Hearthstone Arena Master – Part 1

So, let´s talk about Hearthstone Arena for a bit.
The title is of course a bit tongue-in-cheek, I am not an arena master, but Slightly Above Average does not sound so exciting.
So, “Master” it is. 🙂

In March, Arena was switched from Wild to Standard, and the distribution of draft cards was adjusted (more rares and epics, less neutral basics).

At first, I was skeptical about this change, as I have grown quite fond of some of the older cards, and I do not have the card pool to play Wild in Constructed.
But it turned out to be rather fun, more so than before.
In April, Journey To Un’Goro was released, which rotated out The Grand Tournament, Goblins vs. Gnomes, The League Of Explorers and Blackrock Mountain.

Since then, I have experienced a remarkable rise in success in Arena. Which means I have gained more gold from my Arena runs, which allows me to play more Arena, which gives me opportunity to get better at Arena.

Power is its own reward.

During Mean Streets Of Gadgetzan (Early December to early April), I have managed to get to 12 wins exactly one time (with Warrior). In contrast I managed to crack the 12 wins since the beginning of April seven times by now.

I am sitting on an average of 5 wins per run, which is decent, it allows me to be pseudo-infinite (I can play about X arenas per week, as long as I also complete the quests.)

My personal pick order is this:

  1. Paladin (Easy to play, very strong)
  2. Mage (Medium difficulty, very strong)
  3. Rogue (Hard to play, very strong)
  4. Priest (Easy and fun to play, not as strong)
  5. Shaman/Hunter (Depends on my mood)
  6. Warrior/Druid/Warlock (I have personally given up on these. Maybe next expansion.)
So let met share some of my thoughts on this format, before the next one starts. starting with:

Aggro is dead.

The reason for this is twofold.

For one, many of the good two-drops, as well as some good one-drops (Zombie Chow, Clockwork Gnome) have left the format.

This hit decent neutral minions (Gilbin Stalker, Annoy-O-Tron, Boneguard Lieutenant, Flame Juggler, Haunted Creeper, Huge Toad etc.) as well as several class-minions.

None of these cards is required to make an aggro archetype work, but the sum of available 2-drops has been reduced by a lot.
It is often not possible to fill out a good aggro curve, a critical mass is missing.

This means that it is often hard to make an aggro curve work, where you go 1-drop, 2-drop, 3-drop, Yeti and have almost won.

Some classes are hit harder than others by this. Hunter for example has many good 2-drops left.
But here, we enter the second major change, which might stop you even if you managed to make a nice curve deck:

Taunts

I think this is the most significant change. Many good Taunt cards have been released in the last two sets.

They can be separated into two tiers:
Decent neutral Taunt cards that are available to everyone:

Nesting Roc, Stegodon, Giant Mastodon, Ancient Of Blossoms, Tar Creeper, Stubborn Gastropod, as well as the ones that were available before, Senjin, Bog Creeper, etc.

Then there are the  really good neutral ones:
Stonehill Defender (Especially in Paladin and Shaman decks), and Primordial Drake
And the crazy class cards, Spikeridged Steed, Grimestreet Protector, Tortollan Shellraiser
This means several things. As mentioned above, board centric aggro decks have a hard time.
A turn three Tar Creeper can stop the classic 1-2-3 tempo push within a single card.
Similarly, breaking through a Spikeridged Steed is not impossible, but it´s basically as if your opponent has gained at least 12 HP and dealt a bunch of damage to your guys.

 

Fun and interaction

This creates an interesting interplay between these components: High-HP Taunts, Silences, Poison minions (two relevant ones are new, plus the Adapt cards), Hard removal and mass-trades.

I think this is far more exciting than turn 6 wins via tempo and win-more cards.

I have split this up into multiple parts, as I have a hard time sorting these thoughts into a consistent narrative.
In part two, I will talk a bit about my personal strategy and maybe some of the classes.

