Tuesday, March 31, 2015

NPC 1. Ch'lvendn

NPC 1. Ch'lvendn - M-U Lvl 9 H.P. 27 AC: (10)

Ch'lvendn was born on the rolling hills of the northern plains beyond the city of Uzuldaroum near the Lake of Rust. She traveled with her people the Barovoz who cross the empty places between the northern cities in long caravans protected by their horsemen, their shamans and their wielders of magic (who are all female among the Barovoz). Her mother was a powerful figure in the council of the Three Elders who lead them and her daughter inherited much of her mother's ability but none of her desire to stay among the people.

When Ch'lvendn was old enough to become a journeywoman among the practitioners of magic she disappeared from the Barovoz during a quest to the ruins of once great Commoriom  and traveled south and east increasing her skill, finding adventure and making a small name for herself among the cities and people of the more populous and less cold south.

Currently she has a small residence in the City-State of Ptolemides but she is not often found at home. She is no longer the teenage girl riding fearlessly away from all that she once knew, but her desire for power, treasure and adventure is still as strong.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

The Hill Giant Chief - Nosnra's Saga - Part 110

"Little Rat! What's the matter with you!" yelled Harold.

The young orc staggered to his feet. He spat out the severed half of one of the small furry beasts and coughed. "It bite, I bite back, taste pretty bad," he said and spit out a clump of skin and fur. "I feel sick," he put both hands to his head. "Room not stand still." he leaned against the wall then slid down.

"What's the matter, what's the matter..." Harold said nervously and bent beside the orc.

Ivo knelt there too and put his hand to the orc's head, it came away soaked with blood. "We had better get him bandaged quickly; he is bleeding, too much..."

"We'd better get Gytha..." Harold insisted.

Ivo pulled out a length of cloth and handed it to the thief. "Bandage first, he is hurt very badly. Here," the gnome pulled out a jar from his pack and opened up a metal lid, the threads grinding against the glass. "Put some of this on him. Take two fingers worth. I want some for Harald as well."

"Magic salve?" asked the thief.

"It will help him heal," Ivo replied. "Two fingers, come now, the ranger looks unsteady too."

Harold glanced over at his friend and saw him sway then put a hand against the wall to keep himself upright. The halfling put his fingers in the jar and scooped up two fingers worth of the healing goo, it felt cool and tingling on his hand then he smeared it across the young orc's face and chest. Little Rat sighed and his eyes opened.

Ivo snatched the jar away and picked a careful trail across the carpet of furry beasts. The creatures were harmless in the light, so he did not fear attack, but he cared not if the perished now, beneath his feet, or later.

"Hold still I'm going to put some healing salve on your arm," Ivo tugged at the ranger's tattered sleeve.

"What?" asked Harald groggily.

"Sit down, you humans are too tall."

The ranger sank down much as the orc had, letting his back scrape against the wall. Ivo used a portion of the salve just on the ranger's face and neck. His ears were notched like the tattered ends of a ragcloth book. The salve mingled with the drying blood and went to work. Harald gave a groan from deep within his chest then shook his head to clear it. The gnome emptied the jar rubbing salve into both of the ranger's arms. There were many wounds and the jar was small, some cuts healed and some deeper wounds as well, but many more remained.

"Gibberlings," said Harald. He held a tiny body in his hand. The creature was dead; it hung limply like a child's doll.

"Yes, as I thought, though I've never seen their young before," Ivo said with keen interest in the tiny beast.

* * *

"He seems stunned," said Telenstil.

Gytha knelt by Ghibelline and brushed back the hair which overhung his eyes. It was a ragged golden-brown, cut short by his captors when they found him and growing back, unkempt and long, since then.

"I have prayed for him," Gytha smiled, "the evil has fled his body. He will heal; the Saint has helped in that." She looked up at Telenstil her smile fading and a serious expression now on her face. "I ask for the Saint's grace more and more it seems. I feel closer to him, lighter, so much of his strength has passed through me that the weight which burdened my spirit is gone."

"I am glad to hear that," said Telenstil, "We will need your strength, more than I had imagined. They will be worrying, can we move Ghibelline?"

"Yes, but carefully," Gytha put her hand under the elf's arm, "Take his other side." she said to Telenstil.

They lifted him, he was not heavy. Ghibelline was thin, his muscles flat and wiry. He had never been fat and his time spent in the dungeon of the giants had stripped away any surplus flesh leaving just muscle and bone covered with a stretch of skin. His head nodded back and forth, his chin bouncing against his chest as they half-carried half-dragged him within the ravine.

"We'd better stop," Gytha said as they stepped into the dark, "I cannot see."

"My apologies," said Telenstil, "I forgot that you do not have the sight."

"I do have a torch. Hold him for a moment while I get it from my pack," Gytha shifted Ghibelline so that Telenstil held him beneath both arms then realized that her pack was gone. "Can you hold him for a moment? I've left my pack behind."

"I can hold him," said Telenstil, "do not worry I am strong enough for that. Gytha I will take him, you go find your pack, come back with a torch."

"Be careful,"

"I will. Find your pack and his sword."

Telenstil carried Ghibelline away down the sloping trail into the dark. Gytha ran sprinting back to the woods to find her pack, her staff and Ghibelline's fallen sword. 

