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Quill White Box – Dwarf Karlsek to the Dark Tower Comes

The latest thing in Quill is the White Box, which adds some RPG elements and changes the setting to a classic fantasy world. Adventure follows!)

Karlsek Haukrison, motivated dwarf from the Parliament Of Beggars who is tracking down the treasure his father died trying to find. (name from donjon, background from WTFIMDC.

Adventure: The Demon Haunted Tower

To Guhlo Chom, Keeper of Tomes, member of the Parliament of Beggars,

All librarians are like to us dwarves, after a fashion. You know the value of quiet, of darkness, and of old things well-used. This natural kinship was clear as new crystal when we met in the shadows of the Haunted Forest, and it is on the bond forged in those dark events I must now rely. I write you for aid, one old Beggar to another.

I continue to search for the treasure my father failed to find, and my path has led me to a village. I thought at first a blight had fallen on the land. The little town is ringed with farms bearing no more than miserable dead crops, and this at the height of the harvesting season. But as my feet carried my past this tragic scene and into the village proper, the ill cause became evident.

A grim tower of obsidian looms over the village like stalagmite ready to fall. The people of this poor place, drenched in dread, tell me the building appeared full-formed on a moonless night some weels ago, and that they have suffered since. The crops withered. The livestock froths and stamps itself to death. The children have grown silent and cold. The dogs are gone. A clever woman like yourself knows what this must mean.

Rumors echo around this place as to who lives atop this poisonous fang, but I have come to believe a sickened weaver of magics is the cause of this. I heard tell of a band of broad-backed youths who tried to approach the tower and were surned away by an invisible magic defence. I have seen such things used by those practiced in the arcane arts.

There is one precious book in particular which has the information this suffering town needs: the Spire Libiris. You know me to be a dwarf who respects the knowledge of elders and would treat this book as the invaluable treasure it is. I must borrow it, Guhlo. This town needs to kill that blasted wizard, and I must help them if I am to find the information I need. As a Beggar, and as a one-time axe-mate against the dark creatures of the forest, I beg your aid. I ever be,

Yours,

Karlsek Haukrison

Result: Guhlo wishes Karlsek well but cannot send the book. Instead he has scratched out a relevant page from the book to help. Karlsek enters the tower, faces many trials, and faces the wizard. Despite his power Karlsek finally bests him, and he agrees to leave and never return. (see QWB for details)

Quill – Suspicion

ScenarioThe King
CharacterThe Knight
SkillInspiration

To His Majesty King Gerald, Master of the Independent State of Prian,

Please forgive me for writing you, Gerald, and not one of your underlings. This is a matter of importance. It will not wait to be passed along by bureaucrats who will only do so when it they can gain some advantage from it. I hope that the fact that we have met face to face will excuse my directness. You and I spoke for a moment at the Lights Festival three years past, when you commented on my horse’s grooming. I do not mean to insult with over-friendliness after such a brief encounter, but I have seen something frankly alarming.

I was on my way to patronize my blacksmith yesterday evening. The path from my estate into the city leads down from the fields and along the farm fences of some half-dozen of my peers. I have ridden this path scores of times. I recognize every building, every rick, the children of every farmer. As I passed the weatherworn barn that belongs to the Ninstock family, I saw something I did not recognize.

Just inside the door there was a funny hooded man crouching over something. The first thing I noticed was that he was a dreadful big bloke. I’m not one who looks for a fight, but if one finds me I prefer it to be over quick, and I’ve no need to prove myself by squaring off against some giant.

I leapt my horse over the stile and rode up to the barn door. A lot of times just the sight of an able man on horseback is enough to scare off any vagrants or bad-doers. This fellow, though, just straightens up and looks at me. This gave me a good look at the blighter’s face, which might be useful. He’s got a deeply buggered face, all scars and burns. Out of that messed-up skin he still managed grow a furry lip.

He grins at me and tries to run past me. He’s a fast one, but I manage to get hold of his cloak as he darts past me. To my shame, I lost him in the fields. I thought he might have been some thief, but I found sneakily hidden in a pocket of the cloak a bottle of what I think must be some evil poison! I knew then he must have been an assassin on his way into the city to kill you. Who else would carry such a thing? I wrote you straight away. Please heed my warning and set your guards looking for a man of that description for your safety.

Your loyal knight,

Sir Antoine de Feuille

Result: The King does not respond. Several days after Antoine sent his letter, he is visited by the royal guard and brought to prison for his disrespectful letter.

Tiny!fic – Clockwork

Yoon Ha Lee’s doing some tiny!fic writing prompts on Patreon. Here’s one of mine.

 

“Either your information is bad or you’re a plain idiot.” The enchanter’s knuckle-runes glowed a shade darker as he whispered, making the sheets of metal the green of old glass. “This is spring steel. The Cadois aren’t making weapons out of this.”

The spy smirked. An enemy ship’s hold was no place for an argument. “Just do your job.”

