17 Aug 2018

dba LTV Paranormalists - Hauntings Anonymous - Chapter 5

Chapter 5 - Home Bodies

"You're going to get noticed like that."
"I thought ghosts couldn't touch cold iron."
"There was someone in there."
"So, where's the alarm?"
The next morning
Ayel shuffled into the kitchen in time to be barrelled into by her younger sister.  "Tiff!"  The blonde woman recovered by grabbing on to the counter.  "Watch where you're going!"

"Move it, old timer."  Ayel's younger sister, Tiffany, finished off her slice of toast.  "You know better than to stand there."  The redhead dashed out of the kitchen, then poked her head back in the doorway.  "I need the van tonight."

"What for?"  Ayel poured herself a mug of coffee.

"Hot monkey sex, why else?"  Tiffany rolled her eyes.  "None of your business, Am."

"Tiffany, really."  Their mother's voice carried in from the living room.

"Sorry, Mom."  The redhead's tone turned contrite.

"And I need the van today."  Janet Lindeman stepped into the kitchen.  "I'll drive you to school, Tiff.  Ayel, do you need to get anywhere this morning?"

Ayel added cream and sugar to her coffee.  "I'm good.  I've got the day off, so," she looked down at her pajamas, "I'm going to take it easy."

Janet dishevelled her daughter's hair.  "Try to get dressed at some point, dear."  She filled a travel mug with coffee, emptying the pot.

Tiffany returned to the kitchen.  "I like the look."  She reached for her sister's hair.

16 Aug 2018

dba LTV Paranormalists - Hauntings Anonymous - Commentary 4

Breaking, entering, and haunting, in dba LTV Paranormalists Chapter 4.

Investigators must investigate.  Otherwise, mysteries remain unresolved.  Off to the warehouse everyone goes, after business hours because why not?  For this, the Paranormalists brought along their only employee, Aiden Lockhart.  Aidan is licensed as a private investigator as per Ontario regulations, though he mainly works as a bartender and bouncer.  Kristi brough him on the team after Ayel saw that the business might cross over to the PI side of rules and regulations.

The break-in is to see how the walls fell.  Ginger can do her magic while the rest of the team looks for mundane clues.  The first problem is the alarm system.  Alarms do have a delay so that the legitimate owners have time to prevent the system from going off.  Of course, in a business, whoever arrives first for the day needs to shut down the alarm, and not everyone will remember the code.  The weakest point in any security system is the human element.

Back in the unreleased first arc, Ginger had a nail that she used for self-defense.  Since moving in with Kristi, she hasn't had it.  Thus, any loose nail is hers, since she found it again.  Object permanence is an iffy subject in Ginger's mind, as is possession.  What's hers is hers, and if she says it is, it is.

The difficulty on finding legends on the Wee Folk and other supernatural and paranormal beings is hampered by today's pop culture.  Supernatural isn't the worst; the writers for the show do their research, but fansites and other pop culture sources muddy the online searches.  Cold iron, though, is a classic way to stop the Fair Folk.  Salt works to stop ghosts.  And Supernatural is a way that Ayel and Kristi can overcome their differences and work together.  For the record, Ayel is a fan of Sam while Kristi wants them both.

Some more clues have been set out this chapter.  Mysteries are hard to pants.  There needs to be some planning to figure out whodunnit.  At this point, I still hadn't worked out who Old Man Jenkins was going to be, but I wanted to get a few things set up in advance for the reveal.  The events in the warehouse did force me to narrow down the suspects.

Friday, the home lives of the Paranormalists, in Hauntings Anonymous Chapter 5, "Home Bodies".
Also Friday, over at Psycho Drive-In, alternate sources for adaptations.
Saturday, over at The Seventh Sanctum, hiatus week to let me get ahead on my reading.

15 Aug 2018

Hacking Valiant Universe RPG - The Magical Girl

I`m thinking of running a magical girls game at some point.  While I do have a few games that are meant for such campaigns, such as Big Eyes Small Mouth or even Tails of Equestria, I keep wondering if a superhero RPG could also fill the need.  The mechanical difference between a superhero and a magical girl is negligible, at least when looking at them for purposes of gaming.  The real difference between Sailor Moon and the Green Lantern or Card Captor Sakura and Captain American is cultural.  The cultural side impacts the roleplaying, not the powers.

The next question, which superhero RPG?  I've demo'ed a few here, including Valiant Universe: The Roleplaying Game and Superbabes, and I have access to several more, including Champions.  The goal here is to have flexibility while still being quick to create a character in.  Thus, the Valiant RPG.  I may try to recreate the character under a different system for comparison's sake, but for now, the Valiant RPG has the flexibility and quickness I want.

10 Aug 2018

dba LTV Paranormalists - Hauntings Anonymous - Chapter 4

Chapter 4 - Midnight Visitors

"I'm not an elf!"
"You don't like blondes."
"One of the walls fell over."
"I'm not going to make your life Hell on purpose."
"I can't believe I'm doing this."

Ayel crouched down, trying to keep to the shadows of the night.  Just head, the warehouse sat, the parking lot bathed in light, drowning out the stars above.  Beside her, Kristi pulled up the hood on her grey sweater.  Kieu, dressed head to toe in black, sprawled flat on the ground.

Aidan looked down at the three women.  "You're going to get noticed like that."

"That's, like, the total opposite of what we want," Kristi said.  She stood up straight.  "Aren't we going to get noticed anyway?"

"People tend to pay attention to the weird.  If we act like we belong, we fade into the background."  Aidan gave Kieu a light kick.  "And if we lie down on a road, we get run over."

"Alright."  Kieu got to her feet.  "I thought we had to be stealthy."

"I don't see why we all had to come," Ayel said.  "Who is going to bail us out if we're caught."

Ginger poked her head out from Kristi's jacket.  "We're not going to be caught."

"We're going to be on any security camera around here," Aidan said.  "The goal isn't to be stealthy.  The real goal is to not give any indication that we were here and that the video has to be looked at."

"We don't pay you enough," Kristi said.

9 Aug 2018

dba LTV Paranormalists - Hauntings Anonymous - Commentary 3

Expanding the world, in dba LTV Paranormalists Chapter 3.

LTV Paranormalists have a case to solve.  They also have to get all the partners up to speed.  Kieu makes her first appearance in the store after only having a mention back in Chapter 1.  There are also a few details to fill in, since this is the second arc.

Ayel's cat did make an appearance in the first arc, more to establish her home than for anything else.  Benedict Fluffybutt is named after a certain actor; Ayel, her sister, and her mother all had a hand in choosing the name.  Ginger got along with him as shown in Chapter 1 of this arc.

Kristi lived in residence during the school year but found a place once school ended.  She moved out with two of her roomies, Zaina and Janelle.  Zaina is from Lebanon and doesn't have a summer job, allowing her to sleep late and let her housemates use the bathroom before they dash off for work.  Janelle's main feature so far is not being a morning person; she will make an appearance at some point.

The masquerade, the hiding of the supernatural and paranormal from muggles, is an annoying cliché in urban fantasy.  I've seen it handled well; Supernatural has the Winchester boys using fake IDs, mostly because most of their income is from less-than-legal means; the masquerade is for their mundane side, not their hunting side.  The problem with using the masquerade here is that the Fair Folk are folk tales, created by the same people that the masquerade is trying to hide from.  Why would Kristi not mention sprites?  It's her business to find them.  So, Ginger gets hidden only because explaining her is awkward, moreso when she's around.  Kristi was also worried about Zaina's reaction; in the unpublished first arc, Kristi describes her as "super-religious".  Apparently, Wee Folk never came up in a sermon.

Kieu's "return" comes after last seeing her in the first arc sleep deprived, exams looming, and her surviving on caffeine and chocolate.  She doesn't get along with Ayel, though that's all on Kieu.  The conflict wasn't sustainable, so the second arc shows them starting to work with each other.  The issue Kieu had was Ayel's hair colour, which she goes into detail about in the current chapter.  Now that Kieu has managed to get some sleep, she's returning to normal.  It may take her time to recognize any inventions she built; her mad genius fades with sleep.

The case takes on a new twist despite the Paranormalists not having visited the site yet.  Ayel's research - all legal since it's the exception to the regulations covering private investigators - shows nothing outstanding and nothing that would cause an angry ghost.  Yet something caused a wall to fall at people at the warehouse.  Dun dun DUN!

This chapter was just getting everyone up to speed, re-introducing characters and their relationships from the unpublished first arc, and getting ducks in a row so that once things got going, there wouldn't have to be an explanation that stopped the narrative flow dead in its tracks.  The only person left to bring back in is Aidan, the Paranormalists' licensed investigator.

Friday, breaking, entering, and more breaking, in Hauntings Anonymous Chapter 4, "Midnight Visitors".
Also Friday, over at Psycho Drive-In, the language barrier.
Saturday, over at The Seventh Sanctum, on alternate sources for adaptations.

