This is a manticore, from Nolzur’s Marvelous Miniatures. I really like this sculpt.
As my friend Jon, creator of the Tale of the Manticore podcast, is about to bring his first epic quest to a close; I thought I’d dedicate this miniature to him. I’ve hyped Tale of the Manticore on this site before (and likely will again). It’s an old-school rpg/dark fantasy podcast that’s not really like anything else. The perfect blend of storytelling and roleplaying, and it’s great to listen to when painting miniatures. You can find it anywhere you find podcasts.
Although I’m reasonably happy with the paint job on the manticore, I’m pretty meh about the base. I was in a hurry ( I had to get SOMETHING done, for Christ’s sake), and I didn’t put as much attention into it as I would like. It needs something, like the bones of a victim, perhaps…
Monster May(hem) continues apace, with many talented contributors both out in the blogosphere and on Instagram. Here’s the blogroll:
Jeremy, aka Carrion Crow; from Carrion Crow’s Buffet, has begun work on his Straw God from Crooked Dice miniatures. (Jeremy, you should absolutely check out Azazel’s work on those Ghostbusters devil-dogs! Link below.)
Matt from PM Painting started things off with a Queen of Hell, then moved on to an avatar of Hastur, then to some Hell Hounds, then a Tomb Tapper, a Rock Troll, a swarm of Muccins and a Chaos Dragon Ogre! (He’s really lagging behind this year…)
Azazel from Azazel’s Bitz Box has completed a Burrowing Horror, a Byakhee, some Earth Elementals, a Spawn of Ungoliant that has to be seen to be believed; and those cool demon dogs from Ghostbusters! Way to go, Azazel!
Dave from Wargames Terrain Workshop (aka “Mr. Star Wars”) started with a pair of wampas and a Tattooine sand ape, then scratch-built a purrgil; then switched it up and painted a gibbering horde and a chaos spawn. Then he went back to Star Wars for a Tattoine sand bat, a scratch-built blurrg and (my favorite) a scratch-built Ziro the Hutt! Outstanding!
Tom from over on Instagram painted a “corrupted were-deer”, a werewolf, a gibbering mouther, and…something else… (a little help here, Tom). It’s a CMON miniature and it looks like a mosquito man…
and a few newcomers to Monster May(hem) this year:
Fellow Super Mission Force enthusiast Jon from Jon’s Hobby Desk, has begun work on a Glottkin, a big Nurgle-beastie!
Simon, aka Blax the Kleric, from Fantorical Wargaming, has completed the Straw God from Crooked Dice (that same one Carrion Crow is also working on), and has also finished another Crooked Dice miniature: the Giant Ape!
And Malcolm, also from Instagram, has painted a Reaper basilisk and a Nolzur’s wyvern! Cool stuff!
Please check out all these wonderful hobbyists. Visit their sites, drop them a comment or two, or just introduce yourself and say hello. The main reason I host this challenge is because it’s fun; but it’s also a great way to show support and inspire and showcase the work of other people!
I’m still hoping to get at least one more monster miniature done by the end of the month…fingers crossed!
“For no one, no one in this world can you trust. Not men. Not women. Not beasts. This you can trust.”
Conan’s father was right, of course. Blades before bros, babes and beasts every time. Sadly, he was just another wise man who was torn apart by dogs. Such is life.
The year of pop culture continues! For my character of the month, painted for Tom’s #paintanadventuringparty over on Instagram, I decided to paint a barbarian. Not just any barbarian: THE barbarian. I present: Conan of Cimmmeria, born on a battlefield, destined to wear the jeweled crown of Aquilonia upon a troubled brow.
This is “The Cimmerian (FTF07)” (also labeled as “barbarian with sword”), a classic Ral Partha sculpt from 1984. I have probably had it since then, but I never got around to painting him until now. Wish I knew who sculpted it. My best guess would be Dennis Mize.
I could have just painted him bare-chested (as is the barbarian’s wont); but I was inspired by the body paint from Conan’s raid on Thulsa Doom’s temple, arguably the coolest part of the Conan the Barbarian film (a movie with a LOT of cool parts).
One of the best things about the movie is the amazing soundtrack; which I absolutely listened to while painting the miniature. It’s so great!
I made sure to add the blood splatter from Conan’s many kills; but I seem to have forgotten to add blood to his sword. Maybe he oiled it just before the slaughter.
Here, Conan explores a temple and discovers a strange inscription. What could it mean?
So, to recap: this miniature ticks a lot of boxes for me: he’s my character of the month, my entry for Tom’s IG challenge, he’s a pop culture miniature AND he’s old-school lead!
Continuing the year of Pop Culture, I figured I’d dip in the world of Fantasy Literature; a genre that grabbed me tightly as a kid and has never once let go.
