Archive for September, 2010

The Countdown is On

Posted in Shows, Unicorn City with tags , , , on September 30, 2010 by Greg Landgraf

After more than a year, we’re finally on the verge of opening Unicorn City. (Two weeks and two days left, if you’re counting.)

There’s a fair amount of new stuff on the site that I’ll be highlighting over the next few days. And the first one is the new Glorious History of Aathenaar page. It contains all of the parts of the bard’s tale (story, not old computer game) that have been posted so far (13 out of 18), all in order and conveniently arranged on a single page. If you haven’t been following, I hope you’ll take a look; you’ll meet several of the characters from Unicorn City, and gain some insight on the town and how it got to be the way that it is. You’ll also get a bunch of propaganda—it is written at the baron’s behest, after all—but I’m sure you can work it out. (Or at the very least, learn about the Salty Shemork or the horrors of Pinge.)


The Glorious History of Aathenaar, Part Thirteen: The Carnival Comes to Town

Posted in Shows, Unicorn City with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 29, 2010 by Greg Landgraf

While the day-to-day life of Aathenaar consists of much hard work, as all building of the future does, even this industrious town can take time for the occasional entertainment. Just such an entertainment occurred scarcely a score of years ago.

It began in mundane enough a manner. A small band of travelers, looking something like a caravan of traveling merchants, stopped in the town seeking rooms to let, or failing that, a barn in which they might spend the evening in relative safety and comfort. But this was a bit of clever subterfuge, for once the town went to sleep, they went to work.

In the morning, the town of Aathenaar awoke to the sound of a mirthful fife to discover itself bedecked in colorful silks. The carnival had come to town!

Baron Brange, recognizing the value of recreational activity, immediately declared a town-wide holiday so that everyone could attend the carnival. And he provided an example for his people to follow, winning a colorful seashell at one of the game booths by using a live mouse to knock a ridiculous-looking oversized hat from the head of a very fat woman. In such a jubilant mood was he that when she persisted in declaring that she was not part of the game booth he simply laughed, rather than have her executed.

There were, in any event, several other executions that provided much entertainment to the town. (The carnival, perhaps knowing the law-abiding nature of Aathenaar, brought its own condemned prisoners for the event.) There was also, of course, a feast of roasted meats and freshly-prepared sweets such as few could remember, as well as performers of feats of acrobatic skill and raw strength, and a delightful bonfire in the evening where the town gathered to talk and sing and generally bask in the glory of springtime.

But as wondrous as all of these attractions were, the most popular one must have been a surprise to the travelers who brought the carnival to town. In the afternoon, a cry could be heard from the outskirts of the carnival, drawing a crowd to a latrine and refuse pile where no one would normally gather. The cause of this cry was something that could be seen in the pile of garbage: A newborn baby.

“Who would do this to a child?” someone asked.

“Certainly not I!” declared the fat carnival worker immediately, who had now tied her absurd hat around her waist, making her look a bit like an archery range. Many others agreed that it was terrible that someone would abandon a baby like this.

But then, someone made a very different sound: the cooing of one witnessing something adorable.

A large rat had approached the baby, interested in the parsnip peel upon which the infant was resting. But as the rodent approached, the child—whether by intention, or instinct, or mere spasm—kicked his leg, and the rat went flying.

The crowd rewarded the lad with its loudest cheers yet.

Baron Brange pushed himself to the front of the refuse pile and signaled to his men to retrieve the child. “My heart has been touched by this brave baby boy,” he declared. “I shall take him in, that he never need fear abandonment again.”

It was in extraordinarily high spirits that the town of Aathenaar made its way to bed that night. So great was the euphoria that certain material goods became misplaced, and in fact never found again. But the gains in spirit more than made up for whatever grains or tools or buildings may have been lost.

The Glorious History of Aathenaar, Part Twelve: Beauty of Trees

Posted in Shows, Unicorn City with tags , , , , , on September 26, 2010 by Greg Landgraf

To further enhance the lives of the people of Aathenaar, the Baron soon instituted a new policy of beautification. He started by sending an expedition of his wisest and most trusted advisors to each of the city-states to acquire sapling specimens from every region of Coventra.

This was not a simple undertaking. There is, naturally enough, the trial associated with a journey of any length, particularly when large amounts of cargo have to be transported. The expedition comprised experienced and wise travelers, however, and so it was made with minimal loss of time and only a moderate casualty rate due to accident, exhaustion, defection, and cannibalism. This must be considered a singularly triumphant achievement.

