You Must Understand

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The world was different then, you must understand. You have never known the sound of a river or the sigh of the breeze through the canopy, you have only ever known sand and stone. The world was beautiful, you see – green and abundant with life. It was my joy to touch each green leaf with my heart and know its secret song, a melody that has grown all too quiet in these dusty days. The days that I brought, that I bought with blood and death.

You must understand. As beautiful as the world was, it was not ours. We lived and died and even dreamed at the will and sway of the Dragons. Can you imagine? Every day you served and worked at the masters’ bidding, and in your sleep not even your own brain was free to wander. They kept our dreams hedged in by their field, by their Great Dream – the better to winnow out the rebellious, the mad, those who shone most brightly that could have lead us out of slavery. You know, as a young person you find someone that you fancy, your dreams fill with simple joys – but imagine if an alien intelligence decided who you would have these dreams of, who they thought best for you to fall in love with? Every daydream was a lie, drawing you further into the comforting truth of their dominion. We sang songs to them – songs that they put in our heads, and we believed that we had created. If a man cannot even trust his own thoughts, he is nothing. Generations of us bound in their dark web, living and dying without ever truly existing. Without truly living.

There were those that worshiped our masters as gods – and even now, who am I to argue? Their power was beyond our ken, beyond anything I have truly understood. They seemed to live in two worlds, one of body and one of mind. And those that pledged themselves to the Dragon gained a measure of freedom in both, but a deeper slavery in the quiet of their souls.

And I? I was no one special. Only through pure chance did I find a way out.

I worked on a farm. I see you smile. Yes, then as now I was a farmer. Attending the slow rituals of living things was my deepest joy. Some other workers and I were sent to till a new field on the edge of a great city. It was known that it would take some time to properly prepare the land, the soil was rocky but rich. We pitched our tents on the edge of the field, and spent the first few days in simple labor and easy joy. You felt so good when you followed orders, you see. A slow pulse of pleasure that kept a smile on every face.  But then on the third night, nature intervened – a boon from the Balance to save us. A storm – rain and lightning and the howling of the wind. Our tents were ripped asunder, and in casting around for shelter we found a cave.

A cavern of stone, suddenly quiet after the storm’s wrath. We huddled together and fell into an exhausted slumber.

And we dreamed. We dreamed our own dreams for the first time in our lives. Something in the stone shielded us from the psychic grip of our masters. Something in the stone set us free.

Dreams of anger. Dreams of grief. Dreams of simple oddity that the brain can unspool. But our dreams – the dreams that the Dragons had kept from us.

And I? I dreamed of the Titan.

It was just a Shape, then. But it burned into my mind like a torch.

We awoke into a new world. We could see the bars of our prison – see the bondage that all our races were under. We went about our work that day out of habit, but each of us made sure to lay our bedding in the cave. Plans were laid, each of us discovering his own intelligence, her own will. The preparation of the field took longer and longer, we delayed in every way we could, terrified to leave the only free space on the planet, as far as we knew. It was Rose that mastered her mind first – learned to keep the masters’ psychic grip at bay – at least the passive one that filled us with work-joy and kept our minds inert. She taught us all, and we each swore to teach this new trick on other farms.

We became liars and thieves and rebels. The rats in the walls. Over time, our numbers grew. We scavenged technology, we learned as much as we could about the stone that protected us, we —

Ah, I see. You grow impatient. You asked where the Titan came from, how we built it. I will explain as best I can, though you may find it wanting.

I saw it in my dreams, you see. You must understand, every night, the Shape. Vague at first, but growing sharper and sharper as I found materials and technology of the Dragons to use. I had no great skill in science – Jeffrey, Bantam, and Merrick all outstripped me there. But when I worked on the Titan, my hands knew where to go, I could see where each piece would fit. Even at the time I couldn’t explain it – except to say: the Titan wanted to be built. The Shape was already there, I just put the pieces together. And when I witnessed the power it brought to bear…

I do not know, even now, where the Titan came from. But I do understand its purpose – to set us free. To bring an end to tyranny, to break the chains of this world.  You must understand, now that it is yours to wield. You must understand. You must understand.

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The Truce through the First Imperial Age

And so we burned. We fought. We bled.

We danced to the dark flute of the gods. A thousand years of war.

All blamed on us, all laid at the feet of every human that survived.

