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Sunday, November 24, 2013

Scenario Design by David Hargrave

This particular nugget used to be a frequently accessed part of our old site.  It be a shame to let it rest in the dusty bin of time without letting some light shine on it.  DH was, in more ways than one, ahead of his time as you can read below.

SCENARIO DESIGN
by Dave Hargrave
BASIC PRINCIPLES: The material below outlines some general principles of scenario design. The somewhat abstract nature of some of  it is due to the fact that the material can be applied to virtually any type role playing or adventure game,  whether Fantasy, Science Fiction, Samurai, etc.

TYPES OF ADVENTURES: There are several types of adventures that you can program in any game:


  • JOURNEYS: Random, mostly disconnected episodes generated through encounter tables. These types of adventures are the easiest to make, but the hardest to resolve conclusively, as there is very little connection between one event and another and the scenarios have no overall objective. A few of these at the beginning of your campaign are useful to establish plot lines to develop in later game sessions.
  • ODYSSEYS: These types of adventures are primarily goal oriented, such as the return to one's homeland. They incorporate the disconnected events of a journey with a stated objective.
  • ORDEALS: These usually take place in limited locations, and involve a struggle to overcome an obstacle, solve a puzzle, or escape from a given area.
  • QUESTS: These adventures also involve specific goals, but are usually characterized by journeys to a place, the securing of a goal, and then a return to the starting point.

HYBRIDS: A given adventure might be a combination of all three of the above, with differing mixtures of each. The type of adventure you choose to conduct is up to you.

SCENARIO STRUCTURE: Like a Story, every Scenario you design should have a Beginning, a Middle, and an End.   Each of these parts has distinct characteristics.

DEFINITIONS: These are terms which need a bit of clarification for better understanding of the materials that follow.


  • CAMPAIGN: A Campaign is a series of scenarios linked in Sequence or in Parallel by a common set of background factors and characterized by a "historical" overview.
  • SCENARIO: A Scenario is a specific Situation derived from a campaign which poses a problem to be resolved during one to three play sessions usually with a Strictly defined set of conditions to be fulfilled.
  • EVENT CHAIN: A sequence of events or encounters linked sequentially by Cause and Effect or in parallel by Geographic proximity.
  • EVENT PATH: A series of events which, in addition to their deadly potential effect, may alter the entire course of an adventure due to a choice made by the players at some decision point.
  • DECISION POINT:  A Node in an Event Path where critical decisions (direction of travel, "aid, attack or ignore", etc.) must be made. The consequences of these decisions will lead to different event paths, loops and encounters. These subsequent events and encounters should eventually lead the players back to the main Story line of the campaign, but may also serve to link independent story lines together.
  • EVENT LOOP: This is an incident which has the potential for delaying or terminating an adventure (by means of killing or injuring the adventure group), but does not otherwise significantly deflect the party from the main objective of the scenario. A complete Story line is an elaborate event loop which may contain event paths and other loops.
  • ENCOUNTER: A specific incident, meeting or event which occurs within a short period of time.
  • LINK: A relationship between one Encounter, Event Chain, Scenario or Campaign and another.

THE BEGINNING: Encounters and situations at the beginning should be fairly easy for players to resolve successfully. Conversely, unsuccessful resolutions shouldn't have disastrous consequences. You are only interested in getting your players into the spirit of your narrative, to "suspend disbelief", as  it were, and get them involved.  Your objective at this point is to shock them perhaps, or scare them a little, but NOT to terrorize them by plunging them immediately into a situation where heavy casualties are likely to be inflicted. Heavy duty adversaries introduced at the beginning should be used with extreme caution, and mainly as a device to maneuver your players into taking a course of action compatible with the design of your Scenario (see INFLUENCING PLAYERS, below).


  • GENERATING CIRCUMSTANCES: First devise an incident or situation that propels your player characters on their adventure which PERSONALLY involves them in the background material previously generated, This gives them a reason for being where they are, and where they're going.
  • BEGIN AT A LOCATION: The beginning of a scenario will either be a "Cold Start", where new characters and/or situations are generated. or "Warm Start", where a previous game session is continued "in the middle" as in an ongoing campaign, and previously established characters take up where they left off.
  • HAVE A PURPOSE: Each scenario should have an objective for the players. This may take the form of a quest for a specific item or individual, or it may involve escorting another group, or a shipment of cargo to a specific destination, etc.

