Monday, December 31, 2012

Top Ten Things From 2012

Well. I wasn't planning to do much on the blog today, but we've had some train problems this morning, and frankly, right now it looks like we might be here for awhile. So... Here are my Top Ten Things From 2012!

10. WotC started releasing a new ruleset for D&D, and the playtest turned out to be really interesting.

9. The Avengers was a terrific movie.

8. Emma discovered the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

7. I worked a TON of overtime, much of it right before Christmas. Yay overtime checks!

6. Hannah started singing lessons, sang publicly several times, and even recorded a couple of songs.

5. I started coaching triathlon This led to a little freelance writing gig.

4. I finished 3rd in my age group at the Milford Y-Tri.

3. I averaged under 8 minutes/mile at the Westport Minuteman 10K.

2. Sally won her age group in not one but two road races.

1. We took the kids to Washington, DC, and did most of the tour by bicycle. We even got to spend Memorial Day with my father at Arlington.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

I Feel Like I've Learned a Few Things Today

This hasn't by any means been my favorite NFL football season of recent memory. Still, this is the last regular season weekend of the year, and so I feel like I have to watch this afternoon's games. After all, barring a miracle this afternoon this will be the last time we see the New York Giants play for the next 6 months.

So. What have we learned?

-- First, the Giants are great against defenses that suck. Against the Ravens? Terrible. But against the Eagles? Hey, pretty good day.

-- Likewise, the Giants' offense is great when they have Chris Snee in the lineup. Without him know? Again, terrible.

-- Along those same lines, counting on the Detroit Lions is a losing strategy.

-- Lastly, why don't I think that the Houston Texans can never win a Superbowl? Because they just can't win the big game. Witness today's game against Indianapolis. If they're going to drop a game like this against the Colts, wait until they have to play Tom Brady and the Patriots up in Foxboro.

I'll miss football once it ends, but the season itself has still been incredibly frustrating.

Sunday Comics: Bronx Angel--Politics By Another Method (Page 11)

Bronx Angel: Politics By Another Method, Page 11
Click here to see this page at full size.
Well.  This is the typical liberal critique of conservative voters--that conservative voters tend to vote for people who don't act in the best interests of their constituents.  That these same voters, the ones who actually rely on so many national-level federal programs, are nevertheless the first to jump to the defense of the "cut spending at any costs" crowd.  I don't particularly want to get into the rights and wrongs of that critique right now; my point is merely that it exists as a point-of-view, that it's the point-of-view of most of the liberal New Yorkers that I know.  At the time that I wrote this, it struck me that it was these same folks who were both voting for the War in Iraq and volunteering to fight it.

The flip side of that, of course, is that Congress voted overwhelmingly to give President Gorge W. Bush authorization to conduct the war, and there were many--like then Senator Hillary Clinton from NY--whom we typically think of as liberal who nevertheless voted for invasion.  So in dragging out what is a standard liberal argument as part of this scene, I should certainly have had Angel use a few more facts in his rebuttal.  Having him go straight to an emotional response turns him into a bit of a Straw Man, and that's unfortunate.  Of course, it makes sense from a storytelling point-of-view in that Angel isn't a guy whose gut reactions are necessarily intellectual, but still.

In the original, 135-page version of this story, this argument plays out over several scenes, one per issue.  In both versions, the purpose of these scenes was to frame the action thematically, but with only 67-pages in the final version, I think we only get into this once now.  That's probably a good thing.

Last note: I actually started working on this story back in 1999 when I was stationed in Korea.  At that time, my father was first starting to suffer from the effects of the alcoholism and PTSD that eventually took his life, and then as now, I wrote about stuff like that in order to get it off my chest and/or organize the thoughts in my head.  Anyway, I conceived this story as a kind of deconstruction of the Robin Hood legend, starring a Scottish knight with PTSD who'd come back home to find his country a wreck.  There was a whole bit there about the rise of Christianity in Scotland and how that might have played out against the backdrop of the country's then more-traditional pagan beliefs.  I wrote maybe thirty pages of that, but it was missing something, and I didn't realize what that something was until I got to New York a few years later and started working in the Bronx.  Then I re-set the story in the Bronx, and off we went.

My point is that in the original version of the story, our college liberal here, Shirley, eventually kind of falls for Angel.  And then I think I wound up developing her father into an FBI agent for the planned sequel to PBAM, which I called To The Victor Go The Spoils, with the idea that he'd be doing Robin Hood-type vigilante work in the Bronx, basically robbing from the rich (i.e. drug dealers) to give to the poor, and that would make him a target of the FBI.  But that never really materialized, even in TVGS.  It was just a concept that wound up getting left on the cutting room floor--which is why I'm bringing it up here.  TVGS ended up being about...  Well, we'll have that discussion another time.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

News & Notes (Saturday, 12/29/12)

Today's news spot isn't gonna be actual news.  It's more like personal news--that is to say it's news about me.
  • Last week I wrote a bit about wanting to restart my long-running D&D campaign, The Sellswords of Luskan.  Well, I actually took steps to do it.  The "new" game is called Revenge of the Sellswords of Luskan, and it's being hosted on the Myth-Weavers forum, which is where I personally go to play D&D Play-by-Post (PbP).  I've got four of five of my original Players back, but we haven't actually started the game yet because...
  • I spent the last month writing a novella for my kids as one of their Christmas presents.  What's cool about that is that because I had a concrete deadline, i.e. Christmas, I had to really buckle down and work, forcing myself to stay exclusively on this one thing.  The good thing about that is that I actually managed to finish the rough draft on Christmas Eve morning, and then I finished my first re-write yesterday.  So I'm actually done!  But I would like to find a good test-reader or two, so if you're interested in that, let me know.
  • My wife gave me a Phiten Tornado Titanium Necklace yesterday.  It's supposed to help redirect your body's energy, enhancing sleep, helping you recover after exercise, and just generally giving you more energy.  Personally, I can't imagine how that's possible, but I've been wearing the thing for about the last eighteen hours, and I do feel terrific.  Maybe the thing acts as some kind of half-assed Faraday Cage?  I can't think of another way it might actually affect your body--and for that matter, even if it does act as a Faraday cage, I don't know exactly how that would help--but then again, I'm not much on all of this new age medicine crap, either.
The Phiten Tornado Necklace
  • Finally, wow, what a difference running in the cold makes.  I went out for a run with Sally this morning in thirty-degree weather, and for once she was the one struggling, and I was the one feeling great.  That said, if you followed the link there, you know that I use MapMyRun.Com all the time to track my runs, and that's fine, but the app on my iPhone is only about 85% to 90% accurate.  Which is another way of saying that it's 10% to 15% inaccurate, and that's really annoying, especially on longer runs.  It seems to work a little better when I give it a few seconds to start up before I actually start running.  And then too, it's way better than nothing, but still.  I often find myself wonder exactly how far I ran at the end of a workout, and that's even with the pedometer in use.
And that's all I've got for today.  Have a great weekend!