 

Sometimes you just have to get lucky ^^
– Rane2k out.

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Nephilim – Chapter 3 “Hunters and Gatherers”

(Disclaimer: This is a synopsis / battle report of the a session within my Nephilim RPG campaign. This serves to give some context to the fiction I post.)

Synopsis

Meeting Harvey

Sha Naqba Imuru manages to catch Harvey Reeves, another follower of the Chariot Arcanum, while he is still in Berlin.

At first, they have a bit of trouble confirming each others identity, both of them being rather suspicious of the other. Luckily, each one of them can prove that they indeed are the right person, and no blood is shed.

Harvey has a lot of information for Sha Naqba Imuru to take in:
With a machine of his own design, he detected the incarnation event of each of the five Nephilim that Skaro had gathered to her, except that there was a sixth signal, which he could not triangulate properly.

He also knows about a bit about Golems, and gives up some promising leads.

After a while, Sha Naqba Imuru departs, but not empty-handed. He has received a mysterious bronze cube, that is supposed to teach him a lot… if he should manage to activate it.

A night at the Musem

Sil’Faron is the only one of the group who is not in possession of his stasis object yet, and he is planning to rectify this shortcoming.
His stasis is still held within the Pergamon museum and the group decides to break in at night to liberate it.

After careful scouting of the area, watching the guard cycles, they settle on entering via the roof.
They quickly locate the stasis in a room filled with debris, and learn that a Moon plexus is present at the main attraction of the museum, the Pergamon Altar.

Everything goes according to plan, until Gealach discovers that the object of their desire is locked within a glass vitrine, which she breaks, alarming the security guards that were patroling the area.
The group manages to leave the roof with the item, but are cornered on the backside of the museum, with guards approaching from both directions.

Gealach subdues one with an alchemical spell, putting him to sleep.

Sha Naqba Imuru however, had a different opinion on how this engagement would proceed. His solution is less gentle: He shoots, and kills, one of the guardsmen, allowing the group to escape.

After this display of violence, almost all of the other security people back down, they aren´t paid nearly enough to stand in a killer´s path.
One of them thinks himself a hero and pursues, but is swiftly knocked out by Kek.

Our protagonists flee  before the police arrives, and an argument ensues, mainly between Gealach, who opposes the killing of innocent humans, and Sha Naqba Imuru, who sees no fault in his actions. After all, one cannot build a Golem from inside a prison…

The following weeks

In the weeks that follow, some of the group visit Skaro alone, and Kek learns that his wish to meet someone from his Arcanum will be granted sooner than expected.
A warrior from the Strength Arcanum named Theseus is on his way towards Berlin, and has agreed to meet Kek and Skaro at the Hall of Justice.
Finistur dreams again, of the night in DĂĽren, a park in the modern age, and again, of the night black cat with the strangely colored eyes…
Cat3border

Gamemaster´s perspective

This was an interesting session in which I learned quite a bit about game mastering.
The meeting between Sha Naqba Imuru (one of the players) and Harvey was very interesting, but maybe a bit too long, so the others had to wait a bit too much.

The museum scenario was an experiment.
I did not prepare much, only a map (based on the real Pergamon museum, which you can see here.).
I made some NPCs for the guards and set up a basic patrol routine. That´s it.

I made no plans on how the players would engage with this and offered no help.
I could have imagined any of the following:
  • A frontal assault (two out of the five players have very combat focussed avatars.)
  • An Ocean´s Eleven style operation (I´m actually not sure if I pushed the players towards an entry at night or if that was just the obvious option)
  • A mission impossible style “smash and grab” through the roof, which the group did.

An interesting idea that came up was to break into the basement and work their way upwards. This would have put me in an interesting spot, since I obviously had no map for the basement. I would have like to see this. 🙂

 

Nephilim – “Wrath”

(Disclaimer: This is for my Nephilim RPG players, if it read´s like a random part from the middle of a story…. that is correct, because it is exactly that.)

