18 Apr 2019

The Elf's Prisoner - Commentary 25

Miscues and misbehaviour, in The Elf's Prisoner Chapter 25.

Once again, I'm in my cycle of event-reaction-reflection with my characters.  However, Leo isn't in the best of shape to reflect.  Never try to out drink an elf.  They aren't lightweights in this setting, apparently.  He and Wren will be legends for a few weeks at the Inn of the Foxes.

Nyssa's two messages are letters of introduction and requests for an audience.  Nyssa's original mission was to talk to representatives from the Realm Under the Mountain to see why they were threatening Varin.  The mission has expanded, but Nyssa is keeping to the original plan.  She can tell Count Varin truthfully that she tried to contact the reps.  The Niceans are the latest being pulled into Sessarine's plot.  Poor communication kills; Nyssa is trying to open up means to talk with everyone involved.

Galan's Shields are a mercenary company acting as the local town guard.  The dwarves don't care about what happens in Silver Trailings as long as it doesn't affect trade.  The merchants in Silver Trailings like it when their customers can walk down the street without being mugged.  The coins that aren't taken by force can be spent at a number of shops.  Dwarven-craft items, from utensils to weapons, are sold at a premium, but for far less than what they could sell for elsewhere.

Perry is pear cider as Kazi mentions, sort of.  It's not a platypus or a former Canadian game show host.  Perry proper is from the perry pear.  Still, it's a nice addition to the setting; Wildwood has pear trees, not apple trees, and the elves craft cider from them.  The little details make or break a setting.  I got the idea from a King Arthur Pendragon campaign after my character purchased a lot of pear trees for his holding, and perry was one of the items that could be made from the harvest.  My knight didn't hold his religious belief too high, but what can one expect from a family where my knight was the white sheep of the family.  More bastards than legit children there.

Friday, lurking, in The Elf's Prisoner Chapter 26.
Also Friday, over at Psycho Drive-In, Godzilla: Planet of Monsters.
Saturday, over at The Seventh Sanctum, Teen Titans.

12 Apr 2019

The Elf's Prisoner - Chapter 25

Chapter 25

Bridging the cultural divide.
Inn of the Foxes, Silver Trailings, outside the Realm Below the Mountain
Nyssa pressed her signet into the still-warm wax sealing the second of her message scrolls.  She shook out her hand, trying to work out the stiffness and cramps she earned while writing,.  Nonetheless, both missives were ready.

The door crashed open.  Nyssa spun in her seat, her hand falling to the dagger in her belt.  Leomund lurched into the room, one step at a time.  The knight relaxed.  "Really, Leomund, decorum."

The squire fell across one of the beds.  "Why do dwarves hate us?" he groaned.

"Too much to drink."  Nyssa walked over the her squire's side.  "What happened?"

"I learned to not outdrink an elf.  Birdie kept up with me."

"Haven't I always said that you'll meet your match some day?"  Nyssa helped Leomund roll into bed properly.  "And that you'll pay the price for trying?"

"Never thought my match would be an elf girl."

Nyssa pulled Leomund's boots off.  "It's always the one person you would never suspect."  She slapped the squire's leg.  "Roll on your side."

With effort, Leomund did as he was told.  "What are we doing now, ma'am?"

11 Apr 2019

The Elf's Prisoner - Commentary 24

Miscues and misbehaviour, in The Elf's Prisoner Chapter 24.

This was Kazimier's chapter.  Part of the reason for focusing on him was to get used to writing from a male perspective.  If you take a look over at the list of works, most of the stories feature a lead woman, particularly the solo leads in Subject 13, Tales of the Soul Blade, and The Devil You Know.  This was a chance to get inside Kazi's head for a bit and to make sure Jyslyn and Nyssa didn't take over the narrative too much.

The first part of the chapter let me show how divine spells worked.  Instead of having to study individual spells like a wizard would, priests pray.  Whether the priest gets the desired spell depends on the deity.  What the spell looks like, its special effect, also depends on the deity.  Kazi is a priest of the Lightbringer; the spells he uses must involved light in some way, whether a soft glow while healing or a wisp of light as a messenger.  Since I don't have many deities fleshed out yet for the story, I'll use examples from the Forgotten Realms.  Auril, the Frostmaiden, if she were in my setting, would use snow and cold as special effects for spells, with healing involving a touch so cold it burns and messages sent through snowfall even in summer.  Bhaal, the Lord of Murder, may not even grant healing spells and messages would be sent via blood.  I wanted to show a difference between the arcane and the divine.

That just leaves the blatant fan service.  A clash of cultures.  A very awkward moment.  Part of the plan for the story is to get Kazi and Jyslyn together by the end.  What happened in the room, though, is more of a setback.  They're still learning about each other.  Jyslyn has some baggage that she needs to deal with.  Kazi isn't looking for a quick roll in the hay.  One of the goals in the back of my head while writing this was to show them growing together.  At the same time, I don't want it to be too fast.  They need something more than saving each other's life to build on.

Wren was a great way to leave some unsaid tension between Kazi and Jyslyn.  Drunk Wren is even better when it comes to awkwardness.  Some of her mannerisms are based on me, though not directly.  The veering away from the straight line?  That.  After a more horrible than normal day working at an ISP that will remain nameless for now, when word came down from on high that techs would have to upsell crap, I poured myself a rye and Coke - it was the only mixer I had in the apartment - with 2.5 to 3 fingers of alcohol in a lowball glass.  I probably should've been eating something, too, but I may have been going out later to do just that.  I only had the one drink, and it was a rare thing for me to do.

Friday, missives and misery, in The Elf's Prisoner Chapter 25.
Also Friday, over at Psycho Drive-In, Titans.
Saturday, over at The Seventh Sanctum, Godzilla: Planet of Monsters.

5 Apr 2019

The Elf's Prisoner - Chapter 24

Chapter 24

A rainy night and a warm inn
Inn of the Foxes, Silver Trailings, outside the Realm Below the Mountain
Kazimier laid out his chain shirt on the spare bed in his room.  The change out of his wet clothes and into dry ones helped his already improving mood.  He stretched, working out stiff muscles now that the weight of the armour was gone.  The bed was inviting; a nap would recharge him, but the elf had far too much to do before he could rest.

Instead, Kazimier knelt in the middle of the floor.  He took his sunbeam amulet from around his neck, holding it out so it caught the light of the candles spread through the room.  Kazimier preferred to use the sun's natural light, but with the rain still coming down, he had to settle for the candles.  He closed his eyes and sang a prayer to the Lightbringer.  A wisp appeared, glowing soft yellow and warming Kazimier's face.  "Go to Matriarch Matylla Starpetal in Wildwood.  Tell her that Kazimier is safe, as are the others, and we've arrived outside the dwarven realm.  Go now, with the blessing of the Lightbringer."

Kazimier opened his eyes.  The wisp flashed twice, then left, floating through through the wall and out into the rainy gloom.  Through the window, he saw the ball of light leave Silver Trailings.  Kazimier got to his feet.  With one task done, he set himself for the next.  He returned the amulet around his neck, then left his room.

The young girl had helpfully pointed out which rooms his companions were in and where Jyslyn should be.  Kazimier walked over to the dark elf's room and knocked on the door.  Hearing her call back, "Enter," he opened the door and stepped inside.

"Jyslyn, I think we need to talk."  He closed the door.  "I'm concerned about Wren and your--"  Kazimier's voice trailed off when he saw Jyslyn standing nude in the room.  He felt his cheeks growing hot.  "Um."

4 Apr 2019

The Elf's Prisoner - Commentary 23

Welcome to Silver Trailings, in The Elf's Prisoner Chapter 23.

It's not a dark and stormy night.  It is, however, wet and rainy because mountains cause air to cool down, condensing water vapour.  I was basing the setting on the southern mainland of British Columbia, where it rains a lot.  Since there hadn't been any bad weather yet, I tossed it in.  Jyslyn, coming from an underground city, got to experience her first rain.  She hated it.  The thunder and lightning just add to the misery.

