TFT Arrived

Last Friday, I received the massive The Fantasy Trip box from last year’s kickstarter. I have been messed up by a pretty bad virus (sick for over a week now), so I have not torn into it like I want, but the quality of the components are outstanding. I have played a couple of games of Melee, now, and realize I have forgotten a lot of stuff, having played our bastardized version Legends of the Ancient World for so long. A little confused on a few things, like how many of the modifiers that affect your Adjusted Dexterity actually determine your order of attack. Obviously armor does, but does the +2 for attacking from the side? The +1 for a prone crossbowman? The negative range mods? The rules are a bit unclear. Originally, I ignored all but armor in this determination, but that may not have been right.

The compilations of rules into the In The Labyrinth book is well done. The counters are pretty nice, though I wish there were more bell bottoms! The hexes have been blown up in the base Melee and Wizard games, evidently to accommodate modern figures. This changes the footprint of the game, making it slightly less portable than it was, but we’ll see if that’s a big deal. The playmats look great.

Can’t wait until I feel better and give all the components a proper shakedown! But right now, it looks like Steve Jackson Games came through in a big way!

The Cleric’s Weapons in D&D

Been a long time since my last post. Work has been exhausting, and my mind has been fuzzy when I get home. A poor and common excuse, I know. And the only way to change that is to, um, change it.

In the old days of the resurgent old school gaming scene on the internet, most of the OSR blogs would run with a topic that may or may not have been interesting. Since I am looking at getting a gaming group together, and looking to run Original D&D, I have had a few thoughts on a few esoteric matters. One of those is the weaponry allowed to the cleric.

Frankly, allowing them to have “non-edged” weapons is kinda silly. The early rationalization was that Clerics cannot draw blood. But beating a person’s skull in with a mace (the iconic weapon of the class) is indeed drawing blood.

Some claims were made that not allowing better weaponry was a balance issue, but this claim doesn’t add up, for one major reason. All weapons in OD&D did the same damage – 1d6. It wasn’t until the first supplement, Greyhawk, was published that variable weapon damage was introduced to the game. So there was no balancing factor to restricting the arms a Cleric could wield in the earliest days.

There is other inherent balance between the fighter and Cleric. While the priest can cast healing and divination magic, he does not progress as fast as a Fighter does on the combat tables. And the Cleric does not get his first spell until second level.

So when my game starts, the holy warrior known as the Cleric will not be restricted in weapon choice – and there will be variable weapon damage by type.

I will be running OD&D plus some of the supplements. It is tempting to use a clone, like Swords and Wizardy, since they are better organized and available for free on the net for players to download. I am going with the original game because I want something a little more wide open and less codified than later games. The Fantasy Trip stuff from the Kickstarter will be shipping soon, and I’ll be rolling some dice under its banner, but I’ve definitely got the itch for the mysteries from the dawn of role playing. I haven’t run a game of OD&D since I got AD&D in 1980 or ’81.

I’ve got the beginnings of a megadungeon and the outline of a new world we will be exploring. I have a couple of players lined up – I’d like to get a few more. I’ll keep the blog updated with things as they unfold.

Review: The Mighty Warriors

I got this collection of short stories from Amazon last month, and took my time reading the stories. Edited by veteran Robert M. Price, this is a good collection of sword and sorcery tales. Some feature long-standing characters, others have newer protagonists. Price states in his intro that we need heroic stories like this now because of the “slave mentality” and malaise that grips our current culture, where heroes are scorned. Given the political bend of both the right and the left, I agree with his assessment. Not sure that this book will counter the larger movement, but it is a nice respite.

A quick note on the editing: there are some lapses, like some spelling and paragraph indentation. This seems to be endemic in the anthologies I have read lately. Not sure why. Is the carelessness of social media style infecting the editing profession? Anyway…

The first story is “Spawn of the Sea God” by Adrian Cole. Cole has been around since the ’70s, and he is a skilled writer. It features Elak of Atlantis, who was one of the first sword-swingers to stalk the pages of Weird Tales after Robert E. Howard’s death, created by prolific pulpster Henry Kuttner. An intersesting surprise to see the old character in new stories, but Cole has the knowledge and skill to pull it off.

Continue reading “Review: The Mighty Warriors”

Amazon Update

OK, our long national nightmare is over. There have been a few purchases through my affiliate links, and they have accepted my website.

Neither Bluehost nor WordPress showed any affiliate links being clicked through, and I did not check my affiliate page at Amazon because of that. But several purchases of Kindle books were indeed made, and I am very appreciative. I have made .99 so far in aggressive my Amazon career; once I earn 10.00, it will all pour into my checking account. And there will be mead for all!