GIVE THEM A CHOICE: Always have at least two alternate story lines prepared which parallel the events of the main scenario. Structure these together so that a decision by the characters sometime during opening situations launches them on the Event Path of one or another of the scenarios you have generated.

LINKED SCENARIOS: Each scenario generated should have at least one link to each of the other scenarios, allowing your players to cross over at certain crucial points during their adventure into the other parallel story lines that you have generated. This will provide for a variety of actions without sacrificing consistency. This type of linkage can be expanded as you see fit.

USING ENCOUNTERS: Each Story line (or Event Path) can be loaded with Encounters of various types previously generated from the rules or taken from other reading material.

GOLD & GLORY: A positive goal of some kind, and the promise of some sort of reward dependent on the successful outcome of the adventure is essential to maintaining the interest and motivation of your players. This goal should be introduced during the initial stages of the adventure, and should be an integral part of the story or plot outline which you construct. These goals can be as varied as seeking fabulous lost treasures, discovering ancient civilizations, rescuing a beautiful princess from the clutches of the alien menace, and so on.

PUZZLES: An unrelated succession of "monsters" to kill or be killed will soon bore them (all Dragons smell alike in the dark!). Incorporate complex situations, puzzles and problems to be solved. Make the solving of one puzzle the key to a clue to solving another, and so on, until all the pieces can be fit together for the solution (finding the treasure).

LOCATING TREASURES: At specific points in your scenarios, program opportunities to discover artifacts. These can be either of your own devising, randomly generated from the systems provided, or chosen arbitrarily from the various lists.

USING ARTIFACTS EFFECTIVELY: As plot devices in a scenario they can have many uses, of which the following is only a partial list:

  • To implement skills
  • As keys to solve puzzles or overcome obstacles posed by a scenario.
  • As episodic rewards during the course of the adventure. As the ultimate goal of the adventure campaign.


THE MIDDLE: This is the "meat and potatoes" of your adventure. Here is where the main action of your narrative will take place and where your players, by their own cleverness, stupidity or luck (always) will ultimately determine the success or failure of their efforts later on at the end of the scenario. Dangers encountered during this period of the adventure should become progressively more difficult.

       DEVELOPING COMPLICATIONS: Structure your adventures so that there is a feeling of necessity about the things that happen during the middle of the scenario. Every occurrence during this time should have some feeling of cause and effect. Set up complications so that circumstances become more and more intolerable, leading inevitably towards a crisis.

       PREPARING FOR THE NEXT GAME SESSION: The middle portion of the scenario is also the time during which you should incorporate the threads of future scenarios. Events that occur during the adventure (beings met, conflicts that occurred. etc.) should be noted for future reference when designing scenarios later on. These clues can take the form of rumors overheard while on their way somewhere else; finding an artifact (such as a map), which points to another story line, etc.

THE END OF THE ADVENTURE: This part of the scenario should flow smoothly from the middle, as this is where all the threads of your narrative come together to be resolved. The objective of the adventure is finally reached and struggled for, when the danger is the greatest.

       MAJOR CLIMAX: Every scenario should have a crucial encounter; a showdown that determines the outcome of the adventure. which should occur at the point of greatest tension. Here will occur the final test, the turning point that will determine the success or failure of your players.

       WRAPPING IT UP: After the Major Climax, the old event patterns have been destroyed, and (hopefully) new ones established. One or two minor events or encounters can be incorporated at this point to act as "Teasers" for the next session.
 
BETWEEN GAME SESSIONS: A good rule of thumb to use to gauge the passage of time between game sessions is approximately 4 to 1. This should be regarded as a sliding scale and shouldn't be rigidly adhered to Thus:
 
1 hour real time
46 hours real time
1 day real time 
1 week real time 
1 month real time 
4 hours campaign time
1 campaign day 
1 week campaign time 
6 weeks campaign time 
6 months campaign time
TAKING UP WHERE YOU LEFT OFF: When a new game session begins, you can thus take up where you left off at the last play session and your players can make the necessary tests for their characters for such things as improving element scores, acquiring skills, going to school, achieving new skill levels, prospecting and any other resolutions which require extended blocks of time.
 
NOTES ON NON PLAYER CHARACTERS:
NON PLAYER CHARACTERS: Player character types substantially controlled by the Game master. These can add a lot of color, and should not exist for the adventurers to run over. Rather, they are plot devices that the Game master can use to influence the direction of events in a scenario. The Game master can, however, temporarily pass control to other players at his convenience.

MAKING FRIENDS: During the course of their adventures, players should have the opportunity of encountering NPC's who either hold the key to or can help the players solve the essential problem posed by the scenario.

