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Random Thoughts of a Game Developer

Archive for the month “March, 2012”

Essence: A Bit of Fiction, and Stuff

So, here we have a bit of fiction I’ve been working on. It’s intended to be an introduction to the setting/gamebook for my Essence Campaign Setting. So, here is a telling of the Legend of Nera of the Emerald Blade. I hope you enjoy.


Essence 20

Welcome to Essence. This ever-expanding record is meant to give form to the many, many stories of the realm. When I put the Essence RPG together, I plan to put all of these together as chapter headers. For now, I just hope you enjoy them, and maybe come to understand why I love this setting I have forged with the help of dearest friends.


“Where did it come from?” she asked in wonder gazing up into the leaves of the Golden Oak.

“No one knows for sure,” he said gazing at her. “It has stood since before the Mists fell.”

She reached out, paused, and then touched the tree with something between
reverence and awe. “It is… it is so beautiful.”

He thought he saw a tear appear at the corner of her eye, but that couldn’t be true. Solnyr do not cry – everyone knows that. “It is. It is one of the Great Gifts, the true wonders of Tyrce not made by man or nyrian or diathen. Not that diathen make wonders, of course” he added this last with a wry smile.
She didn’t notice his smile – she just gazed at the intricate veins of purest gold that ran through the bark. “It has gold – I thought humans were greedy for gold. Why have they not stripped it bare?”

Garek reached a three fingered hand to the great tree and gently stroked it. “It isn’t really gold. It’s Orichalcum – the Keerians call it Golden Jade. Neither tool nor essence can cut it. When the bark falls of its own accord, the men send their priests to gather it and melt it down to make Crown and Sceptre for a new Empress. The Tree only gives them enough for each coronation.”

She turned to him, wide-eyed – more emotion than he had ever seen from her. “Then – then the tree was made by the Gods as proof of the Crown’s claims to the Mandate?”

Garek looked thoughtful, turning his head from one side to the other. “Yes… and no. No one really knows where it came from, but if the legends are to be believed, the Tree was forged of purest love and honor – as was the Silverleaf in Sheria and the Heavenly Willow in Keer. If you want to believe the legends, then all were wrought of the same love. Would you like to hear the legend, Ale’ah?” he tried to sing the title as she had sung it, but he knew he had butchered it. He was a Weaver of Essence, not a singer. Only a bard could hope to do justice to the Solnyr tongue.

She didn’t seem to mind. In fact, Garek was certain he saw a faint smile at her lips – although whether it was amusement, curiosity, or affection that inspired it, he would never dare to guess. She sat, putting her small pack to her side and gazed up at him. Her legs were crossed at the ankle, and her chin rested on her knees. The posture looked uncomfortable to Gerek, but he had seen it often enough to know that it meant attentiveness in a Solnyr. “They will not trouble us if you tell me the tale here, under the tree, will they? It is sacred to the humans, isn’t it?”

“It is – and to my people, as far as that goes. But they know we cannot harm it. It is eternal, and no mortal thing can bring it harm.” He looked into her eyes, smiled, and told the tale.

Long, long ago, before the Mists fell, there was a great warrior named Nera Greenblade. The way they tell it here, she was a Minosian, but I’ve heard it told with her as a variety of human races: a Sherian, a Keerian, a Bseri – once, I heard the tale with Nera as a non-human – one of the sidhe, I think. I don’t believe that. She was human, if she ever was at all. Which race of humanity she came from is only important to humans.

She was not clever, or beautiful – or even pretty, nor was she possessed of might or mystic power beyond the ken of humans – but she was a true hero. Nera saved the lives of many over and over again. When the fey lords went mad and went on a Wild Hunt, she protected her fellow humans. When the fey retreated, she protected the goblins and other sidhe from the vengeance of man. She fought for peace always – but she always fought. Often with her long emerald blade, but when she could, she fought with words. Do you see?

She was proud – and rightly so – of her prowess, however, and often boasted that no woman or man could best her among fey or nyrian or humankind.

Tales came, however, that there was one man who perhaps could – a lone hunter in the Icy Wastes north of where the Terrison Holds are today. Far, far north where the Ice Bears and Frozen Lizards hunt one another for food and sport, there was a man called Kalah the Last – one of the ancient Sil, the ones humans call Dragon Men.

