Fanfic journal: Bright Future, chapter “Orb’ilythiiri”

Read “Orb’ilythiiri” here.

Chapter Summary

Jorlan had seen driders, of course. They were used as a minatory example for the students of all schools of Tier Breche, not just Sorcere. Standing at the edge of the drider pits, no one said — but he was meant to know — this is what happens when you fuck up so hard that a priestess thinks death is too kind.

And Jorlan had truly, fatally fucked up.

Chapter Front Notes

This chapter has some important content warnings: parasitism, body horror, and our old friend implied/referenced sexual assault. Basically, if you don’t want to know my headcanon about how a drider is made, I’d skip this one, or read between your fingers. This is a dark one, friends.

That said, this chapter also stands well on its own, so if you have never read Bright Future before, this is a decent place to start, as it references events mostly outside the timeline of the main story.

Chapter End Notes

I have always hated the portmanteau “drider,” which is why I use here… well, a Drow portmanteau of “orbb,” spider, and “Ilythiiri,” drow. It’s illogical, but it sounds better to my ear.

The lore has gone back and forth on whether or not becoming a drider is a reward or a punishment. As always, I’m most familiar with 2e, where it is most definitely a punishment. I tried to split the difference by implying that both are possible — it’s just the degree of torment involved, and your relevant standing in drow society afterwards. If Lolth can wave her spidery hand and make you a drider, I imagine it will be a relatively painless process, and you will have a place of honor, as a temple guard or teacher at Arach-Tinilith. (One imagines most of these driders are female).

But if it’s a punishment, it’s a gruesome parasitic process that robs you of some of your will, and you’ll basically spend the rest of your wretched life doing the work of a slave, thrown into battle as cannon fodder, and used as breeding stock (if you’re “lucky” enough to have genetics that the Lolthites want; let’s not forget the drow are rampant eugenicists, too).

(Does this imply drider fucking? I’ll leave that to your own imagination, ya perv, but I was thinking something more clinical, like artificial insemination).

I am inspired here by cordyceps fungus, which is famous for parasitizing the bodies and brains of insects, causing them to display risky behavior, and eventually bursting through the insect’s head, spreading their spores and killing the host. The word I chose for the fungus, shanaal’karliik, means “goblet-headed” according to the fan dictionary, which is a nod to the fact that “cordyceps” is Latin for “club-headed.”

If that sounds similar to the Zuggtmoy stuff in RAW… well, it probably took inspiration from the same thing.

I worry I went too far in the direction of misery porn and extravagant evil in this chapter, which I have so often derided in the canon writings about the drow. But as my friend Alice says: “we like our misery porn and extravagant evil, just in moderation.” It’s basically the worst thing the drow do to each other, and so I think it’s realistic to imagine it’s a horrible process — but also fairly rare. It also needs to be something that evoked such horror in Jorlan that he blocked it out until now, as one does with trauma.

I spent a looooong time on the Forgotten Realms wiki trying to figure out the tangle of House Mizzrym — made more challenging that I haven’t read the War of the Spider Queen books, or any books where they are prominent. We know from OotA that Miz’ri Mizzrym is still matron of the house in 1484; we’ll assume this is the same Miz’ri who was also matron in the 1370s, and thus who was the mother of Pharaun, Greyanna, and Sabal, who are all now dead. RAS apparently mentioned a “Sabbal” as first priestess in 1484 in Night of the Hunter, but… is that just a typo? Did he forget/not know that Richard Lee Byers killed off Sabal? Did Miz’ri have two daughters that she named “Sabal” and “Sabbal”? Is 1484 Miz’ri a different Miz’ri? Who knows!

Tl;dr Ilvara can be first priestess because the lore is vague and inconsistent and it suits my need to torment my boy.

Anything about Quenthel’s age is a guess. Heck, we don’t even know Jarlaxle’s age precisely, and he’s arguably the second most famous drow in Faerun.

Keeping with my headcanon of “drow as the ultimate in guess culture,” there’s SO MUCH that is implied and not stated here — both about drow canon, and about Jorlan’s history. I’m pretty proud of how it turned out, but definitely ask if you have questions about any of it.

Fanfic journal: Bright Future, chapter “Ilindith”

Read “Ilindith” here.

Chapter Summary

The secret to the prophecy is: do not lose hope. Mavash and companions seek six feathers from six petrified angels, and unearth a terrible prophecy in the bargain.

Chapter Front Notes

I am skipping ahead quite a bit in the timeline here, to get to the stuff that a) I remember the most, or recorded the most of, and b) is most personally meaningful. That means I’m skipping the Vast Oblivium and much of the Labyrinth. Our intrepid heroes now have two of the components for Vizeran’s ritual — a purple worm egg and the central eye stalk of a beholder — and are on their way to find the third.

