It Came from My Hard Drive! Part 1 – The High Road

I’ve been working in the tabletop gaming industry for over ten years. In that time, I’ve written more RPG adventures, supplements, and bits of game-related fiction than I can easily count. While most of that stuff was published in one form or another, some of it never saw the light of day. I have entire manuscripts for 100-page RPG supplements collecting digital dust on my hard drive, and I found a few recently I thought I might share. Well, parts of them anyway.

One of the publishers I used to work for was Goodman Games, a great company run by a great guy, Joseph Goodman. They’re doing some awesome stuff right now with their Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG, and I most definitely urge you to check them out. Anyway, around 2009, I wrote or co-wrote a bunch of player-centric Dungeons & Dragons supplements for Goodman Games. Two of them were never published, and they included a bunch of short fiction vignettes I’ve always liked. With Joseph Goodman’s kind permission, I’m going to post some of them here.

These really are vignettes, not full stories, and they were meant to introduce a gaming concept (usually a new class option for players of 4E D&D). They’re also what you’d call high, epic fantasy. Oh, and these are kind of first draft-y, so, you know, cut me some slack.

Here’s the first one.


The High Road

Tarnak snorted in irritation when he saw the two dwarven warriors standing in the middle of the road, blocking his path. Both were armed with short-hafted battleaxes and wore sturdy coats of riveted mail. Each dwarf also carried a heavy wooden shield nearly as tall as the warrior behind it.

“This is King Ivar’s road, beast,” one of the dwarven warriors called out. “Your kind has no business on it.”

Tarnak wasn’t overly surprised at the dwarves’ reaction. He was a minotaur and that meant ‘monster’ to most. No matter he had served in the dwarf king Ivar Stonehammer’s armies as an auxiliary field commander. No matter he had personally led the charge that shattered Azagar Bloodfist’s goblin horde in the Battle of Ivory Plateau, assuring victory for the dwarven monarch whose name was now used to reinforce dwarven bigotry.

He set the head of his poleaxe on the ground, letting the haft rest against his shoulder. He took his hands off the weapon and held them out, palms up. “I understand your concern, and your dedication to protecting the road is admirable,” he said. Tarnak had learned long ago those who showed him the most prejudice expected a violent response from his kind, a stereotype he was not about to enforce. “I have papers from the court of your noble king proving I am his servant. Will you let me show them to you?”

Both dwarves scowled but said nothing. This was not the response they had expected . . . or wanted.

Tarnak took advantage of the dwarves’ silence and dug into his pouch for the writ of passage bearing King Ivar’s personal seal. “I promise, if you give me a moment, I can prove—”

“We’re not interested in your forgeries, beast,” one warriors said. He was the older of the two, his beard long, braided, and streaked with gray.

Tarnak stopped looking for the writ. “You would bar passage to a servant of your king on simple bigotry?”

The older dwarf’s face twisted into an ugly frown. “If bigotry means keeping the likes of you off roads used by decent folk, then aye, I’m a bigot,” he said and shifted his shield into a more comfortable and battle-ready position. “The only way you get by the two of us, ghrakha” – the dwarven word for ‘animal’ was not lost on Tarnak ­– “is with an axe between your horns.”

Tarnak sighed and lifted his poleaxe from the ground. “Are you sure this is what you want?”

The elder dwarf smiled and turned to his companion. “Uthar, let me show how you how to deal with a big lummox like this.”

“Take him down, Borgrim,” the younger dwarf said, grinning.

“Oh, this is exactly what I want, beast,” the dwarf named Borgrim said and started forward, axe held high, shield tucked beneath his bearded chin.

Tarnak let the dwarf advance and took his poleaxe in a fighting grip, one hand below the axe head and the other on the worn haft some two feet below that. He spread his legs and let the weight of his body settle evenly over his stance.

Borgrim’s advance turned into a charge, and he dropped his axe low to his side, where he could more easily strike at his opponent’s legs–classic dwarven fighting technique. The stout race had been battling creatures bigger than themselves for millennia, and every dwarven warrior had learned that ogres, trolls, and minotaurs were easier to dispatch when cut down to a more manageable height. But Tarnak had been fighting alongside dwarves for years, and he was well versed in their battle strategies. He took a step back and whipped his poleaxe up over his head, letting both hands slide to the end of the weapon’s haft, then he brought the axe down with every ounce of strength he possessed.

Tarnak’s great reach allowed his blow to strike first, halting his opponent’s advance for a crucial second as the dwarf caught the axe head on his shield. Borgrim had likely anticipated the attack, but he had underestimated the power behind it.  Tarnak’s poleaxe smashed through the dwarf’s shield with a loud crack of splintered wood, then it parted the mail between Borgrim’s head and shoulder, cut through the thick padded gambeson he wore beneath it, and finally plowed a ragged swath through his body, lodging in his breastbone with a hollow, metallic thump.

Borgrim remained standing, his weapon dangling from nerveless fingers, eyes as big as saucers, Tarnak’s axe still buried in his body—it was all that was keeping him upright. Tarnak put a hoof on the dwarf’s chest and ripped his axe free. Blood sprayed from the hideous wound, splattering Tarnak’s face and tunic. Borgrim toppled forward onto the shattered ruin of his shield, dead before he hit the ground.

The remaining dwarf looked on, mouth agape, his weapon forgotten at his side. Tarnak advanced, his axe still red and dripping.

“P-please don’t kill me,” the dwarf said as Tarnak approached. He dropped his axe and shield in the middle of the road.

The minotaur bent down and pushed his horned head close to the young dwarf’s bearded face. He was barely more than an adolescent. “Uthar is it?”

The dwarf nodded, tears brimming in his eyes.

“I will tell you something, so you may learn from this day,” Tarnak said. “All the wood and iron in the world cannot stop a minotaur’s axe at full swing.” He straightened, towering over the young dwarf. “Sometimes you need to get out of the way.”

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