Saturday, January 19, 2019

The Bookbub Affair

My new publisher, Start Media, sprung for a Bookbub promotion. They send out emails to their subscribers, alerting them to deals and sales on e-books. It's apparently not easy to get on the Bookbub list; they're selective about which books they will feature. I signed up (it's free) and I have to admit, getting a notice once a day that a different book is on sale is pretty neat. I can see myself buying two-dollar e-books faster than I can read them. Note to self: tell my brother about this. He's going to love it.

The results of the marketing are pretty good too. Sword of the Bright Lady is the highest it's ever been on Amazon, as you can see:

This is awesome, if a bit mystifying. There aren't any dragons in this book, and I personally would not have classified it as Romance, no matter how romantic it is to have a guy pining worlds away for his wife.

But as they say, the artist cannot control their work once it leaves their hands. What the audience makes of it is up to them. I'm just glad they're reading!

Sunday, December 16, 2018

World of Prime: Campaign Journal #10

The Brotherhood of the Golden Arrow (conclusion)

In an act of either divine grace or random chance, our heroes were washed clean by a summer storm as the approached the cave mouth that led to the demonic cult's lair. Soaking wet, they un-bundled the Cleric from the donkey he had been strapped to. In the night he had succumbed to the secondary effects of the demon's poisoned sting and was now completely paralyzed.

Reviewing their resources they considered using their three strength potions to restore him to temporary vitality; or just using one to get him mobile enough to walk and cast (though too weak to wear armor or fight) and use the other two potions on the swordsmen. After a lengthy discussion, much of which was disparaging to the Cleric's martial capabilities, someone had the clever idea of casting Delay Poison, thus temporarily negating the effects (this is not strictly according to the rules but DMs always flex a bit when players are being creative). Then the Cleric and Druid realized they could cast the Strength spell themselves, thus gaining the effects of the potions without using them up. However, in typical fashion, they delayed casting these spells until they were sure they wanted to use them. (The end result was the most typical D&D experience ever; none of the potions got used. It is a universal maxim that adventurers are penny-pinching skinflints that would put Scrooge to shame.)

Thus prepared with plans and strategies they crept into the cave mouth and were immediately confronted with... a campfire. Someone had left a small fire burning in the middle of the room. This fearsome and ingenious barrier kept our brave demon-killing adventurers hiding in the shadows for a good twenty minutes while they discussed what to do about an unexpected campfire. Eventually the Wizard summoned Dancing Lights in the fire while the Ranger used Create Water to douse it. The illusionary fire then moved slowly forward while the party followed, still hidden in darkness. This clever plan was abetted by the cultists' miserable Spot checks, and the party managed to move the illumination to cover the squad of men before they were aware anything had changed.

The Ranger, granted a clear shot for once, put an arrow straight through a cultist's head. The others scrambled to their feet as the illusionary campfire changed into a glowing humanoid figure. This would have been a clever ruse, drawing the panicked crossbowmen's fire, except that the Barbarian charged right through it and gave them something else to think about. With a mighty swing he bashed three heads together like Moe slapping the Three Stooges around, but with more blood.

Two enemy officers appeared and cast at the Barbarian, who shrugged off their paltry attempts to frighten him. The Druid, emboldened by the example, charged into melee accompanied by his faithful wolf du jour. Falling upon the surprised crossbowmen the pair made a hash of the squad, killing them all as they attempted to reload. The officers, realizing the Barbarian was fearless, transferred their attention to the Druid and his bloody-muzzled wolf, and sent both of them fleeing in terror.

The Cleric stopped the fleeing Druid with a comforting hand (and a Remove Fear spell) while the rest of the party supported the Barbarian. The enemy troops fell quickly, entirely unable to deal with the out-of-control Barbarian. But before the party could enjoy their easy victory, more troops rushed from the darkness while hordes of skeletons poured in behind them (they really should stop walking past closed doors without investigating).

