No, Really

Sunday, February 21, 2010 - 4:04 PM

Barim had done a fair number of things in his greasy, turbulent life that he regretted. The money was usually the reason, and he was the sort of man who had very expensive habits, so he just kept doing things he didn't want to think about. After a while, it became a kind of repugnant ritual.

Sitting in the dismal environs of Cove, he was twice as uncomfortable as normal. Cove was not a place for the weak; there were always shadows watching and waiting behind the decrepit wood and stone corners of Cove's muddy streets. Barim was not a man to be trifled with, certainly; he started as a paid murderer and later dabbled in sorcery. But desperation can drive someone to do foolish things, and Barim often reminded himself that more people are killed by fools than any other type of person. Caution was his watchword.

However, he was especially nervous at the moment because of the work he was waiting to be paid for. It seemed simple enough, if extremely unpleasant, and he was promised ample payment for it. You have a friend who is a sorcery master, they'd told him. Have the sorceror open you a doorway to the place called Ni'rhus, and there will be someone waiting for you. Use your contacts and skills to take this person into the Sanctum of Voloth Pridefallen, and leave him there. Afterwards, send your men out to start rumors that a Lady Angharad had gone to Hell on a quest.

He knew the Sanctum from his studies on sorcery, so he assumed that this person would be someone very unpopular. The place was crawling with devils. His heart was cold about leaving anyone at the Shrine, but money was money and his stores of kehtallah were running low.
But he got a brief look at the bound and unconscious man, and recognized the noble features immediately. Worse, when he finally got back again, he found out his sorceror friend had vanished without a trace.

They are not paying me enough for this, he thought. If anyone finds out what I did, nothing will save me. And I think someone does know.

His contact sat down. The man was thin and indifferent, with an exceptionally pointed nose that comprised his one and only distinguishing characteristic. “Work is finished?”

“Yes,” said Barim quietly. “Just as you asked.” He narrowed his eyes at the man. “I hope you know how important it is to keep my work a secret.”

“Yes,” said the man without inflection. “We are very much aware.”

Barim felt the fight before it happened. As in so many times before, his blades were out before he consciously understood he was being attacked, and two of his attackers were down. One gasped out life through his ripped throat, the other was dead instantly by a precise blow through the heart. But there were others, pressing too hard for him to try a spell. Quickly, he dodged and spun to gain ground and escape, wounding two more badly but he was astonished at how good they were.

These are far better than veteran soldiers or second-rank assassins, he thought in shock. This must be an expensive ambush.

Even so, he killed another of them with a whistling cut to the inner thigh and a follow-up that split the man's temple. But then a spike of agony drove itself into the back of his head, and he fell, dazed. He struggled to get up again, but then hands were on him, binding and twisting. There were several more blows, and then a voice said, “No, I need him awake.”

Abruptly, he found himself looking at the ice-water gray eyes of a woman with tidy features and a wicked scar running up her neck over her jawline. He had a brief impression of short, glossy black hair and the start of memory that said he'd seen her somewhere before, somewhere important.

“So precious,” said the woman. “We need you some more, Barim, we need you. But not with what you know.”

Something happened to Barim's mind. It folded in on itself, smoldered in spots and quickly grew black like a piece of paper in a fire. When he woke again, he was in a silk and velvet bed at the Chained Nymph inn, and he only remembered a very successful night of gambling and drinking. With all his newfound money, there was no need for a job, which was good because he'd been looking for one for far too long

Sitting up and stretching, it suddenly occurred to him that he'd never been to the great city of Yhelm. He quickly decided to pay it a call after another day in the pleasure city of Arn. Some part of him had this nagging sensation that he'd forgotten something important, but he dismissed it as a result of getting too drunk the night before.


Thursday, February 18, 2010 - 5:51 PM

“I heard a rumor,” said Kelvic, and then took a long pull of his beer.

Chas, huge hands busy with sorting bottles and mugs, glanced at Kelvic for a moment and then at Shar and Gimble, sitting off to one side. The long stretch of bar counter was dominated at the far end by a raucous crowd of well-wishers, pickpockets, unemployed bards and a trio who had emerged from the Tower of Folly with some actual treasure for a change.

“Go on then,” said Chas.

“I heard,” said Kelvic, his thin face furtive as he paused for dramatic effect. “I heard that Lady Angharad and her people... went into HELL.”

This completely failed to impress his three listeners. Chas didn't even change expression. Shar looked skeptically at Kelvic, and downed another swallow of his liquor. Gimble looked as if he were trying to understand what Kelvic just said.

“Hell,” said Gimble slowly. “Hell like... Tower of Folly hell? Hellbore hell?”

“No, you damned stonebrains, I mean HELL. Pit of. Godprison. The Great Hall of Perdition. Dominion of the Iron Crown.”

“What in the world would they go there for?” drawled Shar, pouring himself another glass. “At least you can come back from the Tower with something. Sounds like mule crap to me.”

“Fine, call it mule crap. But I'll tell you what I think.”

“I don't want to hear it, but you're going to tell me anyway.”

