Monday, May 22, 2017

The Lovers War & Other Stories


This is the first post in a series of posts I'm doing about my eBook, "The Lovers War & Other Stories". I had started a blog to detail the book and, like many of my projects, abandoned it; now, however, I thought it would be a great idea to combine those posts with this blog. Why not? It's all about the same topics, really.

I like to write short stories but I'll never have the patience, determination, or focus to make a living out of it unless someone decides to transform one of my creations into a Syfy Channel movie or summer blockbuster. I'm OK with that, though. A long time ago I accepted the fact that I'm more of a reader than I am a writer. I have about a dozen partially written short stories and novels on my laptop right now and, when the inspiration strikes, I like to play with them, do some editing, add a few more pages, and see where the story takes me. 

The Lovers War & Other Stories is the culmination of this stuttering, uncertain process of half-coherent musing and spurting inspiration. The stories span a period of about 5 years but some of them are rewrites from things I wrote in college, and those college pieces were often inspired by ideas I had come up with in high school. I've lost a lot of stories over the years, also. One was saved on an old word processor that my girlfriend trashed when we broke up just after graduating college; it was titled "Salvation" and featured a female heroine named Jhaesra Vorak who was on a quest to save her family from a Blood Curse that would transform all of them into powerful vampires. I gave another one to my father while he was dying in the hospital and never saw it again; I called it "A Ride in the Country" and it was about a boy who lost his father only to have him return years later as the boundaries between life and death were crumbling.


I'm going to write those stories again because I need to Jhaesra Vorak to save her family and I need that boy and his dead father to take a ride in the country. I've also considered turning both into RPG modules, and that's probably what will happen. I've already started working on an adventure where a powerful, mysterious woman named Jhaesra hires adventurers to accompany her back to her ancestral home to end a centuries long curse. Maybe that's how my unfinished stories will find new life, through roleplaying games?




Sunday, April 30, 2017

Dreamkiller


EXCERPT from "Dreamkiller" from "The Lovers War & Other Stories"

The nightmare, a wolf-headed angel with screaming children nailed to its bleeding back unfolded itself from the air in a display of impossible geometry that made the warrior's mind reel to behold. “Unholy! Unholy!” the creature cackled. “The center will not hold! Unholy! I will fall apart!” Its hooked claws streaked towards Simeon’s face.

His piercings writhed where they lay in his skin , spilling protective magic around his body; the nightmare’s claws slowed, shuddered, and hesitated long enough for the Dreamkiller to roll safely away. The beast roared in frustration and the children dying on its back wailed in response.

Simeon was on his feet and charging the living nightmare before the echo of its rage had faded. The nightmare roared again and, again, the lightning strike of its talons was retarded by the Dreamkillers magic.

DETAILS

  • A warrior priest tracks living nightmares through a post apocalyptic world. 
  • The setting is on earth but in a far flung future where magic and science co-exist, and a strange, militant version of Christianity has dominated the civilized world. The Engine is the great evil in this world and it represents untamed science, sentient machines, and a powerful AI construct that exists in the far west. 
  • The Abbott is the holy ruler of the known world and he controls it from his gilded throne in the Holy City, which can be imagined as a post apocalyptic Vatican. 

WRITERS MISCELLANY
  • Strangely enough, this entire story grew out of a single idea - wanting to create magical body piercings for Dungeons & Dragons characters. Once I had a picture of the piercings in my head, I started to think about what kind of person would wear them and how they would be used. Everything else developed from that initial musing. 
  • I wrote this short story while I was playing a lot of RIFTS, which is a wild role-playing game set in a post apocalyptic world where science, magic, cybernetics, demons, and a host of other craziness is all mixed up together.
  • I was raised Christian but I left the religion over 20 years ago and have never looked back. Still, I appreciate the mythology and archetypes that are found in Christianity and so the development of the World God and the Engine (Devil) was fun. The corruption that is obviously inherent in the Abbott and his order is an unapologetic reflection of my feelings about Christian theology. 








The Lovers War




EXCERPT

My visor telescoped, bringing a rangers face so close that I could see her blue eyes flaring reflected cannon fire, the defiant snarl of her lips as she pulled the trigger. I locked onto her left eye and, with a thought, sent a burst of dazzling laser energy ripping up the tower wall to cut both her and the crabgun into pieces of flaming debris. All along the curve of the tower Talons were returning fire, their nose turrets spraying bright death up the wall to shred our enemies and their war machines; blood and charred bits of combat suits sizzled against our d-screens as we plowed through the grisly fallout. I turned three more rangers into splashes of red against the yellow Martian sky, their crabguns continuing to fire on auto before my Talons lasers turned them into flying slag.