Thanks to those who purchased, and those who looked!

Series on Conan on Blackgate.com

Over at Blackgate Magazine, they are doing a series on every Conan story by Robert E. Howard. It is a bit contrived, in that each article author makes a case for his story being the best one, but the in-depth examinations have been very good so far (of just two stories at this point – it is a weekly series).

Comments have been interesting, except for some standard-issue political whining.

This is the most recent one, with links to the previous articles:

https://www.blackgate.com/2019/01/21/hither-came-conan-fletcher-vredenburgh-the-frost-giants-daughter/

Posting frequency will increase here at SUDS shortly – I promise! I hope you are all well!

The Fantasy Trip Adventures Kickstarter

There is currently a Kickstarter for five adventures for The Fantasy Trip. Two are already complete and available in pdf form, but I am interested in the physical product, with counters and maps. Take a look if you are interested:

Full disclosure: I had contacted the TFT line editor at Steve Jackson Games about doing some adventures for them. I received an official Maybe. None of these five adventures are mine.

Ascent to the Past

This is the other Kabor story that was rejected earlier this year.

Also, with the new WordPress editor, I cannot figure out how to hide the majority of the post, so it will have to appear in its entirety on the front page. In addition, pasting into the new editor smashes many words and punctuation together; it has taken half an hour to re-edit after pasting it. 

I am not a fan of the new editor. I hope it can be fixed, or undone.

Ascent to the Past

Copyright 2018 by Breton Winters

Kabor clung to the steep mountainside as the rocks and detritus rolled and bounced over and about him. A particularly large boulder struck his skull and scraped over him,scoring his back. His hands had a solid grip, but that would do him no good if he was pummeled further by the rockslide. He would be torn and hurtled back down the last thousand feet they had ascended.

The rope tied to his waist went tight, and he felt the full weight of one of his companions. He braced for more weight, in case that person pulled another from the rock face as well. It came, and he felt his strength tested to the utmost. He grunted as he strained against the load. The rough rope harness dug into his wide shoulders.

Another rock struck his head and he saw bright spots, but he did not lose focus.

A momentary surge of self-preservation had him think of cutting the rope away from him, but this would be impossible. If he reached for his knife, that would leave one hand holding tight and that would be insufficient. So he bore the weight and the stones raining around him.

Then it was past. After a few moments the clashing died away, to be replaced by a spent stillness.

And then something else. An unearthly chuckling sounded above him, as if amplified from the mountainside itself. It faded to silence, and Kabor thought of his companions. He called below him a few times before he received a weak answer. That was Orlie, second out of the three tied behind him. Her voice was strained.

Thunrad called up to him. The dwarf was last in line. “Hold on, Kabor!”

Kabor snorted in humor. As if he had any choice but to hold on. But he could appreciate the dwarf’s brevity, if not the attempt at encouragement. Most likely he was trying to move into position to rescue the other two who were dangling, and there was no point in wasting more breath. He held on in the crimson afternoon.

After what seemed a miniature eternity he felt the weight lessened; a few moments later the rope was slack. There was a ledge he had passed before the rockfall, and he imagined the dwarf had gotten their companions to it.

“What is it like above you?” Thunrad asked, bass echoing off the rock.

Kabor looked up. The weak light of the ancient red sun showed the contours of the mount.

“Ten yards above me looks like a wide shelf.”

“Are you in a condition to reach it? And then pull another up?”

“Yeah.”

“I will give you slack. When you get there, haul up Orlie, and then the supplies. Then I will follow with Breem, who is unconscious.”

When the rope was loose, Kabor began to climb again. He was sore, and he realized the back of his shirt was torn. He felt wet with more than sweat.

But he had no further problem and quickly reached the shelf. It was wide. There was a shallow cave here. Though in shadow, he could tell it was empty.

He pulled up Orlie, who had difficulty. She was city-bred, and her fatigue had been showing the last three days; now it was writ large. Her blonde hair was wild.

“Are you hurt?” he asked. He saw no wounds.

“I…I don’t think so. Breem was knocked in the head, but he lives.” She stood unsteadily beside him. “You’re bleeding.”

He lowered the rope and hauled up their supplies. Then he lowered it again and kept tension as Thunrad carried Breem. They made it without undue difficulty and they all rested.

“There are runes in this cave,” Orlie said.

“We’ll check it out in a moment,” Kabor said, inspecting Breem. His scalp was bloody, but it was superficial. He felt no fracture in the skull. He cleaned the wound and made the scholar as comfortable as possible.