The armies of the gods fought endlessly — the worst devastation of all when one of the Four would walk the fields of slaughter themselves. What mortal can stand against Sun, against Stone? The planet would have burned to a cinder, all of the People and every beast eradicated if not for the gods’ ‘mercy’. They kept us alive, each sheltered their own — their power kept us alive to continue the fight, to keep the fires burning.

That is when this planet found a name. Cynus. In the old tongue, it means ‘ashes.’

And in every army, we were the footsoldiers — the first to bleed. Humans were to blame, so each army saved a special ration of pain for our race. If not for our cunning, our adaptability, our will — there last drop of human blood would long since have been spilled on the dry ground.

But we are cunning. We can change. Our will is strong. And after a thousand years, at long last, one of our race arose to save us all. Us, and all the People of this world.

Her name was Bex. The most gifted wizard of the age, she rose through the ranks due to her wisdom and great power. Even in those days, the People would put aside their hatred if the need was great. After many years of battle, she finally found her way to the ear of Marrus, God of the Sky. Our Lord of Winds is the most clever and cunning of his siblings, then as now, and he listened eagerly to the wizard’s words when she spoke of a grand trick.  A ruse that would bring his enemies to heel, at a place of his choosing, totally defenseless.

And so it came to pass. The word went out to the armies of the Four, a great meeting would be held at the Cloud-King’s behest. A truce! A chance to speak in safety for the first time in long centuries. Perhaps, the People dared to hope, an end to the endless war.

Each of the Four came to the agreed upon place, the Vale of Maranth. They each were suspicious, but also eager to turn this meeting to their advantage. The Four arrived in the Vale, and took their seats in four stone chairs prepared for the purpose.

Artist - 二又方丈
Artist – 二又方丈

Marrus and his servant, Bex, were the last to arrive. The God of Sky tittered slightly as he slid into his seat. “Welcome, sisters and brother! I am so glad to see you here, at this place of peace.”

“Is is good to see you,” Lady Sun agreed. “Good to see you all.”

“Yes, it has been lonely so long apart,” Sea smiled.

Stone said nothing.

“Yes, good to see you here, all comfortable in your stone chairs. The stone chairs my servant has prepared for you. The stone chairs that now hold you bound and trapped forevermore!” Sky laughed with glee, slapping his hands on arms of his chair.

Sun, Stone, and Sea seethed with rage and bellowed. The mountains and plains of the entire globe rang with their furor. Sky continued to laugh at his siblings ire.

He laughed until he tried to get out of his chair.

“Yes,” Bex said stepping calmly into the center of her trap. “You are trapped too, Cloud-King.”

“How dare you?” the Zephyr Trickster laughed ruefully. “Really, how did you do this?”

“Yes, speak quickly before we tear you apart, worm,” Jocasta murmured. “Speak quickly.”

“You cannot harm me,” the wizard said. “You are bound to my power. Of your own free will you came, of your own will you sat in my chairs of stone. Your might is caught.  You cannot move, you cannot strike. If it is my wish, I will leave you here until the Unwinding of Time. Bitter, impotent, and bound.”

“I will swallow you for this,” Banu of the Black Water howled. “I will drown you and your race, your bones will waft in my waves. I sleep in your blood and will pull you down —”

“Enough,” Bex said, and the gods fell silent. “It is not my wish to bind you here. You are necessary to this world, to lock you away would only bring a slow ruin. I have brought you here to talk of Truce. You must withdraw from the fields of this world, you must agree to a Code to govern your endless game. You do not feel as the firstborn creatures of Cynus, you know nothing of heartache or sorrow. But I plead with you to hear me now, to feel one tenth of the pain you have husbanded in the creatures that fill your armies. Look upon what you have wrought and relent.”

And the gods heard her prayer. They looked one to the other, and one by one they each dropped their head in assent.

The gods and their captor spoke for many days. A careful Truce was laid, and the laws inscribed in the very fabric of reality. All of the the People waited and hoped. At last, Bex came from the Vale, alone but with a weary smile.

And then, what a time of celebration there was! That the hated blood of humanity should be the one to broker the peace was a marvel. Despised soldiers and battered slaves were welcomed into every hall, all of the People hailed the cleverness and wit of the Human.

And so it was that Bex united the great armies and lead the new Council in all matters. She taught the People of the laws that even the gods must follow, and how it could all lead to a true Balance in their world. The gods’ followers now found their deities more remote, more difficult to contact — but no less powerful when their might was brought to bear.

