27 Jun 2014

By the Numbers Chapter 13

Post Mortem

(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.
Sunday, April 19, 2071
1823 hours

    Charles escorted Tarkov from the meeting room to the Humvee Civic.  The SUV's passenger door opened to let the security manager in.  Charles looked around before getting in the oversized front seat.  The door closed.  Tarkov settled in as Treehugger put the Humvee into gear.  "I could have used you this afternoon, Numbers.  Never get a bunch of security men to work out budgeting details.  Miss DocWagon I think made the most sense during this afternoon's session.  She suggested we remain in contact with each other, share evidence when it relates to these infiltration attempts."  Tarkov eyed Numbers.  "Can you tell me why you were missing?  I am paying for a full team of bodyguards."

26 Jun 2014

By The Numbers Chapter 12 - Commentary

Please read the chapter first.  Spoilers may abound.

The action now focuses on recovering Sun Jung.  The team is letting Treehugger take point, and she's letting a small drone, the Aztech Crawler, do the hard work of looking for traps.  In the game, riggers can use their drones for many uses, from reconaissance to food retrieval, as long as they have the right drone for the job.  The Crawler is a small drone, about the size of a remote control car[link] with cameras, letting Treehugger get a better view of anything on the floor without getting caught by any booby traps.

Hackers are ideal for handling electronic equipment.  They work with computer equipment and tend to come from technical backgrounds.  When a hacker isn't around, the rigger is a decent second choice.  While riggers don't usually have the software needed to hack, mainly because they have better uses for their money, they do understand electronics.  Treehugger stepping up to deal with the tripwires is stretching her capabilities, but possible.  The term "spider" refers to a corporate rigger who is connected to a building's security system.  The move to using riggers in security systems occurred after hackers turned corporate networks into a personal challenges.  A rigged system is harder to hack; the hacker's software suite isn't set up to deal with the hardware and software differences.

There's a continuity error in the first scene.  Back in Chapter 10, Gale Storm had volunteered to look for Sun Jung, figuring that subtlety was needed.  In Chapter 12, Tempest is in the assault team.  Oops.  I also don't know how to work out the change.  It's something that needs editing, probably back in Chapter 10 to have Tempest volunteer.

The duel of the mages developed after I realized that I had introduced a magic user in earlier chapters without figuring out what the character was doing.  The duel also let me show off Oswald a bit more.  The fight comes down to power versus control.  Oswald doesn't go for overpowering a spell right away; doing so leads to exhausting him or even hurting him physically.  His approach is closer to judo or aikido, using opponent's power against him.

Treehugger's disorientation is from hacking without the proper software.  The disorientation, known as dump shock, happens when there's a sudden disconnect from a computer.  Treehugger didn't log out of the trap's network properly.  Mild dump shock means a few seconds of disorientation.  Worse versions can lead to brain damage and death.  But, again, without a hacker to deal with electronic circuits, the assault team had to go with what they had.  The circuit itself went from parallel to serial, where only one beam would set off an alarm.

Even Numbers got a scene.  She and Nabi were in a stand off last chapter.  With the tension building in the other scenes, it was time to ramp up the drama between Numbers and Nabi.  There's a hint about Numbers' background here, and Treehugger's elf poser drawback comes back with the rigger's use of elven rock band Til Es Hault as her hold music.  Hopefully, the scene was received as dramatic instead of comedic.

Back at the battle of the mages, Oswald's opponent reveals a bit of his nature.  In /Shadowrun/, shamans take on the mask of their totem, no longer needing the manufactured masks now that magic has returned.  The mask resembles the totem, so a Coyote shaman takes on the appearance of Coyote.  Dragon shamans do exist in the game, usually through a supplement like Street Magic.  They aren't common, though.  The fight is a series of one-upmanship.  The dragon shaman summons a fire elemental, Oswald starts a fire using Ignite.  The shaman casts Armor to protect against Oz's pistol, Oz throws a Stunbolt, a mana-based spell that avoids armour.  Oz casts Invisibility, the shaman makes it harder to walk.  The main problem the two have is that every spell that needs to be sustained makes it harder to cast a second spell and resist the drain it causes.  The dragon shaman has two spells already sustained, Armor and Ice Sheet; Oswald has just Invisibility.

The method used by the shaman to find Oswald is questionable in-game.  Does Invisibility also affect the astral, or can a mage use astral perception to find an invisible opponent?  I went with "yes"; maintaining astral perception means not seeing items like cars, making it dangerous to cross roads.  However, it is the spell that's seen, not the person hidden by it.  This ruling would allow a mage to cast Invisibility on a teammate, thus preventing a searching wizard from seeing who is being hidden.

