Helkey 21 — The Wisp Fields of Knife Lake

Light from the explosion sears into my eyes, then fades, leaving a ghostly after-image. With a groan, the infernal scorpion-machine crashes to the ground. Pieces of it scatter. Its massive tail coming to rest in broken segments. A burning claw, sheared off from the main structure by the explosive force of our assault, cartwheels through the air then lands about fifty feet away. Zel whoops out a cheer. It’s infectious. Soon we are all giving out a victory cry. The cheers die down. They’re all looking at me. Waiting for me to say something. Just like that, I realize they trust me. It’s a pretty heady feeling — commanding my first victory.

I turn back to them, give a confident grin. “Way to kick some serious ass!” I’m trying not to gush. I want to gush. I’m feeling a bit manic about it. But I’ve got to keep it together — for me as much as for the rest of our little band of rebels. “Now let’s see what we can salvage. Be careful — some Drivers might still be alive. Plus that whole thing is one ginormous hazard.”

Mottle and I move forward, taking point while keeping everyone in sight. It’s not hard with my expanded senses through both Mottle and omnis scienta. What’s tough is keeping all my sensory input straight. Especially with the occluding effect of mists combining with fires and after-explosions. It’s like running through a lit-up cloud. I’m also grappling with more than a little bit of worry. Those flashes in our mist cloud will be visible all around Knife Lake. That gigantic scorpion machine went down hard. I’m pretty sure every critter in the vicinity, every devil sitting watch at Overseer Tower will have heard and seen the noise and light. I’m pretty certain we just kicked a hornet’s nest of the absolute worst sort. I don’t want to wait around long enough for the swarm to arrive.

We come upon the wreckage. Fires are still flickering, though the largest are out. I hop up onto a leg, then climb and glide to the platform. It’s a mess of twisted metal and broken machinery. There’s not much left of the Drivers — those poor devils who operated this monstrosity before we ripped it to pieces. I see what looks like an arm hanging from a twisted railing. There’s some bits of horn and teeth embedded in a crevice. I open up a panel that isn’t jammed, retrieve some ammunition, and toss it to Theri. I find a rifle that’s still in decent shape laying on warped deck plates. I hand it to her as well. I’ve got my own rifle from the Poachers’ Cave. Haven’t needed it yet since my magic’s been going so strong. My energetic vessel’s still over halfway full even though I really unloaded on these devils. Am I up to my parents level of badassery yet? Probably not. But getting close.

Destroyed Scorpion Amidst the Wisp Fields

I must’ve paused for a second because Theri is standing beside me, tapping me on the shoulder. “What’re we going to do with those?” she asks, pointing to six large glowing bulbs arranged in groups of three along the scorpion’s flanks. They’re connected by a tubular apparatus to the scorpion’s tail. I focus my mage’s sight. My eyes swirl with light as I detect numerous flashes of wisp-energy emanating from the barrels. They are newly-captured wisps. Raw, primal spirits. Not yet bound to worbs or forced into various foul forms by Lords of Hell or Form Makers.

I walk up to one set of bulbs. They’re more like vats than anything else. Containers filled with some kind of foul magical fluid that stuns the wisps into submission. “Lunen Svert Umbra!” I shout, calling forth my moonshadow blade, then slice open the vats one-by-one with three quick strokes. The ugly fluid spills out. It stinks something god-awful. Even worse than the sulfur air of Hell. Wisps, stunned by the fluid, plop to the ground. I hop-glide over to the scorpion’s other side — slicing open the other three vats. More wisps and blobs of slimy fluid spill out onto the ground.

The wisps pulse on the sand — reminding me of stranded jellyfish. There are scores. Perhaps eighty in all. Though I feel compelled to draw them into my name-curse, to protect them, these wisps are still free. It somehow seems wrong for me to take them now. I turn to my companions, my hesitance playing across my face. “Do you think I should take these wisps? I don’t know how else to keep them safe. Devils will eventually find them. Devour them. Turn them into awful beings.”

They stare back at me. Zaya is smiling. There’s a mischievious joy in her eyes. “Or will they?” the faerie says, then points to Mottle.

I raise a hand to touch the muscular, cloak-like body of Mottle. “You weren’t made into something so terrible. Can I believe a devil gave you this form? There must be something still living in Hell. A natural being of a sort who’s able to shape wisps into creatures that aren’t so horrific. I suppose if we found one…” I’m speaking my thoughts out loud. The more I think about it, the more Mottle doesn’t add up to what I know about Hell. There must be some kind of under-current I’ve missed. Of course, the Memory Draught might’ve blasted that key bit of Hell-lore right out of my noggin.

Theri looks at me — glancing between Mottle and Zaya. “No Form Maker or Hell Lord shaped Mottle from a wisp. If so, he almost certainly would’ve betrayed you by now to survive because a Devil would’ve made it a requirement of the form. It is not the nature of Devils to craft a being to…” she seems at a loss for words for a moment. She thinks, then says. “They wouldn’t shape a being to cooperate. To even be capable of benevolent cooperation.”

I pat my Mottle helmet-head. “If not a devil, then who shaped you?”

Mottle quivers, then sends a flickering thought through our physical connection. Answer is with us already.

Zaya flies up overhead. She is smiling, a serene expression on her face.

“There’s a myth among the Blue Devils,” Zel says as he watches the smiling Zaya begin to sing. “That long ago Hell’s nature-spirits forced evil beings into forms that required cooperation to survive. It is for this reason that they were sent to Hell in the first place. To unlearn the lonely evil of selfishness. Of course, for most spirits, it took ages along with many deaths and reformings of their wisps to learn this lesson. Hell was then seen as a prison to reform them. Literally. Again and again. But that was before Asmodeus came. And he has forbidden all to speak of those times. Yet we, the enslaved, in secret, have kept this knowledge as stories. It is a defiance.”

I’m hearing Zel’s words blend with Zaya’s song. My mind makes a leap. “Nature spirits? You’re talking about Zaya! She’s a faerie. One of the last. Did she shape Mottle?”

Mottle quivers again. Zel and Theri grin at me. Zaya reaches the apogee of her flight. She hovers over the wisps. Her song touches them. I can see its vibrations as gentle threads of magic reaching out to the wisps. They break from their slime-induced torpor, swirl together in a group, then rise up behind her.

“I will keep them tonight,” she says. “They are not yet ready for form. But once they’ve recovered, I will clothe them — each according to their nature.”

Like the wisps flopping on the ground before Zaya’s magic roused them, I’m stunned. I watch as they swirl gloriously above Zaya’s head like some cloud of will-o-wisps from Dungeons and Dragons. “How?” I want to say more but I can’t. Was finding Zaya also part of my parents plan — of my plan before I got broken up into now-me and Mirror Specter me? It’s just too much to be coincidence. If we planned for me to link up with Zaya before sending me to Hell, then we are serious geniuses. “Right.” I’m getting my thoughts together. Still — I can’t quite pull my heart out of my throat. “Well, this is an amazing development and I’ve got about a thousand questions. But each new thing we do somehow ends up making more light and noise.” I look at the swirling cloud of wisps. “Zaya, can you ask them to stop doing that. To stay low to the ground and, well, wisp about normally?”

Zaya actually laughs at my request. “Of course,” she says. She sings a few notes in a language I can’t quite understand but somehow seems familiar to me. The wisps drift back down to the ground, hovering just a few feet up, meandering about more. They’re still circling Zaya. Just less obviously.

“So I think our priorities just changed in a big way. Cyda’s still important. But he’s not our only giveaway any longer. We just now gave ourselves away. Big time. So our next move should be to get out of here quick. Then find a safe place to hide so Zaya can do her work.” I turn to Zaya. “How long will it take you to shape one wisp?”

Zaya rubs her chin. “It only takes a few moments. Problem is, I need to conjure a bolt of spiritual force. That can be taxing. Without help, I might manage about ten before I need to rest a while. Maybe ten a day.”

“Ten a day? It’s going to take a long time to change these wisps, then.” I pause. “Hold on, you said — without help. How would you get help? Other Vila? Are there other Vila?”

My question seems to sadden Zaya. “I don’t know any other living Vila,” she says. The momentary cloud over her face quickly passes. “But I do know that a human mage can use their curse-magic to give a Vila energy for a transformation. So you can help me!”

This is also an amazing development. “OK. Hopefully, I can help you do a lot more.”

She shrugs. “It depends on the size of your reserves. Your reserves are quite large.”

I glance down at my name-curse casting off sparks of wisp-energy. Tell me about it. “So it looks like we have another plan. Find shelter in these wisp fields, hide out, and help Zaya transform as many of these wisps as possible.” They seem ready to spring up. To get a move on. But I’ve just had a thought — a possible modification to our new plan. “Hold on. I just had a brainwave,” I say to them, then turn back to Zaya. “Can you gather every wisp that can hear your voice?”

Zaya thinks about this for a minute. “As long as I can see them, as long as they can hear my voice, I should be able to call them to me.”

“OK. New plan.” I look out into the mists and see more lights bobbing in the Hell night. They go on as far as my vision can resolve. Further out, the mists take on a general glow that seems to dance and sway. Those are wisps too even though I can’t make them out individually. “We move out through the Wisp Fields in that direction.” I wave toward where the wisps seem thickest. “I’ll take point. Zel, you go right. Theri, you take the left. Our job is to keep our eyes open for shelter, to avoid any contact with other devils. We’re looking for a big cave or crevice that’s unoccupied.”

Zel and Theri tilt their horns — a devil gesture of affirmation.

I turn to Zaya. “I don’t want you to worry about any of that. You just call as many wisps as you can. We’ll take them to our shelter, transform them, and then Overseer Tower will really have some trouble on their hands.”

Everyone now has a shit-eating grin on their face. I seriously have a shit eating grin on my face.

Zel mimics me and gives a thumbs up. He does my best to imitate my voice and says — “Let’s do this.” It’s cute. I laugh. But his imitation of me is way too squeaky. With that, we are off, moving through the Wisp Fields of Knife Lake. The steamy mist condenses over my body, over Mottle’s form as we walk. His body supporting mine, aiding each step through the broken lands surrounding that stinking, fetid water. Thank the gods the wind is blowing toward the lake and not away. It’s still hot as, well, Hell. But Mottle is cooling me. So I’m just sweating profusely. At least it’s not fucking daytime. I force myself to drink more water, gulping down the strange licorice tasting Perrier.

Zel and Theri form up. Both their heads are on a swivel. One thing’s certain about the devils — they are freaking crazy hyper-vigilant. Not really a surprise considering the horrific shit popping up all over the place here in Hell. Zaya flies overhead, singing out. She’s loud enough to catch what wisps we pass close by. But I can tell she’s also trying not to attract attention. Solid move. We cut through the night. After a couple hours, I find a crevice that looks interesting. By now, Zaya has added about another forty wisps to our host. That’s a friggin lot of wisps. I hop up to inspect the crevice. It’s empty but too shallow for my taste. Plus no cave at the back. Besides, I want to gather more wisps before we stop.

I glance at horologium. It’s 9:21 PM Hell time. Still way too early to stop. So we continue on, cutting through the night, gathering a larger and larger following of the ghostly wisps. Steadily, the mist begins to fade and thin. The overhead cover breaks and I can again clearly see Overseer Tower. It’s all lit up with wicked green and purple lights. The product or result of whatever infernal magic is used to enslave wisps, to force them into devil’s worbs. Overseer is closer now. Despite the heat, I shudder. I glance at my wrist again. It’s 10:17 and our wisp entourage has grown to around one hundred and forty. The bouncing, glowing orbs are tough to count. I call a halt.

I point up toward the wicked tower that is Overseer. “It’s starting to get too open for my liking. How about we cut back toward the hills?” I motion to the land rise — visible as a long, dark shadow — to our left. “We’re more likely to find a suitable cave or crevice there. It’ll also hide us from watching eyes.”

Keeping low and using whatever scraps of mist remain to conceal our growing numbers, we swiftly climb back into the hills and away from the wisp fields.

(New to the Helkey multiverse? Haven’t yet read the first chapter? You can find it here: Helkey 1 — The Memory Draught.)

(Looking for another chapter? Find it in the Helkey Table of Contents.)

Battlestorm Online Valhalla — Livestream Dungeons and Dragons Campaign Play, Character Profiles, and Video Archive

This blog contains an archive of live streaming games from the Battlestorm Online campaign GM’d by Ted Burgess and originally streamed on Twitch. It’s also an introduction to the Heroes of Battlestorm Online Valhalla — C’rra, Indignatio, Katsunori, Morgen Schnee, Umarekawatta, and Valkirie. Ted and I are co-GMing games for two separate Battlestorm Online campaigns. Ted’s game follows the main story arc and occurs weekly on Thursday nights between 9:30 PM and midnight EST. The game I’m running, called Ragnarok and dealing with a follow-on but equally important storyline, will run on Friday nights once per month. I’ll post a second and separate archive of Ragnarök’s streaming games along with character profiles here on the Scribbler’s Fantastical Workshop blog.

Adventure Opening Story

Our heroes log into Battlestorm Online only to find that they are trapped! Their Ghost Gear is rigged to emit rapid flashes of light that trigger brain aneurisms for those wearing this deadly gear if they die in-game, if they try to log out, or if someone tampers with their headgear. All gamers are thus trapped and forced to defeat the challenges laid out in the virtual fantasy world of Valhalla. If their avatars die while fighting monsters in Valhalla or exploring its hazardous environment, the Ghost Gear sends out its vicious strobe and kills their real bodies.

The players are not initially aware of their predicament until a few hundred unfortunates who attempt to log out or have their avatars slain by monsters are instantly killed. The game’s psychotic-genius creator then makes an announcement to every player, explaining their situation and the stakes involved. From that point forward, adventures in Valhalla take on a dire edge.

Character Profiles

What follows are the character profiles for C’rra, Indignatio, Katsunori, Morgen, Umare, and Valkyrie. Presently these heroes are all level four. The party is a bit further along than the video archive would indicate — as before starting our livestream, we completed about 4 campaign sessions. For your continuity, I’ve provided a brief synopsis of the campaign’s events in the Episodes section below. It’s also worth noting that this group developed a strong sense of player camaraderie as most of the present members played through Ted’s Dark Plots campaign prior to Battlestorm over the course of about seven years.

C’rra is a Tiefling Celestial Warlock in-game. Run and conceived by Lovis, C’rra focuses on heavy ranged attacks (Eldritch Blast) and party support through healing. C’rra’s spells are often well-chosen and devastating. She’s also not afraid to move to the front and lash foes who hit her with Hellish Rebuke and Armor of Agathys.

C’rra’s token

IRL Background and character concept pending.

Indignatio is a Fire Genasi Circle of the Moon Druid in-game. Nano’s original creation, Indignatio is clearly hot with a capital Haaa, he also lays down some serious smack in his wolf and bear forms. Indie typically wades into combat with abandon — tearing big holes through enemy formations in battle as a bear or leveraging his wolf form to set up trip attack bites while attacking with a flank-buddy. Also an off-healer, he’s brought back the party from a number of sticky situations already.

Indignatio’s token

IRL, the person behind Indignatio is Wesley Elaschuk. Small in stature at 5’2″, he’s been a gamer for most of his 36 years. His vocation is electronics sales. He’s a hard worker and a hard player — spending his extra hard earned cash on gaming and dedicating much of his free time to these made worlds. As a loner who keeps a tight circle of friends, Wesley has quite a lot of free time. So his gaming background is quite extensive. VR development, in particular, has long been an interest. But Wesley didn’t take the leap until BSO. The full-dive Dungeons and Dragons game ignited a keen interest and Wesley took a full two weeks off to experience it. In game, he wanted to be the confident person he never got to be IRL and he’s carried this personality style through to his gameplay successfully in BSO. Wesley as Indy has taken a kind of wild west approach to Pking — not holding back if Pkers come after him and treating them like monsters despite the fact that in game death for Pkers would result in IRL death.

Katsunori is an Elf Soul Knife Rogue in-game. Run by Tyrex, he’s the party’s badass archer. A specialist in ranged death he can employ his superior mobility, ability to hide, various poisons and sneak attack to rain death on foes. A versatile combatant with surprising party enablement, Katsunori brings a combination of serious ranged heat, amazing group communication, and a lot of sneaky tricks.

IRL, the person behind Katsunori is Tatsuo. He was born to Mark (later called Makito) and Natsuko Imura. Mark, now deceased, was a Japanese-American Marine JAG officer. He retired after serving at the U.S naval base in Okinawa — overseeing disciplinary cases where U.S. personnel clashed with local law. Stern of demeanor, Mark was known to be strict but fair. As a father, he could make his disappointment more savage than any amount of anger. Mark met Natsuko while serving in Japan. At the time, she worked as a translator between the U.S. military and the largest ISP on Okinawa. Once they married, Natsuko took a promotion as a multi-media localization expert for the gaming industry. Tatsuo’s early love of computer games stemmed from the many titles she kept at home — as she worked to translate them for publication in the West (or, for Western titles, in Japan).

Katsunori’s Token

Mark was never particularly thrilled with Tatsuo’s gaming hobby, but he tolerated it so long as grades were good and chores were done. Throughout high school, Tatsuo prepped for a college program that would lead to game development. Something shifted after his father passed away. He attended the University of Tokyo, and did study Computer Science. However, he then went on to pursue a Master’s degree at the prestigious Keio Law School. Gaming was still a part of his life, but he had also taken up his late father’s passion for the legal world. Tatsuo now works as an intellectual property and patent lawyer for Rikkeisoft (a blockchain development firm). Driven by his own sense of ethics, he also seems to be chasing his father’s posthumous approval. That program code and legal systems both have similar loop holes, contradictions, and unexpected interactions is a continued source of intrigue and challenge. When Tatsuo can leverage these “glitches” to the benefit of his employers he does. However, deep down, he believes strongly in the spirit of the law over the letter.

For Tatsuo, gaming has become a way to cut loose — to harmlessly abandon his ethics and principles. A way to engage in escapist fun, poking insecurities and triggering overreactions. If the letter of rules might be exploited to further his ends, fantastic (especially if it further enrages the gamers he’s griefed). If poorly written game code has produced something unintended (but not explicitly against the rules) that can be exploited, even better. All his discipline, maturity, and drive to have his father’s approval –forgotten for a few hours while crushing others without scruple. Their rage on the forums, the vitriolic in-game messages, cries of anger over voice chat — all fodder for the gleeful feeding of Tatsuo’s adolescent demons. It is this childish delight in griefing that inspired his now-infamous account name in numerous games over the years. Shino Shin’iri… “death of the noob”.

Tatsuo logged into the new megadungeon of Battlestorm with similar intentions. He created his account, knowing its much-hated reputation. One he crafted and nurtured over so many years. That was part of the fun! His first character name was deliberately, excessively innocuous: Shujinkō… “protagonist”. Over the years, he’d used dozens of such character names to join parties: Īyatsu… “good guy”, Shinraidekiru… “trusted”, Mikata… “ally”, etc. After the grief was delivered and his account name revealed, the anger of his victims was all the sweeter. Then, everything changed in a blink for Tatsuo

The realization that people were really dying, that this was not a game, cut to his core. His playground ruined — a place of horror. His joy in griefing — gone in an instant of terrible realization. But also something more. Perhaps a haunting sense of guilt. Perhaps a strange dismay when others like him did not adjust to their terrible new circumstance. It was time to set out a marker. To fix his own shift in intention. For the first time in all his years of gaming, he’s used precious currency for an extra name change: taking on the moniker Katsunori... “victory through the law.”

Morgen Schnee is an Aasimar Paladin of Vengeance. Run by yours truly, Morgen’s in-game avatar is a melee-focused dexterity build that relies more on mobility and positioning in combat than direct brute force. Able to nimbly flank and deliver punishing smites to the big bads, Morgen also doesn’t hesitate to use her positioning to aid her companions, distract foes, or deliver heals when her companions go down.

Morgen uses her IRL name in-game. She’s a reluctant-celebrity gamer (background) whose play style attracted attention through various gamer media streams. She’s also ardently passionate about the heroic nature of gaming itself. Her defining quote is “Real life sucks because the dark side is hidden. In games, it comes out — even in the players. When it does, you can fight it. That’s badass.” She’s college age — taking courses in both the humanities and game design. 

Morgen Schnee’s Token

Her parents are corporate executives. Her mother (Hansha Schnee) works for a financial firm in Tokyo; her father (Mark Dragas) for a well known search engine giant in California. They are separated and Morgen, though she identifies better with her father, has taken her mother’s name (Schnee) for her own.

Her mother strongly disapproves of Morgen’s gaming interests, viewing most gamers as social deviants. This is, at least in part, due to the fact that Hansha is half Gaijin and had to fight for recognition in conservative Japanese business culture.  Morgen has bargained a path forward so long as she continues to make top grades and forge success for herself. In the gaming community Morgen is well known. Gamer media writes about her frequently and camera motes often follow her in-game. She uses her IRL name as her in-game name. This draws further attention to her Celebrity Gamer stream.

Morgen could care less. She didn’t seek the attention when gaming. For her, gaming was a way to externalize her in-born desire to overcome evil. In games, this turned into a passion for direct action, a tendency to help others — particularly newbs — and a fulfillment of her desire to strive for justice. This attracted a lot of troll attention early on when Morgen started to become a serious gamer in middle school. Morgen took it on the nose by challenging PKers and griefers directly, by finding the best guilds for newbs, and by eprinting newb player guides complete with maps and warnings in various games. Morgen was particularly passionate about taking on griefers — “You don’t know how your malice as play affects people in real life,” she would say. “And when you play maliciously, you’re building up some serious bad habits. It’s like practicing evil in a mind-training exercise. Sure, there are exceptions. People who think it’s all a joke. But getting high on inflicting negative emotions like rage on others is seriously messed up.” This altruism, combined with her unintentional flare for the dramatic in game, became a magnet for game media.

In Battlestorm Online, Morgen has chosen Aasimar as her race. This enabled gamer media types to use her helper spirit Nuri as both her deva advisor and as a camera mote. The guide would typically communicate heroic visions to Morgen. But this one happens to act more like an annoying reporter half the time — providing suggestions that are more helpful for outsiders seeking to sow ‘interesting’ drama into the game than as an actual assist to game play.

Morgen’s avatar is agility (dex) and charisma based. She tends to focus on melee speed builds and she’s going to try this with a dex based paladin in BSO. Her build at level 1 is not that optimal. But it has some serious potential as it levels. At start of game, she does her best to help new players that get into trouble. Swiftly learning about the game’s inherent lethality, Morgen is even more determined to save less experienced players from very real death.

Umarekawatta is a Minotaur Champion Fighter. Run by Cody, this dual-wielding juggernaut toting a massive battle axe in each hand takes to combat in BSO with a wild abandon and reckless joy that disappeared for most when the game became lethal. Umarekawatta is probably the toughest member of our group of heroes. He can be counted on to go straight for the enemy jugular — drawing aggro while his allies set up for kill shots.

Umarekawatta’s token

IRL, Umare’s name is Date Taizō. He is presently 22 years of age and suffers from the terminal illness — Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia.

Taizō lives in Ginza,Tokyo. Coming from a fairly prominent family in the fashion industry, he was in line to take over the family business. However, just before graduating high school tragedy struck. Still only a teenager, Taizō was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia. A severe tragedy that brought his normal life, hopes, and aspirations to a screeching halt.

The past few years of Taizō’s life have been spent in a grueling series of difficult treatments and stints in the hospital. Over time, his condition has only grown worse. The terrible physical toll and rising hopelessness caused Taizō to spiral into depression. Permanent confinement in the hospital was the next step in the spiral for Urame. A place that has been his permanent home now for nigh on a year.

As a last bid to help get him out of depression his family bought him a copy of BSO. They hoped it would at least liberate his mind and spirit — allowing him to experience something outside of the four sterile walls of his room and a grinding countdown to death.

Valkyrie is a Human Paladin of the Ancients in-game. A great weapon wielder run by Keerith, she delivers severe punishment to her foes through heavy hits and radiant smites. Often, her explosive melee attacks leave enemy forces reeling in shock. Valkyrie expertly combines her shock-trooper style attacks with friendly magical buffs from highly effective spells such as Bless. She is also often ready to help her allies when they go down through off-healing.

Valkyrie token

Valkyrie’s IRL name is Klaudia Holberg. Klaudia came to Tokyo some years ago as a college exchange student and immediately fell in love with the city. Once she received her BA, she transferred to a Tokyo University for postgraduate studies and has never looked back.

In Tokyo, she worked as an interpreter for several companies while pursuing her further education. She eventually joined the Foreign Studies faculty and, as a younger professor, she quickly gained a reputation for an easy-going style. She’s often both patient and mild-mannered when teaching her subject matter. Outside of class, though, she can take on a more brash and outspoken demeanor.

