I alone tempt you

Did you know that the Sahrawi People’s Liberation Army pioneered the use of non-standard tactical vehicles in the late 70s fighting for independence against Mauritania and Morocco?  I didn’t know that before but I sure do now because when they aren’t talking about stupid prairie grass or how dinosaurs aren’t really dinosaurs or some other damn thing Martialla and Lucien are obsessively talking about how Sahrawi guerrillas successfully used NSTVs against the less agile conventional armies of their opponents, which as we all know is unusual in that the force equipped with improvised vehicles prevailed over the force equipped with purpose-built fighting vehicles. 

Martialla and Lucien are trying to develop a combat doctrine for the ramshackle warbuggies and killwagons of the day.  No offense to them (well some) but I don’t know that a retired Coast Guard pilot and a combat engineer/science experiment are the best people to define the way battles are going to be fought.  Although in fairness to them I don’t think there are any tactics to be gleaned from how people fight now.  I’ve been in a few battles now and I would describe them as combination of a Black Friday trampling, Woodstock ‘99, and an English soccer riot.  Except everyone is in a poorly made car made out of nunchuks, flamethrowers, knives and dynamite.   

It’s beautiful in a way.  A society has evolved from the ashes of the one that I came from and it is a society that knows no stress or concern.  In my time everyone thought they had all these problems, because they were after some kind of answers, some deeper meaning to life.  The psychos alive now don’t bother to ask questions, they must smash into each other and gouge and stab and murder.  Theirs is not to reason why, theirs it but to do and die.  For them, the great spiritual war of humanity is won. 

The key, I guess you can call it a tactic if you want, is to drive with a reckless disregard for your own safety, and survive long enough to become very good at successfully pulling off daring vehicular maneuvers.  Also having an indestructible car doesn’t hurt.  Not at all.   

Case in point, on our way back to Junktown we were attacked by a quad-squad of the plainspeople.  On our side we had J-Lo’s Revenge, which is both faster and more durable than any of the four attacking machines.  And since I was driving also the best handled machine.  Our other vehicle was one stolen from the very people attacking us, so it was the same.  So what’s the tactic you’re supposed to take in that situation?   

I mean I guess there’s strategies in boxing, biting and groin punches, stuff like that.  I’ve heard boxers talking about their strategy and this and that, but at the end of the day who wins is just a matter of who’s better at punching right?  Has a guy that sucks at punching ever won a fight by using a super cool tactic?  Hit as hard as you can hit and try not to get hit back.  What else is there? 

When I saw the attackers I engaged what I call the Ela Maneuver – I drove directly at them and initiated a head on collision.  Its beauty is in its simplicity.   Like casting Bruce Willis as a quick-witted, snarky action oriented everyman who smokes, you do it because it always works.  I don’t think anyone else does uses that move these days.  Probably because their cars are made of papier-mâché, beetle dung, and snot.  If they weren’t apocalyptic psychopaths trying to kill me and use my flesh as a canteen I would almost feel sorry for them. 

I don’t like shooting people.  I’ve made me peace with that fact that shooting people is part of my life now.  But I don’t like it.  I HATE hand to hand combat.  I hate it so much.  I can’t even describe what it’s like.  Thinking about it makes me physically ill. 

But.  If we’re being honest, and I feel that we are.  When I’m behind the wheel of J-Lo and we’re crushing fools in their clay and cardboard cars with spears for weapons it feels good.  It’s exhilaration of a kind that I never imagined could exist.  I’ve performed in front of huge crowds thirsty for my glory.  I’ve jumped out of air planes.  I’ve done all kinds of things.  Nothing gives you a charge like smashing into another vehicle and watching it fly to pieces.  I don’t feel great about how great it feels but that’s how I feel about it feeling great.

Martialla said something along the lines that the impact of a freight train is equal to two tons of dynamite concentrated in a much smaller area and focused in one direction.  She said that even in World War 2 a lot of surfaced submarines were sunk by ramming.  Violence is wrong of course but if you’re going to do it you may was well do it right.  And there’s something about ramming that just feels right.  Sex pun here. 

I don’t know why but I started singing “I Alone” as the remaining three kill-cars scattered and I fishtailed around to chase one of them.  I don’t even like that song.  I wonder if the songs I sing during combat have some secret message from my unconscious that would reveal something new about me.  I should started recording them for future generations to puzzle over.  Of course they wouldn’t know the songs so I’d have to write them all down too.  Yawn. 

I had a role as a nurse on some stupid war show and between takes Matthew Broderick said to me that he would have liked to have been in combat for real “as long as there was no chance I could get hurt”.  Which is the kind of shit you expect a Hollywood dickhead to say.  In short he was just saying that he wished he could murder someone and get away with it.  At the time I thought he was disgusting for making that comment.  Now?  I get what he was saying.  As my agent said one time “Firing a man gives you a hell of a rush, but it’s no replacement for killing.”

Or to put it another way, it’s easier not to be great and measure these things by your eyes.

J-Lo Origins : Project Satan

The collapse of the United States of America was followed by the formation of more than a dozen short lived successor states, including the unfortunately named Coalition of Midwestern Americans.  For the entirety of its twelve year history the Coalition was engaged in active war with the Russo-American Mercantile, a conflict which ended at mutual collapse of both nations. 

