Friday, February 25, 2011

Intriguing Advice

From following D&D on Facebook.

. . . As soon as I speak the words "Previously in Iomandra," a hush falls over the gaming table. The off-topic conversations end abruptly, and the players become all ears. This happens every time, without fail.

After speaking the words, I begin stringing together my bullet points into a rough narrative. The whole recap usually takes about a minute. I don't worry about adding detail because I trust that the players' memories will begin filling in the gaps automatically. The recap simply sparks their memories and puts the players in the right frame of mind to start the session. . . .

The Dungeon Master Experience

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Grimslade, Vermin-Hunter

His earliest memories were of watching the vermin.  The rats, with their opportunistic ability to survive, to make almost anything into food or shelter.  The cats, with their propensity for climbing and stealth, and their solitary, thieving ways.  The dogs, with their gangs and their territorial hierarchies.  He wasn’t one of them, but he became of them.  They were his unacknowledged teachers and competition.

There were humans, too, though he had none of his own.  They were his acknowledged competition, although none he remembered were his teachers.  Humans meant violence, confinement, and pursuit.  They built the shelters he hid in and made the food he stole, but none offered it freely.  He knew other humans his age who were given to freely when they begged on the streets, but investigation revealed they always had adult masters who were worse than the elements or starvation.  They offered to make him one of them, but the price was too high.

Instead, he lived on the fringes of society, learning what he could through careful observation and circumspect, vigilant interactions.  Parents must have created him and someone must have nursed him out of infancy and early childhood, but those memories were lost to him.  All he knew were back alleys, rooftops, sewers, and the hidden sides of the city.  Of course, he used the streets and markets, learned how crowds could provide better concealment than isolation at times, and explored the urban landscape widely, but anonymity and absolute lack of attachment to people were his strategies for safety.

Over time, he made acquaintances—a network, even—and learned to operate through give and take for mutual gain.  He never left himself vulnerable if he could help it, but he realized he needed things only willing others could provide.  Information, warnings, education.  If he was to prey on human society, he needed to know how it functioned; how to communicate, what behaviors to expect, what patterns to predict, how to spot trouble.  Through the years, he learned reading, psychology, group interactions, commerce, and more.

He learned about organizations, too.  There were the official ones like the city guard and military that should be avoided at all costs, bribed in a pinch.  Churches, too, with dangerous generosity that might be carefully manipulated.  The wizards had their clubs devoted to magic, as did most other professions.  And there were unofficial ones like the beggars and thieves guilds, who viewed him as an adversarial maverick.

As it’s much harder for adults to remain inconspicuously invisible than children, it eventually became too dangerous for him to remain the perpetual outsider.  He decided he needed an official profession to give cover to his covert activities.  That’s where his early mentors became once again useful.  He had not only learned all their tricks through careful study, he had become intimately familiar with their ways and habits.  With his adult size and resources, he knew how to best them.  He became a vermin hunter.

Officially, anyway: Grimslade, official vermin hunter, unofficial rogue-of-all-trades, master isolationist and individualist, urban ruffian, social gruffian.

Monday, February 14, 2011

The Adventures of Farland Dane, ... So Far

By Lummox:

Farland Dane
Bard of the winding roads
(A gnome’s travels)