The second cause of difficulty was the representatives of the other regions with whom our noble emissaries met. Their reaction, upon hearing the Baron’s plan, was generally one of mirth. “Nothing will grow in Aathenaar!” exclaimed Feldspar, the lead arborist of Anaraia, the southwestern jungle territory. “The climate is inhospitable, the soils are riddled with poisonous salts, and the very sunlight is accursed!”

Brange’s representatives refused to accept this argument. “Our Baron is wise and determined,” they declared. “He can cause these trees to flourish by sheer force of will.”

“I should like to see that,” declared Feldspar, clearly convinced by the expedition’s fortitude and sound argument. And she agreed to gift several trees with which Brange could begin his planting scheme.

Similar outcomes occurred everywhere the expedition visited, and just under a year after setting out, it returned to Aathenaar hauling dozens of fine trees. The Baron was delighted by this, and he immediately set to meticulously planning where each tree should be placed, both on the grounds of his manor and throughout the village.

Over the next years, Brange attended to the health of these trees personally, trusting no one else to carry out a plan so close to his heart. He ensured that each individual received appropriate care—the proper amount of water, and offerings of nourishing meats, and the well-balanced ratio of praise and chastisement necessary to the proper growth of all things.

Under the Baron’s care, every single tree did flourish. It was commonly said that if one could brave the sharp protective needles and climb to the top of one of the Baron’s prized olaks, that person would be rewarded with a view of the great western ocean—a statement this bard would never dispute!

Of course, no act, no matter how grand, can achieve unanimous approval, and this famously successful beautification plan was no different. A small group of peasants, led by one Jik, began to publicly suggest that the trees could be harvested and farmed for industrial purposes.

This was, of course, absurd, as the Baron explained to these insurgents. The muds of Aathenaar were the finest industrial material in existence, and they would never run out. “No,” the Baron said, “We shall let beauty be these trees’ contribution to our lives.”

Sadly, the people of Aathenaar were not so magnanimous. They grew enraged at the suggestion of cutting down the beloved trees, and despite all efforts on Brange’s behalf to control the mob, charged Jik and the rest of the peasants. The violence that ensued was truly unfortunate and deeply bloody, resulting in an average of five appendages being torn from the body of each of Jik’s band.

Happily, the remaining townspeople agreed on the wisdom of letting the trees grow undisturbed from then on.

The Glorious History of Aathenaar, Part Eleven: Law and Order

Posted in Shows, Unicorn City with tags , , , , , , , , , , on September 22, 2010 by Greg Landgraf

Early in Baron Brange Aathenaar’s reign, he made one of those decisions that can truly define greatness.

He knew that it was impossible for a community to develop and grow while in a state of constant fear. But Aathenaar was, at the time of his ascension, dangerously close to that situation. The cause of this fear, however, was not an external threat, as the Bard’s Guild was then, as it is now, fulfilling its duty of spreading peace admirably.

No, the threat to the people of Aathenaar came from within: Crime. These heinous acts of brother against brother and neighbor against neighbor, we are forced to admit, existed at that time.

Brange witnessed this sad state of affairs, but he also recognized that, as baron, it was his duty to fight crime with every fiber of his being. So he directed his men to discretely discover the names of some of the most heartless criminals in town in preparation for a memorable event.

That event happened on a flawless summer day. The baron’s men utilized the intelligence they had been gathering to make raids and capture all thirteen of those identified as the worst of the bunch. That they did so in the course of a single morning without alerting any criminal who might have used such alert as a cue to flee is testament to their skill and the baron’s training schemes.

The baron’s men paraded these shameful criminals through the streets of Aathenaar, which naturally drew the attention of the townspeople, and soon the entire town was following this parade, wondering where it might lead.

They did not have to wait long to satisfy their curiosity. The parade terminated in Aathenaar’s main square, where a guillotine had been erected.

One by one, each of the criminals were strapped into the guillotine. Baron Brange personally read their crimes to the assembled crowd. On the roll were murderers, and thieves, and adulterers, and debtors. But worst of all were the agitators: Those who produced the leaflets, placards, broadsheets and banners whose sole purpose was to diminish the spirit of the people of Aathenaar by portraying its baron as a tyrant, or suggesting that he might have had a role in Bindek’s death, or showing him squatting over a chamber pot, and missing.

After announcing the offense committed by each criminal, the Baron gave a signal to the executioner, who pulled the lever that would release the blade and end his pathetic life, much to the delight of the masses who had gathered and who celebrated their impending freedom from fear.

