watched. Your interests are known.”
DM: He looks directly at Anshelm.
Karl Ludd: “You did not see the innkeeper’s corpse hanging from its scaffold with much pleasure. True enough?”
Anshelm: I take a pull from my mug. “To be honest, I did not think it good or ill until I learned of the reason for innkeeper’s execution.” I take another drink. “Truth for a truth, Herr Ludd. How long have you been watching us? And might we know why?”
Tiberius: I look at Karl uncertainly, and wait for him to answer Anshelm’s questions.
Karl Ludd: “I have not been watching you. One other that I know has been; he has known you since you first arrived in Dachau. He is an associate of yours. What think you, then, of the hanged innkeeper? Does his death not put us all at risk?”
Anshelm: An associate of ours!?
“I think what was done to the innkeeper, if the tale I was told was true, is a grave injustice. It seems to bode ill for the residents of Dachau. But who, exactly, do you mean by ‘us?’ “
Karl Ludd: “All who are not in the guild, of course. The guild freely threatens every other person in the town.”
Anshelm [nodding]: “Of course. What happened to Jan and his family could happen to anyone at the mercy of those in power. It is a most egregious situation, and one that does not sit well with me.”
Tiberius [worriedly]: “I think you both need to control your tongues with a little more wisdom. This hardly seems the appropriate place to discuss these matters.”
Karl Ludd [looking about him]: “These patrons are too full of drink to understand us, and we already speak quietly, dear sir. But if you will be more comfortable elsewhere to speak freely, tell of the place and we will go there.”
Tiberius [with a measured look]: “Fine. If you are comfortable where you are, then so am I. I have nothing to hide.” I lean in closer. “What happened to the innkeeper is a tragedy, I will admit. I would not wish it upon my worst enemy. However, you have us at a disadvantage, sir. You know more about us than we do of you. Why don’t you tell us what you want from us?”
Anshelm: I raise my hand. “I don’t think we need to retire from this place. We’ve nowhere to go this late at night save The Pig, which is just as much in public view. However, Tiberius’ words have wisdom. We’ve been rather free with our words to you, but how do we know you’re not in league with the very merchants of whom you speak so lowly?”
Karl Ludd [nodding]: “What you say has merit. Let us not speak, then, until you have better reason to trust me. And I think it might be better if you and your other companions have a private opportunity to speak. In the meantime, I will give you this as a mark of my good will, and shall prove to me yours. Tonight, Johann Mizer’s stable will find another horse dead. It will happen after the tenth bell, and before the eleventh. You may choose to warn him, or you may choose to let him lose an animal worth more than a thousand gold coin. I leave the matter to you.”
DM: He stands up, and calls out a cheerful farewell to you and to those at the nearest tables, who wave in acknowledgement. Then, he does not give you time to speak with him again as he departs.
Tiberius: I look soberly at Anshelm. “Shall we go back to The Pig?”
Anshelm: “I could use a bed after the day we’ve had. I only hope our companions are faring well in the countryside.”
Tiberius: What time is it now?
DM: It isn’t quite ten bells.
Tiberius: I think we were planning on letting whatever comes to pass with the slaughter of the horse come to pass. None of us know where to contact Herr Mizer, or even where he lives, if we wanted to warn him.
Anshelm: Yeah, that’s the plan. We return to The Pig.

Meanwhile, back in a dark Bavarian wood …

[OOC: At this point, the player behind Josef chose to leave the campaign. At the same time, Kazimir explained privately that he would be unavailable for at least a week. This meant either suspending the campaign, both for Delfig and the others, or else somehow make the isolation of Delfig work somehow; I decided to repurpose Josef’s character, and temporarily remove Kazimir from the scene … as shown below]
DM: In light of the threat that is concealed in the dark, Josef suddenly turn and runs off, without explanation. Delfig barely has time to recover from this surprise, when Kazimir begins to back away. He has his own crisis of doubt, and he runs off as well.
In the inky blackness, Delfig senses more than ever that he has not been left entirely alone …
Delfig: I back away from the thing, as quickly as I can, reaching for the lyre strapped to my back.
DM: Backing away in which direction? While there is definitely something out there, you’re not certain where. It seems to be moving in a circle around you.
Delfig: I’m backing away towards the houses and the hill.
DM: A stone will thump on the ground and lightly bump the back of your heel. There is a paper wrapped around the stone.
Delfig: Do I still feel like something is there?
DM: Yes.
Delfig: I’ll reach over and pick up the stone if it doesn’t seem like I’m about to be attacked …
DM: The note reads, “Behind You.”
Delfig: Oh man, I am so being played with … I’ll groan, take three steps forward, then spin around. I still have my (now useless) lyre in my hand.
“Hello?”
DM: There will come the chortle of laughter from several voices around you – they are uncomfortably close, though you cannot see anything. One speaks, from somewhere in front of you.
