The Hill Folk Pursue, Part 2

Introduction:This the second part of the first scene of a larger fantasy story that I’m writing. It should be seen as a work in progress, and I should very much appreciate any feedback. Enjoy!

His breath was heavy and labored now. He had run for four hours, two at something close to his fastest pace. Known though he was in his Legion for his stamina, he could not sustain such a pace for much longer.

The pursuing war-cries had not diminished, and now they rang out from the south as well, echoing between the wintry boughs. He changed direction when he began to hear the second group of pursuers, but now he considered that the hill-men, whatever their true numbers, were driving him somewhere… very likely to a place where their numbers would be larger, or where an ambush was already set.

With this thought the pure urge for flight abated, and though his running pace did not slacken, he began to think, as a solder, once an officer of the Shentegha legion, and not merely as a man fleeing from others who sought to kill him.

He had no weapons. Now his jerkin was torn ragged from careening through the brush, and he himself bled from a handful of small cuts. But in this cold forest his enemies would wear no more than hides themselves and he could obtain a cudgel easily enough.

In these woodlands the clans fought mostly each other, and their tactics were predicated on stealth and surprise rather than assault. If he chose terrain favorable to defense, he could limit the foes that could face him at once and so diminish their advantage of superior numbers. Though he was but one, and the number of the hill-men surely greater, would they take the bait? Or would they call a soldier’s bluff, deny the engagement and force him to flee again, until they could overtake him at night, or in sleep?

It was a fair gamble, he decided. Even an arrow in the back or a knife in the dark would be better than ending his days in a Yerayn cookpot or flayed alive on a rack in this forsaken wilderness.

When he found a broken hillock, therefore, unclimbable from the rear and tall enough to protect his back, strewn in front with thick old elm and aspen, he stopped, panting. The Yerayka would be upon him before long, but at least he would have a few minutes rest before facing them. Looking around, he selected a stout limb of elm as big as a smith’s forearm and snapped it from its tree. A blade would be better, especially against the copper axes of the clansmen, but this would do. He eased his breathing as he uttered a prayer to Desheng, dimly recalled from his youth, in a low chant. He would take as many as he could with him to the Afterlands.

The Hill Folk Pursue, Part 1

Introduction:This is a small part of a larger fantasy story that I’m writing. It should be seen as a work in progress, and I should very much appreciate any feedback. Enjoy!

It was said that the hill shamans commanded the spirits of the weather. Perhaps the tempest that had raged across the Sea of Doorways last night was their doing, summoned from the pit by some bone-white animist. The truth of such yarns the man called Veheruth could not attest. But he did know, with the certainty of grim memory, that the tales told of Yerayka warriors were true — that they cut the hearts from their living foes and ate them, raw and still beating, to consume the strength and virility of those they conquered. His eyes had seen it, and the pale daughters and sons of long-fallen Mánthezar had fallen far indeed.

The frozen ground crunched relentlessly beneath his feet as he ran, away from the rocky shore where the splintered timbers of the Red Ox’s hull lay dashed upon the stones, and where lay the lifeless bodies of her sailors and of the legionaries she had carried north from the colonial capital of Shentégha. He darted between the frost-rimed pines and aspen, making his way inland. His breath, for now, was hard but even and measured. The pace he set was rapid, but he could sustain it for hours yet.

He wore only what he had worn aboard; stained leather jerkin over a tunic of thick linen, rough-spun woolen trousers and — thank all the gods — his tough and well-worn legionary boots. He would be warm enough in this still air so long as he kept running. But he was unarmed; the knife he carried at his belt was lost in the wreck. Here in the wild lands he had the means to forage, or even to make crude weapons for himself given enough time. And he would need food and water; yesterday’s ration aboard ship would not sustain him much longer, especially if he were forced to run many miles, even more if he were forced to fight. But at this moment, as the light of the descending sun turned gray, filtered through the white-strewn canopy, he sought only escape.

Behind him he again heard the howl of Yerayka war-cries, closer this time. Veheruth ran faster.

