Total Reroll High Water: Episode 1 – The Dawn Shark

Welcome to the new season of our Dungeons and Dragons podcast, Total Reroll High Water. This is a new campaign set in a drowned world, with a set of new characters.

This week is the first episode, where we introduce you to the crew of The Dawn Shark, a ship of misfits on the high seas seeking their fortune (amongst other things).

Download this episode (right click and save)

New episodes are out every other week on alternate Fridays to The Weekly Rapture pop culture podcast. If you enjoy the episode, please let us know on our new Total Reroll Twitter or Facebook, give us a 5* rating on itunes, or share with anyone you think may enjoy it!

Our intro and outro music is ‘SeaScape’ by Ed Curry.

Equinox Shorts 1: A Prophesied Death

The Total Reroll Equinox DM Ian created the world of Saugin and the land of TarTiir that our 5th edition D&D podcast takes place in. This is the first tale taking place alongside the podcast. You can find a little bit of background on the world of Saugin and TarTiir here!

A pair of minotaur guard the door, each nearing seven foot tall. Their powerful muscles are coated in curling black fur: they stand with interminable bovine patience outside the ornate doorway. From his perch hidden in an alcove high in the vaulted ceiling, Tobo braces himself against the warm sandstone with one arm, leans ever so slightly out, and squints- his eyes are marbled green orbs, devoid of delineation between iris and pupil and set in dark weathered skin. A  grimace flits across his elfin features: the minotaur are wearing short sleeved chain shirts and kilts of thick leather, and their horns are polished and etched with the fine inlays of gold indicative of the elite Royal Guard. Both are holding glaives, sturdy oak shafts eight feet long ending in wickedly curved blades.

Aside from the minotaur the hallway is empty until the next doorway, sixty foot of sandstone floors- the only adornment is the occasional tapestry on the inner wall depicting Crown Prince Prasha hunting, warring, posing, an imposing figure of black scales and gilded armour. The outer wall is broken by a series of arches open to the air, a hundred feet above a courtyard below. From so high up in the fortress, Tobo could look out from his niche over the sea to the distant smudge of the Storm itself- but his focus lies inward.

The elf sighs and leans back into his alcove, sitting back on his haunches. He takes off his wide brimmed leather hat and dusts it absentmindedly, before securing it back over bedraggled hair.

“The names of the gods, can it never be easy?” he mumbles, staring at the wall. He runs his fingertips over the leather wrapped handle of his hex -pistol. The pulsing violet crystal at the pistol’s core hums almost imperceptibly with arcane energy, and Tobo’s fingertips tingle. His belt holds the hex-pistol, a broad bladed dirk, and three wands in leather sheathes. The elf is clad in thin leather armour, worn and scratched, but he knows that with a minotaur’s strength behind it one of those glaives would pass through his armour as if it were cloth. Tobo checks his dagger is secured, runs his hand lovingly over the butt of the pistol, and then removes a black wand from his belt.

Tobo briefly considers his path to this point, the patrols evaded, walls scaled. He has left three guards unconscious and two more dead on the rooftops of Castle Grad to reach the Crown Prince’s inner sanctum- they could be discovered at any moment. The elf sighs. He doesn’t have time to ponder his course, or savour the view. He has business with the Crown Prince of Ruul, the Prince who sits behind this door in a windowless chamber plotting war and destruction.

Thirty feet below Tobo, the two minotaurs mutter to each other and their tails sweep back and forth across the floor. The cry of vendors calling their wares drifts through vaulted sandstone arches lining the corridor, up from the RuulGrad’s harbour marketplace. The faint calling of gulls and the rhythmic crash of surf and the pale light of early afternoon in TarTiir- a peace about to be broken.

Tobo grips his wand and tries to breathe calmly- if the minotaur call out, if he misses…he taps the heels of his boots together and feels the faint power of their enchantment, and then leaps from his alcove. The enchanted boots slow his fall, and as the minotaurs raise their glaives and widen their eyes, Tobo shoots forth with his black wand once, twice! Two thick globules of viscous blue ooze blast forth from the wand, encapsulating the guards. The ooze instantly hardens, and by the time Tobo delicately lands on the corridor floor the two minotaurs are cocooned, one stuck to the wall, the other held fast to the floor. The blades of the glaives stand free at the end of their long poles, and Tobo reaches up and taps one with his finger, his heart racing. The elf reaches into his belt pouch and removes a small rag and a vial- soaking the rag he presses it into the ooze at the point that appears snout-like until he feels flesh. Carefully, he clears the guards nostrils, and then repeats the process.