1st Voice (npc): “Herr Kôlhupfer, you have nothing to fear from us.”
2nd Voice (npc): “We might have killed you at the farm.”
3rd Voice (npc): “It’s good that you let the Jew alone.”
Delfig: I gulp and slowly lower my arms into a non-threatening position. “I am … ahh … glad that I have pleased you enough that I’m not going to die for my mistakes. Who are you? Might I be allowed to gain shelter from the cold so that we can talk?”
1st Voice: “No, we will not give you shelter. We do not rest with humans. But we will ask a question: will you continue in the employ of those snakes who seek to swallow the people of Dachau? Or will you accept our coin?”
Delfig: Who are these snakes? The merchants? And who are you?
3rd Voice: “He’s not that bright, is he?”
2nd Voice: “He thinks we mean actual snakes.”
4th Voice (npc): “And he didn’t answer the question.”
Delfig: “I beg your pardons. I will answer. No, I do not wish to be a party to the merchants who would squeeze everyone dry of their wealth and then look for more. It’s the merchants who caused much of the bloodshed of recent past wars, and I have no small love for being played as a fool in a merchant’s game. I wanted to talk to Herr Meyer and find out what we’d gotten ourselves into. I count myself fortunate that Herr Meyer didn’t kill me.
I didn’t mean actual snakes – but as I am talking to the wind and darkness, who sound as if they are opposed to the merchant, I wonder what powers the merchants may also have. As for whether I’ll accept your coin, while I am in need, I am also wary of things I cannot see, that speaks to me from the dark and asks if I will get involved in something that may leave me in the same condition as the innkeeper, with a rope around my dead neck. Before I accept any coin, I would like to know more.”
DM: As an answer to your speech, you will see Josef reappear from the darkness. He has tossed away his weapons and his hands are empty.
Josef [as an npc]: “Do not concern yourself with the powers they have. Nor with the consequences that might await you. None can know their future. Forgive us for our distrust. It is not to threaten you that we remain hidden, but because we must protect ourselves.
DM: Saying this, Josef’s face will begin to transform, while his body will visibly shorten. Watching, you are quite mesmerized – and probably too stunned to make a move. In less than the count of twelve, Josef has transformed into Ells.
Josef/Ells: “I killed the dogsbody and left him in the underbrush. And I inspired your friends to change their minds about trusting Johann Mizer.”
DM: His visage shifts again, this time to a face you do not recognize. It is pleasant and unthreatening.
Josef/Ells/Other: “And now I approach you to ask you to do some small part in breaking the Merchant’s Guild in Dachau.”
Delfig: [OOC: Okay, that’s just damn cool]
I look in astonishment as the darkness shapes into Josef, then Ells, then to the stranger in turn. “I’m sorry, Josef … or by whatever name you have for yourself. I meant no disrespect with my answers. I did not know.
“I have felt uneasy about the goings on in Dachau since I learned of the innkeeper and his wife. I did not go with my friends in service to Mizer to fulfill his wishes. I have no particular loyalty to the Merchants Guild. I live for my art.” I break off, gulp nervously, and continue. “What would you have me, a single person, do against the Guild?”
Josef/Ells/Other: “You may call me Triskoon … when we are not in the company of others. In company, call me ‘Hans.’ And what I want is for you to take a journey. Not to any place in particular, except that it should be away from Dachau. If you will give me but a sample of your blood – and a single personal item – your disappearance from the town will make an excellent frame.”
Delfig: I shiver in the chilling air and rub my arms. ”Forgive me, Triskoon, but the air begins to affect me poorly. I was seeking shelter in these buildings, in order to make it through the night. Could I please have some shelter before we talk further?”
Triskoon [with pity]: “Come with me.”
DM: He leads you to a shed, a quarter mile from the village, where dry hay is stored. As you enter the shed, the two of you seem to be alone now.
Triskoon: “If you climb down into the hay, you may pass the night more comfortably. What say you to our bargain?”
Delfig: I thank him gratefully as I rub my arms and legs to get warm. Then I look at him curiously. “A drop of blood and a personal item. You say those will serve as an excellent frame. How will my blood, my essence, and an item of mine, give you a ‘frame’ - the murders of the horses seem to have already gotten attention enough. A drop of my blood won’t be so unusual.”
Believing myself warmed for now, I will slowly remove my pack from my back. Opening it, I remove my wineskin and some of my hardtack, and offer a share to Triskoon.
Triskoon [declining the offer]: “More than a drop – a small bottle I think. Identified by a cleric as blood spilled in violence, associated with Herr Mizer in the proper manner, so that he will be found guilty of your murder. We must bring the two of you face to face again, and we must raise Herr Mizer’s temper in public. Then we shall manage the rest.”
