Archive for January, 2012


New Spring: The Novel

New Spring: The Novel

On December 21, 2011 at 8:55 a.m. EST Brandon Sanderson announced to the world, “Ladies and gentlemen, A Memory of Light–the final book in The Wheel of Time–has been finished.” While there are still several revisions to be handled as well as printing, marketing and general hoopla before the book officially sees publication but this was still an important moment for fans of The Wheel of Time series. For many readers the announcement represents the culmination of a journey which began twenty two years ago in 1990 when The Eye of the World first hit the shelves. In fact, it is a moment many readers were worried would never be seen as James Oliver Rigney, Jr. (also known by his pen name, Robert Jordan among others) announced in 2006 he had been afflicted by cardiac amyloidosis, a condition which took his life in September of 2007. He continued writing until he passed away and prepared notes as well as insights with his family so the book could be completed. Later Brandon Sanderson was chosen as the writer to complete Jordan’s work.

Personally I have been a fan since I was first introduced to the series in 1995. However, as the series stretched beyond the six books which were originally planned (A Memory of Light will be the fourteenth book in the series) it became harder and harder to continue reading the books. Or perhaps it would be more accurate to say it became harder to finish each book knowing there was still so far to go before we would see the end of the story. A decision was made. Although I purchased each book as it was released I did not read them. I placed them on the shelf and forgot about them. I decided I was not going to read the series until it was complete. With Sanderson’s announcement concerning the final book and a tentative release date some time in 2012 I decided it was time to start reading The Wheel of Time once again.

However, after much consideration I decided that I could not begin reading the series by cracking open The Eye of the World. In 1999, Jordan published a novella titled New Spring in a collected anthology of modern fantasy called Legends. The novella was later expanded into New Spring: The Novel, which was the story of al’Lan Mandragoran, the last royal heir of Malkier, Moiraine Damodred, niece of King Laman Damodred of Cairhien, and Siuan Sanche, the daughter of a fisherman from Tear. The story is a prequel to the events which take place in The Eye of the World so instead of reading the books in chronologically order of publication I decided I needed to read them in the chronological order in which the story unfolds.

New Spring: The Novel is an interesting book because it gives us a new perspective on three of the most important characters in The Wheel of Time. Each of these characters are individuals who have been chosen by destiny to play an important role as the wheel turns even if doing so is perhaps the one thing they want less than anything else. Lan is heir to the lost kingdom of Malkier, a symbol of all that has been lost to the Dark Ones, and supporters rally to him in hopes that one day he will lead them to reforge his lost homeland. Moiraine is a viable candidate to claim the throne of Cairhien and the Aes Sedai have a strong desire to place one of their own upon the that very throne. Siuan comes from lowly beginnings but her strength with the One Power and her unique abilities to sort out complicated puzzles and take command of those around her doom her to rise high within the ranks of the Aes Sedai. New Spring chronicles the beginning of their journey towards the Dragon Reborn and details how influential the forces are which stand against them. For anyone who has decided to finally indulge in this epic of fantasy literature this book is the perfect place to start.

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A little background will be important for you to understand this piece. Back in mid-2009 White Wolf Games ran a contest on their forums to promote the release of their newest game line, Geist the Sin-Eaters. Participants in the contest were asked to answer a question.

“If you did die, but only for a moment – how would that inform your life?”

The talent pool in the community of White Wolf fans is pretty deep so needless to say there were a lot of fantastic answers. I knew I needed to dig deep if I wanted to submit anything that had a chance at winning the contest. Below is the entry I posted which much to my surprise was selected as the winner of the contest having received the most votes by members of the White Wolf staff. I am still honored to this day.

*****

I know I shouldn’t have been in that part of town at that of night but it is hard to pass on one of Nancy’s famous parties. It didn’t matter how much of a loser you were in the real world your sorry butt was going to get laid. Sometimes you had to pay for a good time but thirty minutes with some of those women was all I needed to feel good about myself again. I didn’t care what it cost me. Lingerie gigs in abandoned subway tunnels and open air orgies in graveyards. Yeah, Nancy was into some weird and dangerous stuff.

I was so deep into thinking about the party I didn’t even hear that piece of shit walking up behind me. Before I knew what had happened he had kicked my legs out from underneath me like the bullies did to the smaller kids back in school and my face hit the concrete. Blood gushed from my mouth and I nearly choked on a couple of my teeth. I heard a mean, grating voice yelling at me but I couldn’t make out the words. He was talking way too fast and I was moving way too slow, maybe not at all, so he kicked me hard in the ribs. I collapsed on the sidewalk and slid halfway into the muck of the street gutter.

That was the first time I saw the gun in his hand and I started to cry but I don’t know why. My tears quickly blinded me and I clawed at my own face furiously. I wanted to get up. I wanted to fight back but I was shaking too hard to move. I couldn’t even feel my legs as terror seeped through me. He yelled at me again and I tried to yell for help but the sound came out like a sickening moan. He fired his gun and I shook violently at the sharp, harsh sound of the weapon. The smell of urine and feces washed over me and I somehow knew it was my own.

