Madessa: Surveyor & Cartographer For The Oriel Webway

Madessa stepping into an unknown oriel world

Occasionally, we include flash fiction from the Grailrunner archives here. Today, the spotlight is on a character named Madessa, who features prominently in the Salt Mystic core rulebook. Enjoy!

She’d answered him twice already, but the guard just kept squinting at Madessa suspiciously with his helmeted head cocked to the side, “You’re with the what’now?!”

For the third time, “The Reignition Society…Sisters And Brothers For The Free And Open Mapping Of The Oriel Webway. And I made a promise.”

He prodded her again to keep her hands in the air, “Where I can see them! We’ll see which bin the Castellan wants to toss you into, clownface girl!”

They stood in the ponderous shadows of a rising stone temple swarming with workers, amid smiling and bustling crowds of villagers pushing carts. The carts bore stone and mortar and gilding plates,and produce and dried meats for those on the towers. They were building a soaring marvel where a poorer temple had once stood and burned down a generation ago. It was a celebration of unity and the most exciting thing that would happen to many of them.

The Castellan apparently not being available, the guard tried sounding official again, “What’s an oriel? You keep saying that!”

Madessa glanced down the dusty road at larger silhouettes on the horizon, grinning so slightly at what looked to be an elephant with a passenger basket and cargo hanging off its sides, “An oriel is a pocket of artificial space, created thousands of years ago. You live in one. All this. It branches off from the real world, where I’m from.”

She looked at his puzzled, hideous face and smiled, “I map them.”

“You’re a cracked egg, is what you are! Who created all that then?!”

“They called it ‘The Infinite Republic’. Countless worlds just outside our space inside their bubbles and sometimes forgetting that’s so. The Society wants to rebuild some of that. Just the good bits. I’m for real, dude. Surveyor and cartographer. I just came to get the skinny on this rebuilding operation you’re up to here. This will make a great navigation point. I’m gonna need some of that gold though.”

The guard glanced at the cart, laden with donated bracelets, necklaces, armlets and earrings for the casting pit. He spat at her, laughing viciously.

“I made a promise”, she said as she lowered one hand and pointed with the other. Following her pointing finger, the guard saw the laden elephant charging wildly. It was headed directly towards them.

Panicked, he looked back at her to see what power she had over this.“What promise?!”

“I promised the people on that elephant some of this gold.” Madessa snatched a handful of gold and slipped into the crowed just as the chaos set in. The Society had wonderful aspirations.

They just didn’t have any money.

(c) Brian Bennudriti

If you could use some Star Trek optimism right now…

I love reading introductions by people like Harlan Ellison and Stephen King almost as much as their books. There are cool insights into how they think in there, what pisses them off, and the sorts of trouble they maybe got up to when they were normal people. Not sure which intro of Ellison’s it was, but I recall that he got sideways with Gene Roddenberry once when the draft script of ‘City On The Edge Of Forever’ had crew members doing drugs or something…being regular folks, basically, with problems and shortfalls and whatnot.

Not my point, but stick with me here.

What I’m saying is Star Trek at its core was supposed to be a super optimistic picture of what could be. The troubles they have in those stories aren’t meant to be of their own doing. Roddenberry was saying we’d get past all that noise. Our troubles would be external to ourselves: things we run into out there in the great beyond. That’s why they didn’t want Ellison monkeying around with troubled people and vices. It’s a beautiful picture, actually, and one that inspires a host of people to do amazing, paradigm-shattering things out in the real world today.

Somewhere though, Star Trek lost its mojo. My opinion – don’t tweetblast me! I’m not seeing much these days in science fiction that inspires anybody to do anything but rage against things. To be honest, I think there’s a place for raging, but there’s as much of a place (if not more) for painting relatable portraits of what we could aspire to be. In our mad rush and culture war to help everyone see themselves as they are in their fiction, we’ve left behind the idea of giving people aspirations of who they might one day be.

I wrote a letter to Arthur Clarke once, when I was a little dude. I asked him what a tesseract was and told him I loved his stories. The reason I thought I’d ask him that is the guy inspired me. He just made me want to hop into the pages and marvel at the machines and dreams in his pages alongside his characters. We never mailed it, unfortunately. I don’t think my dad felt the need to pay postage to Sri Lanka.

Seriously, read Fountains Of Paradise for an elevator to space, or The Deep Range for guys in mini-submersibles herding whales, or Rendezvous With Rama to discover a marvelous and maddeningly well-designed alien artifact, or City And The Stars for people who can just opt out of thousands of years at a time. It goes on, man. It goes on. The guy makes me just shake my head and chuckle at his wild ability to make me want to be there…to see those things…to build those things!

