Working on Young Wizards

Lately I’ve been trying to finish up Young Wizards. The basics of the book came pretty easily but filling and fleshing it out to full length proved to be a lot harder. Anyway, it’s coming up bit by bit.

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Love it when I’m right

Guess I missed this one folks: Elder Scrolls Online announced a while back they would indeed be going to some format of free-to-play. This was probably because the game had been so quickly marginalized that it was possible to actually miss that announcement.

This was followed by them groveling at my feet for twenty minutes and insisting I be showered with rose petals for a full year as penance for the general stupidity of ZeniMax online. Well, not really, but a man can dream anyway.

EU4 – A few suggestions from an insane fan

Europa Universalis is one of my favorite games. I admit I’ve put way too many hours into this sucker. The game is, however, evil as all get out. EU4 easily lures the player into that “one more turn” attitude that tends to make me (*cough* I mean, the player) stay up far, far too late.

For those not familiar with the series, it covers (depending on which game you play) about 1450-1815, and contra the name covers every single nation on the planet, including some tiny ones you may never had heard about. Even more insanely, the game runs for every single day in the entire time period. I assume the AI operates via kind of magic computer imported from the year 3000. That makes more send than believe they can craft AI which makes reasonable strategic decisions for each nation independently.

That said, it might be favorite game but hoo boy does it have some holes. The normally halfway-cunning AI can completely flake out at times, almost actively trying to destroy itself. But there are some areas where the game just isn’t well-designed. While you might not entirely understand the exact details here, you may get the gist.

Idea Groups

Who invented Maritime and Naval? And have they been properly smacked yet? These ideas are so narrow they mean nothing at all.

Religious Reform

I like the new Reform system implemented for the New World religions so much I’d greatly enjoy seeing this developed and implemented for other religions.

Catholicism

The Catholic Papal Influence mechanic is pretty good, although I’d probably support a change to a model where there the number of Cardinals can permanently grow over the course of the game. However, some of the bonuses are just painfully small, or at least are grossly overcosted. The Holy War bonus, for example, gives a pathetically trivial amount of manpower. Meanwhile the Church Tax is too small to even notice for most nations.

Some of these should be buffed, or preferably just the mechanic changed. Giving a percentage change to tax income or manpower regeneration that lasted for a year or so would make more sense and could be easily tweaked into usefulness. And don’t even tell me about “Send Papal Legate”. That would be far more useful if you got to choose what kind of advisor you get. As is, it’s kinda pointless. Doubling the Legitimacy or Prestige bonuses – or halving the cost, would go far towards making these more practical.

Protestantism

Protestantism was principally a nationally-focused faith as most of the churches were controlled by a national organization, so…

Well, never mind. Paradox’s latest developer diary just revealed almost exactly what I was thinking here. So… yeah.

War

Military Units

One change I’d like to see relating to military units is to get away from the pips model for deciding combat strength. The pip system is obscure and doesn’t seem to fit the macro-concept of the game. Instead, I’d suggest making all units, for a specific tech type and tech level, have the same amount of pips. However, they would have different direct bonuses. One type of units might have combat ability, another bonus morale, another a defense bonus, etc. Over the course of the game, you can gain improved bonuses.

Army Size

I’d like to see a bigger opportunity to raise armies after war begins. Ideally, war should be kind-sorta pricy, to the point where even rich nations consider how much they can actually deploy. Professional, standing regiments should have bonuses such as improved morale and discipline. However, when a serious war threatens then nations should be able to deploy much larger armies than normal, but would likely go into serious debt to do it.

One area I’d suggest changing this is to have a small force limit for your professional standing army, and a much larger limit for your total mobilization. While it’s not technically accurate, the standing force limit should be *cheaper* to keep active, while other units are actually more expensive. The reason for this is that, while technically it shouldn’t cost more, going into that mass mobilization means you’re pulling huge amounts of people away from farms and workshops in order to fill up the ranks. Yes, you could use a tax and production penalty but it’s easier conceptually for the player to understand it this way.

And return people to the manpower pool when demobilized! Gah!

Military Tradition

Slow down the loss of military tradition. It drains amazingly fast still, but you can’t gain it quickly, either. And usually fighting intelligently means you don’t gain much, or any, tradition.

