Friday, August 31, 2012

Why I Don't Listen to Podcasts

     Okay, so I know a lot of people enjoy podcasts.  But personally I really don't care for them.  First up there is an annoying tendency for podcasters to not tell you how long the podcast is.  How am I supposed to know whether I have time to listen to the whole thing?  Can I listen through it while I'm getting ready for work in the morning or is it a huge 3-4 four hour monstrosity?  Annoying.  Also, a lot of podcasts contain a lot of stupid "banter", the vast majority of which is not particularly interesting or amusing.  They'll toss out an inside joke reference and all have a good, long laugh about it together.  Super.  Whatever.

     Another thing is that I read very, very quickly.  I can scan a huge written post and quickly tell whether I want to take the time to really read the whole thing.  Or I can scan and just slow down for sections which grab my interest.  With a podcast you have to listen to pretty much the whole thing (well, okay you can skip around but it's not as efficient as skimming text) to find out whether you've just wasted a bunch of time.

     My wife tells me from her background in early education that people learn in one of three ways: visually, aurally, or manipulatively.  So I suppose that if you're an aurally oriented learner then podcasts, which are a purely audio medium, would be optimum for you.  I, however, am primarily visually oriented and secondarily manipulative/manual.  Thus I find that I cannot sit for long periods listening to disembodied voices drone on about whatever.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Material Components

Okay, so I absolutely hate the crappy spell-slot system in pre-4th Edition D&D and in Pathfinder.  A lesser complaint of mine is the requirement for material components for certain spells.  Yes, having the wizard pull out a small bit of spiderweb, or a bat's ear, or whatever in order to cast a spell is very flavorful and mimics magic use as seen in fiction and historical sources.  I'm fine with that in a book or movie.  But having to remember to buy material components and track inventory in a D&D/Pathfinder game just kinda sucks.  Now, to be fair, I've never played in a game where the DM was strict about material component use.  My current DM (Hey, Steve!) only tracks some components, particularly if they are rare and/or very expensive.  But it's still a nuisance to keep track of stuff.

So, my alternative would be that instead of requiring the components to cast, you would give a bonus if they are used.  That gives players (and GMs) the option of ignoring the spell's material components if they prefer ease of play, but also providing the option for those who are fine with the extra work. So for the Identify spell, if you use the "wine stirred with an owl's feather" component, you can increase the range from 60 to 90 feet, or extend the duration from 3 rounds per level to 5 rounds per level, or provide a +15 enhancement bonus (instead of +10) on Spellcraft skill checks made to identify the properties and command words of magic items.

Conversely, if you like the material components rules, then you could still allow spells to be cast without them, but halve the spell's effect.  This allows players to make their own decisions and also allows for spells to be cast even if you don't have the component for some reason.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

"Theater of the Mind" or "Playing Blindfolded is Fun"

Okay, so part of the old school renaissance (OSR) phenomena is a backlash against using the dreaded battlemat.  This is partly due to the antipathy which OSR types have for D&D 4th Edition, which in their minds is clearly the spawn of the devil, which requires a map with a square grid for combat.  The opposite of being tied to using a gridded map for combat (or other action situations) is, of course, using no map whatsoever but rather only the imaginations of the participants--the "Theater of the Mind".  Now there is also a bit of a middle ground in which one uses a minimalist approach to the map: a simple sketch map, some tokens on a plain tabletop, using a few dice to represent things, etc.

Now, I got my start as a gamer in board wargaming.  Board wargaming, as its name implies, uses a game board with a map on it and, typically, a grid of hexagons.  Later I dabbled in miniatures gaming which used a tabletop or space on the floor with a terrain represented but no grid.  So when I got into roleplay gaming (lo, these many years ago) I was quite comfortable with using a grid and also with operating on an open tabletop.  But battlemats hadn't been invented yet and the closest thing available were blank paper wargaming maps for the do-it-yourself game designers.  The problem with those was that they only came with rather small hexes or squares which were too small to properly hold a gaming miniature.  Back then a "25mm" miniature was the size of a "20mm" miniature today, although a few makers of historical miniatures had "30mm" lines which were close to today's 28mm figures.