BREAKING ENEMIES: The same may be said for potential enemies as friends, but in reverse.  AS A GENERAL RULE, the most satisfying enemies to encounter are those who are radically different from the adventure group. Wasting black hearted villains is much more fun than having to do in characters with whom the group can closely identify (although this type of enemy is useful in providing elements of irony and drama to a scenario).

TRIGGER NPC's: Sucker bait items can also be NPC's with personality quirks triggered by confrontation with certain other NPC's or Aliens. The trigger might well be a certain word, or a certain sequence of events.

RECYCLED CHARACTERS: Player characters inevitably acquire a colorful history, and a personality all their own quite independent of the players themselves.  Thus, if they meet their demise during an adventure, much effort that has gone into developing the character is wasted.  By all means incorporate any player character who meets his demise in your universe as an NPC by changing his name, and making whatever other modifications that you wish to his stats.  No sense in letting a perfectly good character go to waste.

STOCK CHARACTERS: A Game master should develop a stable of NPC types to insert into his adventures.  These will often become the primary focus of many scenarios, as the interaction between them and the adventure groups generates its own history.  Every novel, movie or play has them, and in fact you can see many examples in real life.  Their names and personal characteristics may change from place to place and time to time, but their functions remain essentially the same.  A few examples are listed below:
        The Mysterious Stranger
        The Cruel Governor
        The Warpie with the Heart of Gold
        The Big Boss of the Syndicate
        The Arch Villain who Plots to Rule the Universe
        The Surly Bartender
        The Damsel in Distress
        The Seeker out to Save the Universe From Itself
        The Misunderstood Alien
        The Friendly, Good-hearted Rogue
        The World-weary Merchant
        The Crusty old Adventurer
        The Disillusioned Hermit
        The Lonely-But-Deadly Femme Fatale
        The Absent-minded Zeno
        The Young Hero on an Impossible Quest
        The Stellazon Adventuress
        The Corrupt Official
and so on ad-infinitum.  Other typical examples should spring readily to your mind.  WRITE THEM DOWN  and use them.....Frequently!

KEYING ADVENTURES TO SKILL LEVELS: Strive to maintain a balance between the abilities of your players and risks they encounter. Too little is boring, and too much is unenjoyable. Remember that players need to feel that they have a chance to "win (see CHALLENGE FACTORS).
 
THE REALITY OF DEATH: Nevertheless, the essence of adventure is RISK. The challenge of an adventure game is that of overcoming threats to the survival of the players. The risk of death must ALWAYS be present.  In this type of game for it to retain their interest. If your players don't lay their (character's) lives on the line at least once during a game session (and preferably more), they won't bother to play in another.  Remember that survival is itself one of the rewards of their success.
 
CHALLENGE FACTOR: This is a measure of the complexity of a scenario, amount of damage done, adaptations needed, unknown factors, and amount of stress present, including the amount of danger exposed to while performing a task.

CHALLENGE FACTOR CHARTS: The charts below perform two parallel functions:
      
CHART NO.1:  gives guidelines for setting up a scenario with a specific challenge factor predetermined by the Game master before the start of the adventure.
SETTING UP A SCENARIO TO MATCH A DESIRED CHALLENGE FACTOR
If you want a challenge factor of
Your Damage or Complexity
should be
UNKNOWN FACTORS & ADAPTATIONS must be
Amount of DANGER and EMOTIONAL STRESS should be
1
Low
None
Minimal
2
Low
Low
None
Some
Moderate
Minimal
3
Low
Low
Some
Massive
Moderate
Minimal
4
Low
Low
Medium
None 
Massive
None
Extreme
Moderate
Minimal
5
Low
Medium
Medium
Some
None
Some
Extreme
Moderate
Minimal
6
Low
Medium
Massive
Some
Extreme
Moderate
7
Medium
Medium
High
None
Massive
None
Extreme
Minimal
Minimal
8
Medium
Medium
High
Some
Massive
None
Extreme
Moderate
Moderate
9
High
High
High
None
Some 
Massive
Extreme
Minimal
Minimal
10
Medium
High
Massive
Some
Extreme
Moderate
11
High
High
Some
Massive
Extreme
Moderate
12
High
Massive
Extreme

 
COMPLEXITY: The number and difficulty of operations, character class complexity of skill use, etc.

ADAPTATIONS: These are out of the ordinary adjustments and abnormal procedures that have to be made to bring about a successful outcome, such as jury rigged equipment, and the use of objects, knowledge and skills for a purpose other than which they were intended.

