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Dark street. Wet cobbles. The rain stings where it hits my face – there’s a touch of ice in it – so I keep my hat pulled low and my face angled towards the street. Even with my eyes turned down I can see Father’s feet trudging ahead of me, splashing through the puddles. I wonder if his feet ache as much as mine. You wouldn’t think it from his swinging step. I’m so tired and cold I can barely manage to trudge, but he swings his arms and whistles softly to himself, an incongruous tune that sounds like springtime.

“Nearly there, Nipper,” says Father, and he looks back at me and smiles. I’m glad he’s smiling because it means he’s pleased with the work we’ve done tonight. Pleased with the coins jangling in his pocket, and pleased with me for climbing in that high narrow shop window and letting him in the back. I don’t smile back, because I’m wet and miserable. The scraps I stuffed in my worn-out shoes are no proof against the water washing in through the holes. My arms ache from climbing and my hands are scraped and icy. The rags they’re wrapped in don’t seem to make much difference.

The other reason I don’t smile is because I don’t like him very much. Not anymore.

His name is Neddie Binks. I know he’s not my father, although he has me call him that for the sake of what he calls pathos. In one way he really is my parent, because he’s the only one who looks out for me. He’s all I’ve got, even if he’s sometimes a surly cur, too ready to fly into a temper. I still remember the day I first saw him. I was trying to steal bread off a baker’s cart, thinking the baker was looking the other way, when a big hand came out and grabbed my arm. The baker swung me up and shook me until my eyes rattled. “Thief!” he yelled, looking around for a constable, “Dirty thief!” and he kept shouting, shaking me in between for good measure.

I thought I was a goner, but then Ned was there. He strode up saying: “Tommy, you wicked little bleeder,” looking as angry as a rich man with well-fed morals. I looked around, bewildered, thinking he’d mistaken me for someone – thinking crazily that maybe there really was some other kid there – and while I was looking away he belted me around the side of the head, hard enough to send everything blurry and reeling. I was crying and trying not to cry, trying to stand up straight, while he apologised to the baker and gave him some money, cuffing me every now and then for effect. And, the strange thing was, even though I thought I’d given up caring about stealing, when Neddie Binks started talking to me like that the guilt stabbed through me, a sharp pain in my chest, and I saw a sad lady’s face in my mind, a pretty lady with golden curls and dimples. “How could you, Darian?” she said, and then Neddie took my arm and hauled me off and she was gone.

It took me a while to realise I had exchanged one captor for another.

“If you’re going to steal something, scrapper,” he hissed as he hauled me off, “you have to learn to do it right. I was watching you, and you were hopeless. Your eyes were on the damned bread nearly the whole time. A whole cavalcade of angels could have pranced by in the altogether, blowing on their curly horns, an’ you wouldn’t have noticed.”

So he offered to teach me, not that I had a choice, because, as he was ready to point out, I owed him big.

When Neddie Binks is cheerful, the world is a wonderful place. Everything is painted in luxuriant colours, like a fair or a parade or a bonfire. It’s embroidered with fantastical figures, like rich people’s clothes or the furniture you can see through their windows. Doesn’t matter if it’s snowing or sleeting, his crooked smile is as good as a roaring fireplace when he turns it on you, and you’d do anything, nearly anything at all, for a word of his praise. But when Neddie Binks is miserable, when things don’t go his way, everything is bleached and grey like swollen dead rats frozen in the gutter. The same wit that makes him say things about angels and ancient gods and long dead heroes becomes his dark and twisted master, and if you say the wrong thing, or worse still, are the cause of his displeasure, you’re liable to find yourself stripped naked, tied to a statue and flogged, left out on a snowy window ledge with no way to get back in, or forced to dress in girl’s clothes and used to bait wicked old gentleman into dark alleys. Neddie Binks likes humiliating people when the gloom takes him.

Lately, he’s been in shadow more than sunshine and I’m beginning to think of running away.

But not today – today we’ve scored big, and Neddie Binks is high as a hawk, despite the wind and the icy rain. I follow him to the place where we’ve been squatting – a half ruined house, partly burned down. It’s leaky and draughty, but after outside it feels like paradise. There’s a fireplace we can use, if we have money for coals. Tonight there’s money, and there will not just be a fire, Neddie promises, but sausages and cheese, toasted bread and beer.   I try to smile, but I can’t manage. I’m too cold, too tired, too exhausted with living on the knife-edge of Neddie Binks’ moods.

