Category Archives: Uncategorized

Into The Dark

“No, mom. That’s not how it works,” I shake my head and wave to the crowd standing dockside. The smile on my lips is only there because everyone else is doing the same. It’s an infectious thing, that sort of joy. Something I’m hoping doesn’t go away as the ship gets out to sea.

“I know dear, I’m having trouble with it. It’s not something we talked about when I was younger. Women liked men and vice-versa. I just want you to know we don’t think it excuses Bill.”

I nod, even if my mother isn’t able to see it.

“I’m glad you understand that.”

“I do. We both do. A betrayal in marriage is just that. It doesn’t matter what he was thinking. Trying to introduce another woman to your bedroom!”

I sigh. The divorce was bad enough, but having to come out to my parents as a bisexual made it more complicated. Stupid, stupid Bill. Always thinking with his dick first. I almost wish we’d never met.

“Okay, mom, the ship is leaving the dock. I’ve got to let you go. I’ll try to email but I can’t promise anything.”

“Right. We love you, Kelly and I hope you find whatever you’re looking for.”

“Love you too. Bye, mom.”

The crowd continues to wave and cheer for several more minutes as the tugs guide the ship away from the pier. I watch as we slip through the churning ugly dark water of the bay. It takes me away from the stress of the past several months, the frightening amount of uncertainty Bill pushed me into, and the unhealthy amount of resentment my therapist says I have. Absorbed in thought, the world drifts away. Which is why I nearly leap out of my skin when I glance up and notice I’m not as alone as I thought I was.

She smiles, her green eyes shining with suppressed laughter as I stammer an awkward apology.

“Sorry, I thought I was alone.”

Her hand reaches out and touches my arm, as she tucks a few loose strands of hair behind a freckled ear. Any words I might try to say get caught in my throat as she turns around and walks down the deck.

I bend over and put my burning forehead against the cool railing.

“And with that, ladies and gentlemen, my first singles cruise is off to an awesome start.”

#####

Seattle to San Diego, across the pacific to Hawaii, then  onto Sydney. A month and a half onboard to get to know people, to have fun, sun, and whatever else consenting adults want to get up to.

My friend and longtime confidant Monica told me about it a month after I filed for divorce.

“It’ll do you good. Help prime the pump, as it were,” she said.

“I don’t know. The divorce isn’t final yet. And who knows how I’ll be feeling after the papers are signed. Maybe I’ll want to throw myself off a bridge before I’ll feel like dating. Again.”

She shook her head at me.

“Listen to yourself. The divorce is already final in your head. You never did anything that your brain didn’t already analyze a thousand different ways. You’re ready.

“Besides, no one said you had to fall in love right away. Go and have fun. Meet all sorts of new people. Socially and biblically.”

“Why would I want to do that?”

“Because of what Bill did. Do I have to spell it out for you?”

The shocked look on my face must have done all the talking. Monica’s face turned red and she left the office we shared, not returning for an hour. By the time she got back, I’d booked the trip.

Then I was on the phone to my lawyer. If this was going to be a mistake, it was going to be on Bill’s dime, not mine.

#####

“Divorce or spinster? Take a guess.”

She’s not unattractive. The way she’s holding the wine glass at a jaunty angle and tilts her head is alluring, but the half-drunk smile is not. Her bleached hair with blue streaks is rebellious but conforming. Reminds me of half my students right after they have a bad breakup.

“Divorce,” I say.

“Damn. What gave it away?”

“The hair,” I say pointing to her head. Taking a sip of my whiskey, I shuffle the cards. The three others all nod in agreement. Before I can stop myself, my mouth opens again.

“And you’ve got a kid that’s just entering their teens.”

Her brown eyes narrow to points and a snarl briefly appears at the corners of her mouth. It would appear that I’ve touched a nerve.

“Good guess,” she says before the rest of the wine goes down her throat. The second half of the bottle tips into the glass and is swirled around for a second before joining the first.

The others at our little table smile, choking back the laughter as the cards are dealt.

“Twos and Tens are wild this time. Find the joker, double your entry in the pot. Ante up people, we’re playing until someone is naked.”

A pair of socks join my shirt sitting in the middle of the table. A slip suddenly appears from Blue Streak’s side, followed by pair of jeans from right across from me.

“Okay, who hasn’t joined in yet?” I ask.

There’s a sigh followed by a bra.

If I only knew their names. But no, this is one of those activities the ship organizes. Throwing random people together in someone’s cabin with cards, chips, and enough booze to grease the social wheels to China and back. However, we put our own spin on poker night. A little regression to more innocent times.

I pick up my hand and stare at a pair of aces and a pair of tens. Nice.

“What about you, dealer? Spinster or divorce?” asks the blue-eyed twenty-something that ponied up the jeans.

She also falls into that average category, not a great beauty but also not unattractive. Younger than me by a decade. Might have felt something back in college, but that barrier I’ve erected to keep students and myself separate also holds me back.

“I’ll give you a hint,” I say with a smile. “I didn’t pay for this trip.”

We laugh for several minutes before getting back to the game. I slide out one card and wait for them to do the same before picking up the deck again.

“I wish I had thought of that,” socks says.

Another pair of brown eyes, she lost her shirt and bra a while ago. Early forties but has taken care of herself nicely. Her curves only hint at the three kids she keeps talking about. Kids nearly as old as blue-eyes with whom she keeps flirting. Kinda creepy.

Although it’s not nearly as creepy when blue-eyes flirts back. Or when she switched chairs with the ever silent Raven-haired woman so they’re sitting next to one another. At some recent point I made the decision to not look under the table. Just in case.

I circle the deck around the table exchanging cards and end up staring at the Raven for a few extra seconds as she’s distracted. She smiles sweetly when she does finally look up.

“Not to change the subject too drastically, but what did y’all think of that stop we made yesterday?” she asks with a half-southern, half-Texan drawl.

“Pretty weird, if you ask me,” Blue-streaks says, frowning at her cards.

“I don’t know if I buy whales sneaking up on us. Seems to me that they have Sonar to prevent that,” Blue-eyes says.

The others nod in agreement as two of them fold, leaving myself facing Raven and the older Creepy. Raven has been doing most of the winning. That bra she tossed in for ante was Creepy’s. It smacked of being a taunt.

“Okay, last round,” I announce and toss my socks on to the pile. Creepy stands up and unzips her pants with a smile that’d send me running if it was just the two of us. Turns out she was going commando and is literally down to nothing. Raven tosses a shirt from her pile.

“I call,” says Creepy, showing a triplet of kings.

“Not bad,” I say, revealing my full house.

Everyone turns to Raven.

“What? I got nothing. Total bluff this time,” she says, turning over a hand of trash.

Creepy groans and slips down in her chair. The others cheer a little bit as I take my winnings, pulling my shirt back on.

“We said until someone’s naked. And that would appear to be the case,” Raven says, nodding at the pouting Creepy.

“Yup, so do want another round or what?” I ask.

Blue eyes leans over and proceeds to give Creepy a full mouth on mouth kiss. As we watch, tongues come out and fingers start playing with more than hair. Without another word, the rest of up get up and starts going through the pile of clothes as quickly as we can.

