Once Was Lost - A Planeswalker Story

by Antitonic

Over the sun-parched plains and badlands of Melenas, the nations of Faiqas and Ars-Sara have stood at the brink of war for generations over resources and land. The brewing tensions have finally come to a head in recent months, and many able-bodied men from both sides of the conflict have been consigned to their doom over the squabbles of the upper class who have little personal stake. Between these two nations stands the Hallowed Order: a coalition of knights who alone control mystical forces, limiting the use of magic to their own number, and punishing those who do not belong among them.


Liya al-Amundi looked at the sky, frowning. The clouds spoke of an oncoming storm, and food was already hard to come by in quantity due to most of the season's crops being passed to the frontline. It had already been three months since the king's officers had ridden through, grabbing any able-bodied man to fight under the banner of Faiqas with the threat of conscription. Some went gladly, proud to serve. Others, reluctant to leave their families, attempted to argue their position but to no avail. Liya's husband, Sadi el-Tunar was one of the latter; unwilling to leave his wife and, at the time, unborn son unless forced. For the first month of his enlistment, Sadi and Liya exchanged letters via courier; Sadi explaining the terrible conditions of camp and the absurdities of military life, while Liya passed on the news of the birth of Anwar el-Sadi, their son, and whatever she could think of to lighten his mood. The letters had not arrived since then, nor had hers been received as best she could tell, so she worried.

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For now though, Liya jostled the small basket of vegetables she had gathered and traded to a more comfortable position, and made her way to the home of Anwar's keepers, an elderly couple who sympathised with her position and had made great effort to assist her. She gave way and made a curtsy to the Knight of the Hallowed Order as he passed on patrol, but he paid her no mind. The Knights had travelled to both kingdoms to act as peacekeepers in the stead of the war, but many found their protection more trouble than it was worth. They expected much, gave little, and were quick and harsh in their justice.

Having greeted the couple and given a squash that she knew they were fond of, Liya returned home, Anwar nestled in her arms, to prepare the evening meal. The broth was boiling nicely when the door burst open. Liya turned with a start; a man stood there, a stranger to her, his eyes gleaming maliciously from behind the veil obscuring the rest of his face. The clothes were light but well-worn, in a distinctive style that, combined with the relatively pale features visible, led to only one conclusion: a deserter from the Ars-Sara side of the war. Liya made a movement to stand in front of Anwar's cradle but the man was faster, pulling a dagger from within the clothes and pointing at her before she could move.

"Ah ah ah, not so fast lovely." The man's eyes turned to take in Anwar's presence. "Wouldn't want the wee one to get hurt over your mistake, now would we?"

"Don't hurt him., Liya pleaded, in no more than a whisper as tears began to well. "I'll do anything, just don't hurt him." The man laughed coarsely.

"Anything, is it? Let's just see. Normally I wouldn't bother with rats like you, but I've recently... come into my own, as it were. So here's what I need for a start: You're going to get me a change of clothes, and I could use a good meal. As flattering as this garment is, it's a little conspicuous around these parts."

"And then you'll leave?"

"Nah, that's just the start, lovely. I'll leave when I'm good and ready." The man jabbed the air in Liya's direction, and she flinched. "Hurry up then!"

Liya scrambled around her home, not wanting to look at the intruder, but not daring to look away as she collected an outfit that belonged to Sadi. She handed it over, reaching out as far as she could to keep as much distance as possible. A strange pressure was building inside her, as if around her heart, but Liya disregarded it for more pressing concerns. The man snatched the clothes from her hand, and Liya yelped.

"Quiet down! You don't want to draw that Knight on us, or you'll wish you hadn't, rat!" The man shrugged out of his clothes, and worked on putting on Sadi's.

"Now how about that meal? I'm sure I can stomach whatever you rats eat, so I'll just take that."

Liya could barely hear what the man was saying, the blood was pumping through her ears due to the adrenaline, and something snapped. She grabbed the broth pot from the fire, and, as soon as the man's head poked through the shirt, she flung its contents at his face, aiming for the eyes. The man screamed in pain. Liya had missed blinding him, but there was damage done, and she started screaming to alert everyone, anyone who could hear. From the window, Liya could just hear above the pained yells, came the sound of armour striking against itself: the Knight was rushing to her aid.

"Oh, you'll pay for that, bitch!" The man swore through a clenched jaw, before he froze for a second and started to grin cruelly. "Want to see a trick?" he asked, before spinning the blade around, and stabbing himself in the shoulder. He screamed again in pain, as the Knight broke down the door.

