25 Apr 2014

By the Numbers - Chapter 4

Chapter 4
Emergency Extraction

(Language warning in effect.)
Shadowrun © 2013 The Topps Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Shadowrun and Matrix are registered trademarks and/or trademarks of The Topps Company, Inc., in the United States and/or other countries. Catalyst Game Labs and the Catalyst Game Labs logo are trademarks of InMediaRes Productions, LLC.
Tuesday, April 14, 2071

2003 hours

    Treehugger found a parking spot a block and a half from the nightclub.  Charles parked his Scorpion in front of Treehugger's borrowed car.  The Rubber Suit's neon sign reflected on the wet road as the shadowrunners dashed towards the club's main doors.  Numbers sent a quick message to Johnson to let him know the team had arrived.  After a moment, she got a reply back.  "He's still in there," the hacker reported.

    "Good," Oswald said.  "What the hell is a suit doing at a nightclub on a Tuesday?"

24 Apr 2014

By the Numbers Chapter 3 - Commentary

As always, please read the chapter before continuing.

In Shadowrun, the success of a run can hinge on research.  Characters should try to get as much data about the target as possible, no matter what the job entails.  For a bodyguard job that the cast is on, working out the potential threats makes securing the target easier.  Need to protect a target from a gang, move the target to another gang's turf.  Protecting a Mr. Johnson at a multi-corporation meet, however, isn't that easy, especially when the location and the identities of the participants is unknown.  This is where the research comes in.

The chapter title, "Legwork", came directly from the name of the sections in published adventures for when players did the research needed.  The title sums up what the chapter is about.  Each character goes about using his or her contacts and skills to find out what they need.  Numbers starts breaking into databases while Charles has a beer with a fixer he knows.  In-game, the work can be done with a set of die rolls or with full-on roleplaying.  In a novel, it's best to show the characters doing the work.

As the group's hacker, Numbers took on the Matrix searches.  She started with several broad searches, checking public archives for various information.  Her research is similar to how most people would look things up today - search on Google using a variety of search terms using a different tab with each search, plus peeking at Wikipedia and official sites.  Numbers having her commlink play music is no different to people listening to mp3s or online radio stations while working at a computer.  The main difference is that a commlink can be set to display on any surface as well as monitors and holoscreens.

Most of Numbers' search allowed me to name drop corporate names from the game, tying the novel in closer.  The United Corporate Council, or UCC, is an "advisory" council to the Seattle government, suggesting laws.  The UCC first showed up in Shadowrun's first edition in 1989 and consists of the corporations having the most impact on Seatlle; while there are a few megacorporations, some are still regional and have little impact on the global economy.

The fashion search Numbers ran was to try to confirm whether Mr. Johnson worked for Federated-Boeing or was just trying to misdirect not just the team but the people he needed guarding against.  As a social engineer, Numbers does try to keep up with fashion.  It's much easier to be accepted in a large group if one dresses appropriately.  Wearing the correct tie and colours may be minor, but that subtle difference puts people at ease, letting them open up and talk with who they think is a co-worker.

Numbers' search let me show off my interpretation of the Shadowrun Matrix.  With processing power not an issue, Numbers can let her icon calculate a Fibonacci series.  She maintains the unified look by having her programs appear as different numbers; a zero (0) works well as a tablet in the Matrix.  Her spoof program, allowing her to appear as part of the network, runs a Taylor series to keep within her icon's theme.  From the view of the icon knights, Numbers would just cease to exist in their sight, without any of the numbers appearing.  The visuals are for the user, not the target programs.

The reaction Numbers had inside the virtual reception is based on events in her past.  For now, it's a hint of what she used to be, but there's a touch of foreshadowing as well.  Even when I wrote the outline for this chapter, I knew later that someone from her past would show up.  Deliberate foreshadowing, instead of the accidental one from Lethal Ladies.

With Charles, I went with the Big Rhino to play around in the Ork Underground.  The area exists today; when Seattle burned down in 1889, new buildings were built upon the ruins.  Parts of the Seattle Underground are even open to tours.  In the future history of Shadowrun, after the Night of Rage that saw rioting and an attempted purge of metahumans, the elves, dwarves, orks, and trolls of Seattle hid inside the Underground, claiming it as their own.  Add a falling out, and the main residents in the expanded Underground are orks.  The Big Rhino first appeared in the first edition of the game, getting a larger write up in the Seattle Sourcebook*.  The band, 3 Meter, comes from Seattle 2072, thus saving me from having to come up with my own name for a group.

