Unveiled: Camelot Unchained Newsletter #13 - City State Entertainment
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Team Tidings

-by Max Porter

It’s been a pretty exciting month here at City State Entertainment™ in beautiful downtown Fairfax, Virginia. We showed off an animation video, a lot of movement forward on our in-progress terrain, tons of other updates, and all in all, we’re pretty pumped to be swinging into more of that visual goodness and beginning to be able to make improvements on the prettiness side of things. 

We’ve been having lots of tests looking for one of those nasty bugs, and making progress on all fronts. Overall, our “Friday Night Fights” have been going great! We and the Backers have been having fun in the game build, battling for control of the testing grounds. There’s been more fun building stuff with blueprint fixes, tweaking the physics of burning down buildings, adding sounds, showing off some armor, and all kinds of things that you can read a bit more about, further on in the newsletter. Ben’s screen has been one to watch, lately, with all the cool editors that have been handed off to him, and the beginning of quality-of-life tweaks that have been making his very extensive job a little bit easier! You might have seen the earliest, unedited fruits of those labors in our various updates! I’m partial to this scene, myself: 
In the office, we’ve been joined by a new member of the team: Jon Young! Awesome character artist and all-around cool guy, he sits across from me now, and has been up to all kinds of cool hijinks over there. Check this out to see some of the neat stuff he’s been doing for the characters in Camelot Unchained™!

As things improve and we continue our adventures in Extended Alpha, we wish you all the best in the upcoming month! Read on for more news, information, plans, cool things, and eye candy to enjoy this, the thirteenth issue of Unveiled


 Our newest stretch goal, "Stealth Unchained," is coming along very nicely. We’re really excited about the response to the early designs and concepts so far, as the discussion has been extremely engaging! Thanks for taking an interest, and we look forward to fleshing this out even more as we continue development!
As mentioned above, we’ve added a new character artist to the team. Jon’s been kicking ass and taking names on those models. Pretty cool stuff already, and it’s only going to get better! Check out the Artitup section below to see some of Jon’s art. 

We’ve also announced that we’ll be sending a contingent to Dragon Con in Atlanta! If you’re around, you can take the opportunity on Friday, 9/4/2015, at 10 AM in Grand Salon D, to talk to Mark, Andrew, Brian, Michelle, Tyler, and a few other folks who might show up just for fun. Check out the full schedule here. There will be interesting topics to talk about, and maybe some cool things to see! Check out the State of the Build below, where Brian talks a bit more on the subject. 

Also, Mark and Lady J will be taking a much-needed vacation late in September, by visiting the Granite State, New Hampshire. As they usually do, they would love to meet up with our Backers in the area. So, if you are in the Boston -> Portsmouth -> Maine corridor, and would like to meet with Mark, Janet, and other Backers, stop by the Forums and join in on the discussion already in progress. 


-by Jenesee Grey

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

Wow, time flies as we come up on another warm month in Virginia. We have had some birthdays (Andrew and Scott), a new member of the art team, and decided our balcony is the best place for meetings. 

The game is having its own bout of weather! Some Backers have already seen some awesome and frightening magical storms beginning to arrive in the build, as the Mage archetype has some fun raining on everyone’s parade: 

If you want to see another evolution of this storm bathed in fire, head on over to our Vine page and take a look at what the very savvy Mike Crossmire is “cooking” up, with visual effects in the very early build of our VFX system. 

C.U.B.E. is getting quite popular, lately! Our Alpha players have placed over 100 million blocks within the world, so far. Basic color has been added, and people are becoming quite creative, showing us their love with duck-themed buildings. These remind me of delicious candy! 
Are you sharing your C.U.B.E. pics? Let us see in the forums, or through the screen capture feature that goes to Facebook and Twitter. 

We had some exciting and hilarious times testing out bug assertions and ensuring stability in our build this week, with Alpha and IT Backers. The performance of the inventory/equipment system is improving all the time, as armor enters the game. The complications of having multiple parts changing on characters is making for lots of good testing. Pants on, pants off! We took a lovely picture of everyone in their new armor items (although you should know that in this image, they're currently "clamped' at a low resolution for testing...they will look much better later on!). You may have seen it in Friday’s update! 
In the meantime, the team is working very hard trying to get the “heap corruption” bug caught and exterminated, in order to get the build back to its stable self. Then we can go back to enjoying more of these hilarious creations! 
[Breaking news! Update from the weekend… It appears the heap corruption bug has been fixed!… In other news… whiny billionaires continue to whine…. Sadly, news at 11…]

Speaking of the build, we hope you had some fun in the Friday Night Fights, as IT, Alpha, and Beta 1 Backers piled in for two weekends of battle and camaraderie. Join us for Extended Alpha test weekends or Friday Night Fights during the coming month, and take a look as things are added to the Alpha build. We had some wonderful participation from Foggye, who has made up a calendar of events to help you follow along with Community Podcasts, tests, and all the interesting Camelot Unchained-related dates. Check it out in the forums on our website.