Friday, December 28, 2012

Friday Mad Science: Power, The Hunger Games, and the Big Lie

In addition to all the nonsense normally associated with Christmastime, I've spent the last two weeks engrossed in the first two books of the Hunger Games trilogy.  My wife and I watched the movie a few weeks ago, and as I noted here at the time, I was a little underwhelmed.  But then my daughter Hannah finished reading the first two novels out of the Harry Potter series, and I started looking for something new for her to read because, bottom line, I don’t think a nine-year-old is quite ready to deal with some of the stuff that’s in the later half of the Potter books.  I tried lots of different books for her, but of the choices I gave, she was most interested in The Hunger Games, probably because she’d heard of it on TV, but my wife asked me to screen the novels myself first before handing them over.  So…
The Hunger Games is a much better book than it was a movie.  Virtually all of the scenes in the book have been repeated in the movie, but the movie doesn't succeed half so well in showing Katniss’s paranoia and the multitude of conflicting emotions that run throughout the story’s narrative.  So for me, the stuff in the book is more interesting because it makes more sense.  There's a more logical flow there.  
Unfortunately, I didn't like the second book nearly as much.  The first half of it was interesting enough, in a Twilight/teen romance kind of way, but then the second half essentially re-ran the first book’s plot before breaking the paradigm in a way that would have been far more interesting had it happened earlier in that second novel.  So yeah, I liked the bit where we see our heroine alternately trying to either love the boy that it would be politically expedient for her to marry or escape from a life that she finds suffocating and ultimately hopeless.  I guess this is what teenage girls fantasize about—having multiple boys fall madly in love with them, but in the fantasies, it’s only the ones they’re not allowed to be with who’re truly exciting.  But then that all changes, and suddenly we’re in The Hunger Games redux, and it’s not the same the second time around.
With all of that said, what’s clear by the end of the second book is that these characters are stunningly ignorant of the larger world of which they are a part, and that they exist that way because that’s the way their government wants them to be.  By the time I finished Catching Fire on Christmas Night, I had about decided that the book itself is basically a political allegory for the lives of the citizens of North Korea.  I mean, it’s all right there.  Rampant starvation, workers worked to the bone to support a privileged class of elites living in the Capital, a huge standing army that seems to exist mostly to keep the native populace at bay, rumors of a better life somewhere out there if only you have the courage to believe in such a thing.  And it’s all held together by the human need for stability, the idea that even what we have now—bad as it is, what with starvation and occasional child-sacrifice—is still better than the unknown.  Because the unknown is scary.
I think this is the brilliance of this Hunger Games idea, the thing that makes the books resonate at such a base level with so many people.   This idea that as bad as things are, the alternatives—though we can’t articulate what they might be—would be worse.  And ironically it’s this thing, that we can take your children, and there’s nothing you can do about it, that’s the linchpin   It’s so horrible that it actually reinforces the control.  That you would do anything to change this if you could, but the fact that it’s still going on means that you can’t, so why dwell on it.  Don’t rise up, don’t fight, don’t resist.  Don’t seek change.  There’s nothing you can do about any of it.
All of which reminded me of the NRA’s position after Newtown.
It’s the same thing, really.  Guns are a part of our culture, there’s nothing you can do about it, and a world without guns is even scarier than the world that we have right now.  After all, there are Bad People out there.  And yeah, we have the occasional truly horrific massacre, but take away our guns, and then you’ll see something really awful.  So awful, we can’t even articulate what it is.  And anyway, this is the way the world is; there’s nothing you can do to change it, so don’t fight, don’t resist.  Just accept what we say, as awful as it is.  The fact that it’s still going on means the problem itself must be intractable.
This is the kind of thing you have to buy into in order to believe in a world where we need to put more guns in schools, where what we want are more gunfights in classrooms.  You have to believe that there is nothing whatsoever that you can do to make the world a better place, that the answer to school violence is even more school violence, that other people’s mental illness means you’re better off being ready to kill at a moment’s notice—anywhere, anytime.
The sad thing is that this is what people think.  They stick their heads in the sand and call themselves Realists.
*Spoiler Alert*
Fair warning: this next bit is about Spider-Man #700.  If you plan on reading that issue but haven’t had a chance yet, do yourself and come back later.
The Humberto Ramos variant cover for ASM #700.
By now you must've at least seen coverage of the events of Amazing Spider-Man #700, ostensibly the last issue of the series and the issue in which Peter Parker “dies.”  Well, to be fair, he doesn’t exactly die.  Dr. Octopus uses some kind of mind-switcher technology to switch bodies with Parker when his own body starts failing, so that when Doc Ock dies at last, it’s Peter Parker’s soul that’s along for the ride.  And viola, we have a new Spider-Man, Dr. Otto Octavius, who’s now using Peter Parker’s body, memories, and super-powers to be his very own brand of Spider-Man.  But being a megalomaniacal super-genius, he vows to be a better Spider-Man than Parker ever was, hence the title of the new series that’s replacing “Amazing”, “The Superior Spider-Man.”
It’s been a pretty good build up, and as you may know from my post about it a few weeks ago, I loved the actual brain switcheroo issue, #698.  In a sense, I feel like that’s the one that should have been issue #700, just because it was the one that blew my mind.  This one… well, there were only two ways of playing it, and they chose the way that ended with the villain coming out on top, ostensibly the more “shocking” of the two endings.  But it wasn’t exactly a shock.  At least for me, the way it played out was more the logical extension of a lot of foreshadowing—and Marvel’s evolving corporate reliance on shock value storytelling—making the actual story itself kind of a letdown.
Which is to say that the Marvel Universe has been a pretty shock-filled place of late.  After all, this is the same company that killed off both Captain America and the Human Torch at some point in the last five years, only to bring them back within the next eighteen months.  So in that sense, this ending was the one that I think most fans were both expecting and dreading.    I mean, they always say that “dead means dead,” but unless it’s Brian K. Vaughn who’s doing the writing, it’s never really true.  At this point, I don’t know that anyone expects that Peter Parker is going to stay dead—certainly I do not, and in fact, I think the seeds of the resurrection were planted right there in the Death Scene—but still.  As I was reading issue #700 myself, I kept waiting for the final swerve that was gonna make this story something other than the long-built-up death of a beloved character, something done to cause a temporary sales spike and drive interest in a book without changing the very nature and value of the star character’s long-term brand.  Ultimately, though, I’m not sure that that’s what we got.
I guess my issue with ASM #700 is that it didn’t feel like the end of an era and the start of a new one.  What it felt like was the end of the Second Act of a very long Three Act Play.  That’s actually fine.  Certainly there’s nothing wrong with either confounding my expectations or telling the kind of long, drawn-out serialized stories that, really, only ongoing monthly comics can tell.  But I’m frustrated, too.  Because if this story wasn’t The End, it was still an ending, and it was one in which the bad guy won.  Decisively.  
After fifty years, Peter Parker went out on his back, beaten by his second-worst enemy.  The end.  
And yeah, I agree that there are a lot of new storytelling possibilities here, that this is a chance to make the title fresh and new and to explore some previously unimagined vistas in what is a vast but well-worn piece of ongoing storytelling terrain, and that stuff is fine.  But it still aggravates me that this is one of Marvel’s longest running titles, that it stars the company’s most popular character, and still, at the end of the day, that character got beat like a chump and dumped for a newer, more jazzed-up version of the same thing.  I even realize that this is how I’m supposed to feel, that ASM writer Dan Slott intentionally set us up to feel bad, that this was a long-running story that ended negatively, and that if it didn’t piss you off and depress you, then really, Slott hadn’t done his job very well.  Bottom line, this is how you are supposed to feel at the end of Act 2 of a Three-Act Play.
None of that actually helps, though.  I still feel used.  
In the comics, Cap was shot by a brainwashed
assassin.  That the event happened was groan-
worthy.  But the way Ed Brubaker and Brian
wrote about in Captain America and
The New Avengers was very good.
Honestly, the difference between this story arc and The Death of Captain America story arc was that when Cap died, I wanted it to mean something, but ultimately it didn’t, and when they brought Cap back so quickly, I felt betrayed.  Granted, it was an expected betrayal, and actually, the execution of the arc itself was very good.  But still.  This time, it’s like, “How the Hell can you let it end like that?” and even with me knowing that this probably isn’t the end, that Peter Parker is certainly going to come back, probably in as little as eighteen months, and even with all of that, it’s still like “Eighteen months?  Doc Ock gets to win for eighteen fucking months?!  Fuck that!”
Like I said, I can practically see the story beats in my head, and I’m still reacting exactly the way I’m supposed to.  Ultimately, that probably means that this isn’t just a good issue but actually a great one.  But still…  Ouch.
Well, that’s only two items, but it comes out to be almost two thousand words, and that’s plenty.
Have a great weekend and a Happy New Year!

