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Arduin Grimoire, Part V

Arduin Grimoire, Part V

Special Abilities

Because If Playing A Centaur Psychic Wasn’t Good Enough, You Can Be a Centaur Psychic With Chronic Insomnia

NTTAWWT

Now, we get to another cool innovation, presented with minimal mechanical guidance and an utter disregard for the hobgoblin of ‘game balance’. Reading through the Arduin Grimoire with an eye for detail now, decades after I first used it in play, I notice something never made explicit: Exactly how to use the Special Ability charts. We just rolled once on them when a character was created, no muss, no fuss. I don’t see a logical alternative, really… this was an era when characters were heavily front-loaded, with most abilities gained at creation or from class levels. None of this “gain a feat every three levels” stuff. Still, it strikes my older self as odd that it was never stated outright. A lot of stuff from this era was like that: You were just supposed to know. It was accessed through the Akashic memory of the RPG collective hivemind, or something. And, yet… somehow… we did know. We made up rules and then forgot we made them up, convincing ourselves we’d read them in some book, somewhere.

There’s several pages of them, all in a 1-100 chart, all with very little explanation or detail. When I usually end up making anything but the simplest feat eat up 150-250 words, the brevity of these is quite impressive… as is the highly variable utility. I’ll post the full scan of one of them for a sample, then go through the rest and highlight some things.

+1 With Maces, Or LYcanthrope?

+1 With Maces, Or Lycanthrope?

The options range from generally negative, to mildly interesting, to character-killing (A fighter-type with a -8 save vs. fear and a 50% chance of fleeing?) to just asking for trouble (secret were-creature?).

  • You can easily build an entire character around the “desire to form a secret society” one, not that a +5 Charisma mattered a lot, mechanically, in these days before social skills or the like. Charisma, more than anything else, was as useful or useless as the DM wanted it to be, which was in direct proportion to how much Chinese food he’d eaten lately.
  • Having the natural ability of “true sight” — I’m assuming, as per the high-level magic-user spell, though of course this isn’t explained anywhere — could be a real advantage in this era when everything was shapeshifter disguised by an illusion and veiled by darkness. Including the innkeeper at whatever tavern you were going to start playing at.
  • I wonder how many fights started by people who claimed “western weapons” did not mean “European weapons”, but “six-shooters and shotguns”?
  • The “Bad Liar” is another one which would make more sense if there was, at the time, an established, shared, system of task resolution based on attributes. Maybe there was in Hargrave’s games… who knows?
  • “25% chance of going berserker”… just don’t ask what that means. (I’d probably rule you have to keep fighting until your enemies are dead, or something.)
  • +1 with “non-mechanical” bows, and -2 versus Djinn attacks. Those… go together perfectly… I guess… erm… what? It’s almost as if some of the items on this list came from rolling on other random lists, like there was a “bonus list” and a “penalty list” somewhere in Dave’s undoubtedly voluminous house rules, and he rolled once on each and made them a single item here.
  • Evidently, half-efreets are a thing.
Actually, I don't think alchemists are even in this book...

Actually, I don’t think alchemists are even in this book…

The next table is “Mages, Illusionist, Druids, Alchemists, Medicine Men, Psychics and Those Of Magical Natures”. Interesting, compared to later evolution of gaming cliches, that Druids are lumped with magic-users and not clerics.

  • Chronic Insomnia, for your centaur psychic. +5 to save vs. sleep spells, -5 charisma.
  • Movement competent, -2 vs. “stoning”. (Quotes in original.) I’m assuming that’s “-2 on saves vs. petrification”, but it could mean “-2 vs. people throwing rocks at you because said ‘Jehovah'”, or even “-2 on saves against Bigby’s Awesome Stash”.  Oh, and what does “competent” mean? (“It’s not a surprise you don’t know that!” shouts my internal peanut gallery at me.) It’s actually explained in Arduin Grimoire Volume II, in a slightly petulant tone, as if Dave couldn’t believe people needed his private table rules explained to them. I see no good reason to both explaining it before then, either. If Dave thought you were smart enough to figure it out, I suppose I should give you the same credit.
  • +50% Vision with night sight, +1 to detect secret doors. I have no idea what “+50% vision” means. You see about half as well at night as you do in they day? You get a 50% bonus on seeing things at night, which would be cool if any such rules existed? It’s whatever you can bully the DM into letting you get away with? Let’s go with that one.
  • Magic Competent, can pick locks and disarm traps as a thief two levels below your own, and climb as an assassin one level below your own, but your major drawback is your +8 Charisma. Erm, I’m going to assume they meant -8, but I guarantee you, some player who rolled this at least tried to convince their DM that a +8 was a real drawback. (“‘Cause, like, chicks are always buggin’ me, and shit.”)
  • Natural ability to memorize one spell per level more than normal. Now, that’s nice. Well worth the risk of rolling… well, actually, nothing on this particular list wholly sucks. There’s no totally negative options. Someone liked magic-users more than fighters, that’s for sure, and we see the beginning of the Angel Summoner and BMX Bandit school of game design.
Home of the singing evangelist!

Home of the singing evangelist!

Next, we have “Clerics of all types, bards, singers, witch hunters, pallidins(sic semper tyrannis), and all of a more religious than magical nature”. Another case where we see modern concepts in a state of flux — bards are “religious”, rather than arcane (well, given that the original bard needed to be a Druid first, this kind of makes sense… erm, but Druids are “magical” in this book… so, uhm, whatever. I’m not sure what the difference between a “Bard” and a “Singer” is, to be honest. I think there’s a “Rune Singer” class in one of the later books, though.

Anyway, let’s look at the chart:

  • Mountain Man, +2 to Strength, Agility, and Dexterity. Climb as a thief. First: This is totally not what I’d expect for “religious types”, which makes it awesome. How did Jethro Clampett end up becoming a Cleric? There’s a backstory there! Second: Still not sure how Agility differs from Dexterity in this system. Third: I’m assuming attributes cap out based on the “Limitations” table I mentioned in Part III, but there’s plenty of precedent for bonuses to transcend such limits, so who knows?
  • Sickly and anemic, -2 to all attributes (ouch) , cannot be hasted. Like you’d live long enough for anyone to be high enough level to cast “haste” on you.
  • +3 save vs. cursed scrolls, -3 save versus all elementals. Most of the cursed scrolls I encountered were “no save”, which leads to the zen question of “How do you add 3 to that which does not exist?”
  • Clerical magic incompetent. Which pretty much makes you wonder why you ever decided to go on an adventuring career in the first place.
  • Healing competent, +2 to all point totals per dice healed. This seems to imply “Competent” means “+2″.
  • +3 with quarterstaff and “cudgle”, -2 with everything else. Perfect for Friar Tuck.
  • “Clerical pallidin (sic transit gloria mundi) status, start at second level, you get all they get”. I… have no idea what this means. What if you’re already a pallid.. paladin? Who are “they”? Does this means you start as a second level cleric, but get all of the paladin’s special abilities? Or you’re dual-classed, a Cleric/Paladin? Or what?
  • “You have been defrocked for murder, you are now an anti-cleric.” Does your alignment change? What if you were already evil?
  • +3 to Intelligence, Wisdom, and Charisma, “you are now a singing evangelist(!) with all the abilities of a singer (or bard)”. DUDE! That sounds like the most awesome… and most annoying, to your fellow players… character concept EVER. I am SO going to roll up a Bard/Cleric now! Sure, you disdain all weapons and armor except quarterstaffs and you give away all gold over 500 GS, but still! (Wait… it gets better. Remember, this table is for many classes, not just clerics… including witch hunters. A witch hunter who rolls this becomes a singing inquisitor!!! There just aren’t enough exclamation points in the world for that level of awesomeness.
Aragorn and Bilbo roll on the same chart, it seems.

Aragorn and Bilbo roll on the same chart, it seems.

Next up: Special Ability chart for (deep breath here) thieves, monks, ninja, highwaymen, corsairs, assassins, traders, slavers, rangers, and all those with a more or less “secret” nature. (Fred the candlemaker is looking around at Slyfingers the thief, Dragon Fist the monk, Black Bart the corsair, and Aradorn the ranger and wondering how he ended up here.)

  • Natural Locksmith, work 2 levels above normal for those abilities… which sort of assumes you have “those abilities”, and it’s not clear, to me, if this includes disarming traps or just picking locks.
  • Circus trained, +3 to agility, dexterity, +25% to climbing ability, and a 50% chance of being recruited by a creepy guy with a deep, gravely, voice.
  • +2 ability to hide in shadows and darkness above normal. But these are normally %age abilities, so does that mean +10%? Or does it mean, as with “natural locksmith”, you have a +2 effective level? I’m sure at least one hard-ass DM said it meant “+2%”.
  • Quick learner, add 20% to all points earned after each expedition. Whoa! 20% XP bonus? That’s sweet!
  • Poor Liar (-4 charisma when so doing), but +3 with a sling. Huh? See above for my theory on how these weird-ass combos came to be.
  • Master herbalist, “can always detect poison and make it 1 die per level”. I’m guessing, somewhere, poisons were rated in dice? Every game we played, poisons didn’t do damage, they were pure save-or-die.
  • “Natural ability to use magic at two levels below own level.” As a… magic user? Cleric? Bard? I’m guessing, by default, MU. Pretty nice, you’re effectively multi-classed without giving up any hit points or weapon proficiencies.
  • Someone actually rolled this in one of my games: Sired by a vampire father and a normal female, you can withstand undead life drains, your Charisma can’t be higher then 9, you have an aversion to clerical types and fire, can only go out at night, but regenerate 1 point per minute “with all the restrictions of trolls”.
For everyone who isn't DPS, Tank, or Healer, I guess...

For everyone who isn’t DPS, Tank, or Healer, I guess…

“A techno, a sage, and a courtesan walk into a bar…”

Here we are at the last table, which covers Technos, Sages, Courtesans, Normals, and everyone else.

  • Good Liar, +5 Charisma when doing so, +2 otherwise, -2 versus cold. Oddly, Good liar also appears on the “Rogues, etc.” table, but that entry has no “+2 otherwise”, and it’s -3 vs. cold. The exact relationship between “lying” and “cold resistance” remains a mystery. I am utterly certain that Mr. Hargrave had a perfectly logical reason, and I wish I could ask him what it was.
  • Stunningly good looking — Charisma 23(!), and +8 to Ego (presumably, going over the normal maxima there, too). But you’re “super arrogant”. Hell, with that Charisma, no one will care! Unless your DM just ignores Charisma when deciding how NPCs react. See earlier rants, multiple, on the lack of mechanical support for various character traits in the games of the era.
  • Naturalist, can always find edible plants (emphasis in original). Man, I can hear it now:

Player: So, I find some edible plants.
DM: The hell you do. You’re in the Barren Desert Of Barren Bleakness. There are no plants here.
Player: I always find edible plants!
DM: That means, if you’re somewhere where there’s, y’know, plants!
Player: It says always!

