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Completed From the Barren Lands (Tolkien CYOA)

Discussion in 'Choose Your Own Adventure Land' started by MercantileInterest, Oct 20, 2016.

  1. Storyfag Arcane

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    A Glory be to the Great Eye!
     
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  2. Usury Arcane

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    (C) Run!

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    Special for Gauldur's Bait:
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    "Do you think to withstand us?" The cloaked horseman spoke. "We have fought three thousand years and never fallen. We are the Nazgûl."

    "We are the men of Gondor." Beregond's sword rang slid from its scabbard with the peal of polished metal. "And you could not destroy us though ten thousand years should pass."

    Cingetix edged backwards. Even to look upon the black riders made his spine shiver and his bowels quake. Malice and terror reached out from them like inky creeping tendrils, as if the air itself froze about them. Mingled with that fear was a compulsion, a faint calling. Come, it said. Over the grass and rivers, across the barren lands, through sightless marshes, to Mordor we will take you. His heel caught on a worn block and he stumbled. In that moment, his mind cleared. The fear remained but its icy grip diminished and his own thoughts returned.

    Among such a heap of ruins, the advantage of the horses would be greatly lessened. The tomb lay behind them, an impassible slope on their right, a steep drop on their left and the black riders on the path down the mountain. The plaza stretched some ten yards wide, with cracked and worn flagstones arranged in very broad steps. Some columns still stood. Others lay scattered across the in piles with their beaten lintels. Though none were flowing, a number of streams had further weathered the ground. The falling snow thickened and began clinging to the ground.

    "This old man," the black rider near hissed. "This old fool thought to rob his true master. The great eye sees all, Mablung of - " It brought up its black blade in a blur, for Beregond had thrown his knife straight and true at its face but the morgul sword was swifter and the knife glanced aside.

    Then, the lingering dread vanished. Beregond swung, feigning at the rider but swinging down to slice the steed's leg. The beast leaned forward and the wraith slid from its saddle. Sir Damrod charged forward and would have plunged his sword through its heart but dark armor hindered him. Hathrasil ran at the second rider which parried his axe with its sword, even as its horse reared up and kicked his chest. Carney crawled under a cracked boulder. The third Nazgûl disarmed Mablung and pulled him onto its saddle.

    Cingetix sprinted. Going down the path would expose to any pursuing rider, so he dashed towards the mountain side. It was not a sheer slope. His foot slipped on loose gravel and he rolled down the edge, barely catching on a stunted fir over a hundred foot drop.

    The skull set doors of the tomb swung wide and the rhysbidean strode forth into the twilight. Tattered robe and flesh whipped about his bones and in his hand he held a hammer of blue steel. A score of howling ghouls bounded over the great stones and chipped blocks.

    "I perceive you to a great sorcerer." The ringwraith turned. "You would restore your life through nine sacrifices but we will not yield up our prize."

    The rhysbidean rolled his tongue. "Then I shall take him from thee."

    From the black hood came a withering laugh. "You are mighty but I am a lord of the ring."

    Its black blade ripped up through Mablung's ribcage and ripped his heart apart. It flung the body onto the worn flagstones and urged its steed into a gallop. It leaned low in its saddle. The blue hammer swung up to meet the morgul blade, shearing the fell weapon in two. The wraith sprang onto its own feet and flowed like a black wind out of the hammer's reach.

    The last two men of Gondor duelled with the other two cloaked servants of the shadow. One wraith rained a flurry of blow upon Beregond. He blocked the strokes but the fury of its attack drove him west towards the impassible wall of granite. Sir Damrod held his ground but could not land any blows of his own. The cursed blade of his foe rang off his helmet, pauldron and greave. He struck in between its guard and sliced at its bracer but the wraith knicked the weak spot at his knee. It was the lightest of cuts but laden with unnatural power. Damrod felt as though fire consumed his legs. He cried out and fell forward. His enemy impaled him at the waist.

