Unveiled: Camelot Unchained Newsletter #32 - City State Entertainment
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Team Tidings

-by Max Porter

Hey folks, 

A good end of March to you! Spring is officially here in beautiful downtown Fairfax, Virginia. The cherry trees are blooming, leaves are sprouting, and of course, this means allergies are back in season. Nevertheless, we never let a little thing like that stop us, here at City State Entertainment™. Let’s talk about the tidings from the team!

The tidings are pretty darn good! First of all, we checked off more Beta list items, which you can read about here. Very exciting and also very encouraging progress, as we push onward for Beta 1. It’s been a great month overall, despite a few unfortunate victims falling to spring’s allergies or sickness, with tons of forward movement, as we’ve shown you. Between our continuing streams on Twitch and YouTube, as well as updating in the News section of our website, we really strive to keep you all updated with all of our progress, as much as possible!

Indeed, in this very newsletter, you can check out the State of the Build article from Brittany for an absolute mountain of highlights from the past month’s progress, or Christina’s Tech Central article as she delves into a bit of the tech behind our initial crafting system. There’s also Ben’s epic Dose of Design focused on a few of his thoughts on crowd control, Scott’s updates from the art team, and of course, a new lore update from yours truly. And still more, with a few cool things from Backers to boot!

In the office, as I mentioned above, a few people have been hit hard by the allergies and/or colds that come with the season. Still, they’ve continued to work on Camelot Unchained™ from home, and I haven’t been sneezed or coughed on TOO many times. ;) Spirits remain high, and we’re all excited as things come together. 

Well, without further ado, I encourage you to click the “View this email in your browser” button on the top right to see our latest newsletter, which is absolutely crammed with content. Read on for articles, art, updates, lore, and other awesome stuff, and please enjoy this, the thirty-second issue of Unveiled

Hot Topics


The latest topics of discussion on the forums right now include the game's economy, the support role, and picking a class to main. 

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

Look What You Did

Thank you all so much for your fantastic fan fiction entries! I enjoy reading them every month, but this one was a special treat. This month’s winner of our fan fiction contest for a short Camelot Unchained love story is… 

The Robot, The Fool, And The Beauty by Martin Lawrence Scott
 
The fool marked the town square as his home; the usual passerby would throw change into his hat as he paraded around, or posed, or played a tune for and generally entertained the passing public.  But, one fair lady walked by every day, and whenever she did, he froze!  All of his usual antics forgotten.  Language became gibberish.  His movements became cold and robotic, and for a moment he was lost in a dream where only she existed. 
This fool decided, "Today is the day I will tell her how I feel!"
 He aroused the faintest humor in the most black hearted individuals that day, with the courage of a lion he pounced at the pockets of each stranger that entered his vicinity with his forthcoming amusement.  But then she was there, and stood watching him unlike her usual dismissal and there he was motionless, stuttering, legs shaking, awkward and eventually yelling out of character before she could leave,
 "Exc-c-c-use me, b-b-b-eautiful... hello!  Don't go!" 
 The crowd laughed at him for what seemed another play; another role; just a fools gesture... and she smirked at his "act" and went along.
 He was crushed and spent the rest of the day until night on a bench in the square, feeling dejected and utterly hopeless about life.  Then someone sat next to him and asked,
 "Why do you work so hard?"  It was her, speaking in a tender voice, "When are you just going to let me go?"
 "Let you go?"  He asked, "We only just met!  If I can only tell you how I felt..."
 "Don't worry any more,"  She comforted him, "You have a busy day ahead of you, and you can't stay here forever."
 "I don't know what you mean,"  he wondered aloud. "Please just spend a little more time with me?  Can't we talk longer?  Don't you want to get to know me?  I can be quite clever."
 "One of these days I will, you clever fool, but it is time for me to go!"  She leans over and as she kissed him on the cheek says,
 "And it's time for you to get up," she said, and again "Please wake up."
 And then... I woke up.


Truly a beautiful vignette. Thank you!

For our next contest, well, this issue of Unveiled contains the conclusion of the Picts Becoming™ story. Time for a bit of fan art illustration! Draw, paint, dress up and photograph, or otherwise recreate a scene or moment from the story (you can find the tale in the Lore section of our main website). Post your fan art in the thread you’ll see popping up in the Fan Art section of the forums. The favorite pieces will be featured in the next newsletter! Now get to arting, we’re really looking forward to seeing your creations! :)

Dose of Design

-by Ben Pielstick

Controlling "Crowd Control"


One of the top questions asked about Camelot Unchained is what we’re doing with Crowd Control. In Q&A sessions, we’ve normally left this at “We’re not ready to talk about that right now”, but we haven’t really gotten into why, as the digression would be far too long for that format. For those who are really interested, however, I do want to give a little more background. Now seems like a good opportunity to do so, as we get a little further along in class development. Perhaps I can offer some insight into the similarities and differences with what we’re doing compared to traditional Crowd Control.

The first thing everyone should be aware of on this topic is that Crowd Control is an extremely volatile and divisive subject among MMORPG PvP players. No matter what game you talk about, there will be some players who love the Crowd Control system, and some players that hate it. Some players feel that Crowd Control ruins their experience of the game because they find it intolerable that their ability to control their character can be taken away in the midst of combat. Others point out that effective Crowd Control use and avoidance is an important skill, an essential part of the toolset that makes fun PvP engagements possible. Neither of these positions are fundamentally wrong. Crowd Control is often both a source of frustration and an important part of good PvP gameplay. Unfortunately, this makes Crowd Control extremely polarizing and highly controversial, so as a game developer it is practically impossible to come up with a design for Crowd Control that won’t end up greatly upsetting some number of players.