Not to worry; with a word the Cleric sent a dozen undead monsters to their eternal rest. Confidently he strode forward into the hordes that remained, chanting his holy words. The Wizard, trusting to the Cleric to hold the rear, knocked out a squad of archers with Sleep; the Druid summoned his dreaded swarm and the shrieks of men being murdered by a thousand tiny razor cuts echoed through the cavern.

The enemy officers switched tactics. They stepped up to the Barbarian, reaching out with grasping hands. Every time they touched him black energy flowed from their fingertips, flaying his life-force away. He fought back, battling through their heavy bronze armor, but these were not common soldiers. As fast as he battered them they were healed by their fellow officers.

Then two dramatic developments: the Cleric stumbled over a phrase and the horde of undead pressed forward, clawing eagerly for living flesh. The Bard's music filled in the silence, preventing a total disaster (the Cleric's roll would have failed utterly if it hadn't been for the Barid Music bonus); the front wave of undead, confused, fell back for the time being. The next wave, however, reached the party's rear lines and began flaying the Wizard like ginsu knives. And in the front line the demon made its dramatic appearance from the shadows and pouncing on the Barbarian.

The Cleric recovered, though his divine authority remained shaken - he could only send the skeletal hordes fleeing now instead of reducing them to dust. The cultists, made of merely mortal flesh, soon disintegrated in the blender of intense melee, leaving only the officers and the demon as foes. Which proved to be a potent combo: supported by healing spells the demon could stand toe-to-toe with the Barbarian, slowly wearing him down. Eventually the monster figured out the Barbarian's tactics; the fight went from the Barbarian administering a beat-down to the demon landing a massive combo on the Barbarian, though the poision was only moderately effective. If not for his own healing support team that would have been the end of the Barbarian's brief but rage-filled career. The Druid stepped up, using his magic (Barkskin and Shillegleah) to fill in as a front-line fighter when the Barbarian was chased off by Fear and Doom effects - once again to be saved by the Cleric. The Ranger proved he could hit when he got a clear shot, but as the Barbarian returned to the battle the Ranger drew his sword and joined him, tired of trying to shoot past a milling crowd.

The demon had one last surprise - he waved his hand and animated the corpses of his slain soldiers, who rose up all around the party forming a confused mob of men and monsters. The Cleric chanted one last time but his power was growing weak; only half the undead fell. Yet this last gambit could not tilt the balance; with everyone swinging wildly the remaining undead were quickly destroyed, and worse, the officers had finally run out of spells. They drew maces and bravely waded into combat, but the demon finally went down to the Barbarian's mighty hammer and the officers followed scant seconds later.

Save for one, whom upon seeing the golden crossbow quarrel around the Wizard's neck, threw himself to the ground prostrate. "Spare me, oh glorious leader," he cried. In a slightly uncharacteristic act the party tamed its blood-lust while the Wizard interrogated the man. It turned out that "Z", as he was quickly nick-named (his official title being both too long and pretentious) assumed the demon's destruction had followed from the Wizard's use of the magic crossbow quarrel rather than the Barbarian's hammer. They decided that Z would be a handy source of information and spared his life - for the time being. Their first demand: a guided tour of their newly acquired property. In the leader's quarters they found two pieces of treasure: a chest full of gold and the scraps of hastily burnt correspondence.

The letter spoke to conspiracy against the Queen:
should not have told him the Queen has a demon paramour. He is beside himself with wrath – no pun intended – and moves daily closer to rebellion. He is still too weak, though; the Queen will defeat and replace him; and I will lose my grip on the spice harvest. If you do not want the money to run out you must...
While they did not understand this information they knew it had to be useful to someone.

The Cinnamon War

The party mission was to find a land-route to the spice fields, either for trade or invasion. In either case a large and comfortable cave complex well-hidden and stocked with dried supplies would be a wonderful bonus. After only a week of hard labor, transporting bodies out to the plains to bury in shallow graves, the effects of the poison wore off enough that all of their party were ready to finish the journey and finally see fabled Varsoulou. Dressing in the local costume they loaded up their donkeys with gold and set off, following their guide Z. The man had proven to be a obsequious and disgusting servant but had not otherwise given them cause to end his life.

