Collect All The Things

Heroes of the Storm is launching their 2.0 update soon*  and I’m pretty excited about it.  I love collecting cosmetic things for my video game characters and 2.0 is bringing new stuff to amass.  And it brings ways to collect them without having to spend real life money (back in my day HotS skins cost real money and we liked it!).  I still won’t be good at the game but at least I’ll look good while losing!

Collecting is something that most geeks are into.  We collect Funko Pops, books (both Comic and Just Words varieties), pins, cards from Magic The Gathering and other CCG’s, board games, consoles, computers, dice, stuffed animals, action figures, toys, posters, empty soda cans (when I was a child) and internet memes.  And a million more things besides.  When we see a set of something we only have two choices, ignore it completely or COLLECT ALL THE THINGS!

It’s weird to think about our ancestors and wonder where this desire evolved from.  How was an urge to collect things helpful when we were hunter gatherers?  Was there a benefit to collecting one of each mammoth bone?  I can imagine it would help impress potential mates to have a full mammoth skeleton in your possession, but the tribe might get angry when you tried to carry the whole set to the next hunting camp.  In fact I’m pretty sure primitive humans didn’t have a concept of ownership, which seems to make collecting things pointless.  Unless everything you collected was to be shared with the tribe instead of shown off to make everyone jealous, which is why we do it today.

Collecting digital things in video games is a little strange because you can’t show them off to people unless they play that game.  In real life you can exhibit anything to anybody.  I have a collection of Lego sets on display in my home (if you display it then it BECOMES art) and I can show those Legos to anybody.  My sweet transmog set in World Of Warcraft impresses nobody who doesn’t play the game.  And when you tell them how long it took to collect all those appearances it doesn’t make it seem more valuable to non-gamers it just makes you look like a crazy person.
I do really enjoy setting my video game character apart from everyone else’s video game character.  When you play a game like Heroes of the Storm Gazlowe always looks the same and that gets boring.  Until, that is, you get a new skin for him.  And once enough different skins exist then when you see Gazlowe on the other team he looks different than he does when you play him.  And when you see a teammate play him in the next game he looks different still.  And that variety is fun and keeps things visually interesting.  So personally I like video games to have as many cosmetic things as possible.  Not only so I can obsessively collect them all.  I mean it’s mostly so I can obsessively collect them all.  But it’s also a little bit so we can change things up and keep things visually interesting.   I have a short attention span so if I’m going to play Gazlowe enough to get level 10 I’m going to need to change his outfit.

Of course collecting things isn’t all about impressing other people, not primarily anyway.  It’s ultimately something you do for yourself.  You see something you like, Legos or HotS, and you think, “How can I reach out and hug this thing I like so much?”  and the answer is to collect it.  To display it.  To smile when you gaze upon your collection and think, “Should I arrange them alphabetically or by color?”

* As I write this it isn’t out yet, although in a weird time travel way when you read this it is already out, what’s the future like?

Wondering and Wandering

Work has been especially busy and stressful lately and it’s not going to get better for a while.  Ordinarily I would use sick leave until the hard work was finished but this time I specifically have to do it myself.  Even if I stay home sick the work will just wait until I get back.  So, reluctantly, I am working hard all day.

This has me thinking about how to recharge myself in my free time.  It’s important that I come to work tomorrow ready to think straight, work hard, and not scream profanities at the first person who can’t remember their password.  So what’s the best way to do that?

How do you recharge your brain?

I’ve struggled with concentration all my life.  And work is asking me to concentrate and focus almost all the time lately!  So I’ve been looking for leisure activities that let my mind wander.  The idea is that I can let myself get all my non-concentrating and un-focused thinking out of my system at home so I can buckle down and pay attention at work the next day.  To do this I look for activities that occupy my brain enough to not be bored but that are easy enough that my mind is free to think about … whatever it wants.  If my mind wonders about some random thing it can wander over to that thought and think about it as long as it wants or not at all.  Like letting a puppy run around and smell things.  I’m letting my imagination run around smelling whatever it wants.  If that metaphor doesn’t make sense it’s because I lost focus halfway through this paragraph.

World of Warcraft has been a great way to let my mind wonder and wander.  Doing the daily World Quests is easy and I’m basically on autopilot.  Even other solo question things are fairly easy to do and free up my brain to think about whatever it wants.  (Although I have noticed its thoughts are inspired by WoW.)  But it’s still a thing I can do without placing any rules or constraints on my concentration.  (Are there ducks in WoW?  I’m pretty sure I’ve never seen a duck in WoW.  Sorry, random thought.)