As a result of this show of justice, the existence of crime in Aathenaar ceased overnight. This naturally led to great joy among Aathenaar’s residents. It was, in fact, so effective in boosting the people’s spirits that productivity soared, and Brange was able to reduce the annual ration of flour and meal distributed to each resident by a full five percent.

The Glorious History of Aathenaar, Part Ten: The Magnificent Baron Brange

Posted in After, Life, Shows with tags , , , , , , , , on September 18, 2010 by Greg Landgraf

Aathenaar’s Modern Era began nearly seventeen years ago. On a windy, cold early spring day, a horrified cry arose from within the domicile of Baron Bindek. Bindek’s servants, showing loyalty if not good sense, rushed to their master’s side to discover a horrifying sight.

Bindek was dead, and gushing with blood. At least, most of him was; his head was roughly separated from the torso and sat across the room, glaring at that one uneven brick in the hearth that had caused him so much consternation for so many years. That brick was the least of his problems, though, as a bloody axe head had managed to lodge itself in some of the hearth’s ancient mortar, and that was clearly causing structural as well as cosmetic damage.

Bindek’s body was not alone. The servants arrived to discover Brange, his younger and kinder brother, covered in blood.

“Woe betide Aathenaar on this day of great tragedy!” wailed Brange, overcome by grief at the loss of his beloved sibling. “I was just arriving for a lovely visit with my elder brother when I discovered him in this terrible state. Naturally, I went to embrace him, in hopes of somehow preventing his life force from escaping forever, but alas! I was too late!”

Out of respect for his late brother, Brange waited a full two hours before ascending to the position of Baron of Aathenaar. And what a wondrous ceremony it was! Townspeople marched through the town, shouting slogans of love and pride for their village. Many carried signs as well, although many who did lacked the ability to write and so the slogans those signs bore cannot be considered representative of the humor of the people. The towns bakers produced mountains of pastries and breads as if they had been preparing for weeks. Even a double rainbow could be seen in the air above Brange’s head as he swore the Oath of Baronship. (For this reason, the baron’s first official speech in his office was: “Oh wow, aaaaahhhh! Double rainbow all across the sky! Oh my Harvey it’s so bright and vivid!”)

And so did Aathenaar continue and thrive. From ashes always come new growth, and from the ashes of the tragedy of Baron Bindek grew an era of prosperity and development such as Aathenaar has never seen before.

The Glorious History of Aathenaar, Part Nine: The Dwarf and the Giant

Posted in Shows, Unicorn City with tags , , , , , , on September 15, 2010 by Greg Landgraf

Just outside of Aathenaar is the mighty Naliar Hill, whose peak stabs the sky with foreboding. This foreboding is both figurative, owing to the hill’s dimensions, and literal, because the caves that look out over its highest cliffs have at various points housed a variety of evil and powerful monsters to threaten the town. Most recently, of course, is the dragon who lived there, but from whom (due no doubt to the heroic actions of our Baron) nothing has been heard for several weeks.

But some one hundred and thirty-two years ago, a very different menace made its home in the hills. A fearsome giant named Og made her lair in those caves. From there she would conduct raids on Aathenaar, stealing food or other goods or smashing and killing for mere sport. It is lucky that Og was lazy and her raids infrequent, or there would almost undoubtedly be no Aathenaar today. As it was, the town spent most of a decade casting a wary eye at the hill, from whence Og’s angry wails could be heard nightly.

Baroness Ballentine naturally called for the most steadfast warriors of the town to mount an expedition to dislodge Og. Several times did one or several of the town’s finest set out; not once did they return.

As the town drowned in malaise, an unlikely figure appeared. He was a dwarf named Dorgly. Dwarves worked the mines southwest of the town, but rarely if ever visited. Despite their isolation, however, rumor had reached them in the way that only rumor can of an imminent and deadly threat, and Dorgly had been dispatched to investigate.

Upon learning the situation, the clever dwarf immediately began working to address the situation. In three days, he constructed, using techniques which the dwarves hold secret, a catapult powerful enough to shoot a projectile to the top of Naliar Hill.

Dorgly’s plan was to hurl boulders at Og, and hopefully destroy her in that way. Unfortunately, though the rocks within Aathenaar were plentiful, they were also small, and none would even be noticed by the giant. There were, of course, boulders near the hill, but retrieving them would be deadly: Og was more than capable of throwing her own boulders down from her lair at anyone foolish enough to come near.

