Being a continuation of the tales from the March of Glaives.
To read Chapter 1, click HERE!
Arcanists have long sought the secret to healing magics. They’ve approached the topic with the same methodical processes that have unlocked so many of the world's secrets. So. the fact that healing (what is to so many others blessed with magical acumen considered a simple or baseline ability) eludes them has driven more than one to an existential crisis, if not outright madness. Wizards and magewrights throughout the ages have written so many dissertations on the topic that the Central Library of the Magnus Arcanum has dedicated an entire wing to the studies and theorems within.
If one were blessed with an abundance of time, an infinite patience for dry writing, and penchant for peering into the unwritten blindspots of these mages, one could stumble upon the secret ingredient so missed in arcane healing. It’s not that the rituals to resurrect a dead friend dragged from the battlefield and raising a corpse to mindlessly serve a master in undeath are terribly different. In fact, they are in some ways uncomfortably similar. However, resurrection seems to require a cost prohibitive sacrifice of wealth, whereas undead slavery is, much like all slavery, cheap in coin but expensive in morals.
Nor is there a lack of biological knowledge and understanding. In fact, the opposite may be true. Wizards have for generations now been able to transfer their own life force into other objects and even people. Sacrificing their own vitality to imbue mystical items, or even just to bolster their living comrades in a moment of desperation, has been an option that they long ago mastered. Sorcerers whose powers are drawn from the wellspring of energy within their blood, borne from a lineage of eldritch dabbling, are often born with the instinct to sacrifice their lives (often quite literally their blood) for power. What eludes these mages, however, is the seemingly sacrifice-free mending of flesh and bone that others flaunt in the face of studied brilliance.
It may take a particularly open-minded, or perhaps simply esoteric soul, to suss out that the missing ingredient in these magic rituals and mystical theorems is, quite simply … faith.
Surely many would see that answer and scoff. “How obvious! How Banal! What a cheap cop out!” they might cry. However their disbelief and denials only serve to belie the true shortcomings of their understanding.
Now it is certain that for centuries healing was purely and completely under the purview of people of faith. “Life,” it was said, by many a cleric, priest, paladin, and cardinal, “is the domain of the Gods!” Then of course there were the druids practicing their old world magic. “Well surely that’s the same! A divine force offering its boon! Their deity may not be named but the divine source remains the same.” This was in and of itself acceptable enough, until one bore witness to the healing melodies of a bard. When tender tunes or great tales carry with them the mystical powers to draw those back from the edge of death or perhaps even beyond, then one has a tough time arguing that healing is beyond the reach of arcane magic.
Plenty of people have argued that music itself is a form of magic that taps into a primal rhythm behind the very fabric of reality. A rhythm that, somewhat ironically, dictates the fates of the world much the way a conductor may set the tempo of a grand orchestra. It's amazing the lengths some will go to, just to deny inconvenient truths laid before them.
For those willing to view the evidence with an objective eye, the truth becomes clear: those with magic capable of healing are able to do so because they believe their magic is capable of healing. The belief that a ranger deep in the wild woods has that using crushed herbs will mend wounds is no different from the belief that a Cleric of Metrakara has that her divine energy channeled through him will restore torn flesh. It's no different for a druid embracing earthly spirits, or a bard's connection to music and stories.
It's those mages that attempt to impose logic onto life that fall short. That is why they are capable of transferring life force: it's a purely logical act. "I have life. I give life. Now you have life." Cold, calculated, simple. It's this simple math exponentially compounded in on itself that has led down such dark paths as lichdom, soul cages, and necromancy. They are all mathematical attempts to preserve an ever dwindling resource, life. That is why it is always doomed to fail. Life abhors logic.
It's not that life or living things are incapable of logic. It's more that life, which as such must include everything from deities down to the smallest most insignificant of life forms, refuses to be bound by the limits of logic.
True healing magic does the impossible. It creates life from nothing.
By all logic Alvaro, Ades, and The Wanderer should have burned to death on the wreckage of that crashed ship. As the Armies of the Black Gem drove back the demoralized hobgoblin ranks, Alvaro’s company did their best to draw the worn heroes from their impending doom. Hospitalers were called from the rear ranks in a desperate bid to save the trio. Vera Tindahl was far closer than the other healers usually kept in reserve. In the harsh calculations of war, risking spellcasters on the front lines was a balancing act between short term gain and long term loss. Even in the magically rich lands of Rotum, properly trained spellcasters took years to develop.
Luckily for the three, Vera was neither properly trained or terribly good at math. In fact, she had gone to great lengths and more than a handful of magical rituals on a daily basis to ensure she was as close to the action as possible. One can imagine the surprise on the soldiers' faces when the charging War Bear strapped in heavy steel armor and seemingly broken free from its handler began shedding those protective plates, its thick fur covered form giving way to the finely toned muscles of a dark-skinned human woman. Unphased by the cold despite her thin fur-lined leathers, Vera went about her work with instinctual precision. So, for a moment, those nearby put their faith in the wild woman.
The sounds of the battle were distant now. If one was short on memory or had a surplus of imagination, they might mistake this place for a medical tent near the army's field drills. So rare and distant were the sounds of any Hobgoblin counter efforts that it was now just a battle in name only. For Vera, the sounds of battle had become as commonplace as the winds of the frozen mountains, or gentle spring gurgles of rivers made from thawing snow had once been. However, right now there was no time for that loss of innocence to distract her. It was a small price to pay for saving the lives of two people who may have just ended this war. She continued to sponge away blood and dirt from wounds closing under magical aid as other more official faithful hustled about the large tent, tending to as many wounded as they could.
