Tag Archives: Bordermarches

Author Blog Hop

At the start of April, Angela D. Meyer posted my bio and picture on her blog as part of a “blog hop” where writers trade info to increase exposure.

Angela has been a core part of Omaha WordSowers since I joined two years ago. She’s part of the fantastic critique group (where I’m getting the ideas I’m using for this year’s A to Z blog challenge on Elements of Critique). My wife and I attended her book release party, when Where Hope Starts first went on sale. And I had the privilege of being one of her readers for her exciting second book’s manuscript. Though publishing her first book and working on the second have forced her to reduce involvement in the writer’s group, Angela still helps run some of the WordSowers social media.

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Here’s her information, in her own words.

Angela D. Meyer lives in Omaha, NE with her husband of more than 22 years. She homeschools their daughter and recently graduated their son who is now a Marine. She has taught Bible class for over 35 years and served for almost three years on the leadership team of her local Christian writers group. She loves God, her family, the ocean, good stories, connecting with friends, taking pictures, quiet evenings and a good laugh. Someday she wants to ride in a hot air balloon and vacation by the sea. Her first novel, Where Hope Starts, shares the story of God’s redemption in the middle of a crumbling marriage.

The blog hop also came with four questions. These are my answers, not Angela’s.

1. What am I working on?
A fantasy novel called Refraction. You can see chapter 1 here.

Lyllithe Aulistane is the adopted daughter of her town’s senior religious leader, the Eldest of the Abbey. She’s also a Ghostskin – a pale half-breed of human and air elemental. Her Gracemark and training with the Abbey call her toward a pacifistic life of ministry and healing as a Devoted. Her heritage and passion drive her toward adventure, using the power of the elements to prevent harm instead of mending the wounded. And her curiosity leads her toward an unknown source of power that beckons even as it repulses her.
While she struggles to choose her path, she meets resistance at every turn. The Abbey rejects those deemed impure, and the Arcanists demand intense discipline. Though Lyllithe finds allies along the way, there are many more who seek her life. From the lowest highwayman to the highest political levels in the capital city of Aulivar, Lyllithe and her friends become valuable pawns in a game they cannot see.
But when the stakes rise to include the lives of an entire city, Lyllithe can’t afford to make a wrong move.
“From daybreak ’til the sun goes down, Devoted shall I be.”
Devoted, yes… but to what?

2. How does my work differ from others of its genre?
I’m writing for the mainstream audience, not the Christian market. However, I am employing Christian concepts behind the magic systems, political/cultural/religious organizations, and overall world theme. Essentially I’m aiming to write a fantasy novel that fits a Christian worldview without preaching to its audience.

3. Why do I write what I do?
I love communication. It’s my job in the Air Force, but it’s also a hobby. The idea that a writer can create a scene and somehow transfer that thought near-directly into the mind of a reader is powerful stuff. Being a Christian, I of course hope to communicate some measure of biblical truth in what I write. But saying that carries so much baggage in today’s Western society, where all sorts of cultural and political issues are too polarized for any meaningful dialogue. I have good friends “on both sides of the aisle” between Democrats and Republicans, Christians and atheists, heterosexuals and homosexuals, rationalists and idealists. I don’t want to add to that strife we see all around us. I’d rather explore some of the struggles and common experiences we can all relate to, with a heaping spoonful of grace mixed in.

4. How does my writing process work?
For a book, I need to outline. I have to map out the start, some milestones on the way, and a destination. I’ll plot out the various conflicts I see at the start, and jot down ideas for how to build on those. I write journals or practice scenes with characters until I get a good voice for them in my head.
Then I go chapter by chapter, scene by scene, until the work is done (or more likely until I see large-scale problems with the whole project, and start over, making corrections along the way).
This question is better for a writer known for finishing their projects, I think.

And now’s the part where I should have authors with whom I coordinated further hops. But I’m in the process of moving overseas, so I have not done my due diligence in getting other bloggers signed up. So unfortunately, my post is a blog flop, and this particular bit of hopping stops here.

Even so, I still wanted to give Angela’s work the attention it’s due.

Worldmender Excerpt

As promised, here’s an excerpt from the second story idea I wrote about earlier.

This one is for Worldmender, and it takes place about a third of the way into the story. I wanted to get the feel for the atmosphere and how the character’s unique gift works.

            Tavener Dendriss squinted at swirls of sand and acrid smoke as he looked out from the wooden shanty. Scattered clouds shone in the night like soft lamps, reflecting the fires in the capital city of Sulkath below. A few buildings stand unharmed, the King’s palace among them. But the walls and defenses are rubble.

            Explosions rattled the shanty’s timbers. Dust fell from the ceiling. The Voices wailed in Tavener’s mind, and he winced.

“the burning, the ripping, it hurts, how it hurts, isn’t it over yet”

            He shook his head and ran his fingers through close-cropped red hair. The Voices have always been quiet in the city… but for ages now, Sulkath has known only peace.

            Tavener knelt and rested his palm on the floor. He imagined replying to the Voices, whispering pictures They would understand. They never listen to my words. Hardy thistle swaying in gusts of wind. Stoic mountains unfazed by storms. A tranquil pool surrounded by dry grass nestled between sand dunes. Serenity.

            A boulder crashed into the smooth waters. Wildfires swept across the grass.

“they come, they come at last just as she promised but they are no different, they are no better, they bind us and rip us and mold us and remake us into whatever they desire, so much fire so much flame, their hunger never ceases and –“

            Tavener steeled his resolve and tuned out. He caught one last whimper.

“why don’t they go back home”

            Silence filled his head, but it did not last.

            His companion, Brightwell, watched him with a furrowed brow. “You look pained.”

            She huddled in shadow at the back of the shanty. He caught her checking the contents of the deerskin pouch for the fifth time today. “All part of the plan,” she says. But I’d sure like to know what’s in that bag.

            Her wavy auburn hair, streaked with sand and dust, curled around her face. Most of her once-green cloak and robe now matched the color of milk tea. She looks like a street urchin in need of a meal and a bath. Or two.

            He glanced down at his clothes. I’m sure I look no better.

            And Tavener had seen what she could do. She is no child in need of your protection, his conscience warned. She has deep wisdom, even if you do not yet understand it.

            She rose and drew near. “Is it the Elements? The voices you spoke of?”

            “It’s nothing. The battle is upsetting them.”

            Brightwell laid a hand on his shoulder and squeezed. “My king, the one true king, has come. All will be set right. Tell the Elements they will not suffer much longer.”