So at the gaming table I fell back on just doing simple sketch maps on the fly with pencil and paper.  Several time a session I would say "Okay, quick sketch!" and draw out a very basic representation of the scene.  This worked well enough, although with a big table it was often difficult for everyone to see the small sketch well.  Later, when some marvelous person invented the erasable battle mat, I bought one immediately--and I still have it.

As a very visually-oriented person I find it absolutely essential, both as a player and as a GM, to have a clear visual representation of what's going on in an action scene.  It doesn't have to be fancy--I'm still fine with "Okay, quick sketch!"--but I need to be able to see what's going on.  Now I have a friend (Hey, Kaiser!) who steadfastly refuses to give us any visual representation whatsoever of action scenes.  It's totally theater of the mind--and it drives me crazy.  It's like playing blindfolded.  And here's a great example from the blog (which I recommend):

GM: The orcs sprint forward, cutting off the wizard from the rest of the party. One lunges in, stabbing Thomas in the shoulder for eight damage.

Thomas' player: Hey, I said last turn that I was backing out of range!

GM: Oh, well, you miscalculated the distance.

Thomas' player: Um, OK. It's my turn then, and I'm going to catch all the orcs in a fireball.

GM: Alright, but you can't get them all.

Thomas' player: You just said all the orcs cut me off from the rest of the party.

GM: Yeah, but they're not grouped together like that

Thomas' player: *sigh* OK.

My games will always have some visual representation for action scenes.

Monday, August 27, 2012

A Priest of One God

Okay, so right now I'm into the Pathfinder rules from Paizo and running a campaign based on their Shackled City adventure path.  In my spare time I'm slowly building a new campaign world from scratch to replace my old one which, to be quite honest, was pretty poorly conceived.  One of the things which I want to be very important in this new campaign, and which should be in a fantasy medieval/ancient world filled with magic and deities, is religion and the clerics who embody faith.

The problem with D&D/Pathfinder clerics, from my point of view, is that they are too generic.  Yes, they get domain spells keyed to their deities portfolio and available domains; yes, they get a "favored weapon"; yes, their is a difference in whether they channel positive or negative energy; but they are still too generic. And there are a lot of spells in the lists which would not be appropriate for certain deities.  For instance, why would a cleric of the God of Oceans have a spell to Meld into Stone?

I feel that the list of available spells for a cleric should be custom-built for the deity in question.  I want to keep the idea of domain spells, but I want the domain spells to be custom-built for just that deity.  In other words each deity should have a set of nine domain spells which are totally unique to that deity.  If you are not a cleric of that deity you have no access to those domain spells at all.  One exception to that could be a "pantheon domain" which is accessible to all clerics of any deity within a specific pantheon.

But then there is the question of multiple portfolios.  One area I have to think about is what to do with the way D&D/Pathfinder gives deities multiple domains (and thus domain spell lists) because they have multiple portfolios.  I might go to having domain spell lists which have unique spells in them (i.e., spells only available in-game in that one domain list), but where some are usable by multiple deities as in the current rules.  I have to reconcile my desire for each deity to have an individual, totally unique domain list with deities having multiple portfolios and hence needing multiple, corresponding domains.

For Pathfinder this customization would also extend to the clerical channel ability.  I think that there should more than just "channel positive energy" and "channel negative energy".  Those are fine as-is and I would retain them for clerics of deities of Goodness, Evilness, Undead, Healing, etc.  However, a cleric of the God of Fire should channel fire or heat or smoke--something thematically appropriate to that deity.