Friday Hair Metal: Something to Believe In

I love Poison.  Seen 'em twice in concert, and both times it was a blast.  Those guys have fun, even when life sucks.  I really admire that.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Christmas Time Is Here

Hannah sang in a song from "It's a Charlie Brown Christmas" in the Christmas Pageant at our church,  This isn't the world's best recording--the sound didn't upload well to YouTube--but you can still hear her if you turn it up a bit.

Maybe it's me, but I think Hannah has a gift.  'Course I'm a proud daddy, but still...

Monday, December 24, 2012

2012 Christmas Letter

Dear Friends and Family,

I hope this note finds you happy and in good health.  2012 was an exciting, happy, storm-filled year for our little family, but we survived and even thrived, and as we look forward to 2013, I can't help but feel that great things are right around the corner.  I hope that's true for you as well.

For me, 2012 started normally enough.  I continued to work in the City as an engineer, signed up to coach the new triathlon club at the local YMCA, and ran a few races, and in May, Sally and I took the girls on vacation to Washington, DC.  We saw the Smithsonian and the National Gallery and a bunch of the monuments, and then we spent some time at my father’s grave at Arlington on Memorial Day.  And then things got interesting.  As the heat of summer hit the City, contract negotiations between my company and its labor union broke down, and I soon found running a crew of non-union contractors up in Westchester County in lieu of the company’s regular workforce.  Needless to say, the next few weeks got a bit tense.  And then, as if that weren’t enough, Hurricane Sandy slammed the City in late October, and as you might expect, pretty soon I was back up in Westchester again, this time helping with storm recovery.  All in all, it was a super-busy year, but I took a week's vacation heading into Thanksgiving, and as I'm sure you can imagine, I'm excited for the Holidays.  Frankly I’m ready for a return to normalcy.

Sally, meanwhile, has been at least as busy as I have.  She continues to translate for Birth-to-Three here in Connecticut and contribute to the local PTSA and Student Literacy Council and run our local Girl Scout Troop, and this year, she also became a sales associate for Arbonne.  And if that’s not enough, she’s also scheduled to resume her introductory art classes for children early in 2013, and oh by the way, she’s also a full-time mother and homemaker.  But I remain the most proud of Sally because amidst all of that, she still manages to find time to be an athlete.  Sally and I ran several races together this year, and she won her age group twice.  I’ve been proud of Sally many times in our marriage, but I think that first age group win was the most proud I’ve ever seen her be of herself.  Watching that was pretty awesome.

Hannah and Emma continue to be students and artists and gymnasts, but I think 2012 may well go down as the year that Hannah really committed to becoming a singer.  After her performance in last year’s school talent show, it was clear that we needed to get Hannah into actual singing lessons, and now, not quite six months on, we’ve begun to see her learn the drive and discipline that only commitment to achieve a specific goal can develop.  Hannah’s only in 4th grade, but I couldn’t be prouder of her.  She’s trying out for the school play, and while I don’t know what’s going to happen, I do know that she’s made it through several sets of call-backs, and now she’s up for a major part.  Regardless of how that turns out, I’m satisfied that she’s learned that she’s going to have to work to get the things that she wants in this life, and that’s a lesson that, frankly, I’m happy for her to have under her belt.  Emma, meanwhile, is our resident soccer player, comic book fan, and all-around geek-in-training.  She’s a happy kid who loves to sing and dance and read and watch TV with her daddy, and those are all great things for her to be.

So that’s us in 2012.  As we look forward to the New Year, I can’t help but wonder what new adventures and challenges await.  This year has been a great year for us, and God willing, next year will be, too.

Hopefully that’ll be true for you as well.

Sally, Hannah, Emma, & Dixie posed for some pics last week
when we went to get our Christmas tree.
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

With Love,
Dan, Sally, Hannah, & Emma

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Tim Tebow and the Jets

I've been amazed by all the talk in New York lately now that NY Jets QB Mark Sanchez has been benched, and one-time 3rd string QB Greg McElroy has been named the starter. Bottom line, what we've seen lately is a lot of sports writers losing their minds because they can't figure out why the Jets traded for Tim Tebow if the Jets didn't plan for him to play.

Like it's really that hard to understand.

Bottom line, the Jets had to pay Tebow four million dollars in salary.  Tebow, on the other hand, had sold something like fifteen million dollars worth of jerseys for the Jets as of the last time I looked.

So. Why did the Jets trade for Tebow?  Because he made the team eleven million dollars.

Look, it's alereadt been reported that it was Jets owner Woody Johnson who wanted Tebow and not coach Rex Ryan, and to tell the truth, I don't even think that that's a problem. Johnson is a businessman first and foremost. Where Ryan's first concern is winning football games, Johnson's first concern is making money. No doubt they both hoped that Tebow would come in and be able to play well, but either way as far as Johnson was concerned, since signing Tebow netted the team eleven million dollars, the fact is that the signing was successful, regardless of what happened on the field.

Sunday Comics: Bronx Angel--Politics By Another Method (Page 10)

Bronx Angel: Politics By Another Method: Page 10.
Click here to see the page at full size.
Well, if the last section was one of my favorites, this next piece is probably the worst piece in the book.  Not only does it set up a pair of Straw Man arguments, it also bogs us down in a three-page classroom scene in the middle of what was becoming a tense piece about gang life in the Bronx.  As Randy Lander said from the comics review site The Fourth Rail, "People yelling at each other in a classroom might be realistic, but it's not the way to tell an exciting story in a comic book."

On the flipside, this scene sets up the title of the book, and from a screenwriter's point of view, it's the piece that's going to set up whatever sense of closure exists when this story is over.  So I put it in as a kind of "stupid screenwriter's trick" in order to add in ideas I could turn around and reference later in the story.  If you think about it, you'll realize that you've seen this done before--in practically every middling TV show ever, especially whenever they have a Very Special Episode.  This is the scene that sets up the story thematically, eventually giving us what TV People call The Golden Moment (or Moment of Shit) later on.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Anniversary present

Sally gave me a Nexus 7. This is my first post with it.

