Story Fragment: Poison Darts and Witches

As I wrote the witch into the story, I first thought she would just be a quick in-and-out minor character.  However, I felt like exploring and contrasting the righteousness of Artur with the mysterious, morally ambiguous worldview of the witch.  I also wanted to go into how the hunter and the witch have affection for this snake vine creature.

I also decided, when I revise the story, that Slip will refer to himself in the third person, not unlike dull witted servants in fantasy literature, and not unlike Smeagol from Lord of the Rings. In Slip’s case it will be the linguistic curiosity of his people.

Here is the story fragment:

The hunter paced himself, and with the single minded focus of a feral hunter he carefully counted out the distance in his head as he pushed through the fog and the darkness of night. Before long he saw the diffused light of the raised lantern. Here he stopped, and felt around for some tall reeds or swamp grasses. Finding a cluster of reeds, he slowly eased his basket into them, and turned hit attention to the lamp. Why would these people leave their lamp up in such an obvious place? Other humans had come through in the past, and always took their lamps and torches with them. There was something odd about this. He eased his way forward, slowly, just his head above the water, and saw the bloodied hand print on the birch tree. That was no print from someone stumbling after holding a wound. He could tell it was deliberate, as though he had slit a rabbit’s throat and left it for a fox to find.

The prey fancied itself the hunter.

Slowly, he retreated a few feet into the darkness and drew out his blowpipe, some darts, and the Keckle bladder. With the skill of a veteran hunter, he set the pipe between his teeth, and dipped a dart into the bladder. He than slid the dart into the pipe, and rocked it back until it slid back close to his lips. Taking advantage of the sound stopping quality of the fog, he then proceeded to blow dart after dart into the foggy region surrounding lamp. After about a dozen darts, he eased back to the reeds, took his snake-in-a-basket, and quietly swam his way back to the boulder he came from.

* * *

Artur, Oak, Acorn and Slip crouched silently in the fog where they could see the haze of the lamp. Each was hidden from the others, but knew about where the others were hidden. As soon as a figure walked into the lamplight, they would charge.

An hour passed at least, and nothing happened save for wet feet, wet bottoms, and mosquito bites. The Rhinos shrugged off the mosquitoes thanks to their tough leathery skin. Slip covered himself with mud to keep them away, but Artur steeled himself for a time, until he too figured he could roll in the mud. As he stood up, something else bit him in the arm. It felt like a hornet’s sting.

Slapping is right arm, he felt a tiny dart with feathers, and inadvertently drove the dart deeper. Realizing his peril, he estimated the angle of approach, yanked out the dart, and began to stumble in search of his attacker. The site of the wound rapidly began to swell, burn and itch terribly. Before long he tripped on the cluster of reeds where the basket was previously stashed, and fell headlong, choking on muddy water. Artur coughed and sputtered, and spun about, trying to get his bearings.

He began to feel feverish, and in a moment uncharacteristic of such a great warrior, began to panic and spun about, desperate to get his bearings in the foggy black of night.

Suddenly a hoarse voice spoke from behind, it was Slip. “Artur!”

Artur spun about, almost decapitating the frog with his sword, but thankfully he swung too high.

“It’s Slip! Don’t kill Slip, Artur!”

“Oh Slip. I’m dying,” gasped Artur. “ He shot me with some dart. I don’t know where I am. I…”

“You not going to die. Come. Take my hand.”

Artur felt for the frog’s hand, and upon finding the suction cupped fingers, let Slip take him back to the island where Oak and Acorn waited. He stumbled forward onto the wet mossy island and passed out.

* * *

The first thing Artur noticed, upon awakening, was the buzz of insects. He blinked his eyes a few times, and he saw above him, in the awning in front of a mossy, moldy wooden hut, were two great hornet’s nests buzzing with activity. He almost jumped up in panic, but a sudden splitting headache put him back down on the hard planked porch of the hut.

There was a familiar laughter of Rhinos and the Frog behind him, and he craned his neck back to see his three companions lounging on the porch. They looked quite content. Then he braced himself on his elbows and rose slowly, looking about. To his right a curtain of hanging lichen covered a doorway, and a faint smoke or incense wafted out through the tendrils. Above him, great white hornets darted away and returned to the two nests, but none of the insects disturbed him or his companions. All around the hut, but a few yards out, was a thick gray fog that seemed to glow in the diffused daylight.

“Good morning sleepyhead!” said Oak. “Or afternoon more likely.”

Artur flipped over, and now realized he had a poultice of stinky herbs wrapped around his arm where the dart had pierced him. The smell made his nose wrinkle. He pulled his attention away from his wound and finally sat up. “This is the witches hut, I presume.”

Slip hopped over Artur and crouched next to him. “It is! Lucky for you we found her. She waits inside.”

Artur turned to the thick tendrils of lichen hanging over the doorway. “Waits inside for what?”

Oak said, “She’s preparing the cure. But we have to pay her.”

Artur felt his coin purse. “I don’t have much money on me.”

“Oh she doesn’t want money. She won’t say yet what she wants. She seems friendly enough.

At this, the heavy curtain parted and a short, fat young-looking woman with dark brown hair twisted into dreadlocks came out. She wore a patchwork dress and leaned on a gnarled stick a head taller than she was. She had a great smile of large gapped teeth that gave her an ogreish appearance. A pretty ogre, if ogres could be pretty. “Feeling better Artur? Oh good. That husband of mine can be quite a nuisance.”

Artur’s eyebrows went up at this. “Your..your husband? What is your name?”

“Yes my husband, well ex-husband to be precise. As for my name, they call me Joy.”

Acorn chuckled softly. “And they’re all terrified of a pretty witch named Joy?”

The witch’s eyes shot directly toward Acorn, which was enough, but she pointed with her free hand for dramatic effect, and then two swarms of hornets whipped from the hanging nests and began to buzz around the Rhino’s head. He ducked and rolled off the porch, splashing in the muddy water, and the swarms gave way and then returned to their respective nests.

There was a mix of nervous and sincere laughter. Artur was genuinely amused, but it took all Slip could to save face and be polite around this witch his and the rival tribe feared so greatly.

A muddy Acorn poked his head above the edge of the porch, and seeing it safe, dragged himself back up. Half covered in mud and bits of woody debris, he bowed to the witch and said “I stand corrected, Joy.”

The witch beamed at this, and flicked back her dreadlocks. “Shall we get down to the business of this cure you seek?” Joy began to turn toward the curtain of lichen, as to go back into the hut. She stopped when Oak spoke.

“Indeed Madam,” said Oak, rising. “If you would be so kind. But what payment would you take?”

The witch turned to him, “Oh a trifle really. I want my snake vine back. My husband, my ex husband, took it.”

“Snake… vine?” asked Artur.

“Yes, think of it as a thorny snake, only it’s a plant. He’s a plant. I have its mate, so to speak, in my hut. They only flower once every thirty years and this year is the year. I can only delay flowering for only so long.”

Artur slowly shook his head. “I don’t see why I should get involved in your post marital conflicts.”

The witch took a few steps forward, and Artur noticed her furry toes. She pointed with her free hand at the two Rhinos. “You should if you want to help your friends.”

The two Rhinos looked at Artur expectantly. At this point Oak was willing to curse Artur’s name and go find this snake vine himself, if he had to. He didn’t want to. Acorn, not knowing Artur as Oak did, merely hoped Artur would continue to help them. Hunting in this swamp, in this fog, they would need all the help they could get.

Artur was not intimidated by the witch, but stepped to the side rather than away, and circled her slowly, so she knew it. She in turn was no fool, and turned about, not intimidated by the great muscled warrior. Artur stopped next to his Rhino friends. “It’s not the custom of my people to meddle in others domestic affairs. If not for my friends, I’d say you need to find this snake vine on your own. Nevertheless, I’ll get it back for you if you have the cure for what ails them.”

“I do.” said the witch. “Give me the snake vine, and I’ll give you the cure.” She smiled, and deep inside this bothered Artur. He never exacted a price for helping people, and the witch’s willingness to use the Rhino people as leverage to get her pet back rubbed him the wrong way.