            “I stopped listening. It’s easier than trying to convince them.”

            “Few things worth doing are easy, Tav.”

            He looked away. The moon crested the ruined skyline of Sulkath. “Time to move. Benestayn and Gherris won’t be patient.”

            Without waiting for a response, he stepped into the night. Can’t tell her how I really feel. Sure… your King has come. But Sulkath already has a king. And King Nafalis is not going to roll over and die at the sight of an opposing army, even if it is from Kandurien.

            Tavener picked his way through chunks of stone and scorched wood. Every building on this street suffered damage in the battle. The lower castes call Kandurien heaven on earth. But Kandurien’s armies tore right through the slums on their way to Nafalis. Who’s to say their King Hun-Shin is any better?

            The Voices answered in song.

“we see… we know… we watch the lands below… wherever our winds go… all flesh yearns for kandurien… all men wish… all men pray that hun-shin will rule one day…”

            “Cute,” Tavener muttered.

            “What’s that?” Brightwell asked. She trotted down the street to catch up, picking her way between piled bricks and craters in the hard-packed sand.

            “Voices of Air love to rhyme.”

            “Oh.”

            Tavener smiled. She tries to understand. That counts for something.

            He stopped and crouched behind a crumbling wall. Brightwell bumped into him, but he did not notice. The Voices drowned out everything else.

they come, they search, they will hurt you if they find her, like they hurt us when they rip and tear and bend and

            “I hear footfalls ahead, marching,” Brightwell blurted out. “Soldiers.” She looked all around for refuge, like a spooked rabbit.

            Tavener tugged Brightwell’s arm and ducked into an adobe hovel with a gaping hole in the front. A fire across the street cast flickering light into the single large room. Brightwell pulled her hood down as far as it would stretch, then hid behind Tavener. He understood. There’s little chance any of them will recognize her, but she’s still a fugitive.

            He thought of her deerskin pouch and its secret contents. Even Kandurien cannot afford to lose their Lifesingers.

            Three soldiers marched up the littered street as if all was well. The crisp swing of their boots kicked rocks and rubble out of the way. Silver trimming glistened on their coats, silver gauntlets reflected firelight. Despite his doubts about the invading King Hun-Shin and the armies of Kandurien, Tavener caught his breath at the sight.

            Men of Kandurien, in the flesh, here in Sulkath. I scarce believed this possible.

            An image of a stocky red-haired Dendriss filled his mind. Sammal, brother, you would have rejoiced to see this day.

            One of the soldiers spotted Tavener and turned. He raised an empty hand as a sign of peace and proclaimed, “Citizens of Sulkath, King Hun-Shin has seen fit to liberate you from oppression and usher you into his merciful care. Do not resist. We are here to help. Food distribution begins in the Palace Square at dawn.”

            The soldiers then continued on their way, scanning the buildings for other survivors.

            Tavener glanced at Brightwell and winked. “Acting like refugees worked, just like I said it would. Nothing to worry about. Now we need the rain you promised.”

            She smiled and nodded. “It’s coming.”

“so dry so barren no rain ever, she knows much but she must not know how the Waters come, so thirsty, when will the Waters come”

            A glimmer of hope sprung to life in Tavener’s heart, and he patted the ground.

            Soon.

            He heard the faint and unfamiliar Voice of Water scoff in the distance. Tavener sent a picture of sheets of rain, remembering every detail from the one time he’d seen it as a child.

            He received an image of cracked, parched earth baking under relentless sunlight.

            Brightwell rose and jogged down the street, away from the soldiers. Tavener gave chase.

            Soon. But first, we start cleansing the city.

            Memory came unbidden. Tavener pictured the last time he saw Sammal. They were two of a dozen new slaves, brought from afar to entertain the crowds. The arena master paced in front of the line, reciting his expectations and rules. Sammal spat at him as he passed by.

            The man paused his pace but not his speech. He drew his sword and cut Sammal open like a rotten pomegranate, then warned the others, “You are easily replaced.”

            Seven years in constant fear of death…

            And now the high arches of the tall circular structure and the statues of arena legends loomed before Tavener. Brightwell strode forward without stopping, but Tavener paused, hardening himself for what came next.

            Brightwell turned. “Tav?”

            I’ve told her of the Voices here… but she can’t understand. She never had to hear them.

            He sighed. “I’m all right. Let’s get this done. I hope that rain is coming soon.”

            She smirked. “It’s almost here.”

            The Voices were a low buzz, constant in the city. It was difficult, but he learned to ignore them. At the Rose Garden arena, that was impossible. Twisted by centuries of violence, they raged without ceasing.

“break them tear them someone come and cut their flesh and spill their juices hot and tangy, metallic and thick and sweet to slake Our thirst for just a little while longer, so long since men danced upon Our soil to pour out their lives and wet our parched throats”

            Tavener trembled as the rants continued. He forced himself forward to the stairs that led down into the arena’s oval floor. Brightwell took his hand. “It’s going to be fine, Tav. I’m here.”

“kill her kill her slit her throat and rend her skin and carve her until the life drips down and fills us with delicious warmth”

            They stood on windswept sand in the center of the arena. Though the stands were empty, Tavener heard shouts and catcalls of spectators from his past. He felt the lust of the warped Voice of Earth here, and its constant desire for more blood.

            “Now, Tav.”

            “Now what?”

            “Now it’s time for you to convince the rain to pour from the clouds.”

            Tavener heard Water’s distant laugh again. He glared at Brightwell.

            “This was your plan?”

            She nodded.

            Few things worth doing are easy, indeed.

Walking Death: Ch. 1

As promised, here’s the first story excerpt. I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Walking Death, Chapter 1

The year the Empire fell began like any other in recent memory: celebration.

The Assassin knew the night would end with blood.

She crouched at the edge of the cliff overlooking the city of Veneshal. Black strands of hair brushed her tanned cheek, and she swept them away, eyes fixed on her goal far below. She peered into the distant shadows and dove.

Her grey cloak whipped behind her as she plummeted three hundred feet toward the highest tower of the magnificent building below. A cloud of black dust burst around her, and she froze in the air a hand’s length above the stone. Her foot touched down with serene poise.

The Assassin observed the rooftop below. She stood invisible in the night, hooded and covered in loose grey fabric, hidden from the city lights. Glimmering rings sat on pedestals around the manors of nobility. They twinkled in the night like stars fallen to the earth.

   Refocused magic. Arcanists are present.

The contract required a public killing, so the Assassin expected confrontation with a magic-user. She felt neither fear nor excitement at the challenge. She merely noted the complication and planned her reactions.