Vera held tightly to a small bowl and began muttering an enchantment, dropping a fresh winter leaf into her mixture of blood, dirt, soot, and water. As the leaf touched the liquid surface, her eyes glazed over in a milky white, a sharp contrast to her tanned black skin. The particulates dissipated from the mixture, lifting themselves out and away, leaving only a purified crystal clear water. When she turned to grab a clean rag for her next task, she felt a small hand grip her wrist.
“Hello there,” the voice strained and coughed as the halfling attempted to clear away whatever death had accumulated in his throat. “Ah, there! Hhmm.” He reached into the bowl and scooped a handful out, bringing it to his lips. A few more sips and his voice was back if not somewhat diminished. “So... “ He began speaking as he started to sit up, he rubbed his chest feeling the grit of something itchy on his bare skin. His fingers dusted off of what was now just a fine shimmery powder. He rubbed his forefinger and thumb together looking at the light bounce between them, and feeling the sharp remains of this super fine crystalline powder. “So, how long was I out?”
Vera had let the little man move as much as he was able. It would be a good indicator as to his overall health. When he didn’t collapse back onto the cot in pain and exhaustion, she took it as a good sign. “Not long. A few hours at most,” she said grabbing him a real cup to drink from and handing it to him. “What’s your name?”
He took it in both hands and looked over the rim of it at her, smiling to himself behind the glass of water before saying coyly, “Why? Do you come here often?” His lips were turned up at the corners, joyful for a chance to joke, for the cool drink rinsing away the feeling of grogginess, and for life in general.
Vera furled her brow, taking back the cup. “Because the least I expect for saving your life is an introduction.”
The halfling beamed just a bit brighter. “AH! Of course, introductions are important! I am Captain Ades. Formerly of the Opal Nightmare, once a Lake Lord of WIllan, Inheritor of the Phenomenal 2, Scourge of the Arcadian Straights, Revolutionary extraordinaire, and … wait.” A thought seemed to break through the well-rehearsed bluster of self importance that Ades was hoisting upon her. “I suppose … I’m now formerly of the Phenomenal 2 as well."
“So that was your ship that crashed? Then I guess you’re not a captain anymore,” Vera pointed out. Self important men like him did little to impress her, and if she could shorten his introduction by even a word it would be worth it.
Ades chuckled, nodding in something resembling agreement before tilting his head clearly having a thought. Holding out his hands for the cup once more he began to share “Maybe it’s as a friend and I once discussed: all titles really mean is that, somewhere, in some circle, people are willing to do whatever you want for one reason or another.” He drank hardly a drop this time, using the moment more to grab a breath before continuing. “I’m certain I still have that support and dedication. Besides, Captain suits me. I think it’d be a bit pretentious to go around calling myself Baron, or King. Although I’ve always wanted to be like a Warchief, or a DOOM! You know for a while I was an Admiral. Admiral Ades. The alliteration was good but after a while I just felt like seagulls were barking at me whenever they flew around ... AD! AD! AD AD! So I went back to Captain.”
Vera’s efforts to interrupt the conversation this time went unheeded. When finally the halfling was finished with his ramblings, she spat out, “Well good. So what’s your first name?”
“Captain. Although I am a man of the people, so I let the crew call me Cap. In non-formal settings.” Ades clearly took pride in how accessible he was to his crew.
“Wait.” Vera couldn’t let this one go, suddenly feeling as stubborn as Ades was chatty. “Captain is your title. What’s your name?”
“No, your first name.”
“So you're 'Captain Captain Ades?'”
“No, of course not. That'd be daft. I’m just Captain Ades.”
“So you only have one name.”
“No, I have two: Captain. Ades. That’s what people call me. What more is a name than what people call you?” Ades' logic was unshakable. “Of course, if I went by what people said most when they saw me then my name would be ‘Oh god, OH GOD! IT’S HIM!’” Ades affected the raw fear and panic that he had seen overwhelm countless sailors at their first sight of him. “But then you see tone becomes important, because at least half the time I hear that it’s more of an ‘oh God OOOHH GOD IT’S HIM!’” Ades' performance of the subtle sultry tones offered by any number of what were no doubt professional tavern patrons was no less convincing than his previous performance … and no more appropriate given their location.
His outburst, however, seemed to rouse another of his wounded fellows. Vera pushed the little weirdo back down onto the cot and went to check the other bed. The soft groan of the red haired man trying to force himself up put a hint of urgency into Vera’s step. “Easy there. Woah, where are you trying to go?” The red-headed dwarf had already swung his feet over the edge of his cot and was looking around, slightly dazed but clearly taking stock of his items and situation.
“Where’s my sword?” he asked without any preamble.
Vera blinked for a moment, thinking back to their retreat from the front lines, “You didn’t have one. When I got to you all you had on you was that,” she said, gesturing to dwarven-sized glaive of astounding design, laying just under his cot. It hummed with magical infusion from its place beneath the dwarf's feet. “You had a death grip on it the entire way back to the tent. I don’t know if you remember. I thought you were delirious. You kept giving orders to your soldiers even as they carried you from the field -- "
“Were the orders followed?”
Vera frowned, frustrated at having been interrupted mid-sentence. “I … think so?” Even she knew her reply wasn’t exactly confidence-inducing. “Honestly I was focused more on applying the salves that saved most of your skin, not to mention the magics I worked to hold Xathreos at bay.” Vera was beginning to get just a little annoyed at her life-saving efforts just being glossed over, and the tone in her voice made that quite clear.
The dwarf, it seemed, picked up on that, and nodded solemnly. “I am sorry. And I thank you. I should have led with that. I’m Alvaro de Montes.”