But how, precisely, do you define “Crowd Control” in the first place? The strictest definition would primarily focus around area of effect disabling abilities that are used to take away control from literally ‘crowds’ of enemies at once. A more general definition, on the other hand, could include virtually any ability that reduces the combat effectiveness of one or more enemies, thereby reducing the ‘control’ they have over their actions. For the purpose of discussion, let’s start from the more general definition, leaving the issue of number of targets affected aside, and focusing purely on control. 

Often, we talk in terms of hard control versus soft control. For example: A root that makes a target completely unable to move, versus a snare that reduces the speed at which the target can move. In practice, effects can be a lot more nuanced than that. Movement reduction effects might become less severe by being limited to only affect movement toward or away from a target, while effects that remove total control over movement can go even further by also forcing movement toward or away from a target. Additionally, a severe snare effect with a long duration might actually be stronger than a short duration root, so it isn’t always the most useful to simply talk about Crowd Control in terms of hard versus soft effects. What we can generally state, however, is that the more control is cumulatively taken away from the target by an effect, the more powerful that effect is. By estimating and assigning an actual number to the amount of ‘power’ for each second of each control effect, we can create a way to balance Crowd Control effects against each other, by changing the ‘power’ valuation of each effect based on whether testing shows it to be too weak or too strong, relative to other effects.

However, there’s something more important than the question of balancing one type of Crowd Control against another when it comes to the overall feel of the game. Just how much Crowd Control should exist in the game in general? Given the concept of numeric ‘power’ assignments to effects, we can balance this by adjusting the ‘power’ assigned to Crowd Control effects against the ‘power’ assigned to other effects, like damage. Still, this leaves open the question of just how much crowd control is good for the game, and where we should set the balance between the power of crowd control effects versus the power of other effects, in order to make the game fun. 

At our present stage of development, it would not be responsible for us to set down in stone a final decision on this topic. Those of us here at the studio who have played and worked on many MMOs over the years have a clear understanding of how Crowd Control has worked in other games, but Camelot Unchained has a lot of important differences that might make the appropriate strength of Crowd Control significantly different. Many significant parts of CU, such as our health and damage model, our use of physics for character movement and projectiles, and our ability disruption system, diverge significantly from what other MMOs have done in the past. These choices will have a significant influence on just how much Crowd Control is necessary to achieve tactically interesting engagements in RvR, while maintaining a good general feel to combat. 

Philosophically, it is obviously better to introduce potentially frustrating mechanics as sparingly as possible, but there are subtle ways in which Crowd Control can be made to feel less frustrating while remaining present. Historically, MMORPGs that have included heavy Crowd Control for the sake of PvE have added limitations to the use of Crowd Control in PvP in the form of diminishing returns. This method ensured that Crowd Control affected a player to a lesser degree the more often they suffered its effects, until they effectively became immune to it for a while, essentially putting a cap on how much Crowd Control a player will have to deal with over the course of an engagement. This feature has a downside, however, as Crowd Control effectiveness reduction is somewhat difficult to communicate, especially if separated into sub-types of control effects. In large battles, diminishing returns can also make Crowd Control unreliable, as there is a high probability that other players will have been affected by Crowd Control effects recently. A player wanting to use Crowd Control effects under these circumstances will often find their effectiveness greatly reduced, often with no way to know this would be the case beforehand. 

Additionally, most MMORPGs have included sets of abilities designed specifically to counter Crowd Control effects, allowing players to break free of them and/or providing some duration of immunity. Camelot Unchained will certainly have mechanics that mitigate and counteract Crowd Control effects. Some will be built into the abilities of each class, while others may use a baseline system similar to the way other games have used diminishing returns. At the present stage of development, however, systems for reducing the severity of Crowd Control effects have not been finalized, because we have yet to determine how influential Crowd Control effects will be in the game in general, and whether or not additional layers of mitigation will be necessary. 

As you can see, there are a lot of considerations when it comes to Crowd Control. Unfortunately finding the right balance for Crowd Control is not something that can be achieved in abstract simply through discussion and writing documents. Instead, as combat testing begins, and the initial set of classes for each Realm start to receive iterative improvements, we will be paying close attention to the effectiveness of the few Crowd Control effects that will initially be present. As adjustments are made, and more ability components are added, we will continuously evaluate the power of crowd control effects and their counters, and try out different settings during testing to determine how powerful each effect should be. 

Once we have a well-tested baseline for basic Crowd Control with our starting classes, we can use this basis for experimenting with more elaborate Crowd Control mechanics in our future classes. Depending on how things shape up over time, we will evaluate whether or not the core mechanics of the combat system, and the ability-based counters to Crowd Control are sufficient, or if we need to develop additional systemic rules to help keep the cumulative disabling power of Crowd Control under control. 

Ultimately, the goal is to go as far as we need to with Crowd Control in order to ensure that combat in Camelot Unchained is tactically challenging in engagements from small to large scale, and also making sure that the frustration factor of being the target of Crowd Control effects is as low as it can reasonably be. As with many things, the best way to find the optimal balance is through testing and iteration, without holding too tightly to any preconceived notions of what “must” be the answer based on past experiences with previous games. We look forward to showing more of how combat is shaping up as we continue moving toward the start of Beta 1 testing for Camelot Unchained, and beyond. As always, be sure to keep an eye on our User Stories page, as we continue to finish the necessary items on our checklist to get our first round of Beta testing up and running. 

Developer Quote

  
  “...We have been building an engine to handle our game design wants/needs and not the other way around. It's starting to pay off now and we hope to really reap the rewards as we move through Beta and not to have constantly tweak or redesign the core engine to handle lots of players/effects. That's when the path we have chosen to go down will be shown to have been the right one.” - Mark Jacobs

Artitup 

-by Scott Trolan

As the end of March approaches, we artists have been working hard to finish this month out strong. Many additions, corrections, and experiments have been incorporated into the game. As I said last month, systems are coming online, and we have been ardently testing functionality, ironing out workflows, and making corrections where needed. 

