Adventurous thoughts

Hey everybody!

Birthday week continues here at spalanz.com, and I wanted to talk a little bit about creative writing today. Well, like I said at the top of the week, I was thinking of presenting something of a microcosm of my first year within the week. Indiana Jones is a great theme for this, with the amount of stuff that it has spawned over the years.

A few years ago, I entertained some dreams of adding to that spawn myself!

As a child, I was utterly enraptured by the sense of adventure in the Indy films, and used to try to continue and recapture that adventure long after the credits had rolled. As life wore on, I thought about the possibility of making something of those adventures by writing essentially fan-fiction, an idea that eventually mutated into my own original story idea. Somewhere, I’ve got a lot of stuff written down for an adventure story set in the 1930s and featuring a globe-trotting academic. I’m not entirely sure where, though I am sure that if I found that stuff, I would be fairly unimpressed with it.

The basic kernel of my idea was for a character who wanted to be Indiana Jones, possibly a schoolfriend or somesuch. The idea that this guy who he sat next to in class was off fighting Nazis and unearthing religious artifacts really fired his imagination, so he got together with another guy and they set off to have their own adventure. While George Lucas has described Indy as a guy who’s always getting in over his head, my guy was just inept from the get-go. I think he was fluent in Ancient Greek and Arabic, as he was a scholar of the dark ages and early medieval period, but he wasn’t much good at anything else.

The guy along for the adventure with him was also a medievalist, and had something of a fascination with medieval weaponry. I suppose this was an answer to Indy having a whip – this chap used a flail at one point, and I think I wanted to show him train with tonfa and three-section staff (I don’t remember the actual Chinese name for this). There was also a lady along with them, who was fluent in several languages, and an elder-statesman-like chap who may or may not have been a college professor.

Yeah – a large part of the adventure took place in China.

The story had something to do with breaking into an international gemstone smuggling ring, and trying to prevent the theft of some kind of legendary stone. It might have been my inability to develop this effectively that proved the undoing of this endeavour. Part of the story took place in Africa – I think I originally wanted to involve Egypt, but then felt it was too hackneyed and wanted to move into Nubia or someplace. My intrepid band was foiled at this stage, but decided to forge ahead through India and Nepal and into China, where the final showdown would take place.

For the villain of the piece, I envisaged all sorts of crazy, though I think I eventually settled on a Dutch guy. Diamonds, you know? Anyway.

Along the way there would be boat chases along the Ganges (or similar), airplane chases over the Himalayas, car chases through Peking, and midnight excavations with traps and terrors at every turn. It was going to be awesome.

And yet, it remains unwritten. A loss the world will no doubt have to bear! I think what put me off was The Mummy 3, which I haven’t seen, but which sounded too much like my projected tale, with its oriental setting and whatnot.

However, there were also a number of challenges that I felt insurmountable at the time, foremost among them being how could I write something this close to an adventure classic and still keep it original? A fear of becoming derivative was a constant companion. Another major consideration was whether I was intelligent enough to write it. I mean, it’s a story about a group of highly intelligent academics, and I suppose my constant insecurity led me to believe I couldn’t pull it off convincingly when I wasn’t in that same stratum. The vast majority of my notes for this story were mainly educating myself on things like weaponry and toxicology, for instance, to say nothing of ancient history of Africa and Asia…

I began to think instead of something more fantastical, which I could control – my fantasy story that I talked about some last summer. If I’m making everything up, then it’s much easier to write than having to do all that research – no matter how interesting it was! My fantasy story originally began life in 2006, but soon overtook my adventurer story, though neither has made any real headway!

It’s a series of ideas that have refused to go away, however, and every so often I find myself fondly looking back and thinking I might actually make something of it. I suppose time will only tell on that score…

Anyhow! We’re getting close to the end of Birthday Week now, but I hope to have something faintly interesting for you to end the week with… stay tuned!

The Curse of the Bog-Fiend

Hey everyone!

I’m keeping the Halloween spirit going all this week, today with some short fiction! Remember the board game A Touch of Evil, and the excellent expansion, Something Wicked? Well, this was a session report I wrote up following a game with Inspector Cooke vs the Bog-Fiend a while ago, and thought it’d be an idea to share it with you guys this week. So sit back, and enjoy!