Wrath

Pergamon Museum, Berlin, South Wing, “Ishtar Gate”
Tuesday 11-APR-2017, 02:03AM Security Camera 7

A dimliy lit chamber, only illuminated by a few green exit lights.

The main feature of this room is the Ishtar Gate, a large arched structure, mosaicked with glazed, blue bricks , interspersed with yellow tiles, depicting aurochses and mušḫuššu.pergamon-ischtartor2bwhiteborder
It is of course merely a reconstruction, paling in comparison to the original gate.

This is largely irrelevant, as the serenity is abruptly disturbed by a crushing noise, as one of the walls, depicting lions and palm trees, shakes, cracks, and finally, in a shower of fragments and debris, bursts apart.

Out of the dust cloud steps a man with short-cropped, dark hair and a thin face. His black business suit is rumpled and smudged with grime.

A number of small, red spheres circle around him in overlapping arcs, their fiery glow bathing the room in a crimson light.
He cracks his neck, and starts to make his way through the gate into the next room.

His movements seem at odds with the shape of his body, as if a larger person is trapped within his slender frame.

Minor tremors shake the camera with each of his steps, and micro-fractures start to appear beneath his shoes in the limestone floor tiles, as he disappears around the corner.

Pergamon Museum, Berlin, Hall 3, “Pergamon Altar”
Tuesday 11-APR-2017, 02:06 AM Security Camera 11

The Pergamon Altar, main attraction of this museum, as well as it´s namesake.
Great steps lead towards an entrance flanked by pillars. The modern safety railings on the stairs marr the appearance of this ancient architecture.

It is flooded with pale moonlight, shining from the ceiling. The light moves in an odd way, slow, like syrup, and it originates from  a point just below the glass windows, not the night sky above.

As the man arrives, the hectically moving lights of his spheres clash with the streams of moonlight, sending shadows dancing across the room in irregular patterns.

The view evokes the images of a bizarre night club, but there is neither music nor dance, only the suited man, making his way towards the far side of the hall.

pergamon-altar1-plexusB

He does not seem interested in the altar or in the figure that approaches from the left entrance, shouting “Halt, stehenbleiben!

It is a security guard. He repeats his demand, trying to maintain a  firm voice, but he can not hide the fear within it.
Understandable, given the surreal scene before him.

The man does not react, but two of the spheres leave their orbits around his body, zig-zagging towards the guardsman.
They hit him in the torso and he collapses in front of the entrance.

Pergamon Museum, Berlin, Hall 1, “Greek Architecture”
Tuesday 11-APR-2017, 02:07 AM Security Camera 11

A smaller chamber, an exhibition room, it´s walls are lined with display cases, pillar tops, busts and statues. Several tall stone columns reach up, almost to the ceiling towards the high ceiling.

The man appears from a doorway to the left, and as his gaze falls upon the vitrines, his steps accelerate.
He raises his hands above his head and brings them down in a upon the first of the display cases in a powerful swing.Glass and ceramics shatter, as the contents of the vitrine are hurled about the room.
Quickly, he steps towards the next case and smashes it to the ground with a swiping motion.pergamon-heiligtum1bburning

Without pause, he strides along the wall, crushing vitrines and priceless statues as if they were toys in a child´s hands. His gaze flickers about the debris, as if he is looking for something particular, but can not find it.
A drawn out, guttural snarl erupts from his throat, the sound of an animal, certainly not a human being.

Again, a voice is heard, “H-halt, sofort aufhören!”. A guardswoman has appeared in the doorframe, holding a flashlight and a nightstick. She visibly shivers as she surveys the destruction before her.

The rampaging figure briefly pauses, snorts, and rams one of the tallest pillars with a full shove of his body.
It begins to topple towards the woman, who barely escapes with a yelp of terror.
The column´s segments break apart during it´s descent, falling upon a row of pillars near the doorway, which also crumble, burying the entryway in a heap of rubble and a deafening crescendo.