Modern games, with their ‘cohesive rules’ and ‘integrated systems’ and ‘internal consistency’ and ‘extensive DM advice’ have totally destroyed the true spirit of gaming.

  • Latent warrior, can fight as a first level warrior if pressed. Which translates to, basically, a +1 or so, as first level warriors weren’t much better than 0 level nothings. And as soon as your techno, sage, or courtesan has gained even a few levels, they’re already better than a first level anyone. Not sure about “normals”, per se.
  • Total unbeliever in magic, -5 saves against all magic. Y’know, wouldn’t a +5 bonus to saves be more, erm, believable for an unbeliever? It’s hard to keep not believing in something you’re particularly vulnerable to.
  • Secret were-creature, roll for type. 95% chance of being chaotic. I wonder if that means “a secret from others” or “a secret from yourself”? Also, compare to the fighter-type equivalent entry: 3% less chance of being chaotic! And no mention of being evil!
  • Sadistic, arrogant, athiest(sic erat scriptum), -4 vs. magic, +8 ego, +3 strength. Anyone the author knew?
  • Very pius(sic I’m out of latin phrases), help all in need, +4 vs. Magic, +8 ego, +3 strength. Compare to above. Hmmmm. Hmmmmmmmm.
  • Obese glutton “of unsanitary and foul habits”, -6 charisma, +6 vs. poison, with an annotation that “if you cannot obviously have this characteristic and still be the type of character you are supposed to be, roll again”. I think it’s obvious which “type of character” the note refers to. It’s interesting that cowardly fighters are fine, but Arduin clearly has a “No Fat Chicks” policy for courtesans. Spirit of the times, I’m afraid. Spirit of the times.
  • “Roll once on any three tables of your choice, ignoring this number, but if you can’t use what you roll up, tough, you’re stuck with it.” This kind of “sucks to be you, deal with it” attitude is also part of the spirit of the times… a good part, this time, one we need more of in gaming… and in life.

After this table is a “Special Note” which, I presume, applies to the whole section: “These characteristics are only guidelines, but if you accept the responsibility and roll for them, then you must accept the results as a permanent part of your character thereafter.”

Coming Soon

At long last, classes! (Or some portion thereof… we’ve got Traders, Psychics, Rune Weavers, Technos (Sorry, “Techno’s”), Barbarians (waaaaay before Unearthed Arcana!), Medicine Men, and Witch Hunters to cover, and I don’t have a whole lot of time to write each week. Hey, I’ve been regularly posting content at least weekly for three weeks now…

Arduin Grimoire, Part IV

Arduin Grimoire, Part IV

Out Of Alignment

BTW, in case anyone stumbles on one of these pages out of order, and wonders how to get the hell away find the rest, I’m trying to gather them all here. Enjoy. Or not. It’s up to you, really. Who am I to tell you what to do?

So, in this post, we look at “Notes on Fantastic Beings”, and alignment. Sorry, allignment. For charcters. Sorry, characters.

Fantastical Beasts And How To Kill Them

Or, more accurately, “Notes On Fantastic Beings”.

Those of you more used to modern games, with their 256 page hardbound books detailing every aspect of a race’s culture, heritage, history, and preferred sexual positions might be a little aghast, possibly even awight or aspectre, at how little information was generally provided back in Ye Olden Dayse, and Dave Hargrave’s writing style was nothing if not terse. He had, after all, an imagination that spanned multiple infinities, and a hundred half-size pages to try to cram it into. So, we get to these two pages of “Notes”, where all the infinite complexity and depth of distinct and unique species were reduced to a line of text.

And we loved it. Well, I loved it, at any rate. I want just enough to get my mind going, just enough to provide the most basic platform for a shared conversation. When I buy a game, I want my crunch detailed out to the difference in damage potential between Pewter Mug, Hurled and Silver Tankard, Hurled, and my fluff to be basically someone leaving a sticky note on the page reading “put fluff here”. (Not applicable to games set in commercial universes, where I mostly buy them for the fluff.)

Thus, we learn that Hobbitts(sic) are “Happy, hungry” and “Always eating, brave but usually inept.” We learn that kobolds gang up on both thieves and cripples, and, by inference, the value of a semicolon vs. a comma. (We also see the root of many battles between players and DMs on the literal vs. intended meaning of the rules, with the battle lines being clearly drawn: If the literal reading favors you, argue it; if the intended reading favors you, argue it; and if neither the literal nor the intended reading favors you, buy the DM Chinese food.)

Orcs are immortal. Who knew? (Dave Hargrave, that’s who!)

So, from this we learn orcs are immortal, elves are in self-denial, amazons are pushy lesbians, and (on a page I didn’t scan) that harpies, furies, and gargoyles are “erratic, fanatical, and sadistic”. We also learn that genetics in Arduin were pretty darn fluid, and that human-giant matings were possible, though, thankfully, the exact details of the process were left out.

I seem to recall a “kobbit” is a kobold/hobbitt(sic…k of typing ‘sic’, just deal with Mr. Hargrave’s “Please Don’t Sue Me” spelling) crossbreed, which is kind of gross, but “kobolds” back then were generally closer to their mythic origin as fey “little people” and less “tiny little dragon folk with serious delusions of grandeur”.

It is interesting how most of the non-human races had long, even unending, lifespans — a definite flip on the D&Dism that all the ‘evil’ races died young (to explain their ability to breed in massive numbers so that dungeons were perennially replenished with mooks).

Come Up With Another Clever Pun On ‘Alignment’ Before Posting This

Seriously, This Better Not Show Up In The Final Article

Alignment wars began pretty much with the publication of OD&D, and I don’t mean “The cosmic battle of law vs. chaos” alignment wars, I mean “The comical battle of rules lawyers vs. each other” alignment wars. The exact boundaries of law, chaos, good, evil, what they meant, what they controlled, if paladins who slaughtered pregnant orcs also got XP for the fetuses, etc. Thomas Aquinas himself would be puzzled by that last one. (No, that’s not from one of my personal experiences, sadly/gladly. That was mentioned in a recent Knights Of The Dinner Table strip, and the fact it rang true tells you a lot. If you truly want to understand a culture, read its insider humor, says Lizard.)

Such debates have run to terabytes of terrifying text (I do get paid by the Alliteration Alliance Of America, why do you ask?), and I, in the words of Whitman, “have contributed a verse”, if “Look, lint-for-brains, even given your established stupidity and bull-headedness, your latest piece of word-salad drivel reaches new heights of incredibly inchoate incomprehensibility” is “a verse”.

Mr. Hargrave, however, strips all of that down to a simple, single, page that clearly answers all possible questions.

Did I Say "Character Alignment"? I Meant "Charcter Allignment"

Did I Say “Character Alignment”? I Meant “Charcter Allignment”

Or, perhaps, not. But as with most of his work, it aims to inspire more than to inform, and that’s not wrong.

It is perhaps worth noting the chart discusses the “Charcter” and “Allignment” of players, and if one interprets “Character” to mean “Morality and Ethics”, then, the chart is actually for the people sitting around the table, which might say a lot about who Dave gamed with.

Note: I will occasionally (often) make fun of the various typos and idiosyncratic spellings in these books, because that’s what I do… mock people who are a thousand times more creative than I could ever be… but it’s also important to remember they were written in an era when self-publishing was barely a step above chiseling words into stone. You couldn’t just edit your files on a word processor and make changes when you spotted them; redoing layouts was slow and very expensive. Besides, constantly reading, editing, and rewriting runs counter to the raw exuberance of unfettered creation; the more you question the technical details of your work, the more likely you are to begin questioning your ideas, and if you do that, you don’t have kobbit barbarians venturing side-by-side with phraint thieves and half-elf star-powered mages. (I think half-elves could be SPMs… we’ll know when we get to Book 3, The Runes Of Doom.)

And I think I’ll declare that any similar errors found in these pages is my attempt to capture the true spirit of the age, and not merely laziness or incompetence on my part. Yeah. That’s the ticket.

(“But, Lizard! How can you post a huge rant on the importance of proper grammar, and then handwave away your own mistakes?”

“Pshaw, that’s easy. Rank hypocrisy.”

“Oh, OK, then.”)

But enough about me. (Ow… even typing those words hurt my soul.) Let’s look at the chart. First, you’ll notice a lot more alignments. (No, I’m not going to keep typing ‘allignment(sic)’. Even I know when to stop running a joke into the ground. I usually don’t stop, but I know when to. And knowing is half the battle.) The Arduin Grimoire was published in 1977, before most of AD&D came out, and the D&D world was still transitioning. Alignments had gone from three, to five, to nine, in just  few years… and many early players, seeing the flaws of the original L,C,N system, were creating their own before Gygax could jump in. We see, thus, shadows of homebrew rules mixed in with the changes to the “core” rules.

Factor Tutorials

It’s, Erm, Sort Of A Lame Pun On ‘Factorials’, Which Doesn’t Really Make Sense

Give Me A Break, I Have A Fifty Hour Work Week+2 Hour Commute And I Don’t Get Paid To Write This, You Know.
My Paypal Is lizard@mrlizard.com. Just Sayin’.

So, we have Kill Factor, Lie Factor, Tolerance Factor, etc. These are used to… erm… uhm… well, basically, there’s no real rules for them. Everyone buying the Arduin Grimoire, unless they happened to know Dave personally, could interpret these numbers however they chose. It’s interesting that even in those earliest days of gaming, there was a nascent push towards personality mechanics, something to reinforce, with dice, what it said on the tin, if your character sheet was printed on tin.

“Lie Factor” is kind of interesting. I mentioned typos earlier. Well, one such typo in original D&D was an entry for “%Liar” on every monster. It was supposed to be “%Lair” — the odds that a monster, when randomly encountered, would be in its lair, where it had a lot more treasure. However, early players, taking the rules as written, often interpreted it literally. Dave Hargrave included “%Liar” in the monster section of the Grimoire, which we’ll get too eventually. The context around these entries made it very clear he did, indeed, mean “Liar” and not “Lair”. Murphy’s Rules later dinged him on this, noting he had simply imitated D&D, and he responded with, sadly, an all too typical reaction, insisting he’d always meant for Greedo to shoot first…. erm, that Arduin was a free-standing game and not an ‘imitation of D&D’. Yeah, right. It is, in fact, possible for me to consider Mr. Hargrave a Greater God (400 HP and all!) in my personal pantheon of creative influences, and still roll my eyes and sigh at the kind of self-delusion that would cause him to make such a claim. Everything about the original Arduin Trilogy speaks to its role as a supplement to D&D.