Now, these new custom-built spells lists for each deity would still have quite a lot of spells in common.  For instance a first cut at lists of the "generic" spells probably available to all would be:
0 Level Orisons
  • Guidance
  • Resistance
  • Virtue
1st Level Spells
  • Bless
  • Bless Water/Curse Water (as appropriate for Good/Neutral/Evil deities)
  • Command
  • Comprehend Languages
  • Detect Chaos/Evil/Good/Law
  • Endure Elements
  • Magic Weapon
  • Protection from Chaos/Evil/Good/Law
  • Remove Fear
  • Sanctuary
  • Shield of Faith

2nd Level Spells
  • Aid
  • Align Weapon
  • Augury
  • Bear's Endurance
  • Bull's Strength
  • Consecrate/Desecrate
  • Eagle's Splendor
  • Enthrall
  • Owl's Wisdom
  • Resist Energy
  • Spiritual Weapon
  • Status
3rd Level Spells
  • Dispel Magic
  • Glyph of Warding
  • Helping Hand
  • Invisibility Purge
  • Magic Circle against Chaos/Evil/Good/Law
  • Obscure Object
  • Prayer
...and so on.  Obviously these universal spell lists (at least ones drawn solely from the Pathfinder Core Rule Book and Advanced Player's Guide) will be pretty skimpy.  Clearly, also, I will have to bring a lot of spells from 3rd party publishers--or perhaps from other character classes--in order to provide a reasonably large spell list to keep clerics from being too limited in what they can do.  My goal is not to nerf clerics by taking away all their spells but to infuse some serious deity-based flavor into them.  However, the spell lists will necessarily be smaller, which might have to be balanced with something else.  This could be done by giving them one or two extra spells per level per day or maybe allowing the domain spell at each level to be cast twice per day (although this "double domain" ability might be handled with a feat as well).

Oh, and a final note: the practice of giving each deity a "favored weapon" will be seriously pared back.  In the early editions of D&D clerics could only use blunt weapons, such as maces, clubs, and slings.  Now, each deity has a favored weapon--which must be different from all the other deities.  This forces designers to give each deity a different weapon, even if that weapon really doesn't have anything to do with the deity or even if that deity has no martial aspect, such as a deity of love or wisdom.  I was thinking that in line with idea of having pantheons of related deities, which are closely associated with particular cultures/regions, the favored weapon could be determined by pantheon and culture rather than each and every individual deity.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Lurien, an Oracle PC for Pathfinder

Okay, so my Wednesday gaming group is kindly helping me playtest the adventure module I'm writing for the NeoExodus campaign setting by Louis Porter Jr. Design using Paizo's Pathfinder rules.  The adventure is a murder mystery, currently for 7th level players but we'll see how the final playtest port mortem goes.  The first round was me running my module, which took three 3~4-hour sessions to complete.  This week we began a second round but this time with my friend Bill DMing it so we can see how it runs with someone coming to it fresh.  After that I'll send everyone a copy of the draft to critique from the inside out.

Anyway, so I know people are interested in character "builds" and stated-out NPCs they can use, so here's the character I made up for the second round.  This is Lurien, a male elf oracle (with the Ancestor mystery and the Haunted curse).  My background concept for the character was an elf who grew up in a family whose members often had the "gift" (some would say curse) of seeing and hearing the spirits of the dead.  In time Lurien came to embrace these gifts.  Most of the spirits he interacts with are actually ancestors of his family and elven clan, but there are others.  My selection of the spells, revelations, and skills were based on this background.  For instance, Lurien has no ranks in the Perception skill because he is always hearing faint sounds and whispers and glimpsing brief movements from the spirit world.  So, over time he has come to ignore a lot sights and sounds around him.  I also envisioned the character as coming from a coastal place, hence the high skills in Craft (Ships), Profession (Sailor), and Swim.

