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Black and white clip art depiction of audio being turned into a transcript. On the left, the sound is depicted by a pair of headphones with an audio wave going between the two ears pads. A simple black arrow goes from left to right. On the right, the transcript is represented by a stylized typed document.

 

In order to make these transcripts as accessible as possible, each one is produced in four formats: as an online post for access convenience, in a word document with a low vision friendly font (Veranda), in a pdf with a dyslexia friendly font (OpenDyslexic), and a low contrast blue on black pdf as an access option for people with migraines (Veranda).

 

Writing Alchemy Episode 33 – The Owlbear Reintroduction Program Part 1

Note: ‘*’ is used to indicate music and sound effects that were added to the recording.

[*An energetic, electronic song begins playing.]

TOBI: [voiceover] You are listening to Writing Alchemy, stories that step outside the oppressive grind of the everyday world with your host, writer and artist Fay Onyx.

[*Music swells and then fades to a background volume.]

FAY: Willa, Tarragon, and D’Zân are participating in The Owlbear Reintroduction Program, a project that is reestablishing owlbears in areas where the owlbear populations have been previously wiped out, something that’s not so easy because owlbears are large, ferocious, magical predators. Throw in a group of skilled poachers determined to steal owlbear eggs and things are bound to get interesting.

[*Music swells and then fades out.]

Hello and welcome to the 33rd episode of Writing Alchemy. I am Fay Onyx and today is the fourteenth game episode of Unfamiliar Heroes, my new podcast series where I work with players and storytellers to create new representations of disabled, sick, and neurodiverse people using tabletop role-playing games. Today’s game is the first game episode of The Owlbear Reintroduction Program.

Note that one of the players in today’s game has a living situation where there were some background sounds. I’ve done my best to minimize their impact on the overall audio quality.

This game was played using Magic Goes Awry, which is a game system that I have created. Magic Goes Awry is designed to capture the fun of Dungeons and Dragons in a free game that is accessible to a wider range of people. I created it to have little math, fewer things to keep track of, and more room for creativity, while still allowing people to create a diverse range of fantastical characters.

Now I’m gonna take a quick moment to say thank you to all of the people who help make this show possible. To each and every one of my Patreon backers, a huge, heartfelt thank you for setting aside some of your money to support Writing Alchemy. Your contributions keep this show going! To all of my guests and participants past, present, and future, thank you for putting in the time, effort, and commitment to add your unique perspective and experience to this show. I can’t do this without you! And to each person who took the time to comment and share this show with others, thank you for helping this project grow. Your participation is creating a community and I am so grateful for that!

Finally I’m going to quickly mention that you can follow Writing Alchemy on Twitter at @Writing_Alchemy and on Facebook at facebook.com/WritingAlchemy. You can visit writingalchemy.net to find all of the Writing Alchemy podcasts, articles, stories, and other content. And if you want to help me keep this podcast going, you can pledge your support on Patreon at patreon.com/writingalchemy.

And now, let’s get to the show! The Owlbear Reintroduction Program, Part 1.

[*The game theme, a bright, mysterious piece of world music featuring flute and percussion, plays.]

[This is the start of the game recording.]

FAY: So I’m Fay Onyx. My pronouns are ze and hir, and today I’m going to be the Game Master, also known as storyteller. Um, for myself, I’m a genderqueer, queer, asexual artist [and] writer who has [a] back condition and anxiety along with a lot of other little things. My biggest areas of privilege are being white, middle-class, and well-educated. I’ve been really enjoying creating this world and these scenarios, and I am putting in a lot of fairy tale influences as well as medieval historical influences into this world design. And I’m really excited to do this.

ROBIN: My name’s Robin. My pronouns are they/them. I’m agender and bisexual, and accessibility-wise, I’ve got chronic fatigue, which affects my memory and my cognitive processing. And I’m dyslexic. I live in the UK, and I am a live-action roleplayer as well, so I’m really looking forward to playing a tabletop game for a change. And I am playing the character Tarragon Songsteel, who is an orcish bard.

FAY: Do you want to say just a tiny bit more about Tarragon Songsteel?

ROBIN: Yeah. They come from a very big family. They’re very inquisitive and individualistic, so they’ve been encouraged to learn new things, and to go and find out their own path in life with a lot of support from their family. And as a bard and as a performer, they like to both sing and to fire-breathe, which is quite exciting for an orc. This orc, like me, has got some fatigue issues, but it’s well managed with a special herbal potion which they have to take every day. But while it does mean that they’re not tired all the time, they do struggle with their memory if they’ve taken the potion.

FAY: Awesome. Thank you so much.

ORIANA: My name is Oriana, and my pronouns are they/them. I am queer, bisexual, agender… many things. I’m Latinx and um… disabled, of course. I have multiple chronic illnesses, including various chronic pain conditions and migraines and different things associated with that. And I have a lot of privilege, especially class privilege, education privilege, access to higher education, working privilege, housing privilege – things that go along with that.

FAY: And your character?

ORIANA: My character is Willa. Willa is a gecko lizardperson. She is based off of my own pet gecko. And she’s very… um, nerdy, but very excited about being an adventurer, kind of like me. She’s not physically very tough, but she’s a great climber, and she’s really excited to have the chance to go on adventures. So she uses what she knows, what she learned in school, to do all kinds of alchemical inventions. She really likes building things and making things.

FAY: Awesome. And Sage, would you feel up to introducing yourself?

SAGE: Alright, so I’m agender, asexual, member of a plural system. A usually quiet plural system. I don’t know why they decided to come out all of a sudden, but whatever, it happens. So it goes. Especially because I’m wearing silk- we are wearing silk. Anyway, they’re not actually playing now, but they’re here, so if they pop up they might say hi.

