28 October 2011


She was a sketchbook drawing on a blank white canvas--her lines and curves were unstable and moved and jerked in a chaotic dance that would nearly tear her apart at every second that passed. Smoke billowed up from the cigarette in her hand and stabbed and swirled its way inter her form. She and the smoke became a jumble of flat lines on the empty space around her.

She tensed up--an overwhelming feeling of being watched struck her. She whilred around and yelled.

"I know who you are!"

She could see it, the black canvas that outstretched and enveloped everything it touched, yet somehow remained on the edge of her vision. It was a nasty shadow reaching out to take her, to kill her, to end her.

"You're only fear!"

She yelled again to the empty room around her. Her words were silent letters that floated up from her mouth and dissolved against the canvas into nothing.

"Get away!"

She could feel it. It was inside her, burning her. It was the cold in her eyes. It was a heavy cloak that bore her down to her knees only to have her stand back up against the pressure.

"Get away!"

It advanced and yielded and retreated and advanced again while she turned and looked for it, always at the edge of her vision. She held her arms out and the smoke from her cigarette left her body to form a pillar at the edge of her reach.

"Get out here, Fear!"

She stood defiantly, and challenged the thing she hated most of all.

"I can run; I can hide; you will follow me."

Her form trembled and her lines grew thicker and darker. She yelled out in pain and gritted her teeth until they cracked.

"I bet..."

She yelled and took one final drag of her smoke, then threw it to the ground.

"...I can put you out..."

Her muscles tensed. The smoke rose up and twisted her form with tiny slivers of lines that crawled in through her feet and out through her head, then disappeared against the blank white canvas.

"...like a cigarette!"

Her foot came down on the smoldering remains of her cigarette.

21 October 2011

Our Dance

In this room there's you and me. The black walls melt around us and the ceiling drips, smearing your lipstick running down your chin like cold blood running through veins on the pale moon—your eyes the burning stars that blind the world and tear my limbs apart, leaving me helpless calling your name.

We dance a lover's dance in silence with snake-like rhythm against a voodoo beat, the rhythm of our hearts. Drawn and crying, you sketch your hate on my lips as you bite them, a desperate attempt to steal my heart. And now, I can't feel you, just the taste of your lips and blood linger.

But, when we danced, I echo your words with mindless absence and float to your voice But, when we danced, I felt your tears fall on my cheeks and I smiled and I told you 'This will never end.' Where'd you go?

Our fingers wrap together and your cold, rosy fingers dig into my hands and tear away. And again, I smell nothing but blood and you. I'm here! I cry out, desperate to hear you again. It doesn't have to end. And, we dance.

And, the ceiling collapses and you're nothing but an empty feeling that haunts my dreams and wakes me up in a cold sweat in a room with black walls.

I can't forgive you, I echo your words with mindless absence and float away, trying to forget that time that we danced, but you left scars on my lips and I still taste the blood.

Forget it, I fall and accept the soft ground in a room with no walls or ceiling and I build a statue of myself and climb to the top. This is me! I yell. This is who I am! I never liked our dance anyway.

14 October 2011

Three Bandits

Daryn counted the bandits. “There are three guarding the entrance,” he whispered to his three companions.

“I'll sneak around them and try to flank them, you guys keep their attention,” Tina looked to Daryn for support.

“Good idea. Gareth and I will attack first. We'll focus on the bandit to our right with the longsword Gareth, you stay back with the bow and I'll charge in with my blade. Nathan, you draw the other two men's attention while Tina sneaks around their right side.”

They all nodded in agreement and prepared for the battle.

Gareth struck first, landing an arrow in the bandit's chest with a thunk.
Daryn charge in behind the arrow and sliced through the bandit's leather armor.

The bandit turned to his partners, “William, Sean, we're being attacked!” He swung his blade down and caught Daryn behind the leg, knocking him to his knees.

Nathan decided to distract the other two bandits by throwing rocks at them, drawing their main focus to him as Tina continued to sneak around their backs.

The two bandits, William and Sean, approached Nathan, weapons drawn. William gritted his yellow teeth as he brought his ax down on Nathan, but was knocked to the side by Tina as she struck him in the back of the head with the but of her knife.

Sean turned to her, his dirty brown hair falling into his face, and brought his own blade down on her. She quickly intercepted his sword with her knife and threw him back a bit.

Gareth drew his bow once more and took aim at his target. This time his arrow pierced straight through the bandit's leather armor and a bit of blood trickled out through the hole.
Daryn stood up and grabbed the arrow and shoved it in deeper, causing the bandit to cry out and fall to his knees, blood shooting from his mouth.