Lurien, Oracle of the Ancient Ancestors (Level 7)
male Elf, Chaotic Good
HP: 32
AC: 21 (armor +7, Dex +3, ring +1)
BAB: +5 (melee +6, ranged +8, archery +10)
Str    12    +1
Dex    16    +3    Ref +2 (+5)
Con    9    -1     Fort +2 (+1)
Int    14    +2
Wis    12    +1    Will +5 (+6)
Cha    16    +3

    Oracle    (Ancestor/Haunted) [Favored Class]
    • 0 Level Spells known (7; at will; DC 13): Detect Magic, Guidance, Light, Read Magic, Resistance, Stabilize, Virtue
    • 1st Level Spells known (5; 7/day; DC 14): Comprehend Languages,Dancing Lantern, Detect Undead, Doom, Shield of Faith; Unseen Servant (Mystery spell) [Cure Light Wounds/1d8+5]
    • 2nd Level Spells known (3; 7/day; DC 15): Blessing of Courage and Life, Death Knell, Lesser Animate Dead; Spiritual Weapon (Mystery spell) [Cure Moderate Wounds/2d8+7]
    • 3rd Level Spells known (2; 5/day; DC 16): Bestow Curse, Prayer; Heroism (Mystery spell) [Cure Serious Wounds/3d8+7]

    Revelations: (3+1)
    Sacred Council (Su): As a move action, you can call upon your ancestors to provide council. This advice grants you a +2 bonus on any one d20 roll. This effect lasts for 1 round. You can use this ability a number of times per day equal to your Charisma bonus.

    Spirit Shield (Su): You can call upon the spirits of your ancestors to form a shield around you that blocks incoming attacks and grants you a +4 armor bonus. At 7th level, and every four levels thereafter, this bonus increases by +2. At 13th level, this shield causes arrows, rays, and other ranged attacks requiring an attack roll against you to have a 50% miss chance. You can use this shield for 1 hour per day per oracle level. This duration does not need to be consecutive, but it must be spent in 1-hour increments.

    Storm of Souls (Su): You can summon the spirits of your ancestors to attack in a ghostly barrage—their fury creates physical wounds on creatures in the area. The storm has a range of 100 feet and is a 20-foot-radius burst. Objects and creatures in the area take 1d8 hit points of damage for every two oracle levels you possess. Undead creatures in the area take 1d8 points of damage for every oracle level you possess. A successful Fortitude save reduces the damage to half. You must be at least 7th level to select this revelation. You can use this ability once per day, plus one additional time per day at 11th level and every four levels thereafter. [As level 10, see traits]

    Voice of the Grave (Su): You can speak with the dead, as per the spell, for a number of rounds per day equal to your oracle level. These rounds do not need to be consecutive. At 5th level, and every five levels thereafter, the dead creature you question takes a cumulative –2 penalty on its Will save to resist this effect.

    Feats: (4)
    Abundant Revelations    (use revelation +1 time per day) x 2
    Extra Revelation (gain 1 extra revelation)
    Prophetic Visionary (Once per day, enter a deep trance and gain a prophetic vision.)

    Elf Racial Traits:
    • Elven Immunities: Elves are immune to magic sleep effects and gain a +2 racial saving throw bonus against enchantment spells and effects.
    •     Keen Senses: Elves receive a +2 racial bonus on Perception checks.
    •     Elven Magic: Elves receive a +2 racial bonus on caster level checks made to overcome spell resistance. In addition, elves receive a +2 racial bonus on Spellcraft skill checks made to identify the properties of magic items.
    •     Weapon Familiarity: Elves are proficient with longbows (including composite longbows), longswords, rapiers, and shortbows (including composite shortbows), and treat any weapon with the word “elven” in its name as a martial weapon.
    •     Low-Light Vision: Elves can see twice as far as humans in conditions of dim light.
    •     Elf Oracle: Add +1/2 to the oracle's level for the purpose of determining the effects of one revelation (Storm of Souls)

    Appraise (Int)                              7
    Bluff (Cha)                                   7
    Craft (ships) (Int)                          4
    Diplomacy (Cha)                          7
    Heal (Wis)                                    7
    Knowledge (arcana) (Int)              7
    Knowledge (geography) (Int)        7
    Knowledge (history) (Int)              7
    Knowledge (nobility) (Int)             7
    Knowledge (planes) (Int)              7
    Knowledge (religion) (Int)             7
    Linguistics (Int)                             7
    Perform (Recite Poetry) (Cha)     6
    Profession (sailor) (Wis)               7
    Sense Motive (Wis)                     7
    Spellcraft (Int)                             7
    Swim (Str)                                  4

