It all starts in a tavern. All pointless stories start there, since that is the place we can easiest imagine meeting others and doing something interesting, despite the fact that meeting in taverns rarely leads to anything more interesting than intoxication. There’s an elf and a dwarf, and let’s say an orc. Or ork – whichever. Everybody’s drinking ale (which is more interesting than beer) and the barmaid has an irresponsibly plunging neckline. Let’s presume she works for tips.
This is the point in the story where somebody runs in from outside, breathless and bloody. Or where some loud-mouth starts spouting off about ‘the only good orc is a dead orc’ or whatever. Perhaps some lunk gets handsy with the barmaid. Maybe somebody mysterious posts a note on the bulletin board. It says the following:
Wanted: 1 Warrior, 1 Thief, 1 Wizard (Elves, Priests, and Dwarves optional)
Meet the Creepy Stranger in the Inexplicably Empty Back Room
Maybe all of these things happen. The point is this: what happens next is a bar fight.
Why? Evidently such things are fun. Heroic music plays, as is fitting for acts of criminal vandalism and assault. The fight rages on, and heroes emerge. Why are they heroes? Well, they’re winning the fight, of course. They find in each other a ready ally, a surprise to no one save themselves. Maybe, at the end of all this, they rescue a princess in disguise (she was slumming it, you know. Why drink in the palace when there’s a perfectly good dive down the road where you might get assaulted by a dwarf?). Whatever happens, the drunk under the table never notices; he rises, alone, and is delighted to find free beer.
I mean ale. Sorry.
So begins a tale of adventure. High drama. Endless banter. Derring do on every other page. Maybe, by the end, the elf and the dwarf and the orc become friends. A little tear forms in the corner of our eye, but we refuse to ever acknowledge its existence. The tear is undercover, you see. Top Secret. Hush-hush.
I bet you were rolling your eyes up there. Chuckling, perhaps? Sure, and why not – the cliché is so banal, it’s comedy. Then again, though, there’s something to be said for mindless fun. I recently read an article by Adam Sternbergh in the NYT magazine considering the worth of so-called ‘guilty pleasures’. I enjoyed it immensely and enjoin you to read it.
Why do we feel so bad about liking things considered low-brow? I mean, isn’t it okay to have fun – even dumb fun – on occasion? Must everything be so deep and serious all the time? I confess to feeling the pressure myself. As an academic (or pseudo-academic, given that my terminal degree is not a PhD but rather an MFA), there is a certain pressure to make what I write and what I enjoy somehow important. Not all of it is, though, no matter what I do to it. When I confess to liking Armageddon or Army of Darkness, there isn’t much that can be said to give such works merit. Likewise my hobbies: despite its sophistication, there is nothing truly artistically redeeming about Warhammer 40, 000 unless you put far more effort into painting miniatures than I do. And even then it’s suspect.
So what, though? I think sometimes we spend too much time decrying the frivolous, forgetting just how important frivolity can be. As much as being serious adults is important, it isn’t the only game in town. We also need to have fun. We also need to do things that are easy. All work and no play makes Homer…something…something…
Right then – let’s go to the tavern. I’ll buy you an ale. Later, when we’re riding dragons to save the King of Thumbershire from the Daemon Princess of Xoon, you’ll thank me. Dwarf’s honor.
Everybody likes to laugh in an RPG, but so few players are willing to make their characters comic relief. Everybody is usually in some kind of contest to be the coolest, toughest, scariest, or most impressive. Not so my friend, Joe. In the very same 7th Sea Campaign that featured the stalwart and inexorable Helmut Dauben Kohb, Joe played Avalonian (i.e. English) expatriate ‘Lord’ Edward du Charouse, who was actually a Marquis, and that only by marriage to the lovely Michelle du Charouse, reputed to be the most beautiful woman in Montaigne (i.e. France). This character was, hands down, the most ridiculous, hilarious, and wonderfully fun character I’ve probably ever had in a game. Let me tell you why:
Joe built his entire character around three things: (1) A Romance background with Michelle, the stereotypically fickle and spoiled Montaigne noblewoman, (2) the Lecherous flaw, meaning Lord Edward was pretty much constantly trying to score with any attractive woman he saw, and (3) the Dangerous Beauty advantage, meaning women were drawn to him like flies. Throw in the fact that he was an arrogant fop, a blissfully ignorant dilettante, and a pretty talented duelist, and this resulted in an absolutely enormous amount of trouble that followed Edward around, everywhere he went.