“Vera of the Sands beyond Jaelen Irsie.” She cast a half-sneer toward Ades, as if to silently tell him that this was how normal people handled introductions.
Alvaro raised an eyebrow of recognition at just how far from home his medical savior truly was. “And they call me southerner. Those lands are several leagues south of even my home isles.” Alvaro was struggling to his feat now and gingerly coaxing his sore muscles to bend over so he could look under the cot at whatever he had dragged with him.
“The sands were never much of a home to me.," said Vera with a shrug. "I always preferred the frost-covered north. The mountains may be harsh, but they don’t shift the way the sands do beneath your feet. Finding something steadfast is important when all the rest is chaos. But then you know that, don’t you?" She added. She knew the look of a man like Alvaro. She'd seen it too many times not to know where his heart and motivations lie just now. "That is why you are so eager to return to the frontlines, to serve as the stone on which your soldiers lean.” For a moment, Vera just watched the proud man struggle down beneath his cot, grunting in pain as his body fought every move. When he finally pulled forth the mystical glaive, he simply stared at it with shock and astonishment. "You look surprised," said Vera.
Something in her words seemed to break through the dwarf's momentary fascination and entrancement, and he shook his head, focusing on Vera once more. “I’m sorry …” He looked as though he had more to say, but then he glanced back at the weapon again, gazing at it the way someone stares at a long lost acquaintance trying to find their name. Finally, apparently pulling himself free of whatever strange hold the blade had on him, Alvaro scanned the room. Seeing only Ades and an empty cot, he said, “Wait … there was a third. The one on the ship without armor. The Wanderer. Where is he?”
“He’s gone.” she said simply. “He should be back soon. His wounds were the least grievous, or rather they required the least attention. Actually now that I think of it? It was ...”
“Odd?” The interruption came from the fabric entrance to the medical tent. It was a gorgeous black haired woman with faintly elven features. The coat she wore was a brilliant blue trimmed in gold. It clung to her curves down her waist and about her hips before flaring out, hanging down just past her knees. The pants about her legs were tight, showing off a well muscled physique. Meanwhile her boots crept almost to her thighs. Her soft hands rested on the pommel of a sword strapped to its own belt.
One could’ve easily mistaken her for a military officer of some kind, and in a manner of speaking she was. The Swordmages of the Black Gem were their own unit. A joint effort between the Magnus Arcanum and the wider military structure that supported the Republic. During the March of Glaives they had led a number of specialized offenses and counter espionage operations. Vera never felt quite comfortable around them. Her enlistment hadn’t exactly been traditional, and catching the attention of a swordmage was a good way to have a very bad day.
“Honestly, I get that a lot.” The man following behind her was the subject of Alvaro’s inquiry, the one he’d called The Wanderer. Vera hadn't spent much time tending to the man, and he'd slipped out of the tent while she was performing the necessary rituals on Ades. His muscled torso was riddled with old scars, most of which he had grown out of. They were small and faint. He was by no means fair skinned the way many of Rotum and most of the north was, but neither was born of the sands or the southern continent. His skin had been kissed by the sun. His arms and torso had been wrapped in bandages, something he may have done himself, but Vera didn’t remember him needing such wrappings. At least, not for any recent injury.
Alvaro seemed uninterested in the Swordmage that accompanied him, and shifted his single minded focus to The Wanderer. “If you don't mind, I've got quite a bit to ask --”
“I’m sure we all have some questions Captain Alvaro,” the raven-haired woman interrupted. “But for right now, let me bring you all up to speed.” She grabbed a small attendee’s chair and sat herself elegantly in it before continuing. “I am Gilxinia Dryslin, Spellblade Vanguard, and after speaking with The Wanderer here I think we may be the best chance for the Republic to end this war.”
A brief chaos erupted within the tent, with voices piling up on top of one another in a clamor to be heard.
“What do you mean? We just killed their leader! There is no way they’re going to be able to mount an effective counter strike.”
“They’re in a full retreat! Once the fighting moves out off the land bridge and onto the mainland of Licht Dracht our naval superiority will give us the advantage.”
“The oceans are rising! Soon this whole area will be underwater once again and there will be no reason for us to continue this war!”
Only the swordmage and the Wanderer were silent, letting the others raise their questions and concerns for a moment until, finally, Gilxinia held up her hand. "I know, I know," she said as the outburst calmed. “It’s because the March of Glaives is receding back into the ocean that it’s important we take advantage of this opportunity. This is a generational issue that sees invaders from Licht Dracht threaten the North of Rotum every time the oceans recede. Whether it’s Humans, Orcs, Hobgoblins, or some other race … something is driving these hostile forces east. It is time that we got to the root of the problem."
Vera raised an eyebrow. "And how, might I ask, are we meant to do that?"
At this, Gilxinia shifted somewhat in her seat. For the briefest moment, the swordmage looked almost uncomfortable. As if she knew they wouldn't like what she had to say. "The Senate has voted to establish colonies on Licht Dracht. The Republic of the Black Gem is to fulfill the directive of its last emperor, and return the land to its people. We are not to go forward as invaders, but as allies fostering peace before the next war breaks out.”
It was Alvaro who objected first, and loudly. “HA! Peace!? With the Hobgoblins? They are a nation of soldiers, their entire purpose is war." The notion of making peace with an enemy that had stolen many years of his life and the lives of friends of many years made Alvaro’s blood boil.
“Before they were a nation of soldiers, they were city states of impeccable order, often in competition with each other,” The Wanderer offered as insight.
“So,” said Vera, “what changed?”
“The Revolution united all of the city states under its banner before something drove them east,” answered The Wanderer.