3 Aug 2018

dba LTV Paranormalists - Hauntings Anonymous - Chapter 3

Chapter 3 - Fair Folk

"That's a customs mark.
"It's just Antony playing mind games on everyone."
"You let Ginger drink coffee?"
"This magic tasted wrong."
Kristi set down Ginger on the arm of the faded old couch.  Her new home, an older duplex showing its age in the middle of the Glebe, was still bare.  "And here's our new home.  You'll have to hide for a bit when my roomies are around.  I have no idea how they'll react."

Ginger, for her part, plunked down on the arm, legs spread out in front of her.  "Where's the cat?"

"Benedict Fluffybutt is Ayel's."

"You don't have one?"

"Not yet."  Kristi sat down on the couch.  "We've just moved in here and we don't know if we'll be here in September."

Ginger leaned back.  "It needs a cat here."

Footsteps sounded upstairs.  "Kristi, is that you?"  Zaina came down a few steps, her body and her hair both wrapped in fluffy yellow towels.  "I thought I heard voices."

Kristi darted off the couch to stand between Ginger and Zaina.  "I was on the phone."

"Were you on speaker?"  Zaina came down a few more steps.  "I thought I heard someone else."  She froze mid-step.  "Um, Kristi, what is that behind you?"

2 Aug 2018

dba LTV Paranormalists - Hauntings Anonymous - Commentary 2

Early legwork at the warehouse, in dba LTV Paranormalists Chapter 2.

I make no apology for the title.  It comes from two places.  The first is a joke I try using during fantasy RPG sessions, just to see if anyone reacts to the image of a man turning into a house at the light of the full moon.  For the record, one person cracked up.  The other comes from early in Young Frankenstein.  For the record, I always crack up at the scene.  Since I have a warehouse at the centre of the story, I failed my Willpower save and tossed the joke into the chapter title.

Writing Ginger is interesting.  She has a sense of child-like wonder coupled with a cat's attitude that she's the centre of the universe.  I did some quick research on the Fair Folk before and during NaNoWriMo to get a better idea of what sort of fae Ginger might be.  With urban fantasy and tabletop fantasy RPGs being wso popular today, it was hard to separate the traditional lore from other people's works.  The end result - Ginger is Ginger.  Her name, though, was easier.  I decided on some sort of wildflower that is local and ran across the wild ginger.  The name sums her up, so that's what she got named.

Once I detatched my expectations of the fae from gaming, that gave me room to figure out how Ginger and magic get along.  Can the fae detect magic?  Why not?  It moves the plot along and it means I don't need Kieu to be sleep deprived all the time.  This also lets me have the rest of the cast do normal investigations while still covering the magic angle.  Remember, the goal here was to be Scooby-Doo except monsters do exist.

The regular investigation, as limited by provincial regulations, lets me show Ayel and Kristi's abilities.  I also can get some of the clues laid out, though I'm not going to hold them up here.  Besides, some might be red herrings.  Ayel gets to deal with the client directly.  Kristi is more Ginger's handler here, though she gets to use her people skills.  Each of the young women bring something unique.  Ayel was supposed to bring skepticism, but the missing arc showed her otherwise.  She still has the business sense.  Kristi is the creative side, the business is her idea.  Kieu is the technical.  Yet, sometimes, things do get shaken up.

Ginger and coffee became an odd combination.  She's small, coming up to Kristi's knee.  A regular cup of coffee contains far too much caffeine for such a small being.  The cat Ginger references lives with Ayel and her family.  The setting is starting to expand beyond the core cast.  Families will start to appear this arc.  All part of my writing style; start with the core and build out, sometimes going in unplanned directions.  Someday, I should learn to outline, By the Numbers notwithstanding.

Friday, myth, legends, and Ginger, in Hauntings Anonymous Chapter 3, "Fair Folk".
Also Friday, over at Psycho Drive-In, why remaking horror and mysteries is difficult.
Saturday, over at The Seventh Sanctum, the language barrier.

27 Jul 2018

dba LTV Paranormalists - Hauntings Anonymous - Chapter 2

Chapter 2 - Werehouse?  There House

"We have a client coming."
"Are we looking at staplers moving around in an office?"
"We keep all our work confidential."
"Ginger, where are your clothes?"

Kristi watched Ayel as the blonde entered the warehouse.  She waited for the door to close before opening her own door.  "Okay, Ginger, take a look around."

Ginger dismissed the tawny-haired woman with a wave of the hand.  "Yeah, yeah, I know.  Look for people like me."

"And other Wee Folk," Kristi added.

Ginger hopped out of the van, her long hair swaying.  She darted under the van.  Kristi followed the tiny woman out, but remained standing beside the minivan.  She stretched, working out a few kinks in her back.  A breeze promising rain later wafter through the parking lot, teasing Kristi's hair.  She heard tiny footsteps running across the gravel; it took some willpower to avoid looking in Ginger's direction.

For her part, Ginger dashed to the edge of the gravel, marked by several dandelions pushing their way up through the rocks.  The tiny woman touched one of the growing weeds.  In moments, the plant grew, flowering in a bright yellow blossom.  Ginger plucked the flower and held it over her head like an umbrella.  She sauntered along the the wall, acting as if she was there for a stroll.  The tiny woman stole a glance back at the van; Kristi leaned against the contraption.

At the corner of the warehouse, Ginger stopped.  She peered around, even looking up.  A raven flew overhead.  Ginger pressed up against the warehouse and waited for the bird to fly away.  Once sure that it was safe, the tiny woman crept around the corner, then sat down, crossing her legs under her.  She closed her eyes and took several deep breaths.

26 Jul 2018

dba LTV Paranormalists - Hauntings Anonymous - Commentary 1

Ayel, Kristi, and Kieu - LTV Paranormalists - are hired to find a ghost, in dba LTV Paranormalists "Hauntings Anonymous" Chapter 1.

Welcome to the second arc of dba LTV Paranormalists!  No, you haven't missed the first arc.  Let me explain.

Paranormalists began as a few rough ideas, mostly characters talking to each other without any real plot to pull things together.  The idea languished and carried over from hard drive to hard drive, only to be brought out for reading every few months.  In 2016, the idea came up out of the depths of my hard drive in time for consideration for NaNoWriMoParanormalists won out over continuing Unruly, a Shadowrun story to test adaptation lessons, and the time travelling kaiju hunters.  For the first arc, I tried writing it in flashback.  It didn't work out well.  To be honest, the first arc is a mess.  I'm trying to put in a more linear order, but it'll take time.

The second arc, though, was linear.  Halfway through the first arc, I realized that there was a problem.  During NaNo, the goal is writing, not editing, so the mess would have to wait.  The mess is still waiting.  The second arc didn't need as much editing.  One chapter got moved to the first arc, fitting better there, and some fallout from the moved chapter went with it.  The rest still works as is.

The series is essentially Scooby-Doo except the supernatural is real.  Since the introductions are in the mess of the first arc, a quick run through of the main characters is needed.  Kristi, Ayel, and Kieu are all students at Carleton University.  Kristi Theissen, an art history major with a minor in medieval studies, is the one who came up with the idea.  She drew in Ayel and Kieu, both of whom she new through classes, for their expertise.  Ayel Lindeman, majoring in commerce, has the business acumen to form the company.  She was skeptical about the supernatural at first.  Kieu, a computer science major, is the tech expert, and is willing to believe.  Joining them is Ginger, who they met in the first arc.  Ginger is one of the Wee Folk, not quite a fairy, not quite a pixie.  Ginger is Ginger.

When getting the story set up, I wound up looking up regulations for private investigators to see if LTV Paranormalists would run afoul of them.  It's close, but the out is that they're, at best, researchers, and looking up information on properties is explicitly excluded from what needs to be licensed as a P.I.  That line looks fuzzy, though.  I have a backup plan for when the fuzzy line needs to be crossed.

Being a small start-up run by students, LTV Paranormalists doesn't have a proper office.  They can't afford one.  Ayel is treating the business as a side project; in the first arc, she was encouraged by her advisor to use the opportunity to test out some theories brought up in her classes.  She still has a regular job to pay for her tuition and books.  Kristi has other means, which need to be worked out a bit more.  Kieu has patents helping her out.

During the research to figure out what the cast is taking at Carleton, I found some details that worked beautifully for my purposes.  For Ayel, Carleton Commerce includes an entrepreneuship concentration, ideal for starting a small summer business.  With Kieu and computer science, I discovered that Carleton now has a Mobile Computing stream, something that didn't exist when I graduated with my Comp. Sci. degree.  Lesson here: Always check, even if you're positive you know everything you need.

Friday, looking for ghosts in Hauntings Anonymous Chapter 2, "Werehouse?  There House".
Also Friday, over at Psycho Drive-In, a test run of the Bond Project with From Russia With Love.
Saturday, over at The Seventh Sanctum, why remaking horror and mysteries is difficult.