Delfig: My eyes widen. “That is an audacious plan and would indeed be a serious accusation against the merchant, especially with the involvement of a cleric. You have some powerful friends. I must admit reluctance at having that much blood taken from me. I have little wish to find myself sickened from an imbalance of my humours. How will you keep Herr Mizer or his companions from simply carting me off to the jail or worse?”
DM: Triskoon will change shape again … and Herr Mizer takes your wineskin from you and has a pull.
Triskoon: “Why would Mizer need to be involved at all?”
Delfig: I resist the urge to involuntarily make the sign of the Cross. I chew noisily on my hard tack instead. “Your point is well made, Triskoon. But as you, or one of the voices you created, stated outside, you haven’t answered all the questions … you mentioned coin?”
Triskoon: “It will be enough.”
Delfig: “I want to speak with my companions first. If you agree to that, I’ll meet with you to provide the blood.”
Triskoon: “I confess, I am somewhat squeamish. I would prefer if you would do the bloodletting yourself. More than that, it must happen soon, to be of any use to us. I have friends in town acting on a schedule. First thing in the morning would be the best possible time to set up Johann Mizer … otherwise the window will be missed.”
Delfig: “You seem to have avoided talking about the promise of payment. I would like to know what we will earn from this venture and when we’ll be paid.”
Triskoon: “Oh, I had not meant to avoid the payment. Will 100 gold be sufficient?”
DM: He will demonstrate a large belt pouch that jingles.
Delfig: I nod and take the small vial from Triskoon. I make a small incision in my arm and allow the blood to fill the bottle. Once full, I’ll stopper the bottle and wait expectantly for the gold.
DM: Triskoon will happily pay you.
Delfig: Then I inquire about remaining in the warm hay until prior to sunup, so I can leave without being harassed.

Triskoon consents to this and takes his leave. Once Triskoon has departed, Kazimir chances upon the same shack and enters, to find Delfig there.

When morning comes, we find the party in two places.

Delfig and Kazimir awake first, as the sun breaks the horizon on a bright, promising day. They quickly accomplish their ablutions and head towards Dachau’s North Gate, as arranged, hoping to be there in time. Feet damp from dew, they find now there are mostly fields to cross, with the forest behind them. All about, farmers and herders are moving out into their fields and pastures. These wave kindly to Delfig and Kazimir as they pass.

Sometime later, Anshelm and Tiberius awake in their rooms at The Pig Tavern, finding the inn to be entirely their own. This is nothing unusual for the middle of the week. Helmunt has their breakfast ready, and as each takes their turn in the dung closet out back of the building, the city has gotten itself awake.

Anshelm and Tiberius take their breakfast on the front porch. Inside, Helmunt is bleaching the barroom floor. A group of patron arrive and settle into a table near our pair, talking gossip. Another horse was killed last night. This one, again, belonging to the stables of Johann Mizer. Something must be done, they say. This is the seventh horse that has been brutally slaughtered.
As if in response, there suddenly comes the clanging of armor. In minutes, some hundred heavy and light infantry fill the square in front of the cathedral. They form ranks, standing at attention, as the Captain of the City Guard, Hans Frinkel, reads a proclamation. It continues for some time, but the key words of interest are,
Hans Frinkel (npc): “Until the perpetrators of this sinful act are caught and executed for their crimes, the town of Dachau has been placed under marshal law. Citizens and foreigners may continue to be about their business, but to leave or enter the town shall now require the signed seal of the Mayor’s office …”
Anshelm: I turn to Tiberius. “Well, I suppose this means Karl was telling the truth, eh?” I sigh as I watch the military assemblage in the town square. “Of course, now we need to contrive a way to find our companions again.”
Tiberius: “We didn’t meet with Herr Mizer last night, because the guild hall was locked. Shouldn’t we take the time to do that now?”
Anshelm: I nod at a suggestion. “We should make good use of our time.”
Tiberius: “That doesn’t mean I’m going to trust the man. I’d like to keep my head, after all.” I look at the guards gathered in the town square. “Come, our companions can wait a little longer. We still have yet to meet with Herr Mizer. I can’t imagine he’ll be in a good mood after this, and with the news we have …”
Anshelm: I grin at Tiberius’ words. “Perhaps it’ll mean our failure won’t be seen in such a bad light, comparatively,” I say as I follow. “Probably not, but this at least keeps our hope alive.”
DM: You may try to meet with Mizer if you wish. But no specific time and place was specified for the meeting. At best, you can try to contact him by presenting yourself at the Hall.
Tiberius: That was how I was going to do it.
DM: Quite out of expectation, you find that the Market Hall is still closed – but now, a dozen guards are posted at the massive main entrance, a giant double door. The guards will tell you politely, as they tell others who have also approached, that the members of the Hall are having an “emergency session” of the Merchant’s Guild. This has taken up most of the morning, at least two hours. The guards don’t believe the session will end before the sun sets.
