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How The Biggest Ball of Twine in Minnesota Saved the World

Carson pulled the twine tight, again. She walked around the enormous almost-sphere of the material, again. She pulled a new skein of twine from her coat pocket, and tied it to the end of the twine coming off the twine-ball. Again.

this won’t work, mortal

The voice was much weaker than he had been when she’d started. Good. A few more hours, and even she wouldn’t hear it anymore.

She smiled, and she began tugging, wrapping, and walking around the twine. Again.

“It will, Svarmag, thank goodness. While you deigoth can only be bound by unique memorials, they don’t have to be hanging gardens, or colossi.” She patted the oversized string ball affectionately. “Just, you know, noteworthy.”

they built the sphinx itself to bind me

Carson smiled. “And then Napoleon’s troops screwed up and let you out, I know. Though let’s be honest, if you were stored in the nose, you probably aren’t why they built the sphinx. I’d bet there were dozens of you stored in there. You were just the lucky booger who escaped.

this is not fitting. it is not permanent. it is no…

Carson felt a grin tug at her face. Oh, it would take some planning. A foundation, dedicated to the cultural impact of the ball. A little money. Some websites.

But yes. Svarmag would be bound in twine, Forever.

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Five Years at Paizo

I have now been a full-time employee of Paizo for five years.

It both seems like it’s been much, much longer than that, and like it can’t possible have been that long.

I was hired to be a developer for the Pathfinder Modules line, and that lasted for all of a single module (Plunder & Peril), which was outlined and ordered before I showed up, written by awesome authors, and which both Paizo Editor-in-Chief at the time Wes Schneider and the entire Paizo editorial staff had to do a lot of hand-holding to get me through it. Then I moved over to help with the Player Companion line, which I eventually took over. The first book I was able to propose, outline, assign, develop, and shepherd through the whole process was Dirty Tactics Toolbox, and it remains something I am proud of. I developed or helped develop 24 titles in that line, covering a little more than two years. Again, it both feels like it was longer than that, and like I couldn’t possible have been doing that for two years.

During that time I was also the host for Paizo’s RPG Superstar contest, was the Freeport Developer for Green Ronin (and yes, that got complicated, and I appreciate more than I can ever express the trust both companies placed in me), a blogger, the publisher for Rogue Genius Games, a developer and then producer for Rite publishing, a freelance writers developer and consultant, the person who handled most of the development blogs for the Emerald Spire (leading to my “Into the Emerald Spire ongoing multi-year Con game, which will be played at the 6th PaizoCon in  row come next month), a seminar attendee, and as much as possible an advocate for the causes and people I thought needed allies.

(And as a ridiculously long parenthetical aside, I wish I had written something like this for my five-year anniversary with Green Ronin, who have been a loving and supportive family in ways I never would have predicted, and for Rogue Genius Games, which is still my baby. But those milestones hit at times when I didn’t have the words. I don’t want to take away from my main point, but nothing in the past five years has been simple, and I need some folks to know I love and appreciate them at a special level. Thanks Ronins. Thanks Stan! I would not have survived the past 60 months without you all.)

For five years, Paizo has been the focus of my social, professional, and financial life. I met new people. I made, and in a few cases lost to tragedy, close friends. I even had a “five year plan.” I thought I was on a specific path, and thought I knew where that would take me.

Then, Starfinder.

Which I never saw coming.

First the pre-game work, then the core rulebook, and now the work as Starfinder Design Lead. I’ve followed, collaborated, tried to lead, grown, and I hope helped others to grow. I am grateful for how amazing and talented all the people who work on Starfinder in all capacities are, and I am truly proud of a universe I have helped to begin. I look forward to seeing it evolve, especially watching the amazing things other people are doing to make it so much better than I imagined.

On the journey to be here, this arbitrary benchmark which has me writing passionately at 3:30am (and not at all for the first time), one moment sticks out in my mind.