"What goes?!" The Knight demanded, spearpoint darting between the two.

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Before Liya had time to respond, the man shouted through a pained expression, "This demon used magic on me! She made my skin boil and made a knife fly though the air!" A peal of thunder rang out and the downpour began. The Knight shifted the spear to point solely in Liya's direction.

"For the crime of possessing unlawful magic, you are under arrest by the authority of the Hallowed Order."

"B-but I didn't...! I can't..."

"Cease your protestations! This man has been injured, and he certainly didn't do it to himself. Now come with me." The Knight grabbed Liya by the arm and started pulling her out of the house.

"No! My baby!" Liya screamed, kicking and trying to pull away. Despite the rain, a small crowd had gathered around to see what the commotion was about. The Knight pointed to one of the bystanders with his spear.

"You! You know this woman?"

The woman he had pointed out flinched, and said "Y-yes Ser Knight. And I want to say..."

"SILENCE! Do not dare to question authority, or you'll be joining her. I charge you to take this infant into your care." The woman ran in and swept up Anwar into her arms, who at this point had awoken and started crying.

The Knight spoke up to the crowd. "Let it not be said the Hallowed Order is not without mercy or justice. Disperse, or face that justice!" He poked Liya in the back painfully, with the spear tip. "Move, or be moved."

The rain was making the paths a burden to travel, but for all the trouble Liya had in keeping her footing or pulling her way through mud, the Knight showed no sign of being affected. Faces of people she knew peered out of houses, in shock at the sight of one of their own being treated in such a fashion. Shortly outside of town, a cart pulled by a sturdy-looking horse and containing three more Knights waited on the road. One held up a gauntleted hand, face obscured by a full helmet, like his fellows.

"Hail Ser Kirna. We received your missive, and await the prisoner."

The Knight escorting Liya raised his hand in response. "Then the charges have been prepared and no time should be squandered." One of the Knights in the cart stepped down to bind Liya's hands. She tried to fight, but a sharp knock to the back of her head left her dizzy, and before she could recover, her hands and legs were tied, and she was gagged, blindfolded, her head covered with a sack, and tossed without care into the back of the cart.


The travel to the fortress of the Hallowed Order was far from pleasant. Not once over the course of two weeks was Liya unbound or unblindfolded. While the Knights made camp and prepared food, Liya was confined to the cart and given barely anything. Occasionally she was given a drink of water, barely quenching her thirst, and twice in the journey she was forcefully fed over-salted meat. The hunger pangs were maddening, and Liya drifted in and out of consciousness. Eventually, they arrived at the Order's fortress. Liya was half-dragged to a central chamber and finally unblindfolded. As her eyes adjusted, the chamber was dark; torches lining the outside had been snuffed out moments earlier, judging by the smoke curling from some of them. Seated around the chamber were five Knights in more ornate varieties of the armour the others wore.

"For the record, your name." One of the Knights, a woman by the sound of her voice, stated from her chair. At first, Liya said nothing, until she felt a sharp jab in her back from a spear.

"Liya."

"Your full name."

"Liya al-Amundi."

One of the other seated Knights spoke up. "Liya al-Amundi, you stand accused of unlawful use of the arcane. Your punishment is to be death."

"But I'm innocent!" Liya yelled, frantically. The pressure around her heart had grown, almost unbearably.

"That is not up to the question. Our ruling is final."

"Then let me join you! I wouldn't be unlawfully possessing magic if I was a Knight!"

"Our Order has adequate strength presently, and your state says you would be a poor fit. Judgment stands."

The first Knight spoke again. "You shall be hanged by the neck until dead one week hence. You shall be shunned from any light until your dying day, and your soul shall be forfeit."

Liya screamed and started to fight against against the grip of the Knight standing beside her, before a blunt impact struck her in the head and she fell unconscious once more.


True to their word, the Knights held Liya in a stone chamber without any light for what would seem to be the last week of her life. She screamed until hoarse, and cried throughout, unable to resist in her weakened state when the Knights delivered a meagre meal. Her rest was minimal due to the hard stone floor, so the final day came without fanfare.

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Unable to tell what time it was in her confinement, Liya was roughly shaken awake by a Knight, taken from her chamber, and marched at spearpoint up several flights of carved stairs. The one advantage of imprisonment, that she could tell, was that she was able to see in the total darkness engineered for her through the use of blankets over windows and blocking of corridors. Eventually she was led to a small room with doors on either side. A Knight stood by the far door, a bundle in their hands.