Oswald wins by overpowering a Stunbolt.  He took the risk, knowing he needed to end the fight, and paid for it.  Burst blood vessels leading to a nosebleed is the least he could have expected.  The last spell he cast on the shaman was Mind Probe.

The shaman's mooks react appropriately to facing trained troopers; they use the girl as a shield.  The lead mook is committed to his mission.  The others are seeing the job going sour and would prefer to leave.  Treehugger is out of her element.  Shadowrunners aren't supposed to get into police SWAT raids.  Her team is very much a stealth-based group.  Her testiness with Numbers is perfectly reasonable.

The use of time stamps became useful this chapter, despite not planned.  The stamps let me show the passage of time and imply that Oswald's scenes and Treehugger's were happening simultaneously.  The girl falling down is pure visual, a way to break the tension, and was based on seeing it filmed.  Tempest's lightning bolt ends the tension, at least for Treehugger's group, and is the reason why I wanted Tempest in the scene.  Nabi's relief finishes the tension that had been building.  Ideally, readers are relieved at the same time.  The gunfire is just clean up, which will come up again later.

Tomorrow, the job wraps up.
Also tomorrow, over at Psycho Drive-In, a look at a fan interpretation of Super Mario Bros.
Saturday, over at MuseHack, the June round up of upcoming adaptations and remakes.
Coming soon, more Traveller and the return of Project Natasha.

20 Jun 2014

By the Numbers - Chapter 12

Stand Off

(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.
Sunday, April 19, 2071
1309 hours

    Treehugger set a Crawler down at the foot of the stairs as the three Lone Star FRT troopers deployed in the hallway.  The rigger crept back, getting out of sight from the stairway.  "Oz, it's TH.  Drone's in place.  Go."  She heard the mage's acknowledgement.

19 Jun 2014

By The Numbers Chapter 11 - Commentary

As usual, please read the chapter first.

The title refers to what happens in the chapter and is considered a bad idea in a game.  First, splitting the party means splitting the GM's attention, leading to a small group of players sitting and watching for part of a session.  Second, in-game, there's always the chance that the active group needs the skills of someone in the inactive group, who may not be available to go help.  In Shadowrun, if the party's muscle is off holding back a guard while he's needed to break through a door elsewhere, both groups are going to run into problems.

In fiction, though, an inactive character is just left doing what he or she was doing before the scene switched.  The active group may need someone from the inactive characters, but, unlike a game where a character's death means a player needs to create a new one, the death of a character is a setback that the others in the group need to work around before mourning.

In game or in story, though, the crew has a reason to split up.  Charles and Numbers are keeping an eye on Nabi, trying to give Oswald and Treehugger the time needed to find the woman's daughter.  At this point, the details of the meeting aren't important.  It's the same bickering as the previous days.  The key was to show that the crew had a plan and was following it.

Treehugger and Oswald's search is two-fold.  First, they have a rough location, so they're trying to narrow things by driving around based on what they saw in the ransom video.  Second, Oswald is scanning the astral.  The astral reflects the general mood of the area.  In an old cathedral in Europe, where many joyous occasions have occurred over the centuries, the astral plane is pleasant and warm.  In the Barrens, though, where misery is the highlight of the inhabitants' days, the astral is bleak.  Staring at the misery taxes a mage.  Oswald needed a break when he watched the ransom video again.

Here is where I blew some foreshadowing.  The little bit of graffiti that Oz spots was seen by Numbers back in Chapter 6.  Unfortunately, I never made a note of the detail in the earlier chapter.  Numbers never mentioned the detail, and with the rate needed to complete NaNoWriMo, it got lost.  Oops.

The graffiti turns into the detail needed to find Sun Jung.  It's a saving throw on my part - I needed to girl to be found, but I may have made it too hard by making the opposition too competent.  At the same time, incompetent opposition is just dull.  The crew's victories are earned, not given, and spotting that one detail, a potential long shot, is something that Oswald's skill set and background allows.  That still leaves finding the building, and Treehugger's abilities will come to the forefront with that task.

Back at the meeting, I finally could hint that Nabi was augmented.  For those wondering what sort of game mechanics she has, Nabi counts as a company man, active or former.  In the setting, company men and women are troubleshooters, in that they shoot people causing trouble for the corporation, and are typically cybernetically augmented.  That Numbers couldn't shrug out from Nabi's grip should imply that the Korean woman has some sort of strength upgrades.  Numbers is also a little more paranoid than usual, as seen with her trembling.  The run, what was supposed to be a simple bodyguard job, just keeps getting worse.  A good runner team should be able to adjust plans as obstacles come up.  The crew, though, didn't anticipate a meeting of key security heads being compromised.  They are adjusting, but other elements are coming up.