On the animation front, we have a fantastic new animation system from Andrew that is going to make things work much better. It’s much easier now to enter, edit, and tag animation data to characters exclusively dependent on Realm, race, and gender. Sandra and I have entered in our extensive library of animation clips and animation sets into the database, and have been assessing their performance in gameplay. We’ve successfully completed a mountain of animations at a slight cost to quality, so we’ll have the basics to not only test the combat systems but also give us time to iterate on the animation system itself. The final “feel” of combat needs to be great, so iterations are very important! 

Combat locomotion has successfully been implemented into the game, allowing the correct animations to play as you walk in eight degrees of motion with any of the available weapon pairings in your hand(s). We are currently experimenting with a new approach to our combat animation. This new approach consists of a four-part attack animation sequence, which departs from the previous combat system that required a six-part looping attack animation sequence. This new experimental approach is still underway, but can be tested by equipping a greataxe to your character in the current build of Camelot Unchained
Michelle has been concepting Realm-specific siege equipment. Below, you can see Michelle sketching designs for an Arthurian turret ballista. Earlier this month, she livestreamed more examples of siege equipment, here.
Jon continues to sculpt new and wonderful assets for the game. His work this month included additional statue elements, weapon adjustments, and experiments in Substance Designer to better apply skin textures to our characters. As you can see here, Jon has begun to create new hair types for our human males.
Dionne’s arduous work on the Place of Power is almost at an end. She will tell you it’s one beast of a task! Again, this is going to be an amazing addition to the game once it is completed. As the project awaits input and tweaking from Tyler, Dionne works on filling out environments with more variation. Dionne is seen here putting final touches on a new willow tree.
Mike C. continues to work with George on improving the particle system and rendering performance. Mike is very excited with the recent advancements that have been made on this front. 
“Nothing makes me happier than to see a particle with soft glow falloff.”  
- Mike C. 
James K. continues work in collaboration with Sandra and Michelle on Realm logos. Progress on this front is still proving that iteration on an idea can lead to wonderful things. James has also begun graphic design work for damage icons and UI layout.  
Till next month, Sneezings Greetings - Happy Spring, everyone! 

Tech Central

 -by Christina Carr

The crafting system took several big leaps forward this month. Previously, the crafting code was more in a very early stage, which let us try out some interesting concepts, but was not going to provide the flexibility that designers would need to fine tune, balance, or expand upon for Beta. Data driving all of the knobs and levers that make a system come to life tends to have huge payoffs in the long term. Otherwise, programmers will find themselves back in the same code every week to update some detail for design. To combat that issue, we are moving further and further down the path of giving Design power over modifying the gameplay parameters for items and crafting. This frees up programmers to do what they do best - build more cool tech!

Crafting rules use the same scripting system that skill components and Banes and Boons do, where a designer can express complex statements as if they were writing C#, and even call into functions that the engineers have written, for even more advanced cases. These scripts only have to be compiled once when the server starts up, and then are good to go, just as if a programmer had built the logic in code. Plus, it means updates to these scripts can be made without even needing to restart the server.

We started with the building blocks with which items are created: substances! As before, substances are taken from a resource node (which, during testing, can be interacted with using the slash command “/take”). Substance crafting is driven by a recipe system, which defines potential transitions between the substance states. Purifying the substance will transform a raw substance into its pure form (such as “Iron Ore” to “Iron Bars”). Refining a pure substance will increase its quality at a loss of some of the material. Some substances can be ground down into their essence.

The interactions that players have with their Vox got a major overhaul. If you’re a Backer and you get the chance to enter a test, check out the crafting window for a detailed list of what is available now. One of the biggest upgrades is the ability to put items into your Vox in order to craft with them. Doing so will, of course, increase the weight of the Vox, so this will not allow a loophole around the encumbrance system. 

Crafting through a Vox works on a state machine that goes through all the steps of configuring, performing, and collecting the result of the crafting event. Though the configuration interface is only available through slash commands at the moment, it was built to be easily integrated with the upcoming UI. Shaping alloy recipes have been added as well. These follow a more complex recipe system than substances, defining multiple ingredients, quantities, and qualities. 

This is all only a first step! Expect some major upgrades to how alloys affect the final items in the upcoming weeks and months. Design now holds the power to make tons of new substances, recipes, and alloys, while engineering will continue adding more features building off of the strong foundation that has been laid. 

State Of The Build

 -by Brittany Aubert

Earlier this month, I had the pleasure of attending the Game Developers Conference (GDC) in San Francisco. This is a week-long gathering of game developers from all over the world. The major focus of the conference are the lectures; talks put together by industry professionals from all different disciplines. This is a great opportunity to hear about the latest and greatest in design, technology, and more. Game teams often share post mortems, which are a review of what went right and wrong on a project, which help developers to avoid mistakes others have made in the past. 

My favorite part of GDC is the inspiration it leaves me with. While flying back to Seattle, I kept thinking about how lucky we at CSE are to have this feeling of family, which is unique to many studios. I’m proud of how driven we are to make a great game, rather than simply rushing something out the door. I’ve always believed players can feel the love a team puts into a game. I’m excited to enter Beta 1 soon, and for you to share in this love! 

I’ll stop with the “warm and fuzzies” before I get ahead of myself. With that, on to this month’s updates!

Manual Aiming: Aiming is going through its first few stages of iteration. A lot of the remaining work here will be tuning, to ensure that shooting a projectile feels good. That will take time, as the first few things we try may not feel the greatest. Being flexible here is key. We’ve already had a number of our Backers provide feedback for this system, and tweaking is well underway. 