So as I’ve sat over the last few years writing short pieces for a collection, there were so many times in an airport, on a train, in the car, or staring out a rain-fogged window that I intentionally summoned those same emotions to inject into the stories. I wanted to inspire myself with what might be. Sure, I built terrors too! I killed a lot of people and made a mess of the future. But I kept dreamers and wonder-workers and brave souls who genuinely aspired to forge better things…to overcome all that sought to swallow them and seduce them.

We went live just in the past couple of weeks. I’d be incredibly honored if you clicked over and took a look. It’s a collection of flash fiction and short stories, compiled such that the chapter endings include vignettes that collectively pose a riddle. The whole work is a puzzle to solve. Hopefully, it’s one that brings a smile to your face when it’s worked out (or if you cheat and read ahead!).

Take care, my friends. Dreams are engines.

Be fuel.

You Need To Hear From This Guy. Seriously.


Just how many people do you know who’ve studied pathology and martial arts? And taught themselves to write music and create video games? And have enough energy to power an Iron-Man suit? Let me introduce you to a guy I got to know during the quarantine. This is worth your time, seriously. You’ll learn something and will probably want to go play his game afterwards.

Anyway, if you’ve spent any time around here at Grailrunner, you know we intentionally dig for things that are interesting, off the beaten path, often with a futuristic slant. Go watch Youtube’s original docu-series ‘The Age Of AI‘ to see our tribe. Go read something by Barrington Bayley or Jorge Luis Borges or Arthur Clarke to see our warchiefs.

And give this short interview a read too. Here’s another one of us. His name is Brock Joseph Oliverio, though we’ll call him Doc Brock because that packs a punch. And ‘packing a punch’ is something he knows well. We sat down to ask about what led him to such an interesting life, where martial arts is going, and an exciting video game with a unique and futuristic twist you need to hear him describe.

We’re months into a global pandemic, so of course you have to tell us your background and how this COVID thing has impacted your day job.

Indeed. So I am a unique sort of practical scientist.  I was a Biology and Chemistry double major in college completing both in 4 years with a steep focus in molecular and cellular phenomena in the former and quantum mechanics in the latter.  I also have an M.D. with broad training in psychiatry, surgery, pharmacology, and epidemiology, but I ended up specializing in microscopic medicine known to the public as Diagnostic Pathology.

I didn’t go on to research, though.  I actually practiced medicine for a little over a decade where I acted as a cellular and molecular physician diagnosing people’s ailments, such as cancer and infection.  My performance led to leadership roles in hospital administration including becoming President of the Medical Staff, then Laboratory Medical Director, and finally Chief of all of Diagnostic & Rehabilitative Services where I oversee 105 employees aimed at providing diagnostic and therapeutic tests for patients.

So the impact of COVID-19 on my day job has been one of training and problem solving.  I am consistently tapped by employees and leaders across my organization for knowledge and solutions on how to deal with the SARS-CoV-2 virus due to my unique background.  I was even  one of the first laboratory leaders in my region to bring in the detection system for the virus.

So how did a guy studying pathology in West Virginia wind up pursuing martial arts?

It’s actually the other way around!  When I was 5 years old, my father came to me as I was punching and kicking bad guys (i.e. pillows) and said, “Would you like to try martial arts?”  For some odd reason, I said yes not quite knowing what I was getting myself into, but I just remember thinking that I had discovered something that I always knew about myself.  Now, I just knew what it was called.

My first class was a disaster!  I was so young and it was so intimidating being around a classroom full of not just much older kids but adults!  The school was just being formed and was in an old, dusty building in the wharf district of the small college town we lived in.  I had trouble staying on the practice floor because of my age-appropriate social anxiety, running back to my father in the observation area before the class was even finished.

When the next class came up, my father asked if I would like to try again.  I said yes and never looked back.  I’m 42 now and have been training ever since.  It’s a way of life for me, but it also answers the fundamental question of why I got into it in the first place: how do you deal with another being on a physical level.

The pursuit of that question led me to want to know everything about the human body.  With my aptitude and interest in science, medical school and then pathology were perfect, natural fits, and the discipline and focus I learned from martial arts gave me the ability to complete them.

What’s the future of martial arts? Where is it headed?

The future of martial arts is actually one of originality.  Human beings have gradually commercialized martial arts by breaking them up into styles for easy consumption.  These styles were more about what you don’t do than what you do do.

For example, I was classically trained in kung fu.  I was taught amazing strikes, but any type of ground work or grappling was not only avoided but sometimes shunned or even looked down upon in my circles.  As such, those fighting situations were ignored, and I had no way of dealing with someone who got past my strikes.

This, of course, was no big deal because I did not practice with anyone who did grappling.  I only practiced within my kung fu class, and everyone did exactly what I did.  I never had to deal with externalities not contained within my system of fighting.

