Thursday, January 30, 2014

After the Rain ep03 : Houses of the Blooded

After the Rain

Episode Three
"Of Letters, Love and Longships"

Houses of the Blooded

Nia finds a guest at her Province.  Her second sister, Calaeno Steiner, a Q'val of the Holy Mother.  She is the wisest of her sisters, save for matters of the heart.  She used to be married, however no one knows how it ended.  Now, she devotes her life to Manna Renay.   Pale and covered in snow and frost, she and her entourage stand at the gates and ask for Hospitality.  Nia asks why she is so cold and learns they had gotten lost in their journey.  "Shanri is more cruel now than usual."  Calaeno admits she is confused at the volcano being part of Nia's Province.  She talks about it being proof of Nia not being ready to own land.  But this statement does not gain as much anger and righteous fury as when Calaeno questions Janine's validity as Nia's spouse.  It becomes apparent the House has yet to accept Nia's choice and the two argue over the matter.  Calaeno is deeply bothered however at how there are tremendously few temples left.  In the four years of their journeys, they had only seen two.

Calaeno then questions Nia on whether or not she owns a Blood Sword.  She becomes more reproachful when Nia says she has none, but does at least have an artifact.  When Nia shows Calaeno the artifact, she identifies it as "A Sinjin" and mentions it was an item created "Before the Rain."  The initials on the mirror spell out "Dano and Obus," two ven who are remembered for having built bridges and temple defenses with steel that had been crafted to be as sturdy as a Blood Sword's steel.  Calaeno hopes to stay for a week before setting off again to continue her pilgrimage.  There are whispers that there have been people who have prayed to Manna Renay, but she has not responded.  It may be the suaven's whimsy, however.  Nia asks about the white star and what it means to the Q'val.  She does not believe it means a suaven is dead, but it may herald bad things to come.  The Horse constellation is incomplete.  Calaeno admits she is searching for senior and more experienced Q'val to petition Manna Renay for answers.  Nia offers to build a temple herself, to save Calaeno from dying in the wild.  But without a relic, the suaven would have to be courted with incense.

Calaeno Steiner, Q'val of the Holy Mother
Calaeno Steiner, Blooded of the Bear, Q'val of Manna Renay
Three true things about Calaeno Steiner
She is Wisest among her sisters.
She fails to understand matters of the heart.
She used to be married, but it ended.  

Nia tells Janine that Calaeno has come to visit.  Janine holds the ring which Nia had been given by Dranna Ru.  Janine admits that there was no affair nor Romance.  They did have a bond stronger than anything Nia knows - but not stronger than what they have.  Dranna Ru and Janine were of a single region, the same one where Ru and her brother were from.  When Nia asks how to best kill Dranna Ru, Janine reiterates that there was no Romance between them.  "She was a witch.  My bother, a thief.  We were all once an Adventuring Company.    I was the group's Druid."  They once took adventures together, and had promised never to stop.  The ring was a symbol of that promise.  Janine admits she has to leave.  She will return when spring has come. Nia feels upset.  Not even knowing Dranna Ru was once dirt helps her feel better.


Althea Thorne, Countess of Kalien
Seran visits her mother.  Althea Thorne is a known explorer of Shanri and only comes back to her Province once a year.  Seran aims to introduce Lukas to her.   A blizzard rages around them as they travel.  There have been rumors that the Storm has changed its name.  That even the Falcons now fear the Storm.  In the blinding blizzard, the Pantaloon struggles to continue safely in the trip.  But then arrowheads thud against the carriage and they have ropes tied to them! The carriage takes a tumble to the side, with Seran almost falling off had it not been for Lukas who pulls her back to safety.  The ropes pull them back to safety as they realize they were traversing a bridge and the blizzard has blinded them of how close to the edge they were.

Althea Thorne, Blooded of the Falcon, Countess of Kalien
Three true things about Althea Thorne
The Foremost adventuress among the Ven.
All of the oldest Provinces now were places she found for the ven.
When she gave birth to Seran, it was Spring.  She was in the Wilderness.

A thing of fur, antlers and odd motions walks towards them as the gates to Castle Kalien open.  It takes Seran a moment to realize it turns out to be her mother in what she calls her winter garb, mask and all.  As the two greet each other, Althea excitedly informs her daughter that she had found him a husband!  They share stories of Althea's adventures and of the underground ruin and Althea asks if the Althua went well, given the spies she had sent there had only shared a partial account of the events that transpired that night.  Althea is shocked, however, when Seran announces who Lukas is.  "Now we have to find a way to kill him," Althea suddenly shifts in tone and sighs at Seran.  She explains she had signed off her lands to the fiancee as dowry.  Lukas offers to kill the man, explaining that as he is not yet Blooded, he can get away with Murder.

They enter the Castle Kalien and find the guest waiting in the Grand Hall.  The man is handsome, young, and charming.  Althea introduces Seran and he takes her hand as he introduces himself as Haroun Q'n.

Haroun Q'n, Duke of Tamal
Haroun Q'n, Blooded of the Fox, Duke of Tamal 
Three true things about Haroun Q'n
He is young, curious and outspoken.
He is courageous, save for Orks.
He remembers the lost art of creating althenta.

As Seran finds herself drawn to the man (especially his prominent dimple), Gaelo arrives.  As it so happens, Galeo was invited by Seran's mother to stand as a witness to the union.  Seran takes Haroun's hand and he invites her to see "his carriage."  To Seran's surprise, they head up the flight to stairs instead of out to the courtyard.  Galeo and Althea quietly talk about the predicament, given Lukas and Haroun, and Galeo offers suggestions as well.

The airship.  The ship was a majestic sight.  Haroun shares that his grandfather was a great builder and explains the ship was an inheritance.  One of two ships he owns.  He invites her for a ride.    She readily accepts.


Galeo suggests that maybe Seran should promise the Duke her first born.  Galeo asks Althea as well if she had found shrines and temples in her many explorations.  The Herald calls out and announces the arrival of Jaric Thayl.  Lukas greets Jaric as his "Brother-in-law" which surprises the others.  As it turns out, Lukas is the brother of Jalani.  Althea takes Jaric aside and the two quickly discuss Jaric's recent findings that they are actually in The Wilderness.  That the ruins of Quan Wei are the Ruins surrounding the home of the Matron Mother Elesa Yvarai.  Althea shows Jaric a journal she found in a ruin, but is not willing to let it be touched.  She explains that it is the journal of someone who lived before the Rain, speaking of the destruction of the Senate and choosing to live among the Orks.  She tells him also of having seen evidence of Orks keeping ven traditions, and even calling themselves a House.  "Fenris," Althea whispers.  According to myth, a ven from the Blooded of the Wolf adopted Orks and gave them a ring.  Jaric shares the stories of Quan Wei.  Quan Wei's teaching was that once an era, a woman will be chosen to be a Dara.  Jaric is excited at the idea of finding the old Senate house, the center of the first ven city.

Galeo says that Countess Isolde won her duel, and informs them that she has taken over Elesa's land.  Jaric shares more history of the infamous Crimson Inquisitor of the time before the Rain.


Seran stands on the airship.  In most ways, the ship seems nothing different from a normal typical ship.  Only it floats above the very ground.   Haroun shows her how to steer the vessel, and she discovers that the ship can actually be handled alone.  Watching her celebrating the ship, Haroun finds himself passionately overwhelmed and that moment he drops to one knee and proposes.

"Althea Thorne, will you marry me... I mean Seran Thorne..."

Seran catches that.  And hounds him immediately about his interest in Althea.  But then, a flying Ork swoops down on them.  White as snow, with a bulging furry back, the winged monstrosity lands upon the deck and prepares to strike.  With a graceful strike, Seran strikes at the furry mound only to find it unfurling to reveal a rider underneath.  The rider radiates a Terror that neither Seran nor Haroun have ever faced before.  And even worse, Haroun seems to be greatly disabled by the fear.


Althea turns her attentions on Lukas.  She asks him to convince Seran to let Haroun court her.  The Herald announces the arrival of Nia Jalan.  They update her quickly on the events so far.


The figure steps down from the Ork's back, a wicked Blood Sword dragged behind him.  With eyes as black as pitch, Seran easily realizes the man speaks the veth's Vulgar tongue.  He tells them to leave and as she tries to knock the wheel over to disable the ship, the man's face contorts into some terrifying shape that hits Seran with an even greater Terror.  Seran, however, finds enough Courage to still move, and she pulls Haroun with her into a basket on the side of the vessel which detaches and safely descends towards the ground.  The Duke first tells Seran not to worry about the ship and claims he has a second one.  He even convinces her at first that the vessel will return to his port on its own.


Althea and company are talking about their plans.  Althea is resigned to losing her land and moving in with Seran and Lukas.  Nia sees out the window the basket the Duke and Seran are in gently reach the ground.  Seran and Haroun find an excited Nia who rushes to them.  Jaric follows and the two start throwing them questions.  They pull Seran aside and tell her of the plan to have her let Haroun court her, but Seran protests.  Galeo and Nia have plans and conspire.