There followed a great time of peace, where our race, humanity, could finally take their place in pride with all of the others. We were counselors, advisors, knights, merchants, nobles. The wizard Bex had paid our debt and we were eager to move forward.

We meant so well.

But we are cunning. We can change. Our will is strong. And as we tasted the first sips of power, we found it sweet on our tongues. And so with slow patience and eager wit we found our way to it.

Was it any surprise that our cunning would again betray? That in the wake of peace and emancipation we would walk with careful step toward dominion, toward Empire?

Ah me. What fools we humans are!

– Galad Voss, Cleric of Marrus

From the Beginning of Time through the Storm Century

But of course I can tell the Story, what do you take me for? Do you not see the mark of Brightnail on my chest, do you not hear the song on my lips? Ach, pass me that flagon and I will say the words. We are all travellers, and it is good to return to the beginning when we can. And push those sugared figs a bit closer, my dear. Now, let me see, let me see — ah, yes, I have it — just as it has been spoken by the members of my order, just as old Prago told me when I was small.

Before Time, we do not speak.

But then the first minutes washed up on the shores of the dark ocean, and a story blinked its eyes and brushed sand out of its hair. We can hear its voice even now, we listen carefully to the quiet groan of the earth, the sky, the jangle of stars in the black belly of night. We tell the Story as it tells us.

At first there were only Two. Father Order and Mother Chaos found themselves here, on this simple globe. The Story does not know if they were born here or if they came from the dark ocean, but suffice it to say that in the first minutes they were here and it was a Beginning.

And they danced.

Mother Chaos would break and tear as fast as her dark hands could move and Father Order would build and mend just as quickly. Father Order would raise tumblr_mwq90d4TZF1sppixgo1_500great towers and shining bridges with his bright hands and Mother Chaos would laugh and shatter and bring them all tumbling down.

And for a time, it was enough.

But then the Two grew bored.

“It is so lonely here,” Mother said. ” So flat and empty. I grow weary of breaking the same towers day after day.”

“As I grow weary of building the same towers,” Father grumbled. “I’m guessing that you have a suggestion.”

Mother grinned “Yes, of course I do. Let’s play a game.”

“A game?” Father mused. “What kind of game?”

“A Game of Making! Together we can fill this world with all sorts of interesting things. We’ll take turns! It requires both of us to create, but we can take turns and see who makes the most interesting thing.”

Father Order scratched his nose and grinned. He was certain that Mother wanted to trick him in some way, but it was a grand idea nonetheless.  Chaos saw the excitement in his eyes and skipped in for a quick kiss before they began.

The Two joined their hands and began to make.  Order and Chaos met and the first living things drew breath. The first plants and the first insects, lichen and moss, fish and fowl, claw and talon, feather and hide. Father and Mother took great delight in the making, growing ever more inventive in their competition, endless variety in the nature of their creations. And in the heart of everything that lives an equal measure of Chaos and Order, the gift of the Creators.

And for a time, it was enough.

But then Father and Mother created People.

They had many shapes and sizes, many bends and ways — different races and faces and gazes, but still all the same, all People. One strange accident made them different than all the breathing things that had come before — or one careful trick that Mother Chaos had laid carefully across the long Time of Making, a tiny tip of the scales. Where before their children had shared equal measure of Order and Chaos – People had a little more of one, and a little less of the other. They gravitated ever so slightly towards rhythm or ruin — and since they were created last, they were the most intelligent, the most elaborate — perfect pieces for a new game.

Mother Chaos crowed with delight and Father Order frowned.

Father freed his hands and sighed. “I’m afraid this last batch is no good, they will be nothing but trouble.”

“No, they are perfect,” Mother insisted. “See, some of them are building away — they are your children, just as mine are blithely breaking and shattering. New dancers, new pieces for the game, they are wonderful.”

“Yes, some of them are quite industrious, and I’ve already been surprised at some of the things they’ve built,” Father sighed with regret. “But they must be destroyed. They are ever-changing and mercurial, see! Those over there have have fallen to you and are setting fire to the tall grass — and those over there have stopped breaking rocks and started building houses. What good are pieces that change sides? No, no – they must be destroyed.”

And Father Order raised his hand to end the People, and found Mother Chaos’ hand raised to thwart him. They locked eyes and the First Argument began.