As the ‘chant worked his fingers and mumbled his spells, the spy did the thing he hated most — he explained himself.

“The Great Horloge needs a new mainspring, and this metal is going to be used for it. Every clock in Cadogna is set to the Horloge. Your enchantment is giving us control over the entire country’s time. So do it right.”

Review: Slaves of the Switchboard of Doom by Bradley W. Schenk

Slaves of the Switchboard of Doom by Bradley W. Schenk

Advance reading copy provided by publisher

 

I came across Schenk’s work through his illustrations, mainly the Pulp-O-Mizer cover generator (if you haven’t tried it, rectify this omission immediately). Given that, I wasn’t sure what to expect from the novel; how would the style of Retropolis make the transition to a full-length piece?

A little background first. Retropolis is a highly-stylized retrofuturistic concept based in the adventuresome fun of old pulp sci-fi stories, and that light, tongue-in-cheek style is handled with great discipline and consistency. The rules, as I see them:

  • Technology and science are fun, not evil. No Ewoks in Retropolis.
  • Chrome glistening in the sun, not oily old hulks.
  • It should all seem plausible based on 1940’s technology, with the addition of some big leaps (lighter-than-air metal, e.g.)

Given that by design the work is meant to remind us of slim, disposable volumes of tales featuring derring-do over character, how does this translate to a contemporary novel?

The answer: quite well.

Schenk presents a healthy smattering of fun characters, each with their own take on a world of impossible technologies. I mean, there’s a guy who keeps a slide rule in a hip holster — awesome. The humor is wit, not camp. As we slide steadily toward a world of AI, the moral question of the book (no spoilers) is timely and well-handled. And Schenk’s prose is absolutely lovely. This is an action-packed romp with more heart than grit.

If you’ve ever sat up watching old B-movies and laughed at the titles, go pick this book up.

Apex Revive The Drive, ft. Story Review and Signed Copy

Apex Magazine’s annual subscription drive is back, including all manner of goodies for your enjoyment, One of these goodies features me!

This item includes a short story critique by Glitch Rain author Alex Livingston. It also includes a signed copy of Alex’s Apex novella Glitch Rain!

Alex will do a thorough critique of one short story (up to 7,500 words) with editing notes on story structure and grammar left throughout the manuscript via track changes. When he returns your story to you, he will include an email detailing what he believes to be the strengths and weaknesses of the story, as well as suggestions on how to make the story stronger. If you have questions about any of his notes, he will be happy to go over them with you, working with you step by step to make your story the best it can possibly be.

I’m very happy to offer my services for the fine folks at Apex. Check it here!

Review – The Fortress at the End of Time by J. M. McDermott

Review copy provided by the author.
A quiet man takes a position in a lonely place, finds both the job and the people he works with aren’t what he expects, and finds a way to craft his own destiny despite the staggering inertia of isolation and depression. Sounds like a Prestigious Literary Novel, and not what you’d expect from a space novel, right? McDermott tosses the pew-pew-laser-laser cliches directly out the window and presents a character-driven novel where the interpersonal and introspective conflicts take the helm. You should check it out.
The choice between resigned despair and desperate action forms the tension in the book. Assigned to a crumbling coffin of a space station, Ronaldo Aldo repeatedly has his hopes for his life dashed by bad luck, by the anger of people who have little outlet for it, and by his own failings. He is unable to find any satisfaction in work, prevented from making any real change to his condition, and disallowed from any true emotional connection. The only apparent alternative to the demeaning drudgery of the assignment is taken all too frequently — the suicide rate is high.
Anyone who has been (or at least felt) trapped by circumstances can immediately relate. I could just run away, go AWOL, punch my boss in the mouth and let him try to catch me. But if I quit, how will I live? The world (or galaxy) is cold and indifferent; what if I can never find work again? Am I better off staying with what I have? Or am I simply not brave enough? Am I doing this to myself?
Soul-searching is not the reaction I have to most spacefaring fiction. McDermott’s world is filled with galaxy-spanning political and economic complexities which he shows not from the POV of the crack starship captain with a disregard for the rules or of the sharp-eyed heir-apparent to an oligarchic shipping dynasty, but through the small-scale experiences of people who can only wonder why the Powers That Be have seen fit to keep them cold and endangered at the far limit of human civilization. Their struggles, their foibles, their myriad ways of reacting to the same harsh truths of life are memorable and ring consistently true.

Twitch.tv and Fiction?

Watching other people play videogames is a time-honored tradition, since the days when you more controllers than siblings.

The other night I watched as a great sci-fi writer played Skyrim. She has a channel on twitch.tv. It was lovely, just cruising along with N. K. Jemisin as she fought vampires to raise money to improve her house. So chill. I started poking around in twitch, checking out some videos and channels, and decided that Zeno Stede needed to make a return.