The aggressor freezes, as his gaze falls upon a small black object amidst the rubble.
He quickly picks it up, and lifts it in front of his face.

His head is visible to the camera now; An unremarkable face, clean shaven, young, with a thin nose under a pair of spectacles.
Unremarkable, except for the anger distorting his features.

Briefly, a smile replaces the scowl, while he considers the fist-sized onyx statuette in his hands.
It is a horned creature in a squatting posture, with it´s hands resting upon its knees.

Strangely, its visage is warped in a similar wrathful expression as the mans.

In the flashing, crimson light of the spheres, shadows play upon the idol, and for a fraction of a second, it appears to mirror his smile…

A game that plays itself

First, revivify your brain with some rad video game music, click the little triangle button to make delicious sounds spring forth from your computer´s speakers:

Recently, I pledged towards the kickstarter for the game Blasphemous.
It looks very cool, I love the handmade pixel art.
More importantly, what inspired today´s post is this update the developer, The Game Kitchen posted about some of the technology behind the game:
[…]
Our goal is to create an AI system that is able to deliver powerful, challenging and meaningful opponents for you to fight against. But we’re not stopping there, we also want an AI system that is able to impersonate a human player! “Why?” You’d ask. We want to take advantage of what is know as “automated testing” which is having the game being able to play itself overnight, finding holes in the collisions of the level and other systematic bugs. That would allow us to deliver a better quality game, despite not having key resources (like a dedicated QA department in the studio). 
[…] (Original text)
screenshot15

In my day job, developing online shops, I have worked with automated tests for quite some time now.
It´s considered a best practice to do so, and there are tools that facilitate it.

However, when it comes to video games, there is not too much information about it out there.
I guess this usually happens behind closed doors. Personally, I always assumed that automating tests in video games is very complicated (with exceptions).

What is automated testing?

I will probably write a separate article on this, but the gist of it is:

You have a piece of software, the test subject, and you want to make sure that it acts in a certain way.
A very simple example would be a calculator app that performs multiplication.
It is in it´s default state, the display shows “0
You input the sequence of keys: [6], [*], [9] and [=]
The expected output would be “54“. Any other output would be an error.
Now, for a software project, you would have hundreds, thousands or even more of these test cases, ideally set up in such a way that you can run them all on a single command and see if they all succeed.

Why do automated testing?

So why would you write all these tests? The software works already, all the tests do is say that “Yes, the software works.”, which we already knew?

Software is often subject to change. Development cycles for commercial software (such as games, apps, websites) often are 6 months or more.
During that time, many changes are made to the code base. Each of these changes could affect other parts of the program.

Automated tests help find such cases. Once such a problem has been identified, a developer can check why this is happening, if this is something that should be happening (and then adapt the test) or if this is an error (and then look for an error in the respective code, and adapt or correct that).

In our calculator example, a developer adds new functionality to the program, let´s say the ability to calculate square roots.
They might need to change or add some algorithms, and our multiplication function could be affected.
Now, multiplying six by nine results in 42, which is the wrong answer (in our universe).

How do you find out? Manually test all pre-existing functionality of the calculator? This is fine as long as there are only two features, multiplication and square roots, but look at an actual calculator, nobody actually tests all other functions when they change one, it´s just too tedious:
calculator
The developer happily finished programming the square root function, it seems to work, all is well.
In the meantime, they might have unknowingly broken the multiplication function, but didn´t notice.
Here, automatic testing steps in. After finishing their work, the developer runs all tests available on the calculator app. (Or they run themselves.)
The test for the multiplication function would fail, and the developer would be notified that their changes have broken something.

A calculator is a simple application. I do not know how many lines of code reside in this monster:

Excel

Automated testing in video games

So why did I think that testing video games in an automated manner is too complicated?