    Damrod collapsed into the snow. As his lifeblood gushed out, he saw the red sheen melt into the morgul blade. The scuttling ghouls overpowered the black horses, too fearful to attack their riders. Snowflakes alighted on his face and wondered whether the world dimmed through the eyes of the dying or whether it was merely the long shadows of dusk. The might of the Nazgûl waxed in darkness but he did not think he could have prevailed even at noon. Still, he had fought with honor and courage and that was as much as he had promised.

    Beregond saw the knight fall and knew he would soon have to deal with two, perhaps even three, of the dark shapes. However, they meant to capture him, not to kill. The dark tower always sought to cripple and torment its ancient enemies. He fled down the mountain path. The wraith sped after, forcing him towards the cliff edge, but, on foot, the man was faster.

    A winged form swept down and raked his head with its claws. He dropped his sword and felt the blood oozing from his scalp. The creature dove again and it was perchance like unto a winged woman with sharp talons in place of feet. Nevertheless, he took hold of its ankle and pulled its flapping form over the cliffside. For twenty feet, his feet slid down the scree until he fell into the open air. One of the bags of silver burst open. The creature beat its wings but they fell still faster. It crashed into a pine and Beregond was shaken loose. He fell two yards into a bush. The creature tumbled down headfirst besides him.

    Among the ruins, the second wraith slaughtered the ghouls. The third ducked under the rhysbidean's arms and pushed its open palm into his face. A stark light blazed up on its finger and the grave walker crumbled away, bronze, bone and flesh alike. All who had stood against the Nazgûl were scattered or dead.

    Cingetix huddled up in a nook on the hillside. Trying to find the way down amidst the snow and twilight would only get him killed. He shivered and hoped nothing would find him.

    ***​

    Two days later, under a cold bright winter sun, a shepherdess sat upon a hillock. The Misty Mountains rose steeply to the west, all shrouded in blizzard, but the snow in the fields had melted enough to let the sheep out to graze. It was best to save as much hay as might be needful. The sheep picked through the stalks glazed with frost for those thawed out. The woman's coat was too warm save when the wind picked up.

    A man walked from the west. The sheep trotted aside. The wondered whether she ought to run but the stranger's steps wavered and he stumbled to his knees. He was very young, not even a full man. When she approached, he mumbled something in a strange tongue and closed his eyes. Without care, he would die. The shepherdess considered abandoning him. It was no business of her people but he was at least of her race and he had escaped the wicked things of the mountain. She ran for her husband.

    ***​

    Cingetix drank his soup. He had spent a whole day in the cottage. The family who lived there spoke neither his language nor the westron, so they could not speak, but the woman's smiles were better than words - certainly, better than his own sisters' smiles. He vaguely remembered the man placing him on a donkey. Even after finding the treasures from the tomb, they had not killed him, which was more hospitality than the Burnt Men would have shown. He had offered the woman a sapphire necklace and her husband an ivory amulet. They refused.

    The cottage was all one room. His bed was a pile of furs and blankets in the corner. The grave clothes stolen from the tomb had been worn down to tatters, so he lay naked under the coverings, intending to buy garments from his hosts, except that the man was larger than him. The man was scraping off a rabbit skin and the woman sewing. Cingetix had slept most of the day.

    Someone knocked at the door. The woman opened a view slot while the man hefted a mace. From outside, someone addressed them in their own tongue. They replied and then the newcomers switched among themselves to the common tongue.

    "She says they have little to sell other than sheep. We can buy some provisions but they don't have a spare coat for Carney."

    "Ask for anywhere else around here where we might find what we need."

    Clutching a blanket around his waist, Cingetix made his way to the door. Outside stood not only Carney, but a brown haired fellow in green and a southerner in his fine fabrics. It was Earnil of the White City, whom the rhysmungard had passed some days before. The shepherdess refused to let them in but she let him out and the four of them rode south. Cingetix left his gifts hidden in a cupboard.

    Cerwick (the man in green) and Earnil had traveled up to the mouth of the rhysbidean's tomb. On the way up, they found a two horses wandering wild and Carney, ill and bewildered. Amongst the wreckage of the battle, Earnil put stones over Mablung and Damrod and sang a lament. Carney took Hathrasil's clothing (which didn't fit) and tried to burn him but there was not near enough dry kindling. No one dared enter the barrow. Then, they rode back.

