Unveiled: Camelot Unchained Newsletter #12 - City State Entertainment
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Team Tidings

-by Max Porter

Well, it’s been a real rollercoaster ride of a July here at City State Entertainment™ in beautiful downtown Fairfax, Virginia. On the one hand, we had to announce a delay for the upcoming Beta (read the update here or watch the video update here), but on the other hand, we were able to promise some nice things for our loyal Backers, like Backer Rewards and Subscriber Rewards, as well as reassure you all that we’ve got a truly solid foundation, plus clear plans going forward. Just need more hands on deck to get this ship going faster!

Full of pride in how far we’ve managed to come so far, and eager to see how some new folks will shake out, we’re forging onward with (officially named!) Camelot Unchained™. With all the hard work from artists and programmers alike, we’ve been showing off lots of cool stuff, and there’s still more to come! We’re really looking forward to adding more and more to the game build, pushing our tech farther and putting in some of the tools that will help us create a world, and we’re getting a better and better idea of how cool this game will be. Just look at that amazing new Stealth Unchained stretch goal

Speaking of amazing things, all of us here at the studio want to thank the Backers who supported and continue to support us, whether through thoughts, deeds, donations, or just plain kind words. The adventure of creating a game like this one is always going to be full of challenges to overcome, and we quite literally could not do it without you. All of our supporters are greatly appreciated, and we will always strive to deal honestly and fairly with you all. 

Not too many changes in the office itself this month, although Tyler did hang some beads up on the storage room doorway, and installed a color-changing light, for some reason. Maybe it’s some sort of magical ward against Soul Walking scouts, I’m not quite sure. We’ve also moved some desks around and made room in the expectation of new team members, and have got several new stuffed animal friends around. 

Read on for piles of updates, heaps of news, visual goodies, and interesting tidbits, just as you’ve come to expect from this kick-ass team. Keep on keepin’ on, and please enjoy this, the twelfth issue of Unveiled. 


In super awesome news, our stretch goal “Realm Honors on Steroids,” has funded! Thank you all so much! We’re doing great, and now with your help, players can have more cool stuff in the game! I’ll probably go with period-appropriate shag carpeting and multiple disco balls in my castle throne room. 

The new stretch goal is Stealth Unchained! Whether you’re interested in archery, scouting, or sneaking through the Veil, this stretch goal is for those of you that love interesting, non-OP stealth! Check out the update here for lots more information. 
As I write this, Andrew is showing Tyler and Ben how to use some of the more powerful features of the Terrain Editor, and they’re all getting excited about the possibilities. Tim and Rob have been working on making the amazing building destruction stuff run better and better in the build, and there are many other interesting developments from everyone else! Check out the State of the Build and Tech Central articles below for more details. 


-by Jenesee Grey

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

With the end of July, we closed out a pretty exciting month! I’m sure you have enjoyed reading about all the new additions to the game, and we are seeing a lot of activity on Vine. You might not know that we also post videos about the team, and office events. You can even see our new intern Garrett there, working on growing a beard. What have you all started?

As you can see in our User Stories, we are pleased to have rain in the game now, and are working on snow. Unfortunately life seems to be mirroring the game as far as rain goes, as you can see in the rainbow below. Let’s hope that we don’t bring any more storms to beautiful downtown Fairfax, and that the Vikings don’t arrive with snow! 

If you can’t wait to find out more about the game happenings until the next update, and want to see more about the team, check out Vine for more!

Speaking about game happenings, our ITers have really been giving C.U.B.E. some intense challenges. So far, especially after Dave’s FPS fix, it has been showing some amazing capabilities. Take a look at this screenshot of an ITer testing with a vast amount of blocks (each of those large cubes is at least 8,000 blocks), and see how high the frame rate remains!
Aren’t our IT testers creative? I like the use of roof triangles:
Programmer JB and I met with a large group of IT testers and Backers at Gencon this past weekend, in what has lovingly been dubbed “CU Summer Camp” (JB even made a logo, and was voted camp counselor). If you would like to meet more of the team, we will be speaking at DragonCon in Atlanta, on the weekend of September 4th. Come hang out with Mark and Andrew! Look for more details and let us know if you are interested in attending in the forum post, accessible through our website
I am really pleased to say that the German translators have completed the monumental effort of translating the website into German. I want to give a special thank-you to Tirudan, who has really worked hard to keep this on-track and organized. This is an amazing example of how the Community works together to help this project and the game succeed.

