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Suddenly, you are a billionaire.

Chris Tannhauser
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Don’t ask how, precisely, as we all know that behind every fortune lies a terrible crime. You decide, almost as suddenly, to get involved in some kind of philanthropic pursuit, as it’s either that or endlessly hobnobbing with other billionaires behind triple-gated walls patrolled by ex-Mossad wetboys, and since most “natural” billionaires are stone-cold psychopaths it’s a lot like a picnic in the Large Cats Exhibit at the zoo. But philanthropy is necessarily boring stuff. It’s a lot of looking at pictures of humanity’s pest-inflected underbelly, big-eye paintings with all the whimsy flayed off, and then a literal shit-ton of administrative office work and bullet points for lawyers who couldn’t find an appropriate emoji to save their lives.

It’s exactly like regular work, only with way more zeros and the constant worry that they’ll forget to poke the holes when they kidnap your children.

You find, also, that there are only so many private islands you can yacht to on your three-helicopter yacht before you get chronic tummy trouble from watching the ex-Mossad wetboys “decommission” local fishing skiffs that drift into your exclusion zone—which is, as luck would have it, where their ancestors have always fished, ever since they ate the rival tribe whose bones hold the sand under your quadruple-decker cabana way better than any weed ever could.

And we’re going to skip the part where you snapped during a random Illuminati gala and took a caviar bone-spoon to a social media influencer whose gallery of cry-selfies somehow doubled her influence even as it made you literally the Worst Person in the World.

You couldn’t disappear if you wanted to.

It is deep in this funk, blanket over your head in the wee hours, that you thumb-scroll through the local news of your hometown, a minor burgh whose sole claim to fame is acting as the support system for an annual World’s Largest Hot Dog—when you see it: some asshole stole a little girl’s brand new pink-sparkly princess bicycle from the same birthday party where she got it in the first place. The flint of the world strikes against your soul one last time and a spark hits the tinder in the basement of your skull, bursting to a roaring conflagration of pure, unadulterated RAGE.

YOU WILL USE YOUR BILLIONS TO FIGHT CRIME.

Not real crime, as that’s small and sad and hard, requiring large amounts of undiluted liquor straight from the bottle and serial domestic violence and then death from liver failure which you can unfortunately afford to forestall with endless liver transplants from Third World orphans. No—you’re going to form a Super Team to fight the idea of crime in people’s heads, kind of like the Village People with restraining orders. You send an immediate, emoji-free memo to your lawyers...

Fast-forward to the Super Bowl. Some patriotic dirge or other wafts up to your wind-shorn face from the brightly-lit ring of tens of thousands far below the Crime Chopper. Everything’s going precisely to plan—the pyrotechnics light, the American flag carpet that’s really just people with red, white or blue pixel hats scatter from the field and Lars Snappenspine swings the bejazzled Huey UH-1 around in a steep, bladder-voiding arc that has you literally parallel with the ground where you stand braced in the open doorway. The hog rights itself sharply sixty feet off the deck, spark fountains bent away in the rotor wash, and the crowd. Goes. WILD.

“Go! Go! Go!” you scream into comms and your team exits the chopper two-by-two: Dirk Stab and Rod Hardbody snot-rope down slick as shit, roll, and come up with finger guns “blazin’”; the Chinese acrobat twins—Dong and Wang—leap from the doorway sans rigging, only to parkour off the skids at the last moment and somehow leap-frog each other all the way down, taking up position behind the others in lurid kung-fu stances; and finally, the star-spangled pair of America’s Sweethearts—White Pie and Buzz Truck, in flag bikini and denim space-cowboy outfits, respectively—sidle up to you and prepare to exit.

AND MISS THE BEAT.

“What the shit?” you shout over the thudding rotor wash.

Buzz leers at you as White giggles. “We got somethin’ new this time,” he barks, “A real show-stopper!” They then drop into some kind of funky squat in preparation for a weird, Russian kick-jig and the nexus of moments has arrived:

This isn’t in the script. These assholes are about to upstage you on your own fucking stage—everybody was supposed to get out, the chopper was supposed to set down behind them so they could frame your crime-fighting exit, and then you were supposed to whoosh out of the middle of it all with your billionaires-only honest-to-God JETPACK.

What do you do?