Enter the Ultimate Fighting Championship.  On November 12, 1993 modern martial arts was put to the ultimate scientific test when each style would start to be put up against the other.  As we went from UFC 1 to 2 to 20 and beyond a pattern emerged: Brazilian jiu-jitsu was dominant.

Many thought this was the deciding experiment that finally proved which style was the best, but it turned out that it was just the martial arts community composed mainly of strikers having the same realization as I did regarding the gap in our training.

You’ll notice that as UFC went on, all of the strikers began training Brazilian jiu-jitsu and all of the Brazilian jiu-jitsu fighters began training striking!  As such, the martial arts styles that were once one and united have begun their slow trek back to originality.

I think the future of martial arts is a continuation of this phenomenon. From my perspective, I have found that the principles of fighting that apply when you are standing up apply when you are on the ground as well.  Also, the human body can only move in so many ways.  For example, an elbow only bends so far and a shoulder only raises so high.  As such, there are only so many fighting movements possible and these movements have been possible since we became bipedal.  Physics sure haven’t changed either!  So the future of martial arts is getting back to basics before things were separated and approaching the problem of dealing with another being on a physical level by bringing ALL of our assets to bear in the physical universe we occupy.

Without naming them specifically, who was one person that most impacted your life in a positive way and why?

Hands down that would be my father.  He is and always has been my number 1 fan.  Growing up he provided unlimited encouragement and guidance in my life’s pursuits and showed me the proper attitude to have in life by example.  I can say without a doubt that without him I would not be where I am today.

Sell us on Future Fighter. Why is it amazing?


Because you can finally do everything you’ve wanted to do in a fighting game but couldn’t.  Future Fighter is a translation of my real-world martial arts and sparring experiences into the game world.  As such, you have more control over your character and more accurate representations of true fighting movements than you have had before.  Because the developer, martial artist, science expert and motion capture actor all share the same organic cephalic neural network, there is nothing lost in translation either.  When you play Future Fighter, you face the mind of a martial artist in a sci-fi universe.

What’s involved in making and marketing a video game as unique as this?

Discipline.  As you can imagine, I have a busy day job, so every nanosecond spent outside of that day job has to be effectively utilized and organized to make game development possible.  That same discipline has to be put into getting the word out about the game so other people can discover it and play it.  Overall, it means being systematic in my daily approach to both development and to updating all of my networks, customers and fans with the latest news and progress.

Skill, of course, is a big factor, too.  I unwittingly started my game development journey as a musician in high school when I taught myself to play the piano after being inspired by the “Ending (Boss)” theme from Star Fox.  Then, once I learned how to hook up my synthesizer to a computer in college, it was all over.  I started writing songs and making sound effects for a friend’s video game in medical school who then asked me to be on his game design team.  Another member of that team and I went on to form our first video game development company.

As a two-man crew, I had to start filling in the gaps for necessary skills that the company needed.  It started with web programming and then game programming.  My team member decided to become a full-time dad, but I decided I would continue my game development career with a solo project called Future Fighter.  I picked up visual effects, motion capture, 3D art, and animation to round out my skill set.

In fact, when you play Future Fighter or interact with me online, the only content that you interact with that is not a Doc Brock original are the 3D models.  Could I do those?  Yes.  Would I ever get as good as these amazing 3D modelers that you see in Hollywood.  No.  So I pay these good people to use their 3D models and then bring them to life in Future Fighter with motion capture and my own personal visual effects tweaks to match the vision in my head of that universe.

Pick one character from the game and introduce us.

That would have to be my digital doppelganger, Omega.

Omega is a curiosity in the Future Fighter verse.  He seemingly has technology and abilities that no one can really explain.  Personally unknown to the two main factions, the Priests and the Elites, Omega just does not fit into the current structure of humanity that our future heads to.  As such, he becomes a real problem for both sides exposing a deep, dark secret about the true nature of power and freedom in the universe.

His fighting style literally is my fighting style.  I have motion captured the moves that I use every week in my sparring sessions and given them to him.  Also, the Shadow AI that controls him in game approaches you the same way I approach my opponents every week in my sparring matches.  Tactically and technically, he is me.

It’s fun and exciting to hear your enthusiasm about the kind of stories we publish at Grailrunner. What attracts you to science fiction?

The possibilities!  We all know eventually we are going to get there: teleportation, flying cars, a world without cancer, etc.  The problem isn’t our lack of abilities.  It’s our fear-based brains.  Fear holds us back from trying new things because we’re afraid of the deleterious consequences.  As a result, progress is slow — machinatiously slow.  (There was not a good adjective to describe how slow I think the progress is, so I made one up.)

Science fiction gives us the ability to see the world that will be — without the limits of our fear or our finite lifetimes.  In doing so, it helps us find out who we are and who we want to be.  What could be better than that?

