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Skills Pay Bills

Skills Pay Bills

I had been playing Dungeons and Dragons all weekend, and I was stoked about gaining a level with my dwarven rogue, Slanter Slickblade. However, lack of sleep had caused me to be about fifteen minutes late to work at Payless Shoe Source. It was my responsibility to open the store on Monday morning, and they required us to show up thirty minutes before the store opened even though it only took about five minutes to get the store ready. I popped in and got everything ready to go: turned on the lights, got the computer online and ready, put the money in the register, and put the D&D Player Handbook behind the counter for easy access. The manager was scheduled to come in thirty minutes after the store opened, but she was always late and carried with her a unique stench. The scent was a strange amalgamation of boxed wine, cigarettes, fried calamari, coconut oil and some expensive perfume to try to mask it all. Is whore a smell? I ended up marrying her daughter a few years later, and I should probably have listened to life lessons of apples falling from trees or something.

Anyway, I spent a few minutes looking over my character sheet. Slanter was a dwarf, a race that was more suited for heavily-armored warriors and divine-inspired priests than a sneaky little rogue. He had reached level four, which meant that I was able to raise one of my base stat points. As a rogue, it was basically a given that I would +1 my Dexterity. This would help me with my hiding and sneak attacks. However, I was weighing my options.  A lot of my skills were calling for me to up my Strength which would allow me to climb better and carry more loot, always a plus when playing a greedy little dwarf. I was trying to convince myself that skills were not nearly as important as damage or sneak attacks. Then it came time to unlock the door. Monday mornings were usually pretty dead; people generally had better things to do at the beginning of the week than buy cheap shoes. As 9 o’clock hit, I slid over to open the door and hoped that no dreaded customers would interrupt my time with Slanter.

I unlocked the door with a quick turn of the latch and was surprised to see a young man immediately come from the side of the building. Roll a Sense Motive check… you fail. I remember feeling powerful in some small way; I was able to keep someone from coming into my realm. It was an odd feeling of command to know that someone else’s actions hinged on your own actions. It was merely a fleeting thought which was quickly replaced by my desire to be rid of the man as quickly as possible. Generally, men grab what they need and leave. “Good morning! Can I help you find anything?” I was expecting one of the usual answers: “Just looking”, “I’m good”, “No thank you”, or even a dismissive shake of the head. I was not prepared when the man produced a large hand gun and shoved it in my face. I don’t know if I could have ever have readied myself for such an encounter.

I don’t remember what he said exactly. Was it “this is a stick-up” or “gimme the money” or “are you prepared for Jehovah’s return”? It really didn’t matter to me what he said, the pistol touching my nose made his intentions perfectly clear. He rolls an Intimidation check, roll to see if he does in fact intimidate you…ok he wins, you are scared of him. I hesitated as the reality of my plight settled on me like a heavy fog. Everything slowed down and seemed distorted or out of place. Was I about to pass out?  Perhaps I would have been better served by fainting, but I was made of slightly stouter stuff apparently. I snapped back into focus and wondered if I could somehow get away without being injured or killed. I imagined shoving him to the side and running through the back door with bullets blasting holes in the size 12 pumps as they narrowly miss my speeding form. It played out like a movie in my mind, slow motion and all. That would require an Escape Artist check at an extremely high difficulty challenge and a failure would give the thief an attack of opportunity…I won’t even try it then. This wasn’t a damn movie.

I felt like my feet were not even on the ground as I floated behind the counter. I was compelled to try to put some semblance of a barrier between me and this criminal. There was no doubt in my mind about what he wanted, and I subconsciously ended up at the cash register. “Open the register!” he screamed. I do remember that because he must have said it six times as quickly as possible. I looked at the numbers on the cash register and I simply could not think of how to open it. There was no way that I knew to open the drawer without ringing someone up. Roll a Concentration check…congratulations you pass. I grabbed a pair of $1 socks and scanned them. $1.07 with tax, paid with cash, and the register sprung open. The receipt printed, and I handed the small white paper with purple ink to the young man out of sheer habit. Oddly enough, he took it. Even in the midst of the chaotic framing of our dealings, neither of us could turn off the instincts of such a common interaction.