In early 2014, on a phone call with Erik Mona about whether I would seriously give up the life of being a full-time freelancer in the extremely cheap and well-known environments of Oklahoma to take a full-time job for Paizo, he asked me why I wanted the job.

“I want to grow. I want to be around people who do work I admire. I want to meet new people, learn new skills, and do new things. I love Pathfinder, and I love Paizo. I want to help both of those things be better, and I can’t imagine a better place for me to be around successful people who can help me be better.”

It was, Erik said at the time, a great answer.

And, it has proven to be a great success in terms of making me a better person.

The past five years has certainly not been without its challenges, frustrations, pains, fights, and failures. But especially on the my year anniversary, I want to take special care to thank EVERYONE I have ever worked with since I joined Paizo, from managers and publishers and the warehouse crew and art department, editors, designers, developers, and owners, to freelancers and the community and Superstar contestants, for being so helpful, and welcoming, and awesome.

I look forward to the next five years, and all the challenges and opportunities they will bring.

Owen K.C. Stephens,

Starfinder Design Lead, Paizo, Inc.

Alcoholism, Therapy, & Gaming

My father was an alcoholic. He went to rehab, once, in the 1990s and toward the end of that process we had ‘family week,’ where the whole family came in for group therapy and counseling. So the other members of my family and I went, and spent a week there. It was a bit like summer camp, but the activities were figuring out how badly screwed up you were and crying instead of archery and canoeing.

While there for family week, I met a young woman who had been badly abused. I did not get, and if I am honest did not at the time want, any details of what she had been through. She was there for her own addiction. I either never knew what she was addicted to, or I have long since forgotten. She wasn’t in any of the group or therapy sessions I was in with my father and family.

She saw some of my RPG books I had brought with me, and was fascinated by them. She understood the concept immediately but, faced with multiple books of hundreds of pages each for just a few games (I know I had Rolemaster with me, I may have also had some D&D and Champions), she claimed that she “wasn’t smart enough” to play RPGs.

I assured her she was. I promised I could show her how the concept worked and we could play a game, with just a few of sentences of explanation, and three sentences of rules. She agreed.

“Tell me about your character.”

She loved rabbits. She wanted to know if she could be a rabbit, I told her she could be anything she wanted. She decided she was an anthropomorphic rabbit scavenger in a post-apocalyptic world who hunted (and killed) carnivores, and defended herbivores.

I gave her a 3×5 index card.

“Write down one thing you are good at.”

She wrote down she was good at creeping.

“Write down one thing you’re bad at.”

She wrote she was bad at keeping calm.

“Write down one important thing you have.”

I had meant one object she possessed. She wrote she had ‘limitless determination.’ This game was for her. I was not about to tell her she’d done it wrong. Limitless determination it was.

“Write down one thing you want to accomplish.”

She wanted to find a safe place to bring orphan bunnies.

I gave her a penny.

“I’ll describe situations, and you tell me what you want your character to do. For anything you try you flip a coin – your action succeeds on heads and fails on tails. If you try something you are good at or have an important thing for you get to flip twice and succeed if either is heads, while if it’s the thing you are bad at you have to flip twice and get heads for both to succeed. That’s it.”

She asked if, since she was a rabbit, she could succeed on tails, and fail on heads. That seemed super-obvious, and I agreed.

And so the “Hares & Holocausts” game was born. Getting to flip twice and winning if either was tails was a bonus. Having to flip twice and winning only if both were tails was a trial.

We played 3-4 times over that week, mostly at lunch and once one morning after breakfast. I borrowed heavily from Gamma World, Rock & Rule, Watership Down, and Seven Samurai. Her character never got a name, and she didn’t seem to care. I thought of her as “The Rabbit Without a Name,” who wore a poncho, and assumed the setting used an Ennio Morricone soundtrack.

Each scene was clearly defined as casual or dangerous. Casual scenes had no consequences. In a dangerous scene, there were normally 3 chances for her to take an action. Actions weren’t blow-by blow things like “I stab a scorpion bandit,” but more like “I attack the bandits, trying to drive them back out of the mine shaft.” One successful action out of the three was a draw–she ended up neither better off nor worse at the end of the scene. Two successes was a win. Three was a BIG win, and she got some kind of permanent improvement.