Meanwhile, Althea and Jaric try to convince Haroun to allow them an expedition with his airship.  They also slide in the suggestion to Haroun that he consider courting Seran a bit longer.  Jaric asks Haroun what his desire is and Haroun admits he wants Althea... to be proud of him.  Both Jaric and Galeo read more than the Duke is saying, however.  Jaric senses that Haroun is romantically interested in Althea.  Galeo senses that Haroun will continue courting Seran if Althea will be happy if he did so.  Althea is not exactly uninterested.  Haroun is attracted to Courage he does not have.  Haroun likes lost causes and things that are hard to get.  But ultimately, Haroun lacks the teeth of one who is Cunning.

Haroun is convinced to do it.  He admits that the first airship won't be coming back, but they have a second and Haroun offers to let the group use it to chase after the first.  There is some discussion on whether or not Althea will accompany them, however she reminds Seran that this is her opportunity to prove herself.  Haroun shares with them that his libraries and Province will be watched over and cared for by her dear friend, Isolde Valar, Blooded of the Serpent, Countess of Khattam-Shud.  If the stories are to be believed, the Senate was destroyed by an Ork cataclysm.  Haroun draws out a small silvery white shard from his pocket and uses it to reach out and contact Isolde.  Jaric demands to know where it was taken from and learns that he was given the shard by Isolde; she has been giving them to those she deems her Friends.

The ven are decided.  An expedition to hunt for the stolen airship.
And they are all to meet again come the green of Spring.


Lukas takes the ring he had given Seran, the sign of their love and marriage.  Both realize the ring shouldn't be around her finger if she is to entertain Haroun's advances.  Seran reminds Lukas that he will give it back to her in time.  He simply tells her, "Only if you ask for it back."

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Five Inspirations : The Shadows of Esteren

Brotherhood of the Wolf
For fear borne from the unknown, dark conspiracies and shadowed woods.

His Face All Red
Slow building terror that roots you in your seat and demands you reach the end.
Absolutely excellent material.

The Secret of Kells
Visually stunning.  Symbolically appropriate and show you how horror can nicely mesh with vivid fantasy and color.

Prophet: Remission
The reimagined approach to John Prophet has broken genre barriers and created a whole new world that can inspire alien yet familiar landscapes.  Feondas ideas abound.

Religion.  Passion.  Survival.  And Poetry.  Language and Prayer.
All these are elements that can find purchase in The Shadows of Esteren and become key plot points to explore.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

After the Rain ep02 : Houses of the Blooded

After the Rain

Episode Two
"The White Star"

Houses of the Blooded

Galeo stands in a temple.  There is a massive statue of a white horse.  Galeo is uncertain how many days have passed since appearing in the temple.  The woman in silken robes reminds Galeo of how artists would represent the Suaven Talia Yvarai.  And the temple they are in seems to stand above the cloud line.  Though the guards do not allow Galeo out of the temple, they have helped Galeo recover from the injuries gained in the Ruin.  Using the ash from the brazier, Galeo works on being presentable.  The guards treat Galeo delicately, even though they neither address Galeo using the formal title or name.

When the woman returns, she is more apologetic.  "Does the Rain still fall?"   Galeo says Shanri has survived.  The woman admits she knows of the Rain far too well, but she cannot feel further than her own domain.  She is, indeed, the Suaven known as Talia Yvarai.  She had awoken from her sleep because of the death of another among the Greater Suaven.  She shares how she no longer hears the prayers of the Devoted and how she can no longer sense the shrines in Shanri.   She prostates herself before Galeo and asks a favor.

"Find out which one had died."

Galeo is uncertain who it could be.  As far as Galeo knows, all the Blessings are still working.  Talia tells Galeo she will return Galeo to the Ruin.  Galeo asks for a relic to build her a shrine.  She hands Galeo a means to return back to the Temple, a Shard of something that was perhaps once a massive Pearl.  Galeo realizes Talia has not heard of anyone's prayers in a while and Galeo's prayer must have been the only one she has heard in so long.   She also hands Galeo a red apple.  She tells Galeo that it has stored inside her kisses (all seven of her Blessings).  Galeo asks what will happen if the information discovered leads to Revenge.  Talia reminds Galeo that she is not of Revenge.  The spear men lead him away.    Galeo's thought race, however.  If this is truly her mountain, the spearmen are clearly veth.  Someone must be feeding them.   Someone must have provided them.

At the base of the White Horse, there is a carving of a massive pearl.  Galeo asks how Talia fares and she admits she has a caretaker - A woman who thinks her name cannot be remembered for the failures of her past.  Galeo asks which prayer Talia last heard and she admits it was Galeo's cry seeking sanctuary.  The world swirls.  The Horse Statue moves.  A blinding white light.


At the dining hall back at Ul, Matron Mother Elesa starts asking each one about how they fared in the expedition.  Count Kether begins by saying he failed, and that Galeo was lost as he ran towards the Ork to do battle with it.    Nia asks the Count where he struck the Ork and he admits it was somewhere "sensitive." The Baron  Felix, a reclusive genius, sits beside Jaric.  He mumbles that Kether does not seem right and that he has a more accurate account on the numbers regarding the Ork.  The Baron converses with Jaric on the expedition.

Kether continues to share his account and Seran reacts with interest at Kether's mention of the cookies.  Baron Path, a tall raven-haired man with an eye patch accuses Seran of bringing the poisoned cookies, but Seran deflects the accusation.  He turns to Nia instead and then goes quiet.  Count Badden of Fanglord, Blooded of the Wolf, encourages Kether to share more and even invites him to lead the next expedition!  

Zsanos Yvarai, Count of Kether
Baron Felix shows off the trophy he had picked up - a Serpent Earring - and Jaric realizes it looks like the same earring owned by Dranna Ru.  Baron Path, however, also reveals a similar earring as a trophy.  "They seem to match my set," a Countess speaks up, and all turn to see a silver-haired beauty they recognize to be Countess Isolde.  She even has a bracelet that matches the earrings.  She reproaches Jaric for being so particular with history, when history itself may be wrong.  Jaric knows her as a former member of the Senate.  One who was outsed for being known to be a liar.  Baron Felix challenges her claim to the earrings.  Jaric wants to simply verify which one is the real one.

And that's when the pair step into the chamber.  Golden haired with silver clothing, with a proud bright mask of red, Baron Fyx Mwrr, comes into the light with his twin brother Ryx Mwrr alongside him.  The others all recognize the man.  He was once the Count they all served.  Fyx is heart-broken, and holds an ardent interest in the era of the Sorceror-Kings.  Fyx state of Padana was borne from Isolde's lie about him  which she told the Senate.  And worse yet, after leaving Fyx, she won the heart of his brother, Ryx.

They trade barbed words, insulting one another, and as Tavlim greets Fyx as his "brother", Count Badden interjects that they should all just go back to the Ruins to explore it.  However, his glance towards where Count Kether was finds instead an empty seat.  A quick glance among the servants reveals the veth he wanted was gone as well.

"You were all invited here for a reason," Matron Mother Elesa admits and tells how she was once the Spymaster for the then Count Fyx.  She gathered all the other former Vassals that served the Count and brought them here to "gift" them to the Count.  Seran approaches Fyx, reminding him that she was the one who found his Province before.  Fyx forgives her and allows her to leave, "... with all your friends."

Isolde moves to take Elesa hostage, using the Blessing known as the Circle of Protection to keep them separated from everyone else.  Seran takes Nia with her and the two find Elesa's personal guard moving forward to protect them and show them an exit.  Jaric approaches Fyx and makes a vow to protect him and keep him safe.  Jaric invokes a Blessing however that forces Fyx to promise the same.  Ryx, on the other hand, guides Tavlim to safety.  As archers unleash arrows and begin killing the other Ven, Elesa begins the use of Sorcery to battle Isolde.  However, Jaric Moves the Pawn and reminds Elesa that the use of Sorcery is frowned upon.    Isolde takes this opportunity to challenge Elesa to a duel; Elesa chooses Count Badden to serve as her champion.


Nia and Seran withdraw from the events and are guided by the Staff to the stables where their own servants await. They discover some of the new Holdings Elesa has started with the Ranch being the most prominent one.  As Nia addresses the Staff of one of the dead Ven, inviting them to serve under her, Seran recognizes the noble horses and veth horses in the stable and learns of the Ranch.  The two wisely decide it is time to leave.

"A white star," Lukas tells the two and they look up to see a falling star in the sky.  Lukas asks aloud what it means and Nia worriedly mutters, "A white star falling from the sky means a Suaven has died."

There is a sound.  A blur of white streaking towards the Castle of Ul.
Galeo Silja has returned.


The duel is set for the first light of dawn.

Elesa has the corpses of the dead ven gathered for the duel.  Galeo is escorted by the Roadmen into Ul and finds Jaric on his way out. Jaric shares his displeasure of the massacre but Galeo tells him there are bigger and more pressing things to worry about.  Jaric recognizes the Shard in Galeo's hands as an artifact once owned by Quan Wei.  Despite his protests, however, Jaric has no choice by to acknowledge that Galeo has become the keeper of the Old Ways and Touched by the Suaven.  He sees faint letters upon Galeo's forehead, but it seems only Jaric can read them.

Count Kether meets them on his way out.  He carries something in his coat and his boots are drenched with drippingblood.  Jaric notices Kether's Blood Sword is missing.   As Kether bids them farewell, Jaric and Galeo continue to talk about what had transpired.  Jaric invites Galeo to his Province for the Opera, more eager now for reasons Galeo interprets as due to being more respected.


