Unveiled: Camelot Unchained Newsletter #21 - City State Entertainment
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Team Tidings

-by Max Porter

Hello again, and happy end of April to you all! What a rollercoaster of a month this has been, with progress, announcements, livestreaming, and so much more. If you haven’t seen it yet, check out the Beta 1 delay update livestream with Mark and Andrew here. They also did some interviews, both on MassivelyOP here, and on MMORPG.com here. So much news and information from a small studio, and straight from the co-founders. This is how all Kickstarter-backed projects should communicate with its Backers, good news or bad!

We just can’t thank you all enough for the outpouring of support, understanding, and general good feelings as we continue to bring Camelot Unchained™ to life. As always, we are committed to returning that support in the best way we can--by trying to make an awesome game for you folks. It’s truly an honor to have such an incredible Community riding along with us. 

We’re out of crunch in the latter part of the month here, and back to a normal schedule. Well, some of us are--the folks working on the new ability system are as busy as ever! Other folks, meanwhile, are using the opportunity to get more in and do more polish. In any case, there’s definitely been a shift in the atmosphere of the office as we settle down into a more regular workflow. We kept it light and happy during crunch, and it was definitely great fun. On the other hand, as Andrew says, in crunch you’re “borrowing time from the future” and it’s good to get that time back. So much progress was made, and so much more progress is still being made on the march to Beta 1. One thing we definitely haven’t lost at City State Entertainment™ is any of our excitement and enthusiasm! 

In the studio, we’ve been joined at beautiful downtown Fairfax, Va by the amazing Dionne, who sits catty-corner to me. She’s been rocking environment and character art (get it?) remotely for a while now, but she’s finally here in the office proper. Of course, I swiftly nabbed her for a playtest of the board game you might have seen us trying out in our free time. She’s cool, and you can get to know her via this stream or simply read the Spotlight later in this very newsletter!

We’re back to having a mixture of various interesting contributors of articles this month, rather than just myself and Jen! So read on for articles, news, art, and lore, and please enjoy this, the twenty-first issue of Unveiled. 


Thank you so much to new Backers and previous contributors alike for helping us pass the latest Stretch Goal! Role-playing Pack #1 - Animations for Everyone should truly have something for just about everyone, and we’re very excited to have passed it! Again, thank you all so very much for your support. 

Take note that we won’t be putting up a new Stretch Goal for a bit. As Andrew put it recently, we want to make a “statement of focus” on our push to Beta 1. It just wouldn’t be right to ask you folks for additional money for Stretch Goals by pushing out new plans and ideas, or any bright and shiny things other than those that are required for Beta 1. As Mark said, “That’s not how we do business, and not how I would want to be treated as a Backer.” We’ll wait until the time is right to put up a new one. :) 

Lots of awesome progress on the game has been made this month. There’s clearly a cadre of folks pushing on what will be the new and vastly improved ability system, but that hasn’t stopped others from getting vital things in, meantime! Returned to us after a healer cast a spell on his shoulder, Rob has wasted no time at all smashing more buildings with a view toward getting rubble into the game and working well. Welcome back, Rob!

We’re also continuing to push on the hiring front as well. We have three candidates going through the final stages of their interviews. Will we make an offer to any of them? Stay tuned...

At the same time, Cory’s been making all kinds of improvements in our building system, George and Dave have been focused on fixing important things in C.U.B.E. like reducing memory and usability issues to improve performance, and of course there’s much more. Take a look at the Tech Central and State of the Build sections in this newsletter for more information about all of this, as well as the latest update from Mark! 


-by Jenesee Grey

This is where we talk directly to you, the Community!

This month, we continued sharing our livestream Beta 1 hard crunch>soft crunch>Captain crunch series, and I’ve got a summary for you below ;) This might be the last stream summary for a while, as we have now come to the end of our massive amount of weekly streaming and most members of the team are back on regular schedules. Livestreaming will return in the coming weeks!

Lots of great stuff went out over the Twitchy airwaves as you all joined us for more update goodness. We got to see art travel from concept in Painting all the Things with Michelle all the way to 3D modeling with Jon, ready to move over to Scott for animation. It is really cool to see the process from the beginning, as things progress from an idea to something we can all see and appreciate in the game! You can see that even though they are nimble artists, they really stress quality and awesomeness, as we all do in the scope of the game. So much work goes into a game like this one, especially with that focus. I’m eager to see more of the material system once we begin fine tuning that. 

Speaking of beautiful things progressing, we had a new segment this month called World Building with Tyler which was a big hit. Tyler streamed some of his environmental art during the creation of the place of power in Beta 1 and showed off some of the terrain and materials. Glowing mushrooms +10! 

We heard from Foggye about the wiki and had a tutorial of the basics on how you as the Community can help improve it. If you are savvy in this area, or even if you are not, please let us know if you want to come to one of Foggye’s famous tutorials.