As Treehugger searches with the Fed-Boeing drone, Oswald gets the news of the deadline.  He adds a buffer, in part to get TH to rush, in part so that there's time to get the rescue team in place.  The one hour difference between Oz and Treehugger's last scene and this one helps show how long a process it was for TH to find the billboard.  Treehugger also stays jumped in her vehicles during the scene.  She had to switch from the Kull to the Bulldog to take advantage of the van's speaker, but she loses less time in her search doing that than she would returning to her body.  With the location narrowed down to a few buildings, an astral search is far easier.  The astral barrier will keep out prying astral searches, whether from mage sight, mages travelling on the astral, or spirits looking.

Numbers is worried.  Data models, simulations, anything to keep her employer alive, and nothing is working.  The hacker's Plan B is hasty, not thought through, and requires her own implants to work well.  Numbers is a hacker who uses social engineering; she knows how to shoot a gun, but it's not her primary role.  Nabi, as mentioned above, is a former company woman, a troubleshooter, someone who shoots hackers causing trouble.  In a fair fight, Numbers is toast.  If Numbers could tilt the battlefield to her favour, she is still hosed.  Numbers has a hold out pistol, a two-shot derringer.  Nabi has wired reflexes and a machine pistol.  Numbers is not in a good position right now.

Tomorrow, the stand-off continues.
Also tomorrow, over at Psycho Drive-In, the mess that is Super Mario Bros.
Saturday, over at MuseHack, another take on Mario with The Four Players.
Coming soon, more Traveller and the return of Project Natasha.

13 Jun 2014

By the Numbers - Chapter 11

Party Split
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.
Sunday, April 19, 2071
0927 hours

    Numbers kept her attention on Tarkov as she entered the meeting room.  Her internal commlink picked up the ID code from Nabi and displayed it and the woman's location on her contact lenses.  The hacker waited for Tarkov to sit before taking her own seat.  She felt the presence of Charles looming behind her.  Numbers sent a quick message, pointing out Nabi's location to him.  Across the room, the hacker saw the Asian woman standing behind the PacRim representative, her face impassive.

12 Jun 2014

By the Numbers Chapter 10 - Commentary

Again, please read the chapter before continuing.

More new characters appear.  Sergeant Sam Quinn appeared back in Chapter 8.  Slamm-O is a canon Shadowrun character, appearing in almost every fourth edition sourcebook.  The rest make their first speaking appearance.  First up, the Storm Sisters, Tempest and Gale.  Tempest earned her street name from her temper; her sister's came from her real name, Abigail.  Not all street names are based on something a runner did.  The Storms are what's known in the game as aspected magicians; mages who can only cast one type of spell or summon one type of spirit.  In their elements, the Storms are tough to beat.  They don't have the versatility that Oswald has, though.  As a team, the Storms can cover their weaknesses.  Aspected mages are also known as "groggies", for not being fully Awakened in magic.

The other new character is Lieutenant Kiser, of Knight Errant.  As mentioned several times in the commentary already, Knight Errant holds the police contract for Seattle.  Kiser, named after veteran actor Terry Kiser, worked his way up through the ranks.  More details will come out in later chapters, so I'll just gloss over Kiser for now.  Suffice to say that he's in a similar position as Sgt. Quinn, trusted by his superiors to handle a delicate matter than may need a heavy hand if the situation turns sour.

Oswald, being an ex-cop himself, has a good read on both Quinn and Kiser.  The mage has seen cops, good and bad, in his past.  His experience helps Quinn and Kiser buy in.  Meanwhile, Numbers is on the "trust but validate" bandwagon.  She's making the assumption that the kidnappers are being paid, mainly because she, herself, is a shadowrunner and would demand payment for such an act.  However, money is a good way to convince someone to do something that would otherwise be distasteful.  Numbers also checked the Storm Sisters' accounts; she's nothing if not thorough.

The question now, why does Numbers trust Slamm-O?  Slamm-O is an experienced hacker and knows how to cover his tracks.  The answer is on Numbers's character sheet; she has Slamm-O as a contact, paid for in character points.  A little on the meta side and not a satisfactory argument if you look at the narrative, so, the answer becomes, Numbers has worked beside Slamm-O before, is aware of how he works and what he would and wouldn't do.  Slamm-O has the same level of trust in Numbers.  He was also the one to bring up the issue to Numbers and Skater.