We were three seconds from cresting and I was checking the sat-map for more targets along the rim when the falling support leg of a destroyed crabgun bounced off Tybalt's d-screen, its 3-tons of force crashing the shield of energy for microseconds; in that single twitch of time a ranger spotted the shot and took it. Tybalt and his Talon were blasted apart as a hail of armor piercing shells ripped through them both. Seeing her lover die from her position behind him, Second Lieutenant Atai opened up with everything her Talon could throw at his killer and kept firing even after the ranger and crabgun were destroyed.

Scanning sat-maps of the roof and colony, our Talons told us that all the crabguns had either been destroyed or abandoned. Ten seconds, thirty-six rangers dead, one Hound KIA; Mars Command would consider this an acceptable loss, I considered it the end of my career.


DETAILS

  • An estranged husband and wife fight each other in a war of bitterness and revenge. 
  • I set the story on Mars because of its mythological association with war and strife. I also enjoyed the image of the Talon LAV's blasting across a barren, Martian desert while orbiting frigates pound their target with ordnance. 
  • You may notice that everyone has a name that's either African or Asian. There's a good reason. In this particular imagined future, Africa and China have become the new World Powers and their cultures have influenced the entire planet. Afro-Sino words, phrases, art, music, clothing, food, and architecture are widespread and wildly popular. 
  • Shango, Abassi, and Sekhmet are all part of a polyamorous triad, a relationship configuration that has become just as popular and common as the Afro-Sino fusion renaissance. 

WARRIOR WOMEN


Probably like most male geeks, I'm fascinated and attracted to warrior women. It's an ancient archetype that has been portrayed and discussed in literature, pop culture, history, film studies, folklore, mythology, and gender studies. We love Wonder Woman, Xena, Angelina Jolie, and Private First Class Jenette Vasquez (pictured above) because they're sexy and badass. Most of us have heard about Amazons (the spear-carrying jungle warriors, not the popular web-based business) and Joan of Arc, but the warrior woman archetype exists in many cultures and throughout history. In 692 A.D. a warrior queen named K'Abel ruled the Mayan people, Trung Trac and Trung Nhi were Vietnamese sisters who raised an army of 80,000 warriors and drove the Chinese out of there country in 40 A.D., Queen Zenobia of Syria defied the Romans and rode into battle against them, Queen Boudicca of the Great Britain burned three major Roman towns before her revolt was finally put down, and the West African kingdom of Dahomey had one of Africa's most infamous cadres of all female warriors called the Mino.

I really had a thing for Private First Class Jenette Vasquez.

I wanted to write a story about a warrior woman and at first it played out pretty typical: Sekhmet and Shango shot and sliced their way through the first few pages of typing with relative ease. But it didn't feel right. Suddenly I realized that the characters wanted me to write their last story, and I needed to understand why. I'm pleased with what I wrote, and the ending always makes my throat tighten with emotion, but I want to spend more time with Shango and Sekhmet. I want to tell the story of their first meeting, and how they fell in love, of their first mission together and the times when they saved each other from certain, bitter death on the battlefield. I want to explore the romance between the two lovers and their Triad partner, Abassi (who appears as a crack pilot in a related story that has not yet been published).

I want to tell these other stories but I can't.

Right now the story that you're getting about these two lovers is all that I have; its all they showed me, and it has to be enough until they pop up again in the future and want to share their history with me. I do hope that we will see them again, soon. I would hate for this to be the first and last time I ride with the Hellhounds. 


HELLHOUNDS

A thunderous cheer exploded across the flight deck and Rooster looked up just in time to watch five full squadrons of ASP-22's, over a hundred fighters, ignite their blinding engines a heartbeat before suddenly vanishing in a halo of ghostly blue energy. "First squadrons clear!" came the announcement over the flight deck public address system and another raucous cheer went up in response. A second steppe of fighters was moving into transporter position as Rooster returned his attention to working on the engine.

"Do you know who this troopship belongs to?"

"The Marines?" Rooster said, joining her as she worked.

"You read the work order, Rooster?" she stared at him, her mechanical eyes adjusting with an audible hiss as they focused. "Did you read the fucking work order?"

"Uh, no? I mean, yes! Hydrogen leak, between the---"

"Hellhounds," she spit the word at him, her mood suddenly darkening. "We're going to unleash an army of psychotics down there and this is what the fucking UE calls reunification."

"The UE wants to end the war," he said. "We've been fighting too long. The Hellhounds are...well...at least they'll make it quick down there."