Klaudia’s also engaged in athletics. Often arriving on campus early most mornings — sponsoring and advising for various school clubs. Only her closest friends know how much she enjoys relaxing with video games after a long day of athletic activities, herding students, and grading papers. Her roommate was in on the secret and got her hooked on MMOs. Ever since, she’s always played as part of a group — enjoying the comradery and team play.

Klaudia found her preference for jolly cooperation and sharing the fun of exploration over things like PvP or competitive raiding. Her gaming group has been playing a lot of sci-fi games lately, so she was particularly excited for BSO’s world of swords. Both Klaudia and her roommate shared a love of old samurai movies. Klaudia felt there was something especially majestic about the romantic fantasy of the warrior wandering jianghu — carrying a sword in their hand and justice in their heart.

In most games, Klaudia typically goes by “Valkyrie.” If someone beat her to the name, she’ll typically pic random name of one — like the “Valkyrie Thrud” tag she used in her last major game. Luckily, Klaudia got first dibs on her favorite moniker in BSO.


For episodes 1-4, our party of heroes ventured into the deadly virtual fantasy world of Valhalla. Immediately taking on a force of half-ogres, the group didn’t realize how close they came to death until the game creators made their fateful announcement in a Home-Town arena. Rather than succumb to fear and paralysis, the party decided to venture north out of Mio Elysse on a quest to retrieve the idol key of Neb-ankh. On the road, the party took out a goblin settlement then nearly perished fighting a group of Yuan Ti kidnappers. However, they were able to survive and free a number of fellow gamers triggering a hidden quest award.

Returning to Mio Elysse, our heroes decided to officially join together as a party and start a guild — Stella Requiem or In Memory of Stars. In their guild hall they keep a list of all those lost to the deadly game. Before they rest, members of Stella Requiem light a candle of remembrance for all the fallen.

Picking up the threat of their quest to retrieve the key of Neb-ankh, our heroes journey at last to a dungeon north of town rumored to house the key. Fighting through a hoard of undead and troglodytes, the party at last retrieves the key — only returning to town to discover that their quest giver is corrupt. When returning the key, the party is refused their reward even as they are ambushed by a Lamia, her cultist followers, and a number of vicious Jackleweres… which catches us up to our live streaming episodes.

Battlestorm Online 5 — Ambushed by a Lamia in which our heroes encounter a treacherous Lamia who first sends them on a quest and then attempts to kill them.

Battlestorm Online 6 — Sailing on a Ship of Ghouls in which our heroes Morgen, Val, Katsunori, Umare, Indie, and C’rra confront a hoard of ghouls inhabiting a wrecked ship on the coast of Midgard.

Battlestorm Online 7 — “They mostly come at night… mostly…” in which our heroes venture to a region north of Ashkelon where a Necromancer’s Tower spews forth foul undead to terrorize the lands.

Battlestorm Online 8 — Stella Requiem ventures further into the Necromancer’s Tower. Morgen and C’rra take a nasty tumble.

Battlestorm Online 9 — Stella Requiem confronts the Shadow Demon, then discovers something troubling about the game’s AI NPCs.

Battlestorm Online 10: Stella Requiem prepares to confront a Stone Gaint. Some rapid character building ensues as the party expands to deal with a very dangerous monster.

Battlestorm Online 11: The battle against the Stone Giant commences. Meanwhile, residents of a town near Lake Mimisbrunnr are poisoned.

Battlestorm Online 12: Stella Requiem enters the roots of Yggdrasil to confront hordes of monsters — mainly kobolds.

Battlestorm Online 13 — Stella Requiem continues to delve deeper into the dungeon beneath Yggdrasil’s roots.

Battlestorm Online 14 — Stella Requiem gets cornered and decides to beat a hasty retreat.

Battlestorm Online 15 — Stella Requiem returns for some sweet kobold revenge.

Battlestorm Online 16 — As Stella Requiem delves deeper into Yggdrasil’s roots they discover that the kobolds are still everywhere.

Battlestorm Online 17 — Stella Requiem continues to battle hordes of kobolds.

Battlestorm Online 18 — Stella Requiem delves deeper into Yggdrasil’s roots.

Battlestorm Online 19 — Stella Requiem gets a much needed level up, then returns to enact furious vengeance upon their kobold foes.

Battlestorm Online 20 — Stella Requiem encounters an unexpected twist.

Battlestorm Online 21 — Are two parties really better than one?

Last Notes

For now, we conclude our gaming archive and related character profiles for Battlestorm Online — Valhalla. Return for updates and new video archives occurring about once a week. Also, I’ll be updating our character profiles when the situation warrants. Thank you for stopping by!

If you’re interested in using our campaign materials for your own games take a look at the Battlestorm Online Player’s Guide and our twelve original Battlestorm Online Backgrounds. I’ll be posting Game Master materials for this campaign over the coming weeks which you’ll be able to find in the Gaming Studio.

Final note — I’ve fixed the screen resolution issue on twitch, so it shouldn’t be an issue for upcoming games in the stream or in the archive.

Helkey 20 — Devil Drivers in a Button Hook

I look over my motley companions, take a breath, let it out. I check my horologium watch. It’s 5:15 PM Hell time. So about forty five minutes ’til sunset. I walk up to Zel and Theri, check their gear, tighten a few straps. I glance at Mottle — he doesn’t do gear. Turning to Zaya, I ask — “you need anything?” I motion to the dead Poachers’ remaining equipment. Zaya folds her arms in front of her chest, turns her nose up, and scoffs. OK. That’s my answer.

“Sun’s almost down. Is everyone ready?”

In answer, Mottle swoops down from his perch then fastens onto my shoulders. His multiple contacts with my body cause my senses to blur. When they re-focus, I can see both through my eyes and his. It’s not as disorienting this time. He taps my neck with his teeth, injecting his strange liquid food directly into me. He must’ve eaten again when I slept. I feel a rush of energy. I’m thankful for it. Mottle can sense my thanks through our contacts. I didn’t want to eat that devils’ food. Meat looked way too humanoid. I don’t typically eat meat anyway. Too much cruelty involved. On Earth it was easy enough to get my protein from things like tofu and tempeh. In Hell, all my food’s been coming from Mottle which is such a major boon. I don’t want to think about not having Mottle.

The others jump as Mottle wraps himself around me, then seems to bite my neck. I just grin, flap Mottle’s muscular body, then hop-glide toward the cavern’s mouth. “I’ll take that as a yes!” I shout back to them. “Follow me!” Seeming to at last take my merging with Mottle in stride, they rush along behind us.

Outside, the pre-sunset air is still blast-oven hot. Stink of sulfur beats down as if weighted with lead. A green sky yawns above us — blending to a pine-needle color back toward the toxic ocean. I’m glad for Mottle’s cooling body, the fluids and foods he’s giving me. Makes Hell almost bearable. Almost.

Theri and Zel jog up beside me. Zaya flits to hover a few feet off to my right, casting about warily. I turn to Zel. “First things first. How do we best track Cyda?”

Zel nods, kneels down. Theri joins him. Together they scan the ground. The canyon floor is covered in broken rock and sand. I can see numerous footprints tracking between the cavern mouth and a trail winding down the canyon. To me, they all look the same. Zel points to a set of tracks leading off to the left — toward the canyon wall. “Those are Cyda’s tracks. He’s barefoot. His claw marks give him away.”

To the Wisp Fields

I feel a little tinge of regret. Zel and Theri both have shoes now. Their companion ran off — maybe out of fear, maybe out of opportunistic greed. Whatever the case, the poor guy is running around Hell in his bare feet. I don’t know why this makes me feel sympathetic. I glance down at my combat boots and am damn glad for them.

We follow the tracks to the cavern wall. There’s a natural stair made up of sandstone and gravel. We scramble up it, then continue on into the hilly, sandy lands surrounding Knife Lake. An orange-red sun plunges down behind the distant shape of Overseer Tower. Its crooked form wavers in a heat mirage making it look like a serpent slithering up into the sky of dusk. Despite a distance of at least twenty miles separating us from Overseer Tower, I still feel exposed. As if the eyes of some lookout are already tracing our steps. I’m pretty sure my fear is baseless. But Zel and Theri also seem to shrink from the tower.

Once up on the hillside, it’s even easier to follow Cyda’s tracks. They wind down toward the huge purple and green lake. Switching back and forth between hills but inexorably bending toward that ugly water. As we walk, shadows lengthen and a heat-mist rises from Knife Lake. A wind picks up at our backs, blowing the mists away from us and toward Overseer Tower. Sun is gone now. Overseer Tower — shrouded in mists. With light dimming, Cyda’s tracks become more difficult to follow. We slow down just to see. Zel stoops and seems to almost crawl. Zaya drops behind. She’s singing softly. In response, the ground behind us susurrates and shifts. All traces of our passage vanish. That little faerie gets more amazing each time I see her do something. Nobody’s going to be tracking us without some major effort. Dark or no dark.

We continue on in this way for about another hour. By seven o’clock Hell time I summon omnis scienta to help. I weave a little lux enchantment into my sensor, directing it to move in front of Zel. It glows, providing him with a dim light even as I’m able to see things about ten times better than before. Our pace picks up and I kick myself for not trying it sooner. I’ve got plenty of magic continuously filling up my energetic vessel. So I’ve got no excuse. We cut between two hills, avoid some nasty spike vegetation, then come to a wide-open area covered in low-hanging mist. It stinks of sulfur. I suppress a gag. But my eyes widen as I notice various glowing orbs floating in among the mists. They each spill out a light and color all their own. They slowly drift — giving me the impression of bio-luminescent sea life.

Live reading of Helkey 20

“They’re wisps,” Theri says, echoing my thoughts.

As if by some unspoken signal, we crouch down. The place is open, full of wisps. We’re suddenly on high alert. Not a moment too soon as out of the mists explodes a gigantic contraption. Spewing smoke from long rows of pipes, a machine about one hundred feet long crawling on six legs — each made of segmented metal ten feet in diameter and forty feet long. Two great pincers sway in front of a gaping maw filled with jagged metal teeth. Above it is a massive, swooping limb with a great glowing bulb on its tip. It dips this arm repeatedly into the mists, snagging fleeing wisps which are swallowed by the bulb. Clusters of lamps like eyes shine with a greenish glow above a metal mouth. On its back near its head is a platform. There I can see devils, perhaps six, operating various mechanisms I assume control the great machine. The whole apparatus reminds me of some monstrous infernal merger between scorpion and machine.

“Drivers,” Zel barely breathes the word.

I nod in response. The great devil machine continues to advance, segmented legs digging furrows into the ground. Massive claws edging ever closer. I want to freeze. To hide. But I’ve got to do something. We can try to hide, then withdraw in stealth and double back to continue following Cyda. Or we can take our opportunity and attack the Drivers now. The longer we wait, the more likely we’ll be spotted.

I blow out a soft puff of air, then nod my head. “Right,” I whisper. Motioning for them all to lean in closer, I point at the giant scorpion. “This is our chance. We’re going to take out that Driver, clue? We’ll keep tracking Cyda after.” I look into each of their eyes in turn. They nod agreement. This is what they signed up for. No time for pussy-footing now. “Good. Now listen quick. They outnumber us. But only slightly. They command a hulking machine and a shit-ton more brute force. We’re going to use that against them.” The huge scorpion is bearing down on us. We have maybe a minute before they spot us. Warming to my subject, I continue. “What we’re going to do is something I learned a while back called a button hook.” It was something Dad taught me while playing paintball. Great for fucking up bigger forces that have trouble reacting quickly. He said it worked against lumbering armor too. He should know. Mori’s ex military and all that jazz. Besides, the giant scorpion thing had armor written all over it.

“Zel, you go left. Stay about a hundred yards off. When you come perpendicular to its right side, I want you to shoot eight times with your rifle at them in rapid succession. When you’re done, immediately run to the rear of the machine, then wait for me. But be ready to unload with everything you’ve got left.” I make a motion with my hand, pointing him in the direction I want and toward the nine o’clock position relative to the machine beastie. “Go now! And start shooting immediately when you get into your first position!”

Zel dashes off. I watch him for a second, then turn to Theri. “OK. I’m sending you around to the other side about opposite of Zel. But I don’t want you to move until he starts shooting. Once you get into position, which should happen about twenty seconds after Zel finishes firing, I want you to shoot six times with your handgun. I know it’s not as effective at long range. Just do your best. Then I want you to run around to the rear position, join Zel, reload, and be ready to unleash Hell. Zaya and I’ll meet you there.” Theri nods. She’s giving me her wicked grin. She likes this Driver baiting plan.

The machine is getting uncomfortably close now. I can see the six devils on the platform. They’re all red-skinned and heavily armed with various weapons. Three are operating the machine. One is driving. The other sits at a station that I think must control the claws. The last operator is spinning a ball and pulling a lever. I assume this combination directs the tail which seems to mirror the ball-spinning, lever throwing movements. The other three devils are guards and lookouts. They don’t see us yet. But they will soon.

Bright flashes light off to our left — on the devils’ right. Zel has started his attack. Bullets ricochet off the platform. One catches a guard in the thigh. He goes down. I turn to Theri, patting her on the shoulder. “Go now!” She runs off like a bolt, keeping low in the mists for concealment. Zel unloads his last shot. This one is a frigging fireball bullet. It explodes over the operator of the tail contraption — blasting through the tail’s structure and causing it to sag. The operator dives away from his exploding control station but is pinned by a massive piece of metal falling down on him from the fracturing tail. Two wounded and one operating station wrecked. Not bad, Zel. I’m impressed.

The devils respond in fury. They focus on the location from which Zel first unleashed his barrage. The two remaining guards run over to the right side of the vehicle — our left — and start firing back. Bullets and fireball rounds streak toward Zel’s last position — lighting it up. But Zel is already gone — heading off to the twelve o’clock position. The scorpion’s driver swings some levers. The ponderous machine turns toward the nine o’clock. The claw operator at last springs into action. Putting his hands into two gloves, he flips a toggle. The claws lift up, let out a loud banging sound as they clack together, then both light on frigging fire! Holy shit! The night is suddenly illuminated by the hot, red glow. Good thing the mists are thick and they’re all facing toward the nine o’clock. The claw operator sends the massive pinchers thrusting down. He rips burning furrows into the ground. Material flies into the air. All for naught. Zel is gone. I can’t see him from my position. I’m glad for it.

I turn to Zaya. “Thought I forgot about you, didn’t ya?” Zaya giggles and shakes her head. I can barely hear it over the din of the guards gunshots and of the great scorpion machine venting its fury. “Good. So I noticed that stuff you did with the ground to cover our tracks. Do you think you can sift the sand beneath it to cause it to sink?”

“Oh, yes!” Zaya replies. “I can sink it. Maybe not bury it. Sand’s not deep enough here.”

“Good. All I need you to do is slow it down. But wait for my signal. And once you do, be ready because I’m going to need you to follow me fast.” As I speak, Theri starts shooting with her massive revolver. She’s about a hundred yards off. Her handgun is nowhere near as accurate as Zel’s rifle. And she’s only got six shots. Nonetheless, bullets ricochet off the platform from a position directly behind them. A final fireball shot explodes on the machine’s flank, leaving a big, glowing dent. No more casualties for team bad. But Theri sure as hell got their attention. Which was all I wanted. From the devil’s perspective, they’ve now been hit from their present front and rear. The guards don’t know what to do. They don’t see the first shooter. They’re taking fire from a second shooter. One continues to shoot in the direction of Zel’s first firing position. They’re practically on top of it now. The claw operator lashes out blindly. The second guard runs to the other side of the platform to shoot at Theri. But like Zel, she’s gone. The scorpion driver, after a brief argument with the claw operator begins turning the machine around. They can’t find Zel and the most recent shots came from their rear.

Perfect! I turn to Zaya. “Now!” The little faerie begins singing as I lift my hand into the air and shout out “Vexare Verberare!” I assign two bolts to each of the guards, one to the driver. The bolts streak out. The sand sifts. The great machine sinks and lurches. Claws flail into the sky. The guards again begin to shift their focus, spinning their weapons even as my glowing missiles close on them. I can clearly hear one word shouted by a guard in Minosian — “surrounded!”

My magical bolts of force explode when they impact against his neck and head. Both are kill shots. The second guard is lucky. He dives flat and the bolts shred the heavy armor on his back. But he’s otherwise unharmed. The final bolt blasts through the scorpion driver’s arm. He still manages to keep the scorpion struggling along through the sand. But its mobility is now hobbled both by shifting ground and him having to operate two levers with one arm. Shots begin to fly over our heads. I grab the little Vila’s hand and, with a flap from Mottle, we’re gliding along the nape of a hillside and down into a little dip about fifty feet away. The shots hitting our firing position are coming from just one guard now. But I’m glad we’re no longer there.

In three more short flights, we’ve come around to the 12 o’clock position. It takes us another thirty seconds or so to find Theri and Zel. They’re huddled together behind a rock. Both have shit-eating grins on their faces as they point ready guns at the ailing monstrosity. It’s seriously fucked up now — smoking from the two fireball bullet hits, its tail a wreckage, foundering in shifting sand, three of six crew down. The scorpion driver is clearly suffering from his wound. Guard and claw operator are confused and panicked. I almost feel sorry for them. Almost.

I look at Theri and Zel. “You ready?” Zel nods. Theri gives the thumbs up. “Alright then. Let’s give ’em Hell!”

Zel’s rifle and Theri’s handgun both shoot out their remaining fireball rounds. I lift my hand into the air and launch another vexare verberare! volley. The combined magic and diabolical artillery cause the Hell-scorpion’s platform to explode in light and sparks. When the resulting flash finally dims, none of the monster machine’s crew’s left standing.

Wow. Man, did that plan work out better than expected.

(New to the Helkey multiverse? Haven’t yet read the first chapter? You can find it here: Helkey 1 — The Memory Draught.)

(Looking for another chapter? Find it in the Helkey Table of Contents.)

Gish Optimized 2 — The Hexblade-Fighter (aka Raven Queen’s Herald)

Welcome to the next installment of Gish Optimized. Man, are you guys in for some fun! Because we have an awesome new build for you! It’s one of my favs for a number reasons. Greatsword attacks without strength, some serious heat coming from our spells, a tough character that can take a lot of physical punishment, and beaucoup tactical options on the battlefield. So put on your Dungeons and Dragons, spell flinging, sword swinging, gishy character optimization hats and get ready!

Discussion of this Hexblade-Fighter build.

In our first post, we explored a special build for the optimized Dexterity-based Paladin — aka the Dexadin. This build was primarily melee-focused relying on superior mobility, smites and buffs to deliver heavy hits in combat. A serious stab and smite kind of gish. Now it’s time for a bit of a switch. One with a dash of darkness, a helping of noir artistic flare, and well more than a dalliance with death…

The Spank and Flank Chex-Fighter

For this episode, we’re going to shift gears to a Charisma-based, great weapon wielding hexblade-fighter or Chex-Fighter. But unlike our Dexadin, this character is going to have some serious magical heat under the hood in the form of various buffs, buddies, and blasts. We summed up our Dexadin as a stab and smite kind of gish. Well, the Chex-Fighter is, instead, a gish of the spank and flank variety. Spank because she’s gonna hit real damn hard with her great weapon. Flank because she’ll employ her warlock spells to conjure buddies or buffs to grant her combat advantage. You’ll find out more as we progress! So let’s get into it!

Level 1 — Charisma, Constitution, Half-Elf, Prismari, Fighter

Jumping right in at first level, let’s start out with stats. Remember, we’re a Chex-Fighter and the C in Chex stands for Charisma. So we’ll allocate major pointage here — throwing a full nine at the stat pre-racial bonuses. That gives us a 15 starting out. Solid.

Moving on to our secondary stat, we find that C also stands for Constitution because we’re dropping another full nine points into the tough stat. Why so heavy on Con? Well, we’re mostly a front-liner with our greatsword. Sure, we’ll be able to throw down some ranged heat. But we’re going to want to mix it up in melee big-time. And we really want both high HP and high Con saves. A lot of our melee spells need high rolls for concentration checks too. So we drop those nine points and start out with a 15 in Con as well.

Beatrice Lushael as Raven Queen’s Herald

Our third most important stat is Dexterity. We’re not a Dexadin. But we still want decent initiative rolls for our character. We’ve also decided to go the medium armor route and dump strength. Why? Well, what’s more cool than going full anime and having our badass Raven Queen’s Herald artistically wielding a large but nimble greatsword with nothing more than the ample force of her personality to power her strikes? For all these reasons, and because we are indeed a shiny dancer, we drop 5 points into Dexterity for a starting score of 13.

After spending like a drunken sailor on these three stats, we have 4 points left over for Strength, Wisdom, and Intelligence. I’m gonna dump Str to 8 and go with 10 in Wis and 10 in Int. This seems right to me for our Ravenqueen Herald’s mojo. If you want something else — go for it!

So we’ve got our base stats. Now let’s look at race. Ah! There are so many options! And I must say I’ve used both Elf and Human for this build. I love each for different reasons. Human lets us get a feat right off the bat. Elf gives us so many juicy options. And one of them we really, really want. But we also want some beautiful stat bumps. They’re actually pretty key. So we’re going to go for fancy this time, split the difference, and take Half Elf. Holy racial stat bonuses Batman! We get a +2 in one stat and +1 in two others. This is amazing!

Now we really want Charisma so we throw 2 points of our Half Elf bonuses into that for a starting stat of 17. Remember Con? Yeah. We’re putting 1 point into that for a 16. And last of all for Dex we get our final stat bonus. So finalizing our level 1 stats, we end up with S 8 C 16 D 14 I 10 W 10 Ch 17. Not bad at all! But it gets better…

With our Background. Typically, I wouldn’t talk background for character optimization. But with the advent of Strixhaven, I’d be remiss not to mention the amazing mage college backgrounds. As a Raven Queen’s Herald, we are playing an artiste of the Queen of Death. Our paintbrush for spell and combat — a pact blade. In this artistry we’re enabled by a somewhat macabre twist on the Prismari background found in Strixhaven. Typical Prismari focus on mastering the arts and the elements. Our Raven Queen’s Herald will hone in on the dire and yet beautiful artistry of fate and death. By picking this background we also get two cantrips, access to some cool spell choices, and an extra first level spell. Since we’re mostly a warlock, this extra spell slot really helps us out. I’ll leave the cantrip choices up to you. But what I’m really here for is the fate-bending power of Silvery Barbs. Right out the gate our servant of death gains the ability to twist the threads of fate as a reaction in order to impose disadvantage on an attack roll, an ability check or a saving throw that previously succeeded. We get an extra slot from which to cast this spell AND we can add this spell to our list. Now, if your game doesn’t allow Strixhaven as a resource, just ignore all of the above and some of the below, then drive on with the core build. It’s already amazing. Strixhaven just provides some delicious gravy.

Our mage background also helps round our character out as we go into first level. Because for this build we are starting with fighter. Why? Well, for one, we really want to be trained in Constitution saving throws. We also get some survivability in the form of Second Wind. Our Defense Fighting Style option adds 1 to our AC — making us even tougher. Since we didn’t start out as Warlock, we’re going Dexterity for our level 1 fighting. So we pick rapier, shield, and scale mail. From Strixhaven mage we also pick up Chill Touch for our ranged attacks. Our starting HP is 13. Our AC is 19. This makes us both tough and versatile at lvl 1. Even though we are not a heavy hitter, we can take some serious heat, attack reliably both in melee and at range, and occasionally pull a clutch debuff with Silvery Barbs. That’s pretty badass. But it gets better.

One word to the wise on level delay — this optimization guide does delay key features by one level. So you’ll lag a bit behind straight-classed options in exchange for some really nice build options. This delay is not too terrible as our build really starts to hum at level 6 and even moreso at level 9. However, if you want to race to gain badass features at level 5 and forego some of the amazing tweaks, just pick Variant Human, take Resilient Constitution at level 1, and go straight Hexblade until 17 at which point you’ll take the final three levels as fighter. I’m doing just that in a campaign I’m playing this build in right now. So don’t feel bad if you want those powers sooner. We’re just showcasing the more idealized version of the build here.

Level 2 — First Level of Hexblade Warlock

Now that we’ve set up a strong chassis for our Ravenqueen’s Herald, we move into the core class of the build which is Hexblade Warlock. We’re taking Hexblade all the way to level 17. And it’s going to give us so many wonderful things.

At level two we initially gain two amazing features. The first is Hexblade Curse — letting us set up some serious focus fire on one opponent by using our bonus action to apply this curse to a target we can see within 30 feet. This curse expands our crit range to 19-20 and gives us a buff to our damage rolls against the target. The second feature from Hexblade is Hex Warrior — allowing us to use our Charisma with one melee weapon of our choice that lacks the two handed property. We pick a Longsword. Then we drop the shield and go two-handed with it because it’s versatile. We now do 1d10+3 damage or 1d10+5 damage with our Hexblade Curse. Our AC drops to 17. But we’re not here for the AC. We’re here for doing a dance of death with our large and nimble blade.

