People of Aenya: Horde

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Horde by Filip Bazarewski

Ten thousand years before the reign of Radia Noora of Tyrnael, or 5 BGM (Before the Greater Moon), the sun of Aenya began its expanse into a red giant, having swallowed the Xexaz world of Reptos within its corona ages before. Recognizing the danger to their planet, the Zo scrambled for a plan of salvation, but were mired by political divisions. Anti-science factions did not accept the looming threat, believing it a conspiracy to gain political sentiment, whereas the scholarly community were split as to what actions could be taken, if any. Many surmised that the end of the world was inevitable, and any attempt to change course was a waste of the precious little time they had to spend with their loved ones. Evacuation was the only option. But a vocal minority considered the ethical aspect of letting a world and all of its life forms perish.

Led by the charismatic thinker, Kjus, they stressed that the planet could be saved by moving it. Years were spent organizing engineers and workers, all of whom were driven by the threat of certain doom. They labored to save not only themselves, but the lives of their children and children’s children, and every descendent they were ever to have, their species and their home. Vast networks of underground tunnels were built, and a great machine, the mass piston. The machine allowed the Zo to manipulate the surrounding higgs boson field, oscillating the mass at the core to alter the planet’s orbital trajectory. The plan was as crazy as it was ambitious, and few believed it could work.

All the while, the exit majority, led by chief science advisor, Kzell, focused efforts on the building of wormhole generators, fancifully dubbed fantastigates. The proposed plan was not without its share of problems, however, for the formation of wormholes was, at the time, theoretical. Of the major obstacles was energy. Like the mass piston, the wormhole generator used mass to create gravity, but creating enough to punch a hole in the fabric of space-time greatly exceeded what was required to move the planet. Another more pressing problem: even if a gate to another world could be opened, there was no way of knowing where or when the gate might lead. Mathematician and historian, Eldin, disappeared through one of these gates, and was later discovered to have become lost in time. Eventually, after a number of trials and errors, including one in which an entire island continent was sucked into a micro-black hole, the fantastigate project was abandoned for a simpler, more desperate plan. Days before Solos’ expansion, the leading Zo voted to transfer their consciousnesses—their thought algorithms and memories—into an invincible golem body. It was intended as a vessel to extend and preserve their lives, a biological organism which could thrive in any environment, including the depths of space. Kjus, who continued his work to move the planet, was offered to join them. But he refused, choosing death over what he regarded the loss of his humanity. A separate body was designed for each member of the council, one hundred and twenty in all, but too much effort had been wasted on wormholes.

The golem body had a number of advantages to a starship. It would be far smaller, at 12′ in height, and therefore quicker and easier to manufacture. Powered by a heart of nuclear decay, it would require no sustenance, no food or water to produce and store. The fusion of organic and metallic materials would prove impervious to cold, heat, and aging. A magnetic field was added to deflect solar radiation, and a neutronium alloy veneer (derived from neutron star matter) to shield from micro-meteorites. Once off-planet, the nigh indestructible entity could traverse the stars at nearly the speed of light, creating ionic thrust from its hands and feet. After unmeasured centuries searching the cosmos, the golem was to settle upon a hospitable world, where its collective mind could be dissociated into separate biological entities. This was the last desperate hope of the Zo. The greatest flaw in the design, however, was intentional, as the golem brain was made to maintain a sense of awareness. They wanted to feel “alive.”

As Solos exploded into its final phase, the golem launched into space, but Aenya was not destroyed. Thanks to the tireless efforts of Kjus and his devoted followers, the planet was moved into a safer orbit, becoming a moon of the gas giant, Infinity. Recognizing its error, the collective attempted a return home, but a violent solar flair from the newly formed star stripped the golem of its magnetic field, and damaged its propulsion system. Falling into an irregular orbit, the body gathered icy particles near the system’s outer rim, forming a comet like cocoon around it. After untold eons adrift, alone save for the one hundred and twenty voices in its head, the Zo lost their sense of individuality and went insane, calling itself Horde.