"Change." The bundle thrust into Liya's arms was revealed to be a surprisingly elegant white silk dress. In any other circumstance, it would have been breathtakingly beautiful.

"I don't understand," Liya said, her voice still rough from screaming in vain.

"It is tradition. Worry not, you won't need it long."

Liya paused for a moment, waiting to see if the Knight would give her some privacy or a modicum of decency, but there was none to be found. The dress was perhaps a little snug in the chest and a little loose on the hip, but Liya hadn't expected it to be tailored. The fact that it fit as well as it did was surprising enough. Once she had finished, the Knight spoke again, as if following a script.

"You go now to your end, adorned in righteousness. See now what your sins have denied you forever more." With that, the Knight opened the door, and Liya was blinded. After a few stumbling forced steps, her eyes finally started to clear. For the first time in weeks, she could see the sun shining down, and the intensity of it caused her eyes to water. From around the edges of the fortress ramparts, she could see out over the valleys. It was beautiful. In the center of the courtyard stood the gallows, a grim spectre marring what would have been worthy of a work of art. Step by step, Liya was pushed towards it, every inch of her being begging her to run or to do something, but she couldn't. All she could do was walk.

Step.

Step.

The pressure in her chest had built up so much it was painful. Liya wondered distantly if that would kill her before the hanging did, as a small mercy. Standing by the noose was yet another Knight, but instead of the silver and white of the others, this Knight was clad in armour of pitch black. They were rough in tightening the noose around her neck, and Liya was turned away to face the sun.

Anwar, Sadi, she thought, I love you. She closed her eyes. It took only a moment, but it felt like an age was passing. The creak of the lever, the feel of sudden weightlessness, a sharp pain in the neck, the release of pressure from within, a pulling feeling, and the cessation of sound.

Liya kept her eyes tightly shut for a moment, gradually opening them in confusion. Thick jungle covered the land below her, and volcanic ash floated through the air from distant peaks. She looked down, and, to her shock, found she wasn't standing on anything, but floating, in midair. The bigger concern was that she could see through her body. Her arms, her legs, the dress, they all appeared transparent, with a light-blue tinge. Like looking through stained glass. In shock, she raised her hands to her face. She could still feel herself. Same with touching her left arm and hand with the right.

"What's happening?" she asked aloud. Her voice had a faint echo to it that was new, but sounded the same to her otherwise. The pressure that had been building inside was still there, but it had changed. Before, it felt like a ball of water around her heart, gradually hardening; now it felt like smoke, filling every part of her. Liya tried to walk, but couldn't find any ground to push off. She frowned and focused, willing herself to move forward. It wasn't fast or far, but she drifted forward. She tried the other directions, and the movements came easier each time. Suddenly, there was a screech from above. Liya turned, to see small green creatures riding a much larger one. A dragon! Liya thought. Were they attacking her? An answering screech from below revealed another, although this one had no riders. They were going to collide, with her in the middle! She felt a pulling from within again, and the world vanished around her. Liya looked around. She was being pulled backwards away from a shining, familiarly light blue, star through a storm of purple clouds. All around her were stars, though these were white, stars without number. Then the clouds vanished. She was back at the fortress of the Hallowed Order. The small crowd that had gathered to watch her execution had dispersed, leaving two Knights and under the gallows, in a heap, her body. If Liya could move, she would have collapsed to the ground. Instead, all she could do was stare in shock. One of the Knights made a disapproving noise.

"Scum," she said, and kicked Liya's body.

"No!" Liya cried out and lunged for the Knight, bracing for impact. The sharp intake of breath was a surprise, as Liya realised that until that moment, she hadn't been breathing. She looked down to see plate gauntlets covering her hands, and realised she was seeing from the Knight's eyes. She had control. Seeing her own body lying dead on the ground, she felt anger well within her. The pressure, or smoke, or whatever it was, was still inside her, but now it felt different again, like how a fruit can taste different the riper it gets. It reminded Liya of winter somehow.

"Hadeel? What are you doing? Just grab the body, and let us go already."

"What?" Liya said in a voice that was not her own.

"Just... just give it here." The other Knight sighed as they walked over and grabbed the body's arm.

"Don't you touch me! I mean... her. Don't touch her!"

The other Knight dropped the arm. "Hadeel? Are you alright?"

"I said no!" Liya yelled and felt a push from within. Mist coalesced around the gauntlet as she held out her hand, and an icicle burst from the air, striking the Knight in the shoulder and even penetrating the armour.

