26 Jan 2018

Test Run - Tales of Equestria

Popular shows are often considered for tabletop RPGs, especially where crossover fandom is strong.  Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Star Trek, Star Wars, even Hercules and Xena.  The key element to these games is that the setting large enough that other characters can exist and do the same thing that the cast of the series does.  Buffy pushes the boundary, but fighting vampires with potential Slayers and, once Season 7 hits, a team of Slayers, still is possible.  Today's test run involves a game that has a large setting revealed in the series that allows for a cast of characters separate from the mane ones - Tails of Equestria, the My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic RPG.

25 Jan 2018

Demona - Thoughts

When I began working on Demona, I wasn't expecting the character to go anywhere except a game.  Instead, she's become part of a potential story.  Not quite where I was going with the idea.

The problem with Demona as a character in a story is that she doesn't work well alone.  She needs others to play off.  Thus, Nadia and Ian are now part of the story.  Nadia's a mage of some sort, the exact sort to be determined at some point.  Ian is the damage sponge, the person who gets to stand between Nadia and danger while she casts a spell.  For added fun, Nadia doesn't like Demona.  The mage has issues with demons.

The next step is to create a separate setting for the story.  While the Demon Hunters setting is fleshed out, thanks to the Brotherhood Orientation Video, that's not my work.  Easiest change is to just create a new, smaller, less organized group, one that has a hierarchy so that Nadia is ordered to work with Demona.  There is precendent for such organizations - besides the Brotherhood of the Eternal Torch, there is also the Watchers from Buffy the Vampire Slayer and the White Council from The Dresden Files.  Having such an organization means I'll have a way to get the cast into the plot.

Once I get that figured out, I need decide on whether there is a masquerade where the general population isn't aware of the supernatural.  It's a cliché, but it has its purpose.  From the view of the supernatural types, if the general population was aware of their existence, they'd be a general hunt.  Vampires can't hunt if vampire hunters lay in wait in crowds.  For the would-be defenders of humanity, the general populace would consider them odd if not insane.  Who goes around with several kilograms of garlic buds, two dozen sharpened wood stakes, and silvered weapons?  Yet, the masquerade can slip.  Odd deaths, rumours of hauntings, even stupid mistakes will raise eyebrows.  People will figure things out; Waldo Butters of The Dresden Files is a good example here.  Butters worked the morgue in Chicago, so he got to see the bodies brought in with impossible injuries.  He figured things out on his own before Dresden brought him in on the secrets.

With The Soul Blade, there wasn't really a masquerade.  Brenna and her family had unusual abilities.  Her friends were aware of what she could do and helped when they could.  Brenna didn't come out, as it were, because she's terminally shy and didn't want the added attention.  When she did announce her abilities, it was to people who she knew well, like Missy, or who also had similar powers, like Carly.  So, with Demona et al, do I worry right away?  Or just have people be skeptical in general?

Form will have to be worked out.  Right now, the idea may work best as a series of some sort, either a serial or a series of novels or novellas.  And since I can't help but add to the difficulty, the current idea is to have the story take on the form of reality TV, with asides to the camera.  If the asides become a problem, they can be dropped, but I will have to brush up on a genre of shows that I don't care much for.  Fortunately, not all reality TV is alike and there are a number of parodies of the genre that can fill in, such as The Muppets.  If this becomes a major project, I'll either learn to draw the main characters or get the artwork commissioned, just to have head shots for the asides.

Demona developed while I was working on her character sheet.  Little things, quirks really, came out.  Her father is Catholic and raised Demona, trying to instill some faith in her.  Her half-demon side made it difficult to her to go through some of the rites, like baptism, first communion, and confession.  Demona also picked up a few traits from her mother, a few that don't appear on the character sheet.  Thanks to being half-succubus and half-Catholic, when Demona has sex, her partner feels really guilty afterwards.  Demona, not so much.

The other key aspect that I will have to keep in mind is that Demona is smart.  She's a librarian and she reads to keep up on what's in the collection.  On her character sheet, I gave her a d10 for Intelligence; after all, smart is sexy.  Demona might not have the range of experience that, say, Nadia has, but she can learn.

I have no idea when I'll start the story.  There's still too many details that I need to work out.  I have scenes in mind, but beyond that, no plot, no reason for the story to exist.  For now, I'll let the idea simmer and see what bubbles out of the stew that this metafore became.  The characters are coming together, and if I give them time in my head to work out, I'll have a place to start.

