Review — War Crimes

Of the many novels written in the Warcraft universe, I’ve actually read a scarce few of them. To be honest, this is only my second. However, having played WoW off an on for the majority of my life, and having many brothers and friends that are well versed in Blizzard and Warcraft lore, I’m quite familiar with the characters and events, generally speaking. I won’t give spoilers here, though, for as familiar as you may be with the story before and after this book, the novel itself does contain some pretty neat, self-contained things.

War Crimes is a somewhat recent addition to what surprised me to be a collection of over twenty canon books, and chronologically it was the latest addition to the universe until Before the Storm published last month. It takes place between the Mists of Pandaria expansion and the Warlords of Draenor expansion, serving as a segway from one to the other. It explores the trial of Garrosh Hellscream, the former Warchief of the Horde after he basically killed thousands of people and was, to put it mildly, a jerk to everyone, even the people who should have been his friends.

I’ll be honest—I didn’t expect much of this book. The main plot is a trial, and I hated Garrosh’s character simply because he’s boring. In fact, if I were to buy a Warcraft book, it probably would have been one of my last choices for those reasons. When I’m reading a story like this, it’s generally because I want to dig deeper into a universe I’m already familiar with, and not only does this book basically not have that, but it doesn’t have very much action in it, either. It is, as you might expect, almost entirely placed in the Temple of Xu’en, where the trial takes place.

But the book is fair. To call it a bad read or a waste of my time would be out of line. It does the characters justice while also showing different sides of them. It explores the morality and virtues of many of the main characters in Warcraft lore, and you see different sides of them you might not otherwise notice. Flashbacks are used as evidence in the trial (via magic, of course), so we also get to see some interactions between characters outside this moment in time, and that can be really interesting when you didn’t realize those characters knew each other at X point.

I’d say one of the best things about this book is that it’s a balancing act of two parts, and it does a great job. Writing a book (or any piece of media) based on a game where the player has a direct impact on the environment or story of that game is hard. You have to either pretend the player doesn’t exist, which makes any player made choices seem inconsequential, or you make the player a main character, which only works if they don’t get to make their character. The second part is writing a part of the story that isn’t important enough to be essential to the gameplay, but is interesting enough to not waste the reader’s time.

War Crimes does a great job on both of these fronts. The players are the ones that managed to defeat Garrosh and put him in “prison”, but they aren’t necessary for the trial. Players want combat, and this part of the story has very little of it. You wouldn’t want a trial scene to be in your video game anyway, unless you’re playing Ace Attorney, in which case what is a bloodthirsty orc doing there? As far as being interesting but not essential, the story does a good job of that, too, exploring nuances of characters, as I’ve already explained. The ending of the story is a bit obvious if you’ve played the beginning of Warlords of Draenor, or have seen even the trailer of it, but nonetheless it’s a good read.

Overall, this book is a good read if and only if you are interested in understanding the personalities, flaws, or beliefs of the major characters in the Warcraft universe. You really get to know the characters as people in this book, not as the walking stereotypes they can sometimes fall under. If you want to read action scenes, understand the lore of Azeroth (or Draenor etc.), or read about the major events of the world, you’re better of picking up pretty much any other book in the universe.

As a side note, it dawned on me reading this book how little opinion Warcraft players probably have based on the characters in the lore. Basically any player will tell you that Cairne Bloodhoof, or Vol’jin, or Jaina Proudmoore are basically cool people. (Or at least they were, given various points of the story.) For as divisive as Warcraft tries to be—splitting the players into Alliance or Horde—I’ll bet 90% of the playerbase will be able to tell you which are the honorable, good characters from both factions, because while the lore tries to paint in broad strokes of “good and evil”, it does a great job at putting both of those extremes in either side.

Prompt — Peaceful Songs

The magic of Songs’ performance flowed like gentle currents of winds throughout the Laughing Escape Inn. Unlike many of the taverns in the lower district of Three Rings, people came here to enjoy the performance accompanied by food and drink, not the other way around.

As always, the tabaxi bard kept silent, letting the bow and strings tell the tale. This one was about the Feywild—about dancing faeries zipping around trees and grass as they played with other winged friends without a care in the world. Most of the simple folk here would never have been to such an exotic place, and Songs was happy to share a piece of his experiences. This was what adventuring was all about. Not for the glory or the wealth, but for the stories.