Wastelands

A few more wastelands would greatly improve the game, but they probably ought to be changed in how they function. Specifically, wastelands should be uninhabited (more or less) but not completely impassible. having some more such barriers in Scandinavia, the Alps, and a few other mountain ranges would add some interesting strategic challenges. A general with high maneuver might be able to pass through. This makes them much more interesting from a gameplay point of view, while adding a little map diversity as well.

Kimenzan

An unfinished character still in process, and a long and somewhat disjointed story down at the end. I had a lot of fun writing this one, but it’s taking forever.

Savant – Physician

PHYSICAL
Strength *
Dexterity *
Stamina *****

SOCIAL
Charisma ****
Manipulation *
Appearance *

MENTAL
Perception ***
Intelligence *****
Wits *

ABILITIES:
WARRIOR
Archery *
Martial Arts *
Melee **
Thrown
War *

PRIEST
Integrity
Performance *
Presence *
Resistance
Survival

SAVANT
Craft
Investigation
Lore ****
Medicine **** (Favored)
Occult ****

CRIMINAL
Athletics
Awareness ***
Dodge ***
Larceny
Stealth

BROKER
Bureaucracy
Linguistics
Ride *
Sail
Socialize **

Backgrounds
Contacts *****
Resources

Virtues
Compassion *
Temperance ****
Conviction ***
Valor *

ESSENCE *

Willpower = Highest 2 Virtues

HEALTH
-0
-1,-1
-2,-2
-4

21 Bonus

Major Character Hooks:
Kimenzan is recovering from a terrible bout of Wasting Sickness he contracted while treating patients in one of the filthy marshlands north east of Nexus. The disease nearly added him to the long list of fatalities. For weeks he lay in bed barely able to eat, only surviving due to toughness and grit develop from years of travel and hard living. Full recovery will take many more weeks, during which he needs to take it a bit easy.

He owns a spear (actually a sword with a three-foot handle). It has a straight blade, similar to a jian or tsurugi, with a very minimal cross-guard. As it happens, this item is an artifact – it’s just not *his* artifact. It has one very minor function, in that it allows anyone who knows the proper thaumaturgical “code” to locate the swordblade anywhere in Creation. If you have a reasonably accurate map, you can even use that to pinpoint its position, or you can trace the blade’s direction instead.

Cynis Linier is something of a long-time friend and almost always visits Kimenzan whenever they are both in Nexus.

The Story of Tepet Riesz
Tepet Riesz was born to an exalted station: a Prince of the Earth in the making, endowed with the Blood of the Dragons, destined to become a Terrestrial Exalt in his own right. The son of two well-bred Dynasts, both of Tepet ancestry, with wealth dripping from their fingers and power flowing in their veins. But he was more than a collection of training, even if that’s frequently the the goal of Dynastic education. He may not have been a natural leader among the roughhousing Dynastic children, but he was a peacemaker and frequently stood up for his brothers and sisters. Given that the uncertain status of the Tepet House post-disaster led to extreme stress and uncertainty even among its younger children, a calming influence was needed. Dragon-Blooded often have wild emotions, even as children. The fact that their families often dive headfirst into feuds and political wrangling doesn’t help the already-competitive nature of Dynasts.
Riesz further excelled in his studies and mastered the essential skills of a Dynast: Riding, armed and unarmed combat, history and the classical sciences and even the basic realities of Realm politics, at least enough to appear competent. Although House Tepet does not emphasize the mystical arts, Riesz prepared to study Sorcery and the nature of spirits and demons as a properly-skilled Dragon-Blood should. From the a young age, he knew his destiny was to become a Scion on House Tepet, a living icon of all a Terrestrial can and should be.
Fate disagreed.
But day after day, year after year, Tepet Riesz did not Exalt. Oh of course – some Exalt late. A minor embarrassment and quickly forgotten. Yet eventually even the most hopeful young Dynast can’t deny the facts. Riesz discovered that every year further simply depressed his prospects. He was now simply one of the failures, an ugly fact to his family, soon to be a distant, fading memory. Tepet would give him some trivial post and ignore him.
Riesz did not take it well. Few do.
Perhaps the most obnoxious aspect was that the happy siblings Riesz protected and looked after not only had no time for him. He often wondered if it were worse to fall or never to rise, and which actually applied to him. And it was just that thought which brought him back one day to his family home in order to speak with his parents…