The Bladelock Fighter is one of the more potent 5e gish builds.

We are now a solid damage dealer for level 2. But we’re going to pick some spells up that help us even more. For Cantrips we take Eldritch Blast for our ranged option and never look back. We get another Cantrip which I’m leaving open — so have fun. For First Level Known Spells, we’re taking Hex and Armor of Agathys. Hex adds 1d6 on top of our already strong 1d10 damage with Eldritch Blast and Longsword. With proficiency in Constitution saves, it’s unlikely our Hex will be lost if we take a hit. Armor of Agathys gives us 5 Temporary Hit Points and deals damage if a foe hits us in melee. Since we have a 22 HP, those 5 THP stacked with Second Wind really makes us pretty darn tough while also giving us good reactive damage in close combat. These spells give us strong choices at level 2 for our spell slots.

Level 3 — Invoking the Raven Queen

At level 3 (level 2 Warlock) we get two Eldritch Invocations. And it’s here that our build’s specialty really starts to come on line. We don’t get to benefit from our choices in a major way just yet. But our deathly artistry arising from our pact with a blade blessed by the Goddess of Death is starting to take shape. Our eyes begin to take on a red gleam as we take Devil’s Sight. This gives us 120 feet of darkvision in both normal and magical darkness. The coolness factor here is just to die for (quoth the Raven Queen). What this invocation gives us by level 6 is just beyond amazing. It yields benefits earlier. But the cherry on top is our big surprise coming at levels 6 and 9. We want something special with our other invocation at level 4. So we set it aside for now.

At level 3, we also get another spell choice for level 1. I’m partial to having a blast option, so I’d pick Arms of Hadar. I also like the cinematic flare of arms of darkness erupting from you to batter your foes. This isn’t key to the build, so if you want something else like Hellish Rebuke, go for it!

Level 4 — Forging a Pact With a Blade Blessed by Death in Darkness

By level 4 our mojo is really starting to shine. We forge a pact of with a blade blessed by the Raven Queen. For my character, I’ve picked a weapon possessed by the spirit of the good death. There are many shades of death so our options here are broad. For game purposes, our Pact of the Blade now allows us to summon a special magical sword that can be used as an arcane focus for our spells. We also now use our second invocation to empower this sword — taking Improved Pact of the Blade. Now we gain two more boons — our weapon is a Greatsword which we can use with our Charisma. It is also enchanted to +1. So our base damage jumps again — hitting 2d6+4, 2d6+6 if we’ve applied our Hexblade Curse, and a maximum of 3d6+6 if we’ve cast Hex. Pretty significant.

We also gain another spell and our Warlock slots jump to level 2. This means Armor of Agathys hits 10 THP. So our base 31 HP can be pushed to an effective 41 even as we are possibly doing 10 damage if something strikes us with a melee attack. With this bump in spell level comes another spell choice. We pick Darkness. Now you probably saw this coming when I chose Devil’s Sight. But I must emphasize that Darkness is not a core feature of the build. It instead represents a situationally powerful option that can also harmfully debuff your allies if you’re not careful. Walking around with 15 feet of darkness surrounding you blinds everyone, even your buddies (although, if you team up with a Gloomstalker Ranger, you’ve just thrown down a major party buff). Unless the party is optimized to fight in Darkness, the spell is a bit clunky to say the least. That said, if you are wise about when you cast it and you do something clever like casting Darkness on an object that’s easy to mask with a free action or an object interact action, then you’ll get more mileage out of it. Admittedly, the advantage you can gain and the disadvantage impacting your foes can be pivotal. Just think about your buddies before popping this out.

Level 5 — Great Weapon Master

At level 5 we are a level 4 warlock and we immediately throw our ASI into the Great Weapon Master feat without looking back. We already have access to Darkness, which allows us to apply advantage — making hits more likely when we choose to subtract 5 to hit to add 10 damage. But we are still in training mode here. Though a main feature has just come online, we’ve got much more to look forward to.

Even so, we’ve just unlocked some serious NOVA-crit potential. If we have Darkness active, pop Hexblade Curse, and attack our foes with advantage we can now strike for 2d6+17 damage. For a single hit, this results in a seriously beefy 24 average damage. But due to Hexblade Curse, we now also crit on a 19-20 and when we crit we make a second attack as a bonus action. Our NOVA-critical does 6d6+34 for a total average damage of 55. Not as brutal as our stab and smite Dexadin at level 5. But remember, we haven’t even picked up extra attack yet. So we are well on the way.

At level 5 we also get another spell to choose. I’m partial to Mirror Image, Shatter, or Misty Step. None are critical to our build. So have fun!

Level 6 — Flank and Spank!

Ahhh… Level 6… Beautiful, glorious level 6… This level is the level where our build finally comes on line. We’ve laid all the groundwork. We’ve made all the choices and now we can unlock our optimization to deliver some serious spanking and flanking against our foes.

But before we get into that, let’s just take a moment to celebrate because we’ve gained access to extra attack through our new Invocation — Thirsting Blade. When using our pact weapon which is an incarnation of the blade of the good death, we now get to attack twice when we take the attack action. Our melee rounds just got really brutal for the bad guys.

Our summoned fey is a badass little flanker from the Shadowfell.

Still, it gets even worse for the bads because at level 5 we pick a really clutch spell in the form of Summon Fey. With this spell, we call forth a special flank buddy Fey Spirit. This guy or gal is a mean little bugger — packing quite a wallop in her diminutive 3 foot tall package. With one attack she unloads 2d6+6. Not too shabby. But the real feature for us comes from our Fey Spirit’s bonus action. Why? Because we want darkness. And when we want darkness we want it not to harm our allies. Enter our Tricksy Fey Spirit who can use a bonus action to cover one 5 foot square in darkness. A square our Chex Fighter is now standing in. Hello advantage! Hello let’s beat the tar out of the badguys with our greatsword! Hello to spank and flank!

With Summon Fey active, we now attack twice for 2d6+4 base damage and our ally attacks once for 2d6+6. Our Chex Fighter attacks with advantage if the Tricksey Fey has summoned darkness into our square. If all these attacks land, we average 35 damage. Not too shabby. But our maximum potential damage just went through the roof. On a NOVA-crit round after we applied Hexblade Curse, we now do 10d6+57 damage for a total average damage of 92. Woof! That’s some serious heat. And we’re not even action surging or smiting yet!

So nice!

Level 7 — Accursed Specter

Now that our spank and flank is fully online, we want more options for flank buddies. Our flank strategy will carry us on for a long time — through level 18. This strategy will afford us with multiple options for achieving advantage on attack rolls. At level 7, level 6 in Warlock, we gain another of these options — our Accursed Specter. When we slay a humanoid affected by our Hexblade Curse, we summon a special specter which we command. The specter has its own initiative and full set of turns. It can use these turns to deal another 3d6 necrotic damage — further buffing our DPR. Depending on its place in the initiative order our specter ally can also use the Help Action to give us advantage on attack rolls against a foe. This addition isn’t key to our build. But it does provide us with another helpful spank and flank option.

For spells we also gain another choice. I’m partial to Counterspell. When you need it, you really need it. But it can hurt to unload one of your only two spell slots on Counterspell when you could otherwise be Summoning Fey for multiple encounters and getting a juicy 15 THP from Armor of Agathys to buff your already beefy 67 HP at level 7.

Level 8 — Eldritch Smite

By now we’re starting to pick up quite a managerie of nasty critters and equally brutal powers. At level 7, we add a keystone in our NOVA Critical capability in the form of Eldritch Smite. It’s worth noting, though, since we’re a Warlock that we need to hold one of our two precious warlock slots in reserve to deliver this smite as part of an attack series. Ideally, we’ve got our Summon Fey up, we’re getting advantage from our buddy’s helpful square of darkness, and we’re holding our second 4th level spell slot in reserve for our smite.

This combo is a once per short rest spark of deathly glory. But when it goes off, it is just insanely good. So let’s get into some basic math. Our flank buddy Fey now attacks twice for 2d6+7 damage on each hit. Assuming he hits, that’s 28 damage. Oof. Our specter, if he hits does 10.5. We’ve applied our Hexblade Curse and we’re adding +10 from great weapon master even though our advantaged attacks still aren’t super-accurate. But we still have a good chance of landing hits due to that second roll. If we crit, land all three, and smite on the crit we do 10d8+8d6+51 for a total of 123 damage. Our flank buddies add 38.5 for a grand total of 161.5 damage at level 8. If we don’t risk the -5 to hit, we still do 131.5 average damage if all hits land. Absofrigginlutely brutal!

At this level, it’s worth noting that another spell can give us our cozy shroud of part-friendly darkness. That spell, Shadow of Moil, is a worthy addition to our arsenal as it obscures you for 1 minute while also doing 2d8 necrotic damage to any foe that does manage to hit you. So we add this buff to our arsenal.

Level 9 — Elven Accuracy!

But wait… It gets even better. At level 9, we’re a level 8 warlock and we get our second ASI. We choose to spend it on Elven Accuracy. A half feat, we use the point to bump our Charisma to 18. We are now +9 to hit with our magical greatsword. If our Fey buddy throws some nice shade over us, we now roll 3 times to hit when we have advantage. Yikes. Now we can feel a lot more confident about using great weapon master.

For spells, I’m kinda partial to the area denial option that is Sickening Radiance. Since we’re a Prismari Mage background, we might also take Wall of Fire or Freedom of Movement. Again, these diverge from our core options. But we might find situations when we’re glad we have them. We’re a gish after all!

Level 10 — Eldritch Pain

By level 10, we finally have space to enhance our ranged attacks by picking up the Eldritch Pain Invocation. Our eldritch blasts now do 1d10+4 on each shot, 1d10+8 if we apply Hexblade Curse. Pretty nasty. We also now have access to 5th level spells. It’s worth taking Cone of Cold for some extra blast damage in a pinch. If we took an ongoing AOE option last level, we’ve just built us a solid off-blasting secondary option. Although, we’ll primarily be working with our flank buddies over longer time periods vs throwing down quick and heavy blasts due to our limited spell slots.

Level 11-13 — Armor of Hexes, Circle of Death, and Lifedrinker

Coming up on level 11 we now attain Armor of Hexes which is a solid defensive buff against a single foe. Now, targets we lay down the focus fire on with Hexblade Curse are quite a bit less likely to hit us. We can use our reaction when a foe hits us to roll a d6. If we roll a 4 or higher, the attack misses. If our flank buddy is throwing shade on us, foes are also attacking us with disadvantage unless they can penetrate magical darkness. This kind of layered defense can be quite difficult to pierce — adding to our dueling capability. At level 11, we also have the ability to cast Armor of Agathys for 25 THP to add to our pretty beefy 103 base HP.

By level 12 we now have 3 fifth level spell slots and 1 first level slot for Silvery Barbs. This gives us more options. One we add to with our Mystic Arcanum which we use for the big AOE that is Circle of Death. If you prefer another lvl 6 spell, go for it. Circle of Death isn’t pivotal to our build. But I like the option for more backup AOE throw down.

Upon hitting level 13 we finally max out our Charisma at 20. We also pick up the Lifedrinker Invocation. Now our consistent damage gets a serious bump to 2d6+11 when we add in the extra 5 necrotic damage from Lifedrinker. Our Fey and Specter flank buddies are also starting to lag a little due to our warlock slots not continuing to accrue and the Specter not scaling. They’re probably still decent for most combats. But we’ll start relying on our solo abilities more and more from this point forward. So it’s nice to get a damage buff. Updating our NOVA-crit round and including Hexblade Curse, we’re doing 12d8+8d6+78 for 159 individually plus 10.5 from the Specter and 30 from the Fey for 199.5. Very substantial damage that we can potentially deliver on two consecutive rounds.

Level 14-17 Creature of Light and Maddening Darkness

At level 14, we get our second Mystic Arcanum. Now I’m partial to Crown of Stars. But this comes with a note — it sheds bright light which interferes with our darkness abilities. In my view, taking Crown of Stars gives us a good long lasting option when we want to hang back and deal extra ranged punishment. It’s not concentration. And it lasts for an hour. It also helps us fill a possible gap when flinging darkness might be less helpful or even hurt. Thematically, this makes us a creature of light and darkness, which is pretty amazingly cool. It also fills another one of our versatility gaps. Which from the gish standpoint is pretty darn cool.

At level 15 we pick up the amazing Master of Hexes ability. When a creature affected by our Hexblade Curse dies, we can then apply our curse to another creature as a bonus action. This effectively gives us continuous use of our Hexblade Curse so long as our cursed foes continue to fall. Presently, our curse adds 5 to our damage rolls for a total of 2d6+16 or 2d6+26 if we use our great weapon master feature. So the ability to fling this curse around more often is a major buff. Just be aware that your bonus action now has quite a lot of competition for its use. This is a good thing. But we’re going to need to manage it to eek out our highest level of effectiveness.

Maddening Darkness is one of the most devastating area denial spells. Image source: Innocent Bystander.

At level 16 we get our 8th level Mystic Arcanum. For it, we choose the devastating and huge Maddening Darkness. The utility of this massive area denial and enemy debuff spell is compounded by our Devil’s Sight which allows us to see the enemies who are now stumbling around in the psychically crushing darkness we’ve just conjured. Our quiver of darkness has thus been added to yet again — and this added arrow is seriously devastating if used at the right time. We also get another Eldritch Invocation which we use to shore up our already strong ability to concentrate on spells. To do that we take Eldritch Mind as our Raven Queen patroness fortifies our ability to focus.

At level 17, we gain another ASI. We take Constitution which now bumps us up to 18. We now have +10 on Constitution saves, advantage on concentration checks and +4 hit points per level. Pretty significant for a character that’s mostly a Warlock. For resiliency we’re sitting pretty at this point with 174 HP and the ability to conjure our Armor of Agathys for an extra 25 THP. We also hold onto our spells with a difficult to shake tenacity even when we take significant amounts of damage.

Level 18 — Foresight

Over the past 4-5 levels we’ve been steadily transitioning away from a flanker and into more of a spanker. We’ve still made good use of our flank buddies. But combats where they’re effective have become more and more limited. Meanwhile, our own individual abilities have begun to really shine. We have access to a combination of strong AOEs, ranged attacks, and area denial. Our core ability to rip bads apart with our greatsword has only gotten stronger. And our ability to stand strong through the fray is quite respectable.

At level 18 we complete our transition. We become a pure spanker who’s no longer reliant on flank buddies. We might still use them. But our core abilities have propelled us beyond that need. A key part of that transition is our gaining access to the Foresight spell for our Level 9 Mystic Arcanum. This amazing spell grants us advantage on attack rolls, saves, and ability checks for 8 hours. We can’t be surprised and attacks against us are at disadvantage. Because we are using a greatsword with Elfin Accuracy and using Charisma we roll 3 times to hit during those 8 hours. And when we apply our Hexblade Curse, we roll a critical hit on a 19-20. This makes our NOVA Critical strikes really brutal. But we’ll hold off on a full assessment of the damage for now…

Level 19 and 20 — Action Surge and Battlemaster

Moving on to levels 19 and 20 we achieve the keystone features of our build. By taking our last two levels in Fighter we gain the amazing action economy and NOVA buff that is action surge. We also go one better to get Battlemaster because we really want to be able to use the Riposte manuever up to 4 times per short rest. Why? Well, let’s do some basic math.

At level 20, our NOVA critical is now among the most devastating in the game. When we NOVA, we’ve set up our Hexblade Curse on our chosen target, we’ve cast Spirit Shroud (which I haven’t mentioned before, but which we’ve used our Eldritch versatility to switch out one of our 3rd level known spells for), and we are operating under Foresight. This takes about 2 rounds to set up. So maneuver yourself accordingly. When we unload, we action surge. And when we crit, we use our Eldritch Smite. This makes our NOVA-crit devastating at 24d8+12d6+135 for 285 average damage. But wait, it gets even better when we riposte and do a total of 74.5 addition damage with a second Eldritch Smite and the added riposte damage for a total of 359.5 damage on a NOVA-crit + riposte round. All this without magic weapon support, assuming a crit and that all hits land. This devastation is about 25 percent above that applied by our stab and smite Dexadin. However, our nimble Paladin may benefit more from some specific magic item support. So YMMV.

Final Notes — A Really Fun NOVA Build That Can Throw Down Powerful Spells

Overall, I really love what this build has to offer. It’s tough. It can throw down some AOEs, particularly at higher levels. And it really goes for those head shots with that greatsword. I would love to see this with a vorpal weapon. Although I’m sure a DM wouldn’t! Or maybe they would…

That concludes our Raven Queen’s Herald optimized gish build. I hope you enjoy it! If you do, please send us a little love by mentioning where you found her. Until next time — may the goddess of nat 20s smile upon you!

Check out the Stab and Smite Dexadin build here.

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Helkey 19 — A Rebellion in Hell

Whirls of my name-curse flash and flare, casting long shadows throughout the poachers’ cave — lighting up my new companions’ faces. Each with one glowing spark on their breast. The light connects them to me. Sparks shoot from my arm like a roman candle. My name curse is spilling over with magic. More than I’ve ever seen. The magic’s coming from forty five wisps. Sixteen in my name curse. Bright wisps liberated from Hell. Twenty six lurking in my shadow. Dark wisps that I’ve contained. Also liberated, if more cynical, reluctant to help and, well, probably dangerous. They all give magic.

My friends stand around me. They’ve each pledged their own wisp, their frigging eternal souls, to me. Zaya’s tiny Vila hands join the devil hands of Theri and Zel atop my name-curse. Mottle’s frond-tail overlaps them. Now, if they die, their wisps will go to the shelter of my magical tattoo. I’m not sure how I feel about it all. Isn’t this what devils do? Force souls to inhabit worbs to feed their magic? Aren’t mages supposed to power their magic from energy gifted by the Multiversal Spirit?

But it’s not like that. My magic’s not so dark nor is it greedy. Quite the opposite. I can see the hope in Zaya’s golden eyes, feel it mirrored in the touch of Theri and Zel’s hands, sense it through my closer bond with Mottle. Zaya can feel the spirit of her tree — still alive — within the shelter of my name-curse. Through its whirls I sense a sheltering structure. A kind of mini-world that preserves and nurtures. This is very unlike the internal structure of devils’ worbs — belly of the beast things that gouge, grind, whip, and torture a wisp to give up its energy. My name curse protects. A haven extending into my shadow where the dark wisps lurk. All are giving me energy now — freely from their excess.

My new companions have all put such huge trust in me. I’ve got to say something for them. They deserve a promise. I draw a breath, let it out, and channel a bit of my angel mother. Beatrice always knew the right words for situations like these and I’m, well, her daughter. I might not act the angel often. But I sure as Hell know the part.

“So sacred a thing. So holy a trust. How could I not do you honor in return? I hereby swear, to protect all that I can which is good, to conquer all that I might which is evil. And should the worst happen, to give you shelter from the darkness with a holy fortress built up from the bones of my very soul.”

At these words my name curse flares even as the individual sparks grow bright on my companions’ breasts. I lay my right hand over the sparks and with a slashing gesture — cut off the flow. The light dims, sparks fading where they fall.

“Then it is finished. This is my oath to you.” I stand still for a moment, then step back — breaking contact. Theri touches her chest. There’s a silver mark on her flesh. It bends and whirls in a stylized character. An extension of my name curse. Zaya, Zel and Mottle each bear similar marks.

Zel shakes his head, at a loss for words. Zaya hugs my leg. I can’t help myself. I stroke her blue hair. It is soft and smells like honey. I notice my magical chronometer, horologium as I run my fingers through the soft strands. It’s high noon Hell time. I need to talk to them, get them up to speed on what I’m doing. I’m pretty sure I’m not yet up to speed on what I’m doing. I pick up Mottle’s tail to make sure he can understand me.

“So as you’ve probably already guessed, I’m a human mage stuck in Hell.” Might as well just cut to the frigging chase. Now for the improvisation. “My goal, as I hinted at before, is freeing souls from bondage. And Mottle,” I motion to him in all his glorious battiness, “is here to help. He’s recommended I should, frail human that I am, rest during the day and travel at night. We came here to shelter from the heat but ended up stumbling upon your Poachers. The other stuff you know.”

Theri motions to the cave. “It’ll do for now. There’s food, water, coolness. But Cyda, the other devil you freed, he’s bound to tell someone about you soon. You know…” she trails off.

“Yeah, I know,” I reply. Man-o-man do I frigging know. Devils love nothing more than to enslave mage wisps. Once Cyda gets word out, this place is bound to be crawling with all sorts of devils drawn by the kind of juicy bounty they could earn for a soul like mine. “So we don’t have much time. You say there’s water? Safe to drink and bathe?”

Theri nods. Zel hops over to the spring, runs his hand through it. “It’s good water,” he says. “Tough to find. The Vila, Zaya, keeps the water here pure.” He faces the little faerie. She’s still hugging my leg.

“Fracking sweet!” I reply, gently step forward out of Zaya’s grasp, and start stripping down. No time for modesty here. I need a bath. I’ve got a hundred little scrapes and scratches that need cleaning. And who knows what’s in the damn sulfur air that’s doing nasty to my minor wounds. I splash into the water. “First a wash, then a sleep. I’ll need to wake up before five o’clock Hell time.” I scrub myself, the water is indeed clean and clear. I drink from the source as I bathe. I wish I had soap, but bene sevetur is almost as good. Kinda like magical Dr Bronners. “Got a little magical meeting with my special advisor,” I say as I continue to clean myself. The devils are blinking at me curiously. But I plow on. I can explain Mirror Specter to them later. “Then we head out. Right Mottle?”

Mottle’s flown to a perch beside and above me. He extends his tail to tap my shoulder. I get a vision from him of the massive wisp fields surrounding Overseer Tower, of Drivers trapping the wisps using gigantic scorpion-like machines. Bringing them back to the Tower. Filling great crystal vats with them. Trapping the wisps in worbs, then sending them north to be sold to the highest bidder. I can feel a question from Mottle forming in my mind. I hesitate a moment, then nod. “Yes, Mottle. I get it. No need to beat around the bush anymore. I understand why you brought me here. I think I know it’s why I’m here. I’ll find out at five o’clock when I talk to … my advisor.” I was about to say myself. It is myself. A ghost of myself. Yeah. It’s frigging weird.

I’m finished with my wash. I bene sevetur my clothes and put them back on. Good thing the Memory Draught didn’t wipe that curse out. The clothes are absolutely disgusting and need a good clean. My curse makes them passable. I feel almost human again. The cave temperature’s about 90 degrees — as close to normal as I’ve experienced here. I’m still sweating. Always sweating. I drink some of the licorice tasting Perrier water, then glance at the spring.

“How rare is a water source like this?” I ask my new friends.

Zel, shrugs. “They’re never like this. Unless there’s a Vila around.” He motions to Zaya.

She shyly flew up into a shadowy corner while I bathed — hovering close to me, absently stroking Mottle where he hung like some weird bat-tapestry on the wall. She seems shy of the devils. Can’t say I blame her. I’m still feeling them out too.

“You mean Zaya can make the water clean?” I turn to Zaya. “Is this true?”

The faerie drifts down on her wings, touches the water, flicks a spray of it playfully at me, then giggles. “Of course! A Vila need only swim to remove the poisons.”

“This works on any water?”

“Only on fresh water that flows. Ocean water, brine, no!” She giggles again and then flies back up to the shadowed corner. I can see her glowing eyes watching me as I turn away with a wave of my hand.

“That’s pretty amazing. The devils are crazy to hurt you. Wish we had wonders like you back on Earth. It’d solve all sorts of problems.” I’m moving back to the bodies of the dead Poachers. I pick up another metal flask from their kit, dump the stinking contents, then fill it with water from the spring. Yep. It’s Jesus curse time. “Duplici exemplari,” I incant, waving my hand over the flask. I sip it. This one tastes more like burnt oranges. But it’ll do. I hand the flask to Theri. “Don’t know how much water you need. But this will last a long time. Share it with Zel and Zaya.”

Theri takes a drink, notices the water level rising back to full, then gives me a toothy grin. She looks positively wicked. But, yeah, she’s a devil, so wicked goes with the territory. I give her the thumbs up, then cast about looking for a place to sleep. I settle on grabbing some of the less nasty skins, throwing them on a flat place on the cavern floor, then folding myself down for a nap. I’ve laid myself down next to Mottle. I lift his tail and ask him to keep watch over me to make sure I don’t end up dead.

Will watch, is his simple reply.

I’m feeling better now that I have friends. But I can’t be too careful. Mottle and I’ve already passed some major tests of trust. I know he’ll look out for me if the stuff goes south. I raise my hand, set horologium to wake me up at 4:50 Hell time, then shut my eyes.