Something was wrong in Shadowbrook. Anybody who spent any amount of time in the town couldn’t shy away from that fact. However, nobody could say precisely what it was. I suppose that’s why they called me to the town. As a police inspector, I pride myself on my intelligence and my cunning – if anyone could get to the bottom of what was happening in Shadowbrook, I like to think it would be me…

It was raining when I arrived. The town, nestled in the dip of a shallow valley, had a slight haze surrounding it. My arrival caused no little surprise among the locals, but when they realised who I was and where I came from, I like to think I detected a slightly more positive shift in their attitude. I made at once to the manor house of Lord Hanbrook, with whom I had had some past dealings, and was apprised of the situation fairly quickly by a meeting of the town elders.

For weeks now, the countryside around Shadowbrook had been sinking. I admit, I was at first slightly nonplussed by this fact. However, where once was firm ground, good roads, and arable pasture, there was now fetid swamp. Hanbrook called me in when a local lad named Jack had disappeared, only to turn up one Sunday morning dead, having drowned in one of these newly-appeared swamps.

The locals were understandably afeared. Hanbrook appeared more concerned that he was losing the use of his land for rents, but the locals had different ideas. Age-old legends about bog-fiends began to surface, the stuff told to youngsters to make them more obedient, though this time repeated as fact. Well, I was unperturbed, and set off in my investigation.

I was staying at Hanbrooks manor, where one night I discovered a secret passage that led, it seemed, into the bowels of the earth. I followed the tunnel for what seemed like an age, and was utterly baffled – yes, I! – when I emerged at the monastery I had passed by on my way in to the town. The monastery, it turned out, was well-equipped with all manner of tomes and scriptures on the locality, and my perusal of the library there turned out to be quite fruitful.

I determined to return overland to Shadowbrook to converse more thoroughly with the locals, but a chance encounter at a wayside inn that evening turned me from this course. I was given a battered old book by a hooded stranger, who insisted I take it “for when the time comes”, before he left. That night, I studied the ancient text – which called itself the Book of Death – and determined to return to the monastery the following morning, having developed a strange inkling that there was more going on there than I had first thought.

The following morning dawned bright and crisp, and I walked up to the gate expecting to be met by one of the friars, yet no sooner had I arrived at the outer walls than the bells began to toll ominously. The monks began to scurry off in different directions, like ants under attack, and I had a prickly feeling as if something were not right here. Turning my gaze about the place, I kept being drawn to the mist-shrouded island across the lake – Echo Lake, I believe the locals call it. However, when I turned back to the monastery, I found myself set upon my hooded, masked individuals!

Two of these men – for men I assumed them to be – came at me with knives, while the others seemed to be whispering in some unknown language. My time in Shadowbrook had been strange up to that point, but now it had turned absolutely deadly! I searched my person for anything to use as a weapon, and fortunately came upon a crossbow I had purchased some time ago. I managed to loose a bolt at the nearest of the fiends, and  – just like that! – the other devils vanished.

Squaring my shoulders, I marched up to the great West Door of the monastery and, seeing it open, slipped inside. Something at the back of my mind was telling me that the monastery lay near the heart of my investigation, and I determined to root out the cause of it. While wandering the echoing cloisters, however, I found myself attacked once more, this time by a short, stocky figure in a cowl. I had at first thought it one of the monks, but when that cowl fell back, I was shown the error of my judgement. The face that stared back at me was a cruel one, pallid and evil, with incised markings on the forehead and cheeks in the shape of a “x”. Luckily, my crossbow made short work of him, and with one bolt in the stomach, he fled back into the dusty catacombs from whence he came.

It was following this attack, however, that I felt the compelling need to return to Shadowbrook. Not a moment did I waste as I once again took to the road. As I drew nearer to the town, it seemed that my adversary had not been lax in his work. Vast swathes of the countryside had begun to simply sink; there was no other way to describe it. That haze of rain once more engulfed the town, but it was in no way enough to have brought about this much widespread flooding. However, my greatest shock was reserved for when I reached the crossroads just outside of the town.

Standing on that slightly raised bluff overlooking the town, it was as if Shadowbrook had been flooded. The town square was completely submerged, but not with rain water, or from the nearby river having burst its banks. This was a murky, green-tinged swamp, wreathed with clouds of buzzing mosquitoes. Not one townsperson was to be found, and I rather felt then that I had failed to save them all. However, as I stood gazing down on the land, a lone rider emerged through the mist – Lord Hanbrook himself.