Ten years!

Sever the ignorant doubt in your heart in your heart with the sword of self-knowledge.

Maneuvers and Expertise Dice in D&D Next (from the Ruleset released on 12/17/12)

If you’re a fan of D&D, it’s hard for me to imagine that you will have missed the chance to sign up for the Playtest rules releases currently ongoing for the game’s forthcoming version, D&D Next.  With that in mind, the point of this post isn’t to spill the beans about what’s in the new release—since that would be pointless given that the release itself is free—the post is meant more to spark discussion amongst fans who have read through the rules—or who are at least familiar with what’s been going on.  I had some time this week and read through the newest ruleset, and for better or worse, these are my thoughts.  Your mileage may vary. 

And if you have no idea what’s going on with D&D Next, then the rest of this post will almost certainly make no sense at all to you.  Stop reading now and come back tomorrow.  Hopefully that post will be better for you.

With that said, the biggest change to the new ruleset seems to be that Wizards of the Coast (WotC) has gone all in on the new bonus damage dice mechanics, currently given the name “Combat Expertise”.  Of the classes presented in the Playtest, all of them use the Combat Expertise mechanic in some form or other save the Wizard, and more to the point, it looks like the extra damage scaling involved in Combat Expertise is going to be one of the fundamental building blocks of the game’s balance in the new edition.  The theory—at least as I understand it—appears to be that all combat is deadly and that even relative novices can deal damage in combat, but that the severity of the damage dealt changes radically as you increase in actual combat experience. 

Or, to put it another way, anyone who has a knife has a chance of cutting you with it.  But only someone who knows how to use a knife has a legitimate chance of killing you with it quickly.

WotC released this really cool wallpaper to support the release
of 4e's Monster Manual 3.  I have that one somewhere in the house, and
so I wanna say that this is a Blizzard Dragon.  The Blizzard Dragon
was one of a series of elemental "disaster" dragons that came out in MM3.
In the new ruleset, this is reflected mechanically in lower ACs when compared to past editions and also in lower Attack Bonuses for both weapon and magic-based attacks.  Not only does this avoid the kind of number-porn/widespread disparities between attack bonuses for the various classes that were common as you increased in level in previous editions (up to 3.5e), it also means that the relative value of magic weapons and armor is radically increased as well.  Consider:  if a Fighter’s weapon attack bonus is +1, and he finds a Magic Sword +1, then that means that the magic of that sword is equal to all of that Fighter’s training and experience—at least as far as dealing wounds is concerned.

Where things change, though, is in the value of one’s attacks and Hit Points.  In the new ruleset, Hit Points are as much a reflection of an enemy’s ability to avoid damage as they are a reflection of that enemy’s physical toughness.  Which is to say that a trained Fighter has more Hit Points not because he isn’t vulnerable in his vital organs but rather because he is much more experienced at protecting those vital organs from attacks.  And on the flipside, the damage that one deals with attacks is also very level dependent.  So a Fighter facing off against a troll might only be 5% or 10% more likely to hit the troll with a dagger than a novice would be[1], but the novice’s attack would almost certainly deal the beast a flesh wound at best.  The Fighter’s attacks would be real, dangerous attacks.

Mechanically, this increased lethality is expressed with Expertise Dice.  The idea is that your character can either use his Expertise Dice to deal extra damage on a hit, or he can trade that bonus off to use some kind of maneuver or exploit that’s specific to your class and build.  There are lots of these.  It is these Maneuvers that, at least for the Martial Classes, take the place of At-Will powers from D&D’s Fourth Edition, and so it’s through them that the various sub-builds of each class mostly take their shape.

It’s not a bad idea.  I mean, I like this thing with Expertise Dice and Maneuvers.  It’s cool.  But this latest ruleset release has a very unfinished feel to it, and I’m not sold on this particular execution of this particular part of it. 

For example, the current ruleset gives Fighters, Monks, and Rogues all the exactly the same Expertise Dice.  And that’s fine in that it gives each character type an equal chance to use his maneuvers, but it also means that a Rogue with the right armor proficiencies is gonna be able to go toe-to-toe with a Fighter of his level, even in an empty, well-lit room on a level floor.  Now, you might argue that a Rogue and a Fighter of the same level should be roughly the same power level, and on that I might agree, but that’s with the caveat that the Rogue succeeds by finding ways to adapt his environment to his advantage whereas a Fighter is an expert in weapons in a stand-up fight.  So in a “fair” fight, you would expect the Fighter to win; after all, winning fights is, by definition, what he does.  Take that away, and you’re not left with much.  And yeah, a Rogue might possibly defeat a Fighter in combat, but that’s only because he’ll find some way to turn the tables, attack from the shadows, or basically do something tricksy and sneaky.  It’s definitely not going to be because he’s every inch as good at stabbing people in the face as the Fighter is.

Of course, there are some potential solutions to the problem.  I might suggest giving the classes different size Expertise Dice—say d6 for the Rogue vs. d8 for the Fighter—while leaving the current trade-off system in place.  Another method would be to give Fighters Expertise Dice and Rogues Skill Dice (that’s a different mechanic, also in the new Playtest packet), but allow both character types to trade off their various dice for maneuvers, skill-based exploits, etc.  That would probably require a re-write as far as the Rogue’s Sneak Attack feature is currently construed, but I can live with that. 

As it is now, however, I think the Fighter is a little too nerf’ed, and the Rogue is a little too complicated.  I like a lot of the ideas embedded in the latest Playtest, but I can’t imagine successfully teaching even my eldest daughter to play a Rogue using the current ruleset, and that’s a problem.  There are just too many moving pieces the way it’s constructed right now.

[1] As expressed in the extra +1 or +2 to hit in his Attack Bonus when compared to the randomness of a single d20 roll.

Friday, December 21, 2012

The Popcorn Elephant!

I found it!

Friday Mad Science: All Triathlon, All The Time

I'm trying really hard not get off on a four-page rant here.  It's almost Christmas, there's already plenty of really horrible crap going on in the world, and truth is, I don't want to contribute to it in any way.  I don't even want to pay attention to it.  But if I keep following the news as closely as I usually do, if I spend even a few minutes thinking or talking about any of the stuff that's going on, there's really no avoiding a long-winded diatribe that, frankly, you don't want to read, and I don't want to write.  I've started drafting this piece in my head enough times to know that there's no halfway about it, either.  It's all or nothing.  Once we start down the rabbit hole, there's no going back.


*deep breath*

It's almost Christmas, and I have a nice house and a beautiful family.  Thank you, Lord, for the little blessings in life that, really, aren't so little.

I met with Amanda, my contact at the Woodruff Family YMCA, on Wednesday this week, and we talked about the new triathlon season and the Y's Tri Club.  The Club's organizational meeting will be Wednesday, January 9th, at 6:30pm.  We're gonna talk mainly about when and how to design our workout schedule, with an emphasis this year on either adding some more times that folks can meet or otherwise making the Club itself a little more accessible to folks who want to participate.  Also, while I'm thinking about it, the Y-Tri itself is on a different weekend.  It's Saturday, May 11th.  Add that to your Race Calendar.

