Tuesday, October 20, 2020

May the Power Protect You: A Temporary Leave of Absence


I've been dreading writing this post. I've known for awhile that I needed to write it, but I kept thinking that maybe, just maybe, I wouldn't. But I must. So here I am. May the Power Protect You is going on an indefinite hiatus. There's two major reasons: bad roll-out plan and losing my main group. We'll handle both of these, in order.

So when I first wrote this thing I thought having two posts a month would give me plenty of time. I had about four or so months of playing MMPR1 under my belt and felt pretty good about things at that rate. What I didn't understand was that the way I wanted to write about these characters that I've come to love so much was that it took me months to develop an appreciation for them on a mechanical level, as well as having different anecdotal stuff about them. The depth of experience I wanted to write from requires... well... time! And I didn't respect that. Each character has had less time devoted to it, and after NEENJOR! I found I just couldn't do that anymore. It just doesn't feel honest to me. That may not sit right with some, but what I loved about writing about these characters became impossible. For now.

Which brings me to my next point: my board gaming group has mostly collapsed in the face of Covid-19. That's no one's fault, but I've found that one of the things that I enjoyed about this game the most has to do with conversations it enables. I think the mechanics are perfectly suited to that. Because of this I've always found playing solo... odd. Those conversations aren't just a nice add-on to the game, they are essential. Absolutely essential, to me. A lot of what I wrote came from those conversations when we were all laughing and cheering or gripping the table for a dice roll or groaning as we screwed the game up or when we got it exactly right or clapping each other on the shoulder for a job well done. These posts were just as much as celebration of my friends as they were about the characters themselves. And without that core I simply cannot bring the joy that is so essential to this series.

So, for the moment this series is on hiatus. I do not know when it will be returning. I hope it's sooner than later, because this was one of the first regular columns I wrote, and the HotG community has been a huge part of this blog. But I cannot control the fates. No man can. Know that when it happens I'll be coming back, locked and loaded, with more love and joy for a game that has changed so much for me. 

Thank you so much to the folks who have read this column. It has meant the world to me.

Wednesday, October 14, 2020

The Undertow: Session Thirty-Two

Mikansia made a promise to her friend, Jabez, beyond the confines of the living: to find and help his four children find safety. Setting out for the Argentum Empire, Mikansia discovered it was being invade by the Demon Queen of Light, Golau. After having defeated The Hound, a creature comprised of the corpses of unwilling undead. Now she has to find this child in the middle of an undead invasion.

Lore notes: Starting with this post Andy, Lena, and I decided that elven pronouns should be different than human ones, given that Grief is a far more prevalent part of their lives than sex. Elves can tell by a glance what level of grief is on an elf's heart. The classifications are, roughly:

Grief 0-3: mu/mul (To make the pronoun possessive add an l at the end)
Grief 4-7: dai/dail
Grief 8-9: ta/tal
Grief 10, but not yet sailed: tor/torl

Mikansia sliced into Argentum Reskartum from Dream, near where ta knew Jabez's first child was. The hole ta cut into Dream, which was dragon-sized for Fish, began to close almost immediately. Mikansia and Nomi got through relatively easily, but Fish was almost cut in half. Argentum Reskartum, last time Mikansia had seen it, was a ruin coming back to life. The lyhyt had begun to rebuild the capital city of the Argentum Empire while Mikansia had been hiding out in it, waiting for ta's year to finish up. By the time Mikansia had left Argentum Reskartum had almost entirely recovered.

For a second Mikansia had wondered if ta had somehow cut back in time again.

Argentum Reskartum was beyond a ruin, with dust clouds that choked Mikansia's lungs; something big was going down. 

The pillar of fire almost didn't surprise ta. Almost. But Marian being on the other end of it, working as hard as she could to not be burned alive by it? That did surprise Mikansia.

Marian hit the dusty ground with a sickening crack, which could be heard over the roar of the flames that were just now dispersing. A fell light overwhelmed Nomi and Fish; only Mikansia stood in the wreckage, staring at the Demon Queen of the Horrific Light: Golau. Mikansia could feel her malevolence, the raw power.... and the curiosity of Golau, who walked right up to ta. Mikansia stared back, completely unbowed light in a sea of sickening radiance. No one had done such a thing in over a millennium, until now. Mikansia would never run away. Not ever again. And Golau sensed it.

