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29-Nov-2012: The End of Fall

While governments are figuring out ways to censorship the Internet or perhaps replace it with a subscription-based provider-based network service altogether, I am trying to come up with a filter that would disable the wieving of comments section in any news concerning biology, paleonthology or evolution in general. Back in the good old days I could easily skip creationists becaused they looked funny, talked funny and waved fundie magazines around.

Now the comments thread for almost any scientific article in any language or culture is soon infested with creationists. They make erraneous statements against the said article or something specific in it, are then proven wrong by polite explanations by someone who actually knows his ass from his elbow, then they make the exact same arguments again. Apparently, they believe that if they repeat the erraneous statements (getting the 2nd law of thermodynamics ass-backwards in the context of evolution is really popular) enough times, the laws of science and nature will bend to conform them. Or at least that the "not-shit-for-brains" faction in these debates will tire of it. The latter usually happens, so they can chalk it up as another intellectual victory and start looking for the next debate.

As much as I want to promote freedom of speech, creationist activists are a category of people I would like to censorship out of existence. There are others, I admit. But it appears that even an atheist like myself has his ideological cross to bear.

"I don't agree what you are saying and think you are a waste of sperm, space and oxygen, but I will grudgingly acknowledge your right to say it while I am stuffing parsley into my ears and dying inside."


My big expectations for this November did not come true. A big prospective client could not get his act together, so the deal effectively fell through. This is not the first time and won't be the last but it sucks nevertheless. So for Burger Games, this month ended up being "good but not great". Normally I wouldn't be complaining but the disappointment over the busted deal, the stone, the flu and now the fact that our windows are covered in plastic because of outside renovations really get to me tonight. On top of that we are well and truly in the Black Box and the cover won't be lifted until in mid-February.

So how much money is Burger Games raking in? This close to the end of the year it is actually becoming clear. If I could sell all my hours (there are roughly 175 working hours in a month), it would be quite a bit. As it stands, I usually manage to sell about one third. Going freelance did not really change my income level, it changed the amount of work I have to do to get it. On the other hand, it also added a bunch of new insecurity variables, like not knowing if I am going to have any business next month, or the month after that, or... well, you get the picture. I feel a little wealthier because paying off the mortgage meant less monthly expenses but in reality the difference is not that great.

Perhaps the biggest pay-off from going freelance has been the added spare time. Now, if this summer had been as warm as the previous one, I would have ridden the shit out of my bicycle. Even now, with the two bronchitis and all, I managed to pedal over 700 kilometres. Remember, I weigh a metric ton. I have to buy my trousers from special stores. Most airlines don't have safety belts that would fit around me. For someone like me, 700 kilometers on the saddle is a hell of a journey. After my cough clears I am going to start going to the gym again but it is only to prepare for the next cycling season. Although it would be cool if I could also get myself excited about body building again.

It will take an Atkins Diet pull that off, though.

26-Nov-2012: Yes, That's Me!

Sure, getting a flu (the kind with difficult coughs like I tend to get) right after passing a stone feels a bit unfair but apparently I am writing so I am still alive. Last week I took part in the Epicon seminar, where a bunch of teachers, a controversial artist professor (Teemu "Cat-Killer" Mäki) and a few academic games researchers were discussing the use and potential of games in basic education. Woohoo! But I am not going to talk about that for less than 60 euros per hour. Instead, I like to be nit-picky and focus on David J. Gagnon. He asked what games did the audience play and I naturally replied "Skyrim". He then went on to say that despite putting 60 hours into Skyrim, he hated the game. I told him I was 1150 hours in and fucking loving it.

And here is why:

Yes, that's me. Or rather, my character, Thairan.

I am a Vampire-Assassin-Bard and right here I am playing a lute in the Ivarstead Inn. My outfit is the grey Vampire Armour topped with the gloves from the Ancient Falmer Armor. All double-enchanted (I have Enchanting 100). Sure, I am playing through the Dark Brotherhood, Thieve's Guild and Main Questlines but my real goal is to perform in all the inns of Skyrim and then start playing in the Jarls' courts. I am currently at level 47 and have visited probably less than half of all the locations in the game, so there's still hours and hours to go with this character. Thairan will not join the Companions and I avoided the Mage's College questline for a long time, until I began practising Illusion magic again. It seemed so very fitting for a bard. And I like to think I am wooing young girls with my music so I can romantically take a sip of their blood at night... even if I still have to sneak by their beds to actually do it.

Hey, he IS a vampire! Without the sparkles!

Together with its mods, the PC version of Skyrim is big enough to do what sandbox games were always supposed to do: give the player the opportunity to create their own stories and set their own goals. As long as it can do that, I will never tire of Skyrim, just as a I never quit playing roleplaying games. It is unfortunate that as a player I have to consciously avoid certain things to maintain a suspension of disbelief about my character (the dev's insistence for having all content available to all characters really sucks) but it is doable. And while the actual questlines aren't always that hot (honestly, this is something that Fallout: New Vegas did much better), when they can be used as building blocks for your personal story, your personal experience of Skyrim, they work quite well.

For example, becoming a vampire is not actually worth it from the munchkin's perspective but the weaknesses and hassles of being a daylight-avoiding blood-sucking creep add quite a bit of flavour into the game. I guess one of my Stalker RPG players hit the nail on the head when he commented that "drawbacks really made the character come alive". This seems to work in videogames too. Thairan is my 7th main character in Skyrim and with all his quirks and flaws, he has made the whole game feel fresh and exciting again. My long-term goals are to use him to explore the island of Solstide in the next DLC and reach a high enough level so I can do battle with Legendary Dragons (lvl 78, I am told, so I have to keep playing much longer than usual).

I am currently playing with the following mods, all of them from Steam Workshop (some have vanished, go figure):

  • Left Hand Rings
  • Ask Follower Skills
  • Better Dynamic Snow
  • Enhanced Distant Terrain
  • Lush Trees
  • Quest: Sea of Ghosts - Ultimate Edition -
  • XCE - Xenius Character Enhancement
  • Water and Terrain Enhancement Redux
  • Crimson Tide - Blood *New 2.2.*
  • Lush Grass
  • Fixed Followers Lite
  • Faster Vanilla Horses
  • Wraparound Perk Trees
  • Missing Apprentices
  • Helmet Requirement Remover
  • Real Mountains
  • Tailoring
  • Become a Bard (!)
  • Lighting Placement Fix
  • The Dark Brotherhood Resurrection: Part 1
  • Places: Granitehall
  • Skyforge Shield
  • The Aldmeri Domain
  • Stones of Barenziah Quest Markers
  • Vibrant Auroras
  • Static Mesh Improvement Mod
  • Shooting Stars
  • Thieves Guild Requirements - No Auto Quest Start
  • Hunting in Skyrim
  • Guard Dialogue Overhaul Lite
  • Rainbows
  • Treasure Hunt
  • The Dance of Death - Dawnguard Edition
  • Enhanced Soundtrack Part 1
  • Enhanced Soundtrack Part 2
  • New Bard Songs
  • The Paarthurnax Fix
  • Wealthy Merchants
  • Whistle
  • Lush Greens
  • Artifact Balance Overhaul
  • Skyrimg Crafting Fixes and Oversights
  • Infinite Weapon Charge of Daedric Artifacts
  • Unique Taverns Version 4.0

I used to have mods like More War and More Civilians and they did enliven the landscape. However, after finding a bunch of Stormcloak soldiers faffing about inside the bloody Sky Haven Temple, I got rid of them. For all their benefits, automated mods have a really poor sense of narrative.

