Kelly was been working on some short stories with a “snow day” theme.
If you want to check them out, you can find them over on Reedsy.
Kelly was been working on some short stories with a “snow day” theme.
If you want to check them out, you can find them over on Reedsy.
Bill longs for a life of adventure and a chance to leave his family’s farm. When brigands set their eyes on the property, he gets more than he wished for.
The Storm, by Kelly Pawlik, is set loosely around a table top roleplaying game supplement called Tangible Taverns: Gumption, and is available now on DriveThruFiction.
Read an excerpt:
The rope cut into Bill’s wrists. One of the figures, briefly illuminated by the dim light of the small cook fire, had a hatchet tucked into the belt fastened loosely around his hips, and the hilt of a knife reflected the light from the fire. Bill was downwind of the fire and the smoke created a haze in the air that assaulted his lungs and made his eyes sting.
He blinked repeatedly and tried to cough, but the gag in his mouth made it difficult. He squeezed his eyes shut, hoping once he opened them, he’d be back on the farm. Bill recalled the fight he and his father had earlier that day. It felt like much longer ago. Bill had been desperate for a chance to leave the farm then. Now he’d give anything to be back there.
Kobold Press is releasing a series of NPC blog posts, written by Kelly. Each post details the NPC and includes stats for levels 1, 4, 7 and 9.
Check them out now.
This piece of microfiction is a follow up to Secret Santa.
Trefor’s face blanched. It was just as he feared: another shiny red present with a fluffy green bow. This was the third one. He looked up and down the hall, but there was no one there.
Trefor picked it up, and held it as far away from his body as he could, and carried it down the stairs and around the back of the building to the dumpster. He looked around again, lifted the lid of the dumpster and tossed the perfectly wrapped present into the bin.
He made it to work on time. He’d hated the job when he started there eighteen months ago. His boss at the time was a penny pincher, a real scrooge. But he’d showed her. He’d showed them all.
It was Christmas Eve, and it seemed everyone was out of groceries. The shift should have passed quickly, but Trefor was on edge. Everyone looked sinister.
After several hours, he clocked out and got on his bike. He breathed a sigh of relief as his apartment complex came into view. Only a few hours left. He’d almost done it.
He secured his bike in the rack outside and made his way to the elevator. The hall was empty. Trefor pressed the button and waited. He heard something down the hall and turned to look. The elevator pinged and the doors opened. His eyes focused on the strange shadow that rounded the corner, and Trefor stepped backward into the elevator. The doors closed.
Trefor realized he wasn’t alone. A tall figure peeled himself from the shadows in the corner of the elevator.
“Hello my little elf. You haven’t been accepting my gifts.”
The voice sent a chill down Trefor’s spine. He punched the elevator buttons, desperate for it to open.
The figure produced a box and held it out to Trefor.
When the elevator doors opened on the third floor the only thing inside was an empty red box and a green ribbon.
A vehicle pulled into the driveway. It was another SUV with roof racks and tinted windows. This one was white, and it was spotless. Not an easy feat in the current weather. He supposed she must have taken it through a car wash today.
He watched as the driver climbed out. She was a curvy woman in her thirties. She put the strap of her leather purse over her shoulder and made her way to the rear hatch. He watched, tucked behind some bushes on the property two doors down, as she picked up several paper bags and closed the hatch. The bags all had different store names on them. As he’d suspected, she’d been busy shopping.
This was the fourth house he’d done this week. There were three last week as well. He had more packages to deliver before Christmas, but he liked to watch as the recipients found them.
The woman walked up to her door and noticed the small package. It was wrapped in shiny red paper and had a wide band of green ribbon tied around it. The ends of the ribbon formed a big fluffy bow. Presentation made all the difference, and he was proud of his new-found wrapping skills.
She grinned and bent over the box. From behind the bush, he smiled.
She read the tag.
Don’t open until Christmas. Happy holidays. From Kale Frumps
The woman looked around. Her eyes scanned over the bushes. He knew she hadn’t seen him. She unlocked the door and opened it, and then bent down. The handles of the paper bags slipped down her arm, but she scooped up the box and went inside.
He waited a moment, then slipped out from the behind the bush and started walking down the street. He could get one more delivery in today. The convenience store owner. It had been tricky to figure out where he lived. But he knew now.
He would have loved to see them open the gifts as well, but this would have to do. He could imagine the look on their faces Christmas morning.