In this moment, the witch could see Artur was troubled. From a pocket in her cloak, the witch pulled out a polished, orange marble stone. Immediately, the fog around the hut dissolved to thin air. “Hold this stone, Artur, and the fog will give way. Put it away, and nature will reassert itself.” She put the stone back in her pocket, and fog began to rise from the marsh about them. She gave it to Artur, and he put it in a belt pouch.

“Very well, Witch…Joy. You’ll get your snake vine.”

He turned to his companions, “Are you ready to go?”

“Not Slip!” said the black frog. “Slip did his part! He wants no part of chasing hunters or witches. But…” he walked over to Oak, his feet flapping on the wooden porch. “Oak is a black frog now. If Oak wants Slip to help, Slip will go.”

Oak looked down at the little person who honored him with membership in his tribe. An extra hand in dealing with this hunter would be welcome, but the dart that struck down Artur could strike the frog down a well. More importantly, his own people needed the witch’s medicine.

“Slip, if you will help us find the hunter, the three of us will deal with him, and you can go.”

Slip rubbed his chin with his four fingered hand, and he rocked back and forth on his webbed feet. His own people were terrified of this hunter and the witch, and it took a lot for him to overcome this learned fear. “Alright. Slip will find this hunter. Get out your pretty stone.” With this, he hopped off the porch with a splat onto the wet mud.

The three warriors on the porch each looked at one another, and descended the steps to the marsh below. Artur asked Oak which way they came from, and drawing out the stone, set about retracing their steps through the swamp. As they proceeded forward, the fog about them dissolved so they could see for some thirty yards in all directions. If they did not find the hunter, the hunter would find them.

* * *

As the fog began to reform, Joy went back through the curtain of lichen into the dim, candle-lit hut. Embers smouldered in the fireplace. The petite ogress put wood into the fireplace and blew it to life, and then hung her iron cauldron over it. She left it to simmer and surveyed her inventory. It was a typical witches hut, with shelves filled with jars and pots of ingredients, crystals, charms, knick knacks and paddy whacks. There were even bones for dogs, but no dogs had come by in years, the witch noted sadly. She needed some fresh dog tongues for spells to enhance taste, and some dog noses for spells to enhance smell.

Setting aside the distraction of dog parts, she refocused herself. Ah yes, what she needed was in the the drawer under her desk. She pulled out a heavy black, glass globe from the little writing desk and sat on the bearskin in the middle of the hut. She felt the smooth, oily fur of the bearskin, and briefly remembered when her husband-to-be brought it to her as an engagement present. She remembered how he had self-sewn stitches in his left shoulder, still healing, and festering, from the beast whose skin he claimed. She accepted his gift and healed his festering wound, and the two married soon thereafter.

Distractions again. This business with the Rhinos had disturbed her tranquility. She cleared her mind and focused on the glass globe, reaching out beyond time and space and then coming back, observing the world in the abstract: The red haired Horsemen of the north as Centaurs; the dwarfs as animated pickaxes, chopping away at stone; Artur’s people as anthropomorphic pigs. There were rats among the pigs with meat cleavers. How odd. She looked to the lands of the Cat people, and the lands of the Rhinos, and saw rats with needles. She looked to the desert lands of the Snake men, and there were rats there, shaking hands with them. And then there was a rat looking at her. “Who are you,” it said without speaking. It was not an anthropomorphic rat. There were no rat-men as far as the old witch knew.

“Who are you?” it said again. This was not abstract, but a real rat asking a real question. There was something amiss with this. The witch pulled out of her trance and put the glass globe away in its drawer. If there was a rat playing with sorcery, then that would explain the rats in the images she saw. It must have a seeing stone of its own, or perhaps some other means of surveying time and space that intersected with hers.

The pot began to simmer on the fire, so Joy went to her storage racks and added a little of this and a little of that. The last ingredient she added was ground rhino horn. That ex husband of hers had slain a rhino warrior so long ago. Its eyes, brain, heart and liver proved useful, and finally the horn was serving a purpose. They didn’t need to know this, though.

 

 

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Bogging down in story details

In my story a celtic warrior, two rhino men, and a frog man are making their way through a dense, foggy swamp to find a witch.  This witch is said to have the cure to the horn rot afflicting the rhino people.  They’re stalked by a human hunter who mysteriously knows no words, and had a pet snake vine.

I’ve been slogging through this swamp for a few weeks now.  Albeit, due to events in my life, I haven’t been able to write much.  If I were reading it, I’d be saying “get to the point already!  Four warriors can take the hunter that’s stalking them!  Kill him and get to the witch already.”

I’m getting impatient.  The witch wants some sort of payment, I’m not sure what.  The wild man is related to the witch somehow.  Meanwhile there’s the feud between the two tribes of Frog Men in the swamp.  It’s a big mix of conflicts, and I think I’m getting bogged down.

I’m not sure what to do about it.  Perhaps resolve the mission to fetch the cure, reveal something noteworthy about the hunter and the witch (maybe they’re brother and sister, or were once married), and then get the heroes out.

Here’s what I wrote this week:

Acorn quietly hummed to himself to fill the void of silence imposed by the Witch’s fog. Moisture condensed on his leathery skin. He felt uncomfortably wet and clammy. Oak and Artur slept nearby, rolled up in their cloaks. They too were wet, but luckily were not aware of it in their slumber. Slip lay splayed out on the moss, quite content by the look of him. Acorn could stand hot jungles, and days after days of rain on the plains or the jungle. There at least, the rain made him feel clean and refreshed. The fog and moisture were like a smothering blanket, and it was difficult to think of anything else.

Suddenly there was a wet sucking sound that broke the monotony. Acorn perked up, ready as always with a javelin. He strained his ears, but there was naught but the faint trickle of stream. Surely that sounded like a foot in the mud. After a few minutes, a small beetle landed on his nose, and then its hind end lit up electrically. Carefully, he brought a thick finger to his nose, and lifted the firefly off. He marveled at the glowing insect, wondering how it got to be here. In all places a firefly could be, it was in a place where light stops after a few yards. Perhaps it was lost as well. He held the little bug aloft at arms length, and flicked his finger to send the creature on its way.

Just as the creature began to fly, a spear came from the dark fog and nicked the end of Acorn’s finger and slammed into the nearby birch. Acorn cried out in alarm. Oak and Artur flipped their cloaks away, their hands already on their weapons. Slip opened his eyes, to see the spear stuck in the tree above him.

“What is it?” asked Artur.

“The Hunter,” muttered the sleepy Slip.

Acorn pointed in the direction of the blunt end of the spear, “It came from over there.” He yanked the spear out of the tree. It had a stone spear tip, but was well made.

Oak now had risen, and shuffled about in a crouch, straining his ears. “What Hunter, Slip?”

Before Slip could speak, Artur interjected, “I heard the birds sing about a hunter when we got here.”

“Yes, yes,” said slip, who now rolled to a crouch. “A man hunter. He eats anything. It’s said the witch took his voice and his wits, so he wanders here.”

Oak replied, “He must be close. Else he couldn’t see or hear us to throw that spear.”

Acorn, looking a little embarrassed, said “He saw the firefly.”

“The what?” asked Artur, caught off guard.

“The firefly. It glowed.”

“Okay,” said Artur. “Fan out toward where the spear came from. Go ten paces, then come back.”

And so they fanned out, covering about a third of a circle around their camp, and squished, plopped and hopped into the fog. Each lost sight and sound of the others after only a few steps. Each step, though it took only a fraction of a second, felt like hours, with each of the heroes anticipating a sudden spear in the dark.

Finding nothing but mud and mosquitoes, the four arrive back at the camp about the same time. A quick glance in the lamplight and each knew the other found nothing. Artur gestured to the next third of the circle, and each of them took position and set out into the dark again. There was a splash as Oak went waist deep into the stream, and a gentle plop as Slip dived in. The other two squished and plopped their way through the mud.