“Get out- get out of my house!” The words stung, but not quite as much as the odd brushes and gold-chased scissors being hurled his way. Perhaps a man with more emotional depth would have felt the words more keenly, but solid objects were defintely the more unpleasant aspect right now.
“Of course… my Lady,” Riesz said gloomily. He knew better than to talk to his mother with anything akin to familial courtesy. Better to treat her like the ranking Dynast she was.
He had to dodge a few knives and a javelin on the way out. Fortunately, the unavoidable cuts weren’t too bad. She at least wasn’t especially trying to kill. It was a small courtesy, but one Riesz appreciated.
Riesz wandered away through the expansive, elegant Tepet compound. He passed his hands over the well-worn rail. The elegant wood brought back memories. But he pushed them aside; they were too enticing.
Along the way, he had glimpsed one of his siblings and a pair of cousins, all Exalted and bearing the fine clothes and rich adornments of their station as they laughed and toasted their fortunes. More than that, they boasted of how they would serve the house and become great and glorious. Or perhaps that was merely his imagination filling in the details.
Riesz had, of course, taken the servant’s pathways, not the open corridors for the family, and quickly went past the trio. He was familiar with the passages from his youth, where they were often more convenient and quicker than the richly-appointed main halls.
If his relatives saw Riesz at all (Unlikely; why would they even glance at at the servants?) they hadn’t deigned to recognize him. Then again, his growing beard and fresh wounds meant he wouldn’t appear familiar anyway. It was for the best, Riesz decided. If the servants marked him at all, they didn’t care to make an issue of it. He clearly wasn’t part of either world, wearing the attire of a Tepet soldier, but his purposeful stride implied he knew what he was doing and servants knew not to inquire further. Riesz took a quiet detour to a small washroom to put an improvised bandages over his wounds. The gashes had mostly stopped bleeding, but even so they were another sign of his misfit mortality in a family of demigods.

Now he ventured in front of the ornate shrine to the dragons, foremost of the Tepet patron deity Mela, Master of the Skies and Wings, Lord of this or that and Lady of the Air and so on. Too many damn titles, really. You’d have to be a monk with a lot of free time just to memorize them all. It was always a comforting place for him. Apart from the odd servant sweeping or a family monk refilling the incense, no one stayed long, but it was cool in the afternoon warmth and filled with old offerings and inscriptions to spark a young boy’s imagination.
He used to dream of becoming a mighty monk and battling the villainous Anathema with his mightier fists. A boy’s silly dream perhaps, but who didn’t dare such dreams in youth?
It was a real possibility, of sorts. The Immaculates were always there. Why not join a monastery? Study the holy texts? Practice martial arts? Occasionally duck into town for drink and women and back to the monastic life by morning? He might not be a great hero, but he could least help one.
Because for Riesz, that would be an ending and not a beginning. House Tepet was not especially on the faithful or cynical side, but either way Riesz would vanish into a mass of people. And that he wasn’t prepared to do. Plus, he was moderately vain about his hair. Shave his long hair? Never!
He could, of course, re-enlist with the legions. They always needed warm bodies. With a few Dynastic connections he might rise to become a mid-level officer, and perhaps that might satisfy him. Perhaps it could even satisfy his family that Riesz wasn’t a waste. But it would be a tedious life with little point. He was supposed to do something worthwhile with his life. He was supposed to be a worthwhile Tepet.
Beside, he’d already lived the life of a soldier if only for a year. It was mostly tedium, poorly remunerated tedium at that, and the rare excitements distinctly unpleasant. He paused and pondered the ornate shrine, decorated with gold and jade of many colors. Five statues, one for each of the five dragons. Each dragon of another element, another ideal. If one path is not correct, find another.
If the path of the Dynast fails, go somewhere else.
Tepet favored the dragon of Air, or the dragon favored Tepet, and it showed in the many Air exalts of the family. But Wood, Earth, and Water – all alternatives. And Fire, too. One should never forget Fire.
Riesz turned an old, worn coin over and over in his hand as he considered Fire. Flame was ever-changeable and mutable, but omnipresent in all living things. It was always growing or dying and had to be renewed to thrive.