The next few days were busy. He stole moments where he could and stayed up late to put together as many more as possible. By the time Christmas Eve arrived he had managed to visit everyone on his list.
Trefor lay his head on his pillow and smiled. He’d gotten rid of the last of the materials today. Just before bed he’d placed what remained of the roll of green ribbon at his mother’s wrapping station.
The last delivery had been close. His former gym teacher had almost seen him. The man had spent last year telling him all the ways he could improve his form. It was ironic that he moved fast enough to avoid him now.
It had been worth it. No matter what came next, it would be worth it.
* * *
“Christmas Morning Disappearances: A Dozen Missing ” read the headline on December 27th.
There were no leads. All evidence suggested they vanished. One man said he’d gone to refill his cup of coffee in the kitchen and when he returned his wife was just gone.
Each of the missing people left behind several gifts, both wrapped and unwrapped. At each home a shiny red box lay empty on the floor, its long wide green ribbon nearby. Don’t open until Christmas. Happy holidays. From Kale Frumps read the tag.
He knew he must keep very still. Footsteps moved down the hall toward him. He sucked in his breath and held it, hoping he was hidden by the shadow of the plush couch. The figure moved into the room carrying an oversized bag. They paused briefly and he wondered if they knew he was there. The figure moved toward the tree, which was still illuminated with tiny white lights. Slowly, they reached into the bag and pulled several boxes. Each one was placed gingerly around the tree. He took a small breath in through his nose and watched as the figure turned and walked back out of the room, padding softly in their slippers. He’d discovered the true magic behind Christmas.
Kobold Press has a series of blog posts, written by Kelly, about Inbar. This young woman left her home and family in Siwal to explore the Northlands. She records her adventures in letters she sends home to her family.
In addition to Ibar’s insights these blog posts contain more information about the Northlands, a region of Kobold Press’ Midgard campaign setting.
We all know the drill: you cast your teleport or greater teleport spell and then: poof! You appear in your destination. Only what if that isn’t exactly how it goes? What if there is a stop on the way? A stop no one wants to, no one can, talk about?
“Please exit the circle to your left,” said a bored voice.
She blinked. She had been expecting to see bustling streets and colourful garments, to have her senses bombarded with the strong smells of spices, the murmur of thousands of people speaking in a language she couldn’t understand, and the heat of a warm sun.
Instead, she was standing in a strange room. Rows and rows of seats lined this endless expanse and she seemed to be standing in some sort of circle.
“Please exit the circle to your left,” repeated the voice. “You need to take a seat.”
Lunata blinked again and cast her eyes about for an explanation, but her feet remained firmly planted. Suddenly she realized her companions weren’t at her side. Panic began to well up inside her as she contemplated how she may have flubbed the spell. She was sure she had read the scroll verbatim, and she was sure she was capable enough to manipulate such magics now, even after that slight setback last month. Gregor would never let her live this down, assuming he was okay.
There were a mix characters sitting in the chairs: assorted races, heights, clothing. All of them seemed bored, though a handful of them were looking at her, some with amusement, some with sympathy.
“You need to step out of the circle. Move to your left. Now.”
The voice had become impatient and she noticed a pair of strange beings made of light moving in her direction.
She looked around frantically and exited the circle, stepping to the left as the voice told her. The people made of light were almost on her now.
“Lunata Yarimania, step this way please,” said one voice. It was impossible to tell if it was male or female. It didn’t sound hostile, but it wasn’t friendly either.
“Where am I? What is this place?” She cast about once more, noting the seamless grey floor stretching as far as she could see. Circles, like the one she had arrived in, appeared intermittently in the endless expanse and rows of hard chairs, hundreds, perhaps thousands of them, filled the space between the circles. Many were empty, but it was hard to tell just how many were occupied.
“Newbies, am I right?” said the second being to the first.
Lunata thought for a moment it rolled its eyes, but neither being said anything else; they simple turned and began leading her off.
She glanced at an old man sitting in a chair. He had a long grey beard and he was intently reading an old looking tome while a small black bird sat upon his shoulder, staring intently at Lunata. A glass ball lay in the seat next to the old man, glowing with the small pale white light of the stars decorating the man’s deep blue robes.
Everyone here seemed to be sitting alone and almost no one was speaking to anyone else. The silence was broken by the occasional zing of an electrical surge or a cough.
“My friends, where are they?” she tried again, hurriedly following the creatures made of light.
The first being, she thought it was the first one, heaved a sigh.
“In your hands.”