This news elicits much discontent among the others who hear it.
Gentleman (npc): “It is unbearable that business should be run this way, over the question of a few horses! Must the whole town sacrifice its livelihood for men who can’t post a guard or two at their stables?”
Old Hag (npc) [wagging her finger]: “A few horses, do you say? A few horses! Seven horses, I say! Do you not know the meaning of Seven dead horses!?”
Anshelm: I say to Tiberius, “Well, it looks as if Herr Mizer’s other bad news will be delayed. All the better for him.” Turning to the old hag, I say, “I have an idea, lady, but pray tell, what do the seven horses mean to you?”
Old Hag [raising an eyebrow]: “Did your precious mother tell you no tales?” [Then, with great import] “And the earth boiled, and rose there the witch, and her chariot was pulled by seven horses; and with her she had seven dogs, and in her seven hands she held seven swords …”
Anshelm: I raise an eyebrow. “I know little of these tales. What could they possibly tell us about this situation? What, pray tell, do you think this portends?”
Old Hag [shrieking at Anshelm and others]: “Do you not remember!? The horses are gathered now! What will it be next? What will it be?”
DM: She asks the questions as though she knows the answers. But others begin to poke at her, raising their voices at her.
1st Man (npc): “Shut up woman!”
2nd Man (npc): “Push off, hag!”
DM: Using their canes, they drive her away from the doors and out into the square. Finally, she shuffles off towards the Cathedral.
Anshelm: I chuckle, spit, then turns to Tiberius. “Ha! Seven swords and seven dogs ... I’ve enough snuff for seven days; perhaps that’s what brought this ill wind upon us.” Looking around at the folk milling in front of the Market Hall, I continue. “Well, there’s not much more we can do here. P’raps we could see if there’s really no way out of Dachau without the mayoral seal.”
Tiberius [agreeing]: “I would prefer not to stir up any trouble. If we can obtain the means to leave Dachau legally, then we should try.” I follow Anshelm.
Anshelm: “To the mayor’s office!”

It is not long before word of this proclamation reaches the ears of the peasants outside of town, and as Delfig and Kazimir hove in sight of the front gates, from the proposed meeting place by the burnt out Inn, they see thirty soldiers posted there.
Delfig: I speak little to Kazimir about his flight into the dark, the night before. “It was a night to not remember and to not be believed.”
Kazimir: I eye the guards warily and say to Delfig “Now I don’t like the look of this, not one bit.”
Delfig: I suggest that we take some shelter in the groves that I had formerly explored, but avoiding the cotters. We will keep checking throughout the day for signs of our companions, or to see if the guards are continuing to stay at the gates. We’ll avoid any contact with anyone passing in or out of Dachau.
DM: Midday arrives.
Delfig: “Kazimir, the guards have not lessened and I am worried about our friends. I think that we should find out what is going on. I think it best that you simply ask if you may gain entrance to the city. If you do not return, or you gain entrance, I’ll wait another couple of hours, then I may confer with some associates that I know in these parts.”
Kazimir: “And where be these associates, should I need to find you later?”
Delfig: “They are some cotters in the groves near the blockhouse. Be warned, they are suspicious at first. You might want to return to this place, so I can look for you later. I will return here if and when I’m done speaking to the cotters.”
Kazimir: I head for the city gates.

As Kazimir approaches the gates, Anshelm and Tiberius will cover the distance to The Rathaus, the town hall of Dachau. This faces a small square called the Marktplatz, opposite the city fortress. The square is but sixty feet on a side, a widening of the principal road, the Mittermayer Strasse, as it passes beside the Fortress. The party enters the platz along the Rosster Strasse. There are two small lanes, each ten feet wide, that lead into the platz: Lane Brucker and Lane Krankenhaus. Two large buildings, besides The Rathaus and the prominent gate of the Fortress, appear to be warehouses.

At present, the platz is full of citizens, at least two hundred, many of them angry. The town guard and members of the private mayoralty guard, plus some sixty glittering plate armored soldiers of the duchy, are holding the crowd under control. The situation is dire.

Clearly, much of the crowd is seeking to gain access to The Rathaus – after a few minutes of watching, you can see that the guards are letting a few enter from the crowd. Then you chance to see one of the guards strike a man with his mace; the man seemed to have been dressed in travelling clothes, and might have been a Pole, judging from the way he was dressed. You don’t know why he was struck.
Anshelm: I push through the crowd toward the doors of The Rathaus.
Tiberius: I follow Anshelm.
DM: It is hard work moving through the crowd. You are both jostled and battered, but you do make steady progress. Eventually you push your way near the front.
Tiberius: I present my writ of passage to the guards, in hopes that it will get me through the door.
DM: One of the mayor’s private guards allows Tiberius forward … but he puts his glaive in front of Anshelm to deny his following his friend.
Anshelm: I tell them that me and Tiberius are seeking permission to pass the town gates.
