Tales from the Pickled Dragon: Sailing Into Darkness

Here is the rough draft of a little story I have begun!  I hope you enjoy!!



No one makes a sound, choosing instead to concentrate on keeping their balance and more importantly, dinner, as the ship heaves heavily back and forth. Waves thirty feet tall pound the deck of the Gannet while lighting cracks all around. Suddenly, the silence is broken when the hatch to the deck pops open sending rain and sea water into the hold. Quickly clamoring down the steps and into the hold is a soaked and windblown sailor.   As he struggles to re-secure the hatch he howls and cackles with each crack of thunder. The sailor is short, lean, and wears tattered clothes with no shoes. As he turns, the weathered face and broken smile of Leofrik, the Bosun’s mate, lets out a hearty laugh.

Hooting loudly Leofrik shakes his head and pulls at his scraggly beard spraying water about the room. “Its a wild one tonight!” Leofrik shouts laughing. “A good storm can be an honest sailor’s best friend I tell you. Thems pirate waters out there and were not likely to runs into one of those buggers with that ballyhoo outside! Did I ever tells you folks about the time we were…” The passengers fix their eyes to the floor, allowing Leofrik’s voice to fade as they stop listening. Normally one of his stories would be a welcome diversion from the boredom of a long voyage but this storm was particularly violent and fear of being sent to the murky depths soured everyone to tales of mermaids and buried treasure.

For most who are not accustomed to life on the ocean, three weeks at sea doesn’t seem like a long voyage but now, caught in stormy weather, minds wander to dark thoughts and calamity forcing them to question how wise a decision this was. An elf, lost in thought about the home he left behind, is suddenly jarred back to reality as Leofrik slaps him on the back laughing heartily. “Ain’t that right!” Leofrik shouts, concluding his story. Giving a polite smile the elf nods to the old man while a few other passengers laugh at some punchline he had missed. “Tis beyond me why any of you’s would want to sail west. Lots of bad juju out here I tell you.” he says, his face becoming more serious. Rising slowly Leofrik’s eyes turn towards the topside hatch. “Something aint right…” He mutters. It was then that you noticed that the ship has stopped rocking and the sound of waves and rain has ceased. “I thought fer sure that storm would be with us for a few hours at least. But weirdness and odd goings ons are normal out here.”  Leaning in close Leofrik lowers his voice, “I thinks its the work of demons and black magic!” Looking back at the hatch again Leofrik gives his scraggly beard a tug, “weirdness…”

Turning back the sailor gives half a smile, “You’s know the stories right? I’m’s sure that college boy over there could tell you if he weren’t praying to Triton” Leofrik motions jokingly to a gnomish wizard’s apprentice who was tightly gripping a bronze receptacle between his legs to catch his days rations. “The ancients, the ones who comes before us. They were warring with the snake people. You know the ones…the ones that peoples still say live in the Firian. Well, those ancient folk were winning the war, somes says they nearly wiped out those slimy sods but the snakes had one last trick. The snakes, theys summoned an army that came straight from..” Lowering his voice, “the abyss.” Speaking normally again Leofrik continues, “Well, that was that for the ancients, thems all gone now leaving only weirdness and odd happenings out here. But you all knows the stories. I guess you know your business and it aint the place of an old sea dog like me telling you what fer.”

The passengers sit silent for a moment while Leofrik pushes out his jaw and scratches his beard. “Well, me hopes that you will all fair better in the west than most. Dangers and wickedness outnumbers good folk and…” Leofrik cuts himself off as his ears perk. The faint sound of muffled pops come one after another as Leofrik’s face turns to panic. “Sailor’s topside! Move you lousy deck scrubs!” The captain roars from above. Suddenly, shards of wood explode about the room as a pair of cannon balls rip through the hold. One striking a sailor, who had only just gotten to his feet, killing him instantly. “Stay here me pally’s and if all goes badly just gives em what they wants. Ye might just lives to tell the tale!” Pulling a dagger from his waist Leofrik disappears up the stairs laughing and hooting. Screams now become mingled with the sounds of clashing steel and musket fire.  Soon, shouting in an unusual language mixes with the clamor. As the fighting continues a loud explosion rocks the Gannet followed by the sound of a large tree toppling and hitting the ocean. “We lost our mast…” the gnome whispers, moving as far from the stairs topside as possible. Within minutes the sound of battle ceases replaced only with the echos of a handful of swords hitting the deck.  Passengers, eyes wide, sit perfectly still, afraid to move or make any noise as the plod of heavy footsteps come to the top of the stairs. A hulking Rouran, dark haired humans with slanted eyes, looms in the hatch screaming at the shaken group in a foreign tongue. Unsure as to his demands the room sits frozen until Leofrik is forced into the opening. “Hey there friends…Best be joining us on the deck.”

The passengers move slowly up the stairs as the smell of gunpowder fills the air. Through a haze of smoke, Leofrik spots Captain Trodder and three of his sailors surrounded by Rouran pirates. Other pirates move quickly about the ship tossing the dead and dying overboard. Pulled up along side the Gannet is a massive warship that boasts an impressive figurehead of a dragon jutting from her prow. All eyes turn towards the dragon ship as a Rouran slides down a rope to the deck of the Gannet. He is short, maybe five and a half feet tall, and wears only a pair of baggy trousers. His body is covered in winding dragon tattoos that run from the top of his shaved head down his arms, back, and legs. The pirates quickly force the captives into a line as the tattooed pirate folds his arms behind his back and begins to slowly look over his prisoners. Stopping at Captain Trodder, the Rouran Captain stares intently saying nothing. Nervously Trodder says, “Zheng Sen, what is it you want?” The Rouran frowns, “You disappoint me. You know what I want.” Looking away Trodder studders, “N-n-no, I dont, know what you mean.” Holding his hand to the side, Zheng Sen scowls as another Rouran plops a pistol in his hand. Without taking his eyes off Trodder he levels the pistol at the face of Migs, a young sailor, standing next to the captain. Trodder reaches out, “Please don’t…” but before he can say another word the pistol goes off sending Migs to the deck. Without hesitation the pirates grab the lifeless body of the young man and toss him overboard. Jayana, a tall, powerfully built woman, lunges for the Rouran, “You miserable dog! You murdered my husband!” However, she doesn’t get far as several pirates restrain her. “Now, lets try this again. Where is it!” Zheng Sen says shaking with anger. “Give him nothing!” Jayana screams, still restrained by half a dozen Rourans.

Pulling a small leather pouch from his coat a visibly shaken Trodder holds it out as the pirate captain snatches from his hand. Zheng Sen pulls a second pistol from the belt of another pirate and points it at Jayana. “Captain Trodder, this blood is on your hands. I can see that this is a terrible burden for you. Fortunately for you I am merciful. Allow me to ease your suffering.” Zheng Sen swings the pistol striking Jayana, knocking her unconscious, and in a single motion brings the pistol upon Trodder and pulls the trigger. The captain slumps over gasping but before even falling the pirates grab him and send him overboard. “We have what we came for men. Back to the ship!” Zheng Sen shouts. The pirates move quickly and quietly back to their ship leaving the crew of the Gannet standing in the line the pirates put them in. No one moves until the pirate vessel, Hai-Lung, pushes free of the Gannet and vanishes into the night.

Check out my good friend pip400art for RPG character art commissions!

