God does not need your good works, but your neighbor does.
God does not need your good works, but your neighbor does.
God does not need your good works, but your neighbor does.
A Facebook friend shared this article from the New Yorker a few days ago: “The Uncanny Resurrection of Dungeons & Dragons.” Apparently, D&D is growing in popularity forty-some years after it first hit the hobby store shelves. I won’t say D&D is cool again, though. It was never cool in the first place—that’s why I loved it!
According to Neima Jahromi, the author of the article, a “circle of life” story seems to be unfolding as at least some people are rediscovering forms of entertainment that don’t involve video screens and can even require sitting down at a physical table and interacting with one’s friends in real time. According to Jahromi,
In 2017, gathering your friends in a room, setting your devices aside, and taking turns to contrive a story that exists largely in your head gives off a radical whiff for a completely different reason than it did in 1987. And the fear that a role-playing game might wound the psychologically fragile seems to have flipped on its head. Therapists use D. & D. to get troubled kids to talk about experiences that might otherwise embarrass them, and children with autism use the game to improve their social skills. Last year, researchers found that a group of a hundred and twenty-seven role players exhibited above-average levels of empathy, and a Brazilian study from 2013 showed that role-playing classes were an extremely effective way to teach cellular biology to medical undergraduates.
I first played D&D in sixth grade at the invitation of a group of friends who thought it would be something I’d be interested in. The pitch, loosely paraphrased, began, “Now, don’t laugh, but the name of this game is ‘Dungeons and Dragons.’ It’s kind of hard to explain.” Intrigued, I showed up and was introduced to three tan booklets packed in a white box with a picture of a wizard blasting goblins (or something) on the front. (Thinking back, I can’t for the life of me remember who was there. I’m pretty sure we were playing in Bryan Beecher’s basement, though. As it turned out, these guys weren’t my go-to D&D buddies in years to come.)
I gave up D&D in college, mostly because I lacked the time. Second, third, fourth, and fifth edition passed me by without even making a blip on my personal radar. But when I started writing Into the Wonder, I started thinking of my worldbuilding tasks as if I were running a new campaign and trying to get my homebrew setting and house rules to work right. (I even managed to get a jokey D&D reference into the first book.)
Along the way, I discovered several other RPG systems and settings that helped me hone in on how magical creatures, powers, and artifacts might work in terms of the story I was trying to tell. Without even thinking about it, I began to accumulate the free PDFs and online extras you can find for GURPS supplements, Changeling: the Dreaming, and other settings and rule sets.
So now I’m working out the details of a different story world for a new set of characters with new sets of abilities. And for the first time, I’ve been experimenting with setting down at least some of this information intentionally in the form of a “rules supplement”-type document.
Along the way, I’ve discovered that a coworker, who has never really gotten into RPGs before (at least not seriously), has a growing interest because it’s something he has started doing with a group of friends outside of work.
And along the way, I have once again found myself bonding with a friend over a shared interest in a geeky hobby.
And also along the way, our conversations have led to exploring the possibility of me crafting a one-shot RPG session set in the world I’ve been creating for the past four or five months. Wouldn’t that be cool?
Funny how things circle around, right?
A good time to laugh is anytime you can
* * *
Taylor scowled at Bledrus Dingle. For his part, the spriggan didn’t seem to notice. He looked at her from across the table and shoveled another bite of turkey into his misshapen mouth.
The Route 80 Diner in Manchester, Kentucky was a quaint little place. The décor might have been described as Early Modern Basketball: photos of local high school teams going back thirty years or more adorned the walls, along with donated jerseys and some autographed pictures of people Taylor would probably recognize if she cared anything at all about sports.
The place was mostly empty. Besides Taylor and her repulsive dinner date, the only other people in the tiny restaurant were a couple of county sheriff’s deputies and a homeless guy the manager had taken pity on. It was Thanksgiving, and most people were enjoying the holiday at home with their loved ones.
Taylor was sharing the holiday with her personal jailer, who had glamoured himself to look like an angel-faced ten- year-old. But Taylor had no trouble discerning his true, hideous appearance behind the illusion.
“You’re enjoying this,” she said.
Dingle’s face revealed nothing. “I’m just doing my job.” Taylor scowled at him and poked at her mashed potatoes.
The waitress approached them and asked if they’d like dessert. Her nametag said “Wanita.”
“None for me,” Taylor said.