Ten thousand years pass before Horde returns home. Encased in ice, it crashes onto the surface like a fiery meteor, cratering the ground and obliterating the land about Kiathos. But it is a very different world from the one it abandoned, a primitive world with two moons and one sea, where science has become magic and the Zo are long forgotten.

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DMT and D&D

I’ve been sitting on this post for years. Part of me really didn’t want to write it. And as a non-drug user, I felt unqualified. But the story has been nagging at me, ever since a friend told me about his DMT experience.

Now, I don’t do drugs. Never have. I grew up in the 80’s, with the “Just Say No” campaign, and the message really hit home. Except I took it to the extreme. I avoid anything that might artificially affect my brain in any way. So I abstain from alcohol, and I mean, ZERO alcohol. Haven’t had a sip of Bud Lite in my life. Nothing. Zilch. (OK, maybe whatever’s in Nyquil). My brother spent most of my teenage life trying to convince me otherwise, that I’d never find friends who don’t drink, or end up with a wife who doesn’t drink. Well, jokes on him, because my closest friend doesn’t drink and neither do our wives! By extension, to think that I could ever be pressured into pot or crack cocaine was hilarious. I was beyond peer pressure. Then again, I never felt any real pressure to do drugs. Sure, a few people asked me, but I said “No thanks” and that was it. It got to the point where I often wondered how anyone could end up an addict. Weren’t they forced to watch the same anti-drug videos I did? Now I know better, that drug-use is more often a symptom of depression or trauma or anxiety. But it’s not like I didn’t have opportunities. Working in a restaurant, you’re pretty much surrounded by users. If you’re in your mid-thirties and scrubbing dishes for minimum wage, chances are you made some bad decisions in life, or you just really, really like washing dishes. But here’s the odd thing: a lot of people over the years, including some crack heads, assumed I was an addict. One time, after taking a break outside, an employee asked me, “How was it?” I hadn’t had a hit. But, I am slowly starting to realize, I may have been doing drugs all my life without knowing it.

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Truth be told, we can’t escape drugs no matter how hard we try. A “drug” is a general term for chemicals, and we’re pretty much made of chemicals. It’s in everything we eat and drink. If you enjoy chocolate, caffeine, or the high that comes from exercise and sex, you’re enjoying the drug-like endorphins produced in your brain. And this brings me to DMT. If you don’t know what that is, I suggest you read up on it. The stories are amazing. It’s a hallucinogenic, but far, far more powerful than LSD. One LSD user described his DMT experience as somewhat terrifying, and you would be too, if you’re action figures started talking to you and dancing on your desk. A close friend told me the same thing. To paraphrase, “You don’t realize you’re hallucinating. There’s zero difference between what you know is real and what you are experiencing. Sight, sound, smell … it’s all there, utterly convincing.” And it’s not just seeing some funny things bouncing into your living room. Far from it. When you take a DMT trip, you’re entering another universe. You meet sentient beings, commonly referred to as “machine elves,” and there’s a great sense of time dilation. So what takes only a few minutes in reality might feel like days or weeks by the DMT-clock. OK, Nick, you may be thinking, this guy was probably pulling your leg. So I did my homework, and everything I read confirmed my friend’s story. In his book, Waking Up: A Guide To Spirituality Without Religion, neuroscientist Sam Harris posits that many religious experiences, including visions of life-after death, can be attributed to hallucinogens. The “light at the end of the tunnel,” is just a symptom. Now, this might not make much sense, considering how little the drug is known. Where did Abraham or Moses or Buddha get a hit of this stuff? But here’s the thing: DMT is naturally produced in the brain. The chemical has been associated with dreaming and imagination. When we die, DMT is released from your brain in a torrent, offering powerful, convincing manifestations of the after-life. Eben Alexander, neurosurgeon and author of Proof of Heaven, converted to Christianity after being pronounced brain-dead for “a week.” His description of Heaven sounds a lot like an episode of My Little Pony, with lots of colors, flowers and enormous butterflies. But, as Sam Harris points out, Eben’s experience closely mirrors those of DMT users.