“Welcome,” came an all-too-familiar voice. Riesz recognized his grandfather even without seeing him. Actually, he could recognize the old man by the smell of wine if necessary. Still, grandfather had often been happy enough to play with all his descendants as children – the privilege of elders.
Riesz was startled, but he had already decided on deception if it came down to it. “Noble Tepet – I meant no offense with my presence. I came to visit your family shrine and leave an offering.” It was frank and near enough to the truth that the old Dynast Lord would be unlikely to doubt it.
The old man smiled before saying, “Well then, you are doubly welcome. May I ask why our shrine particularly?”
Riesz said, “I knew a Tepet once. He was… a friend. I wished to honor him and his family.”
The old man sat down before asking, “Oh. And what offering did you bring? Is it a cask of wine? Those tend to mysteriously empty around here. Dragons must get to them.”
Riesz actually gave a small laugh at that, and said, “Not quite, noble lord. I planned to leave my sword, actually. Seemed more fitting.”
Grandfather nodded and said, “Yes, I suppose it would be for a warrior. Is that your profession?”
Riesz looked at the statue of Mela before replying. “It was.”
“And now?” the old man asked.
Riesz looked back at his grandfather. “I do not know. Maybe I was trying to find that here. I don’t have any pressing business, as it were.”
Grandfather said, “Well, there are many paths. Some follow kings and some dragons, others follow stars or gods, and then some follow baser desires or their own hearts.
Riesz nodded and said, “We ex-warriors just say, ‘The dragons will have their due.’ It was easier to follow orders and let fate handle the rest.”
Grandfather said, “Well, you certainly were in the legions, I’ll give you that. We were saying that back in my time and I won’t mentioned how long ago that was. I expect men were saying it back in the Shogunate.”
He continued, “But you are a bit wrong there. More powerful people tend to have equally tough responsibilities.”
Riesz accepted the correction, saying, “I am too lowly to view such things properly. IF I offended, I meant no disre-.”
He was cut off when grandfather waved, annoyed, and said, “Don’t start with that. I’m way too old to waste time listening to apologies.”
“IN any case, it’s no trouble, boy,” Grandfather said. “Although… in point of helping, I should mention we have a ship sailing for Nexus in three week. I could arrange a berth for you, if you like it. Few comforts, I’m afraid, but I know the captain and he sails true.”
Riesz was about to gracefully decline, but stopped short. He hadn’t considered leaving the Realm, but he might well find better prospects elsewhere. “Perhaps I shall take up your offer, sir. They say Nexus is the most dangerous city in the world – though I’ve never visited the Threshold,” said Riesz.
Grandfather put a friendly hand on the shoulder of the young man and said, “I can think of a few more dangerous places, but not many one can easily reach. And there’s nowhere stuffed with more opportunity to accompany said danger.”
Riesz thought it over a moment. His choices seemed slender, so why not venture abroad? With a slight quaver of hesitancy, he said, “Then I would be pleased to accept.” Riesz added, “Noble Dynast, I don’t know how I could thank you. Is there some business or task I can do for you. I can’t think of anything, but whatever you might ask of me is yours.”
Grandfather pulled out his wineskin again before answering. “Perhaps you might keep an eye out for any Dragon-Bloods possessed or honor and courage. We have need of capable souls. You may have heard of our late difficulties,” said the old Dynast as he poured out a pair of cups.

