Unveiled: Camelot Unchained Newsletter #19 - City State Entertainment
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Team Tidings

-by Max Porter

Happy end of February/start of March to you all, and happy crunch time to Beta 1! That’s right, we’ve started serious crunch here at City State Entertainment™, and if you watched our recent stream then you already know that we have really put on the gas in the push for Beta. It’s something the whole team is willing to put the work in to accomplish, and we’re proud to say we’re well on the way to getting the first stage of Beta out for you folks. 

There’s been so much progress from the team recently, it’s hard to know where to start! How about the environment light upgrade, something which Andrew wrote an article about. It’s a big step in making Camelot Unchained™ look like a modern game, a game both the Backers and developers can be proud of going forward. Speaking of which, I personally felt a lot of pride in the game when I got to show it off at MAGFest recently, where I presented at the booth along with Mark, Andrew, Jon, Michelle, Tyler, Ben, and Jenesee, on various days. It was a really fun and fantastic experience to let a bunch of new folks know about the cool thing we have going here, and I’ve heard that some of them have backed the project since then, which makes us all very happy! It was a reminder of what a special and truly unique phenomenon Camelot Unchained is, and what a great Community has gathered around the game. 

In terms of things going into the game build very recently, well, to be honest, it’s been some of my favorite stuff. Running around to fight for and capture building plots, build defensive structures atop them, and burn the castles of enemies to the ground? Yes, please! As some of the key pieces going in for Beta, these have already made testing lots of fun, and there’s more cool stuff getting committed all the time. Just the other day, we were all joining the “Dang it, Rob!” club, since he kept making us jump up out of our seats in excitement and crowd around his monitor again and again (check out Rob’s livestream to see why). It involves buildings getting cratered, as in this shot from Marc H!
In the office, we may be in crunch, but there’s a really amazing feeling in the air (and no, no one’s skipping showers--this is a sensible, doable crunch, not a deathmarch), a feeling of enthusiasm and excitement. So much has been leading up to this time, and so many fruits of so much labor are finally being realized. 

Mark and Andrew have been saying since, well, the very beginning that we were going to be doing this the right way, building this game from the ground up, and that’s what we’ve done. More recently, we started saying that we had begun to shift development toward more fun and noticeable pieces, and then we did as we said we would. With that solid foundation, to be truly moving into the next step, Beta 1, is just an awesome feeling. Even if it is a lot of hard work!

Well, as always, there are a ton of detailed and in-Depth pieces for you peruse in our epic-sized newsletter, so I’ll let you Delve right in. Read on for articles, news, art, discussion, and lore, and please enjoy this, the nineteenth issue of Unveiled


We charged across the finish line for the “Send More Programmers!” Stretch Goal, which is truly fantastic. Backers, thank you so, so much for helping us get to this point. This has always been one of the most important kinds of Stretch Goals, and our recruiters are hard at work to fill in our important programmer positions. We even took our “We Are Hiring” sign to MAGFest, where we got a few nibbles! 
The next Stretch Goal is "Animations for Everyone," which is our “Role-Playing Pack #1”. It’s a pretty cool and exciting one, and is actually slated to be done by launch. It’s going to make the game cooler and more fun for all, particularly our roleplaying enthusiasts (count me among those!) without adding extra work for our artists. Indeed, quite the opposite, since as Mark writes in the SG, this will actually take some work off of their shoulders, freeing them to concentrate on animations that are core to the game. Should be a complete win of an SG!
As mentioned above, Andrew showed off some sweet new environment lighting that’s really going to help make this game look great. It’s all part of how we’re updating and replacing vital “placeholder” tech, as Mark mentions in that update. These pieces of tech may have allowed us to get to this point, but the time has come to move on to bigger and better things for Beta! 
We recently held a livestream update about our progress on starting Beta 1, and we’re happy to report that we’re on track. It’s going to be a fun and important and step in the development cycle of Camelot Unchained, and we’re as excited to share it with you as you are to jump in and play! The build is rapidly looking more and more like the game it will eventually become, the game that our Backers asked us to make. It’s truly an honor to be working on this project for such a wonderful Community of Backers. 

Speaking of progress toward Beta 1, another key piece of that puzzle went into the build recently, which was the first pass at an item system. Objects can now be dropped and picked up (appearing as barrels for the moment, as part of testing) in addition to put on and taken off. It’s just a start, but a good start; this is going to be an important part of the game, after all. Crafters are going to need a way to give items to combatants once they’ve been created! The importance of that interaction has been planned since very early on--in fact, it’s part of a Foundational Principle


-by Jenesee Grey

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

Greetings again, Community! It was lovely to resume our livestreams and see so many of you pop into Twitch to hear the announcement about our steady progress toward Beta 1. It’s always a fun time when we all get together in chat, and I have missed it these last few weeks. Look for more streaming and fun events as we move further toward the launch of Beta 1!