Of all of Michael Moorcock’s Eternal Champion material (and there’s a shitload of it), the only tales I read were his Elric stories. I just reviewed the chronology, and it seems I’ve read most of the main sequence of tales up until the end; but I didn’t read much of Moorcock’s later Elric works that took place at uncertain points in the main timeline. I have a weird relationship with Elric of Melnibone. I read the stories at an age where I didn’t have the maturity to fully appreciate them. I recall loving almost everything about the character of Elric (albino sorcerer with a soul-sucking sword) but hating every story he was in. I found them incredibly boring. (I think I need to reread them, but I got rid of my old paperbacks a long time ago. I just found out they’re going for $75 bucks each on eBay. What the actual fuck?!)
Elric is by far the most famous of Moorcock’s characters; the original emo anti-hero. He was angst-ridden and emotionally tortured long before it was cool. He’s the disaffected prince of a dying race who sees the end coming and laments it. He’s a drug-dependent sorcerer who makes deals with demons because…why not? Eventually, he finds Stormbringer, a magical sword of great power that gives him vitality and formidable fighting skills and feeds upon the souls of its victims. Carrying a sword like that is never a good idea, and (spoiler alert) Stormbringer is ultimately responsible for the destruction of everything Elric cares about.
I’ve had this miniature for a long time. It was in one of the first orders I made when I got back into miniature painting around 12 years ago. Bronze Age had the John Carter stuff, so I added this figure to it and it’s sat there in the blister all this time. This is the “Elf Anti-Hero”. He (deliberately, I think) looks a bit like a certain albino Eternal Champion, so that’s who I painted him as.
As stated above, he’s also only one incarnation of Moorcock’s Eternal Champion archetype, which is so fucking confusing I’ll just reproduce what Wikipedia says about it here: (The Eternal Champion is…) an appointed paladin of Balance who is bound to exist in each and every world and age of the Multiverse, so that Law and Chaos are perpetually kept in check. There are about thirty different Eternal Champion characters, and I couldn’t give a shit about any of them. I get the feeling it’s probably somewhat incomprehensible, and although I would give Elric another go to see if my opinion has changed with maturity, I just don’t have the energy to really get into anything else. To be honest, looking at the sheer volume of characters and series, I’d have to be way more of a Moorcock fan than I am (which is to say not much) to even attempt it.
Still, the fact remains that Moorcock has influenced a lot of writers who have come after; and was a huge influence on the development of Dungeons & Dragons. In fact, the characters from Elric were originally included in the very first printing of Deities & Demigods, along with Cthulhu and other Lovecraftian entities, before Chaosium got the rights to both and put out their own games (Stormbringer and Call of Cthulhu, respectively).
He’s definitely pop culture, that’s for certain.
I’m trying to publish a bit more regularly; so if you are a casual visitor to Dead Dick’s Tavern, don’t be surprised to find more than one post waiting for you on your next visit. I make no promises about how long that will last; but for now I have a few things in the pipeline to get to. Up next is likely a return to the Enterprise-D, for what I hope will be the last prose post before I actually start the gaming part…
A brief interlude from Star Trek for my Character of the Month, and to show off my mad organization skillz, brah!
For Tom’s #paintanadventuringparty challenge over on Instagram, I present my Character of the Month from Ral Partha: The Cloaked Assassin, by sculpted by Bob Charrette, from their Fantasy Adventurers range (03-058).
I’ve had this fellow for thirty years or so; another occupant of my pile of shame that I never got around to painting. He was, however, primed white, so I must have at least intended to paint him at some point. I primed him black over the white before I painted him this time, however.
I’ve never been a big fan of putting assassins in adventuring parties. In my mind, assassins should be either adversaries to the PCs or something else entirely, not a character class. Why would an assassin go on an adventure? They have a pretty limited skill set: they know how to kill people. Wouldn’t it make more sense for them to stick to what they’re good at? Garroting someone in an alley seems far safer than kicking down a door in a necromancer’s crypt and fighting his undead minions, doesn’t it?
So, let’s call this guy a thief instead. Or rogue, if you prefer the current nomenclature of D&D 5E.
This was my painting desk up until a couple of months ago. Although you can’t really see them, most of my paints sat on a pair of old spice racks. These cheap plastic racks were not designed for paint (duh), and I often had the annoying chore of picking up paints from the floor, where they had fallen between my desk and the wall after being knocked over or jostled from their precarious perches on the too-narrow racks.
Something needed to be done, so a new rack was constructed from XPS foam. This one measured the entire length of my desk and was designed to fit flush along the wall. The shelves were intentionally made wide enough to accommodate multiple rows of bottles of all different types, from dropper bottles to pop-tops to even the dreaded (and hated) old-style Citadel twist-off paint pots.
Here’s what it looks like now. Although I would have been content to just slap together some pink foam and use it as-is, my better half flatly refused to even consider such a stupid idea and wouldn’t allow it. She painted and wrapped the whole thing in adhesive shelf paper, so now my paint rack looks like it’s made of solid marble.