Last but not least, I wanted to tell you that although it was tough to announce that Beta 1 is delayed, I could not be prouder of the Camelot Unchained Community response. The way everyone has rallied together to continue to tell us you would rather wait in order to see a great game, the many kind words, and the forum support, have all been really uplifting to the team. As always, I am honored to be your Community Manager. 

Community Question

Q: Friendlyfyr
How awesome are the Islands? Describe them?...!

Since we have not created them yet, that is tough! However, if I can channel my inner Max, I can give you my opinion. 

A: When I think of the islands, I visualize the CSE logo. The sound of sliding rock as the pieces of it coalesce into one Pangea for Camelot Unchained, the land before the Second Breaking.
CU intro video
Now, they are divided and spread out in the world. Since we know that an island has the possibility of taking on the characteristics of the Realm that has stabilized it, I imagine a varied world with vastly different temperatures, visuals, and floras, as the islands slowly slide toward the main lands of the various Realms who claim them, while epic battles contest that ownership. I see the blue ice, reflecting the water that surrounds the cold whiteness of a Viking paradise, I see the verdant green forests of the Tuatha Dé Danann and the abundance of trees, water, and low plants for cover, I see the waving grass, rolling hills, and tall mountains of the Arthurians...

...and I want to claim them all!

Of course, this is just my opinion. In the end, you will have to wait to see how the artists create the look of each Realm! Look at our current concept art for more. 

Hot Topics

We welcome our Beta 1 backers into the Extended Alpha forum, and we are enjoying the lively discussion as they get up to speed with C.U.B.E. There are some great new pictures of developing projects, so join us and check them out!

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

Look What You Did

Sweet entries! Thanks for the flags, there were both cool ones and funny ones, and a few were both. We had fun looking at them all, and our wonderful, artistic Tyler chose Aija’s entry as the winner:
And as a hilarious, laugh-out-loud runner-up, we can’t help but appreciate this quack-up entry by La Pie: 
Describe Your Home: For our next contest, we’d love it if you folks wrote up a little piece describing your home/castle/fort/etc., in the game, as you’d like to build it or commission someone to do. Keep it under 250 words, please, and tell us who you’d like to visit your building, and why! We’re looking forward to reading your entries in the contest thread you’ll see pop up in the forums on our website

Thank You

Big thanks to Mordran, who gave us ice cream and deliciousness, just in time for Dave’s birthday! It was all consumed with great delight: 

Dose of Design

-by Ben Pielstick

Counter-Revolutionary Combat

With a lot of new and exciting features coming into our internal build, we can really start planning out more details of our character classes and their associated combat mechanics. This seems like a good time to talk about the big picture of what we're doing with combat in CU, and how it is going to work in a pure RvR game. We last visited this topic back in the BSC days presentation, but here I would like to go into more of the feel of combat, and what it means for our ongoing class designs.

The Kickstarter campaign for Camelot Unchained referred to the game as counter-revolutionary, which I think is a good way to describe combat in CU, as well as the game as a whole. In recent years, the trend in MMO combat has been to maintain a relatively simple model, while increasing the combat pacing and control fidelity to rely more heavily on quick-response actions. Rather than following along with this trend, we're putting together a model that is more of a throwback to the pacing of first-generation MMORPGs, and in some ways even the mechanics of MUDs and tabletop RPGs that came before them. 

There are two main reasons for this approach. One is that a lot of CU's design is targeting old-school, traditional MMORPG players, and those games didn't have things like double-tap dodge roll or quick sequential combos. The other reason is that one of our major goals is building a game for an enjoyable large-scale combat experience. While our combat has to hold up and be fun on a small scale too, the most difficult part is making large-scale battles not turn into complete chaos. Maintaining more moderate combat pacing helps to accomplish that, even with a lot going on in a massive battle.

In terms of gameplay, we aren't just setting a moderate pace, but also shifting the emphasis from rapid execution to more complex decision-making. This can be seen in how we utilize separate body-part armor and damage, enable positional and reactive attacks, and use the A.I.R. system. This is where we really delve into the counter-revolutionary rather than retro concept, as not all of these ideas were present in older-generation MMORPGs. Instead, they push gameplay in the opposite direction of the way more recent titles have gone with their combat systems, creating an experience that will be very unique to CU.

