The Children’s Crusade – Part II

.. OK, so it’s possible, and even reasonably plausible, to give young characters to a group of young players – but is there any point to doing so otherwise?

Well, yes; there are several rather nice benefits from the game masters point of view.

First of all, we have a simple observation: Adventurers often act like spoiled kids. They ignore all kinds of laws and social restrictions, run roughshod over the townsfolk, defy the local authorities, and otherwise cause a ruckus. They commonly behave in ways that, in the real world, would get them classified as outlaws, run out of town, smacked down by the local rulers, jailed, or executed outright – and yet that doesn’t usually happen.

The usual excuse is that “the characters are too powerful for the authorities to handle them” – but the obvious answer for that is for the authorities to keep a few more dependable groups of powerful adventurers on call. There are always plenty of more powerful characters out there; someone must be restraining the monsters until the PC’s level up enough to handle them – and if there are no more greater challenges waiting for their turn on stage, the game is pretty much over.

The real reason it doesn’t happen is because the players usually equate “giving in” with “losing”. If the local authorities call in a group that’s capable of handling their characters, the players tend to react as if this is another “Balanced Encounter” where they can jump in and win if they fight to the bitter end. That leaves the game master with a bad choice; he or she can either let the players walk all over the world (and throw out any pretext that his or her world makes sense) or go ahead and let the characters get ground into the dirt – which tends to be equally bad for the game.

The real secret to avoiding that lies in fixing the unrealistic expectations of “Balanced Encounters” – but a lot of games are built around them, so most game masters grit their teeth, try to make up excuses for the character’s more outrageous offenses, and ignore the situation.

With a “young nobles” game, at least you have an excuse ready made; the children of the local ruling class can get away with quite a lot, and the locals will just have to either grin and bear it or start a revolution. Other situations can be smoothed over by their parents money, just as various situations were (and are) in the real world. At the worst, most player characters will pay some attention to the notion that such misbehavior is endangering their potential inheritance, whether by it being likely to go to a more sensible sibling or because “you’re provoking a rebellion!”.

On the party side, this setup means that the characters have known each other since they were five or six years old. They grew up together, they’ve trained with each other, they may already have a Party Template – and they trust and rely on each other. Any kid that wouldn’t work with the group will simply have been quietly excluded from it – and kids will do that, regardless of adult interference.

That means that no one can use “but I’m playing in character!” or some event in their character’s past as an excuse for being disruptive. Anti-social loners who refuse to cooperate, cheats who try to pocket all the treasure, backstabbers who try to advance over the dead bodies of their friends, and characters who want to leave other characters in the lurch will never be in the party in the first place.

  • If a character can’t trust and get along with the rest of the characters, he or she will not be in the party.
  • If a character is a secret lycanthrope, or suffers from bouts of demonic possession that cannot be readily anticipated and dealt with, or otherwise is a disaster waiting to happen, he or she will not be in the party.
  • If the character has goals that are incompatible with those of the rest of the group, or is unwilling to help other characters reach their goals in exchange for them helping him or her, he or she will not be in the party.
  • If the character is a plant, or has a mysterious past, or is a double agent, or whatever disruptive notion someone has this time, he or she WILL NOT BE IN THE PARTY.

The realm has been doing things this way for generations. They’ve seen some pretty elaborate and creative attempts to slip in a ringer or sabotage the system, and they’ve made damn sure that none of them worked then or will work in the future.

Finally, this is a good way to establish a pool of backup characters. After all, a half-a-dozen PC’s aren’t going to be the only characters in the system. There will be upcoming youngsters who are still in training but who haven’t yet gone adventuring, hangers-on who aren’t really a part of the main group but could have been, and older and more experienced youngsters who have already done some adventuring.

Name a few of them. Ask the players to describe a few friends or rivals who aren’t a part of the main group now, but who might become replacement characters if their character dies. You want a hook with a twist? Kidnap a players backup character. Put the parents of good friends on the opposing side of some political dispute. You’ve got characters with established personal ties, political loyalties, entanglements in court intrigue, and a considerable interest in how it comes out – and they’re too young to readily opt out of it all and leave. Put those motivations and connections to use.