DM: You don’t get an answer, Anshelm. The crowd has swelled to some three hundred, and although the guards are trying to pull the people apart and find the most aggressive, as they strike these people with gauntlet or mace or club, it is only antagonizing the crowd. While at the moment the objects being thrown are only large enough to bounce off the guard’s armor or helmets, there are signs of escalation. Anshelm will see someone pick up a large crockery pot, smash it on the street, then pick out a piece the size of his fist and prepare to throw it, before being pulled down and beaten by three guards.
Anshelm: Yikes! I retreat back into the crowd.
Tiberius: “I’ll meet you at the gasthaus!” I shout at Anshelm. Turning to the guard, I ask were to go to obtain the Mayor’s signed seal, to enable us to leave Dachau.
DM: The guard tells Tiberius to stand where he is and wait. There are eight other men pressed against the outer wall, near the door of The Rathaus, keeping as far back from the crowd as possible. Several members of the crowd are throwing small stones now, or bits of plaster and lumps of broken roof tiles, at the guards or those waiting by the door.
Anshelm: I retreat to the nearest side street and watch events unfold from the crowd’s edge, doing my best to remain unnoticed. I try to see if there’s a familiar face in the crowd, especially Karl’s.
Tiberius: Ducking any passing stones, I wait as patiently as I can for my turn to come up.
DM: Tiberius is struck with a lump of plaster the size of a plum, and a fair-sized piece of brick breaks against the wall near his head. The guards begin to move Tiberius and the others who are waiting into The Rathaus.
Anshelm, you note a close group of a dozen unarmored men, in cloaks tied with yellow ropes, moving along the Lane Krankenhaus. Upon entering into the square, they spread out, speaking oddly and making distinctive motions with their hands and bodies.
Anshelm: I’m taking that by their uniforms that these newcomers are members of a group. Do I know who they are?
DM: You’ve possibly noticed one such person dressed in like fashion, and known them to be a mage … but it has never entered your mind that it might be an Order. Do you take any action? They are within a few feet of you.
Anshelm: This smells of sorcery. I retreat a short way down the lane and watch what happens.
DM: The crowd sees the Order and some hurl rocks. One apple-sized stone strikes one of the spellcasters, spoiling his spell and tumbling his body at Anshelm’s feet. Anshelm can see a sizeable gash on the mage’s forehead.
Seconds after, the first of the spells is discharged. At once some forty people collapse into sleep. Three exploding puffs of smoke – stinking cloud spells – break out over various parts of the crowd. A fog bank abruptly rises from the stones of the platz and obscures a great part of the mob. The effect is profound. The crowd disperses, screaming, flooding in every direction away from the spellcasters. The distinct odor of the stinking clouds induces many of the crowd into vomiting, while stumbling and tripping over the prone bodies in the platz. Then one of the mages transforms into the shape of a hill giant, bearing a massive club. The giant roars for the square to be cleared. Nearby, one mage appears to have cast a spell and is now holding it, a crackling lightning ball sizzling between his fingers.
What does Anshelm do?
Anshelm: Is the unconscious caster close enough to grab? If so, I take a quick look around to see if any guards or mages are looking his way, then drag the body into a convenient alley. Please say there’s a convenient alley nearby …
DM: In the chaos, it is impossible to tell if someone might have seen you, but you do not catch anyone’s eye. There is no alley, but a glance indicates a door well leading into a warehouse, twelve feet away from you and the body.
Anshelm: I jump to the door and test it, to see if it is open before dragging the body.
DM: The door is locked, but with a fairly rusted padlock and chain. Your chance to open the lock is double, and will take you six seconds.
Anshelm: I’ll roll to open. d6? If it’s a normal open doors roll, just to move it along: I rolled a 2!
DM: Sadly, that doesn’t work. Remember that open locks is a percentage; your chance at 1st level is normally 35%. Double that makes 70%. This time, however, I will accept your roll, since a 2 in 6 is a 33% chance, less than the number you need. The lock opens, the door is accessible.
Anshelm: I drag the unconscious mage into the warehouse and shut the door behind me, leaving just enough for a sliver of light.
DM: As you look out through the slit, you see no one outside moving towards the door. Action?
Anshelm: I pat the guy down, looking for any valuables, papers, weapons, etc.
DM: The mage is a young man, 25 years old, a bit of a pudding in his shape and musculature, with a bit of a baby face. You’ll notice a large belt pouch with at least 70 coins in it, a 3-inch copper holy symbol, a pair of low leather boots, a embroidered woolen doublet with lace cuffs and collar, a silver ring, a meerschaum pipe and a small pouch with what appears to be opium. He had a staff; it’s fair to say you grabbed that, too, as you took him from the street.
The mage will groan, not quite gaining consciousness.
Anshelm: I grab the ring, pipe and pouch. I have rope listed in my gear. Are we assumed to be walking about with it?