“That was no natural rockslide,” the dwarf told him.

“No. Did you hear that laughter afterwards?” Kabor asked.

“No.”

“It seemed to come from the rock itself.”

The other two were thoughtful at that. “Maybe there are things our esteemed colleague is keeping from us,” said Orlie. She rose and took the bandages and stepped behind Kabor to look at his wounds. He removed his torn shirt.

“Great Bequa! What happened to your back?” she asked.

“I got struck by some rocks,” Kabor said with an air of confusion. “You were caught in it, too.”

“No…I mean…all these old scars.”

“Oh. Blades. Whips.”

“You were a slave?”

“Are the cuts deep?”

He felt her probe his fresh wounds.

“No. Mostly abrasions, a lot of bruising. You will be sore for a while.” She felt over his scalp,through his long brown hair. “A few bumps here, but that thick skull did well.” She snickered and set about treating the damaged flesh of his back.

Thunrad stepped into the cave, and returned as Orlie finished her meager ministrations.

“Elvish runes,” he said. “Only understand a few of them. Seems to be a warning.”

Kabor smiled. “Of course. We have undoubtedly broken some elvish taboo.”

“No elves ever lived on this mountain, or anywhere near here,” the dwarf continued. “In fact,the southeast border of Karthia has been wilderness for over five thousand years. These mountains were drained of their metals and gems by dwarves in ancient times, and it has been barren of civilization since.”

“Aside from our destination,” Kabor said.

“And yet there are the elvish runes in that cave.” Orlie countered.

“Might not have been carved by elves,” Kabor said. “Others used similar runes, I think, in ancient days.”

“That is true,” Thunrad said. “I may have been mistaken in identifying their source.”

“Breem should recognize them,” the woman said.

“If he wakes up.”

“I think he will,” Kabor said. “He took a glancing blow to the noggin. He’ll wake up in a few hours and have a headache. We might as well camp here.”

They ate a cold dinner, not wishing to risk more attention with a fire, and kept Breem wrapped in blankets as the chill of night and elevation settled on them.

It was mid-morning when the scholar finally awoke. He stared about him with red-rimmed eyes, uncomprehendingly at first and they feared his senses might be scrambled. But his awareness eventually returned.

“You heard laughter coming from the rocks?” he asked Kabor after they explained what had happened.

“It was strange.”

“As was the rockslide itself,” the dwarf added.

“I don’t believe the ruins of the monastery are cursed, though maybe a figure or force has moved in that wishes solitude,” the scholar said.

“There are runes in this cave,” Orlie pointed out. “Thunrad thought they might be elvish.”

Breem gingerly rose and went to inspect the engravings. He was silent as his eyes ran over them.

As they waited, Kabor said to Thunrad, “If there is no curse here, maybe there are others in front of us, also going to the ruins. Maybe a sorcerer, maybe a whole party.”

The dwarf stroked his beard. “If so, they have taken a different route. I have seen no signs of recent passage before us.”

“You think someone else is here?” Orlie asked.

He shrugged. “Breem hired us all, separately, under the stipulation that we leave immediately. Maybe there is some urgency here, something that others might be aware of.”

They looked toward the scholar, who was squinting at the runes. If he heard their discourse, he did not give any indication.

The dwarf went to their supplies and retrieved his axe. “If there are any others on the mountain, I will be ready for them. You may want to wear your blade, as well, warrior.”

Kabor nodded and strapped his broadsword to his waist. It would be more cumbersome while climbing, but preferable to the constant abrasion on his fresh wounds if he wore it on his back. Orlie added a few more knives to the array she always carried.

Breem returned. “They are indeed elvish, though of an archaic style. Most were written by a sorcerer who spent his final years in this cave; it is his testament. These predate the founding of the monastery above. However, there is an extensive addendum, written in the same runes but by differing hands. The monks evidently found this cave and made corrections to the old one’s observations.” He gave a clipped little laugh. “Amusing.”

“Nothing about a curse?” Kabor asked.

The scholar cocked an eyebrow. “Eh?”

“The avalanche yesterday was not natural.”

“Ah. Right. You had mentioned that. No, nothing about a curse.”

“Is there anyone else interested in this monastery?” the dwarf asked. “A rival, perhaps, with magical ability?”

He looked at the three of them with a sudden nervousness, belying the casual absent-mindedness he had up to now displayed. “You have been talking amongst yourselves?”

“Just tell us the truth,” Kabor said.

He looked down, and then nodded. “There is an old sorcerer I am aware of who has also sought these ruins for many years. I learned of the location from a ratty map-seller in the town of Kanthuria, where I recruited all of you. That individual could certainly have sold the information to more than myself.”