    Two days after finding Cingetix, Earnil separated from the others. He went south, to cut across the land of the horse lords, rather than take the road back to the Scorched Hills. Cingetix, Carney and Cerwick continued towards Hwairfyn. One evening, Cingetix returned to their campsite with an armful of firewood. The other two started apart. Carney's eyes were wide but Cerwick smiled deeply.

    "Aye. We were just talking about you. A little worried that you took so long getting back. The road's not safe in winter."

    That night Cingetix lay awake. He had tried to conceal his treasure but he worried the others had still noticed.

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    (A) Trust them and sleep.
    (B) Creep away in the night, (+) if you take your horse, which will give you less chance of going unnoticed.
    (C) Kill them first (give order of murder).
    (D) Something else_____.
     
    Last edited: Jan 4, 2017
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  3. Lithium Flower Magister

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    We obviously have the edge here due to OOC knowledge, but lets consider Cingetix's perspective. First of all, we kind of established him as a pragmatic survivalist (or at least someone with common sense) when we chose to flee from what was most likely an unwinnable fight. Secondly, he has every reason not to trust Carney. Carney is a craven who fled, indirectly causing the death of both the rhysmun and Cingetix's father. He also has shown himself to be irresponsible with the trap-puzzle, and is naturally starved for loot as he got none of it himself. As for Carney's companion...birds of a feather flock together.

    So A) is right out.

    C) is too risky. If we are correct about these men likely plotting against us tonight, that means that they will be ready for action, and taking on two people (one of which certainly had combat experience and knows us well) is suicidal.

    So B. Unsure about the horse. As established, roads are pretty fucky right now, so going on foot might be difficult. That being said, we've made it down the mountain okay. Besides, Cerwick is trying to manipulate us into staying precisely by pointing out that the roads are going to be difficult to traverse, and fuck him, right? So I'd say we should escape on foot.
     
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  4. Gauldur's Bait Learned

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    B). Escape on foot sounds like the best option under these conditions.

    Show Spoiler
    Thanks for the video clip! :salute:
     
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  5. Grimgravy Augur Patron

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    Codex 2016 - The Age of Grimoire
    B* scatter the horses and then sneak off on foot.
     
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  6. hello friend Arcane

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    C
    Cingetix is a Burned Man with reason to hold a grudge, treasure and a life to preserve, and little reason to trust.
     
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  7. Lithium Flower Magister

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    Seconding this as long as it does not lower our chances of leaving unnoticed (not sure if this CYOA has rolls/mechanics or not).
     
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  8. oscar Tacticular Staff

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    B) On foot

    Killing Carney is also tempting but Cerwick is an unknown.
     
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  9. Storyfag Arcane

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    I am genuinely amazed that the rhysbidean would even *dare* to defy the Nazgul.

    As for Cingetix's choice, I'm torn between C as proposed by Hello Friend and B as detailed by Grimgravy. One is very in character, the other seems to have the nest chances of success.
     
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  10. Usury Arcane

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    (B) Creep away in the night. hello friend You always pick the unpopular choice. Guess it wasn't clear but I meant the option more as 'stab them in their sleep' than 'run screaming at two experienced warriors'. Might have made the others agree with you. Storyfag The rhysbidean had probably never heard of the Nazgul. The mountain tribe, like the Burnt Men, were an unlettered folk dwelling in a desolate land. Or do you mean Mablung? Lithium Flower I've only rolled dice to break ties in the choices. That said, the writing often forces the story in an unexpected direction.

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    Behind the wispy clouds, the stars hung like jewels. Cingetix lay in his bedroll. He had spread it away from the others, though they normally clustered together for warmth. The earth was frozen but dry and the campfire had burnt down to embers. The day's ride had wearied him but fear kept sleep away. The other two had looked upon him with covetous eyes. He could well imagine the pair agreeing to rob him, each man wondering how little he could trust the other.

