Out of Character

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Aliens of La Mancha

Our friend Joelle Mellon wrote a short story for a contest sponsored by  It is about some strange creatures from another world who stumble upon Earth and have a close encounter with Spanish wine. I thought it was funny, and she wanted to share it with our readers.  So, without further ado:

Aliens of La Mancha

Glog had been piloting his ship all night, but reluctantly, he pressed the navigation stick steadily down to the floor, causing the craft to land.

“Are we finally home?” his wife demanded, “We only have one bottle of Ikoe left!”

He knew they should have packed more. Glog and Xemvahr derived all of their nourishment from alcohol-based beverages, just as plants photosynthesize sunlight.

“I’m afraid not, dear,” he ventured, timidly.

“I told you to let the ship drive itself, but would you listen?” she demanded, “Where in Drahkt’s name are we?”

“According to the navigation module,” he said, squinting, “We seem to be on — Earth. Specifically, Spain. Even more specifically — La Mancha.”

“Why does that sound so familiar?”

“Not sure,” Glog replied, “Something from intergalactic broadcast?”

“That’s it!” she exclaimed, “The film from that Earth director with all the bright colors, remember?”

“Oooh, yes,” her huband agreed, “Almodovar.”

“Almodovar,” the ship’s computer repeated in a monotone, thinking that the shouted name had been a request for entertainment. Almost instantly, it queued up Volver and began playing it on a screen.

“We know there’s alcohol here, anyhow,” she said, “Let’s go find some.”

Xemvahr, ever the more practical of the two, took the precaution of strapping the last bottle of Ikoe to her belt, in case they didn’t find anything suitable to drink soon. At the push of a button, the ship’s hatch opened, and the two aliens ventured out into the night. She led them toward an area where the most lights seemed to still be twinkling, assuming that would be their best chance at finding some drinks. Soon, they came to a friendly looking cafe with the words,

“La Fabula” emblazoned over the door in silver script. Several tables had been set outside on the sidewalk. Hurrying over to one of them, they zeroed in on two half-full bottles of wine, which had been mysteriously abandoned by their owners.

“Tempranillo,” Glog read aloud.

Tipping the bottle into his mouth, he was filled with a sense of unabashed pleasure as the wine warmed and filled his translucent body. Almost immediately, he turned a deep shade of burgundy red. If just a mouthful was this much more nutritionally efficient that Ikoe, he realized, what remained in these two bottles would keep them going for weeks.

“Malvar,” his wife pronounced, reading her label.

She swallowed, and a pale golden color suffused her, almost seeming to make her glow with happiness. After a moment, however, an expression of concern settled over her features.

“We don’t have any local currency,” she said.

An hour later, one of the cafe employees came outside to bring the tables in for the night. Much to his surprise, he saw that a full bottle of some exotic blue liqueur had been left behind.

“Hey,” he called back into the restaurant, “I think Manuel’s been ordering some weird stuff again. Want to try it?”


To find out more about the competition and explore the idea of Spanish wine tourism, be sure to check out:


Binary Shell Game

This is a dramatic retelling of the events of our first ever game of Twilight Imperium. I hope you all enjoy it it, and please check out Twilight Imperium if you get the chance.

Left unchecked the L1Z1X Mindnet launched a steady campaign against the systems bordering their own. Their dreadnaughts drew ever closer to the center of the unprotected center of the galaxy, as one world after another fell silent in the wake of their fleets. Far from Null the Federation of Sol launched a series of assaults on neighboring systems. As the ranks of their armies began to swell the race that had precipitated the Twilight Wars dreamt of expanding the borders of their new empire. Caught between two rapidly growing military powers the Universities of Jol-Nar turned towards science, placing all of their faith in technology, as they had in the past. They ventured out of the systems they’d already occupied cautiously as the improved their ships armaments, shields, and engines.  The Emirates of Hacan sought to secure new alliances through commerce, and as a result their ships were a welcome sight as they carried more trade goods than soldiers. Far from the resources and influence of the rest of the galaxy the Mentak Coaltion and the Xxcha Kingdom pressed inwards from the edge of space establishing new colonies along the way.


