Persistence Pays

“The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”
– Confucius

“Slow and steady wins the race.”
– Unknown

“Are we there yet?!?”
– Any child

I am delighted to announce that another of my horror stories, Re-Possession, is appearing in Issue 9 of Black Treacle, a Canadian magazine of horror, dark fantasy, and speculative fiction.

Re-Possession is zombie-themed social commentary set in the near future, with a dash of corporate intrigue and wistful romance. It’s also a story that has been on quite a journey, from inspiration to publication, and now that it has reached its final destination it really stands out in my mind as a good example of what can happen if you stick with something long enough.

I developed my initial outline for the story in October 2012, and went through seven drafts between then until January 2015. Throughout that time, Re-Possession’s length always hovered in the 2900-3100-word range. Every time the story was rejected, I reviewed any feedback I received from the editor, weighed it against the story and what I wanted to achieve with it, and refined it. I also put the story on the back-burner a couple of times and focused on other writing projects. Each time I returned to Re-Possession, I found I was able to look at it with fresher eyes, and more often than not I found improvements I could make. During that two-and-a-half-year long journey to publication, there were times when I considered abandoning the story. But then I would re-read it, as well as the encouraging comments I received from some of the editors, and I would send Re-Possession back into the market to find a good home.

I’m glad I did. I hope you enjoy the story.

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My Ad Astra Schedule!

As promised, I am posting my scheduled panels at Ad Astra, Toronto’s premier speculative fiction convention, which runs from April 10-12!  Hope to see you there.


Saturday, April 11

Spicing up your Game Setting

Time: 10:00 AM – 11:00 AM

Room: Oakridge

Panelling with: Chris A. Jackson, James Alan Gardner

Jungles, deserts and tundras, oh my! from tribal wanderers to megacities and more! Panelists discuss how you can step away from the monoenvironmental, the monocultural, the monoboring and make your setting varied, alive and deeply interesting.

From The Tabletop To The Side Table

Time: 3:00 PM – 4:00 PM

Room: Whitchurch

Panelling with: Chris A. Jackson

From Books to TV Shows and Movies, tabletop roleplaying has been a subtile guiding hand for many story, setting and character inspirations. And in some cases, not so subtle. Panelists discuss the process of taking a tabletop game or characters and set pieces and translating it to a different medium for an audience rather than active participants.

The Shadow Over Lovecraft

Time: 5:00 PM – 6:00 PM

Room: Markham B

Panelling with: JD DeLuzio, Nancy Kilpatrick, Simon McNeil

Modern horror fiction inspired or derived from H.P. Lovecraft. What influence has his fiction had? What makes Lovecraftian fiction work? The best and worst texts, both in literature and films. Why all the odd pop culture appearances? Is he really that great? And how do we handle his xenophobia and racism, and the modern-day controversy it has generated?

Saturday, April 12

Reading with fellow Ottawa-area author Marie Bilodeau!

Time: 12:00 PM – 1:00 PM

Room: Whitchurch

Maintaining Momentum

If you’re like me, you pursue your creative passion while relying on another line of work to pay the bills. Because said line of work makes such mundane things like a roof over one’s head and regular, generally healthy and digestible meals possible, it really can’t be ignored. Not for long, anyway.

My day job has intense peaks and troughs and when I’m busy, I’m insanely so. In such busy periods (one of which – a week of pure hell – ended very recently) I find I have little energy for writing when I get home at the end of the day. However, as I’ve discussed previously it’s essential to maintain some kind of momentum – otherwise it’s possible to get in the habit of putting aside creative endeavours for any old thing, and the next thing you know you’re running in the soul-sucking hamster wheel of life. So what is a writer (or any creative type – what I’m about to share could be applied to almost any medium, I’m sure) to do?

First, it helps to have several projects on the go – just enough to allow you to switch to something else if you find you’re growing frustrated or bored with your current project, without having so many you feel overwhelmed. It’s even better if your projects are at different stages, so if you switch projects you’re actually doing something different. I usually have 2-4 stories on the go at any given time, in various states of completion. If I get tired working on the first draft of one piece, I can switch to editing a second draft of another, or tweaking another (a third or fourth draft) that was rejected by an editor. I’ve also branched out a bit from my initial genre (horror) into science fiction, so when I switch gears I may also be switching genres. Regardless, even if I am not drafting, I am still making progress.

Second, sometimes it’s good just to unplug entirely and read. I try to read novels recommended to me by friends (writerly or otherwise), but there are others that have been on my hit list for a while, and when I can I take advantage of the down time. Sometimes, I’ll get ideas, too.