CHALLENGE FACTOR PRIORITIES: On either chart, if more than one type of factor in a column applies then use the most difficult.
        EXAMPLE (Chart 2): If a Rigger were attempting to repair a piece of machinery of low complexity but with a high amount of damage we would know from column 1 of the chart above that "high" would be used to determine the Challenge Factor.

CHART NO.2: allows the Game master to gauge the challenge factor of a scenario that develops naturally, from the flow of events that occur spontaneously during the course of the adventure.
ASSIGNING CHALLENGE FACTORS TO ENCOUNTERED SCENARIOS
if the COMPLEXITY or AMOUNT OF DAMAGE is
and the ADAPTATIONS NECESSARY or UNKNOWN FACTORS are
and the EMOTIONAL STRESS or AMOUNT OF DANGER is
then your CHALLENGE FACTOR should be
Low
Low
Low
None
None
None
Minimal
Moderate
Extreme
1
2
4
Low
Low
Low
Some
Some
Some
Minimal
Moderate
Extreme
2
3
5
Low
Low
Low
Massive
Massive
Massive
Minimal
Moderate
Extreme
3
4
6
Medium
Medium
Medium
None
None
None
Minimal
Moderate
Extreme
4
5
7
Medium
Medium
Medium
Some
Some
Some
Minimal
Moderate
Extreme
5
6
8
Medium
Medium
Medium
Massive
Massive
Massive
Minimal
Moderate
Extreme
7
7
10
High
High
High
None
None
None
Minimal
Moderate
Extreme
7
8
9
High
High
High
Some
Some
Some
Minimal
Moderate
Extreme
9
10
11
High
High
High
Massive
Massive
Massive
Minimal
Moderate
Extreme
9
11
12

PITFALLS TO AVOID
VINDICTIVENESS: Resist the temptation to "punish" players who fail to live up to your expectations to how the game should be played. NEVER allow the game situation to deteriorate into a contest between yourself and your player. Nobody wins in a situation like that, and you will soon find Yourself playing your campaigns SOLO if you do.

INCONSISTENCY: Above all, be consistent in the way in which you vary your universe from the basic rules. ALWAYS write your variations down before play, so that you have a reference to go to and explain to your players AT THE BEGINNING of an adventure that the universe they explore varies from the established set of rules. Whenever possible, deviations from the basic framework should lean towards the side of leniency.

FAVORITISM: A random happening should NEVER mean one thing to one player and another to another.  Differential treatment of your players (a great temptation when absolute power is being wielded) can have explosive consequences, and will make your players frustrated, embittered and scarce.

DEATH TRAPS: Too many beginning game masters (and some of the more immature experienced ones) use a "Kill Ratio" to judge the "quality" of their campaign scenarios. The lower the number of survivors of an adventure (compared to the number of characters that started out), the better they judge the scenario. To be sure, "Sudden Death" pits (no saving throw), overwhelming forces, collapsing walls in rooms with no exits and other assorted horrors in which players have no chance to escape may serve to induce a sense of terror and "realism" but you will be the only one having a good time (see ESCAPE CLAUSES).

NOTES ON PLAY:

TIME MANAGEMENT DURING THE GAME: The following are suggestions to help you maintain the momentum of your game. They are guidelines for dividing the time period you have allotted for your game into the components of your adventure.

  • THE GAME SESSION: Try to plan your game session so that the events and encounters programmed last from 3 to 4 hours. You're not running a marathon. If your players want to go on longer, then by all means extend the adventure to suit individual testes, but that decision should be THEIR choice, not yours.
  • MAJOR EVENTS: Each major encounter, problem or decision point leading up to the climax of your adventure should be no more than 15 to 30 minutes long. If the events of the game appear to cause an extension of these time parameters, shorten the scenario accordingly by eliminating Event Loops and other items not essential to the resolution of the scenario.
  • MINOR EVENTS: Event Loops and detours should last no more than 5 to 10 minutes each. They are only window dressing designed to enhance your players' "suspension of disbelief". They may influence the main course of events, but not materially alter them.

SET TIME LIMITS: After you have described the environment and the nature of any encounters that turn up, give your players 30 seconds to discuss with each other what they want to do and to WRITE DOWN their characters' reactions. This will prevent the tempo of the game from dragging and avoid second guessing on the part of your players.