Right, so the character that I came up with is a weredragon called a zmeu, which is Z-M-E-U. It’s a Romanian folkloric character that is related to the various zmei of Slavic and Eastern European and very-north Asian dragon mythology. In Romania, it’s uniquely evil. Whereas everywhere else in that world, the zmei can sometimes be good and sometimes be evil. They’re, you know, they’re kind of a mixture. But the reason why Romanians think of the zmei as evil, I think, has a lot to do with a deep fascination with St. George and St. Michael. Both of whom are reputed, especially St. George, for slaying dragons. So the whole Christianity thing is, I guess- [FAY: Mhm.] [They] really sort of demonize dragons in that folklore, but of course, my character isn’t evil, you know. I figured this is- this is a good metaphor for discrimination that people face sometimes just for being a member of a particular group of people that aren’t like the majority, and which-

Oh, I’m sorry. You know, I skipped over a bunch of stuff about me. I’m disabled – severe cognitive problems from chronic fatigue from, uh, dysautonomia – and I come from a white family that is economically a little bit privileged. But getting back to the character: xyr name is D’Zân. Xyr pronouns are xe/xem/xyr/xyrs/xemself, like my pronouns. So it’s like the singular “they,” except the first one is “xe” rather than “they,” and it starts with an “x.” And that’s so that you can say “xe is” rather than “they are” or “xey are.” [FAY: Mhm.] It’s an attempt at a singular pronoun that is very, very neutral-sounding and not the least bit leaning in one gender direction or another. To my ear, at least.

Right, so among the zmei there are non-binary people biologically. [FAY: Mhm.] They’re not able to have children but they’re, they take part in various aspects of society that have to do with child-rearing and caring for the elderly and so on. So they’re kind of part of that evolutionary thing where you want the balance of grown-ups to children to be just right. And so I guess, evolutionarily speaking, the zmei came up with this solution to the not-enough-grandmothers, or you know, not-enough-adults problem.

ORIANA: Cool.

FAY: Yeah. Yeah, so just a couple quick things about D’Zân is that D’Zân is a druid and is someone that is scholarly and focused on kind of continual learning-

ORIANA: I feel like it’s possible that Willa and D’Zân might be friends.

FAY: Yeah and that’s the- the next thing is figuring out the relationships between the characters. So basically, all of the characters are at the Adventurers Academy, and they’re just all starting on their, uh, first internship together. It sounds like Willa and D’Zân know each other and are friends. Maybe they had classes together?

SAGE: It’d be cool if we had already met each other and had classes together [and were] friends.

ROBIN: Yeah. Like if only briefly, I think that’s a nice bond for them to have.

ORIANA: I feel like it’s possible that Tarragon is this very positive influence as the bard.

ROBIN: Yes, I think-

ORIANA: Can you tell us more about that personality?

ROBIN: Okay. I think, um, like I said, because they’ve got this very supportive family that they sort of carry that with them and they like to support everybody in trying new things and doing, you know, a new- When you, when you’re learning new things they’re always cheerleading you and saying, “Yeah, you can do that! You can have a go.” Um, because it’s all about people doing the best they can and doing what they want to do.

FAY: Awesome.

ORIANA: I think that’s definitely a perspective Willa shares too.

ROBIN: That’s my- good. And I was thinking as well- is it D’Zân? D’Zân.

SAGE: Yeah.

ROBIN: Yeah, okay. Because Tarragon is quite interested in sort of nature and the environment around them. So it, it might well be that they’ve sat in on a druid lecture at some point [FAY: Mhm, mhm.] and you may have seen them in class just taking notes. [SAGE: Oh, okay.] And yeah.

FAY: Absolutely. And there is, of course, also Kyra Piper’s creative problem-solving class. [FAY and ROBIN laugh] Where not only do people work to deal with diverse strange situations individually, but also there’s a lot of group work in that class, so. That might be a place where your characters have worked together briefly.

So as far as the first internship, I’m pretty sure there’s like a place, a notification board, where a bunch of the new students who have made it into this year’s internship program were posted their groups for their first internships. The three of your characters have all been placed in the same group, and you are aware of that. And as we start out in the middle of March, your characters are all going to their meeting with Kyra Piper to get your official notification of what your first internship assignment is going to be.

ROBIN: Mhm.

ORIANA: [whispering] That’s so exciting.

FAY: Yeah. So I’m gonna just read a little bit of description of the setting of the Adventurers Academy because it’s actually a rather spectacular building. Even though your character is only going to be in it briefly, I’d like you guys to kind of have a mental image of this.

ORIANA: Yeah.

FAY: So this adventure starts out at the Adventurers Academy. Your characters are students at the Academy who have just completed their core training and are about to start their first internship. It is early morning, and each of you is on your way to the rainforest meeting room in the main Academy building to receive the details of your internship from Kyra Piper, one of the two founders of the Academy.

[*The Adventurers Academy theme, an ambient electronic track, fades in.]

At the center of the Academy is the main Academy building, which is a large three-story building shaped in a giant ring that encircles the training arena. The main Academy building is supported by two rings of giant trees and a network of woody vines that goes between them. The rest of the building is woven like a basket around the supports. Spirals of open vine-supported ramps and balconies cover both the outside and inside surfaces of this building. Around the outside of the main Academy building, the grounds are separated into slices of different ecosystems, each of which has smaller buildings in it.

ROBIN: It sounds really- it sounds gorgeous.

ORIANA: It sounds beautiful.

FAY: It is a pretty spectacular building.

SAGE: Yeah, it’s like, I don’t know. It’s like, like the crunchy, hippie equivalent of Middle Earth, you know.

ROBIN: [laughs] I like that.

ORIANA: [laughs]

SAGE: A little bit elvish, you know, but a very out-in-nature- very much like a summer camp I went to in Vermont when I was a kid.

FAY: Absolutely.

ORIANA: As a lizard, I’m very excited for the rainforest room.

SAGE: Mm.

FAY: Absolutely. So the rainforest meeting room is a small circular room with many windows that overlook a section of rainforest out on the grounds.

[*Rainforest bird calls begin playing in the background.]

FAY: Thus, the name. The walls of this room have a coating of clay on them, and tiles cover the floor and ceiling. Inside the room, there are six comfortable wooden chairs arranged around a circular table.

[*Adventurers Academy music fades out, but bird calls continue.]

FAY: Kyra Piper is already in the room waiting for you. And Kyra is a middle-aged orc woman. She’s got green skin [and] long blue hair, and she’s got her hovering wood and brass wheelchair. Today she’s wearing an intricately embroidered turquoise tunic outfit. So that is the physical environment that you all find yourselves in as you come in to get your assignment for your internship.

So Kyra explains to all of you that ever since owlbears were nearly killed off fifty years ago during the Great Monster Slaying, when they were trying to eliminate dangerous monsters, many places have had problems. Deer are now overgrazing many areas, which is impeding the growth of new trees. Of course, trees are important for forest health. They’re important as building materials and firewood. But in the high mountains, woods are often used to protect towns from avalanches and landslides, so they’re particularly important for the safety of communities.