And on to a couple more of those sample characters.

Talios Asrian

The Asrian family claims descent from one of the major war gods – which, considering the nature of such entities, is an honor without actually being much of a distinction. Nevertheless, young Talios shows an aptitude for pushing the boundaries of what is possible with a blade that does hint at supernatural bloodlines. Almost all of his abilities do require that he be free to move, or using a longsword, or both however, if he’s caught offguard or entangled he’s at a considerable disadvantage – hence he avoids such situations whenever he possibly while out adventuring.

Level One Player Summary: Talios Asrian

  • Str 14, Int 12, Dex 16, Wis 10, Con 12, Cha 14
  • Longsword: +8, 1d8+2, Crit 19-20/x2. May do lethal, nonlethal, slashing, bashing, or piercing damage as desired.
  • Hit Points 21, Armor Class 17 (+5 [Dex+Str] +2 Martial Art), Initiative +11, Move 30′.
  • Saves: Fortitude +1, Reflex +5, and Will +0.
  • May spend an Action Point to +1d6 bonus to any one roll after making it. He only has three action points at the moment though, and won’t get more too soon.
  • Skills: Bluff +6, Blademastery +7, Spot +4, Tumble +7, Knowledge (Nobility and Courtesy +2, Politics +2, Theology and Philosophy +2), Perform/Acting +3, Diplomacy +3, Move Silently +4, Hide +4, Sleight of Hand +4. Swim +3, Jump +3, Climb +4.
    • His Blademastery Martial Art is providing him with +1 to hit, +2 to AC, and the ability to swap damage types with his Longsword.
  • Blade Tricks:
    • 9x/Day: Block (3d8+Level) points of damage or any one special effect (poison, etc) from an incoming attack as an immediate action – provided that he has his sword out to block with.
    • 1x/Day: Draw his sword instantly, even off action.
    • 1x/Day: Call his blade to his hand from up to thirty feet away as a free action.
    • 1x/Day: Use any item that comes to hand – say a piece of rope – as if it was a longsword for one minute.
    • 1x/Day: Make a single attack at his full BAB as a swift action.

Full Build:

  • Basic Attributes: Str 14, Int 12, Dex 16, Wis 10, Con 12, Cha 14
  • Personal Disadvantage: Unarmored. Asrian’s personal combat style makes it quite impractical for him to wear armor.
  • Warcraft (BAB): +1 (6 CP)
  • Weapon Focus/Longsword +3 (+1 BAB, Specialized and Corrupted for triple effect/Longsword Only, 6 CP)
    • Longsword: +8 (+4 BAB +1 Masterwork +2 Strength +1 Martial art), 1d8 +2 (+2 Str), Crit 20/x2.
  • Proficient with All Simple and Martial Weapons (9 CP)
  • Level One Hit Dice: 1d20, Corrupted/when struck by a critical hit, or when damage passes the 50% and 75% threshold, the character will suffer a graphic wound and take either (d12; 1-6) two points of attribute damage, (7) a -2 to attack, (8) a -2 to AC, (9) three rounds of being dazed, (10) -10 movement, (11) three rounds of temporary blindness, or (12) a similar penalty described by the game master (11 CP). This provides him with 21 HP.
  • Save Bonuses: +2 Reflex (6 CP).
  • Adept: Halves the cost of buying four skills; In his case Tumble, Bluff, a Martial Art, and Spot (6 CP).
  • Skill Points: 2 (Purchased, 2 CP) + 4 (Int Mod x 4) + 12 (Enhanced Human Bonus) = 18
  • Action Hero/Heroism Option (4* CP).
  • Augmented Bonus (“Smashing Parry”), adds (Str Mod) to (Dex Mod) when calculating his AC (2*# CP)
  • Improved Initiative x4 (8* CP): Adds +8 to his initiative.
  • Reflex Training/Combat Reflexes Variant (2*# CP)
  • Inherent Spell/Earthward with +8 Bonus Uses (6*# CP).
  • Occult Talent/”Blademaster’s Tricks”. 1/Day Each: Fast Draw (a sword on your person appears in your hand just when you want it; this is not even an action), Blade Call (your blade leaps into your hand from up to thirty feet away as a free action), The Wind Blade (spend a move action to make any item serve as a normal sword for one minute), and Sudden Strike (make a single attack at your full BAB as a swift action) (4* CP).
    • Suggested Upgrades include adding Mend Blade (L0), Adamant Strike (L1), and Personal Haste (L1).