As we round out our list of starting archetypes and begin to delve into defining the individual Realm-specific class implementations of each one, we are carefully considering how we can take advantage of our systems to create mechanics that are not only fun and interesting, but diverse in a way that strongly supports our non-mirrored class philosophy. These mechanical differences, while not violating our archetype limitations, can create different class interdependencies and trade-offs, which will ultimately lead to different combat decision making and tactical choices for how to deal with certain situations as each different Realm. Since CU is a game about RvR, and we don't have to worry about PvE leveling or Raid encounter balance, these differences can be more than just slight variations between classes available to each Realm, and instead can follow a strong common theme, which defines the combat style pervasive throughout all of the classes of a given Realm.

Arthurian classes, for example, tend to be tougher to kill than classes of the other Realms. Their armor is heavier, on average, and their abilities tend to have extra defensive bonuses which add to survivability in various ways, even when focusing around dealing damage. The distances of their ranged abilities also tend to be longer overall, making it easy for them to secure an area and force enemies to come to them. When properly supported by mechanics that slowly build over time, engaging in a long drawn out battle against the Arthurians is a risky proposition.

In contrast to the Arthurians, Viking classes lean more toward the offensive side of the scale. What they lack in defense and range they make up for in ferocity, having the highest raw damage output of all the three Realms. Their ramping mechanics build faster, but cap out sooner than the Arthurians. Viking abilities tend to focus around finishing the fight, or sustaining their high damage through various means to overwhelm the opposition, forcing them to crumble under the effects of their grievous wounds.

While the Vikings and Arthurians illustrate the classic opposition of the unstoppable force versus the immovable object, Tuatha Dé Danann classes approach battle in a less conventional and more magic-based way. They are evasive, and can fully exploit vulnerabilities they create. While both of the other Realms prefer to stand and fight, the TDD are opportunistic skirmishers, striking swiftly, disengaging to quickly recover, and flanking with precision that keeps their opponents guessing and unable to bring their full strength to bear.

Hopefully this provides a tiny bit of insight into what makes combat in Camelot Unchained special, both in general mechanical terms and from the unique perspective of each Realm. Just as before, when we described our first pass at archetypes, this is only a very brief overview that will be expanded upon and refined over time, as design work continues. We're very much looking forward to sharing more in the coming months, by adding class-related tasks to our user stories and discussing our ongoing work-in-progress. You can join in as a Backer on the forums on our website

Developer Quote

“As a developer, it's nice not to have to cut corners and compromise quality to meet a deadline! I expect players will appreciate the quality of the end product, even if it wasn't delivered when originally estimated. It's one good thing about working at CSE.” - Brian Green, Senior Engineer


-by Scott Trolan

As this month comes to a close, we are just about to implement a Human male to each Realm, with equippable Realm-specific armor items and melee weapons. Sandra and I have completed and imported our first-pass weapon combat animations into the editor. Meanwhile, Stance and Behavior Editors will be available to Art and Design shortly which will allow us to hook up our animations to play correctly in game. It will be very exciting to see everything come together and assess the outcome of all the work that the team has done. 

Over this month, we have held introductory trials for prospective employees. This included the induction of a new Lead Character Artist, Environmental Artist Intern, and a 3d Art Generalist Intern to our art team. All of which are working out great, so far! We will announce more about these individuals in upcoming updates, as they finalize the employment process.

Sandra and Michelle have been heads-down and multitasking on various art tasks, from unrevealed character concepts, Realm environmental concepts, to promotional art. Tyler is spearheading some team environmental concept work to help task our interns to populate the world of Camelot Unchained with Realm biomes, using architecture, trees, rocks, aaaand props:
James K. has been wireframing U.I. concepts and working on revising our website. He has also begun interesting work on creating Realm icons. As soon as we select icon candidates, we will post them in a future update, as I’m sure Backers would like to weigh in and provide feedback on that!