Mr. Macro is my own creation, a troll fixer working out of the Big Rhino.  Chances are, many campaigns have someone similar.  The name comes from the typical size of trolls compared to human norms.  Vectrix is a hacker, meant to be implied; her name is me feminizing the word "vector".  Macro has a core job ethic; he gives away nothing for free.  He and Charles know each other well enough that they can skip most of the steps in haggling.  Four tickets to a prime event seems reasonable to both parties, and if Charles is paying a little more than he should, the extra gets him in a little tighter with Mr. Macro.

The last bit before moving on from Charles is the Tacoma Timberwolves.  The team is the city's entry in the Combat Biker League.  The sport gets mentioned early, definitely in the first edition of the Seattle Sourcebook, but got detailed in Shadowbeat.  The sport has some similarities to Quidditch in the Harry Potter setting, except fewer flying brooms and more submachine guns.  I chose the sport because it's part of the setting, letting me tie the story in more.

Oswald got to investigate the magical side of things.  In Shadowrun, not only has magic returned, it's a known quantity.  Magic can be tested in repeatable experiments.  Mages are highly sought employees by corporations.  Stores like Madame Elsa's can be found in malls selling magical wares, mostly fetishes and books.  Elsa is what the game calls a talismonger, someone who sells such talismans.  The good stuff is usually kept in the back for the more exclusive customers.  High school students looking for a luck charm can easily find one on the shelves.  Someone looking for a fireball spell needs to know Elsa well before she even thinks about inviting him or her to the back.

The scene between Oswald and Elsa was when I first noticed that the mage was a ladies' man.  I had set out with an outline, instead of writing by the seat of my pants.  I had the characters mostly worked out.  And, yet, I wasn't expecting Oswald to have this aspect.  The outline for this scene was simple:
 - Oswald uses his magical contacts to dig into the FB job; finds rumours of magical infiltrations into supposedly secure locations
The banter between Oz and Elsa just happened.  The aspect returns later, again without being planned.

Elsa's information is key if readers are knowledgeable of the setting.  Both Mitsuhama and Evo are major corporations in Shadowrun.  Mitsuhama first appeared in the first edition of the core rules.  Evo evolved from Yamatetsu in one of the tie-in novels, then, as a result of the events, renamed itself and moved headquarters from Japan to Russia.  Mitsuhama is the home of the mythical zero zone; nothing in or out alive, like Elsa said.  Mitsuhama is known, at least on the streets, to be one of the more ruthless corporation and capable of making sure intruders disappeared permanently.  Evo doesn't have the rep, but most corporations are good at removing irritants.

Treehugger didn't get to do legwork.  Her sports car needs repairs, so she turns to her mechanic, Two-Tone, another of my creations for the story.  Treehugger's allergy to sunlight also comes to play again.  The replacement car and all its post-dealer modifications come from Arsenal.  The scene's similar to the Q Branch scenes in a 007 movie, with Treehugger receiving a new gadget, one that can seat everyone in the cast.

The last scene in the chapter brings the cast back together.  The Pink Door is also from a Seattle sourcebook and is known, in-universe, for its bialys.  The beer Charles orders is a Labatt Blue, a push by me to make sure that the United Canadian and American States has some Canadiana in it.  The Pink Door also caters to trolls; Charles is comfortable, but Numbers comes up short.  Oz's Mets cap hints at his background, mainly that he's from the New York City area.  Treehugger demonstrates why using certain contacts might not be a good idea.

The negotiation at the end is mostly Treehugger taking advantage of Mr. Johnson.  Fortunately, he does know that if he dies before the run starts, the team doesn't get paid.  Thus, the low amount Treehugger asks for.  The Rubber Suit is another location from the first edition of the Seattle Sourcebook; more about it will be shown in Chapter 4.

Tomorrow, getting out of the Rubber Suit.
Also tomorrow, over at Psycho Drive-In, the round up of adaptational news.
Saturday, over at MuseHack, Hansel and Gretal, Witch Hunters.
Coming soon, more Project Natasha.

* Probably the best sourcebook without rules ever printed.  Just pure setting.

22 Apr 2014

Project Natasha - Hellcats & Hockeysticks

Welcome back to Project Natasha, where I take Nasty from Subject 13 and build her in various tabletop RPGs.  Today's game is Hellcats & Hockeysticks.

