Monday, January 17, 2022

10 Reasons the Street Fighter RPG is Amazing! (and 3 Ways it’s Not So Great)

Night before last, I had the pleasure of revisiting one of my favorite obscure corners of RPG history: the 90s Street Fighter RPG. Yes, you heard that right—a tabletop roleplaying game of Street Fighter. Like the video game.

And next week, on Saturday Jan 22nd, I get to go there again, as Misfit Table is putting on a Twitch special event of a Street Fighter RPG one-shot. It’s gonna be awesome!!!

So, let’s talk about this game! Apparently, according to this article, in the early 90s, when White Wolf was just making its name, some of the developers were playing Street Fighter 2 on breaks, and they had the brain wave that it would make a fun rpg system. (Little did they know how right they were.) So they got the rights from Capcom and made the game, more or less.

If you know White Wolf, you know this is a little out of character for them. White Wolf was the giant of roleplaying gaming in the 90s. It was an era when DnD was becoming passe (in certain crowds), and the dark, emotionally-heavy “storytelling” games that White Wolf put out nailed the 90s gothic-industrial zeitgeist perfectly. Everyone was dressing in black and trying to outdo each other for who could be the most tragic. We were all halfway to pretending to be vampires anyway, so a game about it was a natural fit. (Ironically, in hindsight, the 90s were one of the most prosperous and peaceful decades in recent American history.)

Then here comes Streetfighter with this brightly colored, larger than life, over-the-top action game, produced by White Wolf themselves, no less. It was the only thing they ever produced that broke their iconic, gloomy mold, and the only franchise that did not co-exist in the same “World of Darkness” with all the others.

10 Reasons why the Street Fighter RPG is Amazing

Without further ado, let's discuss what makes this game so kick-ass. (Pun intended... do I get my dad-joke card yet?)

1) Art and Design

All you need to do to start having fun is pick up the book. Is the art and fiction a little cheesy? Sure, but so are the kung fu flicks and wuxia fics that so many of us love. The bright, primary colors used in the design, the comic book-style font, the vivid art of larger-than-life heroes punching each other in the face, all of it combines to create an aesthetic experience unlike any other. It's a blast!

2) Lightweight

The system feels like something thrown together over a weekend, and that’s a good thing! Well, it has both good and bad sides—the good side is that the game knows exactly what it is and includes only enough to be the best version of itself. It’s a trimmed down version of the iconic Storytelling system, not overburdened with unnecessary traits or rules. It is Street Fighter, and nothing else, for better or worse :D

3) The Storytelling System

Street Fighter uses the Storytelling system from White Wolf. And it uses the original version, before they started mucking about and changing things. Don’t be fooled by acidic complaints on the internet about early White Wolf's game system; I read those as nothing more than the inevitable backlash against anything that becomes too popular, and too many of those criticisms are based on pure hearsay or deliberate misunderstanding of the rules. It’s not flawless, but what is? It’s amazing. Fight me on this. I will take you on!

The Storytelling system just does more than a d20 system does. The way difficulty and dice mechanics in that early version are elegant. The variety of attributes and skills, along with the ability to combine any attribute with any skill, gives tremendous power and flexibility. The system inherently gives more weight to a variety of scenes (other than combat). So even though Street Fighter is as combat oriented as any that White Wolf ever produced, the fact that it uses the Storytelling system at its core means that it is robust enough to handle any roleplaying scenario you want to throw at it. This alone makes the Street Fighter RPG a cut above what it would have been had any other publishing house produced it.

4) Alternating Gender Pronouns

This rulebook, published in 1994, makes the effort to use male and female pronouns in roughly equal measure. I got pushback on that for a game I playtested in 2014, 20 years later! Well done, White Wolf.

5) Special Combat Maneuvers

And now to combat, the meat and potatoes of this game :D

In most tabletop roleplaying games, your only option to attack an opponent is to use the “Attack” action. Not so, here! You have your jab punch, strong punch, fierce punch, your short, foreward, and roundhouse kicks, your grab and block and move—and those are just the basic maneuvers! There’s pages upon pages of special maneuvers that you can learn and bring to the fighting ring.