Another peculiarity of the Laughing Escape Inn was the total silence beyond the music. There wasn’t an empty seat in the entire building, and yet each human, elf, and dwarf sat in an enthralled silence as they watched the ethereal faeries dance around them, their tiny forms landing on patrons’ shoulders and kissing them on the cheek before dissipating into nothingness.

As the song neared its conclusion, he nodded his respect to the creatures that accompanied him on his performance. They were mere manifestations of his memories, given life through his magic, but he still felt it important to show respect to those that had given him those memories, for without them there would be no music at all. At least, not any worth listening to.

The magic faded, and the weaves of blue light disintegrated into streaks of dust where they fell, an unintended side effect of Songs’ magic. The people paid it no mind, however, and the tavern erupted into an applause as relaxed and respectful as his performance. This wasn’t the place for cheering or shouting.

Songs stood from his chair and bowed, a self-satisfied grin on his face the whole time. He began putting his things away and pushed his coin purse forward to encourage donations, leaving it on the stage while he approached the bar. It wasn’t that he trusted the customers—they were as apt to steal as anyone else—but the amount of money he’d collect on any one night was a paltry sum. It was nothing compared to the money he had accrued from his travels.

“Another astounding performance, Songs,” Thakros, the half-orc bartender nodded to him as he took a seat on a newly vacated stool. “Though I see you’re still getting your magic sparkle dust everywhere.”

“My apologies,” Songs bowed to him. “I still have much to learn about magic through song. Your patrons don’t seem to mind, though.”

“Well, I do. Who do you think has to clean it up when you’re gone?” he huffed, passing him a stein of Songs’ favorite honeyed whiskey.

“I’d be happy to take my business elsewhere if you wish,” Songs smirked, knowing full well that neither of them had any real desire to end this partnership.

Thakros smirked, his tusks protruding a bit with the expression. “No, no, of course not. I’m just having a hard time finding things to complain about ever since you stumbled onto my stage.”

Songs considered that. “I could set something on fire if you like. Perhaps one of your esteemed guests?” A dwarven guest came to the bar and ordered something, eyeing Songs with a suspicious glare as he said this. Thakros found the dwarf a filled stein before returning his attention to the tabaxi.

“As long as the people keep coming in every night I don’t care what you do.”

Songs glanced about the tavern, taking a swig as he pretended to identify a suitably flammable target. “No, I suppose not. Your clientele is woefully lacking in treants. Perhaps another time.”

“Songs!”

The tabaxi turned to see Olnele, Thakros’ daughter approaching, dressed in the messy apron of a long evening shift coming to a close. He nodded to her. “Evening.”

She rounded the bar and leaned forward across the wood, either finished with her work or too disinterested to continue it. “Lovely song, but I wish you’d play something more dramatic.”

“Well, I do take requests, what did you have in mind?”

“You make music based on your adventures, right?”

“To put it simply, yes.”

“Well, have you ever been to the Nine Hells? Or the elemental planes? Anything more… exciting than faeries dancing in peace?”

Thakros frowned. “You want him to perform songs of pain and death?”

Her eyes lit up just thinking of it. “Yes! Just think of the people we’d attract, playing songs like that!”

Songs frowned at the expression. He knew what she meant, but it was all too easy to hear ‘playing Songs like that’, as if he was just being manipulated. “I don’t think that’s a good idea.”

Olnele deflated a bit in annoyance. “Oh come on, Songs! Why not?”

“I don’t travel to risk life and limb against dragons and demons. I do it to find the beauty in the world, and there is little beauty to behold in such places. Besides, the people here don’t come for heroic tales of combat, they come here to relax and forget their troubles. I am merely a humble servant catering to their wishes.”

Olnele shrugged, but she made her dissatisfaction obvious. “I think a lot of people around here might enjoy hearing some real stories, Songs. Just think about it, okay?”

He did.

 

Prompt: https://www.deviantart.com/sinlaire/art/Comm-Performance-Check-750752051

Prompt — The Second Sun

Captain Hadrus adjusted his sunglasses as he looked sunward over the valley. The lenses blocked out a vast majority of the sun’s brilliance, but even so he could make out the dim outlines of the horizon and the reflection of the sun off the lake.

A good day for hunting, he thought. Which means it’s a good day to be hunted, as well.