Throughout Veneshal, ornate paper lanterns hung above commoners’ doorframes in such great numbers that the few clouds and the rippling bay around the port city glowed like amber.  Music and the clamor of the New Year’s celebration rose to the assassin’s ears.

But no celebration echoed as loud nor building shone as bright as that on which the Assassin now stood. The Baricund dominated Veneshal’s skyline, both a fortress and the grand mansion of the Condral family, nobles with blood ties to the Emperor himself. Tarrandin Condral oversaw all trade that came through the docks, so he possessed enough wealth for frivolity. He held feasts and diversions year-round. Tonight’s celebration surpassed them all. Based on the plan the Assassin had been given, several thousand favored attendees would be inside the Baricund. The crowd outside doubled that number.

   Irrelevant to the mission. The ground exits are a worst-case option. Not even a team of Arcanists can keep up with me once I get outside.

There were fifteen guards in the courtyard below, sweating in shining plate armor. The unlucky few assigned to crowd control. Probably another score of guards within.

No one watched the rooftop.  The cliff face jutted out high above the Baricund.  Rappelling down was impossible.

   Then again, no one has seen powers like mine.

She gazed down at the stone roof and pictured the floor plans she memorized.  Tarrandin would have withdrawn to the private ballroom by now, surrounded by four hundred chosen guests.  His top lackeys and businessmen, most likely. Anyone connected to Hazfis Ral.

Ral’s criminal ties spread throughout every major city and town across the Empire. On receiving her mission, the Assassin wondered whether the enigmatic figure that indirectly purchased her services was Ral himself.  Counting Tarrandin Condral, four of her last seven targets worked in Ral’s network.  He’s cleaning house, or someone is sending him a message.

But the Assassin was not concerned about Hazfis Ral.  The man with the money does not matter. I have a contract; I will fulfill it.

She picked one stone on the rooftop and reached out in her mind.  Shadows stretched and oozed like spilled ink running across a sheet of paper. At her command, the darkness gathered in a slow swirl around her chosen stone until she could not see it. A whip-crack broke the silence as the stone shattered. The pool of shadow exerted tremendous force on the adjacent stones. Jagged lines spider-webbed out from the edges.

The hidden figure sprang from her perch, extending her hands toward the roof below.  Lines of fine black dust appeared in the air between her and the mass of darkness.  The ceiling crumbled. Stones plummeted and smashed the ballroom’s hardwood floor. The Assassin slipped through the new-formed hole, followed by the swirling plume of dark flecks left behind as the pool dissipated.

Partygoers froze. The orchestra stopped. All eyes turned toward the ceiling.

As the Assassin fell, she Stretched a new jet of shadow downward, pushing away from the ground to soften the impact. At the same time, she Pooled again, pulling a mixture of darkness and rubble into a funnel around herself.

When her foot touched the ballroom floor, she released all that she gathered. Broken rock sprayed out from the swirling cloud in every direction. Fabric and flesh tore with equal ease throughout the room as the Assassin Scattered all she had Pooled.

Screams echoed in the chamber. Men and women scrambled over each other in a dash to the exit. The Assassin scanned the crowd for anyone pushing against the human tide. Tarrandin’s bodyguards fought the panic and frenzy of the crowd, jostling their way through the rush of bodies. They wore no armor to speak of; they were still guests at a banquet and so were dressed in formal attire. Three wore eyeglasses. Three Arcanists. Manageable.

Pureblood human Arcanists used eyepieces called Oculars in order to manipulate magic. The potential energy of inanimate objects could be bound by the eyepiece, Refocused into a new form, then loosed in combat against a foe. Arcanists were the most destructive force in the Empire’s employ, but the Assassin felt no fear or worry. One at forward-left. One at forward-right. One at right flank… and weapons all around.

The Assassin’s powers could not touch an Ocular. She did not fully understand why. But the people wearing the devices were just flesh and blood. Jets of shadow dust reached out past the approaching bodyguards and Arcanists to yank several chunks of fallen rock toward the Assassin–through her foes.  Bloodstained stones thudded on the ground at her feet, followed by eight bodies. Two wore Oculars.

This was the opposite of Stretching, an ability she called Flexing. She could use the shadow to pull at an object. A large object could serve as an anchor for the Assassin to propel herself through the air. A small object could be Flexed or Stretched at high velocity as a projectile weapon.

The third Arcanist still stood unharmed. The stones she flung toward him splashed to the ground, Refocused into muddy water.

Six guards rushed her. Arcanist first.

She drew two long curved knives and leapt into the fray. The Assassin spun, parried, dodged, and slashed at the guards, but always her eyes remained fixed on the man with the Ocular. Her blades became a blur, her cloak a swirling shadow.

   They can only Refocus what they can see. Be faster than sight.

The ground under her softened like quicksand. Not fast enough! The Assassin Flexed at a nearby guard, pulling herself into the air and shoving him down into the puddle of liquid stone before it solidified around him. She landed with a slash across another guard’s arm, and he dropped his sword. This she Stretched toward the Arcanist, but the blade shimmered into droplets of metal. They sprayed past him and splattered across the wall.

She felt no frustration at this failed attack. The distraction served its purpose.

With a flick of her wrists, two silvery spikes flew toward the Arcanist. He swept at them with his arm, but they flew straight and remained intact. His eyes widened. Yes, they’re warpsilver too. You’re not the only one with fun toys.

The Arcanist fell to his knees, clutching at his eyes. A fist-sized stone on a stream of shadow dust punched into his chest and slid him across the floor.

The Assassin recovered the precious spikes, then turned her attention to the remaining guards. She Pooled shadow around herself. The guards grimaced, muscles straining against the sudden weight. None of them fled from her, a credit to their bravery.

   They should have.

The first two bodyguards reached out to capture her. To the assassin’s eyes, they looked like tired men slogging through a swamp. Their fingertips reached for her, and she exploded in motion. She punched out with both fists, knocking the breath from their lungs and bending them over. Then she sprung onto their shoulders, pushing them downward while jumping over their falling bodies to snap a sharp kick into the throat of a third guard.

In the midst of the chaos, one of her enemies raised a monocle to his eye. The Assassin smiled. You were wise to keep your power hidden until now.

Her foot brushed the ground and her leg spun around to sweep the third guard into the air. Then she Stretched, launching him at the new Arcanist. Thought so… you can dissipate a rock or blade, but you won’t risk hurting your ally. The Arcanist hesitated, and the guard crashed into him. Both went down in a heap of limbs.