WHAT DO YOU DO

• Exit the chopper now to reclaim your about-to-be-stolen thunder and upstage the upstagers.

or

• Shove White Pie out to take a 60-foot, chopper-washed header into the 50-yard line.

or

• Do the subtle hand signal that simultaneously indicates Buzz Truck while alerting the nearest ex-Mossad wetboy.



• EXIT CHOPPER
Spoiler (click to reveal)
Not again. Never again. You ignite the jetpack inside the chopper, filling it with a fog of unburnt fuel and ride a guttering ball of flame out the door and into the roar of the crowd—where you are upended by the rotor wash, somehow sucked up into it, and the fabulous mechanism, remaining fuel and your biomass are all evenly blended into a chunky cloud that then combusts from within and detonates with a crowd-pleasing WHUH-BOOOM.


• SHOVE WHITE PIE
Spoiler (click to reveal)
You’d really rather shove Buzz, but he drinks too much cheap beer and eats too many of those nasty grease-sinew things you can get by the double-fistful at the gas station, so that’s a no-go. White Pie, however, while she might look substantial—with her mail-order G-cup boobs—is actually religious about barfing her dinner and has the bones of birds. It’s a simple thing to grab her by her bleached weave and overbalance her out the door, tits first. As she windmills at the precipice, Buzz shouts and lunges for her, tangling one hand in your jetpack straps to steady himself even as the other strips the insufficient bikini top right off in front of the two billion naked eyes turned toward the world stage. The three of you tumble into the suddenly silent void and your jetpack somehow ignites, powering your patriotic, bone-splintering ménage à trois straight into the ground.


• DO SUBTLE HAND SIGNAL
Spoiler (click to reveal)
The wetboy knees Buzz in the coccyx even as he snatches his chin and hair—Buzz floats outside the safety square of the doorway and as he begins to sag into gravity’s embrace the wetboy gives an executioner’s jerk through the cervical spine, effectively hanging him. Buzz drops, paralyzed, into a femur-telescoping landing. The wetboy shuts the door and gives the signal to evac, spins you expertly on your heels and straps you down just as you ignite the jetpack and fill the brief interior of the Crime Chopper with screams and regret.

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Mon Nov 27, 2017 6:14 pm
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Smoking in the Grain Silo

Chris Tannhauser
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If you're reading this, chances are good you already know what kinds of games I love—take random story elements, cut 'em up and paste 'em on cards, then give me a map and some dice and a reason to draw those cards. Because the human brain is a survival engine—pattern recognition meat—it'll connect the dots between any disparate elements presented in close proximity: hatchet, penguin, dragster. It pretty much writes itself... because we're constantly pretty much writing the world from a deluge of random elements anyway.

So. One of the best of these is Runebound (Second Edition), a hinky beast of a game, lopsided and limping and absolutely charming. Balance is overrated when it comes to adventure games—a perfectly balanced storytelling game will tend to tell the same stories over and over again. What you need is imbalance, that crazy seed crystal from which chaos can grow in unforseen ways. Emergent narratives not even the game's author could imagine. The humdrum will press you down into a mold and make you think the same thoughts until you can chant them by rote. Novelty, however, is the flammable aerosol of inspiration:

Karl the Bone Lich

Runebound Legacy
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Mon Sep 11, 2017 7:43 am
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BLESS THIS MESS

Chris Tannhauser
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Let's face it: the world is dull. Things follow related things in logical patterns of cause and effect, never straying too far from what is expected—mostly because you can't make a buck off of vigorously confluent eyewash.* What is expected must be delivered or you lose your audience. And so the drumbeat of days sees our hands on oars that must be pulled just so, and reset, and pulled again... Most entertainments fit this well-worn groove as they must; this compels me, as a writer, to strive to take readers places they've never been before—and I absolutely treasure the moments when someone else does that for me.

When it comes to the playing of games I've explored pretty much every nook and cranny of the rabbit hole, and as much as I love a rarified mind-fight—chess is about confronting your own stupidity—I have finally settled on the fact that what I value most in gaming is simple, genuine surprise. I sit down to learn things I didn't know before, for the tying of conceptual knotwork and the head-cracking rug-pulls that surely must follow. A game is only good if I walk away with a new lump I never saw coming. And the absolute best concept grinder is Talisman:


Fig. 1 — Pretty sure this is the rig William S. Burroughs used to shoot Mugwump jism.