                As the sleet beat down on the tarp that covered him atop the carriage, Farland picked up his quill and opened his song book.  It held many songs he had learned throughout his travels, the ones he had not committed entirely to memory that is, but more than that, this tome held his greatest work, the piece that would carry on his tale long after his bones were dust in the wind.  It held “The Dane’s Tale,” the story of his life.
                The D-Tale, as he called it for short, contained not only the stories of his humble beginnings, but also the stories of the songs he had learned and the details behind the great people within them.  Not merely the stories of heroes for sure, but also the rumors and legends that followed such tales.  Like the tale of Mighty Grim Hammersmith, the dwarf lord who, when his people were under attack, came to their rescue with an army of spirits that he held in his pocket.  But it also told of the dark deal he had made with a demon to control such a power, and how in the end, he had been eaten piece by piece by that same ghostly swarm, which was then consumed by the demon who then vanished into the depths of the Grim Mines, never to be seen again.
                Or the tale of Balden Caperson, the gnomish rogue whose talents at lock-picking won him many treasures and the respect of the group of warriors that he had traveled with.  It also told of how in the end, though they came to respect and trust the wily, little thief, maybe even learned to love him, he snuck off in the night with all of their treasures with a band of thieves he had hired in town, and run off in the night leaving them with only their bed clothes (which was most unfortunate for their elven lady, Macranal the fair, for she wore none).  And how when they gathered in their hidden treasury with the goods, the rest of the thieves turned on him and beat him to death with the treasures he had helped them purloin.  So sad.
                Or his favorite, the tale of the “Conquerors of Tharizdun.”  The group of mythical warriors who fought back the powers of the darkness, though how, no one really knows, as throughout the tale, it seemed that they were no more than bumbling buffoons with the luck of 30 men each, able to survive insurmountable odds, not by talent or skill, but by sheer willpower and good fortune.  Whoever wrote such a tale was either a genius or a madman.  Either way, it was a wonderful tale and made a stirring and comical song that always got high cheers from every town.  I mean, really.  Who would name their child Lummox?  It had to be a work of fiction.
                But he put those tales aside to work on his literal life’s work.  He looked back over the pages of his story and noted some of the lines he was most fond of.  The story of the first time he picked up a toy flute that had been dropped by his older brother and began to play it.  At first it was halting and off key with no melody to speak of, but the sounds spoke to him, so he played on learning the ways of the instrument and soon discovering its mysteries:

And as his fingers danced about
The way that fingers will
He found that others danced along
With feet they could not still
His family laughed and sang
The house was filled with joy
But none were happier of the song
Than their darling little boy

                He remembered the day he had come to his family showing them his new talent.  He remembered how over joyed everyone was to have music in the house.  So his job was to play for them so that they may dance, but to him, it was no job at all.  It was all play and fun and he was happy then.
                He was happy until the day his father took him to town and sat him in the streets and told him to play.  He had done as he was asked, but soon his songs began to falter.  He had thought that his father had brought him out to show the world his skill, but as he played, he saw his father sneaking among the crowd that came to hear his song.  He saw his father’s quick, light fingers pilfering their purses and stealing their goods.
                Without even thinking about it, his songs soon took on a sad note.  A melancholy spread through the crowd, a subtle wariness gripped them.  It was not long after that his father was snatched up by one of the listeners who shouted, “Thief!  Call the guard!”
                They were hauled before a magistrate and his father was charged and sent to serve a month’s sentence in the quarry for his crimes.   Farland was released.  He hurried home and told his mother what happened.  He expected her sympathy, but instead bore her wrath.  The beating was bad enough, but she then did the most horrifying thing he could imagine.  She threw his flute into the cooking fire.  Farland rushed after it and was caught at the last second by his elder brother who heaved him from the room and sat him on their sleeping pallet.
                “Listen,” his brother, Massin, said, “you need to calm yourself.  You have upset mother greatly, and she will be angry for a while, but her fits are like a passing storm.  You must bear it out.  It will pass.”
                Farland understood, and heeded his brother’s advice, but the storm did not pass.  It seemed every time his mother saw him from then on, her anger would rise within her.  He received the least and the worst of the meals.  He was given the hardest and most disgusting of the chores.  He was even in charge of earning some money until his father returned, to support the household, but without his flute, he didn’t know how.  He went to the neighbors to see if he could do chores for money, but many of them had little or no money to give.  He tried carving a new flute, but it came out warped and the notes came out either sharp or flat.  He soon wondered if he would ever play again.
                A month passed and his father returned home.  He would not even look at Farland.  His mother gave him the news that they were going to lose their home if they did not make money soon.  Farland’s father brooded for a moment and then left the house.  Harland was awakened that night by his return and the fight his mother and his father had about the late hour.  Then all at once the fighting stopped and their voices grew hushed.  Farland fell back asleep.
                In the early morning, before the sun had risen, Farland was awakened by the sound of a carriage.  No one traveled by carriage in these parts.  Sometimes by pony but this was a full carriage, human size.  He looked out the window as someone stepped out of the carriage and wrapped on the door of his family’s house.  He soon heard his father’s voice answering the door and speaking to the human in hushed tones.  His father disappeared from the doorway and back into the house.  Farland went back to his pallet and laid down, pretending to be asleep.  He heard the door to his bedroom open and heard his father enter.  He kept his eyes closed and he heard his father whisper in the darkness, “Don’t worry.  This is the right thing to do.  The little troublemaker will learn from this and grow stronger.”
                He listened, wondering what was going on, and then he heard his mother’s voice say, “Who’s worried?  Did you get the gold up front?”
                They continued to whisper and move closer as he wondered what was going on?  He opened his eyes just as his father slipped a burlap bag over him.  His parents began dragging him off and he heard his brother awake and ask what was happening.
                “He’s going to learn responsibility for his actions and a trade that will make this family some money,” his mother said with ice in her voice.  “One day he will learn that his family comes first.”
                “You can’t do this,” Massin screamed.  “He’s only a child!  He’s not even 35 yet!”
                “More time for him to learn then,” his father said in a labored voice.  He could feel the cold morning air through the bag and he began to scream.  He felt someone grab the bag near his head and try to pull him the other direction.  Then there was the sound of a struggle and he was dropped again.  Soon he was lifted bodily off of the ground and tossed onto a hard surface, he assumed the carriage.  He struggled free of the bag as the door was closed on him.  There were no windows and when he tried the door, it was locked tight.  There were raised voices from outside and he cried out for someone to save him, but soon it did not matter.  The cart jerked forward and he was soon traveling, to where he did not know.
                He soon found he had been sold into a traveling circus and quickly learned the lesson that if you did not work, you did not eat.  If you tried to run away, you were caught and severely beaten, if not worse by the men who were known only as “master.”
                Once he learned these things, and accepted them, he found that despite the hard work, it was not a terrible life.  He was soon handed over to the other performers to be trained and they soon became his new family.  They cared for him, tended to his wounds and schooled him in the arts of pleasing an audience.  Soon a year had passed and with his birth day came a very special gift.  The lead musician, Berge, presented him with one of his flutes and a lute.  The joy welled up inside of Farland and tears spilled from his eyes as he gazed at his gifts.