Farming Simulator is a game I’ve played a lot of that lets my mind wander a too.  It’s mostly about driving large farm machines and the act of driving around an ideal little farm space is wonderfully relaxing.  And since there’s no danger of me driving into a tree or losing and arm in a giant machine in the video game my mind can wander all it wants.

Farming Simulator combines my five year old love of big machines with the peaceful tranquility of outdoor life.  And the mind is free to wander when you’re basically driving in circles all day.

But there’s a completely different option other than letting my mind wander, and that’s to occupy it fully.  Reading a book has been a big one for me lately.  Reading demands my full attention more than watching TV does because if I lose focus the book doesn’t continue playing in the background (Unless it’s an audio book I suppose.)  That extra concentration is a big deterrent to reading sometimes, if I’m tired and think I might like a nap then watching TV is the way to go.  But I’ve been enjoying the fact that while reading a book my brain is sort of being guided along the path.  Instead of being a hyperactive puppy running around randomly the story takes my mind on a walk and keeps it leashed so it doesn’t go off into the bushes.  (I’m really enjoying the Mind Is A Puppy metaphor.)

Ultimately I don’t know which is better for recharging my batteries for work tomorrow.  And there’s obviously other things like diet, exercise, and getting plenty of sleep that are important for that sort of thing too.  But when I really think about what I can do to help me feel ready to face the day tomorrow it at least makes me aware of what I’m doing and how it affects me.  Just paying attention to my mental state and trying to respond to what it needs probably helps a lot.  Otherwise I end up at bedtime thinking, “What did I even do in my free time today?  I’m not sure I did anything.  I can’t go to work tomorrow, I haven’t even started recreating!”

And the boss does not give you a day off because you forgot to do anything fun last night.

1d20

When you’re a geek you’re gaming life is left largely to chance.  Literally.  Random numbers are a huge part of most geek games.  You roll dice in D&D and table top war games and board games and even card games.  Video games use random number generators that you never see to do the same thing.

What’s weird is that we play these games largely to test our analytical and strategic abilities.  We spend all this time thinking up brilliant plans and maneuvering pieces into optimal positions and then hope the random numbers come out in our favor.  No matter how perfect your plan is it all comes down to a little bit of chance.  Is that a metaphor for life?   Because if it is then that’s super depressing.

Randomness isn’t all bad, it gives us a chance to win even when we’re playing badly.  And as someone who almost always plays badly that’s a really great thing.  Nothing upsets your opponent more than playing poorly but winning because they rolled a one.

There are a million superstitions surrounding the random number generators.  People blow their dice, or talk sweetly to them, or throw them away if they have a bad night.  People roll new dice a hundred times to break them in.  People yell at you if you touch their dice.

Back on the NES there was an Ultima game, Exodus maybe, that had some spell that would either do tons of damage or almost none.  It seemed completely random until you realized (or read about it in Nintendo Power) that it wasn’t random at all.  The enemies were animated, and by animated I mean they had two pictures and it cycled back and forth between them.  In one picture their left foot was down, in the other their right foot was down.  This gave them the appearance of walking in place which doesn’t seem like a very intimidating thing for monsters to do but back in my day that’s all we had and we liked it.  The spells success or failure was based on which animation frame was active when you cast the spell, in other words if you pushed the button when the monsters left foot was down it succeeded brilliantly and if their right foot was down it failed.  The mind blowing thing was that after hours of crossing my fingers every time I cast the spell I suddenly had complete control over it.  With just a little practice I could nail it each time.  Ever since I’ve been searching for patterns and tricks that would let me take control of any and all “random” things in my life.  If you ever see me rolling dice and you pay attention to my feet you’ll notice I always lift my right foot.  I’m always hoping that someway somehow real life is just as easy to manipulate as an 80’s video game.

I have a whole spiel on how I think life might be a giant simulation (which validates the idea that nothing in the world is truly random and maybe I can control it by lifting my right foot).  Kind of like the matrix except I’m the only real human and you’re all NPC’s.  But I rolled some dice before writing this post, an even roll would mean this article and odd would mean the simulation thing.  So if you want to hear my simulation theory you’ll just have to hope I roll odd Tuesday night.