Zero successes was a failure.

If she failed at a scene, she took a wound which meant she had to either give up one of her bonuses until she healed, or write down a new trial (which she got to pick) as a scar she kept until she succeeded at a task using that trial. I remember she choose a scar at least once,  getting a cut through her left eye so she got the trial “Bad at seeing things to my left.”

She picked up a katana, with a BIG win, which she got as a bonus she could use once per combat, because I wanted to introduce the idea of equipment. She also gained a psychic mind-stare with a BIG win, which let her try to take out a foe before a scene began, with no penalty if she failed.

She crossed The Waste, and found a mine shaft, which had evil scorpion bandits in it. Driving them away, the mine shaft lead her to a valley with a ruined town which had some bunny orphans in it. She saved them from a spider sweat-shop owner (who forced the bunny orphans to weave designer webs for uptown spiders), then went to find them a safe home. That took her to an old observatory on top of a nearby mountain, where she had to convince the ancient security AI (that controlled a robotic sphinx guard) to allow the orphan bunnies to live there. She hunted down and imprisoned a skunk airship pirate who made clouds the observatory couldn’t see through, and promised shed talk the orphan bunnies into become astronomers, and the AI agreed to let them stay and protect them.

Then she took the stench-airship, and flew off. She wanted to find, and defeat, the Uptown Spiders who received the designer webs. End of campaign.

I did not realize for weeks that she never killed anyone. Drove off, defeated, jailed, convinced to change sides, yes. Never death.

She really seemed into it, and told me she would introduce that game to friends of hers. She still didn’t think she could play a “real” RPG. I tried to convince her there were lots of games, like there were lots of books and lots of movies, and all she needed was one that was a good fit for her. I was not convinced “Hares & Holocausts” could be played seriously, thought I didn’t tell her that.

I’m skipping over a lot of the weird, awkward, difficult parts of this experience. I was making it up as I went along, and it was not as polished as this short write-up makes it sound, especially for the first game or two. There were moments I was uncomfortable. There was at least one time she burst into tears. I used some Rolemaster critical hit tables for narrative inspiration once, and that was a big mistake on numerous levels. The councilors insisted all games take place in one of the public areas, and only between 7am and 6pm. No one else played with us.

At the end of my week, I gave her my contact info. She was going to be there for at least a few weeks longer. I did not ask for, and she did not offer, her contact information. I never heard from her.

I think that’s the only complete, totally original RPG I have ever designed by myself.

My father stayed sober for 90 days, because one of the councilors at rehab told him he couldn’t — that it would be impossible. Through sheer iron will, my father took not a single sip of alcohol for three months. They were a good time to know him. Then, convinced this meant he wasn’t an alcoholic, he drank himself to death over the next few years.

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Short Fiction: Weftwork

Vanre felt consciousness creep into her body like an unwelcome guest. She resisted the lure to open her eyes, or stretch her muscles, focusing instead on the warm, soft quilts piled above and below her… but to no avail. The very act of trying to find a way to stay asleep sent her mind racing through options, which inevitably meant she was awake now. Keeping her eyes closed was an act of rebellion rather than a viable tactic.

A soft scraping above her did cause her eyes to flutter open of their own volition, and her brain was immediately fully alert. Dim light leaked in through the shuttered window, casting dusky shadows across the wooden beams of her bedroom ceiling. The poor visibility was not, however, nearly enough to conceal the enormous arachnid clinging to the wooden boards above her.

Its body was more than a yard long, from it’s eight glossy black eyes and furred mandibles to the rainbow-striped abdomen. It’s eight legs spanned nearly the whole room, the longest set of fore-mid arms just inches from touching the ceiling’s corners ten feet apart. Most of the body was thickly furred, with only the orblike eyes, sharp fangs, and the leg’s numerous small claws at the tips and joints not covered in the bright pelt.