I love it. No more falling paint pots. Room for all may paints and then some (which just means I will fill the space eventually). Naturally I took photos because I know it will not look like this for long. So far I’ve managed to keep it tidy.
But wait, there’s more! I decided to take this opportunity to organize my gaming closet, too. So, here it is!
Thirty-plus years of roleplaying games on the left side.
Board games and RPG boxed sets in the middle.
More board games, miniatures games and terrain (including a Mighty Fortress!), and collectible card games on the right (last played circa 2004 or so).
Last but not least: the pile of shame; or as I like to call it: the Insanity Pile. Old miniatures, new miniatures, abandoned projects, projects I know I will never get to but won’t say are abandoned, projects I intend to get to one day, and projects I will actually work on. The plastic cases at the bottom hold Owen’s miniatures; the white boxes on the second shelf are mostly Heroclix, and all the shit you can’t see behind what you see here is mostly bitz on sprues and unopened armies and units for 40K and WFB. On the Naya rack is unpainted Plasticville scenery and most of the High Elf Army I’ll never get to. And of course, on the top are all my old-school miniatures, some painted, some not. The plain cardboard boxes hold various projects, including what I have left from last year’s order from Wargames Terrain Workshop!
Gotta say, I like this organization thing a lot. This stuff was all over my basement, and I got tired of hearing about it. I took these pictures to remind me what it’s like to be responsible and put away my toys.
They also make it clear that I really need to get rid of stuff.
For Fembruary, and also for my Character of the Month, I chose to paint a Sandra Garrity classic from Ral Partha: Arianna Moonshadow, Enchantress.
I decided to paint her as a druid instead, She’s got a belt made out of animal teeth, so why not?
I have had this miniature since she was released (sometime in the early 90’s would be my guess). She been unpainted all this time, so I’m making good on my plan to use Tom’s challenge as an excuse to paint some old-school miniatures. Plus, I love me some Sandra Garrity!
It’s been a hellish month at work and I’ve just kicked off a Lamentations of the Flame Princess campaign; so I haven’t had much time to do very much hobby-wise. But expect a flurry of posts soon as I endeavor to catch up!
I’m getting a slow start on 2022, mainly because my painting desk is in complete disarray as I look for a better way to organize the paint racks of doom. Still, I’ve managed to paint a couple of miniatures this year so far, one of which is my Character of the Month for Tom’s (@the_goodground) painting challenge over on Instagram. If you recall, Tom came up with the completely original idea of painting one miniature each month of an official Dungeons & Dragons character class from the 5E Player’s Handbook. Well, who am I to turn down that kind of challenge? It’s pure genius!
Of course, anyone taking part might be tempted to write a complete backstory for the miniatures they paint in a challenge like this, but not me. I’m content with simply painting my miniature and showing it off, thank you very much. Who has time for back stories? That way lies madness.
I decided Tom’s unique painting challenge is a good excuse to paint up some old, classic lead; something I have long chastised myself that I do not do enough of. So, I’m starting things off with a classic Ral Partha miniature from their AD&D Dragonlance line: 11-073, Lord Gunthar uth Wistan, Knight of the Rose and Grandmaster of the Knights of Solamnia. (Sadly, I don’t know who sculpted this miniature.) Both of those honorifics are simply fancy titles for what Lord Gunthar is, at heart: a human fighter.
That’s Lord Gunthar on top of the dragon, there; in pretty much the only picture I’ve ever seen of him. This was from the 1985 Dragonlance calendar and was painted by the great Larry Elmore. Lord Gunthar is a guy in plate armor with a huge mustache. He isn’t described much differently in the books, and he isn’t a primary character. (On a side note, although I love Larry Elmore as much as any kid who grew up in the 1980’s playing Dungeons & Dragons does; I’m not wild about the dragon in this picture. I think he looks kind of insectoid.)
Anyway, the picture doesn’t really help much, since most of Lord Gunthar’s body and his rear are not depicted. The miniature doesn’t include the dragon, either; so he’s far less impressive than he is in the painting; and it’s not exactly faithful to the image (although it’s close). So, I had to wing it a bit.
Here he is: The Grand Master of the Knights of Solamnia: Lord Gunthar uth Wistan, who should be about a 15th level fighter or so. If you want to read his backstory (but why would you?), you can read the original Dragonlance Chronicles. Or, skip that and find the abbreviated version here.
The miniature is fine, I guess; but the Knights of Solamnia are renowned for having highly stylized and ornamental armor. Lord Gunthar’s armor is kind of plain. Even his scabbard is unadorned. Not really living up to the whole Grand Master of Knights look.
I think I will enjoy this challenge a lot this year. I had fun painting this classic miniature and I’m looking forward to doing more.
Well, I did it. I wasn’t always on time, but I managed to get all 12 Dungeons & Dragons character classes painted, along with backstories (mostly), over the course of 2021. I figured I’d do a quick recap with handy-dandy links to review all my characters before my next post, in which I will discuss my 2022 Resolitions and my plans for Dead Dick’s Tavern in the coming year.