He put a hand on Engineer Paddock’s shoulder, signaling for her to stop. When she did, he drew a finger along her back in swift, precise motions, telling her to stay close, keep quiet, and have her weapon ready. They were far from the cities, and so silence was key.

With the sudden appearance of this intensely bright new sun, the world had changed. Eyes became almost useless, because the second sun never moved, and so the concept of ‘night’ was a thing long forgotten. And so, the other senses took precedence: hearing and smell became the favorite means for predators to find food. Humans were no longer top of the food chain.

Hadrus watched as the vague outline of Paddock’s form nodded and turned to him, tapping his shoulder to indicate a reply. In similar fashion, she wrote, “One final weapon check before we descend.”

Hadrus rolled his eyes at the request, but acquiesced. After all, part of the reason he had brought her along was because of how careful she was—you could count on things going smoothly around Paddock. He pulled out his crossbow and handed it to her, watching as she examined the bowstring and the limbs, pulling a cloth out and cleaning the polished wood of any dirt. She inspected the weight of the drawback and did a cursory scan of everything else, making sure that the settings were all correct and that the string wouldn’t snap as soon as he fired. When she was satisfied, she handed it back to him with a curt nod.

Once that was settled, the two of them turned sunward once more and made their descent into the forest below. As always, it was quiet, and the two of them were careful not to make their presence known, treading on soft dirt and moving slowly. In centuries past this forest would have been rife with wildlife, with birds chirping and all manner of insects buzzing.

Hadrus had heard stories in a world that went dark half the time—not so dark as wearing the sunglasses, but dark enough to have trouble seeing even without them. He never really understood what that would do to an ecosystem, where predators could track by movement and didn’t need to rely so much on sound or smell.

He wouldn’t have noticed that Paddock had stopped moving if she hadn’t tapped his shoulder again. With the following gestures, she said “Watch out. Something straight ahead. Thirty feet.”

Hadrus strained his eyes, but saw no movement. It must have been big for Paddock to see it that far away, though. Maybe she smelled it, which made sense since they were travelling upwind. He tapped her shoulder and responded with “Ready bows.”

He kept scanning the area ahead as he drew out a bolt with his free hand. Half a step ahead of him, he saw Paddock taking out a bolt of her own, sliding it onto the barrel of her own crossbow. Once their weapons were loaded, he took a pair of pebbles that had been packed neatly at his side so they wouldn’t make sound with his movement. His hands were full now, so he couldn’t talk to Paddock, but his previous command deemed further instruction unnecessary.

Captain Hadrus made one last scan of the area and tossed the pebbles into the forest ahead of them, trying his best to land near whatever creature Paddock had spotted so that he could get its attention. They would track its movement as it investigated and…

The pebbles hit something soft, and it was followed by the sound of a low, huffing grunt.

They had directly hit their target, which had alerted it to their presence.

The creature huffed again, its huge claws scraping the ground as it paced. Towards them presumably, and a bear by the sound of it.

Hadrus exhaled slowly and quietly. Since the bear didn’t move to investigate the pebbles, there was no reference to get a clear shot at it, and the dark outlines of the forest made it all but invisible.

A soft click and a snap, and the bear roared in pain. Paddock had fired, and the bolt hit its mark.

The bear charged, and Hadrus clearly saw its outline as the hulking shape suddenly grew enormous.

The element of surprise was gone.

Hadrus fired, but it didn’t seem to hit. Paddock screamed in terror as the thing crashed into her, their dark outlines blurring into one.

The grunts of the bear collided with Paddock’s hushed gasps of panic. Hadrus fumbled for another bolt as he heard a sickening slash.

“Oh God,” Paddock cried. “My glasses! I can’t see!” The sound of her voice here sent a chill down Hadrus’ spine.

Hadrus fired again, aiming high to minimize the chances of hitting his ally. In the sound of the scuffle, it was impossible to tell if he had actually hit. The only thing to do was load again.

Paddock’s cries continued, and Hadrus kept firing. The chaos of the scuffle lessened, and soon the bear started to lumber off, evidently too wounded to want to stay.

This went to Hell really fast, Hadrus cursed. No deer or foxes, but a bear? There was no hope of bringing back food now. Little hope of bringing back Paddock alive, at that.

“How bad?” he asked aloud. There was no use for silence now.

“I… don’t think I can walk on my own,” she grunted. “And it tore off my glasses. I can’t see.”