As you all are aware, Beta has been delayed, and we will be addressing our new team structure over the next two months to better understand our studio’s art and engineering capacity to produce and deliver a quality Beta release of Camelot Unchained. Delay never sounds good - but there is an electricity in the air here in the office, with the addition of new blood and talent. Only good things can come from that! Paraphrasing what Mark has said in his update from all of us here at CSE: We can’t thank you enough for your support and patience, as we make Camelot Unchained into the game you want and deserve!

Tech Central

 -by Cory Demerau 

Data Storage Wars

MMOs need to store lots of data for each player. Characters, settings, items, blueprints, and more all need to be stored safely so that they can be retrieved whenever the player logs in. However, there are two different places that this data can be stored, each with unique advantages. These competing locations are the player's computer (Client-side), or the game server's database (Server-side).

Client-side data's biggest advantage is its accessibility for the player. A file on the player's computer can be read/used/manipulated directly by the player, even without being logged into the game. Configuration settings are almost always stored Client-side for this very reason; if a player changes some settings that make them unable to play the game, changing those settings directly in the file is an easy way to fix the issue. This accessibility is a double-edged sword though, because there is some data that needs to be protected from manipulation outside the game.

Server-side data solves this problem by keeping data out of the player's direct control. It would be easy to cheat, after all, if a character's stats were able to be changed by the player outside the game! By storing that data in the server database, it can only be retrieved by the game when it's needed, and the game controls when/if that data gets modified.

Blueprints, which I’ve been working on a lot lately, have to straddle this line between accessibility and security. We want blueprints created using C.U.B.E. to be easily shared between players and accounts, so they're stored Client-side. However, we want better protection for blueprints created while connected to the normal game server, so those are stored Server-side, connected directly to the character that created them. These blueprints won't be as easy to share, but will be easier to protect and claim as your own when we add more features for trading blueprints in-game.

Understanding the differences between these two storage locations and recognizing what types of data belong on either side is very important to making a successful MMO that keeps its players happy and minimizes opportunities to cheat.

State Of The Build

 -by Brian Green

Some of the most under-appreciated parts of game development are the software tools. The work of graphics and gameplay programmers are on display for players to see, but the tool programmer's work is rarely seen, outside of other developers. Why are tools so important? Because tools are used to make content.

In MMOs you need content, A LOT of content. Even in a game like CU, where we have very little PvE content and hope to take advantage of a lot of procedurally-generated content, we still need A LOT of content: classes, components, abilities, terrain, building blocks, stats, equipment, and plenty more have to be added to the game. Single-player games can get away with coding all of their content just once, but MMOs need systems to easily handle adding more content on top, in order to grow and change over time. 

Some MMOs have whole teams of people creating content for the game: people who carve out terrain, others who build equipment and abilities, and still others who plan out massive boss fights. Being a smaller team, however, we have less people to create content; a lot falls on designer Ben! That means more responsibility is laid on the shoulders the tools programmer as well, creating the editor to fill out the data, and on the gameplay programmer, implementing the systems. And, these three parties have to work together closely to make sure things go well. Luckily, Ben, Bull, and I work well together; plus, the names we use begin with "B".

As with many other parts of the game, tools development has been iterative. Take abilities as an example: the first version of abilities had a very simple editor that defined things like "how much damage to do" and "how fast to make the player move". When a more complex system that allowed for trees of "ability effects" was created, we needed a way to create those trees, so that we could define an ability to do damage, and another to adjust a player's speed stat. Then when we added ability components, we needed yet another editor to define the components. Each time a new system is implemented, a new part of the editor has to be created or expanded. And each time, the tools get a little bit better, as we understand the systems and code more.

As we transition from Alpha to Beta, these tools will become even more important, because we'll shift from implementing entirely new systems to creating content for the systems we've already implemented. Then we'll see the real power of these tools we've developed.

And, as always, a selection of the many patch notes from this month:
  • Improved the saving and loading system for data to allow multiple people to work with game data at once.
  • Fixed a lot of cumulative bugs that were causing significant player and bot rubber banding.
  • Added HBAO (Horizon-Based Ambient Occlusion) to make the world look even more pretty.
  • Added face culling to not render items hidden and improve rendering performance.
  • Added rain to the game. Clouds change when the weather is stormy now.
  • Implemented a disruption system for interrupts. Abilities have a disruption health that must be exhausted via disruption damage from other abilities before the ability is interrupted.
  • We have a first pass for doing damage to buildings. Abilities like firewall and projectiles can now damage blocks and cause collapses.
  • Added a system to allow for abilities to be sped up or slowed down (haste or slow).