Slip could feel an unnatural current in the water, as though someone nearby was quickly swimming away. He quickly dived under, thrusting his knife toward the disturbance. Surfacing, he swamp back toward the camp, and saw the other three standing in the lamplight.

“Any luck Slip?” asked Oak.

“Someone swimming. It could have been a turtle, or a big fish.”

“Which way?”

“Who knows in this fog. Ahh, that way,” said the frog man, making his best guess.

Artur calculated in his head as best as he could, and leaped into the dark fog again, his sword at the ready. He sloshed into the stream, waist deep, shoulder deep, thrusting his sword as best he could here and there ahead of him. Swords were not the best weapons for water combat, and he wished then he had one of the Rhino’s spears. After several thrusts, his sword clinked against a stone. And then he clinked again. Then there was silence.

Dismayed, he turned around, and tried to find his way back to the camp. It wasn’t long before he saw the dim glow of the lamp diffusing through the fog.

Slip anxiously bounced in place, “Shall we try the other way?”

“Yes,” said Artur. “But I think our attacker is gone.”

And so they fanned out and explored the last third of the circle around their camp, and as expected there was naught but bugs, mud, lichen and wet grasses. Artur realized as they did this that their tracks would be all over around the camp, leading to and fro. They would have to leave if they didn’t want to be attacked again. Unless…Yes, there was a plan in his mind. He noted it and then returned to the camp.

The four were anxious about their hidden foe. Acorn, in a moment belying the cool patience he aspired to, grunted “I’ll skewer that bastard with his own spear!” This took Oak by surprise, and he grinned briefly, happy to see a trace of his foul temper in his own son.

Artur set about retrieving the lamp, and with a bit of rope, hung it from the birch tree about head high. “Everyone back off and we’ll watch and see if he comes back for his spear. Acorn, give me that.” He took his knife out and cut his scarred hand, and smeared some blood on the lamp’s handle then put a bloody print on the other trunk of the tree. He rubbed some on the tip of the spear, and then the squeezed a little more out on a rock heading away from the camp, and then retreated into the fog, crouching in the mud. He quickly bandaged his hand with a handkerchief, and for once was glad he had little sensation in his right hand. The others backed off as well, quietly, anxiously, waiting for the hunter.

* * *

The hunter floated his basket ahead of him as he swamp blindly in the stream. His right ankle ached from a slash wound. It was all he could do to escape the counter attack. His mental map put him thirty or forty yards southeast of his previous position. There was a slimy boulder in the stream here, and he grabbed ahold and pushed his basket up. He pulled himself up, feeling the moss, lichen, and snails. He flicked the snails away so he could get a good handhold, and pulled himself up.

His ankle was screaming at him, but his first thought was the snake vine in his basket. He opened it up, and felt the thorny creature inside. It twitched and it rubbed it’s pod shaped head on his hand with affection. This pleased the hunter, and he closed the basket and felt his ankle. The gash would need stitches. He fumbled in his soaked waist pouch for some sinew and thread, and then heard a loud -tink- that vibrated his perch. He froze, straining his ears. There was another -tink-, the churning of water, and he heard a great sigh, as though someone were disappointed. There was the slight sound of water being churned which lead away from the boulder.

The hunter mentally triangulated his previous position, his current position, and the direction of whoever it was that tinked the boulder. Yes it was one of the prey out looking for him. He made a mental note of how to get back to the prey’s encampment, and tended to his ankle. The bone needle bit into his skin, but the pain paled in comparison to the hot searing pain of the gash from the frog’s knife. Allowing the pain to focus his mind, and by touch alone, he wove the strand of dried sinew through the open wound until he closed it up. It only needed three stitches. He had a tiny pouch with a nugget of pine pitch. This he sucked on for several minute to warm it mashing it with his tongue, and then worked it over the stitches.

He waited an hour for his wound to seal up, and then checked his gear: lacking a spear he would need to rely on his knife and his blow darts. He felt over the reed pipe and blew into it to check it for air leaks. He then eased back into the water, floating his vine-in-a-basket ahead of him, in pursuit of his prize.

More Story Fragment: Borussa the Pig

Here we watch Borussa the pig go after the rats that shot up the farm cats with quill arrows….

 

Borussa reclined in the shade of a willow, watching Diana, Troy and Tana carrying the four cats. They had bolted off in a hurry without explanation, and it puzzled him that the cats were not walking back on their own.

Borussa was an unusual pig, with a degree of sentience far beyond the average swine. He traveled far over the years, and fought in battles alongside his father Artur. He helped raise Tana as if she were his own child. In seeing this unusual scene, he got to his feet and trotted after the three humans as they returned to the house.

The three humans stopped at a table outside the house and began extracting small arrows from the flesh of the cats, who howled and screamed despite Tana and Troy’s best efforts to calm them. It took a bit of time, but eventually they got the arrows out and left the cats to lick their own wounds. Borussa listened to the humans talking, and understood Tana and Troy the best: little rats with swords and bows. Little rats that fight like humans. Little rats hunting.

The hunting was of no interest to him. All meat eaters hunted.  He himself  killed a rabbits for supper if the opportunity presented itself.  But he never heard of small rats with human weapons. It seemed…off.  So Borussa made as though to head for the pig pond, and then when out of sight turned and headed for the woodlot.

The sun was setting now, and the air was thick with evening bugs, and dew began to form on the the grasses that had been in the shade for a few hours. The hawk weed and dandelions began to close their flowers. The pleasant odor of bark and damp wood wafted down from the woodlot onto the edge of the pasture. Birds sang their good-nights and traded tales of the day.

There’s a big pig in the wood

up to no good

no mushroom is safe

from the pig’s ravenous face

Borussa entered the woodlot, and put his porcine senses to good use. Nose to the ground, he scanned back and forth and he explored the forest: ants, beetles, moss, deer poop, fern, mushrooms. Oh! Mushrooms! Well there was just a few, so he ate them, but didn’t forget his mission. Nose down, he got scent of cat blood, and he expanded his search, and found plentiful rat poop and urine. Rats, are easy to track by their excrement, as they drop it everywhere they go. The fact that the rats marched in columns made their trail easy to follow.

Borussa snuffled and followed, occasionally perking up to observe his surroundings. Most creatures knew to steer clear of a huge boar, and so there was naught but the occasional tweet or chitter of the birds as they settled down for the evening.

Borussa came upon a porcupine digging grubs from a rotten log. Porcupines are one of the few that do not fear pigs, and paid him little mind. Borussa decided to chat up the porcupine.

“Hail Prickly Pig!” he said.

The porcupine turned, and Borussa could a great bald patch on the creature’s hind flank. She replied, “What do you want, oh boar? Can’t you see I’m busy?”

Borussa ignored the second question. “I’m tracking some rats, perhaps you’ve seen them.”

The porcupine shuddered, and she replied, “Oh do not talk about them. They gave me such a horrible time,” and continued eating her grubs.

“Do tell.”

“I’d rather not talk about it. It’s useless to dwell on the past.” And it was true, since animals tend not to ponder old hurts, but learn from them and move on, and continue living in the present. Miss Porcupine was enjoying her meal, and enjoying the fact that most creatures preferred not to fight with her.

Borussa went to the other end of the log and began digging at it with his tusks. A fat grub plopped to the leafy floor, and he slurped it up. “They shot up some farm cats with quills. Those cats are my friends. Did you give them yours?”

This disrupted the porcupine’s peace of mind, and she dropped a grub, which began to wiggle and try to escape. “No! No! I…oh it was horrible. They came on me, and there was a sorcerer among them. He chanted some words and suddenly I couldn’t move! I could hardly breathe. And then the rats yanked out my quills, and left me for dead. ‘Thank you! We’ll be back!’ they said.”

“Thank you Prickly Pig. I leave you in peace.”

Borussa nodded, and continued snuffling after the rat trail. There was too much for him to fully comprehend. There was evil afoot, he was sure of that much. He pushed on through ferns, low bushes, tufts of grass, until he came to a rocky patch covered with thicket creeper and poison ivy. Lucky for Borussa, he had no allergy, but made a note to bathe when he got home. He began to push through, when suddenly there was a high pitched screech ahead, and something pin pricked his left shoulder. Perking up, he could see a rat on a bit of rock pulling back his bow. He wasted no time, and lunged forward, skewering the rat with his tusk.