Each of these maneuver options are meaningful in the game mechanics, but simple enough to be used easily. It gives so much more life to combat than simply attacking each round. Sure, in any system you can always add narrative flair by describing your attack, but you can do that here too, and here, you have attack options actually mean something.

6) Activation Words

This is an actual rule: you can gain a bonus if you shout the activation words for each special maneuver as you perform it. “Haddouken!”

7) Attacks Hit

One minor innovation that I love is that they do away with the attack roll. If your target is in range, you hit. You don’t roll to see if you miss, you just go straight to rolling for damage. And why not? Nobody likes to roll and miss, and if half the attacks miss, doesn't that just slow down combat?

Of course, in Street Fighter, there is still a chance of missing. It's just built in to the timing and movement systems, so that you can dodge by making the right decisions and predicting your opponent's actions, which is super cool.

8) Combat Timing

Street Fighter has a mechanic where the slowest people go first, but the faster people may interrupt them, which leads to a very tactical fight, where timing and spatial position matter deeply. If you interrupt to move out of range of your opponent’s attack, and they don’t have the movement to reach you afterward, you effectively dodge that attack. You make meaningful decisions at each stage of combat, not only in choosing which maneuver you will use each turn, but also in executing that maneuver, choosing when, how, and where you will move.

9) The Abort Phase

One of my absolute favorite parts of the Street Fighter combat system is a very short phase in combat, (which the rulebook actually gives very little attention to!) and that is the abort phase.

The way it works is this: each person chooses their combat maneuver privately (represented, if playing in person, by combat cards, filled out with all the details of your various maneuvers). You determine and reveal the Speed of your action, but nothing else. Then, once each fighter sees the relative speeds, they have the option to “abort.” This means they give up on their attack and either try to get a block up in time, or jump away.

This can be a heart-pounding tactical moment, in which you've got to choose whether to deliver your punch (at great personal risk) or abort and try to protect yourself. If you only have a few health levels left, what’s the right choice? If your opponent is faster, can you survive long enough to deliver your blow? If you’re faster, will your hit take them down, or will they survive to counterattack you? If you abort to block, will that be enough to get you to the next round? If you jump away, can you get out of reach, or are they doing something mobile enough to catch you? There's a lot to weigh, and you don't know what your opponent is doing--you just know if they're faster than you, or you're faster than them. I don’t know why the rules don’t linger on this part more; to me, it was always one of the most interesting parts of the game.

10) Deeply Tactical Combat, and it's Still Easy

All the factors above—the special maneuvers with their unique effects, the involved timing rules, the choice to abort or not—they combine to form a deeply tactical combat system. In Street Fighter, you have real options every single turn. Your positioning matters. Your timing matters. Combat is full of meaningful choices, especially if you compare it to a game where your only attack option is simply, "attack." And the miracle is that they did all this and it’s still easy!

Three Ways the Streetfighter RPG is Not So Great

Alas, nothing is perfect. Let’s acknowledge a few ways this game could be better.

1) More Playtesting Needed

The system feels like something thrown together over a weekend, and that’s also a bad thing. There are some typos in the text, or text that doesn’t flow from one page to the next properly. (Ryu’s backstory starts at the end of Ken’s page…) There are also some details of the Storytelling system (such as splitting dice pools) that are alluded to, but never fully described in this rulebook. You have to have another Storytelling core book to know what it’s talking about! There’s not too much that’s actually problematic, but it’s distracting.

Perhaps even more significant: there are elements of the combat system that are almost there, but are genuinely pretty hard to use as written. The good news is that a few house rules can bridge that gap to get it to that golden game it’s so close to being.

For instance, take the combat rule that you start with the slowest fighter, but any faster fighter can interrupt at any time. It’s super cool in theory, but there’s two problems. First, you can get one action interrupting another action, which is interrupting another, which is interrupting another, and then you have to unwind all that. It’s a pain to keep track of. And second, a lot of the time the faster fighter is going to just go first regardless, so you’re going through all this rigamarole for nothing.