Surely, This Was The First And Last Time A Cartoon Caused Someone To React With Undue Outrage

Surely, This Was The First And Last Time A Cartoon Caused Someone To React With Undue Outrage

 

Arduin Grimoire, Part III

Arduin Grimoire, Part III

A Man (Hobgoblin, Nixie, Cave Man) Has Got To Know His Limitations

Now, we turn to character racial class, level, and attribute limits. You damn punk kids might not know this, but time was, there were no half-orc paladins, dwarf archmages, or gnome druids. (Leeky Windstaff is annoyed!) Well, unless you played pretty much any game other than D&D, because racial class/level limits were one of the first “D&Disms” to be flung out as the RPG industry moved past the Cambrian era and into the… damn it, I used to know what came next. Devonian? Anyway, time was (and by “time was”, I mean, it took TSR going belly-up and WOTC taking over in 2000 to finally shed this bit of nonsensical anti-design), races were “balanced” by front-loading them with all sorts of k3wl p0w3rz (such as the power to invoke arguments over if you could read with infravision or not)1, and then, in the off-chance the game lasted long enough, screwing them over by paralyzing them at relatively low levels, so that only humans could advance high enough to kill Thor. (That was, erm, the ultimate goal of D&D, right? To use Deities And Demigods as a monster manual?)

Anyhoo, Arduin of course needed to have such a table, which served to partially replace the old D&D table, due to the many new races supported, not mention the new classes, which… uhm… well, you see, there’s only so much space on the page, and so… erm…

limits0001Well, first, of the countless new classes Arduin introduced (to be dealt with soon), only the Psychic is on this chart. As for the rest, erm, “All Others”… Trolls, you see, are just as good as being Slavers as they are Saints.

Seriously. They just ran out of room on the page and said “Fuck it!”.

That’s how we all rolled back then, and it was glorious.

(Oh, the big white blob  is me deliberately whiting out part of the scan, because it turns out this walkthrough requires a lot more illustration than mine usually do, or maybe I just want to share the immense joy2 reading each part of this book still brings to me in a more visceral way, but I also want to stay within the bounds of fair use.

Anyway, I’ve been talking a bit about wonders, strange visions, exotic realms, and that hasn’t been too evident yet. Here’s where it starts. What’s a gnorc? A kobbit? You can play a Fury? A spider can be a fifth level mage? WTF? Felines? Canines?

OK. First, a “*” means “Cannot take this class.” So, there are no Spider Clerics. “**” means “Unlimited”, so a Kobbit can be a 105th level thief. And a number means… y’know, if I have to explain that, how the hell did you end up reading this article? G’wan, shoo!

On the spider thing (From What If #451, “What If Ben Grimm Was Bitten By A Spider That Was Radioactive Due To Cosmic Rays?”)…it was noted:”Normal insects and animals are not smart enough to do much of anything, but there are were-creatures and other types that will fit the bill”, so, there you are.

Only at page 5, and we’re talking about the possibility of 12th level Mermaid Psychics. Meanwhile, in Wisconsin, EGG was starting on his first draft of a rant about how ridiculous pixie-storm giant hybrids were. (But drow cavaliers dual-wielding lances? EGG was totally cool with that.) Battle lines were being drawn, lines which extend to this day, between the dour advocates of low-power, low-magic, low-fun, play, and the liberated, free, and joyous advocates of cyborg ninjas battling dragon/beholder crossbreeds through the corridors of the Death Star. If you can’t tell where my bias lies, check my choice of adjectives. It’s a dead giveaway.

(Acting on the odd assumption anyone reading one of my rants is masochistic enough to read a second, or even a third (if you’re that into pain, I have a good friend who can help you find a skilled professional in that area… not kidding…), they might note there’s some dead horses I beat, again and again, as if they were trolls and I can’t stop them regenerating. There’s two reasons: First, I write this stuff extemporaneously, so, if something inspires me to write a rant once, a similar stimulation will inspire a similar rant. Two, there’s no way to know who is reading this (if anyone is) or in what order, so there’s no reason to assume that any point I made 50-odd posts ago has been already seen, or ever will be seen, so it’s often essential to reiterate the same themes. So it goes.)

Moving on….

Race And Gender, The Internet’s Favorite Topics For Calm, Measured, Debate

Limitation1Though, to be fair, “race” here (mostly) means “a genuinely different species”, as opposed to “a bunch of made up, arbitrary, and totally random divisions” as it is when it comes to humans. (Though, not sure if “Amazons” are a different species, rather than simply a different culture… )

A few things to note:

  • Humans aren’t “the best of everything”, without limits, as they are in D&D. Elves can be smarter, Hobbitts (sic) more dextrous, and so on.
  • Swimming ability? Stamina? Magic Resistance? These aren’t in the D&D of the era, and they aren’t explained in the Grimoire. As we saw with Booty And The Beasts, an awful lot of house rules were so commonly used among certain gaming communities that when people put out books for general publication, they tended not to realize such rules were not universal. “Fish have no word for water”, and all that.
  • The chart goes on beyond zebra, to “Lesser Giants”, “Balrogs and Lesser Demons”, and so on.
  • Gnomes are “10% less in all respects”, than, presumably, dwarves, but I’m not sure what 10% of 5-12 is. 5-0.5 -> 12-1.2, or 4.5 to 10.8? 5 to 11? Again, we see the problem of “too much imagination, too few pages”.

Here’s part of page two of the chart, just to show the range of Mr. Hargrave’s vision of D&D…

Limitation2aEnergy beings, silicate life (hortas), undead… this section, in the rules, is entitled “Character Limitation Chart”, but it, like most of the trilogy, is about transcending limits, about including anything you can imagine, no matter how outre or inconsistent.

Back when I paid attention to RPG.net, there would be continual queries from people trying to play “old school” styles games, regarding if they should include this or that, add thus-and-such a rule, or invoke some particular mechanic, if adding in these things would dilute the purity of the old school experience and corrupt its precious bodily fluids. That they felt they needed to ask such questions told me, instantly, that the idea of what “old school” gaming was all about was being communicated to them wretchedly, to the point of actually teaching the opposite lesson.

Lizard’s Old School Rule Number One: If you think there’s rules about rules, you’re doing it wrong. (Ironic self-contradiction intended.)

The canonical 1970s-era DM had a dozen three-ring binders full of his house rules. Everyone was a game designer, and no one had any idea of “simplicity” as a design aesthetic in and of itself. Older games had far fewer (not necessarily “simpler”, mind you) rules than newer ones, but that had more to do with the cost of paper and the rush to publish in an exploding market than it did any conscious, deliberate, design choice. Hell, the idea of a “design philosophy” for RPGs was still decades away. The genre was too new, too vibrant, too full of potential to be tied down with boundaries and limits. It was the Wyld, all boundless creativity and change, as yet untamed by the Weaver, and far from being corrupted by the Wyrm, otherwise known as Lorraine Williams, and by using 1990s White Wolf terms to describe 1970s D&D gaming, I just made RPGPundit’s head explode. :)

I’ll just leave y’all now with a picture of a vampusa. (Vampire Medusa, duh. )

VampusaThat’s a lance it’s holding, by the way.

 

 

 

 

 

 

1:”Dude, in this issue of Daredevil, he could totally read with his fingers because the letters were cooler than the paper, so I can read with infravision!”

2:Not being sarcastic. I’m allowed to not be once per post.

Arduin Grimoire, Part II

Arduin Grimoire, Part II

In Which We Actually Open The Book

Just reading the PC's names makes you want to play!

Just reading the PC’s names makes you want to play!

Sorry about the blurry edges; if you think I’m going to press my 37-year-old copy flat just to get a clean scan for the benefit of the three or four people who might read this, you’re nuts. Anyhoo, just look at the PC names of his campaign, and imagine all the cool shit they did, and remember this book was published in 1977, when D&D had only been out for about three years! That’s a LOT of amazing gaming crammed into a very short period of time! I am deeply, profoundly, bitterly envious of the people who got to sit at Dave’s table.

We start with “How To Play The Game”, which notes people are unsure about the “sequence of play” in a fantasy game, so “here is a rundown of most play situations”.

The next line? “Overland Travel”.

Dave goes on to explain that you travel an hour, roll for random encounters, Then follows a bunch of stuff about line of sight, distance to the encounter, chances of an encounter, if the encounter is close, what kind of close encounter it is (OK, I made up those last two), if the monster is frightened or not, if it’s charging, how to determine initiative, and so on. This includes numerous die tables, of the “1-2 this, 3-4 that” type. Oh, wait, did I say “tables”? Bwahahaha! No, the entire “sequence of play”, including odds of random encounters (with modifiers for terrain type and time of day), and all the other folderol I mentioned, are all in one immense paragraph.

I’m guessing the “uncertainty” over the “sequence of play” came from wargamers used to “Player 1 Movement Phase, Player 2 Prep Musket Phase, Player 1 Rally Phase, Player 2 Sneers At Player 1’s Incorrect Color Scheme For The Seventh Lancers Phase, Player 1 Shoves Incorrectly Painted Seventh Lancer Up Player 2’s Nose Phase”, and so on. It’s a sign of the times, of the gaming world in transition, from groups of fat neckbearded nerds arguing endlessly over the effects of wind on massed fire to groups of fat neckbearded nerds arguing endlessly over the effects of wind on massed fireballs. Those kinds of radical cultural changes can be shocking to the people living through them.

Following the rules for rolling random encounters come the rules for experience points, because, why not? In Arduin, you don’t get XP for gold. “It is the act of robbery, not the amount stolen, that gives the thief his experience.” says Dave, and I concur.

This table is, at least, a table. You get 400 XP for dying (and being resurrected), 375 for being the sole survivor of an expedition (oh, that couldn’t possibly go wrong!) or for retrieving the most powerful of artifacts, all the way down to 50 XP for figuring out traps and casting “lesser” spells such as “locks and winds”.

To put these numbers in perspective, here’s the XP chart… (Please note the ‘Saint’ class isn’t actually in this book. Or the Courtesan.

The "Slaver" class isn't in here, either.

The “Slaver” class isn’t in here, either.

Yes, levels went up to 105. I assume you figured out the “missing” levels by extrapolating from the points given.

I’m just gonna let that “levels go up to 105″ thing sink in. First, remember this was published only three years after D&D came out. Second, next time some wannabe “old school Renaissance” type who wasn’t even born when AD&D Second Edition was published tries to tell you that in the Old Days (which he wasn’t around for, but which he heard about from this guy who knows this guy…) it was all fantasy fucking Vietnam and scrabbling for copper pieces and PCs were weak and no one had cool powers and everything now is all WoWMMORPGVideoGameSuperMarioCrap, you just point him this way. I’ll straighten him out. (Or her. One mustn’t be sexist. There’s just as many women repeating tired platitudes they’ve picked up from online forums as there are men. )

Following is another page of XP charts, and then, the Character Limitation Chart. And, hey, y’know what? Posting small articles frequently is probably better than long articles never, so, smeg it, this goes up now.