Raven stands by the door looking uncomfortable as we struggle to get our clothes back on. Our last look at the pair was one of bodies starting to intertwine. I shake my head as Raven and Blue-streaks start breaking into laughter as we walk down the hallway.

“I totally did not see that coming,” Blue-streaks says.

“Who knows, maybe she has a thing for women twice her age. I’m not judging,” Raven says.

We nod in agreement as we come upon one of the many corridor junctions.

“I think is my stop,” Blue-streak says. “The night is still early and I’d like to see what else might happen.”

“Well, good luck,” I say, waving as she shimmies toward another party.
I turn back to Raven, shrugging my shoulders and sighing.

“You want to walk the deck for a while?” she asks.

“Sure. Oh, and since we didn’t get introduced earlier…I’m Kelly,” I say holding out my hand.

Raven smiles and does a half curtsey before taking my hand and giving it a quick shake.

“Pleasure. You may know me as…Tim?”

“Ah. The old man from scene 24. I wondered why you looked so familiar.”

We laugh. The trip up to the deck is filled with us quoting our favorite movies and shows back and forth. We hit the more obscure ones trying to stump the other.

As we start a second lap I ask Raven what her name really is.

“You wouldn’t believe me if I told you.”

“Can’t be any worse than the one I’ve been calling you in my head.”

“And what’s that?”

“Raven. Because of your hair.”

Her cheeks flush red, the blush going down into her shirt. I cock my head to the side as she puts her hands over her mouth and then runs away. It takes a second before I start running after her.

“Wait! What did I say?”

I catch up to her huddling in a chair far from everyone else.
“Hey,” I say leaning down and trying to brush the wild hair out of her face. “What happened back there?”

It takes a second before she looks up into my eyes. There’s a little bit of fear there. Her weak smile does give a bit of reassurance that it wasn’t me she was running away from.

“Sorry. I panicked a little.”

“A little? You ran halfway down the deck,” I say, taking a seat.

She shrugs and unfolds enough that her knees aren’t jutting up under her chin anymore.

“That was a little crazy, wasn’t it?”

“More than a little. I was just making conversation, not trying to get in your pants.”

“I know,” she pauses and sighs. “I think I might have been trying to get into yours. Do you have any idea how poor the nerd to normal ratio is on this boat?”

“I am familiar with the works of Pablo Neruda.”

That gets her to laugh and unfold more.

“Thanks. I really shouldn’t be taking this so seriously should I?”

I grab a hand and give it a quick squeeze. She doesn’t let go after I relax.

“I don’t know. How seriously were you taking it and what were you taking seriously?”

She blushes again before turning and looking away. For a moment, I let her do that. Then I reach out and bring her head back around so we can look each other face to face.

“Right. So how about this: We hang out together, talk, eat, go on walks, see the sights, whatever. If we don’t murder each other, then we can figure out the next move.”

She nods and squeezes my hand.

“My name is Sindy. Short for Cynthia. I was named after my grandmother. But since the seventh grade, I’ve spelled it with an S mostly to piss her off. She’s been a complete bitch my entire life.”

As we sit there, watching the stars and the ocean slip by the ship shudders. Something makes me see double: Two ships moving through the same space but not quite at the same time. There’s another copy of myself, staring back at me. It’s too much. I can’t make any sense of it, so I close my eyes.

Raven starts screaming.

“What is it, what are you seeing?” I shout.

“I…I don’t know. It hurts.”

“Close your eyes. Don’t look and stay close to me.”

The ship lurches, hard, coming to a sudden halt and we’re thrown onto the deck.

“Are you okay?” I ask, turning to Raven who is curled up in my arms.

She nods and grabs me to bring me closer as the PA buzzes to life. A familiar male voice, the same one which does the daily announcements begins to speak.

“There’s been a minor issue with the engine. It will be restarted and everything will be back running in a few minutes. Doctors and nurses will be available on your home deck to examine you, starting in five minutes.”

After standing up, Raven and I remain on the deck watching the stars and holding one another in the dark. A few minutes later, the engines start up and without much delay, the ship begins moving once more.

#####

That was a day out of San Diego. We stay onboard despite thinking the better of the rest of the trip. I regret this in many ways. Not the least of which are the nightmares which Raven starts having as soon as we leave port.

They started with her talking in her sleep. A week later, halfway to Honolulu, she begins waking up covered in a cold sweat. Despite this, she remains upbeat.

Telling me about them, she describes huge structures. Some buried deep in deserts, some drowned for ages under the ocean. All of them surrounded by darkness. In each place, she’s running to keep from being caught by something chasing her through the dark.

#####

“Com’on! When’s the next time you’ll be in Hawaii? Ever?” she asks.

“I’d rather catch up on my reading, Raven. It’s my first chance in weeks. I’ll be able to go out on deck without being bothered.”

“We have only three days in port. Today and tomorrow come with me and explore the island. And I’ll leave you all alone on that last one to do your reading.”

I stand and nod.

“Okay. You’ve talked me into it.”

“Good,” she says leaning in and throwing her arms around my neck.

Despite the touristy things, I really enjoy it. We stay near the beach that first night, holding hands and watching the night come over the glassy bay.

Lacking the funds for another spontaneous beachfront hotel stay, we reboard the boat after our second day of exploration. Our sun-kissed skin welcomes the temperature controlled room and cool showers.

I see Raven off at the ramp and head back to my cabin. I fall backwards onto the bed, taking a moment to soak up the emptiness of the room and closing my eyes.

After a few minutes, I gather up my bag of deck items, grab the keycard and head out of the cabin and make my way up to the ultra-cushy Platinum deck. A few crew members greet me as I wander around the empty seating area.

I choose something deep in the shade side of the ship, less to fuss with, less to worry about if I fall asleep. Wrapping up in my towels and I practically disappear from view. Gulls cracking their lonely cry above and an occasional swoosh from the wind is more than enough to relax me.

I’m not sure how long passes before a couple of senior officers appear, going straight to the unmanned bar. They don’t seem to notice me sitting as they start discussing something that I catch only snippets of before it becomes heated.

“And what did he think was going to happen when they were called? Just swim alongside the ship until we go there?” the first one asks.

He’s stocky but not short. Maybe an inch or two taller than me with mousy brown hair and eyes. The breeze carries the scent of booze on him. As the other starts shouting, I try shrinking into the chair.

“Alright? I know. He knows now. That’s why we’ll delay calling more until we’re there. I guess. He keeps fiddling with the cursed thing.”

The second one is blonde, tall and appears to be chiseled from granite. Not sure what the uniforms indicate, but if I had to guess this one ranked higher than his drunk companion.

“We should take it away from him,” Boozehound says. “Make him wait until the appointed time. We should have never brought him in the circle. Too much risk!”

Granite shakes his head.

“There wasn’t another choice. He had to know so the course could be plotted to coincide.”

Boozehound nods in agreement and brings out a bottle to take a swig of. Granite snatches it from his hands.

“You’ve drunk too much. You need to dry out and get your head right again.”