20 Jul 2018

dba LTV Paranormalists - Hauntings Anonymous - Chapter 1

Kristi Thiessen, Ayel Lindeman, and Kieu Vo joined together to create LTV Paranormalists, a partnership dedicated to investigating hauntings and convincing the cause, be it spectral or fae, to move on.  They have access to specialized help - Aidan Lockhart, who has security and private investigation certificates, and Ginger, a fae discovered during their first case.

Kristi stepped up to the barista.  "Hi, Ayel!"

The tall blonde woman behind the counter repressed a groan.  "What can I get you, Kristi?"

"A pot of herbal tea, please."  Kristi searched through her purse for her debit card.  "When do you go on break?"

Ayel checked the clock on the wall.  "In half an hour, at the soonest.  Depends on the crowd.  Why?  And how did you know where to find me?"

"Your sister told me."

"Because of course she did."

"We were her age once.  Anyway, I've got a client coming.  We have a client coming."


"You and me.  LTV Paranormalists."  Kristi beamed.  "I asked our client to come here to discuss his problem."

19 Jul 2018

Leverage By the Numbers - Oz

Last week, I reworked Numbers from By the Numbers, bringing her from the Shadowrun setting into one of my own creation.  Numbers was the easy one to work with; her background came to the fore during the story and her role didn't really change despite the translation; she's the hacker of the group, and the new system, the Leverage RPG, has that as an explicit role.

The rest of the cast of By the Numbers will take work.  The Mecha Academy setting doesn't have magic or cybernetics, meaning the rest of the crew will have fundamental changes made to them.  Yet, the goal is to keep to their personalities, not their abilities.  Having learned my lesson the first time I created characters for the game, I'll just focus on one character, Oswald, the mage.

13 Jul 2018

Leverage By the Numbers

I've worked on a character from By the Numbers, writing up Numbers for Shadowrun.  The main problem with the story is that I'm playing in someone else's intellectual property.  The characters, though, are mine.  If I can translate them into a new setting, I have a more or less original work.  Heists occur in all genres; Ocean's 11 is a good example.  Move the heist to a different time and setting, like a fantasy world or the far future.  Liberating heirlooms from a dragon's horde is still a heist, as is stealing data from a privately owned space station.  The trappings are different, but the key is how the characters overcome their challenges.

To this end, I'm going to try to create Numbers using the Leverage RPG.  I've delved into the game before, getting ready to write Unruly.  Having learned my lesson the first time, I'll just create Numbers, though the rest of the cast will chime in.

Before starting, though, I do need a setting.  I want to move away from the mash up of cyberpunk and epic fantasy that is Shadowrun while still staying in the realm of science fiction.  The Mecha Academy setting is there ready for expansion.  What that means is no magic (sorry Oz), no elves (sorry Treehugger), and no trolls (sorry Charles).  Cybernetics aren't a thing in the Mecha Academy setting, more for prosthetics than willing replacement.  The setting's gone through that phase.  WIth all that out in the open, let's go steal, er, make us a Numbers!

6 Jul 2018

No post today

Thanks to the record heat we've had here in Ottawa West-Dagobah, I couldn't even think without breaking into a heavy sweat.  I will catch up at some point, though.  Have a cat pic in the meantime.  I adopted Jewel two weeks ago.  She's adjusting well.

Jewel on her second night, finally joining me on my bed.  (Taken June 19, 2018.  Photo by author.)

Jewel two weeks later, far more relaxed.  (Taken July 1, 2018.  Photo by author.)

Today, over at Psycho Drive-In, Wonder Woman (2017).
Saturday, over at The Seventh Sanctum, Sherlock Gnomes.

29 Jun 2018

Star Trek Adventures (Modiphius) - Starships

Continuing with Modiphius' Star Trek Adventures, I want to try a few ships.  Instead of being a set of stats, ships in the game are almost a character unto themselves.  Players and GMs can work out what exactly the ship can do, starting with a ship class.  Creation isn't as involved with characters, so I can try out a few ships.  The game doesn't have a large selection, possibly due to space.  There's nothing from Enterprise, a few from the moves, the rest from TNG.  The game has the USS Enterprise from TOS, plus -A, -B, and -D, but no Ambassador-class for -C.

Because the steps are simple enough, I'll create a ship for the TOS, movie, and TNG eras.  For TOS, the ship will be in service during the same time as Kirk commands the Enterprise.  The movie era is set around The Wrath of Khan, The Search for Spock, and The Voyage Home.  The TNG ship will serve after the return of Voyager.  Years will become important, so I'll select 2268, during the run of TOS, 2284 for the movie era, and 2379 for TNG.

22 Jun 2018

Star Trek Adventures (Modiphius) - The Vulcan Ship's Counselor

Back in February, I tried creating a character using Star Trek Adventures from Modiphius.  The character was fairly straightforward, a Vulcan engineer, something one would expect on a Starfleet vessel.  Standard types only scratch the surface, though.  To really test a game, I want to see if an odd combination is still possible.  Today, I present a Vulcan ship's counselor.

The concept is odd, I'll grant that.  Vulcans aren't known for being all warm and fuzzy.  They shun emotions.  Some go through the kolinahr rite to purge the last traces of emotion.  Yet, the various Star Trek series have shown Vulcans use an emotional logic of sorts.  They tend to rationalize the decision as being logical.  Still, the series have shown Sarek with Human wives and protecting his son.  Why not have a Vulcan character who wants to learn how other species deal with emotions?  If reunification with the Romulans does happen, Vulcan society will have to adjust to take into account that there will be newcomers who don't have the control culture expects.

The life path character creation system should help here.  The seven steps, eight if deciding on a concept, help flesh out the player character.  I have the concept worked out, and that determines the era as during Star Trek: TNG or later.  All the attributes start at 7; all the disciplines start at 1.  After the break, one Vulcan psychologist.

21 Jun 2018

NaNo 2018 - Contenders

November 1st is just over four months away.  NaNoWriMo is coming up.  Heck, Camp NaNo begins July 1st, though I'm not participating this time around.  Four months isn't a lot of time.  I should start figuring out what to do so I don't start an epic fantasy with zero world building again.  I do have some contenders.

As always, the time-travellering kaiju hunters are on the list.  I'll have to figure out a few time periods for the /kaiju/ hunters to visit, with the legend of St. George and the dragon being a potential arc.  I do have a couple of laws of time travel in mind.  First, the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle; the hunters can know either when or where they're going but not both.  The other law is a modification of Newton's First Law, temporal events will happen as they did unless acted upon by an outside force.  It's not that events are predestined; everyone involved will still make decisions based on their experience.  However, if an outside force interferes, a participant may make new decisions based on the new information.

Speaking of time travel, I have an idea for Subject 13 guest starring Pixie and the rest of the Youth Brigade.  A battle against a supervillain winds up sending the group back to the 50s, where they have to figure out where they are and how to get home.  I have some dialogue in mind, too.  "Can you stop swearing for five minutes?  That's how we got into this mess!"  I've done some preliminary research, finding a USGC map of the area I want to use from 1956 and matching the location on Google Maps.

A while back, I created Demona using the Demon Hunters RPG.  I then realized she had potential as part of a group of supernatural hunters.  Format might be a fake reality series, but I'm not married to that.  I do have the first bit worked out in my head where Demona meets her new partners, Nadia and Ian.

Mecha Academy is a possibility.  I'll probably keep it on reserve for when another idea runs out of steam.  I am working on the next arc, but there is more planned for after it.  The cast hasn't even finished their first year yet, and I have a few more things to toss at them before I'm done with them.

Unruly is also in the works.  I have twists and turns for them, too.  Laura has to go testify, Fawna needs to give up her body for a weekend to Mags, Caitlin needs to plot, and chaos needs to ensue.  Again, if another project runs dry, I can always switch over.

The Shadowrun stories are still coming together.  Yes, stories.  Beside coming up with a story to be adapted into a new form, mostly as an experiment related to Lost in Translation, I want to try a horror story.  Problem is, I'm not a fan of horror, so the project might be doomed to failure from the start.  However, Shadowrun mixes cyberpunk, epic fantasy, and urban fantasy together, so with a bit of a tweak, I might be able to turn the urban fantasy elements into horror.  There are horror elements lurking in the game's setting that I can exploit, too.

So, short list, and one that could grow before I start striking off ideas.  It's a start.  I have four months.

Friday, another go at the Modiphius Star Trek Adventures character creation.
Also Friday, over at Psycho Drive-In, "Truly Outrageous!"
Saturday, over at The Seventh Sanctum, hiatus week; this past week has been hectic.