As Vanre’s eyes opened, the huge spider tilted, so it’s inhuman face lowered suddenly to be right over her head.

“Floor too cold again, Senneh?” Vanre asked with concern.

The spider’s shorter aft-mid legs dropped from the ceiling and waved meaningfully, the many clawtips forming precise, complex shapes.

Can you see me? The hand-sigils were fast and smooth, better than most webfolk Senneh’s age managed.

Vanre smiled. “I can hardly miss you, darling. You take up the whole ceiling. Just because my eyes can only look at one thing at a time doesn’t mean I’m blind to obvious things.”

I am never sure. There was none of the little wiggling clawtips that would suggest Senneh was joking. The floor was much too cold. Even with the old weavings you convinced the steward to give me, my joints ached. Water is becoming solid outside. Why do your kind live here? I liked our previous school much more.

Vanre sat up in bed, reaching up to rub Senneh’s face, enjoying how thick and soft the webfolk’s fur was.

“It’s a major port, nine months out of the year. And this is about as far south as the uriphants are willing to come. They don’t understand why we are willing to live places where water ever isn’t solid. Finding one place for all five civilized peoples to come together isn’t easy. Eleanear is about as good as it gets. And the Empire only allows one school for advanced magic.”

But it is COLD. Senneh used one of her fore-mid legs to repeat the last sigil, to give her complaint more emphasis.

Vanre stood, feeling the very chill air on her skin. She dared a very minor spell to freshen her skin, then began pulling on her uniform, hung neatly on a rack next to her bed.

“It is cold, sweetling. I’m sorry. If you want, you can just sleep in here until summer. We can even burn some charcoal in the brazier at night.”

You do not mind?

Vanre smiled. “Not at all. I don’t use the ceiling for anything.”

Vanre’s eyes drifted to her tiny desk, in the room’s corner, where an open book was covered in her own handwriting. The tight runs were interspersed with illustrations of webs, spinnerets, and weaving patterns.

Vanre’s smile grew. “Not yet, anyway.”

PATREON
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Writing Basics: Learn from Your Mistakes. Or Else.

I love my editors.

I kinda have to. I need to treat them the way fighter pilots need to treat their ground crews. without them, I can’t do my job.

They are the only people in the world companies will pay to make me look smarter.

So, when they savagely rake me over the coals on something, I try to pay attention. To be a better writer, of course. And to show them I respect the effort I put into sending me feedback.

But, also, because I never want to know the savagery of a twice-spurned editor who finds the same mistake in a turnover of mine after pointing it out for me all special.

So that you can perhaps learn from my mistakes as well, here are the three two most savage pieces of editorial feedback I have ever received on my writing. I’m naming names.

One. Stilted Dialog.

Lj Stephens was editing a short piece of intro fiction I wrote for a game product. She asked for a revision noting:
“It’s great, except for when people are talking. That is all bad. Can you rewrite this so no one speaks?”

Yes. Yes I can.

Two. Passive Voice.

Louis Agresta sent me feedback on an adventure I wrote for him that said “Too much passive voice has been put in this adventure.”

Wow, that sentence is So awkward I wonder why…

Oh.

Three. American Spelling.

I turned over a manuscript to Wes Schneider which, to be clear, was for an American publisher.

I spelled the word gray as “grey” throughout the text.

He gave the manuscript back to me with editorial comments. The first time that appeared, there was a correction.

The second? A bigger correction, with a star by it.

The third? The page bled red ink.

Wes said we fought a war for that ‘A.’ He mentioned I was making baby George Washington cry. He drew a sketch of a field of cut-up and dying E’s in red ink on the manuscript, and told me I had to enter all the corrections myself.

I did.

With apologies to baby George Washington.

Good luck out there. Be kind to your editors.

PATREON
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Microsetting: Midlands

The Plains are the safest. Not safe, mind you, but not as bad as when you move too far in any other direction.