We had some surprise visits from Ben with short Q&A’s as he stepped in during Piercing the Veil and even during Up Periscope streams. We also had more extensive updates on Beta 1 from MJ and what the team has been doing. The Community support during the delay has been astounding and we feel renewed to keep working hard toward Beta 1 with new vigor. 

As the livestream schedule changes in the next few weeks, I wanted to take the opportunity to thank you all for the great morning adventures we had during Tea with Jenesee and Mornings with Max. It has been a privilege to kick off our livestreaming sessions on my days, and I am eager to see you all in other livestreams in the future. 

Some of the Community made a trip to Pax East in Boston to get together for a meetup and hang out together in two rented houses for “CU Spring Break”. You can imagine the fun and frolic they had, headed up by our very own Programmer extraordinaire JB that weekend. I also spoke on a panel about Indie MMOs, and was pleased to see so many of you show up to the convention and support Camelot Unchained

Community Question!

If you would like to add a Community question, please visit our forum under the Unveiled Newsletter category and post in the thread. The following was cut for a two part question, and you can listen to the whole thing on the 
Up Periscope with Ben livestream.

Hellesh asks: How do we expect the TDD to siege successfully, especially when they have been established as skirmishers who wouldn’t want to involve themselves in the long exhausting effort of a siege.

Ben: Because the Arthurians are good at defense, they will be a little tougher in sieges than the other Realms. The TDD on the other hand, are kind of good at tricks, and the Vikings have the brute force advantage, so it’s not as simple as Arthurian’s defense is OP!

The way that they will want to approach a siege is not the same way that the Arthurians will want to approach a siege. It’s not that you are overall worse in that situation, but they will have to go about it differently.

If you looked at some of the things Mark has been talking about, their siege engines and things will be different. The abilities that their classes have, their mobility, as far as being able to get into the castle, may be a bit easier without having destroyed most of it, things like that. So they will have a mix of things that they can do so they can deal with that situation, in the same way that Arthurians sieging a Tuatha structure will have things they can do in a similar way. The way that those battles happen and those situations happen will hopefully be relatively equal in terms of who can win it.

Because siege battles, in the same way as open field battles, should be something that all the Realms can reasonably participate in and be successful at, there will be differences in their methodology and their execution and their general abilities that they go about using in order to accomplish that.  

Hot Topics

Combat mechanics and Beta 1 debates are the topics of choice on the forum right now. 

Join the discussion on the forums on our website to bring your thoughts and ideas to the discussion table!

Look What You Did

Huge thanks to you all for submitting your pieces to the fan art contest this month! We sipped upon your creepy creations like fine wines, and enjoyed them all. This month’s winner is Orkbane, with this striking and eerie piece: 
Well done, Orkbane! Thank you!

For our next contest, let’s get our writing caps on once again. We’ve got a lot of cool stuff related to buildings going into the game lately, so how about a story on one? Tell your tale of a fortress, town, city, or other constructed location in the world of Camelot Unchained, and how it has been conquered, rebuilt, and perhaps conquered again! Use 250 words or less to tell us the history of that place, and we’ll print the winning story in the next newsletter. We look forward to reading your entries in the thread you'll see going up in the Fan Fiction section of the forums, accessible through our website

Thank You

Thank you to Tyrsis for this awesome pizza lunch! We all enjoyed it greatly and were very happy… especially Tim!
Big thanks to Ludovic, who has continued to send us amazing and awesome gifts! This month, thanks for this amazing hat, and of course the wonderful beard oil! 

Dose of Design

-by Ben Pielstick

Reconstructing Combat

As I mentioned a few months ago in a previous newsletter, combat is one of the big features we’re placing a lot of emphasis on for the start of Beta 1. Right now we are putting a huge amount of effort into solidifying the technical roots of the combat system. The experience of fighting other players from solo and small scale to massive battles is one of the key defining features of Camelot Unchained that has to be rock solid and fun, not only in early testing, but for years to come as well. 

This is easier said than done of course, especially in the midst of building a custom game engine with a small team at a startup studio still trying to hire enough programmers to handle the multitude of critical tasks to get the whole game pieced together. Though the engine itself still needs additional features and optimization too, being a small studio means we can’t devote attention to all aspects of the game at once. Getting to this point has involved a lot of work to ensure our client and server foundation is strong enough to maintain the level of performance necessary to allow us to shift our efforts toward delivering the combat features we need. As it turns out, this shift has highlighted a lot of foundational discrepancies that have built up over time while combat wasn’t the primary focus, which demand attention before significant progress can be made.