I was hesitant to bring in a legacy character into the story.  By the Numbers is about my crew, Numbers, Charles, Oswald, and Treehugger; not about someone else's.  At the same time, with the number of characters appearing in the sourcebooks, it's not unusual to run across them or their work.  There really aren't that many shadowrunners; it takes a unique mindset to become an expendable deniable asset and most of the population won't have it.  Shadowrunning is also a dangerous career.  There's always a chance of being arrested or killed on a job.  A runner should have a retirement plan at some point in his or her career.  The problem, though, is that keeping up with the state of the art is expensive.  There's always a new program, a new magical technique, a new piece of cyberware that becomes critical to survival.  Those things cost.

The closing scene returns the focus to just the main crew.  Oswald is very much a ladies' man, as seen in earlier chapters.  He's not hitting on Numbers; he's reassuring, but he's a tactile person.  The warehouse where they'll meet up again is their safe house, the one they took Mr. Johnson too a few chapters back.

Tomorrow, find out if the meeting gets disrupted.
Also tomorrow, over at Psycho Drive-In, Gnomeo & Juliet.
Saturday, over at MuseHack, Super Mario Bros.
Coming soon, more Traveller fun, more Project Natasha, and more NaNoWriMo planning.

6 Jun 2014

By the Numbers - Chapter 10

Shadow Council
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.
Saturday, April 18, 2071
2022 hours

    Throbbing dance music greeted Numbers and Oswald as they entered Infinity.  The nightclub's dance floor was packed with a crowd celebrating the weekend.  Numbers messaged the bouncer electronically; it was next to impossible to hear anything over the music.  The bouncer pointed at a set of stairs concealed in the shadows.  Numbers transferred a sum of nuyen, then led the way up.

    The hacker's AR display painted a neon blue light over an undistiguished door in the upstairs hallway.  Numbers knocked once, twice, then entered.  Two men, one human and one ork, and two women, both humans, sat at the room's sole table.  "Are we waiting for anyone else?" Numbers asked.

    "You two are the last."  Slamm-O's voice came from the speakers built into the table.

5 Jun 2014

By the Numbers Chapter 9 - Commentary

Don't forget to read the chapter before continuing.

The opening scene emphasizes that Tarkov isn't an experienced Mr. Johnson.  At the same time, he knows his own position well enough to get advice when he's outside his usual experience.  Numbers's suggestion is, in short, the attacks don't have a profit/loss motive.  Whatever the reason, the attacks and intrusions have a motive that's outside the corporate mindset.

The next scene skips over the fallout of Numbers's suggestion.  One chapter of inter-corporate bickering was enough, for both you readers and for me.  Skipping the dull parts is allowed when writing.  The quick virtual meeting let me reuse the camera; I didn't want to create yet another virtual node.  Skater misquotes MacBeth, Slamm-O presents the new problem, and I borrow a concept from ReBoot, the vidwindow.  The hackers in the room are the first to deal with the problem.  Note that they haven't brought in any of the corporate or government security hackers; while shadowrunners might not trust each other, they know the problem having the corporate people involved.  Numbers brings up the point of professionalism; the difference between paying a gang to break and enter a corporate facility and a group of shadowrunners is professionalism.  Gangers, especially ones paid in drugs and alcohol, won't have any subtlety.  Perfect when creating a distraction, not so great when trying to keep the intrusion unnoticed.  Shadowrunners, on the other hand, know their pay is based on not being seen, unless the job is to be seen.  Professional runners will hit just what they're hired for; any extra removed leads to the runners being treated as expendable.  Good shadowrunners are hard to find.

The discussion on what to do about the problem let me delve into the team's dynamics and what sort of work the team will and won't do.  In a Shadowrun campaign, it's a good idea for the players to agree on what sort of runs they won't do; if one or more players don't like the idea of murder-for-hire, it'd be best if the team avoided those jobs.  At the same time, if the most of the players want play mercenaries in the Sixth World, the other players will have to decided whether to join or skip.  Usually, there's give and take, and the more interesting runs usually involve breaking into a facility.

In the crew's case, there are at least two sorts of jobs they won't take.  Charles states outright that they're not hitmen; they just don't take murder-for-hire jobs and their contacts are aware of the matter.  The other sort of job, a much broader category, is anything where a child might get hurt.  Oswald is the voice of conscience in this case, but Charles agrees.  The troll also rebuilt himself through cybernetics to be a better bodyguard.