“Do you have pecan pie?” the spriggan said. Even his voice sounded like a kid’s. Most spriggans didn’t have that much skill. “Is that okay, Mom?” Wanita asked Taylor. Taylor wasn’t any good at the kind of husks Dingle could project to mask his faery nature, but over the last thirty-six hours, she’d had plenty of practice honing her power of suggestion. Nobody in the diner questioned that she could be somebody’s mom. As far as they were concerned, she was just an extremely young-looking thirty-something woman.
“Fine,” Taylor said.
“You ought to have some, too,” Dingle said. Sweet treats enhanced faery magic. William Matthews thought it might have something to do with boosting the level of serotonin in the brain.
“Please, Mom?” Dingle said. Beneath his husk, he furrowed his brows: a subtle threat?
Taylor sighed. “Do you have pumpkin?” If she were home, she’d be digging into a slice of her mom’s pumpkin pie about now.
“One pumpkin pie and one pecan, coming right up,” Wanita said.
As soon as she left the table, Dingle said, “You’ve got to keep up your reserves. Mrs. Hellebore wants to see what you can do.”
“Yes, she’s made that quite obvious,” Taylor snapped.
“Like I said, I’m just doing my job.”
“Uh huh,” Taylor said. “I go through these stupid tests, showing you how good I am at glamours. You watch me and report to Mara on my progress. And along the way, you make sure I don’t do anything tricky.” She wondered, though, if anyone was watching Dingle.
* * *
Now go see how it ends. I know you want to.
Into the Wonder is nearly complete. I need to finish off the CreateSpace process and see the physical proof (issues with the cover last time), and then Oathbreaker will go live in both paperback and Kindle editions!
If you’ve enjoyed my content on this website, may I ask a favor of you? Would you be willing to (1) purchase one of the earlier novels (start at book one, Children of Pride, or move on to the first book you haven’t read)—ebook or paperback, it doesn’t matter to me—(2) read it, and (3) leave a review at Amazon.com?
I’d certainly appreciate your support. (And I wouldn’t stop you from sharing the links with your Twitter and Facebook friends…)
To know one’s ignorance is the best part of knowledge.
The covers of the Into the Wonder novels have “grown up” with the story, from something more “kid-friendly” (one person described them “old-school Nancy Drew”) to something a bit more serious and “mature.” This was approximately 87.3% by accident.
At any rate, here is the cover of Oathbreaker, which will become available later this month at Amazon.com.
With Oathbreaker, the story of Taylor Smart comes to a fitting end. It has been a fun ride. I’ve learned a lot and may have accidentally taken on a new hobby that I find highly enjoyable.
What’s next? I’ve got a few ideas kicking around in my head, so don’t be surprised if something new pops up either in this space or somewhere else.
In honor of Indigenous Peoples Day, here is a brief rundown of some of the more interesting mythical beings associated with the native peoples of the Americas.
Hupias (or opias) stem from the folklore of the Taíno people of the Caribbean. They are said to be the spirits of the dead, although others claim the Taíno people believed the human spirit passed seamlessly to the hereafter, and that the “spirits of the dead” interpretation was the result of Christian missionaries imposing their theology upon the legend.
Hupias are believed to be able to assume many forms. In human form, they can always be distinguished by their lack of a navel. They are also associated with bats, and said to hide or sleep during the day and come out at night to eat guava fruit.
Hupias are also said to seduce women and kidnap people who venture outside after dark.
The plural of mikiawis is makiawisug. These ancient beings are said to have lived under Mohegan Hill in Montville, Connecticut, since before the Mohegans arrived. They are also known in the folklore of the Wampanoag (or Massasoit) and Narragansett peoples, among whom they are sometimes called nikommo.
Makiaswisug are sturdily built, but very short—often mistaken for children on the rare occasion that they are spotted by mortals. Despite their stocky, muscular appearance, they move with great grace and delicacy. They often demonstrate an affinity for stones and earth-magic generally. They are quite wise. Many medicine people among the Mohegan learned their skills from them.
Like many of the Fair Folk from Europe, makiawisug are not strictly malevolent, but it is unwise to offend them. They take great offense at people looking directly at them. One should not speak about them during the summer, the season when they are most active and wandering through the woods. At the same time, they are more likely to bring good fortune and supernatural assistance to those thow treat them respectfully. Among the Narragansetts and Wampanoags, the Nikommo feasts are held in their honor.