This month just flew by, and much was accomplished. We had more animation bug testing for Alpha and IT Backers, and you all helped give us feedback on the new animation system and how characters were moving, strafing, and jumping (or not). Helpful stuff, and very good feedback! We greatly appreciate our bug testers. 

We decided to take a moment and spring clean the office. It is now sparkling, as germ-free as we can make it, and looking pretty snazzy. It is awesome to see your gifts displayed, art hung up, and things all neat and clean. I’m anxious to see Failboat’s tapestry grace our walls, our team art transmuted into cloth! You might even see a new friend in the office, a special Cait Sith who now resides in a place of honor in our couch area. Thanks to Backer Ncrediblebulk, the creature watches over us all, fiercely defending CSE. When the hours get long and we are heads-down crunching, it is so nice to have a welcoming and encouraging space that is full of love from you all, where we can look up and see you are rooting for us.

We tested several rounds of our gifting system as mentioned in last month’s newsletter, and this month we continued to do so. Things are working smoothly on the back end now, so you should be seeing us call upon you to take a look at the store UI in an update soon. Once the UI is solid in the store, gifting should be rolling out. I know you all are excited to gift your Beta 3 codes and digital tiers!

One of our Backers, Necromaniak, is planning to do a 24-hour livestream of C.U.B.E., where he will build, talk about the environment, and have some CSE guests and other surprises! We will announce that day and time in March once we confirm the date, but in the meantime, it might be fun to have you tell us what you are interested in seeing in C.U.B.E. What should he build? What features would you like to see demonstrated? If you are at all curious about building, you don’t want to miss this. Give him your thoughts here!

Also, I want to extend a very special thank-you to Necromaniak for all the dedication and artistry he has put into building and sharing his creations. We used some of his buildings in our video about C.U.B.E. at MAGFest and people were so excited to see these beautiful blueprints and majestic structures.

Speaking of MAGFest, a few of us spent some time over the weekend there! We had a chance to set up a booth for the first time at a convention, have two test computers for people to try the game, show a new video of Alpha footage and C.U.B.E., as well as demonstrate some 3D and concept art live for interested gamers. Mark, Andrew, Michelle, Jon, Tyler, Max, Ben, and I worked hard to make sure everyone had a chance to find out more about the game. We even had a few Backers stop by! I certainly enjoying getting to put faces to the names I see in the forum and talk to you face to face, along with the other indies! 
It was very exciting to meet hundreds of new people, tell them about Camelot Unchained, and see their enjoyment when they sat down to try our Alpha or C.U.B.E. for the first time. The response was overwhelmingly positive overall, from those who are old hands at playing MMOs to those who are used to other types of games but were enthused to build and craft in our space. It was good practice for our team to get familiar with sharing what we do, and very helpful marketing Camelot Unchained, with over 200 people interested in possibly backing the game on our signup list. 

Community Question!

If you would also like to ask a Community question, please visit our forum under the Unveiled Newsletter category and post in the thread.

Here’s a question about Beta 1 from from the Beta 1 progress livestream!

Twitch Question: Are there going to be fully completed animations and spells, or will they be placeholders?

Mark Jacobs: A combination. Now that the new animation system is in, Scott and Sandra are working on new animations. The bottom line is, any MMO who has truly been in a Beta as opposed to a more modern Beta, their animations are not final at Beta 1, especially this early. So there will be new animations, absolutely! Will they all be the final animations? There is zero chance of that, there would be no reason to. Keep in mind that animations need to be tied to the abilities, and abilities also will be changing during Beta. So it would be sort of like in another MMO, putting a ton of voice over work into Alpha and Beta where you paid people with real names to do the voiceover really early on before you even knew if the quests would be finished! That would be kind of silly. The same with the animations. We are going to spend a lot of time, make them look really good, but to say they would be finished at this point? That would be silly. They will be better and are all using the new system, but finished? Not a chance!

Hot Topics

Lots of talk about mechanics and how spells and abilities will work together. 

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

Look What You Did

Thank you to Thortonrock, who drew this excellent Golem fan art! This guy looks like he’s enjoying his music as much as we enjoyed looking at this piece. 
For our next contest, well, we’re working hard on the lead-up to Beta 1, and it makes us think of how hard the combatants of our world fight, putting their lives on the line for their Realm. Write us up a fan fiction piece about a great struggle your character went through in their past, a tale of a mighty challenge overcome, and why it was important to them. Keep it under 250 words and post it in the thread in the Fan Fiction section you’ll see pop up in the forums, accessible through our website, and we’ll publish our favorite piece in the next newsletter! 

Thank You

As always, major thanks to Failboat for more awesome gifts; both for the truly astonishing tapestry we showed off in the stream recently, and this time, for all the delicious popcorn! The team really dug in.