Hellcats & Hockeysticks is set at St. Erisian's School for Girls, where young dears are taken in and challenged to become the woman they can.  To quote the game, the school tries to graduate women who follow in the footsteps of "Emmeline Pankhurst, Amelia Earhart, Eleanor Roosevelt, Marie Curie, Anne Bonney, and Lizzie Borden."  Apparently, Elspeth Bathory wouldn't pass the entrance exam.  Player characters are seniors at St. Erisian's, carving their own niche, among other things, with help from "friends", all while trying to avoid notice from staff, civil authorities, and the Special Air Service.

To get Nasty to fit in with the game, I'll treat Fieldson as a St. Erisian-style school, with some meshing of characters as needed.  Essentially, any character in Subject 13 Nasty's age could be at the school.  Changing the setting is always allowed in a game, even those that come with a pre-packaged background.  Hellcats can be easily moved from the UK to any other country that has private schools and access to dangerous chemicals, so Rochester, NY, isn't really a stretch.

Character generation is straight forward, with two parts involving a small point-buy system.  First step, choose a clique.  Cliques provide special abilities and a core curriculum of skills.  Examples include Fixers, knowing people who know people who can get items no matter the legality; Scientists, mostly the mad types who delve into areas man was not meant to know*; and Prefects, the leaders of women and herders of cats.  The best fit for Natasha, though, is the Hockey Girl, who gains benefits when fighting.  Definitely Natasha.

Step two is to spend five points on the four curriculum skills, Games (Team Sports), Games (Track & Field), Games (Marksman), and Observation.  Skills in /Hellcats/ tend to be broad.  Games (Team Sports) also covers fighting hand-to-hand, either bare-handed or with hockeysticks, along with the usual knowledge of team sports.  Thrown weapons fall under Games (Marksman), along with bows, crossbows, and artillery.  Natasha puts two points into Games (Team Sports) and one each into the remaining curriculum skills.  Curriculum skills can reach level 5 by the end of character creation; all other skills are limited to level 4.

Speaking of the other skills, the third step lets Natasha spend 15 points on other skills, including the clique skills.  She places another three into Games (Team Sports), one into Games (Track & Field), two into Languages, letting her pick up Italian, and four, the maximum, into Craft, Design, and Technology.  With five points left, Natasha examines the skill list a bit more closely.  A point in Electronics makes sense; most engines today have an electronic component, and other vehicle systems use the electricals.  Since she works out, another point in Games (Track & Field) isn't a problem.  Natasha also puts two points into Home Economics, though it's not likely that she'll use the poisons and potions part of the skill.  The last point is placed in Physics, because she needs to pass the class.  The character sheet below sums up the skill choices.

Step four is quick - record ten Willpower.  After that, the optional choosing of a personality trait.  The rules have a short list, and players can create their own.  However, top of the list in the book is Angry.  It's nice when a game makes the choice this simple.  The sixth step is to select the rivalries Natasha has.  Each character in a game of Hellcats has a best friend and a rival, where the best friend can do no wrong and the rival needs to be shown her place.  The best friend and the rival do not have to reciprocate.  GMs, known as Headmistresses or HMs, can decide that the players have to make the decision of best friend and rival without knowing what choices anyone else made.  It is possible that a PC's best friend finds that the originating character is a rival.  In Natasha's case, she chooses Renata as her best friend and Tia as her rival.  Meanwhile, both Renata and Rusty have taken Natasha to be the best friend.  And, yes, multiple characters having the same best friend is allowed.  The Headmistress's job becomes so much easier when players are plotting against each other for the affection of a third PC.  Included in this step is writing down what your character hates about everyone else who isn't the best friend or the rival.  Natasha skips this part for now; the cast is too big to get into specifics for each classmate.

The last step is the secret fear, the one thing that frightens Natasha the most.  This fear can be as simple as spiders or as abstract as a post-atomic war Mad Max dystopia.  Natasha doesn't show fear often; spiders are more likely to be chased away or smashed flat than run away from, but she does have one fear that has kept her going.  Natasha is afraid of turning into her mother.  The last thing she wants to be is a single mother before graduation and drinking to escape reality.

Done!  Again, the power punch doesn't come up, again because the system doesn't support superpowers.  Barring the punch, Hellcats & Hockeysticks does model Natasha well.  The game's focus - teenaged girls running amok - fits with Nasty's age and disposition.

Natasha' s character sheet.  If you wish to play her, go ahead, but please tell me how it goes.