“Put the money in a bag,” he finally lowered the gun. As I shoved bills into a plastic Payless bag, I finally started to get a good look at the perpetrator. Your Gather Information roll passes…you notice a lot about the man’s face, hair and eyes as well height and general weight. This information will be useful at the end of this encounter when the city guards will ask you to describe the criminal. I think he noticed my prying eyes. The man snapped the gun back into my face. Damn. “Open the safe! Open the safe, NOW!” he exclaimed as he snatched the bag from my hands. I noticed that he pushed the pair of dollar socks and receipt into his loot bag as well. They were little girl’s socks, size 9-3.

“I can’t open the safe,” I lied. Roll a Bluff check…you fail.

“I know you can open the safe,” he almost chuckled.

“You’re right, I can.” I dropped down behind the counter and started putting in the combination. I was not going to argue with the man carrying a weapon. Roll an Open Lock check, low difficulty…you pass easily. We, as employees of Payless, opened the safe all the time throughout the course of the day; anyone who had been paying attention would have known this. There was no substance to my lie and we both knew it, so we did not spend too much time on it. When I first started working at the shoe store, I remember feeling odd about dropping down in front of the customer and opening the safe to break large bills. Somehow, I always knew that it would come back to haunt me. I looked up at the man holding a gun pointed down at me and felt my former fears validated.

I had seen both the Saturday night and Sunday deposits in the safe when I was getting the store ready to open, but my heart dropped seeing both of them at that moment. I thought, for just a flash, of giving him only one of the bags. However, he had made his way around the counter and was next to me. “Gimme that roll of quarters too.” So much for trying to salvage one of the deposits; this guy wanted it all. I handed him the bank bags full of cash, albeit reluctantly.

“Man, are you sure you want to do this?” I asked. Ok, make a Diplomacy roll…you fail miserably. He is now angrier with you than he was before. The man crammed the two bank bags into the plastic Payless bag and basically shoved me out of the way to see if anything of value remained in the safe. He left the three rolls of pennies. That is $1.50. The thief left me with one dollar and fifty cents in the safe. I wish he would have just taken it all. There is something much more sinister about someone rifling through your belongings and making an assessment on what is valuable and what is not.

I felt like it was over, but it was not. “Lay down on the ground!” he barked. I was already basically sitting down after being pushed over, so I just went ahead and put my ass on the carpet and pulled my knees into my chest. He had the money but he wasn’t leaving; my fear rekindled its dying embers. “I said lay down”, he said in a more composed tone, which made it even more intimidating. I remember the Payless bag, full of money, socks and a receipt, dangling from the same hand wielding the weapon. I reluctantly reclined. “No, lay down on your stomach.” My fear reached its apex at this point. All I could think about was Pat Garrett shooting Billy the Kid in the back. I rolled over onto my belly, and something different than fear reared its ugly head. I was humiliated.

My humility quickly turned to anger, and by quickly I mean within one or two seconds. I mustered up some defiance as he shouted, “Where is the phone?” Only silence was given. Perhaps it was because I could no longer see the man, or the gun, or anything other than the returned pair of worn sneakers in my face, but I did not answer him. He must have screamed those four words half a dozen more times before he finally snapped. The man, tired of asking, stomped on my ankle. I felt it roll under the force of his attack, bending at an odd angle due to the fact that I was lying on my stomach.

I sat up with a jerk, pointed, and screamed. “It’s right fucking there! See the huge fucking numbers? Right fucking there!” The fear was gone, replaced by rage. The young man, perhaps sensing the change in me, popped the phone receiver from the base and dashed out of the store. It was over. He was gone.

