I’ll Always Love the Legend of Zelda

One of my first memories of playing video games was sitting on the carpet with my friends while we took turns playing Super Mario Cart. I remember the ease with which I made turns, hopped over puddles, and the ways we laughed whenever we ran into the moles that appeared in a couple of the levels. It was a fun, social activity. It set the foundation for the way I still view video games today, as an activity best done with friends. As I grew, and my friends all moved away or disappeared as such things do, I found myself less and less able to find people to play with other than my siblings. That was always fun, but my older brother wasn’t very interested in playing because he always won and my younger sisters weren’t as interested when I initially needed people.

Around that time, the N64 came out. I wanted one so badly, so I could play the new Mario game I got to try when we visited some of my dad’s friends, but no amount of begging or pleading would sway my parents. It was just not in the cards for us. Long after I’d given up, though I of course still asked frequently as a matter of course, we got the limited edition, see-through green edition that came with the expansion pack and Donkey Kong 64. I was so excited that I woke up at five in the morning or earlier every day during winter break to play it. Donkey Kong 64 was one of my first experiences with a game that was meant to be played by a single player and it was way more fun than I expected. Then, I don’t remember when it happened or who gave it to us, but I got my hands on a copy of The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, and my world changed.

I honestly hadn’t expected much going into it. My first Legend of Zelda game was A Link to the Past, because we borrowed it from a friend for a while. My older brother enjoyed it, but I couldn’t quite figure it out. I was five or six while I was trying to play it and I just couldn’t figure out where to go next at one point, so I didn’t get very far into it before we had to give it back. When we got Ocarina of Time, I was excited by a new single-player game of course, but I was a little skeptical that it’d be nearly as fun as Donkey Kong had been. I let my brother take the first turn and I immediately fell in love as I watched him play. There was just something about seeing a child who looked like he was my age fight against evil and go on these adventures before ultimately growing up to continue them. Most of the thematic elements of the game went right over my head, but I had so much fun wandering around the world, searching for heart pieces and Gold Skulltulas before ultimately trying to look up guides online, that I didn’t care about anything else.\

A year later, not that long after my brother and I had gotten tired of finishing Ocarina of Time, we got a Nintendo Power magazine telling us all about the new Legend of Zelda game that was going to come out, Majora’s Mask. I demanded the game immediately, which didn’t get me very far, of course. I had to save and beg and wheedle and convince my parents to get it for the family since no one person could have a game console (there were four of us kids at that point and we used any power we had to get one-up on each other). I don’t remember the day we finally got it, but I remember how excited I was and then how frustrated I was when I couldn’t get through the first part of the game. At that point, due to how much we played video games and how many of us wanted to play, there was a strict thirty-minute restriction on how long your turn with the N64 could be. If you’ve played Majora’s Mask, you know that thirty minutes is barely enough time to get through the first part of the game even when you know what you’re doing and that there’s no way to save the game until you’ve finished. Needless to say, it took a lot of tries to figure everything out so I could actually finish the first part. My brother cheated by getting up in the middle of the night when no one would call him on playing for longer than thirty minutes but, joke’s on him, I beat the game before him using that method.

This game was different from Ocarina of Time, though. I’m not sure if it was because of how much I’d grown in the year between starting Ocarina of Time and playing Majora’s Mask or if it was because the themes of the game more closely matched the issues I was struggling with at the time, but I finally starting to realize what was going on behind the missions and adventures. I saw all these crazy characters who were struggling to deal with the things that happened in their life and they went from being hilarious or weird caricatures to being sad but truthful depictions of the way we struggled to cope in a world were we ultimately have no say in how things turn out. The big moment for me was watching the Zora hero, Mikau, tell his story and then die. I didn’t really understand what was going on and what the game meant back then, but it has stuck with me for over a decade as something that opened my eyes to the fact that lots of people feel powerless and want someone to help them.

I mean, even the hero can’t accomplish everything he wants. He has the power to help other people, to fix some of their problems or at least act in their stead when it is too late for them, but even he can’t find the person he’s been searching for throughout the entire game. It’s a lot like the stories we tell ourselves as we try our best to live our lives. It can be really easy to step in for someone else, to help them fix a problem that feels insurmountable to them but that we have the tools to address, but we often find ourselves unable to help ourselves in the same we. We struggle and fight our way through whatever comes up, but can’t always guarantee that the struggle is going to be anything but an obstacle to overcome. Winning doesn’t guarantee that we’ll get the prize we seek. Or any prize at all, for that matter.

As a ten-year-old kid, I couldn’t have put this into words, but I understood it. I felt it deep inside my heart and recognized it in this game that was a rush job slapped together using old assets by a team of people who had a vision and a plan and not much else. It reach into my soul and let me know I wasn’t the only one who felt this way or had experienced these feelings. It was a revelation and the reason Majora’s Mask is always going to be my favorite Legend of Zelda game. Even with Breath of the Wild’s amazing open world and the hundreds of hours of joy it has brought me, Majora’s Mask will always be the nearest and dearest to my heart because it taught me about depression and how to handle it before I even knew that’s what I had. It set the stage for a lot of the most important mental developments in my life and is more a part of who I am as a person than anything but “stories” as a whole. I’m glad I got to experience it when I did and I’m glad I can go back to visit it and find it the same after all these years so I can measure how I’ve grown and changed.

I Need More Stuff to Review

I’ve been struggling to find stuff to review every week, partly because I haven’t always had time to read new books, watch new shows, or play new games, but also partly because so much of the stuff I find these days has been out for so long it isn’t super relevant anymore. In terms of games and shows or movies, a couple of years old is enough to fade into irrelevance online. Books often have a long lifespan in the public eye, but not always, and a lot of the books I’ve picked up have tended to fall into the “cult following” area and I haven’t been able to find them online. I still review stuff I enjoy, of course, but don’t always write about it when I feel like I’ve got nothing to add to what is already online.

Which is why I’ve started asking for recommendations of books, comics, games, movies, TV shows, and media in any form. I posted on Twitter today (and have been getting so many responses it gets difficult to keep up with them all now that everyone is home from their day jobs and checking their notifications) and have gotten a lot of links to books, a couple graphic novels, some story or poetry collections, and one webcomic. I’ve gotten so many things I might need to start doing reviews more than once a week if I seriously plan to review everything. I don’t even know if that’s going to be possible, given the sheer number of responses over the last couple of hours alone.

I’m looking forward to it, though. It feels nice to be able to help out people who are launching their careers or trying to make a name for themselves on the self-publishing market. One day, I’ll likely be right there with them, trying to get exposure and reviews for my book so other people will become more interested in reading it. I hope someone else is willing to review my books then. Additionally, it’ll maybe get exposure for the other stuff I offer on my blog, the various poems and bits of fiction I post fairly regularly (still trying to get back on the “poem a week” horse and my crazy work schedule still hasn’t let up so it’s not happening), and I would love that. I love it when people read my stuff, so I can understand the excitement people feel when they see someone actually asking for books to review.

All that being said, I’d love if you recommended some things to me! Anything is fair game, at this point. As long as it is published and available for me to obtain, I will review it. Got an indie game you’re working on? Send it along! I can’t promise I’ll review it immediately, but I am happy to buy a copy and put it on my list. Know someone who is trying to launch a book series or a webcomic? Comment or email a link and I’ll check them out! All of us creative people are in this together and it never hurts to help someone out as long as you’re not putting yourself out too much. We both have something to gain from this and there’s no losers in this scenario. Except people who don’t like it when people share things they like, I guess. They lose out big time.

I don’t know if it’ll generate sales for these people, I don’t know if it’s going to get them a lot of exposure considering the relatively small number of views I get in a given month, but it’ll be a good project and it most-certainly can’t hurt.