“I know you are thinking, why not just kill you?” He says, leaning in close and whispering to second guard as he clears their airway. He is not sure if they can hear him, or if he is talking to himself.

“The Blue Opal is kind, when it can be. You should be working for your people, not against them.”

Stowing his vial and rag, Tobo draws his pistol and holds his black wand at the ready. He turns and stares out at the sea for a moment through the sandstone arches, and then steels himself.

“This is not how I die,” he says, and smiles in his certainty, bringing his wand-hand up to touch his chest where a small locket sits beneath his armour.

Tobo kicks open the door and rushes in- the room is perhaps thirty foot in diameter, a large and well-appointed study. Bookshelves line the walls all the way to the ceiling far above, a series of ladders leaning against each to allow access to the loftier tomes. Comfortable chairs, a fireplace, and several small tables fill up the edges of the room, but the centre is filled with a gigantic map of TarTiir carved from interlocking pieces of wood. Next to it, a dwarf dressed in fine clothing stands conversing with an imposing drakin- Crown Prince Prasha. The Prince is a daunting figure, as tall as the minotaurs, covered in black scales. His face resembles that of a dragon wrought in miniature, and his fingertips end in thick talons. A humanoid body trailed by a thick black tail, the Prince is well muscled and dressed the simple garb of a warrior at rest. In a holster in Prince Prasha’s belt, Tobo spies his goal- a rod, two feet long, one foot of etched metal attached seamlessly to a foot of solid stone.  Leaping through the doorway, Tobo starts firing.

In the heartbeat between the doors crashing open and Tobo opening fire, the towering Prince drops to the floor and rolls to a table. The robed dwarf yelps and starts scrambling to the side of the room. Tobo keeps moving- in moments, the Royal Guard will be flooding into the room and his chance will be gone. The elf moves forward, globules of blue ooze firing from the wand in his left hand, beams of purple light blasting from the pistol in his right hand. The beams hit the tabletop, scoring the thick wood, and explode books and documents as he shoots again and again, always advancing. In the corner of his eye he sees the dwarf moving his hands and incanting, and so Tobo half-turns and fires his wand and pistol, but doesn’t wait to see if they hit before turning back to his goal, the overturned table.

As he steps closer the table hurls toward him, the Prince throwing the heavy wooden furniture as if it weighed nothing. Tobo rolls to the side, and tries to hit the Prince with a globule from his wand- the wand fizzles and nothing emerges. He curses and quickly leaps behind a table and tips it over for cover, sheathing his wand and drawing another, this one white, all the while shooting blindly into the room with his pistol. He hears a yelp and a thump and dares to glance around the side of the table- the dwarf is down, a sizzling hole in his face where one of his eyes used to be, flecks of blue ooze holding one of his arms fast to the side of a chair as he slumps, dead.  The Prince is hunkered behind a toppled bookcase and a five foot sphere of blue ooze. The elf shoots over and over at the blue ooze, chunks of it chipping away with each blast, but he knows how hardy it can be without the right solvent.

“Assassin,” the Prince cries out, his voice thick with anger, “if you stop this now I promise you a quick death!”

Tobo ignores the words and forces himself forward, leaping his overturned table and sprinting toward his foe- he can feel his pistol overheating as he fires it faster than the gem within can handle. In his left hand he clutches his white wand, his portal wand. He doesn’t need to kill the Prince- he just needs that metal and stone rod in his hand and then he can use his white wand to escape. As he fires his gun, chips of hardened blue ooze spray across the room but the Prince remains safe behind cover. Finally, Tobo has closed the distance between them and he leaps over the blue ooze behind which lies his prize, wild-eyed, pistol already blazing forth beams of violet force.