Finally, it helps to have other creative outlets – and if they’re related to your artistic passion all the better. In my case, I am involved in two monthly roleplaying groups, one of which I run as Game Master. Both groups consist of interesting people playing interesting characters who are involved in intricate storylines – it’s like an interactive novel. I always come away from a gaming session with anecdotes and inspirations that could very well lead to story ideas, but even if they don’t the intensely fun and creative environment really energizes me. I recommend writers, in particular, give gaming a try to stoke their creative fires.

There you go…some lemonade recipes for when life tosses you a lemon or two…

2015 is Already Looking Awesome

It’s a New Year, and that means an opportunity for new starts – professionally and personally. The changeover from one year to the next can also be a reset, of sorts, for our creativity so that we can attack our ongoing projects with renewed vigour.

I am developing lots of new story ideas while I wait to hear from editors, some of which are solidly in the science fiction vein. This is a big step for me, as the vast majority of my professional fiction sales thus far have been horror. Every new genre has a learning curve, and I am enjoying the prospect of researching biological phenomena that will enrich my stories. I know I can turn to my writing circle, and the occasional beta reader, to help me reach the next level. What I learn can also give me an interesting factoid or two to impress people at cocktail parties. I play the long game. 😉

I do, however, have awesome news to share on the writing front. McGraw-Hill Ryerson, a premier Canadian educational publisher, has purchased reprint rights for two of my short stories: The Old Boys Club and White Noise. This is incredibly exciting because my stories will be added to an electronic collection of contemporary Canadian short fiction, which educators can access in order to build readers (in print or electronic form) for their students. So yes, some day high school students might curse my name as they struggle to write term papers about my stories.

Life is good.

Delectable Baked Yuletide Delights of Doom!

Yes, it’s been a while. Life’s like that. However, the holiday season is upon us yet again, and what better way to celebrate than to eat, drink, and be merry?  I’ve got the eating angle nailed down in this post, at least. So do a bunch of other authors, too, but more about them later.

Linda Poitevin started the great Xmas-cookie-recipe-exchange-and-blog-hop, which was later rechristened as Cookies of Might and Magic by Marie Bilodeau, who then tagged me.  Just as some of my horror stories centre on what happens when you disturb ancient evils, so I am sharing a cookie recipe with a bit of history.

Oh, alright.  “Ancient evil” isn’t always synonymous with “old recipe”, if we’re going to get technical… (everyone’s a critic)

This recipe has a bit of history associated with it.  When my mother attended nursing college in Niagara Falls, back in the early 60s, her landlady was a woman named Mrs. Ibey.  She always had a plate of these cookies available for her boarders, and my mother loved them so much she got the recipe.

 

COCONUT OATMEAL CRUNCH COOKIES

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup butter, shortening, or margarine
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 tsp. baking soda
  • 1 1/2 cups rolled oats
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/4 cup shaved coconut (technically optional – the coconut makes all the difference, in my view)

Method:

  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees and lightly grease a cookie sheet.
  2. In a bowl, cream soft butter and sugar together until light and fluffy;
    add egg and mix well.
  3. Sift flour, salt, soda and baking powder together into another bowl.
  4. Add dry ingredients along with rolled oats to the creamed mixture. Blend well.
  5. Roll this batter into balls and place on cookie sheet, about two (2) inches apart.
  6. Flatten balls with a powdered fist and bake for 15-20 minutes or until lightly browned.
  7. Remove from cookie sheet and place on a wire rack to cool.
  8. Yields about 5 dozen. ENJOY!

These cookies freeze very well and can be used as a sandwich cookie with dates, if desired.

Source:  Kindness of Helen Ibey.

And now I am tagging Jamieson Wolf, who will tantalize your taste buds with more baked goodness.

I’m Doing a Blog Hop!

I was invited by my friend and fellow author (and East Block Irregular), Marie Bilodeau to participate in a blog hop. I eagerly accepted because I have no common sense, and very little dignity. Situation normal where my dealings with Marie are concerned (though she did eat a bug for me so I suppose it balances out, but that’s another story).

Marie encouraged original responses to her questions, and even urged us to break the rules – but that simply wouldn’t do. After all, she tagged me as a spawn of the Elder gods, and when someone saddles you with a label like that, garden-variety madness simply isn’t going to cut it. No, she deserved the special reserve – that select variety of perverseness I stash away for those who are truly special. My connoisseurs, if you will.