Immediately, I sprinted to the backroom and dialed 9-1-1. I explained my encounter with them and the first police officers arrived fairly quickly. I had to call the manager; although she was scheduled to be at work in about fifteen minutes, I think I woke her up. She arrived shortly after the cops, but her makeup-lacking face did little to settle my nerves. I must have told my story to at least 3 different officers. I guess my plight was the most interesting thing going on that day; more and more cops showed up. I counted eleven at one point. Finally, a detective came in and I recounted my experience once again. Detective Lummox got the ball rolling and put one or two of the officers to work, dismissing the others. They dusted for fingerprints on surfaces that the criminal had touched. Each of the guards rolls a Search check…they all fail, every one of them.

In my mind, I was expecting some CSI type shit to take place. In thirty minutes, I wanted to know the man’s whole life story. Sadly, this wasn’t a damn TV show. Instead, I got real gems such as:

“Hey, this door handle has a lot of fingerprints on it.”

“This countertop is kinda slick; I don’t think I can get any prints here.”

“He didn’t happen to tell you his name, eh?”

One of the officers went looking for clues in the Walmart parking lot. He came back with a crinkled up one dollar bill. As he unfurled it in front of Detective Lummox, I saw sand and dirt falling off. “I think he must have gone that way; I found this.” This old-ass dollar, which was probably dropped by a three year old several months earlier, became the best lead the Gulfport Police Department had. I wanted to scream at them, and make them acutely aware of their own incompetence; even at that age, I knew there was no point. I gave Lummox the description of the young man, but it seemed like “black” was all he heard.

The manager, in full makeup, finally came out of the bathroom. There were lots of new men around, after all; I noticed she had added a bit more perfume to her normal aroma. After flirting with Detective Lummox, she sauntered over to me. “How much do you think he got?” It was a fair question. Roll an Appraise check…you passed. You value the contents of the register and the safe to equal approximately $6,400. The loss of the socks is cancelled out by the rolled pennies which remain in the safe. She is not happy with losing so much, no one ever is. “Damn, more people will rob us now.” Nobody cared how this affected me. They did not want me to call my mom because they were scared that she would be worried. I had to finish off my shift, but I refused to run the register for the rest of the day. It was literally the least they could do.

A week later, I found out that Shoe City in Hardy Court had been robbed. “Is everyone ok? Did they catch the guy? How much did they lose?” I asked in rapid succession.

“The lady at the register would not give him any money. She told him that he was going to have to shoot her, and if he shot her then he still wouldn’t get any money.” I felt like my manager was upset with me for not handling the situation in the same fashion. “He left her alone and ran out with nothing.”

I realized that the lady from Shoe City had some skills. The thief had a nice set of skills. Skills were important. Girls only want boyfriends who have great skills. Even though I knew this was a damn game, Slanter added his newly acquired stat point to Wisdom. He needed it.



Posted by on November 7, 2014 in From the Desk of the Author


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Possible New Character for Demon Wrought



Posted by on October 30, 2014 in From the Desk of the Author


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A goblin and an earth elemental


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Posted by on October 27, 2014 in From the Desk of the Author


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Fireball or Ice Blast? 

Entangling Vines or Tendrils of Darkness? 

Healing Touch or Death Grip?

double axe

The way in which our characters use magic is more interesting than the magic itself. Fantasy has become so intertwined with magical influences that there is really no way to separate the two without stealing some of the wonder.

A hero is expected to have a magical weapon, and wear armor that makes him nigh invincible. How else could he destroy the evil *insert villain here*.

I have no problem with any of these things, and in fact Delphia is full of such items. Penn, my favorite gnome, would not have made it through the attempted massacre in Shadowmire without the aid of an enchanted axe. Does this make him less interesting? Perhaps if him wielding that axe were the only manner in which I used him. If I handcuffed him to his weapon, then I could see the problem.

What do you think about magic in a fantasy setting?   