The rod that Prince Prasha holds hits Tobo in the head. The Prince is not behind the blue orb- the Prince is instead off to the side slightly, having rolled beneath the giant wooden map of TarTiir. Tobo’s wand and gun fall from his grasp and he tips backward, landing on the floor with a crash. The Prince holds out his hand toward Tobo and white light pulses from a ring on his hand.

Tobo can’t move anything, can’t move anything at all. He can’t even focus his eyes! The elf strains and strains. He is breathing, he can feel that, but it is strained. Coldness seems to be enveloping his chest. He is paralysed, and knows in an instant his mission has failed. Suddenly he can feel the pain from a dozen fights, bruised and battered limbs finally admitting the punishment exacted on them.

The Crown Prince of Ruul fills Tobo’s vision, looming above him. The drakin’s face is bleeding from a vicious wound to his cheek, and his simple tunic is half soaked in blood.

“A high elf in TarTiir? Shouldn’t you be at Hub?” The Prince says, but is clearly talking to himself. In one hand he holds the metal and stone rod level at Tobo’s face. With the other he pats down Tobo. He pulls forth the solvent, a pouch of gold, a set of lockpicks…and eventually finds Tobo’s locket.

The Prince tucks his crystal rod away and picks up Tobo’s pistol. With the other hand he clicks open the locket, and laughs, and shows the locket to Tobo. One side contains a rough cut blue opal- the other a shaded profile of a female elf.

“The Blue Opal,” the Prince says, incredulous, “really?”

The Crown Prince of Ruul throws the locket to the floor and examines the pistol. Minotaur guards rush into the room, but the Prince shushes them with a single hand gesture and they fall reverently silent. Tobo thinks this is not how I die and manages a weak cough.

“The Blue Opal should not be south of the mountains,” the Prince says, and he shakes his head. “They should not be south of the mountains, they should not be in RuulGrad, and they certainly should not be in my chambers with death in their hearts.”

The minotaur guards have spread around the room and secured the entrance. They should finish what I started, Tobo thinks, managing to shift his eyes to the nearest guard, but he knows it is a faint wish. For a thousand years the drakin have used minotaur as soldiers, as guards, as workers- enslaved and brutalised. Whilst the minotaur who live in the wilds of Ruul may be free and fierce, those in the thrall of the drakin empire are kept servile through the brutality of their masters.

Tobo can feel his fingertips, can feel he is breathing faster, and can see his portal wand laying discarded on the floor. If he can just reach it- his mission has failed, but he knows in his heart this is not how he dies. He must escape. As Prasha instructs the guards to secure the room, with tremendous will Tobo manages to force his hand out toward the wand. His eyes never leave the metal and stone rod on Prasha’s belt.

The Crown Prince turns and  levels the hex-gun at Tobo’s face and stamps down twice- firstly on the slim white portal wand, which breaks. Secondly, on Tobo’s pale thin fingers. The elf screams, and then he is moving- minotaur hold him tight, and a hood comes down over his face.

As Tobo is dragged away, Crown Prince Pasha touches a claw to the wound on his face. He stares at the open locket on the floor, the blue opal and the silhouetted elf-maiden. The huge drakin finally goes to a chair and sits, feeling the toll of the wounds to his face and chest, and waves the nearest guard closer.

“Bring me a healer, bring me the spy-master. Bring me the guard captain. Bring me the torturer. Bring me a drink.”

Prasha takes his metal and stone rod in his hands and feels the power within it connecting to him, bolstering his strength. Idly, spins it around and around, and he stares at his dead dwarven advisor and he sighs.

Down corridors and stairwells, the minotaur drag Tobo. He can’t see anything. The paralysis has faded and now he can feel a coldness burning his chest right down to his core. At least three of his fingers are broken. The air grows colder – Tobo realises they must be deep in the heart of Castle Grad, below the spires and walls and courtyards and gardens. Locks are opened, heavy doors- it is a tumult of noise.

And then there is wailing, and screaming, and dampness in the air that tastes of copper- the castle dungeons.

This is not how I die, thinks Tobo, as they throw him into a cell. He peels the hood from his face with careful hands but it makes no difference- he has been left in utter darkness. This is not how I die, thinks Tobo, and he is sure of this fact: but in the darkness, alone and defeated, he realises this might be how he must live.

tartiir-updated-ep10

A map of TarTiir. This story takes place in RuulGrad to the South.