I will admit, for a few days after hearing this story, I entertained the idea that maybe—just maybe—DMT acted as a gateway into another world. I truly wanted to believe. Who wouldn’t? Then again, the notion of other dimensions lurking beside our own can get pretty freaky. So I asked my buddy, “Is it real?” No, he didn’t think so. As a philosophy major, logic prevailed. Sadly, all evidence points to the fact that we only have one life to live. Unless you’re a fundamentalist, you know this is it. And it’s precisely because of this realization, I believe, people are drawn to imaginative endeavors. It’s our only escape from this mundane, everyday existence. Even if you’re the Dos Equis man, you’re going to want to step into someone else’s shoes, live someone else’s life. Why else do we spend so much time and money on movies, TV shows, books and video games? While there may not be an after-life, we can choose multiple lives within this one, and DMT, or some chemical like it, makes it all possible. After talking to my drug-venturing friend, we both came to the conclusion that the brain is far more powerful than either of us could imagine.

I am not a scientist, and even if I were, I think a lot more research needs to go into creativity and imagination and into how the firing of neurons activates those functions in our brains, but I know from experience how real the mind can make things seem. As a child, I managed to convince myself of some pretty impossible things. I could, at times, see and hear things I knew I’d just made up. It got me to worrying, for some years, whether I was on the verge of schizophrenia. My dreams have always been particularly vivid. I sometimes wake, feeling like I just watched a movie’s worth of content, enough to write a novel. Users of DMT report similar experiences, living lifetimes in the span of minutes, but the information quickly vanishes from memory, just as my dreams fade before I can get to pen and paper.

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This brings me back to books and the imagination. For much of my life, I have understood the technological drive to make things look and feel real. CGI effects, in movies and in video games, work to push reality away, to give the player the sense of really “being there.” I love what Lucas did with Star Wars, and what Jackson did with Lord of the Rings, and Skyrim just looks amazing on PS3. And still, we keep pushing the boundaries, desperate to throw more pixels on the screen to hide the fact that they are just pixels. By the end of this year, we will have affordable VR headsets to further the illusion. And yet, given the opportunity, I’d go with a tabletop game, like D&D, every time. Some people only see the pen and the paper. It never becomes real for them, and in their case, who’d want to sit around a table for eight straight hours rolling dice? But for me, D&D feels more real because my brain makes it real. The brain is, after all, a vastly more powerful computer system. The trick is learning how to activate it, how to bring it to its full potential. Am I suggesting taking a hit of DMT before a game? Hell no. That would be terrifying. But I do think we can learn to exercise that part of our brains—the part that makes the magic—through meditation, as Sam Harris suggests, or by simply turning off our screens and the endless everyday distractions tugging at our senses.

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Demogorgon

 

In the Netflix original, Stranger Things, a girl with psychic powers is put into a sensory deprivation tank to focus her abilities. I believe this illustrates something we can all do, to hone the untapped resources of our own minds. Interestingly enough, the show references D&D and a monster called Demogorgon. When I was twelve, I was pretty sure Demogorgon was lurking in my bedroom. That never happened to me playing Diablo or Resident Evil. That’s the power of imagination. Nothing can match it.  It’s why I play, why I read, and why I write.

 

 

 

The Aenya Bestiary

ILMAR (HUMANS): Though they are considered to be more animal than human, the Ilmar can trace their roots directly to the first protohuman. Hidden from civilization, they live a primitive existence, devoid of government, walled housing or clothing. They typically have dark skin, leathery soles, and exceedingly resilient skin. To learn more: ILMAR

SEPTHERA: This long extinct race ruled Aenya around 10,000—9000 BGM. For centuries, humans were herded by the Septhera like livestock, forced to do labor, fight for entertainment, and at times, were used as food. The Septhera vary in appearance and color, from black, green, red and purple to many hued. Stripes and diamond patterns along the arms, legs and tail are common among females. By 9800 BGM, the Septhera were overthrown by the emergent Zo. To learn more: SEPTHERA. Figure courtesy David Pasco.

MERQUID (singular or plural): This aquatic, communal species once dominated the planet, living in ocean-vast cities that have since become desert. What remains of their kind is now concentrated along the coasts. Though benign, they can become terrifying in defense of their offspring, with a set of retractable teeth, barbed claws and wide glossy eyes. To learn more: MERQUID. Figure courtesy David Pasco.