The easy solution is to just go in order from fastest to slowest, but allow any fighter, on their turn, to hold their action, with the option to interrupt at any later time of their choosing. That way, if you’re the faster fighter, you still gain the benefit of having the option to force your slower opponent to make choices before you do, but you only work through the extra steps required when you actually care about it.

Like I said, it’s an easy fix, but the fact that that’s not how the game is written is a big problem, because some groups might not come up with that on their own, and end up playing a needlessly more complex version of the game. Or, different groups find different solutions, and then we’re not all playing the same game anymore.

2) Cultural Representation

Okay… theoretically you can give them props for representation, as many cultures from around the world are represented. But that pales in consideration of how incredibly reductionist the representation of each culture is. Every single World Warrior is a crude stereotype of the culture they come from. Every. Single. One.

There are only two things to be said in White Wolf’s favor here. First, they had to work with the source material, which was the Street Fighter 2 video game. They didn’t really have an option to redesign it from the ground up. And furthermore, given the times, I’m not sure that society was in a place where they would have known what to do even if they had. Second, and this I find amusing, even the white male Americans are similarly reductionist to their culture—you have Ken, the billionaire playboy, and Guile, the musclebound vet. Neither has any more subtlety in portraying USA culture than… well, any of the others do in portraying their own. If it’s racist, it’s racist to everyone equally.

3) Huge Combats

I’ve talked a lot about how wonderfully tactical the combat system is, but even this has a built-in downside. Though the system is incredibly streamlined for how tactical it is, it can still start to struggle in large combats. It works beautifully for 1 on 1 fights (which, to be fair, is what it's designed to model), but once you get to huge, set-piece battles, it can be a hassle to track all the action.

Join in the Action

And there you have it! A needlessly in-depth discussion of the 1994 Streetfighter RPG, published by White Wolf. If any of this has piqued your interest, the books are long out of print (and very expensive online), but there are many digital resources. I recommend as a good go-to site, as well as the free “Twentieth Anniversary” pdf, which is a fan compilation of all rules to-date.

And of course, to join in on the action, tune in to on Saturday, Jan 22, for a livestreamed Streetfighter RPG one-shot. (Or catch the VOD on Youtube later.) See you there, misfits!

Tuesday, April 6, 2021

Dust Off the Old Blog for a New Endeavor

It's time. Time to come back. 

A lot has happened since I last updated anything here. Back in the day, this was all about gamebooks and interactive fiction. While I'm proud of everything I accomplished in that area, and gamebooks will always be an important part of what I do, it's time to admit that that's no longer my main focus. It was an important era of my life, and one I will always cherish--and I do hope to write more interactive fiction in some not-to-distant day!

But for now, my focus is shifting. I think the best way to sum it up is to cross-post a Facebook post here, which effectively states where I'm at in my life. I'll paste it in below, to capture it for the ages (Facebook isn't good for long-term), and otherwise, expect to see more updates here soon :)

For those of you who are long-time followers, I won't blame you if you leave. But if you find that DnD, creative writing, game design, and comments on DMing professionally are of interest to you, then I encourage you to stick around. Without further ado...

- - -

I turned forty last month. Four decades: childhood, teens, twenties, and now thirties, all complete and under my belt. 

I remember a Calvin and Hobbes comic I read when I was young; Calvin starts thinking ahead to future him, thinking of all the things that future him has done that kid him hasn’t yet done—the foods he’s eaten, the sights he’s seen, the friends he’s made. So often we fear aging, but isn’t it wonderful to have so many things that the younger versions of ourselves didn’t have? 

Younger me didn’t have Forrest, didn’t have Callie, didn’t have Story Tables, didn’t have five years experience teaching wonderful students at an amazing school. Didn't have memories of going to conventions and all the wonderful friends I made there (you will be missed, Geoffrey) I am so grateful.

And yet, of course, the clock is ticking. How many more decades do I have? We never really know, but another four or five at the outside, most likely. Could be a lot less, if the dice don’t turn up in my favor. I feel like my professional career is just getting going, and yet the years ahead to accomplish my goals are starting to look mighty short. 