The town of Steep Valley has been accepted into The Owlbear Reintroduction Program. And a family of owlbears is needing to be moved from the Wild Wood, which is one of the remaining wildernesses that has owlbears, and- and these owlbears need to be removed from there to their new location. There’s a selected den site in Steep Valley, or rather the woods above Steep Valley, and so your group’s internship is going to be safely capturing and transporting this owlbear family.

ROBIN: Excellent.

SAGE: Awesome.

ORIANA: I’m so excited.

FAY: [laughs] Yeah, me too.

ORIANA: I’m also a little bit in awe of our professor, and that’s making me even more excited.

FAY: Absolutely. She’s a very sort of… involved founder of the Academy. But she is a bard, actually, so she’s very charismatic. So it’s easy to be in awe of her. [laughter] So Kyra-

ROBIN: They’re definitely- sorry.

FAY: Oh no, please.

ROBIN: They’re definitely somebody that, um, Tarragon really looks up to and sees as a role model. And there’s a lot of, [dreamy sigh] “I’d like to be like them one day.”

[*Bird calls fade out.]

FAY: Absolutely, absolutely. And Kyra is, you know, in the large part responsible for some of the radical nature of the training at the academy. Which is very, like, welcoming of different species and different people’s bodies and disability.

ROBIN: Mhm.

FAY: So Kyra hands your group two maps and an official document, and she tells you that you will start by going to Islandtown on the edge of the Wild Wood to meet keeper Silvia Aguilar (note: AEg-yoo-lAAr). And you are to hand over this document to them. They will give you everything you need to go into the forest to collect the owlbear family.

So the maps: one is a map of the kingdom of Crossroads, with a route from the Adventurers Academy to Islandtown marked and a second route from Islandtown to Steep Valley. The second map is of the region surrounding Steep Valley with a designated meetup location on it. And that is the place where you’ll be taking the owlbears to before they get settled into the secret location, which is their new den site. And this final den site has been kept secret to protect the owlbears from poachers who want to steal their eggs. Because apparently there have been some problems with poachers trying to target owlbears that are being moved during this program.

SAGE: Are they targeting them because they’re- like in this world where there’s people who hate the wolves, you know, because of their livestock? [FAY: Um-] Or is this more like trading, like a pseudoscience type of…

FAY: Yeah, it’s more like black market trades in rare animal parts.

SAGE: Okay, yeah. That’s what I was getting at.

FAY: Mhm, absolutely. So those eggs are extremely valuable. Um, on the black market certain people will pay a lot of money to get access to them for whatever reason. Probably multiple reasons. Probably some people want [them for] their secret zoos, and other people, maybe there’s like magical properties of the eggs that they want to exploit. [SAGE: Mhm.] So which character is going to be carrying these documents?

ROBIN: Tarragon sort of backs away from the documents a little bit and they say, “Most of the time my firebreathing’s safe. [FAY laughs] But I don’t wanna accidentally set- set these maps on fire, and you know, I’m just planning ahead there. Just in case.”

FAY: Absolutely. So that leaves D’Zân and Willa.

SAGE: Well, I could certainly take them. I mean, I’ve got all my- I’m trying to think, do I have books? I can’t remember what my items include. But I mean, you know, scholarly paperwork-ish kind of stuff, unlike in real life. [laughs] D’Zân could certainly carry stuff like that, so that wouldn’t be a problem.

FAY: Sure.

ORIANA: “That’s fine by me. But I really want to look at that map,” says Willa.

SAGE: Oh, well yeah. I assume everybody- you’re asking who’s gonna carry this stuff?

FAY: Mhm.

SAGE: Well yeah, I mean, I’m happy to be the one to put it in my satchel, if that’s what you want. [laughs]

FAY: I just wanna know where they’re goin’. So D’Zân’s gonna carry it; everyone gets a chance to look at them. So does the group have any questions that they want to ask, um, Kyra before they start out on this journey?

ROBIN: Yes-

ORIANA: Willa, looking both a little bit excited and a little bit nervous or maybe a lot of both, [FAY laughs] asks, [in an excited whisper] “Is it gonna be dangerous?”

FAY: Any time someone enters the Wild Wood there is always an element of danger, and certainly wild animals such as these have the potential to be dangerous and unpredictable. The temperaments of the owlbears, um, can be potentially violent, especially when they’re protecting their young, so that is something to be aware of.

ROBIN: And Tarragon, with a similar sort of look of excitement and nervousness, [says] “How, how big is an owlbear family? Are we talking like two or seventeen or…” [laughs]

FAY: Yes, absolutely. Owlbears, much like many birds, live in mated pairs that raise their young. So this time of year, you will have one owlbear mated pair and a clutch of eggs.

ROBIN: Okay.

SAGE: So they haven’t hatched yet or- well, we won’t know that, right? ‘Til we get there?

FAY: Um, well, the standard hatching times for owlbears is typically April.

SAGE: Okay. And it is now…

FAY: Mid-March.

ROBIN: Mid-March.

SAGE: Got it.

ROBIN: So… we wanna be quick. [ORIANA laughs] We don’t want them hatching en route. That could get… exciting. [SAGE laughs]

FAY: That could be very exciting.

ORIANA: That’s one way of putting that.

ROBIN: And Silvia… Aquila, is it?

FAY: Silvia Aguilar.

ROBIN: Aguilar, does she have any- well, if she works in the Wild Wood, presumably she-

FAY: Or “they,” actually.

ROBIN: “They.” I’m sorry.

FAY: No worries.

ROBIN: I should, I should’ve checked. Do they have experience catching owlbear families? Will they help? Or are they just letting us in and then it’s up to us?

FAY: Silvia is one of the keepers with the Crossroads Wilderness Keepers, which is the official organization in charge of managing and protecting the wildernesses of Crossroads. And Silvia is a ranger who is heavily involved in the reintroduction programs. So Silvia has a lot of experience working with owlbears and would be a great person to ask questions of, um, in terms of learning more about owlbears and how to handle them effectively.

ORIANA: I thought we [could] also get some books from the library before we leave.

SAGE: Oh, that’s a great idea.

FAY: Absolutely. You do have an opportunity to do that. [SAGE: Mhm.] Though you want to leave fairly promptly.

SAGE: Oh.