The Xxcha claimed a newly discovered wormhole while attempting to establish peaceful relations with the neighboring L1Z1X Mindnet. At the same time the Mentak Coalition entered a profitable alliance with the Emirates of Hacan. The two races established mutually beneficial trade contacts after assurances were made that the pirates would not harass the Hacan’s ships.


In a daring move the L1Z1X Mindnet laid claim Mecatol Rex by surrounding the planet with a sizable fleet. Cybernetically enhanced soldiers established a garrison within the last habitable city on the planet’s surface. A token force of occupation, as the Winarran who’d acted as stewards for centuries had no will to fight, and Mecatol Rex fell without resistance. Next the L1Z1X turned their fleet’s attention towards the Xxcha. Caught unprepared by the violent assault the diplomats took up their defense with far more fervor than their gentle natures suggested they could possess. An experimental space station orbiting the Xxcha’s home system destroyed many of the L1Z1X’s ships as the rest of their fleet struggled to push back the invaders. After a long and bloody conflict the Xxcha had been driven out of their home system, the survivors escaping aboard the handful of ships still at their disposal, cut off and trapped behind enemy lines.


The Galactic Council rang with cries of outrage at these unprovoked acts of aggression even as the L1Z1X Mindnet continued to occupy Mecatol Rex. A fleet of pirate vessels under the command of the Mentak Coalition broke through the blockade destroying the L1Z1X’s fleet around Mecatol Rex in a decisive battle. Inexperienced in ground warfare the pirates were reluctant to leave their ships and were content to form a blockade of their own for a time before claiming the planet. Resistance fighters from Xxcha, and further raiding by the Mentak Coalition shattered the lines of the L1Z1X fleet leaving them scattered and severely weakened.


Pressuring the Galactic Council the Xxcha also maneuvered other species and utilized their remaining influence to disrupt trade throughout the galaxy. In the midst of hurried negotiations new battle lines were drawn. The L1Z1X Mindnet retreated to Null unable to maintain their hold over the worlds they’d taken from the Xxcha.


The Federation of Sol and the Universities of Jol-Nar had steadily increased the sizes of the fleets and armies, drawing steadily closer to one another’s borders as they expanded. Inevitably this resulted in a massive buildup of ships along their borders. As the galaxy watched anticipating further violence the Federation of Sol launched a surprise maneuver diverting a large number of their ships through a wormhole. The anomaly brought them out on the opposite side of the Jol-Nar’s territory and alongside of the remaining Lazix. A clear flanking maneuver in place the Federation seemed poised to launch a massive assault on the Universities of Jol-Nar, but they’d failed to anticipate the actions of the L1Z1X. Desperate, driven to the edge of extinction, and with a sizable fleet still at their command the forces of the L1Z1X Mindnet launched a surprise attack on the Federations ships. As battle was joined the Universities of Jol-Nar unveiled their newly completed war sun and drove it to the borders of their space.


After the clash of the Federation of the Mindnet’s fleets the space around Null was adrift with the wreckage of ships from both sides of the conflict. Although the odds had favored the Federation in the initial conflict their victory had been a costly one, and they turned their efforts towards crushing what remained of the Mindnet’s fleet. Their war was a brief but dire conflict that left the L1Z1X with virtually no defense, and the Federation’s invasion force in ruins.


It was at this most opportune of moments that the Universities of Jol-Nar set their war sun to work along with a sizable portion of their fleet. They set to pushing their borders outward, expanding into Federation space steadily. Seeing the attack fleet they’d already set to work, and the line of ships occupying other outlying systems the Mentak Coalition struck at the Jol-Nar’s rear cutting them off from reinforcements. The pirates sowed chaos throughout the space under the control of the Universities of Jol-Nar before their assault ships were destroyed.


Meanwhile on Null the Emirates of Hacan utilized a wormhole to facilitate and invasion of their own. They carried out numerous invasion attempts and orbital bombardments hoping to exterminate the remaining members of the Mindnet, but yielding little result. Although they commanded a sizable fleet, the largest and most intact in the galaxy at that time, their ships were better suited for trade than war.