The earth shook as Fish roared. And charged. Golau held up her hand. Fish's huge form hung in mid-air. Golau was bemused. "You're not a dragon at all. You've been cursed to imitate one. Let's fix that."

A dark and terrible dagger, a Dagger of Betrayal, came flying out of Fish's head. And then he was a dwarf. The monstrous dragon had just turned into a dwarf, in an eyeblink. His injuries were awful; changing forms hadn't cured the wounds the dwarf had sustained while he was a dragon.

Mikansia drew Sydanelma with the loud and angry ring of the righteous.

Golau looked at the blade, puzzled. with a flick of her finger Sydanelma flew toward her, so Golau could get a better look.

But Mikansia didn't let go. Ebony knuckles grey with the strain ta reoriented talself, turning the magical yank into a magically aided mid-air charge. With a blood-curdling cry Mikansia put all tal weight into one stab. Sparks flew off the myriad magical barriers surrounding Golau; Mikansia felt herself slowing down. So ta planted tal feet back on the ground and pushed with all tal might. Something invisible, but more real than the ground Mikansia was pushing tal heels into, shattered under Sydanelma. With another feral scream Mikansia pushed tal weapon through the break in reality into Golau's shoulder, slicing bone. "No. One. Takes. Sydanelma. From ME." growled Mikansia, teeth bared in a snarl.

The world around Mikansia whirled and turned in a confusing maelstrom as ta flew through the air, back smashing into one of the few walls left in this section of Argentum Prime. All the air in tal body had been knocked cleaned out it. But ta still had Sydanelma. Golau stood over ta, holding her bleeding shoulder. "I'm impressed. I've not met someone with your potential in over a thousand years. This-" Golau indicated her shoulder "-is truly impressive."

Shaking, Mikansia stood up, ready to charge. If ta was going to die it would be swinging. And ta had no doubt that Golau would kill ta. Golau's power was so vast that ta could feel it humming beneath ta feet. The air crackled with Golau's presence. But Mikansia would never, ever, ever be afraid, never again. But ta needed to get the hell out of there. Marian needed ta. So did Jabez's child.

Something hit the ground right behind Golau. Everything went in dust and debris, including the wall behind Mikansia. Ta shut tal eyes. When ta opened them again ta saw Tyce. Well, Tyce glowing from head to toe, anyway. "Tyce?? What the the hell is this??" asked Mikansia, after taking a second to screw tal jaw back in.

"Oh, um, I'm with Telos" said Tyce, as sheepish as a dead man could be.

"Where was this back at Elfwatch?? We could have really used what you're doing now, then!" ta said, a light mocking smile at tal lips. 

"I... uh... I didn't remember. It's a long story. Look, there's the Demon Queen of the Undead a quarter mile that way, picking hserlf up off the ground. Can we talk about this later? I had already relocated everyone else inside the blast radius. They may need you."

Mikansia chuckled and helped the still dazed Nomi up. "Oh, we'll be talking about this" ta said, indicating Tyce's glowing ethereal form. "You can bet on it." Tyce smiled a bit nervously and was gone.

All of a sudden they were all standing in normal sunlight. Mikansia blinked in the sudden overwhelming brightness, even as ta basked in it. From the sky descended a human in gold: Telos. Mikansia had met Telos before, briefly, while ta was waiting for tal year to be up. Telos had hardly said a word, had dressed plainly... not like this. Telos's feet barely made an impression on the ground as he walked past Mikansia, blue skies almost as bright as the light that emanated from him. "Thank you Mikansia. You've done far more good than you'll ever know." He patted ta on the shoulder. And then he was gone. And the light with him. A sonic boom occurred a quarter mile to the east. Mikiansia looked over and saw seven points of rainbow light in the darkness orbiting  an intense darkness. The lights danced up and down and around this darkness, and each time they touched the darkness the earth shook. 

Mikansia trudged north, helping Nomi carry the unconscious dwarf . Nomi kept giving the unconscious dwarf looks of consternation. And Mikansia couldn't blame tal for doing so. A dwarf, of all things?? Nasty things that lived in the ground...

"MIKANSIA!!" interrupted tal reverie.