The townspeople had fled when the swamp water began to rise out of the ground in the night, and were now temporarily housed on his estate. He bade me come with him to the crumbling ruin of a pre-war keep, where, he believed, the foul demon had made his lair. As we approached, it became increasingly obvious that something had happened close-by, for there was barely any solid ground to stand on. When we came upon the keep, however, the sight before us was one of foul horror.

A hunched figure, with a vague look of a man about him, sat in the dark recesses of the crumbling keep, gibbering to himself in a tongue not unlike the creatures that had attacked me in the monastery. It was completely naked, its skin a mottled blue-green, scaly in parts and weeping a slick, greasy ooze. When we drew nearer, its head came up quickly, revealing a scaled face with bony protrusions extending from either side, almost like a crown. It spat something evil-sounding, hissing and cursing in that unknowable tongue.

Hanbrook wasted no time in attacking the monster, and after my momentary horror, I too joined in the fray. The foul creature appeared to turn away our blows without so much as a gasp of pain, and it looked like we would not prevail. However, Hanbrook managed to subdue the beast long enough for me to get a shot with my crossbow right in the demon’s face, which elicited a disgusting wail. To my utter shock, the fiend’s final act on this earth was to rake its ghastly claws across the throat of Lord Hanbrook, causing my friend’s life to bleed out as did the foul beast’s own.

Whatever spell the bog fiend had placed upon the town of Shadowbrook was evidently broken with its passing. I returned to the town, with Hanbrook’s body carried by his faithful mount, to discover the swamp had disappeared, and the townsfolk returning to their homes and their lives. I charged Hanbrook’s corpse to the care of the doctor, and without a second look, left the town of Shadowbrook behind, hopefully forever…

My fantasy story! part three

Hey folks!
So my current fantasy project is still underway, and taking up a fair bit of my spare time creatively. That’s the main reason why I haven’t been doing much in terms of the Star Wars fiction cycle that I had started back in May. However, I still have to actually make any headway in terms of writing!

Currently I’m planning to write a prologue that will serve to introduce some of the setting for my plans, that hopefully will be available online soon enough…

My Fantasy Story! part two

Evening all!

Just wanted to share with you some very exciting news!

I’ve been trawling through my harddrive this afternoon trying to find a picture I took about eight years ago. I didn’t find it, but I did find something pretty amazing: a folder entitled “My fantasy-adventure book” with seven files in, which turn out to be the long-lost documents I wrote back in the day for my fantasy story! Amazing, huh?!

Continue reading “My Fantasy Story! part two”

My Fantasy Story! part one

And that’s exactly what I’ve been doing for the past hour. I’ve written precisely 732 words for my story, but have decided I’d best leave it for now as I feel another headache coming on. But still, I’m impressed!

I’ve already written some Star Wars short stories, of course (here, here and here), but this feels different, at least somewhat. For one thing, I’m now writing in my own world, and that has been so much more difficult than I thought it would be. I’m writing what I have been thinking of as “middle fantasy” – it’s not low fantasy, as far too much craziness happens as a matter of course, but it’s not high fantasy, because there are a lot of reasonable, earth-bound things that serve to (hopefully) ground it. Anyway, no matter what height of fantasy, the world needs rules, and it has taken me a couple of weeks of (almost) constant thinking about to decide what I’d like the place to be like.

That said, I’ve not even attempted to get into the whole definition of magic yet…

I’m not expecting this to be some sort of earth-shattering fantasy epic that will change the lives of billions forever – indeed, I constantly refer to it as “my fantasy story” because the thought that it might be a novel, let alone a novel series, terrifies me – but instead I actively hope that the procession of common tropes will make it accessible for many, and perhaps even enjoyable to a few.

I’m not sure if I’m happy with what I’ve written yet, so I won’t post it up here, but I will say that I’ve chosen to write a scene that is nowhere near the start of the story. Because that’s how I roll…

Anyway, I might make this a thing, so stay tuned for (possibly) more updates soon!

Fantastical musings (for a Monday)

So this pair turned up on my doorstep today (not like this, of course – packaging was involved). But it’s very exciting, all the same – the first Star Wars novel to be published with the ‘Legends’ banner, and the final adventure deck in the Rise of the Runelords adventure path for Pathfinder Adventure Card Game.