HALFMAN: A distant human relative, this beastly primate has limited use of language and tool making skills. It is most commonly seen in the wildwood west of Kratos.Shy in nature, the halfman can become a terrible predator when the need arises, counting both human and animal as its quarry. To learn more: HALFMAN. Figure courtesy David Pasco.

HORG (singular and plural): Few creatures on Aenya are as feared as the horg. Rarely seen beyond the dark hemisphere, the horg is found on the outskirts of the eastern kingdoms. Females of the species are turned into slaves by the more diminutive bogren. Adult males (known as bulls) act as living siege engines, carrying immense clubs and shields made of ice and wood pulp called pykrete. To learn more: HORG. Figure courtesy David Pasco.

BOGREN: Small and crafty, the bogren are thought to have evolved after the Great Cataclysm. Their human ancestors remained, or were forced into, the eastern hemisphere, finding sanctuary deep under the ground where the lava flows. To learn more: BOGREN. Figure courtesy David Pasco.

AVIAN: The avian or “bird man” is a human subspecies, which can best be described as a cross between a human and a bird. They are reclusive and fearful, tending to avoid contact with other intelligent races, but are also proud, believing themselves morally and intellectually superior. In appearance, the avian is as diverse in the hue of its plumage as the bird species of Aenya. They are also fond of ornamentation, and wear beak-like masks, which they use to conceal their hominid ancestry. To learn more: AVIAN.

THE AENYA BESTIARY: AVIAN

 

Avian

The avian or “bird man” is a human subspecies, and can best be described as a cross between a human and a bird.

HISTORY: The origin of the avian race is unique to Aenya in that their development from proto-human into a winged/feathered species is due largely, in part, to culture, in an example of ‘controlled evolution.’ Beginning at about 10,000 to 9,000 BGM (Before the Greater Moon), early hominids from the Nimbos valley fled from the invading Septhera, ascending into the mountains. Those slow to follow were enslaved or eaten by predators, the most terrifying of which was the caw, a bird with a 60′ wingspan. The dreaded caw became a focus of proto-avian myth and history. It was once worshipped as a deity, and animal sacrifices were commonly proffered to abate its hunger. All the while, the proto-avian subsisted on a diet of fowl, as the chain of Nimbos Mountains housed a multitude of feathered species. As time passed, dozens of breeds were domesticated, including falcons, carrier pigeons and owls. Most notable was the giant ib, a timid, dove-like creature with a 12′ wingspan. The ib was used for travel, hunting, and evading predators. Not soon after, tales of hunters braving the caw’s nest spread to every tribe. While the proto-avian never managed to tame the greatest of aerial predators, its eggs, feathers and skeleton became prized possessions, and to be adorned in its plumage became a mark of status. The skulls of unborn and newly hatched caw were worn by kings and priests as masks. After less than a century, between 9,000 and 8000 BGM, the proto-avian joined wax and feathers to produce simple winged gliders, which could be used to descend the mountain quickly. Consequently, the proto-avian came to see themselves as children of godlike, winged beings, that aeons ago were cast down to grovel in the earth. It was, therefore, avian destiny to return home to the clouds, and achieving flight became a cultural obsession. Each generation came closer to this realization, as traits conducive to flight were actively fostered. These traits included longer arms, shorter legs, stronger torsos, and a shallow, tapering bone structure. As bio-technologies advanced, the proto-avian grew more sophisticated in this endeavor, manipulating their species at the level of the chromosome, until their infants were born with feathers and wing-like membranes along the arms. By 2000 BGM, the once human species was successfully transformed into a new species: the avian.

PHYSICAL APPEARANCE: Avians are as diverse in appearance as the birds of Aenya. Their plumage may be as black as a crow’s wing or a rainbow of hues. Differences in coloration depend largely on diet, which is determined by territory.

Avians tend to be thinner and shorter than humans, a typical male weighing between 85—115 lbs, and standing at about 5′. A thin, wing-like membrane extends from the wrist to the heel, which can be folded in on itself to allow use of the hands. Completely unfurled, wingspans average from 9′ to 10′. At a 2:1 ratio, they are less aerodynamic than their aerial mounts, which is why they spend most of their time soaring from great heights. To increase altitude, the avian oscillates its wings in a manner similar to a hummingbird or a bat.