*Corrupted/not while while wearing medium or heavy armor or while heavily encumbered.

#Specialized/only while using a sword.

Horace of the Burning Blade

Horace possesses a rare gift – a spark of raw magical flame burning within his spirit which he can channel into his blade. Whether or not that there is a link, his spirit is as noble as it is fiery, and hence he has dedicated himself to the ideals of knighthood, and intends to become a mighty champion of the realm.

Level One Player Summary: Horace of the Burning Blade

  • Str 16, Int 12, Dex 14, Wis 10, Con 14, and Cha 12
    • Greatsword: +8, 2d6+4 damage, Crit 19-20/x2. When burning add +1d6 damage and +1d10 on a critical hit. Once per encounter he may strike a Hammerblow, gaining an additional +5 bonus to hit and inflicting the maximum possible damage.
  • Hit Points 21, Armor Class 18 (+2 Dex +4 Mithril Shirt +2 Martial Art), Initiative +2, Move 30′.
  • Saves: Fortitude +4, Reflex +3, and Will +0.
  • Skills: Diplomacy +4, Jump +7, Greatsword Martial Art +7, Ride +6, Spot +4, Sense Motive +4, and Knowledge/History +3.
  • His Martial Art gives him +2 to his AC and +2 to hit while using his greatsword.
  • Magical Abilities:
    • Call Inner Fire: As a standard action up to six times per day (plus up to six more uses if any are left over from the previous day) Horace may either channel a firebolt through his sword (a Ranged Touch Attack at +3 doing 4d6 fire damage) or make his sword burn for the next minute (+1d6 damage / +1d10 on a critical hit and lights the area).
    • Handfire: Horace may fill his hands with fire at any time. This is equal to a normal torch.
    • Stored Spells: Horace may store up to five levels of spells, releasing them as move-equivalent actions.

Full Build:

  • Basic Attributes: Str 16, Int 12, Dex 14, Wis 10, Con 14, and Cha 12
  • Personal Disadvantage: Vows. Horace has sworn to uphold the chivalrous ideals of a knight.
  • Warcraft (BAB): +1 (6 CP)
  • Weapon Focus/Greatsword +1 (+1 BAB, Specialized and Corrupted/Greatsword Only, 2 CP)
    • Greatsword: (+2 BAB +3 Str +1 Masterwork +2 Martial art), 2d6+4 (Str x 1.5), Crit 19-20/x2. When burning add +1d6 damage and +1d10 on a critical hit.
  • Proficient with All Simple and Martial Weapons (9 CP) and Light Armor (3 CP).
  • Level One Hit Dice: 1d20, Corrupted/when struck by a critical hit, or when damage passes the 50% and 75% threshold, the character will suffer a graphic wound and take either (d12; 1-6) two points of attribute damage, (7) a -2 to attack, (8) a -2 to AC, (9) three rounds of being dazed, (10) -10 movement, (11) three rounds of temporary blindness, or (12) a similar penalty described by the game master (11 CP). This provides him with 21 HP.
  • Save Bonuses: +2 Fortitude, +1 Reflex (9 CP).
  • Adept: Halves the cost of buying four skills; In his case Jump, a Martial Art, Ride, and Spot (6 CP).
  • Skill Points: 2 (Purchased, 2 CP) + 4 (Int Mod x 4) + 12 (Enhanced Human Bonus) = 18
  • Path of the Dragon:
    • Shaping, Specialized and Corrupted/only to produce “Handfire” – palms full of fire equivalent to a torch (2 CP).
    • Pulse of the Dragon, Specialized and Corrupted; the power summoned is only suitable for fire magic and must be absorbed before it can be used (2 CP).
    • Eye of the Dragon, Specialized and Corrupted/only usable to absorb fire magic that he generates himself (2 CP).
    • Ride the Dragon, Specialized and Corrupted/requires a sword to channel the power through, only usable for a pair of second-level effects (Burning Blade and Scorching Ray) (2 CP).
  • Enhanced Strike (Hammer), Corrupted/only usable with Greatsword (4 CP).
  • Power Words: May store up to (Con/3, currently 5) levels of spells like a Spell Storing item and may release one a round as a move-equivalent action (6 CP).
  • Awareness (6 CP): Horace suffers no defensive penalties when surprised, retains his dexterity bonus even when caught flat-footed or attacks by an invisible opponent, and saves without penalty against surprises.
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Federation-Apocalypse Session 138c – Casino Royale

