Friday, November 30, 2007

Hush That Fuss

Ah, the freedom.

BMP Grand Prix: Saul and the Rise of the White Mantle

As I expected it took less than 12 hours for detailed walkthroughs to go up on the wikis. All except the one I really need, of course - Turai's mission gives a frensigger like me fits. But even though it's rather unnecessary I'm still going to go through with this series and detail my trips through the bonus mission pack.

Okay, so the deal is this. Saul's staff is a Monk's. Togo's is a Ritualist's. Turai gives you a sword and shield so, yeah, Warrior. And Gwen's going to be a little Mesmer. I'm guessing that's going to be the flavor of each mission. Since I've been playing a Monk a lot lately, I went with Saul, founder of the White Mantle for my first run. Boy, was I mistaken but we'll get to that in a while.

It's about Saul, obviously, and how he leads his followers to battle back the Charr when they tried to invade Kryta with one, final suicide mission. Sounds promising.

You start off with Saul overlooking your ragtag army. He looks nothing like I imagined him, be rather scruffy and, well, white. I always pictured him as a black dude or at least Kytan caramelly colored, kinda Brazillian thing. The perils of filling in backstory that I've already thought about, I guess. He does sport a huge White Mantle cape, though.

Saul's bar is a Monk/Mesmer one heavy on the signets. Oh, I knew I was in trouble when I saw it was a Smiting staff. It also features a few brand new skills which kinda defeats the point a little if you ask me but, hey, whatever.

You'll have 550 health and 50 energy to work with. And since you can't look at your stats, a little detective work reveals that you have 16 Smiting, 10 Inspiration, and 2 Domination.

He's got Castigation Signet, Bane Signet, and Unnatural Signet. Along with Mantra of Inscriptions so at least the designers aren't high on the supercool. Then the special skills kick in. He has Banner of the Unseen, Form Up and Advance!, and his elite is called Signet of the Unseen.

Banner of the Unseen. Ward Spell. 15en, 1cast, 10recharge. Create a Banner of the Unseen at your location. For 5 seconds, all allies in its area are healed for 25 Health each second. When this spell ends, all allies in its area are healed for 100.

Form Up and Advance! Shout. 10en, 15recharge. All Saul's trusted White Mantle followers fall back to your location and run 33% faster. For 10 seconds, all moving allies are healed for 15 Health each second.
Signet of the Unseen. Elite Signet. 1cast, 7recharge. Target foe and all nearby foes take 80 damage and are knocked down. If any of those foes are summoned creatures, those foes begin Burning for 6 seconds.

Those skills don't have any variables but since you can't mess with your stats, it doesn't matter.

Okay, so the Ward is a cheesy kind of Heal Party and probably what you're going to have to rely on for healing. It's 225 health over 5 seconds across whoever's in the ward so that's not bad.

The Shout is super-Fall Back! It's also going to act as a way of controlling the NPC army you spawn with.

And I'm going to learn to love Unseen Sig since that's super-Judgment on an insane cooldown with MoI up. Damage seems to be affected by armor, though. Oh wait, no, I'm wrong. It's holy damage. What I'm seeing is that it sometimes doubles against the undead.

Yes, that's only 7 skills, I imagine you either get one along the way or you do without.

Anyhow, you start off in a little path just in front of a Krytan village besieged by mid-level (ie lv15~18 Charr). The map says this takes place somewhere north of Beetletun. Along with you are some White Mantle troops - the usual smattering of Knights along with some named NPCs. As soon as you move the town is attacked and you're forced to defend the villagers as those named NPCs (Including old pals Habilion and Dorian) become allies forming an eight person party. They range from lv16~18 themselves and include two Warriors, a Ranger, an Elementalist, A Necro, a Mesmer, and a Monk (Who actually has healing spells, not the lame sig stuff I'm running.).

Since Dorian's the only Monk and I have to rely on running around and placing wards to heal anyone we get hammered pretty badly. After a certain point I stopped worrying about healing and concentrated on blasting away since massive AoE damage is fun. A few in my party get killed but they're rezzed up quickly once the Charr are dispatched.

Okay, now that I have time to see what I'm doing here, the quest log tells me I'm going to earn a whopping 500 gold for this (Along with that perfect weapon. Um...yay?) and that I need to let people say their goodbyes and gather by the gates. There's also a little meter on my screen now that says Charr alert level. It is empty and not moving so I'm taking my sweet time and typing this all up.

In the village are various bombs you can pick up. Rations will restore nearby allies for 100 Health. While Explosive will deal 100 damage to nearby enemies. The Barbed Bomb will do 100 damage, as well, and also cause bleeding for 5 seconds. 5 seconds? Really? While the Stun Bomb will knock them down. And the Balm Bomb will remove 3 conditions from adjacent allies. They all have an infinite supply but the only problem is that you have no weapon swap which is how I usually handle getting rid of a bundle. My "Drop Item" icon is burried under so much stuff I don't even know where it is in my UI and it's the only way to get rid of the things. Little detail but still annoys me. I've had to do some tweaking because I think these things might come in handy. Since I already do a ton of damage and can't heal worth a damn, I'm taking the Rations.

Once I finish mucking around with pots, I head to the gate where the NPCs I remember from Prophesies are patiently waiting while their wise, holy, and most sacred leader who's going to lead them to salvation as the world ends is acting like a time-wasting moron. Just like good little AI. We head out the door, the rest of the group in tow have got to be kidding me.

Apparently the point of this mission is to skulk around avoiding combat because the more Charr you kill, the higher the alert level rises and when it's full bad things happen. Freaking Krytan stealth missions. I want to kill things with my uber-sigs.

Ugh. Well, I have to head to the back of the camp and kill the Charr leaders so maybe there'll be a little combat to sate my bloodlust. I, though, have no idea where I'm going since there are no green arrows to guide me.

Super-shout does make for quick and easy travel, though.

Oh, good, as I explore further, running from all red dots like they'll give me some kind of horrid pox, there's some dialog telling me where to go. Thanks game. It'd be better if the path was, you know, actually readily apparent but at least I'm not stumbling around completely lost now.

It also says I need ot hurry because dawn's approaching. Ha, yeah, I'll take my sweet time, thanks because that's not actually happening until I get to the right trigger.

Still running and hidding like a punk. Managed to elude all the patrols so far.

Ran into the first patrol I couldn't avoid. Only six or eight enemies - including a lv28 Charr Beast ele thing that just...wouldn't...die. And now my Alert level's almost full.

The stealth portions are almost comically easy. I imagine someone will post a map/guide soon enough and better than I ever could but, in general, you want to veer right and if the game puts a deadend little niche in your path it's probably a good idea to duck in there until the oncoming patrol passes.

Found the camp, now to avoid the patrols while I get to the back and find the Titan effigy the bosses are around.

There are three of them. Gathered, alone, in fron of one of those wooden flaming deals that old school Charr are so found of. There's a Necro, a Ranger, and a Warrior. Not that it really matters. They die easily enough.

Killing two of them fills my Alert meter. Killing the third triggers a cutscene where the Murssaat gate in and I'm still rocking my huge barrel like I'm headed to the worst kegger ever.

And then my frat brothers show up for some hazing. Evil hazing.

Now, I get three new Mursaat allies including Optimus Caliph, twee! He's an Ele, the other two are also Proph bosses, a Mes and a Necro but I remember Optimus because a) the name. And b) he's a tough son of bitch to put down. We're squared off against the Charr army gathered before us to block our way.

I also get to rock Spectral Agony now. It's that mysterious 8th skill I lacked at the start. Unfortunately it's not the ultra mega, instant death version the Mursaat get. Although still very nasty.

Spectral Agony. Hex Spell. 5en, 1cast, 8recharge. For 5 seconds, target foe moves, attacks, and uses skills 80% slower, suffer 4 Health degeneration, and loses 80 Health each second.

Now we have to survive against 4 warbands. I'm jinxing myself but so far it's pretty easy. It doesn't hurt that my dead allies will revive when there aren't any more enemies near.

3 down now. So far my winning strategy consists of standing in the healing wards and spiking the hell out of everything that comes in range. There are many things to call this but compelling gameplay is not one of them.

Stupid internet connection conked out on me right in the middle of the final wave and now I have to start all over again. That sound you don't here is me swearing profusely. I've been having little hiccups all day - sort of a "yeah, you're connected, whoops, now you're not, ha ha! Ah, just fucking around with you." kind of thing - and I came back from one to find myself wiped out. Lag 1, Rex 0. Fun.

Still, it's not exactly long or hard, especially if you're not pausing to gaze at your navel.

The trick to the "survive the onslaught" portion, I think, is to let the Mursaat tank for you. They have Spectral and a ton of armor and health, it seems so you want them to take the brunt of the damage while you hang back and use Form Up! as needed to draw your forces back to the saftey of your wards (There's your healing stuff but your Ele also uses Elements, too.) as needed (The Murssat, not being White Mantle don't listen to it.). The high priority Charr are the various Ash ones since they're Orders spammers who'll summon minions from the plentiful corpses. Or they're annoying Rits. And the Sootreigners since they'll drop Firestorms on your head. Basically, you want all the casters dead. The Charr Beasts are annoying PBAoE guys but they're also well armored tanks. You can't spike them out quick so focus on downing the easier prey and put a Spectral up on them.

Okay, finally back to the point I was before and, yes, where I dropped was in fact the last wave to deal with. So aggravating. Cutscene rolls as scores of White Mantle pour in. After the battle is over. Freaking useless White Mantle.

And, uh, spoiler alert but the Mursaat? They're not really nice people after all.