“Mind your own damn business. With those things, I need all the peace I can get. You don’t have the nightmares, do you John?”

Boozehound grabs the bottle back and seems to gulp down the rest of it in a single movement. Granite-John just shakes his head.

“I don’t but that’s because I’ve made my peace. I know what’s going to happen and look forward to it,” Granite-John says, turning to Boozehound. “Makes me wonder why you haven’t.”

Boozehound sneers at Granite-John before stalking off. Granite-John follows, shaking his head as if disappointed with outcome. No indication that either one of them noticed me sitting there. I check my watch and see that it’s getting close to dinner now.

I let a few more minutes pass before I get out from under the towels, checking to see if I am alone. No noise, no crew. Raven should be back soon. I get my stuff together and head to the cabin.

It could be paranoia but I don’t feel alone on my way back. Something is watching me, but I can’t say from where. Or why. Am I starting to lose it?

I lay down on the bed, trying not to cry but I can feel the tears dripping from the corners of my eyes. About an hour later, Raven comes in and gets me to put my head in her lap, calming me down enough to tell her what happened.

“I think you just fell asleep on deck. You know you were worn out from the last couple of days,” she says while smoothing my hair.

“It felt so real, though. I mean, I could smell the booze coming off the guy. I could have lit it and watched him burn.”

“Dreams are like that. You know the nightmares I’ve been having? Those seem just as real to me.”

I nod and sit up, facing Raven. She leans in kisses me. She feels safe and warm and everything I want right now. My arms wrap her close to me, but she pushes me back.

“We’ve got one more leg of the trip. It’s the long one. Are you sure you want to go? Once we leave there’s no turning back,” she says.

“As long as we’re together, I’ll be fine. This isn’t the first time I’ve had persistent nightmares. And they’re only dreams. Nothing in dreams can hurt me.”

“On to Oz!”

#####

Out on the seas again, Raven suggests going to a Captain’s dinner to see if I see the two men.

“Just to convince yourself it was nothing but a dream.”

“But what if I do see them? Wouldn’t that mean…”

“It would mean nothing of the sort. Trust me. As freaky as my nightmares have been, I know they’re dreams. Anything I see in real life from them is a coincidence.”

“And have you been seeing things?”

She stands up and comes over to me, taking my hands into hers and giving them a squeeze.

“A few things, but again, trust the nightmare expert over here. They’re no big deal. Just coincidences.”

“If I agree to this, will you tell me everything about your nightmares?”

“Everything. But only after the dinner.”

“Okay. I’ll make a call to the concierge and see what it takes to get arranged.”

What doesn’t surprise me is the list. What does surprise me is how easily you can get to the front of the list with a few smart questions and the purser holding a large sum in your ship account.

We arrive to find the dining room very full, waitstaff hurrying everywhere. Everyone is dressed in their best. Even a few tuxedos and formal dresses which look like they flew in from Paris or New York. And here we are in cheap cocktail dresses.

“Well, I don’t feel outclassed in the least,” Raven says.

“Hush,” I hiss under my breath as the Maitre’d shows us to the Captain’s table.

It is not exactly an intimate affair. Around the huge table there’s places for forty people, maybe more. However, he does get up as the two of us arrive to take us from his Maitre’d. We appear to be the last to show.

“Thank you Charles. I’ll show them from here.”

He offers one arm to me and his other to Raven, a gesture that seems to surprise her. I nod, readily taking the offer while giving Raven a look to follow my lead. She does, trying to smile and hide a sigh.

The captain takes us to our seats, presenting us to the couples on either side.

“Kelly and Sindy, this is Georgia and Pete,” he says with a smile and wink.

Pete looks like an ordinary guy in his mid-forties. Maybe a little lanky, the sort of look accountants stereotypically have. His dark skin give the purple suit a certain seventies throwback look. Georgia is a handsome woman, playing up the butch with cropped hair, pantsuit, and shoulder pads big enough for a linebacker.

“Georgia, Pete? This is Kelly and Sindy. Kelly is recently divorced, and Sindy? Well, from what she’s told me this is her big chance to get away from it all.”

I smile at the couple giving Pete a firm handshake and do my best to avoid Georgia’s hungry stare. Raven nods to the both of them as we are turned around to introduced to the next couple.

“And over here Kelly and Sindy, we have Gary and Gary. Not joking. Like yourselves they seem to have found one another on board.”

They nod and we return the gesture, the Captain smiles and claps a Gary on the shoulder before returning to his seat. Raven and I sit down; Raven takes the seat next to Gary leaving me with the feeling I’m going to have to be fending Georgia off for most of the meal. She doesn’t look like the sort of woman who takes “no” for a first, second, or third answer.

As we settle in the Captain raises a champagne flute to the table.

“A quick toast. To all of those assembled here tonight. May you find your dreams as we travel through the dark. It may seem deep and it may seem endless, but we are almost at our destination. And so may we all…”

He doesn’t get a chance to finish as the boat shivers violently throwing everyone to the floor. The room goes dark as dishes crash and silverware clatters all around us. A few screams pierce the air. Raven grunts next to me as we fall backwards, hitting the ground. The emergency lights flicker on, giving me enough light to see that Georgia is on top of Pete while the Garys seem to be trying to crawl under one another like a pair of frightened squirrels.

“You all right?” I ask, stretching out an arm to touch Raven.

“I…I can’t see, Kelly. I feel you. At least, I hope that’s you touching my shoulder.”

“It is. What do you mean you can’t see?”

The main lights try to flicker into life, giving me a strobing view of the room. People are frozen in terror as they try to right themselves.

“I can’t see you. I can feel you. You’re right there, but you aren’t. Where are we, Kelly? Where are we?”

“We’re in the dining room. On the floor. The ship just did that lurching thing again.”

A long pause from her and she stands up.

“No. No we’re not. It’s somewhere else.”

I feel another pair of hands on my shoulders, trying to get under my arms. For a second, I fight against them and then I hear a newly familiar voice.

“Kelly. It’s the Captain. Let me help you up.”

I stop struggling and let him help me stand. Looking around, the room has changed. The lights steady, giving me a good view of the room. Only a few people remain standing around. The Captain stands in front of me looking far more tired than he was a few minutes ago. A few other crewmen also stand nearby, or I think they’re crewmen. Their uniforms look close to what they should have been but they’re not quite right.

I turn back to the captain after looking around the room.

“Where’s Raven? She was right here.”

“She’s in the Dark,” the Captain says. He has an unhappy look on his face.

“I do apologize, Kelly. It would appear that some subordinates of mine were not as trusting as they should have been.”

“Can I get her back? Is there any way…?”

“To find her in the Dark?”

He sighs and pulls a chair up for me to sit in.

“What you’re asking isn’t an easy thing. This last surprise took a lot out of me,” he says with a gesture towards the mostly empty room.

“And you can see that I couldn’t bring everyone back.”

I think about it, looking at him and wondering, questioning everything.

“I know that look. Everyone who starts out down my path gets looks like it at one time or another. So let me say one thing before you make up your mind: It’s all about being an explorer. Nothing more. It’s not about power, it’s about knowledge.”