Look at this scene, there are only two characters, but still, there is a lot going on:

cf67f10c16409f293d1e7417fff31139_original.gif
The amount of input parameters and variables in video games are staggering, and so is the amount of output that is generated.
Let´s take a fairly simple example:
The original Super Mario Bros.

At any point in the game, there is a multitude of possible game states.

The game keeps track of the level architecture, the enemies, the player, and items. But also the score counter, live counter, coin counter, objects in the game world that can be interacted with (e.g. the blocks which Mario smashes his head against, coins or vines erupt from them… Mario is absurd.).

Each of the objects in the game world can move independently of the others, there are things like collision detection, movement speeds etc. to be taken care of.
Oh, and all of these things happen on a timer, the game world updates 60 times per second.

giphy

To test a very simple game scenario such as this one on the right, very complex input and output scenarios have to be created.The input is not too hard. You can break it down frame by frame. The expected output however?
Very difficult. You would have to specify the expected game states of, at least:

  • the goomba (dead)
  • the 4 question mark blocks (2 are now empty),
  • the 3 bricks
  • the mushroom
  • Mario
  • etc.
Now what would happen if, for example, the developers decided that the wanted a faster game? Let Mario move 10% faster. Or the Goomba is a turtle now.
Our test scenario is broken and needs to be rewritten.

Adding more complexity

Additional difficulty arises when you have to take into account that the game might have to run on different hardware and software configurations (E.g. various versions of windows, different graphics cards, CPU etc.).
The game should also not be silent, so sounds should be played at the correct time, the list goes on.
download

Of course, some games are better suited to automated testing than others.

Turn-based games, and classics like Chess should probably work already.

On the other hand, 3d games, where
the player has six degrees of  freedom of movement, it suddenly becomes very hard.

I wouldn´t know where to start.

Calculations are very good subjects for Unit Tests.
Things like damage calculation in RPGs can be tested with Unit Tests. E.g. a character with fire immunity should never take fire based damage. Stuff like that.

Classic video game testing: Why bother?

So you might ask, why bother?
Couldn´t you just hire a bunch of students, they want to play video games don´t they?

Sure, they do, as do we. But usually, you play a video game until you have finished it, or until you stop having fun with it.
You play it at your own pace, and do the thing that is the most fun/excitement for you?

The reality is different. Game testing is hard, tedious and low paid work, that is apparently also severely “unfun”.

Part of this problem comes from the fact that they have to test stuff that could be tested automatically.
With a shift towards automatic testing, the focus of these test users could go from
“Does it work?” to “Is it fun?”, “Does it look good?”, “Do the controls feel right?” “Is the puzzle in the fourth level too abstract?”, etc.
You know, concentrate on the stuff that humans do better than machines:

Finding the fun in the game, identify bad level desing or missing clues, getting the pacing and “feel” of the game right, finding visual glitches and audio problems.

The Final Form: Tool assissted speedruns

Something I thought of, shortly before hitting the “Publish” button on this article:
This means that tool assisted speedruns (TAS) are basically the final form of testing a game.
A test scenario for one particular version of a game, on one particular difficulty setting, with one specific path throughout the game. (An example.)
If you are interested in this kind of thing, the TASBOT demo at SGDQ 2015 has a good explanation by a nice man named Dwango AC: Youtube

I think The Game Kitchen are going in an interesting direction here.

If they do this right they develop their game AI and ensure a smooth development process with the testing grounds they put up.

I´d love to have a look at this.

A game that learns to plays itself, dreaming of being played.
A simulation of a fantasy scenario, in which a fictional character – controlled by a machine that thinks it is playing a video game –  fights for survival against an equally unconsciously manipulated virtual antagonist.
There is a kernel of weirdness hidden here, I just can´t quite put my finger on it.

Nephilim – Chapter 2: Allies

(Disclaimer: This is a synopsis of the last session we had with our Nephilim RPG group, to give some context to the other posts. Don´t worry, some non-RPG, non-Nephilim stuff will come up soon. I also might write a quick summary of chapter 1, which was the opening session.)