A total stranger of a lyhyt ran past Mikansia and tackled Nomi (leaving Mikansia with the heavy dwarf), burying tal in hugs and kisses and tears. All the blood was gone from Nomi's ebony face.

Mikansia, for tal part, was beyond amused. "Mikansia, huh?" tal said. Nomi was in shock mouthing words over and over at Mikansia. Mikansia realized ta probably should feel badly. But that didn't change that Mikansia felt incredibly amused at the horror show before ta.

The lyhyt helped helped Nomi to tal feet. "I'm Constantine," he said to Mikansia, tears of joy staining his cheeks. "You.. you know my wife?"

"Oh yes, but ta hasn't mentioned you. I'm Nomi," said Mikansia with a grin that almost made Nomi throw up. "We've been travelling together awhile."

"Well thank you for that, I thought she was dead! The note that was left.. I thought they'd killed you!"

"I... I've been trying to get back to you," stammered Nomi. Mikansia had to step away, ta was too close to a laughing fit.

And that was when ta saw mu. The Child. Mu was snuggled up to a lyhyt female. Those were Jabez's eyes, looking out at ta. The lyhyt looked up at Mikansia and went pale. "Are... are you his mother?"

Mikansia sat down next to the lyhyt. "No, but I have been looking for mu. I mean, him," she clarified to the confused lyhyt woman. "I needed to make sure... he... was safe."

The hilt of of Mikansia's sword could be seen peeking around the woman's knee. The sword that Mikansia had originally exchanged for Jabez's, which had become Sydanelma. Mikansia had given her sword, the sword made for her by the Sword Singers, to a male lyhyt smuggler,  in order to possibly return his sword to Jabez. And there it was. Right by her knee. The woman tracked Mikansia's stare. "I'm Yvette. You know that sword."

Mikansia nodded. "Mikansia. And yes, I do. It's been a lifetime since I saw it."

"My husband had gotten it in payment for dropping an elf off at the Iron Forest. After Elfharrow fell he couldn't get the elf out of his mind. He needed to know what had happened to her. So I went with him. And that's when we found... him," Yvette said, looking at The Child with glistening eyes. "We could count his ribs.  We'd just lost one of our own, so I put him up to my breast and... and... " Yvette choked and then cleared her throat. "It worked. It worked. But then she.. some female elf... she strode out, after the child. Something in her eyes. My husband... he gave me this sword and told me to run. And I've not stopped running since." Yvette gave Mikansia a look that rended tal heart into thousands of bits. "He's all I have left. Him and this sword. Please... please don't!" she begged, face twisted into a mask of anguish.

Mikansia gazed at The Child with Jabez's eyes. A longing she had never anticipated washed over Mikansia. Ta couldn't tell if it was the part of Jabez that was now with Mikansia, or ta as well, or some odd combination of both. It didn't matter: The Child was staring back, snuggling against the breast of his mother; Yvette was just that. "I came to make sure mu was safe. I can see mu's safe with you. But are you both safe?" ta asked. Yvette shook her head fearfully. "Then I'm here to get you out, to somewhere safe. Please trust me. Come with me," Mikansia requested, as tal heart ached, looking at The Child.

"I can help you with that." Tyce appeared next to them in the gloom. "You can't cut to Dream right now. When Telos does something it affects all the layers of reality." Tyce was grinning ear to ear. "We did it Mikansia! We killed Golau. And its' because of you did to her. Her defenses were compromised. Thank you for that." Mikansia stared back up at her friend, a bit in shock. "I was told to give you this," Tyce said with a wry chuckle. "It's given with the sincerest thanks of Autarch Telos." 

Tyce handed Mikansia a sword so dark that even its sheath drank in the meager light. Ta examined the sword with skeptical eyes. "I already have a sword I quite like."

"You'll know when you'll need it," reassured Tyce. Mikansia nodded, strapping the extra blade to tal back, hesitatingly. "Where do you want to go?"

Mikansia had barely said "Vigilance", where Decima lived, when they were in Decima's kitchen. Decima looked up and smiled. "Oh good, you're home! Who's this?" she asked, walking up to Constantine and Yvette.

"I'm Yvette. This.. this is Alexis," said said, point at The Child. 