Community Question!

Q: A video was posted just recently about animations. In the video, Scott Trolan mentioned a custom built animation tool.
Can you get Scott to explain how this tool came to be and what makes it different from other available or off-the-shelf animation tools?
Clearly the results are impressive but can he explain how this custom bit can help get all of the animation work in CU hooked up properly to the various character models?- Drooge


A: Drooge, good question! I grabbed JB to enlighten me on specific details about this. Since he created the skeletal animation system, it was best to get his insight!

Since Camelot Unchained is an MMO that anticipates epic battles with hundreds of characters on screen, we needed something hearty and special to support a large number of people in our specific style of animation. This is new territory, and there is nothing currently out there that fits our needs, so we had to make our own animation system. This gives us the advantage of tailoring it to Camelot Unchained, and it also allows for seamless integration within the scene updates and rendering pipeline.

Of course, you need tools to do this! One of the unique things about our animation editor is that you can make changes live while players are in the world, and see almost instant results without having to restart the server. This really cuts down on our iteration time! When Scott creates his awesome art in 3DS Max, he can save his animations in an FBX file, import those through the editor, and apply them to the characters in game on the fly. 

So, look out if Scott gets creative and decides he need to add some Arthurian saunter one day while you are playing, because you might not even know it is about to happen until instantly...it does. Walk like an Arthurian?

Hot Topics

Group size and abilities along with movement mechanics are the Hot Topics of the week!

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

Look What You Did

What a creative, cool, and imaginative bunch you are! We really enjoyed reading all of your entries, they were fantastic, in both senses of the word. ;) The winner of the “Describe your Home” contest is Creideamh, with this intriguing entry

“The clan-hall seems to have been woven from the forest itself, its walls a patchwork of cruel briars, creeping vines and solid living earth. Its roof is of thick, broad leaves laid atop the timber of fallen trees. Spears line the low dirt wall around its base, many sporting fetishes of bone, feather and twig that chime eerily at each breath of wind.
After stepping through the dark entryway, you find yourself in a crowded oval room. The air in here is surprisingly fresh and cool, tinged with faint forest fragrances. In the centre of the room are two warriors sparring lit by daylight from above. All manner of Tuatha dé Danann are occupying a ring of low benches around them made of mossy stone slabs and split tree-trunks. Glowing mushrooms and shimmering crystals banish shadows from the darker corners with strange and vibrant hues.
Other, smaller rooms open onto the main hall, but this is the beating heart of the house, for it is here that the gallery of rogues holds court. Fighting, feasting and making merry are the orders of the day, and today is no exception.
Your arrival had gone unnoticed during the intense bout, but after its end your face draws the attention of many. All new arrivals to the House of Spears are obligated to a match of wits, fists or both with the host. The crowd draws in expectantly, eager for entertainment. As clamour of betting falls away, you hope your preparations were sufficient...“

For our next contest, why don’t you take some inspiration from our latest lore and character art? Draw up a Frost Giant character, either your own character or a specific character from the Jötnar story which has Part Two appearing in this issue! Put your sketch or painting into the contest thread you’ll see pop up in the forums on our website, and let us know what character it is! We've had some silly cosplay of these guys before, but we’re looking forward to your artistic creations with eagerness as keen as ice! 

Thank You

We’d like to thank our local friendly restaurant Firenza, which made us an office lunch one day, as thanks for us always hanging out there! Thank you, we enjoyed the pizzas and salad very much!  

Dose of Design

-by Ben Pielstick

Digital Dice

In the past few weeks since we started our Friday Night Fights, many new Backers seeing the game for the first time have been asking questions about some of the core aspects of the game that are still waiting to be implemented. A large number of these questions have centered on the topic of randomness. This topic has been discussed in not one, but two Foundational Principles, which you can look back over here and here. Now, we still have a lot of work to do before we get to start testing all of the systems we have laid out in the design for Camelot Unchained. However, there are some key things we can share, and a few important concepts to keep in mind, as we progress through iterative stages of testing.

The use of a Random Number Generator (RNG) to determine the results of actions in combat is always highly scrutinized by competitive players in MMORPGs. You folks are looking to maximize performance and rely upon skill, both in terms of character building and moment-to-moment gameplay, as the determining factor in the outcome of battles. This is for a very good reason: It is easy to see how a game where the results of every battle were determined purely by a roll of the dice, with nothing else taken into consideration, would not be very fun or skillful. The question that is often raised in conversation on this topic is whether the extreme opposite end of the spectrum would be desirable, or whether the best experience lies somewhere in between.