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I spend a lot of time on Instagram posting pictures of games that we enjoy between brews! One of the most amazing artists I have met is Rachel or “pip400art“! She has done two very quick sketches for me to show off. The first is of a newly zombified girl who still clutches her teddy bear while the other is none other than The Pickled Dragon’s own Sveta Knucklebone! You can find pip400art on Instagram or email her directly at rachaelmcooley@gmail.com.  Bring your favorite character to life with one of her fine portraits!!!



Adoraith: Echoes of Eprius Wins Obsidian Portal’s RPG Campaign of the Month!

My home brew Dungeons and Dragons campaign, Adoraith: Echoes of Epirus, has won Obisdian Portal’s Campaign of the Month award!  This automatically puts us in the running for Campaign of the Year.  The Obsidian Portal folks posted an interview regarding our campaign on their blog.  Just because I am excited I am posting the interview below!  Yay us!
Gather ’round children, and I’ll tell you a story of death and rebirth, of legend and doom. I am (of course) speaking of Adoraith: Echoes of Epirus – April’s Campaign of the Month! And since we’re on the subject, who better to give us some much needed insight than the mind behind this fantastic campaign, Adoraith. Now, don’t interrupt…
First off, feel free to tell us about the person behind the GM screen. Where are you from? What do you do aside from gaming? Alter Ego’s? Wife and kids? Where can we stalk you on the internet? Let us know if you feel so inclined!

First allow me to say how grateful I am to be recognized. This would not be possible if it were not for the passion my players bring to the table each week.

 My wife and 4 kids are from a small town in central Illinois famous for its yearly cow chip throw and sweet corn festival. I never really understood how a food festival was paired with a competition to see who can throw cow poo the furthest but here we are. Anyway, I spend my days writing SQL code for a telecommunications company and nights preparing for the three D&D campaigns that I run weekly

Other than Obsidian Portal, I have a website where I post stories from past games and anything else that strikes me as interesting. Virtually all of my non-gaming time is spent writing both sci-fi/fantasy and children’s stories. My wife, Amariah Rauscher, is a children’s author and illustrator who runs her own publishing company called Lemon Starfish.

Tell us about Adoraith: Echoes of Epirus in a nutshell. How did this singular event/mystery of Epirus shape your campaign world paradigm?

Echoes of Epirus started as a short story about the fall of a great city caught in the middle of the Blood War. I thought of this event as a pivotal moment in the history of Adoraith much like the collapse of Rome in Europe. However, I did not want to run the campaign in the days leading up to or just following the cataclysm. Instead, I was interested in telling a story set in the aftermath of the collapse of Epirus.

This incarnation of Adoraith would be a fantasy world that, at it’s core, was an equivalent to Europe coming out of the early middle ages. To put it very simply, early in the middle ages learning, centralized governments, and economic infrastructures crumbled. As time moved forward a handful of powers stepped forward to fill the void left by the Romans. In the case of Adoraith, arcane magic, particularly the art of crafting of new magical items, had been lost but, by the time of the campaign, different powers were struggling to reclaim this knowledge.


Much like the crusades, Adoraith is also comprised of a number of warring countries that fought primarily over ideology. Only in Adoraith wars are fought between those who wish to see arcane magic return and the theocracies that blame arcane magic for the evils of the world.

With border wars, mage hunters, and the aggressive expansion of various nations as a backdrop, the heroes must find a way to stop the cataclysm from happening a second time. As much as possible I wanted to make the quest deeply personal to the heroes. This was accomplished by turning the original short story into fragments of a diary that the heroes decoded in their hunt for clues. From this diary one of the heroes learned that they were the descendant of the villain responsible for the first cataclysm.

I apologize if I burst the nutshell but I could spend hours writing about how this singular event wove its way through the campaign on a grand scale as well as at an individual character level.

You have been playing this game for a while now – what is the most memorable thing that happened for you, the GM? What is the most memorable to your players?

Matt (DM)

This is a really hard question. There are so many events to choose from. Honestly, any moment where I can elicit a truly emotional response from a player is amazing to me. The moment that Merek realized that it was an ancestor of his family who was responsible for the fall of Epirus and that his family continued to cover up the fact was truly epic. Not only was Merek (Beau) left stunned but the revelation also threatened his family’s prominent standing in Acanthan society. A standing they secured through the dark pact that ruined Epirus.

Byron (Muradin)

I really loved the Trellmont Witch story where the Grey Coven was using the village of Trellmont as a proving ground for Night Hags who wished to join their coven. The horror setting was amazing to run at lower levels when player characters have a reason to be afraid of nearly everything. The sights, sounds, and overall feel really captured the imagination. In particular, the crucified bodies that would begin to howl at our approach warning the coven was shockingly memorable.

Mariana (Damhsa)

When we had to retrieve the artifact Dagon’s Tear and realized, the hard way, that none of us could even touch the item without being driven insane was amazing in a “I hate my DM but am having a load of fun” kind of way. Then having to fight “former” player character Nhar’Qual for the blasted thing was painful! He had become completely corrupted by the artifact and had Kuo-Toa followers to make our lives hell! Player character deaths seemed to flow like water during that quest.

Beau (Merek)

This may have been a small moment in the campaign but I still laugh about our encounter with the Pandemonium Doors. Each side of the double door had a twisted face carved into it. When we approached, Matt spent several minutes rapidly babbling, arguing, screaming, crying, and chatting as the doors interacted with players and each other. Most of the time we couldn’t get a word in edgewise while we tried to figure out how to open this bizarre doors. Even after we walked away the Pandemonium Doors refused to shut up!

Jim (Rethel)

If I had to pick a favorite moment for me in any of the Adoraith campaigns it would have to be when my Barbarian, Jarl made a deal with a devil.

The story had taken the party into the Abyss. We had been carrying an orb that was used to imprison Orcus himself. The party had suffered quite a bit due to this artifact and the Abyss was a quantum leap in suffering. Party member deaths were becoming the norm. Every choice was trying to figure out which bad thing would be less bad. It was relentless. The party was fatigued all the time and every encounter was awful.

That’s when it happened. A devil (I wish I could remember his name) came to the party and offered some kind of deal. The party refused him and he moved on. However, a week or so later, Jarl’s companion Svolf was killed in yet another hopeless combat. It was more that he could take. He called upon the devil privately and made a deal. He would give him the orb (which was corrupting members of the party) in return for a full resurrection for Svolf and returning the party to the Prime Material Plane.

When the moment came to hand it over, most of the party was shocked. It caused quite an uproar at the table and I think there may be one or two players who still hate me to this day because of it. The DM rolled with it and it became canon for later campaigns. It turns out that Jarl’s soul is still in the Nine Hells since Orcus was no longer imprisoned in the orb. But that’s a story for a different day.

Jeff (Edluar)

Anything involving Edluar is, by default, epic!

How regularly do you play, and where do you play?

We play once a week for 6-7 hours per session. We are approaching our 60th session of the campaign which gives us around 360 hours of table time!

I am lucky enough to have a very large game room at my house that includes an enormous gaming table. We use the 4×8 mondomat from chessex which is just barely able to cover most of the table.
For those of us out there about to start a campaign of this style, we know there are a lot of places to draw inspiration from, but where do you draw yours from?