A secret inherited by the Coalition at the dissolution of the USA was silksteel alloys – so named because until their invention, spider silk had the highest tensile strength of any terrestrial substance known to science.  Silksteel was the product of attempts by the United States to meet the demands for new materials that were flexible and strong enough to withstand the incredible stresses of the robotic factories.  The creation of silksteel relied on reactions involving metal borides. 

One of the first (and ultimately one of the only) military projects undertaken by the Coalition was research dedicated to discovering the chemical composition of silksteel for use in vehicle anti-ballistic armor plating.  The exact stoichiometry of silksteel alloys remained the subject of debate through the end of the Coalition. 

Coalition strategists felt that the production of armored fast attack vehicles was of critical importance to survival in the new world.  The theory held that due to the economic potential of world powers having been largely shattered, traditional combat doctrines had been rendered irrelevant.  The presumption was that the coming conflicts would have to be fought principally, if not entirely, with weapons and tactics fifty years out of date at the time of the disaster. 

The claim was that the nation state that was able to effectively martial its limited pool of existing resources to create an effective fighting force for a new style of “old” warfare would rise to dominance.  The adaptation of existing technology for the new environment would be the key.

Given the absence of once abundant robotics, guidance systems, satellite networks, air power, and effective long range communication, along with the prohibitive expense of artillery and other munitions in the new world, the Coalition leadership envisioned an army of low-cost, low-maintenance, easy to transport, wheeled vehicles that would be based on the same hull style.  The weaponry designed for these vehicles was planned to be shorter range in return for more penetrating power that would favor close range engagements.  This fleet of vehicles would rely on mobility to make this strategy combat doctrine. 

How did this proposed theory result in a 1000 horsepower 50 lb-ft torque Hellephant-V8 powered Charger widebody immune to small arms fire and light anti-tank weapons? 

Several teams were given the charge of operationalizing the use of silksteel armor in a Coalition combat vehicle.  None would succeed, but the group “humorously” self-named Project Satan would deliver into the world six nigh-invulnerable muscle cars that were used for stress testing and proof of concept. 

After the fall of the Coalition, three of the six silksteel cars were destroyed by weapons powerful enough to bypass their armor.  One was driven into a swamp in Alabama where it remains to this day, much to the delight of an ornery snapping turtle that makes it a home.  The other two were used by a succession of incrementally more primitive raiders and post-apocalyptic psychopaths as any such things as States and Coalitions and militaries and governments faded into a dream.  Once the gasoline reserves were gone, they were both abandoned in favor of new vehicles made from the bones of the old that had the advantage of being able to use the fuel available. 

The two remaining coalition test vehicles were never scrapped out to become new apocalypse-mobiles because their engines were useless in the new world and being made out of super-dense silksteel meant they were immune to the crowbars and crude cutting tools of the new breed of engineers. 

The vehicle now known as “J-Lo” sat untouched in what was once called the Black Rock Desert for decades before a mechanic known as Crazy Mel decided to convert it to run on bio-fuel used by contemporary vehicles.  Why do they call him Crazy Mel?  Because he does things like converting old super armored muscle cars to run on bio-fuel instead of using his god given talents to make proper junkmobiles and scrapcycles.  Also because he wanders the wastelands instead of staying put where people can find him and pay him dead lizards to do mechanic stuff.

After the conversion was completed Mel apocalypsed the vehicle up a bit with some skulls and other ornamentation, added some removable armor plates in place of windows and windshields and then rolled into the Road Hog swap meeting hoping to score big.  Like those of many a high school senior on prom night, his hopes were never to come to fruition. 

No one wanted to trade much for the thing.  Sure it was fast but it had no weapons.  Where’s the harpoon gun?  Or the bank of crude rockets?  There wasn’t even so much as a blunderbuss bolted onto the thing.  And would it kill you to put a big ram-prow on the front?  Come on man!  And Mel told them it was tough, but they didn’t care to find out because it didn’t LOOK tough.  A few metal skulls weren’t going to fool them.  Where were the spikes?  Where was the rack for dead body display? 

In the end a dejected Crazy Mel traded the mean machine for a butter churn and the covers of a couple of anime DVD cases.  You know the ones I mean.  The man who picked up the car, Lagos, then turned around and pawned it off on a couple of rubes named Ela and Martialla for a rat-king’s ransom of tools and fuel and scrap. 

Roleplaying Game : The RPG

The GM of the Shadowrun game I’m playing in asked for requests and constructive criticism about the campaign so far.  For reasons unknown, that made me think about how long I’ve been playing RPGs.  I doubt this is of interest to anyone but no one is forcing you to read this.  I hope anyway.  If someone is forcing you to read this please let me know.  I doubt I can do anything about it but you never know. 

Here is my thrilling tale.

The year was 1987.  Iron-Contra was a thing.  A person was convicted of a crime based on DNA for the first time.  Prozac hit the market.  A bee parasite was killing all the bees in the US.  Wrestlemania 3 happened and somehow I watched it on Betamax and became a wrestling person.  The first Final Fantasy game was released (I would sue when Final Fantasy 2 came out for deceptive advertising just like I did with the Neverending Story).  Baggy dresses were WAY in.  Karate Kid action figures were totally radical.  World population reached 5 billion.  Whitney Houston released “I Wanna Dance with Somebody (Who Loves Me)” from her album “Whitney”.

I was at my grandma’s house hanging out with my cousin.  We were best pals when we were kids.  I haven’t talked to him in several years now.  Life, you know?  Plus he’s a like a good person who works for the UN and feeds starving people and I spend my energy on blogs and D&D campaigns that no one is even playing in. 