  • Improved target camera tracking by having the view yaw snap to the aiming yaw, having a small dead zone for pitch tracking, and leaving the view's pitch separate from the aim pitch, just updating it when tracking a hit position.
  • We switched to modal cursor tracking, which means pressing ‘alt’ toggles tracking, vs. having to hold down the button.
  • Introduced ServerSkillPhase to carry projectile gameplay data and only be sent to the controlling player instead of to all clients. This prevented lag between the client and server, and additionally prevents an exploit. 

Animation System: If it it isn’t obvious already, I think it’s worth pointing out that this system revamp was a huge task, as we’re still continuing the process. The major pieces are in place, with most of the work now focused on the glue between different sub-systems.

  • Skeletons are built in descending order of size, to maximize concurrency.
  • Modes, Races, and Factions can contribute AnimSetTags and weights via XML.
  • Client won’t start animations for skills that don't meet requirements.
  • Ensure we don’t stretch pre-hit and post-hit segments of animation clips.

SFX and VFX tagging: That glue I mentioned in the animation section? A lot of that glue is utilized to fit SFX and VFX seamlessly into the system. This allows Ben, dB, and Mike to set up feedback to play at specific points in animations. 

  • ClientParticleEffectDef uses tags to select a ParticleEffect and BoneAlias.
  • AnimModel selects the first matching BoneAlias when running a ParticleEffect.
  • Added BoneAliasTagUtility and BoneAliasTags.csv, so tags can be added to BoneAlias enum.

Rendering: As we inch closer to Beta, there are fewer new rendering techniques going in, and more a focus on performance and ease-of-use, particularly in the VFX system. 

  • Changed particle OIT blending to post multiplied.
  • We made order independent transparency adjustments and normalized blending between additive and diffuse particles.

Buildings: The last few building-focused tests we’ve completed have allowed us to fully push the improvements we’ve been making over the last month. The major changes to buildings are slowing down for the time being, but there is still plenty of work to do.

  • Physics mesh is now built as part of the Renderable pass instead of trying to stitch the renderable sub-meshes back into one large mesh. 
  • Allowed equipped gear, spellbook, and ability builder to work in building mode. For some reason, we weren’t allowing players to open these UIs. Weird!
  • Added some console commands for editing sub-grids. There are more to come but this aids in debugging greatly.
  • We no longer show ghost blocks on buildings the player doesn’t have permissions for.
  • Building permissions updated to support Warbands and Orders.
  • Added the ability to specify block type by ID for building commands.

Orders UI: In addition to a functional UI front end, there are a number of reusable components getting rolled out. Warbands will be retrofitted to take advantage of these, meaning more code reuse and hopefully fewer potential bugs. The focus right now, and as we move closer to Beta 1, is ensuring we can make updates quickly, by only focusing on the functional parts. Styling will come later once everything works how we want and feels good to start B1.

Banes and Boons UI: We had the backend in place for this for a while, but after some resource reallocation (a fancy Producer way of saying “moved some tasks around between team members”), we were able to finally expose the front end in the patch client. This has the added benefit of improving Ben’s implementation speed, since he is no longer flying blind with only XML in this system. Much like Orders, the focus first is functional (say that three times fast).

Crafting: The work last month for reworking items and gear has led us to revisiting our crafting system post re-abilitation. Crafting as a system is an umbrella that encompasses substances, the Vox Magus, items, and more. This one is beefy!

  • Three new sheets for the current current recipe types: Grind, Purify, and Refine.
  • The various Vox job types have been refactored, the most important change is they now have immutable version (so the database models are not being directly manipulated by the updaters).
  • Items are now created asynchronously. This is because items with Vox components must go look for objects that may be contained within themselves.
  • The weight of a Vox with items includes the weight of the contained items in its total weight.
  • Crafting slash commands have been revamped. Some old favorites still remain, but the way we interacted with a Vox has been replaced. Crafting something is now broken up into several different commands (one for each step).
  • Building plots can still modify substances, but they now use the updater interface instead of directly manipulating the database models stored in the components.

Server Architecture and performance: A constant focus of ours, both now and for the duration of development, is to constantly strengthen all parts of our server and make sure it’s as performant as possible. 

  • Last month we wrapped up the FastEntityReader, which allows us to quickly transfer data. Recently, this new toy has been used to speed up zone transitions. 
  • We improved our proxy management by combining all our proxy lists into a single list and then removing a proxy from the active list when we get a remove call.
  • Fixed a long stall during physics server startup. This was caused by some blocking while generating building height fields. 
  • Add server config for physics subzone offset. This makes it easier for us to test around physics subzone boundaries by translating the subzones in world space. 
  • We now wait for building plots to finish before making a server available.

Misc:

  • Fix for the super loud noise that happened on login. 
  • Added a build variable for adjusting player height of the follow camera.
  • Slight tweak to follow camera to always point at character's approximate head location and to zoom in a bit further.
  • Improved ChannelManager update speed on the patch server by batching queries into a single fetch, cutting update time by a fairly large margin.
  • Created a build variable for near clip distance and set near clip plane real close in the editor.

Bonus: Producer Post-mortem

 -by Brittany Aubert

In last month’s State of the Build, Brittany talked about our process changes for improving our testing cadence. Part of iterating on the process is reviewing those changes, so she sat down and did a quick post-mortem to review how things have unfolded. 