On their journeys home...

Nia finds a servant holding a parcel for her.  A gift from Elesa.  It is a small mirror and inside, Nia sees the image of the missing Baron Velya.  The note reads it is a gift for those who were not against Fyx.

Jaric finds an amulet that does not look valuable or expensive.  He is uncertain what it is meant to do.

Seran finds a perfume bottle as a gift.  She realizes the craftsmanship is odd and unfamiliar.  Crudely built and sealed tightly, she decides to put it away for now.

Galeo finds the white steed still waiting for him.  The guardsman at the gate  asks Galeo if the man who left prior was Count Kether.  When Galeo realizes the guard seeks Kether, and deduces he probably is related to the veth woman, Galeo offers the man to become a Master Swordsman under Galeo's care.  The man has a lock of the veth's hair tied into his own.  He accepts.

And finally, Nia pens a letter.
He tells Jaric of the falling star.

He tells him that a Suaven may be dead.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Evolve Your Game: Music for the First Timer

Evolve Your Game: Ambient-Mixer
Game: Any

When I was running games way back in the 80s, I used to struggle with movie soundtracks played on a cassette player (A what?) to enhance my games.  I remember wearing down my Enya tapes as I ran them over and over to add a deeper emotional charge to my Dungeons and Dragons games.  I recall recording selected tracks from The Lion King, The Prince of Egypt and even Mulan in a single tape so rather than have to manually rewind the tape each time a song ran out, I could keep it playing over and over again.  Eventually, I could afford my own CD player and following that, mp3 player, that I started to burn CDs with various mp3s and would even create "Official Soundtracks" for the games I would run.

And I remember how other groups would be astonished, or impressed, or inspired by how I'd use music in those games, and in many instances, they would ask how to start doing something like that in their own games.    Thankfully, nowadays, using music isn't that hard to accomplish in one's own games.  The internet offers a wealth of opportunities to dip into and take a stab in adding music to their games.   Purchasing movie soundtracks, thematic scores and even mood music now is very easy.  Creating your own playlists to have tunes arranged according to a specific emotion or atmosphere are as easy as clicking and dragging songs to a window, depending on what software you use.

Finally, for those who aren't willing to take the time to burn discs or purchase songs, there are websites that make it even easier to do.  This post is focused on one such site:  Ambient Mixer.

Ambient Mixer is a free online resource with a thriving community that has been creating wonderful soundscapes for others to use.  The site requires no installation to use and all the music are created with royalty free audio files.  Need an evocative theme to add color to your fantasy games?  Hoping to embellish your board game nights by having appropriate dramatic music while your group plays Last Night On Earth?  Searching for a fun touch of ambient environmental sounds to suggest the group has arrived at that tavern? This site has got you covered.  

 And even better, each arrangement has the appropriate controls so the user can make adjustments where they feel are necessary.  Not too keen on the crickets in the forest music?  Then slide that audio sample down to mute.  Want that cityscape to sound more like a city with busy streets than one with just the occasional car horn?  And slide those portions up and tweak the frequency of the loop.

Ambient Mixer is the kind of website I wish I had back when I started my gaming days.  And I'm extremely happy that others have the opportunity to use such a site now to give their game that added dose of cool.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Soundtrack Suggestion: Silent Hill 4

Silent Hill 4
by Akira Yamaoka
Vocals by Mary Elizabeth McGlynn and Joe Romersa

Silent Hill 4 had two discs, but only the first disc is covered in this review.  The second disc was an audio drama called "Inescapable Rain in Yoshiwara" and is not applicable for this review.  Fans of the Silent Hill series would definitely be aware of how different this soundtrack seems to be compared to the first three.  The presence of vocals in many songs is quite evident, and while this does not lessen the mood or atmosphere of the soundtrack per se, it does limit the usability of those tracks for one's games.

The soundtrack is composed of 22 tracks, with many of the tracks oddly actually not being present in the game itself.  The dark foreboding and oppressive atmosphere of the songs remains present and strong, retaining the distinct identity introduced in the first  few soundtracks of the Silent Hill brand.

The album opens with Tender Sugar (Track 01) which would have been a great piece for a game had it not had the excellent vocals by Mary Elizabeth McGlynn.  This same sad judgement call would have to apply as well to Cradel (sic) of Forest (Track 11), Your Rain (Track 15), Room of Angel (Track 21), and more so with Waiting for You (Track 22) which is a live performance (complete with audience applause and cheering).  As this is a review on the viability of the Soundtrack on being used in table top games, let's mark these tracks as non-usable this early save for those who are willing to risk having vocals disrupt the game.

Waverer (Track 02) opens with an engaging beat formed by the snare drum and cymbals, but then quickly shifts to a dissonant set of disturbing piano chords.  The total combination, however, nicely works to a spooky effect. Fortunate Sleep - No One Disturb Her Dead (Track 03) carries the same feel but utilizes syncopated beats and piano keys with an echoing effect giving the piece a nice haunting quality.  

Melancholy Requiem (Track 04) is a strong favorite of mine from this soundtrack, that combines haunting with an almost positive "You Can Do It" feel which is perfect for opening sequences in a game.  Admittedly, the Silent Hill 4 game uses this as the game's beginning song as well.  The song does have a sudden shift to an almost introspective feel near the end, but all in all it still works out nicely in a loop.   This track isn't as awesome as Drops of Shame (Track 06) however, which very delicately uses piano keys to contrast the base beat created by an almost industrial percussion.  Perfectly loopable and immersive. Silent Circus (Track 08) nicely bookends Melancholy Requiem, and can almost be used as good scene change track.  Not to dark,but not to happy either.

Confinement (Track 05) is a harsh guitar riff that makes me thing gang members.  It would do good for scenes of conflict though.  Resting Comfortably (Track 15) would have been pretty awesome to contrast Confinement had it been longer than 51 seconds.  It is, however, a wonderful piece to use for any moment of hope and light in an otherwise dark game. The Last Mariachi (Track 16) is deliciously disturbing, with a guitar focused motif that tries to create a harmony, yet gives the impression of something just not quite right.  A great atmospheric piece especially for unexpected moments.  Underground Dawn - Never Come (Track 18) seems undecided if its a background piece or if it is supposed to be a live performance.  It seems to be both, and thus wins a slot in the WTF area.  Fever Chill (Track 19) would be the elevator music version of that WTF moment. 

The Suicidal Clock Chime (Track 07) feels weaker than most tracks.  It was created to sound like the chimes of a distant bell, with the distortions almost making one thing it was tolling underwater.    Traversing the Portals of Reality (Track 09) feels very jarring given the rest of the soundtrack.  It isn't a bad piece, but it does feel a bit closer to a weird pulp movie.  Doesn't loop as well either.  Into the Depths of Self Discovery (Track 10) feel like the slow approach of a relentless threat.  The music builds in a careful pace that unsettles without distracting.   Not my favorite, though.

Nightmarish Waltz (Track 13) reminds me of how horror was approached back in the 80s, with a distinct harmony created with the synthesizer and a repeating motif in its approach.    In contrast, Pulsating Ambience (Track 14) is an excellent piece, with the synth nicely punctuated by a steady heart-beat of a percussion.  The occasional wah just adds to the piece nicely.  A nice nod towards a brighter moment in a sea of darkness.  Wounded Warsong (Track 17) ups the danger with a spiraling leitmotif that, if faster, would sound like an alarm siren.  The song is versatile enough to be a combat track if the gm wanted a battle that had a tactical feel.

Remodeling (Track 20) is a throwback to the industrial beats introduced in the very first Silent Hill soundtrack, but has hissing sounds that make me think of mechanical crickets.  The final result reminds me of those 1940s information videos.

Overall, the soundtrack has potential for many games, but what bothers me is how there aren't any tracks that work for sad, depressed, dramatic moments.  The music seems so caught up in sounding different and disturbing that I feel they lost a lot of opportunity for more emotive pieces.  But yes, it remains a worthy addition to one's soundtrack collection for game masters who want to push their games another step forward.

Silent Hill 4 OST track suggestions:WTF moment: The Last Mariachi (Track 16), Underground Dawn - Never Come (Track 18), Fever Chill (Track 19), Remodeling (Track 20)
Introspective/calm moment: Weaver (Track 02), Fortunate Sleep - No One Disturb Her Dead (Track 03), Melancholy Requiem (Track 04), Silent Circus (Track 08),  Traversing the Portals of Reality (Track 09)
Tense/mystery moment: Drops of Shame (Track 06), The Suicidal Clock Chime (Track 07),  Into the Depths of Self Discovery (Track 10)
Combat music: Confinement (Track 05), Wounded Warsong (Track 17)
Hopeful moment: Resting Comfortably (Track 15), Nightmarish Waltz (Track 13), Pulsating Ambience (Track 14)
Drama/sad moment:  None

Best Used In:  Dark games. Modern setting feels more necessary here, although I can imagine this being effective for post apocalyptic settings as well.  Not as flexible as Silent Hill 2 or Silent Hill 3, but definitely more flexibility than Silent Hill 1's soundtrack.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Now Out: TRUST ME - A Doll Anthology

It is finally out!
I hope you guys like it.
Do please buy it today.