Fancy supporting the site? You can pick up all of the 5th edition D&D books from Wizards of the Coast using our Amazon links below, and we’ll get a cut with no extra cost to you!

Dungeon Master’s Guide

Player’s Handbook

Monster Manual

Volo’s Guide to Monsters

Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide

Starter Set

 

Featured image by Kekai Kotaki.

Modern Fantasy Greats – Mistborn: The Final Empire

Ian likes books. Here is what he thought of one of them.

Late to the party, but isn’t that always better? Rather than waiting bereft and unfulfilled for a hint that Rothfuss or Martin have actually written something new, here, here is a series of epic fantasy that is actually finished! A trilogy, weighty and whole and ripe to be consumed whenever you fancy.

A hero rises to godhood, defeating ancient evil and ruling over the land justly and…wait. No. Scratch that.

Ash falls from the sky, wilted and brown plant life meekly stretches toward scant sunlight. There is a God-Emperor, yes, the Lord Ruler, who cast out evil and ascended the throne. So why does this feel like a dystopia? Why are the nobility so thoroughly corrupt, the skaa people so utterly downtrodden?  Endless ash falling from the sky, plantations, slavery… and the mist. As darkness falls, so comes the mist, all-permeating, rumoured to be full of ill-luck and monsters. This is not this is not your usual pastoral idyll with monsters at its fringe. Here, the monsters are everywhere.

The Final Empire follows Kelsier, half-skaa thief, and Vin, a street urchin with incredible abilities. Together they must do the impossible- confront an empire headed by a living god. The only thing they have on their side is the magic of the mistborn- allomancy. Those with the talent can ‘burn’ metals they have ingested and use their energy for incredible feats- directed telekinesis of metal, shotgun-like attacks as coins are propelled like bullets. Increases in strength, or heightened senses…the system of magic is rigorously worked out, and the implications of the presence of this magic are felt across the society and the world.

mistbornThe Final Empire has a few notable elements that raise it above the generic fantasy tumult. The narrative is tightly wound, constantly leaping forward and pushing the reader through energetic action. Whilst elements of the plot are well-worn tropes, this is mingled with fresh takes on character archetypes and the plot is far from predictable. There is a persistent mix of humour and brutality, which fits well with the strange mix of civility and desperation within this world- that of the nobility and the skaa.

Interestingly in terms of world building something that actually shines through is the believable economy- this is a world where people work, where trade flows. Combining this with a novel aesthetic driven by the world’s magic system (swords and metal armour aren’t very clever when fighting somebody who can manipulate metal, so wooden dueling canes are in vogue), and this industrial-fantasy setting makes Mistborn feel truly singular.

It is not a perfect book- some of the narrative leaps are jarring. Vin is something of a passive character in the central arc of the book, carried by events. The peripheral  characters can feel somewhat flat, with a pair of characteristics defining each- perhaps this is an issue with a planned trilogy, the onus is not there to explain everything you want to explain about the world and characters within one volume. Certainly, at the end of Mistborn: The Final Empire, there are questions- questions that will be answered in book two, Mistborn: The Well of Ascension.

I am all aboard, only a decade late. If you are after some fantasy action, some novel magic, some intrigue and escapism- check out Mistborn: The Final Empire by Brandon Sanderson.

Mistborn: The Final Empire by Brandon Sanderson @BrandSanderson

Review- Ian Green @IanTheGreen

 

Pick up Mistborn: The Final Empire through our Amazon link, along with Book 2 ‘The Well of Ascension‘ and Book 3 ‘The Hero of Ages‘, or the whole collection here.

Captain America and the Rise of Hydra

Kit reviewed Captain America: Steve Rogers #7 this week (check his review here). He also had a few thoughts about how the story reflects the current political climate in the wake of this week’s election.