Reaching town they tried to lay low, succeeding mostly with the help of Z, who as a local naturally fit in. Taking up residence in a cheap inn they were surprised to discover exotic cinnamon served in even common meals. They tried to arrange a meeting with the principals of the Amalgamated Spice Company though without much success, finding the corporate bureaucracy difficult to engage. Searching for more sources of information, several members decide to brave the fearsome skeletal guards and visit the local Church of the Shepard. Though, obviously, the Cleric was not among them - nor was Z, who steered well clear of the clergy on account of him being a criminal and them being able to detect lies.

Here the Druid found himself the target of the hard sell, as a junior priest offered him a divine reading and personality test for the low price of a single silver. The result of the test was a lecture on self-discipline and an offer of a long-term but affordable program designed to put the Druid on the correct path to a higher-floor apartment in the Tiered City, where all souls go after death. In the meantime the Bard had extracted some useful information from the conversation, such as the oddity that the local Curate was not part of the feudal government, that Curate Wulseth blessed the spice harvests and hence received 10% of the income, and that the local ruler and owner of the spice fields was Count Wrathfus. Or "Wrathful Wrathfus," as he was sometimes named by people who weren't afraid of having their necks stretched for insubordination.

So now the party has put together the outlines of a plot. They have a piece of paper that shows that the Count is plotting treachery against his Queen. They know that the Curate is wrapped up in it somehow. And they are sitting in the Curate's chapel, a short stroll from the Count's stone keep. Suddenly the Wizard's desire to visit the capital and see the fabled Golden Library of Arcane Arts seems like a brilliant idea.

Only a few days easy travel through civilized countryside finds them staring at the sea for the first time, the salt spray in their faces as sailors from many nations buy and sold fortunes in cinnamon and cloves on the docks. The Golden Library, a tall stone tower framed at night by neon lights of many colors, is the most exotic thing they have ever seen. They have momentous decisions to make: will they back war or peace between their home of Edersarr and the technically evil but not actually all that bad Varsoulou? Should they help the Queen against her plotters or help the coup against the possibility that the Queen is herself demon-compromised?

Saturday, December 8, 2018

Dave Duncan

I just found out Dave Duncan passed away in October.

There are three authors I collect: Jack Vance, Ursula Le Guin, and Dave Duncan. He read my first novel and provided a very nice quote for my first published novel. I almost gave up writing after reading his "Hunter's Haunt," which was such a tour de force of authorial voice that I was afraid I would never measure up.

If you have never read Duncan, I recommend starting with Reaver Road and Hunter's Haunt for fantasy, or Hero for science fiction. I also strongly recommend the series The Seventh Sword and A  Man of His Word.

Thank you, Dave, for all you did for us.

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

World of Prime: Campaign Journal #9

I had to improvise the adventure last time; while my Sandbox World Generator told me what was in the square it didn't provide all the details. Between sessions I fleshed out the cult and discovered that it had a name, in addition to a signature calling card in the form of golden crossbow quarrels. Eventually I'll publish this adventure on DriveThruRPG like all the rest. The only reason The Lake of Ill Repute isn't up there is that they haven't finished going through it yet.

The Brotherhood of the Golden Arrow

The party (retroactively) marveled over all the golden crossbow quarrels they looted off of the bandits that had attacked their camp, until the Wizard made his Appraise check and realized they were just well-polished bronze.

The party sent in Sir Rattles, again to no effect. Now that they had two independent reports that the tunnel was empty it only took them twenty minutes to raise the courage necessary to actually enter the tunnel, and even then they only went in because the Barbarian got tired of "strategizing."

Once inside they were greeted by ten skeletons. The toad had not noticed them because they don't move, breathe, emit heat, or otherwise appear differently than dead bones, and they hadn't attacked Sir Rattles out of professional courtesy. Undead make excellent ambushers.

