Chapter Two – Rollin’ the Bones

Back to Chapter One – A Fresh Start

“Roll your modifiers now, while we still have power.” Chris laughed, but that last strike did land pretty close. There was a chance they might lose power after all.

The players rolled for their ability scores. Handfuls of D6s rolled across the table as players chose the lowest two values and discarded them. Occasional curses rang out when they rolled lower than they would have liked, and whoops of triumph rose when the dice were kind.

Only two players were unlucky enough to roll three or more ones during the process. Damien rolled it once, but Lorelei got super unlucky. She rolled it twice. The second attracted a louder curse than the first.

“Oh, come on! Now I get two phobias? This sucks!” she complained.

“Hey, I put that rule forward and I ended up with a phobia too,” Damien said. “I just hope it isn’t debilitating. I wouldn’t want to play as a Necromancer with kinemortophobia.”

“Kino-what?” Lorelei asked.

“Kinemortophobia. It’s a debilitating fear of zombies,” Damien explained.

“How the fuck do you know that?” Charlie asked.

“You remember my ex-girlfriend Tina, right? She had it. She used to say it all the fucking time. Kinemortophobia! I missed out on two years’ worth of The Walking Dead because of her. I wasn’t allowed to watch anything involving zombies! Plus, I had to listen to her explain it to everyfuckingbody who cosplayed as zombies at Supanova and Oz Comic-Con.”

“Zombies are overrated,” Jason said.

“Not when you’re playing a Necromancer!” Damien said.

Chris raised a hand to shush the discussion around the table. “If you roll a phobia that I think is going to break to game and make this unplayable, I’m going to veto it. However, if you roll a phobia that I think is going to make your lives a nightmare, but make the game funnier, I’m going to allow it.”

Damien and Lorelei both groaned, but neither of them protested.

Chris knew for a fact that they both enjoyed playing flawed characters that caused problems for the other players.

The players spent the next twenty minutes or so wrangling their rolled ability scores into something they could play.

Chris could be a jerk, but when you rolled your abilities scores instead of took the standard arrays, anything could happen. He wasn’t one of those sadistic Bastion Masters that made their players call their abilities before they rolled, and those stats were final.

He could be a jerk, but he wasn’t a see-you-next-Tuesday.

The players all chose their starting abilities, filled their spell slots, chose their minor skills, and decided on their starting equipment.

As a seasoned Bastion Master, Chris knew how this would play out. His players would base their play style around a favoured spell, ability or item, and they’d reference it constantly. Gone were the days where Chris kept a meticulous track of exactly what spells his players knew, or what they held in their packs. They generally kept each other in check. He really only needed to stop them going off the rails.

While the players finalised their character sheets Chris checked the Bureau of Meteorology website – an Aussie standard go-to when a black cloud appeared on the horizon – and tracked the stormfront rolling in from out west. The radar image of the stormfront was mostly red, but with a thick ridge of purple and black right in the centre.

Chris had never seen a storm quite this bad heading his way. Maybe it would be better to postpone the Beasts & Bastions session for another night in case everyone needs to get home.

He needed to give them a chance to leave if they wanted to, otherwise they might be stuck at his place all night. Chris lived in one of the new estates in Spring Mountain, which was right in the middle of nowhere. But he was Bastion Master, and Bastion Master had the right of choosing the location.

Chris lifted his laptop and turned it around to face the players. The maximized radar image of the approaching storm was on display.

“This motherfucker is going to smash us in the next ten minutes,” he said. “We need to decide if we want to keep playing, or whether you all want to take your chance and leave while you can.”

“I’m happy to keep playing,” Lorelei said. “That’ll blow over in a few hours, surely. Look how quickly it’s moving.”

Jason shrugged. “I’m happy to keep going. Melinda took the kids to her parents’ place tonight for dinner, so I’ve got nowhere else to be.”

“Onward!” Charlie said and thrust his hand into the air.

Damien was the only one who looked uncertain. “I’m worried about Bruiser, but he should be fine. I don’t want to miss out. This is the first session I’ve actually been able to come to in months. Let’s keep going.”

“Okay. If we’re all sure, we’ll play on. You’ve all got your adventurer sheets filled out?”

“Except for the phobias,” Jason said.

“Damn it, I was hoping he’d forget about that,” Lorelei teased.

“Oh yeah,” Chris said, and pulled out the oversized D100 from his dice drawer. The weight of it almost felt ritualistic, laden with power, like it was an ancient talisman of ultimate chance. Chris handed the D100 to Damien.

“Roll it in full view, so we know you’re not fudging the roll,” Charlie said.

Damien grinned as he rolled the die between his palms. He let it fly into his notepad, and it bounced off towards the centre of the table. The number on the upward face elicited snorts of laughter and cries of nice.

“69!” Damien exclaimed with a whoop.

Chris was busy looking up the phobia table in the Adventurer’s Handbook. He chuckled to himself when he saw what Damien’s phobia would be.

“I’m going to preface this by saying that I’m going to allow this, purely because you suggested this rule, and it’s going to make your life hell.”