“What’s up with you, Darian?” asks Neddie Binks, looking up from where he’s lit the fire, and I blink at him. He never calls me Darian. It’s always scrapper or nipper, Jimmy ,Tommy, Johnny or spinner. He’s regarding me with seriousness, something that’s foreign to both his usual kinds of mood. “You’re not getting sick, are you?” He face crinkles with concern, making me feel guilty for thinking of running away.

“I dunno,” I say. “I’m just tired. Tired and cold.” I huddle close to the tiny scrap of flickering fire, watching it struggle against the damp of the desolate fireplace. My hands are shaking and they look very blue in the unsteady light.

Something he sees in my face seems to make him worried. “Don’t worry, Darian,” he says. “You’ll feel better once you’re warm and dry with a bit of hot stodge in you.   Tell you what,” he continues, “you did a good job tonight – the lion’s share of the work, even – so why don’t you wait here and look after the fire, and I’ll go get us some things and bring ‘em back.”

Neddie Binks might be a sadistic bastard with a twisted sense of humour, and he might be a thief and a scoundrel, but he always, always keeps his word. Unlike some blokes I know he would never say a thing like that and then wander off down the pub for a few drinks and not come back.

“Alright, then,” I say.

“Sit tight,” he says cheerfully, and he hangs his blanket over my shoulders and goes back out into the rain, leaving me wondering how I could possibly think of leaving.

But he’s not gone long before the trouble starts.

It begins with a shout and then the sound of running footsteps. I freeze motionless by the fire, suddenly icy both inside and out. More shouting. “Stop! Hold it!” More footsteps, slipping and slapping on the slick cobbles.

I know what to do. Neddie Binks has taught me well. “Don’t wait around for them to catch you,” I hear his voice echo in my mind, like he was right next to me. “If there’s trouble, go and hide. Pick one of our holes and burrow into it, like you were a snake or a rat or a rabbit, and don’t you move until the next day, no matter how quiet it seems.”

So I leave the fire, and I’m halfway out the back door into the lashing night when an anguished cry rings out, followed a long age later by something softer, a fading inhuman gurgle. The pursuing voices reach a crescendo and then fall into a concerned lull through which one carries clearly, snatched through the wind and rain. “…stolen goods…he had a confederate…search the house…”

Out in the yard it’s tangled and sodden. The ruin of a more badly burnt house looms next door. When it’s daylight you can see how the fire nearly took out the whole row. Someone’s been clearing the collapsed cellar, and tonight it’s become a great sucking hole in the mud, surrounded by steep piles of earth and ash with brown water pooling at the bottom.

The searchers seem close behind me and I scramble down behind the pile of earth.   They’re fast and lively, and I’m weary and slow as lingering death. My legs aren’t working. My feet slide haphazardly. I’m too cold to climb the leaning fence, too tired to dart off like a sparrow into the streets, so I look for a place to hide, but there’s nowhere that will do. Then, struck by desperate inspiration and Neddie Binks’ words, I kneel down and dig a burrow in the side of the largest earth pile. The outside is caked into a hardening shell, but inside the mingled ash and dirt is dry and loose, easy to shift. I throw myself into the tunnel I’ve made for myself, drawing Neddie Binks’ blanket in with me. I reach up and claw at the ash and mud above the entrance, pulling it down to gently cover me, hoping that it will be soaked quickly by the rain to blend with the rest. I pull down one armful, then another, and then suddenly it all comes down heavily in great thumping clumps, and I come down with it, slammed hard into my blanket by an unforgiving hand.

The sounds of the world recede. The rain is gone. The cries of my pursuers are left behind, abandoned in the world far above, lost and meaningless. I struggle, but there is no struggle. My limbs are pinned where they were thrown, held fast in the earth’s grip. The blanket thankfully covers my face, but there is no air, none at all. There is no chance. As I fight my impossible battle, a rhyme runs cruelly through my head, a song Neddie Binks sang when his mood was blackest.

Sally, gonna buy you a brand new bow,
      (Today O, today O)
Ribbon so red for your hair of snow,
      (Coming down today, O)
Sin’s long arm will drag me down,
      (Today O, today O)
Lawmen circling all around.
      (I’m coming down today, O)

My feet are slow but my mind is clear,
      (Away O, away O)
There’s just one road away from here,
      (Going far away, O)
Sally don’t know so she won’t cry,
      (Away O, away O)
And I’ve got no wings to help me fly.
      (Going far away, O)

Lay me down on an earthen bed,
      (Below O, below O)
Cold wet clod beneath my head,
      (Way down far below, O)
In close-drawn darkness I shall lie,
      (Below O, below O)
Sod and stone shall make my sky.
      (Way down far below, O)