Coldheart and Iron: Part 29

READ FROM THE BEGINNING


By the end of the day, we were all set up in our new homes. The Nomads had been taken to a series of houses in one of the older neighborhoods and my Wayfinders and I were given a small commune near the center of the enclave. It wasn’t as nice as the homes the Nomads had, but we shared a kitchen and a bunch of common living areas so we got to stay together as a group. I let everyone fight it out over who got which room while I worked with Natalie, Lucas, and Camille to get our maps and plans up to date.

Camille and Lucas were going to lead groups to raid the Bandit staging areas while Natalie coordinated groups of Enclave defenders who would go after the munitions depots she’d marked. I was going to serve as the coordinator, managing the messengers between each group and making sure our groups never accidentally found each other while looking for Bandits. Over dinner, we shared our plans with the rest of the Wayfinders and started making plans for later that evening. Now that we had a base and reliable terrain, we’d be able to easily move around at night so we could start using the darkness to our advantage.

After dinner, Natalie and I took our maps and information to head of the Enclave defenders while Camille and Lucas rested. The Enclave defense council was a small group consisting of a couple of retired Wayfinders and some people who had been in the National Guard back before the Collapse, but they worked like a well-oiled machine with none of the politics or arguing we were using to seeing in other Enclave councils. As soon as Natalie stepped in the door, someone was debriefing us, making copies of our maps, providing us with larger, more detailed maps, and adjusting plans they’d already made to account for the information we provided.

Four hours later, after a rush of discussions, debates, and arguments about how to best deploy the forces we had, I left Natalie to finish up organizing the munition runs while I went back to our compound to rouse the Wayfinders for their first mission.

It was a relatively simple one, but it was probably the most dangerous mission we’d planned for the next few days. I filled Camille and Lucas in on the details before sending them off to finish their preparations and meet the additional soldiers they’ve have under their command. A short while later, I sent the rest of the Wayfinders after them, so it was just Tiffany and I left in the compound. While Tiffany puttered around, trying to keep herself busy while everyone else was off on their mission, I settled in for a quick nap on a couch that felt softer than a thick pile of clouds, trying to make up for the sleep I’d been sacrificing. I had been avoiding the bed because I was certain I’d never want to leave it after sleeping on a cot or the ground for the past ten years. However, Natalie walked into the compound before I managed to do more than start to doze.

“Marshall?”

“Mmm?” I covered my eyes with and arm and peered out from underneath it at her. “What?”

“There’s work you need to do, yet. No times for naps right now.”

I hauled myself to my feet and tried to clear the sleep from my head. “What’s going on?”

“One of the scientists on the council wants to talk to you about low-frequency signals and something about a clamp. I didn’t realize he was talking to me right away so I didn’t catch all the details, but it’s pretty clear he’s got something going on in terms of communication that he wants to discuss with you as the coordinator.”

“Oh.” I hauled myself to my feet and felt my back cry out in sadness. “I suppose I’d better get over there.” I shuffled over to the door where I’d hung up my snowsuit and boots. “Anything else come up?”

“No.” Natalie sat down next to me and started stripping off her boots. “Seems pretty straight-forward. I helped them update their maps and got a tablet with all of their information on it to peruse tonight. I’ll do some checking against my maps to see if there’s anything I overlooked or can add to their local info.”

“Sounds like a plan.” I zipped up the legs of my suit and then stuck my feet into my boots. I’d had them for about five years and only constant care at every Enclave we stopped at kept them insulated and waterproof, but it was worth the money because they were the most comfortable things I’d ever worn on my feet. After burying my feet between the cushions of that couch for a while, though, they felt like they were made of iron. “Thirty minutes on a couch and I’m already going soft again.”

“Did you touch one of the beds yet?”

“No, I’d never leave.”

“I almost made that mistake. I managed to get out of my room in time, though.”

“I’d have had to come get you.” I smirked up at Natalie as I laced up my boots.

“That would have been even worse! Then we’d both have been stuck.” Natalie smiled down at me and winked. “Just awful.”

“I can think of worse things than getting stuck in bed with you.” I sat up and leaned over to give Natalie a kiss. As I did, I caught sight of Tiffany in the kitchen who was smirking as she watched us. I froze, mid-lean.

“Don’t stop on my account. You two are adorable.”

Since I wasn’t moving, frozen like a deer in the headlights, Natalie chuckled “If you insist.” She leaned over the rest of the way and kissed me. I recovered in time to participate, but I felt my face heat as Tiffany laughed.

“Did you really think you two were a secret, Captain?”

I stood up and zipped up my snowsuit to buy myself a couple of seconds. Once I’d mastered my expression, I turned back to Tiffany and Natalie, who was smiling up at me from her seat with her boots off and her snowsuit only partially unzipped. “Yes, I did. I thought we did a good job of keeping it under wraps.”

“Please. It’s obvious. I bet half the Enclave already knows.”

I sighed and shook my head. “What else haven’t I noticed?”

“That you should hurry up and talk to that scientist! He’s in the command building.” Natalie shooed me towards the door as I opened my mouth to protest. “We can talk about this more once we’re finished helping the Enclave and all settled in, now get.”

“Love you.” I smiled at Natalie and watched Tiffany make fake retching motions behind her. Natalie blew me another kiss and I hurried out the door. It took me a few minutes to get back to the Enclave defense headquarters since it was after dark now, but I found it eventually and made my way inside.

After wiping my boots off, I made my way into the main room where the council and their aides were pacing around a few large tables full of maps and papers. In one of the alcoves, most of which were filled with runners taking naps while waiting for a message to carry, a heavyset man with long hair pulled up in a neat bun waved at me. I walked over to him and sat down in one of the chairs he cleared off.

“Captain! I’ve got some important information for you!”

I sat silently for a moment, waiting for him to go on, but he didn’t say anything else. After a few more awkward moments of silence I nodded. “Sounds great. What is it?”

“Since you’re going to run the communications operation for us, I thought I’d give you the rundown on the comm system I invented.” The man leaned forward and help out a paper booklet. I took it from him and started glancing through it as he spoke.

“We have short-range radios for you to use. Effective communication radius is only one mile and we can’t have more than four active at a time, but it’ll be enough for you to follow the groups you’re managing and then send any information back to a bunch of runners closer to the Enclave. If we have more than four, then the signal would be strong enough to be noticed by the monsters. You also can’t be inside when you’re using them but you can be on the ground. In fact, don’t use them outside the city or above the fifth floor of any building because then it’s more likely they’ll pick up your transmissions.”

The scientist held out four walkie-talkies and pointed to the dials on the top. “Simple channel selection, though never use anything above channel ten or else you’ll attract monsters.  They work just like walkie-talkies from before the collapse, so make sure to watch out for people holding the button down for too long.”

I looked through the booklet for the section on channels and saw a more detailed version of what he just said. Instead of reading it, I looked up at him. “Why are there more than ten channels if anything above ten attracts monsters?”

“Since these communicate in bursts, some of our defense forces use them to silently attract monsters to a location so they don’t have to fight whatever bandits are around. The higher you go above ten, the further the signal reaches.” The man pointed to the booklet. “You can find approximate mileage numbers in there if you want. Additionally, they only have a battery life of two days, so don’t plan on being out for very long, and they have a tendency to chase away animals with better hearing than Humans so don’t expect to find any animal life while you’re out and they’re on.”

“Got it.” I looked at my booklet and then at the walkie-talkies. “How is it possible that the monsters don’t just pick these up immediately? I thought they detected almost every signal we knew of.”

“They detect all signals we know of, not most.”

“That’s beside the point.” I leaned forward and grabbed the walkie-talkies out of his hand. “How do they not pick these up immediately?”

“High-frequencies don’t go very far before the air just causes them to fade out. There’s a lot more to the science of why, but that’s essentially it. These use high frequencies, thus the short battery life and potential to scare away animals, and while the signals extend past the one mile range, they don’t make it past two miles. Our scouting reports have all of the local monsters staying on the north side of the city, so you should have at least fifteen miles between your theater of operations and the nearest monster. If, for whatever reason, the monsters detect your signals, you can just leave and they’ll attack the bandits instead.”