Name: Natasha
Clique: Hockey Girl
Clique Ability: Sporty
Curriculum: Games (Team Sports), Games (Track & Field), Games (Marksman), Observation

Skil List
Computer Science
Craft, Design, Technology 3
Current Affairs
Electronics 1
Games (Team Sports) 5
Games (Track & Field) 2
Games (Marksman) 1
Home Economics 2
Languages 2 - Italian
Observation 1
Physics     1
Religious Studies
Social Studies

Willpower: 10
Secret Fear: Becoming her mother.
Trait: Angry

Wound Status
Slapped  Battered  Trashed

Best Friend:  Renata
Rival: Tia
Secret Loathings: To be determined later.

* But it's okay, since the PCs are young women, so it's perfectly safe.  Honest.

18 Apr 2014

By the Numbers - Chapter 3

Chapter 3

(Language warning in effect.)
Shadowrun © 2013 The Topps Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Shadowrun and Matrix are registered trademarks and/or trademarks of The Topps Company, Inc., in the United States and/or other countries. Catalyst Game Labs and the Catalyst Game Labs logo are trademarks of InMediaRes Productions, LLC.
Tuesday, April 14, 2071

0932 hours

    Numbers sprawled out on her couch, a soykaf steaming on the coffee table, her hair displaying a cascading waterfall.  She smoothed out her pink and green oversized t-shirt before focusing on her off-white ceiling.  The commlink on her wrist played a steady techno beat as it displayed the result of Numbers' Matrix searches on her contacts.  Numbers adjusted the display to have the results appear projected on the ceiling.  One window had the public schedule for upcoming meetings for the UCC, the United Corporate Council.  Another, hovering over the door, had a list of upcoming events being held by local corporations.  A third displayed continuous video of current fashion trends thoughout the Seattle area, focusing on the local megacorps.

17 Apr 2014

By the Numbers Chapter 2 - Commentary

As always, please read the chapter before continuing.

With the intro to both the setting, the type of story, and the characters, it's time to get the main plot going.  Chapter 1 started with action to pull in readers.  Chapter 2 is to set the audience up for the longer plot.  In a typical Shadowrun session, the player characters are hired to perform a run, a job that is at best quasi-legal, for a fee.  The players can turn down jobs; the GM needs to either be ready with a number of runs to present or tailor the run towards the players' preferences.  Since /By the Numbers/ would go nowhere if the team had turned down Baba Ganoush last chapter, the job is tailored towards for characters.  Bodyguarding is mostly inoffensive, unless a group of orks is hired to protect a Humanis Policlub leader.

Speaking of Humanis, the setting has racism.  Shadowrun is a distopia, so all the flaws of humanity show up.  Racism goes beyond skin colour and national origins, adding in the human subspecies - ork, troll, elf, and dwarf.  The more the subspecies looks different from the human baseline, the more likely there will be a reaction.  Elves have people like Treehugger wanting to become one; trolls don't have that sort of luck.  The hesitation by the host stems from him not quite knowing what to make of Charles; the lack of chairs just adds to the the snub.

The early gathering was entirely a character piece, letting me develop the characters and show how they get along.  The cast is still professional; they check out the room to make sure it is secure, but they also take the time to enjoy having dinner paid.  The other goals, besides just introducing the plot, were to show how well everyone on the team gets along with each other and to show glimpses into their personalities.  Numbers shows an appreciation for the finer things in life, like real orange duck, and has corporate experience.  She also has personal standards.  It's one thing to use her implants, including the tailored pheromone bioware (see Augmentation), for social engineering her way through a run or supporting her teammates; it's another to take personal advantage with the augments.  Oswald prefers less formal surroundings and plays up the "scruffy shadowrunner" image.  He also tends to needle Treehugger.  Charles works to fit in when he's on a job; later chapters will show him more relaxed.

I should make a note here about the names.  Obviously, they're all aliases.  Last week, I mentioned how "Mr. Johnson" is a generic name used to hide the identity of the contractor.  The best description comes from Glenn Frey's Smuggler Blues: "Every name's an alias in case somebody squeals"*.  Runners get known by their handles or street names, and the names are given, not taken, just like the handles of Air Force fighter pilots.  There's probably multiple variants of "Dumbass" in every major city in 2070.  A runner can ditch his or her handle, but the reputation that the street name carries will be lost as well.