For a moment Lunata thought it was some sort of metaphor. Zanthu was always going on about the bond they all shared, about how their fates were intertwined, about how there were few people he trusted to hold his life in their hands. It always made Gregor roll his eyes. Then she looked down.
She was so surprised she almost dropped the ball she was holding. It was like the one that had been sitting in the seat next to the old man, and she fumbled to hold onto the luminescent sphere.
“Careful there,” said the second figure, and she knew it was the second figure because she could hear its amusement.
Again, Lunata cast about. Most beings seemed to have a ball like this.
A dark skinned human man with tribal tattoos, simple clothing and a staff resting at his side was holding the ball casually in one hand while absentmindedly stroking the space between the eyes of a green lizard.
An elf with long blonde hair, a rapier tucked into his belt, sat spinning the ball on his finger. His clothing looked piratical and as she walked past him he looked right at her and winked.
Lunata looked down at her own glowing orb, squinting as she did so, and gasped. There they were, both of her companions in a miniature version of exactly how they looked just before they had departed the alley behind the tavern. Zanthu looked calm, as he always did. Gregor had his eyes shut and his muscles, tiny as they were just now, seemed to be tense, as if something bad were about to happen.
They walked past several more rows of seats, many of which were empty. Lunata started as a being appeared in a circle they were passing by.
A half-orc female stepped out of the circle, holding her own glowing ball in one hand. She was dressed in leather armor, not unlike Lunata. A shortsword and a hand crossbow were affixed to her belt. She nodded at Lunata and moved toward a chair, glancing up as she did so.
Lunata looked up for the first time. She wasn’t sure how she hadn’t noticed them before, but coloured lights made a map on the ceiling high above. They were almost like stars, but in various colours. She could see some yellow lights moving about while others remained in one spot. One of the yellow lights, which was right above her, was moving at the same speed as two bright white lights. A few other white lights were scattered about the ceiling star map, but they were off some distance away. Blue lights created circles that seemed, best as Lunata could tell, to correspond to the circles in the floor. There was a red area far off to the right, in the direction her guides seemed to be moving, and all of the yellow lights there were stagnant.
The yellow light and two white ones were approaching a blue circle. Lunata looked back ahead of her just in time. The figures had stopped and she just about run into them. The second figure sighed, as if he or she knew Lunata nearly ran them them down.
Lunata clutched her glowing orb and looked around as the two figures turned. The lights above circle spelled out a destination Lunata could not read. Suddenly the blue lights rearranged themselves into a new word, one she vaguely recalled as a place name Gregor had mentioned once.
“Well, here you are,” said the first figure. “Just a bit of paperwork to finalize first.”
“Paperwork?” Lunata almost stuttered.
The second figure smirked. She was sure of it.
“Yes, of course. Just sign here, and here,” the second figure presented Lunata with a hard board stacked with crisp white parchment unlike any the girl had ever seen.
She tried to make out the words, but there was a lot of complicated wording and very small print.
“It’s all quite standard,” said the first voice, as if that was reassuring.
“You won’t hold us responsible for any malfunctions in the circles, you understand precise destinations cannot be achieved, the level of safety, or lack of, at your destination is in no way our fault, and so on and so forth.” The second figure raised its eyebrows at her, as if challenging her, before handing her a strange hard tube she guessed she was meant to sign with.
“What is this place?” asked Lunata, still confused. She was juggling the board of paper and the glowing sphere, leaving her no hands to turn the pages on the board.
“The tele-port,” answered the first voice simply.
“There are others to tend to, so if you need more time, we can take you to the red zone. I don’t recommend that, mind you, some have been there for, I’m not even sure how long now.”
Lunata could tell this was a threat and whatever the red zone was with its stagnant yellow dots, she was sure she did not want to find out.
“I, uh, so this is standard teleportation process?” she asked dumbly, trying to flip the page.
“Indeed,” answered the first voice.
A kind-eyed halfing woman dressed in a plethora of skirts smiled warmly at Lunata. She was sitting in one of the chairs, waiting patiently by the circle Lunata had just arrived at, her own glowing orb set upon her lap with one hand gently cradling it. She nodded encouragingly at Lunata, who took a deep breath, and signed.
“Excellent. Then there, and there,” the second figure said gesturing at two additional lines on other pages. “And we’re all set.”
He snatched the board back from her and it seemed to disappear the moment it was back in his hands.
“Watch for your destination and then step into the circle,” said the first figure, turning to leave.