    Equipment: (23,500 wealth at level 7)

    +1 merciful longbow    4000gp (+1d6 damage but all nonlethal; or suppress for lethal but no bonus)
    +1 longsword        2000gp

    +1 elven chain        6150gp [AC+7, move 30‘, armor check pen of -2]

    ring of protection +1    2000gp

    bracers of archery, lesser    5000gp

    cloak of elvenkind        2500

    2 x potion of hide from undead 50
    1 x potion of cure moderate 300

    [eqpt total: 21,800]
    Cash: 2,150 gp

    Sunday, August 19, 2012

    My Top 10 Favorite Fantasy Genre RPG Settings

    Okay, so I just finished watching Ander Woods' "D&D Campaign Settings Ranked" video on YouTube (  As I've noted in an earlier post, he's one of the "RPG Brigade" members I subscribe to on YouTube.  His review only covered campaign settings specifically for the Dungeons and Dragons line of games.  I responded to his video with my list, which was not limited to D&D-specific settings, and figured I'd also toss my list up here for your general perusal:

    1. Eberron
    2. Tekumel/Empire of the Petal Throne
    3. Forgotten Realms
    4. Wermspittle
    5. The World Between
    6. Golarion
    7. Iomandra
    8. Mythic Europe (Ars Magica)
    9. Hyborian Age
    10. Middle Earth

    Thursday, August 16, 2012

    Hulks & Horrors -- My Take

    Okay, so yesterday I came across this indiegogo RPG game project called Hulks & Horrors.  The idea is to take the Old School D&D rules (such as the justly maligned THAC0) and turn it into a sort of "dungeons in space" science fiction game.  Well, if you've been reading some of my other posts you'll know that I'll have no truck with this OSR nonsense.  However, the overall concept got me thinking a bit.

    Back when I was more of a board game and miniatures type, I loved the Games Workshop miniatures board game "Space Hulk".  One player takes a squad or two of veteran space marines in heavy assault armor, the other a horde of aliens.  The setting is a "hulk" or abandoned (but not uninhabited!) spaceship.  There are various mission scenarios using a map made up of room and corridor tiles which link together like puzzle pieces.  Anyway, you can look it up on the Intertoobz for more details.  It's a very cool game.

    So, what if you took a good set of rules (not OSR/THAC0 crap) and did a Space Hulk type game centered around missions into dangerous "dungeon" settings such as space ship hulks, space stations, space colonies, and indoor/underground planetside facilities.  I think that would make for a great game for one-shot or short duration scenarios.  You could, of course, link that sort of thing together with some sort of overarching story line if you wanted.  For rules I would probably either just grab d20 Future or maybe BESM.  I also have the old Traveler rules from way back, but you'd have to change the character generation to allow people some choice in skills.  Albedo is also very cool set of rules, but maybe a bit too hard science and setting-specific for a "hulks" game.

    Anyway, for background I'd postulate that the Warhammer 40,000 universe finally broke out into a massive interstellar bar brawl involving everyone all at once.  However, the constant massive activity of large fleets through the warp and use of previously forbidden mega-weapons caused rifts in the inter-dimensional barriers.  Ships and even entire fleets went into the warp and most didn't come back.  Rifts near solar systems swallowed planets, moons, suns, and entire systems.  Demons and demonic miasma emerged, ravaging inhabited planets and infesting uninhabited ones.  The wars ground to a halt due to the general shortage of ships and need to battle the demons on the homefronts.

    After a few decades years the sharp drop in spaceship travel through the warp allowed the universe to heal itself and most of the rifts closed up.  The less affected planets began to return to normal, but other were still locked in a life-or-death struggle with pockets of demons, cultists, undead, etc.  Still others had fallen entirely to the forces of evil and become hell planets.  Then the missing ships began to reappear.  All were infested hulks, their crews either replaced by creatures of the warp or turned into unspeakable monstrosities.  However the hulks often still contained valuable cargo and equipment and a rare few even carried priceless items and information from previously unknown dimensions.  The barriers between this one and the known warp were not the only ones which had been breached.