My cousin had a copy of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Other Strangeness, the TMNT RPG.  I thought it was super cool.  He said it was a game and I asked if we could play and he said “no” and my little 10 year old brain couldn’t comprehend what was happening.  Later on when I figured out how RPGs worked I realized why he said no, but at the time I was hurt and pissed.  But he was only 9, so it’s not like he could explain really. 

When I got home I VOWED that I would get my own RPG book and play.  I saved up my nickels and dimes for a few months and then rode my bike to the local game store and asked the dude behind the counter what I should buy if I wanted to start playing RPGs and with an aggrieved and HEAVY sigh and without looking up from his tentacle-porn hentai bullshit comic, he pointed at a weird upright rack that looked like it was for greeting cards.  Upon it was the “red box” – the Dungeons & Dragons Basic Set.  I think I paid 8 dollars for it.

I was hooked immediately.  I didn’t even really understand what RPGs were until I read that book and my mind was blown.  My friends, since they were friends with me, were all down to play and we were off to the races.  I wonder sometimes what my life would have been like had they turned their noses up at D&D and I had lost interest.  Two of those people I still game with today. 

I few months later when I saw my cousin again, I was telling him all about how I was playing D&D ALL the time and I bragged to him “I’m the best DM ever, no one ever survives my adventures” and he looked down his nose at me and asked “But do they have fun?”.  My little head exploded.  I never thought about trying to maximize the fun of my players before. 

I say this as a joke, but kind of not, right then I became a better DM/GM/whatever than a lot of people. 

Eventually I saved up enough to buy my own copy of TMNT & Other Strangeness (note to self, start erotica blog called Other Strangeness) and we started playing that a ton in addition to D&D.  As an adult I realize that the Palladium System is pretty terrible, but as a kid I loved it.  Especially TMNT with the pages and pages of hundreds of different animals (that were 97% exactly the same statistically) you could make into characters. 

We still have fun laughing at our young selves and the adventures we went on.  Two staples were “you go to this place for a fighting tournament and fight!” and “you’re going to rob Fort Knox”.  We have a personal meme of saying “How could I miss, I rolled a 20?!  You need special training!” I was by far the best GM of the group because my adventures had a little tiny bit of a story and sometimes even NPCS you weren’t supposed to kill! 

As someone once said, “On some level, it’s natural to look at the things your teenage self liked with some amount of disdain. To distance ourselves from our most embarrassing years, we often throw the things we loved under the bus.”

When we were a little older and had some money we got into a cycle of someone buying a new game, which we would play for a while, and then always coming back to D&D.  It was pretty much an unbreakable cycle of New Game – D&D – New Game – D&D. 

In ‘91 when Vampire the Masquerade came out, like all dorks we got super into it.  It seemed so much more mature and grown up than D&D.  I mean what’s a better sign of being a budding adult than being 14 and sitting in your parent’s basement pretending to be a vampire?  That’s when some cracks started to appear in our group though because some people didn’t WANT to pretend to be vampires, they wanted to be werewolfs and when you’re 14 you don’t know how to deal with that.  I’ve lived a SUPER hard life, these are my problems.

One guy in our group drifted away because he wanted to get drunk and throw up on girls while he was having sex with them, but for the most part we stayed strong.  Things slowed down a little during college but we still played a lot on weekends.  At this point I got into Shadowrun and various superhero games and we didn’t play D&D too much – we still Vampired sometimes. 

Gaming precious memory.  A guy I played games with but who had never played Vampire before came to play and I asked what clan his character was and he said “Wu-Tang”.  Classic.

A few years after college but before everyone had kids was the golden age of gaming.  There were times when I was playing (running mostly) three games a week.  Then came the dark times when everyone started having babies and I was forced to start going to game stores and playing with STRANGERS!!!

Those games were 99.99% stupid but at least I could laugh about them with my real friends.  It was interesting to find out that there’s 40 year old men that never “outgrow” the “my character is better than yours!” PVP all the time style of play.  It was also fun to find out how terrible a lot of people are at running games.  I suppose it’s mean to reminisce about how other people suck, but I still do it. 

Gaming precious memory.  I was running a game for STRANGERS at a game shop and during the third session one guy who was uber min-max power gamer man looks at me suspiciously and says “you’re just making this up aren’t you?!”  He was super pissed that I had the gall to create my own adventures instead of using published materials.  How was he supposed to win if I wasn’t using established material? 

It was at this point I was also introduced to the gamer phenomena of the guy who always plays sexy dark elfs with a weird BDSM background who want to roleplay out their seduction-assassination attack.  I assume with the internet and the free flow of porn, that’s not as much of a thing anymore.  I hope to god it isn’t anyway. 

Then came the times when people’s kids were old enough that we entered the silver age of gaming, still quite a lot but not enough for me.  The only bumps in the road were everyone wanting to have games at their house so they didn’t have to get someone to watch their kids and the great Jimmy Johns scandal of 2008 when everyone felt like they were getting ripped off because they always put in $10 and all they got was a $5 sandwich and a pickle and they never got any change!  “Dinner” was a part of gaming no more!

Then came the times when everyone was getting to a stage in their life where they had serious stuff going on at work and lots of activities to take their kids to and for SOME reason they started enjoying hobbies other than gaming!  They went on vacations and did things and went places and had non-gaming friends.  It was madness. 