They can’t cross running water, so the Mississippi is the barrier from the East. I’ve heard the Panama Canal is as safe as you can go South, but I don’t know anyone who has gone any further than Laredo. Something about the air. Baja California is supposedly still okay, but god help them for being so far West.

There’s no set barrier between the Plains and the West Coast. The Rockies do most of the work of keeping us safe, but stay clear of the passes. Everyone knows what happened at Logan Pass, and I saw how bad things get close to Marias Pass myself. I-15 is like a line of death, and they move north-south along it much, much too easily. I-90 isn’t as bad, but it’s not good either. I don’t go farther North than Nebraska, anymore. I’m told U.S. 20 is worse, but I never saw anything on it.

I wish I could say they only come out at night, but that’s not true. They see better at night than we do, or at least most of ’em do, so night’s more dangerous. But they can move and hunt in the day, too. The leaner pickings get, the more they hunt in the light. But that doesn’t mean you should feel safe if there are people around. Some groups just haven’t been hit yet. Others make… arrangements. Arrangements that don’t go well for strangers to their area.

Shooting them in the head is great, but not strictly necessary and requires you to be sure what part is the head. If you have the ammo, center-mass is still the safest bet, but it takes a lot of lead. Clubs seems useless, and machetes are too likely to chip and bend. Spears are okay, but you need some kind of cross-brace, or they just pull themselves down it until they get to you.

Axes are good. Shovels work in a pinch, if sharpened.

Don’t listen to anything broadcast. Don’t eat anything you can’t identify, even if it comes from a can. Don’t try to read anything in a language you don’t recognize. If you think you can hear the stars, get inside. If someone near you says they can hear the stars?

Axes are good.

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Short Fiction: Epoch

My father never liked her. Grantha says it’s because she didn’t visit often when father was young. The wars kept her away. They were worse, where she was. And everyone agrees she is why it didn’t get so bad here. But she wasn’t around when Grampa died, and father never forgave her. “What is the point,” he’s said “of an eternal ally if they are eternally not here?”

It’s not a fair thing to say… but father isn’t the first to say it. The Grans and gran-Grans all love her, but I’ve seen the records. She’s saved us many times, or at least helps us save ourselves, but she’s also missed some terrible times. She helped the ‘steaders settle the vale when we first came here. No one is sure why. All the records say if we ask her, just just looks sad and says she owes us. A debt that will take a hundred generations to be repaid.

It’s only been 12.

The ‘steaders never bothered to write why she brought them here, or if they did we lost that book. I suspect we’d have lost most of our books from then, if she hadn’t brought copies of some every century or so. The Hearthstead Laws, most often. Especially when the Honey-Nots took over when she was gone so long most of us didn’t believe in her, or at least thought she was dead, and the Hunnots burned all the old Laws. My family were Avowers back then. We never stopped believing.

But she didn’t save us from the Honey-Nots. We had to do that ourselves. And she showed up just after the Battle of the Motte, within hours of it, with everything we needed to restore the way things were. Like she had been waiting. Like she could have helped, if she’d wanted to. But when people asked why she’d stayed away, why she didn’t help us against the Hunnots, the records claim she just said “They were Valefolk, too.”

Even though she stayed for almost a decade that time, she wasn’t very popular with that generation. At least, not overall. The Maoilriains have always been loyal, of course, Every generation of them, since the first. And Maehr Maoilriain left with her after her long stay, and came back much later as a real rune-whisperer. I met Maehr once, on his 200th birthday, just before he died. His eyes were still bright. But then, the Maoilriains have always lived longer than the rest of us.

An eternal ally. The Ageless, some records call her. Silverlocke, in others. The Harrower, but only in the oldest songs, and Leithe Leithaene in the oldest reference I can find, but never after that.

Grantha calls her Constance, which I think is funny. So does Grantha. And, according to Grantha, so does Constance.

When any valefolk reach their 15th year, we line up and wait to see if she comes, to ask for our part of the bargain. One years service from any she asks on that day, and a lifetime of service of all she asks once in ten generations. She’s only asked for that year three times, and the last time was Maehr. Of course, he was gone for decades.