It's a thousand-page comic book dumped into a snow blower, and yeah, I know that for most people that means a goddamn mess and maybe a paper cut or ten right in the eyeballs—but me, I'm naked and slathered with glitter-glue and after running around screaming in that four-color blizzard you can read me like The Illustrated Man.

I've always felt a certain crazed euphoria when playing Talisman, but it's only recently that I've been able to articulate what, exactly, it is about the thing that lights me up so. It's certainly not the world, assembled as it is from the nuts and bolts of standard Tolkienesque fantasy, folklore, and pilfered bits of Dungeons & Dragons; it's not the mechanisms of gameplay as those are suspect, hinky and patently "unfair". It is, quite simply, the great mass of the thing rearranged by purest chance that elevates it to art.

Through the cosmic shell game of card shuffling and dice physics the game merely suggests and our pattern-addicted brains seek to fill in the gaps to make sense of the senseless. And so we write for ourselves the worst fantasy novel ever penned, but what else you gonna read in this interminable airport lounge of not having anything else for me to do? asks your brain.

So we wade again through the dreamlike murk of these-three-things-are-one and the Spy with his 50-weasel coat and blade of ice meets a well-deserved end in a gore-streaked werewolf den where the best bits of him are fought over and flung to the walls as the little ones—just preschoolers, really—snag a wad of entrails and scamper off with unspooling coils of it before the silence of the grave can inhabit his throat—leaving only one thing standing between the hoary Warlock and the desolation of all hearths: the dusky Gypsy lass!



Fig. 2 — Please tell me that's a +5 vorpal tambourine.

She did her best Stevie-Nicks-with-cocaine-up-the-butt rage-run through the Inner Region as the Warlock squatted beneath the Crown of Command and screamed purple lighting at every last living thing, and when she finally arrived—a literal Fury—the battle went exactly as you'd expect if an anorexic sexy-Halloween costume model hit an actual grizzly bear with a real tambourine: once isn't enough, and any more than that just makes ironic music and the bear super hangry.


Fig. 3 — Honestly, things wouldn't have been much better living in an economy based on child-stealing.

I had no idea any of this was in the box and I'm pretty sure none of the designers did, either. And don't even get me started on the marketing department—I mean, what are they supposed to do with what is essentially a Schedule I hallucinogen laced with dark delights?

"All right, all right! Brainstorm time! Who is our target demo?"

"Uh, white middle-class moms, age 35 to 45, buying a toy for their kids."

Beat.

"We're fucked."

Because what's really in the box is pure, uncut surprise—and you just can't sell that shit.


*While our current political situation seems poised to deliver delicious amounts of whiplashing absurdity on a daily basis, that stuff's far less fun when nuclear weapons are involved.
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Sat Dec 31, 2016 11:51 pm
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Eleven Years Later, We Play Niagara

Chris Tannhauser
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Niagara is a beautiful children's game of environmental plunder & riverine piracy, though I'm honestly not sure how well this would work with children, as the stealing part can lead to hilarious* king-making situations.

*Actually, not so hilarious.


Fig. 1 — I chose Sayyid Billy, 'cuz he's the true Lion of the Desert.

Also, if you're making the river move by veeery carefully using your padded gaming tongs—easy does it!—to gingerly place the next river disc like it's a silicon microchip wafer and then gently—oh, so gently—moving the entire thing a millimeter-per-minute with ouija-board-planchette fingertips....


....being sure to STOP! the moment anything binds up and then analyzing the logjam with a three-votes-out-of-five redundancy check before deciding which way the river will deviate YOU'RE DOING IT WRONG.

This is a goddamned river and we are goddamned men: you have to cram the discs in like rounds through a machine gun breach at the Somme—God wants all that water over the falls RIGHT NOW, and the rocks below hunger for brains and marrow—there's no such thing as time to think when rapaciousness will have its due. No one should be able to contemplate whether or not their thieving bands will perish—it's just rush, flight and the crunch of the long work of hands and wombs in the roaring chaos below.

When in doubt, do it like an eight-year-old boy whose little brother just got the game for his birthday would do it.