Posted by on August 14, 2014 in From the Desk of the Author


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Sins of the Father

Zipporah has never even met her elven father. Yet she longs to find him, and is blinded by her mother’s unwarranted love for him. All the while, a human man has raised and taken care of both Zipporah and her mother. He loves them both, and selflessly disregards the constant comments about the elf.

Slanter’s grandfather tried to assassinate an evil king, and his family was shamed for it. Even after the powers that be decided to eventually follow the dwarf’s path and kill the king, there was no forgiveness for the family.

Pahe and Nat’s father is weak and cowardly, allowing their mother to sacrifice herself in his stead. The children know this, and his cowardice inspired courage within them.

Penn’s father and mother were kind and loving to him and all of his friends. This mentality lingers in the gnome, and shows throughout the stories.

Attilla’s father, on the other hand, despised the therian child. This, too, manifests within him.

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Posted by on July 30, 2014 in From the Desk of the Author


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Slanter Sketch



Posted by on June 21, 2014 in Penn's Diary


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Vampire Lore

Dracula Cullen

What do people want from their vampires? The strict lore of what a vampire was, and how a vampire behaved has gone through some vast changes in recent years. I, as well as many others, disagree with a large portion of these changes; however, I do think some changes were needed. I already have my vampire lore established in Delphia, but I would be open to changing the essence if I found a proposal that tickled my fancy. So, how would your vampire look/behave/interact with the world around them? Please, the more detailed the more I can visualize your vampire. Thanks.


Posted by on June 19, 2014 in From the Desk of the Author


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Star Wars?

Star Wars


I am, by no means, the greatest Star Wars fan. I enjoyed the movies,and I feel comfortable with all of the main characters and a good amount of the minor characters. So, when my son wanted some Star Wars gummies, I had no problem making that purchase (in fact, I was pleased that he picked Star Wars over Diego, Scooby Doo, etc). My problem was when I looked closely at the box!!!! I feel like some random employee put his face on the package and nobody caught it. Who is this guy? Someone please help clear my brain… I cannot advance in life until this is resolved.


Posted by on April 23, 2014 in From the Desk of the Author


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Fixing Up

I realize that I need to update some of the links on the site. I also realize that I have a couple of unfinished stories lingering around out there. Ties That Bind is nearing completion and I have been putting off ending it due to the fact that I enjoyed the characters so very much. Demon Wrought is just getting started, and I am waiting until the summer to really try to tackle this more adult project. Zoe and the Outcasted will not take very much time at all, but I simply have not had time to run with it.

All in all, the site needs some love from me. I have sketches to add, and stories to link. I really want the site to be easy to access, with information no more than two clicks away. I will get there. Stay with me.


Posted by on April 8, 2014 in From the Desk of the Author


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The Weasel Catch

Penn and his friends were making their way toward the gaming arena. The carnival at Oliveloft always hosted the greatest games, for gnomes loved the spirit of friendly competition. The group of young gnomes, still children really, ran through the crowded streets in a herd. Each one of them carried one of Avie’s small bags of candy. They had been visiting the vendor shops, looking at all the strange devices some of the other races created. Penn was very excited about seeing a real mirror for the first time. It had already been a good day.

As the group neared the gaming area, they saw Popo and Mofead beckoning them with waving arms. Popo had her hair cut short. It made her look like a boy, were it not for her posturing and the way it accentuated her transformation into adulthood. Mofead was still gangly and thin. She was all knees and elbows with a huge head. Perhaps it wasn’t that her head was quite so large, Penn thought as they advanced on the two young gnomes, but that she had such a vast amount of tangled hair. Regardless, the group from Brentwood were all together just in time for their favorite event; the weasel catch.

“You cut your hair,” Attilla remarked to Popo as they walked to the fenced in area where the contestants were readying themselves. “It looks good short.” Popo blushed a little and turned her head slightly from him. He noticed her neck and saw slight goose bumps rise there as a mild wind caught the skin that was accustomed to the cover of her hair.