23-Nov-2012: Boris is Dead

Boris Strugatsky, the second half of the brothers Arkady & Boris Strugatsky, died in a hospital in St. Petersburg on November 19th. I will forever blame myself for not going into some Russian SF con and meeting him personally. We've only communicated through letters, email and publishing agents. His passing will not change anything in the existing deals concerning Stalker RPG, although making further revisions or additions to them can be a hassle now. I am just sad that such great literary geniuses have to depart and leave us with... these motherfuckers:

Rest in Peace Boris Strugatsky!
Strugatsky was a great pillar of science fiction and inspired a generation of writers. Although S.T.A.L.K.E.R. is very different from the book "Roadside Picnic", the GSC developers were all inspired by his work, even from a young age. Thank you for your great work Boris! We will always remember you!

-S.T.A.L.K.E.R. books (Facebook)

Very different my ass! Even in death you could not give Arkady & Boris the credit they deserve, could you? I am a fan of S.T.A... trilogy but I am getting fed up with their bullshit. Dmitri Glukhovsky (the author of Metro 2033) referred to them as "the games made by thieves" and having watched these guys first rip off the Strugatskys and then undercutting their licensed game fiction authors by retroactively pulling the license, I have to agree. And speaking of Metro 2033, if THQ goes under, it might take Metro: Last Light with it. That would suck because I fucking love this trailer.

As much as I hate the very concept of roleplaying manifestos, after reading this I had to give the Turku School some credit. They were a bunch of annoying whiners back in the day but even so, the Turku School manifesto has now improved somebody's quality of life. I don't know enough about LARPing to make a difference between a Finnish Turku-LARP and a Finnish non-Turku LARP but I guess in the US the difference is much more striking. I just wish somebody would explain what it is...

Keksintösäätiö has asked me to provide an expert opinion on a roleplaying game project for the second time, which says that A) it is now possible to get grants for pen-and-paper RPG development from Keksintösäätiö and B) there are some three-headed dogs guarding that entrance. And regarding that, I want to make this statement to the rpg writers out there: I am not your friend. I am not some old geek who is supposed to *help* you get some easy money from the walking dead at Keksintösäätiö. They are footing the bill on this so I am on their side.

My job with them is to make sure that Keksintösäätiö's grant money is not wasted on somebody's personal fantasies. They called me in because they know they lack the expertise to judge pen-and-paper RPGs by themselves but they do have strict guidelines on how and why projects are to be recommended or rejected. For someone like Keksintösäätiö, funding pen-and-paper RPGs as part of the overall Finnish games industry drive is already both a leap of faith and a noble gesture, so I am going to adhere to their guidelines quite rigorously. If it means I have to bring your dreams crashing down, I will. Nothing personal. Of course, all this also means that I cannot apply for a grant myself, so all Burger Games productions are and remain self-funded.

Speaking of which, the system I cooked up for Miekkamies 2.0 should work with almost any action-heavy and cinematic/heroic setting. One of my old friends has been asking me for a cyberpunk-themed roleplaying campaign (I think he has playing too much the new Syndicate) and I am kind of curious how the system would support Taiga 2.0 or roleplaying in the setting of HAX. Hmm, come to think of it, HAX is much close to that kind of setting. We'll see.

17-Nov-2012: Stoned!

Literally. I am writing this while a kidney stone is working its way through my abdomen and I am still high as a kite from a combination of various industrial-strength painkillers. I've had kidney stones every few years ever since the Jorvi Hospital in Espoo botched the removal of my appendix in 2002 (How on Earth can you fuck up something like that in the modern times?). This time I won't be going to the hospital if I can help it because all they do is have me eat Litalgin, drink lots of fluids and take it easy. I can do all of that at home and since I am a freelancer nobody is going to give me sick leave anyways.

Erkka Leppänen has written down some more rules for movement during combat in Praedor. The current rules are based on Basic Roleplaying System: DEX x 1 meters per combat round and the effects of disengaging from combat are up to the GM and common sense. In my games, fully disengaging from combat usually requires a successful dodge or allowing the enemy a free attack as you turn your back and run off (blocking as such will not do). Of course, sensible praedors will first try to distract the enemy somehow, for example by using their action to pull down an obstacle between themselves and the enemy and then running away while the enemy negotiates with the said obstacle. But each to his own. Publishing house rules for Praedor is commendable and encouraged, even if I personally cringe at the thought of adding more complexity to the rules.

As you know, I've been tinkering with the second edition of Miekkamies for a while now and yes, it is taking shape. Whether or not I will ever actually publish it is another matter, for after releasing Stalker RPG what more could I possibly have to say? As much as I like writing swashbuckling adventures, the thought of repeating everything (or at least quite much) I've already stated about gamemastering in Stalker RPG frustrates me. If I could release Miekkamies 2.0 as a supplement to Stalker RPG, well, perhaps. On the other hand, I want to tinker with dice again. And this time with every kind of dice in the traditional RPG dice set.

The Finnish RPG authors are really fond of using D6 for everything and I've been doing that for almost 20 years. However, his time I want to break out of that box and use the whole set, from the painfully sharp D4s to the smooth, rounded, and apparently quite ancient D20s. It is not like there is anything wrong D6 but been there, done that. While I like to stress the importance of the setting for a roleplaying gamer, as a game designer I am also motivated by game mechanics design and using the full set of dice presents both new opportunities and new problems. My untested system for them is still at a prototype stage but I was still able to squeeze the core mechanics, along with use examples, to a single A4, so I think I am on a right track.

We'll see.

12-Nov-2012: Gothenburg

I am back from FSCONS in Gothenburg. Nice enough event but this year it was much more technology-oriented than last year, so I don't know if I am going there in 2013. I feel like an idiot next to these programmers and open source/society philosophers. I am a game designer, damn it! You know, a shallow person who only wants to do kewl sh1t and thinks of Global Warming mainly in terms of what kind of a post-holocaust setting that would make.

Speaking of kewl sh1t, David Braben is on Kickstarter with Elite: Dangerous, a sequel to his 1984 smash hit and perhaps the most pivotal instrument of my mental development, Elite. I had it for my C-64 and must have put hundreds of hours into it. In mind, Elite is this epic, story-driven experience where my imagination has filled in all the blanks. Since my memory can't distinguish between the actual (and admittedly rather Spartan) gameplay and all the stuff I made up for it anymore, this game a doorway into a different reality for me, a portal to a space adventure worthy of Han Solo or the Firefly crew. Later on, it also inspired me to get my first scifi roleplaying game, the MegaTraveller. I don't expect Elite: Dangerous to truly meet my stellar expectations but I really want to return there, to the controls of my very own Cobra MkIII.

The Finnish Public Broadcasting Company YLE had a marathon session of one its showns and in that show they played a session of Stalker RPG! How cool is that? It was made even cooler by the fact that the PDF sales on drivethrurpg.com have dried up this month (anticipating Christmas, perhaps?). Maybe the show will move a few copies from the Finnish stockpile instead? Also, I wonder if the PDF sales would drop off for good, would Stalker RPG eventually lose its Silver Bestseller status? Because right now that badge says it had a pretty good run for an Indie title on DTRPG. I just wish it had been even better.