Here’s us with the tapestry: 
A close up shot:
Here’s the popcorn! Thanks again, Failboat!
Big thanks to Ludovic and the Knights of the White Wolf for these totally adorable duck pens! They have been distributed around the office for all our writing needs. Some even went to MAGFest with us for new sign-ups!
And last but most certainly not least, thank you to Ncrediblebulk for this amazing Cait Sith statue! It’s quite the fearsome-looking creature, and stands proudly guarding the whiteboard and couches. Watch out for his name, hidden somewhere in this newsletter!

Dose of Design

-by Ben Pielstick

Beta Balance

With the first phase of Camelot Unchained beta testing coming up, a lot of time is being put into instilling right from the beginning a sense of balance that will carry through the entire lifecycle of the game, in addition to achieving the necessary functionality to support the set of 9 initial classes. This balance is deeply based upon the Foundational Principle of Rock-Paper-Scissors, which isn’t exactly standard in the world of MMORPGs.

Most MMORPGs are balanced around PvE, and in that context, classes are largely balanced in an apples-to-apples sort of way. This means, as much as reasonably possible, any class that has a given role can fill a group slot and be pretty close to equally effective as any other class with the same role would be. PvP-focused games are freer to view characters as unique, leading to more of an apples-to-oranges comparison. Things like survivability, burst and sustained damage potential, and varying utility features can be wildly different but still lead to a fun and balanced combat experience when characters go up against each other. For Camelot Unchained, we’re actually deviating even further from the norm by stepping away from trying to make apples and oranges “different but equal,” and instead using a rock, paper, scissors model to create decided advantages and disadvantages in certain matchups.

For our first stage of beta, we won’t have many of our long list of eventual classes to fill in the counter relationships we have planned between classes, which leaves our initial state of balance pretty far from the final state. For example, archers use physical ranged attacks that naturally make them strong against lighter armor, especially versus targets that are easily disrupted, such as magic users. Fighters, on the other hand, benefit a lot from heavy armor and have some very strong shield abilities that counter physical attacks, meaning archers will have a relatively difficult time against them under most circumstances.

For the most part, mages don’t rely on physical attacks, and thus have a decided advantage over archers when it comes to taking on heavily armored targets that are more focused on physical than magical defense. However, mages won’t be part of the first phase of beta testing, meaning a natural counter to heavy fighters won’t be present, making fighters seem more powerful than they will eventually be. Archers likewise won’t have lightly armored, easy-to-disrupt mages to focus on, so archers will seem underpowered compared to where they will be later on, when more appropriate targets for them are available. Of course, archers can compensate for this situation somewhat by focusing on penetrating armor and maintaining their distance. Then again, because of the decided rock-vs-paper relationship here, heavy fighters will be able to specialize further into things that help them take on archers in response, which still leaves fighters with an advantage during early beta.

Therefore, one thing to consider thoughtfully when planning your beta character is whether you want to focus more on taking on enemies of other archetypes, or enemies of your own archetype trio. For example, fighters that use weapons and abilities specifically suited to combatting archers might have a difficult time if they run up against enemy fighters who instead decided to focus on defeating other fighters. While there are also some decided advantages and disadvantages inherent to these matchups that you will have to explore for yourself, a lot comes down to what you choose to focus on, as far as the abilities you create and weapons and armor you equip. In this way, the initial balance state of beta isn’t quite as worrisome as it might seem at first, and it will definitely improve as each class gains additional functionality, and as new classes are implemented.

As beta progresses, more and more classes will make their way into the game. This will fill in some of the balance gaps, and create more complex relationships that will eventually lead to more in-depth decisions when it comes to group compositions and complementary playstyles. For our very first version, things will start off fairly simple, covering only the first fundamental mechanics of ranged combat, melee combat, and healing. Even so, there should be more than enough material for a solid foundation and some pretty epic battles, which will get better and better over time.

As you all know, we’re hard at work getting everything ready for the start of beta, and all of us here are eager to get a chance to see what all you make of it. Until then we’ll be keeping you as up to date as we can, and keeping an eye on what you’re looking forward to on our forums and in our live chat. If you’re planning to join beta 1 testing, be sure to stop by often for the latest news and to let us know what you’re most excited about.

Developer Quote

  “I wouldn't put this much effort into it if I didn't think this was new and different and way more compelling than all the other MMO's out there. :)" - Tyler Rockwell, Producer


-by Sandra Pavulaan 

All the artists are working busily away on Beta 1 tasks, so in lieu of our usual Art team update, Sandra drew this comic for you to enjoy! 

Tech Central

 -By David Hancock

Becoming Dynamic: The Story of Abilities

Time has been flying! It feels like only a week ago that I wrote my last piece for you guys, although it happened in December. In reality it has been many more weeks than one, and a lot of work has been accomplished since then. It’s always fun to reach the stage in a project where things start flying into the build and it begins looking a lot more like a game. That said, there have been many things that have been worked on that don’t tend to have a large impact on the way things look to players, but which will allow us to do much more interesting things as we move forward. This month I am here to tell you about a system that will be used by every single player: the Client Ability Spec, or CAS for short. 