Spoilers for the current Captain America story are included

Captain America always has been and always will be a political story. From his original conception of pro-American propaganda during World War 2, to his stance on civil rights and personal freedoms during Civil War and the times he has given up the role of Captain America due to the state of American politics. In my view, this is still entirely the case. I would clarify though, that this is only my reading into and what I took from the comic (Captain America: Steve Rogers #7). It may well not be the original intention of writer Nick Spencer to include such a political message in this story, but if that is the case I would argue Barthes’ Death of the Author theory applies (the idea that whatever the reader reads into a story is valid, whatever the intentions of the author).

It is entirely my belief that Steve Rogers’ current conversion to Hydra is representative of the political climate in the US, UK and large parts of Europe. He is the embodiment of what America should be, and now ideologically he’s a fascist. The fact he’s still working with SHIELD and with the governments of the west against the more blatant fascism of the Red Skull really brings home the point that the current ideals of the west have lurched to the far-right. If he was standing by the Skull, laughing manically it would be a more traditional mind control story, but no, this is the story of western ideology being rewritten to support the political far right.

hydra

One of the things that cut a bit close to the bone was the Red Skull’s speech itself. It is not that far removed from what we hear some political leaders say these days. He simply takes it one step further, not just ‘blame the existing establishments for your suffering’ or ‘blame those who are different’ he’s simply added one or two more steps to reach the point of ‘we must tear them down’. This is why this story is important. It is reflecting the current political mood of populist and charismatic leaders acting as if they’re above the existing establishments and by extension the law, hijacking the narrative to say that it’s those who are different to use that are to blame for our misfortune, despite the fact they face the same struggles we do and while pointing to some parts of the establishment glossing over the fact that they themselves are embedded into other parts of it.

There is sometimes a strange idea that fiction and entertainment should remain politically neutral. That has never been the case. It exists to give us a medium to explore ideas and make sense of them. To show us what is happening and make us think about it.

The thing is, reading this story I have no doubt that soon enough his history will be corrected and Steve will be his good old liberally minded self again. And, if like me you think that way and you’ve been despairing at recent political events, it’s worth remembering that this is not the first, and will not be the last time that it will feel like the world is going to shit, that ignorance, prejudice, discrimination and every ugly aspect of society is on the rise. Every time that has happened though, the world has turned, not without pain, but equality, empathy, compassion and kindness haven’t gone away before and aren’t going to go away now, especially if we stand up for what we believe in and try to understand why someone who thinks otherwise does so.

This story will then be seen, if anyone ever looks back at it, as a reflection of what was happening during 2016, something comics can do so incredibly well. From Steve Rogers punching Hitler, to Iron Man fighting Communists and even Captain Planet telling kids to stay in school and pick up their litter. I consider this to be an ugly year, maybe next year and the year after will be too, but the only good thing about a bad year is that thanks to time being linear it ends. Then we’ll move on and away from it and look back at 2016 and simply wonder “what the fuck” or finally prove that up until then David Bowie was the one holding the fabric of reality together.

Kit

Retrospective on R.A. Salvatore

Our pal (and Total Reroll DM) Ian likes books. Here is what he thinks of some of them.

Over 10,000,000 copies sold. Think about that. New York Time’s bestselling author R.A. Salvatore is one of the most successful writers of fantasy to have ever lived. On October 25th his latest novel Hero will be released, book three of the Homecoming trilogy following his iconic character Drizzt Do’Urden, the stoic dark elf with a heart of gold that has spawned countless imitations both in print and in game. He has written over 70 novels in a thirty year career, starting with The Crystal Shard in 1988, and in this time has also managed to write comics, graphic novels, computer games, movies, TV episodes…I don’t have time to list all of it. Luckily he has an astoundingly comprehensive website (http://www.rasalvatore.com/) detailing everything he has turned his talents to.

hero-coverThe publication of Hero, which will star the iconic Drizzt, seems a good point to have a look at what makes Salvatore so continually appealing. I’ve read dozens of his books- at least forty are set in the Forgotten Realms, the universe where the Dungeons & Dragons games are set. Salvatore famously received death threats after writing Vector Prime, a Star Wars novel in the old expanded universe (now non-canonical after Disney’s Star Wars acquisition) which killed off fan-favourite Chewbacca by smashing a moon on him. It’s a good book.

