I heard it first. The deep, distant roar, low and powerful. At first just on the edge of hearing, but louder minute by minute, hour by hour. I knew what it was, what it had to be. The River.
It has no other name, it needs no other name. The myriad streams, creeks, brooks and springs that crisscross our land are but poor imitations of the River, tamed, harnessed and serene.
What could you call a torrent of water, moving faster than a horse could gallop, faster even than a rythan could fly, wide enough that the other side can be but dimly seen even by the sharpest-eyed scout and cutting the land apart as sharply as a knife cuts through cheese?
From the first I heard the roar, it was still three days travel to reach the edge of the River. I had been here once before, as a boy. It’s a rite of passage, to travel to the River and spend three nights on the edge. It hasn’t changed much since then, but I hadn’t expected it to. The River is eternal.
Imagine it, if you can. The woodland thins out, you can smell the water in the air, see the haze, see the moisture on the leaves, hear the deep, visceral roar which blends into a vibration from the ground itself. As you get closer to the River, so the vegetation thins further until the ground is bare rock. Bare rock which suddenly drops away revealing a sheer-sided chasm through which the River flows, its surface easily a spear-throw below the edge. An expanse of water too wide to see across, roaring past, white-flecked and violent carrying debris from lands afar.
And I have to get to the other side.
I pushed the bookshop door open, slowly. Not by choice, it was one of those heavy doors that require effort to open. It creaked, as old doors tend to do, and a bell rang deep within the shop.
This was one of those old shops, wood shelves, creaky floors, narrow aisles with books piled everywhere. Knickknacks filled the few empty spaces, an old-style globe of the world here, two candlesticks with melted candles there. At the end of the aisle, a small alcove held a table and two armchairs, the table covered in still more books. A black cat slept on one of the chairs, oblivious to my presence.
I’ve always loved bookshops with character and this one had character in spades. I almost expected to find a working crystal ball, or a real spell book filed under ‘Careers’, that tired plot-point from so many recent stories and movies. But there were no actual spell books, no swirling visions of the past or future, just the best collection of old books and first editions I’d ever seen. By the time I’d finished browsing I had probably half a month’s income worth of books in my pile, and the sun was low in the sky.
It was then I realised I hadn’t seen the owner once since I’d walked in.
I walked towards the back of the shop. “Hello? Is anyone there?” No answer. The counter which held the till, and several precarious piles of books, had no one near it. There was a small door behind it, a door that stood open with a cool blue light coming from it.
I probably should have stayed out, probably should have waited patiently, however it was late and the pile of books was making my arms ache, so I pushed the door open and stepped inside. What I saw there, well, I can’t actually tell you. It would violate the oath I swore, the oath I was forced to swear. Not that I mind to be honest, my new job is a lot more fun than being a legal assistant, and who knows, maybe one day I’ll get to travel on business and…
Let’s just say that the sky is not the limit. Not for me. Not any longer.
I can’t remember where I first ran across this idea, but I used it way back when I was running a D20 Modern campaign.
The basic idea is, before introducing a new NPC into the game, consider whether an existing NPC which the party has already met will serve. There are a number of advantages to this.
One of the main ones, in my opinion, is that it keeps the cast list for the game small. The fewer important NPCs there are, the easier time the players should have in remembering at least something about each of them. Hopefully.
Another advantage is that it keeps the players wondering. If each adventure has its own NPCs who never reappear, the player are likely to not care much about them or their motives outside of the obvious. When the NPCs start showing up in later adventures, especially if there’s no obvious link between the two adventures, at least some of the players are likely to be curious as to why this NPC has shown up again. It’s worth noting that you, as the DM, don’t actually need to have an explanation as to why the NPC is showing up again, if the players get curious they’ll start theorising. Just take the theory which you like the best and pretend that was what you planned all along. There’s a good chance they’ll be ecstatic that they figured out your plans and outwitted you. Just don’t tell them the truth 🙂
One last advantage, one I quite favour at this point in time: It reduces the amount of work the DM has to do. That’s always a good thing.