Mikansia couldn't help but look at Alexis again. Ta had been trying to figure out what to say to Alexis. Something needed to be said. Sitting next to Alexis ta finally introduced herself. "I'm Mikansia. I... I was a friend of your father, Jabez."

Alexis continued to gaze at Mikansia with Jabez's eyes. Only they weren't just Jabez's, not anymore. They belonged to Alexis, too.

Tuesday, October 13, 2020

Trophy Dark: Zine Review


Okay, so this review is more of a story, even more than usual. I mean, I think good reviews are stories of your time with the product in question. And I think it's a good story, so we're going to go with that. 

I initially tried out Trophy Gold with my players. Before trying Gold, which is an OSR game, I would have said that the divide between OSR and story-gamers was a fake one. Part of that is because labels always seem dumb, but also part of is that I personally can straddle that line pretty well. I prefer more "story-oriented" games, but I still have a blast doing OSR. They're two very different itches for me, but ultimately it's a question of preference.

Boy was that bubble popped. HARD.

To anyone who says there is only an artificial difference between story-gamers and OSR players, I present my group, who were dyed-in-the-wool Burning Wheel players, with some Torchbearer and Bleak Spirit in there too. Blood flowed and they balked. Hard. They wanted to know their characters and get attached, not use them like tissue paper on the way to success! There was a difference in philosophy that was extremely obvious, painfully so. I am still explaining the OSR and how it works and finding that it just. Doesn't. Click. With these folks.

Which, for the record, is okay. I just had to remember that labels do, in fact, exist for a reason. 

They were so badly burned on Trophy Gold that one of my players still twitches if it's even casually mentioned. But I'd tried Trophy Dark with someone else, using one of the pregenned Incursions, and we both loved it, so I wanted to try it with them. For the last few months I've just sorta been biding my time, hoping an opportunity would come up to see if I could convince them to try this game.

Trophy Dark is a one-shot game of tragic horror fantasy. You are playing characters who are not heroes, or even necessarily good people. No, you are playing those people who enter an ancient forest thinking the forest owes them their success. And finding out that's really not the case. The word Trophy does not refer to what you take out of the forest, but what the forest turns you into. Gameplay is light but thematically an embarrassment of riches. If you fight an actual big bad monster you die. Period. If you do anything other than that you roll what's called a Risk Roll, which is a pool of dice, light and dark. If the dark die is higher than your light dice you could accrue something called Ruin. Ruin is the measure by which you are The Forest's trophy, both physically and mentally. Each time it goes up you either invent a new condition or make a previously existing one worse. There's also a roll called the Ruin Roll, which is invoked whenever a terrible thing happens to or is seen by the character. If they roll higher than their current Ruin score (range of 1-6) it goes up by one. When your Ruin hits 6 you either die or snap, becoming a monster that works for The Forest. Once your Ruin hits five you can start doing Reduction rolls, trying to get your Ruin back down. Reduction rolls involve screwing over your fellow players or getting rid of treasure.

I really like this dynamic. And I wanted my players to try it. But... horrific PTSD. So I waited. My players have good taste (That's why they play with me, clearly!!) and I figured if I waited for an opportune moment to strike they'd like the game.

Actual footage of me waiting

Well whaddaya know?? The chance came! The Torchbearer campaign we'd been running had a player miss. I have a 100% show-up policy; if we all aren't available it's cool, that game will not run. So I floated a couple of one shot games to the folks who were still available, one of them being Trophy Dark. I put it last in the list. I didn't expect anyone to pick it. To my great surprise they picked it. I hadn't really picked any Incursion beforehand, since I kinda figured they wouldn't pick the game. Looking at the rules, I decided that I was going to make up an Incursion. Right then and there. How hard can it be, right? Keep in mind I'm currently running three Burning Wheel games; I've gotten pretty proficient at targeting Beliefs and Instincts and kinda figured I'd be able to handle it, right?

Let's break down why I had this thought while looking at the text. See, each character rolls up a Drive at the beginning of the game (or can choose their own) which tells you why they're doing the incredibly stupid thing of invading the forest in the first place. Most of the advice I've read about the pre-written Incursions centers around taking the Incursion and adapting it to your players' Drives. You are supposed to affirm and also punish the player character as they get deeper and deeper, until their Drive is the source of their insanity. So I kinda figured I could just do this on the fly.