PRE CHECK REACTIONS: During slow moments of the session roll initial reactions of creatures end NPC's in the vicinity of players BEFORE they're encountered. That way, the pace of encounters need not be slowed by time out, unless modified by current factors, such as hostile player character actions.

STAY FLEXIBLE: Nothing about your scenarios should be considered engraved in stone. The best planned adventure can drag on and on without satisfactory resolution because your players take unexpected directions, run into unforeseen difficulties, etc. When this happens, simply bypass as many event loops, encounters, and scenario elements as you need to propel your characters along the story line. You must remain flexible enough to keep the pace of the scenario fast enough to maintain your players' interest and excitement.

HELPFUL HINTS: Give them out if you find your players bewildered by what is going on or by the clues already given, but key the giving of these hints and clues to a successful "save" of some attribute (STR, IN,  DX, CH, etc.).  ALWAYS give warning hints before they get into trouble to allow them rational alternatives.

PLAYERS ACTIONS: Never allow players to perform actions which are physically impossible for them to do, unless they possess some artifact or special power which would reasonably enable them to perform such an action.

USE ONLY RELEVANT RULES: Use only rules that apply directly to your scenario. Using book marks or paper clips to identify often referred to rules will considerably cut down on the time you search for information during the game session.

AWARDING EXPERIENCE: Award experience not only for combat and kill use, but also for intelligent, unusual, or outstanding actions (such as heroism, inspired guesses, novel uses of equipment, etc.).
 


GETTING YOUR PLAYERS INVOLVED
ENCOURAGE GROUP PARTICIPATION: Sometimes one member in a player group will stand out and dominate the direction of play through shear force of personality, causing other, less dynamic players to fade into the background of the proceedings. Don't allow this to occur for very long. Make an effort to involve the other players by addressing them directly, or by directing encounters and events in their direction.

LET PLAYERS ROLL THEIR OWN:  On any roll directly affecting a player character's fate, ALWAYS allow the player himself to roll the dice. Player "saves" should be made by the players, NOT the Game master, as should attack or defense rolls. All attempts at self improvement should also be made by the player.  Allow him to remain in complete PERSONAL control of his character. As a corollary to this, stipulate that ONLY THE PLAYER should be allowed to move his own pieces, unless he specifically grants permission to do so to SOME OTHER PLAYER for THAT TURN (note that this does not include YOU). ENFORCE THIS RULE STRICTLY. That way, if disaster does strike, the player can't blame you.

MAKE PLAYERS DECLARE INTENTIONS: Declaration of Player Intentions can be General, Detailed or Exact AT THE OPTION OF THE GAME MASTER. This can change from turn to turn, as circumstances demand.

  • GENERAL: A non-specific statement, such as move, fire, swing, use skill, or some such combination.
  • DETAILED: Move where, fire at what, swing at whom, use skill against which, etc.
  • EXACT: Move to what spot by what specified route; fire at specific area of the body; swing at nominated region of the body; declare specific action involved in using declared skill.

SUCKER BAIT: Allow your players to acquire fabulous artifacts with hidden "defects" or limitations, such as de-evolutionary radiation leak, limited energy charges, adverse reactions when in the vicinity of certain other items or by energy sources or radiation.

MAKE THEM STRUGGLE: Nothing should coma easy for your players. Rewards acquired without a struggle will not be appreciated and will soon become a bore. Rewards should be keyed to effort expended (Low risk, low reward; high risk, high reward, etc.).

ESCAPE CLAUSES:  However, players maneuvered into hopeless, no-way-out situations will become resentful (sometimes even homicidal).  So ALWAYS HAVE AT LEAST ONE WAY OUT of any situation that they find themselves in (this is very important). This can take the form of "say the magic word", figuring out the right combination, etc.

LEAVING CLUES: Remember to leave clues that will allow the players to figure out the "kicker" to such artifacts or situations in time to avoid disaster. In this way, they will have only themselves to blame if they get into trouble (they didn't HAVE to pick that gadget up).

MAINTAIN CONTROL: You must be prepared to manipulate the actions of your players and the choices that they make to suit your own ends.  If you don't, your carefully constructed scenarios will quickly unravel out of control. BUT do it with subtlety. You must at least preserve the ILLUSION of choice (see DEVELOPING COMPLICATIONS).
        EXAMPLE: Your group declares to turn left at the next star system. You wanted them to turn right because  you haven't developed that section of the universe yet. You then spontaneously generate a warp that just happens to transport them to where you wanted them to go in the first place.
They don't HAVE to know that you just dreamed it up, and they shouldn't really care if you did. Preserving the momentum of the adventure is your most important consideration.