Apple TV’s Foundation: First Look Trailer

Thoughts on the Foundation adaptation from Apple TV, embedded herein. I’ll warn you now that that there’s a few spoilers ahead.

The Foundation series is a sequence of ten books by Isaac Asimov and eventually others, about the collapse of a galaxy-spanning Empire and the resulting Interregnum. It was a titanic edifice of written science fiction for about half a century and was massively influential; the Empires of Star Wars and Traveller likely would not exist without Foundation.

I read the original trilogy as a kid and afterwards read all the prequels, sequels and associated works. Nowadays Asimov is seen as a troubling figure, not generally for his literary work (there are exceptions) but for his intensely creepy and predatory personal behavior. But Foundation was a cornerstone of my childhood reading. And remember: it’s okay to like problematic things, but important to understand why and how they are problematic, and the context in which they were created.

Anyway, the original trilogy is pretty clearly the best of the bunch, written from 1942-1953. A lot of the ideas hold up pretty well even today, the execution not so much. The later prequels and sequels are arguably better written, but they abandon the Big Idea that got people interested in the first place. With the ultimate fate of the galaxy mathematically preordained, Asimov felt he was stuck, unable to see that there could be human drama and unpredicted nuance in his deterministic arc of history. So he wrote prequels instead, or broke psychohistory in various ways for the sequels. The seeds of this appear in what is generally agreed to be the best part of the whole thing, “the Mule,” which is the second half of Foundation and Empire. Here Asimov gives us the series’ best characters and best narrative, but was still unable to see that drama can exist despite plot, or that a great deal can go on in the nooks and crannies of a fixed and suspenseless history.

The entertainment industry has flirted with adapting Foundation for decades, but the core trilogy is essentially unadaptable as written. All three books are fix-ups, and only Second Foundation was written with a single storyline in mind. The characters are wooden and although some are nevertheless memorable, all of them vanish after a single story, at most two. The setting is Gibbon’s Rome as seen through the curious lens of Mid-Century America spread across the Milky Way. There are no aliens in this Galactic Empire — an artifact of John W. Campbell’s editorial whim that all such be portrayed as fundamentally inferior to humans — by which he meant white human males. Asimov, knowing this for what it was, refused therefore to use aliens, while nevertheless continuing to submit to Campbell out of personal loyalty and because Campbell’s Astounding was simply the best and most prestigious market in the 1940s.

Rather than adapt Foundation as the world’s dullest stage play, showrunner David Goyer and his team have elected to focus, at least at first, on “The Psychohistorians,” the first part of the book version of the first volume, added in 1951 when it was published as a fix-up. He adds “Brother Day,” a weird Emperor-figure played by Lee Pace, casts Jared Harris (an inspired choice) as his Hari Seldon, and gender-swaps the short story’s remaining important characters, mathematician Gaal Dornick and the real power behind the throne, First Minister Eto Demerzel. Young Lou Llobell captures the innocence of Gaal quite well, from what we can see in the trailer, while Demerzel, as played by Laura Birn, seems luminous and enigmatic, which is as it should be, considering who Demerzel really is.

I don’t yet know how many episodes we’ll get, or how far into the books this first season will go, but looking at the cast list, we’ll get into “The Encyclopedists”, but maybe not further than “The Mayors”. The visuals are striking and seem to strangely fit better than you’d think — parts of the trailer are clearly visualizations of Seldon’s predictions, unless the season is going to takes us as far as Foundation and Empire, which would surprise me, as The Mule ought to give us a good chuck of episodes.

So color me curious enough to consider resubscribing to Apple TV for this thing, even though they make unsubscribing a pain in the patoot unless you’re already embedded in the Apple ecosystem. Also, last I checked, their web player was a slice of ass, but hopefully it’s better now.

The Adwulf’s Lair Patreon Launches on Friday!

The Patreon for Ardwulf’s Lair (my historical tabletop gaming YouTube channel, for those who don’t know) is live for pre-launch. It’s still a bit of a work in progress, so there may yet be some minor tweaks. Formal launch will be this Friday, 2/7.