What Went Right:
  • We had an increase in communication regarding the stability of the build on the floor. This reads like a vary obvious statement, but it’s always good to know when assumptions work out how you expect. 
  • Before the larger tests (like opening WyrmlingPrep to Alphas), we do quick sanity checks on the build more frequently now than before, to find any show-stopping bugs. What improved here specifically was our turnaround time in finding a major test-blockers, allowing us to fix issues quickly, test the fix, and roll out the build. Big thanks to the art team for helping us out with these. 
  • We added more structure to the process of pushing builds through our pipeline, moving a build on from bleeding-edge server Hatchery to WyrmlingPrep to Wyrmling, and opening each server to a larger group of Backers each time. 
  • We created Google Docs in order to keep track of what features were going into each build, details on how to test said features, and what known issues existed. We eventually ended up posting these to the forums when a test commenced. This helped testers give us much more feedback than we had previously gotten.
  • Tyler and Brittany did not need to meet one-on-one as often, since this testing process also aided in keeping everyone in the loop, saving us both time. 
What Went Wrong:
  • We’ve had quite a bit of instability our last few tests with Beta 1 Backers on Wyrmling. Additionally, we have yet to find a way to reproduce the issues we've seen, beyond opening the tests to a mass quantity of players. There are now times when we occasionally need to put a "commit lock" in place, where we tell the team to hold off submitting changes to our master branch, usually because we are trying to track down an issue that is preventing testing. Productivity is lost when this happens. It’s not a significant amount, but it adds up over time. 
What Can We Do Better:
  • Improve how we're circling back around to low-priority issues. The high-priority bugs are identified and addressed immediately, since they rise to the top rather quickly, but there remain a number of low-priority things that will be addressed at a date to be determined. This is a delicate dance that is common in game development as a team approaches a major release. Once we’re past the high-priority items, we’ll need to tackle the little stuff, which may be hectic if we don’t devise a plan of attack ahead of time. 
  • Create another testing server somewhere in the middle of the pipeline. This would allow us to get away from relying on commit locks when we are prepping for a deployment.

Lore Corner

-by Max Porter

Hey folks! Allow me to present the the conclusion of The Becoming: The Picts. The first part was written by Mark, and edited by yours truly; the second and third parts are the reverse, where I have done the writing within his vision for this Arthurian race in Camelot Unchained. You can find the first and second parts of the tale in our Lore section. This part of the story picks up right where Part 2 ended! 

 

The Becoming: Picts part 3


Brude and the Picts part 3

Brude watched the woman in the moonlight. Her eyes darted about, never still, even as the light itself moved, leaves and branches overhead swaying in the wind and rain. She was like a creature of the land itself, he thought distractedly, moving the same way the moonlight moves in the storm. 

She turned back to him as the thunder faded, her deep gaze piercing. “We must stop killing one another, for now. I can speak for my tribe. Can you for yours?”

In answer, Brude filled his lungs and hopped onto the fallen log behind him, raising his face to be tickled by the sky. “Hear me, my warriors! Brude Bridei Mac Billi now calls! To me, warriors, and cease your killing!” His shout rang out clearly above the rumble of the storm. Lowering his face, he watched in wonder as the woman simply made a series of gestures with her sword, the blade flashing in moonlight, and her own forces began to melt out of the storm-tossed shadows.  

As his troops gathered in answer to his shout, Brude saw with a jolt in his chest that their numbers had diminished already. They had come upon their opponents unexpectedly, without ever reaching their true goal, and had fought in unfamiliar territory in terrible conditions. 

As the two groups were revealed in another flash of lightning, Brude watched the glittering eyes of the other tribe’s leader as she looked about and whispered to her warriors. The initial surprise and sudden clash over, tradition and procedure were taking precedence. The young king must now adopt a conciliatory tone, trespassing as he was without intent to perform a raid. 

The storm was only growing worse, however, and the pelting rain refused to let up. Brude shielded his eyes with his hand, and was about to sheathe his weapon when someone came up to him on his left. “Psst.”

Brude glanced down to see the insistent face of one of his warriors. It was not Nechtan, but one of his cronies: the heavyset, powerful woman named Mael. Her broad face was set with determined lines and painted in traditional shapes. She was bleeding from two cuts across her chest, and still carried her naked blade in her hand. Brude tried not to sigh as he leaned down to listen to the older Pict, who whispered in a scratchy voice, barely audible over the patter of the leaves. “My king, let us not be taken in by this ruse. We should attack now, while they are talking; they will not expect it, and we can crush them and take their lands for ourselves!” 

Brude hushed her with a gesture, glancing across at the opposing Pictish warrior woman with alarm to see if she had heard. She was looking straight at them with an otherworldly, intense expression, waiting to see what he would do. Brude whispered back, “Don’t be a fool, Mael. Go and see to our wounded, and theirs as well; anyone you can find, save their lives, as it may help us.” 

Mael’s face twisted with frustration and annoyance, but she was skilled as a healer. Brude knew her well: she would not betray his trust, though she might complain bitterly. Fortunately, Mael chose to back away as the leader of the opposing force stepped forward. 

Her hands rested lightly on her hips, and she adopted the stance of a proud raid-leader, a noble of her tribe. “Brude Bridei Mac Billi, I heard you call yourself, otherwise called Brude Mac Bile. Known are you to us, you and your people. I am called Eithne, my father Cinad; I ask you now, why do you come into our forest, and raise arms against us?”


As the high winds tore away a strip of cloud, high above, the glade was illuminated in silver moonlight once more. Brude’s eyes widened as he saw Eithne’s tattoos shifting, changing. They leant force to her words, their shapes inscrutable to him in the moment but certainly allowing her to tap into ancient knowledge and power. A queen of a rival tribe of Picts. She was following the formal procedure now, using words that commanded a kingly response. 

Brude nodded his head and spread his hands in the rain, which was falling more lightly now. It might seem as though the storm were ending; but he suspected worse weather was coming. “A mistake, Eithne Mac Cinad. It is unfortunate that we crossed weapons and drew blood, but we sought only the destruction of the invaders’ camp that lies near this place. Would that we had not trespassed, accidentally in and in the dark, but it cannot be helped. Perhaps at another time and another place, we could have had a more pleasant exchange.” 

