A hungry traveler, wandering in the night

Chanced upon a campfire, a welcome sight

Around the fire, twelve figures argued

Wild and varied their looks,

Their styles.


 “Of what do you argue, fine fellows?”

Asked the traveler, confused.

In unison the figures chorused

“Of power, and which is most,

And which is best.”


“Tell me, then, your tales”

The traveler declared.

“As payment for your fire, and your food

I’ll settle your quarrel.”


First up was the wild man, the muscled giant.

Fire in his eyes, shirtless.

Wordlessly, effortlessly hefting a giant tree

Broke it over his knee.


“I am rage incarnate!” he roared, and the rocks shook.

“My axe cleaves skulls, my skin deflects dragon fire.

No chains can hold me, my strength is as ten men.

Is this not true power?”


The next figure smiled slightly in the firelight

And plucked the strings of his harp.

The sound rang forth,

Promising glory and great deeds

And mysteries sublime.


“My power is over the hearts of men”, he intoned.

“My song guides friends’ hands and mends their troubles;

But these words also befuddle foes and break their minds.

I can change the proudest of hearts.

Is this not true power?”


The next stood, armored in steel and in her god.

In her hand, a symbol of faith unwavering

Glowed and promised healing and comfort to friends

But wrath to heretics and foes.


“True power comes from the gods”, she professed.

“I channel their wisdom, their majesty, their grace.

Through me they protect, they bless, and they smite.

I am the instrument of the Divine and my hands are their hands.

Is this not true power?”


Sitting a bit apart, the next figure spoke.

Her voice like the creaking of old trees in the wind,

Like rumbling earth, and wild shapes danced and leapt

To attention as she proclaimed:


“Anger, words, gods—These are all but part of Nature

And I am Nature’s servant. I call the storms,

Speak with the beasts, and take their shapes.

I am the judge of mankind’s folly, the guardian of balance.

Is this not true power?”


A disciplined man spoke next, his face framed by his helmet.

Festooned with weapons and dressed in well-worn armor,

His movements were sure and his voice

The voice of command.


“I have no need for your spells, your rage, your gods. Crutches all.

My power is the power of training, of discipline.

Alone with my weapons I stand against the tide.

And with flashing steel, turn it.

Is this not true power?”


A slender man, bald, unarmored

Spoke next, his voice quiet and calm.

“But you too, dear friend, have your crutches.

Your weapons, your armor, your practiced techniques.”


“True power comes from within. Not from the wild rage

Of the berserker, not relying on tools forged by man,

But from meditation and wisdom.  My body is my weapon

My soul is my armor. Though I float weightless as a leaf on the wind,

My fists carry the weight of the mountains.

Yet I am the calm at the center of the storm.

Is this not true power?”


A dwarf harrumphed, his beard shaking as he spoke.

His armor burnished, his shield emblazoned.

“A tunnel with faulty bracings cannot hold;

Nor can your power

Resting as it does on frail supports.”


“The gods can prove false, nature is capricious.

Training can fail, not all hearts can be moved by song.

But Oaths, kept, are forever. Power from devotion,

Confident, Strong. Shielding the weak

and smiting the faithless.

Is this not true power?”


“Nature is the key, I must agree,” said the next

Oiling her bowstring. “But man is part of nature

And Nature’s balance.” Dressed in leathers,

Brown and green, keen-eyed, graceful was she.


“I know my enemy, and my arrow knows its mark.

I find my way through the deepest dark—

Nature’s guardian? I am her friend; and yet a friend of man.

At home in forest or on mountain, in city or underground.

Is this not true power?”


“I don’t know about you, friend”, the ninth replied with a smirk

“But why go through problems when you can go around them

Or walk quietly by them, them none the wiser?

The ninth—a slender woman in dark leathers, trimming her nails

With her keen daggers as she spoke.


“Stealth, skills, and treasure. These are my job. Do you need in

Where you shouldn’t be? Do you need that one dead, quiet as can be?

Maybe a lock picked, or a purse robbed. I can do that, for a price.

All these things and many more—and unlike the rest, I won’t boast about it later.

Is this not true power?”


“All that sounds too much like work to me,” the tenth snorted.

His breath a puff of smoke, his scales

(scales? Yes scales, like a dragon)

glimmering red in the flickering firelight,

The tenth was Dragonborn, proud child of fire and earth.


“While you go about practicing, praying, studying,”

(Glaring disdainfully at the last as he spoke this word)

“I have power in my blood. My ancestors were dragons—I AM power.

My spells are adaptable, my power over the elements absolute.

Is this not true power?”


“But your power is bound to what you can frame yourself

And is only yours by fate of heritage, not by merit of your own”—

The eleventh disputed, her red skin and hair drinking in the firelight

And her tail twitching as she spoke—


“I have made deals with devils, outwitting them for knowledge arcane.

My power is evergreen—but a short span to catch my breath and it comes anew.

Service for service, deals made and kept. That is the true way of the world.

And with that service I gain mastery without study or accident of birth.

Is this not true power?”


Last, least (in height, that is), the twelfth gave voice.

A gnome, female, with robes and a walking staff

And reading from a book as large as she.


“Positively preposterous, you pretentious puffins.

True power is found in books, in learning, and in study.

I need no gods, no deals, no bloodline”—

(Sending back the glare at the tenth with these words)—

“All on my own I gather lost knowledge,

And with that knowledge rewrite reality to my will.

Is this not true power?”


Who now is right, dear reader?

The power is yours to decide.

And this, this is true power!