Poor man’s clothes shall be my shroud,
      (Below O, below O)
No fine-spun shirt to keep me proud,
      (Way down far below, O)
No copper coin to cap my eye,
      (Below O, below O)
No holding hand to help me die.
      (Way down far below, O)

No preacher man to tell sweet lies,
      (Below O, below O)
No hypocrites extemporise,
      (Way down far below, O)
No steady shoulders bear my bier,
     (Below O, below O)
No mourning maiden sheds a tear.
      (Way down far below, O)

Take my burden, take my woe,
      (Away O, away O)
Sally, dream of me while I go,
      (Going far away, O)
Bones of silver cleanse my crime,
      (Away O, away O)
Sally, don’t wake me ‘fore my time.
      (I’m going so far away, O)


It’s not raining any more.

The walls of the ruin soar above me, rising crisp and clear in the cold night air, a silhouetted stairway of broken brick. The sky beyond is dark and gleaming, pierced by a million pitiless stars. A tree hunches by the jagged wall, skeletal winter branches reaching down in a gesture of summoning.

An impossible figure, a tiny gentleman death, skeletal face shining beneath its top hat, mounts the wall. It is absurd and yet completely solemn. It pauses to beckon to me, its macabre figure mirroring the outline of the tree.

It waits with inexorable patience.

I know I must climb, I must climb out of here, up the jagged wall. I must swim away into the pool of the sky’s reflection and then I will be free.

Last year Am&a asked me to draw a map of Kibashi. There were quite a few bits about it in the story-thus-far. For instance: “The needle-slender minarets that rose into the crisp sky, silhouetted against the brightening peach and lavender horizon, the great dark bulk of the temples lurking down by the river, and the patchwork quilt of houses, large and small, with flower beds, vegetable patches, and rock gardens.” And: “…the Pillars of Glass, the great double avenue along which the parade passed on its way to the palace to greet the Emperor on the occasion of his birthday.” And: “…encased in the stocks in the Plaza of Disobedience and had smelt the stench of the bodies that wafted from the cages that swung by the Rattan Gate.” So there were a fair few things that I knew had to be in at the end.

But the way to draw a city that looks properly organic at the end is to start drawing it at the beginning, and grow it. This is how I almost always used to draw cities on paper for my own amusement, and photoshop now gives the added fun of being able to save each step as you go along separately.

So I started out with this:

Most Ancient City of Kibashi

Most Ancient City of Kibashi

The pale line is the walls of the most ancient city, and the diamond, crescent, and circle are respectively the Palace of the Floodlord, Temple of the Moon, and Fortress of Kaab Ashai. Those things really don’t have anything to do with the story, and I don’t particularly know what they mean, either, I just felt like putting them in. North is at the right, south at the left.

Ancient City of Korumu

Ancient City of Korumu

I don’t know who Korumu is, either; but the asterisk is their palace. I had the idea, I guess, that the city which was initially of little importance was taken over by this Korumu person and made their capital.

Kibashi Gezem Rau

Ancient City of Gezem Rau

In the time of Gezem Rau – whoever they were – it has become dangerous enough again in the neighbourhood that the city needs a wall. But there are baths now (the double rectangle) and a new Temple of the Hunter King (near the Crocodile Gate) and Temple of the Batrachian Harlots (the star by the river). These are all ancient history and don’t appear in the story at all, of course.

Kibashi Gezem Rau 2

City of the Heirs of Gezem Rau

This is called the “Ancient City of Gezem Rau (Late)” in my file, but I expect it is a couple of rulers later. Things have obviously calmed down in the neighbourhood, since there is a lot of development outside the wall, and some reclamation of land as the river shifts. See, the baths have moved, and there is a shiny new Winter Palace off to the north.

Early Modern Kibashi

Early Modern City

I had the idea that these heirs of Gezem Rau were next conquered by some other entirely different sort of people who swanned in from somewhere. They have put in a more regular ‘New City’ to the north of the old city and torn down a lot of the walls and monuments of the old people. The names appearing on this map were put in later, working backwards from the names on the final version of the city.

Walled Modern City, #1

Walled Modern City, #1

Of course, it soon would have become necessary to put a wall around this new expanded city. Some of the names of the old gates have been resurrected, while some new ones have been introduced. The line of temples along the river has pretty much shaped up now, and you can where the Pillars of Glass has been driven through the centre of the city.

Modern Walled City, #2

Modern Walled City, #2

Just bloating out again, as things grow peaceful once more; and the city in the story has no walls, so it is about time for them to come down.