While all the core classes are here, I opted only for “classic” D&D fantasy races. Upon looking at these, I see that Humans, Elves, Half-Elves, Halflings, and Half-Orcs are all here. (I can’t believe I somehow forgot to include Gnomes and my favorite fantasy race of all, Dwarves. How’d that happen?) Newer gamers may notice I ignored most of the current races utterly. Thus there are no Aarakocra, Aasimar, Dragonborn, Genasi, Goliaths, Kenku, Kitsune, Tieflings, Tortles, Tabaxi, or fucking Warforged represented here, among others. That’s tough shit. I chose what I chose. The reason for this is simple: I don’t like them.
If you like the abovementioned races and any I didn’t mention, and feel that my exclusion is an injustice and affront, feel free to make or submit your own Character of the Month (see below). I get it. I’m old. I dislike the new stuff. I don’t understand the youth of today. You may even think I’m a racist because I don’t like Harefolk. But, since none of the races above, including Harefolk, actually fucking exist, I’m not too concerned about it.
Anyway, here’s the recap, month by month:
January: Kurn Velden, Cleric (War Priest; Avatars of War) Shortest backstory. I was finding my voice.
4. April: Doval Lakatos, Bard (Rupert Carvolo, Piper of Ord, Privateer Press) Probably my favorite miniature of the year, for obvious, bagpipe-related reasons.
5. May: Darl Mandos, Sorcerer (Del Briarberry, Halfling Wizard: Reaper Miniatures) One of my favorite stories, featuring the dastardly Tom the Winker.
6. June: Berjotr Skaldisson, Barbarian (Barbarian Axeman of Icingstead; Reaper Miniatures) Based loosely on a friend’s character, also a fun story to write.
7. July: Sarapen Moonsilver, Druid (Juliana, Herbalist; Reaper Miniatures) I get the most compliments on this one, probably because of her base.
8. August: Reverend Mother Mara, Paladin (Mother Superior; Reaper Miniatures) I took the inspiration from her backstory from an article I read (in Dragon, I think) about a character who evicted undead from a family manor by posting the eviction notice on her shield and clearing house. Always thought that was fun.
9. Chloe the Rat, Ranger (Vermina, Rat Queen; Reaper Miniatures) My least favorite miniature and backstory. Just didn’t seem to come together for me. YMMV. She was also late.
10. Bak Mai, Monk (Ogre,Wizards of the Coast D&D Silver Anniversary Collection) The backstory wrote itself. I like the miniature, too.
11. Karsa the Unbound, Warlock(Dark Elf Sorceress, Games Workshop) Another late one. Painted on time, but the backstory was a tough slog.
12. Braska Triskelion, Rogue (Deadly Gamesman, Black Scorpion Miniatures) One of the miniatures I’ve owned the longest; I was glad to get him done. Painting black and white is kind of boring and tedious, though.
The biggest challenge I ran into with this…uh…challenge was writing the backstories in time. Sometimes they came pretty easily (Aramise Del’Arco, Bak Mai); others weren’t so easy (Sarapen Moonsilver, Karsa the Unbound). Lucky for me, this isn’t going to be a problem going forward.
Turns out my buddy Tom (who used to have a blog but doesn’t anymore) is going to host this same challenge on Instagram this year. I told him I will take part, of course; but that I am going to use it as an excuse to paint some old-school lead. I will post my submissions here as well, so expect a lot of Grenadier and Ral Partha miniatures to show up at Dead Dick’s Tavern in 2022. The character backstories are a pain in the ass, though, so I’m not going to bother with them. I know this may make some of you sad (which is actually quite flattering), but the time spent on them is a factor; and I just don’t have it.
Anyway, hope this recap allows you to quickly revisit your favorites or check out any you may have missed. New post soon on plans for 2022!
No one ever enjoyed playing games with Braska Triskelion; but everyone hated playing against him. That’s because no matter how much grace one may possess, no one likes to lose all the time, especially to the same opponent. Braska had a hard time keeping friends, but he acquired enemies easily; or as he preferred to call them, “sore losers”. Easy enough for him to say, because he didn’t really know what it meant. He didn’t understand how it felt to lose, sore or otherwise; because Braska Triskelion never lost at anything.
From early childhood, Braska Triskelion had an obsession with games. He preternaturally grasped and mastered the rules of any puzzle, riddle, contest or match; whether of skill, wit or cunning. Though possessed of extraordinary agility and coordination, Braska was not robust. Despite this, he occasionally played at sports and other physical pursuits, though he did not enjoy them. He was nevertheless always able, through his disciplined mind, to employ superior tactics or devise some winning strategy for his team.