Saturday, March 28, 2015

The Hill Giant Chief - Nosnra's Saga - Part 109

Boss walked backwards, away from the screaming down the passage, his legs struck the body of Derue and he fell. Below him the bound man gave a grunt as Boss landed on him then Derue began to writhe. He twisted throwing the orc from his back, slammed both legs down across Boss's middle and kicked him with both feet like a mule, smashing the orc in the face. Blood spurted from a split lip and a broken nose and Boss was spun against a wall. Pulling his knees to his chest Derue slid his bound hands down his legs and over his feet. Still stretched out on the floor he leaned on his shoulder and swung his legs around sweeping Halfknife off his feet, but both Meatstealer and Brokenhand set on him before he could rise.

The orcs had weapons but they used their feet, not from any restraint, though they had been ordered many times to keep the scout alive. They lashed out, rough hoary feet thudding into ribs, a jagged toenail cut a deep gash over Derue's eye, Meatstealer heard a bone snap and a whoosh of air forced from the scout's throat. Derue blocked a second kick to his creaking ribs, ducked below Brokenhand's next blow and struck Meatstealer's knee as the orc drew back to kick again. The orc hopped back and Derue turned himself and kicked back at Brokenhand. Stars and sparks danced before his eyes, Halfknife had kicked Derue from behind smacking his head like a child would kick a ball.

Boss rose groggily from where he had rolled, Meatstealer rubbed at his knee then joined the others. Soon all four orcs had encircled Derue, their legs pumped back and forth as they pummeled him with their feet.

At the shaft entrance Talberth dropped to the floor. He wore an enchanted amulet around his neck that shined with a perpetual light. In the glow he had climbed down the wall, trusting his sight more than his sense of touch. "Hey!" he yelled at the orcs. "What is going on! Get away! Get Away!" Talberth took the wand from the forearm sheath he wore and fingered the runes that glowed silver in the dark.

The light from the amulet made them start, then step back from the body of the scout, the wand brought out a fear that had grown within them, first planted as the giants' slaves.

* * *

Ivo's breath was heavy in his chest. He was getting old, even for a gnome. He'd been old before the human mage Talberth had been born, old when the ranger had been only a boy. Gnomes did not have the sheer bulk and strength of a dwarf, but they all possessed a wiry endurance. He drew upon all the energy in his old frame and ran. There were shouts ahead and some screams of pain, a bellow of rage, it made Ivo lurch into a quicker pace, but he was much slower than the halfling and Little Rat. He came upon them just as the ranger fell headlong sprawling across the ground, all three were buried under the furry wave.

It was no weapon he held in his hand, no base component for a spell, just a common gnomish tool. He opened the metal ball and twisted it apart. A small lump of stone fell out, enchanted like the amulet which Talberth wore, it shone with light. A small sun erupted in the dark, a squeal of shock burst out, a thousand tiny voices screamed and the carpet of fur and tooth and claw went still.

* * *

"As I thought," Ivo said smugly. He nudged a curled circle of fur with his foot, it appeared to be dead. Immediately his thoughts went to his friends, "Harold! Harald!" he called out.

The ranger groaned and shook a covering of the little beasts from off of his back and legs, beside him Harold jumped to his feet and flung a pair of small bodies against the wall. The halfling kicked some aside and cursed the others where they lay. Blood streamed from dozens of tiny cuts and bites, painting the halfling red. The ranger was washed by the flow from his owns wounds, he'd saved his eyes but his hands and arms were a patchwork of torn and bitten flesh.

Harold appeared dazed, he looked with wild eyes first at Harald then at Ivo. His chest heaved with relief, he still lived; he'd thought for certain that he would not survive. "Where is the orc?"

* * *

There was a screech, a sharp sparking sound like the teeth of a saw striking a nail hidden in a plank of wood. The snake opened its mouth, its tongue sticking out, its head swaying back and forth, it wailed.

Ghibelline gritted his teeth against the sound, clamped his jaw shut and launched himself at the beast. His sword gleamed with a nimbus of gold, an edge of spiritual energy that coated the mere sharpened steel. A line of fire burst forth where his sword cut the sinewy body, his blow still swept through the snake's translucent flesh but this time there was resistance. The shining red lines of the scales snapped and some did not rejoin as they had before. The fanged mouth ceased its noise, its body shuddered briefly at the wound, and its head came whipping down.

Ghibelline dived aside, but the snake brushed his shoulder and rolled him over. He slipped when he tried to rise. His sword shot up and grazed the creature's chin, the mouth closed with a chomp then opened in a sharpfanged grin. A knife slashed it just below its eye; the blade shone blue and sent a fiery burst of red where it cut the snake deeply atop its mouth. The beast jumped back, the serpent twisted in the air and scurried back from the glowing blade. There was a pause, the snake held back, drops of molten red dripping from its wound, they struck the air and smoked, disappearing in a cloud before they touched the ground.

Ghibelline scurried to his feet and as he did he heard the mage cast a spell.

"Koova-Lazi!" Telenstil called out. He blurred and seemed to come apart, and then there were six Telenstil's facing the snake with glowing knives of blue. He charged the beast and all five images followed suit.

Fangs pierced the magic veil, as Ghibelline's sword had passed through the snake before the blessing of the Saint, so the serpent met with no resistance and in a blur the image disappeared. A knife licked out, Telenstil and his four surviving duplicates all struck at once, but only one was real. A long line of red was drawn along the scales, the snake's body twitched in pain. Ghibelline rushed to join the fray; he first chopped its tail, the nearest portion of the beast. The sword cut it like a sausage beneath the edge of a hungry man's knife, the tail burned with flame, the gaping wound glowed with light like the heart of a fire.