This is a vital system, as our Beta needs require a more dynamic way of handling abilities on the client, with the need to build out our first actual classes, new components, and moving towards a fully fleshed out product.

Let’s start by turning the wheel of time back a few years, back to when we began work on Camelot Unchained, in what to me feels like another age, one that came and went eons ago. At that time we were working hard on the foundations of the engine we have today, but we needed some basic gameplay systems in place to be able to test the client we had built, and make sure it was meeting our needs. One of the gameplay systems we added then was an Ability System, as well as a set of hardcoded information on how to render those abilities. This worked well initially, as we just had a handful of abilities, and ability crafting was far off on the horizon. It was always generally held that we would rip out the way we handled rendering abilities on the client, and it did change slightly over time. When Ability Crafting was introduced, the Ability System itself was moved forward to handle that, but the rendering had been left mostly intact as it had existed from those early days. The main thing that had changed was that we drove the effects from the database so that the designers could change them, but it was still a inflexible set of abilities in a system where people could craft abilities and modify them. 

The solution back then, one which got us to this point, was to create a translation between primary and secondary components and the abilities/effects that were in our database. So, if you created an ability that was of both the Fire and Ball components, regardless of what other modifiers or options you picked, the system would compare Fire and Ball to a set of tags on the old style ability rendering and pick a VFX set that was a Fireball that Ben/Crossmire had set up in the editor. Worse still, to support the data coming from the database, on initially connecting to the server, we simply packaged up all this data into a large message that we sent down to you on loading into the game.

Clearly this was not a path forward we could maintain for long, and certainly not for Beta. Sure, it worked for as long as we needed it to, but it presented us with a number of issues moving forward, some of which I have outlined above. As we looked at our Beta features, and the increasing need to begin fleshing out and adding actual classes to the game, we knew we couldn’t wait any longer. 

CAS was a design we put forward quite a long while back; its primary goal was to address our need for an ability rendering system that could be dynamic. One of the key aspects of the system is that we create the visual side of an ability on the server dynamically, based on the ability that was built. This allows us to factor in all the different modifications a client can make to an ability. Another core piece of the system is to reduce the initial network burst for an ability: we now notify clients about how to render an ability when they need to know how to do it, and not before. This includes a number of encoding tricks to keep packet sizes down, and once your client knows about an ability, we only need to send your client a minimal amount of information to get it to play that ability again. The primary goal here is to create a system that is flexible enough for us to grow with, but also to simplify what would quickly become an unmanageable mess, as more and more code had been slapped on the old system to meet the needs of new abilities and components.

Now you're probably asking yourself what this means for you, the consumer. Will you even notice this change? For the Backers in IT, the change will be pretty obvious when it lands, as suddenly most of your abilities will stop looking like anything interesting. Surprise! That’s just because there will be a transition period on the server while the server side of building out abilities is fleshed out fully. 

However, once the transition period has completed, players will see a pretty cool benefit: Two fireballs won’t look identical any longer, as the visuals will take modifiers into account! These changes will lend visual weight to the differences in how people have crafted their abilities, and will also help you recognize what sort of abilities your enemies have created to destroy you. Beyond increased variance in the effects of abilities, CAS will also allow us to begin iterating much more quickly on new components without the need to change code in a lot of cases. 

Congratulations, you have made it to the end of what I am looking back at as a fairly dense article! For those of you still reading, the key takeaway is that the way the client renders abilities is changing entirely. It’s being replaced with a system we can ship with, something that will provide far more visual interest between different crafted abilities, and which will allow the artists and designers to rapidly iterate on components without needing an engineer to make changes to the client’s method of rendering those components. Ultimately, CAS gets Beta 1 into the hands of the Backers faster.

State Of The Build

 -by Brian Green

What is the origin of a patch note? Yes, it reflects the some of the player-visible work the programmers do, but a lot of the work starts with player feedback. 

Getting external feedback is important because it gives a developer some useful perspective. Often, developers can become a bit too close to their systems and can have a hard time looking at them objectively. We tend to fall in love with our work, and our initial reaction is to preserve it. Sometimes, we need someone from the outside with a critical eye to point out what works and what simply does not work in the game. You often have to let your precious ideas wither and die in order to improve the game. It's a hard lesson to learn. 

This doesn't mean that all feedback is equal, however. Developers have their own experience and insight that they bring to a project. For example, a developer can understand how an unfinished system fits within the game better than a player can. A clunky system with a primitive UI may look like something hard to use, but to a developer it can be a strong foundation to work from. Game developers can also take a longer perspective: an annoyance may not need to be fixed in the short term in order to fix something much more fundamental that other systems require. 