People forget about the lifetime of service, asked of all those who stand the line for one in every ten generations. She’d only invoked it once, and it was a long time ago.

Ten generations ago.

I know. I checked the records.

So, tomorrow, I and six others stand the line. Cuthair is convinced she’ll come, but he’s another crazy Maoilriain. No one takes him seriously, because he looks about 11. But 15 scars run his left hand, like all of us. Suski thinks she’s dead. Suski likes thinking about death. And I swear, vultures and jackals like Suski. I guess I’d like Suski too, if I needed death to eat.

Father swears if she does show up, he’s going to break the accord. He could, any alder could on line-day, but none ever have. I can’t imagine father will either.

I only met Constance once, when I was very small. She rested her right thumb on my head, and smiled. It’s my earliest memory. That smile visits me in my dreams.

And lately, it’s been visiting a lot more often.

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Birthday Memories on my Birthday

On my birthday, which is today, I tend to think about memories of previous birthdays.

I have a lot of great birthday memories.

I hold the first “OwenCon,” cutting up things like comics to make a flier, and pick an older friend to be toastmaster.

My mother has us all play a game where each kid has a balloon tied to one ankle, and you try to stomp out other kid’s balloons with your other foot.

My mother makes a pinata, which we bash the hell out of.

We stay up all night playing Dungeon, which a friend brought over.
We stay up all night playing Dark Tower, which a friend brought over.

We stay up all night watching the Thunderbirds anime, which is streaming on a pay channel we don’t normally get, but which is doing a free preview that weekend.

We stay up all night watching VHS movies.

I run a D&D game all weekend, as an adult, with friends coming and sleeping over.

My friend Carl rules a Rolemaster game all weekend. My character ends up with a magic tattoo which gives her dragon spells.

I discover my friends all went in together and got me a GameCube, so I can play Mario Sunshine. It becomes my favorite Mario game, to date.

My wife makes a pinata, which we bash the hell out of.

We go to see the B&W Dracula movie as a special theater event. The Spanish-language version filmed on the same sets plays afterward. We expect to just watch a little of it. We stay for the whole thing, fascinated at how much better a movie it is.

The common denominator for all of these, of course, is friends. (With games a close second)

Thanks, everyone.

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The Chosen… ish

“You are the Chosen Seventeen.”

“Say what now?”

“Chosen. The Chosen Seventeen. I mean, one of them, obviously. You’re not all 17.”

“I… I mean. I thought there was a Chosen One?”

“Oh, there is! She’s great. Met her at a seminar a couple of years ago. But, yeah, no. You’re not THAT Chosen. I mean, only one person is the Chosen ONE, right?”

“O… Okay. So… after the Chosen One, we go to the Chosen Seventeen?”

“Oh heck no! Wouldn’t that be weird? No, after the Chosen One, there are the Chosen Two. Who I have NOT met, but I am told are equally great. Well, I mean not EQUALLY great, obviously. They are only half as Chosen. But the two of them together are just as good as the Chosen One, and each on their own are still WAY better than an Un-See.”

“An Un-See?”

“Yeah, UnChosen. UnSee, for short.”

“So… after the Chosen Two, there are… ”

“Then the Chosen Three, the Chosen Five…”

“No Chosen Four?”

“What? No. Four isn’t a prime number.”

“Pri… but you said there were a Chosen Two?”

“Yeah. Two is prime. You… you weren’t paying attention in math class, were you?”

“Well I TRIED, but I kept having these weird daydreams about awful things happening to my friends.”

“Oh, yeah, the Fel Abstraction. That’s one of the powers of the Chosen Seventeen.”

“Oh. Ah, okay. What’s it good for?”

“I mean, not a lot. It’s an abstraction. Of fel things. Terrible things that could, theoretically happen, but probably won’t. Though I *am* told it’s good for coming up with lyrics to death metal songs.”