“I think I get it.” I picked set all of the walkie-talkies aside and closed the booklet. “Is there anything else you wanted to discuss?”

“Just don’t use the monster attracting signals for the next few days. Based on the monster wander patterns our scouts have put together, they’d walk right through the Enclave if they noticed you.”

“Got it.” I stood up and stuffed the walkie-talkies and booklet into a pocket on the front of my snowsuit. “Thank you.” I held out my hand. “I’m sorry we didn’t do introductions earlier. I’m Marshall. The only people who call me Captain are the Wayfinders under my command.”

“Oh, well, I’m Horace, head comms scientist. The barrier was my idea and I appreciate you volunteering your time and skills to help us defend our home as we get it working.” He stood and shook my hand firmly. “I hope the radios work out for you.”

“Thanks.” I pumped his hand, gave him a midwestern awkward smile, and then quickly left the building. As I headed back toward the Wayfinder commune, I absently touched the radios in my pocket. It was weird to think that we’d not only be using these as a part of our operations for the next few days but that we’d also be able to use stuff like these as soon as the barrier went up. I hadn’t used any kind of remote communication device in fifteen years, since we discovered the monsters could find any signals. Some people in enclaves still used hardline telephones, but all of those were wired and heavily shielded and they only worked inside the Enclave since no one was willing to spend the years it’d take to bury new shielded cables from one Enclave to another.

My head was filled with memories of last people I’d talked to on a cell phone before the satellites and towers when down during the collapse as I walked into the commune and hour after I left. I was so distracted it took me a moment to register what I was seeing. The common area was filled with Wayfinders again, all sitting around the living area still in their snowsuits and boots as Lucas and Camille paced. Natalie sat off to the side, pouring over the tablet she’d gotten, and Tiffany sat with her, flipping through a book of some kind.

“What’s going on?” I paused in the entryway, not bothering to take off my snowsuit or boots.

“Our mission failed.” Camille stopped pacing and shrugged.

Lucas, still pacing and angrier than I’d seen him in a long time, turned his head toward me as he stalked around the coffee table. “It didn’t fail. There was just no one there. You can’t take out Bandit leadership if the entire bandit army you’re expecting to find has suddenly just left the city.

“Left the city?” I took a step forward. “Does the Enclave defense council know about this?”

“We just got back. Their scouts found out the same time we did.” Camille held her arms behind her back. “All the signs Lucas could find pointed to them moving out during the day today and heading west, out of the city. A few groups splintered off the main force, but they probably didn’t break fifty Bandits, total. The main force of a couple thousand just left.”

“Really?”

“Really.” Lucas snarled and stopped pacing. “And now we’re going to sit tight here while we wait for the defense council to figure it’s shit out and decide what to do instead of chasing them down and trying to figure out why they left.”

“Oh.” I kicked the snow off my boots and pulled the walkie-talkies out of my pocket. “In the meantime, have a radio. One for you, Camille, one for Lucas, one for me, and one for Tiffany.” Tiffany looked up from her book, excitement in her eyes. “Yeah, there’s gonna be a group of runners I’ll be communicating with and you get to be my voice with them. One hand shouldn’t impede you there.”

Everyone took their radios, but Lucas looked at his like it was a grenade while I briefly outlined the rules Horace had given me and pulled out the booklet. “If you’ve got any further questions, wait until after I’ve read the manual. Once I’m done, I’ll put it on the coffee table. Everyone got it?”

I watched everyone nod, even Lucas, and was about to head over to talk to Natalie when someone knocked at the door. I turned around, ignoring the chatter breaking out behind me as people remembered that most people don’t just walk into other people’s homes, and walked back to the door. I opened it and gestured for the messenger to step inside.

“Sorry to bother you, Captain, but the Enclave defense council has requested you and your officer’s immediately.”

I nodded and gestured behind me. “What’s this about?”

“I don’t know, but they said it was important and you were to report immediately.” the woman saluted and stepped back. “I’ve got a few more people to tell. Please head over right away.”

“Of course.” I opened the door again and closed it behind her. “Three times in twelve hours. This is a busy day.”

“Speak for yourself.” Lucas walked over and grabbed Natalie’s snowsuit and boots. “All I’ve had to do today is make some fun plans and go on a long walk. It’s about time something happened.” He tossed the suit to Natalie and then handed her the boots. “I just hope it isn’t another false alarm.”

Five minutes later, we entered the defense council hall to find everyone running around and shouting over each other as messengers darted in and out of the building. One of the retired Wayfinders, Gerry, walked up to us when we did our best to get out of everyone’s way.

“Thank god you’re here, Marshall. We need you to gather up every Wayfinder you can get, retired or active.” He was standing so close our boots were almost touching and he still had to shout to be heard.

“What’s going on?” Natalie, Camille, and Lucas leaned in.

“Someone started broadcasting a radio signal from the top of one of the walls. It was an old, battery-operated ham radio and it was pointed north, right toward where the monsters have been the last few days.” I could see the panic in Gerry’s eyes as he spoke and I felt Natalie and Lucas stiffen beside me.

“How? When?”

“We don’t know for sure, yet. I suspect it was the bandits, since they all so conveniently disappeared today, but no one saw anything. We got the first report a couple minutes after you left and it wouldn’t have been long before then that it was discovered. We’ve got patrols on the wall that pass every ten minutes, so it didn’t sit there for very long either. It doesn’t need to be long, though. A ham radio is easily picked up by any monster, so we expect to see them in one or two hours.”

“I knew it.” Lucas took a deep breath and sighed. “Shit.”

“I’ll start rousing everyone I can. It’ll take more than an hour to look up all the Wayfinders who retired here, though.” I looked to Natalie for confirmation and she nodded. “There should be a lot, though.”

“That’s fine. Just hurry. We’ve got a group leave in ten minutes to do the most they can to delay the monsters, but it might not buy us much time. Just send them here and we’ll get them all sorted into units.”

“On it.” I nodded to Camille and Natalie. As we all headed toward the door, I turned to Lucas. “Go rouse the commune and get everyone down to the Wayfinder barracks we used yesterday. I want you to grab every gun, bullet, and explosive you can find. Bring it all back to the commune and start setting it up as a command center. I’ll have all the Wayfinders report to you first so we can set up our own units and communications. It’ll take some of the load off Gerry.”

“Yes, sir.” Lucas saluted and ran off as soon as he was out the door. I jogged to catch up to Natalie and Camille as we made our way toward the small Wayfinder office we maintained for tracking pay and resource acquisition in every Enclave. All of our records would be there and, thanks to Natalie being the designer or our organization system, Camille and I would be able to start knocking on doors right away.

The walls would be able to hold out the monsters for a couple hours, at least, but dawn would probably bring fighting in the streets unless the defense forces managed to delay them long enough or we managed to get a bunch of Wayfinders right away. Every defense force trained in killing monsters, but no one could kill monsters as quickly and efficiently as a Wayfinder, even if they’d been in retirement for a few years. If we could get a hundred Wayfinders set up with guns and enough ammunition, then it would only be a question of time before the monster army fell. The only real problem I saw was whether or not the Enclave would survive long enough.

 

Tabletop Highlight: What “Hit Points” Mean For You and Your Players

Hit Points. Life. Soul. HPs. Damage. Shields. Power. Lots of different ways to express the same concept. Every game with combat needs them in some manner or another, and they often serve different purposes even if they’re usually the same at the core. Ultimately, whatever they’re called, they’re the numerical or mechanical (as-in “gameplay mechanic”) representation of a character’s ability to survive damage from an enemy before they suffer a lethal blow. This works great in stuff like video games where your character never really speaks about the numbers representing their bodily health unless they’re scripted to break the fourth wall. However, when it comes to tabletop role playing games, you actually need a way for your characters to discuss a numerical representation of their bodily health without breaking the fourth wall. There have been a lot of attempts, but most fall short or simply break the fourth wall rather than entirely shatter it.

