The System-Allergic Player

He talks about his character all the time. He draws portraits and tells little stories about the things that happened offscreen. He's always early to the game and has the grace to bring snacks. He loves the game.

Yet, somehow, it's been two months and he still has to borrow a book to look up Magic Missile every time. He asks, "How far can I move this turn?" The same distance as every turn, Sam. "Can I cast Spell X?" No, Sam, you ran out of spells today. Remember? You said it yourself ten minutes ago.

You know this player. I know this player. It's System-Allergic Sam, who somehow cannot wrap his head around the rules of the game. He spends combat rounds in D&D paging through books. In Polaris, he needs to carry a conflict cheat sheet - that's conspicuously blank of notes and not really of any help to him. In Exalted, he forgets how to calculate his dice pools and Charms are hopelessly intimidating.

How can we help Sam? Can we? Should we play with him?


Birds-of-Trinity: An Exaltation Story

The fourth book of the Epic of the Second Dawn of the Deliberative is separated into two volumes, white and black. The white volume has covers of mirror-polished steel, and a soft jacket woven out of ibis feathers. It is a bestiary of birds, and each bird is a tale from the life of the hero who named herself Birds-of-Trinity.

Each day, I drink.

Each day, I drowse.

Each day, I write a hundred beautiful words and set them to the music of the zildar. I invent new sweets and offer them up to the mouths of kings and lovers.

Each day, I beat my wings against the cage.

Give me a little bit more.

So begins the epic of Birds-of-Trinity, who was once Núiyal Kól, the scream of the crane, in the country of Chaya, where the butterflies nest in spring.

The first entry in the bestiary is entitled "The Riddle-Wisdom of the Hawk," and it tells this story:

So it was that one day, Núiyal Kól sat in her garden and watched the ducks swim in the pond. "Quack," one would say to another, and the second would reply affirmatively, "Quack." This is how things were at that time. Today, though, things were different. "Quack," said a familiar duck, and in reply, a shriek from the sky: "Kriiiiiiiii!" It was a hawk with white discs marking its wings. The hawk landed beside Núiyal Kól, tilted its head as if to ask, "You, friend, what adventure finds you here?" and flew off without a look back.

Núiyal Kól went to her chambers and gathered those things without which, she could not remain herself: A book of songs, a pen, and two knives, one for art and one for battle. She untied her hair and took off her sandals, and tied the long sleeves of her robe behind her. She painted a white spot on each hand. Thus unencumbered, she left her chambers, and did not even turn to shut the door.

The book describes the solar hawk of the east, whose feathers are red and whose beak is golden, whose eyes are all-seeing, who has white spots marking its wings. It is the legend in some forgotten country that this hawk will lead a child home who has lost his way, for inevitably he has seen him on every step of his path.

So it was that when the sun had risen and set five times, Núiyal Kól was in a new country, one of which she had only heard rumor before. It was said that the people of this land worshipped talking faces that they carved into the trees, and once a year, a maiden would smear her sex with sacred pollen, and in due time bear a green-eyed son who could speak to things that could not be seen. She met such a man on the road.

"Hero! What trouble do you bring to my people?"

"There are no heroes here," Núiyal Kól replied, with bitterness. "There is only a poet and a dramatic man."

The man took his staff and wrote upon the earth. Story-cutting-man.

"It is the character for hero, yes: a man cut apart by stories."

He wrote the characters again, a little differently. Man-cutting-story. "You see, the poet is the same, only seen from the back."

Núiyal Kól gave the man a courtesan's smile, beautiful and false. But there was a flaw in it, and a little bit of happiness showed through. She laughed for the first time in a season. "But you are looking at my face, shaman, and I am a poet. Your prophesy is backward."

The shaman shrugged and walked away.

In paintings, the hawk is always depicted with a sparrow's skull in its left talon, and three white narcissi in its right. It is both executioner and mourner.

So it was that when the moon had turned in her phases five times, Núiyal Kól was beset by a cadre of the king's Peacock Guard. "Núiyal Kól, will you return to us?" the captain implored. "The king sits, starving, in the banquet hall; he will not rise from his seat until you bring him your famous thousand-leaves pastry."

"I have made it a thousand times," Núiyal Kól replied, "and so it cannot be made again. That would require the secret of the thousand-times-thousand-leaves pastry, which I have not perfected."

"His sword-arm grows soft, Núiyal Kól, for he will cross swords with no one but you."

"He is no longer my equal in swordsmanship; I have travelled far and learned much from these undiscovered countries. The king must fence with his equal."

"His ears are stoppered with wax, Núiyal Kól, and he will not drain them until he hears the Tale of Ten Dynasties from your tongue. Each day his language grows more disordered and his body more deprived."

"Then the Ten Dynasties will end with him, who cannot live without a bird that has flown from the nest, and I will return to give my respects to the Eleventh."

"Your heart is hard."

"You are mistaken; it is your heart that is hard. Mine is merely become difficult to persuade."

Crackle, flutter, snap. The Peacock Guard had fanned their fans and lowered their spears. Then there was a bright light and a darkness like sudden nightfall.

The olar hawk famously preys on other birds. The peacock, pheasant, and bird-of-paradise are counted among its mortal enemies, for only they, among all the prey birds, are able to fight back; they entangle the hawk in their twisting plumes.

So it was that Núiyal Kól meditated on these three ordeals while composing verses with which to festoon the treetops. As a result of these meditations, she took up the name Birds-of-Trinity and set out in the search of new stories to tell.