The Realm Under the Mountain and Silver Trailings got the most thought in developing the setting on the fly.  The Realm itself is inside the mountain, as the name suggests.  The dwarves would be happy to ignore the outside world, except they need to trade.  The Realm produces raw and refined ores and finished goods.  It's big enough that it needs to import food from the outside.  Silver Trailings started as a small trade town outside the gates to the Realm, then it grew.  The city acts as a buffer between the outside world and the Realm, a way to allow trade while still maintaining a separation.

I even managed to work out a few details of the Realm, mostly that there's a few levels inside.  The entry level, the Entry Cavern because I couldn't think of a better term for it, is a second layer of defense.  If anyone gets past Silver Trailings, they then have to get inside the mountain and then figure out where to go from there, all while dealing with crack dwarven troops.  Back in Chapter 3, the Count of Varin wanted to send troops to lay seige to the Realm.  I wanted to build on the idea that the Count's invasion plan was pure folly.

What I didn't have in mind while writing the chapter was an idea of how Silver Trailings was laid out.  There's a main gate, with inns near it to take advantage of tired travellers.  Beyond that, I was still building the city as I wrote.  There is some good news, though.  Older cities, such as London, England, weren't planned out at the beginning.  Roads and buildings were put in haphazardly until the idea of urban planning got formalized.  There are districts, though; it's easier to find a shop if most shops are in or near the marketplace.  There are rich neighbourhoods and there are poor neighbourhoods.  The Bent Coin, seen in the interregnum two weeks ago is in a shadier part of Silver Trailings.

I may not have had an idea where The Elf's Prisoner was going when I started.  The past few chapters, I knew I needed my characters to get to the dwarven kingdom.  I did spend some time trying to figure out what is going to happen, but first, I needed the kingdom to be defined.  The next few chapters will use Silver Trailings; if I had to build it, I wanted to make good use.  This is a section that will take a few in-story days to gather information.  It helps to have a city that is more than just a fuzzy idea.

Friday, miscommunications, in The Elf's Prisoner Chapter 24.
Also Friday, over at Psycho Drive-In, hiatus week.
Saturday, over at The Seventh Sanctum, Titans.

2 Apr 2019

Test Run - The Witcher - The Witcher

It's been a couple of weeks, but I needed a small break.  I'm back with R. Talsorian's The Witcher RPG based on the video game based on the series of dark fantasy novels by Andrezej Sapkowski.  This time around, it's time to create a Witcher, since that's what the game is named after.  Again, I'm not familiar with the setting, only what I've read in the game.  But, the game looks thorough.

So, tally ho!

29 Mar 2019

The Elf's Prisoner - Chapter 23

Chapter 23

A knife found, a villain revealed.
Silver Trailings, outside the Realm Below the Mountain
The sight of the gate outside the Realm Below the Mountain through the steady rain lifted the spirits of the small group.  After three days of rain, all five were eager to have a roof over thir heads.  Jyslyn pulled her cloak tighter around her as she shivered.  "I do not like this rain."

"It'll stop," Nyssa said.

"You promised me that yesterday morning."

"Once we're past the gate, the first thing we do is find an inn," Kazimier said.  "No one likes being caught out in the rain, Jyslyn."

Wren shrugged.  "I like it."

Lightning lit the sky.  A sharp crack followed right after.  Jyslyn had her grey rod out before the thunder finished rolling.  "What was that?"

28 Mar 2019

The Elf's Prisoner - Commentary 22

The plot grows deeper, in The Elf's Prisoner Chapter 22.

Wren got some time in the spotlight, finally.  She was the last of the main characters to have screen time to show off her abilities.  Wren is an Outrider, a scout for Wildwood's patrols to search ahead for any trouble brewing.  Outnumbered six to one, Wren did what she was trained to do, gather information and return.  Oh, and snipe.  Wren is a sharpshooter with her bow.  She's practiced, a lot, on the ground, on the move, and on a horse.

Jyslyn overreacted.  She also overdid her spell.  The rough rules of magic I was using at the time of writing meant that a wizard could channel as much mana as she wants, but to handle that much power going through her, she'd need to use such things as a focus, like a rod or want, and chanting to stand a chance of not burning out.  Even then, Jyslyn found herself exhausted from casting her spell.  If she had used a more direct spell, a bolt of magic directly on a goblin instead of moving the land itself to crush all five, she would be in better shape.  However, since dark elves have some magic resistance, it's easier to cast a spell on the surroundings instead of directly at one.

Nyssa was ready to charge in if any goblin survived the spell.  She wasn't sure what Jyslyn had in mind, but she has worked with other wizards in the past.  The plan is simple - wait for the wizard to cast the spell, then charge at any survivors.  If the fireball doesn't kill the enemy, the lance and horse hooves will.  This time, there wasn't anyone to charge.  The goblins that Jyslyn didn't get, Wren did.

The reason Jyslyn overdid her spell is because she suspected the goblins of working for her family.  She mentioned it last chapter, and since they were mentioned, they needed to make an appearance.  Checkov's horde and all that.  I've already established that Jyslyn's sister uses goblins as spies back in Chapter 14.  The catch here is that these goblins aren't looking for Jyslyn.  That's far too much a coincidence at this point.  Wren, though, has been paying attention to the plot.

The second interregnum came about because I had an idea of who my main villain was, but needed to work with her to get the details sorted in my head.  Sessarine verifies for the reader that Wren is correct.  She also demonstrates who and what she is for readers.  Sessarine doesn't like failure.  She'd probably get along with Jyslyn's eldest sister.

Friday, the Realm Under the Mountain, in The Elf's Prisoner Chapter 23.
Also Friday, over at Psycho Drive-In, the evolution of TV viewing.
Saturday, over at The Seventh Sanctum, hiatus week.

22 Mar 2019

The Elf's Prisoner - Chapter 22

Chapter 22

A murder most curious.
Abandoned farm field
Wren let her horse break into a gallop.  The tall grass brushed against her legs, whipping against her leather trousers.  The young elf crouched low on her horse, bringing her head beside the animal's neck.  The ground flew by under the horse's hooves.

With the horse's pace steady, Wren let part of her mind wander.  The past few days had been a whirlwind.  Her dark guardian angel returned!  She knew Jyslyn came from one of the Accursed Lands Below, but Wren had prayed every morning since arriving at Wildwood that her angel would survive and return.  And then the priest brought her with him!  It felt childish to think that Kazimier found Jyslyn as an answer to her prayers.  Yet, Wren thanked the Lightbringer during evening services the day she saw Jyslyn.  And to get to help her?  Wren couldn't wait to show her dark angel around, once they got back to Wildwood.

The ground changed, from a farmer's field overgrown with wildgrass to thin brush with rocks poking up from the dark soil.  A few hundred yards beyond that, a thin forest stood, the trees returning after being cut back.  Wren slowed her horse to a trot.  She watched around her, taking in how the land presented itself in a more natural manner, untouched by human or even elven hand.  The horse snorted.  Wren tensed.  She slipped off the animal, grabbing her bow from behind her saddle.  The young elf sniffed the air, just as she was taught.  She recognized the peat coming from the soil, the tangy cedar from the brush.  There was also a scent she didn't recognize, one that wasn't from a plant of the ground.

Wren crouched down.  She strung her bow, keeping it low.  The elf reached for an arrow, keeping it in her hand.  Hiding behind the thin brush, Wren crept forward, making use of all her senses.  Each step was carefully placed, avoiding dry branches and making sure that the ground was solid beneath her.  Wren heard low, harsh whispers, but couldn't make out the words.  She stopped, held still.  The whispering continued, coming from ahead of the young elf and to her left.  Wren nocked her arrow.

21 Mar 2019

The Elf's Prisoner - Commentary 21

Back on the road, in The Elf's Prisoner Chapter 21.

Again, a reminder that The Elf's Prisoner is a work in progress and nowhere near as complete as other stories that needed finishing, like The Soul Blade and The Devil You KnowNaNoWriMo's goal is to get 50 000 words written in month of November; there's nothing about having a completed story by the end.  Those 50 000 words go a long way to having a finished draft, though, unless you're writing science fiction or fantasy, where the typical novel is 100 000 words.  Still, half a novel written in a month goes a long way to finishing it.