A game in which there is no randomness whatsoever might run the risk of being too predictable. I think it is just as easy to see how it wouldn’t be much fun if the outcome of every battle was a foregone conclusion due to simple, reliable predictions, and a complete lack of any random occurrences which could throw them off. As Andrew points out in Foundational Principle #13, however, predictions are another area from which we can derive uncertainty, without actually injecting pure randomness into our game mechanics.

Incomplete information is a major source of uncertainty, and in an open-world RvR game like Camelot Unchained, we get a lot of that uncertainty basically for free. You already won’t know who you might run into coming over the next hill, when you’re out with your roaming group. You also won’t know for sure just what an enemy is going to do next, out of their wide variety of custom-built abilities, even if you think you’ve got a pretty good idea of their class role. Then, of course, we also have server-side physics, which we're relying on for everything from player movement to arcing projectiles, and building destruction, which has very deterministic results that also happen to be very hard to predict.

Those are only few of many examples, but I think they illustrate another very important point, which is that while you probably won’t ever reach perfect certainty based on observation, getting better at predictions is a skill you can improve upon, with practice. A veteran player should be able to learn where to stand, and how to avoid certain types of physics-based attacks, or how to build a strong group composition for the opponents they are likely to face while pursuing a specific goal. Likewise, players should also be able to learn what an opponent of a given class is most likely to try and do in a fight, especially in a traditional multi-server game such as CU, where you can even learn to recognize and watch out for specific enemies on the battlefield. This gives you an opportunity that would be lost when facing virtually anonymous opposing Realm players from a giant cross-server cluster or megaserver.

So does all that uncertainty mean there will be no RNG in the game at all? No. There are still random and semi-random events that take place, which will help keep the game fresh and interesting. The plan is that our implementation will not overly degrade the sense of accomplishment RvR players get from winning battles through superior skill. One example of this would be resource spawning, which will not be purely random, but will have enough randomness to require players to go out and explore the world again and again in order to discover new resources. This should, in turn, shift the focal points on the map over time, and lead to battles in new and different locales, as the resource distribution changes.

A more directly impactful implementation of randomness is the use of critical successes and failures of player character abilities. These are not what you might expect from your experience with other MMORPGs, however. Our criticals are not a simple damage boost with a relatively high percentage chance, which probably happens several times in each fight. Our criticals are extremely rare, and a critical result isn’t always a good thing, since the table of possible results ranges from awesome successes to spectacular failures. As Mark pointed out in Foundational Principle #8, we want these occurrences to be “water cooler conversation” moments, and that just doesn’t happen for something you see several times a fight, or even several times a day. In a battle involving hundreds of players, even a relatively low percentage critical chance might see critical results happening almost constantly. So, expect the chance of our critical results to be very low indeed, especially for the more extreme outcomes.

Additionally, so that these events aren’t the virtual equivalent of a random ‘I win’ (or ‘I lose’) dice roll, the more extreme the result is, the more important the need for counter-play mechanics. A massive spell rolling a critical success could be devastatingly powerful, for example, but there is still a chance it could be disrupted. In some cases, that spell might even become more vulnerable to disruption, to offset the massive payoff if the caster can be protected long enough for it to reach completion.

While there is a lot more to talk about on this and other related topics, I hope this has been an informative look at some of the ongoing development concepts that are helping to put Camelot Unchained together. As always, if you’re a Backer who’d like to join in the discussion, stop by the forums on our website, and keep an eye on our frequent news updates to watch our continuing steps in the march toward Beta and beyond.

Developer Quote

  “Since we are programmers and not animals, we use radians.” - James Brown, during Twitch chat


-by Scott Trolan

It's been a productive month for the Art Team. First off, Jon Young has joined the office, and has already proven to be a great addition to the team! We’ve updated the male Frost Giant model so that it works on the master skeleton rig, and meets all texture requirements for character creation. Jon’s currently wrapping up his high-resolution sculpt for the male Fir Bog giant. 
Sandra and Michelle have been working on armor concepts and other art for unrevealed game design documents (Oooh!). Mike C. has been adding numerous VFX for spells into the game. And James K. has been toiling away at additional ability icons and Heads-Up-Display interface design concepts. 

Last week, we released an update video on Melee Combat Animation. It showcased our prototype work and our direction going forward. Hopefully it answered a lot of questions that were being raised on the forums. This is definitely a work in progress, and can only get better with testing and feedback from our Backers. Its going to be a very exciting process! 

Tech Central

 -by Rob Argue 

Recipe for Destruction

Today on “Rob Throws Math at Things and Sees What Happens”: Tearing down buildings that people worked hard to put up!