If I could give twenty year old me some advice, I would encourage him to find his path early, not to wait. Pursue his dreams sooner rather than later, get married sooner rather than later, get started! Life isn’t as long as you think it is. 

This is true: I feel like I’m just now entering my prime. I think this decade will be the most productive and successful of my life. 

I was never very good at being young. I didn’t know how to let my hair down (ironically, since I kept it long) and have a good time. While others were out living it up, my idea of a great time was waiting until I found love to have sex, and staying up late with the guys playing Vampire the Masquerade. I regret nothing! Those times were amazing. And yet, I do wish I had danced more often.

I feel strong. I feel ready. And that’s good, because Callie and I are undertaking the most ambitious endeavor either of us has tackled yet: we’re trying to build a business out of our passion.

Decades seem to be a time of change; at least the last two have been, for me. When I turned thirty, I ended a failing relationship and moved halfway across the state to find a new beginning. I had the hard conversation with her the night before I turned thirty, so that I could go into the new decade on a clean start. It was hard, but it was the right move. It’s hard to believe that was ten years ago. Five years bouncing around the Bay, finding a career, finding love, earning a degree. And five years back in Ojai, working in paradise, but sometimes lonely.

This year, my relationship is the one thing that I’m 100% on. It’s a different kind of change the new decade ushers in: I gave notice at my job. Though I love teaching at Oak Grove (I can’t imagine a more perfect school for me!), teaching was never the long-term plan. Teaching, instead, was always intended to be a step on the path. For a time, I thought the next step on the path would be education administration, perhaps someday leading to founding a school of my own, based on revolutionary new ideas in education—ideas that the current research supports, but which the educational institutions of our society have not yet caught up with.

But in my heart of hearts, what I always wanted to do (and half the reason I became a teacher) was run roleplaying games for kids. I wanted to, like Becky Thomas at the Roleplay Workshop, eventually leave teaching to do this full time. But I don’t just want to run games for my little circle of students, I want to make an institution out of it. I dream of Story Tables branches in every major city in America, in the world. That, of course, is a damn long road, and I wouldn’t dare to make predictions about how far we’ll get, but hell if I don’t give it my best shot.

I look around, and I see a world that’s hurting. I don’t have much, but I have this one little salve, this pleasure, this escape, this opportunity for reflection and personal insight and growth, all rolled up with entertainment of a kind more satisfying than any other I’ve ever tried. I have that, and I want to share it. Somewhere out there are kids who need the same salve I was lucky enough to find, and I want to grow the institution that will bring it to them.

This is what I’m doing with my forties. Here’s to another great decade: the best yet!

Sunday, January 15, 2017

I took that DnD character Quiz

I Am A: Neutral Good Human Wizard (5th Level)

Ability Scores:

Neutral Good A neutral good character does the best that a good person can do. He is devoted to helping others. He works with kings and magistrates but does not feel beholden to them. Neutral good is the best alignment you can be because it means doing what is good without bias for or against order. However, neutral good can be a dangerous alignment when it advances mediocrity by limiting the actions of the truly capable.

Humans are the most adaptable of the common races. Short generations and a penchant for migration and conquest have made them physically diverse as well. Humans are often unorthodox in their dress, sporting unusual hairstyles, fanciful clothes, tattoos, and the like.

Wizards are arcane spellcasters who depend on intensive study to create their magic. To wizards, magic is not a talent but a difficult, rewarding art. When they are prepared for battle, wizards can use their spells to devastating effect. When caught by surprise, they are vulnerable. The wizard's strength is her spells, everything else is secondary. She learns new spells as she experiments and grows in experience, and she can also learn them from other wizards. In addition, over time a wizard learns to manipulate her spells so they go farther, work better, or are improved in some other way. A wizard can call a familiar- a small, magical, animal companion that serves her. With a high Intelligence, wizards are capable of casting very high levels of spells.

Find out What Kind of Dungeons and Dragons Character Would You Be?, courtesy of Easydamus (e-mail)

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Character Transformations and Vicissitudes

A good story is all about change. Without change, nothing happens, there's no excitement, no tension, no action. The whole structure of storytelling is to open with tension inherent in the situation--a combination of factors that means change is inevitable, and what we watch over the course of the story is how those factors and tensions resolve themselves into change.