Chapter 2: Allies

Sunday, 9th day of the month of  April, 2017 AD

Visiting the Dojo

On Yxdri´s Advice, the protagonists visit The Dojo, a high-class martial arts establishment, where they meet with the brothers, Eresh Szat and Eresh Khan, of the Justice Arcanum.

They learn that this is still not their final destination, and that they will have to swear a magical oath in order to meet with Skaro. They do so, in the Hall Of Justice, which is a hidden, cathedral-like underground structure, situated directly under the Dojo.

The oath is a spell of Ritual Magic, which Eresh Szat teaches to all members of the group. It requires them to swear upon their blood and the elements, to not harm each other or Skaro for the next eleven years.
Failure to do so promises a dire punishment.

While Sil’Faron peruses the library in the hall, Eresh Khan challenges Sha Naqba Imuru and the others to a practice duel.
They return to the Dojo, where Kek proceeds to demolish Eresh Khan as well as his two newfound friends Sha Naqba Imuru and Finistur, to the amazement of Gealach and an increasing crowd of onlookers.

Meeting Skaro

The oath being sworn, nothing stops them from meeting Skaro anymore; Eresh Szat brings them to her tower, which is apparently a skyscraper in the middle of Berlin. The group is told that they are being expected, and enter an elevator.

As they exit the lift, they are surrounded by impenetrable clouds of white smoke, and the being known as Skaro, the mistress of the white tower reveals itself to be a lithe, elderly woman; an Angel Nephilim of the Wheel of Fate Arcanum.

Three of our heroes learn that Skaro has put events in motion to awaken them from stasis, culminating in their arrival here.
She immediately hands over Gealach´s stasis, a gold bracelet inlaid with saphires, as a token of good will.

Finistur and Kek were not expected, but are not unwelcome, they are offered to join the effort, if they so desire.

The task

 

The Angel reveals to the group that she wants them to construct a Golem for her, and have it be at a certain place at a certain time, more than a year ahead.

Specifically, Sil’Faron is to acquire the magical formulae required to make a Golem, Sha Naqba Imuru is tasked with the physical construction of the Golem, and finally, Gealach should perform the necessary rituals to infuse it with life.

She offers them this as a form of deal, where she helps them with their goals, whatever they may be, while they help her tread the Golden Path toward Agartha (which she offers no specifics about).
It is also implied that by freeing them from stasis, the three of them are in her debt.

The topic of Sil’Faron´s stasis comes up as well; Skaro assumes that it still resides within the Pergamon museum, where she had it placed. The Templars must have simply missed it.

While this conversation took place,  Sil’Faron dispelled the magical fog, only to reveal to the group that, apparently, they are on the roof of the skyscraper… but the landscape below does not look like Berlin… in fact, there is not even a city.

They also find a large number of chess boards, one of them apparently new, with representations of them placed upon an empty board.

Sha Naqba Imuru finally gets some insight onto the identity of Harvey Reeves, a tinkerer of the Chariot Arcanum, who aided Skaro in freeing the group from their stasis; He receives a business card and the name of the hotel Harvey resides in.

Stepping back into the real world

As they return from the tower, a great deal of revelation heaped upon, and a grand task ahead of them, they part ways for the moment.

The following night, Finistur has a dream, featuring memories of her former life as Ferdinand, a 9th century knight, particularly a night in which she aided the Tower Arcanum in rescuing a group of Nephilim from a secret society.

However, mixed in with the memories is the recurring image of a black cat, gazing at her with a green and blue eye…

 

Nephilim – “Suspicion”

(Disclaimer: This is for my Nephilim RPG players, if it read´s like a random part from the middle of a story…. that is correct, because it is just that.)

Suspicion

Berlin, 3AM CEST, Joris arrives at Bergmannstrasse 57.