“Who is this sorcerer?” Orlie asked apprehensively.

“Shimyee.”

The woman started.

“What do you know of him?” the dwarf asked her, but she disregarded him.

“It is odd that you and he seek the same ruins,” Orlie continued. “His evil is well known. What do you have in common?”

The scholar hesitated.

Kabor was uneasy now. “You told us you wanted to retrieve some books from the lost library.”

“Indeed. Nothing blasphemous, but that is not why Shimyee seeks these ruins. He claims to be descended from one of its monks.”

“They followed the paths of evil?” the dwarf asked.

“Their knowledge might have strayed into dark routes, but that was hardly the whole thrust of it.”

“Alright,” Kabor said. “You mentioned none of this when you hired us. The only danger in ascending to this ruined monastery of peaceful monks was the mountain itself, you claimed.”

“I had no reason to believe Shimyee would also discover the location at the same time I had.”

“But you were specific about leaving immediately when you sought me out,” the dwarf said. “It seems you were indeed concerned about timeliness.”

“Well…I…”

Kabor suddenly sensed other presences. He drew his blade and shouted a warning as shadows fell on them. He looked up as a winged shape swooped toward the shelf with cruel claws outstretched. He chopped away one of the stubby legs, and the man-sized creature wailed and broke off.

Another followed it but Thunrad’s axe clove a groove in one wing. It disappeared over the edge.

Orlie grabbed Breem and steered him into the cave.

The creatures were short-bodied with pointed maws and broad wingspans. Another dropped upon them and Kabor slashed at the wings. It sped by.

“They cannot flutter in place!” the dwarf called out. “They must glide in their attacks!”

There were four in total. There were a few more passes, but they drew no blood from man or dwarf while the beasts all received more wounds. They finally spun away, and were lost to sight around the mountain’s curve.

“Well,” the scholar said, emerging from the cave. “You have certainly proven your worth.”

They looked at him.

“Onward and upward?” he smiled.

“You did not pay me for this kind of work,” the dwarf said.

“Those were Shimyee’s beasts?” Kabor asked.

“I suppose they were. And good Thunrad, I paid a substantial sum to you.” He glanced between them apprehensively and said, “Also, you are free to loot whatever you wish from the monastery.”

Orlie laughed. “We were going to do that anyway.”

Thunrad looked over the edge. “Going down should be easier than up.”

“Please do not leave me here! We are close to the peak!”

“Shimyee is already there,” Orlie said. “We are too late to retrieve whatever you are searching for.”

“Please!” the scholar pleaded.

The dwarf began to tie their supplies together. “Are you coming down with us, Breem, or do you want me to leave your stuff here?”

The scholar turned to Kabor in desperation. He could not speak.

The warrior laughed. “Alright. I’ll go up with you.”

“What?” said the dwarf.

Kabor nodded to him. “There is no dishonor in leaving. You are right – he did not pay you for fighting a sorcerer and his minions.”

“So why are you continuing with him?” Orlie asked.

“I owe that sorcerer for trying to kill me. Twice, in fact.”

The dwarf snorted in disgust and dropped the bundle of supplies on the shelf. He walked toward the cave, which the red sunlight slanted into. He paused, staring inside. Then he ran to the wall and inspected the runes again.

Orlie said, “Shimyee is a powerful foe. A Necromancer. He can stop your heart from a hundred paces away.”

Kabor shrugged. “He can make a mountain fall on his enemies, too. But that was not enough to stop me.”

“Come and look at this!” Thunrad said excitedly.

They gathered around him and he pointed out a seam in the wall. “I could not see it in the afternoon yesterday but it is clear as a Mydorian gemstone now!”

“A door?” Kabor asked.

“Yes. But I must find a way to open it.”

“Ah!” the scholar cried. “The addendum! I thought one passage nonsense, but it instead revealed howto open this passage! Show me the outline of the door, good dwarf.”

Thunrad pointed the extent of the door’s edges, and Breem looked for the rune in the exact center, amidst the addendum. He pressed it and nothing happened.

“It is old and probably stuck,” the dwarf said. “Hold it down again while Kabor and I push on the door.”

This time, with the combined might of man and dwarf pressing inward, it instantly gave way and the two warriors tumbled forward into darkness. Thunrad sprang up, then said, “I can sense stairs.”

They retrieved their equipment and the dwarf produced a small lantern. “Always prepared!” he beamed at them.

“So…we are going to face Shimyee, then?” Orlie asked.

“I need your skill to check for traps!” the scholar said.