What is not interesting is just jumping to the conclusion, and showing the results of the change without showing the process of the change.

This comes up a lot in discussions around portrayal of characters. I've been criticised at times, and had the criticism of other authors, that occasionally characters seem unbelievable because they do something, "out of character." The author's comeback is inevitably, "well, they changed! Isn't that the whole point of character growth?"

Yes and no... character growth does involve changes, but you need to bring the reader along on the ride. The reader doesn't just want to see the results of a change, they want to be there, pace by pace with the character as that character transforms.

Mark Kennedy, an artist and animator whose work I admire, wrote that the essence of humor is watching a character think. He cites the moment in classic cartoons when an animated character runs off a cliff, keeps running, slowly looks down, sees nothing underneath him, starts to look back up (legs still pumping) and then suddenly does a double take, eyes bugging out as he finally realizes he's about to fall. Only then does the character plummet downward. That moment of watching the character realize the predicament they're in, is the essence of the humor.

I would take this a step further, and say that watching a character think is the essence of drama as well.

Here's an example: imagine a supporting character shows up in one scene trying to help the hero, and shows up in the next scene trying to kill the hero, then (without any explanation), shows up in a still later scene trying to help again. Pretty wierd, right?

Now recall the moment from Buffy: The Musical Episode, when Spike, sitting alone, smoking and brooding, sings, "I hope she dies, I'm free if that bitch dies," then, tossing his cigarette away and standing up, immediately follows this with, "I better help her out."

Not only is that moment hilarious (called it, Kennedy) but it takes you into Spike's mind. You see the conflicting desires that rage in his heart, but what tells is the one that comes out on top in the end. It's a great moment of internal conflict. However, if he had acted on those words and *actually* tried to kill her, then turned around and tried to help her, that would have been wierd and deeply off-putting.

Another example is described by Kennedy in a recent post (go about halfway down to the part about the Detectorists) where he describes a quick series of shots that takes only seconds, but show the process of a character thinking and changing. A guy starts lonely because his girlfriend has moved out. While taking out the trash, he finds a positive pregnancy kit. There's a shot of his face, showing how much this rocks him. Then it cuts to a shot of a half-empty bottle. Then it cuts to him leaving a voicemail for her saying how much he loves her and wants her back.

If we hadn't been there along the way, seen the pregnancy kit, the shock, the alcohol, the implication of time passing due to how much of the bottle he's drunk, then the transformation in him would be strange to the point of being nonsensical. But we do have those things, and so you're there with the character as he transforms, you see the time it takes for him to come to this decision (the bottle's half-empty; he must have spent time thinking about it) without having to take all that time yourself (we don't have two hours of him drinking on screen, just cut to a half-empty bottle.)

All too often I see moments in movies or books where suddenly a character is behaving in a way that is very different from what I would expect, knowing them as I do. Once in a long while this can be used to great effect, to build tension (why is she doing this all of a sudden?), but that has to be used a special way: rarely and with a huge and unmistakeable change. Much more commonly it's a slight dissonance which leaves you feeling like maybe you just didn't know the character as well as you thought, and that detaches you from the character, and by extension, from the story.

The point is, when you're writing a character's transformations, don't show the change in action until you show the change in thought. Give the reader insight into the character's heart and mind as it changes. Only then will the change in action make sense.

As Kennedy says, cut to the face, and show the audience how the character is reacting.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Lost Cavern has returned!

Fantastic news, everyone! About four years ago, my computer was stolen, causing me to lose hundreds of hours of work, and prompting me to switch to cloud storage permanently. I JUST NOW discovered that I had actually emailed one of those projects to a friend right before the computer was lost. I HAVE IT BACK!

Of the two projects I lost, the one I had put more time into was an RPG Maker VX game which was very dear to my heart. Between losing 3/4 of the progress I'd made on it, and finding myself dismayed by how time consuming building games in RPGmaker is, I abandoned the project after losing it.