The good news is that I was right. The other news is that I was woefully unprepared for the five-act structure of the system, which has you hitting players with a series of five pairs of carrot-stick challenges. Players kept slipping back and forth between acts and I was trying to figure out how to gently nudge toward Ring Five, the end. It was terrifying. It was exhilarating. God it was fun. Thanks to the emphasis on Theme I was able to identify a central core to throw at the players (which I told them about, explicitly: Worthiness) I was able to bob and weave my way through an Incursion. And it worked. Holy shit it worked! I'm sure there were a few hiccups I didn't catch but I was able to run a full Incursion, on the fly, with just the Drives of the characters and the Theme, plugged into the five rings.

The players loved it. They were told, explicitly, that their characters would either die or lose their souls, and that the goal of the game was to make their characters' fall into darkness tragic, meaningful, and fun. One of the players was in a bit of a sadistic mood and wanted to try and break the game. He wound up playing a hilariously dark and tragic arc of a man whose flaws got him killed, violently. The other player was a bit easier on the concept: she wound up dying as she was unworthy to touch the sacred sword they had gone out to get, turning into dust. Both players had a great time with the mechanics of the building up of internal and external darkness, playing out their characters becoming literal monsters as they strove to save or humiliate their friends, purposefully failing tests of character and enjoying the punishment that was inevitable. They even tried out the Reduction rolls, as they figured their characters would do such a thing. They were rewarded with a richer narrative. They also may or may not have started a grudge match back in Trophy Gold and were excited that they had a reason to turn the game full PVP, which they did at the end. There was this rush of blood and betrayal, ending in moral failure that, once bought into, was one of the more cathartic things I've been a part of.

This game is absolutely not for everyone. It wants you to buy into playing out the degeneration of characters as they strive for something they shouldn't strive for, no matter how desperate they are. But my players, who had never experienced such a thing, were surprised by just how fun the experience was. They brought their A-game to the concept and were rewarded with a dark, eerie, and strangely comedic experience that had us all on the edge of our seats right up until the end.  I'm not sure if they forgave Trophy Gold (or me, honestly), but they do want to do it again. And so do I. It was awesome to maneuver between differing Drives in ten different ways and I really want to do it again. 

Trophy Dark can be found in the Dark 2 issue of The Codex. They'll also be releasing a book next year. Check it out!

Friday, October 9, 2020

Suihkulahde: Session Zero

So when Andy and I ended Sabina's Castle, we did so with the full intent of making a sequel game, where Anneli actually went to The Island and got her wish. But it didn't feel right. The theme of the game revolved around The Dagger of Betrayal and Anneli succeeding where Spar had failed, and so we stuck to the theme and ended the game. We were perfectly fine with just waiting, although I got itchy every once a while Andy was able to convince me that maybe we should hold off, just a little bit longer.

All of that changed with Session Twenty-Eight of The Undertow. Right after Session Twenty-Six I realized that the asteroid that The Lone Keep was on wouldn't burn up in the atmosphere. It was far too large. It would hit the earth and was certainly going to cause something that neither Lena and I had intended when we set out to play this game. I had two options: the asteroid hits the land or the water. I picked the land, mostly on a whim. Lena and I realized that this was something that, if Mikansia found out, would undoubtedly destroy her and end the campaign. The idea of searching for Jabez's children didn't come strictly from that realization, but it definitely influenced it.

And that's when the situation with Anneli just couldn't sit in my head anymore. I called Andy, explained what had happened, and threw the following pitch: Anneli is at sea and the sun just... doesn't seem to come up. The stars and moon are gone. Gone. You can't see them. What would Anneli do with that? She has a wish, invited to a mystical island to grant her whatever wish she wanted. What would she wish for, with the world so obviously wrong? What would she think was wrong? How would she want to fix it, given a wish?

What fell into place was a rough framework for a travelogue campaign. Anneli would happen upon various things on or in the sea that would change her outlook and put up into the air what she would actually wish for. Whatever that winds up being? No idea. We'll see.

Time to go save the world. Maybe.