    Cingetix laced his boots and bundled up his bedroll. He crawled over to the horses, so as not to present a silhouette. The animals were awake. They slept less than men. He untied their pickets and tried to shoo them away but they ignored him. He thought about pricking them with a knife but they would likely scream or attack him, which would not further his plan of quietly slipping away. Without the ropes, they might wander away of themselves.

    He walked down the road for an hour, hoping in this way to leave less tracks. Then he went off the road for half an hour. By that time the cold had grown unbearable, so he wrapped himself up again and slept.

    ***​

    One crisp December morning, a bright eyed youth arrived at Hwairfyn. He was lean but lanky with the fat smoothed out of him by rough living. His clothes were simple and worn and a sack was slung over his shoulder. The rhysmungard at the gate did not recognize him though he spoke with their own accent. The children fighting in the snow stopped to wonder what tales the stranger could tell. He ate a loaf at the baker's and went to the house of Maedoc Black-breath. When the older woman at the door saw his face, she threw her arms about him, and could not speak but only weep.

    ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------< Epilogue >------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------​

    When half the rhysmungard returned to Hwairfyn bragging of pursuits, wars with goblins and barrows of legend, no one much believed, particularly as their stories did not agree. Facing the dishonor of having fled the mountain (and mutinied against Hathrasil) many lied. In time, they convinced themselves their fear had been part of the enchantment or that their memories themselves were suspect. They had, after all, travelled to the very walls of the world. The rhysmun and the handful of his followers who went with into the tomb were presumed struck down for their impiety. Thus Cingetix's mother was delighted when he returned.

    Cingetix himself was met with awe. He never spoke of what took place in the halls of the rhysbidean and this mystery ultimately served him better than the stolen treasures which he quickly squandered. He did not join the rhysmungard but instead wandered to foreign lands, even as far as the White City. There, he encountered Earnil and Beregond who were living comfortably. He bought a number of goods which he sold at high price in the Scorched Hills. He continued this for years, eventually becoming quite rich. The new rhysmun (a man named Rhenmyr) did not even dare tax him on account of his reputation. Every November, Cingetix dreamed of descending stone steps and the glittering gold watched over by old bones. He died of fever at forty-eight years.

    After a decade of indolent living, Beregond gave his wealth to his family and took up his sword again. Many years later, he died turning back the orcish raid on Osgiliath which had been meant to cut off the army of Gondor then in Ithilien.

    Llewyn never returned to the Scorched Hills but rather settled down among the Beornings. She bore little love for the wisdom's harsh tutoring and would not face her having failed to find the desired treasure. Her end comes into no tale.

    Four years before the War of the Ring, goblin bands from Mirkwood destroyed the autumn grain of the Burnt Men. In the grimness of winter, a full army marched on Hwairfyn. After a short siege, they stormed the walls and slaughtered the inhabitants. Those few who escaped caused much panic in the other towns, leading to many fleeing south or east. Dol Guldur thus prevented the Burnt Men from allying with the Beornings.

    No one ever heard of Cerwick or Carney again.

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    Commentary:
    Show Spoiler
    That went reasonably well. The whole story is very much in draft form but I think I avoided too much repetition of phrases or bad wording. Feel like the choices didn't give enough freedom but you all managed to take matters in a different direction than planned. The original idea was to emphasize the contrast between the civilized southern men and the barbaric northerners but our character first failed to leave with the Gondorim, separated shortly after uniting with them and then got himself killed. Basic quest and dungeon crawl successfully completed. Hope you all enjoyed it.
     
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  11. Lithium Flower Magister

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    :salute:

    Cingetix got as close to the happy ending as one can get in this world, I guess. Knowing this was the end I may have picked the EXTREME option for the drama, but I really like how this turned out. Really enjoyed the CYOA, you have a very pleasant writing style. Thought I lurked through most of it, I felt engaged throughout the entire thing.
     
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  12. Grimgravy Augur Patron

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    Codex 2016 - The Age of Grimoire
    Much appreciated! I didn't notice any flaws that couldn't be overlooked. The story was engaging and fun to read. My only complaint is that we didn't kill off the entire family in true Codex fashion.
     