When Nera was confident that Fey and Man would be at peace for a time, she ventured north, seeking Kalah. It is said that she searched the frozen north for a decade seeking him out, but I don’t believe that part. In the end, she found him, and challenged him according to ancient human custom. Kalah, who knew nothing of human rites new or old, merely gazed back at her, enraptured, for she was the most beautiful thing he had ever seen, for a dragon’s eyes see no beauty in form, only in spirit. Kalah had never seen a mortal maid – his whole life was ancient war and the hunt, and he fell immediately in love with her, and he would not fight her. He would not harm her, and vowed that as long as he lived, he would never let her come to harm.

Nera tried to fight him anyway, but her months – I think it must have only been months – in the Icy Wastes had finally made her frail. She collapsed, and Kalah was at her side, stripping off his furs and wrapping her in them. He then carried her for a day and a half to his cabin, using his fiery breath to keep her warm. He spent a year nursing her back to health, caring for her every need. She taught him the Human Tongue, for there was only one such language before the Mists. He taught her Sil, the ancient language of his people. They hunted and sparred and lived together for a decade – and span I believe. They had found that rarest of treasures: true love. In fact, I do not think they would have come south at all, but something terrible happened.

No one knows exactly what it was, but something… horrifying happened. Some sages say it was a tear in the very fabric of the Realm. I do not know if I can believe it, but one story I heard from a traveler in my old village – which he claimed to have seen on an ancient tablet in the Imperial Museum – was that a comet burning brilliant green had rent the night, and the invaders had come from beyond the Realm of Clouds, from the stars themselves. The legends say whatever it was lived on fear and pain and misery, and that they had not pleasure but to spread it. Wherever the terror had come from, it threatened all the races of Tyrce with its malevolence. The Gods had forged the Diathen from the greatest animals of the wilds to aid humans and nyrians in battle against them, and the combined force of humankind, the diathen, and all the nyrians together, even standing with the Choir Celestial, were no match for this Legion of purest evil.

A young girl – most versions make her a chacal or one of my kind, but I don’t think it matters – found the two greatest warriors in the north, and told them what was happening with her last frozen breath. Kalah had no love for the peoples of Tyrce, but he would not let Nera face the Legion alone, and so they went, far again to the south.

The two great warriors first met the Legion north of the Chraestalwood, and in that battle, it is told that the combined force of Nera’s Blade and Kalah’s Spear – called Soulsaver – rent the back of the World Dragon, leaving the Rift – 1,000 feet across and bottomless, still seeping the evil of the Legion blood spilled that day. They fought the Legion through the Chraestalwood, joined by the forces of human and fae and nyrian and diathen as they went. In that great battle, Kalah sustained many wounds, but his vow to protect Nera never failed – she was unscathed, all the way to where we stand now, after a full week of constant battle.

Where we are now – that is where Kalah made good on his promise to protect Nera until he died. An arrow, bound with a dozen demon souls, pierced Kalah’s heart, and put him past any power of healing by mortal or god.

He fell, and told Nera he loved her with his last breath. Nera fell to his side and held him, covering him in tears turned to something more than gold, wrought from despair and true love.

At first, the Legion was nearly giddy, feeding from her abject misery – until one sought to touch her, to mingle her misery with physical pain as spice. That one fell, writhing and dying – and the others who had fed on her misery began to fall as well, poisoned with her purest love.

Then she rose to her feet and turned. It is said that no creature has seen true rage since that day. She raised Soulsaver in one hand, and her Emerald Blade in the other, and let out a scream that Zartinus, the Dark God/Goddess of Vengeance and Storms him/herself echoes to this day in the sound that follows lightning when it tears across the sky. It was a sound of pure sorrow, pure misery, and pure vengeance.

Nera swung her blade end felled armies. She thrust Soulsaver and drove back hordes of the Legion. The combined forces of humans, faerie, diathen, and nyrian could only follow her, mopping up the survivors.

She fought for a full year, across the whole of Minosia, across the Dreamsea, into deepest Sheria seeking only to avenge her fallen love, and when she felled the last of the Legions, she screamed again. She cast he sword and Soulsaver away from her, and where they came to rest no one knows. She fell to her knees and said only ‘It is done, my love.’ Then she began to cry tears of Mythryl, and her broken heart took her to the Gods.