Probably my favorite is to take it humorously. Instead of saying “HP” or “Hit Points” in D&D, my players jokingly have their characters ask each other a question: “If you were to compare your health to a number of tomatoes, how many tomatoes would have left?” It was my own joke, initially, that I made during on session when one of the players struggled to convey his character’s hit point total during a bit of a drawn-out fight.  I don’t remember where I got it. I’m not sure if I read it somewhere or just extrapolated it from the popular “D&D Stats Explained with Tomatoes” Reddit post, but it’s something that hung around my head for a while before I stuck it into my players’ heads.

I’m not that much of a role playing stickler that I won’t let my players talk about their skills, abilities, or hit points in concrete terms, but I generally encourage them to get as absorbed into the game as they’re willing to go. It can make it a bit difficult to openly discuss who needs healing the most if no one is allowed to quantify their level of damage, though. Typically, so long as the characters aren’t talking about hit points, I’m fine. The players can talk about them as a concrete concept as much as they’re like since their characters would be able to more easily visually assess the relative health of the other characters around them. It’s really just a way to help the people outside the game bridge the gap between what they know of the game they’re playing and what their characters would just know as a result of being a part of the game.

When it comes to describe hit points and how they work as the Dungeon Master, it can be a little tricky. If your fighter has one hundred hit points and your wizard has forty and your rogue has sixty, then it makes it pretty clear that they can all survive different amounts of punishment. The fight can probably stand to be impaled a few times since being impaled on a spear does around twenty damage. Something much larger, with a horn of some kind, would do much more damage, but the fighter could easily survive one or two hits from even the hardest hitting impaler. Further complicating things is how Armor Class affects the way damage is applied. If your fighter is wearing full-plate and wielding a tower shield but still gets hit, how does that work? Did his opponent find a gap? Did they break through the fighter’s armor? Chop through their shield? Is the fighter’s armor filling up with blood now, or was it just a scratch?

The way I like to think of it, I consider hit points to be a reflection of an individual character’s ability to turn an otherwise lethal or debilitating blow into something minor. Think about a sword-fighting anime. You have two master swordsmen rushing at each other and they swing. These two people were chopping arms off of mooks just five minutes earlier, have both sliced through rocks, and can effortlessly slash down a heavy wooden door. How is it that they only took minor cuts on their arms or cheeks or whatever? They used their skill, gained over the length of their time training and leveling up, to move in such a way that an arm-removing chop just made them bleed a little. The same is true of your fighter and your wizard. They might be the same level, but a fighter is going to be much better at negating the lethality of a hit than a wizard. When they finally run out of hit points, that means they’re cut up and tired enough that they can no longer negate the blows and something that had, seconds before, caused only the smallest red line to appear now removes their hand or arm.

Critical hits are a little more complicated. Generally just walk it up as being a non-lethal hit still, but one that would be severe enough to cause a big scar. Maybe the cut was long but shallow or maybe it was actually a puncture. You can be run-through without damaging anything that’d get you killed. It’s not easy and it’s more likely than not that you’ll get extremely hurt, but a fighter could probably do it a bunch of times in a day.

The one major except to my practices is when a player takes massive damage. In the three point five edition of Dungeons and Dragons, there’s a suggested rule to require a saving throw to avoid death if a player takes massive damage and they define massive damage as something exceeding fifty points in a single attack. Now, there will be characters who go from level one to twenty and never once have fifty hit points. There are characters who, at twentieth level, will be able to laugh off fifty points of damage. Better, in my mind, to make it based on their total hit points. In my campaigns, players can face debilitating injuries if they take half their hit points or more of damage from a single attack. Lost limbs, evisceration, unconsciousness, broken bones, and of those are fair game if they get absolutely wrecked by something. This means that the one hundred hit point fight is much less likely to get a massive damage hit than the wizard, but it makes sense that it’d work that way.

How do you treat hit points in your games? I’d love to hear how you handle the description of losing hit points and accruing damage. Please feel free to comment!

Check out today’s Tabletop Highlight about Hit Points! I cover the roles they play in games and how you can describe your players losing HP in fights! Check it out here!

Cyborg Anatomy

“Hey, Phil.”

“Yeah?”

“You know how Humans have that whole mind versus body thing?”

“What about it?”

“If you decapitate a Human, they’re dead. If you do a head transplant, then the ‘person’ stays with the head. So, like, the Human brain is where the mind is stored.”

“Yeah, okay?”

“What about us?” Marty looked at Phil while tapping his head. “This bit is for looks, ‘cause Humans want us to have faces, but, like, is my mind in my hard drive, or my CPU?”

“I dunno, man.” Phil touched his chest and stared at the wall. “I’d say hard drive. Most of what moves if we get a new body is the hard drive.” Phil shivered. “That’s kinda creepy, dude. Does that mean motherboards are our hearts? Wires are our nerves. What are our veins, dude?”

“Far out, Phil. I didn’t think of that.” Marty ran his hands along his arms. “Probably the stuff that connects everything to our motherboards. Which makes everything else an internal organ.”

“So, like, to decapitate one of us, you’ve have to rip open our chests and pull out the hard drive. Or the motherboard, but I guess that’s moving into just killing. Hard drive equals decapitation. Final answer.”

“What a concept, man.”

“We may be made of metal, but we’re just as fragile as them.”

“You sure are.” Marty leaned over and slammed the electromagnetic emitter to Phil’s chest. After the cyborg twitched a couple times, Marty ripped open his access panel and yanked out the hard drive. After looking at all the other components for a bit, Marty started wrenching out everything he could.

A few minutes later, Marty wiped the silver body paint off as he walked out the door muttering to himself. “Cyborg Assassin would look great on business cards.”

Saturday Morning Musing

It is difficult to reconcile the world I was raised to believe existed and the world that actually exists. Like a lot of people in my age category, I was raised to believe that I could do anything I wanted if I worked hard enough and that there was a benevolent being somewhere above us who loved us individually and only wanted what was best for us. A lot of it was reinforced as I grew up because I was constantly told how smart I was, how capable I was when I focused on something I really wanted, and how frequently things just worked out the way I wanted. My home life might have been difficult, I might have had some issues crop up in my family that I’m still dealing with to this day, but I pretty much just walked through my childhood and teen years without ever really being denied anything I tried to obtain. I had pretty low expectations and didn’t try for much, to be fair, but I still managed to get everything I wanted one way or another. It felt pretty believable that I was capable of anything and that there was some force watching out for me.

As I went to college and started to come to terms with what I’d endured growing up, how I felt about my family, and my own limitations, my once-strong faith was the first thing to go. I’d describe myself as agnostic now, but it’s a little more complicated than that. I really want to believe in some higher power, but I feel like higher powers get used to get out of fixing things more frequently than I’m willing to put up with. Religion is frequently used as the justification for a lot of bad things but that doesn’t make religion itself bad. It works really well for a lot of people and it appeals to me because of the frequent focus on forgiveness, love, and respect for others. I just want to focus on doing my best here and now, to help as many people as I can now, because it feels like helping and loving is more important than figuring out which faith is the right one. That always feels like a cop-out to me, but I don’t really know how to explain it any better. I just hope that whatever greater power there is out there, whatever got things going at the start of everything, either doesn’t care or understands that I was just trying to do my best by my fellow humans.

A few years after that, when I got my first permanent, post-college job, I eventually realized that not everything works out. I wasn’t even trying to believe that everything works out well, just that it eventually comes to an end and there is some kind of conclusion. Unfortunately, closure and completion aren’t always guaranteed. Sometimes things just stop and you’re left wondering if they’re over or if there’s maybe more down the line. I’ve had a couple of relationships end like that, a few moves away from jobs, and even a few friendships that abruptly ended, and I can definitely say that that’s almost never the case. Recently mending bridges with one friend is pretty much the only time that’s ever been true and it was for a friendship I thought had concluded. It was one small, simple, enormous step that showed me sometimes things “work themselves out” without really ending. But it’s one thing in a world full of times things are just over and it’s up to me to figure out what to do with the unsatisfying end.