An avian’s feet are hard and scaly, with long, talon-like nails, which can be used for snatching prey and clinging to mountainsides. Their eyes glitter like crystal in the sun, and are much larger than a human’s, approximately the size of a lemon, with the iris extending to the edge of the skull.

Avian’s have little use for clothing, but are highly fond of ornamentation. Intricately wrought bangles of gold, jewels and semi-precious stones are commonly worn. Of their earliest traditions is that of the beaked mask, which mimics a myriad of bird species, albeit in abstract and impressionistic fashion.

CULTURE: Avians are reclusive and fearful, tending to avoid contact with other humanoid races. They are also proud, believing themselves morally and intellectually superior. This comes as no surprise, as their culture revolves around the concept of “ascendency.” Those of higher status live at greater altitudes, with their governing body, The Ascendency, dwelling at the very peak of Mount Nimbos. At 80,000 feet above Sea level, it is the highest point on Aenya. Their divine ancestors are imagined to live above them in the clouds.

Appearance is of utmost importance to an avian. Those born with more colorful plumage and bird-like features are thought to be more beautiful, and are more frequently selected for mating. Color also dictates social standing, marking regional and tribal divisions. Darker and more muted hues are considered less desirable, whereas blues and purples are indicative of royalty.

Despite their namesake, avians are mammals, and as such, do not hatch from eggs. They are born unable to fly, but slowly learn to glide as they mature. When an avian comes of age, at thirteen years, they are expected to partake in the Trial of Ascension. Tribal members gather upon the sacred plateau, known as The Crag of Destiny, whereby the uninitiated youth must prove their manhood by flying upwards onto a higher elevation, across a distance of one hundred and twelve feet. While a measure of air currents provide lift, many have been known to have died during the ceremony. Over the centuries, as the avian species evolved into its present state, the frequency of such deaths significantly decreased.

Most avians abhor violence, aside from the occasional hunt, but a small number of warriors are trained in use of the wingfoil, a lightweight sword consisting of many bladed feathers hammered together in the semblance of a silver wing.

Avians are skilled craftsmen, working with remarkably lightweight materials, including a lighter than air mesh called whisper. Whisper is used for everything, from clothing and receptacles to building material. The dome-shaped Tower of Heaven, where the Ascendency resides, is made from pure whisperstone.

RELIGION: The avian faith is a kind of ancestor worship. Those of higher social standing are more closely related to the first of their race, who is called Az, The Most High One. Az is thought to live above the world, in a city made of cloud, with his progeny. Each successive descendant falls lower in rank. These include Az’s son, Aza, his grandon, Azael, and his great-grandson, Azrael. King Azrael IX is said to be of this lineage.

 

 

BIOGRAPHIES: Grumblestump

Grumblestump by David Pasco

Grumblestump was born into the warrior caste. Named Grumblor by his mother, who died soon after giving birth, Grumblestump joined in the yearly bogren raids against the mountain city of Northendell. With Captain Sif leading the vanguard, the Knights of Northendell quickly routed the attackers, but Grumblor refused to flee. Believing he was destined for greatness, he fought his way to the outer wall, where he met Duncan Greyoak. The inexperienced bogren was no match for the man-at-arms, however, and Grumblor lost his hand at the wrist, which he crudely replaced with a single spike. He was called “Grumble-stump” ever since, and as a crippled warrior, was consigned to live in the mines among the digger caste, as a foreman.

Grumblestump would often speak of returning “top side” to regain his glory, despite the fact that foremen never become anything more than foremen. Fallen from the caste they are born into, foremen are bitter and cruel, and Grumblestump was no exception. With his spike hand, he tormented his workers at every opportunity. Slackers, particularly, were “tossed into the magma”—which, in bogren society, served as both a punishment and a sadistic form of comedy. Among those he liked to push around was a little digger named Ugh.