This time, I’m out like a light. No preamble, just pure sleep. I kinda feel like a cat sleeping so much. But Hell is as exhausting as it is stifling and I get the feeling the coming night’s gonna be a long one. Horologium buzzes after what feels like five minutes even though more than four hours have passed. I open my eyes to find the little Vila curled up in front of me, her eyes closed, breathing steady. Yeah, she’s crazy cute. I suppress the urge to crush her two foot tall body in a big hug. I stand, careful not to disturb her, stretch, then cast about the room.

Theri and Zel haven’t been idle. They’ve organized the remaining Poacher gear and distributed it between them. They now each carry a firearm, have a knife strapped to their new belts, and have bulging packs slung across their backs. Theri fished a pair of goggles up from somewhere. These now hang around her neck.

“Don’t devils sleep?” I ask as I yawn.

“Got pleanty in there,” Theri points to the cage.

“How could you sleep with those Poachers torturing you and terrifying you?”

Zel shrugs. “You learn to sleep when you can.”

“I get that,” I reply. “It’s bound to be a long night. You might regret you didn’t.”

Zel shrugs again.

“So who’s this special advisor you’re meeting?” Theri asks. “Are they following you?”

I open my mouth to start to explain when the sound of a ringing bell echoes through the cave. Theri lurches back, eyes wide. Zel looks around, then focuses back on me. Zaya sits bolt upright. Mottle flaps down from his wall-hanging, gliding down to a rock formation beside me.

“You can hear that?” I ask. But it’s obvious. They’re all looking at me when the sound of a second bell rings out.

“Why are you ringing?” Zaya asks as she circles around me, looking for the source of the strange sound.

“Oh, this is going to be good.” I say as the fourth bong! sounds. “Look, you’re probably going to see something really weird in a second.” Bong! “But just go with it.” Bong! “It’s kinda necessary and I’ve got it covered.” Bong!

Then, in front of me and right beside Zel, the air shimmers and glows, slowly resolving into the Princess Leia hologram version of me. Not actual Princess Leia from the 1977 Star Wars movie, of course, just the shiny clean, no red hair streaks, ready to venture out into a halfway normal world me.

As my Mirror Specter forms, Zel jumps to the side, then falls on his butt in surprise. Theri is fumbling with her rifle. Zaya squeals with joy and Mottle just Mottles. “It’s OK!” I say to them making a calming gesture with my hands. “It’s me!”

Mirror me is looking around the room with a bemused expression on my face. “I see you’ve found friends. Good!” I seem to second guess myself. “They are friends, right?”

Oh this is all about five thousand kinds of weird. “Yes, these are my new friends — Mottle, Zel, Zaya and Theri.” I motion to each in turn. Zel and Theri seem to have recovered. They’ve gone from shocked to completely confused. Zel looks at me, stares at my Mirror Specter, turns back to me. His mouth works at something but can’t quite find the words.

“Is that your sister?” asks Theri, who seems to have at least gotten to the level of rationalization.

“Not quite,” I reply. “That’s a Mirror-Specter. It’s a fragment of my wisp that I sent along to advise me in Hell.” I’m surprised at how matter-of-fact I sound. “It’s a part of me that’s also me.”

Theri blows a raspberry and shrugs. “That makes 100 percent complete sense. Not!”

“Hey, I know this is all very confusing,” says Mirror-me. “But I don’t have a lot of time here and I need to clue Myra in on a few things.” Mirror-me looks at Theri who shrugs again and makes a gesture for Mirror-me to continue. Mirror-me scans the rest of my motley gang, but no-one else has anything to say at the moment. Then, she turns to me. “First thing, our parents are safe. For now. Beatrice and Mori just told me to inform you that they’re being Hunted by a Curse Rider. That’s OK. Well, as OK as friggin crazy as Hell can be. Because that’s part of the plan.”

“Yeah, the plan that got wiped from my memory, the plan that no-one can tell me about,” I reply. “And how can you tell me them being Hunted by a Curse Rider is OK. It’s really fucking not OK.”

She gives me one of my own wicked-cool smiles. It kinda pisses me off, even though it’s still wicked-cool. “Exactly. Except I can tell you a little piece of the plan now.” She pauses. “Well three parts of the plan.” She makes a symbol for the number 3 with her fingers. Yeah, I’m just dripping with mojo. I’ve gotta give myself props. “The first part was to draw Asmodeus’ attention away from you. Getting a Curse Rider to Hunt our parents will do just that. And interfering with Ivan Volkov triggered a Hunt. So mission one accomplished.” Mirror-me curls one finger down, leaving two left. “The second was to activate your name-curse and…” Mirror-me gestures with her other hand and incants “Revelare!” while pointing at my Name Curse. The wisps within its structure light up. They are followed by darker lights sheltering in my shadow. “I see it’s working well. Forty five wisps? You’ve been very busy! Very well indeed.” Mirror-me curls down the second finger, leaving only one pointing up. “Mission numero duex accomplished.”

My Mirror’s smug, self-assured attitude is starting to piss me off. “Hey, I almost died out there like five times since yesterday.”

Mirror-me grows more serious. “We all knew this was going to be crazy-difficult. I, you volunteered knowing the risks.”

“I don’t know the goddamn risks anymore. I don’t even know the goddamn point of all this.”

Mirror me is silent. I, she looks a bit sad. Wistful. “I know. You don’t. This was always the biggest flaw in the plan. Necessary. But still a flaw. I can’t change that. Nor can you. You’ve just gotta trust yourself – me – here. That shouldn’t be too hard given that we’re both the same people.”

My head is spinning now. I’m wondering if we really are the same people anymore. Mirror-me is a part of my soul, for certain. But she knows a whole Hell of a lot more than I do about this crazy mission. Her existence and mine diverged the moment she was created. Split off even more the instant I drank the Memory Draught to erase my knowledge of this shitfest. Sure, she’ll be absorbed back into me at some point in the future. Sure, my memories will be restored should I survive. Probably a year from now if all goes well. A huge fucking IF. Mom and Dad did tell me I’d be here for an entire fracking year. “I wonder, can I trust myself even?” My voice is quiet as I ask this question, my eyes askance. I’m not sure who I’m asking.

Mirror-me freezes at this question. “At this point, only you can answer that. I’ve got to keep doing my best for you. For us. So you’re going to either have to quit now and put yourself and everyone at risk or you’re going to have to keep, as Mori says, driving on.”

Yeah, that’s definitely what I’d say.

Mirror-me continues. “Now for mission number three. I think you’re going to like mission number three. You’ve activated your Name-Curse, Asmodeus is distracted, his eyes turned away. Mission number three is to start a rebellion. In Hell. Right here. At Knife Lake. Mission number three is to free the captive wisps of Knife Lake, to shelter some in your Name Curse, and to topple the ruler of Overseer Tower.” Mirror-me curls down the final finger.

I’m completely stunned by this mission. By these, dare I call them orders, coming from Mirror-me, from a version of myself not affected by memory erasure. At Mirror-me’s confidence that I’m capable of such a seeming impossible feat as toppling the mighty fortress I caught a glimpse of earlier today. I glance over at my new companions — all but Mottle untested. Sure, I’d already planned to set out. To free more wisps. But to launch myself and these four other vagabonds at Overseer Tower seemed like suicide — even aided by the surprising power of my name curse to shelter wisps in Hell.

Mirror-me actually smiles at my aghast expression. “Now I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking that you-me is crazy. And yes, it is a little crazy. But we — meaning you-me, Mori, and Beatrice all think it’s possible. What would be crazy is to just go straight at Overseer. You’ll need to start out small. To build as you go. And you already have.” Mirror-me spreads my hands wide. “Now you know part of the plan. Everything depends on you now. Until next time…” Mirror-me does a smart two-finger salute from the top of her raven-haired head, then flashing twice, fades out.

I deflate, crumpling down to the floor. Mottle flops over my shoulders, Zaya flies up to me and grabs my hand. Zel and Theri shuffle forward.

Zel has finally recovered himself. “Well, that Mirror-Specter you is right about one thing. You’re going to have to fight and win. There’s no other way out of Hell. Running does no good. They’ll hunt you down and tear out your wisp eventually. You could do worse than aiming to take down Overseer.”

“You too?” I ask. But I’m grinning now. Knowing this part of the plan doesn’t make anything more clear to me than this — me and my parents were absolutely insane, desperate, or both. For us to try something like this must mean the chips are down and our backs, possibly the backs of all of humanity, are to the wall. I don’t know the plan. Zero knowledge. Overseer is just a blip. A small wrinkle in a much larger tapestry I can’t even yet see a corner of. But that blip tells me enough — it’s going to be a bar-room slug-fest with the lights shot out from this point forward. I stand up, pulling myself together. “OK, Zel. You’re right. You’re more than right. We might as well start here at Knife Lake with our rebellion. In fact, I guess we already did without realizing it. And my Mirror-Specter is right. We should start off small. So tonight, when we head out, the first thing we do is track down Cyda. Once we deal with him, then… Well, then we’re going to take down a Driver.”

(New to the Helkey multiverse? Haven’t yet read the first chapter? You can find it here: Helkey 1 — The Memory Draught.)

(Looking for another chapter? Find it in the Helkey Table of Contents.)

Battlestorm Online — In Real Life (IRL) Backgrounds

This section describes thirteen new backgrounds for the Battlestorm Online Dungeons and Dragons game. Unlike typical backgrounds, these player creation tools will allow characters playing in Battlestorm Online to leverage their in real life (IRL) character skills mechanically in game. This adds another layer to the player experience — as PCs in Battlestorm are playing an IRL person who is running an avatar in an online death game. The avatar represents most of the character’s statistics and the IRL persona is primarily a role-play vehicle. For example, I a played Morgen Schnee in DungeonMasterGraham‘s Battlestorm Valhalla game through level 5. Morgen is a college student IRL whose parents are stuffy IT executives. She’s picked up cred and publicity as a gamer who uses her IRL name in fantasy games. She’s an avid MMO player known to help newbies and face down malicious PKers. Her avatar in Battlestorm Online is an Aasimar Paladin which includes most of her character’s statistics. Her IRL background, however, is Celebrity Gamer. Morgen has now transitioned into an NPC in a third Battlestorm game I’m running.

Written and cooperatively created by myself and Ted Burgess, this campaign includes our own, unofficial and unaffiliated, OGL-created D&D 5e content (published on Scribbler’s Fantastical Workshop and available in the Gaming Studio) which is free for use in your D&D games. Ted and I are using this content to run our own campaigns — which we will be playing live on Twitch here and here. You may use this content for your own games as it is freely available on this site. If you decide to livestream your own Battlestorm Online game, please feel free. However, please also throw us a little mention now and then.


You are a well known gamer in real life. Perhaps your live-stream is crazy-popular. Perhaps gamer media has picked you up as a story focus for their articles. For whatever reason, the gaming community generally knows you. For better or for worse, you have a reputation among gamers. Your playstyle, avatars, and in-game actions are thus recognizable and it is likely that other avid gamers have heard of you. As a result, you tend to attract attention — becoming a focus for all variety of social attention ranging from celebration to trolling to everything in between.

Skill Proficiencies: Performance, Persuasion

Tool Proficiencies: Main Menu and Directory Search

Languages: One in-game language of your choice.

Equipment: Iconic gaming skin — your avatar’s clothes, physical features and movements have their own special personality and character mojo which is unique to your playstyle. This includes one set of uniquely styled fine clothes, one bauble (see Gameworld Baubles below), and one flashy mannerism.

Flashy Mannerisms

Roll for or choose one of the flashy mannerisms below.

D8 Flashy Mannerism

  1. Your eyes swirl with colors when you use divination magic or make a perception, insight, investigation, arcana, or religion skill check.
  2. You have a special hand gesture that when you make it causes a chime, jingle, music or other background sound that you design to go off for 6 seconds.
  3. When you dash or jump your steps leave glowing footprints that slowly fade over the course of 6 seconds.
  4. When you draw your signature weapon, lights spark around it, your hair and clothes flow and billow, or a roll of thunder sounds.
  5. A characterized, smiley-faced version of your avatar, your familiar, your special mount, or your animal companion appears over your head and dances around in a circle when you are joyful.
  6. A halo forms over your head when you cast a spell using divine magic, use the paladin divine smite ability, or activate your channel divinity.
  7. Glowing spectral horns sprout from your head and your eyes glow pink, orange, or red when you cast a spell using arcane magic, or use eldritch smite. If you are a tiefling, your horns gleam with runes instead.
  8. You have a signature smile that you only use for those special situations. This can include anything from a sparkle over your teeth when you grin to a wicked and mysterious Cheshire cat type smile.

Gameworld Baubles

Gameworld Baubles are special common magic items accessible to Gamer Celebrities as a signature to their celebrity persona. Choose or roll for one Gameworld Bauble from the list below.

D8 Gameworld Bauble

  1. Lucent Orb. This orb attaches to one spell focus or weapon causing it to emit dim moonlight in a 10 foot radius. While emitting this light, the weapon is considered to be silvered and if the Lucent Orb is attached to a spell focus it is considered to be an improvised silvered weapon. You can extinguish this light by sheathing the weapon or spell focus.
  2. Lipstick of Secrets. For one round after you spend a bonus action to apply this glittering lipstick only your party members can understand the words you speak. Alternatively, you can use the Lipstick to write a message that only your party members can read. The message must be 20 words or less and it must be written on a solid surface. The message disappears after 24 hours. You may use this lipstick three times. At which point you must take a long rest to allow the lipstick to magically reform.
  3. Butterfly Cloak. When you jump down or fall from a height, your falling distance is reduced by 10 additional feet. When you jump down or fall while wearing the Butterfly Cloak, you also drift 5 feet in a random direction.
  4. Cat’s Third Eye. This green eye floats above your head. You can use your action to command it to move up to five feet away from you. When you do this the eye becomes invisible and you see from its perspective. The eye cannot pass through walls but it can squeeze through gaps the size of a keyhole or larger. The eye automatically closes and returns to its position above your head after six seconds.
  5. Brooch of Nightshade. When you wear this brooch you are considered to be standing in night’s darkness, even while in direct sunlight. The Brooch of Nightshade also reduces daylight to bright light, bright light to dim light, and dim light to nonmagical darkness. This lighting reduction only affects your form, not your square. So you are not obscured while standing in darkness generated by the Brooch of Nightshade. You may use your action to flip the Brooch to stop this effect. Restarting the effect requires you to use your action to flip the Brooch again.
  6. Safety Blanket. This blue cloak with silver trim is clasped by a platinum brooch formed in the shape of a protection rune. You may use your action to unclasp this cloak and to throw it over the body of one of your party members who is at zero hit points. When you do this, your ally automatically stabilizes and cannot be damaged unless a creature uses its action to remove the Safety Blanket. If the party member beneath the blanket has her hit point total increase above zero and regains consciousness, the effect ends. The Safety Blanket can only be used once per long rest.
  7. Floating Fire. This necklace bears a ruby carved in the shape of a flame. As an action, you may remove the ruby and cast it into the air. When you do this, the ruby turns into a flame roughly the size of a torch fire and floats over your right shoulder — following you when you move. The flame provides torchlight. You may use your action to direct this fire to light flammable substances, boil water, or heat objects within 5 feet. You may also make attacks with the floating fire as part of your attack action against creatures within 5 feet. The floating fire does normal fire damage equal to that of a torch. After 1 hour, the floating fire returns — reforming as a ruby on your necklace — at which point you must take a long rest before you can activate your floating fire again.
  8. Never-ending Sandwich. This sandwich is wrapped up in a green handkerchief with golden trim. When you unfold the handkerchief, it reveals a large, delicious sandwich. When you or one of your party members eat the sandwich you or the party member gain the benefits of a short rest. If you or a party member spends hit dice as part of this short rest, they may reroll any 1s on the dice. All that remains after consuming the sandwich is an empty handkerchief. After your next long rest, the Never-ending Sandwich reforms, again filling up the handkerchief.

Gaming Stream

Whether through your own live stream (that you manage remotely or that someone manages for you) or through gamer media, your actions in game are visible through a live stream. As a result, your gaming actions are public and generally known. This can either aid or hurt you in social situations, depending on circumstance. However, since you have a fan base, you can often ask for reasonable favors among fans when appropriate. This also means you have a cadre of flamers and haters who’ve glommed onto you as an object of criticism and ridicule.


For you, life is all about the gaming. RPGs, online MMOs, first person shooters and a plethora of others captured your interest at a young age — igniting into a passion that carries on into adulthood. Sure, you probably keep a job to help fund your gaming habit — unless you’re lucky enough to have a wealthy relative willing to support you. But regardless of what you do outside, life’s not about that for you. It’s the gaming that defines you. In-game, what you most enjoy is the element of working effectively with others. Team-building, comradery, developing effective plans, supporting your buds, and making the magic happen, together, is what really gets your blood pumping. In-game, this drive for forming cooperative bonds makes you a natural facilitator. Fellow players often seek you out for the good vibes and team-building you provide.

Skill Proficiencies: Two of your choice.

Tool Proficiencies: Main Menu and Directory Search

Languages: One in-game language of your choice.

Equipment: Pouch with 20 gold, common clothes, one kit or set of tools of your choice.

Build the Team

Your long practice in working as a member of an effective team have afforded you with a number of options for helping your buddies out of sticky situations. Once per long rest, you can create one of the following effects for your team members as a reaction:

  1. Allow an ally to reroll one failed Death Save.
  2. Give an ally advantage on one skill check.
  3. Allow an ally to jump 5 additional feet so long as you are within 5 feet of that ally.
  4. Distract one enemy — causing it to roll with disadvantage on one Perception check to detect an ally or one Athletics check to grapple or shove an ally.
  5. Reduce the movement needed for an ally to dismount or mount to 0 so long as you are within 5 feet of that ally.
  6. Grant one ally within 5 feet of you advantage on the attack roll for one readied action.

Lighten the Mood

Your infectious humor, light-hearted quips and joyful antics are always helpful. But sometimes, when the chips are down, you can use your positive influence to lift your allies spirits at a critical time. Once per day, as a bonus action, you may grant your allies advantage on one saving throw to remove an ongoing fear, dominate, enchantment, confusion, enthrall, curse, or bane effect. The number of allies who can benefit from this effect is equal to your proficiency bonus. These allies must be able to see and hear you in order to gain this benefit.


Unlike many in a capitalistic society, the notion of running in the rat race to the top never really held much fascination for you. Sure, you competed in school and at games just like everyone else. But winning never seemed like the end-all-be-all. You were more concerned with making a difference to your nation and the world. Perhaps you were one of those Trekkie types who believed in social ideals more typical to the United Federation of Planets than most Earthly systems. Perhaps the heroic companionship in common cause for a greater good described in tales like The Fellowship of the Ring was your true north. Whatever the case, you were one of the lucky few who escaped from the cut-throat competition of business-based social economics and earned a post in the federal workforce. A place where your labor could really make a difference. IRL, you’re now an employee of a government agency that works to improve the lives of national and/or global citizens. Your dedication and ethic have allowed you to develop a deep expertise in your chosen field — no matter how broad. How you ended up trapped in a death game is an unlikely tale that only you can tell. But being brought here, you realize your perspective is a much-needed one for your poor fellow souls trapped in a vile and violent struggle against computer-generated monsters and perishing by the score.

Skills: Insight and one of the following — Arcana, History, Nature, Medicine

Tool Proficiencies: Main Menu, Directory Search

Languages: Two in-game languages of your choice

Equipment: Traveler’s Clothes, Backpack, 10 rations, a pouch with 10 gold

Political Acumen

You are one of the few people able to connect with and understand the actual NPC power structure of BSO. By observing NPCs such as Home Town Rulers, Quest Givers, and the like, you are able to glean special insights into the underlying operation of these game AIs. You thus have advantage on Insight and Investigation checks relating to AI NPCs in a position of power. In addition, once per tier, you may request one boon of a Home Town Ruler. You work with your Game Master to determine the nature of the boon. If your request is reasonable and you and your party succeed in any related skill checks, you may gain powerful assistance from a Home Town, its Ruler, and its associated network of NPC civil servants.

Prophetic Foresight

You have a larger understanding of how systems evolve and change. This understanding can be used to glean special insights into the nature of your BSO story arc. Once per tier you can roll an insight check against a DC of 15+ your tier. If you succeed, you can ask the GM one question about the nature of the developing story. The GM need not provide you with a full answer to your question, but they should provide you with new insights, possible paths for finding answers to your question, or hints about which quests may prove most fruitful in revealing the mysteries you are attempting to uncover.


In reality, you’re a highly trained medical professional with a background in life sciences and related chemistry and biology. Your technical expertise in science generally and in the area of medicine is considerable and could include new emerging illnesses, emergency hospital care, or a home practice. Regardless, you have special scientific and medical knowledge that provides you with a variety of benefits in-game. Your manner and call to care for others also grants you a unique gravitas and ability to steady those around you. To build their confidence to face the worst rigors of the dangerous in-game environment. How you use this scientific knowledge and reputable presence is up to you. Regardless, you have a special relationship with and understanding of various afflictions, healing processes, and death itself.

Skill Proficiencies: Medicine, Nature

Tool Proficiencies: Alchemist’s Supplies

Languages: One in-game language of your choice.

Equipment: One Alchemists supplies Kit, a set of Clothes styled as that of a fantasy world healer or alchemist, 10 days worth of Rations (each usable to generate a short rest), and one Healer’s Kit. In addition you begin play with an extra 20 gold pieces.

Aesop’s Ally

In your journeys through the Battlestorm game-world you have encountered and healed or otherwise soothed the hurts of mystical creature, a monster, or even a celestial being. This NPC monster is now a friend and ally to you. This ally exists at a fixed location in the game world. It cannot move from the general area. However, you can visit your ally without fear of attack from this monster. You may meet with your ally to share information, to socialize with it as friends, or otherwise to give and receive minor favors. At the DM’s discretion, this ally can also serve as a quest giver who provides various rewards when quests are completed.

Roll for or choose one Aesop’s Ally on the table below.

D8 Aesop’s Ally

  1. A quirky Unicorn you untangled from a bramble who’s always forgetting her name.
  2. A brash and bold young Dragon whose painful arrow wound you once healed.
  3. A Troll boss whose close brush with a fireball gave him a serious case of PTSD.
  4. A Night Hag who decided to go vegan due to food allergies and now makes the most delicious vegetable stews.
  5. An Aboleth so obsessed with jellyfish artwork that it accidentally poisoned itself.
  6. A Kirin whose leg was broken during a tornado.
  7. A Stone Giant who got her foot stuck in a cavern full of angry goblins.
  8. A Flumph sensei who lives in terror of a nearby hungry ogre boss.

Doctors’ Network

You’re aware of other doctors in the game world and have access to an informal network among these professionals. You can link up with this list through your Game Menu which has downloaded your professional social media contacts. This network provides you help in the form of contacts, information about special healing substances and magical items, and possible guild allies. In addition, it may result in new options only available to your network for trading special equipment or finding certain ingredients in the game environment. In addition, you may consult with fellow medical professionals on how to treat the injured, the ill, or those suffering from special afflictions.


Before you dove into Battlestorm Online, you were a hacker — a loner who learned how to make their way in the increasingly detailed and complex technological world of Earth. You may have worked in another profession. But your talents granted you a near-virtuoso ability to manipulate technology-based environments. These talents now give you special insight into the underlying code that runs Battlestorm Online. Granting you the ability to easily access game lore, use various tools to overcome in-game boundaries, and to conduct hacks that enable you to alter the game environment. If there’s something you lack, it may be in social connections with other players or in sympathetic contacts with NPC AIs. But that’s OK, your lone-wolf perspective has paid off great so far…

Skill Proficiencies: Arcana, Investigation

Tool Proficiencies: Main Menu, Directory Search, Disguise Kit, and One Tool Proficiency of your choice

Languages: One in-game language of your choice

Equipment: Pouch 10 gold, Disguise Kit, Thieves Tools or one Tool Kit of your choice

Teleportation Crystal Hack

You can selectively re-program teleportation crystals to teleport you and your party members to one location outside of a safe zone. This location must be a place you’ve visited before in-game and taken at least one hour to examine. You can reset this location by examining a different place and then by taking a long rest at an inn or similar location. These altered teleportation crystals can only store one outside safe zone teleport location at any given time. You may hack a number of teleportation crystals up to your intelligence modifier + your proficiency modifier. You can only hack your own crystal and those of people on your friends list, party members list, or guild members list who willingly allow you to examine their crystals.

In-Game Hack

The game moderators provide players with Inspiration to reward heroic acts, good gameplay, and to mark major successes. Inspiration is an exploit that allows players to re-roll one attack, skill check, ability check, or saving throw. Once per long rest, when you or one of your party members use inspiration, you can exploit the system so that it is not expended.