Vast wealth came quickly and easily to him. With his abilities, he was able to make a killing in both the gambling houses and in professional contest circuits around the world, all in record time. By the age of twenty, Braska Triskelion was fabulously rich, with more wealth than any one of the sovereign rulers of the land; and more than many of them combined. But, as is the case with those who breathe the rarified air of being the undisputed best at what they do, Braska Triskelion was bored. He decided to get a job.
He hired himself out as a gamester and puzzle-solver extraordinaire. No opponent was too skilled for him to lay low, no riddle or conundrum was above his talents, no trap beyond his ability to defeat. He charged exorbitant prices to those who could afford them, but he was known to apply his skills and wits to any problem or challenge, free of charge, if it interested him enough.
In Evalaux, he negotiated the Puzzle Maze of Durwald D’Orsay, a trap-filled abattoir of mythic renown responsible for the deaths of countless daring adventurers; and claimed the fabled Ruby of Carmina from within. It took him less than one hour. In Mornellorn, he bested the Gynosphinx Volira in a riddle battle that lasted two days, most of which were spent in silence as the monster contemplated (with increasing frustration) the solution to Braska’s opening (and only) riddle. She guessed wrong. In Isoq, Braska stunned the Sultan and his entire court when, after a sumptuous welcoming feast, he opened the fabled Tomb of Ab-Vorath after gazing at the complex diagrams on the door for less than five minutes. The tomb had defied the wisest of Isoq’s viziers, the most determined tomb-robbers and the bravest of adventurers for centuries. In Thord, Braska Triskelion played Hnefatafl with the Storm Giant Gymir, rumored to be the most cunning and skilled ever to play the game, and defeated him five times.
In a row.
By the age of forty, Braska Triskelion had enough quatloos in his treasure hoard to be the envy of dragons everywhere. His name and fortune were known across the Ten Kingdoms, and naturally, there were attempts to take what Braska Triskelion had won for himself fair and square. Although he didn’t care much for his fortune (how much can one man spend, really?), Braska did care about fair play. He never cheated at any game or contest he took part in, and he felt that if anyone was going to take his treasure, they would have to get it the same way he did. By winning it.
Thus, he took measures to protect his hoard.
Braska’s private Island, Windisle, was an early prize he had won by betting the famously-dour Duke of Cornedayl that he could urinate all over his throne room and make the Duke thank him for it afterward. There is no record as to how Braska accomplished this; but his ownership of Windisle, long a territory held by the Royal Family of Cornedayl, proves that he did. Windisle is an inhospitable place encircled by the Reef of Shattered Ships. There, high upon the Cliffs of Vexation, Braska constructed a vault which he named the Toy Box; a multi-level dungeon filled with traps and deadly monsters, summoned guardians and magical wards. He hired the best guards: veteran warriors, mighty magic-users and cunning assassins, and paid them handsomely. And he placed his treasure within its walls.
Now, any who want the fabled wealth of Braska Triskelion have only to take it; either by braving the death trap that is the Toy Box, or, if one doesn’t wish to risk almost-certain death, by beating Braska in a fair contest. Any game will do, but you only get one try.
Take your shot. Braska Triskelion hopes you succeed.
He’s genuinely curious to know how it feels to lose.
For my final Character of the Month for 2021, I chose to do a Rogue. Of course, I didn’t have much of a choice, as it was the only character class I hadn’t done yet. Braska Triskelion is, of course named after the classic Star Trek episode, The Gamesters of Triskelion, in which Kirk, Chekov and Uhura are forced into gladiatorial combat for the amusement of a trio of disembodied brains, who wager quatloos on the outcome of the contests. It is unclear (and never explained) how disembodied brains would enjoy winning (and presumably spending) money.
Angelique Pettyjohn is also in the episode.
“Braska Triskelion” is the Deadly Gamesman from Black Scorpion Miniatures. I’ve had this miniature for almost 12 years. I was going to use him as a crazed, game-obsessed nobleman in my D&D 3.5 campaign; then I was thinking he’d make a cool supervillain for Super Mission Force. Either way, I never got around to painting him until now.
That’s it for my Character of the Month challenge, and that’s it for 2021! Up next, my 2022 Resolutions.
Dead Dick’s Tavern is a sight. Looks like I left the tap dripping, and the scent of stale beer has mingled with the smell of cobbler’s wax, sarcasm and vomit. Looks like someone threw up in the corner. Wasn’t me (this time). I’d say I must have overlooked that on my way out; but TBH I didn’t really feel like dealing with it back then, and I didn’t expect to be gone for over a month. Guess what? It’s still here.
It is nice to be missed, though; and apparently my uncharacteristic absence from the blogosphere was concerning enough that a couple of you reached out. Thanks for that. I am fine, just buried and beset at all sides by real life stuff.
I’m back now, though; with a new Character of the Month. This time, it’s a Warlock.
Put simply, she would not be owned.