Arduin Grimoire, Part I

Walking Through The Arduin Triology (And Maybe The Others)

Or, Why Didn’t I Think Of This Before?

Because I’m Extremely Dim, That’s Why!

So, I’ve raved on and on about the Arduin books, how much they meant to me in my formative years (just as your first porn exposure will probably influence your YouPorn searches for the rest of your life, Or So I’ve Heard), and while I’ve done extensive writing on the heavily Arduin-influenced Booty And The Beasts and the Necromican, I haven’t actually taken the path more traveled and looked at the actual books!

So, here you go.

As with most of my stuff, this is a mix of humor, personal commentary, analysis, and random ephemera, mixed with extemporanea and just a hint of nutmeg. Those looking to discern a hidden agenda in it (see the IMPORTANT WARNING in the Necromican article linked to above) are morons. Those looking to discern a distinctive and coherent point of view in it are holding me in far too much esteem. To quote myself:

(Some people might note I make snide comments about how supplements like Booty And The Beasts veered heavily into a “screw the players”, highly adversarial mode of play, and then note I make snide comments about how 4e goes out of its way to avoid those types of mechanics, and wonder what side I’m on. It’s easy. I’m on the side of “Lizard wants to make snide comments.”.)

So, bear that in mind.

I’ve started three paragraphs with “so”. Weird.

 Anyway…

Arduin Grimoire

I first encountered hints of these works in the “Best Of The Dragon” that came out around 1979, in an advertisement. In those days, there was no Internet, and gaming news had to spread slowly, through messages pounded into the pulp of dead trees, and sometimes, we had to just carve them in the bark, instead. The ad showed lizard-people and insect people and others, all far more exotic and interesting that the relatively tame Tolkien-inspired characters of D&D, and the ad copy hinted at untold wonders and strangeness beyond words.

But I didn’t actually find the books until a year or so later, at the Compleat (sic) Strategist in New Jersey, back when there was one in New Jersey. And, yes, unlike most things in life, from the covers of lurid paperbacks to the description of the job you’re applying for, the actual thing did not disappoint. The three little books were so densely packed with ideas, reality warped around them. If I have to pick “The books that influenced my life”, it would be these. Well, and Lee/Kirby FF. Oh, and the LSH where they fight Computo. But mostly, Arduin.

And so, we journey now into strange new worlds.. but first…

A Tale Of Two Covers

I had managed to borrow a copy of the Arduin Grimoire for a day or two, several months before I got my hands on it. For a long time after that, I thought I might be suffering from mixed, false, memories, as there were things I recalled from my first reading that I never saw again. However, the truth has since come to light: There was a first printing, with a different cover and interior art. The first printing had art by “a talented young man named Erol Otus”. You, ahem, may have heard of him. The subsequent editions… did not, and his name was excised from the forward, as if sliced out with a mu-meson sword (yes, that’s in there somewhere, Book 3, I think… we’ll get to it.) I am sure there is a story there, but as Dave Hargrave is long dead, we probably won’t get to hear it, and besides, I don’t really want to know the grungy details of mid-70s internecine geek warfare. 

Two Covers, No Waiting

Two Covers, No Waiting

 

Now, without any disrespect for Mr. Otus, whom I’ve spent an inordinate amount of time praising, I still sort of prefer the one on the right. The exotic weapons and armor, the fine detail, the diversity of the PCs, the glowering demon over the door… words like “evocative” and “inspiring” come to mind. I want to create worlds, and write books, that give others the same feeling that picture gives me.OK, enough of the early stuff. Let’s turn the page…Later. Time to take my wife to the fabric store. But I wanted to post up something, since it’s been almost six weeks, which is long, even for me.

Yeah, I’m just gonna leave this right here…

Review for “The Book Of eight Restful Retreats”, my first product published through Christina Stiles Presents: http://www.rpgnow.com/product_reviews.php?products_id=131265

A Musical Interlude…

With apologies to REO Speedwagon, and in tribute to E. Gary Gygax, who believed that the entire room should be against you…

I can’t fight this piercer any longer
And yet, it clearly will not let me go
Its grip upon my innards has grown stronger
And the danger that I’m in is gonna grow
Cause the piercer was itself stuck to a lurker
Above, and it is coming down below
And it’s bringing with it some darkmantle buddies
And my hit points are about to reach zero…
But even as I stagger, I keep the priest in sight
He’s got some healing magic, and we just might win the fight
But he’s backing out the doorway, running off in fright

And I just can’t fight this ceiling any more…

References

http://www.toplessrobot.com/piercer.jpg

http://codinginparadise.org/images/lurkerabove.jpg

http://www.d20srd.org/srd/monsters/darkmantle.htm

(This was done in about 10 minutes, once the wretched pun hit me, so it might not be up to Weird Al standards. Pay me what he gets, and you get work of his quality. Pay me nothing, and you get this.)

The First Adventure Of The Fourth Streak Derrick

Introduction


Yeah, I’m hyping the crap out of my new book. If you like this story, you’ll probably like the above book. If you don’t like this story, erm, you’ll still probably like the above book, ’cause it’s, uhm, totally different and stuff. I feel like Gil from “The Simpsons”.

This was posted on this site during the Joomla days, and somehow didn’t make the transition over to WordPress. It falls into two genres I like: Planetary Romance and what I call The Banality Of The Fantastic, the latter being my own name for stories set where the “fantastic” element, the thing which makes it a fantasy or SF story, is seen as simply part of the background noise of the world by the inhabitants. We talk to people across the world, we travel from continent to continent in hours, we are speak a command or make a gesture and get answers to everything from “Where is the nearest pizza joint?” to “How many videos are there where two cheerleaders, one a redhead, one asian, make out with each other and then the pizza guy joins in?” (“Two miles” and  “integer overflow error”, respectively.)

Rogue Planet: Fortress At The Top Of The World, was intended to not be deconstructionist, revisionist, satirical, etc. This piece, however, was intended to be something of a respectful and loving satire, or at least humorous, as it deals with the aftermath, generations later, of Earth’s contact with an alien world full of wild technology and beautiful alien princesses. This concept has a lot of potential for deeper exploration; as with so many of the settings I sketch out in very broad strokes, this is one I’d like to revisit if I have the time. I also wrote it six years ago, and I humbly submit my writing’s been getting generally better over time, but I wanted to present it as-is. If it looks like it might see print, I’ll make some editing passes, but for right now, it fits my site’s motto of “Free, and worth it!”

The First Adventure Of The Fourth Streak Derrick

Richard (“Streak”) Derrick (the Fourth) had no idea why he was needed at the coronation of Empress Alazarra Of Dragornos, but it seemed like a good idea to go. Generally, when the potentate-to-be of an entire world sends you an invitation (delivered by a glistening, muscular, mountain of a man garbed in ceremonial armor), you accept.

It was all purely symbolic, of course. Ever since the 1930s, Dragornos had been ruled by an elected Parliament, a governmental system set up during the occupancy which had followed the alien world’s abortive attempt to conquer the Earth. When Overlord Zarg had been killed by Richard’s great-grandfather, political order was maintained when his daughter, Zareena, claimed the throne and then promptly gave supreme power to Streak Derrick the First…who in turn handed it over to the League of Nations and let them take over the business of nation building. It was in all the history books.

But Great-Grandpa Derrick was long dead, and Grampa Derrick got himself killed in the 1950s trying to live up to his father’s reputation, and Pa Derrick was a neurotic, alcoholic mess, and so it fell to the fourth to bear the name to show up and perform whatever empty ceremonial function might be required of him. He assumed he’d get the time off work.

It would be fun, he tried to tell himself. See Dragornos. Look at all the places he’d only seen in old photo albums (most of them in black and white, some of them even taken by his great-grandmother back when she was a news reporter swept up in the biggest story of the last century). Dragornos was supposed to be beautiful – mountains of blue crystal, rivers of liquid flame, cities older than any on Earth, but still alive and inhabited. There was no logical reason to not want to go.

Sighing, trying to put his thoughts in order, he walked to the balcony. From it, he looked down ten feet to the parking lot of the condo complex he called home. He considered, for a moment, the vast wealth of Dragornos. Vaults full of gems. Rare and exotic lifeforms, from wood harder than steel to flowers which made music as the sunlight played on them. Life-size statues of a thousand former Overlords, each one forged of solid gold.

And my great grandfather never thought to grab a piece of the pie for himself. No, the first Streak Derrick had been content to accept a small diplomat’s salary and serve as a symbol of Earth, a hero the Dragornosians could look up to (and a living reminder that he had taken down their former Emperor).  And so, three generations down the line, his sole descendant worked an office job, supplemented with an ever-dwindling trickle of income from interviews and public speaking gigs, dredging up memories from when he was five and passed-down family legends.

No sense being maudlin, he thought. This coronation gig should bring the media roaches out of the floorboards, and be good for enough residuals afterwards that I could probably make a dent in the mortgage on this place. He sighed, then filled out the invitation and signed it. A thought struck him. He went to the small box he kept of the heirlooms not squandered over three generations of waste, and took out a thick, heavy, ring, adorned with a pattern of swords and lightning bolts. He then melted some blue candlewax onto the thick parchment of the invitation and pressed his great-grandfather’s sigil upon it. There. That ought to impress them. The Dragornosians placed a lot of store in pomp.

He was glad the return envelope was prepaid; postage to Dragornos was a bitch.

***

It was a three hour flight to JFK and then a six hour flight by “Aether-cruiser” to Dragornos. Richard was somewhat hesitant about boarding the alien craft. It was a tremendous finned ovoid covered with silver and gold tubes, all leading to massive engines which looked like they could rip free of the ship if they ever fired at full strength. The uniforms worn by the crew were equally non-reassuring; they were both skimpy and militaristic, and seemed to belong to a much earlier era; it was akin to seeing a Roman centurion at the joystick of an F-14.

Tradition, he reminded himself. Dragornos runs off it; the changes made by his great-grandfather only worked because he’d found ancient records of the old Parliament which had existed before the Emperor’s came, and because the Dragornosians had a tradition of conquering heroes imposing their will on the populace. Cunningly working within their cultural paradigms, Streak Derrick the First had created a peaceful, democratic society out of a warlike, imperialist, one in only a few years. There was an old political cartoon Richard had seen once, from 1939, showing an idealized (but only slightly) figure of his grandfather, strangling a zatharg with his right hand and a figure labeled ‘The Old Way’ with his left. Dashing hero and canny politician, all in one package. His great-grandmother had been a person of equal skill and strength, even within the limits allowed to women in the 1930s…that was probably why the marriage ended up not working out.

And there it was – Dragornos City, capital of Dragornos, located on the great River Dragorn. (The Dragornosians were notably short of imagination in their placenames). It was as wondrous as he’d always imagined; mile-high megatowers scraping the sky, a dark cloud of flying, buzzing, vehicles surrounding it, buildings of silver and chrome and gold and crimson creating a blinding glare as the craft approached.