First and foremost I draw from our own history. I find that the more realism you can insert into your game the more the players will be able to relate and immerse themselves into the story. If you are able to give your players details such as “this is a viking culture” as a lead into the sights, smells, and sounds of the village the heroes have just entered their imaginations will make mental leaps to tie the experience together in a much richer way.

Fully realizing that this may be the most frequent answer to the question of influences I proudly state that Tolkien continues to be a great inspiration of mine. In particular, I try to keep magic extremely rare, truly wondrous, and extraordinarily dangerous. Years have passed since I gave out a simple +1 ring of protection. However, the party has found a “Serpent’s Ring” that allows the hero to adopt the racial traits of a Yuan-Ti. However, fail your will save too many times and risk the Yuan-Ti spirit within the ring taking control.
From what I read most of the recent logs seem to be recaps (love the battle-mat photos) by you and one of your players. What motivations prompted that style of log?

Two of my players maintain the log for me. The logs are meant to keep everyone up to date on the story whether they missed a session or simply forgot a few details in between sessions. I started using photos of game play in our logs mostly because I never saw anyone else doing it. I just thought taking pictures was a cool way of sharing our game.



How did you get into tabletop gaming?

I first learned about tabletop RPGs from my older brother who would game with his friends down the street from where we lived. Not long after, when I was 7 or 8, I put my first crayon to a set of dice and joined in. Like most tabletop gamers I got my start playing 1st edition Dungeons and Dragons. I am not sure why but I was immediately drawn to the assassin class and yes, he was evil. Thus, Zorrod the human assassin was born.

Soon I was exploring the galaxy as Zamferre, a Dralasite, in Star Frontiers. John Archer, codename Formula 409, fought the Russians, as well as greasy filthy messes, during the Cold War in Top Secret. My alter egos shot up Wong’s Laundry in Boot Hill, spent several hours planning the perfect covert run only to kick in the door after 5 minutes in Shadow Run, and consistently had their ammo critically hit in BattleTech. If dice were involved I tried it.
How long have you been using Obsidian Portal? What brought you to the site and what keeps bringing you back?

We came to Obsidian Portal in 2010 after spending 7 years using Yahoo Groups as a home for our group. While I have always placed an emphasis on content over cosmetics, I did quickly learn a few quick tricks to pretty up the site which made our page much more interesting to look at. Additionally, OP made our job of not only organizing our gaming schedule but documenting characters, NPC’s, and past sessions so easy that making the move was a no brainer.

I am very proud of what my players and I have built together. I just wish I could have documented all of my campaigns this way. So many fond memories of past games that deserved to be immortalized!
Okay this is a two part question: A) If you had to pick just one thing, what would you say Obsidian Portal helps you with the most? B) Do your players get involved on the wiki too?

Your first question is actually a very tough one but I would have to say that the feature used more than any other is the Wiki. Prior to using OP I would get weekly questions about the world, NPCs, house rules, and magic items. Now they can simply refer to the wiki for any answers they need.

My players are free to help me with the Wiki but the campaign log and character pages keeps them busy enough. A few of them also keep a campaign journal of their own that recounts the events from their character’s perspective which doesn’t always fall in line with the campaign journal.
How much time do you usually spend prepping your sessions, and how do you go about it?

Prep time really depends on what’s happening in the game. If we are at a crossroads session, one where the heroes can potentially take the game in a number of directions, I generally spend an hour or two outlining, at a high level, the different routes the party can take. Then i might prepare a handful of both combat and RP encounters that can be used on the fly.

Once the adventurers have committed to a path, we enter the questing sessions where I spend 2-4 hours a week working through the details of the adventure. Time spent prepping could be far longer but I have been DMing almost exclusively since the 1980s and I save everything. I am to the point where re-using old materials has allowed me to keep prep time to the 2-4 hour mark. When I first started, my obsessive nature would have me spending entire days working out every detail of an adventure. Looking back at those marathon prep sessions makes me cringe!
What inspires your game play?
Nothing is more inspiring than when the players embrace the story and really immerse themselves in their characters. I have run games for people whose only motivation was murder and wealth. While this may be fun for some, running a game for sociopaths is not fun for me. As much as possible I like my players to step outside of themselves and try to live this entirely new life. This person has motivations, goals, and emotions of their own that go beyond the primal “Me smash! Take gold!” There is no greater feeling than when your characters really begin to care about their character and the world around them.
How do you know your players, how long have you been gaming with them?
I have literally gamed with dozens of people since this group formed in 2003. Virtually all of them contacted me online but some come from local game stores. Over the years, many players have come and gone (and some come back again!) but there are still a few who have been with me since the beginning.
Okay, before we get out of here, give us some of your best GM’ing pearls of wisdom.

– Have your players write character histories and find a way to weave them into your main story. There is no better way to make your players care about why they are going on this adventure!

 – Make frequent use of recurring villains and be sure the villains give as much as they get. Allow your villains to pull the character histories into their nefarious plans. If you can get your players to truly hate your villains you are doing something right!

– Remember to include all 4 senses into your descriptions! It’s never enough to say “you see a graveyard.” What can the heroes hear? Smell? Feel? See? Your descriptions should be enough for the players to know it’s a graveyard without being told

– Never allow adherence to the rules to get in the way of the flow of the game. Nothing derails the mood of a good game more than having players sit and wait while people look up rules. Make a common sense ruling and move on. You should be able to run your game without opening a single book.

That’s about all I have! Hope that helps someone!

Tales from the Pickled Dragon: All Hail the King

The road home to Freeport had been long and the most trying of the their lives but Sveta was eager to fulfill her promise to Cormanthyr. “Who is this orc that I need to kill? Where can I find him?” she asked the admiral. “His name is Dashglunk, a warlord of the Ashbloods. They were camped out east of town but have since moved into Scurvytown. They’re carrying away anything that isn’t nailed down.” Durge grumbled a bit and whispered to his daughter, “I know this Dashglunk, very dangerous…perhaps I should fight him.” Sveta sneered at her father and simply replied “No.” Grishma and Edge stirred uncomfortably expecting the orc to correct his daughter but Durge only gave a slight nod and smiled. Sveta had been itching for a stand up fight and after dealing, bartering, and sneaking her way through the outer planes, the time had finally come for open bravado.

A fine mist was blanketing Freeport as the company left Doren’s Well for Scurvytown. Normally only armed patrols of the city watch would brave that area of Freeport by night but Sveta insisted on leaving right away. Even from a distance screams and shouting were clearly heard and it was obvious that parts of the ghetto were burning. Not sure where to look for Dashglunk, Sveta decided to head for the one place in Scurvytown that all orcs loved, Crom’s Throat. The Throat is the only orc bar in Freeport. There are no tables, no chairs, and not even a bar. Four cisterns the size of cathedral bells line the back wall and a feeding trough sits nearby. Lining the bottom of each cistern are dozens of bronze nipples from which a steady flow of rot gut whiskey flows. Any orc who wishes to drink or eat must fight their way to the prize and hold their spot for as long as they wish to imbibe.

The town watch, led by Captain Sandek, had formed a score of roadblocks to contain the chaos. They had no interest in helping the residents of the slum, their orders were to prevent the rioting from entering the wealthier areas of Freeport. Sandek glared at Edge, the bad blood still burned between the two, as he approached the barricade but Sveta was determined. She grabbed her elf companion and pulled him along. Edge’s score would have to wait.