Thursday, October 8, 2020

Autarchy: Session Three


Traveling in the Void was not easy for Xellous and his family. The constant howl of the wind in the blackness was extremely stressful. The horribly bitter cold was extremely hard to deal with. But they were not alone; the ship came with a crew to man it, captained by the elf Sven. Their songs, good cheer, and amazing food helped Xellous, Kora, Threen, Gerard, and Lily make sense of their new surroundings. But good company while adjusting to new circumstances only goes so far. Lily hardly slept, which meant no one else did. And as big as the heated cabin the elves had prepared for them was it mattered little; it still felt cramped.

So when Sven told Xellous that their first port, a monastery of gith, wasn't responding to the hails of the elves, and that they'd need to go and check out the monastery, Xellous almost jumped up and down with excitement. He immediately volunteered to go with the elves. He ran back to the cabin to tell an exhausted Kora the news. She was not amused. "The children haven't slept. I've not slept. I need help and you're wanting to go gallivanting about?

"But your mother-"

"I. Need. You."

"Sweetie, they need me out there for my aura reading." Kora's face softened with an emotion that most men read as coming around to their point of view. Xellous was no different. "There's something wrong about this place and I can help them in a unique way," he explained as Kora looked over at Pyra, her fire bow that could blow up trees, but then looked back at Xellous. She nodded. "Thanks honey, I'll be back as soon as I can." Xellous walked out with a spring in his step.

The monastery was built into an asteroid, with lots of windows, balconies, and porches looking out into the dark brightness of the Void.  But the winds weren't any less for most of the monastery being indoors. The place was littered with the yellow bodies of the gith. There was a lot of blood as well, Xellous noticed as he came near one of the corpses. They had leathery yellow skin, ears that reminded Xellous of the elves he traveled with, and bald yellow heads with goatees.

Wait, Blood...

Xellous got out his kit and got to work, collecting the blood all spattered around for later enchanting use. He reactivated the blood and got it into a collection bottle. 

"What are you doing??" Xellous jumped. Tyce had come up out of nowhere. "There may still be whatever killed all these monks about and you're out collecting samples from the dead? Why would you do something so stupid, nevermind disrespectful?"

Xellous's cheeks flushed more than they already had been in the beyond bitter cold. "Okay! Uh, you're right. Completely right. I just.. I wanted to do something that felt a bit more normal. And this will be useful for enchanting, for later. Their deaths won't be in vain, at least in some small way. This... this feels normal. Collecting specimens and all that. And normal is really nice right now. I know how it looks, although that... yeah this wasn't a good idea."

Tyce's eyebrows, about the only thing that could be seen in the heavy coat given the humans by the elves, lowered. "None of this is normal. You're right. I'm sorry for snapping. I've just not found a way to help me adjust. It was unkind of me to be rude about what you've found that works."

"There's only one Telos," said Xellous with a laugh.

"Absolutely! I've never seen him upset with anyone. He's always been so gentle. Have you ever seen him upset?" asked Tyce.

"I've seen him afraid, but no, never upset," Xellous confirmed. "But he always seems to be so troubled, so laden down, so restricted. I wish I could help him with that. Help him be free."

"I don't think he wants to be free," Tyce said thoughtfully, sitting down next to Xellous. "You don't want to be free of Kora. It's why you married her. I suspect it's the same for Telos." Xellous and Tyce sat there a moment, leaning on the wall next to the corpse of the gith, staring out into the starry beauty of the Void. They stood up, still looking at the bright stars that illuminated the Void like holes in a black-out shade.

As Xellous stood a yellow gith landed where Xellous had been sitting. Xellous jumped back, surprised, but the monk's aura took him aback more: the gith's aura had been drained, almost completely. Kneeling next to the fallen monastic Xellous took some of his own aura and set it in the gith's chest, trying to get the monk's own aura to begin regnerating on its own. Memories from the gith flooded into Xellous's mind. Monstrous things with three heads, eyes, arms, and clawed fingers had descended upon the monastery, draining monks of their life energy, ripping others open and leaving them to die in the halls of their home.

While Xellous was examining and helping the gith Tyce rounded a corner and went down a hallway. Xellous head shouts and screeches from where Tyce had gone. Xellous picked up the gith, who hadn't yet stabilized, and ran. Tyce was locked in battle with one of the creatures that had ripped the monastery apart. It floated in the air before Tyce, hissing out between jagged fangs. Xellous could feel its rage, washing off in red waves. 

