1 May 2014

By the Numbers Chapter 4 - Commentary

As always, please read the chapter first.

Once again, the language warning.  For those who have read Subject 13, don't worry.  No one swears as much as Nasty did.  It's more there to make sure I comply with Blogger's terms of service about objectionable material; I am supposed to warn people, then place the material after a jump cut.  The language is rough at times, but comes from people under stress without being a cluster f-bomb.  The other bit of administrivia is the copyright info.  I am playing in someone else's playground, so all credit where credit is due.  I modified the blurb after the template available on Catalyst's home page.

Previously, Chapter 3 ended with the team getting an urgent call from Mr. Johnson to haul his ass out of the Rubber Suit, a nightclub in Seattle.  The Rubber Suit first appeared in the original Seattle Sourcebook, including featuring in an advertisement in the book, and was fleshed out a little more in Seattle 2072 as being a club that features classic kaiju movies like Gamera and Godzilla.  I wound up using the nightclub in a Shadowrun campaign I ran after my players decided the best way to extract a scientist wasn't to break in to the facility and remove him in blaze of gunfire, but to lure him and his security detail out.  I more or less used this scene as inspiration, giving my scientist a similar interest in giant monster movies.  From there, the players continued their shadowruns-as-Dada-performance-art approach by staging a flash mob Godzilla film festival and had the scientist swallowed by a team member in a Godzilla-suit and sneak him out.  Security was baffled, but they got help in their investigations by the flash mob organizer, who was one of the PCs, who showed the security detail exactly where he saw the scientist last.

Back to By the Numbers.  Oswald's interest in monster movies wasn't planned, but suited him.  Each member of the team uses their own abilities to figure out potential problems, with Oswald verifying the astral.  The watcher spirits are just that, spirits who watch.  They're another long-time fixture of the setting, appearing in the first edition of The Grimoire.  Watcher spirits aren't the sharpest hammer in the shed, but can follow simple instructions, such as "Watch this man.  If he leaves the building, come tell me."

The team split up, going against the usual warnings you find in RPGs against doing that.  Treehugger and Charles take Mr. Johnson out the front while Numbers and Oswald check for anyone following.  Doing this allows Treehugger to get Mr. Johnson to the car while Charles acts as a meat shield between Mr. J and the people after him.  Meanwhile, Numbers and Oswald can sneak up on the attackers and neutralize them from behind.  It's a method they've used before, in a story that has never been written.  The idea with By the Numbers is that the team is experienced, not rookies.

Fire exits are always useful for an escape.  Their main problem is that they trigger alarms as soon as they are opened.  It's great for an emergency.  Not so great if you're trying to sneak out.  A proper fire exit should have an alarm independent of any monitoring system.  A cheap alarm skips that, and Numbers found a cheap alarm.  More of Oswald's background is hinted here; most shadowrunners ignore niceties such as not creating fire hazards.  In the alley, they found the attackers' rear guard, who decided that a knife fight was the best thing to do.  Too bad Numbers brought a gun to the knife fight.  Oswald, however, trumped everyone, tossing a stunbolt at the apparent leader.

Out front, three more men jump the group.  The goal was to make it look like Mr. Johnson died in random street violence.  No one expected Charles to pull a Crocodile Dundee in response.  Charles has what's known in the game as a cyberspur, a metal blade that slides out from under the skin.  There's two main styles for cyberspurs, three blades from the back of the hand, Wolverine-style, or one long blade from under the forearm.  Charles chose the latter; as a troll, even allowing for an anchoring piece in his arm, he will still have a larger blade than anyone carrying a knife.  He uses the spur for intimidation; he's already big and now he's showing that he's always armed.

During the scene out front, I included the sounds of the fight in the alley.  While writing, I adjusted the order of the scenes, writing the alley fight first so that I knew what was happening there when I returned to Treehugger and Charles.  Rearrange the order, and it looks like I know what I'm doing as a writer.  The fight in back fell under the description "more stuff happens" in the outline.  When it came down to figuring out the scene, I let the game mechanics do the heavy lifting.  I did want the novel to reflect what was possible in the game.  One possible result, though, is the critical glitch.  Glitches occur when half the dice or more come up with a 1.  Critical glitches happen when glitches occur but there are no successes on the rest of the dice.  The attacker who didn't dodge the fire spirit had a critical glitch.  Awkward.  But, it can happen in a game, too.  In the same campaign mentioned above, an earlier run had the team bail out someone in a gunfight.  One of assailants had a critical glitch on a dodge roll on one of the monorail platforms.  My ruling was that he dove behind what he thought was cover, not remembering that there was no platform on the other side.  First Wilhelm Scream of the campaign there.

The fire elemental attack and the failure to dodge gave me a reason for the attackers in the alley to run away.  The mage just killed the apparent leader with a dangerous spirit.  Morale plummeted.  The attackers had the presence of mind to warn their compatriots up front via text message.  The dwarf might not have wanted to leave, but he'd have been the only one there.  Sometimes, being outnumbered is a bad thing.

The description Numbers gave about Oswald's extra work in the alley is typical of the average person in 2070 when it comes to magic.  Magic is barely understood, the workings being difficult to comprehend without studying a number of traditions and beliefs.  It's not quite as easy as pointing a finger and saying "Explodius!"  Spells casting can wipe out a mage if he's not careful.  Too powerful a spell and the mage could burn out from the inside.  Thus why Oswald checked for a nose bleed.

The Knights Charles referred to is the police department, Knight Errant, a subsidary of Ares Macrotechnology.  Knight Errant picked up the police contract after Lone Star Security Services ran into problems.  If it helps, picture Ares as OmniConsumer Products from Robocop, providing police services.  Most people see Knight Errant as the cops; that's the role the company serves.  Knight Errant is going out of its way to present itself in the best light, actively hunting down criminals.

Tomorrow, seeing Mr. Johnson home.
Also tomorrow, over at Psycho Drive-In, Hansel and Gretal, Witch Hunters.
Saturday, over at MuseHack, Dredd.
Coming soon, more Project Natasha, and filing the serial numbers off fanficion.

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