The spaceport was, well, a bit shoddy. Seen from the air, it was amazing, but close up…not so much. The frescoes were worn and chipped. The thick, rich, carpeting was notably thin in spots, faded in others. Handrails were loose. Lastly, the McDonald’s built clumsily over the bones of a traditional Dragornosian café served the worst fries Richard had ever had, and the mountains of gold lame added to the customary uniforms of the waitstaff simply didn’t work well at all.

Richard was greeted at the exit, a wide marble hall, by a typically barely-uniformed guard, who was, in a tradition new to Dragornos, holding up a clumsily lettered signed reading “Streak Derrick 4”. Richard nodded to him feebly; the guard performed a quick and crisp bow, then grabbed Richard’s bags and marched off. Richard struggled to keep up with him as he strode briskly towards the waiting aero-car.

The flight into Dragornos City was smooth and mostly uneventful. Dimly, Richard wondered what Streak Derrick The First would make of the place now, festooned with neon and advertising. A caricature of old Overlord Zarg happily swilling Pepsi glared from one of the highest towers. From terror of the cosmos to advertising icon in a few short decades, joining such former nightmares as Napoleon and Julius Caesar as pallid jokes.

His quarters, located in the south wing of the Imperial Palace, were extraordinary. The slow decay seen at the spaceport had not yet infested the palace, or at least not this part of it. The bathtub alone, Richard thought, was bigger than his whole apartment. The bed could hold an entire orgy (and almost certainly had) with room left over for a buffet bar. The rug was so plush Richard half-feared being lost in it. A selection of drinks and rare delicacies had been made available. Also available were two servants, both female, whose salaries evidently did not allow them to purchase any clothing beyond underwear. Skimpy underwear.

Richard idly wondered if they were waiting around for a tip.

“Uhm….I think I’m good here, thanks.”

The two looked at each other, then at Richard. One spoke. “We are assigned here in order to provide you with whatever you might desire, honored one.”

Richard flushed. There was very little doubt what they meant. There was certainly a great deal of temptation, most of it clearly displayed. What happens in Dragornos City, stays in Dragornos City, came the thought… Richard tried to come up with a good excuse to send them away…but he kept failing, possibly because their breathing was disrupting his thoughts with tremendous efficiency.  What was that old joke about men only having enough blood to…

The door burst open. A woman ran through it, and Richard’s mind (that part of it which was still functioning) instantly forgot the servants. If they were the Northeast Iowa Corn Festival Beauty Contest First- And Second- place winners, the newcomer was Miss America. Tall, thin but not skeletal, with waves of onyx hair flowing down her back, wearing a gown seeming woven out of rubies, she ran through the door, breathless, and flung herself at Richard, almost knocking him directly onto the orgy-sized bed (a prospect he did not fine entirely, or even slightly, unwelcome), and spoke, in a voice of husky desperation. “Streak Derrick! You must save me!”

Richard rolled his eyes, then grabbed the woman by the shoulders. “Right. Who put you up to this? Am I being filmed?” He looked around for the hidden cameras. “This is going on Fox, isn’t it? Or is it that Kutcher jerk?” He spoke to the room at large. “Really funny, guys. I’ll play along. I could use the residuals. You can just edit this part out, okay?” He then released the woman and tried his best to look as he imagined his ancestor must have. “Why, of course I shall save you! For I am…” he paused and struck the best heroic pose he could. “Streak Derrick….the Fourth!” He tried to suppress a chuckle.

Then the gunfire started, and it stopped being funny.

Richard had heard of atomo-blasters, of course. Like most Dragornos technology, they simply didn’t work on Earth….some sort of radiation in the atmosphere or what-not, he couldn’t remember the details. He had never seen one used in live combat.

The first shots went wild, setting fire to the thick rug and the rich bedcovers. Other blasts followed, turning the room into a maze of fire and smoke. Richard saw one of the servant girls turn and try to run for the door. A beam struck her, and her flesh burned and peeled away, leaving behind a blackened wreck which was once a human being. The only thing keeping Richard from vomiting was the utter certainty he’d die if he did.

The woman who ran in grabbed his arm. “Please! You must do something!”

He looked around. Smoke stung at his eyes. The door held whoever was shooting at them, and the very real fires burning clearly out of control dispelled any notion this was staged. No way would anyone expose themselves to this level of liability. So that left…

He shrugged. Somehow, Great-grandpa always survived this kind of thing.

He shifted to grab the woman by the waist, yanked a non-ignited blanket off the bed, and, holding it in front of them, charge the window, hoping he was right and that they weren’t too high up. His hand, partial exposed to the glass, was torn up as they passed through it, but the blanket kept the worst of it away. He let it go as they fell, and looked down, hoping land was not at all far away.

As it turned out, this was a vain hope.

The ocean water hit them like a wet sledgehammer.

Sputtering, his entire body feeling like it had just been sunburned, Richard broke the water. The woman was floating nearby, not apparently moving, but clearly breathing. A beach was just visible. Far above him loomed a cliff, and above that the towers of the palace.

Seeing no obvious alternative, he began to swim for the shore, holding up the woman’s body. To think that all that lifeguard training at Camp Wickamackee might actually be paying off….well, I did it to impress girls, after all…

As they reached the shoreline, the woman coughed and returned to consciousness.

“Are we…what…”

Richard helped her stand. “We’re on the beach below the city…not sure how to get back up. Uhm…do you have a name?”

She looked at him like he’d just slapped her.

“Of course! I am…”

“Alazarra.” He said, flatly. “Of course you are. I’ve seen your picture in the paper a hundred times, I should have recognized you…”

She sniffed. “The flat images of your Earth papers do not capture my essence properly.”

Richard had to agree. Bedraggled, soaked, slightly cut from their passage through the window, her gown-of-rubies torn and matted in all the right places, she still radiated beauty and command.

“So…I suppose here is where I ask who those people were and why they’re trying to kill you?”

Alazarra wrung water out of her hair. “They were agents of the Scarlet Legion.” She gave him a look which indicated that ought to explain it all. Richard gestured for her to continue. Her brow furrowed at this, but she went on. “They are…reactionaries. That is the word in your language, I think. They wish to restore the old ways. The days when the Overlords ruled.”

“So why attack you?”

“I am the ending of the House of Zarg. There cannot be a new Overlord while I live.”

Richard shook his head. “That makes no sense. I’m sorry, but if they kill you….what then? They just prop up their new Overlord, and suddenly 60 years of parliamentary democracy go bye-bye?”

She sneered. “You do not know our kind, Streak Derrick of Earth. To your people, tradition is something old and cobwebbed, a thing to be brought out and shown about on your feast days. To us…tradition is our blood. It is what makes us Dragornosian! This parliament rules only because a loophole was found in the old traditions. Provide an alternative, and my people will rush to it madly.” She paused for a moment to think. “You must stop them.”

Richard blinked. “I…I must stop them?”

She nodded. “You are Streak Derrick.” That seemed to be all the explanation she needed.

“The fourth! I’m an accountant.”

She tilted her head.

“Accountant…uhm…I add up numbers. For a business. I figure out if we’re making enough money and…”

“A…merchant?”

“Not really. I mean, I don’t sell anything, I just keep track of…”

The sneer returned. “A counter of coins.” Then she shook her head. “No, no, this is not possible. You have his blood, and I do see the lines of his face in yours. You are Streak Derrick, you bear his name, his blood flows in your veins, no matter how thin and dilute….you are of the line of the man who slew my great-grandfather, the greatest Overlord of Dragornos. You must be the one to save me…you must!”

“Sorry. Wrong guy. Look. We have got to get up there, talk to, I don’t know, the Earth Consulate or something, get you some more guards. I’m guessing the timing has to do with the coronation?”

“To slay a queen on the eve of her ascension will bring great strength to their claim on the throne.”

“Why are they even bothering? Earth has dealings with the Parliament. If there’s any kind of coup, Earth will throw its weight behind the supporters of the old regime. Their government will be gone in a few weeks at most.”

“They are not stupid men. I do not know what they are planning, but they must have thought of that. Streak Derrick, we cannot go back to the city! It is not safe! I will be slain before I reach your Consulate, I am certain of that.”

“Whatever. Look. I came here for hors d’ouvres, photo ops, and the chance to weasel a guest appearance on the Late Show, maybe. I didn’t come here to play hero, because all it would be for me is playing, and I’m a real crappy actor. Come on, Princess. I’ll get you to someone who can protect you. You don’t need some square-jawed barrel-chested do-gooder, you need some guys wearing black suits and earpieces.

She shook her head. “I will go. But know this – you have slain me, Streak Derrick. You are my death.”

“Melodramatic much?”

She didn’t reply, but simply strode up the low embankment, taking the clearest path to the outskirts of the city.

The Dragornosians weren’t big on suburbs. The planet consisted mostly of large cities, a relic of endless ancient wars. Millennia after cheap contragrvity had made them useless, walls still surrounded every major population center. Surrounding the cities were underpopulated agricultural lands, mostly worked the lower castes, and surrounding that…wilderness. For a planet with an industrial base capable of space flight, Dragornos has a lot of untamed wildlands.

The massive gates of Dragornos city were open, even late at night. Richard had to admire their style, it not their utility. Thirty feet high, wrought of some dark metal, covered in twisting serpent designs, topped with razor sharp spikes which had once been used to display the fate of enemies of the Overlord….they fairly screamed “Abandon All Hope. Ye Who Enter Here”. A brightly lit blimp, advertising Pepsi, drifted lazily high above them.

Street traffic was light – it always was, more so at night. Most people traveled by air, these days. Nonetheless, there were still guards at the gate. Alazarra had worked the remnants of her dress into a makeshift hood. Richard just planned to bluff it through.

One of the guards, seeing the pair approach, grunted and forced himself to his feet. Sighing wearily, he forced out a tired “halt who goes there stop in the name of the prime minister and identify yourself”, with somewhat less enthusiasm and threat than a teenager asking if deep-fried root vegetables were desired as a side item. Nonetheless, he was carrying a quite real atomo-blaster, and Richard didn’t want to give him an excuse to enliven a boring shift with some random mayhem.

“Two visitors, returning from a walk on the beach”, he said.

The guard glanced at them, as if to assertain that they were not ravenous slargs with poison dripping from their terrible fangs, then shrugged and gestured them to pass. As they did so, the guards eyes narrowed and something resembling alertness crept into his face.

“Say….aren’t you…uhm…you look sort of familiar…”

Richard shrugged in a noncommital fashion and kept walking.

“Hold on…hold on! Yes! You are him!” The guard stared wide eyed. “Blood of champions!”

Richard smiled, still saying nothing.