Even by digger standards, Ugh was physically lacking, but he more than made up for it in intelligence and compassion, traits which his kin did not recognize. One day, when Ugh was being called for digging, he met a new foreman named Meatface. “Where was Grumblestump?” Earlier that day, he had insulted Meatface’ mother, and Meatface responded the only way he knew how. The diggers were elated, using their former foreman’s decapitated head for a game of “kick-head.”

Thus, Grumblestump’s short and meaningless life came to an end. Ugh, however, used the opportunity, and his relative anonymity, to escape through a tunnel, where he discovered something truly magical, a place that would forever change his fate, and the fate of Aenya.

About the Story: This bio contains story elements from “Ages of Aenya” and “The Princess of Aenya.”

About the Artist: This is David Pasco’s first, 100% clay sculpt! Good job, David!

BIOGRAPHIES: Zaibos

Art by David Pasco

Many believe he is a demon, spawned from the fiery depths of Aenya. His monstrous appearance throws adversaries into a panic, and his boundless cruelty only confirms the myth of his origins. No wonder Zaibos, born as a man, comes to be known as the Monster King and the Lord of Agonies

He arrives in Tyrnael with his father, Anabis, from an unknown land, in answer to the summons of King Solon. To cure the princess, who is deathly ill, Anabis asks only that his son be adopted, and beset with grief and desperation, Solon acquiesces. Zaibos is fifteen at the time, and the princess, eleven. During their briefly shared childhood, the two play together, but Radia finds his utter lack of emotions disturbing. Even as a teen, he delights in the torment of small animals. Some say the boy’s lack of humanity stems from a lifetime of verbal and physical abuse, for Anabis is never seen to act kindly toward his son, and in his old age, the elder becomes increasingly strange and reclusive. By nineteen, Zaibos’ interests turn to the warlike history of the Zo, the ancient ancestors of the Tyrnaelian people, and he dedicates his every waking moment to the mastery of battle. After the untimely death of Solon, the boy seizes control of the army, and without Radia’s knowledge, engages in campaigns of aggression beyond the city’s mountain borders. Deep in the Eastern Hemisphere, he subdues the bogren host, and upon donning a suit of spikes, poses as a fiery deity. With an army of subhumans under his control, Zaibos turns south, besieging the city of Northendell, but falls at the hands of the Delian chief defender, Sif, Daughter of Thunder. 

As time in Tyrnael flows more slowly, so does Zaibos age more rapidly in relation to his step-sister, so that upon returning from his campaigns, he is grown into his thirties, though Radia remains a mere fifteen. Shortly after his arrival, with the full bent of the army behind him, he usurps the throne, and Radia is forced to flee for her life. The days following her flight are marked with despair and dread the likes the kingdom has never seen, as torture and executions become commonplace, and Zaibos’ true, sadistic nature is revealed to all. 

Scary

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Dungeons & Dragons: A Memoir: 1st Edition

DMsGuide
My first D&D book!

Once upon a time . . . there lived an elf named Hektor and a half-orc named Lattice. Hektor and Lattice were strolling through the woods when they came upon a group of lizard men. Lightning streaked the sky, and shortly after it began to rain, but the elf and the half-orc continued to spy on the reptilian gathering. The lizard men were standing over a stone circle set into the ground. One of them came forth holding a staff. He appeared to be a priest of some kind, enacting a ceremony. The circular stone was etched with runes, at the center of which was a hole. Now the wind was gusting and the lightning falling furiously. Hektor, being young and lusting for battle, rushed headlong into the scaly host, as Lattice, rolling his eyes at the predicament he was being drawn into, followed with mace in hand. A few bloody rounds later, all of the lizard men lay dead or dying, and the elf fighter and half-orc cleric victorious. But what was the ceremony all about? Was the staff meant to go into the stone circle, perhaps to open a stairway into some secret dungeon? It was at that point that the Dungeon Master, Michael Von Kreninsky III, got out of the booth, saying that he had to go. “But we only just started!” I complained. “Sorry, I’ve got a date,” he said, leaving my friend and I to wonder what would have happened to Hektor and Lattice had they completed the ritual. It’s been almost thirty years now and I am still wondering. 