The Cave

Imagine you were born in a cave.  As you grow older you explore the whole thing from one end to another.  You examine every rock, what it looks like in the dim light (Why is there light in the cave?  I don’t know.  Just pretend there’s enough light to see, okay?).  So you examine every rock, what it looks like in the dim light, what if feels like, how heavy it is, maybe you taste it because you live in a cave and don’t know about germs and micro-organisms and stuff.  You learn all the places where water trickles in through the ceiling because water is important and also there’s nothing else to do really, it’s a cave.  The point is you explore the cave thoroughly and by the time you’re twenty three you’ve seen it all.  You know there’s one little ledge way up high that you’ve never been able to get to, it’s just out of reach, but besides that you’ve explored every nook and cranny of the cave.

One day a new human shows up.  (Remember this is a metaphor so lets pretend you just knew a language without having to learn it or anything.  And coincidentally it’s the same language as this other human.  Look, not every part of this needs to make sense, use your imagination for gosh sakes!)  So this other human shows up and they tell you that there’s so much to the world that you don’t know.  You argue that you pretty much know everything.  You’ve been from one side of the world (Meaning the cave, you think the cave is the whole world) to the other.  You’ve studied everything in the world.  You know it all.  Sure there’s one little ledge you can’t reach so you acknowledge that you don’t literally know everything.  But from everything else you’ve seen you can pretty much guess what the ledge is like to.  You imagine the ledge is like the parts of the cave you’ve seen so you obviously know basically everything.  The outsider describes the sun and the moon and rain and delicious apples (I don’t know what you’ve been eating all this time but it ain’t apples.  Maybe there’s a super nutritious mushroom down there, stop nit picking!)  And you think the sun is just the magical dim light and the moon is also the dim light and rain must be the little rivers of water coming in through the ceiling and apples sound like mushrooms.  So you confidently say that you know all that.  You know everything.  And it’s very rude of this other human to imply that you don’t know a lot of things because you know everything!

The other human leaves, maybe because they know how to get out of the cave and they want to get back to the rest of the world or maybe it’s because you were kind of a jerk.

On your fortieth birthday (You don’t know what a calendar is so you don’t know it’s your fortieth birthday it’s just an amazing coincidence, okay?  Sheesh!)  you finally manage to climb up to that one ledge you could never reach.  You’ve been working on that this whole time because what else is there to do?  And now you’ve finally made it to the ledge.  And you find the exit to the cave.

You walk outside and find the sun and the moon and the rain and the apples and all the things that other human told you about and more!  The world is so much bigger than you ever imagined!  And you’re only know starting to see it.

And so it is with aging.  When I was 23 I thought I knew everything, or could accurately guess at the things I hadn’t experienced like being a brain surgeon or a vampire hunter.  But as I get older I see that there are things I didn’t even know I didn’t know.  Or there are things I thought I knew but I knew them wrong or insufficiently.  What I know now is that I didn’t know what I thought I knew!  And now I know enough to know that I know very little or maybe nothing.  Because now I know, at least I have an idea, that what there is to know is so vast that my knowledge is a tiny little sliver of it all.  And even what I think I know might be wrong.


“The ancient oracle said that I was the wisest of all the Greeks. It is because I alone, of all the Greeks, know that I know nothing.” – Socrates

If wisdom is knowing that you know nothing then I am almost as wise as Socrates.  At least I assume so from that one quote of his that I remember.  

Sophisticated Nutrition

When I was younger caffeinated soda and pizza and chips were the foods of choice for any big gaming session.  Nowadays it’s trail mix and water if it’s after 4 pm.  Times change I suppose.

In High School pizza was the default food.  If you had people over for D&D or a LAN party you’d order pizza no questions asked.  The only debate was what toppings to get.  Nowadays if you’re gaming with others they have all kinds of whacky ideas like Chinese Food or Mexican Food or home cooked food or the craziest idea of all; pausing the games to go eat at a restaurant.  Pause the game and go somewhere?  MADNESS!!!

But I admit that as I’ve gotten older I’ve had to cut back on pizza and have started to make healthier choices.  There was a brief period around my thirtieth birthday where I healthied it up but getting pizza with vegetables on it.  But at a certain point you have to look at a giant circle of melted cheese and wonder if putting a couple slices of tomatoes on top is really accomplishing anything.  The first time I got heartburn after eating pepperoni pizza at midnight I thought I was dying, not because I mistook the discomfort for something fatal but because I realized I was becoming my father.

Of course a lot of my gaming sessions are done online now so everybody can eat whatever they want in their own homes.  As long as you mute your microphone while you chew you can eat anything.  Although I think it’s pretty funny when I’m enjoying the fact that I don’t have to come to an agreement with everybody and then we find out we’re all just eating pizza anyway.