“I see. So I have vicious woolgathering?”

“Pretty much, yeah. Though that’s only ONE of your powers.”

“Uh-huh. And, tell me, am I one-seventeenth as useful and powerful as the Chosen One?”

Oh heck no. Not even close. You have one-seventeenth of her POTENTIAL, sure. But she’s 27 years old, we identified her when she was 9, she’s been trained by the greatest mystics and warriors most of her life, and she was granted the holy relic, the legendary blade Durandal.

“Where as I am 48, you JUST found me, and up til now I have been trained by a failing public school, two community colleges, and one Fast-Burger Shift Manager training Program.”

“Er… yeah. So you see how you are way, I mean WAY, less than one-seventeenth as potent as the Chosen One.”

“Do I even get a holy relic? Like, the Pope’s steak knife, or something?”

“You DO get a hold relic, if you complete your 90-day probationary period.”

“Great. Super. What holy relic?”

“Well, I mean, the weapons are mostly handed out to the Magnificent Eleven. You know, the Chosen One through the Chosen Five.”

“Sure. makes sense.”

“And the holy shields, gauntlets, and vambraces generally get divvied up among the Awesome Eighteen. Then…”

“Hey, one isn’t a prime number either!”

“Excuse me?”

You said there was no Chosen Four, because four isn’t prime. But neither is one. I do remember THAT form math class!”

“It’s not that all prime numbered groups of people are Chosen. It’s that there are ranks of Chosen, with the Chosen one at the top, and every tier UNDER that is eldritch potential divided among a prime number of people.”

“Why?

“Who the hell knows? Not my department. Anyway, you wanted to know about your relic?”

“Sure. Why not?”

“Well, as the last of the Seventeen, you’re part of the Terrible Thirty…”

“Terrible as in terrible to behold?”

“Ah, no. More like “terrible twos,” to be honest. I mean, these aren’t official group designations but… look. While there ARE a Chosen Nineteen, and a Chosen Twenty-Three, by the time the eldritch potential is divided that thinly, it’s not a lot different from just being an UnSee. We don’t even recruit them, normally.”

“Really? Because one-seventeenth of being Chosen doesn’t seem to be that different from one-nineteenth of being Chosen.”

“You’re right. It’s not.”

“So… ah.”

“Yeah. Historically, most of the Chosen Thirteen are constantly bitching about how each of them is very nearly as good as one of the Chosen Eleven, but gets no respect, and most of the Chosen Seventeen are complaining no one takes them seriously. So, their Compeers–that is the people who train, advise, and direct them, like I am with you right now–their compeers generally find the Terrible Thirty–the Thirteens and Seventeens–are a huge pain in the ass to deal with.”

“So why bother?”

“Because if we don’t, the Bockshexe, Goulekon, or Nelapsi will recruit you. Any of those groups are bad enough without any decent amount of Chosen-ness to give them an edge. And the Terrible Thirty may often be worse than useless, but they do less damage as crappy heroes than augmented villains.”

“So a Seventeen is just potent enough to make preventing them from going Dark Side smart, while a Nineteen simply isn’t worth the effort? Awesome. Tremendous. What a glorious destiny I foresee. And my relic?”

“Oh, sorry! So the Thirteen get the  flops and pings..”

“The what?”

“My bad, that’s Compeer talk. They get the majority of the cloth and metal relics that aren’t arms or armor–cloaks, boots, rings, amulets, that kind of thing.”

“Uh-huh. And what, dare I ask, does that leave for a Seventeener?”

“You have the advantage of picking from a fairly large category of relics. We have more than seventeen of these, so even as the Last Seventeen, you’ll have a choice within the category.”

“Okay, swell. but what’s the category?”

“Holy Miscellany.”

“… Seriously?”

“Look, we don’t make holy relics. Not for centuries. So we have to make do with what we’ve found over the centuries. And some things just defy easy categorization. But like I said, we have a LOT of those, so…”

“Gimme an example.”

“What?”