And it’s the Pathfinder thing that’s been on my mind a lot lately. You may recall my somewhat lukewarm opinion of it from back in the day? Well that has been changing quite dramatically of late. While it’s still no Lord of the Rings, I’m finding myself drawn into the whole Pathfinder universe much more than I ever have been previously. Last night I spent some time with the core rulebook, though it’s such a massive tome that I didn’t get very far.

That said, I am definitely feeling in a RPG mood nowadays. On Saturday I found myself looking over some of the old d20 Star Wars web supplements I have, and felt a huge rush of excitement at seeing all the tools we have with which to make our own heroes, our own adventures, and our own worlds. That’s something that I hope to delve into again soon, as it’s been far too long since I’ve run a RPG campaign.

I also seem to be in something of a fantasy mood lately. I have, very excitingly, recently been loaned The Diamond Throne, the first book in the Elenium series by David Eddings, which will no doubt be featured here at some point in the coming days/weeks! To say nothing of the recent Warhammer acquisitions…

All of this has got me thinking about some ideas I had for a fantasy story back in 2006/7, when I spent some idle summer afternoons in work jotting down ideas as they came to me for interesting names and situations. I tried to thread them into a story back then, but short of about a hundred words in a now-lost Word document, I haven’t really done anything with them. Fortunately, however, I never throw anything like that away, and when I recently moved house I found a lot of my notes that I made.

While it’s not going to impact on my Star Wars writing (hopefully!), I am now intending to make something of all these odd jumbled notes, and once something has been finalised, it will pop up here for you to enjoy (or not, as the case may be!).

Until that time, however, here’s a picture of the Chinese I had for dinner:

#Chinese

A post shared by Mark (@marrrkusss) on

There’s something lurking…

It’s Tuesday, so that means it’s game day here at spalanz! Today I’m going to do a small blog on a game expansion, largely because I have an exam tomorrow and need to keep the little grey cells ticking over on that. So following on from Arkham Horror last week, I’m going to take a look at ome of the smaller expansions, The Lurker at the Threshold!

The Lurker at the Threshold

Chronologically  the penultimate expansion for the game (not counting revised editions), the Lurker was the final small box released. Each of those expansions is closely associated with a particular Ancient One from the base game, and Lurker is aligned with Yog Sothoth, a being who transcends time and space. Within the mythos, the Lurker at the Threshold is an avatar of the Ancient One, and the “collaboration” between Lovecraft and August Derleth explores this.

…great globes of light massing toward the opening, and not alone these, but the breaking apart of the nearest globes, and the protoplasmic flesh that flowed blackly outward to join together and form that eldritch, hideous horror from outer space, that spawn of the blankness of primal time, that tentacled amorphous monster which was the lurker at the threshold, whose mask was as a congeries of iridescent globes, the noxious Yog-Sothoth, who froths as primal slime in nuclear chaos beyond the nethermost outposts of space and time!

Anyway.

The expansion includes all-new cards for the base game. In addition to new spells and items, there are also several new decks. Firstly, there is a Relationship deck, which provides a relationship between you and the player to your left. These often provide bonuses or other special effects to emphasize the cooperative nature of the game. The other decks all interact with The Lurker himself, a new Herald that follows on from those first introduced in Dunwich Horror.

The Lurker at the Threshold

The Lurker appears to be something of a benevolent force, providing help to the investigators almost as if he were a Guardian. However, it is help that comes at a price. If the investigator accepts the aid of the Lurker, he must then take a Dark Pact card (seen below the Ancient One sheet in the above picture); of themselves, these Pacts also seem to be quite helpful, offering you the alternative of accepting power tokens over losses to sanity, or indeed to spend in the place of clue tokens. Unfortunately, the other deck associated with the Lurker is not so welcome. The Reckoning deck (the cards to the right of the Ancient One sheet above) comes into play whenever a gate opens. Reckoning cards function with varying degrees of hindrance to the investigators – from causing you to move to an Other World, to forcing the discard of clue tokens or the loss of sanity or stamina, based on how much power you have amassed.