The Barbarian smashed one while the Cleric looked up the rules on Turn Undead. A few dice rolls later and all of the skeletons collapsed, utterly destroyed by the puissance of the Cleric's holy words. Sadly this cleansing of the unnatural also included Sir Rattles (a tip o' the hat to the Bard for pointing that out!). It turns (haha) out that the Cleric had missed the latest dungeon runs, so no one was aware of just how potent he was against low-level undead.

After that they briefly examined a closed door but decided to push further into the cavern. They didn't get very far before being greeted by a company of guards with a spell-casting senior office. Twenty cultists, fighting in formation: the ones in front knelt defensively behind their shields while the back row fired over their heads with crossbows. The Ranger cleverly pocketed his light-stone and started sniping from the dark while the Barbarian charged; the Wizard and Druid summoned acid-spitting beetles; and the Bard and Cleric went down a side tunnel hoping flank the attacking group but instead ran into a smaller group which included an junior officer of the cult.

The absence of treacherous vegetation and the presence of spell-casters turned the battle around. Expecting the relentless slaughter of the previous engagement, the party found they had a fight on their hands. Fear spells were particularly useful, sending the the Ranger, the Bard, and the Barbarian (twice!) in and out of combat like yo-yos. The Barbarian made it all the way to the front line and slew three foes in a single great blow before eating half-a-dozen quarrels and being sent running by magic. Healing also paid off as the two cult spell-casters put men who had been incapacitated but not outright killed back into the fight; when the Barbarian came back half the men he had killed were alive again.

Finally the Druid decided to unleash the swarm. Thousands of spiders crawled up out of the sandy cavern floor, biting and stinging. Fortunately their poison weakened before it killed, so the men's shrieks of horror as they were devoured alive were slightly muted. The senior officer, revealing a sophisticated understanding spellcraft, got the swarm's attention and led it away from his men. This took him out of the fight but not out of the battle as he succeeded in healing himself several times even in the midst of the swarm. It was a fair trade, as concentrating on the swarm kept the Druid busy.

The advance party came back to the main battle, having been chased off by Fear after killing all but the junior officer in the side passageway. The Wizard called up another acid beetle after the first one exploded and dissolved several men's faces in acid. Fortunately this horrific sight was only poorly illuminated by torch-light so likely the party won't have too many nightmares. The Barbarian, operating off of courage rather than intellect, charged the line once again, and this time they broke and fled. Just in time, as the side passage was once again active after the officer had healed several casualties. The Wizard, Cleric, and Bard ran to deal with that while the Ranger followed the fleeing remnants of the main group. The Druid sat in a corner and concentrated fiercely on his swarm of vicious insects, no doubt struggling with remorse over the horrible deaths he had caused.

The junior officer in the side-passage turned out to be wearing decent armor (note to self: more bronze breastplates!). Half the party beat on him while the Wizard kept him dazed and yet he remained standing. The side passage did indeed join up with the other one, as both passages opened into a vast cavern. Which contained another entire company of troops, all bearing torches and charging the swarm.

The Ranger picked off a few men while they dealt with the spiders by beating their torches against the ground and occasionally the officer in the middle of the swarm. This bought the rest of the party enough time to finally finish off the junior officer. They looked up just in time to see the retreat stemmed by demonic authority. Which is to say, a nine-foot-tall demon bit the head off of one of the retreating men, and the other two decided to go back into battle. Not the typically recommended courage-inducing rally cry but it worked. Beside the demon stood the cult's leader, a wild-haired shaggy man in bronze armor and wearing a golden crossbow quarrel around his neck.

Everything froze in that movie-style magic where the really dramatic bits seem to take forever. (Meaning we broke for pizza.) After a surprisingly lengthy discussion which included checking the side-door for a defensible position (spoiler alert: it wasn't) the party decided to retreat, having run out of spells and hit-points. The cultists, for their part, were not about to take lightly an enemy who had caused so much slaughter, and advanced with caution, allowing our heroes to escape.