* * *

Gytha had not been idle while the others fought. She bent down on her knees and prayed. The iron staff felt cool against her face, she spoke softly, implored the Saint for strength, and more than strength. Evil flowed from the snake, it coursed through its veins instead of blood, filled the venom sacks behind its fangs with a wickedness incarnate. This was no mere oerthly beast, no creature formed of magic; it was a denizen of Hell. Some vile serpent summoned to this plane by dark ritual and sacrifice. "Power!" Gytha asked from the Saint. She stood and raised her head.

Telenstil took a fearsome blow, the sight made her gasp, but the hissing serpent fanged an empty shell. Another image of the mage blurred into a haze and disappeared. Ghibelline gave the snake a glancing wound, his sword did little but the nimbus of gold ate into the transparent flesh like acid and left an oozing, smoking trail across the serpent's scales. The snake caught his arm, its fangs passing through his flesh harmlessly but the venom scored him deep. The elf cried out, his sword fell from a numbed grip and he collapsed.

"No!" Gytha yelled. "Go back to Hell!" she screamed at the snake and swung the iron staff, once a giant's kitchen skewer, but now a blessed weapon of her patron Saint. The metal pulsed. It struck the snake dead on and crushed its skull like a bug beneath a heel.

There was an explosion of red, Telenstil flung an arm before his eyes, a fireball he thought, but there was no heat. The mage could see the bones clearly through an arm whose flesh was redly lit, then a flash of white that made him blink. There was a crack like old wood snapping beneath the sun, then a whoosh, a sudden gust of air tugged at him, he threw down his arm. A hole had opened in the world, a rent no bigger than a robin's egg. It sucked in the broken remnants of the snake, stretching it long and thin, pulling in a stream of air that stirred the leaves like a hurricane. Debris danced and twisted around this hole till even the severed bit of tail was gone and then it closed with a plop like the bursting of a bubble on a pool of mud. 

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

The Hill Giant Chief - Nosnra's Saga - Part 108

"I do not see..." Telenstil began, but stopped as he caught sight of the trail left by the snake. "Yes, I see the trail but I do not see this snake."

"I see it," said Gytha. "I know it well."

"You have seen this type of creature before?" asked Ghibelline. The elf held his sword so tight that his knuckles whitened from the grip. He felt a touch of fear as the creature approached, the wounds on his arm began to throb.

"You have seen it before, and you Telenstil," she told them. "It has grown, but it is what attacked me when I healed Derue, the evil is the same, you do not feel it, do not see it?"

"I see only the path it leaves," said Telenstil, "it nears."

"I do not see it either," Ghibelline rubbed at his arm. "I feel it though, where it struck me."

"Ghibelline, stand here," Gytha pointed with the iron staff she held to a place beside her, "I will ask the Saint for his blessing and protection."

The elf stepped forward and stood next to her, Gytha set her iron staff into the ground and took his hand in her own then reached out and put her other hand on Telenstil's. "Oh pure of heart and strong of arm, bless those gathered here to fight the spirit of evil which comes upon us." she released them and held up her hands, a wind, refreshing and cool, blew over them. With her iron staff Gytha traced a circle in the dirt around Ghibelline then looked up toward the sky. "Sainted one, you have blessed us all, protect this warrior with special care, he has fought the evil sent forth against us, your strength has touched him, let your spirit protect him!" A circle of white erupted around the elf; it shot up from the ground and wrapped him in its brilliance. Ghibelline felt the pain lessen in his arm, the venomous heat was gone, though the wound still stung. A sense of rest and strength settled on him and a feeling that the light had suffused his skin, protecting him from the evil that approached.

"I see it now!" cried out Ghibelline, he could see the edges of the scales, the fangs, the glowing eyes, red and molten in the serpentine skull. The body of the snake was still translucent, he could see clear through, but the monster was a net of shimmering lines of fire, no substance inbetween.

"Yes, let me see if my magic can hold it in place," said Telenstil. He drew out a small bar of steel and with it traced a pattern of blue fire in the air. "Zeiz! Zeiz! Zeiz!" he intoned and threw the steel bar at the snake. It flashed far across the clearing and exploded in a cloud of blue sparks that made the serpent jump and thrash like a fish trying to break the line which held it.

* * *

Everyone had run off. Halfknife could hear shouting from further up the passage but could not see where the others had gone. Someone was climbing down the wall; the human with the magic stick, Halfknife shuddered. The giants he understood, big ones always ruled while the smaller ones obeyed, but magic, the stuff the old shamans had used always frightened him. It frightened the Boss as well, they could all see it. The orc gave the human baggage a kick while he had the chance. "No sword now," Halfknife gave a barking laugh, "you stew-meat waiting for the pot."

Brokenhand laughed as well and drew back his foot, but Boss gave him a slap, then glared at Halfknife. "Save it," he told them. "Where did the little ones go?"

"They ran up there," Meatstealer pointed up the hall.

Boss took a few steps walking slowly perhaps to follow, but the shouting made him pause, then the screams began.

* * *

A thousand sparks of red and blue shot from the snake. They burned like the spray from a blacksmith's anvil as white hot metal was hammered into form. Telenstil felt the power of his spell disappear, the snake had overcome the magic force that would have held it frozen for a time.