I am slowly but surely getting into the right mood for starting to work on my Roadside Picnic novel, so that's going to go ahead even before my self-imposed January 1st deadline. My November is busy but thanks to an unexpected delay with one of my clients, not impossibly so. Besides, having that novel would also establish a nice framework around which to build the Stalker RPG supplement. And it would be help my concentration if I could write this obnoxious little man out of my head...

02-Nov-2012: Ode to Top Hat

If you have met me outside lately, I've probably been wearing a leather tophat with a buckle belt around the crown. I've actually had the thing for over a year but at first I was reluctant to wear such an exceptional-looking apparel and then it was summer and my brain melts very easily. I was inspired to get a top hat by my spouse, whose felt top hat has been adored and commended all over the world. And sure enough, now that I've been wearing one, I have to agree that top hats have a certain kind of magic to them. Besides, I am short and round and look funny whatever clothes I wear, so why not go the whole way?

Contrary to my prejudices, it turns out that this is actually a beneficial look for a game designer. Game design is commonly perceived to be a creative discipline (despite my NGS presentation arguing it to be more of a communicative one) and it actually hurts your professional image if you don't look at least a little bit "artistic" (read: kooky). Finally, a proper top hat as the advantages of brimmed hats in general. As someone who has to wear eyeglasses, the benefits of having a wide-brimmed hat in autumn are as obvious as they are miraculous. Also, this thing is warm, it keeps my hair from flying around even in the harshest wind and it makes my ego a few inches taller than my body. These are welcome changes, all of them.

For Burger Games, October was good but not great, although it was still hell of a lot better than August. Now we are in November and I have such high hopes for this month. Let's see. One thing I've learned over the past year and a half is that nothing is usually as good or as bad as it seems. Still, kudos to Housemarque for their most recent projects for me. After all the presentations, teaching gigs and biz development, doing some good old-fashioned game narrative design felt like therapy. I hope there is more of that in the future, even if it is not really my best-paying gig.

With the news of the next Paedor comic album being delayed by at least a year, I've been trying to find different ways to scratch my creative itches, so here we go: Miekkamies 2. Actually, it is just a framework rulebook so I can run a playtesting campaign sometime in the winter but I am nevertheless experimenting with lots of stuff: using all sorts of dice instead of just D6, unorthodox layout size (well, it is just A5, I've always envied Mike's Myrskyn Aika for its compact size) and so on. It has sort of "superhero game" -mechanics, meant to enable epic feats and character power levels way above and beyond normal. Without breaking the game and genre too much, of course.

In the process, I am learning new things about Miekkamies. Did you know that the concept of "swordbearers" as a distinct social class dates back to the very founding of the Delorian Empire? Or that Arleon is home to 8 distinct nations, even if the Delorians and the Relgians are by far the most numerous? Or that there is an entire subculture for swordsmen with their own rules of conduct that can go about as far as that of the Samurai? Yep, the list is endless. And my magic system and how it is combined with the swashbuckling genre is still a big question mark. But that's a topic for a later date.

25-Oct-2012: Gay Old Time

Yesterday I went to see Pirkko Saisio's excellent play Homo! (literally Gay!), a sort of a theatre musical of homosexuality and its history in modern Finland. Full of song and dance (they actually a sell a soundtrack of the play), the story is quite flimsy but it is not the point. The play takes the audience into a succession of scenarios where ordinary people might have come into contact with the concept of homosexuality: from memory repressions and coming-out-of-the-closet stories to political activism and repression of gays. It is something of a shotgun approach to the subject but the author fires with a wide muzzle because she knows that if she puts enough lead out, every spectator will be hit at least by one bullet. Even if that spectator is, or at least identifies himself as, a heterosexual.

My name was written on a bullet labelled The Order of the Urinal. Compared to that one scene, everything else in the play could have been so much elevator muzak. In this scene, the co-protagonist of the play meets the ghost of the gays past, namely Tom of Finland himself. The scene is an exploration of what the gay circles of Helsinki were like during the Cold War years, when homosexuality was a crime, the media was merciless and the scene ran on secret signs, personal tragedies and a constant fear of exposure. I am old enough to have seen that world and it was actually Tom of Finland who made me realize that gays were real people and not just some abstract concept I occasionally read or joked about.

I think it was the summer of 1991, the holidays after second year in high school. Tom of Finland, who had but months to live, had been catapulted into the spotlight of mainstream media for winning the Puupää Hat -award for comics in 1990. He certainly was not the first gay cartoonist to be awarded (see Tove Jansson) but the first one to openly express it in his work. Suddenly, his pin-up style pictures of muscled men in leather outfits became available as comic books. The older brother of a friend of mine received one of these books as an ironic birthday present from his friends. Of course, as everyone "knew" back in those days, homosexuality was a contagious disease that could also be transmitted by art. The poor guy climbed up walls, fearing that his friends had turned him gay.

Strangely enough, although my friend and I were only a couple of years younger, our reaction was far less extreme. Sure, we hated gays since that was what you were supposed to do but having never met anyone I could have identified as gay my hate for them was rather theoretical. We took the comic book from his brother's room (I think he might have been too afraid to touch it) to laugh at the pictures. But when I opened it, I did not feel like laughing. By then, I had been playing roleplaying games for something like seven years. I had also bought a few D&D art books, loaded with images of females in chainmail bikinis that must have been glued in place, postures revealing a tantalizing muscle groove running up impossibly long inner thighs and leather armors stretched over ample yet perky breasts topped with diamond nipples (I am looking at you, Larry Elmore).

In short, I know fantasy art when I see it. And I knew where ToF was coming from and what his target audience was looking for. And I could not judge them. Having never met, let alone spoken to, anyone I could identify as gay, I ceased to be a homophobe that day. For some years afterwards I was actually mildly curious about my own sexual identity, even if I never did anything about it (am I reading a mild pang of regret here, perhaps?). I had been suspected or accused of being gay often enough in the secondary comprehensive school: I was a recluse, I was an atheist, I was left-handed (wtf?), I was reading a lot and I openly despised most forms of organized sport. Although I had never felt physical lust for anything other than the female form (and salmiakki), I also knew that one could fall in love with someone's mind, ideas, voice or creations (just look at the rock idol phenomena or my relationship with R. E. Howard). Was somewhere out there a man who would sweep me off my feet? If so, we've never met. And it is first-come-first-served for all sexes, so he missed his chance.

I never met any real and breathing gay people until the University and in most cases it took took me years of friendship to realize (or simply to observe) that they were gay. Of course, in the University it was also hip to act bisexual but those people are now happily married with golden retrievers, strawberry-blonde children and mortgage bills you could bludgeon someone to death with.

However, during those years, I also learned that being gay continues to be a social and professional detriment. It would now be illegal to deny a teacher a job because he is gay but revealing that to the pupils (and parents) would be enough to ruin his life. And after seeing the play, I could not help but wonder how many ice-hockey players or footballers were still hiding in their lockers. And with a good reason; When I was doing my military service, the guys I served with would have thought nothing of beating a gay conscript within an inch of his life if they ever found one and quite often boasted about it. That was 20 years ago but I doubt many of them have received any epiphanies about gay people since then. And of course, young people remain as homophobic as ever.