I frown and feel the stress of grinding my teeth together. Anger, fear, and fury have all joined forces in my heart.

“It was someone named John and a friend. The friend was about my height, brown hair, brown eyes. They were on the Platinum deck a week ago. They were talking and never saw me sitting in the shade.”

The Captain turns and nods to two of his crew. They hurry off before anything else can be said. He turns back to me and puts his heavy hand on my shoulder, giving it a quick squeeze.

“I know the two. They will be punished. But back to Sindy or was it Raven?”

“I was the only one who called her that. Because of her hair. And how she played cards. Smart and observant. Like a raven.”

He nods and smiles slightly.

“Good. You need to keep those thoughts with you.”

The smile broadens some before he turns around and nods to the remaining pair of crewmen. They also head out without a word.

“They’re going to be getting my tools. Now, let me explain what’s going to happen next.”

I cut him off before he can start.

“What do you need me to do?”

He sighs and stands up, just as several crewmen drag John and his accomplice in. They look at him, ready to start yelling when he runs a finger across both their cheeks. Flesh crawls up and seals their mouths shut.

“I know what the two of you did. You’ve done more damage than you could ever imagine. The plan wasn’t to let anyone on the cruise to get lost and now I think about half of the passengers are gone. Lost in the Dark. Good work you idiots.”

They both violently shake their heads, vocal cords straining against the fleshy gags. He turns his focus over to the little, dark haired man whose eyes go wide.

“What am I going to do? That’s a bad question. I’m not going to be doing anything.”

The Captain turns and points to me.

“She, on the other hand, is going to find Raven. And you are going to help her get to the other side.”

The other crewmen return with several items and start working. Within a few moments, they’ve used chalk to sketch something with wild shapes and sigils on the carpet. A bag is opened and a square object is placed in the middle of the work. The Captain nods before stepping into the middle of the work.

His hands are too quick to follow, but whatever he did, it caused the object to open up and it now looks like a harness the color of brass. He picks it up with one hand, using the other to motion to the crewmen holding John. They bring him over.

“Just remember, you brought this on yourself,” he says as he places it over the head like a hangman’s hood.

The heavy brass frame rests on his shoulders, and for a minute nothing happens. Then it sinks in. He tries to scream, but can’t. I hear him strain against the closure. The Captain turns and motions for me to come closer.

“In a moment the ship is going to feel like it’s shuttering again. That’s not really happening, just what your mind thinks is. At that exact moment, I need you to think about Raven. Everything you know about her. And be ready to act.”

I nod and look at John. His face is a picture of exacting terror and pain. I don’t really understand what’s going on but given that Raven is missing because of this man, I don’t have a problem with his treatment.

The Captain places a hand on my shoulder and asks, “You ready?”

“Yup.”

He turns back to touch the harness again. There’s a muffled scream as the room shudders around me and I start thinking about how much Raven has meant to me the last few days. About her smile and how it makes me feel to see it. The room fades, replace by something that echoes our world.

From somewhere distant, I can hear the Captain yelling.

“Keep thinking about her. Call out to her and wait. There are things that you don’t want to bring back. Wait until you are certain that it’s her in the Dark.”

I do as told, thinking about her, and waiting. It takes what feels like forever before I hear something come back.

“Kelly? Kelly, are you there?”

“Raven! Over here! Follow my voice!”

My hand reach out into the unknown, into the dark trying to find Raven. Someone or something passes by silent and the air turns greasy and slick, the sensation is electric and numbing at the same time. Doubling over in pain, I can only think about how the Captain warned me. Then I hear Raven again.

“You stopped talking, Kelly. Where are you?”

She’s close. Still reeling, I stand back up and take a deep breath.

“Over here. Here! Over here! Please Raven, I’m sorry I stopped talking. Over here. I’ll keep it up until you’re in my arms again. I’m here, Raven. Right here!”

For a second I think I see her stumbling towards me as a mass of a body slams into me, knocking both of us over. My arms hug whoever it is, trying to find some way of identifying them. Hair is long enough, the waist just the right shape, and her hands feel familiar as they search over my body.

“Kelly!”

“Help me up Raven.”

“The ship? How do we get back to the ship?”

As the last word of the question escapes her lips as the world becomes dawn grey. There is another shudder and the dining room shimmers into existence around us. The Captain is standing there next to a desiccated corpse, the harness embedded deep into the skin. He sighs and smiles as we take a few hesitant steps towards him.

The crew rushes in with blankets and towels. I turn my head to see the medical crew standing by. Looking down I see the dripping blood flowing down my arm. Before anything more happens, blackness pulls me under.

#####

“I understand, but that doesn’t tell me what happened,” I say as Raven finishes packing clothes into my suitcase. The scar races from elbow to the palm of my hand. A black and red line, parts of it pulse with my heartbeat where my skin is still very thin. The doctor on board has said that with time, it will thicken, but it will be a while.

“Well, that’s all I can tell you. You are incredibly lucky. Lucky that the Captain thought to have the med-team ready, lucky that that cut wasn’t deeper, and lucky that I am the same blood type.”

I put my arm back in the sling. It’s been only a few days since we escaped the darkness. Neither one of us is sure what is going to happen once we dock. There’s a lot of people missing. And we are witnesses.

As these thoughts cross my mind, my eyes drift down to the floor and stay there. Despite everything wonderful about Raven, this is not the cruise I thought I was going to take. She doesn’t speak a word but walks over and embraces me, kissing me on the cheek and pulling my head up.

“Whatever happens next, we’ll be doing it together.”

Review: Gears of War 3

The long and the short of it, Gears of War 3 limps its way through the final installment. It accomplishes the tasks of finishing the story and completing the journey with those characters you started with but does without any flare or conviction. In remaining so close to the hew that was cut with the first game, it fails to present a compelling vision. For some, I suspect that the familiar is better than something new. For myself, I expected the final installment to have the same gusto as the original and deliver a playstyle that is a fresh, different, and tactical as the first was.

Let’s start with what went right. For what we are given, it was given with an extreme amount of polish. The game play is buttery smooth. Controls are tight and responsive, just as you would always want them to be. There is little question as how easily your intent is translated into the gameworld. You don’t have to hit the same button twice to get that twitch action neuron saturated with all of the dopamine it can handle. The gore is wholly visceral and the crunchy undertones bring an unrelenting satisfaction with ever trigger pulled.

What cuts deepest is the solution to every problem facing the characters in the game. Whereas in the first and second games there were moments when brain mattered over calibre, Gears 3 presents one and only one solution to every quandary besetting your avatar. Shoot it, stomp it, or just beat it with your weapon. As true to the nature of this game it might be, that nonetheless gives me with little else to dwell upon. Am I to be challenged only managing my ammo stockpiles?

Speaking of which, we do get new weapons to play with but so what? There isn’t any new tactics to use them with. And, no, flinging exploding boulders from giant beasts of burden does not a new tactic make. I am disappointed in the big new weapon being the “retro” Lancer. How is that remotely interesting? An older version of the main gun used throughout the game which doesn’t share a ammo pile with anything else. Gotcha. Cool story, bro. I’m gonna be over here using a chainsaw bayonet to cut someone in half. You can stab the wall.