I spent over a year denying that it was time to move on from my old job. I spent more than a few months trying to salvage a relationship that had ended mutually due to distance but blown up afterwards because of immaturity and poor communication. I spent fifteen months trying to work things out with a roommate when I’d already known it was never going to happen. I’m really bad at letting things die when they don’t have a clear-cut end or conclusion. I spend way more time and energy trying to make things work out to what feels like a real end because there’s still a part of me that believes I can do anything if I work hard enough. I know it isn’t true, I know there are real limitations to what people can accomplish based on the factors of their life, and I know that hard work is rarely enough to achieve success, but the idea of working hard is so ingrained in my soul that I usually just double-down and convince myself that all I need to do is work even harder. Then, surely, I will achieve the success I desire.

Nothing in life is guaranteed, though. Life is short and people leave yours all the time. Days are long and you could dash yourself to pieces against the wall you’re trying to break through. You could live a lifetime in two years, full of vows to change the way things had been before and to never make the same mistakes again, only to realize you’ve in a position not that different from where you started. Maybe progress is too slow to really see and you’ll wake up one day to realize everything is different. Maybe You just need a little more time or one last push to finally break through that wall. You never know. Maybe you’re one day, one conversation away from achieving your every dream. Only time will tell if you’ve pushed too hard or if you haven’t yet pushed hard enough.

I don’t think I can achieve anything and everything I put my mind to, not after failing as often and as severely as I have. I don’t think there’s some force out there trying to guide my life down the right path. I want to believe these things, still, but I feel like I’ve got something more important to focus on. I have one thing I want to do, one big goal to spend my life on. I may never be able to achieve it or find the success I want, but I’m willing to live my entire life in pursuit of it. I feel like having that pinpoint focus is a little more valuable to me in the long run than the potentially erroneous belief in my ability to succeed or to be granted the achievement when I follow the plan of some supreme being.

Friday Morning Musing

I have a great poem I’m working on that I’ll post soon, but I’m almost literally frying my brain in a reduction of stress and Overtime this week, so I’m saving it until I’ve got the time and energy to make it as good as I know it can be. I really want to write more poetry and actually stick to my plan of posting a poem a week, but it takes even more energy and time than writing a long piece for every Tuesday’s Coldheart and Iron post. When things are stressful or super busy, I just don’t have the energy and the past few weeks have been both. I’m still amazed I got something up for last week. I’d like to say I’ll definitely have it done for next week, but I might actually have to work this weekend (a first at my current company), so we’ll see how it goes. No promises, but I probably want to get a poem posted more than you want me to post a poem.

As much as I hate my long hours and how tired I am, I still appreciate that I can work these long hours and actually get paid for all of them. I know a lot of people still working long weeks who don’t get adequately compensated, either because they don’t get overtime, because they’re salaried, or because their hours are split between several low-paying jobs and would get fired if they asked for overtime pay or anything like that. Thanks to paying off my car loan, I appreciate my current position even more, since I don’t even need overtime to make ends meet or have a little freedom in my finances. It feels good to get paid.

On the other hand, I’m only working this long because of some questionable organizational decisions made by some of the people I work with and, while I’ve got a plan to fix our processes so this doesn’t happen again, it unfortunately hinges on a lot of people who would rather complain about problems than fix them. To be entirely fair to them, they mostly do that because they’ve tried to fix them and nothing worked. Only one or two of them are frustrating and they’re frustrating for incredibly different reasons that actually cause each other, to some extent. It’s a kinda weird situation if I’m being honest. It creates and perpetuates itself. If I could figure out how to harness the energy that goes into it, I could solve world hunger or the looming energy crisis when the world runs out of oil and all we’ve got left is renewable resources my current government is refusing to harness. I’m a bit bitter today, sorry.

I’ve been struggling to stay focused and forward-thinking lately because I’m seeing a lot of parallels between my current job and the I job I left because it was destroying my soul. The reasons I’m staying late every day are matching up what happened at my old job to sink me further into depression and crush my soul, ultimately forcing me to quit in order to save my mental and physical health. They’re not nearly as bad yet, but the fact that I can draw any similarities between them is incredibly worrying. I still think I can head these problems off before they show up and I’ve actually got people on my side in my current job (including my manager), so I should be able to avoid another situation where I need to choose my livelihood or my health. That was a pretty awful decision to need to make and it has had a lasting impact on me. I actually almost had a panic attack today when I realized what is happening now is incredibly similar to how things started going wrong at my old job. Throw in the fact that I’ve had a few “I told you so” situations already this summer with people at work and I’m having a hard time believing things will wind up different, despite tons of evidence to the contrary.

I still hope they will be, though. I’m nowhere ready to abandon ship yet and I really want to believe I can change things so everyone is happier with how things related to my job work. And it will do that, if everyone does their part. I’ve spent the last year and a half listening to people talk about what they want, how things should work, and what bothers them, and this plan should make no one happy but everyone content. Well, I’ll be happy if it works, but that’s because I take incredible satisfaction in a job well done rather than because I tweak the process so it make my life easier. It’ll actually give me the most extra work since I’ll be taking over a few things that either no one does or that other people aren’t doing the way the process requires. Stuff like running meetings, holding people accountable, and enforcing the agreements we make during meetings. I’ll basically be setting myself up as the benevolent dictator of testing and, as long as everyone agrees to let me rule them, we shall have peace and prosperity.

Sounds real nice, right? I figure it has a twenty-five percent chance of working, given that it requires people granting me authority over them in certain matters. It’s a lot like democracy or peace treaties. It only works so long as every agrees to play by the rules and then actually plays by the rules. If you start breaking the rules or altering them to help you at the cost of others, then it all falls apart. It also didn’t hurt its chances that it requires people to actually follow-through on the commitments we’re making to have each other’s back and stand together at all times so we can actually gain some authority for me to wield. There are a lot of points of failure, but even a partial adoption would be great. I honestly wouldn’t mind if someone else wound up with all the authority. I’m not much of one for the spotlight and I really dislike conflicts or confrontations, both of which would be common for whoever winds up with all the power since they’d actually have to wield it against everyone at some time or another.

Still, it’s better than keeping my head down and hoping things get better on their own. Change has to start somewhere and I value my time too much to let it get wasted like this. I’ll do what I need to and I hope that only means taking a stand against poor planning (well, probably a lack of planning) and asserting the right to have everyone’s voices heard when we make commitments.

I hope you have a great Friday and I’ll do my best to get some poetry up soon! These crazy weeks can’t last forever.

Marvel’s Spider-Man Swings in to Save the (Gaming) Franchise

While we’ve been struggling with the lack of internet in my apartment, my roommate and I both turned to console gaming to help us fill the lack of video games caused by the loss of our usual games (WoW and Destiny 2, right now). I went for Hallow Knight and A Night in the Woods right away but, after thinking it over a little, I thought it would be good to buy a copy of Marvel’s Spider-Man. I’ve been a fan of all Spider-Man games for years since I think it’s always a ton of fun to traverse the city and explore as much as possible. When people started saying this one was the best Spider-Man game yet, I knew I had to try it out. Since I knew my roommate (who owns the PlayStation 4) had been looking at it a few weeks ago, I decided to wait until I’d spoken to him to pick it up. Later that night, when we had a chance to talk, we both started the conversation with the intent to tell the other we planned to buy Spider-Man. One overnight download later, we settled in for our first day of taking turns playing the game.