“Right," said Ades. "And then a decade later we dropped my ship on The Revolution, killed him with that magic blade right there, nicely done by the way, and showed his death to all of his followers inspiring them to run fast, and hopefully far away.” Ades smiled at them all, clearly proud of his succinct wrap up of the situation. "What more is there to discuss?"
The Wander shook his head, his own smile a bit sad in response. “The Revolution doesn’t die with one man."
It was a simple statement that carried more weight than such a short phrase should. The depth of which was, unfortunately, lost on Ades. "So, how many of him are there?"
“As many as there are Hobgoblins that believe,” The Wander replied.
“Which is why we have to make peace not just with them, but help them make peace with themselves,” Gilxinia said, checking in with The Wanderer for confirmation. “At least that’s how I understand it. It seems that The Revolution isn’t just a man. It’s a living ideal. A mythic avatar of change.”
“The Revolution is more than just a name or a title.," said The Wanderer. "It is a calling, much like my moniker. As long as forces believe that the Hobgoblin nation is in need of such vast sweeping change then The Revolution will continue to be reborn." He crossed his arms. "I’ve seen everything from small towns to entire countries fall to a diabolical cycle of revolution, corruption, then revolution again. If they don’t find some form of peaceful existence, then their nation of soldiers will continue to fall under the sway of The Revolution. Its desperate need for change will direct their energies outward. That need will be shaped by the will of the Hobgoblins, their militaristic nature, their penchant for law and order ... but it will all become twisted into a tyrannical bid to control everything.”
This was the type of rounded circular thinking that often accompanied the magicks of the world. Vera could tell Alvaro’s interests were being pulled away from all this talk of great powers begetting great changes, and back to the magical glaive in his hands. Perhaps his mind was on simple soldiers' work, or perhaps it had drifted further. Ades, on the other hand, was already eagerly signing them all up for the adventure. His halfling optimism was infectious, and the cause seemed just. Still, something nagged at Vera.
“I have another question.” Vera said, interrupting Ades quite effectively for a change. She caught the eye of both Gilxinia and The Wanderer. “What’s your name? Not The Wanderer, because I won’t be calling you that. Much the same way I won’t be calling him Captain.” she said, indicating Ades.
The Wanderer paused for a moment looking like he was struggling to remember something. “It’s very old, and not very important I’m afraid.”
“Well you’ll need something better than The Wanderer. How does one even end up some mystically titled avatar anyway?”
“Ah, well … It’s what happens when fate has faith in you.”
Being a Tale of Battle from the March of Glaives.
There are many sayings about Dwarves. Plenty of them focus on their drinking, or work ethic. Racists favor citing Dwarven greed or miserly behavior. Ironically, in bars and taverns dwarf tossing is more likely to come up than dwarf drinking. Whether the topic is pro or con usually depends on the disposition of Dwarves in the vicinity. While most might consider the idea of being thrown for sport or combat to be an offensive pastime, some just like the sensation of being thrown through the air. Others still take this as a point of pride that they are small enough to be thrown but hearty enough to make an impact upon landing.
"Think about it," the pro-Dwarf-tossing Dwarf usually begins, "Ya' never hear about Gnome tossing do ya'? Just imagining it brings a smile to the face. And Halfling tossing, well, that just sounds mean! No, no, no. Now think of a Dwarf, all muscle and beard or flowing lass locks, tucked up in a ball that springs open into a wild whirl of blades and bearings before it lands! The thought itself sends most runnin' in fear!" Or so the argument might go.
One thing that's rarely spoken of, however, is Dwarven hearing.
You see, among the mixed population of the Republic of the Black Gem, Dwarves are the shortest race that is likely to be stationed on the front lines. Of course the smaller races have many active combat roles in the legions, but as far as infantry forces go, those races are more likely to make up scouting or flanking forces. So Dwarves in the infantry find themselves about a foot below the wide mix of peoples fighting alongside them. This is why among the infantry of the Black Gem, Dwarves make up the front line. Those behind them can see over them, and the Dwarves themselves can rarely make out the devastatingly overwhelming forces that they face.
Young Dwarves love to boast that they'd never run or break their lines, even if they could see the entire hordes of the Nine Hells before them. History says otherwise. Veteran Dwarven soldiers, however, know that it's not the sight of what's in front of them, but the sounds of what's behind that should drive prudent decisions that war sometimes requires. Veteran Dwarves can serve as a sort of barometer for a battle. They've developed a sixth sense for judging the greater fight at large. It goes beyond what they can hear to something akin to feeling the pulse of a battle. As though it were a living being struggling in its first and mostly likely last thrust of a short-lived and bloody life.
Alvaro Montes wouldn't have called himself a veteran. The fact that he'd started this battle as one of a handful of surviving members of the 3rd battalion made him a veteran. Nor would he call himself a leader. The fact that the other soldiers listened as he hollered orders urging them on and warnings protecting them from being blindsided by hobgoblin war beasts made him a leader. If one wanted to be technical on the matter, the fact that his squadron's captain took an arrow to the neck probably helped that leader argument as well, but to those that need that argument often have the fact that leader and commander are not always same.
For Alvaro all those distinctions and titles meant very little. The fact that his finely crafted rapier and been sheared down to half its length some ten minutes prior meant far more. It meant his arm was tired from stabbing well-armored Hobgoblin soldiers in the joints of their armor with a jagged piece of metal. It meant picking up a small throwing axe in his off-hand and hacking like an inartful butcher, rather than the finely-honed gentleman warrior he fancied himself. It meant being splattered in green ichor and red viscera that painted him in the death of friend and foe alike. In short, it meant every bellowing shout of short Dwarf carried the weight of mad monster behind it.