Two bodyguards lunged toward the crouching Assassin, and she Stretched against the ground. The floor could not be moved, so the Stretch tossed the Assassin into the air between the guards. Her knives flashed, slicing into their necks. Then she Scattered, sending them away with a wave of force and black specks.

The Arcanist regained his footing, about to unleash the Refocused fireball in his hand. The Assassin threw her knives, speeding them along with a Stretch. He quickly shifted elements from fire to air, pushing the knives off course with a howling wind. The blades flew wide, curving behind the Arcanist. Then the Assassin Flexed, yanking them back point-first.

The wind stopped as the man fell. Bloodstains formed in his chest where the knives nearly pierced clean through.

The last bodyguard had the good sense to run. The Assassin gave no chase. Witnesses are part of the plan.

A third of the guests remained, eyes fixed on the action. In the center of the ballroom, the Assassin was alone with Tarrandin. He slouched at the table with heavy-lidded red eyes. The empty glass on its side clearly was not his first. This will be over soon.

The Assassin stepped forward, drawing two more knives.

Then Tarrandin grinned. Slurring in an alien language, he lifted a steak knife from the table and sliced his palm. He painted a small symbol on his forehead with the blood.

   So the rumors were true. He was a Kem’neth, a human filled with demonic power. She recognized the symbol. The sign of Deceit.

She paused in her approach. Ninety percent reduction in likelihood of success. She felt no sense of defeat, no fear of failure, and no exhilaration at the surprising challenge she now faced. Only an observation that she could very well die.

She brandished the knives and lunged.

Story Excerpts

Dear readers,

I greatly appreciate the attention you’ve given the various rants and ramblings on my page.

We all have dreams that drive us to do something more. I think there’s a wide range of intensity to those drives, from

Gee, it would be nice to…  to I really want to… to the “Bucket List” style I will do this before I die.

For example, I started playing piano when I was five years old. I took eight years of lessons, and then stopped because I wouldn’t practice anything unless I wanted to learn the song. “Bach? No. Guns ‘n’ Roses November Rain? Sure!”

In 1998, a friend urged me to start writing songs for church. “Not me,” I protested. “I can’t do that.”  I barely believed I could even sing in public.

“Be it unto you according to your faith,” he challenged, referring to Scripture. “Little faith, you reap little. Big faith, you reap big.”

That afternoon, I went to church early, before the worship team practice, and sat down at the piano. Okay, God, I prayed. If this is really something for me, then fine. I want to do it. Whatever You have for me to do with this ability, I want to do it.

Essentially, it was a Gee, it would be nice.

I wrote four songs that afternoon.

Nothing tremendous or breath-taking or #1 hit on the Billboard charts or anything. But it was something new for me, and a confirmation that there was something more worth pursuing.

Since then, I’ve written over 100 songs. Many of them have been for use in whichever local church my wife and I were attending at the time, related to the messages the pastors preached. Again, no chart-toppers or big concerts or anything. But there’s a gift there, and I know the purpose for it.

Now I come to writing. I love writing, but never would have presumed I had something that would interest a wide audience. And yet I have ideas bouncing around in my head, story lines that beg to be told. They started out as campaign ideas for a tabletop role-playing game group, and have grown and evolved over the last five years.

I’d like to start sharing them with you all.

If you like what you see, tell me so. If parts seem unclear or poorly structured, let me know. I can only get better with feedback.

I hope to make this a weekly post for a little while, to see how it goes. I’ll be presenting three story lines for now.

Worldmender – In a land broken and scarred by ages of war and misused magic, a slave and a runaway aristocrat try to repair the damage, one twisted site at a time. Their unique gifts grant them ever-increasing favor and fame, until they meet the legendary King whose bold plan might set everything right again… or destroy all they have worked to achieve.

Walking Death – During the last days of the greatest empire in history, a remorseless assassin is filled with unexpected doubts. Forced to question all she knows about herself, her powers, and her masters, she searches for answers and does not like what she finds. On the run from former targets, employers, the organized rebellion, the whispers of Deceit, and the full resources of the Emperor, even the shadows she calls home are no refuge.

Prophecy of Cora – Five reluctant but competent adventurers accept the call of the Lord Mayor of Aulivar to form a swift-strike special tactics unit. When their first real mission proves far more challenging than expected, they must determine which is the greater danger: their external foes, or their internal struggles. The truth has a way of rising to the surface, even the secret sins of the distant past.

I look forward to sharing these worlds with you.

Bordermarches: Curses

I’ve introduced many of the features of the Bordermarches so far: magic, science, the Divine, and Gracemarks.

Now I’d like to present the opposition to the Divine.

Though I do enjoy good vs. good storylines, I also have a place in my heart for the “simple” clear-cut good vs. evil conflict.

Given my intent to take advantage of biblical themes and perspective, my evil is a lot like Tolkien. It doesn’t create anything new. It corrupts that which was originally made pure.

There are seven Daemons working against the purposes of the Divine in this fantasy setting.

In response to Light and Truth, there is Deceit.

To oppose Strength and Passion, there is Rage.

Nature and Growth are countered by Corruption.

Justice and Order are pitted against Chaos.

The rival of Knowledge and Creativity is Ignorance.

Love and Beauty struggle against Hatred.

The foe of Eternity and Life is Destruction.

My good buddies Merriam and Webster tell me that “Daemon” probably comes from a Greek root that means “to distribute.” The term implies oversight of a thing. These seven Daemons are no different, distributing a Curse similar to the Gracemarks of the Divine.

Serving darkness is not without benefits…

There are key differences. While a Gracemark is under the control of the bearer, the Curse, or Kem, can take control of its host. When this happens, the bearer is more like a husk or shell, a puppet on strings pulled by the influence of the Daemon. Once under the sway of the Curse, the bearer’s true form is revealed, that of a massive horned demon twice the size of the average man.

How YOU doin'?
Kem’neth should look like this, even if it’s blatant stealing from Legend… because Tim Curry is amazing.

Gracemarks are given either as a divine favor or as a symbol of acceptance from a religious order, and they are not transferable. Curses, however, can be granted as a gift of power to a servant of evil, or they can be transferred to an individual who kills a Cursebearer. The person who slays a Kem’neth (or Cursebearer) is usually given the option soon afterwards to accept or reject the Curse. Some people are exempt from the offer: Devoted of the Light and Soulforged of Justice are two examples.

