Forgotten Realms: Modern

One of these days, I intend to run a Forgotten Realms: Modern campaign, which is set in 2010s DR, more than five hundred years after all the events of the setting we’ve seen thus far.

Nations like Cormyr, Thay, Luruar, and the Sword Coast States exist in a constant detente–a delicate balance of power, much like our own world and the FR we all know and love.

Magic mostly exists these days as fuel for transit and basic life support (heating homes, growing food, etc., like how we use oil in our modern world). There are plenty of people who claim to be wizards, but most “magic” wielded by people comes in the form of limited use items or sleight of hand. Most adventurers are martial types, though there are still monastic traditions.

The gods are by-and-large absent, outside of some odd cults that believe in ancient stories. There are several world religions, which all worship a female divine figure who has various names, but she tends to be pretty similar in the various religions.

The folk have, by and large, forgotten the realms of wonder . . . until a young woman with raven hair manifests silver-white fire from her hands, and magic returns to the Realms.

You in?

Rise to This – Jan 2017

So we’re less than 12 hours from the inauguration of the worst president in American history, and here’s the thing.

It’s not about him. I don’t hate Trump. I pity him. Same for those who support him–and particularly those he will pay back with pain and suffering. Yes, all 60 million of you. But don’t take my word for it. You’ll see soon enough.
And the only people in government who will be fighting to help you? The democrats–assuming they get their act together.

A lot of people out there saying “you’re just whining because we won, liberals!” But the fact of the matter is, there is no “we.” Trump won by suckering you, and if you aren’t one of his cronies or a millionaire, you lost. And again, you’ll see what I mean.

(You voted against your own children. That, I’ll never understand. Sigh.)

I’m neither whining nor liberal. This is the man our screwed up electoral system picked. Despite his many cries of it being rigged against him, the system elected him. It shouldn’t have, but it is what it is.

It’s not about Trump. 

It’s about us.

Now is the time to rise up and protect ourselves and those less fortunate than ourselves. Trump is coming for our rights, our economy, our non-white, non-male, non-rich, non-straight, disabled, and/or minority neighbors. If we can protect them, we have the responsibility to do so. Not just the ability or privilege, but the responsibility.

Because with power comes responsibility.

We have a duty to rise to this.

The world sucks sometimes, and that’s when we need to rise to the challenge. 

And for those who listen but don’t hear me–because you think it’s ok, or Trump will help you, or that you won something–well, you’ll see soon enough. And when you’re ready to join us in resisting this tyrant con man and his posse of thieves and rapists, then you will be welcome.

And maybe I’m wrong. Maybe it’ll all work out for the best and my fears are entirely unfounded, despite everything Trump has said and done throughout his life. And really, I hope I am. But until I’m proved wrong, I will stand vigilant and I will protect my rights and those of my neighbors. Because I’m an American and that’s what Americans do.

To all, stand up, keep moving, protect yourself and your rights. Don’t give up.

Rise to this.

Existential Morality: No God Required

A little bit of religious philosophy for your Monday.

Often, I come across the argument, advanced by theists (i.e. people who believe in one or more divine beings, usually in an American context we’re talking about Christians), that morality is somehow contingent upon the existence of God. Basically, if God doesn’t exist, then there’s no reason to be good–in fact, “good” and “evil” aren’t even real things!

Let’s give this some simple examination.

Theistic Moral Argument:

“God has to exist, because if God doesn’t exist, then we have no standard for morality! It’s all down to individual preference, and what’s to stop people from indulging their base impulses? If someone’s attracted to a child, why wouldn’t they act on those urges? What’s to stop people from murdering each other?”

The logical response:

So let me get this straight: are you saying that if you ever determined that God doesn’t exist, you would become a murdering, raping psychopath?

Because I wouldn’t.

And while that might not be what you’re saying, that’s what the above theistic moral argument entails: that without God, there is no standard of morality.

And that’s just not true.

It’s a logical fallacy called “begging the question” (i.e. assumes as a premise what it’s trying to prove). It assumes that God is the only source of morality in human experience.