Speaking of elections: don't even get me started on how often I have heard the argument that Tarja Halonen must be a bad president because she is a secret lesbian (having been active in a gay rights organization in her youth).

Win, lose or stalemate, the struggle for gay rights must never cease. If it did, I believe all that has been achieved would gradually be lost and the society would soon regress back into what it was during the "Order of the Urinal". There is no logical counter-argument to gay rights but the opposition draws its misguided inspiration from the Bible (or Quran) and they have been at it for two thousand years. Why the hell are the fundies obeying Paul anyway? It is a good question and one that I've often wondered about even before seeing the play. That asshole is not one of the disciples but a later convert and his teachings are at odds with those of Jesus. Who the fuck is in charge in your fucking cosmology?

The Youtube clips in this entry are all old-school Judas Priest. I've been listening to JP for 25 years now. Judas Priest is not the father of heavy metal but that father's eldest child. They are the first band ever to claim to be heavy metal, back when Black Sabbath and other pussies where trying to distance themselves from that label. Rob Halford came out of the closet in 1998, the first and to my knowledge the only heavy metal superstar to have done so. The fan reaction at the time was borderline violent and even now Youtube clips featuring him seem to collect anti-gay slurs and homophobic rants. I feel sad and ashamed for the entire metalhead subculture.

Oh yes, it is a good play. Check it out.

21-Oct-2012: Upswing

Granted, this is not the kind of entry I usually write this time of the year. We have just entered my least favorite season: The Black Box. And it will continue all the way to mid-February of 2013. With this many lung problems in the Summer, I'll be lucky to live through it. Usually the beginning of the Black Box gets me all moody and depressed but right now there are so many good things going on that I am not feeling the blues.

It is a bummer that the next Praedor comic album won't come at least in a year but I am actually really happy with all the writing I've done for it. Also, getting started on the Vanha Koira novel really put me back into the groove as a fiction writer. For now, it is just a dress rehearsal for the writing of the Stalker novel but I hope that Vanha Koira 2 will also get published one day. I don't know if Petri ever took a look at the early script I sent him; he certainly (and perhaps politely) has not commented on it. But I do like the scenario and apparently so do the select few who have been allowed to read it or roleplay in it. The novel is roughly 25% complete and I am going to put the finishing touches on those first ten chapters and then put it away into my virtual desk drawer until the Stalker novel is complete.

I am bullish as an RPG author but somewhat timid as a book author, so I want to thank all of you who did read and commented on the story. You might not believe it but I can really use all the encouragement I can get.

Financially, Burger Games is doing well. The new projects for this Fall are genuinely interesting, so I don't even have to dig into my reserves of "professional ethics". Yes, professional game designers rarely get to decide what they work on and some projects are more interesting than others. It also looks like I might actually be fully booked for a couple of months, which is really great because the resulting financial security will carry me far into 2013. I told you we freelancers were motivated by fear. Also, the Stalker RPG is doing okay, even if we are now way past the post-launch peak. There is even talk of a Spanish translation. We'll see how it goes.

Last week I had a rare opportunity to have lunch and talk shop with Miska (the author of Heimot RPG, the co-author of a couple of smaller games and the overall founder of Ironspine). We are not really competitors since someone who owns one of my titles is more likely to own one of Miska's and vice versa, but still, you'd be surprised how rarely we RPG authors get to do this. We discussed new concepts for roleplaying games, general and game-specific design issues, perceived flaws and the "hindsight 20-20 features" we now wish we had included into the games and so on. Come to think of it, it was an astonishingly open discussion. Maybe it was because we were alone, or because our taste in RPGs is somewhat similar (old-skool and hardcore). Miska has some great ideas bubbling under that short-cropped hair of his and I hope he finds the time to make them reality. As for myself, well, if I can't do more Praedor and my fantasy inspiration continues, there is always Miekkamies to fall back on...

16-Oct-2012: Hitting the Brakes

It will be at least another year before the next Praedor graphic novel comes out and since much of my supplemental material and my little experiment of a second Praedor-themed novel are based on it, they will be delayed at least as much and likely more. I've read the script of the next Praedor graphic novel and was very much inspired by that but now it seems I can't really talk about with anyone for at least another year. This is not a rant or a whine, mind you. Things like these are nobody's fault.

Well, they are your fault, really, because if the general public had bought a couple of million copies of each and every Praedor comic out there, I bet we'd have more of them already. But this is daydreaming. The truth is that receiving these news did put a dent in my inspiration for upcoming the Praedor RPG supplement and my parallel attempt at a second Praedor novel. Maybe it really was already time for me to shift focus, especially with the writing of the second Roadside Picnic novel looming near. Of course, the damn magic system still needs fixing and I have these ideas...

Verivartio, the roleplaying campaign set in the post-graphic-novel Jaconia will continue, of course. It has already proved to be one of my best and I have no intention of stopping when I am enjoying myself this much. Really, these long and named campaigns is what I am playing RPGs for, even if arranging them requires an increasingly rare perfect storm of strong inspiration and having players with free evenings on their calendars. Even now, the calendar is undermining us and we will have to pause until the municipal elections are over and done with. By some bizarre twist a cool 40% of my group are election candidates this year and have barely have enough time to take a shower in the next three weeks.

But then it is back to *classified* to *classified*!

09-Oct-2012: Nord Mead!

Well, it was bound to happen:

If you keep playing (and playing and playing, starting a 200-hour game five or six times over), you are going to rack up some serious playing time. I think am in my sixth character, excluding the non-starters. This is Arkina, a Bretonian-born warrior-trickster who fled her homeland with a bounty on her head. I originally intended her to be a sort of neutral so that she could dabble with the Thieves' Guild and DB storylines as well as the Companions one. That is why I made her heavily scarred, blind in one eye and overall quite rough-looking for a female character in Skyrim. Unfortunately Arkina has a history of not conforming to expectations and sort of decided to start over after she escaped the ruins of Helgen. I love it when my characters do that, because it means they are coming to life even within the tight confines of a digital game.

So now I am playing a disgustingly good female paladin who also happens to drink heavily, sleeps around and swears like a sailor while fighting to save the world. All my best characters have been female but where Hakylakh was a tragic figure with her closet just bursting from all the skeletons, Arkina is a carefree spirit and just as prone to fits of laughter as she is of rage. Skyrim really needs a Carousing -skill that you can advance by eating, drinking, throwing money at the bards and bedding prostitutes (just like Vampire Lord and Werewolf skill trees increase by body count). Oh yes. The game also needs prostitutes of all races and gender, even if the actual "encounters" with them would be left to my dirty imagination. All in all, the more content, the better. Skyrim DLC has been pretty low-key, Hearthfire in particular. Some of the quest mods are spectacular but everybody and their cousin are waiting for any of those enthralling gates leading out of Skyrim to open.