15 Jun 2018

Creating Characters for Conventions

During the Victoria Day long weekend, I was at CanGames.  I've talked about what I did at the con before.  I only played games there, I didn't run anything, not having been able to get a couple of ideas to congeal.  Despite that, I created thirty-two characters for the weekend; thirty-four if I include the ones I played in Headspace and 5 Across the Heart.  How?

I had two friends ask me to create characters for some of their games.  Creating characters for use at a gaming convention is different from creating a character for me to play.  What I look for in a character I'm going to play for a campaign doesn't hold up for a four hour slot.  Potential players need a character that they can get on first reading, can do something in any potential scene in the game, and be effective.  I don't have a problem being deficient somewhere while gaming with friends.  At a con, I want to participate.

The first step is to find out what the GMs want.  This includes finding out the game system, learning it if needed, and get a rough idea of the general plot.  A dungeon delve means getting a balance of character types while science fiction exploration requires a team of specialists.  Next, read the character creation rules and see how everything meshes.  The goal is to make sure every character can do something in a fight and while investigating.  A healer is always welcome in an adventuring party, but the healer`s player needs to do something more than just wait for another character to be injured.  Once that`s done, create the characters.  This could take several hours or days, so spread the work out.  If there are form-fillable character sheets, use those for the authentic feel; otherwise, create a blank sheet that can be reused and be easily read.  Finally, pass the characters to the GM and make sure things are good with them.  Fix up any problems found, then sit back and relax.

The core of the work is creating the characters.  Again, potential players need to be able to read the sheet and get a good idea of what the character can do.  This means including what special abilities do.  I want to avoid having players look up details in the middle of the action.  Spells get included here; the less flipping pages, the better.  Character sheets should be no more than one double-sided page.  Two pages are acceptable for more complex character builds, but any more than that depends on the game.

The characters should be distinct from each other.  Even if there are three warrior-types, each of them should have a unique flavour.  With warriors, that can be done just by the style of fighting used, whether a weilder of two-weapons, a two-handed barbarian, or a martial artist.  Same thing goes with spellcasters.  Science fiction tends to have a different mix of character types, but the same principle applies.  Characters need to be unique.

Time for examples.  I`ll use two games that I created characters for use during CanGames.  The first is for Green Ronin's Fantasy Age with the Titansgrave expansion, the other is for the out of print Last Unicorn's Star Trek Roleplaying Game.  I won't go through each character - that's a total of seventeen between the two games combined - but I'll show the process is working out what I did for each character.

With Fantasy Age, the GM wanted somewhat powerful characters, starting at eighth level, and a good selection.  I went with three of each class, warrior, rogue, and mage, and took a look ahead at what sort of specialities, like Assassin or Elementalist, were available so I could aim for that type of character.  With the warriors, I made sure that each one had a different fighting style; one was sword-and-shield, another was a two-handed weapon user, the third used blasters with the ability to fight with just a single weapon.  The rogues were differentiated by what they could do; one was a thief, another a scout, the third a two-weapon duellist.  The mages broke down as an elementalist, a healer, and a swashbucklet.  I also managed to use all the races available in the setting while also having a human in each class.  A player deciding between the Orc Assassin and the Gnome Mage Hunter can see the difference right away even without knowing how the mechanics work.

Creating characters for Star Trek started differently.  The GM needed the crew of a small scout ship, so I worked out what positions were needed based on the layout of the Enterprise's bridge.  I counted each position - Captain, First Officer, Helmsman, Navigator, Communications Officer, Science Officer, Engineer - then added Medical Officer and Security since they normally don't sit on the bridge.  I doubled up First Officer with another position; the ship is far too small to break have a second-in-command who only has that job.  Fortunately, Star Trek provides a precedent with Spock, who was both First Officer and Chief Science Officer on the /Enterprise/.  From there, I worked out what mix of species would be interesting.  While tempted to have a Tellarite Communications Officer, I went with Human there.  I did put in some of the classic species from the original series, including Vulcan, Centauran, and Tellarite.  The GM requested a Caitian as from the animated series, so I added one.  The results were a young command staff which is what the GM wanted.

Cons have their own requirements when creating characters.  The goal is to have characters players will have fun playing, not just me.  A different thought process goes into the creation.

Today, over at Psycho Drive-In, Batman, the 1943 serial.
Saturday, over at The Seventh Sanctum, "Truly Outrageous!"

8 Jun 2018

Cortex+ - The Knight Industries Two Thousand

I recently re-watched the original Knight Rider.  I wanted something neutral to watch after analysing not one but two adaptations of The Mummy.  Something that's a bit of fluff helps to clear my head in between reviews.

While watching Knight Rider, though, I realized that KITT, the Knight Industries Two Thousand, is a player character.  It's odd, because the repeated tag line for the show is, "One man can make a difference."  Said one man, Michael Knight, can, but he has KITT, Devon, and Bonnie helping.  So, one man can make a difference, if he has support.

7 Jun 2018

Commentary Hiatus

With the pause in fiction, the commentary will go on hiatus for a bit.  I may post a few ideas for NaNoWriMo later this year until I can get the next Mecha Academy arc completed.

Tomorrow, gaming content featuring the Knight Industries Two Thousand.
Also Friday, over at Psycho Drive-In, Miami Vice.
Saturday, over at The Seventh Sanctum, Batman (1943).

1 Jun 2018

Mecha Academy Episode 2 Commentary

The end of the second arc came fast.  There wasn't a way to prolong it.  That happens.  Better that it ends sooner than later, especially in a serial format.  "By Your Leave" was about the cast away from the Academy.  Returning to the school meant that the end was coming.

There's an adage in tabletop RPGs meant for the GM - Don't Split the Party.  When the party splits up, that means there are two or more groups getting into trouble.  One group takes the spotlight while the others wait.  In writing, that's not a problem, at least for the writer.  For the reader, though, that may mean waiting for a preferred character's spotlight to return.  The parallel plot lines need to balance out.  However, four characters, six including Susanna and Abby, leads to a lot of interaction and dislogue.  A lone character has to get introspective or very busy to keep up.  I could have separated the groups into their own episodes, but that wasn't the goal.  I wanted to show the difference between Dusty and her roommates.

The last chapter of the episode sets up the next arc.  The conflict between Dusty and Rhiannon can't go on much longer without breaking the suspension of disbelief.  At some point, Rhiannon will have enough of the traitor and lash out.  Or Rhiannon will get to know Dusty.  Or Rhiannon will get Dusty expelled for her piece of mind.  They have a working agreement, but from necessity.  The end of the episode starts getting the potential for an external conflict set up.  At this point, there should be questions in readers' heads on why Rhiannon and Dusty are in the same squad.

Which leads to the next issue.  Episode 3 isn't ready yet.  Unlike The Soul Blade and The Devil You Know, the next episode of Mecha Academy isn't far enough along to start posting and hope I can catch up before I run out of buffer.  I only have three chapters done.  Until recently, I didn't know where the chapter was going beyond changing the nature of the conflict.  Commander Haag has been waiting for his queue to enter a scene since last November.  Now that I've figured out where I'm going, I can continue.

What does that mean for the Friday fiction slot?  I'm going to switch over to gaming content for a bit.  The commentary may disappear, or it may get replaced by NaNoWriMo thoughts and concepts.  I hope the change isn't for long.  Writing is relaxing, which surprises me.

Thanks for reading!

31 May 2018

Mecha Academy Episode 2 Chapter 5 Commentary

A conversation about team work, in "By Your Leave" Chapter 5.

What can the squad do about Dusty?  Three requests to have her move out have failed.  Rhiannon has good reasons to loathe the woman, and Miyami is sympathetic to the loathing.  Ric has a good point, though.  The instructors are marking on ability, including the ability to work as a squad.  Everyone else got shaken up.  Not this squad.  Ric is right; they should have an advantage.  Thus the beginning of turning the conflict from intra-squad to inter-squad.

Since the cast are supposed to be at an academy, I had to figure out what they'd major in.  Once again, I turned to the Royal Military College in Kingston to see what they had.  The usual degrees were there - Bachelor of Arts, Bachelor of Science, Bachelor of Engineering - but there was one extra, a Bachelor of Military Arts and Science.  Armed with this knowledge, it was time to work out which character was studying what.  There's a core set of courses, but each character has a different interest.

Rhiannon major is Mathematics with a minor in Political Science.  Her major was chosen after looking at the different offerings and selecting something she might enjoy.  The minor is related to her future position, when she inherits her parents' titles.  She wants to be on top of her duties when she has to take over the roles.  Dusty is going for the Bachelor of Military Arts and Science with no minor; she's wants to focus on her goal.  Miyami is aiming for a B.Eng in civil engineering, so may not have time for a minor.  Engineering really doesn't leave much time for anything else to be studied, unless the student wants to graduate much later than expected.  Lars is majoring in History; he's hoping to make the Guard a career but isn't aiming for higher ranks yet like Dusty is.  Ric, well, he hasn't decided.  So many options.