Important note: You know that the native magic that allows us to control the weather didn't come from them, right? They only heard it from the Whispering Stones, the ones that predate human existence—and so when we stroke our mummified monkey paws or shake that sack of baby bones or whatever to coax water from the sky what we're really doing is widening the crack that will see an end to everything we have ever loved.
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Mon Sep 12, 2016 6:05 am
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There it is, that face.

Chris Tannhauser
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The face we'll all be making soon enough:


Me, I'm practicing that face so I can rock the Singularity like walking away from an explosion without looking back.
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Tue Mar 15, 2016 5:21 pm
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BLAH BLAH BLAH MONOPOLY KA-BLAAAM!!!

Chris Tannhauser
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Fig. 1 — That infinitesimal moment between the utterance and oblivion.

So we're doing a remodel that will ostensibly contain something like a game room (the architect included a foosball set & pool table in the 3D model, which was a nice surprise as I had no idea I was getting those, too) and we were talking with the cabinet guy about having built-in storage for games, you know, with doors to keep them from getting dusty.

"Yeah," he said, standing in front of a bookshelf of games that were not Monopoly, "and you probably don't want to see 'Monopoly' or whatever while you have guests over."

As a discerning gamer who values meaningful decisions above all else—by God, believe me when I tell you I know exactly how the Pope feels with his beringéd hand resting gently upon the tiller of the Catholic Church entire—the utterance of the M-word made me vibrate up into the petahertz range and rage-detonate into a rapidly expanding cloud of contradictory bone shrapnel and ionized gas that simultaneously peppered him with a leopard-hide of entry and exit wounds while sublimating him into a foamy person-shape, if only for a millisecond, before blowing his constituent atoms through every window in the house, as if it had suddenly been remodeled into a weird "tesseract whale" that breathes hot gas and shards of glass. In other words, every portal a barking blowhole that made the neighbors poop themselves and set off car alarms.

This, this after being told I can't have a urinal "just hanging out on the wall."
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Sat Nov 15, 2014 5:15 pm
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Turtle Head Titles: When Game Names Hang Half-In Half-Out of a Colon

Chris Tannhauser
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I understand the increasing necessity of such things—as the raw tonnage of crap games gets extruded it becomes harder and harder to find simple titles that have not already been squatted upon by games long gone and forgotten yet ever-present to Web searches.

Still, I find it enormously grating when the effort to craft a pithy title is circumvented by the long, lazy jumble of words poking ponderously out of a colon, drooping toward the bowl, making me turn away lest it break off and splash me in the eye.

Is there really no simpler way to express A Thundering Justice: The Sundering of Amethyst Station Sigma Prime? It leaves me with the same crampy sensation I got waaay back in 1983 when Metalstorm: The Destruction of Jared-Syn debuted to much 3D head-scratching. ("It's like it's coming right at you!")

I fear things will only get worse as we tumble toward the Singularity—that horribly ineluctable point where the dictionary suddenly becomes a list of trademarked products—with titles metastasizing into outsized sentences complete with semicolons, em-dashes and parentheses; then tumorous paragraphs; and finally bloating into entire tales too ponderous to retell briefly. ("Let's play Loamgasm 832 AD: The Sun Shone Lightly on the Wheat While the Bleating Sheep Preened and—look, it's that game where we're farmers again, okay?")
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Mon Oct 13, 2014 3:00 pm
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A GIANT WAD OF tiny RULES

Chris Tannhauser
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Arkham Horror, twenty-two plays later:

Fig. 1 — The bus route to Lost Carcosa is... complicated.

After an almost three-year hiatus, we rolled back into Arkham to save the world. This was a five-player game (first red flag), but luckily all of us were haggard veterans of the Unending Struggle, and so knew exactly what we were getting ourselves into.

We folded in The King in Yellow, and found that setup from empty table to first Mythos card was almost an hour (second red flag). With great dismay I remembered that I had totally forgotten this aspect of the game.

As per usual the first 90 minutes were an absolute blast*—and then we hit that massive sag in the middle where the Twinkies and Coke wear off and people keep asking, "Can I do this-and-such?" which forces me to dive into the multiple PDFs on the iFad, pecking forlornly at that awful glass, having long ago given up on the un-cross-referenced paper rulebooks. And then there are the maddeningly faulty memories of each player, where everyone has a unique recollection of just what's allowed:

"Trading ends movement."

"No it doesn't. It costs a movement point."

and

"Can you use clues in combat?"

peck peck peck

"I... dunno."