I felt empty inside and dropped my arms to my sides. Whatever fight I had left in my shaking limbs was now long gone and he started to kick me in the face when I didn’t respond to his yells anymore. I didn’t try to move although I don’t think I could have if I wanted to. With a sickening crunch I felt part of my jaw come loose. The pain shot through me and I barely felt him working his way through my pockets. Unable to do anything but cry I didn’t care what he took from me at that point. When he fired the gun again there was only a short flash of pain in my chest followed quickly by a strange numbness. I couldn’t tell if he was still yelling because everything around me had quickly gone very quiet. I knew I was dying and I just let it happen.

That was the easiest part of what happened to me that night…

I don’t know how long I waited there on the street staring up at the sky. I barely noticed when it changed to a strange, twilight gray. There was no pain but I could tell there was no life either. I don’t think I was even in this world anymore as crazy as that sounds. Eventually I looked down at myself and found a gaping hole in the middle of my chest. I would have tried to talk but my jaw still hung open. It didn’t hurt but I could tell it was broken in several places. What worried me the most though was the strange, black ink that was covering most of me. I thought it was blood at first but the longer I stared I realized it was moving on its own, not flowing out of my wounds. Even worse I could feel it moving around inside me as well.

The first footstep startled me.

I hadn’t realized how truly quiet it had become until the sound of high heels on concrete cut through the air like a knife. Then I heard the second step and I knew with a certainty that the owner of those footsteps was coming for me. Something deep inside screamed at me to get up and run but that terrifying sound had paralyzed me. Even in death it seems I was a coward.

The clicking heels drew closer and the woman appeared beside me on the sidewalk. The first thing I noticed was that she looked a lot like Nancy, a dead ringer honestly, but she was dressed like one of those classy dames from a detective novel, all in black. The second thing I noticed was the black sheen to her eyes and when she smiled her teeth looked like jagged shark’s teeth. With one hand she grabbed me by the hole in my chest and slammed me against the wall of the closest building. Overcome by a new kind of fear I tried to break her hold but with a quick squeeze of her hand she reawakened the dead pain in me. I howled in agony.

She laughed at me.

She quickly tore her tongue on her teeth and black ichors gushed from her mouth. I watched in horror as her bleeding tongue slowly slid out of her mouth like a serpent and began to probe the wound in my chest. I cried. I whined. I could feel her tongue working its way through my body and she moaned in ecstasy. It felt like her tongue was siphoning off bits and pieces of me and she lingered whenever she found one of the moving pools of blackness I had seen and felt before. Pain consumed me whenever she found one and I tried to beg her to stop but the meager noises coming from me only annoyed her. With a quick tug she ripped what remained of my face away with her free hand. I would have screamed but she had removed every part of me that I needed to do so.

I felt more and more of myself slipping away into her with each painful gulp. She began to gorge herself like a glutton on my flesh. I knew I wasn’t going to die this time. This was going to be something worse.

A brilliant flash blinded me and the woman in black dropped me in a heap on the concrete. The pain she had inflicted faded quickly from my body but I didn’t dare move. When my vision cleared there was a young woman with white hair standing over me. She smiled and the gesture filled me with warmth. The woman in black had disappeared.

The woman with white hair leaned over me, “It’s not your time yet… Go back through the door…”

With those words I woke up in a hospital bed. The doctors told me they didn’t think I was going to make it when the EMTs brought me in. I had even been dead for a few minutes but I pulled through in the end. They called it a miracle. I wanted to tell them what really happened but my mouth had been wired shut and by the time they brought me something to write on I realized it would be best if I kept my silence. It also gave her time to talk to me for the first time. Somehow she had followed me back through but now she was nothing more than a voice.

Now she tells me all sorts of things. She tells me that death is a doorway and I was lucky I got to go through it twice. She tells me that there are a lot of different doors and to go through them I just need to find the right keys. She is going to teach me how to find them because if I ever pass through death’s door again the woman in black will be there waiting for me. I need to prepare myself.

Tunnels with light at the end… Out of body experiences with flying angels wearing cute diapers… Happy-go-lucky revelations that drive someone to “live their lives like never before.” That’s all a bunch of bullshit! All there is for me now is the voice that only I can hear, my quests for knowledge and the occasional errands the voice asks me to run. I don’t always understand the things she asks me to do but I owe her everything. I do whatever she asks me to.

How did my little trip to the other side inform me? There is some dark shit on the other side and you better prepare yourself. That is, unless you don’t mind classy dames cutting through your guts with their tongues. That’s how I was informed.

Shadowghast Manor

Wizard of the Coast's newest addition to the dungeon tiles collection.

