“Watch Commander Garret, please come in.”
Finally. He’d been cooling his heels outside the Council chambers for nearly an hour, while the mountains burned and their idyllic valley crumbled. The dawning day had unveiled a billowing white cloud, approaching along the ground and suggesting their problems were far from over.
Garret let himself be ushered into the room, where there was a chair at a small empty table, facing the entire council. Looking up at them no less. He didn’t spare it another glance.
Councillor Krebb cleared his throat. “Have a seat, commander.”
Garret clasped his hands behind his back and took a breath. “I prefer to stand.”
Another councillor spoke up, apparently trying to defuse the tension. “This isn’t an ambush, Commander. We’re simply trying to establish the best course for our community.”
“While it burns.” Garret winced as soon as he heard himself, but he wouldn’t take the words back.
Krebb cleared his throat again. “Commander, please summarize the conditions outside the Wall for us.”
“The conditions are, there aren’t burning mountains falling on our heads. The conditions are, everyone who leaves returns alive!”
“Commander! I realize you have suffered a… Personal… tragedy. But your community needs you. You are the senior surviving officer of the Watch.” Garret sucked in a breath at that — the cataclysm must have ravaged their ranks. Yesterday there were three men between Garret and General Yorke.
Krebb carried on. “This council needs your wisdom, not your wit. Now I understand you lost a patrol shortly before the… Incident.”
“That’s a damn euphemism!” Two of them, actually. His wife and child dead, and it was just an Incident? He shook himself back to the present. “We did ‘lose’ a patrol. I shot Lieutenant Braham myself.”
There were two sharp gasps from the council table, but Krebb knew the score. “Explain, Commander.”
“You know as well as I do. We send our patrols into the wasteland. If we’re lucky, they return. If we’re not lucky, the wasteland poisons them, and then they return.”
Krebb let the others take it from there. “But surely… surely they can be healed?”
“Braham had a third eye on his forehead. His sergeant wasn’t carrying his weapon, because his tentacles couldn’t get a grip. Their scout ran back on all fours. Once they’ve been shrouded, there’s no going back.”
“But they’re still our people!”
“You’d like to think that. But I’ve looked them in the eye — nothing but madness.” Garret paused a moment, wondering whether to continue. The councillors were shaking their heads, so he pressed on. “Once we took a man back in. Doc said if the priests couldn’t heal him, we’d amputate. They gave it their best.”
“The next morning, that soldier ate his dog. Once they’re shrouded they’re gone, and you’d best believe it.”
The councillors recoiled from his words, babbling among themselves so fast he couldn’t keep up. Garret saw the slightest trace of a smile cross Krebb’s face, and suddenly he knew why he had been summoned.
“Listen. All of you. Listen.” His parade-ground voice cut through the squabbling. “It doesn’t matter to you. You’ll never have to face it. Yes, the wasteland preys on men. Individual men. Most of our patrols are safe, because they stay in a group. We train them not to split up. A man might last hours. A patrol can last days. When we leave this valley, we’ll be in such a large pack, it’ll take months before you feel the effect.”
Krebb cut this line of discussion short. “Thank you Commander, that will be all.” He made some kind of gesture with his finger, and the doors opened behind Garret.
“Do you hear me? You’ll be safe! It’ll only be us–”
“Thank you Commander, that will be all!” It turned out Krebb had a commanding voice too. Garret felt hands on his arms as the Council Guard reached him.
“–the Watch, dying for you as usual.”
* * *
Garret left the council chamber in despair. The stars — gone, the mountains — demolished, and now a chalky cloud advancing toward the valley, stretching from dirt to sky. If they stayed much longer, there would be a footsoldier commanding the Watch, and then nobody at all.
The moment he walked out of the building, Claire tore away from the rest and launched into his arms, just like the good old days. Her wide eyes gazed into his, expectantly. “Are we going, daddy?”
He looked up, searching for the words. How do you tell your daughter that you’re all going to die?