Ice cream

Image via Wikipedia

..  When Marty got to his father’s new place the groceries and such abruptly seemed… sort of inadequate.

..  How in HELL had his father managed to become the manager-proprietor of a gigantic er… Aztec perhaps?… theme casino built in the form of a step-pyramid, with a giant spinning rock – was that one of those Calendar-stone things? – in front of it and with weird living snakelike decorations all over it? He hadn’t thought that his dad even KNEW anything about the Aztecs! Come to think of it, this was pretty ambitious for the old geezer!

.. In point of fact, Martin DIDN’T know much about the Aztecs – but the setup was actually Mayan, he’d picked it off of a board full of themes. It had somehow seemed to feel right to him! You bet your life! Just not nearly as badly as the Aztecs had!

.. Martin had been a bit startled during his first week in Kadia; A couple of late-teenager ganger-type betters had been fast approaching what he estimated as “the point at which they’d try to skip out”. He’d made a note to himself to look up debt-collection procedures in Kadia. Somehow he’d doubted that they used the standard federally-approved procedures of Battling Business World (“Chase them down with a baseball bat after lunch and break their knees repeatedly until their regeneration gives out. Leave them to think about it. Come back tomorrow afternoon until they came in to pay in the morning.”).

.. He hadn’t yet gotten around to that when the two youngsters got hauled into his office by the local bodiless law enforcement and the computers had asked him what he wanted done with his two new indenture-slaves.

.. Wait, what?

.. A bit of high-speed review of the local laws led to some headshaking – invisible and virtually un-evadeable enforcers would have been pretty unsporting if they hadn’t been offered so many warnings first – but as it was… He’d given them a snack to ease the sting and had them put to work around the place.

.. Later on, he’d sold some, placed some of the younger ones who cried (he’d always been a sucker for crying kids) in minor jobs around the place – after all, they had to be at least fourteen before the computers would let them bet themselves into disaster like that – assigned others where they were most useful, and occasionally added a cute girl to his harem. Why not? They were his now.

.. Kadia was a great place! Especially if you were rich!

.. Marty had parked the bags with a convenient computer kiosk and had started drifting bemusedly towards the door when a Hawk swooped out of the sky, landed on his shoulder, morphed into a little kid, grabbed his ears, and gleefully shouted “Hi Big Brother!”.

.. Waah… Oh good lord!

(Marty) “Er… yeah, Hi there…”

.. And there was abruptly a small mob scene, as the word got passed and small children arrived in a wide variety of ways – including riding up on on horses, huge wolves, small dragons, and other weird things.

(Marty, counting) “Thirty. Well, nice to see he’s treating you like he treated me. And that he’s been busy. Who wants ICE CREAM?”

(Kids) “Ice Cream!”