What am I trying to say here? There is a reason Salvatore is as enduringly successful as he is, and it’s a combination of character, pacing, action, and humour. Even with so many long-running series in his hands, his understanding of character motivation (even in the most fantastical settings) allows the reader to empathise with the most unlikely of individuals. Combined with this is a fantastic sense of pace and dense action (maybe after reading a few of these books in a row the fight scenes start to blur), Salvatore’s cinematic descriptions and endlessly varied and complex action scenes often combined with sincere moments of character development serve to drive narrative constantly forward.

Salvatore has described himself as a writer of ‘buddy fantasy’, with unlikely pairings and teams of characters facing adventure and threat with humour and wit. What is wonderful is that this humour, though ever present, knows when to take a backseat to plot or action or emotion, and is in itself varied in its delivery to perfectly suit the character in question- the sardonically dry wit of assassin Artemis Enteri compared to the bumbling physical comedy of dwarf druid Pikel Bouldershoulder, for example.

I love R. A. Salvatore’s work. It is consistently enthralling, escapist whilst full of relatable characters, fantastical but compellingly real in all the most compelling ways. If you haven’t read any Salvatore, it can be daunting. For a fantasy fan I’d recommend Homeland, but have a look on his website, read some excerpts, and see what strikes your fancy.

Ian (@IanTheGreen)

Book Review – Dodge and Burn by Seraphina Madsen

Our pal (and Total Reroll DM) Ian likes books. Here is what he thought of one of them.

This novel begins with killer bees and perfume in New Mexico and potions in the woods of Maine, and transforms into an adventure road trip as our hero Eugenie and her husband Benoît fleece casinos and try to plan their escape from America.

Eugenie and her twin Camille are the adopted daughters (or hostages…) of the enigmatic Dr Vargas. After their mother’s untimely demise to aforementioned bees, they are raised in the wilds of New England in a sprawling house with armed guards and a routine of esoteric training. Dr Vargas teaches gymnastics, science and survivalism, but in the woods they practice a patchwork of witchcraft and spiritualism, autodidact savants of potions and omens, rituals pieced together from their keeper’s quixotic library. Camille is the leader, the brains, the unerring strength and resistance against Dr Vargas’s barbaric regimen. Inexorably confrontation ensues, and in the end Eugenie is free and Dr Vargas defied- but Camille is gone…

The majority of the book follows Eugenie and her husband Benoît as they scramble across America. She has been unsuccessful in finding Camille, but is ever drawn onwards in that search, and in Benoît has found someone who accepts her scattershot mysticism and science and inscrutable motivations. We are plunged into a vortex of drugs and music and casual acquaintances, tribes of ravers and backwoods farmers, snakes and guns and half-remembered arcane rituals. Always, Eugenie is seeking Camille.

Dodge and Burn presents us with a narrative of a world with layers beyond what we can see, connections and synchronicities and patterns and abilities that belay the doldrums of the scientific method. In the end, there is a choice to make- which narrative is true? Eugenie’s visions and magic realism, or the harsh reality of Dr Vargas?

239df7b25844ad1c78c8d6316c22d9dc The novel is not without issues. The abundant drug-use as adjuvant to Eugenie’s mysticism actually somewhat undermines her worldview. Benoît feels somewhat underdeveloped, a simple creature utterly accepting of the narrator’s whims and oddities, though this is perhaps a relic of following Eugenie’s personal viewpoint. The final reveal in the novel is not much of a surprise, and perhaps could have been utilised earlier to more effect. These are in sum minor issues that only subtly detract from a very enjoyable novel, and indeed the pacing is such that it isn’t until the ending that you begin to question these moments.

The absorbing narrative, impressive imagery, and plethora of memorable scenes make Dodge and Burn an enjoyable and compelling read- it is a surreal trip laden with wonderful research and convincing emotion. As the first release from new indie press Dodo Ink it bodes well for their upcoming ventures and for whatever Seraphina Madsen decides to turn her hand to next.

Verdict: 8 Killer Bees out of 10

 

Dodge and Burn is out next week, and you can pre-order it here and follow the new indie publisher Dodo Ink @DodoInk or on their website

You can follow Ian too @IanTheGreen and his own writing on his website