Backer Spotlight

 -Jenesee asks Nekromaniak


As our Beta 1 players stream into C.U.B.E., they certainly have a lot of questions! One of the Community members who has stepped up to answer them is Necromaniak, who can often be found in the C.U.B.E. channel to help Alpha and Beta 1 Backers. He even made a video tutorial about how to use the C.U.B.E. interface! Check it out in the forum if you are new to building. We decided to find out more about what inspires him in the monthly Spotlight.

Q: When did you become interested in CU?

A: Well, I heard rumors about a sequel to Dark Age of Camelot. I kinda thought it was just a rumor, but then I stumbled upon the CU Kickstarter campaign. Interested was quite an understatement. From that point I've been keeping a close eye on the project and when the CUBE client launched I started participating in the already nice community.

Q: You seem very drawn to the building aspect, are you planning to be a Crafter?

A: For the majority of the time I probably will. Building is amazing. I get a lot of creative ideas, and I try to put them to good use in any way or form. So I CUBE now, and later on, in game, the actual building will be a way to express myself.

In all of my previous MMO's I’ve played, I've always been a Healing Class. I've always been a fan of healing, as you can really make a difference in battles. Good and responsive healers are not easy to find. I will probable play a healing class if i don’t feel like building, so I can aid my brothers in arms.

Q: Do you plan to use crafting as a primary source for in-game income?

A: Probably, but i also like to "Farm" materials/resources etc. It's quite relaxing to just harvest some raw materials and sell them on the market. 

Q: Why are you called Necromaniak (a C.U.B.E. channel request)?  

A: It's my DAoC name. I was playing a Necromancer at launch. I also played a Cabalist, now try and guess that name! :) There is no real story behind it im afraid Basically the reason why I took it with me to CU is because i helped a lot of players with their Masterlevels/Artifacts within Dark Age, and it would be awesome to find them again in this game. Or players that I forgot about to find me again. (I got a terrible memory)

Q: How do you envision the future of C.U.B.E.?

A: Being very bad for my social life. I think CUBE is gonna be one of the cornerstones of CU. In most games if your home town is taken or destroyed it resets after a while. Now in CU, the player-made buildings got some extra value added to them. They feel like they really belong to you and you don’t want others to destroy YOUR creation. I think that CUBE will provide a sense of pride that I've not felt in other games before

Q: The C.U.B.E. community seems very interesting and bonded. What is your assessment

A: So far, I've seen a lot of players being very helpful with others. It is easy to ignore someone's question. Those who take time to answer, change the (game) experience for the players in need. This Community is solid already, but will grow and be stronger as long as Players are willing to help each other.

Q: What are the things you are looking forward to, and what do you worry about, regarding C.U.B.E.?

A: The things I look forward to... oh my... You got a minute? I think the fact that I will be defending my own creation excites me the most. Also the building process, as it will be on live, is something I’m excited about. Its gonna be a team effort to get it done. We really have to act as a Realm instead of individuals. Also everyone that will be playing a Crafter has their own ideas. So the variety of buildings will be endless, plus the fact it will change every day. I can see myself walking through towns/cities just admiring the creativity. The only actual worry I have would be if there will be enough time/resources to realize my ideas. :)

Lore Corner

-by Max Porter

A new story to grace the hallowed halls of our game’s lore! Written by Loremaster Max Porter under Mark’s expert guidance and vision for Camelot Unchained.  

 The Becoming™ - Jötnar Part 1
The Frost Giants  

Fear. Fear and pain and darkness. These are the children of winter. Now I will tell you how we came to be known as Winter’s Children, the Frost Giants of the mountain peaks. Now I will tell you of the three winters that ended our world, so that we might begin anew, mightier than before. Now I will tell you of the Fimbulwinter, and the Beast.

The story of the Jötnar begins thus: There was a small village on a mountain’s peak. The people there lived the hardest and coldest lives of any in those mountains, scratching an existence from the frosty earth. They hunted and trapped for meat and for skins, and in this way they survived in the same place their fathers had, their own place, high up and away from the concerns below. 