Where can we learn more about what you’re up to? is the place you want to be.  It has all of my updates and gives you options for your favorite delivery method: social media, blog, email list and even a forum!

Anything else you’d like to tell us about?

Yes.  I’d like to tell you what a treat it has been getting to know you and participating in this interview.  Reading the excellent sci-fi published by your website is inspiring and imaginative.  I look forward to sharing it across all of my networks so that others can enjoy it, too.


Scorpion Void


(Periodically, we include short fiction here relating to some of our intellectual properties from the developing books and games. Please enjoy this one!)

The Bioverse was the sum total output of trillions of biological nanobots and sensors inside the bodies of all humanity, projected graphically and acoustically around a one-seater deck that looked like a flight simulator but was so much more. This is a story of its golden age, of an intelligent and wildly mutating plague and the daredevil CounterBiotics pilots banded together against it in this manufactured universe of information.

Blind to whose bodies they sailed, mercilessly raiding clusters of increasingly deadly and sophisticated microbes, the CounterBiotics pilots were the final hope in a desperate time…

I was there that day, at Scorpion Void…the day we saw its face. I still see it in quiet, lonely evenings when I’m locking up, and something flitters just in the corner of my eyes. It’s outside the windows, even on the second floor where I keep my bedroom. It’s at the foot of my bed as I drag up the blanket. It’s behind my eyelids.

The Void.

I was there, and I can tell you what I saw. But you won’t get it unless you know what we expected, what was supposed to be there. You need to feel the thunder in your bones like we did, because we used to laugh back then. We were cocky and funny, with nicknames. We thought we were chasing cancers and novel viruses, unrelated super-bacteria immune to medicines. Until Scorpion Void, the plague had a thousand names, and it was an undirected force of nature subject to our phage torpedoes and morphosomes. It was a day when we lost our ignorance and our innocence.

There were three of us: two Americans and a Frenchmen, not that it matters when you’re inside. The mission was to investigate an anomaly in the data. The Bioverse was blank where it shouldn’t have been, entirely empty. You’re not able to know whose body any part of the data comes from, so the Void could have been in a dancer on a stage or inside someone choking on a hospital bed. Whoever they are, they made it. The crevice and ridge are still there; I’ve been back many times to be certain.

‘My torpedo is infected!’. That’s what I remember the Frenchmen said. It was impossible, of course. We uniquely designed the phages based on what we saw. Nothing remote like this could have adapted to us. Yet there it was, inserting its code directly into our arsenal’s genome.

When I looked into that canyon, that black precipice into nothing at all, I saw the plague. I saw it, lashing and snapping at me. Genes I’d seen all across the Bioverse were nested there in a tumor. It still bore the code from a thousand outbreaks, a sick library of pandemics. Impossible. All of it was impossible. And now, our own weapons were compromised. If we fired, we’d only make copies of our enemy.

I saw the plague’s face that day, friend. And it’s a raging, gambling beast looking to kill us all. There’s one thing about seeing a face though.

You know you can find it again.

(c) Grailrunner Publishing

A tale of the Bioverse.



Clueless In The Sunless Citadel

map and firebeetle

A couple of weeks ago, to pass the time in quarantine between the escalating parade of conference calls, I pulled my old Dungeons & Dragons starter set off the shelf and cracked open a book I got for Christmas (Tales Of The Yawning Portal) from Wizards Of The Coast. Obviously, most D&D packaged adventures are for groups of people and are designed to be led by a dungeon master. I hammered out a few guidelines for converting them to solo dealie-o’s and wrote about that here.

It was such a surprise how things turned out, and when the characters started to pop for me, I thought it would be fun to write and illustrate a short pdf of how the adventure turned out.  It was a far wilder ride than I’d anticipated, which is a rock solid testament to how powerful the D&D system really is and why it has such a special place in so many hearts.

The kind folks at NaturalCrit have graciously made available a tool able to publish documents that look almost exactly like the Wizards Of The Coast 5th edition D&D materials. It’s here, you should give it a try if you’re into that. It’s what I used to format the document.

There are over 20 custom illustrations inside, mostly done in Daz Studio, Photoshop, and a little Blender.

The adventure I chose was ‘The Sunless Citadel’, so the setting,  three of the characters, and the encounters are all drawn from that book. Not mine, and property of Wizards Of The Coast, completely.

The story though, that was pretty much all the roll of the dice. Sticking to the rules I’d outlined, I only read descriptions of rooms once I’d decided to enter. The dice decided whether something worked or not, and who lived or died. Seriously, things just went nuts with this.

For my very first game of Dungeons & Dragons way back in the day, my buddy was as clueless as I was about how to play and gave me my character’s name: Firebeetle. That’s the elf that led this delve into the Sunless Citadel.