ROBIN: And we don’t wanna be carrying too much weight. [FAY: Yes.] Don’t want to get tired.

SAGE: And guess who’s gonna be carrying the books. [laughs]

FAY: Quite possibly.

ORIANA: Well…

SAGE: Oh actually- Willa and, and D’Zân could do it together.

ROBIN: I’m fairly strong. And I generally don’t just spontaneously combust. [FAY: Mhm.] Generally.

FAY: That is hopeful.

SAGE: Ah. Books are more fire-resistant than documents, but-

ROBIN: Yeah.

FAY: Dude.

ROBIN: I’ll- I’ll help. We can share the load.

FAY: Absolutely. And in fact, if you want to discuss travel options: there’s three main ways to get to Islandtown, and two of them follow the river. So there’s a river that goes up called the Boundary River, so you’d be going upstream. And either you can take the roads, which does take about two weeks travel [at] a standard on-foot speed, faster if you’re on horses or other animals. [Or] there’s also the river, so you can hire a boat to take you upstream. And that would be more of a one week journey.

Then there’s the more risky option, which is teleportation. So there’s a system of teleportation stations in the Crossroads Kingdom. There’s a core system, and each teleportation station in the core system helps people connect to any other station that is a core station. And then each core station links out to a whole bunch of different local stations. These stations basically assist in teleportation for those who have transportation magic. It’s possible to hire someone to teleport you, but that is very costly.

ROBIN: Oh. Well, that’s possibly something we- I could try. I don’t think I’ve ever tried to move people that far. Not entire people, but- [FAY: Mhm.]

ORIANA: Entire people? [others laugh]

FAY: Very interesting question there.

ROBIN: It was part of an exercise we were doing. It was fine. Everybody consented.

SAGE: What- are you telling me, like, a vampire turned into a dozen batch and you’re only able to transport four of him?

ROBIN: That would have been so much easier,

SAGE: Yeah.

ORIANA: [laughs] So I was really excited to try teleportation, but now… I’m thinking maybe we should take a boat?

FAY: Teleportation as magic does frequently have problems. [The] most common problems can be ending up at the wrong destination. Minor mishaps: you’d still be in the teleportation network. A major mishap: you could end up somewhere totally random outside the teleportation network, where you wouldn’t even necessarily know where you are.

ROBIN: Maybe save [it] for an emergency, then.

FAY: Yeah well, the teleportation network, it does assist in teleportation. So, um, anyone who goes to a teleportation station would be prepared for teleporting to their desired goal, but it doesn’t mean that mishaps will never happen.

ROBIN: Okay. That’s really good to know.

SAGE: Assuming we have the coin, I vote for taking a boat.

FAY: Absolutely.

ROBIN: I’m happy with the boat.

ORIANA: Do we have the coin?

FAY: Yeah, so all of the, um, characters have minor amounts of coin for smaller things because the majority of trade goes downriver to the central cities. Basically, in this kingdom, there’s some central, very large cities that are trade cities. And surrounding [them] is a bunch of farmland where local produce goes downriver to the big city, which is fast, and then trade goods come back. But there’s usually some room in the boats, so it actually isn’t very costly to come back up in the boats. Since [they’re] kind of going upriver, bringing smaller trade goods with them.

ROBIN: Okay.

SAGE: Wait-

FAY: So you can definitely buy passage with a few coins.

SAGE: Okay.

ORIANA: I would definitely rather take a boat then teleport.

FAY: [laughs] Teleportation is risky, absolutely.

ORIANA: Willa is not a fan of the idea of teleporting.

FAY: Understandable. There’s some very prominent cases of it going very, very wrong. Ending up in two places at once is not fun.

ROBIN: Now, we did case studies on it while I was learning that, and it does sound- it’s really good and useful to to learn, but I’m not sure I want to try it right away.

FAY: Absolutely, absolutely. So your character is gonna get some books at the library. [ORIANA: Mhm.] Is there anything else that any of the three of them wants to do before hiring a passage on this boat that’s going upriver?

SAGE: Uh…

ORIANA: Willa managed to see her friends at the library and so had a chance to say goodbye to them there.

FAY: Awesome.

SAGE: Oh. Well yes, of course. [laughs] I was thinking of things that take a long time. [others laugh] You know, [stammers] saying farewell to friends and jotting off a note to family just saying, “Hey, this is what I’m doing.”

ORIANA: Oh, that’s such a good idea. Willa likes this idea and goes with D’Zân to the mail… station.

FAY: Absolutely.

SAGE: Almost certainly joining you.

FAY: Awesome.

[*Podcast announcements music, a calm electronic track, comes in.]

FAY: [voiceover] If you are enjoying today’s show, please help me keep it going by heading over to my Patreon page at www dot P A T R E O N dot com slash Writing Alchemy and pledging a monthly donation. Even a dollar a month is a meaningful contribution that helps me keep doing this. These pledges pay for things like audio equipment, web hosting services, and acquiring all of the interesting gaming systems we will be playing in this series. It is also my hope to grow my Patreon funding to the point where I can afford to increase accessibility with things like episode transcriptions.

I believe that art is an important source of community sustenance in these challenging times. It also gives us a place to learn, grow, and create new ways of doing things. However, in the larger culture, intersectionally marginalized artists are undervalued and underpaid. It is hard for us to have the resources to keep doing this important work. That is why your Patreon pledges are so important. They help me pay my costs and support myself as an artist.

I know that not everyone can afford a dollar a month and there are non-monetary ways that all of you can support this show. The biggest is sharing the show with your friends and telling them how much you enjoy it. You can also help out by rating and reviewing Writing Alchemy on iTunes and Stitcher. Each five star review helps new people find this show.

And to all of my Patreon backers, guests, participants, and community members: Thank you! Your support makes this show possible!

[*Music swells and then fades.]

[The game recording starts again.]

FAY: Okay, so you’ve collected a few books and have sent off some messages. And… yeah, so the one thing your characters are going to need to figure out is that D’Zân is actually nocturnal.

ORIANA: Ooh. Okay.

FAY: And Willa is diurnal, which I believe means very like- much more functional in the day. Am I using the right word?

ORIANA: It means that- I think that might have been the word I use, but basically, it means that at least part of the night, um, Willa needs to sleep.

ROBIN: Okay.

FAY: Mmkay, so I’d like to know what your characters’ standard way of handling this is going to be.