The company moved past the barricade wasting no words on the watch. For a moment, the glow of burning buildings and the reek of dense smoke reminded Sveta of the horrors of the outer planes but the thoughts soon passed as the sight of orcs chugging whiskey and shoving a badly beaten human between them met her eyes. Turning the corner to Crom’s Throat a dozen Ashblood orcs, warming themselves by a large bonfire, blustered at the companies approach. When Sveta attempted to enter the bar one of the orcs blocked her, “Mirdautas vras gruiuk” the orc sneered. Nearby, Sveta could see Cragwipe, the owner of Crom’s Throat. He was battered but still alive. Before Sveta’s eyes returned to the orc, she threw up her forearm to deflect a punch. “Vras Undur Kurv,” roared the orc as the rest of the Ashblood leaped forward. Grishma, the half-giant, caught two of the orcs by the throat and slammed them into the wall of the bar while Edge grappled with another. Durge cared little for brawling with orc savages and buried his axe into the chest of the Ashblood that blocked the door. A fountain of blood poured forth covering Sveta. The remaining Ashbloods stared at Sveta as she turned to face them. Orcish blood ran down her face in thick black streams onto her chest and stomach. Sveta’s teeth flashed yellow and gritted, “Leave or die!” The orcs chose life.

Sveta pushed the free swinging doors of the bar open to see ten heavily armed and armored orcs drinking and feasting. Durge followed behind. “That’s him,” he growled, conspicuously pointing out a massive orc leaning on a great axe. “His axe is the Ashblood totem of power. You will need to take it!” Dashglunk was dressed in the hides of a dire bear and his mouth, bulging with a pair of stained tusks, was large enough to fit a human head within. There was something unnatural about this orc but if the Ashbloods were to be brought under control he would have to die.

The orcs stood silent save Dashglunk who snarled as Grishma, towering in stature, strode in. Edge, leaning in the doorway, eyed the hazy street. Sveta stepped forward, clenched her fists, and stared at Dashglunk. Every hand in the room moved slowly for the hilt of their weapons, each side waiting for the other to strike first. “I am here to kill you Dashglunk but you can still live if you give me your axe.” The giant orc let out a hideous laugh, his great mouth lurching open with the convulsions of his body. “No Kurv can be king!” he replied with disdain. Another orc, scarred and wrinkled, leaning heavily on a twisted staff, and covered in bone charms interrupted, “A challenger has come, just kill her and be done with it.” Still laughing slightly, Dashglunk realized that the eyes of his lieutenants were on him. Sveta took a step forward and shouted, “Bring it coward!” With a roar, Dashglunk hefted his axe and charged Sveta. The massive orc’s first blow struck Sveta with incredible force sending her back into Grishma. Gritting her teeth, Sveta grasped her chest but snapped back quickly striking with a flurry of fists to the face and throat that left the orc on his back gasping for air as his axe rattled free from his hand. Durge kneeled down and lifted the Ashblood Axe but the Shaman slammed his staff across the axe’s haft in protest. Dashglunk was stunned but not defeated. Smiling at his daughter’s display, Durge tossed the axe on top of the orc, “Here, you still need this.” The orcs lieutenants were screaming for Dashglunk to get up when Sveta closed in and delivered a hail of fists, knees, and elbows. Dashglunk was in a heap pissing himself, unable to do more than awkwardly lift his head as sheets of black blood poured from his face. Sveta drove her knee into Dashglunk’s spine and wrapped her arm under the orc’s chin. Pausing a moment, her eyes scanned the room and met each of the orc lieutenants before snapping the warlord’s neck with a loud crunch. Again, Durge grabbed the Ashblood Axe as the stunned orcs looked on. Sveta motioned to her father who tossed the great axe to her waiting hand. Placing one foot on Dashglunk’s shoulder, Sveta brought the axe down sending the orc’s head rolling towards the Shaman.

Sveta turned to the orc warriors as she buried the axe into the fallen warlords back. The axe’s haft stood freely as Sveta, her face and chest still stained with thick black blood, glared at the Ashbloods. “You will do as commanded or I will come back and kill everyone of you mother fuckers!” Sveta roared at the orcs and booted Dashglunk’s head against the wall. “Take your worthless hides back to camp now!” Fumbling over one another the orcs ran from Crom’s Throat screaming for their warriors to follow. The Shaman, moving much slower, bowed and tapped the gnarled end of his staff on the ground. “We will follow as commanded warlord.”


Tales from the Pickled Dragon: Sveta Knucklebone

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Durge Knucklebone was an orc like no other. He looked at his world and he wondered why. Why did destruction constantly follow his people? Why were they so hated? Wasn’t there another way? Durge believed in the idea that orcs could be something more than self destructive brutes but ideas among the orc tribes are a dangerous thing. So Durge kept his thoughts to himself and continued to feign the joy of rape and murder. All the while waiting for his opportunity to slip out of sight to avoid having to take part.

Durge was a feared warrior, deadly with an axe, of the Stonecleave tribe that roamed the western coast of the Brolg wastelands. As his head count among the tribe’s enemies grew so did his position among the Stonecleave warriors but skill in battle could only hide his true feelings for so long. Durge had a keen wit but the continued absence of a prominent warrior during the division of spoils soon drew attention.

The knock at Durge’s door came at a late hour. Not expecting anyone, he approached, axe at the ready, “Speak your business!” The knock came again, this time with more intent. Tiring of the game Durge threw open the door ready to cleave the first person he saw but stayed his hand as a young fair haired human girl was flung at his feet. Omagh, the most feared of the Stonecleave Warlords, stepped in followed by two of his men, “Durge, once again we are victorious and again the fruits of your conquests go to others. I am here to see that you are given your just reward.” Omagh kicked the woman with such force that she skidded several feet towards Durge’s bedding. Omagh’s eyes burned into Durge, waiting to see his reaction. Durge was no fool and realized immediately what was happening. He knew that failing to behave as expected would lead to his death and that of the girl. As Omagh looked on, and to Durge’s great shame, he acted as was expected an orc warrior of the Stonecleave tribe.

Wrought with guilt over what he had done Durge swore that no further harm would come to the girl but knew that appearances had to be kept up. In those rare moments where she was in public the young woman was “slave” or “meat” but in private she was “Sarra.” Weeks passed since Sarra was given to Durge and in that time she managed only a handful of words. Durge did everything he could to express his deep regret for what had happened. His words were kind and soft, especially for an orc, and when he had to touch her he did so with a gentle hand. Durge made sure that Sarra wanted for nothing as she was given the best food, by orc standards, clothed in fine, albeit stolen, garments, and kept hidden from sight. However, his kindness was always returned with cold blank submission. Sarra seemed to be waiting, even praying, for the end. As much as Durge wanted to keep Sarra safe and redeem his honor, the stain of their first night was fated to bleed through to their very last. Sarra revealed to Durge that she carried his child. He knew that the violence of orc child birth would likely kill Sarra and that when she died the child would be taken to be raised by the women of the tribe. He considered returning Sarra to Merethil to be with her people but worried that the long journey back to the human kingdom would undoubtedly kill a human woman carrying an orcish child. Nor did he want any child of his to be raised as a savage by the tribe. Durge had no choice but wait and prepare as best as he was able for the birth of their baby.