DM: I’m judging that you have your backpack, so yes, you have your rope. It isn’t heavy waxed rope, like you see in films; the rope is a soft twisted hemp, like horse rope.
You find 37 g.p., 29 s.p. and 17 c.p. in the pouch.
Anshelm: I tie up the mage and kick the staff across the floor of the warehouse, out of reach.
DM: Presuming you’re not going to get it back, scratch the rope from your equipment list. Consider him tied up.
Anshelm: Keeping my back to the light, to hide my features, I slap the young mage to wake him. I try to alter my voice to something deeper and more gravelly than my normal speaking voice. “Who do you work for?”
DM: The mage wakes groggily; he’s in negative hit points. In something less than good shape. After some confused replies, and presuming Anshelm makes repeated inquiries, the mage eventually answers coherently.
Mage (npc): “Who … who do I work for? I’m part of the Mage’s Guild.”
Anshelm: I’ll mutter under my breath, “Useless flunky. This’ll go nowhere.” I shake the mage and say, “You may want to re-think your allegiance.” I gag the mage and blindfold him with strips torn from his clothing.
DM: Done.
Anshelm: I take a look outside to make sure no one is watching the door, then as nonchalantly as possible, I join the crowd and make my way back to The Pig.

And so, as Anshelm has completed his business, we follow Tiberius into The Rathaus with the others, as the door to the outside is slammed closed.
Tiberius: I look at the other men herded in with me to see if I might recognize one. Otherwise, I stay where I am inside The Rathaus, until I’m called upon.
DM: You don’t recognize anyone. The others speak of what’s happened and begin making predictions that this is only the beginning. Clearly the people of the town are quite unhappy.
An official approaches, announcing that everyone here may remain inside and safe until the crowd is dispersed, but that the Burghermeister will not be granting any permissions to leave the town of Dachau until the following day. There is much grumbling at this.
Tiberius: I wait.
DM: Let’s presume you’re free to step out now. You find the square almost empty, except for a few stragglers. Some who have been injured are being loaded onto two carts, but even that matter has nearly finished and the carts ready to leave the square. Aside from this, Tiberius finds that Karl is waiting for him.
Karl (npc): “My friend. Did you have any luck escaping the walls of our fair town?”
Tiberius: I view Karl with some suspicion. “No. No one can leave until tomorrow.” I gesture at the injured men. “Is this what you had in mind, when you went about whatever it is you’re doing? Civil disorder, crazed mobs, martial law?”
Karl [chuckling]: “Is that so bad? The merchants are off-balance, the measures being taken do nothing for their business, and our plan is fully in place.”
Tiberius [still skeptical]: “Sounds like you’ve got it all figured out. What do you need us for?”
DM: Karl stares at Tiberius for an uncomfortably long time.
Karl [tilting his head]: “Perhaps we don’t. Good luck.”
DM: He begins to walk away.
Tiberius: I follow doggedly after the man. “That’s it? How does your plan even keep the tragedy of the innkeeper from repeating? It seems to me that you’re only making things worse.”
Karl: “You think in such flawed terms, magician. Good. Bad. We do not make means to bring about happiness for innkeepers and the rabbling crowd. We will clean Dachau of the poison that possesses it, by amputation if need be.”
Tiberius: “Good, bad, that doesn’t matter to me. But who will pick up the pieces after you’ve spread your chaos? What comes after your day of judgment?”
Karl [waving his hand dismissively]: “What, do you fear change?”
Tiberius: “I do not fear change, but disorder. If you cut the purse strings, how will this town survive? Who will pay for the food? Who will pay the guards? Will you cut them free to feed on the countryside like parasites as brigands?”
Karl: “BAH! I don’t talk to Old Women!”
DM: Again, he turns on his heel.
Tiberius: “Wait!” I follow after him. “If change must come, why can it not come in another way?”
DM: Karl refuses to speak any further. He avoids you, getting away.
Tiberius: I will go my own way, back to the gasthaus to meet with Anshelm.

Let us return to Delfig and Kazimir, as the latter approaches the town gates, to learn what might be learned.
Kazimir: I slowly approach the guards, doing my best to look confused, waiting to be stopped, or for them to assume a threatening stance.
Guard at the Gate (npc): “Ho there. Be known the city of Dachau has been placed under martial law and entrance is not permitted.”
Kazimir: “Good sir, what is the cause of this martial law? I have walked the streets of Dachau recently and the streets seemed untroubled!”
Guard at the Gate: “A gang of murderers, sir, and rumours that deeper matters are afoot. It is said the gates will be opened at noon tomorrow.”
Kazimir: I nod and go to find Delfig.
Delfig: I am stunned by the news. I finger a recent wound on my arm absent-mindedly. “Well, I suppose we might try the cotters I met recently. They may know more than some simple guards with orders. Or not. Either way, we shouldn’t be loafing about around the woods.” I lead Kazimir towards the cotters.