Outside, under the open sky, the party set their own ambush, hoping to bottle their pursuers up in the narrow tunnel. While the Wizard was asking if there likely to be any other entrances to the lair he noticed a company of men coming out of the ground about a quarter-mile away. Again the party chose retreat, heading west (back the way they had come). The cult pursued them, but not aggressively, as the party was walking into wilderness rather than towards the nearest city. At the banks of a river the cult stopped and watched them go.

But it was not retreat, merely a strategic advance to the rear. The party camped, healed their wounds, refreshed their spells, and came creeping back under the cover of darkness.

Now they found the entrances guarded by cultists armed with gongs. The Ranger tried some diversions (oddly including throwing a desert tortoise) and sniper fire, but only succeeded in setting off the alarm. Discouraged, the party began retreating again.

The cult did not let them go so easily this time. The Druid's hawk stared nervously at the sky as they fled. This time the Druid paid attention and realized they were being followed. Trapped on the open plain under a star-lit sky (the world of Prime does not have a moon, but it does have so many stars that clear nights are as illuminated as a full moon), stalked by a flying demon, they had few options. They stood in a circle, back to back, like heroes facing the horde. Soon enough a black cloud swelled up from the ground, resolving into the fearsome visage of the demon.

The party responded quickly, with spells and arrows. The monster continued to advance and the Barbarian bravely leapt forward to strike with his temporarily magic-blessed sword. The blow passed through the creature without harm; the Barbarian realized it was merely illusion.

The party lowered their arms but the damage was done. Those spells were wasted. Tense minutes passed as the demon's allies came into position. Again, crossbow quarrels flew through the night. In the darkness accuracy was difficult and it wasn't clear whom the battle of attrition would favor. Until the demon struck from behind.

The Cleric was its chosen target. He proved hardy enough to survive the claws and fangs, but the poisoned stinger in its tail left him as weak as a baby. The fighting men turned bows and swords on the creature and it immediately fled. But as they resumed their archery contest with the cultists, the demon returned, having been fully healed by unknown powers.

This time the Bard went down in a spray of blood, and only a timely spell from the Cleric kept him from bleeding to death in the grass. Once again the warriors drove it off. The Wizard luckily caught a hint of chanting. He quickly called up some illusionary lights and sent them forth, discovering the hiding cult leader (the only time I have ever seen Dancing Lights actually used). As the demon left his side to fly back to the battle, the Wizard starting summoning apes (apparently impressed by the 1d6+5 damage roll) and sent them to attack the leader.

Now the cult leader was well-prepared, having certain spells of devastating effect against human foes. Which unfortunately expressly did not include animals. He soon found himself wrestling in a most undignified manner with two apes and the Druid's wolf as the spell-casters charged him (the warriors were still occupied with the demon). The cult leader called his demon back to save him; it broke off and flew threw the air, snatching up the leader on its way.

Until the mess of animals pounced on him, sinking claws and fangs into flesh and holding on for dear life. It proved too much weight; as the warriors charged, the demon shrugged its shoulders and let go. It flew off into the night while its erstwhile master screamed for mercy. "I'll let you in!" he cried, hoping to buy mercy; the Wizard and Druid, unmoved, did not call off their beasts. Consequently by the time they got to the man he had been torn limb from limb.

The remains of the cultists fled after seeing (well, hearing) their leader so savagely destroyed. The party tallied up the enemy's losses and grimly resolved to end the threat of the demon once and for all. In the morning they marched east, covering the familiar ground they had already twice retreated over, until they stood at the mouth of the entrance, with vengeance on their minds and blood on their hands.

Sunday, October 28, 2018

Campaign Journal: World of Prime #6-8

So we missed several sessions of recap as Bad DM was busy meeting a book deadline. The good news is Black Harvest is with my editor; the bad news is I don't have a release date yet.