He nodded. They had to get back to the city fast. “Here,” he said, taking off his glasses off. He shut his eyes immediately, but even through his eye lids the intensity of the second sun was uncomfortable.

“What? No, you have to leave me. Get home safe.”

“To Hell with that. Here,” he took her arms and helped her up, draping her over his shoulder so that she could half-stand. Sure, it would be better if he had his glasses, but he had no way of knowing if her injuries were life-threatening, and if they were, he wanted her to feel as safe as possible. “You be my eyes and guide us home, okay?”

“Yes, sir,” she said. “Thank you.”

“Enough talking, you need to conserve your strength and we both need to be quiet.”

 

Prompt: https://www.deviantart.com/aenami/art/Solar-714444421

Prompt — The Return of the Silence

“I’m not paying two odes for this,” I said. These merchants were getting bolder and bolder by the day.

“Two odes or you put it all back,” he shrugged, not batting an eye.

“Two months ago I could buy all this for half that!”

“Two months ago there was no tariff on raftheads. You want your damn Kitsuyan vegetables you can get on the next boat headed there.”

Ruder by the day, too. I forked over the two gold coins and stalked off, groceries in one hand and staff in the other.

The causeway through the main streets of Kalisport was as busy as it always was this time of day, and even with the oceanic breeze it was still hot out. People were amply coated in sweat as they heaved carts and goods through the market, going about their day with a smile on their face.

I never understood how people could be so… happy.

Feeling the warmth on my pale skin, I remembered why I was in such a hurry. Being in the sun too long always gave me horrendous burns. I learned very quickly why Kitsuyans don’t often leave the isles: we melt.

I stepped into a shady alleyway to catch my breath and cool off a bit. I set my things down to examine the damage. “By the Mist and Tides,” I cursed. “I’m already burnt. I’ve barely been out twenty minutes!”

Glancing down the alley, I was hit with a sudden sense of…

Quiet.

All the commotion of the thoroughfare nearby was suddenly gone. It was just me. Here. Alone.

An impossible gale of wind flooded through the narrow path, tossing up papers and refuse and anything else. As it rushed towards me, I thrust my hand out to combat it, but no magic came. What could I do against wind? Against the Silence, my old enemy?

It crashed into me, pushing me against the wall with the force of a freight golem. Before I knew it, the Silence had passed, the sound of the nearby street was back, and I was huddled right where I had stopped, weeping speechless tears.

It had been years since I had had one of these attacks. I still lived with my aunt back then. I thought it was gone for good. This one, as minor as it had been, was an ill omen.

Well, I wasn’t the powerless little girl anymore.

With a huff to gather my composure, I stood and grabbed my staff. I wasn’t about to let the Silence once again wreak havoc over my life.

 

After a conspicuous but determined jog back to my little apartment, I threw all the windows and doors open and stepped out onto the balcony. Heat and burning be damned, I couldn’t risk another attack, I needed noise.

I was met with the full view of Kalisport, rows upon rows of buildings, the floating spires in the distance one direction, the tranquil Xal Deer Sea the other. I focused on the sound of the people below as I watched, picking out as many strings of words as I could.

Then, two quick knocks on my front door, and my heart skipped a beat. Had I been followed? I recalled every footstep I made between going to buy groceries and coming home. I hadn’t noticed anyone tailing me, but then, I hadn’t been in the most stable of mindsets. I didn’t have any friends here, and the people I worked with wouldn’t knock. I clenched my staff tighter. Whoever it was, they knew I was here.

I thought about the soft thumps of my boots as I walked across the floor to the door. The Silence could still come back if I wasn’t careful. I had to focus on the sound.

“Who is it?” I called through.

“An old friend,” a male voice responded. I recognized it, but the memory was faint. Old.

“How old?”

“Older than I’d like to admit.”

I opened the door to see Khuros. The imaginary friend that saved me from the Silence.

“You left these in the alleyway,” he said, holding up my basket of groceries.

I wasn’t sure what to say. Everyone has imaginary friends when they’re kids, don’t they? I struggled to come up with a greeting but instead…

“You’re not real,” I muttered, out loud I realized too late.

He shrugged. “Neither is the Silence, and yet here we are. We need to talk.”

 

Prompt: https://www.deviantart.com/totorrl/art/Loc-Ppj-V50-Fin-582309207

Prompt — The Fallen Crown

This wasn’t happening. It had to be a dream. A horrible, cursed dream.