Trailmix is a great gaming snack that is reasonably healthy too.  Although I often buy a bag of M&M’s and mix some in to increase the chocolate to everything else ratio.  It’s makes it less healthy sure but hey, I’m still getting some nutrition from the raisins and the nuts even if they are spread thin among the candy.  Take your wins where you can get them.

Pretty much every Sunday morning I get up and play a video game (often World of Warcraft but the game changes periodically) with a bowl of oatmeal and a cup of Earl Grey tea.  Younger me would have had leftover, cold pizza and a Pepsi.  But to be honest that isn’t even appealing anymore.  I enjoy my morning oatmeal and tea.  Perhaps I’m becoming more sophisticated as I age.  That’s certainly the way I’m going to spin it.  I’m not old, I’m sophisticated.

My Thoughts On Rogue One

Having watched Rogue One twice, and the second viewing was just yesterday in the comfort of my home, I feel compelled to discuss it now on the internet.  Because discussing sci-fi shows is one of the three main reasons the internet even exists.

I am going to spoil Rogue One (And possibly all Star Wars movie) during the entire rest of this post.  Rogue One is available on iTunes and Blue Ray and all the various contrivances for home viewing so if you haven’t seen it yet simply close this blog and go watch it immediately.  Then return here for insight into what you’ve just witnessed.

Rogue One is the finest Star Wars film since the original trilogy.

Rogue One takes place during the time of the original trilogy, I swear you could start A New Hope at the moment Rogue One ends and it would feel like one long movie.  It doesn’t suffer the problems of the prequels, which look and feel like completely different movies.  Neither does it  suffer from episode 7’s problem of having changed everything to familiar but different things.  (Episode 7’s First Order feels a lot like the Empire but … it’s not exactly the Empire so what is it?)    Rogue One feels like the first three movies.

Rogue One answers questions and I like the answers it gives.

Q. How is it that the Death Star had such an obvious weakness?
A. The man who led the design team was a rebel sympathizer who secretly and purposefully built a weakness into it.  He secretly communicated the weakness’s existence to the rebellion.  Political infighting among the Empire caused Tarkin to destroy the base where the plans were kept so he could eliminate his rival Krennic (and also any hope of the Empire analyzing the plans to find the weakness themselves).
Q.  How did princess Leia end up with the plans at the beginning of A New Hope?
A.  A team of rebels snuck into the facility where the plans were stored and transmitted them to Leia’s ship.
Q. Why does the rebellion have nothing but X-Wing fighters to defend their base during the attack in A New Hope?
A.  Their capital ships were destroyed during the battle to secure the Death Star plans.
Rogue One is wonderful because, if nothing else, it finally answers the question of how the Death Star could be blown up so easily.  How many times have people asked about that?  A million times perhaps?  Finally we have a reasonable answer!
The action scenes are spectacular.  Every time people on the ground are fighting or ships in space are battling it’s a fun thing watch.  The space battle over Scarif looks like a sci-fi version of World War 2 aerial dog fights and naval battles.  For that matter the battle on the surface of Scarif looks like sci-fi versions of war movies as well.  Every fight scene in this film is a joy to behold.
Jyn Erso is awesome.  I love all her dialog, what she says and the way she says it is just a joy to listen too.  The pep talk she gives after they land on Scarif is both inspiring and honest.  The moment she really becomes a great character for me is when she and her team steals a ship to go off to try and get the plans.  In that moment she rebels even against the rebellion and launches her own clandestine mission, and because she’s making the right call that act secures her as a leader and hero.  It reminds me of Kirk stealing the Enterprise in Search For Spock to go do what Star Fleet won’t authorize because he knows it’s right.  Great Sci-Fi heroes often defy orders and Jyn Erso follows that proud tradition.
K-2SO is comedic relief done right, he’s funny without being silly or distracting.  And in the end he dies a heroes death.  Also the voice acting was perfect, you might say that droid was a leaf on the wind (get it?).    Chirrut Imwe is wonderful and more than makes up for this being the first Star Wars movie without a Jedi in it (Darth Vadar is a Sith so he doesn’t count).  I love Chirrut Imwe’s whole Blind Monk thing he’s doing, his faith and ability in the Force and his chant, he’s just fantastic!  I thought director Krennic was an excellent villain and enjoyed the political fight for power he had with Tarkin.  Darth Vadar was in the movie exactly the right amount, and at the end when he’s mowing down rebels while chasing after the Death Star plans he is more terrifying than he has ever been.