Another new component in this expansion is the new gate stack. Unlike in the base game, where the gates open to a single Other World on a specific location, the gates in Lurker at the Threshold have been “modified” so that all sorts of craziness goes on, from gates to multiple Other Worlds:

The Lurker at the Threshold

to gates that actually move around the board:

The Lurker at the Threshold

It’s very fitting, and ties nicely into the special abilities of Yog Sothoth from the base game, with whom I would only ever play this expansion.

I would say that this is my joint-second favourite of all the Arkham expansions, alongside The Black Goat of the Woods and second only to The Dunwich Horror. Playing with the Herald (and, quite honestly, I can’t imagine why you wouldn’t) adds in so much variety, the gamble of accepting the Lurker’s help can make for some really awesome role-playing-esque moments! Indeed, it was during a game with this expansion that I first tried my hand at writing some weird fiction! For your general amusement, I present: There was something lurking on the threshold…

Harvey Walters knew there was something lurking on the threshold of time and space, though his research at Miskatonic University had failed to uncover any real clues. How could he know it was Yog-Sothoth, waiting to devour the town of Arkham? Making a deal with renowned gangster, Michael McGlen, he determined to conquer the other worlds and find the clues necessary to piece together some form of defense for this town.

The two men split up early in their quest, Harvey heading downtown while Michael focused his search on the Uptown area. By a strange twist of the mythos surrounding Arkham, both men found themselves switching places, and gates to other dimensions and worlds began to blossom like the petals of a rose. The hunt was on!

Michael, perhaps less accustomed to the perils he was facing than his more academic partner, began to show the signs of strain at first. After an encounter with an Elder Thing, he began to suffer from Panic, but strove on in his quest, despite Hearing Voices at almost every turn. He roamed through Southside, meeting Professor Armitage at the Historical Society who offered to accompany him. Perhaps it was the companionship of another of these academic types that bolstered his spirits enough to investigate Rivertown. After a near-disastrous adventure through The City of the Great Race, he decided to remain where he was, shielded by the “safety” of the Black Cave he had found. Oh, how wrong he was. While roaming the twisting, winding passageways, he found a friend in the hulking figure of Tom “Mountain” Murphy, but the trio were soon to know peril like no other…

Harvey Walters, disturbed by the rising level of terror in the town, was furiously gathering clues from every corner, and using his eldritch wisdom to seal gates once he had explored them. His years at the University had taught him a thing or two about spell-casting, and his facility with the Sigil of Hermes Trismegistus gave him an edge in his battle with the occult powers swirling through the town. His exploits had earned him enough renown that, stopping through Ma’s Boarding House, he earned the help of his fellow academic Oliver Grayson, who offered to lend his own knowledge of the occult in the quest against the Great Old One. 

Alas, terrible news soon reached the pair of professors. 

Michael, while remaining with his allies at the Black Cave, had twice been sucked through portals to other dimensions, and yet both times had managed to see himself returned safely to Arkham. However, it was on his way back from the Plateau of Leng that catastrophe struck. By a cruel twist of fate, his luck ran dry and the gangster was lost in time and space – the very realm of Yog-Sothoth. The worst was presumed, Michael had perished in his attempt to return one final time to this world, and it can only be assumed that his companions also perished in the void. 

Harvey and Oliver were on their own.

It was now that Harvey began to give in to temptation. His eldritch knowledge had made him aware of a presence, a Lurker on the Threshold of time and space, that could perhaps help him as he made a final push to liberate the town of Arkham from the pall of the Great Old One. With a copy of the King James Bible for some measure of comfort, if not protection, Harvey entered into a Soul Pact with the Lurker. After a fight with a dreaded Cultist, during which he contracted a Blood Disease, Harvey further gave in to the Lurker’s promise of power by making a Blood Pact with the fiend. Whether he shared this with Professor Grayson or not is unclear. 

The two professors now made a last-ditch attempt to seal the gate to the Plateau of Leng, perhaps doing so in memory of their fallen comrades. Harvey immediately used his arcane gifts to Find the Gate back to Arkham, and with all of his knowledge combined from the clues he had amassed against the coming of Yog-Sothoth, managed to seal the sixth gate through to the other world. 

Nobody rejoiced in Arkham that night. Nobody would ever know that they had come within terrifying moments of being plunged into the horrifying abyss. 

When Harvey Walters eventually regained his consciousness the following morning, he was still clutching to his battered copy of the King James Bible…

goo

The Lurker at the Threshold

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The Lurker at the Threshold