You see, Edward cheated on Michelle constantly. With anything. All the time. He’d have relationships or attempted relationships going with every single young female NPC in the game at the same time. He wasn’t clever about it, either. He once, for instance, invited two women for a romantic evening walk in the gardens of a Vodacce prince at the same time and spent the whole scene finding excuses to leave one alone, scale a wall, and return to the other one. One of these women was a deadly swordswoman and bodyguard to the archvillain Villanova. The whole affair did not end well.
Furthermore, anytime Edward was caught cheating or even paying attention to another woman, Michelle would throw him out of their château. Michelle was the one with all the money, all the prestige, and all the influence; without her, Edward couldn’t possibly live to his standards. So, regularly, we would embark upon epic plots to regain Michelle’s love, punctuated by ridiculous side-adventures, such as vows made in court that he could ‘fence a bear’ (didn’t go well), that he was on ‘a secret mission from the Musketeers’ (he never was), or other similar egocentric activities. I don’t think we ever laughed harder in a game, my friends and I.
How Edward Dealt With His Problems
The best part about Lord Edward was Joe’s unflinching willingness to get him into massive amounts of trouble all the time, for any reason. You know how most players spend all their time trying to avoid complications, planning their assaults on the enemy castle with painstaking detail and with buckets of backup plans? Not Edward. He just waltzed right in, assuming his pretty smile and his money and, failing that, his skill with a blade would make it all work out. It regularly blew up in his face, got him and the rest of the party in huge amounts of trouble, and the adventures that followed with them trying to get out of that trouble were simply priceless.
There was this one time that the players got their hands on a small ship that had its ballast replaced with gold bars. There was so much gold there, they could have bought entire kingdoms with it. This, everyone knew, was the tip of the iceberg of some sinister plot that the PCs would spend the rest of the campaign unravelling. They knew whoever’s gold this was wouldn’t hesitate to kill them all if they were discovered with it. So, when they sailed into port, everyone agreed that they were going to keep the gold secret.
So, when most of the party left and put Edward in charge of the gold, what did he do? He grabbed a whole gold brick, walked to the nearest brothel, threw the gold down on the floor and said ‘there’s more where that came from, ladies!’ When the players got back, their ‘secret’ ship had become a party boat, with Lord Edward engaged in an orgy with half the whores in port, throwing gold around like it was water. Absolutely hilarious and it got them in incredible amounts of trouble. The Vesten rune mage with them also blew Edward out the back of the boat with a lightning bolt. Good times.
I won’t even get into the time that he, during the game’s version of the French Revolution, founded ‘Lord Edward’s Home for Wayward Women (No Ugly Chicks).’ That didn’t end well, either.
Nevertheless, Edward remained charming and likeable, even if he was creepy and arrogant and chauvinistic. He managed this by always realizing how wrong he had been and making it up to those he cared about, often at great physical risk to himself. Still, for all his attempts to go the straight and narrow, everybody knew he would fall again, do something foolish, and the ridiculous swashbuckling fun would begin again. All this, by the way, as a result of a player, Joe, who knew that fun in an RPG isn’t about avoiding trouble, it’s about going out there and finding it, even if you need to make it up yourself.
Play like Lord Edward everybody. Your games will be better for it.
“It’s a bad idea.”
“Artus, are you suggesting that I cannot do it?” Tyvian Reldamar surveyed the glasses of red wine on the tray offered him by a powder-wigged servant. He dipped a finger into one and tasted. Making a face, he waved the tray away.
“I didn’t say you couldn’t do it, I just said it was a bad idea.” Artus scratched under his lace collar for the twelfth time that hour.
Tyvian slapped his hand. “Please, Artus, try not to look so pedestrian.”
Around them, in a grand ballroom of shimmering mageglass and ivory, the ball progressed much as it had that last hour. As a string quartet played a Saldorian waltz, women floated through the dance in massive dresses like a fleet of galleons on maneuvers, their hair and sleeves glittering with enchanted jewelry and illumite. Watching from the sidelines, wealthy old men smoked imported tracco from Ivistan, and clapped their hands to send black-liveried servants scurrying. Voices were polite and muffled; the smiles were plentiful and insincere.