The squads get renamed.  It's a change from before the key test, a more permanent arrangement, at least for the school year.  With new squads come new squad leaders.  Prior to the obstacle course, the Academy left it up to the squads to work out who was the leader.  Now, the school decides, based on what has been seen.  Except, maybe not.  Ric has demonstrated the ability to take the lead when needed.  Rhiannon got the nod.  The position will rotate, but right now, Rhiannon suspects that something more than her skill is the reason why she got to be leader.  Dusty isn't going to let her forget, either.

Dusty gets two more insults in.  Her last line, "By your command, Imperious Leader[,]" comes from the original Battlestar Galactica.  I gave myself a challenge when writing up interactions between Dusty and Rhiannon - Dusty was not going to reuse an insult when addressing Rhiannon.  The list so far:

  •  Your Highness
  •  Your Queenship
  •  Your Exaltedness
  •  Your Majesticness
  •  Her Imperialness
  •  Princess
  •  Your Ladyship
  •  O Mighty Mistress
  •  Imperious Leader

Nine digs.  Considering that the pair didn't spend much time together is his arc and actively avoided each other throughout, that's not bad.  I have five more coming in the next arc, whenever that comes.

This arc was short.  I realized that I had covered everything I needed to for this arc, setting up a few plot lines for the future and giving the characters a chance to breathe without being under constant tension.  The internal conflict needs to end somewhere, so the move to bring the squad into a more coherent form has to start somewhere.  The next arc will go into the idea more, which is where it stalled out back in November 2017.

Friday, the future of Mecha Academy.
Also Friday, over at Psycho Drive-In, The Mummy (2017).
Saturday, over at The Seventh Sanctum, Miami Vice.

29 May 2018

CanGames 2018, or, How I Spent a Long Weekend Inside, Again

CanGames has come and gone for another year.  How better to spend a long weekend in May than gaming it away?  There was mayhem, explosions, political commentary, gunfights, and all other sorts of fun.  Details after the jump.

25 May 2018

Mecha Academy - Episode 2 - Chapter 5

Episode 2 - By Your Leave

Chapter 5 - Internal Conflicts

"I hate to cut your time off short, but the Commandant will be issuing a recall order later this morning."
"As such, all leave has been cancelled for the duration of the alert."
"If the lasers came from the Grand Republic, who would your first suspect be?"
"Are you doing this to get inside my pants?"

Morning, once again, arrived early.  Lars roused his squad mates to get them out in time for physical training.  Sergeant Chang worked the assembled students hard.  She started with mere calisthenics, increasing the pace over the work out.  After that, she graduated them to a five kilometre jog around the campus.  Sergeant Chang kept pace with the cadets, shouting various forms of encouragement, positive and negative, to any who fell behind.  In the last five hundred metres, Sergeant Chang picked up the pace, turning the job into a run.  She kept the cadets in formation until all of them arrived, then dismissed them for breakfast.

As the squads broke up, Ric waved to his roommates.  "Hey, guys, hold up."

Miyami stopped mid-trudge.  "Can this wait?  I want to shower and get something to eat before the next thing they spring on us today."

"Not really.  Guys, I've been thinking."

Lars shook his head in dismay.  "That never ends well."

24 May 2018

Mecha Academy Episode 2 Chapter 4 Commentary

Everyone returns to campus, in "By Your Leave" Chapter 4.

Dusty got a bit of recognition.  Not the big news story on TV, but a mention in police blotters.  Her name doesn't come up, but Commander Haag can connect the dots.  It's not like the muggers are going to be believed when they say what happened to them; one young woman managed to not just beat them up but inflicted painful injuries all by herself.  Dusty wasn't wearing her uniform at the time.  She's not going to be tied to the fight officially.

Entertainment in science fiction can be fun to think about.  What form would it take?  What would audiences want?  What does science fiction look like in a science fiction setting?  Are adaptations popular?  Sure, people can go out and blow off steam in a drinking establishment, but what about the people who just want to relax at home?  And the big question, can I figure this out without throwing myself off stride to reach 50 000 words?  I extrapolated from today by looking back a few decades to see what hadn't changed.  Since the advent of radio, people could stay at home and listen to music or a play in the comfort of their living room.  Television added video to the audio and the Internet brought in a wide choice.  The question is just format.  The answer, I left for the reader, though I have hinted at holographic technology in the past.  What is Singularity Web?  A series of action movies, about what I have no idea.

Space television isn't the only option.  Karl went for it because he put in a full day in the fields.  Heidi, though, has spare energy now that her children are growing up and don't need constant supervision.  She's learned (or maybe re-learned) how to sculpt, something to fill her time once Lisbet and Bjorn leave the nest.  Speaking of Lars' siblings, homework is still around in the future.  It's a constant, no matter how it's done.

Ric's homeworld, Venitarii Four, is a small mining colony.  He exaggerates how far off the beaten path it is, but the world doesn't see heavy space traffic, just the bulk haulers to pick up ore and the freighters to deliver needed supplies.  Not revealed in the story yet, there is a difference between a member of the Empire and a colony of the Empire.  For a world to have a seat in Parliament and to have representation in the House of Lords, its population must reach one million.  Tamar should have both after the next census.  Venitarii Four won't; instead, it has to rely on whoever colonized it.

The Grand Republic should get a mention here.  The Republic is the Empire's opposition; the two nations are in a cold war at the moment.  The Republic has world rights as one of its major platforms; each world is an equal, no matter how many people live on it.  Each world maintains its own military, though the Republic as a whole has its own space navy.  Tensions are high along the border because Republican worlds are eyeing Imperial settlements, including Tamar, but the Republic's government is doing nothing to shut down the worlds' desires because of world rights.  The various militaries in the Republic use lasers weapons instead of gauss-based technology, but they also have armoured infantry and grav tanks.

Friday, Mecha Academy, "By Your Leave" Chapter 5, "Internal Conflicts".
Also Friday, over at Psycho Drive-In, hiatus due to CanGames.
Saturday, over at The Seventh Sanctum, The Mummy (2017).

21 May 2018

Behind the Scenes of Lost in Translation - The Sanity Loss

This wasn't meant to be a regular feature here.  What happened was a planned review got shuffled because it wasn't an in-name-only remake but an actual remake.  So, since I had to track down the orignal film, I went with Plan B.  Oh, that might have been a mistake.  I reviewed The Almighty Thor over at Seventh Sanctum and Psycho Drive-In.  It's from The Asylum, same people responsible for the Sharknado series.  Except, The Almight Thor doesn't have the charm of those or of Lavalantula.  After the break, my notes and thoughts as the movie progresses, with some enhancements.

18 May 2018

Mecha Academy - Episode 2 - Chapter 4

Episode 2 - By Your Leave

Chapter 4 - Back to School

"The power of caffeine."
"You kept your top on all night, if that's what you're worried about."
"I won."
"You should call for an ambulance."

A buzz intruded on Dusty's sleep.  She rolled over on her side, eyes still shut, and reached out to find the cause of the intrusion.  Her hand found her tablet, vibrating with an incoming call.  "Hello?"  When the buzz continued, she tapped at her tablet a few times before the call connected.  "Hello?"

"Good morning, Dusty.  It's Commander Haag.  I didn't wake you, did I?"

"No, sir."  Dusty pushed herself up in her bed.  "I should be awake anyway."

The Commander laughed.  "I hope you're enjoying your leave."

"I am, sir."

"I hate to cut your time off short, but the Commandant will be issuing a recall order later this morning.  Have you seen the news from Vaughan's Landing?"

"Yes, sir.  Cadets stopped a robbery.  And, yes, sir, I know they are my squad mates.  Sir, may I ask why we're being recalled?"

"This is completely unofficial and you haven't heard it from me, but the pistols used in the robbery are from the Grand Republic."

Dusty opened her eyes.  "Sir?  Are you sure?  I know the news mentioned laser pistols, but I didn't think they were Republican."

17 May 2018

Mecha Academy Episode 2 Chapter 3 Commentary

Fighting crime in different ways, in "By Your Leave" Chapter 3.

A bit of action for the story.  It's taking longer than I expected to have the mecha going.  There hasn't been any training to drive the suits yet, so how do I get some action in?  Random crime.  Or not so random.  If I can't show the mecha in action, I can show the cast.

The group in Vaughan's Landing got the bank robbery.  The idea was to show them working together as a team.  Ric stepped up as leader and got everyone in place.  But Miyami noticed the robbery building up.  She might not come from a great neighbourhood, and I'm only realizing that now.  It did make sense at the time that Miyami was the one to notice.  Rhiannon is in a social class that can either send others to to run errands or arrange for regular deliveries of what's needed.  Ric is from a small mining colony, which will be detailed later but the population numbers in the tens of thousands at most.  Lars is a farm boy and while he is in his home town, bank robberies aren't a regular event.  That leave Miyami, a city girl.  She was the one best suited to spot the robbers.