Luckily we all play RPGs and so are adept at just winging it.

Finally, after four hours, the game narrowed down to a super-exciting choke point where we just might win—but most likely lose—on the flip of a card and a roll of the dice...

Victory was ours, a single doom token away from disaster. It was like being rescued from a mine after a cave-in—despair bloomed into elation and there was a vigorous cycle of high-fives and gamer-boogie.

As we spent the next interval of time packing it up—"Wait, you're still putting that same game away?" asked my wife on her third pass through the room—I was left wondering, was it really worth it?

The arduous setup, the utterly ridiculous number of rules and procedures for what should actually be a pretty simple process—are all these tiny gears really necessary to produce the experience and arrive at the end result?

I mean, seriously, in half the time I could have set up and GMed a rules-light Call of Cthulhu adventure to a similar conclusion—straight out of my ass with no prep.

So, is Arkham worth the effort?

Well... No. And yes.

The "no" part reflects the Rube Goldbergian agglomeration of paragraphs required to make it all go—how many pages of rules now, including the FAQ? A hundred?—putting us truly in the realm of 666 operations to flip a goddamned pancake, something that takes a normal human exactly two. I have never been, and am not now, convinced that the complexity is a requirement to achieve what the game does.

Then there's that middle part, I dunno, two-and-a-half-hours long, where the game holds your head in the toilet as you kick and thrash ineffectually. That bit takes real gamer stamina, let me tell you. I bottomed out in there, believing myself truly done with Arkham, having outgrown it, finding no joy in the dark, wet air gap that tastes of the fruits of human endeavor.

And yet...

What is joy if you know nothing else? Light without dark is meaningless and when we rebounded off the bottom of what the game was doing, got a foot hooked around an ankle and tripped it, stood dripping and kicked it in the head until you couldn't tell which side the face was on, well, that was real catharsis that wouldn't have been possible without that awful middle bit.

So, yeah, it's worth it—but you gotta hike up your britches, lace those boots tight, because it's gonna be a slog...

But the slog's the thing. And it turns out I'm a pig for it.


*The gravedigger starts with three monster trophies, and his random picks were a cultist, a warlock and the high priest. "You don' unnerstan'," he states emphatically, gesturing at the three blood-soaked sleeping bags with feet sticking out of them in the back of his truck, "That one's a warlock, and that one's a high priest!"

The rest of the party begins to back away slowly. There's a soft click as someone disengages a safety.

"And that... third guy?"

The gravedigger shrugs. "Sumbitch got in th' way."
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Sat Jul 5, 2014 7:12 pm
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NOW WE ARE NINE

Chris Tannhauser
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Fig. 1 — "A badtime story, eh? Well, let's see what we have here..."


My demi-nephew, just recently nine, wanted only two things for his birthday: the Dungeon Crawl Classics rulebook and to play the game alongside all the "bad uncles". You see, RPG game night happens at his house on account of his little sister (we always play at the house with the baby so everyone can attend) and so every week he watches us gather just before bedtime with our books and dice, snacks and cruel humor. A common refrain from his lips: "Why are you laughing? Why is that funny?" And someone gets to think, Jesus, I just said that in front of a child.

With a small bit of relief it turned out I was scheduled to be out of town on the appointed day; they could all play the relatively "clean" version of the game and I would have no 'splainin' to do—not to him, his mother, or society at large. This did not dovetail with his vision for the big day, however, and so it was postponed so I could attend...

Now, there's a story from Chinese mythology (which I dare not recount in front of the boy) of a warrior-monk who maintained his vital life essence by never having sex or even masturbating—ever—and so was able to slaughter with a kind of zen-like grace, seeing between the swinging blades and stinging arrows as the tiger prowls the grass... Until the day he got beheaded and a 30-foot geyser of jizz shot out of his neck-hole.

This, I fear, will be me by the end of the day, only with a gagging surfeit of profanity and the obvious observations that cannot be allowed past the "baby in the bag"* and the seven-second delay. All day long, as our gaggle of peasants are burned and stabbed, whipped by the feet against the rocks like wet laundry, consumed by black magic and the more prosaic maws of hungry things, the very first thing that occurs to me must be shunted aside and actually considered—an assembly line of Schrödinger's cat-boxes torn open and peeped, the raw energy of which must be absorbed by the redlining capacitors of the seven-second delay as the baby in the bag screams and screams...