Woodruff Family, YMCA in Orange, CT

That's me, running for home at the Y-Tri last year.
With that all of that said, my plan—barring changes—is to continue swimming on Wednesday nights and to continue meeting for our main workouts on Saturdays, though whether or not we keep the early morning meet-up times from last season is very much open to discussion.  As with last year, the plan right now is to continue alternating long rides and long runs on Saturday mornings, so that even if you're not doing anythingbesides meeting up with the Tri Club, at least with the club you'll get some exposure to all three disciplines.  That's not recommended, of course, but it is reality.

I'm also going to formalize something I did a lot informally last year, which is plan to meet up with folks who want to do a little more swimming work on Sunday afternoons.  Last season, I went to the pool a lot on Sundays, and invariably someone from the Tri Club was there, and we wound up at least talking about triathlon.  In many cases, I did a bit of stroke coaching, too, especially if there was a drill that I thought might help somebody swim a little easier.  So this year, I'm just gonna put that out there as an actual plan—if you want to meet me for some additional stroke work, or just to swim, Sunday afternoons will be the time.

Some of the other things that Amanda and I discussed included:

•    Making additional use of Facebook.  If you're interested in the Tri Club, do yourself a favor and LIKE the Woodruff Family YMCA and, if you want, join the Connecticut Triathletes (open) Facebook group.  We're planning to make extensive use of FB as a means of communicating with the Club.  It's a little easier to facilitate group discussions on FB that it is over email.

•    Getting young people involved.  I'm not so much trying to spread the gospel of triathlon as I am trying to just give the local kids something better to do than spending more time in front of their video game consoles. 

With that said, one of the things I've noticed consistently at the YMCA is that there are quite a few high school age swimmers that work out there during their offseasons, and a lot of them look like they're a little adrift as to exactly what it is they should be doing. They clearly want to stay in shape, but their training seems to be, at best, a little unfocused.  Moreover, high school swimming doesn't seem to be quite the bloodsport in Connecticut that it was where I grew up—in San Diego and Tampa, Florida—so I don't know that I think these kids are gonna miss anything by spending a few months working on sports outside their specific disciplines.  So maybe triathlon is a good offseason answer for them.  At a minimum, we can help these kids put some structure to their workouts, and trust me on this, structure is the soul of a workout program. 

But I'm not overly sure how to get the kids involved.  For as much as I think we could offer a good program, how we actually reach out to the teenage endurance athletes in our local communities is something of a work in progress.

With all of that in mind, I wrote a bit about Race Calendars and how you can use them earlier this month for Triathlon.About.Com.  Well, just so that you know that I practice what I preach, here’s my (tentative) personal Race Calendar for next year:

Winter Wonderland 5-Miler (Run)
1/27; Milford
We haven’t run this race before, but Sally brought it to my attention, and I’m willing to give it a try.  I have no idea what the course is like.

Stratford Sweetheart Run (4 Mile Run)
2/11; Booth Hill Memorial Park, Stratford
This is the race where Sally won her age group for the first time last year.  The course is a short loop with rolling hills and one tough climb at the end.

Brian’s Beachside Boogie (2M/10M/2M duathlon)
3/24; Hammonasette State Park
This is an off-road duathlon, fat tires mandatory on your bike.  I like this one because it’s practically the only time all season I’ll race on my mountain bike, and plus, the trail running appeals to me strongly.  Great race, good cause.  We’re definitely doing this one.

Westport Minuteman 10K
4/28; Compo Beach, Westport
Compo Beach is a beautiful area, and this is a great race.  The course is mostly gently rolling to flat, though there is one real climb right in the middle.

The Y-Tri (Sprint)
5/11; Woodruff Family YMCA, Orange
This is a 300-yard pool swim, 11-mile ride, 2.2-mile run.  A great race for first timers.  Also a good tune-up race for those looking to race more later in the season.

The Ten-Penny Ale Shamrock Duathlon (5K/20K/5K duathlon)
5/19; Glastonbury High School, Glastonbury
Gently rolling run, followed by a seventeen-mile ride—uphill then downhill—followed by a gently rolling hill.  I’ve only run this race once, coming in at just under two-hours, but I cannot wait to run it again this year.  Great, great race. And it’s sponsored by a local brewery.

Sherwood Island Sprint Triathlon
6/16; Sherwood Island State Park
I’ve not run this race, either, but Sherwood Island State Park is beautiful, and it’s close by.  I really hope I get the chance to do this one.

Greenwich Point One-Mile Swim
6/29; Todd’s Point, Greenwich

Stamford KIC IT Triathlon (Oly)
6/30; Cummings Beach, Stamford
This one’s really tentative.  It’s expensive.  But it’s at a good time of the season, and it looks fairly flat.  I guess we’ll see.

Mossman Sprint Triathlon
7/14; Calf Pasture Beach, Norwalk

Hopkins Vineyard Triathlon (Sprint)
7/20; Lake Waramaug
I probably won’t do both the Mossman Sprint and the Hopkins Vineyard races.  It’ll be either one or the other.

Park City Olympic Triathlon
8/25; Seaside Park, Bridgeport
This is tentatively my “A” race for the season.  That said, if I can find another Olympic distance race at about this same time in the season, I might change my focus.  This particular race has a multi-loop bike and run course that frankly doesn’t excite me very much.

Westport Kiwanus Triathlon (Super Sprint)
9/15; Compo Beach, Westport
This race is always the last one I do in the season, and since it’s got a full half-mile swim, followed by a merely five-mile ride and two mile run, it strongly favors my personal strengths.  I love this race.

I don’t have links for the new articles yet, but as soon as I get them, I’ll let you know.  In the meantime, hopefully I see you out there.

Finally, the good news this week is that astronomers have found what they believe are as many as four potentially habitable planets within relatively short astronomical distances from Earth.  Which means, bottom line, we now have someplace to escape to—at least in theory.  The closest planet was something like twelve light years away—really, right next door as far as interstellar distance is concerned—while the other three were a mere twenty-two light years away.

Sign me up for cryo-sleep now.  I’m ready to go!

And that’s all I’ve got.  Have a good week!

Friday Hair Metal: It's the End of the World

If you're wondering, the end actually occurs at the Solstice, which is at 11:11 am ET today.  It was a solar calendar, and that's why it ends on a solstice.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Molly Visits the Hospital

Hannah took her favorite doll, Molly, to the Doll Hospital at the American Girl Doll Store in Manhattan yesterday, and as you can see from the picture below, Molly had to be admitted as an in-patient. Sadly, Molly lost an arm in a domestic incident earlier this year--you can see it if you look closely. The doctor's think they can save the arm, but it'll take surgery, and that's not quick.

So it looks like Molly's gonna miss Christmas this year. That's Hannah with the Big Sad Face.

Personally, I told Hannah that she ought to ask the doctors if they can replace Molly's arm with one that's bionic or mechanical. She didn't think that was funny.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Trip to Rockefeller Center

Sadly, I couldn't go today.

Still, at least they got some real New York pretzels.

Comics, TV, and the TMNT

Movies are cool because you get to see amazing things up on a big, gigantic screen, and they pretty much always tell a complete story in a relatively short span of time.  TV is cool because it’s a lot like the movies, but you trade off the giant screen and super-high-end special effects for a longer storytelling format that enables the telling of more complex, more nuisance stories over a much longer period of time.  That’s great so long as you can handle the episodic nature of television.