Experienced developers can also have insight into why some changes may not work. With years of experience comes years of knowledge about what has been tried before, and why it didn't work in the past. In addition, experienced developers all have ideas about what they would like to change if given a chance; Camelot Unchained has its own "BSC" (bat-shit crazy!) ideas that aren't common in other games, and will require a lot of original code to make work. 

We're lucky because we have a strong community on our forums who give us great feedback. Primarily, the Internal and Alpha testers have given us a ton of feedback about what works and doesn't work in the game and in C.U.B.E. We've listened to that feedback, looked at it through the lens of our collective experience, and have continuously worked to improve the game based on the combination of those two. This process should help us improve the game through Beta, launch, and beyond. 

And now a selection of patch notes guided by player feedback: 

Lots of animation improvements, including:
  • Improved animation blending between animations when changing direction while moving.
  • Fixed animation blending going into or out of falling animations.
  • Improved overall animation performance.
Added the concept of "power" to abilities:
  • Increases or decreases to power will change effects like damage, duration, etc.
  • Will be used to restrict what abilities can be crafted, based on total
    power of the components.
  • When spell effects interact, the power can be adjusted on each effect.
  • Certain buffs, debuffs, and resistances will also change ability power.
Added support for weapons in the ability system:
  • Your equipped weapon will supply some of the stats for a weapon-based ability.
  • Other equipped items can affect spells as well.
Buildings and building destruction is back in and being improved!
  • The server can support more buildings than before.
  • Administrators have commands to create plots and generate buildings on the fly.
  • Spells can destroy blocks. Soon weapons will be able to damage blocks as well.
  • Buildings need to be stable to remain standing. Unstable blocks with insufficient support are removed.
  • In the future, rubble will be created as unstable buildings collapse.

Backer Spotlight

-Jenesee asks Foggye

This month’s Backer Spotlight is on the amazing Foggye, who stays involved in all kinds of projects. We already talked to him briefly as part of the City Planning Project in another newsletter, but his consistent wiki contributions warrant a new spotlight, so we can get to know him better. Foggye, congrats on being the first repeat spotlighter!
Q: What made you interested in the CU wiki? 
A: I was actually mentioned to me by another backer after the call went out looking for people to help put it together. I had wanted to find a way to contribute to the CU in some fashion, having few opportunities to help testing through IT. So I jumped right in.

Q: What have you done for the wiki?
A: The race and class pages primarily. A lot of the informational pages: stretch goals, characters, newsletter, and more. A lot of the templates, and boilerplates as well. Set up a Trello board similar to what the Mod Squad did. Helped a lot of with coming up with a process. Then there's the Q&A tracker (think of an up-to-date Chasing Mark Jacobs doc, for you Kickstarter people) that I swear I'll get back to finishing someday.
Q: Where did you learn how to make templates, etc.? Was it difficult?
A: I really didn't know anything much about the back end of a wiki at all. The same could be said of html and CSS as well. Mostly learned how to do things by reverse engineering elements either our Curse rep or other wikis have done to get the result that I wanted. w3schools.com was also an excellent resource.
Q: How does someone get good at being a wiki guardian?

A: I'd say communication, first and foremost. It helps keep those involved on the same page. I often got either assistance or clarification from Jenesee, Max, or Koo on things. You don't get those things if you don't ask. I also say it's better to know then to assume. The recent changes page is also a good way to check if there's anything that may warrant some looking into
Q: What do you recommend for a beginner?

A: The above, communication. Honestly, reaching out to our community manager is probably the best way. Allow me to reflect this interview a bit and highlight our community manager. Jenesee here has been very supportive, helpful, and actively engaged herself in a lot of community projects. Be it the wiki, or with the translation teams. She's accessible, all you have to do is reach out. I don't have the time I used to, but I do respond to private messages on the forum fairly regularly and I'll gladly assist in any way as well. Either of us would be happy to get you acquainted with the process, and show you the Trello board. Find something you'd like to work on and go with it. If you don't feel comfortable with html, CSS, or wiki structure, don't let that stop you. All the finer details can be smoothed over with communication and collaboration.
Q: How would you describe the wiki's relationship with the game?

A: I think for the most part that the wiki will serve as a centralized and perhaps more digestible knowledge base for the game. Right now there isn't as much to say, but later on it could really serve as a "go to" place to check crafting details or browse class/race information when the game releases. I also think that in the long term, it could have some relevance in showing the history of the game and it's influences to those players who join later on in Camelot Unchained's lifespan. Players who may not have realized that Askr and Embla are the Adam and Eve of Norse mythology. Nor know about the path system that got scrapped during Alpha for the archetype/class trio system. The most profound element about the wiki is that is community made. I know that is how most wikis are made, but I still want to emphasize it. A lot of people have touched it, both in large and small ways. Even a fan of the game who isn't even a backer added quite a bit to it. MMOs basically should break down to people. People to either clash or harmonize with. It's that desire to having meaningful interactions not only with PvP but just other players, period. That’s the reason why I believe the majority of the backers are here; because a lot of what's out there feels so desocialized. So it's comforting to be able say that the community here is pretty good, the wiki is just a part of that.