THE ONLY BAD THING for me is the sad ending.  Everybody dies.  I like happy endings.  And this ending is a downer.  It’s not all bad of course, they get the plans and that’s the big win that makes all the sacrifice worth it.  When they hand the plans to princess Leia that’s the happy ending right there, that’s the big victory and that’s an AWESOME moment!  And I’m not sure the movie would have worked if Jyn and her crew hadn’t all given their lives.  If they all lived and escaped it might have seemed a bit too easy, unbelievable, silly?  But whatever, personally I think I would have liked at least some of them escaping alive at the end.

So there you go, I loved it.  5 out of 5.  It’s the BEST of the new Star Wars movies.  It’s perfect in every way except for everyone dying at the end.  And I can get past that.  The way it set’s up A New Hope is fantastic.  The way it explains the weakness in the Death Star is a godsend to a nerd who is tired of defending how easy it was to destroy it.  The space battle at the end is pure awesome.  I really love this movie.

Competition Online

Competitive e-sports are gaining in popularity all the time.  When I was younger I vaguely remember people talking about who the best Quake player was and I understood that competitive Star Craft was a popular thing in South Korea.  But it always seemed very niche and fringe.  It was a thing that might, maybe one day catch on. But that day is today. Today-ish. Really it’s kind of a slow thing that’s been happening for years as opposed to one day. One decade maybe. The point is that it is happening. ARE YOU READY TO LOG ON AND THEN RUMBLE???!!!

Overwatch, Heroes of the Storm, Hearthstone, and probably games that aren’t made by Blizzard all feature strong competitive multiplayer experiences for casual players and pros alike.  (I know Counter Strike and League Of Legends and plenty of other non-Blizzard games are also very popular but today I’m mostly just talking about Blizzard games. )  And I very much enjoy all of these games.  The only problem is that they are focused specifically on competing against human opponents and I’m more of a Play Alone Against Computer Controlled Enemies sort of person.  I’m a PAACCE person.

My favorite IRL sport is Tennis.  That’s partly because I can play it without any teammates.  I don’t particularly like having teammates.  I always worry that I’m going to be bad and ruin it for them.  I like playing singles tennis because the only person I can ruin it for is myself, and I ruin things for myself all the time anyway so I’m used to it.  Although tennis does still have the unpleasant requirement of finding another human to play against.  So that’s when the computer steps in with games where I can play against Computer Controlled Enemies and avoid human contact altogether!  PAACCE FTW!

If only I liked truly single player IRL sports like Golf or Bowling more.  But the only time I really enjoy them is when Mario and Luigi and/or a WiiMote are involved.

I used to play a lot of Quake and then Unreal Tournament and enjoyed them immensely.   I’d even play online with human opponents.  But always in All Versus All DeathMatch.  Which is, I insist, the BEST WAY TO PLAY SHOOTERS!  That’s the main problem I have with Overwatch, I have teammates.  A teammate is a person who may yell at you for not playing well enough (scary).  A teammate is a person who you can’t shoot (boring).  I wish Overwatch had a free for all deathmatch mode.  And no classes, everyone should be the same and just use whatever gun you can find.  And basically it should just be Quake Arena again.

Games were perfect when I was about 18, why did people keep making new ones after that?  Also why did deathmatch lose popularity?  Shooters now are all about teams.  Either they recreate wars and have massive army/teams or they’re squad based with tiny teams.  But either way it’s always teams.  And there’s always goals and objectives and stuff.  I just want to run around KILLING EVERYBODY ALL THE TIME!  (Don’t read too much into my mental health from that statement please.)  I miss deathmatch.

Although thank goodness we still have games like Borderlands and Mass Effect where we can play solo against CCE’s.

I’ve always had a love-hate relationship with MOBA’s.  (MOBA is like Heroes of the Storm or League of Legends.  The original was a mod for Warcraft 3 back when Warcraft was an RTS with a cool map editor).  MOBA’s are so much fun but I don’t understand them at all.  I try.  I listen to “Into The Nexus” podcast and watch tutorial videos on YouTube and it still just doesn’t make sense to me.  There’s a strategy there that’s deeper than “Run at an enemy player and push all the buttons until one of you dies” but I just can’t seem to grasp it.  I’m always farming when I should be mercing or mercing when I should be pushing or Googling what mercing means when I should be farming.  I really enjoy Heroes of the Storm these days because it has all my favorite characters from all the Blizzard games and it has a reasonably good AI mode where it’s just you, and friends you invite, and CCE’s.  Occasionally when I’m feeling particularly good about my skills I dip my toe into Quickmatch.  But even Quickmatch is a stretch.  95% of my time there is AI mode and I’m pretty okay with that.