This was the summer of ’87, a primitive time before YouTube, iPhones or DVDs. All we had were Fridays at the movies and the Nintendo Entertainment System, and the only thing worth playing was Super Mario Bros., The Legend of Zelda and Mike Tyson’s Punch Out. My friends and I were getting too old for toys and desperately needed something to keep us busy for three months. That’s when we met Michael, an eighteen year old college student working for my dad as a pizza cook. He introduced us to Dungeons & Dragons, giving me a binder of adventures he had made in the seventies, along with his beat up copy of the Dungeon Master’s Guide. I held that book in my hand as if it were magic, because for me at least, it was. Such a book could open pathways to any place and time, allowing us to be anything, do anything. We were bound only by the limits of our imagination. Unfortunately, Michael did not stick around to teach us how to play, so I spent weeks struggling with rules, never realizing how poorly written those seventies books were, or that I was missing some key components like The Player’s Handbook.


Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 1st Edition

Eventually, my friends and I learned the game. It was me, my friend George Lakiotis, and Mark Carlisimo. We would hang out all day in the back room of my dad’s restaurant, drawing maps and rolling dice. I’d always been an imaginative kid, but this was like a powerful hallucinogenic bringing everything in my mind to life, the DMT of games. And I was Sir Marek the Brave, a human fighter, who eventually became the “Nova Knight.” 

Sir Marek, drawn in 1988, photoshopped 2010

George was a wizard named Heraldo, who looked a lot like the news pundit, and Mark was the half-orc cleric, Lattice. My first world, I’m ashamed to say, was Nick’s Realm. It included wonderfully inventive places like Elf City, Dwarf City and Human City. But we eventually set sail from Nick’s Realm to explore other worlds, hacking and slashing our way through countless dungeons and monsters. In Egypt, we suffered the curse of Anubis, after looting his temple. In Greece, we met with Heracles and Bellerophon, from whom Sir Marek earned his magical Spartan-like helmet. In Norway, we helped Thor find a magic jewel that had fallen from his hammer, Mjolnir. There wasn’t a mythological setting beyond our reach! Then, as we were preparing to storm the gates of Orcus, Prince of Demons, Sir Marek and Heraldo got into a fight. You see, for the longest time, I had been a jerk to my friend, putting him down for his lack of effort, even though he did manage to DM a lot, including the time Sir Marek killed a red dragon to gain a +4 Sword of Defending. I also tended to insult him when he couldn’t find a solution to a puzzle. But the larger problem was that we were growing apart. George only cared for skateboarding and hanging out with his skateboarding buddies. I owned a skateboard, mostly for his sake, and could do a 180 without much difficulty, but George excelled way beyond me, rail sliding down stairwells and ollying small dogs and doing other crazy shit I simply did not have the dexterity for. So, while I wanted to throw dice, he just wanted to gleam the cube.

George had the skills. Me, not so much.

But what really put the nail in Sir Marek’s sarcophagus was what would seem today utterly ludicrous, that thing being SATAN. No, I’m not talking about the impossible boss from Ghosts n’ Goblins, but the very real Satan, the same guy religious people believe in. 

That’s right . . . SATAN!

At the time, my mother was forcing me to take Greek lessons, but when it came to God, my tutor was bat shit crazy. Now it wasn’t as if I had no experience with fundamentalism. For eight straight years, I attended a Baptist School, where I was forced to wear ties on Wednesdays and thank God for every damn pencil and eraser I brought to class, and where I was told not to watch He-Man or Transformers because they were satanic. But my Greek teacher took things to Scarlet Letter-levels of insanity. This was a woman who, after the 1986 Space Shuttle disaster, told me, in all seriousness, that the astronaut crew had been killed for “trying to reach God.” 

God’s divine punishment. Hey, who’s the good god here?


She also refused to attend her own son’s wedding when he married outside of the Orthodox Church. So, naturally, when she learned of my gaming habits, she made it her mission to put a stop to it. As far as she was concerned, my friend and I were spending our weekends worshiping Satan. Of course, I could not have cared less what the batty old lady had to say, but my mother took the whole thing seriously. She forbade me from D&D, and what’s worse, George’s mother caught wind of it and did the same. Despite my attempts to explain RPGs, I could not convince my mother that the game was just a game and nothing to fear. 