The aside aside, the rest of the dinner focuses on the negotiation of payment.  Notice Treehugger handling the details, not Numbers.  Treehugger's the negotiator of the team; she has the skillset.  Numbers is more focused on getting passwords out of people, not haggling.  Shadowrun separates the two areas in to Negotiation and Con.  Need to grift a passcode out of an exec?  Numbers is your woman.  Need to get a good price for the code when selling it later?  Treehugger.

Tomorrow, the team does its homework.
Also tomorrow, over at Psycho Drive-In, Muppets Most Wanted.
Saturday, over at MuseHack, the April round up of adaptational news.
Coming soon, more Project Natasha.

* Potential Shadowrun GMs should give the song a listen, not so much for ideas of jobs but a look at life in the shadows.

15 Apr 2014

Project Natasha - School Daze

Welcome back to Project Natasha, where the goal is to take Nasty from Subject 13 and model her under different RPGs.  The intro has the full details, but, short form, I need to keep as close as possible to how she appears in the issues of /Subject 13/, that is, a high school student with anger management issues, with her power punch added if the game provides for it.

Last installment's modelling left Natasha short on skills and experience.  The problem was that the game focused on experienced adults, not teenagers.  Today's game, School Daze, removes the issue.  Set in high school, PCs in School Daze game are teenagers trying to deal with life, whether the setting is Buffy: the Vampire Slayer or Glee.  While Nasty does have a superpower, her biggest challenges has been trying to deal with her classmates.

Character creation is quick, with only five steps; choose a name, choose a favourite subject, choose a rank, choose a motivation, and choose three relationships.  First step is already done with Natasha.  Looking over the list of school subjects, Natasha takes Industrial Arts as her favourite subject, representing her love of mechanics.  The third step, choose a rank, takes a bit of work.  Checking the list of Ranks, Shank and Tank look good.  Natasha isn't clumsy, though, so Shank works best for her.  Natasha's motivation has always been to protect the weaker, even before getting her power punch.  The last step is to choose three relationships important to Natasha.  The first is her mother, Maria.  The relationship is rocky; they'd probably get along far better if they didn't have to share living space, but neither have that option just yet.  The second is Eric, Natasha's crush.  It's not so much that they have a relationship but Natasha would love to have one but has no idea how to get the message across.  The last relationship is Tia, a rival for Eric's attention, one who has the upper hand at that.

That's it.  Nice and simple creation system.  The power punch is left out again, the game doesn't have that focus, though it could be added along the lines of the suggestions for "From Whom the Bell Trolls".  School Daze does do a better job at modelling Natasha than Traveller did last time.  This is due to the focus of School Daze, teenagers in high school getting into hijinks, which fits Subject 13 far better than space adventuring.

Natasha' s character sheet.  If you wish to play her, go ahead, but please tell me how it goes.
Name: Natasha Giuliano
Favourite Subject: Industrial Arts
Ranks: Shank
Motivation: Protect the Weaker
    Maria - mother
    Eric - crush
    Tia - rival

11 Apr 2014

By the Numbers - Chapter 2

Chapter 2
Meet Mr. Johnson
Shadowrun © 2013 The Topps Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Shadowrun and Matrix are registered trademarks and/or trademarks of The Topps Company, Inc., in the United States and/or other countries. Catalyst Game Labs and the Catalyst Game Labs logo are trademarks of InMediaRes Productions, LLC.
Monday, April 13, 2071

2048 hours

    Numbers stepped out of Treehugger's Westwind and adjusted her robin's-egg blue skirt.  She looked around for the rest of her team.  Oswald loitered near the entrance to Elliot's, somehow looking rumpled in his suit.  Charles stood beside his Harley Scorpion and fixed his tie.  Treehugger got out of her car.  She ran a hand over the rear fender.  Her face grew pained.  "Poor baby.  I'll get you fixed up soon.  I promise."

    Numbers stepped away from the sports car.  Oswald joined her at her side.  "She's talking to it again," he said.

10 Apr 2014

By the Numbers Chapter 1 - Commentary

Welcome to the new serial.  If this is your first time reading a serial of mine, I do commentaries on the chapters.  Best thing to do is read the chapter first before continuing.

If you read my previous serial, Lethal Ladies, you'll probably have noticed a few things already.  First, the writing has improved.  By the Numbers was written during NaNoWriMo 2010, four years after Lethal Ladies.  Writing became far easier over those four years in between and I may have found my voice.  Second, I have proper chapters, with chapter titles.  The titles are mainly to boost word count, but were added after the main thrust of the chapter was figured out.