The trip to the Threshold went well enough. The inner sea of Creation harbored few dangers given the constant patrols and trade traffic. Indeed, it was rare for a merchantman to be out of sight of another vessel or two until or unless you ventured far out to sea, simply given the volume of trade. Riesz spent his days reading and asking the crew about Nexus, otherwise standing on the bow and watching the seas ahead. Waiting for the future.
As it happened, however, he was not the only Dynast aboard the Merry Widow. Riesz immediately identified the Terrestrial as a Cynis, simply by the way he flaunted wealth. Other yYnasts might flash their status, but rarely did they so obviously carry money in public. Yet he was also clearly quite young and had no doubt recently graduated from school, that he was still wearing a coat marked with the emblem of the Heptagram. This have Riesz an easy opening to introduce himself.
“It’s going to be a long trip if you don’t talk to anyone. And your choices here are a dozen half-drunk sailors, and myself. And I’m only a quarter-drunk right now,” he said.
The sorcerer blinked in confusion as his looked up from his books. No matter what kind of powers he might have mastered, he seemed small, almost mousy in character.
Riesz said, “I mean, we’re not going to arrive for weeks, so we may as well chat while the weather’s nice. And you don’t seem like you care to talk to the crew. Then again, I can’t much blame you, as they don’t look like they’re much for books.”
The youthful Dynast stuttered and said, “Did you have something specific you wanted to talk about?”
Riesz nodded politely and continued, “Actually, yes. I was curious about your name, and apart from that I saw you reading the works of Zou Yan. You must be familiar with them if you’re a Heptagram graduate.
The boy said, “Cynis Linier, still a student, and yes, I am familiar. But why are you randomly asking me about it?”
Riesz said, “Oh, there was one work in particular I’ve read and re-read recently, the Dance of Bones. Sorry it isn’t one of the more philosophical works, but the characters really came alive for me simply due to the force fo their ideas.”
Linier relaxed his shoulders, as if no longer fearing Riesz would suddenly attack him. Yet he became more animated in his expression and evidently took quite an interest in the subject. “As it happens, I agree completely. Not one of my favorites, exactly, but yes it’s an interesting treatment of the duality of existence, even if it happens to be in the form of a play. The Black Jade company did a fine treatment of it some years ago.”
Reisz asked, “Did they include the dialogue between Kitan and Jurgai? I hadn’t heard they ever performed it.”
Linier said, “Yes. It was extremely moving, actually. His commentary on the duality of all existence was exceptional, and very well treated. Although Noro does overact her parts too much.”
“And in every duality, there must be an Inferior and Superior aspect,” Riesz responded, tipping his cup.
Linier said, “I see you did read his works.”
Riesz shrugged and said, “Well, Dance of Bones is about the duality of life and death, and also mortality and divinity, after all.”
The Terrestrial sarcastically commended, “A philosopher, then? I’m terribly impressed.”
Riez let the comment roll off and said, “As I said, I’m one-quarter drunk on my mother’s side. But, for the sake of a discussion, suppose we were to follow Kitan’s question, which the play cuts off. Which is the Superior and Inferior aspect?”
“Of life and death?” said Linier. “Life is the Superior or Rising aspect, clearly. Life is both Active and Expansive. Death is passive and diminishing.”
Riez agreed, saying, “Indeed, and I think Zou Yan quite proved his point. But what of life on its own? What are the Superior and Inferior aspects of it?”
Linier shrugged and said, “Between power and powerlessness. This with, say, the Blood of the Dragons as I am, are naturally superior to men such as you. We are stronger and faster in mind and body; our power makes our deeds greater and our lives far more impactful.”
At this, Riesz almost started although he quickly understood. Linier might be a small Dynast, but he was clearly a Dynast and quite certainly had the same attitudes of his class. He had responded quickly and without the slightest doubt.
Then again, why would he have doubts? Dynasts are raised not to respond with anything except total control. Riesz knew this well from his own education.
“Then we are in agreement?” asked Linier.
Riesz replied, “Well, not entirely. Zou Yan’s three tests of Superiority and Inferiority are Activity, Expansion, and Dependence. Are we certain that Power identifies with all three?”
Linier gave him a quizzical look.
Riez continued, “Consider the nature of Power in life. Which is the really Dependant ca-?”
But Linier cut him off and said, “Powerlessness, for it is dependent on another’s power for all things.”
