31 Oct 2014

Beaver Flight Chapter 2

"Okay, ladies, we will make sure our helmets are secure."
"We want to at least pretend we're competent soldiers."
Welcome to Darkside One, Lieutenant.  We've been expecting Beaver Flight since you launched."

Chapter 2 - Settling In
May 17, 2028

Beaver Flight found their duffel bags waiting for them on the floor of their shared quarters.  Dominique stooped to enter the sparse room.  "Ma'am, you mentioned something about beds fitting?"

"I'll put a request in to get you something comfortable," Darcy said.  "For now, find your bag, find a bunk and take an hour to get settled.  I need to arrange for training space."

"Do you have a preference of top or bottom, ma'am?" Renée asked.  She ignored the snickers coming from Victoria.

30 Oct 2014

Beaver Flight Commentary - Chapter 1

Hooray!  Commentary!  As always, please read the chapter first.  Spoilers, sweeties!

Trying something new this time around.  Each chapter will start with a Previously and end with a Next, like the Republic serials of old.  I want to create the feel of a serial.  If this works, I can continue with the idea in my NaNo2014 project, Unruly.  Feedback will be appreciated.

With Beaver Flight arriving on the lunar base, Darkside One, this gives me a chance to introduce not just the four women properly but also the setting and the supporting cast.  The name "Darkside One" comes from the base being on the dark side of the moon, the side facing away from Earth.  The mission is secret, and placing the base out of sight helps maintain plausible deniability by the participating countries.  Major Joan di Carlo isn't the commanding officer; she's is in charge of the patrols, including Beaver Flight.

Beaver Flight's home squadron, 404 Squadron, does exist.  The 404 Long Range Patrol and Training Squadron, part of 14 Wing, is based out of Greenwood, Nova Scotia.  Instead of helicopters, though, the Squadron flies CP-140 Auroras airplanes used for long range patrols.  I *ahem*borrowed*cough* the Squadron's name to take advantage of the HTML error, "404 Page not found", to reflect that Beaver Flight is fictional and doesn't exist.  Computer humour.

The problems with the name of the flight get brought back up by the women themselves.  Victoria doesn't have a problem, but she's letting her inner twelve-year-old out.  The rest could have let the name slide if no one else said anything.  The discussion, such as it is, reflects the thoughts I had in my head at the time.  The concept is great, a flight named after Canada's national animal, to go along with the other national animals.  The execution has a problem when the flight is composed solely of women.  Um, oops?  Mind, the name is useful for getting attention on shelves and in lists.  Use the innuendo for good, not perversion, and such.

Tomorrow, Chapter 2, Settling In.
Also tomorrow, over at Psycho Drive-In, Howard the Duck.
Saturday, over at MuseHack, The Wolverine.
Also Saturday, check out Comics Bulletin for comics-related reposts of /Lost in Translation/.

29 Oct 2014

NaNo Prep 2014 - Clock's Ticking!

Not long before NaNoWriMo 2014 starts.  Where am I in preparation?  Can you say, "Ng-ng-ng-ng," boys and girls?

28 Oct 2014

Test Drive - Firefly - Ships

Still poking around with the Firefly RPG from Margaret Weis Productions.  Last time, it was to create Frankie, a former Browncoat pilot who lost her nerve.  This time, though, I want to see if I can hack the system for the Third Imperium setting for Traveller.

27 Oct 2014

Test Drive - Firefly - Frankie Jones

Bit of a cheat here.  I've already created a character - Tanya - using the Firefly RPG.  This time around, I want to try creating a character that comes out of the setting instead of being one imposed upon it.  Best way to do that is to create a veteran of the Unification War.  Presenting Francesca "Frankie" Jones, former Browncoat gunship pilot.  She was a hotshot during the war, but lost her nerve somewhere along the way.
Name: Francesca "Frankie" Jones
Background: Hot shot pilot turned cold

24 Oct 2014

Beaver Flight - Chapter 1

"First, what do you remember about the lunar base?"
"It was a multinational effort, like last century's International Space Station."
"After the loss of contact, the Russians sent a mission to find out what happened.  .  Everything was intact, except there wasn't a soul to be found."
"Sir, these people are civilians."
"Were civilians."