That’s when he noticed the crowd. It must have been more than half of the survivors. Also looking at him expectantly, waiting for an answer, waiting for someone to lead. Krebb had made a critical error.
“General?” Magistrate Zed had survived, and nobody corrected him this time.
Garret boosted his parade-ground void to the max. “Friends. Last night, our world shattered. Today, we look to the future.” An explosion of rock in the background punctuated his words. “What was our refuge once, today holds nothing but ruin. I will not stay in this valley to die. Don’t you accept that fate either.” They were hanging on his every word, but they needed more. He grasped for something to offer… and then he had it.
“But we’re not just going to flee. Yes, we leave our old lives behind — that choice is made for us. Now is the time to find our new lives. Pack what you can, bring your friends, bring your families. At midday, we depart from the Wall. The Watch will protect you, as it always has. Long enough to find our new home. Long enough to reach Sitriph.”
At the name of the legendary Stronghold of the West, the crowd exploded in support and applause. Council be damned, they would survive this after all.Read More
Garret just scowled as he climbed past Magistrate Zed on the first terrace. He wasn’t sure whether he was scowling at the double-shift he was just coming off, the man in a position of some authority who still couldn’t tell a Watch Commander from a General, or the foothills of Mount Sheld that were the price for his view. His scowl lasted as he climbed past five more terraces, and only softened when he reached his door. Home.
“Claire?” he called. “Anelise?” Claire squealed as she flew in from their terrace like a shot from a longbow. She leapt off a stool with outstretched arms and all the confidence in the world.
“Oof,” he grunted as he caught her, staggering a little under the weight. “You’re getting a little big for that, kiddo.”
“Daddy,” she scolded.
“Sorry. Good altitude, but if you’re going to tackle an ogre,” he pointed at himself to emphasize his advice, “aim for the gut rather than the chest.”
Anelise came in from the back room, holding the baby and smiling at their game. “I don’t think she was trying to tackle the ogre — I think she was just trying to leave her mark!” And it had worked — his surcoat was streaked with fresh dirt.
In a flash, Claire was headed back for the terrace. Grinning happily, and likely off to find the rest of the mud while she could still see anything at all.
Garret’s smile faded quickly as she left. He sat down with a sigh.
Anelise frowned. “Sorry, baby. Bad day on the Wall?”
He glanced toward the terrace reflexively. Their home on the base of Mount Sheld usually afforded a spectacular view, both of Mount Gard across the valley, and the wasteland out over the Wall. It was late, though, and the scenery had faded from sight. He looked down and sighed. “The worst. We lost another patrol.”
He looked up sharply. “Exactly.”
She handed him the baby, and began to work at the knots in his shoulders. There was only one thing worse than burying your own men, and that was when you had to kill them first.
“It can’t go on. You tell them it can’t go on! Just stop the patrols!”
Garret snorted. “That’s right, because they’ll listen to a Watch Commander. And the wasteland — it’ll just take care of itself.”
Her hands stopped. He relented. “I’m sorry. It’s just…”
A shriek from outside saved him from trying to find the words. “Daddy! Daddeee! The Stars!”
He shook his head and growled again, his frustration finding another target. “Have those kids been taunting her again? Night of No Stars and all that?”
“Shhh… You sit. I’ll check on her.” Anelise took the baby back, and headed for the terrace. A small rumble shook the ground. Garret just put his head in his hands, back on the Wall in his mind. Taking the shot. His own men. Once the wasteland had a grip, there was nothing else to do.
“Garret?” His head snapped back up as he registered the fear in her voice. “Garret!” Now it was desperation. He ran for the terrace, a hundred thoughts flashing through his mind.
Claire was pointing in awe, Anelise in terror. “Look at the stars…”
Another rumble shook the mountain, bigger this time. And Garret watched the stars — falling from the sky, melting into a stream, the stream pouring into Mount Gard. He took a step back. Anelise took two.