What you will need for today’s mathing:
  •     1 Building you want to destroy
  •     1 Mathematical constraint
  •     3 Newton’s laws
  •     1 Boundary condition
Runtime : Real Time

The general idea of building stability is actually pretty straightforward. We have our one basic mathematical constraint: nothing is moving (well, accelerating, really). Once we satisfy that condition, we can see if anything has enough force applied to it to break. 

So what you are going to want to do first is break your building up into cells, to make it easier to work with. Now, in a “real world” situation, there is a solution we could use. We could, for every cell, set up equations that describe how it interacts with its neighbors, and what external forces are on it, and solve all of those such that the net force on every block is zero (i.e. not moving, by Newton’s first law). The problem with this is that each block has, on average, about four neighbors, so with “just” 100,000 blocks, we already have… a lot of math to do. Solving it analytically is clearly not happening, and doing the usual “take a guess and refine it until it’s mostly correct” would likely take too long to run in real time. So, we need to take some shortcuts. 

Let’s go back to the basics. We know we need to have the net force on each block to be zero, and we have to apply gravity to each block. Here’s where we can take advantage of our convenient boundary condition. It’s called “the ground.” So our new plan becomes: Propagate gravitational forces to the ground, where we can balance them. So here’s today’s math recipe!

- First, break your building into slices, by taking all the blocks touching the ground as a slice, all of the blocks touching those as the next slice, and so on.

- Next, from the top slice down, apply gravity, and push all of the force on the slice down to the next lower slice. By Newton’s third law, this gives us an equal and opposite force upward, and balances the slice.

- When you get to the ground, simply use some boundary condition magic to conjure up enough force to balance out all of the accumulated force. 

- Lastly, and this is the fun part, walk through all of your blocks and break all the blocks that have too much force applied to them (this will vary, depending on your materials).

- Repeat until things stop breaking.

- Ta dah, your building has now been mathed into rubble!

Now that we have successfully ripped apart someone else’s hours of hard work in mere seconds, let’s note something interesting. Each block ONLY knows about gravity, its immediate neighbors, and if it is touching the ground. That means that any of this “falling apart like a real building would” business is emergent behavior of the system, not something that was specifically programmed. 

Of course, we have tons of knobs we can turn to affect it, such as gravity, block strength, rules for propagating forces, or rules for balancing forces. But in the end, the math is doing the real heavy lifting, turning these simple rules into a complex and interesting system. 

State Of The Build

 -by Brian Green

Conferences and conventions keep game development even more interesting than it already is. You often have to do a lot of work to get your game ready to present to other people. However, conventions are also a great way to meet fans, and hopefully make new fans who are interested in your game. Over Labor Day weekend, some of the team will be attending Dragon Con, and on Friday we will be showing off some of our work in progress on Camelot Unchained to the attendees on the Video Game track at the convention.

Since our goal is to demo what we've been working on during the panel, we're preparing a special version for our presentation at Dragon Con. Preparing a version of the game for a demonstration can sometimes be a real pain, because it can disrupt development. However, because we have our servers available to Backers, it's less disruptive for us because the build is already fairly stable. We already need the game in a pretty good working state for the testers to test new stuff without old bugs disrupting that testing.

We're also looking forward to meeting fans of the game. Some of the team were able to attend Gen Con earlier this year, and met with some Backers; by all reports, a fun time was had by all. Mark also makes a point of inviting people to visit him when he's traveling on vacation, as well. Being able to meet the fans is often a great experience, as you can often strengthen a connection in person after several months of interacting online.

It reminds us of the quality of our Backers, and the strength of the Community they've formed.

And, as always, a selection of patch notes from the past month:
  • We have done a massive amount of building improvements. Rendering time for the user-created buildings is significantly improved, particularly in some extreme situations.
  • Added new target dummies for testing! The new target dummies behave a lot more like actual players, which makes testing a lot easier.
  • Improved the ability crafting UI to give a clearer value for what is changing with the component.
  • Added a new system for creating general gameplay effects using the ability system, used for things like applying exhaustion to characters when they run out of stamina.
  • C.U.B.E. blueprints can now be saved to your character on the server. This means they will persist if you start building on another computer if you are connected to the server.
  • Improved C.U.B.E. screenshots to use proper shadows, so you can better share your amazing constructions with your friends.
  • Added a storm effect that will move to follow players. The current storm effect has no gameplay effect, although it is kind of amusing to rain on other people!
  • Enabled local storage for UI, allowing the UI to save state information locally between sessions.
  • Fixed ability stats that were going negative and displaying negative values.
  • Lots of new environment art assets going in. 
  • New moon in the sky! THE END MUST BE NEAR!