Back to Durmond I go. As promised, you can "authorize" the book which prevents you from trading it, I guess. I could care less about a perfect rare weapon at this point so it's not much use to me. As promised, though, you can replay the mission (Same exact way as the last time, there's no special button or anything) and unlock "discoveries". So, it's Prhopehesies mission bonuses all over again. I'm going to leave that for later though (Although a quick run through seems to indicate they won't be so hard to figure out as the game prompts you with "historical points of debate". For example, I got one asking if Saul could have saved the villagers in the attack on the village. Hmmm...wonder what that could be implying?)

Now, if you'll excuse me, time for some of my thoughts as a review. Not exactly hard although a mite more difficult than I feared. Surviving the waves of attacking Charr isn't quite effortless but it's not exactly going to tax you, either. I wasn't really trying the first time and if it hadn't been for a faulty connection, I would have had it. No troubles the second time around. My main problem with this mission, though, is that I really, really hate stealth elements. I have all these neat toys for killing and I have to skulk around avoiding combat? Lame. Overall, though, a nice little mission that's only whet my appetite for more.

Guild Wars: Nothing to Brag About

So, the game has a new commercial coming out. Or, rather, the game has characters featured in an ad for GameStop, the game retail store I wouldn't set foot in if I was on fire and its floor was covered in a solid meter of water. So, maybe I'm a bit biased but I'm not exactly feeling the spot which you can see here. Oddly enough they don't let you embed it yourself or I would have just posted it here and shared it with my vast audience of....two or three people. But, still, power of the internet, viral marketing, the magic of Stephens' tubes, other vague buzzwords that make it sound like I know what I'm talking about and make the point that they really haven't leveraged the medium as well as they could have.

The spot features some of the new Heroes from GW:EN. Except it really doesn't because they don't sound or act anything like themselves and, instead, it plays out like the kind of crappy machina you can find on YouTube and elsewhere. The Dwarven Monk who's name I've never bothered to learn and Pyre, the Charr archer, stand around a big fire whining about the lame gifts hey got for the holidays. And then the Asuran whom I strangle in my sleep every night comes moonwalking in bragging about how his mother got him a stocking full of games or something. Really, at that point, my mind is too clouded by rage to properly focus.

It doesn't sell the game. I'm not even sure it sells anyone on the idea of games being something to buy, either. And if the point is to be "funny" then it's missed the mark in a manner normally only achieved by blind marksmen trying to skeetshoot in the middle of a frisbee tournament. In the middle of gale force winds.

The subtext of the commercial is also odd, to me. The characters sound like, well, snot nosed punks instead of their normal selves which is expecially jarring with Blech. Taken altogether it seems the intended audience for the spot to be, not gamers, but the parents of those who game and are looking for something - or someplace, rather - to get them. If they do they'll be the ones with the happy child. The overly enthusiastic practically spastic one making a jerkgasm fueled spectacle of himself. It's part of a disturbing trend I've noticed in advertising lately. That of holding up if not reprehensible then ill-advised behavior and lauding it as an example of what you want your customers to do. That you want them to be the over-eager, awkward, anxious dolt or to at least associate that sort of person with your company. Because, yes, head to GameStop if you want to be the kind of person whose ingrate loved ones don't look at your gifts with the distaste once reserved for tube socks and neckties. And you, too, can have your relatives and friends bouncing up and down with sugar filled glee at the thought of spending hours of their lives locked away from the world and swallowed up in the kind of electronic bliss that makes them think things like a dance emote are cool. I just don't get it.

Guild Wars: Rawr's Cup

I'll let you know, straight up, that I'm planning on spending most of my time this weekend catching up on my playtime. I intend to fire up GW and play until my eyeballs have dropped out of the sockets and are swinging around like a disgusting pendulum that I will then use to whack the keyboard and activate hotkeys so I can play even longer. I have a few goals heading into the weekend. I want to collect the rest of the PvE skills, finish up GW:EN, clean out my inventories (I did a runthrough earlier for some emergency space clearing but I really need to go over everything and decide things like whether or not I really need to have 15 Miner's keys in my vault. Or if it wouldn't be better off to sell them off and invest the money in lockpicks.) and, then, get some new armor. Now that I'm rich (Aw, dammit, I never posted that, did I? Sigh...), I've decided I should update my wardrobe. While it's going to be a shock after scrimping and saving for so long, for one thing, I want to get a set of tats for my Monk - haven't decided on which skin yet but I want the "running around naked" look - and the parchment and/or vellum alone is going to set me back 30~50k. I can easily afford it but I have to fight my miserly urges at the sticker shock. The other thing I want to do is catch up on my obs time. I really haven't been watching any matches lately and that's not a good thing. I might not be able to play myself but, if I ever want to, it'll be easier to get caught up if I know the basics of how things are done.

So, the Rawr Cup comes at a perfect time.

I've known about it for a while now without being aware of it. In my defense I've been a little busy with other things this month. But my attitude towards it was rather, "Oh yeah, there's some sort of player run tournament coming up. People have mentioned it to me. I should look into thaaaa----hey, shiny! Aw man, it's just tin foil. Again. Every time. What were we thinking about again?" But when it gets mentioned in the official patch notes and it's getting in-game support it's a big enough deal for me to sit up and take notice.

It looks sweet, from what I can tell. The sort of thing I always hoped would crop up but was rendered pointless by the Championship tournaments. Now that those are a thing of the past, it's nice to see that the community is stepping up and filling the void. It also opens up some interesting possibilities with special rules and conditions for the tournament - imagine a round where everyone was restricted to Prophesies era skills or Sins and Paragons were disallowed, or even matches where teams were required to run four Elementalists, there are a lot of ways to get crazy with this sort of thing. But just the fact that they're going to have divisions, levels of competition so the weaker teams aren't run off the map and the stronger teams can be at each other's throats alone is enough to get me excited.

If I've done the conversion right, tomorrow's matches will start at noon, eastern for the junior division. A half hour later, it's the welterweights' turn. Then, at 1PM EST, it's the main attraction as the top-flight teams in the Dragon Division start going at it (Should be about 10AM PST for that, as well.). That's just perfect for me and should make for a pleasant afternoon's viewing.

It seems the developers are amped up for this, too, as the K values have been tweaked so no one loses much rating - eliminating the concerns of teams in the higher end of the bracket dropping like a stone after some quirky upsets, no doubt - and the obs mode panel now displays the last ten instead of the last four. That should make following the multiple rounds easier. Although I 'm a little confused at this point if they're following tournament rules and having best of three contests or the AT format and having it be one and done.

The Dragon division looks loaded with good teams and better players. My money's on Dark Alley, obviously, but you've got [EW] and [vD] and more. Little more unfamiliar with the lower tiers of competition but nice to see my old pals in XoO and the Knights Templar are trying to field teams. Haven't seen any schedules announced yet, though, although with the logistics involved in putting together this sort of thing that's not really surprising. It's herding cats, and my respect goes out to everyone working to put this thing together.

Also, in a bit of happy unexpected news, there's going to be a live broadcast of Weapon of Choice at the same time the tournament is kicking off. Always loved that show and it seems it's going to be sticking around after the tournament, which is good to hear. Kestrel will be on the Uberguilds channel starting at 1PM EST. I'm definitely going to be tuning in as I try to scope out the best matches.

Sigh, I only wish I'd gotten clued in early enough to actually play myself. Oh well, maybe next time.

Fortunately, I'm already covered, myself, for catching matches but I would be remiss if I didn't mention this little tip for catching the matches you really want to see. The guild tab. If you're in a guild then their last match is always available for you to review. And most of the hardcore PvPers are generally pretty nice about inviting people. It means you have to leave your guild, if you're in one, as you can't guest over for it, but if that doesn't bother you then it's a good way to make sure you don't miss that match you really want to see. All you have to do is ask and, you know, not be a complete dick about it.

NaNo Blogging: Paying It Backwards

November draws to a close. The flurry of creativity has turned into a mad scramble to get to the word validator in time. I'm, of course, sitting pretty in purple having taken care of that several days ago. But it also means that it's time for another NaNo tradition: begging for cash.

National Novel Writing Month, after all, is run by a non-profit. It takes donations to keep it well funded. And that means, like public radio or PBS, the pledge drive is on and e-mails and letters and posts fly asking anyone who can to spare a bit of their money in order to keep the project solvent. Now, this is annoying and, frankly off-putting but it works. The staffers send out the call to arms and enough people respond to make it worth their while. It takes begging, shouting, cajoling, and everything else possible to convince that small percent of people who'll actually donate to part with their money. And, second, it really is for a good cause. The money goes not just to keeping the website up but to helping teachers and (In the past, at least) libraries and more.

But, the sad truth is that some people just don't have the money to spare. This is especially true in my home region. We're currently #49 in the international word war. I'm pleased to report that my own herculean efforts are a mere single digit percentage of the overall total (My other selected home region, Ann Arbor, home of the University of Michigan clocks in respectably in the top 100 thanks to impressive per writer word count average.). But the depressed and depressing economic conditions of my home state of Michigan mean that we're well behind par when it comes to the money race. Donating less than a thousand dollars overall. When the paper is full of talk of layoffs and foreclosures and the unemployment rate is well above the national average, it's hard to fault us for that is it? But that doesn't mean we can't contribute.

Because, in fact, even if you don't send a drop of money the NaNo way you can still help them out. Firstly, there are a number of sites who'll donate some of the proceeds of any sale to the Office of Letters and Light. But, more importantly, there are also a number of ways to contribute money to the cause without spending any of your own.