Kibashi at the time of the Work-in-Progress

And here it is, the city I was actually asked to make!





After a while, though, I felt like drawing cities again. And I thought, why not, I will take this fantasy city forward into the industrial age. But first, I needed a larger canvas.

Kibashi and Environs

Kibashi and Environs

Now, to put through some railways and new suburbs.

Industrial Age Kibashi, #1

Industrial Age Kibashi, #1

More railways, and more suburbs, and some industrial zones…

Industrial Age Kibashi, #2

Industrial Age Kibashi, #2

And more!

Kibashi 3

Industrial Age Kibashi, #3

By this time they have had a revolution, and the Palace belongs to the people, and I have inflicted some local government areas on them. These three versions were all in a photoshop file called ‘Future Kibashi’, which was becoming too large to open properly, especially as I wanted to make the map larger again. So I kicked off ‘Even More Future Kibashi’ with an expanded version of the map above.


Industrial Age Kibashi #3, AND environs

Industrial Age Kibashi #3, AND environs

Then made it a bit bigger.

Industrial Age Kibashi, #4

Industrial Age Kibashi, #4

And bigger.

Industrial Age Kibashi, #5

Industrial Age Kibashi, #5

This was in a new file called ‘Last Kibashi Honest’.



A few months passed.




Okay, maybe just one more Kibashi

Okay, maybe just one more Kibashi

I thought it would be neat if the Empire was restored and the new Emperor built a palace exactly like the old one, but twice the size. Anyhow, that’s it. Big enough. Though this is pre-air travel, and only has a rudimentary highway system. It is meant to be approaching c.1900 London or Berlin or Paris. Anyhow.


But that’s not the obsessive project I spent my summer holiday doing.


This is:

A really useful city map has to have names for all the streets.

A really useful city map has to have names for all the streets.


So, we have been playing Final Fantasy XIV, re-released last year, a considerable time after its incredible nose-dive  into the sun shortly after its initial release. So far so good.  There still aren’t enough quests for my tastes, and some odd prohibitions that I can’t see the point of.  Why tie unrelated side-dungeons to the main questline, so you only get access after reaching a certain quest, even if you are the right level? Why can’t we take a too-low team into a dungeon?  Why can’t we try with three people?  These latter pushings of the challenge envelope are something I have always enjoyed, despite often being punished with much death for my audacity.   It’s those radical moments when you actually manage to pull off something unexpected that make it all worthwhile.

Revisiting Final Fantasy XIV has brought back vivid memories of Final Fantasy XI, my first real MMO, and doubtlessly where my rules-lawyery-ness about following “the unspoken rules” originates. (The tank goes first, let the tank pull, avoid getting aggro if you are not the tank, crowd control is sacred).  Although recent games challenge these traditionalist MMO concepts, these unspoken rules still exist in FFXIV, along with the same snide elitism about gear.  Is there something about Final Fantasy that encourages this?   ‘Cause although it is definitely present in other games, I haven’t seen (smelt?) such strongly scented epeen for some time.

Anyways, playing FFXIV did inspire me to make a new movie, the idea of which was forwarded by my good friend Guildenstern (who has been dragged, kicking and scream-emoting, from one game to another over the last few years, despite the opposition of  completionist tendencies).  Who knows how long it will last on the interwebs, since Square Enix is apparently just as rules-lawyery about copyright as it is about gameplay.

Ah well, it’s here for now.





With Reallusion’s recent update to IClone to version 5.5, new functionality has been added in the ability to edit Terrain directly within the program.  Reallusion suggests that if you wish to create entirely new terrain, you should purchase Earth Sculptor, their add-in terrain creator, to adjust the material masks for any changes you make.  If, however, you don’t possess Earth Sculptor, it is still easy to create material masks for simple terrain projects.

This tutorial assumes a basic familiarity with both Photoshop and IClone.  There are plenty of fine tutorials available demonstrating the use of each.

For this example, we will create a simple terrain with some rocky pinnacles in a desert landscape.


1.      Setting up your Photoshop document

Load a terrain map in IClone, go to the Terrain tab, and export the height map to Photoshop.  I chose the Butte terrain.  The image you export will contain a greyscale height map of the terrain, but we are not interested in this.  Exporting the file this way simply gives you the appropriate file type and size for the project.

Create five layers above the height map.  I named them as follows:  Background, Height, Green, Red and Blue.  Once you have your new layers, you can delete the original height map, or keep it as a reference if you choose.