My unfinished world got expanded again with the addition of the Nicean Islands.  Since I was using the lower mainland of British Columbia, I had an idea of what could work for an island nation or, in this case, a nation of islands.  I even started getting a few ideas of what the Niceans were like, from having a strong mercantile navy to a potentially different type of magic.  All for a corpse.

The corpse is what changed the events of the past few chapters from a random encounter to a plot-related encounter.  Why was there a fire?  Why was it set?  Who set it?  *Bam!*  Back on the plot.  With the general plot the villains have - start wars between nations then move in to take them all over when they're weakened - adding another nation into the mix wasn't a problem.

Outside adding the Niceans, I added a bit more worldbuilding in the chapter.  The Blooding, a dark elf rite of passage, at least according to the people on the surface.  If the Accursed elves even found out about the name, they'd laugh, then gut the person who informed them.  It's not a formal rite, like baptism and confirmation, a bar or bat mitzvah, or a quinceƱera.  It's more like engineering students suspending a car from a bridge, something that got started once, then continued because the participants found the event fun.  The difference is what I found key, what one culture sees as kids being kids*, another saw as a formal, dangerous rite.

I have a pattern to my writing which comes out during NaNo because of how useful it is.  I have an event happen, the characters react, then the characters reflect and discuss.  During NaNo, while the characters are relfecting, I can look ahead to the next plot event.  I am trying to at least get the cycle to be more smooth and less noticeable.  It helps if I have an end point to aim at while writing.  The Elf's Prisoner had no such end point, at least not when I wrote this chapter.  The goal was starting to form to be something beyond just 50 000 words.  An intermediate goal came up, though - get the characters to the Realm Under the Mountain, the home of the dwarves.  Having a short-term goal does help.  It gave me a direction, which this chapter did go in.

Friday, the Gashed Axe, in The Elf's Prisoner Chapter 22.
Also Friday, over at Psycho Drive-In, Carmen Sandiego.
Saturday, over at The Seventh Sanctum, the evoution of TV viewing.

* "Let kids be kids," is one of those phrases that needs to be tossed into the trashbin of history, along with, "boys will be boys."

19 Mar 2019

Test Run - The Witcher - Applying the Lifepath

While creating a mage for R. Talsorian's The Witcher RPG, it occurred to me that I could use the game's lifepath creation for the cast of The Efl's Prisoner.  Several of Mecha Academy's characters were inspired by the lifepath in Mekton ZetaThe Witcher's lifepath would need a bit of tweaking to be usable for another fantasy setting, but the core would still work.

To demonstrate, I'll use Jyslyn, Wren, and Leomund from The Elf's Prisoner.  They predate the RPG, so what notes I have on them, minimal as they may be, won't be influenced by the lifepath as it is.  This is also a good way to show how choosing instead of rolling works.  It's going to be a long one, though, like the previous weeks' work.  This time, I'll break it down by chart.

15 Mar 2019

The Elf's Prisoner - Chapter 21

Chapter 21

A mage with a well is as good as an entire fire station.
Abandoned farm, unclaimed territory
Kazimier and Nyssa sat close to the cooking fire, trying to keep warm.  Both were in stockinged feet; their boots were held on sticks over the open flame to dry them out.  Wren and Leomund began cleaning up the dregs of lunch.  Jyslyn sat with Kazimier, peering at a piece of metal he turned over in his hands.

"It must be magical," the dark elf said.  "It doesn't look like it was in a fire."

Kazimier nodded.  "And it was cool to the touch.  Our burnt friend had it under his clothes."  He flipped the metal rectangle over again.  "No writing on it."

"I could cast a spell on it to see if it changes."

"I've seen ambassadors from Nicean Islands carrying similar," Nyssa said.  "If that's the case, he's a long way from home."

"Do the Niceans have an ambassador in the dwarven realm?" Kazimier asked.

Nyssa shrugged.  "It's a thought, though."

Jyslyn got up and stretched.  "Why here?  How long would it have been before someone else came along?"

14 Mar 2019

The Elf's Prisoner - Commentary 20

Crime scene investigation, in The Elf's Prisoner Chapter 20.

Okay, CSI might be over the top for what the cast is doing, but between fire fighting and discovering the body, they're hitting a few procedurals that don't normally appear in a fantasy.  No one has written Emergency! in a fantasy setting and possibly only Terry Pratchett has written police procedurals.  Yet, here I am, adding those elements, though the decision wasn't conscious of the approach at the time.  'Twas NaNo and words needed to be written.

The Elf's Prisoner started as a D&D-esque story, but I wanted to bury the gaming portion deep, despite using dark elves.  What works in a game doesn't quite work in fiction, particularly the random encounter.  Tossing in a random fight will keep player interested and give them a small bit of treasure, it doesn't work as well for readers.  Well, it could, but who can afford to include a couple of silver coins or a +1 dagger in every printed novel, and how would that work with an ebook?  So, what was originally an action scene to keep reader and, admittedly, writer interest, had to become something more than that.

By this time, I finally worked out how magic worked.  Instead of Vancian magic, I went a different route and "borrowed" from Shadowrun.  I've gone into depth on how I created the magic system before; short form is that wizards need to learn every spell they know, but can cast them until they exhaust themselves.  If the wizard has a focus, like a wand or a rod, or uses gestures, then it makes it easier to cast a spell.  That just left figuring out what spells Jyslyn knows.  I don't have a list; that would've meant planning ahead on a story that was a last minute decision.  I did have an idea of the sort of spells Jyslyn would want to learn.  In a city where anyone who could cause her problems would have protection against direct magic, Jyslyn would learn spells that have an indirect effect.  Zapping someone with a ice bolt won't work; zapping a wall to turn it into mud and cover that same someone would.  Jyslyn has a spell to control large amounts of water; the protective magics won't do much against a mini-tsunami.

The corpse is, for me, what turned this from a random encounter into a plot-driven scene.  An abandoned farm, a burnt corpse, and a fire don't really answer questions but add them.  Here, though, I had the answers.  I kept trying to work out why the fire started, and the more I dug, the more I was able to connect the fire to the main plot.  The next chapter expands it more, but for now, it's enough to say that I knew who, roughly, and I knew why.  The cast, not so much.

The contributions to the investigation came from the cast's strengths.  Jyslyn put out the fire.  Kazimier, the healer, determined cause of death.  Wren picked up on the lack of animals, dead or alive.  Nyssa has her reasons for not leaving just yet.  The choice of who did what was important.  Jyslyn wouldn't know what a surface barn looks like and Kazi, wouldn't have picked up on the abandoned nature of the farm.  Jyslyn remarking on an abandoned farm would ring false.  Leo or Wren diagnosing the cause of death would throw readers.  The right character has to make these observations.

As of this chapter, I had a rough plan, one that would at least get me to the dwarven kingdom.  Once there, I could try figuring out where I was going next, but the journey now has a point to aim for.  It's something, especially when pantsing.

Friday, the dangers still lurk, in The Elf's Prisoner Chapter 21.
Also Friday, over at Psycho Drive-In, One Day at a Time.
Saturday, over at The Seventh Sanctum, Carmen Sandiego.

12 Mar 2019

Test Run - The Witcher - Human Mage

Last week, I tried creating an elven archer  for R. Talsorian's The Witcher RPG, based on the video game based on the series of dark fantasy novels by Andrezej Sapkowski, all with the same name.  Character creation can get involved, though some of that was self-inflicted with the age of the character.  The lifepath system can add to the time needed to create a character, as can missing a key sentence.  The archer was straightforward, though, no extra mechanics beyond the base rules.

This time around, I'm going to try a human mage.  Since last week's character almost became a bard until his life made him hideous and feared, I'll keep the options open, but the end goal right now is someone who can use magic of some sort.  I'll keep with a random lifepath, just to see what I get.  This time, though, I may ignore results that work against my concept.  After the break, character creation by the steps in the book.

10 Mar 2019

Where Did 3am Go?

It's that time of year again, when an hour is stolen.  We only just started getting light in the evening and now we have to jump forward an hour.  The equinox hasn't happened yet, so there's still more hours of darkness than of light.  Daylight Saving Time doesn't save anything.  That lost 3am could be put to better use, like sleeping.  We're getting shorted.  It's time for Daylight Saving Time to be tossed on the rubbish bin of bad ideas.