At a high level, the combat experience can be broken up into two major areas of emphasis. One is the look and feel of combat. No matter how interesting the design of the game is, if the way your character moves and animates doesn’t feel right, and if the sounds and visual effects aren’t clear and satisfying, the game just won’t be fun to play. The other important area is mechanics. This covers the rules and formulas that govern combat, such as the damage model, the ability execution framework, and the features that support interesting interactions between character abilities. Just as with the look and feel, a game that doesn’t have good mechanics and interesting abilities that make combat engaging and challenging just isn’t fun, no matter how good it looks. In order to deliver a great experience, both of these areas need a lot of work. They have to get to a point where they technically function smoothly and efficiently, and deliver a user experience that reflects the level of fun we want to present in the final game.

To really deliver on everything I’ve mentioned, the look and feel of combat is getting major improvements all around. For example, the manner in which we play animations is undergoing changes to support grouping animations into sets. These correspond to the way a character animates while using abilities with different weapons equipped. At the same time, we’re working on greater support for procedural elements, in order to smooth out transitions and make character motion feel more fluid and realistic.

On top of that, our audio system is getting many new tie-ins to characters executing and being affected by abilities in combat, as well as environmental cues, to really bring out a lot more of the immersive and critically important conveyance of information you can hear in the midst of a battle.

Our visual effects are also getting some attention. Our particle system is still in need of a lot of the important features that will eventually bring visual fidelity up to what it will be at launch. However, some important improvements are being made that will really help bring out the unique visual effects of each class. These are vital for showing what happens along with the sounds and animations that take place when players use abilities in combat.

On the ability system programming side, the list of revisions is even more extensive, and largely more technical than I’m qualified to adequately describe. However, the goal of these revisions is to streamline everything: from the way abilities are executed when you select a target and press an ability button in the game, to the way we create and store the relevant ability data during development. This includes both the raw stats derived from the character’s equipment and the ability components themselves, as well as the logic that determines how those stats are applied, based on the state of each character and the unique properties of each ability component we design. These changes will not only have the initial benefit of improving how abilities work in the near term, but also the very important long term benefit of ensuring that we can easily expand on the functionality of the ability system and more easily maintain it over the entire lifecycle of the game. This will be of very high importance moving forward as extensive new features are developed to facilitate the implementation of each of the upcoming classes and their corresponding unique mechanics. For more on this topic, you might want to watch the livestream with Mark and Andrew here.

It is never an easy decision to fundamentally change a significant part of a game’s code in the midst of an already taxing development process. When it’s the right decision for long term success though, it is a very good thing to be able to go ahead and commit to change. Much, much better than being stuck with limited and unmaintainable systems due to inflexible schedules caused by funding concerns, inflexible delivery dates, or the disapproval of decision makers who don’t understand the severity of the detrimental consequences of leaving a failing system in place!

Fortunately for us all, none of those blocking issues are the case here at CSE. Our financial situation is great, thanks to all of you continuing to have faith in us and support our ongoing effort to bring you the best RvR game possible, which ensures we can take the time we need to make that happen. In turn, our studio leadership is experienced and confident enough to know how to make the right call when it comes to tough choices like these. Ultimately, nothing has really changed as far as the intended design, or the foundational principles behind the way the game is being made. Instead, we’re committed to making sure we deliver on what we set out to make, by fixing the problems we’ve encountered along the way. I’d much rather do this than cut corners to get things done without a real chance of ending up with a game as great as we all know Camelot Unchained can be. 

Developer Quote

  “No BS, no half-truths, just straight up honesty and a Mea Culpa from Andrew and I.” - Mark Jacobs


-by Max Porter

Enjoy these art team comics that Sandra drew up in lieu of an Artitup article this month! 
And now for some art team images! Here's Sandra doing some animation:
And here's Mike using Substance Designer to make C.U.B.E. materials: 
Next up, Dionne using Substance Painter for character materials!
Here's Jon working on some Viking light armor: 
Michelle doing some weapons concepts: 
And last, but certainly not least, James kicking butt at web design:

Tech Central

 -By Charles "Bull" Durham

Tale of the Golden Sound

It was a dark and stormy night. Nick the Naughty was looking for something special to go with his backstab of AFK Andy. Mr. the Naughty was looking for The Golden Sound (also known as The Wilhelm Scream).

Nick reaches into his bag of tricks. He discovers a small notebook called Backstab. Inside of this notebook, he flips to page 37 (because he knows that’s where the secret will be). On page 37, he sees a small number. A precious number. It is the key to the magic sound. He tells the gods of his glorious achievement, specifically where he smote AFK Andy.

In the land of the Builders, there lived an imp known as Segfault. Segfault dutifully transcribed the holy numbers during the crafting of the Book of Backstab, as they were read to her by the Great Wizard Mongo. Segfault slaved away day after day, transcribing numbers for the Wizard. Occasionally Segfault would escape, and in the process unleash the fabled monkeys of chaos into the land of Builders.

But that is another story for another time.

Mongo, however, isn’t as smart as he lets people believe. In the shadows, behind closed doors, in beautiful downtown Fairfaxia, exists a little known group of elders. These elders weave the magic into being and whisper secrets to Mongo. They tirelessly maintain the very fabric of the universe in exchange for pizza.