Takes one to know one, I suppose. 😉

On to the questions!

1. What research would you conduct to write a scene in which squirrels become the sole proprietors of the Febreeze Empire?

Hold on. What do you mean, “in which the squirrels BECAME the sole proprietors”? They were always the sole proprietors, because the great progenitor, the Flying Ra’aki (May He glide forever!) ate a bad nut at the dawn of creation and vomited out the cosmos for the enjoyment of His children. He then horked out a shell fragment which became – as all right-thinking people know – the Febreeze Empire. The sacred texts of Ra’aki (May He glide forever!) say so.

Unless, of course, you have been reading the heretical works of Ch’p and Dhail. Please tell me you have not been doing so, Marie. Swear by the Holy Pouch, and by St. Bolwinkul, that you have not. I have no wish to call the Inquisitors…

You did, didn’t you?

 

2. If you could conjure one mythical creature to finish a book for you, which one would get to select the ending and why?

Well, that’s one’s obvious. I mean, seriously dudette, how long have you known me? It doesn’t matter which mythical creature I chose to end my book, because Great Cthulhu would just kick the door down, drink all my beer, rearrange the furniture in disturbing ways, and then screw my storyline six ways from Sunday. And I’d love it because I’d be huddled in the corner, giggling maniacally and singing “I Left My Hearts in R’lyeh”.

Wait a minute. That’s a normal Friday night…oh crap.


3. Bigfoot sex. Discuss.

Some people think I’m sexually repressed because I’m half-English, into sadism because I’m part-German, or into kink because I’m part-French. While it’s been years since I’ve wielded a riding crop or poured melted cheese into a [CENSORED] and lapped it up with a side helping of [CENSORED], I do keep an open mind about sexuality in general. Bigfoot sex is no exception. I believe that we should love all people equally, regardless of skin colour, height, weight, body shape, or hirsuiteness. Rather than hunt our primal brethren, or speculate wildly about them in checkout tabloids of dubious quality, we should accept and welcome them with all appendages. They probably know some damned good tricks, too. If I lived in the woods I’d want to make sex more interesting.

Bigfoot sex is actually an underlying theme in much of my writing. Give any of my works a serious read and you’ll see. I’ll wait.

“Go big or go home,” as they say…

 

4. What would you need to do to become the most prolific writer ever (can include crimes, questionable science and lack of morality)?

Funny you should ask that. I’ve placed a hit on Father Time and if Sweaty Pete is as good as my bookie says he is, I won’t have any worries about deadlines, scheduling or crap like that because the time-space vector will collapse. So if your clock stops, you can thank me.

 

5. Does Vogon poetry have artistic merit?

If you’d asked me that in my pre-writing days the answer would have been a resounding “NO!” Everyone has to start somewhere, and as much as I hate to admit it there was a period in my life (before I was “enhanced” by the Elder Gods) when I was obsessed with such trivial, boring things like logic. Fortunately, I am no longer so encumbered, and since becoming an author I have crossed the threshold into realms of abnormality that are beyond the wildest dreams of my younger, more human, self.

That being said, after reading the collected works of the great masters for the first time, and after the echoes of my final screams had subsided, I began to see that Vogon poetry possesses a unique, putty-like beauty which smells slightly of old, peaty cheese. Who knew that beauty could have a scent? I didn’t. But it does, and that revelation was wonderful on so many levels.

Vogon poetry is a valid art form. My grant application to the Canada Council for the Arts is forthcoming.


6. Shoggoths – Animal, Vegetable, or Mineral?

I really don’t know. I thought they were a type of fungus for the longest time, but when I grilled one up the other day it didn’t taste a thing like the portobello mushrooms I served at the last dinner party – not even with a generous helping of Worcestershire sauce. It didn’t taste like the guests, either, so that rules out animal as well. One thing I will say is that despite the fact that the buggers can change their shape at will and can pass through the tiniest cracks, shoggoth gunk really gets stuck between your teeth. I flossed for a good half-hour to get it all out.

Trust me on this one.

 

7. What are you working on right now?

Oh, if you must. I mainly write short stories, and as we speak I have six of them in various stages of editing, and another two being written – half of them are horror. I’m trying to branch out, but I think the tone of this post should give you an idea of where I am spiritually, genre-wise.

I’ve also got a YA novel on the go, and a couple of gaming modules in varying states of completion. I’d get a lot more done if it weren’t for reality.

Good thing I’ve got Cthulhu on speed dial…

There you go, folks. Me – unfiltered. Please check out the blogs of my other writing buddies, Matt Moore and Hayden Trenholm, and see how they have responded to Marie’s fiendish questions.