Dorgly’s solution was an accident. One of Aathenaar’s horses happened to wander into the basket as the dwarf was testing it, and the poor beast went flying up and into Og’s cave. Dorgly was furiously attempting to solve his predicament and had no time to mourn the poor animal, but he realized that Og’s wails were different that night. Instead of angry, they were annoyed, and even pained.

Dorgly suspected that he was onto something. So he gathered up all of the horses within the town and sent them, one by one, to their aerial fate.

By the time he’d finished, there was no more sound from the top of Naliar Hill.

Ballentine assembled 30 of the best warriors from the town guard and sent them, led by Dorgly, to investigate. What they found, once they picked through the carcasses of dozens of fine horses, was Og in great distress. She was covered in rashes, and having a difficult time breathing, clearly suffering the effects of allergies to the horses.

In this state, it was a trivial matter for thirty warriors to plunge their swords into her flesh.

Being a dwarf, Dorgly had no desire to stay in Aathenaar longer than necessary. But he was recognized with riches as befitted a hero of his stature and a baroness of Ballentine’s generosity. The loss of the town’s horses (which condition persists today) was a small price to pay for security.

The Glorious History of Aathenaar, Part Eight: Bovine Intervention

Posted in Shows, Unicorn City with tags , , , , , , , on September 11, 2010 by Greg Landgraf

Cilla explained her plan to the crowd that had assembled, and they agreed as one to carry it out at once.

Such a flurry of industry was seen that day! The town divided itself into rudimentary committees. Some took on the arduous task of drawing water from the town’s well, coming dangerously close to draining it. Some of the older or less fit townspeople helped by mixing supplies, while a great many took shifts at transporting materials.

Young children got involved in the labor, and those who were truly too young shouted their encouragement to their friends and parents. Even babies too young to walk or speak seemed to understand the momentousness of the town’s activity, and they collectively put a moratorium on crying and screaming and soiling themselves for the day.

At the end of the long day, the people of Aathenaar had produced bucketfuls of their finest, purest mud, and delivered it to the field containing the town’s finest livestock. A ballot was held to select the finest of the cows for use in Cilla’s plan; each resident put his own cow first and an enormous Northern White named Staf second. With no clear winner, a lottery was held, and a noble brown-and-black cow, also named Staf, was chosen to be the centerpiece of the plan.

Staf was about to become the Aathenaarian Cow.

The townspeople applied copious amounts of their fine mud to Staf’s body, until he was coated so thoroughly that one could only identify him by the particular calmness in his soul. Then they added more mud, and some more, until it was all applied. Cilla took her finger, and using it as a feather quill she wrote in this mud the words “Ha ha.”

Barely able to contain their high spirits, the people of Aathenaar brought their candles to light the path to Freedampton. Outside of town, they hid behind a hill while Cilla entered and raised a crowd.

“Good people of Freedampton!” she cried. “The people of Aathenaar believe that friendship is a far more noble path than antipathy, and we therefore desire to end our town’s rivalry. We wish to present you with a gift to show our regard.”

This said, Cilla led the assembled crowd to the base of the hill behind which Staf was waiting. She gave a signal to the lookout waiting atop the hill, who in turn gestured that the crowd should bring Staf up.

Staf was a quite compliant beast and climbed the hill with little struggle. When he reached the top, the people of Aathenaar waved mirthfully at the Freedamptonites, and several of the children used their candles to illuminate the carefully crafted message.

After a brief moment of silence, during which Freedampton processed the multiple layers of the prank that had been perpetuated upon them, its people began to laugh. First titters, then giggles, and finally the cathartic guffaws of those who realize that they have been bested.

The people of Freedampton climbed the hill and embraced the people of Aathenaar as brothers and sisters, and swore a new bond of friendship between the two towns. And that is why, to this day, the people of Aathenaar are respected by the people of Freedampton above all others.

The Glorious History of Aathenaar, Part Seven: A Tale of Two Rivals

Posted in Shows, Unicorn City with tags , , , , , , , , , , on September 8, 2010 by Greg Landgraf

With peace instituted throughout the world of Coventra, civilization had the opportunity to flourish. And so it did for thousands of years, as war never again dragged its bitter claw across the land.

But, as such things sometimes transpire, tensions settled below the surface, so that neighboring regions would grin to each other’s faces while awaiting the opportunity to stab each other, in a purely metaphorical sense.