"It's mad now," said Ghibelline.

Telenstil grimaced and held out his hand, "Noituus Istaa," he said and sent out five magic bolts. The flew toward the snake and struck it, leaving blotches of red where the scales were burnt and broken.

"Magic can hurt it," Ghibelline said relieved.

"Az-Trappa!" Telenstil replied. He took a step and pushed Ghibelline to one side then threw a small crystal toward the snake. The magic lightning boomed, the flash left an afterglow on their eyes, but the bolt passed through the snake, it bathed it for a moment, but to no effect. A tree, scarred deeply by the gibberlings, stripped of bark from roots to five or more feet high up its bole, it received the fury of the unnatural electric bolt and split, the bole smoking, half the tree falling with a crash to the ground.

"Cast another spell!" urged Ghibelline. "If I had my tome..." he cursed. The giants had taken his weapons, his pack and all he possessed. He had been skilled more with magic than with the sword, but without his book to study or even the components for his spells his skills as a warrior were all that he could use.

The snake skimmed across the ground, the magic bolts had stung it, the lightning had healed its hurt. The touch of steel had been no more than an inconvenience, but now it was refreshed. It had not been badly hurt by the magic darts, the lightning would have healed a much more grievous wound; it brimmed with the strength the spell imparted when it struck.

"Saint give us strength," Gytha prayed, "Saint strike our foe," she held out her iron staff, "Saint aid us now!" she struck the staff against the ground. A wave of force rolled out from the spot where the iron touched the ground. Like a stone hitting the still surface of a pond the power rippled out in all directions.

Telenstil and Ghibelline felt as if an arm steadied them and gave them strength, while the snake was rolled like a barrel loose on the deck of a ship wracked by a storm. 

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Charybdes - story sample from Beyond the Forest of the Dead and Other Stories


She was born in the depths of the Abyss, skin of alabaster and hair like living fire, delicate and supple as a willow, her eyes blazing with the flames of her birth and her wings, stretched and formed of flesh as of a serpent, showed her Daemonic origin. Her creator, Veles, was with her in that moment when those ruby eyes awoke to the pain and delight of new life and she felt the hunger of her empty soul.

Veles filled her and left within her the seed of knowledge. She lived a thousand lifetimes in a clouded breath. Felt death and love, fulfillment and longing and with a soft, sharp cry was possessed by such lore that the sages of earth would lease their souls to attain.

She fell to her knees and drew her serpent-skinned wings about herself and though she could not sleep or dream she closed her eyes and found herself shivering naked amid a landscape of ice and freezing stone. There was a small chain of silver-coated iron about her ankle, silver so that it would not sear her flawless skin, and a collar of the same about her throat. Her eyes looked on all this in wonder and her mind drank in the new world around her so different from the place of her birth, the fire that gave no light or darkness which nourished her. This bright cold world was a torment and she wept.

She knew of time but had not experienced it till the light began to dim and the cold became a thousand knives that cut at her, but the darkness, the darkness was very sweet. When the light was gone she unfolded her wings, shook them and broke a shell of ice which had formed about her. She could not fly and although she had never flown knew that flight called to her as Veles had called to her, but the chain of iron and silver bound her to the stone and she could find no release.

Charybides stood and stretched her wings till they scraped against the cold walls of rock at her sides. She stood like the daughter of a God stepping from the bleeding cavity of his skull or a vision from the heart of a shell rising from the ocean deeps. Hers was a grace that no mortal could ever duplicate.

The chain sounded in a small chorus, its links had been adorned with bells and they pealed with tiny voices as she moved. A deeper louder fuller bell gonged in the distance. Charybides stopped, not in fear as she knew fear only as an idea, and listened. From a point beyond where she was there came the deep bell and a rumble that she could feel through the soles of her feet making the tiny bells of her chains cry out in small voices in response.

The light had not returned and she could see, not as a mortal sees, but in the way that fire sees. She watched the darkness blaze with colors that moved and danced and flowed like the crashing of waves.

To be continued...

I also have two fantasy novellas available for sale on kindle.


Sunday, March 22, 2015

The Hill Giant Chief - Nosnra's Saga - Part 107

The line went slack; the orcs let it drop and without a word began to climb down the shaft.

"Telenstil?" asked Talberth, "They've lowered Derue, do you want them to go next?"

"That work is finished, yes let them proceed," nodded Telenstil. "You go after, Gytha and I will follow."

"Waiting for Ghibelline?" Talberth looked at Gytha who stared out into the woods. "Don't wait too long; we may need you down there."

"Do not worry," said Telenstil, "we will not delay. We will find Harald then we will find Ghibelline."

* * *

The rustling of the snake faded behind him, it could not match the pace of a running elf. Ahead the trail curved slightly following a depression along the hill, the melting winter ice had carved it out over many springs. Ghibelline flitted over the shredded leaves and brambles, he barely left a trail. His feet seemed to skim across the ground touching the oerth only lightly as he raced along. Only a few minutes at his furious pace brought him to the ravine. A wave of relief washed over him, he looked to Gytha first, but was almost as happy to see Telenstil standing just behind.