Trapped on the surface of Null, and with no hope of rescue the L1Z1X Mindnet chose to reveal their final ploy before the Galactic Council. It seemed their soldiers on Mecatol Rex had not been idle during their time there. They’d used the opportunity to implant a computer virus that by now had spread throughout the galaxy. Threatening to use the virus to disrupt economies, warfare, and other vital systems they held the governments of the other great races hostage. Faced with a threat similar to the one they suffered during the Dark Years their leaders knew they might not survive a second period of such chaos.


Convinced that they could undo the machinations of the L1Z1X Mindnet the Universities of Jol-Nar petitioned the Mentak Coalition to allow their ships to land in force on Mactol Rex. Fearing they would exploit the same trick the L1Z1X had in order to seize power the pirates refused and opened fire on the advancing ships. Faced with a war sun the fleet that had once liberated Mecatol Rex from the L1Z1X was destroyed by the Universities of Jol-Nar.


Ultimately the Galactic Council voted to grant the L1Z1X Mindnet rule over the galaxy so long as they did not leave their home system in force, or raise any great fleets as they had in the past. Now the Mindnet finds itself in much the same position as their predecessors. Trapped on a devastated world with a tenuous grip on power, and surrounded by enemies. As stability settles over the galaxy once more the question of how long the L1Z1X Mindnet can remain in power is unanswered.

The Hands of the King

In times past the warrior kings of Winged Mountain wrought a great empire with sword, shield, and bow. One after another they lead their armies in an endless campaign that seemed destined to swallow up all that lay on the horizon. Victories bred further victories and as they conquered rival kingdoms one after another until there was no one left to challenge their rule.

In battle the warrior king’s right rule had gone unchallenged in the lands they conquered, but peace proved an entirely different set of circumstances. Years of war had left the farmlands in ruins and starvation ran rampant across the continent. The warrior kings had funneled every able bodied youth into their armies and smithies, and a result generations of craftsmen had been lost. People huddle in crumbling ruins and struggled to recall skills that they had abandoned after taking up the blade.

Warlords rose in droves and bands of desperate warriors roamed the countryside without mercy taking what meager possessions others still clung to. Monstrous creatures rose out of the darkness and feasted on the flesh of defenseless people without fear of reprisal. From his stronghold atop the Winged Mountain the last warrior king looked out upon the ruins of his kingdom knowing that his line had wrought nothing be desolation and despair.

Clerics from across the sea had watched the disastrous events through rituals and they heard the cries of the people. Their vows to their deities compelled them to act, but even with all of their power they could not hope to quell the unrest. They chose instead, to act through an emissary, and appeared before the last warrior king. He was offered the chance to save his people, and to rule in wisdom, but he was forced to take a solemn vow to never again shed blood or take a life with his own hand. He swore that he would make no war, unless it was in the defense of his people or his kingdom.

The clerics forged gauntlets that were fitted to the king as a symbol of title, and to bind him to his oath. With the cleric’s aid he drove the forces of darkness from the land, and they established order. The lands the warrior kings had conquered were divided up among the most worthy, to be ruled justly and wisely.

The king of the Winged Mountain sat in his fortress and learned to be a king whose strength did not come from the tip of a blade. When he died his gauntlets were passed onto his son, and so they have been carried down through the royal line for centuries. Whenever the king’s need is great he will remove his gauntlets and gift them to a worthy champion who will be granted the strength of ten men and the wisdom to do what is right.

Many adventures have followed these champions, and the Hands of the King as the gauntlets are called. They have been carried into battle, lost, found once more, and worn by kings who have faced mad sorcerers, dragons belching flames and ice, and ogre invaders. The Hands of the King are strong and they have yet to fail when worn by a champion of the Winged Mountain.

The Hands of the King
Wondrous Item
Grants whoever wears them a +10 bonus to their Strength score and a +10 bonus to their Wisdom score. The wear also has advantage on all Strength checks, Athletics checks related to pushing, pulling, or lifting, Strength saving throws, and unarmed attacks. The Hands of the King can only be worn by someone in the service of a true monarch. They are possessed of an intelligence and wisdom garnered from centuries of monarch’s who’ve worn them.

The Dresden Files City Creation: Creatures, Trolls

Since Pittsburgh has hundreds of bridges of varying sizes I thought that it would be a naturally place for trolls to congregate inf far greater numbers than almost anywhere else in the world. So here we have a description of trolls in the Dresden Files universe and a brief piece of fiction based on the work of Jim Butcher.