    Thus governments and private groups are now busily engaged in searching hulks in space, battling horrors on "contested" worlds, and making descents into hell planets.

    Saturday, August 4, 2012

    Ice Road Convoy, Chapter 3

    Ice Road Convoy, Chapter 3

        The rear of the truck thumped down onto the frozen surface of the lake and fish-tailed slightly.  The shoreline with it's scattered clumps of evergreen trees began to recede.  So this was it, the first of the really big lakes.  The convoy had crossed a few small ponds and frozen-over water courses, but this was the first real lake--the first really dangerous body of water.  My mind flew back to the briefing that Lieutenant Promethos had given us about the lakes.  The lieutenant was a nasty weasel but at least he made a minimal effort to fill us in on anything really necessary.  He explained that the first trucks faced the danger of testing the ice, the last ones the danger of going over ice weakened by the previous ones already crossing over it.  Even stopping for any length of time was dangerous because the vibrations of the big truck engine could gradually weaken the ice beneath.

        The ice out here was mostly free of snow.  The winds were somewhat stronger and more constant across the flat open expanse.  The darker gray of the surface contrasted with the mixed white and dark green of the shoreline.  Above that was the pale blue sky with its few wisps of cloud.  I thought about how I would mix those colors on a palette and brush them onto canvas to capture the essence of it all.  Despite the trees and hills the landscape was completely uninviting.  The brush strokes would have to provide an appropriate texture to convey the soullessness of it.

        I'd been thinking about painting again since leaving the camp.  When I was first arrested I thought I'd never see a brush again.  But the trucks had needed new markings.  Imperial Aquila, winged skulls, and other standard imperial logo fare was all it was but it brought back the old desire for expression.  To my surprise the Commissar Nourissel actually ordered that I be given extra rations as a reward.  At the time I suspected that she would be taking it out of my hide somehow later.  The truth proved harsher than that.

        In the mess hall that evening as I made my way through the other 'victs  with my extra hunk of bread I began to notice the hostile looks.  The hardened convict types clearly didn't like to see anyone get any special treatment.  I was looking for a table with friendlier faces when someone stepped in front of me.  "Quite the little commissar's pet, aren't we?", he sneered.  The shaved head and heavy boney jaw complemented the curled lip well.  He was a burly type, standing on the rough board floor between the long tables with his arms folded.  I wasn't sure what his game was.  The body language was one of casual menace, but outright violence here would bring a swift response from the Arbites guards.  "Fuck off", I told him, figuring a bit of aggressive bravado was the best response.  I was disappointed to see that it fazed him not a whit.  Not that I expected him to be intimidated by the likes of me, but I'd hoped it would at least get some reaction.  "Maybe she'll have you around to her room later to use that paint brush on your little candy artist ass, eh sweetie?", he whispered loudly.  A couple of the criminal trash sitting nearby smirked.  "Hah, nice one, Tarko" said someone to my left.  "No, I'm not interested in taking your place, Romeo" I shot back.  He curled his lip further and his face darkened.  Then one of the Arbites announced "Two minutes!  Eat up!"  I stepped away to sit down and he shot out a boot.  I tripped and my meal spilled from the tin mess bowl onto the planking. "Aww, Tarko, now look what you did.  The little artist boy dropped his special little ration" mocked one of the scumbags seated nearby.  As I started to get up, a boot came down and ground my meagre dinner into the floorboards."You there!" shouted at Arbites guard, "Clean that up!"  The guard was pointing at me.  Tarko and the other inbred types laughed, enjoying the irony.  I scraped up the ruined food into my mess tin and headed for the rubbish bin.  Glancing to the side I suddenly made eye contact with the Commissar.  She was standing by the door, arms crossed, smiling.  It was then that I realized that the commissar had deliberately used my 'reward' to create trouble so she could enjoy the event.