In development: mem:RE - 3rd glimpse

mem:RE - 3rd glimpse
As I mentioned last year, one of the games I'm working on is mem:RE a real-time super spy game where what you can do is as flexible as what you can recall. Here's another glimpse on the coming system for that game.

The mem:RE function
Every Agent, when they need to, can activate a special function called mem:RE which works by pressing their left thumb against the wrist of the right arm. When mem:RE is activated, the Agent can reallocate the dots he had earlier set, allowing every Agent to modify and adjust themselves to better fit a situation.

However, mem:RE is not a foolproof system.
Each time mem:RE is engaged, the player rolls dice equal to the number of dots that have become newly gained stats. Every die that comes out a one is at the risk of being lost. An Agent can lose only as many Ones as he had used mem:RE times in a mission (so the more often the function is used, the bigger the amount of possible lost Memory Dots). Abuse the function too much and you might just fail to recall what you're supposed to do.
Adam is in a Mission and realizes he does not have the Physique to parkour down the side of the building safely.  He uses MEM:RE and reallocates his dots, giving himself a three on Physique.  He nets two Ones, however, but since this is the first time he MEM:REd in the Mission, only one dot is lost.

Secondly, while dots in Stats can be reallocated each time the Agent MEM:REs, dots alloted to Short Term Memories cannot be replenished when removed.  Short Term Memories can only have dots allocated to them during the initial Formatting phase.

Adam has Loyalty, Bill at 1 and one dot in every Mission Parameter, when he is forced to MEM:RE.  This being his fourth time to do so, he sadly rolls four Ones, bringing his dots down big time.  Knowing he needs them in Stats to succeed, he decided to risk removing the dots in Mission Parameter, Kill Clause and Loyalty, Bill.  These dots cannot be replenished in later MEM:REs during the Mission.   And now Adam cannot recall the Kill Clause, nor remember who Bill is in relation to him!  But he still remembers enough of the mission to continue.

This can lead to issues of trust and danger which the Agent will have to manage one way or another.

Each time an Agent succeeds in a mission, he is given a point of Recognition.  Additional Recognition points are earned for rolling doubles during a Mission. (Yes, rolling multiple 1s does give Recognition!)  Recognition can be cashed in to purchase "permanent" stats to reflect Long Term Memory.

Lost dots during a Mission are replenished once the Agent is Reformatted with the new correct number of dots for a new Mission.

The game's dice system:
When performing actions, the player need only roll a 4 or higher on a six-sided die.  Each dot in the appropriate Stat allows him to roll a six-sided die.

When a player fails the roll, the GM narrates the outcome, which may or may not have the player still succeed in the action.  Typically, failing to reach 4 or higher means things get worse for the Agent.  Any six-sided die that match allows the GM to add an additional detail to the outcome.

When the player makes the roll, the player can narrate the outcome.  Any six-sided die that match allows the player to add an additional detail to the outcome.

Adam is sneaking past the enemy guards to gain access to the control room. He has Ghost at 2 but no Access, so while he can get close enough, he will have to figure out a way to get past the locked door.

He rolls two six-sided dice for his Ghost and gets a 1 and a 3.  The GM narrates, "You get to the door, slipping past the sleepy guard, but as you do, you realize there is a second guard inside the control room."

Adam realizes he will have to wing it and tries to lure the guard out.  He taps on the door gently, hoping to lure the second guard out.  The GM deems this Charm and he has Charm at 2.  He rolls 5 and 5.  Adam describes how he taps on the door,  and this catches the guard's attention.  The guard not only moves to check, but actually opens the door enough to stick his head out (this being the detail added by the matching 5).  The GM tells Adam to now roll Physique to knock the guard out before he can call out in alarm.

Certain equipment and tools can give the player a +1 to one of his dice.  Better equipment can grant +1 to more than one die, but clearly this bonus only helps those who are skilled enough to benefit from it.  The best equipment in the world actually grant an extra bonus die.

When the player gets injured, he has two options:  the first is to assume the injury is Painful.
A Painful injury raise the target number by 1.  You can have a number of Painful Injuries equal to your Physique.  If the number ever exceeds the Physique, excess Injuries become Damaging instantly.

The second option is to assume the injury is Damaging.
Damaging injuries do not affect the target number, but remove one dot of the player's choice.

Unless otherwise stated, a player can always choose which type of injury he receives.  At times, it may be advantageous to have multiple Painful injuries.  In other instances, it may be better to simply take a Damaging injury instead.  Thankfully, your training allows you to choose between the two.  Once the choice is made and the damage is applied, however, they can no longer be readjusted.

If you ever lose your final dot in Physique, you are Flat-lined.
Flat-lined agents are on the verge of dying.  For some, being Flat-lined might mean having far too many physical wounds that the agent can no longer act.  For others, the agent being Flat-lined might be due to brain hemorrhaging or mental degeneration from abusing the mem:RE.

Agents who are Flat-lined and suffer another Damaging injury, or are forced to lose their last Memory dot, are Killed In Action.   Such agents can no longer engage in future Missions.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Story Twists Made Easy

Story Twists Made Easy
by Tobie Abad

When I'm going through gaming groups in Google Plus, a common question I see raised by other gamers is how does one come up with an unexpected or quick story for a game session.   Some people feel that they are only able to run pre-written adventures because they're not too confident about their ability to write stories.

Here are some of my suggestions in coming up with story twist or ideas for your own games.

1. Take the Expected Assumptions, then Attack them.

Take your typical fantasy game and think of what are expected assumptions in the game, be it in the setting or the system.  Then focus on those elements and see how you can switch them around.

For example:
In most fantasy games like Dungeons and Dragons, Dungeon World, The 13th Age and the like, an expected assumption would be that Undead Monsters are Evil.  The main reason they are undead is because their souls are trapped in the bodies, or they're so consumed by anger and hatred that they live on in a state of undeath.  So what if the players meet a Ghoul that claims to be good?  More interestingly even, registers as good when magic is used to detect its alignment.   You can even push the envelop completely and have a Lawful Good Lich that seeks to make the world better.

A few more examples:
Humans are the dominant race.
So what if in the setting, humans are dying out?  The PCs are some of the few remaining ones?

The Sun rises in the morning.
What if it didn't?  Or what if TWO sun rose in the morning?

After attacking the assumption, write down your ideas as you explore it in the different angles you think would be interesting for the game.

2. Embrace the Tropes save for one detail.

Tropes are not a bad thing.  They are familiar and can be relied upon for an audience to very quickly grasp something in a narrative.  So don't feel that using tropes is a bad thing.  Use that expectation of the trope to your advantage, and twist one single detail in it to find something new.  The first twist tends to still be tropey, so don't be afraid to twist it even further after the first attempt.

For example:
The Absent-Minded Professor is a common trope.   We always have characters who are super smart or frighteningly intelligent and this is balanced out by either a memory problem or a tendency to get diverted or distracted.    So this is a trope you can easily place in your games.

Now twist:
What if the absent-mindedness or the memory block isn't just due to injury or age.  What if it was because of something intentional.

Now twist to the limits:
The intentional cause is this:  the professor's rival has miniaturized himself into a tiny being and the original plan was to spy on the Professor.  But the professor had inhaled the rival and the rival is now trapped somewhere near the Professor's brain, and has been attacking it through the years hoping to get his vengeance.  These injuries are the cause of his memory loss.

The beauty here is you have websites such as TVTROPES.ORG that nicely give you a pool of ideas to start on.

3. Mix Two Things You Feel Are Completely Different

Coming up with ideas isn't as different as cooking a meal.  Everything is a possible ingredient (though not necessarily a GOOD one).  The trick is to explore combinations until you find something that works.  The beauty here is, unlike cooking, the combinations you make are not necessarily lethal when tried.

So for a quick example, let's say you were running a super hero game inspired by Marvel Comic's Avengers.  So you have players who will be super heroes from different backgrounds.

Consider what will happen if you mixed the following to the game
.... giant kaiju monsters
.... intergalactic sentai policemen
.... Terminator
.... Adventure Time
.... World War I
.... Battlestar Galactica

At first, your brain might see the combination in the campiest possible way (Iron Man fighting against the Power Rangers, not cool), but then try adjusting the second element to be more thematically connected.  (Iron Man is now fighting an alien force whose troops are composed of children from various planets all trained to fight in teams of five).  Suddenly the ideas can be more viable.  Anything too funny or wacky at the onset can actually be developed into something viable if you just get past the initial hilarity of the combination.

Great ideas have started by mixing unthinkable elements.  Romeo and Juliet + Zombies, for example, gave us the wonderful movie Warm Bodies.  X-Files + Alternate Universes gave us Fringe. Heck, Ally McBeal was such a hit when it came out because it mixed two things deemed unmixable before:  Drama and Comedy.

So there you have it.  Three ways to quickly boost your brain to come up with new plot twists and story ideas.  Hope they help!

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Gifts and Second Chances : Demon the Descent


Gifts and Second Chances
Demon: The Descent

A few friends messaged me on Facebook, asking if I would be free to run them a session of The Onyx Path's latest offering to the World of Darkness setting, Demon: The Descent.  While the book isn't available on Drivethrurpg yet, they made practically all the book's text available on the Demon: The Descent Kickstarter.  Using that, as well as the free Quick Start available here, I decided to map out a game for the group.  This would also be the first new game for 2014.