Unfortunately, I was still at an impressionable age being brainwashed both at school and at home, so that after a while, paranoia started to creep in, and I got to thinking that maybe there was something to this satanic stuff. After all, I’d been taught since kindergarten that demons were real. In retrospect, Dungeons & Dragons posed a threat not to my soul, but to my indoctrination. I mean, the Monster Manual treated demons and devils like any other made up creature. Logic follows that if the unicorn on p. 200 is imaginary, why not Asmodeus, Lord of the Ninth Plane of Hell, found on p. 10? This was especially challenging to my faith, because I was raised to believe in the Bible, not just the realistic parts, but even the Book of Revelation with its seven headed dragon. If some of it turned out to be fiction, so could all of it . . . and maybe even God was just another deity from Hebrew mythology. But I was far too young, and unprepared, to handle such an existential crisis, and it led me to having nightmares, and to tearing out the pages of demons and devils from my Monster Manual. Sure, it might sound extreme, but this was a different time, when even the media occasionally lost its mind over supernatural nonsense. I remember being in the library with my D&D books, when a strange lady stopped to warn me of the dangers of fantasy. Even journalists, who should have known better, got taken in by the hysteria. According to the article, “The Most Dangerous Game,” D&D can lead to suicide! Of course, this cause and effect argument is the oldest in the proverbial book of fallacies. Using the same logic, if you like to eat peanut butter and kill yourself, we can all blame peanuts for suicide. But remember, this was the eighties, long before Doom and Diablo and World of Warcraft, back when parents fretted over everything and anything their kids were doing that they did not understand, so even TSR, the makers of D&D, bowed to the pressure, releasing a 2nd edition without any mention of devils or demons (they went by other names).

Ultimately, I was forced to quit reading and writing and drawing and being creative in so many ways, but religion wasn’t entirely to blame; it was also my best friend, who had suddenly grown a conscience. And that was what really infuriated me. This was a guy who never went by the rules, a true rebel without a cause, getting an earring (a big deal at the time), smoking and even stealing his mom’s car. But when it came to D&D, he just had to obey. Despite so many happy memories, the game tore our friendship apart. Only later did I realize my role in our falling out, for putting him down all the time. We simply had different ability scores. His was for skateboarding, and mine for writing.

I continued Sir Marek’s adventures in my Novel of the Nova Knight series, but my gaming days were over. That was, until, my senior year of high school, and Dungeons & Dragons 2nd Edition.

Quest for the Talismans: Monsters!

I love monsters!

What’s a great role playing board game without monsters? And the more the merrier! My fondest memories from the early days of D&D is how much I loved my Monster Manual; it was a dusty old book from the seventies given to me by a cook at my father’s restaurant. The brittle, yellowed pages only added to that sense of mystique about the game. I used to gaze long and hard at the flat, black & white sketches and fantasize about the day when my character, Sir Marek the Brave, might have to battle them. Of course, the artwork looks pathetic by today’s standards, and any search for monster art on deviantArt will almost certainly garner superior work. But keep in mind this was the eighties and the Internet was a thing undreamed of.

What I like about the monster system in Quest for the Talismans is its simplicity. You only have to know a few numbers, so it’s easy to make your own monster from your imagination or from images you find around the Web. I collect miniatures used for gaming at hobby shops. To encourage players to think creatively, some monsters include action rolls, because hacking and slashing at a creature until it drops dead is just plain boring, not to mention unrealistic. As a writer, I have always had a hard time imagining a knight stabbing a dragon to death. But what if the knight could climb on the dragon’s back? Reach for its head to drive his magic sword through the dragon’s brain? Now the whole battle seems more feasible, but there are no mechanics in D&D to set that in motion. I suppose there are players who imagine just such a scenario, but the dice doesn’t account for how difficult it must be to jump on a moving monster’s backside.


Now that I have switched over to WordPress, I can offer the complete QUEST FOR THE TALISMANS BOARD GAME for free as a downloadable PDF file!

Quest for the Talismans 5.0