* * *

"Gytha!" Ghibelline called out. He ran to the cleric and held her by her arm, she returned the clasp and they stood for a moment till she smiled. Ghibelline frowned and looked over her shoulder at Telenstil. He broke his grip, he had his sword drawn in his free hand and turned to face the way he'd come and spoke. "Some kind of snake, but my sword could not hurt it. It will be here soon."

"What did this snake look like?" asked Telenstil, coming up and standing near to the edge of the wood.

"I couldn't see it at first," said Ghibelline a little wildly, "I could see the leaves being moved, but not what moved them. Then when it was directly across from where I was waiting I could just make it out. Telenstil, my sword passed through, it was like fighting air!"

"An illusion perhaps," Telenstil thought aloud.

Ghibelline held up his sword arm and showed the red welts where the snake had bitten him. "Do these look like illusions!"

"I have seen men bleed from the touch of an image," Telenstil said kindly, "it is possible."

"The thing was real, I saw the tracks and the steel did cut it!" the young elf exclaimed. "The cuts seemed to burn but they closed instantly and there was nothing there to stop my sword, I ran."

"Good, you warned us, if it comes we will see how my magic fares against it," said Telenstil.

"Something comes, Telenstil, I feel something evil!" Gytha cried.

* * *

Teeth and needle claws, Harald felt at least a dozen stabs and bites, but they barely pricked his skin. He could hear the tearing of his clothes, small bodies jumped upon his back, climbed his legs, attacked his booted feet. A horde of rats he thought. Harald stamped and crushed one underfoot, he ran his sword across the floor, sweeping the edge back and forth, but he could not see them, and if he killed one, two more seemed to take its place. Something slashed him across his face, bit a small chunk from one ear, dug claws into the back of his neck. He felt another climb atop his head. With one hand he began to pull them from his body, Harald stumbled forward, nearly falling as each step crunched down, they carpeted the floor. All the while he screamed and cursed the little beasts, they were killing him by inches, scratching and clawing at his skin. His pants were being shredded, they climbed over his mail shirt and sought out his head and face, one cut him lightly across the throat; he grabbed the handful of fur, teeth and bones and squeezed out its life with one hand.

The thief sprinted down the long passageway, the ranger's voice was just ahead, loud screams and roars and a steady stream of curses. Harold saw his friend, the ranger bounced from wall to wall, his clothes seemed to move by themselves; he looked like he was wearing a heavy coat of fur and plucked at it with one hand.

"Rats!" Harold yelled. "He's covered with rats!"

"Tasty!" Little Rat called back, the young orc scraped one knife blade against another and licked his lips.

Harold closed on the ranger, the big man had dropped his sword and pressed one arm across his eyes, the thief could see small bodies hanging along it from elbow to back of hand. His knife slashed across the ranger's chest; two of the small beasts were cut in twain; the edge rang against the links of mail. He cut again and again slashing back and forth; the small orc joined him but fought the rushing tide of bodies which replaced the fallen.

"Get 'em off me!" the ranger cried out desperately. He used both hands to brush them from his head and chest, then grabbed others, smashed them into the wall or dashed them to the ground.

* * *

Little Rat danced among the waves of furry bodies in a frenzy of stabs and slashes. A small mouth bit his chin and he bit back, then spit out the body. "This no rat!" he yelled, but the other two did not reply.

Harald brushed a dozen of the creatures from his arms and legs then reached out and grabbed hold of the thief, then lifted up the small orc in his other arm. Taking huge strides he began to run, but he did not get far. The ranger was blind in the utter black; first he crashed hard against a wall then stepped on two of the little beasts. His foot slipped to the side and he fell, coming down hard on the knee of his other leg. He might have shattered the bone but a half-dozen small bodies took the blow instead. All three were sent sprawling across the ground, the furry wave swallowed them and they were gone. 

Friday, March 20, 2015

The Hill Giant Chief - Nosnra's Saga - Part 106

Ghibelline's sword slashed through scales and then on through a neck as thick as the trunk of a tree. It passed with no resistance, the only sign that it had struck the monstrous snake was a crackle of red, a glowing line like a coal split open on a fire showing its blazing heart. The fanged mouth lunged, it bit at Ghibelline's arm, and as the sword had passed through the snake's body, the teeth passed through the elf's arm. Ghibelline felt a jolt as if lightning had struck nearby, his arm throbbed and a burning pain made him draw in his breath with a sudden hiss, he almost dropped his sword.

His blade was just an old longsword used by the bugbears of the steading, taken from some human warrior or bought from a merchant years ago. It had seen hard use, but had been kept sharp and oiled; no rusted orcish blade.

Ghibelline stabbed the snake, drove the point down into its head and buried a good foot of steel in the oerth. There was another crackle of red, but no feel of flesh or bone; the sword did not bite, only moved like an arrow through a cloud of smoke. The snake pulled back its head drifting through the steel like it wasn't there, but a line of red showed where the edge had cut. For a moment the skull split in two, flapping open wide then it pulled together in a flare. Ghibelline drew his blade from the oerth and dove into a roll. A pair of fangs snapped at the air where his face had been and Ghibelline swung, the sword passed through its head again. There was another flash of red but it did not slow the beast. The elf rolled clear and sprang to his feet.

There was no stopping the monster Ghibelline decided, not with ordinary steel. He ran to warn the others from a fight he knew that he could not win. Behind him he heard a hiss like white hot iron quenched in water and the crunch of branches but he did not look back.