I'll flag out GoodSearch as a particularly effective option. I've been using it since Script Frenzy myself and I don't have any complaints. Every time you perform a web search through that engine a small amount is given to NaNo. It's not much but think about how many searches you make in a day, a month, a year. Because it all adds up. Since June of this year, for example, people have raised over $700 for NaNo through their searches. There was a huge spike once NaNo kicked off in October but that works out to a few thousand a year. The more people, the more searches, the better. And since it's something that I'd do anyways, it makes sense to me.

But, whatever the way, if you've enjoyed the month, if you want to see it continue, try and make sure that you find some way. Even if it's only spreading the word.

Guild Wars: Skill Update 11/29

In addition to adding the bonus pack content, today's patch also saw a few choice skill updates as well. Let's review.

They've fixed a few bugs such as the one that made Magebane super awesome and the one that kicked Black Lotus Strike in the pants after it was done egging its house - when changing it to a lead strike, it was supposed to only proc energy when a target was hexed but however they wound up the code said it would still completely fail if the target wasn't hexed instead of of landing a hit without returning energy.

There were also some fixes to Mesmer skills. Clumsiness took a hard nerfing which is probably for the best. Empathy does more damage. I could care less. Overload, too. My apathy knows no bounds. And the PvE only skill Cry of Pain got a marginally quicker recharge time. That sound of distant crickets you hear represents my interest level.

The juicy stuff here, though, are the changes to Sins. Which, again, are probably going to lead to no end of QQing from the people who just. don't. get. it. And believe their overpowered shit makes the game better for everyone and not just them. But, yes, Shadow Prison's finally been killed. It's now only marginally better than Dark Prison - the big difference being 5 seconds of recharge time. Took them long enough, if you ask me, although I think one or the other will need changing because, as of now, they're basically duplicates. Also, Paradox took another nerf, increasing its energy. Deadly Paradox is just one of those problematic skills that crops up in degenerate build after degenerate build and, really, probably never should have been made. The current problem was the Deadly Arts/Signet sins that were running around Arenas and being silly. Now they just don't have enough to run their bars effectively.

All in all, a good set of targeted nukes to some problematic stuff that's been plaguing the game overlong. And some bizarre upticks to skills that don't matter. Now, if they could just fix the lack of effective party-wide healing, things would really be looking up.

Guild Wars: The Bonus Pack is Here!

The Bonus Mission Pack went live some time this evening. I dove in headfirst as soon as I noticed. Although I haven't played everything through just yet, I have dabbled in all the bonus missions enough to get a sense of them. I smell a new series to dribble out slowly over the coming days (Even though I should really get around to posting the last of the Dungeon Dives first, eh?).

You can read the details yourself at the official site but the basic idea is that there's a new group of NPCs in the major cities (ie LA, Kamadan, and Kaineng.). There's Durmand, the Historian. Talk to him and you get access to the bonus missions. He'll give you one of four books as well as some weapons for most. Saul's and Togo's come with staves, a smiting and channeling one respectively, while Turai's with a sword and shield combo. They're all max damage but lack any sort of mods. Gwen's tale is the only one to come without a weapon of some sort (I haven't managed to get the elite quests that she adds done yet so I don't know if there's any bonus for bringing the Rose Focus, say.).

To get to the missions you need to open one of the books he gives you. They give some background along with some awesome looking artwork (Really like the Togo book, best of all, but they're all bang-up jobs. Great to see that sort of thing since the game's always had strong concept art.) and an annoyingly ominous voiceover along with our old friend the enter mission button, provided you've equipped the proper weapon first.

When you're in the mission you'll be under a disguise, transforming you into the main character and fixing your stats and skills. You won't be able to adjust your attributes, in fact, if you open up your skill panel you won't even see them. Same thing goes for your inventory - can't open it at all, no bags, no armor, no nothing - and Hero tabs. You also have no weapon set bubbles and can't swap your weapon, even to an empty set if you wanted to, say, dump some energy. But there are also no drops of any sort to collect so it really doesn't matter much.

In each mission you'll be handed a preselected skill bar. Just what depends on the mission at hand, of course, as do your new health and energy stats but they all include some specially made, big Timmy skills for you to play around with. You'll be on a quest that you can look up in your log but it's of the instanced type and, if you're killed, you'll be returned to the outpost you were at (It doesn't matter where you start from once you have the books and gear) to try again. If you win, you'll get 500 gold and some book pages.

The books work like the Dungeon Master's Guide and Player's Handbook from GW:EN in that they have missing pages you'll fill in by completing the mission. Then, you can talk to Durmond again and get them authorized. Once that's done you can take them to the [Scribe] NPCs nearby. There are four, one for each book, and there you can select from an assortment of rare weapons with unique skins. They're collector weapons which means perfect stats but no mods of any sort. The skins, as far as I can tell, are brand new and not repeats. Personally, I'm one of those "Yeah, it looks nice but what are the stats?" kind of players so I couldn't tell you if they look nice or not.

Also, once you've completed the mission (And, note, not after you've authorized. You don't have to turn your book in for your stamp of approval first.) you unlock Discovery Mode which means you can head back in and try to accomplish some bonus goals. Something like Prophesies mission bonuses, basically. I haven't bothered to do it myself but, from what I've heard, they involve some extra challenge and at least one in every mission is related to how quickly you can beat it, like Factions. You get more gold for beating those.

As I said earlier, I've tried all the missions by now. Saul's a signet smiter with some sweet overpowered stuff. You do some stealth stuff and then it's a survive the onslaught deal witht he Mursaat at your side - and, yes, you do get to use Spectral although you don't start off with it. Young Togo (Who still looks, like, 45.) gets to star in his own Hong Kong action movie with some assists from the Tengu. He's a solid spirit spammer with some eye-popping tricks. The Unghostly hero is a bug stomper as you romp around the desert destroying undead with a ton of hit points and armor (But, no Monk. And, worse, no run buff.) and some big damage skills leading up to a fight with Palawa. Finally, Gwen starts her off with only four skills and all of them related to sneaking around and hiding from the enemy. Her stage is all about escaping from the Charr.

Here are the bars you start off with:

Saul (550hp, 40en)

  • Smiting Prayers 16
  • Inspiration Magic 10
  • Domination Magic 2
  • Signet of the Unseen {E} (unique)
  • Castigation Signet
  • Bane Signet
  • Unnatural Signet
  • Blank
  • Banner of the Unseen (unique)
  • Mantra of Inscriptions
  • Form Up and Advance! (unique)

Smiting Staff (en+10, halves recharge 20%)

Togo (550hp, 40en)
  • Channeling 14
  • Communing 11
  • Restoration 10
  • Call to the Spirit Realm (unique)
  • Essence Strike
  • Spirit Burn
  • Spirit Rift
  • Mend Body and Soul
  • Offering of Spirit {E}
  • Disenchantment
  • Dragon Empire Rage (unique)

Channeling Staff (en+10, halves recharge 20%)

Turai (700hp, 25en)
  • Strength 11
  • Swordsmanship 14?
  • Tactics 14
  • For Elona! (unique)
  • Dragon Slash {E}
  • Whirlwind Attack (sunspear)
  • Distracting Blow
  • For Great Justice!
  • Endure Pain
  • Healing Signet
  • Giant Stomp (monster)

Sword (15~22)
Tactics shield (AL 16)

Gwen (300hp, 20en)
  • Domination Magic 10~12?
  • Illusion Magic 12
  • Flee (unique)
  • Throw Rock (unique)
  • Hide (unique)
  • Feign Death (unique)
  • Blank
  • Blank
  • Blank
  • Blank

Of the four, I've beaten Saul and Gwen. Came close with Togo but I nubbed it when I attacked when I should have healed. Turai I was just trying to see how far I could get with my rambo impression. Turns out the answer is: pretty far. Playing it for real I think I need to slow down, realize I don't have a healer, and be a bit smarter about when I Sig up or Endure out. I got a bit caught up with the Godzilla act as I stomped on the undead swarm. It's probably going to be the hardest for me because of my natural C+Space tendencies.

Gwen's, on the other hand, is depressingly easy. Once you figure out the trick at the beginning that I'm not going to spoil, anyway, it was just a fairly straight forward run.

But, of the four, I think Togo's is my favorite. It's got a great kung fu, action movie vibe to it with just the right touches of humor and lore blended together. I suck at playing a spirit farmer, hate the very concept, but it doesn't even matter.

Overall, though, it's definitely not worth buying. Not that you can, but it's no more than $5~10 worth of content, if that. The missions are short, but sweet. There don't seem to be any major rewards for them, either. It'll keep me occupied this weekend, I think, and maybe a bit longer depending on whether I want to track down all the discoveries (At this point, it really depends on what the rewards are. I'm not going through all that effort of replaying them unless there's something worthwhile for my troubles. And that needs to be better than the rewards for mission bonuses, I think.).

But they don't, for me anyway, add much to the story. They don't explore the interest parts of the lore and the parts they do are ones that I'd have imagined better than they actually play out anyway - the whole Saul thing, for example, is just jarring. We don't get to see how he meets the Mursaat initially or why they choose to help him. And the outcome doesn't reveal anything that someone who's played through Prophesies wouldn't know (Although it does set up a return, down the line that might pay off... One day.) I don't get the point. Or the Turai mission. It tries to recreate the middle of a pitched, massive war but Guild Wars just doesn't scale up well and it shows.

Don't get me wrong, the missions are worth playing through if only for the novelty. And as an added bonus on top of things you've already bought, they're priced right. They're certainly an interesting use of the game's engine and one I wouldn't mind seeing more of some how, some way. I mean, I'd rather have the Costume Brawl back but this is the sort of thing you could fob off on a neophyte quest designer or three looking to climb up the ladder and then release every so often as a way of refreshing content and interest. Makes a good model for tutorial style content in GW2 as well. But if they ever offer a retail version of this, I'd definitely pass unless they sweetened the deal a lot more.