I opened one of the plastic bins I use to store most of the spell ingredients I keep downstairs out of sight. A lot of this stuff isn’t dangerous, but there are a few items I’d rather not have to have to explain if the police come to pay a surprise visit. The instant I opened the drawer the smell of the dried ginger root cleared my sinuses and fought off the faint mildew smell of the lab.

“That’s ginger root. You need thyme for the potion.” The glowing eyes occupying the otherwise vacant eye sockets of the skull resting on a shelf across the room were glowing brightly.

“Says you.”

“Yes, says me. Unless you want to mix up some hair growing tonic instead of an invisibility potion you should listen.”

I took the ginger root out of it’s drawer dangling it out in front of the skull giving me a sour look from across the room before I dropped it into the gym bag on the floor. I also took some thyme out of the next drawer and threw it in while Bob was busy muttering in Latin. I zipped up the bag and dropped onto the chair in front of my worktable.

“Where were we?” I picked up the legal pad and pencil that I’d discarded and looked up at Bob’s shelf.


I rolled my eyes and tapped my pencil on the table doing my best imitation of a disinterested teenager. “I know all about trolls Bob. They’re big, they’re strong, and they’re dumb. As long as I don’t cross too many bridges I don’t think they’ll be a problem.”

“Harry there are almost five hundred bridges in Pittsburgh.”

The pencil rolled across the floor of the laboratory and it sounded much louder than it should have thanks to the echo. “Damn. Any advice on how I can deal with them?”


I reached up to the shelf in front of me and pulled down one of the less ragged looking paperbacks in sight. The skull rolled to the left and tried to pin the book in place but he was a second to slow. I set the romance novel down on my worktable and the writhing red head in a green dress on the cover smiled up at me. I leaned down and waited a few extra seconds before picking my pencil up and looking up at the shelf. Bob’s glowing eyes flickered as he looked down at the book and he managed to produce a long suffering sigh.

“Trolls have acute senses, much more so than most people realize. Their hearing is so highly tuned that loud noises can drive them off some times.”

I slid the paperback into place on the shelf and I started jotting down notes while Bob ran through a few formulas for spells that would help me avoid having my head torn off by a troll.

Trolls are the biggest and most physically powerful creatures that habitat Pittsburgh and they have used the city as a breeding ground for hundreds of years. They are incredibly strong and resilient but their lack of intelligence often puts them at a serious disadvantage when they are confronted by quick witted prey. Even though they aren’t rocket scientists trolls should not be confused with comical morons.

Under the Unseelie Accords trolls are no longer allowed to claim any mortal who enters their territory as their next meal. They do still have claim over naughty children and many innocent youngsters have fallen prey to these enormous predators. Hungry trolls often bend the laws to suit their appetite and claim more than their fair share.

The trolls of Pittsburgh are unusual in that some of them choose to live in clans, usually they are highly territorial and will not tolerate any other trolls within their realm. This may be due to the sheer size of many of the bridges in Pittsburgh which allow for much more space than one troll would traditionally claim. Even so the largest of these clans number between five and seven family members at the most and fights are common. Adolescent males are driven off to find their own territory by the dominant male or they rise to claim their patron’s territory from him in some cases.

All of the clans and individual trolls yield to the authority of the troll king of Pittsburgh. This station is passed from one troll to the next by right of combat. The reign of a troll king is usually short lived as the greedy nature of their species drives them to fight one another very often.

Pelor’s Torch



A while ago when I started running Dungeons and Dragons for a group of teenagers at my local library I wanted to come up with some interesting lore for Madthorn Forest and West Briar. I love nursery rhymes and fairy tales because they’re an interesting piece of every culture so I tried to come up with one that would work in my setting. Since West Briar is mostly populated by humans, and many of them are farmers, I thought that something to honor the god Pelor might be a good fit. I also love myths and stories that explain natural phenomenon so I decided to write something about the sun.

“Pelor’s Torch, burning bright,
Warm our days and chase the night,
By your light we till the soil,
By your leave we rest from toil,
When your embers hang above our heads,
Let them conduct us to our beds.”

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