* * *

The skittering was all around him, left and right, front and back. The ranger moved forward waving his torch before him but as he fought back the dark the noise retreated as well. As the light was carried away the black filled in the space and the sound of claws on stone joined in with the dark. Harald moved away from the center of the hall, at first he went toward the sound, but when he neared the source it disappeared and began again to his side, joined by another behind him. He swirled around expecting to catch whatever made the noise as it clawed for his back, but there was nothing, no attack, just the noise. Soon he was surrounded by the sound of scratching claws; the noise was just beyond the edge of light cast by his small torch. A wave of anger came over him, Harald swept his sword through the air, swung it in a circle around him, but neither the light nor his blade caught what made the sound.

Harald paused, he leaned on his sword letting the tip settle within a crack of the tile beneath his feet, and he laughed. "Come then!" he yelled, his voice echoed in the ancient hall. "Can you do nothing but make that noise! Bah! I have wasted enough time."

The hall went silent; the sound of claws, the scratching on the stones came to a sudden halt. Harald began to march across the floor, he had a sense of direction that would put a dwarf or elf to shame, and made for the passage leading out. And then his torch went out and the skittering noise erupted once again.

"Hells!" Harald cursed.

* * *

"Ahh!" Little Rat exclaimed with pleasure. "Nice here."

Harold shook his head. The bottom of the shaft was dank, there was an animal smell, and a thick must, and a faint scent of something burnt. A torch had been lit, the ranger, Harold had no doubt. There was a scrabbling sound from above, a few pebbles mixed with dust fell on their heads and pinged against the floor. The pair backed away and soon the old gnome stood beside them.

"You're getting sloppy Ivo or did you knock that dust down on purpose?" asked Harold lightly.

"Wasn't me," Ivo brushed at his own shoulders and hair, "Telenstil is sending Derue down next on a rope."

"He has a lot of faith that everything is safe down here," said Harold.

"I think he is just eager to get out of sight," Ivo replied. "Any sign of Harald?"

"I smell a torch freshly lit," said Harold.

Ivo sniffed the air and nodded in agreement. "Yes, I can smell the burning pitch," the old gnome inhaled deeply and walked a few steps forward. He bent and put his finger to the ground then went to a wall and examined the fragments of murals now fallen almost all to dust. "Human, work, old...very old. These claw marks are fresh."

Harold glanced down at the tiles and shuddered. "Well we know what made those marks don't we."

Behind them another fall of dust and rock showered down as Derue, still bound, was lowered down the shaft, but far ahead they heard a bellow, a loud curse then a wild roar.

"I know that sound!" cried Harold. "That's our ranger! Come on! I think he needs our help!" The halfling pelted down the hall; he drew his long knife as he ran.

"Wait!" yelled Little Rat. "Wait for me!" the small orc held a rusty knife of his own and pulled another from his belt before chasing after the thief.

Ivo said nothing but fished in his vest and belt for the components of a spell. He pulled a metal sphere from his pack then quickly, but much slower than the younger pair, ran toward the roaring voice and the clangs of steel on stone that echoed down the hall. 

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

The Hill Giant Chief - Nosnra's Saga - Part 105

"This I do not like," Ivo said looking back the way they'd come.

"Yes," Telenstil agreed speaking slowly, "both our scouts are gone."

"I've heard you both say the same before and it came to naught," Harold said, "I'm going to find Harald, you stay here and wait for Ghibelline." The halfling turned aside and gestured to Little Rat to follow.

"Wait, Harold Wait," Telenstil called after him. To his surprise the halfling stopped. "We will go, but I will not abandon Ghibelline or Harald."

"You will have us split again," said Ivo.

"No, we will search for Harald first then for Ghibelline," Telenstil told them all.

"No, Telenstil, we cannot leave Ghibelline," Gytha objected.

"Ghibelline may be well," said Telenstil, "he works to hide our trail, but Harald should have come back, something is wrong there."

"I will go back and find him," Gytha said firmly.

"Gytha, no," Telenstil looked her in the eye. "We may need you. If there is something wrong we would lose you as well. We will not abandon Ghibelline...."

"We are, Telenstil, we are," she said regretfully. "Let us be gone then, I will not abandon Harald as well."

* * *

Stillness: A slight breeze that ran across the denuded woods and raised a small dancing ghost of shredded leaves, then stillness again. Ghibelline did not move. Time passed, he worried that he was too long away from the others, but the feeling that something watched, something followed; that feeling was strong. His only cover was the thickness of the brush, but it was enough. Something stirred, the debris were furrowed by its passage.

At first Ghibelline could not make out what it was, all that appeared was a depression where branches were pushed down and a stirring of the leaves that were driven aside. Then as it came near he could see the scales, translucent but tinged with red. A fanged head turned and looked at him, a tongue split like a two pronged fork shot out and seemed to taste the air and then it turned away.

Ghibelline launched himself from behind the bush, his sword drawn, slashing at the long and sinuous neck.

* * *

"It just looks dark to me," said Talberth.

"There is light enough," Ivo told him, "I've spent too much time under the sun of late."

"The orcs are eager to get away from the light as well," Talberth looked back at the small group waiting behind him.

Telenstil went ahead with Harold and Little Rat, they showed him where the found the hole clawed through the stone floor, all three stood above the shaft and talked of what to do.

"It's an easy climb," said Harold. "I'll go first, he'll follow," he said pointing to the young orc.

"Cool here," said Little Rat, "let's go."