“Why did you cut it off?” Bodiford asked her in an almost accusatory tone.

“My mom sold it to some weird human who said he wanted it,” Popo answered with a slight show of shame. Her hair had been long as long as she could remember, but times were hard for her family and the man gave them a lot of coin.

Mofead grabbed Bodiford’s arm and joyously proclaimed, “I still have my long hair.”

The gnome yanked his arm away and offhandedly said, “Who cares?”

Penn wasn’t paying any attention to the group, he was checking to see who the contestants were to be in the catch this year. There were always seven, but he only saw five of them. Last year’s winner was not there yet. Graff, a gnome from Oliveloft, had caught the weasel by kicking it as it ran past him. The poor animal died by the time Graff received his undeserved trophy. Penn turned to ask the others if they knew anything about the last two contestants, but saw Graff walking quickly to the starting area.

Penn bolted over to Graff and said kindly, “Hey, try not to kill the weasel this year.” He was surprised when Graff pushed him backwards violently.

“Mind your own business, slug!” the gnome stated and barely slowed as he reached the weasel catch.

Attilla and Bodiford were there in an instant, asking if Penn was alright. He was fine, just a little shocked. Popo, Mofead and the others joined the trio just as an announcement was being made about the game.

“Unfortunately this year it seems that we will only have six contestants in the weasel catch.” The man’s voice boomed from a raised platform which allowed him to see the entire arena so that he could announce what was transpiring for those who could not see. “So, are you ready for the weasel catch?”

“No,” yelled a voice from beside Penn. “We have a guy right here who wants to try,” Attilla stated as he pointed to Penn. The others from Brentwood joined in and shoved the befuddled gnome out from the crowd. Penn was shocked. He turned to his friends to beg them not to embarrass him, but when he saw the proud faces looking back at him he realized that they truly believed he had a shot at winning.

“I don’t think that we can allow a random stranger to join this late,” the announcer said, but was met with a chorus of “boos”.

“Let the boy try!”

“We need seven contestants anyway!”

Gnomes were less interested in rules and more intrigued by the competition. So the announcer asked Penn, “Are you sure you want to do this, boy?”

“Yes,” Penn said without hesitation. He gave his friends a big “thumbs up” and ran to the starting gate.  He heard them yelling that he better not let Graff get the weasel again. The image of Graff kicking and killing the animal motivated Penn more than any of the people’s cheers.

The seven contestants were ready in the starting blocks. There were four gnomes, two humans, and a dwarf all ready to start. Each one’s name was called, except for Penn who was just referred to as “the boy”. Regardless of what he was called, he still got the loudest applause from the crowd. Everyone loved to pull for the underdog.

The weasel was brought in from the Pinevale area by a hunter who traveled to Oliveloft every year for the carnival. The trapper sold furs and clothing. He was a large man with a ragged beard. The covered cage was handed over, and the cloth cover was pulled off. Inside was beautiful little weasel with black eyes and reddish tan fur. Its nose twitched as it tried to take in all of the scents. The gnomes always loved the unveiling of the weasel.

Penn stretched and did a few jumps, just to get his legs loose. While he was getting ready, so was Attilla. The clever gnome had taken all of the other’s money and was betting it on Penn. All of the Brentwood kids had played with Penn enough to know that he actually stood a fair chance of winning. It was still a gamble, however. They knew that if he lost they would have no more money for the rest of the carnival. Regardless, every coin the group had was placed on Penn.

One of the humans looked over at Penn and shook her head. “Damn! You got runners legs.” She meant the compliment, and Penn could tell.

“Doesn’t he, now?” the dwarf had obviously noticed the same thing. He leaned in to where only those two could hear him and continued, “Did ya see last year’s winner? He has metal on the toes of his shoes.” Penn and the woman both looked, for they had not noticed. The dwarf was correct, however, and anger started to manifest in Penn. “Guess he plans on punting the little guy again,” the dwarf finished, but Penn wasn’t listening.