The guard looked around. His partner was oblivious in the other booth, a blue flickering indicating that he was watching some sort of broadcast on the odd, round, screens which dominated here. He looked back at Richard. “Could I…could I get your autograph? I mean, for the kids…they’ll be thrilled…”

Alazarra paced nervously, glancing around, staring intently at every shadow. She looked pleadingly at Richard.

“Uhm…certainly, fine watchman! Uh…do you have something to write with?”

The guard tore a scrap of paper from the book he carried, and passed it to Richard, along with something that looked like a fountain pen as designed by Torquemada. Richard scrawled a hasty autograph, taking a moment to glance at the categories of offense the guard was supposed to chronicle, including but not limited to ‘1) Treason Against Dragornos’, ‘4) Speaking Ill Of The Overlord (Or The Prime Minister)’, and ‘ 15) Smuggling Condemned Prisoners Outside The City’. He had to raise an eyebrow at that last one.

“Get a lot of number 15, do you?”

The guard laughed. “Oh, no, not anymore. Back in the old days, though, there was tons of it. Every wagon and cart had someone hiding in the back, it seemed. These days, all we really watch for is fruit that’s overripe. But we keep all the old crimes on there. Tradition.”

“Tradition”, Richard echoed, resisting the urge to try out his Zero Mostel impression. He waved to the guard and moved on, grabbing Alazarra by the elbow. She snarled at him from behind her makeshift mask. “You should not waste time bantering with the lower classes! Had your ancestor been so detained, he would have slain both of them before they could draw a breath!”

“I’m not him.”

“Please, continue to lecture me on the obvious. I had always dreamed my last hours of life would be spent being told facts of which I am painfully aware.”

Richard shook his head and reminded himself she’d be someone else’s problem soon. He could clearly see the brightly lit spires of the inner city, but soon found the process of getting there to be surprisingly convoluted. The outer rings of the city consisted of small, dark, buildings clustered tightly together, the narrow streets – still cobbled as they were ages ago – forming a twisting labyrinth of shadows and dead ends. A small number of lampposts, each fitted with a small globe which shed a cold, pallid, light, provided insufficient illumination.

There were no signs.

“Uhm….I don’t suppose you know the way to the Earth consulate from here?”

“I have never walked in these streets before. I suspect no ancestor of mine has for a dozen generations.”

“I see they never invented street signs here, either.”

“The streets are designed to trap and confound invaders.”

“Yeah, and the fact your people have been dropping bombs on each other from the air for centuries never once made you rethink your urban planning.”

She just glared at him. “This is the traditional way to design a city. Why change it?” Suddenly, she paused. “Be wary.”

“Of what? We haven’t seen anyone for fifteen minutes!”

“The day before the coronation of an Empress, and there are no revelers here?”

He rolled his eyes. “It’s too quiet? Is that what you’re saying? Who writes your dialog? That’s just…” He stopped. The patterns of shadow, of darkness on darkness, suddenly seemed…off.

“On the other hand…” He grabbed her wrist and pulled her closer. “Let’s head back this…”

There was a soft thud. Someone…several someones…had leapt off the low rooftops. Patterns of shadow pulled themselves from the deeper darkness and began to move around them, forcing Richard to keep turning, trying to keep as many of them in sight as possible. The dim light of the streetlamps glinted occasionally from the blades.

Richard wondered why they didn’t just blast him with those horribly silly looking, horribly deadly, guns the locals used. Knives…knives he could deal with, a bit. One of the problems of being the descendant of a legendary hero is that you draw bullies like rotting meat draws maggots. From gradeschoolers who turned every history class into a combat zone once they realized who their classmate was to barroom thugs looking to impress their date, Richard had been in a lot more fights than he really liked to think about, and had managed to at least put up a good show, if not always emerge with both pride and dental structures fully intact. He slipped into a fighting crouch of his own and bellowed a challenge.

“Come on, if you think you’re tough enough! Stop dancing around! You want some? Come get some!” Often, in bars, his seeming eagerness to take on all comers dissauded some of the more uncertain combatants.

It seemed to have something of that effect here. There was a hurried rush of dialog in Dragornosian, a language Richard knew, to his occasional regret, only a handful of words in, though he heard his surname, heavily accented, mentioned often in the rapid exchange. Some sort of quick consensus was reached, and one man emerged fully from the shadows, each hand holding a twisting blade. The motion of the blades formed a complex, weaving, pattern, casting sparkles of light in all directions. Something coated the blades, making them highly reflective – they caught and concentrated the dim light, turning it into blinding flashes.

Richard leapt forward, seemingly hurling himself on the blades. Then he twisted and dropped as the knives swept a few inches over his head, landed on one hand, spun, and kicked. His assailant fell. Richard tumbled to his feet and then planted a powerful kick to the prone man’s stomach. He coughed blood and tried to roll away, stabbing upwards clumsily as he did so. Richard grabbed the wrist and twisted. The blade fell, and he caught it. It was oddly balanced and hard to hold, but at least it was something pointy. His few seconds of turning it to find the proper grip had given his foe a chance to find his own balance. The dance continued, this time with greater caution on the part of the attacker.

Why don’t they just rush me, Richard thought. There must be five of them, at least. I should be bleeding in the gutter by now.

But the other four stood back, alert but uninvolved. Their only action seemed to be to keep Alazarra from fleeing.

A swift lunge and a near miss brought his focus back to the man he was fighting, not the four men he wasn’t. His opponent was dressed in dark clothing, loose fitting, with many scalloped and embattled edges, ties, and adornments. Deprived of the Dragornosian love of jewelery as adornment by the need for stealth, he made up for it by having an outfit cut in some many complex ways that it somewhat looked like it had been hit by a lawnmower…and that gave Richard an idea.

He feinted, seeming to leave himself open. The attacker fell for it and stabbed forward, hoping to bury his blade in Richard’s guts. Richard sidestepped, twisted, and grabbed huge handfuls of loose cloth with his free hand, yanking the man backwards. With his other hand, he stabbed clumsily at his enemy’s ribs. The blade skidded off bone, the guard of the hilt jamming painfully into Richard’s hand. As the man struggled to free himself, Richard slashed again, aiming lower, and felt the blade slide into tight stomach muscles and then come free with a horrible wet noise. The wounded man, still alive, wrenched himself free and hacked clumsily back, his blade cutting into Richard’s shoulder. The pain caused him to drop the knife. Before he could retrieve it, the wounded man had retreated and a second, fresh, attacker stepped into place. He shouted something at Richard.

“What the hell is he saying?”

Alazarra tossed her head haughtily. “He says you have shown yourself a worthy enemy. He says he will accept an honorable surrender. Shall I tell him that one of the line of Streak Derrick will never surrender, that you will walk away from this place with the blood of five men staining your boots and never look back?”

“Hell no! Tell them I give up!”

He tossed the knife down and raise his hand. “Me…surrender. Se habla surrender? Surrender por favor? You likee much surrender, yes?”

Alazarra spat out something. Richard figured it contained a lot of insults.

Two men closed on him. A hood was placed over his head, and his hands were tied roughly. He was then prodded to walk along a path. A female voice muttering dark imprecations in a foreign tongue told him Alazarra was next to him.

“So, uhm…hey. Why didn’t they just surround and swarm me?”

“You know nothing of our people, Streak Derrick of Earth.”

“What was that about last words and stating the obvious?”

“Hmf. If they attacked at once, in all of the chaos and confusion, it would not be clear who struck which blow, to whom the honor of wounding and death would belong. It is tradition in such cases to attack in sequence, withdrawing when one can no longer press the fight properly and allowing a new combatant a chance. Each warrior’s blows are thus made clear and their role in the defeat of an enemy is known.”

“You people have some strange traditions.”

“So do you men of Earth, it seems. I like the one where you toss your blade down the instant you suffer the meanest of scratches. Do all your warriors follow this practice, or are you a member of some secret sect?”

“Oh, please. We were outnumbered. Besides, you weren’t being very helpful there.”

“What do you mean?”

“You could have done something. Claw at their eyes. Grab some convenient piece of pottery and dash it over someone’s head. Something!”

There was silence. Richard could see nothing through the heavy hood, but he was sure she was frowning and blinking. Then there was a reply.

“You…expected me…to do battle? Like some sort of palace guard?”

“Well…yes….”

“I am in the company of a man who shares the blood of the greatest fighter Dragornos, World Of Warlords, has ever known, and he expected me to sully my hands with blood?”

“It was a passing thought, yes! You know, you aren’t very….uhm….” He paused, suddenly confronted with the ludicrousness of what he was about to say.

“What? We are to die soon, speak your mind, or perhaps you lack even the courage to do that! What virtue do you find me deficient in?”

Well, there’s a leading question, thought Richard, but he continued with his original thought. “You’re not, well….spunky.”

More silence indicating confused blinking.

“I do not know that word.”

“Well, it’s just…uhm…I always figured princesses were daring rebels who yearned for a chance to break free of their sterile lives and secretly studied swordsmanship despite their parent’s wishes, or something.”

There was a cold, bitter, laugh.

“You are truly mad. I loved my life, and I mourn its end. I had every luxury I could imagine, and no real duties other than appearing to my people as a symbol of the legacy of Dragornos. I was worshiped, adored, and fawned over thanks to a lucky accident of birth, and I gave thanks to the nineteen virtuous gods every day for it. Now, due to my foolish trust in ancient legends and the bumblings of a coin counter wearing the face of a hero, it is to end in ignominy and pain.”

“We’re not dead yet. Uhm…which is kind of odd. Why aren’t we dead yet? I’m guessing it has something to do with tradition…”

“They will want to kill us in some spectacular and public fashion in order to improve their claim on the throne. We are both symbols of the existing order, symbols which must be cast down before a new order is accepted. Every change in dynasties in our history comes in a sea of blood.”

“Except the one my great-grandfather imposed.”

“Yes. Your ancestor was a great hero.” The insult was clear.

Suddenly, they were both stopped. Richard could sense an increase in the ambient light even through the thick hood; it seemed they had been brought inside some brightly lit building. When the hoods were removed, the light was nearly blinding, but his eyes quickly adjusted.

He sighed.

“Talk about a roundabout way to get where I came here to be in the first place…”

The place was an immense arena, dwarfing any such structure on Earth, and probably older than any of them, as well. While humans were still hitting each other with sticks in caves, Dragornosians were hitting each other with ornate, adornment-encrusted sticks in this very arena. Many scholars considered it to be the oldest structure on Dragornos, a not inconsiderable achievement. Currently, the walls around the primary fighting grounds (there were over a dozen, all told, in the complex), long since strained dark with the blood of uncounted thousands who had given their lives in this place, were placarded with uncounted billboards, hawking everything from McDonald’s new McDragornos to, ironically enough, inexpensive life insurance. Richard noted that Snoopy had been given the facial jewels of a Dragornosian battle wolf.