There is definitely some fun stuff I’m missing, and maybe I’ll go back and fill it in eventually. Or maybe it will simply remain in flashbacks! Gods know I love my flashbacks.

Quick content warning: mention of animal suffering.

Chapter End Notes

  • You originally meet Yuk-yuk and Spiderbait, the goblin guides, when they offer to guide you through the Silken Path at the beginning of the adventure. DM Nixon had them come back as our guides to the Labyrinth, which I thought was a nice callback.
  • “A letter written in uncertainty” is a line I stole from my favoritest in-universe book in The Elder Scrolls, The 36 Lessons of Vivec. Let this be your regular reminder that the drow are only my second favorite murder elves; the Dunmer still are number one.
  • “What language does a child speak if no one speaks any language to it?” is a real question that Renaissance scholars asked, and if I recall correctly, the answer is child abuse. (Also I added this in because I needed an in-universe reason why Umbra doesn’t speak Drow. Because Drow isn’t an actual language your PC can learn in 5e, don’t-even-get-me-started).
  • The gnoll event is from the Spiral of the Horned King chapter in RAW. In actual play, it was an interesting conflict between Gaulir’s lawful good and Mavash’s chaotic good, and was a character-defining moment for all concerned. There’s not really enough there to build a chapter around, but I wanted to include it somehow. Relevant Twitter thread.
  • The final line is from the Emily Dickinson poem of the same name.
  • The title of the chapter, ilindith, means “aim, goal, or hoped-for end” in Drow. I was looking for a word that meant “hope” (the noun), but that word is — perhaps understandably — lacking in Drow! I debated mightily between this and some permutation of kyorl (to wait). After all, in some languages, like Spanish, “hope” and “wait” are the same verb. I also considered a compound word like kyor’lindith, but do we really need more Drow compound words with apostrophes? We do not.
  • While the prophecy was all our DM’s invention, this chapter of the adventure otherwise played out pretty close to RAW!
  • The side story “Small Sacrifices” — which outlines Jorlan and Ambergris’ plan re: the prophecy — takes place immediately after this one. Hopefully it makes a lot more sense after reading this one.

Fanfic journal: Bright Future, chapter “Oloth”

Somehow I never posted this?

Read “Oloth” here.

Chapter Summary

“The Widower.” The man made a throttled chuckle. “A consort who outlives his mistress outlives his welcome. And you’ve done it… how many times now?”

Mavash and companions try to skirt around the troglodyte lair, but find prisoners, ropers, and a head-chopping sword. Jorlan makes a difficult choice, which forces him to consider his less-than-savory past.

Chapter End Notes

The way this played out in session, there wasn’t anything remarkable about the drow in the oubliette. But I wanted to up the stakes here a bit, because otherwise exploring the troglodyte cavern is pretty boring. I used it to bring up a plot thread from later on in the adventure, when a Certain Someone ™ implies that Jorlan has a Reputation ™ for outliving his lovers, who all die in Perfectly Innocent Ways ™.

The attack by the ropers and piercers is true to RAW, but I forgot most of the details of how it played out — except for Mavash blinding poor Jorlan and Hanne with Sunburst. It was a similar case when we met the troglodyte chieftain — I know we got a sword out of it, but I don’t recall how. But I was tired of writing fight scenes, so we get Umbra pulling an Indiana Jones.

The end of this chapter echoes a flashback in “Siltrin,” which I am probably going to remove in favor of this version. As I said in those author’s notes, Oloth tlu malla is meant to be a +2 longsword as written, but that’s not very interesting.

Mavash pretending to be the spirit of Oloth tlu malla is also true to the actual session 🙂

I’ve finally read enough of the newer Drizzt books to realize… my Ambergris (well, DM Nixon’s) is hella different from how she is written in the books. But given how abysmally she is portrayed in Timeless (still not over that, grrr), I am a-okay with this! If this has been bothering you, just imagine she is a totally different character with the same name? Because she basically is.

Also I refuse to have my dwarves sound like a walking plate of haggis.

Vendui’, vel’uss lil vith phuul dos? means roughly, “excuse me, who the fuck are you?” This is Lux’s favorite way to greet enemies — this was, in fact, how they greeted Jorlan, since they had not been in Velkynvelve with the rest of us and had no idea who he was. It became a tradition after that.

Do accents and pronunciation exist in telepathic communication? Who knows! Creative license!