Chapter 1 – Arrival
May 17, 2128

The lunar lander touched down on Darkside One's landing pad.  Darcy unbuckled herself from the acceleration couch.  "Okay, ladies," she barked, "we will make sure our helmets are secure.  We will then leave the lander and march to the airlock."

"Yes, Mom," Victoria called.

23 Oct 2014

Beaver Flight Commentary - Prologue

Welcome back to the commentaries.  If this is your first time here, please read the chapter first.  Spoilers may abound.

Beaver Flight was my project for NaNoWriMo 2012 and was the reason I started blogging.  To save time going back into the archives, the core of the story came from an Arrogant Worms song, "We Are the Beaver".  The idea of mecha flights named after national animals appealed to me.  That's still not enough to hang a plot on, so more thinking occurred, leading to a mystery on the moon.

The prologue turned into mostly exposition.  I had a number of elements that needed to come out without interrupting the flow later.  Darcy, our Fearless Leader, needed to know this so she wouldn't have to ask embarrassing questions later.  By having the Brigadier provide the information, top secret info at that, to a low ranking officer, I avoided the dreaded, "As you know, Bob," set up.  Darcy doesn't know.  No one does.  Military conspiracy at its finest.

Darcy is quick on the uptake.  One survivor, a Russian woman, deliberately left behind while the men were removed.  I wanted to flip the "Mars needs women!" approach to pulp.  "Venus needs men!"  Why?  That comes out later.  For now, it's part of the mystery.

Because the song is "We Are the Beaver", Darcy is part of the Canadian Forces, specifically part of Air Command.  While mecha tend to be ground forces, even if they have flight capability, the complexity of balancing the movement of the arms and legs led me to compare piloting one to piloting a helicopter.  The Heron isn't a current Canadian helicopter, but the name fits into current naming patterns that uses animals and weather.  I am hoping that current craft like the Comorant and the Griffon will be retired by 2127.

To add to the fun, Darcy will be the only military officer in her flight.  The other three women are civilians given sweetheart deals to join up.  The civilians have other specialties that could be handy given that the closest help needs to time departures with launch windows.  The more self-sufficient the lunar base is, the better.

Tomorrow, Chapter 1, Arrival.
Also tomorrow, over at Psycho Drive-In, Godzilla (1998).
Saturday, over at MuseHack, Howard the Duck.
Also Saturday, check out Comics Bulletin for comics-related reposts of Lost in Translation.

17 Oct 2014

Beaver Flight - Prologue


November 4, 2127

Darcy's mind backtracked over her past year's behaviour.  As far as she knew, her demeanour was proper for a newly minted Second Lieutenant.  Sure, there had been a few wild parties, but nothing that embarrassed her or the Canadian Air Force.  Still, she sat outside the Brigadier's office with no one saying a word to her.

The office door opened.  A sergeant stepped out and said, "Lieutenant Kincaid, the General will see you now."

Darcy stood up.  She adjusted her uniform one last time then followed the sergeant into the office.  Inside, various paintings of the history of flight adorned three of the walls; the third was blocked by a tall cabinet.  Darcy stopped in front of the Brigadier's desk, came to attention, and saluted.  "Second Lieutenant Darcy Kincaid, reporting, sir!"

Without looking up from his display, the Brigadier said, "At east, Lieutenant, and have a seat.  Sergeant, hold all my calls.  We're not to be interrupted."

"Yes, sir."  The sergeant grabbed paperwork from the outbox before leaving, closing the door behind him.

Once seated, Darcy held still as she waited for the Brigadier to acknowledge her.  She felt a cool droplet of sweat run down the side of her face.  Darcy tried to ignore it, but the drop hung from her jaw.  She swiped the back of her hand across her cheek.

"Would you like something to drink, Lieutenant?" the Brigadier offered.

"I'm good, sir."  Darcy felt her throat tighten as she spoke.

"Relax, Lieutenant."  The Brigadier turned to face his subordinate.  "You're here because of your skills and potential.  Your country needs you for an important mission, but you are free to decline if you so choose.  First, what do you remember about the lunar base?"