Fear her!

A Lesson from Memory Lane

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Working on my latest article for Threshold Magazine (which will be appearing in issue 3 – coming soon) got me thinking about how we evolve in our art. What motivates us to create in the first place? Do those motivations remain the same throughout our artistic careers? Which people in our lives (if any) give us those critical nudges to get us where we need to go?

Although I had been writing stories for as long as I can remember, my Grade 5 teacher (Mr. Neil) was the person who first introduced me to creative writing as a disciplined art. By that I mean writing regularly, actively thinking about story structure, and most importantly of all not being afraid to express myself in order to find my voice. That year, the Nipissing Board of Education issued each student a creative writing folder, in which there was a simple spreadsheet that we could use to track our progress. Although a certain number of our story topics were dictated to us (e.g., Remembrance Day, “Why Pollution Makes Me Upset”, etc) we were encouraged to go wild otherwise. We had space on our spreadsheets for 20 stories over the course of a year. I wrote 52, and had tacked on a second tracking sheet.

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Decades later I have re-read those stories, and after writing this blog post decided to type out one of them and share it below. While I can’t help but laugh at a lot of what I wrote, it’s pretty clear what interested me. Most of my stories (the ones that didn’t involve haunted houses and ghosts) featured adventure and discovery, and put ordinary folks in extraordinary situations. None of my protagonists had super-powers (at least not at first), nor did they have buckets of cash or weapons of mass-destruction at their disposal. Although it’s unlikely my ten-year-old self would have phrased it this way, what my characters did have in common was a desire to overcome the obstacles they faced. They didn’t always succeed. Even then, as it turns out, I was often writing stories in which the protagonists came out of their adventures in a diminished state, or simply ended up dead or never being heard from again. I also found a few attempts at sarcastic humour. Old habits die hard, I suppose.

So what did I get from this trip down memory lane, aside from the impression that I was a slightly morbid kid? I saw how fertile my imagination was, and how persistent I was in practising the craft of writing. It’s handy to keep that mind as the rejections trickle into my inbox. I’m in this for the long haul. The last remark from Mr. Neil, dated April 2, 1985, sums it up quite nicely: “Mystery, adventure? Keep up your good work!”

And so, to my fellow writers: Keep up your own good work.

Mr. Neil, wherever you are, thank you for encouraging me to take that first step, and the next ones.

******

Testflight, by Geoff Gander

(October 19, 1984)

The year – I don’t know when this is. But the citizens of Toronto have built a rocket. It cost 42 million dollars to build!

That night, a robber sneaked in the lab. Soon he was in the rocket. “Let’s see if this junk can fly, man.”

Sudden a voice surprised him. It said, “What do you mean by ‘let’s’?”

“Huh?” The robber was so scared he accidentally turned on the jets! In five minutes he was in space. “Wow, man, I’m really flyin’!” Soon he was on his way to the planet X-ros. He discovered there was a robot aboard.

“We are approaching the planet X-ros. Plenty of H2O, air – breathable, land – mostly rocky, but take a note – there are plenty of humans.”

“Oh my gosh!”

So they kept getting closer and closer to the planet! After a while they crashed into a mountain. As soon as they got out of the ship he said, “Let’s give this junk to rent-a-wreck!”

Two minutes later they explored the planet. Soon they found some plants. “Well at least we found some life.”

“’Some’ is a very unlengthy word. You should say some plant life.”

“Oh, shut up!”

Soon they were in a forest, which was filled with life. In twelve seconds flat they were conked out! When they revived they found that millions of cave-men were staring at them. “Uh-oh, we’re in trouble now.”

“Correction, master – a real heap of trouble.”

One of the cave-men said, “Grrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr!”

“Uh-oh, now we’re goners for sure!”

Sure enough, a war broke out! Until a voice said, “Let me help you nerds!” It was Joe Cool!

“Alright man, it’s Joe Cool!” said the robber. As soon as he said that the war went on. There were lots of “ow”s, “eee”s, “ahhh”s, and “holy cow”s used in that fight. Soon most of the cave-men had fled. But the remaining ones chased the heroes out of the forest. As soon as they fixed up the ship they escaped. Soon they were on their way back to Earth. But something kicked them off-course and threw them elsewhere! None of them were seen or heard from again.