Then there’s Hearthstone which sounds PERFECT for me.  NO TEAMMATES!  Add to that my love of Warcraft and that I’ve played Magic The Gathering since High School and it sounds absolutely PERFECT in every way.  And it kind of is.  I enjoy it a lot.  The only problem is I get tired of it pretty fast.  After an hour of game play my brain is overheating, steam is shooting out my ears, and I forget how math works.  Card games require a level of concentration and memory and math skills that stretch my brain to the limit.  I can’t keep that up for long or my brain will pop like a pinata struck with a baseball bat.  Brain candy will drip out of my ears and nose and the media will report me as a video game related death.  “Last night a middle aged Alaskan man died of Spontaneous Brain Bursting while playing video games.”  “Do video games increase the likely hood of sudden onset SBB?  The answer might surprise you!”  Don’t get me wrong I enjoy it very much.  I often get my rank 20 monthly card back.  But it just isn’t my game.

The only competitive online game (besides DeathMatch back when that used to be popular) that I’ve enjoyed and excelled at was Warcraft 3.  1v1 online ranked games of Warcraft 3 were my jam (which is strange because I actually prefer jelly).  No teammates to worry about in 1v1.  A game play I understood and was good at.  I enjoyed it in every way.  Of course I was never MLG or anything but I remember getting reasonably high in the ranks, I think I got into a pretty good league.  Maybe, since Warcraft 3 is far too old to be popular anymore, maybe I should play StarCraft 2 competitively.  That could be fun …

Of course I’m pretty busy with The Sims 4 these days.  I dunno, maybe I’m just not a competitive sort of person.  I usually play games to wind down not up.  The Sims 4 just launched a bowling expansion pack.  Maybe I’ll take my Sim family bowling and experience competitive sports vicariously through them.  The same way I experience romance these days.

 

 

The Sleeping Beholder

See Attle landed gently on the ground beside his fellow adventurers and folded his wings behind him. Khalisee opened a coin purse that didn’t belong to her, extracted the money, and tossed the empty bag into the lava. Kratos and Byazz looked ahead at the wondrous village before them. The homes and roads were carved from stone jutting up from a vast pool of lava.

The dwarven guards stopped the group, they were expected, and the guards ushered them straight to the Town Hall in the center of town. Kratos spit over the railing and watched it evaporate before it reached the lava bellow. The Town Hall, ornate with statues of regal looking dwarfs carved into it’s walls, was the tallest building in the village. Inside the acting mayor explained the villages plight. Villagers had been disappearing. The mayor had insisted the problem lay within the Forbidden Cave. He entered it a week ago and had not been heard from since. The party agreed to enter the cave, find the mayor, and find the cause of the disappearances.

Hours after entering the cave the party was looting the body of six foot tall spider. Byazz was wiggling his fingers trying to shake off the paralysis he had suffered during the fight when Khalisee returned from scouting ahead. She reported one way led to a lava fall that seemed impossible to get around. The other way was blocked only by a wooden door. The party chose the path of least resistance. On the other side of the door lay the decomposing body of the mayor. Covered in claw and bite marks that resembled the spider they had just fought.

“We found the mayor!” exclaimed See Attle. He spread his wings in triumph. “Let’s go back and collect our reward.”

“A shame he’s dead.” Khalisee said. “They would have paid us more if we could have saved him.”

“Shouldn’t we explore the rest of the cave? We said we’d try to find the cause of the disappearances.” asked Kratos.

“I can’t see anything!” Byazz shouted. “The paralyzing spider venom has blinded me!!!

“Your torch went out.” Khalisee explained. She lit a new one and Byazz looked amazed and relieved.

“I can see!”

“Should we bring them back the body of their mayor?” See Attle asked.

“Let’s just take his insignia and continue exploring.” Kratos answered.

The did so. Further in the cave they came to a large hallway with five foot by five foot tiles lining the floor. See Attle poked one with his sword and nothing happened. Before he stepped on it though Byazz slammed his glaive into the tile, penetrating the tile which crumbled on impact. A hole underneath went far beyond what their torchlight could illuminate.

“I’ll fly across.” See Attle said.

“That won’t help the rest of us.” Kratos replied.

Byazz slammed his glaive onto two other tiles. Both remained firm. Gingerly See Attle stepped on one and it held his weight.

“It’s a puzzle, we need to find which of these we can walk across.” Khalisee said.