The Wet Wedding

We last left our intrepid band after they had defeated the Shadow in the orcish beer hall. Many, many days were spent crawling through the increasingly sophisticated and dangerous layers of orcish tombs. There was the eight-armed water troll that was supposed to be a fearsome foe; the party chased it into the water and mercilessly beat it to death. On the other hand a kobold skeleton in a bird-cage shooting Magic Missiles almost did for them all.

It was while they were exploring the koboldic era of the dungeon (built when the orcs had dealings with a kobold tribe) that they met Asha the water naga. She told them her tale of woe: falling for a silver-tongued bard who stole her Pearl of the Sirens. In human hands this artifact makes breathing and moving underwater easy (though you still can't smoke a pipe); in her hands it did the same for living above the surface. She was the source of the innkeeper's broken window; it was not a young couple being carried off, but rather a broken-hearted sea creature pursing her thieving paramour. Being chaotic she is unwilling to make deals or bargains, but she does give them the ability to breathe water for a few hours and accepts a present in return. The Bard got a bit of a workout coming up with a succession of interesting but different presents as they re-visited Asha several times over the next few weeks. And the Wizard discovered the joys of Command Undead; now one of the barrow's best skeletal temple guardians carries his laundry around when it's not dicing his enemies.

Eventually they passed into the clerical era, built when the orcs had adopted religion for a while. The curses and undead guardians were not much of a challenge to our intrepid band, though a well full of octopi (regular old octopi, not magical or anything) almost claimed the life of several of them. Then they discovered four locathah smoking weeds in one of the tombs. Restraining their immediate murderous impulses, they managed to get themselves invited to a party. They went home, freshened up, got more water-breathing from Asha, and went to town... well, went to the underwater village.

As they had suspected, Lars, erstwhile paramour of Asha the water naga, made an appearance. He stood on a stage and warbled incomprehensibly, which is what passes for entertainment at the bottom of a dirty lake. Apparently he had fallen for the charms of a nixie and had spent the last ten years playing house with her in an underwater graveyard of orcs. At this point he was clearly deranged but the party was more interested in the unnatural bulge in his throat. They started trying to get closer to the stage when the chieftain announced the bad news. The celebration was supposed to be a wedding between one of the locathah girls and a handsome villager from the surface. Unfortunately the human had succumbed to the horrible curse that just randomly kills people in the village. He had turned blue, waved his hands frantically, blown some bubbles, and then stopped moving. This curse, the chieftain noted, had struck the last five surface dwellers who had moved into the village over the years: two other suitors and a young family, all suddenly struck down by evil magic.

Not one to waste an opportunity, the chieftain put the poor deceased fellow on the dinner menu (literally, he was served in tiny bits as hors d'oeuvres) and continued with the gala. Then he offered the handsomest of the visitors the chance to marry into the village without going through the normal time-consuming background checks.

This, of course, meant the Bard. Much to everyone's surprise the young Bard was willing to give it a try. However, once the rather quick ceremony was concluded and events moved to the nuptial chamber, everything fell apart. It turned out the two newlywed's conceptual ideas of what occurred in said chamber were horrifically incompatible.

The Bard came swimming out in a hurry, pursued by a shrieking jilted bride. Hell hath no fury like a locathah scorned! This commotion interrupted the rest of the party, who had finally gotten into Lars' presence. Thinking quickly the Ranger performed a tracheotomy, freeing the pearl from where it had lodged in Lars' throat, and amazingly not killing him in the process. The party then beat a hasty retreat, aided by summoned dolphins. Lars, unfortunately, was suddenly struck by the village's curse despite being immune to it for all these years, and soon blew a few final bubbles and stopped moving.

The locathah were unwilling to chase the party through the barrows, so they made their way back to Asha and returned her property. She rewarded them with sacks of gold she had collected from the barrows over the years and promptly fled, returning to her distant sea-borne kingdom. Our heroes trudged back to the inn, loaded down with gold and the pleasure of doing a good deed - which was, despite their alleged alignments, a surprisingly rare occurrence.