“Well my lad,” the master said
“Let’s hear a song
“And we shall dance
“The evening long”

And play he did
A song of glee
That all danced bright
And merrily.

They danced the night
And into dawn
‘Til camp was packed
And they moved on.

                It was then that Farland learned his true place in the world.  As he learned to play his new instruments, he found in himself a well deep in song and spirit.  He listened well to his masters, he learned from the artists around him, from the people in the towns they visited and from the new life he now held as his own.  And with this new freedom of spirit came the realization that he no longer needed his old family.  He would toss them aside as they had done him.
                His only regret was for his brother, Massin.  One day, he would find his brother and try to free him from the grasp of his parents.  But for now, he would learn and become a great musician.
                Years passed, decades.  Soon he found himself in the upper ranks of the musicians.  The leash that the “masters” had put him on had loosened and, after some time, disappeared entirely.  They came to him and offered him his freedom and gave him the choice of staying with them and entertaining the crowds or of travelling on his own.  With a shake of hands and tearful goodbyes, Farland chose the latter and soon set off to strike his own luck.
                At first there were difficulties, as with any change in life, but soon he found that the people longed for music, they longed for tales of adventure that they would never experience themselves, but could experience vicariously through his song and stories.  Life as a member of a group of musicians was very different from one as a bard, but he was determined to be a success.  And as he traveled he learned new songs, new stories, so many that he could no longer keep them in his head.  So he struck out one day to find a way to store them.  He searched through several shops and merchant stalls until he came upon the book.  It was sitting in the corner on a low shelf in the back of a weapon’s shop, holding up the corner of an old shelf.
                Farland spoke to the shop keep and they worked out a price for the tome and soon it was his.  He had leafed through it and though the first couple of pages had tallies of inventory on it (much of it scratched out and rewritten) the majority of it was empty and he knew it would see him through many years.  And so he dedicated an entire week to putting down to paper the stories and songs he knew and as he traveled he added more and more.
                It was in his 51st year that he decided to begin his life’s tale, and now, six months later, he had finally caught himself up to the present.  He was trying to come up with a line to follow “And now I sit upon this coach, Rain awash my back,” when the cart lurched to a halt.  He had been so wrapped in his memories that he had not realized that they had entered another town.  He put his bookmark in to mark his place, tucked the book away and peeked out from under the tarp.

(To be continued)