There was another screech to his right, and he heard little feet darting away. Borussa pursued, and under a great boulder was a large hole big enough for maybe a raccoon. There were three rats here, and they too were firing arrows at him. He shrugged off the hits, and bore down on them. Two retreated down their hole, but he killed the third. Quickly now, he began shoving dirt out of the hole with his tusks, and then with his trotter, and did his damnedest to get at the second and third rat, who by now had retreated down the tunnel.

Borussa figured he found their lair, or a lair at least. He lacked the means to get down and investigate. He could fill in the hole, but they, like squirrels and chipmunks, probably had multiple entrances. The hole reeked of rat urine and feces. Perhaps it would cover up his own scent. He rolled himself around the hole in it as best he could, and then retreated back into the ferns and shrubs a way. He found himself a comfortable spot in the leaves, and crouched down and waited.

It was at least an hour before any rats came out of the hole. They spoke to one another alternately in rat squeeks and elvish. Borussa was not fluent in elvish, so he could not discern the whole conversation. He heard something about “Huge boar in the woods! Fix the entrance. Ack Snitch and Pip are dead!” Then came another voice, less rat like, and more human like, and it spoke only in elvish “Imbecilles! Hold your bowels and swine won’t find you. Now go see if it’s gone.”

“I ain’t a-going after that beast!”

There was a flash through the bushes, and the smell of ozone and burning fur, and a simultaneous squeak of pain, but Borussa didn’t know what happened. “Perhaps I should kill you all, and your dead bodies will serve me better!”

“No master! I go!”

Borussa heard tiny feet scuttle off. A few minutes later, the rat came his way, walking on its hind legs, clinking in armor and sniffing about. It was tempting to just grab the wretched thing, but Borussa stayed still, and the rat passed by and continued until it was out of earshot.

Borussa waited a few minutes more, and then slowly crept back the way he came, retracing the patch of the rat droppings until he reached the rotten log. The porcupine was gone. Here Boroussa snuffled for grubs, and after eating a bit, he made his way back to the pasture land and then to the barn. Tana was there pouring buckets of water in the pig trough.

“Where’d you go, Borussa? You almost missed supper!”

“I was walking about.”

The little bald girl put down her bucket and skipped over him. She almost hugged him, but he pulled back abruptly. “I need a bath. I got into some poison ivy.” It was hard to disguise his being disturbed at the events of the evening. The little girl sensed something was wrong, but figured it was just the poison ivy.

“I’ll race you to the pond!” she shouted gleefully, and began to tear off away from the barn toward the pond. Borussa followed, and let her win the race. He splashed into the cool water and rolled about in the shallows, letting the mud cleanse his skin. He then waded into the deeper parts. Tana took off her dress and jumped in and swam to her friend. Together they played in the pond in the light of the two moons. Human and beast alike let go of the day’s stresses and lived in the moment.

Race-as-Class in Fantasy RPGs

Race-as-class is an old school concept from the early days of the hobby. Creatures such as Elves, Dwarfs and Halflings were assumed to be very similar in inclination and abilities due to being somewhat insular, distinct minorities in a world populated by humans. Also, these fictional creatures from folklore represent archetypes of the human psyche, natural or paranormal phenomena, and as such lend themselves to simple stereotypes (though there was nothing to stop the player from role playing them in a non-traditional way). They were mostly variations on the Fighter class, but with some added abilities.

For example,In Basic D&D, the Dwarf advances as a fighter, but with superior saving throws and the ability to analyze stone construction and find traps. They were limited in how many levels they could advance, and as such a human Fighter would eventually overtake a Dwarf’s advantages, provided the human survived long enough to do it.

The Halflings were limited fighters. While having superior saving throws and advantages on missile attacks, as well as the ability to hide in wilderness, they also could not advance to a high level, and their weapon choices were severely restricted. They are very fun to role play due to the childlike nature of Halflings in J.R.R. Tolkien’s books and their love of food, drink, and pipes of tobacco.

Th Elf was essentially the hybrid fighter and wizard. In the early era of D&D, the Elf would either advance as a warrior or a wizard, depending on what he chose to do that day. Later versions allowed them to do both simultaneously, but were required to earn a lot more experience to go up levels.

There was nothing to stop folks from combining race and class, and many folks did this before official material sanctioned it. Those who read The Hobbit and The Lord Of the Rings wanted to play halfling thieves, and creative referees bolted on the thief class rules (with their unwieldy d100 ability tables) or created their own versions.

Gaming and cultural sensibilities have changed over time, and modern editions of the classic role playing game allow any race-class combination, such as Orc Clerics, Elf Thieves, Halfling Wizards, and so on. Life goes on and tastes evolve, but I still enjoy creating character classes and as such got to thinking: most race-as-class variants, including my own Cat Men, Rhino Men, and goblins, were variations of the fighter. What if someone made a race-as-class variation on the Magician for Pits & Perils?

How does one offer something unique to the Magician class of P&P to make it a viable alternative to the Magician?

For simplicity’s sake, if I wanted to play a non-human Magician, a referee could just make a ruling on it any we could move on without changing anything. There’s nothing to say I can’t play a dwarf magician. Perhaps he was just more bookish than the typical dwarf, and spent more time studying magic and lore and less studying stonework and mechanical devices. Please do not construe the following as a suggestion that you cannot do these things. For those who like tweaks and variants on existing classes, the following is what I have to offer.

What I have is a different kind of magician who has one ongoing spell effect, guaranteed high Intelligence, and an ability to fly. The downside is they take longer to advance and have fewer hitpoints than Human Magicians.

Vulture Men, version 0.1

An ancient hybrid of Vultures and Elves, Vulture men are long lived hybrids with a penchant for scholarship and magic. They were created to be the lore masters that span generations, but also found their own niche as seers, magicians and adventurers. They never forget a verse, and as such make excellent instructors in colleges and schools of all kinds. Being awkward hybrids of humanoid and bird, they are unusually frail compared to humans and elves. They make up for it with their natural talent for magic.

As Class

Vultures have Intelligence, plus anything else they roll. They cannot take Strength or Constitution, but can choose from the other four stats if these are rolled.

They wield only staffs or daggers as weapons, and lack the physique to wear armor.

Vultures have an automatic, ongoing spell of URGE, that allows them to manifest minor cantrip effects without spending Spell Points.

Vultures, if not burdened, can fly for 1d6 rounds, and may slow falls if they have the chance to extend their wings.

Vulture Advancement Table

XP     Level     HP      SP      Title

0           1         4          2      Scribe

300       2        +1        3

600       3        +2       4     Scholar

1,200    4       +3       5

2,400    5      +4        6     Investigator

5,000    6     +5        7

10,000  7    +6        8              Proctor

20,000  8    +7        9

40,000  9   + 8      10          Lore Master

80,000 10    +9     11

Vulture Background 2d6

2 – Trivia Master, re-roll one failed Intelligence save per day

3 – Spiritualist, extensive knowledge of supernatural entities

4 – Anthropologist, extensive knowledge of sentient humanoid species

5 – Zoologist, extensive knowledge of non-sentient species

6 – Astrologer, can navigate as a sailor per the standard P&P rules

7 – Scholar, Broad baseline knowledge on all subjects

8 – Architect, evaluate and design structures of all kinds as a Dwarf per the standard P&P rules

9 – Alchemist, identify potions, make all potions at half cost

10 – Antiquarian, extensive knowledge of magical artifacts

11 – Engineer, design and build complex mechanical devices

12 – Warrior, gain a combat maneuver at level one, and every third level thereafter

At ninth level, a Vulture Man can found a College. It will attract ten vulture men, and twenty humans. Of the vulture men, there will be two scribes, seven scholars, and one magician. Of humans, there will be five footmen, five bowmen, and ten laborers. The college can generated 200gp per month in profits from educating humans enrolled in the school.