One of these elders, nay gods, is the God of Sound. He is only known by ‘dB’ and even then his name is whispered in hushed voices. He created the Golden Sound and hid it within a vault known as the Bank of Sound. Knowing there are evil forces wishing to take this sound, he hid it so that only a person with a magic number, a key, could hope to unleash its power.

Our story does not end there, however. This key is useless on its own. It must be embedded within a forge and whispered to Mongo. This forge is a great responsibility and its secrets are reasonably well kept by the God known only as Bull. After Bull makes the forge, then the Grand Lord of PvP uses this forge to assign the key to the golden sound to the Great Book of Ability Secrets.

Finally, this is whispered to Mongo, who whispers it to Segfault, who writes it in a notebook, and discreetly passes it to Nick the Naughty for when he needs it. Because it was there when Nick needed it, he prays to the gods of sound, utters the number and a glorious sound emits from the air around him.

And now you understand the build pipeline, probably. If not, I hope you were entertained, but read on. If you were entertained and prefer (like I do) to imagine that the world is magical, then you can stop reading now.

Still here? So this is the reality: dB creates sound for the game. These sounds are rolled into a sound bank, with a lot of other information, and these are pushed to your client through the patcher. dB also uploads information about the sound bank to our database. Our tools will then allow Ben and Mark to assign sound event numbers to events that the other programmers hook up. These numbers are then rolled into the custom built data that is also pushed out to your clients. When the right point happens in the code on your client program, the program makes a call to the sound engine with the ID number of the event you want to play and the object to play it on. The sound engine then takes care of the rest.

That’s the real version of the story, but it’s also pretty boring. I liked mine better.

State Of The Build

 -by Cory Demerau

Hello everyone! State of the Build is under new management, and I'll be doing things a little differently here. This section will now read a little more like traditional patch notes, so everyone has a clear picture of what's changed over the course of the month. Without further ado, let's get started!

  • We just pushed a major new version to C.U.B.E! Lots of changes and improvements there (especially on the memory-side)
  • Each plot's construction queue is now only visible while in building mode, and only to players that belong to the plot's faction
  • A plot's owner can now see the construction queue within the plot ownership UI. There, they can remove blueprints, reorder them, and see whether a blueprint is missing materials.
  • Building stability is now, well, more stable. Stability passes are less costly to run, and each substance's stability settings are more believable.
  • The inner sanctum of each plot (where enemies must go to take control of it) is now more easily noticed thanks to a particle effect.
  • Fixed numerous visual errors with buildings
  • Changed around the C.U.B.E. zones. Goodbye old zone, hello flat zone!
  • Rubble is in progress, and coming along nicely! 
  • The first pass of crafting is now in the game! It's done exclusively through slash commands, most of which are still only usable by admins. More on this in updates to come!
  • Crafting information for a blueprint is shown if there are materials missing. 
  • The first modeled Vox is in the game! It can be seen in C.U.B.E.
  • Currently undergoing a massive overhaul. As Mark and Andrew discussed in the Beta 1 delay stream [LINK], this system was extremely brittle and prone to various errors whenever someone touched it. Rather than continue to try to work around this system, we decided to cut out some of the worst parts, and reinforce with a much stronger, more robust version of itself. While that update is being worked on, abilities are currently in limbo, awaiting their rebirth as something new and much better!
  • Picts have joined the Arthurians!
  • Each playable race now has both male and female playable genders. Equal representation at last!
  • Client Tech:
  • Fixed a bug with rendering threads sometimes colliding, causing various issues
Server Tech:
  • Improvements for Worldstate databases
  • Fixed a bug where players sometimes had 0 mass. Whee!

Developer Spotlight

-Jenesee asks Dionne

For this month’s spotlight, we have a very special treat; an interview with Dionne, the latest addition to the art team! Dionne has been working remotely for a while now, and recently joined us in the office, so we wanted to take this opportunity to get to know her a little better. 

Q: How did you end up joining us at CSE?

A:I was lucky enough to be able to join CSE as an intern right after I had graduated college. I stumbled upon the website by chance and I immediately fell in love with the concept and art (not to mention MMOs are my favorite type of game), so I sent in an application. It was all very “right place at the right time,” and I couldn’t be happier with how everything came together.

Q: When did you start, and what projects did you first work on for CSE? 
A: I started in July 2015. When I was interning I made a lot of props. Weapons, plant stuffs, the plot markers, and I built about a billion chests for different realms, haha. Just a lot of following Michelle’s amazing concepts with sculpts and textures. 

Q: How do you balance pretty and functional, in terms of art?
A: Tyler keeps me in check with the functional part. Since I’m still learning a lot from him I tend to go a lot more frilly than necessary and then I need to scale it back. However, I am getting better at reining in my polycounts to a more reasonable amount. 
Q: What are you working on right now? 

