TL;DR Hook one of your players with these letters from their sister detailing the plight of the town of Orlane.
Against the Cult of the Reptile God (AtCotRG) is a great starting adventure for Dungeons & Dragons. It presents a mystery and a dungeon, and the opportunity for the players to save a whole town!
The premise of the adventure is that a powerful evil snake demon has used her powers of domination to create a cult that worships her, and this cult is slowly taking over the town of Orlane. Many townsfolk have left, fearing the “curse” upon the town, and many who remain are now secretly in the service of the Reptile God. The players don’t know who to trust! (more…)
The following is an excerpt from my third novel, Fighter. This is what my work looks like in its first form. This is so early in the process, I don’t even think of it as a draft yet.
No context, no explanation. This is what it looks like on the page.
You used to read a lot.
You salvaged all these books from your ah. . .adventures?
You don’t read anymore.
What did you read, when you used to read? As an adult, I mean. Not stuff you read as a kid.
I liked the Tales of Thieves and Kings.
King William and Halleck the Master Thief.
Good stories. Moral.
Had a big impact on me.
But you don’t read them anymore.
I don’t know.
Do you ever pick them up?
Skim through them?
Open to a random page, read for a little while.
Then you put it down.
Not good anymore?
You moved on? Too old for fantasies?
Maybe. Something like that.
Do you know why you don’t read them anymore?
Heden didn’t say anything for a moment, looked like he wasn’t thinking either, just sitting there, mind blank. Then he answered.
They bring me too much comfort.
If you haven’t read my stuff, this won’t make any sense. It might not make any sense if you have read my stuff. But there are two characters here. One, Heden, is the main character of the entire series. He’s a priest.
I have no idea who the other character is. It took me about five minutes to write this, all I knew was: I had something important to say about Heden. About his character, his degree of sentimentality. He is a very sentimental person. He reads these King-Arthur-Meets-Robin-Hood romances “Tales of Kings and Thieves,” and he loves them. He loves the moral clarity of them. The king is wise and decisive, what you want from a king. I imagine they’re Heden’s version of The West Wing.
Now he can’t read them anymore. He can’t escape into that fantasy anymore. “They bring me too much comfort.” I think that’s revealing.
But who is this other person? Who is Heden talking to? I have literally no idea. Halfway through this, as I was writing, I thought “This is the replacement for the Abbot.” The Abbot was Heden’s psychotherapist. A senior member of Heden’s church, who knew Heden for many years, was a father-figure to him. Circumstances transpire in the second book, and the Abbot is out of the picture.
Some instinct tells me “This is his replacement.” Someone new. Someone psychoanalyzing Heden, Heden is somewhat reluctant but going along with it.
As I write this, this is literally all I know about this character. The Abbot was an old man, full of wizened, professorial authority. Merlin to Heden’s Arthur. It was easy to accept that character’s authority over Heden, so this is probably someone Heden’s age or younger. Someone who can really challenge Heden, ethically.
Is it a man? A woman? I don’t know. Is it someone who outranks Heden? It sort of sounds like it. Is this someone attracted to Heden? I don’t get a sense of attraction from what they’re saying, though they haven’t said much yet. I get a sense of challenge, though. There’s steel in this character. Someone with moral authority over Heden needs steel.
I feel like I can see this person through a fog, and as I write them, they become clearer. This is typical. Gwiddon started like this, so did Teagan and Hapax Legomenon. So did a lot of characters.
The process becomes a tag-team effort between invention and discovery. I may decide it’s a woman and discover she’s attracted to Heden. Or discover it’s a man, and decide it’s someone who–unlike the Abbot–does not approve of Heden. Either would be an interesting character.
Right now, all I have is a bunch of words on the page.
A new edition of D&D came out last year and it seems like a lot of people are discovering the game for the first time. Possibly because of great shows like Critical Role showing everyone how much fun it is.
It is a lot of fun! But for a new Dungeon Master, it can seem daunting. Relax. I started when I was 15 and had no idea what I was doing. I sucked at it, but my players were also 15, so none of us had any frame of reference. We all sucked together!
Here’s some straightforward advice to make the process a little less intimidating. Take what you like from here, it’s not an assignment.