Backer Spotlight

-Jenesee asks Harkrom

This month’s spotlight is on Harkrom, a big help to the Italian Community for Camelot Unchained! He has translated a bunch of stuff into Italian, and inspires us all with his dedication and general coolness. Let’s ask him some questions!   
Q: Harkrom, why did you become a Backer of Camelot Unchained?
A: I played Daoc from the very beginning of its history. It was at the end of 2001, when I entered the Italian Beta. That kind of MMO quickly became my standard. I loved the idea of different realms fighting each others with different races and classes in a wide and open PVP world. The community around Daoc also added something special to the game, realm pride was strong and everyone was playing his role inside and outside Daoc. That feeling never returned for me, even with WAR. I followed Mark and his projects since he left EA and created CSE. I clearly remember when I saw the teaser videos about CU inside his page at the very beginning of 2013. When KS campaign started I immediately pledged the IT tier with no doubts, I wanted CU to became reality, because it's now time to show other publishers how a Tri Realm RvR game should be.

Q: How did you learn English?
A: Italy is not well known for it's professional english schools so, even for me, english learning in schools was terrible. In 1999 I asked my family to go to Griffith college in Dublin for the 3 school holiday months (June, July and August). After that period I began gaming online with Ultima Online and Everquest. English is the main language I use since then when I play online. I also try to keep myself trained by watching original series or movies.
Q: You are very active in building the Italian Community both in the forums and on social media, what is your motivation?

A: Because time has come for a new era of MMOS, specially the RvR ones. I think Italian community has grown up and is ready to have another home. My ultimate goal would be having the game translated in Italian, even if many Italian players prefer to play english games and stay away from other Italians. But it's their choice, there are many gamers that would love to play with others using the same language, it's more easy while creating a new community.
Q: Do you think the language barrier will have an effect on gameplay in Camelot Unchained?

A: I only think that the most solid games communities are so because everyone speaks the same language. The meta game is crucial for a game like CU and language barriers between users would affect it. (I hope that question was not regarding the speaking between races in the game).
Q: What do you hope to see in a game that has so many excited Backers over the globe, in order to support them?

A: Bonds. A game like that must create bonds between players, of any sort. The gameplay is crucial for a technical aspect but, for me, people need to be bound to something to fight for and be proud of it, even if it's "only" a game.
Q: What are you most looking forward to doing in the game?

A: Blademaster? God, Mark, add it to CU please!

For real, I'd like to play a medium armor fighter, not Veilwalker or Veilstalker. In any case, I'll wait to see the classes spotlights to be sure of. Crafter doesn't suit for me, well, for my spare time.

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 2
The Frost Giants  

He could just barely hear the weeping. In one corner of the room there was a row of strange little boxes built of massive stones and chunks of ice; the weeping came from within. The three children from the village were inside, blue-lipped and shivering. They stared at him, wordless. 

One boy pointed across the room. There, a bloodstained table caught a shaft of light that came down through a crack in the boulder above. This in turn illuminated the long bones that lay there, blackened with chewed flesh. Also, there was something against the wall, a humanoid figure...Gest let out a gasp of recognition. 

It was his brother Thrud, chained to the frozen wall, his flesh blackening at the edges. The older brother lifted his head slightly, then shuddered at Gest’s approach. “Don’t...my brother…” he croaked. 

“What happened?” Gest whispered over the the weeping of the children. There was something missing, some void he couldn’t quite place. Then he saw it. Thrud’s arm and one foot was missing. Frozen to the wall, his strong right arm, his good right arm, the mighty warrior’s weapon, was but a stump of flesh, wrapped in rags and frozen in ice. 

Thrud blinked red eyes. “Got me...surprised. No chance.”

A voice came from the other side of the cave, a boy’s voice, muffled by ice and stone. “He eats us.” 

Gest turned, almost against his will, aghast. There was the boy that loved giants, his face pale and blue-lipped. “What?”

“He eats us. The...man. The Beast, he calls himself. He keeps us here and eats us. He ate your brother’s arm.” 

Gest shuddered again, staring from the stained bones on the table to the row of helpless, hopeless children. It would take tremendous strength to shift the stones and ice that held them there. “But why? Why do all this?”

The boy rubbed his blueish face. “He is mad. He lost his wits to a Veilstorm’s power.” The boy shuddered. “He asks us riddles. The Beast thinks it’s very funny. When you don’t know the answer, you’re next.” He turned pleading eyes on Gest. “Please get me out.” 

“No...run…brother...” Thrud struggled and croaked a warning, but it was too late. 

An enormous man burst into the cave from a hidden tunnel, booming with laughter. Gest spun to see a mass of white-blond hair and muscle bearing down on him. A pearly smile flashed as the man swatted Gest’s swordpoint aside effortlessly and thrust his bearlike face forward. “Greetings!” 

The force of the big man’s charge threw Gest off his feet, and he tumbled painfully onto pebbles and chunks of ice. For a moment, Gest looked down at his torso in surprise. His thick winter clothing was torn and ragged, as though clawed. Standing over him, the huge man laughed again, showering snow from this thick-haired head. “I am the Beast, boy. Soon, I will consume you. I will feast upon your flesh. You may entertain me, as these young ones have done.” He sucked on his teeth, as though relishing the feast to come. 