But ever since then, that story has remained in my mind. Recently, I've started writing it down (one scene each day, as a warmup... this is the story I posted about a couple days ago). Working on the written version of the story reminded me of the game, and I went back and played the original brief bit I still had.

Reminded of how sad and frustrated I was by losing the rest of it that I had worked so hard on, I made one more attempt to search through email to see if I'd ever sent it to anyone. I don't know why I didn't find it four years ago, when I was desperate to recover this stuff, right after my computer was stolen. But somehow, I found it this time. WIN!

By the way, if anyone wants to play chapter one of a jrpg-style game I made, the files are linked below.

First, you have to download the game engine and install it, so you can play the game at all. Then you have to download my module.

Step 1: download the rtp (the game engine) here:

Step 2: Unzip it and double-click Setup.exe to install it

Step 3: download my story module here:

Step 4: Unzip it and double Click Lost Cavern.exe to unpack those files

Step 5: Open the new Lost Cavern folder and click Game.exe to run it.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

A Proposal at the Edge of the World

For months I planned and waited, until the moment came for the two of us to get in a rental car and drive east, toward a city in the desert and family. We stopped first to spend the longest night of the year with dear friends. She charmed the children, gathering them to her flame like a pied piper, and she never looked more beautiful. I stood outside with the men while they smoked, and under the cold, bright winter moon, I told them my secret. They heartily cheered and clapped me on the back, and sent us off with many well-wishes.

In the mountains, we took refuge from the snow in the Cinnamon Bear Inn, where we opened each other's presents under a bright tree, sipping hot chocolate and warming ourselves in the glow of a merry fire and each other's affection.

Our next road took us through strange and uninhabited lands, through valleys untouched by man, over forests of stone, past lonely brothels and gas stations, and into that jewel of the wastes: Las Vegas. We walked the strip, sampling its delights (but not too deeply) and returned with gifts for friends and family.

The morning saw us back on the road, across the Hoover Damn, and swiftly out of the realm of civilization. My moment grew close now. It was with sweaty palms and a beating heart that I checked us in at the El Tovar Hotel, oldest and grandest of all inns at the Grand Canyon. She gasped like a child opening a present as she saw the grandeur of our suite. We stepped out together onto a balcony larger than my house, to look out at a world cloaked in white. We laughed together at the irony of coming this far to see nothing but the apparent edge of the world.

She dressed, and I dressed. From the bottom of my bag, I pulled a little package, pacing the room and muttering to myself (so I'm told). While she did her makeup, I slipped downstairs to claim our reservation at the most exclusive restaurant in the village. The staff gave me knowing winks and the best seat in the house, between a window and the fireplace. As she entered, one of them whispered to me, "She is lovely." And she was.

There, by the wood fire, I knelt and bared my soul. When she saw the ring, she burst into tears, nodding fiercely. My shaking hands reached for hers and slipped the ring onto it. A faceted Black Opal, glowing with all the colors under the rainbow in its dark depths, to those with the light to see it.

By the end of 2016, I will be a married man. I couldn't have found a better companion than Callie MacDonell to have by my side as we go through this journey we call life... together.

Monday, December 28, 2015

Sometimes I have overactive dreams

Night before last, I dreamed that I was a fighter in an army in this fantasy world. Our kingdom was under attack by a massive army of undead. At first, we went into the battle optimistic, certain that the outcome would be in our favor. But after the first few losses, we were no longer singing around the campfire at night.

We held our own, for a time, but then tragedy struck. In one disastrous battle, the spine of our army was broken. Nearly the entire army was wiped out, and those units which survived were separated from each other. My unit escaped with our lives, but as far as we knew, we were the next best thing to the last ones alive.

So it fell to us to hold the pass when the Undead army began to move to the heart of our kingdom, a great stone monolith that was our place of power. We fought with all the cleverness, courage and tactics we could muster. We fought, and we died. Soon it was just a few of us left. Then just me. And then I was injured, and could fight no more.

I was forced to watch, helpless, as the great hosts of the undead marched past. Only then, did I realize how hopeless our defense had been from the beginning. We had never stood a chance against their numbers and might.