8 Mar 2019

The Elf's Prisoner - Chapter 20

Chapter 20

Back on the road.
Northbound road, unclaimed lands
The group rode on in silence as the sun climbed into the sky.  Leomund had the lead.  Nyssa fell further back, keeping a wary eye out for anyone following.  Kazimier and Jyslyn rode together in the middle, side by side.  The dark elf grew warm underneath all the layers of clothes she wore.  Beads of sweat pearled on her brow and ran down her cheeks.  She fanned herself, trying to get a small breeze to blow against her face.

The sun crested, passing over its apex.  Just as Nyssa called for a halt, Wren raced back, her horse panting from the effort.  "There's a fire!" the young elf yelled.  She pointed behind her.  Dark wisps of smoke rose from the ground in the distance.

7 Mar 2019

The Elf's Prisoner - Commentary 19

Planning by the seat of their (and my) pants, in The Elf's Prisoner Chapter 19.

When writing by the seaet of the pants, it helps to have a rough plan in mind, even if it's "get characters to plot point C."  During NaNoWriMo 2015, I didn't even have that.  I had characters in search of a plot.  The more I could focus on their journey, the more time I had to figure out where the plot was going.  The time at the inn helped buy a few days of thinking, usually while trying to get to sleep, about where the story was going.  The planning the characters are doing?  That's also me trying to work out the next bit of narrative.

What helps is that the group isn't familiar with each other enough to know what the others are thinking.  That forces them to explain themselves.  During NaNo, that's even more words!  Yay, words!  That also means I need to know where everything is in the setting, the setting that I was building as I wrote.  Again, that's a bad idea when writing epic fantasy.  Or any fantasy, really.  Fortunately, British Columbia exists and was useful as a stand-in.  If there's any TV producers reading the story with an eye on adapting it (ha!), filming in Vancouver and the BC interior gets you exactly the setting you'd need.

The goblins Jyslyn mentioned were originally just a placeholder, $humanoids_2, which I also used in the interregnum in Chapter 14.  Even now, "goblins" is just a placeholder.  I have an idea for a story in the same setting where one of the characters is a goblin treasure finder, so I may want to change things in The Elf's Prisoner a bit.  That's getting ahead of myself here, though.

Kazi's idea is a good one.  The Gashed Axe takes orders from Jyslyn's family.  Having Jyslyn send them on a wild goose chase clears a path.  Jyslyn, though, risks discovery by doing that, and Valenza not just holds grudges, she nutures them like they were babies.  Valenza treats her grudges better than she treats babies, really.  Never let Valenza babysit.

At the end of this chapter, did I have an idea of where I was going?  Sort of.  It's a very general idea - get the characters to the dwarven realm where they can keep investigating.  I'll worry about what happens there when the story gets there.  The journey is enough to carry things along for now.  It's not the best idea, but it's working.

Friday, "Fire!" in The Elf's Prisoner Chapter 20.
Also Friday, over at Psycho Drive-In, exceptions.
Saturday, over at The Seventh Sanctum, One Day at a Time.

5 Mar 2019

Test Run - The Witcher - Elven Archer

Time to try a flesh and blood character instead of a cool starship.  This outing, I'll use R. Talsorian's The Witcher RPG, based on the video game based on the series of dark fantasy novels by Andrezej Sapkowski, all with the same name.  This isn't a Lost in Translation review; I'm not familiar enough with either the original novel or the video game, but I can glean information from the RPG well enough.

The first thing that strikes me when I look at the game's character creation is that it is familiar.  It's R. Talsorian's base rule set as seen in the various Mekton* and Cyberpunk games.  Character creation also follows a life path system, meaning as I create the character, I can choose what happened to him or her prior to the game starting, similar to the various versions of Traveller.  I like life paths; they let me get a better handle of who the character is beyond just numbers and skill sets and they give me a better idea of what the world is like.

For this first run through The Witcher's character creation, I'm going to use a fairly standard character, an elven archer.  Elves do exist in the setting, and they are known for putting arrows into pesky humans when needed.  For the life path, I'm going to roll, just to see what happens.  Right now, the idea is that I want a character that suits the setting when I'm not that familiar with it.  The elven archer is a good archetype to start from; I know what one can do in general, so applying that to the setting and seeing what comes out should result in a playable character.

1 Mar 2019

The Elf's Prisoner - Chapter 19

Chapter 19

Culture shock.
Inn at the Crossroads, outside the Sylvan Forest
As the sun crept up over the horizon, Leomund and Wren were already getting the group's horses ready to leave.  Kazimier and Nyssa were inside, settling the final bill.  Nyssa insisted on having a proper lunch prepared before they left.  Kazimier tried to explain that he and Wren could hunt along the way, to no success.  Jyslyn, once again fully covered, was the last to come downstairs.  She took the opportunity to enjoy the luxury of the cool morning air on her skin before hiding herself away from prying eyes and the harshness of the sun.

With everyone finally outside, Nyssa checked the packs one last time, making sure that everything was both there and secure.  True to his word, Leomund, with Wren's help, had everything ready to go.  Kazimier helped Jyslyn on her horse before getting on his.  If the dark elf had complaints, she didn't voice them.  Nyssa took the lead on her riding horse as the group left the inn's courtyard.  Once on the road, the knight turned on to the north road.  Wren urged her horse past Nyssa, racing by the knight.

It took the group a half hour to finally lose sight of the inn.  Once the tallest building at the crossroads disappered behind a hill, Nyssa slowed her horse enough to fall back.  "I'm taking rear guard," she said.  "In case we're followed."

28 Feb 2019

The Elf's Prisoner - Commentary 18

A little light fanservice, in The Elf's Prisoner Chapter 18.

Chapter 16 was a bit on the fanservice side, though to show what Jyslyn is like when she isn't trying to maintain a front for others.  This chapter is a chance to show Kazi's reaction.  He noticed.  Leo didn't, mainly because everyone else got in between him and Jyslyn, on purpose or otherwise.  Wren is missing the subtleties, in part because of her age, in part because she's been sheltered since arriving in Wildwood.

The chapter also let me get everyone up to speed, with concerns out in the open.  One person hidden in a full cloak gets whispers started.  Two?  Whispers become open nervousness, even if one of the cloaked figures is on your team.  Something is afoot!  And this other figure is plot related.  Even with Nyssa's bribe to the innkeeper, rumour will spread and reach ears that it shouldn't.

Chapter 18 was a bit of a filler, not in that it added words for the sake of adding words, though I did write this during NaNo.  It was easier to show everyone discussing what happened instead of glossing over it, then wondering down the road what everyone knew.  Now, I know what the heroes know, and why.  For example, Jyslyn is still unaware of her mother's untimely passing.

Friday, on the road again with some tactical decisions, in The Elf's Prisoner Chapter 19.
Also Friday, over at Psycho Drive-In, music covers.
Saturday, over at The Seventh Sanctum, exceptions.

26 Feb 2019

Test Run - Firefly - Courier

I'm still on a starship kick.  After creating ships for Scum and Villainy and Star Trek Adventures, I want to try making one to help solidify an idea I have for a story.  This time around, I'll use the Firefly RPG.  I've done this before, using two ships from the Traveller RPG, the Type S Scout/Courier and the TANSTAAFL-class subsidized liner.

The ship involved here is a courier, normal crew of five but can be run by two without effort or one with a lot of effort.  The main idea is to follow the two crewmembers of the ship, but the ship is going to be important.  Hard to get through space without one providing life support.  The ship is going to be an important part of the setting, so it helps to nail down details now instead of handwaving it as I go.  Things get messy when I do that.

22 Feb 2019

The Elf's Prisoner - Chapter 18

Chapter 18

Nyssa engaged in diplomacy
Inn at the Crossroads, outside the Sylvan Forest
Jyslyn lounged on the double bed.  A sliver of moonlight reflected off her bare leg.  The dark elf shifted her leg, watching how the light played along her thigh as she moved it.  She decided that the moon's light was far better than the sun's.  Her skin didn't burn where the moonlight fell on it.  Her eyes didn't find the light overwhelming.