Riesz needed to take another drink before screwing up the courage the respond. “That seems wise. But are you certain? The individual who is powerless may be dependent on another man, but the nature of Powerlessness is not. Is it not Power which is Dependent there? The Powerful cannot exist without the Powerless, but the reverse is not true.”
Now Linier stroked his cheek, lost in thought. After several long moments of mulling it over, he said, “That is an intriguing argument. If we were to suppose that there was only one being, it would be considered Powerless, there being no other to exert itself upon. Therefore, Powerlessness would be the Superior aspect, but only if we allowed that sole criteria.”
Riesz poured out another cup and pushed it towards Linier. “So then?” he asked.
Linier smiled and accepted the wine, though taking only a small sip. “Indeed. I cannot quite see how you would argue that Powerlessness is Expansive.”
Riesz responded, “Well, does Power not tend to concentrate with time until and outside force or circumstance disrupts it? The Powerful tend, given a chance, to fight each other, reducing one after another to Powerlessness, do they not?”
“I cannot deny the truth of your words,” said Linier.
Riesz continued, “Then, Powerlessness is the Expansive force? Being the flip side, of course. Each step taken to increase Power means, ultimately, the increasing Powerlessness of another being.”
But Linier countered, “Unless, of course, Power’s nature as an Expansive force simply tends to lead Power to oppose Power. The consequences may be what they may be, but even a subordinated Power remains Power.”
“Perhaps,” said Riesz. “I will have to consider your point carefully. But let us turn to the final question, and perhaps that shall clarify the contest.”
“Indeed, and you cannot really contest this one. What could be more Active than power?” said Linier, if agreeably.
Riesz asked, “Ah, yet let us ask what the Powerful do?”
At this, Linier paused for a moment as if trying to stifle a laugh. Finally, he said, “They usually work on trying to acquire more power.” He chuckled under his breath.
Riesz asked, “What, nothing beyond that? The lonely lives of lords, then.”
Linier shrugged.
Riesz continued, if only so he could think the whole concept through. “I mean only that once you have Power, the great question becomes whether or not you have anything worthwhile to do with it. The Power, becoming its own end, encourages indolence and stasis instead of activity and dynamism.”
He paused to see if Linier wanted to respond, but the sorcerer didn’t say anything, instead carefully regarding the . ”
Let me explain what I mean again. The Empress was the Power of the world for almost an eon, as far as I know.” Linier interjected a quick nod. “And that was largely an age of relative peace, was it not? Not that there was no conflict, but it was relatively quiet compared to the conflicts of the Shogunate, or the Raksha Invasion era. The Power resided predominately with the Blessed Empress and the Realm, and therefore all accommodated themselves to her in practice if not entirely in principle.”
Linier agreed, saying, “Absolutely true. Would that they still did.”
Riesz kept on this thought, saying, “Just so (and a toast to the Realm while we’re at it) However, now she had vanished. There is now a great opportunity for Power to contest. Yet, Was this not formed by a greater Power leaving the stage?”
Linier countered by saying, “Yet this does not show that Power is Inactive.”
“You’re quite correct. But does it not show that Power tends to create placidity given a chance. It seeks a world in which it is safe and protected from chaos and fear. Powerlessness, by contrast, is not so. Powerlessness is not protected at all and usually well knows it. Because of this, the activity of the Powerless is unceasing. Day and night they labor for the small things they care about, be it a small farm or a little savings.”
“It is only a rich man who can afford to dismiss wealth, and a powerful man who can dismiss the fear of the common peasant or laborer that everything he has might at any time be taken from him, for the slightest misstep or no misstep at all, merely by the whim of a vindictive or merely cruel overlord. And that, of course, leaves alone the weakness of a frontier herder against the depredations of beastmen.”
Linier seemed to regard Riesz’ monologue with a certain distracted confusion.
Riesz gave a small laugh and said, “well, ignore my rambling, good Dragon-Blood. Here, take another cup. It’s a bit warm out to be talking philosophical studies.”
Instead, the conversation steered to family and fortune, for both men were travelling for both of those reasons. Riesz to escape one and find fortune, and Linier because his family had sent him to ensure the other. And in this way they passed the weeks aboard ship.