It meant that when he yelled "Shields right! Hounds incoming!" that every soldier within arms-reach of a shield not immediately facing down a foe rushed to guard their right flank, as though they'd been warned by a blood-soaked demon that the wolves of the Infinite Wastes came for their very souls. It meant when he followed up with "Up and under! GUT THEM!" that all those shield-bearers with wild wargs and wolves teeth inches from their faces found it within them to produce a blade, even if it was just a dinner knife or broken arrowhead, and stab repeatedly into the soft bellies of the beasts.
Unfortunately it also meant that when Alvaro paused, taking in the cacophony of the battle, so too did his soldiers. As the hounds slumped onto the floor, their blood adding to the slick viscosity of the mud beneath Alvaro's feet, a great Goblin cheer rang out across the battlefield. It was an odd moment -- their flanking attack had been repelled and yet their forces let loose a coordinated cry of triumph and glee as though they were responding to someone, or something. Alvaro clambered up the pile of dead Wargs -- wolves the size of horses. He was forced to stab one with his broken blade on the way up, but on the plus side … he needed the hand hold.
From atop the mound of fur and wounds, Alvaro first saw his soldiers pouncing on the opportunity to backstab and throat slit those Hobgoblins so distracted by this great cry that they'd turn their backs on active combatants. And he watched them die with looks of pride and victory in their eyes. Then, he followed those dying gazes to see the cause: a grand glaive wielded by a heavily-armored Hobgoblin, thrust rhythmically into the air. Each time it stabbed the sky the chorus of cheers rang out.
"What're they saying? Glory?" Alvaro asked, only speaking a smattering of the goblin language.
"THE Glory. Specifically," one of the other soldiers corrected his translation.
Alvaro didn't understand the need for a distinction, but when the mighty weapon came crashing down upon an equally ornate shield, a shield clearly made to be paired with the glaive now striking it, Alvaro knew he was witnessing something momentous. The Glory shattered the shield in a flash of divine wrath that burst across the field. "Dorian's doom …" Alvaro muttered as the energy of a deity crashed like a wave over the sea of soldiers.
An understanding settled into Alvaro's heart as the energy washed past him. Glory and Honor had been the divine weapons of Iro's champions since the days of the first republic. Every soldier had prayed to the god of victory and righteous war, most had dreamt of carrying those magical arms into a fight, and now here he was watching them be stolen by the enemy. Iro's own glory had now been twisted, turned against his own followers. And now, the call of the Hobgoblin leader had again changed. Alvaro just looked to his soldiers for a translation.
"The Glory Maker is ours… charge."
On another day, at another time, Alvaro would've rolled his eyes at someone translating the goblin command for 'charge' to him. On this day however, he merely shifted his gaze in horror as an emboldened army following a charismatic leader came barreling down at them. Across the Republic's battle lines, many of the soldiers were too distracted with the immediate threats facing them to understand the impending slaughter. Alvaro shouted up and down the line, he ordered his soldiers to carry his warning, to grab speaking stones, use minor magics, flags, flares and all other communication forms to alert the army.
The call to regroup came barely in time. But watching the losses the Republic soldiers were suffering, one would be forgiven in thinking it hadn't come at all. Volleys of arrows, bolts of lightning, even bombastic balls of fire did nothing to disrupt the organized rush of Hobgoblin steel chewing through the soldiers of the Republic. Alvaro's unit had become the singular point holding its position as the battle lines collapsed around them. They fought as they retreated, killing as many as they could while falling back, struggling to keep from getting cut off from the rest of the army.
A sky ship attempting to cover the infantries' retreat and regroup was caught ablaze by Goblin magics. Its crashing into the oncoming Hobgoblin forces only served stem the tide briefly. Alvaro watched survivors attempting to climb free from the wreckage.
"We have to get them out! Form up! Move! Move! MOVE!" Alvaro shouted above the sounds of bashing metal and crackling wood, and so his soldiers moved.
They rushed along the battlefront deflecting incoming arrows crawling over the dead bodies to reach the wreckage. Most of the survivors were dragging themselves away from the burning boards when Alvaro arrived.
"Encircle the wounded! If you can carry a weapon grab it now!"
"The captain's up there!" one of the air crew cried, his tears of pain and sorrow washed clean the only parts of his face not covered in black soot or crimson blood. "We cant leave him!"
Alvaro had come this far; giving up and abandoning someone now didn't make sense. He followed the crewman's point to see the silhouette of a hulking behemoth with a thick muscular body and arms that could drag on the floor, standing atop the flaming wreckage, heaving goblin corpse back down into the fray that dared to try to climb aboard and claim his ship from him.
"That's the captain? What the hell is that?" Alvaro asked, seeing hints of blue skin illuminated by the fires of the ship burning beneath this creature.
"No, that's his mount. THAT'S the Captain!" The crewman responded as one of Alvaro's soldiers began dragging him to his feet.
Looking back, Alvaro saw a small figure emerge atop the blue behemoth. It was Halfling-sized, wearing a shark jaw as a mask and tossing magics into the fray, all the while holding onto the reins of the blue skinned monster beneath him. Alvaro didn't have time to process what he was seeing. All he could do was climb the wreckage to get this … captain … and his crew out of here.
"Are you mad!? Get down, we're overrun!" Alvaro commanded the Halfling, who looked entirely unfazed by Alvaro's blood-soaked visage.