The Piercing of the Veil caused great changes in the weather. Life became more difficult than ever. Storms lasted longer, and the sun’s pale light barely warmed the village. However, these folk were hardy. The cold was part of their lives, and they endured it. Or at least, most of the village did. 

After the first Veilstorms came through, things began to change. The cold was deeper, and seemed to fill the mind as well as the body. Every now and then, folk would go missing in the dead of winter. They were said to have gone frost-mad, and wandered off into the white. 

In this village there lived two brothers who kept a mead-hall. Their mother had died long ago, and their father went frost-mad one winter and was gone, leaving his boys the house and mead-hall, but not much else. The pair put everything they had into the building and their stock, and despite the long winters and the Veilstorms, they managed quite well. Their establishment became the grandest in the land, with a tall roof and thick walls. The gilded roof-timbers within glinted in the firelight on the endless evenings, when their fine drink flowed. 

One of the brothers was named Thrud. He was tall and strong, and led many of the raiding parties down the slopes below. He gained great treasures by the might of his arm, and filled the chest by his bed with yellow gold. Thrud spent the rest of his time training in the yard, or in the mead-hall, drinking with the old warriors. 

The younger brother was named Gest, a master of runes and saga-making. He traveled far and wide to courts across the land, and earned king-gifts and treasures in his own way. When he was at home, he told stories and sang in the mead-hall, bringing the rowdy crowds to a thoughtful silence with his words and rune-working. For all his skill, he did not receive the same respect as his brother. 

Some loved to hear his tales and songs, proud to have such a master of stories in their village. One such was a small boy, who leaned forward and listened wide-eyed to his favorite stories. Tales of the ancient giants, the Jötnar of old, whom Gest said once existed. The boy watched the shadows of the great mountains all around, hoping for a glimpse of the mythical creatures. Gest shook his head and smiled, reveling in the boy’s enthusiasm, and searched out more tales of the Jötnar.

For his part, Thrud soon took a liking to the boy always hanging about the mead-hall, and began to teach him to fight, training the young muscles to strength. Trying to follow in the footsteps of the heroes and creatures he loved to hear about, the boy threw himself into Thrud’s training, though he was too young to make much progress. Still, Thrud approved of his pupil’s eagerness, and always had a smile for the boy. 

One fall, an early snow blanketed the peaks in white down, softening the rugged shards of black rock that stabbed toward the windswept sky. The folk in the village of Út shrugged their shoulders and went about their business. Thrud clambered over the mountain and returned with load after load of logs for the fire, while Gest repaired the cracks in the walls of their mead-hall. It would be a terrible winter this high in the mountains, but the village had seen winters before and survived. They just had to keep the fires burning. 

It was a cold day, with the sun obscured by grey clouds, too thick to dissipate in the high winds that howled past the peak. An old hunter returned to the village white-faced, breathing hard. He gathered other hunters around to look at some tracks in the snow. Thrud and Gest paused in their preparations and went to have a look. 

The tracks were small and meandering, uneven and rounded. They were the tracks of three children. A cry went up round the village, for the young ones of several houses on this side of Út were missing. 

“They must have gone frost-mad,” said the old hunter. He reckoned the intense, unseasonal cold drove them out in the night, and away from the village, their senses dulled or confused by the endless white. There seemed to be no other explanation. If there were any other tracks, they had been hidden or confused in the biting wind. 

The brothers realized that one of the missing children was the boy who so loved stories about giants. They joined the search. Tears froze on noses as the desperate hunters followed the tracks out of the village, but found them disappearing, or following a winding way up to the high crags, where there was nothing but black stone and ice. 

The children were gone, and it was dangerous or impossible to follow. 

In the mead-hall that evening, the old hunter conferred with the other old men. They all muttered anxiously together, wittering in a corner of the hall. “Never before have so many gone frost-mad, but what can we do? When the frost takes you, none may gainsay it. The little ones were chosen by the white, a sacrifice to the gods of winter.” 

Thrud threw his brother a look. He slammed down his mug of metheglin and stood. “I will go!” 

The greybeards stopped their talk and looked at him in surprise. “I will go!” he said again, his voice ringing off the sturdy wooden walls. “I will find the children, and if there is anything that tries to stop me, I will drag its head back here. None may force us from this village. None may take our little ones and live!” 

His boast rang through the packed hall, leaving quiet in its wake. A few drunks sniggered. One more would go frost-mad today. 