In many forms of table-top role-playing games there’s an unspoken contract between the DM and players. The player-characters will defeat (or sometimes fail to defeat) or overcome (or sometimes fail to overcome) a nemesis. Even when the players are playing evil characters, there are nemeses to defeat, whether those nemeses also be evil characters or whether they be the do-gooder paladin types.
When it comes down to a battle, players are not well-known for showing mercy to their opponents, especially if they have reason to dislike the opponents, perhaps because he’s beaten the players before, perhaps because he’s taunted and mocked them, perhaps because of something in the back story. Whatever it is, it’s unlikely (well, at least for the players that I know and have roleplayed with) that when their nemesis is at their mercy, they’ll let him go.
What then, when the nemesis needs to get away, so that he can do the ‘So, we meet again, Mr Bond’ type encounter?
Well first, what not to do:
DM: As you start to draw your knife across his throat, the mage reaches into a pocket, pulls out a wand, mutters a complex spell and vanishes.
The players are likely to feel cheated, and rightly so. Especially if it happens more than once.
If the nemesis needs to get away, plan the encounter around that fact. Plan an exit route into the encounter from the start. Maybe the fight is on top of a sky scraper and a helicopter snatches the bad guy away. Maybe the encounter is next to a fast-flowing river that the ‘defeated’ nemesis can fall into. Maybe there’s a zip line, an elevator down to a getaway car., a contingency spell in place, etc
Whatever route is chosen, the players should feel like they had a chance of victory, if *that one roll* had gone better, it they’d realised the implications of the signal lights, if they’d had someone downstream, etc, etc. Not cheated that the victory was taken from them with nothing that they could do about it.
And if the players do manage a complete victory despite all the preparations. Well then maybe it’s an opportunity for a different scene:
You killed my Master! Prepare to die!
Kealan gazed down across the ice-covered plain. The sun, hanging just low on the horizon cast exaggerated shadows across the land leaving the plain mottled bright and dark. The wind had died hours earlier and the silence was so profound that it almost sang. To Kealan, it sang with the voices of his friends, his colleagues, his son.
How many had died that day? How many had been driven out to die in the icy wastes to the north? How many had survived only to live each day in fear of been found, of been betrayed, sold out to an enemy that would stop at nothing to ensure that the Seers were no more.
He could remember that day as if it were just yesterday. There had been no warning, no clues, no hints, no indications of any attack, planned or otherwise. It was that the was the hardest to swallow. For a group of people who dedicated their lives to reading the shape of the future to have seen no signs of an attack against them was a travesty, a betrayal of what they were. Had She abandoned them?
Three months ago it would have been blasphemy to have thought that, but today, Kealan was past caring. When he closed his eyes he could still see the dragons swooping down upon the stronghold, riders dressed in a uniform he didn’t recognise. He could still smell the stench of burning flesh; he could still hear the screams of those caught in the dragonfire.
They should have seen it coming, but they had believed that they were above the petty warring of two nations. “She shows us what will be,” the elders had said, again and again, “If they were planning an attack against us, we would know. They will not dare to move against Her chosen.” That certainty had not saved them. The elders had been the first to die.
Kealan pulled his hood up and set out slowly across the ice sheet. Somewhere there was a place of safety. Somewhere.
“Program complete. Enter when ready”
The air inside was dry with a distinct chill and a slight smell of dust. The platform was barely 5 meters across and there was no sign of the ground, just a red horizon fading to midnight blue overhead. The winds howled and twisted around the platform
It wasn’t historically accurate, it wasn’t completely physically accurate either. The atmosphere was ship-normal, but a high-altitude Martian atmosphere, a high-altitude, pre-terraforming Martian armosphere would have required an EVA suit and sometimes comfort took precedence over physical accuracy.