Heavy footsteps approached the door to her room.  Jyslyn rolled off the bed, landing beside her discarded clothes.  She slipped her dagger out of its sheath, holding the blade up as the door creeped open.  "Jyslyn," Kazimier called in a whisper, "are you asleep?"

Jyslyn put her knife back before standing.  "Still awake."

Kazimier entered the room.  "It's just dark and quiet in here, I thought you could be sleeping."  He lit the lantern, keeping the light dim.  "We're waking up at dawn, so," his voice trailed off as he saw the dark elf, clad only in a strophic and a loin cloth.

21 Feb 2019

The Elf's Prisoner - Commentary 17

Nyssa in the circle, in The Elf's Prisoner Chapter 17.

A bit of action to wake up the readers in Chapter 17.  Something needed to happen; road trips aren't interesting unless something odd occurs.  Since I introduced the circle in Chapter 15, it needed to come back at some point.  Chekov's phaser and all that.  It could come up again when the cast is on their way back, but I haven't planned that far out yet.

Why Nyssa?  She and Kazimier wouldn't let Leo and Wren get into trouble there.  Kazi is defering to Nyssa around humans, in part because she is one and in part because she is a woman with authority.  Then there's the idea of the person warning the younger set getting into the trouble she wants Wren and Leo to avoid.  Chekov's phaser is set to irony.  This also let me show off Nyssa's combat skills while not being outnumbered.  Nyssa is an older woman; she fights smart.

The rest of the chapter goes back to the cast investigating the plot.  They have a suspicion, but they're not sure of who or why.  Theo and his friend are there to emphasize the mystery.  The innkeeper sees people come and go all the time.  Unless someone does something to really stand out, he's not going to remember half the people who pass through until their third or fourth time through.  Nyssa handing him a pouch of gold will get him to remember her, but if he wants to keep seeing those pouches, he may conveniently forget about her.

The minstrel is working the crowd.  The idea here is that, for a small fee, the minstrel gets exclusive rights to work the room that night and the patrons of the tavern can provide small tips.  Minstrels are also the closest thing the world has to regular news broadcasts, especially between major settlements.  Within Wildwood and Varinford, there are cryers for local events, but beyond, the only real way to hear news in general is the minstrels.

Friday, end of day catch up, in The Elf's Prisoner Chapter 18.
Also Friday, over at Psycho Drive-In, Airplane!.
Saturday, over at The Seventh Sanctum, music covers.

20 Feb 2019

Test Run - Star Trek Adventures - Starship Creation

Last week, I went through creating a starship for Scum and Villainy.  During the process, I mentioned how newer games are allowing players to create or customize their characters' ship before play begins.  One game that is doing this is Modiphius' Star Trek Adventures.  The idea is that a Starfleet vessel can be customized to reflect what the players think is important in the campaign, from type of mission to the extras on board.

To demonstrate, I'll use a concept that I've had in the back of my mind - a Starfleet crew after the Dominion War as seen on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.  The core idea here is that some of the senior officers were on the front lines in the war and now have to try to return to Starfleet's traditional duty of exploration.  Some of the crew may be suffering from PTSD as a result of what they went through in the war.  The human element would be front and centre if this were a series.

15 Feb 2019

The Elf's Prisoner - Chapter 17

Chapter 17

Jyslyn and her new life.
Inn at the Crossroads, outside the Sylvan Forest
Nyssa watched as the barkeep dragged the fight's loser out of the circle.  The crowd tonight was in a mood; Nyssa wasn't sure if she and the elves were the cause or just lucky to be staying on the wrong night.  She entertained the idea that whoever was trying to get Count Tathan to wage war on the dwarves was also trying to create conflict between others.  Nyssa couldn't figure out a reason; a full-out war between all the realms would lay waste to a number of lands.

The other problem Nyssa faced had youthful faces.  Both Leomund and Wren were fascinated by the fighting.  Nyssa thanked the Gods Above and Below that Kazimier was a voice for reason, keeping the youths seated.  For all her repulsion earlier, Wren seemed to enjoy what she saw.  At least with Leomund, Nyssa could understand why he watched; he was going to be a warrior, a knight, someday, and fighting was in his future.

"Let's hope that was the end of the night's entertainment," Nyssa said.  "It's going to be a long day tomorrow if we can't get to sleep tonight."

Wren looked crestfallen at the idea.  Leomund showed that he taking Nyssa's lesson to heart by saying, "Agreed, ma'am.  I'd like to hear the minstrel sing.  He may have heard some news we need."

Nyssa nodded with approval.  "Excellent idea, Leo."

"Would the minstrel perform for us?" Kazimier asked.  "I'm sure we can encourage him to come over."  He slid a small pouch to Nyssa.

14 Feb 2019

The Elf's Prisoner - Commentary 16

Staying at the Crossroads Inn, in The Elf's Prisoner Chapter 16.

After a few days of turning her life upside down and now having a future, Jyslyn had a chance to just let herself relax a little.  She's alone, at least for now, so she can try to be comfortable.  All sorts of new sensations; turns out, Jyslyn is sensual.  She likes how things feel on her skin and enjoys new tastes.  Jyslyn is open to new experiences.

The cheering from the below is from the circle, first mentioned in Chapter 15.  Of course, Jyslyn isn't aware of it, having gone up to the room without spending much time in the taproom.  She can only draw on her experiences, which aren't always pleasant.  Look at her family in Chapter 14.

The noise from the taproom is keeping Jyslyn up.  She's had a long day, getting used to being on a horse, after a few life-changing days on the surface.  At some point, it will quiet down as people will want to sleep.  The rooms aren't the only place to stay - the taproom turns into a common room for guests who don't want or can't afford a private room.  There's also the stable, even cheaper than the common room.  It's a matter of comfort level.

Since Jyslyn can't really sleep yet, I could use the opportunity to show her having magical skills.  Minor magics for now; creating small lights and cleaning things, just to show that she can cast spells.  The main issue she has is that her major spells are the type to cause collateral damage.  Practising them would be, at the minimum, rude, and, worst case, destructive and a cause for a mob with torches.  At this point, I still hadn't worked out how wizards cast spells.  Minor spells, like the ones Jyslyn's practising, don't take much effort.  Once a wizard discovered Clean Clothes, it caught on and got refined.  Why spend time doing laundry when a spell takes care of it, leaving more time for arcane studies?

The chapter has some fan service, some worldbuilding, and some character development to it.  Some of it was because I wasn't sure where the story was going after the Crossroads Inn.  Again, I was pantsing the story.  Some of it, though, was to get into Jyslyn's head for a bit.  She's been key to many chapters, but none really from her point of view.  It was a change of pace and a chance for me to write a character solo, with no supporting cast around.

Friday, the circle, in The Elf's Prisoner Chapter 17.
Also Friday, over at Psycho Drive-In, remakes and comedy vehicles.
Saturday, over at The Seventh Sanctum, Airplane!

12 Feb 2019

Test Run - Scum and Villainy - The Ship

Now that Tanya and Katya are done for Scum and Villainy, it's time to get their ship ready.  To follow along, grab the playbooks from Evil Hat's site.

A quick aside before starting.  Something I'm noticing in recent science fiction RPGs is the ability for players to customize their PCs' starship before play begins.  While older games did allow for custom ships and customizing existing ships, it was expensive for the characters.  Traveller is typical here; everything has a cost, sometimes more than what characters have on hand, though loans are available.  However, with RPGs like Firefly, Scum and Villainy, and even Star Trek Adventures, players can customize their ships before play starts.  No two ships need be the same, even if they are the same class, and can reflect what the players want.

8 Feb 2019

The Elf's Prisoner - Chapter 16

Chapter 16

Minding the kids' manners.
Inn at the Crossroads, outside the Sylvan Forest
Jyslyn ate her meal in silence.  The room grew darker as the sun set, a welcoming relief from the harsh light of the sun.  Her legs were stiff after the day-long ride on the horse.  How anyone could enjoy being on one of those beasts were beyond her.  The dark elf longed for the luxury of a bath, but the inn wasn't the place to get one.  The stew, though, did satisfy her.  The meat was different, definitely not the lizards raised at the Citadel.