1. Make a list, right now, of male and female names, maybe 10 of each, that you think are appropriate to your setting. Clip it to your GM screen or whatever. Any time you need a name for an NPC, just grab the next one on the list. The goal here is to be able to make up an NPC and instantly know their name. The players will go places and meet people you haven’t thought of and if you can say, at the drop of a hat, “The guard’s name is Fandrick,” it will seem to your players that these NPCs are real people who really exist and you’re not just making it all up. (more…)
“Garth won’t come at us like that again,” Aimsley said. “That was a fluke. Unplanned. He saw the opening and took a chance. Tactical.”
Teagan watched the little thief. “You know him?”
Aimsley shrugged. “Not as well as this one,” he threw Heden a look.
Teagan adjusted his position in the chair and watched the arrogate for a moment.
“How well do you know him?” Teagan asked.
“I know him” Heden said tonelessly.
“Does he have a. . .a weakness? Something we can exploit?”
The arrogate didn’t say anything right away. Like he wasn’t aware there was anyone sitting with him. He took a drink of cider, put his glass down, and took a long breath.
“There’s a game they still play,” he said, “in some of the shithole villages the Caelian empire couldn’t be bothered to civilize. They hang a cat upside down from a pole and it dangles there, howling, while the townsfolk compete to see who can be the first person to beat it to death without using their hands.
“Just. . .bashing the thing over and over with your face until it finally dies helplessly in pain and anger and terror. Great fun. The people all laugh and cheer, especially when the cat really manages to sink its claws into a person’s face. They just want to see someone in pain, they don’t care who.
“Somewhere out there, there’s a town that stopped doing this, because a kid named Garth always won. A single blow, he said. I think he was probably. . .nine or ten. Took him a while to learn, but there were plenty of cats to practice on, he said.”
Heden stood up suddenly, finished his cider, held the empty glass.
“Do you think cats have a sense of justice?” He shrugged. “Even a tiny one? A little bit of. . .hypocritical anger inside them at how capricious the world can be sometimes?”
He put the glass on the table. Looking at it, his face clouded over like someone was telling him something difficult to hear. Then he mastered himself, and nodded.
“I bet they do,” he said, and turned and walked out of the inn.
My friends Zane and Jason and I gabble for 80 minutes about Mad Max and Age of Ultron.
Just three nerds, talking about two movies.
What is Fury Road about?
At one point in the film, the villain called Father and sometimes Dad, tries to kill Charlize Theron’s character, but stays his hand when one of the underwear models he’s kept as sex slaves puts her pregnant body and his unborn child between the literal and figurative father, and Theron’s surrogate mother.
If you’re still wondering what Fury Road is about, you have come to the wrong blog. (more…)
There are three moments in the series finale of Justified that reminded me of everything I’ve loved about the show. The brilliant writing and acting and characterization. Here at the end, we can talk about what we’ve always known about the show. That’s it’s exactly as much about Boyd as it is Raylan.
We’ve been working toward the final confrontation between Walton Goggins’ Boyd Crowder and Timothy Olyphant’s Raylan Givens for six years. Crowder was originally meant to be a one-off bad guy back when the show was episodic. But once the producers (of whom Olyphant is one) saw what they had in Walton Goggins, the show became a serial. Each season had an arch-villain and a formula and when the formula was fresh, as it was in Season Two with the completely original Mags Bennett, it was one of the best shows I’ve ever seen. Walton Goggins is now one of my favorite actors.
I want to believe. I want to fall in love. I like well-made things.
The Richard Donner Superman is, I think, 3/5ths of a masterpiece. It falls apart once Lex Luthor shows up in spite of the great comic performances of Gene Hackman and Ned Beatty. The comedy was strong, it’s just a huge nosedive in tone from the majestic grandeur we’d gotten until then.
But until then? Golly, what a movie!
The heat from the mid-Lyleth sun caused the grassy plain surrounding the quarry to appear to roil and undulate in a shimmering haze. The shackle-man, informal captain of the four guards watching the dozen prisoners, shielded his eyes against the sun. He thought he saw something on the far distant plain, but it was just the heat haze mirage.