“Loose the weasel,” the announcer shouted, and the audience started cheering. The small beast got a head start before the pursuers were allowed to start their game. The arena was fairly large, which gave the weasel a fair chance to elude the chasers. Also, the obstacles and walls would slow down the pursuit.

Finally, the contestants were allowed to start the chase. Penn broke from the starting blocks, but was kicked immediately by Graff and his metal tipped boots. His shin throbbed, and he was certain that it was bleeding. He did not stop, though. Penn would not give Graff the pleasure of knowing that he had indeed hurt him. The crowd shouted angry insults at the cheater. A lot of them had not been pleased with the way he had won last year’s event.

Penn didn’t care. The chase was on, and he knew what he had to do. No one had found the weasel yet, so it was more like a hunt at this point that a chase. So Penn nimbly maneuvered over and under the obstacles, trying to get the scared little weasel to run out. Unfortunately, the weasel was on the opposite side of the gnome. One of the humans had drawn him out, and now it was just a matter of time before someone grabbed the furry little thing.

Penn was quick, and he took wonderful angles on the scared weasel. It was almost in grabbing range when Penn realized that they were running right at Graff and his heavy boots. Graff raised his foot to kick the weasel once again, but Penn was there. Penn slid into the other gnome with enough force to send him head over heels. The weasel was safe, but now Penn had to try to catch back up to it. Graff reached out to try and grab him, but Penn easily stepped over his flailing arms.

The human woman was on the weasel and had a great line on it, but the dwarf cut her off. He shouldered her back as they pressed through a narrowed section of the arena. Penn saw a different approach. Instead of getting behind them, he decided to go over them. He quickly ran and leaped from an old plow to the top of a cargo net. Penn jumped from the net and landed on the narrowing planks. The wood was only about a foot wide, but Penn ran on top of it as if it were an open field. He watched the dwarf and woman battling for position underneath him as he sprinted over their heads.

A perfectly timed jump had him sailing over three bales of hay. As he landed, Penn rolled in a cloud of dust. The crowd went silent until the gnome boy strolled out of the dust with weasel in hand. The dwarf and female came around, one on each side of Penn. The dwarf scratched his head, and the woman just chuckled. The pack from Brentwood cheered loudest of all.

Penn was awarded the trophy, while Attilla collected the money. Penn asked the trapper if he could keep the weasel. The man agreed, but warned the gnome that weasels do not survive well in captivity. It was a good day, but it was time to get back to Brentwood before it got too dark. So the crew set off for home. The real adventure was yet to begin, however.

Attilla gave everyone back their money while they were on the road between Oliveloft and Brentwood. He handed the winnings to Popo, “This is for you and your family.”

“Yeah,” Bodiford added. “That way you don’t have to ruin your hair again.”

Popo thanked them, knowing that the extra coin would certainly help her family. The moment was cut short when someone called out from behind the group.

“Hey,” yelled Graff, “You ruined my plan.” He went straight at Penn, but did not get to him. Attilla and Bodiford both stepped between. “This doesn’t concern you two. It is between me and him.” Graff didn’t understand how things were in Brentwood.

“You want him?” Bodiford asked. “Then you are gonna have your hands full.” Attilla nodded. He was in no mood for talking. He was doing his best to keep his therian instincts from boiling over.

Graff took a swing at Bodiford. It was a mistake. The Brentwood gnomes played for keeps, and the group had Graff neutralized quickly and violently. Penn and the girls were the only ones who did not help the others against Graff. Attilla did not rage into his wereporcupine form that day. He was learning how to control it, Penn observed.

Graff never entered the weasel catch again. Penn won it for the next twenty years, and every year he would keep the weasel. When he got home he would release the weasel by his home. To this day there is a thriving community of weasels around Brentwood.


Posted by on March 26, 2014 in Penn's Diary


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