Darcy blinked at the change of topic.  "It was a multinational effort, like last century's International Space Station.  As far as I knew, everything was fine until contact was lost a few years ago.  Since then, there's been some attempts at going back, but not much hit the news sites."

The Brigadier sat forward in his chair.  "Anything you hear in this room as of right now stays in the room.  Nothing can get out.  Understand?"

"Understood, sir.  Nothing leaves your office."

"Good."  The Brigadier sat back.  "There's a reason why nothing hit the news sites.  After the loss of contact, the Russians sent a mission to find out what happened.  They lost contact several hours after touchdown, but some video was sent back.  During the time they were in communication, they explored the central command core of the lunar base.  Everything was intact, except there wasn't a soul to be found."

"No one, sir?  That seems unlikely.  What about the emergency suits and rescue balls?"

"Completely untouched.  However, while the Russian team was investigating, they had unexpected visitors."

Darcy cocked her head at the news.  "Visitors?  On the moon?"

The Brigadier nodded.  "No one did until the Russians released the video to the Americans.  Even then, the file was examined for telltales of doctoring."

"But . . . but how?"

"No one knows."  The Brigadier shrugged.  "The Russians showed the video to the Americans.  After the analysis, the Americans sent a squad of Marines with a squad of Russian Space Troopers.  Don't laugh, Lieutenant.  The Russians were ready long before the lunar base was even bandied about."

"Not laughing, sir.  What did they find?"

"Nothing.  No bodies, no alien traces.  Everything just like in the video before the attack."

"I see."  Darcy shook her head.  "No, sir, I don't see.  That's two teams that have disappeared completely.  What does that have to do with us?  Canada supported the lunar mission but didn't have anyone up there."

"There was a third attack.  The aliens returned.  The two squads defended themselves, but were overwhelmed."

Darcy's eyes widened.  "And they were disappeared, too?"

"Not all of them.  Junior Sergeant Yulya Emelin survived the attack despite being wounded.  She reported in several hours after the attack, dazed and semi-coherent."

"How did Sergeant Emelin return to Earth?"

"Another rescue mission, this one to just land, get the sergeant, and return.  Her suit's camera kept recording even when she was unconscious.  The invaders took the rest of her team and their own wounded.  Took them several trips, too."

Darcy sat back in her chair.  "So why leave her?  They've left nothing behind before, correct, sir?"

"Correct, Lieutenant."

"And they were willing to take the time needed to get everyone else.  So, why . . . Sir, were there any other women on either squad?"

The Brigadier smiled.  "Good observation, Lieutenant.  Emelin was the only woman sent up."

"And the prior team was composed of just men, too, correct, sir?"

"Now you get it, Lieutenant."

Darcy grimaced.  "I'm here because I'm a woman, not because of any other qualification."

"Lieutenant, you'd be here even if men were being recruited.  You scored the highest in your qualifications on the Heron helicopter, have held your own during difficult search and rescues, and are a damn fine officer from all reports.  And, right now, we need the best."

"I see, sir."

"So, the question is, do you want to take the fight into space against these invaders?  You'll be promoted one grade upon entering training and will be able to choose your next assignment.  In return, though, you will be out of touch with friends and family, will be in a hostile environment, and will see regular combat.  The choice is yours, and a refusal will not affect any subsequent postings."

Darcy looked down at the floor as she thought over her options.  Time crawled by, the Brigadier's stare feeling like it bored into her.  Finally, she raised her head again.  "Sir, yes, I want this assignment."

The Brigadier unlocked his desk drawer and pulled out three file folders.  "Good."  He handed the folders to Darcy.  "Read over these files.  Each one tells you about your new squad."

Darcy flipped through the pages, glancing at the information.  "Sir, these people are civilians."

"Were civilians.  Congratulations on your new command, Lieutenant.  Make sure your charges know the chain of command."

"How much time do I have?"

"Six months."

"Sir, that's an impossible time line.  These women are barely raw recruits.  Boot camp takes several months."