Lore Corner

-by Max Porter

The first portion of a new story about The Depths™, penned by Mark Jacobs and edited by Max Porter. Please enjoy this dark tale!


The Great Depths Raid

Part 1: A Gathering of Delvers

Now I will tell you a tale of The Depths, a place that has been shrouded in mystery for uncountable centuries. If you ask a scholar, he’ll tell you this living home of horror and madness first appeared soon after the Piercing of the Veil. If you ask an old man on the street, he’ll tell you at length that that it always been with us. Just in different forms, and with a different name.

Whatever folk call it today, The Depths has become part of the fabric of this world and its stories. We’ve all been told from a young age that The Depths calls to bad little children to make them disappear forever. Of course, older folk spend time debating The Depths as philosophy or playful dispute, perhaps arguing that there is no way a group of Hammas would survive in there without help. Meanwhile, the wise or foolish leaders of the lands hold The Depths near the heart of their councils, discussing how long they must hold control of the place to crown their Realm supreme. And in between all of these there have always been those who would seek to profit from the treasures hidden within the murky secrets of The Depths, with or without the guidance of their Realm. Those folk are known as Delvers, and this is a tale of one of their raids, and the unlikely or unnerving revelations of The Depths they uncovered.

It was one of those balmy fall days that make the coming winter seem bearable. The weather was warm in the sun but cool in the shade, and the trees seemed to glow with the bright colors of the Fall Court of the Tuatha Dé Danann. Standing on a stony ridge overlooking the tree-filled valley below, an Arthurian by the name of Hidduk carefully surveyed the land beneath him. Many people believed that those of his race were blessed with exceptionally sharp eyes, but he chuckled at the thought, muttering “If they only knew how bad my normal sight is…”

Fortunately for Hidduk, his eyes were enhanced by both magic and a previous trip to The Depths, so the valley floor stood out in sharp detail, and he could pick out each leaf fluttering in the wind. However, despite his concentration, Hidduk’s mind drifted back to the horrible things that he had seen and experienced. He was the sole survivor of that raid, and most of his clan thought him insane for wanting to go back again. Not only that, but Hidduk knew that many within his Realm were already suspicious of Caits such as himself. There were many reasons not to go…

But something called to him, like a whisper in the back of his mind. A growing need to return, to discover more treasures and truths in The Depths. To redeem himself in his own mind, or in the minds of others, he knew what he needed to do. At the thought, his tail twitched and swished its way back and forth among the falling leaves. Up on the ridge, Hidduk expanded his senses and, true to his kind, crouched and watched patiently for the rest of the raiding party. He would wait motionless here, even if day turned to night and back again several times before they all arrived.

“I hate these woods,” Jorvald thought to himself early the next morning, as he crunched through the leaves on the valley floor that Hidduk watched from the stony ridge. “These are not proper trees! Their colors are too bright, their trunks too twisted.” In truth, he longed not just for the deep pine forests of his Viking homeland, but for the great underground forests of his race. Pulling twigs and fallen leaves from his beard with one hand, he absentmindedly flipped his great war-axe in his other. Up into the air it spun, flashing in the morning sunlight. He caught it without looking.

Jorvald had been practicing the trick since he was a young lad, well before his hands had absorbed some stony protection from the caverns of his people. Of course, he had more than a few scars from his own axe, but as his father once told him, “Females love scars, my boy! But do try to inflict more on your enemies than on yourself.” His father was full of such sayings. Something about seeing the dawn in this valley and the alien smell of the leaves underfoot made Jorvald miss everyone more than usual.

However, to find and enter The Depths…that was a badge of honor among his folk. This was especially true for a young Dvergr like himself, who had barely earned the first “emergence of jewels” from his body. “Hah! I might be younger than some,” he said out loud to quell any sense of dread he might feel, “But I earned this right through skill at arms. None could stand with me, whether with axe or hammer. Or more importantly, with two kegs raised to the sky! I will kill whatever stands in my way, and come out covered with glory…and those special gems that can only be found there.” Hopefully the women of his people would appreciate that, and he’d finally earn the respect of his elders. His father would be proud of him, and to Jorvald that was almost honor enough.

Again Jorvald flipped his axe, catching the light from the newly risen sun. Polished to a mirror sheen, the blade flashed light through the autumn leaves. Perched on the ridge above, Hidduk twitched when he saw the flash of light. At least he knew he was no longer alone, no matter how stupid this companion might be for giving himself away so easily to possible enemies. It would be at least several more hours before their third companion would join them, if Hidduk had read the sun correctly, so he once again settled into a relaxed but watchful pose.