And that’s a pretty empty way to look at the universe.

My morality doesn’t require the existence of a divine being to hand it down to me.

So where does non-religious morality come from?

Logic and reason are more than enough to figure out morality, and my morality starts with this:

Do no harm. Ask for consent. Respect others’ autonomy and basic humanity. Do good.

I think we can all agree that these are pretty standard moral principles. Does one really need them printed in a holy book?

How did the Greeks, for instance, establish morality? They’d never heard of the Christian God (predated its very conception, in fact), and their own concept of divinity was hardly morally perfect. They believed in deities that were great and powerful but also venal and fallible.

And yet they had concepts of justice and goodness vs. cowardice and evil.
And how are there good people in the world who don’t believe in God? Or people in the world who DO believe in God but still do evil things?

Thinking that a divine being must be the source of morality–or worse, a *particular* divine being–is a foolishly reductive argument. It’s also dangerous, because if you build no solid moral system for yourself, then when you have a crisis of faith (and we all do), then you will have no guiding principles.

Tying morality to religious doctrine is a recipe for societal ruin.

My Personal Context

And to clarify: I was raised in the United Methodist church and currently identify as a Christian agnostic.

Not because I’m not sure whether God exists, but because it’s ultimately not relevant.

One should live a good life, being good to others and doing right by humanity, whether God exists or not.

One shouldn’t do good things out of the hope of a reward (that’s a hollow, selfish reason to do good) or avoid doing evil things out of fear of punishment (that’s a hollow, selfish reason to avoid doing evil).

One should do good things and avoid doing evil things because it’s the right thing to do, because the world becomes a better place for all when we do good and avoid evil.

What if I’m wrong?

So what if I’m wrong, and there is indeed a god who disapproves of the way I live my life, and I end up condemned to some eternal torment?

Note that this god 1) refused to clarify exactly how to live in accordance with divine will, so as to avoid eternal torment (seriously, there are thousands of options out there—a loving god couldn’t have pointed out the right one, if it was that big a deal?), 2) continued to allow humans to live in constant fear and anxiety about existence, 3) throws people into hell because they didn’t do what they didn’t know to do.

I don’t know about you, but I’d define that god as an evil god—which is pretty far from any reasonable conception I might have—or at least as a vapid, ineffectual deity at best. A bad, alcoholic parent, who inflicts a radically elevated punishment for comparatively small slights you didn’t even realize were bad. Hardly a deity worthy of worship.

And, here’s the thing. I still lived a good life, doing good to people and to the world. If a god is going to condemn me for that—especially after not telling me the right way to do things—then there was no realistic way I could have avoided my fate. If I’m doomed anyway, then at least I did something good and useful with my life.

Cheers,
Erik

Further reading: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Secular_morality

Rise to This: 2017

Last year was an awful year.

This? This is a new year.

It’s yours. Make the most of it.

Create. Absorb. Learn. Adapt.

Strive. Struggle. Achieve. Fail.

Examine your faults and your perceptions and your preconceived notions.

Fix your shit.

Get knocked down. Feel the earth beneath you. Then get back up.

Seize this year by its horns and refuse to go quietly.

Rise to this challenge.

Be safe and stay the true course.

Do what is right.

Rise to this.

Cheers,
Erik

Secret Liaisons: A SotB story

I’m writing a story for an anthology on Kickstarter right now, called SISTERHOOD OF THE BLADE: a set of Three Musketeers-era stories that adds three awesome women to the intrigues and adventure of 17th century France.

sotb-cover

Sisterhood of the Blade (Now on Kickstarter!)

 

How best to advertise it, you ask, other than just tell you that awesome premise?

Here’s the first part of my story for the anthology!

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Secret Liaisons

By Erik Scott de Bie

Padgett was drunk.

Specifically, she was the kind of ill-mannered drunk that gave rise to the sort of ill-conceived words, ill-tempered actions, and ill-timed observations that quickly exacerbated delicate situations.