Day after day, the Merry Widow cut through the waves. Riesz saw many parts of the world then, if from a ship’s prow. Lookshy and many of the towns and cities along the river. The ship stopped only briefly to pick up supplies and fresher water. Riesz even considered stepping off – but Nexus beckoned, vivid in dream and dripping with coin – at least in legends. He took the time to stop and meet with the locals at least. Beside, having a quick drink in the dock-front bars was a welcome change from the irritating rocking of the ship.
Cynis Linier had stepped off at the first stop, amid some toasts and farewells and promises to meet again. Riesz was not certain if a real friendship between a Terrestrial and mere mortal could truly persist. But either was, it was good to have found a kindred soul of some kind. The bookish sorcerer needed a bit of confidence, and perhaps Riesz’s (false) confidence had helped the lonely Dragon-Blood.

But finally the ship began to close on Nexus. Riesz smelled it long before he could see it, unfortunately. That, the old salts warned him about. Unlike the clean cities and fair weather of the Realm, Nexus had erratic sanitation and constant foundry-work, leading to a billious haze over all the lowlands and whichever way the wind saw fit to blow. Even so, the winds carrying the ship didn’t entirely disperse the odor.
And – the docks themselves. Nothing like the Realm to Riesz’s eye. The ships were a motley collection of everything from garbage scows to fat traders to armored warships, all crammed together over the vast yards stretching around an entire peninsula.
Still, foul or fair, it was a new chance – a new life, if he could survive it. Tepet Riesz had boarded a ship with little more than hope. But Kimenzan would be the one who left. A new life – a new name.
Besides, it was unwise to too openly advertise blood of the Realm out here. In fact, it was unwise to openly advertise anything exceptional or unusual in Lookshy, or so he’d been told. At least, you shouldn’t until you knew what you were doing.
So Kimenzan left the Merry Widow’s gangplank, and began making his way through Nexus. His goal was simple enough: find one of the city’s overflowing population of mercenary companies, and join up.
This wasn’t particularly hard. Mercenary companies are almost always hiring between jobs, and in Nexus there are enough of them to populate a few small cities on their own. The difficulty was in joining up as more than sword fodder.
Here, Kimenzan’s military training came in very handy. Not just trained with the sword, he was also capable of following orders and familiar with most standard tactics used in the Realm. Such things were also common in the Thresh-hold, and put him at a significant advantage over other recruits. And, as he explained, he was trained extensively in all kinds of battlefield medicine.
Thus it was that within a few days, the Company of the Sacred Sharp Shark-like Sparking Silver Spear accepted its newest member. The rank was low and the pay worse – but it came with a free bunk and all the loot you could steal on campaign. Of course, they were between wars at the moment, hence their active presence in the city. That wouldn’t last for long – too many lucrative contracts and too much plunder.
By general agreement, no mercenary asked another about his past, though some shared it by choice. On the whole, though, enough were fleeing the law, bad memories, or awkward situations that no-one felt the need to ask such things. If they guessed at Kimenzan’s origins from his crisp manners, military bearing, or Realm accent, no one cared to so say. More than likely, none of the mercenaries cared as long as he did his job.
Which he did. In their first campaign against the Self-Named King of Heronima, The Spears suddenly pointed out that it might be wise to get water upstream from the lavatory facilities. And that clean instruments and an aggressive approach to camp diseases might mean more soldiers alive and ready when battle approached. The campaign ended inconclusively, but a lot more Spears came back alive and without heinous bowel discomforts.
As the previous camp doctor planned to retire, the post quickly went to Kimenzan, who also performed as surgeon for the the off-and-on campaigns of Despot of Kezart. Other campaigns between those contracts also gave extensive opportunities to practice surgery.
And these impressive skills then led the Despot to offering Kimenzan a place in his retinue as a formal Chief Doctor of Kezart. After some consideration, Kimenzan accepted and ended his three years with the Spears. He did not stay long in his new position, however, as the Despot was overthrown less than a year later.
While Kimenzan returned to Nexus, he opted not to re-join the Spears or another mercenary company. Instead, he let his quiet reputation for medical aid bring business to him. The city’s sick often needed help and were willing to pay well, while ambassadors from lands plagued by plague and sickened with syndromes would request his expertise in resolving their problems. With an ample education in First Age medicine an a wide array of practical experience, there was always Kimenzan could do, even if it was no more than quarantines to contain disease and painkillers for the dying.
The most intriguing issues involved sorting out leftover First Age messes. He figured out that you could only draw clean water from the Pool of Moalsi if you properly made an offering of spit, and that a feud between gods caused the crops of the six villages of the Medorrian Heights to wither.
And everywhere he travelled – to the far corners of the world, Kimenzan always made certain to find relatives and minor families of Tepet. Some Dragon-Blooded who decided to look after family holdings or business interests outside the Blessed Isle, but mostly quite distant relatives or allied houses. These connections proved invaluable for finding out the real issues and interests in the places he visited.