The characters in the game are:
Mister Nickolai Dusk : Dusk
Using The Architect pre-generated character, played by Phil 
Mister Dusk was tasked to form a cult (Humanity Plus Institute) but ended up failing to do it well.  His failure caused Mister Dusk to fall.   He now still works at the same building, hoping to find a new life among his fellow fallen and other humans.
Shared yourself with: Musician
Suspects not human: Kat (An Intern at work)
Can give you up right now: Nice Guy
Trust: Street Kid
Thinks they have something on you: Karen (Boss at work)

Alex Green : Mister Blink
Using The Street Kid pre-generated character, played by Paolo
Mister Blink was tasked to watch over Amelia Wagner and James Boyle but failed to save them from a car accident.  This failure caused Mister Blink to fall.  He now continues to go to school half a block from the building where the other fallen work, hoping to simply live a more human life.
Shared yourself with: Musician
Suspects not human: Joseph Black (Best friend at school)
Can give you up right now: Architect
Trust: Nice Guy
Thinks they have something on you: Smith (Teachers)

Diane Zeiss : Mrs. Blank
Using The Nice Guy pre-generated character, played by Baki
Mrs. Blank was tasked to be an office worker and was supposed to terminate Rikka Tsuruta, but she found herself  falling in love with her target.  Rikka and her fiance, Daniel Coleman, remain together.  Rikka now works in the same building as the Messenger.
Shared yourself with: Architect
Suspects not human: Daniel Coleman
Can give you up right now: Street Kid
Trust: Architect
Thinks they have something on you: Daniel Coleman

Christopher Humphries : Mister Glass
Using The Musician pre-generated character, played by BJ
He was tasked to deliver a message to the public, he failed to find the courage to make the declaration.  He has found a new life after falling by remaining in touch with the other demons.
Shared yourself with: Street Kid
Suspects not human: Jose (Guard at School)
Can give you up right now: Architect
Trust: Nice guy
Thinks they have something on you: Rikka Tsuruta

The sessions opens at an office building with Dianne Zeiss being harassed by Karen, the boss of the floor she is on, as she is delivering parcels and mail.  She has been lingering longer on the floor than usual because she overheard Rikka on the phone having an argument with someone.   Perhaps an argument with Coleman.

Karen, clearly abusive in her role as a boss, reminds Dianne to know her place, then heads off to attend a meeting.

Christopher is amused at Jose, the security guard of Alex' school, who stares at him from across the street and non-verbally warns him to keep his distance from the place.   He sees Alex with his best friend Joseph heading to school and waves a hello.  Alex tells Joseph to go ahead and passes by Christopher to hand him some money.  Jose calls out at the boy to stay away, but their demon pays him any heed.  "Here," Alex smiles, "You'll need it."  Alex heads back to school and Christopher decides to check on that woman who always listens to his music (Rikka).

Christopher walks to the Richter building, but finds Karen on her way out.  She seems angry that her car has not appeared and fires the assistant who is supposed to be handling those plans.  "You," she calls out to Christopher and asks, "Do you know how to use this thing?" as she waves her smart phone.  When he says yes, she throws it to him and tells him, "You work for me now."

She steps into her car, followed by her assistants who tell Christopher to step inside as well.  Inside, Karen's power-abuse is even more evident as she insults one of her assistants who happens to have been an honor student, and has them all drink vodka in the car.

"Absolute power corrupts only if you didn't plan to be corrupt in the first place."

* BOOM *

Nickolai Dusk was at his office, talking to Dianne about how Coleman believes Dianne is actually a "Succubus" when he hears the sudden release of Aether.  The amount unleashed is frighteningly immense.  Dianne Zeiss tells him she felt it too.  She reaches inward to sense the source of the explosion and gets a general sense of where it came from.

"We can head there to investigate right now.  It might be a new fallen demon.  Or something the God-Machine is up to.  Ultimately, the others will be drawn there as well."

Mister Dusk and Mrs. Blank hit the streets, anxious to find the source of this disturbance.


Back in the school, Alex hears the explosion as well.  Sadly it happens just as the teacher, Mister Smith, was asking him a question.  "Your answer, Mister Smith?"  Realizing being sent to detention was the easiest way to get out of the school grounds the fastest.  He evades Jose, the security guard, and finds his way to the street before anyone else can notice.

Following the aetheric trail, Mister Blink knew the others were most likely on the trail as well.  It was only a matter of time before he caught up with them on his skateboard.  What he did not expect, however, was to see his dear friend Joseph walking on the opposite side of the road.  The poor boy looked exhausted.  And worse, his hands were stained with blood.


Christopher heard the boom as well.  While Karen had her driver bring the car to a nearby McDonalds, for her to taunt the drive-through operator, Christopher realized it was time for the amused musician to take a back seat and for Mister Glass' concerns to take precedence.

Shoving the door open, Mister Glass bid Karen goodbye and walked off, leaving the open-mouthed boss in shock.  Mister Glass did not see how the staff of McDonalds, incensed by Karen's unkind words, gathered around the car.


Another Boom.

Mister Dusk and Miss Blank feel the second release of Aether swoop over them.  Knowing its somewhere near, the two quickly survey the area and try to figure out the most likely location.  Though the unleashes were immense, somehow the exact location seemed shielded from their senses.  They stood at a commercial block, with cafes on opposite ends, a flower boutique, a diner and a day care center.  "One of these was the location where the Aether was unleashed.   I'll take the cafe on the far end," Miss Blank suggested.   Mister Dusk, however, focused instead on the details and noticed the trail of smoke from the Diner's chimney occasionally glitching, moving backwards back into the exhaust than out.  He decided to head there.

At the cafe, filled with people in suits, Miss Blank was surprised to find Karen seated at the center, berating the people around for being in the cafe.  "We all know the real reason you folks are here is because none of you have the skills to brew your own coffee!  This junk is like mostly just milk, cream and sugar with a dash of some caffiene."  Surprised to find here here, but amused nonetheless, Miss Blank opts to use Devil's Advocate to instigate some people to talk back.  As the shouting match begins, Miss Blank pulls away and let's the fireworks fly.  Karen, however, sees her and calls out, "I know what you are Dianne Weiss!  I know what you are!"  She does not follow her, however.

Mister Dusk, on the other hand, is surprised to see Karen in the diner.  Standing in front of a white door, Karen seems disheveled and tired.  "Anything I can do for you," the bearded man behind the counter asks, but Mister Dusk ignores him for now.  As Mister Dusk steps inside, Karen opens the door and light floods out, enveloping her in a bright white glow.  The door is closed, and she is gone.

Another BOOM.

At this vicinity, however, the sound is more than just sound and Mister Dusk, Karen and Mrs. Blank are all forced to the ground from the immense eruption of Aetheric energies that is unleashed.


Joseph seems to be in a state of shock.  He mutters strange disjointed statements about having shot his classmates, about seeing Alex still alive, about making the mistake, about the room undoing it, about all the jokes and taunts and having enough..  Mister Blink guides Joseph to the side and leads him to what looks like a nearby laboratory clinic.  He calls for the attendant inside and asks for her help to make sure Joseph is safe.  The attendant yells at them to get out, but Mister Blink convinces her to watch over Joseph to keep him safe.  He slips the gun Joseph has with him into his pocket and hurries out the door.  He ponders on what "Room" Joseph was blabbing about and then hears the third Aetheric explosion.

He realizes he cannot waste anymore time and hurries as fast as he can travel with his skateboard.  He does not see Mister Glass in the bus that drives past him.

Mister Glass, however, is bothered.  Since he got on the bus, he's noticed that the walls all over town seem to have more and more graffiti of stick figures in various acts of fornication.  He began to notice that the graffiti vanishes after one takes their eyes off them.   At the last stop light, the wall beside the bus had over four figures of stick men on them.  When the light turned green, Mister Glass glanced back at the wall to find it empty of the marks.

Calling upon some of his powers, Mister Glass uses Mirror Skin to conceal himself, then Phasing to drop to the street from the bus safely.  As the bus turns the corner, Mister Glass sees the bus has four stick figure drawings graffiti-ed onto its side.

"Angels," Mister Glass realized.    Mister Glass and Mister Blink quickly discuss things, and seeing the news report on the television of Joseph being accused of shooting at school, Mister Blink opts to head to the explosion while Mister Glass tries to check on Joseph.


Mrs. Blank rushes back once she recovers from the explosion and helps Karen to her feet.  Unlike everyone else, only she and Karen were affected by the explosive sound.  As they hurry away from the cafe, ignoring the curious stares of onlookers (or the applause as they people realize the annoying woman is leaving), Karen mumbles something about trying a "room" multiple times to correct all the problems in her life.  They get to the diner to see Mister Dusk getting up from the floor, and confused at their arrival.

"But she just stepped through the door.."

"We have to go.  That sound is sure to draw more angels here."

Both hear the sound of screeching wheels.  Then turn and see a car heading straight for the diner!