What’s Old is New Again

Artistic expression – any kind – is a form of discovery in my view. Whatever the medium, you give life to ideas and set them free through the creative process, and in so doing you can learn a bit about yourself. Depending on the circumstances you can also experience a form of discovery by revisiting, and rethinking, something you created a long time ago in order to create something new.

Case in point: The next issue of Threshold Magazine (#3), a publication by and for fans of the Mystara campaign setting for the D&D game, will feature an article I wrote several years ago about an exotic (and highly dangerous) island that players could visit – and possibly even return from. I was a very prolific member of the Mystara writing community at the time it was first written, and many of my works centred on the Lovecraft-inspired Outer Beings, which I had just begun to develop. I was also a more exuberant writer then and explored many ideas in quick one-offs, such as the article in question, that I rarely revisited. Given my current writing interests, this seemed to be the perfect piece to explore.

A regular feature of Threshold Magazine is that it combs through the extensive Vaults of Pandius (the nexus and main archive for the Mystara community) to shine some light on older works that people may have overlooked, or forgotten. The original author is then invited to revisit their old work to expand on it, comment on it, and so on. So, when the theme for issue 3 was being discussed, I proposed my article for possible inclusion, and received the green light. I then hopped into my TARDIS and got to work.

Working with my younger self has been an interesting challenge. While he was full of ideas, he didn’t flesh them out to the extent that I would today (“I wish you’d expanded on that a bit more,” I told myself a number of times), and his approach to incorporating Lovecraftian elements into D&D tended more towards action-oriented pulp than dark fantasy. However, he was also more likely to run with a random idea and see where it went than I, accustomed as I am now to thinking about how an editor or publisher will react to something I write. He also had energy to burn, if the sheer amount of material he released to the community during that time is anything to go by. We turned out to be a pretty good team, in the end – even though there were a few “what was I thinking?!?” moments.

Despite the occasional frustration, I did achieve what I had set out to do. I revisited an old project and updated it in a way that suits my present tastes – thanks to my deeper knowledge of writing that my younger self lacked, and to advances in technology (digital hex maps are much easier to create now than they were when I first wrote the article). Revisiting my old work was like reuniting with an old friend, but while it was enjoyable it was also good to return to the present, and look towards the future.

Now *THAT’S* a Character Sketch!

Sharon (roryseviltwin on Deviant Art) has made the art I commissioned public. It was very exciting working with her to make Megane the Dark real, in full, living colour. She is exactly as I imagined she would be – you can check out the description here.

Sharon is wonderful to work with, and I highly recommend her. I will definitely be going back to her for future commissions. Check out her Deviant Art gallery!

Death and Destruction from the Deeps: More Followers of the Forbidden for your Campaign

The seventh, and final, installment of my series on memorable cultists to pit against your players will present a couple of worshippers of Ubbeth, the Outer Being whose domain is the watery deeps.  An overview of Ubbeth and His aims, as well as those of the other six major Outer Beings, can be found in a cosmology I wrote, which is available on Bruce Heard’s blog.

As with the other parts of this series, everything written here is set in the campaign setting known as “Mystara” in the year AC 1000.  Readers are, of course, welcome to modify the material to suit their own campaigns.

Mystara Alphatia Frisland Heraldry
(image courtesy of Bruce Heard)

DEMETRIOS, APOSTLE OF DAGOS

Background:  Demetrios Sistovaris was born in the village of Klasomenai, on the fringes of Kastelian-controlled territory, in AC 946.  Most of the inhabitants of his village made their livelihoods from the sea, and his family was no exception.  He could swim before he could walk, and by the time he could run he was already helping his father bring in his catches.  Klasomenai had always been blessed with plentiful fish compared to its nearest neighbours, due (according to the faithful) to the reverence of most of its people for their chosen patron, Dagos (otherwise known as Ubbeth).  The other inhabitants of the region, although jealous of Klaomenai’s good fortune, shun its folk due to the prevalence of their strange deformities, which seem to grow progressively worse with age.

None of this had any meaning for Demetrios throughout his childhood, as neither he nor anyone he knew had any contact with outsiders, and thus the progressive changes that affected most of the locals seemed normal to him.  On his 18th birthday Demetrios, along with all the other youths born on the same day as he, was rowed to a reef offshore and instructed to watch the waves for one day and night.  This he did, and in the dark of night a massive, scaled, tentacled creature rose from the waves and descended upon the cluster of youths who cowered on the reef.  After regarding each one, it grabbed Demetrios and tossed him about like a rag doll before dropping him in the water, and then sank out of sight.  The surviving youths (several had died of fright) were rowed back to the village the next day, but everyone gaped in awe at the mass of barbed sucker marks that covered Demetrios’s body.  The village priest disrobed at the sight, revealing his own markings.  Demetrios became apprenticed to the priest, and replaced him when the man died the following year.