Sidenote, I was single for most of this time and when I would hear about my couple friends getting together with other couples to game as a couple thing, I was jealous.  But then one time I did get invited with the other single dude in the group and that was worse.  Be careful what you wish for. 

For a while games dried up and I figured it was done.  I was bummed about it for a couple years, but I made my peace with it.  I came to find out that my friends were still my friends even if they didn’t want to play D&D all the time – shocking!  Just about the time I figured it was all done though, we started up a regular game night again. 

It became semi-regular instead of regular at times, but it was still going on when the pandemic hit.  Some of the crew stuck with gaming on Roll20 and the like but I didn’t care for it, I popped in and out here and there.  Now that we’re all getting vaccinated, hopefully in a few months we can get something going IRL again. 

Some people I know talk blatantly about gaming to anyone, I tend to keep it on the down low when I’m around outsiders.  At my core there’s a part of me that says “dude you’re 40, this is childish” but I don’t really let it get to me.  There’s not so much awesome fun stuff going on in life that you can afford to not do something you like just because it’s not “cool.  Because “dude you’re 40 and you were never cool anyway”.

What does the future hold for old Jerdog?  Once in a while at a game store or a convention or something you run into an old gamer dude.  I hope to be one of those.  I think it would great to be an old man in a nursing home playing D&D.  But if my friends stop being into it, probably I will too.  At this point I love RPGs but mostly I just love an excuse to shoot the shit with my pals.  There’s not as much appeal for RPGs just as RPGs for me anymore.  That’s a young man’s game. 

I got kicked out of model UN for this – The Coalition States of America

After the Rebellion of 1768 successfully prevented the transfer of the French Louisiana Territory to Spain, New France was fragmented between the settlers of the Ohio Valley and the Great Lakes Acadians who wanted stronger support from France to resist the British colonies, and the rebels to the south who had lost faith in the continental government.  

When the Treaty of Versailles in 1781 gave all former British claims in New France below the Great Lakes to the newly formed United States, the Upper Louisiana/Illinois Country contingent of New France was pushed into alignment with the southern rebels.   In 1783, the bulk of New France south of the Great Lakes declared their independence from France and formed a new nation called Illinois.  When British forces captured Louisbourg, allowing them to blockade the entrance to the St. Lawrence River, the remainder of the colony of New France threw in their lot with the nascent government of Illinois. 

Facing increasing pressure from Britain in the north and the specter of France capturing New Orleans in the south, the government of Illinois collapsed within two years.  It was replaced by two even shorter-lived governments.  The Native American confederacies that made up more than half of the population of the new nation were the only thing keeping it even slightly viable, but also presented the largest hurdle to coordinated action.  The area was effectively ungoverned until 1791 when the Coalition States were formed at the Saint Louis Convention. 

The Coalition States were strengthened by waves of new settlers in the following years, including many veterans of the US War of Independence who were upset by the events of the Whiskey Rebellion, feeling betrayed by the country that they had fought to create and seeking a new start farther west.  The Coalition States tried to assert authority over the Saint Lawrence and Mississippi Rivers but were largely ineffective, losing New Orleans back to France while Britain maintained control of the river way to the Great Lakes.  The discovery of gold in the Dakotas was the only thing keeping the Coalition States from total collapse throughout the early 1800s.   

The fortunes of the CS turned around with the formation of the Arkansas Republic in 1815.  The United States focused on bringing their “wayward son” back into the fold, and New Orleans (at this time a free city) asked to be annexed into the CS in 1824 after the easternmost chiefdom of the Arkansas Republic destroyed the homes of the Creole leadership and smashed the Louisiana militia.  The Texas Revolution in 1836 provided the CS with a trading partner and protection from Spanish conquest from the south. 

With control over the mouth of the Mississippi and the two Republics as buffers against more powerful nations, the Coalition States were able to take their first significant action as a regional power, defeating British Canadian forces in several engagements to claim possession of the Great Lakes in the 1830s.  The CS was able to establish peaceful relations with Britain and the US, but tensions remained high with the Arkansas Republic throughout the latter half of the 1800s.  New Orleans would be lost to the Republic during fighting in the 1860s and the bulk of CS territory below the Arkansas River would be ceded to the Arkansas Republic in 1872, at which point hostilities were largely over. 

After dedicating significant resources to building up railroad infrastructure, the CS experienced significant growth at the turn of the century, becoming a trading hub for the North American nations.  In the early 1900s while the US indulged itself in military adventurism, the CS took pride (too much many would say) in building “strength through peace”.   

The CS, long considered internationally to be a minor power existing at the indulgence of the US, is starting to move out of the shadow of their more flamboyant neighbor.  While the US is experiencing economic crisis, civil unrest, and violence, the CS is enjoying an economic, scientific, and cultural boom time as they take their first steps towards being a true world power. 

Ten states make up the Coalition.   










Saint Pierre 

President: Joseph Edelman 

Total area: 233,089 sq mi (603,700 sq km) 

Population (1964 est.): 44,291,413 (growth rate: –0.6%); birth rate: 9.41/1000; infant mortality rate: 8.1/1000; life expectancy: 69.14; density per sq mi: 191 

Capital (1964 est.): Chicago 3,275,000 (metro. area), 2,847,000 (city proper) 

Other large cities: Toronto 2,703,018; Saint Louis, 1,441,622; Detroit, 1,001,962; Saint Paul, 962,024; 

Monetary unit: Coalition States Dollar  

National name: The Coalition States of America 

Official Languages: None at the national level  

Literacy rate: 99.7% (1964 est.) 