Incidentally, I’m not sure if I’m going to write the scene in the purple worm nursery, since you do see the important bits through Jorlan’s POV in “Siltrin.” To be completionist I would, from Mavash’s POV. But at the same time, my memories of the campaign are fading, and I haven’t yet reached the portions where I took detailed notes. We may be skipping right from here to the Gallery of Angels, in the interest of getting to the Important Stuff.

I mean, of course, noodles.

Fanfic journal: “Bright Future, chapter 12

Read chapter 12 (“Abban”) here.

(Yes, I’ve already had a chapter 12. That damn chapter “Siltrin” is still a bit ahead of this. So this is the new chapter 12. For now. Just go with it).

Chapter Summary

Mavash and company enter the Wormwrithings on the hunt for a purple worm egg. When they meet another exile of the drow, Jorlan is tasked with easing some of her cultural suspiciousness — and maybe his own, in the bargain.

Chapter End Notes

It’s been a while, hasn’t it? Since my last chapter, we actually finished our campaign. Let me assure you, it was a satisfying ending to the campaign, and it brought tears to my eyes. But… I still miss Mavash and Jorlan <3

Random notes:

  • “Abban” is the Drow word for “ally” or “not-enemy.”
  • When I began writing this fic, I did not realize that 5e darkvision is not the same as the infravision of 2e — it’s only intended as low-light vision. I’m not sure why it’s not infravision any more; so many aspects of drow culture only make sense if they can see into the heat spectrum. So my final call is that my drow (and all elves, really) have infravision. Please excuse any inconsistencies on this account.
  • Huh, looking up this chapter in the adventure, I realize that Zhora and Hanne are not supposed to be Eilistraeean renegades, as written. I definitely think this makes it more interesting!

(Written for Words in May, day two)

Fanfic journal: “Bright Future,” chapter 13

Read chapter 13 (“Siltrin”) here.

Chapter Summary

“You are touch-starved, I think,” she concluded, tapping her lips.

He didn’t know what that meant, but it felt like a rope thrown down to a prisoner in an oubliette. He grabbed onto it more eagerly than he cared admit.

In the aftermath of a fight with a fomorian and some purple worms, Mavash seeks to ease some of Jorlan’s physical pain. But his wounds are more than surface deep, and Jorlan finds the cure is worse than the sickness.

Content warnings

Implied/referenced sexual assault, as we talk more about Jorlan’s terrible history.

Incidentally, this chapter is a bit spicier than the others, but this is as spicy as it gets. I am admitting my characters want to bang, but there are never gonna be details. I like the sexual tension more than the physics.

Chapter End Notes

  • As written, Oloth tlu malla is only a +2 longsword. Not actually a vorpal scimitar. Come on, Chris Perkins. You say right in the introduction to OotA there’s a lot of Alice in Wonderland inspiration in this adventure, and you pass up the opportunity to put in a vorpal sword?
  • I left out the part where Mavash tried to make Jorlan think it was an intelligent weapon by talking to him telepathically with a bad drow accent.
  • Yes, an owlbear is a monstrosity, not a beast, and a druid shouldn’t be able to turn into one. But listen, if WoW taught me anything, it’s that druids and owlbears are inextricably linked. Also it’s basically a CR3 cave bear, and DM Nixon suggested it.
  • The drow poetry book that the fomorian has is, strangely enough, part of the actual treasure in RAW. I have no idea what Jorlan intended with it. I suspect DM Nixon just had him take it to create interesting fanfic hooks. Operation: successful.
  • Grinna, who is briefly mentioned, is a gender-swapped version of Grin Ousstyl, Vizeran’s apprentice in RAW. I don’t think there’s anything that prevents drow women from being wizards, although I imagine it’s frowned upon.
  • Jorlan’s rant about “stories surfacers tell about the drow” is a modified version of my rant about the ridiculous, over-the-top evil of the drow matriarchy as seen in the books and in (a lot of) fanfic. So much of the drow matriarchy reads like some guy’s BDSM fantasy or a “bitches be crazy” joke. That’s one of the things that makes the drow so problematic; it turns female characters into caricatures without inner life other than I WILL BE TERRIBLE TO MEN AND PLEASE LOLTH.

(That said, I mean… all of the things he mentions ARE things that happen in drow society that he’s trying to gloss over. He graduated from Melee-Magthere; he should know from demonic orgies).

  • I jokingly call this “the chapter where Jorlan learns that a boner is not consent.” It’s basically impossible for him to have been in a consensual relationship within the drow matriarchy, because of the lack of freedom to say “no.” But of course he doesn’t realize that. And since I have painted him as a survivor of sexual assault, I think that the ethical thing for Mavash to do (and she would do the ethical thing; she’s chaotic good) would be to let any sexual aspect of their relationship develop entirely on his terms.