It was too hot to climb out of the vast quarry pit, so the guards decided not to go into it in the first place, sparing themselves and their prisoners and generating some good will among the convicts who outnumbered them. They worked the top edge of the quarry instead, which meant little yield for their work, but it was make-work in any event. Any granite they took back was a victory.
One of the prisoners, a misshapen old lump of a man named Manorin, worked his way up the chain gang to complain about the heat. He pulled on the chain to get close enough to the edge of the deep pit of the quarry to talk to the shackle-man.
“It’s beatin’ me black, copper!” Manorin said. ‘Copper,’ was an honorific, an attempt to curry favor. The guards were not city watchmen, would never walk a beat. They were mere men-at-arms, charged with watching prisoners. The lowest footsoldiers in the Castellan’s war against the distant city’s underworld.
You couldn’t see Celkirk from out here. It was a day’s march from the city across the rolling plain to the granite quarry. Of course Fieldin didn’t have to march. Fieldin and the other guards had horses, currently enjoying the water wagon the cutting crew brought with them.
“Beat some sense into you, mebbe,” Fieldin said, his hand on the looped whip at his belt. He was the only guard with a whip. He didn’t mind using it, but the pain of the blistering sun was enough to keep the chained men from trying anything.
Fieldin looked across the plain again, the green so bright it made his eyes smart. There was something out there. He tried to block the sun again and look.
“Come on, good master,” Manorin pleaded. “Share the water, the horses had their fill!”
Fieldin glanced at the old man, bent with age and work but still strong enough to kill an unwary guard with his bare hands, and saw that there would soon be blisters across his back.
Manorin had been a small-time thug in the employ of the Darkened Moon. Breaking the legs and thumbs of those turfmen from the Cold Hearth stupid enough to skim off the rake. The kind of inter-guild crime the Castellans permitted. Even encouraged.
Then something happened at a pie shop, no one would ever know what, and the baker and his entire family were found dead. Manorin was the only suspect. Those were civilians, by the old Castellan’s reckoning, and off-limits. So Manorin went up for it. There were no witnesses, so there was no hanging, though everyone agreed that a hanging would have been better than life.
That was forty years ago. Manorin was an old man now, and inclined to agree with that assessment.
There was definitely someone coming, Fieldin saw. A black figure walking across the plain in the heat.
Fieldin turned to Manorin and took pity on him. Then smiled with an idea.
“Alright Ma’rin,” he said and pulled his keys off his belt. The other prisoners stopped work at the sound of the keys jingling. All except the big one, Gurgne. He never stopped.
“You’ve earned a bit of respite,” Fieldin said, unlocking the old man’s shackles. The other guards did the same to the rest of the convicts. Except Gurgne. He continued to hew at the granite at the edge of the quarry with a mighty saw. He was shackled to the water wagon, could drink whenever he wanted, but couldn’t move or interact with the other prisoners.
“Bless you, master,” Manorin said, rubbing his wrists. He was eager to get to the water cart, but knew it meant the lash to go before Fieldin expressly commanded it.
“Well what are you waiting for?” Fieldin asked, and smiled just a smidge too widely, giving Manorin a glimmer of what was to come. “Have a drink!”
Fieldin shoved Manorin and the old man toppled over. Fell out over the pit of the quarry. It was sixty feet down into the pool of accumulated water at the bottom of the open-pit mine. Manorin cried out as he fell, the water would bring relief from the heat but was choked with algae and the rotten corpses of those small animals foolish enough to fall down the pit and find themselves unable to climb out.
Fieldin laughed as Manorin yelled and the other guards and prisoners, save one, rushed to the edge of the pit to laugh and watch.
Manorin splashed down and another cry echoed up the sides of the granite walls as the man found himself covered in muck. He quickly recovered and began the slow climb up, out of the pit.
The guards and the prisoners laughed. For a moment watchman and convict united.
Fieldin heard a distinctive jingling, it pulled his attention away from the scene. The sound of a horse’s tack. He turned and saw the mirage he’d been watching resolve itself.
The man in black rode a black horse and the heat that boiled off him looked almost like smoke, making him look like a burning coal.
His charger was fine in silver filigree. A tall destrier that shamed the smaller flea-bitten riding horses of the guards. Horse and rider stopped a respectful few yards from the cutting crew and their water wagon.