On the wall, Thrud shook weakly. “No! Gest...run, do not...let him speak!”

“But…” For a moment, the younger brother glanced at his blade where it lay on a bit of smooth stone. The Beast had moved with incredible speed, and was strong beyond measure. Gest did not try to pick up the blade. “You crave amusement?“ he puffed heavily, “You are in luck, then. I am a storyteller and singer.” He licked his dry lips. So did the Beast, looming over him with a wicked grin. “And...I could amuse you, if you let them all go.” 

“No!” Thrud shouted once more, shaking his bloody stumps.

“Let them go? Let them go? Are you mad, little man?” 

Gest coughed, feeling the cold try to pierce him. He straightened. “Perhaps. But perhaps my madness could serve to entertain you, for a while.”

Shaking with laughter, the bulky man spun in a ponderous circle. “Yes, yes, I see. I see it now. We shall play the old game, the game on which life and death is wagered.”

Gest shook his head as if to clear it. The manic talk of the enormous bearlike man was difficult to follow. “The old game?” 

“Yes!” The Beast grunted deep in his throat and fixed him with a blue eye. “I see what we will do. We will play the great game of riddles, now.” 

Gest could only blink in surprise. This was turning out more like the old stories, after all. 

“Do you know...riddles?” Without looking at him, the Beast turned away and sat by the bloodstained table in the middle of the freezing room, and swept away some of the stained bones. Puffing and blowing steam into the air, he continued, “I know all that I consume, I know them better than they ever knew themselves. So I know many secrets! Now I will gamble with you for your brother’s life, and perhaps the delicious little ones as well. Come, sit.” 

Stepping over his sword in wonder, Gest walked to the bloodstained table. He stared at the huge man across the icy wood. Trying to keep his teeth from chattering, Gest rewrapped his torn coat over his torso. “Alright.” 

The Beast took a deep breath, nodded his hairy head a few times, and began to chant rather than speak his riddle. “Heed me now. I want to have today what I had yesterday. It hampers men, hinders their words, yet speeds their speech.” 

Gest blinked for a moment, trying to think past the cold that hurt his head and sent icy fingers through the rips in his clothing. His stomach churned, but it was play the game, now, or lose everything. “I know what you ate, or rather who...but that’s not it…” 

The Beast’s tongue lolled out from between his white teeth as he leaned over the bloodstained table. His cruel nails scraped at the wood in eagerness. “Of all people, I think someone that reeks like you should be able to read me this riddle. I am disappointed, truly!” 

Gest cleared his throat, trying to still his shaking. “I’m sure you’ve eaten much worse...Ah, I see. Mead! It hampers the wits, and many find their speech slowed. But others only find their tongues in their cups. Mead is the answer you look for, and you are right, I do smell of it, for my brother and I keep the mead-hall in the village.” 

The Beast sighed, then leaned back. The light was shifting as more clouds tore past the spires of rock overhead, blocking the light from the cracks in the boulder. The man’s white teeth glittered in patches of crystalline light as he brushed snow from his pale leather clothes. “Very well. Speak, little man, for I begin to hunger as winter draws near…” 

Thrud coughed, and shook the stump that had been his mighty right arm. “Why...do you play with us?” 

“Be strong, brother. I will have you out of there yet.” Gest tried to sound more certain than he felt, at least for the childrens’ sake. He rolled through his head, struggling. He had heard so many riddles in his time, so many that would be far too easily guessed. He needed to do in turn to this creature what it was trying to do to him; throw the opponent off balance, make them lose focus on the game by asking riddles that hit too close to home.

“Well...answer me this, madman. What beast brave men shelters? Its back becomes bloody as it wards off blows, fights against spears, and gives life. Against a lords’ left hand it lays its body.” It was hard to breathe, so cold was the air in here. 

The creature threw back its head and laughed, the booming sound echoing through the cave. “A beast that shelters men! And it is bloody...your brother, who is no lord, brought me one of these.” Heedless of the cold, he plunged a thick arm into the snow at the side of the cave, revealing it to be more porous than Gest had thought. Grunting, the Beast felt around in the hole, searching for something. 

After a moment, Thrud muttered, “I do not understand...now is your moment, brother. Now, while it is stuck! Please… please run from this place, and this creature.” 

But the Beast only let out another harsh laugh as he yanked something out in a burst of snow and earth. It was Thrud’s shield, but cracked and damaged now. “The answer is...a shield! Its bloody back has saved many a man from a spear-thrust, though not from my table. Now tell me this, little man. Who is the great one that walks over the earth, and swallows all the waters and the woods? He never fears men, only the wind; and he swallows the sun.” Laughing low in his throat, the Beast leaned forward, blowing toward Gest’s face. 