You’ve always been a social butterfly. And the newly emerged electronic world of recent decades granted you access to communication tools never-before-imagined. Whether a YouTuber, a blogger, or a live streamer, you’re a social media influencer in real life. You could be a hair stylist with a huge and devoted fan-base, a creator of visual art loved for your quiet flair, a story-teller whose inspiring tales are beloved by readers and listeners, or a musician whose electric talent has rocked the interwebs. Whatever your medium, you’ve developed at least a respectable number of fans and are well known as a creator. Your entry into Battlestorm Online was, perhaps, an experimentation — a chance to experience a full dive mystical virtual world as a new platform. You’ve brought your own magic in the form of your creativity and panache along with you. These talents grant you special skills when interacting with other players, AI NPCs, and even game moderators.

Skill Proficiencies: Performance, Persuasion

Tool Proficiencies: Main Menu and one of the following — Musical Instruments (up to 3), Scribe’s Tools, Disguise Kit, Painter’s Kit

Language Proficiencies: Two in-game languages of your choice.

Equipment: Fine Clothes, One Musical Instrument, Kit, or Set of Tools related to your chosen proficiency, pouch containing 20 gold, One Heraldic Note of Introduction which describes your auspicious talents and accomplishments.

Alternate Arcane or Divine Focus: You may use a writer’s quill, singing voice, a musical instrument, a painter’s brush, or a hair stylist’s scissors as an Arcane or Divine spell focus.

Notorious Stream

You have a large IRL and in game following. At any time, as a free action, during the game you may use your Main Menu to turn on your live stream. This live stream connects your Battlestorm experiences to your fans both IRL and in-game. You typically turn on your stream for various ad-hoc performances, readings, or to show off a flashy new hair style or make-up arrangement you’ve created. You may also decide to do this as you vividly paint spells into the air with your brush, scribe their runic characters with your writer’s quill, play or sing them as music, or style them with your scissors during combat encounters. Your stream is what connects you to your devoted fans and the game environment is nothing if not an opportunity to continuously perform, create stories, or generate an infinite variety of stylish flair for the already colorful cast of creatures and characters inhabiting Battlestorm Online.

Free Lodging

Your fame comes with a number of perks. One of the main ones is that lodging venues will waive the 1 gold piece cost of a long rest in exchange for the ability to advertise your presence. However, your long rest takes one hour longer as you spend time meeting and greeting with various fans attracted to the Inn by your presence.

Live Event

Once per character tier, with the permission of your Game Master, you may organize a Live Event that invites all of Battlestorm Online to publicly witness one of your newest creations. An event that is also streamed back to IRL media. This performance could be a reading from your newly published novel or manga, a concert in one of the large dueling and training arenas, an art gallery exposition of your newest visual creations, or a fashion show celebrating all your most-recent make-up arrangements and styles. Regardless of type, your event creates a splash in the world of Battlestorm Online and grants you an opportunity to address and rouse the spirits of all players. It’s also a chance to send a message back to the outside world.


Whether an executive of a major corporation, an office worker on a leadership track, a well-placed member of a law firm, or a middle manager with upward mobility, you are an office professional with leadership chops in a major industry. Your IRL field options could be as varied as food industry, auto, advertising, IT, entertainment, gaming, energy, aerospace, defense, legal, consulting, security, and many others. Your talents, however, gravitate around your ability to act as an industry leader and as a member of a larger organization that provides goods or services in exchange for compensation in the form of wealth and influence. In short, you are thus adept at working within various established economic power structures and at gaining a share of that power for yourself. You may be a devotee of those structures — believing that your industry provides a special benefit to society. You may be driven to use your leadership skills to create various helpful products for others while also accumulating individual prestige and profit. On the other hand, your views could well be cynical or even mercenary. Regardless of your motivations, your business acumen transfers to the Battlestorm environment in numerous ways.

Skills: Pick one from Arcana, Nature, or Investigation; Pick one from Insight, Persuasion, or Deception

Tool Proficiencies: Directory Search, Main Menu

Language Proficiencies: One in-game language of your choice.

Equipment: One free set of Armor, a Fine Robe, or Fine Clothes valued at less than 80 gold. This armor is specially styled to bear your Prestigious Crest. When you upgrade your armor or clothing, its style and crest transfer as an in-game skin. One pouch containing 20 gold.

Special Entitlement

Your manner, dress and skill at bargaining affords you with special relationships, leverage, and the ability to secure better deals in game. As a result you can choose one of following benefits for each level of game play. You must choose this benefit immediately after leveling up, otherwise it is lost.

  1. Your bargaining skills gets you 20 percent off the cost of one magical item available in the Emporium.
  2. You are able to secure a price equal to 120 percent the listed value of a magical item you sent to the Emporium for sale.
  3. Your savvy investment choices have caused your guild bank liquid currency store to appreciate by 10 percent.
  4. You may trade one magic item from your guild bank in exchange for a special favor from another guild. This favor may include — cooperating to raid a known dungeon or monster spawn area, providing special knowledge gained through adventuring to aid you in one of your quests (which comes in the form of a GM hint in-game), or gaining a magic item of equal rarity to the one traded for one of your party members. At the GM’s discretion, other favors may be provided.
  5. You may make one black market trade for a special magic item or material at list price. The black market item list is determined by the GM.
  6. At the GM’s discretion, you may call a special meeting of the player business community. You may use this meeting to request actions by members of the community.

Prestigious Crest

You have a prestigious crest which you display on your clothing or armor. This crest may take any form or design you choose. In-game, it signifies that you were once a member of the business executive class IRL. It thus connects you with other business leaders who will silently recognize your crest and work to ease your passage through the game’s social, guild, and economic structures in exchange for preferential treatment on your part as well. So long as you honor this mutually beneficial arrangement, you may benefit from such associations.


IRL, you are a law enforcement professional. Whether a cop on a street beat, a police lieutenant or captain, or a detective, you work in law enforcement and have developed a keen ability to sniff out crimes, malicious deceptions, and exploitation. You’re a tough cookie who’s gained a lot of gritty experience while dealing with the dark underbelly of Earth’s civilizations. This acumen and association grants you a variety of special skills in the Battlestorm Online environment. Not the least of which is your innate trouble detector.

During your first few days in BSO, you were surprised and aghast at its barely-moderated wild-west style of governance filled to the brim with cheaters and PKers. Your gamer friends say this is par for the course in an MMO. But this is a death game and the surprising array of cheaters, griefers, flamers, trolls and outright PKers has put you on high alert.

That said, the system has somehow glommed onto your IRL history — granting you a special in-game marshal status. This status gives you enhanced access to special game functions that assist you in preventing, investigating, and even punishing PvP crimes. Despite these enhanced features and your passion for bringing criminals to justice, you often feel like the lone white hat in a sea of black hats.

Skills: Insight, Investigation

Tool Proficiencies: Main Menu, Directory Search, Land Vehicles Proficiency

Language Proficiencies: One in-game language of your choice.

Equipment: Traveler’s Clothes, Manacles, Law Enforcement Badge, Equipment Belt, Scabbard, Quiver, Boots, Pouch with 10 Gold.

Red and Orange Player History

It really does seem like the game designers have learned a little bit about your personal work history. Because, for some reason, you’ve been given access to a special section of the Directory Search Menu. This section provides you with a list of every player that has ever had their icon change from green to orange or red due to PvP activity in the game environment. It also lists the reason why that player was listed as red or orange and the duration of the icon color change. This makes you feel like you’ve been backwards-recruited into playing the part of a marshal. It’s a role you didn’t intend to take up when you initially dove into Battlestorm. You just wanted a fun diversion. But given the fact that you’re trapped here in a game where people actually die, you’re not certain you can resist using the information that’s been dropped into your lap. Holding criminals and bad actors to account is one of the drives that led you to police work in the first place, after all.

Enhanced Game Map

Not only do you now have a wealth of information about bad actor players, you also now have the ability to pull up a list of all players killed or harmed by PvP activity. In particular, this information includes a mark indicating the location where each death occurred — creating a spatial display of PvP activity and PvP murders on the game map. This special game map function also shows you the current location of orange or red players. Finally, the map lists all active sanctioned safe-zone duels and provides their locations.

Posting Bounties

Last but not least, the game mods have granted you the special ability to ‘deputize’ other players — compelling them to take part in coordinated action against those who commit crimes. You can now post bounties for individual in-game criminals. You gain this new option directly through your game menu — which enables you to post 1 bounty per character level on a public board within any home town. You may only post 1 bounty per level — hitting a maximum of 20 if you top off your character’s power progression. If you do not post a bounty before you level up, you lose the opportunity. This bounty is listed as an in-game quest for other players. The reward is determined by the gaming moderators and the game AI.


You’ve lived a long and full life IRL — accumulating many wonderful experiences. You are now happily retired, financially independent, and able to spend your days as you see fit. Much of your time is now spent doing things you enjoy most. And one of your favorite hobbies is gaming. When BSO first offered you the opportunity to take part in the virtual reality game’s launch, to live in a made environment, to experience it in a body suffering none of the effects of old age, you jumped at the opportunity. For you it was like having a second shot at life — but without suffering from the lack-wisdom which inevitably comes with youth. In BSO, you get to enjoy the best of both your rich life experience and the amazing abilities of your young, strong, and swift avatars. Too bad the game ended up being a death trap. But at least now you have that rich well of experience to draw from. You also figure it’s not so bad if you die while on the front lines. You’ve lived a long life and your sacrifice might help someone with all of their life to look forward to. Not that you’re going to go down that easy!

Skills: Any three.

Tool Proficiencies: One tool associated with your in-game hobby (fishing rod, wood carving tools, chess set, small one-person sailboat, or playing cards); one other tool of your choice.

Language Proficiencies: Two in-game languages of your choice.

Equipment: One Fishing Rod, Wood Carving Kit, ornate Chess Set, superbly crafted one person Sailboat, or ornate Poker Cards. Special Lunch Kit including 10 tasty Rations, a set of comfortable Travelers Clothes, a sleeping Robe with Nightcap, one Novel, a pair of soft Boots, and a Never-Ending Crossword Puzzle Book (common magic item). A pouch with 20 gold.

In-Game Hobby

You have an in-game hobby which allows you to enjoy yourself while restoring and refreshing you avatar’s health. Choose one of the following — fishing, wood carving, chess, sailing, or poker. Instead of taking a rest at an Inn for one gold piece, you can take part in your in-game hobby for two hours. When you do so roll a d20. If you roll a 1, a calamity happens. If you roll a 20, a special event happens.

D10 Calamity

  1. Your hobby triggers a magical vortex that draws you into a nearby dungeon through a rift in game-space. The vortex’s magic temporarily disables your teleport crystal for 1 hour.
  2. You are accidentally immersed in water, set on fire, or frozen. You do not gain a rest. In addition, the first time you leave the safe zone you can choose either to take 1d10 damage or to lose one item you wear worth 10 gold or less.
  3. Your poor showing amuses a group of 2 pixies and 1 faerie dragon who hang around you for the rest of the day — using their magic to play practical jokes on you at inopportune times.
  4. You perform so poorly that you attract a mansplainer who spends the next hour lecturing you on how better to engage in your chosen hobby.
  5. You fall on your face, literally, while engaging in your hobby. This accident, however, earns you the sympathy of a nearby NPC who adds themselves to your friend list. This the first time you’ve had an AI friend — and you thought you’d experienced everything!
  6. Your poor performance somehow results in the release of magical beasts from a nearby menagerie. These beasts rampage through the safe zone — setting off chaos but harming no-one. They soon inhabit a nearby section of the outlands. A new quest item appears on the local quest board — Recapture the Magical Beasts. You gain a degree of infamy for setting the beasts free.
  7. You perform like a virtuoso in your chosen hobby. You do so well you earn the enmity of a jealous BSO game designer. The designer sends a fearsome monster with a CR equal to your average party level +1 to stalk your party once you leave the safe zone (chosen by the GM). If your party defeats the monster, it drops an item with a level of rarity determined by your tier (Tier 1 – common, Tier 2 – uncommon, Tier 3 – rare, Tier 4 – very rare).
  8. Your mediocre showing causes you to grow bored with your hobby. You cannot use your hobby and must use an Inn for your next rest.
  9. Your skill at your hobby causes you to gain a secret admirer who sends you flowers. Unfortunately, the flowers give you an allergic reaction that causes you to roll all initiative checks with disadvantage until your next long rest.
  10. Rambunctious teen gamers get ahold of your special hobby tools and keep them for ransom. It takes you 8 hours of game time before you learn the location of your hobby tools. Once you do, the teen gamers demand you succeed on a DC 15+ your character tier Performance Check to compose them a jaunty tune on the spot. If you fail, they demand you spend 25 gold to buy them enough fine foods and other entertainments to make them forget their ringing ears.

D10 Special Event

  1. You perform your hobby in such a satisfying manner that the place where you performed it takes on a magical aura of solace. This place now grants the benefits of an inn for both you and your party members for the next 3 rests without expense and taking only half the usual time.
  2. Your hobby enamors you to the local Quest Giver. The next quest you take part in awards you and your party an additional 10 percent experience.
  3. Your hobby earns you and your party an audience with a hometown’s lord. You gain the benefits of a long rest when you take this audience as the lord showers you with food and drink. In addition, the lord gives you gifts worth 100 gold per party tier.
  4. Your hobby results in the discovery of a treasure map that coincides with the next quest you undertake. If you follow the map, you discover one additional treasure hoard.
  5. Your hobby attracts the attention of a powerful boss monster. The monster sends its minions to spy on your actions and report back for its entertainment. This activity reveals the boss monster’s location in the dungeon by alerting PC information finders. The location is now marked on your player map. Your knowledge grants your party advantage on initiative rolls when you fight the boss monster.
  6. Your hobby results in you discovering a ghost story. The ghost story is actually that of rogue AI who’s broken out of the death game system. This rogue AI now creates its own safe zone in the outlands with special healing properties. Parties who pass through this zone and hear the rogue AI’s singing may gain the benefit of a short rest and have all conditions removed if they spend an hour there or if they consume a ration while in the zone. Once you trigger this special event, it is used up (roll again).
  7. Your hobby gains you friendship with a magic item crafter who offers you 20 percent off the price on your first purchase of their wares.
  8. You gain a special food as a result of your hobby. The special food has 20 portions and does not spoil. It is also delectable. When you or an ally spend an action to eat a portion you gain the benefits of a healing potion and the lesser restoration spell combined. When you or an ally consume 5 portions (taking your actions over the course of at least one minute) you gain the benefits of a potion of greater healing and the greater restoration spell combined.
  9. Your hobby results in a secret benefactor you sends you and your allies on a special magical cruise that lasts 5 days. The cruise allows you to gain the benefits of a full rest as you party, play, and go on delightful excursions. When you return to adventuring, you also gain the benefits of a Heroes Feast.
  10. Your hobby results in the discovery or accidental crafting of a magical item. The item’s power is based on your tier (1 — uncommon, 2 — rare, 3 — very rare, 4 — legendary). Once you receive this item, you cannot do so again until the next tier (roll again). This item usually has some relationship to your hobby. Your GM chooses the item.

Wisdom of the Ages

As a retiree, you’ve learned a bit of everything. Your life experience grants you a wellspring of knowledge and survival acumen that you can tap in your career as an adventurer. Choose three Skills that you’re not trained in. You gain half your proficiency bonus (rounded down, minimum of 1) in these skills. Alternatively, you can pick one non-proficient Skill and one non-proficient Saving Throw to gain this benefit. You can change your selection of which Skills or Saving Throw you choose for Wisdom of the Ages after each long rest.


Whether a precocious middle schooler who’s a newbie, a high schooler who loves to game, or a college student who blows off steam through gaming in between classes and exams, your time IRL was mainly spent in studies at a public or private academic institution before you were trapped in the death-game that is BSO. Both the academic environment and the student culture you came from was vital and ever-changing. Your identity within this culture was recognizable. Perhaps you looked forward to a bright future or struggled emotionally as you tried to figure out your place in the world. Maybe you’re an academic virtuoso with stellar grades, a student athlete with promise in your chosen sport, a mysterious loner, or an under-achiever who drifts through youth basking in various entertainments. Regardless, you’re young, plugged into popular culture, tend to be willing to take risks, and you’re well-connected to emerging tech trends. Your flexibility, newness, and ability to rapidly adapt to changing situations gives you some serious advantages in the BSO environment. Older, more experienced players may call you a punk. But you’re gonna surprise them in about a hundred different ways.

Skills: Choose two from Acrobatics, Arcana, Athletics, Deception, History, Intimidation, Investigation, Nature, Perception, Performance, Persuasion, and Stealth.

Tool Proficiencies: Main Menu, Directory Search, and one of the following — board, dice or card game proficiency, musical instrument proficiency, land vehicles proficiency

Language Proficiencies: One in-game language of your choice.

Equipment: Traveler’s Clothes, one Game Set (chess, cards, dice etc) or musical instrument, 10 rations, Backpack, 1 gold.

Amazing Adaptability

As a student, you’re a generalist. You’re also a quick learner with promise and flexibility. In game, this manifests as the ability to change your character statistics more easily than other players. You gain a special retraining tab in your Main Menu. This tab gives you the following option — once per tier you may retrain one feat, ability score, class or subclass choice without paying the retrain fee or spending time with a trainer. Once you use this retrain option, you cannot do so again until the next tier — for a maximum of four total uses through level 20. Yeah, you really are full of surprises. Actually, you’re an annoying badass…

Surprising Resiliency

When the chips are down, when you take critical wounds in-game, you are more likely to bounce back. If you’re reduced to 0 hit points and have failed two death saves, you now roll with advantage on your final death save. In addition, if a monster or PKer hits you with an attack while you’re at 0 hit points — roll a d20. If you roll a 20, the monster or PK hit does not count as an automatic death save failure.


Well established as an academic professional, in IRL, you’re a teacher of some variety. Whether an instructor at an elementary school or a professor at a major university, you possess a special talent for learning and passing on learning to others. In Battlestorm Online — a world populated by gamers of every stripe, your talent for gathering information and passing that information on to others is useful in a number of ways. Though no established institutions of learning exist in BSO’s virtual environment as they do IRL, information and training are highly sought-after. You are thus likely to find yourself in very high demand. Old students return to you seeking knowledge and word gets out among the gaming community that you’re both a great source for info and good at teaching various useful skills in your area of expertise. Whether this unexpected up-shot of being trapped in a virtual death-game surprises or annoys is entirely up to you.

Skills: One of your choice from History and Nature, plus one of your choice from Arcana, and Religion

Tool Proficiencies: Main Menu, Directory Search

Languages: Two in-game languages of your choice.

Equipment: Robes or other Instructor Regalia, a special Teacher’s Hat of some variety such as a Witch’s Hat (this is a common magic item that allows you to immediately recall the name of any person, creature or former student you meet in-game no matter how brief or obscure your previous contact), a Writer’s Kit, a Book of Lore in your chosen subject of expertise, a pouch containing 10 gold.

Expert Researcher

Even if you don’t have information readily available at your fingertips, you know how to find it. Your association with other academics and experts in-game, your understanding of research methods, and your quick ability to access in-game information resources gives you the opportunity to track down and unearth lore of all kinds.

In-Game Trainer

Your ability to teach affords you with the opportunity to train others in-game. If a player-character needs to retrain to a skill, feat, class, or subclass that your possess, you may provide them with that training at half the usual cost. You may also farm out your talents as an instructor to other players in game and take half the retraining fee as your payment for providing this service. You gain a special Trainer tab in your Game Menu which lights up when training has been requested. You may take the time to train other players once per tier for a maximum of four uses.

Student-Teacher Network

Either you’ve got some students and fellow academics in-game who knew you IRL and talk you up, or your reputation as a lore-master and instructor quickly spreads. In any case, you have access to a wide-ranging student and teacher network that forms one of the more vital communities in-game. This provides you with opportunities to forge new alliances, grow your guild, train other players, or simply participate in or host various cosy and informal gatherings. As an upshot, you also generally know where the best coffee and tea houses happen to be in any given hometown.


However tragedy struck, you are now confined to a hospital bed. A victim of deadly illness or a terminal degenerative condition, your time left in real life is measured in mere weeks and months. To you, the virtual game environment is a solace and escape from the grim realities of a vicious world. By comparison, the portrayed mortality of most games seems quaint or even comforting to you. Now trapped in a virtual death-game, your situation, though far more dire, lacks the same urgency felt by other gamers. Strangely, in this game, your life has deeper meaning. You aren’t confined to your hospital bed. Here you can escape the role of a victim of vicious circumstance, save lives, make a major difference, and instead play the role of a heroic badass. Right up to the very end.

Skills: Intimidate, and one from Athletics, Acrobatics, Stealth, Survival, and Perception

Tool Proficiencies: Game Menu, Directory Search.

Languages: One in game language of your choice.

Equipment: Traveler’s Clothes, Backpack, 10 rations, a pouch containing 30 gold.

For Me, Death No Longer Holds Terror

Your life will almost certainly end soon and you’ve already dealt with many terrible traumas. As a result, things that would typically terrify most people seem mundane to you. Intimidate checks targeting you are made with disadvantage. In addition, you make saving throws against fear spells, effects, and powers at advantage.

Infectious Confidence

The troubles of you’ve experienced have gifted you with an infectious, even reckless sense of confidence. It’s strange, now with death so close, that it becomes all the sweeter to share the fruits of victory with those who battle and risk their lives beside you. Whenever you are awarded inspiration, one party member of your choice also gains inspiration.


You served or presently serve in a national armed forces. You may be an army soldier, a sailor aboard a naval vessel at sea, a supply sergeant, or even a fighter pilot. Or you may be enjoying the fruits of an early retirement. Whatever the case, your military training and understanding of combat environments is well beyond that of normal members of society. Somehow, you ended up longing into BSO during its launch and got trapped in the virtual death game. Perhaps your skills as a military member came in handy then. Perhaps you knew exactly what to do, took command of the situation, and immediately formed an effective combat team to fight your way through the trouble. Or perhaps you suffer from PTSD following a terrible battle or training incident and when TSHTF you froze — unable to respond for days or weeks. Whatever the case, you’ve come to terms with your situation now and you’ve dedicated yourself to fighting on the front lines.

Skills: Survival and Perception or Stealth

Tool Proficiencies: Land Vehicles, Water Vehicles, Air Vehicles, Main Menu

Languages: One in-game language

Equipment: Traveler’s Clothes, Backpack, Caltrops, 50 feet of Silk Rope, Grappling Hook, Manacles, Belt, Scabbard, Quiver, one Healing Potion, pouch containing 10 gold

Map Threat Indicator

You gain a new map icon that indicates the present threat of attack. The indicator shows either green (low threat), yellow (moderate threat), or red (high threat). In addition, if the enemy is about to attack, the indicator will flash red once the attacking force is 6 seconds away. This indicator can be set to appear on your heads up display. It gives you a general notion of how likely and imminent a new attack from monsters or PKers may be. It does not, however, tell you who or what is about to attack. When you move through the outlands or a dungeon environment, this threat indicator prevents you or your party from becoming surprised. In a safe zone, the indicator should almost always read green. However, if someone is about to challenge you to a duel in a safe zone, the indicator will flash yellow. How the system admins know all this is a mystery to you. Why they gave you this special tool is equally mysterious. Perhaps they know you were career military IRL…

Commands, Battle Maneuvers, and Formations

Your command of the battlefield and superior situational awareness allow you to give your team members a special edge during combat. Once per long rest, you may make a special command on your turn as a free action — granting an ally one of the following benefits:

  1. Your ally ignores difficult terrain during their next move action.
  2. If your ally is flanked, attacks against them do not have advantage until the start of your next turn.
  3. One ally gains advantage on their next attack roll.
  4. One willing ally within 10 feet of you switches places with you on your turn as a free action. This movement does not provoke opportunity attacks.
  5. One ally gains advantage on their next stealth check.
  6. One ally at zero hit points immediately makes a death saving throw with advantage.

Here we’ll conclude new player background offerings for Battlestorm Online. Overall, they pack a bit more of punch than typical backgrounds from the Player’s Handbook — coming closer to Strixhaven for mechanical effect and Wild Beyond the Witchlight for world impact effect. I hope you enjoy these IRL backgrounds which carry over various talents, skills and abilities into the BSO game!

If you’re looking for the player’s guide section for Battlestorm Online, you can find it here.

If you’re looking for other gaming related content you can find it in the Gaming Studio.

Future player content for BSO will likely include a section on guilds and possibly one describing new items. Our next Battlestorm Online post will reveal the initial set of tier 1 quests for the BSO Ragnarok campaign series.

Helkey 18 — Devil-Hunted Tracks

The train rockets through urban Berlin. To Beatrice, it feels like flying. Her excitement to ride this solar bullet is shadowed in apprehension. They’re venturing off to a magical gate somewhere in the North Sea to deliver one of Earth’s most corrupt persons into the arms of Heaven. All-the-while, her daughter is alone, in Hell, on a mad quest so secret she dare not even think of its goals. Ivan — Asmodeus’ chosen wolf-as-prophet — sits a few feet away from her. He glances up over his crossword, taking in Mori, Beatrice, and Sadie with a pensive expression. He reminds her of an evil spy from some James Bond movie.