I hope you like this adventure, as it was a pain and a joy to put together. I wish someone else was writing Firebeetle now, because he cracks me up, and I’d like to know where he goes next.

Maybe you can tell me.

Here’s the link to download Clueless In The Sunless Citadel.

Till next time!


Solo dungeon crawling in the quarantine: The Sunless Citadel

Sunless citadel image

Just getting this out of the way now, I don’t really know how to play Dungeons & Dragons correctly. I played a couple of times when I was a kid, and I’ve messed around with my own kids a couple of times. So there – no comments about how a 1st level whatever shouldn’t be able to cast doomahickey.

However, I saw this cover last summer as I was puttering around:


Guys! Come on. That’s just good art. Intrigued, but no use for the book, I passed it by. It inspired me to shoot for a little more grotesque imagery in the art I was putting together for the Salt Mystic game though. Like this guy:

Isolated storyteller

I listen to a lot of nerds on Youtube when I go running though, and came across a terrifying dungeon the game’s creator, Gary Gygax, concocted back in the day called ‘The Tomb Of Horrors‘. I guess Gary’s idea was to put veterans of his new game in their place and make it pretty much impossible to survive the adventure due to traps and false endings and tricks. Honestly, such a cool guy, that Gary! You should hit up Youtube on that sometime to hear stories of guys who were there at those early cons trying to survive Gary’s machinations.

When I came to realize that tomb had been reproduced in the same book that had caught my eye, I added it to the Christmas wish list and lucked out. My wife is pretty cool that way. And it sat looking cool on the shelf until now. Quarantine for COVID19 and, to be honest, no real connections out there that play the game anyway.

I was thinking recently, though, about how to take solo adventures between conference calls. It struck me that without a real clue on the rules and without a dungeon master telling the big story, that this would be hopeless and sad. I tried some random dungeon generators online and found them repetitive and lifeless.

So I cracked open the ‘Tales Of The Yawning Portal’ and read up on the basics of the game from an old starter set laying around. There is a starter adventure in there called ‘The Sunless Citadel”, designed for newbies to level up quickly.

I’ve just finished a wild ride that, if I’m honest, went places I hadn’t expected and took crazy turns…was kind of nerve wracking at times…and ended in an interesting place with popping tension for a follow-up. I might write it up and post it here as a pdf just to make my point that this really wound up looking like something I’d planned when I absolute had not.

(Update: I totally DID make this an illustrated ebook, available for download at the top of this article.)

I didn’t even cheat. Much.

Anyway, the point of this post is really to share some guidelines I came up with to re-engineer a packaged adventure from Wizards Of The Coast intended for group play facilitated by a dungeon master into a solo adventure that’s surprising and interesting.

Sunless citadel map


  1. Carefully build the character sheet with all the spells, inventory, and weapons you intend to use without cheating and adding things later when you need them
  2. Since you won’t have companions (at first), think through what challenges you’ll face and add items and skills to deal with them (I figured I’d need to pick locks, so brought along tools for that)
  3. Pick an adventure that has decent maps and plenty of rooms to explore, with a story that adds purpose to what you’re trying to do
  4. Don’t read ahead in the book, only the description for a room or corridor after you’ve decided you’re entering based on the map and the story
  5. Once you’ve entered, deal with whatever you came across without cheating (I accidentally reanimated some skeleton archers and almost got toasted)
  6. If the adventure doesn’t already require it, find a roll table for encounters (on-line or in the Dungeon Master’s Guide) and make the occasional surprise roll
  7. Follow whatever side adventures are offered (I wound up making a daring raid into the goblin side of the citadel to recover a little dragon they wanted back) and be willing to deviate from the original plan
  8. If a character offers to join you, let them. You’ll need help when things get rough.
  9. Try and get in your new companions’ heads and determine what they might actually do in these circumstances, then deal with that (one of my guys would more logically say she was joining me but turn her back on me as soon as she could).
  10. Journal out the entire story, including dialogue if you can. Things get muddy and dull unless you can reflect on where you’ve been, what you were thinking, and you lock things down tangibly.
  11. Don’t cheat. Don’t cheat. Don’t cheat. The rolls are the rolls. If the lock won’t open, the attack doesn’t hit, even if you’re killed. Don’t cheat.

So maybe give it a shot yourself, if you’ve never tried. In my case, the final scene was a cliffhanger: I suppose the mission was accomplished, but the little dragon is furious with me, the lead of the kobolds is chaining me up, and my other companion is missing. Plus, there are some pretty ticked-off goblins who are probably coming for all of us.

And also those weird noises coming from the lower levels…

Be safe, guys. Till next time.