MAKE THEM SWEAT: A series of narrow escapes out of bad situations "by the skin of their teeth" is always a good bet to keep up the excitement of your players. Pit traps and similar devices are a natural for generating this kind of tension.

WEAR THEM DOWN: Gradual attrition of player abilities and hit points by small adversaries and obstacles is an almost guaranteed method of generating tension, especially if they are aware that the worst is yet to come. At full strength, the nasty down the road may be relatively easy to take out, but not towards the end, when everyone in the party is staggering, bedraggled, and hanging on by a hangnail.

LEAVE 'EM LAUGHING:  Whenever possible, inject some comic relief into your proceedings.  It not only makes playing the game more fun but also serves to relieve the tension which inevitably builds up (with your encouragement).  Also, if your players know that you are in the habit of winging something devastating at them while they're  doubled over they'll laugh even more hysterically when you actually do it.

WINGING IT: No matter how much material you accumulate as a game master; no matter how many playing aids and ready-made scenarios that you acquire, the essential nature of Role playing adventure games will require you to rely ultimately on your "gut feelings" as to what is right.  There is no way that any set of rules can cover every eventuality.  Ad-libbing becomes a necessity.  Common sense will become our only iron-clad rule.  Don't be afraid to conduct our game sessions "off the cuff".  Without expectation, the best adventure scenarios have always been conducted by those game masters who had sense enough to recognize when to throw the rule book away and trust their own instincts.


THE WELL PLAYED GAME:  Even players who have met an untimely end during the course of the adventure should walk away from it with a feeling of satisfaction.  As the game theorist Bernard De Koven has said, "In the well played game, everybody wins."

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Feeling nostalgic, I...

One of the things I loved from the old AGs was the encounter chart.  Not that I would use them as they were but they filled me with mad ideas.  So, long story short, figured I'd share one I use for the aerial encounters, i.e., when you are flying, on a skyship/airship, that kind of things.

References to (low, mid, etc.) are to the sky layers.  low is troposphere (0-6 miles), upper is thermosphere to hitting outerspace (83 miles or higher) and mid is everything in between.

Enjoy.
  1. Air Shark, d100
  2. Pheonix
  3. Sky Ship Pirates (brigantine)
  4. Arc Bat (low flying only)
  5. Gravity Chuul (upper)
  6. Brownie Corsairs (mid)
  7. Chimera (Low, mid)
  8. Sky Squid (mid, upper)
  9. Elemental, Air, Storm, Wind
  10. Demiurge, Air, Storm, Wind
  11. Fang Wing (low)
  12. Wobra (low)
  13. Firemane (low, mid)
  14. Roc (low, mid)
  15. Fury (low, mid)
  16. Pegasus 
  17. Air Ship Pirates (galley)
  18. Griffon 
  19. Night Wings (low)
  20. Gryflisk (low, mid)
  21. Hawkmen (low, mid)
  22. Hippogryf 
  23. Dragon
  24. Wyvern
  25. Trivern
  26. Manticore (low, mid)
  27. Sky Ray (low) 
  28. Flying Serpent (low, mid)
  29. Sky Spider
  30. Spirit (any)
  31. Storm Bird
  32. Trelf Brigantine
  33. Vord
  34. Thunder Hawks 
  35. Thunder Hooves (aerial bulls) 
  36. Ssuran Faerie (cloud faerie)
  37. Nimbus Weaves (rainbow aura creatures)
  38. Cloud Giants 
  39. Storm activity (low, mid)
  40. asteroid shower (upper, mid)
  41. Cloud Islands (upper, mid)
  42. techno ship (jet, etc.)
  43. Cloud Ooze (low, mid)
  44. Air Fish
  45. Lost Soul
  46. Flying Golem
  47. Baobhan Fae (song; leads to death)
  48. Carnivorous Air
  49. Nexus Gate
  50. Lost City in the clouds
  51. Death Ogre Barge
  52. Sphynx
  53. Floating Skin (seen by debris)
  54. Gargoyle
  55. Ghost
  56. Banysh-ay
  57. Dragon
  58. Jade Serpent (wings)
  59. Aerial Kelp
  60. Cloud Forest
  61. Undead Barge
  62. Air Sharks
  63. Flying Stomach (mirror like)
  64. Bad Weather
  65. Nexus
  66. Falling debris
  67. Attack from below (accident)
  68. Drifting Flotsom
  69. Harpies
  70. Roc
  71. Hawkmen (low, mid)
  72. Vord (low, mid)
  73. Air Ship, merchantmen
  74. Trivern
  75. Nimbus Weaves
  76. Nexus
  77. Roc
  78. Manticore
  79. Spirit
  80. Sky Ship merchantment
  81. Messenger
  82. Spirit
  83. Dragon
  84. Ssuran Faerie (cloud faerie)
  85. Gargoyle
  86. Occulan Faerie (winged faerie)
  87. Mad Wings
  88. Cloud Island
  89. Techno Ship
  90. Cloud Ooze
  91. Weather
  92. Hippogryf
  93. Phased Walker (nexus like)
  94. Time Event
  95. Spirit
  96. Flying Golem
  97. Carnivorous Air
  98. Wyvern
  99. Thunder Hooves
  100. Air Sharks