The point being that it’s a DOWNgrade to an already all-around good weapon. Why do that? It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.

But that’s not the only thing that got a downgrade. You remember those monstrous beasts that you had to keep running away from in the first two games because they were so much bigger and required, you know, cannons or space lasers to get rid of? Yeah, those! Those were awesome because you had to figure out a way around them. It was cool to have to think through those sections of the game. You couldn’t just shoot your way through them like everything else.

Yeah, those days are gone. Apparently no one told Marcus that you could use regular weapons on them. He knows now of course, and so you get to use your Lancer on those pesky Brumaks and Corpsers that were the bane of the first two games.

Having bigger, badder enemies to kill is part of the Tao of sequels. Having gone through two games where certain enemies needed special, and I might add, fun weapons in order to bring them down I was expecting something new and exciting for the final installment. Instead we get an underwater section that was obviously phoned in. Shooting space squid hanging in a omnidirectional sphere off a submarine (how is this thing attached again?) is wasn’t exciting but regrettably pointless. Gears, as a series, was known for the visceral depiction of what the weapons do. Since most of the time you’re regulated to shooting torpedoes heading for your sub, you don’t get any feel for the weapon, let alone tear through countless hordes of foot soldiers the way you can with the Vulcan or other mounted weapons.

Enough of the weapons, what about the other half of the reason you play the game? What of the plot?

So stereotypical it hurts. I started to cringe more and more as the game went on. Faced with a dilemma of resolving the outstanding questions brought forth in the first two games, I feel the writers were tasked with coming up with new plot elements instead. It is otherwise hard to understand the option to jump fifteen years into the future, given that Gears 1 and 2 were set mere months apart.

It’s also hard to call this a resolution to the story we stared out with two games ago. What was going on in Gears 2 with all the experiments on humans that the Locus were doing? Did the sacrifice of Jacinto make any difference with the Locus or not? These are the very base of things which should have been addressed in the plot, but are missing and replaced with a brand new assortment of mysteries.

Like the Lambent. Seeds of that story are admittedly planted in Gears 2 but again that jump of years imposes a great burden for the plot which is not met. Going from moving, glowing blobs to fully formed burrowing stalks of exploding death is something else. How about explaining how that happened or why? There’s a great voice over to start the game, something to bring the player up to speed that events X, Y, and Z happened, but lacks an explanation of why the game is starting then and not at some of those pivotal moments that were glossed over a few seconds before?

Because of this, I find it hard to ascribe any importance to the events of the game. They have no context, no way to draw the player into caring about what happens. I am not suggesting that the game isn’t exciting, it is. You are thrust into battle, sent through lands exotic and strange. The familiar is made weird by change. And yet this is all window dressing, a hollow storefront that a play is staged in front of. Nothing more.

Also, suggesting that I needed to read the supplementary novels or comics is a non-starter. The game is the medium in which the story started. It should be where everything crucial to the story happens. In taking vital, necessary portions of the story out of the game, you have diminished the power the game has to tell stories. If games are to be held up and take their place with film and literature, then this short cut needs to be eliminated.

To summarize, if you liked the previous Gears you should give this one a chance. Rent it first and see if it can’t justify the purchase.

A short reflection on inspiration

Inspiration for writing mods and stories can come from any experience in life. The most profound ones sometimes dive deep into your psyche that make it hard to later identify as they have become so ingrained into your personality and waking thought that you no longer notice. This is a short musing on one such series of events which still impact the way I think about myself, the world, and my place therein.

Desolation is the only way I ever got a sense of a scale of the world. Specifically, the desolation of the Kansas Flint Hills.

For those too lazy to hit Wikipedia, the Flint Hills is a stretch of prairie in eastern Kansas, about two hours west of Kansas City. Known for a bit of oil and cattle ranching, it is about as untouched as you can get. It is also empty. There have been a few attempts at settling it, but those were abandoned when it become unfeasible to keep trucking in the food needed to sustain living. The culprit here is the rocky soil. Ideal for the scrub and grasses native to the region but unworkable in any real sense for food crops.

My old scout troop would go camping out there once every couple of years. It was my first camp-out with the troop, actually. And it was hard, very hard, to not fall in love with the place. That emptiness, that Desolation (capital “D” well deserved here) gnaws at your mind until you finally comprehend your size compared with everything else. Out there you have the scale of the world pressed upon your mind. You see that you are as a flea to the grandness of the Earth. Your import, your ability to affect and shape is only in proportion to your size. And is just during the day. At night you are exposed to the cosmic scale. There are no lights save for those you bring. You see stars that you never otherwise see. You can watch satellites pass with without any telescope or binoculars. The galactic disk is obvious and bright. You see that we are nothing but a mote of dust, clinging to a mote of dust, swirling across the infinite void.

That is how empty it is. And that emptiness weighs on you. The nothingness is heavy enough to crush and sets in immediately as we turned off the highway, starting down those chert crusted roads and into the rolling brown expanses.

We went late in the year, late enough to not bother any cattle or to cause problems with the small derricks dotting the surface. Not that some of us didn’t try to cause a little trouble. People who shall continue to be unnamed decided that the best way to clear some of the debris from around their tent was with fire. In the constant 15-MPH wind, the dry November grass did more than clear out from the camping area. It cleared out several acres, leaving a straight black line across the otherwise dun hills.

But that momentary scratch on the surface of the hills was impermanent. As is all technology in that place. It endures in a way which belittles humankind’s efforts to tame it and to bring it under our control.  It is a hard place, it can be an unforgiving place, but those things give it part of its beauty.

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Half Life 2 — A very late review

I didn’t want to play Half-Life 2 when it first came out. I found the demo to be an glorified tech demo, bland and predictable. On the other hand, Team Fortress 2 with its siren call of competitive and cooperative game play is something I’ve been meaning to check out. With a choice between the Orange Box (giving me many games for one low price) and purchasing TF2 solo (this was a couple of months back before it went free to play) I chose the more economic option and became a proud owner of HL2.

Simply put, Half-Life 2 tries hard to be an excellent game. It looks good, the controls are easy to use, and there is a lot of world-building to see. But that’s the problem. All I ever got to do was look at the world, I never got to explore it. The limitations artificially foisted are numerous and varied.

For one, there is the story. All by itself, it might have sufficed to be a short novel perhaps. But as part of an interactive medium, the story suffers in its inability to let the player be the hero. In giving no quarter, no choice to the player, the story of Half-Life 2 becomes a bland background. This is incredibly jarring since NPCs constantly say that the player will think of something and lead them to victory. But no thinking is required on behalf of the player. Just follow the primrose path laid before them. How then is the player motivated? There is absolutely no reason to save the world because there is nothing at stake. There are no worthwhile failure conditions. And it doesn’t matter what the player may want or do, the world will be saved because that is what the story says will happen. For as much choice Half-Life 2 gives the player, you might as well be playing a high-res version of pong.