"I can't! I have come to deliver a package to that Hobfuck right there!" The Halfling pointed to the commander of the Hobgoblin forces wielding The Glory Maker and ordering his soldiers onto the burning wreckage. The Halfling spoke with a confident, almost mad-like glee even as his toad monster ripped limbs off enemy soldiers, only to sling them back at the oncoming forces. "Good job Chaos Toady!" The Captain cheered, patting his mount's head.
"Thanks Captain Ades," the blue toad monster croaked back.
"I taught him that!" Ades beamed proudly back to Alvaro.
"Dorian's doom," Alvaro cursed himself and his luck. "What's the package?" he asked frantically, now being forced to defend himself from the swarming Hobgoblins.
"It's him!" Captain Ades said, drawing Alvaro's attention to the unconscious, unarmored man slumped over the railing. "Here!"
Alvaro looked just in time to catch the small crystalline vial Ades had tossed to him. With no time to waste, Alvaro splashed the liquid down the throat of this stranger, who instantly coughed himself awake.
"I hope you have some miracle wrapped beneath those bandages." Alvaro said, pulling the man up to his feet by his linen-bound hands.
"Wish I did," was all the man said before looking past Alvaro.
The relative quiet that had come over the battlefield did more than the stranger's gaze to alert Alvaro to the fact that the Hobgoblin war leader, that heavily-armored soldier who minutes earlier had shattered a shield blessed by a god, had just climbed onto a burning crashed airship to kill … most likely all of them.
"The Wanderer. You should have known better than to stumble your way before me." The armored Hobgoblin spoke loud and clear, addressing the barely-conscious man.
"The Revolution," said the man. "We both know that I only end up where I'm destined to be." The man straightened his back, attempting to strike an equally imposing figure. It might have worked, if he wasn't wincing in clear pain as he did so.
"Then thanks be to destiny for giving me the joy of your being your end." Before the sentence had finished, the two figures were charging each other. Alvaro had seen unarmed monks break stone and shatter metal before, but even witnessing those miracles he saw no way for this wounded Wanderer to dent The Revolution's armor, much less defeat him.
The skill of these two combatants was beyond the embellished fish tales of glorious fighters that drunkards and old vets would tell after a few too many drinks. And yet, even with the help of Ades and his chaos toad (the skills of whom were impressive in their own right) Alvaro could tell The Revolution's victory was certain.
But for a moment, something in his gut pulled his eyes away from the fight before him, as the battle barometer in his soul told him to look across the battlefield. The Hobgoblins were watching … ready, eager, no needing to witness the victory of their leader.
Ades was thrown from Chaos Toady as Alvaro watched. And there it was ... sliding across the deck, having fallen from the captain's belt, was a bard's cone. Used to magically enhance one's voice and send it booming out. As the Dwarven instinct of battle took over, Alvaro rushed across the deck to grab the cone and began yelling order back to the Republic's forces. "COUNTER ATTACK!" began his first command. "Now, while the enemy is distracted! Line breakers to the front!"
His words echoed over the battlefield, he shouted coordinates for magic bombardments, and siege breaker blitzes. The soldiers of the Black Gem rallied to Alvaro's call, but this resurgence would be short lived once The Revolution emerged victorious.
Looking back at the microcosm of this war taking place on the deck of this ship, he saw Captain Ades wounded on the floor, the blue chaos toad trying to drag itself to its feet, and The Revolution readying a coup de grace for The Wanderer.
Alvaro's feet took him running forward without thinking. The Dwarf rushed to the scene, desperate to stop what would surely rally the Hobgoblin forces. He had no plan ... but he didn't need one.
"Chaos Toady!" Captain Ades croaked a command at the mount he'd long-since been thrown from. Then Alvaro felt the floor disappear from beneath his feet as the blue behemoth hoisted him into the air, and launched him across the bow of the ship like a cannonball. He slammed into The Revolution and felt The Glory Maker cut into his torso, but Alvaro grabbed the glaive and held on with a death grip. The momentum of being thrown carried the dwarf past the enemy commander, and he dragged the magic weapon away with him.
Alvaro fought the oncoming blackness as he pulled the bladed part of the glaive from his gut. When he heard a whispered word from Ades across the ship, he somehow found the strength to get to his feet. He looked back just in time to watch The Revolution slump to the deck. Something was glinting in the waning light -- the handle of a rapier with a broken blade, stuck out of the side of the Hobgoblin's helmet, jammed in there by The Wanderer.
Alvaro could see little, and hear less, but in his heart he knew there was one last thing to do. Gritting his teeth through the pain, he climbed to the edge of the wreck and hoisted The Glory Maker high into the air, so ally and enemy alike could see the turning of the glaive.
This week, we ran our first ever TWITTER CHAT. It was the inaugural event for #Tabletopics, a new weekly TTRPG-centered conversation. The opening topic? How YOU were introduced to tabletop. So, let's dive in! There's a lot of great highlights to cover, and we can't wait to revisit what we learned and discussed this past Thursday evening.
I was fourteen in high school. We had one set of dice and a player's handbook.
I think my first experience was MTG Arena of the Planeswalkers! I think I was 14 but it was such a super fun game.
My high school boyfriend introduced me to 3.5 when I was fourteen!
A good number of our chatters were in their teen years when they first discovered tabletop and roleplay. In fact, FOURTEEN was the most recurring age. For a lot of us, that's when we were just starting high school. The fact that this adventuring bug hits us when we're about to venture into a terrifying and new world says a lot about the importance of escapism. There are new social dynamics to be considered, harder classwork, and the pressure of getting everything "right" is laid on much stronger than it was in earlier school years. How wonderful it is that we were able to turn to a magical world of adventure and daring heroics to help us through it!
Rogue Trader because it was the first one husband and I got to play together. And we ended up together on game and out of game.