Comics are cool because they offer the best of both worlds.  You can tell the longest, most nuanced, most complex stories imaginable, and you can tell them with incomparably excellent special effects because the realism of those effects is limited only by the imagination and ability of the artist drawing the comics.  Added to that is the fact that comics are not only a visual medium, they are also literary, meaning that a comic, if it’s done right, can exist in two places at the same time—both on the page and in the mind of the reader.  We can not only see the action, we can also hear the thoughts of the characters.  We can experience events not only in the way that we see them but also in the way that they are described with language by the story’s creator(s).  The downside, though, is that comics are even more episodic than TV.  Yes, you can tell long, complicated stories with comics, but it takes a long, long time for those stories to come completely together—if they ever do.

I mention all of this because my daughter Emma and I have recently become fans of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (TMNT), which currently exist as both TV and comics properties, and I’ve been thinking today about which version I like better. 

TMNT, on Nickelodeon.
 To be clear, the television TMNT and the comics TMNT are not at all the same.  Yes, they both have essentially the same character-set[1], and the characterizations are essentially the same[2], but the stories are radically different.  In the comics, the Turtles are essentially homeless, living in a lair in the sewer and scrounging for necessities out of garbage cans.  They live largely on what they can find and on what folks give them out of the kindness of their hearts.  On TV, however, the Turtles have a bit more in the way of creature comforts, and they live a little easier—probably as a reflection of the fact that they exist on Nickelodeon.  Bottom line, the comics-version TMNT is very much a story of survival.  The Turtles have escaped from a lab, and now Baxter Stockman wants to get them back while the Shredder just wants to get them, period.  On TV, however, the story is more about fitting in.  The Turtles live in NYC, a city that they love and protect but of which they barely feel a part, owing largely to the fact that they’re, well, mutant turtles.  And yeah, the Shredder is after them, and Krang is trying to invade from Dimension X, but that’s all secondary to the fact that the Turtles themselves aren’t human and can’t quite adjust to how that makes them different from everyone else that they know.  Still, in both incarnations there are things that make these Turtles distinctly the TMNT that we all know and love.  They have distinct personalities—leader, rebel, geek, free-spirit.  They fight weird mutants on the streets of New York.  They act like heroes.  They might beat you up, but they don’t want to kill you.

TMNT #15 from IDW.  This issue rocked!
So why do I like the comic version better?  Is it just my love of comics as a medium, or is there something else there?

At first I was tempted to say that the comic is superior because the storytelling is a little more complex, and that may be true, but then again, it may not be.  Fact is, in storytelling terms both series are about the same way along.  We’ve seen nine episodes of the show on Nick-on-Demand.  We’ve also read 17 issues of the comic, each of which is 22-pages long—or about half of what’s in a typical half-hour cartoon.  Call it 8.5 episodes of the TV show told via sequential art.

Eh.  What I can tell you is that I really enjoyed the last two issues of TMNT, issues #15 & 16.  Under increased pressure from Krang, Baxter Stockman trained a mutant snapping turtle[3] to hunt down the TMNT.  But the snapping turtle escaped… only to go after the Turtles anyway!  The resulting confrontation was great stuff, with terrific writing and terrific energy in the art, and it ended with what I thought was a terrific series of character moments focused on Leonardo and Michelangelo.  I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Against that, the TV show has a great opening soundtrack, and I’ve liked it a lot, but while it’s fine, light-hearted stuff, it hasn’t had that kind of resonant character moment yet that made me really think, Wow.  This is outstanding.  I like it.  I like watching it with my daughter.  I just don’t know that I like it quite as much as I like the version I’m getting out of the comics, despite their similarities.

Take that for what it’s worth.

[1] As of this writing, we’ve not seen Casey Jones in the TV version of TMNT, though he’s sure to show up sooner or later.  Also, the two series have a different set of villains though the Shredder, Baxter Stockman, and Krang both appear in both series. 
[2] At least as far as the heroes are concerned.  Baxter Stockman’s portrayal is totally different in each version.
[3] TMNT fans will know that the Snapping Turtle is also a recurring villain.  He was in the second TMNT live-action movie, “The Secret of the Ooze.”

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Trial of the War Master: The Caravan

I haven't had time work on The Sorcerer's Tale this week, but we at least left at a decent stopping place last week.  If you haven't caught up, we're up to Chapter 2, so maybe this is the week that you get back up to speed.  God willing, The Sorcerer's Tale will be back next week--after I've had a little time off for Christmas.

To fill some time this week, here's a story we ran in the first issue of Proletariat Comics' old Horizon's magazine.  It's called Trial of the War Master.  Hopefully you'll like it.


“In the chaos of the Elder Days, the myriad dark races warred upon each other and upon humanity.  The darkest of the peoples were the Fire Elves, slaves to Hephaestus the Unyielding, their wicked God of the Volcano.  They hunted the peoples of our world as food for the Fire…
“To lead their armies and fight their battles, the houses of the wealth sought the strength of the powerful. These were the War Masters…”
Marcus Sylvanus, from The Life of Po