Gracemarks generally give two or four powers associated with their Aspect of the Divine. Cursebearers receive all seven powers, one related to each Daemon, although they each have one strongest power.

No one man should have all that power…

Deceit inspires followers to buy in to the Cursebearer’s lies. But more than that, Deceit allows the Cursebearer to appear to be in two places at once during combat, projecting false images into the minds of enemies.

Rage incites bloodlust and murderous intent in the hearts of others. It also grants the Cursebearer terrible strength.

Corruption warps the hearts of others to serve the Cursebearer’s purposes. It can also twist creation to serve the Cursebearer’s needs, turning Nature against the Cursebearer’s enemies.

Chaos allows the Cursebearer to release bolts of uncontrolled energy. In pseudo-science terms, the Cursebearer tweaks physics on a quantum scale.

Ignorance keeps minions in check and muddles the minds of enemies.

Hatred permits the Cursebearer to detect and track particular enemies over long distances.

Destruction allows the Cursebearer to draw on non-sentient life nearby in order to regain energy or empower magic.

Everything floats down here!
Kem’neth should also sound like Pennywise… because Tim Curry.

There’s only one way to kill a Kem’neth…

The one other advantage of the Kem is a limited immortality. Having given themselves completely over to the service of the Daemons, the Cursebearers are only vulnerable in their hearts. Even if decapitated or torn in half, a Cursebearer will eventually regenerate; the heart must be destroyed in order to put the Cursebearer to death.

Kem’neth can come in both genders and all races, but humans are the predominant race.

That statement doesn’t mean much unless I introduce the various races in the Bordermarches, so I had better do that next.

Bordermarches: Gracemarks

You can’t go around hoping that most people have sterling moral characters. The most you can hope for is that people will pretend that they do. – Fran Lebowitz

We all know the logic of “Don’t judge a book by its cover.” Our initial impressions of a thing may be way off once we look closer. That’s never more true than when dealing with the complexities of people.

But what if you could tell a person’s character at a glance?

What if you could know with near certainty?

That’s the idea that sparked my plan for how the Divine interacts with the populace of the Bordermarches.

This is the fifth in a series about the fantasy setting of the book I am writing. So far, I’ve introduced the world in general, the views of its people about science, the way magic works, and the various Aspects of the Divine.

Story is about people, not the pantheon of gods.

To be fair, stories about the gods, like Greek mythology, are more about exaggerations of people than about the Divine. The gods are like us writ larger than life, and their squabbles mirror those common to humanity. (My atheist friends would gently remind me that they see this as true about all faith.)

Even without a pantheon, even in a setting with only one God (or none at all), there are certain values or ideals that receive greater attention from one person than another. Where those values differ, there is room for conflict and story between characters.

Still, explaining the Divine in the Bordermarches serves to better explain how characters are empowered by their faith. Divine power is a common element of fantasy, just like magic. And just like my thoughts about a magic system, I do not want a Divine power system that boils down to “I can do these things because miracles!”

In my post on magic, I referred to Brandon Sanderson’s thoughts on explaining magic systems in a story. Here’s the link to the First Law, which I find very useful.

My thought process is this: If magic and Divine empowerment are commonplace experiences in this world and have been for all of recorded history, there has to be some knowledge in place about it. People would develop common terms for important parts of the system.

There may still be some mysteries, but there’s a generally understood “way things work.”

For the power of the Divine in the Bordermarches, that “way” is called the Gracemark.

The Gracemark is a symbol on the back of the individual’s dominant hand that normally looks like a tattoo about the size of an apple. There are seven marks, one for each pair of Aspects of the Divine. Individuals usually only have one mark, based on their primary passion or desire.

This mark glows electric blue when the power granted by the Aspect of the Divine is in use.

There are two types of Gracemarks, depending on the source:

1. Gracebrands are granted by the appropriate religious order upon a successful selection process. The nominee is examined and questioned and approved (or not) based on their known character and their perceived merit. The religious orders have devices that can track or sense the use of Divine power through a Gracebrand. This gives them some oversight of those individuals who do good or evil in the name of an Aspect.

At any given time, about forty percent of the populace of the Bordermarches has a Gracebrand.

2. Gracemarks appear spontaneously on approximately ten percent of the population. There is no definite trigger, but Gracemarked individuals in every case show an unwavering passion and zeal for something related to the Aspect whose mark they receive. Usually these individuals have been overlooked or rejected by the religious order’s selection process. The methods the orders employ to track and sense Gracebrands do not work on Gracemarks.

The commonly accepted explanation (of course unproven) is that Gracemarks come directly from the Aspects of the Divine.

The big question is, what do these Gracemarks actually do?

I borrowed from the words of Jesus, when asked “what is the greatest commandment?” His answer is that the first great commandment is to love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength.

Gracemark powers fit into one of those four categories.

Heart: This usage is called a Pulse. It releases Divine power externally, inspiring or strengthening a target other than the Gracemarked individual. Perhaps it might promote loyalty (Love/Beauty), or cure a person suffering from poison or disease (Nature/Growth). It can inspire others toward purity (Light/Truth) or against evil (Justice/Order). It can even heal (Eternity/Life).

Soul: This usage is called a Glimpse. The soul is the seat of emotion and will, and Glimpsing provides the Gracemarked individual with an emotional internal sense about a given thing. This is more an impression than an analysis of data. For example, one could sense the resolve or unwavering nature of another (Strength/Passion), or get an overall impression of another’s moral purity (Light/Truth). A Gracemarked person might have a sudden revelation about what is taking place in another person or in the world around them (Knowledge/Creativity). They may get a generalized idea of the past or future state of a thing (Eternity/Life). In every case, it is a non-empirical and vague intuition based on the particular Aspect for which the individual is marked.

Mind: This usage is called a Gaze. It is another internal revelation power. But the difference between this and a Glimpse is that the information provided by a Gaze is like empirical data to be analyzed. This enables special tracking skill, as the Gracemarked individual sees evidence of their quarry’s passing (Nature/Growth). It can enable an internal “compass” that points to someone the Gracemarked individual is bound to (Love/Beauty), like a spouse and children, or perhaps subordinates in a military unit.  This enables detection of evil (Justice/Order), or simply detection of life (Eternity/Life). It also enables a Divine sort of lie detector test (Light/Truth). It may even be used to get clairvoyance or prophecy (Knowledge/Creativity).