HIRELINGS & HENCHMEN

Type       Armor      HP     Weapon                  Notes                Cost

scribe       none         4        dagger     record keeper                   5

scholar     none         6        dagger    specializes in subject      10

magician  none        6        dagger           third level                   15

footman   light         3         spear                 human                      5

bowman  none        3          bow                  human                      5

laborer     none        3   improvised           menial tasks             3

Rules D&D 3.5

Norbert Matausch inspired me to share about the current game of D&D I’m involved in. I was initially apprehensive about joining a game of 3.5, as 3.x is a terribly crunchy game. Look at this character sheet on the Wizard’s of the Coast archive page:

http://archive.wizards.com/dnd/files/PHB_v35_charsheet.zip

Lucky for me, my DM doesn’t care about much of it. We have our stats, we have our skills, but we haven’t had to deal with Touch AC, flatfooted AC, or AC at all. So far we have not used any armor rules. Almost any opposed test (including combat) are opposed D20 rolls. If you can make an argument why your stats or skills apply to the defense, the DM will let you add it. After a hit, roll damage. Most weapons crit on the highest number of the damage die, and the DM will add a special effect. So heavy weapons with a D8, D10 or D12 are great for quickly wearing down a foe, but the halfling with the D4 dagger will crit 25% of the time and cause some kind of meaningful injury informed by the fiction.

Unopposed checks are usually a D20 roll against a 10. If the task is especially difficult, it’s a 15. If it’s a bit easier, it’s a 5. Sometimes it’s a question of just not rolling a natural one, and in such circumstances, it’s funny how many of us roll Nat 1’s on group stealth rolls.

The magic rules are improvised. My Bard has his cantrips he started with, and the wizard and druid have accumulated more spells over time. A Gandalf-esque figure taught the bard a sleep spell he can cast by playing a lullaby on his bagpipes. Most of our party’s problems are solved through clever problem solving, negotiation, and some combat. Seldom does anyone actually use magic. And you know what? It’s fine. The best part is most of the players had never played D&D before, so they don’t know what they’re missing. Ignorance is bliss.

This leads me to my main point: You don’t need complex rules to have a good time playing a fantasy role playing game.  That is all.

However you game, I hope you enjoy it.

Another Story Fragment From First Draft 4/6/2019

I learned while writing today that it’s important to keep notes of the names of things and places.  In this story so far, I haved called the mysterious swamp the witch dwells in “The Misty Swamp” and “The Foggy Swamp.”  In later revisions, I must keep my terminology consistent so as to avoid confusing the reader.

So here’s a snip of Artur and the two Rhino Men meeting the Black Frog men: actual anthropomorphic frogs as opposed to humans of the Frog Clan….

 

Suddenly there was a great splash, and then several more splashes off in the distance.  The three warriors immediately readied their weapons. Artur pulled his bow and peered into the mist.

“Knee-deep!” croaked a throaty voice. To the right and the left and ahead came other similar voices. “Knee-deep!” There was only the faint sound of the churning of water, like small boats. And then the three saw what was coming. Frog heads in the mist, poking out of the water. First just as silhouettes, and then they were black frog heads with green spots, and each had a spear.

The two rhinos leaped from the boulder, trying to find cover behind nearby trees, but Artur still stood, his bow pulled to his cheek, watching the approaching frogs. “Hoy there! Who goes there? We’re searching for the witch! Steady now, or I’ll shoot!”

The frog heads slowed their approach, but did not stop, and slowly ascended as the water became more shallow, until there were six frog men standing knee deep in the pond. They were naked, and not ashamed. From behind a mossy tree Oak called, “Our friend isn’t alone. I can skewer any of you with a javelin.”

And from the other side, flanking Artur, Acorn called out. “And I as well.”

Here the six frogs looked up at Artur atop the boulder, and to the left and the right, having their spears ready. Then one croaked, “They’re not the Greens!”

“Aye they’re not,” said another. “And I don’t fancy eating this one with the bow.”

Artur slowly lowered his bow, and his two companions peeked out from their hiding places. “I’m flattered,” said Artur, “that you don’t want to eat me. I’m Artur, of the Pig clan, of Zootaloot Farm. And I don’t want to eat you either. Let’s say we put our weapons away.”

The frogs hesitated, their spears gripped tightly in their webbed hands, but seemed to stand at ease. One of them, seemingly the leader, handed his spear to a companion, and bowed. “I’m Snark, of the Blacks.”

At this, Artur slung his bow, and returned the bow. “I’m honored, Snark. We did not mean to tresspass, if this is your land. We seek a witch. Perhaps you know her?”

“The Witch,” croaked Snark. “Oh yes.” And the two spoke, and all the while the armed frogs and the rhinos eyed each other nervously. After a few minutes, it was a agreed they would share a meal, and before long the frogs, and the rhinos, and the human sat on the boulder and on raised patches on the edge of the pond. The frogs speared small fish, which they ate raw. Artur politely ate a piece of slimy mud fish, but preferred his own rations. He had eaten with many creatures over the years, and had developed the stomach for foul foods, though he did not like them. The Rhinos ate lichen and some of their own provisions, as well as some puffball mushrooms offered by the frogs, who in turn tried cabbage, but found it not to their liking.

It turned out that there were two tribes of frog men in this country, and they feuded over territory. The Greens, preferring the drier land, and the Blacks, who preferred the ponds and swamps. Both fished and hunted the lands. At some time in the past, a Black killed a Green, or maybe it was a Green killed a Black, and the two tribes feuded ever since. Upon hearing this, Artur remembered tales of the Elvish Empire, where they tried to force all the tribes of men together under one system of law and custom, and they ended up fighting one another and resenting the elves. That resentment leading to the final defeat of the elves and the return of the men to their ancestral homelands. But where would frog men go, if they were to resettle? They both claimed the land here.

“One challenge at a time,” Artur thought to himself. “Find the witch. Find the cure for the Rhinos. The tribes of frog men would still be here.”

The witch was only a few miles distant, but for flat footed creatures like Rhinos and humans, it would be a difficult journey. It was agreed that one of the frogs, Slip, a juvenile with a bright orange eyes and a small dagger tied at his hip, would escort them to the witch, assuming her hut hadn’t moved. It was in a peaty mire of thick black gum trees, but never seemed to be in the same place on any given day, or so he said.

So the agile frog man leaped from stone to stone, or swam, or clung to trees with sticky finger and foot pads, while Artur and the Rhinos carefully and slowly picked their way through the bogs and ponds of the Misty Swamp. Slip quickly became impatient, sometimes hissing to the three warriors “Come now. How do you survive where you come from? Hop, stick, jump, swim!”

After about a couple anxious hours of picking careful footholds and enduring Slip’s incessant taunting, Oak misstepped and plopped waist deep in murky pond water. “On the open grasslands of my native country, I could outdistance a horse and certainly a frog! Come to my country, and I’ll teach you the meaning of speed!”

The peculiar creature, clinging to a birch tree, peered at the struggling Rhino as he sloshed his way to a drier tussock of mud and grass. He snickered at the Rhino’s comment. The Rhinoman pulled a fat leech off his arm, and angrily flung it as hard as he could at the Frog, whose tongue flicked out and snagged it in midair. “Thank you, good Rhino!” He then pulled a fat wood boring grub from the tree he clung too, sniffed it, and returned the shot. The gooey thing bounced off the Rhino’s nose, and disappeared into the mud. “Use your tongue!” he said.

Frustrated, Oak shook a fist at the frog in the tree. “If you don’t stop using yours, I’ll pit it to that tree with a javelin!”

Acorn and Artur, amused by the exchanged, broke out laughing. Confused, and momentarily insulted, Oak whirled about, slipped on some mud, and fell back into the pond. This was too much for Artur and Acorn, who laughed even harder, and ease the grief of their friend, they jumped into the pond as well, deliberately splashing Oak, who now began to laugh as well. The frog leaped from his tree, grabbed another branch and swung himself into the pond as well. The four played and splashed one another for a while. Slip dived under the water, popping up beside Acorn, or Oak, or Artur, and sprayed them with mouthfuls of water. They in turn tried to lay hold of him, but he was too fast and too slippery.