SAGE: Well, D’Zân is sort of nocturnal but also a morning person, which is kind of the nocturnal person’s equivalent of being a night person. [ORIANA: Oh, okay.] So xe comes alive at like six in the morning, and xe stays alive kind of ‘tilten or eleven. And xyr parents were always getting on xyr case. [laughs][high-pitched voice] “Go to bed! It’s already after 9 AM!”

ROBIN: So early morning sounds like the time that would be best. Sort of, you know, between six and ten. That’s the best time for all of us.

SAGE: Okay.

ORIANA: Yeah, so Willa also likes taking naps during the afternoon.

ROBIN: Ooh, yes.

FAY: Okay. So maybe getting up kind of early and uh, continuing through the morning.

ROBIN: Mhm.

FAY: Okay, perfect! All right, so you guys have a week’s journey by boat.

[*Sound of a flowing river begins playing.]

FAY: You’re gonna look at some of those books during that time?

SAGE: Oh, totally.

ORIANA: Yes. Definitely.

ROBIN: Perfect time to study.

FAY: Awesome. Do you want me to just give you a little more background on owlbears as the like, this is what you found in the books?

SAGE: Yeah.

ORIANA: Yes.

ROBIN: Yes, please.

FAY: Absolutely. So owlbears are large bear-like animals. They have a combination of fur and feathers. And overall they have kind of a bear body shape with, you know, strong claws and powerful jaws. But they have [a] head that’s much like an owl, and so they have this big feathered owl face with a very large hooked predatory beak. Andthey have the classic owl kind of feather discs around their large eyes.

SAGE: Mhm.

FAY: So they have really powerful night vision and low-light vision with these large eyes. They don’t have visible ears, but underneath the feathers, they have ears that are pretty- pretty good. And because one’s higher than the other, they’re able to locate where sounds come from, just like owls. Most of their body is covered in fur. But they do have a ridge of feathers that goes along their spine, as well as, of course, the feathers on their head. And they have this patch of feathers on their belly. So it kinda looks like they’re wearing a tutu.

SAGE: Aww!

ROBIN: [laughs]

FAY: And this patch of feathers is used to incubate their eggs. So they actually have little naked spots in the middle of these feather patches while they’re brooding, and so they will have this little naked patch of skin surrounded by this big patch of feathers. And what they’ll do is, when they’re incubating their eggs, they will tuck the eggs into this patch. So it’s up against the bare skin and then surrounded by these fluffy feathers.

ROBIN: That’s so clever.

SAGE: Hmm. Reminiscent ofpenguins.

ROBIN: Yes.

FAY: Absolutely. A lot of birds have bird patches, and yeah, I was actually inspired by penguins.I love how taking inspiration from actual animals makes the most strange, weird, wonderful magical animals, I have to say.

So like bears, owlbears actually have a really good sense of smell. Interesting enough, there are actually birds that have good senses of smell, so. They have retained the strong sense of smell that bears have. And they are carnivores. They live in kind of mountainous, forested regions or otherwise heavily vegetated areas. They tend to be most active at dawn and dusk.

And they pair bond: they defend a territory together and they raise their [young] in their bond.And a typical clutch is two to four eggs; somewhere in that region is what you’re looking for. They incubate those eggs for about two months before they hatch and then they take turns getting food for the chicks.

Although owlbears don’t usually hunt people, they’re extremely aggressive when people get between them and food, when they’re startled, or when they’re protecting their young. When they’re upset or they feel threatened, they will stand up on their hind legs and puff out their feathers, creating a somewhat intimidating but also comical effect.

Interestingly, you have one book that is super current. What this book says is that one of the things that has made the biggest difference in terms ofpeople starting to reintroduce owlbears into other parts of the kingdom is the development of the stinky prickle bush, which is something that magical botanists have created. And stinky prickle bushes create a smell which is very repellent to owlbears. And these bushes are typically planted around livestock pens and towns in order to prevent owlbears from coming near them.

ROBIN: Excellent. That sounds like something we should get.

ORIANA: Yeah, especially since I’m an alchemist. I would love to have some of that in order to make something to maybe protect us or in case we have any problems.I feel like we should definitely keep some handy.

FAY: Absolutely.

SAGE: Makes sense.

FAY: Okay, so you guys all arrive in the town of Fork.

[*A mix of sounds– talking, waves bumping against boat hulls, metal being hammered, birds chirping – begins playing as the flowing river sound fades out.]

FAY: Basically, you took the river up a really long way. The town of Fork is a regional trade hub. This is where you guys all get off the boat, and it’s basically it’s a one day journey to Islandtown over roads from Fork. And can someoneroll- actually, I’ll have Oriana roll.

ORIANA: Okay.

FAY: Roll a d6 for me?

ORIANA: What am I rolling for?

FAY: We’re determining the weather.

ORIANA: Okay. [dice rolling noise]

ROBIN: Excellent.

ORIANA: I rolled a five.

FAY: Okay then. So your character, I believe, is the one that’s very weather sensitive.

ORIANA: Yes.

FAY: Um, so. You get off the boat. And this is spring, so the weather is extremely variable. And when you get off the boat, we have steady rain for most of the day.

[*Sound of rain falling begins playing over other sounds.]

FAY: [laughs] It is lovely steady rain.

ORIANA: Um, what’s the temperature? Is it like warm rain, is it cold rain…

FAY: Ah yes, it is the kind of warm-ish rain. It’s cool but not cold. [ORIANA: Okay.] So cool-but-not-cold steady rain that looks like it’s gonna just be continuing at least through the night. And we’re gonna say that maybe you’re getting off the boat at… well, we’ll just go for 8 AM. The boat comes into the dock at Fork, and, um, steady rain. Not too cold, but the rain is definitely a thing. And so you guys are all- your group is all going to be making your way through Fork to the road that heads out east to Islandtown.

ROBIN: Mhm.

FAY: So I’m gonna have each of you roll either a perception or an insight roll, one or the other. Choose whatever your character wants to use.

ROBIN: Um, okay.

SAGE: Mmkay.

[*All sounds besides the rain sound fade out.]

ORIANA: I have insight. So I’m going to be rolling two dice for insight.

FAY: Awesome. Yeah, so perception and insight are both mental skills. You’re all gonna be using mind; you wanna get less than your character’s mind number.

ROBIN: Okay.