The makiawisug are willing to be helpful to those who leave them offerings. They prefer baskets of cornbread and berries, but sometimes they will also accept meat.
Their leader is called Granny Squannit, a very powerful and ancient being who has ruled the makiawisug since pre-Contact times. Her name was formerly pronounced Squauanit. She was revered as a goddess by the Algonquian peoples of New England.
These beings from Tupi folklore of the Amazon region are noted for their red hair and their backwards-turned feet. They blend many features of West African and European faery-lore, and are usually regarded as demonic. They can create illusions and produce a sound like a high-pitched whistle in order to scare their victims and drive them to madness.
Curupiras are generally malevolent toward humans and enjoy luring to their doom hunters and poachers that take more than they need from the forest. They protect the animals of the forest. They are one of the few types of faery creature in the New World practice something that might be compared to the “Wild Hunt.”
These beings are sometimes depicted riding a collared peccary as a steed.
Although benign races of small magical creatures exist in many Native American tribes, the “little people” of the Great Plains are most often depicted as dangerous cannibals. They are known to virtually every tribe in the region—and even as far west as the Rocky Mountains. Although nimerigar is a Shoshoni word, it has been borrowed by Plains Algoquians such as the Arapaho, Gros Ventre, and Cheyenne to refer to these creatures. They are called by a multitude of other names, including:
These beings are dangerous and aggressive by nature. They have been known to kill their own kind with a blow to the head when they become too ill to contribute to society. They sometimes kidnap children or use their magical powers to harm people. They hunt with bows and poisoned arrows, and are able to inflict wounds without breaking the skin. They are, in fact, spirits of the hunt with strong ties to the arrow. They have their own villages, trails, and other places. They can only be seen when they want to be or are taken unawares.
Descriptions of these little folk vary somewhat from community to community. In Arapaho legend, they are immensely strong. According to the Omaha, they are tiny one-eyed cyclopes. The Crow see them with pot bellies and no necks.
Whatever the particulars, nimerigars are usually said to be the size of children (generally between two and four feet tall), dark-skinned, and extremely aggressive. Some storytellers say they have the power to turn themselves invisible, while others say they are hard to spot simply because they move with incredible speed. Some suggest that their warlike temperament comes because they must be killed in battle to reach the dwarf afterworld. Others believe that they are gluttons who habitually kill more than they can eat just because they can.
The little people of Muskogee folklore are especially known to appear to medicine people and guide them in finding the herbs they need. Encounters with these este lopocke (roughly pronounced ee-stee luh-putch-kee) are considered sacred and not to be shared.
The este lopocke live in hollow trees, on treetops, or on rocky cliffs. Their homes can be identified by an extra thick growth of small twigs of branches in the trees.
They are strong and handsome, with fine figures, and sometimes they allow themselves to be seen by a human being. One account describes a little person whose toenails are long, but whose hair is well kept—long but not dangling. Another story describes little people dressed in caps and carrying bows and arrows (David Lewis and Ann T. Jordan, Creek Indian Medicine Ways  148).
The Muskogee sometimes speak of the little people simply as “gee” (ce in normalized spelling) meaning “little,” so as to avoid using their full name. Even the helpful ones object to being mentioned in a negative light. Even questioning their existence might cause offense.
The name of these faery beings means “rock babies,” and they in fact live within rock surfaces, often near water. They are not as prevalent as “water babies,” another creature from California and the Great Basin, and some modern scholars theorize that the one is, in fact, an offshoot of the other. Both are said to be able to imitate the sound of a baby crying, which is taken as an evil omen.
Rock babies look like babies with short, black hair. They are believed to be responsible for many of the pictographs found in the Great Basin area, and they are never finished working on them—as indicated by their changing patterns. The pictographs of rocky babies are characterized by the use of at least five colors rather than the one or two colors used by humans. This rock art can be looked upon safely, but someone who touches them then rubs his eyes will not sleep again but will die in three days. Others say if one touches the rock art, one will go blind.
Rock babies are also called “mountain dwarves.” They are able to pass through solid rock as a portal between the spirit world and the mortal realm. For this reason, it is sometimes said that they actually live beneath the surface of the rock. They sometimes steal human babies and exchanging them for non-human look-alikes.
This will be our reply to violence: to make music more intensely, more beautifully, more devotedly than ever before.
Vices are their own punishment.