Strength: This usage is called a Strain. In almost all cases, it is an internal boost, an imbuement of Divine power that strengthens the Gracemarked individual. The Gracemarked person may exhibit superhuman strength (Strength/Passion), which is no surprise. They may heal themselves by setting their bodies and wounds back to the way they should be (Justice/Order). They may receive special knowledge about how to do a particular thing they’ve never been trained for (Knowledge/Creativity). They can seem to slow time by dramatically increasing their reaction and movement speed for a brief period (Eternity/Life).

The exception to the internal rule is the Gracemark of Light/Truth, which enables single-target healing. These individuals use their strength of devotion to Strain on behalf of another in need.

Each Gracebrand has two powers associated with it, depending on the particular Aspect. Those with Light/Truth can Gaze as lie detectors and can Strain to heal others. Those with Nature/Growth can Gaze to track a target and Pulse to cure poison or disease.

Gracemarks enjoy access to all four types of powers associated with their particular Aspect. This, coupled with the fact that they cannot be tracked by and do not conform to the religious orders, makes their bearers persons of interest among the political and religious elite. Having a Gracemark in the Bordermarches means having a target on your head.

When asked about the greatest commandment, Jesus surprised His questioners by providing two. He followed the first by saying, “And the second is like it:”

Love your neighbor as yourself.

What happens if a Gracemarked individual violates their personal morality or their religious order’s commands?

Is a Gracebrand or Gracemark license to do whatever you want with Divine power?

Gracebrands can be deactivated by the religious order. The specifics are not commonly known, but the religious orders police their own and punish those who violate the accepted teachings of their Aspect. The process leaves a scar in the place of the brand. This clearly identifies that the individual once held favor with the Divine or the religious orders but was stripped of their access to that power.

Gracemarks have at times been known to vanish as well. However, the religious orders do not have control over these marks, and the individuals who bear them are usually unwavering in their commitment to the ideals represented by their Aspect.

If a Gracemark vanishes, it leaves a scar just like a Gracebrand.

That captures most of the details of how the power of the Aspects of the Divine fits into the Bordermarches.

Of course, what would a fantasy setting be without evil? And what self-respecting evil power would not corrupt the good into their own twisted service? Next, I’ll cover the seven Daemons and the empowering Curses they bestow on those who follow their ways.

Bordermarches: The Divine

You may never fully understand the Indescribable. You must still make the attempt.

Welcome back to the Bordermarches series.

As I considered what sort of fantasy world I want to write in, I knew that there would be some religious aspect to it. For one, clerics and paladins and such are a staple of the D&D concept that inspired the original story. Second, my faith is going to affect what and how I write, whether I want it to or not.

Sorry, no talking lions.

However, not everyone is particularly religious, and I don’t want to write a sermon. I don’t even want to write an allegory along the lines of The Chronicles of Narnia. There won’t be any Christ-figure lions. I’d rather aim for something like The Lord of the Rings, with virtues and morals sprinkled here and there to flavor the setting and the story.

I want something that welcomes skeptics and believers of all stripes.

Back when I started devising a campaign, I shared all kinds of details with my wife. (Ok, I still share all kinds of details with my wife, who patiently tries to sort out which version of which story I’m talking about this time.)

Not you guys either.
Well… not exactly.

I was reading the 4th Edition D&D books, which presents a pantheon of gods and goddesses similar to Greek mythology. Some are good, some are evil, some are neither, and have their own interests to pursue. I shared how these gods related to my campaign with Jami.

You have to understand both of us have pretty conservative streaks. I grew up in a house where D&D was a tool of Satan to make kids ready for true witchcraft. Jami is a whole-hearted convert to Christianity, and so what she knew about D&D was pretty much what the church folk said, and most of them thought it was a tool of the devil too.

She was patient and listened to my explanations. “No, it’s not witchcraft. No, we won’t be casting spells or wearing cloaks or running around in the fields with axes. Sure, some people DO that, but it’s all about how you want to play the game. You’re just a group of people telling a story together.”

She went along with all of that… until it got to the idea of all these gods and goddesses out there. We discussed that issue, and I agreed to not have other ‘gods.’

My dilemma was this: the “pantheon” approach has a lot of possibilities for conflict that will be important to the story. I couldn’t just make all of the Bordermarches into a Christian nation under one God who looks a lot like God in the Bible.

I borrowed from Deism, declaring that “the Divine” doesn’t really interact directly with creation. In fact, the Divine is something totally holy, totally “other than us,” incomprehensible and vast beyond human reasoning. Really, that fits the Christian God as well… except we believe He chose to stoop down and interact with humanity on a level we can understand.

What if this Divine did not do that?

The facets bring out the beauty of the whole.

In this world, fourteen Aspects of the Divine carry out ‘the will of God.’ They each represent a part of the Divine, like pieces of a puzzle or the faces of a diamond. There are seven pairs of Aspects that work together:

Light and Truth

Strength and Passion

Nature and Growth

Justice and Order

Knowledge and Creativity

Love and Beauty

Eternity and Life

This provides some room for the “good vs. good” conflict that I find more compelling than simple “good vs. evil.” For example, a follower of Justice may want to see a criminal pay for their sins, where a follower of Light may see a chance for redemption and mercy. (Think of Jaubert, the consummate lawman, and Jean Valjean, the redeemed thief, in Les Miserables.)

D&D 4E suggested this sort of conflict as well. Perhaps the goddess of nature might be in conflict with the goddess of civilization and progress. Neither one is really “good” or “evil.” They just have goals that are in direct conflict.

The different Aspects also allow for a variety of motivations and levels of devotion. Followers of the Light and of Justice are more extreme cases, but for the most part, people are free to choose just how religious (or not) they really are.

Strength, for example, doesn’t require acts of worship or a personal piety. To excel at what you do is worship enough. This Aspect serves as a healthy guiding force for the competitive… and a refuge for those who only care about superiority.

Similarly, Nature will not require a grand cathedral and weekly church attendance. Those who find a mystery and serenity on a stroll through untouched woodlands will perfectly serve Nature, whether they intentionally and consciously “serve” or not.

Those seeking a life full of experiences and discoveries might follow Life or Creativity. A scientist can follow the path of Knowledge without feeling tension between religion and science. Following the path of Love can be just as much the wife longing for a husband as the military commander who inspires loyalty in her company.

All of the above could be examples of agnostics or atheists pursuing their own interests apart from faith.

This intro to the Divine (and specifically the Aspects of the Divine) helps provide some background, but the story cannot be about “the gods.”

Story is about people.

But people are sometimes driven to extremes by their faith. And in a fantasy setting, people are often supernaturally empowered and marked by their devotion. I’ll explore that next.