“Is this the whole reason you came here?” Artus was doing his best, but was still uncomfortable. Not a year ago he was just some northern peasant boy, running from home, trying to dodge the draft, knife-fighting in the streets of Freegate, eating only what he could steal. Now he was shoe-horned into some frilly gentleman’s outfit standing among people whom, upon a whim, could buy all the possessions of his family farm five times over and not even skip a meal. Hann’s Boots! They wouldn’t even have to skip an hors d’oeuvre.
Tyvian smiled. “I don’t think she’d even miss it.”
“It’s a two-pound diamond resting between her breasts. She’ll miss it.” Across the room from where they stood, the Lady Velitiere Numeux du Akral stood beside her husband, Lord Orsienne. She had chosen this evening, the night of her daughter’s marriage, to showcase her most infamous of possessions, the Eye of H’siri. Until now, Artus had been confused as to why Tyvian insisted upon coming to Jaliette’s marriage celebration. Now he knew.
Tyvian fiddled with the plain iron ring on his finger. It seemed out of place when matched with his incomparably exquisite clothing, but then he was never without it. “Is Marik waiting with the horses?”
“Yes. Is this really necessary?”
Tyvian gave Artus a wink. “Is anything?”
Artus snatched a glass of wine from a passing tray and downed it in one gulp. “This won’t get you Jaliette back, you know.”
“Who cares? Jaliette’s just a woman.”
Tyvian slipped into the crowd.
Artus surveyed the layout of the ballroom for the fifth time since entering. Four chandeliers of mageglass and illumite, which wouldn’t break, but they’d fall readily enough; sixteen windows, approximately twenty feet tall and very breakable; twelve guards in plain sight, all breakable to varying degrees. Of course, then there was Lord Orsienne Numeux du Akral himself—a former initiate of the Arcanostrum who could have been, had he chosen that path, a staff-bearing mage. He might be trouble, real trouble.
Artus sighed. “Why does every party end like this?”
* * * * * * * *
Tyvian coasted across the dance floor, noting the intricate pattern in which the wood had been inlaid. Good workmanship, that. He’d have to remember it for that far distant day when he was too old to do anything else but buy a house.
He spotted Jaliette on Remieux’s—no, make that her husband’s—arm. A military fellow, was Ramieux, which on this side of the Dragonspine meant broad shoulders and a barrel chest to hold in all the hot air. Tyvian set a direct course for their position, cutting through a few waltzing couples. A few of them complained, but he didn’t tarry long enough to listen.
She turned around. “Tyvian?” A white gown with sapphires to match her eyes, her midnight hair bound atop her head by an elaborate marital apparatus of pins and pearls. To think he’d almost had her. She could have ruined his life, and he might have let her.
He bowed with a grace born of blood and the tutor’s lash. “You are stunning, as ever, milady.”
She had the temerity to blush. “I wasn’t expecting to see you here.”
“I wasn’t expecting to be invited.”
Tyvian smiled. “I know.”
“Monsieur Reldamar, I presume.” Remieux extended a gloved hand. “Jaliette has spoken of you. I had the privilege of meeting your mother last spring—a truly brilliant woman.”
Tyvian took his hand, and Remieux gripped hard. “The pleasure was all hers, Captain, I’m sure.”
“You should come visit us sometime.” Remieux squeezed harder, smiling.
Tyvian put one leg back in time to trip a passing servant. With a clatter, the poor fellow’s tray of soft Eddon cheese and cocktail wafers splattered all over Remieux’s immaculate uniform. “I’ll be sure to.” Tyvian returned the captain’s smile.
“Clumsy fool!” Remieux glowered over the groveling servant. He even went so far as take off his glove to strike him. Fortunately for the servant, the quizzical gazes of polite society stayed his hand.
Tyvian examined his sleeve for crumbs—none, thank Hann. Remieux, of course, looked like a buffet. “It seems as though your doublet may have suffered a fatal wound, Captain. Perhaps you ought to attend to it.”
Remieux wiped away his rage long enough to favor Jaliette with a tender kiss. “I’m afraid he’s right, my lovely. I’ll be back as soon as I can.”
“Hurry.” Jaliette let her eyes linger on Remieux’s wide back for a moment before turning to Tyvian. “You haven’t changed.”
Tyvian moved a strand of her hair back into place. “Ah, but I have, my dear. I seem to be short one lover.”
