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 “cordycep” is Latin? Greek? 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 â€œSmall 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 13

Read chapter 13 (“Jaluk d’quellar”) here.

Chapter Summary

On the search for the purple worm egg, Mavash and her companions find a troglodyte lair. Jorlan tries to counsel Mavash against trying to save everyone. (Good luck with that).

Chapter End Notes

On my first pass, I honestly didn’t have many end notes for this. I was very tired when I was adding it to AO3, and thus my motivation was low. But then I wrote a little bit about my writing process on Twitter and used this chapter as an example. Lo and behold, I do have stuff to say!

A thread about POV and narrative distance, and how I occasionally remember how to write.

Also worth noting: jaluk d’quellar is a word I cobbled together from the sad excuse for a Drow conlang we have. Jaluk means “male”; qu’ellar means “noble house,” and they’re tied together by the word del, which is “of”, and which is often shortened to de or d’.

I took out the apostrophe in qu’ellar because it seems to be a convention to do so when you stick together multiple words with apostrophes (see: el’lar and qu’ellar. Also just… there is a limit on how many apostrophes I want to stick in a sentence, and jaluk d’qu’ellar hit that limit for me.

(What do apostrophes mean in Drow, anyway? Sometimes they seem to mark a shortening of words, as in English, but other times they’re just… there. Are they a glottal stop? A stress marking? All questions a linguist would have asking in building a consistent conlang, but we don’t have that here. Alas).

Speaking of language conventions, it seems to be a tradition when writing about elves to use “male” and “female” as nouns, instead of “man” or “woman.” Presumably this is because “man” and “woman” have a specifically human connotation. (I think of the Elder Scrolls, with the contrast of “men and mer”).

“Venturing the Uncharted,” a fantastic Baldur’s Gate 2/D&D fanfic I read recently, brought this convention to my attention, and made me think about why I only sometimes follow this convention.

Quite frankly, using “male” and “female” as nouns makes me uncomfortable. It always reminds me of creepy MRA and incel types using “females” as a pejorative; it also equates gender with sex, which I don’t like to do.

Tl;dr, I don’t always do this, and I can’t promise I will start, so please just imagine it’s an infelicity of translation.

By the way, if you haven’t read it yet, I’d like to point you to my essay On making the drow less problematic. I have Opinions on this, as someone who’s been a murder elf fancier since 2e.


In completion of Words in May, day 29.

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?

I finished playing Out of the Abyss and I feel empty inside

This past weekend, my Out of the Abyss game had its final session. I got what I wanted for my druid — a happily ever after with her drow boyfriend in Neverwinter Wood, with bonus noodles and fancy hats. I also had some awful/amazing tension on the road to that.

Tears were shed. Feels were had. And now I will be writing fanfic about it for… well, a long time.

But in the wake of it… I have an emotional hangover. I feel empty inside, and like I don’t know what to do with myself.

“Feeling pointless” meme of dude staring vacantly into space, with the caption “Me After Finishing Out of the Abyss.”

I need a new D&D game to play, and waiting until DM Nixon is ready to run something again seems unbearable at the moment.

At the same time, trawling /r/lfg looking for games to join is… not super productive. A game is like a relationship, right? And I just got out of an INTENSE one. So I feel like this would be the TTRPG equivalent of looking for hookups on Tinder after an intense breakup.

(But what do I know; I haven’t dated since the late 1990s).

I did start thinking, however, about what I want in my next game. This isn’t something I gave a lot of thought to before I dove headfirst back into the TTRPG pool last year, so I’d like to lay it out now.

Plus, this will be useful in the future in case I do decide to apply to certain games.

What I Want in My Next Relationship Game

  • I’m looking primarily for a campaign, not a one-shot, at this time.
  • I’m currently available Thurs/Fri evenings, and Sat/Sun afternoons Eastern time.
  • I’m mostly interested in D&D 5e — and most of these points are relevant to that — but I’m also interested in trying other games in a fantasy setting.
  • I like roleplay a lot, but I also really like tactical combat. I’d prefer roughly a 65%/35% RP-to-combat ratio. I’m not interested in playing a campaign that’s nothing more than a dungeon crawl.
  • By “tactical combat” I mean where the enemies don’t just stand still and fight to the death — where generally they act like they have two brain cells to rub together, and they have motives other than “kill the PCs.” Also where inventive tactics on the part of the PCs are rewarded.
  • I don’t mind random encounters, if it’s more than just “here’s a random monster I rolled on a table to keep you busy.” I prefer when they’re used to characterize the world, i.e. “here is a type of enemy you might fight later” or “here is a landmark that might be relevant in the next town.”
  • Also, I like a CHALLENGE. If there’s not occasionally a risk of your character dying, how am I supposed to stay invested? I don’t consider one PC going unconscious to be a dangerous fight.
  • I WANT TO FEEL THINGS. I WANT TO SHED TEARS. I firmly believe there are no emotions that someone won’t pay to experience within the safety of narrative. OotA was stand-out for me in that regard, and not just because I developed a romance plot with an NPC.
  • Relatedly, I am cool with character romance so long as all parties involved are consenting in- and out-of-character.
  • I like writing character histories; they range in length from a few bullet points to a few thousand words. I write these mostly for myself — writing is thinking, for me — but I also expect the DM to read them and, if possible, use them as personal plot hooks. If I write about a missing sibling in my backstory, I would very much like to see that come up in game.
  • I want my fellow players to be invested, too. I would hope they’ve come up with a few character bullet points, don’t spend the entire session browsing Facebook, and don’t perpetually show up late.
  • I would really like a semi-serious campaign. I don’t want joke characters, or joke names. I don’t want people to do random zany shit and call it “chaotic neutral.” That said, I’m not a humorless automaton, and I don’t mind the occasional OOC joke or derailment.
  • I am Done for all eternity with murderhobos, chaotic neutral “it’s what my character would do!” assholes, cheeseweasels, metagaming, and on-screen sexual violence.
  • I want to play with adults (18+).
  • An online game is a must. Even aside from COVID, if I have to travel to play, I’d rather play a larp.
    • No preference as to virtual tabletop — though I’m most familiar with roll20.
    • I have a slight preference for no camera, but that’s only because I like not having to put on real clothes 😉
    • A slight preference for Discord for voice chat.
    • Not super interested in text or play-by-post campaigns.
  • My next group will be woke, accepting, and anti-racist or it will be bullshit. If it wouldn’t fly on the Chaotic Good Dungeons & Dragons Memes Facebook group, I’m not interested.

Nice to Haves

  • I have a preference for good-aligned campaigns, because my no-consequences power fantasy is being able to help everybody.
  • As someone who installs a bunch of “immersion” mods in perfectly good video games, I actually enjoy some of the fiddly resource management you can do in D&D (but no one ever does), like tracking resources like rations or arrows, or dealing with encumbrance. I feel like it adds an interesting dimension of challenge to the game other than “give the monsters bigger numbers.”
  • On a scale from “published adventure run RAW” and “complete homebrew,” I prefer somewhere in the middle, i.e. a published adventure modified for the needs of the group. But I am pretty flexible on this.

That’s not asking a lot, right? 😉

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