Done with her meal, she set aside the bowl.  Jyslyn whispered an incantation.  A dark aura formed, starting at her head and cascading down her.  She felt the day's dirt and grime leave her, refreshing her.  The spell, one of the first she learned, was the next best thing to bathing and cleaned her clothes as an extra benefit.

The clothes, though, still clung to Jyslyn.  She still wasn't used to wearing so much heavy material.  It blocked the sunlight, protecting her skin.  The dark elf had shed her cloak as soon as the serving girl had left after bringing dinner and a mug of frothy liquid.  Jyslyn wondered if she could just shed the rest.  The room was dark enough, and high enough up that no one could spy her through the window if she crossed in front of it.  Her body yearned to feel the cooling air again.

7 Feb 2019

The Elf's Prisoner - Commentary 15

The Crossroads Inn, in The Elf's Prisoner Chapter 15.

It was tempting to throw a random encounter at the group but it wouldn't have made sense with the narrative.  Everyone has had a chance to shine already, except Wren, and given the nature of the plot, I didn't want an early distraction.  I would've been tempted to tie the random encounter to the main plot and I didn't know the full details of that yet.

I got to name another inn!  Yeah, not the easiest thing for me to do, but this one came quickly.  No one in-universe is going to care what the real name is; it's the Crossroads Inn because the inn is at the crossroads.  It's been there as long as travellers can remember, even elven travellers.  It's out a day's travel from Wildwood, a good spot to be to get travellers to stay a night.

A bit of world-building slipped into the chapter.  The inn is on a few borders, claimed but with no real way of enforcement without starting a fight.  The location isn't worth the war.  The inn gets protection, doesn't really pay taxes to any of the nations making claims on it, and regular traffic.  The inn is also happy to take whatever coins come its way.  The Seven Dominions uses crowns, inspired by Norwegian kroner and Swedish krona.  I don't have any idea of what the coins are, though.  Denominations in 1, 5, and 10 crowns?  Or 1, 3, and 9?  Or some other combination?  No idea.  And what is the exchange rate between nations?  Or does the innkeeper just not care and gives change based on what sort of coin he gets first?

The payoff to Leo's "stew" from Chapter 11 comes up.  It was a cute little bit, and it let me get the point across that not everyone is fluent in other tongues.  Little things get missed.  Homonyms exist in many languages; in English, for, fore, and four all sound the same.  In French, cheval (horse) and cheveux (hair) are close enough to be mixed.  So why not something similar in an elven tongue?

With the cast on the road, I had to work out what the world looks like beyond Wildwood and the Sylvan Forest while on the fly.  I started the story with no idea of what the world looked like or where the plot was going.  Now, it's off to a dwarven city across who knows what sort of terrain.  I chose the project... poorly.

Friday, alone with her thoughts, in The Elf's Prisoner Chapter 16.
Also Friday, over at Psycho Drive-In, parodies.
Saturday, over at The Seventh Sanctum, remakes and comedy vehicles.

5 Feb 2019

Test Run - Scum and Villainy - Katya

Continuing with the test run of Scum and Villainy.  Last week, I recreated Tanya, the family assassin, with success.  Not many changes were needed, just adding on a few details.  This time out, I want to create a character who fits in with the included setting a little better.  To follow along, take a look at the playbooks available at Evil Hat's site.

Before getting into the trenches of character creation, I want to get an idea of who this person is.  The first idea I had was someone who is good with melee weapons, like a staff.  That concept is better suited for the Mystic, though, at least in the game.  Second approach, ex-military, a corporal who was dishonourably discharged.  If you have a problem, and if you can find her, no, wait, wrong setting.  Corporal Katya Orrin, though, feels that she was set up and that her discharge was uncalled for.  Slightly bitter, especially since the discharge cut her off from a number of legitimate career paths, she's now part of the crew of smugglers, the captain's stick when the carrot isn't enough.

On to character creation!

1 Feb 2019

The Elf's Prisoner - Chapter 15

Chapter 15

Final preparations and a look at Jyslyn's home.
Inn at the Crossroads, outside the Sylvan Forest
The sun sat on the horizon as the small group arrived.  Leomund dismounted first; he led his charges into the unmarked inn's courtyard.  Nyssa followed, bringing her horses in.  Wren took charge of the elves' mounts.  Kazimier eased Jyslyn down to the ground.  The dark elf took several unsteady steps, then rubbed her legs.

"That was different," Jyslyn said.

"You'll get used to it," Kazimier said.  "Just walk it off."

Nyssa hooked a thumb at the inn.  "We should get inside.  Let Wren and Leomund handle the horses.  We need to get space, either on the common room's floor or a private room."  The knight gave Jyslyn a significant look.  "Ideally?  A private room.  We don't want trouble tonight."

"I will vouch for Jyslyn," Kazimier said.

Jyslyn placed a hand on Kazimier's arm, holding him back.  "I am well aware of the reputation my people have.  It is well-earned.  I may not start anything, but there could be someone in there who will."

31 Jan 2019

The Elf's Prisoner - Commentary 14

Setting off on adventure and a look in at Jyslyn's family, in The Elf's Prisoner Chapter 14.

Kazimier did try to brush off who he was bringing with him as he accompanied Nyssa.  His great grand-aunt, though, has raised enough children and has spent long enough on the Council of Matriarchs to know when someone is avoiding the truth.  Matriarch Starpetal is family; she's concerned about Kazi's well-being, even if she isn't his mother.  My goal here was to show that the Matriarch was still a person and that she did care about Kazi.

Why did Tilly leap to the conclusion that Kazi's wizard is Jyslyn?  He only used the pronoun, "she".  This goes back to first edition AD&D where drow men were far better as wizards than drow women, who tended to be better at being priestesses.  In my setting, I wanted the dark elves to have splintered from the surface elves, for reasons lost to time.  Both the Wildwood elves and Jyslyn's home were matriarchal.  Why not have the same division of magic?  Elven men, regardless of origin, tended to be wizards.  On the surface, Kazi went into a priesthood, like Jyslyn studied magic.  The mirroring wasn't intended, but as the setting gets more developed post-NaNo, these tidbits start getting obvious when they weren't during writing.

The adventurers finally get out on the road.  It took long enough, though I wanted to set up the story and the characters before setting out on the plot.  I made note of what everyone had here, in part so that I could refer back to the chapter if I needed to remember what people had.  Kazi was already shown with a longsword back in Chapter 1.  The estoc, carried by Jyslyn and by Wren, was chosen because it wasn't a rapier but still had the long thin blade.  Turns out, it's also two-handed, mostly, so that will have to be fixed at some point.  Nyssa's horses were inspired by the King Arthur Pendragon RPG, which detailed not only how many horses a knight would have but what types of horses, too.  Nyssa won't be riding her charger; the horse is too valuable to risk injuring when not in a battle.  She and Leo will use the riding horses, leading the charger and the pack horses.  Wren's horse was bred for speed.

The interregnum came about because I needed to figure out what was happening elsewhere.  While I could have just made notes in a text file, I decided that it'd be easier to just write the scene.  First, it's NaNo and those words would count in the story.  Second, I had no idea what was going on back in Jyslyn's home.  Turned out, Jyslyn's eldest sister is not a nice person at all.  Well, neither of her sisters are, but Valenza puts in an extra effort.  After all, falling on swords and then throwing yourself into a river doesn't happen everyday.

Valenza also made sure that the rest of her siblings knew who had power.  The goblin was a redshirt here, combined with the innocent victim of monster and shark movies.  He existed to show what Valenza could do and how dangerous she is.  It was fun writing the scene.  Everything that the heroes wouldn't do, not even Jyslyn, could be on display.  I wouldn't be able to have a Valenza-led story, but having her make an appearance here did help me figure out what was happening behind the scenes a little.

Friday, the first night, in The Elf's Prisoner Chapter 15.
Also Friday, over at Psycho Drive-In, Bumblebee.
Saturday, over at The Seventh Sanctum, parodies.

29 Jan 2019

Test Run - Scum and Villainy - Tanya

I haven't done this in a while.  I recently purchased Scum and Villainy, a science fiction RPG where the characters fight against an evil interstellar government that's cracking down on the populace.  The inspirations for the game include Star Wars, Firefly, Farscape, and even Mass Effect.  I've been trying to wrap my head around the mechanics and now that I more or less have them worked out, it's time to create a character.