.. Marty sighed as he watched one kid issuing instructions to the computers about having a small mob of other youngsters dragged away. He could guess, but… did he really want to confirm that his father was REALLY showing the same level of concern to his younger brothers that he had to him?

(Marty, indicating the kids being carted away) “Uh . . . who are those kids?”

(Very proud kid) “It’s the Red Murgen street gang! I got all thirty-eight of them to go in together on a really big bet! I’m bound to win this week! That’s more slaves in one bet than anyone else has gotten in an entire week yet!”

.. Marty groaned to himself slightly and raised an eyebrow.

(Marty) “Okay, after we have our ice cream, I’m going to talk to Dad. Privately. OK?”

.. He should have known better than to expect any kind of agreement from a mob of thirty little kids. Of COURSE it wasn’t OK!

.. Well, he hadn’t REALLY expected it to work – especially considering their likely discipline level! – but it had seemed like it was worth a shot.

(Marty) “Right! Ice cream!”

(Kids) “Ice Cream!”

.. Marty hoped – rather desperately – that there was an ice cream place on site. He’d never been very good at managing just Julia, much less trying to wrangle thirty kids at a time! In Kadia no less! Where every prospect in every direction was an exciting adventure!

.. Oh thank god. There were three of them.

.. Wait, three? Just how big a place was his father running here? A major casino-resort complex…

.. He’d never dreamed that his father was actually that ambitious!

(Marty, pointing) “OK, Kids! Let’s eat there!”

(Kids) “Yay!”

.. It was very good ice cream. Even by Core standards – and there was plenty of actual human staff to serve things. It looked like a mix of a few employees and quite a few slaves…

.. He ordered vast quantities of Rocky Road and other ice creams and tried to keep his younger siblings under control.

.. Fortunately, the staff seemed to be quite used to them – although rarely in a bundle.

.. They ate lots of ice cream… and that took Marty back a bit. He’d been in a CONSTANT sugar high when he was their age! My watching them stuff took him back.

.. Oh dear. He’d been reminiscing while they’d absorbed enough gooey, sticky, sugar to make them bounce around like little superballs – and they did bounce very well indeed. It looked like they ALL had some pretty major enhancements!

.. Marty kicked himself. Of COURSE they had some major enhancements! Half of them had arrived via shapeshifting!

(Marty, tipping VERY well) “It’s like a pinball machine in here!”

.. The kids all wanted to hear all about his adventures – and they kept trying to angle for permission to leave Kadia and go on adventures of their own! Apparently Martin had said that they were not to go beyond Kadia at the moment.

.. Wait, MARTIN was restraining them? Even just by that much?

.. Oh well. He gave them the sanitized version of his adventures. If they were anything like he’d been at that age they’d fill in between the lines on their own anyway.

.. Still though… all those abilities – too many abilities for just the usual Kadian ID – looked VERY familiar.

.. But if they were Thralls, why were they acting just like normal kids? Didn’t the Thrall-imprint dominate their minds?

(Marty) “Is Dad teaching you kids the trade?”

(Kids) “Uh huh! It’s easy! A lot of the marks are very dumb about betting!”

(Marty) “I’m sure… So what do you kids want to do when you grow up?”

.. That got him quite an assortment of responses – although various forms of “casino operator!” and and “bookie!” were prominent. Well – as long as they kept things mostly above board, it could have been a lot worse.

.. About then a big dog showed up, and started trying to tug one kid away.

(Marty) “Hey, buddy! You a dog or somebody in a dog’s body?”

.. Ah. A shapeshifted slave belonging to the kid

(Marty) “Where are you taking him?”

.. Hm. The kid was… late for his lessons on dealing. At the equivalent of age six or so? Even for his father, that was pushing it a bit! Oh well…

(Marty) “Ah. Well, let’s go back to… wherever Dad is, I guess. Probably the bar.”

.. Martin was currently roaming the floor, accompanied by two near-naked women, and giving odds on bets.

(Marty) “I should’ve known you’d make it here, old man!”

(Martin) “Well, you could have sent more notes! I hear you’re one of the top people here! Congratulations!”