When the first stars hit, the top of Mount Gard exploded into fire, worse than a volcano. Stars flying up, stars flying down, his mind told him unnecessarily. Another rumble, and then the ground bucked, throwing him down. When he looked up, he was facing backward, Mount Sheld barely visible past the terrace above. Another funnel of stars. And another ring of fire. The top of Mount Sheld was already gone.
Analise screamed and ran for the back room, carrying the baby. He reached out for her, but Claire, still on her feet, wrapped him in an iron grip.
The ground bucked again, rock struck his temple, the world went red, and then black.
* * *
“Daddy. Daddy!” Garret felt fists pounding his chest. He opened an eye, and his head exploded in pain.
Claire was sitting on his belly, dirty and bleeding, forcing him awake. Another tremor shook them, but gentler this time, only enough to kick up the dust until they coughed.
He tried to clear his head. “We’ve got to get–” but the words died in his mouth. The upper terraces had collapsed, and what used to be his home was only an impenetrable mass of rubble. Half of their own terrace was gone, fallen down into the living space below. In one stroke, his family was shattered.
Claire’s eyes were wide. “Daddy they’re gone.” She stared at him for a beat. “I think we have to go too.”
He stared back in astonishment. “Yeah, kiddo, we have to go.” He cupped her face with his hand for a moment, the only moment he could spare. Then: “Help me up.”
She rolled off to the side, and he began to move. One leg was stuck under a rock, but another tremor knocked it free. Limping, he took her hand. “Out now, away, before the rest falls.”
Backlit by the falling stars and the fires that used to be peaks, they climbed slowly over the side of what used to be a terrace. Then, stripped of their home, their mountains, and their family, they headed for the Wall.Read More
There was peace in Ockham.
There was peace in Ockham, until the invaders came. No one knows precisely where they came from, or precisely what they want, but several countries have already been subjugated. Strangely, there appear to be several sets of invaders, and each has conquered a separate territory. In one, the invaders possess magic weapons beyond our ken that discharge deadly beams of light; in another, tentacled horrors roam the land and drive the populace mad; in yet another, savagery rules the day.
Worse, the invaders’ views of the how the world works seems to be contagious. Priests entering one of the conquered areas renounce their gods; in another, mighty heroes put aside their swords; yet another, even the most refined nobility dresses in rags and is reduced to cannibalism.
But there is hope: the few who can resist the thrall of the invading Realities are now gathering at Hireling Hall. Join them on March 16, 2012 at McCosh 50 on Princeton University’s campus to repel this threat!
PrinceCon 37 will be held March 16-18, 2012 on the Princeton University Campus. Registration begins at 3pm; first runs go out at 5pm. The Simulation Games Union’s annual convention consists of tabletop roleplaying in a shared world, centered around a common goal. Rules are a variation of the Open-Gaming version (3.5SRD) of Advanced Dungeons and Dragons, incorporating many ideas developed over the years by the SGU. Admission is $20, free to Princeton University undergraduates. Certificates are awarded for Strategic, Tactical and Role Playing excellence.
While only Aru, Daglir, Gaia, and Mavors remain active in mortal affairs, there are still many who remember the other five of the Nine.
- Aru is the god of Life, Health, and Peace.
- Daglir is the god of Craftsmanship.
- Gaia is the goddess of Nature.
- Mavors is the god of Justice.
- Hermit was the god of Knowledge, symbolized by a lantern. The Order of the Sage was devoted to the acquisition and preservation of knowledge, to be shared with all who would learn from it.
- Janda was the goddess of Truth, symbolized alternately by scales in balance and the white rose. The Knights of Justice were devoted to the cause of truth, and regarded law and order to be the greatest good.
- Leo was the god of the Glory of Combat, symbolized alternately by a flaming sword and a crested helm. The Chosen Warriors believed that fair combat was the greatest test of a being’s worth, and consequently that the best fighter was the noblest and holiest.