This last he had added to the strict formalities of conduct, prompted by something within his own shifting tattoos. There was some power, some deep magic at play here he could not quite understand. Eithne gave him an odd look, not-quite-smiling as the wind in the trees increased still further in force, blowing wet branches and leaves across the open space between them. 

"Very well. However, you may not pass these woods at this time. Turn yourself around, Brude, and return to your own lands. It is not given to you to travel on to the camp of the invaders this night, blundering blindly as you are. Go, and we will see to the price of this trespass later."

"That may not be needed," Brude responded hopefully. "Even now, my best healer seeks for the wounded of both sides, and will return those that may be saved to their places." The young king hoped deeply that in the short exchange, there might not have been many casualties, only cuts and bruises. It had been a furious few minutes, however. 

Eithne nodded, and gestured gently but firmly back in the direction Brude had come. He looked up and down his line of warriors, and was pleased to see Mael helping two or three warriors through the trees, glistening in the moonlight. They were limping, and it would be some time before they were fit to fight again, but it seemed likely that no deaths would come of this accidental bloodshed. 

"Come, warriors," He said then, in a tone that brooked no further disagreements from his warriors. They turned and faded back into the forest, knowing that Eithne's tribe would follow at a respectful distance and stop at the border stream, but no farther. In the manner that befit their honorable retreat, they took  up a column formation with the injured at the back, easiest for navigating the forest pathways and byways safely. 

Once again, Brude tried to settle back into the running rhythm of the forest at night, pattering his way through the dripping leaves. It was unusually difficult, however. His tattoos were shifting again, trying to tell him something. He examined the pattern in brief pauses using the moonlight, but found the messages confusing and obscure. Perhaps the night's adventures were not quite over, but it seemed more enigmatic.

There was still a sense of wrongness, strangeness in the forest. An increasing scent of dread, a different rhythm to the trees. Some other force was present, a knowledge of the woods with a different beat, a strange and otherworldly pattern that was coming to conquer the Picts. A very different sort of enemy from a rival tribe. They might squabble, but they shared many of the same values. They knew the ways of their people, and this tribe had struck him as noble. And led by such a woman...  

He was jolted from these thoughts by a flash of lightning, which gave him a glimpse of a face through the trees. The king paused in his run, keenly aware of the positions that his warriors had taken, traveling through the forest in a tight column. The face had been grinning, and some distance outside the area currently filled with his running troops. It had seemed to have horns, and a distinct lack of war-paint or tattoos. 

With a whistle and a quick series of gestures in the moonlight, Brude signalled down his column of warriors to turn and fight. They were spread out, but if this was no more than a few scouts from the Tuatha, they should be all right. The king drew his blade, dripping with rainwater, and his Picts matched the motion. 

Brude blinked, blood from his brow mixing with the rain. He could feel a heaviness descend, a weight to the air. There was also a strange power thrumming in the wind, a vibration of power and change. The Veilstorm was coming; and with it, the enemy. Arrows hissed their deadly arcs through the air, aimed with great skill through the branches and leaves. One struck home, and in the strangely muted air, Brude heard one of his own let out an awful gurgle. He shouted, and his warriors charged forward, howling and screaming. 

Brude, running, leapt to a nearby branch and looked along the battle lines. Spells and sharpened blades flashed as his own warriors turned, screaming defiance and rage at the invaders. 

More arrows flew, hissing in the dark even as the winds picked up their pace in the tops of the trees. And still more arrows. Too many. Brude cursed as he jumped from the branch and landed heavily on a Tuatha Dé Danann soldier, stabbing down with his sword blade again and again. There were too many of them, and Brude’s forces were too disorganized. He had truly misjudged his abilities as a commander; this trained army had attacked at the worst possible moment, when his forces were unprepared. 

Brude charged into the thick of the fighting to do what he could. His blade singing, he cut and hacked his way through their line. There were too many, far more than Drest had seen. Perhaps, if he had taken them unawares as he intended, his Picts could still have prevailed. But now, it seemed to Brude as he ducked a spear-strike and countered with a savage slash, things looked hopeless. 

Another spear came out of nowhere, wielded by a tall, powerful Tuathan with a silver arm. Brude just barely had time to see the moonlight flash oh a broad, leaf-shaped speartip before it pierced his side, plunging six inches of hardened wood into his body. 

Everything seemed to slow down and speed up at once. As the Tuathan soldier leaned into the blow, throwing Brude off balance, the pain struck him with blinding intensity. Stars crossed his vision brighter than the lightning flashes. 

The enemy smiled a little, his flashing teeth beneath his wooden helmet. Brude was conscious of the falling warriors nearby; tired, already bloody and surprised, they were quickly losing heart and hope. 

He stumbled backward, holding a hand over the vicious wound. It was deep; he could feel the pain in his core. 

The enemy followed, eyes alight with a desire to kill Brude. As he drew back his spear for the killing thrust, another figure flashed into Brude’s view. Blood spurted and there was a flash of blades and blue paint on skin. 

Straining to catch his breath, Brude watched as Eithne pulled her short blade from the enemy’s chest, the metal dripping crimson as the man coughed and struggled. Her teeth flashed again, smiling at Brude as the Tuathan soldier collapsed, gasping his last breath in the mud. 

“Thank you,” Brude tried not to wince as speaking made his wound throb, leaking his blood down his side, a red streak against his tattoos. He pulled a bandage from his satchel and began tying up the wound as best he could. “Now you venture forth from your own territory to aid us?”

“And a good thing we did, else it would be you lying here.” She toed the dying man, wiping her blade on a patch of moss and listening to the sounds of chaotic battle all around. Her face darkened, a grim expression Brude could barely see in the moonlight. “But it is not enough. We could see their column moving through the forest as we followed you out of our lands. There are many Tuatha Dé Danann, and many more are coming. Even with our tribes fighting together, we are far outnumbered, Brude Bridei Mac Bile.”