I started a new twitch channel in which I play the new content in No Man’s Sky as if I were the protagonist from From The Void, my serial fiction space adventure podcast. Because why not?

The challenge will be seeing how this works from a narrative sense. FTV was a man sending audio messages to his sister about his latest escapades. After a few tries, it seems like this will be more of a running commentary on Zeno’s thought processes as he gads about this procedurally-generated universe. What is his conflict? How does one frame these stories in an interesting way? Without a previously-scripted experience, is this more like improv than writing? Further updates as events warrant.

Check it here: https://www.twitch.tv/aximperator/videos/highlights

“Is Jeng-zai Heretical?”: a piece of Ninefox Gambit fan-fic.

[Warning: most of the content to follow is pure conjecture as to the exact nature of the jeng-zai deck of cards featured in Yoon Ha Lee’s fantastic Ninefox Gambit, which you should go read if you haven’t. – AL]

Is Jeng-zai Heretical? : An essay by Rahal Volare

(comments in red by Professor-Magistrate Rahal Sen Kann)

I would not dare to imply that any official action be taken against the playing of jeng-zai, a pleasurable and harmless (conjecture) tradition throughout the factions since before the hexarchate. I offer only a theoretical exercise on how the game and its variants could be interpreted as outside of Doctrine.

The Deck

The deck itself is a fairly simple matter: 27 cards in three suits (Roses, Gears, and Doors) running from ace to seven followed by two “noble” cards (the General and the Archate, or “Crowned” card). Yet the history, legend, and tradition surrounding these cards speaks to the effect they have on the shared minds of the populace at all levels of society.

Take, for example, the General of Roses, or “Drowned General” as it is known at jeng-zai tables. The standard depiction is of a military personage wearing a uniform decorated with rose-shapes, whose image is crossed at the lips by a line of waveform shapes clearly representing water. Overwhelmed, perhaps, or in failure. All manner of dramas can be found wherein a swarm leader draws the Drowned General and earns the mistrust of her crew. (cite these dramas for investigation) But some histories cite earlier forms of the card where several lines crossed the image at varying angles, representing bullets just missing the General. An error in the printing of one of the most-widely-distributed decks at the time made the waveform, and the tradition of the unlucky card (more here on luck. E.g. lucky unlucky 4 of any suit in Kel “dramas”, such as they are) has stuck.

Of course, the history of Shuos Jedao has lent deep meaning to the Deuce of Gears. Did the card choose the madman, or the other way around? (strike this from all drafts immediately) The lowest card in most jeng-zai variants, it is the only non-noble card to have oddities in its design: first, the varying sizes and shapes of the two gears and second, the lightning-strike shape. Design histories are unclear as to why this is the case. (end all investigation into this matter. handled by other scholars at length)

The Game

Jeng-zai is, at its most basic, a game of probability management and bluffing. Does your hand beat those of your opponents? Can you convince them it does even if it does not? The game draws interest from all factions for various reasons. The Nirai argue over the deep maths of the shuffle. The Shuos value the manipulation of others. (incomplete. what else do they value? what do they learn about a person by playing against him?) The Andan have an entire language of seduction built around the finer points of the game. The Kel love a winner-take-all game like the typically-Kel variant known as “F*ck The Calendar”, which rewards massive risks and presumed failure. (also breaking orders. this is a partner variant, with one partner as the lead, and certain card combinations only work when both partners contribute. but there can be only one winner. worth noting here that only in play will a Kel even think of disobeisance. the main social value of Fuck The Calendar is in allowing the Kel to flex any latent rebellious muscles a little in a controlled environment. see Shuos secret monitoring records of every game of Fuck The Calendar ever played in a military installation in the last 250 years). Even the Vidona find uses for the psychological strain the game can cause. (and what of us? and the Liozh? why bother writing about heretical gameplay without referring to them? see, but do not distribute, attached text)

Hypothesis

We have seen that the individual cards have meanings beyond their values.  The game itself has an indelible and invariant (use different word) place in our society. These associations are social, and outside of any Lexicon. It may be possible, then, that the game and its deck could be heretical.

Could the arrangement of a deck of cards in the pocket of some fledge cause unintended results in a formation? A question for the Nirai, surely, but one worth asking. Calendrical stability is a delicate matter (strike), and if a dead soldier were to be found with the so-called Fire’s Own Fortune hand at the top of his favorite deck after a lost battle, the mental damage this could do to a swarm is worthy of investigation. Loyalty-states can be assessed by our weaponry, and loyalty is not immune to the effects of the near-exotic qualities our subconscious attributes to jeng-zai. (good Rahal reasoning here)

Indeed (awk), any social construct which operates by rules outside of Doctrine merits monitoring. All games are based in an agreed-upon rule set, and any rule set not measured and valued by Doctrine is a potential risk to the hexarchate and the Calendar. Thus, jeng-zai, while clearly not (conjecture), could be viewed as a heretical by its very nature.