Kelvic gave them all a smug look. “I think they are going there to find Martel's soul, and kill him for good.”

Despite the astonishingly unlikely nature of the scenario, Kelvic's listeners had to admit this sounded very impressive.

“Where'd you hear this?” asked Chas, folding his arms and leaning back against the shelves.

“Word's just floating around, I tell you. Ashan, the City-Maker, he knows how to open a door to Hell. Aren't his people friends to the underworld? It's true.”

Gimble, thinking very hard indeed, sipped at his wine and started to speak. At this point, one of the unemployed bards lost a lot of clothing to the applause of the large party, and Gimble was distracted into silence. Shar, on the other hand, snorted.

“I've been to the Hellbore, out with the Gold-and-Stone Company, and I've even been to Meerashandalai's island. Hell's worse than that? Yeah, I'll say Angharad knows her business; she took Martel, didn't she. And Hope. And she's run the Tower. But Hell? Nah, she would have run Meerashandalai's first. That's as close to Hell as I ever want to get.”

“True words,” rumbled Chas.

“Lady Angharad's still redeeming the honor of her family,” said Gimble, half-distracted now. “Everybody knows that. And didn't you see the play? The priest WOULD follow her into Hell. And her friends, too. They're loyal to her.”

“See? Even Gimble 'All Rationality' Mariikson agrees,” said Kelvic. “I'll say it again, Lady Angharad's company will outstrip even the Avabrondan, or the Throttled Cat!”

“You never said any such thing before,” muttered Shar.

Slapping the counter, Kelvic half stood. “I'm tired of your mouth, Shar! You just don't want to admit her group's better than yours!”

“That'll do,” interrupted Chas, and leaned forward. “I'll make you a wager, Kelvic, and this is it... I'll wager you room and board here, all the beer you can drink, for a month if she's actually gone into Hell and come back again. And if she hasn't, well, you'll be my scullery maid for a month instead with no pay.”

Shar started laughing, but Kelvic stood up and offered his hand. “Done!”

Taking the offered hand, Chas shook it briskly. “Oh, and Kelvic... she has to come back from Hell too for you to win the bet.” He grinned mirthlessly. “Anybody can get in, after all.”


Monday, February 8, 2010 - 6:52 PM

HRGH should be an acronym for a particular state of mind. Something disgruntled, vaguely annoyed and very pernicious, perhaps.

At this point, I know I don't happen to have a lot of readers, but I do apologize to those I have for the radio silence. Considering that you are all certainly here for fine reading and not to hear some regurgitation of an-all-too-ordinary life, I'll leave out the details and just say that my brain has been utterly exhausted for anything other than writing that I'd never post here.

No, seriously, it is that bad. Or unpolished. Whichever.

Anyway, I thought I might share some thoughts I tripped across while planning my next leg of DnD. As the reputation of the characters continues to grow, so do the misconceptions and assumptions. While considering just what one nation or other might think of these people, I realized that this facet of becoming a hero is rarely touched on... at least, in my experience. In your so-called classic fantasy tale, the heroes are recognized for doing some great and vast thing, and everybody thinks they are wonderful. Occasionally, there's some opposition (usually in the form of a political contender or some other unscrupulous sort), but that's generally all until the Next Evil Guy shows up. Some people at this point may mention Game of Thrones about now, but that is NOT a classic fantasy novel. In fact, wonderful though the world and characterizations are, there really isn't anything happening on the same scale as your classic 'save the world from great Evil' story.

Now, I run my DnD games as something fairly gritty, and I stay away from a lot of the tropes present in what people usually call High Fantasy. This is largely because I find High Fantasy stories to be predictable, trite and ... uninteresting. I like happy endings, of course, but the usual High Fantasy tale reads like everything is staged and stilted. I always feel like the heroes didn't really earn it. This is especially true in just about any story with a Prophecy in it. There's a whiff of predestination in prophecy stories that makes you wonder why the poor villains bother in the first place. It isn't any wonder that, given what people expect from fantasy, most fantasy novels don't spend a lot of time considering the problems of being suddenly very popular.

My players realized how much weight their characters had in the campaign world last session, and they've started to discover what that means. Word does get around, and at this point, thousands of people who have never actually met the characters know who they are and something about what they've done. Now, they are dealing with racial stereotypes and cultural expectations. People are attempting to gain their support for political causes, as well as involve them in various ventures. People want to be seen with them because they are famous. Some of the characters have recently suffered a slew of marriage offers, and the priest had to deal with an intensely talented but extremely annoying method actor who wanted to 'get a feel for' who he was. They've discovered that some people don't actually care so much about their heroic deeds. These people just want to make use of the fame and fortune.

This, and some work on With Iron, got me thinking about the villain side of the fame coin. Just as there would be some who don't believe the heroes have actually done all they say, there would certainly be some who think of the famous villain as misunderstood or wronged or even heroic, depending on how they view the villain's activities. Imagine the startlement of a band of heroes attempting to apprehend some unpleasant killer when they encounter a peasant village who refuses to tell them where the killer is. "Because of him, all the bandits are dead. He saved us," they say.

Perspective is a clever, clever thing.