Meanwhile, please share this around and you can even sign up as a Patron. There may be a tiny bonus for pre-launch Patrons!

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Elsweyr Non-Review Thoughts

I returned to Elder Scrolls Online a little over a month ago. A couple of weeks later, I bought the recent Elsweyr expansion, wrapped up (pretty much) the area I was in, and then moved over to the new zone, Northern Elsweyr. It is, overall, pretty terrific, assuming one likes the core ESO gameplay, which the ‘Chapter’ (i.e. expansion) does not change.

There’s a main story questline, a good number of side quests, dailies to kill dragons and world bosses, plus a good-sized zone with all the usual stuff: skyshards, lorebooks, delves and public dungeons (a new raid (i.e. ‘Trial’) and world events. In the case of Northern Elsweyr these latter are dragon attacks rather than the Dolmen/Daedric Anchor things of the older content. As with Dolmens, however, the dragon attacks don’t really scale to the number of players, so they can go down like chumps if the number of players is very high. I’ve seen various people report this but have not personally seen a dragon be defeated all that quickly. From what I have experienced it usually takes somewhere between five and fifteen minutes, unless you fall in with the actual zerg for it. Even then, though, they hit HARD, easily one-shotting brittle PCs like my Sorcerer while not telegraphing all of their attacks in the usual red-on-the-ground way.

There’s also new gear sets along with the content, but that’s something I have explored in only the most cursory way, since I am still progressing and all my gear will end up replaced sooner rather than later. I may do something in the future on that. Elsweyr also brings back two fan favorite characters from the original release, with John Cleese returning as Cadwell and Alfred Molina coming back as Abnur Tharn.

It’s all very solid stuff. I do wish there were more folks running the public dungeons, which are tough to solo at least with most builds (and definitely with my build.) They are huge and contain multiple bosses, some of whom have real boss mechanics. But even then I haven’t had to wait around for too long for people to follow. I am shooting for (and am pretty close to) full map completion for Northern Elsweyr.

Sticking with ESO’s current expansion model, there will be two DLCs (which are not included in the expansion’s price, although unlike the Chapter they are included with ESO Plus, the monthly subscription deal. Scalebreaker, with an August release date, will contain a couple of additional dungeons, while Dragonhold, currently shooting for November, will bring in another Elseweyr zone, and bring back Sai Sahan from the original ESO main storyline. At the rate I’m currently progressing I’ll probably be at the gear cap by the time Scalebreaker comes out.

Back to ESO

This place started almost twelve years ago as a place to talk about MMORPGs. But as I drifted away from the genre I also drifted away from the blog and sought new avenues (primarily social media and my YouTube channel) to share my experiences with other types of games. While I made some efforts to write here about wargames and tabletop games, blogging about them never really caught fire for me.

The massively multiplayer space as we once knew it is stretched beyond recognition. Now almost everything is online and multiplayer, and where stuff’s not really massive, it often pretends to be. The state of what we might then call massive online ‘virtual world games’ has been dire for several years, with any number of shaky launches and disappointments and not a few embarrassing closures.

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Those folks already entrenched and happy in an older and well-established title like WoW or EVE or EQ2 (for example) had little reason to notice this deterioration in the larger space — although in all three examples there has been noticeable turmoil. But for those of us who never stayed attached to a single game, the prospects have grown thin indeed. That’s probably one reason that the MMORPG blogging community, prone to game-hopping and once quite robust, has largely evaporated or moved on to blogging about other things. But most of us are still here, lurking and waiting.

I spent a good chunk of May playing World of Warcraft, for the first time in a long while. This was in the current retail game, not the WoW Classic beta, and I had fun, but it certainly wasn’t social. Maybe three weeks in I felt the familiar drift. So I hemmed and hawed for a few days off and then stepped back into Elder Scrolls Online. Which, if it isn’t perfect, is maybe the best we’ve got right now.