The meeting between Numbers and Nabi let me get a few more clues out.  Numbers is the ideal person to talk to Nabi; I've already established that the hacker is a social engineer, with implants that help her be convincing.  Nabi's neutral, wanting help but not necessarily trusting anyone.  The implants let Numbers get past Nabi's barriers.  Sun Jung herself is a hacker in the making.  Her Nerps t-shirt is part of a editions-long Shadowrun running gag; at no point has Nerps ever been defined, either in game mechanics or in setting description beyond ads.

Tomorrow, putting together the search team.
Also tomorrow, over at Psycho Drive-In, the role history has in remaking a work.
Saturday, over at MuseHack, Gnomeo and Juliet.

1 Jun 2014

By the Numbers Chapter 8 - Commentary

As always, please read the chapter first.

Welcome to one of the most involved chapters I've ever written.  There are representatives from ten corporate or government entities, plus their retinues.  Stage management became traffic management.  This scene could not happen if I hadn't know what was happening behind the scenes.  Still, I need to refer to a cast list as I wrote to make sure I kept bodyguards with the right rep.

To help, here's a list of who's who:
- Federated-Boeing, a AA-level corporation, with Numbers, Charles, Treehugger, and Oswald.
- Evo, a AAA-level corporation, with Skater, Laughing Tusk, and the Storm Sisters.
- Knight-Errant, owned by AAA-level Ares, with an internal team.
- Saeder-Krupp, a AAA-level corporation wholy owned by a dragon, with an internal team.
- Pueblo Corporate Council, one of the Native American Nations, with an internal team.
- DocWagon, a A-level corporation specializing in emergency health care, with Slamm-O, Nabi, Firebane, and Shakur.
- Lone Star, a A-level corporation specializing in security services, with a Fast Response Team led by Sam Quinn.
- Telestrian Industries, a A-level corporation run and staffed by elves, with an internal team.
- Mitsuhama Computer Technologies, a AAA-level corporation, with an internal team.
- Pacific Rim, a AAA-level corporation, with an internal team.

At this point, I want to bring up diversity.  Diversity is becoming a watch word in writing, especially in science fiction and fantasy.  The standard of the white man defeating the alien menace doesn't allow for the changes in our society over the past fifty years.  The move to embrace a broader base for lead characters is a plus.  It also means I need to start making an effort to have my characters be more than just white.  Adding to the complexity is the range of humanity in Shadowrun, from elves to dwarves, trolls to orks.  Shake well.

Helping me is a lack of description of what everyone looks like.  Numbers has had the most description.  Readers can assume that Treehugger has fair skin, but there's nothing in an allergy to sunlight that leads to her being paler than snow.  Oswald and Charles could be of any ethnic background.  It's more what the readers believe.

As I mentioned in previous commentaries, even some of the minor characters have a background.  When it comes to shadowrunners, I needed the background to figure out their street names.  Makes for a perfect time to show diversity in the population, at the bare minimum.

Slamm-O is a canon character, showing up in various sourcebooks commenting on events and details.  His description is out of my hands.  His teammate Nabi, though, is my own creation.  She's Korean, with her name translating as "Butterfly".  Firebane is an ork shaman from the Salish tribe.  Shakur is a dwarf street samurai, taking his name from Tupac Shakur.

Evo's team features Skater, an elf hacker who was the first character I created back in the first edition of Shadowrun.  She was based on the illustration of the Elf Hacker archetype.  Laughing Tusk is an ork street samurai, possibly with Native American blood.  The Storm Sisters are aspected mages, spellcasters limited in their school.  Meanwhile, Ms Evo herself is a dwarf.

Sergeant Sam Quinn of Lone Star was somewhat unexpected.  An ork, he's the head of a Fast Response Team, which is similar to a SWAT team, but Lone Star has those, too.  Lone Star's a complicated company and had its own sourcebook released.  Sam, though, wasn't originally planned to have more than a quick speaking part just to let me show what's going on outside.  He wound up being the reason why Oswald mentioned his past with NYPD Inc, the police services company that the New York Police Department's union started to complete for contracts in Manhattan.

The chapter covers the high level discussions among the ten corporations.  Their goal is to figure out who is behind a series of not quite random, over ten entities that have nothing in common.  Some of the cross-talk is meant to be confusing.  Some of it is me trying to figure out who is behind it, even after creating an outline.  And some of it is deliberate misdirection by a participant.  The information also is meant to set up future stories.  There is more going on; the crew, though, doesn't have the broad information needed to see what's happening.

To end, and to try to provoke discussion, how do you, the reader, picture the core crew, Numbers, Charles, Oswald, and Treehugger?

Coming Thursday, the commentary for chapter 9, back on schedule.