NaNo Blogging: Cashing In My Chips

With my recent brush with the offline world - a place I found cold and uncomfortable - I decided that it wouldn't be in my best interests to wait until the last minute to validate my word count. So, as soon as my connection came back, one of my first steps was to scramble my manuscript and plug into into the magic counting device. Since someone told me that you can make an aggregate count, I threw together the currently unfinished version of my current novel along with the work I did on the first and, for good measure, added that third novel I've been working in on the side for good measure as well, and stuck them in a single document. As my word processor chugged and chugged and then chugged some more with the laborious task of replacing every single letter with another, I began to realize that I just might have overshot the mark.

The final tally? Almost 160k. Actually, probably a bit more by now but I'm not going to bother updating my count unless I finish my story which is not looking very probably at the moment. About 65k comes from novel one, the Wolf - my failed, overly ambitious project. Another 60k comes from my current novel, Candlelight. I guestimate I'd need about another 20k to wrap up the story and then maybe another 10~15k for a prologue that sets everything up but my current thinking is that I really don't need it at all. The final 40k, give or take, comes from the quote unquote novel that I'd work on whenever I was stuck. I've never mentioned it before now and there's a good reason. It is basically porn. The kind of awful, adolescent porn that I'm embarrassed to show myself let alone anyone else. With only the barest of plots to get to the screwing it's full of nasty people doing nasty things to each other and betrays my Catholic school upbringing more than anything else I've done to date, I think. But I was just using it as a way to vent, a means to keep the pen moving while I let plots tick over in my subconscious. Maybe next year I'll do serious erotica.

This year, however, I think I'm just about done. Once I hit the submit button and saw that purple bar my worries just vanished. Along with my motivation. At the moment, what I'm looking forward to most is the BMP. And the siren song of other project, other works is calling out to me. Have a few more things for it that I'd like to get done and I'd like to cull through it for some choice excerpts to post up.

But I think that I'm going to put Candlelight on the backburner for now. Let it sit a while and marinate before I come back to it (Although I hear the Frenzy's been moved up to April for some inexplicable reason and that might throw me off stride entirely. Just an awful time of the year for me, generally speaking.) while I move on to other things. This weekend, I'm going to sit back and veg out. Past that, I think I'm actually going to revisit my novel from last year. Which, if you'll recall, I didn't finish either. Yes, it's time to resurrect ClotH. But, first, I'm going to work on a bit of a gaiden, a dangling but smaller project just so I can get something done while I explore my new conception of that fictional digital world.

In the end, though, was it worth it? Absolutely. This month was an awful one for me. One filled with setbacks and tragedies large and small. From a dead dog to stubbed toes, it seemed like the universe itself was conspiring against me. And, yet, I somehow managed to rise above it and get done not only most of my obligations - like school and updating this site - but, somehow, also to find the time to write 160k words of pure, blazing creativity pried from the cavernous reaches of my mind. It could, actually, have been more since I went back and restarted my second novel and I didn't include that first, well, first draft in the final count. I didn't meet a lot of my goals like finishing a book and writing every day. But I did meet some of them. Like writing more than 100k and mentoring some fine new folk on their initial voyage into madness. I often feel like I'm not living up to my potential. That I could do more, if I just tried a little bit harder, just had a little more energy and enthusiasm. I walk away from this month feeling the same thing. That although I did better than a lot of folks I could have done oh so much more. If only. But the fact that I did anything at all is the accomplishment that I'm proud of the most here. It would have been so easy to give up, to quit, but, instead, I kept plugging away. And while I might not have as much as I'd like to show for it or even a good final product, I have that at the very least.

But it's an effort that's left me completely exhausted even as it's left me unsatisfied and craving more. Another chance. Another mad month of creativity because this one was so doomed to failure from the start. At the moment, though, I think it's time to rest. To catch up on some reading. To play some games. To relax, for a little while.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007


Blargh. Backles.

Oh well, so much for unmentioned new blogging year's resolution to post at least once a day, every day. Strangely enough, it wasn't my legendary unreliability or epic apathy which cost me my weeks old streak of unbroken posting. Instead, it was my ISP. My internet went out sometime on Monday and has only recently been fully restored after much jiggling and wiggling of the cabled connections of my makeshift network (Sure, if I'd really wanted to I could have found a way to get online, somehow, and post. But you have to understand I'm really, really lazy.). I was seriously worrying that I wouldn't be able to validate my word count as NaNo drew to a close. My own novel is still uncompleted but, dammit, I've written more than enough to get my prize this month, especially with everything that's tried to keep me from that goal.

Anyhow, a day full of catching up with missed e-mails and messages, checking in on sites, and everything else that I wasn't able to do while I was briefly excluded from the electronic wonderland that the magic cable brings into my home has left me drained.

I also made the mistake of turning on the Republican debate (Since the Dem's primary is screwed, I figure I'd cross the aisle, suck it up, hold my nose, and pull the lever for that mythical "least objectionable" choice. That or try and royally screw them over. But I have to at least know who the candidates are so it's research time.) for all of about five minutes before my brain recoiled in horror. This? This?!? This is the best the Republicans have to offer? Millions of people are going to vote for whichever empty suit comes out of that dogpile of shame and mendacity? Jesus wept and Shiva ran away with the tears.

I'll try and see about getting some actually content up tomorrow. For now, though, here, our current mission statement:

Sunday, November 25, 2007

NaNo Blogging: Accepting the Inevitable

Sigh, it looks like I'm not going to finish after all. According to my outline, I'm under halfway through the story. I have it divided up into chapters and in-between into different settings - I expect those to be of various lengths but I can't say for certain just how long each would be. Call it two fifths of the way done. I'd really hoped to be at two thirds by now. But, at this point, I'm sick, I'm operating on about four hours sleep and I have no idea how I can keep this up for the next...I'm not even sure how many days are left in the month. Worse, my inner editor has returned from the grave and is desperately trying to convince me that what I'm writing now is awful - the end product of cold syrup and sleep deprivation that should have been stillborn children of the mind instead of a desperate last ditch attempt to reach my goal. I'm going to head back in (After a quick and blessedly welcome nap) and see what more I can get done. And, either way, I'm committed to working to the bitter end. It's just a matter of how hard I'm going to wear myself out at this point. Next week was supposed to be a busy one for me although, at the moment, all I feel like doing is crawling under the covers and forgetting the rest of the world exists.

Pretty much a fitting end for a really lousy month when you get right down to it. This whole November's been pretty starcrossed from the get go. Just, yeah, I'll be glad to see the back of it.

Still, I can't feel too bad. I took a brief glance at my word count today and I actually have more than I thought. There's a lot of notes and clutter inflating things that I'd like to get rid of before feeding it into the magic counting machine but, well, if you add in the work on my first novel and the first draft of this current one and that third novel of filthy smut I've been working up on the side, well, I think my total is pretty impressive (Plus, you know, more than a hundred blog posts, countless e-mails, work, other projects, and all, I don't think anyone can accuse me of being lazy this month.). The goal, of course, is to get to a finished product, for once. And I think I'm going to fail that one. But, as always with NaNo, it's more about the journey to get there than it is about reaching the finish line. This November might have been doomed from the start but that just means I have a reason to show up with my A-game next year.

And besides, there are still a few days left. I'm not quitting, I'm just admitting that the possibility of success is slim. I could still pull off the unexpected. And I'm certainly going to try.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

NaNo Blogging The New Progress?

I am so sick right now it's not even funny. I blame tryptophan poisoning.

Seriously, I am typing away at this with my eyes closed because even looking at the screen makes my head go all swirly.


Friday, November 23, 2007

NaNo Blogging: The Plan?

Time for an update on the novel. I've got about a week left now which is really disheartening. Oh, how I rue all those slow days and times when I said, “Eh, I'll have time for it later.” As I, hopefully, explained, I'm abstaining from the ritual of the word count so I have no idea just how much I've done exactly. At this point it's an academic exercise since I've already filled up my word counter. But judging by the plot outline I'm about a third of the way done now (I've, amazingly enough, been writing in a pretty linear fashion. That's not at all how I usually operate.) if you don't count the prologue I'm not writing yet. Mostly, I don't have a good handle on how to deeal with it yet. It's the part of the book that's gong to set up and establish everything and that's exactly where I got bogged down with the last one, so I've put it off for now. Just don't have a good way of making it active and not about the characters standing around and telling each other the status quo although I do know how to throw the monkey wrench in their to get them to Act Two, as it were. It's just choppy and bumpy getting there and exactly what you don't want to start the book off with. I'll figure it out, eventually, but I don't think I'm going to have the time to write it out by the end of the month.

Fortunately, I think, I don't really need it. The story would be better off with a slow burn, introducing the characters and the issues at play. But I think where I start now includes enough information to get the ball rolling well enough that I might not ever need to include those introductory passages at all.

Without the prologue I'm left with three chapters and a small epilogue. The third chapter, which I'm on now, is by far the longest. It's the one that's got the most ground to cover from start to finish. Unfortunately, the first two chapters aren't doing me much at the moment since I have to rewrite them.

I spent a lot of time driving over the week and that gave me time to think about my plot. And, in doing so, I was able to streamline it a bit. Something I've really been trying to do here now that I've got grand and ambitious plots covering hundreds of characters out of my system. Want to keep this one small and intimate as possible. And, in the service of that, I managed to get rid of or combine a few characters. Shuffle some roles around and eliminate the need for so many distinct characters, shuffle a few more into the background from a formerly prominent role. But since I wrote large blocks of the first two chapters with them around, they don't make sense anymore. And I have to go back and rip them out. Just going through the text is enough to bog me down and, I figure, while I'm at it, I might as well try to rewrite them – it'll be almost the same amount of work of tracking down every instance a character is mentioned or referenced and reworking it, anyway.