"By killing everything that moves!" she snapped angrily. Rooster could see the young engineer struggling to control herself, face flushed, jaw clenched. She took a deep breath and suddenly her anger was gone like it had never even been there, replaced by a playful wink and a lopsided grin. "Don't get me wrong, Rooster: I'm just as loyal to the cause as everyone else on the Emperor. Guess I'm just tired of all the killing. I mean, I know we don't do any of it, not directly, but every time I refuel a fighter, or reload a k-gun, it just feels..."

Rooster blinked, looked back at the v-PAD so he didn't have to see the tears in her eyes, nodded. "Let’s get this thing ready to fly," he said, his voice suddenly strained. Ming nodded, wiped her eyes and went back to work.Hellhounds.

She was right: the Colonials were all going to die.


I've always had a fascination for the military and warfare. Hell, what boy didn't, growing up in the 80's? We had G.I. Joe, Mask, Transformers, Rambo, Chuck Norris, and the A-Team to keep our imaginations fired with the idea that war looked and sounded really fucking awesome. To this day, even as an adult who understands the horror and destruction of military conflict, I still get excited when I hear the whining shriek of a minigun or see YouTube videos of tracer fire buzzing like angry fireflies in the dark of night.

The Hellhounds are my version of a crack mercenary army outfitted in powerful bionic armor, the elite of the elite, and a fighting force that's so violent, dangerous, and effective that they are considered a WMD by most planetary governments. They are the prototype of the super soldier, outfitted with the newest and most lethal weapons systems that the United Earth Government could develop, and are so heavily modified through genetic engineering, advanced cybernetics, and military training that many don't even consider them human anymore. Hellhounds are only ever given one mission parameter: kill everything. I wanted to create a fighting force that was unrestrained by morality, ethics, or laws - a real terror on the battlefield. These men and women live, breathe, shit, and bleed war. They're authorized to use everything from hand nukes to tactical nerve gas. Their dropship is a 5,000 ton, 170 meter long thermobaric missile that can wipe an entire colony installation off the scorched face of an enemy world.

Hardcore.

I want to do something more with the Hellhounds. Right now they're just another group of power suited super warriors with really big guns. The trope has been around for a long time. I want to do something different with them, make them something special, and have even considered making them an actual pack of giant cybernetic hounds built around a human consciousness. What I had to settle for was trying to focus on the human relationships more than the technology and weapons wit regards to the Hellhounds. I've been working on some stories that explore their origins, early missions, and historical battles but nothing has become coherent enough to publish, yet.

WRITERS MISCELLANY

  • I imagine the Talon LAV's (Lighter than Air Vehicle) to resemble a streamlined combination of the Spawn Nitroriders and the Robotech Veritech Cyclone VR-041. They're heavily armed and armored hover cycles with AI operating systems that can function completely independent from their drivers. I thought about having them also transform into robot vehicles that the Hellhounds could pilot into battle but that seemed to "mechy" for me so I stuck with the LAV design. 
  • A song from the game Too Human inspired me to write this entire story. Most of my story ideas rise out of life experiences but are fired and molded by songs. Check out the song, Uprising, and read the first scene of the story while its playing; maybe you'll get the same emotional charge that I did. I mean, you probably won't since I listened to it while actually writing but...its worth a listen, anyways. 
  • In some version Sekhmet is named Ne-Ith. Both are goddesses or war, and both are Egyptian. 





Thursday, March 9, 2017

Nyambe - African Adventures




About 8 years ago I was in Pittsburgh and went to this gaming store in Oakland called Phantoms of the Attic. It’s still there, luckily, and you can find their website online here. It’s a big, rambling store packed with roleplaying games, comics, miniatures, memorabilia, and trading card games.

While I was there, I started going through their section for discounted and discontinued games. During my exploration, I came across a game called Nyambe. It was a big hardbound, its cover green and gold, stamped with what looked to me like generic African tribal symbols. The cover art showed a raging lion attacking a group of African warriors inside a tomb of sorts.

I wasn’t impressed. In fact, I thought it was silly.

I don’t remember even taking the time to flip through the book to see what it was all about. I just dismissed it out of hand. Why? It’s complicated. Part of me felt like African stuff didn’t belong in role-playing games. Right. A victim of my own self-hatred, I guess. The other part of me just felt like a White guy couldn’t do an African setting any justice without turning into a shitfest of stereotypes and racist themes.

Well, I was literally wrong about everything.

Not only does Nyambe make sense, Dolunt has managed to create a very powerful, richly detailed, and complex game system that embodies the deep, spiritual essence of a mythical African continent and RPG without using stereotypes and racist tropes. What he’s created is pretty amazing: 12 different ethnic groups, a detailed history and cosmology based on the African orisha, a collection of equipment, weapons, spells, and monsters that are unique to the land, and enough open connections in the system that a GM can easily link it to more traditional fantasy worlds.