The bandit dropped his sword and grabbed the arrow in his chest.
“Dannith, hold on!” William recovered from the blow to his head and rushed past Tina and Nathan to his partner's side. He swung the side of his ax at Daryn and knocked him to the side and took position between his partner and Gareth.

Nathan turned to Tina, “Follow my lead.” He dove down and grabbed Sean's legs, pulling him to the ground. Immediately, Tina was on top of him trying to pin his arms.

Sean managed to throw Tina off of him, but couldn't kick Nathan loose.

Daryn and Gareth exchanged glances and Daryn tackled the bandit, William, while Gareth notched and shot at arrow, landing it straight into Dannith's chest, knocking the bandit to the ground, unconscious.

William threw Daryn off himself and stood up while Tina managed to successfully pin Sean down.
Nathan stood up and hit Sean in the head with the butt of his blade, knocking him unconscious.

Gareth shot an arrow at William, but missed. Daryn stood up and took advantage of the distraction, knocking William in the head.

William saw his two partners go down and decided that this was a losing battle that wasn't worth dying for. He quickly fled the scene as one more arrow from Gareth's bow whirred past his head.

Daryn and Nathan quickly tied the two bandits up with rope and then they all let the adrenaline leave their systems.

“Is anyone seriously injured?” Gareth looked around the group.

“My armor is shot,” Daryn tossed the rags that used to be his leather armor to the ground, “Other than that, I'm fine.”

“I wasn't hurt,” Tina looked around the group.

“Nor I,” Nathan spoke up, “How long do you suppose these two will be out?”

“A few hours at the least,” Daryn examined the two bandits, “They won't be causing us much trouble when they do wake up.”

“Why don't we just slit their throats and be done with them?” Tina eyed them, playing with her knife in her hands.

“Because,” Gareth looked at her sharply, “We're better than that.”

“Yes,” Daryn agreed, “Now let's go. There will be more inside and we must be prepared.”

07 October 2011

Better Backstories

A character's backstory is a great tool from which to draw for both GMs and Players; it is also a great way to engage everyone on more levels of the game. So, why is it that we settle for such poor unoriginal stories? Why are all the parents dead? From where are all these orphans coming? It's a real epidemic, but it helps explain the lack of friends or enemies. These characters were never properly raised and don't know how to interact with other people—what else could explain their behavior?

Next time you start a game, tell yourself and your players that you will not settle for mediocre characters anymore. “Because you always wanted to” is not a good enough reason to join the militia. “Because your parents forced you” is not a good enough reason to pursue a career in magic.

These characters often have nothing to lose but their possessions and their lives and they risk all of it every day. Why is that? Why are they willing to put their lives in so much danger? Money is not a good enough motivation, and neither is depression due to the loss of family. What is the goal of the PCs?

Try this, make a list of things you could use from the backstories of your characters: people, events, places, items, etc. Take that list, and use everything on it.

If your list isn't as long as you'd hoped, then next time you run a game, ask for something more acceptable. Make your players flesh out your world for you. Ask for a friend, an enemy, a place, a meaningful event, and a special item, and make sure every PC has one in his or her story that links to the PC in some way. If you have a party of four, you have twenty plot items for you to abuse.

A Friend

A childhood friend, a pen pal, a friend from work, a close cousin or brother, etc. This person means a lot to the PC and should have a large impact on the PC's life.

An Enemy

A childhood rival, an evil twin, an evil landlord, etc. This person has caused deliberate harm to the PC on more than one occasion and causes the PC's blood to boil at the mention of her or his name.

A Place

Home towns are too easy and will not do. You need something less obvious. A first dungeon, a mysterious island that the PC stared upon as a child, a town to which the PC cannot go for fear of being hanged. These are more exciting and can provide more fuel to a smoldering game.

A Meaningful Event

This is something that has changed the PC's perspective on life and has led the PC to where she or he now is. This is something that haunts the PC's dreams. Births and deaths are easy, but acceptable. The death of parents is not acceptable. This can be a future event envisioned by the PC in a dream, or a massacre the PC took a part in, or an earthquake that swallowed a mountain. Something powerful with a bit of mystery sprinkled in.

A Special Item

This is something that the PC and others revere. Perhaps, it is a family heirloom or the ancient hero's sword that the PC now carries or the necklace the PC's daughter made before the PC left for good. Whatever it is, it's important.