SAGE: Oh, bummer. ‘Cause I just rolled two fives.

FAY: Mm. That’s unfortunate.

SAGE: Dice luck. [laughs]

FAY: Okay, so D’Zân is not noticing anything. Okay.

SAGE: Which-what time of day is it, anyway?

FAY: It’s about 8 AM, I think is what I said? [laughs]

SAGE: Oh, this is the best time of day. How could- [inhales] well, hm.

FAY: It is a rainy day. Everyone- It’s a bustling, busy city. There’s a lot of new sights and smells. [SAGE: Oh.] It’s a trade hub. There’s all sorts of things going on in the streets. And there’s rain everywhere.

SAGE: Okay, so D’Zân is just distracted. Oh, by the way, I forgot- and I don’t remember if I ever mentioned this, but zmei (in Romanian mythology, dragons)do have a connection with weather. [FAY: Ah.] But it has to do with mood, the connection. So you know,a rainy day is going to be kind of a sleepy day for D’Zân. [FAY: Sure.] So it’s, you know,I suppose if D’Zân could make themselves feel better,then they could maybe make the weather clear up. But it would be really hard to do that because you can’t tell yourself how to feel, despite what people in real life [say]. You know, like the CPT and every type of therapy movement. But [laughs] it doesn’t quite work like that.

FAY: Oh, yeah. Yeah.

SAGE: SoD’Zân is just stuck feeling the way the weather is.

FAY: “Just have a positive attitude.” [snorts]

SAGE: Yeah, that’s totally gonna work.

FAY: Obviously. That’s totally how zmei work, absolutely. So…

[Dice rolling noise.]

ROBIN: Unfortunately, Tarragon is- even though they’ve taken their potion, all this travel and the weather and the busyness, it’s made them… maybe their brain isn’t as active as it could be? [FAY: Sure.] So I did actually fail that roll.

FAY: That’s fine.

ROBIN: And also didn’t- I’m not noticing much.

FAY: That’s fine. All right, um… Oriana, how’s Willa doing?

ORIANA: Willa is doing great. Willa loves the rain as long as it’s not too cold. [FAY: Okay.] And I just rolled two successes. [FAY: Beautiful.] So Willa’s just soaking it all in, literally.

FAY: Okay, two successes. That’s a solid success. So as your group walks through this town, there’s a group of four human travelers with large packs walking by you in this crowded street. And as Willa… looks at these people, something seems off about their body language.

[Ominous music, which consists of a single dark-sounding note held for a long time, begins playing. The rain sound fades out.]

FAY: They seem like they’re deliberately trying to act uninterested as opposed to actually beinguninterested in your group. There’s something about… when they get close to you, there seems to be like a tensionin some of them wherethey’reagain, they’re kind of pretending not to have it.

SAGE: Um, so this is a group of people?

FAY: Group of humans.

SAGE: Humans.

FAY: Four humans, mhm.

SAGE: Okay.

FAY: All different sizes of humans. Um, you might also notice that these humans are unusually diverse in size for humans.

ORIANA: So Willa sort of, uh, quietly to D’Zân and Tarragon, says, “Hey, do you- do you notice those humans? They’re giving me a weird vibe. Why do you think they’re acting so- like, I get this impression[that] they’re trying to be super casual, but they’re really not. It’s weirding me out a little bit.”

SAGE: Could it be that we’re a couple of scaly people and an orc? D’Zân is so used to racism that [FAY and ROBIN: Mm.] this is just like, xerolls their eyes and…

ROBIN: And Tarragon just sort of says, “I hadn’t noticed. But now [that] you say it, they do seem to be acting a bit oddly, but. Doesn’t have to be anything bad. They might just be like us, you know, just arrived and it’s, it’s quite overwhelming. But-

ORIANA: Maybe we should ask them.

ROBIN: Ah! Yes.

FAY: Okay, so they have already passed you in the street at this point. So are you guys gonna turn around or anything?

ORIANA: I think Willa wants to know what’s going on.

ROBIN: Okay. Well, we can see where they’re going, I suppose, and-

FAY: Oh, so you’re gonnakind of discreetly follow them?

[*Ominous music fades out.]

ORIANA: Are they walking into the town or away? Like outwards from the town.

FAY: Your group is headed towards the road that leads out of town towards Islandtown. [ORIANA: Oh.] Um, there’s some inns along that way if you guys want to stop, or you can do the whole day’s journey to Islandtown, but your group is headed that way. This group of people [has] just walked past you in the street; you got a really weird vibe off them. They’re immediately behind you at this moment. [ROBIN: Okay.] And you’ve just said something to the others.

ROBIN: Tell you what, since they’re coming from out of town and that’s where we’re heading, let’s see if they can tell us anything about the road conditions ahead. And Tarragonwill turn towards them.

FAY: Ahhh.

ORIANA: Willa’s immediately gonna join you and sort of, you know, chase after them a little bit.

SAGE: Okay. D’Zân joins.

ORIANA: Can Willa, like, hail them? Like, “Hey, travelers!” Super friendly.

FAY: You can absolutely try. Yeah. So what skill are you gonna be using to…

ORIANA: Charismatic.

FAY: Okay, so you’re gonna use your charismatic ability. Awesome. And this is gonna be either diplomacy or deception.

ORIANA: I’m going for diplomacy. I’m just trying to be really friendly, see what’s going on.

FAY: So that’ll be, um, a three diceroll. And what you’re doing is you’re kind of going after them and trying to get their attention and say “Hi!”

[Dice shaking noise followed by the sound of dice rolling.]

ORIANA: All right. I got a one, two, and a four.

FAY: Okay. So yeah, you’re doing such a good job of being friendly and charismatic that they absolutely stop for you, and they’re going to be happy to help you.

SAGE: Oh, fantastic.

FAY: Um, so they say, “Hello, fellow traveler.”

ORIANA: So Willa is all bouncing gecko and smiles and says, “We’re- we’re also adventurers. It looks like you’re coming from out of town. We’re just hoping to hear some news: how are the roads; is there anything we should be looking out for out there?”

FAY (as travelers): Well, you know, it’s raining. The roads are definitely a bit muddy, but you know, about what you expect for this time of year. Nothing unusual.

ORIANA (as Willa): So what have you been up to out there?

FAY (as travelers): Oh, well-we’re just, you know, doing some special package delivery, uh, to people in this region. Just, just doing some deliveries.