Where Kalah fell, the Gods planted a new tree, and fed it with Nera’s tears of orichalcum, and this Great Golden Oak grew. Where Nera fell, the Gods planted another great tree, and fed it with her tears of Mythryl, and thus The Silverleaf grew. Where Soulsaver struck the ground in Keer, before vanishing into legend, they planted yet another tree, and fed it both orichalcum and mythryl tears, and the Heavenly Willow grew with its leaves of adamant.

The whole of Tyrce mourned,and even the Dragons wept bitter tears. In their infinite mercy, the Gods brought the Mists so that we could forget the horror, but they left enough clues behind so that we could remember the lives and deaths of Nera and Kalah – and so that we could understand the living monuments left to Honor, Love, and Just Vengeance.


#dndnext: Deal Breakers

I’ve been participating in a D&D Next discussion group on Facebook (this one to be precise). Someone there posted a comment indicating that they wanted a return to racial class limitations. My response was… energetic. It was the first time I really realized that there are things that Wizards could do with the core rules of the system that are total deal breakers to me. I mean, sure, I knew that they could (and probably will) do things I won’t like. This is different, though. There are a few things they could do that will make me shrug and say…

Until I saw the serious suggestion that racial restrictions on class selection make a return, I didn’t think there was anything they could do that would stop me from getting – at a minimum – the beginner’s set (in whatever form it may take) and trying it out. This, however, would. Which got me wondering – is there anything else that would be a deal-breaker for me? Anything else that would make me bring out my finest Eric Cartman impression? As it turns out, yes – yes there are. Some of these have already been addressed by the D&D Next dev team, so I don’t have to worry about them. Others… well, I’m not much of a worrier. I’m more of a let’s wait and see kinda guy. But if any of the stuff I’m about to go over creeps into the Core Rules, well then I won’t be joining any D&D Next games anytime soon.

Before I dive in, I want to reiterate something: I’m talking about the Core Rules – what appeared (in previous editions) in the Player’s Handbook, or in the Dungeons Master’s Guide. Even the Dungeon Master’s Guide is an okay place for some of this, provided that it’s presented as being completely optional, and not part of the core game rules. I’m not passing judgement on anyone who likes these rules either. To each his or her own, and more power to you. These, however, are the complete deal-breakers for me. These are the things that will drive me away from Next. YMMV, as always.

1: Racial Class Limitations

I might as well go into this one first, since I already mentioned it. I’ve heard it argued that allowing any race to take any class makes the classes feel “less special”. I disagree. Refusing to allow, say, Halflings to become Rangers just makes Rangers sound like a bunch of racist assholes. They probably burn crosses in the yards of any Halfling that has dared to try to do what Rangers do. What an uppity little bastard! Those halflings should know their place – they should know that all they’re good for is being thieves! Bilbo never got up to any Ranger shenanigans, after all! Now there was a “Good Halfling”.

Sorry – was that over the line? I can never tell.

One could argue that the “Ranger” lifestyle isn’t really part of Halfling culture. I disagree, but even if that was the case, so what? Even if – in your particular setting – no Halfling has ever, ever become a Ranger before, why would that stop one from becoming one now? Are Halflings incapable of dual-wielding? Nope. Are Halflings incapable of using a bow? Again, no (although they might be more comfortable with thrown weapons or slings, culturally speaking, depending on setting). Are they incapable of tracking, hunting, surviving in nature, or communing with the divine (I prefer my Rangers magic-free, but whatever)? All “no”. So why, again, can’t they be Rangers?

Now, you may want to point out something, but before you do, make sure it’s not setting specific. You could be going “Well, okay – Halfling Rangers are fine, but Dwarves shouldn’t be allowed to be Wizards/Elves shouldn’t be allowed to be Paladins/And so on”. Again, I ask you: why? Give me a reason that isn’t grounded in setting that makes this true? If you put it in the core rules – make it part of the base mechanics of the game, I mean – then that will be the default expectation. I know you can ignore any rule you want,  but if I walk into a convention for a pickup game, what do you suppose I can expect to encounter? The reasoning that if a GM won’t let you play your character in spite of the rules, find a new GM doesn’t hold water here – you’re the one asking the GM to break the rules.