"They're angels," Mister Blink realizes, similar to the Polis Men he had encountered before, and he decides to stealthily make his way to the rear of the diner.  The car had crashed through the window, and while he knows his friends are inside, he decides to try and get closer as quietly as possible.  He notices the multiple graffiti markings all around him and pretends not to notice as they soundlessly move last him and gather around the walls and doors of the house.

The angels are the graffiti.  They have surrounded the diner and seem to be waiting for something.  They have not decided to dive straight in.  Mister Blink sneaks in the back and sees the two angels flanking the door as it swings open.  Mister Dusk and Mrs. Blank are rushing through with Karen when the angels move!  Mister Blink draws a shooting star from In My Pocket and hurls it at the angel, grazing it, but drawing its attention long enough for Mister Dusk to strike at the other angel.  In the end, the group realizes that they will have to get away before the angels make things worse.


The school is in lock down.   Strangely, the campus however seems to have lost the boy and the clinic claims he was picked up by his uncle.  When Mister Glass gains the description of the man, it doesn't ring a bell.  The others, had they been with him though, would have told him it matched the bartender in the diner.  Mister Glass rushes to the diner where the others were, sees the graffiti all around, and nervously walks into the diner to join the others.

The others are there, all staring at the bartender who seems to not be too bothered that a car just crashed into his diner.  And the white door that is rimmed with light.


Karen calls.  Sobbing and scared.  She apologies for being cruel.  She wants a second chance.


Rikka is heading home.

She is seconds from walking into Kat, the intern, having sex with her fiance Daniel.


The bartender tells the demons to sit down.  Mister Dusk determines the door is the source of the explosions.  Whatever it can do is related to their own Aetheric powers.  What he isn't certain of, is who the bearded man is.

"What time do you close?" Mister Dusk asks.

"Dusk," the bearded man replies.  Then offers them both, "Glass?"  He turns to Miss Blank and asks, "Are you drawing a blank?  Or have you figured out who you're all facing."

"You're an angel?" Mister Blink asks.

"Nope.  Blink and you might miss the answer," the man replies, "The door is a gift to you all.  But only for those who deserve it.  Naughty ones don't get invited."

"You sound like Santa-" Mister Glass starts, then stops.  The demons had heard of exiles.  Of other supernatural entities that were neither angels nor demons that were in the world.  Rejected or forgotten by the God-Machine, some still kept at their own duties.  "No way.."

The bartender explains the door is a gift.  "Second chances.  Every one deserves them.  But only when they finally do deserve them.  Karen there, she had four tries so far.  Your friend Joseph just went through.  Happy to have had second thoughts about the gun."

"This is wrong," Mister Dusk mutters.

But the demons realize the exile is offering them the door.  And they realize the angels outside?  They were waiting to see what happens as well.  Santa offers them a key.  "This opens the door.  It is yours now.  Do what you think you should."

Mister Blink takes the key.  He considers throwing it out to the angels.  Bargaining with them.  But some of them start thinking of how far the second chance can go.  He warns them that some of those they loved are about to commit huge mistakes.

Others have already gotten their second chances.

Miss Blank tells Mister Blink to Teleport to Rikka's condo unit.  Blink arrives in time to see Rikka walking into the bedroom.  He activates Halo and forces them all to fall asleep.  He slips them all together, to lie in bed as if they had all slept together, then jumps back to the diner.

The demons watch as the bartender leaves.  He tells the angels, "It is all up to them now."  They do not stop his departure.

The demons give up the room.  They throw the key at the angels and tell them they're leaving.  The angels seemingly accept their exchange.


In the end, Mister Blink is back at school, and learns that Joseph changed his mind.  Joseph was considering bringing the gun to school but decided it was best he didn't.  The mother talks Alex for being a friend to Joseph.  Alex wonders if Joseph will ever realize how much he helped the demon find himself.

Dianne slipped back to the condo and found Kat and Daniel still fast asleep.  She fears Rikka leapt of the balcony and heads there to find her hugging her own legs and silently weeping.  Dianne asks Rikka if she wants to get away from here.  Rikka agrees and the two leave.  Dianne feels her heart leap, knowing at least this time she will be truly close to the woman who caused her to fall.  And maybe, in time, admit her feelings to her.

Nickolai finds a strangely kind and generous Karen at work.  The woman seems genuinely nicer and throws compliments at everyone at work.   She definitely seems to be a changed woman.

And finally, Christopher finds himself landing a desk job.  Karen was so happy of how he handled her that he has been hired to replace the spot of Diane Weiss.  As far as Christopher is concerned, at least now he does not have to worry about needing money.

Second chances.

One would think everyone got gifted one in the end.

Friday, January 17, 2014

After the Rain ep01 : Houses of the Blooded

After the Rain

Episode One
"The Winter Fete"

Houses of the Blooded

The self-titled Mother Matron, Elesa Yvarai, Blooded of the Fox, Baroness of Ul extended invitations out to all the Ven whose Provinces were nearby to a Winter Fete.  Knowing the tradition of gifts for every Althua, the Mother Matron sent word that "While Gifts are expected, Food shall be in good faith accepted as gifts."  To many ven, this suggested the Mother Matron was unprepared to feed her Vassals this Winter.  To others, this was a move to explain that a simpler gift of Food is acceptable given the event's last minute invitation.


Hannah Silja, Blooded of the Fox, Marquise of Dunlath
Three true things about Hannah Silja
Holds a reputation of complete fidelity.
Been a widow many times, but her marriage to Galeo's father is the last and longest.
Galeo has many half-siblings.

Hannah Silja is with Galeo Silja at Castle Purenote.  Hannah offers to send Food if Galeo needs help, although Galeo is fine.  They talk about Galeo's Staff and Art, and the upcoming party of Elesa Yvarai.  Hannah talks about how rebuilding the world upon the ruins of the old Shanri was no easy task and would require the Foxes to consolidate their efforts.  Hannah muses amount how things were different, and callously mentions, "I miss my grandson."  Galeo's child was dead.   Hannah sighs then mumbles, "If you had another child, things might run smoother."  Hannah warns Galeo that Tavlim Steele being in the fete, and suggests Galeo avoid the man.  "His eccentricities can disarming."   Galeo escorts Hannah out without further words.

Galeo writes a letter to Jaric Thayl, a contact gained within the last few years.

Dear Jaric,
It is my fondest hope that with the opening of your Opera House, we may discuss content.
There is a work in motion I feel you would want to see.
Much affection,


Jaric Thayl reads the missive he had received from Galeo Silja as he watches the construction ongoing for his massive Opera House.   The missive was accompanied with a Season's worth of Spice.  Jaric smirks after reading the letter and instructs Jeeves, his Valet, to bring the spice away.  He summons the Mageknights, his Staff, to prepare the room while he pens a response.

Dear Galeo,
If you truly wish to collaborate on an Opera, then I presume we will have to meet here in the Citadel.
Thank you for the Spice. The people are enjoying it.
That is all.


Jallani, Jaric's unblooded spouse, arrives and greets her husband warmly.  She whispers a reproach about the back-handed insult he sent Galeo and shares that she is worried about the content of the Opera.  She reminds him that his carriage awaits to bring him to Ul and that she has already packed his things with the expectation he is to remain at Ul for at least a week.  He asks about her plans and she admits she will be headed to the Eastern Quarterhouse to meet with a Duke friend of hers who wanted to discuss things.  Jaric admits he is impressed.  He has always known her to be a protective mother ("Protective Mother") but he still gets surprised at how independent ("Leave it to me") and sociable ("Friend of the Senate") she can be.  "Don't forget, your Uncle Tavlim will be there."  Their children, apparently are scared of the man and he tends to be very nosy.  She reminds him he is the Baron of Shavri'for.  And for a brief moment, Jaric remembers when Jallani had a brief affair with the Count Kether.  Jaric heads to the carriage after a prolonged deep kiss with Jallani and summons his Risk Men (Personal Guard) to accompany him to Ul.  


Seran Thorne arrives early, as Falcons are wont to do so. The Matron Mother Elesa greets her in a massive dress that seems mostly part of the house itself.  Lucas, Seran's Spouse, is introduced and Elese commends him for his traits "Resourceful, Open-minded, Meticulous".  Seran watches as Lucas masterfully compliments Elesa on her craftwork gown and headress, and smiles as Elesa's favor is won enough for the host to admit a few things.

"I plan to host a exploration of the ruins as part of my party," Elesa admits to Seran, "Given the number of Ruins that dot this place.  Do you think that would be a great idea?"  Seran remembers the massive mile long bridge that they had to take to reach the castle itself.  She realizes now that the bridge was necessary to travel over the three regions of ruins that surrounded the castle.  Seran, naturally, is approving of the idea.  The Matron shares the idea of allowing those who join the event to keep any Artifacts they find in their exploration save for a particular artifact that she desires to find.   Elesa adds, "As well as half the number of the gifts I am to receive in this Althua?"  Seran smiles as she realizes she was the ONLY Falcon to be invited to the fete.    "It would be a great idea, indeed."

Elesa thanks Seran for the vote of confidence and asks her to help "unhook her from her house."  Freed from the massive costume, the two then walk down the halls to start the fete early.