For this test run, I'll use Tanya, last seen as the test subject for the full Firefly RPG.  As a refresher, Tanya is the noble whose family uses her as an assassin against rivals.  For the Firefly RPG, I kept the concept, adding in that she was a medical student.  Easier to kill someone when you know how the human body works, right?  Tanya's not tied to any project yet; her story works better as part of a larger work.  I do have a few ideas, but they're not important here.

It may be easier to follow along with the player sheets available for Scum and Villainy, available for download from Evil Hat's site.  It helped me with some of the game's concepts, at least when it came to character creation.  While I was looking at the game to help with a possible project, it didn't quiet fit my needs there.  That's not the game's fault; the idea involves a smaller ship and crew than what Scum and Villainy is written for.

25 Jan 2019

The Elf's Prisoner - Chapter 14

Chapter 14

Human/elven relations.
Council Hall, Wildwood, the Sylvan Forest
Nyssa stood, unassisted, in the office of Matriarch Starpetal.  Her crutch leaned against the wall by the door.  She waited with Kazimier, who also stood.  The matriarch entered, her blue gown trailing.  "Good morning," she said.  "I didn't expect either of you to be here so soon after dawn."

Kazimier bowed to the matriarch.  "I thought that Dame Nyssa would like to get going as soon as possible this morning."

"I see."  Matriarch Starpetal sat at her desk.  "And how is her leg, Kazimier?"

"Healing, Matriarch.  I'd prefer if she were off it at least another day, but Dame Nyssa does have her quest to complete."

Amusement tugged the corners of Nyssa's mouth upwards.  "Matriarch, with Kazimier with me, I'm sure that won't have to lose my leg."

"And the supplies?"

"My squire is packing them on my horse as we speak, Matriarch.  Thank you again for your generosity."

"Kazimier, will you be travelling alone with Dame Nyssa?"

"No, Matriarch," Kazimier answered.  "I have found volunteers to come with me.  One is an outrider.  An apprentice, but her master has nothing but praise for her abilities.  The other is a wizard."

Matriarch Starpetal cocked her head.  "A wizard?  Why haven't I heard complaints from Matriarch Eaglebough about one of her son's mages being usurped by some upstart?"

24 Jan 2019

The Elf's Prisoner - Commentary 13

More on human/elven interaction, in The Elf's Prisoner Chapter 13.

The commentary for Chapter 11, all the background details I quickly worked out to have Lia, Nyssa explains for the Leo and the reader here.  Though Leo wasn't embarassed by the commentary like he was here.  Nyssa has no problems seeing her squire blushing.  She's been there many times with her previous squires.  Her former squires probably get together every month to commiserate and have Leo's invite already drafted.

Why the breakfast?  I suppose I could have jumped to the characters leaving Wildwood, but that would mean that I knew what was going to happen.  I was working out scenes the night before, as I was going to bed.  I had no idea what was going to happen, so I let the characters do some developing.  Sure, they could have done something on the road, but there's a difference between chatting with someone briefly knowing that there's a way out if needed and chatting with travelling companions when there's no escape except for dropping out entirely.  A relaxed moment lets guards down.

I also tend to be dialogue heavy.  It's something I'm working on, but the more characters, the more dialogue.  Inter-character relationships are important, at least to me.  I'm as interested in how characters get along as I am in what they're doing.  Some conflict between characters helps, but if they're working together, they need to figure out how to get past their problems.  Mecha Academy gets into this more with Rhiannon and Dusty.  Here, the conflict is muted.  Jyslyn isn't trying to be leader, Nyssa and Kazimier are professional with each other, and Leo and Wren are too young to try to vie for leadership.  There's some distrust of Jyslyn from Nyssa, but mainly because the knight is aware of life below.

Language is an issue when multiple cultures come up.  Kazi has a way around it, but I didn't want to have him keep using that spell.  Nyssa has learned the language of the Wildwood elves; she's been around.  Kazi, Jyslyn, and even Wren understand Nyssa and Leo; when one have the equivalence of several lifetimes, one picks up other languages.  Leo will eventually learn the language, but he's still young.

Cuisine is another little worldbuilding detail that came up without me knowing what I wanted from it.  For me, breakfast is something quick to tide me until lunch, so a muffin or a croissant, if that.  Nyssa is not me, so she gets a larger breakfast.  She's also adventurous, so giving whoever is cooking free rein is natural for her.  A picky eater she isn't, and she's encouraging Leo to expand his tastes.

I managed to toss in one of my favourite lines from the original Battlestar Galactica, from "Lost Planet of the Gods, Part 2".  Now, given the nature of the two stories, one space opera, the other epic fantasy, some changes were made.  Nyssa got to be Boomer here, with, "Horses, after all, are ridden in the seated position."  It's not the exact line, though.  Lt. Boomer, when he reports with the rest of Blue Squadron, who are all recovering from a near-fatal disease, is told by Col. Tigh that he can barely stand.  Boomer's response, "A Viper is flown from the seated position, sir."  Considering that Blue Squadron came in like the cavalry to save the pogies of the people on the planet and back up the rookies already fighting off Cylon raiders, it's a line that says to me that Boomer is willing to push himself hard for his fellows.  Nyssa will do the same.

Friday, setting off, finally, in The Elf's Prisoner Chapter 14.
Also Friday, over at Psycho Drive-In, Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse.
Saturday, over at The Seventh Sanctum, Bumblebee.

18 Jan 2019

The Elf's Prisoner - Chapter 13

Chapter 13

Wren and Jyslyn joined the investigation party.
Four Leaf Inn, Wildwood, the Sylvan Forest
"Get up, you lazy lump."  Nyssa threw her pillow at her squire, nailing Leomund in the back of the head.

Leomund rubbed the back of his head, ruffling his chestnut brown hair.  "I'm awake, ma'am."

Nyssa hobbled across the room, her wounded leg limping.  "Good.  Breakfast awaits.  Have you ever had elven cuisine, Leomund."

"Does last night count?"  Leomund flipped over to see his liege.

"I don't remember much from last night.  What did you have?"

"I asked for stew.  I got soup."

Nyssa tsk'ed.  "Leo, you should have had me with you."

"Yes, ma'am, but when you got here, you passed out on your bed."  Leomund rolled out of his bed.  "I would like a proper breakfast, ma'am."

"Excellent, my boy.  Get cleaned and dressed, then meet me downstairs.  I will give you a lesson on diplomacy"

17 Jan 2019

The Elf's Prisoner - Commentary 12

Kazimier does some recruiting, in The Elf's Prisoner Chapter 12.

The plot is about to get going again.  The party of adventurers are set.  Kazimier just needed to get his own people in.  Wren is an Outrider, think long range patrol, often alone.  When she was mute, that was an ideal role for her.  She wouldn't have to speak except when a problem cropped up.  If she came riding back at a gallop, Kaleena and her troops would know something was wrong.  If Wren returned at a normal pace, all was well.

In D&D and other fantasy tabletop RPGs, there's a standard party consisting of at least one priest, at least one wizard, at least one melee warrior, at least one ranged warrior, and one rogue.  There can be overlaps; the rogue often becomes the ranged warrior and the priest can usually mix things up almost as well as the melee fighter.  With Wren, the group is just missing the wizard and the rogue.  Good thing Jyslyn is around.

Sure, it seems a little contrived, but Jyslyn's original concept dates from the mid 80s.  In first edition AD&D, with the Unearthed Arcana book, drow elves became a playable race.  Jyslyn predates Drizzt Do'Urden, though this story does not.  I was intrigued by the idea of a drow woman going into the magic-user class, against tradition.  However, with level limits what they were, Jyslyn would be stuck at around 4th or 5th level.  For playability, I created her as a multil-class character, adding thief, since it wasn't capped.  The in-story reason is that she had to sneak around, both at home in order to learn magic and then when she made her escape to the surface world, which is still her background in The Elf's Prisoner.

The other part of the contrivance, though, is that she never used a spell in the fight against the gnolls back in Chapter 2.  Granted, the situation was chaotic and Jyslyn was suffering from a severe sunburn, but she either should have cast a spell of some sort or made a decision to not cast a spell.  Again, the dangers of pantsing a fantasy story.  I hadn't fully formed how magic worked at that point, despite Kazimier having cast a spell to understand Jyslyn.