“I’ll fly across.” See Attle said.

“Go ahead then. But you’ll have to wait on the other side for us to find a way across.”

“No, I’ll hover across like a humming bird. That way if you step on a false floor and begin to fall I’ll catch you.”

“You can’t hover like a humming bird.” Kratos said. “Humming birds flap their wings a million times a minute. You can barely flap your wings enough to get off the ground at all. You’re more of a seagull, built for gliding.”

“Oh yeah? Watch this!” See Attle exclaimed as he began furiously beating his wings.

“You’re not even getting airborne.”

“How about, ugh, now?” See Attle asked as he beat his wings harder and faster than anyone had seen before. Unfortunately, without a running start, his body stood there planted on the ground.

“You’re just not a humming bird.” Kratos told him. “Here, I’ll find a safe path.”

“Just … a little … faster ….” See Attle mumbled to himself as he kept trying to levitate.

Minutes later Kratos was looking across a gap and wondered if the next tile would hold his weight. “Wait here.” He told the group and ran back towards the entrance of the cave.

He returned with the mayors corpse.

“What are you doing?” Khalisee asked.

“I need to know if the tile on the far side will support my weight. Byazz, help me throw this body across the pit to that tile.”

“Sounds good.” Byazz said, he grabbed a leg.

“No! This isn’t good at all!” Khalisee exclaimed. “We can’t just throw the village mayors dead body across a bottomless hole to see if the far side is solid!”

“Why not?” asked Kratos.

“Because I haven’t checked the body for loot yet! I was going to do that on our way out of the cave. But here, let me loot it before you toss it down the hole.”

Khalisee rifled through the dead mayors pockets and found a note. She translated it and read it to the party.

“What is real? Life is a dream. If the Beholder wakes the village will vanish. I must wind the clock.”

“What in the multiverse does that mean?” Khalisee asked.

“I dunno. The mayor was off his rocker.” Byazz said.

“Well, let’s test that tile.” Kratos said.

Byazz and Kratos heaved the dead body across the pit and it landed with a thud on the far tile. It held firm.

“I’ll jump across.” he said. “That tile seems solid.”

“Shouldn’t we let the bird man do this?” Khalisee asked.

“He’s still … he’s trying to hover. I’ll go. I’m a barbarian, a five foot jump like this is easy for me.”

Byazz held out a rope, “Tie this around your waist just in case.” Kratos did, Byazz and Khalisee held the rope tight. They wished they could find something to tie it too. Kratos ran forward and leaped in the air.

His hands grabbed the edge of the tile on the other side. He tried to climb up but his hands slipped. Kratos fell. Khalisee and Byazz pulled on the rope with all their strength but they couldn’t hold him. The rope burned as it slid through their fingers. Kratos and the rope disappeared into the inky blackness of the pit.

“That’s a shame.” Khalisee said.

“Looks like he knocked the mayors body off too.” Byazz commented.

“Good thing I looted it already.”

Hours later the party, except for Kratos, had managed to jump across the pit and were exploring the rest of the cave. The loss of their friend, another spider fight, some doors that were trapped with venomous spiders that rained from the ceiling when opened, and the discovery of another dead dwarf had put the party in a foul mood. They bickered with each other even more than usual.

“Let’s just return to town. We can give them the mayors amulet and explain he died. Then we can collect our reward and leave this horrible place.” See Attle told the group.

“It’s not an amulet. It’s just an insignia.”

“Same thing.”

“No, they are different things. At least in the language of men and dwarfs they are.”

“They’re the same.” See Attle insisted.

“Hey!” Khalisee shouted from up ahead. “There’s a spiral staircase here. It goes down really far. Too far down to see the floor!”

“I’m exhausted.” Byazz grumbled. “I don’t want to climb a bunch of stairs.”

“We’ll be going DOWN the stairs.” See Attle said. “Not climbing them.”

“Going down stairs is hard work too.”

“Naw. Just fall down them. Easy.”

An hour later they reached the floor at the bottom of the stairs. More giant spiders waited for them. While Khalisee was looting their bodies, removing their venom sacks for reasons only she knew, Byazz search the room. Looking for anything, treasure, secret passages, clues to the villagers disappearances, whatever he could find. It was his habit to always searched every room but he rarely found anything.

This time, he did.

An outline of a door cleverly disguised in the rock wall indicated a hidden passage. The party opened it and stepped in cautiously. Soon, they found the splattered corpse of the mayor and the body of Kratos.

Kratos still had a pulse.

After administering some first aid Kratos was awake and cranky.