"Wait a moment," Telenstil said, "I will have the others come up. We will need a rope to lower Derue."

"Better just to leave him up here," said Harold. "It'll be harder getting him back up."

"We need to watch him, and we need a place where we can leave him safely," Telenstil looked down the shaft. "This may prove a convenient spot, a temporary prison."

"I'm for getting rid of him," Harold agreed.

"I am hoping to cure him of this curse," chided Telenstil. "Wait here, I will bring up the others." 

Monday, March 16, 2015

Repost: Gygax's Letter in Alarums & Excursions #15

Gygax's Letter in Alarums & Excursions #15

Dear Lee,

Hereafter you will find comments regarding A&E 14 done in the order in which the material they pertain to appears in the zine. This is bound to cause a rather disjointed missive for which I beg your kind indulgence in advance.

Your stand regarding future publication of variant material is most appreciated, for we do not particularly feel happy to see some rehash of our copyrighted material. With regard to commercial sale of material pertaining to D&D, I can state that TSR is absolutely opposed to the practice in those cases where there is infringement upon our copyright. In the case of your supplemental material, I cannot say but will certainly tend to look more favorably on an enterprise of yours you have been most careful and conscientious regarding the rights of TSR. Please let us take a loot at the material if you wish to go ahead. 

Rick Schwall played in "Greyhawk Castle" once or twice, but he either was with a very small group -- I do not recall -- or his memory is not good. Rob and I do not bother to place adventurers on any sort of graph if the group is three or less. All placement is easily kept track of with so few players involved in combat. When more than three persons are in a party, we always require that they align themselves in a march order, the leader be in the front rank, and changes in marching order be noted. The party keeps one copy of this, and they must furnish us with a duplicate. When combat takes place we sometimes use miniatures, otherwise paper and pencil, to record positions, actions, hits given and hits scored. My favorite grid for character positions in combat is a large sheet of staggered squares covered with acetate. Colored china markers are used to show positions, moved, etc. When running large groups through a tournament scenario, such nice touches must be done away with in the interest of time.

Lee, no matter how carefully something is written, and I am not thereby claiming D&D was written with a view towards deletion of ambiguities, there will always be some person at work to twist the content to their own ends. A classic case is the Avalon Hill game STALINGRAD, which stated the German player could place up to 8 factors of German units in Finland. As the rules did not mention Rumanian units, some of these clever fellows put them into Finland too! I take exception to the statement that I am not able to write very clearly. Correctly put forth in a form asserting that D&D was not written without loopholes or carefully would be quite acceptable. When I treat historical subjects, rules are written in a far different manner. Specifically to the point, magic-users are not allowed to wear any form of armor or use any form of weapon other than daggers. We have amended our treatment to allow them to use staves as weapons as well. Characters able to operate in two or more classes at once do not fall under the injunction against armor and weapons. Thieves can use nothing better than leather armor, and they may never use a shield. They may use only daggers and/or swords, magical or not. I would allow them to use a garrot or sling in some cases. Likewise, I would allow the use of a fine chainmail short of magical nature. The point is that the DM should make such decisions. (Ooops, I just blamed you for something evidently written by Glenn Blacow... Sorry!)

Glenn has quite a few novel concepts. Evidently he believes a dungeon should be rather like a fun house, with a monster behind every door and so much magic available you can't keep track of the enchanted swords without a scorecard. Anyway, I personally dislike refereeing for expeditions above six persons, but demand usually force me to take more. The largest party we ever took into "Greyhawk Castle" was 16 --- and four actually survived to tell of it. And that without 75% occupancy and no more than a half-dozen traps on a typical level. In any event, from your statements, Glenn, I do believe you could handle play in my dungeon -- or even Arneson's -- and do well, but how can the clean-up crew be considered "helpless"? An encounter with an ochre jelly dropping from the ceiling can be rather devastating.

Rumors concerning the way we play D&D seem to be flying about all sorts of places, and unfortunately most of these bits of information are only partially correct at best. Dan Plerson says that we are rumored to play competitive D&D with group against group. It so happens that when we get the campaign into high gear, there is considerable competition between three or four factions, and they find it enjoyable to attack each other when the opportunity arise -- and they do play to make such opportunities. As a DM I find this quite suitable. It does not occur frequently. It almost never happens during dungeon expeditions. Here is how we have things set up:

The game world is a parallel earth, but the continents are somewhat different. Most of our campaign activity takes place on what corresponds to North America, on the eastern half of the continent. The "Blackmoor" lands lie far up on the northeast coast. "Greyhawk" is in the central portion. There are a few other independently run campaigns located on this map. There are also some other dungeons related to the "Greyhawk" campaign located at some distance from the free city of Greyhawk. Players in our campaign may freely play in "Blackmoor", but to get there they must adventure cross country. With one or two other campaigns, we do not allow any cross-campaign play other than this, for these is too great a disparity of DMing. The territory within 500 or so miles of our main dungeon is mapped out at 5 miles to the hex. Territory within 50 miles of Greyhawk city is mapped more closely, and monster locations are indicated. The entire world is mapped out in rough form, with notes regarding typical encounters in given areas as well as particular special places, for hardy souls who wish to go forth to seek their fortunes.