And so, gorked out of my mind on donuts, coffee, murder and dick jokes I will run out into the street and explode into something that looks for all the world like a 4D rainbow hologram of the boat ride scene from Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory (1971).

Tomorrow, tomorrow—wish me luck.



Fig. 2 — LET THE SURREALIST BUKKAKE BEGIN


*Imagine that you have a baby in a bag, somewhere between your mind and your mouth; now, every time you think of something to say, whisper it to the baby first—if the baby cries, the whole process ends there.**


**I cannot claim this concept—I was enlightened by a far wiser, kinder man.
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Sat Mar 29, 2014 7:54 pm
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Carcassonne: Now With 50% Less Hate! (A Tale of Two Box Tops)

Chris Tannhauser
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Fig. 1 — Though his sword arm itched at the sight of a
foreigner, he could not ignore the rumbly in this tumbly.

A knight, late for lunch, approaches the city gates.

Aw crap, he thinks to himself, who the hell is this swarthy, suspicious-looking guy? I've had my fill of murder this day, with more swordplay than boiled potatoes—I just don't have time to stab him in the tummy. Then again, how many people will die if I let him pass? I... I could always just trample him with my horse—that would handle the issue and get me to my luncheon posthaste!

And so he sets the spurs to his mount.

Years later...

You are waylaid on the road by a thief with a kinked and withered arm. Though he menaces you adroitly with a scimitar held in his left hand, you sense he is amenable to conversation.

"Ah, my arm," he says in reply to your query, "It wasn't always like this. You see, once I was a budding entrepreneur seeking my fortune in trade between the spray of cities that dot our landscape. I only wished to fill my purse with gold like yours—yes, drop it in the dirt just there, I'll pick it up when you've gone. Anyway, all that changed after a chance encounter with a racist knight. He trampled me with his horse and broke my arm. As a simple peasant there were no proper leeches or a split-rat for me, no sir. Just a poultice of pig dung and a boot in the ass on the way out. Of course it healed funny—well, not funny funny, but you know what I mean—and soon no one would do business with me, believing it bad luck on account of my deformity. With no means of support I ended up haunting the woods, hungry, alone, living like an animal, my soul slowly filling with hate. I was on the edge of madness watching your like jingle by on the road every day when I had an epiphany—it was still possible to have that gold, barrels of beer and salt pork, and perhaps the occasional nearsighted barmaid with low morals. And so it is no real mystery that we should find ourselves here, now."

The transaction complete, he bids you to turn your back, where it takes far too many whacks to do you in.


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Fig. 2 — There's a joke here somewhere about biological clocks
getting wound by specific clock keys, but I can't find it.

An actual lady, having just come from the Count's quarters, exits the city gates.

Aw crap, she thinks to herself, who the hell is this swarthy, suspicious-looking guy? He's ogling "the girls" and probably wants to ask me out. Of course I'll say "no" in order to play hard to get, which will inflame his passions and make him want me all the more, his frustration boiling over into bad poetry and squire abuse. He'll pursue me through my girlfriends, seeking a chink in the armor—my middle name, my favorite color, hints as to my virtue... or lack thereof. And they will giggle and bat their eyes demurely behind delicately scented hands, as pale and fine as flowers. The turning aside of his sword will lead to grand gestures to get my attention—a flock of baby animals, the roads around my home carpeted in rose petals, being awakened in the night by a troupe of minstrels and bards singing the songs of his heart. And still I will pretend not to notice... until the day he splashes the city walls in high letters that proclaim his ever-burning devotion—and as a result is bound, stripped and whipped by the Count for his un-knightly defacement. Then, and only then, will I come to him, with a bowl of fresh milk, and lift his battered head and bid him drink, drink deeply, completely, and put a brace of babies in my hungry womb. That is the moment where all other women will become nothing more than buzzing gray blobs to him, shrivelling his manhood while making only his gorge rise. And then he will be mine for happily ever after.

And so it came to pass—all of it—the coy embrace of a gaze, the pursuit and dancing away, the heavy wooing, the whipping and the milk—though in the end the knight turned out to be little more than a two-pump chump.
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Mon Mar 17, 2014 8:00 am
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