“Why didn’t you hold the rope!??!”

“We tried! You’re very heavy!”

“Muscle. All muscle.”

“Yeah, all that heavy muscle made it hard to hold the rope.”

“You’re a bunch of babies. I could have died!”

“We did find your body, and saved your life, you could say ‘thank you’ for that.”

“You wouldn’t have needed to do any of that if you’d just HELD THE ROPE!”

“I was going to hover acr…” See Attle said but the others stopped him.

They slept. Had a nice breakfast. And continued exploring the cave.

Eventually they found a large chamber, in the center of which lay a Beholder. Asleep. His many eye stalks twitched though, his multiple eyelids fluttered almost opening. The Beholder was waking up.

There was a clock on the wall. Large and strange looking. Byazz, having some experience with magic, could sense latent magic powers on the clock mechanisms.

“There’s a sign by the clock.” Kratos said. “It reads, ‘While the clock runs all inside will sleep’, that must be the clock the mayor’s note was talking about.”

“I’ll go inside and wind the clock.” Khalisee said.

“Let’s just kill the Beholder.” Byazz said.

“I’ve heard Beholders can shoot Disintegration Rays and Death Rays from their eyes.” Kratos told them. “And it’s got a lot of eyes so … I don’t want to fight anything that’s going to shoot Disintegration Rays at me. Just wind the clock.”

Khalisee crept over to the wall and found the crank that winds the clock. As she did the clock began to tick and she became very sleepy.

“Crud! She’s in the room, the clock is putting her to sleep too!” exclaimed Kratos.

“Let’s go grab her and pull her out!” See Attle said.

“If we go in we’ll go to sleep too! Hurry, Khalisee! Get out of there!” Kratos shouted.

Khalisee was nearly passed out, crawling on her knees by the time she reached the door. Her friends reached in, grabbed her, and pulled her out of the room.

“I could just shoot it with arrows from here.” Byazz said. “I bet I can kill it without entering the room.”

“What if you wake it up?”

“Then the clock will put it back to sleep.”

“Still seems risky.”

“Come on guys! I really want to kill that Beholder! You never let me do anything FUN!”

From behind them a voice boomed out, “YOU SAVED US ALL! THANK THE GODS!” The party turned to see the mayor, in one piece, alive and well.

“You were dead!” Khalisee said.

“I was healed when you put the Beholder back to sleep.”

“This doesn’t make any sense. I’m going to kill that thing and be done with it all!” Byazz exclaimed.

“NO! Kill the Beholder and you’ll kill me too, and my whole village! Here, let me explain.”

“Long ago that Beholder ran loose in these lands terrorizing all. The dwarfs who lived in this region fought the Beholder for years but could not defeat it. Finally they found a wizard who worked with them to create this clock. The dwarfs built the mechanical parts of the clock and the wizard imbued it with magic enchantments. It pulls mana from the ley lines of the area and uses that mana to keep this whole room under the affect of a powerful sleep spell. The dwarfs lured the Beholder down here then started the clock. The Beholder has been trapped here asleep ever since.

Beholders are strange creatures, aberrations from another plane. They warp reality, they can dream other Beholders into existence, and this one dreamed me and all the dwarfs of the Lava Village into being. Perhaps he dreams of dwarfs because it was dwarfs he fought for all that time, dwarfs who trapped him here. But he dreamed of dwarfs for hundreds of years until his dreams became real, became me and my villagers. In time, we’ve taken on a life of our own. But we are not ‘real’, we are the dream. If that Beholder wakes up me and my village will disappear.

The clock has the power to drape that whole room with powerful sleep spells for as long as the clock is running. But the mechanical part of the clock, which is necessary to pull mana from the ley lines and power the spells, cannot run forever. Like any clock it must be wound periodically. Once a year to be exact. I have wound the clock every year for as long as I have existed. I was unable to wind the clock this year, the Beholder began to wake up, and villagers began to vanish as a result.

By winding the clock you saved me, you saved us all! Thank you!”

“You’re welcome.” See Attle answered.

“Well that’s ridiculous!” Byazz shouted. “I’m going to kill that Beholder.”

“STOP!” Everybody else exclaimed, and they grabbed his bow and pulled him away from the door. “Let’s just go. We’ve saved the town and everything. Maybe they’ll reward us.”

“Yes.” The mayor said. “Free Ale for everyone once we get back to town!”

And so it came to pass that the village of the Lava Lake was safe for another year. Probably. Unless Byazz returns to kill the Beholder.