That night the locathah struck back. The entire village swarmed up from the lake, armed with spears and supported by the nixie's magic, and attacked the inn. Unfortunately locathah are as handicapped out of the water as humans are in it, and all of them died ingloriously. The Barbarian did get a nasty scratch on his ankle while stomping the fish-men into paste but otherwise the fight was anti-clamatic.

A Business Proposition (or two)

While the party rested up and dried out, Old Bob wandered in. They had last seen him the Wild Lord's broken down keep, where he chose to stay rather than submit to civilization. He had been driven out, he said, by all the singing. The keep had new occupants, a bandit gang of some kind, and they sang all the damn time.

Before the party could respond to this appropriation of property they had abandoned, a sly fellow also appeared at the inn. He had heard of a new adventuring party and wanted to offer them a job. He purported to represent the merchants of House Tempest, who allegedly wanted to find a land route to Varsoulou. This was a dangerous proposition because technically Edersarr and Varsoulou are still at war, though active hostilities had ended twenty years ago when King Rogonar the Ambitious had gotten himself killed on one of his many invasions. His son and heir, Cardinal Ragnar, was not nearly so keen on the exhausting and impoverishing continual war, and hence peace had reigned, especially since the invasions only ever went one way, from Edersarr to Varsoulou. Now some people, such as the Cardinal, were happy with this state of affairs; and some people, notably the Earl Theodorick, were not.

The party seemed to be leaning towards the peace faction, but mostly they were so sick of crawling around in dead orcs that they decided to take the job. But first, the most exciting awesome adventure ever conceived of in any epic ballad of heroism (or D&D campaign): they made a trip up north to Pay Their Taxes.

The King, you see, gets a quarter of whatever tael you take out of the Wild. This is the price you pay for having somewhere safe to rest up and heal after your adventures. You don't have to pay the tax, but then, you don't have to come home again either. (As a DM I am obviously tickled pink to have successfully imposed taxation on my players. I am sure all the other DMs out there know exactly how I feel.) The cost left them bankrupt, though they had gotten everyone but the barbarian and ranger to third level first.

They also blew some gold on stuff like better armor and weapons but that's just boring.

So a few days later they set off to the east, with two donkeys, supplies, and a full load of adventuring gear (the seasoned players revealed themselves when they spent fifteen minutes discussing how to carry their gold so it wouldn't all get stolen at once). Quite a step up from their poverty-stricken origins only a few seasons ago. (Seriously, it's been like three or four months of game-time.)

Along the way they had a few adventures. (This is where my Sandbox World Generator app really came into its own: they picked a map direction and marched, and I just looked up what was in the way.) At first the two undead dinosaurs looked like it could be a dramatic fight, but then the Druid discovered the power of Entangle (the spell that defines OP, and at 1st level!). The Ranger destroyed one immobilized dinosaur through archery with his new strength bow; the other one successfully resisted the wizard's attempts to Command it (thus sparing the DM a heart-attack) and was destroyed by arrows and Barbarian axery.

Next they encountered a mysterious wheeled machine that drove around in circles. Dissuaded by its thick iron armor (and a few hints from the DM who hadn't finished writing up the adventure that creature leads to), they avoided it and moved on. Just when they were thinking this whole exploring thing was a piece of cake they met a couple of other people leading donkeys.

Their practiced eye recognized them as bandits, or perhaps it was just the dirty clothes and heavy weaponry. These bandits, however, were incredibly welcoming. Recognizing the party as heroes by the simple expedient of noting that they came from the west and thus had passed through un-tracked, monster-infested wilderness, the bandits invited them to a free dinner. All they would have to do is attend a short lecture on an exciting multi-level marketing business opportunity.