I haven’t had this much fun in a brawler in ages and I could spend an hour wandering around the city without getting bored. The combos are so incredibly smooth and the pathing is so forgiving. Unless you’re my roommate. He always seems to wind up with the worst possible pathing and I honestly can’t tell him why. I can swing through the city fast enough to outpace whatever I’m supposed to be chasing down and he struggles to beat a timed mission because the target for one of his movement abilities either sticks to something he’s passing over or it jumps to something dumb the instant before he pulls the two trigger buttons to leap forward. When it comes to web-swinging instead of parkour or leaping forward, he has a bit more success, but he still almost always winds up in a difficult situation with the way the camera follows him. I’ve tried to figure out what I’m doing that he isn’t, but I’ve got nothing. It’s just really terrible luck on his part.

My favorite part of fighting is the different moves you can combo together that normally aren’t used in combos. For instance, I can air dodge, leap forward, and then pull myself down on top of a bad guy for a big hit and then instantly be leaping into the area again so I don’t get hit by any of the bullets that are now being fired at the poor guy I just punched. Throw in some fun ground-dodges and a certain fluidity to the brawling that makes it easy to fight large groups and I have a blast dancing around the street as I dodge bullets, rockets, and some big dude with glowing fists who creates shockwaves when he slams the ground. The biggest problem with the combat system comes when your enemies are really spread out and you need to dodge. There aren’t a lot of good options, so you kind of just prance around a bit before getting hit enough times that you get frustrated, leap away, and then swing in quickly from a new angle so you can punch the gunmen in the head after pulling yourself toward the ground from fifty feet above him. If you don’t do that, then you just need to wait for Spidey to dance-fight his way over to the gun dudes or buy the skill that lets you pull guns out of people’s’ hands.

While I’ve been playing for a while now, and gotten through a significant chunk of the plot, I can’t help but feel like there’s a whole lot more to the game than what they released. I know they’ve got some meaty DLC planned already, but I’ve gotta admit that I’m feeling aggravated that the game feels like it was built to sell me story chunks in video game form. It’s still a great cost to hours-of-entertainment ratio, but I just don’t like the feeling that the game is just tossing threads around so they’ll have loose threads to tie each DLC to the main story. I wouldn’t mind it if I’d gone into the game with that expectation, or if the hype had included acknowledging that they were setting the stage for a lot of story expansion DLC, but I had no idea and now it feels a little under-handed and sneaky.

Like all the Mary-Jane stealth missions. I go from pummeling bad guys and flying around the city to needing to sneak through a series of rooms using crappy barriers to block sight lines that are only considered blocked in video games. It’s a real pace-killer and I don’t really enjoy them that much. That, plus waiting for Dr. Otto Octavius to go Supervillain, are my two least-favorite parts of the game so far. Also, I’m getting a little time of every non “demon” bad guy being a dude in a tracksuit with a gold chain. There are guys without tracksuits, but they’re the brothers of the guy with the tracksuit and they all feel so stereotypical. Just like all the hoodie-wearing bad guys. The tropes and stereotypes get to be a little much at times. I once fought a group of enemies that was nothing but guys in tracksuits, one for each color of the rainbow. Also, during stealth missions, you can distract people using web shots and they all, without fail, say something like “Spider-Man is here!” or “It’s gotta be Spider-Man!” and then wander over to the noise like a super-powered man in red and blue spandex (or a black leather noir suit because the costumes in this game are hilarious) isn’t about to kick their ass. Also, if they come across an unconscious compatriot after saying “Spider-Man is around here, somewhere,” they still unfailingly say “what happened here?” like it’s some great mystery that someone was found beaten unconscious or webbed to a wall in area that you currently suspect Spider-Man to be around.

Essentially, the AI is kinda dumb. At least, most of it is. There are some interesting choices that make up for it, like when a paramilitary organization gets called in by the mayor and they start fighting the terrorists and gangs in the street. This particular paramilitary group doesn’t care much for Spider-Man and they make it clear with how frequently they fire their guns while Spider-Man is fighting amongst the terrorists. The New York police never once hit you with friendly fire but the paramilitary jackasses hit me more than the terrorists did and it is completely clear that they’re supposed to be doing it. The boss fights are just as interesting, since the bosses tend to fight a bit more intelligently than most bosses. They’ll move around, counter, progress attacks, and have little tricks up your sleeve that will make you innovate or figure out how to just constantly throw stuff at people because that hurts everyone the same and no one can block it.

It’s really just a ton of fun to play and I’m probably going to go spend some time playing it now that I’ve finished writing about it. I’ve still probably got a dozen hours of web-swinging in me before I get bored and I’m looking forward to making the most of them. I gotta find all of the various tokens so I can unlock the grunge Spidey outfit and fight people using the power of RAWK.

Victories in Hallow Knight are Anything but Empty

As you know, I am a big fan of the Nintendo Switch. I like to find games I can play on it and, as it happens, most of the highly rated games on the Switch are platformers. As I’ve said before, I love platformers and metroidvanias in particular, which means I’ve had my eye on Hallow Knight since before it came out. I’ve had it on my Steam wishlist for well over a year and, when it looked like the internet was going to be out for a while, I downloaded it during the brief periods when the internet was working. That was the best decision I’ve made this month.

Hallow Knight is basically just another metroidvania. You start out in a basic world with a jump, an attack, and the ability to heal yourself. After that, you slowly unlock abilities that let you progress through the game until you reach an end determined by a couple of factors. You move about in a two-dimensional plane, avoid stage hazards, and fight off enemies using a combination of your basic attacks and unlocked abilities to get around the special qualities of the enemies. When it comes to gameplay, its nothing super special. It’s fun, but there are better examples of gameplay innovation and quality. While it is fairly standard in those terms, it makes it’s mark because every other quality of the game is extraordinary.

The plot is fairly simple, you’re a knight who was called to complete some kind of quest. You don’t really know what, but you find yourself drawn to the ancient, ruined city of Hallownest. There, you find a cadre of characters, all of whom adhere to the “bug” theme your character starts, who make their lives supporting the numerous people who feel called to explore the dungeon or call it their home. One of the first I met was a map-maker who quickly set the tone for there being something a little off about the world and the people in it. As you defeat enemies and rescue these little worm guys, you start to notice blobs coming out of some of the enemies you defeated and then encounter enemies who had giant sacks of the stuff which they fire at you like little orange bombs. While exploring, you meet a few more characters who subtly work in references to a wonderful world lost and the eventual corruption of everyone who stays in the city for too long or who goes too deep. There’s more to the plot, of course, all of which is revealed through little hints or statements by the more peaceful denizens of the dungeon. I don’t want to spoil it, since I was more interested in digging up little nuggets of the plot, themes, and history as I played than I’ve felt while playing any game since Celeste.

While you’re working through the world, you’re making your way through a world of black, white, and grey tones that manage to brightly portray a world of gloom in a way I’d never thought possible. Occasionally, a splash of color shows up as some enemies explode into orange blobs or shoot little orange spheres at you. Occasionally other color shows up in the environment, like when you find a giant blue crystal that, when shattered, gives you temporary hit points. Other times, it’s something like a mine with light purple crystals scattered throughout or the worm creatures you rescue. Each time you see color, your eyes and attention are instantly drawn to it as it shatters the beautiful gloom of the greyscale environment you get used to between blooms of color. Setting color aside, every visual in Hallow Knight is absolutely incredible. The characters feel so alive and even the background stands out in its incredible variety as you try to find your way through the various rooms. Even though everything is notable enough that you never really feel lost or like you’ve just walked through the same room twice, it still all blends together incredibly so you know that the mine and the courtyard with the small palace in it are definitely a part of the same place. The game also makes incredible use of the foreground, having your character walk behind a whole range of things as you move from one place to another, but never in a way that you lose sight of your character.