‘Marches: D&D Magic

“First, I’ll Glancebind as a minor action using the bridge the bandits are standing on. For my standard action, I’ll Loose the energy into bolts of force and hurl them at the leader. Then I’ll take another minor to Unshackle the circuit on my right hand; that will be a ball of fire that I hurl at the bridge.”

Yesterday I introduced a magic system I intend to use in my fantasci setting, The Bordermarches.

Since this setting is also where I normally place my D&D campaigns, I’ve been thinking about how to incorporate the various elements like Refocusing magic into D&D terminology.

Disclaimer: I’ve played a few RPGs over the years, but I only started playing D&D on 4th Edition. That colors how I describe the game mechanics.

Refocusing is my attempt to explain away the common use of magic in this setting. I’m not a fan of “I shoot magic in the darkness simply because I CAN.” In my system, magic users use a special eyepiece to siphon energy (potential or kinetic) from the mass of inanimate objects around them in order to power their spells.

A caster must Bind or Glancebind from a source of energy. The source must be an inanimate object; a caster cannot get energy from living things. This is a minor action (something along the lines of drawing a weapon, retrieving an item from a pocket or pack, etc). It’s up to the DM to decide whether Glancebinding affects the object the energy is pulled from… for example using a waterfall as a source of energy might dry up the waterfall for a few seconds. Using a bridge might weaken the supports, possibly collapsing the bridge.

Next, the caster can choose to Loose the energy to power an attack or spell. What type of action this is will depend on the spell. In 4E D&D, most attack spells are standard actions, which take the majority of the time you have in a turn. Thus you can only do one standard action per turn.

The caster can instead choose to charge a circuit or Shackle the energy. By spending another minor action, energy can be stored for later use in special rings of metal that a person carries or wears. These have to be a high quality of metal and craftsmanship, so they should be expensive and difficult to come by. They also glow brightly when charged, so keep that in mind if your caster tries to be sneaky.

Finally, a caster can Unshackle stored energy by draining a circuit. This is another minor action, and serves the purpose of a quick cast spell. Again, this is part of why circuits should be fairly rare — your min/max players are going to want to stroll into a horde of enemies with twenty glowing rings hanging off their vest, casting powerful spells every turn through minor action Unshackling.

This may slow down your magic-user classes slightly, as they can’t just cast spell after spell each turn. I think the pain of that energy resource demand is offset by the ability to store up a few spells based on how many circuits the character has on them.

Refocusing also requires the device that makes it possible: an Ocular, an eyepiece that grants the magic-user the ability to see and manipulate potential and kinetic energy in inanimate objects around them. This can be any sort of eyepiece: a monocle, spectacles, a lens strapped to one eye with a leather cord or strip of cloth, a special glass installed in the visor of a plate helm.

I wanted a system that requires a bit of technology to use, and I like the idea of needing a device in order to use magic. Removing the eyepiece from a caster negates their ability to cast, but the fact that it’s an eyepiece means that almost any player or NPC can have one. You don’t have to be stuck with the stereotypical wizard in a robe. The burly knight in full plate and the shifty assassin might also be able to Refocus.

And though Oculars are plentiful, they are not ubiquitous. Everyone doesn’t have a couple laying around. These should be treasured possessions that are fairly hard to come by without good connections.

The easiest way to incorporate this is to declare that the powers a magic-using character might have are unchanged; they just get energy to fuel those spells through this process. In the event of choosing a non-magic class (like the knight or assassin above), you can set it up as a Multiclass character or NPC, or simply grant access to a few powers/spells chosen by the DM and player.

One final drawback: Oculars can burn out or fail like a blown fuse. You can’t pump infinite energy through them. This is also the hard-line solution to the min/maxer who tries to cast three or four minor action Unshackled spells per turn.

I’d suggest a three strikes approach: give them a warning that the eyepiece is getting hot (and their characters would know what that means, so make sure the players know the possible consequence). Next, if they keep it up, give them some damage as they have this burning instrument near their eye.

Finally, if they refuse to back down, you can amp up their one final spell by doubling its damage or something, then shatter the Ocular. Having a piece of searing glass explode near your eyeball can definitely put some hurt on a character. It should never come to this if you’re communicating possible consequences clearly.

But players can be stubborn.

There. That’s it for now. I’ve left it fairly vague to allow for personal flavor (for example, whether objects are destroyed when power is siphoned from them, or whether this is just the explanation for the magic powers a character possesses or an open door to let the player come up with whatever they can imagine to bend reality in-game).

I’d love to hear what you think…

Does it work? Is it too powerful? Is it too much of a nerf to magic-users?

Does it flow in-game? Is it too cumbersome?

Your feedback might help me refocus my efforts.

Couldn’t resist.

Bordermarches: Intro

“Your subjects despair at the chaos around them. Your nobles still look to the old lords who founded this land, and hope that the Cerunae might return to set it to order. They do not know what I have seen. The Empire you wait for, the glories of old you hope to see restored… Your fallen cities are all that remains of it.”

Welcome to the Bordermarches — the setting for the book(s) I am writing, as well as a number of tabletop RPG campaigns I’ve run.

First, some background:

In 2008, I deployed to the Mid-East for a few months. Just before I left, a friend suggested starting a tabletop RPG group at his house. While I was sitting around in “the desert” between flights, I was looking for something to do. Then the exchange set up a display stand for the core rulebooks of the newest edition of Dungeons and Dragons: the Player’s Handbook, the Monster Manual, and the Dungeon Master’s Guide.

I had some extra money and thought, “I’ll check this out.”

The core rulebooks inspired the original version of my setting. They describe a flawed and dangerous world, a place where civilization huddles in ‘points of light’ surrounded by darkness and the unknown. For the purpose of the rulebooks, the writers suggest the backdrop of a long-fallen empire, an ancient power that spanned the known world and left secrets behind in its ruin.

Naturally, this works great for a campaign.

What technology might the ancient empire have possessed? What’s left of that?

What power or magic did they know? Can it be learned today?

Who or what destroyed them? And is that destructive force still around?

Does it lie dormant, biding its time, its hunger growing as the day of its return approaches?

Or was it a tremendous global calamity, a meteor strike for example?

Has that devastation become a legend of gods casting fire to the earth in their wrath?

And perhaps it was an act of the Divine after all?

If so, what prompted it? Some rampant evil that now rises again and threatens a global judgment?

Needless to say, there are almost limitless options.

And that’s assuming you don’t decide the empire in question is actually still intact and in control.