Miyami's opening move was inspired by the TV series, Leverage  The hitter of the group, Elliot Spencer, played by Christian Kane, didn't go for flashy moves.  His role was to keep the others safe, and he was efficient at it.  Against a group of mooks, his go-to move was to drop to his knees while punching down.  It's super effective.  And after building up Miyami in the last episode, it was time to show her in action.  Miyami fights to win.

Ric doesn't have it as easy.  His training is all from the Academy.  He gets surprise but he isn't Miyami.  The pistols were there to be neutralized; the robbers had them, the cadets needed to get rid of them.  So, while Miyami was brutal and swift, Ric had to work for his victory.

In Shelter Cove, Dusty has her own fight.  Again, there's a difference between her and the rest of the squad.  The squad in Vaughan's Landing had time to prepare and actively trying to stop a crime.  Dusty got mugged; she didn't want the fight but it came to her.  She also didn't leave her technique at the Academy.  Welcome to more of Dusty's mysterious past.  Like Miyami, she fights to win and she's a little more savage about it.  Back in the first episode, Dusty defended herself from Rhiannon during sparring without throwing a punch.  Rhiannon will never know what happened in Shelter Cove if Dusty has any say about it.

The name of Dusty's hotel is inspired by an ad for a travel agency that showed the difference between Ocean Side, as in beside the ocean, and Ocean View, as in can see the ocean if the trees bend in the wind the right way.  Ocean Reach is close to the ocean so that the people staying in the hotel can reach it with a twenty minute walk.  She's not interested in seeing the ocean, though.  Dusty just wants time by herself to be herself.

The final scene caps off the differences between the two groups.  Dusty just left her would-be muggers lying on the ground.  She didn't want any police inquiries.  Ric, though, had Abby call the police.  They all had their reasons.  Ric was being civic minded.  Dusty just doesn't want anyone prying into her background.  At some point, I do need to reveal more of what happened with Dusty in the past two years.  It's on the list to be done.

Friday, Mecha Academy, "By Your Leave" Chapter 4, "Back to School".
Also Friday, over at Psycho Drive-In, The Mummy (1999).
Saturday, over at The Seventh Sanctum, hiatus as I will be at CanGames.

14 May 2018

Behind the Scenes of Lost in Translation - Star Wars: The Original Radio Series

Over at both The Seventh Sanctum and Psycho Drive-In, I write a column called Lost in Translation, an analysis of adaptations, reboots, and remakes over almost all media.  Recently, I analysed Star Wars: The Original Radio Series - Seventh Sanctum and Psycho Drive-In - and made massive notes.  Normally, any notes get left at the bottom of the file I was using to write up the analysis, but these got long.  So, after the break, the notes taken while listening to the radio drama.

11 May 2018

Mecha Academy - Episode 2 - Chapter 3

Episode 2 - By Your Leave

Chapter 3 - Crime Stoppers

"Let's not hit them too fast, fly boy."
"Sergeant Chang is going to work us hard if she hears about this."
"You are so oblivious."
"What have I done?"
The next morning, even Lars slept late.  The Thorensen family let them be, knowing when they got back in.  Lars wound up having to carry both Susanna and Miyami inside before he collapsed on to his own bed.  Rhiannon was the first downstairs mid-morning.  Lars' younger siblings, Lisbet and Bjorn, were in the living room using the entertainment unit.  There wasn't any sign of Karl or Heidi, though she did find a note in the kitchen on where to find the leftovers.  Rhiannon settled for a cup of coffee before trying to make a decision.

Lars joined Rhiannon a few minutes later.  He yawned as he poured his own coffee.  "Morning."

"Sleep well?"

"Yeah.  You?"

"I don't remember the last time I fell asleep that fast."  Rhiannon stretched her arms.  "Lars, about Susanna..."

Lars sat down at the kitchen table.  "What about her?"

"Is it me or is she coming on a little strong?"

10 May 2018

Mecha Academy Episode 2 Chapter 2 Commentary

A relaxing day out, in "By Your Leave" Chapter 2.

I should never have split the party.  I've been a games master.  I know the risks.  But Dusty didn't want to intrude on Rhiannon or the others, so she stayed behind and was ordered to go have fun.  So, off went the rest.  Dusty was happy just staying behind reading.  But reading isn't very exciting to read about.  I could just have the audience read what she was reading.  Dusty gets a quiet day, something that lets her relax and indulge herself, something she hasn't done in a few years.  Why get upset over the haircut?  Because she wasn't ready for the huge change in appearance.  Dusty has baggage that she needs to get past.

Over in Vaughan's Landing, it's a busy morning.  Lars' family have a working farm and while mechanization allows for farmers to reduce the amount of labour, there's still work to be done.  Lars is used to getting up early.  Ric, Rhiannon, and Miyami are getting there, but are enjoying a day off.  Being guests, they're not expected to help out.  They'd be in the way, anyway.  The large breakfast is traditional; it helps with energy throughout the day.

Susanna is going to be a pain in this arc.  She tagged along.  It made sense that she'd tag along.  She's determined to be with Lars.  What do I do with her?  Thanks to Susanna, I was able to work in some of Lars' backstory.  Lars doesn't have much excitement, not compared to Rhiannon and Dusty.  What Lars has is a background that isn't much different from today's young adults, especially those from a farming community.  Even in the far future, some things are consistant.  The Landers were mentioned before; now it's time to meet one of them.  Vesta went to school with Lars.  Vesta went to the prom with Lars.  Somehow, Lars picked up a bit of what I had planned for Ric, a ladies man.  Except, Lars isn't doing anything.  Susanna and Vesta just went to him.

There's a bit of Miyami revealed, too.  She's from a city on a more populated world, one that may have to import foodstuffs to supplement what can be grown locally.  Miyami also prefers technology, so the great outdoors isn't that great for her.  But, she's trying.  Rhiannon's giving it a shot, so Miyami should, too.

Splitting the group up lets the different pairs do what they want.  Most of that was left off-screen for the audience to fill in, with just hints of what happened.  Ric and Abby went on rides and won prizes.  Rhiannon and Miyami did the same, though in a different manner.  Lars and Susanna went to see baby animals and found a cozy place alone.  The idea was that they were off together but separate having a fun time, a contrast to Dusty's solo outing.

I am treading the line on a problematic trope in science fiction, the excessive use of a modifier.  MST3K showed the problem during their riffing of Manhunt in Space; the short version is, adding a modifier in front of normal words and phrases is annoying and doesn't add to the setting or the story.  Sure, space ships and space stations are acceptable, but space diners and space fairs just make no sense.  I'm coming close to that line with the grav Ferris wheel.  It's colour, but it doesn't really hold up under scrutiny.  How does a grav Ferris wheel work?  Well, quite well when properly maintained, but that's not the point.  It's a throwaway line, or was meant to be one.  It could still get involved in a scene.  Fortunately, I don't push the anti-grav technology too much.  A maglev passenger train?  That's a possibility today.  Maglev Ferris wheels?  Maybe a maglev roller coaster, which I wish I thought of when I was writing the chapter.

Friday, Mecha Academy, "By Your Leave" Chapter 3, "Crime Stoppers".
Also Friday, over at Psycho Drive-In, The Almighty Thor.
Saturday, over at The Seventh Sanctum, /The Mummy/ (1999).

4 May 2018

Mecha Academy - Episode 2 - Chapter 2

Mecha Academy - Episode 2 - By Your Leave

Chapter 2 - Out and About

"A whirlwind adventure!"
"I wasn't going to surprise my folks with a small army."
"You haven't had the luxury of being a tourist since your parents' defection."
"Ma might have gone overboard."
When Ric woke up, he was the only one in Lars' room.  He got dressed in a t-shirt and a pair of jeans before shambling downstairs.  Halfway down, he caught whiff of the smell bacon wafting up.  He followed the smell to the kitchen, where Lars' mother was bustling around.  Seeing Ric, Heidi pointed over at the coffee urn.  "Still hot."

"You are a saint," Ric said.  He grabbed a mug from the counter and filled it with coffee.  "Is anyone else up?"

"My boys are already out in the field."  Heidi grabbed a plate from a cupboard.  "They'll be done in an hour.  Sit.  I'll get you breakfast."

Ric did as he was told.  As he added a cream and two sugars into his coffee, Heidi slid a plate of bacon and scrambled eggs in front of him.  He stared at the size of the helping.  "Oh, Mrs. Thorensen, this is too much."

"Nonsense.  You'll have a busy day today.  It's good to have a hearty breakfast.  What do they feed you at school?"

"We have a mess hall."  Ric tasted his breakfast.  "Too bad they don't have you there.  I'd eat breakfast more often."

"Flatterer."  Heidi grinned.  "Eat up.  There's plenty."