So, the practical upshot is that I have almost nothing written for the novel. A lot of groundwork, a really good sense of what needs to get done, but nothing concrete.

My plan, such as it is, is to write my brains out today, tomorrow, and if I'm up to it, Sunday as well. If I'm in spitting distance of the finish line by Monday, then I'll be able to make a final push and get it done. If, on the other hand, I'm not, then I don't think I have it in me to burn myself out trying to get the book done.

So, there it is. I'm well behind where I could, where I should be. And now I'm going into the Batan deathmarch of writing in order to push myself to the finish line.

Reflex Tester aka This Is Why I Don't Mesmer

(Tip of the Lieutenant's Helm to Van Hemlock. Who has an awesome site, by the way, if I had a blogroll it'd be on it. I really should have a blogroll again...)

This is an immensely fun waste of time. A twitch game with all the extraneous crap removed.

By the way, I score around the wrong side of 200 which puts me right around average according to the site's statistics - I have to believe there's something of a self-selection error at work there, though. And, generally, on the days I've tried it, put me in the daily top 100. Around the 70~90 range but, still.

I'm actually a bit disappointed by those results since I think it's yet further proof of my physical and mental deterioration. I can consistently get below 200 into the 180~190 range but there's always that one result that's way higher to throw my average off. Interestingly, that's usually the first click. And I also tend to do better the faster the box turns green - the longer I have to wait, the more likely I am to space out and miss the change for a precious tick. But I have this nagging suspicion that if I'd tried five years ago or even last year that I'd have done much better.

The Cake IS Moist and Delicious

In case you're wondering, the cake was a big hit. As I thought, the cake proper was awesome. Light, moist, fluffy, everything you want. But even the whipped topping went over well. The secret? I added a bit of almond extract. Just a hint of nutty aftertaste to go along with the pumpkin spices I'd already added so it wasn't just a pale shadow of the cake's flavor – since it's, basically, pumpkin and pumpkin pie spices mixed into your average birthday cake mix. I'm still convinced there's something better out there but it worked as that counterpoint, that harmonic note of taste to work in harmony with the other ingredients.

Anyway, here's the recipe:


  • 1 box (18.25 ounces) yellow cake mix
  • 1 box (4 servings) vanilla cook and serve pudding (Not the instant kind)
  • 1 can (15 ounces) pumpkin
  • 1 cup (8 ounces) lemon-lime pop (Such as 7-Up)
  • 2 egg whites
  • 1/2 tsp ground cloves
  • 1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp allspice
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp pepper
  • 3 ounces creamcheese, softened
  • 1 cup (8 ounces) whipping cream, whipped
  • 1 Tbsp sugar
  • 1 tsp almond extract


  • 2 8-inch cake pans
  • 2 large bowls
  • Whisk
  • Oven


  • Cake: 30 minutes, plus time to cool
  • Topping: 15 minutes
  • Frosting: 5 minutes

Turn the oven to 350°F. Pre-heat.

Grease two 8-inch cake pans.

Set the creamcheese out to soften, if you haven't already.

While the oven is warming up, get a large bowl and combine the cake mix, half the pudding (About 1/4 of a cup, put the rest aside for the topping.), a cup of pumpkin (This should leave you with just under a cup, about 7/8ths of one, left over. Put the rest with the pudding for later.), the soda pop, egg whites, and roughly half the spices (I don't really measure these things so it's more of a “taste and feel” kind of amount), and all the salt and pepper. Yes, salt and pepper. Just because you're making something sweet doesn't mean it doesn't need to taste good. You be adding some salt to any cake while, here, the pepper works to round out the spicy taste of the pumpkin enhancing spices. Add the dry ingredients first, followed by the wet, and stir well. You can pretty much follow the instructions on the back of your cake mix but the mixture should be well-beaten without any large clumps of materials floating around but not over blended – typically should take about 30~60 passes with the whisk.

Pour the mixture evenly into the two cake pans. Put them in the oven to bake for 20~25 minutes. They'll be done when the centers don't shake like jello when you move them and a toothpick inserted into them pulls out cleanly – if there's some liquid sticking to it, you need to cook for another 3~5 minutes and try again.

Set the cake pans out to cool. This should take a few hours. Don't put them in the freezer or anything to hurry the process, they need the time to settle.

You can make the topping while the cakes are cooking or while they're cooling or even the day before if you want. Doesn't really matter as long as you can stick it in the fridge so it doesn't spoil.

To make the topping get a large bowl and put the softened creamcheese in it. If you have an electric blender, this is the time to use it, because you want to cream the creamcheese. Which sounds weird but means you want to beat it until it starts to get lighter and fluffier because of all the air you've mixed in. You can do this by hand but it's much, much easier with motorized help because of how sticky the cheese is.

When that's done put it aside and whip the cream. You can use your electric mixer here as well but I like to do it by hand. It takes a little elbow grease but I think you can control the consistency much better that way. There's a wide degree of just how far you can whip cream, after all, from when it first starts forming soft peaks to when it becomes butter. Here, you want to shoot for the butter side of the spectrum and whip until the cream is nice and thick. Add the sugar about halfway through (Don't dump the whole thing in, add a bit and taste until you're satisfied with the sweetness.).

Next, combine the creamed cheese and the whipped cream in the same bowl and blend them together. Then, add the rest of the pudding mix (about 1/4 of a cup) – this will help your topping to set up which is a good thing unless you want it running down the side of your cake. Then, add the rest of the pudding (About 7/8th of a cup), and spice to taste. Note that you don't want to add pepper here although you can add some salt if you want to see the difference – I generally find there's enough in the cream cheese already, though. Next, add the almond extract. Again to taste (Which means “don't add it all right away because it's strong stuff, add a little bit and make sure you like how it's tasting.).

Set the topping in the fridge to cool, if you're not ready for the next step.

When the cakes are cool to the touch, remove them from the pans. They are going to be moist and sticky so put them on something flat, preferably a piece of wax paper or similar instead of just thumping them out on a cake rack. Not that I've made that mistake myself and had to spend the better part of an hour scrubbing congealed bits of cake out of my cake rack's grill or anything.

Take a serrated knife and cut each cake into two, horizontally so you wind up with four evenly sized cake layers.

Put one of your layers on your serving dish. Take one quarter of the topping and spread it on top. Then cover it with another layer and repeat, alternating cake and topping until you run out. Note that you shouldn't frost the sides of the cake because you're not actually using frosting, the whipped topping you've made just won't be thick enough and will fall off the sides, eventually – besides, you want the topping to seep into the cake and that won't happen as much with the crusty sides. But, once you're done covering the top layer you can use any leftovers to fill in any gaps or blemishes on the sides.

Cover it up and put it in the fridge. It's much better once it's cooled and the flavors have set up.

NFL Blogging: Heart Stompers

The Lions. Sigh. Like my uncle said, “Just when you start believing in them... [Complicated gesture indicating that they will jam their hands into your chest, crack open your rib cage, remove your still beating heart, throw it down to the linoleum with a wet spurt and then stomp on it with their turf covered cleats. My uncle is surprisingly good at making succinct gestures, by the way.]. Just depressing.

But, well, I mean, it's a loss and a loss is never good. Especially when it sinks the team to 6-5 ad gives everyone behind them in the standings a chance to catch up. But the Packers are a really good team and they played them tough. Not tough enough but, really, if you ask me, the Lions did everything they needed to do to win, they just didn't.

I caught the first few series – both that ended in field goals – before I had to make the drive to the family gathering. And I left happy. Would have been nice if they'd put some more points on the board, of course. But they were driving on the Pack. And, more importantly, they were doing most of it in on the ground.

I should say that I don't mind if the team has a pass-first mentality. That's fine. Passing is good. Passing opens up the field and gives you a chance to change the game in an instant. But what's not fine is when the team is pass-only, the way they seemed to be the past few weeks. When you're one-dimensional, whatever that dimension is, you're not going to do much. A running game or at least the threat of a run is really important if only to allow your receivers a little bit more room to run. And what the Lions did on that opening drive is textbook. They established the run, they used play action, and then they started to take their shots down the field. Sure, those shots didn't connect but, really, most long passes don't. But you keep taking them because, sooner or later, they will, and the yardage you'll gain more than makes up for the risk of the incompletions. What mattered is that the Lions weren't so far down that heaving it down the field was an act of desperation. It didn't bother me that Megatron and Kitna weren't connecting. Not as long as Soundwave and Rumble[1] could still pound the ball.

Not only were they driving, they were also working their turnover magic in getting that fumble. The Lions are one of the best teams in the league in turnover margins, I can't explain it but they just seem to have a knack for it. It looked like they were going to have no problems outslinging Green Bay in shootout and that's exactly the kind of game I thought they had the best chance of winning.

Like I said, that's the impression I left the house with. By the time I arrived at the undisclosed location for massive consumption, my mood had taken quite the turn. By the time I managed to park myself in front of the TV, my relatives were watching the dog show on another channel. Because, you know, at least that had some fierce competition. The Lions were being blown out and showing no signs of life while the Packers were scoring at will. By the time we abandoned flicking back and, soon after, the television in order to feast it was the 3rd and Green Bay was up by 19. I gather the Lions made it look acceptable by the end. Couldn't overcome Farve and his 20 completions in a row even as the running games balanced each other out. But pulled within striking distance of the lead before the Packers were able to kill the clock off. Mostly thanks to Johnson and Kitna finally getting in sync.