Economic summary: GDP/PPP (1964 est.): $333.7 billion; per capita $7,400. Real growth rate: 0.4%. Inflation: 0.7%. Unemployment: 8% officially registered; large number of unregistered or underemployed workers; International Labor Organization est.: 7%. Arable land: 53.85%. Agriculture:  wheat, corn, other grains, fruits, vegetables, beef, pork, poultry, dairy products; Labor force: 22.17 million (1964 est.); industry 18.5%, agriculture 15%, services 65.7% (1961). Industries: coal, electric power, ferrous and nonferrous metals, machinery and transport equipment, chemicals, food processing. Natural resources: iron ore, coal, manganese, oil, natural gas, salt, sulfur, graphite, titanium, magnesium, kaolin, nickel, mercury, timber, arable land. Exports: $71.14 billion (1964 est.): ferrous and nonferrous metals, fuel and petroleum products, chemicals, machinery and transport equipment, food products. Imports: $87.21 billion (1964 est.): energy, machinery and equipment, chemicals. Major trading partners: United States, Canada, Arkansas Republic, Pecos Republic, Mexico, Great Britain, Heavenly Kingdom of Taiping (1970). 

Communications: Telephones: main lines in use: 12.182 million (1970); Radio broadcast stations: AM 134, FM 289, shortwave 4 (1967). Radios: 45.05 million (1967). Television broadcast stations: at least 33 (plus 21 repeater stations that relay broadcasts from the US) (1967). Televisions: 18.05 million (1967).  

Transportation: Railways: total: 13,433 miles (21,619 km). Highways: 105,442 miles (169,694 km) Waterways: 1038 miles (1,672 km).  

The most creatively named villain since Paste Pot Pete – Mr. X!

The publically accepted history of “superbeings” dictates that the first non-baseline humans were the results of experiments conducted in the early 1900s.  The man codenamed Majestic, deployed in the Great War, is considered by many to be the first superhuman.  This is incorrect on two counts, first count being that Majestic is not human, and the second count being there is evidence of naturally born superbeings since at least the 1500s and there is no reason to believe that they have not existed since the dawn of humans. 

Exact estimates vary, but the distribution of the biologic profile that allows for the potential of NBH enhancement by scientific methods is believed to be approximately one person in every eight million.  The subject of natural NBHs has not been widely studied yet but it is unequivocal that they are far more rare, possibly in the range of one in a hundred million or more.   

Armend Lusha, the mysterious Mr. X of the infamous Madripoor fighting tournament, is one of these uncommon naturally occurring NBHs.  Born in Tirana in 1940 to a wealthy family, Armend’s parents were killed by Black Cross anarchists during the riots in 1948.  Armand was shuttled from Budapest to Vienna to Madrid where he gained international fame of a sort when he was featured in a Life magazine article as “the world’s richest refugee”. 

Shortly after this publicity, Armend was adopted and brought to the US where his new parents renamed him Drexler Walsh.  In doing so, the Walsh family took control of the remaining assets of the Lushas, most importantly tobacco, oil, and mining concerns — increasing their already substantial holdings in shipping and real estate.  This made the Walsh family a major player in European markets overnight.

Their interest in raising Armend was significantly overshadowed by their interest in acquiring the resources and contacts that made up his inheritance.   

When Armend began killing his pets, it’s questionable if his adopted parents even knew. If they were informed, they certainly couldn’t be bothered to care.  Armend’s telepathic abilities had awakened during the murder of his biological parents, connecting him to them at the moment of their death. Through his psychic connection, he experienced the sensation of dying.

By his own admission, Armend has been obsessed with death since that moment.  Finding animals to be a poor substitute for the “real thing,” Armend committed several murders in his youth, intent on recreating the exhilaration of telepathically connecting with another person at the instant of their death. He pushed a maid down the stairs.  He poisoned a nanny.  He caused a family friend to be run over by a car. 

Armend is an addict and his drug of choice is murder.  On his 18th birthday, he killed his adoptive parents and over the next several years, one by one murdered his adoptive brothers and sisters as well.  Taking control of his family’s considerable wealth, he turned his attentions to funding and participating in violent anti-anarchist groups and government actions against anarchists.  Whether he truly desired any manner of revenge for the death of his biological parents or if this was merely a smokescreen to indulge his dark desires is unknown.   

Armend was in Italy “hunting” with a group of anti-anarchist soldiers of fortune when they were ambushed by the quarry they had been seeking in the mountains.   In contrast to his previous murders, which he had executed with no physical risk to himself, Armend found himself in a life or death struggle with a knife wielding assailant.   Armend was the victor and ended his attacker by strangulation.

The thrill of killing an opponent in hand-to-hand combat provided Armend with a feeling of euphoria that eclipsed anything he had felt to date.  Abandoning his “childish” methods of murder free of personal danger, Armend used his fortune to travel the world and study with the best fighters he could hire.  After learning all he could from them, Armend would kill them.  Maintaining a public image of a philanthropic sportsman with an interest in cultural studies, Armend circled the globe fighting and killing martial artists and streetfighters and brawlers of all sorts.