Miyami shuffled into the kitchen, stifling a yawn.  "Morning, Ric.  Mrs. Thorensen."  She parked herself opposite Ric at the table.  "I don't think I've slept that well in a while."

"I tell you, morning comes too early," Ric said.  "We should petition it to come later."

3 May 2018

Mecha Academy Episode 2 Chapter 1 Commentary

After intense training and the obstacle course, the cast get a break, in "By Your Leave" Chapter 1.

I had a few goals for this new arc.  The first, give the characters a chance to be themselves.  To do that, I separated Rhiannon and Dusty.  The second, expand the setting just a little more.  To do that, I need to show more locations than just the Academy.  Planets are big.  Maybe not as incredibly big as space, but there is a lot of surface even to a Mercury (74.8 million square kilometres) or a Pluto (17,646,012 square kilometers).

Separating Rhiannon and Dusty was easy.  They both wanted the distance.  Dusty wanted a quiet weekend so that she could lounge and read.  Rhiannon was willing to join Ric on his madcap escapade to Lars' hometown.  Since I started with Ric's group in the chapter, I'll start with them here.

Abby reappears!  She was last seen in "Roommates" Chapter 1; she was the barista Ric chatted up as he missed the bus to the Academy.  He kept in touch with her off-screen.  Susanna also came along because Lars, which he wasn't expecting.  Miyami and Rhiannon are still unattached, though, so they don't have guests with them.  Or Miyami is Rhiannon's guest.  That's something that may have to be worked out in the future.

Tamar is an agricultural world, with plenty of arable land for crops and livestock.  Shelter Cove, home of the starport, is the main city of the planet.  Most of the remaining towns exist more to support the farms around them than anything else.  I'm basing how the towns and other settlements work on Saskatchewan and the grain industry, though loosely.  There are a few other cities, but they act as administrative centres and collection points to funnel agricultural products to Shelter Cove.  Lars' hometown, Vaughan's Landing, is a farming town, providing the farms around the day-to-day necessities.  I didn't map the town out; I didn't see a need for it just yet.  I just kept in mind what sort of thing is seen in small towns I've been to - diner, a couple of bars, maybe a hotel for visitors, definitely a few bed-and-breakfast places, a couple of grocery stores, and the train station.

The trip to Lars' hometown also lets me fill in details about him.  Lars and Miyamo both fell into the background as Rhiannon, Ric, and Dusty took centre stage.  There's name dropping, there's an old flame, there's parents and siblings.  Most of the names for locals came from Mongoose's The Sword Worlds, keeping to the naming theme of the world.  The Landers were mentioned before, the same time Ric got the idea of going to the Vaughan's Landing Fall Festival.

There's a line that gave me pause just after I wrote it.  Ric and Lars are talking about Susanna and Ric knows that there would be others jealous of the attention Lars is getting from her.  "There's Vance and Tricia just off the top of my head."  That line came out naturally, as in I didn't even stop to try to figure out the names.  The real world then reared its ugly head - NaNo and American electioneering in the same month is weird - and I started to wonder if there would be any stigma for LGBT in the Empire.  That's when I realized, this is the far future; if we're /still/ having problems over personal sexuality then, humanity should just end now.  So, line stays in.

With Dusty, once she's encouraged to go to Shelter Cover, working out what she's doing was easu enough.  The problem with her trip was that she had no one to react to or with.  I tend to need an ensemble cast when I write.  Even if I start with a solo main character, a large supporting cast just happens.  Look at both The Soul Blade and The Devil You Know.  With both of the stories, I had a solo main character - Brenna in the former, Ione in the latter - but the cast grew to include friends, family, and unexpected recurring characters.  All because the leads needed someone to share reactions with.  Same thing happened with Dusty, but to a lesser extent.  She met people that anyone would meet on vacation.

Dusty's scenes are a counterpoint to her roomies'.  They're off being social; she's trying to take it easy and be by herself as herself.  Last episode, Dusty kept herself controlled, showing little emotion around others, especially her roommates.  Alone, she should be able to relax and read her book.  I also got to expand a bit on the relationship between Dusty and Commander Haag.  There's more to it than just her being in his command.

Speaking of Dusty's reading material, didn't the book sound familiar?.  It's a bit of cross-promotion on my part.  I wasn't sure what she'd be reading and really didn't want to spend time coming up with a fictional book, complete with author and title, when a reference to the book was all that's needed.  So, I tossed in Unruly.  It's a minor pet peeve that characters in science fiction seem to just read the classics.  Surely someone else will write something major between now and the future.  Not to mention, not everyone likes reading the classics.  Some so-called classics of the English canon have not aged well.  And people don't appreciate being preached at by their entertainment.

Friday, Mecha Academy, "By Your Leave" Chapter 2, "Out and About".
Also Friday, over at Psycho Drive-In , Star Wars: The Original Radio Drama.
Saturday, over at The Seventh Sanctum, The Almighty Thor.

27 Apr 2018

Mecha Academy - Episode 2 - Chapter 1

Mecha Academy - Episode 2 - By Your Leave

Chapter 1 - Going Off Campus

Five students, strangers to each other, were tossed together.  Rhiannon and Dusty, though, share a common history involving the death of the former's older brother.  All five, including Miyami, Ric, and Lars, have passed the first major test, the obstacle course, and are now full-fledged cadets at the Colonel KL Terin Military Academy on Tamar, Lars' homeworld.
"I can't believe you talked me into this."  Abby looked around at the platform at the train station.  "I barely know you, Ric."

"This will be fun!"  Ric spread his arms wide.  "Imagine it.  A weekend out of town to a harvest fair with a bunch of off-worlders."

Lars coughed into his sleeve.  "Off-worlders?"

"With a local guide!"  Ric wrapped an arm around Abby's shoulders.  "A whirlwind adventure!"

"By train."  Abby remained dubious.

"Lars, how long does it take to get to your home from here again?"

"Five hours if you stay at the speed limit."

"And the maglev train takes two hours."

Miyami rolled her eyes.  "It'd take less if we flew."

Lars sighed.  "If there were regular flights.  Vaughan's Landing isn't that big.  The train at least passes through."

"It'll be fun, Miyami," Rhiannon said.  "And we need this break away from school and all the problems there."

"That's the spirit!"  Ric took Abby's hand into his.  "We'll find a place to sleep have fun at the fair."

"Lars!"  A tall blonde woman ran up on the platform.  "There you are!"  Susanna launched herself at Lars.  He staggered a few steps before regaining his footing.

26 Apr 2018

Mecha Academy Episode 1 Chapter 9 Commentary

The final test, in Chapter 9.

The end, already?  Sort of.  The plan I had when I started was to have shorter arcs, much like I had with Unruly.  The idea here is that readers get the story in smaller chunks that can be digested while still building towards what I have planned.  The first arc threatened to just keep going, but the goals I had for it were to introduce the characters and get them in the Academy as cadets.  Conflicts are set up.  But they're not quite cadets, despite Rhiannon's extensive explanation of how titles work in the military last chapter.  The obstacle course was mentioned in Chapter 5, so it was time to bring it in.

The obstacle course is the final test before being fully accepted at the Academy.  The students may have the academic marks to get in, but do they have what it takes to be officers?  Thus, daily physical training, constant testing, working the potential cadets to their limit.  All this comes from my take on what the Royal Military College in Kingston does.  Any errors are mine, not theirs.  What I saw was that RMC had an obstacle course that seemed to be important, so I built Chapter 9 around that idea.  Cadets who fail are discharged, honourably, and can still enlist or go to their alternate choice of university.  Some, but not all, universities in the Empire will save openings for students who can't hack being in the military; the Academy does try to get the best students, so qualifying for one will satisfy most universities.  The ones that aren't satisfied are even more stringent on academics.

The change in order came from me realizing that theta (Θ) comes far earlier in the Greek alphabet than I thought.  I needed the core cast to fret a bit, though.  The solution is to acknowledge the error and make it look deliberate.  Iota thus becomes a deliberate skipping of Theta, not a mistake.  It fit in with a plot thread that will wind through the next few arcs, one that has already started in "Roommates".  Sometimes, what looks like an error will lead to plot bunnies; this is what pantsing is all about, even when there is a plan of sorts in play.

Ric really is turning into the heart of the team.  This was not his original role when Mecha Academy was just a concept.  The role fits him, at least this version of him.  He's been the one to work to turn the squad into a team.  Ric is figuring that their score on the obstacle course isn't just how well they do on the course, but how well they act before, during, and after.  The Academy graduates officers, leaders, and anything he can do to show that he is both is going to be done.

The actual course is all from my imagination.  RMC's site showed a climbing wall, and with some inspiration from the first Phule's Company novel, by Robert Aspirin.  The course tested both individuals and squads; the idea is that officers are expected to lead by example and soldiers of all ranks are expected to work together towards a goal.  The course is faster if teammates help each other instead of working solely for themselves, but a slower teammate could hurt the squad overall.