Demetrios, as the priest of Klasomenai, soon began instructing the people to expand the temple to Dagos, and to venture farther out to sea for greater catches and to attack lone vessels belonging to other communities (and to bring any surviving crew to him for sacrifice).  Fish catches have grown under his watch, and more children are now surviving infancy; although some of the deformities that used to strike villagers in their later years are now starting to show up among the very young.  The minority of villagers who venerate other Immortals, such as Protius, have come under increasing pressure to convert, or leave.  Even though Demetrios governs the village on all matters spiritual, he also has a great deal of influence over the village elders, and hardly anything happens here without his permission.

Appearance:  Demetrios is fairly short (5’4”/162 cm) and has a stocky build (150 lbs/68 kg).  Like most of the people from this part of Davania, he has a light olive complexion, but much of his skin has a rough, sand-papery look, and is marred by purplish, saucer-sized sucker marks.  Webbing is growing between his fingers and toes, and long, deep wrinkles on each side of his neck mark where gills will emerge when his transformation is complete.  His dark brown eyes seem to bulge from their sockets, and he rarely blinks.  He has lost much of his dark brown, curly hair, and his now-exposed scalp has a decidedly scaly texture.  Normally Demetrios wears the voluminous sea-green robes of his faith, but on religious festivals he has begun the practice of wading naked into the sea to perform his rites.

Statistics:

Demetrios Sistovaris (18th level cleric of Ubbeth):  STR 12, INT 15, WIS 16, DEX 15, CON 13, CHA 6.  Hit Points:  61.  Armour Class:  8.   Alignment:  Chaotic.

Skills:  Ceremony – Ubbeth (WIS+2), Leadership (CHA+2), Nature Lore – Jungle (INT), Navigation (INT+1), Persuasion (CHA), Sailing (INT+1), Swimming (DEX), Outer Being Lore (13).  If your campaign uses the optional Weapon Mastery rules, Demetrios is “Master” in the trident.  Languages Known:  Milenian (Kastelian dialect) + 1 free slot.

Special Abilities:  Sense Tainted within 300’, ESP with Tainted within 100’.  Demetrios has access to the full list of cleric spells.

Special Equipment:  Trident of Ubbeth (see below)

Personality:  Demetrios is an egotistical despot who views Klasomenai as his personal fiefdom, and his fellow villagers as his subjects.  The fact that word of his belligerent stance towards outsiders, and accounts of his less reputable acts (as told by people forced to leave the village), will eventually reach the nominal authorities in Kastelios does not cross his mind.  He is confident that Ubbeth will watch over him, just as the Outer Being has watched over the faithful of his village for centuries, and should any outsiders try to crush him, they will be destroyed.

Demetrios is convinced that his mission in life is to turn Klasomenai into a holy site dedicated to Ubbeth.  To that end, he takes great joy in crushing the other faiths, and in reciting the ancient rituals that are accelerating the transformation of the villagers into semi-aquatic hybrid beasts.  Thus, he sees himself as Ubbeth’s personal champion, and has given himself a grandiose title to match.  In fact, Demetrios is so taken by his own perceived importance that he has begun to refer to himself in the third person, and has demanded that others do the same.  Almost everyone else in Klasomenai is too cowed to dispute his claim, and many of those who have expressed discontent have disappeared.

Roleplaying Notes: Although Demetrios is in many ways a small fish, he is in a rather tiny pond, so his influence in the region is actually considerable.  He could easily become a problem for local shipping if he becomes more organised, and as his followers venture farther from Klasomenai in search of sacrificial victims his shadow will grow.  Eventually the authorities in the city-state of Kastelios, which claims the region for itself, will need to step in and do something about Demetrios.  The player characters would be natural candidates for such a mission.

Should the player characters wish to purge Klasomenai of Ubbeth’s influence, they will have a long, but possibly highly rewarding, quest ahead of them.  They will have to learn about Ubbeth, His methods, and how He came to influence the village.  They will also need to learn how to neutralise Demetrios and eliminate him before Ubbeth realises that one of His champions is being attacked.