The Brigadier nodded.  "I know, Lieutenant, but these are unusual times.  Each of your squad has other knowledge that will be useful.  Renée Lalonde is a linguistics expert, having done a master's thesis in deciphering dead languages.  Dominique Pearson is an engineer.  And Victoria Grieg is a physicist specializing in sub-atomic structures.  You, Lieutenant, will be the glue that brings them together and keeps them going in the right direction."

Next week: Chapter 1, Arrival
"Try not to trip up.  We want to make a good first impression here."
"We've been expecting Beaver Flight since you launched."

16 Oct 2014

By the Numbers Commentary - Numbers

As with the previous three Thursdays, I'll go into Numbers as a character in a narrative as opposed to a game.  Numbers was the first to be cast.  It wasn't that I needed a hacker right away so much as I knew Saeder-Krupp would be involved.  Numbers, with her background and her nemesis, made for conflict.  The goal of By the Numbers was to have the story feel like it could have been part of a campaign.  Having someone with an enemy on the character sheet meant having that enemy show up.  Numbers had the perfect nemesis.

15 Oct 2014

Project Peregrine Drive

I recently picked up Catalyst Labs' Valiant Universe RPG and finally had time to read through it.  Lots of interesting background for the various Valiant comics to the point where I may pick up one or two to get a better idea of the feel of the setting.  A key point of interest, though, is that the game allows for sidekick-level games.  Nasty, of Subject 13 falls in that level of superheroes.  Thus, this isn't a Project Natasha nor a Test Drive.

I'm creating Nasty.

The Valiant Universe RPG may be the first superhero game I've run into where Nasty won't be underpowered.  With Champions, I'd have to create her as a 75-point character to be accurate, the 150-point superhero level leaves many a character point left over.  The same happens with GURPS Supers and Mutants & Masterminds.  Nasty's power level is below that of a normal comic.  A sidekick level of power?  That's a different kettle of wax*.

It never hurts to go through the recommended character creation steps of a new game.  Shortcuts can come later, once I'm more familiar with the mechanics.  For those of you with the book, and I will recommend it as it has some useful advice for running superhero campaigns, character creation starts on page 60.  There's nine steps, and if you've read any of the previous test drives, especially for the D&D 5th Edition, the steps aren't much different.  Nasty's character creation starts after the break.

13 Oct 2014

NaNo Prep 2014 - Update

November 1st is approaching.  I need to be ready to go by 12:01am local time.  Yet...

Life got busy the last few weeks.  Work required moving many computers and peripherals, plus phones, cables, and printers, all over a hectic few days.  Following the weekend of the massive decommissioning, removing PCs that I had helped install on a previous contract, my old back injury decided that all the bending I did was not conducive to a pain-free existence.  Made going to Can-Con the following weekend interesting.  I also managed to disrupt my sleep schedule, so exhaustion plagued me, making it hard to put proper words together.  The disruption delayed regular commentary as well.

I lost two weeks, really, but not completely.  While I wasn't writing, I was working out some plot lines, some potential arcs, the cast's appearance, and little details that turn a jotted note into a breathing character.  The main four - Caitlin, Skye, Autumn, and Laura - have last names.  Caitlin even has a family, though I'm not sure if she should have an older brother or an older sister.  I have possible story arcs, some of which will require setting up in earlier arcs; Jenn, in particular, needs to make a few appearances before "The Jennifer of Jennifers" arc.

The school finally got a name and a bit of history.  The Ulrich F. Gephardt Academy for Unruly Girls.  Ulrich never existed; I started by trying to find a possible name that could be morphed into "unruly".  The closest I got was the surname Unrein, a German surname.  Then I hit on the idea of the $Name Academy for Unruly Girls, leading to ditching Unrein but picking up Ulrich and then filling out the rest of his name.  Even worked out a bit of background for the Academy.  Ulrich was from Berlin, Ontario, which later became Kitchener during World War I*.  In 1886, he had the idea of founding a school outside Oshawa to take in young ladies who were troublemakers.  A year later, he changed the Academy's mission into turning the young ladies into his own private army of spies.  Ulrich retired in 1888, leaving Oshawa to go to the Century Manor Asylum in Hamilton.  The Academy continued to take in girls who, with the assistance of the Headmistress, managed to give themselves an education.  Even today, the Academy uses unusual teaching methods but graduates of the school go on to be leaders, innovators, and most wanted.  The latter, sometimes by law enforcement.