“Your Highness, time is of the essence. They’ve already breached the walls.”

I turned away from the window back to my three Shieldsworn, all bearing the full plate so rarely worn in their line of work, each one bearing a full tower shield. I couldn’t understand how they bore all that weight in addition to the heavy silence in the room, which was as much as I could bear.

“I have no wish to be elsewhere when the Citadel falls,” I muttered, glancing back out to see the sea of invaders crashing against the wall below.

“You will be of no use to your people dead, Highness,” Berun urged. “Commander Arturas has already pledged himself to the safety of this city. He will fall in your place. Do not let his sacrifice be in vain.”

I nodded, scratching my beard as idle thoughts passed through my head. He was right, but he spoke as if he encouraged a peer, not as he begged his king. They all spoke like that. Even Arturas, noble as he was. “Very well, let us be off. If the savages want the Citadel so badly they can have it. I can rule my people elsewhere for the time being, and once our army returns we can take back the city with ease.”

And so we glided down the endless flight of stairs that served as an escape route of the Cloudreach Citadel. It probably hadn’t seen any use in centuries, as the dust in the air was so thick I could taste it. Berun stormed down the stairs ahead, his torch painting the old stones in a dark orange as we passed. Did they have to build these stairs so steep? One misstep could send you tumbling down for an hour.

“These barbarians,” I said, breaking the silence. “Arturas mentioned that they are invading from the west?”

“Yes, Highness. And hardier than most soldiers. They are as fearless as they are innumerable. It as a terrifying combination to face.”

We spent the rest of the flight in the dark halls in silence. Through the stonework I could hear the distant cries of my beloved city falling to pieces. I could hear how close we were to the ground based on how far away the clamor was.

“Stay close to us, Highness,” Berun said once we found the door. “It is unlikely that they will recognize you, but if you hold fast to our sides we can protect you. And, with all due respect, your Highness, you should remove your crown.”

I bit my lip. It would make me a target. I took it off and glared at it as it gleamed in the fire light. No time for disagreements now. My Shieldsworn were in their element here, and it would be foolish not to follow their lead. I stowed it in the pack to my side.

Berun snuffed his torch, leaving it on the ground and shoving the door open. We emerged into a throng of chaos—what few guards were stationed here in the city held off the numerous invaders. Even outnumbered, they held the savages back with ease, cutting down foe after foe. They were endless, however, and well trained as they were, my men were losing ground.

“This way,” Berun gestured. I followed close behind.

The chaos was loud. Steel slammed against steel. Men shouted as they barked orders, or cried as they were cut down. Horns blared, and flaming missiles soared through the sky as they bombarded the already crumbling wall.

“I know not what follows this day,” I muttered. “But I pray my people can endure these dark times.”

“Down with the King!” somebody shouted. “Down with Erharad!”

The sound of glass breaking accompanied these cries. I couldn’t place the origin, but it seemed to be coming from the invading soldiers. I watched as a guard cut down a couple armed only with farming sickles. They didn’t even wear proper armor.

“Your Highness, keep up if you please,” Berun pressed, half turned as he watched both me and the path ahead.

I lingered for a moment, watching as the horde of enemies crashed into the front line. We were losing ground, but it was from the sheer mass, not because the enemy had any training. It was like we were being invaded by…

“Peasants,” I murmured.

“Highness!” one of the other Shieldsworn shouted, shoving me to the ground as she moved herself in between me and something—or someone—I hadn’t noticed. The unexpected toss took more wind out of me than I would have guessed, and it took me a moment to get my bearings once more. As I made to get up, I noticed that my crown had been cast aside, apparently not as safe and secure as I thought. It now bore a dent on the side, but whether it was new or simply unnoticed I couldn’t say. Instinctively, I put it on as I stood to my feet.

And watched in horror as my assailant—a young woman wielding no more than a small dagger, was kicked and beaten by two of my three fully armored Shieldsworn.

“What is the meaning of this?” I scolded, pushing aside my escorts. They stopped with some hesitation. Evidently they deemed her no threat at this point, a broken and bloody mess as she was.

“Whatever could you mean, Highness? She clearly meant you harm. This is a battle,” the Shieldsworn that had thrown me aside said. She scanned the perimeter as she did, not the least bit concerned.

“Speaking of,” Berun chimed in, “We should be going. And, uh, Highness, your crown.”