Racial class limitations should be a house rule. I don’t think they have any place in the core rules, or even in official settings like Forgotten Realms or Eberron. If you want to say “In my setting, a Dwarf’s innate magic resistance means they can’t use magic” that’s fine with me (although I’ll point out that Drow have innate magic resistance and they seem to be able to use magic just fine). If you want to say “I liked it better back in the days of AD&D, so whatever setting I use, I’ll be using the racial class limmitations that appeared in those books” again, that’s fine.

As soon as you make it part of the core rules, however, you’re making it the default for everyone’s setting. I don’t want to have to justify an exception to the rules every time I walk into a new game just because I like Halfling Rangers. People who think Dwarven Mages are cool shouldn’t need to do it either, and you shouldn’t have to act like a petulant child just because a particular GM wants to play by the rules as written. “You won’t let me play an Elven Paladin because that’s what’s in the rulebook? That’s not fair! *STOMPING FOOT* How dare you follow the rules as written! Screw you guys, I’m going to find another group to play in – I hate groups that actually read the books!” That’s just… I mean, really? REALLY?

I will make a specific exception for Prestige Classes and similar, provided those PrCs are based specifically on the inherent abilities or nature of the race. A Dwarven Defender is conceptually based on the dwarf’s short-but-broad stature, for instance – something that other races just don’t have, and therefore can’t do.  It’s fairly easy to come up with a laundry list of similar ideas, and I’m fine with that. Since PrCs are, ostensibly, based on specific concepts, often tied to setting, I can even accept the culture-based ones. I wouldn’t want that in the core books, either, but I could live with it.

2: Racial Level Limitations

This is in much the same vein as my first rant, so I’m not going to harp on about it for very long. The only think I will definitely say is that these don’t make a damn bit of sense. My Elf started learning wizardry when he was 75. He is now 500 and has been adventuring the whole time in between. He hasn’t managed to get past level 11, though. Why? Because Elves can’t get past level 11 in that class.

3: Missing Dragons and other Monster Stupidity

It’s called Dungeons & Dragons. Here, let’s try that again with proper emphasis: Dungeons & DRAGONS.

When I got my copy of the 4e Monster Manual and found there were not metallic dragons in it, I was annoyed. That annoyance has grown in the intervening years into full-on nerd rage. I guess it’s a stupid thing to get worked up about, but seriously – what the hell? The Chromatic and Metallic dragons are both major players in D&D. I didn’t need five different stat blocks for each type of Chromatic dragon – I needed all the major dragons.

I also don’t need a half dozen different, poorly-flavored versions of Goblins. I need one version that I can use multiple ways. In other words, don’t pad for space in the Monster Manual. I shouldn’t need to buy a second Monster Manual just to get stats on absolutely iconic D&D creatures. Leave out the Flumph if you must, but if you try to make me buy a second Monster Manual just so I can have official stats for a Silver dragon, screw you. I won’t do it, thanks. I guess this might not stop me from playing – or even adopting and loving – D&D Next, but it will piss me off and stop me from buying more than just the core books. I’m a creative fellow. I’ll adapt stuff from older books, thanks.

Giving me an abbreviated Monster Manual because it just had to have seven pages of Goblins (from 135 to 141 in the 4e MM), however… And no – I don’t care that those pages also covered Bugbears and Hobgoblins. One full page each for Gobins, Hobgoblins, and Bugbears, and suddenly you have 4 more pages free in the book. For Metallic Dragons. Just sayin’.

4: The GSL

Not again. Not ever. I’d prefer a completely closed system to this insulting document, thank you very much. I’ve expressed my opinion on the OGL many, many times. I love it, I think it’s fantastic, and I think virtually every game system could benefit from making it’s core rules available under OGL or a similar license. I think that giving fans the freedom to make and share their own programs, tools, and books is the best thing for the hobby in general. 3/3.5e both benefited from it.

But please: if it can’t be at least as open as the OGL, then don’t insult me with some watered-down crap license that actually lets me do almost nothing. Just close it up and be done with it.


That’s all I’m coming up with right now. I suppose the third and fourth ones aren’t even a deal-breakers – they’re just stuff that will make me wary and slow to adopt. If I come up with anything else, I guess you can expect a new #dndnext: Deal Breakers column from me.

Next time on student 20 Productions: Probably something about Essence 20. With a new Mind Map, probably. And a few more details on how it works. Maybe.

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