This led Kimenzan into the adventure of his life when he joined a company in order to investigate the Tomb of Fel-Ar-Goran, the Miernese Lord of Treachery. Six companions braced the tomb’s dangers in order to put to rest tomb’s angry ghost, responsible for blighting the children of a small province.
Only two came out again.
Aside from Kimenzan, the six included Hrolvr, a captain out of the north. Then came cousins Hedro and Hodrim, notorious thieves fleeing the law. Resann was the fifth companion, a Sijanese Thaumaturge needed to translate the exotic runes. Last came Fetrimo Quick Hand, a well-respected warrior who had survived more than one battle with deadly beasts.
The problem came about in two ways. First, because of money. As it happened, legends of the fabulous treasures locked inside the vault were common tavern fodder and hence widely heard, re-told, and exaggerated. The second problem? It was the Tomb of the Traitor Lord. The vilest of lying bastards. A man so sinister his right hand spontaneously turned into another left hand. A schemer so shady, he needed lanterns to read on a bright summer day.
In short, Fel-Ar-Goran was not reputed to be a nice man. Unfortunately, treason ran thick in the band of six as well. From the beginning, half the company was conspiring to kill the other half and take the treasure for themselves. Except that only Resann was the crucial link, having manipulated his conspirators into killing the others and planning to be the only survivor. Or possibly one of a duo, if convenient.
Resann knew that Kimenzan alone wasn’t dangerous enough to worry about. Hrolvr was a more important problem, but he had a plan in mind: convince one to kill the other.
The first and least of the tomb’s defenses was the Kiraugr, a terrible beast bound to defend the entrance for eternity. Hrolvr had planned for this, however, hence the inclusion of Fetrimo. His plan involved luring it into a narrow defile, then hitting the beast with grappling hooks. It worked, albeit with the usual adventurer-related disaster.
The next task was entering the caverns and climbing the Cliffs of Despair to the Pillar of Insanity, past the Pit of Even More Despair (it sounds way more intimidating in the original Sijanese). Ironically, Fetrimo was the first to die, having outlived his usefulness to Resann. Fetrimo was a conspirator, but was too dangerous to risk having as an enemy. Therefore Hedroa sliced his climbing rope with a hidden hand-crossbow and let him fall to his death. Now Resann simply needed to coordinate with Hedoa to kill the others.
However, she perished before she and Resann could fulfill their plans. Hodrim murdered her in a fit of rage when he thought the coins she’d pickpocketed from Fetrimo was wealth she’d stolen from him. This put Resann into a bind, as he needed an ally. It also put Hrolvr on serious edge, as one member of his group had openly executed another. Things calmed down, but they all knew Hodrim would be marked as kinslayer if Hrolvr took word back.
During this time, Resann deciphered the secret runes and put them on the correct path through the winding cavernways. The wrong path would have left them lost or at the mercy of traps or other tomb guardians. And it was in this labyrinth that he formed a new plan.
Resann first tried to convince Kimenzan that Hrolvr was scheming to kill them and take the treasure. But Kimenzan ironically believed Hodrim might have done it, and hence didn’t think Hrolvr was in any way responsible. This left Resann with few options, so he opted to poison the celebration wine. Resann had built up an immunity – almost required for Sijanese trap-makers and masters. Once the other had taken him to the tomb’s center, they would toast and die.
When the entered the Chamber of the Weeping Bell, they knew they were on the right trail, but would have to decipher the riddle in order to proceed. Sadly, a trilinguial pun involving two dead languages was not a challenge they had prepared for, so the only way forward was to dodge lethal slashing blades. When Hodrim became stuck, Hrolvr had to decide whether or not to save him, but finally did so.
The next challenge was the chamber of the tomb beasts, and here Hodrim deliberately tried to fall in the fighting and die a warrior rather than a traitor, but Kimenzan saved him with a well-timed spear thrust. With but one challenge left (the Door of Regret), they paused to drink. However, by a trace chance, Hodrim drank the wrong wine – the poisoned wine. Kimenzan soon realized what the effects were and knew it was a Sijanese poison.
Resann’s luck had finally run out. He had planned betrayal, but chance had ruined it. He had twisted others against each other, but they hadn’t turned. He had used his most dangerous weapon, but chance or the nature of the tomb had ruined it. Knowing his time was short, Hodrim drew his blade to stop the traitor, but Resann pierced his heart and fled under cover of blind-dust. Hodrim had only enough time for Hrolvr to grant his absolution in his death as a brave warrior.
There was but one thing to do: finish the job.

The Misadventures of Captain Mayhem

Episode 1: A Very Short Pirate

If you ask him, Captain Mayhem will spin a story of his incredible adventures and achievements. It’s at least half a lie. The usual tale goes as thus as Captain Yueh Mii Hym tells it, “He is one of the Empire of Humanity’s most successful – and annoying – small-scale pirates (those which command fleets are not considered small-scale). While he carefully avoids killing, he has few qualms about crippling a target vessel’s engines for long enough to board, incapacitate the crew, and steal everything that isn’t nailed down (although, in a few cases, he has left items of sentimental value, come to the rescue of troubled vessels, or spared cargoes because their owners could prove that they were orphans). Continue reading

The Elder Scrolls goes Online

The Elder Scrolls jumps into the online marketplace. This post was originally written before TES Online came out. So far reviews are overall positive. I hope I’m wrong about it, but we’ll see.

Such a deal I have for you: One MMO, standard design, slightly used.

There’s a pretty big question hanging over the Elder Scrolls Online, but the question isn’t actually “Can it make money?” It can surely make money, although turning a real profit is a bigger challenge. No, the major question is “Why?” Continue reading