She knew this about herself due to experience—she’d grown up around soldiers, after all—and because all of those ill-fated things had befallen her over the last hour. Hence her exile from Salon Delorme and into the alley, there to cool off and ponder the folly of her course.

Mon dieu,” Padgett said under her breath, the words slurred into some intoxicated monstrosity that was anything but godly. “Whatever came over you, you silly little girl?”

“Eh,” said a voice near at hand. She saw a flushed, elderly man dressed in filthy rags near the back entrance to the Salon. She’d not noticed the beggar at first, but she certainly saw him now, including the half-empty bottle of dark red wine he extended in her direction. “Mademoiselle, si vous plais.

Merci beacoup.” She accepted the wine with a little nod. The wine was thin and tart and did little to relieve the churning frustration in her gut. Padgett cursed herself again. “Stupid, stupid, stupid!”

To his credit, the beggar declined to address his newfound companion’s inward deprecation and instead took back his bottle without a word. They shared a companionable silence for a moment, while Padgett mourned her misfortunes with a series of quiet lamentations and castigations. After another swig, the beggar handed her the wine with a gesture that made it clear she needed it more than he did.

This, Padgett swore, was the last time she would drink quite so heavily when—

The back door of the Salon flew open with such violence it struck Padgett painfully in the shoulder and knocked her staggering into a puddle. She spilled most of the wine, partly on herself.

As she got her bearings, down on hands and knees, Padgett watched as a group of men flooded out of the doors and hurried past her down the alley. There were six of them, all clad in obscuring cloaks and feathered hats against the mild Paris rain. Two at the front led a third, who was bent over, head down, wrapped head to toe in cloth to obscure his face, while three took up the rear. Men of arms and action, Padgett realized: one passed close enough for the hard leather scabbard of his sword to brush her leg.

Padgett couldn’t say why she shouted after them. Perhaps it was wounded pride—though falling in the puddle couldn’t be worse than what had come to pass in the Salon—or perhaps simple frustration. Perhaps she was itching for a fight. Regardless, she called after them angrily.

“Ay!” she said. “Ay, I see you! Don’t think I didn’t!”

Padgett didn’t expect her shout to work, but the group of cloaked men abruptly halted and exchanged looks and quiet words. The two escorting the stumbling, drunken man between them continued on their way, while the other three turned back toward Padgett, their expressions hard. She got a better look at them now: poorly shaven faces, low-class clothes, but each of them armed, hands on the pommels of their rapiers. The way they moved bespoke bladework training, and it set her immediately on her guard.

No simple patrons, these. And outnumbering her. And she without her sword.

Padgett spread her hands. “Now now, no quarrel, si vous plais,” she said. “Nothing meant by it, monsieur et al.”

The lead man stopped and looked down his nose at her. “What is that, a woman?”

The others snickered. Padgett realized she’d left her coat hanging open to her well-muscled belly, and she fumbled it closed with a scowl. Her fiery red hair had pulled loose from its bun, too, from the locks hanging in front of her face. The good lord had seen fit to endow her with an annoying set of features that tended to complicate things. She’d never really understood why breasts made so many men take her less seriously. Their problem—not hers.

“I shall forgive your indiscrete tone this once,” Padgett said. “You have the honor to address Padgett of the Sisterhood. I’d stand down, monsieur, were I in your boots.”

Her implied threat fell on ears hardened of hearing by many years of masculine bravado, no doubt. “Pagette?” the leader asked. “Little servant girl, non? What do you serve?”

“Padgett,” she corrected. Like as not, the nuance was lost on these knaves. “Last chance. Stand away.”

The leader barked in mirth. He had a braying sort of laugh, like something between a hyena and a mule. Padgett didn’t like it one bit. Her mind was running through how to put all three on the ground.

“Henri,” said a second of the men. “Stop playing with the strumpet and let’s have done.”

Bless him, the beggar got up in some misguided chivalrous effort to protect her. “Non—”

The third knave drew and ran the old man through in one smooth motion, silencing his protest.

