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Thursday, August 25, 2011

Locke: Chapter One

Simon Locke took one last breath of fresh, clean air and a long look at the sun and clouds, and frowned. The arch before him would take him below, and to return to the surface without the Orb would be... failure. The guild did not tolerate failure, and they didn't care if your excuse for not eliminating the target was "he cannot die." A contract, once accepted, cannot be cancelled so long as the assassin and the target both live. This rule was sacrosanct, disobedience meant a long, slow, certain death. Facing the certainty of death at the hands of his brethren, the probable death in the labyrinth below was the best of two bad choices. His quarry, and the means to make sure that he stayed dead this time were through that arch.

Locke hestitated no longer, traveling here used up most of his food, and time was now the enemy. He'd have to scavenge for food and equipment, as the basic robes of a novice assasin and his enchanted blade were fine for city work, but not well suited to the task at hand. He crept silently through a twisting spiral of mortar and stone, and before long he found signs of passage through this place. A tightly rolled parchment lay hidden between cracks in the wall of the tunnel, and he stowed this in his pack for later. No telling if this was stowed here for later use, or left here to trap the unwary. He could hear breathing ahead, around the next corner.

Peeking around into a wider hallway, the assassin saw the minute form of a beast with vaguely humanoid proportions and canine features, laying on a pile of rags and filth. A noise like a kitten's purr, and the kobold's chest rising and falling slowly told him that it was asleep and unwary of the presence of an intruder. The enchanted assassin's dagger in his clenched fist, he quietly stepped closer, and closer, until he stood over the small creature. The beast's nose twitched an instant before Locke could strike, and its eyes snapped open as it woke, shrieking obscenities in its own tongue.

Instinctively, Locke rolled to the left just as the kobold reached into a sleeve and threw a pointed dart where he had been an instant before. He sensed an opening as the creature was surprised by the speed of his movements, and in an instant, it was over. Two quick slashes, one across the tiny chest, and another opening the throat, and it was over. First blood in his pursuit of the orb was drawn without a scratch on the young man's body. The smell of the creature's blood was pungent, almost plantlike and completely unlike the human blood he'd washed from his hands when he could do as he would.

In the area where the kobold had nested, and surrounding passages, he found several more parchments, as well as glass vials stoppered with cork, each containing liquid of different colors and consistencies. These all went into his pack for later testing, and he continued on, forward into the darkness. He stood still for a moment, listening. There was a sound here, so faint and constant as to be nearly undetectable in the background unless one held their breath. It was maddeningly at the edge of what even his ears could detect... a faint roar behind the quiet like a waterfall, that pulsed in a pattern too evenly to be coincidence. This place seemed alive, and Locke suddenly felt like he was being watched.

In a flash, he let the darkness of a nearby corner envelop him. His lungs burned as he struggled to keep the breath he'd been holding contained, and he waited. One, two, three. A sickly blue light pierced the darkness of the hallway, advancing toward his corner. Four, five, six. The cruelly twisted blade carried by small gnarled hands lit up the corner where he crept, the gleam of enchanted steel illuminating a face. Squat, with a severe overbite, beady eyes and a wide flat nose, the goblin stepped to within feet of where the human stood. Its eyes grew wide suddenly, and it leapt toward where the assassin lay in wait.

The sudden attack from the goblin caught Locke off guard a moment, he swung his dagger wildly over his assailant's head, and got a much closer look at the orc-made knife his opponent wielded than he'd have liked. Fortunately, his wild stumbling blow likely kept the goblin from plunging the knife into his neck, and the fight was joined in earnest. The goblin was a knife-fighter, and the human assassin knew the edge provided him from his magical assassin's weapon would do him no good, as that bluish tinge told him that his own blade's opposite number was similarly enchanted. They circled each other, making quick feints, each looking for an opening. Small cuts to exposed flesh opened in the small quiet moments of the fight, and they both bled.

He could smell the foul breath from behind teeth filed to points, hear each grunt of exertion as the goblin matched him for speed, and attacked with a ferocity which would be unusual in a human fighter. He had, however, one distinct advantage in this contest. Reach. He fell into a pattern with his foe, strike, block, dodge, step. He and the goblin stepped in synch for several seconds, and he didn't have to wait for an opening. The goblin lashed out, expecting another sidestep from the taller foe as he looked for a moment to press any advantage, and Locke stepped toward the blow, bringing his own dagger down in a vicious arc. The goblin gasped at the sudden strike, but only for an instant, before the human assassin buried the knife to the hilt in its chest. The blue light in the chamber flickered for several long seconds as the orcish knife skittered to the floor and spun on the stones before coming to rest.