DM: You make their way through the apple orchard, seeking the company of cotters. As you come in sight of the shanties, you hear a blood curdling scream--a scream that is distinctly not human.
Driven by a human compulsion, you rush forward, until you reach the clearing surrounding the small cotter settlement. Once there, you hear the scream repeated – and are able to locate it as coming from inside one of the shanty houses.
Delfig: Picking our jaws off the floor, figuring out what the hell to do … I wait for Kazimir’s response. Are there any cotters about in the fields or orchards that would have heard the scream, only to mistake us for the source?
I assume we have our weapons.
DM: You see no one else in the apple orchard, or indeed anywhere around.
Kazimir: I look to Delfig and heft my club and shield. “These friends of yours … you want to risk your neck for them?”
Delfig: I pull my crossbow off my back and load a bolt. “Do I want to die for them? No. Do I want to possibly help? If we can. Do I think we’re in the mess here now, and better to face one’s opponent rather than flee and be chased? Most definitely.”
I will shrug off my pack and lyre as quietly and quickly as I can and sneak and move quietly, and hide as best he can as I move upon the shack, listening. I’ll motion to Kazimir to wait.
DM: Inside the shack, you can hear voices talking. Then someone asks a question, with a deep, booming voice you haven’t heard before. There’s silence. Then suddenly there’s another scream. Let me emphasize again: it is definitely not a human scream.
Delfig: Is there any chance that this shack is shabby enough I can peek through a crack and see inside?
DM: No. The weather is too poor in southern Germany to allow open holes in the walls in the winter time. Holes would be filled with plaster, mud, bits of whatever could be found.
Delfig: Where is the door to the shack in relationship to where I’m at? Can I make out what is being said, if I’m right next to the shack?
DM: The nearest you can tell regarding what is being said is that apparently someone is being interrogated.
Delfig: I’ll wave Kazimir over to me, and put my finger to my lips to indicate he should be quiet.
Kazimir: I will move as quietly as I can toward Delfig. I will keep an eye out for anyone that might be approaching from our sides or rear.
Delfig: Aside from the deep voice and the screaming, you mentioned voices. Do I have a clue as to how many different voices? I’m trying to determine odds.
DM: There are maybe three people you can hear.
Delfig: And again, where are we in relationship to the door? Can we assume we’re opposite the door, or that we’re on the side of the shack with the door?
DM: You have time to be as near to the door as you wish.
Delfig: We are on the wall opposite the door. I’m going to hold up three fingers to Kazimir to indicate how many inside. I’m going to quietly lay my crossbow down after removing the bolt and draw my long sword. I’ll indicate to him, using hands, no voice, that we’re going to go around opposite sides of the shack to the door.
We’ll pick it up when you tell me if the door is closed and if we’ve made it that far without raising any noise.
[OOC: And I’ve been assuming I’m going to die since we burst out on those cotters. It’s a healthy way to look at a first level character, living in a world I’m not used to as a player]
DM: The door is closed. You raise no alarm.
For reference, the shanty hovel is about 15 feet square, so there’s enough combat room for about nine hexes. Assuming you both burst in the front door, normal reaction time would allow both of you to get into the interior. There would only be space for a maximum of four attackers against you. Presuming that the voices you hear talking all sound human, and the screaming is non-human, it is reasonable to assume that anyone you would have to fight would be human. The cotters are certain to be unarmored and their club-like weapons would do 1-6 at best. While conceivably they might have a weapon or two, they would be unlikely to have a strength or dexterity bonus. Finally, they know Delfig … and they like him.
[OOC: So while I appreciate the SWAT argument, it kind of assumes that someone other that the cotters would be inside and waiting for you. I can’t think of what I’ve said that would suggest that is the case]
Delfig: [OOC: My thoughts were that these are the Baron’s lands, he could be mixed up in whatever is going on, and there’s nothing to indicate that the cotters are the humans inside. You’re right, I have no basis for assumption, aside from wild speculation]
I’m assuming that the non-human voice might also be Triskoon or one of his compatriots, which I’m in for blood money with. I’m also figuring that we’re going to use the door as a choke point if we have to, let them come to us, if need be. It’s not a perfect plan, but it’s the best I have at the moment.
I take a deep breath and glance at Kazimir, who has been following me and is now on the other side of the door. I think, “What a strange place to be in right now …” and glance down at my wound. I listen one more time, to see if I can recognize the voices, and then I kick the door open to see the scene inside.
DM: Everyone inside is surprised. There are four men in the room, three of whom you recognize: Emmanuel and two others, whom you’ve met and we’ll name Igen and Heinke. The last man is a rotund, spartanly dressed friar, his robe tied with a belt and a large rosary of 168 greenstone beads. He is clean-shaven, with workman’s hands, a slightly balding pate and bright blue eyes.