"AH! Have you lost your mind!?"

"Shut up, shut up!" Liya clenched her fist and the mist spread from her hand and started collecting on the armour of the Knight, turning to a layer of ice that covered them from head to toe as they stopped moving. With ragged breath, Liya looked at her hands in astonishment. She could use magic now! She looked over at her now dead body, and nearly started to cry.

No time for that now, need to get out of here.

Focusing, she tried to make that lunging feeling again towards her body, but only succeeded in floating through it, leaving the Knight.

“...What…?” Liya heard the Knight begin to ask before jumping back in and resuming control. There was little for it, and she needed to be anywhere but here. She picked up her body awkwardly and carried it to the door nearby.

Was I always this heavy? Though this woman, Hadeel I suppose, is stronger than I am. Liya thought.

...Or was, anyway, she added sadly, after a thought.

Having not really seen the interior of the fortress, Liya only got turned around twice before finding the stable entrance. She slung her body over a horse and was about to open the gate before a voice called out.

"Excuse me, you can't do that."

Liya looked over to see a young boy, probably no older than 15, wearing plain clothes but designed with an element reminiscent of the Knights armour. A stablehand, most likely.

"I, uh… I'm taking this woman's body to her home for a decent burial. Orders from... you know." Liya said trying to sound believable, pointing a finger vaguely upwards.

"The First Vanguard?"

"Yes, them. So I'll just be..."

"I never heard nothing like that., the boy said suspiciously.

"It's news to me, too. Look, if you want to waste their time and mine by asking a pointless question, go right ahead. Otherwise, I'm leaving now."

The boy thought for a moment. "Just watch for his back right. He's been a bit stroppy when you brush there."

Liya nodded, and body in tow, rode towards home.


Liya slumped over the shovel, exhausted. She had just finished moving the last piece of dirt for her own grave. Thanks to her borrowed magic, she was able to keep decomposition from setting in until she made it home. To her grim delight, the townsfolk, upon hearing of Liya's fate, had ambushed the Ars-Sara intruder and essentially torn him to shreds.The elderly couple who looked after him before had been given custody of Anwar. She couldn't leave, but she could never truly go back.

Using Hadeel as a disguise, Liya assumed the role of a patrolling Knight, but always staying local to her hometown. She cried on seeing Anwar's first steps, and hearing his first words. She lent a shoulder when first one, then both of the elderly couple passed away. Her heart soared when Anwar started seeing a girl within the village, and was practically inconsolable when they had their first child together, a little girl they named Liya, in remembrance. One day, Liya awoke and got out of bed to resume her duties, but Hadeel did not. Liya stayed around the town until the day that Anwar took his final rest. He went peacefully, surrounded by family and friends. If she didn't know better, Liya would have sworn that he saw her, right at the end.

Liya had gotten stronger too. While Hadeel was asleep, Liya had practiced. She discovered that while out of a body, she could fly and move through objects. She could also conjure a phantom glass that served no purpose while spectral, but once in a body, would act as a mirror that others could not see. On the matter of possession, she could only control people who had magic within them: any of the Knights or very rarely someone outside the Order. Each had their own type of magic, and discovering how to use it was always a challenge.

Lastly, she developed her ability to travel to those stars she had seen within the clouds. Focusing, she could fade from one place and see the stars laid out before her. She could then move towards, and into, any of her choosing. However, other worlds needed an anchor; she was only free while here on her homeworld. If she didn't find a host within minutes, she would be pulled back here, to her grave, and left to try again or drift here forever.

Liya looked at the familiar night sky, the one she had known all her life, and portions of her afterlife, and, with a sad smile, focused on the stars and drifted away.

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Fuck You, I Survived - Thoughts on Zak S., Abuse, and D&D

CW: emotional and physical abuse, sexual assault

by John “Senstaku” Bates

Fuck that guy and people like him.

Just wanted to get that out right away so both my stance and the subject of this diatribe are clearly presented at the top. If you disagree, feel free to fuck off. Or keep reading. Whatever, I’m the nascent ramblings of a bisexual creative, not a cop. Also, for the record, the title of this is the last time I will refer to that particular shitbag by his name, because I don’t feel the need to have that particular arrangement of letters associated any further with my website, my being, or my works.

To understand my vehement disgust when it comes to abusers I’ll have to recount a few facts of my life. I understand if reading any of the following is difficult for anyone, and don’t judge you not going any further; I’ve hopefully given you p l e n t y   o f t i m e t o t u r n a w a y n o w. Those of you remaining, welcome to my circus family.