For some inexplicable reason the party politely declined. The bandits shook their head in dismay, but offered helpful traveler's advice, pointing out a good camping spot just a short way ahead. Again, the party behaved unreasonably, setting camp in the suggested spot but stuffing their bedrolls with hay and hiding on the hill above while wearing their armor. In the middle of the night the Druid's hawk started staring at the sky while emitting small, terrified sounds; but the Druid was preoccupied with the company of bandits sneaking up on their campfire.

Once again Entangle struck, trapping half the bandits in its grasp. They fired their crossbows but in the dark it was completely ineffective. The Wizard sent his killing machine Sir Rattles to intercept one of the two remaining squads; the Ranger started exchanging fire with the other and winning handily. Then the Druid decided to summon a swarm of bats and sent them after the helplessly immobilized bandits, an act that will go down in the annals of unnecessary force and over-kill. Swarms are one of the more dangerous foes as they require area-effect damage to destroy them, and this is not easily come by in a medieval world. The bandits, unarmored and defenseless, were stripped to the bones in a bloody cloud of screaming horror. The Druid was thinking about maybe feeling bad when he was distracted by his own screaming horror.

A skeletal, winged demon with a scorpion's tail dropped out of the sky. It bellowed a magically terrifying sonic attack and lashed into the Ranger with claws, fangs, and poisoned tail. Well... it was supposed to. What actually happened is that the party uniformly shrugged off the fear, dodged most of the attacks, cast Magic Weapon on their swords and axes, and chopped the thing into bits.

Two of the cultists managed to slip away in the dark. The party moved its camp to a different location and tried to sleep, the sounds of men being flayed alive by tiny sharp bat teeth still ringing in their ears. In the morning they tracked the bandits back to their cleverly concealed cavern complex (cursed Ranger!).

The Wizard bravely sent his toad in to scout. It reported nothing of interest, save for a brief sound that let them know the cave was in fact occupied. Now they stand on the precipice of danger, preparing to march yet again under the earth.

Friday, May 18, 2018

The New Aristocracy

The new aristocracy is the 9.9%. They have convinced themselves that they deserve to be at the top because of their superior intelligence, talent, and work ethic. And yet, somehow, those traits get passed on to their kids... but not through genetics. More through legacy college admissions and other mechanisms of privilege.

Here in Australia college really is meritocratic. You need good scores to get into good schools, and all the schools are free (you have to pay them back after you graduate, but only if you earn enough money. The point is if you are accepted to a good school you can afford to go). So what's a wealthy family to do? Private high school. Many of which charge over $12,000 a year.

Elite colleges don't have better instruction, they have better research projects. Go to an elite college and your Teaching Assistant is doing Nobel prize work as his day job. That has obvious advantages, but the point is that the advantage isn't so much from teaching skill as other factors. Factors that don't apply to high schools. The education isn't that much better at a private high school than at a public one.

What does apply, though, is sending your children to school with the children of the rich. Not just because all of the kids there are studying all of the time (so your kid does it through peer pressure) but because the connections they make will keep them in the aristocratic class more than any education they get.

Our new multiracial, gender-neutral meritocracy has figured out a way to make itself hereditary.” - The Birth of the New American Aristocracy

And in one of the enduring absurdities that always makes me crazy:
You see, when educated people with excellent credentials band together to advance their collective interest, it’s all part of serving the public good by ensuring a high quality of service, establishing fair working conditions, and giving merit its due. That’s why we do it through “associations,” and with the assistance of fellow professionals wearing white shoes. When working-class people do it—through unions—it’s a violation of the sacred principles of the free market. It’s thuggish and anti-modern. Imagine if workers hired consultants and “compensation committees,” consisting of their peers at other companies, to recommend how much they should be paid. The result would be—well, we know what it would be, because that’s what CEOs do.

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

In Memoriam: Dennis Creasy

My father-in-law passed away today, after a lengthy battle with cancer. He was at home and at peace. Dennis was a good man and I was privileged to know him. He welcomed me to his home and his family. We made gunpowder together, and he shot my author photo. We played cards every Friday, and my house is full of things he fixed.

I will be lucky to live as full of a life as his.