A: Right now I’m texturing TDD light armor. In the last couple months I got to texture a lot of different armors and terrains. It was fun making new materials and bringing the concept vision to life on Jon’s sculpts. 
Q: How do you work with the rest of the company, what skills do you bring in materials, PBR, or an understanding of nature?

A:I love being able to work with everyone in CSE in person. They are all so talented, and they’re always willing to help each other and share their knowledge to bring out the best in every project. I feel really lucky to be able to work with all of them.

Since I’ve graduated so recently, I have familiarity with the latest programs in the industry. So, as CSE implements their new lighting system, I am able to bring my experience in PBR to the materials I get to work on, which allows our characters and props to look better than with the older techniques. In terms of an understanding of nature, Tyler tells me I have a really good eye. He said the first terrain textures I did were awesome, and required very little editing.

Q: How does it feel to see your art appear in the game? 

A: Freaking awesome!! The first time I saw something I made I was so happy. I remember the moment so clearly when Tyler told me the plot markers were in-game. Even after working on this game for almost a year, when I see things I helped to make, I get really excited all over again. :D

Lore Corner

-by Max Porter

We hope you enjoy this piece, the third part of The Great Depths Raid story. This lore of The Depths™ was penned by Max Porter under the vision and guidance of Mark Jacobs for Camelot Unchained. You can find the first and second parts of the tale in the Lore section of our website, here


The Great Depths Raid

Part 3: The Great Gullet

No matter how the Delvers scratched, slammed, or slashed at the thing that gulped them down, the glowing faces behind the semi-transparent walls merely laughed. Mocking the Delvers silently, it seemed, for their helpless tumble into the Great Gullet. 

The thunderous swallowing threw the six of them into that strange place, a place that stank of something unknown. It was a harsh odor; acidic and metallic, yet oddly sweet; a pungent scent of something once delicious, now rotting. Like pillars lining a grand hallway, ridges of white material like bone lined the walls at regular intervals. Between these, the crimson walls stretched and strained rhythmically with a unpleasant rippling sound. Above, crisscrossing bridges arched, woven of pulsating, straining cords like tendons. Everything appeared to be in motion, ever so slightly, making it seem as though something always lurked at the corner of the eye. 

Ahead of the rest, Donnie took all of this in with a brief smile, then hopped out of the way, sensing his larger companions close behind. Unless he missed his guess, the big Frost Giant woman would be next, eager to prove her bravery. She might be a good one to have along when he finally discovered his treasure; she looked like she could carry a mountain of gold! 

This time, he hoped, most of the Delvers were prepared for the sudden disorientation of being expelled into another room. The circular exit from the infinite stair should allow them to tumble, roll, and come to stand on this small platform of smooth, pale material that overlooked the eerie hall. That is, if they were as nimble as a Luchorpán. He wanted to see how they handled it. 

Just as Donnie had expected, the first one through was the big Jötnar woman, struggling to maintain her balance as she was shot out of the valve. She stumbled with a crash, then picked herself up and came to stand next to the Luchorpán, looming over him as she peered into the murky hallway, all straining tendons and twisted bone. 

“Well, that’s quite a sight,” she grunted thoughtfully, and glanced at the ancient runes that were carved around the porous edge of the platform. As she translated the words in her mind, she could hear others arriving behind her, from Jorvald’s heavy thud to Hidduk’s nimble patter. “What do you think we’ll find in this place…this Great Gullet, my little Donnie?”

The Luchorpán turned, then reached up and patted her knee. “Hoping for treasure or a clue to it, my big, uh, hmm…” He scratched the side of his face for a moment, then lit up with a new smile. “I don’t know your name!” 

The big woman glanced nervously back at where the others were getting their bearings, then muttered, “That’s no accident; I didn’t want Jorvald to hear my true name. He might not…react well. But you may call me Fogja.” 

Donnie laughed aloud, then stifled himself with both long-fingered hands as he attracted the attention of the others. “Alright, my big Fogja. Now let’s really get moving. See that bridge just below us, that continues into the gullet? I’m pretty sure I could jump to that, and from there…” As if struck by another thought, he looked up at her and added, “Does Fogja mean something in the common tongue? Like ‘lumbering loudmouth’? I heard you coming up the valley outside from miles away!” 

 The Frost Giant rolled her eyes. “No, but when it comes to being a loudmouth, I think you’ve got that role mastered perfectly.” 

“Right, are we all here?” said Hidduk, counting the Delvers off as he rearranged his cloak over his fur. Though the stealthy Cait Sith kept his voice even, his irritation with something or someone could be seen in the twitching of his tail. “Xedrik, Sacriphisto…good. Now, can we at least try to stay together as a group and proceed in an orderly manner?” 