Which is also incredibly difficult for him, for much the reason Mavash named. And of course he’s going to read it as a rejection of him at first, which leads to sadness. But I hope I ended it with a bit of hope for these two lovebirds.

  • The chapter title, “siltrin,” means “flesh” in the fan dictionary. “Touch,” alas, is not defined, or I would have used that as the chapter title.
  • Finally, this chapter is still a little displaced in time. I wrote it before the previous two chapters, and there is still at least one more chapter to be placed between “El’lar” and this one. But hey, you just got two chapters back to back of plot-less Mavash/Jorlan schmaltz, so… you’re welcome?

Fanfic journal: “Bright Future,” chapter 11

Read chapter 10 (“El’lar”) here.

Chapter Summary

There was something about her presence pulling at him, calling him to cross the distance between them. He recalled how she had dominated the conversation with Vizeran — how he had coached her to do that — and his hands ached with a familiar energy: to placate, to please.

Jorlan and Mavash have a conversation in a mushroom grove about homes, youthful foolishness, and things they can’t put behind them.

Chapter End Notes

Drow aren’t supposed to have very keen noses, canonically, but let’s just say it’s Jorlan’s rogue senses. (He does have expertise in Perception).

I spent a long time looking at this map trying to figure out what path Mavash would have taken to get to Neverwinter Wood. (It’s from 2E, but that’s really the only map that had Sossal on it — it’s kind of been forgotten in subsequent editions). Up in the northeast corner there is Sossal, and I figured she lived inland, somewhere like Dharvil, near the Armridge Mountains.

Anyway, it is a long, long distance to Neverwinter Wood — at least two thousand miles. I figured crossing the Anauroch Desert would be impossible, since there don’t appear to be roads. So she traveled with a caravan across Novularond, to the town of Ostra in Vaasa — whence she sent her “I’m dead” message. From there she went west around the northern shores of the Moonsea, cut south around Zhentil Keep, and spent some time in Cormanthor Forest. From there she went west to Cormyr and then Iriebar, then she headed north and west until she reached the Trade Way around Baldur’s Gate. From there it was a straight shot to Neverwinter.

I still haven’t satisfactorily answered why she decided not to settle in Cormanthor Forest, or why she felt the particular calling to Neverwinter Wood. But it probably was from some goading from her quori, who had a sense of her Destiny ™ as the one who will stop il-Lashtavar.

I also had to decide what age she left home at. It had to be young enough that she still sorta imprinted on her grove in Neverwinter Wood as her “family.” But given the reason I gave her for wanting to leave, she had to be old enough to be married — not to mention, how old is old enough to cross an entire continent on foot?

Also clearly I have a headcanon about the drow and non-monogamy. I see it not unlike the drow view on murder and house warfare — if you can destroy everyone who could accuse you of the crime, it didn’t happen. And yes, I imagine this is a game Jorlan has played before.

I’m still not entirely happy with where this ends, but eh, good enough for now. Maybe inspiration will strike me later.

Fanfic journal: “Bright Future,” chapter 10

Read chapter 10 (“Araj”) here.

Chapter Summary

Vizeran has a plan for getting rid of the demon princes, and it’s a bad one. How is he going to get our heedless do-gooding adventurers to buy into it?

Easy: he’s going to make someone else explain it.

Or: in which Vizeran continues to be insufferable, Mavash gets angry, and Jorlan Explains It All (where “all” = drow politics)

Chapter End Notes

Technically the “Great Wheel” model of the planes is no longer valid by the 1480s DR? OH WELL. It’s much more interesting than the tree model. Apparently it’s not so much that it’s invalid; it’s just that 5E basically says, “eh, it’s all an abstraction for mortal minds, anyway”.

I believe, rules as written, Rystia Zav is a random crazy human NPC you can meet in Mantol-Derith, a Harper spy infiltrating the Zhentarim. Here, obviously, she’s still a Harper spy, but she’s an elf, and she’s more interested in infiltrating Menzoberranzan. Obviously the fact that she’s hanging out in the Tower, or is Grinna’s girlfriend, is entirely our DM’s take on it. (And yet, isn’t this better?) Our DM also got rid of Vizeran’s pet death slaad, because seriously? (Fake drow girlfriend > death slaad).

The drow political situation laid out here is a weird blend of the RAW module, canonical-to-books stuff (like, the re-creation of House Do’Urden) and custom stuff our DM came up with. For example, the figurehead Matron Mother is someone else entirely, not Inshalee. As I said before, I have very little patience for trying to catch up on the Drizzt books, so mostly I have Nixon, what of the RAW module isn’t spoilery, and the FR wiki to go on.