I don't mean to play the moral victory card here but if that had happened earlier in the game...

Well, it might have played out differently, I'm saying. And just like with the Giants, the Lions managed to hang with the Packers and nearly pull out the win. That they didn't isn't surprising since they're not the best team around. What they are, though, is just good enough to be dangerous. Making the playoffs just got a lot harder for them. And the remainder of their schedule doesn't get much easier with Dallas twice and a trip to Green Bay for a return engagement. But despite all odds I remain cautiously optimistic.

[1] – I've decided that Megatron is, in fact, an awesome nickname. And that everyone else on the offense needs to be named after a Transformer as well. Roy Williams, then, is now Starscream. Jones is Soundwave. And so on. Kitna? Well, he's Captain Christian so he doesn't need a new nickname.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

NFL Blogging: Turkey Game

Woke up this morning and the ground was covered with a light dusting of snow. It seems to have melted by now, leaving the world soggy and moist. But it was still enough for me to take a pass on standing around and watching people walk past you - otherwise known as a parade.

Instead, I've been reading up on this afternoon's game. Trying to find some factoid or statistic to damp down my growing enthusiam. Because, you know, it's the Lions and when you think they're going to win, and the pundits think they have a shot at winning, and everyone's picking them to win, that's exactly when they go out and lose by 30. They're the Dream Crushers. It's what they do.

Still, haven't found it yet. They match-up with the Pack fairly well. Detroit has only lost once at home, the Packers undefeated on the road. Green Bay's a bit more efficient, a bit more prolific, and a bit better on defense. But the homefield advantage probably wipes most of that away. The knock on the Farve Boys is that they can't run but, well, neither can the Lions apparently. With both teams being fairly stout in run defense I expect a lot of passing in this game.

Again, though, I think the biggest problem with the team the past few games has been how quickly they've abandoned the run in favor of pass wackiness. If they can get some yards on the ground today, I think they stand a good chance. Especially if they can avoid the turnover-itis that's been plaguing the team lately.

Either way, though, it's should be a nice game to watch. For once.

Happy Thanksgiving

Forget the turkey. This holiday is about one thing and one thing only:

Grandma's homemade pumpkin pie.

Hope you and yours have a wonderful day.

Photo by Flickr user Jamesjyu used under a Creative Commons license.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

I Post A Lot For Someone on a Break, Don't I?

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving. I'm still waiting for inspiration to strike about what to do with my cake.

Turns out that, contrary to The Plan, we won't be heading to the Lions' game tomorrow after all. Couldn't get tickets and not willing to pay the scalper's premium. It's been a while since we've been to one anyway – one of my uncles used to get free tickets but our yearly tradition of watching ended when that perk did – so it's not a big deal. I'm still just amazed that it's going to be a meaningful game. But even more that it's going to be the day's other games that promises to be the stinker. I don't know about you but Dallas and the lowly Jets sounds like a blowout. And the Colts demolishing the Falcons who are going back to Joey Ballgame again, doesn't sound too appealing to me. At least, not as much as watching fierce divisional rivals try to take each other out, Detroit's home field advantage (Which, trust me, kicks into another gear for the Thanksgiving games) trying to pin another loss on the seemingly unstoppable Packers. I'm pretty sure the schedule makers had no idea that the games were going to play out like that heading into the season but there it is. Be a nice game to see.

Instead, though, we're going to be heading downtown for the parade. Another Detroit institution. But looking at the latest weather reports, it looks like it's going to be a cold, snowy day. I think I might just have to give it a pass.

Anyhow, I might be too weighed down with foodstuffs or too desperately trying to warm to stagger back to the blog tomorrow. So, if I don't, here's hoping your Thanksgiving is one warmed by good company and good spirits.

The Missing Ingredient

I've been in the lab – what more normal people might perchance to call “the kitchen” - trying to come up with something to bring to the family dinner. It's become a custom for me to supply a dessert at any kind of gathering. But I don't want to bring my go-to dish for this time of year; the pumpkin maple cheesecake. Been trying to watch the weight and a recipe that calls for package after package of creamcheese and stick after stick of butter just isn't the healthiest.

What I've hit upon is a pumpkin flavored cake instead. Modifying a recipe I found in the local paper. It's not exactly as low fat since I made some substitutions. Can't stand the taste of whipped toppings so I used hand-whipped cream instead, making sure not to add too much sugar. I also don't like the fake sugar stuff that comes in diet sodas – just unnatural - so I used regular 7-Up as well. And while the cake was, indeed, moist and delicious, there was something missing.

I'd been hoping it would turn out something like the pumpkin roll I've been so taken with. The one that shows up mysteriously at my local grocery store from time to time. The very same one I snap up after a furtive look around to see if I'll have to beat away any hands creeping towards the too few products available. It's good, I'm saying. The cake here is close, just lacking the final few touches to make it more like a carrot cake than your run-of-the-mill concoction of flour and sugar. A bit of crunch and chewiness from nuts and chunks of pumpkin. But I've nailed the spice combination and gotten the texture right. But the topping is lacking.

Not quite sure what it is, really, but it doesn't set off the cake as much as it could. Gets lost amid the strong flavors of the cake. And I'm not sure what to do about it. I've tried making it pumpkin flavored as the recipe suggest. Tried leaving it plain, smooth, and creamy. Tried infusing it with different flavors form Bailey's to mint. Run through pints of whipping cream one small test batch at a time. Looked around, researched, trying to find the flavors that compliment pumpkins best. And haven't found that counterpoint that I'm looking for just yet. A creamy, silky taste to play off the savory sweetness of the pumpkin. And, now, I haven't got much time to figure it out, either. I've got the topping ready to go and the cake all made but I'm still not sure exactly what to do with it.

NaNo Blogging: The Lack of a Word Count

One of the nice things about having “won” (In case you don't remember, I wrote something like 65k for my first novel before abandoning it and I'm well into my second – which is proceeding more slowly but being written better, if you ask me. I've yet to actually finish one, however, so that's the crunch I'm working under.) NaNo already is that I don't have to worry about my word counter.

In the beginning, I did. Because I wanted to keep my quotas. Didn't want to stop writing because of everything going wrong and needed to know that I was chugging along at a decent pace. And, of course, so I could measure myself in any number of words wars. Most of them went well. Except for the one I foolishly entered into with someone who's threatening to crack 400k for the month. Sigh. Maybe next year after I spend the intervening months doing keyboard crunches and daily word sprints.

This year, however, I'll freely admit that I have not been having the best time of it. Which, again, I know sounds absolutely awful considering I've already got more words in the bank than most people. But, again, this is all about where my boundaries are and how I'm pushing against them, not the standards set by anyone else. And I could do more. I know I could do oh so much more, given the chance. Too many lazy days. Too many hours spent with video games and researching blog posts and other frivolities I could cut away. But, above all, too much time spent obsessing about that word count.

Checking it regularly. Logging into the official site to update it. Worrying when it seemed like it was slipping. Concerned when each milestone became a millstone around my neck. A weight tied to my fingers, making each page, each word, an excruciating experience.

It was slowing me down in other words. Making it seem like my writing was even harder than it already was. So, that's why I haven't been updating my word count lately. Not because I haven't been writing. But because I've been bothering to keep track of how much I have been. But, trust me, I've been writing up a storm.

Guild Wars: BMP Release Date Announced, Kinda

They were sneaky and hid it deep within the electronic corridors of the wiki but I still found it. But it's confirmed by Gaile on the talk page. It's coming out on the 29th. Not exactly a big surprise as you had to figure that “this month” meant “as late as we possibly can without looking like we're going back on our promise” in dev speak. I think I can safely speak for the entire GW NaNo club when I say, whew!

I was worried it was going to come out this Friday and take my weekend with it. By coming out at the end of the month it's not going to interfere with my closing death march across the keyboard of destiny. And, instead, it'll be a nice little treat waiting for me once I get this novel gone. You know, like GW:EN was supposed to be before I predictably broke down.

Granted, I shouldn't get my hopes up too much. The Costume Brawl which featured a similar “become someone else” mechanic was great but, when you get right down to it, the bars there were, by and large horrible. It's only because everything else was similarly suboptimal that it didn't matter and the even playing field could shine. The prospect of well-designed mission encounters that are difficult without simply having the quote unquote difficulty knob cranked up is probably a slim one. Instead, we're likely to get janky bars and missions designed for the general public - ie, so simple a microencephalic could do them. Frankly, I' expecting things like a meta-thievery bar for little Charr stomper Gwen - all echoes and arcane thieveries. I don't know what other characters you'll be running but I suspect it's going to be Hamstorm Warriors and touch Rangers and the like.

Still, bonus content is bonus content. And maybe, just maybe they'll be a shiny reward waiting for me for completing the thing. It'll probably have to wait until that weekend for me to get around to it, though.

Doing Something

When the strike started the writers promised they'd soon have ways that concerned bystanders, like myself, could help out. Eventually. Well, that day has now come and there's something to do other than pumping out material into the yawning digital maw on a quiet, unnoticed blog that no one reads and even fewer care about and, oh god, where did I go wrong with my life, what am I doing here and and and....okay, I'm better now.

Anyhow, you can check out this page which helpfully explains how you, too, can send a symbolic box of extremely expensive pencils to the Sinister Six of media executives.

Or, better yet, you can watch this Will Forte short:

Yeah, that's good stuff right there. Why isn't SNL ever that funny? Oh, right, because there you have a bunch of execs telling the writers what and what not to do...