He gathered an inner circle of followers that he calls his “new murder avant-garde” including at least one other NBH.  Armend’s goal is to be the greatest melee fighter the world has ever seen which, of course, means killing all of the world’s best fighters.  Finding the secrecy of his efforts annoying, Armend traveled to the only place that would indulge this blatant bloodlust, Madripoor, where if you have enough money, anything can be yours.  With the help and backing of several local businessmen and criminal groups, Armend held the first Madripoor bloodsport in 1968.  Although not exclusively for NBHs, the participants typically are, since a normal human usually is no match for the elite of the enhanced killer world.   

For those who know of it, the tournament is often misunderstood to be a mandatory fight to the death.  While deaths are common (Armend has killed everyone he’s faced in the first four tournaments, for instance) it isn’t strictly necessary to be the victor.   

Montresor 28 Year 888 (New Imperial Calendar)

This collar tries to murder me if I attempt to take it off.  That makes sense.  Simple enough.  If I undo the thing the magic happens.  But it also tries to murder me if I ask someone else how to get it off.  This is where things get weird.  How does it know?  And what is “it” in this context?  I’ve never heard anyone make the claim that magic is an entity of some kind capable of thought and decision making.  I’ve never even really heard anyone claim that there’s a God that’s in charge of it.  So how does it work?  How?  You summon fire and you burn someone alive, I get that, that’s pretty straightforward.  But once magic has conditions what are we talking about anymore?  If you curse someone to have donkey lips and a monkey tail until they make a princess fall in love with them who’s keeping track of that?  Who or what decides when someone is in love?  Or who’s a princess?  Is the magic fully versed in geology?  No one has any clue how these things work.  Why does this not bother anyone else?

“Ela you’ve talked about this many times, give it a rest.”

I will not.  There has to be an explanation for this.  If I sit down for lunch I’m not technically “making progress” towards the North, but the collar doesn’t murder me.  Does it know that I need food to keep going so eating counts as progress?  If I have a long lunch will it strangle me a little to get me going?  Is there a time limit for lunch?  If I head due east or west will it kill me?  If I take one single solitary step to the south does it kill me?  How does “it” even know what south is?  That’s just something we made up.  Magic is supposed to be an elemental force of nature – animals don’t know directions, mountains don’t know directions, gravity doesn’t know directions, but somehow magic does?  How can it “know” anything?!  What is it?!  What?!I can’t let this go because as rare and “wonderful” as magic is it’s more a part of the Kingdom than I ever realized.  A mule farmer up in the Beregon Valley might not think that magic effects his life but it does.  Look at Chenmost, those people probably never thought about magic, didn’t make them any less dead when the place fucking blew up as a result of magic shenanigans.  Magic is an integral part of our lives, even if we don’t know it, and yet somehow no one seems to know anything about it or how it works.  

What are wizards doing out there and why are we as a people allowing them to do it?  I’m the last one to call for government intervention in just about anything, but shouldn’t we be keeping an eye on these people who are meddling with the fundamental building blocks of the universe?  Some of the really remote county oafs would gladly kill all the magic people in the world on account of their backwards and violent ways.  I could almost get on board with that if not for the fact that magic can make life so much more comfortable.  And bring me booze.  

Anyway, enough about magic.  We set out on the road to Three Rivers by way of Gevudan seeing as the area to the north is under enemy control.  Last I heard Gevudan had been captured by the enemy as well but no one seemed to be concerned about that.  The northern road was full of people.  People heading in both directions, which is a good indication that no one knows what’s going on.  The people whose villages had been wrecked along the Compass River were fleeing to Graltontown – the people in Graltowntown were fleeing north to get away from the front lines.  I’ve often wondered if someone was fleeing and they see someone else fleeing the other way if they would continue fleeing in the same direction or reverse course.  Looks like most people are content to trust their own judgement.   There was no one else on the south road.  At all. 

The “we” in this case was myself and four Ducal guards sent along as my shepherds.  Just in case the magic murder collar didn’t make enough of an impression.  The Duke’s personal guard is in theory a highly elite military force fanatical in their loyalty to the Eaglevane family.  The reality is that these days the guard is a largely ceremonial force that varies widely in quality.  The captain of the Ducal Guard for instance I don’t think has ever trained for battle, let alone been in one, he was give his position because one time he loaned one of the King’s friends his horse.  There are couple real hardcases in the Ducal Guard but they’re generally there because they made poor life decisions.

The Ducal Guard was formed in secret by Duke Anton Eaglevane in 812 from forces loyal to him in the neighboring county.  This is what is known as “treason” but given all the other treason that was about to happen people tend to forget about that.  Four regiments of the Ducal Guard were raised and based on this show of force Duke Anton gained the loyalty of several Eaglevane fighting forces as well as negotiating a contract with the infamous mercenary lord Eustace Lobar the Wolf Monk.   Anton declared himself Archduke, launching a civil war against his brother (the current Duke’s grandfather) Morton.  The fighting prowess of the Ducal Guard was so renowned that it became common to drunken louts in the taverns to debate if they would a match for the King’s Own – which is of course a highly elite military force fanatical in their loyalty to the Crown.  Seventy-six years later the Ducal Guards mostly stand around and sometimes fetch things like stools.  I have my doubts about their current efficacy as a military force in the field but they look damn good in a parade.  