The conflict between Dusty and Rhiannon still has a role to play.  Dusty doesn't want to be alone with Rhiannon.  It's not that Dusty's afraid of what Rhiannon might do; it's more that she doesn't want to be the reason Rhiannon fails.  If Rhiannon hurts herself, Dusty doesn't want to be near enough to be accused of foul play.  Despite the animosity, Dusty gets to pull Rhiannon up the climbing wall.  This scene came to mind back when I was writing Chapter 7, so I had a direction I wanted to go.  It's a definitive moment for Dusty.  Rhiannon isn't about to give her a break just yet.

The jogging across the finish line came about because I needed to end the chapter.  It is pure Ric to have the squad cross as a group.  Even Rhiannon couldn't dampen him here.  The end's in sight!  Time to show the brass what they can do as a team.  It made an impact, and it meant that Dusty couldn't be failed out for trailing them team.

Miyami's mystery just didn't work, not this early.  Dusty was the one to send her the notes.  Miyami's tablet didn't register Dusty's because Dusty hacked her own device.  Miyami's tablet worked properly, there was just no identifying data provided.  Welcome to the new mystery - why is Dusty's tablet that scrubbed?

That's not the only mystery.  Theta Squad becomes Fifth, but they're the only squad that remains together.  All the other squads were broken up.  Not everyone passed, so squads need to be consolidated, so why not add someone to Fifth?  Susanna would be happy to transfer in.  So why keep the team together, especially when two members are getting on each others' nerves.  Something is afoot.

The height of the climbing wall resulted in a change.  Originally, the mecha were meant to be the tall weapons of war as seen in many anime, like the Gundam franchise, or even in BattleTech.  But I had changed my mind on the size of the mecha, reducing it so that they were more like overgrown powered armour.  So, the height of the climbing wall wasn't the height of the Centurion any more.  I wound up having to change the description of the wall to three times the height of a Centurion on the fly.  Centurions don't have size control circuitry.

The first arc, "Roommates", did what I wanted.  I wanted the conflict between Dusty and Rhiannon out there.  I wanted Miyami's secret known to the audience, though it hasn't really become an issue yet.  I wanted Ric and Lars to have to deal with being in the middle.  Ric really stepped up to be the peacekeeper, which I didn't expect.  Lars is going with the flow, which got him a girlfriend that he's not sure he wants.  Not that Susanna gave him time to decide.  The setting is forming; the idea here is to get the Academy concrete enough that I can build out from there.  There is a universe beyond it that still is coming together, thanks to the nature of the Academy.  Some of it will appear in the coming arc.

What I never expected to figure out is how the cast drinks their coffee.  It's such a minor detail, but it's one that kept coming up.  Ric was the first, being fueled entirely by caffeine.  He takes his with a cream and two sugar.  Because Ric is the one to make the coffee for the squad, the rest of the team's preferences came up.  Dusty doesn't drink coffee, she prefers her tea black.  Lars takes his coffee the same way.  Rhiannon prefers a double-double.  Miyami isn't quite used to the taste of coffee, so goes for a triple-triple.  For a later arc, I needed to stop and work out what sort of clubs and teams the main cast would go for; fortunately, by then, I knew the cast better.  That's the thing about pantsing; a missing details is easier to work out on the spot.  Details like how someone takes their coffee is minor, but it's a way to distinguish characters.

Friday, Mecha Academy, "By Your Leave" Chapter 1, "Going Off Campus".
Also Friday, over at Psycho Drive-In , comic book adaptations and costumes.
Saturday, over at The Seventh Sanctum, Star Wars: The Original Radio Drama.

20 Apr 2018

Mecha Academy - Episode 1 - Chapter 9

Mecha Academy - Episode 1 - Roommates

Chapter 9 - Obstacle Course

"Oh, no, dude, I am not digging into this without backup."
"If I wanted that sort of thing, I'd be at a cutthroat business school."
"Then it's not dumb on your part."
"So maybe me disappearing is the best thing that I can do for her."
The next two weeks passed by in a blur of physical training and intense study, leaving each student exhausted, both mentally and physically.  The exhaustion left Theta squad too tired to do much with or to each other.  Rumours about the major test, the obstacle course, ran the gamut, though.  Everything from marching twenty kilometres through some of Tamar's roughest geography to dodging live fire to going through a course on the planet's third moon before running out of air got passed around.

The day of the obstacle course, physical training was cancelled.  After breakfast, all the first year squads were ordered to remain in their dorm rooms until summoned.  One by one, starting with Alpha, the squads were called.  Miyami sat at the window, watching the squads trek across the courtyard and out of sight.  By mid-morning, she hadn't see any return, just squads summoned.

"What's going on?" she asked.  "Why isn't anyone returning?"

"They could still be on the course," Lars said.  "We don't know how long it is."

"Alpha was first.  We should have seen someone from there.  What if they were injured?  Or worse?"

Dusty set down her tablet.  "We would have heard sirens and you would have seen emergency vehicles."

Miyami shot Dusty a dirty look.  "How can you be so calm?"

19 Apr 2018

Mecha Academy Episode 1 Chapter 8 Commentary

All over cereal, in Chapter 8.

Well, it wasn't over just cereal.  There were emotions tied to the cereal.  Rhiannon uses the cereal as a link to her brother.  If any of her other roomies had bought the cereal, she'd be okay.  Maybe not entirely happy, but she would't have tossed them against the wall.  Dusty, though, is tied to Gavin's death.  Communications might have prevented the violence, but neither young woman will speak to the other.  Rhiannon jumped to the worst possible scenario and Dusty, who already is feeling guilty, had no idea why beyond what was obvious to her.

Ric's role has changed since the original concept.  When I first came up with the idea of Mecha Academy, Rick was meant to be the hotshot pilot.  Right now, he's the social adept, the face, the voice of sanity.  Ric is the peacekeeper of the group, thrust into the role after there was no one else willing to step between Dusty and Rhiannon.  Well, Lars was, but only when the first meeting between Rhiannon and Dusty came to blows.  The new Ric is taking to the role well.  He's social, friendly, and a needed contrast to his roommates.

Dusty, for her part, isn't trying to hurt Rhiannon.  She can provoke, but she has her reasons there.  But to hurt Rhiannon on purpose?  That's too far.  Dusty is on an atonement arc.  Causing Rhiannon more anguish doesn't help there.  But, well, no one told her about the importance of the cereal.  She's just being helpful without wanting to call attention to herself.  If Dusty asked people what they needed, the entire cereal situation could be avoided, or at least delayed.

The last scene is more for world building and laying down the foundation of the culture.  The structure of nobility is inspired by the Traveller RPG.  But that's just the base.  I then added by doing a bit of research on British titles, with some extra work to find how to properly address not just the title holder but the rest of the family.  For extra fun, one of the local challenges for NaNoWriMo was to include a ten-word title.  The title wasn't specifically to be for the story or a chapter, so adding in Rhiannon's title, Cadet the Most Honourable Rhiannon Tudor, the Countess of Filton, the Baroness Curren, not only met the challenge, I also got to add thirteen words to my word count.  The scene could have been dropped, but there wasn't any good place to put it.  At some point, the future officers will need to know how to deal with nobles, especially those who are above them in the chain of command.

Friday, Mecha Academy, "Roommates" Chapter 9, "Obstacle Course".
Also Friday, over at Psycho Drive-In, Supergirl Season 1.
Saturday, over at The Seventh Sanctum, comic book adaptations versus reality.

13 Apr 2018

Mecha Academy - Episode 1 - Chapter 8

Mecha Academy Episode 1 - Roommates

Chapter 8 - By Your Leave

"Why is it oh-loud-thirty?"
"How long have you been watching me?"
"Do you know what today is?  It's my brother's birthday."
"I miss Gavin so much."

Ric turned over in his top bunk as the alarm blared.  He heard Lars grunt below, then the alarm died.  Ric gave his head a shake, trying to clear out the cobwebs.  As his eyes focused, he glanced down at the cot.  The blankets were perfectly made, the pillow fluffed.  "Lars, are you up?"

"Yeah.  Morning, Ric."

"Where's Dusty?"

The bottom bunk creaked.  "Not here."

"Thanks, dude."  Ric swung his bare feet over the edge of his bunk, then dropped down.  He padded over to the empty cot and felt the blankets.  "Dude, did she even come back last night?"

"I was asleep when you got back.  Remember?"  Lars got out of bed.  "Probably for the best after last night."

Ric felt his stomach drop.  He braved asking the question anyway.  "What happened?"

"I'm not sure.  No one gets that upset over cereal."

"I don't have enough coffee in me to figure this out right now, dude."

"There's not enough coffee on the planet."  Lars shrugged.  "Good luck."

"Oh, no, dude, I am not digging into this without backup."

"Whoa, you want me to be at ground zero?  With out any armour?"