While I can’t exactly point to every instance of physical or emotional abuse I’ve gone through, I can sure as hell give you the highlights. As a child with a very physically evident psychological aversion to the very concept of needles, my family rarely missed an opportunity to bring up the concept. Even when my arm was physically locking itself up from the psychic pain of a needle being jabbed into my arm they would continue. Now that might not sound bad, but I want you to fold your non-dominant arm up to your shoulder and flex as hard as you can now.

And hold it there for half an hour.

Hurts don’t it? And it’s a physical pain you can’t stop because your brain is busy telling you “HEY GUESS WHAT THIS IS WHAT IT FEELS LIKE TO HAVE A BIG FUCKOFF NEEDLE IN YOUR ARM AIN’T IT GREAT!?” Now, to be fair, it wasn’t my entire family doing that all the time. Just my older brother really who got a kick out of it. You know what my father got a kick out of? Calling me a pussy. If I wasn’t interested in doing something that he and my older brother liked (mostly car-related to be a Southern stereotype), I was a pussy. He never called me a faggot though, no, that was my brother’s word.

Now sure, being called a pussy and a faggot hardly constitutes as emotional abuse for most people, granted, but it doesn’t help when it’s piled on top of being forced into situations you don’t want to be in and cannot escape from repeatedly. When caving, or spelunking, I was constantly afraid we’d get lost or fall in a pit and die. With racing, they tried to put me in a vehicle that goes from 0 to 60 in a second when I was 8, and I hit the gas and launched myself (in a dragster, unbuckled), out of the garage at about half speed accidentally. I was screaming until the thing came to a stop and I was pulled out, called stupid for not hitting the brakes, and fortunately deemed too much of a financial risk to try it again.

I also had a nanny my parents would leave me with whenever they left town to go do important adult things I wasn’t allowed to come with (mostly racing) for. A sweet old lady with the face of a leather handbag who made us go out and find our own switches with which she would discipline us. I accidentally got one with thorns one time and she didn’t hesitate to use it. Though, I will admit, it was also in that house that I had my first crush, who introduced me to Sailor Moon. So that was nice.

School eventually came, at which point I was diagnosed with ADHD and given medicine to help calm me down. Ritalin, as it turns out, is not for everyone and especially not for me so we stopped taking it, which meant I got relegated to the Special Needs classrooms because they had to have a specialist for us ADHD kids.

Turns out you need a specialist to sit on children who aren’t behaving. Fair enough, I was a deadly little guy what with my being shorter than all the other boys and less athletic. Now, the psychology behind sitting on kids in schools I’m not necessarily familiar with, but let me tell you it certainly feels traumatic to have an adult sitting on you to the point that it feels like you might get crushed to death. I’m not alone in that either - a good friend of mine has relayed similar disciplinary experiences to me.

Then I went through a series of abusive girlfriends, from throwing my own glasses case in my face because it was funny and giving less than a shit when I get trampled at a concert she invited me to from one, to telling me that if we broke up she’d die and it would be my fault because she would write that I killed her in her diary (not that that necessarily makes any sense?) and throwing kitchen knives at me from another. Something about my “beat up geek puppy” appeal in middle and high school attracted a particular brand of person.


And finally we start getting to the good stuff: you know, actual physical trauma and emotional abuse. When I entered high school and expressed a love of acting and a desire to pursue it as a career, I got the standard “There is no money in acting, you should go to college and work on cars like your dad does, there’s no point in chasing your dreams, nobody ever makes it as an actor etc. etc. etc.” ad infinitum ad nauseum.

And my father threw me into a bookshelf.

Well, to be fair, he threw me into a bookshelf, my door, my bed, and my closet, flipping over and knocking down most of those things in the process. You see, my father had this strange idea that everything in the house belonged to him - even if he had no real claim of ownership over it. And so, since I didn’t want to share my PS2 with my younger brother at the time - I love him, but he is the reason I had to replace my physical copies of FF7 and FF8 twice - a PS2 I had paid for with money earned not from my father but from my grandmother, he decided that he was just going to rip it out and throw it in the trash.

So I defended myself and my stuff and got manhandled for it.

And to top it all off, the pièce de résistance, my older brother’s girlfriend threatened me into letting her make out with me and groping me when I was still in middle school. The less said about that particular unreported sexual assault the better.