She glanced once more at the changing letters. She’d been there before, it wasn’t a week’s travel from her hometown.
The letters changed once more, denoting a place Lunata had never heard of and someone stepped into the circle. She wasn’t even sure where he’d come from, but suddenly he was gone.
“Don’t miss it,” said the second. “Who knows how long you’ll wait if you do.”
She glanced back hurridely at the lights by the circle which were changing once again and then, not taking her eyes off of them, for they seemed to change on a whim, she backed into a nearby chair, not far from the halfling.
“Don’t worry,” said the halfling cheerfully, “you’ll have the hang of it before you know it.”
“So, you do this all the time?” asked Lunata dumbly, still confused by what was happening.
“Oh sure, it’s how it’s done!”
“But I’ve never heard of it.”
“You wouldn’t have,” answered the halfling cheerfully.
“I can’t wait to tell the others,” Lanata said, partly to the halfling and partly to herself. She looked down at the orb she cradled in her own hands, the glass ball that contatined her friends and companions.
“Oh, you can’t do that,” said the halfling, rising. “You’ll see. Well, this is me. Take care and good luck!”
Lunata frowned as she watched the halfling in the skirts carry her orb into the circle and disappear. The writing around the circle shifted again then and it was her own destination she saw.
She jumped up, clutching the ball in a death grip as she scurried toward the circle.
What did the halfling mean she couldn’t tell the others? How could she not?
There was a brief flash of light as she entered the circle and suddenly she was standing on a cobbled street, the warm sun beating down on her. Her nostrils were bombarded by the smell of sweat and spices and cooking meat. Her companions were beside her.
“Great job, Lunata,” said Gregor clapping her on the back. “Knew you could do it.”
There was something she wanted to say to him, to both of them, but she couldn’t remember exactly what it was. She was trying to put her finger on it but the more she thought about it, the further away whatever it was became.
”You think you can get us back when we are done here, Lunata?” asked Gregor. “Assuming we find you another scroll anyway?”
She nodded, absentmindedly.
“I think so.”
”Let’s do this then,” he said, fingering the large blade at his waist.
Ken and I started Dire Rugrat Publishing because we had an idea we thought other gamers might find useful. Our line of Tangible Taverns has developed a bit of following with some people and we’ve had a bunch of repeat business as a result. The first time we sold a tavern was exciting. The first time we sold a second tavern to a previous customer was just as exhilarating. There’s something satisfying about knowing people don’t just like what you write, they like it enough to buy something else from you.
After our second tavern was released, I ended up sick in bed for a few days. Really sick. With no energy to get up and do anything, my laptop kept me company. My mind couldn’t function enough to do my normal job or write any game material, and so I Facebooked. I ended up making contact with a couple of people in the biz, and then ended up being offered work.
That was scary, but also really exciting. Writing for myself didn’t feel real. It was fun, but felt a lot like a hobby. And just a hobby. Being offered paid work… that was a different kettle of fish. I love working for myself (most of the time), but writing for other publishers is pretty amazing, and here’s why:
Writing for a company you own (when the company is teeny tiny and doesn’t make a lot of sales) means you don’t see a lot of income from your sales. Most of what we make gets poured back into stock art and other resources. Writing for another publishing company means you get paid for your work. Pay rates vary, as does the the time it takes to get paid, but there is a lot less financial risk in working for someone else. Plus, money = nice.
We often use stock art, and I have a hand in picking it out. When we have custom art Ken creates it, and I see it each step of the way. But when it comes to writing for another publisher, I hand over a word file and the next time I see the content I wrote, it looks pretty in a layout I didn’t create with art I may have never seen. Some companies go above and beyond here with custom art (shout out to Playground Adventures), and that is even more exciting – the characters I created are there in full colour! Art and layout being done without me ever touching it really makes me feel like a professional, or like I “made it.”
We have a couple of avid fans (and we adore you!), but Dire Rugrat Publishing is far from a well known company. Our customer and fan base are minuscule compared to a lot of RPG companies. Writing for different publishers means there’s a better chance of someone new picking up something I wrote and enjoying it. (And hopefully returning to pick up something published under our own company name.)
Hand in hand with that, the promotion for a project I participated in with another publisher is so much bigger. I see posts and shares on Facebook. I see emails showing up in inboxes. People talk about it. It’s really cool that there is so much more hype.