Moving around a bend in the Low Forest Road, Tand’lion reigned his horse Cobalt to a slow walk.  He sighed.  Two more weeks, he thought to himself, I have two more weeks of this lousy caravan duty
Like all fire elves, Tand’lion preferred to ride fast, careless of the consequences, but careless fire elves rarely lived to old age.  And while his own prowess might have been enough to keep him alive despite a certain degree of carelessness, he knew that the same could not be said for the merchants he was escorting.  He looked back at the long line of traders in their wagons and frowned.  They were many, and his guard but few, and visibility in this part of the Low Forest was poor.  Thus, there was no way around it.  He would have to take it slow.  Fire elves moving outside of their own realm were taking a chance on any occasion, but fire elf merchants bringing goods to market on a well-traveled road would make a tempting target to any number of oft-raiding races and tribes. 
And this caravan was important.  Tand’lion had just passed for Journeyman in the War Master’s Guild, and this escort duty – boring though it was – was his first independent commission from that Guild.  Simply getting accepted into the Guild as a fire elf had been no small feat, even with a sponsor as well respected as Master Po had been.  Now that Tand’lion had actually attained rank amongst his peers, he was not going to provide his critics with even the slightest pretext for professional discourtesy or demotion.  Thus his personal desires were not important.  The caravan’s pace rankled, but it was nothing compared to the possibility of failure.  Tand’lion continued to walk his horse slowly, and since the sun was beginning to dip in the west, he began thinking about finding a campsite.
     “You plod along like an old woman, War Master,” called a harsh voice.  Tand’lion sighed and turned in his saddle.  It was Vedra.  It was always Vedra, his erstwhile benefactor, the Jewel of the House of Il’Danati.  She continued, “At this rate, we won’t reach the City itself until-”
      “We saw Teegan Raiders not two days ago,” Tand’lion interrupted, exasperated.  He caught himself and tried to be deferential, “Mistress, we are in the heart of the Low Forest.  It is a land of thieves and highwaymen, and with all of these trees, we’ll have little chance of spotting a well-placed ambush before it’s too late.  Please trust me in this…  We are best served by exercising caution.”
     “Caution is for the weak, fool!  Why I bet there isn’t a raider or a highwayman for at least a hundred—”
     But a rustling in the trees cut off Vedra’s words.  Instinctively, Tand’lion reached down to grab his saber, but even as his hand touched the hilt, he sensed that it was already too late.  A Teegan War Elephant crashed through the tree line well behind him but just in front of Vedra, scattering both elves and wagons in its path.  Before he could think to organize a defense, Tand’lion heard a shout.  Just ahead, Teegan infantry – mostly lancers and pikemen – came howling down onto the Road to block the convoy’s forward progress.
     “Ambush!” Tand’lion called out as he yanked his saber free at last. 
Spooked by the Teegans, Cobalt reared, leaving Tand’lion struggling for control.  He knew he had to regain control quickly.  His convoy had perhaps half a minute before a Teegan assault force took his column fully in its flank.
 “Ride through!” he cried, and he spurred his horse mercilessly.  At last the beast complied and surged ahead.  Behind him all was chaos, but Tand’lion blocked out the noise and focused totally on the task at hand.  Ahead, the Teegan blocking force was not yet set, and at some visceral level Tand’lion knew the convoy still had hope if he struck quickly and decisively.  After that, he could only pray that the rest of his guards would follow his move, or all was lost. 
He picked a target.  In the center of the Teegan line a youngish man, little more than a boy, stood awkwardly amongst the jostling of his peers.  Tand’lion could see fear in his eyes.  That fear would cost the boy his life.  In the back of his mind, Tand’lion again heard the words of Master Po: “Get past the point, and the rest is easy.”  Tand’lion’s saber flashed, making those words reality.    His blade battered the boy’s spear point aside.  The boy recognized his own doom, and his eyes bulged as Tand’lion rammed his saber home.
The violence of the action left the boy’s comrades gaping and cowering in fear.  Cobalt reared above the soldiers, driving them back still further, and then it was over.  Tand’lion rode free of the trap. 
He felt more than heard his men following him and engaging the remnants of the blocking force.  Traders with their wagons whipped their horses frantically, struggling to follow their guardians even as more Teegans behind tried to regain control of the war elephant.  Tand’lion’s guards hacked and slashed, decimating the ambushers.  But though his men did most of the damage, the War Master knew the truth.  He had broken the ambush with a single strike.  The rest were effects; he was the cause. 
“Do not underestimate the power of shock,” Master Po had said.  “War is about fear as much as it is about death.  If you impart fear upon your enemies, you are victorious before battle is joined.” 
A few feet ahead, Tand’lion slowed his horse and turned to look back down the trail.  It had been a classic “L” shaped ambush, but while it had been well planned, it was poorly executed.  The dismounted spearmen – the blocking force - had intended to engage and fix the caravan in place while the element with the War Elephant moved into position to finish the fight with an enveloping attack.  Properly executed this plan would certainly have worked.  However, fortunately for Tand’lion and the rest of his caravan, the flanking force had struck first and without organization.  The War Master assumed that the war elephant’s handlers had lost control of the beast while trying to move it into position for the attack.  Regardless, Tand’lion had been able to charge straight through what amounted to a disorganized nearside ambush and to thereby create an escape route for his caravan before the enveloping attack had a chance to materialize.  Both the traders and his commission would likely survive the attack.  The caravan might lose a wagon or two to the rampaging War Elephant, but the event was not half the disaster that it could have been.
“Damn you War Master!  I’ll see you burn for this!”
Tand’lion looked back again and saw Vedra.  It was always Vedra.  This time she was surrounded by Teegan foot soldiers and in real danger.  Having lost much of the advantage, the Teegans had focused their efforts on the only real prize remaining – the fire elf noblewoman.  Power crackled from Vedra’s outstretched palms when the Teegan’s approached, but although Vedra was far from helpless, she was also clearly outmatched standing against a dozen burly Raiders.
“Do you hear me War Master?  I’ll see you burn, damn you!” she shouted.
Facing the inevitable, Tand’lion sighed.  He turned his horse and pointed to Gaspar, a lieutenant in House Il’Danati’s House Guard.
“Get the caravan moving and then come back for us,” he said.  The elf nodded. 
Marcadellion, the senior merchant in the caravan, rode up and grabbed Tand’lion’s arm.  “You’d do us all a favor by letting her go,” he said. 
Tand’lion nodded, but it did not matter.  “This isn’t about her,” he replied. 
Wordlessly the elven trader nodded, knowing the reality of the situation.  He released Tand’lion’s arm and followed Gaspar and the rest of his companions up the hill and away from the now ruined ambush. 
Below, several of the Teegan survivors watched Tand’lion reverse his horse and prepare to charge.  Several quickly realized that the fight was not over.  Two grizzled veterans set well-placed spears in the ground to block the elf’s charge.  Tand’lion stood in his saddle and galloped towards them with his saber held high above his head. 
Cobalt fairly flew down the trail, reckless at last, and Tand’lion finally realized the truth.  None of it mattered.  The caravan, the Guild, the plodding pace…  None of it mattered.  Even the pedantic rebukes of his overbearing mistress were as nothing compared to the grim certainty of this moment.  This trail, this instant, these two men, they were all that mattered.  They were his whole reality. 
Charging back towards a hopeless battle against an already beaten enemy, the young War Master felt his frustration simmering hotly in his belly.  It burned outwards, firing his blood and coursing through his veins.  He welcomed death and challenged all who would try to bring it.  At the last possible second, Cobalt bucked, balking at the Teegan spears.  The horse’s action threw Tand’lion high into the air.  He twisting up and over and drew his hatchet.  He screamed defiance, letting his rage explode outwards at last.  His chi flared around him, surrounding his body with the eldritch halo of his soul’s inner power.
   He landed behind the shocked Teegans and struck hard.  His hatchet bit cleanly into one’s shoulder while his saber took the other through the chest.  Tand’lion wrenched his hatchet free with a jerk and spun, releasing his saber and launching a thunderous standing sidekick that threw a third Teegan clear across the now bloody trail. 