Setting, therefore, is mostly worked out.  Mostly, because areas like the school grounds, the dorms, key hangouts in Oshawa, and at least one back need to be worked on, but that can happen over the course of writing.  Characters, at least the students, are ready.  Teachers will be filled in as needed.  The Headmistress is becoming a black box - I know what she'll do in most situations, but I don't know how she processes the events.  Could be useful given the focus is on the students.

Am I ready?  No.  I do need to figure out why Caitlin and Verity have a war of one-upmanship going on.  I need to figure out what Caitlin's scheme is for the first chapter.  I'll probably post a bit more to try to work things out.

For all I know, though, I could wind up writing about a hafling archaeologist.

* Kind of makes "Freedom Fries" look lame now.

10 Oct 2014

By the Numbers - Behind the Scenes VI

Wrapping up the behind the scenes work is Numbers.  The hacker was the first I statted out.  Between her and Charles, I didn't want to spend more pre-NaNo time prepping Oz and Treehugger.  Numbers, though, did need statting out.  The core Shadowrun rules doesn't have an archetype for the social engineering hacker.  Numbers also got a full name, mainly because Herr Wulfe of Saeder-Krupp was going to use it against her.  The negative Notoriety comes from the First Impression quality, which I'll cover later.  The core concept, as mentioned, was a social engineering hacker, someone who not only breaks into computer networks but also hacks social interactions.  Social engineering hackers exist even today; the Nigerian prince scam/spam is a classic, if poorly executed, example.

9 Oct 2014

By the Numbers Oswald - Commentary

Last week, I went through the character sheet for Oswald, the crew's mage, with comments about the changes made for By the Numbers.  Today, let's look at Oz as a story character instead of a player character.

As with Treehugger, Oswald's role was defined first.  The crew needed a magician.  The goal of By the Numbers was to present the Shadowrun setting while still making sure that the events in the story could be played out.  The main difference between Shadowrun and other cyberpunk and even non-cyberpunk science fiction is the addition of almost Tolkien-esque fantasy.  It's possible to argue that Shadowrun is a futuristic urban fantasy setting, but the fantasy elements harken back to more traditional fantasy than the supernatural or the faerie of urban fantasy.  As a fantasy element, magic exists, though in Shadowrun, it can be tested with the scientific method.

Thus, Oswald was needed, or at least a magician.  I could have gone with a shaman instead of the hermetic Oswald, but I felt that was one more layer that could break the suspension of disbelief.  Oz was still nebulous, though.  I was envisioning a man in a long coat, collar turned up against the wind, lighting a cigarette with his finger.  That image told me a bit about the mage, but not everything, and nothing about his background.  I went back to Charles and Numbers to see what they lacked.  Charles covered the combat roles while Numbers had the social and computer skills covered.  They didn't have any real investigative abilities.  Sure, Charles could stand menacingly over someone, but intimidation tends to leave the intimidated frustrated, embarrassed, and angry afterward.  Polite questioning, though, would leave the questioned wondering, but not in a mood for vengeance.

Once I realized that a mage investigator would work, I remembered the Mage Detective archetype in the rules.  That still left me having to work out the character's background.  A private investigator could work for the plot, but PIs tend to have a sheen of legitimacy to them.  I wanted a team of runners, equals to each other, not a team that answered to one person.  The Federated-Boeing Johnson wanted a team of deniable assets, not a private investigator who would leave a data trail.  That meant that the detective had to be in the shadows for some reason.  From there, the idea of an ex-cop came to mind.  The ex-detective couldn't be from Seattle, though; he'd be recognized by former colleagues.  That's how Oswald came to be ex-NYPD Inc.  New York is the other side of the continent from Seattle and NYPD Inc never had the law enforcement contract for the West Coast city.  Ta-daa!