(Marty) “Yeah, thanks. I see you’ve been busy. In more ways than one!”

.. Marty jabbed his dad in the side – and Martin, in response, caressed one of the girls rather lewdly.

(Martin) “Never fail to do anything you might regret having missed out on later!”

.. Had dad always been this sleazy? Oh wait, of course he was!

(Marty) “Words of wisdom. Hey, have you got a few minutes?”

(Martin, looking hurt) “Certainly! Didn’t I always take you along and have a few minutes for you?”

.. Marty had to admit that. He had. Not big on QUALITY time, but there had always been time when he’d really needed it.

(Marty) “Yeah, of course.”

.. Martin had noticed that Marty had been keeping up his mental defenses to avoid showing how concerned he was – but he’d known his son all his life; recognizing when your kids were worried was a parental perk! He steered his son over to a quiet booth with privacy screen.

(Martin) “So what’s up? Got some time to come and see me? I hear you’ve been up to a lot of really crazy stuff!”

(Marty) “Yeah, I have. Got some more little ones of my own on the way. Half-dark elves.”

(Martin) “Oh ho! Well, there are a lot of exotic women around here!”

(Marty) “And there’s Limey, you might have heard about him.”

(Martin) “I heard a bit about him! A bit contradictory though! Reports of a laptop and of a dog and of a kid! Not that all three at once would be too weird around here!”

(Marty, sighing – and getting to the point) “And you’re pretty close. Anyway, how are my new brothers and sisters doing?”

(Martin) “Oh quite well! I was pretty worried when I found out that they could have actually died if they’d left, but that turned out to be readily fixable!”

.. Oh dear. The old man really had gone and let his little brothers and sisters sign up with Kevin…

(Marty) “So you’re letting them be thralls then?”

(Martin) “Why not? Since they’re related to you, they don’t get any real duties – and I don’t want to have to find out what one of these “funeral” things is like!”

(Marty) “Yeah, me either.” (My God, when I left Battling Business World, I just wanted tail and fun! And now, Limey… Dad… Aaargh!)

(Martin) “And they do seem to be enjoying the powers! What I would have done with powers like that as a young man…”

(Marty) “Yeah, I’m sure they are, Dad. Hey, can I take in some of the ones that aren’t thralls? I want their nieces and nephews to have company!”

(Martin) “Well I think that all of this batch signed up when I said it was ok! None of them wanted to let any of the others get ahead of them! Still, there should be some more along soon enough, and I can send a few over before they get enthused with the idea! I’ll can ask if any want to stay with you! And you could have a few visit now, it’s not like there’s something terribly wrong with them!”

(Marty) “Thanks, I’d appreciate it. I miss having Julia around all the time.”

(Martin) “Hey, why not? But why wouldn’t you want ones who’d already signed up for all the extras?”

(Marty) abalux48: “I want to see how they grow before they sign up. You know, curiosity.”

.. There was no point in coming out and saying it. Attempts to reform his dad had never ended well. Usually they’d wound up with cane marks in somebody’s forehead.

(Marty) “And what the hell are they doing with those Linear Realms kids? Are they competing to get the biggest flock?”

(Martin) “Oh, they sell most of the ones they don’t keep as pets or servants or put to work around the casino – but it shows how well their skills are developing. Each week, the most successful gets a prize!”

(Marty “Uh, Dad, you know who else offered incentives for selling people, right?”

.. The Number Lords were not all that picky about willing or unwilling sacrifices, and the didn’t really care if their followers bought their sacrifices on the black market.

(Martin) “Well, I am just offering incentives for getting them – and being sold to Kevin isn’t an especially terrible fate around here! Half of them just wind up on the staff anyway! And using slaves lets me keep a lot more of the profits and really pleases the visitors who rent the best rooms!”

(Marty, groaning to himself) “Well… ugh… FINE. Just try to keep me out of it, OK? Your Jewish “friend” with the battle golf putter’s here, he hasn’t changed a bit, and he’s on me as usual. I’m starting to think he has a point.”