The young poet chewed his dry lip, thinking. Fear was clouding his mind, made much worse by the Beast’s choice of riddles… and the rotten smell of his misty breath didn’t help. Mist...and fearing the wind? Gest cleared his throat and leaned back forward, feigning eagerness. “Fog! Men can do nothing against it, and it blocks the sunlight.” 

A low growl of frustration came from the Beast as he sat back once more. “Very well. I see you won’t be defeated by the simplest questions.” 

Gest grinned as steadily as he could manage without letting his teeth clack together. It was time to try a slightly different tactic. “You think you are so clever, madman...answer me this, if you can. Who sleeps in the ashpit, and is only struck out of stone? Neither father nor mother has the greedy fiend, and there he wants to live his life.” 

The Beast scowled and sat up. “Fiend, eh? Sleeps in the ashpit. Is that meant to be some sort of insult?” His wild eyes roved around the room, and looked Gest up and down like a slab of meat. Which perhaps, he was, to the eyes of this man. “I gave up the need for it long ago...your riddle is fire!”

Gest’s heart sank, and he glanced at the prisons where the children lay, no doubt exhausted from struggling against the intense cold. He shuddered with another deep breath. 

The Beast lunged forward and stared at the younger brother, licking his lips. “Alright, then. A delicious riddle for you. Four walk and four hang; two show the way, two ward off dogs; one drags after, most always dirty.” 

Gest stared at the white and red of the man’s mouth and the rippling muscle under pale leather. He’d never heard one like this before. It was too cold, he couldn’t think. Who went in groups of thirteen? And had such odd jobs… This was such a strange question from the Beast, and oddly disturbing. “Perhaps…” 

The Beast leaned in closer. “Struggling, are we? Finding it too tough? Hmm, I hope you’re not tough...I don’t really enjoy chewy meat. The younger the flesh, the better.”

There seemed little he could do to stop the Beast from eating him and all else that came within reach. Did the Beast think about anything other than eating? Why was this madman here, up in the frozen mountains? Surely he could find greener pastures elsewhere...To eat… 

The big man was pushing up from his chair when Gest shouted, “Cow! Cow!” And the Beast sat back heavily, disappointed. Gest gasped for breath. “Four feet, four teats, two eyes, two horns, and a tail. Makes for good eating, those of us who haven’t gone frost-mad and turned to...” 
The Beast grunted. His blue eyes were narrow, and stared at Gest with naked hunger. “Riddle.”

“Yes, yes, don’t worry.” Gest searched his memory for something the Beast would have no experience with, something foreign to him. To his surprise, a peal of thunder crashed outside. There was almost never thundersnow this high in the peaks. A following crash sounded like the doom of the mountains themselves. He could feel each boom in his bones, right through the icy walls. 

Gest cleared his throat. “Harshly he clangs, on hard paths treading, which he has fared before. Two mouths he has, and mightily kisses, and on gold alone he goes.” No longer could he stare a challenge into the Beast’s eye, but huddled into his coat and watched the mist of his breath fading. 

The hairy man before him snarled, then stamped on a patch of snow on the floor of the cave. “You seek to deceive and fool me.” 

Though it seemed as though little time had passed, the storm outside was swiftly rising in force. Gest could hardly hear what the creature before him was saying. There was wind blowing through the cave. His brother was stirring, no doubt to pull his stump against the chains again. The children in the stone prison were holding back their sobs. Better distract the Beast while he could. “Ah, well, do you need a hint? Is that what you’re saying?” He had to shout over the gathering storm. 

The growl that answered him was full of anger and insult. “Your tricks do you little good. It is the hammer of the beater of metal, a goldsmith’s hammer; and now, the great, old game is over.” He clicked teeth together and leaned forward. “I will ask you for a secret, little man.” 

As if to punctuate the Beast’s words, the storm crashed against the boulder that formed the roof of their shelter, and shook the earth with its fury. Gest could feel the heaviness in the air that meant the most terrible of storms, a Malevolence, was forming. 

The children pressed fearfully forward against the stone and ice of their prisons. They knew how this would end. Their brief lives were coming to an end in horror. One boy looked back and forth between the huge Beast and the small man who knew all the stories. Soon, the screaming and the horrible crunching of bone would begin again. 

As the boy’s breath came short, crushed by the pressure in the air and paining him with deep cold, he wished for the strength, the size, the power to break free. It would take a giant of the old stories to stop what was about to happen.

The Beast’s eyes were wild, and he stood, looming over Gest. Every syllable dropped by his lips seemed to increase the pressure, and bring another toll of thunder. 