As Durge watched the child grow inside Sarra he prayed that it would take after her, a girl more human than orc. However, Durge’s line was strong and her belly grew as an orcs would. As the child grew Sarra wilted, becoming weaker with each passing day, until she finally collapsed, large amounts of blood pooling beneath her.

Durge wasted no time summoning Guul, an old crone of an orc who the other females feared but all looked to when children were born. Hobbling into the hut with another bloated orc, the crone looked up and down Sarra’s body sniffing and prodding. “This ones dead.” She said hoarsely. “We have to gut the wench!” Gonk, the other obese orc, screamed excitedly. Grabbing his axe with every intent to strike, Durge could barely contain his rage. “An axe wont save the whelp you fool! Fetch me a knife!” Guul barked at Durge not realizing the peril she was in. Taking a deep breath, Durge thought of his child and mustered the will to restrain his axe. He stood and watched as Sarra was butchered so that his daughter may live.

Yanking the wailing child free of her mother the crone held her aloft by a single foot, “Look at the size of that! Shes a breeder that one!” Struggling to her feet Guul shoved the baby girl into a dirty knapsack and made for the door. Durge, seething with anger, slammed his axe into the frame of the door blocking the old crone’s exit. “Give me my child.” Durge spoke faintly but his voice was so deep it couldn’t help but resound. Guul cocked her head and glared at him through slanted eyes, “This one is not for eating warrior!” Durge grabbed the vile woman by the throat and shoved her against the wall causing the bag holding the baby to fall free. Gonk fled from the hut as Durge growled at the crone, “Whatever I need you will provide!” Still holding her by the throat Durge hurled Guul through the front door and into the mud outside.

Durge pulled his daughter from the filthy bag and awkwardly tried to cradle her. “I swear, I will kill anyone who tries to harm you. Sveta…” Pulling a long piece of cloth free, Durge fashioned a sling and tied Sveta tightly to his back. He could hear the rantings of Guul and the grumblings of a growing crowd outside. Sliding a sword into his belt, Durge wrenched his axe free and stepped outside.

“Give me the child!” Guul barked still struggling to breathe. Another warrior stepped out pointing, “Look at the powerful warrior!” Durge began to slowly walk forward as the orc continued to scoff, “What next? Will the mighty Durge try to suckle the half breed…” Before he could utter another word, Durge spun around and sent the blade of his axe through the neck of the warrior. His head rolled back but was still attached by a flap of skin that caused it to dangle freely as thick orcish blood sprayed like a geyser into the crowd. Three more orcs, blades in hand, charged. Durge lowered his shoulder and threw himself into the first sending him off balance into another. The third orc swung his scimitar wildly but managed to slash deeply into Durge’s thigh. Off balance, Durge brought his axe around and hooked the ankle of his attacker planting him on his back. Durge pinned the orc to the ground, holding his boot to it’s throat and readied his axe. Another orc rushed recklessly as Durge, still holding his stance, snapped his axe outward finding its mark. Teeth and fang shattered as the axe cleaved deep into the palate of the orc slamming him to the ground, blood gushing from the mouth and nose pooled rapidly beneath.

By this time a dozen orc warriors began to cautiously circle as Durge stood ready. The crowd was silent, some looting the corpse of one of the slain. Still bound tightly was Sveta who remained silent during the battle but clung tightly to her father’s back. Durge could feel her grip and with it any fear he had of dying was also crushed. Pointing his axe, Durge singled out one of the orcs and laughed. “I will have your head next!” The warriors were shaken and looking for someone to make the first move. Laughter suddenly broke the tension as Omagh, towering in stature, easily pushed and shoved his way to the front. “Put your blades away maggots! Durge has earned his prize!” Omagh turned to the women and roared, “You filthy slime! I should see you all gutted on pig poles and left out for buzzards!” Crying and blubbering the orcish woman huddled together pleading for mercy. “You will do as my lieutenant commands!” Omagh gave a slight nod to Durge and unsheathed his sword. “Tend his wound and fetch milk for the whelp!” Turning to Guul, Omagh pressed his blade to her throat. “You come with me.”

That night Durge carried Sarra and Sveta into the wastelands. Not wanting Sarra’s body to be defiled more than it already had, Durge decided that she should be cremated. Wood was scarce so he took her to one of the many volcanic vents that dotted the Brolg. As the lava slowly took Sarra, Durge thought of Sveta. He wanted a future for his daughter but, as a half-orc and a girl, he couldn’t imagine more than oppression and sorrow. There had to be another way.

Sveta grew up fast, as orc children are known to. She was an eager and willful child who Durge often indulged. Never far from Durge’s side, Sveta went everywhere with her father, even into battle. By the time she was 7 Sveta even fought at her father’s side rather than ride on his back. Physically, she took after her father, powerfully built and quick. However, her blonde hair was entirely Sarra’s.

Now, more than ever, Durge avoided his tribe’s celebrations. He knew that as a female, regardless of age, Sveta would be the target of advances by other orcs. Though Sveta desperately wanted to join in the orc debauchery, she spent the majority of her youth watching orc revelries but never being allowed to participate. Father and daughter often argued the point leading to fits where Sveta would throw destructive tantrums but Durge would only laugh and calmly tell her, “That is not our way.”

Sveta rarely disobeyed Durge but after years of listening to the Stonecleave celebrations she decided that her father never forbid looking. The tribe was celebrating the complete destruction of their greatest rival, the Ergoth Mountain orcs. Many slaves and piles of spoils were taken in the attack and the roar from the triumph rattled their hut. Slipping through a loose board, Sveta’s heart raced. “I killed at least one in the battle, I deserve to see,” she thought to herself. The night air was unusually chilled while a full moon and starlit skies gave Sveta a clear path. As she crept closer three orc revelers spotted the young girl and quickly cornered her. Startled at first Sveta turned defiantly and faced them. “Leave me alone or I will have your heads!” she barked at them. The orc warriors laughed and began to shove Sveta between them. Reacting quickly, Sveta buried the heel of her foot into the groin of the nearest attacker. As the orc wilted Sveta clawed at his eyes before the other two were able to act. Refusing to back down, Sveta sprang forward at the remaining warriors but they were ready. The first orc, a burly figure more wide than tall, grabbed her by the throat and slammed her shoulders to the ground while the other orc tore at her clothes. Sveta was dazed but continued to rake at the arm that pinned her when suddenly blood poured in a thick stream covering her face and blinding her. The orc arm that held her still squeezed her throat but fell to her side. The burly orc shrieked and fell into a heap holding the bloody stump where his arm was once attached. The other orc, a scrawny long faced wretch, looked up just in time to see Durge’s axe flash and bury deep into his collar killing him without so much as a whimper. Durge roughly snatched Sveta by the arm and without a word returned home.

Durge knew that he couldn’t watch Sveta at every moment so he devised a plan that, he thought, would keep the other orcs away from his daughter. He stopped bathing her and continued to encourage her many physical activities that she participated in. As a child she didn’t care one way or another if she had to bathe and soon began to stink badly. While orcs are not known for their hygiene the aroma that surrounded Sveta was becoming intolerable even by orc standards. Durge even contributed to the fragrance by adding fish heads and other rotting foods to her bed as she slept, slipping them out before she awoke.