Most of Oz's personality came out while writing.  He has a low tolerance of BS, which has him in conflict with the elf poser Treehugger.  He doesn't target innocents, though who is innocent is based on his judgement and experience.  He won't harm children, though teenagers are another matter.  In Chapter 9, Oz is the one championing rescuing Sun Jung for the girl's sake.  And, somehow, Oswald turned into a ladies man.  Completely unintentional, but it worked for him.

Tomorrow, Numbers' character sheet.
Also tomorrow, over at Psycho Drive-In, hiatus week Q&A, where you get to ask the questions..
Saturday, over at MuseHack, an early round-up as announcements come fast and furious.
Also Saturday, check out Comics Bulletin for comics-related reposts of Lost in Translation.

8 Oct 2014

By the Numbers Commentary - Treehugger

Going back, I put up Treehugger's character sheet and discussed the mechanics and how her traits affected writing.  Now it's time to look at Treehugger as a character in a story, much like I did with Charles.

Treehugger was the last to be cast in the crew.  I had a role that needed filling, the rigger, but didn't quite have an idea of who the getaway driver would be.  The Shadowrun fourth edition anniversary version had two different rigger archetypes, the Smuggler, as seen with Treehugger's sheet, and the Drone Rigger.  I needed a getaway driver and didn't feel like going through creating a player character sheet from scratch, thus I went with the Smuggler, who came with vehicles.  From there, it was a matter of reading the character sheet and seeing if anything struck me.  The Elf Poser drawback led to Treehugger's elfiness.  From the elfiness, I got the idea of an ill-informed girl from the city streets thinking that elves are in touch with nature, then wrapping her car around a tree on her first run.  The dam broke, and Treehugger because a character instead of a set of stats.

Treehugger also wound up being the team's face for negotiations.  As you will see later this week, Numbers focused her skills on social engineering, deceiving people into giving her everything she needed to hack past security.  Treehugger, though, had the very critical Negotiation skill.  She learned to hide her surgically altered ears during negotiations.  TH also became the backup hacker; she's as wired as Numbers is for direct neural interface.  The difference between plugging into a computer and into a van is negligible; it's just how the hardware works that's different, not the interface.

Of the crew, Treehugger had the cheeriest outlook, despite having the most invasive set of implants.  Part of this is from her elfiness, her belief that she is really an elf in a human body.  She believes that elves are, overall, happier.  It's not that she hasn't met any dour elves; she just sees them as being dour because she sees them in the same line of work she's in.  Shadowrunners aren't a happy group in general; Glenn Frey's "Smuggler's Blues" works for both Colombian drug smugglers and shadowrunners.

Treehugger is an awkward fit with the group.  Between her allegy to sunlight and her elf delusion, she is an oddity, someone who will stand out from a crowd.  Numbers is the chameleon.  Charles is the big one, as is expected from trolls.  Oswald, outwardly, is scruffy, like many a shadowrunner.  Treehugger stands out; she's there for the rush, though the money will help her with the gene therapy she needs to be the elf she truly is.  However, from the narrative perspective, she let me add some intra-team conflict by being herself.  Treehugger also reflects a reality in the settings - sometimes, you have to take what's available, the good with the bad.  Treehugger is an amazing driver, but her teammates have to deal with her being elfy.

Tomorrow, Oswald's commentary.
Friday, the last of the behind the scenes posts with Numbers.
Also Friday, over at Psycho Drive-In, hiatus week questions and answers.

3 Oct 2014

By the Numbers - Behind the Scenes V

Welcome back.  This week's character study is Oswald, the crew's mage.  Oswald's stats are the same ones for the Mage Detective archetype in the fourth edition anniversary release of Shadowrun.  I didn't feel like creating Oz from scratch, but did want to change the spells known, adapting them for my needs.  More after the jump.  Oh, and if parts seem familiar, I needed to save time in writing by reusing last week's prose.  Apologies.

2 Oct 2014

Commentary on hiatus

Sorry, folks, no comments about Treehugger this week.  Massive upheaval at work due to a change of ownership that led to overtime and heavy lifting.  I hope to get the commentary going again next week.  In the meantime, feel free to comment yourselves.