I don’t know how many guards the Duke has now, but it must be a lot less than four regiments because I know two of the ones sent to escort me.  Cottom Finchley is what people generally think of when they conjure up the image of a dashing cavalryman – long, athletic, rangy, handsome in that foppish way some women like.  I prefer men who spend less time on their hair than I do personally but to each their own.  Finchely has one of them faces that are so striking that people often overlook the eyes – those cold snake eyes tell the real story.  The man is a monster.  At court he loved to play a little game with people where he’d have them arrested on false charges and then come in to “save” them only to have them be captured again when he betrayed them.  The Duke’s court has its fair share of utter shitheads and he’s one of the top ones.  For some reason he always smells like honey.  

The other fellow I know, Bolbec Forthwind, is much less striking but on the other hand he’s not a piece of human waste either so it balances out somewhat.  If he wasn’t short and closing on fifty he’d be a decent looking fellow.  Although you can’t do much about that round peasant face of his.  I told him once he would look better if he stopped painting his hair with that awful dye he uses but it doesn’t look like he listened to me – his head still glistens like an oil slick.   Finchley is younger, bigger, quicker, and meaner but if they ever came to blows I would wager that Bolbec would beat his balls off.  Some people are just fighters you know?  You can tell.

Around the time we reached Narhold we noticed vast plumes of smoke to the north.  I speculated that it was Three Rivers, you may remember that as the city we’re heading for, being burned to the ground but Finchley laughed at this idea.  Although he offered no alternative opinion on what else could be causing enough smoke that there was an early sunset.  I’ve never been to Narhold before, the only thing I know about is it that Martialla killed one of the men who killed her niece here.  His name was Bass or Flounder or some stupid fish name.  What I’ve heard about Narhold is that this is good fertile land but on account of being right next to an enemy nation no one wants to live here.  Rumor has it that it was founded by Vieland criminals who fled across the border to avoid justice in their homeland.  Consequently it’s populated mostly by outcast and criminals of various sorts, willing to make a hard life among the dangers of the region.  It’s also whispered that Nahold regularly bribes officials in Vieland with food, gold, and slaves – which is treason you know.

Once we were firmly installed in one of the rat-infested hostels in this crap border town that Bolbec Forthwind told me that he was going to set me free. 

Excerpt from Ishavar’s Histories Volume 12

Moreavan 30th in the year 887 by the New Imperial calendar (Wodemōnap 77th in the year 753 by the old calendar) was an usually cool morning in the area of the city Renwick in the Mauska region of northwestern Cymrile county.  Mist rolled in from the Upper Scale River but quickly disappeared before sunrise.  The sunrise itself was largely obscured by heavy cloud cover, dark flat clouds that promised rain that never fell.   The sunlight also struggled to penetrate the persistent smoky haze that clung to the city, there were no active fires anymore but a untiring oily kind of “air grease” that hung low to the ground.  This would later be attributed to the wide use of nerium fir trees in the construction of buildings in Renwick which burned during the fighting. 

The river around the city was littered with the blackened husks of dozens of boats of various sizes creating a significant hazard to navigation through the area.  Most of the charred bodies had already floated downstream, but there were still dozens pinned up against the docks or trapped amongst the wreckage.  The western third of the city, called Ford Village by some at the time, was devastated – with nearly every building destroyed, even those made of stone.  It was said that the stone was shattered by the intense heat of dragonfire.  There was a stark line where the old city wall had prevented the fires from spreading to the rest of the districts.  Even so in the other two thirds of the city there were several small clusters of burned buildings with one larger instance in the middle of the government district were a dozen buildings had been badly damaged. 

There were signs of fighting in and around Renwick.  Impromptu fortifications had been set between buildings on the west and north sides and there were bodies strewn throughout the streets – mostly concentrated along the outer wall of the blackened Ford Village – including the bodies of non-humans, mostly goblins, but a handful of trolls as well.  Civil authority had been abandoned in Renwick with roving gangs of angry citizens traveling the streets while the few remaining soldiers and guardsmen attempted to mount a defense.  Rumors were that the only ranking officer left was a third lieutenant and the defense effort was ad hoc and disorganized.  

Before the sun was fully over the horizon an army appeared outside the city, although the term is applied loosely in regards to this incident.  It was in truth a union of outlaws from the Faith Woods.  Notable among them was the so called Bandit-King Nidus, whose band was reputed to be number more than a hundred, Sobolov the half-Kostelos renegade who led his band of outlaws with the help of his sister, a priestess of the Burning God, the rebel wizard Gemlin, Felara the turncoat road warden, and the goblin tribes of the Fellmar.  Their exact numbers are unknown.  Some scholars say there were more than two thousand brigands, others claim there were as few as four hundred – generally it’s assumed that there could have been no more than seven to eight hundred operating out of the Faith Wood at that time.  This is still a staggering number of active bandits in one district.

This band was forged and held together solely by the personal power of Urra Bakor, the One with No Remorse, called also the Doom Wing.  True name Ethotarthonhestimm in the Dragontongue, Urra Bako was at least two centuries old at this point, believed to be sired by Ethlore the Flying Flame and laid by Bias Iwan the Boiling Queen, somewhere in the mountains of the Northlands.  Prior to this incident Urra Bakor is known to have destroyed the mountain fastness of Bysmar in 799 NIC over a perceived slight by the lord of Bysmar – it is from this episode that he earned the moniker the One With No Remorse.  Anecdotal tales suggest that even for a fire dragon he was extraordinarily prideful and cruel.  The one other fact known about Urra Bakor is that he sired, by unknown means, a great number of half-dragon offspring who were initially deployed as minions but were later abandoned.  This reason for this is unclear, but there is no known instance of contact between Urra Bakor and one of these progeny later than 850 NIC. 