The young human caught his breath and bound the shallow cuts on his hands, carefully stowing the weapon the goblin carried. It was unlikely to be superior to his own blade, but no sense in leaving it on the floor for the next creature capable of wielding it to use on him as he slept next. He took stock of his possessions, decided to leave the trial-and-error process of scroll and potion identification for later, and carefully moved on. He had a long way to go, and he'd barely gotten started. He still had a man to kill, and an artefact to acquire to make sure he stayed dead.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

The beginning.

So, What's this all about?

Tales of the Cursed is my outlet for a recent near-obsession with the roguelike game Dungeon Crawl – Stone Soup. I've been playing roguelike rpgs for over a decade now, and I recently got back into them upon writing about them for my other blog, What's Next? - The Unemployed Geek. I'd played Rogue, Angband and even tried to get into Dwarf Fortress, yet the controls and sheer number of options keep scaring me out of that one. I heard about Dungeon Crawl recently from Questionable Content, a webcomic I follow, and noticed how many of the posts on Reddit on /r/roguelikes were dedicated to this one game out of the entire subgenre. I gave it a serious try and really got into playing the day of the 0.9 release, right before the August Tournament started. After a few days, I was hooked.

Okay, you like the game, so what?

I've watched a bunch of videos, forum topics and blogs dedicated to the concept of "Let's Play," where a community of folks gets regular reports on play sessions of a game and has input on what happens next at certain points. I get the appeal, but this isn't really a traditional LP. I want to follow the format of letting readers make some decisions, but instead of screenshots and game mechanics, the highlights of my doomed adventurers will be told in chapters of short fiction. This short story structure will allow me to stretch my prose muscles a bit and work on descriptions, internal dialogue, etc. Dungeon Crawl fans can experience the dungeon in a new way, the lives and deaths of the adventurers told from their perspective. There are plenty of sites that show you games in progress. I want to tell a story, with the game providing the framework.

What's all this "Cursed" business?

I started thinking about how killing a Unique named foe like Sigmund in one game, and having him appear in another story might destroy suspension of disbelief. That is, unless it were incorporated into the story beforehand. I like the idea that the Uniques will rise from the dead, whether they be heroes or villains. My protagonists, however, don't have that luxury. Death is permanent in Crawl. This means that getting attached to a character is probably a bad idea, as I'm not skilled enough at the game for their survival to be a foregone conclusion. (My best characters usually meet their end in mid-game, around D:14) These "Cursed" adventurers know they quest for the Orb of Zot with the most likely outcome being a painful death, alone in the darkness. Why do they do it anyway? Why do they die permanently, while others like Dovan and Duvessa, Grinder and Menkaure rise to fight again? That is something I hope to reveal slowly through the story, allowing readers to speculate along the way.

How will this work?

I plan to play using the most updated version that is playable on the CDO Webtiles, so if people want, they can log in and actually watch (and comment on) a favorite character being played live if I happen to be on. I don't want to tell a story that ends in two posts with "and then I was eaten by a rat," so I may solicit opinions on what kind of character to play next (I'll try to run three at a time so I can tell several types of stories,) but won't start chapters until I know the character will make it past the first few levels or so. I'll ask at different points for commenters to help choose whether I take a staircase or portal into one of the areas (Lair, Orc Mines, Ossuary, Shoals, etc..) and will live or die based on the decision. Dependent on how many people actively participate, I'll make the call on how to interpret the advice I get from the public. (Might start first come, first served or I pick what I like best, then move to polling if enough people like this.)

How often can I expect an update on my favorite character?

My main blog has a rigid 5-times a week, just about never miss schedule. This one won't. I'll try to get something up every week, but I may have a flurry of posts one week and nothing the next. My level of interest in the project and playing Dungeon Crawl at all, plus my other responsibilities will determine posting frequency. Consider this a "preemptive apology" for those times when updates will inevitably get sporadic, as I won't be apologizing for the same again. Life can, and will get in the way of this project. I'll try to make sub-pages for characters who are popular enough, as well as a graveyard page for the fallen with links to the morgue files. I'll be starting with a human assassin named Locke, in honor of my somewhat well-known character from the Arcanis roleplaying world and would like suggestions of what to play next, with the warning that if it is too silly, the story style would be annoying after too long, so I may ignore suggestions that are more "exotic." First Locke Chapter Coming Soon!