Random "I've Been Doing Too Much NaNo" Thought of the Day

I liked this script better when Musharef was called the Shah. Even though I thought the ending was, at the same time, as weak as it was predictable. This time around, though, the author's trying to juggle nuclear weapons, too, so maybe there'll be a surprise twist in the plotline. But, generally speaking, those never work out quite as well as you hope they will.

It's In My Brain And I Can't Get It Out Now

There are really no words to describe just how wrong this is:

What's next? Chuck Norris's Ranger? Shadow Priests can eat your balls? LOLlocks?

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

NaNo Blogging: The New Story

Right, so having lain out the backstory, the vague and hopefully tantalizing details of the world I'm dealing with, I think I can now go on to detail not what has happened but what will occur in my story. The plot, in other words.

One thing I've found to be really good practice for writing stories like this is to write out that plot. Sure, you carry it around in your head. And you don't want to tie yourself down too rigidly to points and features that will shift as the story develops. But writing out a summary helps to channel the awesome totality of that amazing, exquisite idea you call a novel into a coherent whole. Distilling it all down, trapping it within a few lines of text can help you to figure out just where you might have problems. I know, it's hard to believe but you might not have thought about every last detail of your book before you write it out. Coming up with an outline, with an overview of everything that's going to happen, can point out the places where you need to do a little more thinking. Help you to focus all the great plans you have into something that you can develop into a finished piece of work.

Even something as simple as a logline – a few lines of text describing the plot of your book that you can use to get people excited about using it – can be a tremendous helpful tool in developing your ideas further. Because in order to summarize your plot, to condense it and pack it tightly into such a limited space, you have to strip away everything inessential and focus on what it is that makes it work as a story. And by doing so, you also learn what is and isn't important. It's a guide. And even once you start writing, sometimes it's good to stop and take a few minutes to quickly sketch out what the plan is going forward. Here, then, is my current plan.

Times have never been so bleak in the isolated peninsula of the Ulyes. An unnatural frost has spread famine across the land even as it falls under the boot heel of an army of foreign invaders. Refugees and those those seeking to turn a profit from the war stream south and away from the ravaged plains of the north. In the quiet seaside town of Seente worshipers of the old gods find themselves persecuted at the hands of a new god, the Prince of Winter. The stone walls of Ut are manned by defenders as the the first city of story and song prepares to make a final stand. And high in the mountains, the priestesses of Lospes keep the answer to all the world's problems locked up in mazes of riddles and candles. Mydea, a young slave girl and an adherent of the Ulyean Mother goddess will see them all and more as her strangely prophetic dreams drive her to find the “End of the World”. Her gods have marked her out, cursing her with the gift of true sight – visions that can, that must, come true. And while she'd like nothing more than to lay down her burdens she's the only one who can bear the Ulyes' hope on her shoulders.

Which is a good summary of all the basic plot points I'm going to hit, I think. Without revealing too much about how they're actually going to happen – it's the kind of paragraph that makes a lot more sense if you knew the whole story, I think, and that's a good thing. About the only thing that I'd like to do better is to include the central metaphor. Earlier versions really hammered home the idea of candles and their flame representing hope, representing the light, the promise, of civilization. And how it was threatened by the encroaching night and the bleak cold of winter. That got lost along the way in favor of trying to be much more explicit and less symbolic. After all, the point of this exercise isn't to write great prose, but to encapsulate my plot in a few brief words.

Here's one of the earlier versions, by way of comparison:

A cold wind has blown across the plains. Snuffing out the lights of the great and powerful defenders of civilization. Crops fail as unprecedented snows fall. Apocalyptic cults, believing the end of the world is at hand have spread like wildfire as the sun has gone missing. And the armies of a powerful army of foreigners are on the march, conquering those who haven't collapsed on their own. Hope is in short supply and the long night of winter seems inevitable. In the distant south, Mydea is barely aware of the troubles in the north. But, now, she's been charged with the gods with the task of making sure the candle's light does not go out. Through dreams, through visions, through the chaotic events swirling around her, they've told her to make sure that her civilization endures in this, its darkest hour. But Mydea is nothing more than a lowly slave girl in a quiet town along a shore of golden sand blasted by years of uninterrupted sunshine. Unsure, uncertain, and unready of the burden her cryptic gods have lain upon her trembling shoulders. Chased from her home, hounded by relentless enemies, set upon by nature itself, if the gods expect her to be her people's savior they're going to need to send help. And fast, because the candle's flame is flickering in the wind and about to be blown out.

Mydea's my main character, in case you couldn't tell. What we novelists like to call a "protagonist". She was not quite introduced in this excerpt. And the story is really her journey. Across the landscape, always just one step ahead of the forces chasing her, true. But also her journey from a young girl unsure of herself and her place in the world to someone capable of shouldering her destiny and keeping that small flame of hope burning. Here's another one that goes into a bit more detail:

By Flickering Candlelight is the story of Mydea. A young girl driven from the plains of Northern Ulye like so many others by the encroachment and growing power of the Maluthkan Kingdom. And, like so many others, she became a refugee. Eventually winding up as a slave in a quiet, seaside town along the idyllic southern coast working - barely - in the home of a minor politician. In spite of the growing influence of the Maluthkan Cult of the Winter's Prince, Mydea is faithfully loyal to the gods of her youth, especially the slave god, the Mother, even though most of her teachings seem to have passed the young girl by. She's not the best or brightest slave and constantly getting into trouble because she's clumsy and ill-tempered. But she still performs her daily rituals in the small shrine she and her fellow slaves have made in their home, praying that the gods will deliver the Ulyes from their current troubles. What Mydea didn't expect, though, is that the gods would answer through her. Lately, she's been troubled by strange dreams, full of glimpses of places and events she's never seen before, predictions of the future, visions that become the truth. Mydea becomes gifted with true sight, the ability to see the hidden connections and interwoven fates. And with it, the growing realization that she's destined to lead the way to the defeat the Maluthkans. But as a young, rebellious slave, Mydea has a long way to go before she's ready and the book is about her journey from a contented, if contentious life, as a slave along a tropical shore through the Ulyes. It begins with the death of one her closest friends at the hands of cultists and takes her high atop the mountains overlooking the Valley of the Ancients. To the venerable Temple of the Mother, looking for answers with the Mother's priestesses. The women who call themselves Seers. But who only claim the gifts that Mydea would dearly like to rid herself of. Because Mydea sees the future. And what's she's seen is a dark winter spreading across the land and the enormous sacrifices she'll have to make in order to see that the world makes it to the next spring.

While I'm at it, here's my current logline. I'd like to get it down to 25 words but I can't quite manage so I had to settle for 30:

Mydea is a girl driven by her strange dreams to travel across the land as winter falls, trailing destruction in her wake, and finding an unexpected destiny along the way.

Could be a bit better. My biggest problem is trying to get all the context around the story in there. Without knowing about the Ulyes and the Maluthkans and the relgious conflict and everything else it's a pretty hollow and uninteresting story. With them, I hope, it takes on new layers.

There's Only One Word For This


Monday, November 19, 2007

NaNo Blogging: The Brave New World

So, I've switched gears from my previous epic novel. One of stunning complexity and intricacies that I had no hope of ever finishing. Instead, I'm working on a story that's smaller, simpler, leaner and more streamlined in the hopes of clocking in with a finished book before the month is over – I've won NaNo last year and, on sheer volume of words along, I've done so again this year. But what I've never done is to write “Finis” at the end of that manuscript. But with this story that I've taken to calling By Flickering Candlelight I think I have as decent a chance as I ever will. Because it's a story that's come to me, front to back, back to front, as one complete narrative structure. I know how it starts, how it ends, and everything in between even if I'm not exactly sure just yet about all the details in between. But I have seen, I have dreamed, this story unfold and I'm taken with it. Driven by the sheer need to get this tale out of my head and into the world where it can be shared with others. Now, you might well wonder just what this story is that has so stoked the furnaces of my creativity. And I'm about to tell you. But first you have to understand the world it's set in. A place I call the Ulyes.

I pronounce that like “Yools”, by the way. You know, like Ulysses?

Now, this story originates as background lore. As a bit of psuedo-mythological history for a roleplaying campaign I was planning (Yes, I am that big of a geek. You seem surprised.) but which has never seen the light of day. Or the fluorescent light of a basement filled with half-empty cans and half-eaten pizzas. Instead, it was buried in my notes. Kept hidden in plain sight just out of reach, waiting for me to rediscover it. Kind of fitting if you ask me. But the world I was building up was one not of high fantasy but of mystery and mythology. A place where magic existed but was dark. Dangerous. A powerful force in the lives of the people of the land. My inspiration was not the pastoral view of a Europe, a feudalism, that never was but, instead, that of ancient Greece. I've always been captivated by the old legends, the old stories, that came from the cradle of western thought. From the melting pot of ideas and philosophies that was the precursor to our own society. A place, a time, where history was raw. And anything might have seemed possible as humanity began the long, slow climb out of the muck towards civilization.

In short, I wanted a low-magic campaign. One where there wouldn't be wizards in every town, passing out magical goodies like they were some kind of magical assembly line. Instead, what magic did exist would be rare. Important. Memorable. That thread of the impossible woven throughout the real that creates the fantastic. It was going to be a land still in the bronze ages. Lacking much of what's taken for granted even within the fantasy genre. But also a place where the brave, those willing to take the reigns of destiny into their own hands, would be able to mold events. Shaping the course of things to come. It would be an unsettled world where many things were up for grabs. A place where players could feel like they were taking part in the stories that would one day become legends.