Hovering just above the floor, the Bean Sidhe Sacriphisto began to agree with Hidduk, but was interrupted as a loud snap came from below them, shaking the platform. Alarmed, the Delvers looked at one another, while Donnie attempted to lean over the edge and ascertain what was going on. Fogja grabbed onto the back of his shirt to steady the Luchorpán, but he was already backing away in alarm. 

While the Delvers had been collecting themselves on the platform, the denizens of the Great Gullet had not been idle. Scurrying, crawling, or pulling themselves to the base of the twisted tendon pillar that held the platform in place, they had begun chewing, their disjointed mouths open wide. There was something wrong with their faces, as well…

As he reeled back onto the shaking platform, it was all Donnie could do to yell “Their faces! They’ve grown our… faces! Brace yourselves!” before another loud snap screamed across the Great Gullet. The platform they stood on shuddered, twisted...and dropped. 

It was a sickening fall, made more so as the platform bounced on the spongy floor of the Great Gullet, scattering the group. They tumbled or rolled into the fight, now standing on an uneven, perforated surface, red and rippling like the walls. Along with everything else in this place, the floor shifted and moved unexpectedly, like a living thing. 

Even as he was tossed into the air, Hidduk snarled and lashed out, making a thickly tentacled Abomination nearby leap backward. He needed some space to slip into hiding. 

Xedric kept his feet, calling up a burst of fire to rip apart the Abomination that rose up before him. Then he hesitated; he saw himself. Well, it had his face, but all wrong, stretched over mandibles and an insect-like exterior. His own face, grinning madly, as though he’d found the power he had been looking for, after all these years. His feet, unconsciously finding the best purchase for combat from decades of training, slowed their pace. Though it was attached to a thing of horror, he found his resolve to destroy his own face weakening, caught as it was in a joyous expression of satisfaction. 

Oddly enough, the insect-like Abomination with Xedric’s face didn’t immediately pounce upon the fire mage. Even as his steps slowed with a deadly lethargy, it didn’t snap its mandibles shut around him. It didn’t try to devour his flesh and bones. Instead, as his own mouth opened, a weird ripple of faintly gleaming energy began to flow from him to the creature. Still he hesitated, feeling as though he had forgotten something… 

Xedric blinked in surprise as thunder rose from the dark corners of the Great Gullet. It was as though the gigantic hallway was laughing. Although it seemed he could do nothing with the knowledge, Xedric began to realize that the true power of the place was the lethargic feeling its magic induced; a sense of complacency that crept up the feet, through the legs, and into the back. Xedric quickly glanced around, and noticed that heads were already nodding on Donnie and the stone-studded Dvergr Jorvald, while even the massive Fogja moved more slowly, shaking herself to try and remain awake. For some reason, though he wanted to help them, he couldn’t quite remember why he should bother. What did any of this have to do with him, again? There had been something that he dreamed of having, but what was it? The Dream Eater had taken it, for the Great Gullet was hungry. 

As the strange thunder rolled over them, everything began to feel more confused. Sacriphisto took up position behind the others, shaking his head to clear it. It was as though everything was out of focus. The Bean Sidhe healer rushed to Xedric and called up some power, trying to cure the fire mage of this deadly effect that slowed him and left him open to the hungry Abomination. 

Meanwhile, Jorvald struck forward, cutting a wriggling Abomination in half before it could hope to pierce him with its many long stingers. Spraying ichor from his axe, the Dvergr whirled, stepping from the wreckage of the tendon pillar onto the spongy red surface of the hallway floor. He was ready for the next one; an otherworldly, twisted thing that wore his face, as though a poor crafter had half-finished his likeness in flesh. Jorvald turned so that the Abomination’s claws would bounce off his stone studs. He hefted his gleaming axe as the claws scratched at him, ready to cut this monster that wore a mockery of his face...and then, suddenly, his thoughts stopped making sense. 

It started at the Dvergr’s feet, and spread up his stone-studded legs; fear, washing over him like a freezing ocean. Thunder vibrated in his stone bones like a storm in the deep part of his mind. There had never been anything like this in his thoughts before; an empty place where his courage should be. He watched with nothing but mind-blanking horror as the warped, fleshy thing grinned at him, almost choking on the flood of energy that poured like ephemeral gas from the shallow scratches that had missed his stones and hit his skin. The courage that he relied upon to take action was draining away. 

Internally, Jorvald fought the feeling, struggling to attack again. He had always been brave. He only needed to find the next wordless movement of his own thoughts, the next action that his strong right arm could take. He couldn’t move, couldn’t speak, couldn’t act, not because he was physically prevented but because he didn’t want to; not simply because he felt fear, but because he could not find the will to move. It was painfully strange to be missing his main motivating force, the desires that he had always kept close to his heart; to survive and thrive through his bravery and boldness, out in this world full of adventure. Ever since his father had told him to behave himself and watch the tournament of champions that wielded axe and hammer so well, ever since he had been a small Dvergr all wide-eyed and unknowing, he had wanted to achieve things through his bravery. Whether it was beer, food, women, gold, or simply life, all of those concerns, wants, and needs were quite distant from him now, impossibilities. He could not find the courage to break the hold this thing had on him. 