By the Numbers is set in the Shadowrun setting.  The idea I had was that if I could clean up the writing, give it a bit of polish, I might submit it to Catalyst Game Labs.  The submission never happened.  However, if it feels like I assume the reader is aware of the setting, it's because I assumed the reader would be aware of the setting.  The intended audience was people already aware of Shadowrun and its attendant tropes and quirks.  The commentaries will point out the setting detail that gets assumed along the way.

The title was a working one, something so that I could name the file and the novel on the NaNo site and really doesn't fit well.  For now, By the Numbers is what I call it.

Chapter 1 starts in the middle of a run.  I wanted to introduce the characters and show what they were capable of before hitting the main plot.  A simple break and enter to steal a Macguffin was perfect.  Each member of my cast would get a chance to show off in turn, with a hand-off from one character to the next.  Beginning the chain is Numbers.  The idea behind her character was that she was a hacker with social engineering skills.  If she could get someone to grant her the access she needed, she wouldn't have to hack her way through firewalls.  As such, Numbers spends a lot of time in plain sight.  To help keep herself from being identified, Numbers has had some surgery done, specifically, fibre optic hair replacement and cybernetic breast implants, both found in Augmentation.  If security is looking for a leggy blonde with a large rack, they're going to ignore the woman with the mousy brown hair and flat chest.  Numbers also has a commlink, a cross between a smartphone and a computer*, implanted in her head to go with the visible commlink on her wrist.  Note that the concept of the commlink predates Google Glass.

Baba Ganoush is a fixer, someone who knows people who know people.  The main role of a fixer in the RPG is to provide jobs to the PCs.  It's like working at a temp agency, but no one knows the real names and the jobs are illegal.  In 2070, someone who wants to hire a shadowrunner will get in touch with a fixer, who then arranges the meet.  This is what Ganoush is doing, arranging a meet for a Mr. Johnson, which is the generic name for any corporate type hiring runners.  Ganoush's name was inspired by MXC: Most Extreme Elinimation Challenge; a running gag involved the Babaganoush family appearing in almost every episode.

Numbers hands off the Macguffin to Charles.  Charles is the first element that really says that the story is part of Shadowrun.  He's a troll, a subspecies of human that can be recognized by the growth of hardened skin and averaging far heavier and taller than the average person.  Charles is large, even for a troll.  His role on the team is to be the wall of muscle that everyone else hides behind.  Charles has muscle augmentation to boost his already formidable strength to help be the meat shield.  His handoff comes early, but he still gets to demonstrate what he can do.  Charles covers Treehugger's escape and takes out one of the opposition.

The insult Charles' opponent uses, trog, is short for troglodyte.  The process of becoming a troll or ork in the setting is officially known as the Unexplained Genetic Expression, aka UGE, but is called goblinization by the general public.  The common term came about because of what happened during the UGE process; limbs grow, teeth lengthen, if a troll, the skin hardens.  UGE is rare in 2070, but can still occur.  However, if you want to insult an ork or troll, trog is a good stand-by.  Racism still exists in Shadowrun's 2070.

With Treehugger, unlike Numbers and Charles above where I created the character sheets from scratch, I used the existing Smuggler archetype from the Shadowrun 4th edition core rules.  Numbers was inspired by reading over some of the cyberware in Augmentation.  Charles was always meant to be the wall of muscle bodyguard type, which didn't quite exist in the archetypes.  Treehugger, though, was inspired partially by the character in the rules.  One of her drawbacks, Elf Poser, was intriguing.  Getting that point across, though, without outright saying, "Hey, she's an Elf Poser, readers!" meant a bit of work.  Showing off her ears was the first, with her musing about her inner elf.  At the same time, Treehugger is a rigger, a getaway driver who becomes one with her car.  The drive through downtown Seattle let me show how a rigger works, or at least my version.  Treehugger becomes her Westwind, its sensors becoming her eyes, ears, and nerves.

The Westwind 3000 appears in the core rules; it's the sports car of 2070, occupying the same niche as Lamborghinis and Ferraris today.  The MCT Rotodrone is also from the core rules; it's a drone sold by Mitsuhama Computer Technologies that normally comes unarmed but can have light weapons, like submachineguns, added.  The drone has no hope of keeping up with the Westwind, but its use in an ambush can't be ignored.  Grid Guide is a computer controlled system that allows for more efficient traffic flow, keeping cars at an optimal pace and distance and letting the drivers sit back.  Once again, Grid Guide appeared in Shadowrun long before Google's self-driving car.