To facilitate my review of the Shadowghast Manor Dungeon Tiles set from Wizards of the Coast on Examiner.com I decided to run the Tile Trek adventure titled “A Knight in Shadowghast Manor written by Ken Hart. The adventure was written specifically for this dungeon tiles set which means the set included everything I needed. I decided I wanted to run the game as a My Realms adventure set in the Forgotten Realms (Living Forgotten Realms to be more specific).

The group consisted of four adventurers who were looking for work in Waterdeep. They found employment with a minor noble in Waterdeep, Lord Arghost, who was concerned about a series of attacks against merchant caravans heading north from Waterdeep towards Neverwinter. The journey is perilous enough under normal conditions much farther to the north but these attacks were happening much closer to Waterdeep not too far from the abandoned estates of Shadowghast Manor. Lord Arghost feared brigands may be using the manor as a base of operations to launch the raids on the caravans and he was willing to pay handsomely for someone to investigate.

Following an old map provided by Lord Arghost the adventurers traveled north out of Waterdeep spending an uneventful few days on the road together. Leading the party was the honorable Sir Harbek, dwarf warpriest and servant of Amaunator who had been traveling for some time with his companion, Sir Nadarr Redscale, dragonborn barbarian. Guiding them through the terrain was the highly skilled explorer, Shailia, an elven seeker. Present with the party at the personal request of Lord Arghost (and the representative of his interests in securing the roads to the north) was Athena, human mage and magical scholar extraordinaire.

Shadowghast Manor

Approaching the manor...

As they approached Shadowghast Manor Shailia moved ahead stealthily and scouted out the perimeter of the manor itself. She noticed sentries keeping watch through the boarded windows of the manor but she could not identify who they were. Doubling back she guided the group towards the rear of the manor where they entered without alerting the sentries. Much to their surprise they found duergar guarding the rear of the manor and they launched a surprise attack before the duergar could react. Hearing the sounds of battle in the rear of the manor the sentries in the front of the manor (human guards and a duergar scout) rushed to help the duergar but they were too late. The adventurers had cut the duergar to shreds and the human guards fled while the duergar scout turned invisible and went into the crypts below to warn Arturas.

Questioning the sole remaining duergar guard the party learned they had been hired by Arturas to provide security in the manor while he performed a ritual below in the crypts. The duergar did not know exactly what the ritual would do but it had something to do with absorbing the power of Arturas’ ancestors. Searching the manor the party found a letter written by Orobius Shadowghast who told of the folly of his life and the downfall of the Shadowghast family. From the letter the party deduced there were many spirits in the crypts below which possessed immense power and perhaps allowing Arturas to complete such a ritual would be a very bad idea.

Shadowghast ManorThey began to hear the sounds of chanting coming from the crypts below. The manor began to shake and the sounds of the wailing dead tore through the area. The party descended into the crypts and moved into an antechamber and unknowingly avoided a trap on the staircase. I debated moving the trap so it would still be part of the encounter but what fun would that be. They avoided it even if they didn’t realize it. Oh well! In the antechamber they were more than successful at setting off a whirling blade trap (marked by the flame markers in the picture to the right). Shailia noticed a horrific creature coming up the stairs but then fell back to find a way to disable the trap to allow them some room to maneuver. The creature was a bloodfire ooze (not the miniature pictured but I do not have a bloodfire ooze miniature or anything like it) which can be a brutal creature to fight but it becomes even more deadly in tight quarters. With the trap keeping them pinned along the sides of the room the creature nearly TPKed the entire party. Harbek, Nadarr and Athena were all knocked unconscious and Shailia was down to 8 hit points before she landed the killing blow. There was a lot of cheering around the table. This was the hardest encounter in the adventure.

Shadowghast Manor

Facing Arturas!

Moving farther into the crypts the party found a large chamber filled with undead protecting Arturas while he worked at completing the ritual with the help of a succubus servant. They launched themselves at the undead but could not break through to Arturas before he completed his task (I gave them two rounds to do so). Arturas swelled with power and turned to face those who had attempted to thwart his efforts. The succubus used her abilities to worm her way into Nadarr’s mind and turned him against his allies while Sir Harbek locked in single combat against Arturas. Shailia and Athena focused their efforts on destroying the succubus so they could free Nadarr of the succubus’ control.

By the time they turned back to Arturas they found Sir Harbek lying on the ground broken and bloodied. The brave dwarf had held off Arturas as long as he could. Athena unleashed a fountain of flame at Arturas while Shailia began pelting him with all the spiritual energy she could muster. Sir Nadarr moved in on Arturas and continued shoving the villain back into the fountain of flames over and over again. Against their combined assault the villain could not prevail and he was defeated.

Orobius appeared before the adventurers and thanked them for saving him as well as the souls of his departed family. As a gift he healed Sir Harbek’s most grievous wounds and returned the warpriest to the land of the living.

We had a great deal of fun with this adventure and with the new dungeon tiles. The adventure was well written and very challenging. We used it as a My Realms adventure but it could have easily been included as part of any campaign in any setting.