- Magus was the god of Magic, symbolized by the lemniscate (infinity sybmol). The Adepts of Magus were dedicated to the use of magic in the advancement of society.
- Ratri was the god of Concealment, symbolized by a new moon or two-headed coin. The Shadows of Ratri believed in the safety of secrecy, and keeping dangerous objects and information out of the hands of the ignorant.
The Pantheon includes many other deities. Some have not had a significant following in modern times, their rites long absorbed into that of one of the Nine Gods. Thus Sol and Luna are mostly worshipped as companions of Gaia. The same fate is befalling the Five: Mavors has taken over the judicial role formerly played by Janda and has replaced Leo as the patron of warriors. Other deities are local or otherwise very specific in their influence: No one other than a fisherman would worship Iswal. The patron gods of the various races have been long neglected, except for Daglir, who is now recognized as supreme patron of all crafts. There are, however, two powerful Gods of Darkness whose priests elected not to join the War against Sumerilon, and whose cults have been little seen since.
- Ronkel, the Grim Reaper. Pale and chill, his cultists danced for delight at funerals and were always shunned by decent folk.
- Thoki, God of the Undead. Prohibited by ancient edict of the Hellenic Empire, Necromancers are hated and feared wherever they are found.
This is a little more than what’s in the conbook.
Sumerilon. Sumerilon began as a small, mountainous, landlocked country. When Malchion took power, Sumerilon had expanded northward to the coast and was considered an “up and coming” continental power. Under Malchion’s rule, the black-and-purple uniformed Sumerilon armies crushed the Hellenic Empire, Ljung, and Auritania, occupied Thisted, and invaded Almere and Falconberg
Hellenic Empire. This was the premier power on the continent prior to the Sumerilon War, and fell quickly as Malchion’s first conquest. The Empire did not survive the war, though its greatest city, Delft, was never taken and enjoys a reputation of invincibility. It is the location of Hireling Hall. Delft and Wooking, now city-states, are ruled by the city Archons, Adon Zandra in Delft and Talia Horos in Wooking.
Hadriania is the island nation of King Romulus Pendragon. His Knights of Mavors, both traditional horseborne and a skilled griffon air force, expert longbowmen, and a powerful navy held off the vicious attacks of Sumerilon after the Hellenic Empire fell.
Umwelt is a mostly dwarvish country and Ironhewer’s home. The people of Umwelt held off the Sumerilon army at the neck of Thisted (the piece of land connecting it to the continent) and eventually pushed them back to join with the elves of Almere. A Sumerilon assault on the Umwelt homeland was foiled by the Floating Cities of the Perrin and the Hadrianic navy. Umwelt is ruled by a cousin of the famous General Ironhewer’s, King-Under-the-Glacier Delven Ironhewer, but the Craftsman’s Guild, headed by Theodoric (a Champion), is probably more influential to the daily lives of the people of Umwelt.
While the Neck of Thisted was able to hold out against Sumerilon (with the aid of Umwelt), the rest of the country suffered a long and brutal occupation. The natives of Thisted are still proud of the underground resistance efforts to aid the Umwelt army to connect with Gal Pol-Li’s and Pendragon’s forces to go on the offensive against Sumerilon. Magnus deCharle, leader of the Free Thisted Resistance during the war, is the current sovereign of the country.
Almere is the Elvish homeland. After the fall of the Hellenic Empire and the occupation of inland Thisted, Almere’s fate was sealed, but for the leadership of Gal Pol-Li, who brought his people through the worst times, long foiled Sumerilon attempts to penetrate the heart of the woods, and finally brought together an alliance of dwarves (led by Ironhewer), humans (led by Pendragon), and elves (led by himself) that would ultimately defeat Sumerilon. Current Almere policy is guided by the three members of the Elder Council, Alassë Elensar, Erle Pallanén, and Elessan Véneanár.