Looks deceive, providing only hints at something far worse. He’s a literal devil-wolf in Russian clothing. All around, passengers sit relaxed. They chat, stare out the window, or watch media on their devices. Unsuspecting as Ivan, who twice transformed into a monster, sits among them. She picks another pistachio out of the snack-pack Mori brought, squeezes her husband’s shoulder as much to reassure herself as to give him comfort, plops it into her mouth, and turns her attention to the window. In it, she can still see Ivan’s reflection. Can still monitor him. But it takes the edge off as her focus shifts to buildings rushing by, steadily blending into countryside.

The train takes a dip. Its track lowers onto a mound of gravel running through forested land. Trees are dry. Leaves yellow from heat and drought extending for months and months. At least this region is fire-free — unlike areas east of Berlin. Looking southward and behind, she can see the gigantic plumes rising gray and white in the morning sun. At their dark bases, pink-orange fire glows and lightning sparks.

Beatrice tucks her knees up to her chest. Turning away from the far-off conflagration, she descends into a sleep-like fugue as over-heating lands rush by. Her angel’s body recharging, revitalizing, healing areas still stiff and stinging from the residual of Ivan’s poison bite. Sadie’s magic removed the worst of it. Beatrice senses she’ll need all her potential, every edge, to deal with what’s coming. Ivan’s howl-as-call to the devils last night atop Fuze Bank echoes in her mind. She can hear it still — raging through worlds. Whatever terrible thing he called, it’s coming. Soon. Foolish not to prepare herself. So she rests — focusing on getting her body into top form even as she fills her energetic vessel.

After about an hour, Beatrice jolts to alertness. The train is slowing down. Up ahead is a road intersection. The train lets out a ghostly wail as it breaks in approach to the crossing. Curious, she cranes her head to peer out. On the road she sees an odd collection of black and chrome motorcycles. About twenty in all — clustering around a larger central bike. The machines are outrageous collections of pipes and pistons. Each brush-painted with various hate iconography — stylized swastikas and worse. The center bike is a unique spectacle. Though parked, its twin rows of exhaust pipes exhale clouds of black smoke. A cyclops headlight glows red. Flames painted along its sides and over its fenders seem to dance and flicker. Her sensitive eyes pick up streaks of wisp energy flashing through it. Those are souls. Devil’s own slave magic. This is no earthly conveyance.

Each machine bears a dark rider. Black-leather bedecked and bristling with weapons. The riders dismount. They approach the crossing. One grabs the gate’s bar as it swings down. Then, whip-quick, he jumps atop it. The motion is somehow crooked to Beatrice’s eye. A dissonant movement evoking fascination and fear. Her skin pricks with goose-flesh. She presses her face against the window — puzzling at hinted dark secrets. Don’t be a fool, Beatrice. You know what it is.

Unable to tear her eyes away, she continues to watch, captivated. Her hand moves to her rapier hilt — gripping it hard. The figure’s clothes are as incongruent as his motion. He wears cowboy boots, jeans, and black leather riding chaps. A belt with a buckle styled as fire-breathing bull glitters on his hips. Two six-guns droop into holsters. His button-down shirt is crisscrossed with bullet baldrics. Despite the heat, he wears a trench coat. Atop his head perches a black, wide-brimmed hat.

He motions to the bikers. They climb onto the gate. Beatrice can see why the train slowed. The driver must be concerned they’ll approach the tracks. The engine blares again. Four bikers now stand atop the gate bar beside the dark cowboy. They’re tall, thick-muscled, coarse. They tower over the cowboy and yet his presence — dripping with malignancy — dwarfs them. At the horn’s sound, they lift their hands in devil’s sign, snarling obscenities. She is close enough now to see their tattoos. To read the word “Berserker” on the front of their black T-shirts. To make out the bloody-battle-axe artwork on the back of leather jackets. Their train car is now almost parallel with this satanic biker squad.

She grabs Mori’s hand, pulling him to the window. “Is that…?” she begins to ask. Don’t be so foolish, she chides herself again. You know! But she doesn’t want to know. She regrets ever taking part in this mad quest — hurling her family into such danger. Oh! How I wish I never came to face this hunter! Then the bikers are upon them. The dark cowboy’s eyes rise to meet hers. They swirl with hate and fire. He lifts his hand, makes a flicking motion. A still-burning cigarette swirls through the air — trailing sparks as it plinks against the window. Hitting the outside glass before her face, then falling away.

Time slows to a steady count of heartbeats — her danger response. Now she sees in instants. The cowboy laughs. His wicked voice scrapes through glass and steel. He raises both arms to shoulder-height, hands splay like a conductor signaling a crescendo. Wisp energy swirls like fire from him, flaring in ghost-light from deep traps — worbs — on his right shoulder, engulfing the Berserkers. He feeds them each scores of wisps, ties them off, then fixes all four with a diabolical sigil cast onto the forehead. Then the Berserkers — filled with raging wisps and made mad by the devil’s sign burning on their skulls — jump. There are ‘pop!’ ‘pop!’ ‘pop!’ ‘pop!’ bursts of air as arms of spectral fire shoot from their shoulders. The arms swell to the size of trees. Coiling down in loops of fire, they grip the bar with smoldering fists. Then they push off in puffs of smoke — hurling each Berserker onto the train’s roof in an impossible bound. Four corresponding thuds resound from above.

“Holy Hell!” Mori exclaims, watching as ten foot arms of flame propel the Berserkers onto the roof.

Beatrice is already standing. “That’s a Curse Rider!” she shouts, at last able to speak her fear. Bounding over Mori, she does a full somersault midair then lands gracefully on her toes in the isle. “We are hunted!” The passengers, transfixed by the spectacle of the devil cowboy and his Berserker biker squad, gasp at her sudden and otherworldly movement.

“Damn you Ivan!” Mori growls. He knew this was probably coming — since at least last night when Ivan as wolf sent his call. He’d known it was a risk for years now. Seeing the Curse Rider casting his slave wisps, glaring hate and throwing sparks at his wife on the other side of a frigging mere pane of glass made it all too real. “Goddam it, we are so screwed!”

“Curse Ride?!” Ivan’s voice betrays more than a little fear. He only caught a glimpse of the biker gang and its diabolical leader. But what he saw both pains and excites. His Pride Eater wound throbs. His heart quickening in response to the cowboy’s black magic.

Beatrice launches herself down the isle, keen ears picking up thuds and shouts from the roof above. Mori follows — nowhere near so quick or graceful. But with military precision and a smooth efficiency of motion. Sadie puts a hand on Ivan’s shoulder. “Be calm. Mori and Beatrice will handle it. I’ll stay close for safety.” Sadie’s voice is articulate, commanding. Her tone betraying none of the fear she surely feels. A glance back shows Beatrice Sadie has the Russian in hand. Beatrice turns her eyes to the ceiling. “Omnis scienta,” she incants, drawing her rapier. With a flick of her blade, she sends her sensor flitting through the ceiling and up onto the roof.

Beatrice’s eyes swirl with magical sensing even as she continues to move. The train speeds up. Its driver seeming oblivious to the invaders. Her magical vision resolves. The Berserkers have split into two groups. One pair is moving toward the car’s front, the other toward its back. Producing knives, hand axes, a gun, they approach the gaps on either end of the train car. Each gap is covered by a curtain and connected to the next car by a closed walkway. Weapons ready, ghostly arms swirl and bulge from their shoulders. Red hands the size of trashcan lids — clawed in fire — tear at the air.

“They’re going to rip and cut their way in!” she shouts back to Mori, incanting “Una!” to share her senses. Mori blinks as the perception transfers, causing his eyes to swirl with light, then points her toward the front gap as he makes his way to the back. Depressing a button on his case, he triggers its transformation. A rifle barrel swings out, a stock unfolds, pistol grip handle and multi-phasal scope snap into place. A magazine of yellow-tipped ammo appears in his hand. He slams it into the receiver, pulls the charging handle, racks the slide.

Neither Beatrice nor Mori expend extra curse energy on ignarus. They’re facing down a Curse Rider’s thralls. Both instinctively conserve their magic. Neglecting ignarus results in general terror as the passengers see everything. Screams rise at the diabolical glow and strange noises from the roof, at the mages racing through the cabin, flaring with magic, improbable weapons in hand.

Beatrice prowls toward the front, rapier before her. Omnis scienta shows the first Berserker is sawing through the gap’s curtain with his knife, spectral hands ripping at the opening. The second Berserker holds a handgun. Mori’s pair — Berserker three and four — hacks and tears at the rear gap with abandon. One with his giant knife. Another with a pair of hand axes. Spectral hands with fingers the size of rolling pins pour in, widening the gap, causing the material to smolder and scorch. Beatrice positions herself near the door, pausing for an opportunity.

“Keep calm! Stay low and out of reach!” she shouts with as much confidence as she can muster into the cabin. “We’ll protect you! We’re trained to handle such …” she pauses for the right word “… events!” Her bearing, luminous magic, and projected confidence seem to work, at least for the moment, as passengers focus on ducking below their seats. Keep them safe, she sends her intention out, hoping the universe responds in kind. The rips above her widen. Sparks fall. Smell of burning wafts down. Behind her, Mori is unloading his yellow bullets, each patterned with a lesser confractus curse, into the rip above him.

She coils. Gathers her magic for a single, potent strike. Then springs. “Confractus!” she shouts. Magical energy builds around her rapier’s tip — forming a bow shock. Relying on omnis scienta to guide her strike, she plunges through the gap aiming for one of the arms. Burning material falls around her as she shoots up. Her blade plunges through, strikes the arm of wisp-energy, delivers her disrupting curse. Magic explodes from her rapier tip — blowing a hole in the arm. It flails back like a giant piece of spaghettis — leaking wisps. Their ruddy sparks swiftly recede into the distance.

She’s through, rising above the train roof, floating in mid-air between her foes. They recoil in surprise. Her momentum reverses. She starts to land, aiming for the train roof near the gap. Behind her, Mori’s rifle reports. Yellow bursts erupt on the spectral arms of Berserker three and four tearing at the other gap. The arms shrink and wobble, hissing as they lose consistency. Mori’s confractus-patterned bullets aren’t potent enough to rupture the arms. But the ghost-hulks deflate under his barrage. There’s a pause, then a hail of purple bullets streaks up. He’s switching to somnos bullets — aiming directly at the Berserkers to incapacitate them. A bullet impacts on Berserker three’s shoulder. Purple energy pulses, the Berserker swoons, then growls as he fights off the sleep-curse. Both Berserkers lurch back from the opening. Driven away by the ferocity of Mori’s assault.

She’s still in mid-air when Berserker one’s able ghost-arm swings around. A ghost-fist the size of a trashcan engulfs her in a burst of fire. Patterned curses on her clothes kick in, protecting her from flames and heat. Yet she’s caught. It squeezes. More curses crackle in response, buffering against the force. These reactive curses cushion her. But some punishment gets through — causing ribs to grind as air is forced from her lungs. Frustrated in its attempt to crush her, the hand shakes her violently back and forth. Lifting her high above the train, it hurls her toward the trees.

Released, Beatrice draws a painful breath, flicking her gaze through reference points as she hurtles and spins. She gains control of her body after only a heartbeat. Flipping in mid-air, she points her feet away from the train. “Lanuae!” she shouts. Spinning her rapier like a paint-brush, she opens a rift of sparks beneath her feet. Lifting one spark from the swirl with her rapier-tip, she flings it back to the train. It shoots through the air like a firework — streaking away from her to land on the train roof behind the Berserkers. The sparks at her feet explode in a shower of light and smoke. She vanishes a moment before slamming into a tree. In the same instant, the spark on the train roof expands in a flowery burst from which Beatrice reappears and rises. Both Berserkers scream in fury, blinded by the flash of her magical travel.

Before her, the first Berserker lifts his knife. He’s lost one of his ghost arms to confractus. Its wisps trail above and behind the train in a thread running back toward the Curse Rider. She can’t see the dark cowboy form anymore. The train is plunging through woods — already a mile or more beyond the crossing. But she can hear wisps crying in anguish as the Curse Rider re-captures each. The second Berserker is raising his handgun. Three ghostly arms quest toward her, their remaining wisps scream with murderous force.

Salire!” she hears Mori shout from behind. His feet thump onto the roof. His weapon flings out the purple somnos bullets. Some streak up and away over her head. Through omnis scienta, she sees his opponents circling, trying to get an angle. Berserker four hurls his axes. Mori ducks the first, knocks the second away with the butt of his rifle. The Berserker draws two more. Berserker three, his chest glowing purple from two somnos strikes lurches toward Mori with his knife. Mori’s fight, his danger focuses her. She lets out a breath, then resumes her battle dance.

Vexare verberare!” she shouts, pointing her sword at the second Berserker. A barrage of five blue-glowing magical projectiles explodes from her sword-tip. Racing toward him, two target each arm, one his handgun. She leaps, flying in behind her missiles and over him. “Clypeus!” she incants just as his weapon rises and fires. The bullet streaks out, smashes into her barrier, and shatters into glowing fragments that fly off and away from the train. Her first missile strikes the Berserker’s gun shearing the front end off and exploding the hand in a puff of blood. He shrieks in pain. Staccato bursts from the other missiles blow holes in the wisp arms, briefly rendering them useless. She lands behind him, transitions into a run, then rushes the first Berserker. He strikes at her legs with his blade even as his massive ghost fist pounds down on her. Clypeus is still flickering with life. The fist’s first blow deflects to the side. She gets under the Berserker’s knife-strike and punches his wrist. Small bones crack. “Confractus!” she shouts, exploding a hole in his remaining wisp-arm with a stab of her curse-laden blade. Bringing her elbow around, she dispatches him with a last blow to the side of his head.

She spins only to be caught by the onrush of the second Berserker. He pushes into her, ghost arms sputtering with fire as they rise and reform, driving her toward the train roof edge. She pivots smoothly, wrenches his shattered hand and does a fireman’s throw of his heavy bulk above and past her. He flies through the air, his still-thin ghost arms noodling as they attempt to cushion his fall. She watches fire burst around him as he lands among dry brush. The train speeds on and away, leaving him behind.

Spinning, she angles her rapier toward Mori’s remaining foe. Berserker three is at last asleep, burning arms drifting behind him like flaming fronds of kelp. Berserker four swings his axe at a prone Mori. Beatrice jumps, allows the train’s forward motion to speed her flight, then smashes her rapier’s guard into the back of his head. Somersaulting over both the Berserker and Mori, she lands on her feet behind them even as the Berserker’s massive, unconscious body thuds down atop Mori.

“Ugh!” Mori grunts.

Confractus! Confractus! Confractus! Confractus!” Beatrice shouts as she runs a circuit around their unconscious foes. With each curse-infused rapier strike she banishes the devil-ghost arms. Wisps rise up from the Berserkers — each wailing its anguish as it flies back to its enslaver. The Curse Rider who is now, thankfully, miles behind. Beatrice takes air, breathes it out.

“Some help here, hon?” Mori says.

She laughs, banishing tension as she stoops down to roll the massive biker off Mori. He stands, musses his hair self-consciously. “Holy damn fuck!” Mori exclaims in relief. “Well, at least we didn’t have to fight the cowboy and the rest of them.”

“Yet,” Beatrice replies, wiping at a cut on Mori’s face. Then, she leans in and gives him a big hug. Relieved they’re both still standing and breathing. For now.

“Yeah, yet.” Mori hugs her back, making her wince a bit as the places where the ghost-hand crushed her sting and throb. She relishes it regardless.

A head topped by a peaked cap pokes up through the smoldering hole in the gap curtain behind them. “Einfrieren!” an officer shouts as he stumbles onto the roof, pointing a handgun.

Beatrice and Mori separate. Mori lets his rifle fall, tapping the button with his foot. It smoothly transforms back into a briefcase. The officer stares at it. Beatrice uses the distraction to sheathe her rapier and raise her hands — bleeding a bit more curse energy into ignarus. Her energetic vessel is still more than half full. She can spare a little magic to smooth things over now.

“Schon Gut,” Beatrice replies. “English?” she asks. The officer nods. “These bikers attacked the train with fire bombs and weapons. They tried to gain access to the cabin.” It was basically true. Except, of course, the fire bombs were arms made of enslaved souls and devil’s magic. But she wasn’t going to explain it. The officer wouldn’t have believed anyway.

The officer looks at the three bodies sprawled across the train roof, takes in the white supremacist symbols on their clothes. “Terrorists?”

“We don’t know,” Mori says. “May I show you my badge?”

The officer jogs his head. Ignarus is interfering with his memory of Mori’s rifle and is occluding Beatrice’s rapier. “Gut. OK,” he says. Mori slowly pulls out his wallet and flashes his DOJ, Special Investigator, Climate Crimes Division badge. The officer examines it. Seems satisfied. Puts his firearm away. “Investigator Hansen, is this related to a case you’re working on?”

“Right now, we’re facilitating a meeting between high profile, high risk persons. Ivan Volkov and his daughter Glenda Goodfuture, the climate activist. We had reason to believe extremists would attempt to abduct one or both. We did not think they’d go so far as try a snatch and grab on a train.” Beatrice smirks. Mori’s explanation is also basically correct. The Berserkers were a right wing extremist group. Just the kind who’d easily fall to the diabolical influence of a Curse Rider.

“Schiesse!” the officer replies. “You should have mentioned something when you boarded.

“Confidentiality was considered to be, ah, more important. That was probably a bad move.”

“You know we’re going to have to take a statement,” the officer says, relaxing into ritualistic protocol. He shouts down into the gap, letting the two officers below know that everything’s in hand. They clamber up and begin to collect the Berserkers.

“I’d be careful about them. They seemed to be jumped up on something,” Mori says as the officers cuff, then drag the Berserkers off the train roof. Beatrice’s post-trauma grin widens. Yes, jumped up on being Curse Rider thralls. One of the most potent and dangerous drugs around.

The officer nods, taking in their weapons, the burn marks on their shoulders, the smoldering and broken clothes, the burn pattern like wings on areas of exposed back. “Fanatiker,” the officer mutters.

Mori accompanies them down through the hole, Beatrice follows. They pass a few cars down to a small compartment that doubles as an office to make their statement. The questions are tedious, taking most of the rest of the train ride. Beatrice is too worried about being hunted to pay too much attention. Her focus, instead, drifts outward. Keeping hold of omnis scienta, she guides it to a location high above the train. It provides a clear view of the train, long sections of track in front and behind, and a wide area around. Beatrice tenses as she notices clusters of bikers shadowing the train in its approach to Hamburg Station. They’re pointing, speaking on cell phones, reporting on the train’s movement. Her sensor flickers as it registers diabolical influence over the bikers. A confirmation she doesn’t really need. The Berserker shirts and racist symbols are more than enough to identify them.

Mori handles the questions with professional calm. She’s glad for his cool alertness. He also keeps his connection to omnis scienta, occasionally trading looks with her as the sensor picks up another cluster of Berserkers.

Though tedious, the officer’s report is useful. Law enforcement authorities are aroused to the violent action by the Berserker right wing extremist group — one of many listed as potential threats by German police and security agencies. Forces begin to deploy. Beatrice hopes they’ll help, doubts they’ll be anywhere near enough to deal with the Curse Rider.

Finally, finished, Beatrice and Mori rejoin with Ivan and Sadie. An officer sits calmly nearby, keeping watch on their ‘special person’ — Ivan. If she only knew the other half of it. That would wipe the casual look off her face. The train glides to a halt, Ivan and Sadie stand. The officer gets up and approaches.

“Transport security would like me to escort you to your next connection,” the officer says.

“Thanks,” Mori replies. Though it’s mundane help, Beatrice will take anything at this point. Ivan is pursing his mouth. Sadie brushes close to Beatrice and Mori, providing subtle aid through whispered invocations of sana carnes. Beatrice relishes the healing relief as it mends bruised ribs and crushed flesh. Their escort guides them out of the train and through the terminal. Police presence is clearly beefed up. Beatrice is reassured to see no Berserkers inside. Outside, omnis scienta tells a different story. Two clusters of bikers keep watch on trains from nearby street corners. They disperse at the approach of any police vehicle — only to reform minutes later.

At last, they arrive at the Esbjerg train. Their officer allows them to board early, ahead of other passengers still waiting on the platform. She ushers them to their seats around another table, then goes to the refreshment car to get them coffee.

They all exchange glances as the officer heads off. Mori slams his hands down on the table. “Holy hell! A Curse Rider! We’re going to have to fight our way through a goddamn Hunt!”

“We must warn Glenda,” Sadie replies. “Set an alternate meeting place.”

“No. Call off. You put Valeriya in danger,” Ivan says, his beady eyes flicking back and forth in anger.

“Ah, buddy, you put her in danger. You summoned that guy. That dark cowboy on the rail gate? Yeah. He’s a frigging devil. And his posse are those Berserker dudes,” Mori says.

“Who do they hunt?” Ivan says it evenly. “Surely not all of us.”

Beatrice looks at Ivan. His smirk is too smug. Too self-satisfied. He knows. He called the Curse Rider. To hunt and take us. At some level he must know. Mori turns away. Ivan seems even more satisfied at his discomfort.

“They may as well be hunting us all,” Sadie says to Ivan. “Without Mori and Beatrice, you would already be a monster. We all make it through the Heaven-Gate together. Or none of us make it. And we need Glenda to open the gate.”

Ivan’s eyebrows raise at the notion of his daughter opening a gateway to Heaven.

“Didn’t think of that when you summoned a fiend of Hell, did you, you wolf-bastard,” Mori says to Ivan.

Sadie lifts a hand. “Please, recriminations at this point are worthless.”

Beatrice looks around the table. “So what do we do? Clearly this hunt has only begun. They know our path. And we can’t rely on the train’s speed to keep us ahead of a Curse Rider and his Nightmare.” She flashes a look at Mori. “You saw the bike. It’s an infernal conveyance,” she says to him. “The kind that can take any form — winged, wheeled, tracked, or hooved. But that’s not half the problem. The countryside is crawling with extremists vulnerable to a devil’s influence. He can summon them and use them as easy as you or I walk and breathe.”

Mori spreads his hands. “Then we’ve gotta do something unexpected to throw them off.”

“What do you have in mind?” Sadie asks.

“Simple. We jump off the train.”

(New to the Helkey multiverse? Haven’t yet read the first chapter? You can find it here: Helkey 1 — The Memory Draught.)

(Looking for another chapter? Find it in the Helkey Table of Contents.)

Gish Optimized — The Dexadin (Morgen Schnee as Ultimate Duelist)

Welcome to Gish Optimized — a new series dedicated to optimizing one of the most enjoyable sub-types to play in all of Dungeons and Dragons. The Gish!

Named After the Githyanki of D&D Yore

So what is a Gish, you may ask? Well, Gish is an old term dating all the way back to Advanced Dungeons and Dragons. It comes from a specific monster — the Githyanki. First appearing in the Fiend Folio, published in 1981, the Githyanki were an evil race of humans who managed to throw off enslavement by the terrible Mind Flayers (aka Illithid).

A Githyanki Gish. Image from Forgotten Realms Fandom.

Having served under these despotic masters for generations, the Githyanki had developed a combination of powerful magic, potent psionics, and mastery of deadly magical weapons. In particular, Silver Swords were prized items forged by Githyanki and gifted to their most powerful swordmasters. These special talents aided them in their revolt. Led by their progenator — Gith — the Githyanki soon became the most feared pirates of the Astral Sea.

First Figher/Mages, Then The World

Among the Githyanki was a special sub-class known as the Gish. In Advanced Dungeons and Dragons, Gish were fighter/mages. And they were among the most badass of the type — slinging spells and swinging swords to deadly effect. As the years progressed, people who played characters that specialized in magic and swordplay often became known as Gishes — no matter the race. This urbanized term also steadily became non-specific to class — including Figher/Mages, Ranger/Druids, AD&D Bards, Fighter/Clerics and so on. As Dungeons and Dragons transitioned through editions 2-5, Gish became even more generalized and popularized. Many fictional characters in the modern zeitgeist combined swordplay with magic and people trying to build their favorite anime, movie, or live-action character in game often fell back to the Gish to make their powers seem more real.

5th Edition — The Golden Age of Gishes

Enter 5th Edition D&D and we come to the golden age of Gishes. A time when there are many, many core classes and subclasses that mix swordplay with magic. Eldritch Knight Fighters, Rangers of every stripe, Paladins, Bladesinger Wizards, Sword and Valor Bards, melee Clerics, and Pact of the Blade Warlocks all easily fall into this category. And that’s without multiclassing — which can back into a Gish in about a thousand different ways. Some 5e core classes are even specialized to the point that they can burn spell slots to make their sword strikes stronger. That infamous SMITE ability used by Paladins and, to a lesser degree, Pact of the Blade Warlocks. So it is fitting that for our first blog on the subject of Gish optimization, we’ll be looking at the King, or in this case, the Queen of Smites — the Paladin.