FAY: And everyone can do an insight roll if they’d like.

ROBIN and SAGE: Okay.

ORIANA: Okay. Yeah, Willa is still suspicious even though she’s acting super friendly, so.

[Dice rolling noise.]

ROBIN: Yess.

SAGE: I got a four and a six. A partial success.

ROBIN: Um, I got a success. I only used one die.

FAY: Okay. So success for-

ORIANA: Willa got a one and a two.

FAY: Okay, so Willa’s doing great at this. Willa knows what’s goin’ on. Everyone else: they seem like they’re talking in really general terms about what they’re doing. Um, they’renot wanting to talk about things, is kind of the impression everyone gets. Except Willa is really getting into, like, reading these people. They’re seeing something very off about them. And Willa, they seem really friendly but… they seem, again, like they’re trying to hide something, and-

ORIANA: [whispering] Oh my gosh, are they poachers?

[*Anxiety music, a dark, intense track featuring synths and percussion, begins playing.]

ORIANA: Willa’s freaking out on the inside right now. [others laugh]

FAY: They seem like they’re very interested in you. They’re trying to hide that, and they’re also trying to be really vague about what… what they’re actually doing in this area. So Willa’s very suspicious of them. Willa’s freaking out. Is anyone else having that reaction?

ROBIN: Um, yeah. I’m a little uneasy, but I’m trying not to think the worst of them. [FAY: Absolutely.] Because it’s understandable that they might just be…you know, they have to protect their trade, and that’s okay.

FAY: Deliveries can be dangerous.

ROBIN: But it does sound a little odd.

FAY: [In a high voice] Yup. A little odd, yeah.

FAY: I will say that adventurers are sometimes called on to deliver valuable items that kind of need guards, basically. So it could just be that they don’t want to give details because of that.

[*Anxiety music stops.]

FAY: But there just seems to be something a little off. They’re really, you know, they already made their delivery. They’re being very cagey about it. So everyone who is feeling a little creeped out about the situation, I need you to tell me how you’re trying to keep them from noticing [laughs] that you’re really creeped out about what’s going on here.

ROBIN: I’m using my performance skills.

FAY: Absolutely. Performance skillsabsolutely can work on them.

ROBIN: I’m not putting a full show on but still using the craft that I’ve learned.

FAY: Perfect. So go ahead, Robin, and roll for Tarragon’s ability to use the bardic professional skills to not show emotion.

ROBIN: I rolledone success there.

FAY: Okay, so that- you’re being somewhat successful at not showing how freaked out you are. So-

SAGE: Uh.

FAY: Mhm.

SAGE: D’Zân only got a partial success, so is just a little bit clued in to it. D’Zân, of course, is also therefore kind of coming from their own context. Xyr own context is that xe frequently finds that zmei are clocked. I mean, xe is inhuman form. [FAY: Sure.]But xe is standing close enough that people can see the telltale scales around their face.D’zan is one of those who can, at a distance in a hoodie, you know, pass for human. But up close, even with xyr hair down,xe would have to have xyr hood up in a way that would make them look like a Lord of the Sith or something. I mean, really-

ROBIN: [laughing] Suspicious.

SAGE: They would have to look- yeah. [stammers] [D’Zân], you know, either faces racism or suspicion because of looking like [xe is] trying to hide something. [FAY: Right, right.] Xe’s thinking maybe… “Oh humans, they don’t trust our kind,” and well, D’Zân is assuming that xe doesn’t really have to hide xyr emotions. [FAY: Yeah.] Because humans see D’Zân and many zmei being uncomfortable around them because of this mutual distrust.

FAY: That’s fine.Like, you don’t need to make a roll because D’Zân isn’t hiding anything.D’Zân thinks these people are probably just being racist, and D’Zân is not hiding that fact, and that’s fine. [SAGE: Mhm.] Absolutely. So that leaves… Willa.Willa, who’s freaking out the most.How is Willa trying to hide?

ORIANA: Willa is initially being diplomatic. [FAY: Yup.] And is probably going to try deception now because Willa’s picked up that there’s definitely something wrong here. Is that correct?

FAY: Well.Willa is, as you said, like, starting to freak out. Maybe these people are poachers. Something seems really wrong about this.

SAGE: How [do] they know that we’re in there doing… not rescue, um-

FAY: The relocation.

SAGE: Yeah, the relocation. How would they know? I mean, we never talked to them about what we’re there for.

FAY: That’s a good question. Are these people poachers? If so, how would they know? Very good questions.So with Willa, since you’re using deception, are you gonna be using your charismatic ability again to really be good at this?

ORIANA: Yes.

FAY: Absolutely, so that’s three dice.

[Dice shaking noise begins.]

ROBIN: Okay so, just before you- well, as you’re rolling-

[Dice shaking noise stops.]

ROBIN: Tarragon sees that you’re looking a bit antsy, but know some of your abilities. So they’re gonna say to the group of people, “Hey, I- I’m a performer. I’ve heard that there’s some really interesting new songs coming from down the road. I wondered if you’d heard one of them and could just fill me in on the lyrics. It goes like this.” [FAY laughs] And they start singing just a song, and I want to use my bardic ability of singing to enhancethe… you’re using charisma. That’s correct, isn’t it, Willa?

ORIANA: Yes, I’m using charisma and deception to try and hide my freak out and stay on their good side.

ROBIN: I’m gonna try and enhance your charisma, then.

FAY: Okay. So I’ll have, um- Robin, roll for your bardic performance.

ROBIN: Okay.

[Dice shaking noise followed by the sound of dice rolling.]

FAY: So that’ll be two dice for a standard performance.

ROBIN: Yup.

[Dice shaking noise followed by the sound of dice rolling.]

ROBIN: Um, and we got one success.

FAY: Okay. So was Tarragon just making up some lyrics or actually using a song?

ROBIN: Sort of just trying to make something up? It was a little bit hesitant because they were trying- they didn’t really have anything prepared. And they’re also trying to pretend that it’s a new song that they’ve not heard before. Or, you know, they’re still learning it, so.

FAY: Okay.

[*Awkward song, a slow yet cheerful track featuring string instruments, begins playing. A low-pitched adult voice and a high-pitched child’s voice sing the lyrics in unison.]

SINGERS: Whenever you feel / Nothing but sorrow / Well, don’t worry friend / There’s always tomorrow / To smile once again / To feel loved again / So cheer up, good friend / There’s always tomorrow

[*Song stops playing.]