By the time Sveta was 11 years old none of the orcs would go near her. However, Durge knew that by her 12th birthday she would be given to a warrior regardless his status in the tribe or what she smelled like. Durge’s entire life had been filled with risk. Whether by death in war or at the hands of his tribe, Durge knew that every day was a battle that had to be maneuvered and conquered. Desperately wanting a better future for Sveta, Durge believed that the time had come for another gamble.

Emboldened by constant victory, Omagh planned another raid that would take his warriors far north into the Hobgoblin lands of Hirkona. The plan was bold and the distance safeguarded the tribe from Hobgoblin reprisals. When Durge learned of Omagh’s plan he felt the time was right for a bold move of his own. Merethil, Sarra’s homeland, lay to the north east not far from Hirkona. Slipping away from the war band would be simple during the confusion of the march. What to do with Sveta once they reached Merethil is what truly worried Durge.

The orcs had marched more than 150 miles north before Durge, who had been hoarding food and water for their escape, was ready to leave. Durge waited until Omagh ordered a daytime camp before making his move. Most of the warriors were asleep in their tents and those that weren’t struggled to see in the bright daylight of the north. He still had not told Sveta of his plan and did not know how she would react to leaving the Stonecleave. Her entire world had been the tribe but the protection of her father had always masked the peril she was in. With Sveta sleeping against his back, as she had done so many times as a young child, he took his few meager belongings and left the Stonecleave camp.

Durge had run for several hours before Sveta began to stir. The sun was still high in the west with hours of daylight left but Durge wanted to push until nightfall putting as many miles between him and Omagh as possible. Sveta shielded her eyes from the sun while yawning, still not realizing what her father had done. “Why does Omagh leave so early?” Sveta, groggy and annoyed, protested. “Plans changed.” Durge said bluntly. Startled, Sveta sat up and glanced around, pushing against her father. “Where are we? Where are the warriors?!” Struggling free, Sveta fell hard onto the stony ground but quickly scrambled to her feet. Durge, flush with sweat and breathing hard, stopped but made no move to gather his daughter. Sveta turned sharply looking for signs of her tribe but saw nothing save the ash and stone of the lifeless Brolg.

“Where are we?!” Sveta shouted in a panic. Durge gazed at the blue sky and rolling clouds above. “Look at it Sveta. Have you ever seen anything like it?” Falling in a heap, Sveta, clutching handfuls ash, wept. “What did you do?! I want to go home!” Durge moved to his daughter and squatted next to her. “Sveta, there is another way.” Durge spoke softly trying to lift his daughter. Sveta punched and kicked her way free, her tears now replaced with rage. Standing defiantly, Sveta pushed Durge with every ounce of her strength sending him staggering back. “What way?! Why can’t you be like Omagh?! He is strong and not afraid! Why do I have a coward as a father?!” Durge launched himself at Sveta but stopping just short of striking her, their eyes no more than a fingers width apart. “Child you know nothing! Do you wish Omagh were your father?! Was he there last year at the feast of spoils? Who was it that kept you safe? He would have had a dozen warriors take you a dozen times over that night! Who is it that has taken countless heads to keep you safe? You are a fool if you think that was the only time that blood ran to shield you from that fate.” Fear covered Sveta’s face and her words twisted in her head unsure how to respond. Durge closed his eyes and placed his hands on Sveta’s shoulders. “Omagh…the tribe, would take you away and give you to another warrior. If that happened there is nothing I could do to protect you from them and that is something I cannot allow.”

Durge and Sveta rested together, their backs resting against a large boulder. Durge did not speak but offered Sveta a small morsel of food and a swallow of water. Looking up, Sveta stared at the sky. Billowing white clouds moved north east carried by strong warm winds. The sky was a rich blue that she had never seen before closer to the volcanic spine of the Brolg. “It hurts my eyes.” Sveta said softly, squinting. Durge smiled, “Best to get used to it now.”

As they left the Brolg Wastes behind Durge was struck by the vast green plains and trees, he had never seen so many live trees. On their third day of walking the pair came across a slow moving creek. The water was clear and fresh, nothing like the sulfurous pits of the Brolg. With the orcs far behind Durge felt the time had come for a change and scooped up Sveta, tossing her into the water. “Time for a bath daughter!” Durge roared with a haughty laugh. Sveta rose from the water gasping for air, the filth of hundreds of missed baths clouding all around her. Durge quickly waded into the water while Sveta floundered. Reaching out, Sveta thought her father would bring her to shore but she found herself thrust back underwater with her father’s huge hands vigorously scrubbing the muck from her hair. Once Sveta’s warm blonde hair was free of the mire Durge held her up. “Let me go!” Sveta barked, still coughing up water and swinging her fists. Durge ignored her and gave Sveta a quick sniff. “Ugh! Still foul!” Before she could say another word Sveta was dunked again. The scene repeated itself several more times but it seemed as though the rank odor that Durge had used to protect Sveta from his tribesmen had become part of Sveta and no amount of washing could remove it. After finally giving up, a waterlogged Sveta was allowed to make her way to shore. She was furious, and waited for Durge to climb out of the water before she drove her knee into his groin sending the hulking orc back into the water. Humiliated, Sveta spent the next two days in silent defiance refusing to acknowledge Durge in any way.

Once Sveta began speaking again she took every opportunity to remind Durge that he tried to drown her. Durge ignored her knowing that Merethil was drawing near. He had never raided into the human kingdom but Omagh had and he feared that the humans would greet the orcs with swords rather than words. Still, there was the part of Sveta who called these people kin and they were her only hope for a better life.

Weeks had passed since they left the Stonecleave camp. For Sveta, the trip was monotonous and boring but Durge was increasingly on edge. He had forced Sveta to travel by day to acclimate her eyes to sunlight. While very little time passed before Sveta could walk freely in the light, the sun’s rays tortured her father and each night brought welcome relief. The daylight not only burned his eyes but also brought on powerful headaches. At times, the pain forced Durge to collapse beneath a tree or in high grass where he could do little more than hold his head and vomit.

The sun was high in the east and brought with it sweltering heat. Durge wore a threadbare rag over his face to shield his eyes from the punishing daylight as he staggered forward, concentrating on putting one foot ahead of the other. Stinging insects swarmed around the pair adding an extra dimension of misery. Stumbling a moment Durge righted himself with Sveta’s help. “My head, I can’t see.” Durge’s voice was raspy and his enormous hand clutched his forehead. “Father, rest over here. We can rest a while.” Sveta led Durge up a slight incline where an old oak towered providing ample shade. Durge collapsed under the tree while a warm breeze washed over him. Sveta pushed his pack under his head and grabbed their waterskin. The skin had been empty for days.

Sloping steeply down to the east Sveta spotted a dense green gully. “Water…” she muttered between chapped lips. Sveta pushed all thoughts of thirst, hunger, and pain from her mind and sprang down the hill. Bursting through the undergrowth, Sveta crashed into the pond, guzzling water as fast as she could inhale it. Her moment of relief halted by the snort of a horse and the mumbling of voices. Startled, she looked up to see a human camp. A number of horses were tied in a line at the water’s edge and their riders were staring directly at her. Sveta’s stomach sank as the soldiers drew swords and moved to cut off her escape. “It’s a girl!” A young brown haired squire shouted. “It’s an orc you half wit!” barked the boy’s overweight master. Sveta didn’t speak their tongue but wasn’t afraid, standing defiantly. Another human, a tall man, bearded with short sandy hair, stepped into the water. His heavy mail coat and tunic were emblazoned with red griffons on a field of white. In one hand he held his long sword, a fine piece of steel with an etched pommel that mirrored his armor’s heraldry. With his free hand he snatched Sveta by the hair pulling her head back. “This is no orc, not entirely. Orcs don’t have blonde hair. What we have here is something that should not be!” The soldier yanked Sveta back violently and pushed her underwater. Sveta clawed at his arm and struggled to land a fist. Laughing, the soldier placed a knee on her chest and looked at his comrades.