Second, there is the actual game itself. Only at its very end, did Half-Life 2 resemble anything like an actual game. And that was more an homage to the old arcade Tron game.

Otherwise, Half-Life 2 is best described as a series of in-game cut scenes punctuated by an occasional puzzle or fight. This really makes it no different than any other FPS released in the last decade. Most of the puzzles and fights are very easy. But there are a rare few which jumps so far up the difficulty curve as to be completely separate from the rest of the game. And while this is a fantasy game dressed in the guise of science fiction, there are more than one puzzle or fight which defies the rules of their world. Almost every enemy could see through walls, there were enemies which never faltered in their aim, and enemies immune to all attacks.

I think that the designers of the game were not so interested in what the player can achieve but were far more engaged in celebrating their own creation. Like some four year old holding up their crayon art for praise, Half-Life 2 wants you to be impressed with itself and not the experience that it brings to you.

This attitude is endemic in the video game world. We hear that the game creators want to engage Players through story and consequences, but Half-Life 2 gives no control over either to the player. Where this discontinuity originates, I have no idea. All I can see is that there is no trust in the player to be the hero, there is no trust in the player to choose the righteous path. I am not asking for an AI game master to  improvise at the player’s whim, but something far simpler. To start, failure should be an option and it should not end the game. Right or left should be meaningful options. At the very least I should be able to chart out the plot as per Robin’s Law of good gamemastering and have it be a straight line.

Games like Half-Life 2 that attempt to dazzle to distract from their flatness do a disservice to all games.

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The angel on the stairs

A short story for the Reverse Big Bang on Livejournal

We move in with Grandfather during the first gray days of winter, between Thanksgiving and Christmas. I am distracted by the new school and new friends at first, but quickly fall into my old boring school routines. I want something exciting to do but my parents don’t let me explore the new neighborhood, leaving me to explore Grandfather’s house.

I start poking into every nook, every corner of my new home looking for something, anything to relieve my boredom. A week passes before discovering a door, hidden behind some moving boxes in the kitchen. It doesn’t feel like an accident that the boxes are there. Mom and Dad seem to ignore the door, not looking when they pass by; Grandfather merely glances at it once each day. What is behind this door?

One afternoon, when everyone else is napping, I get my opportunity. It takes a few minutes, but I move enough of the boxes to get close to the door. Running my hand across its surface, the flaking paint bites into my palm. There are dents and gouges marring its surface, speaking to past abuse. It also has an odd odor, like a public bathroom after someone has cleaned up week old vomit, and it looks like it should weigh tons.

The cold brass knob turns easily but the door remains shut. I shake the handle, in case it’s stuck, but it remains closed. I start moving the boxes further back thinking that is blocking my progress, but am wrong. I start looking at the door itself and finally notice the massive deadbolt several inches above the handle.

Dad comes in to the kitchen and ushers me off to less noisome play. That night, I wake to strange sounds coming from the vent next to my bed. I can’t tell if they’re voices singing or an unknown language.

The next morning, I ask Grandfather where the door goes.

“Down,” he replies.

“What’s down there?”

“Never you mind. Now finish eating and get ready for school,” he says. His thick accent changes the cadence of the words, making them into a chant.

My curiosity overflows at the rebuff and I wait for an opportunity to corner my parents and then surprise them with a direct question: “What’s downstairs?”

“Don’t go down there,” mom tells me.

“No. You can’t go in the basement. It’s too dangerous,” my father responds.

“Never-never go down. Verboten,” pronounced my grandfather. His hand landed on the table with a heavy bang, a signal that this is the last time it was to be brought up. I start to protest, but my parents remove me from the kitchen.

My mom looks me in the eye, “That’s enough of the foolish questions. You shouldn’t be bothering him about it. Now, I understand you’re curious, but you’re going to have to be happy with the mystery.”

“But I heard something from my vent last night. It sounded like someone talking,” I explain.

My parents look at each other for a fleeting moment, before turning back to me. My mother runs her hands through my hair while dad grabs our jackets.

“We are going to a movie tonight. A treat since your Mother has a new part-time job,” he says over his shoulder.

I wait by the door as they finish getting ready and Grandfather wanders over to me.

“I heard what you told your parents. This old house has many strange noises, you should not worry. You had a dream. Nothing more. You were dreaming noises.”

After that, the subject is dropped despite not being sure I believe their answers. The basement can’t be all that dangerous. I watched the moving guys taking our stuff in there. And the noises aren’t something I dreamt.

I think it over for a few days and decide on a different approach. If I can’t ask about the house as it is now, I should be able to ask about it in the past. So I go to my Dad and ask him about growing up here. I ask my Mom if Dad ever told her any stories about growing up. And every time I do this, Grandfather comes into the room. Both of my parents immediately go quiet and ask me to go do my homework.

I stew for days without any other ideas until one lands on me from school. It’s time for the annual Science Fair and I have one put away from last year. Down in the basement. I just need to time it so I catch Mom or Dad alone to ambush them with my request. It happens to be Mom in the living room a day later.

“I want my toys,” I tell her.

“Which ones,” she asks.

“The rockets. They’re in my moving box,” I say.

She looks at me skeptically. Luckily, I have a good reason.

“I need them for the Science Fair,” the smile on face broadens as I say the words. I should feel bad at the lie but I don’t.

“It’ll have to wait until your father gets home. He knows where all that stuff is.”

“But I should start on it now. I want to make sure nothing got broken,” I say.

“And you’ll have plenty of time when your father gets home, it won’t be long. Now sit down and be patient,” she says.

Mom goes back to reading her book. I hadn’t counted on her immunity to my whines, something I make sure to note. I sit down and pull open a magazine, slowly turning the unread pages waiting for Dad.

When he does get home, Mom tells him of my request and then the two of them go find Grandfather. I watch from top of the stairs. There’s some discussion, but I can’t hear what they say to one another. About ten minutes later, Dad and Grandfather go out the front door. When they come back after a few moments, Dad has my box of toys.

“I brought the whole box so you don’t have to worry about getting anything else out of the basement,” dad says.

“Thanks dad,” I smile and take the box up to my room. So much for that plan.

I think about it for a while and can’t come up with another excuse. Nothing of mine is left down there and I don’t want anything of my parents’. I stay up to listen to the vent but don’t hear anything. I think about going outside to see if there is another way, but finding an excuse is hard with the snow piled up. My quest is forgotten in the hubbub of the holidays and family visiting.

Spring comes with sun and warm temperatures and Mom takes the opportunity to get some planting done. I get dragged along for the usual reasons. She directs me to a spot near the back yard, along the side of the house. As I start digging, something glints at me. It takes me a second to realize it is a basement window.

A basement window!

I don’t immediately run up to it, despite every desire screaming at me to do so. Mom isn’t that far away and is half watching me.

I spot a window looking into the basement and remember. It is painted white from the inside, obscuring any view. I don’t immediately run up to it, despite wanting to. Mom is nearby and half watching me to make sure I don’t kill the new plants.