I approach Yxdri´s office, hoping that the newcomers have left by now.
I watched them fight, and they seem to be decent folk, if a little confused, but right now, I need to talk to him alone.
The light is still on, and their cars are gone.

Good.

I slip in through the unlocked back door, and make my way to the ‘waiting room for exotic animals’. He still thinks this joke is funny, even thought everybody knows it´s where he goes to smoke.

As I press my ear to the door, the veterinarian´s soft voice announces: “Enter, they are gone.”
I abide, and find him sitting on the worn out leather sofa. A smoky haze and the smell of marihuana fill the room.
Temperance1.png

Sitting down on the other couch, I remark “You are quite perceptive, for a stoner.”

“No, You just have become quite predictable. I knew you´d come back to talk. I´ve been waiting.”
He takes a puff from his joint, and leans back his head, smoke slowly rising from his mouth. Of course he is right, I have spent the last four hours driving through the rain, trying to calm the thoughts racing inside my head.

The Templars´ return, the new arrivals, the leak, so much has happened today.

“Earlier, you became quite agitated when I mentioned Skaro´s name. You even called her a traitor.” he continues.
I´m surprised he wants to discuss this. “That´s not at all what I wanted to talk about – ”

He sits up abruptly, his dizziness replaced by an ire I didn´t expect from him. “Really? You brought this up earlier. When they were here. You wanted them to hear it, why not me?” He is becoming louder, “It´s getting worse every time. What was it you told the last group that came here? ‘She is not to be trusted.’? What´s next? Will you hand them a gun, tell them to shoot her?”

“I…”, I start, but he interrupts me again. “This has to stop. At this point you are basically just slandering her. You´re helping no one, not even yourself.”

This is where I finally get a word in, “It´s not slander if there is truth to it. She could have helped. Instead, Khavesh died. Perhaps worse. It is her fault!”

The elf sighs, slumping back into his sofa. “This again. We talked about this so many times, you just can´t let go. You´re the most stubborn Nephilim I´ve ever met. 1600 years is a long time to hold a grudge.”

I really do not want to talk about this right now, I try to derail the conversation a little, “Have you ever met Theseus? I think he has me beat by a few centuries. Besides, 1600 years is also a long time to mourn a dead friend.”

“No, I haven´t met him, but I can´t believe he is as persistent as you are,” he ponders. “Maybe he´s at least working towards settling his grudge, whatever it is, instead of just being angry at the world? You´re just dragging her name through the mud, and that serves no one, the least of all Khavesh. You are so full of energy, but you are wasting it on being angry instead of productive! Maybe he can be restored? But you don´t even try!”

I stand up rapidly. He´s really pushing my buttons now. “What the fuck am I supposed to do? I stand alone against two secret societies, maybe even three! I can´t just run off to seek out his stasis?! I wouldn´t even know which continent to look on!”

A thought pushes itself to the front of my mind. The secret societies , the Templars!

Focus!

I snap out of my anger. Try to calm him down as well.
“We have no time for this. The Templars are back in Berlin. This is why I came back, what I wanted to talk to you about. We´re in deep shit.”

Yxdri looks puzzled at the sudden change of topic, “Yes, of course. You already told me that.”

“No”, I reply, “They are back, yes, but that´s not the real problem. It´s the timing. Ten years of silence, and now they just happen to stumble back into Berlin, steal the stases that we wanted right from under our noses? This can´t be a coincidence.”

He strokes his chin, the anger forgotten momentarily, uncertainty, perhaps fear, in it´s stead. “You think someone tipped them off?”

Back to familiar territory, this is what I am good at.
“I´m not sure, either someone tipped them off, or we have some kind of information leak. They might have infiltrated the CT, and they in turn might have shadowed me, ” I pause for a moment, ” or Skaro has a traitor in her employ.”

His glares at me, the agitation resurfacing, “Again with this traitor nonsense. You -”

This time it´s me who interrupts him. “No, I mean someone who betrayed her. It has happened before.”.