While I am hoping for low-fantasy elements in the high-fantasy world (well, less so in Skyrim) of Tamriel, I fear that I might be turning Praedor into a high-fantasy game. My playtest campaign is getting more and more epic. Of course, my players claim to like it but come on, what would you expect them to say? I've had them do history-defining things, face down ancient curses, carve their way through conspiracies spanning several city-states and explore the lost secrets of an almost-lost realm. But everybody knows Praedor is all about crawling on your hands and knees in blood, pleghm and feces. Just read the old forums. I know it is just a matter of time before my players walk out on me :(

06-Oct-2012: Praedor Magic, pt 2

There is an argument raging on Steam user forums about which game is better: Oblivion or Skyrim. Or, more accurately, a bunch of people are steadfast in their defence of Oblivion while Skyrim fans, which outnumber them by 3 to 1, ignore the debate. At the time of writing, I have played Oblivion for 4 hours and Skyrim for 990, so you can put me squarely in the Skyrim camp. There is no correct answer to this but I made an interesting observation: Skyrim certainly has its share of design flaws but many of the features that Oblivion fans promote as superior were the very things that annoyed the hell out of me. Clearly there is something more than a good/bad value judgement going on.

When I started this blog in 2003, I had very little interest in computer RPGs. Their settings could be very interesting but the things I wanted from digital games, even from open world ones, were very different from the things I wanted from RPGs. Computer RPGs just could not hold a candle to real RPGs but instead actively crippled my immersion with all sorts of probability-based symbolic mechanics. Rightly or wrongly, I got that vibe from Oblivion as well. Despite its first-person camera, it was a traditional CRPG and its symbol-driven interaction mechanics put so many arrows into my knee that I just gave up. Curiously, Fallout 3, which used the same engine and also has both stats and skill scrores did not give me this feeling. For all its flaws, I played it for hundreds of hours. Ditto for Fallout: New Vegas, even if I love to bitch about its post-post-holocaust setting.

Looking at the games media, you can see that the new Fallouts are referred to as action-RPGs rather than true CRPGs. Actually, the same applies for Skyrim as well, even if the media does not like to talk about it. And I roleplay the fuck out of those action-RPGs, using characters from my novels as player-characters, or coming up with entirely personalities and background histories that I try to emulate with more or less success. Going against the popular sentiment, I feel like I can't do that with traditional CRPGs (or Oblivion) and this is a game-breaking thing for me. While I did enjoy the old Fallouts, looking back I feel like I regarded them as adventure games with probability-based challenge mechanics. In comparison, the original Deus Ex felt like a near-perfect game and I was roleplaying it even though it had only a pre-defined character (JC Denton).

I support Project Eternity in Kickstarter but I fear that my old CRPG grips will return to haunt me when it is out. Oh well, at least the cause was just.

Speaking of RPGs, running a Praedor campaign and writing a novel based on the material planned for the upcoming supplement is forcing me to rethink stuff. Witchcraft is and will remain biggest sticking point there is because it has the potential to change the game most. The principles of witchcraft are solid: acquiring magical powers via demonic possession or corruption of both body and spirit fits the setting and follows the canon. What bugs me, now that I have been using it, are the spells. While I like the idea spell-based magic and you are going to see it in Miekkamies, it does not really mesh with the whole idea of demonic possession in Praedor. It also conflicts with the idea that you can gain supernatural powers even by an involuntary demonic possession and the human and demonic souls could be fighting for control.

I don't want to give up on spell magic entirely and I hate element-based systems because nothing kills the mystery of magic faster than comprehensive rules about them. But there must be a compromise somewhere in between, something in the way that the magical powers come from the demon while spells, incantations, words and gestures come from the human. I also want to make them easier to understand for the player and thus enable them to improvise creative uses for their magics.

I want many things, don't I?

23-Sep-2012: Torchlight 2

While the rest of the world was waiting for Guild Wars 2, I was waiting the official sequel to the excellent but unabashed Diablo-clone Torchlight. And here it is: Torchlight 2. While T1 was a direct competitor to D1, T2 is fittingly a direct competitor to D2. And while D2 still manages to squeeze ahead with its Conanesque atmosphere, T2 is not a bad game and actually does some things even better. And it absolutely mops the floor with the sorry excuse for an action-rpg that goes by the name Diablo 3. However, that was never in question since D3 was an aggravating turd to begin with.

Torchlight 2 is a 3D but low-polygon (think World of Warcraft but somewhat simpler) action-rpg that looks, feels and plays like Diablo 2. The camera angle is fixed but anything important is highlighted even through solid obstacles. You are an adventurer in an apparently unnamed world, with four classes to choose from, a pet to fight at your side and the fate of the world on your shoulders. The main questline is fairly straightforward but you are going to stumble on the difficulty curve if you don't do some exploring and find the secondary dungeons and sidequests to help you level up and rack up absolutely shitloads of gear.

As a rule of thumb, you can always find the best stuff in dungeons rather than stores, so you keep the goodies, stack the rest on your long-suffering pet and send it to town while you keep adventuring. After two minutes or so your pet returns with an empty inventory and a bunch of gold. Now that is a well-trained retriever. Action is visceral, moving and positioning seems to be important and your pet is a handy attractor/distraction for the mobs. And as they pile on it, my outlander stands a safe distance away and kills the lot of them with mana-consuming special attacks. Apparently other classes have different tactics. This is fun, well-balanced (okay, a more hardcore dungeon-crawler would probably call it too easy) and the tasks are imaginatively written, if somewhat repetitiously executed.

To be honest, the side quests often have more beef than the main questline. The light-hearted tone of Torchlight 2 is completely at odds with the Warhammerish somberness of Diablo 2 and the wacky sidequests fit the tone well. However, the chosen look & feel cannot convey a proper sense of dread and even a slaughtered peasant village (Tristram, anyone?) looks like something out of a Happy Meal. Although the main storyline yammers on about terrible things it just can't make me care, especially when compared to a little girl who is crying because she has lost her pet spider into a dungeon. I am not kidding.

To make this failure of a plot-hook even more damning, in both T2 and D2 you are pursuing a player-character from the previous game. But where the transformation of the former hero in Diablo 2 is in my top-10 list of the most badass things ever (and I've copied it in every pen-and-paper RPG transformation scene since then), T2 opening cinematics are laughable and the sense of urgency over the rising evil is completely missing. I find it strange that the game even offers a hardcore mode with permanent death since such a thing is completely at odds with its carnival atmosphere.

For the more casual player, Torchlight 2 hits home much better. Somehow, the graphics seem even simpler than they were in T1 (I may be wrong about this) but if you can get over that, the gameplay is rock-solid, the game runs smoothly and the whole thing is apparently bug-free. The action is visceral, sometimes even cathartic and I really enjoy the exploration. So much so that I am thinking of applying some of this stuff to HAX. Also, since there is no Battle.Net to appease, cleared world areas remain cleared, which gives a great sense of progress even if the dungeon monsters are respawned for further grinding. I am playing in single-player mode but you can have multiplayer games of up to six players over Internet or LAN. I assume the mobs will scale accordingly as in Diablo games. After all, T2 has been designed largely by the old D2 crew. They just forgot to take the story writers with them.

Final rating: +1

I will be playing this. Not for hours on end but from time to time, to level up once more, to clear that one dungeon, to explore a litte more... and as long as it is little, it is always fun and fresh. Something that many Facebook games have tried and failed to achieve.