“In a library?” she countered.

“There is no shame if you want to remain,” Kabor told her.

She considered, then indicated she would follow.

The dwarf took the lead. The yellow light showed ascending stairs, the entire passage rough-hewn and close. They started upwards, and the stairs curved in a gradual spiral. The steps were easy in comparison to yesterday’s climb. The air was stale and there was, oddly, no echo here. It was not long before they reached a landing.

The lantern revealed a small chamber, rough and plain like the upward passage had been. There were two doors set in the wall before them.

As they gathered and looked at the doors, mist began to rise from the floor and coalesce. It became a ghostly human shape, regarding them with red eyes. It spoke in a language Kabor did not understand.

Breem replied haltingly. There was a brief exchange and he told them, “This guardian wishes to know why armed intruders are taking this secret passage. I told it the monastery has fallen into ruin, and we are seeking books from the library, but it is reluctant to let us pass.”

“Tell it about Shimyee and that we wish to prevent the monk’s knowledge from falling into his foul hands,” Kabor said.

The scholar considered this, then spoke again to the spirit. Its red orbs winked out, as if closing its eyes in concentration. It then said a few more words and disappeared.

“It said that there are indeed evil beings in the monastery, that it could sense them – seven in all. The right hand door will be the shortest route to the library.”

“It could offer us no aid against them?” the dwarf asked.

“I believe it is bound to this room.”

They opened the door on the right and looked into a crumbling hallway; sunlight lanced in scarlet through fractured masonry. Thunrad replaced his lantern in a pack, which they left here with all the supplies, save some specialized tools of Orlie’s, and they readied their weapons. Then they moved cautiously into the hallway.

It seemed to Kabor that it was not just time that caused this place to fall into ruin, but that there had been great violence here. Large holes had been smashed into the hallways they traversed, leaving mounds of rubble they stepped around or clambered over, as if from monumental fists.

They followed directions the spirit must have given Breem, for he directed them unerringly with wary hand motions. They passed through several fractured rooms, but saw nothing of value or interest. Orlie was a few steps in the lead, searching floor and wall for traps, and the dwarf walked close behind her, eyeing the rubble for instabilities.

Then Kabor heard voices from ahead. He signaled the others and they crouched in shadows. The sounds came no nearer, and he crept forward. There was an intersection ahead, and the noise came from the left. He returned and spoke to his companions, and the scholar said that the left turn led to the library.

They resumed their advance, weapons gleaming in the gloom.

They reached the intersection and turned left. The voices were loud now and raised in argument.

The door to the library had long since been removed, and they looked into a great room lined with stone shelves where the walls were not sundered. The room was wide open, evidently full of tables at one time. At the far end, Kabor saw three shapes yelling at each other.

So there were four more about –perhaps the flying creatures they had fought? Kabor had assumed those were summoned beings, and gone now.

“Is Shimyee among them?” he asked Breem, who shook his head.

The three were standing in front of an open door.

“He told us to wait!” one yelled at the others. He was a very tall orc.

A squat goblin giggled, and the third, a scarred elf, said, “Over an hour ago! The boss is in trouble.”

“Fine!” The orc concluded. “You go down there. You risk his wrath and not being paid. Me, I follow orders.”

The elf turned to the goblin. “Finn? What do you say?”

The goblin belched and said, “I’m waiting here. It is almost teatime.”

“Can’t you send a spell of inquiry down there and check on them?”

Finn snorted. “Yeah. The boss will love that I was spying on him!”

The elf yelled again and set off through the doorway.

“This is just the upper level of the library,” Breem whispered to them. “There is at least one lower level where the greatest knowledge was kept. That is where we are headed.”

Kabor motioned him to silence as the goblin rose and walked toward them, absently looking at the walls about him. “What kind of tea do you want?” he called to the orc over his shoulder.

“I hate tea,” came the growled response.

They split to either side of the doorway, waiting to strike the goblin.

Booted steps neared them, and then slowed. “Wait a minute…” the goblin began.

Thunrad leapt through the doorway. Kabor followed.

The goblin screamed and ran back toward the orc. He was surprisingly fast. Kabor passed the dwarf but did not catch the goblin.

The orc looked up and cursed and stepped into the doorway.

“No! Wait!” Finn screamed, but the door was shut before he reached it.

Kabor was nearly upon him when the goblin tossed out his weapons and cowered into a ball, hands over his head. “Spare me! Spare me! I am only a slave!”

Kabor stood over him with his sword and asked, “Your master! Is he Shimyee?”

“Yes!”