Stephan regarded the primitive craft standing on the edge of the platform. A light-weight metal frame with a several meter wingspan covered with fabric, no propulsion of any kind. It was a far cry from modern atmospheric craft. Just getting this far had required months of research. First with the shuttle’s limited computer while in the Gamma Quadrant, then with the main historical archives at Utopia Planitia. Either the early Martian expedition hadn’t recorded the complete schematics of the glider or the details had been lost during the Eugenics wars.
‘No time like the present.’ He climbed into the glider’s framework and pushed it off the platform.
Stephan fought for control as the wind tossed the glider around like a toy. After several long minutes he managed to wrestle the flimsy craft in-line with the wind. The ground, now just visible far below, raced past at an incredible speed and the howling of the wind faded away.
Stephan tilted the wing very slightly downwards, dropping altitude would make the view of the ground clearer and with all the dust he couldn’t make out the features of the terrain below. Noctis Labyrinthus was to the North-West, but that left a lot of margin for error. He tilted the glider left, aiming it for a NNW trajectory. As he did so, an errant gust of wind caught the glider and spun it out of control. The fabric on one of the wings ripped away and the glider plummeted towards the surface. A second later the wind ceased, the wide expanse of the planet’s surface was replaced by the yellow and grey grid of the holodeck and Stephan fell 10cm to the floor of the holodeck.
“Damn it.” He pushed himself to his feet and leant against the nearest wall, willing his hands to stop shaking. “Computer, analyse the last 5 minutes of the flight, identify the cause of the structural failure.”
“Back to the drawing board…” Stephan muttered to the empty room as he left.
Personal log Stardate 52110.1
—- Text only —–
First time I’ve flown a freighter since I joined the Marquis. Was one of the motivations for joining, so bored of flying cargo ships. Still this one’s rather manoeuvrable for a freighter, I wonder if the insectoids used this as a blockade runner on occasion.
I like flying ships, but 3 months of 12-hour shifts is starting to wear. I hope those really are indications the wormhole is open, I don’t like the idea of spending another couple of months here.
Three and a half months. What’s happened back in the Alpha quadrant in that time?
Location: Salva II
The transporter sparkles dissolved into a view of a small agricultural settlement, still showing the signs of the recent Cardassian occupation.
Lieutenant Commander Tony LeStrange, USS Boston, sighed and headed down towards the center of the settlement. Third and last visit of the day, then he intended to find a bar and get seriously drunk.
He checked his padd and looked around, but didn’t immediately see anyone matching the picture he had. ‘Excuse me,” he called out to the nearest person, “I wonder if you can help me locate someone?”
Twenty minutes later, on the outskirts of the settlement, Cmdr LeStrange spotted the person he’d come to see. He was part of a group clearing away debris from what appeared to be a collapsed building of some form.
“Excuse me,” Cmdr LeStrange called out, “Mr Carthright?”
“That’s me,” the oldest man in the group answered, “What can I help you with?”
Twice that day and three more times the previous week and it never grew easier. “Mr Carthright, I regret to inform you that the ship your son was serving on has been declared lost with all hands. Starfleet sends their condolences and if there’s anything that that I can do to assist, you just have to ask.”
Malcolm Carthright took a step back, shaking his head, ‘I think you’ve got the wrong person, my son’s not in Starfleet.”
Cmdr LeStrange checked his padd carefully and frowned, “Lt Stephan Carthwright, Starfleet service number 28492992, born 2346 Salva II, joined Starfleet 2374 as part of the Correctional Service Amnesty Program. Assigned USS Rutan stardate 51834.” He looked up from the padd. Malcolm had gone several shades paler and had pressed a hand to his chest. “Sir, the USS Rutan was declared lost with all hands stardate 52002. I am sorry to be the one to inform you.”
‘No…” Malcolm staggered back against some debris and sat heavily, ‘No, no, no!!!!”