The Sword and the Spear No. 2

Ippocampos, however, presented Varouforos with a different problem. The alien was influential in its government—the presiding member of some ruling council or another. As such, it had the money. Scads of it, in point of fact. More than even Varouforos ordinarily charged, especially given that what Ippocampos did not bring to the table was a job. Or, at least, not a job for Varouforos and his mercenaries.

The kraken represented a state which called itself the Confederation of Independent Worlds, spread across two dozen star systems populated mainly by kraken and athati just beyond the Imperial border. Some two and a half years earlier, a party of yashcherit raiders had swept across the galactic north, conquering the Confederation and installing their leader as a false Orthodox Patriarch. Varouforos glanced at a portrait hanging on one of the pillars, just below the Autokrator’s. He doubted the news had ever reached old Patriarch Agapios, back on Homeworld.

That was ordinarily where Varouforos would sweep in, taking command of the scattered forces of the government in exile, leading them back to their home, and delivering them to a glorious victory. In this instance, however, the Confederation had managed on its own. The war was won. All that remained was for some representative of the Confederation to sign a piece of paper purporting to guarantee the yashcheritsy would not return, as though it had some strength on its own not backed by force of arms.


Through the psionic translation skepsis box clipped to one of its tentacles, Ippocampos repeated, “We would hire you as our representative at the treaty signing.”

“Again, I do not understand where I come in.”

Ippocampos tapped on its translation box with a tentacle. “Is this thing working?”

Varouforos stifled an exasperated sigh and plastered on a fake smile. “I understand what you want,” he said. “I do not understand why you want me. I am not known for diplomacy.”

“But you are well-known.” The alien waved a tentacle as it spoke, in a fashion Varouforos found almost human. “The yashcheritsy prefer to deal face-to-face.” It gestured to itself. “In a distressingly literal sense. We are not suitably equipped.”

Varouforos canted his head, amused. “You want to hire my face?”

“It is familiar in this part of the galaxy, and will lend gravity to the proceedings,” the kraken said. It hurried to add, “We wish to hire your fleet as well.”

“Of course,” Varouforos replied. “Very well. It is not my ordinary line of work, but I will do it. Fair warning: I do not see it being very difficult, but my rate stays the same.”

“This is acceptable.”

Varouforos raised an eyebrow, then pressed a button on the table in front of him. “Mr. Gray!”

A brown-haired man of average height entered through the door behind Varouforos. “Yes, Navarch?”

“Draw up an agreement for our client here.”

“Yes, Navarch.”

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Commentary, The Sword and the Spear No. 2

Konstantin Varouforos is a fun character for me to write. He isn’t quite entirely unlike me, but he certainly is less like me than many characters I write. I enjoy the mental stretch.

I spent an awful lot of time trying to decide what sort of voice to write these stories in, and what sort of people to focus on. Originally, I had it in mind to slice deeper into Varouforos’ crew, following some lower-level people. That worked well for We Sail Off To War, but turned out to be the wrong choice here. Varouforos and company may be mercenaries, but a lot of the fun in stories about mercenaries is the more complicated politics and the unusual missions, both of which are only really interesting from the top.

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The Sword and the Spear No. 1

Far aft on the jump ship Morana‘s hull, high above the enormous hangars, the hab decks where hundreds of thousands of crew lived, and the banks of titanic reactors which drove her jump engines, the ship’s command spire rose two stadia above her topside. At the very top was a meeting room, one hundred paces fore to aft. The only furniture was a table nearly as long, space for many scores of sentients. The bulkheads, thirty paces tall, were armor crystal, interrupted only occasionally by support pillars. When Morana was traveling, the swirling electric blue-white of jump space was all the light the meeting room required.

Today, though, her mighty engines were silent, and chandeliers served to light the room. Out the windows were only stars, and, at intervals, Leptis Parva, a blue-green paradise world on the Empire’s far border in the galactic northeast, in the hinterland between Ares’ Arm and Hermes’ Arm.

Out here, the Homeworld Throne held little sway, and the local Themarchos had his hands full between incursions by the D’van and the usual petty squabbles with his neighbors. In such circumstances did men like Konstantin Varouforos make their living.

Varouforos sat at the head of the table. Bobbing gently in the air currents to his right was a kraken—the alien, not the creature of myth. One of its translucent tentacles wrapped around the back of a chair, tethering it in place. The rest of them waved gently in the breeze from the ventilators. Underneath its bell, its gasbag pulsated as the creature trimmed itself for table height. A half-dozen flitters, small flying creatures, circled it. By telepathic link, they were the alien’s eyes. As they whirled around the kraken’s bell, they turned their heads to track Varouforos.

That was good, Varouforos thought. All the better for the creature to see the deep skepticism written across his furrowed brow. “I do not understand where I come in.”