Thunrad loomed over the goblin but Kabor stopped him. “Tell us what he seeks!” he asked the cowering figure.

“Books!”

“Don’t play stupid! You yourself are a mage, I heard the elf say it!”

The dwarf leaned close and said something in the goblin tongue, which Kabor did not understand. Orlie and Breem caught up to them.

The goblin looked up when Thunrad stopped speaking; his green skin was noticeably pale. “He seeks the Qullaptic Manuscripts,” he said quietly.

That meant nothing to Kabor, but Orlie said, “Those are here? Just what the hell kind of monastery is this?”

“Monastery?” the goblin said. “This was an academy of necromancy!”

Kabor looked to Breem, who was searching all of their faces. “You knew,” he said calmly, grey eyes boring into their employer.

“I suspected,” the scholar quickly retorted.

“You lied!” the dwarf spat. 

“I exaggerated!”

“What are these Cul…Kil…er, Manuscripts?” Kabor asked Orlie.

“They are some assorted histories of elder, evil beings that ruled the earth eons ago. They contain rituals for communicating with them, and even summoning.”

“What were you going to do with them?” he asked the scholar.

Breem stared downward, and sighed in resolution. “Very well. Yes, these are the works I seek. My father was taken decades ago by Igthix, one of these outer beings. I want to find him, or at least his soul, and free him from its possession.”

The goblin laughed. “You are still not telling them everything.”

Breem started to kick Finn, but Thunrad surprisingly stopped him. “Please continue, scholar. We would hear everything.”

When Breem balked, the goblin said, “He is a priest of Igthix, as was his father before him.”

The room went chill and dark as clouds passed in front of the old, bloody sun.

Kabor asked, “How did you really learn of this place’s location?”

“It was revealed to me in a ritual. I do not know how Shimyee found out.”

Finn laughed mockingly. “Shimyee was scrying you, you old fool!”

Orlie looked between the two warriors. “What do we do?”

“What happens if Shimyee gets his hands on these Qal…Manuscripts?” Kabor asked them all.

Finn answered. “He will summon increasingly powerful creatures. He will not be able to control them. They will get loose and ravage the lands.”

Rain began to pelt the walls outside,and the floor where it found the scars in the ceiling. Thunder pealed distantly.

“Now you know the truth!” Breem said. “If you do what I say-”

Thunrad’s axe arced over the scholar/priest’s shoulders. Blood spouted as the head flew a few yards to thump wetly along the floor.

Orlie stepped back in shock; Kabor sighed. The goblin remained pressed against the floor.

Kabor asked Finn, “Can you open that door?”

The goblin nodded and slowly gained his feet while eyeing the dwarf, whose eyes smoldered. Placing his hand by an apparatus that looked like a lock, he spoke a few sentences. The door briefly glowed red and opened of its own accord.

Kabor had raised his sword, in case the orc leapt out, but there was nothing in the lanterned passage beyond  save stairs leading down.

Finn fell to his knees begging for his life. Thunrad closed, but Kabor said, “Spare him. He might be useful when we have to descend this mountain.”

The dwarf looked at him angrily. Orlie held a cloth to Finn’s face and the goblin’s eyes went wide; then he slumped forward.

“He is unconscious,” she said, replacing the cloth and a vial into a pouch at her waist. “He will awaken after nightfall.”

“Nice to see you pull your weight, finally,” Kabor told her.

She paused before laughing.

“Okay,” he said. “We go down there and kill Shimyee and his servants. Then we burn the K…the Manuscripts.”

They nodded and followed him through the doorway.

This stairwell was illuminated by lanterns, hung by the other intruders. It was ornate. The intricate wall carvings were of dark rituals, summoning beings, of murder, and other sins. He did not look closely as they advanced with caution again.

An arrow streaked from below, striking the steps at his feet.

At the bottom was an archway. The orc, the elf, and a pale human archer awaited them.

Kabor sprinted down the last of the steps, wielding his sword in both hands for power, as the orc advanced and raised his greataxe. Sparks flew as their blades met. The clash of metal filled the close hall as Kabor tracked the other two opponents. The elf had a scimitar and held back behind the orc,looking for an opportunity.

The archer sped another arrow up the steps, then reached for a third. A hurled stilleto found his shoulder and he cursed as the bow dropped.

Kabor focused on the orc and locked his axe above their heads. Thunrad came in low and gashed through the orc’s side. As the force opposing him from behind the axe became weak, Kabor freed his blade and grooved the head. Roaring in pain, the orc tumbled back.

The elf swung at Thunrad, who parried the blow.

The archer, wincing, removed the blade from his shoulder as another sprouted in his throat.