“Dude, you can’t say who submitted the rules!” Damien protested, but Chris didn’t worry about it. Damien had already needed to translate his chicken scratch, so everyone knew.

“Dvarg Marrowbane suffers from pogonophobia,” Chris said. “The fear of beards.”

“Oh, come on!” Damien said, but the rest of the table roared with laughter.

“How the fuck am I going to play as a dwarf who’s afraid of beards?” Damien asked.

“Add a straight razor to your equipment list,” Chris said. “I’ll give you that for free.”

“I can’t! Look here!” Damien showed his adventurer sheet to Chris. “Part of my power comes from the necromantic focus band I’ve got hanging from the big braided bit of my beard!”

Chris chuckled. “That’s even better. I can’t go against the will of your own dice roll, Damo.”

Damien mumbled under his breath, but he scribbled down the phobia in his traits list. Chris took pleasure in his discomfort, and felt just a little bit bad about it.

Lorelei swallowed nervously. “Okay, give me the D100. My turn, and I get two phobias, right?”

“You got it,” Chris confirmed.

“Hold up,” Jason said. “I think this is a bit backwards. If you roll low on your ability score, you’re already at a disadvantage, and you’re adding a phobia – another disadvantage – on top of each low roll. Why don’t we give Lorelei the opportunity to take one phobia, and another penalty of a different kind?”

Chris considered this. Jason was right. A low roll was already a punishment, and two low rolls that resulted in two debilitating phobias might be a bit much. Lorelei’s stats weren’t looking good. Her constitution and wisdom were sub-10.

“Okay,” Chris said. “I’ll tell you what. Lorelei can take one phobia, and she starts the game with absolutely no gear, or she can take two phobias.”

“No gear at all?” Lorelei asked. “Not even clothes?”

“Lorelei does have a tendency to get her kit off. In-game, I mean!” Charlie said with a grin.

“I’ll start off starkers if it means I only need to take one phobia. We’ll find some gear pretty early on, I’m sure,” Lorelei said. She rolled the D100 around her palm before rolling it into her dice rolling tray.

The die landed on 86, and Chris laughed to himself as he found the accompanying phobia.

“Aphenphosmphobia,” Chris said.

“What the heck is that?” Lorelei asked.

“The fear of close personal relationships and emotional attachment. The fear of emotional intimacy,” Chris replied.

Lorelei grinned. “I can work with that! That actually works really freaking well with my character’s backstory… Have you ever known a dragon to form emotional bonds with anything? They’re proud, vain, and solitary. To think that she’s actually scared of intimacy actually gives her a depth I hadn’t thought about.”

The wind whipped up outside the house. Tree boughs bent and creaked under the force of the storm.

Another flash of lightning, with an even louder clap of thunder exploded through the house.

The windows rattled in their frames, and the lights flickered on and off momentarily.

Chris winced and excused himself from the table. He headed into his office and tested the LED rope. It illuminated his desk and bookshelves, and he looked wistfully at the couple of books he’d written and self-published.

None of them had done well, and after a furious two years of work his epic fantasy trilogy fizzled like a wet sparkler. It still sold a copy every couple of weeks, and the reviews that trickled in every couple of months were super positive, but he hadn’t made enough money to justify continuing on with the series at the expense of his day job. In the end, that’s what it had come down to. He could either keep on working, or he could quit his job and take the plunge.

Chris had never been the kind of guy to step off the ledge without a parachute, so the thought of quitting his job without a safety net scared the willies out of him.

One day he wanted to write another book, but he liked being able to pay the bills. Now that he had a mortgage, he couldn’t risk losing his house. Writing those books was more of a vanity project to prove that he could do it, that life in the world of user acceptance testing, build releases and bug fixes hadn’t completely destroyed his creative soul.

Role-playing with his friends scratched that same itch to build worlds and shepherd a ragtag bunch of misfits through them. The benefit of tabletop role-playing versus writing stories is that you could bring friends to tabletop, and Chris had never done well with isolation.

Chris looped the LED rope around his forearm and looked back at his Bane of the Fallen King trilogy with fondness. He might write another book one day, but that was a far-off thing that might never come to pass. He switched the light off in the office and headed back to the table.

A flash sheeted the sky, and a dull rumble followed. This storm was massive, and it was only just beginning. Chris fed the LED rope out around the play area. It wound in between notebooks filled with handwritten notes, freshly filled out character sheets, haphazardly placed hand-painted miniatures of monsters and mountains of dice.

Chris took his seat at the head of the table and sighed with happiness. He switched the LED rope of lights on, which made the whole table glow with a cool luminescence. It really did look magical. “Okay, are we ready to start?”

A flash of light, terrible and close, erupted in the sky above. The crack that followed threatened to split eardrums. The lightning formed a bridge from earth to sky, connecting Chris’s house with the infinite forever beyond the clouds. The lightning surged through the house and into the room where Chris and his friends were about to begin their Beasts & Bastions campaign. The almost limitless power raced through the LED light rope, and everything that was ceased to be.

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