Nia Jalan motions to the crate of peppers (Spices) that she had brought as a present and the Matron Mother thanks her for the thoughtful present.  Nia commends the hostess for the lovely welcome and even complements the beauty she found in the massive bridge leading to the castle.  Elesa thanks the young Serpent and invites her to enjoy the food and meet with the other guests.  It is then when Nia finds herself  in the gaze of a blue-eyed woman whose smile hearkens a hidden agenda.  Seeing the woman has not ceased staring at her, Nia nonchalantly maneuvers to position herself closer to break into a conversation only for the other to reply, "Not yet."

And leave.

Nia watches as the blue-eyed woman is once again staring at her from afar and considers why the woman would focus on her, given the 18  guests in the party.  When a strapping young man stands in between their line of sight, Nia realizes it is time to move.  Using the man's temporary cover to her advantage, Nia maneuvers closer before the man steps aside.  The blue-eyed woman now addresses her, perhaps impressed with the young lady's resourcefulness.  "I know Janine," the woman admit and Nia realizes the woman is referring to her spouse.  She asks if Janine has mentioned her and Nia rebuts, "Janine talks about many things."  They talk about the castle and its three ruins, and how one is a puzzle house.  The woman produces a ring and offers it to Nia, "She might want it back."   

The woman leaves again.  Nia stares at the ring, uncertain, then looks up to see an old man with a book under one arm staring at her and the ring.


Velya Vykos steps away from the two women who seemed to be dancing some dance around him and serves himself a glass of wine.  He notices the old man with a book standing nearby, and realizes the old man is watching the two women Velya was in-between earlier.  "Nice party," he tries to break the ice.  The old man mumbles something about  fees and balances, and then turns to Velya and asks, "You are Velya Vykos, are you not?  Son of Elena Yvarai, Countess of Nod whose County has been divided that you may own a Barony?"  Velya seems surprised.  "I am Tavlim Steele and your mother currently owes me some Lumber.  Given the rules of acquisition and the prevailing taxation to be applied to all inheritances, plus the interest gained for the last three years that have passed since the costs were incurred, you dear boy currently owe me the sum of five units of Lumber.  However, given it is Winter and this is your Initial Year of acquisition of the property - the very reason most likely that your mother had given you the land so late in the year - the Preliminary Discount of New Acquisition thus applies, as does the prevailing Fenris Adjustment to Lumber as agreed upon between the Houses of Steele and Adrente, the recalculated sum that you owe me is three units of Lumber."

Velya took a step back.  "I'm sorry?"

Thankfully, their conversation would be then interrupted by the announcement of the arrival of the final guest, Galeo Silja, Titled Artist Leader of Consortia.  Elesa welcomes him, and passively reproaches her for being late.   Elesa announces that all nineteen guests have arrived.  There is talk about Galeo's mother, and an introduction to Jaric, but the two admit to already having been acquainted.  Elesa hints at wanting to collaborate with Jaric on the opera as well.

Elesa then introduces Nia to Velya, suggesting an introduction to one of her many unmarried sisters.

Seran revists the table and takes cookie from a plate.  A bite, however, causes her to feel her body go rigid and heavy.  She drops to the nearest chair to battle the lethargy.  A lesser poison, it seems! 

The Mother Matron thanks them for coming to her Winter Althua.    She thanks them all for their wonderful gifts and offers to begin tonight's fun with a simple game:  Love Letter.  Selected ven are gathered and shown a table to cards that are laid upon a velvet bag.  The Ven are paired off, with Seran becoming the hostesses pair.  As the hostess explains the rules, Seran convinces her that there should be appropriate stakes to the game.  "Each one wagers a Resource they wish, and the winner gets to claim that wager.  Jaric voices against this being improper to traditions, but Elesa says half of the presents she received will also be given as a prize.

Seran, Nia, Galeo and Tavlim are the remaining ven to play the final rounds, with both Nia and Seran quickly being bested in the final round.  As Galeo and Tavlim stand in the final draw, Galeo traps Tavlim and wins the game.  "Your Metal," Galeo smiles.  "It is yours," Tavlim remarks as he furiously updates his notes in his didjerva.

Galeo chooses to reshare the food that was won.


Nia and Velya talk, mostly about Jaric and his collection of Old Age things.  The blue-eyed serpent interjects.  Seran joins the discussion, which goes right into a discussion of the host's ruins and the puzzle house.  All are clearly excited!  

Tavlim talks to Galeo and insults him a lot and some words end up suggesting they may actually be half-siblings.  He ropes Jaric into the conversation which incurs a lot of dislike.  There is mention of Tavlim having been castle Staff before.  As they are walking away, Tavlim asks about the ring which he heard about from Count Silja.  "A ring that opens anything it knocks upon."

Elesa rounds them up for another game.  She mentions to all that the party shall last five days, a statement which Jaric of course reacts negatively to.  They are asked to partner up - male and female - for the next event and Jaric corners the blue-eyed Serpent, Dranna Ru.

Dranna Ru, Blooded of the Serpent, Baroness
Three true things about Dranna Ru
She is a Baroness because she was demoted.
She committed sorcerous actions.
Her husband died under suspicious circumstances.


The door slams open as a late guest declares himself.

Seran, Gaelo and Jaric recognize him as the Count of Kether.  Count Kether is well recognized by most as one of the few ven who has never broken his word.  Honest, honorable and loyal, Kether is an esteemed noble among ven.  And the most ruthless bastard anyone would ever know.

Zsanos Yvarai, Blooded of the Fox, Count of Kether
Three true things about Zsanos Yvarai
He is an honest, loyal and veberable man.
He has never broken a promise.
He is the most ruthless bastard they have met.

Zsanos demands to be part of the party and chooses Galeo to be his partner.  Jaric approaches Elesa to discuss some things.   Nia partners with Tavlim.  Seran and Velya start competing stories of the adventures they had taken.  Jaric gets snapped at Elesa after he tries to remind her to control her party.  She mutters something about the Puzzle House being the root to the event.

Zsanos and Galeo seemingly flirt with the remarks they throw back and forth.  Dranna Ru taunts Jaric with her earring, which Jaric realizes thanks to his knowledge of First Age things that it is the Legendary Artifact of the Bronze Inquisitor herself, the Whispering Serpent of Ti'Ann Burghe.

The teams are supposed to go into the ruins and whoever returns with the most impressive artifact gets to keep it.  The rest, Elesa claims, are to be offered to the Suaven.  Count Kether interjects and declares he has come to fulfill the demands of Romance and counters the Matron Mother's reward with his own suggestion:  "If I am to succeed and find this grandest artifact, instead of the prize I ask only one thing,"  He points to a veth servant among Elesa's Staff, "Her."  Many gasp in surprise and anticipation.  Galeo could not help but smirk at the sentiment.


The group makes it way to a single ruin. Zsanos believes it may be a more expedient strategy to simply eliminate the opposition.  Jaric discovers that Dranna Ru is the niece of the late Ti' Ann Burge, the Duchess Dowager whom Jaric has based his Opera upon.  Seran persuades Nia and Tavlim to join them in the ruins.  Jaric asks Seran if she can delay Zsanos from entering the ruins in exchange for a Resouce and she agrees.  Dranna Ru flirts with Velya with a few words and finds herself falling asleep when he uses the Good Night Kiss!  Jaric wakes the woman up, who admits he was impressed the man did that.


Seran, Nia, Velya and Tavlim head off, with Seran bribing the old man with food. Zsanos seemed quite interested in Velya's Blood Sword and shares his thoughts on that with Galeo.  Jaric too becomes insistent in going and gets distracted when Dranna Ru starts sharing all the information she has on each of the other Ven. She talks about the different traits Nia, Seran, Zsanos and Velya have and even admits that the cookies she brought were given to her by her Staff. She suggests Jaric use his Riskmen (Personal Guard) to close up the other Ruins.  Jaric doesn't agree with using that tactic.


The party of Ven head to the ruin with Nia taking point.  She easily finds the entrance to the Ruin by searching for signs of Ork activity.  She sees the ruin's entrance despite it being Concealed because it is Heavily Used.  She even notes the Glowing Fungus that can be carried to light their way.  From the tracks, she realizes the Orks are Highly Organized and their motions suggest they are Defending Something.    She knows the Orks are Humanoid, and suspects they Can Be Negotiated With, but that does suggest the Ruin holds something very important to them.

Zsanos starts giving a passionate monologue about love as he and Galeo walk towards the Ruin.   He wounds himself with his own Blood Sword as he talks about the pangs and demands of Romance.


Jaric feels a slight hint of pain as Dranna Ru pokes the earring through his own hear lobe.  He immediately hears it whisper to him about Dranna Ru.  "She must have it..."   When Jaric focuses upon her again, the earring whispers a second time, "She thinks the Old Ways are Better."  The earring is undeniably the artifact the Dowager Duchess once owned.


Zsanos gulps down a cookie.  As Jaric and Dranna Ru walk past him, Jaric hears the earring whisper to him, "My Word Is My Life" as he stares at the Count.  The two enter the ruin and Jaric starts to recognize the old structures as possibly being the former Barony of Quan Wei.  "If the stories are to be believed, there should be a door upon this wall."  Galeo overhears this and uses it to find the entrance as well.  Galeo wants to team up with Jaric and leave Zsanos and Dranna Ru behind, but neither Jaric nor Dranna Ru agree.