The War Master drew his rapier and looked up.  The War Elephant reared, towering over him.  High atop the beast, a tiny armored figure struggled to control the beast.  Tand’lion dove madly to the side as huge paws crushed down.  Another Teegan behind him lashed out, and the elf had to parry fast before leaping backwards to again avoid the rampaging elephant.  Tand’lion landed and swept his leg around, tripping the Teegan backwards.  The rider atop the elephant reigned hard, but the beast was mad with fury and came down hard atop the unbalanced soldier, crushing him.  With the elephant’s handler distracted, Tand’lion focused his chi and leapt atop the beast, striking hard with his rapier.  The blade opened the man’s throat.  Tand’lion kicked his body out of the saddle before cutting the elephant’s reigns.  Unrestrained, the animal charged madly away and disappeared into the forest.
Below, Vedra was using her whip, frantically trying to beat back or intimidate the Raiders surrounding her, but as he watched, Tand’lion saw a new figure, a huge warrior with rippling muscles walk calmly onto the scene. 
“She is mine,” he said. 
The sea of men parted around the elven princess.  The sheer power of the newcomer’s presence brought a calm to Tand’lion’s enemies that the War Master would not have believed possible.  The chaos lessened noticeably from one moment to the next.  The huge warrior strode forward.  He stood well over six feet with rippling muscles and an enormous claymore strapped to his back.  The warrior was both breathtaking and intimidating, and Tand’lion felt his heart race anew as he abruptly realized that he was witnessing Vedra’s doom. 
Tand’lion sprinted forward.  He was twenty yards away when his mistress fired off a burst of sorcery that struck the Teegan warlord fully in the chest, but if it hurt the huge man, Tand’lion could not see how.  At fifteen yards, Vedra drew back her whip to strike, and at ten yards her arm flashed forward.  The whip snapped out, but the Teegan drew his sword and cut the strap in one fast, fluid movement.  At five yards, the champion raised his sword again.  His mighty blade would decapitate the princess without issue.  The blade swooped in.  Tand’lion dove frantically across the last three yards with his hatchet extended, hopelessly off balance and off center. 
The small ax intercepted the warrior’s blade mere inches from Vedra’s throat.  The force of the strike sent all three combatants tumbling.  Tand’lion spun to the ground out of control.  He lost sight of both the Teegan and Vedra, and as he rolled forward, he had to jerk sharply to avoid a chop from another Teegan soldier.  The War Master parried wildly as a rain of lesser attacks fell from a dozen different attackers.  Tand’lion slashed and stabbed and rolled, and men died.  Finally the foot soldiers fell back, and the War Master faced off against his true enemy at last. 
Tand’lion snarled, and his chi flared.  He stepped forward with his right foot, leading with his rapier in an offensive stance, and resolved to end the fight quickly.  He lunged, seeking his enemy’s heart, but the Teegan batted Tand’lion’s rapier aside with ease, letting the claymore flow through the block and then over into a thunderous chop.  Tand’lion leapt madly backwards, inches from death and lucky to be alive.  Even so, he lost his footing and sprawled out onto his tailbone.  Pain shot up his lower back.  The champion attacked with a flurry of swinging strikes that sent Tand’lion rolling desperately.  Chunks of earth flew where the Teegan’s great sword cleaved into the earth, and sweat beaded on the War Master’s brow.  Tand’lion threw his hatchet up to block yet another descending blow and finally intercepted the strike solidly on the head of his tiny axe.  The jarring force of the parry hurt, but the power of the War Master’s chi held his arm straight and unbroken, and in that moment, Tand’lion kicked out his enemy’s knee. 
The champion buckled.  Tand’lion at last recovered his footing and settled into a left-handed, defensive stance, this time leading with his hatchet.  A buzz ran through the crowd of Raiders as their leader struggled to his feet, but the Champion waved them off.  He wanted the glory of this kill for himself alone.
“You won’t be the first War Master I’ve killed,” the Champion snarled.
Tand’lion saluted with his rapier.  “On that we agree,” he said. 
The Champion lunged forward with a quick feint.  Tand’lion stepped back and countered with his hatchet, but the strike was weak, designed more to provoke a response than to actually cause damage, and when the Teegan struck again, Tand’lion was ready.  His body flowed backwards, around and away from his enemy’s blade, and as the claymore flew past him, Tand’lion shifted his weight onto his back foot.  He focused his chi and kicked.  The blow caught the Teegan squarely in the face, changing his body momentum abruptly.  The man staggered.  In the distance, Tand’lion could hear Vedra threatening to have him disemboweled, but he paid her no heed.  His attention was focused solely on the task at hand.  Vedra would have to wait her turn.
Despite the blood trickling from his bent nose, the Teegan leader quickly righted himself.  Tand’lion struck again with his rapier, and as before, the Teegan’s claymore swept across to parry and then over into another chop, but by now Tand’lion had seen that ploy too many times.  He ducked down and to the right, following his rapier as it went wide of its mark.  The claymore missed by inches, but the momentum of that strike carried the Teegan over his opponent and out of balance.  Tand’lion’s knee exploded into the Champion’s torso.  The human staggered back, and as the pair disengaged, Tand’lion riposted with an overhand strike of his own.  His mithril hatchet sank deeply into his enemy’s shoulder.  The Teegan’s eyes widened in shock.  Tand’lion released his hatchet and stepped back briefly before striking with his rapier.  The blade twisted into the man’s chest.
The warlord dropped dead at Tand’lion’s feet.
Then all was chaos again.  Teegan foot soldiers charged wildly, and Tand’lion was awash in a sea of enemies.  He felt his chi diminishing, exhausted after the wild charge across the battlefield and then the extended duel.  He had little left with which to defend himself save bravado. 
“Who else wished to die today?” he half-snarled, mustering what little rage was left in his rapidly fading spirit.
The charging Teegans slowed up a moment at his challenge, and that moment was all that was needed.  Then Tand’lion’s own men charged into the seething mass of the defeated raiding party.  The War Master was vaguely aware of his enemies fleeing in terror.  Then blackness engulfed him,
* * *
     It was dark when Tand’lion awoke.  His head ached and his senses swirled.  Somehow it seemed as though the world spun gently and almost-imperceptibly around him.  In the distance he could see that caravan’s other members had lit a campfire, and as he lay in the grass, the smell of roasting meat wafted over to him.  His stomach growled, and he realized that he was starving.  But when he started to get up, pain rippled across his shoulders and down his back.
     “So this is the famed Solitude of the War Master?”
     With an effort, Tand’lion turned to regard Vedra.  She stood over him, looking down.  She was unarmed save for her ever-mocking attitude.  But then she smiled.  She was wearing a short silk robe and carrying a bottle, a blanket, and a small basket of what Tand’lion desperately hoped was food.
     The War Master bowed his head.  “M’Lady.  I was--”
     Vedra put her fingers to his lips.  “Shhhh…” she said as she leaned forward, “I owe you my life.  It is no small thing.” 
Tand’lion started to protest, but even as he opened his mouth, the noblewoman set the basket of bread and salted meats down in front of him. 
“Here,” she said.  She began to spread her blanket out onto the ground.
     Tand’lion tore into the basket with a fierceness that surprised even him.  He began to shovel food into his mouth, and Vedra’s laughter rang out across the night. 
     “God of Fire, War Master,” she said as she laughed, “I hope all your appetites are this powerful.”
She poured two glasses of wine and handed one to Tand’lion before sitting down next to him, uncomfortably close.  The young War Master took the glass and drank, not knowing what else to do.  A powerful vintage, it burned his throat going down. 
     “This is strong stuff,” Tand’lion commented lamely. 
     Vedra ran her fingers across the back of his neck and twirled a lock of his hair around her fingers. “I do not wish to be in your debt, Tand’lion,” she said.
It was the first time that she had ever used his name.  He felt his heart pounding in his chest, and somewhere in the back of his mind a small voice cried out a warning.  But her fingers, running through his hair and then dancing lightly across his chest, were a far more immediate and electric presence. 
“Mistress,” Tand’lion said, “I am you War Master.  I merely performed my duty.  There is no debt.”
Vedra pushed him to the ground lightly and laughed.  “You talk too much,” she said.  Her fingers found the clasp of her robe.  She worked quietly for a moment, and then her robe fell away, leaving her body glimmering softly in the moonlight.  Tand’lion’s breath caught in his throat. 
“I will decide when the debt is paid,” Vedra said in a tone that left no room for argument.  After that, neither spoke for very a long time.