Camborough is a quiet land largely untouched by the Sumerilon war, aside from the heroes who went to fight in it. Camborough does not have a king (and most citizens feel it doesn’t need one), so most outsiders look to the mayor of Blennam, currently Prisca Hamwich, to fulfill the normal executive duties of Camborough.
Falconberg is a land of sea cliffs that house the largest concentration of Fey on the continent. Sumerilon made some attempts to wipe them out, but found it not worth the effort. Falconberg is currently nominally ruled by King Tam XXXVI, but no one knows whether he’s actually the 36th of his line, or if Falconberg history stretches back far enough for there to have been 36 kings (much less 36 king Tams), or if fey actually pay attention to anything he says or does, or simply do whatever they damn well please.
An old country with a long-gone military past, Auritania was a favorite destination for travelers who enjoyed mountain views. It secretly joined Sumerilon shortly before the war, and Sumerilon troops secretly prepared for the surprise attack on the Hellenic Empire. After the war, Auritania’s government was not brought back, and it is an occupied territory of Hadriania.
Ljung was a sparsely settled land prior to the arrival of the grafts, the population more than doubled with the arrival of Eponai who liked the open spaces and a smaller number of Catfolk who enjoyed the grassland hunting. The demihuman population was killed during the graft betrayal, and what government exists among the remaining Eponai and Catfolk is unrecognized by other governments.
The Floating Cities were the pride of the Perrin and the delight of the peoples the Perrin saved from Sumerilon’s naval strikes. After the graft betrayal, however, the Perrin were no longer trusted and people refused to trade with them. Over time, the floating cities lost their motive power and are stuck in the northern seas. It is a haven for Perrin outcasts from society.
There were many faithful soldiers who carried arms into battle against Sumerilon. Many died anonymously on the battlefields. Many also were the “Ones Who Returned” as Veterans. They did their best to return to a life of peace.
Clerical healing was always in short supply during wartime, which made much rarer still the Great prayers of restoration from grievous wounds. The war’s end and the return of peace helped reduce the demand, but with the loss of so many healers and the cursed nature of many of the wounds, shortages were acute for years: the records show that it took the Aru Order six years and three months just to cure all of the known war-caused cases of deafness. For a foot soldier trying to return home from war to a life of peace, disabilities were profound and long-lasting. Nevertheless, many did well and lived their life as best they could, but many were also utterly destitute due to their war-caused infirmities that prevented them from making a living.
By 1614, the Archon of Delft decided that these destitute veterans merited additional compensation (and compassion). An act was passed in Delft to provide for “Adjusted Compensation” for their prior war service. Unfortunately, his expectation was that he would only have to finance the local veterans and that the other City-States would enact similar measures. When the latter did not happen, the poor veterans from many regions descended upon the city of Delft and expected payment. Thus, another large “Army” threatened the city, although it was claimed to be a “friendly” siege. The Delft army was ordered to clear the veterans’ encampment, which was performed by Brigadier Gabriel Baton in 1617, and the Compensation Act was suspended. It took years of diplomacy for the situation to be resolved, but eventually, State Aid was given to the Aru Healers who ran small clinics and infirmaries to help them build great Hospital-Churches, Hospices and peaceful Godshuizen courts in various cities, to service the veterans. We also recognize and thank the Dwarven craftsmen who were sent south to help build these edifices. We also recognize and thank the service of administration of these Aru houses by their friends the Mavor Oblates: they reduced fraudulent claims of veteran status. Any week now, the Mavors will again have their annual spring banquet and ‘roast’ of their Aru friends with the more brazen examples of healthcare fraud that they have found in the old Aru records. Last year’s story was from the 1633 records, when a human woman (who wasn’t even thirty years old) claimed to have been an Aru Shieldmaiden in the War. In this year 1663, the institution to aid veterans is now 36 years old since its formal incorporation, and is entering the twilight of its charter: many of the human veterans have left this mortal coil, so with each passing year, more of the old Godshuizen courts are now empty of their honored guests.