Karsa was six when the armies of the human Duke invaded her forest, destroyed her home and enslaved her people. The Duke put most of the elves to death, as he correctly feared they would never stop resisting the yoke of bondage until they were free. Elves were magical, ancient, and quite dangerous; and they live very long indeed. Why take the chance? The children, though; that was another matter. Most were sold into slavery. A few were given as gifts to other nobles. Others died, either from neglect, starvation or from an overwhelming sense of hopelessness. But not Karsa.
Karsa found herself the possession of Melek, a wizard; one who had done the Duke a service once and asked for her as payment. The Duke acquiesced, assuming Melek wanted Karsa for the usual, depraved reasons old, evil men want young girls. But Karsa was spared that much, at least; for whatever dark magics Melek practiced had left him unmanned, if not physically then practically. He had no base interest in her, even as she grew to be uncommonly beautiful, even among a race as known for beauty as the elves. For several years, Melek used her as a mere house servant. She chafed and rebelled as best she could. Each time she did, he made her suffer for it; but in her mind, at least, she was her own master.
Although he used her as such, Melek did not require a servant. His true intentions were quite specific: it was her blood he wanted. The blood of an elven maiden is a powerful arcane reagent; one used in magics and rituals most foul. Melek bled her regularly to obtain it; and, although he could have done so painlessly, he made certain to make it hurt as much as possible, for such was his cruelty. Karsa endured this and all his other petty torments, vowing one day to be rid of the old man one way or another.
Melek was always keen to acquire more power at any cost; thus his experiments and rituals turned from the hermetic, which he found too slow, to the demonic, which promised quick (if costly) reward. In preparation for a grand summoning, Melek bound a lesser demon–a quasit named Raze– to his will. For a time, Raze joined Melek in tormenting Karsa; for Raze had no other diversion when not assisting his master. Like Karsa, he was Melek’s creature and he could not strike back at the wizard directly; but Raze soon formed a plan to free himself from Melek’s control. For that, though, he would need Karsa.
It was quite simple. Melek was to summon Belphegor, Lord of the Pit, to bargain for more power. The circle was drawn. All that was left was to anoint it with Karsa’s blood; freshly acquired; something he would do the following night, at the time of summoning.
If Karsa was no longer a maiden by then, Melek would not likely notice. But Belphegor certainly would.
Raze put the proposition to Karsa. If the summoning ritual was sabotaged, Melek would meet a grisly fate; freeing both Raze and Karsa from the wizard. Although the thought of Raze touching her horrified and revolted her, she would endure that and more to be free. She agreed. “Then, it is done.” said Raze, practically dancing with joy. Karsa prepared herself for the worst, but Raze looked at her with amusement. “Be assured, elf-girl,” the quasit said, “the mere thought of us coupling is as repugnant to me as it is to you. Mercifully this bargain of ours has no need for physical consummation. It is enough that you consented willingly. You are no longer of any use to Melek.”
It may seem that Karsa had made a bad bargain; that with Melek’s death, Raze would be released from bondage. When that occurred, what was to stop him or Belphegor from doing what they wished with her? The grinning demon thought he had hoodwinked her; that the miserable elf-girl knew no better.
But he was very wrong. Karsa was no fool, and she had a plan of her own.
The next night, all went as planned. So intent on his ritual was Melek that he didn’t take the customary pleasure in bleeding Karsa as was his wont, nor did he notice anything different about her that would give him pause. Anointing the circle with her now-tainted blood, Melek summoned forth Belphegor, Lord of the Pit. And he paid dearly for it.
Melek had no time to realize his mistake before the summoning chamber was showered in his own blood. His body died quickly and brutally, consumed in seconds by the ravenous demon lord. His soul, however, was doomed to eternally suffer all the tortures a Lord of the Pit can devise; and those are many indeed. Still, Belphegor was far from sated. Ignoring the cackling quasit, it saw the elf-girl for the first time. But something was wrong. She was not cowering in fear as expected. Rather, she met it’s gaze defiantly, without flinching. She wanted something of Belphegor.
The demon lord was intrigued long enough to stay its hunger. “Ask,” said Belphegor.
“What was Melek’s bargain?” she asked.
“Melek pledged to serve me body and soul until his death, in return for the powers I will bestow. Then, he was to be mine.”
“I will make the same bargain with you as Melek sought. With one provision.”
Belphegor considered. It was free and uncontrolled. There was nothing stopping it from simply devouring the elf girl here and now. In fact, the thought was somewhat appealing. But she would live much longer than that fool Melek would have; and they could do so much together over so many years. In the end, she would be Belphegor’s, too. There seemed no good reason to refuse.
“Name your condition,” it said.
Karsa turned and stared at Raze coldly. The quasit had been watching this exchange with interest, but now realization dawned. In a split second, he remembered every insult, slight and suffering he had inflicted upon Karsa.
“Wait! Raze started to beg.
“Done,” said Belphegor. Then the quasit was no more, his existence utterly obliterated by Belphegor’s will. “You are mine, now, Karsa. Body and soul.” With that, the demon lord disappeared.