These men surround a table, four feet long and two feet wide. The table has rope wrapped round and round itself and the body of – something – that seems to be tied to it. The body is difficult to see. I don’t mean that it is hard to look at, or ugly … I mean that it is virtually invisible. It is something of a man’s shape, but you find that some trick of the light makes it appear as though the rope is wrapped around nothing at all. You have to keep adjusting the position of your head a bit to catch a glimpse of the humanoid form, and then it is lost again. Now it appears as a part the table, now it appears as part of the ropes binding it in place.
No one here is holding weapons, but Igen’s hands are wrapped around where the creature’s throat ought to be. He’s not putting pressure on his forearms, but seems ready to do so.
Emmanuel (npc) [surprised]: “Delfig?”
Delfig: I fill the door with my bulk, keeping my eyes on the friar as I speak, sword held at the ready. “What in God’s name is that noise and what are you doing?! Who is dying in here?! We heard the most awful sound and feared the Devil himself was in this place!”
Kazimir: I lower my club and shield and stare in confusion at the semi-invisible form on the table.
Friar (npc): “It might well be the devil.”
Emmanuel: “We’ve caught something, that’s for sure. We’ve been learning things, friend, that would turn your heart to ice. Lower your sword – we’re not your enemy.”
Kazimir: “What in the blazes is going on?”
Friar [with much hushed fear]: “Dweomercraft.”
Delfig: I lower my sword, but I keep my eyes on the friar. At the first sign that he’s going to toss a spell at us and not the thing on the table, I’ll attack to do non-lethal damage to disrupt the spell. “What is that thing? Does it have something to do with the city being closed? And who are you, Friar?”
Emmanuel: “This is Father Jan. He is a close friend. We called him to help us – we caught this thing last night, and have held it fast since that time. It had been stealing food … we only chanced to trap it in the granary, and then only because we could see the impression its feet left.”
Father Jan (the friar): “It is a skulk. Sometimes they act alone, but not always. I suspected something when I was asked to come – and now I see that all our troubles begin with this loathsome thing.”
Kazimir [to Father Jan]: “It’s a devil, then? Some kind of spirit?”
Father Jan: “No, a humanoid … but an odd one. Alone, they are thieves. We have discovered that this one is not alone, but that it serves another master.”
Delfig: I listen to the friar and nod gravely. “What troubles, friar? Are you referring to the horse murders in Dachau? Do these things have a lair or some sort of place that they inhabit?”
Father Jan: “Yes, it is connected with the events in town. We have learned that something is being called upon, something which will be gated into the town tonight. We don’t know if the gate will remain open or not – but if it is …”
Emmanuel [blessing himself]: “Father! You raise the very hackles on my neck. You don’t believe that this thing can happen!”
Father Jan: “You have heard the creature speak, my son.”
DM: The father gestures to Igen, then speaks to Delfig, addressing the bard’s question about the horse murders.
Father Jan: “Hear it for yourself.”
DM: Igen will close his hands upon the creature’s throat, and the creature will let out an unnatural scream. Then it speaks, like a wind whispering through a hollow.
Skulk (npc): “The mounts have been found for Reekhova … The blood has been willingly given …”
Father Jan: “That is all it will say.”
Delfig: “What does it mean, Reekhova? What do you mean by a gate?”
[OOC: And thus, we now turn the screws on Delfig]
Father Jan: “Reekhova must be the name of the creature to be gated.”
Delfig: “Friar, do you know if this thing has a lair or home?
Father Jan: “I have not heard of the thing Reekhova before this day.
Delfig: Have you learned anything of that? And has it spoke about any particular person … perhaps named Triskoon?”
Father Jan: I do not know of any Triskoon that has been mentioned. Who is this person? Why do you think he might be mentioned?”
Delfig: I sigh a deep sigh. I drop my sword to the ground and push back the sleeve on my arm. “Forgive me Father, I think I have sinned and have been tricked by the Master of this creature here. I was assailed by a group of invisible creatures last night. I feared for my life. Their power seemed too great and they tempted me with gold and freedom. Fearing that they would kill me, I gave them my blood. They threaten to up-end the merchants. They are particularly interested in protecting a Herr Meyer – the silversmith a few hours travel from Dachau.
“The person who spoke to me, who could change his very shape and seemed unnatural in nature was named Triskoon. This very creature here might be one of those who were with him last night. He, or they, seem to be able to take many different shapes.
“Their plot seems centered around causing trouble to the merchants, and they seem intent on Herr Mizer, as my blood is to be used in a plot to cause Herr Mizer to be implicated in a murder he did not commit.”
“I fear that I am a fool and that my blood is to be used to summon this creature. What shall I do to make this right, Father?”
I fall to my knees upon finishing that explanation.

Continued in Part 4 …