Kabor stabbed the orc thrice in the chest. He sank to the old stone flooring.

The elf looked worried and called out.He was answered with a Word and darkness filled the air about them. Orlie called to them, telling them to back out of the area. Kabor did so and saw the darkness was a localized phenomenon. The dwarf followed.

The three of them confronted it a long moment before it dispersed. The elf was gone.

They made sure the orc and the archer were dead, Orlie retrieved her blades, and then they continued down the short hallway to another arch.

Beyond was a smaller version of the library above, though it was immaculately preserved. Shelves lined the walls and several tables were in the center. Many of the books and scrolls had been pulled off the shelves and examined and now lay on tables or the floor.

Beside one of the shelves, looking at the new intruders with piercing black eyes, was a shaven-headed man in a plain black robe: Shimyee.

Beside him was an elven woman, similarly shaven-headed and robed. The other elf stood beside her.

There was a tall goblin archer and finally a heavily-armored human behind him.

Shimyee held up his hand.

“Stop, friends. I can feel your master is dead. There is no longer reason for you to fight. I will allow you to go, despite killing some of my followers.” His eyes were large and magnetic.

Kabor did not meet those eyes and he did not stop; he ran forward. He bore down on the sorcerer and the goblin released an arrow. Kabor swung his head and the arrow furrowed through his cheek.

The elf stood before him but was not strong enough to deflect his blade with the scimitar. Two chops later and the sundered elf fell to the floor.

Thunrad had passed him and a goblin arrow found his chest. The dwarf staggered and Shimyee cast an electrical charge upon him from outstretched fingers.

The armored human moved forward and Kabor met him. The chamber rang with the song of steel. The elven apprentice tried to toss a black powder on him, but he evaded it as he avoided a disemboweling thrust. His own sword shivered off the breastplate of his opponent, then the helmet. The apprentice then tried to touch him with her staff, but he stepped away and used the warrior as a shield.

Out of the corner of his eye he saw Orlie running by to leap off a table and onto the goblin archer.

He saw Shimyee now summoning fire over Thunrad, who moved inexorably forward.

The apprentice again tried to touch Kabor with her staff, but she erred. The armored warrior was forced to step back by a solid strike and the staff touched him. He went rigid and fell over noisily. Her slanted eyes went wide and Kabor ran her through.

Thunrad reached the sorcerer and smote his outstretched hand. It split in crimson spray and Shimyee bellowed in pain. He backed away and spoke a discordant Word. A black hole in space opened up behind him, and tentacles reached out of it and pulled him within. Then it winked out of existence.

Thunrad, arrowed, electrocuted, burned,and roaring in rage, turned to the downed armored warrior and began hacking him apart.

Kabor moved to where Orlie and the goblin rolled around with knives flashing. Both bled from deep gashes. Kabor ended it.

He pulled the woman from under the goblin and she shook with injury. She gripped his arm and asked if she was dying. He opened her shirt and inspected the wounds: two stabs under her left breast, a few light slashes to her abdomen.

“How is your breathing?” he asked, worried that her lung might be punctured.

She seemed confused by the question, but she breathed deeply “Hurts,” she said.

He ripped a large patch from the goblin’s shirt and pressed it against the gashes. “Hold pressure on it. You are stabbed, but I think you’re okay.”

“Hurts,” she said again, but he noticed her chest rising and falling without difficulty.

“You’re okay,” he told her again, holding another piece of the goblin’s shirt to his torn face. He turned back to the dwarf, who had spent his rage. Thunrad was sitting on the dismembered warrior, feeling his many burns. He then pulled out the arrow.

Kabor stepped to the elven apprentice, whose blood pooled widely and blackly on the floor. She looked up at him.

“Shimyee…dead?” she gasped.

He shrugged. “He’s gone, into some weird gate. Can’t say whether he lives or not.”

“Will I…live?”

He shook his head. “You have lost too much blood.” When her head started to sag again, he asked, “Did you find these Manuscripts?”

She was trembling. “No. Maybe…not here…after all.” Her eyes went blank.

“Great gods of the mountain, woman!” Thunrad said. “Button up your shirt!”

Orlie was standing unsteadily beside a table, holding the rag to her stab wounds.

“She needs to keep pressure on the area,” Kabor said. “Look, evidently they did not find the Manuscripts.”

“Then let’s burn this filthy place and leave it,” the dwarf said irritably.

“Some of these books…might be valuable,” Orlie said.

“To the wrong kinds of people!”

“Some of these might not be dark arts manuals,” Kabor said.