We go around the outside of the house planting, me noting each and every window I see. Each one had been painted from the inside, and none of them have bars. I might be able to get inside from the outside. The question becomes one of timing. When will I get the chance to test the windows or to look through the paint?

I don’t have to wait long.

Another week passes and it school releases for Spring Break. Mom found a temp position and dad has the same job he always did. This leaves Grandfather watching me before and after school. We have an established a routine. He’s up with my parents to help them and then gets me breakfast. Normally, it’d then be time to go to school, but with break, I’m getting kicked outside until lunch.

No one is thinking about the basement since I stopped asking questions. No one thinks I’m curious about it anymore.

I shake with fright and excitement. I try opening the first window I noticed. Locked or stuck. It doesn’t matter which, I can’t get inside. And I can’t see through it, despite the scratches and uneven paint. The next two windows are the same. Lunchtime looms and I know Grandfather is awake again.

I meet him on the back porch, pretending to have been playing with my rockets. As he stands with the door open, my guts are churning. We eat lunch together and Grandfather takes us to the library for the afternoon. There were two other windows to check out but it isn’t going to happen today. As I lay in bed, the noises come from the vent once more. I listen very closely. Is it heavy breathing? Were those words?

The next day, as soon as I am sure Grandfather is sleeping I run to the remaining windows. The first one is as stuck as the others. But It is not as well painted. I can see shapes through it, something moves away as I watch. The last window is different from the others. It has its hinge on the outside and something is lying on the ground next to it.

A key lays on the grass next to the window, where the ground has been churned up. My head goes light. I know it belongs to the basement door. I simply know it.

It goes straight into my pocket and I run to the back yard, where my toys are. I want to look like I was playing if Grandfather finds me. Once there, I stand staring at the back door. Grandfather is still sleeping. I could sneak in and unlock the basement door. My heart races and my palms are slick with sweat. I rub them on my jeans and try the door very, very carefully. It opens soundlessly and I step into the kitchen.

Tip-toeing through the kitchen, I spot Grandfather sleeping on the couch. Soft sounds coming every few seconds. Silently, I go back through the kitchen, and stopping in front of the door I reach up, slipping the key in the lock. I turn it, and feeling its release. With a twist of the knob, the door open slides open revealing a world of chipped concrete, rotting floorboards, and an angel sitting on the stony stairs.

The angel stares back up at me. Its beautiful, argent wings open and I feel their breeze. I step inside and close the door behind me.

Well, that didn’t quite go to plan

With a vast majority of 2010 behind me, I have taken a few minutes to look over what I was able to accomplish versus what I was actually able to do. Can’t say I’m happy but I have learned quite a bit and can see where I need to improve things.

The first thing to address was 2010 Plan. This consisted of me mostly working like crazy on WFRP modules. I was wanting to do something like one per month. I have since realized that this is quite a bit more work than it at first seems. Especially when you have only yourself to write, edit, and then test the modules. Despite  making as much noise as I could about these, I didn’t get a whole lot of feedback about what did and didn’t work.  What I got was from GMing them. And those friends who were kind enough to play, did genuinely enjoy themselves and I certainly had a good time running them.

Then there was GenCon. That was an incredible experience. Ran these mods for random strangers who had fun. The laughter and jokes are unforgettable.

Moving on. Aside from the reviews of L5R, I can’t say I got much done gaming wise this year. There was the 24 RPG creation over on RPGGeek that was a lot of fun. It also exposed me to a lot of what other people think. And what they want to play. That’s the important bit. People won’t write or create things they don’t want to play. If there is any chance to get an idea of what people want, look to what they create. So there was and continues to be a lot to learn from the those games.

Finally, there is this site. I didn’t make nearly as many entries as I could have. This needs to be a place where I put all of my thoughts on games and gaming. No matter how weird, unusual, or simply wrong those thoughts may end up being. This is where I need to put them. To make it a habit, not something easily or quickly done. That has to be the goal of this site.

Which then leads me to 2011 and what I wan to try to do with it.

Lucha Libre the RPG needs to be made. Well, finished. It was started with the 24 Hour RPG competition, but it has been simmering in the back of my mind as something which has real potential. Setting it an era of pulp adventures opens up a lot of possibilities. Given a decent, flexible system, then players can have a lot of fun creating the sorts of wrestlers and characters to inhabit the world. There is also the matter of making it easy to create and run adventures as well. That is going to have to be a major goal.

Which helps with the first goal of making this my default writing place. Keeping some sort of design journal about how that project is going. And throughout the year giving previews and discussion over what I am doing with it and why. A place to keep my insights into its design.

And that’s it. Nothing more to say today.

Follow up to L5R review

I have been granted the privilege position of knowing close the three gentlemen who are going to be running the new Heroes of Rokugon campaign. As such I, my wife, and some other friends are one of their sets of guinea pigs…er…playtesters.

If you are interested in the campaign, and it looks like it’s going to be a fun one, they are premiering it in Kansas City this upcoming November 4th through 7th at KC Game Fair. If you cannot make it, there is a HoR3 yahoo group you can join and soon there will be a website with further information.

I wanted to go back and address a few points now that I’ve had the chance to play through a few sessions. What follows are a few notes from that experience.

Character creation was fairly simple. As I noted in my initial review this could be greatly enhanced by having a set baseline for character points, a step by step walk through, and a completed character to reference. The playtest group did this mostly together and noticed that  there was a subtle expectation for players to be theorycrafting and metagaming while doing so. I imagine the designers think groups sit around saying things like,”You take the higher Water ring, I’ll get Fire, you should totally get Void 3.” Which, if that made-up quote is anything like what they’re witnessing, sounds like they need diversify their playtesting groups. In any case, since we chose widely different schools, and all Bushi at that, I’m not sure that there is much point to trying to investigate further.

The other thing of note for character creation was the difference between the flavor text describing the school and the actual granted abilities. This felt very incongruous with my chosen school, the Mastu Berserker. In this case, the text I’m referring to says “…focus heavily upon the Full Attack Stance, which makes them heavy-hitting opponents who have to position themselves carefully in order to prevent an opponent from exploiting their lower Armor TN.”

Looking over the five school ranks, there’s not a single one which addresses this. Nor is there any provisional option, like with the fifth rank technique, to spend a void point and do something cool like ignore the TN penalty of the full attack stance. One might think that it is referring to the first rank ability to move an extra five feet in battle, if you didn’t already move your maximum, but that would be silly since any opponent could follow you.

Stances were something I cited as needing more experience with before making a call. Having a few games under my belt, I feel far more comfortable with them but find their usefulness lacking. That said, I really want to like them. Having done five years of intramural fencing in college, I can attest to the strategic difference between defensive and aggressive stances make.

So far, it’s not made a huge impact on how the players have worked through combat. There have been a few times where it’s made it easier to hit our opponents when the GM chose the “full attack” stance but as of yet, the additional 2k1 hasn’t had much strategic appeal over the standard attack stance. Or the defensive stances.

I suspect this might change with some experience expenditure. As noted in my initial review, the system has changed how the R&K works when you exceed 10 rolled and/or 10 kept dice. Right now, none of our characters come close to exceeding either one of those limits. If should I ever find my character at that point, turning that 2k1 into 0k2, might just do it for some extra dice in the damage pool.