Welcome to the Bioverse

Bioverse cockpit

We’re super close to wrapping up a flash fiction collection for publication; and it seemed timely to bring you into the loop a bit on some of the key ideas tying them together. One of the biggest ones had nothing whatsoever to do with COVID19 or any global pandemic because I started writing the dang thing two years ago.

It’s a little creepy now, though.

I was just was thinking along the lines of global outbreaks and mutating diseases…and what fantastic but maybe plausible mechanisms might science fiction offer to do something about them. In the collection, you’ll see much of the world’s population hit very hard with a rogue prion that triggers wild mutations. The resulting cascades of diseases appear with thousands of faces over a hundred years; and humanity forges an incredible approach to face them down.

It’s called the Bioverse. Let’s head inside to see what it’s all about. Here’s a short piece of flash fiction. It’s called THE CHASE. I hope you like it.

Banner file

You can tell yourself the Bioverse is just a visual representation, a rippling and illusory curtain of data. You can steady yourself against the deck’s cockpit and acknowledge that it’s not really sailing anywhere physical. Look around if you like – maybe you’ll catch glimpses of the walls or lighting or soundproofing panels.

More likely, you’ll black out or vomit into your lap. It’s a lot to take in.

The aggregate input of quintillions of nano-scale machines and sensors embedded in practically every human alive throughout the globe has been rendered in this artificial universe for specially trained CounterBiotics agents like you to sail its front lines. New viruses and exotic bacteria are evolving at rates never before seen, in seconds rather than days. Rogue proteins and phages stalk the world, triggering DNA mutations that launch into the wide world in a matter of hours. It’s a devastatingly dangerous time.

And it’s a very good thing you’re here to do something about it.

Those images are data. You’re rocketing through actual people out there, who might be at the grocery looking through apples or coughing their last breath in a hospital bed. You’ll never know who they are; that’s hidden from you. In fact, you’ll hop seamlessly from one person to another like crossing an undefended border. It’s the chase that matters. Only the chase.

Imagine a ski-slope shaped chart, a pareto. The highest bars on the left are the people with some nasty disease that we’ve set in our sights…something that steals away pregnant mothers and single dads and wide-eyed little kids who can’t understand what’s happening to them. Imagine these diseases, these plagues, as hungry prowling beasts drooling in the shadows. They’re scary, aren’t they?

But we’ve built this miracle place. And we’ve tasked you to chase these beasts from their highest concentrations down to the last gene somewhere that’s coded for it. And we’ve tasked you to be merciless and slay them all, right where they hide.

It’s the chase that matters, my friend. Only the chase.


(C) Brian Bennudriti

Grailrunner Publishing

Nonlinear adventures: the mind-twister for Coronavirus lock-down


I hope everyone is staying as safe and locked down as possible till the COVID19 issues are a distant memory. The hope is that in no time at all, we’ll be looking back proudly at how well we weathered this whole thing and how we pulled together as families and neighbors.

Meanwhile, it’s a great time for projects, right?

When I was a little nerd, I was a huge fan of the ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’-style books branded ‘Endless Quest’ that let you dive into Dungeons & Dragons worlds and set your own course. Battles and mysteries and spooky beasts…I was really into that. Here’s one I used to read:choose own adventure

Around Christmas, I poked around in a few Cthulhu solo adventures, which brought those old books back to mind. I still have a few on the shelf; but they don’t really have the same oomph from back in the day for me. So I wondered is it time to try and write one?

Well, no it’s not. Obviously. I have a short story collection to finish, a novel that’s 3/4th complete and in ramp-up mode, a wargame and merchandising to finalize and market, and a sequel to write. It’s obviously NOT time to start another project.

But still…

My house is chaos sometimes. My wife often asks from across the house, “What’cha doin’?” Two teenagers need a lot of attention. And they eat a lot. And two dogs need stroking and wrestling. So now as we’re cooped up together in the house, it’s kind of nice to slip down to the basement to the little cafe table beside the wargame stuff, leave the lights a little dim, and bust out some words on something completely different from what I’ve been thinking about for years now.

And that’s where this nonlinear thing comes in.

So Twine. Check these guys out here. This is software for writing branching narratives that leave decision-making up to the reader. You can install it as an app or build it from your browser. I’m seeing that it’s a lot easier to learn than I’d thought. Here’s an example I pulled from a kind soul named Sara Stern:


The post-it note thingies are individual web pages where your text lies, accessible via links the reader is clicking as they make their choices. All you do is put a “[[ ]]” around your choice options; and it creates the new pages for you. Seriously, super easy. Tutorials on this abound. Twine 2.0 is my preferred brew, the default Harlowe format. You can add images, even background images, and sound and video if you want. Though you probably shouldn’t do those last things.

The tricky thing here, as I’m learning, isn’t the technical piece of engineering an html file for posting which contains your adventure. No, not even a little bit.