The last hand-off changes the point-of-view on purpose.  Unlike the previous three scenes, the last member of the team isn't visible at the beginning.  Oswald is a mage, and the best way to show that he has the spell Physical Invisibility is to not see him.  The appearance also let me show that Oswald has a flair for dramatics.  To show that he's not a one-trick pony, he fires off a combat spell at one of Treehugger's pursuers.  Oswald is based on the Detective Mage archetype in the core rules, though with the spell list changed for my purposes.

The one last dangling element, the briefcase.  If Oswald had it all the time, then why show the hand-offs, beyond to show the team's capabilities?  To show that the team is more on the ball than their employer expected.  With one briefcase being used as a decoy, Oswald had no problems getting to the meet to make the delivery.

One thing that I wanted to do with the story was to make sure that whatever happened in it was also possible with the game mechanics.  My feeling about RPG tie-in novels is that they should reflect game play.  I made sure I had character sheets for each of my main characters, whether I used an existing archetype from the core Shadowrun rules or created from scratch.  Gear and cybernetics will be found in the rules and supplements.  If anyone wants to me to post a character sheet, let me know.

If you're looking for something with a similar feel, I recommend the anime Black Lagoon.  Although it doesn't have magic or the cybernetics, it does focus on a team of expendable assets for hire and their contacts.  Balalaika makes for a great model to base a fixer NPC on.

Tomorrow, meet the new Mr. Johnson, same as the old.
Also tomorrow, over at Psycho Drive-in, The Mechanic.
Saturday, over at MuseHack, Muppets Most Wanted.
Coming soon, more Project Natasha.

* Basically, a powerful smartphone now.

9 Apr 2014

Project Natasha - Traveller

This is the first of the Project Natasha series.  The goal is to test out games using Nasty from Subject 13.  Today's game is Mongoose Traveller.

According to the ground rules as posted in the intro, I need to create Natasha so that she matches as much as possible Nasty in Subject 13, a teenaged Earth girl with anger management issues.  Traveller, especially the Third Imperium setting, is set 3600 years into the future.  In the Third Imperium, Earth is the former capital of the Solomani Confederation and is being held by the Imperium after a viscious war between the two interstellar entities.  Its high tech nature and its being held captive doesn't work to keep Natasha close to how she was portrayed.  Some changes are needed.

The Natasha for today comes from a Pre-Stellar garden world, one that is highly populated and on the verge of looking beyond its solar system.  This world, whose natives call Soil in their many languages, has no central government.  The Universal Planetary Profile for the world is E867974-7, which breaks down as follows:
Starport E; a paved piece of land that is used for launches.
Size 8; or roughly 12 800km in diameter.
Atmosphere 6; Standard.
Hydrographics 7; approximately 70% of the world's surface is covered by water.
Population 9; the magnitude of the population is ten raised to the ninth power, specifically, seven billion people.
Government 7; Balknaized, no central government.
Law Level 4; not too restrictive, though individual nations may be higher or lower due to the lack of unified government.
Tech Level 7; Pre-stellar, though there are glimpses of the next Tech Level appearing.
Since Traveller uses travel and trade codes to determine starting skill, I need to work out what Soil has to offer:
Garden; Soil is very Earth-like.
Well, that was quick.  The small number of trade and travel codes means Natasha will have a greater choice on starting skills.

Normally in Traveller, the attributes are rolled randomly.  However, since I'm modelling a character, I will instead choose the values based on what has happened in the series.  For all attributes, human average is 7, maximum at the beginning of character creation is 12, minimum at creation is 2, and the range is from 1 to 15.
Strength 9/+1
Dexterity 8/+0
Endurance A/+1
Intelligence 7/+0
Education 5/-1
Social Standing 4/-1
Natasha has good physical stats, but not necessarily the best.  At the same time, she hasn't shown herself to be particularly intelligent, nor has she shown herself to be stupid.  The 5 in Education represents a high school level of knowledge; since Natasha is in high school, it made sense.  Social Standing is low; Nasty in Subject 13 is the daughter of a single mother making ends meet through manual labour and cleaning.  As Jessica, Nasty's apparent Social Standing is far higher, but she has to work to maintain it.

For starting skills, Natasha gets three plus her Education modifier, leaving her with just two.  One is taken up by her homeworld's skill; residents of Garden worlds get Animals at skill level 0.  Natasha then takes Languages 0, to help represent that she speaks a smattering of Italian thanks to her background.