Charlie Luco is quite correct. Kuntz and Ward should have known better than to fly in the face of an already published monster, and the Rakshasa business is now too late to correct. The whole of GODS' needs correcting due to the mis-stripping done at the printer. When we do this, we will probably enlarge the format to 8 1/2 x 11, add a lot more material and make necessary corrections at the same time. Rakshasas will stay as they are in SR, and the indian demons will be properly indicated to be something else altogether.

Mr. Konkin's ethos is rather strange in equating good with law and chaos with evil, but becoming embroiled in a philosophical discussion is the last thing in the world I need, so let's skip it.

I do not believe that Wayne Shaw has ever played in an actual "Greyhawk" expedition, although he may have been involved in a tournament game sponsored by TSR which I had a hand in devising. From his comments, I am forced to suppose that the good man does not care to think, and his answer to problem solving is to kill. At least he got the wrong impression. I invite him to set up an appointment to have a go at the real thing, and let us see if he "naturally" slays the creatures he encounters. I lose all patience with sophomoric players of this sort; they belong in a Monty Hall dungeon.

It seems that Dungeons & Beavers players are getting paranoid. We did not design GODS' simply to shame them or whatever. The supplement was written to conform to the major type of play going on in the country. If the beings therein do not fit into their particular manner of play, it is easy enough to ignore the whole work -- or add a zero to the hit points each can take. Yes, fellows, I find 20th level to be absolutely incredible, for you won't get it in the games hereabouts -- or in most other places which I hear in talking with DMs. It makes good players angry to hear about umpteenth level characters when they have had to play two actual years, carefully and intelligently, to rise to tenth level or so.

A good example is the Origins I dungeon -- incidentally drawn from a similar tomb designed by Alac Lucion. Very few of the players who engaged in the tournament were able to think out the problems. In a test run, Rob Kuntz, in his game persona as a 13th level (evil) lord went through the entire tomb in four hours actual time. He took 14 orcs and a couple of low-level flunkies with him. He lost all the party, but his character personally looted the lich's tomb and escaped with the goodies. Rosenberg is wrong, for there were a number of ways to get out the place, although only two to get out with anything except your skin. I hope that in the future I will be able to have more individuals try "Greyhawk Castle." It's not as tough as "Blackmoor," but I think it might give some few an enjoyable time.

Thanks for sending A&E along! I hear you missed GenCon West I, but I hope that you'll make II and I'll see you there. Arneson went to this year's event, and it is my turn to go in '77

Best regards,

E. Gary Gygax

NOTE: I will be adding the comments from A&E #14 that Gygax is responding to, probably within the next few days.

The Hill Giant Chief - Nosnra's Saga - Part 104

The skittering sound came again, it echoed across the hall. Harald twisted his head back and forth trying to track it down, but with no success. Something was moving in the dark that filled the corners of the room. He left the pit behind and with his torch chased away the blackness and searched for whatever made the noise.

* * *

"Head feel better," said Little Rat.

"Good, good," Harold mumbled absentmindedly. The halfling had crept ahead till he reached the shaft carved into the floor of the ravine. "Shhh!" he signaled to the orc to keep quiet, then put his ear to the hole and listened. Nothing, he could not hear a sound. He felt like calling out the ranger's name and cursing him, but he held his breath.

"We go..." Little Rat whispered and pointed down the shaft.

"We go back," said Harold and gestured toward the woods and the path the gibberlings had clawed through the underbrush.

"I stay?" offered Little Rat. "Cool here, nice and cool."

"You go too," Harold told him. "Come on, we have to go tell the others."

Little Rat grumbled, he dragged a dagger's edge across the stones with a screech and spark.

"Keep quiet!" the halfling commanded. "I wish you'd put those knives away, they make me nervous. No way ta treat them either."

* * *

Ghibelline could no longer hear the others, not even the orcs as they tramped and grumbled along the march. The woods were still, the gibberlings had chased off all that could escape them and eaten all that could not. The elf made no sound, he did not move, he barely seemed to breath, just crouched and waited for whatever thatw was tracking them to appear.

* * *

"Ivo, Gytha!" Harold ran up to them.

"Harold what is it?" asked Gytha concerned at the sudden appearance of the halfling.

"What's wrong?" Ivo asked expecting to hear bad news.

"Telenstil!" Harold called over to the elf. "The trail ends, there is a ravine and a hole down into the oerth, but no ranger."

"Harold," Telenstil came over to them quickly but did not run, behind him Talberth and the orcs stumbled trying to pick up their pace and follow the elf.

"The ranger has disappeared," said Harold.

"Was there any sign of trouble... a fight?"

"No, and there is a hole, something dug into the bottom of a crevice at the end of the trail," the halfling told him breathlessly.

"You had better lead us there, he may need our help," said Telenstil.

"He told me to tell you to go north," replied Harold. "He told me, if something got him, go north, don't follow."

"We will take care but I have no intention of abandoning our ranger," Telenstil looked from face to face.

"Hey!" Harold exclaimed. "I'm all for going after him. I'm just telling you what he told me to say."

"Gytha, Talberth, Ivo," asked Telenstil, "what of you?"

"You need to ask!" Gytha would have laughed if she had not been concerned about the ranger.

"I think we are all agreed," said Ivo.

"Talberth?" asked Telenstil

"Yes, yes, fine," Talberth grimaced looking around the shredded brush and mangled trees. "I don't fancy being out in the woods without him. Where is that Wood Elf?"

"Ghibelline!" Gytha realized that he was nowhere to be seen.