Karsa took a deep breath. It would appear she had traded one form of bondage and servitude for another. Why, then did she smile?
Put simply, she would not be owned.
Karsa was no fool. In exchange for great power, she was bound to Belphegor for the next several hundred years, until her death, when she would be eternally at the demon lord’s mercy. That meant she had several hundred years to use the power to find a way to destroy Belphegor, or perhaps some way not to die.
Karsa is a pretty famous miniature: the original Dark Elf Sorceress from Games Workshop, circa 1998 or so. I never played Dark Elves, and I never bought this miniature. Rather, it was a gift to me from a relative who lives in England. She came across it in an estate sale, of all things. It was still in the blister when she sent it over the water to me.
Astute observers may note that once again, I am late for my Character of the Month. Rest assured, Karsa was painted back in November with days to spare, but I had no time to write her backstory before the end of the month. November stretched into December, and here we are. It’s a good thing I don’t miss deadlines like this in my professional life, or I’d be out of a job.
So, what’s to come? Well, I have one more Character of the Month to do before the end of the year; and it’s one of my favorite D&D classes, to boot. Plus, I’m gonna try to do a very special Christmas AAR, just because I haven’t done one in a while. Traditionally, December is my month to clean up the Side Pile; but to be honest I’ve been so busy with other stuff I don’t know if I’ll be able to do that this year.
Oh, and I’m turning 49 soon. Imminently, in fact.
I asked one of my (younger) employees today: “Remember when Amazon only sold books?” Then I asked her, “Remember when Amazon was a rain forest in Brazil?”
Master Leung, head of the Brotherhood of Long Winter, had reached his eightieth year, and tradition held that a new Master must be selected from among the most skilled monks of the temple. Although a great tournament would be held to determine the new Master, Leung was certain it would be Pupil Wu, his most senior student, who would receive the honor. Pupil Wu would receive the sum of Master Leung’s knowledge; would read the secret sutras and learn the final, hidden techniques of the Brotherhood of Long Winter. Pupil Wu would become Master Wu, and would carry on leadership of the Order in the traditions of the centuries of monks that had come before. Of this Master Leung had no doubt.
Yet, before that, a tournament must be held; for so it is written in the sutras that prospective applicants must pass the trials and prove their worthiness to become Master. Thus, in accordance with tradition, the Temple gates were opened to receive visitors; those who would serve as spectators to perhaps the greatest display of martial prowess in all the land.
Everywhere there was a palpable sense of expectation and excitement for the coming contest. For days prior to the tournament, peasants, nobles, warriors and monks from other traditions all arrived at the temple, braving the mountainous terrain and the bitterly cold winds. Just before the closing of the gates, one final traveler arrived. His features were hidden beneath cloak and hood, but that did nothing to disguise his great size. In a soft, yet firm voice that belied his massive bulk, he demanded to take part in the Tournament of Long Winter. He would compete to be the new Master.
Master Leung frowned. Although there had been instances of monks from other monasteries competing in the tournament, it had not happened in many generations. Besides, this man did not look like a monk. Leung ordered the traveler to remove his cloak and hood, and the traveler complied; much to the shock and outrage of all assembled. The traveler was an Uroku, one of the savage half-men of the mountains! In times past, the monks of the Long Winter had hunted the Uroku and driven them deeper into the lofty peaks and crags. Old as he was, Master Leung had never seen an Uroku. He was shocked to learn one could even speak.
“My name is Bak Mai,” he said, “and I demand the right to compete in the Trials of Long Winter.” Nervous laughter and gasps of outrage greeted this announcement from the throng of spectators. This…thing…was not a monk. It wasn’t even human! How dare it demand anything? The Uroku was immediately set upon by the monks of the temple. He knelt calmly and bore the blows of their staves without resistance, all the while staring defiantly at Master Leung.
Master Leung was nothing if not familiar with the traditions, and nowhere in the sutras did it say that a competitor must be a monk, or even human. With obvious reluctance, Master Leung told the monks to cease their assault. He allowed Bak Mai to enter the tournament of Long Winter, much to everyone’s astonishment.
After all, thought Master Leung, entering is not the same as winning; and there was no possibility of this beast winning the tournament.
After the first day of the tournament, Master Leung began to feel a sense of disquiet. Bak Mai easily placed first in all the Trials of Endurance. Although two monks lost their footing and plummeted to their deaths, Bak Mai was first to scale the Cliff of Woe, and did so with startling ease. He remained under the frigid waterfalls of Tessen Lake for far longer than the other monks, three of whom froze to death in the icy waters rather than concede defeat. He knelt on hot coals without complaint or injury for a full hour while they piled heavy stone weights upon his lap and shoulders; even though twenty-five minutes was the most any of the monks could endure; and several would forever carry horrific burns that might never fully heal.