I haven’t played it yet, but I want to; my wife will likely be my first player, just to test out the system and see what it can do. Basically, Nymabe uses the d20 system also found in Dungeons & Dragons 3.5. It’s very heavy with skills and bonuses, which means the number crunching can get tiresome, but it’s always been one of my favorites. I’ve always been a fan of having lots of skills in a game because I think it helps differentiate characters of the same type: for example, you can have three warriors in a party, all skilled at different things, making them all experts in their chosen fields.



So…Nyambe. Here is an excellent, detailed review on RPG.net that sums it all up really nicely. There is also this interview with the game creator, Chris Dolunt; check out the sidebar for more downloads and links. After I play the game, I’ll post a review on how things go.

Inspired by Nyambe, I also picked up a copy of Spears at Dawn, another great role-playing game set in a mythical African world. 

Xamosis' Cleansing



Upriver from Meeros, Dianthe Kalos and her wealthy family controls the small city of Tithys. Recently, Dianthe has come into knowledge of the whereabouts of the fabled treasure known as The Cleansing. 

She is looking for keen adventurers to retrieve it for her.

But she is not the only one interested in The Cleansing: a vengeful goddess, a warband of panthotaurs seeking retirbution, and a sinster cult of shaman-assassins also want it. The race is on to uncover the mysteries of the Flooded Temple and secure this powerful magic item - or die trying...

Xamoxis' Cleansing is a Mythras scenario for 4-6 characters who are competent in melee and magic.


Hey! Very happy to say that I got my first RPG module published by The Design Mechanism! It's for the Mythras game, which is a d100 system. You can purchase it for less than the cost of a Starbucks coffee right here.

Sunday, April 17, 2016



I've been an avid role-playing game enthusiast since I was about 10-years old. The first tabletop game I ever experienced was the classic D&D Basic Set; a friend brought the books to art class one day and asked me if I wanted to play. It was just an hour long adventure and neither of us really understood what we were doing, but it was fun and left me wanting more. I still remember, fondly, creating a ninja character who was armed with about every magic weapon in the game, including a Sunsword and Vorpal Blade. I fought Tiamat at the end of the adventure and killed her by lopping off each of her heads. It was all completely ridiculous according to the rules, but it was fun and memorable, and it made me want to play more.

I had an Atari system and a dozen games, but playing tabletop was different--better--than any of them. It allowed me to step into the fantasy world and experience the adventure in a way that nothing else did; the only thing that even came close was reading Endless Quest adventure books, and even those were a pale comparison.

Video games were fun, of course, but the story they told were all linear, pre-determined, and extremely limited with regards to player choice. Mostly, those early games gave me just a few options: move, shoot, jump, or activate something. That was about it, really; it was a pretty advanced game that gave the player all four choices.

Reading fantasy and science fiction was fun, also, and at least pulled me deeper and more completely into its world than video games. But the stories were limited in scope and already written with a definite beginning and end; I could identify with the characters but they weren't my own creations, and I had no power to affect the world that I was reading about.

Tabletop role-playing not only created a fantastic, fictional world to explore populated by strange monsters and exotic characters...it also gave me the power to create my own hero to become part of that world, and to determine that characters actions throughout not just one but a series of stories! I could shoot, jump, move, and activate something just like in a video game...but my character could also brew magical potions, sit and stare at the mountains while sharpening his sword, build a campfire, spend days studying ancient books inside an Elven library, debate with a king about his unjust laws, climb a tower and sneak in through an open window, build traps, recruit soldiers to help fight a war, bury myself in the sand to avoid a patrol of evil goblins, choose my allies, cover my face with war paint, sample different foods at the local tavern, spend time dancing with forest nymphs, and endless other things limited only by my imagination.

For a kid with a vivid imagination, tabletop role-playing offered me an experience that video games, fantasy novels, cartoons, and movies couldn't even come close to matching. With tabletop RPGs, I had the power to create my own, epic character and take him on daring adventures in a fantasy world that responded to my every action. I was part of a dramatic story but also helping shape and build that story as a player. I had the opportunity to see my character evolve over time, based on the consequences--good and bad--of my actions. The story never had to end, the ending was never already determined, and I could explore the world in deeper ways than ever before. All this freedom and excitement, and all that was required were a few cheap game books, dice, paper and pencils.

Over thirty years later, I'm still an avid role-player and love the game more now than I did back then. I've played dozens of different systems, explored a multitude of genres, written my own indie games, spent countless hours writing and designing RPG material, and have had the enjoyment of being both a player and Game Master over the many years of my hobby.

But, alas, none of that explains why this blog is called The Hero with a Brown Face. So, let me explain...