There were arrays of Earth-style TV cameras and Dragornosian tri-imagers, a podium garlanded with the flag of the current Imperial House, and recently added skyboxes in which Earth delegates and Dragornosian elite who had adopted their customs to watch the festivities.

Richard had a sudden inkling the program was undergoing some last minute revisions. What was it she had said? “Killed in a spectacular and public fashion”. Couldn’t get more public than a live broadcast going out to two worlds. As for spectacular…well, it was hard to die mundanely in a place like this.

He looked around at the people surrounding him. Many wore the ornate black cloth of the hunters who had captured him. Others were garbed in armor which seemed to reveal more skin than it protected. One, though, was done up in robes both complex and colorful. He wore a surprisingly simple gold circlet on his head, and around his neck was an odd piece of jewelery. It looked like three serpents, one of sapphire, one of diamond, and one of emerald, entwined around a spherical crimson gem.

Alazarra gasped.

“Nogra’s eye!” Then she paused. “No. A forgery. A cunning trick.”

The robed, crowned, evidently Nogra’s-eye wearing man spoke. His command of English was perfect, and his voice was calm and unctious. “No. I am afraid that this is most genuine. So here we are in this place, I with this, and you with…that.” He gestured at Richard. “He doesn’t seem to have lived up to his ancestor’s inflated reputation.”

“Hey!” Richard, still bound, struggled to his feet. “Watch what you’re saying!”

“Or you’ll what? Surrender to me?”

Richard paused for a moment, righteous indignation momentarily stymied by mockery.

Alazarra, for all the rest of her flaws, knew how to bluff, however. “It is you are foolish! Streak Derrick of Earth has shown cunning and daring, tricking you into leading him alive and unharmed straight to your lair! If you cast yourself over the edge and plunge to your death in the pit, you will spare yourself the ignominy of defeat!”

The robed man stroked his chin, as if hoping a stylish goatee would appear there. “Let me consider that…no.”

He barked something at the guards, who nodded, then he walked away.

“So….what’s the big deal with the necklace?”

“It is the scarlet emerald of Nogra. It is unique in all of Dragornos.”

“Red emeralds tend to be. So it’s pretty. So what?”

“It has tremendous meaning to…”

“Another tradition. Of course. Really a little more concerned with getting out of here now…” He pulled at the ropes a bit. They were tied distressingly well. He glanced over at the guards. Even if he was free, he doubted he could take all of them…or even one of them. They were more or less slabs of muscle, and they carried both curved, double-bladed axes and sleek energy weapons. There were four of them.

Overpowering the guards is out, even if my hands were free. So can I run?

They were on, he saw, some sort of large, raised, and fenceless platform, stretching out over the main arena floor. Probably where the nobles could talk and eat while the battle played out beneath them. There were many opportunities for a daring charge to knock one of the guards screaming into the gaping void, but none of them seemed to have any way which would allow him to not follow the luckless guard, or, even if he could somehow pull back, not have the three remaining guards eviscerate him in a dozen exciting ways.

Hmm…what would great-grampa do? He was forever in situations like this…in fact, there was one time when…

He scooted closer to Alazarra. “I have a plan.”

“Oh? Whom will you surrender to this time?”

“Augh! Look, my great-grandfather was in a mess like this once. Jenny Branson…my great-grandma to be…was with him. She, uhm, distracted the guard and grabbed his gun…” Richard desperately tried to avoid the image of his great-grandmother, who he knew mostly as a faded memory and a barrage of photographs which hit the papers at the time of her death, when he was seven, acting the part of the lusty wench. It was a lot easier to imagine Alazarra doing it.

Sadly, though, not for Alazarra. “You expect me to lower myself to seducing a commoner?”

“You’d rather die?”

“Yes.” Her tone made it clear this was a trivial decision.

“You don’t have to actually do anything! Just wiggle your hips, coo at him, then when he takes you away for a little pre-regicide nookie, you kick him in the jewels, grab his gun, free me, and then we….uh…we…hmm.”

She smirked. “What did your ancestor do?”

“He took the gun and made short work of the three remaining guards, put on a uniform, and snuck great-grandma out by pretending he was transferring a prisoner.”

“Do you expect to make…ah….’short work’ of the guards, even if I agreed to your proposal?”

“No.”

“Then I see no reason to sully myself with them.”

“Dammit, you’re not helping! Can’t you pull some lame-ass tradition out of your hat?”

She gave him an odd look, then began to speak. He interrupted. “I know you’re not wearing a hat! It’s an Earth expression! I mean, can’t you find some weird loophole in Dragornosian custom we can use?”

Her expression shifted from “querulously annoyed” to “momentarily thoughtful”. She pursed her lips a few times, tasting an idea, then worked through the stages of it, each step in the process visible on her face.

“You are blood of Streak Derrick…and he was, for a time, an Overlord of Dragornos…so you can claim the right to challenge any other claimant for the throne…at the moment of ascension….”

“What does that mean?”

“The man who bears the Eye clearly wishes to claim the throne. You have, however strange as it may sound, a blood claim on it as well. You may confront him and he must accede.”

“So I have to kill him?”

“Ideally.”

“Well, one is better than four, so I guess….”

There was a sudden stream of Dragornosian. The guards turned and stared, then one said something in reply. Another babble of words. Then the one who spoke nodded and walked off, presumably to fetch his employer. One of the other three drew a thin, jeweled dagger from his belt and walked over to Richard, then knelt and slit the ropes tying him. Richard stood and tried to rub some blood into his numb wrists.

He glanced over at Alazarra. “What about her?” If they were both free…well, she wouldn’t actually fight because she might break a nail, but since this whole mess started because she trusted him, he felt a slight nagging sense of obligation for her safety.

She replied:”Do you wish to claim me as your consort? Only then will I be allowed to witness the battle.”

“Yeah, sure, whatever.”

More Dragornosian was exchanged, and Alazarra was freed.

“So…uh…now what?”

“Now we wait for your rival claimant to announce himself. We also need witnesses…I suppose the guards will do, there are enough of them.”

“Isn’t it a bit unfair that they’re on his side?”

She looked startled. “This is a sacred tradition. Not even the lowest of the lowborn would defile it.”

“Oh, good. My mind is placed completely at ease.”

The would-be overlord entered. Richard had a chance to study him in more detail now that he wasn’t half-blinded. Early 30s. It wasn’t easy to tell under the ornate robes, but he seemed strongly built and agile. The question is, does he have any fighting skill, or is he just some spoiled brat noble getting too big for himself?

The skillful swing which caught Richard under the chin answered that question. As Richard staggered back, his enemy shrugged away the robes which covered him, revealing a lean, taut, body that showed every sign of being shaped by hours at the Blood Nautilus Of Pain or whatever kind of exercise machines they had on this world. His body flowed from one fighting position to the next, following the proscribe styles of some fighting art Richard probably couldn’t even pronounce. Richard did his best to keep his guard up and ward off some exploratory blows as he whispered to Alazarra.

“So, I have to kill him, or what?”

“The battle is to death or cowardly surrender.”

“Huh.” Richard ducked low as a swing passed narrowly over his head, then tumbled back, barely dodging the follow-up kick. “No option for noble surrender, huh?”

Alazarra glared at him contemptuously and said nothing.

“Didn’t think so.” Richard saw what looked like an opening, took it, and found it occupied by a pummelling fist. He took a few stumbling steps backwards, tasting blood. His opponent smiled.

“Typical of Earthmen. All flash and hyperbole, no substance at all.”

Richard parried a punch. “So, this is some sort of Terraphobia, then, not political?”

“Something of both.” A feint turned, somehow, into the real thing and Richard’s head reeled from the impact.

Richard coughed. “So…what did Earthmen ever do to you?” He looked a way to turn around and get behind his enemy, and found none.

“Look!” His opponent gestured broadly, giving Richard a rare opening which he was too tired and slow to exploit properly. “Look at this place, this great arena, one of the most ancient and sacrosanct places on our world…bedecked now with the sigils and signs of your Earth corporations! Our children feast on the flesh of dead Terran cows and our noble princesses are obsessed with the cacophonous noise which your primitive culture regards as music!” His anger began to show, and his blows became slightly less precise. Richard took as much advantage of this as he could, finally landing one solid hit to the man’s guts…unfortunately, said guts were an expanse of tight and toned muscle, and Richard got no more reward for his troubles than a mild grunt and a potent rebuff.

“You’re going to kill me because you don’t like Britney Spears. Terrific. My death is going to be as much of a sick joke as my life.”

“I am restoring our world to greatness!” He kicked. Richard stepped back, fell, turned the fall into a roll, stood up and tried to regain his balance.

“Yeah, right! More ‘traditions’? Like this whole usurpation of power thing?” He tried a double-handed overhead strike; it was deflected with ease. The follow-up foot to the chest knocked him back a good five feet.

 

“Yes! For the first time in decades, a new Overlord will take command properly!” He leapt at Richard, who had the good sense not to be there.

“Properly? You mean, with massive bloodshed and purges and genocide? What was that phrase, Alazarra? Every change in dynasties comes in a sea of blood?” Richard attempted to find another opening, but was starting to have trouble even keeping his enemy in his sight. His foe was leaping around him, landing one small blow after another from every direction.

“That is our tradition! It is our way! We are the conquerors of worlds! It is not our destiny to become a mass of indolent consumers of your planet’s offal!” The next attack hooked Richard’s leg. He went sprawling to the ground.

“You know, crappy as the Big Macs here are…they’re better than genocide masquerading as politics. Isn’t almost seventy years of peace a good thing?” His foe moved to plant a heavy boot directly on Richard’s head. Richard grabbed it, twisted, and brought the enemy down to the ground beside him. He then rolled to try to smash in his downed foe’s face. “Besides….you’ve still got the entire Earth military that will object to this coup. How long do you think you’ll last?” Richard found his fist grabbed before it could complete its arc, grabbed and twisted and painfully. He tried to limit himself to a grunt, but it turned into a distressingly high-pitched scream.

The man breaking his wrist smiled broadly, apparently at more than just the pain he was inflicting. “You do not even know what the Emerald of Nogra is then, do you? Very well…since I do not wish your spirit to be bound to this plane by unanswered mysteries, I might as well cure your ignorance.”

So that’s why they always did that, thought Richard, as he struggled to yank his wrist free.

“Our world, ancient beyond your comprehension, has known many eras. In one such, vast systems of weapons were constructed in countless hidden locations, linked to the mind of the then-overlord by cunning devices embedded in his sigil of office.”

Richard finally tore his arm free. The parts of it that weren’t numb where in agony.

“OK, I can fill in the rest. Whoever holds the amulet controls the weapons, yadda yadda, you blackmail Earth, they let you rule in peace.”

The would-be emperor frowned. “Somewhat more…succinct…then I would have put it, but that is the essence of the scheme.”

“Cool. So I just need to kill you and everything is back to normal.”

