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.