Now, I know there are people who are going to go through all of that and say “That’s not abuse, THIS is abuse” as if abuse is some sort of Australian hunting knife, but trust me, physical and mental scars can be accrued from many a seemingly innocent incident and it’s really hard to relay the feeling of these events. Hell, I couldn’t recognize much of that myself as abuse until I sat down and thought about it years later, and realized that a lot of that experience built me to the person that I am now, and not always in a positive way.

T H A T  H A V I N G  B E E N S A I D, and hopefully that’s a good place for anyone who skipped the abuse history to come back in, I want to talk about shitbag mentioned at the top of this post. Fuck that guy.

As a member of the LGBTQA+ community, a content creator in the D&D space, an abuse survivor, and someone whose goal includes providing a safe space to play for people who often feel unwelcome or shut out of more traditional venues:  I cannot be silent on this, nor can I stand that kind of behavior, nor the sort of behavior that makes way for that particular sort of trash. It’s inexcusable, especially when - as has been stated - this has been known information for a while that wasn’t taken seriously.

I’ll be honest, I didn’t know anything at all about this guy until recently, when Mandy Morbid and Vivka Grey spoke out about him. And then I heard that he had in some capacity consulted on D&D 5th edition, my favorite D&D edition in the series. So what did I do?

I went and blotted out his name in my Player’s Handbook with a purple crayon marker. Even took a picture for proof.

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You’ll notice one other name blotted out there, and if you look in your Player’s Handbook you’ll see it’s Mike Mearls. Because he defended and enabled this abuser even after receiving information about it, and then when called out delivered a fairly weak corporate apology. Do I think he’s an evil man? No, I don’t. I think he’s a contributing factor to a culture of abuse that normalizes the people who are, and while I can’t really do much to him, I can make a symbolic gesture.

Now, will I - as some have suggested - abandon D&D altogether? No, I won’t.

Because I want you to look at that picture again. Note the two names that are blotted out; and then look at all the rest. D&D is a product created by a massive team, for a massive fanbase, and has been used and can be used for good over and over again. From inspiring other people to providing safe spaces for creativity and to work through trauma and emotion, to grow as humans through the field of play. It’s not the only system that is useful for that, sure, but if we abandon it because someone who acts and thinks abhorrent things touched it then guess what?

He wins.

People that want nothing more than for LGBTQA+ people and women to disappear from the hobby and let it go back to what it used to be perceived as, a niche group for “intellectuals” (straight white men), win every time we let someone like that sack of shit push us away from each other, and from the people who pour their heart and soul into making these games inclusive, welcoming, and a creative space for everyone.

And I’m not going to let that happen. I will continue to play D&D, I will continue to do my damndest to make the space I occupy a safe one for people from all walks of life and experiences, and I will continue to stand against abusers and with their victims. I trust that I’m not alone in this.

To all those suffering from abuse, I hear you. I’m with you. To all those who think it’s fine to treat people that way, I’ve just got four words.

Fuck you. I survived.

-John “Senstaku” Bates

D6 Environmental Aspects

by Jack

D6 Environmental Aspects -- Rainforests

Any number of traditional D&D sessions have made use of forest settings – goblins, wolves, bandits, ogres, dryads, and myriad other beasties can be dropped in without seeming out of place. Ruins fit in nicely, as do caves, graveyards, and other dungeon-y bits. In my experience, most players have a mental image of a standard temperate mature woodland, probably with mixed deciduous tree growth – old oaks and maples, low-growing shrubs and the like.

Rainforests are different.

If you’re going to do a jungle setting, especially one that’s populated by jungle-specific creatures, or intentionally contains a tropical element, there are some things to consider.

1) Variety

Hundreds of different types of creatures live in a rainforest. If you’ve been wanting to introduce a new type of monster, a rainforest is probably a perfect place to do so. With natural resources so plentiful, almost any imaginable species can find the necessary sustenance. The inhabitants are not only extraordinarily diverse, however. Rainforests also exhibit incredible …

2) Biological density

Rainforests have an immense population. As one of the most fertile habitats, you can expect there to be tons and tons of living things and life-cycle activity in every direction. In my experience, a normal temperate forest generally has an interior visibility out to about 20-30 yards. A rainforest would have a mere fraction of this. In terms of combat, this may mean partial to full concealment for anything not adjacent to the player due to dense plant growth. Additionally, if random encounters are part of the system, you may want to increase the odds significantly to compensate for the higher population. Consider making diseases more frequent and/or severe, as bacteria are also everywhere, partially due to the …

3) Moisture

This is a very wet environment. Regular precipitation leads to treacherous terrain, floods, and high humidity. It may also make maintaining mundane equipment more difficult, as rot and rust can be accelerated. Constant rains also produce a …