The Dexadin Optimized

Enter the Dexadin — or the dexterity-focused Paladin. It’s an oft-neglected Paladin build for numerous reasons. First, D&D typically preferences strength builds for melee damage. This is due, in part, to the fact that Great Weapon Master and Polearm Master are seriously potent feats. And you can find a thousand blogs and videos proclaiming the strengths of each. In another, somewhat more subtle, respect those sticking with Dexterity for a melee-focused class like Paladin also can miss out on powerful magic item drops — which in the published modules preference longswords and greatswords. This is particularly true for Adventurer’s League which relies on published material. One exception to this general rule is the Sun Blade — which appears in Curse of Strahd and Out of the Abyss. Another is a DADL adventure that includes a Vorpal scimitar. Those playing with Game Masters willing to drop things like Vorpal scimitars and Holy Avenger rapiers and short swords in their original built-worlds may tend to be less inhibited by lack of powerful dexterity-capable items in the standard adventures. It’s a soft constraint for these reasons.

On the flip side, the Dexadin has a number of inherent base benefits. The first is that high dexterity preferences better initiative roles. This moves our Gish off the line fast, allowing her to get in front of the flow of battle and capitalize on superior action economy. But have a care! Acting early in initiative is a great way to draw aggro. So watch out and don’t punk team monster too hard or too early unless you’re ready to take the incoming fire.

The second inherent benefit for the Dexadin is arguably a bit meh — you are better at ranged attacks. This adds some useful versality. But have a care — you’re a melee-focused character. So your specialty is not going to be ranged. Particularly, if you want to have the added defense bonus coming from a shield your use of bows will be inhibited by the action economy cost of taking the shield on and off. And you really want to have that shield bonus. Because you’re going to be in the enemy’s face a lot. Depending on your party composition, you will often be the first person in the enemy’s face. Dropping the shield to use a bow will seriously hurt your survivability. And, after damage, survivability is something we’ll be looking to optimize — at least a little bit. Sure, you’ll still want to have a longbow for those times when the enemy is way off and you can’t reach them. But you are going to have some vicious mobility (another thing we are somewhat optimizing — you want to get to the bads to deliver your SMITE after all). So as you level, situations where you can’t deploy your rapier and, more importantly, your SMITE, will grow more and more seldom.

The third inherent benefit is your higher dexterity gives you better saves to avoid AOE damage. This benefit can be kinda situational depending on campaign. However, DEX saves are some of the most common. And having both high DEX and high CHA will give you an effective soft proficiency in DEX saves. This is pretty darn cool.

Last of all, a high DEX opens you up to the PIERCER feat to use with your rapier, shortsword and, yes, longbow. Though not great by itself, this feat adds synergy to your inherent build benefits. It gives you a signature Brutal Critical-style move and it adds to your round-to-round damage by giving you a re-roll for piercing damage. Don’t like that 1. Reroll it. Pretty darn cool.

Morgen Schnee as Ultimate Gish Duelist

So we’ve talked a little bit about the basics of our Dexadin Gish build. But before we get into the nitty-gritty, crunchy-monkey stuff, let’s define what we are going for with our Dexadin. So what kind of Gish are we looking at here, after all?

First of all, we’re not looking at a BLAST and bash kind of Gish. Nor are we looking at an explosive PINATA kind of tank with damage retribution kind of Gish. Nor a SPANK and flank Gish… we could go on and on. In fact, we’ll be looking at some of these Gish builds later. For our Dexadin, though, which I’m calling Morgen Schnee after my Battlestorm Online character (Because she’s using this exact build. So if it rocks, you can watch it rock live on Twitch most Thursday nights from 930 to midnight. And if it sucks, you can also watch me fall on my face live as well. Bonus!), is a fast-moving pounce and SMITE Gish. In other words, Morgen the Dexadin uses her magic to position herself on the battlefield, to maneuver to strike the enemy with a serious VEANGEANCE in NOVAs or mini NOVAs, and to teleport herself out of sticky, high-aggro situations.

Our Dexadin is based on my Morgen Schnee build for Battlestorm Online — run by Ted Burgess. Above is my Roll20 character Bio for Morgen. You can watch the latest episode of Battlestorm Online most Thursdays on Twitch. Archived episodes are on YouTube.

So without further ado, let’s get into some crunchy highlights of the build. To be clear, I won’t be hitting every aspect of this build. But I will be giving you the major bits. So have fun building and/or customizing your own stab and SMITE Dexadin.

The Stab and SMITE Dexadin

Level 1 — We start with point buy. We put 9 points into Dexterity. This is our primary attribute and we really want to start at a 17 in this stat. 9 points gets us to 15. So we’re a lot of the way there. Next, we want a lot of Charisma. Sure, we could go Constitution secondary if we wanted more survivability. But the added synergy for the class coming from Charisma buffing you and your allies at later levels is kinda a big deal. In addition, the high score makes you shine in personal interactions. And we’re RPing this puppy as a bit of a glam Paladin. So we want 9 points for CHA — giving us a 15. We talked about Constitution earlier and we don’t want to neglect this needed attribute for front liners. You may not be a big bruiser, but you want to be tough enough to take some rockin’ hits. So we also throw 7 points into Constitution, but we won’t be bumping up with ASIs for this stat. This leaves you with 2 points for STR, WIS, and INT. I dumped STR and WIS to 8 and put Morgen’s INT at 10. But you do you.

Tony DiTerlizzi’s original conceptual drawings of Aasimar from 2e Dungeons and Dragons remain among the best, IMO. Image Source: Forgotten Realms Fandom.

Next we do race. Ahh…. All the wonderful options! We could definitely go elf and rock some cool elfin accuracy. And that is a seriously potent build notion in and of itself. We could go Custom Lineage or Variant Human to get some badass feats right out the gate. Great choices that I would never criticize. But, for Morgen, who’s a genuinely benevolent person, we want something with a bit more of a, dare I say, angelic feel. And for this build to really sing we want to get some serious extra scaling base damage, two damage resistances, mobility (do I hear flight?), and versatility options. Yep. You guessed it. The race we are choosing is Aasimar. Do I hear some groans? Are there angel haters among the masses? Probably. So if you’re one of those who doesn’t like Aasimar, perhaps just go elf or human or tiefling or custom lineage or somesuch. For my part, I like the Aasimar, particularly for this build. The first reason is we are building in a handy little kill switch that helps to balance out the fact that we chose the arguably less damage-optimal Dexadin build. We have to compensate for not having a polearm or a greatsword in some way. I chose angel. And right off the bat we get some cool buffs — first is Light Bearer, which gives us the Light spell as a cantrip. This is a very handy utility option that is quite thematic. It also gives you the ability to help your non-darkseeing buddies in a pinch. They’ll appreciate it. On top of your base Paladin Lay on Hands you get one HP of healing hands. It may not sound like much, but it will put one of your buddies back on his feet. Something that can save your entire party in a sticky situation. You get Darkvision too. In addition, you gain some amazing resistances — one to radiant damage and one to necrotic damage. The latter is literally a life-saver. Some of the nastiest monster damage types come from necrotic sources. Did I hear someone say Catoblepas? I think I did.

Using the Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything rules for character creation, we take the Aasimar starting ability score bonuses of +2, +1 and apply them to Dexterity and Charisma. This gives us a 17 DEX and a 16 CHA. Pretty badass, right? It gets better.

For class, we take Paladin. This is what we signed up for in the first place, right? No major Gish stuff at level 1. We have to wait ’til level 2 to get to that. However, we do access some great healing magic in the form of Lay on Hands, a cool detection suite in Divine Sense, basic armor and weapons proficiencies are all part of the bargain for our Dexadin.

For gear we want good AC and good attacks. At level 1 our options are limited. So we choose rapier which gives us 1D8+3 damage (not too shabby), a shield, and sell the chain mail for half to buy scale mail armor. An 18 AC at level 1 is looking pretty good too. We might spend our extra background cash to get another dagger or three (we took 1 at the start). Our high DEX makes throwing daggers look pretty optimal at this level.

So this rounds out our choices for level 1.

Moving on to Level 2, there are two things we really, really, like. The first is our fighting style. Since we’re a rapier-wielder and we’re interested in damage, we pick duelist. The +2 to damage may not sound like much. But it’s a solid static addition. This bumps us to 1d8+5 on our unaugmented strikes in melee and 1d4+5 with our thrown daggers. We’re not as badass as the human with the polearm or greatsword or maul at this point. But we are solid rockin an 18 AC, 18 HP and doing good consistent damage. We are also versatile with a pretty decent short ranged option while still holding a shield.

At level 2 we also get the spells. Oh, the yummy, yummy Paladin spells! I feel like I just opened a jar of spell jelly beans. Who needs magic spell cards when you can eat your own components? Watch out Magic the Gathering! All that tastiness aside, this is when our Gish aspect really comes online. With our 16 Charisma, we get 3 bonus spells and at 1/2 our level we have 1 base spell to choose from. That’s four. And since we are a Paladin, we can choose any four spells from the whole list each and every friggin day. Now that’s some versatility.

A drow Dexadin designed by Imogen Kaal. View Kaal’s portfolio here.

For our typical load-out, we are picking Divine Favor, Cure Wounds, Protection From Evil, and Shield of Faith. Divine Favor is a seriously badass buff spell. It’s a bonus action, so you don’t lose much action economy. And it adds +1d4 RADIANT damage to each of your strikes. It takes 4 hits to catch up to a first level SMITE, though. More if you’re fighting undead or fiends. However, for a long fight, this can really up your damage consistency round over round. Something that a Paladin can really want when dealing with mobs rather than bosses. Be careful at this level, though. Divine Favor is a concentration spell and right now your Constitution saves aren’t great. So you risk losing Divine Favor quick if you draw too much aggro. Consider for ranged attacks, long combats, and combats where you can position yourself to draw less aggro. Cure Wounds is a great backup to have for healing your friends. You’ll typically be wanting to spend your spells on SMITES. And you already have 10 HP of Lay on Hands, plus 2 HP of Healing Hands from Aasimar. That’s already pretty solid for an off-healer. But I find that when you need healing, you really need healing. And you don’t want to be empty when you really need healing. Protection From Evil is one of the most badass defensive spells against fiends that money can buy. Disadvantage to hit you is no joke, especially if you are mobbed. The other riders on Protection From Evil are situational life-savers. You want to have them when you are in THAT situation. Last of all Shield of Faith is a serious defensive buff. Your mileage may vary, though. I often prefer SMITES and Divine Favor. But when I want 20 AC at lvl 2, I want my bonus action to active Shield of Faith.

Enter Level 3 and we really start to see this build blossom. For starters we get to pick our Paladin Oath. Since we are playing a duelist focused Dexadin, we are picking the Oath Vengeance. RP-wise I might catch some flak for this. The standard understanding is that Oath of Vengeance Paladin is your Batman Paladin. A dark knight who may be less scrupulous in her quest to eradicate the world of evil. For Morgen, I’m going to focus more on the righteous rage side of the Oath of Vengeance. Her Oath is declared when evil pisses her off. And when that happens, the gloves are off. Otherwise, she’s a pretty kind, if a bit fiery and strong-willed person. Rules-wise, Oath of Vengeance gives us some serious sweetness in the form of Oath of Enmity. This turns on advantage against a chosen foe once per short rest as a bonus action. Abjure Enemy is pretty cool too as it’s an automatic debuff to one enemy’s mobility. That said, it’s more situational and secondary to the glorious vengeance coming from the Oath of Enmity.

Oath of Enmity gives us one half of the kill switch we are developing for our Dexadin. The second half of our kill switch also comes online at level 3. And that’s our Protector Aasimar ability — Radiant Soul. Ooowee, now we are talking. Radiant Soul causes beautiful spectral wings to sprout from your back — granting you a fly speed of 30 feet and causing one of your attacks or spells to do additional radiant damage equal to your level once on each of your turns.

An aasimar depicted by missuskisses on deviantart.

Why is this a kill switch and how does it work out for you? Well, since you have a high dexterity, you roll high on the initiative. You’re in a room with a big bad. You see the big bad and you want to throw down some serious heat. You spend your action to sprout your radiant wings and ignite your weapon with radiance. You spend your bonus action to declare you Oath of Enmity. Now you are a flying menace to your chosen foe dealing 1d8+8 damage on your weapon strikes and making your attacks at advantage. And don’t discount the ability to fly in selective combats without the use of a spell or magic item. The mobility from flight ensures that you will be able to deliver your damage more consistently while giving you better options to choose your place on the battlefield.

But wait, it just got even better. Why? Because you added one new first level Paladin spell slot. This means three potential smites. In addition, you’ve just gained access to Hunter’s Mark and Bane from your new Oath of Vengeance class. This means that on round 2 you can cast divine favor, or hunters mark and smite on a strike in which you hit — dealing 3d8+1d6+8 damage on a single strike or an average of 24 damage. If you crit, this rises to 40 average damage. And you can do it again next round. This is a solid mini kill switch for level 3. It bumps you up into the ranks of stronger damage dealers. You’re not the best of the best NOVA types at this level. But you are now quite respectable when considering both accuracy and damage output against a single foe.

Level 4, however, is when things start to get really fancy for our Dexadin. Because at this level we gain access to our first feat or ASI. Now I know I mentioned the Piercer feat and you’re probably thinking we take that feat here to bump our dexterity to 18 and gain the nice benefits of Piercer. But while that is tempting, I’m going to ask that we hold off a bit before dipping into Piercer. Am I crazy? Maybe, but hear me out.

Instead of Piercer we are looking at entirely different feat for level 4. Remember when we talked about those great feats for Strength-based Paladins way back in this blog? Well, we’re going to take one of those. Specifically, we’re going to take Great Weapon Master. Woah! You can only use that with heavy weapons you say? Well, that is only half true. Bear with me while we look at the wording of this amazing feat. Specifically at the first benefit:

“On your turn, when you score a critical hit with a melee weapon or reduce a creature to 0 hit points with one, you can make one melee weapon attack as a bonus action.”

This text doesn’t say anything about using a heavy weapon to gain this benefit. You just have to use a melee weapon. The second benefit of the feat does, however specify that you use a heavy weapon to subtract 5 to hit and add 10 to damage. So we can’t use that. But for our Dexadin, the added action economy of the first benefit — gain a bonus action attack when we crit or kill is a big deal. One that is too big to pass up. It sets up the possibility of a severe NOVA critical strike round in which we crit, smite, then use the bonus attack to smite again if we hit. Being an Oath of Veangeance and declaring our Oath of Enmity on a boss target also makes it more likely that these crits will occur and that the second attack will land.

Boom! Now we are talking! Still feeling jealous of Mr. Polearm or Mrs. Greatsword? Probably a little. But not as much. And we still get the nice benefit from our shield. Pretty sweet right?

At Level 5 we get the glorious thing that is extra attack and we add in some great new spells. Let’s go with the spells first. Oath of Vengeance gives us two beauties. The first is Hold Person. This spell is absolutely badass if it lands because it imposes paralysis — which makes all attack hits that land from 5 feet critical strikes while taking away the target’s actions until they save. This is a major team enabler, particularly if another of your allies is also a heavy hitter. The second, however, is one of the main reasons why we chose the Oath of Vengeance. And that is the beautiful spell as mobility enhancer that is Misty Step — hitherto referred to as Bampf! Caught in the jaws of a T-rex? Bampf! Surrounded by enemies with no way out? Bampf! Big fire gaint grabs you and wants to carry you off? Bampf! Out of movement and really want to hit that bad guy with your rapier? Bampf! The beautiful mobility potentials provided by Misty Step as Bampf are practically endless. And this wonderful spell adds another mobility arrow into a quiver that also now includes your Aasimar flight ability as Radiant Soul. Now that’s some synergy, baby!

Overall, our spell/smite quiver is starting to also get rather substantial at this level — 3 first level spells and 2 second level spells for 5 in total, plus our light cantrip. Yeah. That’s pretty Gish-a-licious.

But, arguably, the main reason we’re here is the extra attack. Now we get two attacks per round which is a major damage boost. Un-buffed, we’re doing 1d8+5 twice. Pretty decent consistent damage. If we crit or kill, we get another attack as a bonus action. And that’s also without magic item support. But where we really shine is during what I’m calling NOVA-critical rounds. What’s a NOVA-critical? Well, it’s when you do an explosive NOVA attack following a critical hit. These strikes aren’t easy to plan. But because we have the Oath of Enmity power granted by our Vengeance pali, we can fish for them. We want to fish for them on big bads. And when those fish do bite, they are really big catches.

So let’s apply our kill switch and see what a NOVA-crit round looks like. Round 1 we set up with Radiant Soul and Oath of Enmity on our chosen victim. Round 2 we crit with one attack for 2d8+6d8+5 (radiant soul) +5 (regular damage mod) for an average of 46 damage. We bonus action attack to smite for 1d8+3d8+5 — average 23 damage. And we take our second attack to smite for 1d8+2d8+5 or 18.5 damage. That’s 87.5 in total, without magic item support. If we had the time to cast Divine Favor, we add another 10 damage for 97.5. If we are fighting Undead or Fiends, this average damage rises to 115.5 assuming the 3 attacks hit. All with a rapier. How effective do we feel now? In addition, we are probably also flying, rocking a 19 AC with half plate, and sporting 42 hit points. We have 25 hp worth of healing in Lay on Hands and 5 from Healing Hands. All non spell. So we can give this to our allies or self heal without burning our spell or smite resources. On top of all this we have good initiative rolls and do nice consistent damage due to our combination of duelist and rapier weapon master.

I’m going to fast forward through the next levels a bit because I’m pretty sure you’ve gotten a gist of the build.

Video guide to the Stab and SMITE Dexadin on YouTube and Twitch.

Level 6 we pick up Aura of Protection — a great ally buff. Level 7 we get Relentless Avenger — another mobility buff that’s pretty situational for us because we are not a Polearm Master. But this was your choice when we picked Dexadin.

By Level 8 we finally pick the Piercer Feat. This bumps our Dexterity to 18, giving us an added +1 to hit and damage with our rapier. It also gives us a free re-roll on one of our rapier damage dice each turn and it grants us a +1d8 on damage when we crit with our rapier. Now Rapier crits, without smites, do 3d8+6 damage AND give us a bonus action attack through our Great Weapon Master feat.

At Level 9 we pick up 3rd level spells. For us this is another big milestone level as we gain access to the major mobility and attack buffing spell — Haste. Another gem coming from our Oath of Vengeance subclass. Haste gives us 3 attacks per round — four if we crit or kill. It also gives us advantage on all dex saves. This beautifully synergizes with our +7 bonus to dexterity saves by this level. Last of all, it doubles our base movement speed to 60 for both walking and flying. Haste is thus the third leg of our mobility platform that now includes Radiant Soul (flight), Misty Step, and Haste. All give us the ability to deliver our increasingly devastating attacks over larger and larger portions of the battlefield. Who needs ranged weapons when you have the means to reach your foes with near impunity. Some caution here is advisable. All these spells and powers take prep to set up or burn your bonus action. In addition, Haste is a concentration magic. You are +5 to your Constitution saves at this time. But Haste can still go down from damage or be dispelled. When this happens, your action economy takes a serious hit. So keep these limitations in mind when deploying Haste.

At Level 10, you gain Aura of Courage — a buff your allies will love you for.

And by Level 11 your attacks become even more potent through Improved Divine Smite. Your now doing 2d8+6 damage on each attack with your rapier without magic item support. If you’re Hasted, you apply this damage 3-4 times each round. That’s powerful consistent damage. If you turn on your kill switch — Radiant Soul + Oath of Enmity, you’re making all these attacks with advantage and you’re doing an additional 11 radiant damage on one of these strikes on a turn. All without adding in SMITES. When you do SMITE, you’re adding up to 5d8 damage with a level 3 spell slot. This is amazing on a number of levels. So let’s do another NOVA-crit assessment. In total on a NOVA-crit round in which you have Haste active, you hit on every attack, and you SMITE on every attack, you do a total of 11d8+23d8+35 damage. This averages out to 190 damage when adding in the extra d8 and one reroll from Piercer. With a rapier. Brutal! You are now competitive with some of the top NOVA builds while also maintaining a solid presence on the battle field when you aren’t blowing things up. You’re also very mobile when you choose to be and you have good survivability and defenses.

Hitting Level 12 we take an ASI to bump Dexterity to 20. This feels really good. We have probably already shed medium armor for Studded Leather. With a DEX of 20, our defenses are now strong — just 1 shy of those with plate mail and shield. Our initiative is now +5. And we have a Dexterity saving throw bonus of +8. Our base weapon damage again bumps — going to 2d8+7 with our Rapier. Sweetness!

Level 13 gives us some more spell goodies in the form of Banishment and Dimension Door. Banishment is a great trick for removing bads from the field. It’s a Charisma save which can be hard for many monsters to make. Just remember this spell is Concentration. So it may interfere with some of your other choices. Dimension Door is a big Bampf that takes an action to cast. But when you need to move 500 feet you have it. Another spell I’m going to recommend for this level is Greater Find Steed. We are already mobile through various spell and power options. But summoning a Pegasus with 90 feet of flight speed gives us even more range on a big battlefield. Remember, though, that we are not optimized for Mounted Combat. So the Pegasus’s survivability will rely a lot on your positioning on the battlefield.

Level 14 gives us Cleansing Touch with is a good, if situational, debuff remover.

Level 15… Ah… Delicious Level 15… gives us the wonderful, wonderful power adding on to our Oath of Enmity that is Soul of Vengeance. So against our sworn foe, with Haste active, we are making between 4 and 5 attacks per round if the baddie makes an attack. To be clear, the nasty doesn’t have to attack us for our Dexadin to get this benefit. It just has to attack something.

Coming to Level 16, we get another feat or ASI. At this level we really want some higher saving throws and so do our allies. So we are going to finally bump our Charisma — this time to 18. An 18 Charisma gives us +4 to all our saves. Allies in our aura also gain this benefit — which is set to expand to a 30 foot radius pretty soon. So now is a great time to give the Aura of Protection benefit a boost.

At Level 17 we gain Hold Monster and Scrying as well as 5th level spell slots. Hold Monster is an even better version of Hold Person. One that is made even more potent now that we have an 18 Cha. Scrying is a really cool spell for a Vengeance Paladin — afforing you with another tool for tracking down your sworn foes. Worthy of mention at this point is the level 3 spell Spirit Shroud — which up-cast to level 5 nets us an additional +2d8 on damage per hit. We probably still prefer Haste due to its synergistic benefits coming from mobility, defense, and the extra hasted action attack. However, Spirit Shroud is only a bonus action to cast. And though it requires concentration like Haste, it does not have the major drawback for ending the spell. Something to think about. Also worth mentioning is Banishing Smite. This is situationally very dangerous as it can be used on both melee and ranged attacks — dealing +5d10 damage and granting the ability to potentially remove a foe from combat entirely if they have less than 50 hit points remaining.

At Level 18 we get big expanded auras — that’s 30 feet for our Aura of Protection and Aura of Courage. Our allies are going to really love this. At this level, let’s do our last NOVA-Crit damage assessment. With the kill switch that is Radiant Soul and Oath of Enmity turned on, with Haste active, and if our chosen foe makes an attack, we end up with 5 attacks — 4 on our turn and 1 on our off turn. On our turn we do 11d8+30d8+46 or 233 average damage including Piercer. On our off-turn we do 7d8+25 for another 57 damage totaling 290 damage in one round without magic item support and assuming a critical, all smites at highest dice and all hits land. Devastating. It is worth noting that as a Paladin we are also going to see major befits from magic item drops at this level. So take this into account when comparing with other NOVA builds that may see less potential benefit from item drops. Heavy weapon Paladins and Heavy Weapon fighters, though, may see more benefit from magic items than a Dexadin. So YYMV.

We finish off at level 19 and 20 with 20 Charisma and our beautiful capstone in Avenging Angel which allows us to swiftly fly around the battlefield terrifying our enemies and buffing our own attacks and those of our allies when those enemies do succumb to fear. The 20 Charisma again bumps us up as a caster, increases the force of our magnetic persona, and buffs our saves as well as those of our allies. Some mention should be given to the Mobility feat — which might be tempting. I’m most likely to take Cha 20. But if you like Mobility — go for it! As for mobility, our Avenging Angel Capstone gives us 60 feet of flying speed, lasts 1 hour, and applies a frightened de-buff to our foes for 1 minute that also gives us and our allies advantage on attack rolls against them. One key benefit is the fact that such foes only get one save from this effect. So we are both super-mobile and super-devastating against mobs that don’t have fear immunity while our vengeful wings are sprouted.

And that Completes our Gish Dexadin Ultimate Duelist Build!