Another human, older, with gray in his beard and experience in his eyes grabbed the soldier by the shoulder. “Roderick let her up! She has done you no harm!” Roderick’s eyes flashed with disapproval. “The sight of it offends me Baragund. It would be a mercy to all of us to end it’s miserable life!” Roderick snapped sharply. The momentary distraction was all Sveta needed. Reaching up under his mail coat Sveta grabbed her attacker by his manhood and crushed with every ounce of her strength. Roderick screamed in tones that Sveta never thought possible coming from a man. Pushing him off she rose from the water grabbing his sword that had fallen free. The other’s roared with laughter not noticing that the young girl had armed herself. Sveta leaped forward driving the blade into Roderick’s groin, he grunted, his face twisting with pain. Baragund grabbed Sveta and pushed her towards the water’s edge. She toppled back but refused to release the sword, the weight of her body wrenching the blade free and staining the water with blood. Baragund looked back only his eyes moved past Sveta and were fixed on an enormous orc whose chest heaved with many quick breaths while his hand clutched a worn and notched battle axe.

Grabbing Roderick, Baragund waded through the water towards the opposite shore. “Orcs! Arm yourselves!” Some scrambled for shields while others made a run for their horses. Durge grabbed Sveta and pushed her behind him. “Meet me at the tree! Go! Now!” Sveta, still holding Roderick’s sword, raced through the tall prairie grass back up the hill.

Durge slowly backed out of the gully while two soldiers rushed forward swords in hand. Baragund pulled Roderick over the back of a horse and turned just in time to see Durge back away. “Hold! Don’t pursue!” The two soldiers didn’t heed Baragund and pushed forward. Wearing heavy chain armor, the first soldier became tangled in the undergrowth, stumbled, and fell forward at the feet of Durge. With a loud hack Durge’s axe split the human’s skull spraying blood, bone, and brain. Durge was still weak and struggled to lift his axe to meet his next challenger. His blade, also bearing the same heraldry as Roderick’s, slashed across Durge’s ribs before the orc could ready himself. Staggering to one knee, blood poured down Durge’s left side covering his leg and staining the ground. Resting the tip of his sword at the base of Durge’s neck, the human smiled revealing gnarled teeth. “No quick death for you dog. Now get up!” Durge didn’t move, his head hanging low. “Get up I says!” The tip of the sword dug deep into Durge’s shoulder, sending more orcish blood rolling down his back. Durge still didn’t move.

Suddenly, Sveta exploded from the tall grasses and in mid air swung Roderick’s sword. Eyes wide the soldier froze as the blade connected with the bridge of his misshapen nose, cutting cleanly through to the back of his head. Sveta tugged at the blade but it had become lodged tightly in the bone. With the sounds of the other soldiers drawing near she quickly tore the tunic of one of the corpses and wrapped her father’s wound. Together, they moved into the tall prairie grass and back up the hill. After reaching the crest of the hill, Durge collapsed at the tree where he had been resting before.  Sveta crawled back and spied down the hill watching the humans as they collected their dead and rode away east.

After night fell Sveta skulked back down to the gully. There she found her waterskin and filled it. Looking across the pond Sveta noticed the area where the humans had been camped. They had fled in a hurry leaving a half eaten loaf of bread and a blanket behind. Looking north Sveta spotted a faint glow. Staring at the lights she clenched her fists hoping that more humans would come. She wanted to kill them all for harming her father but soon realized that the lights were not moving. Moving back up the hill Sveta never took her eyes off the lights. Her rage was boiling over and her every thought was bent on punishing the humans.

Sveta dropped the water and bread at Durge’s side and checked his wound. The bleeding was slowed but the blade had slashed deeply between two ribs. “Look father, there.” Sveta’s voice cut like a dagger as she pointed to the north. “I am going to get some medicine and food.” Durge could see Sveta’s agitation as she tried to wrap the wool blanket around him. Throwing the blanket off, Durge used the tree to pull himself up. “We both go…together.” Durge drew a long drink from the skin as Sveta hesitated, looking back north. “Father I can do this! You are hurt…” Durge glared angrily at Sveta. “Don’t challenge me girl. We stay together!”

Though wounded, Durge moved with renewed vigor, bolstered by fresh water and a night sky. Jogging forward, the prairie grass soon gave way to fields of vegetables and fruit trees. In the distance a series of simple stone fence lines separated the fields from two large stone buildings with oddly curved roofs. The largest of the two buildings had a long cobblestone path leading up to a stone stair, the base of which elevated the structure above all others in the area. At the top of the stairs a series of columns rose to the outer edges of the curved roof and circled the exterior of the building. The top of the stairs ended with a circular entry with no door. Several large banners, covered in unusual symbols, hung around the opening. While the smaller of the two buildings was plain and unadorned, the larger building was painted bright red and covered in manicured bushes and flower boxes.

Durge moved slowly into the well lit courtyard outside the buildings. Sveta moved closely behind, staring in wonder at the enormity of the building. In the center of the cobblestone yard a massive brazier burned brightly. As Durge hobbled closer he could see many figures gathering at the windows and door of the smaller stone structure. Dropping his axe, he took a few more steps forward before falling to his knees. Sveta rushed to his side and watched as dozens of humans, the likes of which she had never seen before, poured forth to get a closer look. Each of them wore a simple robe tied at the waist by a belt and their heads were shaved. Some held long wooden poles at the ready while others seemed to argue with others in their group. Durge scanned the faces around him and realized that nearly all of them were children no older than his daughter. Once again, Sveta could not understand their tongue but her father, who was holding one hand up, was able to muster a few words.

Moments later, the crowd grew silent as an aged human, with narrow eyes and wrapped in yellow robes, walked slowly to the front of the crowd. He wore his white hair in a single long braid that was draped in front of his left shoulder. His beard was thin but long and came to a point on his chin and around his neck lay a single strand of wooden beads. At each of his sides and walking slightly behind him were two other humans, much younger than their master but still long in years, dressed in similar yellow robes. Durge had not spoken in the common tongue since Sarra died and the words were coming slowly. “Please…help.”

One of the master’s escorts stepped to his side and glared at Durge. “Grand Master Xu, they are beggars. Worse yet, they are orcs! Send them away.” Durge, his wound bleeding again, struggled to rise to one knee and pounded his chest. “I want nothing from you! Help my daughter, help Sveta!” Sveta heard her name and realized they were talking about her. Her eyes began to dance between her father and the humans. The escort leaned in towards Grand Master Xu, his eyes now fixed on Sveta. “The orc no longer wishes the burden of parenthood. We care for orphans. This orc is no orphan.” Walking around Durge he knelt down and lifted the orc’s axe. “Grand Master look! Blood covers this axe. These orcs are dangerous, savages without a conscience. We brought the children here from Ohtar to escape war. We can’t allow an orc to stay here and risk the lives of our students.”