After a brief while, Oak figured out the Frog’s pattern, and grabbed him by the leg, lifing him upside down. Triumphant, he bellowed a victory cry and hurled the frog sprawling some five yards where he belly flopped with a great splash. The creature emerged, sputtering and giggling, and raised his webbed hands in mock surrender. “Alright, alright!”

“Damn right, alright!” said Oak, hand on his hips, feeling quite proud of himself.

“No dry land creature, not the Hunter, not the Witch, has ever caught Slip. But the great warrior Oak did! I will call you Sticky, because you caught Slip!” The frog man smiled, but having never seen a frogman smile, the Rhinos and Artur could not tell it was. Oak frowned at this, even as Slip smiled, and Acorn said to his father, “I think you won him over, Father.”

The frog swam closer, and stood, offering his right webbed hand, palm out. “Slip is honored to call Oak a fellow Black Frog.” Oak hesitated, and then held his massive three fingered hand to the suction cupped, four fingered hand of the smaller Frog. His heart tingled at this gesture, for while humans, and dwarfs, and elves tended to show a kind and sincere deference to the Rhinos, most of the hybrid species expected others to prove themselves with some great feat. And here this creature who mocked and taunted him, and them played with him, was satisfied to call him a brother. “I would be honored to be considered a Black Frog. Thank you friend.”

Artur stood, dripping, watching this exchange, and his heart tingled as well, because the two creatures were part beast, he could feel what they felt, at least the part of their animal nature. It always touched him when creatures unlikely to be friends would become friends. He had seen a rooster and a hound sleep together, and a rabbit who would ride on a horse all day. He wondered if it was common humanity the two creatures shared was the bond that grew here, or something special to beasts that only friends could appreciate. Perhaps it was a bit of both.

Acorn was not surprised that his father had made another friend. Oak was a legendary figure among his people, and among humans, dwarfs and elves. He aspired to be as brave, and as kind, and as skilled a warrior as his father, but not quite as quick to get angry. He had his father’s temper, but aspired to his mother’s more mellow temperament without losing his edge as a warrior.

After this touching moment the four continued their journey through the bogs and mists, though at a slower pace, and Slip was patient with them. The heat of the day slowly came in and the fog dissipated slightly, but not much. The sunlight filtered through the treetops and the fog to make a bright haze that disoriented Artur and the Rhinos. To Slip’s delight but the others’ dismay, there were biting insects, but also moths, dragonflies, stoneflies, wood roaches, and stink bugs. For the first time since entering the swamp, Artur saw a mammalian creature. It resembled a groundhog with thick claws, oily fur and a long snout. Thre creature clung to a birch tree, sniffling about and nibbling small insects. It made a wheezy sound as it sniffed about. Artur could sense it was content, and didn’t pay much mind to the party. In fact it felt quite confident nothing would molest it.

“I’ve never seen such a creature. What is it, Slip?” asked Artur.

“We call it a Keckle. It’s tasty, but its piss causes a nasty rash. Not worth hunting, I say. Too much work to clean it.”

Artur marveled at the creature, now understanding its sense of security. “Good luck to it,” he said, and began to walk on. The four continued through the marsh. The beast went on nibbling at beetles and ants, thinking to itself “What an odd group. A frog, a man and two things I’ve never seen. Oh boy, a stink bug!” As it went to crunch down on it’s next meal, a great spear skewered it to the tree, and it knew nothing more.

Silently, a heavily tattooed, bare footed, hairy man in a loin cloth and a wide brimmed helm tiptoed from the thick lichen where he had hidden to the skewered beast and yanked out his spear. He leaned his spear against the tree, drew a knife and a bit of string, and quickly but carefully dressed the carcass. He tied off the bladder, saving its toxic urine, and stashed in a hip pouch. The carcass he placed in a sack. He would not eat frog today, nor man flesh, but the Keckle would do, assuming he had name for for all of the above. He had not spoken in thirty years, and had forgotten the words.

A snip of the first draft: Trouble with Rats

I’m posting this snip from my first draft in order to build my courage and confidence in writing first drafts and not being ashamed of their condition.

In this bit, Artur the bald celtic warrior who can talk to animals has left the farm with two Rhino Men in search of a cure to a wasting disease afflicting the Rhino villages.  He leaves behind his wife Diana and his children.  It is here I begin to flesh out the character Diana and how she fits in (and doesn’t fit in) to the story.    I hint at the age of seventeen beng the Age of the First Adventure, but presently do not describe it.  Also, I introduce the major villains of the novel…

Diana stood with her daughter Tana and watched her husband and the two Rhinos for about half an hour until they were out of sight over edge of a distant hill. She always hated when her husband left for adventures. Despite his being a great warrior, there was always a chance he would not return. Among all the tribes of men, adventuring took its toll. It was not uncommon to have six or seven children, but losing two or three to the hazards of adventure was also not uncommon.

The hazards of adventure. Diana’s hand went to her belly, remembering the orc arrow from so many years ago. Tana was only an infant then. A precious little bald butterball. Now the precious six year old girl next to her began to fidget, and Diana ran her fingertips over the girl’s smooth head. “This is my only child,” she thought to herself.

The sons of Artur had joyfully embraced Diana as a second mother after she married Artur. Anyone who could wield the Frostbane, they said, was worthy of being part of the family. But they were teens then, and now all had established their own farms and trades, except the youngest, Troy, who would be seventeen this year. The age of the First Adventure. She turned away from observing the unoccupied horizon to look for Troy, who had set to work at hitching a cart to a donkey. The bald young man talked frankly with the beast, and the creature seemed to enjoy the companionship.

All Artur’s children had the Gift, and as such Diana always felt a little like an outsider. The animals were friendly enough when treated properly, but this psychic intimacy shared be her adopted family and her real daughter was something she would never understand.

Abruptly, Diana realized she was spiraling down a sad road, and shook herself out of it. She had a family who loved her, and despite being from the Frog clan, she was respected among the Pigs as a warrior and The Mrs Zootaloot of Zootaloot Farm. Wielder of the Frostbane. Singer to the Bees.

She joined her son and daughter on their trip out to the garden. The beans were fat and needed to be picked. The three sang happily as they worked, plucking green, yellow and purple pods and plunking them in the baskets. Sometimes the Donkey would hee-haw along with Tana and Troy, or grunt to the rhythm of the song. After filling their baskets and loading them in the cart, the three headed back to the farmhouse to process them.

They spent the better part of the afternoon laying out the pods so they could dry properly, nibbling fresh beans as they worked. They rotated the previous crop of dried beans from the racks worked at shelling the pods. Like much farm work it was tedious, but not difficult.

They finished their work before sunset, and Diana sheathed Frostbane and took her daughter for a walk in nearby woodlot. Cicadas were buzzing in the evening heat, and dragonflies flitted about catching insects. Some birds were singing their bedtime songs. Tana understood them to be tales of the events of the day:

Worms at sunrise

Bugs at noon

Berries at supper

oh what a boon!

A man on an adventure

three more in the field

rats in the treetops

oh what a deal!

Rats?

Yes I see them there!

Carrying spears and swords

taking babies

Where?

There!

And there was a ruckus halfway up a pine tree. A blue jay screeching and cawing. Tana pulled her mother’s tunic, “Mama there’s trouble up there. Rats stealing babies!”

“Don’t be silly.”

“I’m not. Look Mama!”

And Diana stepped back until she could see what her daughter pointed at. And indeed there were five or six rats in the tree, a most bizarre sight in itself, but they had little weapons and were stabbing at the blue jays who flitted about trying to protect their babies. This was unnatural, even for a world where bizarre creatures and events were known to occur.

“Tana get your brother,” Diana said, and drew her sword. She felt silly, for how could she climb thirty feet up a tree and hack at bizarre rats with a sword? She drew her sword by instinct. It was a useful instinct on most occasions, but not this one.