Despite the fact they fit into the grey-scale, gloomy environment so well, none of the enemies are hard to spot or difficult to figure out. Occasionally a boss throws a new move into the mix as you chip their health down or their attacks start having secondary effects, but they mostly have pretty clear modes of attack and methods of movement that are nevertheless a challenge to work through without injury. Because of the way your character gets bounced back when it attacks an enemy, it can be difficult to avoid falling in the pit full of spikes and avoid running into the enemy as it is charging toward you. You have to push forward, toward the enemy, just enough that your bounce doesn’t send you off the ledge to your death but not so much that you run into them and get hurt. Throw in the variety of enemies and the way they mix them up, it gets to be a challenge to make sure you’re fighting each enemy the right way.

While you’re fighting them, the somber music in the background doesn’t change, though it somewhat fades to silence. When it comes in, it starts slowly, changing from simple environmental sounds accompanied by the wind to a rather simple but sad music that does an amazing job of representing the area you’re currently in. As time goes on, the music adds more, interjecting small sections of brighter notes to contrast with the quieter, more morose ones. It never changes abruptly and, even when I went to listen specifically to the music for this section, it was so subtly and perfect that I almost didn’t notice the change.

If you like metroidvanias and you haven’t played Hallow Knight, you’re missing out on incredible artistic masterpiece of a game. I recommend you pick it up and let yourself experience it at a comfortable pace. This game begs for a slow, methodical play-through and I recommend you play it in a dim room with little other noise so you can fully immerse yourself in the experience.

Coldheart and Iron: Part 28

READ FROM THE BEGINNING


I got a few hours of rest before dawn. Since I needed our best shots well-rested, I took a double shift and even let Tiffany take one. It was pretty simple area to guard, anyway. One person on the roof listening for the telltale crunch of feet in the snow and one person patrolling the building in case the person on the roof missed anything. If we’d had more people, I’d have had two more Wayfinders on guard as a matter of principle, but we were a little short on Wayfinders so we made do with only two.

When I woke up, everyone was quietly getting ready to leave. The previous day’s excitement had been replaced with a grim determination that left the air feeling a little heavy after I’d told everyone that we were going to move out the next day instead of rest. The Nomads had taken it well, though it’d been a real feat to help them convince their children that they needed to leave again so soon. I wasn’t much help since most of them didn’t really have a frame of reference for the comforts an enclave could offer and what it meant to be able to use tons of electricity or computers again. I just backed up the Nomad adults and did my best to sound incredibly enthusiastic.

The Wayfinders were much easier to convince, since we were already planning to head that way. Generally, we preferred a much more secure location for our extended rests and to be in much sturdier buildings for the blizzards, so they all seemed relieved to know they wouldn’t need to worry about staying here for any length of time. Not that there was anything wrong with the Nomad’s old home, seeing as they lived in it for over a decade and it held up well enough during that time. It just had more exits, entrances, and avenues of approach than we were comfortable with. Even the trainees kept looking over their shoulders as we packed to leave.

As I went through my preparations, I took note that Camille was missing. A couple of hours later, when we were all packed up and waiting for Lucas to send a scout back to fetch us, Camille reappeared. She motioned for me to follow her and then vanished back down the hallway toward the stairs. Three flights down and around the corner, I found Tiffany sitting on a chair outside of the only closed door. She nodded to us as Camille opened the door and went through.

“You get enough rest, Tiffany?” I stopped at the door, looking down at the bandages on Tiffany’s stump to see if they needed changing.

“Of course, sir.” Tiffany threw a salute with her left hand. “Just trying to stay handy.”

I chuckled and stepped towards the doorway. “Glad to see you’re taking it in stride.”

“Of course.” She smiled and waved her right armed. “Though, I think I might have damaged my sense of humor as well. It took me a while to come up with that joke. I don’t know if I’m ready to feel so stumped when coming up with puns.”

I snorted with laughter and shook my head as I stepped into the room. “I think your sense of humor is fine. Though keep it up with puns like that one and I might just have you get your head checked out when we get to the enclave. I’d prefer to intervene before you get as bad as Lucas.”

Tiffany said something in reply, but I missed it as I moved deeper into the apartment, in search of Camille. A minute later, I found her in the bathroom, standing over the bathtub that held her unfortunate captive. “Looks like he’s a little worse for wear.”

“Well, he shouldn’t have spent most of the morning lying to me. Or have fought back yesterday.” Camille crossed her arms and looked down her nose at the pitiful man whimpering in the tub. “Or he shouldn’t have decided to prey on the weak as a bandit. I may have encouraged his willingness to answer, but his own choices brought him here.”

“Of course.” I nodded and squatted down next to the man, briefly looking him over for serious injury. “What’s he got for us?”

“Detailed plans to take the Enclave down. Everything from the terms of the agreement the various bandit groups made so they’d have the firepower to take down the enclave to a series of routes through the city they’ll take to avoid the monsters that are still clustered to the north.”

“All that?” I looked at the man who blinked fearfully at me, clutching the tattered remains of his insulated jacket to his shoulders.

“And more. He was apparently this group’s delegate. He’s got names, bases, resources, group sizes, and shared stockpile information.” Camille pulled out a notebook and tossed it to me. “Give that to Natalie. It’ll be good for gathering up ammunition or guns if the Enclave needs them, and it should help smooth over our arrival.”

“What do you need me for, then?” I slipped the notebook into my pocket and stood up. I didn’t look at the man in the bathtub again.

“Permission, mostly.”

“For?”

Camille placed her hands on her hips and glared at me. “You know exactly what I want it for. Stop playing dumb.”

“You don’t need my permission, Camille.” I moved towards the door.

“Sure, sure. But this one is different. He has information on us. I can’t just let him go.”

“He won’t get far like that.”

“Yeah, but that’ll wind up being far enough to survive. There’s plenty of shelter around.”

“Camille, just do it.”

“Fine.” She hauled the man out of the tub, grabbed his arms, and frogmarched him out of the bathroom. “You’re to leave us, head directly northwest, don’t stop for anything, and never come back. If we see you again, you’re dead. And you best move quickly because we’re not going to give you the chance to see us a second time.”

The man protested weakly as Camille push him toward the front door and I went back into the bathroom to make sure nothing important had been left behind. Satisfied, I gathered up Tiffany and headed back toward the stairs. At the landing, Camille was already coming back up to our floor, wiping her hands on the walls as she went.

“You sure about this, Marshall?”

“Sure. There’s no need to kill him.”

“I suppose. Just seems like a bit of a loose end, to me.”

“Should she have killed him?” Tiffany leaned toward me a bit, dropping her voice like she didn’t want Camille to hear her.

I shrugged. “Normally, yeah. But if he heads any direction but away from where we’re going, he’s dead. East is monsters, south in all directions is Lucas and his scouts who’ll shoot him on sight, and west is nothing but open plains after a day’s travel. If he heads north, he can probably find people to take him in or at least enough supplies to survive.”

“Makes sense.” Tiffany nodded and grabbed her right arm with her left hand.

Camille rolled her eyes and ushered us up the stairs. “Enough moralizing. It’s done, he’s gone, and we’ll deal with it if we ever see him again. Now let’s go make sure we’re all set to go and downstairs when Lucas sends someone back for us.

Thankfully, everyone was still ready to go when we got upstairs and, an hour later, we were on our way toward the enclave. It took us three days to get there, but they were fairly uneventful. The closest we came to real danger was when Lucas’ scouts saw some monster activity in our planned path, but they managed to steer us safely around it. Otherwise, Lucas and his scouts cleared any bandit threats before we ran into them, and even those were surprisingly few and far-between.

We walked up to the enclave sometime mid-morning and, like every time before then, I found myself in awe of the towering metal walls that protected it. They were fifty feet tall, at least, and thick enough that you needed to bring a light when you went through the tunnels. I’d grown up around Chicago, so the towering walls that blotted out the skyline I used to know so well still felt jarring and out of place despite the fact that they’d been there for almost two decades. A lot of the time, it was easy to forget that the world hadn’t always been gripped in an endless winter filled with hidden monsters and killer blizzards since it took most of my energy to survive, but Chicago was always a constant reminder of how the world had changed since it was overshadowed by the ruins of what it had once been.