NICOLA THE RED-HANDED

Background:  Nicola Robbards was born in Minrothad in AC 968, to a merchant sailing family that had been living on both sides of the law for generations.  When times were good the Robbards family was reputed to be canny in business, but when their fortunes fell they turned their talents towards piracy.  The family avoided trouble for the most part by attacking foreign shipping, but Nicola’s father was the youngest of four, and knew he would never inherit.  He made piracy his vocation, and his only child learned from one of the best.  By the time Nicola was 16, she was commanding her own small sailing ship and raiding smaller cargo vessels.  She acquired her nickname from a particularly nasty duel with a ship captain.

Nicola’s first big score happened when she was 18.  Her ship, a two-masted schooner named the Zephyr, attacked two cargo ships en route to Thyatis from the southern continent of Davania.  She had the element of surprise and managed to cripple both ships before any serious manoeuvring could take place.  She and her crew pillaged both vessels and left their surviving crews to fend for themselves on the high seas.  The Thyatians had been transporting spices and other choice commodities (such as coffee) that would fetch high prices in Minrothad and Darokin, but one crate contained strange gold jewellery decorated with marine motifs that did not seem to have been made for humans to wear.  Her crew wanted to sell the jewellery to the first merchant they came across for some quick cash, but Nicola overruled them.  She had occasionally visited the more reputable, mercantile branch of the family as a child (the Robbards family sticks together), and knew enough about art to realise that the cargo they held would be worth far more to a collector.

Using her connections, Nicola tracked down a collector in Athenos, who paid a handsome sum.  Nicola was ambushed by a band of robed assailants that night, and taken to a swampy island in the Malpheggi Swamp.  There, her captors interrogated her about how she obtained the jewellery (which their cult used for religious purposes).  Since she had proven her usefulness in retrieving something of value to them, the cultists offered her a choice:  death, or eternal service to Ubbeth, their master.  Thinking the whole thing was a farce, Nicola pledged her allegiance to the Outer Being, but after a portion of His essence was implanted in her she realised what she had done.  Now she is bound to Him, and is compelled through dream messages to do His bidding.  However, she did not bend fully to Ubbeth’s will, and always looks for ways in which to reinterpret His wishes in ways that benefit her, or which actually harm the Outer Being’s plans.

Nicola plies the Sea of Dread and the Western Sea of Dawn on her ship, the Presumptuous, and regularly attacks Thyatian and Minrothaddan shipping – although she will not attack any vessels flying the banners of the Robbards family (in fact, she occasionally escorts her cousins on particularly risky runs).  Although she has a hideout in the Thanegioth Archipelago where she keeps her second ship (the Audacious), Nicola can often be found in the rougher parts of the Minrothaddan capital, Harbortown.

Appearance:  Nicola stands 5’8” tall (172 cm) and has a solid, muscular build (160 lbs./72 kg).  She has a tanned and weathered complexion from a life at sea, and her arms are a mass of black tattoos that resemble tangled squiggles interspersed with marine life.  She keeps her hair (dyed bluish-black with squid ink) short in the back, but long enough in front to conceal her eye patch (Ubbeth’s transformative influence had begun with her eye, which she plucked out – it seems to have stopped for now).  Her remaining eye is a deep emerald green.  Nicola is a practical woman; she wears a linen shirt and trousers, low boots, and a leather vest – finery would just get in the way.  Her one concession to piratical stereotypes are her rings – each finger has at least one

Statistics:

Nicola Robbards (10th level cleric of Ubbeth):  STR 17, INT 14, WIS 11, DEX 16, CON 15, CHA 12.  Hit Points:  54.  Armour Class:  5.   Alignment:  Chaotic.

Skills:  Bargaining (INT), Ceremony – Ubbeth (WIS), Drinking (CON), Intimidation (STR), Navigation (INT+1), Persuasion (CHA), Sailing (INT+1), Swimming (DEX), Outer Being Lore (2).  If your campaign uses the optional Weapon Mastery rules, Nicola is “Expert” in the short sword.  Languages Known:  Thyatian (Minrothad dialect), Makai.

Special Abilities:  Sense Tainted within 300’, ESP with Tainted within 100’.  Nicola has access to the full list of cleric spells.

Special Equipment:  Short sword +1, +3 versus servitors of the Outer Beings.

Personality:  Although Nicola is an unpredictable, dangerous pirate who occasionally consorts with outer powers for personal gain, she has not (yet) descended into inhumanity.  Her crew is her surrogate family, and although she is indisputably the captain and will not tolerate any insubordination, she will go to the wall for those who serve her well.  She also follows a code of honour, of sorts:  She always keeps her word (unless the other person has ever wronged her), she will not (unless provoked or instructed otherwise) abuse a prisoner, and she will give quarter to a vanquished opponent who fought with courage.