Surrounded by children and hearing her name again Sveta quickly realized what was happening. “Father what are you doing?” Durge looked at his daughter, tears welling in his eyes, and embraced her tightly. Sveta fought her way free and began to weep. “No! We stay together! You said it!” Durge pulled Sveta close again. “Listen to me. You can be safe here. This is the way we have been searching for.” Durge stroked Sveta’s hair away from her face. “Someday I will return for you and we will be together again. There is no life in the Brolg for us and the humans will kill us both if they find us. You can be safe here.” Sveta was weeping uncontrollably as Durge failed to fight back tears as he spoke.

Grand Master Xu listened to Durge’s words and heard the love in them. Moving to Sveta’s side Grand Master Xu placed a hand on her head and smiled at Durge. “Fear not, she will be cared for and kept safe.” To Durge’s surprise the Grand Master spoke orc. “Master Cheng.” The escort who had argued to banish the orcs bowed to the Grand Master. “Yes, Grand Master Xu.” The Grand Master smiled and lifted his hands to the night sky. “Balance Master Cheng, through compassion and mercy we find balance.” The Grand Master paused and helped Sveta to her feet. “Master Cheng, she will be your student and…I think you will be hers.” Master Cheng’s mouth was agape but he bowed and took Sveta’s hand.

As the monks led her away she looked back one last time at her father. Grand Master was tending his wound but he was still too proud to lie down. Years later, Sveta began to realize how great an orc Durge was. He defeated every challenger, conquered every threat, and found a new way when no other orc would even dare to dream. All for the love he held for his daughter. All for Sveta.



The Pickled Dragon’s Finest Brew Game Review: Talisman

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CoverSmWhen I think of high fantasy themed board games the first name that always comes to mind is Talisman.  I am probably biased as Talisman was first released during the time that I first discovered fantasy role playing games.  The year was 1983, I was fully immersed in Advanced Dungeons and Dragons, Gary Gygax had just sent six friends on a roller coaster ride into the “Realms”, and Talisman hit the shelves.



Talisman is a game that combines classic faerie tale elements with hard core fantasy adventure.  Like the idea of players being turned into toads by wicked witches?  Talisman has that.  Want to fight dragons and demons in the depths of a dungeon?  Talisman has that too.  All the while maintaining the feel of a relaxed lightweight game that is easy to learn.  I have heard some people refer to Talisman as heavy on rules but when we had two players who had never played before try the game they were rolling dice in about a half hour.  Yes, the rule book is 21 pages long but it is also fully illustrated with large sections devoted to examples of game play on rules they had just described.

The objective of Talisman is to build your character, find a talisman, traverse the three regions of the game board, and reach the Crown of Command before the other players do.  Once at the Crown of Command the player may invoke Command Spells to knock other players out of the game.

Game Play

Players begin the game by randomly selecting from one of the many character cards.  Then, strength, craft, life, and fate tokens are handed out as designated on the character card.  Any starting equipment or spells should also be given. Characters are then placed on the starting position designated on their character card.  Players should pay close attention to special abilities that their characters have.  This is actually a bit of a weakness of Talisman.  Not all characters are created equal.  Some special abilities are only marginally useful while others are incredibly powerful.  For this reason we suggest using the optional rule where each player randomly pulls three character cards and selects one.


Once game play begins players roll a D6 to move around the board starting within the outer region.  Players should begin focusing on building their characters which means landing on game board spaces that allow them to pull adventure cards.  I already mentioned once that Talisman is a laid back gaming experience but I feel that I should remind you that random chance plays a big roll in the game so players shouldn’t stress too much about making the perfect tactical decision because any move is just as likely to lead to glory as it is ruin.  Your first move has an equal chance of pulling a dragon as it does a wimpy, yet loathsome, goblin.

Each time a player moves to a new square they simply follow the directions given on the space they have landed.  This might include drawing adventure cards, interacting with NPC’s, or attempting not to get lost in one of the many pitfalls of the game.  While gambling at the Tavern or visiting the mystic may be a fun diversion players should focus on pulling as many adventure cards as possible.  Magical items, followers, monsters, NPC’s (good and bad), and events all flow from the adventure card deck.


Some players may see being at the mercy of chance to be a major drawback of the game.  However, this also means that a front runner for the race to the crown can be completely derailed at anytime allowing other players to catch up.  That said, it is not fair to say that Talisman has no strategy.  Where a player who thrives on a more strategic game may find their stride is in the player versus player combat.  There are a number of spells, items, and even NPC’s that players can use to advance their quest while raining destruction upon their enemies.  While there is no requirement to battle your fellow players there are a number of character special abilities, spells, and items that can only be used against your opponents making this kind of conflict an important part of the game.

Another aspect I like about Talisman is that when a player dies they are not out of the game.  The unfortunate soul gets to select a new character card and jump right back into the action.  No one is ever left sitting around waiting for the game to be decided.  While playing catch up can be very difficult playing spoiler is sometimes far more satisfying especially when the previous character was killed by another player.

Generally speaking, a game of Talisman can last an hour to an hour and a half per player.  However, this time can be cut down if the players choose not to fight one another.  There is nothing wrong with playing the game this way but characters tend to grow in power rather quickly when another player is not trying to stop them.


One knock against Talisman has been that since their is such a heavy element of chance, encounters do not scale with the strength of the character.  There comes a point in the game where hanging out in the outer region becomes overkill as the character destroys everything in its path.  While there is nothing that can stop a player from playing Godzilla, Talisman has many expansions that offer new regions with a higher level of difficulty to further challenge the mettle of players.


Large expansions attach to the main game board on one of the four corners.  Specific spaces are designated as entry points for these expansions.  For example, the ruins square in the outer region also acts as the entrance to the Dungeon Expansion, my personal favorite region.  These add-on areas come with additional characters and their own decks of more difficult monsters and encounters.


Smaller expansions do not add board space but rather add challenges to overcome.  For example, the Reaper expansion puts the Grim Reaper in play.  If anyone lands on the Reaper they must dice with death often leading to disastrous consequences.  The catch is that the Reaper is controlled by the players.  Anytime a player rolls a 1 on their movement dice they complete their move normally and then roll to move the Reaper with the goal of landing on another player.  This fantastic little expansion also comes with additional characters.



The first time I played Talisman I had never seen anything like it.  Character pieces were cardboard standees and the game board and cards were colorful and well detailed.  For that time the game was amazing!  Today, competition in the board game industry has raised expectations to a whole new level but the publishers of Talisman, Fantasy Flight, were up to the challenge.  Character pieces are high quality plastic miniatures and the artwork on the board, cards, and box is amazing.  Even better, the components are built to last.  Each and every piece of the game from the cards and characters to the box they come in feel substantial.  I have literally played dozens of games with my set of Talisman and it looks as good as the day I first purchased it.


Talisman has always been an excellent game and it’s future is secure in the care of Fantasy Flight.  While Talisman may not be for the hard core strategic board gamer it’s strength lies in the game’s ability to bring friends together for a full evening of lighthearted fantasy fun.  With so many expansion and character options Talisman also has a high replay ability as players explore new regions and characters.  Elwood gives Talisman an 80 proof as it never fails to leave him warm and fuzzy every time he plays.