“Miscellany doesn’t tell me much. So give me an example of some holy relics in that category.”

Well, okay. There are the Tablets of Destiny, stolen by Anzû the Demon Bird from Enlil and hidden on a mountainside. They offer dominion over all the things written within their divine law.”

“Er… wow. That’s amazing!”

“Yep! Of course they’re made of clay and are thousands of years old, so there are parts missing…”

“How much is missing?”

“More than 99% The remaining clay bits pretty much fit in a wallet now, and just give dominion over onions, cucumbers, adzes, bronze daggers, and clay tablets. Itself included.”

“Ah… well, okay. I an still see lots of uses for that.”

“Absolutely. It’s the most powerful of the Miscellany, so it’s always the first thing selected by a new generation of Seventeens.”

“Oh. I see. And I am the LAST Seventeen? So that’s been taken?”

“Oh, heck yeah. No, the Tablets are absolutely spoken for. But you wanted an example, so…”

“How about an example of things I could actually pick from?”

“Oh. Well, sure. I mean, they won’t be Tablets of Destiny…”

“My point exactly.”

“Well, okay. There is the Holy Door of Alexander the VI.”

“A door?”

“Yeah, I mean it’s not something you’re going to carry around with you, but you could have it installed in an RV or something. And when you walk through it, for 24 hours you gain the Borgia Sight”

“Great. Fantastic. And what does that do?”

“The next significantly bad thing that happens to you?”

“Yes?”

“You see how you could have avoided it.”

“But only after it happens?”

“Yeah, but that’s still some potent hindsight?”

“Okay, true. Not terrible. What else?”

“There’s the Iron Jiaozi. It’s a 900-year old paper bank note, which was used to pay a swordsman to kill a demon. Whoever last licked it has the power to always know how much a killer would require to kill someone for pay.”

“Only killers?”

“Yeah. Not just assassins, but anyone who has killed another person.”

“Righty. Grim, and weirdly specific. And I don’t think i want to lick thousand-year-old money. But I could see it being a huge help in the right situation. Gimme one more example.”

“There’s the Whitehall Chair. it was designed by Inigo Jones. Sitting in it allows you to sleep, no matter your condition, restfully and for exactly how long you wish.”

“No drawbacks?”

“Well… it’s a 85-pound chain. That just lets you sleep…”

“But it’s not sleep cursed with nightmares, or you snore loudly enough to wake the dead, or you end up with a weird crick in your neck?”

“Oh no. The sleep is always restful and fulfilling.”

“Great. Sign me up. I feel super Chosen.”

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The Evil Dragons Do (Microfiction)

“So, do you think all red dragons are evil?”

“What are you naming as ‘red’ dragons? I care not what color a dragon is, nor the color of its breath unless it is directed at me. The blazing dragons of the suns are creatures of rigid law, not evil, though crimson in color. The infernal hellfire dragons of the lower regions are no less ordered and no less flame-hued, but certainly do have the save supernatural infusion of evil as is common to their fiendish neighbors…”

“No, I mean regular red dragons. Chromatic dragons. ‘Normal” red.”

“Ah, the Ascandeth, the fire-blooded tyrants of ash and unforgiving mien. There is no doubt that their numbers are filled with those who crave power and wealth, and do not care what means must be used to gain it. Dragons, you must understand, are only barely mortal. They are descended directly from the blood of gods, and the blood of the Ascandeth is fiery and harsh.

“They are hatched already speaking two languages, filled with the cunning and knowledge nearly that of an adult human, with all the drive to meet their core needs of an infant, yet the power to fly, burn, and make demands directly. Every Ascandeth is born with all the urges to be murderous and uncaring, and the power to enforce such desires immediately.

“Does every Ascaneth then take steps down that path within hours of cracking from a shell and never varies from that increasingly-well-worn route? Surely not. They are creatures of free will, and some must—by accident, or intervention, or through the sheer internal moral fiber to sense that the rights of other creatures have value—have avoided becoming agents of pure evil.”

“But I have never met one.”

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