But I refused to give up. Once the land was clear, I forced myself up, bandaged my wounds, and followed the skeletal host.

At the edge of the mountains, I came upon a terrible sight. The undead army had filled our most holy valley. They had taken the monolith, and the Skeleton King himself stepped onto its sacred grounds to perform the ritual that would taint it forever.

But there! One last, shining unit of the King's Knights, flying the banner of Lord Rhygar himself, stood to challenge the Dark King. As I watched, Lord Rhygar's man sounded the charge, his horn a clarion call across the battlefield. My heart sang to hear the music of their warhorns, the tramping of hooves.

And then I saw it... the Skeleton King stepped to the mystic boundary of the Holy Monolith, where ancient magics formed a protective barrier. With a word, he activated those magics, and a shimmering wall of force erupted around him. Absolutely impermeable.

I don't know why the Knights couldn't see it. No more did I understand why I could. But I knew it was there, and I knew how to destroy it--it's existence depended on the ancient sigil at the Skeleton King's feet.

That sigil must be destroyed, or the Knights' charge would break uselessly against the magic barrier, and they would be ground to oblivion by the unnumbered hordes of the undead already gathering behind them.

A strange power came over me. l began to run, faster than I had ever run before, faster than the Knights' horses. I had heard stories, on a time, of my people's Gods themselves stepping in, not to smite our enemies with lightning or the like, but to help individual heroes when they needed it most. Never had I expected such a blessing to fall on me, but I did not question it.

My legs pounded earth with power and agility I had never before known. My wounds did not hurt or slow me down, though I dared not ask what consequence this would have upon them. Slowly, I began to gain on the Knights. I would beat them to the barrier... but what then? I had no magical arts to break through the Skeleton King's dweomer.

Then my eye fell upon it. A sword, tall and mighty, stuck in the earth in its bearer's death throes. It was black and cold, as wide as my torso, longer than my height. Ice shimmered up and down its dark iron lengths. It had been the weapon of a champion, one of the Skeleton King's lieutenants. But that great brute had fallen now, and the weapon was mine.

I swept the sword up in one hand without breaking stride, marveling as my muscles were able to lift this titanic weapon with ease. And I ran. It's dark magics burned my hands with cold, and I ran. The knights approached the moment of their doom, and I ran.

I could see Lord Rhygar's face now, mouth wide in a battle cry, moustaches quivering as his lance lowered into striking position. It would shatter uselessly against the barrier... and his knights would have nothing to strike except the barrier, and him. Each wave of knights would pierce those who came before them, and all would be pinned and destroyed by the undead host coming hard on their heels. With them would die the last of our strength.

Fearing that I would be too late, I took a mighty leap. The Skeleton King saw me at last, his eyes widening. He was focused on maintaining his magical barrier, and helpless to interfere with me. Lord Rhygar saw me too, and checked his charge in amazement.

I raised the dark sword of iron and ice above me as I hurtled through the air. The sword was shrinking now, shifting in my grasp, trying to get away, or at least deny me its power. I wrestled the thing into submission, and held it above my head with both hands.

As the arc of my leap started to take me back down, my eyes locked on the ancient sigil at the Skeleton King's feet, the sigil he used to hold the barrier. That barrier should have been our last, best defense, by rights, but now it was our doom.

Right as I hit the ground, coming to one knee, I slammed the point of the sword into the sigil. A wave of power exploded from that collision, and my alarm went off.

I kept sleeping, refusing to let the Skeleton King win that easily. I pushed on the sword, willing it to overcome. Cracks began to appear in the sigil. I would win, I knew it, but in time? The vanguard of the undead forces were approaching my knights from the rear, and my alarm kept blaring.

I pushed, feeling the Skeleton King's weakness and mounting fear. But I was losing it. The cracks in the sigil, even Lord Rhygar and the Skeleton King himself, they all began to fade.

Callie stirred, and I woke. The dream was gone completely. I was left only with a fading question of whether I had faced impending victory... or complete and utter defeat. Hastily, we dressed to meet our taxi in the snowy New Mexico pre-dawn, which would take us to the airport and home.