“You come to our aid even against such odds, Eithne?” Brude finished tying off his bandage, already soaked by the rain and his blood. He would have to find a healer like Mael soon. If she hadn’t already been cut down herself. 

The Pictish woman laughed, though the sound was overwhelmed by a rolling rumble of thunder. The storm seemed to be gathering its strength for greater and more terrible violence. Without offering him a hand, Eithne nodded her head and gestured with her bloody weapon for Brude to follow. “Come, there is a clear glade where we can gather our warriors and make a stand.” 

Brude grunted, hopping over the tangled roots and rain-dripping branches in her wake. “Ugh. Yes, best to gather them all and see if we can pierce through to strike for better ground.” 

“I think all we can do now is try to stop them before they reach your village.” This, Brude heard muttered over her shoulder just before she dove through the leaves and into the next fight. 

A pair of soldiers turned, spears at the ready, and Brude found himself protecting her back as Eithne slashed and cut her way through, her movements little more than flickers of reflected moonlight in the storm. 

As his blade sang, Brude ignored the stabbing pain of his injury, and whistled piercingly through his teeth. The sound cut through the storm, the clatter of his sword on hardened wood, and the grunts and groans of the wounded and dying in the dark forest. He altered the tone, summoning his warriors to him, and sought another ally with his mind. If nothing else, his efforts could give the rest of the village time to escape the invasion. He was dimly aware of his tattoos shifting, rippling into lightning zigzags and other angry, fearful symbols. Something was coming.

He managed to break free of the melee, leaving the more heavily armed soldiers struggling to chase him through the mud and roots while he sprinted to catch up with Eithne.

The young king was panting with exertion and pain when he found the Pictish queen standing in the center of a glade atop a low knoll, directing warriors with commanding motions of her bloody blade. As rain blew and pelted down in spurts and false starts, a white flash lit up the chaotic fight. All around the edges of the clearing, weapons gleamed and warriors spun, as the fight raged on. Brude could see his own warriors fighting shoulder to shoulder with the other tribe, their tactics and styles meshing easily for the moment. 

However, Brude could also see a pair of warriors gesticulating wildly, standing just before Eithne and attempting to argue. They were injured, but in the bright flash, Brude recognized them through the water and blood streaking their faces: Mael and Nechtan, wearing angry expressions. 

Grinding his teeth, he limped up the slight rise, getting close enough to hear their talk over the thunder. 

“You have no authority to command!” Nechtan shouted hoarsely, grasping the soaked hilt of his sword and swinging his shield for emphasis. “You cannot tell warriors of our tribe what to do!”

Mael joined in, her healer’s hands busy repairing the wounds of those nearby. “My king commanded me to save your injured, but you are not the queen of my tribe. No more orders. We need not fight and die at the side of strangers!”

“Indeed, you must.” Brude’s command was quiet, but penetrated the little group with assurance. Nechtan and Mael both glanced up, surprised, and Brude was gratified to see relief on their faces, not guilt. “It is time to set quarrels aside. The village is in danger, as are all our lands. We have to show our mettle and halt the enemy here. The invaders have used the confusion of the storm to pull a few tricks on us, and their woodcraft has proved impressive; but let us now show them how the Picts can stand and fight!”

The vehemence of his words was punctuated another flash and rumble. The storm was picking up force again, and he could feel the weight of its magic pressing down on him, full of power and unstoppable intention. Nechtan opened his mouth to object, but was silenced as an arrow flew through the wind and rain, striking his shield with a hiss and a thwock

Eithne nodded in acknowledgement, and returned to shouting orders. Brude turned to do the same, taking up a position atop the small rise. He saw knots of his warriors burst from the trees, fighting off the advancing Tuatha Dé Danann. The difference was stark; as they emerged into the clearing, the enemy seamlessly formed solid, organized ranks, as each soldier knew their proper place and position. While the Picts fought fiercely, even joining forces as two tribes, they were scattered, confused. Their whirling, flashing blades did not cut in harmony, or with the precision and confidence that fighting off a larger force would require. 

The battle was intense. Brude quickly grew hoarse from shouting over the storm’s fury as he tried to organize a defense from warriors unused to working together. Eithne and he both were covered in mud and blood, as they had to run into battle over and over. Brude began to lose track of how many soldiers he’d cut down beneath his blade, or that Eithne had tackled and beaten. 

All the while the Veilstorm swirled, forming a Malevolence. The clouds had come up fast, as if intentionally seeking them out. The flashes of lightning and crackling magic seemed malicious, as if adding to the chaos of the fight on purpose. 

No matter where he turned, there were more and more enemies. About to charge down the hill once more, Brude jerked as he heard Eithne cry out; he saw her leg punctured, run through by a spear. Another soldier hurried up the grassy slope to the hill between the two Pictish monarchs, eager to cut off her head. 

Brude ran, but knew he would be too late. He called out desperately, seeking help. Fortunately, one swifter than he was listening. 

Drest dove out of the sky like a bolt of lightning himself, slashing with beak and talon. Shouting, the Tuathan soldier struck back, knocking the bird away with a vicious blow. Wobbling but still in flight, the falcon took off into the darkness. Shaking his head, the man turned back to where Eithne lay fallen, trying to recover. 

Loyal Drest had given Brude the delay he needed. He leapt onto the man’s back, heedless of his own wounds. There was a short, furious struggle as the enemy tried to wrestle the Pict off of him. Finally, Brude’s fingers caught their practiced hold on the edges and cracks of the wooden armor. The king heaved, and tossed the soldier away, to slip and tumble down the hill. At the same moment, he saw Eithne twist and wriggle off the spear that had pinned her leg to the ground, only to counterattack with a swift cut that left her enemy reeling. Her eyes were wild, bloodshot; Brude felt a strange twinge in his tattoos.