Since it gives so many options, I ran with that general idea… a world in decline, a realm under siege on all sides, an unstable government struggling to stand while crippled by corruption within.

In the world of the Bordermarches, the Cerune Empire has fallen. Its Amethyral Throne has been bereft of a rightful Imperial for several hundred years. Wars and squabbling for power consumed most of the Empire’s greatness.

However, in the centuries prior to its decline, Cerune sought to expand its reach to other continents. A grand expedition carried the Emperor’s banner across the seas to found a seat of power on a new continent. Opportunity and hope brought great numbers to this new land, and the Cerunae spread until natural borders or strong resistance stopped them.

The Snowcap Mountains cross the north, separating this land from the tundra nation of Glacierift.  The jagged peaks of Tiernalen’s Wall form the eastern edge, and none return who venture into the forests on the other side. To the distant southeast, arid wastes and twisted magic prevent further expansion. The gloom of Feyshadow Fen marks the western border, between the Snowcaps and the bay where the Cerunae first landed.

This distant addition to the Empire marked the furthest edge of Cerune’s power, the borders of its reach. Four City-States took root across the expanse: Mirelenai, the crime-ridden port city where the Empire first landed; Lanaloth, the city of harvest that provides food for most of the realm; Aelwyn, known for the finest craftsmanship and most courageous warriors; and Aulivar, the greatest and highest of the Cities. Though each seeks its own interests, they are also bound by a mutual defense pact in case of a greater regional threat.

And such threats now arise against the Marches.

To the north, Glacierift has collapsed, descending into madness and violence. Its former soldiers and desperate refugees seek aid from Aulivar, and where they do not find it, they take what they need by force.

To the east, contact has been lost with many of the scattered mining villages that supply Aelwyn’s smithies. The few gibbering survivors speak of bloodthirsty savages. Tiernalen’s Wall has held back the remnants of the Cerunae from further expansion, but it does not prevent outsiders from pouring into the Marches.

To the southeast, the Army of the Marches stands watch over the border of the Wastes–a border that encroaches steadily on the green fields and farmlands of Lanaloth. Merchants and travelers no longer cross the Wastes freely, and the few who risk the journey bring reports of the Orghûl preparing for war.

And in the southwest, Mirelenai crumbles under the weight of its own corruption. The Seamistress and her loyalists wage a losing war against organized criminals and the power-hungry nobles who fund them.

The days are dark for the Marches, and hope dwindles in the face of such opposition, like a flickering candle at midnight.

And there is one who seeks to extinguish it…

So there you have it, the introduction to the Bordermarches. Sadly, with this limited information, it’s run-of-the-mill fantasy fare. But I hope to reveal and explain some core concepts that I believe set it apart as unique.

And right off the bat on that list is the “troubling complications of scientific progress.”

Table-top RPGs: When I “got it”

I’ve played table-top RPGs here and there most of my life. My brother and a friend got started playing Iron Crown Enterprise’s MERPMiddle Earth Role Playing. They were both huge fans of Tolkien, and my brother got me started on The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings as well. So of course I wanted to play a game set in that world.

This was in the days when it seemed everybody in the evangelical church “knew” thatDungeons and Dragonswas like a gateway drug to all Satan’s deceptions. You start playing that game, and next thing you know, you’ll be flying on a broom throwing fireballs and summoning evil spirits… or so the traditional wisdom said.

So D&D was out of the question. But a game based on Middle-Earth had to be okay, right? Of course it was!

We played MERP for a while, and then we switched to BattleTech, a futuristic game where your characters pilot 40-foot-tall humanoid destruction engines, pounding each other with lasers and missiles across a hexagon battlefield. My brother usually ran the games… I’m sure both systems had some term for what they called that person, but the common term from D&D is “Dungeon Master” or DM.

Years later, I found myself sitting at a table with a few friends from the Chapel who were interested in a casual RPG group. I had picked up the newest rulebooks ofD&D, by now freed from the fear that these books were instant portals to the deepest levels of hell. It turns out, if you read through the books and talk to people who play RPGs, all they’re doing is cooperative social story-telling. The devil’s work, indeed.

I had a grand plan in mind to start off the new group’s adventures, and I was both nervous and excited about what it meant to be a good DM. You have to be able to come up with a fairly interesting setting, then communicate that setting, then adapt to all the ways the players will find tobreak everythingin that setting. I wasn’t sure what to expect.

The players fought some bandits that had set up a “toll” on a busy merchant road. They learned where the bandits had set up camp, and decided to pay a visit. This was all pretty mundane, but we had several players who had never tried an RPG before, so it was an easy way to start learning the rules. The team decided to approach the camp, and developed a plan. Some snuck around behind the camp, climbing up a sheer cliff face. Some stayed hidden in the trees on the outskirts of the camp, ready to rain arrows and magic down on the bandits if needed, and the main “voice” of the group strolled right into camp with my wife’s character to negotiate with the bandit leader.

At this point, I’m just having fun, playing the part of the surly bandit that my friend is trying to negotiate with. What might the bandit be thinking? He’s trying to trick me, he’s some heroic type… but he makes a good offer, and the money might be worth it. Plus, me and my crew, we have this fellow and his friend completely outnumbered. So if he tries anything, he’s going to get beat down fast.

Then my friend says to me, out of nowhere, “I attack the fire.”

What?  I probably did a double-take. “You what now?”

“I attack the fire. It’s a pretty big campfire, right?”

“Yeah…”

“I want to attack it,” he continues. “I don’t know how hard it would be to do this, but I want to basically swing my warhammer like a golf club and knock the burning wood and embers into this guy’s face.”

My mind is racing, trying to figure out what happens next, and my friend rolls a die to see how well his character does at this attempt. He does pretty well. I’m excited, because I never would have expected this.

My player asks, “So the fire is pretty well scattered, right?”

“Yeah…” I answer, probably with a cringe for where this is headed.

“So… these are all human bandits, right? And you said it was a pretty dark night when we were coming to the camp. So this is the only real source of light. And none of us are humans… all of us havelow light vision.”

We had a dwarf paladin, a few elves, and a halfling (more or less a Hobbit). According to the rules, all of them could see in dim light as well as you and I can see during the day. My human bandits… not so much.

The glorious battle I had planned turned into an epic slaughter in seconds, starting with the fateful phrase, “I attack the fire.”

That pretty much sold me on being a DM. It’s great to set up a world or a story, to describe a setting or a mission… it’s even better to set all that out and see how the players will break it and make it theirs.

That sneaky devil… clearly his trick worked. (/sarcasm)