Jaliette stepped back. “Ex-lover, and you never seem to have a shortage.”
He caught her hand in his. “Come, introduce me to your parents.”
Jaliette searched Tyvian’s face for the joke. He composed his face into a mask of earnestness, but he could tell she saw the sparkle in his ocean-blue eyes. “What are you scheming?”
Tyvian laughed. That was what he liked most about Jaliette—she always knew when he was planning something. It had made the chase that much more interesting. “Nothing drastic, I assure you.”
“Since when do you do anything that isn’t drastic?”
“Since now.” He kissed the back of her hand so lightly that she couldn’t even feel it through her glove. He backed the gesture up with his most winning smile. “Please?”
Jaliette growled something under her breath and led him off.
* * * * * * * *
Artus’s pickpocket hands twitched as he shouldered through the wealthy throngs to where the ropes that held up the chandeliers were tied off. He would have put his hands in his own pockets to stem the urge, if only he had pockets. Bloody pants cost fifty gold marks and didn’t even have any bloody pockets.
Tyvian’s ettiquete lessons welled up in his head. ‘Pockets are the province of those too poor to have porters. If it’s too precious to give to your man, it’s too precious to be carrying about, anyway.’ Easy for him to say, what with Artus and Marik carrying around all his junk, but what if you were the man? What then? Bloody stupid nobles and their bloody stupid rules.
Artus made it to the chandelier tie-off and along the way only snatched two wallets, a bracelet, and a truly foul tasting meat pie off someone’s plate. He wasn’t sure, but he thought it had spinefish in it. It figured—only Akrallian fops and lunatics would spend that much money to put a poisonous fish in a pie.
Having no pockets, Artus simply deposited most of his booty in the corner by the chandelier ropes. He selected the fattest of the wallets from the bunch to stuff in his shirt. It was now his job to wait for Tyvian’s signal. Of course, he had no idea what that would be. Tyvian had only said it would be ‘obvious.’ Artus hoped he was right. Between all the money and all the girls, this was an easy place to get distracted, and he didn’t feel like waiting all night.
* * * * * * * *
Lord Orsienne Numeux du Akral was built like a porcelain teapot—squat, pale, and decorative. Tyvian entertained the notion that, were he pushed down the stairs, the Akralian noble would start rolling and never stop, his stubby little arms and legs flapping like the fins on a turtle. His wife, as though through the artifice of some storybook convention, was tall and graceful despite her years. How the spheroid Lord Orsienne had secured such a beauty for a bride was utterly beyond Tyvian, though he was grateful that Jaliette took after the Lady Velitiere. He had a rule about bedding egg-shaped women.
“Very pleased I am to meet you, Monsieur Reldamar. I had the privilege of being instructed by your mother whilst at the Arcanostrum. Never was an archmage so skilled at conveying the intricacies of Etheric enchantment.” Lord Orsienne passed Tyvian a glass of his atrocious wine. Tyvian took it and resolved to find a convenient plant in which to dump it at his earliest opportunity.
“My mother spoke of you as well, milord.” Tyvian lied.
Lord Orsienne’s painted eyebrows shot up an inch. “Really? I’m flattered! It was nothing bad, I hope.”
“Of course not.”
Orsienne poked his wife in the shoulder. “Did you hear that, Velitiere? Maybe I should have stayed and been a mage, eh?”
The Lady Velitiere smiled. “How is it that you know my daughter, monsieur? I’m surprised that she did not bring a man of such good family to our attention sooner.”
Jaliette pounced on the question. “We do not know each other well, mother. I’ve only met Tyvian a few times, and then only briefly.”
Tyvian smirked. “And we didn’t do much talking.”
“I see.” Lady Velitiere put a hand on the Eye. The big diamond, made her hand look thin, almost sickly.
The conversation progressed at a plodding, predictable rate. Tyvian was consistently amazed at the consummate worthlessness of so-called ‘noble’ conversation. He would have taken the company of a hundred drunken criminals over a single lord if for no other reason than the criminals would have something interesting to say. Of course, it would be stupid and interesting, but that was better than stupid and uninteresting, which appeared to be the overriding motif in Lord Orsienne’s anecdotes.
“…and then the footman said, ‘yes monsieur, if you please!’” Orsienne erupted into a fit of laughter. Tyvian conjured the picture of him rolling down the stairs again, and laughed along.