Thrud walked to the door, hefted his spear, and left. Gest smiled and nodded at the folk staring at him and the door that had closed after his brother. “It will be a day for singing when he returns. To my brother Thrud!” When he raised his mug, the rest had to follow in his cheer. 

After drinking with them for a while, Gest left, staggering slightly from the jeering and the counter-boasts. No one followed him. 

Thrud was out in the road. A grey figure in the twilight, Gest’s big-shouldered brother leaned on his spear and looked up at the top of the mountain. His breath misted in the fading sunlight, forming tiny ice crystals that drifted down and frosted his brown beard.

A few snowflakes were falling. Gest’s older brother looked at him, eyes glinting inscrutably. “Keep the hall for me, little brother. I shall leave at first light, to return with the children, or not at all.” 

Over the next day, Gest waited. He watched the high peaks, though the next day was sunny; the white snow reflected and the icicles refracted the light through the village. Scuds of clouds whipped past the peak occasionally, heralding a coming storm. He could just barely see the wind blow a fine spray of snow from the mountain in the flashes of brightness between the clouds. 

He started picking out a tune as the day wore on, working on a new song to celebrate the return of the frost-mad children. As evening began to fall, with still no sign of his brother or the children, Gest bit his lip and ceased composing. The wily old hunters had to be right. There was something up there that did not want travelers to leave. Something so strong, or so clever, that it could even stop Thrud. For who could fight the frost?

That night, he packed. He took more supplies than Thrud had, and an extra coat in case his brother needed one. Perhaps he was merely trapped in a snowdrift, just waiting for his younger brother to come and help him escape. Gest also took a sword, hoping he wouldn’t need it.

The next morning, Gest steeled himself for the climb. His fur boots pulled up, his pants over them, leather ties held his heavy coat over his thick sleeves, he was as prepared as he could be. It could be a deadly climb on the frozen rocks near the peak, and he would be tired from the long march. But there was no other way.

He hiked up the steep trails where his brother had gone, picking a path between the black spires of rock and patches of ice. It was slow going, with his heavy pack, his warm coat, and his sword. The day darkened quickly, and Gest began to fear the cold. Being caught by the night up here, exposed to the wind and the full freeze of night, could mean death even without madness. He needed to find shelter. And still no sign of his brother, or the frost-mad children Thrud had gone to seek. 

Until he found a splintered shard of wood from the shaft of a spear. It lay among the rocks and frozen patches of snow, a smooth-polished rod with one sharply broken end. That’s all there was; not even blood stained the splinters that lay among the pebbles nearby. 

Then he found it; a dark crevice that opened like an irregular mouth along the underside of a huge black boulder. It was not exactly like the stories and songs he knew; no bones lay outside, and no bloodstains decorated the rocks with strange symbols. However, a strong musk emanated from the crevice, filling him with uncertain fear. In any case, with the night-cold bearing down upon him, he had little other choice to survive. 

Gest stretched his back, and sat for a moment on a stone that stuck up above the snow and flood of pebbles. He popped the joints in his hand, considering. As his eyes were adjusting to the light, he would be vulnerable to anything that lived in there. Drawing his sword, Gest dropped his pack and leaned against the boulder with an ungloved hand. He closed his eyes and counted, resisting the temptation to hum a few bars of an old war-song his grandfather had taught him. 

With his eyes still closed, Gest slid his hand down and felt the bottom of the boulder, then bent double and walked in, opening his eyes into the darkness. He found the cave opened up almost immediately; the huge boulder was hollow and full of tiny tunnels. With his eyes already used to the darkness, he could see the marks of passage of others. And there, off to the side, was a bootprint in the smooth snow that had drifted just inside the cave mouth. It was his brother Thrud’s, Gest had no doubt, though it seemed larger than he remembered. So why hesitate? 

Blade held out in front of him, Gest advanced into the dark tunnel. He found himself in an icy cave, lit by the dying sun outside. He couldn’t see them, but he felt the angry clouds gathering overhead. 

To be continued...

Bonus Images!

We couldn’t help but laugh at Ludovic’s creative use of C.U.B.E. blocks with physics turned off. You brought back some memories with this, so thanks for that! 
And here's Ben, excited to be working with the terrain editor, as mentioned above!
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