14-Sep-2012: A Failed Wiki

I tried to get a Wikia page started for Miekkamies 2.0 but it did not really work out. I have a particular hatred for companies that do tutorial videos that fail to match up with reality. The Wikia Editor shown in the video tutorial looks great and has all the functionality I need. Unfortunately, the editor that comes up when I follow the instructions for starting it looks completely different and has none of the features. I am not going to put up with that kind of shit: If you do a video of a editor you'd like, that is a concept presentation. If you do a video of an editor you need, that is a specification video. If you do a video tutorial for new users, it fucking has to match up with the real thing!

So there will be no Miekkamies 2.0 wiki page and I am not even reconsidering options before I cool down. And that could take quite a while. I am also going to shelf Miekkamies 2.0 for a while. My bad experience with Wikia has tainted my inspiration for now. Which may be godsent, for the Artante knows I have other projects to work on.

It wasn't a complete loss, though. As part of setting up the wiki project, I had to write the necessary introduction texts, including the "back cover blurp". I don't know if I have any non-regular readers but in case you are one, that is the kind of anchor text I need for any project. Part concept, part advertisement, it defines and sells the product not just to the consumer but also to the author, and I can refer to it when and if I lose the thread. The final version that may one day appear in the actual back cover of a Miekkamies 2.0 rulebook is probably shorter, but for now this will have to do:

Delorian Keisarikunta nousi Sankarien Ajan hämärästä ja keisarilliset dynastiat seurasivat toisiaan melkein kahden vuosituhannen ajan. Loistonsa päivinä se hallitsi kolmea tunnetun maailman neljästä kolkasta ja viholliset sortuivat keisarillisten legioonien, sotalaivojen ja viimein tykkien edessä. Arleonissa, keisarikunnan synnyinmailla, vallitsi vauraus ja rauha. Kaupungit kasvoivat ulos muureistaan ja huikeiden palatsien suojissa kukoistivat monet tieteet ja taiteet. Sankarien Ajan kauhut ja koettelemukset oli unohdettu tai ne kuitattiin pelkkinä taruina, sillä taikuus oli voimatonta ja hirviöt ajettu syvälle varjoihin.

Mustan Tulen Aika koitui keisarikunnan kohtaloksi. Muinainen magia heräsi ja pyyhkäisi kaiken tieltään. Yö laskeutui keisarikunnan sydänmaille, hirviöt hyökkäsivät varjoista ja levottomat kuolleet hylkäsivät hautansa. Muinaisten kansojen unohdetut perilliset astuivat esiin ja kävivät sotaa asein ja kirouksin, samalla kun demonit raahasivat uusia uhreja Mustan Tulen alttareille. Vain kauhea sota ja sankareiden uhraukset estivät Arleonia muuttumasta maanpäälliseksi helvetiksi, mutta keisarikunta oli lyöty. Sen ihmeet olivat raunioina ja tieteiden salat kadonneet. Hovista tuli rituaalista teatteria samalla kun ruhtinaskunnat erkanivat omille teilleen ja merten takaiset kansat repivät kahleensa.

Sankarit voittivat taistelun, mutta sota jatkuu. Hirviöiden huudot kaikuvat metsissä ja vuorilla. Vanhojen hautaholvien yllä lepää kirous ja rahvas hautaa kuolleensa kasvot alaspäin. Muinaiset kansat vaanivat varjoissa ja punovat uusia juonia vallatakseen maailmansa takaisin. Siellä missä magia on yhä väkevää roihuavat Mustat Tulet ja vallanhimosta sokaistuneet kuolevaiset tekevät liittoja demonien kanssa. Tämä on synkkien enteiden aikaa ja pelko kuristaa ihmisten sydämiä. Ilman sankareita, väkeviä sieluja, jotka kirjoittavat nimensä ja tekonsa Kohtalon Kirjaan, nykyinen Ruhtinaiden Aika olisi maailman ajoista viimeinen.

Miekkamies on barokkifantasiaroolipeli Arleonin viimeisistä sankareista. Se on huimapäisten seikkailijoiden peli teräksestä, ruudinsavusta, ovelista salajuonista ja mustasta magiasta. Puhkikalutun keskiajan sijaan sen maailma elää barokin aikakautta; kaksintaisteluiden, mustan ruudin, romantiikan ja löytöretkien aikaa. Pelin nopeat ja helposti opittavat säännöt palkitsevat huimat temput, ovelat ideat ja hilpeät kaskut, esikuvinaan niin Alexander Dumasin, Sakari Topeliuksen kuin Robert Edwin Howardinkin tarinat. Pidä siis miekkasi terässä, ruutisi kuivana ja noitien konstit kättesi ulottuvilla! Niitä kaikkia tullaan vielä tarvitsemaan.

12-Sep-2012: Now What?

I honestly have no idea how many people read this blog or indeed any blog anymore. The fad has come and gone and there are far fewer rantable topics around these days. Just ask Sope, who is supposed to draw the Piippuhyllyn Manifesti -webcomic and has taken a hiatus so long that the only acceptable explanation is that his arms were amputated. He wasn't at Tracon so I could not lean on him and all we can do is wait for better times. Sandy Petersen, the author of Call of Cthulhu and a videogames design veteran since then, was there. He had never heard of the Strugatskys but I gave him a copy STALKER RPG anyway. As for my own programme, it was nice to have close to 60 people in the audience and the end discussion over what should, could or would be included in a future supplement was great.

Still, this may have been my last Tracon. The roleplaying thing is definitely a sideshow there, I don't have much to give this soon after Ropecon and this time my recent bronchitis acted up as well, cutting my two-day visit to just one, with a miserable night. I am still recuperating from that one.

Some people apparently do read this blog. I have had lots of positive feedback from Miekkamies -stuff and the History of Arleon-series in particular. It was also fun to write and I think it worked out quite well, for something that started literally with the creation of the world. If Miekkamies 2.0 ever becomes a "thing" and I certainly hope it will, The Book of Fate, Elder Gods, the whole mythos outlined in the blog series will definitely be part of it. I have fashioned a system of sorts to promote swashbuckling playstyle and at some point I want to try it out. Perhaps this winter, or when, if ever, I get a better map of Arleon made. For the record, it has now been established that actually the name of the whole world is The Known World. It has four continental corners and a number of prominent island groups. Arleon is the northwestern corner, Yu-Zhang is in the northeast, Sayarid (still uncertain about the name) is in the southwest and Atzla is in the southeast, right across the Green Sea from Arleon. It could have been colonized by the peoples of Yu-Zhang but they never took to the high seas again after their invasion of Arleon was foiled.

Miekkamies is a diversion. The two projects I really should put time and effort in are the Praedor supplement and the Stalker Novel. As for the first, my excuse that there has been zero reported progress on the comic album is not going to last forever and as for the second, well, it got started but I am unhappy with it. The Strugatskys do it right by making the crucial first chapter a Zone expedition. I don't have to copy them but the first chapter should be closer to the Boundary than it is now. Then I can jump a thousand miles and slowly work my way back to the Zone from there. The publisher is likely to insist on using Roadside Picnic as part of the name and true enough, the novels do coexist, sort of. The characters and events of the original Roadside Picnic also exist and happen in the setting of the RPG.

But it is a different setting.

Sort of.

Anything excluded from that "sort of" is the part I am paying royalties for.