4) Canopy

Life in a rainforest happens in all three dimensions. An entire world can be found among the treetops, separated from the earthbound species by a gap only spanned by the trunks of the forest behemoths. Gargantuan trees can serve as obstacles, pathways, or even hollow shelters. Certain encounters may even force the characters to take to the trees themselves to avoid a flood or a miles-long swarm of army ants. The canopy can also be home to …

5) Predators

With living species comes the developing food chain, and there are always dominant life forms to prey on those below. These do not always follow identical patterns. A lone monster may range over a certain area, sating its hunger on smaller, weaker animals. Alternatively, a voracious plant, rooted in one location, may ensnare the occasional passer-by – or a swarm of fish or insects may infest a stream, eating whatever is discarded by something in the canopy above. This is just one example of the way that …

6) Nature Dominates

Sentient tribes and civilizations may make their home in the rainforest, but anything left unattended is swiftly reclaimed by the natural world. Ruins that would only be overgrown over several centuries in another environment can be engulfed over a few brief years. Magic may even accelerate the process, allowing primal powers to be empowered in certain situations. Of course, when the group wakes up to find trees and vines have overrun their cleared campsite since the night before, they may not be overjoyed.

These aspects can contribute to the atmosphere of a tropical environment. Feel free to pick and choose!

D6 Environmental Aspects -- Coastlines

For those that use the nautical setting, there generally comes a time to make landfall. Very few crews will go too long upon the bounding main without eventually needing to put into port to resupply, spend their loot, visit the taverns, and find other entertainment. And then, of course, there’s the ever-popular aspect of getting marooned and wandering about the island. When spending time on the coast, consider -

1) It Changes

Wind and wave contribute to dynamic landscape. The energy expended by these two forces of nature can significantly modify the environment. Erosion and storms will frequently restructure the coastline, perhaps revealing a concealed cavern or treasure – or washing a campsite into the surf.

2) They Vary

The traditional white sandy beaches are only one of the many geomorphologies. Some coastlines are made of pebbles or cobbles, while others can be bare rock. Cliffs may occur when the ocean carves away at the land, exposing the stone strata, or when volcanism creates new land. Other features may include fjords, mudflats, reefs, marshes, quicksands, dunes, and deltas (to name only a few).

3) Unstable Ground

Soil is mainly held together by its clay content, an element that is frequently missing near the coastline. Loose terrain can make travel difficult and accidents more common.

4) Resources

Fresh water can be difficult to come by in a marine environment. Drinking brackish water or seawater can lead to salt toxicity – with symptoms ranging from mild irritability to muscle spasms to coma. Food can be entirely absent or extraordinarily plentiful, depending on the fertility of the surrounding waters. Caution may be required to avoid dangerous or poisonous species, however.

5) Weather

When land and water meet, weather severity becomes much more exaggerated. As the sun’s energy evaporates water from the ocean, the vapor is introduced to the atmosphere and fuels all manner of meteorological events. Typhoons and hurricanes are among the most severe, and typically cause the most damage when making landfall. Once over the continent, they lose much of the moisture that supports the storm cell and eventually dissipate. Differences in temperature cause the strong winds that most beaches experience. Land warms and cools much more quickly than water does, generating a wind cycle throughout the day. In the morning, the land warms rapidly, causing the air above it to rise and creating a low-pressure area that draws the wind inland. When evening arrives, the water holds the heat is has absorbed during the day and the dry ground cools, pushing strong winds back out over the ocean. For more information, investigate temperature gradients.

6) Tides

Depending on the location and dynamics of the coastline, the tide can have drastic effects. The intertidal zone can be a place of great diversity for the organisms in the beach habitat, and serves as a location where almost anything can drift in from the waves. Species living here must be able to adapt quickly, living in the water one minute and out of it the next. Rapidly rising tides are extremely hazardous, charging in with immense power and speed. A strong receding tide can reveal a hidden ruin or wreck or even sweep an adventurer out to sea.

Have fun at the beach!

photograph by Mara

photograph by Mara

D6 Environmental Aspects -- Grasslands

Sometimes the traditional medieval woodland setting becomes a bit too status quo for the GM, and the grassland locale tends to be a default alternative. A grassland, however, is by no means just a big pasture. The subtleties and characteristics can be intriguing to explore.