He shakes his head. “No, that´s impossible. You wouldn´t know, but she now let´s the brothers have everyone swear an oath, a magically binding one, to not harm her in any way. Nobody gets to even see her before that.”
“Smart.” I say, “Hmmm, It´s obviously not the new guys either. Wouldn´t make sense for them to tip off the Templars, only to then slaughter them like cattle.”
BlastedTower1

My mind is working on full speed now, juggling ideas on how to handle this situation.

Step One. Find the problem and eliminate it.
“You should ask her who was involved in this museum stunt. All of them could be the leak. And all of them are in danger.”

Doubt creeps into his look, “But you know how she is, with her secrets, she won´t just tell me the names of all those people.”

I interject, “I know how she is, secretive, cryptic, obtuse. But she´s not stupid. Explain the situation to her, and she will understand. After all, what use is her high tower, when every one of her agents on the ground is murdered by Templars.”

Step two. Secure the perimeter. “Oh, and also get rid of all your mobile phones, get new email addresses and everything, maybe even move. Talk to people in person, so that you can´t be monitored that easily. Also tell that to her recruits, they are new to the twenty-first century, they might not be used to this yet.”

“Right. I´ll see what I can do. What will you do?”

Step three. Counter-Intelligence, Counter-Attack. “I will lay low for a while. Watch from the shadows, see if they are setting up a stronghold in Berlin. Wait for them to make a mistake. We have driven out of Berlin before. We can do it again.”

“I hope so… “, he changes the topic, ” ‘Slaughtered like cattle’ you say, so the new ones are powerful? Maybe they can help?”.

I think back to the skirmish for a moment, “Maybe. They seemed to favour raw force and physical combat instead of magic or stealth. But yeah, they made quick work of the Templars without me. Caught them in a pincer movement, sent the armored girl in first. So at least one of them has an idea of tactics I guess.”

His eyes light up, and he voices an idea. “Perhaps one of them can help you find Khavesh´s stasis afterwards? There are two more of them than usual.”

“Perhaps. One step at a time.” A yawn escapes my lips. ” I´m tired, let´s speak of this tomorrow. Can I crash at your place tonight?”

“Always.”

Nephilim – Prologue

The sky is almost clear today. A good omen.

After the incident in Japan, I am left with little choice, I must find help from outside.
Of those available to me, a careful selection has been made:
The alchemist, the centrepiece of my strategy.
I would have preferred someone a little more predictable, but alas, I am not spoiled for choice.
The spearhead could prove to be the creative, driving force for this operation. The symbol seems quite appropriate.
And last, but not least, the scholar will be necessary to acquire the proper tomes and formulae. I imagine them to be the thinker in this trio.
All of them were alive in recent times, so they should not have too much trouble adjusting to the new millennium.

If my information is correct, they even had prior contact, in the 19th century, this should maximize the chance of cooperation.

All the preparations for their release have been made:

By careful manipulation of the museum administration, the three stasis objects are in place. 

Harvey has set up his devices; This was very expensive for me, he actually demanded two favours for this.
I reluctantly agreed, on the condition that he name his first one right now.
To my surprise, he demanded money, an obscene amount of it, but still, only money, an easily fulfilled request.
In turn, he offered to contact the spearhead himself and put in a good word for me.

He stands to gain even more out of this deal, if his new machine works, which I do not doubt, the Merkabah will make him an initiate immediately.

And finally, Akim, he resides in a hotel near the museum, just waiting for my signal.
His task will actually be the easiest, the casting of a single spell, but such an important one.

I think I will call him personally, just this one time, for the sake of old times.

An endeavour of this magnitude should have a bit of a personal touch.

The board is prepared, the bets are placed, the pieces have been selected.
Time to place them on the board.
 

Awaken.

– Journal entry from the private archive of Skaro, Sunday, second day of April in the year  2017 AD, translated from handwritten Adamic script.