I ignored him. Instead, I turned to face my attacker, who was lying in pain as she stared up at the burning sky. “Where do you come from?”

After a moment, her eyes focused on me, which seemed a great deal of effort on her part. “Easthaven,” she coughed.

“Easthaven? That’s no more than twenty miles from here.” Arturas had told me they were barbarians from the west. “Why are you here? What is your purpose in coming?”

“Down with… the King…” she spat up at me, but she didn’t have the strength or energy, so a trickle of blood spilled out of her mouth as she lost consciousness.

I turned to Berun. “Why are my own people invading my city?”

“She could just be lying, sir. It could simply be the nearest town they’ve ransacked. Now, please, your crown. You need to put it away and we must flee before—”

CITIZENS OF CLOUDREACH!” a voice boomed from above. The clamor lessened slightly as the Shieldsworn and I looked up.

To see the form of Commander Arturas standing on the lower balcony of the Cloudreach Citadel.

OUR CAMPAIGN WAS A SUCCESS. KING ERHARAD HAS FALLEN, AND WE HAVE COMPLETED OUR QUEST OF OVERTHROWING A CORRUPT AND SELF-SERVING KINGDOM. I, ARTURAS, HAVE SEEN TO HIS BITTER END MYSELF. LET THIS BLOODSHED END AS WE BUILD A NEW FUTURE FOR OURSELVES AND OUR FAMILIES.

I faced back to my Shieldsworn, who turned to me in kind.

“Let’s go, Your Highness,” Berun said, with less urgency but more expectation that I would obey.

Arturas kept shouting as the first signs of the ending strife showed. He spoke of new beginnings and the restoration of virtues.

I removed my crown and thumbed the new dent, following my three Shieldsworn as we made to flee the city. But a question buried itself in my mind.

Wouldn’t killing me have been easier than all this?

Prompt: https://waqasmallick.deviantart.com/art/Wall-Break-730174861

Prompt — Convergence of Planes

“Oh, Great Watcher Above, give unto us your seed so that we may cultivate and harness growth where once was desolation.”

The low hum of the life energy pouring in and out of the bodies of each of the twelve druids resonated deep into the sands below and around the circle. They stood in perfect symmetry, performing a sacred ritual of change and life as had only been done once before in recent memory.

For now, the sweltering heat of the Great Shiba Desert hammered on, boring away at their resolve. The dry heat of the sands blew between their legs and into their eyes, almost as if the desert itself was defying their magics and defending itself.

“We ask that you cleanse these lands,” Aoliban continued, “And bear forth fruit that will bring life to your people so that we may serve you better.”

The ritual continued as life flowed through each of the druids, but a hint of confusion mixed itself into the atmosphere.

“Those are not the words, Aoliban,” Vysus, the druid to his right murmured. It was not an admonishment but a question.

“It didn’t work the last time,” Aoliban replied, voice hushed so that the gods could not hear him. “So I am invoking new words.”

“I hope you know what you are doing,” she said.

He knew.

“Oh, Great Watcher Above, we ask not that you remove the ancient curse that pervades this wasteland, only that you give us this one small piece, so that life can continue without unnecessary suffering.”

The humming grew louder as the air blurred inside the circle of druids. The portal was opening. The warm beige of the desert twisted as it transformed into lazy purples, then pale blues, then lush greens.

Anticipation did not deter the concentrations each druid held. The planes of existence began to converge on this small spot, and Aoliban had to be careful to choose the correct plane, or else everything would be ruined. Just like last time.

“Great Watcher Above, we seek your guidance in embracing your realm. Just as my own sister who came before me served you, I wish to show my own brethren your awesome power.”

The hazy colors that danced inside the circle began shifting to dark grey, and the excitement of the circle shifted towards trepidation once more.

“Aoliban…?” Vysus asked.

Aoliban did not address her. Instead, he kept his eyes on the realm beyond. “I wish to see my sister again, Great Watcher Above. Let the borders between our worlds merge in this space so that your light once again shines on this barren land, and so that I can join hands with my family once more.”

The greys and purples of the other plane deepened. The soft sand they stood upon grew more sturdy as they found themselves partially in another world. One of bone and death.

“Aoliban we are your family,” Vysus countered.