The tricky thing is chasing a particular decision out and building your beautiful, intricate plot development out along the resulting bunny trail, then realizing that maybe they didn’t pick that option.


Anyway, there will be a new Salt Mystic adventure out hopefully in a couple of weeks…the first non-linear story. Here’s the branding we’re going with:

Salt Mystic Interactive Adventure

It’s called AT THE MOUTH OF THE ROTTING GIANT. You’ll be crouching and scraping your way inside the corpse of a long-dead fallen giant to speak with an ancient piece of artificial intelligence. And you’ll be armed.

You’ll need to be.

See you soon, guys. Stay safe!

(c) Grailrunner Publishing




The long history of the Salt Mystic universe

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Here at Grailrunner, we’re building a storytelling framework we call ‘SALT MYSTIC‘. You can get the point of it here. If you’re going to call something an “immersive storytelling engine”, it needs to have some long legs, right? So we had the idea that it might help to have a reveal of some of the history that led to the software-haunted ruins, screaming statues, and city-sized war machines in which the main storyline is unfolding.

Here’s the familiar setup:

Two thousand years ago, a withered old woman stumbled out of the salt flats declaring her vision of the forces of history, and how to harness them to shape human events.

Naraia was the name they gave to the world-spanning democracy that arose from her teachings, encompassing countless thriving civilizations on land, floating on the seas and tethered to the sea floor, and tucked into pockets of artificial space called oriels. All of it shattered into a thousand pieces a generation ago in a terrifying and almost supernatural conflict called The War Of The Rupture.

But so much happened before!

How could a worldwide nation be possible unless they had seen the anarchy of centuries of soul-destroying war? Where did such miracle machines come from that could serve a civilization this mighty? And what mad travelers and philosophers and generals lived in the hearty days before these shining towers whose lives could feed the kinds of stories the Salt Mystic would weave into her powerful myths?

Let’s take a look at the broad strokes of ten thousand years:

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First Era:     Misty Antiquity

A muddled time of legends and fables. Many themes of these stories include an ancient technological Singularity, where humanity’s machines rocketed beyond their own understanding and reprogrammed the very matter of their landscapes.  It’s probably just a story.

The most popular figure among the legends of the era tell of Rendel, a mischievous trickster engineer. Typical of his confusing rants, Rendel was famous for asking whether this is the first and original universe in which we live, or if it too began as an oriel.


Second Era:     The Brewing

A wild era of exploration and settling where many of the familiar cultures of Naraia developed their own cultures and identities as enclaves or small nation-states.

  • The Red Witch Annex was carved out to isolate and contain their vile ways of seeing the world
  • The first people settled in the barren Salt Flats, hunting with their traditional bladed kites the high flying whitebird
  • In the ancient settlement of Alson high on the mountain plateau, the hallucinogenic algae wine called sana was first brewed
  • The first ball lightning carbine was crafted by a gunsmith whose mysterious lover asked him to bring her a mighty storm in a box


Third Era:     The Merchants’ Wars

The largest conflict in history to that day, when the various enclaves came to realize their bankers and merchants had leagued together across the world in a secret shadow government. Theirs was a lost generation, who learned in the burning wakes of ever-escalating war machines to trust no one at all.

It was a time of devastating economic and psychological warfare where propaganda was brought to its highest effectiveness. Many of the cruelly manipulative stonewisps, artificial intelligence agents of chaos haunting statues and masonry elements, date to this period. It’s noteworthy that this was when the seafloor empires arose in The Tethered Cities, its early peoples fleeing from unrest on the surface.  

One ironic result of all the chaos and fury of the Merchants’ Wars was the planet-wide system of shipping, trade routes, and banking infrastructure that later made Naraia possible.

Fourth Era:     The Philosophers’ Parade

This period in history was notable for the seemingly endless parade of new religions and philosophies, where it was said any stray book casually left in a plaza would sprout a temple from its pages. The superstitions of the Mountain people especially spread like wildfire due to the popularity of their algae wines and wildly inventive folklore.

Although well understood now, it was unknown to the people of the time that many of these belief systems were being engineered for the purpose of uniting the world’s enclaves under one ruler. It was an attempt to conquer without blood or treasure, since previous eras had proven that neither war nor commerce could unite everyone.

One unremarkable nomadic enclave called The Rauchka dramatically lived out their protests of these bloodless coups by transforming into a roving race of jesters, mocking without regard for power or influence. This is important because these prancing, nose-tweaking jesters would later be charged with the important responsibility of humbling those wielding terrible authority under the world government. They were declared untouchable up until the time of Old Man Talgo during The War Of The Rupture.

The end of this era is marked by the arrival of The Salt Mystic, who stumbled from the Salt Flats with a history-shattering vision of the forces of history.