ESO happens to be the only MMORPG right now that is growing (EDIT: Possibly also Final Fantasy XIV). After a shaky launch to tepid reviews, it did some things to address structural issues and has been relentlessly pounding new content ever since. At this point there is a crazy amount of stuff to do even without the shiny new Elswyr expansion, which I don’t have… although I did pony up for the sub, because the game is frankly hard to play beyond the first zone or so without it, due to the difficulty of managing an inventory with an enormous number of crafting materials, unless you just vendor everything.

ESO also has a number of incentives to sign in every day, from the daily login rewards to the daily crafting writs to the need to bump your riding skills every twenty hours. Some days that’s sign in and fart around on that stuff for fifteen minutes, and other times it’s like “well, I’m in, I might as well do some questing” and only sign out three hours later. Plus random daily PUG dungeons, except in ESO the PUGs actually talk to each other. It’s crazy.

Anyway. I’m, into the week three Death Zone. So check in on me in about a fortnight.

Lost in the Dark

Elite Dangerous: Beyond Chapter 4 released yesterday. It contains a host of things, all minor enhancements in the grand scheme of things. I left off in Elite some 5,000 light-years from the “bubble” of settled space, exploring. So the overhaul of exploration was of some concern. Would my existing exploration-related modules work or just disappear?

Inconveniently, returning to Elite after an extended absence (I’d been out more than a year) can be a little bit of a project. Updating the game is effortless thanks to Steam, but I also had to update Voice Attack and the voice pack (which I had to contact HMS to do) and do the tiresome HOTAS setup again. I’m flying with the relative cheapie Thrustmaster T-Flight, which lacks all the hats, switches and buttons you’d want for Elite but at $50 is priced at a level commensurate with my level of involvement in this type of game. It is probably more accurate and efficient to use a mouse and keyboard, but the HOTAS adds immensely to immersion, and immersion is what Elite does best.

All this done, I got back in before the patch but didn’t have enough playtime to get back to settled space before the update hit. So I was concerned that I’d just be stuck out there with no usable modules and nothing to do except head back.

This turns out not to be the case. It is a thorough overhaul, but the old Discovery Scanner functionality has become a general ship function (supposedly people with the module got refunded its cost, although I didn’t check that,) but that activity is radically different now.

System scanning pre-update was basically binding the scanner to a fire group and then holding the button down in the system. This revealed, assuming you had the most powerful scanner, all bodies in the system on the system map, which you could then look at to figure out which ones you wanted to fly out to and explore. This no longer happens at all.

Now one enters a special Discovery Scan mode, in which you get an overlay atop your surrounding space. You execute the system scan and learn the system ecliptic and some number of “signals,” which could be bodies or other weirder things. Scan waves pass over this space, briefly revealing highlighted patches, which you then have to match up to spectrograph signals to reveal the system’s planets and other bodies. Only stuff you have scanned in this way shows up on the system map, unless (maybe — I’m not totally clear on this) that system has already been explored by someone else.

The Detailed Surface Scanner still exists as a module, but it functions very differently. Used to be you get close enough to a body and point your ship in 9its direction and wait for the scan to finish. Now, at a presumably similar distance, you enter a surface scan mode in which you have a map of the planet in front of you and you launch micro-probes (of which you have an unlimited supply) at it. Each probe will map the planet’s surface near where it hits, and can reveal surface features that only seem to be present on some bodies. If your probes map 90% of the surface you’ll get a “mapped by” tag for the planet.

Particularly in systems that are either large or contain multiple interesting bodies, this takes much longer than the old push-the-button system scan. It will vastly slow down the speed of exploration, and will definitely change its tone, with explorers skipping over the abundant but genrally unprofitable M systems in favor of G and K starts that have a larger change of having interesting planets. Very probably some players will not like it, and players who aren’t (or who don’t aspire to be) fairly serious explorers probably won’t learn it.

Provisionally, though, I like it quite a bit sor far. Now, I haven’t really explored the Codex (another new feature,) have only monkeyed with surface scanning a little bit, and haven’t yet turned in my (fairly large) bank of current discoveries, so I reserve the right to change my mind, but right now it feels more like exploration and is more immersive. Which is, after all, the best part of Elite Dangerous.

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