The kraken had arrived some hours ago aboard a diplomatic shuttle transferring from the jump ship Aggressor. It introduced itself as Ippocampos—Varouforos had known more creative kraken in his time—and resolutely refused to leave until it was granted an audience. Varouforos relented, if only to keep the poor alien from wasting away in some waiting room deep in the ship.

Usually, these meetings saw some supplicant, poor in every sense of the word, coming before Varouforos to plead for his aid in some martial matter. Sometimes, even, he could help. There was nothing like an existential crisis to clear a petitioner’s head regarding what he could not live without and what he could afford to lose—or to spend. Not infrequently did the latter category hold something of value to Varouforos.

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Commentary, The Sword and the Spear No. 1

Trying something new here. The Sword and the Spear is a story I wrote a year or two ago for an anthology. It wasn’t accepted, and it implies some viewpoints which probably preclude its acceptance at SF&F magazines in the modern day, so I figure it’s best put here.

Unlike most of my fiction, it’s already done, so assuming I get as far in setting up its run here as I expect, it’ll air twice a week from start to finish without interruption, over the course of a month or a month and a half. Enjoy!

And now some theme! Setting all of this up ahead of time means I don’t have to rush on Monday and Thursday nights to get the posts together, so I can go into a bit more detail. The Sword and the Spear takes place in the RPJ Sci-Fi universe, which I’ve grown more fond of the more time I spend with it. ‘Kraken’ is a human name for the alien species; the kraken themselves don’t see the resemblance, but gamely play along with it by choosing names from human mythology when they deal with humans.

The jump ship Aggressor mentioned above is the one which belongs to parvusimperator, who you may remember from the Soapbox.

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What have I been up to?

I’m glad you asked, headline! It’s been busy here at Many Words Press World HQ for a number of reasons.


The big one, of course, is RPJ. Over the past six months or so, but over the past two or three months especially, I wrote or rewrote about 80,000 words of RPJ rulebook. Granted, that isn’t the kind of writing you come to this part of the Many Words empire for, but it’s not like I’ve been doing nothing.

RPJ also received a promotion to its own subdomain at, with an eye toward expanding those product lines in the future. (RPJ Skypirates, maybe?) And, despite that RPJ is and will always be available for free, I do intend to do some productizing, too, selling via DriveThruRPG.

Pendulum/Libra Cervisiae

Over at the Soapbox, I’ve documented some of my work on a project for measuring beer fermentation. I hit some obstacles a while back, and haven’t managed to get back to it with RPJ on the table, but it helps to explain why I’ve been behind on my writing.

The Soapbox

I’ve been writing a weekly-ish feature at the Soapbox, a Wednesday roundup of news stories of interest to our milblog readers over there. I’ve also been trying to involve myself more in the goings-on over there, since, baldly, it’s much more successful than Many Words Main.


Owning a house has also kept me busy with various projects and repairs, which has cut into my evening writing time.

Anyway, that’s what I’ve been doing. I haven’t fallen off the face of the earth, evidence here notwithstanding, and I will eventually get back onto my normal schedule.

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RPJ Updates: Sci-Fi Release, Core Updates

You probably noticed that I missed Friday’s update. This is why—another RPJ release, owing to some changes required by further RPJ Sci-Fi testing.

Speaking of which, RPJ Sci-Fi has been released into beta! It’s up to 1.0.0-beta3 now, after two quick revisions to fix some typos and other rules issues. RPJ Sci-Fi is near to my heart. It was the first RPJ game where the rules were more or less written prior to the start of play, and the first RPJ game where the rules were well enough written to support relatively pain-free play. They’re even smoother now, thanks to tuning, input from friends and family, and a good bit of that most important of tasks, solo playtesting and working through various scenarios governed by the rules.

I also decided to put together some helpful resources for play. The character sheet, for instance, is easily printable, but it’s also a spreadsheet which does a good deal of the required math automatically. There are also three cheat sheets available: one for combat, one for psi, and one for general topics. (The latter is a bit light right now.)

There’s more to do in the RPJ Sci-Fi rulebook, but most of it is theme, and none of it is required. It’s a complete product as-is, although I do want to add some appendices providing examples of combat. What’s still missing is the Gamemaster’s Guide, in which I plan to put some further detail on themes, some example battlefields and other maps, and some tables for random generation. The Gamemaster’s Guide being primarily an aid for other gamemasters, and the only gamemaster of which I am aware being me, it’s lower on the list than writing a one-shot for some actual playtesting, and also lower than work on some other projects.

Still, it’s playable, the theme is fun, and the combat seems to flow nicely. If you’re looking to give it a try, now is a great time.

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The Continuing Adventures of Sif No. 46

“Good,” Leifsson said. “You may go. Not you, Sif Hrothgarsdottir. I have other business to discuss with you, while you’re here.”

Lilja stood, smiled tentatively at Sif, and turned to walk away. Einar, too, rose, dipping his head to Leifsson with an ill-concealed look of suspicion on his face. “You’ll keep us up to date?” he said. Sif wasn’t sure if he was talking to Leifsson or to her.