Friday, November 15, 2013

An old story about Deodanths

I wrote this in 2001 for a short bit we had on a run of deodanth miniatures.  It mixes some existing material that David Hargrave wrote with some new bits.  In re-reading it, I came to two conclusions:  my writing back then lacked polish but it still got to the point.  Enjoy.

******

The Troll fled before them, the total fear of its probably fate keeping it from avoiding even slamming into the trees of the forest in its haste. All its efforts to escape were for naught as the hail of arrows stabbed its rubbery hide, several pinning it to a close tree. Desperately the Troll raked its flesh to break the arrows, rip its stuck arm, and hip free. It was too slow, and with achingly beautiful cries of hate, the chasing group of Elves split formation, half pounding by at full gallop while the others stood up in the stirrups to release another harrowing barrage of arrows into the Troll.

Bellowing a mixed cry of fear and rage, the Troll surged free of the tree and slapped down most of the incoming arrows, ignoring the burning jabs of the rest. Howling, it gouged the earth as it spun to flee, only to turn in time to take the fire-lit lance tips of the rest of the Elven hunters. Its flesh smoked and charred where the lances hit, but it stood fast for a moment, wrenching the mounted warriors to a halt. One rider’s lance snapped under the stress of their meeting, then the Troll gave before Elven vengeance. It fell on its back, vomiting the flames burning it from within in a final, futile bellow.
The Elves gathered around to watch it burn, oily smoke churning in deep coils into the sky. One sat on her horse holding her arm, which had snapped clean when the troll resisted their charge and broke her lance. They sat mute, watching in silence as fire cleansed the Troll from the land. With the last flicker of the fire on its flesh, one of the mute figures raised a horn to mouth and blew treble clarion notes to herald their victory.

For the first time in months, they broke the grim silence between them since the rampaging army that sought to despoil the land and claim the nexus gates had invaded.

Silvery tones slipped between the brothers and sisters of the Elven stalwart as several tended to their wounded comrade, while the others stood guard or rested. The Troll was the last of the marauder group that had broken from the main army, pillaging and terrorizing the area. For a short time, peace existed with its death, though for how long was hard to say in these somber times. More than one of them held scars both physical and more from the five previous assaults and this sixth invasion to claim their lands. All were strong, held in faith to persevere by the King, Arduin and the Gods.

She saw it first, perhaps fate marking her on this day. Using her newly splinted arm, she pointed at the sudden, billowing clouds of smoke, which had sprung in the sky. With narrowed eyes they all looked, mentally noting and fearing in common the growing smoke over the tops of the trees. They understood where the smoke originated. Six miles away by eye’s estimate and as one, they leapt to steed to ride forth. Horns and voices silent, the rode, the pounding feet of their Elven steeds like whispers on the fallen leaves and death in their eyes.

Time was aching long as they rode the forest trails to the Elven village they had supped at just last night. Riding closer to the columns of smoke, the smells of charring wood and flesh were thick in the air. They melted into the smoke clouded trees then entered the village as a single unit, ready for battle against whatever hell may throw. Mewling, chilling cries greeted them from the chaos of fire, smoke and screaming people. Red-eyed, black killers with flickering blades leaped to give battle to their sudden presence. Half of their steeds died outright and the dark reavers maimed several of them before the Elves realized in horror they had met someone their match, and more.

One Elf broke free, jumping from horse and scrambling to get into the forest, ignoring the pain of her broken arm and the shattered notes of the beautiful voices of her comrades lifted in pain. She planted the spurred heel of her boot into the back of the one ebon slayer blocking her path as it was occupied in slicing the tendons on the leg of another Elven warrior. The path cleared as it tumbled onto its victim, she bolted into the forest. Branches slapped her as she uncaringly dashed away as fast as she could from the horror of what they had ridden.