At about one hundred feet, most of the buildings stopped. There were a handful that still climbed past two hundred feet, but even those were heavily damaged. While Chicago had escaped the worst of the monster invasions, the blizzards had slowly ripped apart the taller buildings and only the most recent and strongest still stood. I’d heard that most tall cities fared the same, but I stuck to the Midwest and nowhere but Chicago had buildings tall enough to show the absolute devastation the winter had brought upon us.

After a few seconds of reverie, I brought myself back to the present and pushed away encroaching thoughts of the family I had known when I was growing up and the fruitless years of searching for them. I moved to the head of the group, keeping an eye on the walls for any guards that might challenge us as we approached. We made it all the way to the door before anyone stopped us, though. A few passwords later, were being welcomed inside.

We all had to surrender our guns and extra bags, but the Wayfinders had lockers and a barracks near all of the gates so I had the Nomads hand their guns to us and we just tucked them all away for later. Since the lockers were basically a supply warehouse as well, we picked an empty room to the side and dropped the rest of our stuff there as well. Immediately after that, the Nomads were ushered away, taken to get cleaned up and fed something a little more appetizing than what we’d had the time to prepare in what felt like months. We were left mostly to our own devices, with the sole exception that I and my lieutenants were to meet with the council in two hours.

We’d just gotten ourselves washed up, changed, and fed when someone came to fetch us. It was a short walk from the front gates to the council chambers, but I couldn’t help but feel a little anxious at the nervous energy exuding from the guards. It was clear they were preparing for something, but none of them responded to my attempts to worm it out of them. When I finally gave up, we all just walked in silence until they left us at the front doors to the innermost council chamber. Two minutes, later, we were inside.

I gestured for Natalie, Lucas, and Camille to take a seat while I strode forward. “Good afternoon! I’m Captain Marshall, of the Wayfinders, and I’ve been hearing some interesting rumors about the Chicago enclave!”

“Ha, I bet.” the lead counselor, who sat at the peak of the curved table, snorted derisively and leaned forward on his elbows. “That wish-granting bullshit, again?”

“All that and more.” I smiled and shrugged. “I don’t really pay it much mind. I’ve got wishes aplenty, but little faith in easy solutions.” I cleared my throat and clasped my arms behind my back. “What I’m actually here for is to let you know you’ve got a bandit army forming in the suburbs and they seem rather focused on the idea of your new tech granting wishes.”

“I told you, we shouldn’t have let anyone know what was happening until we were ready to launch!” A brawny old man glared from the lead counselor to me. “Now we’ve got an army to fight and walls to upgrade all while we just hope the monsters don’t notice what we’re doing.”

“Be that as it may, we made the best decisions we could at the time, with the information we had.” A woman to the right of the lead counselor shook her head at the brawny old man. “Just shut up and let the less curmudgeonly folks talk it out, Louis.” The old man harrumphed and the woman turned her attention towards me. “We are well aware of the forming armies, Captain Marshall. Thank you for your warning.”

“You’re most welcome.” I smiled at them, looking from face to face. “However, that is not entirely why I’m here. I’ve got a number of people who might wish to settle here and, in exchange for allowing any or all of my people to settle, I’d like to offer my and my Wayfinders’ service as scouts and soldiers in defense of your enclave.”

“You needn’t go that far.” The lead counselor leaned back, but left his hands on the table. “I’m sure we’d love to have you join us. I wouldn’t mind if you joined our military force, but you needn’t do that much in exchange for the opportunity to settle here.”

“I insist. We’d love a chance to get set up as a group here since most of us will be here for several months and the rest might be here permanently. I’m sure we’d prefer more than just a bunch of scattered efficiencies or an extended stay in a Wayfinder barracks.”

“If you’re willing to fight and scout for us, you can have anything short of a presently occupied house and unlimited access to the greenhouses. When can you start?”

I looked over my shoulders at my friends and waved them forward. As I introduced them, I held my hand out towards them. “Natalie has information on bandit supply caches we can hit to cut down on their munitions. Lucas has accurate maps of the northern suburbs and the bandit patrols we saw on the way here. Camille is the best shot I’ve ever seen and the most capable strategist I’ve ever met. She’d be good at organizing strike forces or leading people on the attack. I’m an officer and I can be the liaison between Wayfinders and the Enclave’s standard forces in addition to providing logistics help and maintaining command structures. We can start today. We should start today. Though, we’d prefer to wait until after a short rest and some time to gather supplies or make our own plans.”

“Very well.” The lead counselor looked around the room and, seeing no one dissenting, ploughed on. “I’ll send some people to your Wayfinder barracks in a couple hours and you can all get to work on planning strategy, raids, or whatever it is you’re offering. Over the next couple days, by Thursday at the latest, someone will come to talk to you about housing requirements, numbers of people, and so on.” The lead counselor rose to his feet, joined immediately by the rest, and looked down at the sheaf of papers on his desk. “Is there anything else right now?”

“Do you mind outlining the technology you’ve developed, before you go?”

“It’s much simpler than you’re making it sound.” The brawny old man walked over to me and nodded his head. “It just took us a long time to gather the resources and perform the tests we needed to verify it works. Essentially, we’re creating a tightly woven metal net over most of the city to capture any signals escaping. It’ll catch the signals and strategically placed copper rods will ground it so they never leave. Additionally, we’re-”

“Wait.” Lucas pushed forward. “You mean to tell me that your way to avoid getting attacked by armies of monsters that are a tracking the signals you’re sending out is to catch them in a metal fishing net?”

“Yes, but the science behind-.”

“You’re going to risk all of our lives on it?”

“That’s not all we’re doing. We’ll have some emitters placed around the city and at the taller parts of the remaining skyscrapers which will all be pointed at the city, creating interference of sorts. Like those fancy noise-canceling headphones used to do.”

“Does everyone know you’re willing to risk their lives on something like this?”

“We held a vote.” The lead counselor strode up to his brawny companion. “The vast majority of people were willing to risk it for the chance to live with more power and easier inter-enclave communication without needing to worry about stray electromagnetic interference or signal leakage. Anyone who didn’t want to stay was given the chance to leave and you can all take the same option if you doubt our science.”

“Great. And here I was, wanting to retire. So much for that idea.”

I pushed Lucas gently to the side and focused my attention on the lead counselor. “Is it really that risky?”

“Not really. It’s impossible to replicate the conditions of our world in a lab, but we’ve done a few field tests and are very confident that it will be fine.” The older counselor shrugged.

“What are the chances this will work the way you want it to?”

“Probably over ninety-five percent, but that’s hardly conclusive.”

“Good enough for me.” I shook the counselors’ hands and gestured toward the exit.

As we walked out of the room, Lucas sighed in frustration and looked over at me. “Marshall, let’s try to keep this place alive but make sure our bags are good to go. I don’t want to get stuck here if this doesn’t work.”

“Of course.” I nodded and looked over at Camille. “Let everyone know to be ready to go. I’ll handle things on the enclave side and you just make sure the Wayfinders are ready to go at a moment’s notice.”

“Sure, if we’ll even have that. This strikes me as the kind of plan where we won’t know if it’s going south until it’s too late to do much but run and wish we’d had more time.” Lucas started grumbling under his breath and I tuned him out after hearing him repeat the phrases “stupid metal fence” and “catch more signals with my ass” several times.

We’d made it in time and delivered our warning. We were going to be employed by the city in exchange for comfortable living arrangements. There was a high probability we’d be able to see the barrier go up if it everything worked out they want they intended it to and a small, but non-zero chance that we’d be swarmed by monsters reacting to the signals we suddenly started blasting out of the enclave once it went up.

The feeling of excited uncertainty and almost frantic nervousness clouding my stomach were almost comforting after so much time spent focused on the daunting task of traversing the plains and reaching the safety of the Chicago enclave. I was ready for something to happen and almost looking forward to finding out what trouble we’d be getting into.