And still the Tuatha Dé Danann army kept coming. There were dead littering the battlefield, now. Brude briefly saw Mael bending over some of them, but her power and skill were nearly expended. 

The young king rushed to Eithne’s side, and was struck by an arrow at the same moment. He felt the force of it all through his body, pain lancing him. Brude choked, falling to a knee, barely aware of the oncoming enemy as he bent over the rival queen. “Can you stand?” he shouted, desperate. “Can you fight?” Each word made the arrow-wound in his side throb with pain, but he ignored it. 

The queen looked up at him, rainwater and blood reflecting off her face in the moonlight that still struggled through the howling storm. Her eyes still burned with energy, and she showed her teeth as she panted. He could smell her blood, the thick odor of iron mixing with the scent of rain, mud, sweat, and magic; yet her voice was strangely calm. “Bones break, warpaint runs, wounds gush blood. It is the end, Brude; it is the end.” She extended a hand toward her dropped sword, but Brude clutched her strong hand in his. Both their palms were cold, and slick with wet.

His tattoos flickered, shifting under the power of her words. As the storm’s force reached a crescendo, he roared without thinking, letting the ancient magic speak through him. “And yet, the Picts fight on until the end! Tribes! To me, painted ones! To me, and fight for us!” 

Abandoning their scattered fights, the remainder of the two tribes came, some leaping and bounding, most limping and weak, to cluster near the top of the low hill. For a moment, the Tuatha Dé Danann did not pursue, instead gathering their ranks together once more for the final push. There were not a great many Picts left standing, and most of them were injured and weary. Still, they gathered on the hill and encircled the leaders of their two tribes, swordpoints outward, to defend them to the last. 

With their ranks gathered, the enemy charged up the hill, long spears reaching out with death on their tips. Eithne grinned up at Brude. “A good end, though not the one I would have chosen. You make a noble king, Brude Bridei mac Billi. Farewell.” 

Hardened wood met steel as the final combat was joined. Covered in blood, dirt, and sweat, Brude felt his tattoos lose all semblance of control, flickering over his body in complete chaos, covering him in color and shapes, swirls within swirls. Brude raised his face to the storm and screamed his last challenge, pain and suffering and hopes for himself and his people all expiring in one climactic moment. He stood, pulling Eithne up with him, grasping the nearest shoulder of a Pictish warrior for support. Whether from pain or emotion, she shouted as well, howling upward.

Something came down to meet them, the kiss of the Malevolence on their bodies, covered in the marks of war. The power leapt down from the heavens, leaping from one to the next like lightning, yet not lightning, a magic not quite of this world. Pain spread through the Picts, and their painted skin glowed, burning through the night in a conflagration of change. 

They screamed, their voices mixing with the great pain and anger of the living storm. The glow of their painted skin burned brighter and brighter, while the invaders stumbled back, shielding their faces from the light and the chaotic magic. 

All the Picts atop the hill changed. Their warpaint and the mud and the gore and the sweat fused upon them, burning with the power of the Veil. Their second skins were forming, as Brude howled into the storm, his lungs refusing to give out. 

The enemy blinked as the glow vanished, leaving darkness and moonlight. The Tuatha Dé Danann forces were left alone in the storm-tossed glade, clutching their swords and spears as they peered through the rain. Brude, Eithne, and all the Picts were gone. Their second skins, transformed by the storm, had shifted to match their background perfectly. They had faded, melting into the background like so many ghosts. 

Fear spread through the invaders’ ranks. The Picts had truly learned their own way of war; they had become one with their land.  



Talorc coughed and cleared his throat, finding himself dry as he neared the end of the long recitation. Seated atop the old hill, his elder nodded approvingly. The young Pict had done well, and it was a good lesson for all the gathered children in the control of the second skin, as well as the history of their people. “Yes, indeed. The invaders, confused, would push on toward Brude’s village, only to be set on from the rear by an enemy they could not see nor sense coming. Such was the potency of their power.” Amused, the ancient man scratched his white-bristled chin and glanced around at the rapt faces all around. “As I said before, sometimes the best place to hide is right out in the open. And so, the vengeance we wrought upon them was terrible indeed.” 

“But… but that can’t be the end of the story!” cried one girl, her form melting from the tree trunk she had practiced mimicking. “What happened to Brude and Eithne?”

The old man smiled knowingly. “Their love was forged forever in the fires of that battle. They brought the tribes together, and won over all their people through many objections and arguments. Nechtan, in particular, had to wear the Cloak of Shame for a very long time.” He punctuated that comment with a knowing wink. “Their first child was a daughter, and she was born with the whorls and marks of her people upon her skin; the first true-born Painted One of the Picts.”

Talorc cleared his throat, recovering his voice at last and looked inquiringly at his elder. Receiving a nod, the boy declaimed an end to the history. “They settled down, and despite further wars and adventures, ruled wisely and well. More and more tribes eventually flocked to their banner, as the Picts became more and more united. Years later, they befriended Arthur. We were among the first folk to pledge loyalty to the great king, and became one of the foremost races in his Realm. But that is another tale, for another time.” Talorc smiled, proud that he had maintained control of his second skin through the entire story. “One I should be proud to tell sometime, grandfather.”

Thus ends the Becoming story of Brude and the Picts. 

Bonus Image!

We can’t let you go without talking a bit about the latest cool things in C.U.B.E. For starters, we hosted some awesome streams from the Backer Swazi, whose work has graced Unveiled several times. Here’s where Swazi's Twitch channel can be found! 

And now for some creative work in C.U.B.E. from another one of our Backers! This mountainside keep was created by KnightValor, and won a Backer-run competition on our forums: 
Thanks for reading, and I'll see you next month! --Max
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