Even his natural competitive nature did not push him onward, for the Dvergr only the fear of losing and none of the courage he needed to show his prowess. He felt empty now. So much of his life depended on this one thing, this one element of his character. He could do nothing, even as the deformed creature wearing his face drew nearer and nearer. The Courage Eater would not let go. The Great Gullet was devouring him.

At the same moment, Sacriphisto completed the flickering magic that freed Xedric from the curse of this place. Snapping awake, the Flame Warden ripped the thing that faced him in twain with a gout of fire that blazed as hot as his sudden anger. The halves toppled to the ground, leaking the dreams that the creature had pulled from him, but Xedric had no time to look at the disconcerting images the energy was forming. 

He had remembered his dreams of power, and muttered a quick thanks to Sacriphisto as he stepped back. Xedric had a new idea, a thought lighting up inside him; it would take him a moment to prepare something powerful enough, but with all the magic the Great Gullet was throwing around, he might be able to redirect that power, and try something new. A smile played across the Flame Warden’s lips as the burning runes formed in his mind. Yes, this could work. 

For his part, Sacriphisto nodded an acknowledgement, and panted, holding up a hand. He definitely felt the effects of his efforts in taking Xedric’s hurts on himself. 

Panting, he glanced around to see most of his fellow Delvers trapped by these hungry Abominations. Suddenly, as mysterious thunder like laughter rolled through the shaking, rippling Great Gullet, it all seemed hopeless. It was hopeless. As the feeling crept up his hovering legs and through his back, the Bean Sidhe let his arms fall to his sides. He could not heal these people, who had no hope of survival. 

It was not that the Bean Sidhe felt despair, something his people had long ago forsworn; he simply could not see a reason to continue his healing work. They had been caught too early, and too well; there was nothing he could do. Inside his mind, there was an empty space where his hope had been. Pointless, pointless to continue struggling against a trap sprung so well. Shaking his head sadly, Sacriphisto turned around--right into his own face, grinning madly back at him, though surrounded by a halo of wriggling eyestalks. A current of shimmering energy was flowing straight from a numbed wound in his back into the mouth of the thing that wore his face. For a moment, he struggled to reach out and fight back against this thing, but then with a kind of half-shrug, he stopped. When he had no hope of beating it, he wondered why he should bother. He simply turned back around, merely out of curiosity, to see how the others would give their lives. The Hope Eater had him, and the Great Gullet laughed and laughed, the sound thrumming through its victims. 

The Bean Sidhe felt a flicker of surprise in the growing hole of his emotions when he saw that somehow, by dint of quick attacks and mean strength, both Donnie and the giantess had fought their way to Xedric. A pair of gutted Abominations lay on the quivering floor, their fleshy masks dissolving. 

While the Jötnar stood guard, Donnie seemed to be aiding Xedric with his magic somehow. Flickering sparks appeared in the air around the previously unremarkable Human, whose eyes glowed with the words of power that he spoke. Sacriphisto couldn’t even muster a shrug at their pathetic attempt to fight back. 

The sparks began to spin, streaking hot orange around Xedric’s head. For another long moment, his fiery crown whirled in time with the fierce conflagration he held in his hands. He seemed to be waiting for something. 

When the rolling laughter of the Great Gullet rumbled up the hallway once more, carrying the deadly magic of the Depths, the Senior Flame Warden was ready. He grinned, his teeth flashing white in the flickering light. With a roar that built upon the echoing laughter of this place, the sparks burst and flew out, streaking bright through the air. The hot missiles thrummed with power, glowing brighter and brighter as they arrowed in toward their targets. 

As the nearby Abominations were struck, they cried out in shock and pain, the fire catching hold. Flesh sizzled and charred away, and the creature’s cries became horrific screams, rising higher and higher to the point of pain.

Sacriphisto and Jorvald shook themselves and looked on in surprise, blinking at the writhing monsters. Something began to emerge from the twisted things, spewing from their pores like mist. From the thing that appeared to wear Jorvald’s face, the glowing energy formed another visage in the air, with stern eyes that stared down at him. The Dvergr shuddered, shaken to his core; this was the face of his father. As it faded, the energy flowed back into him. Jorvald felt his courage return, yet dirtied somehow, as if he were not quite whole. He gritted his teeth and clutched his axe, promising himself never to let that happen again. 

For his part, Sacriphisto could only stare at the thing that had tried to consume him. As the energy swirled from the burning, twitching thing, the glow coalesced into a woman’s visage. He looked away as she stared at him, the shimmering mist flowing back to the Bean Sidhe. Donnie heard him whisper, “No. Not her.” 