Fifth Era:     Naraia

Within a hundred years of the Salt Mystic’s arrival, a united and mighty civilization arose, spanning from the mountains to the seafloor, across countless pockets of artificial space, and deep into crevices in the earth. This remarkable and unprecedented society was built upon a number of foundation elements:

  • The Augur, a collective hallucination maintained by attendants and providing oracles based on the Salt Mystic’s philosophy
  • Recorders, people chemically and genetically modified to remember every sight, sound and scent they encounter and used for almost supernatural consultation
  • The Malthus, enigmatic errand runners and assassins, able to weaponize the Salt Mystic’s philosophy to shape human events. It was said a single Malthus could not just destroy a city, but make its own people do so.
  • The Rauchka jesters, ever humbling those in power

This pinnacle era of history lasted for almost nineteen hundred years before it decayed from within. By its end, the Augur and its puppet copies were hotbeds of secret files, intrigue, statecraft, and meaningless power plays devoid of wisdom. The Malthus were all but wiped out, with only a handful in hiding in the Trapmaster City under the Yagrada River.

Sixth Era:     The War Of The Rupture

Libraries are filled with reasons for the War Of The Rupture, perhaps the largest possible war ever to be fought. It’s said a billion people died in this nightmare, a conflict of practically everyone against everyone else. The most terrible war engines imaginable blanketed countless battlefields. It was the golden age of war.

The most important figure of this period was known as Old Man Talgo, a minor military figure who rose to unimaginable heights of influence due to his ferocity and battlefield innovations. He was a cruel and vicious man, who pitted his sons as officers in battle against each other for competition and refining.

The Old Man made a bitter enemy of the last clan chief of the Rauchka and swore to erase his people from history, eventually beheading the chief. Strangely, Talgo was said to have gone to the Augur afterwards and hung himself at what he heard there. It was after this that the Rauchka made their sad, desperate pact with a general named Tienna in the Great Valley Cemetery to transform into cyborg engines of war.

Seventh Era:     The Guardian Age

The current era is a time of roving armies and miraculous war machines, scattered like maple seeds for anyone to seize. It’s a time where some of the old legends from the war still live and carry enormous influence, and old grudges. And it’s a time of very old mysteries.

The era is named for the most important myth ever told.

It was said in hushes and whispers throughout the terrible conflicts of the war that the Salt Mystic had foreseen what would become of Naraia. Because of it, she had injected cunningly engineered stories into the folklore and myths the people pass down, ones capable of possessing a person’s soul. Foreseeing the wars and injustice that could emerge, she hid tripwires in these myths that inspire world-shaking guardians when they’re needed the most.

A guardian arises maybe once in a generation. It changes everything.

And it can arise in anyone at all.

(c) Brian Bennudriti. All rights reserved.

Tales from the Salt Mystic universe. Read more here.

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Blinkstrikers: In Broad Daylight

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If asked to describe an assassin, most of us would imagine someone who skulks in shadows and creeps about at night in desolate places. It’s not just to dodge being caught plying their deadly trade; no one paying for assassinations wants trails leading to the buyer! Assassins slip in when you’re alone and do the deed quietly.  No witnesses.

Blinkstrikers are a breed of assassins in the Salt Mystic universe who, you might say, thumb their nose at this idea of skulking at night. You earn that distinctive black hood only one way: a very public, broad daylight execution of an extremely powerful person with at least a thousand witnesses.

Imagine a summer day, crossing a crowded street in a swarming mass of people. Everyone’s laughing or rushing, munching a sandwich. All around you are people and businesses and street cameras. You blink your eyes. That’s where the name comes from. It isn’t the shadows or the night where the Blinkstrikers work. It’s that moment when you simply blink your eyes.

Someone walking beside you falls dead to the ground.

You can stop everyone in that panicked crowd and lock down the city if you like. Everyone will have a story. Everyone heard something. Everyone saw something. None of it will lead anywhere. In fact, it’s like someone almost set things up so the eyewitness information makes things even more confused.

With procedurally generated morphium face masks and clothing, they never look the same twice. Many of the people in the crowd that day were observed and manipulated for days before that moment. Ideas were hypnotically or neurolinguistically implanted to shape what they would say and experience at that moment. It could be that even the target for the hit was manipulated into turning left or pausing at a particular moment by some random and forgotten experience days ago.

Someone in the crowd did it. And you’ll never catch them. Never.

The hardest thing to face about such a person is you have to stop your life and hide away in the shadows to shield yourself against them.

And that’s where the other assassins are!


Ascensia: “Half a million people watched my guy fall when I earned this hood. And I’m still here!”

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Nampo: “I sleep fine. These people are animals.”

(c) Brian Bennudriti

Tales from the Salt Mystic universe. Read more here.