If I knew that these five characters would be a team, why did it take twelve chapters to get them together?  I wanted the coming together to be organic.  It's one thing to start with the team already together, but that's the author putting them together.  From the reader's perspective, the team should have a reason for being there beyond "for the plot."  Movies like The Seven Samurai and its American remake, The Magnificent Seven, added the gathering of the protagonists as part of a story.  It's not just what the characters do anymore, it's who they are and how well they get along.

One aspect of my writing of late is to bring in potential fetishes and then play them straight.  This happens more in Unruly and the students, but I went the same route in this chapter.  I'm not saying that all the fetishes are mine; what good would it be to appeal to just the author?  The readers deserve to see their own fetishes appear, too.  Thus, Wren washed Jyslyn's long copper-red hair.  That should cover a number of kinks right there.  I'm not saying it's a great method of writing, but it helps me work out scenes.  Can I start with a fetish and make the scene work without playing into the kink.  The same idea resulted in Numbers in By the Numbers.  I don't go to this well all the time, but it works when I need a scene starter.

Friday, the Socratic method in action, in The Elf's Prisoner Chapter 13.
Also Friday, over at Psycho Drive-In, Blazing Transfer Students Reborn.
Saturday, over at The Seventh Sanctum, Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse.

11 Jan 2019

The Elf's Prisoner - Chapter 12

Chapter 12

Leomund experienced cultural differences.
Wren's apartment, Wildwood, the Sylvan Forest
The next morning found Kazimier knocking at Wren's door.  After a few minutes, Wren appeared.  She looked up at Kazimier.  "Hello!"

"Hello, Wren."  Kazimier tried to peer into the apartment.  "Is Jyslyn awake?"

Wren nodded.  She stepped aside to let her visitor inside, then closed the door.  "We're washing her hair."

Jyslyn waved from where she lay on a bench.  Her hair dangled into a basin.  She had a dark red blanket wrapped around her, leaving her bare feet exposed.  "Hello, Kazimier.  Checking up on us?"

Kazimier sat on Wren's sofa.  "A little.  Just making sure you're settling in and Wren is adjusting."

Wren returned to her task.  "We're good."  She wrung the soap out of Jyslyn's copper hair.

"Wren's been busy making sure I get settled in."

"Good, good."  Kazimier held his breath.  "The Dame Knight was worried about your presence yesterday.  You might want to avoid her until she leaves."

10 Jan 2019

The Elf's Prisoner - Commentary 11

Cultural misunderstandings, in The Elf's Prisoner Chapter 11.

I had a bit of fun while writing the chapter.  I decided I wanted to emphasize that Wildwood was a matriarchy.  It wasn't enough to have a Council of Matriarchs; the society needed to reflect the difference.  I blew it with the shopkeeper in Chapter 9.  The owner should have been a woman, with Tersial being her husband.  This is why worldbuilding is done before writing starts, not after or, in this case, during.  The quick fix would be to change Tersial's name to something like Terenia and flip all the character's pronouns.  The character isn't major and only exists to show how Wildwood denizens aren't happy with Jyslyn being there.

Anyway, the idea I wanted out was that the average elf woman are far more forward than the average human woman from the Seven Dominions.  Leomund got to be my lab rat for that.  Lia, the serving girl, took a shine to him; after all, Leomund is exotic to her.  She took the initiative and then took Leomund out.  Lia was the pursuer, the aggressor.  Leo just went for the ride.  When Kaleena caught them, she went straight to Lia, not because Leomund is a guest in the city but because she knew whose idea it was.

I wanted to try something different with Lia's dialogue.  Leomund doesn't speak elven, more because I didn't want to create a language whole cloth during NaNoWriMo.  Instead, she understands the language used in the Seven Dominions but not fluently.  Elements of how the elven language works came out.  To emphasize that, I turned to a real language, French.  I translated Lia's words into French, then did a blind idiot translation back, keeping the word order.  Her first sizable dialogue, "I you understand.  What is it you want?" started as, "I understand you.  What would you like?"  In French, "Je vous comprende,  Qu'est-ce que vous voulez?"  Going back, I went word by word instead of by sentence.  And I did that for each time she spoke.  The process didn't slow me down that much.  The problem on re-reading it is that the lines aren't that complex.

The Elf's Prisoner is still in its raw form.  I try to catch errors, but some still make it through.  It's holding together better than I expected, considering that it was a last minute choice for NaNo 2015.  Here's hoping it's enjoyable to readers.

Friday, recruiting the last members of the quest, in The Elf's Prisoner Chapter 12.
Also Friday, over at Psycho Drive-In, the road to an original superhero movie.
Saturday, over at The Seventh Sanctum, Blazing Transfer Students Reborn.

4 Jan 2019

The Elf's Prisoner - Chapter 11

Chapter 11

Nyssa found another travelling companion.
Four Leaf Inn, Wildwood, the Sylvan Forest
Leomund paced in the private room the innkeeper provided.  No word had reached about his liege's condition, though a parcel had arrived, replacement clothes as the runner explained.  One set was his size; the other, he reasoned, had to be for Dame Nyssa.  The clothes didn't look like they were for burial, but Leomund didn't know elf culture at all.

The worst part was the waiting.  Leomund had Nyssa's full armour set out, cleaned, and oiled.  Her weapons also received cleaning and sharpening.  The inn took their dirty clothes to be laundered.  There just was nothing else to be done, leaving Leomund's mind to worry about Nyssa.  She would chide him if she knew.

The door burst open.  "Leo, my boy!"  Nyssa hopped in, supported by an elf on either side of her.  "Good to see you."

Leomund met Nyssa and her escorts, taking the knight from the elves.  "How is you leg, ma'am?"

"It'll be as good as new."

The sharp tang of alcohol hit Leomund.  "And you've been celebrating the diagnosis, I smell."  He helped Nyssa to a bed.

"Elven wine is subtle, Leo.  Remember that."

"I will, ma'am."  Leomund gave each elf a few silver pieces before ushering them out of the room.  "How long will we be here?"

3 Jan 2019

The Elf's Prisoner - Commentary 10

Busy day for a Matriarch, in The Elf's Prisoner Chapter 10.

Sometimes, a patient just will not listen to her healer.  Nyssa has a reason.  Several, but Kazi will accept only one of them - the need to find out who is trying to rile up the various nations.  Nyssa's other reasons include being stubborn, being unwilling to let her body slow her down, and being a pain in the ass.  Nyssa is also already planning the next leg of her trip and having an elf guide through the Sylvan Wood is a boon she could use.

The plot is starting to come together here.  Ten chapters in and I finally worked out the main plotline.  Not that the gathering of the heroes isn't a bad thing.  Many movies have been built around the idea, including The Seven Samurai, the American remakes The Magnificent Seven and Battle Beyond the Stars, and the movies leading into Marvel's The Avengers.  Establishing the characters while maintaining action and, more importantly, reader interest, is a tough act, especially when the plot doesn't want to come together just yet.

That's three of the main characters committed to the quest - Nyssa, her squire Leomund, and now Kazimier.  That leaves Wren and Jyslyn, so why start with Kazi?  Kazimier has authority in Wildwood as a priest.  He might not be able to order anyone, but he can ask and others will weigh what his needs compared to their own.  Getting Kazi on board is critical for Wren and Jyslyn.  The former is young, still an apprentice.  The latter is an outsider and feels that just leaving with no word would cause an unnecessary stir.

I'll note for everyone again that The Elf's Prisoner is not yet complete.  There's a lot written, but the story just grew far larger than expected.  It happens, at least to me during NaNoWriMo.  Unlike previous works that needed a chapter or two to wrap up, The Elf's Prisoner sprawls.  Nature of the beast, maybe.

Friday, Leomund learns the elven tongue, in The Elf's Prisoner Chapter 11.
Also Friday, over at Psycho Drive-In, what to expect in 2019.
Saturday, over at The Seventh Sanctum, the road to an original superhero movie.

1 Jan 2019

Happy 2019!

Happy New Year!  May 2019 bring in good news and good cheer.