I don’t want to say we are making this up as we go along, but we are kind of making this up as we go along. Ken has a lot of experience gaming, and I’ve thrown myself into it head first; I’ve always loved writing, and Ken’s been GMing for years. But it isn’t like either of us any experience designing content on a professional level before we said “Hey, let’s share this tavern with everyone.”
Writing for other publishers is a great way to fine tune some skills, or work on projects I wouldn’t be up for otherwise. Having a developer look over my work, and make suggestions (or full on requests) steers the work to a different place. Their experience can make for a much better project, as long as I’m willing to not take the input personally.
For awhile, when I’d write for Dire Rugrat I’d write until I thought the project was done. We’ve since made set word counts we aim to hit, but either way, sometimes life is busy, and the project takes a backseat. Sure, I could set a deadline for myself, and we are trying to stick to a pre-made schedule this year (a new approach for 2017), but it doesn’t always work out. (There are some projects that were in the works far longer than I’d care to admit.) However, if I’ve committed myself to someone else, I make sure I get the job done. Blood, sweat, tears: it doesn’t matter. I. Will. Finish.
As stressful as that can be, it’s also awesome the project doesn’t (usually) drag on and on. I write it by the deadline, I submit it, and voila! It’s off my plate (until they need revisions, which can happen depending on the publisher). And I get paid. Done. Apparently I commit myself better to others than myself.
Every company has a schtick. Or two. Or three. But most companies aren’t all over the map. There’s a cohesiveness to what they publish, often with specific lines of products. Writing for other publishing companies means I can write content Dire Rugrat would never publish. Dinosaurs are awesome, but they have no place in our collection. Magical items are super fun, but they fit better with someone else. I loved ponies as a kid, but an adventure about them really isn’t Dire Rugrat material. There’s some other fun stuff I’ve gotten to work on as well, and while it hasn’t been released yet, I look forward to the day it hopefully is. These projects don’t fit inside the sphere of this publishing company, but they were a lot of fun to work on, and I’m grateful for the opportunity.
And so finally, if you want to check out other work by me, you can find a list of it here, broken out by publishing company.
I don’t think any adventuring is truly comfortable (it wouldn’t be much of an adventure, just a vacation), but if I think about the characters we play in our games, and the way we often just gloss over some of that travel, it gives me pause.
Hours upon hours of trudging along roads, paths, or through dense forest growth just to get to your intended destination. Sure, you’ve got your companions, but how much time do you want to spend chatting when you have more weight piled on your back than most normal people can carry, you’ve been wearing the same clothes for days, and you can’t remember the last time you had a hot bath? No, that low-level bard with his off-key merry songs of adventure is driving you mad, and you wish you could reach something in that monstrosity of pack for to gag him with right now.
By the end of the day your legs are weary, your feet are cold and your shoulders ache. You can’t light a fire for fear the nearby army of orcs will be drawn to it, or because everything is too wet, so you curl up in that bedroll you’ve been carrying all day thinking about how you get to do it again tomorrow.
Ah, the joy.
Wouldn’t the dreary days, the long hikes and the cold nights be made just a little bit better with a warm bottle of mulled wine? Or a warm cup of milk before bed? No fire required. The ever-warm bottle is just one of many adventuring hacks found in The Household Magic Catalog by Flaming Crab Games.
While this product was made with the intention of the items being used at home (and by the gods there are some amazing products in this strange and out-of-this-world catalog), there are some items no adventurer should be without.
Why struggle with a rope when there’s a shrinkable ladder? Creative thinkers could use it to climb up, or to walk across. Presto! The extendo-ladder is a ladder and a bridge you can carry with you (hey, that bag was already weighing you down, what’s a bit more?).
That fresh food starting to spoil? Freshen it up. Yep – there’s a spell for that in here. Or just start your day with a healthy, filling breakfast – served while you lie in your bedroll (bonus: it cures any poison and keeps you nourished all day!).
Too much to carry? Purchase a wagon. Sure, you’ll still have to push it through difficult terrain, but it will move itself, and your gear, along the even ground with nothing more than a command word.
Yes, I am shamelessly promoting this product because I was one of the contributors, but I do think, like most of the Letters, this is a great product to have; it may be my favorite of the Letters to date as its alternate fantastical 1940’s vibe makes it so much fun to read, and it is full of amazing products that lead to great gaming ideas (two words: Room Baa).
If you are looking for new magical items, love old catalogs, need a bit of weird wacky inspiration, or want to make your time adventuring just a little more comfortable, grab your copy from DriveThruRPG today.