It was communicating in aura, in rage. It. Was. SHARN. From Can't Remember Name. Removed. So much REMOVED. THARIZDUN. Took everything. Flame. In Heranyt. Man in Gold. Telos. Attacked. Hurt. Drove off. We lost. Hurt. ALONE. KILL TELOS'S FRIENDS. KILL THEM ALL ALL OF THEM DIE.

Xellous threw himself between the red waves and Tyce. "No, no stop! We don't need to do this! Maybe there's a better way. Maybe Telos didn't know about Tharizdun. Maybe we can talk to him."

The look on Tyce's face stopped Xellous's heart. Tyce knew. Tyce knew. Approved.

Kora's scream could be heard over the howling of the wind.

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Wednesday, October 7, 2020

The Undertow: Session Thirty-One


Over the next three days Nom was sullen. Mikansia and Nomi would spar as they walked, but over those three days Nomi got more and more aggressive. On the third day a spark from a block almost got into Nomi's eye. Nomi fell to the ground, cursing Mikansia out, calling her a cold-hearted bitch.
"Excuse me?? It was an accident! During training!" Mikansia was confused.
"You just left her! Your mother spent seventy years of pure torture for you, you cold-hearted bitch! She fought for you your entire life and you just leave her there??"
Mikansia rolled her eyes. "I didn't leave her, she left me! And fucked her own brother to make me! What a mother. She made no choice to help me, but there was no agency on her part deciding I should be around. She's no hero. Not like your mother, Olivia the Thunderer! And speaking of her, don't talk to me about betrayal. You betrayed everything that genuine hero ever stood for. So don't you go judging me." 
A bitter laugh proceeded forth from Nomi. "Oh, Olivia the Thunderer? The great hero of Kotae Mah? Oh, she was a wonderful mother. When I first skinned my knee she rubbed dirt in my wound, hard, and told me to stand up and get circulation in there, fast. The first time one of my friends mocked me? I did what the great Olivia told me to and punched her as hard as I could. I lost a friend that day. There was no comfort, only war and training and death and the mission. I was never defended or nurtured. And that put me down the path of my life. How could I betray what my mother had taught me? But Makirta? She fought for you. She shouldn't have survived. Something about that had to be on purpose" Nomi's hard lines softened. "You need to... be gentler. She went through a lot."
Mikansia chuckled. "Be gentle? Since when did you care about that? I thought soft was for fucking generals."
"That was for BUSINESS, not... not... not about you..."
Mikansia was confused. "I don't know what this is really about, but we're here for the mission. We're good at that."
Nomi's face went purple as she opened her mouth. She climbed back up onto Fish, gave Mikansia an injured look, and snuggled into the dragon's neck. That was fine by Mikansia. The less talking the better.
The next day they happened upon a few squads of undead. Those weren't a challenge. But one of the zombies began to cry and talk. Mikansia stopped and knelt next to the crying corpse. "Please.. please kill me. They killed me and I came back... into this corpse. They asked me to join the horde. I said no, and they laughed! Laughed! They said The Hound would come for me."
"The Hound?" Mikansia asked, horror and pity in her gaze.
"...the size of a house... others..." the corpse trailed off. "There's others. Put into The Hound, too. They fall off. Sometimes... like me. Free me. I'll keep blinking until I'm... I'm gone." He didn't stop blinking until Mikansia cut his head in half. Mikansia, Nomi, and Fish found more of these corpses along with the wreckage of forests and farms. And each one begged for an end they could get on their own. And Mikansia gave it to each one of them, with pity.

After a few days Mikansia and Nomi heard it: the screams that were so hoarse they shouldn't have been able to keep going. But yet. They persisted. Most of them were wordless, but some begged. And begged. And begged.  They needed an end. Had to have it. But could not. Over the next hillock Mikansia, Nomi, and Fish saw it: an enormous canine frame... that was always shifting. Even when The Hound stood still its form shifted, as the humans grafted into it were never completely still. Well, the newer corpses anyway. The older ones hung there, flopping side to side, glazed but operative eyes open and uncaring. But the ones who were newer tore at each other, screaming and begging each other for release. Blood and gore followed in The Hound's wake; but no release from their torment could be found.

Nomi's hand slipped into Mikansia's trembling. Mikansia started, surprised, and found herself looking into Nomi's wide eyes "That... that happens you kill me. Promise me. Swear it!"