Padgett uttered a strangled protest. The blow had fallen so suddenly it caught her by surprise, even as she had assessed their skill and training already. It was the drunkenness that had slowed her, and she tasted bile at her oversight. Damn.

Not again.

She started shrieking her head off, startling all three of them.

The lead knave opened his mouth, no doubt to address her obvious hysteria, and Padgett grasped his sword even as she smashed the mostly empty wine bottle across his face so hard it splintered the dusky glass. She’d aimed for his temple, but fell short and instead split open his cheek in a shower of blood and spit. He fell aside, gurgling a moan, and she let his momentum pull his sword from its scabbard and into her hand. She discarded the remains of the wine bottle and raised the sword to face the other two, mind racing.

The sudden fury of her assault gave one of the knaves pause, and so he was half a breath behind his companion in reacting. Padgett stepped to the side, closer to the man rushing toward her. He was the one who had killed the beggar, so it didn’t surprise her that he was fast on the assault. Stronger than her. Faster. Superior reach and armament: rapier and poniard, good for parrying.

Still screaming, Padgett waited until just the right moment, then fell low to the pavement and set her borrowed sword in a long stop thrust. She landed with unexpected grace, considering her level of drunkenness, and her attacker was too close in his overconfidence to pull aside. The sword sank into his belly, and he blinked down at it, startled. Falling suddenly silent, Padgett seized the opportunity to push his sword out of the way and shove him away with one booted foot. He slid off her sword to lie wailing and groaning on the cobblestones as she faced the third of the knaves with sword at the ready.

“Remember,” she said to the third man, slightly hoarse from all the screaming. “I gave you a chance.”

It was then that the man with the mocking laugh tackled her quite unceremoniously against the wall across the alley from the salon. The rapier clattered from her fingers and she fought to keep his hands from her throat. She’d deprived him of his arms, but his big hands were quite sufficient as they pummeled her sides and clipped her head. She dodged only by chance and accident, then turned her head when he drooled blood all over her face. She couldn’t bring the sword to bear. The last knave on his feet was stalking toward them, sword singing into his hand.

“Cut me, will you?” the leader asked, his voice garbled through gore and missing teeth. “You hellion!”

Dimly, as his hands shoved through her toward her throat, Padgett saw the door of the salon opening.

“Hellion? Moi? Non.” She nodded over his shoulder. “That’s her.”

Adina smashed the basket hilt of her cutlass across the side of the armed man’s head, sending him staggering. He flailed with his sword, but she stepped in with brutal efficiency, knocked aside his clumsy defenses, and raked it in a rising slash across his chest and the side of his throat. Blood splashed and he tumbled away from her, choking and dying.

Padgett waited half a breath until the man with the torn face looked away, then smashed her knee hard into his midsection. He fell back, gasping for breath, and she climbed awkwardly to her feet. Her uniform was a muddy, rumpled mess, but she gave it a brief brushing down.

“Took your time, non?” Padgett asked.

Adina shrugged and offered one of her big, infectious smiles. “Scream louder next time,” she said in her warm West Indies accent. “Don’t think they heard you in Versailles.”

Padgett bristled. “I’ll make you scream.”

Adina quirked an eyebrow, and Padgett blushed furiously. Not what she meant. How did she do that? Pirates.

The leader with the torn face scrambled to his feet, seized the fallen rapier, and stumbled down the alley toward rue de la Ferronnerie. Padgett and Adina shared a nod. The two women turned as one toward the mouth of the alley to pursue.

They needn’t have troubled themselves.

A third woman stepped out into the mouth of the alley, and her appearance stopped the fleeing man as surely as a blast of horns. Indeed, the faint cries and laughter of nearby buildings and even the patter of rain seemed to grow quiet as she absorbed all sound into herself. She wore her pitch-dark hair after the fashion of Parisian noblewomen, but there the resemblance ended. She had a distinctive appearance: chiseled cheekbones, severe lips, and dark eyes that were the envy of the city. Under her fur shawl, her clothes were of an eastern style, embroidered with beautiful golden and silver designs, and even though the hem trailed around her slipper-shod feet it never seemed to attract the city’s grime. She bore a gracefully curved sword in a beautiful black lacquer scabbard, the wrapped handle of which she laid graceful fingers upon.