Zsanos sits at the entrance, slicing out a chair from the very stone with his Blood Sword.  He tells Galeo of his intention to just wait for the Ven to come out and talks about amputating limbs and simply taking the Artifacts the others had found as an efficient strategy.  "We can simply take them all."  Galeo questions killing other Ven but Kether quickly retorts, "There is no harm in simply amputating their limbs til they surrender."   Amused at Kether's determination to win at his Romance, Galeo eventually us unable to hold back and asks Kether directly what would bring a man to fall in love with dirt.  It is to this question that Kether goes wild, screaming in disgust at Galeo's presumption that he would fall in love with one of the Veth.  "It is her HEAD that I desire," Kether telle Galeo.  "I promised my Heart that I would return with that veth's head.  And I shall."  Galeo's quips go silent.  Kether's determination bothers the young Fox.


The Ruin must have once been a Village.  Perhaps a town.  Seran and Nia are impressed at how huge the location turns out to be.  They deduce the artifact is probably in the Castle, if this was once a Province.  They come across a stone bridge over a chasm and realize while crossing it would be an act of Courage, they would have to do something to slow down those behind them.

"Use your sword," Nia suggests, and Velya understands.  With the enchanted blade, Velya cleaves the bridge into a narrower path others could take.  It bothers Tavlim, however, how he never hears the debris hit the bottom.  He does, however, hear breathing.

They cross a domed chamber where Orks hang from the ceiling in what seems to be a state of sleep.  Seran recognizes them from her previous journeys through Shanri.  "I know these things.  I have encountered them before.  They are easily bribed and like sweet things."  Thankfully, the Orks are asleep.  The group passes them without awakening them.


Dranna Ru and Jaric soon reach the bridge as well.  Jaric opts to cross it and slice it after to prevent others from following, but Dranna Ru cannot find the strength to do so.


Zsanos and Galeo throw suggestions at each other on how to deal with the Ven inside the Ruin.  From their discussions, Galeo soon gets impatient and marches in.  Zsanos is amiable to it, but asks Galeo if he is a hermaphrodite.  Galeo responds to not being one.


Jaric and Dranna Ru discuss Quan Wei and of her aesthetic sense as they continue on in the Ruins.   Dranna Ru finds a mural of the family and they note how all save the face of the husband had been defaced.   The words etched upon the stone are in the language of  the Old Tongue.  "I am Sorry."


Alleyways.  Ruined streets.  Shattered buildings.   As Seran and Nia and the rest move closer to the Castle, they find a Puzzle House not too far away.  A Puzzle House that existed perhaps in the Region before it fell into Ruin!  Velya quickly moves to approach it, hearing whispers and moans of pain coming from somewhere within.  The others do not follow.  As he steps inside, he finds the walls are all mirrors of different shapes and sizes.

Tavlim nods, uncertain if proceeding deeper was the wiser investment.  "Surviving is always a worth return," Nia convinces the old man.


Galeo admits he wants to find something inspirational in the Ruin, something to take away his boredom.  Zsanos notices something from the ground and asks Galeo if the others are his friends.    He points to the ground and shows him marks of something that had just passed through.  "Orks."  Galeo declares they seem to have friends to save, for an epic.  Zsanos counters however that there is only running.  That this is a kind of Ork that builds Ruins to lure victims in.    Galeo stares at the marks on the ground; they are impressions of hands, feet, and faces.  Zsanos moves to leave, but Galeo stops him with a reminder of his promise regarding the Veth.


Dranna Ru and Jaric press on, searching for more notable places in the Ruin.    Dranna Ru asks Jaric about the words on the wall and he admits they seem to be like an apology.  As they talk, the feel the ground shaking.  Something huge and massive is moving in the area.


The puzzle house is a structure of glass and mirrors.  Velya easily opens the door and finds inside a massive chamber that beckons him further inside.  With his Blood Sword drawn, he surveys the chambers and notices a young girl covered in blood standing behind one of the planes of glass.  She mouths words without a sound.  Velya stabs the Blood Sword into the glass where she stands, and is astonished when the girl reacts to the Blood Sword's edge, as if the blade was cutting into another room, instead of a mirror!

The ground rumbled.   Nia and Seran saw a plume of smoke and dust in the distance.  Something was moving.  Tavlim's keen hearing hears the word, "Meat" repeatedly being whispered.  He turns to the two.  "I suggest we run."


Galeo is far behind, but finds the tracks left by the others.  Galeo recognizes a mark on one wall which would be a "ward of protection" that those of Talia Yvarai would make upon walls.  He hears the rumbling noise and the screams that follows.  He pulls on the ward and finds the hook and latch that hold it up.  He pulls on the latch and the wall moves, revealing an illuminated interior!


The Riskmen are screaming.  Jaric sees the unthinkable sight of a massive orb of flesh that moves with a hungry intelligence.  The thing is the size of a building, and it tumbles past them as they hide in the rubble nearby.  Dranna Ru hears, "Feed... Ven... Feed." and turns to warn Jaric.  Jaric feels the Terror sweep past him, but thankfully not be enough to turn him helpless.


The young girl grabs the edge of the Blood Sword, and recoils when the blade cuts her skin!  Velya withdraws the blade and finds it streaked with blood.  The child yells, "TUO!" over and over and Velya realizes she is yelling OUT in reverse.  Thinking the child is a prisoner, he thrusts the blade back into the glass, then cuts a circular shape to create a door into the chamber of the child.  The child stares in horror as the window opens and begins to yell at the young ven, "Open... you've broken the prison.  Are you.. are you the Dara?"

"No," another voice replies, and Velya turns to see a red-haired beauty standing at the entrance of the puzzle house.  "I won this world.  And you will not take that away from me."


Jaric sees the towering Ork and realizes it is composed with hundreds upon hundreds of Ven bodies.  His mind reels with what he's read of this location and recalls there is a secret passage out of the place hidden in the bedroom of Quan Wei.  "To the Castle!"


The Ork was a towering monstrosity in the shape of a fallen world.  Composed of a thousand dead ven bodies, the thing rolled like a sentient orb that crushed and trampled anything in its path.  The Ork tramples the other nearby buildings, pulverizing them into dust without the slightest effort.

"You see that," Seran gasped as the same Ork came into view.  Nia grabbed hold of Tavlim's arm, "We have to go."  But the old man motioned at the Puzzle House, "The Wolf is still in there..."

"We have to come back for him some other time," Seran growled and picked the old man up, "I rather we chose to live this moment."

As the three rushed up the steps to the ruins of a castle, the Ork closed in on them and flattened everything in its path.  Nia recalls a secret passage in and finds it!


"I earned this world," the red-haired woman snarled, "And I am not allowing you to take it away from me."

Velya felt an irresistible force fling him into the same chamber as the young girl.  The glass divide came back into being, trapping them inside.  The girl clutched Velya tight and her tears clearly showed she was the victim here.  He learn she is something called the Dara.

"This is my world now.  Mine.  You are never taking it back from me," the red-haired woman hissed and left the two to huddle in the darkness.  Velya stared at his Blood Sword, left on the floor on the opposite side of the glass.   He held the girl tighter and wondered if he will ever find a way out.


"A door," Galeo found a glowing doorway that beckoned among the ruins.  Flinging the door open, Galeo found the chamber within a stark contrast to the crumbling ruins outside.  Brass braziers burned sweet incense into the air.  A carved ivory statue of a white horse stood with a glass orb at its foot.  Thorned bushes grew blood red flowers along the walls.  It was a temple.  And the air was sweet and cool.

"Where," Galeo was to ask but words would be abruptly cut by the arrival of men with spears.  They were ven, but the spears they used were not of the Vashna.  The curved hooks at the end of the spears were used to force Galeo onto the ground, pinning him to the floor.

And at the far end, a woman in wispy robed commanded everyone's attention.  Her piercing gaze forced silence upon Galeo.  She motioned at the guards to cease their violence, and motioned for Galeo to be at ease.  Galeo looked back and noticed there was no sign of the Ruin where Galeo had come from.  Galeo stared at the woman and realized that she bore the resemblance of the how the Suaven Talia Yvaria was portrayed in art.


"Over here!"  Jaric called out as he lead the others to where he understood the hidden doorway would be, based on the many readings he had made of the Old Age.  To their surprise, Seran, Tavlim and Nia would emerge from the shadows and end up joining them, as the group rushed through the winding dark tunnels that shook as the Ork slammed its immensity against the sturdy walls.  "There should be a path here..."  Tavlim complains that Velya still owes him money and Jaric growls back, "Interest Accrues!" 

The group ran into the underground tunnel, and the winding steps soon curved upwards into a spiral towards the sky.  The group emerged in a delicate garden and a veth servant gasped in shock as they rose from the verdant growth.  It was a Garden!  And Seran realized it was Matron Mother Elesa's Garden!

As Nia helped Tavlim and Dranna Ru out of the doorway, Jaric motioned at them all to step aside as the doorway swiveled on its own to perfectly close once more and become invisible.  All that suggested its presence was the interlocking stones that were now the base of the massive statue of a horse in the garden.

"A horse," Jaric mumbled, remembering his First Age readings, "A shrine to the Horse.."

At least, they were safe.
But if the tales of the First Age were true, Jaric sensed their troubles were only about to begin.

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