Friday, the serial hiatus continues with Tails of Equestria.
Also Friday, over at Psycho Drive-In, Dragnet.
Saturday, over at The Seventh Sanctum, Thunderbirds.

19 Jan 2018

Test Run - Demon Hunters - Demona

Kicking off the filler while I get the next serial prepped, another look at the Demon Hunters RPG from Margaret Weis Productions.  I've been on a minor Demon Hunters kick lately, watching both the original, where a chapter responds to the threat of Duamerthrax the Many Titled*, and the sequel, Dead Camper Lake, where evil doings are discovered at a summer camp.  So, why not dip back into the setting and the RPG?  Plus, I do plan on getting the more recent version of the game, so having a character or two to translate to the new system always helps.

Last time, I created a Bert Ernesto, TV/VCR Repairman, based on a segment in the Brotherhood Orientation Video.  That brings us to now.  The concept I have in mind is based on two traits in the game, the Asset "Branded by the Infernal" and the Complication "Unintentionally Erotic", leading to a half-succubus librarian.  Let's see how she shapes up.

18 Jan 2018

The Devil You Know - Epilogue Commentary

Back home, in The Devil You Know's epilogue.

There were a lot of loose ends left dangling when the main plot wrapped up.  The problem now was getting as many of those dealt with in some way without creating ending fatigue.  Ione saved the world.  Everything else is anti-climatic.  I wanted to avoid the main problem that The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo had, a story that didn't know when to stop.  With Dragon Tattoo, the main action was over, but the mystery that introduced the story wasn't done and took several more chapters to work out.  How can I get the rest of the plot strings at least tucked away?

The epilogue does a lot of telling, by necessity.  However, I did try to get the major highlights done in an interesting way.  Karen and Ben are no longer an item, which was a given.  Jack owes Ione money.  Ione also needs to explain to her work what she did.  Gemma has her own superiors to answer to and just how does she explain that an angel killed her team in Chapter 1?

Showing Karen moving on from Ben was easy enough.  She's dressed up to go out and she just had to mention her date isn't Ben but someone new.  Simple enough.  There's no need to follow Karen, either.  The other plot points, though, weren't as easy to wrap up.  However, Mara continued to be useful.  Again, for a character who was dropped in because Jack needed a co-pilot, Mara became indispensable.

Mara's arrival let me bring out Diesel's supernatural sense again.  Diesel has a backstory, but since he was peripheral to the plot, the background never came out.  But, he does have the ability to sense demons.  He just never expected his staff to know Mara's nature or that the succubus wasn't trying to tempt away souls.  Diesel graciously allows Mara to visit.

Since Mara is Jack's employee, sort of, it made sense to have Mara bring the money owed.  I also worked in the bubble nature of the Dunning-Krugerrand, making it Jack repaying the value of a Bitcoin instead of the cash Ione provided.  For Jack, getting that amount in a week isn't a problem.  After all, when he plays cards, it's not gambling.  Jack also gave Ione a headache.  If she had just received the original amount of money, she could explain it at work as being repaid for the money needed for the sting.  Ione has five times that much, so now it's income.

Ione is also on administrative leave.  Her employer needs to verify her report, especially since she wasn't supposed to be an active agent.  Ione did manage to repair relations with her British counterpart, Gemma, and destroyed a large shipment of drugs and weapons while passing along descriptions of two major players in organized crime.  She left out a few details, like Jack and the rogue angel, mostly to avoid having to go through a psych evaluation.  Jack did promise her that she wouldn't lose her job, though, and Jack never goes back on a promise.

Gemma just gets a brief mention.  She's back home giving her interpretation of events.  Beyond being needed to confirm Ione's account, the British agent just couldn't be worked in with Mara's visit.  I didn't want to use coincidence here; events already were fantastic and sometimes reality needs to be real.  Thus, Ione mentioning that she needs Gemma's own report to collaborate her own.

While Mara isn't tempting Ione to get at her soul, she still is a succubus.  Temptation is her nature.  She knows cake will tempt Ione.  Ottawa has several cake cafés, with cakes baked on site.  The Ottawa NaNo group has regular write-ins at Oh So Good both during November and after.  Writers survive on coffee and cake, especially during NaNo.  So, why not have Mara take Ione there?