        The Commissar smiled to herself.  The little scene had indeed provided a bit of amusement, but she'd really been hoping to see the the 'penny' artist wimp get a fist in the face or boot to the groin.  But the bad boy types she'd been hoping to bait were too canny to start something with so many guards watching.  She'd have to come up with something more provocative to get some real action going.  Not only would a good brawl be fun to wade into, but then there would be the floggings afterwards to enjoy.

        The sun over the lake gave little warmth, but even that would be enough to weaken the ice.  At least it was more warmth than that provided by the so-called heater in the cupola.  It was the size of a toaster and gave out about as much heat.  The trucks weren't moving particularly fast, but it was enough to add a nasty windchill factor to the already brutal temperatures.  I'd secretly torn the cloth bottom off a mattress at the barracks before we'd left and wrapped strips around my legs under my thin jungle fatigues for extra warmth.  If they found out it'd mean a vicious flogging, but better that than lose a leg to frostbite.  The convoy rumbled on across the nameless lake.  The shore was but a dark irregular line in the distance now.  The shoreline with its sheltering trees was far, but any real shelter and hope of survival was farther still.

        Suddenly the truck slowed.  I twisted around in the cupola to look forward and the blast of frigid wind forced tears from my eyes.  There were two or three vehicles stopped, the trucks just ahead of ours had swung to the left to go around.  Someone was waving us to halt.  I recognized the commissar's armored transport next to a truck stopped on the ice, apparently broken down.  The figure on the ice, who I recognized as Lieutenant Promethos, walked up and talked with someone in our driver's cab and then motioned for me to come down.  "The cab's gone through the ice", he yelled.  "Get over there and help with the extraction!"

        I climbed down the ladder, grateful for the exercise to warm my chilled body.  Walking briskly I quickly came up to the cab of the stricken vehicle.  A couple troopers were huddled by the command track in blankets with wet trousers, apparently having escaped the partially submerged cab.  Their faces were ashen with the shock of the cold.  Another lay face down on the ice, apparently dead from trying to swim out, his sodden uniform already icing over.

        "You there, climb out on the rig and pull the pins to detach the cab!" barked the commissar.  I headed over, noting that the engine compartment at the front of the cab had been crushed in when it fell through the weak ice.  It was a total write-off.  The prospect of climbing across the beams of the trailer over the open frigid water to pull the heavy pins was daunting.  I pictured myself lying face down like that other poor bastard who'd tried to swim for it.  As I took my first step up onto the beam, movement in the cab window caught my eye.  There was a pale object in the darkness of the cab--a face.  I stopped, chilled to the core.  The cab would take whoever it was down to dark, icy death.

        "Well, get a move on.  Or I'll have you flogged" shouted the commissar, with a hint of anticipation in her voice.  I was just turning away when the face pressed against the window and I got a good look at it.  It was Tarko, the asshole from the mess hall.  I looked quickly over at the two huddled by the command Chimaera.  They looked vaguely like some of his trash buddies, although those types all looked alike to me.  I climbed out to the pins.  Tarko's face appeared at one of the small rear windows.  I looked at him expressionlessly.  He stared back, grimacing with the cold, probably waist deep in the dark water.  The first pin came out easily, the second only after several heaves.  Tarko began yelling, a muffled mixture of rage and terror.  The cab slid smoothly down into the lake and the dark waters splashed over the back of the cab, Tarko still raging in the little window.  I felt some satisfaction at the deed.  He'd never be a problem again, for me or anyone else.  I straightened and turned, preparing to climb back down.  I happened to make eye contact with the two huddled in the blankets, both staring at me with murder in their eyes.  "You're dead" one of the mouthed silently across to me.

        The commissar ordered the lieutenant to get the trailer hitched doubled up to another truck's trailer.  Yes, she thought, it was amusing to watch the 'vict loser thrashing around in his final helpless moments as he went under.  She'd spotted the others threatening the artist wimp.  If that didn't get some action going soon nothing would.