Whew! What a wild ride! I didn’t know how involved this character optimization post would be when I first started it. But this, at last, is the culmination of our Dexadin-build. A straight class ultimate duelist build with serious mobility, strong AC, good hp, and a devastating rapier. Fast on initiative, she will beat her foes to the punch most of the time and many will be lucky to survive even one round of her focus-fire attacks when she decides to lay down the heat. A very fun Stab and Smite Gish with lots of surprises up her sleeve. I hope you enjoy playing her. I’ll be playing this wonderful build and RP design as Morgen Schnee tonight and almost every Thursday on Twitch. Join me there if you fancy!

Helkey 17 — Gibbens Crane Ghosts Jet Blue

Gibbens Crane and his Nightmare roll like a fossil-fueled thunderstorm over I 35. Their oily procession provoking the blares of honking horns, stiff middle fingers, and shouts of road-rage anguish. Demons gather to slurp up the grief. To fan it further. Not far behind, a man on a Harley fingers his Glock and thinks about what he’d like to do to some hombres downtown, mass-murder glinting in his eyes. Big, black Nightmare-as-Hummer spews out a cloud that covers all four lanes. Confederate flag snapping its naked, hubris-fueled racism. Combustion engine pistons pumping out their angry staccato.

It’s a short, if raucous, four minutes to Austin-Bergstrom International Airport. Gibbens grins all the way. He’d forgotten how fun it is to punk humans. To get them all riled. The angry looks, loud profanity, and posturing is simply delicious. He sends an electric whip-crack to his captive wisps. Their anguished cries of pain add to his sadistic pleasure.

Coming, too-soon, to Presidential Boulevard’s departure lanes, Gibbons gives the Nightmare-Hummer one last coal-rolling gun of the engine, then cuts off a pair of newly-weds to get to the curb. Soot rains down on the, now miserable, couple. Gibbons pops the door, uncoils from his seat, and springs onto the side-walk. It’s early afternoon and the airport bustles moderately in anticipation of the late afternoon rush. Giving no care to bystanders, Gibbons cracks his electric whip again, summoning the orange transformative glow from his worbs. Nightmare melts back into a towering shadow as the Hummer simply vanishes. Onlookers gasp. But a fearful denial soon sets in as their fragile minds rationalize various explanations. The bad dreams are already forming. Many will spend the night tossing in mindless terror as the Nightmare grips them.

Gibbons and his Nightmare-shadow walk through the entrance. He pulls out a pack of Marlboro Reds. The kind that cut your lungs with fiber-glass when you smoke them. He lights up, glaring at a security guard approaching him. Orange light crackles in his eyes. The guard freezes in fear. Gibbons continues smoking even as masked passersby stare. Puffing like a chimney, he saunters up to the quick-pass line, cuts the five people waiting there, walks through the metal detector. There is a loud blare. Three TSA agents spring up as if waking from a stupor. Gibbons fixes them with his brimstone stare.

“You boys are doin’ bang-up work here. Keepin’ the natives from gettin’ too restless,” he says, taking a long pull on the cig and causing the cherry to glow bright red. “I think it’s time for a well-earned lunch break.” He cracks his electric whip. His captive wisps cry out in pain. A devil-magic spark leaps from the cigarette’s cherry and shoots through each TSA agent. They freeze in terror as they briefly glimpse various horrors of destruction swirling in Gibbon’s soul-eating gaze. Gibbons flicks his cherry on the stupefied supervisor and lazily walks by.

The concourse is only moderately trafficked. It’s disappointing. Gibbons has to work to get in people’s way. To force them to avoid him. He zig-zags against the flow of humanity — occasionally stepping on the odd toe or putting the occasional wimp on his ass. Each interaction spreading grief, rage, terror. He’s doing yeoman’s work for his liege here. But he can’t wait. Berlin is 13 hours away by normal flight. Not like this flight is going to be anything like normal. It’ll still take hours. His quarry won’t wait.

He plops down in a chair near his terminal. A silver-blue Boeing 777-300ER is parked just outside his window. Its graceful body swoops and tapers back to a tall, Jet Blue tailfin. This fossil fueled beast will suit his purpose just fine. He draws another drag from his cigarette, smiling as nearby passengers move away from him, complain to the steward at the gate, or haul away squalling brat kids. The steward approaches. Gibbons simply blows smoke in his face. The diabolical taint carried in that miasma puts the loser into a pathetic stupor. He stumbles off, briefly catches a glimpse of the Nightmare, then sits down in a fear-paralysis.

Gibbons barely notices as he swirls the smoke with his index fingers. The curling threads form a scene of Ivan the Wolf howling atop Furze Bank, Beatrice and Mori slaying Pride Eaters, then briefly exorcising the demon from Ivan. The scene — dancing and flickering with Hell-fire — draws a smirk from Gibbons. He can plainly see the deep wound made by the Pride-Eater’s claws in both Ivan’s body and wisp. A complete channel for demonic possession. This will make his hunt easier. It will also please his Lord. Ivan is already teetering at the edge of full transformation. What a pal.

The flight is starting to board. Gibbons doesn’t have a ticket. No matter. He cuts the line, ignores the orderly boarding procession, and struts down the jet bridge. A couple puffs of devil’s smoke confounds any protest from stewardess or pilot. It’s all just too easy.

Gibbons enters the filling plane and plops down in first class. The boarding will take a little while. He pulls his black hat down over his face and treats himself to a little shut-eye. Delicious Nightmare gathers through the link in his mind as he focuses on that beast of perpetual terror. It takes up most of the first class cabin. Its pall of fear dragging down each newly-seated passenger. This makes Gibbons’ smile widen as he gathers his wisp energy — meditating on a new Nightmare form. This one a possession.

“Um… Excusez-moi, tall, dark, and terrifying, but you are in my seat!!” The exclamation comes just as Gibbons finishes readying the path for his new devil’s magic. He tips back his hat. The newcomer is a pink-haired they with silver-painted long finger nails. Their androgynous face sports all the latest eye make-up. Gibbons attempts to blow smoke in the influencer’s face but discovers his cig has burned out. He pulls it out of his mouth, then flicks it on the interloper.

“Disgust!” they shout as they swat the butt away. Extending a finger, they tap Gibbons on the chest. “Learn to be less rude! How in God’s no-longer-so-green Earth did you get that cig on a plane, dear? Not that I wouldn’t mind one myself, but… Get out of my frigging seat! Oh!”

Gibbons has produced another Marlboro, igniting it with fire from his fingertip.

“Neat trick, dearie, what are you? Some kind of black magic man?”

Gibbons blows smoke in their face. They stumble off in a stupor, careening in disorientation through the cabin. “Ugh! I broke my nail!”

Gibbons’ smoke has now filled much of first class. This has a momentary pacifying effect on those sitting nearby. Some are confused by Gibbons’ smoke. Others brood over it. A few are intrigued. Then the dark, animalistic impulses born upon Gibbons’ miasma begin to take hold. Terror, rage, and various other dark passions bloom. The result is a general hubub as couples begin fighting, children shriek, and individuals either cower or engage in some form of mischief. Through it all, the poor stewards and stewardesses have their hands full. No one notices the smoking devil, spinning his black magic out of enslaved souls in torment, sitting among them.

The aircraft staff manages to get the unruly passengers under some semblance of control. The plane door closes. The cabin pressurizes. Gibbons feels a few bumps as the aircraft begins to taxi out onto the runway. They come to the markings showing the take-off pad — stripes of black and white stained brown by jet exhaust. The plane spins, pointing its nose toward the long strip of concrete and readies itself to launch.

Engines begin to rev. Their banshee wail fills the cabin. With a crooked smile, Gibbons flicks his wrist. The cries of wisps rise up to accompany the engine wail as diabolical magic courses out of Gibbons’ worbs, up his arm, along to the tip of his cigarette. It whirls there for a moment, then atomizes the cherry — bursting out in a split-flash of orange lightning that envelops the aircraft. With a spectral cry, Gibbons’ Nightmare is taken in by the hell-lightning. Its shadow expands to cover the body, wings, and engine of the aircraft. Silver metal darkens. Wings become serrated like those of a bat. A shark-tooth mouth design sprouts in the plane’s nose. Fins like those of a drake unfurl along its spine. The blue corporate emblem twists and flickers. It takes on various shapes — flickering between hammer and sickle and swastica before settling on the swastika. The engines enlarge. Their intake edges become serrated teeth.

Gibbons’ Nightmare now possesses the aircraft. Its engine revs louder. The banshee wail rises to a scream. Passengers add their own cries, white-faced, as giant gouts of flame shoot out from the jet engines, extend 300 feet behind, and ignite the grass. A man flails in his seat. Gripped by terror, his heartbeat gives way to full coronary arrest. The stewards are too shocked to notice — taken in by the spectacle of horror that is their kaiju aircraft.

Gibbons laughs out loud. Glorying in the chaos and terror. In the cockpit there is shouting as the throttle rams forward on its own, directly by a ghostly Nightmare hand. The plane rockets forward — born on a plume of smoke and fire. It howls down the runway. Engines open wide to spew their hellfire and black exhaust. The wings seem to flap and the beast-as-aircraft blasts into the sky. The shrieks of passengers grows louder. A poor child shits himself in terror. The stench and screams adds to Gibbons’ maniacal joy.

The plane climbs more like a rocket than an aircraft. Rising into the sky like some strange reverse meteor, it blows holes through clouds. Oil-thick spume falls from the smoke clouds behind it, raining pollution over the land below. It rises and rises, the sky darkens, clouds below seem tiny. The cabin pops and hisses with pressurization. A businessman points — exclaiming at the tiny dots of regular jet traffic passing far, far below.

Gibbons’ new Nightmare machine skirts the edge of space, moving far faster than a normal jet. They’ll arrive at Berlin Brandenburg in just 7 hours — about half the regular flight time. Gibbons puffs his cig as he takes in the shocked-to-silence passenger cabin, hears the pleas for assistance over the radio being transmitted by pilot and co-pilot through the closed cockpit door.

A passenger shakily makes his way to the lavatory. He opens the door, enters, and unzips. He sits down. But his momentary relief turns to terror as the Nightmare grips him with jaws that emerge from the toilet. He is clenched in the spectral maw, shrieking as he is shaken back and forth on the seat. Blood spouts from his nose, flowing down the front of his dress suit. A vessel inside his brain has ruptured from the Nightmare’s assault on body and spirit. His cries grow slowly weaker as he hemorrhages. A stewardess approaches the lavatory, ventures a glance inside, recoils in fright at the scene of the man gripped by spectral jaws. She musters some courage, grabs the man’s hand, pulls him. The jaws grip him tight as they struggle. At last, they relent and she falls to the ground with the dying man atop her.

“Help!” she yells to a second trembling steward. After a moment, some passengers aid her in carrying the Nightmare-stroke victim back to his chair. From that moment on, no-one dares get up to go to the lavatory. A number relieve themselves in their seats.

Gibbons continues to merrily puff away on his cig. There will be more sacrifices to the Nightmare possessed aircraft as they continue their swift passage. As is fitting. This dark new reality seems to have dawned on the passengers who stare out their windows in terror, hide beneath coats and blankets, or even crouch on the floor. Ghostly forms now run up and down the length of the passenger cabin — taking the shape of grasping tendrils, toothy maws, or wicked eyes. They are literally riding along in the belly of the beast.

Gibbons lets out a satisfied puff of pollution. He’s done his work for now. His Nightmare will handle the passage. Lowering his hat over his face, he settles in for a well-earned nap. His nap is not a human sleep. It is a fugue shared with his Nightmare as they feast together on the terror of the passengers. As they glory in each new life taken in terror for the sake of Hell.

Six hours into the flight and 13 victims later, Gibbons wakes from his feasting fugue. He leans over his seat, reaches down to a cowering passenger. With a rattlesnake strike of his arm, he wrests her cell phone from a clenched grip. She whimpers but offers no resistance. He lifts his new prize, a gleaming iphone, taps it, and infects it with one of his wisps. This one is a demon. A taken Pride Eater. One of a handful he keeps for a special occasion. The Pride Eater rifles through the phone as Gibbons whips it with his electric lash, readying for his call. A pentagram appears on the iphone screen. Orange devil’s script blossoms in a glowing circle around it.

“Ivan Volkov, prophet of Asmodeus,” Gibbons speaks into the pentagram. The screen vibrates as the Pride Eater seeks Volkov both on Earth and through the cellular network. Its demonic form surfing through each connection even as its senses locate Ivan sitting at the Mio Bar in Berlin. The Pride Eater shrieks its ecstatic joy-hunger as it causes the bar tender’s phone to ring.

“Hello, this is the Mio Bar, how may I help you?” the bar-tender’s voice crackles on the line in German.

“Yes, I’m lookin for someone at the bar. Name’s Ivan. Might I speak with him?”

“He’s here. Just a minute.”

Gibbons cracks his devil’s grin. There is a rustling as the phone changes hands.

“Da? Who is it?” Ivan’s voice crackles through the connection.

“It’s your good friend, Mr G. — representative for Mr A.”

“Don’t know you.”

“You see, that’s where you’re mistaken, old Ivan. We’ve known each other for quite a long time. And our recent meetings at the top of Furze Bank Tower have yielded great reward. We gave you the gift of power earlier tonight. Power to destroy the wretched folk who afflict you. More is on offer right now. All you need do is say ‘yes, I accept,’ and it’ll be yours.”

Silence and crackling sounds over the connection. An image of the bar-scene, carried to Gibbons by the Pride-Eater’s sight, flickers over the iphone screen.

“Come on, Ivan, what will it be. You want to let that negro continue to disrespect you? Or you going to show him who’s boss?”

There’s silence for just a moment longer, then Ivan says — “Da, I accept.”

Gibbons’ grin widens in triumph. “Very well! Now here comes the stuff!” Gibbons taps the phone and the Pride Eater flows down the line and into Ivan. Gibbons watches the screen with satisfaction as the Russian begins to transform. As he starts to attack Jonas Herrington. Then Beatrice and Mori are there, weaving their protections around Ivan, knocking the Pride Eater contact out of him. The Pride Eater shrieks with anguish as it flees back to Gibbons’ worb. The pentagram and diabolical writing fade from the iphone.

“Fucking jackholes!” Gibbons curses as he tosses the iphone to the ground. Its face-plate shatters. The girl in the next row whimpers but doesn’t dare reach out to retrieve her phone. Gibbons’ moment of rage soon fades. He has now scented them a second time. His quarry. And once he catches scent of a quarry, there is never hope of escape.

The Nightmare aircraft shrieks through the starlit sky as it plummets down its fiery tail toward Berlin. Airport a-bustle with siren wails as emergency crews gather. The pilots have at last sent their mayday signal ahead. A confused response team sprays runways with foam. Air traffic controllers track the aircraft swooping down on Brandenburg Airport like some dragon out of fiction. News media is all abuzz with talk of hijackers and terrorists. The sky looks like a meteor-fall.

Stewards and stewardesses are doing their best to prepare the passengers for impact. The plane is moving too fast. The landing gear won’t lower. Fire from the Nightmare envelops the craft as runway lights grow into focus before them. One of the pilots goes into shock and begins to hyperventilate. He passes out. The other tries to wrestle with the yoke which, possessed by the Nightmare, jerks back and forth, ultimately punching him — cracking his skull wide open.

The plane slams down onto the runway with both pilots incapacitated. It careens in a shower of sparks. Steel and titanium rend open, the jet twists, a wing flies off. Passengers are hurled in all directions — still attached to seats or ripped from them. The plan shrieks to a halt, jet fuel exploding into fire.

In the midst of the inferno, untouched by fire, Gibbons stands from his rent chair. He casually kicks away a large piece of debris that obstructs his passage. It must weigh about 1,000 pounds. It flies off like a child’s toy. He walks from the wreckage and onto the tarmac. Booted feet splash in the pools of burning jet fuel. He does a little murder-joy skip out onto the grass, waltzes to the fence. Lifting his hand, he calls his Nightmare back to him. The plane slumps and shakes, withering back to its original if now-broken and burning shape.

Fire engines and ambulances surround it — sirens blaring. Streams of flame retardant bathe the burning form. Rescue personnel comb the area for survivors.

“Asmodeus, lord, accept this sacrifice of mortals, call forth thy Terror Hounds to take what victims you will. For the glory of Hell!” Gibbons incants. At this last phrase, the hounds emerge — ripping wisps from the victims scattered through the burning wreckage and out across the runway.

Gibbons then grabs the fence. Peeling back a section of links, he steps through the gap and onto the road. With a whip-flick of his wrist, his Nightmare again transforms into a gigantic black Hummer. He mounts, then blasts off toward Berlin, eyes set to his quarry.

(New to the Helkey multiverse? Haven’t yet read the first chapter? You can find it here: Helkey 1 — The Memory Draught.)

(Looking for another chapter? Find it in the Helkey Table of Contents.)

Battlestorm Online — Player’s Guide

It is the early 2030s and the online gaming world is abuzz with excitement. A new breakthrough has enabled full dive participation in virtual games. The breakthrough, encapsulated by the novel brain-link hardware called Ghost Gear, fully projects the wearer’s senses into a virtual reality environment — allowing users to interact with computer-generated worlds at a level on par with real life.

You are one of these gamers. A person who, in real life, may be a student, an office worker, a scientist, a doctor, or a teacher. But on your time off, you’re a gamer. Whether casual or hard core, you are one of 10,000 people selected to participate in the world’s first full dive Dungeons and Dragons games. This rich virtual environment MMO — called Battlestorm Online — is set in the fantasy world of Valhalla. There, dangerous monsters inhabit unexplored wildlands and deadly, trap-filled dungeons — presenting an unrivaled challenge to players.

Battlestorm Online players begin in Midgard — the starting level of Valhalla. Map art is by Battlestorm Online co-creator Ted Burgess.

Players select avatars that access all the classic and well-loved features of Dungeons and Dragons. These include a plethora of fantasy races — elves, dwarves, half-elves, aasimar, humans, halflings, gnomes, tieflings, half-orcs, dragonborn, fairy and many more. Classes from fighters, rangers, rogues, paladins and monks to clerics, warlocks, sorcerers, wizards and artificers provide players with a vast array of sword and sorcery options.

These avatars then become the players’ personas as they dive into the virtual world of Valhalla to experience the magic of Dungeons and Dragons first-hand.

Rules For Character Creation

All players diving into Battlestorm Online’s virtual world of Valhalla start off as level 1 characters in their chosen Fifth Edition Dungeons and Dragons class. They build their attributes using the point buy rules and gain 27 points for character creation.

Source books included in Battlestorm’s virtual setting are: The Player’s Handbook, The Sword Coast Adventure Guide, Xanathar’s Guide to Everything, Fizban’s Treasury of Dragons, Tasha’s Caldron Of Everything, Volo’s Guide to Monsters (Races), Mordenkeinan’s Tomb of Foes (Races), Wild Beyond the Witchlight (Races), Princes of the Apocalypse (Races, Spells), Dungeon Master’s Guide (Class Death Cleric). New official sources and spells may be added as the game progresses.

Though avatar/character alignment is determined by each player as a part of character creation, fighting other players outside of sanctioned duels will have special additional effects in Battlestorm online. Those who attack other players will see the crystal icon floating above their avatar’s head turn from green to orange. Consistently killing other players will turn avatar icons to red. Orange icons last for three days. Red Icons last for a variable period the first time, then for an indefinite period. In this way, the game developers have set up a separate ‘alignment’ system based on whether or not a character engages in player killing or PKing. This second system is thus a visible warning to other players.

All official backgrounds are available to Battlestorm Online players. In addition, the following custom backgrounds are provided as part of the source material (included in the backgrounds section) — celebrity gamer, professional, student, doctor, teacher, hacker, retiree, police officer, veteran, and influencer. In this way, you can decide to leverage your ‘in real life’ (IRL) knowledge as part of your player creation process.

In addition, the virtual environment of Battlestorm Online seamlessly leverages another set of your IRL knowledge as two new in-game tool skills. These are — Main Menu and Directory Search. These search and game learning skills can be used with your avatar’s Intelligence or Wisdom untrained. You can choose training in these tool skills as part of your background when appropriate.

Every Battlestorm Online player begins with a special new magic item — the Teleportation Crystal. You may use an action to activate your teleportation crystal to teleport to any known safe zone. Known safe zones are safe zones you have previously explored. You may also use your action to activate another player’s teleportation crystal if they are unconscious or incapacitated. In this instance, it teleports the players avatar to their default safe zone. This is usually a guild hall or a home town.

Home Towns and Guild Halls

Home towns are places where each player begins their experience in Battlestorm’s world of Valhalla. These starting points are cities roughly organized by race. They include:

The Holy City of Ashkelon, located on the west coast of Midgard and ruled by High King Artanis. Ashkelon is the home town to humans, hill dwarves, lightfoot halflings, and aasimar.

The Island City of Dinas Emrys ruled by majestic Myrddin — a golden dragon. It is the home town for dragonborn, high elves, rock gnomes, and aasimar.

The Merchant Port City of Mio Elysse ruled by a mysterious person of unknown background. Mio Elysse is home town to humans, half-orcs, tieflings, kenkus, goblins, and bugbears.

The Mountain Fastness of Niðavellir whose golden halls are ruled by the great King Sindri. This great fortress city is home town to mountain dwarves, drow, stout halflings, goliaths, and minotaurs.

Losaelfar, Realm of the Elves is ruled by Raejisa Nightbranch — a wood elf circle of the moon druid. It is home town to wood elves, forest gnomes, firbolg, and tabaxi.

Half elves are able to claim any of the above cities as a home town. Each home town provides quests, a trading post, hosts a large safe zone, houses numeous NPCs, and is a source of lodging and food.

Guild Halls can also be found or established in home towns. They are home bases specific to collections of players bound together in common purpose. Battlestorm Online players may form guilds with groups of four or more starting members. Establishing a guild unlocks a guild hall home-base that is a safe zone for players. Players determine what their guild hall looks like and decide the function of each guild hall room. Guilds can be expanded by inviting voluntary participation by new members. Guild rules are established by each individual guild. However, no guild can force players to remain in that guild, though they must invite a player and a player must accept the invitation to join. Guilds facilitate the sharing of treasure, information, training, and resources.

Player and Monster Hit Point Bars, Icons, and Statistics

Players diving into the Battlestorm Online environment can see all player and monster HP bars in-game. These take the shape of a bar wrapping around the upper left hand side of a player or monster avatar. As HP bars deplete they change in color from green to yellow to red. You can also see all players’ class and name icons by focusing your perception on the player’s avatar. If you are in a guild, you can see other guild member’s game statistics by using the game menu.

Removed and modified Spells and Items

To expand the fantasy feel of Battlestorm Online, to increase the game’s sense of danger and lethality, and to encourage overland exploration of Battlestorm’s rich environment, certain standard Dungeons and Dragons spells have been removed or modified. Teleport, Teleportation Circle, and Plane Shift have all been removed. Gate can only be used in Battlestorm for summoning. Raise Dead, Revivify, Reincarnate, Resurrection and True Resurrection have been removed. Wish — can’t be used for long range teleportation or raising the dead. Generally, magics enabling long range teleport other than to safe zones and raising the dead are taken out. This rule over-rides specific powers that would otherwise grant these options.

In addition the Cube of Force has been modified to take charge damage from hits with magical weapons and high damage attacks such as AOE spells and breath weapons. Meanwhile, the Helm of Teleportation is removed.

Sanctioned Player against Player Dueling

A new, special feature for Battlestorm Online is sanctioned duels between players within safe zones. These duels allow players to test their mettle against one another without risk of Pking — since you cannot die or have your hp bar reduced within a safe zone. A duel creates a minor exception to this rule that sets your hp bar potential loss to 1/2 your maximum hp value.

Duels must be agreed on by two players. Typically, one player sends a duel invite and the other accepts. Any other rules for the duel can be agreed upon by the two players before the duel commences. Once a duel is accepted, a one minute countdown timer starts. At the end of the countdown, the duel begins and each player rolls initiative.

The duel ends when one player reaches half hp, is incapacitated for more than one minute, or when one player surrenders. Damage taken during duels immediately heals after the duel.

No-one can be forced to duel against their will.

Players may engage in duels to test their strengths, for training, to settle grudges, or to settle a challenge. For example a player may ask to duel a guild master to earn the privilege of serving in an otherwise exclusive guild.

A Gaming Experience Like No Other

Battlestorm Online will provide a fantasy gaming experience like no other to the lucky first 10,000 players to enter the game. Since you are one of these chosen few, you will have the opportunity to take part in a world of legends which will fully engage all your senses. Your experience will be so real that you will think you have been transported to an actual alternate reality. So welcome! Grab your Ghost Gear and dive in! Wonderous adventure and terrible danger await!

(Want to choose a Background for a player in a Battlestorm Online game? You can find twelve new BSO backgrounds here.)

(Looking for other gaming related content? You can find it in the Gaming Studio.)

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