Leifsson answered. “I will.”

Einar didn’t seem reassured, but nodded to Sif and followed Lilja away from the table.

Leifsson watched them go, then turned his gaze back to Sif. She shifted in her chair. “You aren’t planning to leave it alone, are you?” he said.

“What makes you say that?” It was worth a try, anyway.

Leifsson shook his head. “You’ll have to try harder than that. As your master here, I ordered you to leave this alone, and you aren’t going to. Yes or no?”

Well, maybe honesty would work, Sif thought. “I’m not going to leave it alone.”

Leifsson half-smiled. “As I expected.”

Silence descended. Sif shifted again. She liked to think she was difficult to get to, but evidence was piling up against the idea. Eventually, she hazarded, “Am I in trouble?”

“No,” Leifsson said. Honesty for honesty, Sif thought. “If you were a student on the traditional path, maybe, but a luftsmagiker ought to be independent, and you don’t have very much time to learn that lesson.” He tilted his head to one side and gave her a close look. “Although it doesn’t appear you need very much prompting.”

“I have a good reason,” said Sif. “I think it’s important that I keep at it.”

“Is it your diviner friend?” Leifsson said. Sif didn’t reply. Leifsson nodded. “Be careful putting too much trust in him.”

“He’s a good man,” Sif interrupted, a little more loudly than she had intended. One or two pairs of eyes turned to their table, then turned away again.

“He may very well be,” Leifsson said, leaning forward and speaking more quietly. “Even the rare diviner who is a good person usually has an ulterior motive. Do you think of yourself as a good person?”

Sif blinked, then nodded.

“If you could end the war, let’s say, by sacrificing one of your friends, would you?”

Of course not, Sif thought, but then she thought a moment longer.

Leifsson interrupted her brief reverie. “Exactly. That’s the choice before a föraningsmagiker every time he sees the future.”

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RPJ Core, Police Cops: beta releases and more

If you were paying close attention to the other-stuff portion of the site last week, you might have seen RPJ Core and Police Cops 1.0.0-beta1 releases. I was up to my elbows in other RPJ work, however, and decided not to write up a little news post about those releases.

Now, though, the time has come, as have 1.0.0-beta2 releases, with the promised changelogs. (Hit the RPJ link in the menu bar for links.) More exciting, at least for me, is the imminent prerelease availability of the next RPJ module: RPJ Sci-Fi.

One of the two original RPJ-based games, Sci-Fi has always been dear to me, and last night I completed a full revamp of the rules to match modern RPJ standards. I have a few thousand words of theme to write and some light playtesting to work through, and that’s enough for prerelease. Expect it in a few weeks at the outside.

In the interim, story posts here might be light; as always, I am fickle and easily-distracted.

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The Continuing Adventures of Sif No. 45

“The Shining Hand failed,” Leifsson replied. “Before they even began, really. A loyalist to the throne learned of their plan, and the Akademier put a stop to it. The mundane authorities never knew; the Akademier never told them. It was thought to be a bad bargain. The conspirators were executed, the loyalty of the magiker assured. There was nothing, the thinking went, that the throne could do that had not already been done.

“That is what the Shining Hand means to magiker: rebellion against the Rike, usurpation of power which is not ours to take, and death for treason against the throne. To most of us, at least. If there are magiker out there showing the palm and making the sign…”

Sif sat back, head spinning. That was just about the worst case scenario, in her mind. The Shining Hand was a conspiracy after all, almost certainly. “If there are enough of them that they can meet in the open, then they must be pretty far along. Do they want the same thing as last time?” she wondered.

Leifsson lifted a shoulder and went back to the informal register. “I don’t know. There are people I can talk to about this.” He tapped the table. “I haven’t known you for very long, Sif Hrothgarsdottir, but I know you want to dig deeper. Don’t. Leave this alone. If you happen to cross paths with the Shining Hand again, bring the evidence to me.”

Lilja half-raised her hand, then blushed and lowered it quickly. “Why not just tell the mundane authorities this time?”

Leifsson shook his head. “The Thanes’ Moot would take it as evidence that the Akademier foster disloyalty and push to bring us fully under their control.”

“Aren’t we fostering disloyalty, if we’ve had two conspiracies, now, to overthrow them?” Einar asked.

“I suppose,” Leifsson allowed, at length. “They have no real understanding of what we do, though. They would send us all to the front, and we would either fall to the ontr or tear the world apart. If we magiker don’t stand apart from the thanes, we’ll all fall. Not just us; the Rike altogether.”

“That’s good enough for me,” Sif said. Einar and Lilja turned in unison to look at her. She endeavored to put on an honest expression. The other two exchanged a glance, then nodded to Leifsson.

“I guess it’s good enough for all of us,” Einar said.

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