The guards all placed their hands on their weapons when they saw the man in black dismount and caught a glimpse of the weapon on his hip. The man in black leather turned and saw the four guards, recognized their ready stance, and unbuckled his rapier, pulled it off his belt and affixed it to his horse’s pack.
Turning to approach the cutting crew, he held up his hands briefly. The guards relaxed.
The man resembled his horse, tall and lean. His black eyes squinted in the sun, but his pale red lips smiled warmly. Friendly. He approached Fieldin and stopped to bow slightly in greeting.
“Need some water for my horse,” the man said, looking to the other guards and nodding. They nodded back.
“What about you?” Fieldin asked. Sweat poured off the man, of course it did. He wore skin-tight black leather pants and doublet. It was a wonder he was still standing in this heat.
The man smiled and pulled out a black handkerchief. Mopped the sweat off his forehead and then pushed his matted hair back, making the short black hair stick up straight.
“Me too,” he admitted, still smiling.
“Help yourself,” Fieldin said, nodding at the wagon.
“Thanks.” The stranger turned to gather his horse. He stopped as he saw the big man chained to the wagon, staring at him.
The man in black nodded his head in the direction of the tattooed convict towering over the others.
“What’s his problem?” the stranger in leather asked.
“Don’t mind him,” Fieldin said. “That’s Gurgne. He’s harmless.”
“Harmless,” the stranger exclaimed. “If that’s harmless, I’d hate to meet your idea of dangerous.”
“I mean he can’t work his prayers no more. Used to be a priest. They took care of that.”
“Huh,” the stranger said, and turned back to Fieldin. Fieldin looked down and saw the man was holding a dagger. Where had that come from?
“Thanks,” Garth said and lightly slipped the long, thin blade into the Fieldin’s chest, just left of center where his heart was.
Fieldin gasped and tried to reach for his whip but found his legs crumpling under him and the world going dim. Garth watched, all expression gone from his face.
Everyone looked on, shocked. The prisoners recovered before the guards, seeing their opportunity. Two grabbed the chain that linked them and leapt on a guard. Three more pushed a guard into the quarry before pulling at the loop of chain that Fieldin had unlocked when he let Manorin go. When it came free, they ran.
The last guard had the presence of mind to pull his short sword. Garth sniffed as he watched the convicts scrabble to free themselves and run, and tossed his dagger at the guard. It caught him in the heart, in the exact same place he’d stuck Fieldin.
The guard pulled the dagger out, and his life blood came after, pumping out. The prisoners were on him, but they needn’t have bothered.
Manorin, having climbed out of the quarry, took quick stock of the situation. The prisoners were all running, eight had taken the guards’ horses, two to a horse and rode off in different directions. Manorin was too old to run, and so pleaded with the man in black.
“Master!” he groveled. “Master have ye any coin to spare an old man before you go?” The man in black ignored him, watched the big one with tattoos over his arms.
“Please master just a few silver for an old cuff recently freed?” He made the mistake of reaching out to touch the man’s elbow.
Garth turned, a second dagger in his hand, and stabbed the man in the throat before pushing him back into the quarry. Manorin, eyes wide, grasped at this throat trying to staunch the bleeding as he toppled over again. He was dead by the time his body hit the water a second time.
All the prisoners had fled, except the big one. There was no horse left for him to take, and none of the other prisoners had seen fit to recruit him as they picked a direction and ran.
Garth liberated the keys from Fieldin’s corpse and approached the water cart.
Gurgne snorted like a horse as Garth stood before him.
“Do you remember who put you here?” Garth asked.
Gurgne grunted, his muscles flexed with remembered rage. “The Sunfuckers,” he growled. Garth raised an eyebrow. “A priest named Heden.”
“Do you want him?”
Gurgne presented his arms, hands clenched to fists. Along the length of his arms and up around his neck ran tattoos. Red and blue, not faded, even after ten years. “They bound me,” he said.
Garth unlocked the man’s manacles. Gurgne kept his arms out as the rusted metal fell to the ground. Garth grabbed the man’s wrists and turned them over, examining the elaborate markings. Smooth curves of ink with delicate crinkled edges ran up his arms. The closer Garth looked at the tattoos the more he saw the patterns repeating themselves.