Tana took off across the pasture land shouting for her brother, leaving her mother watching the rats. A bluejay fell, bouncing off branches and thumping dead at Diana’s feet, with little tiny arrows sticking in its belly. She didn’t know what else to do, so she began shouting.

“Hey there! Rats! You stop that! Ho! Hey!”

Just then a tiny needle of an arrow pricked her shoulder. The rats above squeaked and chattered in their own language. “Get lost bitch!”

More tiny arrows zinged down around Diana, and she retreated behind a pine.

The volley of arrows stopped, and before long the rats descended the tree carrying dead birds. Diana could see now that there were more than five or six, but rather a few dozen. Some had tiny metal helms, and little swords, and tiny bows with tinier arrows. By this time Troy was on his way at a sprint carrying his sister and four of the farm cats trotted at his side. Now the rats were forming a marching column, carrying their prizes, and not having a shield Diana could only watch for fear of their arrows. She took the frostbane and held it to a thick fallen branch until it began to smolder and then it lit afire, and she hurled it into the column or rats, crushing one and scattering the rest.

Startled, the column began to spread and draw their little bows. They showed a discipline only seen in trained warriors. Now Troy had arrived with the cats and his sister, and the rats all cried out “Cats! Cats! Shoot them!” A dozen little darts flitted at the cats, who were not accustomed to rats being able to fight back. After taking many hits that felt like terrible bee stings, they bolted away.

The rats hefted their prizes and fled into the woods. Being shocked seeing such a thing, there was nothing the three people or the four wounded, limping cats could do. Rats weren’t supposed to make weapons, or shoot arrows, or marching in columns, or hunt birds in the trees.

When the rats had gone, the three humans carried their wounded cats back to the farmhouse, and set to tending their wounds. It was difficult to extract the arrows, which were barbed. Examining the arrows, Tana could see they were porcupine quills, and this gave them all the chills. How did rats get porcupine quills? How did they make little helmets and spears and swords? And why had they never heard of these rats before today?

World Creation is fun, but don’t get bogged down

It’s not uncommon folks to get excited about building a world.  The book I’m working on is a dualistic project: to tell a story and to create a game world in which to play fantasy role playing games.   Telling the story doesn’t require an extensive world, unless it’s pertinent to the story.  For example, a troll under the bridge is just a troll for the purposes of a story.  Fantasy gaming settings demand a greater degree of detail in the world setting.  You want to flesh out what part of the world trolls can be found, what kind of trolls they are (cave trolls, hill trolls, bridge trolls, etc).

So if and when a troll is introduced into my story, the important thing is to just write the story, but later I’ll need to go back and flesh out where the trolls can be found and how they behave.  Perhaps by inserting rumors into tavern conversation: a gang of hill trolls has come down from the mountains to steal sheep, a mean but not necessarily violent troll exacts heavy tolls for crossing his bridge, and so on.

The thing I’ve bogged my mind down on for a few days was the cultural folkways of the different tribes of humans.  It then occurred to me that those particulars could be filled in later when I revise the story.  When I realized this, my writing became more productive.

That’s all for today.  I wish you well in your writing and your gaming.

 

The Real World

I haven’t posted in months.  This is in part to my having cancelled my internet service back in May of 2018, but also due to the fact that I find the world of the internet less compelling.  I think disconnecting my service has helped push this along.  I only log in using public wifi and as such I have to prioritize my internet usage.

I used to spend hours reading about people’s fantasy RPG adventures, their solo plays, their group plays, their variant rules, and now I find I really have no need for it.

I currently play in a weekly game of D&D (a heavily modified version of 3.5).  It scratches my gaming itch, even if it’s not the ideal setting or game system.  I get to play with my neighbors.  I get to know them better, and form some real life relationships.  I’d prefer to play with my favorite games: Pits & Perils or Blood of Pangea.   I’d prefer to play with folks who shared my preferred fantasy settings and play style, but I’m not complaining.  I’ve learned to take less than perfect situations and make the best of them, and I have a good time playing with these people.   My current life situation is such that I probably won’t get to play my favorite games and settings those with anyone for the foreseeable future.

I have, however, been reading more, watching my small collection of movies, and spending more time with friends (playing D&D and otherwise).  I’ve tried to spend more quality time with my cats, and letting them play outside as much as I can without them getting in trouble.  I often sit in my recliner and listen to the radio, and three of the four will climb on my lap or my shoulder to cuddle.  That is time well spent.

I also have finally broken my writer’s block, and gotten back to working on my book.  I have figured out that first drafts are shitty.  They’re always shitty, and there’s no way to get around it.  I’ve written more in the last two weeks (at two hours per session) than I have in the last year.  I stopped being afraid of my shitty first drafts.  What matters is that I get the story down, and then in the subsequent drafts I can compost this shit into rich fertilizer, eventually resulting in the blossoming of my finished story.

I also figured out how to name the characters from the various tribes.  I’m just going to use languages of the various ethnic groups that inspired them.  The Pigs will use Celtic and Anglo names, the Frogs will use French names, the Cows will use Swahili (though my friend who inspired the Cow tribe speaks Ngala — I think finding Swahili names will be easier) and so on.

It doesn’t even matter that much if I use the right languages names, it’s just a rule of thumb that helps keep the characters straight in my head.  If somehow the Mongolian inspired Eagle tribe has a leader named Fred because it just seems to fit, then there’s no harm in that.

And so I bring this meandering post to a close.  I don’t know when I’ll be on to post something else.  To those of you who write, keep on writing.  To those of you who game, keep on playing.  To those of you who love your animals, cherish the time you have with them.

 

 

 

Rough Draft of Plush Friends Adventure

This is what I have so far for my non-infringing adventure with living plush animal friends.  I’m making this adventure for Blood of Pangea, which is a low magic, sword & sorcery genre RPG.  Characters are defined by their narrative, and their one stat is “Might” which pretty much translates to Hit Points and Luck, which is spent to avoid injuries or boost die rolls.

Plush Friends

A rough draft of an adventure for Blood of Pangea

The Place:

The 41 Hectare Forest

Plot:

There was to be a celebration of Biron’s birthday, and the party is attacked by Rat Warriors. The Mad Hatter and Biron are captured. Zuff’s tail is stolen. Alice survives only wounded, and is trying to stitch up the wounded friends while Delbert solicits help from the Heroes.

The prisoners were carried off into the Unhappy Forest some three days prior, to the Swamp of Stink. Biron is being held prisoner, forced to animate large dolls shaped like Goblins and Ogres. The Mad Hatter is held prisoner with other tailors and seamstresses and forced to make dolls.

The leader of the Rat Warriors is a Elf Sorcerer with ambition to conquer the 41 Hectare Forest and all the surrounding lands. He intends to curse Zuff’s tail to turn him evil, hoping the evil will create turmoil among all the animals that live in the 41 Hectare Forest.

Cast of Characters

Biron K Frist, Esq. Son of Lord Frist, an English Duke and renown entomologist. He shares his fathers enthusiasm for insects but not for politics, and fled through the Looking Glass to this world, taking only his plush friends. Little did he know that in this world, his imagination can animate dolls. 3 Might. Non-combatant.

Alice, who once fell down a hole to Wonderland, and walked through the Looking Glass to the same universe, decided she too would remain, and met the charming young Biron through the Hatter. 3 Might.

The Mad Hatter. An insane hat maker and friend of Alice. 3 Might

Zuff, the sad yellow dog who lost his tail, 2 might
Lars, the hyper, silly monkey, 3 might

Winkle, the hedgehog scholar, 2 might

Plumpy, the fat pig who loves mushrooms, 2 might

Delbert, the card playing bat, 2 might, can fly, echo-locate

If slain, a bereaved Biron can reanimate a plush friend.