Shortly after the outlaw army had assembled outside of Renwick Urra Bakor appeared and settled among them – legend says that in doing so he crushed several of his own men, but this was not confirmed by any eye witness to this event.  A few minutes after the appearance of Urra Bakor a lone woman walked out of the city and towards the deadly dragon and the mob of cutthroats.  The identity of this woman is hotly debated. 

Many claim that she was Rouwen Arbequina, the grand-daughter of Sibbin Greenblade the known dragonslayer.  Advocates of this theory insist that Urra Bakor was on a quest for revenge, already having killed Sibbin and all his known decedents other than Rouwen.  Several contemporary accounts confirm that the city guard did look for a woman matching the description of Rouwen Arbequina but these same sources contend that she was sent out of the city under cover of night on a smuggling ship.  The official position of the Renwick city government is that the woman could not have been Rouwen Arbequina. 

Some scurrilous rumors suggest that Rouwen did not flee the city but that she could also not have been the women who appeared at the city outskirts because at the time of the appearance she was passed out drunk in a high class (in as much as the term applies) establishment that offers sex for pay.  There does seem to be some legitimate information that indicates that a woman of Rouwen’s description was in the city and was observed to be heavily intoxicated in the late hours of the previous night.  

There is a stubborn minority that promulgates the rumor that the woman who appeared outside of Renwick to confront Urra Bakor was the cousin of the Baroness Cisarovna Helandra Juost (nee Castrovel).  They can give no name this this alleged cousin because she does not exist.  Records show that the Baroness had no cousins who survived to adulthood as has been repeatedly confirmed by the Baroness herself.  The reason why this type of pernicious rumor is so hard to stamp out as are other forms of peasant superstition will be explored in an upcoming work of mine. 

There are a few records of a con artist who pretended to be the cousin of Baroness Juost during this time period but all indications are that she operated farther to the south and in any case what possible motivation could there be for an individual of such low character to confront Urra Bakor?    

What is known is that after the woman appeared before Urra Bakor and his army the great red wyrm spent several minutes in self-aggrandizing speech – declaring that he was invincible and threatening a variety of deaths on any who dared oppose him.  Certainly to those in in Renwick it seemed like these statements were simple fact and not boastfulness of any kind. 

The details of what happened next are unclear.  The dragon stopped his speech and became agitated.  Some eyewitness accounts claim this is because of something the woman did, some say it was become of something she said, others claim that the woman attacked the dragon – this last item can be dismissed out of hand as implausible.  What is known is that the dragon’s ire was raised and it quickly moved to deploy its deadly fire breath on the woman. 

Her reaction is also unclear.  Some say that she cast a spell.  Others say that she disappeared.  A few foolish accounts even state that she dove into the dragon’s gaping maw.  The story that seems to be most likely true is that as the dragon drew in its breath to release fire the woman threw something into its mouth/throat.  Certain scholars whose names are not worthy of mentioning maintain that whatever the woman threw in the mouth of the dragon blocked its throat and caused a fatal blockage of the rheem – the flammable vapor that allows the dragons to enact this devastating maneuver.  And while they correctly surmise that the dragon’s fire is biological and not magical as many believe, this notion is laughable naive.  The force at which the rheem travels is far more than enough to expel any item small enough to block the passageway in the throat.

Even more ridiculously some claim that the item thrown was a Necklace of Fireballs.  Why this tactic would not be effective against a fire dragon is patently obvious.  Few know that there is a similar item called by some the Necklace of Crystals which is a similar item that creates magical cold based attacks.  If you could deploy it in such a manner this would be an effective manner of harming a fire dragon of course.  This is not to mention that any number of magic items would be instantly destroyed by dragonfire and could potentially explode releasing all of their magical energy.  The green dragon called Eunnurth the Mammoth, was killed in just this manner by Forjada Derro utilizing a magic staff of great power, which cost the brave warrior his own life as well.  This however is the only confirmed instance of this phenomenon.

Regardless there is no confirmation that the woman threw anything so speculation on what might have been thrown is pointless.  While her actions are unknown the effects are not.  Urra Bakor was slain instantly by a detonation that was either internal or at extremely close range.

(Editor’s note, this assertion has since been proven untrue by Grgish Vicso – although Urra Bakor was badly wounded by whatever happened at this event he was not killed and is known to have escaped at least initially to the Faith Wood.  Since he was never spotted again after this it is assumed he later died from these wounds or while weakened was attacked and killed subsequently by parties unknown.)

The woman was not seen again and no remains were found – it’s highly probably that the massive devastation of the explosion itself combined with the releasing plume of dragonfire disintegrated her completely.  After an initial moment of shock the warriors of Renwick surged out of the city to counter-attack the men that had besieged them in the prior days.  After a token resistance most of them threw down their weapons in surrender – the goblins were slain of course, and the trolls were able to flee the battlefield but most of the human outlaws were taken into custody.  Their fate is covered in detail in the works of Neth Averdale regarding justice in the 9th century.  

Behind the curtain – I wasn’t sure how I wanted to write this bit so I changed up the format.  Interesting?  Writing cheat?  Both?  You be the judge!  Or you know don’t, I’m not the boss of you.