09-Sep-2012: History of Arleon 6

"Thus concludes the Primordial Codex. The nineteen centuries of the Delorian Age are well-documented in other works, even if I wish there were more unambigious sources on the first and second dynasties. My head swims as I try to grasp how much the world changed between the first and last years of the Delorian Age. It is a sobering reminder of how much I have glossed over or what has been lost and forgotten, for the Age of Heroes alone must have lasted twice as long as the Delorian Age. And there is no doubt that the Moonfolk would laugh at my attempt to lump their long and illustrious history into just single age.

Nor do I expect Primorial Codex, or indeed any book other than the Book of Fate, to have the final say in this matter. As the Age of Princes goes on and shadows grow darker, more heroes will step forth. I have no doubt they will unearth many ancient secrets and in time, render even my beloved Primordial Codex obsolete. By then I must have departed this world but still, when that day comes, I ask you to bury the original manuscript into my tomb inside the Temple of Miryl, for only then will the adventures of my life be complete. But before I conclude this preface with my seal of office, I want my readers and fellow scholars to consider this: If this age, the so-called Age of Princes, is not to be the last of this world, how would a chronicler far, far into the future describe the Delorian Age?

Can they name the ancient warlord, clad in crude iron and polished bronze, who united the early kingdoms and built an empire? What will they say about the Pagan Wars to tame the west coast and the Holy Crusades against cults and heretics in our midst? Do they even mention the Sayharid slave raids across the Blue Sea that launched the Great Southern Campaign and ushered an era of exploration and conquest that brought three of the four corners of the Known World under Imperial rule? Will they regard our Golden Years with scoff or envy for its marvels of machines, coilspring and steam?

Perhaps they too will see an allegory of hubris in how the Mechanologist Heresy and the Puritans of the Twelve went to war, ending the Golden Years and destroying much of the knowledge that made it possible. I hope they too find it ironic that it took the Age of Darkfire to bring the Puritans of the Twelve to heel. While that cataclysm may have broken the Empire, it did save much of its legacy for future generations. Our hypothetical scholar will undoubtedly know if that legacy was enough to inspire a Second Age of Heroes. Me, a historian in the evening of his life, writing these words during the Age of Princes in 2157 DA, can only hope and pray."

06-Sep-2012: History of Arleon 5

"The rise of the Twelve Kings of Darathari marks the beginning of the Age of Heroes, the first human age of this world. Today, 'Banner Of The Twelve Kings' is a childrens' rhyme but actually it is the oldest human song we know. According to both legend and the song, the thirteen clans of the Darathari crossed the Grey Sea on thirteen ships. When the Shadowfolk saw their banner on the horizon, they conjured a terrible storm to destroy them. Yet twelve ships made landfall and defeated the Shadowfolk in a terrible battle. The thirteenth ship was lost in the storm, thus making thirteen the unlucky number.

However embellished this account may be, there must be some truth to it. The early Darathari artifacts bear no resemblance to any other ancient cultures, suggesting that they arrived both suddenly and from afar. Also, the storm at the heart of the Grey Sea, now marking the western boundary of the Known World, is clearly supernatural in origin and the Moonfolk writings from the previous age make no mention of it. Unfortunately, they make no mention of any lands west of the Grey Sea either. Thus the mystery of the Delorian origins persists.

It is impossible to understand the Age of Heroes without discussing the origins of the Delorian Pantheon. The twelve kings, or rather nine kings and three queens, had a long and prosperous rule. Upon their death, they became the Twelve Gods and the cult soon grew way beyond mere ancestor worship. While the actual Delorian Church is an Imperial institution dating back to the second dynasty, the virtues of the Twelve Gods have guided Darathari heroes, chieftains and kings for many thousands of years. Time and time again those who succeeded in living up to the lofty example set by their patron deity would receive visions, blessing and powers in return. I should know, for I am no priest and certainly no saint. Yet I have been thrice blessed by Miryl, the Lord of Knowledge and Truth. However, the Puritan claim that the Twelve are the only gods is sorely mistaken.

The other great human people during the Age of Heroes were the Raelg up north and it took some time before they and the Darathari became aware of each other. According to the Raelg lore, their ancestors were once mighty beasts roaming their northern homelands. Then the King of Ghosts stole the Sun and plunged the world into eternal winter and night. The beasts went to war and freed the Sun, which rewarded them with true souls. They shed their skins and became humans, namely the Seven Tribes of the Raelg. Even today, the Relgian faith is a mixture of ancestor and animal worship with some rites to the Sun thrown in. Every true Relgian family is supposedly able to trace their lineage back to these tribes and their patron animal spirit. This may all seem like Pagan foolishness from the warm gardens of Ardelon but I will say this: Stay the winter in the Relgian homelands and you'll soon be praying for light and warmth from any god you can possibly name.

The Darathari and the Raelg shared a howling wilderness of beasts, undead, haunted ruins and Shadowfolk enclaves. The early heroes were monster slayers, keeping their settlements safe from danger and rescuing kings, princesses and each other from all sorts of creatures and curses. Yet the power of magic was waning and as the Age of Heroes progressed, the horrors faced by the early generations retreated into the shadows. Meanwhile, the both people grew more numerous and their societies more complex. Tribal hunting grounds became fiefdoms, clanholds grew into towns and ranks of nobility brought order into a chaos of retainers, standard bearers, vassal-chieftains and holy warrior orders. The Darathari clans beget the early Delorian kingdoms and the Raelg tribes their Relgian counterparts in the north.

It wasn't long before they would clash over the pettiest of trifles and fittingly the later heroes of this age were mostly warlords and champions of kings. Finally, around four centures before the official count of years, the kings and princes on both sides agreed to the construction of the Great Rampart. It ran from the Relgian Cove in the west to Bay of Kolamer in the East,right across what are now the Principalities of South Relgia and the Kingdom of Leonne. Today, all that remains of the Great Rampart is a line of grass-covered mounds, a few runestones and an occasional pile of rubble. Back then it stood five men tall and had neither gates nor stairs leading up to the ramparts. It did end the cycle of wars, that much I will admit. But still, building a wall would have been a shameful end to such a glorious age.

Fortunately, that was not to be. Some thirty years before the starts of the count, God-Emperor Tuan-Zi of Yu-Zhang launched a mighty armada to conquer the western barbarians. His armies invaded the east coast of Arleon on both sides of the Great Rampart. The Darathari, now known as Delorians, the Raelg, now known as the Relgians, ended their generations of silence with the exchange of messengers, pleads of aid and finally forging alliances against the invasion. The Great Rampart proved to be an obstacle to all involved and huge sections of it were torn down or blown apart by Yu-Zhangian rocketry. After the war, it was stripped of stones to repair and build anew much of what had been destroyed.

In the face of the combined might of all Arleon, the invaders were forced into retreat. Still, it would take twenty-five years and two generations of warriors and generals before the armies of Yu-Zhang were finally driven into the Bone Hills. What became of them no one truly knows. Some say none returned from that terrible place and they haunt it still. Others say that they were evacuated by their own armada but upon returning to Yu-Zhang the God-Emperor had them all nailed to the planks of their ships and then had the entire armada set on fire. True or false, the Yu-Zhang never returned to the high seas.