Fill the Background layer entirely with black (0,0,0).  This layer will represent the lowest parts of your terrain for the height map, and the fourth material type in your material mask map.


 2.      Creating and exporting the height map.

The height map is simply a greyscale representation of height, rather like a contour map.  The brightest, whitest parts of the map are the highest parts of the image, and the darkest parts are the lowest.

For this example, the flat desert plain is the lowest part of my terrain, so all I need to do is draw in my rocky pinnacles as highlights. (If you were drawing a more varied landscape, you might want to start with a dark grey background instead of black, and add shadows and highlights to create your terrain).

To draw the pinnacles, select the Height layer, set the foreground colour to white, and take a photoshop brush with soft edges and a size of about 100 pixels, and draw some white blobs where you want the pinnacles to be.  The final result should look something like this:

01 White blobs

For a more gradual terrain, you might use a brush with softer edges, decrease the opacity value of your brush, or adjust the brightness of the image.  You could choose to paint in grey instead of bright white. You might paint on layers so you could adjust the opacity of each independently. The height and smoothness of the height map is also adjustable in IClone once it has been imported.

Since the pinnacles should be relatively steep-sided, the rapid change from low to high (black to white) is quite suitable.

I took a large soft-edged eraser, of about 50 pixels and an opacity of 25%, and used it to adjust the pinnacles, as below, in order to make them a little more interesting:

02 Height map

Now is a good time to save your Photoshop document.  You should also export the Height Map, by selecting “Save As” from the File menu, and selecting .png as the file type.

If you go into IClone and load a terrain into your project, you can double click on the height map in the Terrain settings, and load in a new map.  Select the height map file you just created, load it in, and you will instantly see the basic shape of your pinnacles.  Here is mine with the Butte material map texturing it.

Pinnacle height map applied to Butt terrain

 3.      Creating the material mask map

This is the part that Reallusion would like you to purchase Earth Sculptor to do.  I have never tried Earth Sculptor.  It does look like a convenient tool, with a “what you see is what you get” style interface that allows you to paint textures directly on the terrain.  Using Photoshop requires a degree of back-and-forthing, but seems reasonable for simple projects such as this one.

To achieve a material mask with Photoshop, we will colour in the areas that correspond to four different materials that will be present in the final terrain.  It is possible to set what these materials are within IClone later.  For this part of the exercise you only have to consider which parts of your scene will use different materials.


Green layer:

Lets start with the green layer.  We will use it for the rock face material for the pinnacles themselves.  Select the Green layer, and choose a large soft-edged brush (the same one you used to draw the pinnacles is fine).  Use a pure green colour with the RGB value of (0, 255, 0).

Now, simply colour in solid green blobs covering the pinnacles on the height map you drew before.  The result should look something like this:

03 Green layer


Red layer:

Now for the red layer.  This is going to be the stony ground immediately around the base of the pinnacles. Select the Red layer.  Take a slightly smaller soft edged brush, set the foreground colour to Red (255,0,0) and draw some rings or semi-rings of red to show where this material will be.

There is no need to fill the interiors of the rings in,, although you can if you like–they should look like strange irregular doughnuts.  The edges of the red and green should overlap at least a little.

Once finished, you should have something like this:

REd Layer 1

Blue layer:

This layer is going to be some cracked ground areas in the main flat area of the landscape.  If you were working on a detailed project, you could consider including these depressions as part of the terrain map for added realism.  Here, let us simply make them a different material, for interest sakes.

Select the Blue layer, and set your brush to Blue, with RGB colour settings (0,0,255), and draw some blobs in an empty space where they don’t overlap with anything you have previously drawn.

It should look something like this:

Material Map 1

Exporting the Material Mask Map.

Export the file as a png file.  Now you can go into IClone, and load the Material Mask layer you have just created.

Pinnacle material Map applied to Butt terrain

 4.      Tidying up:

Not bad – you can see the terrain and the material map do match up – but the edges between the different materials are too blurry, especially around the base of the pinnacles, where the Red and Green layers meet.  Let’s adjust that a little.

To fix the problem above, I went back to myPhotoshop document, and increased the size of the green blobs a little.  I also positioned the green layer on top of the Red layer, instead of underneath, so all the green is showing.

Here is my material mask after tidying those edges.  It doesn’t look very different – the green area is just a little larger.

Final Map 1

After tidying, make sure the three colour layers and the background layer are the only ones visible, and export your material map again.  You may want to save it under a different name, in case you want the original one later.

Import the new material map into IClone.

Here are the results of my change – much better!