The man laughed. “Your overconfidence will be your downfall.”

Richard began, “Yeah, well your…” he paused for a moment, trying to find some word other than ‘overconfidence’, decided ‘hubris’ was too artsy, and was caught by a vicious double-handed blow, which was followed up by a second, and then a third. The world turned red, then grey, then black.

****

Sounds came first. Sounds of confusion, of many people milling about, underlaid with a sort of distant electronic hum. Then, painfully, light. Bright light. Far more light than any man should experience after a long night of heavy drinking.

Except…except…there wasn’t drinking. There was a fight. A fight without any drinking? Richard tried to put these disparate facts together, and found it gave him a headache. No…more of a headache. Also, a backache, a chest ache, and one hell of a wrist ache.

Wrist ache?

Oh…right. Emperor. Stone. Princess. Me.

Still alive?

He tried to make sense of his position. He was still curled on the floor of the platform. He became aware of his body as a whole, not a series of points of pain, and deeply and instantly regretted it.

Bit of the surrounding noise began to make sense. There was a constnat murmur in what sounded like confused English, and a loud conversation in Dragornosian. Richard forced his eyes open.

The man who would be Emperor was standing at the edge of a platform, holding the Eye of Nogra, and shouting downwards. While Richard couldn’t see them, he knew the lower part of the arena was filled with crowds of reporters and news crews, mostly those from the lifestyles and “fluff” programs – nothing which happened on Dragornos was news. He wasn’t sure what was being said, but he suspected it was something like “And now, I slay your beloved hero in front of you to crack your resolve!” Heh. Like anyone would care, back on Earth, if Streak Derrick The Fourth lived or died.

Trying to move as little as possible, he saw Alazarra. The was being held by two guards, and not in a friendly way. Dimly, Richard recalled that her death was also needed for the new order to take command.

I’m sure that thought would have motivated my ancestor to leap into action, but it’s really my own death that’s bothering me now.

Richard had an idea. A stupid, moronic, self-destructive, idea. An idea so astoundingly dim that only a man certain of death would ever have conceived of it, much less attempted it.

He leapt upwards and charged at the Emperor, grabbing for the amulet as he did so.

The guards barely had a chance to grunt in surprise before Richard and the Overlord went tumbling over the edge. Richard grabbed at the side of the platform with his good arm while clinging to the amulet, barely, with the other. The Overlord snatched at the rock, missed it, and went plunging down a good 60 feet, landing on a Fox News camera with a horrible wet explosion that was sent out live to a dozen stations around the world and would end up being the single most downloaded file on the Internet for years to come.

Richard, meanwhile, was hanging by one hand over the gap. He called out in English:”I’m the goddamn Emperor, you morons! You’re sworn to obey me! Haul me up!”

Alazarra said something in Dragornosian. Suddenly, two meaty hand grabbed him and placed him safely on the platform.

Richard had been holding the amulet by the chain. Idly, he touched it.

His mind was elsewhere. He felt himself flowing into control systems and networks. He could feel arrays of missile launchers, of atomo-beams capable of rending worlds (or at least scarring continents), of clockwork armies silently awaiting his mental command. He struggled to force his mind back to his still-precarious situation. He let the amulet slide from his hand, then carefully placed it around his neck, making sure it did not touch his skin.

He smirked at Alazarra. “The battle ends at death or surrender, right? I never did either…so the fight was still on. The challenge never ended…and now the usurper is dead.”

Alazarra looked at him with something other than contempt for the first time since the attack back in the palace. “That is… correct.” She inclined her head. “You are now the Overlord of Dragornos. All you need to do is abdicate in favor of the Parliament, as your ancestor did, and allow the ceremony to go forward as planned.”

Richard smiled. “Not…quite.”

Alazarra looked up. “I do not understand.”

“You made a good point, earlier. This nobility stuff is great so long as you don’t have to actually do any ruling. Just settle back and learn to wave at the peasants for a living. And if I recall correctly, as part of this whole challenge thing, you declared yourself my consort.”

She opened her mouth, then closed it again. My God, thought Richard. I actually managed to shock her.

Nearly two decades of training as a Princess took over quickly, though. Her face shifted to a smile both conniving and warm. “That is correct.” She looked him over. “You are not entirely ill formed. I would have had to have chosen anyway, and it would not be bad to strengthen the line with the blood of heroes.” She moved closer and then oozed into him, locking arms, and causing him to wince slightly. She gestured to the assembled, and confused, media gathered below the platform, some of whom were still desperately trying to clean blood and internal organs off of their equipment.

“I believe the time has come for what you of Earth call a ‘press conference’.”

Author’s Notes

As is somewhat blatantly lampshaded, Alazarra is fairly unusual among my female characters in that she wholeheartedly embodies somewhat outdated stereotypes (as opposed to my other female characters, who wholeheartedly embrace slightly newer stereotypes… as do my male characters, and my neuter, hermaphroditic, or none of the above characters. Look, people, you want ‘original’ and ‘creative’, find another writer). She was conceived as very much a “Take That!” to the Disney cliche of the Princess who just can’t STAND being rich, powerful, adored, and waited on hand and foot. From a starting point of “It’s damn good to be a space princess!”, she has a grand story arc that leads to  her learning the important life lesson of, “Yup, damn good indeed.” Sometimes, the best way to subvert a new cliche to apply some electrodes and resurrect an old one.

The As-Required-By-Law Kickstarter Post-Mortem

Kickstarter Post-Mortem (Updated 2-25-2014)

As Seemingly Required By Law


So, my first Kickstarter is done. I beat the odds in several ways… it was funded. The product was produced, if not 100% on time, at least mostly under budget. (That is, I paid for all expenses out of the money raised…. with the exception of paying myself for the time involved. At the end, after expenses, I “earned” approximately $0.75/hour, or 1/10th minimum wage.)

So what have we learned?

Writing The Book Was The Easy Part

You’d think actually producing the core product would be the biggest hurdle, and after that, it would all be gravy. Well, that’s not the case. I found this experience an object lesson as to why any argument to the effect of “Dude, publishers and producers and agents are all just parasites feeding off the creative soul! Eliminate the middleman! Fight the power!” is total bull bagels. You know why middlemen exist? Because the skills and knowledge involved in turning a word processor document into an actual book are not instinctive, and time spent on that process is time spent not doing anything creative. I’d estimate it took almost as much time to handle the post-writing work as it did to write the book. Fortunately, a large chunk of that time was learning curve — it will go more smoothly next time. Yes, I’m stupid enough to think there will be a next time.

Figure Out The Art Early

One of the major delays was getting the art done. Some of this was due to Life Happening on the part of the artist, which is unavoidable and in no way his fault — my own current situation is ample proof that the universe is going to kick you in the balls and then shove you off a cliff at the worst possible time. Another part of it was due to me not knowing what scenes I wanted illustrated… or even what scenes would be in the book… until I was done writing it. Ordering art earlier in the creative process runs the risk of being locked into story elements you might later decide to change, but ordering it later means everything is delayed.

Size (And Shape) Matter

Another exciting discovery was that the costs of a book increase dramatically with page count, and that page size reduces page count — and thus cost. The reason so many self-published or small-press books are 6 x 9 is because that’s an optimal point between increasing cost-per-page due to larger pages, and increasing page count due to smaller pages. However, if your art was commissioned at a different height/width ratio… it won’t fit properly. And if you’re running really late getting the book out, you have to bite the bullet and deal with things that aren’t perfectly sized, cropping or scaling and hoping for the best.

Details Matter

Margins matter. Font size matters. Headers/footers, page numbers, and making sure things look good when viewed in a double-page spread as a print book, not just as a scrolling PDF, matter. Some fonts don’t embed properly. These are all things I didn’t know, and had to learn, and each one added to the delays in getting the books out. (And I shall be honest — the final print copy was “acceptable”, not “perfect”. The kerning is a bit off. The inner margin is too narrow. It’s well within the bounds of “readable”, but it could be better, and now I know.)

"Now I know! And knowing is half the battle!"

“Now I know! And knowing is half the battle!”

Software

I figured the only program I needed to know how to use was Word. Bwaahahah! One of the things I learned was that I needed to learn image-editing and image-conversion software… which I didn’t own and didn’t have time to learn. Fortunately, I did have skilled friends who took pity on me. They probably won’t take pity on me a second time, so I  either budget money to pay people for their hard-earned skills and talents, or I budget time and money to learn this stuff myself.

Graphic Design

Seriously, I'm Not

Seriously, I’m Not

I have  very little graphic design sense. Contrary to grade school philosophy, people can and do judge books by their covers. Even with good art, the total design — font choices, placement of title and author, background — had to be good enough to say “This book is professionally written.” Is it logical to judge the quality of the words by the layout of the cover? Somewhat. Just as poor grammar/spelling in a post sends the message “I don’t care enough about my point to write it properly; why should you care enough about it to consider my message?”, sloppy design and layout says, “I don’t care about how the book looks; why should you trust me to care about the plot, characterization, and editing?” So, while I had some placeholder choices for the “late beta” PDF I released when I realized there would be a long delay for the final copy, I knew it wasn’t good enough. Further, the fact the scaling had changed meant understanding appropriate design “tricks” to make the art look good despite having the wrong height/width ratio. Fortunately, as noted, I had friends come to my assistance.

Let It Flow, Let It Flow, Let It Flow…. (Added 2-25-2014)

Something else discovered fairly late in the process. When I was finally getting around to adding in the credits for the backers, I wanted them to look good (and also not increase the page count too much). I knew enough Word stuff to set up alternating sections with different column counts, so I could have a header listing each backer tier, and then a two column list below that, and then the next division, and so on. It did look pretty decent, all in all. Until I converted it to epub. Then it sucked. Why? Because epub and mobi (and probably all other e-reader formats) are designed to flow text across all sorts of screens. They throw away all but the most basic formatting information to allow for maximum flexibility. So, I ended up having two different files (which I have to manually maintain in parallel — if I fix a typo in one, I must go change the other, then re-export both), in order to have one version that looks good in print and one that looks good in silicon. (I understand that “real” layout tools handle this automatically, and by “automatically”, I mean “someone who knows what they’re doing can set them up to do it”.)

General Conclusion: There Is No Magic Book Fairy

Somehow, I had gotten it into my head that all I needed to do was write the book, edit it, and then email a PDF to magicbookfairy@selfpublishing.com, and that would be that. As I learned, not so much. Overall, dealing with art, layout, formatting, and file conversion issues took about 30-40 hours of time. I can probably whack that down to 10-15 now that I know a lot more about what’s required, and that’s going to get factored in to the next budget plan.

Rogue Planet: Now In Print

So, I’m just gonna leave this right here…

(Kickstarter backers waiting on the dead tree edition… they’re all in envelopes, all addressed, going to the Post Office tomorrow or Thursday unless something weird happens.)