To that end, I created the Ulyes. Which is like saying the Bahamas or the Balkans. In this case it's a peninsula or, rather, a peninsula surrounded by islands. Separated from neighboring regions to the north and protected from the barbarian hordes without by a quirk of geography. Isolated, unspoiled, it juts into a large body of water removed from the influence – if not the contact – of other great civilizations. Which leaves it unspoiled. Free to develop in its own way. A hotbed of cultures and learning that's given rise to the Ulyeans. An advanced, bronze age people who inhabit the lands. One who, like the Greeks who inspired them, are split into numerous factions. City states in conflict with each other. Nations that don't agree even on the most basic of principles – a place with towns, and with the associated governments, as diverse as Athens and Sparta. Yet still a race, one people, unified by a shared history and tradition. Just many different ways of going about it.

The greatest divide is between the north and the south. The two are separated by a chain of mountains that have given rise to two separate climates. The north is mainly a plain. Fertile land for development that's given rise to large scale cultivation and domestication. To farming and everything that implies amid the rolling lands covered with growing things. The south where Ulyean culture originated is, instead, covered in hills. It's more rocky and ill-suited for grazing and organized agriculture. Rather than farm the land, the people of the south farm the seas from the many coves and inlets. And while there is trade between the two through the few passes through the mountains that keep them apart, the two areas have vastly different concerns. To put it another way, the poets speak of the north as the place of milk and the south as the place of wine. The north has cows. The south has goats. Different diets, different literary styles, different fashions, and even different fabrics because of the difference between the two lands.

Yet they're both still Ulyean. They share a common origin, have similar legends, and, most importantly, share the same religion – really the one force that binds the Ulyeans together more than anything else. The Ulyean religion is a polytheistic one which features many gods. There's no centralized hierarchy and no one set pantheon. Instead, different cities and areas worship differently. Sometimes, even to the point of two places having dramatically altered views of the same god. Those gods tend to be associate with professions. With certain jobs or archetypes – like the god of soldiers, the god of smiths, the god of weavers, and so on – having replaced the so-called Ancients, an earlier pantheon (Just as the Greccian gods came to replace their forebearers, the Titans of myth. If you've guessed by now that the Ulyean gods are heavily based on the Grecco-Roman ones then, congratulations, give yourself a cookie for being so smart.) who were based on philosophical concepts like the God of War or the Goddess of Love.

One, for example, called the Mother (Ulyeans have a bit of a superstition about speaking the name of their gods aloud. Instead, they rely on descriptions of acronyms, similar to the Hebrew Yahweh, while the true identity of their deities is a closely guarded secret of their religions. And, no, I haven't just come up with this as a cheap excuse to avoid having to name these gods. The Mother's secret name is Eleou, but that's not how the average person knows her. I'm probably not giving much away by saying she figures prominently in this story.) in the northern plains she's a god of fertility, of the harvest, of growing and nature and leafy green. While along the coasts of the south she's also known as a fertility goddess. But of human fertility. A goddess of beauty and love and love-making and the driving force behind all procreation. While still others view her as more of a wizened crone. The old woman, who takes everyone into her care the way a mother treats her child, and a font of arcane knowledge – the source of prophesies and mysteries. But, the thing is, to the Ulyeans, these are all the same god.

A cynic might say that as they spread and dispersed the Ulyeans simply appropriated other gods and incorporated them into their own. But they would hold that their gods have different facets. Different faces that can be worshiped in turn. And someone from the north who views the Mother as the reason crops go can visit a temple in the south where she's worshiped as an amorous temptress and still perform the proper rituals required to be considered a dutiful adherent. New cults and versions of the gods are constantly arising, led by all sorts of prophets, visionaries, and opportunists – the main point of religion in those being to separate the faithful from their hard-earned coin, of course. But even still, there's a baseline commonality between the various forms of worship. A basic respect of the fundamental pantheon and its flexible nature. The Ulyeans have built upon their cultural foundations for years now, stretching back to their creation myths and the disasters they believe formed the world. And they've done so, largely, by agreeing to disagree and fiercely fighting to remain independent and disorganized – there's no one king, no one city, that holds sway over the Ulyeans.

Which isn't to say that everything is bright and happy in the Ulyes. There wouldn't be much of a story if there wasn't anything wrong, after all. And the problem the Ulyes have now is that while there isn't one Ulyean city that's come to dominate all the others, there is a non-Ulyean city trying to do that very thing. Its origins are shrouded in rumor and mystery (Well, not really. I mean, I know how it went down. But that doesn't mean that my characters or, more importantly, readers should.) but the story goes that, a few generations ago – call it a hundred years – a tribe of barbarians from beyond the Ulyes northern reaches came to settle in the plains of the north.

Now, the barbarian lands are a large, wide-open wasteland stretching up to the artic circle. Frigid tundras in the interior, racked with yearly storms along their coasts. It's a harsh, inhospitable land where most people have to struggle just to survive and that's why most of the barbarian tribes haven't advanced much past the stone age or into much of a threat to the Ulyes. But that doesn't mean every tribe there is primitive. Or even hostile. Especially along the Ulyean border, you can find tribes who are advanced – not as much as in the Ulyes, of course – and capable. Peoples who trade with the Ulyean cities, who sometimes even come to become laborers and even slaves (Yes, slavery's legal. This is the bronze ages, it's, you know, reprehensible but it was pretty common back then.).

This one tribe, though, was something special. The wandered out of the barbarian lands, petition one of the larger city-states in the northern plains for some room to call their own, and built their own primitive settlement. A place they called Maluthka. Nothing out of the ordinary just yet. But what was remarkable was that within the space of a generation their town had gone from a small little collection of huts into a fortified town with a swarming military that had crushed that leading city-state (Called Gona. It also lends its name to the northern plains this is taking part in, but I'm trying to keep a lot of the fantasy names and tongue twisting syllables out of this for the sake of clarity.). Over the intervening years they've embarked on campaign after campaign of conquest, destroying everyone who's opposed them. While the Ulyeans of the north have been unable to organize long enough to properly oppose them and have been picked off one by one. By the time my story takes place, they've practically unified the north under their rule – there are a few pockets of resistance that, you know, might become important later on in the arid scrublands and mountainous regions that surround the central plains but the Maluthkans are in effective control of the place - and stand poised to steam over the last defenses and pour into the south. Where, again, old rivalries and distrust have kept the Ulyeans from gathering together to mount a proper response.

All of which would be bad enough but the Maluthkans aren't just conquering territory, they're assimilating culturally as well. An alien culture that's out to replace or, at least, co-opt the Ulyeans'. Like most city-states in the Ulyes, they have their own patron god. A deity they associate with and place above all others. But unlike the Ulyean cults their god is a monotheistic one. And to worship him involves renouncing other gods as false. Something that's anathema to the typical Ulyean view of faith and spirituality. But, at the same time, worship of this god has spread like wildfire throughout the Ulyes. Even in areas the Maluthkans don't directly control. Because it's a religion that preaches equality, that requires owners to free their slaves, and promises the downtrodden rewards not in some distant afterlife but in the temporal present. It's an appealing message and an easy one to accept once you get past the whole bit about destroying the Ulyeans' religion and putting any believers of the false gods to a painful and prolonged death. Yeah, the Maluthkans are what we call the bad guys in this story. And their religion might sound nice but it's really nasty and shares more in common with the faiths of the Philistines and Canaanites than Christianity. There's a reason he's known as the Prince of Winter and it's not because he's all about rainbows and sunshine.

No, the god of the Maluthkans is a harsh god for a harsh people. But it's also a harsh time in the Ulyes. In case the connection with Greece hasn't been firmly established, the climate of the land is a Mediterranean one (Even though, you know, not the Mediterranean.). Mild, temperate, bordering on the tropical, especially in the south by dint of location and longitude and currents, the place is idyllic. Aside from the occasional hurricane, it's a beautiful place of sun and sand and surf and rolling hills covered in green. There are years where it doesn't snow at all. It's like our own Florida. It does snow, it can snow, they've heard of it, but it's really unexpected and rare. Especially in the south where, outside of mountaintops, snowfall is almost unheard of. But that's usually. Lately, the climate in the Ulyes has shifted. The rainy season lasting longer, the storms more fierce than usual. Weeks have gone by where the thick clouds have blotted out the sun. And, in the now of my story, they're going through a cold snap. Summer, the growing season, was brief last year and even worse the year before. It's been a poor harvest. And it promises to be a cold, bitter winter the likes of which the land hasn't seen in some time. Cities, whole societies are on the brink of starvation. Ready to collapse under the strain of fighting against nature.

In such an atmosphere it's easy to see why people are turning to the doomsday cult of the Maluthkans. Why some Ulyean politicians are allying themselves with terrible Maluthka and throwing open their gates and welcoming their armies inside. Things have never looked so bleak for the Ulyes. Winter, it seems, has fallen for their civilization. Assaulted on all sides, they've gone into the inevitable decline from which they'll never recover and are about to pass into the pages of history. And only a few bastions of Ulyean culture in the south have managed to survive but they're in danger of succumbing to an age of darkness and suffering.

That's the backdrop to my story. The context against which it plays itself out against. Because, and I hope I'm not giving too much away here, in the lore of my campaign this story is the legend of the Ulyean Dark Age. The period of time where they lost the tenuous connection with their past and had to rebuild from their memories of their former greatness. But my story isn't about the collapse of their civilization. Instead, it's about the people who take it upon themselves to keep the candle – the symbol of culture and learning and hope itself – from going out. To see that the flame merely flickers and that the light never goes out. It's the story of the ones who fight against all odds, against all expectation, for brighter days to come. Who might not manage to save civilization from toppling but at least lay the groundwork for allowing it to pull itself back up from the ashes. Because while it might be the story of winter falling across the land, it's also the tale of the spring that follows.