#DnD5e, always. Its accessibility, and the way I can easily get people to play and pick it up and feel good about it is really special.
Changeling the Dreaming. It’s an RPG about being an outsider and different in a world that doesn’t understand you and wants you to conform. Very impactful as a young queer teen for me.
Of all the questions we asked on Thursday, THIS one had the most varied answers. From AD&D to Vampire the Masquerade to RuneQuest, everyone had their own reasons for enjoying roleplay. As with any art form, certain things speak to us in different ways.
Some of us enjoy the element of familiarity, and stick with the first TTRPG we ever played. It's comfortable, like coming home every time you play. Then, there are those who found lasting love or friendship at the table, or those who love the experience they can craft as a Dungeon Master, and their love of the game is centered around building worlds for others. And, finally, we have players who found something they could truly relate to in a game. Something that maybe isn't so easy to manage in the real world at first, but helps remind you that you're not alone.
I will always promote roleplay and exploring characters but my true love is combat.
I really enjoy creating characters and interacting with the worlds and people who live in them. I especially live for those moments in which players come to a realization and have big progression moments for their characters.
As a Dungeon Master, I love exploration and social. Creating worlds, interacting with NPCs and PCs, etc. But as a PLAYER, nothing feels more satisfying than a great win over a tough combat encounter.
We found a bit of a theme with this question. A lot of our storytellers and Dungeon Masters preferred to build and explore the world from behind the screen, but really just wanted to hit things whenever they joined the rest of the table. The desire for "success" in RPGs is measured in different ways by different people, and apparently different ways by the same people as well! When our Dungeon Master builds a beautiful story that captures our imaginations, he feels fulfilled. But, when he joins us as a player, he is just as thrilled to deal the final blow to a Big Boss, with no roleplay or story involved.
I believe that the true beauty in the RPG Pillars is that the mix of all of them, when done right, can satisfy every player at your table. Combat moments that feel like action movies can be thrilling for your barbarian or fighter. A political intrigue where your bard or rogue gets to shine not only makes them feel useful, but often gives the lore a chance to be explored. There are so many ways to balance a table experience, why settle for just one?
I have always been a fan of some sort of map, but I also can really enjoy just a good Theatre of The Mind for any good ttrpg.
Theatre of the mind. To me, it maintains immersion and duplicates the hectic and confusing nature of 6 seconds of combat.
I will always prefer Theatre Of The Mind. It gives you more flexibility. No “I have to count exactly these hexes” holding you back, as a DM or a player. If someone gets creative enough, HELL YEAH they should be able to! Maps feel very limiting sometimes.
There is something beautifully nostalgic, in my opinion, about group storytelling using only our imaginations. It brings people together in an incredibly unique way, where you aren't tied down by grid squares or exact numbers, but you are encouraged to stretch your own creativity. Of course, there are inherent issues with Theatre of the Mind (which I will cover in a future post) but they are easily manageable, and the payout far outweighs the problems. It's worth exploring, when you can join a team in person.
The lovely thing about this day and age, however, is that you don't always have to be right at the table with your fellow adventurers. Many of our chatters mentioned how great mediums like Discord and Roll20 are, for when you just don't have people to play with in person. Don't ever let your situation in life prevent you from finding a party. Many of us may prefer Theatre of the Mind, but at the end of the day, we're just excited to play.
My 1st experience I was 12 or so, only been playing a few years, but helped my friends make characters and ran some of the old modules. Eventually ran some campaigns later. Prefer to play, my favorite DM is my sister, who I introduced and ran a campaign for.
My first DMing experience was about a year ago with Adventurers League. I had no idea what I was doing but my DM and the usual backups were sick and I ran something. Now I occasionally do table catchups and such but I don’t DM all the time but I’m getting better at it.
It was really a lot of fun! But I ended up getting overwhelmed after a couple of sessions, so I may wait till I am a little more balanced with at home life.
Something shifts in us as players as we step behind the screen for the first time. We are no longer just a part of the story, we are in charge of EVERYONE'S enjoyment at the table. That can, understandably, be overwhelming. But I am here to tell you: KEEP GOING! Just look at what can be built! Our chatter who introduced his sister to D&D and ran her first campaign, and now she is his favorite Dungeon Master. The gamer who didn't know she was being dropping into DMing, but handled it like a champ, and keeps coming back to it now. Even the player who had a blast, but may wait awhile before returning to it.
Everyone gets there at their own pace. And everyone lends their own voice and style to the story. Don't be afraid to give it a try! You may love it, or you may hate it. But the possibility of becoming the creator of your own world should never be ignored, if that is a dream you have. Too often, our fear of not being "good enough" as Dungeon Masters can cripple us, but that voice telling you you don't deserve to run a game is WRONG. We talked with masters of all levels on Thursday, and we were proud of every single one of them. They all deserve to be behind the screen, and so do you. Get out there, and keep playing! Keep learning! Keep rolling those dice, adventurers!
Whether you prefer to play or run, whether you are a play-by-post aficionado or you have your own to-scale dungeon run in your basement, the world of Tabletop Roleplay needs YOUR voice. Keep chatting with us every Thursday night, 8 PM Eastern Time, as we dive into even more Tabletopics. This week, join us for our next discussion: CHARACTER BUILDING! From stat rolls to alignments, there's so much more to be discovered! We'll see you soon, adventurers. Don't forget to follow us on Twitter @RandomNCounter, and be sure to let us know what topics YOU would like discussed in the future!