Garth nodded as though this was what he expected and, without releasing Gurgne’s wrists asked again, with emphasis, “Do you want him?”
Gurgne jerked his hands away and looked down at Garth, sneering.
“He’d master me faster than you did these fools,” he said. Garth’s lips twisted in judgment at Gurgne’s melodramatic mode of speech. Typical of cultists.
He reached into a pocket in his doublet and produced a folded piece of vellum. Unfolded it. Handed it to Gurgne.
“Can you read?” he asked.
Gurgne snatched the vellum away from Garth and scanned the spidery script.
“Read it out loud,” Garth said.
Gurgne read the script haltingly, not understanding some of it as he went.
“Read it again.” Garth said, and something about the man made Gurgne obey. This time, Garth could tell the man understood what he was reading.
“Now read it again,” Garth commanded. “And mean it.”
Gurgne looked from Garth, to the vellum scroll and back again. His mouth was open a little, confused.
“Mean it,” Garth said, “and the priest is yours.”
That, Gurgne understood. He read the vellum a third time.
“I walk the path of Men.
I serve the Hidden Lord.
I am the strife that spreads between kin.
The architect of war commands me.
I will do his bidding, until he rules.
And men take their rightful place on the throne of Orden.”
At the last phrase Gurgne called out, a sharp bark, pain. The edges of his tattoos, all along his wrists and neck, flared into bright white flame and burned like a fuse consuming the tattoos.
They took a long time to burn. Gurgne fell to his knees, grunting in agony, refusing to scream. The tendons along his neck and arms stood out like cables on a ship’s sails.
Garth watched impassively. Eventually the fire burned out and Gurgne’s arm and neck lay bare and pale white in the sun.
“Power,” Gurgne heaved air into his lungs, looked up at Garth. His eyes burned under a clouded brow.
“Yes,” Garth said.
Gurgne looked at the sky, the empty blue sky and the burning sun. He began to chant. Clouds appeared. White at first, then grey, then almost black. In seconds they blotted out the sun.
Thunder, then. And rain. Garth held out his hand as the cool drops spattered over it.
The water ran down Gurgne’s skin, still hot from the sun. His back and bald head steamed.
“So much,” Gurgne said, looking at Garth. “Whence does it come? How did those words appear in my mind?”
Garth shrugged. “Don’t ask me,” he said, and looked up at the sky again in annoyance. How long would the rain last? Still, an impressive display.
He looked back at Gurgne. “Do you want the priest?”
Gurgne stood, looming over Garth.
“I’ll snap his bones open and suck the marrow out while he watches.”
Garth pursed his lips and nodded. “That’s a yes,” he said, and extended his rain-slicked hand.
Gurgne took it and they shook once before Garth slapped him on the shoulder and pointed to his horse.
“We’ll stop at Wend,” Garth said, naming the nearby town, “get another horse.”
Gurgne walked over to Garth’s horse. Garth stayed behind a moment and looked at the litter of corpses surrounding the water wagon. Flies buzzed in excitement, heedless of the rain.
He extracted a small, leather bound notebook from his vest along with a small piece of charcoal. There were four names on the list. He crossed off the first, put the book and charcoal away, and went to his horse.
Is this a dramatic opening for Fighter? Stop by the author page and let me know!
Someone asked me how they might improve their prose. This was my answer.
How to improve your prose. Good question, let’s see.
1: Write as often as possible. It’s a muscle, you need to build it up.
2: Write as little as possible. If you can say it with fewer words, do.
3: Cut all the stuff people are going to skip. You know what I mean, all the descriptive text you skip when you read The Lord of the Rings.
4: Read what you wrote. Did the jokes make you laugh? Did the drama make you tense? If not, then it probably won’t work on anyone else. Cut all the stuff that didn’t work and try again.
Watch and read and listen critically. What excited you about the last movie you saw? The last book you read? Steal that. Build a toolbox of cool moments and then write them your way and make them yours.
You will suck for a long time until you don’t. No one gets it right the first time. But eventually you’ll stop sucking and then a few years after that, you’ll be able to just sit down and start writing and cool shit will come out because you’ve done it so often you don’t need to think about it anymore and that’s when the real inspired stuff can shine through.