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  13. oscar Tacticular Staff

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    Very cool and I enjoyed the prose a lot, managed to feel serious and plausible yet not grimdark. Struck just the right tone throughout.
     
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  14. Gauldur's Bait Learned

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    Agree with all the positive comments. This was really enjoyable throughout, as well as very engaging due to a nicely flowing writing style and good set of choices. I often actually spent some time pondering different options, and always anticipated the next update. I got a bit confused concerning the characters at some point, but that was more down to my sometimes a bit careless reading, and checking previous updates obviously put me back on track. Thank you very much for this. :salute:

    EDIT: Typos.
     
    Last edited: Dec 8, 2016
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  15. hello friend Arcane

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    I thought it was good. Surprisingly engaging, actually. Especially the tomb.
    You should do this more often.

    I love these CYOAs. I'd do one myself, but I haven't written in eight years - I imagine it would be terrible.

    Can you say a bit about how you planned it, set up the choices? Did you have a clear idea in mind of where all the choices would lead for each update, or did you just wing it after the votes? How much time did you spend on fleshing out the bits we never saw?
     
    Last edited: Dec 8, 2016
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  16. Storyfag Arcane

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    A thoroughly enjoyable tale indeed! When are you starting another one? :D

    And nope, I meant the rhysbidean. I figured he should be able to acutely feel the raw malice and power of a Ringwraith. Anyway, do tell what was the deal with Mablung and the Nazgul? He served Sauron and stole something from him?
     
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  17. Usury Arcane

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    When it comes to getting confused about characters, it's very much the writer's responsibility to make each one distinct and recognizable. That being said, will have to blame the format on this one. When the updates show up several days apart (and they're not that long to begin with) it's natural to forget the less important details.

    hello friend We never did get around to that elf genocide either. Anyway, I used third person instead of second in case we had to switch to another character. Mostly just winged it after the votes, with the exception that all the action had to drive the characters towards the barrow. Didn't have a story for a trip to Mordor or Rohan. Originally planned to let Damrod fight a wringwraith at the door to the tomb and to have Llewyn betray Mablung. You'll notice that only one of those made it into the final version. Didn't even plan to have the rhysbidean come back to life but I needed an excuse for the poem. Cold be hand and heart and bone...

    Storyfag The rhysbidean didn't have much of a choice. His ritual required nine specially ensorcelled victims and four of them were getting away (Cingetix, Carney, Mablung, Beregond). Those hollows around the lead seal weren't for decoration. Incidentally, that's why the ghouls killed Black-breath but held Mull down to have his life drained. Remember him getting his foot caught in the ice?

    Mablung spied for Mordor in exchange for information on the rhysbidean. He was still loyal to the west, so he tried to provide useless information, but the dark tower isn't amused by such things.
     
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  18. hello friend Arcane

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    Tomorrow is a brand new day; full of potential.
     
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  19. Gauldur's Bait Learned

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    For my part concerning the characters, it was absolutely not criticism towards your style of writing. On the contrary, also the reader has a responsibility to pay attention to the details and nuances the writer expresses and uses because the literary dialog between writer and reader otherwise becomes shallow by default.

    This was the first on-line forum CYOA I've participated in. We all have other Real Life (tm)stuff and Various Other Shit (tm) to deal with so quite frankly I'm really very impressed by the consistency of the writing. (coming from someone who reads a lot). Also, the fact that updates were several days apart was not a problem as it created a nice cliffhanger feel.

    Tl;dr: MOAR.
     
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  20. Usury Arcane

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    After finishing up this CYOA, I realized I had inadvertently written a novella. Have spent the past two weeks refining the story and editing it into a more conventional format. You can see the result here. Those of you who followed the CYOA may wish to download and lock it away in the back of your files. Then, in a year or a decade, you can thaw it out. You'll enjoy looking back on all the horrible things you inflicted upon the Burnt Men.
     
    Last edited: Jan 20, 2017
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  21. Lithium Flower Magister

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    :bravo:
     
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