Too often in life we are told that our childhood hobbies and passions will never amount to much. We're encouraged to let creativity die out, in favor of more "reasonable" pursuits. And while we do sometimes have to put those instincts aside to take care of our families or ourselves, we should never lose that spark completely. After all, who knows when you might suddenly pick up the hobby again, and create something that will outshine and outlive your wildest dreams.
How lucky for us that Gary Gygax was one such man.
Born on July 27th, 1938, Ernest Gary Gygax was always a creative and curious soul. He spent his childhood playing make-believe with neighborhood friends and board games at home. As early as 5 years old, he already adored card games and chess. He grew into a young man obsessed with science fiction and fantasy, filling his time with the stories of H.P. Lovecraft and Jack Vance. Even in the midst of his work and family life as an adult, where he found jobs as a shipping clerk and insurance underwriter, Gygax always maintained his passion for gaming. His obsession with wargames in particular would go on to inspire him to create his own worlds, rules, and entire gaming system.
It may be hard to imagine a world without D&D now. Not only has it been around for many our entire lifetimes, but it has pervaded pop culture in shows like The Big Bang Theory and Stranger Things. Even if you don't play it, you have heard of it. And if you do play, more often than not you can point to a moment at the table where you fell in love with the game. For most of us here at the REP, that love keeps us coming back night after night. Gary Gygax was able to essentially create a new style of storytelling, one that perfectly illustrates the idea we previously discussed: that roleplay is a living art form. Spells we know and use now in every game were born at Gygax's own table, and created by his children and their characters. They are a part of the very lore of the world.
Gygax's own tale was full of failure and defeat. He was deemed unfit to join the Marines. He was high school dropout. At one point he was fired from his stead job of almost a decade, and left to help provide for his wife and five children on what he could make cobbling shoes in his basement. His catalog of health problems included walking pneumonia, multiple strokes, heart attacks. And yet, like the very heroes he helped create an entire game for, Gygax kept fighting back. His personal victories can be found in every page of our own Dungeons and Dragons books and supplements. And the message that goes along with them is clear: don't give up. Your dreams are worth pursuing.
I would like the world to remember me as the guy who really enjoyed playing games and sharing his knowledge and his fun pastimes with everybody else." -- Gary Gygax
Gary Gygax is fondly referred to as "The Father of Roleplay." There is no doubt in our minds that this title is well-earned. But he could not have known, when he began, how much his games would change the lives of those who played them. Here's just a few of the ways our own team has been touched by Gygax's legacy:
For as long as humanity has been communicating, we have spent our spare time telling stories. Whether they take the form of prehistoric cave paintings, epics like Homer's Odyssey, or children telling ghost stories at a slumber party, something inside of us longs to pass on legends, histories, and fairy tales.
Songs. Movies. Books. Theatrical productions, whether simple or grand. Each one of these tells a story, though they all may tell them differently. And we are content with such creative mediums. Many of us enjoy sitting down in a movie theater with a bucket of popcorn to enjoy the latest Star Wars movie, or indulge in a fluffy romantic comedy. Plenty of us have favorite books or graphic novels, and stacks of unread treasures waiting at home to be cracked open. All of these are familiar, and comfortable.
So, what makes Tabletop Roleplay so different?
As a storytelling tool, there is a unique sort of magic in roleplay, and a chance for players of any level to create wondrous tales of their own. You may never star in a major motion picture, and you may never want to. You might not possess the talent or inclination to write the next great classic, and Broadway may never call your name. But at the table, you step into a world of living adventure. A world where your choices immediately impact the story, and your ideals influence how good, or bad, everything turns out in the end. Whereas a movie theater separates you from the action, at the table you are a part of it. A key part. No matter how many fellow adventurers journey with you, and no matter how much or how little you are comfortable contributing, you matter. Your ideas and visions matter. Your story matters.
The art of roleplay (and it is, in fact, an art) takes those recognizable elements we understand about storytelling -- characters, plot, action -- and puts them directly into the hands of its players and dungeon masters. Not only that, but it brings a necessary teamwork and collaboration to the table. Even in a party where everyone is fighting among themselves, they still move the story along together. The variables of dice rolls and random encounters are experienced as a team, giving you the chance to transcend above ordinary entertainment. Roleplay is, and should be, a combination of so many different art forms. We improvise, thinking fast on our feet and putting ourselves in the mindset of our characters, as many professional actors do every day. We write our backstories, some long and some short, and our bards craft poetry and song. We often draw our own art and maps, trying to bring visuals to the worlds we've created. It doesn't have to be perfect, it simply has to be. That's where all stories begin.
So, let's stop putting roleplay aside as if it were a lesser art. Let us not be ashamed of this hobby we've come to know and love, nor pass judgement on the way others play it. That's the glorious thing about art: making it your own. Break the rules, if it suits your table! Make up your own homebrews! Stick exactly to the script, and never deviate. No matter if you play with three people in your garage, login and play-by-post online, or stream from a lit studio with a cast of twenty. All are valid, and ALL are the "right way" to play. Who knows? Maybe you will come up with the next biggest thing in RPGs, at your very own table.
From Athens to Eberron, storytelling as a concept has constantly shifted and grown. The art of the tale is magnificent in its simplicity, and its ability to stretch our imaginations, and make us the gods of our own tiny worlds. Here, we celebrate that art, and the grand traditions that come with it. Every story, from the most innocent nursery rhymes to the heroic epics, deserves to be appreciated. Join us as we dive into every realm, and explore every corner of roleplaying craft, in our brand new blog. Welcome, friends, to Once Upon a Tabletop.
Kaitlin Bellamy is a professional actor, author, and narrator. She has made her living with the art of storytelling, and now co-runs Random Encounter Productions with Dungeon Master Cody Stone. See more of her work here!
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