He turned to her, arms still outstretched as the other druids fought to keep this unexpected realm at bay. He kept his voice low as he addressed her. “No. Not since the last ritual failed, and my sister was taken. I serve a new god now.”

Vysus’ eyes widened and she clutched her arms to her side. “Druids! Close the portal, now!”

“It’s too late for that,” a new voice said, feminine and somewhat distant. A blueish figure wrapped in thin robes appeared in the center of the circle, barefoot as she stepped on the pool of broken skulls. She approached the two druids with a small smile, eyes lost as if staring far off into the horizon.

As the circuit of green life energy broke, this piece of the death realm tethered itself to this spot in the desert, and sand gently trailed amidst the piles of bones.

“Hello, Aicrin. I feared I’d never see you again,” Aoliban said. As he watched, his sister’s eyes focused on him, standing on the edge of life and death.

“Dearest brother, you’ve doomed our people just to see me once more?”

Aoliban glanced about the circle of druids, who were now readying spells of defense. The ritual was over. An unprecedented success. “I did.”

Aicrin looked around at the men and women that surrounded her. “Isn’t anyone else happy to see me?”

“This is an abomination,” Vysus spat. “Sacrilege.”

“Now, that simply depends on which god you serve, Vysus.”

Her eyes were gleaming daggers that bore into him, but he cared little for her rage. He had already won. “This is an unforgivable offense, Aoliban. Your sister will return to the realm from which she came, and you shall join her!”

She moved to leap at him, but found her foot caught. She looked down to see skeletal hands grasping about her shins as the undead began pulling themselves out of the sea of bones, especially around the other druids.

“I’ve made some friends in my time here, brother,” Aicrin noted. “It seems they, too, are eager to return to the living.”

Aoliban nodded. “It seems only fitting that we offer our thanks to the Great Watcher Above.”

 

 

Prompt: https://88grzes.deviantart.com/art/Growing-Rites-of-Itlimoc-Magic-the-Gathering-737337757

D&D — The Commoner Campaign

I’m setting up a short campaign I plan to run over the summer, and it’s going to be somewhat different than anything I’ve ever done before. I plan on it being longer than a one shot, but it won’t have some “big bad” that you never get to even after playing for several months.

This campaign is based on a very simple homebrew class: The Commoner. This picture is all you need to know about what this class is.

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Short story even shorter: you’re just a normal dude that is average in every way. All your abilities are +0, you get no armor, and all you start out with is a dagger. With 8 HP and only 10 AC, this means you’re very vulnerable.

Let’s put that into perspective. A singular goblin, basically fodder, has +4 to his attack, and deals 1d6 + 2 damage. He only needs to roll a 6 to hit you with his attack, and when he does hit you, if he rolls a 6 on his damage roll, you’re instantly unconscious and making death saves.

I actually did a test run of this. One goblin versus one commoner with +1 Strength. Not only did the goblin win 9 times out of 10, but the goblin went first and just one-shot the guy three of those times. Now, admittedly that’s abnormally lucky for the goblin, but the point stands. A simple commoner has no chance, which makes sense.

I love the idea of my players being scared of what would otherwise be trivial creatures. I mean, an everyday spider (challenge rating 0) is now a real threat. I want to make everything my party faces scary. A goblin party raiding the town? Well you can’t just run out there and fight them off, you’re just going to get killed. You have to stick together and rely on the element of surprise if you’re going to have any hope of wining. Still, though, you’re much safer just running away.

I want the party to use their wits in this campaign, using their environment and real strategy rather than stats and rolls to succeed. It’ll be a challenge for everyone involved. For me, I’m going to have to make a compelling story and combat using only weak little baby threats, because if I get too bold I can end up taking out players with single attacks. Plus, commoners don’t have hit dice. Every point of damage will be critical for everyone involved.

But the cool thing about this is that I know this campaign will bring fun stories about amazing rolls. Rolls will be key in this campaign, and I know there will be several points in time where both players and enemies have only one health and manage to Do The Thing.

So, should be fun.

 

 

*Spoilers for people that personally know me and may be in this campaign*

Also, I have the best antagonist for this campaign. It is going to be two or three kobolds in a trench coat (or something of that nature). It’ll be hilarious when the party meets them and mistakes them for a dragonborn simply because they’ve never seen anything even remotely draconic. It’ll be fun for the party when they find out what’s really going on, and fun to balance because, for three or four commoners, fighting three kobolds is no joke.