This ends The Devil You Know.  I've compiled an index of the chapters if you've missed one or if you've been waiting for the entire work to be posted before starting.  The story worked out well; I had a good idea of what I wanted to do when I started and only had to do quick research while writing.  It's when I needed to start wrapping things up that I started having problems.  Much like The Soul Blade, I felt that I had a lot outstanding that needed to be tied off before the end could happen.  Setting the story aside for a few years helped.  The distance let me see what was important and what wasn't.  Some extra research, including just seeing what was around Monte Carlo, was enough to get to the final confrontation.

The serials will be on hiatus for a few weeks to give me time to get something ready to go.  In their place, I'm posting a few tabletop RPG characters from a few different systems.  Welcome to my thought processes.

Friday, playing around with character ideas, starting with the Demon Hunters RPG.
Also Friday, over at Psycho Drive-In, hiatus week due to illness.
Saturday, over at The Seventh Sanctum, Dragnet.

12 Jan 2018

The Devil You Know - Epilogue

Humanity is saved.
One week later
Ione grunted as Diesel landed on her stomach.  "You are too big to be doing that," she said, scolding the cat as he stretched out on her.  His only response was a tiny new before purring.  Despite herself, Ione scritched the cat's ear.  "I'm not going anywhere if that's what you're worried about."  Diesel rolled over on to his back, letting Ione scratch his chin.

Karen came downstairs wearing a figure hugging red sequined dress.  "Still on the couch?"

"I'm not the one with the date tonight."  Ione set down her novel.  "Looking good, Karen.  Ben would be jealous, if he wasn't an angel."

"Who do you think set this up?"  Karen brushed away cat fur from the arm of the couch before perching on it.  "He invited me to his coffee shop and there was Mason getting a cappuccino."

"Like Ben said would happen."  Ione struggled to sit up.  Diesel remained in place despite the movement beneath him.  "Cat, you need a diet."

"Are you sure you don't want to come?"

"I'll be underfoot.  Have fun."  Diesel slunk off Ione.  He crept towards the door.  "Are you expecting Mason so soon?"

11 Jan 2018

The Devil You Know - Commentary 23

Puny human versus rogue angel, in The Devil You Know Chapter 23.

Finally, I got to the end of the story!  Sort of.  The big problem here was that the odds were stacked against Ione.  One puny human against an angel?  A physical confrontation is out.  If Gemma’s team shooting him and an exploding warehouse didn't affect him in Chapter 1, Ione had no chance.  And that’s where the problem starts.  I needed Ione to prevent the world from becoming a massive battleground.  That means getting the rogue to stop.  Thus, Ione uses the one weapon she has – doubt.

When I added Ione's interest in LARPing, it was more to set up that Ione isn’t on the typical career track and that she will make choices not normally done.  Characterization, mainly.  I hadn’t expected that something I put in as almost a throw-away line to return like Checkov’s gun.  Then I called back to it when Ione started planning.  She’s making things up as she goes, mainly because I was making things up as I wrote.  However, there were a few ideas I wanted to use.  The big one was the idea of ineffability.  One cannot know the mind of God.  One cannot begin to fathom something that immense.  Ione placed some doubt into the angel’s mind.  All-knowing, all-seeing, all-powerful, so anything that looks to contradict that cannot be an error.  The 2000 film, Bedazzled implies that God and the Devil, the latter played by Elizabeth Hurley, aren't adversaries so much as partners in testing humanity.  The idea that devils and demons have a role does call into question the Plan, but that’s ineffability.

Elizabeth Hurley in Bedazzled (2001).
Ione’s other problem, as critical to Jack’s plan as stopping the rogue, was being accepted by the gangsters.  She’s an unknown face to them.  Worse, she’s wired.  Marco, though, knows her, at least from the previous meets.  Ione came clean on being wired and gave the crooks a convincing story.  No honour among thieves and all that.  The gangsters believe Ione because their own bosses would be as paranoid about theft by their own people.  It helps that Vampire LARPs can head in the same direction; a number of characters hoping to move up the hierarchy while framing others for failures.

I almost was blocked when I realized I’d need to figure out what sort of décor would on a mobster’s yacht.  Google didn't help this time around.  Turns out, mobsters aren't so willing to post photos of their gear where it can be found when searching using the terms “gangster”, “yacht”, and “interior”.  So, I had to stop and think like a mobster.  The result, expensive booze, expensive but tacky artworks, and not so much taste.  The idea was that the owner wouldn't have been raised to appreciate the finer things in life; if he had, he’d be in a different line of criminal activity, like embezzling and real estate fraud.  The other guide for the criminal element was, again, Glenn Frey’s “Smuggler’s Blues”.  It helped set the tone.