She jerked suddenly as lances of pain shot both ankles and tumbled into the moist, leafy ground of the forest. Breath shocked out of her by the sudden fall and pain, she rolled into ball, knees tucked against chest. Looking over her knees she realized in a single terrified moment, she had not had a chance as three of the dark-skinned warriors grinned down at her from the trees and cast more of the heavy darts that had pierced her ankles.

The three Deodanths laughed and leaped down to the fallen Elf, scooping her up to carry back to the village. They each tasted her blood, savoring it like wine before returning. The pandemonium had not stopped there, though several of the others had begun toying with the still living Elves, evoking screams to fill the air with music.

Deodanths were piling the dead for a noon meal in the burning ruins of the village center, close to the massive, rune carved rock there. The three-ton stone was clove cleanly from top to dirt, as if struck with a mighty blow from a single massive blade. A glowing oval nimbus of slowly changing purple to red hues hung between the split stone halves and still discharged Deodanths in surges. As the dim light of the dying sun from their homeland struck the nimbus and passed through, it wept drops of rich, black blood. The new arrivals sloshed through the pooling blood around the split stone, growled greetings and soon joined in on the fun.

It did not take long to leave their dying world, and barely hours passed as a horde grew in the clearing of the still burning Elven village to form the first army. They departed even as the next swam the near airless vacuum of the weakened atmosphere of their home world to enter the nexus to Arduin.

Over the next thirteen days, the invaders had conquered all of the lands of Arduin but the great keep of the High King, which alone stood to defy the dark evil of the Deodanths. There, in all the land, a horror started that not a single Elf with speaks of to this day. For they will stand, white-lipped and clench-fisted with its memory, possessed of a hate that will outlast time. In its very relentlessness, find its way to the very end of the world where it will take its final, deadly revenge.

Yet, though to most it surely seemed Arduin was doom, all was not lost, as the king was now marshalling those forces which till now he had withheld: the awesome forces of "Faerie", the power of Elven magik. Thus, the Elves, all 7,000 of them, rode out of the great keep to meet the ebon host gathered before them. They rode to the Great King's Plain to the east of Thousand Thunder Falls where the main army of the black ones awaited them with mewling cries of derisive laughter.

The ebon ones attacked first, nearly flying forward with their long leaps, slim swords whining before them, catlike battle wails seemingly sending the clouds themselves fleeing from the skies in abject terror. Before even the first ebon killer had closed half the distance, a great sound arose, accompanied by a cold, wild wind. It swirled about the Deodanth horde, leaving a rime of ice upon their hearts, for Faerie power had come! The sky seemed to buckle, blue twilight settling about the battlefield as the weird and ancient music sang its song of Elven power. Hesitating in their headlong charge, the black slayers from beyond time were flung from one side of the battlefield to the other, suddenly caught up in a force they could not understand. It was as if some vast and unseen hound had impaled them in its jaws and was worrying them as it would a squealing rat. With shocking and sudden swiftness, it was over. The plain seemed to erupt in a vast fountain of steaming black blood and blasted brains that covered the surrounding countryside with a withering stain that would take three centuries to fade.

The few hundred invaders that had held back and thus survived Elven wrath, immediately fled in all directions. Springing to action for the first time that day the remaining forces of the Elven army surged forth, the words of the Elven King ringing in their ears. "This is blade work, my brothers"! The Elven King led the charge, spurring his mount after the fleeing and broken remnants of the once dread and powerful enemy. His troops followed with a cold fire of retribution burning in their hearts.

For two weeks, the Deodanths were harried and slain, their final stand in the Southern Border Forest ending them as a threat to Arduin forever. The Elves were not without loss, the greatest being the mighty Elven King himself on the last day of the year. His mourning men laid him to rest where he fell, atop wind-whipped Sorrow Slate Mountain, forever after known as King's Rest. Laid to rest near him were the eleven Deodanths that had ambushed him and been slain in turn by his guards, (though by the time they had arrived, the king had slain five of them himself before falling).

During the climatic fighting in the Southern Border Forest, the central portion of the wood was destroyed during the battle. The portion of forest separated from it would later become known as the Forest of the Deodanth. Ultimately, the Deodanth were allowed to remain in peace within the forest, but the cost to the Deodanths was catastrophic. Never again would Deodanth and Elf meet without the likelihood of blood flowing.