Adj Pinnacle material Map applied to Butt terrain

 Of course, your material map may require you to make slightly different changes to your material borders, but I’m sure this demonstrates how easily it can be done.  You can go back and forth between Photoshop and IClone and many times as is necessary to adjust your material map to your satisfaction.


5. Applying textures:

You can read about how to change the materials of terrains and adjust the settings in the IClone help files.  It is straight forward enough, and if you have already used IClone to change textures of props or characters, you should be familiar with the process already. With the Butte terrain, the material names correspond to the colour layers we used as follows:


Height Map 01 = Red

Height Map 02 = Green

Height Map 03 = Blue

Height Map 04 = Black

Here is what my terrain looks like after playing with the terrain settings and quickly applying some new textures to the map:

Terxtured pinnacles

Obviously better results could be achieved with a more detailed height map and  fine adjustments to the material map.  The purpose of this tutorial is, however, to demonstrate that adjusting the material masking layer is certainly possible using Photoshop and well within the capabilities of users familiar with materials, textures and layers in Photoshop and IClone.

Cover BoT smlIt may seem that we have not been writing very much over the last six months or so, and this is both true, in terms of publishing things, and not true, in terms of projects that have been trickling along the background.  In my case, I have been working on “The Changing Man,” a teen fic novel set in the universe of “Misfortune“, and also on the second volume of Aronoke,  More recently I have started a story about a traveller boy in the world of Tsai, called “Sky’s the Limit” (which may never see the light of day), whereas Chris has been diverted into completing his Narnia fan-fiction story, Bride of Tash.

Today I put up the first chapters of Bride of Tash at, and also at Archive of Our Own, which is a fan fiction site frequented by our children.  There are great drosses of trash to be found on fanfiction collection sites such as these, mostly in the style of “What would happen if Major Character X had the hots for Major Character Y?” but there are occasional gems to be found floating in this sea of mediocre slush.

Bride of Tash can also be found here, in the Freebies section, where it will be updated prior to other postings.


ArcheAge is an up-and-coming sandbox MMO which has been in production for some time.  It floundered about for a good long time, having difficulties finding a company to bring it to the west, but Trion Games eventually took it up.  Even now, only vague snippet of information are forthcoming regarding it, although what has been promised is enticing – ships, wagons, player-built housing, large-scale battles, player-judged legal system, prisons… I wonder if it will actually all come to fruition, and not be the vast disappointment previous games (Vanguard, for example) that have promised such wide-ranging systems have been.

Bare-chested male toons fishing in boats and riding donkeys?  No problem.



My recent obsession with making the first chapter of my Star Wars fan fiction story, Aronoke, into a short film has been highly time consuming.  Who knew that 3d modelling software like 3ds Max could be so complicated?  Well, I did, but on this occasion I have made more progress than on my previous forays, and I am pleased with the results.  Why, two months of steep learning curve and mounds of texturing has given me over two minutes of film!

Walking in

At this rate I should finish by the time I am eighty.  With any luck.

Admittedly I have managed, with considerable help, to also install a stack of kitchen cupboards as well, but most of my other projects have been left wandering, lost and alone.  Even my MMO activities have been largely neglected.  Save for the latest Secret World update.

When your character's name is Rainier, the Zombie T-shirt from the Funcom store becomes even more appropriate...

How could I possibly resist Action Adventure combined with tasty fedora-imbued goodness?







Polaris is the first instance most new Secret World players will encounter, and like the game itself, is substantially harder than most instances a “noob” low-level player will typically encounter in the early zones of a MMO.

In Normal mode, Polaris can be a considerable challenge to an unprepared group, while those with more experience will find it easy to duo (and possible to solo) wearing Quality Level 10 blue gear. Thus, you may not notice the difficulty if you first encounter the dungeon in the tow of an experienced and over-equipped player that knows what they are doing.

If you are encountering the instance with a group of raw noobs wearing Quality Level 3 green gear and you choose not to read instance walkthroughs beforehand, it is a different matter entirely.

Considering that starting players typically have Quality Level 3 gear at best when adventuring in Kingsmouth, the instance can be a tricky challenge, particularly in the case of the last two bosses.

The quest is available from Ann Radciffe (383,992) in Kingsmouth.  Entering the instance without the quest will grant it to you automatically, although you will miss out on the cutscene with Ann Radcliffe.  The Elite version of the instance is accessible through Agartha (Go to the jump-off point to go to Solomon island.  Instead of going straight ahead, turn left.  This portal will take you to the Elite instance branch of the World Tree.  You will obtain the appropriate quest by entering there.)