(And if you know the lore better than me, you probably can guess that there’s something — or someone — that Rystia and Jorlan are dancing around here. But we the players didn’t know that at this point in the adventure, so you don’t get to know it, either).

Also once again Jorlan refuses to mention Drizzt. My headcanon is that Jorlan disdains the guy; they are of an age, were probably at Melee-Magthere at the same time, and their families were always in competition for that valued eighth spot on the Council. Plus I think Jorlan bought in more to the chaotic Drow Mindset ™, at least grudgingly. So he probably sees Drizzt as an insufferable twat who thinks there’s no blood on his hands.

Two funny Jorlan moments here that were true to the actual session: 1) Jorlan did in fact go all VOLDEMORT VOLDEMORT VOLDEMORT about the name of Lolth. 2) The comment about the noodle shops was in fact made. (Which is how my “Jorlan likes a dish called Menzoberranzan noodles” headcanon got started).

(We finally did get to Menzoberranzan in the campaign, and LET ME TELL YOU how angry we all were that there was no time to go slumming for noodles. I may need to write a fix-it fic just for this).

(Alsoalso we are only about one or two sessions away from the end of the game. AND THEN WHAT WILL I DO WITH MY LIFE???)

(Continue to write unending authors’ notes, apparently).

Fanfic journal: “Bright Future,” chapter 9

Read chapter 9 (“Dalninil”) here.

Chapter Summary

Mavash’s premonition comes true, but the heroes are prepared. Jorlan is (maybe?) still full of secrets.

Chapter End Notes

Mavash is using ogham for divination, the “language of trees” of neo-pagan druidry. I drew the interpretation of the runes from John Michael Greer’s The Druidry Handbook. Basically I was like, hmm, what would you draw if you wanted to get the message of “prepare Earthbind, dumbass?”

The plant Mavash describes as a stand-in for heather is a little bit of both mountain laurel (Kalmia latifolia) and sheep laurel (K. angustifolia).

(Also I came up with the divination as a way to explain DM Nixon giving us a long rest before fighting the dracolich, and thus the opportunity to plan out our spells).

Also worth noting: in actual play, that fight with the dracolich suuuuuucked for Mavash. I spent most of the fight either a) positioning myself, b) being Frightened, or c) on the ground. I never did succeed at casting Earthbind; it’s a STR check, and unsurprisingly dragons are STRONK.

But that doesn’t make for a very compelling story, does it?

(Jorlan did totally show up to put a potion down Mavash’s throat, though. I blame DM Nixon for the phrase “gentle fingers”)

Pretty sure that in RAW there’s not a dracolich and an illithilich waiting for you at the Tower of Araj. And Grinna is intended to be Grin, male apprentice to Vizeran.

… man, have we really never seen Mavash cast spells before? Anyway, druids being druids, I imagine the verbal and somatic components of their spells are all very individual; there’s no “magic word” that Mavash has to say to cast them, but she does have to say something personally meaningful.

(Also I totally imagine “words against fear” being the Bene Gesserit “fear is the mind killer” thing).

“Dalninil,” from the fan dictionary, means “sister.”

Fanfic journal: “Bright Future,” chapter 8

Read chapter 8 (“Zhaunil”) here.

Chapter Summary

“Show us,” she said, closing her eyes, “how the Lords of the Abyss came to the Underdark.”

In which the heroes learn what they need from the Gravenhollow.

Or: in which Mavash has premonitions, Jorlan is forced to be astonishingly candid, and Vizeran is an arch-bitch about Gromph Baenre.

Chapter End Notes

Quite some time has passed since this session, and my notes were shoddy, so I fabricated more here than I usually do for our sessions. While it didn’t happen precisely like this, I can assure you that Jorlan’s moment of candor is true to the actual session.

Zhaunil is the Drow word for “knowledge.”

Fanfic journal: “Bright Future,” chapter 7

Read chapter 7 (“Khaless”) here.

Chapter Summary

Mavash paused, sorting through feelings she’d never dared put words to before, and resigning herself to them with a sigh. “Jorlan, I think about you… a troubling amount.”

In which Mavash and Jorlan are honest about their feelings for each other, but still our boy is gonna overthink everything.

Chapter End Notes

Jal khaless zhah waela is a Drow proverb meaning “all trust is foolish,” with khaless being the word for “trust.”

I didn’t say much more than that in the original author’s note, so let me just add: this was one of my favorite chapters to write, overall. Really, any chapter where I get to go beyond “what happened in the campaign” and let these two characters talk to each other about their histories and their trauma, and how it informs their views on what is happening in the adventure.

I am narratively in love with these two <3