Such a thing happened with Aathenaar and Freedampton. The two towns were each other’s nearest neighbors, standing less than two leagues apart. But in temper they could not have been more distant. Where the people of Aathenaar were humble, those of Freedampton were haughty. Freedamptonites were lazy while Aathenaarians were industrious. And Aathenaar’s populace lived in homes made of the district’s fine mud, while Freedampton’s had to live in houses of garish stone or wood, with windows that exposed one’s most private moments to the entire world.

“How many Freedamptonites does it take to play a game of backgammon?” went a popular Aathenaar joke at the time. “Thirteen: two to play, two to shout out their instructions, four to roll the dice, two to move the pieces, two to pay everybody’s wages, and one to work the doubling cube.”

Freedamptonites would counter by facetiously claiming that Aathenaarians were so fundamentally subnormal that they found it impossible to deliver a joke in fewer than five breaths—a patently absurd suggestion, since so gifted were the Aathenaarians in the art of joke-telling that they could deliver the entire backgammon punchline in no more than two.

Of course, this rivalry had implications beyond mere hurt feelings. In trade, for example, both villages were fierce competitors, with Freedampton’s merchants claiming superiority of their occa wood and tocic stone to Aathenaar’s excellent selection of muds, while Aathenaar made the obvious questions about Freedampton’s offerings’ permanence and about the ethics of extracting those materials whatsoever.

Despite the wisdom of Aathenaar’s position, other merchants were dazzled by the Freedamptonite’s glib words and tawdry showmanship. Freedampton experienced a boom of wealth such as had never been seen.

Occasionally a Freedamptonite, no doubt drunk from his revelries, would make the trek to Aathenaar, dressed as quite the dandy in the finest silks, for no purpose but to gloat of his wealth. The people of Aathenaar would typically greet this boastfulness by reaching down to grab two handfuls of mud and splattering it across his garments, but as often as not, the immodest Freedamptonite would simply strip his muddy clothes and declare “Keep it! I have dozens more at home!”

While Aathenaarians agreed that they always got the better of these exchanges, the intrusions were nevertheless a distraction from the peaceful and efficient life the town had become accustomed to.

Early one morning the town was awoken by a cry such as no one had ever heard before. Most residents grumbled at this new turn that Freedampton’s incitements had taken, but those who investigated discovered that the noise came from a very different source: A young Aathenaarian woman named Cilla.

The Glorious History of Aathenaar, Part Six: The Seed of Peace

Posted in Shows, Unicorn City with tags , , , , on September 4, 2010 by Greg Landgraf

Bax was a wise and visionary leader, and his peace proposal was almost undoubtedly the single most beneficial moment in Coventra’s history. As magnificent as his idea was, however, he was still a single man, and even though all Twelve tribes agreed to it, he would be unable to carry it out singlehandedly.

Great men and women realize their limitations and take steps to counter them. So Bax knew that he must institute a system of advisors and deputies to lead the peace. Each of the Twelve tribes had by this point, developed some rudiments of modern aristocracy, with Courts and therefore courtiers, as well as basic bureaucracies, with regulations and administrators.

Bax considered these assets, and wisely dismissed them as inappropriate for the job. Courtiers, after all, are unreliable, willing to bend any principle in their desperate attempt to curry favor with their rulers. Bureaucrats, on the other hand, are far too rigid, petty tyrants over their tiny, tiny policies, and far too slow in any event. And administrators are treacherous, with hundreds of private agendas and rivalries waiting at any juncture to sabotage peace.

Seeing that the tools he had to face the problem were insufficient, Bax took what is undoubtedly the second greatest act of Coventra’s history: He developed a new tool, one that could inspire the populace towards the cause of peace, one beholden to nothing other than that cause, and one that could move nimbly to serve that cause.

That tool was the Bard’s Guild.

It was headquartered on the western shore, in the village of Coral. (This was, as you will recall, the territory of Cavin’s descendents; in the Very Bad War they were completely without allies and therefore needed the Guild most of all.) Lest any other region grow jealous, however, Bax decreed that bardhood would be a profession of travelers. “The bards shall travel throughout the land,” he declared, “and through their magnificent tales shall they spread the word of peace directly to the peoples of the world.”

This notion could hardly have been more successful. Those first bards attacked their mission with the industry of an apple-bug preparing for the winter. They crisscrossed the land, and wherever they traveled, crowds would assemble to hear their stories. Invariably those crowds would be delighted, and inspired, and leave with hearts committed to the cause of peace.

And so it was that within a year, through the efforts of these traveling heroes, peace was achieved throughout the land.