Saturday, 18 March 2017

Dune Wanderers

Under the dunes a dread god sleeps, dreaming creation into existence. The desert above is hot, baked by a red sun looming large in the sky, a sun that occasionally slides down below the far horizon but never entirely into night. The brief twilight times are only a momentary rest for the rocks and sand to cool, an opportunity for the few birds and lizards in this region to emerge from their holes and scavenge for sustenance. But rising high again overhead, the sun scorches the desert with an intensity unbearable by most mortal creatures.

Vultures and lizards aren't the only living creatures that move across this landscape in these twilight periods. A lost traveler, perhaps a merchant separated from his caravan during a sand storm, stumbles across the landscape, a cape pulled up over his head to protect his face from the scorching rays of the sun. He sees movement in the periphery, usually the shimmer of heat rising from the ground, but now something different. Was that possibly a slim figure walking upright on two legs? Could it be possible he is not alone in this dry place with only the lizards he can't manage to catch and eat? Maybe a fellow mortal willing to help provide water? 

Yes, a figure, and it strides swiftly, the shimmering haze distorting any true perception of moving limbs. But blinking to clear his eyes of some dust is long enough to lose sight of the strider. Gone and maybe only a mirage, a clue that the lack of water and sustenance has lead to insanity and, soon, death. But then, unexpected, something else from just beyond the periphery leans in quickly and strikes with a sharp blade. And the blood of the lone traveler's life is drained before it can soak into the parched sandscape.

As the traveler looks up at the sky, seeing the faint points of stars in the darkest part of the celestial ceiling above, his last thought is of a memory, a time many years ago when the land was not so bleak, when the power of Chaos didn't dominate everything, and when, just possibly, he could describe the color of green vegetation.


I read Frank Herbert's DUNE series when I was in high school which was unlike any other fantasy or science fiction novel I had read up to that time. I embraced the concept of a universe where humanity had rid themselves of technology and had adapted their own minds and bodies to perform at a degree beyond human possibilities, as if they mastered a kind of magic. And I loved the Dark Sun campaign setting that came out for AD&D during that time for me which was unlike any of the previous D&D campaign settings. Gone were towering castles and mysterious forests and mysterious elves. The world was done, overbaked and ruined beyond hope or redemption. Even in the DUNE series, each heroic leader eventually succumbed to corruption and restoration of a more glorious age never materialized.

I liked the change from the usual fantasy setting: these were harsh worlds already corrupted by technology or magic, very much past the prime of a golden age. This wasn't just a place where some old castles had crumbled and legends were told of a more glorious era, inspiring a hero in possession of a forgotten artifact to set of on a quest to restore order and beauty to the world. Here everything had gone seriously wrong to a post-apocalyptic degree. The world was all but destroyed, and the denizens of the land embarked on a daily quest just to stay alive in a harsh and brutal place. There was no hope, just plain survival.

I didn't grow up playing Warhammer, completely avoided it for 20 years. When I took the slightest interest at the end of 8th edition WFB it reminded me of those classic fantasy settings, lots of fancy elves wearing tall, ridiculous hats, grimacing orks that always seem to be pushed back from destroying beautiful cities by men wearing pantaloons and ostrich feathers in their caps. And I didn't care much for the rules; they felt cumbersome and complicated, much like the myriad options and seemingly endless tables in the role-playing games I had enjoyed when I was in high school. But now, as a middle-aged adult, I wanted my fantasy gaming to be a bit simpler. And maybe just a shade darker.

The Age of Sigmar hooked me with the rules first. The rules were free to download and try out, just like the other tabletop miniature games I had recently discovered and enjoyed playing. Then the setting looks hopeful and heroic. But considering what had come just before the start of the Age of Sigmar? The Age of Chaos was bleak indeed! It was the fantasy equivalent of biker gangs in a Road Warrior movie turning everything it touched into dust. Entire civilizations were destroyed on a scale that didn't just affect one world but a number of them across epic realms.

And the Stormcast? They didn't seem so heroic to me after a little reading. These lawful good paladins have been drafted into a seemingly endless war... for eternity. Fight, die, find yourself reborn and sent back directly to the front line of battle by magic lightning bold to do it again and again and still again. No rest or relaxation, no card game to play on the transport to the front. Just battle and death and battle again with no end in sight. Despite their rallying war cries and behind their armor their souls are diminishing with each grueling campaign.

So, with all this in mind, and inspired not only by what Sean has done with the Rise of Empires campaigns but also by some of the modelling over in the AoS28 group, I've been thinking about how some of the other classic fantasy races may have fared during the transition from the Age of Chaos. Sure, the Sylvaneth have a good thing going in the Realm of Life. But what about Wood Elves in other realms or after the Chaos invasion chopped down all the trees in their magic forest and then burned the stumps and poured salt on the earth? They could have surrendered and died with their forest, but one particular tribe ran off to fight another day. And they are more angry than ever before, not to mention vengeful with a bone to pick with... everyone else.


She was found among the dunes, swaddled in rags under the shade of a stone jutting from the sand. Likely left soon after birth by a band of merchants travelling by caravan. Her ears were pointed, but the tribe of Dune Runners that found her determined she was an abomination, a product of a union between a human father and Aelven mother. So she should have been returned to the cycle of life, to end her suffering so that others might be relieved of theirs. 

But one of the tribe of wanderers, remembering a vision from drinking tainted catcus wine the night before, recognized this hopeless creature as a prophet and the savior to lead this humble tribe from a life to running, hunting, and occasionally trading to becoming masters of all they could survey. There was a destiny for this tribe, and a new order would be imposed upon this desolate wasteland.

So the young creature was christened R'bekk'ar and was reared in the traditions of the tribe; carried on the back of an adult until she could run on her own. And within a few years she was running faster than anyone in the tribe. She manifested a talent for dancing and was turned over to the shadowdancer of the tribe for training, which she drank in like a potion and soon mastered.

R'bekk'ar also dreamed of visions. She heard the voice of an old one calling to her from beneath the dunes, a voice that sometimes called during her waking moments, when she was running or dancing. The voice called her to lead her tribe to a new destiny, and at first she hesitated, believing she was not a true Aelf and that this voice must be a sign of weakness or even madness. But then she left the tribe for a period of time on the dunes when she nearly died, drank some tainted cactus water, went through that hero's journey, and then rejoined the tribe and informed them they would wander no more. It was time for action!

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