The Trials of Combat were held on the following day; and the outcome was not even close. Bak Mai chose no weapons with which to complete. Instead he dressed in bits of the armor and raiment of the soldiers and monks that hunted and harried the Uroku in years past. The monks and spectators were outraged by Bak Mai’s affront, but their mutters and protests were quickly silenced as Bak Mai soundly defeated every monk who stood against him in combat. The force of his blows was terrifying, like a thunderclap atop a high hill. Many monks were killed, many more forever crippled. There seemed no way to defeat the Uroku, and Master Leung began to feel something he had not felt in decades: panic.
That night, Master Leung meditated upon his dilemma. Tomorrow was the final Trial: the Trail of Wisdom. Traditionally it was a test of the monk’s problem-solving abilities, knowledge of the sutras and creative thinking. It was always held as the last trial of the Tournament of Long Winter; when the monks would be at the limits of their physical and spiritual strength. Only Bak Mai and Pupil Wu remined to take part in the competition. One of them would be the new Master. Leung repressed a shudder at the thought of the Uroku leading the Brotherhood. He had to ensure Pupil Wu won.
Master Leung considered the problem of Bak Mai. There was no way the Uroku could know the sutras as Pupil Wu did; and yet, he would have said there was no way an Uroku could have placed first in the Trials of Endurance and Combat, defeating every monk that opposed him. Bak Mai was an enigma; worse, he was a serious problem. He threatened centuries of tradition. Master Leung had to make certain that whatever test he set tomorrow, Pupil Wu’s victory was assured. He meditated for hours, until the once-tall candles were guttering pools of wax. Then, he permitted himself a smile. He knew what he would do.
The next morning, Pupil Wu and Bak Mai knelt on tatami mats in the main courtyard, surrounded by crowds of spectators and those monks who remained. Small writing desks had been set before them along with brushes and ink. Master Leung spoke from atop his dais. His voice rang out loud and clear in the early morning air. “The Trial of Wisdom shall consist of but one task,” he said. “Draw a snake.”
Here was a task any child could perform, thought Master Leung. He had no doubt the Uroku could draw a snake; but it fell to Master Leung to decide who drew the best snake. It was a matter of opinion: his opinion. No matter how artistic Bak Mai may be, he had already lost.
Bak Mai reached for his ink brush and selected a sheet of paper. Pupil Wu blinked in confusion, then did the same. He watched as the Uroku hunched over his sheet and began to draw. Pupil Wu did the same. He drew a basic squiggle with a head. He was finished, he thought; but then he looked over and saw Bak Mai was still drawing. What could the Uroku be drawing? Perhaps he was adding scales, or coils. Perhaps he added the flicking tongue, or the poisonous fangs. His snake was probably far better than Wu’s. Sweating, Wu began adding all these details, only to find Bak Mai was still drawing. Desperate, Pupil Wu added more and more…
“Enough!” called Master Leung. “Present your drawings!”
Bak Mai held his picture aloft. It was a basic drawing of a curved line in the shape of an S, with a circular head. A child’s drawing of a snake; but an obvious snake, nothing more.
Pupil Wu felt ice on his spine as he realized that Bak Mai had certainly drawn this in seconds. There was no reason for him to labor so long on a drawing so crude. He was pretending, hoping that doing so would provoke Pupil Wu into making a mistake.
And it did.
Flushing with embarrassment, Pupil Wu revealed his drawing. It was an extremely detailed snake; or it would be, if not for the tiny legs Wu had added. He had seen Bak Mai drawing for such a long time, he panicked and began adding all manner of embellishments and details. Unfortunately, he added too much. Not even Master Leung could pretend that snakes had legs.
A silence settled over the courtyard. Everyone waited to see what Master Leung would do. Everyone except Bak Mai. He leaned over and regarded Pupil Wu’s drawing critically.
“That’s not a snake,” he said.
Bak Mai is an Ogre from Wizards of the Coast. I found him in a plastic bag along with a bunch of other miniatures I acquired in a Craigslist buy several years ago. To be honest, I forgot I even had him. He was not easy to identify, but thanks to R Strickland on The Miniatures Page for the assist.
I wish I could take full credit for writing Bak Mai’s Trial of Wisdom; but it’s a variation on a legendary martial arts fable: “Don’t Paint Legs on a Snake.” It means don’t waste time adding useless embellishments to something that is perfectly adequate as it is.
As some of you may know, a big fucking storm blew through New England a couple of days ago; leaving half a million people in Massachusetts without power. Guess who was in that group? While putting a standby generator on my house was one of the best things I ever did, I had it wired to power necessities like my furnace and my well (heat and water are nice to have). Sadly, the painting cave didn’t make the cut, so I lost a few days of painting time. That means my entry for Dave Stone’s Apocalypse Me challenge might be a tad late…
The good news is that this guy serves as both my Character of the Month for October (not late, like last month) AND my entry for ORCtober! Sure, he’s technically an ogre, but I painted him as an orc (in case my clever use of “uroku” went unnoticed) ; so does that count? I say yes.