“Do you want to catalog them all first?” The dwarf rose to his feet. “I want to be away from this damned place before darkness falls.”

He was torn, as there might indeed be some worthy knowledge here. But this was a Necromancers’ school, and most of it was undoubtedly horrid, and these Manuscripts might not be the worst. There were too many ill hands it could fall into.

“You’re right, Thunrad.”

They emptied several lanterns of their oil, soaking every shelf, and then applied flame. They stayed long enough to make sure the whole caught fire, then made their way backup the steps, chased by oily smoke.

They dragged Finn away from the doorway, so he would not choke on the billowing fumes, but left him for the ghosts.

They found their equipment and Kabor cleaned Orlie’s wounds and bandaged them. She watched his eyes of slate as he gently touched her.

“Why did you charge that goblin?” he asked her. “You throw your knives well enough.”

“I…don’t know.”

He turned and applied some salve to Thunrad’s wounds and burns.

Then Orlie sewed his cheek back together. Her breath was a gentle, scented rhythm on his face.

The ghost reappeared in the chamber at the top of the steps as they returned. It spoke words they could not comprehend and they ignored it. They descended and emerged once again onto the shelf. The afternoon sun was behind the neighboring peaks, wreathing them in a purple glow. They sat down and took an evening meal, cold again as none felt like making another fire.

 

Niall of the Far Travels Collection – A Review

Niall of the Far Travels by Gardner F. Fox – A Review of the Collection

First things first – the editing is the worst I have ever seen in a printed work. The front page refers to the process as “digitally transcribed” and maybe there is a difference between that and actual editing. But at any rate, the publisher should be ashamed. Virtually every single page has multiple misspellings or syntax errors or simple mistakes like extra quotation marks. Some paragraph spacings are omitted. After a while, the brain adjusts and you can plow forward in reading, but it is sad to see so many simple errors in a published work. At some point, a real editor should have had the chance to look at this manuscript.

So – Niall. The stories are not as great as I remember from reading them in Dragon Magazine. They are decent, and I am glad I re-read them, but they are too often solved by hand-waving from the gods. That is a bit of an exaggeration, but not by much.

Because Niall’s lover is Emalkartha the Evil, a goddess of demons, or at least her human form as Lylthia. I like the passion they have for each other, it comes across as real. But pretty much every story has her granting him her divine protections in order to survive his ordeals. While he is a great warrior, and that is shown as much as being told, only a few of the stories are resolved by his own abilities.

The quality of the writing is pretty good. Fox had a reputation as being a hack writer, and there a few convincing examples of this (I read one of his Kothar novels where the ancient city they are traveling to changes names halfway into the story). He relies on a few tropes and sayings to fill some space. If he were writing today, he probably would not have been as successful, as the quality of the writing in today’s crowded markets is much higher.

Despite this, I still like Niall, and his tales. My teen-aged self loved the cover to Dragon #38 and the depiction of Lylthia, and Niall looked different from other barbarian heroes. I guess that is why these stories took on a large prominence in my mind. Reading them today, they are not great, but they’re OK. None of them stand out as being really strong tales individually, but there are quite a few scenes and passages that are memorable. And they have a vitality that I find missing from most of the better-written fiction of today. 

I’m glad I got the collection; but the lack of editing is a travesty. 

Print:

Kindle:

Amazon and Me

Been a while since my last post. Apologies for that – I should have some actual new content in the next week on the blog, including the GC issue 7, and a review of the Niall of the Far Travels book. 

In the meantime, this is a spot on Amazon’s affiliate program. I had 180 days to make 3 sales when I initially signed up. That was about 4 months ago, and I have made a grand total of zero sales. I am consistent, anyway!

So now I have 60 or so days to make 3 sales, or they revoke my affiliate status.

If you are so inclined, please check out my Sword and Sorcery Authors page at the top, add a title to your cart from the link, and proceed with the purchase within 24 hours.  The cost will be the same to you, but I will make about 25 cents, and start my path to domination of the world’s financial markets.

Thank you! 

So Long, Stan

Stan Lee had a powerful influence on me when I was young, and obviously on this blog.

My earliest memories of any literature, aside from Green Eggs and Ham, were Conan the Barbarian comic books from Marvel. #11, Rogues in the House, was my first. Those issues were written by Roy Thomas and illustrated by Barry Windsor Smith, but they had what I later came to understand as the Marvel style; the dramatic art, action, and pathos in the storylines.

And currently, in this blog, I am publishing gaming reports in comic book form. These are done intentionally in the 70’s Marvel style.

There will be a lot written about his character and his influence; I just want to say: Thanks, Stan.

Excelsior!