Hidduk’s senses were correct, for a few hours later, the third member of their band entered the valley. He was called Xedric, and if one were to judge a person’s power by their physical appearance, Xedric would not be accounted for much. Unlike the other members of this group, Xedric was an “Unchanged” or the less kind word, “Furless”, meaning he was one of the people whose blood and bodies were apparently untouched by the power of the Veilstorms. He clearly lacked many of the natural advantages that the Changed possessed.

However, in this world, like many others, to judge by appearance alone would be a mistake. For though Xedric seemed unremarkable, the powers that he commanded were not. He was a Senior Sentinel of the Flame Wardens, fiery mages of the Arthurian Realm. While it is true that time and the use of magic had begun to take a toll on his outer body, the flame within him roared more fiercely than ever. Members of his Order could sense that power. It scared some of them, as great power can sometimes do among those with lesser power and lots of jealousy.

If their fear bothered him, Xedric never showed it, for he was on his own mission. The Flame Warden sought something within The Depths, something that he had read of in the most secret of ancient writings. It would grant him immense power, power that he greatly desired, no matter the cost to his outer shell.

As he tramped over the soil on the valley floor, looking at the fall colors, he mused on his great purpose. “Just like the Eternal Flame that we guard,” he thought, “I want to command and therefore protect the greatest power a Flame Warden has ever known.” Xedric adjusted his travel pack as the wind swept down through the trees, telling himself that he would only use this power for the protection of his Order and the good of his Realm. However, he wasn’t sure that he truly believed that any more. Maybe he had just gotten used to reciting the line to his fellow Wardens every time the subject came up.

The Wardens opposed the very idea of this raid, and particularly the idea of Xedric entering The Depths. But nobody, not in Arthur’s Realm nor any other, was going to stop him this time. When he had first heard of Hidduk’s “Call to Arms”, Xedric had jumped at the opportunity. And when one of the other Senior Wardens disputed his right to go, citing some nonsensical and illogical notion of risking life and limb only when commanded by Arthur or the Order, Xedric did what he had done in the past: he challenged the other Warden to a duel. After his opponent wisely turned him down, Xedric was free to make his choice. And now, as he neared the arranged meeting place with Hidduk, he smiled inwardly, for he knew in his gut he had made the right decision.

While Xedric was enjoying his moment of clarity, another future member of the raiding group was thinking quite differently. While those of his race are more used to causing fear than feeling it, Sacriphisto was having a moment of doubt. He had always been a bit of a walking conundrum, for members of his race rarely choose to practice the healer’s arts. Fighters, mages, and even crafters, yes, but a healer of the Bean Sidhe? Unheard of for many generations in his family circle.

Despite all that, Sacriphisto had always felt that his special powers and abilities should not be used to harm other living beings. To him, the dark origins of his race gave him no right to spread that darkness. He had endured constant teasing growing up, but he had held onto his principles and his chosen path. Though he had been pushed to raise his Dire Scream more than once, something he could do as well as any male and most female Bean Sidhe, Sacriphisto was completely committed to the life of a healer.

When his lifespan upon this world ended, he wanted his name to be known for the people that he had healed, saved, and even protected, and not the number of souls he had taken in battle. There had to be more to this strange existence than that. Sacriphisto hoped that he could find some understanding of his own ghostly life in The Depths, for he had found it nowhere else in the world. In his life of journeying far and wide, he had found little peace. It was on one of his many journeys to the other Realms that he had heard about this raid on the legendary place of horror and secrets.

Sacriphisto scaled the steep path lined with stones like clutching fingers and thought about his first meeting with the leader of the raid, a Cait Sith called Hidduk. To his relief, Sacriphisto had sensed no evil taint from The Depths upon the Cait, so he eagerly agreed to join him. But now, as he wound his way between the brightly colored trees to approach the arranged meeting place, Sacriphisto felt new doubts assail him. “What if The Depths really is a living creature?” he thought as a pair of tussling squirrels looked up quizzically at his approach. “Do we really have the right to harm it?”

Sacriphisto was no pacifist; he was willing to fight and even die if necessary for his Realm, but as far as he knew, The Depths was not harming anyone at the moment. Perhaps it was simply a place to be left alone and not bothered. What if he harmed it, or the other Delvers harmed it, and The Depths struck back merely out of self-defense?

However, though he began to wish he had fully thought this through before agreeing to join the raid, Sacriphisto realized it was too late for him to change his mind. Not showing up or refusing to go would be unthinkable. His honor, and the reputation of his race, was at stake. People had enough reason already not to trust a Bean Sidhe. Running from this challenge with his “mist below his legs,” as his grandmother used to say, would be the worst possible outcome. Better to die in The Depths than live with that cowardly act on his conscience.

Uncertain but unyielding, Sacriphisto pushed on through the windblown forest and its carpet of leaves.