She needed no words to stop the man—only one steely dark glance. He stood trembling, reclaimed rapier shaking in his fist.

“Yield,” said Madame Aimi Marlette in her sweet, musical voice. “And you shall be shown mercy.”

Before he had the opportunity to respond, Adina smashed the back of his head with the pommel of her sword, and he collapsed senseless to the ground.

Aimi looked up at them with distaste. “He would have surrendered,” she said.

Adina shrugged. “Now we’ll never know.”

“At least we didn’t kill all of them,” Padgett said.

“You say that like it’s a good thing.” Adina eyed the fallen man with a predatory gleam in her eye.

Padgett stepped between her and the prisoner. “The prize is safe in hand, milady?” she asked Aimi.

Aimi nodded. She was a master at hiding her emotions, but Padgett caught a hint of distaste in her expression before her face resumed its usual placidity.

“Well then.” Padgett nudged the groaning man with her foot. “Time to investigate, non?”

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Read the rest in the forthcoming SISTERHOOD OF THE BLADE anthology (on Kickstarter now)!

 

The Demons that Haunt Us

Question from a reader: Lady Vengeance is always fighting demons, but she never kills them–just sends them away, usually with promises to return and avenge themselves. 

Why do the demons always get away?

Mechanically:

1) Because demons are really hard to banish, much less actually kill. All but impossible, really.

But really:

2) The demons are a metaphor for Lady V’s past traumas, continually coming back to haunt her. At best, we can push our pain and mistakes and regret away for a while, but they’re always there–always coming back to haunt us. 

Baggage we can’t leave behind.

Check out the story in question: “Baggage,” in the https://www.amazon.com/Shadowed-Souls-Jim-Butcher/dp/0451474996

Rise to this

There are moments in our lives that challenge us, and it is how we rise to those occasions that defines us.

In our darkest moments, we have to find the thing inside us that pushes us. That drives us. The thing that lets us go beyond ourselves and do what we never thought possible.

Rise to this.

America has spoken, and the words it has chosen have been a threat. Not only that, but a promise: of retribution for perceived slights and cruelty to answer compassion. It is unlikely we will see the collapse of the United States within the next four years, but make no mistake that this is a major step in that direction. The hopeful society that has sustained us, despite its missteps and warts and at times vileness, is unraveling. It has been for decades, and now the damage is blindingly obvious and probably irreversible. It is the backlash we knew was coming for the progress we’ve made, and it’s been an awful one.

This is the challenge of our time.

Rise to it.

Those of you who still have jobs, keep doing them. Work hard. Economic recession is coming. Prepare for it. Take care of your medical issues while you still have insurance. Save what you can.

Know your rights. Advocate for them. Protect yourselves. Protect each other.

Hate crimes will skyrocket. Racism and homophobia and misogyny and every other way awful people hate each other will run rampant. Stand up to it. If you have power and privilege and standing, it is your moral responsibility to protect those who don’t.

Do not succumb. We need you. All of you.

Rise to this.

For those privileged enough to live here, western Washington State in general and the greater Seattle area in particular remain a haven for people of tolerance and compassion. I strongly urge our state government to begin enacting refugee programs to welcome those fleeing persecution in other parts of the country and also to start building a state-run health care system for when the ACA is repealed. Many of us are in need of the protections the ACA provides, and if the federal government isn’t gonna do it, then it falls to the state. We must use the power we still have to fight for ourselves.

Art remains for us, however free it will be for as long as it will be free. I will continue writing, as you should continue creating. Humans need stories to live, let alone thrive. Bear witness to this. Chronicle this.

Endure this.

Survive.

Rise.

Love and hope to you all.

 

Further Reading:

Here are some ideas of things you can do: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/if-youre-overwhelmed-by-the-election-heres-what-you-can-do-now_us_5822c7d0e4b0e80b02cdf133