This brings Natasha to age 18 and ready to start a career.  To go further would mean aging her beyond what the ground rules allow.  Traveller was not the best game to use to model her.  The game's focus is experienced people who are adventuring after serving time in a career, not to start as a teen and grow.  The game reflects the science fiction of its time, where to even think about going into space required extensive training.  If I placed her on the Third Imperium's Earth, she would lose her Languages skill to take Computers instead.

Natasha, the character sheet.  If you do use her as a PC or an NPC, let me know how it works out!
Natasha Giuliano   89A754
Homeworld: Soil (E867974-7 Garden, Gas Giant)

  Animals 0
  Languages 0

Cr 0

7 Apr 2014

Project Natasha - Intro

Something new I want to try in an intermittent series, Project Natasha.  The idea is that I take Nasty from Subject 13 and test out character creation of various RPGs using her.  The exercise is two-fold.  One, it lets me see what the scope of a game is.  It is possible that Nasty cannot be created well in a game.  Just because she can't be recreated doesn't mean there's a problem with the game; it just means that Nasty falls out of the scope of the game.  Two, it lets me delve into Nasty's head a bit and fill out areas that I might not even know about now.  The more I know a character, the easier it is to write with her or him.  I will know how the character will react even if the situation is unusual.

The ground rules I'm using is that I need to try to keep as close as possible to how she appears in Subject 13, a teenaged girl from Earth who has been in a number of fights.  If the game I'm using allows for it, I must add in her power punch; otherwise, it can be ignored.  If I must age her, I must keep her age as close as possible to being a teen.  There will be games that build a character up through life stages.  For those games, I can go a little further, especially if the game requires an older character.

Like I said above, the series will be intermittent.  It will depend on time factors, mainly whether I have time to sit down and work out details.  Some games have faster character creation than others; point-buy systems tend to take longer by nature than random generation.

First up, Traveller.

4 Apr 2014

By the Numbers - Chapter 1

Chapter 1
Smoke and Mirrors

Shadowrun © 2013 The Topps Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Shadowrun and Matrix are registered trademarks and/or trademarks of The Topps Company, Inc., in the United States and/or other countries. Catalyst Game Labs and the Catalyst Game Labs logo are trademarks of InMediaRes Productions, LLC.

(Language warning in effect, though not as bad as Subject 13.)

Monday, April 13, 2071
1721 hours

    Suppressing the urge to look behind her, Numbers kept a steady pace as she approached the women's washroom.  The black briefcase in her hand felt heavy.  She avoided looking at it as she maintained the pretense of it being hers.  Inside the washroom, Numbers entered an empty stall.  She set the briefcase down then switched over the augmented reality.  A quick scan for electronics found a security camera focused on the door.   The firewall on the camera lasted three seconds before Numbers drilled a way into it.  She brought up her edit program as she accessed the camera's memory.  Numbers found the footage of her entering the washroom and prepared to alter it.  The first thing changed in the video was her hair colour, from its current blonde to dark brunette.  Next, she altered her image's breasts, bringing it down several cup sizes.  Lastly, she changed her image's clothes.  The person she walked in as no longer existed in the camera, replaced by a completely different woman.

3 Apr 2014

New Serial Backgrounder

With Lethal Ladies now over and the breather taken, it's time to get the new serial in place.  The planned story is still in progress with not enough chapters ready to avoid delays between posts.  This means I need to dig through everything that I have that is complete to present.  The result is /By the Numbers/, my 2010 NaNoWriMo entry.

Last Friday's post talked a bit about what I did with the story, primarily creating an outline.  I also had created a piece to get a feel for the characters that never made it into the story proper.  Not mentioned was that the story was written with the idea that readers would already be familiar with the setting.  The plan back in 2010 was to eventually submit to Catalyst Game Labs to be published under the Shadowrun banner.  Since then, though, the game has had a new edition that changed how one element worked.

By the Numbers is my take on the Shadowrun setting.  I used the official releases that were available up to November 2010, including books for previous editions.  The Seattle Sourcebook for each of the first and the fourth editions were incredibly helpful in setting the tone and getting key locations that would not show up on Google Maps*.  If anything seems off, it will be from my reading of the Seattle of the 2070s.

Tomorrow, By the Numbers begins!
Saturday, over at MuseHack, The Mechanic.
Also Saturday, over at Psycho Drive-In, Mr. Peabody and Sherman.
Coming soon, Pale Horse Charter and testing out other games.

* Just try finding the Aztech Pyramid or the former Renraku Arcology on a map from today.