FAY: So the lyrics don’t quite work. Like there’s something really awkward about them, [ORIANA: Yeah.] where it seems a little bit like you’re making it up on the spot. But the effect does happen, and Willa is feeling the boost. So Willa, you’ve got four dice for Oriana to roll for Willa.

[Dice rolling noise.]

ORIANA: Okay. I, [laughs] out of four dice, have two successes and two failures. [FAY: Absolutely.] So Willa is- feels totally on the spot and goes, [pausing between words] “Well, I just wanted to be an adventurer. Can you tell me how to be an adventurer?” [SAGE laughs]

FAY: Okay. Okay. So [in] this group of people, there’s like one particular woman who’s doing most of the talking for the group.Um, and she seems kind of surprised by this. There’s a little bit of like, “Hmm, this is-” you know, noticing that Tarragon’sdoing this weird thing with the song. But she absolutely believes that Willa is awed by her as an adventurer, and she, you know, she just says, “Well… [exhales] it’s a matter of gettin’ training, gettin’ practice and then just getting yourself out there and doing it.” And she looks at you kind of earnestly, you know. It’s like, “Don’t let anyone tell you you can’t be an adventurer.”

ROBIN: Yeah. Tarragon actually smiles[at] that because that is the sort of thing they like to hear. So-

ORIANA: Yeah. Willa’s, Willa’s feeling actually less freaked out, weirdly enough? She’s still suspicious, but she’s like, “Oh, maybe they’re not the worst after all.”

FAY: Mhm. Right.

SAGE: D’Zân is like mentally rolling their eyes. [others laugh] [Like] “God, this is condescending.” But “gods,” right?” Because it’s not just one god in this world, right? “Gods, this is condescending.”

FAY: Yeah. So [this] group of humans [is] like, gonna turn around and continue on their way now. Um, are you guys gonna let them do that?

ROBIN: [slowly] Yes. But we’ll make a, try and make a good mental note – or well, an actual note when we get a chance to sit down with pen and paper – of what they look like.

FAY: Sure, absolutely. So… so this interaction ends. They continue on down the street. If everyone wants to roll one last insight check, you can try to assess the impression they’re-they seem to be leaving with from you.

[Dice rolling noise.]

ORIANA: Willa’s definitely watching them walk away. That’s two dice?

FAY: Absolutely.

ROBIN: So that’s one success for me.

SAGE: One success for me.

FAY: And-

ORIANA: One success, one failure.

FAY: Okay, so all of you got one success. So it’s hard to tell the impression they’re taking away of you. They do seem slightly confused. [others giggle quietly] That’s aboutall you’ve got. There’s some level of confusion there, [laughing] so you seem to have successfully… done something. Okay, so-

SAGE: Jeez, as if dragons and geckos and uh, orcs can’t be adventurers too. [others laugh]

ORIANA: “I really wish I knew what they were hiding.” Willa’s, like, muttering and sort of watching them suspiciously.

ROBIN: There was just something odd about them, but maybe they just got confused by us. I don’t know.

FAY: Good question.

ORIANA: [unintelligible]

FAY: Absolutely.

[*Game theme, a bright, mysterious piece of world music featuring flute and percussion, plays.]

FAY: [voiceover] And that is the end of this episode. Please join us in three weeks on Thursday, May 31st for Part 2 of “The Owlbear Reintroduction Program,” where our three heroes meet Keeper Silvia Aguilar and enter the Wild Wood. If you want to find out more about today’s guests, here’s how to follow them.

[Start of recorded section.]

ROBIN: Okay. I can be found on Tumblr with the username skeletonmug. That’s all one word: skeletonmug, S-K-E-L-E-T-O-N-M-U-G. And I also have a website, which is for accessibility in live action roleplay, and that’s AccessLarp, A-C-C-E-S-S-L-A-R-P, dot wordpress dot com.

FAY: Perfect, and that was Robin. And Oriana, I believe you have a coloring book you’re working on?

ORIANA: Yes, I can be found on Facebook as Oriana Soup. That’s O-R-I-A-N-A space S-O-U-P. And I’m working on a coloring book that is body positivity and diversity and disability themed. It is a high fantasy world in which all of the kinds of people that I care about [are] present realistically. [It’s] called Our Space: A Coloring Book, and it has a Facebook page, which is Our Space, O-U-R S-P-A-C-E, colon, A Coloring Book.

FAY: Perfect. And Sage, you have, uh, a Dreamwidth blog, I believe?

SAGE: Yeah. And it’s not- we’re not really doing anything super worth looking up. I mean, there’s not much there. But anyway, I just sent it to you in the link, and could you-

FAY: Absolutely, absolutely. So it is V-L-A-D-D-R-A-C-U-L-E-A dot dreamwidth, which is spelled D-R-E-A-M-W-I-D-T-H, dot org. So thank you all so much, and I look forward to continuing this adventure soon.

ROBIN: Okay, thanks very much. Bye-bye.

FAY: Bye.

ORIANA: Thanks, everybody.

SAGE: Bye-bye.

FAY: [voiceover] If you like what you hear and want to hear more, be sure to follow Writing Alchemy on Twitter at @Writing_Alchemy, on Facebook at facebook.com/WritingAlchemy, and on Google+ at plus.google.com/+WritingAlchemy, where the first plus is the word and the second is the symbol. You can subscribe to this podcast on Google Play, Stitcher, iTunes, or by using its RSS feed. If you want to help me keep this podcast going, pledge your support on Patreon at patreon.com/writingalchemy or make a donation through Ko-fi. And be sure to visit writingalchemy.net to find all of the Writing Alchemy podcasts, articles, stories, and other content.There you can join the discussion and sign up for the mailing list to receive announcements about new podcasts and projects.

[*Outro, a calm electronic track, begins playing.]

FAY: If you are a person with a disability, chronic illness, or a diverse mind and you would like to participate in an Unfamiliar Heroes game, head over to WritingAlchemy.net and click on the participation link in the sidebar. Future games include recorded audio games and text games which will be published in chapters. Note that wait times vary a lot depending on what games participants are interested in. Thank you for listening, and please join us in three weeks on Thursday, May 31st for Part 2 of “The Owlbear Reintroduction Program”!

[*Music continues for about half a minute, then stops.]

 

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