Giant Spiders: 2 might, on a hit save or suffer paralysis / Queen Spider 3 might

Rat Warriors: 1 or 2 Might, fights with spears, nets and crude bows

Rat Leader: 3 Might, armor and shield, will spend Might to score a hit

Swamp Zombies: 1 or 2 Might, On a hit save or get pulled under the water

Goblin Doll: 1 or 2 Might, spear

Ogre Doll: 6 Might, +1 to hit/+1 damage, club, thrown rock, Move 30

Elf Sorcerer: 6 Might, high magic spells that can deal direct damage

Scene 1: The Hatter’s House

In a large forest clearing by the road is the hatter’s house. There are two burned picnic tables, smashed plates, bowls, pots. Food debris strewn about, now covered with visiting flies. The house itself was only lightly scorched with fire, and is otherwise intact.

Plumpy the pig sits in the sunlight, nibbling on a mushroom. The rest are milling about, with crude stitches to their wounds. All living characters are forlorn.

To the south is the 41 Hectare Forest. To the east are the Cheerful Hills. To the north is the Unhappy Forest.

Upon questioning the characters the PCs can learn:

The rats took Biron and the Mad Hatter.

Delbert thinks they were heading for the Stinky Swamp, because there’s a dilapidated fortress on the island there. It’s about a day’s journey.

Alice set off with Winkle after them this morning, not willing to wait for help.

The animals aren’t built for fighting. However, if any are persuaded to come with the PCs, they’ll arm themselves with simple weapons like sticks or a pocket full of rocks (which do a maximum of one damage).

Assuming the party agrees to the mission, proceed to scene 2.

Scene 2: The Unhappy Forest

This forest has an unnatural darkness. The trees all seem to frown. The sunlight is blocked by a dark haze. The air is stale. Shadowy shapes seem to peer at the party from a distance, and then fade away. And there’s a plague of biting mosquitoes. If Delbert is present, he will fly about and eat the mosquitoes.

The trail bends downward into a little valley. There are assorted mushrooms growing here. Plumpy will eagerly go for the mushrooms. This is a trap. Observant characters may notice large bundles hanging from the trees before the Spiders attack. Otherwise Spiders descend on silk from all around them and get the first move. There is one spider per party member, plus the queen. If half of the spiders are slain, the spiders will retreat.

If the PCs cut down the bundles, they will find Alice, drugged and asleep. Winkle, merely bound up and gagged but unharmed by the poison. Some of his fluff spilled out from puncture wounds. There are three other bodies, now just desiccated and corpses and clothes. One is a rat warrior. Searching the bodies will reveal:

-A potion that will heal 1d3+1 might

-A big red balloon and a string, if inflated, this balloon will float as though filled with Helium and can lift one person.

– 20 silver coins

– two random chess pieces that, when invoked, will turn into a human sized version of the real thing. Roll 1d6 for each

1)A pawn will serve as a basic laborer, carries basic camping gear, 1 might

2)A knight will ride on a steed and thump enemies with a great club, 1 might, +1 damage, armor

3)A bishop will cast away the zombies in the Stinky Swamp, 1 might

4)The Rook has a heavy crossbow, +1 to attack and damage. 1 might

5)The queen will nag and belittle the enemy, who must save or be demoralized for a round, 1 might

6)The king will give encouragement, eats sandwiches: +1 to ally attack rolls and ability tests, 1 might

If there are two of any piece, they will be from rival colors and loathe to get along. The chess pieces will interact with each other but will obey the one who invoked them. When slain they return to regular chess piece form, and cannot be summoned for a week.

Scene 3: The Stinky Swamp

A stagnant lake floating with slime, algae, dead logs. The air reeks of decayed vegetation. Some insects buzz about, and there’s even the occasional frog croak. A dilapidated fortress is on the island. The crumbling wall circles the perimeter of the island. A bridge stretches to the west from the island to the mainland. There’s three rowboats docked on the east side. The party can clearly see a tower jutting above the walls. At night there are torches lit around the perimeter, and candle light can be seen in the tower.

The shoreline offers decent cover in the bracken and thorny vegetation. If the PCs make excessive noise, they may attract the attention of the rat warriors on patrol.

Upon arriving at the swamp, the PCs will notice a brigade of what looks like goblins and ogres marches west across the bridge. These are animated dolls, serving the Elf sorcerer.

The party must figure out how to get to the island. From the south shore to the island, the water is only about 12 feet deep. If they swim across, they will be assaulted by Swamp Zombies that grab at them from beneath the water. The party may circle about to use the bridge, or create a boat, or any other solution. There are rat patrols around the perimeter of the island.

Scene 4: The Fortress

The Tower

Floor 1: A hallway leading to stairs up. In the room is Biron, shackled to a wooden chair. There are candles all about, a spinning kaleidescope lit by candles. Biron is drugged here and in his hallucinated state animates the goblin and ogre dolls. There’s usually one guard. There is a trap door. When not animating, Biron is held in a dank cell below the trap door.

Floor 2: Library and alchemy. There’s an alchemy bench and a pantry of supplies for it. On the bookshelf are assorted tomes of lore, including two books of sorcery.

The Loot

Potion of Shrinking: Become as small as a mouse for 1 hour.

Cake of Growing: Become as large as an Ogre for 1 hour.

Potion of Animation: For ten minutes, the drinker can cause any doll to become alive, reflecting his or her feelings about the doll. Love makes a doll friendly, fear makes it hostile, and so on.

Smoke Marbles: Six marbles that when struck against a hard surface explode into a billowing cloud of smoke.

Tome of Fire: The sorcerer who uses the magic within can manipulate fire: Intensify, stretch, diminish. For example: cause a candle to burn extra quickly, shoot flames from a torch, explode a lit lantern, etc. The user cannot summon fire, but can manipulate existing fire.

Tome of Biting: This book is a trap! When opened, this book will clamp down on the readers hand with sharp teeth, dealing one point of damaging and rendering the hand useless until freed. If carefully pried open, the victim can free his hand without further harm.

Floor 3: The Elf’s Chamber. A nicely furnished chamber with a bed, desk and armoire. The Elf has Zuff’s tail here on the desk, along with assorted candles and ritual paraphernalia. There is a potion of animation on the desk and a book with a ritual to transfuse Biron’s blood into the caster to gain his power to animate dolls.

There is a bright red carpet spread out by the door. At the Elf’s command, it will pull out from beneath whoever is standing on it.

The Elf can command fire, and will hurl lit candles at the PCs and explode them. He can call a large stuffed raven that will come to his window, allowing him to escape. If reduced to half his Might, the elf will try to escape. If this is a one-shot adventure, he will forget Zuff’s tail. Else he will grab it and try to escape, as a plot hook for later adventures.

An ogre doll is here as bodyguard to the Elf.

The Shed – A large double-doored shed with a padlock. The newly animated goblins and ogres are stored here. The are obedient to the Elf or his Rat Warriors, but otherwise have personalities akin to real goblins and ogres.

The Barn – The Rats make their home here in nests of straw. Anyone searching the nests must save or catch biting fleas that put them at -1 until the fleas are removed. They can swim in the swamp, jump through a smoky fire, sorcery, or any other creative solution. In each of the nine nests are 1d6 silver coins, some bones, bits of bread or cheese, and other refuse of rat creatures. The weapons rack on the wall has three spears and a shield.

The Sewing Shop – Eight seamstresses and tailors are shackled here, forced to sew goblin and ogre dolls. There are great bails of thread, burlap, buttons and polished glass for eyes. The Mad Hatter is here. The slaves are allowed only four to six hours to sleep. There’s a 4 in 6 chance of at least one guard. The slaves have been beaten and poorly fed, and lack the collective will to rebel.

The Blacksmith – A human smith is held here, forced to make weapons and tools. His daughter is one of the seamstresses, and dares not misbehave lest she be slain. If she is freed, he will break his own chain and help the PCs. There are assorted tools and weapons here. Spear, dagger, ax, steel crossbow with 6 bolts, assorted nails, hooks, iron pot, horse shoes.

The Latrine – A house over a pit. It stinks.

This adventure needs more puzzles or traps. I like combat scenes, but there needs to be ways to win without a straight-up fight. Perhaps the heroes can lead the swamp zombies into the town and let the rats fight it out, and they can rescue Biron without risking their own lives.