Jaliette’s laughter was light and airy. Tyvian knew that laugh—that was her fake laugh. She had used it before when the two of them were together—‘partners,’ as she called it—and they were caught by pirates or about to be roasted by a firedrake or some similarly dire situation. Tyvian could hear her sarcasm before it arrived. “Oh, Father—you tell that story so well. You must excuse me, I think Remieux must be missing his bride by now.”
“Who wouldn’t?” Tyvian smiled. Before she left, Jaliette shot him a glare.
“Now, Monsieur Reldamar…”
“Please, milord, call me Tyvian.”
Lord Orsienne clapped his hands. “So be it, Tyvian. And for you, a Reldamar, I shall grant the privilege of addressing me as Orsienne! What of that, eh?”
Tyvian bowed. “I am flattered, Orsienne.”
“Naturally, Tyvian. Now, as I was saying, I remember back in the fifty-seventh year of the Keeper Polimeux—the last time a son of Akral was privileged with the Seat—I was a young boy and I had this falcon…”
Tyvian let Orsienne drone on, nodding when he thought it might be appropriate. He let his eyes drift to the Eye of H’siri and, more importantly, to that which cradled it. Velitiere may have been a woman some twenty years his senior, but her bosom seemed none the worse for wear. She was, in fact, better endowed than Jaliette herself, which, he reminded himself, was only natural for a woman who had borne a child…at least, he was relatively certain that was natural. He was a nobleman, not a midwife, so he didn’t know all the intricate details of such things. Maybe when Jaliette had popped out a brat or two, he could conduct a comparative exercise.
Ordinarily, Tyvian would eye an attractive woman for recreational purposes alone, but this case was different. He wasn’t about to bed Orsienne’s wife, though not out of any respect for Orsienne. Rather, it was based off the assumption that a woman who would willingly submit to a union with some vapid penguin of a man undoubtedly was afflicted with a mental or emotional deficiency that Tyvian wanted no part of. No, Tyvian’s discerning examination of Velitiere’s more womanly attributes was based solely in his wish for her to notice him doing so, and to secure her enthusiasm when he asked her to dance.
“…and the falcon, it flew away! Ha!” Orsienne had finished his glass of wine and immediately began another. Tyvian smiled and nodded.
They were midway through another tedious anecdote when Velitiere noticed. She blushed and put her hand to the Eye again. “A nervous habit…” Tyvian licked his lips ever so subtly, “…I suppose I’ll just have to make her comfortable.”
Tyvian met her eyes. They were Jaliette’s—clear crystal blue. As Orsienne droned, Tyvian and Velitiere had a conversation of looks and expressions. At first, Tyvian did all the ‘talking.’ With subtle twists of his lips, the careful motion of his head, and the practiced flicker of his deep eyes, he spoke:
“You’re beautiful. Don’t you know that you’re beautiful? Come closer to me. Please, I’m begging you.”
At last, Velitiere let out a breath, and her eyes began to speak back.
Tyvian inclined his head.“Why?”
Velitiere shrugged and nodded towards Orsienne. “My husband…”
Tyvian let his lips twist into the barest smirk and shook his head. “Him? He doesn’t care. He doesn’t even know.”
Velitiere shook her head. “I don’t like this.”
Tyvian fixed himself with the barest pout—a manly pout, but still a pout.“Please?”
Velitiere played with the ends of her hair absently, glancing around.“I’m flattered but…”
Tyvian let his eyes fix on hers.“You are beautiful.”
She let her hand brush her neck and inclined her head.“Thank you.”
Tyvian shot Orsienne a dismissive look and smiled at her.“He doesn’t appreciate you. How will it hurt?”
She sighed just enough.“Speak to me.”
“…and that’s why I never go to Iyhn without a…”
“Orsienne?” Tyvian interrupted.
The nobleman tripped on his words. “Yes?”
Tyvian never took his eyes from Velitiere. “May I ask your wife to dance?”
Orsienne blinked, downed his wine. “Well…uhhh…certainly Tyvian. Is that all right with you, my dear?”
Velitiere extended her hand. “Are you a good dancer, Monsieur Reldamar?”
Tyvian called to the string quartet. “Conductor, play me the Revien Nu’Kasaar.”
He was pleased at the gasp.