1) Variation

The concept of a standard grassland template is a misnomer. “Grassland” could refer to anything from a shortgrass prairie to a tree-spotted savanna. Tallgrass regions, shrublands, steppes, and heaths all fall within the general category, but each of these have unique aspects that set them apart. Decide which one your adventurers are exploring, and tailor your descriptions accordingly.

2) Population

Most grassland environments are characterized by the presence of vast herds of animals (in recent history, frequently ungulates, but feel free to use dinosaurs, flightless birds, plant-based lifeforms, or whatever). These herds tend to function as a linchpin in the ecosystem – other species prey upon them, others form symbiotic relationships or subsist in their shadow. No one species has to be dominant; the African biomes, for instance, hosted robust populations of many animals: wildebeest, antelope, buffalo, zebra, and more. The habitual grazing practices of these herds tend to be one of the main controls that keep the grasslands from becoming covered in tree growth. Of course, it’s not the only control …

3) Fire

The role of fire in the grassland environment is often highly dynamic. Some fires will occur naturally, and it can be a fearsome event when a dry prairie roars into an unstoppable conflagration. Other times the fire is set deliberately by the people dwelling there in order to maintain the environment, clear an area for settling, or even to drive game into a hunter’s ambush. Of course, with fire existing as a prevalent element, one could use it to connect the grasslands to populations of dragons, azers, ifrits, and the like.

4) Resources

Grasslands can provide a number of strategic resources to whoever controls the region. The grassland environment is usually highly fertile and can withstand long periods of sustained agriculture and livestock use given proper care. Armies march on their stomachs, after all. In a hunter-gatherer culture, having access to the the aforementioned herds can provide all the necessary resources for survival, and prime hunting ground is a precious commodity. Valuable trade routes can often pass through the vast territory as well.

Enjoy your grasslands!

New Things Incoming!

Hello all!

As you may have noticed, there’s new stuff going on here at the FS Films website: we’re revamping (not, sadly, re-vampiring. So put away your stakes and/or vials of holy water) the site to be easier to be shinier and easier for you to use.

Check out the latest from our Twitter feed here, see the current and upcoming shows, the schedule of when your favorite scrappy Ravnica-ites are playing, and archives of all our past content. We encourage you to click around, and let us know if there’s anything you would like to see more of!

In addition, we’re going to be using this front page for rotating features: whether that’s highlighting past shows, links to fun oneshots that you may not remember, or short articles on gaming/writing content: stay tuned! Up next: some musings by Jack on D&D environmental aspects.

-Mara, your friendly website editor

Weekly Update from Final Show Films - Week of the 10th

Sunday - 3/5
Our weekly Stream videos went up today - short one due to bachelor party duties on Friday of course.
Also, we recorded episode 11 of the Price of War. Had some audio issues, but still got it done. 

Monday - 3/6
Uknit's Magical Mondays - Austin continues to play MTGO, and some day I'll actually get his scores before I put this up.
We recorded no Natch 20 review this day because of scheduling conflicts. We will eventually finish our Month* of D&D.
Taskforce Echo 01 - The first episode of our Starcraft RPG actual play series went up.

Tuesday - 3/7
No Natch 20 went up today; Aforementioned no recording.

Wednesday - 3/8
Eberron: Heirs of Destiny 05 - More Eberron today! This week we climb back up from the undercity, encounter some baddies, and spend the day going over character stuff since we're missing two of our players.
JRPG Weekly - We played more Nioh on stream, and this time we started backtracking to old missions for gear, money, and - most importantly - fame.
We also recorded Critical Thinking episode 08 after stream.

Thursday - 3/9
The Price of War 11 - Our erstwhile adventurers have completed all of the tournament goals at the Argent Tournament grounds. Now, it's time for the Trial of the Crusader to begin!
Recorded episode 02 of Taskforce Echo

Friday - 3/10
Critical Thinking 08: Glass and Bone - This week we talk about one of the early divisive episodes, specifically the one in which [REDACTED] goes and [REDACTED]s [REDACTED].
SciFridays - We start our blind playthrough of Horizon Zero Dawn and learn two things: One; robot dinosaurs fall for the old 'pile of corpses' trick, and two; I'm not good with a bow.

Saturday - 3/11
We recorded more Eberron this morning.
Lord of the Ring - Our good friend Hanno (@ronin_sama on twitter) ran a one shot to celebrate getting 2k followers on Twitter! And we streamed it!
Vampire the Masquerade: Walking Shadow 15 - Wow, we're 15 episodes in and I think we've had two episodes with a full cast. Fun, innit? Well, we're short Erin this week so BUCKLE UP BUDDIES

"Senstaku"