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I am intending to write a series of “Noob” guides for Secret World instances, largely because many of the Secret World guides I have read follow the lines of “Do these two things and you are guaranteed to succeed” and/or “This is awesomely easy, and only complete noobs who don’t know their ASD from their W could possibly wipe”, the latter of which is highly flattering when your group has already wiped many times before finally choosing to consult a guide. Perhaps these things are true if you are running an instance with a bunch of over-geared people who know exactly what they are doing, but if you are playing with a group of raw noobs who are all there for the first time (perhaps because you are not interested in having the solution completely handed to you by someone else), it is a different matter entirely.

PolarisAs I play almost exclusively with a small cabal which attempts to solve instances without looking anything up, (at least not before wiping a good score of times and exhausting all the strategies we can think of), I may be missing easier solutions that are more widely known.

To fire off this series of guides, I will start with what, in my opinion, you should know before embarking on your early Noob instance adventures.  This guide will not tell you specifically what you are going to face (or it wouldn’t be an adventure anymore, would it?), but some general Noob tips aimed specifically  towards adventuring in Secret World.

Additionally this guide does not address MMO group etiquette or basic MMO roles or how you should use voice chat.  If you don’t know what a tank is, what dps stands for, what Ventrilo, Mumble or Teamspeak are, or the (often unspoken) rules regarding things like looting and aggro management you will need to look elsewhere.

1) Stay out of circles.

Circles, circles, everywhere.Secret World has many Area of Effect attacks which I ubiquitously call “circles” regardless of their shape. (It is much quicker to yell “Circle!” over voice chat to warn your friends then to try to use the names of the specific attacks, so I use “Circle!” unless knowing which specific attack is vital.)  There are noted exceptions to this, but generally, standing within the white spreading circles, rectangles, bubbles, polygons or whatever, will get you killed very quickly.  Sometimes instantly. There are also circles that look like glowing fire, blood, or darkness (filth). These are also typically deadly.

Practice double-tapping the movement keys (to perform a rolling dodge in the tapped direction), and running to get out of circles quickly.  You will need to be able to do both.  Note that running backwards is slower and only works with small circles. Playing with the Akabs in the Savage Coast (the second zone in Maine) is a good way to practice this.


2) Be aware of your environment.

Finding a safe place to stand can be challengingPosition yourself wisely. Where you stand and move can be incredibly vital in Secret World, and is often the difference between success and failure.

Always fight on level open ground if you have a choice and there is no reason not to. Sometimes circles are hard to see on slopes, stairs, or in water.

Some monsters have frontal cone or blast attacks that you will not be affected by if you are careful to keep behind them.
Use the less frenetic parts of the fight to position your character appropriately and be aware of what directions are best to dodge in if something happens where you are standing.  It is easier to get out of enemy attacks quickly if you have planned which way you will run. Dodging into walls or objects seldom ends well.  You will be either unable to dodge in that direction, or your dodge is cut short.

Be aware of where your friends are. Some monsters target you with targetted AoE attacks (circles) that follow you wherever you go.  Running to get out of these circles straight over the top of other players will probably drop circles on top or them and is counter-productive.

More generally, the environment can include things like fiery jets coming up from the floor, inanimate traps that fire off circle attacks when you stand near them, filthy water pools that damage you while you stand in them, electrical fields, or circles that leave a permanent puddle behind them that continue to exude damage if you walk in them.


3) Watch the boss.

Boss hijinksThis can be surprisingly tricky, because you are already trying to watch your colleagues, watch for circles, and if you are the healer or tank, watching everyone’s health bars as well.

Watch for emotes that herald special attacks (eg. boss pauses and raises arms in the air,  boss turns aside and casts dramatic purple swirly special effects).

Listen for audible catch-phrases that indicate incoming attacks or phase changes in the fight.

Watch the boss’s cast-bar and note the names of attacks as the boss casts them, as these can tell you what is about to happen a little earlier and helps you associate attacks with specific emotes.

Check for icons indicating buffs above the boss’s bar.  Buffs can improve a boss’s damage or defence abilities.  You might want to run away from the former, or hold off using your best attacks during the latter.


4) Know your character.

Abilities WheelYes, this is really Number One on the list, although early in the game you can be excused for not knowing all the facts yet, or for having an incomplete deck of skills.  That doesn’t mean you should stay ignorant.  From an early stage in the game you should form some idea of which deck or role you are working towards.  Look at the existing decks for your faction – these will give you a good idea of how a decent deck is built.  Look at future skills that might augment the ones you already have, and work towards obtaining them.