The fifth member of this group had no such reservations. While his slightly less-than-average build, even for a Luchorpán, made travelling by foot a bit slower, he made the miles go quickly with thoughts of all the loot that he was going to find in The Depths. Yes, there would be great danger there, but that was nothing compared to the fame and reputation that he would earn by accomplishing great feats of thievery and fun within it. “The Depths is just a really dangerous tomb,” he thought to himself as he bounded over tree roots, “and I’ve seen more than a few of those in my life!” He imagined coming home and walking up the steps while literally dripping with jewels and possibly an artifact or two from this magical vault.

He’d heard the stories, sure, but he was convinced that nothing in this world could be as bad as all that. He was still a very young Luchorpán, free of the hopelessness he thought he saw seeping into some of his elders’ eyes. As he leaped past a fallen log and skipped over some stones by the side of the path, he imagined himself jumping over pits, diving under the blades of enemies, and picking the locks of chests that he knew would be brimming with enough wealth to keep him and some lucky female (or two) happy for many cycles of the world. “This will be fun,” he said out loud, “No matter what, this will be fun!” Just like everyone else, he was convinced that his motives were pure, good, and true.

The final member of the group couldn’t disguise her passage through the forest, no matter how hard she tried. While she too was relatively young, her size and girth made stealthy movement difficult at best. How others of her kind found their way into professions that required silence and furtive movement puzzled her. She pushed aside two creaking saplings so she could pass, and let them snap together behind her. “I’ve only reached the second stage of my life, and look at how large I am already!” she shouted suddenly, giving up on hiding her position. “If any enemies can’t see nor hear me now, you’d have to be dead, asleep in a drunken stupor, or deaf, dumb, blind, and without any magical senses at all!”

Partly in frustration, and partly to show her fearlessness in the face of potential danger, she snapped off some dead branches, kicked a few small boulders, and skipped through the woods with a mad smile. She made more noise than a host of “Shorties” (the Jötnar term for just about everyone else) on the move. Fortunately, the only people that were anywhere nearby were already expecting her.

She was very pleased to be going on this expedition with that nice Cait. She expected to have a good time, smashing Abominations and other foul things in The Depths, but what she truly sought was knowledge. She enjoyed battle, using her prodigious size and strength to great effect, but what she most wanted from this trip to The Depths was to come back with all sorts of secrets. To truly gain the respect of her people, she needed to show them interesting things to study, decipher, and learn.

Why some of the other races thought of her people as just big, brutish thugs, she never understood. Probably simply because her race had been reborn with great size and strength through the power of the Veil. But she, like other Jötnar before her, would prove them wrong. As she crashed through the trees, she let out another exuberant shout. “Look out Depths, I am coming for you!”

As this final day passed into night, Hidduk listened to the stomping, tromping, and landscape-chewing exploits of his companions. He slowly removed himself from his state of watchful relaxation, and realized it was time to go down and greet them all. However, before he formally announced his presence, he decided to exercise caution, as was his habit, and survey the Veil. He crept away from the edge of the ridge and out of sight, and began a different meditation. He sighed as the power built in him gradually, and let out a second breath as the gateway to the Veil opened even more slowly, for it was not speed of opening he sought, but safety of opening.

After what seemed to him a bit longer than usual, the world around him began to shift. His Veil-enhanced senses felt the barrier between worlds wavering and growing thinner. And when it had grown thin enough, he walked through the barrier, and he felt it tear as one might tear a thin sheet of paper. He looked around for a sign of unusual pain from the Veil, but he sensed neither blood nor anger, as he had hoped he would not find, due to his careful summoning and tearing of the barrier.

As the companions met up in the moonlit clearing at the end of the valley, Hidduk, the Cait Sith Veilwalker, made his way down, looking for any sign of trickery. Fortunately for them, and perhaps himself, he saw no sign of any other presence in the Veil nearby. As the group exchanged greetings and salutations, Hidduk checked again, extending his senses within the Veil, but finding no sign of any contact from those people to anybody or anything in the Veil. After a few minutes, the group sat down to make a fire and prepare a meal. While they did that, Hidduk waited for the right moment to appear. As Donnie began to eat his meal, Hidduk tensed. Just when the Luchorpán took the first bite, the Cait Sith walked into the firelight.

Ever wonder how far a Luchorpán can launch himself when frightened? The answer is quite far, quite far indeed!

“It’s a shame that the tree got in the way,” Hidduk said to the gathered Delvers, “For I think he could have flown to the next valley over!” Tension left faces, and hands loosened their grip on weapons as they all laughed. A space was made for Hidduk, and they continued their meal, calling for Donnie to return to their camp.

Thus ends Part I.

Bonus Images!

We can’t let you go without showing you some extra-cool shots, like this decorated fort by Dia:
And finally, here's what the current (very overpowered for testing!) building destruction looks like:
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