As for other rules changes, the one which has caused the most conflict is the removal of the returned Void rule.

In the previous edition of L5R if a player rolled three tens on a single check, their character got a point of Void back. For the uninitiated, Void points are like Action points from 3.5 D&D variants or like Fortune points from 2nd Ed WFRP. With the returned void rule, the PC could effectively have twice the number of Void points as their ring would indicate. I have been told this wasn’t the problem most GMs ran into. Instead it was the players who would do silly actions in order to roll and have a chance at recovering spent points. The favorite of which was to “practice” drawing their sword during a battle in order to have the chance to throw dice and see if they could get another void.

On the one hand, I understand the frustration GMs who encountered that situation must have felt. There’s very little more disheartening than a player who solely uses the rules for exploitative purposes. And as a designer trying to correct this, my first reaction could very well be the same: take away the toy causing the problem. But this feels like overreach. On the other hand, why weren’t those GMs finding ways to tell their players “No”? This strikes me as something that falls well within GM fiat.

What we played was fun and well worth some of the frustrations in character creation. Most of it works very well, and despite the flaws spoken about I continue to like the amount of control over the dice that R&K systems provide the player. However, I am sticking with labeling this as the “Angry GM” edition.

Now, you could ask me why I continue to play this edition given the flaws I have pointed out here. This is a fair question. My answer is twofold. The first and foremost is that I want to support my friends in this. They’re taking on a huge, and I might add, unpaid job in creating and running the HoR3 campaign. The very least I could do is to lend a hand by playtesting their work. And secondly, as with any campaign be it HoR or Pathfinder, most of the fun comes in being with your friends. Any opportunity to hang out and potentially have fun is one that’s hard to pass up. If it comes with the price of having to use a fun, if flawed system, then so be it.

It was that time again

That’s right. NanoWriMo was last month and I participated, thus the lack of posts.

But now it’s December and after the upcoming weekend, time will be free again to keep up experimenting with games and brewing. I have a few things on the way and hopefully will be posting on a regular schedule. That’s the goal at least.

Sorry for the downtime but that’s what happen when life gets busy.

Drunken Master prestige class for Pathfinder

Our Pathfinder group stepped away from the season one Chronicles this weekend and started the Council of Thieves Adventure Path. I created a monk and to set him apart from other monks, decided to play him as a drunken master. And it was a lot of fun. This seemed like a good time to update the actual Drunken Master prestige class to fit better with Pathfinder. There are a few new powers and amusing abilities that you may not have seen before. I had almost as much fun creating this as I did playing my character.

Drunken Master

HD: d8

BAB: medium

Saves: good Fort and Ref

Skills: 4+Int mod (Acrobatics, Bluff, Climb, Craft, Escape Artist, Perception, Perform, Profession, Stealth, Swim)

Requirements: Acrobatics 5 ranks, Dodge, Great Fortitude, Improved Unarmed Strike, flurry of blows, evasion, must survive a night drinking with the drunken masters without poisoning, incarceration, or extraordinary embarrassment.

Drink Like a Demon (1st): can drink a “stiff drink” as a move action; each such drink inflicts a -2 penalty to Int and Wis, but grants a +2 bonus to either Str or Con (player’s choice).  May use a number of drinks equal to class level this way; benefit lasts class level +3 rounds.

Catch Off Guard (1st): You gain Catch Off Guard as a bonus feat, even if you don’t meet the prerequisites.  If you already have this feat, you may select another feat for which you meet the prerequisites from the list of monk bonus feats on pgs. 58 & 59 of the Pathfinder RPG.
Stagger (2nd): The Drunken Master can charge in nonlinear fashion, making Acrobatics checks to avoid provoking AoOs while charging at full speed through combat.

Painless (2nd): As a standard action three times per day, the drunken master may convert one of the drinks in his system (see Drink Like a Demon) into a DR rating of 1. This ends the effect of that drink on his ability scores as if the duration had expired. The DR rating increases to 2 at 6th level and to 3 at 10th level. The effects of Painless last for 1 minute per class level.

Swaying Waist (3rd): The Drunken Master gains a +2 dodge bonus to AC against a specific opponent chosen each round.

Improved Feint (3rd): You gain Improved Feint as a bonus feat, even if he doesn’t meet the prerequisites. If you already have this feat, you may select another feat for which you meet the prerequisites from the list of monk bonus feats on  pgs. 58 & 59 of the Pathfinder RPG.

AC Bonus (4th): You gain a +1 bonus to AC. Improves to a +2 bonus at 9th level.

Improved Improvised Weapons (5th): gains Improved Improvised Weapons as a bonus feat, even if you don’t meet the prerequisites. If you already have this feat, you may select another feat for which you meet the prerequisites from the list of monk bonus feats on  pgs. 58 & 59 of the Pathfinder RPG.

Slippery Customer (6th): Even if surrounded, the Drunken Master’s erratic and random movements protect him. Opponents wishing to flank a Drunken Master must make a Perception check versus DC10 + class level + the Drunken Master’s Reflex bonus. If this check is failed they are considered to be flat footed on the Drunken Master’s turn in addition to being denied their +2 flanking bonus.

Improved Grapple (7th): gains Improved Grapple as a bonus feat, even if he doesn’t meet the prerequisites. If you already have this feat, you may select another feat for which you meet the prerequisites from the list of monk bonus feats on pgs. 58 & 59 of the Pathfinder RPG.

What Did You Drink?  (7th): As a standard action three times per day, the drunken master may convert one of the drinks in his system (see Drink Like a Demon) into a cloud of noxious fumes. This is an emanation with a 10 ft radius around the drunken master; any breathing creature within the cloud must make a Fortitude save (DC 10 + class level + the drunken master’s Constitution modifier) or become nauseated. This condition lasts as long as the creature remains within the cloud and for 1d4+1 rounds afterward. The cloud lasts for one round per class level in still air; high winds and the like can disperse it in one round. Using this ability ends the effects of the converted drink as though the duration had expired.

For Medicinal Purposes (8th): three times per day, can convert a drink (see Drink Like a Demon) into a cure moderate wounds potion, which he is considered to have just drunk. This ends the effect of that drink on his ability scores as if the duration had expired.

Corkscrew Rush (9th): can make a bull rush attempt on any successful charge attack (the bull rush gains the usual +2 for charging); if the bull rush also succeeds, the starget must make a Will save (DC 10 + class level + drunken master’s Wis mod) or be stunned until the drunken master’s next turn, but if it fails, the drunken master falls prone in front of the target.

Greater Improvised Weapons (9th): improvised weapons improve again, to a maximum of 2d6 (3d6 if two-handed), and critical multiplier is x3.

Breath of Flame (10th): can use a drink in his system (from Drink Like a Demon) as a free action to breathe a 20-ft cone of flame, dealing 3d12 points of fire damage (Ref save, DC 10 + class level + Con mod); the drink’s effects on the drunken master’s ability scores immediately ends, as if the duration had expired.