Make sure you read through all your abilites (and easily obtainable potential abilities) carefully.  Lots of skills complement each other, so look for passive abilities that give bonuses to the type of attack your active abilities use (eg. Blast, Focus, Chain, Burst, Leech etc.), or even to specific abilities.

Don’t be afraid to try out different weapons and combinations of abilities. In the end, Secret World instances are like puzzles in which working out the correct party-wide combination of abilities can be vital. You can get all the abilities and skills in the wheel if you are willing to put in enough time.  There are numerous guides and decks that specify decks for different roles.
On the other hand, changing your build constantly can be counter-productive.  There is a great temptation to “slot this particular uber skill which will be the solution to all the group’s problems” but if everyone in the group is changing abilities all the time without consulting each other, the combined overall effect can be random.  It is better to confer with your group mates and slot skills according to an overall strategy (eg. “We need a lot of area damage to kill all the adds in this fight, so the DPS should slot AoE attacks, while the tank slots area hate abilities.”)

Make sure you are wearing class-appropriate gear which has statistics most appropriate for your role.  I am not going to go into detail here, but the following basics will see you through your early Noob instances:

  •      DPS (damage dealers) should wear gear with high Attack Rating.
  •     Healers require Heal Rating.
  •     Tanks will typically need high +Health gear.

If your health is very low with all your DPS or Healing gear slotted, consider putting in one or two high +Health pieces even if your Attack or Heal rating is reduced.  All that uber DPS and Healing power will not do you or your party much good when you’re dead.


5) Know your friends from your enemies.

Friend or Foe?This seems like it should be ultimately obvious, but it is less so when you are confronted by a fiery pulsing circle on the ground, or a sudden green swirling that might be poison or might be healing…  Player attacks come in many different forms, and as a Noob it is difficult to be familiar with all of them. Some of them look surprisingly like some monster attacks, and may be bright enough to make it difficult to see hostile attacks.

Ask questions if you are uncertain if an effect is friendly or not (“Is that thing with the spears coming up out of the ground yours?”) and pay attention to abilities you see other players using while you run around playing solo – you don’t want to be constantly running out of a healing AoE or out of the tank’s aggro-circle.

Andrea Höst, dominant force in the psychic space ninja subgenre, whose tiny room at Monash Uni we spent part of our honeymoon in, tagged us for this “Next Big Thing” meme. So here tis!


What is the working title of your next book?




Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?


It will be self-published. For some time we have been enthusiastically saying self-publishing was the way of the future and last year we finally decided to stick our necks out and have a go.


Where did the idea come from for the book?


It is the second in the Rainier Fields series (after Misfortune), which had its genesis in a role-playing game. The role-playing game started with one of us writing a five page short story introducing a character and a lot of mysterious unexplained plot hooks, which the other of us then took off in completely unexpected directions.


What genre does your book fall under?


We think of it as Science Fantasy. It is not quite on a grand enough scale to be Space Opera, so maybe Space Operetta would be a good name for it.


How long does it take to write the first draft of your manuscript?


It depends how many other things distract us on the way. Our three published works each took between three weeks and three months to write the first draft. We have other books that have been going for twenty years, dribbling along at ten thousand words a year or so.


What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?


This is a really hard question since we can’t remember having read anything remotely like it, but we’re not going to pike out… It is driven by characters, rather than plot or grand ideas, so it is more like the Vorkosigan books than a lot of other things that could fall under the ‘Science Fantasy’ umbrella.


Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?


We think it would be most fun to play them ourselves as ultra-high budget CGI characters, with high-budget electronic tweaking to make our voices sound right.


Who or What inspired you to write this book?


We inspired each other. It was a very small project that got wildly out of hand. The original germ of the Rainier Fields series was very much inspired by Diana Wynne Jones, though I am sure she would have been alarmed at how it turned out.


What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?


Mercery behaves very badly.


What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?


Having escaped from the mysterious Project that gave him his technomantic powers, Rainier Fields is trying to lead a normal life on another continent when he unexpectedly appears on the Emperor’s Birthday “Most Wanted” list.


We would like to tag David Versace, whose short story “Imported Goods – Aisle Nine” is appearing the Canberra Speculative Fiction Guild’s “Next” anthology real soon now.  Long ago we were kayaking with David Versace in the Northwest Territories when a strange green meteorite crashed nearby, giving us superpowers and animating the corpses from an ancient Native American graveyard. After we defeated the zombies, we became active in student politics, wrote songs about Australian television news personalities, ran several play-by-mail games about alien pirates, and stuff.