Nicola is someone who thrives on living life on the edge.  The greater the risk, or the greater the chance of being caught, the better.  She does not believe in laws or structures of any kind, and resents attempts by other people to constrain her activities; although she will accept offers of help – so long as the help is given on her terms.  Nicola is also very impulsive, and will set sail anywhere if the promise of loot and glory is great enough.

Nicola’s feelings about serving Ubbeth are complicated.  She knows that He is a very unpleasant, very powerful being who would destroy most of the world if He could.  She also knows that He would sacrifice her to advance His plans without a second thought.  The few times Nicola communicated with Ubbeth left her feeling disgusted afterwards – so much so that she chooses to interpret His dream messages in a way that suits her interests best.  At times, she has even hindered Ubbeth’s plans.  Yet she also revels in the power that He provides her.  To Nicola, playing Ubbeth’s game while using His power for her own purposes is living life on the ultimate knife edge.  Her crew has no idea where she gets her strange powers, and so long as the loot continues to pour in and she treats them well they will not care.  Thus, every additional day of life is something to be celebrated with wild abandon.

Whenever Nicola is in a port, she spends the bulk of her money on her ship and what is left on personal entertainment.  She is as aggressive and impulsive in her personal life as she is on the high seas, and does not care at all what other people think.  She does not believe in saving or planning – she always seems to hear a rumour about a juicy cargo vessel at just the right time (she chooses not to speculate as to whether Ubbeth is behind that or not).  Focusing on the fun aspects of life also distracts her from the unpleasantness that lies at its core.

Roleplaying Notes:  Player characters may run into her at a bar, spend half the night gambling and drinking with her, and walk away with emptier pockets and a smile.  Or they might wake up on the deck of her ship, sailing to parts unknown, not knowing that she had drugged their drinks because she needed a few tough-looking individuals for a job, and no one was volunteering.

Because Nicola’s ultimate loyalty is to herself, she can be an ally or a foe depending on how the player characters react to her.  It is unlikely that the source of her magical power will be immediately apparent, so if and when it does become revealed the party could have a difficult decision to make if they have come to know her.  Do they confront Nicola as a follower of the Outer Beings because Ubbeth provides her with spells, or do they consider that she has only used those powers for personal gain, and not to further her master’s goals?  Regardless of their views on the matter, Ubbeth will eventually become aware of Nicola’s activities and He will not be pleased.

NEW ITEMS

Trident of Ubbeth:  This trident is encrusted with barnacles, dried seaweed, and coral-like growths which sprout tiny white fronds that constantly wave about – even when there is no breeze.  No matter how long it is out of the water, it is always damp to the touch and none of the living creatures that have colonised its length ever die.  Anyone who wields the trident instantly becomes known to Ubbeth if they are within sight of a body of water – even a river is sufficient.  This weapon also always smells strongly of the sea, no matter how much one tries to clean it.

If used as a weapon, the trident functions as a trident +3; however, anyone stabbed with it in combat must make a save vs. Poison.  If the save fails the victim not only takes damage, they are also “injected” with polyps from the coral-like growths on the trident.  These polyps react with the victim’s bloodstream and begin growing.  The victim will begin to feel listless six hours after being injected (-3 to Strength, Dexterity, and Constitution), and after another 12 hours will become so weak that they will be unable to move.  Coral growths begin erupting from the victim’s flesh soon afterwards, inflicting 1d6 damage per turn until death.  Not long afterwards the victim’s corpse is transformed into a vaguely person-shaped coral formation.  The disease can be halted by a cure disease spell.

The trident also grants the wielder the following abilities:

  • The ability to speak with marine animals (as per the spell speak with animals) five times per day.
  • The ability to breathe underwater (as per a ring of waterbreathing).
  • A reaction bonus of +3 when dealing with any of Ubbeth’s followers.

NOT QUITE A FINAL WORD

Although this series has run its course, I will be revisiting the Outer Beings and their interactions with Mystara over the coming months.  I will flesh out the magic used by the cultists I have been describing, and I will expand on what Bruce Heard and I developed on his blog – including providing more detail on the accursed city of Orzafeth.  I will also (because one can never have too many villains in their campaign) flesh out more followers of the Outer Beings.  The sky is really the limit, but I would be very interested in hearing what you would like to see.

So in closing (for now), I would like to send special thanks to Bruce Heard, Nicole Lavigne, and Megan Fulton for their unique roles in making this series happen.  You know what you did.  I owe you all.