Back in Arleon, the kings and champions of the victorious Delorian armies swore fealty to king-general Adrionus, perhaps the last true hero of this age. He was named Emperor of All Delorians and the Delorian Age begins with his coronation. Yet his realm would not be known as the Delorian Empire until well into the second dynasty, a minor detail that most Imperial chronicles choose to ignore. The Relgian kings and commanders would not join his empire but the long campaign, along with many political marriages, forged lasting ties between the two peoples. There was a long and prosperous peace and the Relgians adopted many Imperial standards and practises. Even today, their kingdoms use the Delorian calendar.

05-Sep-2012: History of Arleon 4

"With the demise of the Elder Gods and the rise of Khorias, my quill has reached the Age of Two Moons. There is still one moon, Lonir, a beautiful orb cloaked in swirling clouds of silver and steel. We do not know what it was called during the Age of the Two Moons but we do know that the second moon, a gleaming orb of green, was called Khorias. The name was given by Moonfolk, a beautiful but cruel people that ruled the western parts of what was then the landmass of Borenas. Yes, these were the Moonfolk of the fairy tales and the ancestors of the twisted Shadowfolk. They were not the only pre-human civilization of that age but for the history Arleon they are the most significant. Even the Imperial capital, Ardelon, was built on a Moonfolk ruin and no one knows how deep the buried vaults and catacombs go.

The Moonfolk had no gods that we know of but they could weave strange magics from the light of Khorias. Whether or not they bear the sole blame for the disasters that followed is beyond my knowledge. At its peak, the Moonfolk realm was truly an empire of wonders. Ancient texts and pictures speak of castles in the clouds, cities of coral and pearl and enchanted portals linking the far edges of Borenas. But it was also an empire of tyrants. The Moonfolk were also cruel slavemasters to lesser peoples, working their magics to alter their very bodies and souls for their own purposes. Many of these minion races perished with their masters but this is generally thought to be the origin of beastmen and some of the other lesser scourges we have in Arleon today.

Once past their peak, they began treating their own as they treated others. God-Kings emerged, great sorcerers striving for godhood. They thought nothing of sacrificing thousands of their own blood to seal demonic pacts, or using their magic to push back the boundaries of life and death itself. Yet godhood continued to elude them. More power was needed, more might to defy the Book of Fate. And so they called on the power of Khorias and their spells tore the green moon from the sky, if the ancient legends are to be believed. What we do know is that Khorias really fell, shattering the world and burying itself deep into its roots. The landmass of Borenas was broken, creating the four corners of the world as we know them today. The Moonfolk realm was lost and without the light of Khorias the survivors were at the mercy of the elements as well as their former slaves.

Their fates were many but invariably grim. Most fled into the wounds of the world, hiding in deep caves or even digging deeper to reach Khorias itself. They became Shadowfolk and eventually regained a measure of their former power. However, the presence of Khorias twisted and corrupted them in body and soul, turning them into the race of abominations we know today. The rest either died at the hands of their former slaves, or faded away in the few remaining sanctuaries on high peaks and far-away islands. Some submitted themselves to demonic corruption or the horrors of undeath but it all boils down to Moonfolk ceasing to exist. There are tales of ancient heroes meeting or even marrying Moonfolk but I very much doubt there is a single one alive today."

04-Sep-2012: History of Arleon 3

"The Age of Dreams gave way to the Age of Legend but when this might have happened none can say. There is no way to tell how old the weathered stone rings of Tynnshae are, or when the haunted necropolises deep in the Sayharid Desert last rang with sounds of life. Primordial wall paintings and stone carvings depict human-like figures mixed with the features of beasts, surrounded by runes and glyphs we cannot read. Then there is the odd treasure trove with ancient jewelry and the rare enchanted item bearing blessings and curses beyond the comprehension of our oracles. Peoples of this age were pre-human civilizations that rose, flourished and fell long before our arrival. Some suggest that the present-day beastmen would be their descendants but I see little in common between those foul abominations and the strange but refined figures drawn on ancient walls.

Today, the legacy of the Age of Legend is thought to be one of mythical treasures and vengeful spirits. However, there was yet another legacy, a dark one, that persisted right up into the early centuries of the Delorian Age. From exploring ruins dating back to the Age of Legend and by talking to others who have done the same, I have learned that these ancient civilizations worshipped godlike entities of flesh and spirit. The Forbidden Book of the Holy Inquisition refers to them as the Elder Gods, the progenitors of dragons, krakens, titans and other great monsters of our age. However, there is no doubt that the Elder Gods are long dead. Some of the earliest deciphered writings from the Age of Two Moons hint that the previous ended in disaster. A war of gods scorched the world, darkened the skies and ground mountains to dust. I believe it came close to ending all mortal life.

But the might of the Elder Gods transcends death. As the early Delorian Empire pushed back the limits of the Known World, the explorers brought back many wonders of faraway lands and among them remnants of the Elder Gods; a fragment of unbreakable bone, a tooth that glows in the dark, a claw sharp enough to cut steel, or black blood trapped inside a living crystal. They were brought to the heart of the Empire as curiosities but soon dark cults sprung up around them and the Empire into chaos. These Relics of the Elder Gods granted their worshippers strange and terrible powers at the cost of sanity and soul. All such relics have been lost since but that does not mean they could not be found. I would have expected them to resurface during the Age of Darkfire but if they did, that secret has been well-kept. Or perhaps the Green Moon means nothing to the Elder Gods, for the Age of Legend was over long before Khorias first rose."

02-Sep-2012: History of Arleon 2

"The Age of Dreams... there is no historical record of it. Only ramblings of madmen, visions of witches drunk on mystical herbs, ancient chronicles of conversations with demons or back when dragons still knew the tongues of men. A world of spirit and thought, ever-changing, ever shifting, until one day the Old Gods sought to record their dearest dreams and greatest desires, so they would not be lost among the endless dreams. Thus was born the Book of Fate, with entire worlds on its pages. Time is the turning of those pages and when the final page turns, the Age of Dreams shall return.

I took that piece from Shinyong Myal, an ancient Yu-Zhangian manuscript drawn on dragon-skin so it would be impervious to time and elements. Its story is a much more eloquent version than the Delorian Church's claim of the world emerging from chaos as Words of Truth were spoken. But ultimately they say the same thing. And since time immemorial, the symbolic depiction of our world has been an open book, even if the definition of a book has varied between the four corners of the Known World. The tradition continues to this day here in the Imperial University and never has there been a serious attempt to change it. I believe it truly stands for the Book of Fate, a tradition and symbol ingrained to our very souls and not just ours but all whose brief existence has been written into it.

What then remains of the Age of Dreams? A trick question, really, if the creation myths about the Known World are to be believed. Personally, I believe witchcraft and magic in all its forms to be the most lasting legacy. Our stalwart naturalists spend centuries or more trying to establish the rules according to which the world works. The Mechanist Cults went so far as to call it the World Machine and thought that by understanding it they could control everything. Time and time again they were thwarted by magic because it bent or even broke their precious rules. Since the Age of Darkfire, the might of magic has greatly increased and yet the mechanists' secrets remain as potent as ever. I am no philosopher but this leads me to conclude that the rules they sought after were laid down in the Book of Fate, where as magic invokes the Age of Dreams, enabling exceptions or even changes to that which has been written.

And if so, is the Age of Dreams truly over?"