(Martin) “Hey, they bet themselves into trouble… Stupidity has always been punishable by disaster, at least around here the penalty is only being ordered around for a bit… And your siblings are having a lot of fun!”

(Marty) “Yeah, they seem to be. Eh well. Guess we’re just going to have to agree to disagree on this. I would like to take some of them though. They can be thralls later, when they become legal.”

(Martin) “Well, be fair… If the linear brats are dumb enough to be tricked into indentures by kids that age, they’d be in trouble around here soon enough anyway I think. You sibs might as well amuse themselves! And It’s legal; their guardians consented!”

(Marty) “Heh. Those are the rules around here. Kid gives everybody what they want. I just worry that one day, he’ll run into somebody and hurt himself that way. These Core people aren’t as street smart as us, you know?”

(Martin) “Damn few are, or the kids wouldn’t all have pet slaves. The linear realms kids know a bit – but not a lot!”

(Marty) “Kids. Dumb as hell. They learn one way or the other. Those have taken the hard way… Bah, listen to me! You told me going straight would lead to nothing but stress!”

(Martin) “Well, it does! Around here there are compensations though (he gestured at the two girls waiting outside the booth)”

(Marty) “Nah, I’ve got two of my own. One’s watching Limey, but the other… say hi, Elera!”

.. Elera popped her head out of Marty’s pocket:

(Elera) “Hi! So you’re Marty’s dad? I can see a certain resemblance there!”

(Marty) “C’mon, Elera. This heavy talk is getting too me. Too much of it, and I’ll wind up COMPLETELY like Gelman! Who wants drinks?”

(Martin) “Drinks all around then!”

(Marty) “Sounds good to me! I’ll pay you back sometime, old man!”

(Martin) “Hey, no worries! The money flows freely around here!”

(Marty) “Then we’re ALREADY even!”

.. Marty spent some companionable time drinking with his father and chatting up his two showgirl friends. Either Thralls or slaves most likely, but it was hard to tell which just from appearances. They seemed to be nice enough though – and were glad to meet Elera.

.. A good time was had by all until the kids stampeded through to carry off their big brother again.

(Marty) “Whoa! Put me down! You kids are strong!”

(Kids) “Of course we are! We’ve got lots of tricks!”

.. Hopefully they weren’t dragging him of to some ungodly prank, his dad was good at those!

.. It turned out to be to the beach, for hot dogs, and to show off their various mounts. That wasn’t bad at all, even if all the mounts seemed to be transformed slaves. Not ill-treated though, outside of being animals. No surprise really.

.. One kid did happily try to press a horse on Marty as a present.

(Kid) “He’s new, but they’re really easy to train! Your servants will have it done in just a day or so!”

(Marty) “Nah, kid, nothing beats a nice fast flit. Keep him until you learn how to pilot, you need him more than I do.”

.. Most of the kids had small trinkets for him, so he handed out a lot of toys – and a few items that should be good distractions for them from harassing their “pets”. They didn’t seem to be really overburdened, or being hurt, or anything like that – that probably came of all their owners being minor telepaths – but they were all pretty much resigned to being pets and playthings. Part of the conditioning probably.

.. He had a lot to think about heading home. His siblings were all naughty and unrepentant slavers and bookies – but they weren’t particularly evil as far as he could tell. It was a little irritating, but what more could he expect from his father? Perhaps some counter-education? Teacher, some Thrall-telepathy, and perhaps some field trips to see more ethical people…

.. And they were Thralls. He could always have Kevin scold them – although that was an awfully big gun as far as a Thrall went and Kevin was awfully busy too.

.. Wait a minute… He’d forgotten that they were Thralls. Was it as simple as that? The stuff he’d been taking as a personality overwrite… was it just the a set of servant-mannerisms and “proper respect for master” routines? Without someone giving them orders, they were… just normal – if augmented – children.

.. That really was an awfully big worry off his chest.