“What was it that Odin whispered...” There came a crack as Thrud threw himself against the ice wall, screaming in impotent rage above the storm. The Beast narrowed his eyes, but continued, “...into Baldr’s ear, as he was carried to the funeral pyre?”

The wind’s howl rose to an unbearable pitch, and Gest had to hold his hands over his ears. The ice on the walls cracked as the boulder shifted, and snow blew through the cave in a rush of white. After a moment, the Beast thrust his face into Gest’s with a bright grin, roaring over the storm. “Do you need a hint, little man? Or do you want the answer?”

Thrud still struggled against his walls, shouting at his brother. Gest looked up into the Beast’s eyes, looking for an answer. The madman’s great bulk loomed over him, hair white with the snow that swirled inside. All was frozen as the Beast’s words hung in the air before him. 

Gest took a deep breath, the sharp cold air piercing his lungs like a blade. He looked over at Thrud. The madman’s enormous hands gripped the younger brother’s shoulders, and rank breath blew across his face.
The children screamed, their voices drowned in the howl of wind and thunder. The stone above was cracking, but no one noticed as Gest struggled in the incredible grip. The white teeth descended, bright to the wide eyes of the boy watching. Blood sprayed, steaming, into the snow, the blood of his friend. 

The great boulder that formed the roof of the cavern split open with a noise like the end of the world. Snow flooded the cave, along with a cold so intense that the boy felt his nearly-numbed skin prickle. 

His blood was freezing. The only sounds were the roaring of the storm and the laughter of his tormentor. Bits of ice and rock whipped into the boy’s cell, draining his body of its last heat and strength. His eyes clamped shut, and he tasted blood on the wind. The shrieking laughter of the man and the storm mocked the boy as he threw himself against the wall of the prison. He could feel, rather than hear, the cries of the others. The Malevolence ripped at him. 

From out of the swirl of snow, the Beast’s face appeared, his thick beard red and dripping with Gest’s blood. A red grin spread across his face as he watched the children struggle. “Come and save the singer, if you can!” 

But the grin faded as the children began to change. The boy felt his heart slowing, pounding cold in his chest. With his last breath, he wished he were one of the ancient giants, those who had loved the cold, who had been so mighty and so wise. 

And to his surprise, the walls of the prison broke, ice and stone shattering into the wind. intense pain shot through his frozen body, a sense of stretching, pulling, and expanding. His bones popped and cracked as though the Beast were chewing on him. 

Everything seemed smaller. He was even looking down at the Beast, whose open mouth leaked a pink mist into the air as he stared up at the boy and his fellow children. When the boy swung forward, he felt a new strength, though his skin was an icy blue. 

The Beast turned to run, but the gigantic children caught him up, struggling in their mighty hands. Frenzied with rage, they tore him limb from limb between them. He burst like an overripe fruit, his blood spattering on the frozen bones of those he had eaten. 

Then the thundering blizzard buried them all in a rush of endless white. 
When the Malevolence’s rage was finally spent, sunlight returned to the mountain, reflecting on the bright snow of the peak. The drifts were deep, burying the black spires of stone along with the corpses of the two brothers. Even with their newly elongated bodies, the surviving children had to dig themselves out. They blinked at one another in the brightness, staring at their blue hands, caked with blood. They didn’t feel the cold anymore.

The boy felt emptied. He said little as the children that had become giants picked their way back down the mountain. The few words they exchanged sounded hoarse and brittle, like ice grinding together. 

When they caught a glimpse of Út, their town, something was different. Many of the buildings looked damaged or destroyed, even crushed under the heavy snowfall. They hurried down from the heights to find the place almost deserted. Those few who had survived the Malevolence were changed, just as the boy had imagined the giants in Gest’s stories. Tall and powerfully built, with hair the colors of ice and skin darkened and bluish, like corpses frozen in winter. 

The boy came to the mead hall where he had heard so many stories , which had partly collapsed tumbled to the ground, broken timbers jumbled together and covered in snow. Slowly, as the others gathered nearby, the boy reached down and heaved up one of the fallen pieces. The other children joined him, and they began to rebuild the mead-hall of Thrud and Gest. 

That winter went on and on, for the length of three winters in a row. It was the Fimbulwinter, and it covered the mountains in a frost that had never been seen before. Through it all, the village of giants lived on, building new homes of stone and ice in the heights. They built a mighty wall to defend themselves, and over time, the village became known as Útgard. 

The boy took to living at the mead-hall, and wrote down this story, and sang it for generations to come. He never forgot the brothers that had saved him and taught him so much. Eventually, he took the name Mimir, and became famous for his wisdom and power. 

This is where the saga of the Jötnar and the Fimbulwinter ends. 

Bonus Image!

We couldn’t let you go without a glimpse of the creatures from the above story. Jon’s latest work has been on a new Jötnar model, which is looking better than ever! 
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