Friday, the return home, in The Devil You Know Epilogue.
Also Friday, over at Psycho Drive-In, the breakdown of movies in 2017.
Saturday, over at The Seventh Sanctum, hiatus week due to illness.  Sorry, folks.

5 Jan 2018

The Devil You Know - Chapter 23

The final arrangements before the meet.
The trip to the yacht took half an hour, with Ione keeping the speedboat's throttle set at a low speed.  Ione took advantage of the time to get a look at the Monaco coast line and at the expanse of the blue waters of the Mediterranean Sea.  One last moment of relaxation before leaping into the fires.  At about a kilometre away from the yacht, she saw another boat, much larger than hers, meet up with her destination.  Crates got hauled out on the new boat's deck, the weapons, Ione figured.

As her boat approached the yacht, Ione cut back on the speed, letting the momentum carry her closer.  Two men appeared above her, both armed with submachine guns.  Ione held her arms away from her body.  "Jack sent me."

Marco appeared at the railing.  "She's cool.  Let her on board."

Ione tossed a rope to one of the men to tie off the boat.  She picked up the briefcase, holding it up to let everyone else see it.  "Jack's kept his end of the bargain."

4 Jan 2018

The Devil You Know - Commentary 22

Ione set off to confront the rogue angel, in The Devil You Know Chapter 22.

After managing to get Chapter 21 done, I wound up getting blocked early in this one.  Instead of plot, it was a small detail - what Ben was making for a snack.  I don't cook; Ben does.  During NaNo, I'd just use "$snack" as a placeholder and come back later.  Problem is, it was later when I wrote the chapter.  I needed something right then.  Internet to the rescue!  I did a search for quick snack foods and found Scotch eggs, which seemed both fancy enough and simple enough for something Ben would make.  Thus, the day is saved, thanks to my Google-fu.

My Google-fu also helped me work out the sort of details I'd need for the end.  The radios need to cover more than the twelve miles, or about nineteen kilometres, countries claim as territorial waters.  Getting the details worked out now means not having to backtrack once the ending is being written.  Best to interrupt the flow here, when things are slower, than when I'm focusing on plot and the climax.  Or, what should have been done before I started writing, when I didn't know the story would go to Monte Carlo.  Planners have an edge here over pantsers, knowing what they'll need to know in advance.

The chapter is trying to tie up loose ends.  Gemma's been prepped, now to bring her in properly.  Ione has an idea of what she needs.  Ben and Mara get a last meaningful scene together.  Ione gets to say goodbye to the rest of the cast.  She's going alone.  Neither Jack nor Mara can go; he's a devil and she's a demon and either one could set off the rogue angel and blow the entire operation.  Ben won't be able to convince his superior, as established earlier.  If anyone other than Jack shows up, the mobsters will get suspicious.  Ione is going in alone.

Time turned a plot point around.  Back in Chapter 17, Ione needed to cash in some Bitcoins to scrape up a few hundred Euro.  Lately, though, Ione wouldn't be working to scrap up the money Jack needed.  He wanted five hundred Euros.  Ione could easily get ten thousand Euros by dumping one of her BitCoins.  Bitcoin is in a bubble, ready to pop, but people are going to do what they can to get one.  To be honest, I expected BitCoin to fade away.  As a currency, it fails the basic test - try buying anything in a store with one.  Even online, very few businesses are taking them.  The main use is in the black and grey markets, which is why I used that aspect when I started writing TDYK.  Go fig.

The conversation between Ione and Gemma evolves a bit.  Ione has set the bait for the British agent, hinting at something Gemma wants.  There's no reason to keep up an adversarial relationship now and Ione doesn't work that way nornally.  So, with "second favourite Canadian".  Ione is trying to mend the relationship, get Gemma on her side instead of targeting her.  I chose Ryan Reynolds because of his role in Deadpool, with two scenes in particular - the proposal scene in the first movie and the phone booth trailer for the second.  Ione can appreciate a fine ass.

Friday, the showdown, in The Devil You Know Chapter 23.
Also Friday, over at Psycho Drive-In, a look forward to 2018.
Saturday, over at The Seventh Sanctum, the breakdown of movies in 2017.