The fires burned hotter and hotter, feeding off the Depths magic that Xedric had used. The flickering energies released by the Abominations’ deaths faded like smoke, leaving cinders and ash behind. 

“Ha! Well done!” Fogja roared her appreciation and slapped Xedric on the shoulder, nearly knocking him prone. “Those things are done for, and the way is clear! Now, where did that shorty with the fur go off to?” 

Sacriphisto cleared his throat. “I don’t know, but we need to move quickly. There are more of them coming.” He glanced upward, and the others followed his gaze to see long tentacles emerging from high on the wall where the platform had been. Sacs of straining organic material rose, peeling away from ill-formed heads and creating new masks that looked like the Delvers. “It’s only a question of which direction. Down the hallway?”

Kicking at the smoldering ash pile which was all that remained of the thing that had nearly devoured him, Jorvald started to mutter something about how he’d been about to break out of it, then added, “Come on then. Down we go, along...what did those runes say at the entrance? Down the Great Gullet we go.”  

With that, he turned and began to hustle away, closely followed by the other Delvers. However, as they crossed into a deeper section of this place, Donnie’s voice rang out. 

“Wait...look!” Heads turned in the Luchorpán’s direction. Donnie’s eyes were as round as coins, wide and staring in shock and delight. “The gold...the silver! Hahaha! I’m going to be rich. Come on, before they get away!” And off he ran, bounding easily over some sharp white spines that clustered near the path. 

“Hang on a moment, Donnie!” Fogja called after him, but the little man hurled himself into a shadowy doorway and was gone. Before anyone could follow, the archway folded in on itself and disappeared. 

“Breath of the ice dragon, what’s going on here!?” Xedric growled, his voice still hoarse from speaking the burning words of power that had blasted their enemies. “We can’t be losing members at this rate!” 

“No time,” Sacriphisto reminded him. The Bean Sidhe glanced back at the horde of Abominations regrowing from the walls, floor, and roof of the Great Gullet. “More of those disgusting tentacles and pincers. They are coming to consume us again!”

So they ran on, hoping to find both missing Delvers in another passage. 

The hallway narrowed and came to a final dark archway. An exit, it seemed, from this awful place of devouring Abominations.  

Leading up to it was a broad staircase of bone, rising with macabre elegance and startling white contrast from the red, writhing floor of the Gullet. In the center of the sweeping staircase stood a Human woman in a red dress, eyes downcast. 

“Hello there! Be you friend or foe?” Called Fogja hopefully, but there was no response to her or the approach of the Delvers. The woman only bent forward further, her long hair trailing. 

The Delvers paused, uncertain. Xedric stepped forward onto the bottom stair. “Well, at least she isn’t waving tentacles or pincers at us.” He glanced back and smirked. “I know that’ll make the healer more comfortable.” 

As if in response, the woman doubled over still further, coughing and choking. Something began to grow from her bare neck, a long spire of bone that was quickly joined by others. Like the empty husk that it was, the woman’s corpse began to drop to the ground as the impossibly large thing emerged with strangely ponderous grace. 

As Xedric’s mouth went wide, Sacriphisto swept forward past his companions with an annoyed glance at the Human. “I do not fear you, creature! Beware, for in the defense of my friends I shall wreak terrible destruction upon you!” 

Though it seemed slow because of its size, the beast that came forth actually moved with deadly speed. Before anyone could do more than ready their weapons, it had burst out. 

The thing made no sense in this reality. Though built of raw, twisted ropes of skinless flesh, its main body mass was shaped almost like a hexagon, standing upon far too many long, sharp legs and spines. It hurt the eyes to look at; parts of it seemed to lie within the Veil entirely, extensions of the interconnected struts and tendons of the structure that hummed with uncomfortable life. It was simply incomprehensible, except in the only way that anything here was comprehensible; as a living embodiment of horror. As it walked or hustled up the stairs to block the archway, it rocked from side to side, almost bounding on its awkward corners. Though it had no face or even a recognizable front, it thrust what must have been its maw forward, showing jagged bones that passed for teeth.

Sacriphisto watched, eyes wide with horror, as the repulsive thing hoisted itself upward, dribbling unnameable fluid onto the pristine white steps. 

The noise it made when it spoke was awful, a grinding wet growl barely within the threshold of hearing. “No, you won’t, Sacriphisto. I know you. I am, after all, alive.”

Unseen by all in the shadows to the side of the stairs, Hidduk sighed silently. He gripped his daggers tight, preparing himself. This moment had come far sooner than he would have liked, but he could delay no longer. It was time to make his move. 

Continued in Part 4 of The Great Depths Raid.

Bonus Images!

As usual, we just couldn’t let you go without showing you an amazing C.U.B.E. creation. Check out this amazing fortified town created by Bleiz! 
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