A century of storms, tireless, ceaseless battle. The first People did their best to weather it and provide shelter to all of the other creations — though many of them were lost, obliterated by the tireless wrath of Mother and Father.

And thus our world would have remained, if not for one clever child and one stupid goat.

Ah, this is my favorite part. Drown my flagon again if you please, I don’t want to pause when I continue. Oh no! Can my plate of figs already be empty?

— Talespinner Marxo, Cleric of Seto, Idolobha

World Under Construction – Notes

An adventure needs a place. A simple place, to start — familiar, but just barely. A starting place, a place of no particular importance other than it is the place where We Began.

I want this one to have trees. A forest, though not an old one. A forest and a small town, a simple town.

Or is that too easy? Is that too much of a cliche?

I already did that one, in Riddlewood and Creon. The Young Heroes.

I’ve already done the Prison, and the Festival. The Devil’s Forge, a stone prison locked in by heat and thirst — -the Festival of the Grove, celebrating bounty among the dust and death of the endless desert.

What else is there? They Meet in the Bar? Drawn by Destiny? A Final Request?

Eh, if the cliche is boring, I’ll add an adjective. The trees are tall, the spire pines. They grow as fast as bamboo, you can hear them groaning in the night — tumblr_mrfenj0Axx1rcagdmo1_400but they never break, except by the touch of crystal axe. Does the town mine the crystal? The wood is useless, it burns poorly, and once cut from the trunk it becomes brittle and gives off a pungent smell, like stinky leather shoes left in the rain.

The town was once a city, but now the vast expanse of it is in ruin.The Spire Pines were summoned by a vengeful [druid? demon? god?] because the people angered him, most of the population migrated because of it — only a small…mine keeps the town in operation.

Is the mine too obvious? Because clearly the first adventure would take place there. Hmm.

What if the mine is suspended in the air by the spire pines? The metal contained there was so dense, that the pines could not pierce it, pushing it higher and higher into the air every year. The miners must first ascend the trees, and take great care, because a cave-in could result in a thousand foot drop to the city below. The denizens of the town take great care that their homes are outside the blast perimeter, as clearly one day the mine will fall. Should it be adamant? A precious resource in Pathfinder, but maybe too useful to give the party access to this early. But it would be unrefined…maybe.

There would have to be an inn directly  under the mine, the Pancake. Hard-scrabble miners and unsavory types. Last call is always the toast ‘Fall flat! or ‘Squish me before I have to go home.’

Why is the party there?

The Sage is In [Round One]

I put up a status on my FB fanpage asking for questions to fuel my next blog post. It’s been a while since I’ve activated my Sage prestige class, so please enjoy the shiny wisdoms here for your consumption. I’ll put up more as they come in.
Why do fools fall in love?

– Laura T.

What is a fool but an empty head?

Unencumbered by malice

or worry

or thought

they fall because

they fall without pause

gravity puts them

where they need to be

safe in the grooves

the record-turn of destiny

while we

the wise resist

our brains heavy and thick

with proud lines and numbers

clatter across the vinyl

while the fools

fall deep

into the simple clasp

of moss and time and

the slow revolve.

If you were going to play a pirate character in Pathfinder would you a) go Rogue or Fighter? b) what two weapons would you use? c) Drow or Tiefling?

– Daniel D.

Interesting question – I suppose it all depends on what type of ‘pirate’ that you have in mind. Are you thinking Errol Flynn – swashbuckler? Or more of an Edward Teach/Blackbeard – hardass murder dispenser? For the sake of this response, I’ll try to take the average of the two extremes.

a) Neither. I would go with a Ranger/Gunslinger multi-class. Dump most of your levels into ranger for the Two Weapon Fighting Style, and then focus all your Favored Terrain and Favored Enemy slots on aquatic types. Also training up a suitably vicious Animal Companion that could fight alongside you at sea would be wise, I recommend a Dragon Turtle.  Stack on 3-4 levels of gunslinger for the firearm proficiency and Grit points – a true swashbuckler could continuously fuel the Grit pool with all their feats of derring-do.

b) Falcata for main hand, Dragon Pistol for off. Your primary damage is going to be through melee, the spray effect of the pistol is mainly to soften up low-level mobs and disperse damage across a large group.

c) Tiefling. The bonuses to INT and DEX are key for a nimble fighter build, as well as the racial bonuses to Bluff and Stealth. Also Drow haven’t been cool since 1997.