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."