Mikansia put her other hand on Nomi's shoulder. "I got you. I promise."

They snuck up behind the canine monstrosity. Mikansia charged, sword cutting a hole into Dream under The Hound; Fish, directed by Nomi, slammed The Hound all the way into Dream. Mikansia appeared under The Hound as it fell, Sydanelma slitting through the begging corpses, into something cold and dark. "You're in Dream now, you're free to go to The Gate!" Mikansia shouted to the hundreds who didn't know they were free. And some vanished in beautiful rainbows. But The Hound was not stopped; one kick from it sent Mikansia skipping acrost the ground of Dream. The Hound's shadowy claws had dug into Mikansia's side, ignoring the draconic armor that Mikansia wore. Mikansia picked herself up. Nomi and Fish formed up beside her.  The two groups stared at each other a moment. And then charged. The Hound's  footfalls felled Dreams around it. It leaned in for a bite of Mikansia.

Mikansia slit The Hound open; shadow poured out of the enormous canine frame. Nomi and Fish bowled into The Hound, knocking it over. Picking itself up, The Hound tried to withdraw, but Mikansia had let one too many monsters in Dream go before. She leapt onto the huge horror's back, stabbing the back of its head. It vanished in a hurricane of screams, catching Miksansia up in a twirling mass of horrors and screams and escaping souls before dissipating into the bright lands of Dream.
When Mikansia cut back out of Dream to where they had been, she saw a horde of undead waiting, with two more Hounds. Chuckling drily, Mikansia closed that portal, staying in Dream.

Tuesday, October 6, 2020

May the Power Protect You: NEENJOR!!! (Ninjor)


Yes, I'm going to call him NEENJOR! That voice is just the best thing that was ever done in Power Rangers. Yes, you heard me. The. Best thing. I adore it. And so therefore I will treasure it. NEENJOR! is an interesting front man/support who helps everyone feel as great as that wonderful voice of his. 

So, when I sat down to look NEENJOR'S! ability, I realized I've been running it wrong. Each ranger, it reads, not just a ranger. That is a hell of a lot better than just one dude. Yes, it's a small ability, but odds are someone is going to have exactly what is needed on the bottom of their deck, and the later you get in the game the higher chance it is that you put a great card on the bottom of the deck. So yeah, um, make sure everyone knows they can do it. And is tracking that they can. You'll probably have to tell them a bunch to get them to remember. I recommend using NEENJOR'S! voice to do it. But make sure to stack the deck first with NEENJOR! Battle Mode or Ninjato Blade, first. It's the type of synergy that I like seeing in decks; it's a nice buzz from the dopamine section of my brain to pull this off.

Can we all just agree that Unlock Potential is an amazing card? Obviously it depends upon the value of your zords but there aren't exactly that many duds in the game. Oh, and it's nice to see Flying Kick again. Cool stuff.

Showboating, on the other hand, I have a hard time liking. Yes, you get to skip a villain card, but you lose your next turn. I could just never bring myself to use this card. I know there's probably a couple of different uses for it, but I won't lie to you and pretend to understand the card short of a boss fight. But even then I almost prefer to take the hit so that way I can hit him back.

Encouraging Word is the one card that makes me want someone else to play NEENJOR! My bad rolls are a bit of running joke with people that I play, and I would love to have a consolation prize like Encouraging Word hanging around. It just helps me keep my spirits high, even when my freaking dice fail. Ninjato Blade falls into a similar category, allowing you to stack the deck back up. You're kinda healing when you use Ninajto Blade and that's certainly worth an energy to me.

Nimbus Strike is a truly beautiful card. Just get someone to help amp up those rolls and you can probably kill three cards at once. I love seeing this card during boss fights, especially since so many bosses have a bunch of FAST keywords in their stuff. NEENJOR! is a character who gets better as time goes on, in part because of Nimbus Strike and the prevalence of keywords later in the game.

NEENJOR! is fun to play and brings hope to bad rollers like me. He heals, buffs, gets energy back, and allows me to talk in a ridiculous voice at the table. And I think we all should. I mean, sometimes this game gets pretty intense, so why not have someone with a hilarious voice narrating everything? I mean, that is what NEENJOR is about.



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